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.