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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 about 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:

  • Preserve the checks and balances of state government by the independent exercise of legislative powers;

  • Adopt a system of laws that promote the health, education and well-being of Idaho’s citizens;

  • Preserve the state’s environment and ensure wise, productive use of the state’s natural resources;

  • Carry out oversight responsibilities to enhance government accountability; and

  • Raise revenues and appropriate monies that support necessary government services.

The Chambers

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By the 1990s, crowding, outdated mechanical systems, and decades of hard use left their mark on the aging building.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.

The Membership

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 $16,684 per year, plus expenses for housing and travel during the session, and a constituent service allowance of $2,250. The President Pro Tem and Speaker receive an additional $4,000 per year.

The Sessions

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.

The Officers

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, a prayer by the Chaplain and the Pledge of Allegiance.

Traditionally, the daily sessions begin mid-morning and last until all immediate business to be considered is finished. In the early mornings and afternoons, committee meetings are scheduled to prevent any conflict with the daily sessions. Late in the legislative session, afternoon floor sessions are common. The daily 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.

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. Media quarters are located on the Garden Level of the Capitol building.

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 Voting

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 electronically through a voting program on their chamber desk phone. These votes are automatically totalled and are displayed on monitors in the Chambers. The Speaker announces the vote after the program 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. Simultaneously, the vote is entered electronically in a voting program by Senate staff, where it is automatically tallied and displayed on monitors in the Chambers. The President of the Senate 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.

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 oversee security, pages and doorkeepers.


Three publications are printed and/or published online 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 published online daily upon completion of each day’s session and printed in limited quantity by the following morning. The Mini-Data is published online and printed in limited quantity daily and is available before the session begins each morning. It lists House and Senate bills in numerical order and gives an abbreviated description and the last action on each bill. The Weekly Bill Status, published weekly by Monday morning, 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.

Copies of these publications and all bills, resolutions, proclamations and memorials are available from the Legislative Information Center located on the Garden Level of the Capitol building.

Legislative Council

The Legislative Council, established in 1963, oversees the management responsibilities and permanent staff of the Legislature, is comprised of the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the majority and minority leaders of each house, and four senators and four representatives – two from each party. The Legislative Council meets twice annually, in the spring and in the fall.

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:

  • Budget and Policy Analysis: assists legislators with the state’s budget making process and provides policy advice to individual legislators and legislative committees.

  • Information Technology: maintains the Legislature’s comprehensive computer network, which links all legislative and staff offices, and supports other legislative technology initiatives.

  • Legislative Audits: conducts financial post-audits of state agencies — an effort to ensure state and local government agencies spend funds properly and in accordance with government accounting standards.

  • Research and Legislation: conducts research for legislators, drafts legislation, staffs legislative study committees, reviews administrative agency rules, and provides information on the legislative process and legislative history to the public and other state agencies.

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.

  • A change to an Idaho Code section is an amendment to the section. The changes are shown by underlining language to be added to the code section and/or striking through language to be deleted from the code section.

  • A change to a bill that has been introduced is also an amendment. Once a bill has been introduced it can only be changed by formal amendment, a process requiring action on the floor of the House or Senate. When a bill has been amended it is rewritten to incorporate the adopted amendments.

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 introduced 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.

RS:  A “routing slip” number used by the Legislature to identify confidential draft legislation. RSs may or may not become bills and cannot be posted on the Internet until they achieve official bill status.

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.