State Senator Bair Explains the Legislature

State Senator Steve Bair
Catie Clark

Idaho State Senator Steve Bair (R — Bingham) has provided the following detailed report on the current legislative session, describing the law-making process and tracking the progress of bills that are of interest to the residents of the county.

Joint Financial Appropriations Committee (JFAC)

Bair is a member of JFAC. At the beginning of the current legislative session, this committee spent several weeks in hearings with all of Idaho's state agencies. When the hearings were finished at the end of February, JFAC tackled the task of setting budgets for the different parts of the state government. This process took about three weeks with JFAC members meeting every day from 7 to 11 a.m. Each member chose or was assigned several different agency budgets to review in detail.
"Since the first week of the session," Bair said, "I have been working on the Health & Welfare budgets, the Dept. of Fish and Game, Dept. of Agriculture, Dept. of Environmental Quality, Office of Species Conservation, Dept. of Water Resources, and about six or seven smaller budgets."
After all the budgets are reviewed and set by JFAC, the relevant appropriations bills are drawn up and sent to the legislature to be voted on.

Wolf Control

For the last five years, Idaho has had a wolf control board consisting of the directors of Idaho Fish & Game, the Idaho Dept. of Agriculture, and several others. Whenever a problem pack of wolves killed livestock or wildlife, the committee authorized government trappers from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to remove them. This program was funded by the livestock industry, sportsmen, and the general fund. The enacting legislation had a sunset clause, which would cause the board and funding to dissolve at the end of a five-year period unless the legislature acted to keep the board going.
Since livestock and wildlife encounters have continued, the house agriculture committee introduced legislation for the wolf control board to continue. The last budget that JFAC set was the appropriation for the board. "It is one of the most political budgets," said Bair. "The policy in Idaho is to use our hunters to maintain safe numbers for wolves, and for the most part that works okay; however, there are times when wolves kill cattle and sheep, elk and deer, (and) do so repeatedly. These offending wolves need to be controlled."
The appropriations bill to fund the board for one more year is for $400,000.

Tax Relief

"Idaho is the fastest growing state in the union, and our revenues are increasing at a rate that provides more money than is needed," Bair reported. "The legislature has saved about $400 million in rainy day funds. The education budget has been set with a 5.9 percent increase in spending. That equates to an increase of just over $100 million to K-12 … With all the state’s needs met, a tax cut was the responsible thing to do."
The federal tax cut will decrease the amount of taxes that Idahoans pay to the federal government; however, when Idaho conforms with the new federal tax policies, this will cause a $97 million tax increase for state residents.
"The legislature believes the $97 million should rightfully be returned to Idaho citizens," said Bair. "There is clearly enough revenue to fully fund Idaho’s state budget requirements and provide an additional $100 million in income tax relief."
The $202 million tax relief package was incorporated into House bill 463, which passed both the House and the Senate and was signed into law on Monday, March 12.
"Even after the tax cuts and increase in budget spending, there will still be a proper amount of carryover from the 2019 to the 2020 budget," Bair explained.

The Idaho Economy Strong

"The largest single month (of) revenue growth (that) I can recall occurred in February," said Bair. "In February alone, state tax receipts grew 36.3 percent! That equates to a $44 million whopping increase in revenues."
It was the fourth straight month of tax revenue increases even though February revenue is usually one of the smallest.
"Boise is rated as the fastest growing city in the nation, and Idaho is the fastest growing economy in the nation as well," remarked Bair. "Our taxes and regulatory policies have invited this growth in small business, and now we are reaping the rewards of the good policies. The challenge will be providing the constitutionally-mandated education opportunities for the new children and families moving into Idaho."
Bair outlined how the increased revenues will be used: "This (money) provides Idaho with enough money to fund the statutory commitments to education, health & welfare, and protect our citizens by funding the growth in the corrections system. Education alone will receive an increase of over $100 million to provide our great educators with salary increases, fund English-learner programs and other reading programs to improve Kindergarten through 3rd grade reading, and provide discretionary dollars to pay for health insurance for school district employees."

Cannabidiol Oil

Bair explained at length how the bill to legalize cannabidiol oil failed: "The Senate Health & Welfare Committee had a dust-up over a bill to legalize CBD oil … A committee member improperly made a motion to hear the bill when it was not on the committee’s agenda. The chairman put the committee at ease and asked the senator who made the motion to come into his office to discuss the improper motion. A quorum of Senators followed the two into the chairman’s office and without realizing it, the chairman essentially held an executive meeting for about six minutes."
This was a mistake because it was an executive meeting without proper public, despite being inadvertent.
Bair continued: "Upon realizing a mistake was made … the chairman went back into the committee room and a substitute motion was made to hold the bill in committee. That motion essentially killed the bill."
Bair added: "The chairman has apologized for the mistakes made. That leaves the CBD legalization bill dead for this year. We have heard from hundreds of folks this year, asking to kill the bill. It looks like this wish has come to fruition."

Texting and Driving

The Senate killed Senate bill 1283a, which would have allowed only hands-free cell phone use. It would also have banned the use of all electronic devices by drivers except GPS devices. The bill failed after a debate that included strongly-worded comments about over-regulation.
"Idaho already has a texting ban while driving," Bair remarked. "The Idaho Senate defeated the bill, in part because of the belief that people should be responsible for their own actions."

Kids in Car Rescue Bill

Senate bill 1245aa provides immunity from liability for someone who breaks a window to rescue kids left unattended in a hot car in the summer.
"There have been instances where the negligent child guardian has sued the rescuer for damages," Bair explained. "This bill makes the rescuer immune from liability."

Foster Care Improvement Bill

Senate bill 1341 codifies the practice of keeping siblings together whenever possible. It also strengthens support services for newly-reunited families and clarifies priorities when investigating claims of abuse. In addition, it provides for a new system of citizen review panels across the state.
Bair commented: "This bill is the first step improving child care for those children who are in abusive situations."