The Session To Come 

Can't find a hotel room for your visiting relatives in January? That's because the Idaho Legislature is getting ready for its January 8 opening of the 2007 session.

Aside from orienting newcomers to the lawmaking body, Idaho legislators are also pondering leadership roles. Because the House, like the Senate and the governor's office, is controlled by Republicans, it's that party that decides who will be the next speaker of the House, now that Bruce Newcomb has retired. That decision comes this week in closed-door sessions of Republicans. The race is between conservative Rep. Lawerence Denney from Midvale and the more moderate Rep. Bill Deal of Nampa. As you might imagine, the rumor mill is running overtime.

But either way, the House is shaping up to be more conservative, because moderate Republicans like Rep. Jana Kemp from Boise's North End lost out to Democrats in last month's election. That leaves the majority party with a more hard-right bent, says Keith Allred of The Common Interest, a public-interest lobbying group.

"We could be taking a fairly decisive move to the right, in the midst of the country taking a move to the left," Allred said.

That shift, plus the broad-based success of the anti-gay-marriage amendment on Election Day, gives confidence to religious conservatives like Bryan Fischer, who says he's in talks with pro-life lawmakers about new legislation to, among other things, push for a strict parental-consent law regarding abortions.

"Right now Idaho has no enforceable parental consent laws on the books," Fischer said. "That's a serious problem that needs to be addressed."

But House Minority Leader Wendy Jaquet of Ketchum is focused on community colleges, something the Legislature punted in last year's session.

"That's going to be a big deal," Jaquet said.

Over in the Senate, Majority Leader Bart Davis, an Idaho Falls Republican, said his focus will be on the budget, something Governor Risch will pass on to Governor-Elect Butch Otter for passage before Risch moves back to his old part-time gig as lieutenant governor.

Davis also expects to be dealing with some form of repeal of the sales tax on food, whether it's Risch's plan to phase out the tax over six years or repeal it immediately. Davis said although he'd like to see quicker repeal, he favors the slower fade-out. "That way, we can make it happen financially," Davis said.

The wild card, of course, will be Risch himself, and how he changes his approach to the Legislature now that he's been piloting the ship of state for the last six months.

"I'm learning along with everybody else on that," Davis said. Davis will be in a position to watch; as lieutenant governor, Risch will once again be presiding over the Idaho Senate, instead of leading from the second floor governor's office.

"We are in a very unique period of Idaho history," said Jim Weatherby, a retired political science professor at Boise State. "It'll be fascinating to watch."

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