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Legislators cite 2024 priorities

by BILL BULEY
Staff Writer | October 21, 2023 1:09 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — Reduced government spending. Lower property taxes. Universal school choice. Medicaid improvements. Preventing illegal immigration.

Those were among the priorities for the next session cited by North Idaho legislators Friday.

“The border is out of control. It’s not sustainable, what we have,” District 2 Sen. Phil Hart said. “Every state is a border state now because of the numbers that are coming across our southern border, so we’ve got to do something in that area.”

“The government does not have money. The government gets their money from the taxpayer,” said District 4 Rep. Elaine Price. “I would like to work on curbing government spending, which in turn lowers your taxes.”

“The majority of our time is spent trying to address or fix problems that flow to us from the federal government,” said District 3 Sen. Doug Okuniewicz.

Seven legislators attended the legislative breakfast put on by the Joint Chamber Public Policy Committee at the Best Western Plus Coeur d’Alene Inn.

About 100 people heard from District 4 Sen. Ben Toews, District 3 Rep. Jordan Redman, District 5 Sen. Carl Bjerke, District 3 Rep. Ron Mendive, Hart, Price, and Okuniewicz.

Each shared a few of their hopes and priorities for the 2024 session that begins in January.

Bjerke said addressing the budget is his top priority.

“It’s important for our self-determination, for our sovereignty,” he said.

Bjerke said about 40 percent of Idaho’s budget comes from the federal government, which has a $33 trillion national debt.

He said people should "realize what’s going to happen when those roosters come home. It’s important to sustain Idaho.”

Bjerke said legislators need to look for ways to trim the budget if less federal money comes in, and still maintain services.

Toews said universal school choice is high on his list.

He said he went through the local public education system and had great teachers.

“But I believe there are issues with our education system and I think there’s nothing better than a free market approach and competition to take care of that,” he said.

Toews said he would like to reduce property taxes.

“Our citizens are hurting financially, inflation is hurting us,” he said. “Anything we can do to lower that burden is critical.”

He also said protecting children from inappropriate social media posts and adult websites, perhaps through an age verification process, is important.

“Our children are getting sucked into their phones and not living in reality enough,” Toews said.

Redman said his summer went to studying Medicaid.

“I think there are some things we can do to tweak the system and hopefully make it more efficient, make it better,” he said.

Redman said he would like to see mandatory minimum sentences when it comes to crimes against children.

Mendive said the fentanyl crisis must be addressed.

According to the Department of Health and Welfare, there were 358 overdose deaths in 2022 in Idaho, with about 50% due to fentanyl use.

“This is terrifying, what’s happening,” Mendive said.

Hart said he also plans to take on central bank digital currency.

“That’s an attempt by the Federal Reserve bank to get rid of the form of money we have now and go to a completely automated electronic type of money,” he said.

He said the federal government’s spending is so out of control it simply “creates money out of nothing” which floods the money supply and causes inflation. That, in turn, is why a typical married couple with kids can no longer afford to buy a home.”

Hart said he will work “to thwart the government's attempt to create a 100% digital money system.”

Okuniewicz also mentioned he would seek discussion on a tax or fee imposed on nonresidents buying liquor in Idaho.

“It would be an interesting way to raise a few bucks,” he said.

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BILL BULEY/Press

Idaho legislators take center stage at the legislative breakfast at the Best Western Plus Coeur d'Alene Inn on Friday. From left are Sen. Phil Hart, Sen. Doug Okuniewicz, Rep. Jordan Redman, Sen. Ben Toews, Rep. Elaine Price, Rep. Ron Mendive and Sen. Carl Bjerke.