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BOISE — Last week, the eighth of the 2019 legislative session, state officials and lawmakers:

Voted to get rid of mandatory minimums for drug trafficking

A bill to remove mandatory minimum prison sentences for possession of large amounts of drugs passed the House Judiciary committee Wednesday.

Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, has been pushing for the past several years to get rid of mandatory minimums, and this year Rep. Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls, is co-sponsoring the bill with her. It would leave the current guidelines in place but strike the word “mandatory,” giving judges the ability to impose shorter sentences in cases where they deem it more just.

As the pendulum of criminal justice policy in America has swung from the tough-on-crime consensus of the 1980s and ‘90s to a more widespread concern about overincarceration and rehabilitation, people and groups across the political spectrum have been pushing changes to sentencing laws. The bill now goes to the full House, where it passed overwhelmingly last year. The bigger question is whether the bill will get a committee hearing in the Senate. Law enforcement groups in Idaho are against the change, saying mandatory minimums are needed for deterrence and to punish major drug traffickers.

Sent a sex ed opt-in bill to the House floor

After a two-day public hearing, the House Education Committee approved on a party-line vote a bill to require parents to actively opt into sex education for their kids. Currently, parents who don’t want their children to take sex ed need to opt out.

Sponsor Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, said the bill would make it easier for parents to stay involved and help advance parental rights.

“Let me tell you what an Idaho value is,” Ehardt said. “Idaho values are family related. And a parent’s role is essential to an intact and functioning family.”

Most of the people who testified at the hearing were against the bill.

“Parents, teachers, and faith leaders agree rolling back sex ed is bad for Idaho families,” Mistie Tolman, Idaho state director of Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, said in a statement. “We are all concerned about our students’ health and safety. Contrary to what some fear, sex ed does not encourage young people to have sex — in fact it has the reverse effect.”

The bill is now before the full House.

Voted down a proposed ban on child marriage

The House voted 28-39 on Thursday to kill a bill that would have set a minimum marriage age of 16 and required a judge to sign off when 16- and 17-year-olds want to wed.

Under current law, which will remain unchanged, 16- and 17-year-olds can marry with parental permission, and younger children can also marry if the parents consent and a judge agrees.

This week

One of the most anticipated bills of the session, a measure asking for federal waivers to put some limits on Medicaid expansion, will be introduced into the House Health and Welfare Committee on Monday. The measure includes a work requirement and an option to let people making between 100 and 138 percent of the poverty level get insurance through the Your Health Idaho state exchange rather than the federal government. If they pass the Legislature, these measures would also need a federal waiver to take effect. It would also end Medicaid expansion if the share of the cost covered by the federal government drops below 90 percent.

The House and Senate calendars are getting busy, as lawmakers try to get through the bills in front of them and go home for the year sometime in the next few weeks. Expect to see votes on some interesting or controversial bills.

The budget-setting Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee will finish its work this week. Budgets remaining to be set include the Idaho Transportation Department, the state’s community colleges, the Idaho State Police, the Department of Fish and Game, the Wolf Depredation Control Board and the Millennium Fund, which is expected to pay about half the cost of Medicaid expansion next year.

On Wednesday a panel of industry and academic representatives, including Idaho National Laboratory Director Mark Peters, will hold a hearing discussing the impacts of climate change on Idaho. It will go from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. in East Wing room 41.

Quotes of the week

“We do have to acknowledge that there are times, very real times, when the parent actually is the threat to their child.”

-Assistant Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, debating against a bill to require child protection investigators to notify parents of their rights before starting to interview them.

“If we begin to believe that we protect children better by hoping parents don’t exercise their constitutional rights, we’re in a false dichotomy there.”

-Rep. Julianne Young, R-Blackfoot, debating in favor of the same bill. It passed the House 44-23 and now heads to the Senate.

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.

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