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.