Rep. Steve Berch 2022 Session Summary - A House without a heart

The 2022 legislative session officially adjourned on March 31. A more fitting end would have been a day later.
This is my last legislative newsletter for the 2022 session, an end-of-session review. However, the work of a legislator doesn’t end when the gavel comes down. I will be sending newsletter updates intermittently throughout the rest of the year, along with the occasional campaign update. I am up for re-election this November, along with every other state legislator. It is an honor to represent the citizens of District 15, and I hope to have the privilege of continuing to serve in this role.
As always, please feel free to contact me anytime for any reason. My contact information appears at the end of this newsletter.
NOTE: Links to all the bills referenced in this newsletter can be found by CLICKING HERE.


Don't be cruel

Many end-of-session newsletters tend to highlight a few bills that became law. However, broader themes can be missed when looking only at a few selected notes on the sheet music. And the theme that was sung from the House Chamber this year included several stanzas of legislative cruelty.
Legislative cruelty comes in many forms and varying degrees: from indifference and insensitivity, to intimidation and punishment. As you can see below, this was the year of a House without a heart.

Indifference and Insensitivity
The legislature did nothing to address the top issue going into the session: property tax relief. This indifference exacerbated the unaffordable housing crisis in all corners of the state. People are becoming increasingly desperate as they get squeezed by a higher cost of living from one direction and the lowest average wage in the nation from the other. In fact, Idaho has the highest percentage of a workforce making a minimum wage that is the lowest in the nation ($7.25/hour). And the legislature made things even worse:

  • Instead of repealing the regressive grocery tax (another top voter request), the legislature insulted voters by increasing the grocery tax credit by only $20, which won’t be available until 2024 (H509). Good luck buying more than a box of cereal with that after inflation. Signed into law.
  • Instead of using the state’s $1.9 billion surplus to address unaffordable housing and soaring property taxes, the legislature gave away $600 million of the surplus mostly to the wealthy and well-connected in the form of an income tax cut and a one-time tax rebate (H436). The average Idahoan will be lucky to buy one or two tanks of gas with the rebate check they get. Signed into law.
  • Idaho has an $874 million deficit in deferred and ignored K-12 school building maintenance (click here). In 2005, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed that the legislature is responsible for this expense. The legislature ignored the Supreme Court ruling. Instead, it is forcing homeowners to pay this expense through continuous school bonds and levies – which results in your property taxes continuing to going up and stay high.

Soaring rents have created a desperate situation for many people. They are forced to submit multiple applications in hopes to get an apartment. Unscrupulous landlords and management companies take advantage of them by charging hefty, non-refundable application fees, even when they know the advertised apartment has been rented. The City of Boise enacted an ordinance to limit this predatory behavior. What did the legislature do? They wrote a bill that would protect the predators. The House passed a bill (H442) that would prohibit any municipality in Idaho from enacting any ordinance under any circumstance that would regulate any new or existing fees of any kind that charges any amount. Died in the Senate.
Idaho has a teacher shortage, which includes substitute teachers. So what does the House Education committee do to address this problem? It approved a bill (H651) to repeatedly drug-test all substitute teachers as a way to prevent the selling of drugs to students. It is stupefying to imagine that anyone thinks a drug dealer would choose substitute teaching as a lucrative way to sell drugs to kids! But what makes this bill so cruel is that it deliberately targets and humiliates an entire subset of educators based on nothing more than illogical suspicion – which actually discourages people from becoming a substitute teacher (thus worsening the current situation). Passed by the House Education committee, died on the House Floor.
Perhaps the most dangerous example of overt cruelty was a series of voter suppression bills that passed the House, such as:

  • Charging you with a felony crime for helping an elder or disabled neighbor deliver their absentee ballot to their county elections office or a drop box (H547). Died in the Senate.
  • Banning the use of any and all absentee ballot drop boxes (H693). Died in the Senate.
  • Making it difficult for many people to vote, including: children away at college, people living on tribal lands, and qualified citizens removed from voting registries (H761). Died in the Senate.

What makes these bills particularly insensitive is that they suppress the vote of honest, qualified citizens based on zero evidence of voter fraud in Idaho.

