The two Golden Rules

There are two Golden Rules:

  1. Treat others as you’d have them treat you.
  2. He who has all the gold makes all the rules.

The first rule is the credo of those who have respect and empathy for others. The second rule is the belief of those who think the ends justifies the means; a belief whose compass has no true North.  When those in control of government follow the second rule, good government – and democracy itself – suffers.

As you read through this newsletter (Part 1) and the next one (Part 2), one can't help but be concerned that the second Golden Rule is what's operative in today's Idaho Legislature.
 


I believe in making decisions based on critical-thinking, not simplistic ideological slogans, inflammatory rhetoric, pressure from outside interests, or political party platforms. After knocking on over 27,000 doors, I know that good ideas and good people come from all directions and all points along the political spectrum.

Some of my best relationships are with my Republican colleagues in both the House and Senate. We listen to each other; we learn from each other. However, this is getting harder to do as a growing group of extremist legislators work in concert with outside organizations to take control of the majority party. 
 
Government is not the enemy. Government is good – but it is only as good as the people who are elected. My job is to do everything I can to give voters every opportunity to meet me and know who I am, and for me to learn from them and know my district.  We may not always agree on every issue all the time. But more important than agreement is respect. This is why I aspire to follow the first Golden Rule – treat others as you’d have them treat you. Regardless of party affiliation.
 
Ultimately, the fate of the Idaho Legislature is in your hands. Vote for the person, not just a letter in the alphabet or a color in the rainbow.
 

 

Rotunda Roundup - Part 1


This portion of the Rotunda Roundup covers the final status of proposed Constitutional amendments, Governor vetoes and new laws (bills signed by the Governor).  My next newletter (Part 2) will cover bill that failed to pass the legislature.

 

Constitution amendments

 
THIS PROPOSED AMENDMENT WILL APPEAR ON YOUR BALLOT IN NOVEMBER! 
Allow the Idaho Legislature to call itself into special session (SJR102). This is the gateway to a year-round legislature. It enables abuse of the legislative process for pure political. I support the American principle of co-equal branches of government and recommend voting against this amendment in November.

THIS PROPOSED AMENDMENT FAILED AND WILL NOT APPEAR ON YOUR BALLOT.
Make it nearly impossible to legalize medical cannabis in Idaho (HJR4 - failed in the House).  This would have required two-thirds of both the House and Senate to legalize use of any new psychoactive medications in Idaho, which would effectively prevent legalizing secure, controlled dispensing of medical cannabis. I voted against this resolution


Governor vetoes
 
Restrict certain Idaho citizens from signing ballot initiative petitions (S1150)This bill would have required anyone gathering signatures for ballot initiatives and referendums to do so while being physically located within the State of Idaho. The real purpose of this bill was to prevent petition gatherers from going into Oregon border towns that sell marijuana to collect signatures of Idahoans for an initiative to legalize marijuana. The problem is that this bill would also prevent other Idahoans (e.g. Idahoans working or attending college in other states) from exercising their right to participate in the ballot initiative process. This is what happens when you write a broad state law to manipulate a very narrow outcome.  I voted against this bill, which is Exhibit A for legislative incompetence.

Limit the Governor’s abilities in regard to declaring a state of emergency (H135 and S1136). These two bills attempted to limit the Governor’s constitutional authority to declare and manage state emergencies and disasters.  There were several flaws in this legislation, including limiting an emergency declaration by the Governor to 60 days, which is irresponsible since it’s impossible to predict the nature and duration of an unknown future disaster. It is also absurd to expect 105 legislators to take any type of decisive, effective and immediate action. I voted against these bills. However, the Governor did sign into law H391, H392 and H393 which collectively reinstated some of the provisions he vetoed in H135 and S1136.

Idaho Tax Commission (H214). This somewhat obscure bill told the Idaho Tax Commission how to run their decision-making processes – another example of the legislature trying to micro-manage another branch of government. I was the only person in the House of Representatives to vote against this bill. After H214 was vetoed, this bill came back as a poison pill buried in H390, which passed the House but died in the Senate. Side note:  The Majority Leader of the House is married to one of the Idaho Tax commissioners.


New laws
 
EDUCATION
 
Workforce readiness and career technical education diploma (S1039). This law creates a new Workplace Readiness Diploma. It enables school districts to provide an additional designation for graduates who have successfully completed a career technical education program and demonstrated proficiency in identified areas. I voted for this good law that helps fill an unmet need.

