Income taxes cut. Corporate taxes cut. Unemployment taxes cut.
All told, Idaho will reduce its tax collections by more than $125 million under its new plan.
Tax cuts have been a priority in prior legislative sessions, including last year’s debacle in which income- and unemployment-tax cuts got derailed at the last minute.
This year, though, lawmakers had to pass a tax bill or face a state tax increase on constituents under Congress’ federal tax reform.
If Idaho aligned its laws with the new changes in federal tax code – which it typically does – the state would end up collecting an extra $119 million from taxpayers, primarily because of the exemptions for dependents being eliminated.
In order to both offset the increase and cut taxes, Gov. Butch Otter came up with a plan to reduce personal and corporate income tax brackets by nearly half a percent, and create a $130-per-child tax credit to replace the eliminated dependent exemptions.
But it didn’t fully erase the tax increase on Idahoans, and analysts pointed out that some Idaho families with three or more children would pay more in taxes because the child credit was not enough.
House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, rode in with a new bill to increase the child tax credit to $205. That would help large families (though debate remains as to whether large families will still see an increase), but require an additional $25 million cut in revenue.
Both chambers passed Moyle’s bill in less than 10 days. Problem (mostly) solved.
The tax cuts are the actions that will have the greatest effect on Idahoans, but other new laws are coming your way – and some aren’t.
The final numbers are still being tallied and the Legislature has not officially adjourned, but as of Friday, lawmakers had introduced 561 bills, of which 359 passed both the House and Senate. Otter has already signed 229 into law, with more than 100 awaiting his signature over the next few days.
Here are some key new laws:
Abortion: Women who get a drug-induced abortion must be told of a disputed method for reversing the procedure midway (S 1243). Any health complications arising from the performance of an abortion must be reported to the Department of Health and Welfare (H 638).
Breast-feeding: Mothers breast-feeding in public are no longer at risk for an indecent exposure charge (H 448).
Crime: Legislators put new limits on when law enforcement can seize your property as part of an investigation (S 447). First-time DUI offenders must have an ignition interlock installed on their vehicle for one year (H 551). Driving on an expired license is an infraction rather than a misdemeanor, as is driving on a suspended license under certain circumstances (H 599). Definitions of sexual battery (S 1269) and forcible penetration (S 1270) have been broadened to include situations with the intent of degrading or humiliating someone, such as hazing or bullying.
Foster care: More review and oversight of Idaho’s foster care system; establishes citizen and legislative review panels; and clarifies processes and standards for contesting foster care and permanent placement (S 1341).
Public records/open meetings: Any government entity with a website is required to post meeting agendas online and indicate which items members will be voting on (H 611). Agencies created by the governor are now subject to open meeting laws (H 606).
School violence: Making a threat, including via social media, against a school or a school-related activity is a misdemeanor. If the person making the threat possesses a firearm or other deadly weapon, it is a felony (H 665).
Self-defense: Stand Your Ground law allowing you to use deadly force, instead of retreating, if you feel threatened in certain environments is added to Idaho code. Defensible places include a place of business or employment and an occupied vehicle (S 1313).
Slow-poke drivers: Beep, beep. Dawdling drivers in the left-hand or passing lane on freeways and divided highways can be cited (H 471).
Trespassing: Know where you are and you will not have to worry about trespassing charges is the message behind this new law that increases penalties for trespassing and requires landowners to conspicuously post “no trespassing” signs (H 658).
Veterans: Fully disabled veterans receive reduced property taxes (H 492).
Last session, Otter vetoed eight bills, including ones pertaining to civil asset forfeiture, cosmetology, invasive species and state employee benefits.
He also vetoed one of the 2017 session’s signature pieces of legislation: the grocery tax repeal. But the Idaho Supreme Court had a lot to say about how that veto was handled, and it was reversed.
As of Friday, Otter had not pulled out the veto stamp, but he still has a few days to contemplate the final slew of bills landing on his desk.
