Active imaginations of lawmakers overlook facts of what needs fixing

Cows feed in a West Point Farms barn near Wendell in 2014.
Cows feed in a West Point Farms barn near Wendell in 2014. Times-News

From the national to the state and local level, it seems like we’re seeing more and more legislation designed to thwart undesirable things that might happen instead of targeting things that are happening.

I find myself asking what’s real and what is imagined, and why can’t we focus more on the real?

▪ President Donald Trump and his administration have launched two executive orders in an effort to generate more scrutiny of those entering our country, but the most recent and tragic terror massacres in San Bernardino, Calif., and Orlando. Fla., involved people who were already here or who entered the country legally. Set aside the roughly 3,000 terror deaths related to 9/11 and the number of U.S. citizens killed at the hands of foreign-born terrorists since 1996, and that number doesn’t even add up to the 168 men, women and children slaughtered by Timothy McVeigh in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. According to a Cato Institute study, the odds of perishing at the hands of a foreign-born terrorist in the U.S. are about 1 in 46,000. Odds of dying from heart disease or cancer: 1 in 7. Walking: 1 in 672. Heat wave: 1 in 10,800.

▪ In Idaho we have a bill imagining that we face the problems of sanctuary cities such as San Francisco, where there was indeed a tragic murder perpetrated by a criminal here illegally who should have been deported long ago. Idaho has a bill that would punish any jurisdiction that failed to cooperate with federal immigration authorities investigating such criminals, though I am unaware that this has been a problem. What is a real problem is that Idaho’s agriculture industry relies heavily on immigrants to get the job done on farms. In a story by the Statesman’s Kris Rodine recently, Bob Naerebout, executive director of the Idaho Dairymen’s Association, was quoted as saying, “The economic vitality of rural Idaho stands on the shoulders of foreign-born laborers.” Naerebout estimates that in Idaho those workers make up more than 85 percent of the state’s 8,300 dairy employees.

▪ We began our legislative session wondering about a state revenue surplus of around $139 million. Some legislators have been tripping all over themselves trying to turn this into a tax cut because they imagine that will make our state more attractive to businesses that might relocate or expand here. A larger reality is that the surplus needs to fill the omnipresent potholes and delayed maintenance that our Idaho Department of Transportation has been pointing out for years. If the new businesses come to take a look, don’t let them drive on Interstate 84 around Nampa and Caldwell.

▪ We’ve had this “interim” grocery tax rebate system going because we imagine that is better than just dropping the tax on groceries — as all but one of our neighboring states has done. We imagine people who live near the state lines don’t cross to shop tax-free. We need a new approach.

▪ We imagine that the people who buy illegal aerial fireworks here and promise not to shoot them off actually keep their word — when we know better.

▪ I am concerned that some in our Legislature can imagine a justification for hiding the contents of emails written about state business on state equipment and shared with other state officials that we taxpayers fund. I get that some lawmakers might get annoyed with public records requests, but shutting down transparency is not the solution.

Rep. Vito Barbieri discusses the bill he has proposed that would exempt certain lawmaker communications from state laws on public disclosure.

▪ On a positive note, I am happy I don’t have to imagine that our Legislature has been keeping its word and following through with our five-year commitment to teachers and schools. I pray legislators won’t just imagine looking into the faith-healing exemption Idaho allows for religious groups that deny medical care to their children. Injury and death comes to these innocents, and that is no imaginary outcome.

Robert Ehlert: 208-377-6437, @IDS_HelloIdaho