Faith Family Freedom and . . .

During the 2020 campaign, my opponent and his party ran on the slogan, “Faith Family Freedom.”  Those are great values. They aren’t partisan values – they’re American values.  People of all political stripes attend the church of their choice. Everyone, regardless of their political affiliation, wants the best for their family and loved ones.  And Arlington cemetery is the final resting place for Republicans and Democrats alike who died to protect and defend our country’s freedom.
 
But there is one value missing from their list: Community. This omission reveals a growing concern as the legislature shifts toward prioritizing individual liberties over protecting the interests of the larger community. A civilized society strikes a healthy balance between the two. Extremism in either direction serves more to divide us than unite us.
 
COVID is challenging our ability to strike this balance, especially when it comes to masks. Consider this: if our young men and women in the military can don battlefield attire and armament from head-to-toe in hostile climates, then we should all be able to endure the inconvenience of wearing a mask when we’re around other people.  Some don’t wear a mask because they question the severity or even the existence of a pandemic and want the Governor to lift the COVID emergency order. One legislator actually stood on the floor of the House and publicly declared the pandemic was over – while people are scrambling to get vaccinated!
 
I do not support lifting the Governor’s emergency order at this time (A resolution ordering this, SCR101, is stuck in a Senate committee). Here are the factors I take into consideration when making a determination – which can change with new information:

  • Mortality rates.  The loss of any life due to COVID is tragic, even if the rate may be less than what was originally projected.  This is an important - but not the only - criteria for reaching a determination.
  • Morbidity rates (people who survive but suffer long-term or permanent damage to their health).  This number is unknown, and it will take time to quantify. We do know COVID can result in long-term convalescence periods and possibly life-long problems that can be severely debilitating (e.g. “COVID lung”).
  • Hospital beds.  As hospital beds fill up with COVID patients, and/or hospital staff is reduced due to self-quarantine, an increasing number of non-COVID patients can’t get the life-saving medical care they need because healthcare systems are pushed beyond capacity. This results in people potentially dying from anything requiring ICU care, not just COVID.  This factor will ebb and flow with spikes and decreases in infection rates.
  • Mutations.  The more wide-spread COVID infects humans, the greater opportunity for the virus to mutate into strains that are more contagious and more lethal.  One identified strain may be 30-70% more contagious, and another may be more lethal and more resistant to the vaccines currently being administered. 
  • Vaccinations. This may be the most important factor, now that vaccines have started to be administered. The quicker we can vaccinate the population, the quicker we can get back to a more normal existence, but we must remain vigilant as the virus spreads and mutates.    

I try to balance both the immediate and long-term perspective when making decisions.  I value the input and advice of credible sources whose knowledge exceeds mine (including our state epidemiologist), as well as people with years of experience in containing pandemics and other highly infectious diseases (such as SARS and Ebola).
 
The definition of a patriot is: “a person who vigorously supports their country.” I don’t like wearing a mask – but I do.  It’s just one small patriotic action I can take to protect and support others in my community, my country.

 

Rotunda Roundup

The legislature is having fits and starts as it tries to craft bills designed to curtail the Governor’s powers and give itself more control during an emergency (as if 105 politicians are more capable of taking quick and decisive action better than one duly elected executive).  While the legislature is focused on securing more power for itself, the issues District 15 voters tell me they care about the most are so far being ignored: 

  • adequate funding of education without resorting to continuous school bonds and levies
  • reduce property taxes
  • better wages to help keep up with the cost of living
  • managing growth, including investing in transportation infrastructure
  • protecting access to public lands being blocked by out-of-state billionaires    

Here are some of the notable happenings in the legislature:
 
Amend the state constitution to allow the legislature to call itself into session (HJR1 – passed the House, in Senate committee). I voted against this broad, over-reaching proposed amendment. I can support the legislature calling itself into session under clearly defined circumstances and constraints. Unfortunately this bill places no limit on such action. It would allow the legislature to call itself into session anytime for any reason for any duration of time. It also creates the potential for political abuse by calling a special session shortly before an election to distract voters and put political foes on the spot. It also runs the risk of moving toward an expense, full-time legislature. In 2018, Utah allowed its legislature to call itself into session. Since then, they’ve called themselves into special session seven time – six times in the last year alone.
 
Two Representatives actually defended this amendment on the House floor by saying we should not have co-equal branches of government – that the legislature is more important than the other two branches! Our form of government only works when there are checks and balances. To paraphrase George Orwell, this bill is rooted in the self-serving notion that “some branches of government are more equal than others.” This is an unnecessary and dangerous change to the state constitution (click here for more).

Amend the state constitution to ban all future psychoactive drugs in Idaho (SJR101 – passed the Senate, sent to the House). Never in the history of the United States has a law been written to halt the advancement of medical science and prevent new, safe treatments of pain, illness and disease – including secure and controlled use of medical cannabis.  This awful, 40,000 word amendment is anti-science and anti-education.

Limit the Governor’s powers during an emergency (H16 – brought to the House floor, returned to committee).  This bill is a hodge-podge of actions designed to limit several of the Governor’s powers during a declared emergency.  It was brought to the House floor on January 21 and was held there until finally returned to committee on February 4. We’ll have to wait and see if/when a new version emerges.

