Archive for March 2004
The Idaho House adjourned its 2004 session at 5:45 p.m. on Saturday, March 20th, and the Senate followed suit at 6:52 p.m.
Gov. Dirk Kempthorne hailed lawmakers for their 69-day session, saying, “I think we have seen tremendous progress made.” But with 200 to 300 bills waiting on his desk as the lawmakers left town, Kempthorne wasn’t all sweetness. Though he hadn’t used it yet, the governor said, his VETO stamp was “still inked and ready.”
Sen. Bert Marley, D-McCammon, gave a grudging compliment to those who hashed out the much-amended charter school reform bill as the session closed, though he opposed the bill.
“We could’ve done better,” he said. “I guess I have to applaud the efforts that have been made - I’m just not very impressed with it.”
Among the many fits and starts that the much-lobbied, much-amended charter school reform legislation went through was an odd one on Saturday morning. The Senate was getting ready to consider whether or not to concur with two rounds of House amendments to SB 1444. But the copy of the complex bill that was passed out to every senator had one problem - it had only the odd-numbered pages, and was missing all the even ones.
Sen. Tom Gannon, R-Buhl, said, “The good thing is half the controversy’s gone.”
The glitch held things up for an extra half-hour or more while new copies were made.
As the state Senate worked into the night Thursday, Sens. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, and Gerry Sweet, R-Meridian, saw just the opportunity they’d been waiting for. Two moderate senators were missing, having been formally excused for conflicting commitments as the night wore on. So Pearce and Sweet called for bringing the anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment they’ve been championing back to the Senate - again. They’ve already tried every parliamentary maneuver in the book to revive the bill, but technically can try again each day until the Legislature adjourns.
Senate State Affairs Chairman Sheila Sorensen, R-Boise, made a motion to adjourn instead. That motion supersedes everything else, and so the Senate voted 17-16 to adjourn and was done for the night.
Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, who voted against the motion, said the late-night maneuvering had one key effect: The Senate definitely won’t finish its session today, instead pushing the legislative session into Saturday.
Davis figured the Senate lost a productive hour it had planned to spend passing or killing some of the dozens of bills that remain on its calendar. “An hour at night is worth about two hours in prime time,” he said. “People are more tired, and as a result, they get to the point a little more quickly.”
“It slowed us down,” he said.
Then there was Rep. Bill Sali, R-Meridian, the House’s Health and Welfare Committee chairman. He told the House, “If we’re concerned about the air, then we all need to quit breathing, because we’re all exhaling carbon dioxide, which is one of the constituents of cigarette smoke.”
Sali may have been thinking of carbon monoxide, a toxic component of cigarette smoke that’s not generally present even in bad second-hand breath.
Rep. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, was right in the middle of his debate against the smoking bill when suddenly Rep. Kathy Skippen’s computer began blaring out the theme to Indiana Jones, right into the House P.A. system.
Skippen couldn’t get it to stop, though Harwood was mid-way through his comments.
Once another representative managed to shut down the blaring fanfare from Skippen’s computer, House Speaker Bruce Newcomb told Harwood, “Sorry for the interruption, good gentleman from (District) 2, but nobody was listening anyway.”
Harwood responded with good humor, “Mr. Speaker, I think there’s more truth to that than not.”
Later, Newcomb apologized, saying the comment wasn’t personal to Harwood. “It’s just when people start citing studies and it gets late, you can kinda see people’s eyes glaze over,” he said.
First, Gov. Dirk Kempthorne proposed a $1,000 tax credit for new jobs that pay more than $15.50 an hour and provide health insurance benefits. Then, the House thought that was too high, so they amended it down to $12.50 an hour.
When the bill got to the Senate, senators amended it again - back to $15.50
Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, explained that at the lower level, the workers would qualify to enroll their kids in the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which would mean the state would have to pay. “It’s important that we put this wage at a level where people will actually be able to access the health care insurance,” he said.
The Senate on Tuesday passed the twice-amended bill on a unanimous, 31-0 vote.
With lawmakers scrambling to wrap up their session by the end of this week, it was something of a surprise on Friday when the Senate, which has more than 100 bills left on its calendar, decided to quit shortly after lunchtime and head home for the weekend.
“We had a lot of senators, especially those going to North Idaho, who had purchased airplane tickets,” said Senate President Pro-tem Robert Geddes, R-Soda Springs. “If they don’t make that 3:30 flight, they have to hang around ‘til 10.”
Despite the early start to the weekend, Geddes said Monday, “I think we can finish this week.”
