Idaho’s Legislature continues path in the right direction

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For the past 25 years, I’ve had a front-row seat to the Republican-controlled state Legislature’s propensity to grow government. It’s not just about the money; it’s about the policies that require state and local politicians and bureaucrats to have more control over Idahoans’ lives. Happily, the 2018 legislative session broke the trend, with lawmakers passing and the governor signing into law about a dozen bills that reduced the power of government or restored liberty in some fashion.

The 2019 legislative session wasn’t as conservative as the one preceding it, but it wasn’t marked by a predilection for more government control, either. This session, the worst bill to pass and be signed into law is arguably the one that creates a special board to examine the relatively small number of deaths of pregnant women in Idaho. The board is an unnecessary expansion of government into an area that could easily be addressed by the medical community sans involvement of the Department of Health and Welfare. Such boards tend to drag the state toward more government under the enduring and forehead-slapping principle of “we need some-yet-to-be-discovered-policy-or-program because it may save just one life.”

The best bill signed into law was likely the one that eases regulations on pharmacists and allows out-of-state practitioners to serve Idaho consumers. It’s not as good as similar deregulation efforts in other states—cheers to you, Arizona—but it is a step in the right direction toward a freer economy, and one that has the potential to help improve access to medical care, especially in Idaho’s rural communities. The law pairs well with another new law that increases Idahoans’ access to non-Obamacare health insurance plans. That law could give Idahoans access to cheaper insurance. And don’t forget the legislation that puts work requirements in place for some Medicaid recipients.

Legislators are scoring better than they ever have since 2012, when IFF launched its legislative scorecard, the Idaho Freedom Index. Because of the higher scores, some people presume it means the Freedom Foundation has softened how it analyzes legislation. The real story: More liberty-oriented legislation is being introduced and voted on than ever before. And fewer bills that grow government are being introduced or passing into law. Consider the troublesome bills that were introduced this session which would have: given bonuses and five years to turn around failing schools; provided college loan repayment programs for teachers; provided a plethora of special rights for crime victims; permitted police checkpoints to search for hemp; built new office space for legislators; and, required charities to disclose the names of their donors for merely mentioning the name of a politician in advertisements. Thankfully, all of the above legislation failed.

Not so long ago, crony corporate welfare bills that dispensed tax breaks to the politically-connected were slam dunks with lawmakers. This year, one corporate welfare bill failed on the House floor and two others didn’t even make it past the introduction phase. To the good, Gov. Brad Little signed a measure that will require urban renewal schemes to be approved by voters.

Idaho’s Legislature, though dominated by Republicans who claim to be conservatives, has long struggled with the “limited government” part of what it means to be conservative. That said, for at least the last two legislative sessions, Idaho’s lawmakers are starting to understand what they’re there for: to protect liberty, not diminish it. They still have a long way to go. They still fear liberty as much as they embrace it. And they still spend far too much. But, as a body, for two years in a row, they’ve demonstrated that the Legislature can move in the right direction.