Idahoans had another terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad week in the legislature. There’s no end to the continuous stream of dubious bills that fail to provide real improvement for the issues that profoundly affect your daily life. The assault on critical thinking and responsible representative government continues . . .
Hire people without teaching credentials to fill teaching vacancies (H221 – passed committee, sent to the House floor). I voted against this terrible bill that ignores the root cause of the teacher shortage problem in Idaho: gross underfunding of public education, including uncompetitive teacher salaries (even after recent increases in the career ladder – which were put on hold). If you believe in the free market and a job opening needs to be filled – you should pay a competitive salary to retain and attract qualified individuals to fill those openings. You don't lower your standards – that hurts our children.
Criminalize helping a neighbor drop off their absentee ballot (H223, originally H88 – passed the House, in the Senate). This "Criminalize Good Samaritans" bill turns an act of kindness into a crime. It will convict you of a felony if you want to help your elderly or disabled neighbor by offering to deliver their legal, signed and sealed ballot to the county elections office in time to be counted. I voted against this bill, which is perhaps one of the cruelest, heartless and most un-American pieces of legislation ever to disgrace the Idaho legislature – or any legislature.
Provide property tax assistance for Certified Family Homes (H212 – failed on House Floor by two votes). The legislature turned its back on some of its most vulnerable citizens by defeating this bill. It would have provided modest property tax assistance for low income families caring for people with developmental and physical disabilities in their homes, making it easier for Certified Family Homes (CFH) that serve adults with disabilities to qualify for this assistance. I voted for this bill, which would have helped people across the political spectrum. Illness and misfortune knows no partisanship – except in the Idaho Legislature, which continues to reveal its survival-of-the-fittest attitude toward the people it serves.
Shift dollars from education to help subsidize transportation (H112 – passed the House, in the Senate). This innocent-looking bill exempts about $12 million from sales tax collection to subsidize certain road construction materials. That results in $12 million less available to be used for education and other vital services. Transportation infrastructure is in sore need of funding to deal with the nearly half-billion dollars in just basic road and bridge maintenance across the state. The solution should not be to take money from the source that funds education. I voted against this bill, which is yet another in a long list of bills and laws that shift money from one budget line item to another, instead of dealing with the underlying problem of outdated fiscal policies that are starving all state government functions.
Omnibus appropriations (H207 – passed the House, in the Senate). I normally don’t include appropriations bills in my newsletters – they are routine and necessary to sustain the daily functioning of government – and we vote on them only after a joint House/Senate committee has approved them. It is even rarer for me to cast a vote in protest – but that’s why I voted “no” vote for this bill. It essentially approves Governor Little’s 5% across-the-board cut to all state budgets last year. I could not agree with that action, which cost teachers a salary increase and short-changed other state departments while the state was sitting on a $500+million rainy-day fund, a record budget surplus and over $200 million sitting idle in an internet sales tax collection account. I believe in being fiscally prudent, but this was a gross over-reaction that unnecessarily hurt many Idahoans, especially state employees.
Pay private attorneys with taxpayer dollars to seek opinions different from the Attorney General (H101 – passed the House, in the Senate). This bill is the poster child for arrogance and petulance. The State Attorney General (AG) is a duly-elected constitutional officer charged with conducting legal matters of state. This includes issuing opinions on proposed legislation. Majority party leadership gets annoyed when the AG renders an opinion they don’t like. This bill would allow party leaders to spend your tax dollars to shop around for a private attorney who will tell them what they want to hear. But it’s worse than that. The AG’s office costs about $60-80/hour. Private law firms charge upward to $400 or more per hour. But why should these party leaders care? It’s your money they’re spending, not theirs. I voted against this bill.
Compensate prisoners for wrongful conviction (S1027 – passed the House and Senate, to the Governor). This bill is one of the very few bright spots on the legislative calendar thus far. It compensates people who were wrongly convicted and subsequently released from prison. This bill passed both houses of the legislature last year but was vetoed by the Governor. After some minor adjustments, this version is expected to be signed into law. I joined every Republican and Democrat in the House who unanimously voted for this bill, which is an example of social justice at its best.