Rep. Steve Berch Newsletter - Election Year Politics Edition

The House is now frantically catching up on bills that were delayed due to the extra time needed to review and approve or reject over 8,000 pages of Administrative Rules. As a result, this newsletter is quite lengthy - there's a lot of ground to cover. Please contact me if you have any questions or concerns about the bills and legislative actions covered in this newsletter - or anything you think I missed.

As always, 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!

 

 

"It doesn't matter."

Now that Administrative Rules are nearly done, the House is dealing with an avalanche of bills that have been piling up in committees. You’d think we would have already voted on a slew of property tax relief bills, given that this is the #1 voter issue and there are only about three weeks left in 2020 legislative session. Sadly, not a single property tax relief bill has been voted on in the House. However, over 15 inflammatory and social hot-button issues bills have been introduced.
 
Welcome to election year politics
One of the unfortunate consequences of an election year is the writing of bills specifically designed to help incumbent re-election campaigns. These bills usually target highly emotional issues that can drive voter turnout (especially in a low turnout primary election). They can also have crowd-pleasing, but misleading names that might make things difficult for those who vote against them.
 
For example, there is a so-called “Property Tax Freeze” bill (HB409 – passed the House, in the Senate).  It’s hard to vote against a bill with that name – until you learn that it doesn’t reduce or even freeze property taxes, and it could actually cause them to rise (click here for more). I voted against this bill.

But perhaps the most startling example of election year politics is an epilog to the issue of using the words “Common Core” to politicize education standards that I addressed in my previous newsletter (click here for more):

I ran into one of my House Education committee colleagues at an evening function on the day the committee voted to reject every single word of every single Idaho education teaching standard for math, English and science – without replacing them with anything else. Here’s how the conversation went:
 
Me: “Congratulations on your decisive victory in rejecting the education standards.”
Colleague: “Yes, it was decisive.”
Me: “What do you think the Senate will do?” (Senate approval would nullify the House’s action.)
Colleague: “It doesn’t matter.”
 
Why wouldn’t it matter? Because the real objective was to vote to “get rid of Common Core” and not to conduct a genuine review of the actual education standards. I asked another colleague on the committee the next day why they voted to reject the standards.  The answer: “I have to get re-elected.” (Click here for more on this in my recent interview with BYU-I radio.)

Politics: 1. Statesmanship: 0. 

 

Rotunda Roundup

Education
 
Teacher training for Social-Emotional Learning (SEL).  On January 24, the entire House Education committee gave Idaho Teacher of the Year, Stacie Lawler a standing ovation as she told the committee about her signature cause: mental wellness and suicide prevention in schools. Several members of the committee were in tears as she recounted the challenges she faced with her own school-age children.
 
On February 11, several members of the House Education committee, including some who shed tears 18 days earlier, snubbed Ms. Lawler (in her absence) by rejecting and ridiculing a modest request to fund SEL training for teachers – the very program that would put Ms. Lawler’s signature cause into action.  It was an embarrassing low moment for the committee (click here for more details).

Funding for school supplies (HB554 – failed in the House Education committee). Idaho teachers spend on average about $400 of their own money each year to buy basic school supplies for their classrooms. This bill would have given each teacher $100 per year to help defray that cost. While I believe the state should adequately fund schools so no teacher has to use their own money to buy school supplies, this bill would be a move in the right direction. I voted for this bill which was killed by the committee.

Fairness in Women’s Sports Act (HB500 – passed the House, in the Senate). This anti-transgender election year bill doesn’t affect a single high school or college student in Idaho. There are many far more important education issues to solve, such as teacher shortages, underfunded schools having to go to a four-day school week, the majority of incoming Idaho college freshmen having to take remedial math, low college graduation rates, and so on.  I voted against this low-priority bill that even the Idaho Attorney General’s office found to be defective.  If this becomes law, it will likely be overturned in court (at taxpayer expense to defend).

