2024 legislative session review

By Representative Steve Berch

Steve BerchThe 2024 legislative session officially ended April 10. This newsletter reviews 66 bills from the session. That’s a lot to cover, but part of my job as a legislator is to keep constituents informed. This includes explaining the bill, how I voted, and most importantly: the reason for my vote.

As the legislature has become more extreme (producing more bills than ever in just 12 weeks), I have had to vote against even more bills with deceptively good-sounding titles that are seriously flawed when you read past the title – making the 2024 session Pretty Ugly (my favorite oxymoron).

This newsletter is divided into two sections: New Laws and Failed Bills. The bills are then grouped by topic within each section to help navigate the content. The reason I discuss “Failed Bills” is because it provides insight into what may have happened – and what may come back again next year. The topics under each section include:

  • Education (including libraries)
  • Health & Welfare
  • Crime/Law enforcement
  • Business/Local Government
  • Elections
  • Appropriations
  • Other

It is an honor and a privilege serving District 15 (and all Idahoans) for the last six years. I hope to continue doing so after November, and continue keeping you updated with these legislative newsletters.

A House divided

There is an internal struggle for control within the majority party. Last summer, newly installed leadership controlling the Idaho Republican Party (IRP) censured Governor Little and 14 incumbent Republican legislators, declaring them to not be Republicans. Lines are being drawn in the sand. There is now a Republican “Freedom” caucus and a Republican “Main Street” caucus within the majority party. This new development is disrupting the workings within each chamber. The Freedom caucus tends to be disciplined in consistently casting votes on bills based on what many would call a far-right ideology. The Main Street caucus is more right-of-center, picking their battles instead of consistently voting in unison all the time.

This is turning the Idaho House of Representatives into a house divided. But there’s more. In addition to the Freedom and Main Street caucuses, there are two other factions within the majority party: “Traditional/Business” conservatives (not ideologues) and Wild Cards (unpredictable). A further complication is that there are some legislators who cross over and vote with different factions, depending on the issue. This creates an interesting dynamic since no one faction consistently controls a majority of the 70-member House.

Here’s a rough breakdown of the factions within the House of Representatives. This is based solely on my personal opinion and observations. Considering that it takes 36 votes to pass a bill in the House, different combinations of factions can decide the success or failure of a bill.

  • Red (14): Freedom caucus (or similar-minded at times)
  • Orange (16): Traditional/Business conservatives (not ideologues, but not Main Street)
  • Yellow (8): Wild cards
  • Green (21): Main Street caucus (or similar-minded at times)
  • Blue (11): Democrats

Keep in mind that all the colors other than blue are still all Republicans and they caucus as a single party. The two-party, Republican-Democratic split is still 59-11. The vote for some bills split along traditional two-party lines, especially if the outcome might impact messaging during the Republican primary election – which leads to . . .

What’s at stake on May 21

May 21 is the date of the Republican (and Democratic) primary elections. There are two different but important battles being fought on the upcoming May ballot: control of the legislature and control of the Idaho Republican Party. The impact of the primary election is magnified when one political party (especially a divided one) controls over 80% of a state legislature, as is the case in Idaho.

Within the legislature, the outcome of just a few primary elections can dramatically shift the legislature either further to the right or more toward the center. The stakes are extremely high and literally millions of dollars are being spent by outside interests on several legislative races. A swing of five or six seats can tip the scales in one direction or the other. You can see examples of that in the next section of this newsletter.

Within the Idaho Republican Party, the fight is for precinct captains. There are over 900 precincts in Idaho. They are the foundation of each political party. Precinct captains elect County and Legislative District chairs, who then sit on their party’s state central committee. The central committee then elects the state party Chair (Dorothy Moon for the IRP), adopts their party’s platform, resolutions and the internal rules that govern the party.

All precinct captain positions are voted on during the May primary. Most voters don’t know who the people running for these positions are, so they don’t vote for them – resulting in many precinct captain positions being won by just a handful of votes. Last year’s takeover of IRP leadership by the more extreme elements with the party started years ago at the precinct captain level – seat by seat, year after year.

