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. SB1201, SB1126aaH, HB88aaS, 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.