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In the closing weeks of the 2020 legislative session, it was apparent we were heading into a crisis of unprecedented proportions that would impact not only Idahoans’ health but also our economy, jobs, education system and every other facet of our lives. Businesses had been ordered to close, group gatherings were banned and schools were forming plans not to return from spring break. However, the Legislature was still operating, and could have taken helpful action if it so chose.

So what did our GOP-dominated Legislature do during these critical weeks? Did it beef up our unemployment insurance system so the expected flood of claims could be processed quickly and efficiently? Afraid not. Laid-off workers were left with a totally inadequate system that left their claims unpaid and their calls unanswered for months.

Did our Legislature help Idaho schools prepare to shift to a remote learning model? Nope – not a peep about training teachers, improving student broadband access, or providing resources that would have enabled a successful transition to online education. What about property tax relief, for which citizens had been begging for months? Another big no – the party in charge blocked six different property tax relief bills sponsored by Democrats.

Instead of focusing on providing help to Idaho’s people and businesses, the GOP supermajority spent these precious weeks ramming through bills on every divisive social issue they could think of. Most notably, over the strenuous objection of every Democratic legislator, they passed the nation’s most extreme anti-transgender legislation. In doing so, the GOP supermajority disregarded warnings from current and former attorneys general that the bills were unconstitutional and would cost the state a fortune to defend, and they ignored forceful opposition by many of the state’s largest employers (including Micron, the INL, Clif Bar and Chobani) who warned of serious harm to business interests.

Now, our reeling businesses and workers must pay the price for these legislators’ reckless actions at a time when we can least afford it. California law does not allow taxpayer dollars to pay for travel to states that discriminate against LGBTQ Americans, and Idaho just landed on this banned travel list because of our new anti-transgender laws. This means that California’s public universities will not be able to send athletes, students, or even debate teams to Idaho. Conference and convention planners will be reluctant to choose Idaho for events because California state employees won’t be able to come. Further, this announcement comes on the heels of news that the NCAA is considering blacklisting Idaho because of these laws, potentially costing $15 million in lost business.

Our hospitality industry was already hit brutally by the coronavirus pandemic. The very last thing our hotels and restaurants need right now is this devastating and totally unnecessary blow, dealt by Idaho’s own legislature. As we are now looking at cutting $100 million from our education budget and deep cuts to other critical services, it is beyond infuriating to watch tens of millions of dollars set on fire by a GOP-dominated legislature that seems only to be interested in escalating culture wars.

Both of Idaho’s new discriminatory anti-transgender laws are currently being challenged in federal court. Maybe we’ll get lucky and the judicial branch will strike them down, saving us from more catastrophic impact to our hospitality industry. But we shouldn’t have to count on such intervention to save us from our own elected leaders. We should have a legislature that focuses on helping, or at least that does no harm.

The myth of the GOP as the “pro-business, fiscally conservative” party has been shattered once again. Too often the majority party is ready and willing to inflict crippling economic losses on Idaho workers and businesses in service of a divisive social agenda. For decades, GOP legislators have forced taxpayers to pay millions to defend right-wing legislation that was clearly unconstitutional but passed anyway to indulge various ideological fixations. We can’t afford this behavior any longer. We are in a recession and that money needs to go to schools, roads and necessary government services. Idaho voters – you have the power. Insist that your legislators stop wantonly hurting our economy and stay focused on protecting our freedoms and improving education, economy and quality of life.

Assistant Minority Leader Ilana Rubel is a representative from Boise in District 18. Reach her at irubel@house.idaho.gov.

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