Top Idaho lawmakers say the legislative session could still end April 1, but issues surrounding public schools, which has faced legislative reforms and lacks a budget for the next year, could be a stumbling block that turns prognosticators into April fools.
Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, said on the floor of the Senate that lawmakers could wrap up their business within two weeks if all the stars align perfectly. House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Eagle, said the April 1 deadline is doable.
House and Senate Republican leaders are meeting frequently to discuss issues that still need to see action before the session ends. Davis calls the list of legislation the going home list, which currently has more than 10 items on it.
Some of the items on the list likely need to pass before the session can end. That includes legislation that would balance the next state budget, including the more than $1 billion budget for public schools, the reductions to Medicaid, and the delaying of the grocery tax credit. Other items on the list are priorities of Gov. Butch Otter, including the last part of the education reforms backed by state schools superintendent Tom Luna and a tax credit for employers that create jobs, which moved forward Monday.
Lawmakers will probably also need to create a new format for primary elections. The state Republican Party won a lawsuit declaring the current open primary system, in which voters don’t need to register for a party, unconstitutional. New legislation has been expected for weeks, but Davis said leaders held their first formal talks on the new primary plan at the end of last week.
Davis said other items on the list are priorities but wouldn’t need to pass both the House and Senate, and could see legislative action to end their progress this session. Such items on the going home list include banning texting while driving, outlawing most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy due to fetal pain, making assisted suicide illegal, raising the tax on tobacco, including on Native American reservations.
The Senate also must confirm several more appointments from the governor, who made a number of appointments earlier this month.
Davis said if lawmakers don’t meet the April 1 deadline, it could be due to the education budget. He said that budget could be set on Wednesday, which would keep lawmakers on schedule. He said delays could push back the end date by a few days.
Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, who chairs the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC), which sets the budget, said he won’t hold a meeting on the budget until the Senate acts on the last part of Luna’s proposed reforms, which could target some school funding for technology improvements and could raise minimum salaries for teachers.
The Senate Education Committee will hear that plan Tuesday. If the committee rejects the plan, Cameron said the budget could be set sooner. If it passes the education committee, JFAC would wait until the Senate vote the plan up or down.
Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, who chairs the education committee and is sponsoring the reform plan, said he expects the hearing to last two hours. He wouldn’t say whether he expects the committee to support the plan.
The old version of the reform legislation passed out of Goedde’s committee on a 5-4 vote, before being pulled back to committee and stalled. One of the two Republicans to vote against the plan, Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise, said some of his concerns with the earlier legislation, including the mandate that high school students take online classes, the increased class sizes, and questions over the lack of input from education stakeholders, have been addressed in the new version.
Toryanski wouldn’t say whether he’d support the new legislation, but said he’s looking forward to the committee’s debate. Goedde said public testimony won’t be taken on the plan, but the education stakeholders, which include teachers, administrators, school board members, and business leaders, will discuss the legislation.