The worst legislative session ever

I am deferring the narrative portion of this newsletter to my colleague, Rep. Ilana Rubel (House Minority Party Leader). Ilana, a Harvard-trained attorney, is well-respected by her colleagues on both sides of the aisle for her experience, intelligence and cogent debate on the House floor. 

Below are excerpts from her recent review of the 2021 session, which touches on how disappointingly bad the session really was: 
 

 

Many have called this the worst legislative session ever, and it’s hard to dispute that conclusion. It is particularly hard to swallow the damage done when viewed in the light of the potential good that could have been achieved. We had the largest budget surplus in state history and an influx of federal funding like we’ve never seen. This could have been the year we finally brought full-day kindergarten to Idaho and addressed both lagging literacy performance and property tax problems. This could have been the year we finally raised Idaho above being last in the nation on education funding and restored higher education funding, which never fully recovered from decade-long recession cuts. This could have been the year Idaho joined the 46 other states that offer publicly available early childhood education. This could have been the year we gave struggling citizens real property tax relief.
 
“Instead, our colleagues across the aisle put wild conspiracy theories above facts and left our schools at the bottom in national funding. Instead, they passed a nearly $400 million tax cut that benefits the richest individuals and corporations while leaving scraps for working people who need help. They actually cut university budgets that haven’t fully recovered from recession-era cuts, while putting restrictions on academic freedom.
 
“Most heartbreakingly, they rejected a $6 million federal grant that would have provided Pre-K education for families who desperately need it at no cost to Idaho taxpayers. Majority party leadership would not even allow a vote to accept it.
 
“They also rejected $40 million from the federal government in COVID relief funds to allow K-12 schools to open more safely. And when it came to property taxes, they blocked every meaningful proposal and instead rammed through a bill (HB389) which delivers a negligibly small increase to the homeowners’ exemption while actually kicking some people off of the circuit breaker and jeopardizing the funding of vital local government services. Ironically, it is the majority party that is defunding the police.
 
There is a total disconnect between the agenda of the politicians running this statehouse and the majority of Idahoans, regardless of party. In light of this disconnect, it is not surprising that these politicians are fixated on eradicating ballot initiative rights, which are the people’s only means of enacting legislation when their leaders won’t take action. And let there be no mistake - in passing SB1110, they struck a death blow to citizen-driven ballot initiatives. This was undoubtedly the worst offense in the worst session on record.
 
“Procedurally, it is important to flag the increasingly dangerous road this legislature is going down. The session began with the majority party enforcing House rules to deny a paraplegic member the ability to participate remotely during the height of the pandemic, despite clear evidence that it was medically necessary and would be cost-free to the state. Yet they went on to suspend House rules at every turn, introducing hundreds of bills after the introduction and transmittal dates and suspending the rules that ensure the public has a say on laws before they are passed.

This suspension of rules has become weaponized to pass bills that sponsors know could not survive the scrutiny of a fair process in which there are hearings with public testimony and time for people to review those bills. This was unfair to the people of Idaho and was particularly outrageous in regard to the property tax issue given the amount of time the legislature had to address properly - during in the longest session ever.”

 

Rotunda Roundup - Part 2

This end-of-session portion of the Rotunda Roundup covers the bills (good and bad) that tried, but failed to make it through the legislature this year.
 

Bills that died the legislature
(Notice how many bills that passed in the House wound up dying in the Senate.)
 
EDUCATION
 
Hire people without teaching credentials to fill teaching vacancies (H221 – passed the House, died in the Senate). I voted against this terrible bill that ignores the root cause of Idaho's teacher shortage: the underfunding of public education, including uncompetitive teacher salaries. Lowering the requirements to be allowed to teach our children is not the way to solve this problem.

Force school districts to allow concealed weapons in all public schools (H122 – passed the House, died in the Senate). This bill allows any school staff member (teacher, cafeteria worker etc.) who has had only 8 hours of training to carry a concealed gun into any public school – overriding the locally elected school board. It was opposed by nearly every law enforcement organization. I voted against this bill.

Take money away from public schools if they don’t provide in-person instruction (H293 – passed the House, died in the Senate).  This bill is legislative blackmail. It takes taxpayer dollars away from every school district that doesn’t keep classrooms open under any circumstance (including a more deadly pandemic) and lets it be spent on private and religious school tuition – like a voucher system. I voted against this bill that uses a public health crisis to advance ulterior political motives.

Allow Strong Student Scholarship public money to pay for private school tuition (H294 – passed the House, died in the Senate). This bill would allow nearly $5 million in on-going taxpayer dollars to pay for tuition at private and religious schools. An additional $30 million in one-time federal dollars could also be used for this purpose. I voted against this voucher bill in disguise.

Change participation in sex education from opt-out to opt-in (H249 – passed the House, died in the Senate). Today every student takes sex education unless they opt-out. This bill results in no one taking sex education unless they opt-in. This guarantees that fewer children will take sex education classes. The consequences of this bill would be a proliferation of sexually transmitted diseases, more unplanned and unwanted pregnancies, and ultimately more abortions. I voted against this dangerous and totally unnecessary bill.