Remove a limitation on funding for charter schools (H22 – passed the House, in Senate committee). I voted against this bill – it takes a sledgehammer to drive in a nail. It makes a permanent change to the law to fix a one-time problem that affects only two schools. It gives $7.6 million to two virtual charter schools that collectively enrolled thousands of students beyond the allowed reimbursement level. Millions of those dollars would go to the for-profit companies behind the scenes that provide the virtual education services.  I support providing only the amount of taxpayer dollars necessary to keep teachers whole, not add to the bottom line profits of companies during a pandemic (click here for more).

Restrict information about bonds and levies from appearing on the ballot (H66 – passed the House, in Senate committee). This bill removes relevant information from the ballot that can put a bond or levy in proper context so voters can then make an informed decision. For example, many school bonds do not increase property taxes, but rather extend existing bonds that will expire (often to pay for annual operations that the legislature should pay for). Without that context, a voter might assume voting for the bond will increase their taxes. The omission of this critical information creates a negative, false assumption that can influence the outcome. I voted against this bill.

Exempt businesses owned and operated by persons under 18 from local licensing and fees (H21 – passed the House, in Senate committee). This bill exempts anyone under the age of 18 from business costs and requirements required of those over 18 years old.  I voted for this bill after learning that it would be limited to any enterprise earning under $10,000/year. After further consideration, I would switch my vote and oppose this bill for two reasons: First, this bill isn’t necessary. There are no rampant or even sporadic government crackdowns on neighborhood lemonade stands or children mowing lawns or shoveling snow. Second, it opens up new opportunities for abuse and provides no means of enforcement. Fortunately I did not cast the deciding vote (it passed 68-2), but I’d like a do-over on this one.

Motion to suspend House Rules by allowing legislators to participate remotely (defeated on the House Floor). Two members of the minority caucus are at high risk due to serious underlying health issues should they become infected with COVID. Current House rules require all members to be physically present on the House floor and in committee rooms to debate and cast votes. There is no mandatory mask order in the Capitol building. Most members of the majority party do not wear masks and do not practice social distancing. The technology for remote participation is in place, paid for and ready to be used. A majority of House members voted to put the lives of these two members at risk.
 
There is nothing sacred about House Rules. They are revised periodically and get suspended many times each session. The outcome of this vote revealed a lot more about those who voted against it than those who requested it.
 
Use taxpayer dollars to pay for the legislature’s legal expenses (S1022 – passed the Senate, being held on the House floor).  This self-serving bill takes $4 million from the state General Fund (which is used to pay for education, infrastructure, etc.) and shifts it to the Legislative Legal Defense Fund, which permits the House speaker and Senate president pro-tem to spend the money as they see fit on legislative legal defense (paid to private-sector lawyers).  This would be in addition to the over $10 million taxpayer dollars that have been previously shifted to this fund over the past several years. I will not support this bill if/when it comes up for a vote in the House.

Compensate wrongly convicted prisoners (S1027 – passed the Senate, in House committee). This bill creates an exoneree compensation law in Idaho. It provides $62,000 per year of wrongful incarceration, or $75,000 per year served on death row. I voted for this bill in 2020, which passed both the House and Senate but was vetoed by the Governor. It appears this version of the bill now has the Governor’s support.  I plan to vote for this bill if/when it is introduced on the House floor.

OPE. New report: State Response to Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias. This one-page summary of a more detailed report (to be published shortly) reveals how poorly Idaho compares to surrounding states when it comes to providing vital services for Alzheimer’s patients and their families. The Department of Health and Welfare is seeking resources from the legislature to hire staff necessary to correct this deficiency and move Idaho in the right direction.

 

In the hopper

S1054 (passed Senate committee, sent to Senate floor) – This bill limits the amount of time the governor may maintain a declaration of extreme peril without concurrence by the legislature, protects Idaho workers as essential, reaffirms the legislature’s authority to end emergency declarations and/or emergency regulations, prevents the suspension of the right to peaceable assemble and free exercise of religion, protects Idahoans’ right to bear arms during emergencies, and prohibits the governor from unilaterally altering or suspending Idaho Code (click here for more).

H89 (passed House committee, sent to House floor) – This bill allows any school staffer with an enhanced concealed weapons permit to carry a concealed gun on any school property, even if the local school board doesn’t authorize it. (click here for more).

S1041 (passed Senate committee, sent to Senate floor) – This bill limits excessive pricing during a declared emergency only to excessive increased prices to the consumer, not to the margin between wholesale and retail prices (click here for more).

H67 and H68 (in House Education committee) – These bills remove health districts from the government entities that can decide to close public schools (H67) and higher education institutions (H68) due to infectious diseases or other threats to public health and safety.

H88 (passed House committee, sent to House floor) – This bill makes it a felony crime to deliver a sealed, signed ballot to an elections office on behalf of someone who is not a family member. It’s worth noting that the sponsor of this bill admitted in committee that this bill does not address any existing problem in Idaho.

 

On The Air

2021

  • January 22 - KBOI interview (Kasper and Chris). 

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.
 

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ABOUT STEVE BERCH

Steve represents District 15, House Seat 15A. He is a member of the Education, Business, Local Government committees, and JLOC. How to contact Steve:

  • 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

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