Steve Berch District 15 Newsletter
Sine Die edition
This newsletter highlights the closing weeks of the 2019 legislative session. However, I work as your Representative year-round, so look for more newsletters in the coming months.
Please check the bottom of this newsletter for upcoming District 15 events and the various ways you can contact me. As always, I look forward to hearing from you!
This oxymoron is probably the best way to describe the last two weeks of the 2019 legislative session. The final Sine Die adjournment ceremony was the pretty icing on a somewhat ugly cake. Traditionally, House leadership selects two members from the majority party and one from the minority party to deliver its Sine Die message to the Senate. Instead, House leadership selected three freshman Democrats as a slap in the face to Senate Republicans. They would not deign to have a House Republican enter the Senate chamber.
Still, it was an honor being part of the delegation that delivered the Sine Die message to the Senate (see picture above). And despite the laughter of some House Republicans when our names were first announced, I was proud to participate and execute the ceremony with dignity.
It pains me to summarize the last two weeks of the session in a negative light, but consider what took place:
- No rules. The House is governed by a thick rule book, along with additional rules it sets for itself. But during the last two weeks, House leadership continually suspended the rules to do whatever it wanted. New bills were introduced well past the deadline and were then rapidly voted upon – bypassing the public hearing process. It takes 47 votes to suspend the rules and the majority party has 56 votes. They constantly met behind closed doors, always emerging with enough votes to suspend the rules and then pass bills with breakneck speed. Rules are meaningless if you break them a will.
- Intellectual dishonesty. The operating philosophy appeared to be ‘the ends justify the means’ – do whatever it takes no matter what. Vital bills were deliberately stalled in the House to use as leverage against the Senate. Debate on the House floor defied logic and insulted citizens. For example, one member argued that cutting the time in half for collecting ballot petition signatures would make it easier to meet signature requirements in rural districts. Another implied that the people who showed up to testify against Medicaid work requirements could be ignored in favor of those who didn’t show up because those that didn’t show up actually work.
- Petty in-fighting. The majority party seemed to spend a lot of time fighting with itself as the session wound down. The House and Senate refused to vote on each other’s bills or inserted poison pill amendments to ensure it wouldn’t pass in the other body. And in a truly disgraceful move, eight members of the House Education committee conspired to prevent a quorum, thus blocking the introduction of a bill sponsored by the committee Chairman. Click here for more.
It’s a shame, because during the session I met and built good relationships with some very talented and forthright people on both sides of the aisle – people I know I can and will work with going forward. But these last two weeks were pretty ugly.
This update covers only the last two weeks of the session. The length of this newsletter is testimony to the high volume of activity and intrigue that gets compressed at the end of a session. My next newsletter will reflect upon the entire 2019 session.
Bill update – vetoed by the Governor
- Citizen-driven ballot initiative restrictions (SB1159 and HB296). These bills would have changed the Constitutional ballot initiative process, making it virtually impossible for a citizen-driven initiative to ever get on the ballot again. It has been called the “Revenge against Voters Act”, but there was another purpose – voter suppression. High voter turnout to enact laws in response to inaction or bad laws can threaten the party in power. But if an issue can’t get on the ballot in the first place, fewer unhappy voters may show up at the polls. I voted against these bills and debated against them on the House floor. But wait, there’s more!In an act of petulance, the House introduced four new bills (HB303, HB304, HB305, HB306) that took the four key components of what the Governor vetoed and re-introduced them as separate bills. Three of the bills did not advance, but one of them did pass the House (HB303, which required a fiscal note to be added to a ballot initiative) but then died in the Senate. I voted against HB303.
