July 23, 2021

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.

The Idaho Minority Report – February 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 – 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.