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A new nanny state

March 6, 2023

By Idaho Representative Steve Berch

After six weeks of mostly nothing, the first wave of bills are arriving. They reveal the hearts and minds of some newcomers (and a few returning incumbents) who are trying to transform Idaho into their extreme, uncompromising version of a new “conservative” nanny state.  Many of these bills are actually being written by powerful out-of-state interests using the Idaho Legislature as a petri dish to grow political “culture war” talking points in advance of the 2024 election.

And they have many disciples in the legislature eager to carry their water.

It is therefore poignant to point out how the Idaho Republican Party noted the passing of former Republican governor, Phil Batt the other day – a good man and a true Idaho conservative. This is the sum total of what they said on their official Facebook about his passing:

Phil Batt
"Former Idaho Governor Phil Batt has died today at the age of 96. Our condolences to his family. May he rest in peace."

Not a single word of praise.

Phil Batt wouldn’t even be accepted as a Republican today based on the standards and expectations set by those now in control of Idaho’s majority party. If you voted for Phil Batt, Mitt Romney, George Bush, or even Ronald Reagan – if you are a traditional Republican – you’re just a RINO, or even a Democrat in their eyes.

Their silence is revealing – and deafening.

I used to think that extremists were upset with the “liberal” nanny state. After seeing some of the bills being introduced, it turns out they weren’t upset – they were jealous. They want to transform Idaho into their version of a “conservative” nanny state. They want a government that tells you what you:
  • Can’t do.
  • Can’t be.
  • Can’t think.

Here are just a few of the bills extremists are pushing – bills that dictate what you can’t do – including some that punish you with fines and jail time you if you don’t obey. (Note: You can look up any bill mentioned below by clicking here.):
  • SJR101 – Can’t have any more citizen-driven ballot initiatives (e.g. Medicaid Expansion).
  • H22 – Can’t let cities express concern for those who need to terminate a pregnancy without punishment.
  • H68 – Can’t have access to credible information on vital state issues (by destroying JLOC and OPE).
  • H71 – Can’t let doctors treat minors with gender dysphoria (and send them to jail for 10 years).
  • H98 – Can’t transport a minor to another state where they can receive a legal abortion.
  • H123 – Can’t continue providing Medicaid Expansion healthcare
  • H124 – Can’t let students use their student ID card to vote.
  • H139 – Can’t allow certain books in libraries, even if the vast majority of patrons don’t object.
  • H154 – Can’t legally administer certain COVID vaccines.
  • H155 – Can’t let people know if someone they work with is infected with a highly contagious disease that could be fatal to them.
  • H205 – Can’t vote by mail.
  • S1025 – Can’t allow same-sex couples to receive an Idaho marriage license.

One of the things that attracted me to Idaho when I moved here in 1981 was its “live and let live” attitude. Fast forward 42 years and that respect for others is being changed by extremists into a most un-American credo: “live the way we want you to live.”

All the more reason to vote for the person, not a letter. You can’t assume what that letter stands for today.

Rotunda Roundup

Parental rights pertaining to public schools (H163 – passed the House, in the Senate). This bill encourages communication between parents and schools. It includes the following provisions:
• A process by which parents may review teaching materials, and withdraw their child from a class that contains material they object to.
• Notify parents regarding changes in the student's mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being.
• A process for staff to encourage students to discuss issues related to their well-being with their parents.
• Ensure parents can access their child’s education and school health records unless such documentation relates to physical abuse, abandonment, or neglect by the parent.
• Notify parents of health services offered through the school or by private organizations.
• Notify parents if the student has been questioned by a school resource officer or other law enforcement official, unless the student is a victim of physical child abuse.
• The school must obtain parental consent before a student is presented with a survey regarding sexuality, sex, religion, political beliefs, mental or psychological problems, personal family information or financial information.
• Parents shall have reasonable access to observe all school activities during school hours in which the child is enrolled, with the principal's and the teacher's pre-approval.

