The Senate has spent lots of time in session today, and is still going now, at a quarter to 6 p.m. Boise time. Among the bills it’s passed this afternoon: HB 504, the measure to give $15.8 million in leadership bonuses to Idaho teachers next year. The bill, which previously passed the House on a 62-6 vote, passed the Senate unanimously, and now goes to Gov. Butch Otter. The only opposition in either house came from six House Republicans, Reps. Barbieri, Barrett, Dayley, Harris, McMillan and Sims.
The bonuses are a small piece of the recommendation from Otter’s education improvement task force to sharply increase teacher pay in the state, mostly by developing a new career ladder and tiered licensure system. That’s still in the works and won’t happen this year, but the bonuses piece was simpler. In addition to HB 504 passing both houses unanimously, the funding for the bonuses was included in the public school budget set earlier this week by the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.
You can read my full story here at spokesman.com on today’s final passage of SB 1254, the bill to allow guns on Idaho’s public college and university campuses, though the colleges don’t want them and strenuously opposed the bill. It now goes to Gov. Butch Otter, who already has said he supports it on Second Amendment grounds.
Frustrated student leaders from the state’s campuses, who had delivered petitions with more than 3,000 signatures against the bill to lawmakers a day earlier, said lawmakers dismissed opposition from all eight public university presidents, the state Board of Education, faculty senates and student associations. “Who does this legislature represent?” asked Megan Greco, vice president of the Student Association of the College of Western Idaho. “The answer is clear: Lobbyists, and apparently, themselves.”
Senate Local Government & Taxation Committee Chairman Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, said today that he’s sticking to his determination not to give House-passed legislation to cut individual and corporate income tax rates a hearing in his committee. “I’m sticking to my guns,” Siddoway said. “If we properly fund education and our public safety requirements, we have to have that money.”
He said he may support depositing more money into state rainy-day savings accounts as “a conservative way to handle money.” But, he said, “We can’t cut taxes and fund everything.” He’s still holding out hope for his favored tax cut – an expansion of the property tax exemption on business property that lawmakers passed last year; last year’s exemption eliminated the tax for the vast majority of Idaho businesses. But that measure would have to start in the House Revenue & Taxation Committee, he noted. “First we’ll see if we can get enough horses to pull it out of there,” Siddoway said. “It has to start in that House committee.”
HB 548, the income tax cut bill, passed the House on a 54-13 vote on Monday; it has 37 co-sponsors, all house Republicans, including House Speaker Scott Bedke and Majority Leader Mike Moyle. It would phase in $126 million in tax cuts over the next six years.
SB 1254, the guns on campus bill, has passed the House on a 50-19 vote, and now goes to Gov. Butch Otter. All 13 House Democrats voted no, as did six Republicans, Reps. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake; George Eskridge, R-Dover; Maxine Bell, R-Jerome; Darrell Bolz, R-Caldwell; Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls; and Lynn Luker, R-Boise. All other Republicans voted yes, except Rep. Cindy Agidius, R-Moscow, who missed the vote.
After an hour and a half, the House debate on SB 1254, the guns on campus bill, has wrapped up, and Reps. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, and Christy Perry, R-Nampa, are giving their closing debate. “The authority surrounding the 2nd Amendment has always resided within the Idaho Legislature,” Perry told the House. “Agency heads are not elected - they do not have the same accountability. … Handing the authority to the multiple boards of trustees has not worked well for Idaho citizens. … Send it back to the Legislature where it actually belongs.” The vote is up next.
More from today’s guns-on-campus bill debate in the House:
Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, complimented House State Affairs Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, for how he ran the earlier committee hearing on the bill. “We were there for seven hours, we heard everyone who wanted to speak, and I learned a lot. I appreciate that,” Gannon said. He questioned whether Idaho adequately checks whether people who get concealed weapons permits suffer from a mental disability. “I want my kids safe,” he said. “I don’t want somebody coming on that campus with a gun and start shooting people.”
Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, said, “I do not believe this bill does anything but establish a policy giving a few people comfort that they can carry on campus.” He said he supports gun rights, but raised a number of concerns about the bill as written. “This bill is constitutional. So is the law that it’s modifying,” Clow said.
Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, said university officials “gave us some very compelling reasons to reject this bill.” He said, “I, like you, have received the emails, they’re overwhelmingly against this.” But he said he’s watched a video clip - “I’ve seen it more than once” – about a University of Nevada-Reno student who was raped at gunpoint in a campus parking lot, and who didn’t have her gun because they weren’t allowed on campus. “I cannot in good conscience vote to deny that young lady or any other person from the right to exercise the choice to defend themselves, when it is guaranteed in both the federal and state constitutions,” Andrus said. “I cannot go there, and I hope you cannot go there either.”
Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said, “Eighty percent of the firearm deaths in Idaho are self-inflicted gunshot wounds. The highest percentage of suicide attempts is in adolescent and young adult males. I think that’s a deadly combination that we’re setting ourselves up for.”
Rep. Jason Monks, R-Meridian, said if people can’t have guns on campus and they’re on campus regularly, that essentially bans them from having guns at all during their day. “What are they supposed to do with it?” he asked. “We’ve effectively said all week long, you’re not allowed to do it, and I don’t think the Constitution said that your right to bear arms was only on the weekends. Effectively that’s what we’re doing here. What are you supposed to do if you can’t take it with you in the morning, you’ve got no place to put it in the afternoon, you can’t go to the store, you can’t go to the restaurant afterward?”
Here’s some of the debate in the House this afternoon on SB 1254, the guns-on-campus bill:
Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, an attorney, said, “Idaho courts have found that restrictions on guns in schools are legitimate under the Idaho Constitution. … This is really just a question of policy.” She noted that the state’s public colleges and universities say it will cost them millions to comply with the bill, though the measure says it will have only a “de minimus” cost for signage. “Where are we going to find this money? This bill sure doesn’t provide it,” Rubel said. “And what’s the justification of this financial knee-capping of colleges? … Just to make an abstract philosophical statement?”
Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, asked Rubel, “What do you think the price of an individual’s freedom and their personal safety is? What kind of price tag would you put on that?” Though both House Speaker Scott Bedke and House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, took issue with the question, Rubel said she was willing to answer it. “I have seen no indication that this bill would in any way improve anyone’s personal safety, so I think the question is a little bit moot,” she told Crane, adding that she thought it could be argued that the bill would actually reduce people’s safety.
Rep. Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, told the House, “So few people are asking for this. It wasn’t something that was a crisis to this Legislature in the first place. In fact, my district, the district that I represent, has emphatically rejected this legislation, and I know that other districts have emphatically rejected this legislation.” At the end of his comments, after mentioning problems like bullying, Erpelding said he thought right after this debate, the Legislature should “add the words,” referring to banning discrimination against gays; his comment prompted immediate objections from several House Republicans.
Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, told the House, “Ladies and gentlemen, you know where this is coming from. We’ve got people all across the United States who are very unhappy about the assault that has been coming for years on the ability to bear and keep arms and protect ourselves. Probably any one of you that’s tried to buy ammunition knows what is going on in the United States. This isn’t by accident, we all know that. We know that there is a certain feeling across the country that there needs to be much more control on arms. … Can you really blame us for taking tiny steps, which we’ve been doing for some time, to try to secure our right to defend ourselves?”
The House has convened for its afternoon session, and quickly disposed of its first bill at hand unanimously. Now, it's time for the guns-on-campus bill. Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, is opening the debate on SB 1254.
“This is the bill that you’ve all been hearing about and waiting for,” Boyle said, and read from the Idaho Constitution, “The people have the right to keep and bear arms, which right shall not be abridged; but this provision shall not prevent the passage of laws to govern the carrying of weapons concealed on the person.”
She said, “The Legislature can regulate carry-concealed licenses, but not open carry, unless we change our Constitution. This bill does not change our Constitution. It does not do anything with open carry at this time. It does set restrictions on guns on campus.” Boyle yielded to Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa, to finish the opening debate in favor of the bill. “The presence of firearms (carried) by law-abiding citizens has never been proven to cause crime rates to go up,” Perry told the House. “There is no reason for anyone to restrict their rights.”
