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House OKs bill to let agencies bypass Idaho Attorney General

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A proposed law that would allow state agencies to skip the Idaho attorney general’s office to instead hire more expensive private-practice attorneys whenever they choose overwhelmingly passed the Idaho House on Wednesday.

The legislation, sponsored by Republican Nampa Reps. Bruce Skaug and John Vander Woude, passed on a 54-15 vote and now goes to the Senate for consideration. Skaug, an attorney, and Vander Woude, a farmer and small business owner, contend the attorney general’s office frequently interprets the law contrary to the opinion lawmakers want to hear. They say state agencies, boards and other entities should be able to shop around for attorneys that will argue the way they want in court.

Five former Idaho attorneys general and current Attorney General Lawrence Wasden oppose the legislation. The five former attorneys general have said changing the current system would violate the state Constitution, leading to a legal challenge.

Rep. Megan Blanksma, a Republican from Hammett, agreed that private attorneys’ hourly wages can be more expensive than those in the attorney general’s office, but said the overhead costs of the state attorneys aren’t calculated into the hourly bill. She argued in favor of the legislation, saying the Legislature can maintain control over frivolous spending because it approves agency’s budgets.

Idaho deputy attorneys general typically cost state agencies between $45 and $88 an hour, while private attorneys hired by the state in the past have frequently billed upwards of $400 an hour.

Rep. Ilana Rubel, a Democrat from Boise, said the bill amounted to a blank check given to state agencies simply because they don’t always like the answers they get from the state attorneys.

“You do not want to sugar-coat this. You want to get real, legal advice,” said Rubel, who voted against the bill. “I think this opens a very dangerous door.”

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