But this year is different. Unprecedented amounts of time, effort and especially money are being spent on campaigning for these little-known positions and even lesser-known people. Factions aligned with the Freedom caucus continue to promote their slate of precinct captains to stay in power. Traditional Republicans are now doing the same to take back control of their party.

The outcome on May 21 may very well determine what your future in Idaho looks like.

New laws


School facilities funding (H521). This bill supposedly provides $2 billion for school facilities over the next 10 years (about $200 million/year) by borrowing the money and paying interest on the debt with taxpayer dollars. I say “supposedly” because the bill places several conditions as to how the money can be spent, including requiring the money to first pay off old school bonds before it can be used to fund new school facilities. This doesn’t help school districts needing new revenue now to fix or replace school buildings. It will force the need for new school bonds, which can wipe away the property tax reduction associated with paying off the old bonds. In addition, the $200 million needed each year to pay off the debt gets taken from the source that funds schools each year – thus leaving less money available to allocate for schools.

Other items that have nothing to do with school facilities are also attached to this bill, including: another reduction in the income tax rate (which will reduce state revenue by $60 million a year) and eliminating the August election date for voting on school bonds. I voted AGAINST this bill, which does less than it claims to do and potentially more damage than is readily apparent. (Note: I voted FOR H766 which fixed a few things, but it didn’t do anything to address the serious flaws mentioned above.)

I offered a different approach to funding school facilities in my February 4th newsletter (Fiscal Malpractice). The legislature should review the $5.2 BILLION in revenue it doesn’t collect in the form of annual sales tax exclusions that are never reviewed and never expire. If a review process concluded that only 10% of those exclusions could no longer be justified, that would generate over $500 million in incremental revenue each year. We’d have the $2 billion in four years – without having to borrow money and waste taxpayer dollars on interest payments.

Fund school facilities via a needs-based assessment process (H755. Note: This bill was introduced late in the session for further exploration next year. I voted FOR this bill in committee, but it was too late to move forward.) 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 being limited by what the local tax base can support. 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.

Continue funding the LAUNCH program (H722). This bill continues funding for the LAUNCH program created last year. This program provides tuition assistance for Idaho college students seeking to fill in-demand jobs needed by industries that are important to perpetuating the health and prosperity of Idaho’s economy. LAUNCH helps fill the need for a qualified workforce that can fill these jobs. The bill also made some helpful changes in defining what qualifies as an in-demand job. I voted FOR this bill, which makes a valuable investment in our children seeking these important employment opportunities.

Allow libraries to be sued if someone doesn’t like a book they find on the shelf (H710). I support the portion of this bill that requires all libraries to follow a uniform process for receiving and acting upon complaints. However, this bill has the same flaws as previous versions that allow libraries to 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). In addition, 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. CLICK HERE to see my debate against this bill.

Reduce the term of library board members from six years to four years (S1235). One of my arguments against recent “library bills” (including H710) is my support of 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 by their library board. 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.

Accelerate Charter Schools Act (H422). I support school choice, including charter schools. I would have voted for this bill if it was simply a consolidation and clean-up of 26 years of charter school bills. But buried in this 36-page bill are several sections that made this really about “accelerating” charter school proliferation by private, out-of-state interests.

This bill allows an unlimited number of charter schools to be placed under a single entity, which can act as a shell for a for-profit education service provider. It allows private interests to give charter schools an unlimited amount of money. Most disturbing, it takes away parent and teacher approval before transferring a charter from one private entity to another. Taken together, this bill allows outside interests to create a shadow statewide school district under the umbrella of just a few chartered school districts. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen over time. The legislature’s first obligation is its constitutional responsibility to support a uniform public school system. I do not support policies that accelerate a preference for one choice at the expense of supporting the traditional public schools that serve over 90% of Idaho students. I voted AGAINST this bill because it sets the stage for undermining that constitutional responsibility.

Increase funding provided by the Advanced Opportunities program (S1359). 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.

