Sen. Michelle Stennett and Rep. Mat Erpelding gave the following response to the State of the State address and outlined the Democratic Legislative Agenda on January 7, 2019:
Rep. Mat Erpelding/House Democratic Leader
Thank you all for coming.
We welcome Gov. Little and his new administration and look forward to finding bipartisan solutions to our state’s challenges. Our core values of ensuring the security of our families, providing quality educational opportunities to our children, and protecting our quality of life - provide a guide that will help us work with the new administration to benefit all Idahoans.
Our number one priority – and the priority of nearly two-thirds of Idahoans – is implementing Medicaid Expansion. The people have spoken loud and clear. A simple, straightforward Medicaid Expansion is what voters approved. It is the Idaho Solution!
Idahoans want to bring hundreds of millions of our federal dollars back home.
They want quality healthcare for their family, friends, and neighbors.
They want to stabilize our rural hospitals that fight for survival every year.
They want to see the creation of thousands of jobs in our state that will pay more than our nationally low minimum wage.
Governor Little likes to talk about the “lightest hand of government” - The Medicaid Expansion voters approved IS the most efficient and effective way to deliver healthcare to thousands of Idahoans. Adding burdensome, expensive, heavy-handed bureaucracies is not what the people voted for and will cause nothing but problems for too many people. We hope Governor Little understands that and fights for the system Idaho voted for.
The governor must also realize that no one elects special interests. Special interests work for themselves. Governor Little must have the strength to stand up to them and prioritize Idaho families. Three years ago, the legislature removed a critical homeowner exemption because special interests said it was good for Idaho’s families. In fact, it was awful for Idaho families. It is hurting homeowners across the state because of massively increased property taxes. It’s time the governor fought back to return this critical property tax exemption to everyday hard-working Idahoans. It will allow homeowners to exempt more of their property value as real estate values increase. Every Democrat in the legislature opposed the current system which removed the adjustable exemption - and property owners across the state now know why. We must fix this inequity without harming our local governments who provide critical services to our communities.
Those services include police, fire and EMT protection. Idaho’s first responders keep us safe every day. And now it’s time we gave back. Too many of Idaho’s bravest suffer from psychological injuries that are not covered by Idaho’s Workers’ Compensation system. Under existing rules, emergency workers must suffer a concurrent physical injury before they can be treated for post-traumatic stress injuries. I am proud to be working with law enforcement, fire and EMT officials – as well as my Republican colleagues – to bring legislation that will change that. When successful, Idaho’s bravest men and women will get the help they need without having to throw out their back or break a bone in the process. More police and fire committed suicide last year NATIONWIDE than were killed in the line of duty. That’s why protecting the people who protect us every day must be a priority in 2019.
Sen. Michelle Stennett/Senate Democratic Leader
With Gov. Little comes an opportunity for a fresh start that Idaho needs. He has the ability to correct past mistakes and ensure a better quality of life for Idahoans.
The 2018 debt package passed and enforced by the majority should be one of the Governor’s first priorities. Democrats voted against irresponsible legislation that increased taxes for Idahoans and gave substantial breaks to out-of-state corporations. Families across the state are now left wondering how they will pay their taxes this year. We should expect this new administration to advocate for more responsible fiscal policy that will give relief to all Idahoans.
Improving our education system is one of the Governor’s biggest responsibilities. Our children lose opportunities every year when it comes to finding good-paying jobs, starting new businesses, and prospering in our state. As Idaho’s Education Party, Democratic legislators will continue to prioritize investments in pre-K, public schools, higher education and programs that lead to higher wages and a better future for our children.
We know that education and jobs go hand-in-hand. If you are weak on education, you are weak on jobs and opportunity. In 2017, Idaho’s Workforce Development Task Force issued a report to our last Governor which read, in part, “If Idaho does not act now there is a real risk [we could become] a talent exporter and [lose] businesses to those states that have created” a skilled workforce. Governor Little’s words are encouraging, but it will take real action by our leaders to turn the corner. Idaho Democrats continue to lead on education and job security. We offer the Governor any help he requires to get results.
We must pay our public school teachers a competitive wage so we don’t lose them to bordering states. That starts with funding the final year of the career ladder and finding ways to invest in our veteran educators who play a vital role in Idaho’s future success.
Our rural schools particularly suffer from our years-long neglect of public education. Too many districts struggle to provide students with a quality education without the resources required to do so. Recruiting and retaining qualified educators in our rural districts remains a problem we must fix. We will be introducing legislation to provide student loan forgiveness to rural teachers who come to work in our schools and give our children the skills they need to thrive in our state. If we ignore our rural schools and the people who work in them, we ignore a vast and talented portion of Idaho that could help guide us toward a future of higher wages, more home-grown businesses, thriving communities, and security for our families.
I echo Representative Erpelding’s sentiments that 2019 could be a turning point for Idaho in numerous ways. It will take hard work and cooperation among all parties to ensure these opportunities don’t go by the wayside. Idaho Democrats remain steadfast in our fight for Idaho families, Idaho children, and Idaho’s future.