Idahoans pressing on, but legislative hurdles persist

Coronavirus changed our world this week. Gatherings from children’s school concerts to national basketball finals were cancelled, toilet paper and hand sanitizers became precious commodities, and a deepening plunge in the stock market seemed a footnote compared to the tragedies we anticipate.

And, yet, people pressed on, doing what they felt needed done.  

On March 10 over 225,000 Idaho voters went to the polls to support their preferred presidential candidates. They passed 39 of the 41 school levies up for a vote, authorizing over $170 million in taxes including a whopping 10-year levy for more than $80 million for Pocatello-Chubbuck. Only Middleton and Swan Valley saw levies fail.  

And by the cutoff time last Friday, 219 candidates had filed for Idaho’s 105 legislative positions. 

Legislative races require a thick skin, hundreds of hours, and thousands of dollars, especially for challengers. Running is an act of bravery. 

Over 40 seats will see primaries among Republicans, but none will top Nampa’s six-way race for House Seat 13B.

Fifty-eight seats in 26 districts have both Democratic and Republican challengers.  Forty-seven seats have no Democratic contenders.    

And the legislature moved into high gear; more bills were enacted on March 9 and 10 than in the previous nine weeks.  With Idaho’s first coronavirus patient just across town and primary challenges just nine week away, members were motivated to adjourn.   

Some disputes were settled.          

The Senate State Affairs committee voted to let school districts continue to decide whether employees should carry guns. Members voted down SB 1384 which would have allowed employees with enhanced concealed carry permits to carry guns in schools. The majority felt that the permits were too easy to get, and untrained individuals with guns were dangerous.   

Some weren’t.   

The House Health and Welfare committee killed a bill to claim $8.5 million that counties previously paid for medical indigency and Catastrophic Health Care programs to help pay for Medicaid expansion. Members worried that changes to the law would mean some coronavirus victims would not get treatment. Within hours, however, a new bill was introduced that would take $12 million from the counties.  

And other disputes heated up.  

Both the House and Senate want to do something to relieve property taxes; the House favors freezing rates and requiring counties to cut their budgets; the Senate wants to increase the exemption for homeowners from $100,000 to $125,000. They’ve been engaging in parliamentary one-up-manship rather than compromise. 

And the House has recently killed four JFAC-approved budget bills.

Odds are that members rejected the Treasurer’s budget because Treasurer Julie Ellsworth has refused to move her department’s offices from the main floor of the Capitol Building so House members can have more office space. 

Budgets for the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, and higher education all exceeded the Governor’s recommendations.   

The higher education budget got additional criticism from those opposing inclusion and diversity programs at Boise State University.

According to Idaho Education News, Rep. Vito Barbieri said the House must “send the message that we do have a say on what is taught and we do have a say on who they are hiring, and for what purposes they are hiring.” (Barbieri has a Republican primary challenger, but no Democratic one this year.)  

Apparently, the paradigm of colleges and universities as diverse communities of  scholars is under challenge. Will Idahoans readily accept institutions of state-controlled indoctrination? 

Will we see four new budget bills drafted, pass through committees, and be accepted by a majority of members of both houses this week?

It’s possible–but we’ll see. 

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