Appoint State Board of Education (SBOE) members by region (H644). Currently, SBOE members are appointed at-large. This bill sounds reasonable until one remembers H293 from last year which would have required all members of the State Board of Education to be elected regionally via partisan elections. This bill enacts most of what last year’s terrible bill attempted to do. I anticipate there will be a follow-up bill next year that simply changes “appointment” to “partisan elections” – which then enables ideological governance of public education. I voted AGAINST this bill, which takes a dangerous first step toward politicizing the SBOE, and public education.

Prohibit colleges and universities from requiring diversity statements as a condition for employment or admission (S1274). 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 more “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.

Allow parents to teach their children how to drive (H531). This bill has come up before and failed before. It addresses an issue in rural Idaho where access to driver’s education can be limited. I have voted against earlier versions of this bill due to the safety concerns it creates in a busy, congested district such as mine. While not a perfect bill, I voted FOR it because it was changed to not be applicable where school districts offer driver’s education training classes, thus addressing a primary concern in my district.

Health & Welfare

Maternity mortality review (H399). Idaho established a Maternity Mortality Review Committee in 2019 that was disbanded when the legislature failed to extend its operation last year. This bill re-established the review of maternal mortality in Idaho under the control of the Board of Medicine. I voted FOR this bill, which will provide data necessary to help craft policies and practices that can reduce maternal mortality in Idaho. While there are some concerns that the original review committee was not simply reinstated without any changes, this bill is an important step in the right direction.

Extend postpartum Medicaid coverage for 12 months to eligible individuals (H633). This bill extends much needed medical services that help ensure the health and safety of new mothers and their children. I voted FOR this important bill that also saves the state money by extending a 90/10 federal funding match for a full year instead of a 70/30 match.

Allow insurance companies to refill a contraceptive prescription for up to six months (S1234). This bill 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). 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 own 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 cruel bill which exposes the lengths some politicians – none of whom are doctors – will go to target and harm a very small, vulnerable group of their fellow citizens.

Provide for parental rights during certain child protection investigations (S1232). 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, I voted FOR this bill after learning that the sponsor worked with CPS to develop a brochure outlining these parental rights without creating over-burdensome hurdles that would prevent CPS from fulfilling its responsibilities.

Require parental permission for all medical decisions involving a minor (S1329). 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. Most disturbing is when the legislator introducing it said, “This is why we don’t allow children to have rights.” Yes, she really said that.

Repeal existing law that allows needle exchange programs for addicts (H617). This bill erroneously assumes that needle exchange programs for drug addicts will promote continued drug abuse. Addiction is a disease. If an addict doesn’t have a sanitary needle, they will use a contaminated one and subsequently have intimate interactions with other people. This is how diseases like HIV and hepatitis infect a community. Enabling addicts to obtain sanitary needles helps slow down the spread of deadly diseases. I voted AGAINST this bill, which creates a clear and present threat to public safety.

Create the Office of Health and Social Services ombudsman (S1380). 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 several areas. Inadequate funding is also part of the problem, which hopefully an ombudsman can help the legislature understand and resolve.

Enable youth shelters and crisis centers to serve homeless and runaway youth (S1328). This bill 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). 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, exhaustion of all other methods of treatment, and a necessity to save the child’s life due to potential suicide or to prevent irreparable injury. 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.

Crime/Law Enforcement

Criminal penalties related to fentanyl (H406). This bill adds Fentanyl to the list of drugs that carry mandatory minimum sentences. It defines the amount of fentanyl that is required to meet the elements for the crime of trafficking. It also adds provisions for the new crime of “drug induced homicide.”

Many of my Republican colleagues made compelling arguments against bill. They argued that it needed to do a better job of distinguishing between a manufacturer, dealer, trafficker and user of fentanyl. It failed to deal with adults and minors appropriately, and it failed to consider the cost of sending hundreds of people to jail for life – including unknowing young adults (possibly your son or daughter) who were in the wrong place at the wrong.

