Do you and your legislator agree? Part 2

There is a major mismatch between Idaho voters and the representatives they elect. 

Okay, that is straight out my last column–but there’s more that needs said. 

You see, Medicaid expansion, voter initiatives, local option taxes, and adequate education funding aren’t the only issues where the majority of legislators disagree with the majority of their constituents.  

A survey by Colorado College for Conservation Voters of Idaho indicates 60 to 80% of Idaho voters want something done about issues our legislators ignore: public lands and climate change.    

Access to some public lands has been blocked by wealthy owners of private lands who have closed decades-old roads. After the 2018 legislature passed some serious penalties for trespassing on private land–a third offense could bring a year in jail and a $10,000 fine–families that had gathered for years on lands no longer accessible don’t want to risk charges; they want it made clear that the unauthorized blockages are illegal. The House Committee on Resources and Conversation voted 8-7 to refuse to accept a bill; the Senate committee accepted one but never voted on it.  

 A search indicates that S1317 is the only bill concerning ‘public lands’ printed by the legislature in 2019 or 2020. That may be an improvement over years when legislators were determined that the state take over Federal public lands that there was no way we could maintain, but is no harm the best we ask for?     

 On climate change Colorado College found that over 70% of those polled want the Governor to have a plan to reduce carbon pollution and nearly 60% would like Idaho to transition to 100% clean energy by 2050. 

In March 2019 a House committee held Idaho’s first official hearing on climate change.  Representatives from Hewlett Packard and the Idaho National Laboratory said that we have ample clean energy resources and it is essential we act.  BSU faculty shared what’s happening to agricultural yields, water supplies, and fire damage.   

Rep. John Vander Woude expressed disappointment that so little was known about how change would impact Idaho.And House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding introduced a concurrent resolution to create an interim committee to study what Idaho needs to be doing.  

The resolution failed. And climate change did not come up in the 2020 session. 

Idaho has no plan to deal with climate change and no committee working on one.  

I don’t know of other polls, but voters frequently mention other issues they feel the current legislature isn’t handling well.

Property tax reductions. Even with a homeowner’s exemption, property taxes now cost more than a month’s income for many, especially with over $200 million of school supplemental levies added to the mix. The Senate passed SB1417, but the House didn’t vote on it.     

Minimum wage. Idaho has a greater percentage of workers earning less than $12 an hour than any other state. Four of the six states bordering Idaho have minimum wages higher than $7.25 an hour. No bill was introduced in 2020.   

Legalized industrial hemp. There are 1500 licensed hemp growers in Oregon, 2300 in Colorado, and 0 in idaho. Idaho and Mississippi are the only two states where hemp with less than 0.3% THC cannot be legally grown, processed, or transported.  SB1345 was passed by the Senate, but the House did not vote on it.

Republicans hold 80% of the seats in the Idaho legislature. They not only control what gets passed but also what gets discussed. One-party government is not good regardless of what party dominates.  

Do you and your legislators agree?

 There is a major mismatch between Idaho voters and the representatives they elect.  

Medicaid expansion is a prime example. For seven years our legislators refused to consider it, then the people voted for it by 60%, and the majority of legislators set out to limit who would be covered. If that wasn’t enough, many complained that voters were uninformed (i.e. ignorant) and lectured us on how representatives were to vote according to their judgment, not ours.  

We can find other examples by comparing legislative actions with polling results released last January in Boise State University’s 5th annual Idaho Public Policy Survey

For instance, a total of 80% of those surveyed felt that requiring signatures from 6% of the registered voters in 18 of the state’s 35 districts before placing initiatives on a ballot was about right or too difficult.   

Yet, during the 2019 legislative session almost 70% of the legislators voted to make passing an initiative significantly more difficult. Every Canyon County legislator voted for requiring a higher percent gathered in more districts in fewer days. Only Gov. Brad Little’s veto protected Idahoans’ rights to initiate laws.    

Our representatives wanted to make it next to impossible for their constituents to take direct action on issues they refused to address.  

