March 1, 2019
"But if you can create an honorable livelihood, where you take your skills and use them and you earn a living from it, it gives you a sense of freedom and allows you to balance your life the way you want." - Anita Roddick
The Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee voted unanimously to fund Medicaid expansion this week. The appropriations bill only funds a clean Medicaid expansion and is a huge step towards implementing the voter-approved initiative. It will now need to be passed by the House and the Senate. Currently, the Legislature has not introduced any new bills that would add any sideboards that should be approved and funded separately. There are some rumblings about a bill that would require Medicaid expansion recipients to meet employment requirements similar to those for the state's food assistance program.
Minimum Teacher Salary Bill
The House overwhelmingly voted in favor of HB 153, which would increase teacher pay up to $40,000 over the next two years. To date, Idaho struggles to have enough qualified teachers for our school districts and there is a decreasing number of students going through our teaching programs. This legislation is aimed at remedying this shortage and would make a huge difference for teachers just starting out. The bill would set minimum salaries, but districts and charters would continue to negotiate and set salaries at the local level.
The House Judiciary Committee voted on Wednesday 13-4 to send HB 99 to the House floor. The purpose of the bill is to ease some mandatory minimum drug sentences. Since 1992, Idaho has assigned mandatory minimum prison terms for drug trafficking, characterized by the possession of certain amounts of specific drugs. The bill does not repeal suggested minimum sentences or decriminalize drugs. Rather, it would get rid of the word "mandatory" and would give judges some discretion in sentencing terms. This means instead of sentencing someone who is 24 years of age and struggling with drug addiction to a decade in prison, judges would be able to sentence drug offenders on a case by case basis and consider rehabilitation.
The Senate passed SB1113 earlier this week aimed at bringing more transparency, openness, sunshine, and confidence into elections in Idaho, including local ones. If the bill becomes law, it puts all campaign finance reporting, from all levels of government into a central, searchable database maintained by Idaho's Secretary of State. Local campaigns would now have to report only once they've raised or spent $500. Other reforms include immediate fines of $50 per day for those who don't submit reports on time and more frequent reporting, with monthly reports required for the four months before a primary or general election. I cautioned in committee that this new system should allow local governments time to transition before giving out immediate fines.
This week three bills were introduced that threaten public lands. HJM 5, calls on Congress to pass a law asking for federal lands to be sold in the same county when the government buys private land. The idea is to keep rural counties' private property tax bases similarly sized. HJM 8, calls on Congress to release certain wilderness study areas back to the multiple-use wilderness. In 1991, federal officials deemed a little more than 825,000 acres of wilderness study areas in Idaho were not suitable for designated wilderness areas and about 540,00 acres are still classified as wilderness study. Wilderness study refers to federal land that remains untouched and undeveloped, without permanent improvements or human habitation.
HB 162 would create a legislative council on federal land issues. The Council would "monitor and review" economic, legal, and jurisdictional issues regarding federal lands and their management. However, these issues are already worked on by the multiple state agencies including the Governor's office, Idaho Land Board, Office of Species Conservation, Department of Transportation, the Attorney General, IDFG Commission, Tax Commission, Interim Committee on Natural Resources, Economic Advisory Council of the Department of Commerce, and the Department of Environmental Quality. The Council would be redundant, add an extra layer of government, not have any real power, and would also waste taxpayers' dollars.
A huge thank you to everyone that showed up to our town halls last weekend. Attendance was fantastic and we were happy to see so many people engaged!