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Idaho Legislature still at work

Appropriation bills seem to come out of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee later every year. This year legislators were still waiting to see the seven bills funding K-12 programs just days before Friday’s planned adjournment–which didn’t happen.

Since the legislature can’t go home until appropriations bills funding the state’s legal obligations are passed, some members feel pressure to take whatever they’re offered. Others, however, are rooting for scores of bills that might get a vote if the legislature stays in session another week.

Legislators often complain about the push at the end of the session. They’re pressed to pass bills faster than they can read them, much less consider possible amendments.

Some years I think we’d be better off sending the majority of legislators home for four weeks after the Governor lays out his budget so JFAC can have a head start. That could cut out time wasted on introducing personal bills and posturing for media attention–or extend every session through April.

When the House killed funding for the five Medicaid programs, the immediate worry was that legislators were serious about ending Medicaid Expansion and leaving 100,000 Idahoans without affordable health insurance.

If that were so, JFAC refused to acknowledge it. Its new bill replaces $2.2 million for implementing cost containment with half a million for a task force to do a cost-benefit study and recommend long term plans.

The Senate has approved a $687.5 million budget for higher education, SB 1176, that differed little from Governor Little’s request, but not until after 45 minutes of “raucous debate” (Kevin Richert, Idaho Education News).

The subject? Diversity, equity, and inclusion programs at the schools. Nampa’s own Brent Crane led the attack saying,”I am sick and tired of saying,’Quit going down this path of DEI. No means no; stop means stop.’”

Republicans apparently see danger in programs that encourage students to respect those different from themselves. Creating fear and distrust among voters helps keep their party alive.

All four schools, however, pledged not to spend a cent of state money on such programs so there was not a line item the Crane faction could delete. An appropriations bill is not the place to outlaw diversity programs students.

The Idaho Ed News also singled out Nampans as leaders of the attack on Gov. Little’s Idaho Launch program aimed at funding post-high school education for students studying to train for jobs needing more skilled workers.

First term Sen. Brian Lenney said “steering students towards in-demand careers is ‘straight out of the Soviet playbook.’”

Sen. Todd Lakey called the aid to students a “giveaway” that would mean “‘free college for some but not for all.’”

And Sen. Ben Adams objected to the program as a “giveaway to big business.”

Their statements could be interpreted to mean a better program would pay students to study British poetry as readily as they do nursing–which seems true since they actually oppose both.

Launch is an investment in the Idaho economy. As Idaho Falls Republican Sen. Dave Lent said, the bill will help students, help employers, and, by cutting the number needing welfare, help taxpayers.

The original Launch bill has now passed both houses and is ready to be signed by the Governor. A second bill, now before the House, could still replace it. SB 1167 would cut funding somewhat and limit it to two-year programs, but retain a higher paying scholarship program for students with good grades who enroll in four-year programs. Considering the current shortages of teachers, nurses, and other medical specialists, that makes sense.

Maybe this week the legislature can finally fund the public schools.

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