Rep. Steve Berch Newsletter - Poison pills


Things are getting ugly – and the ugly is showing up in poison pills buried in many of the bills we’ve been voting on lately. Never before have there been such deliberately harsh punishments attached to bills.
When I first ran for office in 2010, I did not envision writing a newsletter like this. The legislature is dragging Idaho so far and so quickly to the extreme, that the traditional conservatives still in the legislature (those that the extremists call RINOs) are facing an uphill battle.
As always, please feel free to contact me anytime for any reason. My contact information appears at the end of this newsletter.  NOTE:  You can look up any bill mentioned below by CLICKING HERE.

. . . or else!

Winston Churchill is quoted as having said:
“A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject.”
The extremists trying to take control of the Idaho Legislature have advanced their fanaticism beyond just “not changing the subject.” Their credo now appears to be:
     If you disagree with me, you’re wrong.
     If you’re wrong, you’re bad.
     If you’re bad, we can do anything to silence you, stop you and punish you.
A primary tactic being deployed by the extremists is inserting harsh penalties and punishments into many bills – especially those focused on divisive, inflammatory social issues (libraries, vaccines, sex education, etc.). There are usually three components to most of these punishments:
  1. Paying a large fine (usually per incident) and/or being sent to prison.
  2. Paying the attorney fees and costs of the person suing you.
  3. Allowing a lawsuit to be filed many years after an alleged incident took place.
Here’s the actual penalty clause from the so-called “bathroom bill” (S1100), which would designate girls-only and boys-only bathrooms in public schools, with accommodations for anyone uncomfortable with that arrangement:
CIVIL CAUSE OF ACTION. (1) Any student who, while accessing a public school restroom, changing facility, or sleeping quarters designated for use by the student's sex, encounters a person of the opposite sex has a private cause of action against the school if:  (a) The school gave that person permission to use facilities of the opposite sex; or (b) The school failed to take reasonable steps to prohibit that person from using facilities of the opposite sex.
(2) Any civil action arising under this chapter must be commenced within four (4) years after the cause of action has occurred.
(3) Any student who prevails in an action brought under this chapter may recover from the defendant public school five thousand dollars ($5,000) for each instance that the student encountered a person of the opposite sex while accessing a public school restroom, changing facility, or sleeping quarters designated for use by aggrieved student's sex. The student may also recover monetary damages from the defendant public school for all psychological, emotional, and physical harm suffered.
(4) Any student who prevails in action brought under this chapter is entitled to recover reasonable attorney's fees and costs from the defendant public school.

These extremists are demanding that you: live your life the way they want you to . . . or else!  Here are a few more examples:

I understand the political risks of voting against bills that sound good. But my job is to make intelligent, rational decisions based on critical thinking, not emotion or a political calculation. Even a good bill that comes with a poison pill is not a good bill. It’s a bad bill.
The bills we wind up voting on are determined by the people elected to the legislature, which ultimately comes down to voters knowing who the person on their ballot really is before casting their vote . . . or else.
Rotunda Roundup
Public school bathrooms (S1100 – passed the Senate, in the House). The real purpose of this bill (mentioned earlier) is to force transgendered individuals to use a school bathroom that is consistent with their designated sex at birth. If they are uncomfortable with that, the school must provide an alternate, single-occupancy bathroom and showering facility. This is one of several bills rooted in a denial or fear gender dysphoria. However, it is consistent with the primary function of a bathroom, which is to facilitate necessary bodily functions. Recognizing that discomfort can exist on both sides of the transgender issue, a single-occupancy bathroom is a reasonable accommodation to address this relatively new social issue. However, the severe punishment clause added to this bill is unnecessary, deliberately intimidating, and invites spurious lawsuits. I cannot support this bill as currently written (it hasn’t come up for a vote in the House yet).
Certain changes regarding charter schools (H113 – passed the House, in the Senate).  This bill allows charter school authorizers to consider the student body make up of a charter school (such as disadvantaged students) during the certification and recertification process. It allows a provider of education services to the charter school to forgive the debt a charter school owes it, if it helps with the school’s financial stability. It also allows local school districts to authorize virtual charter schools. I voted FOR this bill, which can benefit certain charter schools without it being at the expense of traditional public schools.
Define “abstinence” as it applies to sex education in public schools (H228 – passed the House, in the Senate).  
Change student participation in sex education classes from opt-out to opt-in (H272 – killed in House Education committee). The true motive of these bills is to dilute and reduce student participation in sex education classes. They were advertised as “parental rights” bills. Not so. Parents who are sincerely concerned about the content of sex education classes still have the right to not have their child attend them – and I support parents having the right to make that choice for their child.
The first bill (H228) defines the word “abstinence.” It was advertised as a ‘simple definition’ but it really was an effort to change teaching curriculum. Unfortunately the bill includes other words that aren’t defined. The result could be turning teachers into preachers, warning against kissing, slow dancing, or other “intimate” acts.  I voted AGAINST this bill (CLICK HERE to see my debate).

The second bill (H272) changes the process for attending a sex education class from “opt-out” to “opt-in.” This would cut student participation from about 97% to below 50%.  It was advertised as a “simple process change.” But the debate in favor of the bill made it clear the concern was really about class content, not process. I voted AGAINST this bill, which also had a penalty clause (CLICK HERE to see my debate).

