Archive for March 2010
Gov. Butch Otter has signed into law bills creating two new special license plates - one to benefit mountain biking trails around the state, and the other to benefit wilderness stewardship through the Selway-Bitterroot Foundation. The mountain biking plate bill, HB 486, was sponsored by Rep. Brian Cronin, D-Boise, and co-sponsored by Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian. The wilderness plate bill, HB 540, was proposed by Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow.
Another one, to benefit pets, didn’t make it this year - nor has it for the past three years. Rep. Marge Chadderdon, R-Coeur d’Alene, who has been working on the Idaho cares for pets plate idea for three years now, said, “I’m still working on it.” The bill never was introduced, as Chadderdon hadn’t ironed out who would be responsible for the funds, which would go to local one-day spay/neuter clinics. She said she’d been in talks with the state Department of Agriculture, but it was wary of taking on a new program when its staff was being cut. “I said, ‘Well, we’ll come back,’” said Chadderdon, who said at the start of the session that the pet special-plate bill was the only bill she was working on this year. “I’m going to raise money for it this summer so we can go forward.”
The question of whether Idaho will have another wolf-hunting season next year is up to a federal court, which is weighing challenges to the removal of the gray wolf from the endangered species list - the move that permitted state wolf management including regulated hunts. Thirteen conservation groups sued over the delisting of the wolf in Idaho and Montana, and while a federal judge in September cleared the two states to hold hunting seasons this year - with Idaho’s opening first - he strongly suggested the groups could win their overall case, which still is pending.
“The hunts are not our primary concern - it is the federal wolf management plan that we feel is the most significant threat to wolves in the future, because that allows the states to kill off most of their wolves in the future,” said Suzanne Asha Stone, Northern Rockies representative for Defenders of Wildlife, one of the 13 groups. “Even though Idaho and Montana started off conservatively, they are allowed to kill most of the wolves in the future.”
Idaho Fish and Game said the state had a minimum of 843 wolves at the close of 2009, in 94 packs, including 49 breeding pairs. But Stone said the federal plan could allow that to drop to just 150 wolves in the future. During Idaho’s season, 185 wolves were taken compared to a limit of 220, though that could change as the season ran through sunset Wednesday and hunters have 24 hours to report their kills. Montana’s wolf season set a limit of 75 wolves. Idaho state sold 31,393 wolf tags, all but 684 to Idaho residents. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Today, Idaho closes the first-ever regulated wolf-hunting season in the lower 48 states, and state Fish & Game officials are calling it a success. “I’d be severely disappointed if we don’t have a hunting season next year, because we played by the rules, we worked hard, it’s been a long time coming, and I think we demonstrated that we did a good job with state-managed hunting,” said Fish & Game Director Cal Groen. “We need a hunting season to manage the wolves just like our other big game animals.”
So far, 185 wolves were taken, though that could change as the season runs through sunset today. In 2009, wolves were responsible for the deaths of 385 livestock in Idaho, up from 333 the year before and including cattle, sheep and stock dogs. “We don’t want to take the wildness out of wolves,” Groen said. “They shouldn’t be around towns, they shouldn’t be creating livestock problems and social problems.”
Idaho’s hunting season was divided into 12 zones with specific limits. But some, like the remote and rugged Lolo zone where wolf impacts on elk herds have been a big problem, proved tough hunting. “In the back country, it’s rugged, they’re cunning, they’re smart,” Groen said, “We’ll be looking at other tools.” Those might include changing bag limits to allow a hunter to take a second wolf in a year; partnering with outfitters; trapping; looking at zone boundaries; and possibly allowing the use of electronic wolf calls to give hunters an advantage. Groen said the Lolo zone was a premier elk hunting zone in North America with a herd of 16,000 elk, but it’s dropped to just over 2,000. Many issues, including habitat, bears and mountain lions, were involved and are being addressed, he said. “Now we can finally manage wolves - they were unmanaged. They’re the primary reason for mortality now.”
A federal court will decide whether Idaho can have a wolf season again. For now, Groen and other Fish and Game officials said the wolf hunt has been good for Idaho and good for wolves, in many cases dissipating hunter anger over wolf impacts on game herds. Idaho’s wolf population, which had been growing at 20 percent a year and is well beyond recovery target levels, has stabilized. “When you pursue something fair chase, and something very challenging, a respect develops,” Groen said. “We’ve seen that with bears and lions. … There’s a hunting relationship there, very different, very challenging.” He also noted that new legislation just passed this year will allow out-of-state deer and elk hunters to also take a wolf, which could help attract out-of-state hunters whose numbers have dropped since their fees were sharply hiked. The idea that a hunter could come to Idaho on an elk hunt and also go home with a wolf means “we’re special, we’re unique,” Groen said.
Sarah Palin has endorsed Vaughn Ward in Idaho’s 1st Congressional District GOP primary, adding oomph to a race in which the two leading contenders have been trying to out-conservative each other. “I’m happy to support Vaughn Ward because I know that he believes in the same common sense conservative ideals that we cherish,” the former Alaska governor said in an announcement; she also endorsed two other veterans who are seeking congressional seats in Florida and Illinois. Ward, a decorated veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, is vying against state Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, for a chance to challenge Democratic Congressman Walt Minnick. Three other lesser-known Republicans also have filed for the seat.
Ward said, “Gov. Palin has provided great leadership for the Republican Party and I am proud to have her support. I look forward to promoting our conservative values in Congress.” Labrador, for his part, said, “You know, I like Sarah Palin, she’s a well-respected conservative, but it’s a little disappointing that she continues to support moderate Republicans in primary elections.” The other primary race Labrador pointed to: The primary challenge faced by U.S. Sen. John McCain, Palin’s running mate in the 2008 presidential election. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
AAA Idaho is praising teens who came out to support a ban on texting while driving during this year’s legislative session, even though the bill was killed in a procedural move in the House on the final night of the legislative session, amid a tussle between the House and Senate. “I was most impressed that these teens cut through the clutter and made a clear case for passing a law without getting caught up in the politics of the moment,” said Dave Carlson, director of public and government affairs for AAA Idaho. “They weren’t looking for a perfect law, just a good starting point to start addressing this dangerous driver distraction.” The auto club said it hopes supporters will be back next year to “finish the job,” and noted that Wyoming has become the 20th state to enact such a ban. You can read the AAA’s full statement here.
The Idaho AARP has released its list of “winners and losers” of this year’s legislative session. Among the winners: State retirees, grandparents, older drivers and older voters. Among the losers: Those with living wills or advance directives, Medicaid recipients and Idahoans struggling with health care costs. You can read their full list here, along with their reasoning.
Democratic leaders Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, and Sen. Kate Kelly, D-Boise, called this year’s legislative session a “difficult” one, and said its impact will be felt for years. “Cuts will mean less law enforcement officers on duty, more students in classrooms, less help for Idahoans in need of food or medical services, higher fees for students at our colleges and universities, and neglected maintenance work on our roads, our parks and our schools,” Kelly said.
Rusche said he thought the three worst developments of the session were the health care “conscience” bill, which allows any licensed health care provider to refuse, on conscience grounds, to provide a treatment or medication related to abortion, emergency contraception, end-of-life care or stem-cell research; the “posturing about health care reform” when Rusche, a pediatrician, maintains Idaho has huge health care needs; and the public school budget, which included historic cuts.
The Democrats pushed an “IJOBS” package of jobs bills, but none became law. “We listened to what our constituents were telling us back in our districts and came to Boise ready to focus on jobs and the economy during the 2010 legislative session,” Rusche said. But he and Kelly said the focus of the session instead turned to sending messages to the federal government to keep out of Idaho’s business. “It is a disappointment that were weren’t able to move that forward,” Kelly said. “Really, it’s a question of priority.”
Here are some more of Gov. Butch Otter’s reactions to the just-concluded legislative session:
TOP PAY: The governor praised a pay bill for the state’s top elected officials put together by House Speaker Lawerence Denney and Senate President Pro-Tem Bob Geddes, which cuts pay next year, restores it the following year, then grants raises the next two years. “I think the Legislature did the right thing,” Otter said. “They cut back on all of the officials, and then allowed for hopefully within the growth of the economy increases the third and fourth years out.” Otter said he’s donated any raises he’s received since 2007; he liked the idea of allowing officials to reject raises - now forbidden - but acknowledged that that didn’t get done.
TEXTING: “I do recognize that there is a problem. Frankly, I don’t text, I don’t write messages on a Blackberry … but I see a lot of people who do. There is some concern there, and I think that’ll probably be something that we’ll be taking up in the future.”
LEGISLATIVE STRESS: “It was a session that had a lot of heavy lifting in it, had a lot of angst in it, had a lot of tough decisions, and probably one of the most stressful sessions that I’ve ever seen. … But this Legislature responded to that, and I’m very proud of ‘em.”
Gov. Butch Otter this morning applauded the just-concluded legislative session, particularly lauding lawmakers for not raising taxes. The governor praised lawmakers’ “efficiency, sensitivity and civic virtue,” and said they stuck to five principles he outlined: 1) Don’t raise taxes. 2)Maintain some cash reserve. 3) Protect education. 4) Protect health and safety. 5) Avoid duplication or waste of taxpayer money. “I think we have reaffirmed Idaho’s values in terms of living within the taxpayers’ means,” Otter said. “As far as I’m concerned we had a great session.”
Joined by a group of GOP lawmakers, he said, “There isn’t a person up here that wouldn’t have liked to have more money for education, but getting that money means raising taxes. I don’t think it’s a smart thing to do.”
It was Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, who objected to House Majority Leader Mike Moyle’s unanimous-consent request to use a previous roll-call to suspend rules and allow the immediate consideration of the amended texting-while-driving bill, which then led to the bill being killed in the final moments of this year’s legislative session. “Yes, that was me,” Labrador said. “I think we had made our position clear, and I just thought that was the right thing to do,” even though it leaves Idaho with no texting-while-driving bill passing this year. “I think we have a law on inattentive driving, and texting while driving is inattentive driving, which is already a crime in the state of Idaho,” said Labrador, an attorney and a candidate for Congress.
Senate Transportation Chairman John McGee, R-Caldwell, said it was “too bad” that the House killed the bill. First, the Senate passed McGee’s bill. Then, the House, after a hearing in which committee members backed an amendment to make a first offense an infraction rather than a misdemeanor, introduced a new version of the bill making texting while driving just an infraction, whether on first or subsequent offenses. The Senate then amended that to keep it an infraction unless the offense involved an accident causing property damage or injury, in which case the offense would become a misdemeanor. Senators called that “middle ground.” But Labrador said it was unacceptable.
Unlike any other bill this session, the texting measure drew support from young people across the state, who signed petitions and turned out en masse for hours-long hearings, supporting the bill. “I couldn’t be more proud of the young people of this state by the hundreds who got engaged on this issue,” McGee said. “When you look at the big picture, more legislators voted in favor of the concept this year than against. … The Legislature is 105 people with 105 opinions, and I think the good news is that most people, most legislators saw the value. I was disappointed that the House killed the texting bill.”
The House has adjourned sine die, without passing anything to ban texting while driving, an issue that drew teens from around the state to testify to lawmakers this year and send petitions pleading for such a ban. The House refused to go along with Senate amendments to a last-minute House bill that replaced the earlier Senate bill. The House’s adjournment sine die came at 9:18 p.m. Mountain time.
The House has failed to get a two-thirds vote to suspend its rules to take up the amended texting-while-driving bill; the vote was 37-30. That’s not two-thirds. So now the House is moving to adjourn sine die - without passing anything to ban texting while driving.
The Senate has voted to adjourn sine die, “in honor of our retiring mninority leaders, Sen. Kate Kelly and Sen. Clint Stennett, and their service.” That’s at 8:55 p.m. Mountain time.
When so many bills pass in one day
After long weeks held progress at bay
For right or for wrong
All that plodding along
What was the reason to stay?
It was darn close - and the vote teetered both ways before finally settling down - but the final tally was 37-31, so the House has voted to concur in the Senate amendments to HB 729, the texting-while-driving bill. The measure still needs a vote for final passage in the House.
Senators are saying their goodbyes and applauding, while House members are hotly debating whether to concur in the Senate amendments to the House-passed texting-while-driving bill. Several are urging non-concurrence - which would mean Idaho wouldn’t pass a texting-while-driving ban this year, though dozens of teens came to the Capitol and testified at long hearings and many more sent petitions pleading for such a ban.
The House has received the delegation from the Senate with word that the Senate has completed its business for this year’s legislative session and plans to adjourn sine die; House Speaker Lawerence Denney responded that the House expects to send a similar message back to the Senate in about “20 to 25 minutes.”
The Senate has reached the end of its business, and sent committees to notify the governor and the House that it’s prepared to adjourn sine die, or “without a day,” the latin phrase used to signify the end of the legislative session.
The Senate has voted 30-4 in favor of HB 729a, the House-passed version of the texting-while-driving ban, as amended in the Senate. “What we’ve done is a middle-of-the-road approach,” said Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, the Senate transportation chairman. The bill still needs House concurrence in the Senate amendments. Meanwhile, HB 699, a measure requiring school districts to post their expenditures on the Internet, was killed 18-16 in the Senate, but then Sen. Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, moved to reconsider and changed his vote from “no” to “yes.” Hill said the bill wasn’t an important one to him, but it was to others - including House members. The Senate then voted 19-15 to reconsider HB 699, and debated it again. Hill then debated in favor of it - though he’d debated against it previously.
This time, the vote came in at a 17-17 tie - and Lt. Gov. Brad Little voted yes to pass the bill.
The House is going at ease for an hour. House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, told the House just now, there there’s “one bill here, a couple at the desk, a couple coming from the other side” and then they’ll be done. “So our intention is to finish today,” he said. The House has ordered pizza; it’ll go at ease for an hour so the Senate can pass and send over the remaining bills, then come back and finish up.
The Senate is back on the floor, and taking up the bills it just amended, including HB 589a, the Idaho Firearms Freedom Act. At this point, the Senate has just 10 bills left to deal with - before it adjourns sine die.
The Senate has finished its amending order, leaving three bills unamended: SB 1348 and SB 1350 on bicycles, and SB 1271, Sen. John McGee’s immigration bill on false documents. Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis asked unanimous consent to refer those three bills to the State Affairs Committee; it was done, and they’re now dead. Among the bills amended: The House’s new version of the texting-while-driving bill. The Senate has gone at ease until 5:30 (Mountain time), to prepare another suspension calendar, permitting the suspension of rules to quickly pass legislation.
The House has voted 43-26 in favor of SJM 106, the non-binding memorial calling for amending the U.S. Constitution to ban health care mandates. It was a surprisingly divided vote for a measure pushed by Gov. Butch Otter in the heavily GOP Legislature. The memorial already had passed the Senate, so that was final passage.
A number of House Republicans are joining Democrats in debating against SJM 106, the measure calling for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to ban health care mandates. “I don’t take amending the Constitution lightly,” said Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle. “I will not stand still or silent when we’re trying to change the Constitution in a way that I don’t think is consistent with our founding fathers. … The United States Constitution … is a beautiful document that in just a few words tells us what the federal government can do. It limits the power of the federal government. … There is nothing in there that tells us what the federal government can’t do. … I think we should fight this in the federal courts, I think we should fight this in Congress … but I think it’s a grave mistake to try to fight this in the Constitution in this way.”
Said Rep. Lenore Barrett, R-Challis, “As usual, it’s midnight in the garden of good and evil and we should be going home before we do any more damage. … It’s time to go home and do something practical, like live.”
The Senate is in its 14th Order for amendments, and has amended HB 589, the “Idaho Firearms Freedom Act,” and HB 614, a bill regarding administrative rules. They’re now considering amendments to HB 681, a measure regarding the medically indigent.
The House is now debating SJM 106, Gov. Butch Otter’s proposal for a non-binding resolution calling on Congress to amend the U.S. Constitution to ban health-care mandates. Among those debating against the measure: Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, who said, “I think we already have the tools that we need” to win a lawsuit against federal health-care reform. House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, called the measure “unwise,” and said, “Even though I’m a minority leader, I really don’t appreciate futility.” The measure, he said, asks Congress to vote by a two-thirds margin for the exact opposite of what it just approved eight days ago - health care reform. Said Rusche, “It always feels good to rail against the federal government, especially at campaign time.”
