A long-running dispute between legislative leadership and the Idaho State Treasurer’s Office spilled over into the legal realm Friday.
House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, and Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, filed suit against State Treasurer Julie Ellsworth, seeking declaratory judgment regarding who actually controls the space on the first floor of the Statehouse.
“We didn’t want it to come to this, but the treasurer is refusing to acknowledge the law,” Bedke said in a news release. “This needs to be resolved. We have confidence the District Court will see state law for what it is and declare that we have the right to our space.”
The dispute dates back to 2007, when newly elected Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter objected to plans to expand the Capitol by adding two, two-story wings onto the House and Senate.
Otter argued that one-story extensions were good enough. Lawmakers agreed to scale back the expansion plans, but only if the governor gave up control of the first-floor office space. He accepted the compromise, and state law was then amended to reflect that the Legislature controlled the “use and allocation” of space on the first, third and fourth floors of the Statehouse.
“More than a decade ago, Idaho law determined legislative control of certain levels in the Capitol because of our increasing need for space,” Bedke said in the news release. “Our elected (representatives) need space that will allow them to conduct constituent meetings with the assurance of privacy, as well as performing required legislative duties.”
Bedke informed then-Treasurer Ron Crane last year that the time had come for him to vacate his offices on the first floor of the Statehouse. Bedke said the space was needed to construct private offices for representatives, most of whom currently have open cubicles.
The House approved a $10.6 million appropriation bill earlier this year to advance Bedke’s plan. It included $3.5 million to relocate the treasurer’s staff, as well as $7.1 million to construct 49 private offices and remodel some other legislative staff space.
However, the Senate subsequently killed the bill during the waning days of the 2019 session, as the two chambers wrestled over other policy disputes. Ellsworth also made it clear that she didn’t support the plan.
The lawsuit seeks a declaratory judgment that the Legislature “has the sole authority … to determine the use of space on the first floor of the Capitol,” and that Ellsworth “must comply” with the Legislature’s disposition of that space.
The lawsuit also seeks attorney’s fees and costs.
In a news release of her own, Ellsworth blasted Bedke and Hill for continuing to push this issue.
“I have always opposed this move, and I’m shocked at the continued wasteful use of taxpayer dollars to build new legislative offices that will be used for just three months of the year,” she said. “This is not a friendly lawsuit, and I plan to vigorously defend the taxpayers of Idaho and combat this frivolous use of their dollars.”
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