Steve Berch District 15 Newsletter
In the Sausage Factory

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!

 

A Day in the Life
What’s life like as a brand new legislator?  In a word, “triage.” Daily life at the Capitol is dominated by constant sorting, prioritizing, meetings and social events.  It starts by filling your calendar with meetings: a daily morning committee meeting (Education), a daily House floor meeting at 11:00 am, a daily afternoon committee meeting (alternating between Local Government and Business), a twice-weekly caucus meeting, and a constant flow of social events ranging from breakfast meet-and-greets, gatherings in the rotunda, legislative luncheons, and evening dinners (more on social events in a moment).
 
And then there’s the in-tray:  over 100 emails a day and a blizzard of postal mail ranging from issues advocates to state agency reports.  I look at everything – it’s the only way to learn how to prioritize. My priorities are mostly centered on my committee assignments and interacting with constituents.
 
Which leads to the next phase: preparation. This is perhaps the most difficult task – finding the time to prepare for votes in committee and on the House floor (which is more difficult when the bill comes through a committee you’re not on). And just when you’ve got it figured out, it all changes during the last month when the pace picks up to handle a growing number of bills.
 
It comes down to learning processes and people – which is why social events have proven to be very important.  I imagined them to be lobbyist-driven boondoggles. Instead, they are the best time to get to know your fellow legislators – especially my Republican colleagues. They provide an informal setting where you can get to know each other personally and identify areas of commonality.  Politics is where issues and people come together, be it around a committee room dais or a dining room table. 
Rotunda Roundup
Only one month left before the session ends!  The pace is starting to pick up and will likely build to a breakneck speed.  Here’s some of what’s going on:
 
Education
  • Pre-K.  Idaho is one of only four states that does not offer pre-K education.  A proposed bill to enable school districts to voluntarily create a pre-kindergarten program was killed in committee.  It never had a chance; it seemed as if a majority of the committee already knew they didn't want to consider this legislation. I voiced my strong opposition to this decision (more info here).
  • Teacher salaries (HB153 – passed House, in Senate).  This bill is from the Governor’s office and raises the minimum teacher salary to $40,000 over the next two years. It was noted that several surrounding states already offer starting salaries that are significantly above $40,000.  I voted for the bill, but it doesn’t do enough to help Idaho attract and retain teachers.
  • Reduced qualifications for charter school administrators (SB1058 - passed committee, heading to House floor). I voted against this bill.  It creates a new Charter School Administrator Certificate.  The criteria and qualifications for receiving this new certificate are significantly less than those of a public school administrator. I made a motion for the committee to consider an analysis from the Attorney General's office documenting this disparity before voting on the bill, but the committee rejected my motion to do so. 
  • Sex education (HB120 – passed committee, heading to House floor). I voted against this terrible bill in committee. Today all students take sex education classes unless a parent exercises their right to opt-out their child from doing so (the opt-out rate is estimated to be below 4%). This bill would change the process to where no student would take a sex education class unless the parent provides written opt-in approval. In short, it makes the exception the norm. This will create an excessive administrative burden for schools, a likely reduction in the number of students taking sex education classes and more instances of unprotected sexual behavior, sexually transmitted disease, unwanted pregnancies and ultimately higher demand on social services funded with taxpayer dollars.
  • Appropriations (HB220HB221 and others). Over $1.7B in 2020 education appropriations will soon be making its way to the House floor for a vote. This includes teacher salaries under the current career ladder and allocation formula.
  • New funding formula. A bill is still in development to enact the three-year interim committee’s recommendations for changing the formula by which education funds are allocated to each of Idaho’s 115 school districts and 52 charter schools. Any new formula would not become effective until at least 2021.
Local Government
  • County opt-in for Local Land Use Planning Act – LLUPA (HB127a – amended, headed to House floor). I voted against this bill in committee. LLUPA has been in effect for over 44 years and has been an essential tool for planning and local citizen control. Scores of cities and professional planning associations submitted testimony and input against this bill. If a county commission opts out of LLUPA, a simple majority of county commissioners (as few as two) can make decisions with irreversible consequences. For example, LLUPA gave citizens in Eagle the ability to challenge companies from drilling fracking wells in their community.     
  • Preventing local governments from banning cell phone use while driving (HB77,  failed in committee, more info here). I voted against this proposed bill in committee. This legislation prevents local municipalities from banning the use of non-hands free cell phones while driving in their jurisdiction. It was eventually killed in a different committee.  Ironically, an opposing bill in the Senate that would have banned all non-hands free cell phone use statewide also failed.     
Business
  • Residential solar panels (HB158a – amended, headed to House floor). I voted for this bill. It prohibits Home Owners Associations (HOAs) from preventing the installation of solar panels on residential rooftops. However, HOAs retain some flexibility in setting certain constraints.
  • Storage Unit abandonment notification (HB145a – amended, headed to House floor). I voted against this bill. It did include some useful improvements and updates in regard to notification via email, but I felt the removal of the requirement of notification via certified mail could put a portion of storage unit renters at risk. I am fine with businesses seeking efficiencies to lower their cost of business as long as it is balanced with reasonable consumer protections.
Other
  • First Responder PTSI coverage (SB1028 – passed House and Senate, on Governor’s desk) – I voted for this bill. It provides post-traumatic stress injury for emergency responders under worker’s compensation without having to also be accompanied by a physical injury.
  • Medicaid Expansion.  JFAC (Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee) approved the state Health & Welfare budget, including funding for Medicaid Expansion. This appropriation needs to now pass both the House and Senate. A bill that added some “sideboards” to the current law approved by voters last November made it out of the Senate Health & Welfare committee.  Nothing has hit the House floor yet.  I stand committed to support Medicaid Expansion without modification.
  • Victim’s rights – Marsy’s Law (SJR101 – passed Senate, in House committee). There is an effort by some special interests to position this bill as a back-door attempt to confiscate guns. The analysis I’ve seen from competent and credible sources indicates this to be a far-fetched assertion.  However, the Senate did add some language to help allay such fears.
  • Repeal Daylight Savings Time (HB85 – failed on House floor). I voted against this bill. There are reasonable arguments for and against this bill, but I felt the disruptions were sufficiently significant.  However, I would like to revisit this legislation if it could be done in concert with the surrounding states.
  • Child marriage ban (HB98 – failed on House floor, more info here). I voted for this bill. It would have banned marriage of children under 16 entirely and required a judge to sign off for 16- and 17-year-olds.
  • Notifying parents of rights prior to a child protection investigation (HB170 – passed House, in Senate). This bill requires notifying parents or guardians of their legal rights with respect to child protection investigations before the actual investigation begins (parental rights are not taken away). I voted against this bill. It became clear during debate that this would significantly impact such investigations and likely put a child being abused in the home at greater risk.
In the hopper
  • HB203 (in committee). Allowing concealed weapons carry by enhanced permit holders in public schools without having to notify school administration.
  • HB138 (passed committee, heading to House floor). This bill appears to give landlords greater power and control over the tenant eviction process.
  • HB152 (in committee). Creates a Naturopathic Licensure Board for naturopathic physicians.
  • HB217 (in committee).  This bill would require Urban Renewal Agencies to seek voter approval for stadiums and libraries.  It is an attempt by the state to specifically control and limit the actions of one, and only one Idaho city – Boise.
And another thing . . .
  • Interested in working for the 2020 Census?  Click here!