Best or worst legislative session in Idaho history? That depends on whom you ask

Legislators’ opinions of 2021 session vary widely from party to party

By Clark Corbin
Idaho Capital Sun

Depending on whom you ask, the 2021 legislative session was either a productive success on multiple fronts, or one of the worst sessions of all time.

House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said House Republicans achieved the four goals they set before the session: 

Idaho State Capitol building in Boise on March 20, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

• Passing income and property tax cuts.

• Increasing funding for K-12 education.

• Passing a transportation funding package.

• Addressing emergency orders, the separation of powers and gubernatorial authority.

“It’s been a very successful session in that we have passed one of the largest, if not the largest, income tax cut [in state history], along with a rebate that will go directly to every Idahoan,” Bedke told the Idaho Capital Sun late May 12. 

House State Affairs Chairman Brent Crane, R-Nampa, had a similar assessment. 

“The issues that we promised our constituents that we would deal with, we have got all of those accomplished,” Crane said in an interview May 12 on the House floor. “In my 15-year career, this has to go down as one of the top three legislative sessions.”

Republican approval was not just limited to the House. 

“We accomplished a lot, and we haven’t seen a lot about it,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Boise, told senators on the floor May 12. “If you go back and look at what we’ve done for funding for education, transportation, tax reductions, all the various things we’ve done, in spite of the fact some will say this is the worst session ever in the history of mankind, well maybe even prior to that even, since prior to creation, that this really was successful.”

The Idaho Capital Sun asked Bedke about the length of the session and the nearly $450,000 expense to Idaho taxpayers since legislators returned from their first recess April 6.

“Pretty good for a pandemic year,” Bedke said. 

“Yeah, it took us 122 days, but there was a lot of success in that 122 days.”

Idaho Democrats say 2021 session was one of the worst in history  

Democrats, meanwhile, said the session was dominated by a power grab from Republicans, disinformation campaigns and hurtful policymaking.

Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said the state is struggling to fund its K-12 education system and about 20 bills were introduced attacking education.

“The legislative session has been chaotic and unprecedented with challenges and delays; unlike most years it took four months to balance a budget,” Stennett said in a press conference May 14. “Despite this being the longest session in state history — and not over yet — no meaningful legislation was passed to actually help working Idahoans and what was done was done in the last weeks.” 

House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, said the state entered the session amassing the largest budget surplus in state history. Rubel said this should have been the year the Legislature brought full-day kindergarten to Idaho and provided funding. 

Instead, House Bill 331, which provided $42.1 million for kindergarten, never made it out of committee. 

As things stand now, the state only pays for half-day kindergarten, which is optional for families. 

“Many have called this the worst legislative session ever, and it’s hard to dispute that,” Rubel said. “It’s hard to swallow the damage done by the Legislature when viewed in light of the potential good that could have been achieved.”

Democrats also criticized the House’s vote to reject $6 million in federal grant money already approved for early childhood education and said the House should have taken a vote on the rewritten Senate Bill 1193, which would have allowed the state to accept the grant if it passed. 

But Bedke stressed in a press conference May 13 that was never going to happen after the first bill, House Bill 226, failed 34-36 on March 2.

“Take my word for it, the votes were not there,” Bedke said.

Democrats said they were particularly upset about the Legislature’s moves to reduce funding for higher education by $2.5 million after some Republicans claimed universities and professors were indoctrinating students with social justice programs and critical race theory.

Republican leaders say college and universities will be able to tap into federal COVID-19 stimulus relief funds. 

“With regard to higher ed, there is a big installment of federal money that is going to come to them,” Bedke told the Idaho Capital Sun on Wednesday. “The institutions of higher education will be OK moneywise.”

This story was produced by the Idaho Capital Sun, an independent, nonprofit online news organization delivering in-depth coverage from veteran Idaho reporters on state government and policy. The Idaho Capitol Sun is part of States Newsroom, a national nonprofit funded by tax-free donations in 22 states. Learn more and follow daily updates at and

While we have you ...

... if you appreciate that access to the news, opinion, humor, entertainment and cultural reporting in the Sandpoint Reader is freely available in our print newspaper as well as here on our website, we have a favor to ask. The Reader is locally owned and free of the large corporate, big-money influence that affects so much of the media today. We're supported entirely by our valued advertisers and readers. We're committed to continued free access to our paper and our website here with NO PAYWALL - period. But of course, it does cost money to produce the Reader. If you're a reader who appreciates the value of an independent, local news source, we hope you'll consider a voluntary contribution. You can help support the Reader for as little as $1.

You can contribute at either Paypal or Patreon.

Contribute at Patreon Contribute at Paypal

You may also like...

Close [x]

Want to support independent local journalism?

The Sandpoint Reader is our town's local, independent weekly newspaper. "Independent" means that the Reader is locally owned, in a partnership between Publisher Ben Olson and Keokee Co. Publishing, the media company owned by Chris Bessler that also publishes Sandpoint Magazine and Sandpoint Online. Sandpoint Reader LLC is a completely independent business unit; no big newspaper group or corporate conglomerate or billionaire owner dictates our editorial policy. And we want the news, opinion and lifestyle stories we report to be freely available to all interested readers - so unlike many other newspapers and media websites, we have NO PAYWALL on our website. The Reader relies wholly on the support of our valued advertisers, as well as readers who voluntarily contribute. Want to ensure that local, independent journalism survives in our town? You can help support the Reader for as little as $1.