Idaho can have the brightest future possible when we are inclusive and ensure that everyone has opportunities to contribute to the success of their community. Unfortunately, our state is moving away from these ideals. It is a dark day when the governor signs three discriminatory bills into law at once, as he did this week.
House bill 440 will remove protections that help level the playing for women and people of color seeking employment with public entities. House bill 500 will require girls to prove their gender to participate in high school sports through a genital exam, DNA test, or testosterone test. House bill 509 will ban all Idahoans from changing the gender marker on their birth certificate, which is a direct violation of a recent court order and will prevent transgender Idahoans from having a birth certificate that accurately represents their identity.
The Legislature’s focus on discriminatory legislation will harm the targeted people most profoundly, including transgender children and adults, people of color, and women. But, all Idahoans will pay a price. All of us who want every member of our community to be valued saw repeated attacks on people we care about. All of us who want Idaho to garner respect saw our state’s reputation tarnished yet again in the national media. All of us who want Idaho to have a thriving, resilient economy will feel the impacts. Companies across the state warned that these bills send the message that we are a hostile place to do business. And we will all pay the price in millions of tax dollars as the state defends unconstitutional laws in court.
These perverse priorities also came at the expense of every Idahoan who wanted the Legislature to focus on our real challenges this year. Our bitter, divisive session accomplished very little, even while Idahoans share many common values that could have united us.
We could have come together to adequately fund higher education. This is a key building block of our economy, which prepares our people for careers and builds a skilled workforce. Instead, legislators squabbled over funding levels. The House killed the budget twice before finally approving a scaled-back version that sends the message that we are not interested in investing in our future.
Property tax reduction is a broadly held goal that is crucial to keeping Idahoans in their homes. Rapidly growing home values, coupled with the cap on the homeowner’s exemption enacted in 2016, have created a perfect storm for residential property taxes.
The House, however, refused to hold hearings on any sensible solutions such as increasing the homeowner’s exemption, serving more Idahoans through the circuit-breaker (property tax assistance for seniors and veterans), and allowing school districts to collect impact fees from developers so that growth pays for itself. The House only entertained proposals to cut local services, including emergency response and public health districts, while we face a global pandemic. The Senate wisely killed these harmful bills, but the political gamesmanship between the two chambers meant that we concluded the Legislative Session without any action on property taxes. We simply left many Idahoans to struggle for another year.
I hope that the Idaho Legislature can recommit to the values and priorities of Idahoans before we convene again in 2021. Pragmatism, compromise, and balance can steady our focus on the problems that Idahoans are facing every day, This focus is more important than ever as we face significant uncertainty and economic hardship brought by our current public health crisis.
Now more than ever, we need to put aside political games and focus on the best interest of Idaho families. In a time when we should be coming together, the legislature and Governor Little endorsed efforts to pit Idahoans against each other. As the coronavirus situation escalates and we begin to see the negative consequences of recent legislation, Idahoans will be looking to their leaders to take accountability for their actions. They will expect us to serve the people of Idaho, not political self-interest. I hope we can come together to meet that challenge.