Intimidation and Punishment

The House passed a bill (H581) that would financially penalize a private business owner if they wanted to protect employees from co-workers who were not vaccinated for any future deadly coronavirus with any mortality rate (10%, 20%, 50%, etc.). The bill’s sponsor went even further. He actually said that business owners should shut down their operations and throw everyone out of work if that’s what it took to make sure no employee could ever be asked if they were vaccinated. This bill inserts the heavy hand of government into the private sector and punishes everyone in the process. Died in the Senate.
Here’s a one-two punch delivered by the House. First, the House passed a bill (H666) that could throw librarians in jail if anyone accuses them of disseminating material they personally think is pornographic. It allows the most easily offended member of a community to use the law to intimidate librarians and impose their standards for morality and decency on everyone else. When H666 died in the Senate, the House punished Idahoans in an act of revenge that cut $3.5 million from the Library Commission appropriation budget (H827) – money that would have improved internet access for hard-to-serve rural communities. H827 was signed into law.
A House bill (H684) purporting to protect free speech in institutions of higher education included provisions that would punish colleges, universities, and their individual employees with the threat of lawsuits if they discuss anything that anyone thought was controversial. The bill went further. It would protect students (and their guests) who post white supremacy flyers on campus. This happened recently on the Boise State University campus and the university removed the flyers. This bill would prevent BSU from removing those flyers and enable them to be sued for doing so. Died in the Senate.
This House bill (H669) had a great sounding title: HOPE AND OPPORTUNITY SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM. In reality, it was the gateway to irreparably harming local communities by gutting public school funding. It facilitated shifting up to half of the annual K-12 budget ($1.2 billion) to pay for tuition at for-profit private and religious schools. This bill was backed by powerful forces that seek to privatize education and destroy publicly funded K-12 education in the process. When I took office, I swore to uphold the state constitution which requires the legislature to adequately fund a uniform public school system for all children. I support all forms of school choice, which must exist in addition to an adequately funded public education system, not at its expense. Died in the House Education committee by a 7-8 vote.
The House passed a bill (H675) that would turn doctors into criminals if they used certain medically approved treatments for a child suffering from gender dysphoria. And in an act of unfathomable cruelty, this bill would also throw the parents in jail for exercising their parental right to care for their child! Died in the Senate.
Abortion is perhaps the most difficult social issue facing our society. I appreciate the sincere and passionate concerns of my constituents on this issue, and I support people attempting to persuade others to their point of view in a respectful and peaceful manner. However, I cannot support any bill (S1309) that legalizes intimidation and facilitates extortion to achieve a desired outcome. This bill allows the father, mother, grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles of a rapist to each sue the victim’s doctor for a minimum of $20,000. By removing existing protections in cases of rape and incest, this bill provides a financial reward for a conniving low-life looking for a victim to extort through a premeditated, violent act. That victim could be your daughter, granddaughter, niece, sister, cousin, or wife. This bill injects a rapist - and every member of his family - into the lives of the victim and her family forever, financially and emotionally. Signed into law, but is currently on hold pending a ruling by the Idaho State Supreme Court.
And then there’s this Scrooge-like bill (H718) that punishes Idaho WWAMI medical students by requiring them to sign a contract stipulating they will repay any public funding they receive from the state, unless they are actively engaged in professional practice in Idaho for four years (WWAMI is the University of Washington School of Medicine’s multi-state medical education program offered in Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho). This bill is particularly heartless and obnoxious when you consider that no such requirement is imposed on Idahoans who graduate from any of the state’s colleges and universities which are subsidized in part with taxpayer dollars. Signed into law.


