Rep. Steve Berch Newsletter - Home Stretch Edition

NOTICE: Due to the coronavirus pandemic, my March 17 Town Hall meeting with Rep. Jake Ellis has been CANCELLED. The final Town Hall scheduled for April 29 is pending. Watch for updates via email and my Facebook page.

The legislature is racing at breakneck speed to plow through a huge backlog of bills. This newsletter highlights some of the action over the last several weeks. 

Due to current health concerns, it is possible that the legislature may end earlier than expected - perhaps even before you read this newsletter - or it may go into recess and reconvene later this summer as circumstances allow. I'll keep you posted of developments in my next newsletter. 

In the meantime, 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!

 

 

Taking Hostages

Things start getting very political as we race toward the end of the 2020 legislative session:

  • The legislature has entertained hundreds of bills in the last few weeks, with more to come and little time to adequately consider them.
  • New bills materialize seemingly out of nowhere without a public hearing.
  • Procedural rules are suspended at will (due to one party controlling 80% of the seats, and it only takes 67% of the body to suspend the rules).
  • Bills are placed on General Orders, where they are immediately amended by the full body, without advance knowledge of amendments, the inability to consider all proposed amendments before casting votes, and only allowing five minutes total debate for all amendments.
  • Bills from the Senate and House are “radiator capped” by the other side (meaning the bill is passed by one side and the other side amends it to be something completely different, but the bill number doesn’t change – like replacing all the parts of a car engine except the radiator cap and saying it’s the same engine before it was overhauled).

And then there’s the hardball political gamesmanship of holding bills hostage. This is a three-way backroom horse-trading process between House leadership, Senate leadership and the Governor. Each wants something, such as: a House bill to be passed by the Senate (or vice versa), a bill the House or Senate want the Governor to sign, or a bill the House or Senate want the Governor to veto. The desires of one player gives leverage to the other players.
 
Sometimes hostages can be identified when bills are continually placed on hold.  They become bargaining chips. For example, the House has been continually delaying votes on three bills:

  • Grocery Tax credit increase (HB494 – on hold since February 20). This bill is aligned with the Governor’s pledge to address the grocery tax.
  • Sales Tax credit for Amazon (HB540 – on hold since March 3). There are likely multiple interests at play here.
  • Appropriation for Public Health Districts (S1353 Passed the Senate, on hold in the House since March 3). All appropriation bills must be passed to fund each Executive branch department for the coming year. Holding this bill may impact how the legislature funds Medicaid expansion.

An even more intriguing – and dangerous –bargaining chip is HB617 (passed the House, in the Senate).  This wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing bill is being sold as a simple change to the contorted process of approving administrative rules created by the executive branch. In reality, it would dramatically shift power from the Governor to the legislature –specifically to the House of Representatives (more on this in my next newsletter). 

I’m not naïve. Both political parties indulge this behavior where either one has had total control of government for decades on end – it’s a function of power, not party.  But when it becomes the norm within the halls of government, it undermines the trust and confidence of the people. It leads to cynicism, contempt and ultimately citizen disengagement (which helps keep people in power in power).
 
This is why ensuring a balance of power within government is crucial to maintaining a healthy democracy – so one group of people can’t run amok.

This is why elections matter. 

 

Rotunda Roundup

Note:  This section covers bills not addressed in my previous newsletters. The final disposition of pending bills previously discussed will be covered in my final newsletter for the 2020 legislative session. You’ll also see more Senate bills in this newsletter as the ones originating in the Senate have started to make their way to the House.

Education
 
Raising career ladder minimum salaries for experienced teachers (HB523 – passed the House, in the Senate). This important and significant bill sponsored by the Governor adds a new “advanced professional” rung to the teacher pay career ladder with increased salaries across the entire ladder over the next five years (see page 7 of the bill). This complements the Governor’s 2019 bill that increased starting teacher pay. Even with the salary increases in this bill, Idaho still lags in providing competitive teacher pay, but it is a step in the right direction. I voted for this bill.

Appropriations budget for higher education (HB603 – failed in the House).  The House voted down the entire higher education budget, with 10 members of the House Education committee voting against it.  This is what happens when legislators treat education as an expense to be minimized instead of an investment in our kid’s future. I voted for this appropriation. A new bill will have to be written.

Reduced technology funding for larger school districts (HB576 – passed the House, in the Senate). This bill takes technology funding from large school districts and redistributes it to smaller ones. It changes the disbursement of funds from student enrollment to grants of up to $50,000 on a first-come, first-served basis. This bill will significantly reduce funding for the West Ada and Boise school districts (which are both in District 15). I voted against this divisive bill.

Enabling industry professionals to become CTE teachers (SB1329 – passed the Senate and House, sent to the Governor). This bill enables the recruitment and retention of industry professionals to teach in Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs. I voted for this bill.

Reduction in teacher certification requirements (HB599 – passed the House, in the Senate).  This shortcut bill is yet another attempt to reduce the requirements to become a certified teacher in Idaho. While a reasonable case can be made for revisiting and simplifying some of the current requirements, simply creating an easier path without fully vetting it with the State Board of Education is both reckless and inconsiderate. I voted against this bill.

Transfer management of data management within education (HB625 – failed in the House Education committee). This bill was an attempt to expose a politically motivated action against the Superintendent of Public Instruction (Sherri Ybarra). The Appropriations committee (JFAC) decided without notice to transfer K-12 data management responsibility from Ybarra’s office to the State Board of Education. The consequences of reassigning this critical function was never analyzed. I voted for this bill in committee. We need to eliminate petty politics and personality differences from decision-making processes.

