Rep. Caroline Troy called it “wild,” Rep. Brandon Mitchell said it “went longer than it should have” and Sen. David Nelson was more “pessimistic” of the Idaho Legislature this year than his first two years in office.
The three 5th District legislators reflected on the longest legislative session in the state’s history Thursday night during a League of Women Voters of Moscow forum that was held virtually via Zoom.
Nelson, D-Moscow, said it seemed harder to make an impact on this year’s session and that the COVID-19 pandemic played a major part.
“I can’t go lean against my Republican friend who’s not wearing a mask and talk to him about the road issues,” Nelson said.
Nelson, who sat on the Education Committee for the first time, said he was probably a little too “green” and hopeful that he and other lawmakers would improve the state’s K-12 and higher education systems.
“I was a little shocked on what we did and a little disappointed,” he said.
Republican Gov. Brad Little announced Wednesday that Idaho’s booming economy resulted in May state revenue figures coming in $580 million ahead of forecast — the best month for state revenues in the history of Idaho — with the potential to end the fiscal year in June with another record budget surplus of close to $800 million, an all-time high.
“We could have done so much more to help our educators,” Nelson said in reference to the surplus. “Instead of helping them we tended to be unappreciative. We accused them of doing indoctrination, we killed both higher ed and K-12 teacher budgets as well as not accepting a $6 million grant for preschool. And apparently, we didn’t have time to look into funding all-day kindergarten, so I was quite disappointed in that.”
Nelson said he is working on a bill that would send funds from income or sales taxes to school districts to reduce their levy amounts. He said passing a levy is currently the only way for public schools to fund facilities projects for old schools in school districts.
Troy, R-Genesee, spoke about some of her 53 bills that were passed into law this session, including a hemp bill she co-sponsored.
The bill legalized the production, transportation and sale of industrial hemp. She worked on the issue for years, picking up where her predecessor, former House Agricultural Affairs Chairman Tom Trail, left off.
One attendee on Thursday asked Mitchell, R-Moscow, and Troy who they listened to when voting on a few bills they differed on. For example, Mitchell voted for and Troy voted against a citizen initiative bill that requires initiative campaigns to collect signatures from 6 percent of registered voters in all 35 state legislative districts. Previously, initiatives required 6 percent in 18 legislative districts, and 6 percent of voters statewide.
Troy said they voted on almost 600 pieces of legislation and they only differed on a few, which is a “pretty small slice of that pie.”
Mitchell said he and Troy discussed some of those bills.
“Neither one of us has ever tried to sway each other to which way we want to go because we do have different constituents talking to us,” he said.
Mitchell said his votes in the November 2020 election overwhelmingly came from Benewah County, but he said he listens to all his constituents from Latah and Benewah counties — which make up District 5.
Troy said the initiative bill “went too far” and she did not want to make it impossible for Idahoans to get an initiative on the ballot.
“There’s a lot of talk about marijuana being legalized in Idaho, so I think this (bill) was an attempt to cut that off,” Troy said.
While the session is effectively over, lawmakers could still be called back into session. The Senate adjourned “sine die” and the House voted to recess.
Troy said the House’s decision to recess rather than to sine die allows it to call itself back into session.
“We are very sensitive to the costs so I don’t think it will be done lightly,” Troy said. “I think it will be done when and if there is a reason to come back into session.”
She said there could be legislative decisions regarding redistricting that need to be made, perhaps in September, after the state receives the final U.S. Census data.
Mitchell said he does not anticipate the House returning to session “unless something major happens.”
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