Allow school boards to voluntarily participate in the state’s health insurance plan (H248 – passed the House, died in the Senate). This creative, well-researched bill allows teachers and staff to be covered by the state’s health insurance plan if their local school board chooses to participate. While there are certain trade-offs in this bill that are of concern, I voted for it because it helps secure a quality health insurance plan for teachers and staff.

Limit Idaho universities and colleges to control activities pertaining to speech on campus (H364 – passed the House, died in the Senate).  This bill is peppered with vague and ill-defined terminology that lets anyone say nearly anything they want, even if it possibly harasses other students – under the guise of “free speech.” In addition, the university must pay at least $5,000 if they are successfully sued. I voted against this horrendous bill which amounts to statutory intimidation of Idaho colleges and universities - and is sure to generate an avalanche of frivolous lawsuits.

Require parental permission for student participation in any public school club (H329 – passed the House, died in the Senate). This completely unnecessary bill would require every single school in every single school district to have every single parent submit a signed permission slip for every single child to participate in every single club approved by that school. I voted against this piece of nonsense that once again inserts the heavy hand of the legislature into our local schools.

Eliminate requiring collective bargaining for teacher pay (H174 – passed the House, died in the Senate). This vindictive bill makes it easier for underfunded school districts to keep teacher salaries low. I voted against this awful “take it or leave it” bill that will result in lower teacher salaries at a time when their salaries are already uncompetitive.

Eliminate August elections (H106 and S1061 – passed the House, died in the Senate). These bills would have removed August from the election calendar. This hurts education because the August election date is sometimes needed for critical school bonds and levies. People should have more opportunities to voice their opinion, not fewer. I voted against this anti-education, voter suppression bill.  The House tried to sneak this back into a later Senate bill (S1061) as a poison pill amendment. It passed the House but the Senate killed it again after the House added this amendment.

Appropriation for COVID testing in public schools (S1210 – passed the Senate, died in the House). This bill would have provided an additional appropriation of $40 million from the federal Cooperative Welfare Fund for COVID testing in K-12 schools in Idaho.  Idaho taxpayer dollars would have come back to Idaho to provide voluntary testing for COVID.  This would make it easier for schools to be open amidst the spread of new variants of the virus that have shown to affect younger people. I voted for this bill, which was defeated by fear-mongering, hatred for the federal government and the spreading of out-right lies by some legislators. The defeat of this bill is the definition of legislative stupidity.

Appropriation to fund early childhood education (H226 and S1193 – died in the House). These are two versions of the same bill that would have provided $6 million in federal grant money to fund community-based early childhood education development programs. In a mind-numbing debate full of crazy conspiracy theories, lies and a disgraceful ad hominem attack on individual private citizens, the House killed a valuable opportunity to improve childhood literacy. When H226 died on the House floor, the Senate created S1193 to make clear that all curriculum content would be controlled at the local level - not by any national organization. I voted for H226.  In an act of political cowardice, Majority party leaders in the House refused to allow S1193 to come up for a vote on the floor before going into recess.

Full-day kindergarten (H331 – died in the House). This bill would have provided funding for optional full-day kindergarten without relying on student tuition and supplemental levies. I would have voted for this bill, but it never came up for a vote in the House Education committee.

Teaching of racist and sexist concepts (H352 – died in the House). This bill was written by a Republican candidate for Governor who was allowed to film himself introducing it to the House Education committee. This was an insult to the committee process.  This narrow-minded, mean-spirted bill would result in teachers being sued and money taken away from schools if topics that touched upon some of America’s less than exceptional moments were discussed in a classroom. I refused to participate in this committee meeting when I saw the political theater that was allowed to be put on display.


CONSUMER PROTECTION/HEALTH AND WELFARE
 
Protect renter fees (S1088 – passed the Senate, died in the House).  This bill would have provided more transparency in the rental process by having landlords detail any fees in a lease agreement and provide 30-day notice to renters before being charged. I voted for this valuable consumer protection legislation that struck a reasonable balance between the rights of landlords and the rights of tenants.

Collection agency charges (S1014 – died in the House). This bill would have allowed collection agencies to bill additional charges beyond the contract between the creditor and the debtor (late fees, restocking fees, etc.). It also reduced collection agency licensing and reporting requirements. I voted to kill this bill in committee.

Legalize medical cannabis (H108 – died in the House). This is the Sgt. Kitzhaber Medical Cannabis Act, named after one of my District 15 constituents.  This bill legalizes secure and controlled access to doctor-prescribed medical cannabis in small, individual medicinal doses. This bill was denied a full public hearing because there was a lack of certainty that it would pass the full House. I hope this bill will be introduced again next year so it can be given the full consideration it deserves.

Provide property tax assistance for Certified Family Homes (H212 – died in the House).  This bill would have provided modest property tax assistance for low income families caring for people with developmental and physical disabilities in their homes. I voted for this bill, which would have helped people across the political spectrum.


