Rep. Steve Berch Newsletter - WE'RE DONE (almost)


The House and Senate have cleared their calendars of all remaining bills. The legislature is now in recess, waiting to see what bills (if any) the Governor vetoes. Three bills being closely watched are the “library bill” (H314), the “anti-transgender bill” (H71) and the "abortion trafficking" bill (H242).
The legislature will be returning to the Capitol on April 6th to finish up all remaining business. Barring the unexpected, the legislature should then officially adjourn the 2023 session (formally referred to as “Sine Die”). 
However, voters approved a change to the Idaho constitution last year that now allows the legislature to call itself into special session, any time for any reason. So there’s no telling if or when the legislature may truly stop working this year.

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

ALSO:  CLICK HERE to subscribe to District 15 Senator Rick Just’s legislative newsletters. Between my newsletters from the House and his from the Senate, you’ll learn what’s happening on both sides of the rotunda!

Inappropriate appropriations

The state constitution requires the Idaho Legislature to do only one thing:  pass a budget. It takes over 40 appropriation bills to fund the legislative, judicial and executive branches. There are a few legislators who vote against almost every appropriation bill in protest to government spending. They are also rewarded with a high “anti-spending score” issued by one of Idaho’s most extreme, influential and churlish lobbying groups.
This is disingenuous. It’s easy to complain about the rising cost of government in a fast-growing state. But these naysayers rarely acknowledge the benefits the public receives in return – much of which is taken for granted. A cost-benefit analysis cannot be done if you only look at cost.

I almost never vote against appropriation bills. However, this year I voted against five of them for very specific reasons:
Medicaid budget
I believe in individual responsibility, but I also believe in helping people who are truly in need. That is what a civilized society does. It is why I also strongly supported Medicaid Expansion. To be clear, I voted FOR every Medicaid budget bill this year, including the first version of this budget bill (H334). That bill failed by a vote of 34-36. It was deliberately torpedoed by legislators who want to make the rising cost of Medicaid a divisive political issue.
When the revised Medicaid budget bill came back for a vote 11 days later, over $150 million was removed, including critical staff positions necessary to sufficiently manage the program. The removal of these staff positions may be part of an effort to pay an outside entity millions of dollars annually to administer the Medicaid program on behalf of the state (since the state will be inadequately staffed). I voted AGAINST the second, lower Medicaid budget bill (H369).  It was the best way to signal my objection to cutting the Medicaid budget.
Health and Welfare (H&W) budgets
I voted AGAINST two H&W budgets. One (S1182) made damaging budget cuts to several programs and services. It is particularly disappointing to see budgets cut in the face of a record state surplus. The other (H350) included intent language that makes it more difficult for Nalozone (also known as Narcan) to be obtained and administered in a timely manner. This is a life-saving medication that can reverse an overdose from opioids—including heroin, fentanyl, and prescription opioid medications. I voted against this second bill due to the intent language - which has no business being in a budget bill. Intent is policy, which legislative committees are responsible for crafting. The Governor has vetoed appropriation bills in the past due to troubling intent language. It would be a quick fix if he was to veto this bill for similar reasons.
State Board of Education (SBE) budget
I support public education, both K-12 and higher education. There was nothing wrong with the amount of money appropriated to the SBE in this budget bill (S1202). I voted AGAINST this bill due to a possible poison pill within it that might result in taxpayer dollars being given to for-profit private and religious schools. 
As votes were being cast, the Speaker of the House said something that was truly astonishing and inappropriate:  “People better change their votes, or we will be here tomorrow.” A few malleable legislators switched their vote at the last second and the budget passed on a vote of 32-29-9 (nine legislators were absent). After the vote, I stood up and admonished the Speaker. He had just whipped the majority party caucus to manipulate a vote on live TV. Sometimes you have to speak truth to power. (CLICK HERE to see the exchange and watch how the vote changes).

