April 13, 2021

The Democratic Debrief – March 19, 2021

Rep. Ilana Rubel provides an overview of the latest news from the Statehouse, legislation in the works from the minority party, and helpful information for constituents.

Happenings at the Statehouse – March 17, 2021

Let’s hope we’re heading into the final stretch. We now have three House members who tested positive for COVID just this week, so it would seem wise to wrap things up before it gets worse.

Foster care

I wanted to start with some good news. Our bill to allow kids to remain in foster care until 21, HB336, is moving forward! This is expected to lead to much better outcomes for many kids in foster care.

Taxes

Despite the steady drumbeat from the public demanding lower property taxes, we continue to be stonewalled on all our bills targeted at property tax reduction. Instead, the House will imminently be voting on HB322, an income tax bill with extremely disproportionate benefits to those at the top end of the income spectrum. This bill would cost between $386 million and $389.4 million in revenue in its first year and between $160 million to $169.4 million per year thereafter. Here is an impact analysis from the nonpartisan Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy:

As you can see, those in the top 1% of income would get nearly $9,000, while those in the bottom 20% of income would get ~$78. It’s been a very tough year for many people, and if we’re going to be taking hundreds of millions of dollars out of the General Fund that funds education, I would like to see it going to those who really need it.

Education

Good news – we are going to take another run at trying to approve the $6 million federal grant for early childhood education programs that was rejected by the House a few weeks ago. We’re waiting on a bill number, but it’s coming soon.

In less good news, the hearing for our bill to fund full-day kindergarten (HB331) was canceled and now is in limbo as both the committee Chair and Vice-chair are out with COVID. We are still trying everything we can to save it.

In even less good news, last week, in a stunning move that no one saw coming, the House State Affairs Committee killed the lottery!

A small statutory adjustment was needed to accommodate Powerball’s expansion into the UK and Australia. Arguing that the Powerball might bring money to Australia, and Australia has gun control laws, they shot it down on mostly party lines, a move that if not reversed will cause Idaho schools to lose $14M in funding. I am hoping this bill gets reintroduced before session ends.

The House passed HB122 last week, requiring all schools to allow firearms on the premises and in classrooms regardless of district policy. It is yet to be seen if it will be heard in the Senate.

We are also awaiting the fate of our higher education budgets, which have already been cut by millions and still face an uncertain future. Many House members are threatening to defund our universities completely, objecting to the inclusion of social justice issues in certain class curricula.

Voting rights

S1110, the bill that would effectively end citizen ballot initiatives by doubling the difficulty of meeting signature requirements, is awaiting a House floor vote. I fear the only way to stop this one is likely through the Governor’s veto – here’s a link if you want to shoot him an email.

HJR4 is also up for a vote on the House floor. This Constitutional amendment prohibits any drug from being moved off Schedule 1 or 2 without a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate. The immediate objective appears to be to prevent the pending (and any future) ballot initiative effort to legalize medical cannabis. However, we often remove ordinary medicines from these schedules, as we did this year with the epilepsy drug Epidiolex. These bills pass, but never with two thirds of the votes. Thus, this amendment would likely preclude the legalization of even FDA-approved medications going forward.

Two other voter-restriction bills (HB223 criminalizing ballot delivery and HB255 blocking college students from registering to vote with student IDs) are sitting in committee – I hope never to be heard again

The Democratic Debrief – March 17, 2021

Rep. Ilana Rubel provides an overview of the latest news from the Statehouse, legislation in the works from the minority party, and helpful information for constituents.

The Democratic Debrief – March 12, 2021

Rep. Ilana Rubel provides an overview of the latest news from the Statehouse, legislation in the works from the minority party, and helpful information for constituents.

The Democratic Debrief – March 5, 2021

Rep. Ilana Rubel provides an overview of the latest news from the Statehouse, legislation in the works from the minority party, and helpful information for constituents.

Happenings at the Statehouse – March 3, 2021

Things have been getting much more contentious these last couple of weeks. And there’s no sign of it ending any time soon.

Education

Yesterday House GOP members voted to reject a $6 million grant from the federal government that would have allowed communities around Idaho to expand early childhood education offerings at no cost to the state budget. One opponent of the bill (HB226) argued: “Any bill that makes it easier or more convenient for mothers to come out of the home and let others raise their child, I don’t think that’s a good direction for us to be going.” Others vilified the administrator of the grant as a liberal proponent of “social justice ideology”. The upshot is that this money would have expanded programs to boost literacy and school readiness, and that opportunity was turned away.

HB215, a voucher bill, is awaiting a vote on the House floor. This bill would allocate $35 million to provide scholarships of approximately $6,000 each to qualifying families to use for private school tuition or homeschooling. My concern is that there are many accountability metrics applied to public schools as a condition of receiving taxpayer money, but none that would apply to these private recipients of tax dollars. And, when Idaho is 51st in the nation in public education funding, I question whether it makes sense to funnel tens of millions of dollars into private schools.

HB221 is also awaiting a floor vote. This bill seeks to address our teacher shortage by allowing districts to hire teachers who do not have a state-recognized teacher certification. This one also concerns me – I would rather see us address our teacher shortage by paying a wage that entices qualified teachers rather than by dropping standards for qualification.

Vote Suppression

S1110 makes it twice as difficult as it currently is to collect enough signatures for a ballot initiative. Given that under the current standards, there has only been one successful initiative in the past decade, this bill would essentially drive a stake through the heart of the ballot initiative process in Idaho.