“Most of you know that I do carry a gun with me,” Perry said. She shared a story from years ago, in which she said she was driving on a darkened road at 5 a.m. when the driver ahead of her was driving erratically, slamming on the vehicle’s brakes. She attempted to pass, and the other driver ran her off the road, into the ditch. As she sat there fumbling for her phone, she said, the other driver approached her car. “I grabbed my gun,” she said. “The person came back, I held the gun in the window. … When they looked at it, they took off at a high speed. I didn’t have to do anything else. I did call the police. … I did get a license number. … I was still extremely scared to even be put in that position.” She said, “It’s my right to be able to defend myself, regardless of where I’m going to be.”
SB 1254 would allow retired law enforcement officers or anyone with Idaho's new enhanced concealed weapons permit to carry a gun on Idaho's public college or university campuses, anywhere except in a dorm or a large entertainment venue seating more than 1,000 people. The bill is opposed by all of the state's public colleges and universities and the State Board of Education. Currently, Idaho law lets public colleges and universities regulate guns on their own campuses; all ban them in most cases.
The House has recessed until 1:30, with just one more bill left to address before it gets to SB 1254, the controversial bill to allow guns on Idaho public colleges and university campuses. All of Idaho's public college and university presidents oppose the bill, as does the state Board of Education, but it's already passed the Senate. The National Rifle Association-backed bill is expected to pass, and Gov. Butch Otter has said he supports it.
Meanwhile, the Senate has recessed until 4 p.m.
HB 550, the supplemental appropriation bill to pay $6.6 million in state general funds to Education Networks of America to make up for missing federal e-rate funds that haven’t arrived as scheduled this year to fund the Idaho Education Network, has passed the Senate on a unanimous, 35-0 vote. “This stinks, but it is something we have to do,” said Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene. “We can’t turn the lights off on our students.” Goedde said he’s also plenty steamed at the state Department of Administration for extending the contract with ENA through 2019 without informing lawmakers.
Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said the bill is something “many of us will have to plug our nose and vote for, because not to do so would not necessarily harm ENA, it would not necessarily harm the Department of Administration, it would harm the kids that are participating in the Idaho Education Network.” The IEN is a broadband network that links every Idaho high school and also provides video-conferencing.
Cameron added, “Frankly, based on our discussions with legal counsel, we are obligated for this piece. I need to inform you that this is the first half. The second half we are still arguing and discussing and re-discussing what we do for fiscal year 2015. … This is for this current fiscal year.” The bill earlier passed the House 66-1, with only Rep. Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton, objecting; it now heads to the governor’s desk.
HB 567, Rep. Janet Trujillo’s parental rights bill, has passed the House on a 64-5 vote, after House members had lots of questions for Trujillo about what the bill actually does, including whether it would allow parents to opt their child out of standardized testing. “No, this is not an opt-out statute,” Trujillo replied. “Now, there are many states that within their statutes do have opt-out policies, but within Idaho we prefer to handle that on the local district level, and your individual district may have opt-out policies already in place.”
When the bill had its House committee hearing earlier, two supporters testified in favor of the bill, saying it would let them opt out of standardized testing for their kids. Trujillo said attorneys for school districts examined the wording of the rather vague bill and “they were very comfortable with it.” The measure, which has 18 GOP co-sponsors, now moves to a Senate committee. It says parents and legal guardians have “a right, responsibility and obligation to participate in the education of such minor children.”
Both the House and the Senate are now in session; House Majority Leader Mike Moyle said the House will first suspend rules and take up those House bills that are on its 2nd reading calendar, and then it’ll start working its way down its 3rd reading calendar. The controversial guns-on-campus bill, SB 1254, is on the 3rd reading calendar, and it’s the 11th bill down. There are six House bills on the 2nd reading calendar that will be taken up first. So, depending on how much debate there is on the various bills, the House may or may not get to SB 1254 this morning; it will reconvene this afternoon after a lunch break following its morning session.
In the Senate, senators also are planning to suspend their rules in order to take up Senate bills on their 2nd reading calendar. In addition, Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis advised the Senate that senators will go into their 14th order for amendments this morning, and again this afternoon as additional bills arrive there; the Senate will reconvene for its late-afternoon session after its afternoon committee hearings.
