State Politics

Idaho Legislature: 95 days, 320 laws, 2 vetoes. Here’s what happened — and didn’t — in 2019

Highlights from Brad Little’s first State of the State Address

On Monday, January 7, Gov. Brad Little gave his first State of the State Address focusing on education, health care, public safety, transportation and more.
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On Monday, January 7, Gov. Brad Little gave his first State of the State Address focusing on education, health care, public safety, transportation and more.

Clocking in at 95 days, the final gavels of the 2019 Idaho legislative session went down Thursday afternoon.

It was the third-longest session in the Legislature’s history — the 2003 session lasted 118 days and the the 2009 session ended after 117. The shortest session was 2002, which lasted a scant 68 days.

Part of the reason for such a lengthy session was the complicated nature of some of the lawmakers’ most controversial bills: Medicaid expansion sideboards, citizen initiative restrictions and hemp legalization. Weeks of public hearings, posturing and arguing resulted in new requirements attached to Medicaid expansion, vetoed voter initiative restrictions and hemp legalization dying on the final day of the session.

Then came the House’s administrative rules bill ...

The session’s final two days brought a new drama when the House hijacked a routine “housekeeping” bill that must be passed each session to keep the state’s existing 8,200 pages of administrative rules in place for another year.

The House amended this routine bill by tacking on a measure that the House had passed but the Senate had refused to take up.

Under current law, all new administrative rules must be approved by one chamber and the governor. The stalled bill, HB 100, sponsored by House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, required both chambers and the governor to approve all administrative rules, which is the same requirement to pass a bill into law. Moyle argued that since the rules have the same force and effect as law, they should be under the same enactment requirements.

The Senate took umbrage when the House amended this to become the must-pass bill renewing the rules through July 1, 2020. The Senate decided to toss that bill and start over.

After some tense moments, terse words and tactical moves with other bills that fund Medicaid expansion and would have provided new offices for House members, the two sides reached an impasse. The Senate killed three bills that would have provided House members new Capitol offices and would have allowed the state to repurchase a bank building adjacent to the Capitol Mall it sold about two years ago. The Senate also unanimously passed a clean version of the rules adoption bill, renewing administrative rules though July 1, 2020.

“This is the way we have adopted rules historically,” Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa, told the Senate on Thursday. The Senate then sent the bill to the House for consideration.

Without any discussion, the House sent the bill to a committee to die and said it was done for the session, leaving a bill required to keep state government running in a drawer.

So what does this mean for the thousands of state rules in effect now?

Alex Adams, Idaho Division of Financial Management administrator, told the Statesman on Thursday that all the existing rules and new ones approved this session are already in effect until June 30, 2019.

“The governor has executive authority to minimize the impact on state agencies,” Adams said. “So rest assured, all administrative rules will have full force and effect of law through the Legislature next year.”

Adams said all existing rules will be reprinted as temporary rules to keep them in effect.

“Confidence in state government is something that is really important to Gov. Little,” Adams said. “We just want to give the confidence to the people of Idaho that there will be no disruption in the existing rules.”

What happened, and didn’t happen

Idaho’s 65th Legislature, comprising 84 Republicans and 21 Democrats, introduced 589 pieces of legislation, of which 320 became law.

Here are some highlights:

Passed

Medicaid sideboards: Idaho voters enacted Medicaid expansion via a ballot initiative in November. After weeks of intense debate, the Legislature passed a bill adding controversial sideboards to the Medicaid expansion law. Almost all public testimony opposed the sideboards, including the inclusion of work requirements, and some Republicans broke with their party to vote against the measures. Little said he was displeased with parts of the bill but signed it into law anyway. Idaho must get federal approval for the sideboards before they can take effect.

The sideboards law:

Requires people on expanded Medicaid to work, study, volunteer and/or do job training at least 20 hours a week and prove compliance every six months.

Penalizes people who don’t comply with the work rules. They will lose Medicaid coverage; or, if that’s deemed illegal, they’ll have a copay for medical care.

Requires patients to get care through one organization. For family planning like birth control pills, patients can go outside that organization only if they have a referral.

Enrolls people who are just above poverty level in private health insurance, unless they opt in to Medicaid.

Says the Legislature can decide whether to keep or kill expansion if the federal government’s share of funding drops below 90%.

Amid public outcry to veto the bill, Gov. Little chose to sign it but included a letter indicating some problems with the legislation that need to be addressed.

Stadiums and municipal buildings: HB 217, which serves as a reform on how Idaho cities can spend their urban-renewal money, passed despite opposition from groups that include the city of Boise. The new law requires a public vote if the cost of a municipal building or a major remodel exceeds $1 million and is funded by at least 51% nonfederal public money that includes any amount of urban-renewal money. Previous legislation required a vote only if more than 51% of the cost was to be funded with urban-renewal money.

Conceal carry in cities for 18- to 20-year-olds: In 2016, Idaho passed a constitutional carry bill that allows someone age 18 or older to, without a permit, carry hidden firearms anywhere in the state. That came with an exception: 18- to 20-year-olds could not carry a handgun within city limits. Under HB 206, which passed the House and Senate on party-line votes, that exception goes away.

