Rep. Steve Berch Newsletter - The real obscenity


One more week to go – maybe. The House of Representatives has finished most of its work and is now waiting on the Senate. However, there are a few things that can cause delay:

  • New bills suddenly emerge from House committees.
  • The House wants to amend bills sent to it from the Senate (and vice versa).
  • Having to rewrite appropriation bills being used as political footballs.
  • Waiting to see which bills the Governor vetoes, and possible votes to override them.

But it is getting very near the end. I anticipate some intense debates on politically-charged issues and a lot of “hurry up and wait” as the House, Senate and Governor throw things back and forth at each other in the closing hours.
I will probably write two more legislative newsletters for the 2023 session: 1) a review of bills yet to be voted on, and 2) an end-of-session summary. 

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

Pornography in libraries

The House of Representatives passed a bill (H314) that usurps the responsibility of local library boards. It enables any county prosecuting attorney or the Attorney General to sue and impose financial penalties on any public school or local community library if it contains “any other material harmful to minors,” including homosexuality. This bill is not about pornography in libraries – it is about the legislature and Attorney General Raul Labrador deciding what you and your children can’t read. I voted AGAINST this latest “culture war” bill fueled by social media hysteria.
Several legislators expressed disgust over material they claimed to be so obscene that it couldn’t be shown in committee or on the House floor. But to my knowledge, no legislator actually walked into a library – on their own and without guidance by others – and actually found adult book shop pornography in the children’s section of any library.
They may have found books that they personally object to, such as books depicting children in a same-sex married family (which is a constitutionally protected right), but the “evidence” made available for private viewing was material that someone else claimed to have found in a library. The unfortunate fact is that any determined person can plant a book on a library shelf or move a book from the adult section to the children’s section and then express outrage as to what they “found” – including telling their legislator about it, pictures and all.
Deliberate deception
Here’s an example of how legislators have been deliberately deceived by clever, misleading “evidence.” One of the hot topics during the 2019 session was “Common Core”, the standards used to guide math, science and English language curriculum in Idaho public schools. I remember the vivid testimony given during a House Education committee meeting. This person objected to one book among a list of over 1,000 books available for schools to consider using as reading material. She brought a book to the podium with several sticky notes protruding from its pages. She then read the most salacious passages out loud for minutes on end – and committee members were indeed disturbed by what they heard.
But here’s what the woman didn’t tell the committee (which I found out later):  Not a single teacher in a single classroom in a single public school in Idaho was using the book she read from, and . . . the book he read from had been removed from the consideration list two years earlier. But that didn’t stop the committee from being led to believe that Common Core was indoctrinating every Idaho student with that book's content. This tactic is being repeated today by culture war leaders manufacturing hysteria via thousands of emails and social media posts.
Two years ago this wasn’t a problem. Library boards staffed by honest, hardworking citizens – your neighbors – were doing their job (and are still doing their job) as expected. No one was afraid to let their kids go to the library. Now all of a sudden “porn” in libraries is a crisis of monumental proportions.
Perhaps the real obscenity here is propaganda

If one person says the sun revolves around the earth, they are a kook. If 1,000 people say a million times that the sun revolves around the earth, people may think there might be some truth to it. And then they add the proof: “Don’t take my word for it. Look where the sun is in the morning and then at dusk. Who are you going to believe, some elitist ‘astronomy expert’ or your own eyes?!”
Or in the case of the “porn” issue: “Who are you going to believe . . . the left-wing, woke liberal media, or those disgusting pictures my friend said he found in a library book?” Of the thousands of people sending emails to legislators, almost none of them actually found “porn” in a library themselves. They are genuinely outraged by what they are hearing, but are mostly repeating what others are saying.
Some may have indeed found content in a library book they find personally and sincerely offensive. However, there’s a big difference between pornography found in an adult book shop and library books about same-sex marriage or gender dysphoria. When it all gets labeled as “porn” the facts get blurred and the outrage grows way out of proportion.
There are influential, well-funded organizations with political agendas eager and capable of stoking the flames of outrage. People – especially legislators – need to maintain a healthy skepticism when inflammatory, emotion-laden rhetoric and graphic imagery suddenly and repeatedly erupts simultaneously from multiple sources, especially on social media. It takes political courage to not simply “go with the flow.”
Laws should be based on fact – not hearsay, rumor, conjecture, innuendo, or personal bias. I support the Republican Party principle that government is best when it’s closest to the people. That’s why we have elected local library boards, or boards appointed by elected officials.
The legislature needs to let them do their job.
The solution to this issue is not this bill.  Library boards should be allowed to determine the facts by promoting and utilizing local processes that solicit documented complaints. Anyone who claims to have found inappropriate material in the children’s book section of a library should submit a signed, formal complaint that specifies the date, time and location they found a book they object to. Citizens should go on the record, not on social media, to register their concern.
Library boards should welcome this input and be expected to respond accordingly. But that doesn’t mean every complaint is agreed to and acted upon. No one individual should be given the power to force their personal moral standards on every other citizen within their community.
And neither should the Idaho Legislature.
Rotunda Roundup
Require public schools to furnish feminine hygiene products in girl’s bathrooms (H313 – failed on the House floor by a tie vote: 35-35). This bill requires the state to fund and provide all young women attending public school products necessary for their personal sanitation – not just toilet paper, paper towels and soap. One of the arguments against this bill was that the state shouldn’t issue mandates to schools. I believe in the principle of local control, but there is also a role for a statewide policy where equal treatment is called for. CLICK HERE to see my debate pointing out the hypocrisy of selectively using the anti-mandate argument. The need to make these products readily (and at times urgently) available without embarrassment or intimidation is real, in a way that no male legislator is capable of fully understanding. I voted FOR this long-overdue bill.

