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Eye On Boise

Archive for February 2004

Clark Fork fix

Hard feelings over the University of Idaho’s decision to dump its Clark Fork Field Campus without consulting the community first bubbled over into a bill this week.

But when Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, joined Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, and Rep. John Campbell, R-Sandpoint, to propose the legislation at the House State Affairs Committee, the feelings had been smoothed over. Eskridge thanked the university’s Marty Peterson, who was in the room, for helping work out the fix. It turns out that as a land-grant university, UI isn’t under the same rules for property disposal as other state agencies. But, Eskridge said, “I’ve worked with the university. They have acknowledged that the process in Clark Fork could’ve been a little bit better.”

The university agreed to new requirements for public meetings and other steps that mimic state property procedures, including offering the property first to other state agencies before putting it up for sale, and the lawmakers wrote them into the bill.

No new name

Plans to change the name of the huge Department of Health and Welfare to Health and Social Services fell one vote short in the Senate this week, amid protests about the $30,000 cost to change signs and listings that have the old name.

Backers, led by Senate Health and Welfare Chairman Skip Brandt, R-Kooskia, argued that welfare isn’t what the giant department is really about any more, and makes up just a tiny portion of its services. But opponents didn’t think the change was worth it. Sen. Kent Bailey, R-Hayden, said it’d be a shame to tell Idahoans the only thing they’re getting is a bunch of new signs.

North Idaho lawmakers split in the 15-16 vote. Voting yes were Sens. Marti Calabretta, D-Osburn; Dick Compton, R-Coeur d’Alene; John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene; and Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow.

Voting no were Bailey and Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint.

Getting results

Just before the House Revenue & Taxation Committee met on Thursday, a committee member, at the urging of her fellow lawmakers, straightened a painting of a historic downtown Boise scene that hangs on the hearing room wall.

“It needs to go a little bit down on the left,” another lawmaker directed.

Once the painting was straight, Chairman Dolores Crow, R-Nampa, declared, “Can’t say we didn’t accomplish something today.”

“Government in action,” commented Rep. Lenore Barrett, R-Challis.

Said Crow, “That’s probably the best thing that’s been done all week.”

Barking and biting

The anti-vicious dog bill being pushed by Rep. George Eskridge and Sen. Shawn Keough of District 1 along with the Boundary County commissioners ran into a little trouble on Wednesday. The head of the Idaho Humane Society and several others pointed out flaws in the bill that could actually weaken current vicious-dog laws, and noted that some localities including Ada County have much stronger, model laws.

The lawmakers wanted to fix the state law because when Denise Dickerson was attacked by three vicious dogs in Boundary County and nearly killed while she was out for a walk last year, local authorities couldn’t find a way to order the dogs destroyed because the attack was their first offense.

The House Judiciary Committee decided to amend the bill, and the committee’s chair, Rep. Debbie Field, R-Boise, said it could possibly be improved to bring in some of the Ada County provisions. That local ordinance allows the destruction of vicious dogs for a first attack, after a hearing.

No gay marriage hearing

Sen. Sheila Sorensen, R-Boise, announced this morning that she has chosen not to schedule HJR 9, the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, for a hearing in the Senate State Affairs Committee, which she chairs.

“It’s an emotional, contentious, divisive issue,” Sorensen said. “Why do we need to bring something like this forward when we have so many serious issues?”

Sorensen noted that if the amendment were to pass, costly litigation is likely. She said that’s unnecessary, since the issue is being addressed at the national level. Furthermore, she said the issue is being used as a “litmus test” for the November election, and could draw negative national attention to Idaho.

Senators supportive of the amendment still could try parliamentary maneuvers to pull the bill from Sorensen’s committee, but failing that, it’s dead. Same-sex marriage already is illegal in Idaho. “Anything could happen - this is a very divisive issue,” Sorensen said. “I believe that this is the right thing - I don’t believe this is something we should put forward.”

Lawmakers didn’t want to hear about it

Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, and Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, are disappointed that their resolution on the Rock Creek Mine never got introduced this year.

The two tried to persuade the House Resources Committee to introduce the resolution to call attention to the need to protect Lake Pend Oreille’s water quality if the proposed mine is built upstream in Montana. But the committee refused to consider the measure, with members saying they didn’t want to tell another state what to do.

Said Eskridge, “I really was hoping that our people would get a chance to come down and at least testify on the bill.”

Daughter makes a difference

Sen. Marti Calabretta’s daughter, Rebecca Miller, visited the Statehouse on Monday and now the state library won’t go a third year without any money to buy books or periodicals. At least that’s how her mother tells it.

