BOISE — An Idaho Senate committee chairman apologized Tuesday for violating Senate rules a day earlier by convening an impromptu — and likely illegal — closed meeting of his committee, over a move to force a hearing on House-passed legislation to legalize medical use of CBD oil in Idaho.
Sen. Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls, also informed his committee that a vote taken Monday to kill the bill wasn’t valid — because the bill wasn’t on the committee’s agenda.
“That was not an appropriate thing to do,” he said of his actions a day earlier. “I apologize to the committee for any of us getting into trouble.”
The CBD oil bill remains pending in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, Heider said. “I don’t know if I’ll bring it out at some point,” he said. “The status is right now it’s in my drawer. Believe me, I’m getting lots of emails about that.”
In the Idaho Legislature, a committee chair can unilaterally kill a bill by simply not scheduling a hearing on it. But that can be overridden by moves like calling the bill from the floor of the Senate or House, a parliamentary move that is rare, but does occur.
On Monday, Sen. Tony Potts, R-Idaho Falls, made an unexpected motion to hold a hearing on the bill on the spot, though the measure wasn’t on the committee’s agenda. An angry Heider led his committee behind closed doors in his office, where shouting could be heard. Reporters were kept outside; one, Melissa Davlin of Idaho Public Television, knocked on the door and informed Heider he was violating the Idaho Open Meeting Law.
After six minutes, the committee reconvened in its regular hearing room and approved a substitute motion to hold the CBD oil bill in committee. Potts’ motion “kinda threw us off,” Heider said, “because he was not on the agenda. That’s also a violation. So it kinda threw me off a bit.”
Heider said he’s holding the bill because lots of people want him to, including prosecutors, law enforcement, the governor’s office and the state Office of Drug Policy. “There’s a lot of people that are very unhappy that we’re moving forward with this bill,” he said.
Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s office had no comment Tuesday, but last week, Otter hinted at a “Capitol for a Day” session in eastern Idaho that if the bill passes, he might veto it again, as he did an earlier measure in 2015.
“I feel like it really is opening the door to marijuana in our state,” Heider said. “We are the bastion of freedom from marijuana in our state, and I like living here.”
CBD oil has only trace amounts of THC, the intoxicating ingredient in marijuana. Idaho currently is involved in a drug trial in which more than 30 Idaho children with intractable epilepsy are being treated with a commercial version of CBD oil called Epidiolex; success has been reported in reducing the children’s seizures.
The issue prompted comments Tuesday from all three leading GOP candidates for governor of Idaho, with 1st District Congressman Raul Labrador blasting the “Otter-Little administration” for trying to “manipulate the Legislature, usurp the legislative process, and deny our citizens a voice in this important debate.”
“That is politics at its worst. If this administration has real valid reasons to oppose the CBD oil legislation, they should present them in a public, open forum,” Labrador said. “They should defeat ideas in committee, not hide behind a committee chairman to avoid the public debate. This won’t happen under my administration.”
Little, who had been in Idaho Falls but arrived back in Boise in time to presiding over a late-afternoon Senate floor session Tuesday, said he hadn’t yet read the bill or heard the details of the dust-up.
As president of the Senate, he noted, “I’m in charge of enforcing the rules, and if somebody calls a bill from committee, I’ll preside over that. We have to comply with the rules, and we do.”
Of the impromptu closed-door meeting, Little said, “Obviously it was a circumvention. … I’m glad that Lee ‘fessed up to it.”
Little said he’s hopeful that CBD oil can become available commercially through programs like Idaho’s current drug trial. “It’s got to be quality-controlled, that’s the issue,” he said.
The third leading GOP candidate in the race, physician and businessman Tommy Ahlquist, said, “Since day one of this campaign, I have supported the legalization of CBD oil that helps sick people as long as the THC is removed and it’s prescribed by a doctor.” He said he’d “work with the Legislature to build a legislative agenda that prevents situations like this.”