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The 2017 Idaho Legislative Session began on January 9, and ended March 29, in the state capitol, Boise.

March 30, 2017
Writer: Mackenzie Holbrook

The 2017 Idaho Legislative Session ended yesterday and we spoke with representatives Mat Erpelding and Ron Nate about the ups and downs of the session.

Mat Erpelding, the minority leader in the House of Representatives, said he thinks its best that the session ended for the year.

"We did it," Erpelding said. "We adjourned sine die. I believe that on my side, the minority side, we did some really great things for Idaho, and we also stopped some really bad things for Idaho. But as people get increasingly tired, they become a little restless and less likely to really work with one another, and so now's the time to go home. Leave on a high note."

Sine die means the session has adjourned without a future designated date to resume.

Representative Nate said he thinks the House and the Senate did a lot of good things for the state this year.

"One of the good things we did, was we got a tax cut to the governor," Nate said. "And I think it's a big one and a significant one, one that a lot of Idahoans wants, it's the repeal of the grocery tax and it would matter a lot to hard working families in Idaho. I would encourage the governor to sign it, I would encourage people in the district to give the governor a call and let him know that's something they want as well."

Despite this, Nate said he feels they missed some opportunities throughout the session to help lighten the burden of Idahoans.

"There were more opportunities for tax cuts, and not only that, we had some transportation and road issues we needed to address, but by the time we got to it at the end of the session, it ended up that the only bill we got to vote on was a $300 million bill to borrow federal money to build roads," Nate said. "Even though we had a lot of money, we still felt the need to borrow."

Representative Erpelding said he saw four really good things happen for the state of Idaho this session.

"The biggest is recognizing the threat of invasive species to our waterways and protecting all areas of Idaho as best we can by allocating more resources and raising revenue from out of state boaters who really represent the most risk to our state," Erpelding said.

He said another important legislation that passed this year was the further protection of victims of sexual assault.

"Idaho has some of the most archaic laws on sexual assault around, and we have made some real improvements," Erpelding said.

Representative Nate said that to him, the most important needs that were met during this session were education, transportation and tax relief.

"I was talking all session-long about the need to pay teachers more," Nate said. "We did the fourth step on the career ladder, which was another pay increase. We could have even done more than that to make us more competitive with other states, but we did take a step in the right direction there. The other need was transportation and, like I said, we had the money to do transportation right without having to borrow it, but, nonetheless, we put some extra money in for emergency road needs because it was a hard winter in Idaho. And the third one, was tax relief and there were a lot more opportunities to give tax relief than what we did. The grocery tax repeal is big, but we could have done a lot more, we could have done significant income tax cuts, corporate income tax cuts and also tales tax cuts if we really put our mind to it."

Representative Nate says he's pleased that the legislature was able to address the needs of transportation in Idaho and the public education system.

"We can get around easier, we have a good education system for our kids," Nate said. "I still think Idaho's education is top notch. We have good teachers, we just have to make sure they're paid well enough that they want to stay here. I think their lives are being met and we're doing the right things with public policy. We could lower their tax burden, though. There's a lot of money flowing around that capitol. We could make their lives a little bit better - even let them keep more of what they earn, instead of spending up the money that happens to be in Boise. Transportation and education were the two biggest needs. We made sure those were met, we had the resources to do it and those things are getting taken care of."

Representative Erpelding said it's interesting to watch how the democrats in the state steer the conversation in committees and on the floor.

"I think for us it's a banner year in showing how much the democrats actually steer the conversation," Erpelding said. "If you think about it, we were responsible for passing a bill that made sure that children that have been plagued by emotional disturbances are eligible for medical assistance. We were responsible for ensuring that those who have hearing impairments get sign language interpreters who are actually qualified. We were responsible for making sure that the attorney general's office - you know, the office that ensure we are in compliance with our constitution - actually had the funding to keep going forward."

Representative Nate said throughout the session, they were able to expose one of the flaws that's developed in the committee system.

"Committee chairs have been using, kind of, unilateral decision-making to decide what bills get heard and what bills get stopped right at the chairman's drawer. In the rules and in the Idaho constitution, there's nothing that provides for that, and so we wanted to make it clear that when constituents come to us with good bills and good bill ideas, they ought to at least get a hearing and get an up or down vote by a committee, and maybe even an up or down vote in the Senate and the House, instead of just one person stopping it before it starts. And so, we've passed some light on that, hopefully going forward. We have commitments from leadership to change that process a bit and make it so constituents' voices can be heard better - more of a bottom-up approach, than a top-down approach to legislation."

The Idaho Legislature will reconvene in January 2018.