Idaho lawmakers scold state AG by barely passing budget

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BOISE, Idaho (AP) Idaho House lawmakers on Monday used Attorney General Lawrence Wasden's budget plan to show their displeasure with the chief legal officer's recent settlement in an abortion lawsuit.

House members voted 40-30 to approve the attorney general's budget, a strikingly narrow vote for a Legislature that typically gives overwhelming support to budget proposals once they are set by committee.

Some Idaho GOP lawmakers have expressed growing disapproval with Wasden's office this year, particularly after he announced reaching a settlement with Planned Parenthood over two laws that sought to ban women from receiving abortion-inducing medication through telemedicine.

"If he's not going to defend us 100 percent, then I don't think his budget should be funded 100 percent," said Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, who helped lead the budget opposition effort.

However, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill has already warned the state that the laws banning abortion-related telemedicine appeared to be illegal, and said that if the state failed to repeal them he would issue a ruling officially declaring them unconstitutional. That could create precedent-setting case law.

Wasden's settlement with Planned Parenthood gave the state until the end of the 2017 legislative session to make the repeals. Lawmakers have since passed legislation repealing the laws, which now requires the governor's signature. The governor has not commented if he is in favor of the proposal.

"My office aggressively defended the state to find a medical justification for the statute, contacted numerous experts, and turned over every possible alternative to identify a plausible constitutional defense," Wasden said in a prepared statement. "Based upon the legal reality of these efforts, my office negotiated a resolution that provided the Legislature the ability to resolve this case and avoid a court decision."

Monday's House vote was the narrowest funding support Wasden has received since taking office in 2003. Yet lawmakers have been showing their discontent for the past couple of years. Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis held Wasden's budget hostage last year after expressing desire to conduct a systematic change to the office.

As a constitutional officer, Wasden answers to voters and not the governor or Legislature. Lawmakers can limit Wasden's job by either drastically reducing state funding or going to private attorneys for legal counsel. Stripping Wasden's powers requires a constitutional amendment

The attorney general's office represents the state in legal disputes and issues legal advice to state agencies and the Legislature. If lawmakers ignore that advice, which happens regularly, the attorney general is still required to defend and enforce those laws.

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