January 11, 2019
"Every man, every woman who has to take up the service of government, must ask themselves two questions: 'Do I love my people in order to serve them better? Am I humble and do I listen to everybody... in order to choose the best path?' If you don't ask those questions, your governance will not be good." -
Greetings from the first week of the 2019 Legislative Session! This week Governor Little gave his inaugural
State of the State address which talked about important issues such as the economy, education, Medicaid Expansion, and corrections. These priorities are either constitutionally or statutorily obligated to budget. Governor Little's proposed policy agenda has been our priority for some time, and we look forward to collaborating to create positive changes for Idahoans.
In 2018, the Legislature conformed to the new Federal Tax Code and then passed a tax cut that would change how Idahoans claim deductions. On April 15th you may possibly have a tax bill rather than a refund. The Idaho State Tax Commission failed to effectively notify Idahoans to update their W-4s which tells employers how much to withhold from an employee's paycheck. The Tax Commission estimates that 75 percent of taxpayers have not adjusted their withholdings for the new tax laws. As an example, a married couple who are both working and filing jointly, could have a $700 tax bill. Less deductions and the elimination of certain exemptions, such as dependents, could result in an even larger tax bill. We cannot avoid this issue for 2019, but if you would like to change your W-4 for 2020, you can find more information here.
In his State of the State address, Governor Little asserted his number one priority is education and I agree. A strong education system promotes lifelong learning that helps ensure our workforce is the best and brightest Idaho has to offer. Governor Little mentioned budget increases for schools, teacher salaries, full-day kindergarten, and starting a Children's Cabinet - focused on a variety of environmental conditions that may hinder student learning. Investing in full-day kindergarten is a big step for Idaho in terms of setting our children up for success, but early childhood education (pre-K) is also important. Studies show that kids who go through pre-K earn more money than those who don't, are more likely to go to college, and less likely to wind up in jail. The governor wants to point Idaho in the right direction on this issue and I am eager to work with him and the rest of the Legislature this session to improve the future of our children and our workforce.
The most important priority this legislative session is to implement and fully fund Medicaid Expansion, as Idahoans overwhelmingly voted for it this past November. The Legislature should honor the will of the people and the people want a clear, clean Expansion. The Governor's office has found the money to fully fund Medicaid for the first year and after that, the savings from expanding Medicaid will pay for it. However, the funding in the Governor's budget does not account for any additional expensive and bureaucratic conditions such as work requirements. Not only does Medicaid Expansion cover the uninsured with health care, but it will bring back 400 million in tax dollars which can be put back into our local and county governments as well as our hospitals, doctors, and other medical staff. I am hopeful the Legislature will work to implement, and fund Medicaid, as is, in 2019.
The Governor's budget recommendation takes on the challenge of increasing prison capacity and the resources needed to reduce the flow of inmates into our prisons. Idaho has the largest percentage of nonviolent offenders in our prisons resulting in our state having transferred 1,000 inmates to Texas because of overcrowding. There is an urgency to change how we deal with at- risk populations, review mandatory minimums, and better treatments for drug addiction and mental health problems. Current practices are expensive, unsustainable, and often too late. Also, we are constitutionally required to improve our public defender system.
Every Idahoan should have the opportunity to prosper, and our effort at the Legislature aims to address that goal. I was proud to see hard work and bipartisanship this legislative session. While we all come from different backgrounds, the positive relationships between Senators, Representatives, Democrats, and Republicans are what make the process run so smoothly and allows us to perform good work on behalf of our constituents. Here's a look at what happened this session:
Limiting Your Voice
HB 568 removes the referendum and initiative processes for land use issues. Traditionally, referenda have been used as a means for public input and due process on land use decisions by a board of county commissioners. While this process is rarely used, I do not believe in limiting opportunities for the public to engage on policy decisions. The bill passed the Senate this week and will soon move to the Governor for consideration.
We’re nearing the end of the legislative session, which means a majority of our time is spent debating bills on the Senate floor that originated in the House. Here is some legislation we’ve seen this week:
On Tuesday, the Idaho House of Representatives voted to send HB 464, the Idaho Health Care Plan, back to the House Health and Welfare Committee. The bill is now dead and for the sixth year in a row, the legislature has failed to help the 78,000 Idahoans, thousands of whom are veterans, in the coverage gap. Sen. Maryanne Jordan’s bill, SB1224, calls for the Department of Health and Welfare to change their definition of Medicaid eligibility to include all individuals whose income is below 138 percent of the Federal Poverty level. The bill awaits hearing in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee.
This session, we’ve had a record low number of bills originate in the Senate, and record high number from the House. Once a bill passes through its chamber of origin, it must be considered in the other chamber. So, when the House has a high number of bills, our workload in the Senate tends to be much heavier in the latter part of the legislative session. Here’s an update on some legislation we’ve seen this past week:
Town Hall Recap – Education, Jobs, and Quality of Life
Last weekend Rep. Sally Toone, Rep. Steve Miller, and I traveled the district and hosted 6 legislative town halls! We had great attendance and engaging questions from our community members in Ketchum, Bellevue, Fairfield, Gooding, Hagerman, and Shoshone. Our district was concerned with public education, particularly as it pertains to funding the career ladder and retaining qualified teachers for our students.
