Category Archives: Uncategorized

Idaho Lawmakers Look at Content Standards

by Madison Hardy

Idaho Public Radio State Capitol Bureau

UI McClure Center

“We can’t seem to get beyond this place for whatever reasons. We have supporters, we have opponents, and we circle around this conversation,” said Idaho State Board of Education President Debbie Critchfield. “Not much has changed, as far as the talking points are concerned.”

Consuming the better part of the last two weeks, the House Education Committee has finished reviewing Idaho’s Content Standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics. A Common Core adaptation, the standards prompted dispute in late 2019 during hearings held by the S.B.O.E which allowed educators, parents, and agencies to voice their opinions on the guidelines.

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Drafted in the early 2010s, the Idaho Content Standards were intended to aid the state’s longstanding problems in education.

“There is not a teacher in Idaho that starts their day wanting to underserve a student, they just don’t,” said Critchfield.

Prior to the standards, public education was less detailed and lacked unity across school districts. In aligning with Common Core, lawmakers formed guidelines for districts that developed skills like critical thinking, problem-solving, and other higher education concepts vital for the competitive workforce.

In the two committee meetings, Rep. Dorothy Moon (R-Stanley), who has opposed the standards throughout her time in office, was first to testify. Moon said that many of her constituents expressed negative opinions on not just one guideline in the Idaho Content Standards, but the entire package – particularly the standardized testing.

“[There was an] alarming number of people who just didn’t like the content, the testing, and large hours spent in testing,” said Moon.

Common Core revised the Idaho Standards Achievement Test, which compares data with K-12 programs nationally. Dissenters argue the ISAT forces educators and school districts to conform their lessons to produce test results, rather than focus on student knowledge.

It became apparent after the two days of hearings that most of the standards opposition came from rural districts and areas with less available funding for academic resources or training. Speakers against the content guidelines came from Idaho counties like Boise, Custer, Valley, Madison, Lemhi, Bingham, and Gem.

“One of the things that ran through my mind as we heard from people from the same school district, [is] how we make sure that our teachers are supported outside of our urban areas,” said Critchfield. “Making sure that the professional development is equal to the needs of our smaller districts who have less resources and have less opportunities to collaborate with other districts.”

Dissenters argued children began hating English and Math courses because of the Idaho Content Standards. However, supporters say this is part of transitioning from teaching memorization to conceptual understanding and problem-solving.

“Are there kids that hate math? Math is hard, the core [standard] is hard, it’s rigorous,” said Peggy Hoy, an instructional math coach in Twin Falls. “There may be students that don’t like math but I had students that didn’t like math before.”

The Idaho Content Standards were officially implemented in 2013, making the guides barely seven years old. While the programs have not yet seen a full cycle of K-12 students graduate under the guidelines, Idahoans are remiss not to see more positive growth in national statistics. Since 2009 NAEP, also known as the “Nation’s Report Card,” reported Idaho’s achievement level percentages for Grade 4 reading has remained stagnant. Below basic at 31 percent, Basic dropped from 36 to 32, Proficient increased 26 to 28 and Advanced from 6 to 9 percent.

“It is difficult for me to say that we need to change them or get rid of them or let’s let them bake a little bit longer,” said Critchfield. “What I do believe is that there are more immediate changes that can be made to the system that leave the standards in place.”

Another point of concern for ELA standards was the appropriateness of the Common Core curriculum. The opposition referenced borderline pornographic passages in books on recommended content lists, and sources for reading comprehension with dark undertones.

While there are suggested curriculum lists, alternative options are available that meet state requirements. Guided by the standards and state education agency recommendations, the curriculum is ultimately chosen by local level directors, community members, and teachers. This allows rural and urban students to learn the same skills-based on regional values and expectations, regardless of housing or school district.

“It is important to understand that the standards are not curriculum, that is put into the hands of local teachers,” said Erin Marrello, an English teacher in Fruitland. “We depend on these standards to guide our curriculum, [they] do not dictate content.”

Removing the Idaho Content Standards is a present fear for the Idaho School Board Association, who made protecting the standards a legislative priority. Without a plan to replace the standards school districts could be thrown into chaos, negatively impacting achievement scores.

