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Boise, ID 83720-0081
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Boise Idaho Senator Michelle Stennett, Idaho State Senate Minority Leader

News Blog

The Clock is Ticking and Time is Running Out!

Michelle Stennett



                                                                         April 13, 2019


"Whatever you go into, you have to go in there to be the best. There's no formulas. It's all about passion and honesty and hard work." - Hugh Masekela

We want to thank everyone for all the support this session and the honor of representing our district. The legislative process is purposefully rigorous. Policy making requires challenging negotiations which should benefit the majority of Idahoans into the future. 

Over 700 pieces of legislation were introduced in the Idaho Legislature this session and bright spots included first-responder PTSI insurance coverage, solar-panel approval for clean energy, the transport of industrial hemp through Idaho, "rules of the road" for E-bikes, and pet-friendly licenses plates. Throughout this legislative session, following rules and process have deteriorated. Repeatedly, a small group of legislators made decisions about major and impactful legislation behind closed doors, without transparency, without stakeholders, and without the rest of the legislature.

 Bills this session included: education, Medicaid Expansion, gerrymandering, voter ballot initiatives, public lands, and transportation. The Idaho Legislature spent close to $2 billion on K-12 education which is an additional 6% increase for schools. Additionally, we passed HB153, at the Governor's request, to increase new teacher pay to $40,000 over the next two years. This effort is aimed at recruiting and retaining new teachers in our state. The new School Funding Formula had at least 12 versions to no successful conclusion, so will continue to be worked on through the summer for next year's session with additional data collection for accuracy. Our "Student Loan Forgiveness Act," once again failed to be a priority and was held in committee. We also introduced a change to Ambulance Districts and their tax levy, which also failed to be heard. 

Legislation focused on gerrymandering and changing the voter ballot initiative process brought heated debate and a ton of public uproar this session. Each proposed bill was an attempt to limit public involvement in the voting and legislative process. The failed gerrymandering legislation would have changed the constitution to partisan redistricting instead of the current balanced committee. The most restrictive voter and initiative process in the nation, SB1159 and HB296 stopped grassroots citizen participation, handed it to wealthy corporate lobbyists, and was probably unconstitutional. Thankfully, Governor Little vetoed both bills. Yet the following Monday after Governor Little vetoed the initiative bills, the House introduced four new ballot initiative bills, which were identical versions of the two vetoed bills, simply split into four pieces of legislation. This action is a total disregard for proper legislative process and is against the will of the people. 

Proposition 2 was approved by the voters, through the initiative process, by 61.1%. The Legislature apparently will not listen to the majority Idahoans. Several bills were brought forward this session to repeal or severely handicap Medicaid Expansion, but only one was successful, SB 1204aaS,aaH, which shows the intensity of debate in both houses. This bill will require co-pays that potentially kick users off for not paying, create work requirements similar to those associated with food stamps, place some participants in managed care, allow options for some individuals to stay on the exchange, and will cost the state nearly $42 million. Governor Little sign it into law even though he said the work requirements will result in costly lawsuits and be struck down in federal courts. 

There were several attempts to threaten our public lands. HB162 aimed to create a council on federal lands that would have been powerful, added an extra layer of government and would have wasted taxpayers' dollars. Thankfully, the bill died in the Senate. However, HB169aaS passed and will create a committee on federalism to look at all joint state and federal programs including public lands. HJM 8 will reclassify certain areas of federal wilderness. HJM 5, which called on Congress to pass a law asking for federal lands to be sold in the same county when the government buys private land, also died. HCR 12 authorized for a Natural Resources Interim Committee which will likely take up the state water plan this year. HJM 4, concerning the raising of Anderson Ranch Dam and SB1056aaS, regarding negotiations with water users, both passed. 

We sponsored a bill, SB1178aaS, this session to prohibit exploding targets on state lands during the designated fire season, classify the crime as a misdemeanor and grant the judge discretion for sentencing terms, including community service. In 2018, eight fires that burned hundreds of thousands of acres and cost the states millions of dollars. The Sharp's fire in Blaine County burned 65,000 acres and cost $9.5 million. This legislation was crafted with the Idaho Department of Lands, the Idaho Sherriff's Association, the Office of Emergency of Management, the timber industry, and Idaho Courts. Unfortunately, the bill died by two votes on the House floor. 