Miller is a senior editor with Library Journal in New York. When she visited an early-morning work session of the Legislature’s joint budget committee, of which her mother is a member, she helped persuade lawmakers to invest in some books. A $40,000 appropriation was approved in the panel’s meeting later that morning.

“Mom basically saw a gap …. and then she raised some questions,” Miller said later. “We’ve seen state libraries across the country getting just nothing.”

Lawmakers were somewhat surprised to learn that they’d cut off the state library from acquiring books for the past two years, and agreed to the small investment.

New look for lawmaker

Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, is against letting anyone under age 14 get piercings, other than in the earlobe, or tattoos either. He supported a bill that includes the ban. Here, in a moment captured by Chuck Cathcart of Idaho Public TV, Davis considers the issue.

Their own hearing room

After a House committee refused to introduce their bill and schedule a public hearing on it, the Idaho Community Action Network set up its own “People’s Hearing” on the steps of the state Capitol on Thursday. Complete with a podium and seats labeled with the names of each member of the legislative committee, activists gathered and spoke out in Spanish and English in favor of their proposal to make it easier for immigrants to get driver’s licenses, by modeling Idaho’s law after Oregon’s and Washington’s.

“They refused to hear us inside the Statehouse, so we decided to set up our hearing from the outside,” said ICAN’s Adan Ramirez. “Denying people the opportunity to speak is undemocratic.”

Lawmakers know best

Let’s say a style-conscious Idaho 13-year-old wants to have several piercings in her upper ear as well as her earlobe, and perhaps one in her eyebrow or navel too, and her parents are just fine with the idea. Idaho legislators say no way – that should be a crime.

SB 1281, sponsored by Senate Judiciary Chairman Denton Darrington, R-Declo, would forbid anyone under 14 from getting a tattoo, or having any piercings done anywhere other than the earlobe – even if their parents say they can. The bill also requires parental permission for tattoos and piercings for those aged 14 to 17.

Those who tattooed or pierced children in violation of the law could face misdemeanor charges, a $500 fine and possible jail time.

When Darrington’s committee considered the bill this week, the Idaho ACLU asked senators to drop the under-14 ban out of respect to cultures and religions that value early-age piercings or tattoos, but the senators refused.

The bill is now headed to the full Senate.

Still in the Senate?

He may just be a freshman political science major at the University of Idaho, but Henry D. Johnston is tuned in. The student, who served as a House page last year, listens in via the Internet to House and Senate debates when he gets the chance, and caught this exchange:

While debating HB 601 regarding a tax credit for the Blind Services Foundation, Rep. Mike Mitchell, D-Lewiston, referred to House Speaker Bruce Newcomb as “Mr. President.” That’s what they call the head of the Senate - not the House.

Mitchell served one term in the House in 1969-70 and six terms in the Senate, from 1971 to 1982. He returned to the House in 2003. When Newcomb noted the misspeak, Mitchell replied, “I guess it is a force of habit.”

A burning question

Rep. Wayne Meyer, R-Rathdrum, is working furiously on legislation to double the $1-per-acre fee for agricultural field burning - even though Meyer, a grass seed farmer himself, would then have to pay more.

The reason? When the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, on which Meyer serves, passed a lean budget for the state Agriculture Department, “There was no general-fund money for smoke management,” Meyer said. “That’s why I voted no.”

Meyer said he’s talked to other farmers. “We really feel it’s important to have the necessary funding to operate that program,” he said.

Meyer’s bill will be up for consideration tomorrow in the House Ways and Means Committee, which he chairs.

So did everyone

Halfway through the legislative session, the high school pages who help out with errands and such go home, and a new crop comes down to the Capitol. House Speaker Bruce Newcomb administered the oath of office to the second group of pages on Monday, and told them:

“You’re in for the best half. The second half is always when you see us at our best.”

Amid laughter, he added, “Just ask the ones that were in the 118-day session last year - they thought it would never end.”

Either way, it’s free food and drink

Lobbying groups host receptions, luncheons and dinners for lawmakers so frequently that the elected officials may be taking the free grub for granted. Thus, this exchange overheard between a state senator and a companion last week:

Senator: “I’m going to the retailers reception tonight.”

Companion: “You mean the Realtors.”

Senator: “Whatever.”

He tried everything

Sen. Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, had plenty of arguments to offer in favor of his bill to ban restaurant smoking during a passionate debate that ran for three hours in the Senate on Friday. Here’s one that got a chuckle from other senators: Hill brandished a report, and said, “It links second-hand tobacco smoke with male sexual impotence. Now if that doesn’t get you to vote for this bill, I don’t know what will.”

