Idaho Legislature wraps up business, after a tussle over $100, but does not adjourn
Legislators voted to recess until Thursday to see if Gov. Little vetoes any bills
Rotunda at the Idaho State Capitol building on March 23, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
After a marathon day at the Idaho State Capitol in Boise, it appears that $100 and the threat of having to spend any more time with each other broke a legislative impasse over a library budget late Friday night.
But instead of adjourning for the year, legislators voted to take a recess until Thursday.
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Shortly before 10:30 p.m. Friday, the Idaho House of Representatives voted 41-21 to pass the 2023 budget for the Idaho Commission for Libraries. The House had killed two previous versions of the budget in the past two days.
The only change between the library commission budget the House killed at about 6:30 p.m. and the budget it passed four hours later was a $100 reduction in federal funding.
In the end, it may never have been about the money.
“I am voting for this because I feel like that is where the votes are,” Rep. John McCrostie, D-Garden City, said on the House floor, where tempers flared for much of the day.
House GOP legislators and concerned parents for weeks have claimed that Idaho libraries contain obscene material that is harmful to minors. Republican Rep. Karey Hanks of St. Anthony alleged there is child pornography accessible in Idaho libraries and said she worries that the state is losing its children and grandchildren to evil forces. Hanks provided no evidence of her claims.
Other legislators, and librarians, maintain that is a false narrative. Democrats in the House pointed out that materials parents and legislators flagged during public hearings involved LGBTQ+ characters or sex education materials.
A little later Friday night, the Idaho Senate voted 23-5 to pass the Idaho Commission for Libraries budget.
With that out of the way, the Idaho Legislature wrapped up its business. Shortly before midnight Friday, the Idaho House and Idaho Senate voted to recess until Thursday, which allows legislators to wait to see whether Gov. Brad Little will sign or veto the remaining bills on his desk.
The Idaho House voted down a motion to adjourn for the year 15-42 late Friday, and then passed the motion to recess until Thursday.
The 2022 legislative session: short and intense
This year’s session gaveled in Jan. 10 and has run for 75 tumultuous days at the Idaho State Capitol.
Education and school funding were focal points that were often overshadowed by more divisive debates.
The Idaho Legislature increased public school education funding by $258 million, a 12.5% increase. The Legislature approved a $103.6 million plan for teacher raises and, on top of raises, signed off on $1,000 bonuses for teachers, administrators and classified staff.
The Idaho Legislature is also paying the bills to move public school employees onto the state’s insurance plan, which carries a one-time cost of $75 million and ongoing costs of $105 million per year.
“These are historic increases for public education,” Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, said. “We had $105 million added to the existing $250 million for teachers’ health insurance, and not just teachers, all school district employees. Two years worth of career ladder movement, $1,000 bonuses for all school district employees, $72 million for literacy coming out of this budget. Really some historic increases.”
Compared to the 2021 on-again-off-again session, which was the longest in state history at 311 days, this year’s session was short and intense.
Right out of the gate, the Legislature passed a $600 million income tax cut and rebate bill.
Elections bills dominated the session. With 2022 being an important election year, election and voting bills dominated the session. Legislators introduced more than 60 bills that would change voting, voter registration, absentee ballot or election laws.
This year, all 105 legislative seats and all statewide offices, including governor and lieutenant governor, are up for election, and the primaries are May 17 — with some candidates running in new areas, thanks to redistricting.
Several bills that Republicans pushed in the name of election integrity, and would have made significant changes to voting and elections laws, passed the House but were never taken up in the Idaho Senate, including:
- House Bill 761: Rep. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley, wrote three versions of this bill, which would have made it so that student IDs were no longer accepted at the polls and that Idahoans who register to vote on Election Day would need to bring additional documentation to prove their citizenship, residence and identity. All three bills died when the session adjourned.
- House Bill 693: Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, sponsored the bill, which would have prohibited absentee ballot drop boxes. The Idaho House passed the bill but the Idaho Senate never took it up.
- House Bill 567: Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, sponsored this bill, which would have made a last-minute change shortening the official filing period for candidates for elected office to file paperwork to appear on the ballots. The bill was sent out for amendments and never advanced.
- House Bill 439: Rep. Doug Okuniewicz, R-Hayden, sponsored the bill, which would have made it so that voters who are not affiliated with a political party could no longer affiliate with a political party on the day of a primary election. The bill barely passed the Idaho House but was never taken up in the Idaho Senate.