The Policy Survey by BSU also found that over 61% of those surveyed felt that residents should be able to vote on whether a city or county levies a local sales tax for needed improvements. 

Idaho counties and cities rely heavily on property taxes for their revenue. For decades they’ve looked to local option sales taxes as a means to diversify funding sources and to make possible projects that the state doesn’t regard as priorities. 

Idaho law does allow resort cities with populations of less than 10,000  to pass a local sales tax and auditorium districts to pass a local hotel tax. From 2003-2009 the state did allow a half-cent sales tax for building a jail if 2/3rds of the voters approved. But even that option is no longer available for Idaho cities and counties. 

Overall, however, Idaho legislators are denying voters the right to decide.   

The Policy Survey also indicates that voters regard adequately funding schools as more important than cutting taxes. 

Even without the survey, that’s obvious. Voters have approved over $200 million to fund annual supplemental levies for school districts in spite of the fact that property taxes are generally the most hated. The amounts paid from year to year are easily compared, and they continue to increase without regard for anyone’s ability to pay.

Yet in 2019, when anticipating increased revenue from a sales tax on online sales to Idahoans, a majority of our legislators voted to limit the revenue’s use to reducing taxes. They didn’t consider funding schools, much less roads and bridges, prisons or law enforcement.  

And many felt free to grumble about voters thrusting the expenses for Medicaid expansion upon the state while placing this new source of revenue off limits. (Yet, this year the legislature also gave short shrift to any cuts in property taxes.) 

Forty-nine states and the District of Columbia all invest more per student than Idaho does. According to WalletHub, only 13 states take a lower percent of personal income in taxes than Idaho does. 

Idaho is 51st in education funding and 14th in lowest taxes.  

Please consider if your legislators share your priorities before casting your vote this fall. The Idaho Press will distribute candidates’ answers to its survey on Sunday, Oct. 18.      

Remember in November: Fight to expand Medicaid

For seven years the Idaho Legislature refused to expand Medicaid. 

It was predictable. After all, Idaho was one of the states that fought in court to do away with the Federal mandate for Medicaid expansion. This good Republican state wasn’t about to accept medical insurance for people a fraction above the poverty line, even when it was 100% paid for by the Federal government. 

Voter demand grew strong enough, however, that a Senate committee did hold a hearing in 2016. Hundreds of supporters showed up to testify about problems for people earning too much to qualify for Medicaid and too little for subsidies on the insurance exchange–those that Medicaid expansion was meant to cover..    

The chief results of the hearing were an angry scolding for Dr. Kenneth Krell for saying that the Legislature’s refusal to expand Medicaid had caused 10,000 deaths, and a pompous statement by U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador that made national news, “Nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care.”  

In November 2018 over 365,000 Idaho voters–60%–voted for an initiative to expand Medicaid. But the fight was far from over.  

There was a bright moment when newly-elected Governor Brad Little, previously opposed to expansion, accepted that the people had spoken and included funding in his budget request. 

But the Legislature wasn’t nearly as gracious. 

The 2019 legislative session limited expansion every way it could, passing rules that were only minutely different than ones already rejected by the courts.

And, adding insult to injury, legislators lectured voters.  

Initiatives should include their own funding. Yes, there was money for expansion–tobacco settlement funds, medical emergency funds that Medicaid Expansion would replace, and various savings. But initiatives should have to request a tax increase.   

Healthcare should not be cheap. People will overuse it and make the current physician shortage more serious. It will reward people for not working. (That was a particularly galling argument since people were in the gap because they made too much to be covered by traditional Medicaid.)  

Then, Sen. C. Scott Grow called for a fight against the entire initiative process. “Running a state government by voter initiative,” he claimed, “defeats the basic fundamental premise of the Constitution. We elect representatives and trust them with responsibility.”

Grow was apparently referring to the national Constitution, for Idaho’s says differently. “The people reserve to themselves the power to propose laws, and enact the same at the polls independent of the legislature.”  (Only 24 states grant citizens the power to initiate laws.)

And legislators leaped to join in the attack.    

