2010 Legislative Session Roundup: Idaho

While the Legislature is challenged with a record”setting economic downturn not seen in 75 years, leadership had a strong focus on wrapping up the session in March (each day at the legislature costs $30,000) and consequently kept the number of bills down this year.  According to legislative staff, "fiscal year 2009 revenues dropped 15.3 percent from the previous year, fiscal year 2010 revenues were projected to drop another 7.5 percent, and fiscal year 2011 revenues were projected to be flat.  Amidst this 23 percent overall drop in revenues, the Legislature faced increasing school enrollments, growing Medicaid caseloads, and increasing prison inmate growth."

When the Legislature adjourned in late March, it had been in session for 78 days - one of the shortest sessions on record.  However, this did not keep lawmakers from enacting far-reaching legislation and placing punitive restrictions on the immigrant community.

Health and Human Services:  As a result of Federal Health Care Reform, state conservative elected officials worked to put up roadblocks to reform:

  • H 391 — The Idaho Health Freedom Act codifies as state policy that every person in the state is and shall continue to be "free from government compulsion in the selection of health insurance options, and that such liberty is protected by the constitutions of the United States and the state of Idaho."  The Act prohibits any state official or employee from enforcing any penalty that violates the policy and requires the Attorney General to seek injunctive or other appropriate relief and to defend the state of Idaho and its officials and employees against laws enacted by any government that violates the policy.  This law will spend $100,000 or more on a lawsuit against the federal government and puts the state's federal health care matching funds ($1.6 billion) at risk, as well as benefits from measures that provide affordable access to health insurance and closes the Medicare Part D prescription drug “doughnut hole.”
  • Both chambers stressed this anti-federal mantra by passing HCR 64, calling for an amendment to the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the interstate commerce clause to limit the role of the federal government, as well as SJM 106, urging Congress to amend the Constitution to "make no law requiring citizens of the United States to enroll in, participate in or secure health care insurance or to penalize any citizen who declines to purchase or participate in any health care insurance program."  While these resolutions and memorials do not carry the force of law, they are intended to send a message to Congress encouraging action. 
  • S 1353, dubbed the "Freedom of Conscience Bill," allows all health care professionals to refuse to provide any “end of life care and treatment” that violates their “conscience.”  That includes living wills, advance directives, or any other end-of-life instructions can be ignored.  The bill became law despite strong opposition from AARP and the public.  The bill was also opposed by Planned Parenthood for its actions against emergency contraception. 
  • H 708 contains Medicaid costs by reducing reimbursement, by cutting incentives that are unaffordable in the current economic environment and by requiring pharmacies to participate in cost surveys in order to obtain accurate and current prices.  While more individuals are turning to Medicaid for valuable health services, $22 million in cuts (over $100 million coupled with the federal matching funds) would severely scale back important programs, including home care -- which could prematurely force some seniors into costly nursing homes.

According to the AARP, "Public retirees won — eventually.  But Idahoans will lose because of the state's fight over health care reform."  The winners in AARP's rundown include:

Idaho State Retirees:  A cost of living adjustment in tight times for the elderly.  After a hotly contested debate over the modest Cost of Living Allowance, Senator John Andreason refused to give House Concurrent Resolution 42 a hearing, effectively delivering the increase to 38,000 state retirees.  The resolution, introduced by Rep. Dennis Lake, marked the first time in Idaho history the legislature challenged a recommendation by the Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho (PERSI) board.

Grandparents:  H 610, introduced by Rep. Sharon Block, places grandparents at the top of the list for consideration as foster parents when children have been removed from their parent’s homes.  The bill, which has been signed into law, also expedites the process, and gives grandparents better legal standing to obtain custody.

Older Drivers:  Family is the focus of older driver issues.  When a doctor thinks a patient should no longer be driving, they can contact the Idaho Dept. of Transportation and recommend their license be revoked.  S 1397 now puts patients first, helping them and their families have a conversation with the physician about the concerns and options before any action.  The bill passed the Senate, did not get a hearing in the House, but is expected to be taken up and passed in the next legislative session.

Voter ID:  H 496, introduced by Rep. Mike Moyle, would require all voters to show photo ID before casting their ballot — the bill was revamped from last year to address the concerns of older voters, and now allows anyone without a photo ID to sign an affidavit.  The bill passed both the Senate and House and has been sent to the Governor.

