Recent editorials from Idaho newspapers:

With lives in the balance, legislators play politics

Jan. 28

The Lewiston Tribune

Frustrated with what passed for ex-President Donald Trump’s response to COVID-19, White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator Deborah Birx crisscrossed the country last year, traveling to 43 states and logging more than 25,000 miles to persuade governors to take the pandemic more seriously.

While interviewing her Sunday on “Face the Nation,” Margaret Brennan asked Birx whether she ran into “resistance from governors because you’re going out there and you’re telling them to wear a mask, to limit indoor dining. And for some of these Republican governors, that would mean going against the head of their party to do what you’re telling them to do.”

Replied Birx: “You know, I don’t know if that was as much as the dynamic that they were dealing with Republican legislatures and legislators that really didn’t ...”

Sounds like Birx — who met with Gov. Brad Little in Idaho Falls on Oct. 29 — understood what’s been going on in the Gem State.

When it comes to this pandemic, the Idaho Legislature is not merely the gang that couldn’t shoot straight — it’s the gang that can’t shoot.

Even before he reopened the state — prematurely and without adequate safeguards such as a statewide mask mandate — Little was already taking heat from members of his own party in the Legislature.

They championed bar owners who opened illegally.

They paraded publicly without masks or social distancing.

Some gathered for an illegitimate summer legislative session.

Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, went so far as to proclaim the governor to be “Little Hitler.”

How could it not have an effect?

Virtually alone among its neighbors, Idaho left mask mandates to the local elected officials and regional public health districts willing to endure the bullying tactics of Ammon Bundy.

While the infection rate is thankfully abating, the state’s numbers were higher than they needed to be.

But that’s just for starters.

In less than a year, lawmakers have staged three superspreader events: no masks, no social distancing and all of it in close quarters in the state Capitol. As the pandemic emerged, they refused to leave Boise in March until they made certain they had stigmatized the state’s transgender population. In an August special session that they persuaded Little to call, lawmakers flirted with repealing the governor’s COVID-19 emergency order, even though they lacked constitutional authority to do anything of the sort.

And in the current session, they’ve not only refused to put business on hold until the pandemic eases or impose protocols, they also turned a blind eye to the health needs of their own colleagues. Rep. Muffy Davis, D-Ketchum, is a paraplegic whose compromised lung function puts her at risk. But the GOP locked arms in refusing her request to vote remotely.

As they were doing so, members of their own staff — one in the Senate, another in the House — were coming down with COVID-19.

News about the House staffer’s illness was kept under wraps for more than a week.

And now it turns out they’ve been aiming at the wrong target for months. Nowhere in Little’s emergency order is there any mention of the terms — notably a limit on public gatherings — that his fellow Republicans find so abhorrent. That’s contained in a separate public health order the governor’s Department of Health and Welfare issued.

It’s not for a lack of trying. Little briefed the entire House and Senate by teleconference at least every other week since March. And since the session convened earlier this month, the governor’s office has been hammering home the point that a legislative repeal of the emergency order would merely shut off the state’s access to federal aid — vital at a time when Idaho is gearing up to distribute the vaccines.

With a crew that thick-headed, nothing short of simple English will do — and the governor delivered it on Friday:

“I believe in my heart that what the Idaho Legislature is doing is harmful to our people and wrong for Idaho.”

Said House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley: It’s the governor’s fault for not bringing lawmakers into the information loop. “There’s a learning curve on a pandemic. But there wouldn’t have been a learning curve if the appropriate checks-and-balances had been applied from day one.”

So the House voted along party lines — with only three GOP dissenters, Fred Wood of Burley, a retired doctor, Scott Syme of Caldwell, a COVID-19 survivor, and Dustin Manwaring of Pocatello — to undermine Little’s public health order.

Not to be outdone, Scott declared the pandemic — at least within the borders of Idaho — be over and done with. So much for case loads and death rates.

And Rep. Chad Christensen, R-Iona, was so unhinged by the governor’s tongue-lashing that he called for Little’s impeachment.

For all his missteps, Little has at least tried to help.

With lives at stake, legislators seem determined to make things worse.

Online: The Lewiston Tribune

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Idaho legislators try yet again to get legal notices out of your local newspaper

Jan. 28

Idaho Statesman

Three things are certain in life: death, taxes and an attempt by the Idaho Legislature to get legal notices out of newspapers.

Newly elected state Rep. Jon Weber, R-Rexburg, introduced a bill Wednesday to allow government agencies to publish legal notices online instead of in a newspaper, as is now required by state law for some notices.

This issue has come up several times over the years, and as Rep. Randy Armstrong, R-Inkom, pointed out during the House State Affairs Committee where the bill was introduced, “We’ve heard this many times, and it’s always been struck down, as there’s a lot of problems associated with this, so I won’t be voting in favor of it, but thank you.”

Look, I get the arguments for doing this: “Newspapers are a dying industry,” “no one reads newspapers in print anymore” (which isn’t true) and “even if they do read a newspaper, they’re not reading the legal notices” (which, again, isn’t true).