Require training for school board members (H268 – failed on the House floor). This common sense bill would require all elected members of a school board to receive basic training to assist in understanding the responsibilities and legal requirements of the position. The job of a candidate is very different from the job they are elected to serve – which is why every newly elected legislator is required to take several training classes. I voted FOR this bill. It is appalling that a majority of Representatives failed to appreciate the value of such training – which may explain some of the head-scratching actions we see in the legislature at times. 
Add career exploration to public school course curriculum (H269 – passed the House, in the Senate).  This bill defines a career exploration experience for 7th or 8th grade students to assist them in identifying potential interests and possible career paths.  I voted FOR this excellent bill, which complements the fiscal literacy class passed earlier by the House. These bills help students get a head start on considering career choices as they advance through school.
Use firing squads to execute inmates sentenced to death (H186 – passed the House, in the Senate). This bill would allow the use of a firing squad as a form of execution. There is absolutely no need for this bill. It is motivated by a temporary inability in obtaining the chemicals necessary to execute an inmate by lethal injection. I voted AGAINST this bill, which revealed an unseemly blood-lust in the hearts of some legislators. 
Prohibit ranked-choice voting in Idaho (H179 – passed the House, in the Senate). There are strong passions on both sides of this issue. Election results in states that have implemented ranked-choice voting are used by both sides to make their case. I’d like to see more evidence of how this method of voting plays out before supporting this major change to the voting process. I voted FOR this bill – for now.   
Ban sexual exhibitions in public facilities and locations (H265 – passed the House, in the Senate). This bill is in response to a “drag kids” show at a Gay Pride event in downtown Boise. It is in reaction to one event on one day in one location in one city. Aside from this over-reaction, this bill is so broadly and poorly worded, it would make illegal a laundry list of activities and forms of entertainment that nearly everyone enjoys. It also includes the harsh punishments I wrote about above. I voted AGAINST this bill for all the reasons articulated by Rep. Ilana Rubel in her floor debate against it (CLICK HERE). Please take a moment to listen to it. She not only dissects the legal flaws in this bill, but makes clear its unintended and undesirable consequences. 

Provide regulations for surrogacy contracts (H264 – passed the House, in the Senate). This bill establishes consistent standards and procedural safeguards for the protection of parties to gestational agreements (surrogate parents) and clarifies the parentage of children born under the terms of gestational carrier agreements. Idaho has gained a national and international reputation as the “Wild West” for surrogacy, due to the lack of any laws governing it. I voted FOR this bill, which brings much needed regulation to this activity.
Designate all family members as “essential caregivers” of a relative in assisted living (H193 – passed the House, in the Senate). This is a COVID-inspired bill that forces a facility to allow every family member of a resident to visit them in-person. I was prepared to vote for this bill.  However, when I asked the sponsor if the bill allowed a resident to prevent a specific family member from visiting them, I was told it did not. Not every family member gets along with each other. I voted AGAINST this bill because it was one-sided. The rights of family members to visit a relative living in a care facility must be balanced with the right of the resident to not be forced to have someone visit them that they don’t want to see – for whatever reason. This bill failed to strike that critical balance.
Criminalize transportation of a minor to receive a legal abortion in another state (H242 – passed the House, in the Senate).  It is one thing to write laws that apply to the State of Idaho. It is quite another to extend Idaho’s laws beyond its boundaries. This bill also includes harsh punishments as mentioned earlier.  I voted AGAINST this bill, which pushes an uncompromising anti-abortion orthodoxy to a new and dangerous level. If this becomes law, it will likely be challenged in court and declared unconstitutional – and result in another waste of taxpayer dollars on a lawsuit doomed to fail.  
Prohibit state employees from using or downloading TicTok on state-issued devices (H274 – passed the House, in the Senate). There are legitimate reasons to distrust the motives and actions of the government of China, which exerts control over Chinese companies such as TicTok. Since there is no legitimate purpose or need for state employees to have TicTok on state government devices, I voted FOR this bill. It provides an additional level of security against a government that is increasingly adversarial to our country’s interests.
Changes to statute governing oil and gas exploration (H120 – passed the House, in the Senate). This bill contains changes to the law governing how oil and gas companies drill and compensate land owners for extracted hydrocarbons. There is a history of contention between the industry and homeowners, with homeowners having won previous lawsuits. I voted AGAINST this “below-the-radar” bill out of concern for possible decreases or a loss of certain homeowner protections. 
State Public Defender Act (H236 – passed the House, in the Senate). This complicated bill is in response to an Idaho State Supreme Court ruling that held the governor’s office responsible for the function of public defender services in Idaho. It creates the office of a State Public Defender (appointed by the governor) who oversees district public defenders appointed by panels within those districts. I voted FOR this bill, albeit imperfect, which is a first and necessary step toward restructuring this vital public service across the state.
Allow voting on city budget line items via ballot initiative or referendum (H273 – barely passed the House (36-33), in the Senate). This bill would allow citizens to micro-manage selected line items in a city budget via a direct vote on the ballot. I believe in our republican form of government, where duly elected officials make decisions on behalf of their constituents. If a majority of voters are not pleased with the decisions made by their elected officials, they can recall or unseat them in the next election. I voted AGAINST this poorly crafted, difficult to implement bill that is based on an inherent distrust of elected officials.