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Idaho legislative session ends with tax cut, abortion ban

UPDATED: Thu., March 31, 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 Keith Riddler Associated Press

BOISE – Idaho lawmakers on Thursday wrapped up this year’s legislative session that included passing the state’s largest income tax cut of $600 million and one of the nation’s most restrictive abortion bans.

But the Republican-dominated Legislature adjourned the 81-day session without passing any meaningful property tax relief.

Lawmakers also approved $325 million for water infrastructure and more than $800 million for transportation costs and deferred maintenance on state buildings. That also includes building an 848-bed women’s prison.

The $600 million income tax cut, which in February became the first bill Republican Gov. Brad Little signed into law this year, includes a one-time $350 million in rebates and $250 million in permanent income tax reductions going forward for people and businesses.

“I think we did some great stuff this year,” said Republican House Speaker Scott Bedke, who is wrapping up his 11th term to run for lieutenant governor.

Other notable legislation that became law included a record $300 million increase in the K-12 public schools budget. Lawmakers also approved a 7% increase in educator salaries as well as increased health insurance benefits. A bill to fund optional full-day kindergarten also passed.

“I think we did some great good,” said Democratic Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, a retired teacher. “This has been a good year for education. We still have more to do. I think schools are feeling pretty good about what we did this year.”

Lawmakers entered the session with an estimated budget surplus of nearly $2 billion plus several billion in federal coronavirus relief funds to spend. Overall, lawmakers generally approved Little’s proposed use of the money in what he called his “Leading Idaho” plan that sought long-term investments in infrastructure and education that would benefit future Idaho residents.

“In all my years, I have never seen a more successful legislative session that produced so many positive results for the people we serve,” Little said in a statement after the Legislature adjourned. “We achieved what I never thought we could – ‘the trifecta’ – which is record tax relief, record education investments, and record transportation investments in one year.”

Little last week signed into law a bill modeled after a Texas statute banning abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy and allowing it to be enforced through lawsuits to avoid constitutional court challenges. The measure allows people who would have been family members to sue for a minimum of $20,000 a doctor who performs an abortion after cardiac activity is detected in an embryo.

That law takes effect April 22, but Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit Wednesday with the Idaho Supreme Court to stop the law.

Little also signed into law a bill that dramatically increases the secrecy surrounding Idaho’s execution drugs. The law prohibits Idaho officials from revealing where they obtain the drugs used in lethal injections, even if the officials are ordered to do so by the courts.

Another law provides a modest increase of $20 in the amount Idaho taxpayers can deduct for paying sales tax on food.

Lawmakers approved and Little signed a property tax reduction, called the circuit breaker, for higher-valued houses to keep older, low-income Idaho residents in their homes.

Lawmakers also during the session approved the $643 million higher education budget for Boise State University, Idaho State University, Lewis-Clark State College and the University of Idaho. That budget had been cut last year amid concerns over critical race theory, a way of thinking about America’s history through the lens of racism.

Lawmakers also approved the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s $4 billion Medicaid budget.

“We’ve, I think, been very fiscally responsible to deal with issues that we know are there but at the same time not creating ongoing obligations that are going to be a burden on the taxpayer,” said Republican Senate Majority Leader Kelly Anthon.

Legislation approved by the House but that never got a hearing in the Senate included a bill prohibiting gender reassignment surgeries and gender-affirming health care such as puberty blockers and hormone therapy for minors. The proposed law said a violation would be a felony punishable by up to life in prison.

Another law approved by the House but that didn’t get a hearing in the Senate was a bill to fine librarians $1,000 and send them to jail for a year for checking out material to a minor that could harm them. The proposed law didn’t define what could harm a minor.

Another bill to prohibit the use of ballot drop boxes passed the House but never got a hearing in the Senate.

“I think we saw the culmination of an alarming trend in recent years of a House majority caucus that has lost its way from small government conservatism and spends an undue amount of time telling people what to do with their lives,” said Democratic House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel. “But we did get some good things done.”

About 20 must-pass appropriations bills passed the House only because the 12 House Democrats helped pushed them through after a majority of the House’s 58 Republicans voted to kill the bills.

Overall, Idaho lawmakers approved $4.62 billion for fiscal year 2023 that starts July 1, about a 9.5% increase over the 2022 budget.

Last year, the House didn’t officially adjourn but only recessed, allowing Bedke, the House speaker, to call the House back into session. That move was part of a monthslong battle with Little over balance of power issues involving coronavirus pandemic restrictions and spending federal rescue money.

But this year both chambers adjourned and can only be summoned back for a special session by Little.

Voters could change that in November when they decide whether to approve a constitutional amendment that would allow the part-time Legislature to call special sessions, a power currently limited to governors.

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