Vetoed

Voter initiatives: In office just three months, Idaho’s new Republican governor hauled out his veto stamp and rejected two bills that added more hurdles to the ballot initiative and referendum process. The bills would have made Idaho’s process the strictest among the 26 states that allow initiatives.

The two bills met with overwhelming public outcry and threats of lawsuits, forcing Little to make his first major decision as governor.

After Little vetoed the bills April 5, some House members quickly cleaved sections of the bills into four new bills and hastily printed them April 8. With the clock running out to hold public hearings on the bills and pushback that the move was an attempt to circumvent a veto, just one of those bills, requiring a fiscal statement, passed the House on Wednesday, but the Senate took no action on it.

Failed

Hemp: The Legislature took hemp on a wild ride this session, starting with the House’s near-unanimous passage of HB 122, which would legalize hemp in line with the federal farm bill. The House then shelved that bill after the Senate returned it with law enforcement-requested amendments. The House then passed a new bill, HB 300, that would allow interstate transport of hemp with a permit issued by the Department of Agriculture. The House shelved that bill, too, after the Senate returned it with amendments calling for the state to create a hemp plan by Nov. 1. So what does this mean for hemp in Idaho? It remains illegal to grow, possess or transport the product if it contains any amount of THC.

Child marriage: Current Idaho law does not have a minimum age to get married — 16- and 17-year-olds just need parental consent. A child younger than 16 can marry if a judge also consents. A bipartisan bill proposed setting the minimum age to marry at 16. The House voted 39-28 to kill HB 98.

Left in the drawer

As a courtesy, nearly every bill gets printed, but whether it gets a hearing is up to each committee chairman or chairwoman. Some bills never get an initial hearing, and others get a hearing and get passed by one chamber, but the other chamber takes no action on it. In effect, these bills are put in a drawer and never see the light of day again.

Bills ending up in a drawer this session:

Mandatory minimums: A bipartisan bill to remove the word “mandatory” from minimum sentencing requirements for certain drug trafficking crimes passed the House, but Senate Judiciary and Rules Chairman Todd Lakey, R-Nampa, stated he would not hold a hearing on the bill.

Idaho is “too great for hate” license plate: While both the House and the Senate enthusiastically passed a bill creating a pet-friendly license plate, the same enthusiasm was not shown for a license plate featuring the phrase “too great for hate.” The bipartisan Senate bill — which had several Senate co-sponsors, including Senate Pro Tempore Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Boise — passed the Senate in a 32-3 vote. But when SB 1775 arrived at the House, Transportation Committee Chairman Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, would not give the bill a hearing.

Conceal carry in schools: Anyone with an enhanced concealed carry permit could bring weapons onto public school grounds without permission from or notifying school administrators under HB 203 proposed by Rep. Chad Christensen, R-Ammon. House State Affairs Committee Chairman Steve Harris, R-Meridian, did not schedule the bill for a hearing.

First-time pot offenders: A person convicted of misdemeanor marijuana possession in Idaho would be able to ask a court to change the conviction to an infraction if it is a person’s first offense and if the amount of marijuana in possession is a half-ounce or less. That proposal was brought under a bipartisan bill by Reps. John Gannon, D-Boise, and Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls. House Judiciary and Rules Chairman Thomas Dayley, R-Boise, did not schedule a hearing for HB 140.

On the horizon for Idaho lawmakers

Occasionally when lawmakers want to bring forth a bill that might be controversial or complex, they introduce the bill knowing it will not get a hearing or go anywhere during the session. Once the bill gets printed and therefore becomes publicly available, lawmakers spend the time between sessions getting stakeholder input and redrafting the bill to bring back next session for action.

Here are some bills that fall into that category:

Medicaid expansion funding: State officials estimate that it will cost the state $40 million annually to implement Medicaid expansion. Hospitals would help pay for this under two proposed bills: HB 298 calls for removing the sales tax exemption on most hospitals, raising an estimated $24.5 million annually; HB 299 would increase the annual assessment hospitals pay on inpatient and outpatient services, generating up to $20 million annually. Money from these two proposals would go into a dedicated Medicaid expansion fund.

Highway districts: Idaho has 63 highway taxing districts and 44 counties. Of those highway districts, just one encompasses an entire county, the Ada County Highway District. The other 43 counties each have multiple highway districts or a highway district spanning more than one county. HB 292, introduced by House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, would consolidate districts to have each county served by just one.

First-time homebuyers: One of the first programs Gov. Brad Little wants to implement, which is similar to existing Idaho tax-advantaged savings accounts for health care and educational purposes, Idaho’s first-time homebuyer savings accounts would encourage individuals to save for their first home by offering a pretax savings account for the eventual down-payment on a home, or other eligible home costs associated with closing on their first home in Idaho. Under HB 271, the allowable tax deduction for an individual account holder is $3,000 per year and for a married couple is $6,000 per year.

The 2020 Idaho Legislature will convene on Jan. 6.

Idaho Statesman reporters Audrey Dutton and Hayley Harding contributed to this report.

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