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A legislature like the people?

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Right now, before the Idaho Legislature gets too deep into working through what will be considered, passed or rejected this session, time seems right for a review of the policy preferences of the people of Idaho.

When we do, we’ll have a benchmark for the end of the session: How closely did the Legislature’s decisions, and the subjects it addressed, match the views of Idahoans?

Strictly, of course, the people of Idaho collectively don’t get to deliver a State of the State address, or something similar. But you can derive a rough equivalent, in priorities and preferences, from the Idaho Public Policy Survey.

This is the annual poll of 1,000 Idaho adults conducted toward the end of each year. (The whole thing can be found at sps.boisestate.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Official-2017-State-Survey-Report.pdf.) Polls aren’t perfect, of course, but Boise State University has deep experience in running these, and the results tend to match from year to year. It seems at least roughly realistic.

The top agenda item for Idahoans, according to the poll, was the same as in Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter’s State of the State: Public schools.

“For the second consecutive year, Idahoans identify education as the most important issue facing the state, with 26.5% saying that it is the most pressing issue (compared to 28.2% in 2016),” the report said. No great surprise there, though there was also this about a related area often ignored by the legislature: “Another source of educational opportunities – the state’s public libraries – received high marks, however. 82.8% agree that the libraries in their communities create educational opportunities for people of all ages, while 81.7% consider the library in their community a good resource for access to information and other technological resources. These figures are consistent across all groups, with respondents in northern Idaho the most favorably disposed toward public libraries.”

The second biggest concern, well ahead of anything else: “The results … indicate that the issue area with greatest increase in public concern is health care policy. 70.5% of Idahoans scored health care at least an 8 when asked how important it was, on a scale of 1-10, for the state legislature to address, an 11.2% increase from last year. The number of respondents giving health care a 10 (i,e., the highest level of importance possible) increased by 12.7% from 2016, further underscoring the fact that the public views health care as an area deserving of the state legislature’s attention.”

In recent years, the legislature’s biggest health concern seems to have been an obsession with not doing anything proposed by the federal government. We’ll see if its interest expands at all this session.

Transportation has been a topic of contention in several recent sessions. The public’s take? “Transportation also saw some change as there was a slight increase (+3.7%) in those who felt addressing transportation issues was moderately important (i.e., 4-7) and a significant decrease (-7.9%) in those stating addressing transportation was not very important.”

On another subject of much discussion, the poll asked Idahoans what they thought of resettling refugees in Idaho. The result: “Idahoans are divided in their support of resettling refugees in Idaho; a slim majority (51.1%) favor this program, while a sizeable minority (43.8%) of citizens oppose it. However, although more citizens of Idaho favor this program, those who oppose refugee resettlement appear to feel very strongly about the matter.”

The Legislature won’t necessarily take much action on refugees, but if it does, who will it listen to?

And beyond that, how closely will the Legislature match the views of Idahoans? Watch and see.

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