Idaho's Citizen Legislature
The Idaho Legislature is responsible for translating the public will into public policy for the state, levying taxes, appropriating public funds, and overseeing the administration of state agencies. These responsibilities are carried out through the legislative process -- laws passed by elected representatives of the people, legislators. Since statehood in 1890, Idaho's legislators have enjoyed a rich and successful history of charting the state's growth. Much of that success can be attributed to the fact that Idaho's legislators are "citizen" legislators, not career politicians. They are farmers and ranchers, business men and women, lawyers, doctors, sales people, loggers, teachers. Elected for two-year terms and in session at the Capitol just three months each year, Idaho's citizen legislators are able to maintain close ties to their communities and a keen interest in the concerns of the electorate.
The Legislature's Mission
The Idaho Legislature is committed to carrying out its mission in a manner that inspires public trust and confidence in elected government and the rule of law. The mission of the Legislature is to:
The Idaho State Capitol, constructed in the same classical style of architecture as our nation's Capitol, was started in 1905 and the central portion was finished in 1911. The east and west wings occupied by the Legislature were finished in 1921. Idaho sandstone was used in facing the outside walls and Alaskan marble was used for the floors, staircases and trimmings. The inside walls are of Vermont marble. The interior of the Capitol Building has been remodeled several times during it's 100-year history. Interior changes were made during the 1950s and 1970s to accommodate a growing Legislature.
By the 1990s, crowding, outdated mechanical systems, and decades of hard use left their mark on the aging building. Recognizing the need to save the historic Statehouse and keep the building a working seat of government, the Legislature authorized creation of the Idaho Capitol Commission in 1998 to plan for and oversee a complete restoration, refurbishment, and expansion of the Idaho Capitol and its grounds. This massive undertaking was completed in December 2009.
Presently, the Idaho Legislature is composed of 35 Senators and 70 Representatives elected for two-year terms. The state is divided into 35 legislative districts, each represented by one Senator and two Representatives. Reapportionment, which must take place soon after the U.S. Census figures are published every ten years, realigns legislative districts proportionately with the census population totals. This had been the responsibility of the Legislature prior to 1994, when an amendment to the Idaho Constitution was adopted creating an independent commission to reapportion starting in 2001 and thereafter.
Elections are held in November of even-numbered years, and the newly elected legislators officially take office December 1 following the election. Representatives and senators must be citizens of the United States, electors of the state and residents of their legislative district for at least one year prior to election.
Legislative compensation is established by a citizens' committee, subject to rejection by the full Legislature. Legislators receive $16,438 per year, plus expenses for housing and travel during the session, and a constituent service allowance of $2,200. The President Pro Tem and Speaker receive an additional $4,000 per year.
Until 1969, sessions of the Idaho Legislature were held every two years. In November of 1968, the citizens of Idaho approved a Constitutional Amendment which authorized annual sessions. Since 1969, the Idaho Legislature convenes each January on the Monday on or closest to January 9th.
Extraordinary sessions of the Legislature may be called only by the Governor by proclamation and legislators may then act only upon those subjects specified in the proclamation.
Presiding over the Senate is the Lieutenant Governor, who is an elected executive official. When presiding over the Senate, he is designated the President of the Senate. The Senate also has a President Pro Tempore, who is elected each session by the Senate membership. In the House of Representatives, the Speaker of the House presides over the sessions. He is elected at the beginning of the session by the members and is a member of the majority party.
The majority party of both houses also selects majority and assistant majority floor leaders, who assist in the orderly process of the session, along with the minority and assistant minority floor leaders, who are elected by the members of the minority party.
The Speaker of the House, in cooperation with the members of the majority party, assigns the chairmanships of all committees and the memberships of the committees in the House. In the Senate, the President Pro Tem, with the approval of the Senate, assigns members to committees.
The President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House assign all bills to committees as they are processed "across the desk" during the sessions.
The Legislature at Work
Each daily session of each house of the Legislature begins with the roll call of the members and a prayer by the Chaplain, who is selected by the members the first day of the session.
