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Policy bills target outlet dam, budgets

by SEN. SCOTT HERNDON Contributing Writer
| March 16, 2023 1:00 AM

An Idaho legislative session is really dictated by the budget-setting process, and policy bills happen in between and as budget-setting proceeds. The current session has about two more weeks because there remains only one more set of significant budgets. Those are the budgets for the public schools, which we are scheduled to determine this Tuesday. This year the 20 members of JFAC will be responsible for setting about $14 billion in budgets.

After JFAC sets budgets, the budget bills proceed to both the House and Senate for final passage, and if they fail there, then JFAC reconvenes to find a solution.

Remaining federal funds from COVID continue to have a profound impact on statewide budgets. They also reach into pocketbooks. An example is when we recently decided to cease federal CARES Act grants to daycares. That was scheduled to end later this year anyway, but the momentum in the legislature has been to reserve the remaining federal COVID-related funds for infrastructure and other capital projects throughout the state. The reality is that as we come to deplete the federal COVID spending this year and next, there will be a lot less money in the budget-setting process, and all Idahoans will have to make necessary adjustments.

Idaho has a constitutional mandate to set a balanced budget, which the legislature takes very seriously. The federal COVID “relief” money is crippling federal debt, and our future heirs will bear that substantial burden.

So far, seven of my policy bills have passed or are very close to final passage. We just sent a bill related to the Priest Lake Outlet Dam to the House floor for final passage. It affirms that the Idaho Water Resources Board (IWRB) has exclusive control over the dam and that no other outlet control structures can be constructed for Priest Lake without approval by the Legislature and the governor. For years Idaho Fish and Game has been marketing a gravity siphon project that would bypass the dam. IDFG has spent hundreds of thousands in private funding to study the concept in the hope that it would improve trout fisheries in the Priest River.

The governor has a senior water appropriation on Priest Lake for the benefit of all Idahoans, and the dam is owned by the state and was authorized by legislation in 1950. There may be a collaborative solution that improves trout fisheries in the river, but my SB1021 affirms that the solution cannot include an end run by IDFG, using private funding, around the constitutional authority of IWRB.

Last summer a Bonner County contractor bidding on a county solid waste project was asked to waive his right to segregate employee bathrooms by biological sex. That requirement is the result of a 2014 executive order by President Obama. My SB1016 is close to final passage in the House and will prevent such requirements from being placed on our public works contractors. After passage of SB1016, contractors will be free to keep men out of women’s bathrooms and vice versa.
All three of our northern public school superintendents asked for the same legislative clarity for the public school bathrooms, and we just passed in the senate this week SB1100 to affirm segregation by biological sex for male and female restrooms at all of Idaho’s public schools. The bill passed with all Republicans in favor and all Democrats against.

Thursday saw the final passage of my HB066, which creates a new misdemeanor crime for willingly and intentionally filing a report of child abuse or neglect to CPS or law enforcement when the reporting party knows the report to be false. After the governor signs HB066, it will be a crime to lie to the government by knowingly filing false reports to CPS.

Only the Democrats voted against my HB124, which eliminates the use of student IDs to prove voter identity at the polls. Student IDs lack uniformity in the information they contain about the voter, and they lack the depth of the proof of identity of the voter. All Senate Republicans voted for this common-sense election integrity bill.

I will be presenting my SB1153 in the Senate Education Committee on Monday to create teacher spending accounts that will put state-appropriated monies directly into the hands of public school teachers for use on expenses they incur out-of-pocket every year to supply their classrooms with basic educational materials.

Finally, in the next two weeks, we will consider $355 million of property tax relief with HB292.

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Idaho Sen. Scott Herndon represents Bonner and Boundary counties in District 1. He can be reached at sherndon@senate.idaho.gov.

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