The House is back in session, and House Speaker Lawerence Denney announced that HB 730 will be held at the desk. That’s the bill introduced this morning in the House Education Committee to require changes in the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee budget process, from requiring public testimony to banning intent language that suspends existing state laws. If the bill remains held at the desk, it’s dead for the session.
Gov. Butch Otter has allowed SB 1353 - the health care “conscience” bill - to become law without his signature. In a statement explaining why, he wrote, “Forcing healthcare professionals to provide services they find morally objectionable is unacceptable; however, negatively impacting patients’ rights - especially when it comes to end-of-life decisions - is equally problematic. While I am comforted that SB 1353 provides for emergency care in life-threatening situations regardless of a provider’s moral objection until another healthcare provider is found, we know this will be a small percentage of cases. Greater care must be taken to ensure decisions within living wills and powers of attorney concerning end-of-life treatment are honored without additional burdens on the patient or family.”
Otter said despite his misgivings, he was willing to allow the bill to become law, but cautioned that if it becomes problematic, lawmakers should look at amending it. The bill, written by the anti-abortion group “Idaho Chooses Life,” allows any licensed health care provider to refuse, on conscience grounds, to provide any treatment or medication related to abortion, emergency contraception, end-of-life care or stem-cell research. You can read Otter’s full statement here.
A near-party line vote in the House State Affairs Committee has approved SJM 106, Gov. Butch Otter’s proposal for a non-binding resolution calling on Congress to amend the U.S. Constitution to ban health-care mandates. David Hensley, the governor’s legal counsel, said the governor has received more than 100 phone calls and e-mails from Idahoans who don’t have health insurance and want it, but the governor’s preference is to work with the Legislature to address the issue, rather than go along with a federal mandate. Hensley told the committee that as many as 31 states are looking at similar measures.
The committee defeated a motion to hold the bill in committee, then voted largely along party lines, with Rep. Mary Lou Shepherd, D-Prichard, joining the Republicans, to send the measure to the full House with a recommendation that it pass. Hensley said afterward that the governor wants the measure, in addition to the state’s lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of any mandate that Idaho residents and businesses purchase health insurance, as “parallel tracks.” He said, “We don’t know how long the lawsuit will take or what will be the outcome. This is simply a parallel course. This allows the governor and the Legislature to express their preference and let Congress know exactly where we stand on the issue.” It is, he said, an attempt to “cover all of our bases.”
“Nevertheless, the GARVEE bill passed”
The evils of going in debt
Have many House members upset
We’re already in
for $681 million
But $12 million more on the bet?
The Senate has voted 21-13 in favor of HB 692a, the bill to raise salaries for Idaho’s top elected officials three and four years out, after first cutting them 4 percent next year and then restoring them to this year’s level in 2012. “It is quite modest,” Senate President Pro-Tem Bob Geddes told the Senate. “We only have a chance to adjust this on a four-year basis prior to the general election.” Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly, D-Boise, and Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, spoke out against the bill. Said Stennett, “Given what we’ve done in cutting budgets and what we have tried to do to make ourselves fiscally responsible, people are struggling. It’s really a difficult time to explain to them why there’s an increase in salaries. … I just think it sends a bad message.”
The bill already had passed the House; it now heads to Gov. Butch Otter’s desk.
Here’s an oddity: Gov. Butch Otter apparently signed a slew of bills into law on Thursday, but didn’t bother to tell anyone about it. Among the bills he signed: SB 1286, the measure declaring raccoons to be “predatory wildlife”; HB 561, allowing docks to be replaced without a permit in certain circumstances; and HB 533, the bill to raise invasive species sticker fees for non-motorized boats in Idaho from $5 to $7, and for out-of-state motorized boats from $20 to $22. Otter has held only one public bill-signing the entire legislative session, for HB 391a, the “Idaho Health Freedom Act.” Even more oddly, he’s got one more scheduled this week, tomorrow, for SB 1371, a bill revising rules for the licensing of bail agents - but according to the Legislature’s Web site, Otter actually signed that bill into law on Thursday along with the others.
The Senate Transportation Committee has voted to amend the new House-passed anti-texting-while-driving bill, HB 729, and now it’s headed to the Senate’s 14th Order for amendment. “The bill that this committee passed out unanimously I think was a much better piece of legislation,” said Senate Transportation Chairman John McGee, R-Caldwell. But, he said, loosely quoting the Rolling Stones, “You don’t always get what you want. … Sometimes you have to meet ‘em halfway.” He proposed a motion to - like the House bill already does - make a first offense a $50 infraction, and subsequent offenses a $100 infraction - but only if there’s no property damage or injury. If there’s property damage or injury, texting while driving would be a misdemeanor carrying a penalty of up to $500 in fines and/or up to 90 days in jail.
McGee said he and Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, who’s been working on the bill for two years, jointly proposed the amendment. It was endorsed by Mike Kane, lobbyist for the Idaho Sheriff’s Association and the Property and Casualty Insurance Association of America. Kane called it “a middle ground.”
“Idaho legislators show feds who’s boss”
We’re so darn fed up with the feds
We’ll hit them right over their heads
With bills and with votes
Memorials and quotes
Hey voters, does that give us cred?
The Senate has voted in favor of another measure calling for amending the U.S. Constitution, again on a divided voice vote. This one, SJM 106, was just introduced on Friday morning at the behest of Gov. Butch Otter; it calls for a 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to ban Congress from requiring people to purchase health insurance. Again, there was strong debate on both sides. Said sponsor Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, “This is just one small way for us to say enough, enough federal government.” The non-binding memorial now moves to the House, which has gone to lunch.
Rep. Jim Clark, R-Hayden Lake, who is retiring after this year’s session after serving seven terms, was honored in the House today with a giant gavel, in honor of how he treated those he chose to gavel as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. After some good-natured ribbing, Clark told the House, “I’ve absolutely enjoyed it - thanks,” and the House gave him a round of applause.
The House has voted 44-24 in favor of SB 1427, the $12 million GARVEE bonding measure for next year, after at least an hour’s debate. “We all have to be concerned about debt, but we all have to be concerned about opportunity that’s right before us,” said Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, the bill’s House sponsor. He noted that GARVEE bond debt service is now just 17 percent of the federal highway allocations Idaho is receiving; the bonds are a provision that allow states to borrow against their future federal highway allocations. “While yes we have to be concerned with debt, we need to be concerned with highways,” Henderson told the House, “because frankly, highways are one of the key elements of our economic system in the state of Idaho. … To stutter now, to stop, I believe would not be appropriate.” The bill now goes to Gov. Butch Otter.
Meanwhile, the House is locked in an extended debate over the GARVEE bonding proposal for next year, which calls for bonding for just $12 million. That’s SB 1427; it’s already passed the Senate. Among those debating against it are House Transportation Chairwoman JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, who told the House, “Say no more debt, no more - let’s finish what we got.” Rep. Leon Smith, R-Twin Falls, said we’re becoming “addicted to debt.”
After extended debate, the Senate has backed HCR 64 in a divided voice vote, approving a House-passed measure backed by Gov. Butch Otter calling for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to broaden the 10th Amendment on states’ rights and narrow the Commerce Clause. Sen. Curtis McKenzie, R-Nampa, said it would “return to that balance of power between the states and the federal government.” House Minority Leader Kate Kelly, D-Boise, said, “This is the 14th bill, resolution, memorial that we’ve had this year telling the federal government that we want sovereignty, we want them out of out of our business.” Kelly said the measures at best do nothing, and at worst “set us up for lawsuits.” She asked, “How many jobs does this resolution create? How many Idahoans does it help?”
Senate Republicans including Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, spoke out in favor of the measure. He contended that “how much money we send to Washington, D.C.” … “is hurting our opportunity to grow jobs here,” and said, “We are a union of 50 states. … They overreach far beyond that, and it does not serve our best interest, and it does cost us a lot of money.” Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, said, “Folks, we have an amazing system. We don’t have to go to revolution to take back our rights. This is a constitutional step that we’re taking because our constitution allows us to amend it. … This is a long-term fix that allows us to economically move.”
The Senate Transportation Committee will meet at 1 p.m., presumably to hear HB 729, the new House version of the texting-while-driving ban, which was both introduced and passed the House on Friday.
The House has voted 48-20 in favor of SB 1419, the higher education budget, which includes a 14.1 percent cut in state general funds and a 7.8 percent cut overall. The bill, which already has passed the Senate, now goes to Gov. Butch Otter. There was quite a bit of debate both for and against the budget. “I think we’re going down the wrong road here by inadequately supporting higher education,” said Rep. Tom Trail, R-Mosow. Countered Rep. Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, “I think this is a good budget, knowing the economic circumstances we’re facing.” Said Rep. Elaine Smith, D-Pocatello, “The universities can’t afford this - we need to help them more.” Said Rep. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls, “We’re going through some tough times right now. What we’re doing is being fiscally responsible.”
The Senate hasn’t gone on the floor yet; Senate President Pro-Tem Bob Geddes and Lt. Gov. Brad Little said they’re just getting the calendar in order for the day. “We’re waiting as fast as we can,” Geddes said. “We’re going to do that most of today.”
The House has convened and passed the first two bills on its 3rd Reading calendar, HB 545a on habitual truancy, and HB 493a, the education “mastery” bill as amended in the Senate. Now they’re debating the higher ed budget, SB 1419. Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, told the House she sees the furloughs and pay cuts that university employees would have to take under the bill as a form of tax increase - and says it should have been spread more broadly. Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, said, “I think this budget will have negative ripple effects through the economy.”
Legislation to cut Idaho’s corporate and individual income tax rates by more than a third over the next 10 years is up for an “informational” hearing this morning in the House Revenue & Taxation Committee, though it won’t advance this year. Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, told the committee that Idaho’s taxes are too high, and are higher even than Japan’s, and said that’s why the state currently has such high unemployment. Hagedorn is sponsoring the tax-cutting bill, HB 707, with House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star; they also have a list of 29 cosponsors, all Republican lawmakers, including three from the Senate and 26 from the House. Rep. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls, cited various rankings that show Idaho ranks poorly for a business-friendly tax environment - though the state Tax Commission’s latest national comparison shows that Idaho’s overall tax burden ranks 46th nationally, and 11th regionally out of 11 western states.
Interestingly, the bill’s backers are making an argument opposite to what Gov. Butch Otter made in his recent “love letter” to Washington and Oregon businesses, urging them to move to Idaho: That Idaho has low taxes and is business-friendly. At the end of the hearing, Chairman Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, asked for a motion to hold the bill in committee, and it passed on a voice vote.
The first motion in House Ed this morning, to introduce the new legislation to make changes in the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee’s budget-setting process and then hold a hearing on the measure, failed on an 8-8 tied vote. The original motion, from Rep. Branden Durst, D-Boise, to both introduce it and send it directly to the 2nd Reading Calendar in the full House, then passed on a divided voice vote.
The House Education Committee is debating new legislation proposed by Reps. Eric Anderson, Bob Nonini, Phil Hart and Shirley Ringo to require the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee to take both public testimony and comment from germane committee members before setting any budget. The bill also would add requirements for minutes-keeping at JFAC, and would ban JFAC from suspending any statute through intent language. “My intent is not to roadblock anything that’s happened this year,” Anderson, R-Priest Lake, told the House Education Committee. The bill has an emergency clause, but it wouldn’t affect this year’s budget actions, he said. Ironically, among the questions the Education Committee members are debating is whether to hold a hearing on the new bill; backers are calling for sending it directly to the full House for debate there.
“Yellowstone Bear World”
In these halls it’s thought of as sage
For lawmaking just to vent rage.
But some bills do more
With a lobbyist on board
You can pay less than minimum wage.
George Sayler taught government to high school students for 31 years, but when he arrived in the state Legislature eight years ago, he said, “I had a lot to learn.” He understood how the system worked. “But actually seeing it in effect – seeing the role of a committee chair to deny hearing a bill, or how personalities could affect the process, was a bit of a revelation,” the four-term Democrat from Coeur d’Alene said. “It made me more aware of the strategy that has to go on.”
Sayler is retiring after this year’s session, capping a legislative career in which he championed landmark day-care licensing legislation – often against opponents who said moms should just stay home with their kids – and took on issues ranging from grandparents’ rights to water rights, and property tax relief to absentee voting. “I tried to represent the district as a voice of reason,” he said, “to represent the broad diversity of interest in our district – not push a long agenda of my own.” But, he said, “Unfortunately, I learned that we often legislate based on emotion – not always on sound logical reasons.” You can read my full column here from Sunday’s Handle Extra.
In the closing days of the legislative session, even a simple bill regarding aquifer management funding that’s already passed one house unanimously can be a show-stopper. Click below to read AP reporter John Miller’s full report on the Comprehensive Aquifer Management Plan bill, which was amended Thursday night, then passed the House, with rules suspended, on Friday on a 62-2 vote; it still needs Senate concurrence in the House amendments.
Here’s a link to the 11th week of Idaho’s legislative session in pictures, as a slide show. Let your cursor hover over the bottom part of the picture frame, and the captions will appear as the slide show plays. On Idaho Public Television’s “Idaho Reports” this week, we talk about the week’s developments, from school funding to lawsuits to the Idaho Education Network. Guests joining host Thanh Tan include Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly, D-Boise; Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian; House Education Chairman Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene; and Rep. Branden Durst, D-Boise. I join commentators including Jim Weatherby, Kevin Richert and Brian Murphy on the program, which aired Friday at 8, is rebroadcast Sunday at 11 a.m. Mountain time/10 a.m. Pacific time, and can be viewed online here. The show also is broadcast on the radio at 3 p.m. on Saturday on KISU-FM, and 10 a.m. Sunday on KBSX 91.5 FM.
Dene Thomas, president of Lewis-Clark State College since 2001, is resigning effective July 1 to accept a new position as president of Ft. Lewis College in Durango, Colo. Prior to heading LCSC, Thomas was the Vice-Provost for Academic Affairs at the University of Idaho. She has also been a professor, department chair and dean. Click below to read full announcement from the State Board of Education.
The House has now adjourned until 10 a.m. on Monday. So ends the legislative session’s 75th day; when lawmakers return on Monday, it’ll be Day 78.
The Senate is adjourning for the day. “We have quite a bit of work ahead of us on Monday,” said Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls.
The Senate has voted 27-8 in favor of HB 701, the Medicaid budget for next year, which includes $22 million in cuts that, in turn, sacrifice tens of millions in federal matching funds. “This is an ugly budget - no one likes it, no one likes these cuts,” said Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, the bill’s sponsor. “But … we can’t spend money the state doesn’t have. … It’s still a $1.5 billion dollar budget.” Sen. Diane Bilyeu, D-Pocatello, told the Senate, “These are cuts in services to our most vulnerable, and I would urge you to vote no on this appropriation.” The budget bill already has passed the House, so now it heads to the governor’s desk. The same is true for HB 702, the budget for the Division of Public Health Services in the Department of Health & Welfare, which includes zeroing out the adult cystic fibrosis program. It passed 27-6.
The House has voted 51-16 in favor of HB 729, the new version of the texting-while-driving bill. The new bill, which makes first-time violations a $50 infraction and subsequent violations a $100 infraction, still needs Senate passage and the governor’s signature to become law.
In an hour-plus debate, several House members asked questions of sponsor Rep. Steve Kren, R-Nampa, about how the bill would work and what would happen in case of repeated violations. Kren said like any infraction, repeated violations could accumulate points that could lead to a license suspension.
Rep. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, spoke out against the bill. “There’s a lot of things that are inattentive driving,” he said, that he’s seen drivers do - from reading a newspaper to lighting a cigarette with both hands while driving with their knees. “Those are all just as bad.” Patrick said he thought texting while driving would be difficult to prove. “Just because they’ve got their phone in their hand doesn’t prove anything.” Patrick said he doesn’t text and drive, but said, “I also don’t read a book and drive, I don’t put on lipstick - well, I don’t any time.” Said Rep. Steve Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, “It seems to me that we’re passing a statute here that cannot be enforced.” He said he preferred the bill that the Senate sent the House earlier; that measure, SB 1352a, placed the texting-while-driving ban in the existing inattentive driving law.
Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, said the definition in the new bill leaves out many uses of handheld devices that are just as distracting as sending a text message. “This particular piece of legislation does not get you there,” he said. “I would ask that this thing go down.” Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, said the bill is flawed - and said the previous one was too - but asked that lawmakers pass it anyway. He said the publicity surrounding the bill and the issue will deter people from texting and driving - and save lives - if lawmakers pass the bill this year. “I don’t think we should walk away from a bill … when we can do that,” he said. Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, a retired state trooper, said, “The bottom line here is that we need to do something.”
Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, spoke against the bill, saying he didn’t like the fact that law enforcement and emergency responders would be exempt. “I might like it better if legislators performing their duties were exempt from this,” he told the House. Rep. Marge Chadderdon, R-Coeur d’Alene, said, “I can’t see where it’s going to change the fact that it’s still inattentive driving, no matter what you call it, so I can’t support this bill.” The new bill still needs Senate passage and the governor’s signature to become law.
Majority leaders on both sides have huddled, and as hard as they’ve been pushing, it’s not looking like they can complete this year’s legislative session today. That means lawmakers will be back at work on Monday. Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, just told the Senate, “We’re falling behind, and when this happens we can make mistakes. It’s too important that we do it right.” The Senate will go to lunch, return at 1:30, work until 3 p.m., and then adjourn until Monday.
In the House, Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, said, “We’ve run into a few hiccups, so it looks like we’re going to have to come back Monday.” Still, he said, the House will “keep pushing,” and will take up the texting-while-driving bill next.
After just a brief break for the Ways & Means Committee meeting, during which other House members milled around, the House went back on the floor and passed a couple more bills before going into its amending order, amending several bills including the CAMP bill, and then going back into its third reading calendar. The Senate, meanwhile, took a break to graduate its pages this morning, then went back into session. Just now, there was a “call of the Senate,” which compels all members to come to the chamber. It’s a fairly rare move, sometimes invoked when too many members have wandered off the floor, or when there’s anticipation of a particularly close vote. Now, the Senate is debating the appropriation for the Millenium Fund, including another $500,000 for the Idaho Meth Project; it passed on a 29-3 vote.
The House Ways & Means Committee just gathered for a hastily called meeting, and introduced a new version of the texting-while-driving bill that earlier passed the Senate and has been awaiting amendment in the House. The new version makes a first violation an infraction with a penalty of $50, and subsequent violations infractions with fines of $100. “It’s not an arrestable offense any more,” said Rep. Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly. The new version also adjusts a definition in a way Roberts said was intended to make clear that dialing a phone number doesn’t constitute texting. However, Rep. James Ruchti, D-Pocatello, said some of the new wording appeared to conflict. After debating various fixes from punctuation to grammar, the committee’s chair, Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, noted that judges in all 44 counties will be interpreting the wording if it becomes law. “If it’s not real clear, we’ll be back here fixing it,” he said.
Roberts then moved to introduce the new version as-is, and his motion carried on a party-line vote. Roberts said full hearings already have been held on the earlier bill, so no further hearings likely will be held on the new version.
The House has voted unanimously, 62-0, in favor of HB 727, the bill revising the oversight of the Idaho Education Network in response to concerns from legislators and others about the way the development of the $60 million statewide broadband network to link Idaho’s schools has been handled thus far. The state is embroiled in a lawsuit over the award of the contract for the network to Qwest Corp.; local Internet service providers came to the Legislature to protest that they’re being cut out of their existing business of serving local schools by the statewide contract. Among the changes in the bill: State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna would oversee the network rather than Department of Administration Director Mike Gwartney, though Gwartney still would have a role. The bill, which was introduced yesterday in the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, now moves to the Senate.
House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, has informed the House that in a few minutes, it’ll go to general orders, its amending order, with bills to be amended including the Comprehensive Aquifer Management Plan funding bill, SB 1407.
Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, told the Senate just now that while it appeared yesterday there was a chance the legislative session could wrap up today, “I don’t know how to call it right now - I’m hopeful, I’m not optimistic.” The Senate plans to work until 3 p.m. today, he said, matching plans in the House, and allowing North Idaho lawmakers to catch their flights home. “If it looks like it’s more doable at that time, we may come to you and ask your counsel,” Davis said.
Gov. Butch Otter is pitching another amendment to the United States Constitution. This morning, just after the Senate State Affairs had approved, on a voice vote, a call to amend the Constitution to broaden the 10th Amendment and narrow the Commerce Clause, Otter’s legal counsel, David Hensley, presented a new bill to the committee. This measure is a non-binding joint memorial that would “call for a change to the U.S. Constitution to prevent Congress from passing laws requiring citizens of the United States to participate in any health care program, or penalizing them for declining health care coverage.” Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, moved to introduce the memorial and send it directly to the full Senate; Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, seconded the motion, and it passed on a divided voice vote.
This was just after the committee had also, on a divided vote, endorsed HCR 64, a resolution from Rep. Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, calling for the other constitutional amendment - a move Otter also supports. Pearce also made the motion on that measure, declaring, “I think it’s a great idea.”
The Senate State Affairs Committee has voted along party lines to back HB 692a, the amended version of the pay bill for the state’s top elected officials for the next four years. Senate President Pro-Tem Bob Geddes, R-Soda Springs, said it provides “what I consider a very, very modest increase” for the officials in 2013 and 2014, after first cutting their salaries 4 percent next year, then restoring them to this year’s level the following year. Geddes said Idaho’s governor now ranks 39th among the states for his 2010 salary. Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly, D-Boise, responded, “I think analogies with other states are irrelevant to this question. Last time I checked, we’re not competing for governors with other states, it’s not an interstate market. To me, it’s irrelevant what other states pay their constitutional officers.”
Plus, Kelly said her interpretation of the Idaho Constitution’s requirement that lawmakers not change top officials’ pay during their terms in office is that a salary should be set, and then stay the same. Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane confirmed that’s what’s historically happened. Said Kelly, “When people sign up to be candidates, they know what they’re getting into, and to have them expect a pay raise while they’re in office doesn’t seem appropriate to me, particularly in these economic times.” The increases in the bill are significant, she noted, for example taking the part-time lieutenant governor’s pay from $30,500 to $35,700 over the next four years, a 17 percent increase. “To say that’s a small number and inconsequential I think is not appropriate,” Kelly said. “We are talking about a lot of money here, we are talking about a good living with the salaries that are in place now or even with the 4 percent decrease that’s being proposed for fiscal year 2011. I just don’t think, given the budget bills that we’ve passed in the last few days, that this proposal is justified.”
Under the bill, the governor’s salary would rise from $115,348 now to $119,000 in 2014, a 3 percent increase. Former state Sen. Sue Reents testified against the bill, as did Jason Hancock on behalf of state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna. Hancock said Luna opposes any pay bill that doesn’t permit a constitutional officer to reject a raise; the lack of any such option has left officials like Luna having to accept raises - even if they donate them to charity - while other state workers are being furloughed or laid off.
Sen. Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston, said allowing that merely sets up “a contest on who can be the purest, and rich constitutional officers can afford to do that and take the political bow, and they put an awful lot of political pressure on people that actually need the money to support them and send kids to college. That concept has been considered and I think uniformly rejected up to this point.” The pay bill now moves to the full Senate.
The House is back on the floor this morning, and as the business opened, House Majority Leader Mike Moyle apologized that things will be “hectic” today. “We’re gonna do everything we can to try to get done today,” he said. With that, the House began suspending its rules to take up the budget bills on its 2nd Reading Calendar, including several Health & Welfare budget bills. Meanwhile, several Senate committees are meeting, including Health & Welfare, which is debating concussion education legislation, and State Affairs, which just passed HB 631a, regarding gun rights for the mentally ill, and took up the pay bill for top state elected officials.
By the time the Idaho Senate adjourned for the day at 7 tonight, it had passed more than 60 bills and resolutions since convening this morning. Senators first went on the floor at 10 a.m. “I still had more work I could suspend on and keep going,” said Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls. But, he said, “People become exhausted, and I want them to read and understand the legislation, and I want them to feel free to debate and ask questions. I’m still pushing for possible adjournment tomorrow, but the stars would have to really align more significantly than I currently think they are aligned.”
Davis said what he’s hearing from senators is that “they would like to wrap up the work and go home.”
After JFAC this morning adopted a “contingency plan” to allow Gov. Butch Otter to tap reserve funds and building project funds if state revenues continue to slide after lawmakers leave town this year, Otter’s budget director, Wayne Hammon, told reporters, “We’re confident that the language that was approved gives the governor the tools necessary to complete his constitutional mandate to balance the budget.” He declined to speculate on whether a special session would be needed if that happened. “In his weekly meetings with minority and majority leadership, they’ve talked about a lot of scenarios,” Hammon said.
Among the possibilities: Mike Ferguson, the governor’s chief economist, could be right that the state’s hit the bottom of the recession, and state tax revenues could stop their slide. The state still has a $23 million cushion, at this point, between the $46.1 million in shortfalls that have occurred to date and the adjusted budget for the current year. Click below to read a report from Associated Press reporter John Miller on Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron’s thoughts on a possible special session after this year’s session ends. Today is the 74th day of this year’s legislative session.
Here’s a news item from the Idaho Falls Post Register, via the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — An eastern Idaho bear and wildlife zoo wants to pay its workers less than federal minimum wage this summer, so it’s asking the Legislature for help. Yellowstone Bear World, located in Rexburg, says it can’t stay afloat amid the economic downturn if it must pay its 35- to 40-member staff of mostly high school students the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. So the Idaho Falls Post Register reports it’s asking lawmakers to allow it to cut its workers’ minimum to $6.50 an hour. Admission at Yellowstone Bear World is $16.95 for adult tickets — or $75 for a carload of up to seven visitors. Over objections from Democrats, the Senate passed the bill in February. But it’s being modified in the House, after Department of Labor Director Roger Madsen raised concerns the first version could affect up to 20,000 workers.
There was a brief flurry of hope today that the legislative session actually would end tomorrow - Senate Republicans emerged from a caucus saying they thought they could get it done, and since then have been hard at work on the floor, passing dozens of bills. But now, both sides are acknowledging it’s unlikely, especially after the House took a break for a Resources Committee meeting only to wait around for hours, then adjourn for the night, while amendments are crafted for an aquifer management funding bill. Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, told the Senate, “The wheels have kind of fallen off in a couple of areas.”
House Speaker Lawerence Denney said, “I think we still have, as I count ‘em, 40-some bills to do, and some of those, about 20 of ‘em, have not been printed yet, they’re budget bills.” The House is scheduled to start at 8:30 tomorrow morning, and Denney said, “I think we’re going to probably go until 3 tomorrow.” That way, he said, people from North Idaho can catch their flights home. He estimated a “probably 50-50 chance” that the session’s work would all be done by then. “Forty bills is a lot to do in that amount of time, and I expect that there will be debate on some of them,” he said. “We’re probably looking at Monday.”
House Democrats all were wearing black ribbons on their lapels for the school budget debate just now. Asked why, Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said, “We’re sad.”
The House has voted 50-19 in favor of SB 1418, the public school budget bill, sending the Senate-passed measure to the governor’s desk. The bill, which includes historic cuts, spends half the state’s budget in a single piece of legislation. Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com.
House Education Chairman Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, debated in favor of the school budget. “It’s been the economy that has gotten us to this point - the economy is the enemy,” he told the House.
The tone has been mostly glum as the House debates the public school budget bill, SB 1418. Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene, a retired high school teacher, said, “This is a budget that is all about choices. … We are not forced into this course of action. It is a course of our own choosing if we choose to take it.” Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, said, “We weren’t sent here to make easy votes. … This is one of the difficult votes that we must make.” Said Rep. Donna Boe, D-Pocatello, “I don’t think that we are supplying the resources that our students are going to need as they face their future.” Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, said, “I do believe this budget is probably the best we can do.” Here, Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, debates against the bill.
The House has begun its debate on SB 1418, the public schools budget for next year - the single largest slice of Idaho’s state budget pie. It includes historic cuts.Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, co-chair of the Legislature’s joint budget committee, told the House, “I’ve never been in such quicksand as I’ve been this year.” Federal stimulus money bailed out the school budget in 2010, she said. “I can tell you … that’s not a good way to budget, because that one-time money comes out.” Now, she said, “There is no backfill left,” and big cuts are proposed for schools - the equivalent of an 8.4 percent cut in state general funds, and 7.5 percent less overall for a total of $128.5 million in cuts to schools for next year.
The budget proposes cuts in teacher and administrator salaries, and shifts money from various line items - from transportation to field trips to gifted and talented education - to discretionary funds for school districts. That way, districts can decide where to make cuts at the local level. “We will do better when we can,” Bell said. “It is not our intent to hurt anybody. … I hope I don’t ever have to do this again.”
Click below to read AP reporter John Miller’s full report on today’s funding decision on the Idaho Education Network; he reports, “This agreement helps clear the way for adjournment of the 2010 session, possibly by early next week.” In the AP story, Jason Kreizenbeck, Gov. Butch Otter’s chief of staff, said the governor backs moves to revamp the network’s oversight, including removing administrative oversight from Otter ally Mike Gwartney, head of his Department of Administration. In such a vast and rural state as Idaho, Kreizenbeck said, linking schools to expanded educational opportunities over a broadband Internet pipeline is too critical to allow political, legal and personal bickering to allow to unravel. “The important thing is, the Idaho Education Network moves forward,” he told the AP.
The amended bill setting salaries for the state’s top elected officials for the next four years, HB 692a, has passed the House on a close 37-30 vote, and now moves to the Senate. The bill would cut the officials’ pay by 4 percent next year, then return it to its current level in 2012; then give raises each of the next two years, though they’d be smaller than the bill originally proposed before it was amended. By the end of the four-year period, the governor’s salary would rise from the current $115,348 to $119,000, an increase of 3 percent. Rep. Steve Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, debated against the bill, saying the salaries should be frozen for the next four years. “I think this sends the wrong message,” he said. “Given these economic conditions, I think these are adequate salaries.” House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, who sponsored the pay bill, said, “I think that’s a very, very modest increase.”
The Senate has voted 29-5 in favor of HB 630, legislation to expand the current tax credit for donations to Idaho Public Television, schools and libraries. The measure, backed by Gov. Butch Otter, would increase the exemption for five years and also add additional state agencies facing big budget cuts to the list, to encourage private donations. It now moves to the governor’s desk. It doesn’t take effect, however, until next year.
Rep. Branden Durst, D-Boise, contends that the public school budget now moving through the Legislature - and likely to come up for debate in the full House today - violates legislative rules because its fiscal note doesn’t reflect the impact on local school districts that may seek property tax overrides to make up for the bill’s cuts, so he made a motion in the House to amend it. Durst told the House the bill “will raise property tax at the local level … as a result, the fiscal note is incorrect.” Rep. James Ruchti, D-Pocatello, backed Durst’s motion, saying, “Our local school districts are still going to have to find a way to function. The fiscal note does not show what the impact will be for local property taxpayers, so it should be amended.”
House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, said he reads the rule differently, and said the fiscal note should be amended when the bill is in committee - not in the full House. He called Durst’s motion “a waste of time.” House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, disagreed, and noted that the fiscal note on a budget bill isn’t even written until after the committee has acted. JFAC Co-Chair Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, said, “This budget’s totally about choices, and that’s why the flexibility was given to the local boards. They will have to make choices with less funding. It does not say they have to go to the voters for additional money. … Stick with the committee, give your support and your trust and your faith in those local school boards to do the best they can in this situation.” Rep. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, told the House, “We can’t second-guess what the patrons will do from district to district.”
Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, said, “Sure it’s a local decision.” But, she said, “We don’t want to put them in a position of choosing to have a substandard education for their children rather than having to ask their patrons for some kind of extra support.” House Education Chairman Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, said the Wallace school district passed a supplemental levy last week, because voters there wanted to help out their local schools even despite high unemployment and difficult economic times. “In light of the budget crisis we have down here, I think the fiscal note is fine,” Nonini said. The motion failed on a 17-52 vote, largely, though not entirely, along party lines.
Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, tried a last-minute motion to take $35,150,000 from $71 million in Millenium Funds now being held in case federal Medicaid match rates drop - which now appears unlikely - and, if they’re not needed for Medicaid, route them into several holes JFAC left in budgets this year: $150,000 to restore funding for the adult cystic fibrosis program, $20 million to restore Medicaid cuts and recapture $90 million in federal matching funds, and $5 million each to make up budget cuts for the Department of Correction and substance abuse treatment. JFAC Co-Chair Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, told LeFavour she was out of order. “That’s not on the agenda, so i would have to rule it out of order,” she told LeFavour, “but I don’t rule out of order your caring and your fervor.” Bell said, “The budgets are set, none of us like them very much. I will tell you one thing, the person that pays the bill, the taxpayer out there, we have kept him in our hearts, too, as we’ve gone thru this exercise.”
JFAC has adopted the “intent language” section for the Department of Administration budget that extends the waiting period for health coverage for new state employees from 30 days to 90 days. Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said, “Given the circumstances of this budget year, we felt like for this next fiscal year that it ought to be at the 90 days,” which he said is standard in the private sector. Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, said she was concerned about the proposal but liked the other provision in the section requiring that the state not cut benefits for state workers next year just to build up more reserves. “That has happened” in the past, she said. While she doesn’t like the new 90-day rule, LeFavour said, “I’m certainly glad to see that it’s for one year only - and I hope that we won’t have to continue this practice.”
The budget for the state Department of Administration - including IEN funding - has passed JFAC on an 18-2 vote, with just Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, and Rep. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls, voting no. In the end, Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, who had expressed grave concerns over moving forward given questions over how the contract for the statewide broadband network was handled, voted in favor.
As part of its consideration of funding for the next stage of the Idaho Education Network, JFAC is looking at introducing a bill this morning - which then would be referred to a germane committee - to change the oversight of the project from the state Department of Administration to the state Superintendent of Public Schools, though Admin still would be involved. “We ought to have stronger accountability and transparency here,” said Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum. “We want a more transparent process with regard to who gets that last mile,” including the use of local providers who already, in some cases, provide broadband service to schools and employ people in the community. “We want them to be involved,” Jaquet said.
Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, said she has a “concern that things that have been put into motion perhaps improperly will just continue in motion” if JFAC approves the full $3 million in spending authority for the next stage of the Idaho Education Network. Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, said, “I think that the state in any manner trying to turn down private funds going to a project like this would not be appropriate. … Certainly if this were general tax dollars, I may well have a very different opinion about what’s going on here. … These are private dollars.” Wood said the Legislature can’t do much about the pending lawsuit over the contract award for the IEN.
Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, has made the motion for the Department of Administration’s budget for next year, for a $6.9 million in state general funds and $60 million in total funds. It includes spending authority for the $3 million in Albertson Foundation donations for the next stage of the Idaho Education Network, a statewide broadband network linking Idaho schools. “There has been a great deal of discussion regarding this budget,” Ringo said. She noted that many lawmakers are concerned about local Internet service providers and their lack of a role in the project. However, she said, “We do appreciate the support that we have from the Albertson Foundation.”
JFAC has now voted unanimously to adopt a fiscal year 2010 year-end contingency plan, offering tools to Gov. Butch Otter if state revenues continue to slide this year. The budget was set on the estimate that revenues this year would fall 7.5 percent below last year’s level, but legislative budget director Cathy Holland-Smith noted that they’re now running 9.5 percent below. If that keeps up, the governor would either have to find more money to balance this year’s budget by June 30, or call a special session of the Legislature.
The plan allows the governor, if necessary, tap into the budget stabilization fund, the economic recovery reserve fund and unspent project money in the Permanent Building Fund to balance this year’s budget, a total cushion of about $107 million. The option to tap the building fund is a new one. The money from the reserve funds is already committed in the fiscal year 2011 budget - so if it’s tapped, other steps would have to be taken to balance next year’s budget. “We certainly hope that the gentleman on the 2nd floor will not have to take the actions that have been outlined,” said Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert. “Obviously if he does, that’s because the economy has deteriorated further than even what we have projected, but this is a contingency plan to give him the tools necessary to act in case April numbers and early June numbers don’t meet with expectation. Obviously this is not without some risk.” If the reserve funds are tapped, Cameron said, “It will require some actions for 2011, and I know the cochair and I and others will certlainly stand with him and be ready to help him if and when those decisions need to be made and those actions need to be taken.”
Said Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, “We’ll all hope that the economy strengthens and the revenues come in in April, and this gathers dust someplace.”
Also in the budget proposal for the Department of Administration that JFAC will vote on this morning are directions to the department on state employee health insurance plans, including specifying that benefits won’t be cut or costs to employees increased as a result of the plan that was built into every state budget this year to draw down reserves as a money-saving move. There’s another change, too: The current 30-day waiting period for state employees to get health coverage would rise to 90 days. Both Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, and Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, said that’s the standard in the private sector. That’s expected to save the state about $5 million next year.
For the state Department of Administration, legislative budget analyst Joe Austin went over a budget proposal developed by Sens. Cameron and Mortimer and Reps. Bell, Ringo and Jaquet that calls for a general-fund cut of 7.6 percent, and an overall reduction of 0.7 percent. It includes $3 million in spending authority for the Idaho Education Network, but Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said, “I need to let the committee members know where I’m at, and this has been a very very touchy subject. I probably will not vote for additional funding for the Idaho Education Network. That’s up to you what you do, I’m not trying to persuade you one way or the other. … I’m still very uncomfortable, however.”
He said he and JFAC Co-Chair Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, have “tried our best to work carefully with the governor’s office” to come up with proposals that include lots of legislative oversight of the project. But Cameron said, “That’s where I’m at.” He said, “I support the project, I think it has the potential of being a wonderful program for schools and for kids, I really do.” But, he said, “I have fairly strong feelings about how it was handled. … I have to do what I think is right for me and my constituents.”
Said Bell, “We have to have this budget to go home. We can give a budget that the governor vetoes and then we’re called right back. … We don’t have the luxury of that type of game-playing.” She added, “Those of you who can’t vote for it, I certainly understand.”
The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee is gathering for what’s likely its final early-morning workshop meeting of the session today, in advance of its 8 a.m. meeting to set the budget for the state Department of Administration and to adopt a “contingency plan” for if revenues still fall short of this year’s adjusted budget.
The proposed contingency plan would let the governor, if necessary, tap into the budget stabilization fund, the economic recovery reserve fund and unspent project money in the Permanent Building Fund to balance this year’s budget. If all possibilities were tapped, it’d add up to a $107 million cushion, but some of that money’s already committed in the fiscal year 2011 budget - so if it’s tapped, other steps would have to be taken to balance next year’s budget.
The Senate has voted 27-6 in favor of HB 496, House-passed legislation from Rep. Mike Moyle, R-Star, to require voters to show a photo I.D. card in order to vote, or sign an affidavit. “You can’t drive, you can’t cash anything, you can’t virtually function today in society without an I.D.,” said Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, the bill’s Senate sponsor. Democrats objected that the new requirement would slow down the voting process and deter Idahoans, including seniors, who may not have a photo I.D. from voting, and that people could face felony charges for mistakenly giving an incorrect address. “This is really a voter suppression law at a time when we should really be encouraging people to vote,” said Sen. Kate Kelly, D-Boise. Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, countered that he’s always been surprised I.D. wasn’t required to vote. “Shouldn’t we at least establish for sure who that elector is?” he asked. The bill now goes to Gov. Butch Otter.
State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna issued the following statement on Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s Idaho Supreme Court filing today challenging the Land Board’s decision on cabin-site rents: “I question why the Attorney General is spending precious taxpayer dollars on this lawsuit rather than bringing forward a motion he thinks is constitutional for the Land Board to consider.”
Gov. Butch Otter issued this statement: “The Land Board followed an open process, and now the outcome of that process is in the hands of the courts. We’ll see how it plays out.”
Luna also issued a news release explaining his vote; click below to read it in full.
Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Sen. Tim Corder’s push to revamp laws governing big swine and poultry farms has been called the “ham and eggs bill.” And its goose is now cooked: The measure, SB 1411a, won’t get a hearing in the House, Speaker Lawerence Denney said Wednesday; he parked it in the House Ways & Means Committee. Its future looked shaky in the Senate Tuesday despite its 24-11 passage, as three members of leadership opposed it. Denney says representatives raised so many concerns, there’s not enough time to address them before the 2010 session ends, possibly next week. Corder, a Mountain Home Republican, was concerned poultry producers will relocate to Idaho as states like California pass tough animal-cruelty laws. He wanted to be ready if they do. Already, there’s a new facility in Burley that hatches million of hens. And a proposed broiler chicken plant there is aiming to have 4 million birds.
Rep. Phil Hart’s proposal to create an official Idaho silver medallion that Idahoans could use to pay their state taxes was killed on a 7-2 vote in the Senate Local Government & Taxation Committee this afternoon. The bill, HB 633, also would have granted big tax breaks to certain mining industry ventures. He called it a “safety net, if you will, for Idahoans who might want to put their savings or their money into a precious metal and protect that from inflation.” The official state silver medallions would have varied in value with the price of silver.
Sen. Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston, noted that the Senate committee has been rejecting all special tax breaks for certain parties or industries. “Additionally, I can’t see any advantage of putting the (state) treasurer in the commodities market, asking them to start establishing a marketplace of exchange for this commodity or any other commodity. … It would not benefit the state of Idaho to any significant degree.”
Hart said after the vote, “I think they overlooked the constitutional requirement that the state of Idaho accept nothing but gold and silver coin for the payment of debts. This was an attempt to ease us into just that.”
The House has voted 38-30 in favor of HB 701, the Medicaid budget, after intense debate.Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, lead sponsor of the bill, said, “We find ourselves in truly extraordinary times, and I’m as uncomfortable with this budget as anybody in this room, because I do know what it is going to do to some people.” But, he said, “Short of increasing taxes, there’s simply not anything that we’re going to do.”
Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, who like Wood is a physician, said, “I’m really concerned about what a decrease of $22 million in general funding and $90 million in federal funding means to the health care jobs. … This takes $100 million out of the industry - it’s goign to have a significant effect on jobs, and I think it’ll also have a compounding effect on the revenue for the state of Idaho for the next fiscal year.” Plus, he said, “Almost all the people we serve in Medicaid are either children, adults in nursing homes or assisted living that are poor, or are disabled. They’re going to have trouble.”
House Health & Welfare Chairwoman Sharon Bock, R-Twin Falls, said, “Idaho is in a budget crisis and Medicaid has to be a part of the solution - it’s 75 percent of the Health & Welfare budget. … This budget is needed to help balance the state budget.” The budget bill now moves to the Senate.
Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, who chaired the Land Board subcommittee that developed the rent proposal for state-owned cabin sites that Attorney General Lawrence Wasden is now challenging in the Idaho Supreme Court, said he was disappointed at the legal challenge, which he said was unprecedented in his three decades’ experience with the state Land Board. “The Land Board is where this ought to be discussed and vetted, not in the Supreme Court,” Ysursa said. “I respect the attorney general and have for years and will continue to, but I think the Land Board and completely vetting the issue there rather than marching off into court would be a better way to do it.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Ysursa defended the Land Board’s decision, which calls for rent increases of 54 percent over the next five years. The only reason the rents aren’t at full market value now, he said, is because the entire Land Board has repeatedly voted for one-year freezes in rents. “To then turn around and hit ‘em with an astronomical increase in one year, I just did not think that was fair,” Ysursa said. A month ago, the Land Board voted to look into possibly selling or trading the cabin sites to get the state endowment out of the business of renting lots on which people own their own buildings; the state Lands Department will report back with a plan in a year.
Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden has filed a legal challenge with the Idaho Supreme Court over new lease rules for state-owned cabin sites - including rent increases - approved this month by the Idaho Land Board, contending the rental rates aren’t high enough to bring appropriate returns to the beneficiaries of the state’s school endowment. “The approved plan is flawed because the rent is too low,” said Wasden, who was in the minority in the Land Board’s 3-2 approval of the plan. Click below to read his full announcement and link to court documents filed with the Idaho Supreme Court today.
Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — An animal cruelty bill that cleared the Senate 34-1 has been put down by a House committee leader who says there isn’t sufficient time to fix it. The measure makes running a cockfighting operation a felony. But Rep. Tom Loertscher, an eastern Idaho rancher and House State Affairs Committee chair, won’t give it a hearing because he doesn’t like provisions that threaten livestock owners who don’t provide medical care to sick or injured animals with a misdemeanor. Loertscher also isn’t keen on provisions aimed at tracking livestock, which he says could undermine the West’s system of brands in favor of radio-frequency identification tags. In e-mails to its supporters, the Humane Society of the United States is criticizing his move. Loertscher also won’t hear another bill that seeks to create a state livestock care standards board.
The House has voted 67-1 to suspend its rules to allow immediate consideration of HB 701, the Medicaid budget. Rep. Branden Durst, D-Boise, cast the only vote against suspending the rules. The House then went at ease to allow both parties to go into caucus; it’ll return after lunch at 1:30.
The House has voted 44-23 in favor of HB 590, legislation from Rep. Marc Gibbs, R-Grace, that would let county commissioners in any county take over the issuing of permits for residential septic systems from their local health district. Several House members questioned why the Legislature would want to let counties “opt out” of their public health district’s sewage rules. Gibbs said the counties would have to enact their own rules and would become responsible for inspections of septic systems. Others said they’d heard the bill won’t advance in the Senate, but said that wasn’t a good reason to support it.
“Literally the system that we currently have throughout many parts of Idaho is broken,” Gibbs told the House. “There are three different pieces of legislation that are going to come before this body, another one yet today, probably, that have an effect on this situation. Sometimes the best rules come from closer to home. I don’t think anyone by supporting this legislation are, by a county opting out, in any way is minimizing the stringent requirements for clean water and those kinds of things. That is not the intent of this legislation, that is not the intent of the counties who support this legislation.” The bill now moves to the Senate.
Surprisingly, there was no debate at all in the Senate on the GARVEE bonding bill, SB 1427, which calls for just $12 million more in Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle bonding next year. It’d almost all go to right-of-way acquisition for a project on State Highway 16 west of Boise, and emerged after a big fight in the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee earlier in the session. Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, said, “Land prices are probably as low as they’re going to be for a while, so it is an excellent time to be acquiring right of way.” Sen. Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, rose to explain his vote, saying he was supporting the bill “with reluctance,” in hopes that other senators will support regular highway projects in his area in the future.
Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly, D-Boise, who isn’t seeking re-election, is chairing the Senate. When she noted no debate, Hammond said, “Madam president, this is an historic moment for me - it’s frightening.” The vote was 25-9; the bill now moves to the House.
The Senate has voted unanimously, without debate, in favor of SB 1426, the Idaho Transportation Department budget. Next up: The GARVEE bonding bill, SB 1427.
The Senate has voted 26-9 in favor of SB 1419, the budget bill for state colleges and universities for next year - which reflects a 14.1 percent cut in state general funds and a 7.8 percent overall cut. Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, said if you subtract $10 million for a livestock center that was put on hold and reductions in funding for health benefits because reserves are being drawn down, it’s effectively an 8.1 percent general fund decrease. “This is a tough one,” Mortimer said. “Our universities and colleges are being asked to make a sacrifice and are being asked to do with less. That is not an easy situation.” Sens. Diane Bilyeu and Edgar Malepeai, both Pocatello Democrats, spoke out against the budget bill, but there was no other debate. “We have cut the universities a tremendous amount over the past two years,” Bilyeu said, adding that she’s concerned about tuition hikes and rising debt loads for students. Idaho, she said, is “mortgaging the future of our kids.” The budget bill now moves to the House.