“As a state [we] have got to get to a place where we are not in a constant exercise of reviewing the standards every year to the level and the detail that we are now,” said Critchfield. “We have a review process, which we need to have, and we undertake on a regular schedule so that we don’t get into these cycles of taking time away from other things.”

The total score of those who testified in support versus opposed Idaho ELA and Math standards were 29-10 by the end of last week.

Committee Chairman Rep. Lance Clow (R-Twin Falls) said the House committee will not vote on the standards until a later date. Senate officials have abstained from discussing the standards pending House deliberations. If lawmakers decide to remove or alter the rules, both committees must agree to the revisions, otherwise, they will remain unchanged.

Posted January 25, 2020

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House Committee Hears Tax Proposals

by Logan Finney

Idaho Public Radio State Capitol Bureau

UI McClure Center

The House Revenue & Taxation Committee is gearing up to consider this year’s tax proposals. Wednesday’s hearing saw the introduction of several bills aimed at property and grocery taxes.

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Rapidly rising property taxes have been a top priority for constituents and lawmakers alike. According to GOP legislative leadership, some homeowners have seen their property taxes double or even triple in recent years.

“Especially in the high growth areas, it’s forcing some of our citizens that have lived here, some of them all of their lives, out of their homes,” said House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star. “Not only our seniors but our young families can’t afford homes.”

Moyle introduced two bills to the committee that would limit the proportion of local budgets collected from property taxes.

Counties, cities and other taxing districts are allowed a three percent annual increase in the portion of their budgets that is funded by property taxes. Any new value generated by construction, annexation, or other factors may also be added to that part of the budget.

Moyle’s first bill would require that new value to be included in the three percent maximum, rather than being added on top. The second bill would impose a one-year temporary freeze on those budgets. For the upcoming fiscal year 2021, property tax budgets would be limited to their current level with no increase.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean that your property taxes are going to go down,” said Moyle. “It puts a Band-Aid on it, and it gives the opportunity for those of us in the Legislature to sit down and find out a way to proceed with this.”

Both of Moyle’s bills include provisions to override their limits with a local two-thirds vote.

If a local government increases its property tax budget by less than the three percent maximum, the state tax commission keeps track of the difference. These uncollected amounts accrue year after year, sometimes totaling millions of dollars in urban parts of the state. Current state law reserves those unclaimed taxes as a foregone balance, which governments have the right to go back and collect in the following years.

Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian, introduced a bill that would reverse this arrangement. Rather than retaining access to foregone taxes by default, local governments would have to specifically set aside an amount to reserve for future budgets.

While reining in property taxes is a high priority, lawmakers are also weighing another run at the grocery tax.

Idaho residents are eligible for a 100-dollar tax credit that increases to 120 dollars at age 65. House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, introduced a bill to increase the credit to 135 dollars for all ages.

“Being one of the authors of this in the past, the mentality was we only had a limited amount of money,” Bedke told the committee, “so we bumped the amount for seniors up, knowing that we would come back later to negate the effects of sales tax on food for all citizens, but we gave the seniors a head start.”

Bedke intends to fund the increase with roughly 49 million dollars from the Tax Relief Fund, which was created when the state began collecting online sales tax last year. Governor Brad Little had called for 35 million dollars from the fund for grocery tax relief in his state of the state address.

At the end of the meeting, Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, made a motion to place a bill on the agenda that would remove the tax on groceries completely. Committee Chairman Rep. Gary Collins, R-Nampa, said that the proposal had not yet gone through the proper channels for him to act on it.

In an email after the hearing, Giddings said her bill mimics the grocery tax repeal approved by the legislature in 2017 and vetoed by then-Governor Butch Otter. It has now been introduced as a personal bill.

Moyle indicated that he expects many more tax bills to surface in the coming weeks now that the taxation committee has finished their administrative rules review.

Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, is reportedly working on a bill to increase the sales tax from six percent to seven percent and phase out school supplemental levies.