Unfortunately most of these legislators still voted for the bill because they didn’t want to vote against “a fentanyl bill” in an election year. Had the flaws they raised been fixed, I would have eagerly voted for it. I voted AGAINST it because I believe in voting for or against a bill based on its merit, not political perception.

Legalize the use of fentanyl testing strips (H441). Fentanyl testing strips were designated as “drug paraphernalia” in statute, making their possession a crime. This bill would now allow for the legal use of fentanyl testing strips. I voted FOR this common sense bill, made all the more important by the terribly flawed “fentanyl bill” (H406) that is now law.

Prohibit the sexual depictions of children generated by Artificial Intelligence (H465). This bill amends Idaho’s child pornography law to include artificial intelligence (AI) generated sexual depictions of a real child, or what appears to be a real child. I voted FOR this bill, which is a rare example of government attempting to proactively address the abuse of an emerging and rapidly growing technology.

Online Child Safety Act (H498). The nearly ubiquitous access to pornography on the internet is a major problem, especially when it is made readily available to minors. I voted FOR this well-intentioned bill which attempts to protect minors from harmful material on the internet.

Disclosing explicit synthetic media (H575). This bill makes it a crime to publish explicit synthetic media with the intent to terrify, threaten, intimidate, harass, offend, humiliate, or degrade another person. The purpose of this legislation is to address the recent rise in malicious actors using AI technology to create “deep fakes” of victims for the purpose of harassment or sexual extortion. I voted FOR this bill, which is another attempt to get ahead of the harm this rapidly developing technology can cause.

Business/Local Government

Prevent cities from protecting consumers against unscrupulous landlords (H545). Boise created an ordinance prohibiting landlords from discriminating against applicants based on their source of income, particularly those who receive Section 8 vouchers (which helps the homeless find housing). Within weeks, this bill was written to prevent Boise – and all Idaho cities – from enacting such an ordinance, thus exacerbating homelessness. But the bill went further. It included a prohibition on cities regulating apartment application fees and deposits. This sneaky move resurrects a failed bill from the 2022 session (H442). I voted AGAINST this year’s bill, which removes consumer protections against bad actors. Instead, it protects bad actors from consumers..

Notify mobile home residents of the possible sale of their community (H590). Current law requires the owner of a mobile home community to notify the tenants of the possible public sale of the property so they have the opportunity to purchase it (and thus prevent being evicted). This bill closes a loop hole in statute that did not require them to be notified in the event of a private sale of the property. I voted FOR this bill, which may help many of my constituents who live in mobile home communities.

Provide immunity for employers who allow or do not prohibit employees to lawfully carry firearms (S1275). 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.

Constraints on creating local comprehensive plans and designating areas of impact (S1403). 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 the current process not been made.

Limit local annexation of certain properties (S1293). 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 the annexation, even if there are dozens of 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.


Make it a crime to help a disabled or elderly neighbor cast their sealed absentee ballot (H599). 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.

Protect elected officials and political candidates from “deep fake” electioneering (H664). A candidate whose image, appearance or speech that has been altered in an electioneering communication to mispresent them without a disclosure that the content was manipulated can seek injunctive relief and damages. People still have the freedom of speech to create these AI-generated “deep fakes,” but they need to let the audience know that it has been altered and is not authentic. I voted FOR this bill, which is yet another good example of the legislature trying to get ahead of the damage emerging technologies can do to innocent parties.

Prohibit voting systems in Idaho from being able to connect to the internet (S1394). 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.

Require paid signature gatherers to disclose they are being paid (S1377). 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 bill whose real purpose is to prevent citizen-driven initiatives from appearing on the ballot (such as Medicaid Expansion and term limits).


(NOTE: I don’t vote against very many appropriation bills. Unfortunately, I found the circumstances surrounding these appropriation bills to be so problematic that I could not support them.)

Appropriation for the Office of the Attorney General (H752, S1434, and S1458). 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. 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). 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 tens of thousands of 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 voted AGAINST this bill (I would have voted for it had the EBT program been included). Several of the arguments against this bill were just plain false. The benefits do not go to rich kids, they can’t buy anything they want with it, and accepting this money will not increase the federal deficit. Now that this bill has become law, Idaho loses access to the funds, which will now will go to another state. CLICK HERE to watch the votes being cast in the House and see how the voting process was managed in a way that may have influenced the outcome.