The Department of Transportation currently receives five times as much funding as Education. Yet, the Legislature debated various bills that would take money away from the General Fund to fund transportation projects. SB1201SB1126aaHHB88aaS, and HB107aaS would take money away that would usually go towards funding healthcare, education, and the other 100 budgets that rely on dedicated revenues to keep their programs stable and secure and which provide vital services to our citizens. Three of them failed. 

We're thankful and impressed with the level of engagement and participation by you and encourage everyone to continue to stay involved, it's the best way to keep our government accountable and doing its job.

 

Idahoans Know What They Want The Legislature Just Won't Listen!

Michelle Stennett

“When even one American - who has done nothing wrong - is forced by fear to shut his mind and close his mouth - then all Americans are in peril” – Harry Truman

 

Medicaid Work Requirements

House Health and Welfare introduced HB249 on Friday to create work requirements for Medicaid Expansion recipients. The Lincoln Auditorium was packed, and people came from all over the state to testify against the bill. HB249 would create work requirements for recipients in the gap population. Studies have shown that work requirements are quite costly when it comes to administrative fees and many people who would be affected by this are already employed. Idaho would also have to pay for all the costs associated with work requirements including tracking compliance, providing job training programs, and providing other work support services such as transportation or child care assistance. After hours of testimony, the bill was held in committee and a vote did not take place.

The Legislature Retaliates Against Voters

The Senate State Affairs Committee voted to introduce SB1159 which would make voter initiatives and referendums more difficult. This is not the first time the Legislature has tried to suppress voters when it comes to referendums and initiatives. After the Luna laws were overturned in 2013, a law passed that shortened the time frame for gathering signatures and required signatures from at least 6 percent of registered voters and 18 out 35 districts in 18 months. Now, the Legislature wants to stop the passage of initiatives such as Proposition 2/ Medicaid Expansion. The new bill would expand these conditions and require signatures from 10 percent of registered voters in 32 of the 35 legislative districts in 180 days. This is over 60 percent less time to gather signatures and nearly double as many legislative districts. In addition, counties will also be required to spend additional time and expense to verify signatures and temporarily hire help, without additional resources. This is clearly an act of retaliation and retribution against the voters of Idaho. The bill will be before the Senate State Affairs Committee at 8am. Anyone can contact the Committee, email, call their Legislators, or testify.

Marsy’s Law

A new version of Marsy’s Law was sent to the Senate Floor this week, but it failed by one vote. SJR 102 needed a two-thirds majority because it would have amended the Idaho Constitution.  The Resolution attempted to change the notification to victims about a defendant's hearing, release, or escape and give them more opportunities to be heard throughout the process. Existing law already requires notification of appellate court hearings, releases, and other communications, but unfortunately, victims say they are not being provided this information. This Joint Memorial did not require the government to provide legal counsel to the crime victim and does not guarantee that adequate resources will be provided for victim representation. The Joint Memorial will likely be changed and will come back next session.

Eviction Notices

The House killed HB 138 on Monday that would have streamlined all evictions into a process that would have to take less than a month no matter the reason for eviction. Currently, landlords must file two separate suites in court to evict a tenant, one to return the property to the landlord and another for monetary damages. If a renter is behind on rent or is in possession of illegal drugs, landlords can evict renters within less than a month. Other lease violations such as noise complaints or property damage, take longer to move through the courts, but this bill would have put all evictions, no matter the cause through the same process. The bill would have also added protections for renters in properties where landlords have not completed repairs and allowed victims of domestic violence to more easily break a lease. This could have protected some renters, but ultimately would have created unintended consequences for certain groups, such as low-income individuals.  

