Rep. Ronald Nate – District 34
Representative Ron Nate – House Chambers
Staying Focused in the Home Stretch
Midway through March now, legislators are feeling a bit homesick. The end of the session is in sight and there is a temptation to just do the voting and get home to our districts. But we can’t lose focus! Some of the most important issues are yet to be decided and big mistakes can be made if we aren’t very careful about our due diligence and how we vote. I am especially focused on making sure I understand each bill and am willing to vote “no” even if it means taking a bit more time in session to get the bill right.
The House is now doing double sessions on most days to get through the bills on the calendar. This requires more time outside the chambers to research all the bills. I am focused on being very sure my votes in the last week of the session are as carefully cast as my votes in the first week of the session.
Please read my update below to see some of the issues and concerns still facing the Idaho legislature in the waning weeks of the session.
The Drawer, Internet Sales Tax, and Appropriations
Rep. Nate’s Three Issues of the Week:
The Chairman’s Drawer: A Morgue for Bills
One of the questions I get often, but have a difficult time answering, is how a bill gets killed without ever being put up for a vote. I have a hard time answering because there is no “rule” about bills dying this way—it’s just “the way things have always been done”—very frustrating.
Here’s what happens. A typical bill has two steps before it gets to the House floor for a vote. The first is a “print hearing,” and the second is a full hearing where the public may comment prior to the committee vote. Before either of these steps, the committee Chairman sometimes refuses the print hearing or chooses to never schedule a full hearing. In both cases, the Chairman keeps the bill “in the drawer”—effectively killing it without a vote.
This is very confusing for constituents and voters (and me). How do I explain to a concerned citizen what has happened? The bill is dead, but there is no recorded vote—in fact, sometimes no vote at all—of why and how the bill was rejected. This is not how a representative republic is supposed to work. In fact, killing bills this way disenfranchises constituents because their representatives cannot get their issues up for a vote. There is only one person who has the Constitutional authority to veto a bill, and it’s not the committee Chairman.
The system is broken and a few representatives like myself are exploring ways to either change the traditions or to fix the rules so the traditions cannot persist. Chairmen are supposed to be servants of the committee. They are supposed to run meetings, keep order, ensure proper conduct and motions, and keep accurate records. They are not supposed to have “veto power” by putting bills in their drawers. I am committed to making sure my constituents’ issues get full consideration in the Capitol—despite what one particular committee Chair might think about it.
Internet Sales Tax: “Nexus”
The Revenue and Taxation Committee considered bill H581 which would change the definition of what it means to be an “Idaho Retailer” and what it means to “Engage in Business in Idaho.” The bill says any “nexus,” or connection to Idaho by an out-of-state business, makes that business—by definition—an in-state business. A nexus is typically a physical presence (like a building); but the new law would include marketing, advertising, computer cookies, etc., as creating a “nexus,” and thereby establishing tax collecting responsibility by that business.
By broadening the definition, most online purchases by Idahoans would be subject to state sales taxes collected by the online firm and sent to the Idaho Tax Commission. It is a confusing standard to determine “nexus.” And, it means more sales taxes will be assessed on Idahoans, making their “use tax” calculations even more difficult to determine. It will also be difficult for businesses who would then have to collect the taxes—no matter how small—and remit them to Idaho.
The bill intends to “level the playing field” between untaxed goods from out-of-state businesses and taxed goods from in-state brick and mortar businesses who must also pay overhead costs. Here’s a question: Why does leveling the playing field always mean more taxes and/or more regulation? A better way to level the playing field would be to reduce/remove in-state taxes or regulations. This internet tax bill is an expensive, flawed, and clunky way to “help” Idaho business.
There is a Constitution question about the bill as well. It is illegal for states to tax goods coming into the state from other states (imports, if you will). Article I, Section 10, clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution says, “No State shall…lay any Imposts or Duties on Imports or Exports…” The framers and the U.S. Supreme Court clearly saw this as pertaining to goods purchased across state lines as well as foreign borders. For precisely this reason, Idaho employs a “use tax” on Idahoans who purchase goods in other states and then “use” the goods in Idaho. It is a clever, albeit conniving way around the Article I Constitutional prohibition. House bill H581, removes the pretense and makes sales of out-of-state goods subject to the Idaho sales tax. This is clearly an unconstitutional tax.
