Rep. Steve Berch Newsletter - There is (h)OPE Edition

 I made significant progress toward fulfilling one of my key campaign promises, which is discussed in the commentary that follows. This newsletter also includes an overview of selected legislative actions since my last newsletter. The next newsletter will be a final review of the 2020 legislative session.

Due to current public health concerns, the April 29 Town Hall meeting has been CANCELLED. Rep. Jake Ellis and I are sorry to not have this opportunity to meet with constituents in person, but cancelling the event is obviously the right and necessary thing to do during these difficult times. 

Toward the end of this newsletter you will find links to information on the coronavirus, income tax filing, the May 19 primary election and the 2020 census.  As always, the various ways to contact me are provided at the very end of this letter.  Please contact me anytime for any reason.

 

 

Finding another way

In looking back over the last decade or so, it appears the Idaho Legislature is stuck in time. They think if you just get through the current year and do as little as possible, that’s good enough.  And maybe when Idaho was a smaller, slower-growing state, it was good enough. But not now.
 
Idaho has significantly grown in both size and rate. Yet the legislature continues to not collect over $2 billion dollars in revenue each year in the form of tax breaks that rarely get reviewed and never sunset (over $28 billion since 2005). This pushes increased costs onto you and me via property tax, gas tax, grocery tax, fees, rents, tuition, and so on. This is a key reason why so many Idahoans have difficulty making ends meet or saving money during the recent economic boom (prior to the coronavirus).
 
One of my key campaign promises was to get the legislature to address this issue and bring a long-term perspective to fiscal policies. I first tried to do this by sponsoring a resolution (HCR26) which would create an interim committee to determine how tax breaks are granted, evaluated and reviewed for renewal. It died in the House Ways and Means committee without discussion or debate.

But there is another committee that few people are aware of: JLOC – the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee. This is the only committee in the legislature whose membership has an equal number of Republicans and Democrats (four each).
 
Even fewer people are aware of the organization that JLOC oversees:  OPE – Office of Performance Evaluations. This non-partisan organization conducts deep-dive analysis for projects assigned to it by JLOC. It provides detailed, reliable information and recommendations for the legislature’s consideration and action.

I tried to find another way to move this effort forward after my resolution was killed. I drafted a proposal for OPE to conduct a Systematic Review of Tax Exemptions and Deductions – which was the objective of my original resolution. I partnered with Republican Rep. Rick Youngblood, who is a co-chair of JFAC (Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee). Please click on the link to see the details of the proposal.

It was essential to me that this be a bi-partisan effort, and I asked Rep. Youngblood to take the lead in presenting this proposal to JLOC, which occurred on March 11, along with eight other proposals. The proposal was approved as one of only four proposals to be accepted for 2020.  Some legislators have waited several years for their proposals to be accepted. Many are never accepted. A freshman legislator rarely gets one accepted on their first try. 
 
OPE Director Rakesh Mohan told JLOC this is a large project that could take several years to complete. That is welcome news to me.  Reviewing fiscal policies that haven’t changed in 50 years is a big task and it should take a significant amount of time to do it right.
 
This is a necessary first step in helping the legislature understand the cumulative and long-term impact of its fiscal policies – independent of political posturing or outside influence. I am proud to have played a key role in successfully initiating this bi-partisan effort.

 

 

Rotunda Roundup

This is a review of selected bills since my last newsletter. My next newsletter will provide a more thorough overview of the entire 2020 session.
 
Bills that lingered and died on the House floor without a vote

Grocery Tax credit increase (H494). This bill would have increased the grocery tax credit on your state income tax. I would have voted for this bill.

Sales Tax credit for Amazon (H540).  This bill would have given Amazon a tax break for building infrastructure to accommodate their new facility in Nampa. I would have voted against this bill.


