The 2016 Idaho Legislative Session concluded on March 25 with the passage of approximately 360 pieces of legislation—nearly a third more than last year.
This year’s session lasted 75 days in comparison to last year’s 89 days plus a 1-day special session. Overall, the legislature approved $3.27 billion in general fund spending, which averaged out to about $44 million per day of the session.
Education is always a major priority for the Idaho legislature and the governor. Education funding increased by 7.4 percent for the second year in a row, bringing over $210 million more to the classroom next year in comparison with two years ago. The legislature also authorized step two in a five-year plan to better evaluate and compensate teachers. They also boosted investment in public education by approving a $1.58 billion K-12 school budget.
Higher education received additional funding totaling $279.6 million for the budget. Nine million dollars was approved to expand reading intervention for over 35,000 students from kindergarten through third grade who are currently reading below grade level. In other aspects of education, the Legislature passed a bill allowing the Bible to be expressly used in Idaho public schools for reference purposes to further the study of literature, comparative religion, languages, history, government, and other topics. However, that legislation was vetoed by Gov. Butch Otter, who said it was unconstitutional and could result in costly litigation.
The most dramatic legislative discussions centered around healthcare. A proposal to help 78,000 poor and uninsured Idahoans with a modest state-funded plan was introduced. After that didn’t pass, legislators renewed efforts to seek a federal waiver for a customized implementation of Medicaid expansion authorized under the Affordable Care Act. The campaign ultimately failed but was discussed up until the end of the session. Other proposed healthcare initiatives included the “Right to Try,” which would allow terminally ill patients to use experimental drugs with their doctor’s approval. Abortion remained a hot topic—a bill passed that requires women seeking abortion to receive a list of free ultrasound providers. Lawmakers also banned the practice of harvesting tissue from aborted fetuses for research.
Overall, the legislature made significant improvements to funding key sectors of Idaho’s economy. Other bills that passed included lifting a ban on the state’s efforts to comply with REAL ID, the stricter federal identification requirements. The Legislature unanimously backed a move to bolster the state’s public defense system, including $5.4 million in new funding. The overarching goal of this year’s legislature, as always, was to expand Idaho’s legacy of economic growth and effective policy.
Idaho Job Report. Idaho’s unemployment rate remained unchanged at 3.9% in February, and the national unemployment rate also remained unchanged at 4.9% in February.
Housing Market. In February, the CoreLogic® Home Price Index (HPI) for Idaho, which measures home price appreciation, experienced a year-over-year increase of 8.4%. Nationally, the HPI increased 6.8% during the same period.
Inflation. The U.S. Consumer Price Index decreased 0.2% from January to February. Year over year, the index increased 1.0%, which is below the Federal Reserve’s target annual inflation pace of 2%.
Consumer Confidence. The U.S. Consumer Confidence Index® increased 2.2 points to 96.2 in March. The Present Situation Index decreased 1.5 points to 113.5, and the Expectations Index increased 4.8 points to 84.7.