Rep. Jason Monks, R-Nampa, has introduced a personal bill that would eliminate property tax entirely and increase the sales tax from six percent to eleven percent.

Rep. Steve Berch, D-Boise, has introduced a resolution in the House calling for a committee to evaluate existing tax exemptions, credits, and deductions, which was then referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.

Posted January 25, 2020

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ISDA proposes new program to keep family farms in the family

by Riley Haun

Idaho Public Radio State Capitol Bureau

UI McClure Center

 

Farm Forward program would support new and existing farmers, veterans with advice and information

 

The Idaho Department of Agriculture proposed a new program aimed at helping Idaho farmers keep their farms in the family during the department’s legislative budget hearing on January 15.

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Celia Gould, ISDA director, told Joint Financial Appropriations Committee members the Farm Forward program will work to assist emerging farmers and support existing farmers with the goal of making it easier to stay on the farm.

With more and more young people choosing to leave family farms instead of staying on to take over from aging parents, Gould said the future of these farms is a rising concern throughout Idaho agriculture. The industry is aging – the average Idaho farmer is almost 57 years old, Gould said, and there’s no guarantee of young farmers to replace them.

“A well-known Idaho farmer told me a story about passing on his farm to the next generation,” Gould, an Owyhee County native, told the committee. “He asked his son if he wanted to take over the family farm. His son said no—farming is too hard. And then he went on to become a U.S. Marine instead.”

Gould requested funding from the committee to create a position for a full-time program manager, who once hired will serve as a liaison between farmers, industry and government to connect farmers with information and funding they need to stay in the business.

Chanel Tewalt, chief communications officer for ISDA, said the department hopes to provide farmers with walk-in services through the program to make access to resources quick and simple. Eventually, they aim to facilitate an annual conference for educators, farmers and industry members.

The program manager will operate out of ISDA’s Twin Falls office, but Tewalt said program services will be accessible from anywhere in the state.

“We wanted someone out there in Twin (Falls), in the heart of farm country,” Tewalt said. “They shouldn’t have to be in Boise just because the main office is here.”

Tewalt also said the Farm Forward program will focus on disabled farmers and farmers with military service. Idaho farmers who served in the military are a full decade older on average than their non-veteran counterparts, so encouraging young farmers to take their places is an even more pressing matter.

People from rural America account for 45 percent of all armed service members and often grew up on family farms, Tewalt said, citing a USDA statistic from 2010.

“So they come home, and they have this huge amount of experience, but I don’t know if we’re doing the best job of helping them get back to these rural areas and start working again,” Tewalt said.

Once established, the program will help farmers take advantage of federal funds aimed at getting returning veterans into the agricultural industry. Multiple grant opportunities already exist to help returning veterans get into farming, but Tewalt said Idaho currently has no one able to assist farmers in getting those funds.

The program has been in development for a long time, Tewalt said, and the department expects to hit the ground running once the legislature approves its funding request. Currently, she said they are working on first steps such as building a website with resources for farmers in the interim.

An advisory board has been assembled to help guide the program and “flesh out ideas,” Tewalt said. The department sought out members of the banking and agribusiness industries as well as legislators and University of Idaho faculty to serve as a sounding board while the project gets underway.

“We’ve heard very, very positive feedback so far,” Tewalt said. “We’ve had this mission on our minds a long time, and everything is now knitting together very well.”

Sen. Bert Brackett (R-Rogerson, Dist. 23), one of the program’s key legislative supporters according to Tewalt, said he’s optimistic about Farm Forward’s ability to help family farms with the logistics of passing an operation to the next generation.

A fourth-generation rancher himself, Brackett said he understands the complexities of family dynamics and financial worries when deciding a farm’s future. Transitioning with concerns like debt in mind can be hard on a family, he said, but the appeal of passing a farm to the next generation remains in rural, remote areas like Owyhee County.

Brackett said he hopes Farm Forward will be able to provide a form of “counseling,” offering outside guidance to families planning their next steps.

“The worst thing that can happen to a family… is putting off tough decisions like these until it’s too late,” Brackett said. “Professional help of some kind is often needed. Every farm, every family dynamic is different. There’s no one size fits all.”

