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House Bill 735 — County indigent services

House Bill 735 — County indigent services

by
Parrish Miller
March 7, 2022
Parrish Miller
March 7, 2022

Bill Description: House Bill 735 would move the responsibility for indigent public defense from the county to the state and reduce property taxes accordingly. 

Rating: 0

Amendment Analysis: The Senate amendments to House Bill 735 are substantial, but they do not change the rating or the portions of the bill analyzed here.

Does it create, expand, or enlarge any agency, board, program, function, or activity of government? Conversely, does it eliminate or curtail the size or scope of government?

House Bill 735 is a complex 26-page bill that makes numerous changes to Idaho code. It starts by repealing dozens of code sections related to the county programs to fund health care and public defense for indigent persons. These responsibilities have either already been transferred to state government or they will be under this bill.

House Bill 735 creates Section 57-827, Idaho Code, which establishes a new state public defense fund to open the way for the state expanding its role in funding indigent public defense.

It also changes other sections of Idaho code, all as part of making this change possible. 

On balance, House Bill 735 does not expand the size and scope of government, but it does not shrink it either. Some duties once handled by the county would be handled by the state. It is worth making a distinction, however, between providing indigent health care services, which are not constitutionally required — and therefore constitute redistribution of wealth — and indigent public defense, which has been deemed a constitutional right. 

It is difficult to predict if shifting these responsibilities from the county to the state will result in greater efficiency and reduced costs, as proponents of the shift contend. It could just as easily result in expanded bureaucracy and increased spending. It is likewise difficult to judge if moving duties away from local government results in a meaningful reduction in accountability, as claimed by the idea’s critics. 

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Does it directly or indirectly create or increase any taxes, fees, or other assessments? Conversely, does it eliminate or reduce any taxes, fees, or other assessments?

Among the sections of code repealed by House Bill 735 are those related to the county Charity and Indigent Fund Levy. The termination of this levy will result in a nearly $21 million reduction in property taxes statewide. This reduction will be offset with general fund dollars, which are, of course, derived from sales and income taxes. Because there is no reduction in taxpayer-funded government spending, this is effectively a tax shift from property taxes to sales and income taxes, not a tax reduction. 

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