Mark Harris mug

Mark Harris

Legislative Update: Week 1

The second session of the 65th Legislature started off with the State of the State Address from Governor Little last Monday.

In his speech, he mentioned the fact that Idaho is currently the least regulated state in the nation. This happened because of the action of the Legislature last year to not pass a bill to enact the administrative rules. The Governor and his administration took on the task to clean up outdated and unnecessary rules. This cleanup of the rules will now have to be reviewed and approved by the Legislature this year. This is what the House and Senate will be doing during these next few weeks.

The volume of rules will be more this year than in years past because we must review all of them compared to the prior year. To give a perspective, last year in the Health and Welfare Committee, there were approximately 170 pages of rules. In contrast, there will be around 1,683 pages of rules this session.

In his State of the State, the Governor also spoke about the budget and what he wants to emphasize. Earlier this year, he directed all state agencies to cut their current budgets back 1 percent this year and 2 percent from the budget base next year, except for the Department of Education.

The Governor proposed a 3.75 percent increase in state general fund spending for this year — the lowest increase since 2014. He wants to lift the cap on the “rainy day fund” from the current 10 percent to 15 percent. The purpose of this is to have a reserve for any potential economic downturn. The Governor also proposed $35 million for grocery tax relief. This is an interesting proposal because it is only half of what is needed to get rid of the tax on groceries all together.

Education remains to be a priority for this Governor. On the Governor’s agenda is a 4 percent increase for schools. Included in this increase is an ongoing fund for the Governor’s literacy program to help kids to read proficiently by the 3rd grade.

He wants $30 million to increase teacher pay over the next several years and $1 million to help students with trauma and mental illness. Also included in his proposal is $6 million for new Career Technical Education (CTE) facilities. The Governor also wants $100 million to be used on state highways. Some of these new transportation funds will go toward improving the state broadband system which will help our kids in rural school districts as well as improve telehealth and pharmacy access.

The Department of Corrections is also on the Governor’s agenda as he wants to spend $5.9 million on improving the state’s prison system.

Overall, Governor Little’s budget proposal is modest from past governors budget proposals. So far, it has received a favorable response from the Legislature and appears to be very conservative. The Joint Finance and Appropriation Committee has begun to meet to hash out the differences between the Governor’s proposal and what the Legislature wants. It is shaping up to be a very busy session.

It is an honor and privilege to serve you in the Idaho State Senate. I continue to serve on the Senate State Affairs Committee, the Senate Health and Welfare Committee and the Senate Agriculture Affairs Committee. Please feel free to contact me at mharris@senate.idaho.gov or (208) 332-1429.

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