BOISE, Idaho — The Idaho Legislature finished the majority of their work for the 2018 session on Thursday.
Lawmakers spent the 74-day session cutting taxes, arguing over health care proposals and boosting education funding for teachers. Here’s a look at some of the key issues addressed this year:
Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s will end his 12th and final legislative session with one last shining achievement: signing into law a bill that is being billed as one of the largest tax reductions in Idaho’s history. The nearly $225 million plan reduces personal income and corporate tax rates, as well as creating a $205 Idaho child tax credit. The law was designed to offset the increase in taxes Idaho families are expected to pay under the recently signed Republican tax plan signed by President Donald Trump. However, some critics warn that the law doesn’t do enough for Idaho families. The tax cut plan was one of the top priorities for Otter. Also this session, lawmakers passed a bill to collect and remit sales tax on online purchases after fighting six years over the issue. The bill is estimated to bring anywhere from $22 million to $37 million a year in sales taxes.
This year’s relatively short legislative session saw some lengthy debates on health care policy, with lawmakers agreeing on very little on what to send to the governor’s desk for his signature. Multiple attempts were made inside Idaho’s House to pass a proposal backed by Otter to address the state’s low-income uninsured population. Yet, ongoing resistance to any hint of expanding Medicaid coupled with the looming May primary election proved too much for lawmakers to stomach. Instead, lawmakers agreed on more modest $1.2 million proposal that restored dental coverage to some Idaho Medicaid patients after lawmakers cut the benefit during the Great Recession.
Idaho lawmakers passed two key anti-abortion proposals this session. The first proposal would increase reporting requirements for abortion providers. That bill sparked criticism not only from Democratic lawmakers, but also a handful of Republicans who felt the bill was an invasion of privacy. Separately, the second anti-abortion bill would require doctors to inform women seeking medical abortions that drug-induced abortions may be halted halfway through. Similar proposals have already been passed in Utah, Arkansas and South Dakota. Overall, supporters maintain that the bills give women more information and better options while considering undergoing an abortion. Critics countered the proposals are unnecessary.
After three bumpy years of resistance at the GOP-dominant Statehouse, Idaho schools will implement a new slate of robust science standards. The main contention? Various references to global warming and the origin of the universe sparked too much concern that the standards hindered students from considering other opinions. It’s taken multiple attempts and various drafts to appease certain Republican lawmakers and ensure the standards remain adequately thorough in their content, but this year the effort prevailed.
Lawmakers once again agreed to change laws regarding when police can take a citizen’s property, despite warnings from critics that doing so means the Legislature is softening its stance on crime. Last year, Otter vetoed a similar proposal after citing that law enforcement hadn’t alerted him it was a big enough problem in Idaho, but signed it this year without comment. The legislation would forbid police officers from seizing cash or property simply because it was in close proximity to an illegal substance. It would also ban seizing vehicles unless they are in connection with trafficking offenses, while creating reporting requirements for law enforcement agencies on forfeited property. Currently, a person doesn’t need to be charged with a crime in order to have property seized.
Lawmakers also approved a bill reinstating driving privileges for people who were previously slapped with suspensions due to not paying court fees, eliminate statutory mandatory minimum jail sentences surrounding driving without privileges, and only classify driving without privileges as a misdemeanor on the third offense. Currently, driving on an expired or suspended license is a misdemeanor under all circumstances, with mandatory minimum five day jail sentence on the first offense and 20 days minimum for a second offense. That bill was still awaiting Otter’s signature Thursday.
Idaho will no longer be the only state to not provide legal protections for breastfeeding mothers under a proposal signed into law by Otter. Fifteen years ago, Idaho lawmakers killed a similar proposal over fears of women removing blouses and exposing their breasts in public spaces. However, this time around, lawmakers unanimously passed the bill that exempts breastfeeding mothers from Idaho’s indecent exposure law.
STAND YOUR GROUND
A proposal seeking to codify existing case law surrounding protections for a person who uses deadly force under a serious threat will become Idaho law. Otter allowed the proposal to go into law without his signature despite citing multiple concerns over the bill’s unintended consequences on children. The new law will expand the definition of justifiable homicide to include defending one’s place of employment or an occupied vehicle and not just while defending one’s home. Supporters of the bill say case law and jury instruction have already established so-called “stand your ground policies” in Idaho, but the principles need to be placed in state law. Yet some lawmakers criticized the bill as not going far enough to protect Idahoans’ gun rights.