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Looking back on Idaho Legislature’s 2022 session

UPDATED: Fri., April 1, 2022

The Idaho House of Representatives is seen meeting Nov. 15, at the Statehouse in Boise.  (Keith Ridler)
The Idaho House of Representatives is seen meeting Nov. 15, at the Statehouse in Boise. (Keith Ridler)
By Clark Corbin Idaho Capital Sun

The Idaho Legislature adjourned the 2022 session for the year on Thursday without taking up any new bills or overriding any of Gov. Brad Little’s vetoes.

The Idaho House of Representatives adjourned for the year “sine die” at about 1:45 p.m. on Thursday, bringing to a close 81 tumultuous days at the Idaho State Capitol in Boise. Sine die is the Latin phrase legislators use to indicate they are adjourning without announcing a day to reconvene.

Senators spent some time saying goodbyes to their colleagues who aren’t running for re-election, and the Idaho Senate adjourned for the year an hour later.

Overall, the final day was calm and uneventful.

The Idaho Senate tried and failed to override Little’s veto of Senate Bill 1381, the coronavirus pause act, which would have blocked COVID-19 vaccine requirements for a year. The Senate needed 24 votes to secure the two-thirds supermajority to override the veto but the effort failed 21-14.

The Idaho House didn’t attempt to override Little’s veto of House Bill 782, which would have made widespread changes to the process for appointing judges, or House Bill 723, which would have continued the switch to fund public schools based on enrollment instead of attendance through the 2023-24 school year.

House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, told reporters representatives knew they didn’t have the two-thirds supermajority to overturn the vetoes of House Bill 782 or House Bill 732.

“They can count, they can do the math and the votes were not there,” Bedke said.

“The House members knew the score,” he added.

Legislators finished the year’s business late Friday night before taking a recess to see if Little would veto any bills. Little did veto four bills after legislators left the Capitol on Friday. But with the Senate’s override attempt failing and the House not attempting to override any vetoes, there wasn’t anything else on Thursday’s agenda.

Bills passed during Idaho Legislature’s 2022 session

This year, legislators passed the largest tax cut in state history ($600 million) and approved one of the largest increases in K-12 public school spending (about $258 million), in state history. In addition to cutting taxes, legislators tapped into a projected $1.9 billion state budget surplus to pay off state debts, invest in rainy day savings accounts and make investments in roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects.

Legislators also paid the bills for teachers and public school employees to be moved on to the state’s insurance program.

“I am optimistic to say this, I think when we look back 10 years from now, that one of the best things we did this year was to bring our teachers up to parity with the other state employees with regard to health insurance,” Bedke said.

Controversial legislation and divisive debates overshadowed some of the policy achievements from this year. The Idaho House passed several bills that would have made significant changes to voter registration and voting laws, but were never taken up in the Idaho Senate.

Gov. Brad Little signed Senate Bill 1309, which allows relatives to sue a medical professional who performs an abortion after cardiac activity is deleted. The Idaho Attorney General’s Office issued an opinion that the bill would effectively block all abortions in Idaho and would likely be found unconstitutional if challenged in court. Planned Parenthood has already filed a petition seeking to block the law.

The Idaho House also passed House Bill 666, which would have removed legal protections for libraries, museums, schools, colleges and their employees for materials that are “harmful to minors.” The Senate never took up House Bill 666, but some House members cited librarians’ opposition to House Bill 666 before killing a series of budgets for the Idaho Commission for Libraries and ultimately cutting the commission’s funding.

Idaho Democrats respond to GOP supermajority’s objectives

Leaders of the Democratic caucus in the House and Senate said in a news conference on Monday that while a few victories were achieved this session, including $50 million for workforce housing and grants for child care providers, more should have been done to offset property taxes.

Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said the session was a disappointment from the beginning when the Legislature passed a $600 million bill for income tax cuts.

“We knew then it was an indication they probably weren’t going to do anything meaningful in the other arenas that all Idahoans have asked us to do … and that is grocery tax relief and property tax relief,” Stennett said. “It was, blessedly, not a long session, but unfortunately we didn’t get a lot accomplished.”

Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, said the House of Representatives’ Republican caucus has lost its way when it comes to small government.

“That caucus now prefers to fixate on imaginary divisive social issues that are ginned up on Fox News, and they focus on those to the near exclusion of the very real issues that actually face Idahoans,” Rubel said.

Lt. Gov. McGeachin’s supplemental funding request was denied

Adjourning for the year did finally and officially kill Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin’s $29,000 supplemental funding request to pay for legal fees stemming from a public records lawsuit she lost.

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee did not take up McGeachin’s supplemental funding request when setting her budget March 11.

Since then, state budget analysts have warned McGeachin faces a projected budget shortfall that would total $6,000 even if both of her employees stopped working at the end of this month. McGeachin’s former chief of staff Jordan Watters gave notice he intended to resign when the legislative session ended, but records show Watters was terminated before that: March 22, according to Division of Human Resources records.

Lawmakers set sights on campaign season before May 17 primaries

Although the Statehouse hallways will be quieter, the political season is just heating up. Legislators, state officials and political challengers are gearing up for a 6.5-week sprint to the May 17 primary elections. The winners of the party primaries advance to the Nov. 8 general election.

With all 105 seats in the Legislature and all statewide offices (including governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general) up for election this year, the 2022 elections will play a big role in shaping Idaho politics for years to come.

The 2023 legislative session is scheduled to begin Jan. 9, and there is expected to be significant turnover in the Idaho Legislature by then due to redistricting, retirements and this year’s elections.

Idaho Capital Sun reporter Kelcie Moseley-Morris contributed to this report.

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