Monday, July 15, 2024

Legislative session gets off to a quiet start

by REP. SAGE DIXON / Contributing Writer
| January 25, 2024 1:00 AM

The 2024 legislative session has begun, and all has been quiet for the first couple of weeks.

Legislators are getting reacquainted with their colleagues and committees, and there is not much overt legislative activity as legislation is being developed and discussed throughout the building. However, lobbyists, executive branch staff, and visitors are starting to fill the halls, and legislation has begun to see its first light in a handful of committees.

The governor’s State of the State address was a mixture of claimed victories from last year’s session and outlined wants for this year’s session. A stated proposed budget, an increase of 2.2%, requires much legislative action, without which the totals are closer to a 7.7% increase.

Some of the proposed programs, such as completing the funding of our dilapidated bridges throughout the state, were well received, but others, such as the $2 billion bonding scheme for school facilities, were not. With the economic uncertainty before us, many legislators are not comfortable with bonding for such a large amount. Our Economic Outlook and Revenue Assessment Committee, of which I am a member, has projected a 10.7% decrease in state revenue for 2025 and then a modest 1.8% increase in 2026 and 4% growth for 2027.

This decrease is mainly due to the ending of COVID dollars flowing into the state, in addition to national economic factors such as increasing interest rates and the slowing of both corporate and consumer activity in the buildup to a presidential election. Nonetheless, many are aware of the need for consistent funding for the maintenance of older buildings, as well as the need for the construction of new buildings, so conversations are ongoing.

One of the first pieces of legislation to surface each session is the Tax Conformity Bill. This is a bill that aligns Idaho tax policy with the IRS to streamline the filing of taxes. Every year the Internal Revenue Code is updated, often just to change the year listed on filing dates, and because Idaho uses federal taxable income as its starting point, it is prudent to update our code to mirror the IRC.

As a legislature, we still have the ability to decide what we want to conform to or not, but generally, we pass this with little concern. The floor vote in the House will usually have between six and 12 “nay” votes on this bill due to the federal government recognizing same-sex couples as married, which contradicts the will of Idaho’s citizens and constitution.

A more controversial proposal was H384, which was a revised version of last year’s “library bill.” There is a lot of interest on all sides of this issue, and there are three drafts circulating so far. H384 was heard on the House side, passed out of committee, and was scheduled for a floor vote yesterday. This action stimulated the Senate to react by reaching out to the House sponsor, which resulted in the sponsors of two of the three drafts getting together to consolidate their ideas into a new draft with the hope that the joint effort would be an easier path to success. With the new draft being introduced next week, H384 was not voted on and was sent back to the committee at the request of the chairman.

As of Friday, Jan. 19, the House has 37 bills coming through the system, and the Senate has 27. Issues such as Medicaid funding, mandatory minimum sentencing for fentanyl possession, AI “deep fakes,” charter schools, and an education tax credit will all be before us soon. 

A normal session will see us consider roughly 600 bills in committee, with at least 350 being voted on by the entire legislature, and our current pace will uphold that trend. Although our stated target finish date is March 22, and election years tend to be shorter sessions than off-cycle years, I expect us to be here up to the end of March.

I suspect that many are still unaware, but I have decided to step away from the Legislature, and this will be my last session as your representative. I am truly honored to have served District 1 and am grateful for the opportunity to interact with so many of our neighbors and businesses. I have enjoyed our conversations, both the challenging ones and the complimentary ones, and will remain consistently amazed at the passion, work ethic, creativity, generosity, and humility that I have witnessed in this role. 

Although I have a few more articles to write for this legislative session, I will end this one, and each subsequent one, with a sincere “thank you” and Lord bless.

Rep. Sage Dixon represents Bonner and Boundary counties in District 1A in the Idaho House of Representatives.