BOISE — The silver lining in the snow-laden storm clouds in Idaho this past winter might be that the weather’s crippling impact on state roads got the Legislature to find its wallet for major infrastructure repair and reconstruction.
That plan for roads and bridges, along with a repeal of the sales tax on grocery food, were the standout accomplishments of the session. But only one may live on after lawmakers head for home: Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, departing from his customary mid-session reticence, weighed in to oppose the grocery tax repeal before lawmakers voted on it. His veto is widely expected.
An 80-day legislative session went three days past its predicted end date as lawmakers struggled in the final weeks to reach agreement on rival tax cut measures and the highway finance plan. The last big lift was the roads bill, which passed both houses Tuesday.
Aside from those efforts, lawmakers slogged through a quirky, meandering session dogged by uncertainty over how the power shift in Washington, D.C., would affect state issues such as health care, and insidious GOP infighting in the House that poisoned relationships and repeatedly brought proceedings to a dead stop.
The session began with controversy and conflict in the House when a north Idaho lawmaker, frequently at odds with House leadership, was stripped of her committees for making disparaging remarks about how female colleagues advance in seniority. The lawmaker apologized and eventually was reinstated, but tension remained between the House GOP majority leadership and a group of mostly freshmen, far-right lawmakers who stood by her.
Heading into extra innings, the Legislature had passed 241 of 530 bills introduced this year, with another 65 passed by one house and pending in the other, and 22 bills rejected. It was in many ways a session of half measures, or none at all.