Greetings from Boise

A look at some trends in the 2024 Legislature

By Rep. Mark Sauter, R-Sandpoint
Reader Contributor

The 2024 Legislative session started on Jan. 8 with a cautiously optimistic State of the State address by Gov. Brad Little. His proposed budget includes continued support for public education, tax cuts, infrastructure and public safety. However, there are other — less optimistic — opinions in the Capitol as well. 

We are already seeing trends for this session. Things are moving quicker. We have seen bills introduced on a constitutional amendment, Medicaid changes, judicial reform, drug trafficking sentencing, library operations and abortion. Some of these bills have been pulled back and are already being amended.

Rep. Mark Sauter. Courtesy photo.

We are also seeing changes unfold in the operations of the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee (JFAC). Typically, state agencies submit their budgets to the governor in the fall. His staff works through them and produces a recommended budget for each department/division. JFAC then reviews each budget and adjusts as it sees fit. Historically, it’s JFAC that sets the final budgets, not the House or Senate. More than 99% of the JFAC-recommended budgets are approved by the House, Senate and governor without changes. In the past, budget presentations have taken about 90 hours of time (six weeks of morning meetings). No budget actions were taken before the entirety of the presentations were completed. But, this year, agency budgets are being presented in an abbreviated manner. The members of JFAC will also not be waiting to hear all presentations before beginning to make their budget recommendations. 

To my knowledge, this has never been done this way or so quickly. 

At this point, most representatives (including myself), are accessing the previously mentioned bills (and many more) and beginning their research. Many bills will require additional study and contacts to subject matter experts at home to determine the best path forward. There is a history of combining the details of similar bills as well.

The House Education Committee held a print hearing for a major rewrite of charter school policy (House Bill 386, 31 pages). “House Ed’’ voted to print the bill and will schedule a full hearing of the bill in two to three weeks to allow the committee members adequate time to read through the bill, research it and speak with constituents. The governance of charter schools could change significantly.

The House Judiciary and Rules Committee has held several hearings over the past two weeks. Bills covering criminal use of artificial intelligence, mandatory minimum sentencing for those found guilty of trafficking fentanyl in certain quantities, and judicial oversight for criminal activity of minors under the age of 10 have all been introduced. 

All the above-mentioned issues signal some of this session will likely be a continuation of the last one. Libraries, abortion, education and other current issues will continue to be on the “dashboard” for representatives and a source of attention for the media. 

I plan to spend considerable time reading 2024 bills, asking questions, learning more about the subject matter, checking in with our district and forecasting the consequences before I make my final votes. I encourage those interested in these and the other issues for this session to do the same. 

Thoughts, comments, feedback? I can be reached at [email protected] or 208-332-1035. This session I will be writing a newsletter. If you would like me to send you one, please send me your email address.

I’m driving home on Friday afternoon. On Saturday, Jan. 27,  I plan to host three meet-and-greets in Dist. 1. Details as follows: Tyee Coffee (50 Main St., Ste. 105, in Priest River) at 9 a.m.; Kokanee Coffee (509 Fifth Ave., in Sandpoint) at 10:30 a.m.; and Mugsy’s Tavern (in a meeting room at 7161 Main St., in Bonners Ferry) at 1 p.m. 

Hope to see you there and hear from you. 

Rep. Mark Sauter is a Republican legislator representing District 1A. He serves on the Agricultural Affairs; Education; and Judiciary, Rules and Administration committees.

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