Rotunda Roundup

Bills that were signed into law
Idaho’s public schools budget will increase overall by 6.7% next year including an historic 12.5% increase in state funding. This additional funding is much needed, but the state is still last in per student investment. One indicator that the state would be adequately funding education is when school districts no longer need to ask voters to pass a bond or levy to maintain annual operations.   
H790 – Optional full-day kindergarten. This bill provides all school districts the option to offer all-day kindergarten. It is part of the effort to improve childhood literacy in Idaho and provides an enhanced educational choice for parents who can voluntarily decide to have their child attend full-day kindergarten. I voted for this bill.
S1404 – Provide a $1,000 bonus for each full-time equivalent (FTE) administrator, teacher, pupil service staff, and classified position. This is funded by one-time federal ARPA dollars. I voted for this bill.
H443 – Allow teachers to be covered by the state health insurance plan.  This bill provides school districts with the option to participate in the state medical and dental insurance program for its teachers and staff. This can significantly reduce monthly insurance premiums for employees, which ultimately increases their take-home pay. The bill was not as generous as it could have been (some school districts may not be able to afford to participate), but it is a good start. I voted for this bill.
S1290 - Rural educator incentive program. This bill helps rural school districts retain teachers by providing specific financial benefits that can be used for education loan repayment, pursuit of additional degrees, and other educational costs. I voted for this bill.
H656 – Allow incoming experienced teachers from other states to be placed higher on the career ladder pay scale. This bill makes it a bit easier to attract talent to work in Idaho, but the career ladder pay scale itself still remains significantly uncompetitive, especially relative to the bordering states. I voted for this bill.
H731 – Establish support for certain dyslexia interventions. This bill provides the tools and training for teachers to detect and assist students who have dyslexia. This is a great bill that not only demonstrates the good things government can do when it wants to, but takes significant strides toward improving literacy among students truly in need of care and consideration. I voted for this bill.
S1238 – Self-directed learners. This bill sets up a structure where a greater degree of innovation can occur between teachers, students, and parents by focusing upon learning rather than seat time. Students that demonstrate they are self-directed learners can qualify for this added flexibility. I voted for this bill.
S1291 - Lower certification standards to teach in charter schools. This bill tries to solve the teacher shortage for charter schools by creating a new “charter school teaching certificate” which does not require meeting the standards and requirements necessary to earn an Idaho teacher certificate. I voted against this bill.
H650 – Mandate the creation of a curricular materials adoption committee in every school district.  It’s not clear what problem this bill solves since current law already enables the creation of such committees, which exist throughout the state. By mandating this, it appears to be more about creating political “parental control” talking points. I voted against this bill.

H481 – Reinstate property tax circuit breaker allowance for some homeowners. This bill fixed a portion of the problem created by the horrendous tax cut bill passed last year (H389) that took away the circuit breaker allowance for over 2,000 Idahoans who are disabled or living on a fixed income. Unfortunately, an estimated 625 homeowners who used to receive this benefit will still have it taken away from them. I voted for this bill.
S1259 – Property tax relief for homeowners of a Certified Family Home. This bill allows the homeowner of a Certified Family Home to apply for property tax relief through the Property Tax Circuit Breaker program. It exempts the payment they receive from the state to care for someone in their home from income counted toward the application for the circuit breaker allowance. I voted for this bill.
H564 – Ensure homeowners cannot claim an exemption for multiple properties. This bill enables the Tax Commission to disclose relevant information to county assessors to assure that residents of Idaho receive only one homeowner exemption (closing a tax loop-hole). I voted for this bill.
H735 – Change the way indigent services are funded.  This bill provides a small, unreliable measure of property tax relief by shifting the sources and distribution of funding for indigent services (medical, public defenders, etc.) from property taxes to sales taxes. Passing a 26-page bill that no one had a chance to fully read or analyze is not a good way to write good tax policy. There are already indications this bill may result in a significant underfunding of these important community services, especially if we head into a recession. I voted against this bill.

Health and Safety
S1378 – Endangered missing persons alert. This bill provides public notice similar to an Amber Alert for individuals not included in Amber Alerts, such as a missing child or an adult with dementia. I voted for this bill.
S1321 – Provide assault and battery protections for utility company employees. Here in the suburbs of District 15, utility workers (electric, gas, water, etc.) routinely come onto our property to do their job without incident. That is not the case in other parts of the state where these employees are at times threatened with violence and claims that they are trespassing (which they are not due to easements). I voted for this bill.
S1279 – Authorize use of untrained individuals for temporary guards and private security.  This bill allows individuals to work in law enforcement and protection related jobs without the professional training that is currently required today. I voted against this bill.

