Running out the clock

Steve BerchThe 2024 legislative session is heading into the End Game phase. This is when bills being held hostage by the House, Senate and Governor’s office are either released or shot (“released” meaning legislative leaders let them be voted on, and “shot” meaning they die in a committee or are vetoed by the Governor). Much of this is negotiated and orchestrated behind closed doors.

It is no accident that the original target date for ending the 2024 session (March 22) has come and gone. One of the tools that the leaders of the House and Senate have is controlling the clock – delaying the vote on bills they want to see passed. This puts pressure on their caucus to pass those bills when they finally do come up for a vote – without much time to study the bill, hear from stakeholders, or even allow public testimony. In a way, the caucus can also be held hostage.

Many of the 87 legislators in the majority party are facing tough primary elections on May 21. The longer the session drags on, the less time they have to campaign. If the session had ended on March 22, they would have had eight weeks to campaign. Now they’re looking at having only seven weeks – and even less time if the session goes into April.

Running out the clock on legislators anxious to get home is an effective way for those who control the House and Senate to bend the body to their will and get what they want.

The clock is ticking . . .

Setting priorities

We are currently in the second session of the 67th Idaho Legislature (2023-2024). When any one party controls over 82-percent of a state legislature (it doesn’t matter which party), they use their party platform as a tool to set the legislative priorities for the entire state.

The recent, dramatic shift in new leadership controlling Idaho’s majority party coincides with the dramatic shift in the type of legislation now flooding the 67th Legislature. This includes over 100 bills targeting:

  • libraries and librarians
  • pregnant women
  • voting rights (especially young adults and absentee voting)
  • teachers
  • doctors
  • Medicaid expansion
  • the LGBT community
  • renters (taking away consumer protections)
  • public schools
  • local governments
  • health districts
  • unions
  • masks
  • vaccines
  • even Webster’s Dictionary (some bills actually redefine words in the dictionary).

Meanwhile, the real priorities that profoundly affect the daily lives of nearly all Idahoans are given scant attention, lip service, or one-time short term fixes. This includes:

  • failure to adequately fund public education without relying on school bonds and levies
  • rising property taxes and rents
  • failure to manage growth
  • low and stagnant wages
  • refusing to get rid of the grocery tax
  • unaffordable housing
  • deteriorating roads and insufficient infrastructure
  • unaffordable and insufficient healthcare coverage (especially mental health and in-home care)
  • failure to protect access to public lands.

There is a huge disconnect between the priorities in the majority party’s new platform and the priorities of the tens of thousands of District 15 voters who I have spoken with at their door. It is why I vote against extreme and bad bills with good-sounding titles – and it’s why I voted against most of the bills highlighted in this newsletter.

It’s also why I continue to work with my Republican colleagues to not only stop bad bills and write good ones, but to also update obsolete policies that are making it increasingly difficult for the state to fulfill its obligation to adequately provide the vital services and functions that benefit all Idahoans.

It’s about setting priorities that address your needs, not the desires of a handful of people (mostly unelected) who write a party platform behind closed doors.

Rotunda Roundup


UPDATE: Use public tax dollars to pay for private and religious school tuition (H447: died in House committee). This school voucher bill was manipulated by House leadership to bypass the House Education committee (which killed a voucher bill last year) by creating a new voucher bill disguised as a tax credit – thus sending it to the House Revenue & Taxation committee. That committee, considered friendlier to vouchers, also killed it.

However, there is talk that another school voucher bill (disguised as something else) may be introduced in yet a different committee (Ways and Means) in order to get something, anything on the floor of the House for a vote. Ways and Means is a special committee controlled by majority party leadership to either kill bills they don’t like or push through bills without allowing for public testimony – all happening at the very end of the session when legislators want to go home and start campaigning. I will provide more details about this in my next newsletter.

Allow libraries to be sued if someone doesn’t like a book they find on the shelf (H710 – passed the House, in the Senate). This is the latest version of the “library bill.” I support the portion of the bill that requires all libraries to follow a uniform process for receiving and acting upon complaints; I’ve been a strong advocate for this. However, this version of the bill has the same flaws as previous versions in that libraries can still be sued for monetary reward, pay expensive legal fees and risk not being able to obtain or afford insurance. It encourages lawsuits and further muddies the waters by failing to consistently apply the Miller test (a recognized legal standard for determining if content is obscene) across all steps in the process.

