BOISE – Idaho’s legislative session this year was long on drama, but many of the biggest and hottest debates won’t mean much for most of the state’s residents.
Instead, it’s the smaller things, some of which passed with little controversy, that will make the most difference in everyday Idahoans’ lives.
Examples: Idaho became the first state to enact legislation letting drivers show proof of insurance electronically on their smartphones. New youth concussion legislation will require schools to better protect young athletes who suffer head injuries on the playing field. A state suicide hotline got funding to start back up after a six-year gap.
Foster care payments in Idaho, now fifth-lowest in the nation, will see a small boost. Several Medicaid service cuts that were causing great angst for developmentally disabled Idahoans this year were reversed.
And legislation adjusting outdated brewery laws will allow a new Post Falls microbrewery to start up with the partnership and expertise of Ponderay’s Laughing Dog Brewery.
“We did some good things here and there across the state,” said Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint. “I think we made some good progress.”
Some of the session’s biggest debates, on the other hand, will have little effect on state residents:
• A much-vaunted tax cut is only for corporations and top earners, and 82 percent of Idaho tax filers won’t be affected.
• Despite repeated attempts to evict the Occupy Boise encampment, the tents still stand on state property across from the Capitol.
• Controversial legislation to require Idaho women to undergo an ultrasound before having an abortion passed the Senate but died without a hearing in the House.
Rep. Marge Chadderdon, R-Coeur d’Alene, said that bill seemed “premature,” saying, “I guess I was really surprised that they hadn’t vetted it better before they brought it out, particularly … the doctor-patient relationship.”
Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d’Alene, said, “Sometimes it’s just a test to see if you’re conservative enough – which frustrates me (and is) probably part of the reason I’m not there anymore.” Hammond is retiring from the Senate this year.
“I think that we get too wrapped around those issues instead of the basics of governance, particularly for the Republican Party,” he said.
Asked how this year’s session will affect the lives of his constituents, Hammond pointed to the texting-while-driving ban he sponsored. After three years of debate, the bill passed this year.
“I think that will create a little safer roads,” he said.
Hammond also cited legislation to cancel the future cuts in state teacher salary funds required by the Students Come First school reform law. The cuts were meant to pay for reforms including laptop computers and teacher merit-pay bonuses; the legislation still makes those items top funding priorities in the school budget.
“I think that teachers were respected and recognized for their work by restoring that and not taking money out of their salary to fund other programs, so I think that’s a good thing,” said Hammond, a former school principal.
But Idaho still faces a referendum vote in November on whether to repeal the entire Students Come First law, which includes eliminating most collective bargaining rights for teachers and a new focus on online learning for students.
Hammond, who voted for the reforms, said he doubts this year’s move will take the steam away from the referendum effort, for which backers gathered more than 70,000 signatures. But he said it makes him feel better about his support. “I would say I feel better than I did last year,” he said.
Another bill that will affect Idahoans: A passport to all state parks now costs $40 for the year, but starting next January residents can buy $10 annual passes to the parks when they renew their car registration. The state Parks Department is hoping to sell lots more of the passes through the move and raise an additional $1.9 million a year to operate the parks.
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