Every legislative session has its ups and downs, and I am pleased to report more ups in this session than in my previous experience.
As always, what we do in the Legislature has real consequences for Idaho families and their communities. I found the partisanship in this legislative session to be less rigid. I also found more legislators willing to be practical, to deal with the world as it is and to more carefully consider how legislative actions affect the lives of everyday Idahoans.
Make no mistake, the Legislature is still very conservative, and rural interests still override urban interests on a regular basis. But Idaho Democrats and the needs of urban Idaho found allies on some important issues.
The most visible moment was in the House when 13 Idaho Democrats joined 28 Republicans (14 of them freshmen) to buck the status quo and pass a state-run health insurance exchange.
The effort to repeal the business personal property tax is another example of the Legislature being more responsible.
We listened to businesses because we know that we must have an economy in which they can grow, prosper and create jobs. But we didn't forget that Idaho families need strong communities that can invest in schools, transportation, public safety and other important services.
The middle ground we found gives a tax break to our state's top job makers - small and medium-sized businesses - while preserving the ability of local governments to make these investments.
Of course, there is room for improvement. Education funding is still below 2009 levels and, to get by, the Idaho School Boards Association (ISBA) successfully insisted on balancing local school budgets on the backs of the teachers.
This was accomplished by nullifying part of last fall's referenda and re-enacting portions of the Luna Laws. Unfortunately, the ISBA's legislative allies ignored the call by parents, businesses and voters to treat teachers fairly and move Idaho up from last in the nation in per-pupil expenditures. And they ignored the governor's education task force, which was intended to create unity and a sense of common purpose regarding education policy. Instead, we got more rancor and dissension.
The Legislature showed far too little support for economic development. Legislation promoting the in-state processing of agricultural commodities failed to get through the House, and the Senate refused to even consider the governor's bill to promote job growth.
Such inaction will only perpetuate Idaho's last-in-the-nation ranking on personal income and first-place ranking for minimum wage jobs.
On the upside, the Legislature did enact funding for the Department of Commerce to partner with local communities to improve infrastructure to attract new business. It also resisted efforts to undermine local economic development, which often depends on urban renewal.
We missed the boat when Democratic efforts to bring the Medicaid expansion bill up for a hearing in committee lost on a party-line vote. Expansion would not only save Idaho taxpayers millions by taking over most indigent medical care, it would also provide us a very significant economic boost.
As we leave this session, I feel the door to the present and future opened some this session. But that door will need to open much wider for Idaho to fully step out of the past and move ahead. It is by no means certain that this will happen, but it might. For those of us who believe Idaho must become more firmly rooted in the 21st century for our children to have a future here, there is some cause for encouragement.
Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, is the House assistant minority leader.