Gov. Butch Otter has called a special session for May 18 to address the uproar over the failure to pass SB 1067, which would have aligned Idaho with the requirements for the U.S. to join the Hague treaty on child support. 

I think passing the legislation is necessary and I think the Governor is providing appropriate leadership on this issue.  But, a special session itself adds a bit of intrigue.

Special sessions are rare in Idaho.  This is the first called since 2006 and only the eighth since 1967 according to the Idaho Statesman.

I have spent a bit of time to determine how special sessions work and the rules governing them.  Interestingly enough, there is very little in the Idaho Constitution, or Idaho Code, or Legislative Rules specific to special sessions.

Here is what I found:

Article III, Section 8 of the Idaho Constitution reads:

SESSIONS OF LEGISLATURE. The sessions of the legislature shall be held annually at the capital of the state, commencing on the second Monday of January of each year, unless a different day shall have been appointed by law, and at other times when convened by the governor. (emphasis added) 

The “other times” are what we call special sessions and the power to call them solely rests with the then-serving governor of Idaho.

The governor’s power is fairly broad and includes the ability to limit the topics in a special session.  Article IV, Section 9 of the Idaho Constitution states:

EXTRA SESSIONS OF LEGISLATURE. The governor may, on extraordinary occasions, convene the legislature by proclamation, stating the purposes for which he has convened it; but when so convened it shall have no power to legislate on any subjects other than those specified in the proclamation; but may provide for the expenses of the session and other matters incidental thereto. He may also, by proclamation, convene the senate in extraordinary session for the transaction of executive business.(emphasis added) 

The phrase “extraordinary occasions” has been litigated and the Idaho Supreme Court has determined that the courts cannot second-guess the governor’s determination of what meets that criteria.  Diefendorf v. Gallet, 51 Idaho 619, 638-39, 10 P.2d 307, 326-27 (1932) ("The determination as to whether facts exist such as to constitute 'an extraordinary occasion' is for him [the governor] alone to determine. The responsibility and the discretion are his, not to be interfered with by any other co-ordinate branch of the government.”).

In this case, Gov. Otter’s proclamation (which can be read in full here:  http://gov.idaho.gov/mediacenter/Bills/ESP.pdf) is limited to the following topic:

To consider the passage and enactment of legislation amending and adding to Idaho Code, relating to the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act and other laws, in order to maintain a compliant state program of child-support services in Idaho uniform with all other states in the establishment and enforcement of interstate and international support orders and to ensure our state’s policies for recognizing foreign judgments are preserved.

Generally speaking, a special session runs like a regular general session, with the same leadership and standing committees as existed in the regular general session. Idaho Code § 67-404(c) is the governing provision:

OFFICERS AND STANDING COMMITTEES. (1) The officers of the legislature, elected or selected at the first regular session, or at the organizational session, shall serve during the term of the legislature.

(2)  The standing committees of the legislature, when created and designated by rule of the respective house, shall be permanent standing committees and shall exist during the term of the legislature.

Thus, in the May 18 special session, the new bill will need to run through the regular committee process and may likely appear again before the same House committee that voted it down previously.  So far, four committee members have announced they will reverse course, which should be enough for approval, given the math of the 9-8 vote of disapproval.

But, there are still open questions.  Even if the measure gets out of committee, will the full House vote in favor or against?  The real question is the strength of the opponents in the full House.  And, do the opponents have any strength in the State Senate (which originally passed unanimously but some have since expressed doubt)? 

Also, will the non-legislative opponents, including the John Birch Society and other far-right groups try to block the amended version?  Presumably a committee hearing (or hearings) will be held.  Those who testify should provide a clue as to the level of the current opposition.

The proposed measure is available for review (The draft can be seen here:  http://media.spokesman.com/documents/2015/05/otter-draft-chsupport.pdf).  The original version, voted down by the House Judiciary Committee can be viewed here and compared: http://www.legislature.idaho.gov/legislation/2015/S1067.htm

Steve Taggart is an Idaho Falls attorney specializing in bankruptcy (www.MaynesTaggart.com).  He has an extensive background in politics and public policy.  He can be reached atThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..