Perhaps because it’s an election year, perhaps because lawmakers are finally getting the message, perhaps because Gov. Butch Otter is a lame duck. I’ve been doing this work for more than two decades and I’ve never seen an Idaho legislative session more disposed toward limited government than the one about to end.
Allow me to count some of the ways this has been a good session. The 2018 Legislature:
- Passed meaningful tax relief, dropping the top marginal income-tax rate below seven percent for the first time. Idaho’s taxes are still too high, and the addition of a child tax credit wasn’t a great tax policy choice, but what a difference from the token tax relief offered in previous years.
- Repealed the Depression-era law that required items to be marked up by a minimum government-enforced amount and outlawed the sale of items below cost. Until now, Idaho retailers who held loss-leader or Black Friday-type sales risked prosecution and substantial fines under this anti-free market, anti-consumer statute.
- Amended a 1961 state law so that Idahoans can more easily buy and sell health insurance across state lines. People have wrongly assumed that it’s the federal government that stops across-state-lines insurance sales. That’s not true. Idaho’s own law has helped create the anti-competitive insurance markets we have today. It will take years to repair the damage caused by Idaho’s law (and similar ones that remain in other states), but it’s a good start.
- Reduced the number of hours needed to become a licensed cosmetologist and provided a way for unlicensed makeup artists to provide their services legally. Though Idaho still needs to do more to eliminate barriers to work caused by occupational licenses, this is the first time lawmakers have greatly reduced the requirements needed for people to participate in a profession.
- Restricted the use of civil asset forfeiture against people who have never been convicted of a crime, and required law enforcement agencies to keep better records of the circumstances under which property is taken from people. Though civil asset forfeiture remains on the books in the Gem State, the revised law should prevent abuses that have occurred in Idaho under this “policing for profit” policy.
- Passed restrictions on local governments to prevent them from essentially lobbying to convince voters to support a bond or levy election. Though the bill, which awaits the governor’s signature, wouldn’t stop taxpayer money from being misused, it’s a starting point to prevent school districts, counties, and cities from using tax dollars to advocate for the passage of higher taxes.
- Opened the House of Representatives to being filmed and photographed while the people’s business is being conducted. This rule change will allow political watchdogs, as long as they don’t disturb proceedings, to capture film and audio recordings of House committee meetings.
That’s a long list, and it more than blunts the negatives associated with this session, including liberty-oriented bills that were denied hearings, the state’s runaway spending and passage of a couple of bills that redistribute wealth. But, I won’t dwell on those today. The fact is, Idahoans have long-wanted a legislative session like the one we just had. And this, my friends, is just the beginning. Should Idahoans elect a governor who actually believes in free markets and limited government—and doesn’t just give lip service to them—and should Idahoans add to the growing ranks of conservative legislators this year, 2019 could prove even better.