February 23, 2010 in Idaho

Athol lawmaker offers flurry of bills

Sales tax hike, body scanners among proposals
By The Spokesman-Review
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BOISE – At a time when Idaho legislators have been loath to propose tax increases, Athol Rep. Phil Hart has introduced legislation to bump Idaho’s sales tax to 8.25 percent, up from 6 percent.

The tradeoff: He’d also like to eliminate the income tax on all earned income. “I think when you tax something, you get less of it,” said the third-term Republican. “We are heavily taxing jobs, and we have less jobs.”

That’s just one of a dozen bills Hart has proposed so far this year, his busiest legislative session yet. Most have something to do with constitutional rights or privacy.

He’s got a bill to ban the use of full-body scanners, which he contends constitute “unreasonable search and seizure” and may be unhealthy; one to limit the state from encoding driver’s licenses with information that could be scanned from a distance; and one to allow more DNA testing to prove prisoners innocent – a measure that passed the House on Monday on a unanimous vote.

Hart also has introduced four bills seeking to force public votes or other accountability measures on urban renewal districts; they’re among nine urban renewal bills now being reviewed by a House subcommittee.

One of his bills that has passed the House would limit whether out-of-state license suspensions can be considered for DUI offenders; another pending in committee would require the Department of Fish and Game to make “human consumption” of game a management priority; and another, to penalize employers of undocumented immigrants, died in committee last week.

Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, who represents the same North Idaho district as Hart, has had run-ins with Hart over their competing immigration bills.

“You know, the nicest, kindest thing I can say is I have no comment,” Jorgenson said. “Frankly, I’m not going to comment on the volume and the kind of bills he chooses to bring during a very serious time like this.”

Hart acknowledges that his tax bill isn’t headed toward passage this year; it hasn’t had a hearing, and it won’t get one. He’s still working on the fiscal note, which must show how a piece of legislation will impact the state’s finances. As of now, it shows the state would lose $300 million in revenue right away, but make it back through economic growth over two to five years.

“I’ve actually kept it kind of quiet, because it’s not ready for the limelight,” Hart said. But he introduced it anyway, as a personal bill, because “I wanted to get it out there.”

Personal bills can be introduced early in the Idaho legislative session by an individual lawmaker, even without a committee’s support.

A former Constitution Party candidate who’s had well-publicized run-ins with the IRS, Hart keeps a much-highlighted printout of the U.S. Constitution on his desk.

As a legislator, he said, “I’m not trying to spend money if we don’t have money to spend. My focus is more to try to defend the rights and privacy of people.” He said of the Constitution, “Maybe we’ve ignored it for too long.”

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