Dead or alive: How did bills on housing, growth and property taxes fare in the 2022 legislative session?

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The legislature is (nearly) finished for the year after a whirlwind three months of testy committee hearings, floor debates and the sound of bills getting slammed in desk drawers, never to be seen again. 

So, how did everything end up?

While we didn’t track all of the action at the State Capitol like some outlets, BoiseDev watched several pieces of key legislation impacting the Treasure Valley, growth, housing, property taxes and Valley County. 

Here’s how they fared:

Let’s tax property taxes

The topic at the top of most voters’ minds is nearly always property taxes and what can be done to provide relief for homeowners. 

The debate over Idaho’s steeply rising property taxes dominated the past four legislative sessions now, with little progress in sight. During these debates, Republican leaders, like House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, argue local government spending needs to be constrained to solve the problem, while Democrats and some other representatives on the right say there should be more relief to low-income property owners and changes to the homeowner’s exemption instead. 

Last year, the Legislature narrowly passed HB 389, a sweeping tax package making several changes to multiple sections of the property tax code in an attempt to provide relief. But, even with new restrictions on how much local governments could increase their budgets due to new growth, a slight increase in the homeowner’s exemption an increase to the property tax reduction program for low-income senior Idahoans, homeowner’s still felt the pinch of rising values. 

One of the only property tax bills passed this year came from Rep. Charlie Shepherd, R-Pollock, reversed some of the changes implemented in HB 389. This bill will add some of the hundreds of Idahoans set to be kicked off the property tax reduction program this year due to their home values being higher than 125% of the median value for their county under the changes passed in 2021. 

Shepherd’s bill will create a new threshold of $300,000 or 150% of the median assessed value for the county, whichever is higher, to participate in the program. 

There were also two dueling property tax reform pitches from Moyle and Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, but neither one made it far. Moyle’s bill, which passed the House but didn’t get a hearing in the Senate, would have required local governments to dedicate half of new sales tax revenue to property tax relief. 

Rice’s pitch to replace nearly all property taxes with a hiked sales tax grabbed big headlines, but the bill was pulled in the hopes of bringing it back next year after legislators and interest groups can have time to take a look at it. 

Housing, housing, housing

How to address concerns about Idaho’s growing housing crisis was also a hot topic in this year’s session. 

A bipartisan effort from Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, and Rep. James Ruchti, D-Pocatello, to make reforms to how the state regulates rental application fees fell apart midway through the lawmaking process. Their first bill, which would have banned city’s from limiting rental application fees, like the City of Boise’s $30 cap, easily sailed out of the House with support from interest groups like the Idaho Apartment Association. 

But, part of the deal to earn the votes in the Senate to ban capping rental application fees was a second bill requiring landlords to follow best practices for evaluating applications and not taking more applications than units available. Even with support from the same real estate and property management industry groups, the bill died on the House floor.

This is the second time in as many sessions an effort to end Boise’s application fee cap failed to make it to the governor’s desk. 

To help ease the housing crunch, legislators voted to create a special fund to use $50 million in federal American Rescue Plan funds to help private developers build workforce housing throughout the state. This housing is not solely for low-income Idahoans, but will instead be for people making between 60 and 120% of the area median income in the area. 

It passed by only one vote in the House and is set to expire in 2026. 

Two Valley County centered bills fall flat

Rep. Terry Gestrin, R-Donnelly, carried two pieces of legislation with big implications for development Valley County, but neither of them went anywhere. 

The first pitch, initially brought by development group Trident Holdings, would have changed how the Idaho Department of Lands evaluates land swaps. The process the bill would have changed is the same process Trident proposed using in order to gain access to prime development land around McCall and Payette Lake by swapping it for timberland in North Idaho. 

Their proposal to swap the land failed, so Trident, with Gestrin’s help, hoped to pass a bill creating an ombudsmen position appointed by the Governor within the Idaho Department of Lands and require appraisals of property proposed to be swapped. One of Trident’s main contentions with the Idaho Department of Lands over their denial of the land swap proposal is the department should have conducted an appraisal. 

The second piece of legislation Gestrin brought would have removed all requirements for subdividing land that is 80 acres or larger into smaller lots of 20 acres or more. This would allow land to be split and sold without further review. 

Opponents of the bill included Valley County, which recently voted to require review for every land split regardless of the size of the parcel, and the Idaho Conservation League. ICL said the bill would give more control to developers and large landholders and hurt local governments’ ability to control growth. They posited the Wilks Brothers, who own land in Valley County, were pushing the bill due to Valley County’s recent change governing land splits. 

One building code bill alive, one dead

An effort from Rep. Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay, to make changes had mixed results.

He pitched a pair of bills that would have added legislative oversight to the building code adoption process. The first bill he proposed, which was signed by Governor Little, adopted a statewide energy conservation code in Idaho. This prevents cities from adopting stricter renewable energy standards stricter than what the state allows. A compromise was struck to grandfather in some current policies the City of Boise and Wood River Valley communities have in place, but any further changes cannot deviate from the state’s requirements.

The second piece of legislation Dixon hoped to pass would have required one of the legislature’s chambers to approve any amendments recommended by the state’s building code board. But unlike its counterpart, this legislation never made it out of the Senate Commerce and Human Resources Committee. 

Odds and ends

Rep. Bruce Skaug, R-Nampa, earned support from both chambers for his bill preventing counties from doing a land lease to pay for a new jail or courthouse without voter approval. While county officials said this was a necessary tool to pay for necessary government facilities, Skaug and other proponents of the legislation said voters need to have a say if governments will be spending big on capital projects. 

As of Tuesday, Governor Brad Little has not yet signed it. 

Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian, carried two bills that easily passed the legislature and signed into law. The first will eliminate the $15 fee for homeless Idahoans to receive an identification card from the Idaho Department of Transportation to help them apply for housing, a job and other social services. The second piece of legislation will end Treasure Valley emissions testing in 2023

Correction: This story has been changed to reflect the passage of HB 660, which limits requirements cities can enact on energy efficiency. An earlier version of this story incorrectly said it had failed to advance.
This story has been changed to reflect that the workforce housing constructed through the ARPA funding approved this session will include some units for low-income Idahoans, but not the majority. An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the income ranges.

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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