The House has voted near-unanimously in favor of HB 698, the bipartisan budget bill for the state Tax Commission which calls for adding both temporary and permanent auditors to bring in an additional $16 million in taxes already owed. It was sponsored by Reps. Darrell Bolz, R-Caldwell, and Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum. The vote was 65-1, with just Rep. Branden Durst, D-Boise objecting; the budget bill now moves to the Senate.
Rep. Dick Harwood’s “Idaho Firearms Freedom Act” is headed for the Senate’s amending order, the 14th Order, after senators raised an array of questions this morning about the bill’s wording. They ranged from an “or” that needs to be changed to “and” - to clarify that guns both manufactured and sold in Idaho would be stamped “Made in Idaho” rather than just those manufactured OR sold in Idaho - to serious questions about whether the bill mandates the state’s taxpayers to fund the criminal defense for anyone charged with a federal crime in Idaho while using an Idaho-made gun.
Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, who is co-sponsoring HB 589 with Harwood, said, “It would be a cleaner bill, I think, if we made those amendments.” But both he and Harwood said they worry about getting amendments accomplished this late in the legislative session. “I hope they can get it done and that we can get this to the governor’s desk,” Harwood said. Said Hart, “I think we’re going to hope that the leadership thinks this is important on both sides of the Legislature and helps us get these through.”
The bill seeks to exempt guns, ammunition and accessories manufactured in Idaho from all federal laws including registration. Harwood said it’s an attempt to build a court challenge of the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, and 27 states are looking at such measures. “If you get over half the states saying we need to take a look at this, I believe the courts will do that,” Harwood said.
Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The father of a man on probation for having sex with an underage girl when he was 19 years old helped convince a House panel to approve a bill that would ease the state’s statutory rape laws. Twin Falls resident Karl Joslin told the House Judiciary and Rules Committee Tuesday that Idaho’s current laws, which make it a felony for a teenage man to have sex with a girl under 18, are too strong. Under the measure, SB 1385, which now goes to the full House, men less than three years older than their 16-year-old or 17-year-old female sexual partners could no longer be charged with rape after consensual encounters. Joslin’s son was a 19-year-old college freshman when he had sex with a 16-year-old girl. After his conviction and registration as a sex offender, he has a 10 p.m. curfew, can’t drink alcohol and must get permission from his parole officer before leaving his home county.
The education “mastery” bill, HB 493a, which would set up a pilot project to give incentives to students to move through school more quickly - including scholarships for those who graduate at least a year early - has passed the Senate on a 27-7 vote. Because senators amended the bill to add a six-year expiration clause, something backers thought already was in the bill but apparently was missing, the amended bill still must go back to the House for concurrence in the amendment and final passage before it can head to the governor’s desk.
After lots of questions, the Senate has voted 30-5 in favor of SJR 102 and 32-3 in favor of SJR 103, giving more than the required two-thirds passage to a pair of proposed constitutional amendments to give the state Land Board more flexibility to sell off state endowment land. The measures would amend the Constitution to remove a requirement for public auction when selling state endowment lands, and to remove a limit on the sale of more than 320 acres to a single buyer or company. A task force of business people who studied the issue for the state said the changes would better match modern business practices, and the Land Board endorsed them.
Many of the questions came from lawmakers from North Idaho’s timber country, who raised questions about whether the move would prompt the state to sell off its North Idaho timber land - and do away with a key source of jobs in the area. “Timber has proven itself to be a valuable and consistent return over time, over history,” Sen. Darrell Kerby, R-Bonners Ferry, told the Senate. “Would this potentially change that makeup of public trust lands, and tend to go from timber holdings to commercial property, for example?” Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, said it’d still be up to the judgment of the Land Board, as it is now, as to what will bring the maximum long-term return to the beneficiaries of the state endowment - mainly public schools.
Kerby said people in his area wonder if the changes might prompt the state, for example, to develop a ski resort on Priest Lake-area land that’s now timber land. “In the region that I come from, there’s high anxiety over unintended consequences that may occur as a result of this,” he said. Winder responded, “Actually the process will give your constituents a great opportunity to weigh in on this, because they’ll get to vote on it.”
To amend the Idaho Constitution, a measure first must get two-thirds support in each house of the Legislature, and then win majority support from voters at the next general election. SJR 102 and 103 now move to the House.
Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Senate approved revamping laws governing big swine and poultry farms, a bill prompted by concern more chicken and egg producers will relocate to Idaho as states like California pass tougher animal-cruelty restrictions. Tuesday’s vote was 24-11. The measure, SB 1411a, moves to the House. Sen. Tim Corder, a Republican from Mountain Home, told senators if the bill doesn’t become law, “We would have 10 million chickens in Idaho — with no regulations.” The Department of Environmental Quality now oversees large swine and poultry farms. Corder’s bill puts such operations under the state Department of Agriculture. Some environmental groups backed the bill. But Sen. Steve Bair, a Republican from Blackfoot, suggested it was too strict and voted against it — as did Democrats Kate Kelly and Elliot Werk, who objected to manure management plans that remain confidential under Corder’s measure.
Gov. Butch Otter, flanked by Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and a large group of GOP legislators, spoke out against the newly signed national health care reform bill at a press conference in his office today. “If it is a proper role for government to mandate that citizens buy certain products, then I’m going to get potatoes in line for ‘em just as quick as I can,” Otter declared. Otter, who’s done a slew of national media interviews since he became the first governor to sign legislation rejecting the national reforms, said he thinks the multi-state federal lawsuit that Idaho joined this morning may well be successful. “Yes I do think it could be successful - if it isn’t, it should be,” Otter said. “I do disagree with the policy, and the process by which it’s forced onto the citizenry of the state of Idaho.”
He said, “I’m not going to say that there aren’t some good things in this bill.” But, Otter said, “On balance it’s a takeover by the federal government of a health care system that I think has offered the best health care in the world.” You can read the lawsuit here.
The Senate has voted 19-16 in favor of HCR 55, a resolution from Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, requiring the state Department of Health & Welfare to look into whether the state could save money by drug-testing recipients of welfare and other public benefits, and removing them from public assistance if they test positive. In extended debate, senators said they don’t want to subsidize drug users, but they questioned the resolution’s claim that such a study wouldn’t cost anything, at a time of big budget cuts for Health & Welfare; they questioned the impact of such a move on federal funds for Idaho’s assistance programs and on the children of those recipients; and they questioned how the move would help those now on lengthy waiting lists for substance abuse treatment in Idaho. Nevertheless, the measure narrowly passed.
Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden says he’d have joined the lawsuit by 13 state attorneys general challenging the constitutionality of federal health care reform legislation even if lawmakers hadn’t passed HB 391a, which required him to go to court to challenge the law. “There is a legitimate legal question which needs to be answered with regard to the health care bill,” Wasden said. That question: Whether it’s constitutional for Congress to require state residents to purchase health insurance. Wasden said the question involves issues of the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
He said Florida was “as good a place as any” for the suit to be filed; the attorneys general didn’t want to be in the 9th Circuit, he said, and wanted to be in the circuit nearest to Washington, D.C. Florida fits the bill. “The reason we have a group of states together is because we’re able to share the costs of the litigation,” Wasden said, which haven’t yet been determined. “It’s not going to be inexpensive, I can tell you that,” he said. Idaho’s Constitutional Defense Fund, which now contains about $240,000 and is controlled by the governor, the House speaker, the Senate president pro-tem and the attorney general, is a likely funding source to tap.
Gov. Butch Otter just went on Fox News to talk about how Idaho has joined 12 other states in a lawsuit filed this morning in federal district court in Florida, challenging federal health care reform. Otter called it “an unconstitutional mandate that it forces on all 50 states including my own,” and said, “The sovereignty of the state of Idaho is very important to us, as is the sovereignty of the citizens of the state of Idaho, and it should be in every state.”
Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden joined the attorneys general of Florida, South Carolina, Nebraska, Texas, Utah, Louisiana, Alabama, Colorado, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Washington and South Dakota in the lawsuit.
“Our complaint alleges the new law infringes upon the constitutional rights of Idahoans and residents of the other states by mandating all citizens and legal residents have qualifying health care coverage or pay a tax penalty,” Attorney General Wasden said. “The law exceeds the powers of the United States under Article I of the Constitution and violates the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution. Additionally, the tax penalty required under the law constitutes an unlawful direct tax in violation of Article I, sections 2 and 9 of the Constitution.”
The House Revenue & Taxation Committee had urban renewal legislation, HB 672, back on its agenda this morning, but the discussion focused on what should happen next - including possibly more study in an informal interim task force. Rep. Leon Smith, R-Twin Falls, said the bill that a subcommittee crafted after reviewing seven others is “certainly not perfect” and “needs work,” but he said he wants to “keep the ball rolling.” Said Smith, who chaired the subcommittee, “These things need to be discussed with the detractors as well as the proponents, so that we could come up with some good language.”
Rep. Mike Moyle, R-Star, advocated splitting it up into little pieces that people could agree on. “I think if we keep trying to have an omnibus bill we’re going to have the same results we did this year,” he said. But Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene, said that’s where this year’s effort started - with lots of little bills. Rev & Tax Chairman Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, said, “We did a lot of work to get where we are on 672, and I can’t see that we’re that far away from having something that we agree with.” Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, said, “I think this bill that we’ve got before us today has been a really big step forward. … I’m kind of disappointed that we didn’t really get it launched this year.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Bob Schaefer, R-Nampa, advocated abolishing urban renewal entirely, saying, “This is a really ridiculous idea that the Legislature came up with and the taxpayers aren’t too fond of it.” Rep. Bill Killen, D-Boise, called urban renewal “one of the only mechanisms local communities could use to improve their local economies,” and called it an “essential tool.”
Said Sayler, “I think we did make a good-faith effort to reach a compromise. … It’s such an important issue around the state. We’ve made progress on it, but I think it needs more work.” Lake said he’ll continue to work on the bill over the summer, and he welcomes anyone who’d like to work with him.
Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on the debate and passage in the Senate today of a public school budget that includes historic cuts. Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, told Eye on Boise he’s still holding out hope that Congress will approve a jobs bill by late spring or summer that could send another $117 million over two years to Idaho schools. If that happened, he said, it’d likely mean a special session to reverse some of the cuts senators approved today. “Sixty million dollars would go a long way toward plugging the holes that we’ve made,” Goedde said.
After two hours of debate, the Idaho Senate has voted 27-8 in favor of SB 1418, the proposed public school budget for next year, which cuts $128.5 million in total funds to schools from this year’s level. Just one Republican, Sen. Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow, joined all seven Democrats in opposing the budget bill.
“We’re not the only state in this mess,” Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, told the Senate in . “This is not an Idaho problem, this is a national problem. … Our job is to balance our budget, meet the Constitution and get us through it. That in and of itself will attract businesses and attract jobs and improve our revenue to the state.” He noted much deeper cuts to schools in states like Arizona and California. “This is a tough decision, this is a tough decision for this body,” he said. “I wish it were better. I look forward to better days. I look forward to our economy improving. I look forward to paying our teachers better. I look forward to fully funding education.”
In his closing debate, Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said, “This is a painful decision and a painful process, so I want to thank my friends in the minority.” He said, “Public schools is and always will be our highest priority. … Every teacher I know is a professional, and they’re going to teach to the best of their ability regardless of this public school appropriation. … Every teacher I know gives their all. They sacrifice unbelievably to make sure that our kids and our grandkids are appropriately taught.
Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, a former school principal who has a son and two daughters-in-law who currently are teachers, spoke in favor of SB 1418, the public school budget bill. “I have taught and run schools in Idaho and in Washington for over 30 years, and during that time we had tough times,” he said. “This is not the first time - it’s the worst. … But we have had tough times before. And yet we as administrators and we as teachers rallied, and we still did our best to work with those children and do our best for them.” Hammond contended that class sizes won’t have to rise under the proposed budget. “Actually, I am optimistic that this is not a long-term problem for us, that we will turn it around,” he said.
Said Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, “I believe it is the very best that we can do.” He said, “Our economy has put us in this position. … Our constituents expect us to balance our budget and to do the very best that we can.”
Sen. Kate Kelly, D-Boise, the Senate minority leader who is retiring after this year’s session, debating against SB 1418, the public school budget bill, told the Senate, “I think that this bill before us comes perilously close to abdicating our constitutional obligation towards the school children of Idaho. … We cannot pretend that this budget won’t hurt student performance - it will. This budget will hurt Idaho’s schoolchildren. It’s a sad day today.”
Sen. Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, responded, “We’re in the greatest financial crisis that we’ve ever experienced in a lifetime, any of us. Things are bad.” He said, “We’re here complaining about a 7.5 percent budget cut when all agencies have taken much greater. … We have done everything we can to protect education.” He said, “I feel bad that we can’t do more, but I don’t feel bad that we haven’t done enough, because we have worked hard to get this budget where it is.”
Senate Democrats’ move to send the public school budget bill to the Senate’s amending order has failed on a voice vote that sounded to be divided along party lines. Democrats hold just seven of the Senate’s 35 seats, and one senator, Sen. Diane Bilyeu, D-Pocatello, has an excused absence today.
Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, has moved to send SB 1418, the public school budget bill, to the Senate’s 14th Order for amendment. Sen. Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello, seconded the motion. LeFavour said she wanted to remove a section declaring a statewide financial emergency, enabling school districts to reopen teacher contracts, and she wants to negotiate with the House to add another $35 million to the budget. “We have a duty to do our best, and I believe there is more that we can do,” LeFavour said.
Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, responded, “We know full well what’s going on, we’re in the height of an election year - it’s political theater to try to move this bill to the amending order. … It’s the wrong place to do it. If this body’s not inclined towards this legislation, vote against it. The joint committee can then set another appropriation.”
Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, said this year’s school budget marks many firsts, including the first time, he said, that education stakeholders were brought in to help legislative budget writers craft the budget, and the first time that public testimony was taken on the budget. Though the Legislature’s joint budget committee doesn’t take public testimony, Goedde said his Senate Education Committee did. Goedde said he agreed with Sen. Dean Cameron’s earlier comments that this is the best lawmakers can do for schools this year. “I agree, it isn’t going to get any better if this one doesn’t go through,” he said.
Testifying in opposition to the bill, Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, said, “Our public schools have been on a starvation diet for a decade - they are just hurting.” He said some school districts will try to pass property tax levies to make up for some of the cuts, but that’ll make the state’s school system less uniform “and potentially less constitutional.” He also suggested the budget will leave Idaho “packing our students into classrooms like sardines.”
Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, is the first to speak against SB 1418, the public school budget, in this afternoon’s Senate debate. “I do feel we had alternatives,” she said. “I very much appreciate that there was a process used in creating this budget, I don’t object to the process or the work that went into it. … But I do in fact have grave concerns about the amount that was chosen, and that that was a product of math, and not necessarily a process that took into account our duty to do all we could for the kids and our public schools in Idaho.” LeFavour said the budget will force schools to decide which children to deprive of services, whether it’s those learning English, those who are gifted and talented, or others. “That to me is the real tragedy of this budget,” she said. LeFavour said Democrats pushed for ways to capture additional revenue to fund schools without raising taxes, from delaying part of a grocery tax credit hike to hiring additional tax collectors. She said, “We have alternatives, and we could take those up - or we could settle for less.”
Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, noted that all but one of the sections of the school budget bill were agreed to by a group of stakeholders including the state’s teachers association, its school administrators association, its school boards association and more. The lone exception: A section declaring a statewide financial emergency, allowing school districts to reopen negotiated contracts. “That section was proposed, not of my desire, not of my vote, but proposed by someone else from across the rotunda and received the necessary votes,” Cameron told the Senate. “That section is in the bill, but that is the only piece of this budget that is not a stakeholder agreement.”
“Frankly none of us like the reductions that are in the budget, and we all wish and hope that we’ll have a better day where we’ll have better appropriations,” he said. The bill tries to give local school districts as much flexibility as possible, he said, and prioritizes student achievement and student-teacher classroom time. “It is in my opinion the best budget that could potentially come out of the joint committee without additional revenue sources,” Cameron said. “Failure of this bill will not generate a higher number, but in fact will generate a lower number for public schools.”
