With no debate — but one razor-thin vote — the Legislature brought down the gavel on the 2023 session Thursday.
The House came within a single vote of overriding Gov. Brad Little’s veto of House Bill 314 — a controversial bill forbidding school and public libraries from distributing “harmful” materials to minors.
The 46-24 House vote fell shy of the two-thirds supermajority needed to override a veto. That vote left Little’s veto intact — and essentially brought the 88-day session to an anticlimactic close.
The Senate, which never got the chance to vote on the override, adjourned for the year at 12:31 p.m.
The House followed suit at 12:37 p.m.
The library override vote
Barely a week ago, the Legislature completed its first successful veto override in 16 years — passing a comprehensive property tax relief bill over Little’s objections.
The House almost pulled it off again.
Convening on Thursday, Little’s deadline for signing or vetoing bills from the session, the House quickly took up the HB 314 veto.
No lawmaker debated for or against the override — a marked contrast from Friday, when the library bill generated a tense, extended floor debate. The House wound up passing the bill 42-26 Friday, sending it to Little’s desk.
Three House members flipped their vote Thursday — supporting the override after opposing the bill Friday: Republican Reps. Dustin Manwaring of Pocatello and Steven Miller of Fairfield and Democratic Rep. Brooke Green of Boise. Green later tweeted that she voted yes by mistake. A few minutes later, she asked the House to allow her to change her vote to no, but her motion was deemed out of order, and her vote stood.
Rep. Josh Wheeler, R-Ammon, missed Friday’s vote but supported the override Thursday, bringing the number of yes votes to 46.
After Thursday’s narrow vote, the Idaho Library Association praised the lawmakers who sided with Little.
“Although this legislative session is over, there is still work to do,” the association said in a news release. “We hope that Idahoans who care about their libraries and the freedom of parents to choose what is right for their own families will continue to engage with lawmakers on this issue.”
While Thursday’s override bid failed, House Republican leaders said the library vote and the property tax vote illustrated that lawmakers were willing to stand as a separate entity.
“The Legislature kind of asserted its independence,” said House Majority Leader Megan Blanksma, R-Hammett, during a postsession leadership news conference.
Explaining his vote for the override, Manwaring, the House’s GOP caucus chair, expressed similar sentiments. “I looked at that as protecting the caucus, and protecting the House.”
Roughly an hour after the session adjourned, Little hailed the session as a success — particularly in education.
In a news release, Little praised lawmakers for passing Idaho Launch, which will provide high school graduates with up to $8,000 for community college, career-technical education or workforce training; his $145 million proposal to boost teacher pay; and $30 million in permanent state funding for the Empowering Parents education grants program. And despite the override, Little still gave himself a share of the credit for passing “simple enduring property tax relief.”
House Speaker Mike Moyle hailed the K-12 budgets — which, coupled with money earmarked in September’s one-day special session, will boost overall funding by 16.4%. And he pointed out that schools will receive at least $100 million from the property tax overhaul, to pay down bonds or levies or cover future projects. “Schools did very well,” Moyle, R-Star, said during a Thursday afternoon news conference.
A legislative sponsor of Idaho Launch, Blanksma said the workforce training program will work in concert with a $50 million spending boost for high school CTE programs. “The combination of the two programs are really going to do well for Idaho.”
Moyle did point to a couple of pieces of unfinished business: libraries and school choice. Several proposals to offer education savings accounts, private tuition grants or tax credits surfaced during the 88-day session, but none passed.
Moyle said lawmakers still haven’t had the chance to put all of their private education funding ideas on the table. The school choice issue isn’t going away, he said, and neither is the library issue.
“Sometimes it takes a couple of years to get to a solution,” he said.
Democrats celebrated some session wins in their own news conference Thursday, but their hope was tinged with concerns about the state’s future.
Democratic leaders Sen. Melissa Wintrow and Rep. Ilana Rubel, both of Boise, touted the passage of Idaho Launch, pay raises for teachers, increased state funding for school classified staff, and property tax relief. But the wins came with caveats — Idaho Launch barely survived the 2023 session; education budgets divided Republican lawmakers, provoking debates over diversity and inclusion efforts on college campuses; and the property tax law eliminated the March school election date.
“Those votes to invest in our schools were not a slam dunk in this Legislature,” Wintrow said.
She coupled her comments with a shoutout to Reclaim Idaho, crediting the grassroots organization for spearheading the effort to increase K-12 funding. Reclaim’s school funding voter initiative never made it on the November ballot; it was pulled after the Legislature passed $410 million for education funding during the one-day special session in September.
Wintrow and Rubel also celebrated the deaths of some high-profile bills, like the multiple pushes for education savings accounts, bills calling for direct election of State Board of Education members, and the vetoed libraries bill.
But Wintrow and Rubel said similar bills are bound to resurface in 2024.
Read more: What happened, and didn’t happen, during the 2023 session? We have a detailed rundown.