ADVERTISEMENT
Advertise Here
Archive

Eye On Boise

Archive for April 2009

‘Suspect we will be back’

The often-crowded halls of the Capitol Annex are close to abandoned this afternoon. The Senate finished its session this morning, and now there’s almost no one around. House Speaker Lawerence Denney, who was chatting with a casually dressed Rep. Cliff Bayer in the third floor hallway, said he hasn’t met with the governor today, though a number of senators earlier said they met with Otter at noon and reported that it was a “productive” meeting.

Denney said, “We did meet with the Senate this morning. They made a couple of suggestions, and we told them that they need to flesh ‘em out.” The situation, he said, is “frustrating … The best way to decide an issue is to put a motion on the table, and I think that’s what we’ve done,” referring to the House’s motion to adjourn for the session on Wednesday night. Denney will be back in his office tomorrow afternoon, when some bills may need his signature, and said, “I suspect that we will be back here on Monday.”

Though the House won’t be in session tomorrow, the Senate will; it’s scheduled its session to start at 8:30 a.m. on Friday. The Senate State Affairs Committee moved up its meeting, to hear the new election consolidation bill, to 8 a.m. At 10 a.m. is the funeral for longtime Idaho lawyer and lobbyist Allyn Dingel, which some lawmakers plan to attend.

Amended day care licensing bill goes to governor

Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, urged the Senate to back the amended version of SB 1112a, the day care licensing bill, despite numerous problems he highlighted with the House amendments. “I’m still asking you to support it, with the fiscal impact, with all the errors, with all the things that are wrong with these amendments - it’s still better than what we have right now,” he told the Senate, “and we can fix it next year.” The amended bill passed unanimously, 30-0, and now goes to the governor.

And now it’s the 109th day…

Here’s a link to my full story in today’s Spokesman-Review on the wild events of the 108th day of the Idaho’s 2009 legislative session. And now, it’s the 109th day. The Senate is in session, but the House isn’t.

‘A tough thing for me to ask’

Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, asked unanimous consent that the Senate concur in the amendments to SB 1112a, the day care licensing bill. “This is a tough thing for me to ask you to do, but I’m going to ask you to concur,” Corder told the Senate, adding that the amendments will be discussed further when the Senate debates the bill shortly. “For now, this is the right thing to do, and I urge your concurrence with the House amendments,” Corder said. The Senate concurred unanimously.

Dems: ‘This is not good government’

Democrats from the House and Senate held a news  conference this morning to object to the House Republicans’ move last night to attempt to unilaterally adjourn the legislative session. “The Legislature is constructed to have a balance of power between the houses, and both balance and power are important parts of that phrase,” said House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston. “This unilateral action put in place by this motion does not serve the value of good, working government.”

Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly, D-Boise, said, “It makes for good drama, what happened yesterday, but it doesn’t make for good government.” Rusche said, “We want government to work, and that, at times, means not getting everything you want.” House Assistant Minority Leader James Ruchti, D-Pocatello, said, “This isn’t about policy any more … this is about personalities. It’s about who’s going to have the power in this relationship. That’s not good government.” Questioned by reporters, the Democrats declined to place blame on the governor or the House GOP leadership for the situation, though Rusche said, “It takes two to make an impasse.” Ruchti said, “The people of Idaho get to decide whose fault this is, and they do that at the polls.”

In odd moment, House attempts adjournment

In one of the strangest moments yet in this year’s most unusual legislative session, the House finished its calendar and attempted to adjourn sine die, which means without a day to come back. But when the House sent its formal delegation to the Senate to inform it that the House was adjourning, no one was there - it was nearly 9 at night. “There wasn’t anyone around other than the security,” Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, reported back to the House. “We were told that they have left the building. Oh, Mr. Speaker, we did leave a note on the door.”

The note, taped to the door of a Senate office, said, “See ya later, gone home - Sincerely, Best wishes, The House.” Then, when the House GOP leadership placed the motion to adjourn sine die, Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, rose and debated against it. “I do not support this motion and this action by the House majority,” Rusche said. “First, I don’t believe it’s constitutional.” A 1980 Idaho Attorney General’s opinion found that one house can’t adjourn sine die without the other’s concurrence, and in such cases, must come back in session in three days, he noted. “We cannot be adjourned sine die except in the regular legal manner,” Rusche declared. House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, responded that the constitution allows “three days - that’s not three hours or three minutes,” and therefore, “This motion is fitting and proper at this time. Our business is finished.” A loudly divided voice vote then approved the motion to adjourn.

Insurance fund bill passes - last one for House tonight

SB 1166, a controversial bill to retroactively alter provisions regarding the state insurance fund, just passed the House 50-16. That’s the last bill the House is taking up tonight. Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, announced that a barbecue scheduled for tomorrow is being put off to Monday because the House is adjourning sine die tonight.

House approves DMV fee hike

The House has voted 52-13 in favor of HB 334, which raises an array of DMV fees by a total of $13.1 million a year. Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, told the House the Idaho Transportation Department had provided plenty of data to show the increase was warranted; House Majority Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, the bill’s floor sponsor, said many of the fees haven’t been increased in decades. The bill now goes to the Senate, which earlier passed a different bill that included the same increases; that measure died in the House.

Day-care licensing bill passes the House

Day-care licensing legislation has won passage in the House on a 61-5 vote, after Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene, spent five years relentlessly, but until now unsuccessfully, proposing it. “This is good legislation - it meets the needs of parents for safe child care,” Sayler told the House. “We can’t make it a perfect world for our children, but we can make it a safer world.” The bill requires licensing for day cares that care for seven or more unrelated children, and criminal background checks for those caring for four or more unrelated children. Before the House amended the bill, it required licensing for those caring for four or more unrelated kids. Sayler said inspections and standards for licensed child care centers will help avoid horrendous child abuses cases that have been reported around the state involving day cares, several of which he recounted. The state Department of Health & Welfare will enforce the licensing law. “Their intent is not to put people out of business, their intent is to improve the care of children,” Sayler told the House.

Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, who opposed the bill for years, backed it this year. “This is a whim-whammer of a good bill compared to how it come to us,” Nielsen told the House. House Health & Welfare Chairwoman Sharon Block, R-Twin Falls, said, “This legislation was completed with a good collaborative process. It provides health and safety measures for children in both urban and rural day care settings, and it’s cost effective for both large and small day care providers.” The bill, SB 1112a, now goes back to the Senate for possible concurrence in the House amendments.

House passing duplicate budget bills

The House took up its first duplicate budget bill - one of those that the House Appropriations Committee introduced the same day that JFAC had introduced an identical bill. Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, objected. “It is a concern that I have and several in my caucus have about the violation of a process that has served us well,” Rusche said. “We would hope that our concerns are heard by the body, and that in our rush to adjourn today we don’t lose the values that we had.” The House then voted 49-16 in favor of the bill, HB 355, the budget bill for the Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired. The House then launched into the rest of the budget bills, with little or no debate preceding passage; all passed.

Bighorn sheep bill passes House

On SB 1232a, the second version of the bighorn sheep bill - the earlier one was vetoed, then the new one was introduced, then amended in the Senate, then sent to the House - Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, told the House, “I have to tell you that I have not found a single soul that is happy with this legislation. However, it is a compromise piece of legislation.” Several representatives spoke against the bill, which Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, said “will only muddy the waters.” Others spoke in favor, including Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, who said, “We need to vote for this and save a livelihood.” House Resources Chairman Bert Stevenson, R-Rupert, said the bill has “been worked on and worked on.” It passed on a 47-20 vote, and now goes to the governor.

Gonna be a late one…

House members gathered for pizza in a back room during a short break, showing what a long night they have ahead trying to clear their agenda. So far, they’ve already passed more than 30 bills, but at least a dozen and a half more remain on their calendar. They’ve just gone back on the floor to start in again.

Senate adjourns for day, Nonini tells House he doesn’t hate teachers

The Senate has adjourned until tomorrow morning, after receiving the election consolidation bill and referring it for a committee hearing later this week. “We made some great progress today,” said Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls. “We got those education bills all passed. This way the governor can have those bills probably by Friday,” and school districts can proceed with budgeting plans. “That really was important.” The Senate also passed the ITD budget. “It’s my understanding from the governor’s office that they need that,” he said, to “get those contracts let and get some people back to work.”

Meanwhile, the House voted 49-17 in favor of HB 373, its second version - just introduced today - of legislation to eliminate an early retirement program for teachers, after the Senate voted against that move earlier. The House then took a 10-minute break; it plans to work into the evening to try to unilaterally adjourn for the session, though if the Senate doesn’t follow suit, the House will be back on Monday. Said Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, “I’m having trouble understanding their logic - at this point it doesn’t make sense.”

Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, the House education chairman and sponsor of HB 373, told the House, “Counter to everything you might read in the newspaper, I don’t hate teachers - I admire teachers. I think it’s an admirable profession.” But he said no other state employees get an early retirement incentive. “In a time of budget constraints … we need to try to keep as much money in the classroom as possible,” Nonini told the House.

Senate passes ITD budget

The Senate has voted 32-1 in favor of HB 311, the budget for the Idaho Transportation Department. The bill passed the House 52-14 about two weeks ago, but has been hanging on the Senate calendar awaiting a vote as the two houses wrangled over transportation funding. Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, cast the only no vote. She said she opposed an increased budget for transportation in the face of cuts in education; the Senate had just voted on education budgets that make historic cuts. “The irony of it was killing me,” LeFavour said.

Election consolidation bill passes House

The House has voted 51-15 in favor of HB 372, the new version of the election consolidation bill. The sweeping, 98-page piece of legislation would consolidate Idaho elections to four dates. In the new version, the state would cover the costs, rather than requiring school districts to pick up part.

House votes 61-5 for transportation study committee

The House has passed the resolution calling for an interim committee to study transportation funding; HCR 31 passed on a 61-5 vote. “We think it’s a step to bring this transportation discussion to a close for this session,” House Majority Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, told the House. Rep. Brnden Durst, D-Boise, spoke against the resolution, saying it doesn’t mention the need to look into local-option funding for transportation. House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said he voted against the resolution when it was introduced in the Ways & Means Committee, but is having a change of heart, and thinks some good could from such an interim study committee. However, he warned House members “not to deceive themselves that this is likely going to resolve the issue” or end the current impasse between the House and the governor over transportation funding.

“We have a looming transportation funding issue lying ahead of us,” Roberts said. “My hope is that this move towards an interim committee will bring some good minds together outside of the legislative pressure that we deal with here in the legislative session, that we can sit down and we can come up with some long term types of funding mechanisms. … I believe that this is a tool to put us on the road toward adjourning. … The House has spoken on transportation funding many times this session, especially on fuel tax.”

Otter issues statement

Gov. Butch Otter has issued the following statement in response to the House leadership’s press conference this afternoon:

“I appreciate that they now are about one-third of the way to where we need to go, and are acknowledging the need. But we have put off making meaningful investments in maintaining our roads and bridges for so long that a consistent, long-term financial commitment is necessary. This plan does not entirely provide the kind of certainty required for cost-effective, efficient planning. We continue having positive and constructive discussions with legislators, and I remain hopeful for a resolution. I still maintain that we need a package generating a minimum of $75 million, which after it’s all split up would at least pay the interest on GARVEE.”

 

‘Being driven by the economy’

The Senate has given the same vote - 26-7 - to the third public school appropriation bill, HB 325, for the operations division, matching the vote on the two earlier divisions. Again, there was emotional debate. “I’m very sad to be part of the first legislature to cut funding for our public school system,” Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly, D-Boise, told the Senate. “We’re doing something that we’ve never done before, and we’re leaving our kids behind.” Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, countered, “Our children are important and they deserve the best, and of all budgets that we have set for every agency, education got the best. … This is not being driven by this legislature, this is being driven by the economy.”

After that, the final two pieces of the school budget, HB 326 on children’s programs and HB 327 on facilities, passed the Senate easily without debate (the votes: 33-0 on HB 326, 32-1 on HB 327). Those two pieces don’t contain the controversial cuts that are centered in the first three school budget bills. Now, all five school budget bills have passed both houses and are headed to the governor’s desk - a key move toward ending the legislative session. All five actually emerged on the House calendar two weeks ago, but they hung there without action while the two houses battled on education funding and other issues.

House unanimous on ethanol

The House has voted unanimously, 64-0 - with no debate - to pass HB 338, the new bill to eliminate the fuel tax exemption for ethanol.

Emotional debate in Senate on school funding

The debate on the second public school budget bill, for the division of teachers, was an emotional one in the Senate. Sen. Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, said, “I’ve always supported education … yet there are those that believe we’re the bad guys in this economic stress. … We sat here and voted to cut other programs left and right. Some of those were tough votes,” including sharp cuts in the departments of commerce, environmental quality and agriculture. “Why? So we could put more dollars in public education. … I want every teacher in the state to know that I’m supping each of these appropriation bills because I support education.” Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, said teachers, including his son and two daughters-in-law, have told him to “just do the best you can for us.” He told the Senate, “I don’t want to spend every dang dime that we have right now and then leave them in the lurch until the next year or the following year when we recover. … This was the very best that we could do, and it was an effort to support teachers as well as we could, because we appreciate them, we value them, wek now that we don’t pay them as well as we should but we continue to do our best for them.”

Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, the floor sponsor for the bill, HB 324, called the budget “an effort to do the right thing,” and said, “The cuts in this budget are smaller than almost every other budget.” The bill, like the first education budget bill, passed on a 26-7 vote.

Senate takes up public school budgets

The Senate has reconvened and is taking up the five public school budget bills that earlier passed the House. The first one, on the division of administrators, passed on a 26-7 vote, with opposition coming from the Senate’s six Democrats who are present and Sen. Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow. “Cutting budgets for public schools and public school administrators is not something that any of us in this body would like to be doing,” said Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, the floor sponsor of the bill, HB 323. “The current economic times demand the cuts that we’ve done, and as a finance committee, we have worked very diligently to keep those cuts to the absolute minimum.”

McGee: ‘This doesn’t scratch the surface’

Senate Transportation Chairman John McGee, R-Caldwell, had this reaction to the House plan for an interim committee to study transportation funding: “I’m trying to think of an issue over the last two years that has been studied and talked about more than transportation funding. Every single member of the Legislature knows the ins and the outs of transportation funding.” As for the package House GOP leaders now are promoting as their “level best” on transportation funding - repeal of the ethanol exemption, increasing DMV fees, and the interim committee - McGee said, “It needs another bow on it.” Gov. Butch Otter has made it clear he wants at least $75 million a year in new money for road maintenance, McGee said. “This doesn’t scratch the surface.”

House GOP: ‘Plan is to complete our work’

House GOP leaders called a press conference to announce that they plan to adjourn sine die tonight. “Our plans are to complete our work and adjourn sine die later this afternoon or this evening,” said Rep. Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly. Before leaving, he said, the House will take up three transportation-related bills: Repeal of the fuel tax exemption for ethanol, increasing DMV fees, and setting up an interim committee to study transportation funding over the summer. “It’s my genuine hope that transportation funding can be one of the first items coming out of the 2nd regular session,” next year’s legislative session, Roberts said. House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said the interim committee also could study truck fees, car registration fees and equity issues, among other transportation funding issues facing Idaho. Said Roberts, “We believe this is proactive step to move transportation funding forward in the state of Idaho.”

The House could work until as late as 9 or 10 p.m. to complete its calendar. If the Senate doesn’t also adjourn sine die - and Senate leaders have shown no desire to do so - the House would be required to come back into session by Monday.

Party-line votes introduce three new bills

The House Ways & Means Committee has voted 4-3 in three straight party-line votes to introduce three new bills: A compromise on election consolidation, with the state covering school district and local government costs; a concurrent resolution calling for an interim committee to study transportation funding; and a new version of Rep. Bob Nonini’s education fundning bill, this time to phase out a teacher early retirement program. Minority Democrats on the panel objected in all three votes.

‘It worked with water’

The House Resources Committee is addressing the new bighorn sheep bill that came over from the Senate, while Ways & Means has three new bills on its agenda: A compromise on election consolidation, in which the state would cover school district costs for all four election dates; a rewrite of the controversial HB 339, the House education funding bill that the House Education Committee passed yesterday, to phase out rather than retroactively eliminate a teacher early retirement incentive program; and a House concurrent resolution calling for an interim committee to work with the governor over the summer on transportation funding.

House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said the resolution was pitched to the governor at the leadership meeting this morning. “He wanted more,” he said. But, he said, “We all could agree that it worked with water.”

House breaks for committee meetings

The House is taking a break to allow the Resources and Ways & Means committees to meet.

House passing budget bills

The House has now launched into passing budget bills whose previous versions were vetoed; the first two, for the Office of Species Conservation and the Department of Parks & Recreation, passed easily with no debate. The votes: 57-8 on HB 330, species conservation; and 55-10 on HB 331, parks and rec. The next one, for PERSI, passed 60-6; followed by the Fish & Game budget, which includes a fee increase for out-of-state hunters and anglers; it passed 47-20.

All five school budget bills have now passed the House

The final two school budget bills, HB 326 for the division of children’s programs, and HB 327 for the division of facilities, both have passed the House overwhelmingly, on 65-3 and 63-4 votes respectively. The controversial cuts in the school budget were in the earlier three bills.

School operations bill passes House

HB 325, the bill for the operations portion of the public school budget, has passed the House on a 44-24 vote, similar to the previous two votes. Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, noted that the bill includes a shift of $20 million of school funding that had come from the state’s general fund, which was taken out and replaced by federal stimulus money. That freed up the $20 million for spending elsewhere in the state budget. “As we move forward and we come to another budgeting year, that’s $20 million that we somehow need to find, that was a stable source,” Ringo warned, as the stimulus money, unlike the state’s general fund, is a one-time thing. Rep. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, responded that the federal stimulus money was specifically targeted for education.

Two House committees to meet

House Resources Chairman Bert Stevenson just announced that the Resources Committee will meet when the House recesses, and Ways & Means Chairman Rich Wills announced that Ways & Means also will meet when the House recesses. The announcements came just after the 45-24 vote on HB 324, the teachers division of the public school budget. “Yes we’re in bad economic times, yes we’re in bad unemployment, no, we do not see the end,” Rep. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, said in his closing debate before the bill passed. House passage sends the school budget bills to the Senate. Meanwhile, the Senate convened and recessed, and members headed to caucus.

School budgets draw debate

The first public school budget bill, HB 323, dealing with administrators, passed the House on a 44-24 vote. The second, HB 324, for the division of teachers, includes a cut in the base salary for teachers of 2.63 percent and reducing the state’s minimum teacher salary from the current $31,750 to $30,915. It’s drawing debate. Rep. Branden Durst, D-Boise, declared, “We don’t have to be doing this right now. We’re choosing to do it, but we don’t have to.” He called for the state to instead spend reserve funds to avoid cuts in schools. “We have millions and millions and millions of dollars sitting in a bank account waiting to be spent,” Durst said. “This budget is a real tragedy for the state of Idaho, it’s a tragedy for our kids and it’s a tragedy for our parents. … People will lose their jobs because we passed this budget.”

Rep. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, debating in favor of the bill, said people focus on spending. “That has very little to do with the quality of education,” he told the House. “We can improve education. Money is not the key to this improvement, however. … To improve education we need to look beyond the money.” House Education Chairman Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, said Utah has one of the nation’s lowest per-pupil spending on schools, but some of the highest test scores. “I think this is a budget we have to accept in the tough times we have - I think we’ve done our best for education,” Nonini told the House. “Per-pupil spending does not equate to smarter children.”

Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, said, “This is a horrible, horrible year - it’s a horrible year for everyone. People are making cuts everywhere.” He said he thought it “wise for us to maybe save some of our rainy day funds this year” to avoid further school cuts or a tax increase next year. Rep. James Ruchti, D-Pocatello, said, “We have almost $400 million of rainy-day funds. We are making assumptions that the economy is going to worsen.”

House takes up public school budget

The House has reconvened and begun debate on the public school budget bills, starting with HB 323, the division of administrators. Rep. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, noted that the overall school budget, which is contained in five separate bills, is a tough one for Idaho this year, the first that lawmakers are setting a budget for public schools that’s less than the schools received the previous year. “This is unprecedented - we have some difficult decisions in front of us,” Bayer told the House.

House still pushing to adjourn

After their hour-long caucus, which ran through the lunch hour, House Republican leaders said they’re still planning to try to unilaterally adjourn for the session tonight - possibly as late as 10 p.m. “We’re moving ahead with our plan to get done with our agenda today and sine die,” said House Majority Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly. He said there may be yet another Ways & Means Committee meeting later in the afternoon, after the 2:30 session on a new election consolidation bill; some new transportation bills could be introduced, he said, but nothing on the gas tax and nothing that affects the plans to adjourn tonight. “We’re trying to get some of these things drafted, and this takes some time,” he said.

Deal reached on election consolidation

House Republicans have emerged from their closed-door caucus, and a Ways & Means Committee meeting is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. House Majority Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, said the House and Senate have reached an agreement on election consolidation. “That’ll be printed in Ways & Means today,” he said.

Goedde amendment carries

Senate Education Chairman John Goedde’s amendment to HB 303a, to add in a clause giving school districts flexibility for the next year on use of maintenance funds, has won Senate approval. The Senate then recessed until 2 p.m. Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, said the Senate plans to take up the public school appropriation bills this afternoon, because the House plans to take those bills up first on its afternoon calendar. Senate Republicans also plan a caucus shortly after they reconvene this afternoon.

Senate defeats limits on funding ‘virtual’ education

It was close, but the Senate has defeated a proposed amendment to HB 303a that would have limited the funding for “virtual” instruction to just the Idaho Digital Learning Academy and courses offered by public Idaho colleges or universities. Sen. Dick Sagness, D-Pocatello, who sponsored the amendment with Sen. Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow, said the bill otherwise, as proposed by state Schools Superintendent Tom Luna, will allow state funding to go for virtual instruction with “no sideboards” - no regulation on the quality of the instruction, and no assurance that the money won’t just be sent off to out-of-state private organizations peddling online instruction.

“This bill fundamentally in many ways is about privatizing education and money, and that money is going to go out of state,” Sagness warned the Senate. Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, spoke against the amendment. “In another time, another place I might have supported this,” he said. But he said school districts want to tap into online instruction other than IDLA and state colleges. “The problem is that the IDLA doesn’t offer a complete curriculum - you can’t take 2nd grade from the IDLA. … They offer specific courses rather than a complete curriculum.”

After that amendment was defeated, the Senate began debating one from Goedde, to give school districts that have met building maintenance needs the chance, for one year, to use district funds now required by the state to go to a maintenance fund to instead use the money to meet other district needs during the current budget crunch.

‘Game of chicken’

In their open caucus, House Democrats expressed some disappointment about the House plan to unilaterally adjourn today, and the cost and uncertainty posed by the gambit. “How long do they intend to keep playing this game of chicken?” asked Rep. Anne Pasley-Stuart, D-Boise. Meanwhile, the start of the GOP caucus was delayed while GOP leaders huddled with their committee chairmen to go over all outstanding bills and make sure loose ends are tied up for their planned adjournment; Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, paid a visit to Senate leaders for the same purpose.

Speaker Lawerence Denney said the GOP’s closed-door caucus will be to discuss the meeting with the governor and see if the caucus is on board with plans to adjourn today, or if they have other ideas. Asked if they’ll consider the governor’s statements yesterday that he’s willing to offer a time-delayed, economically-triggered gas tax increase as a compromise, Denney said, “We’ll certainly give them the opportunity, but I don’t know, I don’t think so.” Said Denney, “We’re still at loggerheads on the gas tax. … The governor absolutely wants a gas tax. The fact is that even if we wanted to agree, we couldn’t get the votes.”

The Senate, for its part, is preparing to go into its 14th Order and take up amendments to HB 303, a measure dealing with education funding.

House heads into caucus

The House convened, moved a long list of appropriation bills to its 3rd Reading calendar, and then recessed until 1:30 to allow both parties to hold caucuses.

‘No progress yet today’

Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, asked what he felt came out of the joint leadership meeting with the governor this morning, said, “We didn’t make any progress yet today.” Senate leaders joined the meeting for about the final hour, he said. Told that House Speaker Lawerence Denney now intends to adjourn the House sine die today, Davis said, “We’ll continue to, as a Senate, stay here and work on the legislative agenda, and look forward to continuing to work with them on their return.” Meanwhile House leaders closed themselves in the speaker’s office with Ways & Means Chairman Rich Wills and others, and temporarily banned reporters from the hallway outside the office.

There’s no deal

House and Senate leaders have emerged from a lengthy meeting with the governor, but there’s no deal. “We had good discussions,” said Speaker Lawerence Denney. “The bottom line is he still wants gas tax, and the bottom line is we can’t deliver it.” So, Denney said, the House now plans to adjourn for the session today - even knowing that it’ll have to, by constitutional requirement, be back in three days if the Senate doesn’t follow suit. “That’s still our intention, yes,” Denney said. “There’s no indication that we won’t have to come back.”

Waiting for news…

The governor is meeting with House and Senate GOP leaders in his third-floor conference room at the Borah Building; it’s been more than an hour. Everyone in the Capitol Annex seems to be standing around, waiting to see what comes out of the confab…

University deferred comp bill clears Senate Finance Committee

The Senate Finance Committee has voted 8-1 to approve HB 199, allowing the state Board of Education to offer deferred compensation plans when recruiting certain top university employees, which allow the employees to reap tax benefits. The measure has been lobbied by BSU’s lobbyist, former House Speaker Bruce Newcomb. “This is what I call my tool acquisition bill,” Mike Rush, executive director of the state Board of Education, told the committee, saying it’d be a “tool in the toolbox that the board can use to attract highly sought-after employees.” Sen. Diane Bilyeu, D-Pocatello, asked who the “highly sought-after employees” are who would benefit from such plans. “Are we primarily talking about presidents and coaches?” she asked. Rush said they’re “certainly … possibilities,” but said the plans also could apply to faculty members who bring with them large research grants. “Some of our attorneys say the state board already has the ability to do this,” Rush told the committee. But other attorneys said the state board needs explicit authorization, in case of lawsuits.

Sen. Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, a CPA, questioned by the committee about the tax implications of the bill, said if the employees moved elsewhere before they received their deferred compensation, they’d pay income taxes on the compensation there, rather than in Idaho. Rush said, “Our experience here is these people tend to retire in Idaho … but we have no guarantees.” Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, said, “If they need this tool, I think we ought to allow them this opportunity. It’s getting more and more challenging” to recruit top university employees, he said. Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, who cast the only no vote, said, “I think if a person earns money, they should pay the taxes on it at the time they earn it.” The bill earlier passed the House on a 58-9 vote; it now goes to the full Senate.

