By Cameron Rasmusson
It’s a brand new year, and with it comes another session of the Idaho State Legislature.
Judging by the proposed resolutions filed for consideration, legislative activity will be split between housekeeping issues and favorite causes among right-wing Republicans. While Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter emphasized continuing along a multi-year plan to bolster Idaho’s educational system, other legislative proposals seek to defund Planned Parenthood, oppose refugee resettlement and remove the permitting process for carrying concealed weapons.
If legislators follow Otter’s lead, education will be the driving issue in Boise this session. The governor spent a large chunk of his 2016 State of the State address Monday on increasing funding to schools and improving student enrollment in college or professional training. His budget request proposes a 7.9 percent boost in funding to K-12 education, returning funding cut due to the Great Recession. His budget also proposes setting aside $38 million to establishing the teacher career ladder revisions.
“We made promises during the Great Recession that we are duty-bound to fulfill,” Otter said in his speech. “We have priorities for Idaho’s future that require world-class K-12 schools and an advanced, responsive post-secondary education system. And now, we have the financial means.”
Whether or not legislators will follow the business-as-usual tone of Otter’s speech is an open question. If the resolutions proposed by the Idaho Republican Party are any indication, lawmakers have other subjects on their mind beyond funding schools.
As she indicated last year, Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, is co-sponsoring a proposed bill with Ronald Nate, R-Rexburg, that would allow Idahoans to carry concealed weapons without a permit. According to a press release issued by Scott and Nate, they plan to introduce the bill within the first weeks of the legislative session.
“Passing the bill would make Idaho the ninth state to fully honor the Second Amendment and virtually end permit requirements for law-abiding citizens to carry concealed firearms,” Nate and Scott said in their press release.
According to the legislators, they spent the summer fine-tuning their bill’s language with input from law enforcement. Several Idaho sheriffs have thrown in their support for the bill, including Bonner County Sheriff Daryl Wheeler.
“The Constitutional Carry Bill would align Idaho law with the true meaning of the Second Amendment,” Wheeler said in the press release. “This bill will not change law enforcement tactics. Also, it is well known that most persons who commit criminal acts do not follow the permitting rules anyway.”
Proposals submitted to the Idaho Republican Party at its Winter State Central Committee meeting on Jan. 8 and 9 show a similar emphasis on conservative-favored issues. Some of the resolutions considered included halting refugee resettlement in Idaho, opposing the recent COP21 climate change accords and defunding Planned Parenthood. Another proposal recommended replacing appointments to committees, which often favor more veteran legislators, with a lottery system. Yet another supported amending the Communist Control Act of 1954 to address radical Islam as a national threat.
“Islam, as a complete social, economic, legal, political, and military entity with a religious component, is not a religious denomination under the generally accepted sense of the term and does not merit First Amendment protections under the U.S. Constitution,” the resolution reads.
While the Idaho State Legislature has no obligation to consider these party resolutions, they are more evidence of the dueling priorities that will follow lawmakers throughout their 2016 legislative session.
We asked District 1 legislators to share their hopes and expectations for the coming legislative session. While Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, and Rep. Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay, did not respond to requests for comment, Sen. Shawn Keough expressed her hopes for a productive few months:
“The Legislative Session began Monday and the Governor shared his State of the State and his budget plans with the Legislature.
“As Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee my focus includes District 1 priorities like: increasing funding for the public K-12 schools from the state to pre-Great Recession levels which may, in part, help to diminish the need for our local school districts to ask the property tax payers to foot the bill for basic services that the State should be providing; making certain that a fair portion of the increased gas taxes and vehicle registration fees goes on the roads in our northern counties; and; several other priorities that the people of District 1 have told me they’d like for me to take a look at on our behalf. I will also continue to provide constituent service to the people at home who need assistance communicating with their state agencies.”
Sen. Shawn Keough