Exploding Targets

This week in Senate State Affairs, I introduced SB 1178 prohibiting the use of exploding targets during the designated fire season – May to October. Exploding targets refer to any device used as a target, consisting of flammable substance or substances capable of exploding when struck. The bill would make Idaho law on state lands consistent with federal land laws. It classifies the crime as a misdemeanor and reiterates a judge’s discretion for sentencing terms and cost recovery, such as community service to help repair damages in the affected areas. A negligent person who causes a fire is still liable for costs incurred by the state in controlling or extinguishing the fire.  This legislation does not apply to private property or any public or private shooting range that has a permit or governmental approval. Arson is already covered under Idaho Code as a felony.

Allowing for a Balanced Life

Michelle Stennett

                                                                         March 1, 2019

 

"But if you can create an honorable livelihood, where you take your skills and use them and you earn a living from it, it gives you a sense of freedom and allows you to balance your life the way you want." - Anita Roddick

 

 

Medicaid Expansion

The Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee voted unanimously to fund Medicaid expansion this week. The appropriations bill only funds a clean Medicaid expansion and is a huge step towards implementing the voter-approved initiative. It will now need to be passed by the House and the Senate. Currently, the Legislature has not introduced any new bills that would add any sideboards that should be approved and funded separately. There are some rumblings about a bill that would require Medicaid expansion recipients to meet employment requirements similar to those for the state's food assistance program.

 

 

Minimum Teacher Salary Bill

The House overwhelmingly voted in favor of HB 153, which would increase teacher pay up to $40,000 over the next two years. To date, Idaho struggles to have enough qualified teachers for our school districts and there is a decreasing number of students going through our teaching programs. This legislation is aimed at remedying this shortage and would make a huge difference for teachers just starting out. The bill would set minimum salaries, but districts and charters would continue to negotiate and set salaries at the local level.

 

 

Mandatory Minimums

The House Judiciary Committee voted on Wednesday 13-4 to send HB 99 to the House floor. The purpose of the bill is to ease some mandatory minimum drug sentences. Since 1992, Idaho has assigned mandatory minimum prison terms for drug trafficking, characterized by the possession of certain amounts of specific drugs. The bill does not repeal suggested minimum sentences or decriminalize drugs. Rather, it would get rid of the word "mandatory" and would give judges some discretion in sentencing terms. This means instead of sentencing someone who is 24 years of age and struggling with drug addiction to a decade in prison, judges would be able to sentence drug offenders on a case by case basis and consider rehabilitation.

 

 

Campaign Finance

The Senate passed SB1113 earlier this week aimed at bringing more transparency, openness, sunshine, and confidence into elections in Idaho, including local ones. If the bill becomes law, it puts all campaign finance reporting, from all levels of government into a central, searchable database maintained by Idaho's Secretary of State. Local campaigns would now have to report only once they've raised or spent $500. Other reforms include immediate fines of $50 per day for those who don't submit reports on time and more frequent reporting, with monthly reports required for the four months before a primary or general election. I cautioned in committee that this new system should allow local governments time to transition before giving out immediate fines.

 

 

Public Lands

This week three bills were introduced that threaten public lands. HJM 5, calls on Congress to pass a law asking for federal lands to be sold in the same county when the government buys private land. The idea is to keep rural counties' private property tax bases similarly sized. HJM 8, calls on Congress to release certain wilderness study areas back to the multiple-use wilderness. In 1991, federal officials deemed a little more than 825,000 acres of wilderness study areas in Idaho were not suitable for designated wilderness areas and about 540,00 acres are still classified as wilderness study. Wilderness study refers to federal land that remains untouched and undeveloped, without permanent improvements or human habitation.

 

 

HB 162 would create a legislative council on federal land issues. The Council would "monitor and review" economic, legal, and jurisdictional issues regarding federal lands and their management. However, these issues are already worked on by the multiple state agencies including the Governor's office, Idaho Land Board, Office of Species Conservation, Department of Transportation, the Attorney General, IDFG Commission, Tax Commission, Interim Committee on Natural Resources, Economic Advisory Council of the Department of Commerce, and the Department of Environmental Quality. The Council would be redundant, add an extra layer of government, not have any real power, and would also waste taxpayers' dollars.

