Idaho lawmakers should provide at least three-day notice of bills scheduled for public hearing
We’re still a few months away from the start of Idaho’s 2024 legislative session in January, but there is one rule change that we’d like to see lawmakers make to improve public participation in the legislative process.
To help maximize public involvement in their governance, lawmakers should amend their rules to require at least three-day public notice of the bills to be heard at public hearings. Providing advance notice of bills scheduled for public hearings is a standard practice among neighboring states. This type of public notice is necessary to allow for meaningful involvement by citizens in the bill hearing process.
The presumption for meaningful public participation in the legislative process is called for in the state constitution. Idaho’s constitution declares: “All political power is inherent in the people.”
Idaho’s open meetings law says: “No less than a five (5) calendar day meeting notice and a forty-eight (48) hour agenda notice shall be given unless otherwise provided by statute.”
Though the Legislature is currently exempt from this requirement, Idaho’s Legislative Services Office told me earlier this year: “While State of Idaho open meeting laws do not apply to the Legislature, both chambers strive to meet those standards (agendas posted 24-48 hours prior to meetings) whenever possible.”
To help facilitate the maximum ability of citizens to participate in the legislative process, the rules should be amended to provide at least three-day notice of not only a public hearing but also the bills to be considered at the hearing. This will help provide busy Idahoans with the time needed to adjust schedules if they wish to provide comments on pending legislation.
Here are examples from neighboring states of legislative rules requiring advance notice of bills scheduled for public hearings.
- Washington five-day notice: “1. At least five days’ notice shall be given of all public hearings held by any committee other than the rules committee. Such notice shall contain the date, time and place of such hearing together with the title and number of each bill, or identification of the subject matter, to be considered at such hearing. By a majority vote of the committee members present at any committee meeting such notice may be dispensed with. The reason for such action shall be set forth in a written statement preserved in the records of the meeting. 2. No committee may hold a public hearing during a regular or extraordinary session on a proposal identified as a draft unless the draft has been made available to the public at least twenty-four hours prior to the hearing. This rule does not apply during the five days prior to any cutoff established by concurrent resolution nor does it apply to any measure exempted from the resolution.”
- Montana three-day notice: “Notice of a committee hearing must be made by posting the date, time, and subject of the hearing online and in a conspicuous public place not less than 3 legislative days in advance of the hearing.”
- Wyoming one-day notice: “No Standing Committee shall meet to consider any bill referred to it unless notice of the date, time and place of the meeting and the bills to be considered has been posted in the State Capitol at the place designated for posting of meeting notices by 3:00 p.m. on the day before the meeting is to be held. For a meeting to be held on a Monday, the notice shall be posted by 3:00 p.m. on the first legislative day preceding that Monday.”
Several state constitutions also require the text of bills to be publicly available for several days to avoid quick passage toward the end of a session without the opportunity for public involvement. For example:
- Michigan Constitution: “No bill shall be passed or become a law at any regular session of the legislature until it has been printed or reproduced and in the possession of each house for at least five days.”
- Washington Constitution: “No bill shall be considered in either house unless the time of its introduction shall have been at least ten days before the final adjournment of the legislature, unless the legislature shall otherwise direct by a vote of two-thirds of all the members elected to each house, said vote to be taken by yeas and nays and entered upon the journal, or unless the same be at a special session.”
Whether we are entrepreneurs, parents, students, members of a trade group, or even a lawmaker, it is important to have meaningful public notice of when a bill is going to be available for a public hearing and what the actual text of that proposal is. Only then can we rearrange our schedules, review, and prepare to provide the testimony lawmakers need to help advance good policy for the state.
Requiring at least a three-day notice of bills scheduled for a public hearing will help improve the information available not only for citizens but also lawmakers, as bills advance through the legislative process.