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.
I served on the Workforce Development Task Force this past year, where we built recommendations to improve funding to meet the need for skilled workers in the state of Idaho. 24,000 Idahoans are unemployed now, and we will require 49,000 more skilled workers by 2024.
After examining best practices in other states and Idaho’s current system, we formulated a set of priority areas to meet our needs. These include, but are not limited to: investing in post-secondary technical schools, incentive funding for high school technical programs, expanding career technical education (CTE), and advancing industry/education partnerships.
After these recommendations were delivered to the Governor, he appointed 36 members (including me) to a newly created Workforce Development Council. This week we had our first meeting, where we discussed the current state of labor and education in Idaho, and what steps forward we should examine to continue improving our skilled workforce. Notably, we discussed adult completer programs and earlier intervention with students in terms of getting them thinking about their career paths. Instead of beginning career counseling in 9th grade, we’ll move it to 7th grade to assist their preparation of the required self-formulated 8th grade career plan, additionally requiring workforce readiness assessments throughout secondary curriculum.
Again refusing to expand Medicaid in Idaho, which would cover the 78,000 Idahoans who live in the coverage gap, Governor Otter instead signed an executive order for a limited healthcare plan that provides less coverage, does not lower insurance rates, does not lower healthcare costs, and covers less than half the gap population. Additionally, his plan would require the unlikely grant of two waivers from the federal government. Therefore, Senator Maryanne Jordan (D-Boise) has a bill to expand Medicaid that will serve all who are in the coverage gap.
The Governor has proposed an unemployment insurance tax cut for the second year in a row. This bill (H335) cuts the divisor that determines base rates from 1.5 to 1.3. All told, it will save employers about $115 million over the next three years and has wide, bipartisan support. I am eager to support this tax cut because the revenues generated by this tax are dedicated to a fund that already shows an adequate balance to pay benefits during the next recession. It’s nice to be able to responsibly put more money back in Idahoans’ pockets.
We know that education must be a priority for Idahoans to realize and achieve job opportunities. I support the Higher Ed Task Force recommendations. These include $42 Million to continue moving us toward full funding of the teacher career ladder, professional development and mentoring for teachers, intensified Kindergarten through third grade literacy programs, “student mastery” programs that allow students to move through curriculum at the pace that is appropriate for them, additional counselors to focus on student career training and education beyond high school, and continued support for dual credit programs that allow high school students to earn college credits free of charge. We can prepare young Idahoans for the jobs of the future only by full investing in our public schools and making post-high school education more affordable for Idaho’s working families. Senator Janie Ward-Engelking (D-Boise) is working on legislation to help make these recommendations a reality and I will be cosponsoring the bills.
It is my great pleasure to represent you in the Idaho State Senate. As always, if you need anything you can contact me at email@example.com, or (208) 332-1353.