Taxes/Budget
 
Property taxes.  My colleagues in the minority party and I have written tax relief legislation that is currently being blocked by the majority party (click here for more). This includes:  

  • Repealing the $100,000 cap on the homeowner’s exemption.
  • Increasing the “circuit breaker” property tax break to help low and fixed income residents.
  • Capping real estate value assessments.
  • Limiting the percentage that property taxes can be increased each year.
  • Enabling counties to use internet sales tax revenue to lessen the burden on property taxes.
  • Revisiting sales tax exemptions which reduces funds for education, resulting in more school bonds and levies that increase property taxes. I submitted a bill to address this (HCR26).

As of now, the majority party has no plans to allow any of this legislation to be heard or voted on.

Redistribution of sales tax revenue among cities (HB408 – passed the House, in the Senate). This “redistribution of wealth” bill results in Boise receiving over $1 million less in sales tax revenue than it otherwise would receive – and gives it to less wealthy cities across Idaho.  Boise already puts much more into the General Fund than it takes out, and this bill would make the situation worse. I voted against this bill.   

Shifting sales tax revenue to transportation (HB325 – passed the House, in the Senate). I strongly opposed this bill. This is yet another bill that takes money away from education and other vital services. It is part of an on-going fiscal shell game to avoid raising more revenue than growth can generate to meet the state’s increasing transportation needs for both maintenance and new construction. 

Budget Stabilization Fund (HB449 – passed the House, in the Senate). This seemingly innocuous bill transfers $20 million out of the General Fund to a stabilization fund.  Every dollar taken out of the General Fund is a dollar less for education, roads and vital services. Shifting money around doesn’t solve the underlying revenue problem. I voted against this bill.

Sales tax exemption for custom meat processing services (HB496 – passed the House, in the Senate). This is yet another special interest sales tax exemption that reduces general fund revenue that is needed for education, transportation and other vital state-funded services. I voted against this bill.

Sales tax exemption for agricultural aircraft materials and parts (HB442 – passed the House, in the Senate). This is yet another special interest sales tax exemption that reduces general fund revenue that is needed for education, transportation and other vital state-funded services. I voted against this bill.

Consumer Protection
 
Idaho Patient Act (HB515 – passed the House, in the Senate). This bill protects consumers from predatory medical debt collectors. I was proud to vote in favor of this important consumer protection bill both in committee and on the House floor (click here and here and here for more).

Underinsured Driver (HB474 – passed the House, in the Senate). This bill requires insurance companies to pay insured motorists the full amount of their policy’s coverage independent of the other party’s coverage.  For example, if you have $100,000 in auto insurance and the party at fault has $25,000 in insurance and your bills are $125,000, your insurance company may only pay you $75,000 and count the $25,000 paid by the other insurance company toward your $100,000 limit. This would leave you with $25,000 in uncovered expenses. This bill would require your insurance company to pay you the full $100,000 of coverage you’ve purchased regardless of the other party’s insurance policy coverage. I voted for this important consumer protection bill both in committee and on the House floor.

Predatory booting of cars (HB345 – passed the House, in the Senate). I voted for this bill which prevents a car from being booted for the sole reason of an expired or improper vehicle registration. An example of this predatory behavior is when a company deliberately looks for cars with expired stickers on their license plate and then boots them for profit.

Government affairs
 
Require large cities to establish districts for city council members (HB413 – passed the House, in the Senate).  My vote against this bill requires some explanation. I am not opposed to districting for Boise City council seats. Even if I personally wanted the council to be elected by district, I would have voted against this bill. I am very concerned about letting out-of-town legislators increasingly target and micro-manage Boise (e.g. minimum wage, plastic bags, urban renewal, local option tax, and so on). I try to base my decisions on principle, while not ignoring an immediate need. In this case, I did not see an immediate need to let the legislature decide for Boise what the city already has the power to decide for itself. I prefer to first give the new Boise mayor and city council an opportunity to use existing processes and demonstrate that they will listen to their constituents – without preemptive interference from the state legislature.

