Republican Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, in his first term in the Legislature, said that the legislators of 2010 will be remembered most for their work in meeting the constitutional requirement of balancing the budget, despite what he called "exceptional losses in tax revenue." He added that the session was tough because of the decisions that were forced on lawmakers due to the struggling economy.
During the 2010 session, Palmer, who represents District 20, cast votes on controversial legislation that were, at times, at odds with many of his fellow Republicans in the House. For example, he voted against a bill, which has since become law, which lowers the age of consent at which teens may engage in sexual activity. Sponsors of the legislation, mainly Sen. Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, said that the move would stop the state from destroying the lives of young boys who are forced to register as sex offenders if they are convicted of statutory rape. Hill and others also touted the fact that they went further in protecting young people by placing a three-year limit on the provision - meaning a 16-year-old can engage in sexual activity with someone up to 19 years of age and no more.
For Palmer, the three-year age gap was just too much.
"Even if it had been two years, that would have made a difference," said Palmer. "There's a big difference in maturity in that one year."
Palmer also co-sponsored legislation that would have banned the practice of texting-while-driving, one of the most controversial and highly debated bills of the 2010 session. The bill, killed through a procedural maneuver by another representative who attended the town hall meeting Tuesday, Republican Raul Labrador of Eagle, would have assessed those caught texting while driving with a $50 fine for the first offense and $100 for subsequent offense. Many Republicans, including Labrador, said the bill was "unenforceable." With that, Palmer agreed.
"Personally, I am not for instituting laws which restrict personal freedom," said Palmer. "But my constituents wanted it, so I voted for it." Palmer said that he believes the issue will reappear before lawmakers next year, though at the beginning of the session so House and Senate have time to hammer out their differences on the ban.
Did the Legislature pass poor legislation during the session? Palmer thinks so. He said that Senate Bill 1344, passed by the House on the final day of the session, is too intrusive. The bill amends state law to give authorities more power to inspect trailers to prevent two kinds of invasive species from invading Idaho waters. While he acknowledges that the state faces a large problem in dealing with invasive species, Palmer said he feels the bill simply goes too far because it doesn’t limit inspection to boat trailers only.
"It's like sending the Gestapo after anyone with a trailer," said Palmer.
(Note: The other state representative from District 20 in Meridian, Republican Marv Hagedorn, also shared some of his thoughts on the session and defended his votes on controversial legislation. Read what Hagedorn had to say here.