Traditionally, the sessions begin at 10:00 a.m. each morning and last until all immediate business to be considered is finished. In the early morning and late afternoon, committee meetings are scheduled to prevent any conflict with the sessions. Late in the session, late afternoon sessions are common. The sessions held at the beginning of the year are of a shorter duration as committees are meeting much of the time to consider legislation referred to their committees.
Some of the activity on the floor is necessary daily routine. For this reason, at times, members will be away from their desks. Some may be in caucuses, which are informal meetings of the members of one political party, or perhaps testifying for their own bills before Senate or House committees. Others may be involved in hurried conferences with other members, or be seeing constituents or groups from their home districts who are visiting the Capitol. Some of the informal conferences on controversial issues will occur on the floor itself.
Press, radio and television correspondents assigned to the Legislature have been allocated desks along the sides of the podium of the chamber floor so they can follow closely the session business. Most of the media quarters are located in the basement of the Capitol in the Rotunda area.
The Committee Structure
The House of Representatives has 14 committees and the Senate has 10. Committee membership is determined basically by the interest of the individual members. Although no one member can be expected to be expert in all fields, the vast majority of the members, through training or inclination, are highly conversant in certain areas. Effort is made to see that each member is assigned the committee of his choice. When appointments of committee chairmanships are made, it is customary to appoint a member of the majority party as chairman.
Once the legislative session gets underway, the committees concern themselves with all bills assigned to them. Those interested in a particular bill are encouraged to testify before the committee to which the bill is assigned.
Committee study guarantees a fair and impartial hearing upon each bill before committee members vote upon its merits and then determine whether or not it should be sent out to the Senate or House for consideration by the entire body. Much of the decision-making and evaluation of bills, or proposed laws, is done by committees. Usually the respective houses will follow the recommendations of its committees. However, the members who support or oppose bills will often speak on controversial measures in an attempt to influence the final vote by the entire House or Senate.
The members are seated at desks facing the Speaker or President. Their desks have microphones to be used when addressing the session. When members wish to address the House, they request recognition from the presiding officer.
The members of the House of Representatives vote through electric scoreboards at the sides of the chamber. By punching a button on their desk, they indicate "yes" or "no" votes through the lighting up of a green or red bulb alongside their names on the boards. These votes are automatically totalled. The presiding officer announces the vote after the machine has recorded the same. In the Senate, voting is done by voice roll call vote and recorded on a tally sheet by the Secretary of the Senate. The President of the Senate then announces the vote.
A majority vote in the House and the Senate is 51% of the members present at the time of the vote. There is an exception to this rule which applies in certain issues when a two-thirds majority is required.
Senate and House Staff
The staff, at the desks just below the Speaker and the President, process all bills and resolutions through the Legislature.
The Secretary of the Senate and the Chief Clerk of the House, the parliamentarians of their respective chambers, administer the legislative process. Directly responsible to the presiding officers, they are in charge of keeping a record of all business transacted during the sessions. They are responsible for the distribution of all printed bills and in charge of all documents for the session. They record and process each document for each day's business. A bill is said to be "read across the desk" when this processing has been completed. In addition, the Secretary of the Senate and the Chief Clerk of the House have general responsibility for all Senate and House employees, including journal clerks, docket clerks, secretaries and committee staff.
The Idaho Legislature employs approximately 70 to 80 people during legislative sessions to fill various support positions. The Sergeant at Arms in the Senate and the House, under the direction of the Secretary of the Senate and the Chief Clerk of the House, oversee security, pages and doorkeepers.
Three publications are printed daily by the Legislature. The Senate and House Journals give a chronological account of the daily proceedings, including the roll call vote upon all actions which require a recorded vote.
The Journals are printed during the night and distributed to members before each session in the morning. The Mini-Data, published daily and available before the session begins each morning, lists House and Senate bills in numerical order, gives an abbreviated description and the last action on each bill. The Weekly Bill Status is published weekly on Monday, lists all bills and resolutions in numerical order, gives more detailed descriptive information and recaps all action on that bill, including roll call votes. The Weekly Bill Status also includes a complete subject index of legislation introduced. Each house of the Legislature prints and distributes all bills, resolutions and memorials introduced the previous legislative day.
