Idaho House votes to withhold funding from cities, counties that don’t enforce state felonies

The vote fell mostly along party lines, with all Democrats opposing it and nearly every Republican supporting it.
Idaho Gov. Brad Little delivers his 2023 State of the State address held at the Idaho State Capitol, Monday, Jan. 9, 2023, in Boise, Idaho. (AP Photo/Kyle Green)

The Idaho House of Representatives voted 53-13 on Monday to pass a bill that would withhold state sales and use tax revenues from a local unit of government that declines to enforce state felony laws.

If passed into law, House Bill 22 would prohibit any local government in Idaho from receiving sales and use tax revenue if it passed an ordinance, resolution, proclamation, executive order or any other official directive refusing to investigate or enforce any state felony in Idaho law. The bill would not apply to cities or counties that refuse to enforce federal laws.

Depending on the city or county, millions of dollars of state sales and use tax revenue would be withheld if the bill is passed into law and if a local government declines to enforce felonies in Idaho Code.

The legislation had its root in another bill designed to punish local governments for not enforcing Idaho’s criminal abortion laws. Rep. Bruce Skaug (R) is sponsoring House Bill 22 as a replacement and expanded version of House Bill 2. Skaug also sponsored the original House Bill 2, the No Funds for Abortion Act, and said he was encouraged by other legislators to expand the bill so that it applies to all state felonies in Idaho, including the criminal abortion laws.

Under House Bill 22, funding would be restored to a city or county if the local unit of government rescinded or repealed its policy of not enforcing an Idaho felony on the books. If that local government did not rescind its policy, the funding would be permanently withheld and transferred to the state’s general fund.

Skaug said his bill is a preventative measure designed to ensure there isn’t anarchy in the streets of Idaho because local municipalities have refused to enforce felonies.

“We pass felony laws, and they are to be enforced when we pass them,” Skaug said on the House floor.

“However, in some of our nation, we’ve seen over the last couple of years … some riots, some wildness in the streets and that has happened because felony laws were not enforced by the local jurisdictions in those states and cities during these times,” Skaug said.

The bill advanced largely along party lines, with all Democrats opposing it and nearly all Republicans supporting it.

House Assistant Minority Leader Lauren Necochea (D) said the bill’s penalties withholding funding would hinder a city or county’s efforts to pay for a local police department or sheriff’s office.

“This bill is an unfortunate example of the heavy hand of the state going too far,” Necochea said in her floor debate against the bill. “This bill takes away local control.”

Skaug said his bill does not address a local law enforcement agency’s decision to prioritize the investigation of some crimes over others. Skaug said House Bill 22 would apply to their refusal to investigate or enforce state felony laws.

“They have to proactively say ‘we will not investigate or prosecute a felony’ before this kicks in,” Skaug said.

There is widespread speculation about whether the bill would affect the city of Boise. In July, the city passed a resolution to deprioritize investigating and using police resources in relation to the state’s criminal abortion laws, Boise Dev reported.

Legislators asked Skaug on the floor Monday if his bill would apply to the city of Boise’s resolution. Skaug, an attorney by trade, said he has not read the city of Boise’s resolution and does not know if House Bill 22’s penalties would apply to Boise.

Nobody from the city of Boise spoke about the bill during a public committee hearing last week. When asked about the bill by the Idaho Capital Sun, a city spokesperson said city officials are monitoring the bill.

“We watch all potential legislation that may have an impact on Boise’s residents very closely throughout the session, and it is our practice not to speculate on how we might need to adjust or adapt,” Maria Weeg, community engagement director for the city of Boise, said last week. “We’re anticipating at least two more months of session, and are waiting to see which pieces of legislation ultimately become law.”

Necochea was cut off after she said passing the bill will have implications for pregnancies and abortions. House Speaker Mike Moyle (R) warned Necochea against bringing up pregnancies and cautioned her “to keep it to the bill.”

Necochea said the bill does relate to Idaho’s felony criminal abortion laws.

“It’s in the bill, yeah, thank you, this bill covers all felonies and I will discuss a few of them,” Necochea said.

At that point, Rep. Brent Crane (R) asked Moyle to put the Idaho House at ease and have Republican and Democratic leaders meet behind closed doors in Moyle’s office.

The Idaho House resumed the debate after about a 10-minute recess.

Reps. Greg Lanting (R) and Jack Nelsen (R) joined all 11 Democrats in voting against the bill. All other House Republicans who were present Monday voted in favor of House Bill 22.

House Bill 22 heads next to the Idaho Senate for consideration.

This story first appeared in the Idaho Capital Sun. It is republished under Creative Commons license.