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Blocked bills keep lawmakers in town


Rep. Steve Smylie (R-Boise 15) pulled out his themed ties March 31, the same day Gov. Dirk Kempthorne pulled out his veto stamp and symbolically ended the life of a handful of bills. Mickey Mouse graced Smylie's necktie that Thursday. Einstein made an appearance in Smylie's attire on Friday and on Monday, the Representative sported a $100 bill necktie. Tuesday was Three Stooges tie day.

"You can take your own meaning," Smylie said of the ties that might have held some symbolism for lawmakers questioning the smarts behind the vetoes that helped stretch the legislative session beyond its typical March closure.

Kempthorne killed eight bills after a House committee blocked the $1.6 billion highway construction plan that the governor touted in his State of the State address and turned into his legislative pet project. Lawmakers caught the message behind vetoed bills that, for the most part, easily cruised through the legislative process. The move angered some Boise-area lawmakers, who saw the vetoes as a stall that added days to the legislative calendar and sucked precious funds from the state's already tight budget. Others said politics is politics and vetoes are political.

"The governor has every right to do that. It's part of the process," Smylie said of Kempthone's vetoes. "That's U.S. Government 101. He has veto power and he can use it."

Still, according to Smiley, "The governor weakened his hand by giving into the vetoes ... He made people mad."

Most of that agitation came from Boise lawmakers who equated lost dollars and a stalled legislative closure to a lot of ego and some childish behavior.

Lawmakers weren't ready to pin down a date or time to head home, instead waiting for Kempthorne's camp and some key players to come to a compromise over the construction plan known as Connecting Idaho. At press time, they only knew that the statehouse cafeteria would cease serving lunch on Wednesday.

"It seemed a little silly," Sen. Kate Kelly (D-Boise 18) said of the vetoes. "Why not work this out earlier?"

Kempthorne said he vetoed the eight bills to prevent the Idaho Legislature from adjourning before approving legislation that would OK the use of GARVEE bonds to upgrade Idaho highways and complete 30-years-worth of transportation projects over the next 10 years.

"It will save lives, help with the efficient movement of goods and services, create thousands of jobs and keep Idaho moving forward on economic development," Kempthorne said in a written statement that warned the fight for GARVEE bonding is not over.

"Approval of the above-mentioned legislation merely hastens the adjournment of the House of Representatives before it would have an opportunity to affirmatively act upon an important matter of policy still before the House Transportation and Defense Committee, namely, Senate Bill 1183," Kempthorne wrote in his official veto statements. "As the House continues to deliberate over the next several weeks, I would encourage you to move quickly to consider Senate Bill 1183 and pass such without amendment."

At press time, the Connecting Idaho bill was being held at the desk of the House Transportation Committee chairperson and much of the vetoed legislation was back before lawmakers for possible overrides.

"I think it's clear that it didn't work," said Rep. Nicole LeFavour (D-Boise 19) of Kempthorne's vetoes. What it did do, she said, was keep lawmakers at the Statehouse for at least an additional three days. Multiply those days with the money the state spends to keep the Legislature in business and you've possibly got enough cash to fund some of the bills lawmakers said no to because of a tight budget year, she said. LeFavour and others point to the Medicaid buy-in program and family planning legislation that could have extend health care coverage to low-income workers for a minimal state investment. Those bills didn't pass partly because lawmakers weren't willing to squeeze appropriations for those projects from an already lean budget.

Some lawmakers applauded Kempthorne's bold move. Others said the vetoes simply didn't reflect sound decision-making.

"When so much ego gets invested in any one piece of legislation, it enables poor and hasty decision making to happen," said Rep. Jana Kemp (R-Boise 16). "So much ego got attached to this whole decision-making process that poor decisions followed, and that isn't good for Idaho."

The vetoes sent some non-controversial bills back to lawmakers and even, ironically, stalled the passage of legislation that would have ensured that Idaho would receive federal transportation dollars. The vetoed bills include:

• House Bill 38-Gives the state authority in seed regulation.

• House Bill 54-Would implement new federal requirements for commercial driver's licenses and ensure that the state receives federal transportation money.

• House Bill 68-Recognizes the OHV, a larger class of the ATV, and provides for the registration of these vehicles.

• House Bill 70-Standardizes laws governing Department of Parks and Recreation advisory boards.

• House Bill 188-Adds to law the federal protections required under the "Keeping Children and Families Safe Act of 2003."

• House Bill 193-Clarifies when vehicles are required to stop at ports of entry for inspection and weighing.

• House Bill 277-Clarifies an income tax exemption relating to the taxation of interest, dividends and capital gains.

• House Bill 280-Provides a reasonable time for the rehabilitation of irrigation and drainage projects.

At press time, lawmakers were awaiting the fate of the vetoed legislation and the Governor's Office had not yet responded to Boise Weekly's request for an interview.

"It's like any other tool," Smylie said of the vetoes. "There are efficient ways of using a sledgehammer and the veto is a sledgehammer ... How well (Kempthorne) used that sledgehammer remains to be seen."

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