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By all accounts, 2018 is gearing up to be one for the political ages. By year’s end, Idaho will have elected a new governor for the first time in 12 years. We will also see some — perhaps many — new faces in the Idaho state Legislature. In the meantime, the legislative session kicks off in about a week. Although, with all of the work we’ve done since adjournment in March, it feels like the session never really ended. There’s no telling what 2018 will bring legislatively, but whatever happens, we will work to make Idaho better off than it was a year ago.

Fighting for rural schools

Idaho ranks dead last in the nation in terms of funding rural schools. This puts our children at a competitive disadvantage with those who attend better-funded schools in more populated areas. As rural legislators representing Lincoln, Camas, Gooding and Blaine counties we are very concerned about this growing gap. Our constituents pay taxes just like the rest of Idaho and our schools should be of the same quality. We will continue to fight for better funding for our rural classrooms and support legislation that helps recruit and retain quality educators — like the student-loan forgiveness bill for teachers which provides debt relief to those who work in rural districts. Students who don’t have access to a quality education are not going to have the same opportunities to prosper as others. For years, the politicians in charge have turned their backs on our rural communities. We refuse to stand idly by.

Providing opportunity for all Idahoans

It’s no secret that Idaho continues to be a national bottom-dweller when it comes to our low-wage, low-opportunity economy. We have seen some wage growth in certain areas of the state, like the Magic Valley, but honestly, our incomes have nowhere to go but up. The reason for our low-opportunity status is largely linked to poor education funding and the lack of a skilled workforce. As a result, Idaho faces a real crisis in the coming years. By 2024, nearly 50,000 jobs may go unfilled in Idaho because we lack the skilled workers for those positions. That is tens of millions of dollars in wages we could lose if we don’t fix our workforce problem.

That is why the work done on the Higher Education Task Force and Workforce Development Task Force is so important. We will be considering legislation to improve all forms of post-high school education, certification, and training required to produce a truly trained workforce that can fill those jobs and keep those wages in Idaho.

We’re not just talking about four-year universities. We will support legislation that expands career/technical and apprenticeship programs, encourages school districts to add workforce readiness into their curriculum and improve career advising. A skilled workforce must provide a diversity of talents to potential employers. We don’t need 50,000 lawyers by 2024. We need 50,000 carpenters, electricians, engineers, computer technicians and a host of other professionals to fill those skilled jobs that will help Idaho prosper.

Sexual harassment training

Whether you realize it or not, the Idaho Legislature is 30 percent women. It’s one of the highest percentages in the nation — higher than states like New York and California. One of the first things state lawmakers will do during the 2018 legislative session is attend mandatory sexual harassment training. We support this move whole-heartedly. You elect us to do a job. Everyone in the workplace — whether in the state Capitol or a restaurant on State Street — deserves to be treated with respect. Idahoans value fairness and decency toward all of its citizens. We believe that state leaders should set an example you can all be proud of.

Our pledge not to make personal attacks on lawmakers

Earlier this year, Rep. Mat Erpelding and Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb penned a column on behalf of legislative Democrats, pledging not to make personal attacks on our fellow lawmakers. They encouraged Republicans to join us in this pledge. We have long adhered to a policy in District 26 to refrain from personal attacks on opponents — whether on the campaign trail or in the Statehouse. We may disagree with our fellow lawmakers on substantive issues, but we will debate those topics respectfully. Idaho has a steep hill to climb to get out of our low-wage, low-opportunity economy. We have a duty to come up with creative solutions that will turn the tide in Idaho’s favor so that all of our hard-working citizens have a fair shot at prosperity. We’re not going to do that by lobbing personal attacks on our fellow House members and Senators. You expect more from us and we will continue to deliver on that pledge in 2018.

Get out and vote

Idaho is unique in that all of our House members and senators stand for election every two years. We have a lot of work ahead this legislative session and even more afterward. Whether it's in a primary or the general election in November, we encourage all of you to flex your muscles at the polls and vote — no matter what your party affiliation. What happens beyond 2018 is literally in your hands.

Michelle Stennett of Ketchum is minority leader and represents District 26 in the Idaho Senate. Sally Toone of Gooding represents District 26 in the House.

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