May 16, 2021

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

Happenings at the Statehouse – February 4, 2021

Cannabis legislation

Yesterday the Senate passed a proposed constitutional amendment, SJR101, that would create a permanent ban on all cannabis, including for medical purposes. Unless we were to act fast to legalize it, this amendment would also put a permanent ban on industrial hemp and CBD oil in our Constitution. SJR101 now heads to the House.

On the other side of the scale, I have been working with Sgt. Jeremy Kitzhaber, a 22-year Air Force veteran with terminal cancer, on a bipartisan bill that would allow regulated medical cannabis by prescription only. This is something that 36 states already provide – most have not progressed to recreational cannabis. Here’s my op ed providing further detail. If passed, this bill (modeled on Utah’s legislation) would give Idaho the strictest medical cannabis law in the nation, but would permit its use for cancer patients and others who genuinely need it.

Property tax bills

We have a slate of bills targeted to lowering your property taxes, including restoring the indexed homeowner exemption, increasing the circuit breaker to help seniors and veterans, using the sequestered internet sales tax for local government and education needs to relieve property taxes, and allowing impact fees to pay for school construction to alleviate school bonding. We’re working on convincing the Tax Committee chair to allow hearings on these.

Other bills I’m working on

– A resolution seeking insurance coverage for medically necessary prescription formula for infants and children with serious conditions like Crohn’s disease and eosinophilic esophagitis. This formula can cost families $2,000 per month, creating terrible financial strain. Many states require that such formula be covered, and I am asking our Department of Insurance to consider a similar requirement here.

– A notification requirement in case your absentee ballot is rejected on a technicality. When you send in your absentee ballot, the clerk may decide your signature doesn’t match the one on file and discard your ballot. In Ada County, the clerk has opted to notify people so they can fix it or vote in person, but there is no uniform requirement, and some counties don’t tell voters when their vote is discarded. This legislation would require statewide notification to voters if their ballot is discarded.

– A clean slate bill allowing 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 is something that 41 other states allow, and has improved public safety. It turns out that people are much less likely to reoffend if they have a path to moving past their mistakes.

– Creating an option for kids in foster care to remain in the system until age 21. This has proven to be very successful in other states in leading to much better outcomes for foster children. Rep. Lauren Necochea is taking the lead and I’m assisting.

“A Bipartisan Plan to Help an Idaho Hero” – by Reps. Ilana Rubel and Mike Kingsley

Sgt. Jeremy Kitzhaber, a proud Idahoan, served 22 years in the Air Force with distinction. He deployed to three continents, and among the many honors he received are several Meritorious Service Medals and the National Veterans of Foreign Wars “Beyond the Call” Award. Unfortunately, his service to our country left him with more than just a shadowbox full of medals. It left him with Stage 4 cancer. His duties in the Air Force included handling radioactive materials, and now, at age 50, his doctors have declared him terminal.

After 20 rounds of chemotherapy and multiple surgeries that removed parts of his intestines and other organs, Jeremy has massive internal scarring and is in constant pain. Every day, he must take an array of opioids that cause nightmares, carry a high risk of addiction and overdose, and threaten deadly intestinal obstructions. His wife carries NARCAN everywhere in case he has a life-threatening reaction from these potentially fatal opioids.

While Jeremy dedicated his life to serving his country, Idaho is not currently doing all it should to repay him. What Jeremy really needs is not multiple prescription bottles full of opioids that cause devastating side effects, but medical cannabis. Numerous doctors, including his oncologist, have recommended he take medical cannabis, but he can’t because Idaho is one of only 14 states that bans it. He actually tried it in other states, and it worked very well, relieving his pain without the nightmares and intestinal problems caused by opioids. Almost every jurisdiction that borders Idaho permits medical cannabis, and friends have suggested he just smuggle it in, but Jeremy is not a law-breaker.

Instead, he spent the last two years drafting legislation to carefully regulate and control medical cannabis, containing extensive safeguards so Idaho would not turn into Oregon. Jeremy’s bill is modelled after Utah’s legislation, but is more strict. The cannabis must be in medical dosage form (blister-sealed packaging) in very limited doses, no growing or production allowed, cannabis card needed for possession and only medical providers who can prescribe opioids could prescribe cannabis. Also, if a person misuses their card to obtain cannabis for someone else, it would be revoked immediately upon conviction.

We are state representatives from different parties, but we are co-sponsoring the “Sergeant Kitzhaber Medical Cannabis Act” because pain is not partisan. We agree that Idahoans should not become criminals for seeking safer, better treatment. Thirty six states have legalized medical cannabis, and 22 of these have not progressed to recreational marijuana. Many of these are red states, like Ohio, Utah, Oklahoma and Missouri, that have found a way to get sick people the treatment they need without unsavory pot dispensaries popping up or kids getting access to marijuana.

We can get patients help for pain without stepping on a slippery slope, and this is what most Idahoans want. A 2019 poll from FM3 Research showed 72% of Idahoans were in favor of legalizing cannabis for medical purposes, and that number has likely climbed higher since the poll was taken. There is strong evidence cannabis is a much safer treatment than opioids and would better serve those suffering from a variety of illnesses, like cancer, epilepsy, ALS, and multiple sclerosis.

We have seen efforts this session to put a permanent ban on cannabis for any purpose in Idaho’s Constitution. Instead, for the sake of Jeremy and the thousands of Idahoans in his situation, we believe it is time to provide a safe, regulated way to access the treatment they need. We hope you will join us in helping an Idaho hero and passing the Sergeant Kitzhaber Medical Cannabis Act.

1/14/2021 – Article: “Idaho House rejects remote participation amid virus concerns”

  • Article: Idaho State Journal
  • Excerpt: “House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, noted that the motion was pared down at the last minute to make it as narrow as possible, allowing remote voting only for “a member of the House who has a physical impairment that places them at high risk for serious negative outcomes such as permanent physical damage or death if they were to contract COVID-19.”“This was a very small ask,” Rubel said. “This is basically something that would’ve affected probably two people. … Most other legislatures are already doing this.”

California Announces Publicly Funded Travel No Longer Allowed to Idaho

Idaho – On Monday, California announced that it is prohibiting taxpayer-funded travel to Idaho on account of Idaho’s recently passed anti-transgender laws.

House Minority Leader Representative Ilana Rubel/(D-Boise) expressed her extreme disappointment in the Idaho legislature.

“It was extremely foreseeable that Idaho’s new anti-transgender laws would create a cascading financial disaster for our state.” Rep. Rubel said. “The legislature was not only warned by current and former attorneys-general that these laws were unconstitutional and would cost a fortune to defend, but was further warned by a group of Idaho’s leading employers that passing such openly discriminatory legislation would cause severe damage to the business community. I am proud that every Democratic legislator heeded those warnings and voted against the bills.

Now, our reeling businesses and workers must pay the price for GOP 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 likely 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 the Governor is 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.

This crisis was created out of whole cloth by the legislature. There had never been a single reported problem arising from any transgender athlete in the state of Idaho, nor from any transgender person seeking to revise the gender marker on their birth certificate. Now, we face a legal, human rights and financial crisis manufactured by the GOP supermajority. We can’t afford this behavior any longer. Idaho is in a recession and our precious tax dollars must be used for schools, roads and necessary government services.”