Actually, this is all good?

Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, had this to say about the late-session clashes between the House, the Senate and the governor, including the House plan to unilaterally adjourn Wednesday: “It’s the political process. I think we get better results because we occasionally lock horns and wrestle over things. As frustrating as it is, we do get better results.”

By contrast, Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said, “It’s disappointing. But at the same time, I understand House leadership has to play the cards that they deem appropriate. I don’t know that it’s a wise strategy, but maybe it’s the only strategy they have left.”

And here’s the take from Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly, D-Boise: “We of course all know in our heart of hearts that if Democrats were running this, we would’ve been out of here.”

An odd and eventful day…

The senior Bob Geddes, who is filling in this week for his son, Senate President Pro-tem Bob Geddes, was serving in the House back in 1980, the last time one house - in that case, the Senate - tried to adjourn unilaterally. “They did go home, and I know they were madder than hops when they came back,” Geddes recalled with a chuckle. As the 107th day of the legislative session draws to a close, it’s been an odd and eventful one, with House Education Chairman Bob Nonini’s comments about teachers prompting a minority party protest to the speaker; conflicting education bills winning support at the same time; the House planning to adjourn tomorrow without the Senate; and more. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

House GOP: One more try in the morning, and then we’re done

House GOP leaders told reporters late today that they’ll make one more run at settling the transportation issue with Senate leaders and the governor in the morning, but all they’ll offer is what they’ve already offered - repeal of an ethanol exemption from the gas tax, and an increase in DMV fees, for a total package of less than $30 million for road work. “Right now, what we’ve done in the House is we have prepared our calendar with all of the bills necessary to sine die the session, to go home,” said House Majority Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts. Said House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, “We think we’ll have finished all of the business that’s on the House calendar.” Roberts estimated the House has about 45 bills to pass, including the public school budget and the amended day-care licensing bill. Noting that the House has repeatedly rejected gas tax increases to fund road work, Roberts said, “If there’s an insistence that gas tax has to be done, the House will go ahead and run those bills and sine die.”

Sine die is Latin for “without a day,” and when the Legislature adjourns sine die, it means it’s adjourned its session for the year. However, one house can’t do that unilaterally - if the Senate doesn’t follow suit, the state Constitution forces the House to come back into session in three days. Senate Assistant Majority Leader Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston, said, “I think it’s irresponsible.” House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said, “Idahoans want government that works, and right now, with this impasse, government isn’t working.”

Said Roberts, “I think we’re going to continue to address transportation funding in many sessions to come.”

House adjourns until tomorrow

The House convened, read the new House-only appropriation bills across the desk, and then adjourned until 10:30 tomorrow morning. House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, told the House that leadership will try to meet with Senate leadership again this afternoon, and will try to set up a meeting with the governor and joint leadership tomorrow morning “and make another effort to try to solve the transportation issue.” The House GOP also plans a caucus tomorrow, he said.

Senate adjourns for the day

The Senate has adjourned until 10 a.m. tomorrow.

Sheep bill may be last of day for Senate

The Senate is taking up SB 1232, the new bighorn sheep bill. “It looks like this may be the end of the work that we’re able to do today,” Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, told the Senate. The bill passed, 26-8.

Second ed bill passes House, goes to Guv

Just like the one before, the second controversial education bill, HB 262 as amended in the Senate, has won final passage in the House with absolutely no debate. House Education Chairman Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, urged a yes vote. The vote was 46-20. This is the bill that previously phased out the early teacher retirement incentive program, but that was removed by the Senate amendments. Still in the bill is a one-year freeze in movement on the teacher salary grid for experience. The bill now goes to the governor.

The House then went at ease for what’s estimated to be about 45 minutes, awaiting the next bills upon which it’ll act.

House passes HB 256a

With absolutely no debate, the House has voted 61-5 in favor of HB 256 as amended in the Senate, giving it final passage and sending it to the governor. That’s the controversial education bill regarding funding for student busing.

Bell: ‘Truly sorry we’ve come to this impasse’

The House Appropriations Committee has voted 9-0 in favor of introducing 14 new appropriation bills, 12 of them identical to those already introduced this morning in JFAC but sent to the Senate, and two identical to two others on which the Senate has not yet acted. It’s the first time since the debacle of the 2003 session, when the House set its own entire budget, that the panel has tried budgeting without its Senate half. House Appropriations Chairwoman Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, said, “I don’t like it - it’s the best system in the world. It’s clean, it’s efficient. … I’m truly sorry that we’ve come to this impasse.” Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, said, “From our perspective in the House, we see no reason not to be able to finish Wednesday night. This puts us in line to finish our business and go home.” Bell said she’s not happy with that approach, but, she said, “I’m a House member. So when the House adjourns tomorrow night, obviously, I leave. … None of us want to handle it this way.”

House to do budgeting on its own…

The House Appropriations Committee - the House half of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee - has now scheduled a meeting for 1:15 p.m., after the House goes back on the floor at 1. On the agenda: Introducing 12 new budget bills that apparently will be identical to 12 previously vetoed bills already reintroduced in JFAC this morning, so that they’ll now be House bills the House can act on before its planned unilateral adjournment tomorrow; and two others, an invasive species trailer bill and the ISP budget, that the Senate hasn’t yet acted on, for the same reason. The meeting at first was scheduled for 12:45, but was moved back; click here to read why.

Senate R’s ‘appeal for ideas,’ Senate D’s ‘appalled’

After their closed-door caucus, Senate Republicans emerged saying they’re just trying to figure out what to do, with the House bent on adjourning tomorrow. “We believe the House is likely to sine die and then be back in three days,” said Senate GOP Caucus Chairman Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian. “We appealed to the caucus for ideas … areas we might be able to find some common ground.”

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats, in their open caucus, talked about the various moves on education bills. “It is a huge disappointment that education, public education in particular, has become a pawn on this chess board, and it clearly has,” said Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly, D-Boise, who added, “To have this issue being used in the way that it’s being used is just appalling.”

After the party caucuses, senators went back on the floor to suspend rules and vote on an amended bighorn sheep bill, but the amended bill wasn’t ready, so they recessed to 1:30.

A historical note…

Though then-House Speaker Bruce Newcomb threatened in 2003 to adjourn the House sine die in the midst of a House-Senate battle over how to balance the state’s budget, he didn’t follow through on that threat that year, during the state’s longest-ever legislative session. The last time that move has been tried was in 1980, when the Senate, under then-Senate Majority Leader Jim Risch, tried to adjourn on its own. The House refused to accept their adjournment; it was a Thursday, and the Senate was back in session by Monday…

Senate heads into caucus

The Senate has gone at ease for caucuses for both parties. The Republican will meet behind closed doors; the Democrats will hold an open caucus.

Senate sends ed bill to 14th Order

The Senate has sent HB 303a, one of the education bills at issue in the current dustup between the House and Senate, to its 14th Order for possible amendment. Then, the Senate moved on to amend SB 1232, the bighorn sheep bill, as proposed by Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton.

House convenes, then recesses ‘til 1

The House convened this morning, then recessed until 1 p.m., when Majority Leader Mike Moyle said it’ll read the bills introduced in JFAC this morning and others.

Nonini: ‘It’s a golden parachute’

The House Education Committee has voted 11-6 in favor of HB 339, the new bill from Education Chairman Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, that directly contradicts the action JFAC took this morning on  school funding, and also makes other school funding changes. “We’re just trying to cover all the bases at the end of the session,” Nonini said after the meeting. “If this legislation makes it through the process and becomes law, there’s $4 million that doesn’t have to be funded.” That’s because HB 339 retroactively eliminates an early retirement program for teachers. However, this morning, JFAC restored funding for that program, based on legislation that’s already passed both houses. Nonini derided the program as a “golden parachute” for retiring teachers. “This is a going-home bill to where we can get these education issues resolved, we can spread the pain throughout the system,” he told the committee. The early retirement incentive program, he said, is “going into a teacher’s pocket - it’s a golden parachute to leave the profession. … I have a hard time paying those people. … Maybe they should just gracefully retire and go to the golf course.”

Rep. Branden Durst, D-Boise, responded, “I think if anybody deserves a parachute, it’s the people that teach our kids.” He added, “If we pass this legislation, the Senate will not accept it as it is. … Think about what you’re doing.” The early retirement incentive program, which gives teachers who retire early an average $18,000 lump sum, was promoted as a savings for school districts who can replace the retirees with less-experienced, lower-salaried teachers.

One downside of such a long session…

Here’s a downside of the legislative session going so long: The already-passed HB 252, which allows school districts to declare financial emergencies, has passed and been signed into law, but it set a specific, 67-day time frame after the state’s school budget is set, though it also cites a June 22 date, saying “whichever comes first.” The public school appropriation bills still are hanging on the House calendar, and haven’t yet passed. “That 67 days, that clock does not start until the appropriations for the schools budget have been set,” state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna told JFAC. “That day has not come yet. Hopefully it will come soon, but because of the situation we find ourselves in, we would need to amend 252. … I don’t think anybody anticipated that we would still be here today, without any appropriation set for public schools.”

Some state officials are concerned the time frame issue could lead to a lawsuit, though there are conflicting legal opinions. Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, said he favors getting a written Attorney General’s opinion before passing any trailer bill to amend the already-passed consensus bill. Robin Nettinga of the Idaho Education Association said she favors keeping the 67-day clause. JFAC took no action today.

JFAC restores school field trip funding

In JFAC this morning, Rep. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, moved to fund busing for school field trips and other transportation changes from Senate amendments to HB 256a by taking the money, $4.2 million, from textbook funds. “We can bridge a year with a more modest budget” for textbooks, Bayer said. He spoke against dipping into funding for classroom supplies for half the amount, as some committee members had proposed. Rep. Darrell Bolz, R-Caldwell, seconded Bayer’s motion. Said Bayer, “The classroom supplies are consumables, and we’ve already trimmed classroom supplies.” His motion makes no further cut in classroom supplies. Funding for textbooks for next year already had been trimmed by 40 percent. State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna, asked to comment, told JFAC, “I think this is a wise move if we’re going to have to trim, to trim textbooks, and hopefully next year … we’ll be able to restore the money the state’s been sending districts for textbooks.” The move cuts textbook funding for schools for next year to just $1.7 million statewide, compared to the usual $9 million.

Rep. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, made a substitute motion to take $2.1 million each from textbooks and from classroom supplies. “I just felt like it was a better balance to do part classroom supplies, than to take it all out of textbooks,” Patrick said. “I don’t feel comfortable taking it all out of textbooks.” JFAC Co-Chair Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, said, “I certainly understand where he’s coming from. The issue we have here is the classroom supplies have traditionally come out of the teachers’ pockets. That’s the road we’ve tried not to go down any longer.” She added, “This is a tough pill to swallow,” saying classrooms shouldn’t be left with out-of-date or inadequate textbooks. But she said she favored Bayer’s motion because teachers already have taken a hit in the school budget for next year, and shouldn’t take another “hit to their pocketbooks.” Said Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, “They’re tough decisions, decisions none of us would prefer to make.”

Patrick’s substitute motion failed on a 3-15 vote; Bayer’s then passed on an 18-0 vote.

JFAC re-funds early teacher retirement program

Even as the House Education Committee is meeting downstairs to hear a new version of education legislation, JFAC is meeting this morning to fund the already-passed bills, as amended in the Senate, which include doing away with the phase-out of an early retirement incentive program for teachers. The House already had unanimously agreed to concur in the Senate amendments, though it’s not yet given the amended bill final passage. The new House bill being heard downstairs would eliminate the program retroactive to March 1, while the original bill would have phased it out over the next two years. The amended bill leaves it in place.

Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, moved to re-fund the existing program by taking $2 million from the public education stabilization fund. “The House has concurred on the amendments, so this is the action that we need to take, in a trailer appropriation to plug this hole,” Keough said. “It does seem appropriate to have continued discussions over the interim to take a better look at this program, what the benefits are and what the costs are.” Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, seconded the motion, and it passed the joint committee on a 17-1 vote, with just Rep. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, objecting.

New versions of vetoed bills introduced

JFAC has voted to introduce new versions of all 25 vetoed budget bills. The motion, by Co-Chairwoman Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, seconded by Vice Chairwoman Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, passed unanimously, 18-0, with no discussion.

It’s a GOP vs. GOP showdown…

It’s Republican vs. Republican in an Idaho political showdown: House GOP leaders say they’ll adjourn for the session on Wednesday without passing GOP Gov. Butch Otter’s transportation plan, likely forcing the GOP-dominated Senate to force the House back into session against its will. “We can adjourn for three days, and then they would have to call us back,” said House Majority Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly.

The governor’s office had no immediate comment; press secretary Jon Hanian referred back to the veto letter Otter sent lawmakers last week in which he wrote, “I am not going to let this session end until this legitimate and proper role of government is addressed in the manner it deserves.” Rep. Bill Killen, D-Boise, the House minority caucus chairman, said, “We certainly want to get the job done. I’m not sure leaving on Wednesday is a good idea, since my sense is the Senate will call us back. I think there’s some work we could do. … I do think it’s a little bit of a power struggle, that’s my sense - some pretty big egos involved. I just hope the Senate hangs in there.”

Otter met with both House and Senate GOP leaders at day’s end today, and sent a clear message that he wants transportation funding increased - to the tune of $75 to $80 million a year - before this year’s legislative session ends. “The governor restated his commitment to a solution to the transportation funding issue this session,” said Senate Assistant Majority Leader Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Decide for yourself…

Is the governor’s letter, sent to all lawmakers this morning thanking them for their efforts to work with him on various other issues, a “white flag” showing he’s giving in on the transportation funding issue? Or nothing of the sort? Decide for yourself; you can read it here.

Progress made? ‘No’

Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, asked if lawmakers made any progress today on the big issues holding up the end of this year’s over-long session, said shortly, “No.” Said Davis, “I’d love to be done by Wednesday - I just don’t believe we will be.” Asked about the talk about the governor giving in on transportation funding, Davis said, “That’s not what he told me at noon.” Davis said when he and other senators met with the governor at noon today, “He indicated to us that he still needed to have ongoing transportation funding along the lines of what he supported last week.” Asked about the events of today, the session’s 106th day, Davis said they were “bizarre.” And as for the House introducing a new education funding bill today, he said, “I don’t know what they’re up to.”

‘We’ve got to fund it’

When JFAC meets in the morning, it’ll take up new versions of the 25 vetoed budget bills, according to Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, along with action to “fill the holes” created by Senate amendments to HB 256 and HB 262, on public school funding. The House introduced a new bill today that seeks to undo some of those Senate changes; asked about that, Cameron said, “They don’t have anything better to do, I guess.” The House agreed this morning by unanimous consent to concur in the Senate amendments to the two bills, though it hasn’t yet given the amended bills final passage. “Based on what we’ve done, we’ve got to fund it,” Cameron said.

House adjourns for the day

The House has finished up for the day, after passing four budget bills, including those for the PUC, the Office of the State Board of Education, and the Office of Energy Resources. All were Senate bills. The House also passed SB 1183, on wrecker plates, on a 63-2 vote, and sent the ethanol bill, HB 329, back to the Ways & Means Committee because a new version of the bill was introduced there earlier today. House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, told House members “We appreciate your patience today, guys. It’s that time of year.” There’ll probably be “a few of these days” when things keep changing throughout the day, he said. With that, the House adjourned for the day.

House back in session, doing budget bills

The House has gone back into session, and taken up SB 1224, the budget bill for the state Department of Labor. With no debate, it passed, 58-7. The House then moved on to SB 1229, the budget bill for the PUC.

Guv: Letter wasn’t a white flag

House GOP leaders are now saying they’ll run the ethanol bill and the DMV fees bill, and that’s it. “I don’t know if it’s enough to get it done - that’s just where we’re going,” said House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, “and let’s get the budgets passed and go home. We’re going to do all we can on the House side to adjourn on Wednesday.” Added Rep. Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, “I think the governor is intent on us wrapping up our business and going home. Did he say that in the letter? No.” But Roberts said that’s the message he took from the governor’s letter to lawmakers this morning, which highlighted how he and the Legislature have successfully worked together on other issues besides transportation funding this year.

But Jon Hanian, press secretary for Gov. Butch Otter, said lawmakers are mistaken if they viewed the governor’s letter to them this morning as a surrender on transportation funding. “There’s nothing in that letter that says anything about that he’s walking away from transportation funding,” Hanian said. “That’s not what the governor is doing.” Asked specifically, Hanian said, “It’s not a white flag.” He said, “I think he would’ve liked if it ended on Friday.” But, he said, “We’re aware there’s still some serious work to be done. People have told us they want safe, reliable roads.”

New workers’ comp bill introduced

Next the Ways & Means Committee took up another new bill, also from Nonini, on worker’s compensation, attempting to retroactively change the law regarding a pending lawsuit. Again, the measure was introduced over the objection of minority Democrats on the committee. Rep. James Ruchti, D-Pocatello, an attorney, objected to a clause that seeks to state the “legislative intent” of a past Legislature from 1998. “I think that’s troubling,” he said. Rep. Bill Killen, D-Boise, said it would be “a grave error” to try “to pass a law that says we want to rewrite history.”

The committee also voted unanimously to introduce a new version of the bill to eliminate the ethanol exemption from the state’s fuel tax.

Party-line vote introduces new school funding changes

On a 4-3, party-line vote, Rep. Bob Nonini’s bill making changes in public school finances has won introduction in the House Ways & Means Committee, and will go to the House Education Committee for a hearing. The bill makes three changes: It eliminates an early-retirement incentive program for teachers, though the Senate already has voted against doing that; it adds in relief from “use it or lose it” provisions on school district funding, as proposed in HB 303, which is languishing in the Senate; and it allows flexibility for school districts on half of their requirement for funding a maintenance match. “It appears what this bill does it simply reverse what the Senate did with their amendments, is that right?” asked Rep. Bill Killen, D-Boise. Nonini responded that that was correct for the first change, though not necessarily for the other two. When Killen noted that the Senate added a sunset clause, or expiration, to HB 303, Nonini said there’s no such clause in his new bill.

Ways & Means meets…

The House Ways & Means Committee, in another unannounced meeting, gathered just before 3 p.m. Boise time in the JFAC meeting room. Up first: New legislation from House Education Chairman Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, regarding public school finances. The bill includes reinstating the elimination of an early teacher retirement incentive program; that move passed the House, but was amended out of the bill by the Senate.

DMV fee increase bill clears House committee

After a fairly lengthy hearing, during which committee members variously queried ITD officials and bill sponsors, the House Transportation Committee has voted to send HB 334 to the full House for a vote. The measure would raise a series of Department of Motor Vehicle fees to the tune of $13.1 million, some of which haven’t been raised in decades; it’s sponsored by House Majority Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly. “This has been good for the committee to get a thorough idea of what the costs are, and see the evidence in front of them for justification,” said committee Chairwoman JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, “which will help a lot when we start getting all the nasty telephone calls when we go home.” Near-identical language was in a Senate amendment to HB 96, which the House earlier voted overwhelmingly to kill, with some members saying their biggest problem was that the fee increase originated in the Senate. The committee’s vote was unanimous.

The other bill that had been on the committee’s agenda, Rep. Frank Henderson’s bill on registration fee increases, was pulled from the agenda without explanation.

House goes at ease for transportation meeting, ‘other things’

The House has gone at ease, after Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, said there’ll be a Transportation Committee meeting and “some other things going on.” There was no public mention of a Ways & Means Committee meeting, though there’s been talk about one. Moyle cautioned House members to stay close so they can hear the bell that’ll signify when the House goes back into session; it likely will be within an hour, he said.

Day-care licensing bill amended

The amendments to the day care licensing bill, developed in the House Health & Welfare Committee, easily passed the House just now. Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene, told the House, “SB 1112a is intended to provide additional safety to children in Idaho.” With the amendments, he said, the bill is “not all that I had hoped for,” but, he said, “It will nonetheless make significant progress to protect the safety of those children.” The amendments raise the threshold for licensing from day cares with four or more unrelated children, to seven or more unrelated children. They maintain, however, the requirement for criminal background checks for workers at day cares with four or more unrelated children; they also make an array of other changes to the bill, including adjusting fees and eliminating requirements for continuing education.

About the only hangup was when Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, expressed fear that a clause including misdemeanor injury to a child among crimes preventing people from being licensed as a day-care operator might go too far. “Children fall and hurt themselves all the time in day cares,” Wood told the House. “For instance I know of where a child might fall from a swing or a slide or some kind of equipment in a day care.” Rep. Bill Killen, D-Boise, an attorney, responded, “To be culpable you have to willfully cause or permit the injury to occur. … It’s not unintentional, it’s not mere negligence. It’s willful. It’s a very high standard.”

This is the fifth straight year Sayler has tried to get the measure passed; Idaho currently has no regulation for small day care operations, though some Idaho cities have such regulations. Outside those cities, small day care operators currently need not even get criminal background checks. The bill passed the Senate on March 12 by a 30-5 vote, but got hung up in the House committee. Finally, the panel agreed on the amendments, but then the bill hung on the House’s calendar for nearly a month, awaiting the attachment of the amendments. The House finally moving on taking up the amendments to a bill so heavily favored by the Senate is a sign that end-of-session disputes between the two houses are moving toward resolution.

House is amending day care bill

The House has convened, gone into its amending order and is amending the day care bill, SB 1112a.

Political coffee war swirls around Guv

Here’s a news item from AP: BOISE - In a buy-local brew-ha-ha percolating in Boise, a southwestern Idaho coffee roaster is miffed at Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter over his choice of out-of-state java. David Ledgard, who owns Dawson Taylor Coffee Roasters, had just paid his annual $165 dues in the “Buy Idaho” program last week when he confronted the governor — as Otter was leaving a rival Spokane, Wash.-based joe joint, Thomas Hammer, across the street. Ledgard, admittedly edgy lately as the down economy takes its toll on his and his friends’ businesses, concedes the altercation escalated. Yes, he swore at the governor. At that, Otter said his staff wouldn’t frequent Dawson Taylor, either, Ledgard said. Jon Hanian, Otter’s spokesman, points out nobody should have to visit a place — even a local one — whose owner cusses them out. Thomas Hammer, owner of the Spokane-based roastery that bears his name, told The Associated Press he’d caught a whiff of this tempest in a coffee pot by Monday. Hammer, with seven coffee shops in Spokane and two in Idaho, jested, “This is huge. We might have to become the official coffee of the state of Idaho.”

Senate adjourns for the day

The Senate has adjourned for the day, after moving the new bighorn sheep bill on the calendar but taking no further action. Meanwhile, there’s talk among lawmakers about whether the governor’s letter is a sign that he’s giving in on the transportation funding issue. Some are interpreting it that way, and saying the session will end within days; others aren’t.

JFAC to meet Tuesday morning

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee has scheduled a meeting for 8 a.m. on Tuesday, with the agenda still to come. The budget panel held off from meeting last week, amid the impasse between the governor, the House and the Senate over transportation funding.

High stakes for Otter

Over the weekend, AP reporter John Miller wrote about the high stakes in the battle between Gov. Butch Otter and the GOP-dominated Legislature. “No less than his legacy is at stake,” he wrote. Click below to read the full article.

Guv thanks lawmakers for work on other issues

Gov. Butch Otter sent a letter to every member of the Senate and House of Representatives this morning, thanking them for their work this session and their friendship. “We all have gotten more than our fair share of news media coverage the past few weeks - most of it negative, focused on our challenges and a few issues on which we have not yet reached agreement,” Otter wrote. “I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you all for those many issues on which we have worked together so well and effectively, and on which we have made real progress and agreed on real solutions for the people we serve. There is far too little coverage of the success stories of this legislative session, and of the honorable and noteworthy job you are doing under extraordinarily difficult economic conditions.” He cited the crafting of a state budget, continued grocery tax relief, funding for the Idaho Education Network, passage of water legislation and more. “It is an honor to work with you,” the governor wrote, “and I look forward to continuing our development of a productive and fulfilling relationship this year, and for years to come.”

House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, said, “I can’t disagree with it; it’s a good letter.” He said after meeting with Otter this morning, “I felt confident that he’s ready for us to leave town as well.”

Ways & Means to meet today

House Republicans emerged from their closed-door caucus without a lot to say. “We’re working on a plan to get this session adjourned and go home,” said Majority Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly. “We’re still working on it.” The House Ways & Means Committee will meet this afternoon, Roberts said, and the House today will go to its amending order to amend legislation. House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said he thought the statement House GOP leaders issued on Friday - in which they said they won’t support a gas tax increase this year - speaks for itself. “There’s nothing that should keep us here past Wednesday,” he said, to which House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, added, “I absolutely agree with that.”

Bighorn veto letter received

Gov. Butch Otter’s veto on Saturday of SB 1175, regarding bighorn sheep, was received by the Senate this morning, and Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, asked to route the bill back to the Resources Committee. Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly, D-Boise, objected; she’s taken the position that vetoed bills should come up for override votes. Davis then moved to send the bill to the Resources Committee, Senate Assistant Majority Leader Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston, seconded the motion, and it passed on a voice vote. Another sheep bill is in the works.

Still at impasse…

In their open caucus, House Democrats asked Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, what’s up in the fight over transportation funding. Rusche had huddled briefly in his office with House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, before each went into his respective party caucus. “I have not been given any indication that they’re not still at an impasse,” Rusche told the House Democrats. “I have not heard that there has been a change.”

House goes to caucus

The House has recessed until 1 p.m., with both parties headed into caucus. Majority Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, said the House will be “on and off the floor today at different times.”

House concurs in ed bill amendments

Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, said he was “reluctantly” asking the House to concur in Senate amendments to two education bills, HB 256 and HB 262. Nonini described the Senate changes to the bills as clauses that were “gutted out of the bill.” Then he said the freeze of the salary grid for one year still was in HB 262, accidentally calling it a “frid greeze.” “I don’t know if ‘frid greeze’ is a word,” Nonini said. “You can tell it’s Week 16 - it’s either hot in here, or I’ve just embarrassed myself.” Rep. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, asked Nonini, “If they’ve basically gutted these bills, is there still some good stuff in there or how come we’re concurring?” Nonini responded, “Yes, there still are some good things in there … I think are worthy of keeping.”

They’re back…

The House GOP leadership team arrived back at the Capitol Annex, about half an hour after they’d left to meet with the governor. “We’re still working on it,” said House Majority Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly. Asked about the discussions, he said, “We’re talking about wrapping things up and getting out of town. It’s real fluid right now.” He declined to say more. The leadership team requested the meeting with Gov. Butch Otter, not the other way around; Roberts said they “barely got in” between other commitments on the governor’s schedule.

