BOISE — With one final split vote and a round of applause, the 2020 legislative session came to a close Friday morning, allowing weary lawmakers to head home to their families.
The Idaho House adjourned “sine die,” or “without a day,” at 9:18 a.m. — almost exactly 15 hours after the Senate adjourned Thursday night.
The traditionally unanimous motion was narrowly approved on a 32-28 vote.
Several lawmakers had hoped to remain in session until next week, in order to try to override any gubernatorial vetoes. That’s no longer an option now that they’ve adjourned, as the Legislature lacks the constitutional authority to call itself back into session.
House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said concerns regarding the COVID-19 virus likely contributed to Friday’s vote.
“I think under ordinary circumstances we would have stayed (into next week),” he said.
Many House members “feel strongly about maintaining the legislative branch’s prerogative (to reconsider gubernatorial vetoes),” Bedke said. The increasing number of coronavirus cases, however, “made some people wonder about the wisdom of going home and coming back on Monday.”
Gov. Brad Little was traveling around the state Friday, meeting with public health officials to discuss the COVID-19 situation.
He hasn’t vetoed any legislation to date; however, several controversial bills were still awaiting his signature — including measures related to transgender athletes, abortion, changing birth certificates and anti-Affirmative Action efforts.
Regarding the session as a whole, Bedke said he “can count a handful of successes.”
Among those was the Legislature’s decision to transfer $30 million into the state’s rainy day savings account, plus another $21 million for the public school savings account.
The main savings account is expected to total $423 million by July 1 of this year, up from $373 million a year ago.
“I think that was prudent,” Bedke said. “And you’d have to go pretty far back in the record books to find a year in which we set a more austere budget.”
The Legislature set a $4.06 billion general fund budget for fiscal 2021, up $152.1 million, or 3.9 percent, from the current year. On a percentage basis, that was the slowest spending growth since 2014.
Democrats weren’t nearly as enamored with the session, which features several emotionally bruising fights over transgender, abortion and anti-Affirmative Action bills.
“Rather than address teacher pay, deteriorating roads and bridges, lack of affordable housing ... lagging wages or any of the bread-and-butter issues that could help everyday Idahoans, our Republican colleagues took a hard right turn into divisive social issues,” said House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise.
Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, noted that the Democratic caucus tried to introduce several property tax relief bills, including proposals to expand the homeowner exemption, restore the inflation index and increase the property tax circuit breaker for low-income Idahoans.
Caucus members also suggested capping annual increases in residential assessments and sharing online sales tax revenues with local governments — thereby reducing their reliance on property taxes.
However, “one of those bills were heard,” Buckner-Webb said. “The Legislature failed to enact property tax relief, which particularly hits our seniors, veterans and people with disabilities.”
Contrary to Rubel’s assertion, however, the Legislature did at least address teacher pay.
With little fanfare, the governor’s office introduced legislation adopting a new five-year, $223 million teacher compensation plan. The bill adds a third rung to the career ladder teacher salary schedule, specifically for highly qualified veteran teachers. It also increases state support for beginning and mid-level teachers.
William L. Spence may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 791-9168.