The Idaho House of Representatives, which apparently can’t bring itself to admitting that it goofed last year when it arbitrarily whacked owners of fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles with an extra $75 registration fee to penalize them for driving cleaner cars, are still groping for a way to fix the mess it made for itself. And it’s not going well.

Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, dug in his heels weeks ago and blocked a hearing for a commonsense bill by powerful Senate Finance Committee Chair Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, which would have undone the $75 registration surcharge lawmakers slapped on owners of hybrid fuel vehicles. There was no reason for the original charge last year, other than that the Legislature was searching under the sofa cushions for some additional transportation dollars and decided at the last minute to take some from Idahoans who invest in efficient transportation. Sen. Keough quickly realized last year’s hybrid penalty was a bad idea in part because there are more than a few non-hybrids out there that get as good or better gasoline mileage, and that it seemed unfair to stick it to Idaho’s ostentatiously efficient vehicle owners.

But Palmer inexplicably used his chairmanship of the Transportation Committee to put the breaks on Keough’s bill, which had already overwhelmingly passed in the Senate. The Snake River Alliance and other clean energy advocates cried foul and over the past several days drummed up public opposition to Rep. Palmer’s hybrid-punishing tactics. On Thursday, the House Revenue and Taxation Committee (one of the few committees still allowed to introduce new bills in these waning days of the legislative session) introduced House Bill 624 – by Rep. Palmer.

“This bill changes apportionment formula for fuel tax moving all revenues to the Highway Distribution Account and removes a fee from hybrid vehicles,” according to H624’s “statement of purpose.” Translation: It would scrap existing language that imposed the $75 hybrid fee, although like Sen. Keough’s bill before it, it would also keep last year’s equally punitive $140 registration penalty for electric vehicles. Seems the Legislature’s flash of common sense only goes so far.

But here’s the rub: To recover the vehicle registration fees that would have come from penalizing hybrids, Rep. Palmer’s bill would reapportion money in the state Highway Distribution Account by moving some out of the law enforcement account and instead to local units of government and the state highway account. In other words, it is possible that law enforcement funding could suffer – but we should be vigilant in not letting lawmakers blame hybrids for their budgetary sleight of hand. They are simply avoiding the elephant in the room that is the state’s hopelessly broken roads and bridges funding program.

Moreover, Rep. Palmer’s egg was laid so late in this soon-to-end legislative session that is stands almost no chance of legislative review, let alone passage. That means it’s as important now as ever to contact Rep. Palmer and members of his Transportation Committee to let them know to grant Sen. Keough’s hybrid relief bill, S1311, a hearing on the House side and get it to the governor immediately.

We recommend those concerned about correcting this obvious legislative flaw from last year’s session contact Rep. Palmer and other committee members by going here.

One last thing: Idaho Energy Update recently visited the Department of Motor Vehicles to re-register its older Prius, and the kind counter person advised us that rather than buy a 2-year registration we might re-up for one year instead – since there remains a chance the Legislature will do the right thing and revoke its Pointless Prius Penalty.