Though allocating new funds in the face of a tight budget is an obvious challenge, Brackett said he feels good about the program’s support among legislators. Governor Brad Little endorsed the program as part of ISDA’s proposed budget, which Brackett thought would make its success “highly more likely.”

Beyond one-time funding requested to create the management position, the program will utilize existing ISDA funds, which Tewalt said would hopefully ease concerns over further spending.

Posted January 24, 2020

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New bill would allow year-round wolf hunting

by Riley Haun

Idaho Public Radio State Capitol Bureau

UI McClure Center

Idaho Senate resources committee to consider creation of wolf-free zones

Sen. Bert Brackett (R-Rogerson) introduced a bill creating zones where wolves could be hunted year-round in the Senate Resources and Environment committee on January 22.

The bill would designate 11 big game hunting units, primarily located south of the Snake River, as “wolf-free zones,” allowing hunters and trappers to take wolves any time of the year. Chronic depredation zones, where Idaho Fish and Game or USDA has identified four depredations in the past five years, would also be allowed year-round hunting.

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Currently, Idaho only allows wolf hunts a few months out of the year, typically between late summer and spring of the next year, though wolves attacking livestock or pets can be killed at any time without a tag. Under Brackett’s proposal, hunting licenses and wolf tags would still be required year-round to hunt or trap wolves, and hunters would still have to report wolf kills to Fish and Game within seven days.

Brackett, a rancher in his Twin Falls County district, said the bill aims to “get a handle” on the long-running problem of wolf depredations on livestock. While incremental efforts have been made through hunting, trapping and Fish and Game’s Wolf Management Plan, Brackett said wolf numbers have continued to increase along with depredation events.

“I don’t want to diminish the efforts [by Fish and Game] already being made,” Brackett said. “We have a good management plan—we just need to follow it. But ranchers’ livelihoods are being threatened.”

The Capital Press reported in December that USDA Wildlife Services confirmed 75 wolf-caused depredations between July 1 and November 15, down 48 percent compared to the same period in 2018. But total wolf depredations over the fiscal year ending June 30 hit a record high of 175, up 25 percent from the previous year.

The bill includes a “trigger” of 20 wolf packs or 200 wolves total. If Idaho wolf populations dropped below that level, Fish and Game would be authorized to review the policy and “take appropriate action” to restore numbers. The current Wolf Management Plan has a threshold of 15 packs before review or restorative action is needed.

The committee voted 7-2 to send Brackett’s bill to print, ensuring a hearing in committee at a later date. Sens. Michelle Stennett (D-Ketchum, Dist. 26) and Maryanne Jordan (D-Boise, Dist. 17) voted against the proposal. Jordan said she was “uncomfortable” with the broad scope of the bill at present, but was keeping an open mind for further discussion on the proposal’s parameters.

Posted January 23, 2020

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Idaho State Legislature– Week 2

History was made during the second week of the 2020 Idaho State Legislature, as lawmakers in the House voted for the first time to expel one of their own.

There have already been suggestions among some State Capitol regulars that this year’s session will be running long. Time will tell on that, of course, but in the meantime here’s a brief look at Week 2 of the Second Regular Session of the 65th Idaho State Legislature.

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(Photo by Logan Finney)

After a lengthy majority caucus meeting, the Idaho House voted on January 16 to vacate the seat held by Rep. John Green (R-Post Falls) with no debate. Green was convicted on felony charges in Texas. Procedures are underway to fill his seat in the Legislature.

 

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(Photo by Riley Haun)

The Idaho State Department of Agriculture was among the agencies presenting before JFAC, the budget-setting committee.

“Our agency still tends to run pretty lean-it’s not accurate to say everything is perfect,” ISDA Director Celia Gould said, but highlighted success of increased market opportunities and better services.

Gould is requesting funds for a program manager position for Farm Forward, a new program she says will work to keep Idaho farms in families by supporting veterans, young farmers, and family farms.

