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Annual Report Card for Idaho Legislature

Press-Tribune Editorial board
April 7, 2013
Idaho Press-Tribune

Yes, there were some silly, headline-grabbing proposals put forth by Gem State lawmakers this year, but sometimes the things that garner the most attention are the ones with the least practical impact on people. And when it came to things that will actually matter in Idahoans' daily lives, the state's legislative body did a fairly commendable job this year.

We had the usual bluster and occasional turf wars we have come to expect, but there were no ethical dilemmas of note this year, and given some of the hot-button issues on the 2013 slate, this session ranks as one of the better ones in recent years.

Education: A-

Idaho lawmakers have taken a beating in recent years for cutting spending to Idaho's schools. They didn't enjoy it or take pride in it, but deemed it necessary to adhere to the constitutionally required balanced budget. Now that the state's economy is slowly improving, it was great to see a modest 2.2 percent spending increase this year.

The turf war that delayed the budget's approval process by almost a week was unnecessary and cost taxpayers over $100,000 and should be a communications lesson for future sessions.

Lawmakers also increased contract negotiation transparency, strengthened districts' ability to deal with budget shortfalls and reinstated the dual-credit program to reward ambitious students.

Health care: B-

The big issue in this year's session was whether Gov. Butch Otter had the political muscle to persuade skeptical Republicans to create a state-based health insurance exchange. Most legislators shared the governor's distaste for the Affordable Care Act, but they did the right thing in holding their noses and enabling the state to design its own exchange - which doesn't socialize medicine, but sets up a marketplace for consumers to buy insurance plans that will best suit their needs.

The Legislature does get an "incomplete" for not addressing the potential expansion of Medicaid. They never had a chance to vet what is an extremely important issue. Let's see a plan that would present an Idaho solution to the challenge of expanding needed coverage.

Fiscal responsibility: A

Traditionally one of Idaho's strongest subject areas, lawmakers were on top of their game again this year. Cautious, conservative budgeting in years passed has kept the state as healthy as can be expected in a lingering economic malaise, and now the fruits of that prudence can be seen in the form of 3 percent spending growth to important areas.

There was a lot of pressure on lawmakers to fully repeal the annoying personal property tax on businesses, but losing the full $140 million would have cost cities, counties and schools vital resources. So the Legislature passed a modest $20 million cut that will help small businesses that need the relief the most.

Conduct: B

With the state's legislative districts redrawn, there was a veritable plethora of new faces at the Statehouse this year - 41, in fact. That's more than 40 percent of the House and a third of the Senate. These newbies handled their first session well, with no ethical controversies to speak of. When 16 of the House freshmen stood out to form the Gang of 16 instrumental in passing the state-based health insurance exchange, they showed admirable independence and maturity.

It was also nice that all legislators were required to attend mandatory ethics training before the session.

If there was a chink in the armor, it was the late infighting that extended the session over the education budget and killed some other legislation.

Public relations: C-

Lawmakers always give us some silly stuff each year, and 2013 didn't disappoint for people looking for reasons to poke fun of Idaho.

This year's highlight was over-the-top, paranoid gun legislation that would have penalized city and county law enforcement officers from working with federal officials on gun laws and automatically made every Idaho adult a militia member. Thankfully neither one made it very far.

There was also the TV decency memorial urging the FCC to remove extramarital sex references from broadcast television during prime time. It passed the House but died after that.

Fortunately, lawmakers didn't try to impose a mandatory ultrasound requirement on pregnant women.

Originally posted at

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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