Lieutenant Scott Bedke presented “Staying Connected Through Growth” during a forum hosted by the Rexburg Chamber of Commerce at Madison Memorial Hospital on April 12. 

Bedke opened his remarks by applauding Idaho’s growth in the economy and population. According to the United States Census Bureau, Idaho was the second-fastest-growing state in 2022, preceded only by Florida.

In addition to population growth, the state continued to do well economically. According to State Policy Reports, Idaho ranked first in personal income growth, employment growth, and population growth in 2022. 

“The West is doing very well and Idaho leads that pack,” Bedke said. “People have discovered Idaho. They know, like we know, that this is the best place in the nation to live, work and raise a family. Now we’ve been discovered and there’s no going back.”

He expressed gratitude and admiration for Rexburg’s local leaders. 

“You could not be better represented than you are by John and Britt and the others in the legislature for this area,” Bedke said. “You are well-represented in the budgeting and appropriations process and in the education areas. It shows when it comes to setting policy in the legislature. You’re also well-represented by these county commissioners who are key players in the state in the State Association of Counties, as is Mayor Merrill in the Idaho Association of Cities. These are problem solvers. They come with solutions.”

He continued by conveying gratitude for his partnership with Governor Brad Little. 

“We worked together a lot back in the day,” Bedke said. We didn’t always agree 100%, but what we do have is common goals and we will always be found working towards that.”

Overviewing legislative accomplishments

Bedke highlighted the accomplishments made by the legislature over the last few months, particularly in matters of education including: 

— Allowing every employee at a school district to be on the state’s insurance plan. 

— Increased starting teacher pay by $6,400

— $8,000 split over two years to every Idaho high school graduate who attends a college or trade program 

Bedke said these investments will pay dividends to future Idahoans and will lead to a better, higher quality education system in Idaho. 

“One of our in-demand careers statewide is teachers,” Bedke said. “We need to be able to recruit your kids and your grandkids into the teaching profession. Once they get there they need to be well compensated because we can’t have a good education system if we don’t have a quality teacher in every classroom.”

Bedke said the investments in education will also benefit the state economically. 

“If we’re going to have a positive business climate in Idaho, you have to have a quality education system,” Bedke said. “You can’t have one without the other.”

Bedke also shared details on the property relief bill that passed the legislature. 

The property tax relief will be taken from the state’s general fund and divided in two ways. The first half will be given to school districts based on average daily attendance to help schools pay off bonds and levies. The remaining property tax relief will be given directly to homeowners. 

Answering community questions

The second half of the forum was spent answering questions from community members. 

One bill brought up was SB1057, a bill that died in the Senate State affairs committee. According to the bill’s statement of purpose, the legislation would’ve required manufacturers of internet-capable devices to install and activate technology enabling parents to make filtering decisions for their children.

Members of the community asked why this bill didn’t make it further into the legislative process. 

Bedke cited two potential reasons for this. First, some felt that it wasn’t the proper role of the government to get involved in this way. Second, the mechanics and logistics of the bill itself. 

One concern was how cell phone companies would be punished if they didn’t activate the technology. Connections were drawn between cell phone companies and gun manufacturers being punished for how guns were used. 

Citizens also asked about Greater Idaho and whether the movement would move forward. Bedke compared the process of moving the Idaho border to merging two large companies. 

“I don’t really engage in all the what-ifs because of these three obstacles,” Bedke said. “Number one, in order to create a new state out of Idaho and Oregon, Oregon Legislature has to think that it’s OK. The Idaho legislature has to think that it’s OK and after those two hurdles are cleared, the United States Congress needs to think that it’s okay. I don’t see those three stars lining up.” 

He also expressed concerns about the logistics of merging the two states, specifically citing Oregon’s public debt and whether Idaho would have to take that on.

To learn more about future forum events held by the Chamber of Commerce, visit the Chamber of Commerce’s website.