 

A huge thank you to everyone that showed up to our town halls last weekend. Attendance was fantastic and we were happy to see so many people engaged! 

Protecting Our Most Vulnerable

Michelle Stennett

                                                                         February 23, 2019

 

"Stay true to yourself, yet always be open to learn. Work hard, and never give up on your dreams, even when nobody else believes they can come true but you." - Phillip Sweet

 

Medicaid Expansion

This week at the Idaho Press Club, Governor Little confirmed he won't let the Legislature adjourn this year without funding Medicaid Expansion. Little also shared that he is more concerned about "how expanded Medicaid fits into the whole metrics of how we provide health care", rather than adding sideboards such as work requirements. The Legislature also rejected two proposed bills this week which would have overturned voters and repealed Medicaid Expansion. Representative Muffy Davis was instrumental in helping to block the bills from a full introduction in House Health and Welfare. The voters knew what they were voting for and it is now the job of the Legislature to implement Medicaid expansion as the voters passed it.

 

Suicide Prevention

This week Senate unanimously passed a joint memorial  calling for Idaho's congressional delegation and other U.S. leaders to support a 611 designation to the national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline. The joint memorial will hopefully create easier access to help for those in crisis and will lower the high suicide rate in Idaho, especially among our youth. In 2016,Idaho had the eighth-highest suicide rate in the country and 57% higher than the national average. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for Idahoans age 15-34 and 21.7% of Idaho youth reported seriously considering suicide in 2017.

 

Maternal Mortality Review Board

The House Health and Welfare Committee heard from the Idaho Medical Association this week on the alarming rise of maternal deaths during childbirth, with 27.1 deaths per 100,000 live births. Idaho is currently one of 7 states without a maternal mortality review board and the state's rate of mothers dying while giving birth is above the national average. HB109 would create a committee of 12 to 15 members including doctors and other medical professionals for the purposes of gathering data and medical records on maternal deaths, providing education, and improving performance. The committee sent the bill to the House floor.

 

Marsy's Law

After a long and emotional debate, the Senate passed Marsy's Law, a proposed constitutional amendment on victims' rights. Since the bill is a constitutional amendment, it requires a two-thirds majority in both the Senate and House and will need to be approved by voters. It passed the Senate with over 70% (25-9) voting in favor of it. This may bring added protection for crime victims. However, we currently provide minimal victims' services and we must improve how we inform them of their rights. Otherwise, we continue to abandon them by not enforcing the laws.

Hand-Held Cell Phone Use

The Senate killed SB1064 this week aimed at banning the use of any handheld mobile devices statewide, except for emergencies and first responders carrying out their duties. It narrowly failed 18-15. However, a new poll shows by huge majorities, Idahoans want the Legislature to enact a statewide ban of cell phone use while driving. Local Governments (Ketchum, Hailey, Idaho Falls, and Pocatello) have already passed hands-free ordinances.

 


 

Safety First!

Michelle Stennett

                                                                         February 16, 2019

 

"Safety is a common denominator across all aspects of life, hence knowledge should always be shared."

Doug Bourne

 

Opioid Overdose Prevention

Idaho is currently on track to have the broadest naloxone-access (Naloxone is the drug used to treat drug overdoses) law in the nation. Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin and pain relievers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, and others. This week Governor Little signed HB 12 into law, making the opioid-overdose drug available from any licensed or registered health care professionals to be given in the event of an overdose. Currently, Idaho and the rest of the United States had been plagued by the opioid crisis. This new law will be instrumental in prevention and will save thousands of lives.

 

Hand Held Cell Phone Ban

Currently, law only prohibits texting while driving andSB1064would ban the use of any handheld devices statewide, with the exception of emergencies and first responders carrying out their duties. Fines set for a violation is $50, $100, $200 for first, second, or third offenses plus the possibility of a license suspension up to 90 days. This bill would override existing local bans already in place in cities such as Hailey, Ketchum, Pocatello, and Idaho Falls. Earlier this session, a bill was introduced to ban cities from restricting drivers from talking on handheld devices while driving, but the bill was rejected unanimously by the House Local Government Committee.

