You might think that this would be a quiet year for the Idaho state Legislature. It’s an off-election year, there’s not a lot of pressing issues and some legislators are talking about not making a lot of big commitments because of uncertainty with tax revenues and the economy.
If you’re a glass-half-full kind of a person, though, you could say this is a prime opportunity for legislators to get some important work done, work that’s been kicked down the road so many times we can’t remember the cross street where it started.
We recognize the following is a long list, so we’ve prioritized some items for legislators. But we also believe that if legislators don’t waste a lot of time talking about sharia law, abortion and defending against gay marriage, they might actually get all of this stuff done.
Our first priority is Medicaid expansion. Passed by voters, this is a no-brainer. Get it done, get it done quickly and move on. Don’t mess around with work requirements, either. Administering it is a waste of money, and it’s a solution in search of a problem. And don’t give us that excuse that you’re going to wait to see how the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s lawsuit against it turns out. Get it done.
Education funding is next on our list. It’s concerning that Gov. Brad Little didn’t mention fixing the funding formula in his address. This year is a prime opportunity for legislators to finally fix this antiquated system for funding our schools. We agree with raising starting teacher pay to $40,000 and adjusting subsequent rungs on the ladder to accommodate that change. Increasing education funding, in general, is important to us, as we want to wean our local school districts off supplemental levies.
While we’re talking about school funding, this would also be a good opportunity to finally pass legislation allowing impact fees to be used for new school buildings. Let’s get growth paying for growth once and for all. In addition to that, get rid of the supermajority requirement to pass bonds. Why should one “no” vote count for two “yes” votes? At the very least, reduce the requirement down to 60 percent.
Third priority is prisons and justice reform. We’re in favor of sentencing reform so that we’re not locking up non-violent drug offenders, and we support getting rid of mandatory minimums. If you do that, we can assess the impact those changes would have on our burgeoning prison system, where we have the lowest crime rate but the highest incarceration rate among our neighbors. Perhaps we wouldn’t need $500 million to expand the state’s prison system. We’d rather spend that money on drug rehabilitation and mental illness programs.
Those are our top three. If our legislators can take a practical common sense approach to solving some of these problems, these three priorities should get taken care of in short order. In the spirit of remaining optimistic, once legislators tackle these issues, here are the other issues we’d like them to take care of.
Commercial trucking fees. Again, pretty straightforward here: Drivers of passenger cars in Idaho pay 8 percent more than they should, while combination trucks pay 14 percent less than they should. That’s a problem that needs to be fixed. Plus, the state was already supposed to have a law in place by Jan. 1, 2019.
Local-option tax. Just about everyone we talked to for a story in the Idaho Press last week mentioned having a local-option tax option. We’re not asking the Legislature to impose a local tax; we are simply asking the Legislature to allow local cities and counties to decide for themselves whether to impose a tax in their city or county. Local control, right?
Transportation. We’re not just talking about widening more roads. Legislators need to facilitate some sort of solution for public transportation. No state fund for public transportation? Fine, how about a local-option tax to allow Ada and Canyon counties to do it themselves? See above.
Faith healing. Enough dancing around this issue. Get rid of the carve-out that allows a parent to let their child die because they wouldn’t seek medical care for their child. Fifteen years from now, this law is going to seem ridiculous and barbaric. Be the Legislature that gets rid of it.
Campaign finance reform. For this one, an interim committee actually did its job (unlike the commercial trucking fee committee) and came up with a proposal for the Legislature. This should take all of a half-hour. Pass it.
Hemp. If the federal government can legalize hemp and put it in the Farm Bill, surely Idaho can follow suit. And while you’re at it, drop the charges against those two fellows who were arrested for transporting hemp through Idaho.
CBD oil. Legalize it. Enough studies have been done already.
Highway 16 expansion to Interstate 84 will be a boon to Emmett, western Ada County and eastern Canyon County. This is a prime area of future development that only needs to be unlocked by this project.
There you have it, legislators. We know you can do it. Stay focused, don’t get distracted by crazy bills that aren’t important and you’ll get a lot done this session.