Legislative update: Greetings from Boise

By Rep. Mark Sauter, R-Sandpoint
Reader Contributor

The weather here in Boise is a little better since the bone-chilling temperatures have passed. Now it is more like the Sandpoint I miss: 20s at night and 30s in the day. 

As many of you know, I don’t have family in our district, so I don’t have the same responsibilities as other legislators. Instead of flying/driving home for the weekend, I work on my legislative work and get prepared for the upcoming week here in Boise. I receive about 40 emails a day, nearly seven days a week. I get to walk my dog, too.      

I understand I missed some town hall meetings last weekend. I saw the pictures posted on Facebook on Saturday evening. I hadn’t heard of the event. I have started to plan for a visit later this month. 

Rep. Mark Sauter. File photo.

When I return to our district, I want to talk to our voters and get feedback on the three property tax bills introduced last week. House Bills 77, 78 and 79 all have different mechanisms to reduce residential property tax. The final tax bill may end up including a piece of each of the bills. I’m sure we will have other issues to discuss as well.

This week we heard HB 24 on the floor of the House. After nearly two hours of debate, the Legislature voted narrowly to pass the bill. The bill is a workforce grant for high school graduates (GED-holders, too) of $8,500 for those students who wish to “go-on,” getting further education and/or trade certifications. Our state has had other financial offerings in the past for different types of training and college tuition. However, HB 24 increases student options.

The workforce grants must be used within four years of graduation, spent in Idaho and on Idaho education/training. If the training is not completed, the state will call for the return of the grant funds.

Our business community believes we need to get our “go-on” rate (students who get specific job training, certificates and/or college degrees) up to 60%. Our current rate is around 40%. 

HB 24 is a policy, the actual funding approval will come through the Joint Finance-Appropriation Committee (JFAC), so there will be fiscal restraints and considerable oversight of the program to begin the program and to monitor it. The final price of the bill is yet to be determined and approved. 

The state Workforce Development Council develops a list of the “in-demand” careers that the grants can be used for annually. We have representatives from our district on the council, including Idaho Forest Group and Kochava. Career counseling is offered at our schools and there are online toolkits to help students find their own career paths. 

HB 24 addresses many issues for our district. It helps our students with their financial needs. Inadequate funding is reported as the No. 1 roadblock for students interested in “going on.” The grant does not fully fund very many of the workforce training programs, so students will still need to provide funds to finish their education (a.k.a.: have some “skin in the game” in their own education). 

Trained entry-level workers can help to fill the vacancies and ease the labor shortage affecting our industries. When I’m out in our community, the No. 1 issue I hear from employers is the need to fill vacancies in their workforce. I know Idaho Forest Group — with approximately 500 employees in our district — strongly supported this project. I voted for HB 24. 

With thoughts about President Lincoln, had I had more time, I would have written a shorter piece this week.

Rep. Mark Sauter is a first-term Republican legislator from District 1A. He serves on the Agricultural Affairs; Education; and Judiciary, Rules and Administration committees. Contact him at [email protected].

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