Last night we held our first town hall in a series of 6, and turnout was fantastic with some great questions! I hope you’ll join us at your local town hall today:
Today February 10:
Bellevue - Oak Street Deli - 8am
Fairfield - Senior Center - 10am
Gooding - Landr Inn - Noon
Hagerman - City Hall - 2pm
Shoshone - Community Center - 4pm
Fighting for Families
We’re about to dive into the Fighting for Families Week of Action! We invite you to join in a conversation with members of the Idaho State Legislature, during the Fighting for Families Week of Action. With your support we can more effectively advocate for policies that work for all Idaho families. Each day of Week of Action will feature an important family policy discussion, led by a member of your Idaho State Legislature. Following and joining these conversations is easy. Just click on this link to be routed to the host page. Here’s a schedule of events for the week:
August 18, 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution, granting women the right to vote. I have the pleasure of cosponsoring a resolution to educate Idahoans and others through the country about their heritage and commemorate the centennial of the passage of this important milestone. This resolution seeks to support and encourage Idahoans to explore and appreciate the Women’s Suffrage Movement.
We just finished the second week of the legislative session, and for the most part, so far so good! These first few weeks are filled with agency rules review and confirming the Governor’s appointments to public organizations. The task of reviewing and confirming gubernatorial appointments is reserved exclusively for the Senate. We take this role seriously, as these appointees are the individuals who will help implement the laws we pass in the legislature. It is important that they meet statutorial requirements and are well-qualified for their appointed positions.
Greetings from the first week of the 2018 legislative session! We kicked the week off with Governor Otter’s final State of the State address where he outlined plans for workforce development, healthcare, tax cuts, and education. The Minority Caucus responded with our own legislative agenda, and plans to make tangible positive change for Idahoans.
Hard working Idahoans tell us their top issues are education and the economy, healthcare, and transportation infrastructure. Through that lens, we made great stride with public education, skilled workforce development which equates to well-paid careers, state-wide transportation infrastructure needs, and policies that support our quality of life. With deep disappointment, healthcare, particularly the 78,000 uninsured gap population, remains unresolved with a few exceptions. Let's see how the 2017 legislative session shook out.
This Thursday, the Senate considered expanding Medicaid and accepting federal matching dollars to bridge the healthcare coverage gap. Approximately 78,000 Idahoans currently fall into this coverage gap, roughly 10,000 of which are our military veterans. Speaker Paul Ryan's AHCA still allows for states to expand Medicaid until 2020. Unfortunately, for the fourth year in a row, the legislature has refused to take action. The measure failed to pass, leaving thousands of Idahoans without healthcare coverage.
This Tuesday I had the honor to serve as the President of the Senate for the first time. This is a position normally reserved for the Lt Governor, but work required his presence elsewhere. It was great to be on the other side of the gavel for a day routing bills through the legislative process!
Article V Constitutional Convention Resolution Fails
This Wednesday, after 2 hours of debate, we voted 11-24 against the resolution calling for an Article V Constitutional Convention. SCR 108 called for Idaho to join the convention solely for the purpose of passing a balanced budget amendment. While I do think this merits consideration, nine other states who were calling for the balanced budget were also calling for other amendments. There's simply no way to guarantee a single issue convention.
"Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth." - President Abraham Lincoln
Friday morning in the Senate State Affairs Committee we passed the resolution calling for a constitutional convention to create a balanced budget amendment by a 5-4 vote. I voted no. We had a large turnout and had overwhelming opposition by those who testified.
Great Turnout at Town Halls!
We had our annual legislative district tour last weekend and we had record turnouts! I love seeing our community engage on issues that matter most and we had so many excellent conversations. Several of you asked how you can keep track of bills as they work through the legislative process. You can click here to visit the legislative bill center, which will tell you exactly what a bill says, who the sponsors are, where a bill sits at any given time, and our voting records.
"For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: Love your neighbor as yourself." - Galatians 5:14
We kicked off our legislative district tour last night in Ketchum and had a great turnout. I am always so pleased to see our community members engage on issues that matter most. We'll continue the tour through the rest of our district today (February 11). Please join us:
"Our workforce and our entire economy are strongest when we embrace diversity to its fullest, and that means opening doors of opportunity to everyone and recognizing that the American Dream excludes no one." - Thomas Perez
I am honored to be one of the two legislators appointed to Governor Otter's Workforce Development Task Force. The task force is charged with studying ways to improve Idaho's funding and delivery of training programs to meet growing employer demand for skilled workers. Our recommendations are due by July 1st so our work is cut out for us. I'm pleased to be part of an effort that grows opportunities for Idahoans and helps them be competitive in a complex economy.