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Nearing the end of the legislative session

Senators Jim Patrick (R), front, and Lee Heider (R) listen as the Senate goes over bills in 2017 at the Capitol building in Boise, Idaho.

At long last, the Idaho state legislature has called it a year. Lawmakers spent 74 days cutting taxes, reworking education standards and not voting on a dual-waiver plan intended to close the state’s Medicaid gap.

There were some bills enacted as laws that we found silly — a bill that declares pornography a public health hazard and a trespassing bill that seems destined to make criminals out of innocent Idahoans, namely. But there were also some that we fully supported, like updating the state’s school science standards and massively scaling back when police officers can take citizens’ property.

Several topics we would have liked to see addressed were not, including the aforementioned Medicaid gap (which has been open for six years now) and the state’s faith healing laws. A faith healing bill was killed in the Senate last year, but the topic made minimal noise this session.

As for lawmakers in the Magic Valley, local legislators sponsored more than 20 bills that eventually made their way to the governor’s desk. Let’s take a look back.

Taxes: On his sixth try, Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, finally got an internet sales tax bill out of committee. The bill requires some online retailers based in other states to collect and remit sales tax on products sold to Idahoans. The bill was pegged as relief for local businesses, which Clow said were getting killed by online retailers because of sales taxes. We’re not sure if the bill will really drastically affect local businesses, but either way, it was a win for Clow.

Rep. Clark Kauffman, R-Filer, also brought a bill that that exempts 10 free and charitable medical clinics across the state from paying sales tax. The bill, inspired by the Wellness Tree Community Clinic in Twin Falls, is a positive for essential medical providers.

Healthcare: While nothing was done to address Idaho’s Medicaid gap — a dual-waiver program supported by Gov. C.L. “Butch Otter” failed to receive a vote from lawmakers on two separate occasions — legislators did pass several bills intended to increase the number of organ donors statewide.

Sen. Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls, brought bills that require public colleges and state employers to remind students and workers of their donation options, and Rep. Sally Toone, D-Gooding, carried a bill that prohibited insurance companies from discriminating against living organ donors.

More organ donors is a good thing, so these are wins for future sick Idahoans.

Miscellaneous: In the Times-News‘ January legislative preview, several local lawmakers said they expected action on the state’s education funding formula. But the formula, which many lawmakers say should weigh school enrollment rather than school attendance, was left untouched.

Lawmakers voted down a bill aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, a decision that we find both appalling and confusing. If lawmakers can’t agree on a slam dunk bill like that one, that pretty much guarantees there will ever be any kind of statewide, common sense gun reform in Idaho. It was both a bad decision and a clear statement by lawmakers.

As we did at the time the bill failed, however, we applaud Magic Valley lawmakers, who were nearly unanimous in their support of the bill. Rep. Steven Miller, R-Fairfield, was the lone no vote from south-central Idaho.

And a hat tip: We bid farewell to Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, who has served in the statehouse for 30 years, including 29 years setting the state’s budget. In an era of contentious politics, Bell is universally respected by her fellow lawmakers. She represented the Magic Valley with grace, humility and a firm understanding of her role as representative of the people. Happy retirement, Rep. Bell.


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