Legislative recap

Highlights from a historic, difficult, 2021 session

By Sen. Jim Woodward, R-Sagle
Special to the Reader

The 2021 Idaho legislative session is complete, for now at least. For the first time in our 130 years of statehood, the Idaho House and Senate have not concurred in adjourning sine die. In a typical year, the House and Senate convene in early January and adjourn for the year at the end of March. In 2021, we convened in early January, had a two-week recess in March to stop a COVID-19 outbreak, and finished in the second week of May. A positive to this year’s legislative session was the accommodation of remote testimony in committee hearings. It is beneficial to rural Idahoans.

Why was there disagreement about adjourning for the year? Most of the debate centers on federal funding and the ability of the executive branch to spend it. American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds are on the way to Idaho. Prior to leaving Boise, the Legislature created a law that requires appropriation of ARPA funds through the normal legislative process. There is potential for other funds, such as a federal infrastructure package, to flow to the state, but the governor made clear in a written letter that if an urgent situation arose requiring spending authority, he would call for a special legislative session. 

District 1 Sen. Jim Woodward. File photo.

In my mind, we could have adjourned as we have every year since statehood. The Legislature is a policy-setting body. The executive branch carries out that policy. I believe we have policy in place that will guide us from one year to the next without a year-round Legislature and that any weaknesses in policy that became evident in the past year have been corrected. 

Moving on to tax policy, the Legislature reduced the Idaho income tax rate for individuals and corporations from 6.925% of adjusted gross income to 6.5%. The change was made in House Bill 380, which also provides for one-time tax relief in the form of a 9% rebate based on your 2019 Idaho tax amount. 

House Bill 389 made changes in tax law for real property and personal property. The homeowner’s exemption will increase to $125,000. The circuit breaker exemption, which reduces property tax liability by $1,320, is changing to $1,500. The circuit breaker income limitation is going up from $28,000 to $31,900. 

Starting in 2022, homes with an assessed value greater than 125% of the county-wide median assessed value will not be eligible for the circuit breaker exemption. The property tax deferral program will still be available for those homes.

The business personal property exemption is increasing from $100,000 to $250,000. Also, transient personal property, such as logging and construction equipment, will not be taxable starting in 2022.

Finally, HB 389 set new limits on allowable budget growth for cities, counties and all other taxing districts. 

A significant commitment to our transportation system was made in HB 362, which provides $80 million in ongoing transportation funding from existing sales tax collections. The $80 million will be used for bond payments that will facilitate approximately $1.5 billion in new transportation projects statewide. 

In total, seven bills were signed into law that change how Idaho manages emergencies. Senate Bill 1217 placed a 90-day limitation on emergencies unless the Legislature is called into session. This requirement applies if the emergency is in 12 or more counties. 

HB 391 prohibits any limitation on firearms or the right to peaceable assembly or free exercise of religion during a state of disaster emergency. HB 392 prohibits the executive branch from altering, adjusting or creating any provision of Idaho law. HB 393 prohibits unnecessary restrictions on the ability of a person to work or provide for their family.

SB 1060 requires that county commissioners approve county-wide or health district-wide public health orders. HB 67 and HB 68 change the authority for closure of schools, community colleges and universities to the governing body instead of the health district.

Other notable legislation included:  

HB 126, which legalizes industrial hemp production, processing, research and transportation. Idaho was the last of the 50 states to take this step. 

SB 1102 authorizes electronic vehicle registration through automobile dealers. Hopefully this will help with the backup at the DMV offices.

SB 1211 changes the requirements regarding hunting and trapping of wolves in an effort to better manage livestock and ungulate predation while maintaining a sustainable wolf population.

Finally, SB 1110 changed the voter initiative petition signature gathering requirements. The total number of signatures required to place an initiative on the ballot will remain unchanged at 6%, but the signatures must come from all 35 of Idaho’s legislative districts.

The legislative website is legislature.idaho.gov. The bills can be found under the “Legislative Sessions” link. Each bill is listed with a statement of purpose, the actual bill text and the voting record.

As always, it is a privilege to represent the district. I appreciate your input and look forward to future conversations. I can be reached at [email protected] 

Sen. Jim Woodward is a second-term Republican legislator from Sagle serving District 1. He serves as vice-chair of the Transportation Committee and holds seats on the Education and Joint Finance-Appropriations committees.

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