Most who followed the recently concluded session of Idaho’s Legislature would at least agree with Gov. Butch Otter’s grade of “incomplete.” Lawmakers ultimately approved a five-year, $125 million teacher salary plan, added funds to run the state’s schools, and raised state gasoline taxes for the first time since 1996. But they refused to act upon a widely endorsed plan to help Idahoans who now make too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to get subsidized health insurance through the state’s insurance exchange – effectively snubbing millions of dollars in federal funds for that purpose and putting 70,000 Idahoans at risk.
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Legislators took no action on civil rights protection for LGBT people, no action on ethics reform, contract policy reform, or accountability and transparency legislation. They put off until next year any major tax changes, including proposals to tax online purchases and repeal the sales tax on groceries.
The session approved the Giant Salamander as the official state amphibian – after five years of fiddling – and found time to praise the importance of diapers and resolved to criticize the process for selecting federal judges. But they would not even consider a proposal to raise the state’s minimum wage, and went home after the House Judiciary Committee failed, by one vote, to adopt critical legislation, previously adopted in the full Senate, needed to keep Idaho’s child support-enforcement system in line with federal laws.
Failure to act not only drew national attention and widespread media coverage and derision – including a stinging rebuke from the Washington Post Editorial Board, but put Idaho children in jeopardy of being able to receive as much as $205 million a year in child support. As the Post pointed out, it also put the United States at risk of being unable to comply with an international convention on unified global efforts to track and prosecute deadbeat parents.
The governor finally used his constitutional authority to call the Legislature back into session on May 18, exclusively to deal with the child-welfare issue.
(Read the draft of the proposed “compromise” bill to fix the mess here: )
In the 90-day regular session – some of it in closed caucus – legislators finally managed to make the Idaho Giant Salamander the official State Amphibian, but even that decision, on the first bill to actually be heard in the session, and despite a completely different set of priorities outlined by Gov. Butch Otter in his opening “State of the State” address, did not come easily. The House State Affairs Committee had initially killed the bill with a 10-6 vote, then reversed itself upon realizing that a legislative body that had time to pass a resolution designating “National Diaper Need Awareness Week” ought to have time for the Giant Salamander.
The Giant Salamander thus stands beside the Mountain Bluebird and the Wild Huckleberry among the Gem State’s 15 official symbols, after five years of effort by 14-year-old Ilah Hickman of Boise. Other arguably more significant achievements, however, are about as elusive as the amphibian. The committee had earlier ended a nine-year embargo on discussion of HB-2, the “Add the Words” bill to include sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s 1969 Human