In the end, Hill’s legislation, SB 1283, passed the Senate on a 22-13 vote, though most North Idaho senators voted against it.

It goes both ways

Just last week, the House Environmental Affairs Committee approved legislation sponsored by Rep. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, and Roy Eiguren, lobbyist for Envirosafe, a southern Idaho hazardous waste dump, to match Idaho’s “tipping fees” for hazardous waste to Oregon’s. That meant lowering them.

Now, in the same committee, Reps. Wayne Meyer and Elaine Smith are sponsoring legislation to match another fee to Oregon’s, this one for transportation of hazardous waste. Only this bill, which applies to nuclear waste, means raising the fees.

“Our fees were so low, compared to surrounding states,” Meyer said.

He and Smith both serve on a national committee on hazardous waste, where they discovered the disparity.

Who ya’ calling historic?

The gray-haired lobbyists and legislators who hang out on the historic chairs and couches on the state Capitol’s fourth floor don’t like it when people think this sign refers to them.

Tax credit wins support

Legislation to let donors to Children’s Village in Coeur d’Alene in on a state income tax credit for contributions to youth rehab facilities had no trouble clearing the House Revenue and Taxation Committee on Wednesday, and heading to the full House.

The committee’s vice chairman, Rep. Hilde Kellogg, R-Post Falls, had this comment: “I was part of the founding board of that facility. It’s done so much good for so many children, and this just gives an opportunity for more private donations.”

It’s an election year

Senate Health and Welfare Chairman Skip Brandt, R-Kooskia, came right out with it when he was about to give his budget recommendations to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee:

“I am gearing up for campaign season, so you may have to gavel me down to shut me up. As a good politician, I’ll talk as long as you allow me.”

Plum panel plug pulled

The House had a little fun with HB 547, the measure to eliminate the state Prune Commission, which hasn’t met for at least two decades.

“A once thriving Idaho industry … has now shriveled up,” intoned Rep. Allen Andersen, D-Pocatello. “Please join me in a moment of silence, as we press the green button to de-commission the Idaho Prune Commission.”

When another representative asked, “Does that mean that this is going plumb out of existence?” the lawmakers cracked up. Just before the unanimous, 65-0 vote on the bill, Andersen told his House colleagues he’d drawn a “plum assignment.”

Incidentally, Webster’s defines “plum” as “something superior or very desirable; especially something desirable given in return for a (political) favor.”

They like that

Dan John, tax policy manager for the Idaho Tax Commission, had a pretty easy sell when he pitched HB 537 to the House Revenue and Taxation Committee. Why? He was able to tell the committee this:

“This will eliminate the filing of about 100,000 returns that are really unnecessary.”

The returns in question are quarterly reports filed by employers, in regard to tax they pay in monthly payments. Those “reconciliation” reports could just as easily come in annually, John said. “What we’re actually interested in is the money.” The quarterly filings just take up time, he said.

Needless to say, the committee voted unanimously to pass the bill.

Bills, bills, bills

The number of bills being filed in the Legislature has ballooned up to beyond last year’s level, after a slow start. Among the bills introduced just on Monday: Rathdrum Rep. Wayne Meyer’s legislation to require community college boards to cooperate with local officials like county commissioners, mayors, city councils and school boards (the law already required those local boards to cooperate with community colleges – Meyer just wanted to make it even). And St. Maries Rep. Dick Harwood’s bill to expand the current law that forbids selling drugs within a certain distance of schools to also apply to preschools, Head Start, family day-care homes, group day-care facilities and a list of others.

But the big attention-getter among new bills on Monday was the new version of Rep. Ken Roberts’ plan to amend the state constitution to require a two-thirds vote for future tax increases. The new version, which replaces one introduced earlier, expands the idea to include not just tax hikes, but also any act of the Legislature to remove or reduce any tax break or exemption.

Members of the House Revenue & Taxation Committee noted that the amendment would mean tax breaks could be enacted by a simple majority vote, but it’d take two-thirds to get rid of them.

“One is raising a tax,” Roberts explained. “The other is enjoying a tax break for different reasons, maybe industry reasons.”

After the committee defeated an attempt to kill Roberts’ bill on an 11-6 vote, it voted to introduce the measure. Rep. Leon Smith, R-Twin Falls, grumbled, “I think this is an invitation to gridlock, and if we’d had it last year we would still be here – after a short recess.”

Last year, Idaho lawmakers went a record 118 days in session before finally agreeing to raise taxes to balance the budget.

