The never-ending session

By Steve Berch
Idaho Congressman

Steve BerchA legislative session officially ends when the House and Senate each declare Sine Die, which in Latin literally means “end of day.” Legislatively, it means there is no appointed date for resumption, and thus the session is concluded.

The 2024 legislative session was supposed to Sine Die on March 22nd. Then it got pushed to March 29th. Then April 3rd. Now we are scheduled to end on April 10th. Maybe.

The House and Senate are currently in recess until April 10th. This gives the legislature the opportunity to reconvene and override any vetoes the Governor may issue. His deadline for issuing a veto is 10 am on April 10th, five days after the last bills were delivered to him.

The Byzantine maneuverings taking place on the House and Senate floor and behind closed doors in these final days have been dizzying, especially in regard to several appropriations bills (reviewed in the Rotunda Roundup section of this newsletter).

It’s hard telling when April Fool’s Day will actually end at the Capitol.

A Tale of Two Bills

The Worst of Bills

The first one is a truly awful bill that was signed into law this year, H521. This bill was so bad that nine other bills were written in an attempt to fix the problems with it. The final fix was a bill (H766) that combined several of the proposed fixes. But the real problem with H521 is that it is a Frankenstein’s monster of a bill that stitches together a wish-list of unrelated items while delivering a false promise of major investments in school facilities.

H521 funds school facilities over the next 10 years by borrowing $1.5 billion (plus interest, paid with taxpayer dollars). The borrowed money must first pay off old school bonds before it can be used to fund current and future school facility needs. This doesn’t provide enough help for school districts needing additional revenue now. It will force most school districts to continue asking voters to approve new school bonds for ongoing maintenance and new construction.

Paying off old bonds will reduce property taxes, but those savings will be lost when the cost of new bonds are added back in. In addition, the $200 million needed each year to pay off the borrowed debt gets taken out of the general fund, which is the source of school funding. This leaves less money available to allocate for public education each year. (CLICK HERE to see my debate against this bill.)

Interior of Salmon Middle School which was abandoned after the district asked the state to help pay for a new school but only received enough funding for a new roof and seismic reinforcements.

The Best of Bills

The best school facilities bill I’ve seen in my six years on the House Education committee is H755. This bill creates a new fund in the state treasury to support public school facilities, along with a needs-based funding process that could eliminate having to rely on local school bonds. Every student would get the school facilities they deserve, instead of having them be limited by what the local tax base can afford. This is a major reason why school bonds continually fail – and schools deteriorate – especially in economically challenged portions of the state.

No community in Idaho should be relying on bonds to fund school facilities. The Idaho Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that the state – not local property owners – had the constitutional responsibility to adequately fund schools. H755 is the first real and necessary step toward shifting this burden from property owners to the state legislature. This bill proposes to provide an initial $25 million toward this new school facilities fund. While that is a start, it pales in comparison to the over $1 billion needed to bring the 60% of Idaho school buildings that are currently in “fair and poor” condition up to “good and excellent” condition.

This leads to the question: Where will the money come from? The answer is in the $5.2 billion that is excluded from revenue collection annually due to sales tax exemptions that never get reviewed and never expire. If only 5% of those exclusions could no longer be justified, that would provide $250 million for school facilities each year – more than the amount H521 will cost tax payers each year to pay off the $1.5 billion in borrowed money.

H755 was introduced very late in the 2024 session to start a discussion among legislators and stakeholders for serious consideration next year. This bi-partisan bill was co-sponsored by Rep. Rod Furniss (R-Rigby) and Rep. Soñia Galaviz (D-Boise). They are among the most talented and hard-working people in the legislature. I will be working with them to advance this critical first step to improve school facilities funding, support our children, and provide meaningful and sustained property tax relief that is often promised but seldom delivered.

Rotunda Roundup


NOTE: I normally vote for all appropriation bills. However, earlier this session I voted against “maintenance” budgets which provided inadequate funding. I did vote for supplemental bills that provided the necessary additional funding. Unfortunately, I found circumstances surrounding the appropriation bills below so problematic that I had to vote against them.

