Friday, March 23, 2007

Dictator in legislator?s clothing

Unless she has an unlikely change of heart, state Rep. JoAnn Wood will cost Idaho's highway safety programs $947,520 because she alone decided Idaho has enough federal oversight and doesn't need funds with strings attached.

How could one state lawmaker impose her will and peculiar notions on the entire state of Idaho and deprive the state of nearly $1 million at a time when highway safety is in urgent need of funding?

Simply by refusing to allow her committee to hear legislation that handily passed the state Senate and apparently has the support of most Republicans, not to mention Democrats. She stashed the bills out of sight, and the legislation will die.

The bills she despises would require young children in cars to be in safety seats at all times, with certain exceptions. They would raise the fine for not wearing seat belts from $10 to $25. Police still would be prohibited from ticketing seat belt violations unless drivers were stopped for another violation.

"The federal funding is only there if we do what they want," Rep. Wood, a Republican from Rigby, said in defending her decision to bottle up the bill. The probability is the legislation would pass overwhelmingly if it were free for a vote.

Some explanation of Rep. Wood and her inane theory about federal control can be found in her official state biography—her membership in the Center for Constitutional Studies, an alarmist fringe group with a reputation for crying wolf about the end of constitutional government.

Isn't Rep. Wood aware that the federal government always has strings on funding? Local airports, for example, can't be funded unless construction complies with federal standards. Idaho's colleges and secondary schools that receive funds must adhere to federal standards. Idaho roads are partially funded with federal dollars and must meet federal standards. Pharmaceuticals developed partially with federal research dollars must meet federal standards. And on and on.

Rep. Wood is part of the grand tradition of Idaho political oddballs, such as the late Congresswoman Helen Chenoweth, who had visions of United Nations black helicopters spying on the state.

A more serious question, however, is what were Republican leaders thinking when they installed Rep. Wood as chair of the powerful House Transportation Committee? And will they continue to allow her this wrong-headed power?

Will her next act be to tie up legislation that could deny the state hundreds of millions of dollars in highway construction funds because she chooses horses and buggies on dirt roads over pavement rather than submit to Washington construction specifications?

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