The late Ed Koch, New York City mayor, used to famously ask his constituents, “How’m I doin’?”
If our state legislators were to ask us the same question, our response would be, “Well, not so great.”
So far, our legislators have taken up bills on adding restrictions to an abortion law that’s already the subject of a lawsuit (coincidentally coming around the same time that the state’s Constitutional Defense Council agreed to pay $260,000 in attorney fees for losing a lawsuit on the unconstitutional “ag-gag” law). They’ve moved to name a highway a “Medal of Honor” highway (certainly a good thing, but hardly one of the state’s most pressing problems to solve). They’ve worked on a weird bill requiring schools and day cares to tell parents they can opt out of immunizations if they want. They’ve addressed daylight saving time, and they’ve courageously tackled the statewide scourge of HOAs banning solar panels from rooftops.
At the beginning of this session, this editorial board admonished legislators, “don’t waste a lot of time talking about sharia law, abortion and defending against gay marriage.”
We were (naively) hopeful that they could actually get a lot done this session, which is a non-election year (so legislators don’t have to be afraid of tackling big issues and then face a challenge in a primary) and a year in which there are a number of lingering issues that haven’t been adequately addressed in years.
So let’s check in and see how legislators are doing on the issues that this editorial board set as priorities for this session.
Medicaid expansion. Here’s an area where we actually don’t want them to do much. We just want them to implement Medicaid expansion without any strings or work requirements. But sure enough, a cabal of legislators has been wasting time trying to come up with ways to muck it up. Just implement it, fund it and move on — especially now that the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s lawsuit has been tossed out and deemed “without merit.”
Education funding. This is for sure a tough one, and there has been some discussion about updating the state’s antiquated funding formula. There was a draft bill introduced this month and a listening session last week, heading toward an apparent hearing. We encourage our legislators to keep this ball rolling.
Still no word, though, on allowing impact fees for schools to build new buildings.
Prisons and justice reform. Just as we were starting to despair, Reps. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, and Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls, on Tuesday introduced legislation to eliminate the state’s mandatory minimum sentences for drug trafficking offenses to the Idaho House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee, whose members voted unanimously to introduce it. Legislators also appear ready to add 30 parole officers in Idaho. So far, so good.
Commercial trucking fees. Again, we were about to despair when Senate Transportation Chairman Bert Brackett on Tuesday introduced two bills to create a new tax on commercial trucks, replacing the current system to address the ongoing battle to implement a new strategy for trucking fees. Pass it.
Local-option tax. Nope. Nothing. Crickets.
Transportation funding. Legislators are working on some tweaks to help increase funding for roads. But we’d also like to see them come up with some sort of solution for public transportation. Some legislators are dead-set against a state public transit fund, saying it should be up to local agencies to fund public transit if they want. Unfortunately, some of those same legislators oppose local-option taxes. So, again, just problems without solutions.
Faith healing. There is draft legislation floating around seeking to fix this problem of allowing parents to deny their children medical care for religious reasons. This should be the year we fix it. Otherwise, what’s it going to take? Another voter initiative?
Campaign finance reform. We haven’t heard anything about this bill that was all ready to go, prepared by an interim committee that was tasked with adding safeguards and transparency to campaign finance. Is it possible legislators don’t want us to hear anything about it?
Hemp. Come on, legalize hemp. If the federal government can see its way to legalizing it in the Farm Bill, surely, Idaho legislators can figure this one out. Otherwise, we suggest you budget a few million dollars extra to defend lawsuits every time you throw someone in jail for transporting hemp through Idaho. As of this writing, legislators on the House Ag Committee were considering a bill on hemp, so possible movement on that front.
CBD oil. Nothing.
Highway 16 expansion to Interstate 84. Nothing.
We’ve seen this before. We kind of skate through January and have a flurry of small bills here and there throughout February, and then we get to March, and none of the big issues have been tackled. Then, there’s a mad scramble at the end of the session to try to address those bigger issues, leading to either hastily crafted and passed legislation or an extended session, which no one wants.
Legislators have made some movement on some important issues. But we believe that if they spent as much time on bigger issues now as they have on some of these minor issues, we’d probably be done with the session by the end of February. And that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.