BOISE — It was a start-stop day for the Idaho Legislature Wednesday, as members of the House and Senate spent most of their time waiting for the other chamber to do something.
Despite the erratic pace, lawmakers continue to chip away at their to-do list. Some of the highlights from Wednesday’s action:
Initiative finale?: A “compromise” bill restricting Idaho’s citizen initiative process is on its way to the governor.
The Senate voted 20-15 to approve the measure, which calls for a 270-day time limit on the initiative signature-gathering effort. It also requires signatures to be collected from 10 percent of registered voters in 24 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts.
The House introduced and passed the bill on a 47-22 vote last week. It modifies an earlier bill that was even more restrictive.
“I believe this legislation strikes a balance between those who think our current (initiative qualification) process is sufficient and those who believe the whole state needs to participate,” said Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens.
Sens. David Nelson, D-Moscow, and Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville, voted against the original bill as well as the compromise legislation. Ray Mosman, who is filling in for Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, also opposed the measure.
The fate of both bills now rests with the governor.
Hemp unhinged: An effort to legalize the production and sale of industrial hemp in Idaho may be dead for the year.
The House still has to vote on the amended bill. However, most of its original co-sponsors no longer support the measure after it was heavily amended in the Senate.
Rep. Caroline Troy, R-Genesee, was a primary sponsor of the original bill, which specifically legalized hemp, as well as hemp extractions like cannabidiol or CBD oil. The measure also directed the Idaho Department of Agriculture to submit a state plan to the federal government outline how hemp would be regulated.
Based on concerns from law enforcement officials, the Senate removed the sections that legalized hemp and replaced them with language governing the interstate transportation of hemp and hemp products. It also required a state plan to be submitted.
Troy said both versions get Idaho to the same place at roughly the same time. Consequently, she maintains her support for the bill. Most of her co-sponsors, however, feel the Senate changes fundamentally altered the intent of the legislation.
The House still has to decide whether to accept or concur with the Senate amendments. If it does, the measure would go to the governor for his signature. If not, the legislation is dead for the year.
“If this is as far as it goes, we gave it a good try,” Troy said.
Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, introduced a new bill Wednesday afternoon that could hinder efforts to legalize hemp production any time soon.
Her bill essentially does the same thing as the Senate amendment, but puts the language in a different section of state code.
“It gives the director of the Idaho State Police the ability to regulate hemp that’s being transported through Idaho from other states,” she said.
The measure does not address the intrastate transportation of hemp, which would remain illegal.
Boyle declined to speculate on the fate of Troy’s bill, saying it’s “still up in the air.” However, she no longer support the amended version of the bill.
School data: Plans to update Idaho’s 25-year-old public school funding formula may have stalled, but lawmakers expect to resume the effort in 2020.
In preparation for that, legislation recently introduced asking school districts to start tracking and reporting a variety of data. The intent is to gather accurate information so lawmakers can make better decisions next session, as they work to finalize the formula update.
Co-sponsored by Rep. Bill Goesling, R-Moscow, the measure passed the House on a 67-2 vote Monday. The Senate Education Committee gave it a favorable recommendation Wednesday, following a brief public hearing. The Senate then unanimously approved the legislation during its afternoon floor session; it now goes to the governor for his signature.
The bill requires districts to report their overall student enrollment numbers, as well as how many at-risk or economically disadvantaged students they have, special education students, gifted-and-talented and English language learners. It also includes definitions for each of these categories.
E-commerce: Legislation directing internet retailers to start collecting the 6 percent state sales tax on online sales is on its way to the governor.
The House approved the bill 57-10.
The measure previously passed the House 51-19, but was later amended in the Senate to address concerns about local governments being cut out of the new money. The Senate then approved the amended bill 24-11.
The legislation reflects last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Wayfair case, which allows states to collect sales tax even from retailers that don’t have a physical presence in the state.
The fiscal note on the bill estimates it will increase state tax collections by about $30 million per year. Whatever portion of that comes from out-of-state retailers would flow into a special fund that’s dedicated to future tax relief.
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