I voted AGAINST this bill which is being driven more by hearsay, rumor, innuendo, and conjecture via viral social media posts than it is on actual data (very few written complaints have actually been submitted to library boards). And while libraries are subject to a financial penalty, there is no penalty for someone making a false claim. This one-sided approach is designed to intimidate libraries and self-censor themselves to avoid costly lawsuits.

Increase funding provided by the Advanced Opportunities program (S1359 – signed into law). This bill increases the amount of advanced opportunity funds per public school student to $4,625 and it increases the amount per non-public school student to $2,500. There are less than 600 public school students and less than 300 non-public school students who maxed out the funding available to them. I voted FOR this bill which enables unused budgeted funds to provide additional assistance for students pursuing college degrees.

Prohibit colleges and universities from requiring diversity statements as a condition for employment or admission (S1274 – signed into law). This bill states that hiring employees and admitting students can only be based on merit without defining what that means (e.g. are test scores the only measure of a person’s merit?). Almost every word in the bill is really about what you can’t use to make these decisions. It specifically prohibits questions about diversity, equity or inclusion (DEI) as part of assessing the character, experience, and substance of the person to be hired or admitted as a student. The deliberate omission of defining “merit” exposes this bill as nothing more than “anti-DEI” political posturing in an election year. I voted AGAINST this bill, not only for its lack of intellectual honesty, but for the politicizing and demonizing of words that have important meaning and value in society, which I discussed during debate in the House Education committee.

Require school districts to allow in-person public comments at board meetings (S1361 – signed into law). I fully support in-person, face-to-face engagement with the public. In fact, I would have been happy to co-sponsor this bill if it wasn’t for one fatal flaw of omission – the bill allows for no exceptions. There are two recent situations that highlight the need for exceptions: the outbreak of a deadly contagious disease, and civil disobedience. If a more deadly and contagious version of COVID occurred, meetings could not be held in person, but business – including public testimony – could be successfully conducted remotely. The Caldwell school board was attacked last year by a calculated and planned act of civil disobedience when over 900 people descended on the meeting, forcing it to be cancelled. The members of that mob threatened to disrupt future school board meetings. I voted AGAINST this bill due to its failure to accommodate known exception situations. Had that provision been included, I would have voted for it.

Prevent certain flags and banners from being displayed anywhere on public school property (S1362 – failed in the House Education committee). This is one of several bills that bans everything in an effort to really ban only one thing – in this case, a rainbow flag. The sponsor admitted that he wrote this bill because one constituent complained about one rainbow flag in one classroom. As with other bills discussed in this newsletter, bills become unworkable and even absurd when you don’t think things through. A long list of exceptions had to be amended to this bill when people started realizing the different types of flags and banners that are routinely displayed in a public school. When I asked what the penalty for a violation would be, the sponsor said that was an issue for the school board to decide (including no penalty). I voted AGAINST this bill, which the sponsor inadvertently admitted should be decided by the local school board, not the state legislature.

Health & Welfare

Allow insurance companies to refill a contraceptive prescription for up to six months (S1234 – signed into law). This law increases the maximum prescription refill period for contraceptives from three months to six months. The prescribing doctor controls the refill frequency of the prescription, be it one month, three months, or now six months. I voted FOR this bill which helps lower costs and reduces the frequency of trips to the pharmacy to refill the prescription.

Prohibit use of public funds for gender transition procedures (H668 – passed the House and Senate, to the Governor). This bill is yet another attempt to legislate transgendered Idahoans out of existence, this time by denying them treatment if taxpayer dollars are involved – even though they are taxpayers! Since state and local government employees are paid with tax dollars, this bill implies that they cannot use their income to pay for gender transition medical treatment for themselves or their family in Idaho or elsewhere. The underlying hypocrisy is that legislators supporting this bill have also publicly admitted that gender dysphoria is in fact a real medical condition. I voted AGAINST this hateful bill which exposes the lengths some politicians – none of whom are doctors – will go to target and harm a very small, vulnerable group of fellow citizens.

Provide for parental rights during certain child protection investigations (S1232 – signed into law). This bill requires Child Protection Services (CPS) to provide parents or guardians a Miranda-type warning before entering a premises to investigate a claim of child neglect or abuse. I’ve been leery of bills like this in the past out of concern that it may hinder CPS from actually doing its job. However, the sponsor of this bill worked with CPS to develop a brochure outlining these parental rights without creating over-burdensome hurdles that would prevent CPS from fulfilling its responsibilities. I voted FOR this bill.

