By Zach Hagadone
A ‘divisive’ session
As Idaho lawmakers approach the end of the 2020 Legislature, which is expected to adjourn Friday, March 20, they’ve already started to take stock of what has been a “divisive” session, according to some.
House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley; Senate Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg; Senate Majority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise; and Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennet, D-Ketchum, gathered March 10 in downtown Boise to participate in an annual event hosted by the Idaho Press Club.
According to the headlines that came out of the on-the-record conversation with Statehouse leaders, this session has been characterized by legislation addressing a variety of hot-button social issues. As Rubel said, quoted by the Idaho Statesman, the Legislature would have done better to leave those social issues alone in favor of looking at property tax relief, education and infrastructure.
The Idaho Business Review put a finer point on that assessment in its March 11 headline: “Social issues preoccupy Idaho Legislature to the determinant of business, critics say.”
Specifically, those critics point to a number of bills that surfaced during the session aimed at regulating transgender people — barring some from participating in school sports, curtailing medical care for others and limiting still others’ ability to alter their birth certificates to reflect their gender identity. That last bill has already been approved by the House and recently made it out of committee in the Senate, despite an opinion from the Idaho attorney general that it is likely unconstitutional and would lose in a court challenge.
Other pieces of controversial legislation included Blanchard Republican Rep. Heather Scott’s House Bill 440, which would amend the Idaho Human Rights Act to prohibit any preferences given to women and minorities in housing, employment, education or public accommodations. Finally, several bills — including one from Scott — targeted abortion, including by prohibiting public money from going to health care providers that perform abortions and positioning the state to make abortion a crime — in the case of Scott’s bill, one punishable as murder.
“I am profoundly concerned,” the Statesman quoted Rubel, who referred to the bills in question as “nothing short of horrifying” and “flagrantly illegal.”
For his part, Hill praised the session, calling it productive and the transgender bills an “appropriate way” to address an importance issue about what is “not acceptable.”
Vote on guns in schools?
Members of the Senate State Affairs Committee are taking multiple days of testimony on Senate Bill 1384, which would allow school employees to carry concealed weapons on school property, provided they hold an enhanced concealed weapons permit.
According to idahoednews.org, “testimony was sharply divided,” split between groups like the National Rifle Association and The Real 3%ers of Idaho speaking in favor of the bill, and Moms Demand Action, the Idaho Education Association and Idaho School Boards Association speaking against it.
Introduced on March 2 and referred to State Affairs on March 3, Capitol watchers in Boise say the committee will continue to take testimony on Friday, March 13, after which they may vote.
Public records exemptions
The House passed a bill March 10 aimed at giving legislators and public officials more exemptions to the state’s public records law. Specifically, HB 601 exempts from disclosure information requested from the Tax Commission, unclaimed property and the Petroleum Clean Water Trust Fund. It also exempts from disclosure research, personal communications, personally identifying information, work papers and draft redistricting plans.
Legislators approved the bill on a vote of 42-27, with sponsor Rep. Megan Blanksman, R-Hammett, arguing that it is necessary to make public records requests more specific and help keep down the costs of complying with a dramatic increase in records requests related to lawmakers and other public officials.
First District Reps. Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay, and Scott joined the Democratic caucus in voting “nay.”
According to the HB 601 fiscal note, the bill would “result in an overall decrease in workload as requests become more well defined and thus create subsequent savings to the general fund.”
The bill now heads to the Senate.
Support for timber
Idaho House lawmakers took some time March 10 to throw the state’s timber industry a bone — albeit a non-binding one in the form of House Concurrent Resolution 36.
The measure, fronted by Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Genesee, notes Idaho’s 21.5 million acres of forestland, including 16.5 million acres of designated timberland — however, as the bill points out, 9.3 million acres are available for harvest.
In order to support the state’s more than 200 forest product manufacturing and wholesale businesses, HCR 36 “urges that federal, state, local and other building projects include as much safe, renewable, and environmentally friendly wood products grown and produced in Idaho as possible in their building and construction plans.”
Given a “do-pass” recommendation by the House Ways and Means Committee, the resolution does not require a signature by Gov. Brad Little, nor does it carry with it the force of law.
Property tax study
In another concurrent resolution, this time from the Senate, legislators on the House Revenue and Taxation Committee moved along SCR 134 with a “do-pass” recommendation, authorizing an interim legislative committee on property taxes.
Already approved in a unanimous vote Feb. 20 in the Senate, the measure nods to escalating property taxes as “a major concern to residential property owners” and opens the way for a study of the state’s property tax system. The committee, to be appointed by the Legislative Council and composed of legislators and non-legislative members, would draw on its analysis to deliver recommendations on how to provide Idahoans with property tax relief while also supporting economic development.
If similarly approved by the full House, the committee would be charged with reporting its findings, recommendations and proposed legislation to the 2021 Legislature.
Sponsors Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, and House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, have attached a fiscal note of $15,000 related to the bill, to be used to cover the costs of travel for the committee.
The Idaho House approved a measure March 5 that may give renters some peace of mind, amending Idaho law to require residential landlords provide at least 30 days notice for nonrenewal of a lease or a rental increase.
Sponsored by House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, and Rep. Jarom Wagoner, R-Caldwell, House Bill 594 passed with 47 ayes and 21 nays — two lawmakers were absent — and made it through the Senate Commerce and Human Resources Committee on March 10 with a “do-pass” recommendation.
Reps. Dixon and Scott both voted “nay” in the House. The bill now goes for its second reading in the Senate.
Daylight saving time
The times they are (almost) a-changin’ — maybe. Legislators in both chambers of the Statehouse gave their overwhelming support to a bill that would establish daylight saving time in all parts of Idaho located within the Pacific Time Zone, but only if the state of Washington makes daylight saving time permanent within its borders.
Approval for Senate Bill 1267 came first in the Senate on Feb. 26 and in the House on March 10, with only one dissenting vote, from Nezperce Republican Rep. Thyra Stevenson.
The bill now heads to the governor’s desk for his signature while its companion legislation, SB 1386, which would trigger a time change in southern Idaho if Utah makes daylight saving time permanent, remains in the State Affairs Committee.
For more information — including full bill texts, agendas and status updates — go to legislature.idaho.gov.
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