Our North Idaho legislators do not represent the real needs of Idahoans. They consistently push ideological issues and the legislative goals of the Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF).

In 2023, North Idaho legislators (except for Representative Mark Sauter) ignored through their votes, funding for public school facilities, roads, mental health services, medical care, environmental concerns, and many others.

Instead, they have publicly talked about their legislative priorities including the southern border, over which the Idaho legislature has no say. Also issues like curbing federal funding, social media, and mandatory minimum prison sentences, or culture war issues.

Recent studies (see Idaho Education News 2022 Survey) show that Idahoans want more financial support for public education. The IFF’s stated position is that they oppose public education.

Many of our school districts, particularly those in rural areas, have antiquated and inadequate facilities. These rural districts have not been able to pass a facilities bond in many years and the legislature does not step in to help.

Drive around and look at some of the schools in our rural areas. Talk to the staff about their needs. Find out for yourselves.

If legislators were to visit rural schools, perhaps they would work on improving school funding.

Similarly, the recent Mental Health America study shows that Idaho’s funding of public mental health services is among the worst in the nation.

Idaho’s mental health needs are related to lack of access to services and in part to rural poverty and substance abuse. Idaho also has a high suicide rate.

It would be very helpful if some legislators would investigate these issues and push for adequate funding of mental health services.

Legislators often advocate for reduction of property taxes, which is a good idea. To reduce property taxes that fund some services like schools and emergency services, it would help if the legislature was to improve funding of services that are now supported in whole or part by property taxes.

Our legislators should be looking for ways to better fund our schools by taking the burden off the property taxpayer. With more money from the state the less that would be required of property taxpayers.

And if the legislators want to save local taxpayers money, they shouldn’t reject federal money for childcare and preschools as they have during recent legislative sessions.

We should remember their legislative votes when we have a chance to vote for them again in 2024.

Often the legislative priorities of our current local legislators seem to be geared toward getting a high score on the “Freedom Index” with the IFF, instead of representing the needs of the average citizen. It consistently appears that our North Idaho legislators inquire as to how the IFF wants them to vote on legislation above other voices.

In 2023, the IFF opposed Senate Bill 1176 (higher education), Senate Bills 1206 and 1207 (K-12 education), and House Bill 24 and Senate Bill 1212 -the Idaho Launch program designed to help Idaho students in postsecondary education or workforce training. Our North Idaho legislators voted against these bills and followed the IFF marching orders and opposed mental health and childcare funding as part of the Health and Welfare appropriation.

I think it is important that legislators be evaluated on how they are representing the needs and wishes of the citizens in their districts. Do they listen to the citizens and are they sensitive to their needs, or do they just listen to the IFF?

The Idaho Constitution and most Idaho’s citizens demand support for education.

Surveys (see Eighth Annual Public Policy Survey from Boise State University), also show support for health care funding including mental health care.

Our legislators will be heading back to Boise in a few weeks for the 2024 legislative session.

Watch what they do and who they represent by their votes. It is vitally important that legislators remember that they were elected to serve the needs of all the people, not the Idaho Freedom Foundation or Republican Central Committees A couple of quotes by President Kennedy are relevant to the situation we find ourselves in with our legislative representation in North Idaho.

“Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.”

“Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”

By TOM HEARN

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