Appropriation for the Idaho Transportation Department (H770). This is perhaps the most contentious appropriations bill of the session. It barely passed the House by a vote of 37-31 and it passed the Senate by only one vote: 18-17. This bill reverses ITD’s decision to sell its old headquarters on State Street and move to the state’s new campus on Chinden. ITD made that decision after the building was damaged by internal flooding which created widespread exposure to asbestos and a severe mold problem. However, the real concern is the legislature overstepping its bounds by invalidating a contract that had already been negotiated between ITD and third parties (who are now suing the state). This will cause others to distrust doing business with the state in the future. I voted AGAINST this bill which shows a lack of respect for the executive branch, a co-equal branch of state government.

Changes to judicial compensation (H746). 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.


Allow the Department of Fish & Game to not disclose certain information (H404). This bill amends existing law to provide an exemption from disclosing certain records regarding wildlife. Specifically, some people have requested access to GPS data that reveals the precise location of big game animals that have been tagged to study migration and other behaviors. This creates an “unfair chase” situation that runs counter to the spirit and intent of true big game hunting and sportsmanship. I voted FOR this reasonable, common sense bill.

Redefine the word “sex” to be synonymous with the word “gender” (H421). This is bill is a Trojan horse. The sole purpose of this bill is to lay the groundwork for writing bills next year that will legislate people with gender dysphoria out of existence (e.g. designations on driver’s licenses, birth certificates, etc.). I voted AGAINST this “culture war” bill which attempts to rewrite Webster’s Dictionary.

Prevent the state from keeping surplus proceeds in excess of debts owed (H444). If you owe the state money (let’s say $10,000 in property taxes), the state can take your house and sell it to recover the debt you owe. This bill ensures that you will receive the proceeds from the sale that are in excess of the amount necessary to satisfy the debt. It prevents the state from keeping the entire amount received from the sale. I voted FOR this bill, which aligns Idaho law with a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Purple Heart license plates (H547). I co-sponsored this bill with Rep. Ted Hill (R-Eagle). This bill was brought to me by a constituent who earned a Purple Heart as a marine in Vietnam. It corrects an inequity in the law where disabled Purple Heart recipients who request a Purple Heart license plate don’t have to pay the plate fee, but those recipients who are not disabled do have to pay the plate fee. This bill removes the plate fee for all Purple Heart recipients. I am proud to have the opportunity to show appreciation and support for our veterans in all ways possible – large or small. I (obviously) voted FOR this bill.

Create a voluntary “next of kin” database (S1365). 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.

Prohibit harassment via telecommunications (S1262). 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.

Prohibit compelling government employees and students from addressing a person by their desired pronoun (H538). 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. 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.

Failed Bills


School vouchers issued as a “parental choice tax credit” (H447 – died in House committee). This bill would have allowed public tax dollars (in the form of a credit) to be spent on for-profit private and religious K-12 school tuition. The bill limited the amount of allocated taxpayer dollars to $50 million. However, the credits would have been issued on a first-come, first-served basis. That absurd process hid an insidious purpose: it would have created a demand-exceeds-supply scenario that could then be used to justify dramatically increasing the amount of tax dollars spent on this scheme. Arizona did something similar a few years ago, starting with a modest amount of allocated money. Now Arizona is looking at having to spend nearly $1 BILLION next year on their “parental choice” program – at the cost of being able to adequately fund public education. I would have voted AGAINST this bill had it come up for a vote, but the issue is far from over. The Speaker of the House promised to try and pass a school voucher bill next year.

Allow concealed guns in public schools (H415 – passed the House, died in Senate committee). School shootings are a national tragedy. Unfortunately, this bill is a terrible solution to that problem. It would allow anyone defined as a school employee to carry a concealed gun into any public or private school building. I voted AGAINST this bill for several reasons:

This bill lets almost anyone take the law into their own hands: janitors, lunch ladies, bus drivers, grounds keepers and even non-paid volunteers who happen to be in the building.

