How to have a good 2013 legislative session
January 6, 2013
The 2013 Idaho session gets under way this week. Here's a look at what you can expect, what should and shouldn't happen:
Gov. Butch Otter appointed a task force with representatives from across the spectrum to issue a recommendation on how the state should proceed in establishing a state insurance exchange. That group recommended overwhelmingly that Idaho should do so, and Otter has passed that recommendation on to lawmakers. What they choose to do with it is anyone's guess.
Yes, some states remain defiant, and that will cost them control in the long run because the federal government will simply establish an exchange for them. Otter - certainly no fan of the Affordable Care Act - is right when he says the state can at least help mold and shape the exchange if it establishes its own, and lawmakers would be wise to follow his lead.
PERSONAL PROPERTY TAX
Idaho has stayed true to its roots throughout the lingering economic slump, budgeting cautiously, avoiding tax increases and keeping government limited. As a result, we don't face the kind of budget crises and soaring unemployment that some less-frugal states confront.
One of the main efforts to follow that trend will be an attempt to repeal - or gradually phase out - the loathed personal property tax businesses pay every year on things like equipment and furniture. Doing so would help market the Gem State as business-friendly, which is good, but we can't afford to suffer a loss of revenue well in excess of $100 million. That would hurt schools and local governments which rely on that funding.
Otter says it can be done without hurting counties. How? Maybe he'll offer some specifics in Monday's State of the State address. It won't be an easy task, but a sales tax on Internet sales would be a good place to start.
Lawmakers still could refute voters and keep the Students Come First reforms in place, but that's unlikely. They should also resist any attempts to try and repackage the same ideas and ram them through with different names. Allow time for a deliberate, careful process involving all the key players before doing anything. That's the message voters sent in November.
These always come up every year. One which deserves to see the light of day is the “Add the Words” proposal to protect gays, lesbians and transgendered people from employment and housing discrimination. That hasn't even made it to the floor for debate and full vote in years past. It deserves that, at the very least, this year.
There's also a good chance pro-life legislators will try to establish their credentials on that issue in some way. If so, they shouldn't try again to require mandatory ultrasounds for any woman seeking an abortion. That's a far too invasive way to go about their desired intent of lowering the abortion rate.
If they want to broach the subject this year, a better idea would be to focus on ways of encouraging women to carry their pregnancies to full term, perhaps by encouraging adoption as a good alternative, simplifying the process (maybe making it less costly) and providing a stronger support network for moms who need help.
THE 'BRAIN DRAIN'
Washington and Oregon have both increased their minimum wage, and neighboring states pay teachers and law enforcement personnel considerably higher than Idaho does. Of course, those states have much larger populations and wealthier tax bases to draw from, so there's no easy answer on how to keep our best and brightest from crossing state lines for better pay.
Still, lawmakers are aware of the challenge, and it could make its way into legislation somehow this year.
Marijuana is now legal in Washington. How will that impact northern Idaho, especially given the fact that the University of Idaho is just two miles from the Washington border? Could be something to keep your eye on.
Idaho has cut funding to mental health clinics by 22 percent since 2009. Last month's school shooting in Connecticut has sparked renewed conversation about mental health services, and legislation of some sort could surface in this year's Legislature.
Lawmakers need to find ways to fund the Highway 16 extention that will connect Emmett to Interstate 84. It's an important project that will serve as southwest Idaho's bridge to economic recovery.
Democrats made no gains in November, so Idahoans continue to trust Republicans with state affairs. But we're not a state that favors representation on the unbending fringes. There's far too much of that in Washington, D.C. Let's not go that route.
We treasure limited government, not virtually nonexistent government. We want reasonable tax rates, but we don't want to gut important services.
With a major change of faces due to redistricting, and new House leadership from Rep. Scott Bedke, let's have a good, productive session that addresses our challenges realistically and with consideration to all Idahoans.
* Our view is based on the majority opinions of the Idaho Press-Tribune editorial board. Members of the board are Publisher Matt Davison, Managing Editor Vickie Holbrook, Opinion Editor Phil Bridges and community members Kim Keller, Carlos Soriano, Taylor Raney, Ken Pieksma and Nicole Gibbs.
The editorial posted here is provided by permission of its original publisher and does not necessarily reflect the views of Idaho Public Television.
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