Local legislators recap first half of Idaho session

Acting chairwoman of the joint budget committee Rep. Caroline Troy, R-Genesee, stands for a photo after the panel wraps up Wednesday in Boise.

The Idaho legislative session is more than halfway over and bills are starting to move quickly.

Rep. Caroline Troy, R-Genesee, said she is working on 18 bills other than appropriations bills.

One bill she sponsored would establish that any contracts between state agencies and state colleges and universities must be awarded on a competitive basis.

Based on feedback from Boise State University, Idaho State University, University of Idaho and Lewis-Clark State College, 262 contracts for services were executed with 41 state agencies the last two fiscal years. The contracts were valued at $32.7 million, an amount that surprised Troy.

She said $22 million of that nearly $33 million went to BSU and about $2 million to the UI.

“Boise State’s down the street from all the agencies and Boise State’s getting all these different grants and contracts,” Troy said.

The proposed bill would add some cost to Idaho agencies for putting the contracts out to a competitive bid between the Idaho public colleges and universities. There would also be savings from increased competition.

Troy said she is also working on a bill that would collect data from individuals in schools, juvenile corrections and other entities to determine how well programs in those entities are working.

“Right now, we have no idea,” she said. “We’re just guessing.”

Another bill originated from an incident in Troy’s 5th Legislative District (Latah and Benewah counties) in which a resident had their driver’s license suspended for nonpayment of child support.

“The problem with that in a district like ours, if you can’t drive to your job, how are you going to pay for child support?” Troy said.

Sen. David Nelson, D-Moscow, said he is not looking to push out bills this year. Nelson said he is trying to make sure he understands how the Education Committee, which he sits on, works and how to supervise the education system in the state.

“Also, I feel like we need to get out of here sooner than later and bills that aren’t consequential I think can wait ‘til next year to be honest,” said Nelson, noting the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nelson said he is, however, helping out on a safer railroads bill and he co-sponsored a plastic ban bill again but it did not receive a hearing.

He said, if it can get a hearing, he would sponsor a bill that would reindex the state’s homeowner exemption to help alleviate the property tax burden many property owners face.

Nelson said the property tax reduction (circuit breaker) program, which reduces property taxes for qualified individuals, should be fixed. One qualification is making $31,900 or less and Nelson said that amount should be raised.

“I’m concerned about the property tax bills we’re dealing with,” he said. “It seems like the only route people are willing to take so far are routes to punish our counties and our cities.”

Nelson said he favors proposed legislation that would legalize medical marijuana.

“Even though we don’t have good definitive studies on the medical uses of marijuana, I think there’s broad consensus that it provides some help for pain relief,” Nelson said. “It provides help for nausea, it’s a good muscle relaxant and I don’t think it has a lot of harm if you’re using it for medical use.”

Rep. Brandon Mitchell, R-Moscow, said he proposed a bill that would prevent cities from creating public health emergency orders that extended five miles outside a city’s limits. Mitchell said the Idaho Constitution only allows those city orders to be contained within the city.

The bill came to light because of border cities essentially telling the other what to do. He said cities and counties are on board with the proposed bill.

Mitchell said he is excited about the bill that would restrict the governor’s emergency powers, including declaring all jobs essential, limiting emergency orders issued by the governor to 60 days unless they’re extended by the Legislature, prohibiting the governor from suspending any laws during an emergency and more. This week, the House voted in favor of the bill. It now goes to the Senate.

“I am excited about that bill because it’s not designed to take away the governor’s power to handle a pandemic like this,” Mitchell said. “It’s more in line with giving the Legislature their responsibility back to handle the purse because that’s what our responsibility is here as legislators is to make sure that the money’s being spent properly and so that we have a voice from Moscow in Boise.”

Garrett Cabeza can be reached at (208) 883-4631, or by email to gcabeza@dnews.com.

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