Education
 
Funding for state colleges and universities (H603, H641 and H644 – signed into law by the Governor). In what was perhaps one of the most absurd series of actions by the House, the annual appropriation for all Idaho colleges and universities was killed twice as members nit-picked a $10,000 expenditure here and a person hired there. Meanwhile, professors are being laid off and academic programs are being scaled back or cut in the face of a tuition freeze. I voted for this appropriation all three times.

Fairness in Women’s Sports Act (H500 – signed into law by the Governor). This election year, anti-transgender law 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, four-day school weeks, low college graduation rates, and so on.  I voted against this low-priority bill that even the Idaho Attorney General found to be defective and warned that defending it in court will cost over $1 million in taxpayer dollars.

Interim committee to review Idaho Content Standards (SCR 132 – passed by the House and Senate, does not require approval by the Governor). I am a strong supporter of stakeholders working together to arrive at mutually agreed-to decisions – and I would normally support a bill like this.  However, key stakeholders were excluded from the committee, specifically the State Board of Education and the State Department of Education. I voted against this politically motivated, election-year resolution.


Government/Judicial affairs
 
Use of cell phones while driving (H614 – signed into law by the Governor). This law establishes a statewide ban on non-hands free use of cell phones while driving. For years the majority party fought this bill. This sudden reversal recognizes the use of hand-held devices while driving as a growing and significant risk to public safety. I voted for this bill.

“Too Great to Hate” license plate (S1297 – passed the Senate, killed in the House). One of the most disgusting votes on the House floor. This bill failed on the House floor by a vote of 30-32 without a single nay-sayer debating against it (a true act of cowardice). But what’s worse is that there were four “yes” votes from people voting absentee (which is allowed by House rules). Majority party leadership prevented those votes from being cast (including my “yes” vote). Had all the votes been counted, the bill would have passed.  Who in the majority party thinks Idaho is not “too great to hate?”

Public employment discrimination (H440 – signed into law by the Governor). This law removes protections from discrimination in employment for “certain” groups of people.  I voted against this ideologically driven, election-year bill.

Funding source for ballot initiatives (S1350 – signed into law by the Governor). This law requires sponsors of citizen-driven ballot initiatives to identify how their initiative will be funded. The legislature doesn’t even require itself to provide this information for the laws it writes. I voted against this bill, which is a thinly veiled attempt to create more roadblocks for citizen-driven ballot initiatives.


Consumer protection
 
Sexual assault protection (H383 – killed in House Judiciary and Rules committee). This bill, which had bi-partisan support, would have allowed protection orders for victims of sexual assault, which are currently granted for victims of domestic violence, stalking and even telephone harassment. It died without a hearing in committee. I would have voted for this bill.

Forced eviction of tenants (H461 – Signed into law by the Governor). This law allows a landlord to forcibly evict a tenant and remove their possessions within 72 hours upon a court order of eviction. I would have voted for this bill if it gave a judge discretion to grant more time based on extenuating circumstances (i.e. illness, disabilities, family emergencies, etc.).
 

 

Important Information

Below are links to important information of immediate concern.
 
Coronavirus information
 
Ada County
Ada County Paramedic services
Ada County Sheriff’s office
Ada County Coroner’s office

State of Idaho coronavirus website
Idaho Department of Health and Welfare
Idaho State Board of Education - coronavirus information
Idaho Department of Labor  -  Unemployment benefits and updates

St. Luke's Hospital
St. Alphonsus Hospital

CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
World Health Organization
Johns Hopkins University of Medicine (coronavirus map)


Tax information

Idaho Tax Commission (state taxes, property tax reduction programs, other)
Internal Revenue Service (IRS - federal taxes)


May 19th Primary Election

Secretary of State website  -  Vote by Mail press release
Requesting an absentee ballot
Ada County Elections website (and vote by mail information)


2020 U.S. Census

United States Census 2020
State of Idaho data
Ada County data

 

On The Air

2020

  • March 19 - BYU-Idaho interview. Click Here.
  • March 6 - KBOI interview.  Click Here.
  • 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

April 29 Town Hall is CANCELLED!