My mom told me that if I can't say something nice, I shouldn't say anything at all. She said I'd "catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." Or something like that. I'm not very good at following Mom's advice. Sure I've been complimentary of the Legislature's willingness to take on the federal government with the passage of the Idaho Health Freedom Act and the Idaho Firearms Freedom Act. But there are, in fact, many noteworthy achievements from the last legislative session that have gotten too little attention -- things I've grumbled about that Legislature has addressed, and in a positive way. The truth is, I got a lot of what I wanted.
For example, the Legislature voted to delay a $10 million livestock research center that the state funded three years ago but has floundered since. The public schools budget that the Legislature passed will allow school boards to renegotiate teacher contracts and, hopefully, put some sanity back into school benefits packages as one measure to help balance local school budgets. By passing Hayden Republican Rep. Phil Hart's public school transparency bill, lawmakers began the process of opening expenditure records to more public scrutiny.
Emmett Republican Rep. Steven Thayn and Boise Democratic Rep. Brandon Durst won passage of a bill that creates a pilot early graduation program that will save taxpayers money and allow students to make good use of their years in the K-12 system. Lawmakers also approved a bill that bans the capricious practice of giving severance retirement pay to state employees. And the Legislature, through a crafty procedural maneuver by Rep. Raul Labrador of Eagle, did not pass an ill-conceived ban on texting while driving that many acknowledged would be unenforceable.
Boise Republican Rep. Lynn Luker and Lewiston Democratic Rep. John Rusche created a compromise to a Senate-passed immunization registry bill. I criticized the Senate measure for being overly intrusive in the way it tried to put the government in the role of parent. The compromise now explicitly requires parents to be notified that they don't have to include their children in the registry and it puts several other safeguards in place. While still an overreach in the role of government, it's a marked improvement over the original version.
My favorite legislation, though, has to be a bill that erases a 34 year old abomination from the state tax law. Since 1976, Idaho taxpayers have contributed almost $1.6 million to the state's political parties. About $736,000 went to Idaho Democrats and about $728,000 went to Republicans. What taxpayers didn't know is that when they designate that a dollar go to the political party of their choice, what they're actually doing redirecting taxpayer dollars away from general fund obligations like education and toward political campaigns. Luker picked up on this scheme and introduced legislation to end the campaign checkoff program.
The bill passed with only one "no" vote.
So, Mom, I hope you're proud. The 2010 Legislature was not all sunshine and lollypops, but it wasn't all bad either.