Statehouse roundup, 2.17.20: Lawmakers vote to take bite out of grocery tax

Trustees from across Idaho watch presentations in the Senate Education Committee during Day on the Hill, an annual Statehouse gathering hosted by the Idaho School Boards Association. Sami Edge/Idaho EdNews


A bill to boost Idaho’s grocery tax credit is headed to the House floor.

House Bill 494 will provide all Idahoans with a $135-per-person income tax credit, designed to offset the sales taxes they pay on groceries. Currently, most Idahoans receive a $100-per-person credit and seniors receive $120.

Supporters say the state can increase the credit without dipping into the state’s general fund — which provides tax revenue for K-12 and higher education. And supporters say an increased credit will effectively cover the sales taxes most Idahoans pay on groceries. For a family of six, for example, the credits would cover $13,500 of food purchases per year, or $1,125 monthly, said House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, one of the bill’s sponsors.

Some Republican colleagues were unconvinced.

Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, again argued for an outright grocery tax repeal — a move that would likely cut into the state general fund. She said a repeal would help retailers in border communities, honor the wishes of Idahoans and adhere to the Idaho Republican Party’s platform. For some Idahoans, the increased grocery tax credit will exceed their income tax bill, and Giddings dismissed HB 494 as a redistribution of wealth.

“(It’s) a Bernie Sanders plan that’s going through Idaho,” she said.

Last week, Giddings tried to convince the House Revenue and Taxation to print a grocery tax repeal bill. It failed, as did a similar repeal bill.

Rep. Greg Chaney supported the repeal bills last week, but urged committee members to get behind an increased credit. “We’re going to allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good.”

Ultimately, Revenue and Taxation sent the increased credit to the House floor, with a recommendation that it pass. Giddings and Rep. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton, voted no.

Transgender athletics bill: an update

A bill to ban transgender girls and women from participating in girls’ and women’s sports is taking an unusual path through the Legislature.

House Bill 500 will not go through the House Education Committee — which held a brief and somewhat heated introductory hearing on the bill last week. Instead, it will go through the House State Affairs Committee, a far-reaching panel that often addresses hot-button social issues.

House leadership has latitude to assign bills to committees. But the reasons behind the move aren’t clear. Bedke did not immediately respond to an email from Idaho Education News Monday afternoon, and House State Affairs Chairman Steven Harris said he did not know why the bill landed in his committee.

“We just get the assignments,” Harris, R-Meridian, said in an email Monday afternoon.

House Education Chairman Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, said he had little insight into the decision, but said, “Apparently State Affairs is where this type bill has gone in the past.”

HB 500’s sponsor, Rep. Barbara Ehardt, said she was surprised her bill started out in House Education in the first place. The Idaho Falls Republican said she has been working with House and Senate State Affairs committee members on this issue for months.

“But I’ll present wherever they put me,” Ehardt said in an email late Monday evening.

It’s unclear when HB 500 will get its next hearing, but it won’t happen before Wednesday. No hearing date has been set, but Harris said he hopes to hold a hearing “soon.” House State Affairs does not meet Tuesday, and its Wednesday agenda has not yet been posted.

House State Affairs could hear another bill related to transgender rights: House Bill 509, which would prohibit Idahoans from changing the gender markers on their birth certificate. That bill has also been routed to House State Affairs.

Payette River Regional Technical Academy board member Susan Jenkins walks into a senate education committee hearing on Feb. 17, during the Idaho School Boards Association’s annual Day on the Hill.

Teacher ‘grow your own’ bill

With a roomful of trustees in attendance, the Senate Education Committee endorsed a bill designed to help rural schools address their teacher shortage.

Senate Bill 1325 tries to accomplish two things. First, it would allow schools to use  professional development money to help paraprofessionals get a teaching certificate. Second, paraprofessionals would be able to use Opportunity Scholarship dollars to take college courses to pursue their certificate.

This two-headed approach will not completely solve the rural teacher shortage, said Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, the bill’s sponsor. “But it will maybe move the needle just a little bit.”

Karen Pyron — a Butte County school trustee, in town for the Idaho School Boards Association’s annual lobbying tour — was among three speakers urging the committee to pass SB 1325. No one spoke against the bill.

A divided committee sent SB 1325 to the Senate floor, with Republicans Carl Crabtree of Grangeville and Lori Den Hartog of Meridian voting no.

Senate Education met Monday in the Statehouse’s largest hearing room, the Lincoln Auditorium. Trustees filled nearly all of the auditorium’s 200 seats. After a series of presentations, trustees gave a standing ovation to Senate Education Chairman Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, who is retiring after the 2020 session.

Caldwell Superintendent Shalene French, alongside superintendents and school board members from around the state watch a presentation in the Senate Education Committee during ISBA’s annual Day on the Hill.

Lewis-Clark State College

With no debate, the House passed a bill to allow Lewis-Clark State College to offer graduate-level courses if approved by the State Board of Education.

Rep. Paul Amador, R-Coeur d’Alene, pushed House Bill 395. He said it would allow Lewis-Clark State College to meet a request from Kootenai Health to provide higher level medical training.

“This is a great opportunity for northern Idaho,” Amador said. “We have a really critical need for health science professionals; we have a rapidly growing population.”

The bill passed 60-8. Two House Education members, Reps. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, and Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley, voted against the bill without explaining their opposition.

House Bill 395 next heads to the Senate for consideration.

Idaho Education News reporter Clark Corbin contributed to this article. 

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

Get EdNews in your inbox

Weekly round up every Friday