By Carrie Reed
For the 2012 session, the Idaho legislature focused on women’s reproductive issues, education, taxes, and the budget. Idaho legislators produced bills and resolutions that challenged the federal government on the issue of insurance coverage for contraception. On a more local level, legislators passed bills impacting popular pastimes such as hunting and the use of all-terrain vehicles.
The 2012 Idaho legislative session began on Monday, January 9, and ended Thursday, March 29. During this time, the predominantly Republican legislature enacted 342 bills. Republican legislators currently comprise 81 percent of Idaho state legislative officials, with 28 members of the GOP serving in the Senate and 57 serving in the House of Representatives. Democrats constitute 7 members of the Senate and 13 members of the House. Women make up 9 of 35 Senators and 20 of 70 Representatives.
The Idaho legislature participated in the ongoing national debate surrounding reproductive issues. The Senate voted in favor of S 1387, a bill requiring an ultrasound prior to an abortion, which resembles a Texas law that requires abortion providers to show or describe to a woman an ultrasound image of her fetus. The bill has stalled in a House committee. Both the Senate and the House passed SJR 104, a joint measure which urges Congress to repeal insurance coverage of contraception. In addition, the house voted in favor of HJM 10, a resolution that urges Congress to amend the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act by authorizing insurers or employers to decline coverage of any services to which they have religious or moral objections. This resolution has also stalled in a Senate committee.
On March 31 Governor “Butch” Otter signed H 481, which repeals the current limit on charter school creation. Supporters of the bill claim that the limit impedes the acquisition of federal and private grant money. The statewide teachers’ union, however, was opposed to the legislation and said that “now is not the time to expand Idaho's education system.”
Another vote that reflects current trends in public discourse is S 1358, which requires schools to intervene when students are being bullied and establishes guidelines for staff training on the topic of bullying. Representative Stephen Hartgen said that, “It is a controversial issue and there are some pros and cons, what one person can see as bullying, another might just see as simple schoolyard teasing.” Speaking in favor of the S 1358, bill sponsor Senator Nicole Lefavour said that “We want every student in our school and every student in our state to be safe.” The bill passed the Senate and has stalled in a House committee.
Budgetary issues were brought to the forefront of the session through several different bills. The House passed HCR 40, a concurrent resolution that authorizes an annual 2 percent raise for all permanent state employees. Opponents claim that the resolution will “help higher-paid workers, like agency directors, more than it would aid lower-paid employees, like snow plow drivers.” However, supporters argue that four years have passed without raises for state employees, and that the employees “deserve more.” As of the end of the session, the resolution remained stuck in a Senate committee.
Governor Otter signed H 695, a bill to establish a legislative legal defense fund, on April 5. The bill authorizes a $200,000 fund to be used by legislators to hire outside lawyers. Opponents say that the Attorney General represents lawmakers and should serve as sufficient representation; some branded the proposed legal defense fund as a “political slush fund.” Representative John Vander Woude, a supporter of the bill, defended his position and said that “he saw a conflict of interest in the Attorney General’s office.”
H 563 echoes the nation-wide debate on tax rates. On April 5, Governor Otter signed H 563, a bill that reduces the income tax rate for corporations from 7.6 percent to 7.4 percent. The bill also reduces the tax rate for individuals, trusts, and estates with a taxable income over 20,000 dollars from 7.8 percent to 7.4 percent. Supporter Senator Chuck Winder said that “It's not a huge amount, but it does make a statement.” Opponent Senator Elliot Werk said that the bill “narrowly targets the state's wealthiest wage earners and businesses, with no guarantee that the extra money will do anything to create jobs or stimulate the economy.”
Finally, Idaho lawmakers allocated some of their time and consideration to a hobby enjoyed by many Idahoans: hunting. On April 3 Governor Otter signed S 1256, a bill that authorizes the auctioning of certain big-game hunting tags. Another hunting-related bill, H 542, would have authorized the use of motorized vehicles on federal land. Although H 542 ultimately failed in the Senate, it did incite a vigorous debate between “hunters who walk to find and stalk big game [and] those who ride around [in an ATV] hoping to see an elk or whatever they can shoot at.”
Carrie Reed is a student at The University of Texas at Austin majoring in English and a current intern with Project Vote Smart. For more information on internship opportunities with Project Vote Smart, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 1-888-VOTE-SMART.