The 2024 Idaho legislative session begins Monday at the Idaho State Capitol in Boise, where Republican legislators will look to expand the Idaho Legislature’s power and influence through budgetary changes and a slew of election year policy bills.
Although there is no time limit for the annual legislative session, legislators will spend the next 70 to 90 days setting each element of the fiscal year 2025 state budget and considering new bills and administrative rules.
This year, two forces are expected to play a role in influencing the legislative process – the 2024 elections that will touch nearly all levels of government and a series of substantial changes to how the Idaho Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee sets the state budget.
Idaho legislators readying budget committee process changes
Starting next week, legislators will implement several changes to how the state sets its budgets and ultimately pays its bills.
JFAC co-chairs Sen. Scott Grow, R-Eagle, and Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, announced several changes in October and November to how the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee will conduct its meetings and set budgets during the 2024 session. On Thursday, Grow and Horman provided more details about the changes during the Idaho Press Club’s Legislative Preview event.
Those changes include:
- Shorter public budget hearings each day during the session. The two JFAC co-chairs said they anticipate replacing the traditional three-hour daily budget hearings with abridged 90 minute public hearings followed by 90-minute private working groups where legislators will work in smaller groups, behind closed doors to actually write the state budget bills. JFAC leaders say the change is designed to let them use their time more efficiently and begin writing state budget bills earlier during the legislative session so they don’t all backup during the late stages of the session.
- Implementing new legislative spending limits that come from JFAC co-chairs Grow and Horman. The spending caps will be designed to place restraints on agency budgets and gubernatorial budget requests in order to leave funding available for new legislative proposals that come up during the session. Horman and Grow told reporters Thursday they have not finalized the spending limits yet. Separating agency budgets requests into different bills so that the existing “maintenance budget” is separated from the new requests for spending that come forward each year in the form of budget line items or replacement costs.
- Launching a new budget website that is designed to increase transparency in the budget process by making more documents and resources available. The move will also allow JFAC members to go digital and access the documents from electronic devices instead of reams of budget books and paper documents.
Several legislators said the changes are designed to give the Idaho Legislature more influence in the budget setting process instead of automatically deferring to the budget recommendations that Gov. Brad Little will unveil Monday.
“We collectively as a Legislature are always battling – and that’s the normal process – we’re always battling just what the governor has proposed,” Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian, said Thursday. “And I think some of these changes in the Joint (Finance-Appropriations) Committee will give the opportunity for the Legislature, which does set the state budget, to have an opportunity to put a stake in the ground and say ‘these priorities are important to us.’”
“Our colleagues come here with priorities as well and some of those cost money, and we want to make sure that there is room in the budget for legislative priorities as well as executive branch priorities,” Horman said Thursday.
With state revenues potentially leveling off and the influx of federal COVID-19 relief funds expiring or being spent down, Grow said JFAC can use its new spending limits to limit the growth of the state budget.
“We will work with each of our working groups to encourage them to stay within those limits so that we make sure that we don’t have these large increases we’ve had over the last couple of years with spending,” Grow said Thursday.
These new JFAC changes follow on the heels of a series of changes that were initiated last year after Rep. Mike Moyle, R-Star, was elected speaker of the Idaho House of Representatives and Horman and Grow were named as JFAC co-chairs. Last year, Moyle took away one of the Democrats’ seats on JFAC after he said the representation did not reflect the Republican supermajority in the Idaho Legislature. Legislative leaders also agreed to changes in how JFAC votes, which will carry over from 2023 into 2024. JFAC will still vote jointly, but the votes of Idaho House and Idaho Senate members serving on the committee will also be announced separately.
Follow the Idaho Legislature from anywhere
Idaho Public Television’s Idaho In Session program will stream live video of all of the Idaho Legislature’s committee meetings and floor sessions each day for free. Access the streams and archives of meetings via Idaho in Session’s website. Agendas for the Idaho Legislature’s committee hearings and floor sessions are posted on the Idaho Legislature’s website daily.
Moyle, the speaker of the Idaho House, said he expects several debates that started in 2023 to continue into the new 2024 session, including debates over school choice and school funding, elections, materials in public libraries, transportation funding initiatives, and Medicaid enrollment and funding. Moyle said he also expects to consider a potential new income tax cut and tweaks to the property tax bill legislators passed in 2023.
Meanwhile, Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, and House Assistant Minority Leader Lauren Necochea, D-Boise, said they will focus on programs to support working families in Idaho. Democrats will work defensively to protect funding for Medicaid and Little’s Idaho Launch grant program, which provides Idaho high school graduates or homeschool students with $8,000 they can use for workforce training for in-demand careers through career-technical education or two-year or four-year college programs.
“A common thread in our priorities will be to be the strong voice for working families, trying to make it more affordable to raise the next generations of kids in Idaho,” Necochea said Thursday. “We tend to look at our tax code every year. Of course our tax code in Idaho every year is getting more and more upside down with every passing year, and today a mom buying essentials like diapers and food for her kids is going to pay a higher tax rate than what corporations pay on their profits.”
On Thursday, Wintrow and Necochea also called for reinstating the maternal mortality review committee that investigates pregnancy-related deaths, lowering the two-thirds supermajority requirement necessary to approve a school bond issue and addressing the backlog of school facilities needs in the state’s aging school buildings.
Before the session began, legislative leaders set a nonbinding target to adjourn the session March 22. As a general rule during election years, legislative leaders look to adjourn the session in time for legislators to return to their home districts and campaign for re-election before the primary election, which is scheduled for May 21.
All 105 seats in the Idaho Legislature expire this year and are up for election.
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