After working through the night, the 2015 Idaho legislative session officially adjourned in the early morning hours of Saturday, April 11. Education and transportation funding topped the legislature’s priority list this year, but a few other issues also garnered a fair amount of media coverage, including attempts to ban “instant horse racing,” legislation to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the Idaho Human Rights Act, bills to restrict eminent domain, and much more. Additionally, Idaho House committee members killed a piece of legislation that would keep Idaho’s child support enforcement system in line with federal laws, risking $205 million a year in child support for Idaho children - an issue that could possibly force the Governor to call legislators back for a special session.
With the Legislature’s adjournment, the focus for Idaho’s Legislative and Regulatory Affairs practice turns to the executive and legislative interim committees and task forces that will meet regularly throughout the year, as well as to state agencies’ rulemaking process. A full listing of all the bills that the Legislature addressed this year, as well as a full listing of the interim committees, can be found on the Idaho Legislature’s official website at www.legislature.idaho.gov.
Below is a recap of a few high-profile issues that the Legislature addressed this year:
Education: Following Governor Otter’s lead in his State of the State and budget recommendations, the Idaho Legislature approved a 7.4 percent increase in state funding for the next fiscal year. This budget item was highlighted by one of the most anticipated bills of the 2015 legislative session - the teacher career ladder, which would add $125 million to teacher salaries over five years. The Legislature also approved the creation of a new STEM Action Center to place further emphasis on teaching science, technology, engineering, and math.
Transportation Funding: A top priority for both legislators and the business community heading into the 2015 session, the Idaho Legislature reached a $95 million compromise that will plug some of Idaho’s annual $262 million gap for transportation maintenance infrastructure. The deal, which was reached in the final hours of session, raises Idaho’s gas tax by $.07, the first gas tax increase since 1996, and will also increase vehicle registration fees and impose new fees on electric and hybrid vehicles.
Health Care Issues: Despite heavy pressure from Idaho’s health care industry, the Legislature opted not to expand Medicaid this year. However, the Legislature did fund a new mental health crisis center in North Idaho, despite a $1.7 million price tag. Additionally, the Legislature passed a bill to allow parents of children with severe epilepsy to use a cannabis extract to treat seizures, but the Governor vetoed the bill. The Legislature also adopted legislation to allow for direct medical care agreements between physicians and patients, and passed legislation requiring teens to get their parents’ permission before using artificial tanning beds.
Civics Education: Despite stiff opposition from the Idaho Education Association, the Idaho Legislature approved, and the Governor signed into law, a bill that would require high school students to take and pass a civics test as a condition for graduation. This test is similar to the test administered to residents looking to become naturalized citizens in the United States. The issue received widespread support in the Legislature, with 27 legislators co-sponsoring the bill, and it received support from newspapers around the state. (Note: the author of this newsletter was hired by the Civics Proficiency Institute to lobby this bill through the Legislature).
Instant Racing: Two years ago the Idaho Legislature passed legislation to legalize wagering on historical horse races in Idaho, which was lobbied primarily by the horse racing industry and promoted as virtually identical to wagering on a live simulcast race. However, the machines installed in the past year at three Idaho locations have come under scrutiny as nothing more than slot machines, which resulted in legislation brought forward by the Coeur d’Alene Tribe to outlaw such devices. The bill (Senate Bill 1011) passed both the House and the Senate; however, the Governor vetoed the bill and the Senate failed to override the veto. There is now some questions as to the legality of the veto as it wasn’t delivered to the Senate within the required five days, and it is likely the issue will land in court.
There are many more issues that the Legislature addressed this session, from changes to the Idaho tax code to the adoption of a presidential primary financed by the state of Idaho. If there is an issue that you have an interest in that I didn’t include in my report, or if you have any questions relating to victories delivered by my lobbying practice, please let me know and I will be happy to respond to your questions or comments.