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Halfway to nowhere

February 27, 2027

By Idaho Representative Steve Berch

The 2023 session is theoretically half over (the target date to finish is March 24) and not a single bill has made it to the governor’s desk that addresses the top issues most Idahoans care about: public education funding, property tax relief, infrastructure, healthcare, keeping up with the cost of living, and access to public lands. However, all sorts of dubious bills are popping up like mushrooms – and some may not be safe to consume.

This newsletter takes a trip down to the basement of the Capitol Building, where the committee rooms are located to see the latest crop of fungi, toadstools, and the occasional orchid that may be growing. You can look up any bill mentioned below by clicking here.

Something was different.

Last year, when looking up at the vote board in the House of Representatives, I noticed that several Republicans voted against a silly bill that they normally would have supported in obligatory lock-step with their party leaders. I approached each of them during the course of the day and asked why they voted “no” on that bill. They all replied with a version of the same answer: “I’m tired of voting for stupid stuff.”

This year, we will see how many new legislators share that sentiment with those returning colleagues and vote accordingly (there are 28 newbies in the House). Some insight was gained when we voted on a particular piece of “stupid stuff” that is a leading candidate for the Dunce Cap award this session (check “In the hopper” at the end of this newsletter for more candidates).

Stupid stuff

Greater Idaho (HJM1 – passed the House, in the Senate). This House Joint Memorial would be farcical if it wasn’t rooted in a twisted secessionist mentality. A group of Eastern Oregon counties want to secede from Oregon and join Idaho out of pure hatred for Democrats. I attended an information session hosted by a sympathetic Idaho legislator where the folks from Oregon repeatedly demonized and disparaged all Democrats. When the Idaho host eventually pointed out that there were some Democrats in the audience, one of them mumbled that John F. Kennedy was a good Democrat. No one living, apparently.

The underlying logic behind this movement is that state boundaries should be redrawn based on political ideologies – Red vs. Blue states. We tried that 162 years ago – when the colors were Blue vs. Grey. So much for a United States of America.

During the floor debate, one of my colleagues lampooned this absurdity by proposing that some Idaho counties join together to become part of “Greater Montana.” It was greeted with a hearty round of laughter, but the resolution still passed. I voted against this piece of nonsense, but I’m encouraged that 17 Republicans also voted against it. We may now get to see just how crazy the Idaho Senate has become when they vote on this political folderol.

Rotunda Roundup

Prohibit treatment of minors with gender dysphoria (H71 – passed the House, in the Senate). This bill is part of a deliberate, continuing effort to legislate transgendered people out of existence. It is offensive in so many ways:
  • The hypocrisy of the legislature asserting that it knows what’s better for a child than its parents is appalling.
  • The arrogance of the legislature to think that its medical knowledge is universally superior to that of real doctors is galling.
  • The draconian punishment of throwing doctors in jail for 10 years if they do not subscribe to the legislature’s personal or religious beliefs.
  • This law will motivate doctors to leave Idaho or hesitate to come here – in a state that already has one of the lowest doctors-to-population ratios.
  • The legislature’s ostrich-like refusal to consider suicide as a real consequence for minors who do not receive medically approved treatment is just plain cruel. How dare this be called the “Child Protection Act.”

Banning puberty blockers has no business being in a law that was specifically and solely focused on banning the religious practice of female genital mutilation. And if this bill was literally concerned about genital mutilation, it would have banned male circumcision – a convenient hypocrisy.

This bill inserts the heaviest hand of government into the personal lives of families where it clearly doesn’t belong. I voted against this awful bill that exposes the arrogance, ignorance and mean-spiritedness that is infecting the legislature.

Clean Slate Act (H149 – passed the House, in the Senate). This bill allows those with minor non-violent misdemeanor or certain possession convictions to petition the court to have one conviction on their record sealed from public disclosure after five years without a subsequent conviction. However, it would not expunge this information (total erasure); it would still be available to law enforcement and other necessary entities for review. In short, it provides qualifying individuals who demonstrate rehabilitation a second chance at establishing and living a normal, productive life. I voted for this bill, which received strong bi-partisan support from organizations across the political spectrum, including CPAC.

Prohibit student IDs as proof of voter identification (H124 – passed the House, in the Senate). This is a voter suppression bill targeted at making it more difficult for students to vote. In addition, this bill is completely unnecessary. But don’t take my word for it. The sponsors themselves made that point by stating that only 104 students who voted at the 2022 General Election used a student ID card to vote, with no reported voter fraud. I voted against this waste of time that only serves to make life more difficult for some young voters.

Financial literacy (H92 – passed the House, in the Senate). This long-overdue bill requires teaching a financial literacy course in public high schools. The class would cover the basics of real-world personal finance and how to make sound financial decisions in one’s everyday life. I voted for and co-sponsored this bill, which passed unanimously in the House.

Limit how transportation funding can be used (H87 – passed the House, in the Senate). This bill allows the Transportation Expansion and Congestion Mitigation Fund to be used only for expansion of travel lanes and congestion mitigation. I voted against this bill, which takes a myopic view of transportation. It ignores the need to ensure pedestrian crosswalk and bicycle lane safety when they intersect and border with vehicular travel lanes.

State employee compensation (H102 – passed the House, in the Senate). This bill creates flexibility within established compensation practices for state employees. Currently, all state employee compensation increases require a satisfactory performance evaluation on file prior to granting the increase. This requirement restricts agencies from giving salary increases when necessary for internal pay equity or external market changes. This bill allows agency department heads to recruit and retain state employees more effectively. I voted for this bill, which allows agencies to better respond to free market forces and help ensure employees are being compensated appropriately. This bill was passed unanimously by the House.