Copies of these publications and all bills, resolutions and memorials are available from the Legislative Mail Room located in the basement of the Capitol.
The Legislative Council oversees the management responsibilities and permanent staff of the Legislature. The Council, established in 1963, consists of the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the majority and minority leaders of each house, four senators appointed by the parties of the Senate, two from each party, and four representatives chosen in caucus by the parties of the House of Representatives, two from each party.
Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee
The Senate Finance Committee and the House Appropriations Committee meet as the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC) to establish the state budget. Meeting daily through most of the legislative session, JFAC members review the executive budget and budget requests of each state department, agency and institution, including requests for construction of capital improvements, as well as other requests for appropriations submitted to the Legislature. JFAC's recommendations on agency budgets are submitted to the Legislature in the form of appropriation bills, and rarely fail to be approved by the full Legislature. JFAC also has been asked by the Legislative Council to review legislative audits of state and local governments.
Legislative Services Office
The Legislative Services Office was created by the Legislature in 1993 to consolidate the nonpartisan staff support to Idaho's citizen legislators. In an effort to coordinate services, a Director of Legislative Services was named to oversee three formerly separate offices. Functions of the Legislative Services Office include:
Streamlining legislative staff services represents the Legislature's commitment to "reinventing government" and improving the way government works. An effort to modernize services, the team management concept encourages communication and coordination among all areas of legislative support staff.
Office of Performance Evaluations
Under the direction of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee, a staff of performance evaluators examines the effectiveness of state agency administration, makes recommendations to the Legislature about ways in which state agency operations might be improved, and helps legislators ensure that agencies operate as intended, to maximize the quality of state services provided to Idaho citizens.
Types of Legislation
Amendment: A formal change by modification, deletion or addition.
Bill: A proposal created for the enactment of a new law, the amendment or repeal of a law already in existence, or the appropriation of public money. There is no other vehicle for the enactment of an Idaho law by the Legislature.
Concurrent Resolution: A measure not having the force of law, and normally used for one of three purposes -- to manage and regulate the internal affairs of the Legislature, such as providing for the printing of bills; to express appreciation on the part of the Legislature; or to direct interim studies by the Legislative Council or by executive agencies. Essentially, a concurrent resolution is acted upon in the same manner as a bill. It is not signed by the Governor.
Engrossment: When a bill has been amended it is engrossed by incorporating the changes specified in the amendment into the bill. A bill can only be engrossed in the house in which it was introduced. If a bill is amended in the house which did not introduce the bill, it is not engrossed until the house which introcuced the bill concurs in the amendments. The highest numbered engrossment is the final version that was considered for adoption.
Joint Memorial: A petition usually addressed to the President, the Congress, or some official or department of the federal government, requesting an action that is within the jurisdiction of the official or body addressed. Essentially, a joint memorial is acted upon in the same manner as a bill and must be passed by both houses. It is not signed by the Governor.
Joint Resolution: A measure requiring approval of two-thirds majority of both houses; does not have to be signed by the Governor; and is used only to propose amendments to the Idaho Constitution and to ratify amendments to the United States Constitution.
Simple Resolution: A measure similar to a joint resolution, but passed by one house of the Legislature. Simple resolutions do not deal with the passing of laws. They are used primarily to express appreciation of the Legislature to companies, individuals, etc., or to make a point on some subject more definite than debate on the floor.
Proclamation: A petition that includes, but is not limited to, a vote of thanks, praise or honor for a special achievement, accomplishment, anniversary or birthday. It is voted upon by both houses.
Session Laws: The published compilation of bills and resolutions that have passed and become law as a result of action by the current Legislature. The volume of session laws is printed in bill format, showing striking and underscoring, and in the order in which the bills became law.
Idaho Code: A set of books, approximately 23 volumes, containing all laws of the State of Idaho. These volumes are updated at the close of each legislative session with pocket supplements to reflect all recently passed legislation.