Teacher apprenticeships (S1069 – passed the House and Senate, to the Governor). This bill enables the State Board of Education to develop a registered apprenticeship program that enables student interns and student teachers (under the supervision of certified staff) to be eligible for standard teacher certification. The motivation for this bill is to help alleviate the teacher shortage throughout Idaho public schools. I take the long term view when assessing legislation, and I am hesitant to support bills where standards may be lowered to meet an immediate need. However, I voted FOR this bill with assurances that the program would be administered and monitored in a manner that would protect and preserve teaching standards in the classroom.
Universal open enrollment across all traditional public school districts (S1125 – passed the House and Senate, to the Governor). Open enrollment enables a student residing in one school district to attend classes in a different school district. Current law allows local school districts to not offer open enrollment. This bill would require every school district to offer open enrollment to any student anywhere. This is described as a “school choice” bill, but there are some concerns:

  • All charter schools that use a lottery enrollment system are excluded from having to comply with this bill. Your children will be barred from attending some of these desirable schools via open enrollment.
  • This bill favors parents who can afford to transport their child to and from a school outside their district every day.
  • Parents who choose to live within the boundaries of a desired school district could find their children denied local enrollment because the remaining seats are taken by open enrollment students from different school districts. 
  • Only one parent needs to request open enrollment for their child, creating family conflict if the other parent doesn’t approve of the request.
I voted AGAINST this well-intentioned bill whose detrimental consequences outweigh its benefits when considering the concerns in aggregate. CLICK HERE to see my debate in committee.

Enable the State Board of Education (SBE) to protect a failing state community college (H226, H320, H321 – killed in committee or at the Speaker’s desk). The SBE oversees higher education in Idaho, but it has no direct authority over community colleges, which are controlled by a locally elected Board of Trustees. These three bills would collectively give the SBE emergency authority to intervene and protect state and local community investments and interests in a failing community college. Specifically:

