by Devon Downey, Idaho Reports
The Idaho Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the Idaho legislature after a lengthy public dispute regarding control of first floor office space in the Idaho statehouse.
In 2018, Speaker of the House Scott Bedke and then-President Pro Tempore of the Senate Brent Hill wrote to then-Idaho State Treasurer Ron Crane telling his office of their intention to evict the treasurer for additional legislative space in the Idaho Capitol after Crane’s retirement.
One year later, five House members sent a letter to newly elected Treasurer Julie Ellsworth telling her that the space occupied by the Treasurer would be reallocated for use by the legislature. After another letter was sent without receiving a response, Bedke and Hill asked the courts to weigh in on who had the authority over the space on the first floor of the Capitol under Idaho Code section 67-1602, which clarifies control and allocation of areas in the Capitol between the executive and legislative departments.
After the district court ruled for Bedke and Hill in July 2020, Ellsworth appealed, arguing that the courts should not hear the case as it is a political question and that the court incorrectly read the statute. Ellsworth also claimed that both branches of the legislature needed to vote on the eviction, not just the presiding officers.
Writing for a unanimous Court, Justice John Stegner rejected those claims, stating that the presiding officers of the House and the Senate “determine the use of and… allocate the space on the first floor.” The Court ruled that “[t]he interpretation of Idaho Code section 67-1602(3) does not raise a political question”.
A third merit argument regarding Idaho Code section 67-1608, which details the duties of the Idaho Capitol Commission, was deemed not applicable based on their findings.
As is customary, Bedke and Hill are entitled to their appeals costs.
In a statement, Bedke applauded the “pointed and sensible decision”, saying, “we would have preferred the State Treasurer had respected the rule of law and avoided the need for this lawsuit. We now hope to finally move forward without any further delays or complications.”
Ellsworth responded with concerns for the future of Idaho’s government. “The court has spoken. If the legislature chooses to move forward by providing funding, and the Capitol Commission approves this major historic character change to the building, I will move out of this space that the State Treasurer has occupied full-time since the construction of Idaho’s Capitol in 1912. I am still concerned this is another step towards a full-time legislature which will grow government and create further distance and isolation between the citizens of Idaho and their elected officials.”
This case follows a trend of the legislative and executive departments quarreling over the powers of their respective branches. Legislation brought forth so far this session pushing back against Gov. Brad Little’s emergency orders for COVID-19 shows that while this fight against the Treasurer has ended, the battle between the branches continues.
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