Steve Berch District 15 Newsletter
April Fools Edition
These newsletters highlight some of the activities taking place in the Idaho Legislature during the 2019 session.
Please check the bottom of this newsletter for upcoming District 15 events and the various ways you can contact me. I look forward to hearing from you!
The Two Golden Rules
There are two golden rules:
- Treat others as you'd have them treat you.
- He who has all the gold makes all the rules.
Those who live by the latter live by a compass with no true north.
On March 21, the Idaho House of Representatives used their super-majority power to suspend the rules and ram a sloppy, punitive bill (HB277) through the House that negates the will of the voters when they enacted Medicaid Expansion into law without restrictions. And on March 28, the House passed the Senate bill (SB1159), followed the next day by a House bill (HB296) that collectively punishes voters for daring to put an initiative on the ballot without the Legislature’s permission – a law that will effectively nullify a Constitutional right and prevent Idahoans from placing a citizen-driven initiative on the ballot ever again.
Famed biographer Robert Caro has noted that while it is not certain that power corrupts, it is clear that power reveals. By exercising their power - the people who control the Idaho Legislature revealed which golden rule they live by and the fault in their compass.
I am not naïve and I understand politics can get rough. But the fact that someone can do something doesn’t mean they should do it. Until things change, the legislature will continue to act with impunity and ignore constituents.
Elections matter. Now more than ever.
As with my last newsletter, this edition is lengthy as activity accelerates and an increasing number of bills are voted on.
- Reduced qualifications for charter school administrators(SB1058) – Signed into law by the Governor. This bill allows charter schools to hire administrators with qualifications lower than that of a traditional public school administrator. I voted against this bill.
- Residential solar panels (HB158) – Signed into law by the Governor. This bill prohibits homeowner associations (HOAs) from preventing the installation of solar panels on residential rooftops, with some restrictions. I voted for this bill.
- Human trafficking (SB1005) – Signed into law by the Governor. This bill increases the state’s ability to fight and punish human trafficking. I voted for this bill.
- Taxation of corporate foreign income (HB183 – passed House and Senate, sent to Governor). This bill provides huge tax breaks for corporations that repatriate money from their foreign locations, with no commitment that the money being returned is to be invested in Idaho. The original financial analysis estimated this bill would result in a $290.9 million tax break and loss in state revenue over a 10-year period (more than enough to pay for Medicaid expansion each year for the next 10 years). I was the only person in the House to vote against this bill.
- Virtual Career Technical Education – CTE (SB1106 – passed House and Senate, sent to Governor). This bill provides taxpayer dollars for CTE schools to purchase third-party virtual education software without requiring students to receive any hands-on training. This would be like getting a driver’s license via a virtual reality online class without having to actually sit behind the wheel of a real car in the presence of an instructor. I support CTE training and I support online education, but I thought this bill was flawed for not requiring some degree of hands-on training which is essential when learning a skill-based trade. I voted against this bill.
- Library internet censorship (HB194 – passed House, amended in Senate, passed in the House, sent to Governor). This bill requires public libraries to filter access to minors of obscene and pornographic material via the internet within their building. I voted for this bill.
- Determine paternity of a fetus (HB205 – passed House and Senate, sent to Governor). This bill can potentially force a woman who is pregnant out of wedlock to let the state determine the paternity of her fetus. I voted against this terrible bill that might result in more abortions by women who fear the paternity being revealed.
- Hand gun conceal carry for 18-20 year olds in all Idaho cities (HB206 – passed House and Senate; sent to Governor). This bill prevents cities from enacting ordinances that would prohibit persons between 18 and 20 years old from carrying a concealed hand gun within city limits. I voted against this bill (click here for more).
- Education funding formula. (HB293 – passed House, in Senate). The legislature failed this year to adopt a new formula for distributing education dollars. Instead, they passed this modest bill to collect data in preparation for revisiting the funding formula in the 2020 session. It is not a bad bill, but I voted against it to highlight the real issue: the under-funding of education in Idaho. Focusing only on an allocation formula perpetuates the false assumption that education is getting enough money.
- Voter approval for Urban Renewal Development (URD) agency projects (HB217 – passed House, amended in Senate, sent back to the House). This bill would require every URD agency in the state to obtain 60% voter approval for certain projects. I voted for the House version of this bill when the threshold was 55%. The Senate’s amended version raised the threshold to 60%. I support voting on projects that involve millions of tax dollars. But I also believe the principle of one person, one vote is more important than making sure a “no” vote counts more than a “yes” vote (55% was my limit involving taxpayer dollars). I voted for the original House bill but plan to vote against this version of the bill.
