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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of Nov 26 - Dec 2, 2003

Opinion Column

All meetings of Legislature should be open to public

Guest opinion by Sen. Clint Stennett and Rep. Wendy Jaquet

Sen. Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum, is the
Senate Minority Leader, and Rep. Wendy Jaquet,
D-Ketchum, is the House Minority Leader.

At the Legislative Council meeting held in Boise on Oct. 29, the council members discussed the existing conflict between Section 67-2346 of the Idaho Code, which provides that all meetings of any standing, special or select committee of either house of the Idaho Legislature shall be open to the public at all times, and the Joint Rules of the Senate and the House of Representatives, which provide that any such committee may, upon a two-thirds vote of the committee, go into executive session.

The Democrats in the Legislature repeatedly have taken the position that Idaho Code Section 67-2346 requires that all meetings of standing, special or select committees of either house of the Legislature must be open to the public. The Republicans have taken the position that the Joint Rules, which conflict with the statute, are controlling and, in effect, overrule the open meeting requirement of I. C. Sec. 67-2346.

The issue in resolving this inherent conflict between the state statute and the Joint Rules results from provisions in the Idaho Constitution. Article III, Sec. 12 of the Idaho Constitution provides as follows: "Secret Sessions prohibited. The business of each house, and of the committee of the whole shall be transacted openly and not in secret session."

The attorney general of the State of Idaho has ruled that this constitutional prohibition does not apply to legislative committee meetings. Article III, Sec. 9 of the Idaho Constitution provides as follows: "Each house when assembled shall . . . determine its own rules of proceeding . . ."

The attorney general has issued his opinion that the constitutional right of a state Legislature to control its own proceedings cannot be withdrawn or restricted by statute. As a result, the attorney general has concluded that the existing joint rules supercede the conflicting statute, Idaho Code Sec. 67-2346.

Following a lengthy discussion, a motion was passed unanimously authorizing the Legislative Services Office to draft a proposed set of joint rules for consideration by both houses of the Idaho Legislature. The proposed rules shall incorporate the open meeting requirements of Idaho Code Section 67-2346, confirm that the formation of public policy is public business and shall not be conducted in secret, and provide for the limited and extraordinary circumstances under which a legislative committee will be authorized to go into executive session. This was not a motion to approve the proposed rule, but rather, a motion to authorize the drafting of a proposed rule for consideration by the Legislative Council and then by both houses of the Legislature. The council members agreed they should recommend a repeal of that section of the Open Meeting Law, I.C. §67-2346, only if this newly drafted Joint Rule of the House and Senate is adopted by both houses of the Legislature.

The Democratic members of the council made their position perfectly clear: in order to gain their approval of any proposed Joint Rule, it must be clearly stated that the interest of the public is paramount, that the public’s business should be conducted in open, public meetings, that only under specific, extraordinary circumstances will it be permissible for a legislative committee to meet in executive session, that by adoption of the Rule, the Legislature is not encouraging the use of executive sessions, and that the Rule must provide that no votes or official action may be taken during any authorized executive session.

The Democratic caucus position has been consistent. We maintain that openness in government is critical to a democratic society. The Idaho Constitution mandates that all business of each house shall be transacted openly and not in secret session. It doesn't get any clearer than that.



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