Greetings from Boise: Property tax relief and BGH situation among the big Statehouse conversations

By Rep. Mark Sauter, R-Sandpoint
Reader Contributor

We are being told the 2023 legislative session is beginning to end. However, I’m not yet convinced we will be done on Friday, March 24. Our voting time on the floor of the House has more than doubled in the past two weeks. 

The property tax relief bill is almost through the approval process. It should provide relief for many. The drafters of House Bill 292 took pieces of several tax bills and the insight of many, then turned it into a significant piece of legislation. The bill returns up to $355 million to property owners in 2023.

The actual legislation takes 4.5% of the revenues from state sales tax and divides it among homeowners. It also divides approximately $100 million of revenues (from various sources) and distributes it among school districts to reduce bonds. Finally, it takes the state funds not used for the state budgeting process (a.k.a. the surplus) and applies them to property tax relief, too. 

I asked the staff of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee to provide some estimates for our district. They provided the following reductions based on a $450,000 home value:

• For homeowners in the Lake Pend Oreille School District, the JFAC crew estimates there will be a reduction of approximately $319. 

• For homeowners in the West Bonner School District, they should see a reduction of $333. 

• Homeowners in the Boundary County School District should see a reduction of $339. 

• The JFAC crew said the savings didn’t double for a home valued at $900,000, but it was close.

HB 292 also adjusts the “circuit breaker” formula. Residents will now stay qualified with a home when it is up to twice the average home value in the county. This adjustment should help some of our residents stay in the program, despite the recent increases in their home values. 

The elimination of a March primary date for school elections was also included in the bill. I had previously voted to keep the date for our schools (we lost that vote). As noted in a previous column, there are times when a bill includes some things that are unwanted and many things that work for the district. My vote for HB 292 was one of those times. 

In other news, as many of you know, Bonner General Health issued some sobering news late last week. Due to several factors, the hospital administration has decided to reduce their services. I respect their tough decisions. 

The BGH situation didn’t happen suddenly. This issue has been building. Our medical community has been having trouble recruiting and retaining staff for some time. Meanwhile, a large group of stakeholders has been meeting for months to develop some changes to state statute regarding our abortion regulations. 

The new bill, in brief, changes the “affirmative defense” section of the bill known as the “Trigger Law.” This change is important to our medical providers as it gives them the “innocent-until-proven-guilty” provisions of law. The bill also clarifies certain women’s health procedures that may be legally performed. 

As with many bills, there were compromises made by all parties involved.

HB 342 was introduced to the House State Affairs Committee on Monday morning, March 20. The committee voted to print the bill and schedule a hearing for the next morning. Unfortunately, several parties involved with the bill raised objections on Monday afternoon. As I write this piece on March 22, the bill is being held. 

There are many active conversations regarding HB 342 among members of the House and Senate and all other parties involved. The local Boise medical community is involved as well. 

As this is a pressing issue for our district, I am very hopeful we can get something done with this bill before the session ends. 

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].

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