Now he’s a senator

There’s a Sen. Bob Geddes here this week after all - but he looks a little different. That’s because Senate President Pro-tem Bob Geddes, R-Soda Springs, has named his dad, former state Rep. Bob Geddes, R-Preston, as his substitute while the younger Geddes has to be gone for a work obligation. The senior Geddes said he has a lot to learn, but that comment prompted smiles around him - he served 24 years in the House and was co-chairman of JFAC when he retired.

Off to the Guv’s office

It was just moments until the House was due to take up this morning, and suddenly the entire House GOP leadership team took off across Capitol Park and headed over for a meeting at the governor’s office. There’s no word back yet. Before they left, Speaker Lawerence Denney said the House plans to run bills from its calendar this morning, but if they get to the school budget bills, it’d be the last thing.

The week that was…

Here’s a link to the 15th week of the legislative session in photos as a slide show. A week that started with dramatics - 35 vetoes and a 100th day cake on the House floor - ended with a one-third-empty House chamber and stalled action by the end of the week.

On ‘Idaho Reports’ tonight…

On tonight’s “Idaho Reports” program on Idaho Public Television, I join Rep. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise; Rep. James Ruchti, D-Pocatello; and Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert; along with BSU political scientist emeritus Jim Weatherby and host Thanh Tan, to discuss the legislative developments of the week. Among the discussion points on the show: How 37 members of the House - a majority - have voted in favor of a gas tax hike in the past month, though not all on the same bill. Cameron saying, “I think there are going to be some uncomfortable votes one way or the other, and it’s a matter of time.” Bayer suggesting the transportation funding issue could go on the ballot in 2010. And Ruchti, Bayer and Cameron all firing “zingers” at one another.

Tune in at 8 p.m. tonight, or you can watch the show online here along with the “After the Show” discussion segment; the show also re-airs on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. Mountain time, 10:30 Pacific time. Another interesting tidbit from the “After the Show” segment: Senate President Pro-tem Bob Geddes, R-Soda Springs, may appoint his dad, longtime state representative and former JFAC co-chairman Bob Geddes, R-Preston, to sub for him next week…

Session no closer to ending…

Though yet another transportation bill was introduced today, Idaho’s second-longest legislative session ever is no closer to ending. Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on today’s developments in the Legislature, as the 103rd day of the session gives way to the weekend. Next up: The 106th day on Monday…

House GOP leaders: ‘This is not the day or time’

The four-member House GOP leadership team has issued a statement, saying, “It’s time for the Legislature to wrap up its business and go home.” They also wrote that while they “respect” Gov. Butch Otter’s “convictions,” they don’t want to raise gax taxes because it’s “the wrong thing to do during an economic recession.” Click below to read the full statement.

Cold water from Otter

Gov. Butch Otter, talking with reporters after two bill signing ceremonies this morning, didn’t come right out and say the conditional, economically-triggered general fund shift proposal is unacceptable to him as a means of funding transportation, but he sure threw cold water on the idea. “Hope springs eternal, and I hope we can come up with something,” said Otter, who had just met with Speaker Lawerence Denney and others to hear about the proposal. But, he said, “You have to have certainty in how much money you’re going to have in order to plan for maintenance.” He said he sees two needs for transportation funding: Certainty, and new revenues. Asked how he views the idea of using state general funds for transportation - something Idaho doesn’t now do, relying instead on gas taxes and vehicle registration fees - Otter said, “At first blush … I would say be careful. As you know, I’m a user-pay guy.”

He said of the House GOP leadership, “I applaud their efforts to come up with new ideas.” Denney said he’d met only briefly with the governor, after an Arbor Day tree-planting ceremony and before the bill-signings, before Otter had to leave for the bill signings. “We really didn’t get to discuss it,” Denney said. “We just presented it, and that was it.” Denney said he still expected to meet further with the governor today.

Ways & Means introduces truck fee bill

The House Ways & Means Committee met just now, though no meeting had been scheduled or announced as of the House’s adjournment this morning. The leadership panel introduced a new bill to raise registration fees for heavy trucks by 5 percent, as originally proposed in the governor’s transportation initiative; the governor also said he wants a task force to study further possible increases. The measure follows Rep. Frank Henderson’s proposal for a small increase in registration fees for cars and trucks, by adjusting rate brackets. Rep. Bill Killen, D-Boise, said, “It improves it, because one of the complaints we’ve been hearing is they should share the pain.” But, he said, “It’s not a lot more money.” The fiscal impact of the new bill isn’t entirely clear yet, but it may be in the range of $2.4 million.

Reporters were notified by House GOP communications specialist Chuck Malloy at noon that the Ways & Means Committee would be meeting “soon.” When reporters arrived upstairs about two minutes later, the meeting was over. Killen said, “An hour ago I was told that we were going to meet in a few minutes.” He said he was left waiting for 55 minutes.

Guv praises bill to help disabled officers

With uniformed officers standing by, Gov. Butch Otter and Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, praised legislation today that will help permanently disabled law enforcement officers with health insurance costs for their families. At a formal signing ceremony for the bill, SB 1111, Otter and officers thanks Jorgenson for pushing for the bill, and Jorgenson said, “I’m very proud to be here today. This bill has been in the process for five years.” Jorgenson also praised Coeur d’Alene police officer Mike Kralicek, “who was the inspiration for putting this together.” Though Kralicek, permanently disabled after being shot by a fleeing suspect, won’t benefit from the bill, future officers in his situation will.

Senate marks passing of Allyn Dingel

The Senate has adjourned its session for this morning, after hearing the news of the death of longtime Idaho lobbyist Allyn Dingel. “It is with a heavy heart that I inform you that Allyn Dingel passed away,” Sen. Diane Bilyeu, D-Pocatello, told the Senate. She said Dingel watched the recent passage of a concurrent resolution honoring him, “and delighted in it.”

The Senate, like the House, had completed its formal business this morning but taken up no legislation. Among the announcements at adjournment: JFAC will not meet on Monday morning, Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron said. “We’ll let you know when we are meeting,” he told the Senate. The Senate then adjourned until 10 a.m. on Monday.

‘Not hearing a lot of support’

House Democrats gathered for a brief open caucus this morning, at which Caucus Chairman Bill Killen, D-Boise, said he just wanted to keep an “ear to the ground” and keep the caucus up to date on the latest. Assistant Minority Leader James Ruchti, D-Pocatello, said, “We’re not hearing a lot of support for the fourth part of the four-part proposal from House leaders,” the general fund shift to fund transportation. “We’ll continue to keep our ears to the ground on it.”

Meanwhile, Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, said GOP leaders are headed back to meet with the governor, after the governor participates in a tree-planting ceremony this morning in honor of Arbor Day. “We do have another meeting this morning with the governor,” Denney said. “When we met with him yesterday, he said, ‘Go get it drafted, bring it back, let’s look at it.’ “

‘Life goes on’

The House convened this morning at 8:30 Boise time, and was done by 8:45. There were 26 members absent out of the 70-member chamber. When Majority Leader Mike Moyle moved to adjourn until 9:30 on Monday morning, Assistant Minority Leader James Ruchti responded, “Mr. Speaker, I reluctantly second the motion.” Only a few people audibly called out “aye” to vote in favor of the motion, and a fair number loudly called out “nay.” After a pause, Speaker Lawerence Denney said, “The ayes have it.” Asked later, amid laughter, whether it didn’t sound like there were more nay votes, he said, “No, not to me.” Denney said some House members needed to be absent today, including House Minority Leader John Rusche, who has a wedding, and House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, who has a graduation. “Life goes on,” Denney said.

And now for the 103rd day…

It’s been a day of ups and downs at the Idaho Legislature, as the 102nd day of the session draws to an end. Gov. Butch Otter met with lawmakers multiple times throughout the day, but the basic disagreement of the session, on his transportation initiative, remains unresolved; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com. Lawmakers will convene early on Friday morning, and still will be in session next week - though numerous legislators now are having to skip days due to longstanding work commitments, trips and other schedule conflicts. Senate President Pro-tem Bob Geddes, R-Soda Springs, said he’ll be gone all next week; he’s leaving a stack of “pair slips” to register his votes on key issues. He said, “I hope when I come back, the session is over.”

AAA blasts latest road plan

AAA Idaho has come out against the latest transportation funding plan, saying “it again raises the specter of higher registration fees for cars, while giving big trucks a free pass.” Click below to read AAA’s full statement.

Geddes: Glad ‘their creative juices are flowing’

Senate President Pro-Tem Bob Geddes, R-Soda Springs, asked what he thinks of the House GOP’s latest transportation proposal, said, “I’m encouraged that they’re hatching a plan. Whether this is the plan, I don’t know. It’s encouraging to see that their creative juices are flowing.” Geddes said he likes the concept that in good times, the state would invest in infrastructure, because it’s so hard to do so in bad times. However, he said, “I think the biggest concern that we’re hearing is that the department of transportation needs a firm commitment of revenue. … You can’t give them uncertainty and have them develop good solid plans, and that’s what we’re providing now, is uncertainty.” Geddes said after the House overwhelmingly killed the transportation funding bill the Senate developed - in part because it came from the Senate - it’s now up to the House. “As hard as it is to be patient, I think the Senate has to be patient and welcome a proposal when it comes from the House, instead of trying to develop that proposal from this side.”

Allred: Cars would subsidize trucks even more

Keith Allred, the influential Harvard professor who heads the citizen group The Common Interest, asked about the House’s latest four-part transportation proposal, said, “I think there’s one obvious missing piece.” The change in registration fee brackets for cars and light trucks means owners of those vehicles would pay 8 percent more, but owners of heavy trucks wouldn’t, he said. “Our suggestion is whatever you do on cars and pickups, do an equal amount or more on heavy trucks,” Allred said. “The best evidence suggests heavy trucks are already underpaying their share (for road maintenance). … With this proposal, car and pickup owners would subsidize heavy truck owners even more.”

House Dems: Leery of general fund shift

House Assistant Minority Leader James Ruchti, D-Pocatello, said his caucus had a discussion today about ideas that are being kicked around on transportation. “We made it really clear to our caucus, this is not a deal, this is just the beginnings of some conversation,” Ruchti said. “If the deal involves using general funds, our obvious concerns are, How do you make up for any hole in the general fund that’s created? We just cut education budgets. … Statutorily, we’ve committed our increased future revenues,” to everything from personal property tax relief to budget stabilization fund deposits.

A four-part plan…

The House Ways & Means has introduced two new bills, one with Rep. Frank Henderson’s car registration fee bracket change, which raises $3.1 million a year; and one with the $13.1 million in annual increases in DMV fees. The idea, House GOP leaders said, is for a four-part plan: Those two bills, plus another already introduced to repeal the fuel tax exemption for ethanol; plus another that’s still being worked up to shift a portion of Idaho’s future general fund growth into road work. The idea of looking at sales taxes from auto parts, tires and related purchases was cited as fitting in with that general fund shift idea.

House GOP Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, said the first three bills would raise more than $30 million a year. The general fund shift idea, which still is being developed, would apply an economic trigger, but instead of triggering a gas tax hike, a upsurge in growth in the state would instead trigger a deposit from the general fund into the state highway fund. One possible amount that’s been kicked around is 2 percent of the general fund, or about $50 million.

 

Guv: ‘Not going to preclude anything’

Gov. Butch Otter’s press secretary, Jon Hanian, said, “I wouldn’t say we have an agreement - we’ve had some productive meetings, we’re still having those meetings.” Asked if the governor would settle for a transportation deal that doesn’t include a gas tax increase, Hanian said, “I’m not going to preclude anything.”

The fee-rate brackets idea

Here’s how Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, explained his idea about changing the bracket for car and light truck registration fees, a proposal that raises $3.1 million without changing registration fees, back in March:

Henderson said he’s been promoting his idea about changing the “bands,” or groupings, for car and light truck registration fees for the past year, dropping to three groups rather than five. “I’ve submitted that idea for over a year, but nobody ever picked up on it,” he said. “By doing that, that system increases revenue by 16 percent, whatever you charge for fees.” The reason? “Right now, if you buy a new car, you pay $48 for two years.” After that, the rate drops for a two- or three-year-old car. “The new system is four years - and it’s so slight that it’s harmless … You can raise revenue by 16 percent without hurting the public.” Added Henderson, “The mathematics is obvious.”

One possible source of opposition is raised, however, if that concept stands alone, because that approach doesn’t change registration fees for heavy trucks at all. Some object to collecting more for registration for cars but not for heavy trucks, saying trucks cause more damage to roads and should pay their fair share.

‘If they pass, they pass’

Ken Roberts, House GOP caucus chairman, said, “We had a conversation with the governor this morning. We are working together.” Roberts said, “We’re kind of in the third overtime of the game. We’ll put these bills forward, and if they pass, they pass. If they don’t, it’s time to go home.”

‘It will not be Friday’

The tentative deal on transportation, which still is taking shape today, doesn’t mean Idaho’s 2nd-longest legislative session will get done this week. House Majority Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, said, “It will not be Friday. … If things go well, I think we’ll be out of town mid to end of next week.” JFAC already has a meeting scheduled for Monday.

No gas tax, other measures instead…

House Majority Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, said, “At this point, the gas tax is not part of the discussions we’re having now.” Instead, he said, the tentative plan is to look at a series of bills, which would stand on their own individual merits, starting with removing the ethanol exemption (a measure that already passed both houses, unanimously in the House, but later was amended and killed); and including raising ITD administrative fees to the tune of $13.1 million; and adjusting brackets that serve as categories for vehicle registration fee rates, as proposed by Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, to raise some more money for transportation there. Additional pieces, not yet being introduced, might look to such areas as tapping into the sales taxes paid on tires and auto parts. “That concept may be getting some traction,” Roberts said.

There’s a tentative deal

Both House Democrats and House Republicans have emerged from their closed-door caucuses, and there’s a tentative deal on transportation. The House Ways & Means Committee will meet at 1:30 p.m. to introduce at least two bills.

Senate adjourns for the day

The Senate has adjourned for the day. “We have done all the work that we can do,” Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, told the Senate. The House, he said, has “some legislation that they’re working on,” and the Senate wants to “be respectful of their time and their efforts. We hope that by tomorrow morning … (we can) receive some legislation we can act on.” The Senate then adjourned until 8:30 a.m. tomorrow, and Senate Republicans headed into what they said will be a “brief” closed-door caucus.

House Dems close caucus to discuss deal

House Democrats, who have held open caucuses for years, closed their caucus today when they took up discussion of a tentative deal. House Assistant Minority Leader James Ruchti, D-Pocatello, told his caucus that he’d committed to House Majority Leader Mike Moyle that the caucus would discuss the deal privately. Ruchti booted two lobbyists and a reporter for the Lewiston Tribune for the closed-door discussion, which is still going. Meanwhile, House Republicans also are meeting behind closed doors, as is their normal practice.

Guv signs Fish & Game fee hike bill

Gov. Butch Otter has signed into law SB 1141, the much-revised bill to raise Idaho’s Fish & Game fees next year, but only for non-residents. Oddly, the bill’s title reads, “FISH AND GAME - FEES - Amends and repeals existing law relating to fish and game to revise license fees; to provide legislative intent relating to certain monitoring; and to provide for otter tags and fees.”

House members head into caucus

Both parties in the House are headed into caucus, after the House completed its business for the day and adjourned until 8:30 a.m. tomorrow. Among the bills debated today was HB 218a, a measure from Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, that was amended in the Senate and is aimed at removing fire code requirements for sprinkler systems in certain homes. “There isn’t any science … to tell us that provides any better protection or saves any more lives than smoke detectors,” Hart told the House. “The smoke detector for about 1 or 2 percent of the cost of the fire sprinklers will do as good a job.” The amended bill won House support, 60-6, though several House members spoke against it. It now heads to the governor’s desk.

‘It’s just orange juice’

Rep. Carlos Bilbao, R-Emmett, while carrying legislation in the House to remove a requirement to place a specific yellow sticker on every bottle sold by the state liquor dispensary, held up a bottle. “It’s not the real thing, it’s just orange juice,” he noted. Removing the sticker requirement, he said, “will save the state liquor dispensary $500,000 a year … a simple process that saves a half-million dollars to us taxpayers.” The bill, first proposed by Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, passed the House unanimously, 63-0, and now goes to the governor’s desk.

Guv jovial on 102nd day of session

Gov. Butch Otter visited and joked easily with legislators this morning at a signing ceremony for Comprehensive Aquifer Management Plan (CAMP) legislation. Walking up beforehand to a group of legislators who had taken seats in the audience, Otter put his arm around Rep. Dell Raybould’s shoulder  after Raybould seemed hesitant to come up front to join the governor for the ceremony. “You don’t wanna be seen by me?” Otter cracked. “Don’t anybody look!” Soon he had a large group assembled around him for the signing, including Raybould, House Transportation Chairwoman JoAn Wood, Senate GOP leaders, and more. House Resources Chairman Bert Stevenson praised the CAMP process as showing what happens to “people when they get together and work together.”

Otter flashed his trademark grin after asking the date before signing the bill, joking, “It’s the 101st day?” After the signing, which the lawmakers praised, Otter was asked if there was anything else he wanted to discuss with the lawmakers. “There’s still things in the process,” he said. “Whatever I can do to facilitate these discussions between a bicameral legislature I’m willing to do.” He also asked Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, to stay after to meet with him on a bighorn sheep bill. Asked about the issue, Otter said, “I have some concerns about signing the bill, I have some concerns about not signing the bill. … Both sides are very concerned about the effects.” The governor said he has “some ideas” he wants to talk to them about.

No Friday off for House after all

The House will meet on Friday, Speaker Lawerence Denney said this afternoon, “probably just a short time. We’ll see what business we have. If there’s something we need to do, we’re at the point where we can’t take a day off.” Some lawmakers in both houses will be gone Friday, for everything from longstanding work commitments to family weddings and graduations. House Majority Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, said he’ll come in Friday morning, then head north to catch his daughter’s track meet in Kamiah late that afternoon. House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said he’s headed to his goddaughter’s wedding in Minneapolis, and he’s in the wedding. “I left a pile of pair slips and I’ve got my cell phone,” he said. “I’ll be back Sunday night - I’m pretty sure we’ll still be here.”

‘I was a little out of line’

Here’s a news item from AP: BOISE - A Boise House member demanded - and received - an apology from a northern Idaho lawmaker who accused a 2001 commission of drawing Idaho’s 35 legislative districts to intentionally disadvantage some voters. Rep. Anne Pasley-Stuart, a Democrat whose husband, Tom Stuart, served on the six-member redistricting commission eight years ago, objected when Rep. Dick Harwood contended his district was hurt by “a lot of gerrymandering” involving the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation. Pasley-Stuart insisted on an apology from Harwood, a Republican from St. Maries and persistent critic of the northern Idaho Indian tribe. Harwood replied, “I was a little out of line, and I’m sorry.” After the dustup, the bill they were debating to reform Idaho’s redistricting laws - including provisions to require areas within districts be connected by roads - passed on a 50-18 near-party-line vote. Harwood supported the plan, while Pasley-Stuart opposed it — but hit the wrong button and was recorded as an “Aye.”


Senate adjourns ‘til tomorrow

The Senate passed some budget bills this afternoon, then adjourned until 10 a.m. tomorrow. Before adjournment, Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, announced that the Senate will be meeting on Friday morning as well, so that senators know that when they make their weekend travel plans. Also, Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, announced that JFAC won’t meet tomorrow and probably will meet Monday instead. Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly, D-Boise, presented a formal protest of this morning’s procedural ruling that blocked Democrats from insisting on a veto override vote; her protest will be spread upon the pages of the Senate journal.

Nellis is new UI prez

Duane Nellis, current provost and senior vice president for academics at Kansas State University, has been named the new president of the University of Idaho. Nellis had been a finalist earlier but had withdrawn over pay considerations; the final terms under which he’ll take over at UI include changes in two state board policies to allow his pay to be supplemented by the UI Foundation, and to give him the rank of a full tenured professor. Click below to read the full announcement from the state Board of Ed.

JFAC meeting postponed indefinitely

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee has canceled its meeting that had been scheduled for 8 a.m. tomorrow. “House leadership requested that we postpone our meeting until perhaps Monday,” said  Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert. “We will make our decision later, but we will not be meeting tomorrow.” House leaders expressed an interest in “cooling off” and concern about passing appropriation bills that simply would be vetoed, Cameron said. Meanwhile, there’s lots of talk in the House about taking Friday off for “cooling off.” House Majority Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts said the House will decide tomorrow after a caucus.

Override question prompts Senate dispute

The Senate has recessed until 1:30, after a contentious procedural dispute between the majority and minority leadership over a possible override vote on the governor’s vetoes. Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly, D-Boise, objected to simply sending the vetoed budget bills back to the finance committee to die, and argued that the state Constitution and legislative rules require that they go to an override vote. Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, then moved to lay the bills on the table, a procedural move that kills them unless a two-thirds vote is taken to revive them. Kelly disputed the move as improper, and said she’s working on a formal protest; the motion passed, 28-6, on a party-line vote.

“What we’re seeing now is a pattern of vetoes,” Kelly said. “We would like to see a straight-up vote on these, and we feel under the Constitution and the rules that that’s proper.” She said minority Democrats feel an override vote is important to “getting a voice as senators,” and said, “Our caucus has expressed an interest in attempting to override the governor’s vetoes. We’re frustrated with the process. We want to move on.” Senate President Pro-Tem Bob Geddes, R-Soda Springs, said his caucus doesn’t support an override vote. “We have met as leadership with the majority caucus and there was not two-thirds willing to override the governor,” he said, noting that the transportation bill at the heart of the dispute with the governor passed the Senate by nearly a two-thirds vote. Kelly said, “Well, let’s see what kind of support there is and let’s air it in the light of day. … If that requires someone to go on record, then so be it.” Geddes maintained senators already went on record when they voted to pass the transportation bill.

House is done for the day

As the House prepared to wrap up its business for today, Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, rose and said, “We’ve got one of those cowboy poets in the loft upstairs, a gentleman from 15, he came up with a little deal that describes our situation pretty thoroughly.” He then read: “The cattle are lowing, the alfalfa needs mowing, the weeds are all showing - but the Legislature’s still going.” Amid laughter, the House adjourned for the day.

Driver’s ed bill passes House

The House has voted 51-17 in favor of SB 1133, to change how driver’s education businesses are regulated; it’s a bill that prompted long and contentious hearings in committee. The House is now debating SB 1184, the redistricting bill. Meanwhile, the Senate has begun debating budget bills for the state Department of Health & Welfare.

McGee: ‘It’s up to us’

Senate Transportation Chairman John McGee, R-Caldwell, said, “I think the 25 vetoes made it pretty clear that the governor is dug in. It’s up to us to come up with a plan. … We’ve got to continue to have discussions.” Though the House yesterday killed the governor-supported transportation funding bill that the Senate passed, McGee said, “I don’t think the situation is unfixable. We sent over our best effort at the time. We look forward to (arriving at) something they can agree on.” Meanwhile, in the House, the governor’s veto letter from yesterday was read aloud, including this line: “I am not going to let this session end until this legitimate and proper role is addressed in the manner which it deserves.”

Speaker: ‘They’re not happy’

It’s Earth Day, it’s warm and sunny, and it’s the 101st day of the legislative session. At the Capitol Annex, both houses are scheduled to go on the floor at 9:30 and run some bills, but both are running a bit late; the House has just started. House Speaker Lawerence Denney said the governor’s 25 vetoes yesterday took many House members aback. “He’s setting in concrete the votes that were maybe - I mean, they’re not happy,” Denney said. “Truly yesterday we thought we had a way forward,” he said, involving the removal of the ethanol exemption, raising DMV fees, “and possibly a fuel tax with an economic trigger. We were starting to shop that around when he vetoed those bills - and the talk stopped. I would hope that he wouldn’t veto any more bills, and that we can start talking again.”

Denney said the House is now hesitant to run any appropriation bills because the governor wouldn’t sign them. Plus, they’re hearing from constituents, but he said the ones who are calling him are saying “Stand your ground.” House leaders have no meetings scheduled with the governor today as of yet, Denney said, but, “Hopefully we get the call saying, ‘Come and visit.’ ”

Read all about it…

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on today’s developments in the Legislature, on the 100th day of the session.

Ed changes bring transportation votes

Just as the House was taking up the transportation bill today, the Senate was amending education bills. It’s no coincidence that 11 House Democrats voted in favor of the transportation bill today, when only three supported a gas tax hike in the earlier go-rounds (four in the last one). “Our discomfort with raising taxes when you’re slashing education and state agency budgets is the taxpayer gets hit on both sides,” said House Assistant Minority Leader James Ruchti, D-Pocatello. “Today was the culmination of efforts to make sure that we provide more money to education, and that some of these bad bills, or at least bad aspects of bills, were eliminated.”

Senate passes amended ed bills

The Senate has passed the amended versions of two controversial education bills, HB 262 and HB 256. The first one no longer phases out an early retirement incentive program for teachers, but still freezes movement on the pay grid for one year. The second one no longer ends funding for academic field trips, but it still makes other changes in state reimbursements to school districts for student busing costs. Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, estimated that the changes to the bills will cost the state an additional $4.5 million next year - and that’s $4.5 million that, at this point, isn’t included in the budget for public schools. Asked where the money will come from, Goedde said, “That’s up to the joint finance committee.” But he said his preference is to trim budgets for textbooks and classroom supplies to make up the difference. The state also will have to dip into its public education stabilization fund for up to $1.4 million, depending on the results of a transportation audit, to make up what otherwise would have been a cut to the Boise School District in funding for busing.

Goedde said he doesn’t think the state can afford to fill the funding gap created by the changes in the bills from its rainy day funds. “There isn’t anyplace else - money doesn’t grow on trees,” Goedde said. “If you give it back in early retirement and you give it back in field trips, you’re going to have to take it someplace else.” Asked whether it’s better to restore funds for those items and cut elsewhere, Goedde said, “That’s what I heard from educators.” He said of the remaining non-statutory items in the school budget, textbooks, which already are being trimmed back by 40 percent next year, and classroom supplies look the most promising to cover the shortfall. “If I look at those below-the-line items, those are the two that I would pick,” Goedde said.

Otter: ‘Pass those transportation bills’

Among the bills that are being vetoed: Budgets for the state Department of Water Resources, the Industrial Commission, the Commerce Department, the Military Division, the Arts Commission, the Division of Human Resources, Idaho Public TV, the Blind Commission, the liquor dispensary, the Idaho Historical Society, and more. “These are operating government,” Gov. Butch Otter said. “Without these bills, these divisions of government cannot operate.” He said of lawmakers, “This is their responsibility.” Otter also had a message for the public: “I think the public ought to start calling the Legislature tonight and say, ‘Pass those transportation bills and get out of town.’”

