The committee that oversees compensation for state legislators today attempted to clarify when lawmakers may claim the $122 per diem payment intended for those who maintain a second residence during the legislative session. That payment became a source of controversy last fall, after the AP reported that one state senator claimed it while staying with his parents, and another claimed it while staying on his law firm’s couch.
The six-member Citizens’ Committee on Legislative Compensation took up the issue at its biennial meeting this morning. “There was a question about, ‘What does ‘maintain a second residence’ mean?’” said newly elected chairperson Debora Kristensen. However, Kristensen explained, that question wasn’t one the committee was ultimately able to answer.
“There were just too many moving parts for us to come up with a solution that would meet every person and every instance,” she said.
Instead, the committee recommended a different clarification, adding the phrase “whose primary residence is outside of Ada County” to the existing guidance. The amended recommendation reads: “Each member of the Legislature whose primary residence is outside of Ada County and who maintains a second residence in Ada County during a regular session shall be paid an unvouchered expense allowance of one hundred twenty-two dollars ($122) per day for each day of that regular session.”
In addition to their annual base salaries of just over $16,000, Idaho legislators are eligible for a $49 per diem for meals and incidentals. That payment that rises to $122 if a legislator establishes a second residence in Ada County in order to attend the legislative session.
Kristensen acknowledged that the recommendation made today still leaves lawmakers on the honor system, in choosing which per diem rate to claim. “We expect that everyone is responsible for their own actions,” she said. “The press has gotten it, and I’m sure that is now something very much on their minds,” she said, referring to state lawmakers.
Sen. Brent Hill (R-Rexburg) was on hand during today’s meeting, and agreed with Kristensen’s assessment. “I feel fine about it,” he said of the committee’s clarification. “I think some of the publicity from the last session has made legislators very careful.” Hill also said that he’ll evaluate legislators’ claims more closely from now on. “I have left it up to the honor code, but I think I will ask additional questions in the future,” he said.
The Citizens’ Committee on Legislative Compensation also approved a 2 percent raise for lawmakers, increasing the annual base salary from $16,116 to $16,438. The legislature can choose to reject or reduce the committee’s recommendation, but must do so before the 25th day 2013 session.