A look back at the 2015 legislative session

By Rep. Ken Andrus

Each legislative session has its idiosyncrasies. This one was transportation funding and the development of the final bill that provides funding. The vote ended the session April 11 at 1:30 a.m. That’s right — in the middle of the night. This is the first time in 11 years that I can recall that I have voted to raise taxes per se. A difficult issue and a hard vote. Some legislators opted to vote against additional transportation funding, so a vote of raising taxes was not on their record. Some wanted no additional funding, others preferred all to come from the general fund, while some wanted all increase to come from user fees — fuel taxes and registrations.
The result: a 7 cent increase in fuel taxes and a $21 increase in registrations for cars and small trucks and a $25 increase in large trucks, $140 and $75 to electric cars and hybrid cars respectfully. In all, those increases will raise $94 million.
General fund money would go to transportation after growth reaches 4 percent, and 1 percent is put into the stabilization account. At that benchmark, half of the increase would be available for road and bridge maintenance and improvement, and $40 million to $70 million would be available from the general fund at present revenue growth. The Idaho transportation Department requested $262 million per year for maintenance alone and much more again for new construction.
This was the most controversial issue of the session. Why should we need to raise fuel taxes when more cars are on the road and people are driving more miles thus consuming more taxed fuel? The reason I felt justified in voting for a tax increase is that cars used to get 10-13 mpg and are now getting 20-24 mpg resulting in more miles on the road per tax dollar spent.
Sixty two  percent of the public surveyed agreed with a tax increase for roads.
Education received an increase — additional operational funding and an increase in beginning teacher’s salaries from $31,750 to $37,000 over 5 years- a significant raise. Sadly, some tenured teachers received little increase in salary.
Other significant legislation:SB1011 to repeal historical horse racing because the machines being used to bet on historical horse races simulated casino type gambling machines and violate Idaho constitutional provisions for gambling. The gambling venue owners and the horse racing owners objected strongly and Governor Otter vetoed the bill — a seldom occurrence. Since the Governor did not return the vetoed bill to the Senate within the five required days (a Saturday), the veto may be invalid. The courts will decide.
Of local importance is a law that would prohibit private property being taken by eminent domain for recreational and greenway paths. Very significant as well as controversial.
House bill 154 restricts telemedicine abortions performed unless a medical doctor is present to give examination and prescribe medicine.
Second amendment advocates were disappointed when a bill to repeal requirements of permit to carry concealed weapon was not successful. The restriction on concealed carry, outside city limits, was removed in HB301, however.
Senate Bill 1146 — known as Alexis’ law provides limited affirmation defense for possession of cannabidiol (CBD). This oil is used to reduce the number and duration of seizures, particularly in children suffering from epilepsy. I originally voted against this bill, not wanting to legalize any form of marijuana, which is also against federal law. After reconsideration, I supported. Several parents testified that this oil is the only treatment they have found to reduce occurrence of seizures in their children. The oil contains only trace amounts of THC, so addicts are not using it to get “high”.
An attempt to hold a constitutional convention for a balanced budget amendment to the federal constitution failed. Although requiring the federal government to balance their budget would be great, conventions cannot be limited and detrimental amendments may be passed. I cannot support the risk.
Presidential primary bill (SB1066) was adopted providing an election on the 2nd Tuesday in March. This will allow a party to participate in choosing a candidate for President of the United states and replaces Idaho’s presidential caucus.
The federal government own 60 percentof the land within Idaho’s borders. If the state owned that land or even managed it like we do state owned land presently, it would generate 200-240 million annually. I see no valid reason to not join Utah and other states to control this land and benefit from the resources. Idahoans are resistant — lack of access, selling off to private enterprise, cost of fighting fires, and cost of management are not valid objections. All can be addressed and if necessary by state constitutional amendment. If $240 million were added to our state revenue fund annually, we wouldn’t be raising taxes for roads or under funding education.

This article was submitted by state Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs.