Rep. Ned Burns, D-Bellevue, just returned to the Wood River Valley after serving his first session as a state representative of District 26, which includes Blaine County. As one of 105 lawmakers in Idaho, he shared with the Mountain Express an insider’s view of work inside the Capitol building in Boise during the second regular session of the 66th Idaho Legislature.

“It is a huge honor to get to serve in the Legislature,” Burns said. “Each day as I walked from my apartment to the Statehouse and saw the dome of the Capitol, I was filled with pride that I get to be a part of setting policy in Idaho.”

Burns said he worked long days, usually beginning with a morning meeting of the Health and Welfare Committee, followed by a legislative floor session in which votes were cast on the bills of the day, followed by a lunch hosted by groups who wanted to discuss particular issues.

“Once the business of the House was attended to, we would have a legislative dinner put on by a different group with a different issue that was important to them,” Burns said. “Once dinner ended, I’d head home to study up on the next day’s business.”

Burns said he was “pretty happy” with how the votes went during his 81 days in Boise, during which 2,000 bills were introduced. More than 600 made it to hearings, with some 300 becoming law.

“All of the critical appropriation bills passed, including the transportation bill, which will help with the [state] Highway 75 project,” Burns said. “There were also a lot of federal dollars that we appropriated towards upgrading water and wastewater infrastructure all across the state.”

Burns said the federal dollars can be utilized by all municipalities in Blaine County that need to do upgrades, and that Bellevue will be able to submit requests for funding to upgrade the city’s water and wastewater systems.

Burns previously served as the mayor of Bellevue. He was appointed to serve in the Legislature in December after Rep. Muffy Davis, D-Hailey, stepped down from the post.

Burns said the Legislature appropriated $15 million to be used for creating new daycare facilities across the state. The money is available to acquire space, hire new and additional staff, or expand existing daycare centers.

“This is critical,” Burns said, “because there is such high demand for workers in the workforce right now and during the pandemic mothers ended up leaving the workforce more than fathers—so this is an opportunity for them to get back into the workforce if they are inclined to.”

Education funding was another winner, Burns said, including funding to school districts for all-day kindergarten, expanded career technical education programs, and funding for the teacher “career ladder,” which is a teacher pay scale with benchmarks.

“The teachers took a hit from salary freezes for a few years,” Burns said. “This helps make up for it.”

Other bills will also make a difference in Idaho, Burns said.

“Another non-appropriation bill that I was pleased to see pass was Sen. [Michelle] Stennett’s election bill, which clarified that if you own property and claim a homeowner’s exemption in that county or district, and are running for office, you cannot run for office in another county or district,” he said. “This is important, because there are a handful of folks in office who have an exemption in one county and are representing a completely different district or county. The bill will also help catch tax cheats who are claiming multiple exemptions across multiple counties and passing on the [tax] burden to other taxpayers.”

Burns said the Legislature also cleaned up some Idaho Department of Fish and Game violation statutes and codified boating statutes.

“Those were previously rules and now they’re law, making it much easier to handle from a law enforcement perspective,” he said.

Burns said he was disappointed that a resolution honoring the 50th anniversary of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area got caught up in what he described as “petty, partisan gamesmanship,” and shot down twice.

“But it is what it is,” Burns said. “The first time it died, there were concerns that it opened the door for additional wilderness to be created. The second time it was for partisan reasons. The revised resolution fell victim to hurt feelings from debates on other bills.”

Burns said he is working on a new solution to the SNRA issue that would be more meaningful. He said it should be complete by the time the SNRA anniversary weekend comes in late August.

Burns said he was thankful that some bills that passed the House of Representatives didn’t pass the Senate, including a “terrible” library bill that would have put librarians at risk of significant fines and jail time if a minor checked out a book that a parent took offense to.

“I heard from just about every librarian in the district on that bill, and they were all very concerned with what could potentially happen,” Burns said.

Burns said he was pleased that the Gov. Brad Little vetoed a bill that would have changed the composition of the judicial council.

“It’s a program that has worked well for decades, and to allow it to be changed and made much more partisan isn’t necessary,” he said.

“I was sad to see that Sen. Stennett wasn’t able to get her bill for rural large-animal vet loan forgiveness through the House after passing virtually unanimously in the Senate,” Burns said. “There is a crisis-level shortage of production veterinarians and this would have given some very modest loan forgiveness if they chose to specialize in large-animal vet care.

“It takes months to schedule routine vet care, and most large-animal vets are within 10 years of retirement, so this was particularly hard to lose. It was also hard considering every single industry group—including Farm Bureau, Idaho Cattlemen, Idaho Dairymen, Idaho Wool Growers, Idaho Food Producers—were all behind it. It’s not often that a bill supported by all of the agriculture industry goes down like that.”

Burns said he learned a lot over the past few months and is “excited” to campaign across the newly re-formed District 26, and show voters that he has the experience, the relationships and the knowledge to serve the district well. He will need to win re-election in November to keep his seat.

After state redistricting last year, District 26 is changing from including Blaine, Camas, Gooding and Lincoln counties to Blaine, Jerome and Lincoln counties.

“I’ve got several ideas that should garner bipartisan cooperation during the next legislative session,” Burns said, “and I’ll be looking forward to knocking on lots of doors and seeing everyone out and about at events this summer.” 

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