BOISE — Rep. Laurie Lickley is quick to name the proudest accomplishment of her first Legislative session: not arriving at the statehouse with any bills.
“I don’t think you can come in with an agenda or plan until you fully understand the process,” Lickley, a Republican from Jerome, explained in the final weeks of the 2019 session. “I think it’s allowed me to navigate the process so I can be an effective policy maker moving forward.
“I don’t fully understand the process,” she continued, “but I am getting my feet wet.”
Lickley was one of three new Magic Valley lawmakers elected to the Legislature in November, with Rep. Linda Wright Hartgen, a Republican from Twin Falls, and Rep. Muffy Davis, a Democrat from Ketchum. The freshman representatives described this year’s session as a learning experience, from responding to constituent emails, to working with lobbyists, to carrying bills on the House floor.
Here’s what the new lawmakers had to say in separate conversations about their first session. Their responses have been assembled together and edited for clarity and length.
What were some of the challenges of being a first-year legislator?
Hartgen: Everybody’s coming at you with information. And to sort through all that information and decide what fits your community and what’s better for your community — I think that is what’s the crux here.
Davis: Being part of the minority party in a supermajority. We’re just kind of sitting here waiting to see what happens. Since we’re not included in a lot of those discussions and they caucus, we don’t really know what’s going on. It would be nice if there was more bipartisan work.
Lickley: I think a lot of this process is about processing relationships and really developing a plan to move Idaho forward. I think a lot of the time we get caught around the axle on certain things that really have no mission to move us forward. And that’s been a little frustrating for me. I’ve always been a big strategic planner.
Have I made some mistakes in this session? You bet I have.
Are there any mistakes in particular you wish you could have a do-over on?
Lickley: I voted incorrectly on the immunization bill in the House. I didn’t support it [in the House Health & Welfare Committee]. I did support it on the floor. But in hindsight, I should have done what was right there. I should have been consistent because I voted my conscience in committee on that bill and debated against it. Then I went to the floor and I said well, I think we’re going to get beaten. And I shouldn’t have done that.
[House Bill 133 would have required schools and day care centers to provide opt-out information to parents or guardians whenever they notified parents of immunization requirements. The bill passed the House, but did not receive a hearing in the Senate Health & Welfare Committee.]
What kind of feedback have you gotten from constituents?
Davis: I was floored with how much email there was. Not as many phone calls, but just emails. I am behind probably 500 emails to reply to. I guess that’s one of the things where you say, ‘Wow, I need to be better at managing my time, maybe, for correspondence.’ It can be overwhelming.
Hartgen: You listen and you get tons of emails. You try and answer them back, but they don’t all get answered.
Lickley: Medicaid expansion has been probably the biggest inbox filler this year. And most of them are computer generated emails from outside our district. I think it’s important for people to reach out, but I hope they will do so on an individual basis. Those form emails, while nice, have been frustrating.
Rep. Lickley and Rep. Davis, what has it been like for you as members of the Health & Welfare Committee as the Legislature deals with Medicaid expansion?
Lickley: I’m really kind of coming in at the eleventh hour on Medicaid expansion, where the state Legislature has had six years to tackle it and did not, and the voter initiative kind of directed us to take that on. That rock wall climbing for me is almost completely vertical there, but I feel like I’m making progress. I’m starting to understand it, and I’m listening to people it will affect.
Davis: I wish we could have tackled these Medicaid bills earlier on. It would have been nice if there was time so we could work across the aisle [with the other party] and have better compromises.
I think it’s important that the public knows that we represent them. I’m a little frustrated that other legislators don’t seem to be listening to the will of the people in regard to Medicaid expansion and clean implementation.
What was it like to carry a bill on the floor?
Hartgen: You get a little more confident each time. You try to stand up and talk calmly like you’re not yelling at them. A lot of people get up like they’re angry. And I don’t know if you win anybody over because you’re angry.
What are some of your proudest accomplishments this session?
Hartgen: [Hartgen collaborated with Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, on a piece of legislation dealing with meat cutters and sales tax.]
I don’t think it’ll get an actual hearing, but it’s an RS. That’s a good learning process to get that written up.
[An RS, or a Routing Slip, is the version of a bill before a legislative committee votes to officially print and introduce it.]
Lickley: I’m pretty proud to be at the table on issues that didn’t have a lot of negative debate: sunset on the Wolf Control Board, updating the Forest Practices Act. Those are things I can be proud of. We are really moving the needle on issues most important to Idaho.
I think next year we’ll come forward with a little bit better plan, with an evaluation and some measurables to kick us off into the future.
Davis: We helped kill a bill that I thought was not appropriate, which gave a tax credit to shoreline railroads. I guess that would be one success, helping to defeat a bill I didn’t think was good.
And an accomplishment I could say is that I know and have items ready for next year, and I’m going to get it in right at the beginning. You learn not to procrastinate because three months go by really, really fast.