After 95 days, the Idaho Senate and House brought the legislative session to a shambling, squabbling close.
Here is the key to understanding the 2019 legislative session: The Idaho Senate had the final say on issue after issue.
Notify parents that they can opt-out of vaccinations? The House passed that 52-17 despite measles outbreaks around the country. The Senate didn’t give it even a hearing.
Requiring parents to opt-in to sex education passed the House but got stuck in a Senate Committee.
The House embraced the idea of lowering sentences for drug crimes but the measure died on the Senate side.
The House wanted to allow one house to veto administrative rules. The Senate killed that idea at the very end of the session.
And, the Senate finally killed the idea of imposing limits on ballot measures after Gov. Brad Little’s veto resulted in the House trying to run at the last minute elements of the vetoed bill. The House passed that and the Senate promptly killed it.
The big winner was Little. His veto of the two ballot measure restrictions boosted his standing with Idaho voters in that the measures drew sharp opposition. His action killed a repeal initiative that would have been a key driver in the 2020 elections. He also demonstrated his independence by showing that he would not just follow when the Legislature took the lead on an issue.
Education saw incremental steps. Starting salaries were boosted. Career ladder was funded. Discussion about a new funding formula for public education ended with no agreement. That will be up again next year. Career technical education will benefit from a series of improvements.
Cities had a mixed session. Annexations of agricultural land is off the table. But cities can still regulate cell phone use.
Hemp was the hill that many died upon. Both houses thrashed around with the idea of allowing Idaho growers to grow it and for it to be transported through Idaho. But law enforcement opposition and differing views resulted in . . . nothing.
Transparency advanced. New campaign finance legislation will provide much more clarity in the activities of future Idaho campaigns.
Moderate conservatives drove the measures that made it into law. Hard right supporters struggled pretty much across the board.
If the measuring stick is measures that improved the everyday lives of Idahoans, the record was decidedly mixed. Medicaid will be expanded to tens of thousands without current healthcare coverage, driven by the 61% who favored expansion last November. The Legislature both funded expansion and then imposed an array of limitations — from work requirements to pullback if federal funding changes. The final parameters will depend on what waivers the Trump administration approves and, more likely, the outcome of court challenges.
The lost opportunity was positive things that had appeal to broad swaths of Idaho. Expand the property tax break for homeowners? That would lower property taxes for homeowners but shift more of the burden to non-owner occupied housing and commercial properties. The issue didn’t get a hearing. Little’s proposed saving program for first time homebuyers sat in committee.