By now you’ve heard about the Republican infighting that has brought business at the Capitol to a standstill. Reports describe their inaction as “dysfunctional” as members struggle to resolve their differences. What wasn’t reported was the fact that while the majority spent hours fighting behind closed doors, Democrats remained on the floor analyzing legislation, talking with constituents and doing the business of the people. The scene was emblematic of what we’ve done all session. From the very beginning, Democrats promised to bring legislation that was equitable for all Idahoans and to hold our counterparts in the majority accountable. That’s exactly what we did.
Education, as always, was a top priority. It must be. Idaho leaves thousands of high-paying STEM jobs unfilled every year. We simply don’t have the educational infrastructure to prepare our students for those jobs. As a result, we forgo tens of millions of dollars in unearned salary. One way to reverse that trend is to bring quality teachers into our classrooms.
We introduced the rural education recruitment plan sponsored by Rep. Sally Toone of Gooding and Rep. Paulette Jordan of Plummer. The purpose of the legislation is to recruit and retain top-notch teachers for our rural communities by offering student loan forgiveness — up to $12,000 over four years. Despite an uphill battle all session, Democrats managed to get the bill through a key hearing which means it has an opportunity to pass next year. The measure would bring much needed financial stability to great educators in areas that are suffering from critical teacher shortages.
Rep. Melissa Wintrow was a real star this year. Once again, she lead the way in passing common-sense legislation to change the way we handle sexual assault cases. Her bill creates guidelines for evidence preservation. It also requires notification to victims in the event of destruction of evidence. Protections like this mark a huge victory for survivors of sexual assault, who deserve to be taken seriously and treated with respect. In addition, she steered a resolution through the House and Senate to bring awareness to rare diseases and how they affect so many families in Idaho. Currently, parents have to travel with their kids out of state to get treatment for some of the most serious illnesses. This can’t stand. Rep. Wintrow knows Idaho has to recruit and retain neurological pediatricians so kids can get treatment in their home state.
Working across the aisle is critical to getting things done at the Capitol. No one was better at that than Rep. Ilana Rubel who won passage of bipartisan legislation to reform Idaho’s Civil Asset Forfeiture laws. Under her bill, law enforcement can no longer confiscate property that has no connection to a drug crime other than being “in proximity” to a controlled substance. Additionally, the bill makes clear that possession of cash, without any evidence of a drug offense, is not grounds to seize that cash. Rep. Rubel is also working with a Republican co-sponsor to reform Idaho’s mandatory minimum statute for drug offenses. This antiquated sentencing scheme takes discretion away from your judges and imposes predetermined sentences for all drug offenders. Countless lives and taxpayer dollars have been wasted under these laws and they need to change. Representative Rubel realizes this and is primed to bring this legislation to the House floor next session with Republican support.
Finally, I am proud of the work I did pushing through bipartisan legislation to combat the most dangerous foreign invader Idaho faces: namely the Quagga Mussel. This pestilence has reared its ugly head in Nevada, Montana and Utah. It has the potential to cause tens of millions of dollars in damage to our economy and marine infrastructure. I’m doing all I can to keep it out of Idaho. The bills I introduced and cosponsored will raise the out-of-state fee for boat tags, fund the installation of three new boat checkpoints across the state and give law enforcement the tools they need to keep invasive species out of Idaho. Recently, the Twin Falls Sheriff quarantined a boat coming up from Nevada which contained live Quagga Mussels. Invasive species are a critical threat to our economy and way of life. Luckily, we are up to the task.
Democrats are here to serve all Idahoans. That’s not just talk. Our record speaks for itself. Republicans can squabble all they want, but while they’re bickering we’ll be where we always are: on the floor working for you.
[This op-ed was featured in the Idaho State Journal on March 25th, 2017]