 

Supporting Our First Responders

The Senate overwhelmingly passedSB1028 this week to extend workers' compensation coverage to our state's first responders who suffer from traumatic and serious work-related psychological injuries. To date, if a police officer, firefighter, paramedic, or other first responder needs psychological treatment, workers' compensation only covers it if psychological injury is accompanied by a physical one. Thank you to all the brave men and women across Idaho who serve as our first responders.

 

Liquor Licenses

SB1040 would get rid of the state's current quota system for issuing liquor licenses based on population and instead delegates power to local cities and governments to issue licenses that could be distributed anywhere in the state. This proposed legislation would apply only to sit-down or hotel restaurants. The current system either forces entrepreneurs to wait years for a $750 state-issued liquor license or spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy a license on the secondary market. While I believe the current law is outdated and costly, the new law would negatively impact existing license holders. I voted to hold the bill in committee, along with most of my colleagues, in order to create a better piece of legislation. The sponsor of the bill, Senator Rice (R-Caldwell) plans to add amendments and bring it back to committee next week.

 

Budget Increases

This week the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee began prepping to set budgets for Fiscal Year 2020. Most notably the committee voted to increase revenue for the state budget by 7 percent. Originally the Economic Outlook Committee requested a 5.7 percent increase and the governor requested an 8 percent increase. An increase of 7 percent will allow JFAC to fund programs such as Medicaid Expansion and the governor's Literacy Proficiency program.

Gerrymandering! Will the Legislature again question the will of the voters?

Michelle Stennett

 February 9, 2019


"Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity. The greatest problem with communication is we don't listen to understand. We listen to reply." - Roy T. Bennett,The Light in the Heart

Things are heating up. In the last two days, the Capitol saw hundreds of visitors who participated and gave testimonies about the Education Funding Formula, Medicaid Expansion, gerrymandering, first responders, and the challenges of those with developmental disabilities.

Gerrymandering

HJR2 rushed through committee and encourages gerrymandering in Idaho. The Joint Memorial, which passed the committee, would add a seventh member to the commission that draws Congressional and legislative district lines. Currently, districts are drawn by the independent, bipartisan Citizen's Redistricting (Reapportionment) Committee composed of three Democrats and three Republicans to encourage balanced representation and who must follow guidelines defined in law. Adding a seventh member would go against this voter passed initiative, ensure a Republican controlled commission, and create even more partisan divide.
 Medicaid Expansion Holds Up in Court

On Tuesday, the Idaho Supreme Court rejected the Idaho Freedom Foundation's claim that the voter-passed Medicaid Expansion initiative is unconstitutional, finding their arguments "without merit." The court's ruling paves the way for the Legislature to implement and fund the initiative, which passed with 60.6 percent of the vote. The Legislature also had a joint listening session with both the House and Senate Health and Welfare Committees this week. Over a hundred people attended the Medicaid Expansion hearing where only one person was opposed. I hope the committee will take all the personal stories of struggle and testimony into account and take action. Medicaid Expansion is the law.

Prisons

Instead of seeking funding for a brand new $500 million prison, Governor Little is calling for adding a minimum-security prison, more work-release beds, and better supervision of offenders in Idaho communities. The new Idaho Department of Corrections Director, Josh Tewalt, spoke to the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee this week and said, "Three-quarters of the people coming into our prison system are people we have failed before." Both the Governor and Director Tewalt have come to the realization that more beds are not the answer to Idaho's high incarceration rates and instead we should be focusing on rehabilitation.
Marsy's Law

Since 1994, Idaho has defined victim's rights in the constitution and in statute (19-5306). SJR101, Marsy's Law, requires a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate and seeks to amend the Idaho Constitution. The Resolution attempts to change the notification to victims about a defendant's hearing, release, or escape and give them more opportunities to be heard throughout the process.
Existing law already requires notification of appellate court hearings, releases, and other communications but, unfortunately victims say they are not being provided this information. According to the Boise State University survey, Crime Victims in Idaho: An Assessment of Needs and Services, "Idaho appears to be the only state in country that does not specifically appropriate money in its budget for direct services to crime victims." This Joint Memorial does not require the government to provide legal counsel to the crime victim and does not guarantee that adequate resources will be provided for victim representation. I would have preferred this change had been proposed in statute first to iron out the flaws before putting it in the Constitution, but agreed to pass it out of committee to the Senate floor.

