Texting while driving? Hemp? Property tax relief? What the 2020 Legislature did, or didn’t do
Cynthia Sewell, Idaho Statesman
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BOISE (Idaho Statesman)– The Idaho Legislature’s 2020 session began Jan. 7 in Boise with stated goals of property tax reform, hemp legalization and promoting and encouraging the state’s booming economy.
The session ended March 20 amid a global coronavirus pandemic with lawmakers taking no major action on property tax reform or legalizing hemp and, instead, engaging in a tumultuous battle over transgender rights and other socially divisive legislation.
IDAHO’S 2020 SESSION NEW LAWS
Abortion: If the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the 1973 landmark case of Roe v. Wade, Idaho already will have a trigger law in place making abortion a crime with exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother. Criminal punishment will be a felony and apply to the person performing the abortion, not the woman. Doctors could have their licenses suspended or revoked.
Anti-affirmative action: Bans state agencies, state contracting and public education from giving special or preferential treatment to someone based on their race, color, religion, sex or age.
Child marriage: Sets minimum age to marry at 16 and restricts the age difference if one party is under age 18 to no more than three years.
City council elections: Once the 2020 Census comes out, all Idaho cities with populations 100,000 or more (Boise, Meridian, Nampa) will be required to elect councilors by geographic district, not citywide.
Conceal carry: Non-residents or visitors to Idaho who are U.S. citizens, age 18 and over and can legally possess firearms will be allowed to carry a concealed handgun without a permit or training within city limits.
First-time home buyers: Creates tax-advantaged savings accounts to encourage people to save for their first home. The allowable tax deduction is $15,000 per year for individuals and $30,000 per year for a married couples.
Medical debt collection: Requires patients receive timely notice of who provided and the cost of medical services. Also puts a limit on attorney fees related to medical debt collection.
Missing, murdered indigenous people: May 5 will be designated as awareness day for the increased homicide and violence rates among Native Americans, especially women.
Pesticide-spraying crop-dusters: To protect people on the ground from harmful chemicals, pesticide applicators are barred from applying pesticides in a careless or negligent manner and prohibited from applying ineffective or improper pesticides.
Public employee whistleblowers: Public employees who are fired or retaliated against for exposing wrongdoing and sue their employer will be limited to $370,000 in non-economic damages with no limit for economic damages. Economic damages can include loss of income and legal fees. Non-economic damages can include pain and suffering, and emotional distress.
Texting while driving: Using a handheld electronic device while driving is banned. Hands-free uses such as talking or using the navigation function are allowed. Violators receive an infraction and $75 fine.
Vaping: Vaping shops now operate without a permit or state supervision. New law requires permits, age verification on sales and other rules that apply to tobacco sellers.
Wrongful conviction: Several Idaho inmates, including some on death row, have been exonerated or otherwise released from prison after new evidence, including DNA, came to light. The state will now compensate for every year spent behind bars those prisoners who are found wrongfully convicted.
Hemp: Idaho now joins Mississippi as being the only two states in the nation where growing and processing hemp is still illegal. The federal 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp and states quickly jumped on board come up with their plans. A bill legalizing hemp for agricultural purposes only sailed through the Senate, but the House killed it due to marijuana concerns.
Guns in schools: A proposal to allow all school employees, from teachers to service workers to bus drivers, with a conceal carry permit to carry a gun on school property without having to notify fellow school employees or parents was quickly rejected.
Smoking age: In December, the federal government increased the legal tobacco smoking age from 18 to 21. Idaho lawmakers have rejected legislation to do the same, putting Idaho out of sorts with federal law.
Property tax relief: Dueling Republican factions and Democrats all pitched bills aimed at reducing residential property taxes. So what happened? Next to nothing — and everyone walked away empty-handed, except residential property owners in urban areas who can expect even heftier property tax bills. Lawmakers did agree to form an interim committee to study the issue and come up with solution before the 2021 session convenes in January.
Tax-relief fund: In addition to not providing any meaningful property tax relief, lawmakers could not agree on what to do with a special tax-relief fund that has $80 million in it and is increasing monthly. The money comes from online sales tax. Rep. Scott Bedke, R-Bedke, proposed increasing the grocery tax credit to $135 for every tax filer and their dependents, but his bill gained no traction.
PENDING TRANSGENDER BILLS
People across the country are watching to see if Gov. Brad Little will sign or veto two anti-transgender bills passed by the Legislature.
As of Saturday, he had not taken action on either bill.
If Little decides to sign them into law, the legislation’s next likely stop is the court for a lengthy and expensive legal battle.
House bill 500, sponsored by Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, would ban transgender girls and women from participating in sports that align with their gender identity.
The legislation, dubbed the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, would apply to all sports teams sponsored by public schools, colleges and universities. A girls’ or women’s team would not be open to students who were born as male, even if they identify as female. The bill does not apply to transgender students wanting to participate in boys’ or men’s sports.
House Bill 509, sponsored by Rep. Julianne Young, R-Blackfoot, makes it illegal for transgender people to change gender markers on their Idaho birth certificates. Under the bill, a birth certificate can be amended only within one year of its filing. After one year, it can be changed only via a court challenge “on the basis of fraud, duress, or material mistake of fact.”