Later in the week, the Board of Veterinary Medicine presented rules to the House Agricultural Affairs Committee, including fee increases for vet and vet tech licenses. Executive Director Jeremey Brown says it’s necessary to keep the agency running another year. He also answered questions from Rep. Bill Goesling (R-Moscow) about the state’s ongoing veterinarian and vet tech shortage.

“Are we producing enough veterinarians to meet our needs and are we producing the right kind?” Goesling asked.

“We are at a shortage,” Brown answered.

Agriculture note: Earlier presentations to lawmakers this session showed that Idaho has the 5th largest agricultural economy in the United States, based on farm GDP as a percentage of the state’s total GDP. Idaho’s 2019 cash receipts were more than $8.3 billion from milk, cattle, potatoes, hay, grain, sugar, and barley.

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(Photo by Riley Haun)

Gov. Brad Little signed two executive orders.

The first makes “zero-based regulation” permanent, so agencies will have to justify every rule they want to keep each year.

The second makes agency rules documents more transparent and streamlined, requiring guidance docs to be easily accessible and legible online.

Gov. Little says about 20% of rules chapters will be reviewed each year by their respective agencies, according to a staggered 5-year schedule, in order to spread out the burden.

Senate Pro Tem Brent Hill compares rules overhaul this session to cleaning out a hoarder’s house. “We got the house clean, now we have to work to keep it clean.”

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Also:

• Idaho Gov. Brad Little issued a proclamation on Friday declaring January as Human Trafficking Awareness Month in Idaho.

• Idaho Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Burdick delivered his annual “State of the Judiciary” address to Idaho House and Senate lawmakers. Much of the focus was on mental health issues, and what Burdick said was the need for a new course to deal with the state’s mentally ill.

• Idaho Content Standard hearings kicked off in the House Education Committee. Among many speakers were SBOE Pres. Debbie Critchfield, Supt. Ybarra, Deputy Supt. of Communications & Policy Marilyn Whitney, Rep. Moon (R-Stanley), and former Supt. Tom Luna. The hearing on science standards will be held on Wednesday, Jan. 22.

• House Speaker Scott Bedke, speaking at the Idaho Environmental Forum, said he will be bringing legislation for a constitutional amendment to fix the number of legislative districts at 35. Currently the constitution allows a range of 30-35. Bedke on the redistricting commission: “we’re not going to mess with the numbers, so everybody can chill on that.”

Week 3 begins Monday, January 20, 2020.

(Reporters Riley Haun, Madison Hardy, Logan Finney, and Glenn Mosley contributed to this report)

Posted January 19, 2020

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Bill Aims to Shift Drug Policy from Arrest to Treatment

by Logan Finney

Idaho Public Radio State Capitol Bureau

UI McClure Center

 

Sen. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, introduced a personal bill Tuesday to decriminalize the possession of illegal drugs and allow commitment in treatment facilities for substance abuse disorders. The legislation is intended to shift the state’s drug approach from arrest and incarceration to treatment and rehabilitation.

“Our mandatory minimum provisions say that if you are possessing a certain amount of a drug, you are deemed to be a drug trafficker and you will do a certain amount of time in prison,” Burgoyne said. The bill would effectively decriminalize drug possession by requiring possession with the intent to deliver in order to qualify as drug trafficking.

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(File photo)

Burgoyne said that he views most people with drug addictions as victims rather than criminals. “People who become addicted to pain medication as the result of prescriptions…Are they really a criminal when they lapse into using opioids illegally because they became addicted? Are they really a criminal because if they can’t get an opioid prescription legally, they turn to an illegal opioid like heroin?”

The senator was quick to clarify that the bill would not allow driving under the influence or being under the influence in public, nor would it make life easier for those who push or sell illegal drugs.

“If you’re possessing for your own use that’s one thing,” Burgoyne said, “but if you’re possessing with the intent to deliver you are a drug trafficker, and you will receive the mandatory minimum.”

State law currently has a process for committing the mentally ill to protective custody or a treatment facility if they present a danger to themselves or others. The proposed bill would alter ‘mentally ill person’ to ‘person with a mental disorder or a substance-related disorder,’ allowing those under the influence of drugs to be placed in such treatment facilities as well.

