Eye On Boise

Dems sound positive note in look back on session, with some exceptions...

House and Senate Democrats discuss the just-completed legislative session on Thursday (Betsy Russell)
House and Senate Democrats discuss the just-completed legislative session on Thursday (Betsy Russell)

House and Senate Democrats sounded a positive note in their post-session press conference this afternoon, saying their majority Republican colleagues were more willing to work with them this year. “We hold it as a sacred duty to listen to all of our constituents regardless of party affiliation,” said House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston. He praised Republicans for being willing to “tone down the rancorous voices of some of their more vocal activists” and work together “for reasonable and moderate solutions to our challenges.”

Among those, he cited the state health insurance exchange legislation, Gov. Butch Otter’s big legislative victory and one the Democrats supported while Republicans were more divided; and the personal property tax relief for business equipment, which was scaled back to a level that wouldn’t endanger local government services. “Lawmakers agreed to stop spending tax dollars on an empty governor’s mansion,” Rusche said. “We made a step toward gaining an understanding of why human rights protections must be extended to all members of society.” He also lauded the addition of five WWAMI medical school seats, and “a respite in the erosion of teachers’ salaries.”

However, Democrats decried other moves made this year, particularly the series of bills to revive various pieces of the voter-rejected “Students Come First” school reform laws. Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said, “It would have been much wiser to let the governor’s schools task force find consensus and seek input from parents, teachers and students.” She also decried the bill to make it tougher to qualify initiative or referendum measures for the ballot, saying, “there was no reason to pass this legislation,” and the Legislature’s refusal to consider Medicaid expansion this year. “GOP leaders couldn’t find the courage to do the right thing,” she said. Click below for the Dems' full statement.

Media Advisory

For immediate release - Thursday, April 04, 2013

 

BOISE- Idaho Democratic lawmakers delivered the following end of session address today at the Capitol:

As we leave the 2013 legislative session, we again thank the citizens of Idaho for placing your trust in us. We hold it as a sacred duty to listen to all of our constituents, regardless of party affiliation. We pledged at the beginning of this session to guide our policy decisions by first asking how families, businesses and communities would benefit. We’ve held true to that promise.

What we do here in the Legislature has real consequences for Idaho families. But this year we are pleased to report there seemed to be more willingness by our peers in the majority party to look at how policies affect the people of Idaho. The majority party showed that they could see past partisan politics, tone down the rancorous voices of some of their more vocal activists and weigh decisions more carefully. We would like to thank them for their friendship and collegiality as we found new allies for reasonable, moderate solutions to our common challenges.

The most visible moment of cooperation was in the House when 13 Idaho Democrats joined 28 Republicans (14 of them freshmen) to buck the status quo and support a state-run health insurance exchange. Democrats supported a state-based exchange to protect both Idaho consumers and jobs.

The effort to repeal the business personal property tax is another example of the Legislature acting responsibly. We listened to businesses because we know that we must have an economy in which they can grow, prosper and create jobs. But, in the past, our Legislature has forgotten to factor in the needs of Idaho families to have strong communities that can invest in schools, transportation, public safety and other services. We found a middle ground that supports our state’s top job creators—small and medium-sized businesses—while preserving the ability of local governments to make critically needed investments.

Other successes in this legislature occurred with less fanfare.

We commend the majority party for making meaningful, if incomplete, progress toward addressing the alarming ethical lapses of recent years.

Lawmakers agreed to stop spending tax dollars on an empty governor’s mansion.

We made a step toward gaining a better understanding of why human rights protections must be extended to all members of society.

We added five more seats to the WWAMI medical student program to help address the pending shortage of doctors in Idaho.

And we were pleased to see a respite in the erosion of teacher salaries.

Some ill-conceived legislation was cut short during the legislative process. A bill that would have criminalized the ability of sheepherders to quit their jobs failed. A bill that sought to use public dollars to fund private school scholarships failed.

We truly appreciate the better and more cooperative climate in the session. However, there were times when the majority party ignored a moderate and reasonable approach to legislating.

Atop that list is the disappointment of watching majority party members ignore the will of the voters and reinstitute Luna laws that were overwhelmingly rejected by voters last November. Rather than force this unpopular and unsound legislation back into law, it would’ve been much wiser to let the governor’s schools task force find consensus and seek input from teachers, parents and students.

The Legislature and governor fell short when it came to a bill that weakened our ability to use the initiative process. There was no reason to pass this legislation and it violated a basic principle that Idaho Democratic lawmakers share: we should preserve and protect our rights, not restrict our rights to participate and have a voice in our state government.

Also, the Legislature failed to take advantage of an opportunity to deliver half a billion dollars in savings to counties and property owners while extending health care access to tens of thousands of Idaho families. The majority party, fearing a backlash from their most extreme activists, refused to do the right thing and expand Medicaid. Idaho Democrats will work hard with the governor and with our colleagues to try to salvage this effort and save Idaho taxpayers as much money as we can. It’s disappointing that GOP leaders couldn‘t find the courage needed to do the right thing.

Other disappointments included taking a step toward privatizing our public lands by demanding title of federal public lands in Idaho.

The majority ignored truckers in northern Idaho who told the Legislature that the roads there are too winding, narrow and dangerous for bigger trucks.

The majority also ended this session on a sour note by extending the session an unnecessary extra week to have an internal fight—costing taxpayers $32,000 a day.

Further, and perhaps most troubling, the legislature failed to take steps toward developing a sound economic plan for our state, even as our families and communities suffer with minimum wage jobs.

Despite these disappointments, we leave this legislative session with a sense of optimism and committed to spend the months between now and next January reaching out to businesses, communities and families. We pledge to come back next year with a sound economic development plan for the state and work again to put our constituents and our communities first.




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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Russell covers Idaho news from the state capitol in Boise and writes the Eye on Boise blog.

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