BOISE – Some legislative proposals made a big splash early in this year’s Idaho legislative session, only to quietly fade away later, and never become law.
Among them: a much-debated bipartisan bill to ease some of Idaho’s current mandatory minimum sentences for drug possession. It passed the House 46-20 after a stormy debate and two lengthy committee hearings with lots of testimony on both sides. But in the Senate, the measure received only an informational hearing in committee and no vote.
Those mandatory minimums, under Idaho’s “drug trafficking” statute, are applied solely on the basis of possession of certain amounts of a drug. The bill would have allowed judges to vary from them only in cases where they’d create a “manifest injustice” and the mandatory minimum is “not necessary for the protection of the public.”
Senate Judiciary Chair Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, noted that law enforcement and prosecutors opposed the bill. “I do think the sentences are too long for some,” she said. But, she said, “We have to get the sides together and we have to drop all our prejudices.”
Lodge said she plans to continue to work on the issue through interim committees that she co-chairs.
Here are some other proposals that caused a stir, but then – poof – disappeared:
LEGALIZING CBD OIL FOR MEDICAL USE. The bill passed the House 59-11, but never received a Senate committee hearing, after Senate Health and Welfare Chairman Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls, declined to schedule one, citing opposition from law enforcement and the governor’s office.
ANTI-SHARIA LAW. Rep. Eric Redman, R-Athol, has proposed his bill aimed at barring Idaho courts from considering foreign or religious laws in rulings each year for the past three years; this year, it passed the House on Feb. 20, 44-24, amid much debate. Then it dropped from view. Senate State Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, said he met with Redman. “He said, ‘Oh, it’s not Sharia, it’s not Sharia,’ and he left his talking points with me and all he talked about was Sharia law and court cases,” Siddoway said. “Just passing a law to say ‘we’ve gotta live by the laws that we have,’ to me, that’s not valid legislation – we all know that.” Siddoway told Redman if he could find five supporters on the Senate committee, he’d schedule a hearing.
Redman said he met with every committee member, but couldn’t get the support. “It was going nowhere,” Siddoway said. “So we just let it stay there.”
FORBIDDING BOND RETRIES. Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, pushed legislation to forbid school districts and other local governments from re-tries on proposed bond issues for a year after voters reject one, even if they revise the amount downward, as many often do. Scott said “aggressive taxing districts” just wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. The first version of her bill was pulled; a revised version passed the House 37-32 on March 1, but never got a Senate committee hearing. Siddoway called the bill “ludicrous,” noting that when “we’re holding school in three trailer houses out back, so the bond’s needed,” districts often need to revise plans if voters don’t like the first proposal. “We have government for certain things, and we need to fund education,” he said, noting that Scott never contacted him, “so I assume she probably saw the writing on the wall.”
SOLICITING PROSTITUTION. Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, proposed legislation to make a first-time offense of soliciting prostitution a felony, at the behest of anti-human trafficking groups. The measure was the subject of a lengthy and emotional committee hearing in the House, but was voted down there and didn’t proceed.
INMATE LABOR. Lodge proposed legislation to expand the state’s current program in which up to 260 minimum-security Idaho prison inmates, both men and women, now do farm-labor work, sorting and packing potatoes in eastern Idaho or picking and packing fruit in the Treasure Valley. The bill would have opened up the program to horticulture, logging and forestry, wine-making, livestock, bee-keeping, and any other agricultural industry in the state. After it passed the Senate 34-1, the House amended the bill to require the operations to provide workers’ compensation insurance for the inmates on the job; Lodge said that didn’t work because inmates legally can’t be employees of outside private businesses, so the Senate failed to concur in the House amendment and the bill died.
HUCKLEBERRY PIE. Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, pitched legislation on behalf of a class of fourth-graders in his district to make huckleberry pie the official state dessert, saying he was hoping for “pie-partisan support,” but the bill never got a hearing. Asked why, House State Affairs Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, said, “Because he didn’t really want one. He said, ‘I don’t care.’ He’d probably argue that he said that, but he did.” Loertscher noted that he’s never been fond of state symbol bills. Asked if he’d have given the bill a hearing if Nate had pressed for one, Loertscher said, “I don’t know. It never got to that point.”