With the 2019 session in the history books, I’ve debated whether to “review” what happened from January to April. It seems a little silly to go back and rank what did (or didn’t) happen only a few weeks after the final gavel. After all, some of the laws we passed won’t go into effect until July 1, and even then, we won’t know with 100% certainty what will happen next.
And maybe that’s the point. Elected leaders of all stripes (myself included) would be better off if we remembered that sometimes we can’t know the exact outcome.
Now, I have every reason to believe that specific legislation will roll out “just right” come July 1. But if nothing else, I come away from my first year in Boise more respectful of unintended consequences. We present our legislation with the best of intentions, but it’s worth noting that a good portion of our time is spent cleaning up existing law.
A Law Review
For example, each year the Supreme Court submits an annual report to the Governor highlighting defects and omissions in Idaho law. One of those recommendations involved changing one number.
In this case, the courts try to schedule things in seven-day increments. We had on the books that a final decree in a divorce action included a 20-day requirement. The Court recommended making it 21 days. Yes, on paper this looks like a small thing that shouldn’t make a big difference. But it added an unnecessary complication to the judicial process. It’s a perfect example of the need to think through our political theories and test the practical application.
Will this fantastic idea work on a day-to-day basis? Will this change improve outcomes or frustrate the people it’s meant to serve? Do we have the right framework and people for this project to be a success?
If we don’t ask these kinds of questions, we only set ourselves up for more corrective action in the future. That said, we do have to find a balance between pursuing perfection with no success at the cost of good enough.
An Education Review
A prime example from this session involved the school funding formula. After the interim committee submitted its final report, the path forward seemed clear even if the details weren’t final. But throughout the session, it appeared like efforts got derailed because stakeholders got very focused on the idea of a “perfect” formula.
Let’s be clear. Our current formula created in 1994 isn’t perfect. In fact, given how K-12 education has evolved, it’s far from perfect. But when faced with a big change, “perfect” suddenly became the measuring stick for moving forward. No surprise, we ended up passing a much simpler bill that focused on setting definitions and data collection with the goal of finalizing a new formula in 2020.
The only prediction I’ll make about school funding is this: the first version we pass won’t be the last. We’re talking about a part of our state budget that makes up almost 50% of all general fund spending. That’s a lot of moving parts, and we need to be honest with everyone involved. Creating new law on this scale will probably require a series of legislative revisions over multiple years.
I think that’s a good thing. It means we recognize the need to be flexible and adapt our approach to meet the needs of those we serve.
Between now and January, I’ll be working on issues that affect our communities. If you have an idea for legislation or even just a concern about how something is working (or not working), please let me know. I’ve loved hearing from you throughout the session, and I hope you’ll continue to share your thoughts.