Bad News Outweighs Good in Idaho’s 2019 Legislative Session
For Idahoans who value smaller government, individual freedom, religious liberty, strong families, and honoring the Constitution, the 2019 Idaho legislature will leave them wanting. There were a few bright spots but, by and large, the Idaho legislature was out of touch with Idaho’s values.
Ballot initiative Proposition 2 (Medicaid Expansion) was approved by Idaho voters last November. It directs the legislature and the Department of Health and Welfare to adopt rules and waivers to expand Medicaid in Idaho by including all those below 138% of the poverty line (including single, able-bodied workers) into the federal health insurance model. Idaho could have simply signed us up for the blanket increase. Instead, our legislators did the right thing by including work and/or training requirements for new recipients—much the same as other welfare programs.
The second “win” for Idaho was the legislature failing to reach an agreement on the Administrative Rules approval bill. Every year, the legislature gives the 7,000 pages of Administrative Rules the force of law by approving a “rules” bill (S.1205 this year). But this year, because the House wanted to include an amendment requiring the approval of both chambers (House and Senate) for ratifying specific rules, the Senate would not pass the entire “rules” bill.
Effective this July, none of the Administrative Rules will be in force. Idahoans should expect the administrative agencies to issue all 7,000 pages of rules once again (as temporary rules) to be in place through the next legislative session—awaiting 2020 approval. It is a great opportunity for all Idahoans to review the rules and be ready to reject unreasonable rules. This is a unique chance to push back against executive overreach via state agencies and departments. The legislature—not the executive branch—is supposed to be the lawmaking branch of government. Executive branch agencies have gotten away with “legislating via rules” for far too long. This is exactly how Common Core requirements were sneaked into Idaho law. Let your legislators know you disagree with any rules not associated with specific legislative action.
Now for some bad news. Idaho’s legislature has an appetite for extreme spending increases. This year they increased Idaho’s general fund by 7.1%. Not many working Idahoans were fortunate enough to have raises of 7%, but Idaho’s government beast sure did. In fact, the legislature came extremely close to actually passing a bill to raid the “rainy day” fund (Idaho’s savings account) to increase spending even more. Fortunately, the bill, after passing the House, was pulled back for reconsideration, where it died without further action. Adding a share for Medicaid Expansion to Idaho’s budget will further increase the state’s reliance on federal funding (spending) which already comprises close to 40% of all spending in the state. With that kind of dependence on federal dollars, Idaho is increasingly becoming a subsidiary or servant of the federal government rather than the sovereign state it is intended to be.
Other bad news. Transparency took a hit this session. Two bills to require informing citizens of their rights in difficult situations were killed in the Senate. The first was a bill requiring Child Protection Services to inform families of their rights when CPS demands access to their homes or their children. It died in the Senate State Affairs committee. The second was a bill requiring schools to inform parents of their rights to be exempt from vaccination requirements on their children, rather than being told by schools (incorrectly) that their children must be vaccinated in order to attend. This bill was denied even a hearing by a committee chairman, Senator Fred Martin.
Beyond those two key bills, the Senate particularly seemed hostile toward House actions. Many good House bills either were defeated in the Senate or were denied hearings in committees. The bill to require parental opt-in for their children into Sex Education classes was defeated in a Senate committee. The bill to require both chambers to approve Administrative Rules was denied a Senate hearing. Senate chairmen were quoted as saying untoward statements regarding House legislation such as, “I hope that bill (immunization transparency) never sees the light of day,” and “the (new) house members don’t understand the rules, and don’t know what they are doing.”
Back to some good news. Idahoans also saw some gains regarding rights to own and carry firearms. Constitutional (permitless) carry of concealed weapons was expanded to include adults as young as 18 years old. This makes Idaho law consistent across cities and counties so Idaho citizens 18 years and above don’t have to worry about their rights changing as they cross city boundaries. There is still more work to do regarding gun rights, however. The Constitutional Carry of concealed weapons needs to be fixed to include non-Idaho residents as well as Idaho residents. It doesn’t make sense to treat non-Idahoans differently regarding their 2nd Amendment rights. Idaho also needs to amend its “Castle Doctrine” or “stand-your-ground” law. For the third year in a row, the House State Affairs committee chair has refused even a hearing on this essential legislation.
Idaho families deserved better treatment this session as well. While pro-life advocates saw a minor victory in banning partial-birth abortion in Idaho (which aren’t being done anyway), they missed the opportunity to follow other states’ lead in banning abortion at first signs of a baby’s heartbeat, or even at 20 weeks. A bill to make abortion law consistent with the statutes on murder (making all abortion illegal in Idaho) was not allowed a hearing in the House State Affairs committee. Idaho should be the trailblazer in strongly affirming and protecting the lives of unborn babies, but currently, we only follow other states’ leads.
Idaho also missed opportunities to improve sensitive education areas in its public schools. As previously mentioned, a Senate committee killed the Sex Education Opt-in bill. Additionally, a bill to ban obscene content from school libraries was not even permitted a committee hearing.
Finally, the Idaho House caved to progressive pressure and shame tactics by defeating a resolution to condemn persecution directed at Christians (and indeed all religions). Instead of taking a strong stand against such persecution, the House was swayed by the crocodile tears of leftist progressives who claimed other religions would somehow be damaged by Idaho affirming Christian persecution being wrong and reprehensible.
Unfortunately, a mere few weeks later, the proponents of the resolution saw their concerns manifested once again by the bombings of Christian churches in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday.
In summary, despite a few bright spots, the Idaho Legislature continues to demonstrate it is out of synch with the conservative values of Idaho at large. Individual freedom, limited government, fiscal responsibility, Constitutional integrity all have a long way to go in the legislature before Idahoans can truly be proud of its governance and shared values. The Madison Liberty Institute appreciates the small improvements in Idaho but also sees the great amount of work and education needed in order to restore Idaho to its prior greatness as a state model of Constitutional, limited government supportive of liberty and traditional family values.
Ron is a professor of economics at BYU-Idaho and an Idaho state representative (LD.34). He specializes in applied microeconomics, public economics, quantitative methods, the economics of education, poverty economics, and public choice. He has been teaching for nearly 30 years, beginning at the University of Connecticut, Ohio University-Eastern, and the last 19 years at BYU-Idaho.