Appropriation for the Office of the Attorney General (H752, S1458, and S1434 – passed the House and Senate, to the Governor). I cannot support funding an Attorney General’s office that refuses to write legal opinions – an essential responsibility of that position. I expect a politician to avoid putting their opinions in writing – not an attorney. The sad fact is that most people in the Capitol now operate as if Idaho doesn’t have an Attorney General, which is why we’re seeing legal opinions being sought after from other sources. I voted AGAINST funding an office that appears to be more interested in writing weekly political press releases than legal opinions.

Appropriation for Health & Welfare – Welfare Division (S1460 – passed the Senate, in the House). The controversy over this otherwise routine appropriations bill is that it excludes acceptance of $16.5 million in federal funds for the summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) program. This program helps feed over 100,000 Idaho children who qualify for free and reduced lunches. It enables eligible children to continue receiving a food benefit during the summer months when they’re not in school. I plan to vote AGAINST this bill when it reaches the House floor. Several of the arguments against this bill are just plain false. The benefit does not go to rich kids, they can’t buy anything they want with it, and accepting this money will not increase the federal deficit. If Idaho does not accept these funds, they will go to another state and the most vulnerable of our children will be harmed by this heartless action driven by an ideological hatred of the federal government.

Appropriation for the Idaho Transportation Department (H770 – passed the House and Senate, to the Governor). This is perhaps the most contentious appropriations bill this session. It barely passed the House by a vote of 37-31 and it passed the Senate by only one vote: 18-17. The issue is that the bill reverses ITD’s decision to sell its old headquarters on State Street and move to the state’s new campus on Chinden Blvd. ITD made that decision after the building was damaged by internal flooding, exposed asbestos and a severe mold problem. Some financial arguments have been suggested to justify blocking this sale. However, the real concern is the legislature overstepping its bounds by trying to undo a contract that has already been negotiated between ITD and third parties. This will cause others to distrust doing business with the state in the future. I voted AGAINST this bill which shows a complete lack of respect for the Executive branch, a co-equal branch of state government. The desire by some legislative leaders to control everything the state does is becoming irresponsible and detrimental.

Changes to judicial compensation (H746 – passed the House and Senate, to the Governor). This isn’t technically an appropriations bill, but it has the same effect. This bill provides a modest 2.6% increase in the salaries of Idaho Supreme Court justices and roughly the same amount for appeals court, district court, and magistrate justices. And it does something else: it awards a $25,000 bonus to a Supreme Court justice if they complete their full term before retiring, instead of retiring during the middle of their term. This is a deliberate attempt to “bribe” judges so that their position can be filled via an election instead of an appointment. I voted AGAINST this bill. I have no problem with the public voting for Supreme Court vacancies. I do have a problem with the unseemly manipulation of judges by offering them money. An untended consequence of this bill could also be that a judge who should retire early (e.g. for health reasons) stays on longer just to get the $25,000 bonus. This is bad fiscal, legislative and political policy.


School facilities funding (H755 – introduced late this year for consideration next year). See my discussion of this bill in the narrative portion of this newsletter above (A Tale of Two Bills).

Allow libraries to be sued for containing certain books (H710 – passed the House and Senate, to the Governor). This is the third “library bill” this session. H384 was a repeat of the bill vetoed by the governor last year. S1289 failed in the Senate by one vote. Now there is this bill. It differs from the bill the governor vetoed last year in that: 1) a grievance process was created that all libraries must follow, and 2) the reward for suing a library was reduced from $2,500 to $250 per complaint. I fully support the first change. If that was the only requirement in this bill, I would have voted for it. While the amount of the reward was reduced, it doesn’t address two more damaging financial penalties placed upon libraries: legal fees and higher insurance rates. It is possible that insurance coverage may not even be offered, which would effectively close a library.