Bill update – signed into law by the Governor
- Medicaid Expansion restrictions (SB1204a). This law effectively reduces the number of people who will benefit from Medicaid expansion. It creates work restrictions, reporting requirements, unnecessary doctor referrals, and additional administrative costs estimated as high as $40 million. This law will likely be challenged in court, and similar laws in other states were declared unconstitutional. I voted against this bill and debated against it on the House floor. Back story: This started as HB277, which was killed in a Senate committee. The Senate then passed SB1204 initially without serious restrictions, but then amended it to look much like the original House bill. It passed and then sent back to the House where it was further amended, passed and then sent back to the Senate where it passed again by a slim margin. The Governor signed it into law over the objection of thousands of citizens who directly contacted his office. There’s more to this story involving broken deals between House and Senate leadership resulting in mutual animus and ultimately the Sine Die story at the beginning of this newsletter.
- Voter approval for Urban Renewal Development (URD) agency projects (HB217). This law requires every URD agency in the state to obtain 60% voter approval for certain projects. I support people’s ability to weigh in on very expensive projects and voted for the House version of this bill when the threshold for passage was 55%. However, I voted against the final version of this bill when the threshold was raised to 60%. I believe in one person, one vote. A 55% threshold was my limit in this case for allowing one person’s vote to count more than another’s.
- State police funding (SB1201). Until now, funding for the Idaho State Police came from the gas tax. It will now come from the general fund, thus depleting the amount of general fund dollars available for education. The legislature failed again to revisit fiscal policies that currently exempt over $2 billion from being collected each year in the form of sales tax exemptions and exceptions that never get reviewed, justified, and never sunset. I voted against this law.
- Internet sales tax collection (HB259). This law forces taxes collected from internet sales to be strictly allocated to a variety of specific accounts and interests instead of flowing directly to the general fund like other sales tax revenue (where it would then become available for education). I voted against this law.
- Taxation of corporate foreign income (HB183). This law provides an estimated $291 million tax break over 10 years for Idaho corporations that repatriate money from their foreign locations, thus reducing the money that would flow into the general fund. I voted against this law.
- Virtual Career Technical Education – CTE (SB1106). This law provides taxpayer dollars for CTE schools to purchase third-party virtual education software without requiring students to receive any hands-on training. I support CTE training and online education, but some degree of hands-on training is essential when learning a skill-based trade. I voted against this law.
- Determine paternity of a fetus (HB205). This law can force a woman who is pregnant out of wedlock to let the state determine the paternity of her fetus, which can result in more abortions if the woman fears having the paternity revealed. I voted against this terrible law.
- Hand gun conceal carry for 18-20 year olds in all Idaho cities(HB206). This law thwarts local control by forcing all Idaho cities to allow any person between 18 and 20 years old to carry a concealed hand gun within their city limits. I voted against this law.
- Education funding formula (HB293). The legislature failed to pass a new education funding formula bill. Instead, we have this modest law directing the collection of data for next year. I voted against this law to highlight that the real issue is the underfunding of education, not how an insufficient amount of money is distributed to school districts and charter schools.
Bill update – died in the legislature; did not become law
- Administrative Rules (SB1205). Died in the Senate after amended by the House. This was the unexpected shocker of the session. The legislature writes laws and the executive branch writes detailed rules necessary to execute those laws. During the first 4-6 weeks of the session, House and Senate committees review hundreds of new, deleted and changed rules written by administrative departments during the previous year. This bill enacts the legislature’s decision on the reviewed rules (rejecting some, approving others), and renews all the other rules that went unchanged. It is a routine bill that always passes – until now. The current practice is that if either the House or Senate approves an administrative rule, it is considered approved by the legislature even if one house (House or Senate) rejected it. The House amended SB1205 to require that both the House and Senate had to approve an administrative rule for it to be finalized. In other words, the House could have veto power over a rule the Senate approved (and vice versa). Had this been in place last year, the rule that changed science standards in Idaho would not have been put in effect because the House rejected it even though the Senate approved it. The Senate refused to consider the House’s amended version of the bill, thus killing it. I voted against this bill. Aftermath. We are in unchartered waters. House leadership’s gambit to change the rule review process on the very last day of the session resulted in throwing away all the rule review work the House and Senate did during the first part of the session. It also prevents the renewal of all the other rules that weren’t changed – all 8,200 pages of them. The Governor’s office will have to re-issue every single rule as a temporary rule until they are reviewed again by the legislature in 2020. The process for doing this will cost time and money, and it will be an additional burden on the legislature next year.Click here for more.
