By Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Bone
The last two or three days of most legislative sessions are hectic and slow moving at the same time. This year was different and full of “firsts” from beginning to end, at least in my memory.
For the State Affairs Committee it was a year of long hearings on tough issues and hard votes. Most years we see a couple of bills that have some controversy surrounding them. This year there was not a week that went by without major and difficult legislation to consider. Add the words, historical racing, chemical abortion, special liquor licenses, gaming commission, Cananbidiol, agency purchasing, and open meeting law just to name a few. I can’t begin to express how hard the committee worked this year and even though everything didn’t turn out the way I would have liked no one around this place could claim that House State Affairs did not give them a fair and thorough shot.
Whether you agree with what the legislature did or not there were some milestones achieved. Amid continual cries that it was not enough, about $120 million new dollars are going into education. Career ladders for educators with a path forward to fund them are seen as a major step forward. Will these steps improve what our detractors call “Failing Idaho?” Time will tell. By the way and for the record, I for one think that we have schools that are achieving great things. I don’t know about the rest of the state but we have teachers, administrators and parents in District 32 who are innovators and work hard for our kids. The idea of long distance learning and dual credit courses had its real beginning right here at home.
Probably the most visible issue this year was transportation funding. Early on in the session the discussion surrounding transportation was about the same as usual, not enough money to keep the roads in good condition. Also as usual, the level of increase was argued back and forth. What came out of that early talk was an effort that could have provided some sweeping changes in tax policy in Idaho. That effort was summarily dismissed by the Senate. What happened then is what lead to a final week of turmoil on the issue.
This is what came from that process. A 7 cent per gallon increase in gas and diesel tax, a $21 increase in registration fees ($25 for trucks), and the return of the infamous ton mile tax for all trucks over 60,000 pounds which has a delayed implementation date. Most interesting of all is a method of tapping the General fund by sweeping half of any surplus to transportation. It is a little more complicated than that but in general terms that is how it would work. And that brings us to the last two days.
There was very little for most legislators to do except to wait for the results of a conference committee to iron out the differences between the House and the Senate. From the vantage point of the House it looked like the House flinched first. After four redrafts on Friday night, the amendments went to the Senate first and then to the House. The full House did not receive those amendments until about 12:50 AM Saturday morning and then voted on the measure about 1:15 AM. By that time most were willing to vote for anything just to get out of there.
I once asked my dad why he didn’t use the lights on the tractors and tried to quit when the sun went down. His reply has been good advice over the years. He said, “Tom, after dark is when the serious mistakes happen.” That is the feeling I had at the close of this session at 1:30 am on Saturday morning.
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