- Associated Press - Friday, March 25, 2016

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - The Idaho House closed out the 2016 legislative session Friday, boasting another year of large funding increases for Idaho’s public schools while not passing a leadership-backed proposal to cut taxes or an option to expand Medicaid.

The session ended after a modest 75 days. The Legislature tends to run short in election years, but this year still wasn’t as quick as in 2004 when it lasted 69 days.

Senate lawmakers concluded their business late Thursday.

The House adjourned the following day without hearing a tax-cut bill backed by Republican leadership - a notable omission in an election year when GOP lawmakers usually attempt to address tax policy. The $22.6 million proposal would have lowered tax rates for the state’s top earners.

Despite not passing the highly-contested Medicaid expansion and the tax-cut measures, House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, praised the lawmakers’ progress on other issues this session.

“This has been a workhorse session,” he said. “So, if you are school teacher or a stakeholder in public (education,) this has been a good session for you. And it’s been a pretty OK session if you are in community college or higher (education.)”

Lawmakers agreed to fund a 7.4 percent increase to the education budget, adding $9.1 million for a literacy program designed to support elementary school students struggling with reading proficiency.

The statehouse also agreed to transfer $8 million from the general fund to pay for a possible settlement over a statewide broadband Internet contract that was deemed illegal last year. Legislative leaders say they don’t know if a settlement will be reached, but want the flexibility to finalize one now that Legislature is adjourned.

This session was also marked by rising frustration from Idaho Democrats fed up at being consistently blocked by the Republican Supermajority. Throughout the session, Democrats have protested majority leaderships’ dismissal of their bills, but those protests were rendered virtually ineffective within the Republican supermajority.

Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said that’s not fair to the residents of Idaho. “If you muzzle us, you are muzzling Idahoans,” Stennett said. “By marginalizing us, you are marginalizing Idahoans.”

The minority party also made very little headway blocking more contentious legislation.

Four Democratic committee members boycotted a legislative hearing Thursday to protest a fast-tracked anti-abortion bill, aimed at prohibiting the sale or donation of fetal tissue. Despite the protest, the legislation passed through both chambers.

Democrats also opposed legislation that would allow people to conceal carry in cities without receiving a conceal carry permit. That legislation passed both chambers on a party-line vote.

However, Democrats were able to successfully push legislation revising the state’s sexual assault laws. They also were able to establish a statewide system for collecting and tracking DNA evidence of sexual assault.

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