Guv vetoing 25 budget bills

Gov. Butch Otter is vetoing 25 budget bills, telling lawmakers he’ll continue the vetoes until they act on his transportation plan.  “We’ve got to continue to try, because every day the problem is going to get worse,” the governor declared. “They’re all bills that need to be addressed by the Legislature before they go home, and they know that.” He said, “We’re going to continue to take this kind of action until we see some concrete movement. They need to know that I’m serious.”

Guv to ‘act on legislation’ again

Gov. Butch Otter has again invited the news media to his office, at 3 p.m. today (Boise time), “where  he will act on legislation,” according to his media advisory. Yesterday, that meant vetoes.

‘We haven’t offered enough’

House Speaker Lawerence Denney said, “We are still negotiating, which means that what we have offered is not enough.” That’s how the House GOP press conference ended.

‘A difficult thing to do’

Answering questions from reporters, House GOP leaders said they feel like some progress is being made, though they hardly sounded optimistic. “Any time you can sit down and communicate, there’s progress being made,” said House Speaker Lawerence Denney. “The governor has definitely made the case for the need - it is the economy.” Said House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, “We’re working together and we’re talking. Just give the process a little time to work … we’ll get there.” Denney said, “We don’t want to get into a shouting match with the governor on how long it’s going to be.”

Asked when the House would say it’s tried all it can and it’s time to give up, House Majority Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts said, “That’s the message we delivered today, is that we have voted on gas bills six times, the House has weighed in. … We believe it’s a difficult thing to do to raise gas taxes this year.”

House GOP leaders: ‘We are still in negotiations’

Emerging from a meeting with the governor, House Speaker Lawerence Denney said at a news conference just now, “The vote we had on the House floor was certainly not a vote against the governor. We think the governor has certainly made his case for increased funding for transportation … and certainly there is the need out there. However it’s very difficult for us … most of the debate that we have heard on the House floor is now is not the time, the economy is not good. I think that’s the basic reason why we cannot seem to get a gas tax increase off the House floor.”

Denney added, “We are still in negotiations with the governor to see what we might still be able to do to increase the revenue for transportation, and the negotiations are ongoing.” Asked about the governor’s demeanor at the meeting, Denney said, “He did not appear to be overly angry at us.”

About that vote…

In the House’s 15-55 vote on HB 96a, the transportation funding bill, just four Republicans voted in favor - Reps. Anderson, Black, Eskridge and Leon Smith. Eleven Democrats voted in favor.

Weird, wacky and wild…

In the latest development on this weird, wacky and wild 100th legislative day, the House Republican leadership called a press conference for 1 p.m., but when the hour arrived, spokesman Chuck Malloy had to stand up and tell a capacity crowd, “The leadership has been meeting with the governor since about noon - they are still in the meeting. I have no idea how long the meeting will be.” At nearly 20 after, word came that the leaders are now on their way.

Education bills amended

The Senate has amended three controversial education bills. The changes include eliminating the phase-out of an early-retirement program for teachers; restoring funding for busing for academic field trips; adding a two-year sunset to the portions of HB 303 that didn’t already have them; and slightly easing a hit to the Boise and Lewiston school districts over their funding for school busing. Sen. Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow, said the amendments got strong majorities, but he didn’t support them. “‘Course not - I want to kill ‘em all,” Schroeder said. He said he thinks a measure that survived that would freeze movement on the teacher salary grid for a year is inviting a lawsuit for the state. All the successful amendments were sponsored by Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene.

Denney: ‘Now is not the time’

House Speaker Lawerence Denney, after the House’s overwhelming defeat of the governor’s favored transportation bill, said, “I think the message is that the debate on the floor on all the other gas tax issues was the same - that we realize the need, but now is not the time.” Denney said the House decided to concur in the amendments and then kill the bill rather than going to a conference committee with the Senate because “we think it’s faster. I think the outcome would’ve been the same - I think the conference committee would not have come to an agreement on that particular bill.”

A few minutes later, Gov. Butch Otter had scheduled a press availability after a Land Board meeting, but he canceled it. “I’m not going to make any comment until after I meet with the leadership, and I’ve got a meeting set up with them,” Otter said tersely. His chief of staff, Jason Kreizenbeck, said, “We will work with House leadership to see if we can get a new bill.”

Another 100 days?

Following the House defeat of the transportation bill, the House went at ease at Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, was presented with the “crow” to commemorate carrying a bill that receives fewer than 20 votes. Then, Rep. Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, noted that a century mark is being commemorated today - the legislative session’s 100th day. House Assistant Sergeant at Arms Al Noyes displayed to the House a large cake noting the occasion, with candles on it burning brightly. “Mr. Speaker, I hope that the next 100 days go faster than the first 100 days,” House Majority Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, told the House, to which Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, responded, “that’s horrible!”

House defeats transportation bill

The House has voted against HB 96a, killing it on a 15-55 vote.

House debate is on…

Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, the sponsor of HB 96a, told the House, “I think this bill is properly before the House and the full House deserves to vote on it.” Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, spoke in favor, saying citizens and those passing through Idaho need to be able to “travel on roads that are safe for them.” She said, “I know this is a hard decision.” Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, spoke against the bill, saying he thought it was unconstitutional because the amendments didn’t originate in the House. The bill did, however; the constitution requires revenue raising legislation to originate in the House. House Transportation Chairwoman JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, said, “I would also like to take issue with that as originating in the Senate.” She objected to the inclusion of DMV fees in the bill; another Senate bill originally contained those fee hikes; the Senate amended HB 96 to instead add them into the House bill. Wood said the current ITD budget should be spending more on road maintenance.

House suspends rules, takes up bill

The House has just voted to suspend its rules and take up the amended HB 96, the transportation funding bill.

House concurs…

Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, asked unanimous consent that the House concur in the amendments the Senate placed on HB 96, the ethanol exemption bill. “The Senate has put a lot of work into these amendments,” Nonini said. “I give them credit for a lot of work and the time they spent on these amendments.” He noted that the first raises Idaho’s gas tax, three cents on July 1 and another three cents a gallon a year later. The second raises DMV fees. No one objected, and the House moved on. But that’s not the end of it; the amended bill still comes up for debate and passage - or other action - in the House.

House is back in

The House has come back on the floor, its caucuses concluded, and will be taking up the amended transportation bill, HB 96. In this photo, just before the bell rang to convene, representatives looked at newspapers with headlines asking, “Will House yield to Otter’s threat?”

Guns-at-work bill passes Senate

HB 287, the bill designed to encourage guns at workplace parking lots by granting immunity from lawsuits to employers who let their employees store their firearms in their cars in the company lot has passed the Senate on a 26-8 vote. Several opponents decried the bill as unnecessary, but it passed anyway. The bill originally was promoted in the House in part as a way to encourage Cabela’s to end a policy forbidding employees from keeping guns in their cars at work, but the sporting goods retailer said it has no such policy. Backed by the National Rifle Association, the measure passed anyway; it now goes to the governor.

House goes to caucus

The House convened this morning, and immediately went at ease for both parties to go to caucus. “We’re considering all of our options,” said House Speaker Lawerence Denney. “There are people who want to go home, and that may make a difference, but I suspect that there’s still quite a little to resolve.” House GOP leadership has scheduled a press conference for 1 p.m. today. Meanwhile, the Senate is soon to go into session and may take up amendments to education bills. (Incidentally, the time stamps on this blog are in Pacific time, where our servers are, so add an hour to get the Boise time).

‘Time to put aside our differences’

Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, speaking out in JFAC this morning in support of the redo’s of the eight vetoed budget bills, said he appreciated the statement in Gov. Butch Otter’s veto message that he had no problem with the bills. “I think at this point, in this period of our legislative process, we have an honest disagreement among the bodies and the governor,” Eskridge said. “Maybe it’s time for some of us to put aside some of our heartfelt differences and look at a reasonable compromise that serves the people of Idaho. I would hope we would proceed in that direction. I don’t think this is a punishment for doing good. I think the gentleman in the Borah building (Otter) has worked hard for the past year in determining in his mind what the responsible action should be in maintaining our roads. I would hope we go forth now with a direction that would arrive at a reasonable solution that would serve our citizens well in the state.”

A re-do on the vetoed budgets

Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, moved to resubmit all the vetoed budgets in new bills. The only one that will change from before is the Fish & Game budget bill, which now will incorporate the legislation that raised Fish & Game fees for out-of-state hunters and anglers. Asked Rep. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls, “Is this action the same as a veto override?” “No, this is not,” responded committee Co-Chair Maxine Bell, R-Jerome. “This is just simply redoing bills that are no longer in play, and they are appropriations that are necessary to run government.” Said Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, “Hopefully reason will prevail and we’ll be able to get these budget bills out, and we’ll be able to find solutions and go home.” His motion passed unanimously, 20-0.

Budget bill passes on party-line vote

JFAC has voted 16-4 to pass the new version of what was SB 1222 on personnel funding cuts and stimulus spending. Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said joint committee members may “moan and mourn” that the original version didn’t fly, but he said, “In reality that bill’s failed. I think it’s time for us to move on, and this is the next-best option.” It was a party-line vote, with the panel’s four Democrats dissenting.

‘What we have here is a compromise’

Among the information about stimulus funding for local transportation projects that hadn’t come out when JFAC first crafted SB 1222 was this, according to Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint: “Apparently there’s a 1,500-page manual from OMB back in Washington, D.C. that requires extreme tracking of stimulus dollars, and on transportation projects, requires a sign on every project. For a lot of the money that would have gone to locals, the signing and the paperwork requirements would have outweighed the benefit that would have gone to locals.” Keough had made the original motion to send all of the $17.5 million from the governor’s pot of stimulus money that he wanted to direct to transportation to local highway districts, cities and counties, rather than to ITD. But she said her original vision - that perhaps a small, rural district might get enough to pay for a load of gravel - didn’t work if a $300 sign had to be erected and multiple reports filed. The new version of the bill sends the money through the ITD’s existing grant process for local highway projects. “What we have here is a compromise that uses the existing system,” Keough said.

‘There will be layoffs’

Under the new bill being discussed in JFAC this morning that replaces the defeated SB 1222, there’s no more across-the-board 3 percent pay cut for state employees. Instead, statewide personnel costs are cut by 5 percent, but Gov. Butch Otter has discretion to reduce that where needed, with enough money from rainy-day funds to trim it to a 3 percent cut. Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, noted that any agency that can’t get to the 5 percent cut can appeal to the governor. “They can go to him for help,” she said. “I just want people across the state to understand that.” Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, said she’ll oppose the new bill because it only trims agencies funded with federal or dedicated funds by 3 percent rather than 5 percent, potentially creating unfairness compared to general-fund agencies. Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said there could be unfairness either way - if those agencies were held at 5 percent, but the governor reduced the cut for general fund agencies, it’d go the other way. “The governor has the discretion to use his best judgment, and I think we have to trust that he will do so,” he said.

Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, said, “There is no way that we’re going to treat everybody fairly.” That’s just not possible, he said. Cameron said he hoped layoffs could be avoided - that’s why lawmakers first came up with the across-the-board pay cut - but he thinks the funding cuts as structured now will force some layoffs. “I’m here to tell you that I think there will be layoffs,” he said. “We hope, particularly in areas that affect the public health and safety, that those layoffs can be minimized.” That’ll be the duty of the governor, he said.

‘No good deed goes unpunished’

Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, co-chair of JFAC, started off this morning’s JFAC meeting - on the 100th day of the legislative session - saying, “It does bring to mind a saying I heard that no good deed will go unpunished - and some of our good deeds will be punished.” JFAC then started to work, going through a new version of what previously was SB 1222, regarding personnel cuts and federal stimulus spending. The bill earlier passed the Senate 34-1 but then was killed in the House. After that, JFAC will move on to a couple of trailer bills to match other legislation, and then action on the eight budgets that need redoing because yesterday, Gov. Butch Otter vetoed them.
 

Senate votes in favor of gas tax hike

The Senate has voted 21-14 in favor of HB 96 as amended, which not only removes an ethanol exemption from fuel tax, but now also raises Idaho’s gas tax by 3 cents per gallon next year and another 3 cents the following year, and raises an array of DMV fees. That raises $65 million a year in state and local road funding by the second year, beyond the estimated $4 million to $20 million a year from the ethanol change. Senate Transportation Chairman John McGee, R-Caldwell, told the Senate, “Now we have an opportunity to have our say on what this body thinks we should do.” McGee noted that Idaho’s gas tax, the main source of funding for road maintenance, hasn’t been raised since 1996. “Simply stated, we’re trying to build 2009 roads in 1996 dollars,” he said. The money raised by the bill, he said, would be for road maintenance, not to build new roads, like the funding Idaho is getting from the federal economic stimulus and from highway bonds.

Sen. Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow, told the Senate, “My constituents want good roads, they want to be able to travel. … This takes money.” Schroeder said his constituents back a gas tax increase, to make roads safe for University of Idaho students to drive home and to keep the state’s road system adequate to meet the needs of business and commerce. He also noted that gas prices between towns in his district vary by as much as 11 cents per gallon, while the hike would only add 3 cents next year and 3 cents the year after. Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, said, “Individually it’s a pretty small sum, but collectively it’s enough money to get us started on the problem.” Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, asked, “Are we going to wait for another bridge collapse like what happened in Minneapolis? … We have to bear the responsibility. … I’m not going to turn my back on required maintenance.”

Debating against the bill, Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, said no one disputes that Idaho’s roads are deteriorating. “Now is not the time to be placing an additional burden on struggling Idaho families - it just isn’t the time to do it,” he said. Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, said, “I’m concerned about our priorities, and to me, I would put our schools first, and this does not do that.” Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, said, “I don’t question that our infrastructure could use it, but I question the timing.” Seven Republicans joined all seven Democrats to oppose the bill; all North Idaho senators voted in favor. The amended bill now moves to the House for possible concurrence in the Senate amendments.

Senate to vote on amended bill now

The Senate has suspended its rules and will debate and vote on the amended HB 96, the transportation funding bill, right now.

Senate approves transportation amendments

The first amendment, adding DMV fees into HB 96, has passed, with just the Senate’s Democrats and Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, objecting. The second amendment, the gas tax hike, also passed, this time with the six Democrats present joined in their opposition by eight Republicans.

Next amendment: Gas tax hike

“Senators, let’s be very clear about this - this is a gas tax increase,” Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, told the Senate while introducing the next amendment to HB 96. “… This raises the state gas tax on a gallon of gas from 25 cents to 28 cents and then to 31 cents. … I think almost everyone agrees that something has to be done. … The fact is this amendment … would raise $52 million for Idaho’s roads and bridges in a time where we desperately need to maintain our infrastructure we have in the state of Idaho.” Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, explained the portion dealing with trucks; it doesn’t change registration fees, he said, but merely deals with vehicles that have permits to run on gaseous fuels to keep the tax increase consistent. Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, said, “If we defer this, we’re going to put it on our kids. … This helps both the locals and the state system.”

Decades since DMV fees raised…

Many of Idaho’s motor vehicle department fees, such as those for titles and licenses, haven’t been raised in more than 20 years, Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, told the Senate, arguing for his amendment to add about $13 million in such fee increases to HB 96, the bill that already increases highway funding by eliminating a fuel tax exemption for ethanol. “The dollars now are actually being taken away from the road maintenance to do to these types of things,” said Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, co-sponsor of the amendment. “We’re trying to get to a break-even on these fees.”

Possible amendments…

The proposed amendments to HB 96, the ethanol bill, appear to add in the increased Department of Motor Vehicle fees previously proposed in a Senate bill; add in a gas tax increase of 3 cents per gallon next year and 3 cents the year after; and adjust truck fees. The Senate is now in its amending order.

Senate back in session

The Senate has reconvened, and unanimously agreed to refer the eight vetoed budget bills back to committee, rather than try to override the governor’s veto. Now, they’re moving to their 14th Order for amendments. Two amendments, both from Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, are pending on HB 96, the ethanol exemption bill.

‘Now at least we know’

Here’s some reaction from legislators to the governor’s veto of eight appropriation bills today:

“There’s certainly been some question as to how determined the governor truly was - now at least we know.” - Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls
“I think it’s silly - I think it was totally uncalled for. … We felt like we had given him what he wanted with the budget, so I’m truly disappointed.” - Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, co-chair, JFAC
“We just did the best we could do, we brought all of his bills out that he asked us to. I think his statement today was divisive with the House and Senate, because the House has worked very hard, both the transportation committee and JFAC. We feel like we should’ve had a pat on the back, not be told that we’re irresponsible.” - Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, House transportation chairwoman
“I think the House has spoken - every time it comes up with the same solution.” - House Majority Caucus Chairman Rep. Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly
“I think the that the governor is expressing his displeasure in the only way he has to get the attention he needs to get his wishes across. Frankly, I met with him last week, and I didn’t say to veto bills, but I did say, ‘You’ve got to stand up and make your wishes known if you want something to go through.’ ” - Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle

‘No sentiment to override’

More than two hours later, GOP senators have emerged from their closed-door caucus. “I don’t think we have the sentiment to override the governor’s veto, so those (vetoed budget bills) will be referred back to the committee, and I think we’ll try to amend HB 96,” said Senate President Pro-Tem Bob Geddes, “and see how that goes on the other side.” That’s the ethanol bill. The Senate is now getting ready to go back into session.

Which budget bills got vetoed

Here are the eight budget bills that Gov. Butch Otter vetoed today:
SB 1176, Office of Species Conservation
SB 1177, Department of Fish & Game
SB 1178, Department of Parks & Recreation
SB 1179, Office of Energy Resources
SB 1181, Office of the State Board of Education
SB 1188, Public Utilities Commission
SB 1189, Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho (PERSI)
SB 1190, Idaho State Police

Dems caucus, wait for GOP

Senate Democrats met in an open caucus, and while they discussed and debated what’s going on, they’re essentially waiting to see what the majority Republicans will do. The Senate GOP caucus still is meeting behind closed doors; meanwhile, the House has adjourned for the day.

Otter: ‘Initial response was unsatisfactory’

Gov. Butch Otter says he decided to veto eight appropriations bills today when “the initial response from legislators was unsatisfactory” to his move this morning to veto two unrelated bills, and threaten to veto the appropriations if the Legislature doesn’t pass transportation funding increases by Wednesday night. Lawmakers can’t end their session without passing a state budget; any appropriation bills that are vetoed must be written again from scratch and passed through both houses. Otter, in a news release, said he did the vetos “in an effort to clarify to the Legislature his determination that they will not be leaving town without addressing Idaho’s transportation funding needs.” Click below to read the governor’s full release.

Senate receives veto messages

The Senate has received the veto message from the governor on eight appropriation bills, and now has gone at ease. The majority party is headed into a closed-door caucus.

‘He wanted to make it perfectly clear’

Here are the eight appropriation bills that Otter has vetoed today: Senate Bills 1176, 1177, 1178, 1179, 1181, 1188, 1189, and 1190. Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said, “I think there was a feeling that what he said this morning wasn’t being perceived as a strong enough message, and he wanted to make it perfectly clear.” Cameron said JFAC will have to reconsider all those budgets. “We understand this is part of the process, particularly this time of the year, and it’s one of the tools the governor has to keep us here,” he said.

Otter vetoes all eight bills

Gov. Butch Otter has vetoed all eight appropriation bills that he threatened to veto this morning. “I have no problem with these bills,” Otter wrote in his veto message. “At some point they will merit positive consideration. However, consistent with my desire to provide you with the time to positively address our need for an ongoing source of transportation revenue, I am vetoing these bills and will continue vetoing appropriations bills until an adequate transportation bill is approved by the Legislature and delivered for my consideration.”

He continued, “I tried to be diplomatic and respectful of the Legislature and its deliberations with the actions I took earlier today. yet it seems my efforts instead left many confused and questioning my resolve. So to eliminate any doubt about where I stand and to expedite the legislative process, I am vetoing these appropriations bills before me immediately. Further, let me say unequivocally that I do not intend to call a special session of the Legislature because I am not going to let this session end until this legitimate and proper role of government is addressed in the manner it deserves.”

Celebrating a double 80

Both Senate Doorkeeper Bob McDonald and Sen. John Andreason, R-Boise, are celebrating 80th birthdays - McDonald tomorrow and Andreason today - so senators paused before convening their afternoon session to join the two and their families for celebratory cake and ice cream. McDonald has been the Senate’s doorkeeper for 15 years; Andreason is an eighth-term senator who also served in the Senate from 1967 to 1970 and is a former legislative budget director.

Senate recesses ‘til 1:30

The Senate passed three bills from its 2nd Reading calendar, HB 178a, HB 312 and HB 313, and now it’s recessed until 1:30 p.m. (Boise time).

Dems respond to vetoes

House and Senate Democrats have put out a news release critical of Gov. Butch Otter’s two vetoes today; in it, Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly, D-Boise, said, “The governor and other Republican leaders are more interested in power plays than solving problems.” Also in the release, House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said, “Today, the governor vetoed two bills that had broad bipartisan support: one that recognizes the importance of parents as teachers and another that protects Idahoans against identity theft. We question whether killing important bills is the best way to achieve the cooperation and collaboration that Idahoans deserve from their elected officials.” Click below to read the full release.

Senate may amend this afternoon…

The Senate has started its session, but hasn’t yet moved to its amending order, where it’s expected to take up transportation funding. Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, told the Senate, “I do not know fully what’s going to happen between now and day’s end … so I’m trying to, together with the leadership team here, manage it moment by moment.” For now, he said, the Senate plans to suspend rules and take up the bills on its 2nd Reading calendar. Those include the budget bill for the state superintendent of schools and several Health & Welfare budget bills, though they skipped over the ITD budget. The tentative plan, Davis said, is to work until noon, then break until 1:30, then go at ease to allow for a caucus. “It is our current intention to go into the amending order this afternoon - what we will do there is yet to be determined,” Davis said.

Otter wants action…

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on the governor’s action this morning, vetoing two unrelated bills to send a message to lawmakers that he wants action by both houses on transportation funding by this Wednesday night - or else.

Gov: ‘I’m willing to accept a certain figure’

Senate Transportation Chairman John McGee, R-Caldwell, will propose the transportation amendments that Gov. Butch Otter favors, the governor said this morning as he vetoed two unrelated bills. “I’m asking the Legislature to please move forward on the Senate bill,” Otter declared. “I’ve gone over what’s happening in the Senate. …. Leadership is not easy.” He added, “As far as I’m concerned, that is the going-home bill.” He said, “I think the Senate amendments do reflect what I’m prepared to accept.”

Those amendments haven’t been made, yet, of course. Asked whether there are just certain amendments he wants, Otter said, “I’m willing to accept a certain figure,” though he wouldn’t reveal it, and said McGee would be carrying the amendments that are acceptable to him. Otter said he has to take action on the eight appropriation bills sitting on his desk by Thursday at 2:33 p.m. - and he’ll veto them if he hasn’t had action from both houses by Wednesday night on transportation funding. “The Legislature can’t leave town without passing a budget,” Otter said.

Guv: ‘Would’ve vetoed those two anyway’

Gov. Butch Otter says there’s no relationship between the two bills he vetoed this morning - HB 161a on security breaches that release personal information, and HB 245, which established a Parents as Teachers program under the Children’s Trust Fund - and his dispute with the Legislature over transportation. “I think I would’ve vetoed these bills no matter - in fact, I don’t even know who carried the bills,” he said. HB 161a was sponsored by Rep. Tom Trail, R-Moscow, and HB 245 was sponsored by Rep. Brian Cronin, D-Boise. However, HB 245 was co-sponsored by House Education Chairman Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, an outspoken opponent of Otter’s fuel tax increase bill who spoke out against it in the House and also criticized Otter’s executive order for accountability measures at the Idaho Transportation Department, saying it wasn’t worth the piece of paper it was printed on. Trail’s bill, which had eight co-sponsors including members of both majority and minority leadership in the House, passed both houses unanimously. It required notification to the Attorney General when state agencies inadvertently release personal information.

‘Anything that helps the schools’

After Gov. Butch Otter’s veto press conference this morning, House Minority Caucus Chairman Bill Killen, D-Boise, who attended, said House Democrats continue talks with the governor on the transportation issue. “We have been carrying on discussions with the governor about transportation,” he said. “I didn’t hear anything in there that would change that.” Asked what the Democrats want, Killen said, “Anything that would help our schools.”

Otter: The ‘going home bill’

Gov. Butch Otter says he would have vetoed those two bills anyway. “By Thursday, I have all these appropriation bills to sign,” he said - but he’s going to hold them, to see what happens with Senate amendments to transportation bills. “I’m simply using the vetoing of these bills to remind them that I’ve got all these on my desk,” Otter said, “and I’m prepared to take similar action.” He said the amended Senate bill is the “going-home bill” and the Senate amendments will give him what he wants on transportation. “I’m prepared to stay as long as I have to in order to get some responsible legislation that reflects our transportation revenues,” Otter said. “There is another avenue that we’re exploring right now and that is a special session the day after they adjourn.”

Otter vetoes two bills

Gov. Butch Otter has vetoed two bills, HB 245 and HB 161. HB 245 was a measure regarding the Parents as Teachers program. HB 161, regarding security breaches, was “really unnecessary,” the governor said. “I think it’s a solution in search of a problem.” Otter said he was not only vetoing the two bills, but also wanted “to relate a message.” He said, “It is not my intention to veto bills in order to get the Legislature’s attention. … However you all know how serious I am about transportation.” He said, “I don’t think we can any longer ignore the problem. We’ve got to step forward.”

Guv will ‘act on legislation’

Rumors were hot Friday that Gov. Butch Otter was about to veto some bills as his dispute with the House over transportation funding heated up, but nothing happened. Now, there’s this announcement from the governor’s office: He’s invited the news media to join him Monday at 10 a.m. in his office, where he will “act on legislation.”

How long it is…

When lawmakers convene on Monday morning, it’ll be the 99th day of the legislative session, which already is the second-longest in state history. Idaho’s legislative sessions have averaged just under 71 days since statehood, but seven of the past 10 annual sessions have stretched longer than that mark; last year’s session ran 87 days. “Everybody’s ready for us to go,” said Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls. This year’s session is so long, in part, because the federal economic stimulus legislation essentially forced a do-over of the state budget six weeks in. That meant delays, but it also meant serious, careful and public examination of the impacts of the stimulus on Idaho, and softening of state budget cuts that otherwise could have gone much deeper. You can read my full story here from this weekend’s Spokesman-Review.  

