Idaho clears final hurdle on paying legal bill in union case

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BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and other top Idaho elected officials have signed off on the final hurdle to pay a $280,000 legal bill using funds intended to help Idaho navigate state sovereignty conflicts with the federal government.

The Constitutional Defense Fund Council unanimously approved the payment on Wednesday — a day after the bill was also approved by the Idaho Board of Examiners.

Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane said the original legal bill was closer to $374,000, but the state was able to negotiate the final amount down by nearly $100,000.

Idaho was ordered to pay the legal fees after losing a lengthy lawsuit involving unions.

Idaho lawmakers in 2011 approved the Fairness in Contracting Act, which made it illegal for unions to subsidize union contract bids to make them competitive with non-union contractor bids. At the time, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden's office warned that the bill was illegal.

After the law was passed, Wasden's office defended the law as required under the Idaho Constitution.

A federal court eventually ruled the state law isn't valid because it pre-empts the federal National Labor Relations Act, and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.

Idaho Building and Construction Trades Council and Southwest Idaho Building and Construction Trades Council sued and attained a preliminary injunction before the law went into effect.

The Constitutional Defense Fund hasn't paid for a winning case since 1996, when Idaho reached a settlement with the federal government over nuclear waste storage and cleanup. The fund is overseen by Otter, Wasden, House Speaker Scott Bedke and Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill.

Earlier this year the Idaho Legislature approved adding $2 million after Otter requested a boost to the depleted fund.

"They followed my advice on that," Otter said jokingly.

Once Tuesday's payment is processed, the new fund balance will be $1.95 million.

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