Require parental permission for all medical decisions involving a minor (S1329 – signed into law). This is another good-sounding bill that reveals serious flaws when one looks a little deeper. The bill can inhibit medical attention for minors living in a troubled household where they may be afraid to seek outside help. This can be particularly dangerous if the parents believe in faith healing and thus deny their child life-saving medical treatment. This bill also fails to clarify what happens if the parents disagree (or are divorced). I voted AGAINST this bill which runs into problems when considering a broad range of scenarios. Perhaps what is most disturbing about this bill is when the legislator introducing it said, “This is why we don’t allow children to have rights.” She really said that.

Create the Office of Health and Social Services ombudsman (S1380 – passed the House and Senate, to the Governor). This bill is in response to numerous situations where the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare has been accused of failing to provide adequate support and services, especially involving children. I don’t support growing government for government’s sake, but I voted FOR this particular bill to provide a necessary check and balance for a state agency that is struggling in areas (inadequate funding is also part of the problem, which hopefully an ombudsman can help the legislature understand and resolve).

Allow counselors and therapists the ability to deny service based on sincerely held beliefs (S1352 – signed into law). Add this to the list of new Idaho laws that deliberately target transgendered individuals and those suffering from gender dysphoria. But this bill goes even further. What if a therapist holds “sincerely held religious, moral or ethical beliefs and principles” against interracial marriage or a particular religion? I voted AGAINST this bill which furthers the hateful, bigoted principle that people can deny service to anyone they don’t like.


Prevent state agencies from sponsoring non-governmental events (H603 – passed the House, in the Senate). This bill is a sledgehammer retaliation for when one state agency participated in sponsoring a Gay Pride event in Boise. It masks an attempt to specifically target the LGBT community by doing away with all such sponsorships – even though these sponsorships are of almost no cost to taxpayers. This means that other state agencies can’t sponsor other activities such as 4H events or job fairs. I voted AGAINST this bill which hurts far more citizens and organizations across Idaho than the one specifically being targeted by this bill.

Prohibit the advertising of illegal products and services (H613 – passed the House, failed in the Senate). The bill’s sponsor was concerned about billboards in Idaho advertising cannabis products for sale in Oregon. While I can understand that concern, the bill’s fatal flaw was banning – and fining – all forms of advertising (broadcast, social media, etc.), not just fixed billboards near the border. This is completely impractical and unworkable. I voted AGAINST this bill which might also violate the right of free speech.

Provide immunity for employers who allow or do not prohibit employees to lawfully carry firearms (S1275 – passed the House and Senate, to the Governor). If the owner of a private business wants to allow their employees to carry firearms on their person while at work, they have that Second Amendment right to do so. They also have the right to prohibit the carrying of firearms on their premises. Conversely, employees have the right to decide to not work for an employer if they feel threatened or uncomfortable with the policies of any company they work for – which is something employers should consider when setting their company policies. I voted FOR this bill in recognition of that right, regardless of how I might personally feel about it.

Enable creation of large data centers serving the crypto currency industry (H585 – failed on the House floor). This complicated bill facilitates the proliferation of data centers necessary for the creation and operation of crypto currencies (e.g. Bitcoin). Debate against this bill highlighted the drain on electricity driving up rates for others (especially if it has to be purchased from other states), loss of revenue due to existing sales tax exemptions for large data centers, the additional loss of revenue by not taxing capital gains when selling crypto currencies, overriding local zoning ordinances, added stress to depleting aquifers, and little economic benefit to local economies due to the low number of employees needed to staff these data centers. I voted AGAINST this bill.


Create a voluntary “next of kin” database (S1365 – signed into law). This is a great bill. It gives the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) the ability to collect the necessary information for coroners and other law enforcement to notify a relative or friend in the case of injury, death, or other emergencies. The information is provided voluntarily by the holder of a driver’s license. I voted FOR this bill.

Amend provisions regarding the Strategic Initiatives Grant program for infrastructure (H638 – passed the House and Senate, to the Governor). The purpose of this existing program is to fund transportation projects. 60% of the money goes toward projects proposed by the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD), and 40% goes toward local transportation strategic initiatives administered by the Local Highway Technical Assistance Council (LHTAC). This is a good bill until you get to the part where it penalizes the City of Boise and other large cities. Larger urban areas are required to match 20% of the funds they receive from LHTAC, or they get nothing. I voted AGAINST this bill due to this poison pill provision, which seems to be based on little more than a disdain for Idaho’s more prosperous urban areas (and Boise in particular).

