Sunday, April 21, 2024

Appropriations bills keeping Legislature in session

by SOPHIE SPANBAUER / Contributing Writer
| March 31, 2024 1:00 AM

BOISE — Appropriation bills struggling to pass through the House and Senate chambers are keeping legislators from packing up and heading home. 

One of those appropriations bills, House Bill 734, which provides appropriations for Idaho’s colleges and universities for fiscal year 2025, was one of the most contentious votes of the session.

“House Bill 734 is the secondary appropriation bill for our universities,” bill sponsor Rep. James Petzke, R-Meridian, said in opening the debate for the proposed legislation Wednesday. “I’d also like to point out that we once again included language around DEI spending, very similar language to what we used last year that says that they may not use state-appropriated funds to support diversity, equity, and inclusion or social justice ideology as part of any student activities, clubs, etc., and they have to turn in a report to the Legislature to verify that.”  

However, Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, argued against the bill, saying the universities have dedicated positions promoting diversity. The District 2 Republican claimed Boise State and the University of Idaho alone have over 50 positions dedicated to LGBTQ and DEI-related agendas.

“We may say we’re not spending any state money, but the fact that they’re getting other money from another source to fund what we’ve said we don’t want them to fund and we’re still giving them $3.8 million, I say we reduce this budget $3.8 million and then they can take the $3.8 million they’re putting into the DEI and LGBTQ agenda and it's a wash,” Scott said. “So, we should not be funding this nonsense in our colleges, and for that, I am going to be a red light on this one.” 

Rep. Lori McCann, R-Lewiston, disagreed and said she favored the bill.

“We have the CAMP programs for migrant workers. We have student support services where all types of students go,” McCann said. “LCSC has a Native American population, and there is a group and an office where they can come because many of those students are first-generation students that have never been outside of their own culture.”

McCann said Idaho legislators “need to be careful that we are not saying that every single dollar that is spent is going in a nefarious way.”

When the dust settled and the votes were tallied, House Bill 734 passed the House floor in a 38-30 vote with two legislators marked absent. House Bill 734 now sits on the Senate’s third reading calendar for further consideration.  

There were multiple bills this week that failed to pass the Senate floor, including Senate Bill 1445, which was the proposed enhancement budget for the Welfare Division of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. A section of that budget provided $545,300 for the Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer program, which is a federal program that provides lunches during the summer for low-income Idaho children. 

Sen. Carrie Semmelroth, D-Boise, debated in favor of the bill, reading an email from Theresa Vawter of the Idaho Foodbank as part of her testimony.

“This program is particularly important because in Idaho we have over 40,000 children who experience food insecurity in the summer, and these rates are consistently higher in rural areas,” Semmelroth read from the email. “This program will allow children, particularly in rural Idaho, who struggle with hunger in the summer when they don’t have access to free and reduced lunches that they would receive in their schools. It would provide them with access to lunches and help address their food insecurities. This is an important program; Idaho will just only be responsible for the administration for it.” 

However, Sen. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton, argued against the bill, contending the program is easy to abuse.

“If we’re giving kids a debit card, anyone can utilize that card, and again, it was pointed out that they can take this anywhere they want to that takes food stamps, like the gas station, and be able to utilize it,” Nichols said.

The legislator said that with the national debt growing by $1 trillion every hundred days, the summer lunch program just creates more debt.

“There is no such thing as a free lunch, senators,” Nichols said. “But this is something that I feel is creating a problem because it is creating the environment of putting kids on welfare so that they continue to want to be on it.” 

The debate concluded with 10 senators voting to pass, but ultimately 25 votes in opposition, leading to the bill’s demise.

Sophie Spanbauer is an intern with the University of Idaho McClure Center for Public Policy Research and the UI JAMM News Service.