Steve Berch District 15 Newsletter
Ides of March Edition
These newsletters highlight some of the activities taking place in the Idaho Legislature during the 2019 session.
Please check the bottom of this newsletter for upcoming District 15 events and the various ways you can contact me. I look forward to hearing from you!
Clark Kent vs. Superman
Sometimes you’re a mild-mannered legislator from a great suburban district and sometimes you need to stand arms akimbo in defiance to an impending injustice.
Such is the case with the bill sponsored by District 14 (Eagle/Star) Senator C. Scott Grow, SB1159, that will make it impossible for a citizen-driven initiative to ever appear on the ballot again – a nullification by statute of a right guaranteed in the Idaho State Constitution.
I have called this “The Public Be Damned” Act. A constituent I know and respect recently chided my use of this moniker as hysterical rhetoric – implying that perhaps I should be more like Clark Kent. I take this concern seriously, as it is likely others may share that sentiment. It deserves an explanation.
My choice of words reflects a concern not just with this bill, but with the long history leading up to it. In 1994 and again in 2002, Idaho voters used the citizen initiative process to successfully impose term limits on state legislators. Both times it became the law of Idaho – and both times the legislature promptly repealed the new term limit laws months later. In 2012, Idaho voters used the citizen initiative process again to successfully repeal the three onerous “Luna Laws” via referendum. The legislature promptly reinstated most of them months later.
But then they went further. In 2014 the legislature dramatically increased the requirements to get an initiative on the ballot in an effort to prevent future initiatives. Yet through an incredibly determined grass roots effort, two initiatives defied the odds in 2018 (Medicaid expansion, which passed and legalizing the use of historical horseracing machines at racetracks, which failed).
Instead of respecting the will of the public, the legislature now wants to end citizen-driven initiatives forever (such as imposing term limits). This bill (SB1159) doubles the number of legislative districts that must support it (from 16 to 32 – out of 35), it increases the percentage of required signatures from within each district from 6% to 10%, and it reduces the time to collect the signatures by two-thirds (from 18 months to 6 months).
So yes, when put in historical context, the “The Public Be Damned” Act is an apt description – in word and deed – of how little the legislature respects the will of its constituents, at least when it comes to their right to put citizen-driven initiatives on the ballot.
And if that wasn’t enough, it appears the House Republican majority caucus has now cut a backroom deal with their Senate counterparts. They have publicly stated they will support this bill – before even debating it – if the Senate passes it (Click here, end of article).
This newsletter is necessarily lengthy to cover many of the noteworthy bills that are piling up as we head toward the last two week (or so) of the 2019 legislative session.
Bill update (from last newsletter)
- Medicaid expansion restrictions (HB249 – in House; SB1100 – in Senate). The House and the Senate have introduced separate bills to place restrictive requirements on people who can now receive Medicaid coverage after Medicaid Expansion was approved by voters last November. I will vote against any bill that reduces the number of people who now receive Medicaid coverage.
- Sex education (HB120 – Passed House, in Senate). This bill changes the process of student attendance of sex education classes from opt-out to opt-in. If it becomes law, it will inevitable reduce the number of students to take sex education. I debated against this bill on the House floor.
- Reduced qualifications for charter school administrators(SB1058 – Passed House, headed to Governor for signature). This bill allows charter schools to hire administrators with qualifications lower than that of a traditional public school administrator. I debated against this bill on the House floor. It is not known if the Governor will sign it into law (Governor Otter vetoed a similar bill twice).
- County opt-in for Local Land Use Planning Act – LLUPA(HB127a – failed on House Floor). This bill would permit a county commission to not do long term land use planning and diminish the ability of local citizens to challenge a decision by county commissioners (e.g. fracking in Eagle, Idaho). I debated against this bill on the House floor.
- Residential solar panels (HB158a – Passed House and Senate, headed to Governor for signature). This bill prohibits homeowner associations (HOAs) from preventing the installation of solar panels on residential rooftops, with some restrictions. I voted for this bill.
- Storage Unit abandonment notification (HB145a – passed House, in Senate). This bill removes the requirement to notify delinquent self-storage unit holders via certified mail before they forfeit their possessions in the storage unit. I voted against this bill.
- First Responder PTSI coverage (SB1028 – signed by Governor into law). I voted for this bill.
- Victim’s rights – Marsy’s law (SJR102 – killed in Senate). This bill provided enhanced rights for victims of crimes. It died in the Senate by one vote and will not return this legislative year.