Create a “Don’t Tread on Me” specialty license plate (S1317 – passed the House and Senate, to the Governor). This bill makes Idaho license plates available for purchase with the image of the Gadsden flag (a coiled snake against a yellow background and the words “Don’t Tread on Me”). This is the same image now often displayed as flags mounted on pick-up trucks, along with other very partisan political flags (containing language I can’t share here).

In 2023, I submitted a bill enabling the “Too Great For Hate” license plate that narrowly failed in the House earlier (votes that would have passed the bill in 2020 were not counted). The committee chair told me last year that he would never allow anymore specialty license plate bills to be heard by his committee. But when this bill came over from the senate last week, he allowed it to be introduced. I then asked him again to allow me to introduce my license plate bill that he previously denied. He refused. I voted AGAINST this bill in light of this blatant hypocrisy and bias, especially when what has sometimes become a politically divisive symbol is exalted and a positive message is rejected. This would not be an issue for me if the committee chairman had simply kept his word.


Make it a crime to help a disabled or elderly neighbor cast their sealed absentee ballot (H599 – passed the House, in the Senate). This bill can charge you with a crime for simply helping someone other than a family member deliver their signed, sealed, valid absentee ballot to the county elections office. It has erroneously been given the fearful title of being an “anti-harvesting” bill, even though there is no evidence that the delivery of invalid absentee ballots are happening anywhere in Idaho. I voted AGAINST this un-American voter suppression bill which turns Good Samaritans into criminals.

Confirming that non-citizens cannot vote in any election in Idaho (HJR5 – passed the House, in the Senate). I voted FOR this resolution, which reaffirms what is already the law – only U.S. citizens are allowed to vote in Idaho elections.

Reduce the term of library board members from six years to four years (S1235 – passed the House and Senate, to the Governor). One of my arguments against recent “library bills” is consistent with the conservative principle that government is best when it’s closest to the people. In this case that would be a library board elected by the people or appointed by an elected official. I voted FOR this bill because this gives the people a more frequent opportunity to assess the job being done. A four-year term is not unreasonable, given that the Governor only serves a four-year term and every legislator only serves a two-year term. However, I would not support the term of a library board member to be less than four years.


Repeal Daylight Savings Time (DST) in Idaho (H584 – passed the House, in the Senate). This bill would eliminate the implementation of Daylight Savings Time throughout the entire state of Idaho. I’ve heard from constituents on both sides of this issue. I ultimately decided to vote AGAINST this bill at this time in consideration of the impact it might have relative to neighboring states that recognize DST. I would be inclined to support this bill if all the surrounding states followed suit, thus creating consistency across the region.

Prohibit compelling government employees and students from addressing a person by their desired pronoun (H538 – passed the House, in the Senate). This is one of at least 30 bills during the 67th Legislature that seeks to target or marginalize members of the LGBT community, and specifically those who are transgendered. Deliberately addressing a transgendered individual in a way that clearly doesn’t match who they now are is disrespectful.

I understand that many people are uncomfortable with transgendered individuals. They don’t like it, understand it, or may even think it is an abomination. Many people felt that way about interracial marriage and may feel that way about same-sex marriage. But it is not illegal to be an interracial couple, gay or transgendered.

Everyone deserves respect – including people who are different than us. Unfortunately, the purpose of this bill is to relieve one person’s discomfort without regard to how uncomfortable it makes the other person. I voted AGAINST this bill which allows someone to legally – and deliberately – tell others they’re not who they know themselves to be.

In the hopper

Here’s a list of some of the remaining bills still making their way through the House and Senate. This list is much shorter now, since many bills are being held in committees and are likely to die there. However, anything is possible until the legislative session officially ends.

  • H573 – Limit how an absentee ballot request form can be provided to citizen.
  • H598 – Create a new crime called “organized retail theft.”
  • H637 – Reorganize the composition and election of Highway District commissioners
  • HCR26 – Delay (with intent to stop) the University of Idaho’s attempt to acquire the University of Phoenix
  • S1261 – Limit the ability for state employees to work from home (telework).
  • S1273 – Require the Secretary of State’s Office to prepare a comprehensive voters’ guide for primary and general elections.
  • S1377 – Require paid petition signature gatherers to identify themselves as such.
  • SCR112 – Submit Idaho’s formal request to call an Article V constitutional convention of states (enable re-writing some or all of the U.S. Constitution).
  • <no bill number> – K-12 education appropriation bill (additional)

Steve represents District 15, House Seat A. He is a member of the Education, Business, Local Government committees, and JLOC (Joint Legislative Oversight Committee).