The proposed budget for schools for next year cuts state funding for salaries for teachers and classified staff by 4 percent, and for school administrators by 6.5 percent. It also saves another $10 million by cutting raises that certificated staff - teachers and administrators - otherwise would have gotten next year for attaining additional education or experience. Actual salaries vary and are set by local school boards. Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, noted that similar percentage cuts were actually applied to the school budget this year, but the cuts were “backfilled” with federal stimulus money, so they didn’t have to take effect. “Unfortunately for us now, those stimulus dollars are gone,” Cameron said.
Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, is opening the debate on SB 1418, the public schools budget. “I never thought that I would stand in front of you this day and suggest that you vote for a budget bill that’s actually less than what public schools received this year,” Cameron told the Senate. “Unfortunately, that’s my job today.” He said, “It is not the number that I would prefer. It is certainly not the number that I know most of you would prefer.”
The budget bill would gives schools $1.214 billion in state general funds - a 1.4 percent decrease from this year in actual numbers, but effectively an 8.4 percent drop due to the removal of federal stimulus money that previously subbed in for general funds - and $1.58 billion in total funds, an overall 7.5 percent drop. That’s an overall decrease of $128.5 million.
The Idaho Senate is back in session, and is moving through its orders of business in order to take up the public school budget, SB 1418.
Lt. Gov. Brad Little today signed HB 544, the “higher education stabilization fund” bill, into law. He was serving as acting governor while Gov. Butch Otter is out of state for a Republican Governors Association meeting in Utah. Little called the bill a “financial safety net for our colleges and universities.” The bill sets up a reserve fund for state colleges and universities into which money can be deposited in good times, to help see them through bad times; however, there’s little money now to put in the new fund. Click below to read Little’s full press release on the bill-signing.
After three tied votes and three days of hearings, the House Health & Welfare Committee has finally voted - unanimously - to send SB 1335, the IRIS immunization reminder bill, to the full House with amendments attached. “Committee, you did a wonderful job of working out this issue,” said a jubilant Rep. Sharon Block, R-Twin Falls, the committee chairwoman, at the conclusion of the drawn-out hearing.
The bill earlier had passed the Senate on an overwhelming vote; it makes the state’s Immunization Reminder and Information System an “opt-out” for parents at birth rather than an “opt-in” system, which backers, including the Idaho Medical Association and an array of health groups, said will make the system work better and cost less. Idaho ranks 50th for its child immunization rate among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, trailed only by Montana. In the end, the committee backed amendments to restore the word “voluntary” to the immunization registry law - the bill would have deleted the word, but the system still would have been voluntary - and require an array of additional notifications to parents that immunizations are voluntary. Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, offered a revised version of amendments offered earlier by former Congressman Bill Sali, deleting numerous references to sending parents a notice that immunization “may endanger the life or health” of their child.
Rep. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, said he’s happy with the proposed amendments and hopeful they’ll create a system that will work better - and may even show that more Idaho children are being immunized than is currently thought. “I don’t think there’s anything real sinister in the bill one way or the other,” Thayn said after the long hearing. He said the objections were more about the “libertarian thing in Idaho, where we like to be left alone.” He said, “We were just, you know how we are over here.”
The House Ways & Means Committee met today, and among the new bills it introduced was one from Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, to cut both corporate and individual income taxes sharply over the next decade. However, that introduction is as far as the bill will go - it won’t be getting a hearing during this year’s legislative session. Here’s a report from the Associated Press:
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The House’s tax committee won’t be taking up a proposal to cut Idaho’s tax rates, at least not this year. Idaho’s corporate income tax rate is 7.6 percent; for individuals and small companies, it’s as high as 7.8 percent. A bill introduced Monday in the House Ways and Means Committee aims to trim both to 4.9 percent over a decade. But with the 2010 Legislature likely in its final week, Rep. Dennis Lake, a Republican from Blackfoot who heads up the Revenue and Taxation Committee, says the measure will be fodder for discussion, not a formal hearing. Democrats complain the proposal would cut tax revenue to pay for needed services by $370 million annually by 2021. Rep. Marv Hagedorn, a Meridian Republican, argues lower taxes will lure companies, making up for lost revenue.
Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho lawmakers have pushed forward a bill to eliminate words like “retarded” and “idiot” from state code. The House approved a measure 68-1 to replace expressions considered offensive with more modern language, like “intellectually disabled.” Rexburg Republican Rep. Mack Shirley said the state’s current labels for people with disabilities are disrespectful and need revamping. Lawmakers who scoured state code starting last summer found 73 laws that include words like “handicapped,” ”mentally deficient” and even “lunatic,” in one statute. The sole nay vote Monday came from Twin Falls Republican Rep. Jim Patrick, who said he doesn’t think the word “handicapped” is insulting. The measure, SB 1330a, now heads to the desk of Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter for final approval.
The Senate has unanimously agreed to put off its debate and vote on the public school budget until its afternoon session today. “Senators, we’re just trying to manage our time that we have here for the next 10 minutes,” explained Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls. “I think if we can skip over this bill and grab a couple of the other ones, then we’ll have the time this afternoon for a more meaningful debate.”
The Senate had arrived at the public school budget on its calendar - perhaps the biggest and most controversial bill of the session - when Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly, D-Boise, asked to place the Senate at ease so Democrats could caucus. They’re now at ease.
The Senate has voted 26-8 to approve a grim budget for next year for the state’s community colleges, including a 9.2 percent cut in state general funds and a cut of 12.2 percent in total funds. Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, spoke out against the bill and other budgets containing big cuts for education. “The college of Western Idaho and other community colleges around the state are facing record enrollment growths at a time when people are losing jobs,” she said. The budget plan, she said, would “cripple” the schools’ ability to “meet this enrollment growth and help people through this difficult economic time.”
Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said Idaho’s community college presidents and officials have shown they can manage and grow “in spite of very difficult times.” He said,” They have survived the reductions in the past, and they will survive this reduction because of their outstanding leadership.” The budget bill, SB 1415, now moves to the House.
The House has suspended its rules to take up HB 687, the court emergency surcharge bill, and passed it on a 58-12 vote. The bill would impose a temporary fee, starting April 15th, on all convictions through June 30, 2013, to fund the state’s court system through the state’s budget cuts. Every felony offense would have a $100 surcharge added; every misdemeanor, $50; and every infraction, $10. It would raise about $4.3 million a year to keep courts functioning. Among those objecting to the bill was Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, who said his wife doesn’t wear her seat belt because it causes pain in her hip, and it’s too much hassle to find child-safety seats to transport youngsters under age 6 in each of his three cars. The bill now moves to the Senate.
Legislation to protect high school athletes from the dangers of repeated concussions is headed to the House’s amending order, after the House State Affairs Committee defeated a motion to kill the bill on a 7-9 vote. Proposed amendments from the bill’s sponsors would launch a program of education for school sports coaches along with guidelines on when to remove a young athlete from practice or games through a rule-making process at the state Board of Education, rather than setting those standards in state law; they’d also rename the bill “Kort’s Law,” after a young man from eastern Idaho who suffered permanent brain damage from a repeat concussion at a high school football game, and who testified last week in favor of the bill.
Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, pushed to kill the bill instead, though he said he was torn and supported its intent. “I was a three-sport athlete and also a high school coach, so I understand the issues surrounding this particular piece of legislation,” Crane said. “We are asking coaches to become the medical examiner in the midst of the most intense part of their process, and that’s during the game. … I think that there’s a lot of pressure on a coach, and then you add this on.” He added, “I’ve popped some guys and I’ve been popped myself and jumped back up and been a little woozy, coach never did ask me if I was all right. … And to put that liability on the coach, that if I were to have a concussion, and my parents were to file suit against the coach, I think that’s not fair.”
Backers of the bill said coaches already are liable for the safety of their student-athletes, and cited a long string of court cases. The committee voted unanimously to send HB 676 to the amending order with committee amendments attached, though others may offer amendments as well.
After this morning’s House State Affairs Committee meeting, House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, asked about the committee’s decision to amend the pay bill he presented, said, “I’m surprised that they didn’t kill it.” He said, “We’re in one of those situations where raising any salaries is tough. I think there will be a lot more amendments put forward than what was presented here - in fact, I may bring some myself.” Denney said one idea he’s toying with is saying that top elected officials’ raises for the next four years would mirror the CEC, or “change in employee compensation,” that lawmakers approved for state employees in the previous four years. “We can’t predict the future,” he said, but the past, at least, is clear.
“Every time we deal with it, it’s a political issue,” Denney said. “Really, if we’re looking at what these executives should be making, we’re not even close to the mark. We’ll see what happens on the amending order, but I suspect there will be several amendments.”
The House State Affairs Committee has voted to send HB 692, the pay bill, to the House’s amending order with a committee amendment attached as proposed by Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise. The amendment would leave the first two years of the plan intact - reducing to state elected officials’ pay by 4 percent next year, then restoring it back to this year’s level the following year - but then grant much smaller increases in the following two years of about 2 percent a year, rather than from 8 to 25 percent as in the bill now. Several other committee members said they’d support different amendments. Three members asked to be recorded as objecting in the voice vote on the motion: Reps. Anne Pasley Stuart, D-Boise; Raul Labrador, R-Eagle; and Erik Simpson, R-Idaho Falls. Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, didn’t vote, as his dad, state Treasurer Ron Crane, is among those whose pay the bill affects.
Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, has moved to hold HB 692 in committee, which would hold all the state’s top elected officials at the same pay rate they get now for the next four years. Labrador said he made the motion reluctantly, as House Speaker Lawerence Denney had made a case that the state’s behind on those salaries - the governor’s salary ranks 37th among the 50 states. Rep. Anne Pasley-Stuart, D-Boise, objected to the motion, saying it would keep the state from attracting qualified candidates for the state’s top jobs. “What you’re doing is violating the very integrity of the compensation system of the state of Idaho,” she said. Rep. Erik Simpson, R-Idaho Falls, spoke in support of Labrador’s motion, saying he’s not persuaded the economy will improve sufficiently over the next four years.
House Speaker Lawerence Denney has presented HB 692, the bill calling for the state’s top elected officials to get 4 percent pay cuts next year but then increases in each of the next three years, to the House State Affairs Committee. “We are not keeping up” when it comes to salaries for top officials, Denney told the committee. He said, “This is a political decision - it’s something we have to deal with every four years.”
State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna testified against the bill. “I would at least like the option for myself to reject an increase, so that we’re not putting an extra burden on taxpayers at a time when the economy is at a downturn and most everyone else is seeing a decrease in their pay,” Luna said. He said now is the time to add such a clause to the bill.
The Senate State Affairs Committee this morning voted to kill HB 620, regarding vertebrate paleontology, a measure from the state Historical Society that would assign responsibility for such finds to the Idaho Museum of Natural History, which has expertise in the area, as additional discoveries are anticipated with federal stimulus-funded construction projects around the state. The bill, which had earlier passed the House on a 50-19 vote, had no opposition, but state Department of Lands Director George Bacon said he was anticipating some future clarifications. Senate President Pro-Tem Bob Geddes, R-Soda Springs, said he didn’t like the idea of passing legislation that then would need to be fixed in the future, and moved instead to hold the bill in committee; his motion passed.
Here’s a link to the 10th week of Idaho’s legislative session in pictures, as a slide show. Let your cursor hover over the bottom part of the picture frame, and the captions will appear as the slide show plays. Tonight, on Idaho Public Television’s “Idaho Reports,” we talk about the state budget, politics and candidates, the “Idaho Health Freedom Act,” end-of-session prospects and more. Guests joining host Thanh Tan include Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls; House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston; and Senate Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley. I join commentators including Jim Weatherby, Bill Spence, Nick Draper and Kevin Richert on the program, which airs tonight at 8 and can be viewed online here. The show also is broadcast on the radio at 3 p.m. on Saturday on KISU-FM, and 10 a.m. Sunday on KBSX 91.5 FM.
More than two dozen last-minute candidates filed for the state Legislature today, just at the end of the filing period. The rush delayed the final posting of the full list of candidates; you can now see the full list here at the Idaho Secretary of State’s Web site. Among lawmakers picking up last-minute challengers: Rep. Marge Chadderdon, R-Coeur d’Alene, who will face Democrat Mike Bullard of Coeur d’Alene; Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, who has two GOP primary challengers; Sen. Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow, who picked up a primary challenger in addition to his Democratic opponent; Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, who now has two GOP challengers vying in the May primary; and Rep. Pat Takasugi, R-Wilder, who drew two Democratic challengers.
Sen. Melinda Smyser drew a Democratic challenger, Shannon Forrester of Caldwell; Rep. Bob Schaefer, R-Nampa, will face Democrat Maria Mabbutt; and House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, will face Democrat William J. Young in November. Rep. Max Black, R-Boise, has drawn a primary challenger, Mark Patterson; Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, will face Republican Bill Eisenbarth; and Sen. Eliot Werk, D-Boise, drew two Republican challengers, Lucas Baumbach and T. Allen Hoover.
Republican Mitch Toryanski of Boise jumped into the District 18 Senate race - that’s the one where Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly, D-Boise, isn’t seeking re-election, and Rep. Branden Durst, D-Boise, is runing for her seat, as are, now, three Republicans. Also in District 18, Durst’s current seat has one Democrat, Janie Ward-Engelking, and two Republicans, former Rep. Julie Ellsworth and Gregory E. Ferch, in the running. Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, has drawn two Republican challengers, Trevor Grigg and Becky Young. Rep. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, now has two primary challengers, Thomas E. Dayley and Roger Koyle of Boise, along with Democratic challenger Sean Carrick of Kuna.
Rep. Bert Stevenson, R-Rupert, drew a challenge from Democrat Scott McClure of Jerome; Rep. Jim Marriott, R-Blackfoot, will be challenged by Democrat Mark Gabrylczyk; and Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, drew a last-minute Democratic challenger, Neil M. Williams of Idaho Falls.
Apparently after stewing for a few hours over former Congressman Bill Sali’s slam today, GOP congressional candidate Vaughn Ward’s campaign has come out with a statement in response to Sali’s jab that sending Ward, a decorated veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, to Washington would be “like sending a boy scout to Iraq”:
“No decision in Congress will be tougher than the decisions Vaughn made in combat,” said Ward campaign spokesman Ryan O’Barto. “Vaughn is a proven combat leader who has spent his life in service to Idaho and our country. Bill Sali and Raul Labrador are politicians who represent a failed establishment that has given us higher unemployment, increased spending, and a record deficit. Vaughn will not stand idly by and watch our politicians in Washington continue to jeopardize the future of our children and grandchildren.”
Rep. Branden Durst, D-Boise, has announced that he’ll be running for Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly’s seat, as she won’t be seeking re-election. She’s finishing her third term.
Asked for response to Bill Sali’s put-down today - when Sali said, “Sending Vaughn Ward to Washington, D.C. is a little bit like sending a boy scout to Iraq. He doesn’t have any experience casting tough votes” - Ward’s campaign had no comment. “Idaho Republicans are ready for new leadership, the kind of fiscally conservative, common-sense approach that Vaughn Ward will bring to Congress,” said Ward campaign spokesman Ryan O’Barto. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com on former Congressman Sali’s reappearance in Idaho politics today, testifying against child immunizations at a state House committee he once chaired and hinting he might run for office again himself, then, instead, endorsing Republican Raul Labrador in the GOP primary race for the 1st District congressional seat he once held; Ward also is seeking that seat.
Among those who’ve filed for to run for the Legislature so far today - the last day of the filing period - are former GOP state Sen. Dean Sorensen of Boise, who filed again for the District 18 Senate seat after losing two years ago to Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly, D-Boise; and two Democrats running for the House seat now held by Rep. Anne Pasley-Stuart, D-Boise: Cherie Buckner-Webb and J. Dallas Gudgell. We’re up to 10 candidates running for governor; eight for the 1st District congressional seat; five for the 2nd District; and four for the U.S. Senate. The filing period closes at 5 p.m.; you can see the full list here of congressional, statewide, judicial and legislative candidates.