Immigration:  Despite a large push by Sen. Mike Jorgenson, major anti-immigrant bills largely stalled this year.   Jorgenson's S 1303 was a broad and punitive measure to crack down on employment by prohibiting employers from hiring non-residents, limits the driver's license test to English-only, and makes "sanctuary cities" ineligible for state grants. According to the Idaho Weekly, Jorgenson got his bill from Kris Kobach, recently profiled in The New York Times, and his law school class at the University of Missouri Kansas. 

Two other bills,  H 497 and SB 1271, which sought to penalize businesses that "knowingly" hire undocumented immigrants, both failed.

Economic Development:  H 525 provides additional sources of funding for the Film and Television Production Business Rebate Fund including grants, federal moneys, donations and funds from any other source.  The Governor signed these economic incentives into law and no fiscal impact report was provided.  Rep. Raul Labrador, a Republican, and Congressional candidate, introduced H 489 to stop City Councils from creating Local Improvement Districts (LIDs) of more than $250,000 without the support of either 60 percent of resident owners or two-thirds of all property owners within the district.  This is an effort to strip local authorities of power to raise revenues.  LIDs specifically operate to raise revenue for infrastructure improvements within cities.

Education:  According to legislative staff, "nearly all of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and Public Education Stabilization Fund (PESF) monies were used in FY 2009 and FY 2010 to avoid significant public school budget reductions.  The result of using these one”time reserve funds, coupled with continued weak revenues, is that significant reductions were necessary for FY 2011. Specifically, the FY 2011 appropriation is $128.5 million less than the previous year."  

In a creative financing scheme, S 1354 authorizes school districts to build and operate thermal energy systems to make hot and chilled water for heating school facilities; allows schools to sell excess thermal energy and use the revenue for general operating expenses within a local school district; and amends existing statute adding the thermal energy facilities as a school bonding purpose.

In an effort to address the fiscal stress on Higher Education, H 544 creates the Higher Education Stabilization Fund to provide a reserve to minimize the impact of economic downturns on higher education.

H699 requires school districts with more than 300 students to develop and maintain a publicly available website and, by the end of 2011, to post their expenditures in either a pdf format, a spreadsheet or in a database format.

Idaho House Bill No. 543 — Idaho Education Network aims to "connect each public high school with a scalable, high-bandwidth connection, including connections to institutions of higher education as necessary."  

According to the Idaho Education Network, subsequent phase considerations will be delivered in partnership with local entities and may include:

  • Enhancement of rural bandwidth to public entities.
  • Direct connectivity to each elementary and middle school to IEN.
  • The addition of libraries to the IEN.
  • Migration of state agency locations from IdaNet or current technology and services.

H 636 requires each local school district in the state to adopt and file an Internet use policy with the State Superintendent of Public Instruction that requires filtering technology to block materials that are harmful to minors and establish disciplinary measures for violators.

Criminal Justice:  H 631 grants the Idaho State Police the authority to transmit certain court records to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for inclusion in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System Database for the purpose of determining eligibility to receive or possess a firearm under state or federal law and establishes a petition process for the removal of a person's firearms”related disabilities.

Changes were made to rape statutes in the states with the passage of S 1385. The bill revises the definition of what is commonly known as “statutory rape,” which previously included defined sexual relations between a female who has not reached the age of 18 and a male.  This bill amends the definition of statutory rape to include defined sexual relations where the perpetrator is 18 years or older and the female is under the age of 16, and where the female is 16 or 17 and the perpetrator is 3 or more years older than the female. Such revisions were also made to the male rape statute.

Taxation:  In an effort to save cuts to vulnerable social programs, H 630 temporarily increases the maximum amount of the income tax credit that individual and corporate taxpayers may receive for donations to schools, Idaho Public Television, Idaho State Historical Society, libraries, museums, Commission on Hispanic Affairs, Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Idaho Council on Developmental Disabilities, Idaho State Independent Living Council, and the Idaho Council for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.  This was an effort to save cuts to these vulnerable programs.

Other tax-related legislation included:

  • H 386 revises how withdrawals from the state college savings account are added to taxable income; revises the income tax credit for research activity; and provides that the addi” tional income tax credit for capital investment shall be calculated on the amount of qualified investment made during the project period.
  • H 490 provides that a Board of County Commissioners may declare that all or a portion of the market value of a defined project, based on investment in new plant and building facilities meeting certain tax incentive criteria, shall be exempt from property taxation.
  • H 596 provides that certain improvements on state college and state university lands may be included on the new construction roll and that such improvements shall be exempt from property taxation.

Idaho Citizen's Legislature - 2010 Sine Dine Report
AARP - Here's How the New Idaho Legislation Will Affect You
Boise Weekly's City Desk - Legislature
Idaho Statesman - Idaho Legislature