 Town Hall Schedule

Friday, February 22, 2019:Ketchum City Hall, 6:00pm
Saturday, February 23, 2019:Hailey, Croy Street Exchange (16 West Croy Street), 8:00amShoshone Community Center, 10:30amGooding, Zeppe's Restaurant, 12:30pmHagerman City Hall, 3:30pm

As always, it is a pleasure to represent our district in the Idaho State Senate. I appreciate your continued input and comments as we deliberate legislation.

Holding State Government Accountable

Michelle Stennett

February 2, 2019

"There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them." -Denis Waitley

Supreme Court Hearing on Medicaid Expansion

This week, I had the opportunity to attend the Regan v. Denney Idaho Supreme Court hearing; the Idaho Freedom Foundation is challenging the Secretary of State over the voter-approved Medicaid Expansion initiative. Citing federal law, the Freedom Foundation is claiming Medicaid Expansion is unconstitutional and it delegates legislative authority to Idaho's Department of Health and Welfare. Their lawyer argued that Idaho is put into a vicarious position by opting into expanding Medicaid without accounting for any possible federal changes that could occur without Idaho's consent. However, Idaho can always opt out of federal programs and changes, as we did when Medicaid was originally expanded. Idaho's Deputy Attorney General argued, citing process, "Based on the plain reading...There is simply no delegation to the Federal Government." Currently, the legislature is awaiting the Supreme Court's decision to proceed with funding mechanisms.

Medicaid Expansion Cost Offsets

A recent budget analysis shows Medicaid Expansion will create cost offsets of about $40.3 million throughout the state. Cost offsets are defined as appropriations that can be removed from their current agency budgets and applied to the Medicaid Expansion because the program takes over some of their services. Most notably, the Department of Health and Welfare, the Department of Corrections, the State Catastrophic Health Care Program, and Idaho counties with indigent funds would see cost offsets transferred. However, if the Legislature decides to add any extra hurdles, such as work requirements, the state would be responsible for all the financial burdens associated with it and the Federal Center for Medicaid Services would need to approve it through a waiver. The money to fund a clean Medicaid Expansion is in the budget, the Legislature just needs to act.

Red Tape Reduction Act

This week Governor Little signed an executive order aimed at reducing state regulatory burdens for Idaho citizens and businesses. Executive Order 2019-02, the "Red Tape Reduction Act," requires that state agencies, which have the authority to issue administrative rules, must submit, "A business/competitiveness impact statement that identifies the impact the proposed rule will have on individuals and small businesses; and at least two existing rules to be repealed or significantly simplified, or a statement clearly and thoroughly stating why existing rules cannot be simplified or eliminated." We must be careful not to repeal any necessary rules in our efforts to hold our state government accountable.

New Education Funding Formula

This Thursday, February 7th, the Legislature will be having a joint Education Committee listening session regarding the new education funding formula. All are invited to attend and listen or voice their views for or against the new funding formula. Portions of the draft formula categories create winners and losers among the school districts and are not well defined. Rather than rushing, we must take all the necessary time with stakeholders to create a funding formula that follows the Idaho Constitution requiring the state to provide a fair and equal education system for everyone.

Survey Says!... What Idahoans Think

Michelle Stennett

        January 26, 2019

"As a leader, you have to have the ability to assimilate new information and understand that there might be a different view"- Madeleine Albright

Neat Findings in the Public Policy Survey

For the fourth year in a row, Boise State University's School of Public Service has performed a Public Policy Survey for the State of Idaho. The general takeaway is that Idaho is moving in the right direction - overall 59.5% of respondents are feeling good about it. Currently, the top 10 issues facing Idaho in order of importance are education, the economy, healthcare, growth, transportation, the environment, taxes, immigration, affordable housing, and crime.


