2019 legislative session recap

By Cameron Rasmusson
Reader Staff

One of the longest legislative sessions in Idaho history came to a close last Thursday with a bang of the gavel by Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin.

The state Capitol building in Boise. Courtesy of Creative Commons.

Clocking in at 95 legislative days, the protracted session produced both controversy and legislative legwork on issues from education to health care to the ballot initiative procedure. While some Republican lawmakers expressed sanctification with the work accomplished, the Democratic minority was frustrated by what it saw as an inefficient session that failed to meet most of its goals. Likewise, many academic and journalistic observers of the legislature described the session in less-than-flattering terms, with the Post Register editorial board calling it “the most dismal in memory.”

“It seemed like the wheels fell off and were just rolling down the Statehouse halls all session,” Boise State University political scientist emeritus Gary Moncrief told the Idaho Press.

The Legislature made progress on education this year, rolling out changes to teacher pay scales and career advancement. But it failed to modernization to the state’s outdated school funding formula, an effort that underwent protracted workshopping from lawmakers and stakeholders this year. 

In implementing Medicaid expansion, the Legislature funded the measure but added a host of “sideboards” mandating that beneficiaries be employed or enrolled in educational or training programs, among other requirements. Gov. Brad Little signed the funding bill, sideboards and all, into law, despite expressing concerns about legal challenges to the additional requirements.

Less successful was an effort to restrict Idaho voters’ ability to enact ballot initiatives. If passed into law, the bills would have increased the percentage of signatures in the number districts required to land an initiative proposal on the ballot while reducing the collection time. A trailer bill later made those restrictions less draconian, but Little nevertheless vetoed both versions.

Other issues raised during the session failed to gain traction. For instance, lawmakers failed to take action in addressing Idaho’s overpopulated prisons. Idaho’s hemp laws are still in conflict with those of neighboring states, meaning truck drivers hauling industrial hemp can be arrested for marijuana trafficking. And laws permitting child marriage and faith healing, alleged to provide legal cover for child abuse, remain on the books.  

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