JFAC Transparency Bill Passes in Obscure Vote


Rep. Bob Nonini of Coeur d'Alene, chairman of the House Education Committee, this morning passed the gavel over to his vice-chairman, Mack Shirley of Rexburg.

The committee met bright and early to hear a bill sponsored by Nonini and his buddy Rep. Eric Anderson of Hayden Lake.

The bill brought up concerns with the powerful Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, or JFAC, the body through which the budget is set for the state after testimony and analysis from other government entities. JFAC this year heard from a host of different state agencies, and had to make some deep cuts in some, as we saw with Public Ed, Corrections, and Transportation.

The concern arises from how JFAC conducts business, which is with limited testimony from the affected agency. No legislators not on the committee, nor interested public, may provide testimony.

"That avenue simply isn't open to me," said Anderson in support of the bill.

Nonini and others cited problems with minutes from JFAC, their availability, and mentioned how IdahoPTV's "Legislature Live" streaming is really the only access to the committee's proceedings. They worry that the recent uptick in intent language, rather than statute, means JFAC is getting too big in their reach.

"That's not to say we want to sacrifice open access and transparency on the altar of efficiency," said Anderson.

So the Education Committee—which sort of makes sense given the historic cuts Public Education took—entertained the bill, which came down to two options. The first: send the bill to printing, which would necessitate open public debate in a normal committee proceeding.

Or, in the case of a strapped-for-time Legislature? Send it directly to the 2nd reading, as per a motion from Rep. Branden Durst of Boise. Durst was outed as usually opposing such procedural changes. But Durst had a problem with JFAC's closed commenting policy as well.

"They have gone around the process to get a budget set," Durst said.

Vice-Chair Shirley, taking Nonini's chairman's position so that he could testify in favor of his bill, polled the committee members with a roll call vote on the first option—to send the bill to printing and therefore take days worth of proceedings, the slow route. It failed on a tie vote, 8-8.

When the committee chirped up with a voice vote on sending the bill to the 2nd reading calendar—putting it on the House floor for debate, the fast track—the clearly split committee's "aye/nay" votes were a done deal for Shirley.

"The chair is not in doubt," said Shirley.

The committee sent the bill to the full House—sans public hearing.

As if to say: you'll have open government and transparency if we have to shove it down your throat.