Attorney General (AG) budget
The first attempt to pass the AG budget (H303) failed before a vote could be taken. Two objections arose during the debate at that time: 1) exorbitant back-to-back 11% raises, and 2) AG Raul Labrador's refusal to issue written opinions, unless it suits him. When a second AG budget bill (S1198) came back to the House for a vote, the employee raises were reduced. However, Labrador still wouldn't commit to provide written opinions or provide them in a timely manner. He made the following statement, revealing his political bias and which has no place in the office of any Attorney General:   
“The Democrats I heard complaining on the floor aren’t really upset about a lack of assistance, they’re upset because they no longer have a pliable Attorney General who will assist them in attacking perfectly legitimate bills." (CLICK HERE)

Personally, I find Raul Labrador to be a friendly, engaging man, but I find this statement insulting and unprofessional. I voted AGAINST funding the office of any AG who makes excuses to not do their job. I occasionally worked with Labrador’s predecessor during the previous four years (Lawrence Wasden). Sometimes his AG opinions would support my concerns and sometimes they wouldn’t. All I wanted was an honest, competent, written legal opinion – and I would always get one within a few days. It appears that the only legislators who can consistently rely on timely services from the AG’s office today are those that agree with Labrador’s political and ideological world view.

Rotunda Roundup
The legislature seems to have saved the worst bills for last, and I voted against most of the ones noted below. My next newsletter will be a review of the entire 2023 legislative session, which will cover amended versions of bills voted on last week that I covered in previous newsletters.
Constitutional amendment to change requirements for a citizen-driven ballot initiative (SJR101 – passed the Senate, failed in the House). The Idaho constitution enables citizens to place a proposed law on the ballot, but empowers the legislature to determine the process for doing so. Over the years, the legislature has raised the bar for placing a citizen initiative on the ballot to a very high level. The current requirement is signatures from 6% of voters in 18 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts. In 2021, the Idaho Supreme Court overturned a law passed by the legislature that raised the requirement to be 6% from all 35 legislative districts, saying that this would effectively nullify the constitutional right for citizen-driven ballot initiatives.
This piece of legislation is an end-run around the Supreme Court by amending the constitution itself, thus making the law they passed in 2021 constitutional. Placing an amendment to the constitution on the ballot requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate and the House. The Governor cannot veto a joint House/Senate resolution. The House vote for this amendment was 38-31, which was nine votes short of the 47 votes needed to reach a two-thirds margin, thus killing it.  I voted AGAINST this resolution. The legislature should not be in the business of taking constitutional rights away from the people.  
Restore Child Care grants (S1203 – passed the House and Senate, to the governor). This bill restores the funding for Child Care providers through June, which was abruptly cut off in March. I voted FOR this bill, which should have never been necessary in the first place.
Property tax relief fiasco (H292, H198, H376). Here’s the saga of the legislature’s convoluted, overly-complex and not-very-successful attempt at real, meaningful property tax relief:
  • March 14:  The House passes H292.
  • March 20:  The Senate passes H292.
  • March 27:  The Governor vetoes H292.
  • March 27:  The Senate “radiator caps” H198 (completely rewrites a bill to create a new version of H292).
  • March 28:  The House overrides the Governor’s veto of H292.
  • March 28:  House rejects the Senate’s changes to H198, thus killing it.
  • March 28:  House passes H376, which fixes a transportation funding issue the Governor objected to in H292.
  • March 29:  Senate passes H376 (awaiting the Governor’s signature)
  • March 29:  Senate overrides the Governor’s veto of H292, making it law.
I originally voted for H292, but after further analysis, I voted AGAINST H292 when I voted to sustain the Governor’s veto. I voted FOR the Senate’s amended version of H198, which was a cleaner bill. I voted AGAINST H376, which was an inadequate fix to the problems with H292.  It is disappointing that a majority party that controls 82% of the legislature and 100% of the executive branch couldn’t arrive at a clean, clear bill that provides meaningful property tax relief – instead of the 20-page “Frankenbill” we were forced to consider, and whose ramifications still aren’t fully understood.
NOTE: H292 includes a hidden gift to for-profit private schools. It gets rid of the March election date for school bonds and levies. This will be a disaster to most public school districts which now depend on bonds and levies to close the funding gap created by the legislature. If bonds and levies don’t pass, public schools will continue to deteriorate – making private and other school choices look better by comparison. I mention this in a broader commentary about the funding of education during a meeting of the House Education committee (CLICK HERE).
