Here’s how to follow key bills

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Tuesday's column outlined the Idaho legislative process. Today, a look at bill types and how to track them.

While hundreds of bills are introduced in each Idaho legislative session (notably in an election year), not all make it to the finish line. Some die unattended or incomplete, others are voted down, and the rest become law. Only a small fraction are “hot topics” which get much coverage; reporting on all legislation is both impractical and for most readers, uninteresting. Yet to individuals, certain subjects mean more, potentially affecting lives and livelihoods.

Think it has nothing to do with you? Think again. The state Legislature decides how our state taxes will be spent; compensation and job scope of public officials; regulations and funding for licensed professions, health care, education, emergency services; where the lines are drawn between rights and responsibilities, between privacy and the public's right to know, as several Press editorials recently emphasized.

You don't have to be a politician or lobbyist to follow along; anyone can track a bill. Option one is impassive, by signing up for Bill Tracker emails at Legislature.Idaho.gov. For more active or concerned citizens there's option two, following closely by identifying and keeping up by topic or, once known, by bill number. That way, you know what to give feedback on, and when it is useful (before a vote).

During session (January through late March or early April) the site is updated each weekday afternoon. Here's a bill tracking primer:

Start with the bill number: “HO” plus three numbers means a bill originated in the House (HO123), and “S” plus four means it started in the Senate (S1211).

Identify legislation type:

1. Bill: A proposed new law, a change (amendment) or repeal of existing law, or spending (appropriation) of public money. Bills must pass by at least simple majority in both chambers, and be signed by the governor, to become law.

2. Concurrent resolution: (“HCR014”) These aren't actually laws so much as housekeeping. Used to order printing of certain bills, express appreciation, or direct information gathering/studies between sessions. Not signed by the governor.

3. Joint memorial (SJM103): A statement addressed to the President, Congress, or other federal official, requesting an action. Passed by both chambers, but not signed by the governor.

4. Joint resolution (HJR001): Requires two-thirds majority approval of both chambers, but not signed by the governor. Used only to propose amendments to the Idaho Constitution or ratify amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

5. Simple resolution (SR104): Like a joint resolution, but passed by only one chamber. Primarily used to express appreciation to companies, groups, or individuals, or make an important statement.

6. Proclamation (HP001): Thanks or praise for a special achievement, anniversary, or birthday.

Track movement:

At Legislature.Idaho.gov, click “legislative sessions,” then “bill center.” Find the legislation by number if you know it, otherwise click “legislation by subject” and scroll down to see what's relevant to you.

Within categories, or following the bill number, you'll see these symbols and abbreviations following the bill number.

Committees: “H Transp, H Rev/Tax, H St Aff” — These are examples of committees (Transportation, Revenue & Taxation, and State Affairs) currently considering action on the legislation. “S Loc Gov” would indicate the Senate's local government committee is considering the bill.

Did it pass one chamber? If a bill number identifies one chamber (HO211, i.e., House), and the current notation shows a committee from the other chamber (S Educ, i.e., Senate), that means it passed the first chamber's floor vote.

New info* — An asterisk means the status change occurred the previous day, quite handy when checking regularly.

Amendment “a” — A small “a” (S1304a) means the bill has been amended during that session.

The summary: The bill text (click on the number to read one) first lists a summary of what's happened to it, including a record of floor votes by name. Abbreviations are listed in the “weekly bill status” report, accessible from the main bills page. If it's a bill amending current law, you will see old provisions lined through and proposed new language in bold.

Feedback: You can read the legislation by clicking on “bill text.” To find the sponsoring legislator and a brief explanation of why it was introduced, click “statement of purpose.” Committee minutes, also available online, provide more background (if you go to Boise to testify, it's advisable to read “Testifying before legislative committees” under the Committees tab to learn what's expected). You can also identify and email your representatives by clicking “legislators” at the top.

The governor: Most bills which pass both chambers are signed by the governor within the five-day deadline, having already been discussed and considered before reaching his desk. He also has the political option to do nothing, allowing a bill to become law without his signature. When he does veto (say no to the bill), the bill goes back to the Legislature. Unless it receives an uncommon, and politically charged, two-thirds majority vote from each chamber to override (if they even vote post-veto), the bill dies.

The Legislature's website offers a lot more information on the state laws, lawmaking, and lawmakers affecting so much of our lives. You can even live stream, at least sometimes, CSPAN style (or is it I-SPAN?).

•••

Sholeh Patrick, J.D. is a former state lobbyist and a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Contact her at sholeh@cdapress.com.

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