- Education funding. It is hard to understand why some legislators still believe education is adequately funded when 47 school districts asked voters to approve $485 million in bonds and levies on March 12 (click here for more). If the legislature was adequately funding education, your local school district wouldn’t have to ask you to continually approve bonds and levies. Meanwhile, the House and Senate Education committees each continue to separately review, reject and accept new revisions of bills that will create a new funding formula for determining how education dollars will be allocated to each school district and charter school in the future.
- Rural Teacher Incentive Program (HB218 – killed in committee). Idaho faces a worsening shortage of teachers in rural school districts. Superintendent Sherri Ybarra presented a bill that would provide financial incentives to attract and retain teachers in rural school districts. It did not pass in committee (which includes several representatives from rural districts) due in part to concerns about cost and clarity relative to other programs. I voted in support of this bill.
- Library Internet Censorship (HB194 – Passed House, in Senate). This bill requires public libraries to filter access to minors of obscene and pornographic material via the internet within their building. I voted for this bill.
- Prohibit child marriage (HB98 – failed on the House floor). This bill would have prohibited children under the age of 17 from being married. Therefore, it is still legal in Idaho for a 50 year old man to marry a 13 year old girl (for example). I voted for this bill.
- Conceal carry of weapons on school grounds (HB203 – killed in committee). This bill would have allowed enhanced permit holders in public schools without having to notify school administration.
- Hand gun conceal carry for 18-20 year olds in all Idaho cities (HB206 – passed House, in Senate). This bill prevents cities from enacting ordinances that would prohibit persons between 18 and 20 years old from carrying a concealed hand gun within city limits. I voted against this bill.
- Revoke gun ownership rights for felons convicted of sexual battery of a minor (HB276 – passed House, in Senate). This bill corrects an oversight by including this among the list of crimes where gun ownership privileges can be revoked. It passed by a slim margin only after a compromise was reached where people convicted of felony child pornography could still have their gun ownership rights restored. I voted for this bill and would have preferred the earlier version (HB70) that included felony child pornographers on the list.
- Speedy eviction of tenants (HB138 – failed on House floor). This bill would have made it easier for landlords to evict tenants quicker. It failed on the House floor by two votes. I voted against this bill.
- Voter approval for Urban Renewal Development (URD) agency projects (HB217 – passed House, in Senate). This bill would require every URD agency in the state to obtain 55% voter approval for any project. This bill was specifically written to preempt the City of Boise’s URD agency (Capital City Development Corporation, or CCDC) from participating in the building of a new library and ballfield without voter approval. I voted for this bill – it was the most difficult vote I have had to cast thus far as a legislator. I understand the desire for the public to have a voice on expensive projects, but I have also seen the positive outcomes a URD agency can enable when I was a director of the Greater Boise Auditorium District (GBAD). This bill is a bit of an overreach, but the 55% hurdle is much less than the 66.7% threshold required for passing a bond. The bill is now being held up in the Senate (click here for more).
- Underinsured motor vehicle coverage (HB247 – killed in committee). This bill would have required insurance companies to provide coverage up to the limit of the victim’s policy in addition to the coverage provided by the party at fault (called excess coverage). I voted in support of this bill in committee.
- Remove mandatory minimum sentencing (HB99 – passed House, in Senate). This bill removed the automatic mandatory minimum sentencing provisions for trafficking in controlled substances. It gives the judge discretion to consider all circumstances surrounding this type of crime before issuing a sentence, instead of imposing a mandatory minimum sentence proscribed by law. I voted for this bill, however it appears to be held up in the Senate where an alternate bill may be in development (click here for more).
- Notification of rights before investigating child abuse (HB170 – passed House, in Senate). This bill would prevent investigating a case of child abuse until after the parent or guardian was first told they had the legal right to not cooperate with investigators. I voted against this bill.
- Determine paternity of a fetus (HB205 – passed House, in Senate). This bill can potentially force a woman who is pregnant out of wedlock to let the state determine the paternity of her fetus. I voted against this terrible bill that enables the state to degrade, humiliate and invade the privacy of a pregnant woman.
- Health & Welfare appropriation bills (including funding for Medicaid Expansion). Every appropriation bill to fund H&W has been delayed for more than a week on the House floor. I don’t know the exact reason this is being done by House leadership, but holding funding bills hostage is one legislative tactic for applying pressure to get something you want from someone else.
- SB1034a (passed Senate, in House committee). When anti-cancer medication is covered by a health plan, this bill would require insurance companies to provide patients access to orally administered anti-cancer medications at a co-insurance rate no more than the cost to access injected or intravenously administered medication. This is an important convenience and cost-saving benefit to many cancer patients.