PAYETTE - Those interested in what bills and discussions are grabbing attention in Boise got a sample of the 2020 legislative session’s progress on Feb. 1, as District 9 lawmakers, Sen. Abby Lee, R-Fruitland, and Reps. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, and Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth, held a Legislative Town Hall at the Payette County Courthouse.
Attendance was light, with approximately 15 attendees.
Lee, who serves on the Joint Finance Appropriations Committee, addressed Medicaid expansion in Idaho, and dealing with the prospect of needing new prisons to house Idaho’s growing inmate population.
“The Department of Corrections is a huge demand on our budget,” Lee noted. “We are seeing, in addition to our cost increases, we have [a] population increase in Idaho, so we have some corrections increases.”
Lee says she wants to see changes on how inmates are prepared for release.
Kerby, who sits on the Judiciary Rules Committee among others, brought up topics of teacher certification, daylight saving time and reducing inmate recidivism. One tax he’s aimed to cut is the state grocery tax.
“There’s one bill that’s come out, we’ll see where it goes,” said Kerby. “That’s been something that, for my entire six years, I’ve really, really wanted to get rid of.”
Boyle, who sits on several agriculture committees and Gov. Little’s Government Accountability Committee, talked selling state-owned vehicles in favor of renting whenever possible, protecting gun owners’ Second Amendment rights and giving inmates a sense of work ethic.
“[We’re] trying to get prisoners out and learning how to be productive citizens again,” Boyle said about one work project in Idaho Falls.
With the floor opened to questions, attendees brought up topics of school bond levies, school districts spending their own money on high-stakes testing, Idaho’s “Rainy Day” fund, endowment lands and legalizing hemp products in the state of Idaho.
Kerby responded to queries about a proposed bill limiting how often bond measures can be run by saying his goal is to avoid “voter fatigue.”
“This bill is specifically about school bonds; Some people would run a bond, let’s say in March. And then they would come back and run essentially the same bond in May, and then they could run essentially the same bond in August,” Kerby observed. “That apparently was happening in six percent of the cases.”
One education topic discussed at length during the town hall was the prospect of Idaho abandoning the Common Core State Standards Initiative.
Kerby said he wants to see an “orderly transition” when the time is right to leave Common Core, stating he doesn’t want to see another “copy and paste” set of standards being brought into Idaho but rather the new standards be devised in Idaho.
“The debate’s not whether to get rid of it, the debate is whether to get rid of it immediately for next year,” he said, noting he was skeptical of just ending it right after the 2020 school year. Any change to state standards would require new curriculum, textbooks and lesson plans, Kerby said.
When the topic of property taxes on new construction being taken from counties, Lee responded by calling it “An Ada County problem looking for a statewide solution.”
“Something’s going to happen with property taxes, but not likely in the Senate this session,” she added.
When asked about environmental issues in Idaho, Boyle responded by pointing out a company in Idaho, Hilex Film Co., that makes plastic bags and said she was opposed to killing industry. The Idaho Legislature banned laws banning plastic bags and other disposable items in 2016.
A concerned attendee brought up the need for resources to help Idaho’s foster youth to prepare to leave foster care.
Lee responded by saying, “You’re speaking to my heart; I have a twenty-one-year-old … and she’s smart, she’s capable, she’s just a great kid. But at eighteen, she wasn’t ready to just be out there without any kind of scaffolding.”
Lee noted the state has reworked how it uses federal funds for foster youth to address the need for transitional assistance as kids age out of the system. Sen. Abby Lee co-chairs the Child Welfare Oversight Committee with Rep. Mike Moyle, which aims to address what’s right for foster youth reform.
When asked about the discussion on minimum wage in Idaho, Lee responded by saying, “We think that the market works,” suggesting a hike is not needed. Kerby backed up this comment by noting that out of Idaho’s 780,000 working adults, only 4,000 are paid minimum wage.
“You can’t even hire people for that amount right now,” he said.
Idaho’s minimum wage is presently $7.25 per hour; Malheur County, Oregon is $11 per hour.
Lee closed the meeting by addressing a question on the topic of legalizing hemp in Idaho.
“We need a path forward,” Lee said. “We’re working on it.”