Adjourn Sine Die (without assigning a day for a further meeting)
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
As the 2019 legislative session draws to a close, I want to thank the voters in District 5 for allowing me to serve as your State Senator. The work has been stimulating and satisfying, and I have enjoyed interacting with you and others in Benewah and Latah counties. I would be honored to continue to serve in this way in the years to come.
This letter highlights some of the legislature’s accomplishments from the 2019 session and my impressions on how it all works. Once I am back home, I would be pleased to share my thoughts with community groups, civic clubs, and at other local gatherings. Send me an email if you would like to arrange a time and place for me to speak with your group. You can also subscribe to my weekly in-session newsletter.
Working on transportation issues was a highlight for me this session. I am one of a bi-partisan group of Senators developing strategies to secure annual funding for road and bridge maintenance and for child and pedestrian safety. A key to our approach is maintaining the 60/40 split in funding between state highways and local roads (cities and counties), ensuring that rural Idaho gets its share of transportation support.
But, we face a dilemma on transportation issues. The state is significantly short of funds for road and bridge maintenance, and yet, we have a legislature that won’t consider even a small tax that could cover the shortfall. For example, a gas and/or truck registration tax would make sense to help fund transportation infrastructure, but in the current legislature, ideas like these won’t get a hearing. This year, we funded some of the needed improvements by diverting small amounts of money that normally go into the general fund. I support this solution as a stop-gap measure, but using monies that should go to education and other needs is not a long-term solution. We need to do better.
I sponsored two bills that were signed into law this session. The first, House Bill 76, clarifies Idaho code on a new category of bicycles: “e-bikes.” These bicycles use small electric motors to boost speed when the rider needs a little extra power. The second, House Bill 12, makes it easier to dispense Naloxone, a drug that can be administered quickly to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.
The Revenge on Voters Act (SB 1159) and our treatment of Medicaid Expansion are both clear demonstrations of a supermajority government run amok. The overwhelming majority of citizens who testified on Medicaid Expansion were opposed to restrictions and sideboards. Yet, the majority party snubbed the voters’ direction on Proposition 2, and also passed a bill to virtually eliminate your ability to get an initiative on the ballot. I applaud Governor Little’s veto of the “Revenge on Voters Act,” but I believe he should have vetoed SB1204, the Medicaid restrictions bill as well.
As you know, I am a strong proponent of support for education, so I was disappointed that I wasn’t assigned to the Senate Education Committee and had to watch and contribute from a distance. Action on education this session was mixed. The highlights included:
Funding the 5th year of the career ladder in teachers’ salary increases
Funding $40,000 per year for a new teacher’s salary (implemented over two years)
$20 million additional funding for literacy programs in grades K-3.
These funding initiatives help, but they are insufficient for us to achieve excellence in educating the next generation of Idaho citizens. While other states fund all-day kindergarten and pre-kindergarten programs, we are just catching up on K-3 literacy. And, we did not increase funding for higher education, where investment is critical for helping our kids qualify for higher paying jobs and careers.
I am pleased to represent you in the legislature, even though some parts of the job are frustrating. Controversial bills on significant and important issues came before us with little advance notice, and despite nearly unanimous public testimony in opposition, bills were passed anyway. In particular, the “Revenge on Voters Act” demonstrated utter disregard by our legislative leadership for citizens’ convictions.
In contrast, the Transportation Committee, under the leadership of Bert Brackett from District 23 was a breath of fresh air. Decision-making was inclusive, and questions were considered and dealt with fairly. I believe, as I work more in this area, that I can help secure much-needed and sustainable funding for our roads and bridges from appropriate sources.
Senator David Nelson