The state budgets are getting written and the session is beginning to wind down. Yet, several key policy matters are still on the table. The top leaders of the Legislative branch discussed this year's session with members of the Idaho Press Club.
Speaker of the House Scott Bedke and Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill discussed the work lawmakers accomplished this year. Topping the list was the effort to increase school funding nearly 7% with a $100 million boost.
"I think the greatest accomplishment of the Legislature this year without question is the education funding," said Hill, R-Rexburg.
There are still a couple bills working their way through the Statehouse that will need funding outside what JFAC has appropriated. One of those is a literacy measure that sets goals for reading mastery in the 3rd grade. Speaker Bedke, R-Oakley, said that was a priority of his.
"In my perfect world we would be concentrating every resource on that," he said. " We wouldn't be worrying about tuition locks. We wouldn't be worried about scholarships. We wouldn't be worried about anything else until we had a K-3 system that graduated kids reading at grade level."
Bedke intimated plans to establish an interim committee to handle education concerns. Chief among them would be the state's funding model. He said operational costs of schools has been an issue and ought to be addressed.
Looming over the Legislature is giving healthcare coverage to Idaho's gap population - those who make too much to qualify for Medicaid and too much to get subsidies through Your Health Idaho. Several lawmakers have said they want to tackle the problem, in whatever limited way, before the session ends. The leadership was less steadfast.
"We're not bashful about leaving things undone, if the past is any indicator of the future," said Bedke.
Sen. Hill said members of his caucus were actively working on the problem, but there may not be enough time to work out the details. He added if something solid emerges he would consider keeping the session open. He told reporters the target goal to sine die is March 24.
Included in the talk was a series of bills the leaders do not think will pass. Hill said one would be an "Add the Words" bill. A bi-partisan group of senators have been working on a bill but he said it has yet to come together.
Bedke said there wasn't any traction for a tuition lock bill. That was an initiative from Governor Otter to lock tuition at state colleges for the annual cohort through four years.
Both Bedke and Hill said they were not going to touch bringing back instant horse racing machines. The horse industry is trying to create a commission that would allow the machines back in the state. The leaders said it was a non-starter.