It shouldn’t have been a surprise. After voters passed the term limits initiative, legislators increased the number of signatures needed to get a proposition on the ballot. After voters rescinded the Luna Laws, legislators increased the number of legislative districts that had to reach the required percent.  

Now legislators set out to make initiatives and referendums more difficult in three ways: cutting the time limit from 18 to six months; requiring signatures from 10% rather than 6% of the registered voters; and requiring that 32, rather than 18, of Idaho’s 35 districts reach the 10% goal.  

The bill passed the Senate, 18-17, and the House, 40-30. 

Gov. Little vetoed it.

Unsure how your legislators voted? 

You can find their names at https://legislature.idaho.gov/legislators/whosmylegislator. Then visit https://https://legislature.idaho.gov/sessioninfo/, 2019 session, and look up bills HO249a and SO1159.   

No Internet?  Call your local library. They provide some great services.  

Imagine just how much more suffering this year’s pandemic would have caused if 80,000 more Idahoans couldn’t have afforded health care.   

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. 

Politics has its own March Madness 

March Madness isn’t restricted to basketball–clearly not in an election year..

Just over a week ago Democrats had six strong contenders for

president–four men and two women, four old and two young, four moderate and two progressive.

In a matter of days, four contenders dropped out. Now, many Democrats are trying to work up enthusiasm for Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders, even as they mourn what ‘might have been’ with Pete or Amy or Michael or Elizabeth.

Meanwhile, the coronavirus continues to spread, particularly in western Washington. Fortunately, Congress has rushed through fundin

g which includes $4 million for Idaho programs. Bring on the experts–please.  

 And the legislature is on a roller coaster going from wise to foolish and back again.

Wise. Tuesday House Democrats joined with moderate Republicans to defeat a bill which would have limited who may be charged with a misdemeanor for failing to report child abuse.

Where does such a bill come from? Has anyone complained that too many people are being charged?

Foolish. But Democrats couldn’t stop the House from passing HB

 525 blocking all state agencies from funding any services from Planned Parenthood–cancer tests, birth control, counselling, whatever. (Three gutsy Republicans did vote against the bill._  

Wise. Then Thursday the House passed a bill sponsored by Ilana Ruble requiring landlords to give tenants at least 30 days notice before raising the rent or not renewing a lease.

Foolish. The House defeated a second bill that would have required landlords to give tenants a list of charges made against their security deposit. Apparently, repairmen of all stripes may itemize for over half a dozen customers a day, but such transparency is too onerous for landlords.

And the House Education Committee came up with a double whammy.  Firs

t, it sent a letter to the Department of Education detailing the changes they want in curriculum standards, e.g. more ‘uplifting’ literature and more pros about fossil fuel consumption. I don’t think they’ll be happy until standards of the 1950s are revived.

Worse, the committee submitted–and the House passed– a bill to allow nonpublic colleges and universities to offer minimal teacher preparation programs. HB599 would force the Department of Education to grant teaching certifications to graduates of any nonpublic education program requiring a bachelor’s degree and ‘content and pedagogical’ training, whatever that entails.

Former legislatures have passed bills allowing charter schools to use non-certified teachers and college graduates with only six-weeks as a teacher’s aid to be treated as the equivalent of educators with master’s degr
ees. Now HB 599 will allow Ricks College to graduate certified teachers even if its program doesn’t measure up to that required of Boise State. (I don’t think NNU or the C of I have asked for changes.)
And the madness isn’t over.
 Next week the Senate will hold hearings on HB 487 which would require a ‘negotiated rulemaking process’ to set penalties for misuse of pesticides and ‘chemigation.’ Who is to negotiate is unclear, but the Marsing Agricultural Labor Sponsoring Committee sounds certain that workers aren’t being included.

“If this bill passes, we are shouting to our work force that we do not care about them as human beings.  We must do everything possible to make sure Idaho agriculture is safe for everyone involved.”

Now that we’re using faster-acting chemicals than ever, we’ll regulate them less?

 

 This is the final week of filing for legislative seats. By Saturday every incumbent will know if he or she will be challenged from the right or the left–and the pace of legislative voting will speed up.