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Legislators offer gems as well as threats

Holidays with the family together boost my desire to avoid the negative and find a silver lining somewhere. It’s not hard for the Fourth of July or Thanksgiving, but it’s a real challenge when the legislature is in session.

The latest from super-Republicans Tammy Nichols and Judy Boyle deserves an extended rant. HB 154 would make administering a COVID vaccine in Idaho a misdemeanor, because, as Nichols said, “We have issues (the vaccines were) fast-tracked.”

Yes, Senator, emergency use was fast-tracked, but after the first 5 million vaccinations, the FDA gave the Moderna and Pfizer injections full approval. Idahoans have now received nearly 3 million doses.

Why are super-Republicans determined to drive medical personnel out-of-state? First, doctors who deal with abortions and miscarriages, then doctors who treat youngsters with transphobia, and now any medical personnel who wields a needle.

But good things are happening every day, and those of us with determination can find some–even within the legislature.

By last Friday 271 bills had been introduced and 10 had passed both houses, most of them unanimously. Admittedly they deal with things like updating our Internal Revenue Code to match the Federal code, allowing overtime for some state employees to be figured by 14-day intervals instead of 7-day ones, and increasing pay in the Division of Human Resources.

I found three especially important.

HB 18 extends a 2019 law making first responders eligible for compensation covering PTSD treatment. HB 16 lifts a restriction on hours for part time employees for apprentices needing more time to complete their training. And HB 07 withholds commercial drivers’ licenses from those convicted of human trafficking.

And some good bills are in process. Foremost is Gov. Little’s Idaho Launch Grant Program which would give high school graduates $8,500 for training or education for in-demand careers. Super-Republicans nearly killed HB 24 in the House, and may still do so in the Senate. Reports are that 19 of the 35 Senate seats are further right than last year, but only six or eight of the Super-Republicans voted against bills to extend unemployment insurance to victims of domestic abuse and to define when a landowner has been adequately notified of noxious weeds.

Two other bills are easy to support. Sen. James Ruchti’s bill (SB 1089) requires landlords to disclose to renters all fees related to the application process or recurring monthly. And Democrats have once again united to sponsor an “Add the Words” bill (SB 1011) which would include freedom from discrimination because of sexual orientation or gender identity. Neither bill is expected to pass, but both show that someone cares.

There’s an interesting assortment of bills to cut taxes. HB 33 would eliminate the property tax on groceries and HB 78 would restore the homeowner’s exemption as 50% of the property’s value up to a maximum of $224,360.

Two other bills offer different approaches to lowering property taxes. HB 77 would leave the homeowner’s exemption at $125,000 but then use 4.5% of annual sales tax revenues to pay part of each homeowner’s debt. HB 79 would limit the homeowners’ property tax exemption to $150,000, make fewer of the elderly and poor eligible for the “circuit breaker,” and allow voting on school districts bonds and levies only in May and November. But it would also distribute $300 million to school districts to be used only to pay off bonds and levies, make necessary repairs, and to use toward new construction.

At least we know we have some allies in the legislature in the ongoing fight for our democracy and its institutions.

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