About 35 Add the Words protesters are ringing the 3rd floor Statehouse rotunda today, each in turn telling their stories of discrimination and why they're involved with the movement, while the others stand with their hands covering their mouths. The voices are ringing down through the Capitol rotunda. Later, the protesters all began reading their stories at once and repeatedly, creating a loud cacophony.
The protesters want the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” added to the Idaho Human Rights Act, to ban discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations based on those factors.
After a long hearing and much debate, a divided House Revenue & Taxation Committee has approved HB 507, legislation from Sen. Bob Nonini and Rep. John Vander Woude to grant $10 million a year in tax credits for donations to scholarships to send students to private schools. The idea is that by enticing Idaho students to switch from public to private schools, the state would save money. But opponents – including all three major education stakeholder groups in the state – questioned that assumption and opposed the bill.
Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, said the bill also may be unconstitutional, conflicting with the Idaho Constitution’s strict prohibition on spending state money for sectarian purposes. “I think the Attorney General’s opinion is very clear - we are taking a risk here if we pass this legislation,” he said. “In my estimation, this is no time for us to be taking a risk with the amount of money the state of Idaho has available to fund education.”
Rep. Robert Anderst, R-Nampa, spoke out in favor of the bill. “For me, this is about school choice,” he said, “and it’s about school choice for a very small number of kids.” He said Idaho’s schools could easily handle the loss of several hundred students due to the bill. “I’m assuming that we have at least that much if not more seasonally … and just population changes,” he said. “I think the public schools are positioned very well to handle this.”
Similar legislation failed last year. This year’s version would allow a tax credit for 50 percent of the donation, while keeping the same $10 million cap on the credits; last year’s bill allowed a tax credit for 100 percent of the donation. Donors also could deduct their full donation from their state income for tax purposes, for a double benefit.
Lawmakers have set the budget for the state Catastrophic Health Care Program for next year at $35 million, almost exactly what the state portion of the county-state program is budgeted for this year. Rep. Thyra Stevenson, R-Lewiston, said she and Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, didn’t think the forecasted increased caseload costs of $1.04 million would materialize next year, in part because up to 40 percent of those who now turn to the county medical indigency and state CAT fund program apparently are eligible to purchase health insurance through the state health insurance exchange.
Legislation that died in a Senate committee yesterday would have excluded anyone who qualifies for the exchange from the indigency and CAT fund program, starting in 2016. Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, who serves on the state CAT fund board, noted that last year the fund turned back $3 million of its budgeted amount to the state, while the year before, it required an additional $6 million supplemental appropriation above its budgeted amount.
With the budget set at $1.04 million less than the governor’s recommendation, JFAC essentially saved $1 million in general funds by the move. However, if the CAT fund’s costs do run higher, a supplemental appropriation could be needed to cover the bills.
The other section of intent language for the public school budget that was up for consideration in JFAC today has won unanimous support, with little discussion. It deals with funding for instructional improvement systems, including the much-criticized Schoolnet system. Again, the language is exceedingly complicated. It calls for letting the state superintendent of schools spend or distribute up to $4.5 million for maintenance, operation and licensing of an instructional improvement system, known as ISEE Phase II.
Of that, up to $2 million is required to be distributed to school districts and charter schools based on enrollment, with districts free to choose whatever system they want as long as it interfaces with the state system; they could also use the money for technology staffing costs or classroom technology. Up to $904,000 would be spent by the superintendent for digital content; and up to $1.6 million of the $4.5 million would be spent by the superintendent for “assessment items, professional development, training and school district support, in-house system maintenance, software licensing, and self-hosting support” for the current ISEE Phase II system.
Budget analyst Paul Headlee said the approved language is “the no re-bid option” for approaching this item. Instead of going out for a new contract, the state will now own and run this system in-house; it now owns the code it had obtained through the earlier contract for the Schoolnet system.