This spud’s for you…

On the turbulent border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, an Idaho soldier who’s serving on a multi-national security force now has a new Spuddy Buddy figure, a box of Idaho candy and a Senate medallion, after his home-state senator came by on an international tour. Idaho Sen. Jim Risch, the first Idaho senator in nearly three decades to serve on the Senate foreign relations committee and Senate intelligence committee, recently returned from a six-nation tour through the Middle East, which included meetings with the heads of state of Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Dubai and Afghanistan. Along the way, he met with Idaho troops serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Sinai Peninsula, and handed out “Idaho trinkets” he’d brought along for them. He was surprised to find an Idahoan, Sgt. Samuel Manifold of Grangeville, among the 650 U.S. troops serving on the force keeping peace on the Israel-Egypt border.

Risch, along with three other U.S. senators, went on the trip on behalf of the Senate and the State Department. “In Afghanistan, we met with President Karzai, but we also met with the opposition at the request of the State Department,” he said, to demonstrate that the United States is neutral in the Afghan elections. Risch, who also serves on the Energy and Natural Resources committee, said, “What happens around the world affects every Idahoan.”

The week that was…

This week on “Idaho Reports” on Idaho Public TV, I joined BSU political scientist emeritus Jim Weatherby, Senate Transportation Chairman John McGee, R-Caldwell, Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly, D-Boise, and House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, along with host Thanh Tan, to discuss the events of the 14th week of this year’s Idaho legislative session. You can watch the show online here along with the additional 30-minute “After the Show” discussion segment; the show also re-airs on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. Mountain time, 10:30 Pacific time. And here’s a link to the week in photos as a slide show.

JFAC to meet Tuesday instead of Monday

JFAC has rescheduled its Monday morning meeting to Tuesday, because it took until long into the afternoon today (Boise time - the time stamp on this blog is in Pacific time) to work out final details on budget bill language between the governor’s office and the Legislature. That deal, however, has been reached. The delay in the JFAC meeting is to allow sufficient time for bill drafters to prepare the bill for the joint committee’s consideration.

Transportation amendment in the works

Senate Transportation Chairman John McGee said work is proceeding on amendments to transportation legislation. “We are getting very close to having an amendment ready to go,” he said. “I really think the Senate’s going to pass something.” House GOP leaders are sitting back and waiting. “We haven’t seen anything from the Senate,” said Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star. Said House GOP Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, “They need to go through the gyrations that this house went through for the last two years. … We don’t have a vote yet on what the Senate’s willing to do on transportation.”

Monday is the earliest possible time the Senate could go into its amending order to amend transportation bills now awaiting action there.

Senate finishes for the day, JFAC meeting set for Monday

The Senate has wrapped up its business for the day, and will go back into session at 11 a.m. on Monday. Meanwhile, JFAC has scheduled a meeting for 9:30 a.m. on Monday to deal with the personnel cuts issue, assuming the bill that’s being drafted is acceptable to the governor. Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, told the Senate that the bill’s language is being finalized and sent to the governor now for his review, as promised. “If they are not ready or they have problems with some of the language, we may have to postpone that meeting,” Cameron said.

Senate passes resolution honoring NIC

The Senate has unanimously passed a resolution saluting North Idaho College on its 75th anniversary, after several senators had glowing things to say about the Coeur d’Alene college. When the resolution, HCR 30, cleared the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday, Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, told the panel that 25 years ago, when the college celebrated its 50th anniversary, Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, then a Kootenai County commissioner, spoke at the celebration. This year, Henderson, 86, spoke at the 75th anniversary celebration. “I know Rep. Henderson had made his plans for 25 years from now to speak at the 100th anniversary of the college,” Nonini said, a prospect Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene applauded, saying, “I’ll look forward to hearing the 100th anniversary presentation from Rep. Henderson.”

In the Senate today, Goedde called NIC “a huge economic development tool” for the region, as well as a key educational resource for residents. Said Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, “It is something that we all benefit from.”

House is done for the day

The House has adjourned, planning to come back on the floor at 9:30 a.m. on Monday. The motion to adjourn got so many “nay” votes that House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, initially suggested he was in doubt as to the outcome, and perhaps they should come back into session tomorrow, but then he relented.

And now it’s the 96th day…

The House has started its session, after some initial milling about, and is taking up Health & Welfare budgets that top its Third Reading calendar. GOP leaders said they’ll do a few bills from the calendar, suspend rules and take up a few appropriations from the Second Reading calendar, and call it a day. The Senate, when it convenes, plans to run through bills from its Second Reading calendar. Neither house plans to go into its amending order today; both likely will finish their sessions by noon.

Quirks, oddities and antics…

Here’s an excerpt from AP reporter John Miller’s analysis today of the quirks and oddities of this year’s waning legislative session: “Despite reports to the contrary,” Cabela’s spokesman David Draper told The Associated Press on Thursday, “we do not prohibit employees from lawfully possessing, carrying or storing firearms in vehicles on company property. We apologize for any misunderstanding and have clarified the intent of our policies with our employees.”

That supposed policy of Cabela’s was a major reason presented in debate for Rep. Jeff Thompson’s pro-guns-in-cars bill when it passed the House earlier. Thompson told the AP that the NRA told him that was Cabela’s policy. Click below to read Miller’s full analysis.

As the 95th day wraps up…

As the 95th day of this year’s legislative session winds down this afternoon, it sounds like things are looking largely promising for the new budget deal, which cuts statewide personnel spending from the general fund next year by 5 percent, but allows the governor to backfill that from the budget stabilization fund if needed, and also allows dedicated and federal funds to be tapped to reduce the effect of the cuts, one-time, from 5 percent to 3 percent for those programs that draw on those funding sources. When the Senate Democratic Caucus was briefed on the deal this afternoon, it received it “skeptically,” said Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly. “There was a lot of disappointment,” she said. “There was a lot of support from our caucus” for the previous deal, SB 1222, which passed the Senate 34-1 but then was unceremoniously dumped in the House.

Republican caucuses in both houses, however, have been receptive. “I think we’ve got good resolution on that and good support, so hopefully we can move forward on that issue,” said Senate President Pro-Tem Bob Geddes, R-Soda Springs. Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said, “Obviously we’re still working on the language.” One pressing factor: Five budget bills await the governor’s signature and must be acted upon by Saturday. “I’m told that he indicated that if we notified him by noon tomorrow that the caucus would support the agreement, that he would not veto those bills,” Cameron said. Because of that, the Senate started passing House Appropriation bills today, clearing off  a slew of them from its calendar. Cameron said JFAC is likely to convene on Monday to consider the new budget bill.

As for transportation funding - the other big “going-home” issue, thanks to Gov. Butch Otter making it a top priority - there’s no deal yet. “We’re still working on it - there’s nothing definitive yet,” said Senate Transportation Chairman John McGee, R-Caldwell. “There’s a great deal of discussion going on between the governor, the House and the Senate.”

Jones: Already doing online checkbook

State Controller Donna Jones has issued a press release on the topic of HB 263, the unsuccessful proposal from Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, this year to essentially put the state’s checkbook online. Jones says her office has already been working on exactly that, and will get it up online as soon as the state’s financial picture permits. However, she wrote, “in consideration of the turbulent economy, now is not the right time to spend the estimated $250,000 needed to implement this project.  That’s why I worked closely with JFAC and state budget officials and withdrew my funding request for this project.”

Click below to read Jones’ full statement, which includes some criticism of the approach in Hart’s bill. “It would not be prudent to legislate a transparency solution that fails to solicit citizen input, does not provide the types of information taxpayers want to see online, and overlooks the importance of designing a cost effective method of extracting data from our financial systems,” Jones wrote. “Any transparency project must also recognize that raw data about expenditures is of limited value, unless we know the context behind the expenditures.”
 

Lake plan funding wins final passage

The budget for the state Department of Environmental Quality, which was briefly held up earlier in the House amid controversy over funding to implement the Coeur d’Alene Lake Management Plan, has passed the Senate unanimously without any debate. The bill, HB 276, earlier passed the House on a 53-16 vote; it now goes to the governor.

GOP caucuses falling in line

Both the House and Senate GOP caucuses, which met behind closed doors to talk about what they’re calling “Son of 1222,” the new budget deal with the governor, were generally receptive to the deal, according to House GOP Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, and Senate GOP Caucus Chairman Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian. The deal, as outlined on a handout distributed at the House caucus, includes a cut in statewide personnel costs of 5 percent, with the governor having the leeway to restore some of that from the state’s budget stabilization fund if needed, to help particular state agencies that can’t cut that deep and keep operating, to reduce it to 3 percent, or to mitigate additional revenue shortfalls.

The $7.4 million from the federal economic stimulus that the failed SB 1222 would have targeted into reducing those personnel cuts instead would be held for next year. Also, there’d be $19 million to $20 million for transportation, because a $2 million allocation for an aquifer project would be removed, bumping that amount up by $2 million. At the open House Democratic Caucus, members were unenthusiastic about cutting state personnel spending by 5 percent. “It’s what I’d call pathetic,” said Rep. Bill Killen, D-Boise. “We’re going to have more layoffs … and we’re doing this while we’ve still got $400 million in our reserve funds.”

Bill held ‘til when?

After putting it off repeatedly from one day to the next, the House today decided to delay taking up one of the bills on its 3rd Reading calendar - SB 1152, a bill changing some legal details regarding worker’s compensation that’s sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls - until Friday, April 24th. That’s right - a week from tomorrow. “It brought a little reaction,” chuckled House Majority Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly. Roberts said he figures that’s about when the legislative session will end, but if it ends sooner, the House can always move the bill back up and take it up sooner. “It’s just one of those end-of-session leverage bills,” he said.

Now the House is caucusing..

Now both parties in the House are caucusing, the Republicans behind closed doors, the Democrats openly. Like the other side, all are talking about the tentative deal between lawmakers and the governor on statewide personnel cuts and other issues in the final budget bill that the House defeated yesterday after the Senate passed it a day earlier. Senate Democrats are scheduled to go back into open caucus just after 1 p.m. Boise time to hear a briefing from Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, on the deal.

‘If we stay here long enough…’

Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, when it came time for announcements in the Senate before recessing until 2 p.m., noted that today is the birthday of Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, and the Senate wished him a happy birthday. “Of course, if we stay here long enough, all of us will eventually get around to it,” Cameron commented - celebrating their birthdays, that is. Werk said when he served in his first legislative session in 2003 and was in the Senate on his birthday, “I thought that I would not be here again.” But this year’s session is now the second-longest in state history, behind only 2003’s marathon session.

Capitol schedule lag shrinking

Senate President Pro-Tem Bob Geddes, R-Soda Springs, told the Senate that the project to renovate the state Capitol is now 20 days behind schedule, instead of the previous 28 days. “Progress is being made,” he said.

Caucuses over for now…

Now the Senate is back in session, to pick up a couple of bills from its 2nd Reading calendar, on inventory stickers on liquor bottles and on food service in the state Capitol, before going to lunch. The Senate finance chairman is scheduled to brief the minority caucus later, after lunch.

Talkin’, talkin’, talkin’…

Senate Democrats are in their open caucus, talking. Senate Republicans are still behind closed doors in their caucus, talking. And the House is in the midst of a protracted debate over a bighorn sheep bill.

Senators head into caucus…

The Senate has taken a break and Republicans headed into a closed-door caucus, with the now-usual large chair wedged against the door of their meeting room to keep it closed. Senate Democrats haven’t gone into caucus yet; when a reporter snapped a photo of them huddled on the Senate floor, they made that clear - they’re waiting to convene their caucus until the majority is done, at which Sen. Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, is scheduled to brief the minority. Now they’re milling around. The House, meanwhile, has been running through its 3rd Reading calendar. It passed HB 311, the ITD budget, on a 52-14 vote, approved an array of other budget bills, and has just passed SB 1165, a bill about definitions of rural school districts, on a 53-13 vote after a bit of debate.

Guns-in-cars bill survives by one vote

Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls, brought his legislation promoting employees storing guns in their cars at work to the Senate State Affairs Committee, where it barely passed on a 4-3 vote. Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, spoke out in favor of the bill, saying it actually does very little, merely providing legal immunity covering only lawful gun storage to employers who have policies allowing or not forbidding such gun storage in their company parking lots. The Idaho Trial Lawyers Association testified against the bill, however, saying it’s poorly worded, doesn’t match Idaho Code, raises questions about its meaning and appears to create liability for employers with other policies. “What we have in our state are private property rights,” lobbyist Barbara Jordan told the committee. “The employer has the right to dictate the policy on their property.” If employers are to be given legal immunity, she said, it should be “across the board,” regardless of their policies.

Davis proposed an amendment along those lines, but Thompson said he preferred his wording. “This legislation was based off 18 other states having similar legislation,” he said. “We were trying to give them an incentive to change their policy to where it’s more conducive for employees to store their firearms in their personal vehicles.” Davis then joined the majority to pass the bill to the full Senate, 4-3. Thompson pitched the bill in the House saying that Cabela’s, Home Depot and Hewlett-Packard now have policies prohibiting employees from having guns in their cars at work. However, the Associated Press reported today that Cabela’s says it has no such policy.

‘Cavalry’ rides in for redistricting bill

House State Affairs Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, was presenting the redistricting bill to his committee this morning when he got a tough question. Glancing behind him, he said, “I see the cavalry is here,” and deferred to Senate President Pro-Tem Bob Geddes, R-Soda Springs, House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, and Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, who all had taken seats behind him, and proceeded to answer various questions from the committee.

Geddes told the panel that though “oddly shaped” districts are supposed to be avoided, “As unique as our state boundaries are and as much as I like them, it’s an oddly shaped state.” Many questions focused on the bill’s new requirement for state highways or interstates to connect counties if they’re put together in districts. Loertscher said that’s intended “so we can take care of our constituents.” He said, “It’s not aimed at protecting anyone or that kind of nonsense.” The committee voted 12-4 to send the measure, SB 1184, to the full House with a recommendation that it “do pass,” after defeating a motion from Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, to amend the bill, which failed, 2-14.
 

House leaders press advantage

AP reporter John Miller writes that today’s maneuvering between the House, the Senate and the governor over the big disputes that are holding up this year’s legislative session is going the House’s way, and House leaders are pressing their advantage. Click below to read his full report.

‘A meeting of the minds’

Gov. Butch Otter met today with the co-chairs of JFAC and with GOP leaders from the House and Senate, and “we had a meeting of the minds today,” said Jon Hanian, Otter’s spokesman. “It was a productive meeting, and we’re hopeful.” The discussion today covered the budget issues in the big final budget bill that the Senate passed yesterday, but the House killed today, as well as transportation funding issues. “He wants, and more importantly the people of Idaho want a reliable, safe transportation system, and one that addresses the ongoing backlog of maintenance,” Hanian said. “He wants to provide a stable funding source for this. That was part of the discussion.”

Said Hanian, “I think it’s fair to say they discussed a number of those issues that have been impediments. Out of that meeting, we are hopeful that we are able to reach some … agreement to gavel this session down.”

How they voted

In today’s 28-42 defeat of SB 1148, Gov. Butch Otter’s liquor license bill, there was plenty of opposition from eastern Idaho, but perhaps more surprising was the level of opposition from North Idaho. Of the 12 representatives from the six northernmost districts, just four voted in favor, including the bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Jim Clark, R-Hayden Lake. The other three yes votes came from Reps. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake; Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow; and George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene.

Clark said he thought opposition from North Idaho newspaper and resort magnate Duane Hagadone helped turn some northern lawmakers against the bill. Hagadone, owner of the Coeur d’Alene Resort, holds several liquor licenses and is among the largest buyers of liquor in the state for his hospitality businesses. “I think that would have huge pressure on the local guys,” Clark said. “I think that could’ve been a major factor.” However, he said, “It didn’t stop me - I still sponsored the bill. I believed in the bill. I thought it was the right step.” Clark said Hagadone called him at home on Saturday afternoon. “He said, ‘We’ve been good friends for a long time,’ ” Clark recalled. “I said, ‘Yes sir.’ ” Clark said Hagadone told him he opposed the bill, saying, “It’ll hurt me, Jim,” and recounting how the last liquor license he bought cost him $125,000. “I said, ‘Well, sometimes I’m with you, sometimes I’m not,’ ” Clark said.  

Here’s how the House voted on the bill:
Voting in favor: Reps. Anderson, Bell, Black, Bolz, Boyle, Chavez, Clark, Cronin, Durst, Gibbs, Hagedorn, Higgins, Jaquet, Killen, King, Kren, Lake, Pasley-Stuart, Pence, Ringo, Roberts, Rusche, Sayler, Smith(24), Stevenson, Takasugi, Wills and Denney.
Voting against: Reps. Andrus, Barrett, Bayer, Bedke, Bilbao, Block, Boe, Burgoyne, Chadderdon, Chew, Collins, Crane, Eskridge, Hart, Hartgen, Harwood, Henderson, Jarvis, Labrador, Loertscher, Luker, Marriott, Mathews, McGeachin, Moyle, Nielsen, Nonini, Palmer, Patrick, Raybould, Ruchti, Schaefer, Shepherd(02), Shepherd(08), Shirley, Simpson, Smith(30), Thayn, Thompson, Trail, Wood(27), Wood(35).

House kills Otter’s liquor bill

The Idaho House has voted 42-28 against Gov. Butch Otter’s major legislation to revamp Idaho’s liquor license system, which sought to end the state’s 62-year-old population-based quota system and let localities approve new liquor licenses for restaurants or hotels. Rep. Jim Clark, R-Hayden Lake, the bill’s House sponsor, said the current system doesn’t work, and has spawned numerous special exemptions approved by the Legislature. Clark said, “I do not believe that this is going to increase liquor consumption. I believe it’s going to lessen it.”

Numerous House members disagreed, however, with several warning that alcohol consumption violates the state constitution’s goals of temperance and morality. Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, speculated that the bill would lead to thousands of new drinking establishments across the state. “I think this is a bill that would change the complexion of Idaho,” Hart declared. “In the last few decades we’ve shut down most of our mining in this state, we’ve shut down most of our timber, and now we’re going to resort to loosening up our alcohol regulations so we can promote economic activity? If that’s what we have to do, I think we’ve lost our way.” Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, said, “If we’re going to have food establishments have the ability to sell alcohol where families are there in a family setting, what kind of an example are we setting for our young people? … That bothers me.”

Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, was one of the few House members to debate in favor of the bill. He said Idaho’s original liquor license quota system was imposed in 1959 to protect existing businesses from competition. “The existing law we have now … has caused restrictive business practices,” Anderson told the House. “Open up this market to fair competition. … I don’t agree … that it’s going to change the nature of Idaho. The counties and cities still have the ability and the authority to restrict whatever happens. … We all talk about local control until it comes down to being able to trust local control.” Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, spoke against the bill, but said he doesn’t like the current system either. “It’s a can of worms, but with this new bill, it just adds more worms to the can, as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “Because there’ll be more consumption, we’re gonna have more social ills to take care of.” The bill, SB 1148, earlier passed the Senate on a 23-12 vote; the governor convened a task force that worked for the past two years to craft the legislation.

How they voted on SB 1222

Here’s how the House voted in its 18-51 defeat of SB 1222, the big, final budget bill that yesterday passed the Senate on a 34-1 vote:

Voting in favor: 18 of the 19 House Democrats, excepting only Rep. Branden Durst, D-Boise, who was absent; plus Rep. Tom Trail, R-Moscow.
Voting against: All remaining House Republicans.

House kills budget bill

The House has voted 18-51 on SB 1222, killing the big, final budget bill that passed the Senate yesterday on a 34-1 vote. It’s not clear what’ll happen next on that; now the House has gone on to begin debating the controversial liquor license law revamp.

‘Style points should be granted’

House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, questioned the “non-severability” clause in SB 1222, the sweeping final budget bill. “This seems to fly in direct conflict with the Idaho Constitution,” Bedke told the House. “I think style points should be granted here for attempting to override the constitution and keep the gentleman in the Borah Post Office from vetoing this bill.” He asked what happened in JFAC that “justified” the clause. Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, the bill’s floor sponsor - no House Republicans voted for it in the joint committee, responded, “I think there was a consensus around most of the points in the bill, and that’s why they wanted it to go forward as a package.” When the Senate debated the bill, Sen. Denton Darrington, R-Declo, said the clause is constitutional - the governor can exercise his line-item veto on any line in the bill, but the statutory clause then means the whole bill dies.

‘End this folly’

With two motions pending in the Senate Education Committee on HB 303, one from Sen. Gary Schroeder to hold the bill in committee and a substitute motion from Sen. Monty Pearce to send it to the full Senate with a recommendation that it “do-pass,” committee Chairman John Goedde passed the gavel so he could make a motion himself. His amended substitute motion proposed to send the bill to the amending order. Goedde said he wants to make two changes: He wants to add a two-year expiration, or “sunset clause,” to the entire bill, and he wants to add temporary relief for school districts from the current requirement that they contribute a set amount of their funds into a maintenance fund. School districts need that flexibility with the current budget crunch, Goedde said, and the House isn’t willing, at this point, to consider a stand-alone bill to give them that. “If we send the maintenance money over with no other cover, we are pretty much assured it’s gone,” he said. Goedde noted that any amendment can be added to a bill in the 14th Order, but, he said, “I think that’s a chance we need to take to move forward and have an end to this folly - session, I mean.”

Goedde’s motion, seconded by Sen. Dick Sagness, D-Pocatello, passed in a dramatic 5-4 vote. Voting in favor were Sens. Andreason, Sagness, Goedde, Schroeder and Kelly. Voting against were Sens. Fulcher, Pearce, Winder and Mortimer. HB 303 is sponsored by state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna.

Ed bill hits snag, House takes up SB 1222

HB 303, the controversial bill that passed the House yesterday regarding “use it or lose it” rules for school districts and “virtual” or online education, has been sent to the Senate’s amending order, the 14th Order, on a 5-4 vote in the Senate Education Committee. Meanwhile, both parties in the House caucused on SB 1222, the final budget bill that passed the Senate 34-1 yesterday, and now the House has gone into session and started debate on the bill.

Read all about it…

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on today’s developments, as lawmakers in the House and Senate clashed over the budget and transportation funding. In this photo, from the Senate Transportation Committee meeting, Sens. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, and Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, participate in the Tuesday afternoon committee meeting. Later, members of House GOP leadership expressed doubt that any amended transportation proposals will pass the House, and House Majority Leader Mike Moyle called the budget bill the Senate passed on a 34-1 vote a “slap in the face” to the governor. Meanwhile, House Minority Leader John Rusche said most members of his caucus support the Senate budget bill.

Senate vote: 34-1

SB 1222 has passed the Senate on a 34-1 vote. The bill eliminates the proposed 3 percent across-the-board pay cut for state employees, imposes a 5 percent general-fund reduction in personnel costs but “backfills” it with federal stimulus funds to bring the effect of the cut down to 3 percent; spends $17 million in stimulus money on local roads; lets the governor tap into reserve funds after lawmakers leave town if needed; and more. Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, told the Senate, “As long as we’re standing here demanding additional services to our constituents, as long as we’re standing here demanding that those services be delivered, then we’d better stand behind the state employees that we expect to deliver ‘em. And that’s what this motion is intended to do.” Sen. Shirley McKague, R-Meridian, cast the only “no” vote.

How it can be ‘non-severable’

Sen. Denton Darrington, R-Declo, just offered his interpretation on how the Legislature can pass a “non-severable” bill though the governor has line-item veto power on appropriation bills. “He can line item out one of the appropriations or another at will,” Darrington told the Senate. “He can still line-item veto if that is his preference. However, by our statutory provision, the whole bill then would disappear. … There is precedent - the precedent had to do with the water wars back in the ‘80s, where there were bills that were non-severable.”

‘A nice little bow on it’

Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, has given the introduction to SB 1222, the omnibus bill that covers the final JFAC actions, from statewide personnel cuts to spending of federal stimulus money. It’s a big, complex bill that also provides various tools to the governor if state revenues continue to fall after lawmakers leave town, and transfers $30 million from the state’s budget stabilization fund to help balance next year’s budget. Cameron noted that there’s a non-severability clause - if any portion of the bill is somehow overturned or defeated, “the entire bill is lost,” he told the Senate. “This omnibus bill is pretty tightly wrapped up and has a nice little bow on it,” Cameron said, at which point the Senate went at ease.

Senate is suspending rules

The Senate is back in session, and is suspending rules and passing budget bills that were on its second-reading calendar. So far, the votes all have been unanimous or near-unanimous. Senators are working their way up to the omnibus bill from JFAC regarding statewide personnel cuts; that bill has just emerged from drafting and appeared on the Internet; it’s SB 1222.

Another odd moment…

There was another odd moment during this afternoon’s Senate Transportation Committee meeting when Sen. Diane Bilyeu, D-Pocatello, asked ITD official Alan Frew, “Why bring in such a big bill at the end of the session?” Frew reddened, and suggested to Chairman John McGee, R-Caldwell, “I suppose this is my fault for having forgot about the bill?” McGee, who’s had the ITD fee-increase bill since the start of the session but has kept it in his desk drawer before deciding only now to bring it out, said, “The chairman determines when bills will be heard.”

‘These might be the going-home bills’

Jason Kreizenbeck, Gov. Butch Otter’s chief of staff, said of the governor, “He is appreciative of the action by the Senate today. This might be the way to wrap up the session - these might have potential to be the going-home bills, if they’re adjusted right.” Kreizenbeck said the ethanol bill, HB 96, and the ITD fee bill, SB 1087, can be amended into something acceptable to the governor in his transportation intiative. “There’s only a couple ways to raise revenue for roads that are currently in code - gas tax and registration fees,” Kreizenbeck said. Those are the topics of these two bills, he said, which are now headed to the Senate’s amending order. Asked what would satisfy the governor, Kreizenbeck said, “Something significant that gets us down the road to solving the problem. … This is the first step.”

Ethanol bill sent out for amendment

Now the Senate Transportation Committee has voted to send HB 96, the House-passed bill to eliminate the ethanol exemption from the fuel tax, to the 14th Order for amendments as well. “Both of these bills are revenue bills, and I suspect amendments would have to do with funding of Idaho’s infrastructure,” said Chairman John McGee, R-Caldwell.

ITD fee bill to be amended

No one testified against the ITD fee-increase bill, SB 1087, but Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, moved to send it to the 14th Order for amendments, and Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, seconded the motion. Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, responded, “I might’ve missed it, I might’ve drifted off at some point. I hadn’t heard the need to amend the bill. I’m taken aback by the motion - I’m shocked and stunned.” Committee Chairman John McGee, R-Caldwell, responded, “You certainly look shocked and stunned.” Hammond and Keough then talked about the possibility of raising fees for driver’s license testers. When McGee asked if there was any other discussion, Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, commented, “As long as we’re making stuff up…” The motion then passed on a party-line vote, with the panel’s two Democrats objecting.