Kindergarten jump-start program (S1075). This law encourages parents to bring their young student to a voluntary spring kindergarten screener program. School districts can to use existing funds to establish up to a four week jump-start program to help prepare students for kindergarten. I voted for this law, which is one of several ways to help improve student performance, including childhood literacy.

Defund public education and universities if certain content or actions take place in any classroom (H377).  This law has several fatal flaws: It doesn’t define what it prohibits (“critical race theory”).  Any parent, student, or third-party organization can sue to stop funding for any school for discussing a host of vaguely defined actions in classrooms that offends them. This law serves to intimidate public education institutions from discussing anything that does not conform to the beliefs or fears of any one individual or group, be they progressive or conservative. I voted against this cynical law.

Innovative classrooms (S1046).  This law allows parents to request the teaching of an alternative curriculum within a regular public school if parents of at least 24 students request such accommodation. This bill is problematic at several levels: it is unclear how this will affect staffing, what constraints (if any) may be placed on the nature of the curriculum, how small school districts will accommodate this, and what the costs will actually be.  But there’s something else at play here.  Charter schools were specifically created for this purpose.  This law essentially allows a class that would normally be in a charter school to now be housed within a public school – at public expense – thus turning public schools into parent-run public/charter hybrids.  I voted against this disruptive law that has an appealing title.

High school credit for non-school activities (H172).  This law allows school districts to award school credit for a student’s personal extra-curricular activities. It potentially lowers requirements for graduating high school and undermines the state’s ability to provide a uniform education system. This can diminish what students should be expected to learn while in a classroom setting.  I voted against this innocent-sounding law, which is nowhere on the priority list of education issues in Idaho.

Exempt students from immunization requirements (H298). This law poses a threat to public health by actively inviting parents to opt-out their children from being immunized against highly contagious diseases when attending a public school.  Since parents already have the ability to exempt their child from required immunizations, the only real outcome of this law will ultimately be fewer vaccinated children. I voted against this unnecessary and dangerous law.

Open up classrooms without protecting the health and safety of teachers and staff (H175). This poorly-worded law appears to create a new “student right” for in-person learning regardless of exigent circumstances, be it snow days, four-day school weeks or an outbreak of polio. It does nothing to safely conduct in-person learning during an emergency. I voted against this law that cares not one bit about the health and welfare of teachers, administrators or support staff.

Restrict information about school bonds and levies from appearing on the ballot (H66). This law removes relevant information from the ballot that can put a school 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. 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 anti-transparency law.


TAXATION/FISCAL MATTERS
 
Property tax changes (H389).  This sweeping 26-page law was pushed through the legislature in record time - with no financial analysis and no public testimony. It stitches together about 7-8 tax-related bills that legislators barely read and no one fully understands. What it doesn’t do is provide any form of meaningful property tax relief. It only marginally increases the homeowner’s exemption to $125,000 (which would be about $150,000 if the cap was repealed). At the same time, it eliminates the circuit-breaker allowance for some people on fixed incomes. I voted against this terrible, Trojan Horse law (click here to see my floor debate against it).

Use the state’s budget surplus to fund a huge tax cut (H380). This law takes over $380 million from the general fund – money the state desperately needs for education, transportation and vital services – and spends it on a tax break mostly for wealthy Idahoans who need it the least. I voted against this law, which will push more of the state’s fiscal responsibilities onto you at the local level through increased taxes and fees, reduced levels of service, or both.

Transportation funding (H362). This law shifts money away from education and other services to pay for $80 million in much needed investments in transportation and infrastructure.  In addition, this bill borrows money to pay for portions of this while the state enjoys the largest budget surplus in its history. I voted against this law, which short-changes education and will likely raise your property taxes.

Use taxpayer dollars to pay for the legislature’s legal expenses (S1022).  This self-serving law takes $4 million from education, infrastructure, etc. and shifts it to the Legislative Legal Defense Fund, which lets majority party leaders use it to pay for private-sector lawyers (usually to defend unconstitutional laws). This is in addition to the over $10 million taxpayer dollars that have been previously shifted to this fund over the past several years. I voted against this politically motivated, self-indulgent use of taxpayer dollars.


GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS
 
Make future citizen-driven ballot initiatives virtually impossible (S1110).  This law effectively nullifies your constitutional right to put an initiative on the November ballot. If this had been the law in 2018, Medicaid expansion would never have gotten on the ballot. The legislature wants to make sure you can never again use ballot initiatives to put a check on its power. I voted against what is probably the most egregious bill signed into law. If there every was a law that proves the legislature has no shame, this is it.

House of Representatives goes into recess until December 31, 2021 (HR4).  This resolution moves the House one step closer to becoming a year-long legislature.  Instead of adjourning, which it has done every year since statehood, the House may now stay in session (in "recess") right up until a week before the start of the 2022 legislative session. It can be called to convene at any time for any reason at the will of majority party leadership. A majority party drunk with power has turned an august legislative body into a fraternity, making up rules as they go along.  I voted against this insult to the institution – and to the citizens of Idaho.

Require all members of an urban renewal district to be elected by the public (S1044). I struggled with this well-intentioned law. I believe that at least some urban renewal board members should have professional strategic urban planning skills – which is best enabled by appointment. I voted against what I ultimately determined was not a good solution for addressing some reasonable concerns.


CONSUMER PROTECTION/HEALTH AND WELFARE
 
Revise provisions regarding standards for Medicaid supplement policies (S1143).  This law eliminates an insurance practice called “dead pooling” where people get trapped in an insurance policy where rates continually go up. It also allows individual healthcare policy holders to change their Medicare Supplement plan each year without going through an underwriting process. I voted for this important consumer protection law.

Compensate prisoners for wrongful conviction (S1027). This law compensates people who were wrongly convicted and subsequently released from prison. I voted for this law, which is an example of social justice at its best.

Protect renter security deposits (H152).  This consumer protection law prevents a renter’s security deposit from being stolen by an unscrupulous management company. I voted for this law, which provides a measure of protection for renters.

Qualified group homes for children in foster care (H336). This law requires quicker action on the child’s behalf, prioritizes the best interest of the child when determining placement, establishes closer monitoring of children in a group home, and requires ongoing evaluation of potential alternative placements such as family reunification, placement with a relative or foster family, or adoption. I voted for this very good law.

Rape of a spouse (S1089). This law repeals exceptions to the criminal definition of rape based on the relationship of the parties.  It defines rape the same regardless of who is involved and amends the state’s definition of rape to ensure that those legally married to persons aged 16 and 17 cannot be charged with statutory rape. I voted for this long overdue legislation.


OTHER
 
Legalize industrial hemp (H126).  This law legalizes the production, processing, research, and transportation of industrial hemp in the state. It will allow Idaho farmers the opportunity to produce industrial hemp if they so choose. I voted for this helpful agricultural law.

Award licenses to all apprentices (H178). This expansive law does away with all licensing requirements for anyone who has completed an applicable apprenticeship program. It absolves all licensed trades in one fell swoop, without any detail or analysis. I voted against this law, which was driven by an ideological belief that all regulations are inherently bad, without fully considering how they may provide important consumer protections.

Fetal heartbeat bill (H366). This law turns doctors into criminals and can throw them in jail.  It will also require a woman to undergo an invasive transvaginal ultrasound against their will in order to detect a fetal heartbeat. Idaho has already done a thorough job of protecting the rights of the unborn.  I voted against this law. This is an issue that will ultimately be decided by the United States Supreme Court, not a bunch of legislators in Idaho.
 

 

In the hopper

Since the House went into recess instead of adjourning, anything can wind up in the hopper anytime between now and New Year’s Eve. The most likely issues will be controlling the spending of money Idaho receives from the federal government.

 

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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:

  • Contribute: CLICK HERE
  • Website: www.berch4idaho.com
  • 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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On The Air

2021

  • May 4 - KTVB-TV (property tax bill). Click Here
  • May 1 - NPR ("critical race theory" bill). Click Here
  • April 22 - Boise Public Radio ("critical race theory" bill). Click Here
  • March 26 - KTVB-TV (racist/sexist concepts). Click Here 
  • March 19 - IPT Idaho Reports (tax bill). Click Here (start at the 11:58 mark)
  • March 12 - KBOI interview (Kasper and Chris)
  • March 5 - Boise State Public Radio (sex-ed opt-in). Click Here
  • February 10 - KTVB-TV (absentee ballot voter suppression). Click Here.
  • 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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