The bill was sent to General Orders by the Committee, where the bill may be amended to clear up some details and, hopefully, address the bill’s problems concerning Constitution prohibitions against such a tax. I doubt the bill will be improved though.
Allocating how Idahoans’ tax dollars are spent is a serious responsibility. The legislature has a duty to budget and spend the more than $7 billion (state and federal) in a fiscally responsible manner. The Idaho Constitution requires the legislature to balance the budget—and it does. But that doesn’t always equate to conservative budgeting/spending.
This past year, Idaho brought in more tax revenue than projected—about $125 million more. In a higher-than-projected revenue year like 2015-2016, it might seem like it’s easy to meet Idaho’s needs while keeping government in check. The truth is just the opposite, however. Rather than spending only what was needed and returning the overage to the taxpayer, many of the appropriations bills coming through the Capitol chambers have extra spending items included. The budgeting process so far is leaving $0 for tax reductions or returns.
When I ran for office, I promised to make sure laws were—among other things—economically feasible. So, even though more money “is there,” I must reject many of the appropriations with extra spending increases. Here’s my concern. Yes, we’ve had some prosperous years, but that doesn’t mean next year will be as prosperous. As one legislator put it: “The bad years aren’t what put your farm out of business, it’s the good years. Those are when you over-commit to spending you can’t sustain in the next downturn.”
I am extra-cautious about over-committing to spending increases. When in doubt save some money for a rainy day (we do have a “stabilization fund” for this), and return the overage to the taxpayers. So, when you see a “no” vote on an appropriation, it doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t see a need for spending money on the Attorney General’s office (for example), but I want to make sure we don’t over-commit and we keep some money for the big items yet to budget for (like education).
*Note: Education is the largest component of General Fund spending (about 65%), but it is usually one of the last items to be appropriated. This seems backwards. When I budget for myself, I put my big obligations first, and then get to the smaller “necessary vs. nice” decisions later.
**Another Note: Idaho’s Constitution requires a balanced state budget. It seems fishy to me how the Idaho Legislature dutifully balances the budget but only by using a grand amount of federal dollars (35% of the state budget) —much of which (40%) are borrowed money.
Rep. Nate’s Bills-of-Interest Update:
Here are descriptions of the bills I have introduced this session:
HJR 1 – A resolution to amend the Idaho Constitution to protect education assistance to Idaho students. Specifically it makes it so scholarship and grants to students who may wish to use them at any school, including church-affiliated schools, are permissible and constitutional. This bill is in the Chairman’s “drawer” in the House State Affairs Committee. If you think the bill should be heard and voted on, you can express your views to the State Affairs Committee at email@example.com.
H422 and H423 – Along with Rep. Scott (District 1), these two bills to address confusion in Idaho law concerning the carrying of concealed weapons without a permit. The bills would make it so Idahoans could carry concealed weapons without a permit anywhere in Idaho that is not prohibited by state or federal law (like schools, etc.). These bills are in the Ways and Means Committee awaiting a hearing date. S1389 – This is a new permitless carry bill that was introduced last week and I am a co-sponsor of the bill. The bill passed the Senate State Affairs Committee and is on to the Senate floor for a vote.
H420 – A bill to repeal the state’s requirement that all Idaho school districts must administer the SBAC (Common Core) test to their students. It leaves the option open, however, if districts choose the SBAC themselves. Also, students would not be required to take the SBAC for graduation. This bill is in “the drawer” of House Ways and Means Committee awaiting a hearing date. You can contact the Ways and Means Committee at firstname.lastname@example.org .
