Legislative roundup, 3.12.21: A reworked tax bill makes its debut

A $389.4 million tax-cut proposal surfaced Friday.

Sponsored by House Revenue and Taxation Committee Chairman Steven Harris, R-Meridian — and co-sponsored by the four members of House GOP leadership — House Bill 332 would do two things:

  • It would reduce all income tax brackets permanently, a $169.4 million tax cut.
  • It would provide Idahoans with one-time rebates — of $50 per person or dependent, or 9 percent of 2019 income taxes, whichever is greater. The rebates carry a $220 million price tag.

The emergence of the tax bill, at the end of the ninth week of the 2021 session, could set the stage for a long-anticipated debate over tax relief.

At the start of the session, Gov. Brad Little called for $455 million in permanent and one-time tax cuts, but said he would leave it to legislators to work out the details. To date, no major bill has emerged from Revenue and Taxation, the legislative jumping-off point for all tax bills.

The outcome of the tax debate could directly affect education funding. Education receives roughly 60 percent of the state’s general fund budget. Sales and income taxes account for the general fund.

Revenue and Taxation voted to introduce the tax bill Friday on a voice vote, Betsy Russell of the Idaho Press reported.

On Friday, a Democratic Revenue and Taxation member said the GOP plan would lavish wealthy Idahoans with large tax breaks. A couple earning $50,000 a year would receive a $100 rebate, but for a couple earning $1 million, the rebate would come in at $6,000.

“In a year when working people and small businesses have struggled profoundly, it is stunning to see another GOP plan that heaps tax breaks onto the people who need them the least,” said Rep. Lauren Necochea, D-Boise.

Virtual charter funding bill heads to Little

A one-year plan to fund rapidly growing charter schools is headed to Little’s desk.

House Bill 22, first proposed by Rep. Lance Clow and then amended by the Senate, was again approved by the House Friday.

The bill lifts an obscure funding cap on charter schools, which limits annual funding growth to 30 new “support units,” a measure of funding roughly equal to a classroom full of kids. The cap threatened to curb funding for two virtual charter schools, the Idaho Virtual Academy and Inspire Connections, which absorbed skyrocketing enrollment during the pandemic. Enrollment at IDVA doubled from 1,736 in 2019-20 to 3,818 this school year and required IDVA to fill more than 70 new full-time positions.

No one seemed to realize the cap was in place until recently, after the virtual charters accepted hundreds of new students from across the state.

Clow, R-Twin Falls, initially proposed lifting the cap indefinitely. Senators, alarmed about potential future ramifications, amended the bill to lift the cap for the 2020-21 alone. The move would approve an additional $6.1 million in funding to those virtual charter schools to cover the cost of 55 extra support units.

The House passed the amended bill on a 68-1 vote.

House OKs vaccine exemption disclosure bill

A bill by Gayann DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, which would require districts to disclose vaccine exemptions to parents also sailed through the House, on a 59-10 vote. It heads next to the Senate for consideration.

The bill would require school districts to describe, and cite, Idaho’s vaccine exemptions for school children on any communication they send to parents about immunization.

Idaho parents can already opt students out of required school immunizations for health reasons, or because of religious or other objections. It’s one of the country’s most lenient vaccination exemptions, and Idaho’s vaccine opt-out rates are among the highest in the nation. 

The Idaho School Boards Association testified against the bill in committee, arguing it could further relax vaccination expectations.

Rep. Chad Christensen, R-Iona, testified in favor of the bill on the floor. He told representatives that he received a “strong-armed” letter from his son’s school threatening to kick the unvaccinated student out of school if the family didn’t follow Idaho code.

“It was a very intimidating letter if you didn’t know the law,” Christensen said. “I encourage you to support this bill. Parents have a right to know how to proceed with their children.”

Idaho Education News covered Friday’s hearings remotely.

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