The concealed gun holder is required to complete only eight hours of limited training that requires absolutely no training for how to exercise judgment in a tense terrorist or hostage situation.

The concealed gun carrier is immune from all civil or criminal prosecution no matter how many people they injure or kill when responding to a shooter.

This bill removes all local control over this decision. It forces every school district to allow concealed guns in the building, even if most parents are against it.

Require schools to notify parents if their child is being bullied or is bullying others (H539 – failed on the House floor). This long-overdue bill would have provided parents with vital information concerning the safety of their child which they otherwise might not know. It would enable parents to help prevent the serious emotional and physical harm caused by bullying – including suicide. I voted FOR this bill, which addresses a concern I’ve been hearing from constituents since I started knocking on doors in 2010.

Block internet access to certain content in schools and teach digital literacy (H663 – passed the House, died in Senate committee). I voted FOR this important bill that protects students from unacceptable content while in the classroom and provides digital literacy instruction in grades 6 through 12 that will help prepare students to function in an increasingly digitized world.

Allow telehealth behavioral health services to be provided in schools (H684 – passed the House, died in Senate committee). If a child attending school needs private counseling, they need to leave school, be driven to meet with their therapist, and then be driven back to school – resulting in lost class time and inconvenience for the parent. This bill allows the student to meet with their therapist via a telehealth meeting in a private room within the school building, thus minimizing their time away from the classroom. I voted FOR this bill which benefits everyone involved.

Provide outcome-based funding for education (H595 – passed the House, died in Senate committee). This bill creates a new, incremental funding source for public schools based on two measures of performance: growth in performance over time and proficiency in performance to expectations. Both metrics offer an incentive to all schools, with acknowledgement that there are multiple ways to recognize success. The bill calls for an initial budget of $40 million, with opportunities to increase it in subsequent years. I voted FOR this bill. While it will be important to monitor the outcomes, I recognize it as an attempt to look at new ways to improve results.

Prevent certain flags and banners from being displayed anywhere on public school property (S1362 – passed the Senate, failed in House committee). This is a bill that bans everything in an effort to really ban only one thing – in this case, a rainbow flag. 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 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 in committee, which the sponsor inadvertently admitted should be decided by the local school board, not the state legislature.

Health & Welfare

Repeal Medicaid expansion (H419 – died in House committee). This deceptive bill was presented as a way to cut Medicaid costs by requiring the federal government to grant a list of exceptions to current law, such as requiring work requirements. If the federal government did not grant all these requested exceptions by 2025, this bill would then repeal Medicaid Expansion in its entirety here in Idaho. The sponsors knew that the federal government has never approved the exceptions being requested. These exceptions were used to hide the bill’s real purpose which was to repeal Medicaid Expansion. I would have voted AGAINST this bill had it come to the House floor for a vote.

Enable Idaho’s participation in the Interstate Counseling Compact (H393 – passed the House, failed on the Senate floor by one vote). This bill allows Licensed Clinical Professional Counselors (LCPCs) to voluntarily be licensed to practice in-person or via telehealth in any other state that is part of the compact. It enables Idaho counselors to continue treating clients that may temporarily or permanently move to a participating state. It also makes more counselors available from other participating states to serve clients in Idaho. I voted FOR this bill, which helps increase assess to mental health resources, which are desperately needed in Idaho.

Make it easier for parents to exempt their school age children from being vaccinated (H438 – passed the House, died in Senate committee). This careless, dangerous bill requires schools to give parents a form to opt their kids out of having to be vaccinated. This will make it more likely for your child to contract a serious, contagious illness from their unvaccinated classmates. Parents already have the right to exempt their child from being vaccinated and I support their right to make that choice. However, this bill invites parents to not have their child vaccinated. This poses a real health risk to both school-age children and their unprotected infants, toddlers and younger siblings at home. They risk contracting highly contagious diseases such as: Measles/Mumps/Rubella (MMR), Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis, Polio, Hepatitis A and B, and Varicella. I voted AGAINST this bill which would ultimately make more children ill and put the lives of the most vulnerable who come in contact with them at risk.