Filling legislative vacancies (HB378 – failed in the House). The current process for filling a legislative vacancy (due to death or resignation) is for the incumbent party precinct captains for the legislative district in question to submit the names of three people from which the Governor can choose to fill the vacancy. This bill would remove the Governor from the process and let only these precinct captains (who collectively may have received less than a few hundred votes) select the one person to fill the vacancy. I voted against this sour grapes bill, which was in response to Governor Little not selecting District 2’s first choice to replace Rep. John Green, who resigned after being convicted of a felony.

Public employment discrimination (HB440 – passed the House, stuck in the Senate). This legally questionable bill says the state can’t discriminate when hiring people in “certain instances”, which leaves open the door for employment discrimination for other instances such as religion, sexual orientation, people with disabilities, etc.  I voted against this poorly conceived, election year bill.

Displaying political signs and flags (HB503 – passed House Business committee, sent to House floor). This bill prohibits homeowner associations from preventing political signs or the American flag from being displayed on a resident’s private property (within reason).  I voted for this bill in committee.

Annexation of certain forest lands (HB451 – passed the House, in the Senate). I’m not in favor of indiscriminant forced annexation. However I am concerned that this bill did not provide certain exceptions to allow annexation that might be critical to enable much needed economic development in certain situations. This is not a bad bill, but I voted against it due to the unintended consequences it might create.

Annexation (HB489 – passed the House, in the Senate). This overly simplistic, supposed pro-property rights, anti-annexation bill is in fact a poorly written piece of election year legislation. It undoes decades of detailed, carefully crafted law that manages the difficult and complex task of balancing individual property rights with the need for growing communities. The sponsor of this bill admitted on the House floor that he didn’t understand the current law, which means that neither he nor anyone else can say for sure what was added, changed or disappeared from the current law. Bills like this should be carefully reviewed and vetted by true experts in the field before they are turned into law.  I voted against this dangerous bill.

Child protection (HB402 and HB403 – passed the House, both in the Senate). These two election year bills are part of an effort to actually diminish the state’s ability to protect children suspected of being abused by making it more difficult for instances of child abuse to be reported or investigated. I voted against these anti-child protection bills, which are likely to be joined by a third related bill (HB455) that is working its way to the House floor for a vote.

“Choose Life” specialty license plate (SB1249 – passed the Senate and House, sent to the Governor). I voted against this election year bill. I would have also voted against a “Pro-Choice” specialty license plate bill. People already have the freedom and liberty to put signs on their car to express their political views – and many do. The state should not be forced to use its license plate manufacturing resources to advertise one political view over another.

Concealed weapons (HB516 – passed the House, in the Senate). This bill doesn’t impact a single Idahoan – Idahoans already enjoy the right to conceal carry. Instead, this bill allows people from other states to conceal carry in Idaho. I support the Second Amendment. I believe the state has done a thorough job in protecting the Second Amendment rights of all Idahoans and I uphold my pledge to not undo those protections. I voted against this litmus-test election year bill. Idaho has enough challenges dealing with overcrowded prisons, the opioid epidemic, soaring property taxes, crumbling infrastructure and a myriad of other unmet needs. The legislature should not be spending its time and your tax dollars writing laws for people who live in Bangor, Maine and Enid, Oklahoma.

 

Upcoming Town Hall meetings

  • March 17 (Tuesday), 7:00 pm, Cecil D. Andrus Elementary
  • April 29 (Wednesday), 7:00 pm, Centennial High School
 

On The Air

2020

  • February 27 - BYU-Idaho radio interview on education and sales tax exemptions. Click here.
  • February 13 - Capital Update interview on the House abolishing education standards.  Click here.
  • January 10 - KBOI interview (with Rep. Megan Blanksma).  Click here.

2019

  • November 5 – Podcast interview about my experiences while running for office. Click here.
  • August 1 - BSU radio story on redistricting. Click here.
  • March 29 - KBOI interview (with Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking): Click here.
  • March 14 - BYU-Idaho radio interview on key legislative topics. Click here.
  • January 31 - Idaho Matters radio interview (with Rep. Jake Ellis).  Click here.
 

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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

 

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Upcoming events

Watch for future announcements here!