After some back-and-forth, JFAC Co-Chair Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, has withdrawn her objection, and the joint budget committee has agreed to hold off for one day on the intent language to go with the public school budget regarding high school WiFi networks. “We have a wonderful new education budget that needs to get moving,” Bell told the committee. “It needs to go to the bodies … so we can get it out and people are comfortable with what we’ve done.”
She said, “The issue here was just simply fairness – fairness to those schools out there that were not wired at this point, carefully keeping our contract commitments, and then giving the schools time to get into where we know actually what does work, and maybe when we come back next year, this system is what we want, or maybe this system is not what we want.” She said, “I would really like us to see those budgets move.”
Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, said his problem was with a clause in the intent language that says school districts can get the funding for their own systems, at $21 per enrolled student, if their own systems will meet a certain WiFi standard set by the Idaho Education Technology Association. Mortimer said it’s his understanding that the association hasn’t yet set that standard. It’s also unclear whether the networks being installed now under a statewide contract will meet that standard.
After being assured that the delay will be for only one day, Bell said she’d withdraw her objection – just after Mortimer pressed for an up-or-down vote on a motion for a one-day delay.
OK, this is complicated. JFAC has taken up the intent language to be added to the public school budget – strings tied to the funding that have the force of law – regarding high school WiFi networks and funding for the instructional management system. At issue is whether to stick with a current long-term contract that state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna signed last summer based on a one-time appropriation, or whether to scrap the contract and send the money out to school districts.
A complicated proposal now before JFAC tries to kind of do both: It would continue funding the contract for those school districts who want to remain a part of it, but would pay $21 per enrollee to districts that aren’t in the contract for their own WiFi networks, plus let districts now in the contract opt out and get the payments instead. Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, said more information is needed on this and he asked for unanimous consent to hold off on it for another day. JFAC Co-Chair Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, objected.
Community colleges would see a $2.8 million, 9.1 percent boost in state funding next year, under a budget set by the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee this morning on a unanimous vote; much of the increase would go to cover increasing enrollment at the fast-growing College of Western Idaho, occupancy costs for new buildings at CWI and the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls, and transition costs for CWI's nursing program, which is moving to a full associate degree program.
Lawmakers departed from the governor’s recommendation by including $302,300 to expand North Idaho College’s Sandpoint Center – Otter had recommended $226,700 for that – and $100,000 for a STEM initiative at the College of Southern Idaho aimed at hiring, developing and retaining faculty in science, technology, engineering and math, which Otter hadn’t recommended. But they also cut the proposed enrollment workload adjustment by more than $600,000, bringing the budget set by JFAC to slightly below the governor’s recommended 9.2 percent increase.
The JFAC-approved budget also funds pay raises totaling 2 percent, with half permanent and half one-time, as is being provided in all state agency budgets; Otter had recommended zero raises.
Legislative budget writers this morning have set a budget for the state’s four-year colleges and universities that matches the governor’s recommendation for a 6.2 percent increase in state general funds, though it’s slightly higher, at 7 percent, in total funds; Gov. Butch Otter’s recommended total-funds increase was 6.4 percent.
The JFAC-approved budget, like Otter’s, provides funding to add a second year of law school to the University of Idaho Law School’s Boise program, which now includes only the third year; covers occupancy costs for new buildings at BSU and ISU; provides a $1 million funding boost for the Center for Advanced Energy Studies, to be shared by ISU, BSU and the U of I; and adds $200,000 in matching grant funds for a major National Science Foundation grant.
Like all state agency budgets, it also includes funding for 2 percent in salary increases; at the universities, that’s $3.7 million in state general funds and $2.7 million from dedicated funding sources. Budget writers shifted funds around from the governor’s recommendation, however, trimming funding for replacement items and instead tabbing $4 million in one-time funds for the State Board of Education to allocate as it chooses. They also trimmed back the governor’s $5 million recommendation toward funding the universities’ systemwide programs, putting $2.8 million toward those; the universities had requested $14 million.
Reps. Phylis King, D-Boise, and Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, proposed an alternative plan with a 7.7 percent general-fund increase and 7.8 percent in total funds, but it failed, 2-17. The successful motion, from Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls, and Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, then passed, 18-1, with just King objecting.