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BOISE — Last week, the sixth of the 2019 legislative session, state officials and lawmakers:

Pulled back a constitutional amendment to change redistricting

On Feb. 8, the House State Affairs Committee cleared a constitutional amendment to add a seventh member to the state’s redistricting commission, chosen by a vote of five executive branch officials. Seeing as all of Idaho’s statewide elected officials are Republicans, this would have the likely effect of adding a Republican to a commission that, per a 1994 constitutional amendment, is split evenly between Republicans and Democrats.

Democrats protested, and the week before last ended with House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding forcing the text of every bill to be read in full and promising to continue this as long as necessary. On Monday, though, he and Majority Leader Mike Moyle said they would try to negotiate a solution, and the next day the House voted to send the proposed constitutional amendment back to committee.

It remains to be seen whether another proposal will come forward, and how this dispute will end is very much up in the air. Idaho will redraw its districts after the 2020 census, meaning any changes to the state Constitution would have to be approved by lawmakers soon to get on the ballot in time to affect the process.

Advanced a ban on cellphone use while driving

A bill to ban using a handheld cellphone while driving statewide passed the Senate Transportation Committee on a 6-2 vote Tuesday.

Texting while driving has been illegal statewide since 2012, but that law only covers texting specifically and is little enforced. While a handful of municipalities, including Idaho Falls and Pocatello, have passed local bans on using a handheld cellphone while driving but it is legal outside these few places.

It remains to be seen how it will fare. The Senate rejected another bill in 2018 that would have banned using a handheld cellphone while driving statewide.

Rep. Chad Christensen, R-Ammon, introduced a bill about three weeks ago to override local bans on using a cellphone while driving. That bill has been referred to the House Transportation committee and no further action has been taken on it.

This week

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee will continue its work setting state budgets. Monday will be a big one, when lawmakers will approve the public schools budget. There were significant differences between Gov. Brad Little’s and Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra’s budget requests, and Monday we’ll find out what lawmakers are going to want to pay for. Others big ones are the Department of Correction budget, which will be set on Thursday, and the Catastrophic Healthcare Program budget on Friday.

Quotes of the week

“We’d be happy to send some wolves down from north Idaho to take care of your elk problem.”

— Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, talking about a bill to compensate farmers for elk damage.

“I do think the balance of public policy is to achieve the right outcomes while not overly infringing on people’s liberties.”

— Idaho Freedom Foundation Vice President Fred Birnbaum, speaking against banning the use of a handheld cellphone while driving.

“I think there’s a responsibility we all have when we share a common thoroughfare in life. And sometimes, that means giving up some of our freedoms for the safety of others.”

— Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, speaking in favor of banning handheld cellphone use while driving.

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.