This bill passed the Senate last week and is headed to House State Affairs. If you’d like to speak up for your ballot initiative rights, you can send an email here.

HB223 passed the House this week. It would make it a felony to deliver someone else’s ballot for them, even if you are faithfully carrying out their request. A similar law was recently struck down in Montana because it unduly suppresses the votes of those living in tribal areas where neighbors often pick up and deliver each other’s mail. Another similar law in Arizona is now being litigated in the Supreme Court. I am concerned both that this law criminalizes innocent behavior, and that it will unduly suppress the votes of the elderly, disabled, Native Americans living in remote tribal areas, and others who depend on friends or caregivers for assistance and mail delivery. If you have a couple of minutes, here’s my debate against it, and if you want to speak out on this bill, you can email here.

The vote suppression efforts continue with HB255, a bill that would prevent the use of student IDs or even passports for voter registration. This would significantly decrease student voting, as many students don’t get a driver’s license issued for a dorm address where they’ll only be living for a short time, and they rely on their student ID’s. I would like to see us encouraging young people to vote, not throwing obstacles in their path. Idaho has an excellent election system currently with no sign of fraud, and I see no justification for efforts that make it much harder for legal voters to vote. If you want to send an email on this bill, you can do so here.

The Idaho Minority Report – February 26, 2021

Rep. Ilana Rubel provides an overview of the latest news from the Statehouse, legislation in the works from the minority party, and helpful information for constituents.

The Idaho Minority Report – February 19, 2021

Rep. Ilana Rubel provides an overview of the latest news from the Statehouse, legislation in the works from the minority party, and helpful information for constituents.

Happenings at the Statehouse – February 17, 2021

Power plays

Much of the first half of session has centered around shifting power from the Governor to the Legislature, from health districts to the Legislature, from local government to the Legislature, and from voters to the Legislature. Noticing a pattern here?

Local control – Last week, the House passed H90, which would prohibit any county, city or town from changing the names of streets, parks or schools in their communities without the permission of the Legislature. I obtained an opinion from the Attorney General finding that the bill violates our State Constitution which does not allow the Legislature to control local issues such as naming local landmarks. In light of this there’s a good chance the Senate will hold the bill – we shall see.

Executive powers – Yesterday the House passed H135, which would significantly restrict the Governor’s ability to enact emergency policy. Under this bill, an emergency declaration would require legislative authority to last longer than 60 days, and the Governor could not take any action that would restrict employment. This caused me concern, as we have historically had numerous emergencies last longer than 60 days, and calling the Legislature back in all the time is costly. Moreover, many sensible precautions a governor might take during an emergency could have the result of restricting employment, and it is hard to predict what consequences this would have in terms of preventing needed action in future emergencies.

Ballot initiative rights – Ever since the voters of Idaho took it upon themselves to pass Medicaid expansion in 2018, we have seen a steady stream of legislative efforts to rein in voters’ ability to bring ballot initiatives. The latest is S1110 making its way through the Senate, which would require signatures from 6% of all registered voters in all 35 legislative districts to get a proposal on the ballot. This would likely effectively end citizen ballot initiatives in Idaho, as it is barely possible to get on the ballot with the current threshold of 18 districts and we have only seen one successful effort in the past 8 years. I worked hard to collect signatures for Medicaid expansion in 2018 – here’s me helping deliver boxes of signatures to the Secretary of State. I can attest that it took a Herculean effort by thousands of volunteers just to meet the 18-district standard; we wouldn’t have made it if we had to cover all 35 districts.

Tax bills

Yesterday H199 was introduced by House GOP leadership, which would implement a sales tax cut from 6% to 5.3% and a top margin income tax cut from 6.9% to 6.5%. By 2023 this proposal would reduce state revenue by $435 million per year. It would also eliminate the grocery tax credit, so some folks might see their tax on food increase while others would decrease depending on how much food they purchase.

This morning the Democrats introduced an alternative plan that would use some projected surplus revenue to finally fund full-day kindergarten, a long-standing recommendation most recently endorsed by the Governor’s 2019 K-12 Task Force. It would also allocate funds to remediation programs designed to address the substantial learning loss that children have experienced during COVID. Statewide reading scores have dropped 8-9% and alarming results are expected once other testing resumes, requiring substantial investment in after-school and summer programs to catch kids up. The proposal also includes residential property tax reductions, the use of impact fees on new development to pay for new school construction, and an increase to child tax credits.

Status of other bills I’m working on

– HCR6 seeks insurance coverage for medically necessary prescription formula for infants and children with serious conditions like Crohn’s disease and eosinophilic esophagitis. This has passed from Committee and will soon be heard on the House floor.

– S1069 requires the clerk to notify you if your absentee ballot is rejected for a signature mismatch or other technicality so that you still have a chance to vote. It has passed Committee and will soon get a Senate floor vote.

– H108 is the Sgt. Kitzhaber Medical Cannabis Act – it was introduced but still waiting to see if it will get a full hearing and vote.

– H189, the “Clean Slate Act,” would allow those with minor non-violent, non-sexual offenses who have been offense-free for at least 5 years to petition to seal their public record. This was introduced Monday and is awaiting a full hearing in the House Judiciary Committee.

The Idaho Minority Report – February 12, 2021

Rep. Ilana Rubel provides an overview of the latest news from the Statehouse, legislation in the works from the minority party, and helpful information for constituents.