November 30, 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