As far as criticism goes, the Idaho Legislature is an easy target. Especially this session, when so many Idahoans felt the Legislature needed to achieve big things, there is probably disappointment.
This legislative session did prove how tough it is to get things done — even in a state like Idaho where one political party holds most of the power.
When people talk about Idaho being a one-party state, the image that’s conjured up is of the Republican Party running with an agenda and ramming it down everyone’s throats.
The reality is much different, as evidenced by the difficulty that the 2015 Idaho Legislature had in getting things done.
The deep division within the Idaho GOP is the reason why the Republican Party cannot easily pass laws and achieve a vision for Idaho.
Idaho’s Legislature has three factions — a weak Democratic Party without much power and two dueling wings of the GOP.
There are the moderate, old guard Republicans, who are more flexible in their points of view, and the far-right conservatives, who are not afraid to vote against any bill that goes against their beliefs or could result in any more state spending.
The Idaho legislators we’ve talked to have said the far-right branch of the state’s GOP is actually growing in strength and has the ability to create enough gridlock to stop legislation in its tracks.
Before you gripe too much about these tea partyers, there is an obvious point — Idahoans vote these folks into office year after year, and apparently are sending more of them to Boise and not less.
When one considers the sort of civil war going on within the Republican Party, it’s amazing that the Idaho Legislature was able to accomplish anything during the session that ended early Saturday morning.
The legislative session began in January with big plans to increase funding for education and transportation, and to expand Medicaid so that tens of thousands of Idahoans could receive health coverage.
The Legislature came through in terms of education (increasing funding by 7.4 percent and raising teacher salaries) and did approve $94 million to improve the state’s roads and bridges (though that is well below covering the $262 million shortfall the Idaho Transportation Department says it faces each year).
But the Medicaid expansion never gained traction. And who knows what will happen with that issue, considering it’s tied to the health-care reform efforts of a U.S. president who’s very unpopular in Idaho.
A last-minute action by an Idaho House committee to not pass legislation that passed unanimously in the Idaho Senate to keep us in compliance with national child support laws may cost Idaho another $46 million.
During this session, the Legislature did, as usual, get sidetracked with some bills of lesser importance, such as the successful effort to name the Idaho Giant Salamander as the state’s official amphibian, and we all got to see the governor’s veto of the repeal of historical horse racing.
And it just wouldn’t be a session of the Idaho Legislature without a bill regarding abortion (the legislation that was signed into law bans women from receiving abortion-inducing drugs via telemedicine) or a bill to kill more wolves (another $400,000 was earmarked for that purpose) or legislation tackling something marijuana-related (after some major wavering, legislators passed a bill to legalize marijuana oil to treat children with epilepsy).
There are so many problems facing Idaho that expectations were high among many of us for our legislators to do something meaningful.
It seems our legislators are constantly trying to put out fires and do much more crisis-management than strategic planning.
When was the last time Idaho’s government ever looked to the future and mapped out a 10-year plan for where we should be?
It’s way past time to establish a vision for this state. Is Idaho going to be a haven for deadbeat dads; an oasis for people who don’t want to pay taxes; a place where the working poor have no chance at health coverage?
This latest legislative session seems to point in that direction — and it’s not encouraging.