The Idaho Democratic Caucus gave their end-of-session Sine Die Press Conference this afternoon. Watch the video and read the full transcript below.
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome.
In the hours after Governor Otter finished his plea to the legislature for moderate policies, we immediately started working on addressing issues that affect the majority of Idahoans. We made clear that our goal was to measure our votes based on three simple questions. Will it improve our education system, will it improve our economy, and will it maintain our quality of life. I am proud to say that the minority has upheld their end of the bargain by passing important legislation and holding the majority accountable.
It is clear to me and our constituents, that we represent the moderate middle that Idaho needs and wants.
While the majority wasted time fighting each other like children on a playground, they also brought legislation that was not beneficial to Idahoans. Idaho Democrats work together for everyone. And we will continue to fight to do what is best for Idahoans from Bonners Ferry all the way to Owyhee and Bear Lake.
Once again, the majority kicked the can down the road and this time they only have themselves to blame. Roughly 78,000 Idahoans, 12% of which are veterans, live without health insurance. Idaho Democrats tried on three separate occasions to pass legislation expanding Medicaid.
There is no more time to wait. If we are willing to accept a $300 million loan from the federal government to address transportation in Idaho, we shouldn’t have to think twice about an investment that actually saves Idaho millions of dollars – and saves lives.
As the leaders of Idaho’s middle ground, we have always made education a top priority and this session was no different as we made improvements that will benefit Idaho’s students and teachers. Our relentless approach in support of education has turned the majority into followers on this issue, and we are happy to lead.
From the middle, we worked across the aisle to bring civil asset forfeiture, something that Representative Ilana Rubel led the charge on because we know that protecting due process rights is something Idahoans hold dear.
Representative Wintrow is leading the charge to ensure victims receive the protections they deserve, and that law enforcement treats them with the utmost respect.
Rather than chasing shadows or irrational fears, we recognize the real threats to our state. We worked tirelessly for policies that protect our waterways and prevent the introduction of invasive species in Idaho. Our leadership led to the passage of multiple bills.
Finally, we secured substantial funding for Safe Routes to School, which will help modernize sidewalks and pedestrian crossings from Caldwell to Potlatch and many places in between, something we have been advocating for since 2014.
I could go on and on about the bills the Republicans carried that harmed our education system, our economy and threatened our quality of life – bills like the one exempting communications between legislators and special interests from public records requests, the odd sharia law bill, or the anti-migrant worker bill – but here is the thing, our unrelenting pressure and renewed public involvement stopped those bills. As leaders of the moderate middle, we steered the conversation to more reasonable ideas like – Representative Hy Kloc’s resolution recognizing the contributions of immigrants to our nation.
We also played an essential role in deciding many important votes on the floor and in committee. Without the power of the Idaho Democrats, children who have been plagued by emotional disturbances would not be eligible for medical assistance provided by Health & Welfare (HB 43).
Lastly, Idaho House Democrats were the key committee votes that ensured citizens the most important oil and gas reforms the state has ever seen. Our votes were necessary to protect our groundwater, our private property rights and open the industry to transparency.
As you can see, it has been a hard-fought legislative session and we are on the move. Our leadership, consistency, and values help us wrestle the steering wheel from a party that increasingly and inexplicably continues to drift toward a ditch. We may be at the end of the legislative session, but our role as representatives does not stop with Sine Die – we will now focus on providing the best constituency services possible until we reconvene in January.
And now I would like to pass the mic over to Senator Michelle Stennett to address this further.
Thank you. I am honored to be one of the two legislators appointed to Governor Otter’s Workforce Development Task Force. The task force is charged with studying ways to improve Idaho’s funding and delivery of training programs to meet growing employer demand for skilled workers. New job growth is projected at 138,000 but the looming mass-retirement of the baby boomer generation means we are looking at a workforce shortage of about 49,000 workers with necessary skills to fill those jobs. I am pleased to be a part of an ongoing effort to expand opportunities for Idaho’s workforce.
The steps that are being taken are vital to Idaho’s future, however, it is important to note that Idaho is still behind in educational standards. To improve opportunities for our workforce, we first we need to improve opportunities for our students. We’ve done this by increasing discretionary funding for school districts, funding the third year of the career ladder, continuing funding for and implementation of the 20 Education Task Force recommendations, and continuing to advocate for our educators. It is distressing, however, to see this progress sidelined by damaging K-12 science standards that remove climate change science from our children’s curriculum.
Education took another hit with the passage of Senate Bill 1206, the so-called “getting out of here” transportation bill which ultimately takes 15 million unbudgeted dollars from the general fund and challenges our ability to fully fund the 5-year teacher pay career ladder. This bill was pushed through last minute with no public testimony, calling for $300 million in GARVEE bonding primarily designated for I-84 in Caldwell and Nampa, a 1% sales tax skimmer to pay for road expansion, and diversion of lottery and cigarette tax revenues.
Idaho still has over 500 million dollars in outstanding GARVEE debt from 2005, which puts us nearly 1 billion dollars in debt to the federal government. The bill does little to help communities outside of Ada and Canyon counties and puts us, our children, and our grandchildren in debt to the federal government for the foreseeable future.
It is critical to ensure that the very foundation of our democratic process is preserved and defended. The House passed an early voting bill aimed to hamstring counties who are trying to increase voter participation by limiting early voting by as much as one week prior to the election. Fortunately, we killed the bill in committee.
We also successfully stopped a bill to move school board elections to the general election in November. Board members elected in November are ill prepared to make district budget decisions that are due early in the following year. Additionally, trustee candidates are nonpartisan and tend to have minimal resources to compete with attention when compared with well-funded statewide races with which they would be sharing the ballot.
Similarly, we considered an Article Five Constitutional Convention to pass a balanced budget amendment. While we do think a balanced budget merits urgent consideration, opening the US Constitution has serious implications. Additionally, it is important to note that a Constitutional Convention cannot be limited to only one amendment. Calls for such drastic action should be met with a critical eye by the public, especially considering the polarized political climate we live in. I am happy to say that Idaho Democrats were instrumental in killing this bill in the Senate.
One of our proudest accomplishments of the session was the passage of Senator Burgoyne’s ABLE Act bill. This bill creates a part-time position to help people with disabilities and their families to set up out-of-state ABLE Accounts. Without ABLE accounts, people receiving disability benefits cannot save for critical quality of life measures like a wheelchair ramp, vital equipment maintenance, and dental care. This is a major quality of life improvement for people with disabilities and their families, and we were happy to see it signed by the governor.
We are before you today as a further act of a transparency and accountability. What we do and accomplish in these legislative sessions are of the utmost importance for Idahoans. Lives are directly impacted by the decisions made here.
We are determined to keep working for the quality of life you deserve, a well funded and world-class public education, and a thriving economy.
Thank you. We will now open the room for questions.