Welcome to the 2022 legislative session Idaho! As ICL has done for years, we’ll publish a weekly Legislative Update that recaps the events of the week and provides an outlook for the coming week.
And a busy first week it was!
The Governor laid out a $12 billion budget for the state that included a significant boost to natural resource funding. A tax cut was proposed to return some of the $1.6 billion surplus. Bills on science standards were introduced. Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy (R-Genesee) introduced a measure making it harder for unaffiliated voters to vote in the Republican primary. COVID-19 made an early appearance, causing several legislators to check out after testing positive for the virus. Phew!
Bodacious budget boost
The Governor’s budget proposes the most significant bump for natural resource funding ever. The 64% increase in funding includes hundreds of millions of dollars of federal funds. Most of this proposed increase is a result of investments from the American Recovery Plan (ARPA) and the Infrastructure Act, which both passed Congress last year. These funds represent a needed investment in our infrastructure and have broad support from a coalition of Idahoans.
Among the boosts:
- $70 million for water quality, including funds to protect Lake Coeur d’Alene and address pollution from agricultural operations
- $150 million boost for the Idaho Department of Lands to prepare for increasingly challenging climate-driven fires
- $45 million in ARPA funds for outdoor recreation, including investments in parks
- $15 million energy resilience, including $5 million for weatherization programs
- $7.5 million to address the toxic legacy of the Triumph Mine left behind for taxpayers to clean up, courtesy of ASARCO and poor decisions made by the State of Idaho.
Wasting no time in attacking Science Standards
Idaho’s science standards have been in the crosshairs every year since 2015, with the House Education Committee consistently opposing the inclusion of climate change and references to impacts of humans on the earth. Luckily, the Senate Education Committee has consistently approved the standards, overruling the objections from the House.
Last year, the House Ed Committee changed course and recognized the importance of including Supporting Content in the standards. Although this recognition of a critical component of the standards was needed, the committee still sought to influence the process by going through the standards with a fine-toothed comb, seeking out any opportunities to weaken language that suggests that humans are contributing to climate change (99% of scientists agree that we are). In the end, only modest changes were proposed, i.e. referring to “climate variability” instead of “climate change,” and using more vague language to how role human activities can impact the environment.
Committee members pressured the State Board of Education to adopt the revised standards but concerns around the cost of updating assessments, training and curriculum led the Board to defer any changes. Instead, they submitted the previously-adopted standards for reconsideration by the Legislature.
On Thursday, in response to his frustration with the State Board and the Governor, House Education Committee Chairman Lance Clow (R-Twin Falls) introduced a resolution to reject the Science, Math and English Standards before the full committee could even consider them. He also introduced a bill requiring the State Board of Education to adopt the draft standards. Instead of going through the regular rulemaking process, Rep. Clow is trying to force the issue. If the resolution were to pass and the bill were to fail, Idaho would be left with no standards at all. A hearing on both House Concurrent Resolution 27 and House Bill 437 is expected in several weeks.
At the end of the day, disputes over these standards have been a distraction that we hope will be resolved soon…but don’t hold your breath.
What’s coming next week?
During the first month, the Legislature considers new Administrative Rules. Because the Legislature has refused to extend all rules, as they historically did, the Governor and each state agency had to resubmit every rule for consideration, totaling nearly 7,000 pages. While many of these pass without much discussion, others tie the Legislature in knots.
Among the rules that we’ll be watching next week are rules for Elk Farms. The recent appearance of Chronic Wasting Disease in Idaho has raised concerns that the rules aren’t sufficiently protective, so we will be testifying before the Senate and House Agriculture Committees. We’ll also be keeping watch for the Education Rules, including the Science Standards in both the House and Senate. Rules designed to protect wildlife, clean water and our quality of life will also be tracked.
Housekeeping and Senatekeeping
Now for some Housekeeping and Senatekeeping…Several new legislators joined the Statehouse this session. From District 6 (Lewis and Nez Perce Counties), Rep. Lori McCann (R-Lewiston) replaces disgraced Aaron Von Ehlinger, who’s due to face rape charges in April. Also in District 6, Sen. Dan Johnson won his race for Mayor of Lewiston and selected Robert Blair (R- Kendrick) to fill his seat for the session. In District 31 (Bingham County), 8-term Sen. Steve Bair (R-Blackfoot) has taken medical leave to care for his family. He selected former Rep. Julie Van Orden (R-Pingree) to take his place. In Boise’s District 17, Sen. Ali Rabe moved out of her district and retired from the Senate, announcing her intention to seek Sen. Grant Burgoyne’s seat when he retires after this session. The Governor selected Carrie Semmelroth (D-Boise) to take her seat. Finally, from District 26 (Blaine, Camas, Gooding, and Lincoln Counties), Rep. Muffy Davis resigned to serve on the Blaine County Commission. In her place, Bellevue Mayor Ned Burns (D-Bellevue) steps in and will serve the remainder of her term.
Because of redistricting that happens every 10 years, along with announced and rumored retirements, next year will bring dozens of new faces into the legislature. Based on how the lines are drawn, some districts have open seats while others have more incumbents than available seats. This will make for an interesting dynamic and could lead to infighting, as incumbents from the same party will be thrown into the same district. The redistricting plan still must overcome legal challenges which were considered in the Supreme Court this afternoon.
Tie of the week!
In addition to all the exciting news from the Idaho Statehouse, I also spotlight one of my ties from the week related to what’s happening unda’ the rotunda. The big news this week was the budget. Over the course of the next month, the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee will consider the Governor’s proposed budget. Here’s to hoping for smooth sailing for the needed investments in our infrastructure that will keep our lands and waters clean, prepare for the effects of climate change, and ensure that Idaho is prepared for the opportunities that lie ahead.
Until next week…Esto Perpetua,