The state legislature is finally out of session, but the damage they caused over the past several weeks makes me wish they'd never return to the state capitol for another chance to possibly make things even worse.
If I were a teacher, I'd have to give our lawmakers a grade of "incomplete" for the number of measures they failed to pass or reach a consensus. Had it not been for a couple of shining moments during this last session, they should've received a failing grade.
Let's look at the positives first. The legislature earns a passing grade by approving a 7.4 percent boost to the state's education budget. With so much attention being focused on public schools, especially in this community, it's refreshing to see our lawmakers finally getting around to putting money where it's needed -- helping our students succeed.
At the same time, they focused needed attention on the broadband issue in our schools, which was a disaster in the making. Tackling that problem early in the session was a positive sign.
However, they didn't do nearly as well finding a way to come up with $262 million in the state's transportation budget. The $95 million they finally pushed forward at the last minute is nowhere near the amount of money needed to fix state highways, bridges and other infrastructure, which continues to deteriorate by the way.
As I have previously stated, the transportation budget shortfall isn't something that suddenly happened. It's been a subject of debate since 2010 when a task force unveiled the $262 million yearly shortfall. So after five years, our lawmakers still haven't made any real progress on this issue.
Instead, we saw them spend way too much time and effort on pet projects that won't help the state in the long run.
They worried about teenagers and tanning beds but shot down plans to approve the use marijuana extract oils for medical purposes. They fought long and hard to prohibit "instant racing machines" at horse race tracks in the state only to have the governor veto the measure. They even pushed to expand concealed weapons permits, which was an issue that should've taken a back seat to the major ones affecting the state.
Oh, and I need to mention that Idaho now has an official state amphibian. While I appreciate that the Giant Salamander issue was put forth by students in the state, why it gained so much attention when there was so much else that needed more immediate attention is beyond me.
And let's not forget the political circus that played out early in the session as a House committee listened to three days of testimony from those wanting to add just four words to the state constitution. The measure to add the words "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to the state's human rights act was rapidly shot down on purely political lines.
Had the measure still failed but there were opponents from both political parties favoring or opposing the measure, I wouldn't be so inclined to think that our lawmakers hadn't already made up their minds before the public hearing began. However, what I saw was another case where those in the majority were promoting their own agenda versus listening to that the voters -- the ones that put them in office in the first place -- wanted.
I nearly forgot to mention one of the other major issues that our lawmakers wanted to get approved during their session. On a narrow vote, a measure moved forward that will allow driverless cars to roam our roads and highways.
Be still my heart as I ponder the sheer delight of a car without a driver zooming down the highway having to swerve and dodge around all the potholes that we won't be able to fix for the foreseeable future.
And now we come to the one last-minute issue that stands to significantly hurt people across Idaho. Despite passing unanimously through the Idaho Senate, a House committee shot down plans to bring the state into compliance with federal laws dealing with child support.
The reason? One lawmaker in the House argued -- incorrectly I need to emphasize here -- that the rule would force Idaho to somehow comply with Islamic law.
If it wasn't for the fact that a majority of House representatives actually believed that notion and immediately shot down the plan, I would probably be laughing about now.
But the potential damage our state lawmakers may have caused is no laughing matter. We now have an estimated 155,000 families in Idaho that are looking at losing these payments because a lawmaker decided to "shoot from the hip" without doing any research.
Had lawmakers done any real fact checking, they would've immediately discovered that those irrational fears were baseless. Instead, the state possibly threw away $46 million in federal funding.
Of course, this isn't the first time the state lawmakers have thumbed their nose at the federal government thinking they could get away with it. Several years ago, they decided the state didn't need to comply with the REAL ID Act regarding state-issued driver's licenses and ID cards.
Earlier this year, the state discovered that people would no longer be able to use those ID cards to gain access to federal installations or, more to the point, to board commercial aircraft. Fortunately, the state gained a temporary extension to correct this problem once and for all.
However, I don't see anyone at the state capitol jumping up to fix this problem, either.
So for now, our lawmakers are heading back to their home districts, and I'm guessing they'll either try to convince their supporters that they did a good job or will try to deflect the blame to someone else.
At least I can take comfort that they won't be able to cause any more damage until they convene once again.
-- Brian S. Orban