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Legislative session is complete — for now

| May 27, 2021 1:00 AM

The 2021 Idaho legislative session is complete, for now at least. For the first time in our 130 years of statehood, the Idaho House and Senate have not concurred in adjourning “sine die.”

In a typical year, the House and Senate convene in early January and adjourn for the year at the end of March. In 2021, we convened in early January spending most of the first month discussing the balance of powers between the executive and legislative branches. February transitioned to more typical legislative topics, although the Idaho Capitol was still quite empty in comparison to past years.

A positive to this year’s legislative session was the accommodation of remote testimony in committee hearings. I am hopeful committee chairs will continue allowing remote testimony. It is beneficial to rural Idahoans all over the state. March brought a flurry of budget setting and other legislation but ended with a number of legislators contracting the coronavirus which prompted a two-week recess. April saw debate on the larger topics of the session, income tax, property tax, and funding for transportation projects. By the second week of May, legislators left Boise, to return to their citizen role, although it is not clear if or when we might be back in Boise.

Why was there disagreement about adjourning for the year? Most of the debate centers around federal funding and the ability of the executive branch to determine how the money might be spent. American Rescue Plan Act funds are on the way to Idaho. Prior to leaving Boise, the legislature did create law which requires all ARPA funds be appropriated through the normal legislative process.

There is potential for other funds, such as a federal infrastructure package, to flow to the state, but the governor made clear in a written letter that if an urgent situation arose requiring spending authority, he would call for a special legislative session. In my mind, we could have adjourned as we have every year since statehood. The legislature is a policy setting body. The executive branch carries out that policy. I believe we have policy in place that will guide us from one year to the next without a full-time legislature and that any weaknesses in policy which became evident in the past year have been corrected.

Moving on to tax policy, the Legislature reduced the Idaho income tax rate for individuals and corporations from 6.925 percent of adjusted gross income to 6.5 percent. The change was made in House Bill 380 which also provides for one-time tax relief in the form of a 9 percent rebate based on your 2019 Idaho tax amount.

H389 made changes in property tax law for real property and personal property. The homeowner’s exemption will increase to $125,000 from $100,000. The circuit breaker exemption, which reduces property tax liability by $1320, is changing to $1500. At the same time, the circuit breaker income limitation is going up from $28,000 to $31,900. Starting in 2022, homes with an assessed value greater than 125 percent of the county-wide median assessed value will not be eligible for the circuit breaker exemption. The property tax deferral program will still be available for those homes.

Currently the first $100,000 of business personal property is exempt from taxation. Going forward, the first $250,000 of business personal property will be exempt. Also, transient personal property, such as logging and construction equipment, will not be taxable starting in 2022.

Finally, H389 also set new limits on allowable budget growth for cities, counties, and all other taxing districts.

A transportation study conducted ten years ago indicated we were underfunding our state road system by approximately $250 million per year. The study was refreshed last year and came up with the same answer. In response, H362 was signed into law which provides $80 million in ongoing transportation funding from existing sales tax collections. The $80 million will be used for bond payments which will facilitate approximately $1.5 billion in new transportation projects.

In total, seven bills were signed into law which change how Idaho manages emergencies. Senate bill 1217 placed a ninety-day limitation on emergencies unless the legislature is called into session. This requirement applies if the emergency is in twelve counties or more. S1217 is the follow-on version of S1136 which was vetoed and not overridden.

H135 was also vetoed and not overridden. It spawned three successor bills all of which are signed into law. H391 prohibits any limitation on firearms or the right to peacable assembly or free exercise of religion during a state of disaster emergency. H392 prohibits the executive branch from altering, adjusting, or creating any provision of Idaho law. H393 prohibits unnecessary restrictions on the ability of a person to work or provide for their family.

S1060 requires that county commissioners must approve county-wide or health district-wide public health orders. H67 and H68 changes the authority for closure of schools, community colleges, and universities to the governing body instead of the health district.

Other notable legislation includes:

H126 which legalizes industrial hemp production, processing, research, and transportation. Idaho was the last of the fifty states to take this step.

S1102 which authorizes electronic vehicle registration through automobile dealers. Hopefully this will help with the backup at the DMV offices.

S1211 changes the requirements regarding hunting and trapping of wolves in an effort to better manage livestock and ungulate predation while maintaining a sustainable wolf population.

H129 allows OHV travel on public roads that are posted 60 mph or less for up to five miles. OHV travel is limited to 45 mph.

H86 simplifies purchasing OHV and snowmobile stickers. In the past, the stickers were associated with a particular vehicle. Now, the stickers are available without a vehicle identification number, should be available in more locations, and multiple year stickers will be available

Nearly twenty bills were passed as part of the Governor’s Red Tape Reduction effort. Outdated and unnecessary laws are systematically being removed from Idaho law.

Finally, S1110 changes the voter initiative petition signature gathering requirements. The total number of signatures required to place an initiative on the ballot will remain unchanged at 6 percent, but the signatures must come from all thirty-five of Idaho’s legislative districts.

Different from years past, I have listed bill numbers in this letter for easier reference. The legislative website is https://legislature.idaho.gov. The bills can be found under the ‘Legislative Sessions’ link. Each bill is listed with a statement of purpose, the actual bill text, and the voting record.

As always, it is a privilege to represent the district. I appreciate your input and look forward to future conversations.

Sen. Jim Woodward represents District 1, Bonner and Boundary counties, in the Idaho Senate. He can be reached at jwoodward@senate.idaho.gov .