Last Wednesday marked the end of the 2017 Idaho Legislative Session. While many important items were left off the table and not discussed, Idaho Democrats continued to push the issues that matter most to Idahoans with reasonable and sensible legislation. And finally, you, the Idaho citizen, became the most important part of the conversation again.
Our Idaho Democrats work hard to find partners for responsible, pro-business, pro-family, pro-Idaho policy. When the public shows up in force to affirm their support for issues that Idaho Democrats are championing, it gives moderate Republicans the courage they need to buck their party and do what's right. And when Idaho Democrats and the broader progressive community show up to the Capitol to protest ridiculous and hurtful Republican policies — it makes a difference.
In Jan., over 6,000 people showed up at the Women's March in Boise. Sister rallies from Sandpoint to Stanley to Idaho Falls brought out thousands more. Idaho's conservation community turned out thousands to say, “Idaho is not for sale.” Hundreds showed up to testify against the call for a Constitutional Convention. Overflow rooms were opened when you, the Idaho citizen, showed support for the most marginalized members of our community. Look in the mirror. You're making change happen.
Idaho Democratic legislators continued to make themselves a meaningful part of the conversation. They brought their own bills, worked with Republicans on others, and provided key votes that helped pass legislation to keep Idaho on track. Even when they were denied a hearing they didn't stop working. Denied a committee hearing on her climate change bill, Representative Ilana Rubel (D-Boise) held the largest public hearing this session with over 600 people showing up at the Capitol to listen to professionals and experts.
Our legislators worked across the aisle and received bipartisan support for moderate sensible legislation. Representative Melissa Wintrow (D-Boise) continues to change the conversation about sexual assault reporting in Idaho. This year's legislation sets statewide standards for the storage and retention of sexual assault kits. This will help address the issue of evidence preservation for sexual assault cases and create a transparent and accessible system for reporting.
Idaho Democratic legislators worked hard on policy even if it took all session to get a print hearing. Rep. Sally Toone (D-Gooding) brought legislation that would encourage qualified teachers to work in rural school districts through a student loan forgiveness program. Teachers at these schools will be eligible for up to $12,000 in student loan forgiveness over four years of service. Rural school districts struggle every school year to find qualified teachers to fill their classrooms, and this program would help recruit and retain teachers in our communities that need it the most. Rep. Toone will bring this bill back next legislative session.
So this year, you can see that Idahoans managed to persuade Republicans to do the right thing more often. You, the Idaho citizen, persuaded Republicans to continue to make Idaho more competitive for hiring and retaining teachers. You, the Idaho citizen, moved them to kill the absurd bill that would have exempt state legislators from public records requests. You, the Idaho citizen, urged them to reject the legislation that would have profiled members of your community and made us all less safe. You, the Idaho citizen, convinced them that you are a force to be reckoned with. You, the Idaho citizen,are the best thing about what's happening right now in Idaho politics.
Bert Marley is the Chairman of the Idaho Democratic Party. Bert is a former state legislator from McCammon and a longtime educator.