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The Legislature's big and (mostly) bad day

The Legislature's big and (mostly) bad day

Branden Durst
March 16, 2023

Wow. The Idaho Legislature had itself a big (and mostly bad) day.

This time of the legislative session is always busy and fraught with budgets and bills of importance. Here is an update on three bills of note.

School Choice

For the first time in Idaho history, a school choice bill that allows money to follow students to the school their family chooses has passed a legislative chamber. Senate Bill 1161 would expand the Empowering Parents grant program to add a tuition grant component. This would give up to 2,000 students $6,000 per year that they could use to offset the cost of tuition at a nonpublic school or to hire a certified teacher.

While this would be only a small change with minimal impact, it is important due to its historic nature. IFF’s years of advocacy, including this session, on expanding school choice opportunities has no doubt moved the needle on this issue in a major way, which culminated in this 19-15-1 vote.

The job isn’t anywhere near done, however. The House Education Committee, which we will speak about more in a moment, has been a place where good bills go to die and bad bills go to pass all session. We’ll have future communications on what you can do to engage the House on this legislation.

Medical Education Funding

The Idaho House today debated Senate Bill 1147, a budget bill that appropriates $27,215,100 and 44.65 full-time positions to Health Education Programs for fiscal year 2024. Health Education Programs include medical training through the WWAMI program, a multi-state collaborative with the University of Washington Medical School. It was that aspect of the appropriation that was the area of greatest interest due to concern that state funds being spent on the WWAMI program would constitute a violation of Idaho’s No Public Funds for Abortion Act.

The Act prohibits contracting with or funding any “abortion provider” by the state, which would include UW Medicine which offers courses on abortion. During the debate, the bill’s presenter, Rep. Britt Raybould (R-34), extolled the virtues of “abortion care” and admonished fellow legislators who debated against the budget by asking for language to be included in the legislation to ensure that Idaho wasn’t breaking its own law.

Unfortunately, as has become commonplace in the Idaho House this session, a group of liberal Republicans, mostly (but not exclusively) from SE Idaho, partnered with Democrats to pass the budget.

Growing Government

In the latest sign of the statist worldview that has taken hold in some corners of the Idaho Legislature, Rigby Rep. Rod Furniss and Lewiston Rep. Lori McCann partnered together to push House Bill 313, which would require the state to fund tampon distribution machines in every female restroom at all public schools in Idaho. Yes, you read that right. State-funded tampon machines in every public school female bathroom statewide.

Advocates argued some women suffer from “period poverty.” However “period poverty” does not exist. Poverty exists. Government virtue signaling on fake women’s issues won’t help families struggling to afford basic necessities. The bill does not even target those in need! This is about whether or not the state government should continue to increase children’s reliance on taxpayer-funded goods. What about non-profit organizations? There are plenty of groups meeting the needs of poor families in Idaho. It does not make sense to expand the creeping hand of government into the tampon distribution business.

House Education, predictably, was eager to sign on to this expansion of government and sent House Bill 313 to the floor of the Idaho House. A vote of the full House should occur soon, possibly as soon as tomorrow.

The Verdict

Is Idaho truly conservative? Or do our legislators campaign on easy conservative platitudes while governing like socialists?

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