The issues facing lawmakers ahead of the 2013 session of the Idaho Legislature, set to begin Monday, Jan. 7, couldn’t be larger: from implementing the Affordable Care Act to dealing with the repeal of Students Come First, better known as the Luna Laws.
Additionally, the Idaho House's newly elected speaker, Oakley Republican Rep. Scott Bedke, points out that many members of the Legislature are new to the job.
“Every other person, nearly, in the House of Representatives is new,” Bedke told a group of reporters today at a legislative preview event arranged by the Associated Press.
There are new faces in the Senate as well, according to President Pro Tempore Sen. Brent Hill of Rexburg, who noted that half of the Legislature’s committees will be led by new chairmen.
“We don’t know what to expect this year,” said Hill. “None of us knows what to expect this year.”
Yet some of that uncertainty will likely be cleared up Monday, Jan. 7, when Idaho’s most prominent Republican, Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, delivers his annual State of the State address.
“I will tell you the state of the state is in pretty good shape,” Otter told members of the media today. “It’s in great shape when I compare it to some of the stories of my colleagues in other states.”
Otter joined Republican and Democrat leadership in outlining the issues of the coming months. For Otter, his priorities include issuing what he called a “structurally sound” budget recommendation for the coming year, but he didn’t shy away from talking about policy objectives.
Referencing the Election Day 2012 repeal of education reforms spearheaded by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, Otter said the process was flawed, and was probably not as open as it should have been.
“It’s difficult to establish consensus if you’re only talking to yourself or a couple of other folks,” he said.
Speaking after the governor, Hill and Bedke said lawmakers would be tasked with mending problems left in the wake of voter's decisions Nov. 6.
“There are some consequences with the repeal of the education reform laws that left some schools hanging, that left some school teachers hanging, and we need to rectify that,” Hill said.
Without citing specifics, Hill said the future of the education reform debate would need to focus on making decisions with stakeholder input, while focusing on students. Otter and Republican leadership also mentioned a proposal that critics say could leave schools in the lurch, a push to do away with the state’s personal property tax.
“I will be addressing what my idea might be in the State of the State budget,” Otter said. “I think there's a path forward without doing harm to the local units of government.”
On personal property tax repeal, Hill and Bedke were less willing to discuss details. Hill said the process would require evaluating input from cities, counties and the public.
“We’ve got lots of different variables, and to come to a compromise, something we can live with, it’s going to be a lot of different dials,” said Hill.
When asked if he personally supported doing away with the personal property tax, Bedke was inclined to defer to his new position as speaker.
“I have 57 perfectly good Republican caucus members, and they think they’re the best person to sit in that seat,” said Bedke. “And I want to see what they have to say.”