While Otter has had no problem wielding his veto stamp on such issues as CBD oil, historical horse racing and Bibles in schools, when presented with a bill this session he thought could have life-or-death consequences, he chose not to veto it. Instead, he opted to let the bill become law without his signature.
“Among my biggest concerns are the potential unintended consequences on our children,” wrote Otter in his March 21 letter to the Senate explaining why he would not sign the Stand Your Ground legislation.
“I commend those portions of SB 1313 that codify existing case law and recognize the sanctity of private property. However, a thorough review of this bill reveals some concerns that warrant further review during the next legislative session.
The bill as written, he said, “will exonerate killings that otherwise would be considered unreasonable.”
The Legislature also left a bevy of bills on the cutting-room floor.
Agency directors: Correction, Parks and Recreation, and Transportation boards get to keep hiring and firing their respective department directors (H 496).
Campaign finance and ethics reform: A slew of proposals addressing term limits, financial disclosures and tax returns, lobbyist gifts and other transparency measures all went nowhere. Legislators did renew the interim committee that produced those ideas; it will continue to meet and evaluate Idaho’s campaign finance laws (SCR 143).
Constitutional issues: Lawmakers remained skeptical of proposals to ban the application of foreign law in Idaho courts (something that has never happened), call for a convention to amend the U.S. Constitution to address “federal abuse of power,” and create a process to selectively nullify federal laws (H 419, HCR 32, H461)
Domestic violence and guns: Federal law prohibits anyone convicted of domestic violence from possessing a firearm. States without similar laws create an enforcement loophole; Idaho remains among them (HB 585).
Health care: Despite an energetic last-minute bipartisan effort by two female lawmakers – Reps. Christy Perry, R-Nampa, and Ilana Rubel, D-Boise – along with chants and yells from citizens in the gallery, the House refused to resurrect a bill that would provide health insurance to some of Idaho’s working poor (H 464). This is the sixth consecutive year that GOP lawmakers have declined to act on the state’s so-called Medicaid gap population.
Higher ed CEO: This big push by Otter, to create a central administrator who manages certain back-office needs across Idaho’s individual universities, encountered strong skepticism. Lawmakers did approve a study of what the state could save through such a job, but nixed creating such a position (S 1303).
Opioid tax: Taxing prescribed opioids to help pay for overdose and addiction recovery was a nonstarter (H 625).
Prostitution: A proposal to make patronizing a prostitute a felony went nowhere fast (H 377).
Tobacco: A plan to raise the smoking age to 21 went up in smoke (S 1255).
Oddballs and Statehouse shenanigans
Big year for bills: This year the Legislature printed 561 bills, the most since 2011. A big chunk of those bills originated in the House after a promise this year by Speaker Scott Bedke to allow more legislation to receive a first hearing. Bills belonging to some of the House’s most conservative lawmakers and to Democrats might have benefited the most, but a number of their proposals didn’t make it very far.
Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, sent House members a box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts in late February. Along with the mounds of sugary goodness, the box held a scrawled message: “Please stop printing bills.”
Nary a peep: Several hot-button items from 2017 didn’t make the radar this session, including faith healing, immigration and “Add the Words” civil rights protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. The grocery tax repeal, which led to a precedent-setting lawsuit last year over legislative process and Otter’s veto power, got a brief mention in February, but the one bill addressing it went nowhere.
Public health risk: The latest is pornography, the House and Senate decreed (HCR 50).
Just one new plate for your car: Each session brings new proposals for specialty license plates. Idaho has 39 such plates. This year saw pitches for two more: One, creating a specialty plate for Rotary International, passed (H 507). The other, featuring a puppy and kitten representing the Idaho Humane Society, failed by one vote (H 540).
Among the winners: Kids in hot cars. A person who breaks into a vehicle to aid someone in danger may not be sued or prosecuted for property damage or forced entry (S 1245).