- Associated Press - Monday, May 9, 2016

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Idaho lawmakers spent more than $136,000 on travel during the 2016 legislative session.

The records for all 105 members of the state House and Senate were obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request. However, while many lawmakers have turned in their legislative travel reimbursement receipts, the Legislature doesn’t have a deadline on when expenses need to be submitted.

House Speaker Scott Bedke had a total traveling tab of $2,727 and Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill’s tab was $2,920.

Yet the top two legislative leaders’ combined travel costs falls just a hair short of Sen. Bob Nonini’s total of $5,653. Nonini, a two-term Republican from Coeur d’Alene, currently has the highest in-state travel expenses for both chambers. Last year, Nonini received around $8,800 in travel reimbursements.

“It’s important for me to see my wife every weekend, it’s important for me to go to mass every Saturday, and it’s important for me to visit with my constituents,” Nonini said.

The senator added that he no longer flies Southwest’s “business select” after The Associated Press reported in 2015 that he and Rep. Vito Barbieri submitted reimbursements for plane tickets higher than their fellow northern Idaho peers.

Meanwhile, Republican Rep. Luke Malek - a second term legislator also from Coeur d’Alene - racked up the highest in-state travel in the House. Malek was reimbursed $5,574.

Malek says the reason for the high cost is because he filed two years’ worth of travel reimbursements this year. He added that he did go home every weekend while the 216 Legislature was in session.

Idaho encompasses more than 83,600 square miles that takes roughly 10 hours to drive from top to bottom. Furthermore, there’s no airport in northern Idaho that lawmakers can fly nonstop from Boise. Instead, they often fly nonstop from Boise to Spokane, Washington and take a rental car to their homes in Idaho - all of which is reimbursed, including parking and fuel costs.

“The earlier you can buy plane tickets, the cheaper it’s going to be, but we don’t have any choice in the flights,” Malek said.

For eastern Idaho lawmakers, driving home at the end of each week can take four to six hours.

This year’s Idaho Legislature session convened on Jan. 11 and ended March 25. The 75-day session took place during an election year, meaning lawmakers had fewer weekends to travel home because they adjourned earlier compared to non-campaign years. Last year’s session lasted 89 days.

Along with receiving travel reimbursements, state lawmakers earn $16,684 each year and receive a per diem - $129 a day for lawmakers who have to take up a second residence and $49 a day for everyone else - when the Legislature is in session.

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