H421 – A bill to repeal the State Health Insurance Exchange. The state health insurance exchange has been an expensive and frustrating endeavor. It has cost over $70 million to set up, it binds Idaho to all the federal rules, leaving no room for Idaho solutions. And, it has lead to a virtual monopoly in health insurance “choices” for Idaho citizens—only a few insurance companies have been permitted space on the exchange. All the while, Idahoans’ health insurance premiums and deductibles have skyrocketed. This bill is in “the drawer” of the House Ways and Means Committee awaiting a hearing date. You may contact the Ways and Means Committee at email@example.com .
H506 – A bill to restrict and limit the dollar value of gifts given to legislators by lobbyists and other special interest groups. This bill has been introduced into the House Judiciary and Rules Committee, and is being held in “the drawer” by the Committee Chairman. You can contact the House Judiciary Committee at firstname.lastname@example.org .
H516 – A bill requiring abortion providers to give information to women about where and how they can get a free ultrasound prior to an abortion. This bill passed the House 56-13 (1 absent), and is now in the Senate awaiting a floor vote.
S1386 – A bill to ban “dismemberment abortions.” These abortions are horrific, late-term abortions that Planned Parenthood and other providers conduct—sometimes for the purpose of harvesting the unborn baby’s organs. This bill was introduced into the Senate State Affairs Committee and is in “the drawer” awaiting a hearing. You can contact the Senate State Affairs Committee at email@example.com .
S1389 – Mentioned above, this bill establishes permitless carry of concealed weapons in Idaho. It fixes some gaps left in last year’s gun laws about who may concealed carry without a permit. We don’t want convicted felons or mentally unstable people to be able to carry concealed weapons with or without a permit. This bill fixes that. It also establishes that adults over 21 may carry without a permit in cities as well as outside of cities. This bill is now on the Senate floor awaiting a vote before heading over to the House.
Other bills to watch:
H380 – Income tax cut, Grocery Tax Credit
H449 – Girl/Boy Scout Cookie Tax Exemption
H463 – Minimum Wage Limitation
H491 – Non-Consensual Lien Limits
H492 – Staff Attorneys – State Mgmt.
H504 – Public Defense Reform
H513 – Real ID Act Compliance
H555 – Sexting crimes / penalties
H556 – Foster Care Reform
H581 – “Nexus” (Internet sales tax)
H582 – State Receipt of Federal Lands
H586 – State Consent for Federal Land Purchases
H606 – (New) Urban Renewal Changes Bill
S1204 – Medicaid Expansion
S1229 – Heavy Trucks on Highways
S1244 – Underground Storage Tanks
S1311 – Hybrid Vehicle Registration Fees
S1338 – County Declaration of Nuisance of Federal Lands
S1339 – Oil and Gas, Wells, Permits
S1342 – Use of Bible in Schools
S1349 – Unborn Infants Dignity Act
S1350 – Limited Article V Convention Rules
SJR101 – Reconsideration of Veto
Stay in Touch!
As always my goals are to best represent District 34’s views and interests, keep my oath to protect and defend the U.S. and State Constitutions, restrain government influence, keep taxes low, and support legislation that is constitutional, economical, and moral. I always appreciate feedback from voters and citizens. As you probably know, citizen input is very important and influential. When you and others contact legislators, they have the power and incentives to protect rights and keep their oaths. Together, we can keep Idaho great and free.
You and your friends can contact your legislators to make your views known by emailing or calling them. To find your representatives’ and senators’ contact information you can go here, http://legislature.idaho.gov/about/idmap2.pdf and here to get the addresses and phone numbers for them: http://legislature.idaho.gov/house/membership.cfm http://legislature.idaho.gov/senate/membership.cfm
Your Own Bill Tracker
Want updates on bills you’re watching this session? Here are the steps to set up your own bill tracker:
- Go to legislature.idaho.gov
- Go to nearly the bottom of the list and click “My Bill Tracker.”
- Follow the instructions to sign up/log in. (You must have an email account and create a password so that updates can be sent to your email on bills you choose to track.)
- Follow the instructions on selecting bills to track and add to your list.
- On your tracking list don’t forget to click “add email notification” so you will receive email updates on the bills you’ve chosen.