Former Congressman Bill Sali said he does have something to file with the Secretary of State’s office today, but it’s not a candidacy filing, it’s formation papers for a new nonprofit. Sali said it will be called “Preserving America’s Legacy,” and will distribute books, CDs and DVDs about the founding fathers to “anybody who wants to learn about the legacy of this country.” He said his wife likely will take a major role in running the group; he’s just getting it started and getting a board together.
Former Congressman Bill Sali has made his announcement - he’s endorsing Raul Labrador in the GOP primary for the 1st District congressional seat, the seat he formerly held. Sali said he didn’t inform Labrador of his decision in advance - he just asked him to be there. Said Labrador, “It is a surprise, but it’s an honor. … I thank him.”
Sali said he decided to endorse Labrador, a second-term Republican state lawmaker from Eagle, because “it takes a person who’s been there, who knows what it’s like to cast a tough vote.” He also said he admired Labrador’s willingness to take on his own party; Labrador was a vocal opponent of GOP Gov. Butch Otter’s unsuccessful transportation funding proposal last year. “Both parties have problems,” Sali said.
Asked his opinion of Vaughn Ward, another leading Republican seeking the 1st District seat - who’s been campaigning hard since last spring and is a decorated veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan - Sali said, “Well, you know, Vaughn has served our country with distinction and we owe him a debt of gratitude for that, there is no way around that, as we do with all of our veterans. But I have to tell you, sending Vaughn Ward to Washington, D.C. is a little bit like sending a boy scout to Iraq. He doesn’t have any experience casting tough votes. He doesn’t have experience in the political realm.”
The pay bill for the state’s top elected officials that was introduced yesterday calls for a 4 percent pay cut for all of them next year, but most would see double-digit increases over the next four years. Reporter Bill Spence reports in today’s Lewiston Tribune that the bill would give the state’s part-time lieutenant governor a 23.3 percent raise over the next four years; the governor would get 8.4 percent, and the attorney general 8.2 percent. All other statewide elected officials would see their pay increase 13.3 percent over the next four years. Click below to read Spence’s full report.
The House has voted 46-16 in favor of HCR 64, a resolution calling for amendments to the U.S. Constitution to narrow the Commerce Clause and broaden the 10th Amendment on states’ rights. Rep. Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, told the House the move would “get the teeth back in the 10th amendment and limit the Commerce Clause as was intended by the founders.” He said, “This concurrent resolution is all about freedom, it’s all about what America was originally built on.” Opponents said the wording of the proposed amendment was problematic legally. “This kind of amendment is going to work mischief,” said Rep. Bill Killen, D-Boise. The measure now moves to the Senate.
Former Congressman Bill Sali, who resurfaced at the Statehouse today wearing a suit, proposing wide-ranging amendments to a child-immunization registry bill, and rapidly chewing gum, has an “announcement” scheduled for 11:30 in the Statehouse rotunda on this final day of the filing period for the 2010 elections. Sali said in an e-mail that he “will make an announcement today and answer media questions;” asked what kind of announcement, he said, “show up.”
Oddly, the e-mail suggests that Sali will speak for 12-1/2 hours: “The announcement will begin at 11:30 AM. Statement and questions should conclude by 12:00 AM.” 12:01 a.m. would be a minute after midnight. Technically, neither noon nor midnight is a.m. or p.m. (ante- or post meridiem), but any digital clock will tell you that when the clock flips to noon, it’s 12 p.m.
Reminiscent of his years in the Statehouse as a legislator, Sali was scolded by the acting committee chair in House Health & Welfare today, who at the time was Rep. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls, for arguing rather than answering a committee member’s question.
There were three motions on the floor: An original motion from Rep. Branden Durst, D-Boise, to send SB 1335 to the full House with a do-pass recommendation; a substitute motion from Rep. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, to send it to the amending order; and an amended substitute motion from Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, to send it to the amending order with the extensive amendments proposed by former Congressman Bill Sali attached. Several committee members objected to that motion, saying Sali’s proposed amendments go beyond the original scope of the bill.
Rep. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls, said, “One of the things that caught my eye on these amendments was specifically 3C, “allow the child to gain immunity from any childhood disease by being exposed” - to me, I think that might be a bigger issue than trying to just deal with this specific legislation. I recognize that that is an important issue, but I’m concerned that we might be not following the democratic process to allow a public hearing and allow testimony from both sides on that specific issue. So I’m not comfortable at this point to be able to accept that amendment to the bill.”
Committee Chair Sharon Block, R-Twin Falls, noted that the time was already 9:15 - 15 minutes past the time the House was due on the floor. She said, “I would hesitate for our committee members to miss any votes. And it looks like there are a number of discussions that we need to have yet on this bill, so in light of all that, the chair is going to adjourn the meeting and this item will be first on the agenda on Monday.”
In response to former Congressman Bill Sali’s comments about child immunization, Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, questioned a section in Sali’s proposed amendments to SB 1335 that would have parents give a reason why they’re choosing not to immunize their children. “Frankly, the reason I always gave was no thank you - I didn’t feel that there had to be any reason, I just didn’t want it done,” Nielsen said. “Could that be on that statement?” Sali responded that “religious or other grounds” would likely cover Nielsen’s objections. Nielsen responded, “As far as I’m concerned, it’s nobody’s business. … So I’m having great difficulty with this.”
Former Congressman Bill Sali has shown up at the House Health & Welfare Committee this morning to testify on SB 1335, the IRIS immunization reminder system bill. Sali is proposing amendments to the bill, which already passed the Senate. He’s contending that the bill - backed by the Idaho Medical Association, the Idaho Legislature’s Health Care Task Force and an array of Idaho medical groups - would actually make participation in the registry mandatory, not voluntary, though the sponsors specifically told the committee that it wouldn’t. The bill makes the immunization tracking system automatic unless parents opt out, rather than requiring them to opt in. “We’re going to be moving to a situation where immunization is still not mandatory, but the participation in the registry is mandatory,” Sali told the committee, which he once chaired when he served in the Legislature. “If you have a mandatory registry, and you require somebody to say I don’t have immunization for my child, at least potentially there’s a problem constitutionally with convicting yourself if the department does take that position that not having immunizations is child abuse or child neglect.”
Sali proposed extensive amendments to the bill - one of which would remove a notification to parents that IRIS participation is voluntary. The others would provide extensive notifications to parents at birth that they don’t have to immunize their children “if they reject on religious or other grounds,” and that they may object “because immunizations would endanger the life or the health of the child.” He added, “That mirrors language that already exists in the Idaho Code.”
Sali spoke out against child immunizations, saying, “I grew up in a time when childhood diseases were something you had as a child, and I had mumps and I had chicken pox and I had measles. I don’t spend any time worrying about whether I’m going to have those diseases. If a parent decides they want to have their child exposed and have that natural immunity that should never be held against them in any way.” Idaho currently ranks 50th among the states and the District of Columbia, trailed only by Montana, in its child-immunization rates.
Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on how the bill to eliminate all of the Panhandle Health District’s sewage and water-quality rules was scaled back today; the district includes the Spokane-Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer, a huge underground lake that’s the sole source of drinking water for 400,000 people in both Washington and Idaho. “This was a compromise that we agreed to,” said Dale Peck, environmental response and technology director for Panhandle Health. “It’s certainly a much better alternative than moving HB 667 forward in its original form.”
North Idaho lawmakers are steamed at the district for what they see as over-zealous regulation of waterfront building. Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, said he spoke out about his own battle with the district over expanding his riverfront home during a public meeting last week at which Panhandle Health Director Jeanne Bock was in attendance; “I got kinda in Jeanne’s face, Nonini-style,” he said. Rep. Mary Lou Shepherd, D-Prichard, said she did the same. “I came down hard on Panhandle Health - they know where I stand,” she said. “I think they have been abusive. I think with this series of meetings we’ve had, that they know we mean it.”
The House Environment, Energy & Technology Committee has voted unanimously to send HB 667 to the House’s amending order with amendments attached, as worked out between the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake; the state’s public health districts; and the state DEQ.
Idaho DEQ Director Toni Hardesty, questioned by the House Environment Committee about the department’s view of proposed amendments to HB 667, Hardesty said the bill’s sponsor and the lobbyist for the state’s health district ran the amendments by the department and made several changes the department requested. One matches the bill up to another passed earlier this session, at the request of DEQ, to move rules review for health district rules from the Board of Health & Welfare to the Board of Environmental Quality. That essentially should have been changed long ago when the DEQ was moved out of Health & Welfare to make it a separate department instead of just a division within DEQ, the bill’s backers said.
Mike Kane, lobbyist and attorney for the state’s seven public health districts, told the House Environment Committee, “The bill that you have before you would actually delete all of the rules not only of the Panhandle Health District, but of all of the other districts as well.” Instead, he said, with the amendments he’s worked out with HB 667 sponsor Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, the bill as amended wouldn’t do that, and instead would make several changes just in Panhandle Health District rules, including deleting the 110 percent expansion limit on non-compliant sewage systems and deleting a dual-drainfield rule. Kane drew lots of questions from committee members, including questions about the precedent the bill would set.
“We have had some very frank, open discussions,” Kane told the committee. “We are asking you to send this bill to the floor to the amending order to adopt our amendments. We believe that this is a beginning. We also believe there are some other things out there that need fixing, and we are in the middle of putting together an action plan with the department on how to deal with these issues.” The idea behind the amendments, Kane said, is to make things more uniform statewide without impacting needed regional rules.
Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, opened his presentation of HB 667 to a House committee this afternoon by thanking the DEQ and the state’s health districts for working with him on proposed amendments. “HB 667, in its original format, it would probably have done more damage than it could’ve done good,” Anderson told the House Environment Committee.
The proposed amendments to HB 667, Rep. Eric Anderson’s health district sewage rules bill that’s up for a hearing this afternoon in the House Environment, Energy and Technology Committee, have changed slightly. As finalized, they wouldn’t do away with an appeal fee that’s now charged by the Panhandle Health District; that would have to be handled separately. They’d provide that appeals be handled under existing state administrative rules, but they’d still go to the health district involved, not to the DEQ. The amendments still would eliminate two existing Panhandle Health rules: The “110 percent” rule on square footage for expansions of homes on non-compliant sewage systems; and a rule that in some cases requires a dual drainfield. Both would be eliminated at the end of the current legislative session - which could be as soon as a week from Friday.
There likely would be no temporary rule to replace the 110 percent rule, though; instead, it would revert to a statewide rule that says expansions are permitted as long as they add no additional bedrooms, regardless of square footage.
Toni Hardesty, state DEQ director, who is in the audience for today’s hearing, said, “I think this bill is going to change dramatically.” The department was concerned that the original bill, as written, by eliminating all local Panhandle Health rules, would have eliminated the institutional controls system for the Bunker Hill Superfund Site, which is handled under the district’s rules. Said Hardesty, “I trust that after these amendments are put in place, that would not be the case.”
As the hearing nears this afternoon on legislation to restrict the Panhandle Health District’s rules regarding sewage, Terry Harris, executive director of the Kootenai Environmental Alliance, said, “I think procedurally this is no way to legislate complicated problems. … I do think the Panhandle Health sewage rules need an overhaul, but probably not the overhaul that these legislators have in mind. I think they ought to be strengthened and enforced a little better.”
Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly, D-Boise, a member of the Legislative Environmental Common Sense Task Force, which held a meeting about the issue last week and brought in representatives of all the state’s health districts, said, “I hate this, when legislators are legislating based on a few complaints.” Kelly said she wasn’t invited to a second meeting on the same topic. “I could see why they did not want me there, because I understand the issue and I have been a staunch defender of the health districts,” said Kelly, an attorney and former division administrator for Idaho DEQ.
Kelly said there’s good reason for different septic rules in North Idaho’s lake country and over the Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer. “A septic tank that may work in the middle of the desert would be obviously inappropriate in an area where you have a water table that’s much closer to the surface,” she said. “We need to remember that the health districts are providing the most essential service of government, which is protection of public health and safety.”
In this afternoon’s House session, HB 532a, legislation from Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, to require “conservation permits” for non-hunters or fishermen who use certain Fish and Game lands, was defeated on a 25-43 vote after much debate. Several House members objected to the idea of requiring permits for families out on a picnic. “There may be folks out there just driving by, they may be from out of state,” said Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, and might not know about the requirement for permits, the cost of which would double for out-of-staters: $20 per family, instead of $10. Violators would be cited.
Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, said he’s long had a hunting license. “I don’t mind sharing that activity and the use of that ground with other folks,” he said, noting that lawmakers recently passed a resolution to encourage kids to get outdoors. Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, noted that lawmakers a few years ago vehemently objected to proposed recreation fees on federal lands as double taxation; he said the conservation permit fees raise the same problem. Rep. Lenore Hardy Barrett, R-Challis, said the permit fee plan amounts to “an updated version of the king’s forest,” and said Idahoans are in no position to pay more fees, saying, “We’re in the middle of a recession, remember?”
Also this afternoon, Rep. Phil Hart’s silver medallion bill, which would establish an official state silver medallion that could be used for the payment of state taxes along with granting tax exceptions to certain mining and silver-processing businesses, passed the House on a 51-14 vote. That measure, HB 633, now moves to the Senate side.
Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, has legislation up for a hearing this afternoon that - as written - would eliminate all sewage- or water-quality-related rules of the Panhandle Health District at the end of next year’s legislative session, force the district to start over from scratch, and allow the replacement rules to be only statewide rules - not North Idaho-specific rules. The Panhandle Health District originally was established decades ago specifically to impose rules on sewage handling in North Idaho, which before the district was formed largely meant septic tanks, in an area that contains a huge underground aquifer that is the sole source of drinking water for 400,000 people in the region - most of whom live in Washington, including Spokane.
Anderson was in negotiations right through the noon hour today with Mike Kane, attorney and lobbyist for the state’s seven health districts, and says he now has amendments to soften the blow of his bill. “We’re getting there,” said Kane, as the two headed to lunch together. “We’re turning this into a surgical strike instead of an H-bomb.”
Anderson said he doesn’t want to endanger water quality; he’s the former longtime chairman of the Outlet Sewer District on Priest Lake. “You know what happens when rules become so restrictive that people start cheating? That’s my concern,” Anderson said.
The amendments he’s arrived at with Kane would include eliminating the Panhandle district’s controversial “110 percent” rule, which limits expansions of homes on outdated, non-compliant sewage systems to 10 percent of current square footage. That rule would go away at the end of this year’s legislative session - which could be as soon as a week from Friday - but the district and the state Department of Environmental Quality could then adopt a temporary rule to replace it. Anderson said he’s not convinced that square footage really reflects sewage impact. “There’s other ways to skin that cat,” he said. The amendments also would eliminate Panhandle Health rules that in some cases require a dual drainfield; and would eliminate a $650 fee the district now charges for appeals. Anderson said costs for appeals should be built into original permitting fees, otherwise, “It’s kind of a deterrent to appeal.”
Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, has been fighting with Panhandle Health for two years over a proposed remodel and expansion of his home on the Spokane River. He said his permit was denied due to the 10 percent rule, but then, last Friday - after he angrily confronted district officials at a public meeting last week over the issue - he got a letter from the district saying his home actually isn’t subject to that rule, and he can proceed with his project. “I’m a strong supporter of protecting water quality,” said Nonini, who championed legislation to create an aquifer protection district in North Idaho. But he’s angry over his experience. “What about all the other people that aren’t legislators?” Nonini said. He said he and his wife “spent a few thousand dollars on attorneys and engineers to see if we could appease the health district - now it turns out we didn’t have to do that.”
Anderson said his proposed amendments to his bill also would involve the state DEQ in “anything that’s contested,” providing more recourse for people than just going back to the district that denied their permit. It would do away with the main clause of the existing bill, however, as far as eliminating all North Idaho-specific rules. The House Environment, Energy and Technology Committee will meet when the House adjourns its afternoon session; the bill is the second item on its agenda.