Taxes/Budget
 
UPDATE: Property Tax Freeze bill (HB409 – passed the House, failed in the Senate).  The Senate killed this deceptively named property tax bill that would have likely increased property taxes for many residential homeowners (click here for more). I voted against this bill.

Remove deadline for applying for a homestead exemption (HB562 – passed the House, in the Senate). This bill removes the April 15 deadline for a homeowner to apply for their homeowner’s exemption, enabling them to apply for it at any time of the year. I voted for this reasonable bill, which provides a modest level of property tax relief for at least some people. 

First-time home buyer’s savings account (HB589 – passed the House, in the Senate).  This bill sounds good but is misleading and riddled with loopholes. In addition to taking millions of dollars away from education and infrastructure each year, this bill could allow wealthier people (who are not likely to be first-time home buyers) to shelter tens of thousands of dollars from taxes. It also fails to address the real problem for first-time home buyers, which is the cost for a new house right now. I voted against this bill.

Sales tax exemption for data center servers (HB521 – passed the House, in the Senate). This is yet another special 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.

Tenant Rights

Notification of rent increase (HB594 – passed the House, in the Senate).  This bill requires landlords to provide 30-day advance written notice prior to increasing one’s rent or if they intend to not renew a lease. I voted for this bill.

Tenant eviction (HB461 – passed the House, in the Senate). This bill allows any landlord to forcibly evict a tenant and remove their possessions within 72 hours upon a court order of eviction. The problem is that it doesn’t let a judge grant more time based on extenuating circumstances (i.e. illness, disabilities, family emergencies, etc.). I voted against this bill, but would have been more supportive if it allowed for some judicial discretion.

Tenant walkthrough and security deposit protections (HB595 – failed in the House).  This bill would have defined a process for both the landlord and tenant to conduct a walkthrough at the time of move in and move out, and ensure the tenant received an itemized receipt for the costs of repairs and cleaning before withholding portions of a security deposit. I voted for this bill.

Health and Welfare / Consumer Protection
 
Limitations on reporting child abuse (HB455 – failed in the House).  This bill would have prevented certain people who observed signs of child abuse from being required to report it to Child Protection Services. I voted against this bill, which would have put more children at risk.

Unlicensed substance abuse treatment facilities for teens (HB340 – passed the House, in the Senate). This bill exempts a residential treatment facility for teens from state licensure.  It risks putting the most vulnerable girls and boys in close proximity with other troubled individuals without proper state oversight. I voted against this dangerous bill, which was primarily for the benefit one facility owner – who is also currently a Representative from Legislative District 2.

Daycare safety (HB549 – passed the House, in the Senate). This is a revised version of HB312 which failed earlier in the House. It updates child care licensing to comply with federal regulations and the Idaho Child Care Program standards. Some of the safety measures in the original bill were removed, but passing this bill will secure millions of dollars in federal funding. I voted for this bill.

Occupational (universal) licensing (SB1531 – passed the Senate and House, sent to the Governor). This much ballyhooed bill is a bad solution to the growing problem of filling openings for skilled jobs in Idaho that require state certification or licensing. It allows people licensed in a different state to be employed in Idaho – regardless as to the other state’s licensing standards. This effectively lowers Idaho’s standards to the lowest standards in the country. It also keeps wages low by attracting workers with lower qualifications than their Idaho-licensed counterparts. I voted against this bill due to its long-term risk to public safety and potential impact on wages. 

Self-service storage facilities (S1264 – passed the Senate and House, sent to the Governor). This bill is fine – except for three words. If you click on the link and look at page 2, line 45, you’ll see the words “regardless of cause.”  This appears to absolve the operator of a self-storage facility of any negligence on their part. I don’t nit-pick bills, but sometimes a few words can make a world of difference, especially when it could deny a consumer legitimate protections. After consultation with the bill’s sponsor, I voted against this bill, but I would have voted for it had those three words been removed.

Government and Judicial affairs
 
Access to public lands (killed in the House).  This is one of the major disappointments of the current session (click here for more). Some changes in the composition of the legislature will have to take place in order to restore your right to fully access and enjoy your public lands without intimidation.

Limitations on records requests by the public (HB601 – passed the House, in the Senate). This bill runs counter the public’s demand for more transparency in government. It allows legislators to legally hide documents from public view, including: requests for analysis to other government entities, certain personal communications between legislators, and identification of citizens communicating with a legislator. I voted against this bill.

Opting out of a water or sewer district (HB609 – killed in the Local Government committee). This was a careless bill. It would have changed the process for administering water and sewage districts statewide without prior consultation with the state or local agencies affected by it.  I voted against this bill. Stopping bad legislation is as important as passing good legislation.

Mandatory sentencing for trafficking in heroin and fentanyl (HB469 – passed the House, held up in the Senate). This is a sneaky bill. It slightly raises the minimum quantity of heroin possession to trigger mandatory minimum sentencing, but it creates new mandatory minimum sentencing for fentanyl possession. It’s like saying “I’ll fix your broken arm if you let me amputate your leg.” I voted against this bill which exacerbates the underlying problem of mandatory minimum sentencing that takes reasonable discretion away from judges and increases taxpayer costs for prisons.
 

 

Upcoming Town Hall meetings

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

On The Air

2020

  • March 6 - KBOI interview.  <link not available>
  • 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!