Universal licensing (H74 – passed the House, in the Senate). This bill essentially lowers Idaho’s standards for professional licenses (except attorneys) to the lowest level among the 49 other states. I am all for deregulation where regulations are burdensome or obsolete. However, deregulation for its own sake can be irresponsible. Regulations and professional certifications are a form of consumer protection. They help ensure certain minimum standards of competency are in place. The blind subjugation of Idaho standards by those in Mississippi, Maine, North Dakota or any other state may not serve the best interests of Idaho consumers. I voted against this bill because I believe it to be both unnecessary and driven more by ideology than a proven need.

Strategic initiatives grant program for transportation projects (H132– passed the House, in the Senate). This important bill provides funding to assist local government to mitigate the impact of state highway projects on local roads. For example, Highway 16 is being extended from Chinden to I84. This state project will impact local intersecting road and arterials. This bill helps local government entities with the transportation costs creates by the impact of a state transportation project. I voted for this bill which will help local governments deal with some of the financial consequences of growth.

Allow parents to teach drivers education to their children (H133 – passed the House, in the Senate). This bill allows any parent with a valid driver’s license to teach their child how to drive on any Idaho road, highway or interstate. The parent is not required to take any classes on how to teach driver’s education. This bill may help those in rural areas who travel long distances to take their children to a driver's education instructor and reduce the associated costs. Unfortunately, this bill requires no safety protections or precautions. Dual brakes are not required (for an emergency stop). No signage is required to alert surrounding drivers that there is a student driver near them. My district is bordered by three of the most dangerous roads in Idaho: U.S. Highway 20, Idaho Highway 55 and Interstate 84. I voted against this bill to protect the safety interests of my district and those who live in areas with higher population densities.

Information provided on property assessment notices (H51 – passed the House, in the Senate). This bill provides previous-to-current year comparison data on property assessment notices. It will require displaying the dollar and percentage change in the total assessed value, along with the changes in each of the taxing districts that make up the total property tax obligation. However, by only comparing two data points (the current and previous year), property owners will not have the perspective of trends and fluctuations over a longer time period. I reluctantly voted for this bill because it does increase transparency, which outweighed my concerns.

Conceal COVID vaccination status (H155 – passed the House, in the Senate). This bill is a rehash of several COVID-related bills that failed during last year’s special session of the legislature. I voted against this bill for the same reasons I voted against its failed predecessors. Under this bill your elderly parent would have no right to prevent an agency in-home caregiver with COVID from entering their home. That’s because this bill would prevent the caregiver’s private employer from knowing if their employee has this infectious disease, which can be fatal to the elderly and immune-compromised. Government would be telling private business owners how to run their business.

But there is a level of ignorance embedded in this bill that demands it not become law. The bill not only applies to the current COVID variants, it also applies to “any subsequently identified mutation, modification, variant, or strain of coronavirus.” A future version may have a 10- or 20-pecent or higher mortality rate! Writing laws that create constraints in the face of an unknown, potentially deadly future is flat out irresponsible.

Limit child protection investigations based on immunization status (S1029 – passed the Senate and House, to the Governor). I was prepared to vote for this bill because I agreed with its provision that parental rights should not be terminated due to immunization status. However, the bill goes further by preventing any investigations whatsoever based on vaccination status. Here is yet another bill that cannot predict a future illness which could be fatal to a child, yet prevented with a safe vaccine. I voted against this bill because it over-reached beyond rightfully preventing the termination of parental rights.

Criminalize reporting child abuse under certain circumstances (H66– passed the House, in the Senate). This bill sounds good but is unnecessary since it is already illegal to make false reports of child abuse. Another concern is that it criminalizes an act of “bad faith” for which no legal standard exists. This can create a variety of unnecessary legal problems. I voted against this bill for which there is no demonstrated need.

Rename “renewable energy sources” as “clean energy sources” (H96– passed the House, in the Senate). This is a bill that I would have voted for if not for one word: nuclear. Changing this label enabled “nuclear energy” to be included in what would otherwise only pertain to renewable energy sources (which nuclear energy is not). I voted against this bill because I cannot support labeling as “clean” a byproduct of any energy source that is so deadly to all forms of life that it needs to be hermetically sealed and buried hundreds of feet underground for thousands of years. My vote was not against nuclear energy. It was about labeling something that it is not.

In the hopper

Note: These bills are in various states of consideration. Some of them may die along the way and never come up for a vote in the House or Senate.
  • H75 – Place restrictions on voting via absentee ballot.
  • H77, H78, H79 – Property and sales tax bills.
  • H98 – Throw people in jail if they transport a minor to any state where they can receive a legal abortion.
  • H105 – Force schools to display “In God We Trust” signs in school buildings donated by private interests.
  • H109 – Limit the ability of hospitals to receive a property tax exemption.
  • H123 – Repeal Medicaid expansion.
  • H139 – Ban certain books from libraries and sue librarians for $10,000 per book up to four years later.
  • H154 – Criminalize those who administer COVID vaccines.
  • H186 – Reinstate the use of a firing squad to administer the death penalty.
  • H205 – Only allow absentee voting under limited, show-cause circumstances
  • S1002 – Make all abortions for any reason a felony crime with mandatory jail time.
  • S1008 – Remove all restrictions on carrying concealed weapons on college campuses.
  • S1016 – Prohibit requiring gender-neutral or infant changing rooms to be provided in public buildings.
  • S1019 - Allow unemployment insurance benefits to victims of domestic violence.

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). He can be reached at (208)890-9339 or sberch@house.idaho.gov.

Questions or Comments? Send us an email!

Mike Weland, Publisher

6931 Main St.
P.O. Box 1625
Bonners Ferry, ID 83805
(208) 295-1016

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