I voted for this bill. Most of what’s in this bill is currently practiced in most Idaho public schools. I was particularly concerned about that last item potentially being abused by certain “bad faith” actors (the mob that descended upon a recent Caldwell School Board meeting comes to mind), but the State Department of Education’s support for this bill is encouraging.

School and Library Protection Act (H139 – died in House Education committee). This bill would allow anyone to sue a library for $10,000 per book if they found a book in a library they thought was immoral. I voted against this absurdly harsh bill which polarizes communities. It is nothing short of legalized intimidation. The mere threat of punitive lawsuits is designed to intimidate libraries into removing any and all books that the most easily offended members of a community may object to. Want to make a quick buck? Just file a lawsuit under this bill so you can settle out of court.

Library book selection and access processes (H277 – held in House Education committee). This bill requires public schools and community libraries to take reasonable steps when providing age-appropriate material. All schools and libraries must inform the community of their processes under which a member of the community may challenge inclusion of certain materials in the library collection. This bill also provides parental restriction for access to materials in school libraries. I would have voted for this bill, which provides local control of library content and access and creates a process that respects the diverse interests within a community. Unfortunately the committee adjourned before voting on this bill. It is not clear if or when it may be brought forth for a vote.

Idaho Education Opportunity Program (RS30436 – died in House Education committee). This was one of three drafts of school voucher/ESA bills that were to be introduced in the House Education committee. Two of them were withdrawn and this one failed to receive enough votes to be introduced and thus it did not receive a bill number. I voted against introducing this draft bill for the same financial reason I voted against a similar bill last year. In fact, this bill was potentially worse. Last year’s bill would have made approximately 68-percent of Idaho’s 319,000 public school students eligible to receive a check for $5,950 each. That would have taken $1.2 billion taxpayer dollars and made them available to pay for-profit private and religious school tuition. This draft bill would make every public school student eligible to receive a check for $6,975 each. That would have taken over $2.2 billion taxpayer dollars and made them available to private sector interests – almost the entire public education budget. Even though this draft bill prioritized lower income families, it did not limit eligibility. (Note: This draft bill may resurface in the Senate Education committee soon.)

Every voucher/ESA bill that has been presented thus far estimates a very low number of participants, thus making the cost seem small and manageable. This is deceptive. These bills have to be funded to eligibility, not a small, arbitrary level of participation. If this bill (or the others like it) were to become law, it would be the end of public education in Idaho – which is exactly what the private interests paying the dozens of new lobbyists roaming the halls of the Capitol building want. They want to shift your taxpayer dollars to their bottom line profits.

We have a backlog of between $874 million and $1.3 billion in K-12 public school building maintenance that has been deferred or ignored by the legislature. Any money taken away from public education to pay for vouchers/ESAs will result in your property taxes going up and staying high. That’s because school bonds and levies will be the only way to close the funding gap created by the legislature – and exacerbated by bills like this. I will not vote for bills like this that will result in increasing your property taxes.

School voucher/ESA program (S1038 – died on the Senate floor). This bill was even worse than RS30436 discussed above. In addition to draining funds for public schools, no accountability was required of the private and religious schools that would be receiving taxpayer dollars via vouchers/ESAs. I expect a voucher/ESA bill will eventually come up for a vote on the House floor before the session is over. If that happens, I will discuss the issue of accountability in more detail at that time.

Displaying the national motto in schools with signs provided by a private party (H202 – passed the House, in the Senate). How do you vote against “In God We Trust” ... when a bill mandates that schools must install something in a classroom provided by a private third party? I voted against this bill – which has nothing to do with the national motto. This bill sets a dangerous and totally unnecessary precedent. Official signage in public buildings should come from government entities – not private interests.

Require public schools to accept cash for admission to certain events (H220 – passed the House, in the Senate). I have no problem with wanting schools to accept cash for admission to local events. However, this bill is the poster child for what is wrong with so many bills in the legislature these days. It takes one incident at one location for one event and blows it up into a state law that impacts every school for every event. And then it imposes a ridiculous, unnecessary financial punishment on the school. I voted against this bill, which is Exhibit A for why we should let local governments fix local problems instead of writing a state law.