But the more insidious problem with this bill is one of omission: there is no penalty for filing a false claim. There are people determined to remove anything from a library they don’t like. Thousands of claims can be made challenging hundreds of books in libraries across the state. Although the bill establishes a grievance process, it doesn’t allow the library board to make the final decision – some random judge or jury would wind up doing that. I voted AGAINST this bill which is designed to intimidate libraries to self-censure themselves by removing books to avoid lawsuits. This is yet another display of hypocrisy by a majority party that believes government is best when it is closest to the people – except when it does something 36 legislators in the House and 18 legislators in the Senate don’t like.

Health & Welfare

Establish provisions governing Pharmacy Benefit Managers – PBMs (H596 – signed into law). Some background: PBMs are third party administrators under contract by employers and government entities to manage prescription drug programs for health plan recipients. They decide which pharmacies are included in a prescription drug plan’s network and how much the pharmacy will be paid for dispensing services. The purpose of this bill is to establish parameters and standards for how PBMs operate in Idaho. I voted for the original version of this bill, which limited the outsized role PBMs appear to play as a middleman relative to the value they provided to pharmacies and consumers. However, after the House passed this bill, it was amended in the Senate. I voted AGAINST this amended version because it included a clause allowing PBMs to operate in complete secrecy, especially in regard to their pricing policies. Given the high prices consumers pay for some medications, the state shouldn’t be complicit in blocking price transparency.

Enable youth shelters and crisis centers to serve homeless and runaway youth (S1328 – signed into law). This bill protects and allows licensed facilities to house a runaway child where the child consents to being sheltered and the shelter is unable to locate the child’s parent or legal guardian. It also requires these facilities to notify law enforcement. I voted FOR this bill which helps protect the safety of youths struggling under difficult circumstances beyond their control.

Allow electroconvulsive treatment for children ages 14 or older (S1354 – passed the House and Senate, to the Governor). This was a difficult bill. At first blush, it appears to condone a form of treatment that might sound cruel or even barbaric. However, a more detailed understanding of its usage reveals that it is a procedure of last resort to treat individuals with severe symptoms of certain mental health issues. The bill contains several guardrails, including:

  • parental consent
  • all other accepted methods of treatment have been exhausted
  • the treatment is necessary to save the child’s life due to potential suicide; or to prevent irreparable injury
  • the child has received independent psychiatric assessments and approval from multiple certified sources
  • the therapy is performed in a licensed hospital.

I voted FOR this bill which puts stringent conditions in place, respects parental rights, and defers to the expertise of medical professionals over the opinions of politicians.


Prohibit voting systems in Idaho from being able to connect to the internet (S1394 – signed into law). This bill is based on a concern that election tampering might occur if voting machines at local polling places communicate with a county elections office via the internet. I voted FOR this bill. Note: the internet is not currently being used for this purpose in Idaho.

Limit the use of a driver’s license as proof of identification for voting (H583 – signed into law). Idaho law requires a person to show proof of identification when they vote at a polling place. A driver’s license is the most common form of proof of identification. This bill reinforces the prohibition of a qualified voter who recently moved to Idaho from using their out-of-state driver’s license as proof of identification, even if they meet the 30-day minimum residency requirement. Most people who move to a new state don’t immediately rush to the DMV to get a new, in-state driver’s license. I voted AGAINST this reinforcement of a law that makes it more difficult for some qualified individuals to cast their vote.

Establish an Office of Election Crimes and Security (H470 – failed in the House). This bill usurps the Secretary of State’s current responsibility to investigate claims of voter fraud by giving this new power to the Attorney General. There is no legitimate reason to believe this is a problem that needs to be solved. I voted AGAINST this dangerous power-grab. It is ironic that the same people advocating for creating this unsubstantiated need for a new bureaucracy are the same ones who complain about bills that grow government.

Require paid signature gatherers to disclose they are being paid (S1377 – passed the House and Senate, to the Governor). In addition to placing this requirement on a signature gatherer, every signature on the petition can potentially be thrown out if just one signer claims they weren’t informed.