Respondents were asked about K-12 public schools, early childhood learning, and student preparedness. Idahoans are in favor of early childhood education, with 60.7% supporting it. Even when asked if they would be willing to raise taxes, 54.2% of respondents are still supportive. When asked about giving local school districts the opportunity to fund programs which target reading proficiency, more than three-quarters of respondents agreed. Soberingly, 60.7% polled less than positive views about how schools are preparing students for education beyond high school.


In order to provide additional revenue streams for local governments, 62% favor giving every city in Idaho the ability to vote on a local option tax. Considering energy and the environment, 68% of Idahoans are in favor of the state transitioning to renewable energy by 2050. 55% are in favor of transitioning to renewable energy by 2050 even if it means an increase in power bills. Another topic in the survey that the Legislature will be discussing this year is criminal justice. 71% of Idahoans believe judges should be given minimum and maximum limits on sentencing. 86% of people believe that criminals can change their behavior through rehabilitation efforts. Overall, I am pleased to see most Idahoans feel the state is moving in the right direction, but they agree there is additional work to be done like addressing healthcare. 

Medicaid Expansion

With 61% of the vote, Idaho passed Proposition 2 with higher support levels than any other state in history for a Medicaid ballot initiative. Recently, Close the Gap gave a presentation about implementing the new Medicaid Expansion law and some of the statistics were eye-opening. In 2022, there will be a net savings of $37.7 million at the county and state levels. The economic benefits are even more. In 2020, there will be $20.7 million boost in state and local tax revenue, 5,000 new jobs will be created, and by 2030, there will be a cumulative boost of $8.4 billion. The report also highlighted that rural hospitals are six times more likely to close their doors in states that have not expanded Medicaid and currently 19 out of 27 Idaho critical access rural hospitals are operating at negative margins, putting them at risk. The Legislature must take responsibility to fund and implement this expansion so individuals can gain coverage starting January 1, 2020 and Idahoans can begin to see the positive economic benefits.


For FY2020, Governor Brad Little requested a 17% increase in Medicaid spending from the General Fund and $10.7 million pulled from the Millennium Fund for Medicaid Expansion. The Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee is currently deliberating this proposal.

Funding Public Education

Many in the education community feel the way Idaho funds public schools is overly complex, confusing, and does not direct funding to the students or schools that need it most. Currently, schools are funded based on average daily attendance. The new funding formula would be based on overall enrollment. The goal of the new formula is to help all students, regardless of where they attend school, to reach their educational potential. The formula starts by providing a base amount of funding per student. Every public-school student would be funded at least to this level by the state. Then additional funding would be provided based on student, school, and district needs. It is recommended that any new formula will not begin until the 2020-2021 school year, providing a comprehensive formula is agreed upon by the legislature this session.

Town Hall Schedule

Friday, February 22, 2019:

Ketchum City Hall, 6:00pm

Saturday, February 23, 2019:

Hailey, Croy Street Exchange (16 West Croy Street), 8:00am

Shoshone Community Center, 10:30am

Gooding, Zeppe's Restaurant, 12:30pm

Hagerman City Hall, 3:30pm

How Idaho Stacks Up

Michelle Stennett

January 19, 2019

"When one person's livelihood changes, it can impact an entire family, then a whole community. "

Tae Yoo

Government Shutdown

As we enter day 29 of the partial government shutdown, you may be wondering if this affects you. While, yes, the partial government shutdown has affected our national parks and government offices such as the Federal Forest Service, the shutdown has also impacted over 6,000 Idahoans directly. Idaho is a small state and 6,000 out of 800,000 federal workers, who are currently affected by the shutdown, is significant. It is equivalent to the workforce of Chobani and the Idaho National Laboratory combined. As of last Friday, some of these Idahoans have not received a paycheck and some of those have been working with no pay. For many Idahoans, not receiving a paycheck just once can force some to make difficult decisions between paying their mortgage or putting food on the table, making their car payment or paying for healthcare costs. More than one missed paycheck almost guarantees that Idahoans will have to take out loans, miss a rent payment, or postpone long term financial decisions such as buying a house or retiring. For the first time ever, thousands of federal employees are having to turn to programs such as, food banks, to feed their families. This government shutdown has and will ruin people's credit, bank accounts, small businesses, families, and their lives. Beyond directly affecting federal employees, the shutdown impacts our most vulnerable populations.