‘I was in kindergarten’

The Senate Transportation Committee is hearing SB 1087, legislation that would raise $13.1 million for the state highway account by raising various administrative fees charged by the state Department of Motor Vehicles. Alan Frew, an administrator with the Idaho Transportation Department, said many of the fees haven’t been raised in more than 20 years. One last went up in 1978. “Anyone in high school in 1978?” Frew asked the committee. “I was in kindergarten, Mr. Frew,” responded committee Chairman John McGee, R-Caldwell. The proposed fee hikes include raising a certificate of title from $8 to $14 and upping the fee for a driver’s license from $24.50 to $30. The fee hikes would pay to run the programs, including updating antiquated computer systems that are now barely limping along.

House done, Senate back at 2:30

The House is done for the day, having passed a slew of Senate-passed budget bills and sent them to the governor’s desk. The Senate, after passing the higher education budget, SB 1207, on a 34-1 vote, has recessed for lunch until 2:30 p.m. Boise time.

Redistricting bill passes Senate, 30-5

The Senate has voted 30-5 to pass SB 1184, the redistricting legislation sponsored by Senate President Pro-Tem Bob Geddes, R-Soda Springs. Idaho’s legislative districts used to be redrawn by lawmakers themselves; voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1994 to instead hand the job to an appointed citizen commission. Sen. Denton Darrington, R-Declo, told the Senate, “I was very much opposed to the constitutional amendment. I fought it as hard as I could, but it still prevailed.” He said he thought the last reapportionment didn’t adequately preserve communities of interest in legislative districts, and said he thought Geddes’ bill would improve that by giving new directions to the commission.

Geddes said to get from the north end to the south end of his legislative district, “One would have to drive through five other legislative districts to get there,” or into Wyoming. “That’s the type of situation that we’re trying to eliminate,” he said. Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, said the simple fact that Idaho’s less-populated counties are so large creates such situations. Sen Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, said the bill would prevent her from representing the people now in the southern part of her district, but she supported it anyway, saying a future senator might not work as hard as she does to stay in touch with that portion that’s isolated from the rest of the district for lack of road connections. “I feel it is important to do what’s best for the citizens of Idaho,” she told the Senate. The bill now moves to the House.

‘You can draw a lot of different lines’

In the debate over reapportionment legislation in the Senate, Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, complained about “doughnut” shaped legislative districts. “I guess doughnuts are not an irregularly shaped district,” he said. “We’re excited about preserving the hole, and the hole justifies the doughnut. The hole does if it’s jelly-filled, but it’s not, in my mind, the appropriate standard. I’m hoping that the next commission doesn’t go in this direction, but that’s not my call.” He said “those of us in eastern Idaho” were “left picking up the scraps” in the last reapportionment, which is the redrawing of legislative and congressional districts after the every-decade census. Among the changes in the bill, SB 1184, is more focus on preserving communities of interest, and requiring that portions of districts be connected by major state roads. The measure also prevents past redistricting commission members from serving again.

Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, questioned whether, with the restrictions involving roads, “the commission is even going to be able to come up with a redistricting map given the restrictions.” Senate President Pro-Tem Bob Geddes, sponsor of the bill, said many local roads aren’t passable year-round, and parts of legislative districts should be connected by state highways to ensure year-round access. Davis described a county road in his area that he said in winter is a good place to go sledding. Geddes said he consulted with former North Idaho lawmaker and reapportionment commissioner Dean Haagenson on the bill, though, he said, “He doesn’t like some of this.” Said Geddes, “You can basically draw a lot of different lines a lot of different ways.”

Senate debates redistricting bill

The Senate is now debating SB 1184, legislation from Senate President Pro-Tem Bob Geddes to change Idaho’s redistricting laws. Geddes told the Senate in his opening debate, a bit tongue-in-cheek, “Each and every senator here will still reside in a legislative district.” Democrats, however, raised concerns about some of the impacts of the bill.

House passes HB 303 on 51-19 vote

After much debate, the House has voted 51-19 in favor of HB 303, legislation introduced through the Ways & Means Committee to make several changes in school funding rules in light of budget cuts, including easing rules regarding spending of federal stimulus money, giving school districts some relief from “use it or lose it” funding requirements, and promoting more “virtual” instruction to get classes offered by qualified teachers. Opponents said the bill included too many different topics, and much of the controversy was about the increase in “virtual,” or online, education into regular public schools. “We are attempting to make a huge expansion of virtual education into the traditional school during these final few weeks of the session,” said Rep. Donna Boe, D-Pocatello. “It offers a permanent solution for a temporary problem.” Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, questioned whether “we could end up with having students parked in front of computers and having minimal support in terms of educators on-site,” rather than trying to hire highly qualified teachers in rural districts.

Rep. Mack Shirley, R-Rexburg, said, “I see it just the opposite - I think virtual education can be a blessing and a boon to rural education. … I think the majority of districts in the state of Idaho would benefit from this legislation.” Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, said his brother lives in Salt Lake City, but teaches at San Jose State in California. “We live in a time when innovation is our friend and not our enemy,” he told the House. “We live in a totally different age, and we ought to embrace this concept.” The bill now moves to the Senate.

Dems offer ‘olive branch’ to Guv

House Democrats extended an olive branch to the governor late last week, the Associated Press reports: “They would consider rounding up enough minority votes for a ”moderate’ gas-tax increase of between 2 and 7 cents — if Otter agrees to limit state agency personnel cuts to just 3 percent and helps scuttle $12 million in education budget cuts in two House-passed bills now before the Senate. Otter listened but was noncommittal, said House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, of his offer.” Click below to read reporter John Miller’s full story on where things stand, which starts off with this: “House Speaker Lawerence Denney and Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis agreed on at least one thing Monday afternoon: The 2009 Legislature could wrap up Friday but won’t, because Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter hasn’t given up on boosting roads funding.”

Long-term debt amendment dead for session

Legislation designed to respond to the Frazier decision on municipal and other public debt has stalled, the Times-News reports today, and won’t go forward this session. Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, told reporter Jared Hopkins that the measure, a constitutional amendment that would require a vote of the people in November of 2010 regardless, will be taken up next year; here’s a link to Hopkins’ full story.

Tick-tick-tick - guv signs bill for disabled officers

Gov. Butch Otter has signed legislation into law to help permanently disabled law enforcement officers like Mike Kralicek of Coeur d’Alene with health insurance costs for their families. The bill, SB 1111, actually won’t help Kralicek, a Coeur d’Alene police officer who was critically injured when a fleeing suspect shot him in 2004, but it’d help others like him in the future. Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, spent five years trying to get the legislation passed. Jorgenson was working on setting up a public signing ceremony for the bill, but last Thursday, he got an urgent call from the governor’s office - the deadline for signing the bill was  about to expire. “They said, ‘It’s got to happen before 2 - could you come over?’ ” Jorgenson said. “I was there when he signed it - the governor was very considerate in having me come over.”

During the legislative session, the governor has just five days to act on a bill passed by the Legislature. He can either sign it into law or veto it; if he takes no action within five days, it becomes law without his signature. Otter has purposely allowed three bills to take effect that way so far this year; it’s usually a sign of just lukewarm support. The governor’s office said it’s working with Jorgenson on a possible after-the-fact public signing ceremony for SB 1111; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Who pushed the chair there?

Senate Republicans were in a closed caucus this afternoon for more than two hours, and a rather odd sight presented itself - a big chair, pushed up against the door, as if to block them all in. That prompted some speculation about just who pushed it there - who wants to keep GOP senators cooped up until they agree on something? The governor, perhaps? But it turns out it was the senators themselves, cramped in the hot meeting room, where they opened a window that then prompted a whoosh that kept blowing the door open. Only a combination of the chair outside and candy wrappers stuffed into the doorway managed to wedge it shut so that the meeting remained closed-door.

Afterward, Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, said the GOP senators discussed state employee personnel cuts, education funding-cut bills, and transportation funding. “It’s our understanding as leadership that the governor is committed to finding a transportation solution this session,” Davis said. “We talked about different alternatives and looked to the caucus for some input.” Amending the ethanol exemption bill, which already has passed the House and is pending in a Senate committee, is “certainly a possibility,” he said. Lawmakers want to adjourn their session, he said. “I believe we have only three or four days worth of work left to do - I don’t know how much politics we have left. This happens at the end of difficult sessions. … Politics by definition is a struggle, and it’s a struggle of different people with different points of view trying to find common ground.”

Asked if the governor won’t let lawmakers leave town until they increase transportation funding, Davis said, “That’s my understanding.”

Steve Symms holding Minnick fundraiser

Former GOP Idaho Sen. Steve Symms is holding a fundraiser for Democratic Congressman Walt Minnick, according to this article by Dan Popkey of the Idaho Statesman. Popkey reports that Symms, now a Washington, D.C. lobbyist, is planning a $1,000-a-plate breakfast fundraiser for the Idaho Democrat on April 23.

Guv signs Open Meeting Law reforms

SB 1142, legislation sponsored by Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden to revamp Idaho’s Open Meeting Law after an Idaho Supreme Court decision in 2007 made parts of the law near-impossible to enforce, was signed into law today by Gov. Butch Otter. The bill, which passed the Senate unanimously and the House on a 59-10 vote, was endorsed by an array of media and local government groups. In a rare move, I actually testified in favor of this bill to the Senate State Affairs Committee at the request of the Attorney General’s office; click below to read my written testimony.

Senate wraps up for day, GOP heads into caucus

The Senate has wrapped up its official business for the day, including suspending its rules and passing HB 281, the IRS conformity bill; and appropriation bills to fund the state Capitol Commission and the Agricultural Research and Cooperative Extension Service. Now, Senate Republicans have headed behind closed doors for a caucus.

Before the Senate finished up, at one point, a few senators were missing, so Sen. Denton Darrington, R-Declo, requested a call of the Senate. That formal move prompts the doors to be locked, and the Sergeant-at-Arms to search out and bring in any missing senators. Pretty soon, everyone was there except Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, a sheep and elk rancher who was presenting his anti-bighorn sheep bill to the House Resources Committee. As word of that filtered around, senators milled around the chamber and braced for a wait. For about 10 minutes, the doors remained locked and no one was allowed to enter or leave - including me (terrible timing on my part). Then the call was lifted. 

Cystic fibrosis resolution passes Senate

SCR 112, a resolution asking the state Department of Health & Welfare to make changes in its program that covers adults with cystic fibrosis, has passed the Senate on a unanimous vote, and now moves to the House. Earlier, JFAC agreed to the plan after the Senate passed legislation to do away with the treatment program - even though senators warned people would die as a result - but the bill stalled in the House Health & Welfare Committee. The plan crafted by Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, and others funds the program for one more year at about its current level, but orders Health & Welfare to establish financial eligibility criteria, move uninsured people on the program to the state’s high-risk reinsurance pool, and take other money-saving steps.

Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, said the $205,000 in funding for next year “doesn’t come close” to meeting the needs of those currently in the program, “in terms of their medications, in terms of their hospitalization,” so changes in the program must be made. “This does not affect children with cystic fibrosis one bit,” he noted. “Children with cystic fibrosis are covered under a federal program.” McGee called the resolution “a fair and equitable way to approach this issue.”

Nonini: ‘I want to hear both sides’

Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, back fresh from a week of golfing in Palm Springs, says there’s no truth to the rumor that he was summoned there by an angry Duane Hagadone over Nonini’s opposition to the Coeur d’Alene Lake Management Plan. “I visited with him for a few hours - it never came up,” Nonini said of the North Idaho resort and newspaper magnate who now makes his home in Palm Springs. “He did talk about 1148, though.” That’s the liquor license reform bill being pushed by Gov. Butch Otter; it’s likely to come up for a House vote tomorrow. Asked what Hagadone had to say about the bill, Nonini said, “He doesn’t like it at all.” Current holders of liquor licenses have been divided over the reform bill, which does away with the current population-based quota system for liquor licenses in Idaho and makes other changes.

Nonini said he’s leaning against the measure, but planned to meet with a lobbyist who favors it this afternoon. “I want to hear both sides,” he said.

CAMP bill passes unanimously

The Senate has unanimously passed HB 264, the comprehensive aquifer management plan legislation. Senators also passed various bills on their calendar, but skipped over a slew of appropriation bills, moving them to the bottom of the calendar, and passed over HB 262, the controversial legislation to trim teacher pay as part of education budget cuts. The Senate is now recessing until 2 p.m., at which time it’ll suspend rules and take up the non-appropriation bills now on its second reading calendar, plus two concurrent resolutions, including one about cystic fibrosis treatment through the state Department of Health & Welfare. Senators also likely will caucus this afternoon.

House adjourns for the day

Without suspending rules or taking up the liquor license bill, the House has adjourned for the day, a full hour before noon in the Mountain time zone. “We’re way ahead,” said House Speaker Lawerence Denney, who said the House didn’t suspend rules to do more because the Senate wasn’t doing so. “I think we need to have some discussions,” Denney said. Looking at what awaits on the House calendar, Denney said, “We could finish everything we’ve got today.” But, he said, “I’ve learned to roll with what we do here … take small steps. We’re one day closer to adjournment.”

That left House members milling around. There are just two House committee meetings scheduled today. The Senate is still going, but skipped over a controversial bill on education cuts, HB 262.

‘What made America strong’

Freshman Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls, came in for a heavy grilling in the House this morning on his bill to protect companies from liability if they have policies letting employees store firearms in their vehicles in the company parking lot. Several attorney members of the House questioned whether the bill was actually opening up employers without such policies to lawsuits. Others said they strongly support 2nd Amendment rights but opposed the bill as flawed. Rep. James Ruchti, D-Pocatello, asked Thompson if there’s ever been a lawsuit over employee gun storage in a company parking lot. “I don’t know of one incident where that  has occurred,” Thompson responded. But he said he knows that some companies, including Cabela’s and Hewlett-Packard, don’t let employees store guns in their cars in the company parking lot. “That goes directly to the Second Amendment,” Thompson said. “Therefore we’re coming up with a way that people will still have that right and give the companies immunity.”

During the extended debate, which lasted 45 minutes, House Majority Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, spoke out for the bill. “Ladies and gentlemen, that’s what made America strong … because the citizens of the state and this country are armed,” he told the House. Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, questioned Thompson over whether he thought the 2nd Amendment trumped a private property owner’s right to control what happens on his or her property. Thompson didn’t directly answer. Rep. Dell Raybould, R-Rexburg, a supporter of the bill, said, “This is the longest debate we’ve had on one sentence since I’ve been in the Legislature. This bill is a one-sentence bill.” The bill passed 50-19, and now moves to the Senate.

How ugly it is…

Statehouse reporters have been wearing ugly ties for some time to try to spur the session to end (tradition holds that lawmakers will be so dismayed by the press’ hideous neckwear that they’ll just want to leave town), but it hasn’t worked yet. We’re still trying…

No sunshine on a cloudy day?

For those who missed it, here’s a link to my story from last week’s Spokesman-Review on how the Sunshine law expansion, giving Idaho its first personal financial disclosure requirements for elected officials and candidates, is being held hostage in the House, though it’s passed the Senate unanimously and is backed by Gov. Butch Otter. As of this morning, nothing has changed. “It’s still at the desk,” House Speaker Lawerence Denney said. “It may stay there for another day or two.”

Hammond? ‘Still here…’

There was some rueful laughter in the Senate during the roll call this morning, when, as the various senators’ names were called, the name of Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, came up. Dolefully, he responded, “Still here.”

Probably not this week…

House Speaker Lawerence Denney is less optimistic this morning than he was last week, and now says, “I doubt that we get done this week.” Both houses are preparing to go into session this morning and work through their calendars, which are populated largely with appropriation bills. The House may suspend rules and take up the liquor license reform bill, which is on its second reading calendar. Transportation “is one of those issues” that’s holding up adjournment of the session, Denney said. But he added, “I don’t know what more we can do on transportation. There was less support out here for registration fees than there was on gas tax.” There’s still a bill pending in the Senate Transportation Committee on administrative fees for ITD; “we may deal with that,” Denney said. There’s still some dispute over personnel funding cuts, but Denney said, “I think that may work its way out fairly early this week. Once that’s worked out, I think the budget is set.” Neither house is scheduled to go into its amending order this morning.

The week that was…

On tonight’s “Idaho Reports” program on Idaho Public Television, I joined BSU political scientist emeritus Jim Weatherby, Rep. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, and Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, along with host Thanh Tan, to discuss the legislative events of the week, from transportation votes to the liquor debate to “going home” issues. You can watch the show online here, along with the “After the Show” discussion segment; the show also is re-broadcast on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. Mountain time, 10:30 a.m. Pacific. Tune in and check it out. And here’s a link to the the 13th week of the legislative session in photos as a slide show.

Denney: ‘Hopefully that’s enough’

After the House passed the GARVEE bond bill today, handing Gov. Butch Otter a rare victory in his transportation initiative this year, House Speaker Lawerence Denney said, “I think we can finish next week - I hope we can finish.” Denney said he’s not planning any more tries in the House on gas tax or car registration fee increases, proposals from the governor to fund transportation which have met resistance in the House. “I think we have given it a good try on nearly everything - hopefully that’s enough,” the speaker said.

GARVEE - How they voted

Here’s how the House voted in the 39-29 vote to pass SB 1186, the $82 million GARVEE bonding program for highways for next year:

Voting in favor: Reps. Anderson, Bayer, Bell, Bilbao, Black, Block, Boe, Bolz, Burgoyne, Chadderdon, Chavez, Chew, Collins, Crane, Cronin, Durst, Eskridge, Gibbs, Henderson, Higgins, Jaquet, Killen, King, Kren, Labrador, Moyle, Pasley-Stuart, Patrick, Pence, Ringo, Ruchti, Rusche, Sayler, Shepherd(02), Smith(30), Stevenson, Takasugi, Trail, and Wills.

Voting against: Reps. Andrus, Barrett, Bedke, Boyle, Clark, Denney, Hagedorn, Hart, Hartgen, Harwood, Lake, Loertscher, Luker, Marriott, Mathews, McGeachin, Nielsen, Nonini, Palmer, Raybould, Roberts, Shepherd(08), Shirley, Simpson, Smith(24), Thayn, Thompson, Wood(27), and Wood(35).

Fish & Game fee increase passes House

The House has voted 49-15 in favor of a small increase in state Fish & Game fees that targets only non-residents. The bill, SB 1141a, earlier passed the Senate and now goes to the governor.

House passes GARVEE, 39-29

The House has voted 39-29 on SB 1186, the Senate-passed bill to issue $82 million in highway bonds next year, passing the bill and sending it to the governor. The vote came after a long debate dominated by the bill’s opponents. House Transportation Chairwoman JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, was among those who spoke out against the bonding bill. “If we’re not willing to pay ourselves, why are we willing to indebt our children so that they can pay?” she asked the House. She said, “Debt is what has gotten this country into the serious trouble that we’re into today, and GARVEE is the debt that is hurting Idaho … and where are the jobs in Lemhi County, where are the jobs in Idaho County, where are the jobs in Power County, where are the jobs in Madison County?” Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, said, “There’s nothing wrong with responsible borrowing. … This state has taken on the GARVEE bonding in a responsible manner, and we set a cap.” The state’s GARVEE bonding still is far under the cap, he noted. He added, “What greater debt could we leave our grandchildren than roads that aren’t appropriate and aren’t safe for our grandkids to be driving on?”

‘Debt is a bondage’

So far, the debate in the House on GARVEE bonds is coming mostly from opponents. Rep. Lenore Barrett, R-Challis, said, “Borrowing money and passing the debt on to our kids - I sure don’t want to be a part of something like that.” Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, said, “The money that we get from the federal government to fund our highways is not at all secure. … For us to take on more debt right now I think is really unwise. We ought to skip a year. … We’re in some really tough economic times right now, and I think we ought to get through that before we take on more debt.” Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, the bill’s House sponsor, argued that the bonding program will employ Idahoans, and save money by building projects up-front rather than letting inflation erode the state’s ability to afford them. “This will make a positive difference in Idaho’s economy and our vitality,” Eskridge told the House. “Our state might never be able to fund all of these projects under our traditional methods.” Rep. Russ Mathews, R-Idaho Falls, an opponent, told the House, “The GARVEE bond is a bondage, and debt is a bondage.”

Smith: ‘Building highways with a credit card’

Rep. Leon Smith, R-Twin Falls, who sits next to Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, told the House, “I love my seatmate, but he’s misguided.” Smith, speaking against the GARVEE bonding bill, asked the House, “Should we be doing this huge GARVEE program, building highways with a credit card to the extent that we’re doing? … There are only three states in the union that have a higher debt” for GARVEE bonds, a special type of bond which allow states to borrow against their future federal highway allocations. They are Georgia, Colorado and Ohio, Smith said, states much larger than Idaho. “We are the highest leveraged.” Smith said, “We have become a borrowing state… We are asking our fellow Idahoans to tighten their belts, and yet we’re going to jump into the pool on an $82 million borrowing program.

GARVEE debate begins in House

The House has moved the $82 million GARVEE bonding program to the top of its calendar and begun its debate. “By the end of this construction season, 130 lane miles of road will have been improved with the aid of GARVEE,” Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, told the House. With this bill, SB 1186, “Another 35 lane miles of improvements” will follow, he said, “on some of the most traveled and most deteriorated lane miles in our state.” With inflation rates for construction materials, the projects will cost less if built with the bonds, Eskridge said, than if they were “pay as you go” projects built over long years.

Soltman appointment confirmed unanimously

Don Soltman, vice president of Kootenai Medical Center, has been unanimously confirmed to the state Board of Education, to which Gov. Butch Otter nominated him. Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, told the Senate, “I’ve known Don for a number of years and I highly recommend this appointment.” He added, “Don’s due to retire in about six months, so he’ll have a lot of time to spend on this particular appointment.” There was no debate in the Senate and no objection to the nomination. Soltman is replacing Sue Thilo of Coeur d’Alene, whose term on the state board expired and who urged Soltman to consider the post.

A one-two punch…

Here’s a link to my full story in today’s Spokesman-Review on the governor’s setbacks yesterday in his transportation initiative, a one-two punch with the House killing its last remaining bill to raise the state’s gas tax and the joint budget committee directing a $17 million pot of federal stimulus money to local highway districts, rather than the state Transportation Department. And here’s a link to my full story on the failed attempt to shift nearly $20 million in federal stimulus money from roads to education.

House panel narrowly passes liquor law revamp

The House Judiciary Committee has voted 8-6 in favor of revamping Idaho’s 62-year-old quota system for liquor licenses, after one member switched sides from an earlier motion to kill the bill that failed on a tied vote. The move sends the Senate-passed bill to the full House; Gov. Butch Otter has been pushing the change for two years. Click below to read the full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Johnson confirmation prompts hour-long debate

The confirmation of Ruthie Johnson of Hayden Lake for another term on the Idaho Human Rights Commission prompted an hour-long debate in the Senate today, the AP reports, after Johnson’s comments about gay rights during her Senate State Affairs Committee confirmation hearing aroused opposition from Senate Democrats. The 85-year-old’s confirmation ultimately was approved on a party-line vote; you can read the full story here at spokesman.com.

‘It had the desired effect’

Earlier, when House Speaker Lawerence Denney introduced a last-minute bill to require voters to show picture I.D. and to end mail-in voter registration in Idaho, he said the bill probably wouldn’t get a hearing this year - and then, yesterday, a hearing was scheduled for this morning in the House State Affairs Committee. Then it was canceled. Denney said he got a visit yesterday from Secretary of State Ben Ysursa. “The secretary came and saw us yesterday, me and the pro tem, and he convinced us that they will work on the issue over the interim and we will all come back and sing ‘kumbaya,’ Denney said. Asked why he scheduled a hearing on the bill after earlier saying he likely wouldn’t, Denney said, “It had the desired effect. We did get the attention of the county clerks and the secretary of state.”

Said Denney, “I think there is a problem there that needs to be addressed, and that’s the problem of being able to register by by mail and then request an absentee ballot, so you can vote without anybody seeing you. That needs to be addressed.”

Denney: ‘Better served to give up and go home’

Asked what happens next on the gas tax, House Speaker Lawerence Denney told Eye on Boise, “I don’t know, I really don’t. I think the governor has made his case that we do need increased funding, and I think a case has been made here that now is not the time.” If Gov. Otter “wants to take another shot at it, I suspect he has ways” of making lawmakers stay in town to consider it, Denney said. “Personally, I think we’d all be better served to just give up on it and go home, and if the economy turns around, we can deal with it next session. Or he can even call us into special session and say, ‘Your argument’s gone, let’s go.’ “

Guv ‘very disappointed’ in ‘irresponsible’ vote

Gov. Butch Otter has issued this statement on the House’s defeat of the gas tax bill:

“First let me thank the 32 House members who showed today that they understand the issue and the stakes. I appreciate their patience, leadership, and commitment to doing the right thing. That being said, I am very disappointed by the outcome of today’s vote. Employers, local leaders and other concerned citizens from throughout Idaho have helped me assemble a mountain of information to make the case over the past year. A legislative audit confirmed the need. For months now we have made every compromise, addressed every legitimate concern and provided every alternative that opponents wanted. Instead of working in the best interest of Idaho, 37 members of the House continue finding new excuses to do nothing. That is irresponsible. I have done and will continue doing everything I can. It is the responsibility of all of us – including those 37 House members – to act on the real needs of the people we serve. This is a serious and immediate issue of safety, of economic recovery and future prosperity, and of whether we are going to be responsible stewards of a $16 billion investment that generations of Idaho taxpayers have left in our care or passive witnesses to, and victims of, its continuing deterioration. We must not and I will not ignore reality. I will continue working with those legislators who understand the problem and are willing to provide leadership and solutions to meet our responsibilities.”

 

 

How they voted

Here’s the vote in the House to kill the gas tax bill, HB 135a, which failed, 32-37:

Voting in favor: Reps. Anderson, Andrus, Bedke, Black, Block, Boe, Bolz, Chadderdon, Denney, Eskridge, Gibbs, Hagedorn, Hartgen, Henderson, Higgins, Jaquet, Jarvis, Luker, Moyle, Patrick, Raybould, Ringo, Roberts, Shirley, Smith(24), Stevenson, Takasugi, Thayn, Trail, Wills, Wood(27), Wood(35).

