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. Idaho is the fastest growing state in the nation and has seen 17,000 new students in the last five years with about 400 less teachers to work with them. Additionally, 15% of our first-year teachers do not return for a second year, which causes problems for both students and school districts alike. Rep. Toone’s rural teacher loan forgiveness bill is a great incentive to help retain our badly needed educators. The Idaho School Board has also requested funding for the 4th year of the teacher career ladder.
We also discussed workforce development and the importance of funding our postsecondary institutions to increase career technical education (CTE) opportunities. Expanding CTE programs for secondary and postsecondary education is critical for the future successes of Idaho’s workforce. To do this, the State Board of Education is asking for investments in expanded agriculture, engineering and technology, family and consumer services, health professions, and skilled and technical science programs. The board also wants to expand programs at six technical colleges. These investments would accommodate 248 additional students and cut down long waiting lists for kids and adults who want to gain the tools for success.
Healthcare & Taxes
Healthcare remains an important issue for so many Idahoans. The proposed Idaho Health Care Plan would potentially cover a fraction of those in the coverage gap, and is dependent upon two waivers to be granted by the federal government. The bill has passed out of the House Health and Welfare Committee, and will sit on the House reading calendar for two weeks before a vote is taken.
In a narrow 36-32 vote, the House voted to restore Medicaid dental benefits that had been cut during the recession. This bill provides preventive dental care to Medicaid-eligible Idahoans. For the past several years, many Idahoans’ minor dental problems have been left to escalate into full-fledged dental emergencies with no treatment options. This leads to the prescription of opioids to dull pain and large emergency room bills. We learned this week that the Catastrophic Health Care (CAT) fund, which reimburses hospitals for emergency room care, has nearly doubled. This common-sense restoration of dental should help to ease that burden.
The tax conformity and income tax cut bill sponsored by Representative Moyle (R-Star) has already passed the full House, but has yet to be heard in the Senate. As a reminder, this bill works to bring Idaho into conformity with the federal tax structure, but also proves harmful to single mothers with children and married families with three or more children.
This week in Senate State Affairs we voted to keep SB1255 in committee, essentially halting its progress for the session. This bill states that tobacco use is a known health hazard and proposes raising the legal age for tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, from 18 to 21, in line with Idaho’s laws on alcohol. Schools already prohibit tobacco use in our schools, but cigarettes and electronic cigarettes remain prevalent. I understand the health issues of smoking, as I do for obesity, heart disease, stress, and many diseases in today’s society, but the penalty for violation in SB1255 by any person under the age of 21 is punishable by up to 30 days in prison and a $300 fine. This means a 12-year-old could potentially be charged with a misdemeanor and serve time in jail, which some found to be particularly problematic.
As part of the Senate’s constitutional duty, we confirm the Governor’s appointees for agency and board positions. I was pleased to sponsor former State Rep. John Rusche as an appointee to the Idaho Water Resources Board. Rusche is well qualified to serve, including 42 years of involvement with the Lewiston Orchards Irrigation District. I know he will be an asset to the board. Additionally, the resolution I’ve cosponsored to honor 50 years of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in Idaho was printed and sent to the Senate floor for consideration this week.
As always, it’s a pleasure to serve as your state senator and many thanks to our community members who joined us at our town halls last weekend. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.