I concede that print newspapers are on the decline, fewer and fewer people are reading them, and even fewer people read the legal notices.

I also acknowledge that newspapers derive revenue from legal notices, as government agencies must pay for them. So a cynical person might say: Of course a guy whose paycheck depends, in part, on legal notices is going to argue in favor of legal notices in print.

In some ways, I wish we would just rip this Band-Aid off and move on without them so we don’t have to keep having this fight every year.

However, I still believe in the importance of publishing legal notices in print, for a few reasons.

If each government agency publishes its own legal notice on its own website, it’s going to be very difficult for a taxpayer to track down every legal notice for every agency they pay taxes to. In Boise, you’d have to go to the website of the city of Boise, Ada County, Ada County Highway District, Mosquito Abatement District, Boise School District, Emergency Medical Services and College of Western Idaho — every day — just to see if that agency has a legal notice. Sure, each agency could set up and maintain an email alert system or a text alert system to inform taxpayers when there’s a new legal notice, but they wouldn’t have to. It also might prove to be too onerous to maintain and update constantly.

Further, if we allow government agencies to publish their own notices on their websites, without any third-party verification, how do we verify they posted correctly and didn’t alter it after the fact?

This isn’t really about government agencies wanting more people to see legal notices. Because, guess what? They can already post legal notices on their websites if they want. If this really were about informing the taxpayer, they’d already be doing it.

Here’s another thing to consider: What if a government agency doesn’t even have a website? Where would they even post a legal notice? What if a taxpayer doesn’t have good internet access or doesn’t have a computer?

Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, inquired about using the mail to deliver legal notices, and that was made part of the bill posted Wednesday.

First off, if we’re concerned about cost, sending a legal notice via first-class mail to every taxpayer is a heck of a lot more expensive than a legal notice in the paper.

Second, if this really were about informing taxpayers, they’d already be doing this.

So what is it about? Really, it’s that some politicians just can’t stand newspapers.

“This is a great year to carry this bill because it’s not an election year,” Scott said in supporting the bill. “And usually people are more apt to not vote in favor of this when they might be publicized, their votes in the paper.”

There is perhaps no better endorsement for why we need to maintain our watchdog role — including publishing legal notices.

Online: Idaho Statesman

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Personal freedom, but only if the Idaho Legislature approves

Jan. 23

Idaho Press

As states continue legalizing recreational marijuana and begin decriminalizing psychoactive drugs, Idaho is one of the last few states without medical marijuana.

It’s not a magic puff, but many studies and a mountain of anecdotal evidence show cannabis’ positive results for people with a wide variety of illnesses.

When Idahoans are ready to approve medical marijuana, citizens should be able to make that change with a ballot initiative.

Rep. C. Scott Grow, R-Eagle, like most of the Idaho Legislature, seems more concerned with grilling up some red meat for his base instead of collaborating with other legislators to solve real problems.

He introduced a constitutional amendment this week to prevent any “psychoactive drug” that was illegal in 2020 from becoming legal in Idaho. The amendment would need a two-thirds majority in both chambers and a majority of votes in the next general election.

Idaho: the state of personal freedom and liberty, but only as the legislature defines it.

An amendment like this passing would make a citizen initiative to legalize any drug for medicinal or recreational use practically impossible. The initiative process is an important part of our government; if politicians won’t listen to their constituents, they have the power to add a question to the ballot.

There’s no better example of citizen-led initiatives than the Medicaid expansion a few years ago. We also saw how much this irritated legislators. Instead of taking this as a sign they were out of touch with their voters, legislators forged ahead trying to make initiatives harder to pass. Those efforts didn’t work, so this amendment route must be their next “solution” for a non-existent problem.

There could even be legal issues with this legislation; we know how the legislature loves to pass “helpful” laws resulting in court fights that cost taxpayers a pretty penny.

It’s abundantly clear the legislature doesn’t trust the people of Idaho to make decisions about their own lives. They purport to advance liberty and personal freedom, and then pass legislation that curtails those very things. They hurry to force through their pet projects, but dawdle on school funding and property tax reform.

This also flies in the face of their belief that citizens can be trusted to make important decisions. Most of our legislators from across the state have spoken out against public health measures related to COVID-19, insisting that the citizens of Idaho, as responsible adults, can make those choices for themselves. So we’re allowed to decide if we can wear a mask or not, but we can’t decide if we want to use medical marijuana?

This bill isn’t about addressing real problems that Idahoans face. It’s nothing more than kindling for the fire of partisanship and power struggle.

When, as a state, Idahoans are ready to legalize any drug for any reason, they should be able to with a simple ballot measure. It would, of course, be a whole lot easier if legislators listened to their voters and took appropriate action, but we all know that’s unlikely.

We implore those legislators: knock it off with the pet projects. You have a limited time frame to serve the people of Idaho, and hamstringing future citizens won’t ease anyone’s property tax bill.

Online: Idaho Press