The Idaho Legislature has adjourned and we can all breath a sigh of relief.
All in all, it wasn't the worst session in Idaho history. It even had some small high points. Mainly, it did no significant harm, which is about all that we expect these days out of our lawmakers at any level.
There were fewer "nut" bills this session, such as bills that declare the state doesn't have to follow federal law and anybody who does can get arrested. Minor little constitutional faux pas like that. But then, the drop in stupid/crazy legislation may be related to the fact that it's an election year. Most of those bills tend to show up in the year after an election, when voters have time to forget how their elected representative embarrassed them by not understanding what's taught in basic high school government classes.
Which brings us, of course, to education. The legislature and its leaders are quite proud of the fact that they restored funding to roughly 2008 levels. Of course, there were more strings attached than in 2008, since the legislature knows more about what is needed at the local level than the local school boards, so not all the money is going to go where it is needed most, but it was an improvement over recent years.
It means that only 94 of the 115 school districts in the state had to have their local voters pony up supplemental levy taxes to prevent disasters in their districts, but hey, the legislators didn't raise your taxes, you and your local school boards did. Fortunately, most voters are smarter than their legislators and saw the need for the extra money, which essentially keeps school districts running at the levels of the massive cuts they had to make in 2008.
In addition, 40 school districts in the state no longer teach students on Fridays. Things are too tight to keep the doors open and pay the electric bills that extra day. Most of those districts are small ones, like Rimrock, where amenities such as advanced placement programs and other enrichment curriculum are few and far between.
Still, the districts are teaching the kids, and even those who drop out have a future -- as legislators, of course.
It did, however, create some tax breaks to bring in new businesses, which might help the schools in the long run, assuming the people running those businesses want their kids to be educated in a school system that is constantly being described as underfunded and sub par.
Still, it did start moving funding back in the right direction for the first time in years.
The legislature this year thought it was important to allow guns on college campuses. By and large, the only people to object were the colleges and many of the law enforcement agencies that would have to respond to incidents on those campuses. The NRA, however, was very happy. Legislators sometimes have to make a hard call over which constituencies they're going to support.
The legislature also made it clear, by refusing to even hold hearings, let alone take a vote on a measure to add the LGBT community to the state's anti-discrimination laws, that it wants Idahoans to be able to discriminate against gay people. This is, apparently, not a debatable point.
And the legislature was surprisingly quiet about the growing scandal over how the state prisons had been operated, a problem it had helped create. It had sort of a "duck your head and walk by without making eye contact" approach to the issue. We'll wait for the courts to straighten that mess out with the poster child for privatization.
But, overall, it really could have been worse, seriously, and often has been in the recent past. And we have a chance this spring and fall to improve the quality of the legislature, so there is hope for the future.
-- Kelly Everitt