District 6 State Senator Dan Johnson returned to Boise for the start of the 66th Idaho Legislative session, which begins on Jan. 11. This session marks the beginning of Johnson’s 6th term in the legislature after running unopposed in the 2020 general election to represent the people of Lewis and Nez Perce counties. He is one of 35 senators statewide (including Carl Crabtree who represents Idaho, Clearwater and Shoshone counties.)
Johnson said that there is some uncertainty as to how the session will proceed this year due to the coronavirus.
“We may just organize and meet for a few weeks and go home,” he said. He anticipates they will work on rules, setting budgets and looking at changes to disaster declarations (such as the Governor Little’s coronavirus extreme emergency declaration in March). “We may look at which bills that could wait another year. It could be a session without a lot of bills”
Johnson said he is looking forward to serving on the senate education committee for the first time.
“I think education will be an interesting committee to serve on since there are so many decisions to be made,” Johnson said. He expects discussion of the funding model, based on attendance has temporarily shifted to be based on short-term enrollment.
Johnson thinks that last session’s proposal to change the statewide school funding formula would have hurt small schools.
“Some factors weren’t measuring the right things,” he said. He hopes to help develop an equitable way to allocate funds that consider the differences between small schools and large. His own children attended Nezperce schools.
In addition to the education committee Johnson is a member of the agricultural affairs committee and the resources and environment committee. He said that the agriculture industry across the state has generally been doing well during the pandemic.
This will be Johnson’s third term on the resources and environment committee where he will serve as vice-chair. Johnson noted that both he and chairman Steve Vick of Dalton Gardens (Coeur d’Alene) represent northern Idaho. This will be the first time in recent history that northern Idaho senators have led this committee, so this may cause a subtle shift in the committee’s work. He describes the committee as focusing on lands, water and air. This includes the activities of the Idaho Department of Lands, Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), and forestry and mining issues, including those related to the Stibnite mining project.
With the completion of the 2020 United States Census, Johnson expects that the bipartisan redistricting will begin their work in 2021 to review population numbers in each district and recommend changes to balance the districts. Any adjustments could change the districts for the 2022 election.
Johnson said that he and fellow legislators have been learning how to hold meetings using Zoom technology.
“A year ago we hadn’t worked with Zoom,” Johnson said. He thinks that using Zoom for hearings can provide more opportunity for public participation. He thinks it is important for the person running a meeting to consider the people in the audience that they can’t see since they are on a screen and not in the room.
Johnson said that legislators are not required to wear masks during the session; it is a choice.
“I choose to wear a mask in the capital,” said Johnson.
If you have questions or comments for Johnson, contact him by e-mail at DJohnson@senate.idaho.gov or by phone at the statehouse during the session at (208) 332-1421.