Here We Have Idaho: What’s happening at the Idaho Legislature this week

By Zach Hagadone
Reader Staff

Grocery taxes

Introduced in the House Revenue and Taxation Committee on Feb. 12, House Bill 494 would increase the grocery tax credit and equalize it for two groups of Idahoans: from $120 to $135 for those aged 65 and older, and from $100 to $135 for all others. 

According to bill sponsors, Idahoans pay an average of $124 per year in sales tax on groceries, while HB494 would “essentially offset the sales tax paid on groceries by all Idaho citizens.”

As for the fiscal impact, sponsors claim the credit will be funded from the state’s Tax Relief Fund, offset by a reduction of $1 million from the fund — bringing it from $49 million to $48 million.

New vaping rules

The Health and Welfare Committee received a bill that would officially add electronic smoking devices to the definition of tobacco products, allowing the the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare to regulate and permit retailers e-cigarette and vaping products the same way it does sellers of traditional tobacco products.

As introduced on Feb. 12, House Bill 498 would amend the Prevention of Minors Access to Tobacco Act, rolling electronic smoking devices together with tobacco and establishing a “minimal fee” on retailer permits to cover the cost of permit issuance, compliance inspection and administration. According to bill sponsors, that fee would be delayed a year to establish the need and fee amount. 

The bill would encompass e-cigs, e-cigars, e-pipes, vape pens, electronic hookahs “or any component, part or accessory of such a device, or any substance intended to be aerosolized or vaporized during use of the device.”

No-preference hiring

A bill from Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, caused tensions to rise during a Feb. 12 hearing before the House State Affairs Committee, when she presented House Bill 440, which would prohibit the state from “discriminating against or granting special treatment to” any person when hiring or contracting for government jobs, including education. 

The bill introduces a new section that specifically targets “preferential treatment” to individuals based on “race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin” when seeking public employment. 

Scott framed her bill as a “civil rights” measure, rather than one intended to eliminate so-called “affirmative action.”

According to the Idaho Press, all but one of the six individuals who testified Feb. 12 spoke against the bill, with opponents stressing that Scott’s bill leave women and minorities legally vulnerable to discrimination in hiring. 

The committee voted 12-3 along strict party lines to advance the bill to the full House. 

Transgender athletes

The House Education Committee voted Feb. 12 to print a bill that would prohibit transgender students in Idaho from competing in girls’ sports.  

Co-sponsored by Coeur d’Alene Republican Rep. Mary Souza, the bill’s statement of purpose summarizes: “Boys and men will not be allowed to participate on girls or women’s teams, as defined by their inherent differences that are physiological, chromosomal and hormonal.” Disputes over a student athlete’s gender would be settled by a physician’s note following an examination of sex organs, testosterone levels and genetic makeup. 

Called the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act by sponsors, Boise Democratic Rep. Steve Berch tried to block the bill from being introduced, saying the issue “is so far down the list” of priorities facing education that it should be held.

“I just don’t think this is where we should be spending our time at this time,” he said, according to Boise State Public Radio.

School standards committee

Much ink has been spilled on the House Education Committee’s recent decision to chuck Idaho Common Core standards without a concrete plan in place to replace them. The Idaho Senate Education Committee took up the matter on the morning of Feb. 12, voting to establish an interim committee to look at content standards — a measure brought by Committee Chairman Dean Mortimer “in the spirit of compromise to improve education,” according to the Idaho Press.

The committee was expected to address the current content standards in the afternoon of Feb. 12, following the House’s earlier vote to eliminate all school standards for math, English language arts and science. As the Idaho Press points out, that House decision will carry no weight unless the Senate also votes to drop the standards.

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