Woodward shares end-of-session thoughts

| March 15, 2020 1:00 AM

The 2020 Idaho legislative session is coming to an end. What that end looks like we still don’t know. With concerns surrounding the coronavirus, we may finish the budget and leave some other business untended. Fortunately, as of now, we have only had two cases of the coronavirus in the state of Idaho. Planning and preparations are in process for an outbreak though, and funds are in place from both the state and federal government. For information about the coronavirus in Idaho, please see the state website http://coronavirus.idaho.gov/

The budget process has been methodical and thoughtful. The budget is balanced and is the smallest growth level in many years at 3.9% year-to-year growth. Considering inflation and population growth, that number is not growing government. At the same time, by prioritizing, we are also making new investments in education, transportation, and our corrections system. There are different schools of thought on some of the spending, which has made for a struggle or two. For the most part though, as Idahoans, we agree on the statutory obligations and the prioritization of certain programs.

Outside the budget process, there is often quite a bit of contention in legislative priorities. As I write this, the Senate State Affairs committee is considering bills on property taxes, daylight saving time, liquor stores, a proposed constitutional amendment, concealed weapons, and another on firearms in schools. The Capitol building is filled with Idahoans on days like today, using their right to free speech and expressing their desires. It is harder to have say in the process when living further from the Capitol, but email is an effective method to reach any of the legislators on an individual basis or as a group.

Serving as a legislator, voting yes or no on hundreds of pieces of legislation during the session, I’ve developed a thought process which helps me make my way through the trees, hopefully to see the forest. Question number one is typically whether a proposal should be in law. Is it the function of state government? If so, should a new requirement or course of action be law, administrative rule, or agency policy?

An option to state law is local law. Oftentimes, we have proposals before us which are wonderful ideas and work quite well… for one area of the state or for one group. If that is the case, local law may be appropriate. For example, the needs and desires of rural Idahoans are often quite different from those living in urban areas and vice versa. When we place a requirement in state law, while serving the intended purpose for one group, it may be unnecessarily restrictive or detrimental to another. Another litmus test for legislation is the origin or motivation of the bill. It might be that something quite out of line has transpired and we want to make sure it doesn’t happen again. If it is an isolated incident, does it justify a change to Idaho law? Finally, the question must be asked if a bill is politically motivated or is genuine in searching for the best answer for Idaho as a whole.

Having gone through the decision-making process I’ve described; I can still say that some of the most important and influential information I receive is from folks at home. It is my intent to answer all email correspondence from District 1, although we sometimes get flooded with mass email campaigns on an issue which makes it hard to sift through everything. Please never hesitate to reach out with your thoughts and opinions.

Sen. Jim Woodward represents District 1, Bonner and Boundary counties, in the Idaho Senate. He can be reached at jwoodward@senate.idaho.gov .