The Idaho Legislature adjourned sine die on April 4, 2013. In my first newsletter back in January, I highlighted three big issues that were expected to dominate the session: repeal of the business personal property tax, Idaho's compliance with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (health insurance exchange and/or Medicaid expansion) and education funding following the repeal of Propositions 1, 2, 3. Let's review how each of these issues ultimately played out before reviewing other notable legislation addressed this session.
Governor Otter and the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry made total repeal of the personal property tax on business equipment a major priority for 2013. Total repeal would have harmed local communities reliant on the $141 million in revenue and shifted that taxing burden to homeowners. The Idaho Association of Counties put forth a compromise bill, HO315, which passed both chambers with near unanimity. This legislation exempts the first $100,000 on business personal property and operating property from taxation and creates a new exemption on tangible personal property purchased on or after January 1, 2013 at a cost not exceeding $3,000. This law will effectively eliminate personal property tax for up to 90% of Idaho's businesses and replacement funding, estimated at $20 million, will be replenished with state funds leaving local governments and homeowners harmless.
The 2013 session began with the clear understanding that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was the law of the land and the state needed to comply with certain provisions or defer to the federal government. Idaho chose to establish a state-based, non-profit exchange which is a free-market solution to assist individuals and small businesses in the purchase of insurance. HO248 created the Idaho Health Insurance Exchange Board, an independent board not funded with taxpayer dollars and which leaves participation by consumers and insurers on a voluntary basis.
Sadly, the political capital expended by Republicans on the exchange sapped their ability to expand Medicaid to the 105,000 Idahoans who would qualify for coverage based on revised income thresholds. According to the consulting group reporting to Governor Otter's Medicaid Expansion Workgroup (which recommended immediate expansion), extending Medicaid to those at or below 138% of poverty would save the state and Idaho counties $9.8 million over ten years. Furthermore, expansion would virtually eliminate the need for the state's Catastrophic Health Care (CAT) fund, the least cost-effective system for covering Idaho's working poor.
Voters overwhelmingly repealed Propositions 1, 2, 3 in the November elections. Because the so-called "Luna Laws" had emergency clauses, the laws went into effect upon passage in 2011. As a result, there were many areas of Idaho statute that had to be re-crafted and education funding considerations were paramount. The 2014 K-12 education budget was increased 2.2% and the $1.3 billion appropriation, which had the support of all major education stakeholders, passed overwhelming after some procedural disputes were resolved. There is more to be done to restore education funding and teacher morale and we anticipate peer-reviewed guidance from the education study groups scheduled to report back to the governor and the legislature by 2014.
There were other successes this year coupled with some missed opportunities. Starting the session with mandatory ethics training for all legislators was a welcome step in the right direction. While this fell short of the fully independent ethics commission we believe Idahoans deserve (and which we will continue to pursue), Pro Tem Brent Hill and Speaker Scott Bedke must be commended for establishing clear expectations about lawmaker conduct. In fact, the leadership displayed by both parties in both houses created a cooperative environment that fostered collaboration, compromise and the passage of legislation that will benefit Idahoans across-the-board.
Idaho's Democratic legislators promoted a slate of bills intended to strengthen the fundamental right of citizens to participate in voting. Sadly, each of these measures withered while SB1108, which unduly restricts the initiative/referendum process, was signed into law. We will continue to push all options that enhance the public's role in representative government.
Idaho ranks 49th in active physicians per capita and this problem is magnified in rural regions and as more doctors reach retirement. As such, I applaud the passage of SB1183 which funds five additional medical school seats for Idaho through the WWAMI program. WWAMI is a collaborative medical school at the University of Washington which provides publicly supported medical education across a five-state region including Idaho. The WWAMI program encourages doctors to stay in Idaho which enriches the social and economic well-being of our rural communities.
There were several issues specific to District 26 that nicely illustrate representative, responsive government. In January, a constituent brought to my attention a hole in real estate law where common practice deviated from outdated statute and by March 29th, SB1111 was signed into law. I was the floor sponsor on SB1156 which helped a local irrigation district divide into two and codified the process for other districts to use in the future. SB1151 allows courts to reduce felony convictions to misdemeanors and amend judgments in controlled circumstances. 1151 is a step in the right direction but we will need to address the expungement of records pertaining to certain juvenile misdemeanors next year to fully meet the concerns of the constituent.
As an alternate delegate to the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region (PNWER), I was made aware of their workforce development program designed to encourage Idahoans to apply for work in the oil sands of Western Canada. There are approximately 100,000 high-paying job opportunities for welders, heavy equipment operators and iron/construction workers. For more information on temporary worker visa requirements, veteran hiring incentives, etc., contact Mike Wo - firstname.lastname@example.org.
With my first legislative session as Minority Leader concluding, I want to express how honored and pleased I was to work with such high-caliber professionals. Everyone from my fellow senators to the staff and interns helped create a supportive and collaborative environment that enabled us to optimize the role of the minority and enjoy more successes than seemed possible in January. And since we understand that the questions, concerns, needs and legislative ideas of District 26 residents don't end with the legislative session, please feel free to reach out to the Senate Minority Chief of Staff throughout the year for assistance (208-332-1351 or email@example.com).
Above all, I am honored and pleased to serve the good people of District 26 in the Idaho Statehouse.