The halls of the Idaho State Capitol, mostly silent since the 2012 Legislature adjourned in the spring, came back to life Monday, when a fresh crop of freshman Idaho legislators received their first dose of what was commonly considered Legislation 101.
While some lawmakers were simply switching houses (from the House to the Senate, or vice versa), the majority were new to politics on the state level.
The group was greeted by veteran legislators and leadership, the Legislative Services Office staff, press and a handful of academics with longstanding experience in coaching new legislators. Despite their collective eagerness to jump into a three-day orientation program that was described repeatedly as being like “drinking from a fire hose,” this year's bigger-than-usual incoming class appeared to be up to the challenge.
The comprehensive curriculum includes an overview of staff and facilities, procedures and protocols, and law school for legislators. Finer points also include ethics and dealing with lobbyists. Imagine an advanced School House Rock.
Legislative Services Office Director Jeff Youtz quickly drove home the importance of balance and participation for the new legislators, and made a point of highlighting the diverse backgrounds that comprise the new class.
“The real strength of this institution is diversity. We’ve got four attorneys, nine small businessmen and women, nine in the financial consulting and real estate business, six from state and local government, two from a farming/ranching/agriculture background, one from a medical background, two from an education background, and two that list themselves as mom or homemaker, which arguably is the most important job of all.”
Republican Rep. Brandon Hixon from Caldwell's District 10 Seat A is excited to be a part of the legislative process and is looking forward to the challenges he will face in January.
“When I walked into the Capitol building today, I just thought to myself, this is an amazing honor—to be able to come in here and really serve the people in my district and the people of the State of Idaho.”
New to the upcoming session will be a far-reaching ethics seminar, in the wake of the seemingly endless sequence of legal and personal troubles of former Sen. John McGee. The bipartisan effort is seen as an important administrative addition to enhance public perception and ensure that everyone in the Legislature is fully aware of conduct expectations.
Boise State Professor Dr. Gary Moncrief, a presenter at the event, believes that the orientation is an important opportunity to give the incoming freshman the right tools for success.
“The staff is very well prepared. They have known for a quite some time that there was going to be a large turnover. They know there are a lot of people that have to be brought up to speed very quickly.”
The orientation runs through Dec. 5, with the Legislature convening for the 2013 session on Jan. 7.