Idaho lawmakers move along several measures

Heather Scott

BOISE — Dogged by the coronavirus and riven by political differences, the 2020 Idaho legislative session crawled to a near-close Wednesday.

Neither chamber quite reached the finish line, though. The House adjourned for the evening at 8:30 p.m.; the Senate followed suit at 8:50 p.m. Both chambers will return this morning to complete a handful of bills.

However, the Legislature is unlikely to formally adjourn for the year until Friday at the earliest, as it needs time to transmit all the completed bills to the governor’s office.

Wednesday’s action came in the midst of a statewide health emergency, with the Centers for Disease Control now recommending that gatherings of 10 or more people be avoided to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

That added a unique layer of stress to the traditionally tense times near the end of the session.

The hours of debate took an emotional toll as well — particularly in the House, which spent much of the day engaged in bruising debates over abortion, transgender athletes and anti-Affirmative Action.

This was the second go-around on the transgender and Affirmative Action bills, which were amended in the Senate and had to be approved again by the House in their amended form. Republicans prevailed on both issues, on party-line votes, and sent the measures to the governor for his signature.

The chamber engaged in an even longer debate on the abortion bill, which would outlaw most abortions in Idaho, except in the case of incest or rape, or when the mother’s life is in danger. The prohibition only takes effect if state authority to regulate abortion is restored by a constitutional amendment or by a reversal in U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, opposed the bill, in part because it continued to allow abortions in certain cases.

“Abortion is just a sanitized way to commit murder,” she said.

Scott, whose bill to outlaw all abortions without exception never got a committee hearing, also took exception to “bowing down” to the Supreme Court.

“The Supreme Court issues opinions,” she said. “I disagree that they’re the supreme law of the land. ... We (states) don’t have to accept unjust rulings. We as a body can stand up to that by passing good legislation.”

Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, joined Scott in opposing the bill — as did all the House Democrats, for entirely different reasons.

House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, likened pregnancy to organ donation.

“You’re donating the use of your organs by another person,” she said. And like any other organ donations, this one shouldn’t be mandated by the government, she said.

Revoking a woman’s right to decide what happens to her body, Rubel said, “is essentially the government exercising the power of eminent domain over your innards.”

Following a roughly 90-minute debate, the legislation passed on a 49-18 vote. Other than Giddings, all north central Idaho representatives supported the legislation. It previously passed the Senate on a 27-7 party-line vote and now goes to the governor.

Some of the other bills addressed Wednesday include:

A five-year, $223 million plan to boost teacher pay, particularly for veteran educators, passed the Senate on a 30-1 vote.

The bill reflects the recommendations of Gov. Brad Little’s “Our Kids, Idaho’s Future” task force.

Besides adding a third rung to the career ladder pay plan for experienced teachers, it also boosts state funding for beginning and mid-level teachers.

After being rejected twice in the House, the third version of the fiscal 2021 higher education budget passed the Senate unanimously.

The measure, which passed the House on Tuesday on a 43-26 vote, follows the governor’s recommendation, with the exception of providing an additional $531,000 to Lewis-Clark State College.

There was no debate in the Senate. The bill now goes to the governor.

The Senate chose not to concur with a House amendment to a Senate property tax bill.

The amendment increased the homeowner exemption from $100,000 to $112,000. However, it also required the estimated $34 million cost of the increase to be reduced from local government property tax budgets.

By refusing to concur with the amendment, the Senate killed the bill.

However, the Senate subsequently approved legislation increasing the value of the property tax circuit breaker and expanding eligibility to the program.

The program is open to certain low-income Idahoans, including the elderly, widows and widowers, the disabled and/or those who are blind.

The measure passed the Senate 31-1 and now goes to the House for further action. No other property tax relief bills have a chance of passing.

Legislation creating a “Yellow Dot” program in Idaho passed the Senate on a 25-7 vote and now heads to the governor for his approval.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Caroline Troy, R-Genesee, directs the Department of Health and Welfare to develop a standard medical form that lists name, emergency contact numbers, primary care physician and other relevant medical information.

Kits containing the form, as well as a Yellow Dot decal, would be made available to the public. People who elect to participate in the program would fill out the form, put it in the glove compartment of their vehicle and attach the Yellow Dot decal to the rear window.

In the event they’re in an accident, the decal would alert emergency medical personnel and law enforcement officials and provide quick access to the individual’s medical information.

E-cigarettes and vaping devices would be regulated the same as tobacco products under legislation that passed the Senate on a 27-6 vote.

The bill, sponsored by House Health and Welfare Chairman Fred Wood, R-Burley, requires e-cigarette and vaping device retailers to apply for the same free state permit that traditional tobacco retailers must have. They’re also subject to the same state compliance checks, to make sure they aren’t selling the products to Idaho youths.

The legislation previously passed the House on a 38-32 vote and now goes to the governor for his signature.

A tax-free savings plan for first-time homebuyers passed the Senate on a 22-10 vote and now heads to the governor.

The bill is a modified version of a proposal Gov. Brad Little introduced during the 2019 session. It allows first-time homebuyers to save up to $15,000 per year tax-free, or $30,000 for a couple.

Spence may be contacted at bspence@lmtribune.com or (208) 791-9168.

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