For the last few years, I’ve reviewed recently completed legislative sessions by comparing lawmakers’ actions against my wish list that I publish prior to the start of the action in January. So here’s an overview of what happened, as compared to my checklist:
First, the obvious: My No. 1 wish was for the Legislature not to implement a state insurance exchange, but it did. After holding this monstrosity at bay for three years, legislators gave in on this front. Furthermore, the Legislature failed to do anything within its power to lower (or at least contain) health insurance costs, such as allowing companies to employ doctors if they choose to do so and opening Idaho’s insurance marketplace to companies located outside the state’s borders. The Legislature’s role in the nationalization of health care will likely be the one for which it is most remembered, and I fear, not in a good way. But the scorecard doesn’t stop there.
The Legislature correctly refused to take up the expansion of Medicaid, apart from introducing a bill to do so. The fact that Medicaid expansion went nowhere is fantastic news for Idahoans. Medicaid is broken and needs to be reformed, not expanded. Meanwhile, there’s growing support to boost charity care to help Idaho’s neediest as an alternative to government programs.
I wanted lawmakers to cut taxes. They did in the form of personal property tax relief. I wish they’d have gone further with the tax ax, but they didn’t. The good news is the Legislature rejected additional silly additions to the tax code, including the governor’s ill-advised economic planning tax credits, industry-specific tax breaks and Internet sales taxes.
I wanted spending kept down. The Legislature did a much better job this year than last, with spending up by about 3 percent instead of last year’s 7 percent. And lawmakers seemed more focused on their budget votes this year, as evidenced by the previously passive Senate’s rejection of the first iteration of the $1.3 billion public schools spending blueprint.
Lawmakers continued with education reforms, just as I hoped they would. Proposals to give elected school boards more flexibility to run their schools passed. A plan to allow university charter schools passed. Open meeting requirements for labor negotiations passed. More work is needed. The House passed a plan to allow tax credits to help kids attend private schools. A Senate committee rejected it, but there is at least some progress in this area.
Lawmakers provided some incremental support for private property rights, repealing a law that let government inspectors enter private property in urban renewal districts whenever they wanted. Repealing laws and protecting private property rights were high on my priority list this year. And the Legislature got to experience the heavy-hand of its own laws when the city of Boise delayed a state government parking garage because the facility didn’t meet the local arbitrary design standards. The Legislature’s solution: exempt the garage from the local design review ordinance. Next year, lawmakers should look to rewrite the law so the private landowners don’t face the same regulatory hurdles from which the state exempted itself.
Lawmakers rejected new occupational licensing schemes. A proposal to add radiological technicians to the growing list of jobs requiring expensive licenses and regulatory boards failed to advance, nor did other proposals see the light of day that were quietly being vetted.
My summary: The health insurance exchange overshadows most everything else the Legislature did. It is and always will be a big negative to surmount. But it isn’t the whole story; there were also some significant, positive policy advancements that are notable, too.
Over the course of a legislative session, hundreds of bills are written and passed. It’s hard to encapsulate it all in just a few hundred words except to say this: The Legislature has gone home. You’re safe