Brugger: Idaho’s Time Problem
COMMUNITY COLUMNIST

Brugger: Idaho’s Time Problem

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This Legislative session has some time issues. This is not a snarky way of saying that our Legislators do not know how to tell time. But if the shoe fits...

First up is the bill to make it mandatory for school to start the day after Labor Day. Traditionalist that I can be, I could support it on the basis that “in my day” school always started then. However, I consider this bill to be just another attempt by the legislature to force state control on school boards to no effect. Rural districts may wish to structure school sessions around agricultural calendars. Here in the Magic Valley, CSI’s academic schedule plays a part. Fair season is important to 4H kids who want to show animals. School districts can manage. The state has no compelling need to make things uniform.

The state must set election dates but taking away the March date for school bond elections does not make sense. School boards must set their budgets to take effect July 1, and the May election is too late to get bond money in place. The only reason for the legislative proposal that I can see is to further encumber the school districts from seeking property tax levies in the face of inadequate state funding of public education. That is legislative overreach.

The state can set daylight savings time. The Legislature is considering a bill to opt-out. Starting with the fact that the savings has diminished since the passage of the bill in 1918, it also makes kids less safe when going to school on fall and spring mornings. Dairies use electric light to alter their cow’s milk production, so there’s no savings in Idaho’s biggest industry. Darkness helps our bodies produce the melatonin that makes us sleepy. There is a public health concern with increasing the amount of daylight in the evening when people need to be ready to sleep at their regular times. My preference would be to join North Idaho in the Pacific time zone because it would make it more likely I could rise with the sun around 6:30 every day. Daylight savings time would not be as much of a burden then. However, bills on time zones have not received any public debate in the time I’ve lived in Idaho. It’s time.

Finally, what is an unconsidered time problem for the legislature: spending too little time on the clock. The old guard prides itself on its part-time legislators. The idea is that the people who work for us in Boise are just regular folks like us who are willing to set aside personal time for the needs of the state. That may be true for some, but it certainly has become less true for many. All legislators must have additional sources of income derived while not working full time. I’ve noted that there are enough legislators whose private income is enhanced by their service in the legislature to be a potential corruption concern for our state.

Our population growth has caused a change in the scope and range of legislative concerns. More population cannot help negatively influencing the extent to which social norms control public behavior. Government can’t, and should not, legislate personal morality, but they can, and should, legislate public behavior and ethics. There are now more legislative concerns that are incredibly more complex. The amount of time each legislator spends out of the public eye conferring with colleagues is significant. I approve of Idaho’s JFAC process for balancing the budget, but there is a good deal of negotiating legislators do without public knowledge, which has become a problem.

Although I am aware that it is DOA for those who are working to extremely limit the scope of government, the Legislature must consider the actual time it takes for its members to do their jobs. Do they need longer sessions or a spring and fall session? Do they each or collectively require more research staff? What about communication? And, finally, do they require better pay? This is a discussion worth having.

Linda Brugger retired from the Air Force and is a former chairwoman of the Twin Falls County Democrats.

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