BOISE – Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter said the final legislative session of his three terms in office continued advancing progress made in recent years by improving educational opportunities for Idaho’s children and adult learners, growing Idaho’s economy, and strengthening Idaho families and communities.
“I’ve always been more disposed to celebrating what we have – our victories as citizens and as a state – than complaining about what we don’t have or what wasn’t achieved. We made a good run at some things that didn’t end up happening, but we also got a lot done that will help people accomplish their own goals for years to come,” Governor Otter said. “There have been some setbacks. But I’m not nearly as disappointed about them as I am proud of the work the Legislature and my administration have done together over the past 12 years.”
Building on targeted and sustainable K-through-Career education investments, stepping up strategic workforce development efforts, hardening the State’s cyber defenses, and providing Idahoans with historic tax relief highlighted accomplishments during the second regular session of the 64th Idaho Legislature. Some of the most significant successes included:
· Providing over $100 million in new funding for Idaho’s public schools. That includes almost $42 million to continue improving teacher pay along the career ladder, $10.5 million for classroom technology, and $8 million for such post-secondary student opportunities as dual credit courses, advanced placement, and career-technical exams.
· Fully funding the statewide rollout of a new comprehensive reading assessment. That will provide teachers with a more robust Idaho Reading Indicator so students can get the necessary intervention and support to read proficiently by the end of the third grade.
· Providing $3.5 million for the Opportunity Scholarship program, including the authority to use some of the funding to help “adult completers” return to college and get an academic degree or career-technical certification.
· Expanding criminal penalties for willful threats of violence directed at schools, facilities, buses, staff or students. Penalties also will be increased from misdemeanors to felonies if weapons are involved.
· Funding an audit of degree programs throughout Idaho’s higher education system. The system-wide review will help educators track the progress of students as they advance toward degree completion.
· Funding a system-wide study into integrating higher education support services. The study will help identify areas in which efficiencies and improved services can be realized by consolidating certain back-office functions throughout Idaho’s college and university system.
· Providing $10 million for a new health sciences building at the College of Western Idaho.
· Funding start-up costs and ongoing operations at the new College of Eastern Idaho.
· Expanding post-secondary career-technical education opportunities at Idaho’s colleges, workforce development training centers and online.
· Restructuring and empowering the Workforce Development Council. The changes will make use of the Workforce Development Training Fund more employer-driven, with a focus on developing talent pipelines of skilled workers to meet the demands of Idaho’s growing economy.
· Funding for the addition of three regional behavioral health crisis centers in the Lewiston, Nampa-Caldwell and Pocatello areas. The new facilities will bring the total number of crisis centers to seven, providing sites statewide to help communities more cost-effectively handle acute substance abuse or mental health crises.
· Increasing State support for medical residency programs at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls and Bingham Internal Medicine in Blackfoot, as well as Idaho’s psychiatric residency program.
· Requiring at least a minimum level of suicide awareness and prevention training for all public school personnel.
· Restructuring the State’s information technology management within the Executive Office of the Governor under the Director of Information Security. The change will bring greater efficiency and technical rigor to the State’s efforts to protect the personal information of Idaho citizens.
· Expanding the Idaho Department of Lands’ ability to collaborate with the U.S. Forest Service on expediting timber management and forest health projects through federal Good Neighbor Authority.
· Requiring payment of State sales tax on all internet purchases. Payment of a “use tax” has always been required but rarely enforced and never explicitly identified in Idaho Code. The change will put Idaho’s brick-and-mortar retail businesses on a more level playing field with fast-growing online sales.
· Providing about $130 million in net income tax relief for Idaho residents by conforming to federal tax reforms, enhancing the nonrefundable child tax credit and lowering the State’s individual and corporate tax rates. The reductions increase total tax relief throughout Governor Otter’s tenure to about $1.6 billion.
· Accomplishing “Job One” of the 2018 session, reducing the unemployment insurance tax rate on employers, retroactive to January 1. The change will save Idaho businesses that pay into the State’s unemployment insurance trust fund an estimated $115 million over the next three years, a savings of 30 percent for most employers.