BOISE, Idaho — In 2021, Idaho citizens saw the longest legislative session in state history, lasting 311 days. Now, just a few weeks later, lawmakers are gearing up to head back to the statehouse next week.
As we quickly approach the 2022 Legislative session starting on Monday, some lawmakers have laid out their goals and exceptions for this year's session.
The first few orders of business will be setting the budget and looking into the state’s record-breaking surplus of funds.
“There's a lot of anticipation, of course, everybody’s talking about the surplus,” Speaker of the House Scott Bedke said. “All Idahoans can be proud of their state because our economy is performing well, and those tax revenues and that performance show up in our tax system and of course, we set up a pretty austere budget we always do.”
Bedke said the money from the surplus could impact Idahoans for many years.
“We are in a rare situation financially between our general fund surplus and our—the federal moneys and we have a chance to make investments in our state that will pay dividends for decades,” he said.
House Minority leader Ilana Rubel says it will be important to pay attention to where the money from the $1.6 billion dollar surplus will be allocated, and she anticipates it will be one of the biggest fights of the session.
“The state has more cash in the bank you can say than we've ever had between just revenues from taxes and all the federal money and they're calling it a surplus although, I really don't like the word surplus because we have bridges on the brink of falling down around the state, well past their structural lifespan. We have areas of the state where you can't get a timely ambulance if you have a heart attack,” Rubel said.
Other things like property taxes, education, and getting out of the session quickly are also top of mind.
In May of 2021, the senate formally adjourned ‘sine die' but the house took an untraditional route, just recessing, leaving the door open to come back later in the year - which they did. Lawmakers returned to the statehouse in November of 2021 for only three days, trying to swiftly pass bills related to vaccine mandates, religious exemptions and more. The only thing to pass was a joint resolution disagreeing with the Biden Administrations COVID-19 plans.
Bedke says this session will call for increased collaboration between the house and the senate — something that was missing in November when lawmakers could not pass vaccine-related bills.
“We stopped off there on the three days and weren’t very successful and our bills did not move because of this lack of coordination,” Bedke said. “There will be some who want to take up where we left off. I would advise anyone who has got a bill in the house to get a senate sponsor. That's how we move legislation.”
Education funding and property tax relief are the biggest goals for democrats according to Rubel.
“Education funding, and not for just full-day kindergarten, but trying to pick Idaho out of last place as everybody knows we are bottom in America in education funding. We need to fix our own schools and that is going to be a very top priority for us as well as delivering property tax relief to those who need it,” Rubel said.
Democratic Rep. James Ruchti said other main priorities for Democrats are issues that have been around for awhile.
“They are the same issues that we have been facing and unable to quite solve for a few years. They include affordable childcare, challenges to our k-12 education and higher ed education, affordable housing and property tax relief,” he said.
As for the length of the session, the speaker does not think it will last as long as the session that just wrapped up in November.
“It will be a session. I predict it will not be as long as last year,” Bedke said. “Keep in mind that we just redistricted the state and so were still up in the air on that. This is an election year and so that will put pressure on having a long session because there's nothing that makes a legislator more homesick than to have someone back home file against them.”
One concern looming over the session is COVID-19. During the 2021 session, legislators had to recess due to a COVID-19 case outbreak among lawmakers, and with cases up across the country now, the concern is high again for some.
“I'm concerned that this session could be even worse because I think they are not even doing the distancing. At least last year they had a little bit of distancing in the committees where they put the desks a little bit further apart. I do not think they are even planning to do that this year,” Rubel said.
“So what I am urging is all of the legislators and the people that work in the building to take care of themselves and to take the steps necessary to assure their own safety,” Bedke said.
Lawmakers will be back Monday, January 10 inside the statehouse and you can remotely testify and watch the session here.