With less than two months to go before the start of the 2016 Idaho legislative session, things are picking up as legislators, lobbyists and interest groups are busy crafting legislation, rounding up allies, and recruiting legislative sponsors for legislation to be introduced at the upcoming session. 2016 is an election year for all of Idaho’s 105 state legislators, highlighted by a spring primary election in May, which traditionally means a shorter legislative session with less controversial issues.

Since my last report, the bulk of the time spent by Idaho’s political community has been focused on a handful of legislative interim committees that have been regularly meeting throughout the summer and into the fall. The most prominent interim committees that will have legislative implications for the upcoming Idaho legislative session are the Urban Renewal Interim Committee and the Tax Working Group. The Purchasing Laws Interim Committee and the Broadband Access Study Committee have also received a fair amount of attention, and will also likely introduce draft legislation at the Legislature. A full listing of all of the interim committees, along with their committee membership, can be found on the Idaho Legislature’s official website at www.legislature.idaho.gov.

Here is a run-down on two prominent interim committees and some of the higher-profile issues affecting the public and private sectors in Idaho:

  • Urban Renewal Interim Committee: This committee, which met earlier this week, has been the most active interim committee and one that is most likely to propose some form of legislation in the upcoming session. The Committee appears to be in agreement on giving local governments the option on whether to have urban renewal boards be elected or appointed, as well as revisiting the current definitions in state law to make them more consistent. The area of contention, which will likely be mirrored at the Idaho Legislature as a whole, is whether or not to require a public vote on certain types of urban renewal projects. The committee is scheduled to meet one final time on December 14, with the goal of reaching some consensus on legislation to be proposed in 2016.
  • Tax Working Group: The Idaho Legislature’s Tax Working Group has met four times throughout the summer and fall, and is scheduled to meet once again on December 15. The working group, co-chaired by Senator Jeff Siddoway and Representative Gary Collins, was created with the goal of reviewing Idaho’s tax code and making recommendations back to the Idaho Legislature. The working group has primarily focused on, and could likely introduce legislation on, issues such as removing the sales tax from groceries, revising the personal and corporate income tax rates, and possibly increasing the exemption from business personal property tax rates. The working group has also spent significant time discussing legislation to join the multistate Streamlined Sales Tax project, but it is unlikely to take action until Congress addresses the matter.
  • Idaho State Budget: Although the projections are very early, Idaho’s legislative budget director Cathy Holland-Smith recently presented to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC), reporting that the State of Idaho is on track to end the current fiscal year with a $108 million surplus. Additionally, if the state sees predicted revenue growth in the coming year of 4.5 percent, the state could run an end-of-year surplus of approximately $150 million. Although encouraging, members of JFAC are expecting big budget requests to surface in the upcoming session to address funding shortfalls in Idaho’s court system, fire-suppression costs, raises for state employees, implementing the teacher career ladder pay system, as well as investing in much needed health and welfare programs, such as mental health programs.
  • Syrian Refugees: In response to an issue that has dominated the news both nationally and locally, Governor Otter and Idaho’s entire Congressional delegation are calling for a suspension of Syrian refugees to Idaho through the U.S. Refugee Settlement program until better assurances of security can be obtained. Governor Otter sent a letter to President Obama earlier this week calling for a halt to the entire U.S. Refugee Settlement program until the vetting process for all foreigners crossing our border can be fully reviewed. The Idaho Congressional delegation quickly followed with a joint statement indicating they all back Governor Otter’s actions. Additionally, many of Idaho’s leading state legislators have taken to social media to support Governor Otter’s actions.

My next report will focus on the more high profile issues that I expect will surface at the 2016 Idaho legislative session, including but not limited to: a potential compromise bill on the Idaho Human Rights Act, discussions centered around Medicaid Redesign, interim committee recommendations on urban renewal laws, tax reform, broadband in Idaho, public defense reform, revisiting historical horse racing in Idaho, and more.