Old ideas surround new Idaho legislative session for 2016

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BOISE, Idaho (AP) — It's no secret that rejected proposals haunt the halls of the Idaho Statehouse.

Tax reform failures and botched education funding formulas are common ghost tales among lawmakers and lobbyists. Yet the ideas that formed doomed legislative efforts rarely die.

So come 2016, many of the bills expected to be introduced in the Idaho Legislature will be newer versions of proposals pitched — often ones that failed — during sessions past. Why? It boils down to patience: Most ideas take years to take root inside the Idaho Legislature before gaining enough support to clear both houses.

Here's a look at old ideas likely to resurface during the new year.



Since the 1970s, Idaho lawmakers have discussed the possibility of giving cities and counties the authority to levy their own property or sales taxes. Taxing districts argue that a local option tax would give residents local control on whether to boost revenue, but lawmakers have remained hesitant for fear of business backlash.

The issue is expected to rise again in January as lawmakers prepare to cast a critical eye toward urban renewal agencies — which collect taxes from improvements in their municipal districts and use that money to attract and finance new projects. The agencies have raised red flags that they operate with little supervision, even though municipalities view them as valuable resources when facing limited revenue.

"It'll be part of the discussion, but in my opinion I don't think it'll happen this year," said Rep. Gary Collins, R-Nampa, who chairs the House Revenue and Taxation Committee.

Instead, Collins said he anticipates lawmakers will be asked to slightly lower the state income tax rate, while also waiting to see what Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter says during his annual state address in early January.



Nearly 125 years ago, the writers of Idaho's constitution made sure to note that the state had a duty to provide a fair and thorough public education system. Ever since then, fulfilling that legislative duty has become a battle over funding.

The Idaho Legislature passed a sweeping teacher pay plan earlier this year that will boost salaries over the next five years. However, in January lawmakers will be asked to fulfill the second year's portion of the plan.

Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, says that she hasn't heard any funding objections but cautioned that lawmakers and special interest groups have had nine months since the last session to come up with tweaks to how the funding should be allocated.



Idaho lawmakers have known since 2010 that the state's criminal defense system could possibly run into legal trouble. Yet, despite creating multiple work groups to review the issue, the Idaho Legislature has been unable to pass comprehensive reforms that address the concerns from legal experts. The American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho has since filed a lawsuit against the state, contending that state officials have known for years that defendants have been unable to receive adequate legal representation in a system known for overwhelming caseloads and underfunded budgets. It is unknown what — if any — changes will be made in 2016.



Some ghosts simply serve as reminders.

That's how advocates have worked for almost a decade while pushing for sexual orientation and gender identity protections to the state's Human Rights Act. Gay rights supporters secured a major victory earlier this year when legislative leaders permitted a public hearing for the first time for such a bill. The bill was promptly voted down in committee, but advocates say it paved the way for future success.

"Some ideas stick around just to keep them on the horizon," said Jim Weatherby, an Idaho political analyst. "Once in a while, people do change their minds or conditions change."

Weatherby added that legislative leaders have been working with the gay rights supporters over the summer to find a compromise.

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