Idaho's part-time lawmakers return home to careers

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BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho's part-time lawmakers are headed back to their day jobs after wrapping up a rare one-day special legislative session Monday.

The 105 members of the Legislature typically meet in Boise for a few months starting in January to set the state's budget and pass laws, but their regular careers cover a wide range.

Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, works as an aquatic biologist in northern Idaho. Rep. Paul Romrell, R-St. Anthony, is a retired coroner in out east. And Rep. Richard Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, manages an opera house in the small, south-central town.

Idaho is one of 16 states with a part-time legislature, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Sen. Cliff Bayer, a Meridian Republican who works in bacterial medical research at Boise State University, said the part-time nature of the job makes it difficult for some to serve in elected office.

"There's a reason logistically you have a high number of retired folks and independent business owners where they can be afford to be gone," Bayer said. "I try to stack up on quite a few projects in the summer to get a lot of work done."

Almost 1 in 4 Idaho lawmakers is retired — double the national average of 12 percent, according to NCSL data. Almost 20 percent work in agriculture, and about 10 percent are attorneys.

Rep. Phylis King, a Boise Democrat who used to work in health care before running a photography business, retired two years ago. She's been in office since 2006 and has experience juggling duties.

"You still have to take care of clients, which I did," she said. "It's really hard. My photography suffered because I couldn't do it."

She said many lawmakers serve on dozens of other committees that last year-round, creating more obligations, especially for those who have families.

Bayer said he integrates his public duties and professional work by trying to bring his logical thought processes from the lab to the Capitol.

"But in the Statehouse, there are a few constants and a lot of variables," Bayer said. "Sometimes what adds up on a spreadsheet isn't what happens in the Statehouse."

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