Voting against: Reps. Barrett, Bayer, Bell, Bilbao, Boyle, Burgoyne, Chavez, Chew, Clark, Collins, Crane, Cronin, Durst, Harwood, Killen, King, Kren, Labrador, Lake, Loertscher, Marriott, Mathews, McGeachin, Nielsen, Nonini, Palmer, Pasley-Stuart, Pence, Ruchti, Rusche, Sayler, Schaefer, Shepherd(02), Shepherd(08), Simpson, Smith(30), and Thompson.

House defeats gas tax bill, 32-37

The House has voted 32-37 on the gas tax increase bill, HB 135a, defeating the bill. Here is House Transportation Chairwoman JoAn Wood’s entire closing debate: “The people of the state of Idaho who trust us to look at their circumstances and make decisions look to this House. This House is the voice of the people. I believe in the system, Mr. Speaker. Debate is closed.”

‘This doesn’t solve the problem’

Rep. Jim Clark, R-Hayden Lake, asked the House, “Do you honestly think that this bill addresses the issue? … It’ll fix one pothole. … It’s still a tax increase.” Clark said if the House passes the 2-cent gas tax increase, the Senate will amend it to make it much larger. “What do you think, a nickel, a dime?” he asked. “It’s going to be added to it. … We lose in those conference committees, and when we lose, your taxes are going to go up. it’s a terrible time. We’re going to raise taxes. I agree we’ve got a problem; this doesn’t solve the problem.”

‘Throw a drowning man a brick’

Rep. Lenore Hardy Barrett, R-Challis, speaking against the gas tax increase bill, told the House, “Once again the government … is ready to throw a drowning man a brick.” As she rose to debate the bill, she said she’d been debating back and forth with herself on whether or not to speak out. House Speaker Lawerence Denney drew a big laugh when he said, “And you won.” Barrett raised both arms in victory amid the laughter. “I’m tired of limping home to lick my wounds and tell people that we raised their taxes,” she told the House.

‘Not time to raise our people’s taxes’

Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, strongly urged the House to reject the proposed gas tax increase. “This debate has lost some perspective,” he said. “We keep talking about our roads going into disrepair. … This legislature is being accused of not taking care of our roads, and that is entirely inaccurate.” Labrador said Idaho is spending hundreds of millions on roads, between the ITD budget, GARVEE bonds and federal stimulus money. He said some of those millions should be going into road maintenance. “It’s not the time to raise our people’s taxes just because we do not have the will to find the money … that’s not being used for maintenance and preservation of our roads,” he said. “Maybe we need to look at the way we’re spending money on new roads better.”

‘Support this piddly little bill’

The House is now debating the gas tax bill, which would raise Idaho’s gas tax by two cents a gallon next year. Rep. Leon Smith, R-Twin Falls, told the House, “This doesn’t build highways - this tries to fix highways that we already have. … We need to maintain our roads.” The bill would only raise  $10.6 million for ITD next year, he said, plus $7 million for local highway districts. That’s about a dollar a month for the average driver, “pretty piddly,” Smith said. But he noted that it also creates a maintenance fund and requires ITD to have a new maintenance management system in place. Plus, the House has defeated all amendments to make the increase bigger. With that, he said, “I would urge your support for this piddly little bill.” The debate is continuing.

Keough motion passes

The motion from Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, to send all the stimulus money to local highway districts has passed JFAC on an 11-9 vote. Rep. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls, was the last to vote and held the deciding vote. “It’s all up to you, sister,” Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, declared, after he voted yes, tying the vote. McGeachin paused, covered her face, then asked by Chairman Dean Cameron how she voted, voted aye.

Keough told the joint committee, “I have heard from local jurisdictions that they feel shut out from the current distribution of stimulus funds. … The perception from local highway entities is that they’re not being treated fairly.”

‘A good sign’

JFAC is debating between three alternative motions on how to distribute $17 million in stimulus money to roads. The first, from Rep. Frank Henderson and Sen. Jim Hammond, would have the money distributed, whether to state or local roads, based on the greatest public safety needs. The second, from Sen. Shawn Keough and Rep. Jim Patrick, would give all the money to local highway districts, which Keough said feel they’re not benefiting otherwise from the stimulus. The third, from Rep. George Eskridge and Sen. Joyce Broadsword, would target the money to road maintenance, divided by formula between state and local roads. Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said, “There are three motions - each one has a senator and a representative on it. I think that’s a good sign.” He drew laughter; yesterday, all the senators joined with two House Democrats to pass a motion opposed by all the panel’s House Republicans on statewide personnel funding cuts.

Move to boost education funding fails

An attempt to shift nearly $20 million from federal stimulus money that Gov. Butch Otter has suggested earmarking for additional road work failed on a party-line vote this morning in JFAC. Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, proposed shifting $19.5 million from the stimulus into the public school operations budget to be used as discretionary dollars for school districts. “We have all, I know, tried as hard as we can to insure that the students and school children of Idaho did not feel dire consequences as our economy does,” LeFavour said. “This gives us an opportunity to cover where they are short, keeping lights on, getting kids to where they need to be. … It is a pretty simple motion, and we do have the ability to do this.”

JFAC Co-Chair Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, said that’s not what the governor wants to do with the money. “The gentleman in the Borah building has never wanted to put more money into education,” she said, noting that the stimulus money in question is for “safety and general government.” Bell said, “There’s other places where this money could do as much good for the people of Idaho.” Rep. Darrell Bolz, R-Caldwell, said LeFavour’s move would target one-time money into ongoing expenses, creating “a whale of a hole to fill” once the money’s spent. The motion was defeated on a 4-16 vote, with just the joint committee’s four minority Democrats favoring it.

Blake Hall resigns from state Board of Ed

Idaho Falls attorney and former state GOP party chairman Blake Hall has resigned from the state Board of Education after nearly nine years. His resignation was effective April 3, the board announced today. Click below to read the full announcement.

Guv both ‘pleased’ and ‘disappointed’

Jon Hanian, press secretary for Gov. Butch Otter, says the governor is “very pleased” with JFAC’s decision this morning to eliminate a proposed 3 percent across-the-board pay cut for all state employees, instead opting to let agency directors decide on their own how to cope with cuts in personnel funding, whether that’s through furloughs, salary savings, layoffs or what have you. However, he said, the governor also was “disappointed” that lawmakers opted to tap stimulus funds to make up the difference between a 3 percent and 5 percent cut. “Overall, we’re very pleased that they have decided to let our managers manage,” he said, “but we’re also disappointed that they’ve … taken stimulus money to roll into ongoing costs.”

‘Most of the loaf’

Here’s what the governor’s budget chief, Wayne Hammon, had to say about JFAC’s vote this morning on statewide personnel cuts: “The flexibility part, section 1, is very, very good. The governor’s very pleased with that. He’s been saying from the the very beginning that he needed flexibility. The question is on the stimulus part - the governor would have preferred to use rainy-day money … because that is Idaho money that had been saved specifically for this type of thing. … I’m going to have to go talk to the governor about stimulus.” Nevertheless, Hammon said, “When you get most of the loaf, that’s a compromise.” He added that the reason the governor was willing to move the statewide personnel cuts down from 5 percent to 3 percent was “because the chairman told him that was the only way to get the flexibility. His goal has been from the very beginning not to tie the hands of agency directors.”

First school-cuts bill wins final passage

HB 252, the bill to allow various state laws to be temporarily suspended to allow cuts in education funding - including teacher pay - when a school district declares a financial emergency, got a vigorous debate in the Senate today, much different than the chorus of approval that met the bipartisan bill earlier in the House; still, it passed on a 26-8 vote and now goes to the governor’s desk. Sen. Dick Sagness, D-Pocatello, said funding cuts are harming schools. “It has been extremely disruptive to schools and to teachers, and I think that’s deplorable,” he said, adding that he expects as many as a third of Idaho’s school districts to declare financial emergencies once the bill passes.

Sen. Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow, said he favors dipping into reserve funds to spare schools from cuts, since lawmakers are willing to borrow money for road work. “Why can’t we use money we have in these accounts, already there, for our children?” he asked. Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, who supported the bill despite some legal concerns, told the Senate, “Each of you know that I’m married to a school teacher. I have never had my wife say, ‘You know, if the school would just pay me a fair salary, I’d teach my students better.’ … She works hard, she works a lot of hours, and I believe that’s demonstrative of most of the teachers that I have worked with over the years.” Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, the bill’s Senate sponsor, said, “This bill before us is the result of consensus work.” Without the changes in state laws, he said, cuts in funding would force school districts to lay off teachers.

Voters to decide on UI ‘tuition’ issue

Here’s a news item from the AP: “The House voted 64-3 for a constitutional amendment to allow tuition at the University of Idaho, a move to help the Moscow school manage its budget. A law from Idaho’s territorial days when the school was founded in 1889 forbids most UI students from paying tuition. Vandals pay “student fees” instead. Since Idaho prevents student fees from paying professors, however, UI, unlike other Idaho schools, can’t shift this money to shore up instruction costs crimped by this year’s austerity measures. Rep. Ken Roberts, a McCall Republican, says, “This puts every one of the higher education universities in Idaho on a level playing field.” Lawmakers including Boise Democrat Grant Burgoyne opposed the bill to protest higher tuition fees, but backers called such debate “beside the point.” Idaho voters will likely weigh in on the constitutional change in November 2010.”

In their words…

There was heartfelt debate in JFAC before the vote on statewide personnel cuts. Here’s a sampling:

“I’m feeling very, very guilty costing the taxpayers of Idaho $30,000 a day to stay here and be stubborn.” - Rep. Maxine Bell
“Our issue all along as a committee was that a 5 percent personnel cost reduction for some agencies would be too difficult for them to handle, particularly corrections, state police, etc. … that they could not furlough enough days in order to meet that necessary 5 percent.” - Sen. Dean Cameron
“I think there’s a point where you become too cautious and you add to the problem. If we go with the 5 percent now and we ask the agencies to hold it back, we’re going to add to the unemployment problem we have now. … To me it makes more sense to err on the side of what’s best for our state employees as a whole.” - Sen. Joyce Broadsword
“We’ve heard some talk about what our caucuses want. Obviously I have a great loyalty to my caucus, but I’m elected by my district, and my district expects me to hold up my responsibilities.” - Sen. Shawn Keough
“My comments are my own, they don’t reflect any caucus or anyone who works in a different building. My comments are based on many years of budgeting.” - Rep. Frank Henderson
“Are they any worse off if we cut them down the road than if we do it now? I don’t think so. But I’m going to keep as many people working as I can.” - Sen. Jim Hammond

How they voted

Here’s how JFAC voted in the 12-8 vote on statewide personnel cost reductions, in which Sen. Dean Cameron’s motion carried to reduce the cuts from 5 percent to 3 percent by tapping federal stimulus money:

Voting in favor: Sens. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert; Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint; Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle; Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot; Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls; Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton; Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson; Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls; Diane Bilyeu, D-Pocatello; Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise; and Reps. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow; and Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum.
Voting against: Reps. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome; Darrell Bolz, R-Caldwell; George Eskridge, R-Dover; Cliff Bayer, R-Boise; Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls; Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls; Fred Wood, R-Burley; and Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls.

Substitute motion passes, 12-8

The substitute motion from Sen. Dean Cameron - offsetting the statewide personnel cut with stimulus money, so that it’ll be reduced from 5 percent to 3 percent - has passed JFAC, 12-8.

Two alternatives on personnel cuts…

Here are the two competing motions JFAC is debating: The original motion, from Reps. Darrell Bolz, R-Caldwell, and Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, sets a 5 percent personnel cost cut for state employees - excluding public schools and higher education, which already have been set - but allows the governor to reduce that cut to 3 percent midway through the year if state revenues improve. He’d be able to tap $6.2 million from the budget stabilization fund to make that up, with the rest of the $15.7 million coming from federal and dedicated spending authority. The substitute motion, from Sens. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, and Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, would instead tap $6.2 million from the $44.5 million in still-unexpended federal stimulus funds to reduce the cut from 5 percent to 3 percent right away for the coming year. Cameron said he feared the “trigger” plan would create “false expectations and false hope.” Bayer said his motion would allow the governor “to be the good guy.”

Pay cuts being reconsidered…

JFAC is now debating between competing motions on state personnel cost cuts - both of which would eliminate the 3 percent across-the-board pay cuts for state employees the panel approved earlier, in favor of just leaving discretion to agency directors on how to make the cuts. Said Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, “I hope for the state employees that this is best. I’ve had some very very mean emails. … All the time all I wanted to do was save jobs.”

$30 mil transfer OK’d to balance the budget

JFAC has voted to transfer $30 million from the budget stabilization fund to the general fund, to balance the budget they’ve already set for next year. “This is what’s required to balance the budget,” said Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert. The transfer would be made by July 1. “Without this transfer, we’d have to go back and either issue additional across the board reductions of some sort or eliminate some level of programs.” The motion, which passed unanimously, assumes the IRS conformity bill will pass; it’s already passed the House. JFAC Co-Chair Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, noted that the reserve fund transfer is relatively rare. “This isn’t something we do every budget-setting year, and aren’t we grateful,” she said.

Planning for possible shortfalls next year…

For fiscal year 2010, JFAC has passed a motion to give the governor authority to tap another $50 million in reserve funds if needed to make up budget shortfalls - half from the state’s main reserve fund, the other half from the public education stabilization fund, which is for schools, which make up about half the state’s budget. “Obviously he can issue additional holdbacks, he can take other additional actions,” said Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron. “However, should it be severe, then the other alternative would be to call a special session.”

Tools for the governor…

JFAC has decided to provide several “tools” to Gov. Butch Otter to use if state revenues continue to slip this fiscal year after lawmakers leave town. “We’re looking at 2009 - we’re going to be out of here before it ends,” Co-Chair Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, said. “But we want to make sure that what we leave in place will be adequate to get through that budget year.” Co-Chair Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said a written agreement reached earlier between the JFAC co-chairs and the governor “included providing necessary resources so that the governor could handle it should the economy continue to falter through fiscal year 2009.”

The governor would first tap the remaining unappropriated year-end balance and reversions, but if needed, he could tap into the state’s budget stabilization fund and the public education stabilization fund - two major state reserve funds - up to 50 percent of their balance, with the approval of the state Board of Examiners. Cameron said the “tools” equip the governor to handle an additional economic downturn of up to $200 million. If it’s more than that, he said, “We probably ought to be called back into session.” The plan won unanimous JFAC approval.

Compromise on cystic fibrosis treatment

Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, has proposed a compromise resolution on funding for cystic fibrosis treatment for adults in Idaho. Legislation to cut the treatment off passed the Senate, but stalled in the House Health & Welfare Committee. Wood said the program serves fewer than 50 people, and eight people who are uninsured account for 80 percent of the cost. His resolution, seconded by Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, would order the state Department of Health & Welfare to develop financial eligibility rules for the program, use the state’s high-risk reinsurance pool to help cover the cost of care for those who are uninsured, and make other changes in the program. “There is some indication that we’re actually having patients move into Idaho from out of state specifically to benefit from this program,” Wood told JFAC. He said none of Idaho’s surrounding states offer it. Wood, a retired physician, also proposed a one-time expenditure of $205,000 next year to continue covering those already on the program while the new rules are developed. Both the expenditure and the resolution won JFAC’s unanimous support.

Cameron said, “Our desire, I think, is to make sure we take care of those that we’ve already stepped forward and obligated ourselves to, but not create a mecca in which out-of-state folks will move to Idaho and cause our program to spiral out of control.” When the Senate passed the bill to cut off the treatment program, opponents warned that passage of the bill meant people would die.  

A note about time stamps…

You may have noticed that though Boise is in the Mountain time zone, I’m blogging in Pacific time, according to the time stamps on the posts. That’s because the Spokesman-Review’s servers are in Spokane - in the Pacific time zone. So just add an hour…

‘Now it’s time for compromise’

Before the JFAC meeting started today, Rep. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls, asked what would happen if the joint committee runs out of time this morning, with all the big decisions before it. Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron said the panel just needs to get its work done. “I’m ready to spend more time with my son and my wife,” Cameron said. “Everybody’s made their case - now it’s time for compromise.”

Boat sticker appropriations clear JFAC

Among the technical fixes and trailer bills being approved by JFAC this morning is one to give Parks & Rec spending authority to run the new quagga and zebra mussel boat sticker program, which has passed both houses and has an emergency clause. The parks department will need to spend $65,000 of the fees from the new boat stickers to set up and run the program; it’ll also get authority to transfer $1.5 million in fees to the invasive species fund for the new program, once the fees come in. The $5 to $20 stickers could be ready to paste onto Idaho boats, motorized or not, by June. The appropriation bills won unanimous votes on JFAC.

If he were on the committee…

As JFAC got ready for its 8 a.m. (Boise time) meeting this morning, Co-Chair Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, noted that though it was past time, few members as yet were in their seats. “Would any of you in the audience like to join us?” she asked with a smile. Gov. Butch Otter’s budget director, Wayne Hammon, raised his hand and called out, “I will.” Amid laughter, Bell remarked, “I can see a time when we’d all be voting 19-1.”

Big decisions hang in balance…

At their early-morning work session before JFAC this morning, lawmakers struggled a bit to be clear on what exactly the governor’s favoring. “I’m not sure we know what makes him happy at this point,” Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, commented, but noted that lawmakers still are working with a written proposal from the governor. “He made certain agreements and we agreed to certain things. … It was a compromise.” He also noted, “We have lots of rumors and lots of agreements, but only one in writing.” This morning, JFAC will vote on various “trailer” appropriations to reflect bills already passing that have a cost, plus make the big, final calls on the amount of personnel cost reductions statewide, whether or not there are across-the-board pay cuts for state employees, and how remaining federal stimulus funds should be spent.

Whoops - School bus funding gets do-over

Sen. Russ Fulcher made an unexpected announcement at the close of today’s Senate session: When the Senate debated through the noon hour today on HB 256, the bill to cut state reimbursements to school districts for their student busing costs, somehow the wrong draft went to the secretary. The content was correct, Fulcher said, but there were problems with grammar and format. So, the bill has now been pulled back to the 14th Order for possible amendment. That means, once again, any senator may offer amendments to the bill…

Lawmakers won’t bail agency out of ‘pickle’

By a single vote, a Senate committee has killed legislation sponsored by Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, to retroactively change an Idaho law reaching back to 1998, to help the Idaho State Insurance Fund in a class-action lawsuit that it lost at the Idaho Supreme Court last month. “If the Idaho State Insurance Fund has gotten themselves in a pickle, it doesn’t seem very fair for the Idaho Legislature to bail them out,” Sen. Joe Stegner, a Lewiston Republican, said before the 5-4 vote, according to the Associated Press. “You don’t come to the Legislature and ask to get a special favor.” Click below to read the full report from AP reporter John Miller.

GARVEE passes Senate, 28-6

The Senate has voted 28-6 in favor of SB 1186, the $82 million GARVEE bonding proposal for major road projects. Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, spoke out against the bill. “We’re talking about our children and our grandchildren. We’re placing debt on them,” he said. He added that his own districts has bridges on Highway 95 that need replacement, and the bill “isn’t going to change that.” Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, urged support for the bill. “The kind of debt we’re talking about isn’t buying TVs and cars,” he told the Senate. “It’s buying a substantial long-term 50- to 70-year asset. And when you’re putting money into an asset that is going to last that long, it makes sense.” He added, “And quite frankly we’re doing it at a very cheap rate that we probably won’t get the opportunity to do again.”

Senate takes up GARVEE

The Senate has agreed to suspend its rules and take up the $82 million GARVEE bonding program for highways for next year. Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, opening the debate, said between the bonding program and the federal stimulus, “We can put a lot of people to work, we can get a lot more money back into our economy.”

Revised FG fee bill clears House committee

The House Resources Committee has voted 13-5 in favor of SB 1141a, the amended bill to raise Fish & Game fees. As amended in the Senate, the bill only raises fees on out-of-state hunter and anglers, while leaving in-state fees alone. While several representatives bemoaned the amendment, House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, said, “I think the department has done a great job,” singling out Director Cal Groen for particular praise. “While this may not be the whole loaf of bread, if we send it to the amending order and send it back, he’s not going to get any of the bread,” Moyle said. “Help the department. While it may not be everything that they need, it’s a start.”

Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, said, “This would’ve been a no-brainer had the economy not tanked, the original bill would’ve been fine. It is an exceptionally well-run department at this point in time, probably better than I’ve ever seen it.” In the final vote, the only opponents were Reps. Paul Shepherd, JoAn Wood, Lenore Barrett, Ken Andrus and Dick Harwood. The bill now moves to the full House for a final vote.

Full house for liquor license bill hearing

People are spilling out the doorway and standing around outside in the foyer for the liquor license bill hearing in the House Judiciary Committee this afternoon. The bill, SB 1148, passed the Senate on March 26 on a 23-12 vote; a task force convened by Gov. Butch Otter has been working on the measure for two years, to do away with the state’s current population-based quota system for liquor licenses and revamp Idaho’s system. So many people are signed up to testify for or against the bill that the sign-up sheet goes on for four pages; House Judiciary Chairman Jim Clark, R-Hayden Lake, is calling the out-of-town people to testify, in anticipation that the hearing will go beyond today. After one witness told the committee that he thinks people in Ketchum will suffer economic loss because of the bill, Mike Weems of Bellevue spoke in favor of it. Weems, who has three licensed establishments and has been in the restaurant/bar business for 35 years, said, “We’re strongly in favor of 1148 and think it’s high time that something be done.” He told the committee, “No matter what you do, everyone’s not going to be happy.”

School busing bill amended

Out of all the amendments proposed, just one set, sponsored by Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, and John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene and developed by Jason Hancock of the state Department of Education, has passed the Senate to amend HB 256, the bill to cut state reimbursements to school districts for their student busing costs. The amendments change the permanent cut-off of funding for busing for school field trips to a two-year moratorium, ending July 1, 2010; and temporarily remove a $1.4 million hit to the Boise School District, but impose a requirement for a special transportation audit by the state Department of Education, and if any of the audit’s money-saving recommendations aren’t followed, the district would see its funding cut by that amount next year, up to the full $1.4 million it would’ve lost under the original bill. The Lewiston school district faces a similar requirement, though its potential loss is less, around $30,000. All the other amendments failed.

The Senate debated right through the lunch hour, with strong and heated debate on many of the amendments. At one point, when they’d gone at ease, senators began milling about. Senate Assistant Majority Leader Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston, who presides over the 14th Order, the Senate’s amending order, waving a gavel, asked, “Is anyone else hungry? Let’s go!” It was well after 1 p.m. Boise time by the time the Senate recessed for lunch; it’ll come back into session at 3:30.

Senate locked in school busing cost debate

The Senate is locked in debate on an array of amendments to HB 256, the bill that cuts state reimbursement to school districts for their student busing costs. The amendments would do everything from strike the bill’s enacting clause, to cut out a clause that takes away $1.4 million from the Boise School District, to subject districts like Boise to mandatory state transportation audits and cut their funding if they don’t comply with audit recommendations. One, from Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, would tell schools they can spend discretionary funds on field trips even though the state would no longer specifically reimburse costs for busing for field trips.

Bill on ‘educaton’ killed

It’s not actually in the bill, but for some reason, there’s been a continuing typo in the House calendar in reference to SB 1159, legislation proposed by Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, to eliminate what he says is a financial incentive for school districts to de-consolidate. The calendar, for days, has referred to the bill as “SB 1159, Nielsen(22), by Judiciary and Rules Committee - EDUCATON.” Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, the floor sponsor, made no reference to the typo as he presented the bill, which drew opposition from representatives who had school districts de-consolidate in their districts. Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, said they shouldn’t be “punished” for reflecting the wishes of their communities. Nielsen said having more districts costs more. “I don’t call it a penalty, I call it being realistic,” he told the House. But the bill was defeated, on a 25-45 vote. It had earlier passed the Senate on a 23-10 vote.

CAT fund changes pass the House

Legislation to make several changes in the way Idaho funds catastrophic health care costs for the indigent - including upping the deductible for counties from $10,000 per case to $11,000, while instituting cost-saving measures - has passed the House on a 54-15 vote, but only after long and strenuous debate from opponents. House State Affairs Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, told the House, “We are going to cause an automatic property tax increase.” Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, who spoke at length and then rose and debated against the bill for a second time, said a property tax increase would hurt farmers, ranchers and the elderly.

Gov. Butch Otter had originally called for upping the counties’ deductibles to $15,000. House Health & Welfare Chair Sharon Block R-Twin Falls, told the House the bill was developed after nine weeks of negotiations with stakeholders on all sides, spurred by Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert. “When the bill was heard in the Health & Welfare Committee, there was no testimony in opposition,” she said. “This bill is designed to save money for the state, the counties, the hospitals and the taxpayers.” The bill, SB 1158, earlier passed the Senate unanimously; it now goes to the governor’s desk.

CdA Lake Management Plan wins House OK

The budget bill for the state Department of Environmental Quality, a tiny piece of which includes funding authorization to begin implementation of the Coeur d’Alene Lake Management Plan, has passed the House on a 53-16 vote. Just last Friday, several lawmakers spoke out against the plan, stalling the budget bill. Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, said commissioners from all three affected counties - Kootenai, Shoshone and Benewah - all have come out in favor of the plan now, after several changes were made to the final draft. Those included deletion of the Spokane River from the plan and institution of quarterly meetings with county commissioners to give them a voice in the plan’s implementation. Rep. Mary Lou Shepherd, D-Prichard, told the House, “I will be supporting this legislation, but I do not feel that it is the perfect fix to the problem. Local government does indeed have a place at the table but they do not have a vote. If they are the ones being impacted I feel that they should also have a vote. The three counties came together yesterday and they’re all on board now and so am I, and I would urge everyone in here to be able to vote yes.”

Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene, told the House that his local Chamber of Commerce is in strong support of the bill, as are many in his community. “This is a very important piece of legislation for us,” he said, noting that the lake management plan is the key to preventing an EPA Superfund cleanup of Lake Coeur d’Alene. The plan is aimed, instead, at managing nutrient loading in the lake to keep old mining contamination safely encapsulated in sediments at the lake bottom.

Rep. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, told the House he’s still against the bill. “I got some really good advice yesterday which I’m probably not gonna take, advice from a good friend of mine, told me to keep quiet and vote no,” Harwood told the House. “I woke up this morning about 12:30 really stewing on this bill. … The thing that come to me was that when a man knows to do what is right and does not do it, to him it is sin.” Harwood, who said on Friday that he thought the plan would let the Coeur d’Alene Tribe “rule over us that live there,” told the House this morning that he wished the Legislature had gotten to vote on the lake plan, which was developed over the past seven years with the help of a federal mediator. “Any time you got people telling you you gotta do this and you gotta do this now, you’re gonna lose some liberties,” he said.

Gas tax bill put off in the House

The House has just delayed consideration of HB 135a, the bill to increase the gas tax, until Thursday. Majority Leader Mike Moyle asked for unanimous consent for the delay, and no one objected.

Wolf attack bill passes House despite questions

Rep. Phil Hart’s bill aimed at imposing liability against those who bring “dangerous or vicious animals” into Idaho that cause damage to people or property also would make it a felony for anyone to knowingly give false or misleading testimony to a local Planning & Zoning Commission, Hart acknowledged to the House today, under questioning from other lawmakers about his bill. The bill passed the House on a 46-24 vote. The measure includes the clause about “false testimony” because, Hart said, he was concerned about “junk science” being cited on issues like introduction of wolves to the state. “There’s been a lot of junk science that facilitated the introduction of these wolves,” said Hart, R-Athol. So he drafted a broad provision making it a felony to give false or misleading testimony “before a governmental commission, whether under oath or not.”

“It seemed to me that if you were to do this in front of a commission … if you were to lie to that commission this would be something that you’d premeditated. I think that act of doing that could rise to the occasion of being a felony,” Hart told the House. “It’s not just an off-the-cuff response that you might make to a government official off the street.” Rep. Bill Killen, D-Boise, an attorney, asked Hart, “So your position is this bill would cover unsworn misleading testimony before a local planning and zoning commission?” “That’s correct,” Hart responded. Rep. James Ruchti, D-Pocatello, also an attorney, told the House, “The idea behind this bill has not been refined. There are going to be some serious unintended consequences and we should vote no.”

Backers of the bill said they’re so concerned about wolves that something needs to be done. “The people of Idaho would like to have some recourse, some place they could turn to when there was damage,” said Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby. “This may be one thing that’s being offered to us in the way of recourse if anything were to happen.” Said Rep. Lenore Hardy Barrett, R-Challis, “I support this bill, yes, because it may relate to wolves. A lot of you here do not understand the wolf situation. … I represent … a district where the wolves were dumped. … These Canadian greys are killers. … The wolf is a decimating, destroying machine.” She said, “This bill may have some imperfections. … I’m not going to pick at this bill. I think this bill needs to be supported, it needs to go forward … to protect the safety and health and welfare of our citizens.”

The measure, HB 138a, also makes it a felony to knowingly introduce a “dangerous or vicious” animal into the state; includes such action under racketeering statutes; and creates civil liability for those whose negligent introduction of such animals causes death or injury to persons or property, though government agencies would be exempt. “It’s a difficult issue to get our hands around,” Hart told the House, saying his bill went through “about 10 revisions,” but “I thought it was ready to go.” He said, “This bill is not just about wolves. It’s about any dangerous animal, within which wolves would be included.” He said, “We’re vulnerable to junk science. … I am attempting to address these things with this bill.”

Flag bill passes as-is

Rep. Marge Chadderdon, R-Coeur d’Alene, who said yesterday she was introducing a new version of her flag manufacturing bill, instead today urged the House to pass it as-is, and they did, 67-0. “I know you’re waiting for this bill,” Chadderdon told the House. She said she determined that the bill, as earlier amended, complies with an Idaho Attorney General’s opinion that she received. Before the amendment, the bill banned the purchase of Idaho or U.S. flags not manufactured in the United States by Idaho state agencies or local governments, but also included a clause saying if such flags were purchased, the agencies wouldn’t have to pay for them. An amendment sponsored by Reps. Jim Clark, R-Hayden Lake, and Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, removed that clause. “As the bill reads today, it’s not in conflict with interstate commerce. … So I want you to feel good about this vote today,” Chadderdon said.

She told the House, “We’ve come to regard the flag as the embodied symbolism of our country and its unity. … It’s as old as our country and is often regarded as the living history on fabric.” The bill now moves to the Senate.

Fee hikes set for Idaho universities

The Idaho State Board of Education has approved fee hikes ranging from 5 to 7 percent for Idaho state universities for next year. At the University of Idaho, the fees called “matriculation fees,” since UI can’t charge “tuition,” will rise 6.5 percent, to $4,934 for a full-time, in-state student. That’s less than the 8.5 percent the university requested. BSU will have a tuition and fee incresae of 5 percent, to $4,864, matching their request; ISU will go up 6.5 percent to $4,968, short of the 9.3 percent increase the Pocatello school requested; and LCSC will go up 7 percent to $4,596 a year, which is less than their requested 9 percent hike. Eastern Idaho Technical College will have a 5 percent fee incresae to $1,750 for tuition and fees, matching the EITC request.

The state board also decided that if JFAC makes further changes in the personnel cost cut of 5 percent that it’s already set in the budget for higher education, the student fees can change as well - going up if lawmakers decide to cut deeper, or going down if they decide to cut less.

‘Week from Friday is doable’

House Speaker Lawerence Denney says things aren’t as off-track for ending the legislative session as they may seem. “Actually, I think we’re doing pretty well,” he told Eye on Boise. “JFAC still has one more big battle with personnel costs.” The joint budget committee will meet Wednesday morning to take that up. “Once that’s decided, I think it’s downhill,” Denney said. The House is scheduled to vote tomorrow on a gas tax bill, though Denney raised a grain of doubt about whether that vote will happen on Tuesday or not. It’ll be “very likely tomorrow,” he said, but added, “Personally, I don’t know whether we should do GARVEE first. … GARVEE’s still in the Senate, and I don’t know whether there’s a connection or not - there could be, though, I think.” GARVEE is the bonding program - the acronym stands for Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicles, a special type of bonding that lets the state borrow against future federal highway allocations - that earlier cleared JFAC, calling for an $82 million bonding program next year.

Said Denney, “I don’t think we get done this week, but I think a week from Friday is definitely doable. They’re starting to mow the grass, and the smell of the fresh-cut grass - you know, once people decide to go home, it goes fast.”

New version of flag bill in the works

Rep. Marge Chadderdon, R-Coeur d’Alene, says she’s got a new version of her flag bill in the works, after problems cropped up with amendments already made to the bill. Chadderdon originally sought to prohibit state or local agencies in Idaho from buying any U.S. or Idaho flags that aren’t made in the United States, but a clause in her original bill that declared that if agencies bought such flags, they wouldn’t have to pay for them, raised concerns in the House, prompting amendments to the bill. Chadderdon said she sought an Attorney General’s opinion and now wants to change the bill again. “They’ve given me permission to get a new bill drafted, according to the recommendations,” Chadderdon said. “Some of what we amended probably shouldn’t have been.”

25 years of herding lobbyists…

Jan Eyth has been the supervisor of the legislative advisers, the lobbyists who use the legislative advisers’ room in the Statehouse and check in with her for messages and such, for the past 25 years. Today, the lobbyists threw her a surprise 80th birthday party, complete with a huge cake. Lobbyist Skip Smyser asked her, “Can you believe this group could keep a secret?” as the clearly surprised and pleased Eyth was presented with the cake, cards and applause. “You really pulled it off,” she responded, drawing a big laugh from the group packed into a legislative hearing room with this comment: “I love you all - some more than others.”

House won’t run any bills

The House has decided not to take up any bills this morning, with so many of its members gone for the funeral in Pocatello today of Brenda Malepeai, the late wife of Sen. Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello. House GOP Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, said leadership was working on gathering up “paired” votes to allow absent members to participate, but the task proved too large. As a result, he said, “We’re not going to take up any bills at all. There’s a lot of Democrats missing.” The House will hold those committee hearings that are scheduled; there are only a couple. Tomorrow, however, will be a big day: The House will debate and vote on HB 135a, the gas tax bill.

Pocatello city councilman nominated for U.S. Marshal

Idaho Congressman Walt Minnick has named Pocatello City Councilman and state women’s prison warden Brian Underwood as the nominee to be the next U.S. Marshal for Idaho. “He is bright, talented, and recommended by people I know and trust from across the political spectrum,” Minnick said. “He is committed to upholding the law and, most important, he is committed to Idaho. It is my privilege to recommend his name to President Obama for consideration.” The rest of Idaho’s congressional delegation hailed the choice. “The bipartisan committee that Congressman Minnick assembled did a great job in selecting Mr. Underwood for this position,” said Congressman Mike Simpson. “He has the experience and know-how to perform well as our U.S. Marshal.”

Still to be named is Minnick’s nominee for U.S. Attorney for Idaho. Minnick’s office said that won’t be announced until the Obama Administration completes its “vetting process.”

Now how did that happen?

The collection of “Lost and Found” items at the information desk in the Capitol Annex has included various items all session, like a broken umbrella, a set of car keys, etc. It’s been growing, however. And today, the collection includes, among other items, a tie, a scarf, a belt, a reporter’s notebook, an earring, and oddest of all, a pair of women’s silver spike-heeled pumps. How does one walk off without those?

Hoover to head Idaho Community Foundation

Bob Hoover, president of the College of Idaho in Caldwell and former University of Idaho president, has been named the new CEO of the Idaho Community Foundation, a position he’ll start in mid-July. Alice Hennessey will continue as interim president and CEO of the statewide nonprofit until Hoover starts; the foundation manages more than 400 individual charitable funds and has assets of about $55 million. Hoover has been C of I president since 2003, the year he left UI amid the Unviersity Place scandal. In March of 2008, Hoover announced his retirement as C of I president, effective in June of 2009.

The week that was…

Here’s a link to the 12th week of the Legislature in photos as a slide show. It was another week of grappling, without resolution, with big issues like state employee pay cuts and transportation funding. This photo shows House GOP caucus members just after the breakup of a two-hour closed-door caucus, in which they failed to reach agreement on the pay issue. Now, the 13th week is starting off on a down note, as the Senate takes Monday off for the funeral in Pocatello of the wife of Sen. Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello, Brenda. She died late last week, and he’s been missing from the Legislature both this year and last to care for her in her illness; Dick Sagness, D-Pocatello, has been serving in Malepeai’s place. The House will meet on Monday, but has little scheduled.

SV Mayor: ‘I wouldn’t do anything like that’

Sun Valley Mayor Wayne Willich disputed an earlier account on this blog that suggested he had grabbed a reporter’s arm during a tiff after a legislative committee hearing today, saying, “I didn’t touch anybody. That actually would be a very low-I.Q. thing to do, and I have a moderately high I.Q., so I wouldn’t be doing anything like that.” It’s all part of a bizarre incident that occurred when tensions between influential folks from Sun Valley boiled over at the Idaho Legislature today, eventually involving Capitol Annex security and killing a bill. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Otter: ITD governance bill is ‘problematic’


Gov. Butch Otter, who is interviewed along with Lt. Gov. Brad Little on tonight’s “Idaho Reports” program on Idaho Public TV, says during the interview that he sees legislation that would allow him to fire the Idaho Transportation Department’s director as “problematic.” “I didn’t ask for that bill,” Otter told interviewer Thanh Tan. “In fact, I would tell you, I haven’t even talked to Chairman (John) McGee about it, but it is problematic to do it that way.”

McGee, the Senate transportation chairman, proposed the bill. “You’ve got to have a chain of command,” Otter said. “If you sever that relationship, then you’re making big mistakes. … I understand the frustrations and I understand the reasons for it, I’m just saying that in the overall picture, from 30,000 feet, it’s very problematic.” You can see the full half-hour interview, which also covers transportation funding, state employee pay and other issues, tonight on Idaho Reports; it airs at 8 p.m., and re-airs Sunday at 11:30 a.m. Mountain time, 10:30 Pacific time. After it airs, the program also can be viewed online here, along with the half-hour “After the Show” discussion, which also airs on digital TV directly after the regular program. On this week’s “After the Show” segment, I join BSU political scientist emeritus Jim Weatherby, House Majority Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts, House Assistant Minority Leader James Ruchti, and Tan to discuss the interview and the week’s legislative developments. Tune in and check it out.

Lawmakers try to scuttle CdA Lake management plan

Idaho House members threatened to kill funding for implementing the new Coeur d’Alene Lake Management Plan today, causing a delay in voting on the budget bill for the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality. Rep. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, told the House he thought the management plan would give the tribe jurisdiction over local landowners and counties. “You’re going to let them rule over us that live there,” he declared. “Boy … I’m uneasy about this.” Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, said, “This issue of , well, if we don’t do something today it’s going to be a Superfund site tomorrow - we’ve been hearing that for 20 years. … I’m concerned that we’re rushing this legislation through.” The House vote on the budget bill was put off to Monday; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Here’s a transportation funding bill that cleared the House…

Legislation to sell commemorative gold medallions to benefit the state highway account has passed the House on a 44-19 vote. “We should be creative and industrious and proactive and bold, and we should have tools like this in our toolbox … to address highway funding,” Rep. Russ Mathews, R-Idaho Falls, told the House. He said he’s heard from “people anxious and willing to purchase medallions.” Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, spoke against the bill, saying he feared the new transportation medallions would compete with the state’s existing silver medallions that benefit veterans. Others questioned how the state could effectively market the medallions But Mathews said, “I’m confident that we could initially sell quite a few.” The bill now moves to the Senate.

Another problem with flag bill?

Rep. Marge Chadderdon’s flag-manufacturing bill, HB 249, was up in the House this morning, but when it came time, members of leadership from both sides and Rep. Chadderdon, R-Coeur d’Alene, were called up to the speaker’s desk, and a rather long confab followed, while House members milled around. Then came the announcement that the bill will be held until Monday. It already was amended once, due to concerns over a clause that said if an Idaho agency purchases flags that aren’t made in the United States, it can refuse to pay for them.

32-32 tie kills Hart’s bill in House

The House has voted 32-32 on HB 263, Rep. Phil Hart’s bill to move the state toward constructing and compiling a searchable database of all the state’s spending and putting it online. “It is part of our public policy that we do provide this transparency,” Hart told the House. Opponents of the bill, however, said it didn’t account for its cost; the bill’s fiscal note said there would be no fiscal impact to the state’s general fund. Rep. Anne Pasley-Stuart, D-Boise, told the House, “I would ask you to stop funding unfunded mandates to agencies that are already stretched, and are going to be stretched even more.” She estimated the bill would cost the state “tens of thousands of dollars.” Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, a member of the joint budget committee, said, “We will have to pay for this … so if you vote for this, you’d better be prepared to pay for this.”

Hart responded that posting essentially the state’s entire record of checkbook transactions online would cut down on the number of public records requests state agencies would have to respond to, thereby saving the state money. So, he said, if the bill’s cost really is to be estimated, the state also should estimate those savings and cut every agency’s budget by that amount. He quoted Thomas Jefferson and said if the state’s financial information is online, citizens can monitor it and watch for abuses. But the bill received a tie vote - and tie votes fail.

Bizarre clash when Sun Valley folks come to the Legislature

After a long and bitter hearing that pitted some Sun Valley city council members against others and ultimately resulted in the Senate State Affairs Committee killing a bill brought by a temporary senator who’s a former mayor of Sun Valley, the general manager of the Sun Valley Resort had to be restrained by Capitol Annex security after he menaced a reporter. “That’s my wife you’re talking to!” Wally Huffman could be heard declaring loudly, as he got into the face of an Associated Press reporter his wife had just called “evil.” The reporter had responded with a retort about being insulted; Sun Valley Mayor Wayne Willich had moments earlier confronted the reporter and told him to be sure to report that his city was the target of a “hostile takeover,” and the reporter was attempting to leave the hallway.

Huffman was among those testifying against SB 1157, a measure sponsored by temporary Sen. Jon Thorson, D-Ketchum, to change state law regarding when cities consolidate. The bill would have let the voters, at the same time, pick the name of the new city, while current law gives the new city the name of the larger of the two that consolidate. The problem: Ketchum is larger than Sun Valley. Those are the two discussing consolidating; Thorson’s a big backer of the controversial proposal; and Huffman opposes it, as does Sun Valley Mayor Wayne Willich and Sun Valley City Council President Nils Ribi, who both testified against the bill. Sun Valley City Councilwoman Joan Lamb, however, testified in favor of the bill. “Sun Valley is the brand,” she told the committee. “That’s the name that has worldwide recognition.”

Huffman told the committee that the “brand” belongs to his business, and said consolidation would be “a disaster for my company” because of changes it would bring in local development ordinances. “It is shameful in my mind … that the Legislature would be injected at this point into what is a local debate,” Huffman told the senators. Thorson is filling in for Sen. Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum, who is ill.

Sen. Denton Darrington, R-Declo, noted that the Association of Idaho Cities didn’t comment on the bill. He remarked, “The perception is crystal-clear that this injects the Legislature in the middle of a huge local feud.” A motion to amend the bill failed on a 4-4 vote, and it then died on a 3-5 vote.

It’s getting ugly…

As Idaho’s legislative session dragged through its 81st day Thursday, legislative reporters have donned the traditional ugly ties that signify it’s been long enough. Tradition has it that once reporters have decided it’s time for the session to end, by sporting hideous neckwear they can so disgust and horrify lawmakers that they’ll just want to leave town. Or something like that. Ah, but will it work?

Guv: I don’t support across-the-board pay cuts

Gov. Butch Otter sent a memo to all state employees today declaring that he doesn’t support across-the-board pay cuts, and instead believes “managers should be allowed to manage” to determine how personnel funding cuts should affect their individual agencies. Click below to read the governor’s memo.

Lots of amendments for day-care bill

The day-care licensing bill has cleared the House Health & Welfare Committee on a unanimous vote, but only with extensive amendments attached - including requiring licensing only for day cares with seven or more unrelated children, while still requiring criminal background checks for those with four or more. The amendments also remove all requirements for continuing education for day-care workers in day cares with fewer than 13 children; make some adjustments to fees, with the result that the bill may carry a cost to the state of some $30,000 rather than being self-funding; and make various other changes. Basic health and safety requirements, including requiring a working phone, smoke detectors, fencing around water, remain for those day cares that would be licensed, but not for the smaller ones with fewer than seven children.

“This is an improved version,” said Rep. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett. Rep. Jim Marriott, R-Blackfoot, said, “The no licensing of the six and lower - I think that was a big thing that I was hung up on before, because I live in a rural area, and everybody knows everybody. … I just didn’t think we should ask them to go through that.”

Both Democrats and Republicans on the committee backed the amended bill, and Rep. Branden Durst, D-Boise, seconded Rep. Lynn Luker’s motion to send the bill to the House’s amending order with the amendments attached. “I hope that we can get something done to get our kids in a more safe place,” Durst said. Committee Chairwoman Sharon Block, R-Twin Falls, said, “I think this was a good compromise bill and I think it was a bill the committee could support - we had a unanimous vote. I think it will provide protection for Idaho’s children, and it also will allow the child care providers in the rural areas to stay in business and to have safety measure in place for the children, so I’m very pleased.” Child-care licensing legislation has been proposed every year for the last five years; this is the first time it’s ever gotten out of committee in either house. The bill earlier passed the Senate, 30-5.

“This time it was successful,” Block said. “That’s what happens when we all work collaboratively.” Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, said some of the amendments may cause difficulty in the Senate, particularly the fiscal impact; the bill may have to go to a conference committee, he said. If it passes, he said, “I’ll be pleased that we have done something it has taken 20 years to do. I just would’ve been more proud if we were protecting all the children.”

Denney introduces voter I.D. bill

House Speaker Lawerence Denney has gotten legislation introduced on a 4-3 party-line vote in the House Ways & Means Committee to require a photo I.D. both to vote and to register to vote, and eliminate mail-in voter registration. “This is a piece of legislation that the pro-tem and I have been working on since the start of this session,” Denney told the leadership-dominated committee. “Right now, you can mail in a request to register, mail in your registration form, and at the same time mail in a request for an absentee ballot, which means that you can actually vote without ever having to stand before anyone to prove who you are.” House Assistant Minority Leader James Ruchti, D-Pocatello, objected, “This legislation appears to me, at least, to put a chilling effect on the exercise of the right to vote.” Denney responded, “I think, like you do, that it is important that people be allowed to vote. …  But I think it’s also important to protect the integrity of the ballot.”

Because House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, was absent, it appeared that the Democrats on the panel could block the bill from being introduced; the committee is split 3-3 between Republican and Democratic leaders, with Chairman Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, giving the Republicans a one-vote edge. But Bedke arrived for the vote on introducing Denney’s bill. He then left again.

Denney told Eye on Boise that he and Senate President Pro-Tem Bob Geddes mailed out nearly 200 first-class letters to registered voters in a single district after the last election as a test, and about 30 came back showing “no one at that address.” Some of the addresses were vacant lots, he said. The letters should have been forwarded if the people and addresses were real, he said. “They should not have come back to us.” The House speaker said he’s not sure if there’s time to actually hold a hearing on the bill this session, but said he thought it was important to get it introduced. “Hopefully, we don’t have time,” he said.

Bill would let Highway 95 project stretch three miles further

A three-mile stretch at the south end of the Garwood-to-Sagle project on U.S. Highway 95 in North Idaho would be eligible to be added to the bond-funded project, under legislation introduced by the House Ways & Means Committee today at the request of Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls. The stretch, from Wyoming Avenue to State Highway 53, is two lanes - though Highway 95 is four lanes just south of there, and it’ll be four lanes north of there as a result of the Garwood-to-Sagle project. Henderson said when the project was designated, its southern end point was never specifically pinpointed. “Garwood itself is not a point on a map,” he said. “It’s a rural community, it’s unincorporated. … It’s an area.”

His legislation wouldn’t guarantee any funding, but by making it eligible to be part of the bond-funded project, it could qualify if money is available, Henderson said. Already this year, bids have been coming in so much lower than expected on GARVEE bond-funded projects that they’ve saved $36 million. If the money were available and the Idaho Transportation Board decided to spend it to take that three-mile stretch up to four lanes to match what’ll be north and south of it, it’d cost $15.5 million, Henderson said. The committee voted unanimously to introduce the bill.

Why they went ahead with the bill

House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, said the House decided to go ahead and pass its first budget bill today after all, in part because, “We just wanted to have one sent over to the Senate, and besides, that debate was already open on that bill.” It also helped, he said, that there’s now talk of a possible trailer bill to settle the personnel cuts issue after budget bills go through. “I think we have to continue our work, and know that that was probably not the final solution that’s coming,” the speaker said.

House passes first budget bill

The House has voted 41-15 in favor, with 14 absent, of HB 268, the first budget bill they’ve taken up. It’s the budget for the legislative council. There was no debate. “I just think this is an appropriate way to go with this particular bill,” said JFAC Vice Chair Darrell Bolz, R-Caldwell, the bill’s floor sponsor. “I know there are some concerns about what we’re doing with the salary, but we do have some smaller agencies … that do have a problem with the flexibility, in being able to maintain the services.” Now they’re adjourning for the day, after wishing a happy 40th birthday to Rep. James Ruchti, D-Pocatello.

Two hours, no agreement

House Republicans have finished a caucus that went for more than two hours, but emerged with no particular agreement on the issue of state employee pay cuts and the budget. They didn’t get to transportation, said Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly. “We’re still trying to figure out where our caucus is,” he said. As as result, the House will go back on the floor at 1:30, but will then just adjourn for the day. They’re not ready to take up their first budget bill.

GOP caucus still going…

House Democrats finished their caucus more than half an hour ago, but Republicans are still going behind closed doors. House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, just knocked on the door of the GOP caucus and conferred with Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, who said the Dems could go to lunch and the Republicans will continue caucusing. The House won’t go back on the floor until 1:30.

Senate unanimous for Sunshine Law expansion

The Idaho Senate has voted unanimously 34-0, in favor of SB 1156, the bipartisan legislation to expand Idaho’s Sunshine Law to add personal financial disclosure requirements for elected officials and candidates. Idaho is currently one of just three states with no such requirements. Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, told the Senate that the governor supports the bill and helped craft it. Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly, D-Boise, told the Senate, “The people we represent deserve to know if we have a conflict of interest as we fulfill our public duties.” The unanimous vote included a few who sounded reluctant, but no one voted against it. The bill now moves to the House.

Senate passes first budget bill

The Senate has voted 34-0 in favor of SB 1170, its first budget bill, this one for the Department of Finance, which receives no state general funds. The bill, however, like all state budget bills that have come out of JFAC, includes a 5 percent reduction in personnel funds and a 3 percent across-the-board pay cut for employees. Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, told the Senate, “You may know based on discussion that’s taken place in the hallways that there is quite a bit of controversy. … An agreement has been reached (with Gov. Butch Otter).” JFAC, “hopefully next week,” will vote on that, he said, to reduce the personnel funds reduction from 5 percent to 3 percent, and eliminate the requirement for the across-the-board pay cut, “which will override and supersede each of these bills,” Cameron said. “The agreement obviously hasn’t been voted on, it hasn’t been voted on by the joint committee, but it is a working document.” He offered to provide a copy to anyone who wants one.

Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, thanked Cameron, and said she looks forward to seeing a trailer bill to change the clause in the various budget bills. “This is actually a dedicated-fund agency,” she said, but the bill includes the pay cut. “That doesn’t help our general fund, but it does impact those employees and the economy.”

Both parties are in caucus

Both parties in the House have gone into caucus to talk about state employee pay cuts and the state budget. Republicans also plan to talk about transportation; their caucus is meeting behind closed doors, while the Democrats are meeting openly. House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, told his caucus, “The going at-ease was called by the Republicans, because there is a discussion ongoing about language on employee compensation.” Prior to going into caucus, Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, said, “A lot of our state employees aren’t that well-paid to start with. The more we cut the pay the less money they’ll have to spend. … I don’t mind using the rainy-day fund or anything at this stage to try to protect those people as much as we can, and if anything, I think it might stimulate the economy so we come out of this sooner rather than later.” She said she “felt very positive” with the governor’s compromise proposal yesterday, which offered to reduce the statewide cut in personnel costs from 5 percent to 3 percent, while eliminating the requirement for an across-the-board pay cut.

There’s concern among many budget-watchers that a 5 percent personnel cut will mean layoffs and shutdowns of state agencies, while a 3 percent cut might be enough less to avoid those moves. However, House GOP leaders have been holding out for the 5 percent. “That appropriation bill would’ve gone down on the floor yesterday,” said House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, who noted that many House members are deeply concerned above the moves. He said he expected the GOP caucus to last about an hour. “It’d be nice if there were a way that nobody got laid off,” Bedke said, but he said that’s unlikely.

Redistricting revamp pushed

The redrawing of legislative districts is always controversial. Now Senate President Pro Tem Bob Geddes, who lost a 2002 state Supreme Court challenge to the current plan, has begun pushing to revamp how Idaho draws 35 legislative districts following each U.S. Census. Click below to read the full story from AP reporter John Miller.