BUSINESS
 
Data Security Act (H147 – died in the House).  This carefully crafted bill, which had broad industry support, would have established important new data security standards for the insurance industry in Idaho where none currently exist. I voted for this important consumer protection bill.

Prohibit local government from regulating tobacco and vaping products (H363 – passed the House, died in the Senate).  This was a tough bill for me to decide. I voted for an earlier version of this bill that raised the minimum age for purchasing tobacco and vaping products to 21.  However this final, amended version lowered the minimum age back to 18.  I decided to vote against this bill to preserve local control of these products, especially near schools.

Bill of Rights for Businesses (H291 – passed the House, died in the Senate). This bill allows a business to stay open no matter what the risk of doing so may pose to public health or safety (e.g. a natural disaster, the outbreak of a fatal contagious disease with no cure, etc.). I voted against this reckless act of legislative demagoguery.

Prohibit certain reporting requirements for private foundations and charitable trusts (H41 – passed the House, died in the Senate). If the state is going to grant an organization the privilege of being tax exempt, it is entitled to hold that organization to reasonable reporting standards that may go beyond those of other entities – especially given the negative consequences that can come with abusing a tax exempt privilege. I was one of only two people in the House who voted against this bill.

Exempt businesses owned and operated by persons under 18 from local licensing and fees (H21 – passed the House, died in the Senate). This bill exempts anyone under the age of 18 from business costs and requirements required of those over 18 years old. One of the arguments for this bill was to protect your kid's neighborhood lemonade stand from the long arm of the law - a problem that doesn't exist. I originally voted for this bill, but after further consideration, I would have voted against it. It is unnecessary and creates opportunities for abuse.

Allow the state to invest certain taxpayer dollars in the purchase of gold and silver (H7 – passed the House, died in the Senate). I voted against this frivolous bill that would primarily benefit a small group of outside interests that supported this bill.


ELECTIONS
 
Criminalize helping a neighbor drop off their absentee ballot (H223 – passed the House, died in the Senate).  This bill turns an act of kindness into a crime.  It would convict you of a felony if you helped your elderly or disabled neighbor deliver their legal, signed and sealed ballot to the county elections office in time to be counted. I voted against this cruel, heartless bill.

Require city elections to be held on even-numbered years (H319 and S1111 – passed in the House, died in the Senate). H319 is a solution in search of a problem. In fact, it creates a problem for voters by loading all levels of local elections onto the same ballot for President, U.S. Senator, U.S. Representative, Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, Superintendent of Public Instruction, State Controller, State Treasurer, State Senators, State Representatives, and several other elected positions. This is voter overload.  I voted against this unnecessary and disruptive bill, which died in the Senate.  When this was re-inserted as a poison pill amendment into a different Senate bill (S1111), it passed the House but later died in the Senate (the Senate killed its own bill to kill the House amendment).

Voter identification requirements (H344 – passed the House, died in the Senate). This voter suppression bill also solves a problem that doesn’t exist.  It places unnecessary restrictions on voter identification that will make it more difficult for eligible citizens to vote, especially college students and residents of tribal lands. I voted against this bill, whose advocates could not produce a single piece of evidence of voter fraud in Idaho.

Post-election audits of absentee ballots (H349 – passed the House, died in the Senate). This bill imposes yet another unnecessary burden on the election process in the face of absolutely no evidence of voter fraud in Idaho. I voted against this fearmongering piece of political grandstanding.


GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS
 
Targeted picketing (H195 – died in the House). This bill would have prohibited demonstrations in front of a person’s private residence that were being conducted with the intent to harass, harm, or alarm the targeted individuals. The boundary between an individual’s rights and the rights of others is when the exercising of one impedes the rights or freedoms of the other. That is why we have laws; to define these constraints and boundaries.  I voted for this bill, which provided a reasonable balance between competing interests.

Eliminate the requirement for public notices to be published in newspapers (H53 – died in the House). This bill would have limited the ability of citizens to receive important legal notifications by allowing government entities to not publish them in local newspapers (not everyone has a computer or is technology-savvy). I voted against this bill whose real purpose was to financially harm newspapers - and thus limit their resources and ability to hold elected officials accountable in the press.

Certain streets and statues cannot be renamed or moved without legislature approval (H90 – passed the House, died in the Senate). This bill is yet again a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. If you believe in the conservative principle that government is best when it is closest to the people (as I do), then you’ll understand why I voted against this piece of legislation.

Pay private attorneys with taxpayer dollars to seek opinions different from the Attorney General (H101 – passed the House, died in the Senate). This bill is the poster child for arrogance and petulance. If the Attorney General renders an opinion that majority party leaders don't like, this bill would allow them to spend your tax dollars to pay a private attorney to provide them with an alternate legal opinion they could use to defend their actions. I voted against this bill.

Continue Idaho’s participation in the Powerball lottery (H72 – died in the House). This bill would have allowed Idaho to continue participating in the Powerball lottery, which contributes over $14 million to public education each year. The House State Affairs committee killed this bill based on extremist and unrelated ideological grounds, thus taking money away from education However, Powerball will still operate in Idaho - for now - due to external issues that have delayed the need for this bill to pass.
 

 

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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