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Fentanyl crimes and preferred pronouns: These 9 Idaho laws take effect on July 1

The Idaho Capitol building shown in Boise.  (Tribune News Service)
By Shaun Goodwin and Ian Max Stevenson Idaho Statesman

Idaho residents should be prepared for some new laws taking effect Monday.

A proposed bill must pass through the Idaho House and Senate before being signed into law by Gov. Brad Little, but unless it contains an emergency clause or specific date of enactment, it comes into effect at the beginning of July. State legislators this year approved a slew of new laws to be implemented Monday, several of them controversial – from expanding access to contraception through insurance, to protecting teachers who won’t use a transgender child’s pronouns without parental consent.

Here are some of the most significant bills affecting Idahoans starting next week.

Contraception requirement

In a world without federal protections for abortion, after the U.S. Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade in 2022, contraception advocates have said it’s now all the more important to protect Idahoans’ right to birth control. The Idaho Legislature this year passed Senate Bill 1234, which required insurance companies to provide up to a six-month supply of prescribed contraceptives to enrollees.

Senate Minority Leader Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, who sponsored the bill, said the measure would make it easier for women who only have a one- or three-month supply of contraceptives under their current insurance plans.

Three Republicans opposed the bill: Sen. Brian Lenney, R-Nampa; Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa; and Sen. Dan Foreman, R-Viola.

“Is it convenient to get a six-month supply? I bet it is,” Foreman told the Idaho Capital Sun. “But it’s not the proper role of government to intercede and jump between a business and a customer and say, ‘Here’s how things are going to go.’ ”

Fentanyl strips

Testing a drug for fentanyl, using fentanyl strips, will no longer be considered a felony starting Monday, thanks to House Bill 441.

The bipartisan bill, sponsored by House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, and Rep. Marco Erickson, R-Idaho Falls, was heavily supported by local high school and college students. Martha Smith, a member of student government at the University of Idaho, told the Idaho Statesman in March that she thinks the legislation could help reduce harm for people struggling with substance abuse.

At least 270 died of opioid-related causes in 2022, the latest data available, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

“This is a cheap and easy way for people to make sure they’re not being poisoned by fentanyl,” Rubel said on the House floor in February.

Fentanyl mandatory minimal sentences

Mandatory minimum prison sentences will also take effect for individuals found in possession of fentanyl, with sentences increasing to three years in prison for being caught possessing 4 grams – or 100 pills – of fentanyl, with larger sentences for higher amounts.

The bill, House Bill 406, also added a drug-induced homicide crime to Idaho law, making it a felony punishable by up to life in prison and a fine up to $25,000.

Nearly every Republican in the Idaho legislature voted in favor of the bill. Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa, said the bill makes a strong statement to drug dealers and distributors. Only one Republican lawmaker, Sen. Phil Hart, R-Kellogg, voted against the bill.

“I think what this bill does is it scoops up people who are not trafficking and calls them traffickers,” Sen. Phil Hart, R-Kellogg, said on the Senate floor in February. “I think maybe some of those need to go to prison, but I think the judge ought to have discretion for those who maybe would more benefit from a rehabilitation program.”

Needle exchange program repeal

A bill to repeal Idaho’s needle exchange program, House Bill 617, was introduced by Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, passed into law and also takes effect Monday. The bill was introduced in February, one week after a police raid on the Idaho Harm Reduction Project’s Boise and Caldwell office. Police found packaged drug paraphernalia related to the use of methamphetamine, opioids and crack cocaine.

The Idaho Harm Reduction Project is a nonprofit that has received funding from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare since 2019. The project includes a needle exchange program, which allows drug users access to clean needles and a place to dispose of used needles.

“I’m afraid sometimes it’s more enabling than it is trying to get people off (of drugs). There’s got to be something better than this,” Vander Woude said when introducing the bill.

Some lawmakers, such as Rep. Nate Roberts, D-Pocatello, voted against the bill, citing that drug users who use exchanges are typically reaching out for help. Abolishing the program, they said, will push people struggling with addiction further away from the help they need.

