As the Idaho delegation gets to work in D.C., this senator wants to end shutdowns forever
Cynthia Sewell, Idaho Statesman
Published at | Updated at
BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — Idaho’s four-member, all-GOP delegation, Sens. Mike Crapo, Jim Risch, Rep. Mike Simpson and newly elected Rep. Russ Fulcher had a busy week as the new 116th U.S. Congress officially got underway.
While little progress was made on the partial federal government shutdown, Risch on Friday joined a group of Senate Republicans to introduce a bill to permanently prevent future government shutdowns. The End Government Shutdowns Act would keep the federal government open whenever key spending deadlines are missed by creating an automatic continuing resolution for appropriation bills or existing continuing resolutions.
“Shutting down the government is the complete opposite of what we were elected to do — govern,” Risch said in a news release Friday. “I have cosponsored this legislation year after year and hope we can finally move it forward. Real people with real problems get caught in the balance of government shutdowns and we need to act for them and for the sake of government efficiency. I would prefer a smaller and less intrusive government than what we have, but regardless it needs to operate.”
Here’s a recap of what else Idaho’s delegation worked on this week:
The delegation sponsored or co-sponsored three pieces of legislation introduced that are specific to or of interest to Idaho.
Third federal judge
Idaho is one of only three states (North Dakota and Vermont are the others) with only two authorized federal judge seats for the entire state. Idaho has been operating with two federal district judges since 1954 when the population of the state was at 600,000. The current population is 1.7 million. As the population grows, so do the number of court cases. Since 2003, the Judicial Conference of the U.S. has consistently found Idaho faces a judicial emergency based on weighted caseload numbers per active judge, according to news releases from Idaho’s delegation.
Crapo and Risch introduced legislation, S. 103, to establish an additional federal district judgeship in Idaho.
“The ability to deliver justice to people in Idaho has been severely delayed due to the lack of a third federal district judge,” Crapo said in a news release. “Judges from other districts have stepped in to assist but the amount of cases and related legal work is causing judge and court employees in Idaho and from neighboring districts to work many overtime hours. Idaho must be granted a third judge to meet the demands being required.”
Risch said the “judicial emergency” facing Idaho has put the Gem State and legal system at a great disadvantage.
“Adding a third district judgeship in Idaho is common sense and would help administer efficient and effective justice in our state,” he said.
Simpson and Fulcher introduced similar legislation, H.R. 214, in the House.
“Appointing an additional judge will help to lessen the growing backlog of cases, deliver quicker service to our constituents, and make our judicial system more efficient. This shortage has faced Idaho for far too long, and I am pleased to make this effort one of my first actions in Congress,” Fulcher said in a news release.
Simpson added he has long advocated for the addition.
“Idahoans deserve a fair and efficient federal court system, and this bill would go a long way towards ensuring their Constitutional access to justice,” he said.
Salmon River maintenance
Simpson and Fulcher introduced legislation to improve a commercial recreation facility at Smith Gulch located on the Salmon River in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.
The bill, H.R. 482, would allow the use of limited maintenance equipment needed to maintain the routine functions and safety of the existing lodge.
Currently, the Forest Service does not believe it has clear authorization to permit the use of the equipment necessary for the general upkeep of the facilities at the lodge, according to Simpson.
“The proposed bill is an effort to clarify Congress’ intent in legislation passed in 2004 to retain the basic characteristics of the Lodge without substantially altering the existing use,” Simpson said in a news release. “The use of maintenance equipment would allow the lodge to eliminate the reliance on outdated energy sources and replace them with modest renewable energy sources, all while complying with existing laws.”
Crapo and Risch introduced companion legislation, S. 79, in the Senate.
Concealed carry weapon reciprocity
Crapo and Risch have joined 30 GOP senators in sponsoring legislation to allow individuals with a state-issued conceal carry permit to carry a concealed firearm in any other state that allows or does not prohibit the practice.
The bill, S. 69, is Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn latest version of the Constitutional Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act.
“This legislation will allow individuals with concealed carry privileges in their home state to exercise those rights in any other state with concealed carry laws, while abiding by that state’s laws,” according to a news release. “This includes treating state-issued concealed carry permits like drivers’ licenses where an individual can use their home-state license to drive in another state, but must abide by that other state’s speed limit or road laws.”
“This bill focuses on two of our country’s most fundamental constitutional protections — the Second Amendment’s right of citizens to keep and bear arms and the Tenth Amendment’s right of states to make laws best-suited for their residents,” Cornyn said in the news release.
North Carolina GOP Rep. Richard Hudson has introduced parallel legislation, H.R. 38, in the House.
Risch has been elected chairman of U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, replacing Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, whose retirement put Risch next in line for the chairmanship.
Risch, 75, is the third Idahoan to serve as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, following William Borah’s tenure from 1925 to 1933 and Frank Church’s two-year term from 1979 to 1980.
“I look forward to giving Idaho a voice on the global stage as we look to confront many issues that hit home across my state, like advancing the interests of Idaho citizens and businesses in international trade and investment, promoting Idaho exports, and supporting human rights and confronting the problem of sex trafficking,” Risch said in a news release.
He said it is especially important and time-sensitive that provisions of the Columbia River Treaty be renegotiated by the State Department, which reports directly to Risch’s committee.
“I will oversee these negotiations with Idaho as my top priority,” he said.
In addition to leading Foreign Relations, Risch also serves on the following Senate committees: Small Business and Entrepreneurship Energy and Natural Resources, Ethics, and Intelligence.
Crapo was re-elected to lead the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee.
“In the 115th Congress, we ushered dozens of bills through the Committee and into law, from legislation to right-size regulation for Main Street financial institutions and encourage economic growth, to laws that will hold foreign countries accountable and protect our national security interests,” Crapo said in a news release.
He will continue to serve on three other Senate committees: Budget, Finance and Judiciary.
Additionally, Crapo will continue as the chief deputy whip, a leadership position assisting Senate Republican Whip John Thune, R-South Dakota, who is the Senate Republicans’ chief vote counter.
Simpson will continue to serve on the House Appropriations Committee.
Fulcher has not yet received his committee assignments, according to his new chief of staff, state Sen. Cliff Bayer, R-Meridian. Bayer’s mother, Regina, is serving as his temporary replacement in the Idaho Legislature until a permanent replacement is selected.
Record-setting government shutdown
Congress convened last week in the midst of a partial federal government shutdown that began on Dec. 20.
The previous longest stoppage was a 21-day closure that ended Jan. 6, 1996, during President Bill Clinton’s administration.
Congress this week quickly passed a bill requiring that all government workers receive retroactive pay after the shutdown ends. All four members of Idaho’s delegation supported the bill. President Donald Trump is expected to sign the legislation.
Now under Democratic control, the House introduced and passed several stand-alone appropriations measures to fund several federal agencies including departments of agriculture, interior, environment, transportation and HUD.
Simpson and Fulcher did not support any of these bills.
This article was originally published in the Idaho Statesman. It is used here with permission.