Accessory dwellings (H166 – passed the House and Senate, to the Governor). This bill prohibits an HOA from imposing a blanket ban on any accessory dwelling at a residence. However, it allows the HOA to establish certain constraints, particularly requiring that any additional occupancy be contained within or attached to the footprint of the residence. I voted FOR this bill which balances homeowner flexibility with HOA responsibilities.
Change Idaho abortion law to a presumption of innocence instead of guilt (H374 – passed the House and Senate, to the Governor). This bill removed the requirement that doctors provide an “affirmative defense” for their actions if prosecuted. American jurisprudence is based on the assumption of innocent until proven guilty. Idaho’s abortion law was the opposite: guilty until proven innocent. Removing that un-American requirement simply put this law on par with a founding principle of American justice. This bill had a real opportunity to make important, substantive changes to Idaho’s abortion laws, such as:
  • Not throwing doctors in jail for 10 years (and the chilling affect this has on Idaho’s medical profession in general).
  • Allow doctors to protect the health of the mother, not just the life of the mother (which would require the mother to be on death’s doorstep before a life-saving abortion could be provided). 
I would have voted AGAINST this charade that tried to masquerade as real reform to Idaho’s draconian, mean-spirited anti-abortion law. Instead, I chose to walk out of the House Chamber before the vote in protest, along with my caucus colleagues. I don’t take such action lightly. However, there are times when simply casting a vote isn’t enough. This legislature’s love for the pre-born is only superseded by its cruel disregard for the post-born.
Criminalize transportation of a minor to another state to receive a legal abortion (H242 – passed the House and Senate, to the Governor). This so-called "abortion trafficking" bill extends Idaho’s anti-abortion laws into other states. It would allow the father, mother, aunt or uncle of the woman seeking an abortion to sue the doctor for at least $20,000 (up to four years after the fact) and throw the transporter in jail for 2-5 years. I voted AGAINST this forced-birth bill which is likely unconstitutional and will cost taxpayers millions of dollars to defend in court.
Allow brandishing a firearm if one feels threatened (S1173 – passed the House and Senate, to the Governor). This is not a Second Amendment bill, it is legalized murder. If a person carrying a gun feels threatened by someone, they can show that gun as a means to deter or intimidate the other party. What makes it “legalized murder” is when this bill is paired with Idaho’s current Stand Your Ground law. That bill allows you shoot someone dead if you have reason to believe they are a threat to you.
Imagine this scenario: It is 1:00 am in downtown Boise. It's dark. You feel threatened by someone approaching you. You pull out your concealed hand gun to scare them off. The other person now feels you are threatening them because you’re holding a gun. They grab their concealed gun and legally shoot you because – in their mind – you presented yourself as a threat to them. I voted AGAINST this bill, which makes the false assumption that everyone will exercise good judgment and behave reasonably in every confrontational situation. This is just one more step toward allowing any individual with a gun to be judge, jury and executioner. It could be your loved one in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Replace silent prayer with vocal prayer (H182 – passed the House and Senate, to the Governor). This is the sneaky bill that was originally advertised as a “silent prayer” bill, but actually allowed state personnel to lead vocal prayers in schools (e.g. in a team huddle at a football game). I pointed the contradiction in this bill during floor debate. The Senate then amended the bill by changing “silent prayer” to just “prayer.”  I voted AGAINST this bill which forces minors of various religious backgrounds to have a different religious belief preached to them by a government employee who has authority over them (such as a high school coach).
Coronavirus Stop Act (S1130 – passed the House and Senate, to the Governor). This is yet another COVID bill that inserts the heavy hand of government into private businesses in regard to vaccination requirements. This bill goes further by extending this decree for any future variant or mutation of the coronavirus, regardless as to its mortality rate (10%, 20%, whatever). That is legalized ignorance. And it ignores the rights of someone who does not want to be exposed to an unvaccinated person. Under this bill, if an elderly family member with a suppressed immune system is receiving in-home care from a private agency, this law prevents that agency from knowing if their employee was vaccinated – thus exposing your loved one to a potential life-threatening risk. I voted AGAINST this bill which fails to balance the rights of an employee with the rights of the business owner, co-worker and customer.
In the hopper
There are no more bills to be voted on this session, other than possibly overriding any vetoes the Governor issues by April 5th.