- House Bill 547: House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, sponsored the bill, which would have made it a crime to turn in an absentee ballot for a friend, neighbor or co-worker who is not a relative or living with the voter. The Idaho House passed the bill but the Idaho Senate never took it up.
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Debates over abortion and library materials generated controversy
The session was also marked by intense and divisive debates over a Texas-style abortion bill and over allegations by GOP legislators and concerned parents that materials that were obscene and harmful to minors are available in libraries.
On Wednesday, Gov. Brad Little signed Senate Bill 1309, which allows relatives to sue a medical professional who performs an abortion after cardiac activity is detected. The law effectively prohibits most abortions in Idaho after six weeks and would likely be found unconstitutional if challenged in court, according to an opinion issued by the Idaho Attorney General’s Office. (For most pregnancies, the first prenatal visit does not occur before six weeks’ gestation.)
The Idaho House passed House Bill 666, which removes an exemption that protects libraries, colleges, schools, museums and their employees from prosecution for “disseminating material that is harmful to minors.” The Idaho Senate never took up House Bill 666. On Thursday, House Republicans brought up librarians’ public testimony in opposition to House Bill 666 when they voted to kill the 2023 budget for the Idaho Commission on Libraries.
The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee re-wrote the Commission on Libraries budget Friday morning and cut $3.5 million from the bottom line. The Idaho House killed that version of the budget, House Bill 826, which failed 29-36. A couple hours later, JFAC reconvened yet again, at which point JFAC cut the additional $100 from the budget, creating House Bill 827, which the Idaho House passed 41-21.
On Friday afternoon, Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, sponsored House Resolution 23, which creates the House Working Group for Protecting Idaho Children from Material Harmful to Minors in Libraries.
Both chambers of the Legislature also passed a reworked version of the Office of Information Technology Services budget after Little vetoed an earlier version of that budget on Thursday. Passing the budgets for Commission on Libraries and the Office of Information Technology Services resolved some of the final disputes standing in the way of the Legislature adjourning.
2022 session wraps up without significant property tax reduction
While the Idaho Legislature did pass the largest tax cut in state history via House Bill 436 and used some of the state’s projected surplus to pay off debt, the Legislature did not come to agreement around a major property tax proposal.
Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, sponsored House Bill 741, which would have removed all property tax from a homeowner’s primary residence other than bonds and school levies while at the same time increasing the sales tax. However, House Bill 741 never made it out of committee and legislators adjourned without a major property tax reduction, even though Idahoans have been speaking out about increases to their property taxes in recent years.
“I think that property tax is a huge disappointment,” Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, said. “We were successful in getting relief to some seniors and walking back some of the negative effects of House Bill 389 from last year. But as far as a larger solution, that remains unfinished business for sure.”
Big changes coming to the Idaho Legislature in 2023
The Idaho Legislature will look much differently in 2023, thanks to redistricting, the 2022 elections and retirements.
Republicans retiring from the House of Representatives include: Fred Wood of Burley, Steven Harris of Meridian, Randy Armstrong of Inkom, Rick Youngblood of Nampa, Caroline Nilsson Troy of Genesee, Marc Gibbs of Grace, Clark Kauffman of Filer and Gary Marshall of Idaho Falls.
Also leaving the House are Democrats John McCrostie of Garden City and Sally Toone of Gooding.
Horman said there is 106 years of experience just among the retiring House members.
“It’s going to look very different,” Horman said. “Losing a lot of experience here is going to give a lot of members opportunities to step up and serve in new ways, and I think that is a good thing.”
On top of retirements, Speaker of the House Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, is leaving the Idaho Legislature to run for lieutenant governor, ensuring there will be a new speaker next session. Other Republicans who are running for a different office and leaving the House include Chaney, Priscillia Giddings of White Bird, Dorothy Moon of Stanley, Ben Adams of Nampa, Terry Gestrin of Donnelly, Tammy Nichols of Middleton, Codi Galloway of Boise and Laurie Lickley of Jerome.
“I think you could see the biggest turnover in Idaho history next year in the Legislature,” Chaney said. “You’re going to see new leadership in the House, pretty much top to bottom.”
Across the rotunda, Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Caldwell, is retiring after 11 terms in the Idaho Senate. Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, and Sens. Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls, Mark Nye, D-Pocatello, are also retiring. Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene, is running for Idaho Secretary of State and will leave the Senate as well.
Depending on how the May 17 primaries and the Nov. 8 general election play out, nearly half — or more — of the Idaho Legislature could be new next year.
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