Prevent district health boards from doing all that’s necessary to protect the public (H525 – passed the House, died in Senate committee). This post-COVID bill is born out of the dislike for masks and fear of vaccines from four years ago. It’s stated purpose is to narrow the ability of district health boards to administer and enforce only “necessary and reasonable” health laws and regulations, eliminating the broader mandate to do “all things” for the preservation and protection of public. I voted AGAINST this politically motivated, science-denying bill which fails to consider the magnitude and mortality rate of future threats to public health that may be far worse than COVID.

Crime/Law Enforcement

Allow the Idaho Attorney General to prosecute local city and county officials (H390 – passed the House, failed on the Senate floor on a tie vote). This bill would allow Idaho’s Attorney General Raul Labrador (and any future AG) to prosecute local elected officials if he doesn’t like what they are doing. Cities and counties already have prosecutors to pursue wrong-doing within their jurisdictions. This bill injects the heavy hand of the state into local government and violates the principle that government is best when it’s closest to the people. I voted AGAINST this bill, which was written by Raul Labrador’s former law partner.

Death by firing squad for engaging in lewd conduct with a minor (H515 – passed the House, died in Senate committee). Lewd conduct with a minor is a heinous crime that should be met with harsh punishment. I could have voted for this bill, but it went too far by imposing the death penalty (which now allows for execution by firing squad). I am not opposed to considering use of the death penalty, especially if a homicide is involved. However, expanding the death penalty for other crimes can be a slippery slope we should avoid going down. I was not present on the House floor when this bill came up for a vote, but I would have voted AGAINST it.

Make birth records available to adoptees once they reach 40 years of age (H544 – passed the House, died in Senate committee). This bill forces agencies to release birth records even if the birth mother gave their child up for adoption contingent on the promise that the records remain sealed forever. This bill allows the state to intrude on the birth mother’s privacy and forcing agencies to break their promise of confidentiality. I voted AGAINST this bill. The strongest argument in favor of this bill was the importance of an adopted child to know their birth family’s medical history. I would support a bill that encouraged a medical history to be captured when a child is put up for adoption and then allow the agency to release only that information upon request of the child.

Enable the criminalization and imprisonment of any person who enters Idaho illegally (H753 – passed the House, died in Senate committee). 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 led by either political party has been able to solve. However, turning every illegal immigrant that enters Idaho into a criminal when they cross the state’s border ignores the simple truth that portions of Idaho’s economy would be severely impacted without 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.

Business/Local Government

Limit the ability for cities to regulate Short Term Rental (STR) properties (H506 – died on the House floor). An increasing number of single family homes in residential areas (especially resort areas) are being converted into STRs by the homeowner for extra income. In addition, out-of-state interests are purchasing these homes (or building new ones) and turning them into year-round businesses. With this comes a constant churn of transient occupants who may not care about the tranquility and aesthetics of the local neighborhood. As a result, some cities have enacted ordinances that require a homeowner running a STR to meet standards expected of a business, which can require very costly upgrades and investments. This pits the rights of a property owner against what’s right for the local community. I would have voted AGAINST this bill had it come up for a vote because it eliminated nearly every ordinance a city might want to enact, failing to strike a reasonable balance between these competing interests.


Make it more difficult to collect signatures on citizen-driven ballot initiatives (H652 – passed the House, died in Senate committee). This bill requires petitions to be turned into election officials on a monthly basis and makes it easier to challenge signatures on a petition. This is yet another attempt to subvert and hinder the citizen-driven ballot initiative process – something the legislature has been trying to do since Medicaid Expansion was approved by the voters. I voted AGAINST this bill which solves a problem that doesn’t exist and will make it more difficult to collect signatures, especially during the winter in rural Idaho.

Establish an Office of Election Crimes and Security (H470 – failed on the House floor by two votes). 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.

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