By Cameron Rasmusson
With the Idaho Legislature wrapping up its 2017 session last week, we caught up with District 1’s Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, and Rep. Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay, to gather their impressions. Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, did not respond to our requests for comment.
Sandpoint Reader: How satisfied are you with the accomplishments in this year’s session?
Shawn Keough: There were some positive things accomplished in this year’s state legislative session including another huge investment of state tax dollars in our public K-12 schools, increased attention to and funding for efforts to combat invasive aquatic species and a constituent-driven issue that resulted in successful legislation.
Sage Dixon: I am satisfied with the accomplishments of this year’s session. I was hoping for more tax relief for Idaho’s citizens, but the disastrous winter, combined with the governor’s appetite for new programs, curtailed most efforts to head in that direction. I was not eager to change from the Education Committee to the Finance and Appropriation Committee, but I enjoyed my new committee, and look forward to serving there next session.
SR: What are the most significant achievements, in your opinion?
SK: The increase—$100 million in new money—to our public K-12 schools is significant as the Idaho Legislature continues to keep its pledge to implement the five-year plan envisioned by the Governor’s Education Task Force. This is year three of that plan, and every dollar sent from the state level is one less dollar that local school districts feel compelled to ask the local voters for on the supplemental levies. We were also able to sizably increase funding for career technical (professional technical, vocational technical) education for the second year in a row. This will help students who don’t plan to go on to a four-year college program to obtain training in skills that will put them right to work in good-paying jobs here in Idaho.
The other significant achievement I’ll list here is the funding from the state’s general fund to make certain that the boat inspection stations get opened this spring and continue operating for the remainder of this year and into the spring of next year. This funding also expanded locations and operating hours for boat stations. With the discovery of quagga mussel larvae in neighboring and upstream Montana there is a heightened alarm and desire to take necessary steps to try to prevent Idaho’s precious water and waterways from becoming infected with this and other aquatic invasive species. Over $ 4 million dollars of state general fund money will go into this increased effort this calendar year which is an historic amount.
SD: The most significant achievements this session were the will of the Legislature to remove the tax from groceries and the transportation funding package which will address both immediate and long term needs. I also think that the asset forfeiture bill was a strong move as well.
SR: Is there anything you wish was addressed this year that wasn’t?
SK: Every year there are bills that don’t make it through for one reason or another and this year was no exception. We were not able to find a way to help people who make too much money for the Affordable Care Act subsidies but can’t afford the rising costs of insurance policies. Even with the uncertainties of the system in D.C. there are things we can do on the state level to assist as we ultimately pay for those costs through our emergency rooms and our county catastrophic and indigent systems, not to mention the human toll of lack of access to health care.
SD: I had a list of legislation that I had hoped to have addressed, but my time was rapidly diminished by learning my new committee and the workload associated with it. The few items I was able to pursue were shown to need a bit more work, and I anticipate moving forward with them in the future.
SR: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
SK: I was pleased to co-write, introduce, and advocate for successful passage of [Senate Bill] 1141 which uses $ 52 million dollars in ‘surplus’ tax dollars for repairs of damages from the extreme winter weather that we saw here and across the state. Should the Governor sign this into law that money will go to help fix some of the winter weather damage especially to roads some of which were completely obliterated. I’m also hopeful that the Governor will sign into law the repeal of the sales tax on food. As Co-Chair of the budget committee I am well aware of the fiscal impact on our state budget, but, for me, it is not morally correct to tax the very thing needed to sustain life – food.
SD: I am grateful that our Bonner County Prosecutor, Louis Marshall, had an idea for legislation that I was able to carry in the House. Although it may seem like a simple bill, to allow facility dogs on the witness stand, often these bills can have an important impact long term.