- Hemp production (HB122). Amended in the Senate; died in the House. This would have legalized the production of hemp and its derivative by-products. The Senate rewrote the entire bill, adding heavy law enforcement controls that gutted the intent of the original House bill. The House did not take up the Senate’s amended version. I voted for the original House bill.
- Hemp transportation (HB300). Amended in the Senate; died in the House. This bill rose from the ashes of HB122 in an attempt to at least make it legal to transport industrial hemp through Idaho. However, the Senate’s amendments to the bill did not sit well with House leadership and it did not come up for a vote. I voted for the original House bill.
- Repeal cap on homeowner’s exemption (HB243). Died in House committee. This bill would have repealed the 2106 law that placed a $100,000 cap on the homeowner’s exemption. I support this bill.
- Access to public lands (SB1089). Died in Senate committee. This bill would have helped citizens gain access to public lands that were willfully and knowingly blocked by private land owners. I support this bill. Click here for more.
- Remove mandatory minimum sentencing (HB99). Died in Senate committee. This bill would have given judges more discretion in sentencing. I voted for this bill.
- Notification of rights before investigating child abuse (HB170). Died in Senate committee. This bill would make it more difficult to investigate cases of child abuse. I voted against this bill.
- Insurance coverage for orally administered anti-cancer medications (SB1034). Died in Senate committee. This bill would provide patients access to orally-administered anti-cancer medications at the same cost for injected or intravenously administered medication. I support this bill.
In the hopper for 2020
- Redistricting. Back in mid-February, the House introduced HJR2which would give the majority party control of the process for redrawing legislative and congressional district boundaries – thus enabling one party to gerrymander the state to its political advantage. It was tabled this year, but is likely to return in some form as the 2022 election cycle approaches. New boundaries will have to be in place by 2021 following the national census in 2020. Click here for more.
- Administrative Rules. The issues behind the failure to pass SB1205 will have to be resolved.
- Medicaid Expansion. If the courts weigh in against the constraints placed on Medicaid Expansion, the House will likely take new action to impose constraints that can withstand a legal challenge.
- Ballot Initiative process. House leadership clearly doesn’t like taking “no” for an answer. Since they were prepared to pass four bills in the last days of this session to undermine the Governor’s veto, they will likely try again during the course of the next session.
- Education funding formula. Work will resume on the unsuccessful effort to revamp the formula for distributing education funding to school districts and charter schools. It is likely that a joint effort between the legislature and the Governor’s office will take place prior to the start of the next session.
- School vouchers. A bill that got little attention, The Education Savings Account Act (HB253), was introduced during one of the last House Education committee meetings. This bill leverages the proposed enrollment-based funding formula (where the money follows the student) and turns it essentially into school vouchers where 90% of the taxpayer dollars budgeted for education is instead given to parents (which could then be used to pay for private and parochial school tuition). Expect this bill and a related one (HB273) to hit the spotlight next year.
See you at the door!
Now that the 2019 session is over, I will resume walking District 15 neighborhoods and visiting voters at the door to discuss concerns and priorities for the 2020 session.
In the meantime, please call my Constituent Help Desk atif there are any issues I can help with or topics you'd like to discuss.
And although I have met my campaign promise to hold four Town Hall meetings this year, I'd like to host additional events later this year that will feature experts on specific topics (they'll do the talking, not me!). Please reply to this email to suggest topics that would interest you (e.g. infrastructure, education, tax policy, managed growth, etc.).
Thank you again for your support, interest and the opportunity to serve you!