“I think that we need to recognize that we can’t arrest our way out of this problem. We’re clogging the criminal justice system with people who are not going to be rehabilitated [there],” Burgoyne said.

“Not everyone who is using an illegal drug needs to be civilly committed to an institution. Some people may need to be civilly committed to outpatient rehabilitation. Some people may not need to be civilly committed, but this needs to be an option.”

The bill comes amid a larger push for criminal justice reform this year at the Legislature. Previous attempts to reform the mandatory minimum laws have passed the House but failed to get hearings in the Senate.

Burgoyne said he does not expect the decriminalization bill to be passed in its current state. “The bill that I’ve introduced has many issues in it that need to be thoroughly discussed and carefully considered. What it ends up looking like after all of that, it could be quite different.”

You can see the legislation here:

SENATE BILL 1222

Posted January 19, 2020

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Gov. Little Moving Forward on Behavioral and Mental Health Initiatives

by Madison Hardy

Idaho Public Radio State Capitol Bureau

UI McClure Center

 

Idaho is consistently one of the states with the highest reported rates of suicide. In 2017 the CDC reported suicide as Idaho’s 8th leading cause of death, climbing from 10th place in 2013. Nationally, Idaho’s rate of suicide is 58 percent higher than the US average. Growing from a rate of 14.7 to 22.9 deaths per 100,000 persons since 2001 according to the Idaho Health & Welfare’s January 2019 fact sheet.

An American Foundation for Suicide Prevention report says on average one Idahoan dies by suicide every 22 hours, nearly six times more than deaths from alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents.

In Governor Little’s State of the State address he said he will increase initiatives to address social and mental illness during his tenure as governor. Setting aside part of his budget to supply teachers with further training and resources to help students struggling with trauma and mental illness.

Little’s proposals are predominantly geared toward young children in elementary and middle schools across the state. Enacted through expenditure funds, Little’s various programs will aid in educating teachers to recognize behavioral health problems before they affect children’s futures.

“We know this is a big enough problem,” said Little. “When I talk to educators they are all very appreciative about giving them more tools.”

During a media event on Tuesday, Gov. Little and Senator Fred S. Martin (R-Boise) promoted the premier partnership between the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline and three-digit 2-1-1 service. 2-1-1 has assisted as a referral source for Idaho’s Suicide Prevention Hotline, this new step assures that callers have better access to necessary help.

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(Photo by Madison Hardy)

 

“The statistic about Idaho suicide is something that none of us are proud of, but we have to continue to do all these incremental things to help with mental illness challenges all over the state of Idaho,” said Little. “Whether they be in our grade school kids or whether they be in senior citizens and everybody in between.”

An advocate for the 2-1-1 CareLine, Sen. Martin stated that he has wanted an easy-to-remember three-digit number for Idaho’s suicide hotline for years. Prior to this change if an individual called in a crisis 2-1-1 and the operator perceived them as suicidal they would give the caller Idaho’s ten-digit suicide prevention hotline and encourage them to call that number then hang up.

“That was not acceptable to me or to those working there, they can now transfer that individual directly to the suicide hotline,” said Martin. “Now [it is] 24 hours a day, seven days a week [service], that our citizens in the state of Idaho have available the 211 to get to the suicide hotline. It is one source, one tool, there are many others.”

The 2-1-1 Idaho CareLine is a statewide, free service that provides information and referrals connecting Idahoans to health and human service resources. Apart from suicide-prevention and crisis mental health support resources, 2-1-1 additionally provides links about rental and utility assistance, food pantries, Medicaid, and low-cost healthcare providers.

Little also talked about the first joint executive, judicial and legislative Behavioral Health Council, created to address different challenges from a holistic level. The council will be enacted through an executive order, resolution, and proclamation by the separate branches. Through these actions, they will ensure that they address big and small behavioral health issues, including suicide. The first meeting of the council is scheduled for March 30, 2020.

“We are fortunate that the agencies, that the legislature and that basically society recognizes the challenges a lot of these people have,” added Little. “The issue of these mental health challenges and suicide is something that is very important to all the people of Idaho.”

Posted January 19, 2020

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