By Rep. Mark Sauter, R-Sandpoint
The 2023 Legislative Session ended last Thursday, April 6. As a freshman representative, I had few expectations. I had heard there would be lots to learn and many people to meet. Adapting to the procedures at the Capitol wasn’t difficult. However, it wasn’t intuitive. Working with the different legislators and interest groups was challenging and rewarding.
Going into the session, I had expectations of working on the state budget, tax policy, education and infrastructure funding. What I found was a mixed bag of bills to vote on.
Many social bills were presented in the early part of the session. It became apparent that many of these bills had been drafted during the months after the last session and were ready for a “print hearing” in early January. House Bills 71 and 186 were both brought up early. HB 71 dealt with the prohibition of sex-change surgery and certain medical care for children, while HB 186 was the firing squad bill to provide a back-up system for Idaho capital punishment.
We heard a few voting bills. HB 124 removed the use of student IDs for voter identification. This bill was supposed to eliminate the variances in the IDs across the state. HB 340 establishes a standardized statewide ID system for everyone without a driver’s license.
Absentee ballot procedures were also the subject of legislation. One bill would have made the distribution of absentee ballot request forms much more difficult; another would have considerably restricted the use of absentee ballots. Both bills failed.
Our county clerks have said our absentee ballot process works very well and is not in need of any changes.
The Senate ran a resolution to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot next year. The amendment, if it had passed with 2/3 voter approval, would have changed the requirements to qualify an initiative for the ballot to 6% of all registered voters from each of the 35 state voting districts. Some have said this action would have made getting an initiative on the ballot nearly impossible. It would have given each voting district a veto option for all initiatives. This resolution failed.
Bills are written in many ways. They may be written by special interest groups or individual legislators. Often the Capitol staff (Legislative Services Office, or LSO) are involved with the actual writing.
Some of my bill writing ideas ended up being included in others’ bills. State staff convinced me another of my ideas was already covered in statute. I did write one bill on polling place activities that was introduced and earned a committee hearing, but fell one vote short of approval to move it onto the House floor.
The Education Committee heard several bills relative to Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), libraries and school policy. A few of the bills passed through the committee and were heard on the House floor. One of the library bills was heard by another House committee before making it to the House floor. I plan to spend more time learning about education and libraries before the next session.
When the session started, I heard we would not be hearing any abortion bills for two years. All this changed in mid-March. Ultimately, a bill making modest adjustments to the current abortion standards passed through the Senate and the House and was signed by the governor. The bill removed the “affirmative defense” clause in statute, restoring doctors’ “innocent until proven guilty” protections. The bill also clarifies several allowable procedures. Several doctors spoke in favor of the bill at the hearing.
With consideration of the Bonner General Health situation and with health care professionals continuing to leave our state, there is a great possibility we will be back in session this summer to further address women’s health and doctors’ rights.
A bill introduced as an abortion trafficking bill gained considerable interest after it passed the House and Senate. The bill makes it illegal for someone to transport a minor — under 18 years old — across state lines for an abortion without their parents’ consent. The attorney general issued an opinion that it was also illegal for a medical professional to give advice or suggest that this type of activity was appropriate. The AG’s opinion has since been pulled back, but not before it sent a chilling message to the medical community.
The Idaho Medicaid budget garnered interest in the House. The initial budget bill was returned to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee for trimming. When it was returned, there were only enough votes to pass it by a slim margin. A bill for the expansion of coverage for mothers and infants was held without a hearing by the House Health and Welfare Committee.
A number of District 1 voters called me and asked that I look into an issue they were having with the state. I was able to help solve some of these problems. I’m still following up on some of the other issues.
Serving our district in Boise was a humbling, interesting and rewarding experience. I received more than 6,000 emails in the three-month period. Most messages encouraged me to vote a certain way. I also received a number of critiques regarding my votes. A few callers even left some choice (unprintable in the Reader) words for me. I’m looking forward to spending the next eight months in North Idaho — see you around town.
Rep. Mark Sauter is a first-term Republican legislator representing District 1A. He serves on the Agricultural Affairs; Education; and Judiciary, Rules and Administration committees. Contact him at [email protected].
Deadline to apply for property tax reduction program is April 18
Bonner and Boundary County residents who have qualified for property tax benefits under the Property Tax Reduction Program (a.k.a., “circuit breaker”) and Veterans Property Tax Benefit are encouraged to apply for these programs before the Tuesday, April 18 deadline.
Due to recent changes in state statute, the income limit for the circuit breaker program has increased from $33,870 to $37,000. In addition, the property tax valuation cap has been increased to $400,000 or 200% of the median assessed value for properties receiving the homeowners exemption in the county.
In recent years, some property owners have been dropped from these programs because of income or assessed value changes. With the recent changes, some residents may find they again qualify for relief. Residents should evaluate their situation and contact their county assessor with questions and to learn more about applying for the programs.
— Rep. Mark Sauter, R-Sandpoint
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