Legislative update: Wrapping up

By Rep. Mark Sauter, R-Sandpoint
Reader Contributor

The legislative session wrapped up two weeks ago. Many of the elected state representatives are now focusing their time on campaigning for the May 21 primary election. I am no exception, and am spending most of my time reaching out to you, in various ways, to inform my constituents that I am running for re-election as your District 1 Seat A Representative.

I found this 2024 session very different from my first one. The speed of the process was much quicker, the progress on bills to address real problems was slower and the appropriations process was changed. However, we did make some improvements for our state. 

Rep. Mark Sauter. Courtesy photo.

I started and “ran” five constituent bills this session and all were signed into law by the governor. The bills covered water adjudication, public works procedures, elections, school board operations and livestock depredation. They all started with requests from our district and will benefit our area and the state.

Legislators introduced a flurry of bills at the start of the session. About half of the bills introduced made it to the finish line and were signed into law. We had noteworthy votes in January that hit us as a surprise and some dogged bill movement in April. The state office that does the actual bill drafting for the legislators earned their keep, writing over 1,400 pages of legislation. There were more than 300 new sections of code added, while only 102 sections of code were repealed. Idaho is noted as the least regulated state in our country. If we intend to keep this noteworthy title, we will have to quell our appetite for new legislation at some point. 

The legislature made progress on community safety by supporting law enforcement, the fire service, adding fentanyl to the mandatory-minimum drug list and attaching harsher penalties for those who traffic it. We started a school funding process that has merit and “Launched” a program to invest in our graduating high school seniors. 

Our success with improvements to women’s healthcare are stubbornly slow. We had hard-fought wins for extending prescription contraceptives for women, reinstating our annual state reporting of maternal mortality (we rejoined the other 49 states) and expanding Medicaid coverage for qualifying postpartum moms from two to 12 months.  

However, we did not pass legislation to address the exodus of healthcare workers (doctors included), hospital service changes (labor/delivery unit closures), clarify allowable medical procedures or reduce the concerns of doctors and mothers about healthcare decisions. 

The appropriations process changed this session. Previously, the Idaho appropriations process was considered a model for responsible financial procedures. This year, rather than vote on a budget for each of the 100+ state agencies, the funding was bundled together. Multiple agency funding bills were split between what was called maintenance and enhancements. Many other Representatives joined me in questioning the efficacy of this process. The results of the changes will take time to be known. Most of the maintenance budgets were approved in one day by a handful of bills adding up to billions of dollars. The consolidation of agencies and the combining of budget items left fewer opportunities for legislative action.

Our overall state budget increased this year by 1.7 % over last year. Considering inflation and population growth, that is success. And we did so with the same tax structure! 

Other successes include another year of reduced property taxes and a slightly reduced income tax rate. We started making state investments in school facilities. Previously, the state mostly stuck to operational funding for schools. We also increased the efforts we had started a few years ago for career technical education (CTE). These efforts are meant to address our workforce, housing and family needs, and should help our communities, too.   

We also managed to direct over $530 million to road, bridge and water projects across the state. This investment into our local economies will improve our infrastructure and provide good paying jobs for our residents. At the end of the day, we will have better transportation routes, too. 

Passing legislation for our district is being responsible. I encourage you to get out and vote on Tuesday, May 21 and would appreciate your support to send me back to Boise as your responsible representative. There’s more work to do, and I get things done.

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