What You Need To Know About Special Legislative Sessions In Idaho

Apr 24, 2015

In the last 35 years, Idaho has only had six special legislative sessions. And it's been almost a decade  since the last one.

Idaho's next special session could be just around the corner because the state is out of compliance with changes to federal child support programs. 

Idaho lawmakers went home April 11, but they failed to pass a child support compliance bill. If the law isn’t passed by June, Idaho will lose millions of dollars in federal money, along with access to a federal program that ensures child support payments are made. More than 150,000 families remain in limbo, unsure if their payments will continue past June.

Gov. Otter says he isn’t yet ready to call lawmakers back to the Statehouse for a special session, and it’s not clear if leadership has enough votes to pass the bill as it stands. Otter also said he can’t fix this problem with an executive order.

In Idaho, when the governor calls the Legislature into session outside its normal timeframe, it’s called an extraordinary session.

Boise State University Professor Emeritus Gary Moncrief says in Idaho, only the governor has the authority to call the special session, and to define the subject matter lawmakers can address. Moncrief says that’s different from much of the rest of the country.

“In most states, the Legislature has to call the special session, or the Legislature and the governor have to call the special session,” Moncrief says.

Some states have full-time legislatures, so they never have the need to call a special session. But other states, like Idaho, have part-time lawmakers. That means if an urgent issue crops up outside the regular session, lawmakers are called back into town to deal with it.

That doesn’t happen much in Idaho. Moncrief says there are a couple of reasons why.

“A lot of the people in the Legislature are in agriculture. So calling a special session, particularly if it’s a little later in the year, is a bit of a burden on them,” Moncrief says. “So they really don’t want to come back for a special session.”

There's another reason, too.

“We’ve had essentially an oligarchic government. We’ve had one party in control for so long, that they’re usually on the same page," Moncrief says. "If you had a Democratic governor and a Republican Legislature or vice versa, you might get more special sessions being called.”

And often, a governor can avoid an extraordinary session, just by threatening to call one.

“Sometimes all he or she needs to do is threaten to call a special session and that’s usually enough to get whatever the issue is on the agenda during the regular session because the legislators are so averse to having to come all the way back,” says Moncrief. “It’s fairly disruptive of their private lives sometimes.”

Moncrief says the most common reason to call a special session is budget issues. That was the case with the last Idaho extraordinary session in 2006.

Here’s a look at special sessions in Idaho over the past 35 years, according to the Legislative Services Office.

2006: A short, one-day session called in August by Gov. Jim Risch. He wanted to change the way schools are funded, by cutting property taxes by $260 million and raising the sales tax by a penny to 6 percent.

2000: Also a one-day session. It arose out of a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals case, the Snake River Valley Electric Association v. PacifiCorp and State of Idaho. Lawmakers were asked to amend the Electric Supplier Stabilization Act.

1992: Lawmakers gathered to prohibit some types of gambling and regulate bingo games and raffles.

1983: This one was a bit of a hodgepodge. Lawmakers added further regulations on DUI’s, increased the gas tax and “allowed the state auditor to recover Social Security overpayments.”

1981: This session dealt primarily with redistricting, although some of the issues weren’t resolved until the 1982 regular session. Lawmakers also looked at temporary worker visas.

1980: Lawmakers focused on Medicaid reimbursement.

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