The Good Old Days
Idaho’s lawmakers lead the charge
Idaho’s fiscal year began on July 1, and with that came a flurry of new laws passed by the Idaho Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Brad Little. There were 314 bills passed, which is remarkable considering the Legislature is only in session for about three months of the year. If you were to assume they plodded along in linear fashion, which surely they do not, that would be about three or so bills per day. That’s three bills read, debated and voted on in a day. Most people don’t brush their teeth three times a day.
It is often said, “It would take an act of Congress” to overcome this or that Herculean hurdle. Not so in Idaho. Here, new laws are more akin to candy being hurled at the crowd watching a Fourth of July parade. Certainly, the task is made easier by the raw numbers. Republicans make up 80% of the state Senate, 84% of the House, and 100% of the executive branch. It’s a supermajority edging towards a monarchy.
I’ve lived in Idaho for 30 years, and I’m embarrassed to say I have never looked up the annual state legislative record. It’s easy to do in Idaho; it’s all neatly organized, linked up, and searchable at https://legislature.idaho.gov/sessioninfo/. As my mom used to say, “It’s more fun than a poke in the eye with a hot stick.”
It turns out a lot of those 314 bills are appropriations bills, basically formalizing the money flow from the state government (that is, taxpayers) to individual programs and departments. These would be funds for things like the Idaho National Guard, Parks and Recreation Department, and the Department of Corrections. It’s perfunctory stuff but not particularly riveting.
There were some seemingly reasonable bills, like H 213, that provides money to help Idaho nurses working in rural areas repay their student loans.
Access to healthcare in rural areas—in which 15% of the U.S. population lives—is a real issue, at least until the day we get our prostate exams and mammograms from chatbot doctors and nurses. Rural areas have higher poverty rates, older people—who have more chronic health issues—higher rates of substance abuse, and lower rates of health insurance. Idaho, in particular, has 28% of its population living in rural counties, which make up 88% of the state’s total land area. The more we can encourage and make it practicable for doctors and nurses to serve rural areas the better.
And then there was a slough of predictable bills—as you might expect in a near monarchy—that you might classify as dog-pile legislative fiats: anything remotely related to sex or voting.
On the sex front, the Legislature started with the basics and codified into law (H 228) a definition of abstinence. Apparently, it has changed.
House Bill 71 makes it a felony to provide puberty blocking drugs and hormones used in gender-affirming care to minors. Gender reassignment surgery—or “genital mutilation” as defined in the bill—is also illegal. I have to hand it to the legislators, adding the word “mutilation” to the bill makes it sound like they are saving the world. In fact, adding “mutilation” to just about anything pretty much seals its fate in the arena of public opinion. Even something like carcinoma mutilation sounds like it should be illegal.
Another such transformative word Idaho lawmakers latched on to was “trafficking.” With H 242, the Idaho Legislature became the first state in the nation to coin the term “abortion trafficking.” The bill makes it illegal to obtain abortion pills for a minor or help them seek an abortion in another state without the knowledge and consent of the parents. Conviction comes with a two-to-five-year sentence. The father, grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles of what they are terming the “pre-born child” can also sue the guilty party for damages. While parents who rape their child can’t sue the trafficker, criminal charges still apply to anyone who helps the mother get an abortion in the wake of a rape. In addition, state Attorney General Raul Labrador has interpreted the statute to mean that physicians are traffickers when they refer patients to abortion providers outside the state.
On the voting front, Idaho student IDs are no longer valid for voting (H 124). That’s not really a surprise. Earlier in the year, the Idaho Republican State Central Committee (a rather intimidating name) stripped the Idaho Federation of Republican Women, College Republicans, and Young Republicans of the right to vote on the organization’s executive committee. I guess they figured that too many voices would muddy the message.
There is some irony here, as few probably know that Idaho was the fourth state in the nation to give women the right to vote. That was in 1896 and 24 years before the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified. I know “progressive” is a nasty word these days—kind of like mutilation—but the 19th century Idahoans were truly progressive.
The bigger voting news, however, was that the super-duper majorities in the House and Senate, in trying to move the Idaho Republican primary to a more influential date (earlier on the primary calendar), somehow managed to legislate away the Idaho Republican primary altogether. Not that it matters in the reddest of red states, but lawmakers went from Idahoans having an influential voice to having no voice at all in choosing the Republican nominee for president. That oops moment was subsequently remedied by the Republican State Central Committee when it decided to implement a caucus for the nominating process.
What’s the difference between a caucus and a primary?
In general, primaries are run by the state, paid for by the state and held with secret balloting. Caucuses are run by the individual political parties and are anything but anonymous voting. Voters must participate in person at a given place and time.
The real difference comes down to turnout, or lack thereof. In the one Idaho caucus the Republican Party has held, in the 2012 presidential election cycle, a reported 44,672 people voted. Four years later, Idaho scrapped the caucus system and held a primary. In that election, over 225,000 people voted—a five-fold increase.
The political wizards, which I am not, always harp on the need for parties to provide “a bigger tent.” It seems Idaho is going the other way in search of the Holy Grail: the one-man tent.
Perhaps the session’s coup de grâce, literally, was House Bill 186. This one reinstated the firing squad for death penalty cases. It seems pentobarbital, the drug of choice for lethal injections, is hard to get, even with Amazon Prime. So, we’re back to shooting people in Idaho. I suspect there will be no supply chain issues with the new policy.
I personally think the death penalty is a waste of time and money, but it is the law in Idaho. So, shooting someone seems as effective as anything. Maybe unusual, but it doesn’t strike me as particularly cruel. Bullets travel at 1,700 miles per hour; it’s got to be a quick and painless death.
However, I imagine most people who suffer the murder of a loved one would be so consumed with anger and hate that they would demand something crueler. I would. Surely lawmakers can come up with something more torturous, but that will have to wait for the next session.
And finally, to prove they are not dinosaurs, the Idaho legislators passed into law S 1127.
The bill designates Oryctodromeus (Ory) as the state dinosaur of Idaho. Only 17 other states can claim a state dinosaur. According to the bill’s text: “First discovered in 2006, Oryctodromeus, which means ‘digging runner,’ was a small, swift herbivore that lived during the Cretaceous Period. In its maturity, Oryctodromeus was about 7 feet long and weighed approximately 70 pounds. It is one of the only dinosaurs known to have cared for its young.”
I guess the moral of the story is that sometimes we have to look backwards to see where we’re going. Yes, the dinosaurs went extinct. But, on the upside, they ruled the world for 165 million years. That’s not bad for a monarchy.
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