Hannah Vogel, 13, was visiting the state Capitol with a group of 35 eighth graders from Sandpoint Charter School when she sat in on a Senate committee hearing where, after tough questioning from senators, a pro-field burning bill was unexpectedly killed by one vote.
Hannah is the daughter of Sharon Vogel a Sandpoint woman who suffered from asthma, and died after a particularly smoky day of field-burning on the prairie.
With the eighth grader in the front row, the senators on the Agriculture Committee killed HB 741, which would have undercut a pending lawsuit by creating a new, stringent definition of “economically viable alternative” to field-burning.
“I don’t want to sound too melodramatic, but a side product of the law is that it’d be a trillion times harder to find an alternative,” Hannah said after the vote. “I am really, really glad … just thrilled, really.”
The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee will reconvene on Thursday morning, and its agenda is packed. On the schedule: Reconsidering cuts in the DEQ’s air quality program, reconsidering caps on the Children’s Health Insurance Program and possibly other items in the Medicaid budget, and increasing the budget for pay for acting governors - because Gov. Dirk Kempthorne is gone so much for National Governors Association activities that the replacement pay is running out.
Rep. Bob Schaefer, R-Nampa, contends that back when he worked on North Idaho field-burning issues, he discovered that there was nothing to residents’ complaints about smoke from field-burning.
“We found out from that when people complained about the smoke in the Coeur d’Alene and Sandpoint area, that it actually came from slash burning in Oregon,” Schaefer told the House of Representatives. “That’s when they had the worst problems, and it actually had nothing to do with the grass burning.”
That might sound pretty likely from Schaefer’s southern Idaho district, which is just a hop, skip and a jump from the Oregon border. But Oregon’s a long way from North Idaho, which of course, borders Washington.
Rep. John Campell, R-Sandpoint, told the House that the sale of the University of Idaho’s Clark Fork Field Campus was “a travesty of justice.”
“Whoever bought that hit the Idaho jackpot,” Campbell said. “I think we ought to change this law to make sure this never happens again.”
The House agreed, voting 66-0 in favor of HB 778, the measure championed by Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, to impose new restrictions on how the university disposes of property. Eskridge thanked the university for working with him on the changes.
Wonder why former Rep. Freeman Duncan was filling in for Sen. Dick Compton this week? Or how Kootenai County GOP Chairman Bob Nonini took Rep. Hilde Kellogg’s seat for a week?
Idaho’s substitute-legislator system may be unique in the country. Brenda Erickson, a senior researcher with the National Conference of State Legislatures, doesn’t know of any other states that match it. Washington allows temps to be appointed only if a lawmaker is called up for military duty.
In Idaho, a sitting legislator who’ll be absent for at least three days during the session can pick his or her own replacement, as long as the sub meets constitutional requirements to serve, such as living in the district. When Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis had to be gone for three days, his mom, Enid, filled in.
“They choose whoever they want,” said Terri Franks-Smith, House chief fiscal officer.
Subs get the legislator’s $99 per diem to cover expenses, but no other pay.
Secretary of the Senate Jeannine Wood said the use of subs seems to be on the upswing. When she mentions the practice at national clerks’ conventions, “They think it’s wacky,” she said.
So far this session, subs have filled in for six senators and four representatives.
St. Maries Rep. Dick Harwood told the House on Wednesday that a bill to require kids to attend kindergarten was akin to communism.
Lawmakers would be familiar with the idea “if you’ve ever read the Communist Manifesto,” Harwood said. “This is another step toward government control of education. … I’m not sure educators are educated.”
He added, “Let’s not make it a right of the state of Idaho to take away the parents’ rights to decide.”
Gov. Dirk Kempthorne expects a “short, productive legislative session,” he told the Idaho Press Club today. With reporters jammed into a local Mexican restaurant for the governor’s annual luncheon talk, Kempthorne defended his campaign finances, declined to threaten any vetos in the interest of working with lawmakers, and helped pass around the iced tea.
He repeated his commitment to find alternatives to field-burning in North Idaho: “Because if we can do that, that is going to help us with the air quality.”
After lots and lots of questions, he helped disassemble a twisted web of microphones that TV crews had set up on a stand in front of him. While he was at it, the governor joked, “Did you want all these on? Because I turned ‘em off.”
Gov. Dirk Kempthorne opened the door today to the possibility of running for a third term - something he’s been saying for years he wouldn’t do.
“Ask me next year,” Kempthorne told reporters after a news conference in his office. “Today, I don’t have plans to seek a third term.”
He noted that a number of legislators who’d said they wouldn’t run again have changed their plans. Smiling, he said, “It’s interesting.”