You can say one thing for the 65th Idaho Legislature.
The group of lawmakers who met in 2019 and again this year kept the lawyers prosperous.
Of course, you, the taxpayer, get to pay those legal bills — usually on both sides of the argument.
The latest example occurred last week.
State schools Superintendent Sherri Ybarra is suing the state Legislature and her colleagues on the State Board of Education for going along with the state Legislature.
In a lawsuit filed by her attorney, former Idaho Attorney General David Leroy, Ybarra accuses lawmakers of using a budgetary device to accomplish what only a constitutional amendment can do — severely diminish her authority as the state’s chief public education advocate.
This all started on the legislative budget committee, where members yanked a substantial amount of the superintendent’s money and staff — $2.7 million and 18 of the 21 people operating the Idaho System for Educational Excellence. The committee’s bills transferred those resources and personnel over to the gubernatorial appointees on the State Board of Education.
The tug-of-war between the state board and the superintendent’s office is nothing new. But the line of demarcation tends to divide the state board’s discretion to decide policy from the superintendent’s authority to implement it. With the Legislature’s consent, the state board now will do both and Ybarra will do neither.
If any of this sounds familiar, it should.
Early in the last decade, Republican Gov. Dirk Kempthorne’s appointees on the state board — led by Blake Hall of Idaho Falls — raided Democratic state schools Superintendent Marilyn Howard’s budget and authority to dispense millions of dollars in federal funds to implement standardized testing and teacher accountability.
Howard chose not to fight.
Ybarra, a two-term Republican, has no such inclination.
And in her lawsuit, she asserts a dark motive for the Legislature’s behavior.
“Upon information and belief, (the measures transferring Ybarra’s money and staff to the state board) were proposed and passed in furtherance of a plan to ‘strip the superintendent of her authority through the budget process,’ in retaliation for her failure to support a 2019 revised funding formula advocated by the speaker of the House (Scott Bedke, R-Oakley) and other legislators,” the lawsuit asserts.
Ybarra wasn’t the sole reason for that plan’s demise. Changing the funding formula without benefit of a state budget windfall would leave some schools with more and others with less.
Nor is this the first case of a Legislature indulging its litigious fetish with an elected constitutional officer.
About a year ago, the Republican legislative leadership unleashed a lawsuit against Republican state Treasurer Julie Ellsworth.
To make way for 49 House members who want to enjoy the comforts a private office provides — and their current cubicles lack — legislative leaders want Ellsworth to vacate her quarters in the state Capitol. They want a judge to declare the Legislature “has the sole authority ... to determine the use of space on the first floor of the Capitol,” and that Ellsworth “must comply.”
The last time anyone checked, the two sides had accumulated more than $200,000 in bills owed to private law firms, including Leroy — who is representing Ellsworth.
You could also count Attorney General Lawrence Wasden among the Legislature’s legal adversaries — at least indirectly.
Twice this year, Wasden warned lawmakers not to pass legislation that targeted the transgender population.
In the case of a bill prohibiting people from amending the gender markers on their birth certificates, Wasden warned lawmakers were ignoring a federal court decision — and exposing the state to a $1 million loss if the U.S. Supreme Court rules against their case.
With respect to a measure seeking to ban trans women and girls from playing on girls sports teams, Wasden — backed up by five former attorneys general including Leroy — warned of another costly legal defeat.
The American Civil Liberties Union has followed through with its promise to bring a lawsuit against the ban on transgender women and girls in women’s sports. Lambda Legal has launched a legal challenge to the transgender birth certificate measure.
Ironically, Wasden’s office may be called upon to defend those measures in court.
Why elect legislators, pay them and provide staff and amenities if their preferred option is to call the lawyers? — M.T.