  • H226: Enables the SBE to control the assets of a community college should it cease to exist.
  • H320: Revokes a community college district’s property tax levy authority should it lose accreditation.
  • H321: Grants the SBE governing authority of a community college that is at risk of losing accreditation.
These bills are in response to the debacle at North Idaho College (NIC). NIC’s accreditation is at serious risk of being revoked due to the irresponsible actions by a slate of political extremists elected to its Board of Trustees. The consequences of losing accreditation would be devastating to students and the local community. I voted FOR these bills in committee, which are an appropriate response to the unprecedented and destructive actions taken by the controlling members of the NIC Board of Trustees. 
Allow parents to teach driver’s education (H133 – passed the House and Senate, VETOED by the Governor). I wrote about this bill in an earlier newsletter. My objection to this bill concerned safety considerations, which was the basis for the Governor’s veto. The House sustained the governor’s veto, thus killing this bill.
Limit the private sale, lease and transfer of state-issued liquor licenses (S1120 – passed the House and Senate, to the Governor). The state created a huge problem in the marketplace by how it controls the issuing of liquor licenses. By artificially constraining supply, the demand for a $750 license has driven the price upwards to $350,000 or more on the open market. Large corporations have no problem paying that price, but to a local small business owner, it is a huge investment just to open their business. This bill would severely devalue their investment in a license that has become an expensive, but valuable business asset. I voted AGAINST this bill. I don’t have a solution to this problem, but this is a problem created by the state. I do not support the state solving it at the expense of local business owners.
Add catalytic converters to the list of regulated items pertaining to scrap dealers (H142 – passed the House, in the Senate). This bill is in response to the alarming growth in the theft of catalytic converters used to control air pollution in automobiles. Specifically, the bill adds rhodium and palladium to the list of regulated metals. I voted FOR this bill, which is a good example of how government can use regulations to reasonably respond to a real problem.
Prohibit any public entity from contracting with certain Chinese companies (H294 – passed the House, in the Senate). This bill prohibits any Idaho public entity from entering into contracts with certain companies connected with the government of the People’s Republic of China (which is most Chinese-based companies). I believe there is a legitimate concern about the growing adversarial relationship between the U.S. and China, especially the manipulation of technology to our country’s detriment (e.g. I voted for the ban of TicTok on state electronic devices). However this bill is not limited to just technology – it could limit or ban trade for a vast array of products from China without considering supply and demand impacts, retaliation, or Idaho’s dependency on certain goods. I voted AGAINST this over-reaching bill which doesn’t give sufficient consideration to certain practical realities.
Change composition of impact fee advisory committees (S1114 – passed the House and Senate, to the Governor). This well-intentioned bill would allow a member of an impact fee advisory committee to live outside the immediate area of impact. This was motivated by the difficulty to get people to sit on these committees. This bill therefore expands the geography from which a member can be appointed. I have no problem with that intent. However, there are also no safeguards to prevent conflicts of interest. An impact fee advisory committee can have as few as five members and two of them must represent developers. One more developer-friendly member can control the committee’s recommendations, which could favor minimizing impact fees. I voted AGAINST this bill, which can result in impact fees being manipulated to the financial benefit of the developers of massive projects (such as Avimor, adjacent to the City of Eagle), who may also sit on these advisory committees. I would have voted for this bill if sufficient conflict of interest protections were in place.

Prohibit people from voting if they use an affidavit at the polls for identification (H137 – failed on the House floor). If a legal, qualified citizen fails to bring a picture ID to a polling place, current law allows them to sign an affidavit to cast their vote. This is used mostly by elderly voters who don’t have a driver’s license or forget to bring some form of picture ID to the polls. Affidavits are a legal document. Falsifying an affidavit is a felony crime that comes with severe penalties. Over 2,000 people used affidavits to vote in the last general election. This bill would eliminate the use of affidavits, thus preventing legitimate, qualified citizens from voting. I voted AGAINST this blatant voter suppression bill for which there is no evidence showing there is a problem to be solved. CLICK HERE to see my debate on the House floor.

Fund Medicaid (H334 – failed on the House floor by a vote of 34-36). The majority party killed this Medicaid funding bill. Voters made clear their support for Medicaid when they voted to enact Medicaid Expansion in 2018. The arguments against this bill centered on the rising cost of the program (which is paid mostly by the federal government). This one-sided argument refused to acknowledge the benefit Idahoans receive in return, and the impact a fast-growing state has on cost. I voted FOR this bill. A legitimate cost-benefit analysis requires looking at more than just cost.

(NOTE: A Medicaid budget will eventually be passed, but this vote reveals the heart and mind of many majority party legislators when it comes to helping citizens who are truly in need.)
Change the composition of the Judicial Council (S1148 – passed the House and Senate, to the Governor). The Judicial Council is an independent body responsible for nominating candidates to fill judicial vacancies in Idaho. The Governor then selects one of the recommended nominees. This is a second attempt to make the composition of the Judicial Council more partisan. Governor Little, to his credit, vetoed that earlier attempt last year (that bill would have given his position more power). This version isn’t much better. It reduces the Council from nine (9) to seven (7) members, allowing the Governor to control a majority (four) of the people who will then submit nominees for him to choose from. The current Judicial Council has been working fine since its inception. There is no need to change it. I voted AGAINST this dangerous bill which will politicize a judiciary whose independence must be protected.
Enable the legislature to intervene in cases before the courts (H326 – passed the House, in the Senate). This bill is a pure power grab by key legislative leaders. It enables one of just two people, either the President Pro Tempore of the Senate or the Speaker of the House, to intervene in judicial proceedings. I voted AGAINST this bill which exemplifies everything voters hate about powerful politicians who write laws to suit themselves. 


In the hopper
S1056 – Allow any group of people to parade in public with weapons, including military grade automatic assault rifles.
SJR 101 – Make it more difficult to put a citizen-driven initiative on the ballot (which is how Medicaid Expansion became law).
There may be a few more surprises next week.