S1254 – Discontinue vehicle emissions testing. The justification for this bill is that emission control technology in cars has advanced greatly since testing started in 1984. As older vehicles have left the road, almost all newer vehicles pass the emissions test. As a result, the testing of vehicles is no longer significantly contributing to a reduction in atmospheric pollutants. I voted for this bill.
H703 – Homeowners Association Act.  This bill requires HOAs to manage their affairs in accordance with their bylaws. Each HOA still retains their own unique Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&Rs). This bill helps ensure that the rules of an HOA’s governance are followed. I voted for this bill.
S1298 – Make it easier to cancel a subscription. This bill provides consumers protection from unfair or deceptive trade practices with respect to cancellation of subscriptions. Often referred to as "Click to Cancel", this legislation provides that the consumer must be able to cancel a subscription in the same manner as used to subscribe. I voted for this bill.
H607 – Keep the Power Ball lottery operating in Idaho. This bill enables Idahoans to continue playing the Power Ball lottery should it expand its availability into Australia and the United Kingdom. I voted for this bill.
S1268 – Issue no-cost identification cards for the homeless. This bill establishes a no-fee 4-year identification card for an individual who is homeless. The previous $15 fee was a barrier to both job and housing attainment by persons experiencing homelessness. I voted for this bill.
H575 – Prevent municipalities from entering into long term leases to build jails and courthouses. This bill would require a municipality to put the funding for jails and courthouses up to a simple majority vote if they wanted to enter into a lease that lasted longer than five years. I liked reducing the margin of passage from two-thirds to 50% (one person, one vote). However, long-term leasing is a very important tool for municipalities, especially when funding necessary facilities that the vast majority of voters will never use – such as jails and courthouses. I voted against this bill.
H683 – Allow private parental driver’s education. This bill allows parents to teach their children how to drive without requiring any certification in driver education instruction, no requirement to install a dual brake pedal, or to display a “Student Driver” sign on the car. This bill has appeal in more rural counties where the roads are less crowded and certified driver education instructors may not be readily available. However, this can create safety issues on busy suburban and urban roadways, especially in District 15. I voted against this bill.
H694 – Make lists of dead people public. This is a sneaky voter suppression bill in disguise. It enables anyone to falsely claim – mistakenly or knowingly – that someone is dead who isn’t. This will create a huge burden on limited resources to research each claim, and potentially prevent the falsely identified person from voting. I voted against this bill.

Bills vetoed by the Governor
Governor Brad Little vetoed six bills that were passed by the legislature during the 2022 session. None of his vetoes were over-ridden and therefore none of the bills below became law:
H782 - Allow the governor to appoint a majority of members to the Judicial Council. This bill threatened to permanently politicize Idaho’s independent judiciary by allowing a governor to control the process for selecting nominees to fill judicial vacancies (replacing the current non-partisan process). It is to Governor Little’s credit that he vetoed a bill that would have given him more personal power.  
S1301 – Change how market value of a self-service storage facility is calculated. This bill created a unique cap on the assessed value of self-storage units when no other commercial property type would be subject to the same standard. This would reduce property taxes for the owners of these businesses, thus shifting their tax burden onto homeowners and other businesses.
S1381 – Coronavirus Pause Act. The governor vetoed this bill based on his concern that it expanded government overreach into the private sector by telling business owners how to manage their operations and employees.
H723 – Change the public school funding formula from Average Daily Attendance (ADA) to student enrollment. Most education stakeholders support this change to the funding formula in principle. The governor also supports this change, but wanted it to be done via a temporary rule adopted by the State Board of Education (which they did on April 21), instead of committing to a permanent change right away. This will give the legislature and governor’s office more time to craft a more thorough change to the funding formula.
H533 – Pay Master Educator Premiums (MEP) to teachers who move into administrative positions. This affected about 20 or so teachers who were awarded an MEP but moved into school administration positions before receiving the full payout over the designated three-year period. My understanding was that MEP’s were awarded for performance demonstrated during their tenure prior to receiving the award. The governor’s interpretation was that the MEP recipient sacrificed the balance of their MEP award if they moved out of a teaching position before receiving the full payout.
S1400 – Appropriation for the Office of Information Technology Services (OTIS). Appropriation bills are rarely vetoed. The governor found fault with intent language within this bill that would limit the state’s ability to effectively respond to present and emerging cyber threats. This bill was replaced with H825, which changed the intent language and was subsequently signed into law.

Media summaries of the 2022 session


My previous 2022 newsletters

Here are links to the legislative newsletters I sent during the 2022 session. These newsletters contain a personal narrative and cover many of the bills mentioned above in greater detail, including the reasons why I voted the way I did.

All my newsletters since I was elected in 2018 can be found by CLICKING HERE