Rural nursing loan repayment program (H213 – passed the House, in the Senate). This bill helps create an incentive for nurses to seek employment in rural Idaho communities. The shortage of nurses in rural Idaho is acute. I believe in individual responsibility, but I also believe that government plays a rightful role in helping people who are truly in need – which includes access to qualified medical care. I voted for this bill. It is essentially a form of employee compensation that helps solve a critical community need that the free market is unwilling or unable to provide – without putting the quality of care at risk.

Remove Idaho state license requirements for telehealth mental and behavioral health care providers (H61 – passed the House, in the Senate). This was a difficult bill to vote against. There is a real need for increased access to mental health services, especially in rural Idaho. This bill would ease that situation by allowing a mental health provider licensed in any other state to provide these services remotely in Idaho. I voted against this bill because it lowers Idaho’s standards to those of the least rigorous in any other state. There is also a question as to whether medical insurance would cover services provided by someone not licensed in Idaho. State licenses are a form of consumer protection. Lowering the qualifications to practice medicine in Idaho is not the way to solve this issue.

ESG bills (H189, H190 and H191– passed the House, in the Senate). I voted AGAINST the first two bills (H189 and H190) for several reasons:
• They limit state and local governments from maximizing the return on taxpayer dollar investments.
• They let government tell the private sector how to run their businesses.
• They invite other states and private sector interests to retaliate against Idaho in return.
• The bills are overly convoluted bills and will likely generate numerous lawsuits – which taxpayers will wind up paying for.

However, I voted FOR H191. While this bill is driven by the same anti-ESG sentiments as the previous two bills, it does not dictate the outcome of a business decision based on an ESG score. State and local government can’t use ESG scores as a decision-making priority, but an ESG score (high or low) doesn’t prohibit making an investment decision. In short, it requires that such decisions by government entities be ESG-neutral.

Public silent (?) prayer (H182 – passed the House, in the Senate). I was fully prepared to vote for this bill until I learned from the sponsor on the House floor that this bill was not as advertised. It was a bait-and-switch. It used a section of law that allows for silent prayer and twists it to mean vocal prayer. I voted against this sneaky, deceptive bill.

Prohibit tax dollars to pay for membership fees or dues (H91 – failed on the House floor). This bill would prohibit the use of tax dollars by state and local governments for membership fees or dues to any organization unless required by statute. This bill is based on the absurd notion that there is no value in any membership fee or organization dues other than those required to maintain a professional license. I voted against this misguided “cost cutting” bill that sees only cost and is blind to value.

Idaho Dietary Supplement Act (H82 – passed the House, in the Senate). This bill allows any dietary supplement that was legal as of July 1, 2022, to remain legal in Idaho regardless of any changes to federal law or regulation. I voted against this irresponsible bill that attempts to remove potentially life-saving consumer protections should a legal dietary supplement subsequently be determined harmful or hazardous to one’s health.

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.
  • 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.
  • H109 – Limit the ability of hospitals to receive a property tax exemption.
  • H123 – Repeal Medicaid expansion.
  • H154 – Criminalize those who administer COVID vaccines.
  • H205 – Only allow absentee voting under limited, show-cause circumstances.
  • H265 – Make drag shows illegal under certain circumstances.
  • H272 – Require student participation in sex education classes to be opt-in (currently it is opt-out).
  • 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.
  • S1025 – Eliminate state issued marriage licenses. The purpose of this bill is to prevent allowing same-sex marriage to be legal in Idaho.
  • S1050 – Allow parents to refuse to cooperate with Child Protection Services (CPS), regardless of the reported abuse in question.
  • S1056 – Allow any group of people to parade in public with weapons, including military grade automatic assault rifles.
  • SJR 101 – Make it more difficult to put a citizen-driven initiative on the ballot (which is how Medicaid Expansion became law).

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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