One time only

Loose talk around the Capitol says the new constitutional amendment designed to ban gay marriage is written so broadly that it could be read as banning second and third marriages for heterosexuals, too. Here’s the wording - decide for yourself:

MARRIAGE. Only marriage between one man and one woman at one time shall be recognized as valid in this state. No other relationship shall be recognized as a marriage or its legal equivalent by the state of Idaho or its political subdivisions, regardless of whether such relationship is recognized by the laws of any jurisdiction outside of this state.

Whats-his-name approved

The state Senate was unanimous in confirming three North Idaho appointees to the Lake Pend Oreille/Priest Lake Commission on Wednesday, but Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, had to set them straight on pronouncing attorney Ford Elsaesser’s name.

Lt. Gov. Jim Risch first said it ee-lasser. Then, the secretary of the Senate said el-sayer. Then, Risch came out with ee-lass-sisser.

Keough gently corrected it just by saying it right - el-sesser. The Senate had no problem with the other two names, Brent Baker and Linda Mitchell.

Hot under the dome

It’s only the fourth week of the legislative session, but tempers already are starting to flare in the Statehouse. So far this week, an angry Rep. Lenore Barrett threw a pencil after House Resources Chairman Bert Stevenson gaveled a meeting to an end before she could start an anti-wolf insurrection. The next day, House Speaker Bruce Newcomb threatened to have Idaho ACLU head Jack Van Valkenburgh escorted out after he questioned U.S. Attorney Tom Moss during a Moss speech to lawmakers on the merits of the Patriot Act. “We’ve all heard the other side many times,” Newcomb said.

Because we can

Senate Republicans held a nearly hour-long closed-door caucus Tuesday to talk about the state budget.

“There was no consensus of anything,” said GOP Caucus Chairman Brad Little, R-Emmett. “It was, `Here’s where we are, and think about it.’ ”

Added Little, “One of the most important jobs we do here is set the budget. … It’s good to know where we’re going.”

So in that case, why the secrecy? “Because that’s the way we do it,” he said.

A busy man

Former state GOP Chairman Blake Hall is the only one who gives not one, but two full presentations to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.

First, Hall addressed the influential joint budget committee as the president of the State Board of Education. Then, this week, he went before the same panel as administrator of the state Catastrophic Health Care Fund.

“It just shows you what a renaissance man I must be,” Hall said, when questioned about his double duty.

His Idaho Falls law firm has been administering the so-called CAT fund for the counties since 1985, and for the state since 1991. The firm is being paid nearly $200,000 a year for its services, and the program is just “one of my clients,” Hall said. He said he mainly earns his living as a trial lawyer in civil litigation.

“I work long hours,” Hall said.

Though he’s been giving the CAT budget pitch for over a decade, he’s only headed the Board of Ed for two years, and Hall said he didn’t really want to serve a second year as president. “I voted for Jim Hammond, he voted for me. I lost,” he explained. “I’m hopeful somebody else’ll be making the presentation on behalf of the state board next year.”

Nothing political here

Nine legislators lined up behind anti-abortion activists on Monday to promote new legislation they plan to introduce to expand Idaho’s existing informed-consent law for abortion. The new measure would, among other things, more strongly require doctors to give women detailed information about fetal development and abortion risks.

“This piece of legislation is exciting because it’s bringing forth legislative solutions to problems that face the state,” said Sen. Skip Brandt, R-Kooskia, the bill’s main sponsor along with Rep. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls.

Rep. Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, said, “We must all stand together and be about the business of strengthening the American family.”

Julie Lynde of the Cornerstone Institute said her organization wants to “restore dignity to Idaho’s pregnant mothers.” She also decried another anti-abortion group’s lawsuit against the state, which faulted Gov. Dirk Kempthorne and others for not more rigorously following the existing informed-consent law, signaling a rift in the pro-life community. In fact, Lynde’s press release directly criticized pro-life activist David Ripley of Idaho Chooses Life for going after Kempthorne, but before passing out the release, she blacked out his name.

She and Kerry Uhlenkott of Right to Life of Idaho said their groups aren’t involved in Ripley’s lawsuit.

Lee Flinn of the Idaho Women’s Network said, “Physicians in Idaho, I believe, are already giving informed consent for all medical procedures, including abortion.”

Asked about the timing - every state legislative seat is up for election this year - Flinn said, “Tis the season.”

The group of lawmakers standing in silent support of the new, yet-to-be-introduced bill also included Reps. Mary Lou Shepherd, D-Prichard; Chuck Cuddy, D-Orofino; Bert Stevenson, R-Rupert; and Sens. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston; Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth; and Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa.

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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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