Lawmakers prepare for 2019 legislative session

By Cameron Rasmusson
Reader Staff

As the new year approaches, so too does the beginning of the  in Boise, set to begin on Jan. 7.

Freshman lawmakers, include newly-elected District 1 senator Jim Woodward in the upper left, are sworn in at the beginning of December. Photo courtesy Jim Woodward.

New and veteran legislators alike convened in Boise earlier this month to determine leadership roles and assign committee seats. Newly-elected legislators like District 1’s senator-elect Jim Woodward also underwent an exhaustive orientation process that introduced them to legislative procedures and rules. 

According to Woodward, he is pleased with how District 1 will be represented in Boise. Like his predecessor, the longtime senator Shawn Keough, he will serve on the Senate Finance Committee, which meets with the House Appropriations Committee as the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee. This powerful body plays an influential role in shaping the state budget, which amounted to $8.3 billion last year. The committee’s recommendations and decisions influence the work and projects of all state organizations and departments.

Rep. Heather Scott, meanwhile, will serve on the House Environment, Energy and Technology Committee, the House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee and the House State Affairs Committee. And Rep. Sage Dixon will be committee chairman for the House Business Committee as well as a member of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee and the House Transportation Committee.

Woodward is far from lonely as a freshman legislator. Nearly a quarter of the 105-member body will comprise of new representatives and senators. The Idaho Statesman reports that 15 Republicans and six Democrats will begin freshman terms in the House, while two Republicans and one Democrat take seats in the Senate. That brings the total Legislature makeup to 28 Republicans and seven Democrats in the Senate and 56 Republicans and 14 Democrats in the House.

The Idaho Legislature is poised to have an eventful year in 2019. In the wake of Idaho voters approving Medicaid expansion this year, health care legislation will be a major topic of discussion, and it remains to be seen how the broadly conservative legislative body will handle the issue. While a substantial majority of Idaho voters want to see Medicaid expanded in the state — about 60 percent voted in favor of the ballot initiative — many state lawmakers have expressed ideological opposition to federally-driven health care.

Anticipating a legislative fight ahead, activists for Medicaid expansion are already calling for unobstructed implementation of Medicaid expansion throughout the state. They say that tacked-on requirements like proving one’s employment will only increase costs for Idaho taxpayers.  

The Times-News anticipates that criminal justice and education will also be major themes in the 2019 legislative session. With Idaho prisons bursting at the seams and the Department of Corrections asking for a new $500-million, 1,510-bed incarceration facility, lawmakers will weigh a variety of solutions to the problem, including relaxing mandatory minimum sentences on non-violent drug offenses. Likewise, legislators will examine the possibility of switching from an attendance-based model for school funding to an enrollment model. 

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