Damn the advice! Full speed ahead!

Author: Barrett Rainey

I have good teeth for a guy my age. Thanks largely to a very good dentist whose advice I try to follow. My eyes are in similarly fine condition because I listen to my optometrist. We enjoy a pleasant relationship with the I.R.S. because heeding our accountant has been a priority. And the family legal affairs are quite tidy because we follow the attentive instructions of our attorney.

That’s what educated, trained specialists do in our lives. They use their education and that training to help us deal with the needs we all have to avoid problems … be they health, fiscal or legal issues. And if we’re smart, we’ll heed the advice. And act on it.

So why in Hell does the Idaho Legislature continue to ignore both legal advice and common sense when it comes to staying out of court and wasting millions of dollars?

It’s not a new phenomenon. For years, following legal admonitions from the Idaho attorney general … of either party … and other sources that they are about to run into a legal wall resulting in fiscal pain and expensive court battles, the elected crowd in the Statehouse has dropped the legal advice in the round file and marched right into the nearest legally immovable object: either state or federal constitutions or directly afoul of black letter law. They do it again and again. And again.

Just in my limited memory, they’ve walked off several expensive legal cliffs. Some years back, they tried to collect state taxes from gasoline sales on Indian reservations. After failing subsequent court tests, the tribes themselves … mostly out of courtesy and to further good relations … agreed to compromise. But many, many tax dollars went into lawyer retirement plans in a losing effort.

Then there was the legislature’s attempt to control gambling on Indian reservations despite several clear U.S. Supreme Court decisions that this was another Idaho loser. In the end, again thanks to the tribes, an agreement was reached on certain limitations but no outright control. Ah, the lawyers made out like bandits.

There was that abortive legislative maneuver to levy certain taxes on long haul truckers using Idaho highways to get from one state to another. The attorney general warned them. But … more large legal fees in a losing battle. Also millions of dollars for refunds on trucker taxes already collected. Messy, that one. Expensive, too. Lawyers loved it.

A year ago, despite legal advice to the contrary, they jumped off the cliff again. Twice. First it was to put a state law on the books that basically said the new federal health care law didn’t apply to Idaho. They followed with another statute trying to exempt guns manufactured in the state from any federal oversight or control.

Neither law has been tested in court. They will be. When that happens, I know where my betting money will be. And taxpayers in the Gem State will make another large deposit into lawyer retirement accounts.

This year, despite a formal A.G. opinion that says their plan is not constitutional, they’re poised to put another state law on the books, saying Idaho can pick and choose which federal laws are acceptable. And which are not. Nullification. That one will cost millions of tax dollars in likely defeat. Lawyers are already lining up outside the Statehouse.

I’m all for independence. Who isn’t? But repeatedly trying to exert that independence, in the face of competent legal advice that you’re likely to lose, is not something most of us would do individually. So why do it collectively as a legislature? Why do it over and over? Why spend millions of tax dollars on legal fees in losing fights when schools and law enforcement and local governments are screaming for help?

This repeated behavior seems, in my humble opinion, to come awfully close to malfeasance on the part of legislators: “a wrongful act the actor had no right to do; improper professional conduct.”

A state attorney general is no more a member of the legislature than your personal attorney is a legal member of your family. But, as a highly qualified legal advisor, basic common sense dictates whatever advise is forthcoming should be carefully weighed by recipients in both instances. The evidence says many Idaho legislators don’t.

Legislative hubris is a bad thing. When it’s repeated again and again and again, with the same costly results, it can be a terribly expensive failing.

Unless they’re just into lawyer retirement accounts, Idaho taxpayers ought to be smarter voters.

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