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Idaho's 2024 Legislative Session: Policy success and reforms still needed

Idaho’s 2024 Legislative Session appears to be in its final days. Lawmakers plan to conclude major business today and then recess until April 10. They would then return to consider any veto override votes. While this is the current plan, as noted by the Idaho Capital Sun:


"While it is possible House Concurrent Resolution 51 sets up April 10 as the final day of the 2024 legislative session, legislators will not be obligated to adjourn when they return April 10. They could adjourn, or they could simply keep going or take another recess. There is no legal requirement to adjourn the legislative session by a certain date."


If today marks the end of consideration of major bills, there were several exciting reforms advanced, a few disappointing roadblocks hit, and a couple of head-scratching moments this year. Before the session started, we provided lawmakers with our top policy recommendations. We are happy to report that several of them made it across the finish line. Here is a quick review of some of the proposals we were tracking this year and the outcome.


Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, but no more

With a unanimous vote, the Idaho Legislature adopted our recommendation to close the state’s unconstitutional loophole that could allow home equity theft to occur. When ruling against this egregious practice in 2023, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts said it best: "The taxpayer must render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, but no more." (HB 444 - adopted)

Tax relief here we come

Among the provisions of the school facilities funding reform is an additional reduction in Idaho’s income tax rate. With this change, Idaho is now in between our friends in Utah who just reduced their income tax rate to 4.55%, and Montana with its two rates of 4.7% and 5.9%. The combined corporate and personal income tax relief is estimated to be around $59.1 million for Fiscal Year 2025. According to the Tax Foundation, moving from a 5.8% to a 5.695% individual income tax rate will help improve Idaho’s ranking from 33 to 29 for all states and from 24 to 20 for those states where wage income is taxable. (SB 521 – adopted)

Also, by a vote of 69-1 in the House and 35-0 in the Senate, the Idaho legislature enacted a 20% reduction in Unemployment Insurance taxes for businesses. From Unemployment Insurance tax reductions to additional income tax relief, Idaho continues to put out the “Open for Business” sign. (HB 428 - adopted)

Another positive development was ending the practice of political messages on taxpayer refund checks. Thanks to the unanimous adoption of HB 618 this reform is now the law in Idaho. Government officials should be commended for prioritizing tax refund checks when taxpayers overpay. The refund checks speak for themselves, however, without turning them into a government-funded political advertisement. (HB 618 - adopted) Education bright spots 

 

Although there were a couple of education reform roadblocks this year (we’ll discuss later), lawmakers did adopt several bills to help improve the existing public school system. The approval of the school facilities bill (HB 521) should help address the safety of school buildings for students. The overwhelming adoption of “The Accelerating Public Charter Schools Act” will remove some of the administrative handcuffs on high-performing charter schools so they can focus on student outcomes instead of paperwork. It is very exciting to see Idaho continue to embrace charter schools and act to enhance their ability to meet the needs of students and families who are looking for alternative education opportunities. (HB 422 - adopted) 

 

Dam proud

 

With the approval of SJM 103, Idaho lawmakers made it clear that the state is dam proud and strongly supports the clean renewable hydro baseload power, navigation, and irrigation provided by the Snake River dams. The Legislature declared: “the State of Idaho opposes any actions to degrade the functionality, in whole or in part, to remove or breach any dams on the Columbia-Snake River System or its tributaries…” Last year we teamed up with U.S. Senator Jim Risch to write an op-ed discussing the importance of the Snake River dams. (SJM 103 – adopted)

 

Putting taxpayers on equal footing with government agencies

In a positive development for Idaho, lawmakers signaled their intent and desire to stop agency end-runs around the legislative process with the strong approval of HB 626. As noted by the statement of purpose for the bill, “reviewing courts must rule, where an interpretation is in relative doubt, to limit agency power in favor of individual liberty.” This reform will help put citizens on an equal footing with government agencies if a legal dispute occurs. Administrative agencies need to be kept in check and this new law will help end judicial deference on agency rules. (HB 626 - adopted) Falling behind on education choice options

Mountain States Policy Center (MSPC) believes that education choice means an all of the above approach – traditional public schools, charter schools, magnet schools, micro-schools, homeschooling, and more. While there are several education choices available for Idaho families, the state is one of the few in the West (along with California, Oregon, and Washington) that doesn’t provide the option for an Education Savings Account (ESA) or education choice tax credit. These types of education choice options currently exist in 29 states including neighboring Utah, Montana, and Wyoming). Unfortunately, lawmakers this year failed to advance an education choice tax credit proposal. (HB 447 – failed House committee)

It was also surprising to see a proposal to increase K-12 accountability and transparency with a Public School Transparency Act not even receive a public hearing. MSPC’s recent Idaho Poll showed more than 80% of citizens support this transparency concept. Idaho's top education official has also endorsed the idea. “It’s a positive for our schools if the communities they serve understand how tax dollars are being spent," said Superintendent Debbie Critchfield said. "Let’s face it, school budgets tend to be complex and [the Public School Transparency Act] is a step that helps simplify the way they’re communicated publicly.” (HB 718 – not heard)

Public notice and good lawmaking can co-exist 

 

One thing that became clear during the 2024 Legislative Session, additional transparency reforms are needed. Unless you are camping at the capitol building, it is very difficult to know when a public hearing will occur, what bills are under consideration, and even if a bill has been adopted. Illustrating this problem, one of the stakeholder email updates I received this year had this note about action on a bill: “We will get little to almost no notice if that takes place.” Another example is a committee agenda email notice on a bill that I was invited to testify on that didn’t arrive until 1:15 a.m. on the same day as the 8 a.m. public hearing.

While this type of format may work for lobbyists, it is not structured to enhance public participation in the legislative process. This is why we believe there should be at least a three-day notice for public hearings, remote testimony options provided for all public hearings, and legislative bill pages should be updated in real-time when a roll call vote occurs so you don’t have to be actively watching floor action to know if a bill was adopted.  

 

Better luck next year

Along with the previously discussed failure of the education choice tax credit and Public School Transparency Act, other worthwhile proposals also didn’t get adopted this year. Among them:

We’re hopeful that these policies will be considered again next year by lawmakers.

 

In summary, the 2024 Legislative Session saw additional tax relief adopted, closed the home equity theft loophole, removed some of the administrative burden on charter schools, reformed school facilities funding, put Idaho on the record again supporting the Snake River dams, and ended judicial deference on agency rules.

 

Among those reforms that failed to advance were providing additional education choice options for families, enacting additional public school budget transparency, providing a statewide voters’ guide, ending taxpayer subsidies for teacher unions, and moving towards performance-based funding for schools. Along with working to improve the legislative process to enhance citizen involvement, we look forward to next year and being a resource for lawmakers with these and other policy reforms.  

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