- Repeal cap on homeowner’s exemption (HB243 – held up in House committee). This bill is dead. It would repeal the 2016 law that placed a $100,000 cap on the homeowner’s exemption. This is resulting in people paying higher income taxes as the value of their home increases. I support repealing this law (click here for more).
- Remove mandatory minimum sentencing (HB99 – passed House, being held in Senate committee). This bill is likely dead. It would remove the automatic mandatory minimum sentencing provisions for trafficking in controlled substances and give judges discretion in sentencing. I voted for this bill.
- Notification of rights before investigating child abuse(HB170 – passed House, being held in Senate committee). This bill is likely dead. It would prevent investigating a case of child abuse until after the parent or guardian was first told they had the legal right to not cooperate with investigators. I voted against this bill (click here for more).
- Insurance coverage for orally administered anti-cancer medications (SB1034 – passed Senate, being held in House committee). This bill is likely dead. It would require insurance companies to provide patients access to orally-administered anti-cancer medications at a co-insurance rate no more than the cost to access injected or intravenously administered medication. I support this bill.
- Revoke gun ownership rights for felons convicted of sexual battery of a minor (HB276 – passed House, being held in Senate committee). This bill is likely dead.
- Sex education (HB120 – passed House, failed in Senate committee). This bill is dead. It would have changed the process of student attendance of sex education classes from opt-out to opt-in. I voted against this bill (click here for more).
- School Turnaround Act (SB1029 – passed Senate, failed in House). This bill supports an existing program that provides access to third-party resources for low-performing schools. I prefer to see education funds spent directly on school resources within the state versus outside third parties. However, some schools need the help of expertise not currently available internally. I voted to extend this existing program a bit longer to demonstrate results and determine if the state could develop internal resources to accomplish the same turnaround results without having to perpetually depend on third-party assistance.
- Exploding targets (SB1178 – passed Senate, failed in House). This bill prohibited the use of exploding targets during the designated fire season. The use of exploding targets (e.g. for expecting child gender-reveal parties) have cost the state millions of dollars to put out fires they have caused. I voted for this common sense bill (click here for more).
- Access to public lands (SB1089 – held up in Senate committee). This is bill is dead. It would have allowed private citizens to bring civil lawsuits against individuals or entities willfully and knowingly blocking access to public lands. I support the intent of this legislation (click here for more).
- Christian persecution (HR6 – failed in House). This resolution specifically condemned the global persecution of Christians without mentioning the persecution of people of other faiths. Had it condemned all forms of religious persecution of people of any faith, I would have eagerly voted for it. But by omitting any reference to other religions, this resolution was disrespectful to constituents of different religious beliefs. I voted against this resolution (click here for more).
In the hopper
- Ballot initiative restrictions. See “The Two Golden Rules” above.
- Medicaid expansion restrictions. (HB277 – passed House, failed in Senate committee). But . . . the Senate then wrote its own Medicaid bill (SB1204) which did not have major restrictions. It was then sent to the floor of the Senate, where it was amended to look very much like the onerous House bill that previously failed in a Senate committee. This terrible amended bill subsequently passed in the Senate and will now be sent to the House. I will vote against it (click here for more).
- Internet sales tax collection (HB259 – passed House, amended in Senate, sent back to House). Unlike other sales tax revenue which flows to the General Fund for budget allocation, this bill forces taxes collected from internet sales to be strictly allocated to a variety of specific accounts and interests. I believe taxes collected from internet sales should be treated just like sales at brick-and-mortar stores. I voted against the original House bill.
- Hemp production (HB122 – passed House, amended in Senate, sent back to House). This bill legalizes the agricultural production of hemp and its derivative by-products in Idaho. This does not legalize medicinal or recreational marijuana, but appears to possibly legalize CBD oil (apparently with no more than 0.3% THC content). However, the Senate’s amendments “radiator capped” the bill, which means they rewrote the entire bill except for the bill number (analogous to replacing all the components of a car except the radiator cap and calling it the same car). The Senate’s version also adds heavy law enforcement actions and is being interpreted by some to criminalize CBD oil. I voted for the original House bill, but given the current confusion and uncertainty, I cannot commit to support the Senate version of this bill.
On the Air
I’ve had the honor and pleasure of being interviewed a few times on the radio during the session. In case you missed it: