On the Docket
The 2020 legislative starts in about eight weeks. Many people wonder how the legislature conducts all its business in just three months.

It doesn’t. 
 
When the 2020 legislative session starts in early January, many of the bills will have already been written. That’s because legislators use the interim period to draft bills with their colleagues, constituents and legislative lawyers. Committees that meet during the interim may have also drafted new legislation.
 
What to expect
Both parties develop their legislative agendas for the upcoming session months in advance, but the majority party controls what bills are heard and voted upon.  Republican House leaders made several public appearances during the summer and gave some clues as to what some of their top priorities may be during the 2020 session:  
  • Reapportionment.  After every 10-year national census, an appointed commission of three Democrats and three Republicans must agree on new state legislative and U.S. congressional district boundaries by a majority vote. This requires bi-partisan collaboration and compromise. Republican Party leaders suggested adding a fourth Republican to the commission, enabling four Republican appointees to draw the boundaries without compromise. This would enable the majority party to draw legislative districts that let them pick their voters – otherwise known as gerrymandering. Expect to see a constitutional amendment legalizing this on your November 2020 ballot – which needs only a simple majority to pass.
  • Medicaid expansion. Just when you thought voters had the final say when they enacted Medicaid Expansion in 2018, the majority party passed a law in 2019 that would create a new multi-million dollar bureaucracy to administer unnecessary and expensive constraints that voters didn’t ask for. House Republican leaders questioned the intelligence of voters by saying that people didn’t know what they voted for – and suggested they would add even more constraints to Medicaid Expansion in 2020.  
  • Ballot initiative process. Medicaid Expansion got on the 2018 ballot despite a very rigorous and demanding process. In 2019, the majority party passed a bill that would make it virtually impossible for future initiatives to ever appear on the ballot again – thus effectively nullifying a right guaranteed to all Idahoans in the state constitution.  Governor Brad Little vetoed this bill, but House leadership indicated they may bring back a new version of the vetoed bill in 2020. 
  • Property taxes. Citizens living in many parts of the state were hit with significant property tax increases last year. This is making housing increasingly unaffordable particularly for renters, young families and people living on a fixed income. Any new laws addressing this issue must balance the conflicting interests of free market forces, government regulation and funding the infrastructure needed to manage growth. Focusing on just one part of the equation could create problems elsewhere. I am hopeful that bi-partisan collaboration will result in relief for citizens. 
  • Education funding formula and school vouchers.  In 2019 the legislature tried – but failed – to switch the formula for distributing the education budget from Average Daily Attendance (ADA) to enrollment. ‘Enrollment’ is being interpreted by some to mean ‘money follows the student.’  This led to a bill in 2019 that would convert 90% of the state education budget into ‘vouchers’ which would then let taxpayer dollars be used to pay for private and religious schools. The ‘voucher bill’ did not get voted on, and the sponsor was adamant that these were not vouchers (he called it the “Education Savings Account Act”). I anticipate both the funding formula and the ‘voucher bill’ will be hot topics next year in the House Education committee (of which I am a member).
Ideas from District 15 constituents
I have knocked on nearly 3,000 doors since the end of the 2019 session. Suggestions for new legislation often comes up during my conversations with constituents. Below are just a few of the topics raised by voters at the door this year. I will pursue bi-partisan collaboration to identify areas of agreement and possible action. 
  • Consumer protection from unscrupulous business practices (legal fees, rental applications, etc.)
  • Address broad regional transit needs
  • Property tax relief, especially for those on a fixed income
  • Funding for vital health and welfare services (mental illness, blind and disabled)
  • Legalize hemp, CBD oil and controlled, secure access to medical marijuana
  • Help cities and counties address homelessness
  • Give residents in mobile home communities the first right of refusal to purchase the property upon which they reside
  • Require public entities to obtain an appraisal for any land or property they intend to purchase
  • Control the use of illegal fireworks in residential communities
Fiscal Policy
Many constituents have asked me where the money would come from to adequately fund infrastructure and education without further increasing the gas tax or property taxes via school bonds and levies. One place to look is revisiting some of Idaho's fiscal policies that haven't changed in decades.
 
In 2019 alone, the legislature exempted nearly $2.5 BILLION from revenue collection in the form of sales tax exemptions and exceptions that are rarely reviewed and never sunset - much of them specially granted to individual interests or industries. In fact, over the last 15 years the legislature chose to not collect over $28 BILLION in revenue. Just a small percentage of that money would maintain and build much needed roads and bridges, provide competitive compensation for teachers, and pay off school bonds and levies which would lower property taxes and rents (and help eliminate the grocery tax).   
 
We don't need to get rid of all these exemptions - many of them may make sound economic sense. But in the same way that Governor Brad Little led a sweeping review that removed antiquated, outdated and obsolete administrative rules and regulations, so should the legislature take a sweeping review of fiscal policies to ensure they are in tune with Idaho’s future needs.
 
The majority party has the power to control the conversation on taxes and fiscal policy. This should be part of the conversation.
On The Air
Here are some of my interviews with the media during 2019:
  • January 31 - Idaho Matters radio interview (with Rep. Jake Ellis).  Click here.
  • March 14 - BYU-Idaho radio interview on key legislative topics. Click here.
  • August 1 - BSU radio story on redistricting. Click here.
  • August 15 - Capital Update radio interview on protecting the ballot initiative process. Click here.
  • November 5 – Podcast interview about my experiences while running for office. Click here.
     

ABOUT STEVE BERCH

Steve represents District 15, House Seat 15A. He is a member of the Education, Business and Local Government Committees. How to contact Steve:

  • Constituent Help Desk:  208-921-3571 
  • Phone (cell): 208-890-9339
  • Phone (Capitol): 208-332-1039
  • Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Best websites for following the legislature
     

UPCOMING EVENTS

I will be scheduling a new series of Town Hall meetings with Rep. Jake Ellis during the 2020 session.  Stay tuned . . .

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