Housing-choice vouchers

A bill signed into law in March will bar local governments from forcing landlords to participate in federal housing assistance programs, including housing-choice vouchers, otherwise known as Section 8.

The bill will end two Boise ordinances: one that caps apartment rental application fees to $30 and one that bans landlords from denying prospective tenants a lease based on their income sources. The Statesman previously reported that many landlords refuse to accept tenants who applied with federal housing assistance vouchers because they’re seen as less reliable than other tenants.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Brandon Mitchell, R-Moscow, said the measure doesn’t explicitly target Boise; rather, it prevents other cities from passing ordinances similar to Boise’s.

“That blanket denial is what the ordinance is after,” Deanna Watson, executive director of the Boise City/Ada County Housing Authorities, previously told the Statesman.

“Denying a subset of the population from even entering the application screening process has significantly reduced the supply of available housing for our families and contributes to a longer process of finding a home,” she continued.

‘Don’t Tread on Me’ license plates

Idaho is joining a growing list of states that offer “Don’t Tread on Me” license plates.

The plates feature key components of the Gadsden flag, a yellow flag adorned with a rattlesnake sitting atop a patch of grass and the term “Don’t Tread on Me” underneath.

Sen. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton, who sponsored the bill that created the plates, Senate Bill 1317, told the Statesman that the bill was brought to her by a constituent. She said the flag has come to represent Second Amendment rights. In recent years, the flag has become associated with right-wing populism and embraced by pro-gun movements.

The purchase of a “Don’t Tread on Me” license plate will cost an extra $35 and come with a yearly $20 fee. A portion of the funds would be sent to a firearms safety grant fund to train school students on how to use guns.

Public funds ban on gender transition

Idahoans under a state insurance plan or Medicaid will no longer be eligible for gender-affirming care under Idaho’s new law.

House Bill 668 will forbid public dollars from being spent on any “medical intervention” or surgery that alters the “appearance” of a person “in a way that is inconsistent with the individual’s biological sex.”

The bill was co-sponsored by Rep. Julianne Young, R-Blackfoot, and Rep. Bruce Skaug, R-Nampa.

Despite the bill passing, Boise attorney Howard Belodoff told the Statesman in March that the law violates the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause and the federal Medicaid law, which doesn’t allow restrictions on care based on type of diagnosis or condition.

Preferred pronouns

Public employees and teachers in Idaho will no longer be required to refer to people by their preferred pronouns unless there is written permission from a parent.

House Bill 538, introduced by Rep. Ted Hill, R-Eagle is designed to protect government employees from facing repercussions if they refuse to call people by anything other than their legal name or the pronoun connected to their biological sex, according to previous Statesman reporting.

The ACLU of Idaho told the Statesman that the bill “likely violates constitutional and statutory protections.”

“While people may hold a variety of beliefs about transgender people, the First Amendment does not grant school officials a free speech right to refuse to address transgender students by the pronouns consistent with their gender identity,” the ACLU said.

‘Harmful’ library materials

Libraries have been scrambling to prepare for a new law that puts them at greater risk of liability over the materials they provide.

House Bill 710, sponsored by Rep. Jaron Crane, R-Nampa, was the final iteration of such legislation to go through the Legislature this year. The bill allows patrons to sue if a library does not remove or relocate a book they consider “harmful” within 60 days of a written request. If a lawsuit is successful, patrons can claim $250 in damages, plus additional relief.

The standard to decide whether material is “harmful” is based on the state’s obscenity law that dates back from the 1970s. Obscene material can include sexual conduct, such as content that depicts homosexuality, nudity and masturbation, if it appeals “to the prurient interest of minors as judged by the average person” and depicts sexual activity “patently offensive to the prevailing standards in the adult community.”

Little vetoed a similar bill last year and said it would create a “bounty system” for individuals reporting books, but he signed this year’s bill into law. Lawmakers also hotly debated whether the bill would protect children from “harmful” material or censor free expression, the Statesman previously reported.

“I share the cosponsors’ desire to keep truly inappropriate library materials out of the hands of minors,” Little wrote in his decision to sign the bill into law.