Representatives to the Idaho State Legislature answered questions from the community and updated citizens on what was happening in the capital on Saturday morning.
The session welcomed 39 first-time legislators — 11 in the Senate and 28 in the House — to the statehouse this year. Senator Doug Ricks said, due to turnover, six out of the 10 committee chairmen represent districts in Eastern Idaho.
The Idaho legislature introduced three bills aimed at providing property tax relief. Legislators said they will focus the next couple of months on consolidating these policies into one policy to adopt.
“I think it’s a pretty safe bet that the legislative session won’t end without something being done to address property taxes,” said Rep. Britt Raybould. “Everyone has received the same message that we’re hearing today from you, which is we want you to do something to resolve this issue. Our job is to find a way forward that actually provides meaningful relief and at the same time addresses the underlying issue with property taxes so we aren’t back here in five years having the exact same discussion again.”
Many times throughout the town hall meeting, representatives addressed different aspects of the legislative process. Ricks and Rep. Jon Weber serve as committee chairs for the Local Government and Taxation, and Ways and Means respectively. Each discussed concerns expressed to them about committee chairs “holding bills,” or keeping a bill in committee and not advancing to the floor, to be voted on.
Weber gave advice on improving chances to get a bill moved forward: Building relationships.
“You have to, as a legislator, build those relationships where you can be an effective leader, an effective legislator,” Weber said. “That means that you’re working with your colleagues, that you’re working with leadership and that you have a path forward that will move from the House to the Senate to the governor’s desk and get signed. It’s tough to get a piece of legislation through standing alone.”
Weber said if legislators don’t make efforts to build relationships and work through potential problems in their bills, the bill isn’t likely to get looked at by a committee chair. However, if a legislator gets the backing of the speaker and the committee chair that their bill is assigned to, their legislation is more likely to make it to the floor.
Sometimes, due to the sheer amount of bills introduced, bills have to be held in committee. In just four weeks, over 100 bills have been introduced. With the deadline coming up, all three said to expect a significant influx in bills introduced.
For the most part, though, Ricks and Weber want to help bills be introduced and passed and offered guidance to legislators wanting to get legislation through.
“If it’s a good bill and it has some merit, we’re gonna help it try and get it out and get it passed on the floor,” Weber said.
Raybould said the instruction and guidance she’s received from committee chairs has helped improve the quality of her bills and encourages other legislators to do the same.
“The concept in and of itself may not be an issue, but the way that it’s executed in the bill may not be fully baked,” Raybould said. “That’s why you’re going to have the exchanges with the committee chairs and other legislators to talk through the idea.”
She stressed the importance of meeting multiple times to work through potential issues and questions.
“I think it’s useful to think of legislating as an ongoing process where we’re trying to make incremental change and improvement as opposed to one and done,” Raybould said.
Once a bill is passed in the state legislature, it is turned over to cities and counties to implement.
“We’re asked to set the policy at a state level, and then have to see how it executes when it goes out locally,” Raybould said. “And then you have to go back and make changes based on feedback and what we see. It’s an ongoing process that we’re never going to get perfectly right, but I can all three of us sitting up here are committed to revisiting the policy as needed to make sure that they’re serving our community as best as possible.”
Protecting school choice
Several bills have been introduced relating to education in Idaho. One bill proposes a “Freedom in Education Savings Accounts,” the act would give approximately $5,950.00 that would follow students so parents could access the education services and environments that work best for their children.
“I think our legislature and communities throughout Idaho will come forward and help us make the decision and I think Idaho will make the right decision,” Ricks said. “I’m not intending to gutter public education and am careful about the school choice.”
Ricks said he is a staunch advocate for public schools, but sees the merits in the bill.
“I do think there are a few students that are using some of these other options as alternatives,” Ricks said. “Maybe it fits their needs. I don’t think that you have to have everybody with one size fits all.”
Raybould shared similar convictions.
“I stand here today before you committed to ensuring that we fulfill our constitutional obligation to have our public uniform system of schools available for all Idaho students,” Raybould said. “That’s our responsibility. We owe it to the kids in this state to make sure that they have access to a good education. That may mean that in addition to those public schools that we make other additional resources available, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of that constitutional obligation.”
Raybould said she would host another town hall meeting at the beginning of March and another after the session ends in late March or early April and hopes Weber and Ricks will join her.