"Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success."- Henry Ford
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:
Tax Cuts - We started session strong with a necessary unemployment insurance tax cut for employers in Idaho. The next tax cut came at the cost of families and single parents with children who will see a tax increase, however, and I argued fervently against its passage. While I favor responsible tax cuts, the newest measure combined with a trailer bill ($130 million) comes at the expense of slashed career technical education programs, transportation infrastructure, and mental health services.
Healthcare - The 2018 BSU Public Policy Survey results showed that 77% of Idahoans want the Legislature to find a solution to healthcare problems. Unfortunately, after six years of opportunity, the Idaho Legislature has failed again to help the 62,000 Idahoans, thousands of whom are veterans, in the coverage gap. HB464, the bill creating the Idaho Health Care Plan, died not once, but twice on the House floor. The IHCP, while imperfect, would have helped about half of the people in the coverage gap. Additionally, Sen. Jordan's (D-Boise) bill, SB1224, calling 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, died in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee.
I was proud to support the only successful bill addressing healthcare this session. Rep. Rubel's (D-Boise) bill to restore dental funding to Medicaid beneficiaries was signed into law and is a tremendous cost-saving measure as well as a major quality of life improvement for nearly 30,000 Idahoans.
The Legislature considered legalization of cannabidiol oil(CBD oil) once again - the first effort passed both chambers in 2015 and received the governor's veto - but the bill died in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee. Idaho is conducting a study on epileptic children who use the commercial version of CBD oil, called Epidiolex, and its ability to reduce the frequency of seizures. The results have been very positive, although few children have been able to participate. Legalization would have provided the same results for a significantly lower price and benefitted thousands of children and adults with intractable seizures.
Education - I serve on the newly created Workforce Development Council, responsible for improving Idaho's skilled workforce. We do this by examining best practices for investing in post-secondary technical schools, providing incentive funding for high school technical programs, expanding career technical education (CTE), and advancing industry/education partnerships. Unfortunately, the governor's budget included cuts to nearly every college and university program across the state, posing difficulties for the advancement of post-secondary education programs designed to strengthen workforce development.
The Senate Education Committee voted to upgrade science standards in our public schools for the first time in 17 years. The motion was led by Sen. Ward-Engelking (D-Boise), and passed with a 6-3 vote. Even though the upgraded standards were rejected by the House, rules are different than bills and only require passage by one chamber's committee.
Trespass - Hours of debate in the House and Senate produced a lengthy change to trespass laws. HB658aaSpassed into law without the governor's signature. Here's why. The bill attempted to more aggressively protect private property rights in Idaho by consolidating criminal and civil trespass laws. However, innocent behavior, like stepping onto a neighbor's property, could result in large penalties: fines, attorney's fees, and investigation expenses. Landowners can be compensated at three times the damage plus the above penalties, while a falsely accused bystander can only be awarded attorney's fees. Though it exempts most licensed professionals working within their official capacities, land surveyors are not specifically exempted. Recreationists and neighbors are perceived in this bill as having less right to protection than landowners. This is especially difficult given that the relaxed property marking requirements are now subject to interpretation of conspicuous posting by a "reasonable person", instead of the former "every 660 feet" rule. Law enforcement will have a more difficult time settling petty disputes. Idaho has always had strong private property rights and taxpayers support our ability to access public lands. Contrary to the bill's language, this law will not renew neighborly behavior and unfortunately has the potential to cause divisions in our communities.
As always, it is my pleasure to represent you in the Idaho State Legislature, and I welcome your continued input. If you wish to find additional details for any of these bills, you can find them at the Idaho Legislature's Bill Center.