It is an insult to every citizen to imply they can’t make their own independent decision to sign a petition if the signature gatherer is being paid. It is hypocritical for legislators supporting this bill to require this disclosure by paid signature gatherers, but not the people they are paying to knock on doors for them. I voted AGAINST this terrible bill whose real purpose is to prevent citizen-driven ballot initiatives from appearing on the ballot (such as Medicaid Expansion and term limits).

Local Government

Constraints on creating local comprehensive plans and designating areas of impact (S1403 – signed into law). This bill places limitations on the distance a local government can designate areas of impact and comprehensive plans beyond its current boundaries. It also empowers the county to resolve disputes between cities that are growing toward each other. However, there are two problems with this bill: 1) it severely limits the ability of a citizen to seek judicial review of these decisions, and 2) it eliminates a second public hearing if changes are made to plans after an initial public hearing. I voted AGAINST this bill because it diminishes well-established, existing avenues of recourse available to citizens. I would have voted for this bill had those changes not been made.

Limit local annexation of certain properties (S1293 – passed the House and Senate, to the Governor). This bill prohibits annexation of an enclave within a city if one side of the enclave is bordered by a natural boundary not owned by the city (e.g. a river, canyon, etc.). It also empowers one individual owning 50% or more of an area subject to annexation to block it, even if there are other property owners residing in that same area who want to be annexed. I voted AGAINST this bill, which ignored several reasonable amendments proposed by the Association of Idaho Cities. I would have voted for this bill had those amendments been adopted.


Prohibit harassment via telecommunications (S1262 – signed into law). Current Idaho law prohibits the use of telephone calls that “annoy, terrify, threaten, intimidate, harass, or offend” others. This bill extends these prohibitions to other forms of telecommunications such as emails and text messages. I voted FOR this bill which is an appropriate update to current law.

Enable the criminalization and imprisonment of any person who enters Idaho illegally (H753 – passed the House, in the Senate). I do not condone illegal immigration, which has been an on-going problem well before President Ronald Reagan granted amnesty to 2.9 million illegal immigrants in 1986. Illegal immigration continues to be a problem that no administration under either political party has been able to solve. However, turning every illegal immigrant that enters Idaho into a criminal ignores the simple truth that portions of Idaho’s economy would be negatively impacted without this immigrant labor. This includes Idaho’s agriculture, dairy, construction and service industries – and local retailers who sell goods and services to these workers. A better solution would be a verified guest worker program. I voted AGAINST this bill which may be unconstitutional since it is very similar to a Texas law that is making its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Limit the Public Utilities Commission’s (PUC) jurisdiction over certain water usage situations (S1323 – passed the House and Senate, to the Governor). This bill eliminates the PUC’s jurisdiction over any organization that owns, controls or operates a water system which delivers water to a single entity, including homeowner associations. This removes a critical consumer protection: making sure the water you drink is properly treated so it won’t poison you. For example, there are private wells in the Boise area that draw water containing some amount of arsenic. I voted AGAINST this bill that only benefits certain organizations by eliminating the cost of complying with regulations that help ensure the safety of drinking water.

In the hopper

Unless something unexpected happens when the legislature reconvenes on April 10th, these notable bills are dead (at least for the 2024 session):

  • H506 – Place severe limitations on local government control over short term rentals (STR) – held in the House.
  • H573 – Limit how an absentee ballot request form can be provided to citizens – held in the House.
  • H637 – Reorganize the composition and election of Highway District commissions – held in the House.
  • S1261 – Limit the ability for state employees to work from home (telework) – passed the Senate, held in the House.
  • S1273 – Require the Secretary of State’s Office to prepare a comprehensive voters’ guide for primary and general elections – passed the Senate, held in the House.
  • SCR112 – Submit Idaho’s formal request to call an Article V constitutional convention of states (enable re-writing some or potentially all of the U.S. Constitution) – held in the Senate.