Thursday, March 30, 2023

Legislative session is getting more contentious

by REP. MARK SAUTER Contributing Writer
| March 5, 2023 1:00 AM


If we stay on track, the end of this legislative session is in sight. The House Speaker (Moyle) has made it his goal to finish our session on March 24. As a first-time representative, I’m unsure if the Speaker's goal is attainable.

I am sure about one thing. Things are getting more contentious. With looming deadlines and limited time for certain bills to make their way through the Capitol, frustration is creeping in.

With the singular requirement of the Legislature (adopting a balanced state budget) not yet met, there is room for concern. It may be by design that Bills are being held or re-routed. Perhaps the delay is to get more votes for the passage of certain Bills or policy. Or to limit the choices available and force votes in a certain direction. Regardless, we have a long way to go and a short time (if March 24 matters) to get there.

The House Speaker is well aware of my biggest concern, that we satisfy our need to finish a budget without any property tax reform. He understands I don’t hold his goal (March 24) over my/our interest, passing some property tax reform. He said there were considerable, ongoing, conversations regarding the tax issues among House and Senate leadership.

Last week we heard some hotly debated issues in the Education Committee. On Wednesday we considered two library Bills that would direct library staff to control certain materials available for younger readers. This isn’t a new issue. The bill drafters included the definitions of obscene and pornographic materials in their bills. One bill (HB139) offered parents an option to bring civil suit against an offending library as a remedy. The other bill (HB 227) requires all libraries develop policy on how they handle these materials and situations (and the process for complaints).

I’m concerned about the materials the Bill crafters gave as examples. I was told there is a list of library content for our district. I will get a copy this week. I respect our library boards and staff and our parents concerns.

We heard the bill with the codified civil action first. I thought it was written broadly. I was concerned with the civil fines $10,000 (for each instance) for libraries. I was also concerned about giving complainants four years to make a complaint. There was no recourse for libraries who were victim’s of fraudulent claims. I voted to table the bill so that we could hear the other bill that same morning.

After the vote to table the first bill, there was considerable commotion among the audience and the Education Committee members. One of the committee members abruptly left the meeting after scolding the other committee members and the presenter of the other library bill and hasn’t been back. There were contentious conversations in the hallway outside the meeting room as well.

We heard the other library bill after a short break and before we could vote on an outcome, one of the committee members called for adjournment.

I received a considerable number of emails encouraging me to support HB139 before the hearing. HB227 was introduced later and not as popular with those who sent messages. Both bills have merit. Before our meeting closed, I made public comment acknowledging the frustrations I could see and had heard. I recommended the two bill writers work together to write a better bill, this week, before the Legislature recesses. As I write this article, I understand the two parties are working together on something to address this issue.

There was similar contention over three school Educational Savings Accounts/voucher bills we were scheduled to hear on Thursday morning. By the time the meeting started, two of the ESA bills had been pulled from the agenda. We heard the remaining one and tabled it. We don’t yet know what will happen with the other two ESA bills.

I voted to hold the ESA bill that we did hear. I received a considerable number of contacts before the ESA presentation. The majority opined we should not fund private schools. When I visited our district last weekend, I heard the same sentiment in person in Sandpoint, Bonners Ferry and Priest River.

Besides the messages from voters, I remain concerned that the ESA programs are the beginning of a parallel school system requiring additional funding (property tax increases). This has been the case in States that have started ESA programs. We have considerable school choice in Idaho.

As of this writing, it seems the conservative and responsible thing to do is to keep working on (and supporting) our public school system.

Mark Sauter represents Bonner and Boundary counties in the Idaho Legislature in District 1A. He can be reached at

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