Individuals who rely on food assistance programs such as SNAP will receive payment on January 20th, but it is unclear if this will be their last payment for weeks or months if the government continues to be shut down. Idahoans who belong to tribes will not receive payment for medical care, low-income seniors will stop receiving boxes of food from the Department of Agriculture, Section 8 Housing vouchers will expire leaving some homeless in March, and the list goes on. Americans deserve to get back to their lives without strenuous financial concerns.

Workforce Development Council

On the topics of societal well-being and Idaho's workforce, we are focused on improving the need for skilled workers for industry in Idaho. Last week, the Workforce Development Council met to discuss some of the barriers Idaho's workforce faces and revealed some shocking statistics. The Idaho Department of Labor presented statistics on how Idaho's low wages do not keep up with rising housing costs. The exit of young adults out of state for opportunities has created a skilled workforce deficit in key growth industries. With Idaho's fast growth, the state must prioritize infrastructures such as roads, bridges, sewage, electric, healthcare, and broadband systems.

Areas of Growth

According to the Idaho Department of Labor, the industries with the most growth in 2018 were Natural Resources, Professional and Business Services, and Manufacturing. A notable industry in decline is Leisure and Hospitality which impacts our tourism economy. The Department also noted that by 2020 there will be an increase of 27,300 jobs, with 5,000 of those being in the healthcare sector.

Wages

Currently, Idaho ranks 44th in the nation for wages with a median wage of $33,250, dropping 3 places in one year. Additionally, Idaho has the lowest wages when compared to all our surrounding states. By comparison, Montana's median wage increased by $1,090 raising its ranking by 42nd to 39th. If Idaho wants to attract and keep our best and brightest, we must increase wages in order to stay competitive.

Housing

Perhaps the biggest challenge for Idaho's labor market is escalating home prices and rents, compounded by a lack of inventory. The median home value in the state is $246,200. Therefore, wages are not keeping pace with housing prices. For example, 47 percent of people are spending more than a third of their monthly income on rent. Currently, the ratio of wages to rent costs is worse in Ada county than in San Francisco.

Population Growth

In 2017 alone, over 75,000 people migrated to Idaho from surrounding states. Over the past decade, the vast majority of this in-migration are retirees over the age of 65. Not only are these people not contributing to our workforce, but they are putting a strain on our healthcare system and county services. Idaho needs to plan for substantial growth that places pressure on infrastructure needs.

As always, it is a pleasure to represent our district in the Idaho State Senate. I appreciate your continued input and comments as we deliberate legislation.

State of the State and Oops! You May Have a Tax Bill

Michelle Stennett

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." -

Pope Francis

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.

Economy

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.  

Education

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.

Medicaid Expansion

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.

Corrections

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. 

2018 END OF LEGISLATIVE SESSION

Michelle Stennett

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:

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2018 LEGISLATIVE NEWS, WEEK 10, MAR 9-13

Michelle Stennett

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.

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2018 Legislative News, Week 8, Feb 26-Mar 2

Michelle Stennett

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.

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2018 Legislative News, Week 7, Feb 19-23

Michelle Stennett

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:

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2018 Legislative News, Week 6, Feb 12-16

Michelle Stennett

Town Hall Recap – Education, Jobs, and Quality of Life

Education

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.

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2018 Legislative News, Week 5, Feb 5-9

Michelle Stennett

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

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2018 Legislative News, Week 4, Jan 29-Feb2

Michelle Stennett

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:

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2018 Legislative News, Week 3, January 19-23

Michelle Stennett

Honoring Women

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.

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2018 Legislative News, Week 2, Jan 15-19

Michelle Stennett

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.

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