The House has voted 58-9 in favor of HB 573, legislation from Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, to restrict the use of full-body imaging for airport security in Idaho. Hart told the House, “It’s my opinion that the use of these devices to screen every individual … would be an unreasonable search of those persons.” He also said he was concerned that the scanners might not be safe. “What if they harm our bodies?,” he asked. “What if they’re not medically sound? What if they’re going to cause cancer sometime down the road?”
Rep. Branden Durst, D-Boise, spoke out against the bill, citing the Christmas Day incident in which a Nigerian national concealing explosives in his underwear attempted unsuccessfully to take down a U.S. airplane. “This is a national security issue,” Durst said. The bomber’s concealed explosives would have been detected by a full-body imaging scanner, Durst said. “It’s about maintaining security for the United States. … What’s more important to us, security or privacy?” Rep. Russ Mathews, R-Idaho Falls, backed the bill, saying Americans shouldn’t sacrifice freedoms in the name of security. The bill now moves to the Senate.
The Twin Falls Times-News reports today that longtime Sen. Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum, is retiring from the state Legislature to focus on his recovery after battling brain cancer for the past two years, and his wife, Michelle, will run for his seat. Michelle Stennett is currently filling in for her husband during this year’s legislative session; he first was elected to the House in 1990 and served two terms, before being elected to the Senate in 1994, where he rose to Senate minority leader. “At some point, he needs to be able to just quietly gain his strength and do what he needs to do for himself, and the people of the district need to have a person who can be there,” Michelle Stennett told the Times-News. You can read the full report here; she told the newspaper that Clint Stennett may well return to the Legislature in the future.
After an emotional hearing, the House State Affairs Committee has delayed a decision until Monday on HB 676, legislation from Rep. Elaine Smith, D-Pocatello, to require more education of high school coaches and others about the risk of concussion to young athletes, and to require that youngsters suspected of having a concussion be removed from a game or practice until they’re cleared by a trained health care provider. Experts, including an ISU professor who’s extensively researched the issue, told the committee that one in five student athletes suffer concussions, and children under age 18 are much more vulnerable to brain damage from repeated concussions.
When a youngster suffers a concussion when a previous concussion hasn’t yet healed, they can suffer from a syndrome that is often fatal, that leads to massive swelling of the brain. A father from Tetonia, Ray Breckenridge, came to the committee with his son, Kort, who was a top student and standout athlete but suffered repeated concussions, nearly dying and requiring repeated brain surgeries after a final one during the big football game of his senior year. Both father and son urged support for the bill. Committee members raised concerns about some of the details of the bill, while praising its intent. “I think the intent is beautiful,” said Rep. Raul Labrador, who asked why schools aren’t already doing this, without legislation. Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, said he saw potential liability questions with the bill he wants explored by the state’s attorney general. The vote to delay to Monday was unanimous.
The House Revenue & Taxation Committee has killed HB 658, the streamlined sales tax bill, on a tied, 9-9 vote. Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, who provided the tie-breaking vote to introduce the bill, switched this time, and voted against a motion from Rep. Dell Raybould, R-Rexburg, to send the bill to the full House without a recommendation. The bipartisan measure, cosponsored by Reps. Leon Smith, R-Twin Falls, and Bill Killen, D-Boise, was identical - but for the title - to legislation that earlier passed the Senate unanimously. It would allow Idaho to join a multistate coalition working toward streamlining definitions in sales tax laws to allow eventual collection of sales taxes on online sales.
House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, left the meeting in disgust after the vote. “I’m very disappointed, very disappointed,” he said. “It’s too threatening even to talk about, huh? Bringing us up to the 21st century? It’s going to be an ongoing problem.” Businesses across the state backed the bill as a move toward eventually removing a 6 percent advantage now held by out-of-state online merchants who can undercut local ones because they don’t have to charge the Idaho sales tax.
Rep. Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, the committee chairman, said, “It’s that same mindset that we have in that committee - I don’t know how we overcome it. They think the federal government has to act first, no sense in us acting ‘til they do something.” He added, “Oh, I suppose we’ll see it again next year.”
House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, was a vehement opponent of the bill for that reason; also strongly opposing it was Rep. Jim Clark, R-Hayden Lake. Interestingly, Clark was the lead sponsor of HB 391a, the “Idaho Health Freedom Act,” which Gov. Butch Otter signed into law yesterday, and which is based on the opposite approach - that Idaho should act, in that case to prevent imposition of certain health care reforms, even if it means a court fight - before Congress takes action on them.
Rep. Steve Kren, R-Nampa, presented legislation to the House State Affairs Committee this morning to ban abortions for reasons of gender or race; the committee voted 12-5 along party lines to introduce the bill, though several members raised questions about the wording and legal implications of the bill. Rep. Anne Pasley-Stuart, D-Boise, asked Kren if he has an attorney general’s opinion of his bill; he said no, but that if it were introduced, he’d seek one. “This is some legislation that was brought to us by a gentleman out of the Eagle area, and this is something we wanted to discuss,” Kren told the committee. “Is this a problem? Is this something we want to have as a preventive statute, to protect the unborn from abortion by race or sex?”
Idaho’s top elected officials would see a 4 percent pay cut in 2011, under legislation introduced in the House State Affairs Committee this morning, and then in 2012, their pay would return to this year’s level. The following two years would see small increases. House Speaker Lawerence Denney presented the bill to the committee, which voted near-unanimously to introduce it; Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, recused himself from the vote because of the current officials is his dad, state Treasurer Ron Crane. The bill will be scheduled for a hearing.
In today’s Idaho Statesman, reporter Brian Murphy lays out the officials’ current salaries, and the proposals for 2011, including the governor’s current salary of $115,348, and the proposed 2011 salary of $110,734; you can click here to see the full list.
Legislation co-sponsored by the governor, the House majority leader and the Senate tax chairman barely squeaked through the Senate Local Government & Taxation Committee this afternoon on a 5-4 vote. The bill, HB 630, presented to the panel by Jason Kreizenbeck, Gov. Butch Otter’s chief of staff, temporarily expands a tax credit for donations to schools, libraries, Idaho Public Television and several other state agencies facing big budget cuts. It earlier passed the House on a unanimous, 69-0 vote, but Senate committee members expressed concerns about expanding tax breaks. The bill now moves to the full Senate.
Gov. Butch Otter called the Idaho Health Freedom Act, which he signed into law today, “a reflection of public dismay with Washington, D.C., and a clear expression of State sovereignty,” saying the bill says “that the citizens of our state won’t be subject to another federal mandate or turn over another part of their life to government control.” You can read his full press release here. The Idaho AARP sent out its own release criticizing the bill. “This law does nothing to make Idaho’s health care crisis and everything to make it worse – it is bad policy,” said Jim Wordelman, state director for AARP in Idaho; you can read the AARP’s release here. Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports that Otter is the first governor to sign such a bill into law, placing Idaho at the vanguard of a nationwide fracas over the issue. Click below to read reporter John Miller’s full story.
Here’s a news item from The Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Lingering disputes over an urban renewal reform bill now in the Idaho Legislature have left its fate into limbo, with House Revenue and Taxation Committee chairman shelving the bill, at least for now. Rep. Dennis Lake, a Republican from Blackfoot, suggested Wednesday there may be so many objections that a resolution will have to wait until the 2011 Legislature convenes next January. This impasse follows hours of meetings already during the 2010 session. At Wednesday’s hearing, officials from Ketchum and tiny Harrison in northern Idaho argued the present push to reform and modernize the state’s 1965 urban renewal statutes would hamper their ability to complete long-planned economic development projects. Meanwhile, critics of districts’ taxing power remain unhappy because provisions requiring their boards to be elected, not appointed, are nowhere in the bill.
The Corrections Corp. of America is replacing both the warden and assistant warden at the Idaho Correctional Center, the privately-run Idaho state prison south of Boise that’s the subject of an ACLU lawsuit charging horrendous inmate-on-inmate violence has gone unchecked by authorities there, and that the guards use inmate beatings by other prisoners as a management tool. Click below to read a full reporter from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.
Gov. Butch Otter is holding his first public signing ceremony for a bill - for HB 391a, the “Idaho Health Care Freedom Act.” The bill prohibits the enforcement of any federal mandate for Idahoans or Idaho businesses to purchase health care, and requires the state Attorney General to go to court to fight any such requirement. “It’s my pleasure to be able to sign this bill today,” Otter said. And despite the state’s budget crunch, he said he’s OK with spending money on the court fight, which the bill estimates may cost $100,000. “I am comfortable with it,” Otter said. “I think to protect the people of Idaho, which is one of our obligations as a government, is the right thing to do.” He added, “I put a real high priority on the sovereignty of the state of Idaho.” Otter said about 30 other states are considering similar measures; when informed that he may be the first state governor to sign one into law, he said, “If I am, I’m glad.”
Otter noted that states are increasingly passing legislation calling for increasing state rights and asserting state sovereignty. “The ivory tower folks will tell you, no, they’re not going to go anywhere,” Otter said, “but I’ll tell you, you get 36 states,” and that makes a critical mass, he said.
Otter’s gathered a slew of legislative sponsors of HB 391a to join him at the signing ceremony. Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, a congressional candidate, said of health care reform, “We’re going to take care of this problem in the state and not through the federal government.” Added Rep. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, “This isn’t where the federal government belongs.”
Among the new candidate filings today is Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, who filed for the 1st Congressional District in the Republican primary; he launched his campaign with an announcement in December, but formally filed his candidacy papers this afternoon. Also announcing is Boise School District Superintendent Stan Olson, who sent out a notice that he’ll be running as a Democrat for state Superintendent of Schools, challenging Republican incumbent Tom Luna; Olson plans a formal announcement tomorrow. The Idaho Secretary of State’s office will update the list of candidate filings at the end of the day; you can see the full list here.
Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on the cross-deputization agreement that’s been reached between Benewah County and the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, just in time to head off state legislation that was up for a vote in a House committee this afternoon.
Benewah County Sheriff Bob Kirts greeted lawmakers after the House Judiciary Committee meeting today, introducing himself, shaking hands, and apologizing for not testifying during a tense hearing on HB 500, the tribal law enforcement legislation, last week. Kirts said after the meeting, “I was there in the ‘80s - actually I started this program of deputizing these guys, and I got in trouble then, now I get in trouble for not doing it. So what the hell.”
Rep. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, said, “It’s always good to talk - I don’t have a problem with people talking and trying to get together. I think it’s probably a good thing on both sides if we can get together and hammer out a real deal.” Harwood said with all the fuss over the possible legislation, “it’s going to take a little healing.”
Kirts said, “It’s an agreement. We’ll see if it works out, and go from there. I took a lot of abuse over this.” Kirts, who drove 350 miles today to represent the county at the brief meeting at which the legislation was withdrawn, was asked by reporters if he’s happy with the deal the tribe and county reached yesterday. “From what I can see right now, yes,” he replied.
The cross-deputization agreement reached yesterday at 4:30 between Benewah County and the Coeur d’Alene Tribe includes these provisions:
* Tribal police officers will be sheriff’s deputies, and Benewah County deputies and tribal officers will enforce each other’s laws
* Both the tribe and the county agreed to indemnification to allow lawsuits over officer wrongdoing
* Tribal officers won’t cite non-tribal members into tribal court, with one exception: For violations of the Safe Boating Act, misdemeanor and felony violators would be cited into state court, but infraction offenders would be given a choice of whether they’re cited into tribal or state court
* Disputes would be resolved through non-binding arbitration, and the agreement would be up for automatic renewal each year, but either side could end it at the point of renewal.
The two sides, along with the Idaho Sheriff’s Association, which opposed HB 500 but acted as something of a mediator between the county and tribe, had “three lengthy telephone conferences with the parties, and we arrived at the agreement yesterday,” said Mike Kane, lobbyist for the Sheriff’s Assocation. “To bring the parties together was in everyone’s interest.”
Helo Hancock, legislative director for the tribe, said, “I think both sides worked really hard, I think both sides negotiated their positions quite well and I think at the end of the day, we have a result that I think both sides should be happy with.” The agreement in principle, which stretches for 10 pages, still needs formal signatures from the county sheriff and commissioners and approval from the tribal council and tribal police chief. “Hopefully we’ll get the requisite signatures,” Hancock said. “They’ve tentatively agreed to it.”
He added, “We all believe that this bill, HB 500 was instrumental in getting the parties to the table and maybe having more fruitful discussions about law enforcement issues on our reservation.”
The Coeur d’Alene Tribe and Benewah County have reached an “agreement in principle” on cross-deputization, according to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Clark, R-Hayden Lake, so the committee today will consider holding the tribe’s law enforcement legislation in committee pending that deal. “I think it’s a good deal, and I think the committee was helpful in bringing the parties together,” Clark said. “I think sometimes it takes legislation to bring all parties together. They do have an agreement in principle, and I think it’s a great outcome for public safety.”
The House Judiciary Committee has now voted, unanimously, at the request of tribal legislative director Helo Hancock, to hold HB 500 in committee.
Young dancers with “Irish Dance Idaho” filled the fourth-floor rotunda of the Capitol today with clicking, tapping and festivity on this St. Patrick’s Day.
A new version of emergency surcharge legislation to help fund Idaho’s courts through the economic downturn was introduced in the House Ways & Means Committee today and sent directly to the House’s 2nd Reading Calendar. It replaces HB 524a, the earlier version, which originally sought to impose a $25 surcharge on all convictions for the next three years, to raise $5.1 million a year. That was amended to a $20 surcharge, raising $4.1 million; the new version replaces that with a tiered surcharge of $10 on infractions, $50 on misdemeanors and $100 on felonies, raising $4.3 million a year. The courts still would be short $723,000 next year, under the budget already set by JFAC.
“It was thought by many that the tiered approach was the more appropriate approach,” said Patti Tobias, administrative director of the courts; the committee vote was unanimous.
The House Ways & Means Committee has introduced legislation sought by Boise State University that would free state universities to follow their own purchasing policies, rather than go through both their university processes and the state’s purchasing process. The University of Idaho already can do that, because it predated statehood, but the duplicative process has long been a complaint of Boise State University President Bob Kustra. “This will make the universities more nimble, if you will,” said House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, who presented the bill to the leadership committee. Former House Speaker Bruce Newcomb, now a BSU lobbyist, attended the meeting but left the pitch to Bedke, the bill’s lead sponsor; Bedke said it’ll allow universities to better deal with grants and accreditation concerns. It was introduced on a unanimous vote.
There were lots of questions first, particularly from Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, but the House has voted unanimously, 68-0, to pass HB 656, the Idaho Hospital Assessment Act. The negotiated bill, which will last for two years, calls for private hospitals to pay an extra $25 million a year for Idaho’s Medicaid program, which would then attract $100 million a year in federal matching funds for the program, which provides health coverage for the poor and disabled. The bill was anticipated when the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee set the budget for Medicaid for next year, which still faces tens of millions in shortfalls even after the infusion from hospitals. The bill now heads to the Senate.
The “conscience” bill on abortion, emergency contraception and end-of-life care has won final passage in the House on a 51-18 vote, but it wasn’t a straight party-line vote. Democrats Branden Durst of Boise and James Ruchti of Pocatello voted in favor of the bill, along with most House Republicans; while Republicans Tom Trail of Moscow and George Eskridge of Dover voted against it, along with most House Democrats; Rep. Leon Smith, R-Twin Falls, missed the vote. The measure, SB1353, earlier passed the Senate, so it now heads to the governor’s desk. It permits any licensed health care professional, from pharmacists to nurses, to refuse to provide any treatment or medication that violates their conscience if it relates to abortion, emergency contraception, end-of-life care or stem cells. “They would not have have to provide a service that was not in agreement with their conscience,” said Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, the bill’s House sponsor.
Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, a physician, said, “Certainly issues of conscience are important to all of us and should be respected.” But he said in his opinion the bill conflicts with existing laws on medical treatment. “The bigger issue in this is really who’s watching out for the patient,” he said. Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, said Idahoans will see the bill as “an extraordinary intrusion by government into their private lives … trampling on their right to be left alone to make their own decisions about life and death.”
An earlier attempt by House Democrats to divert the bill for amendments to remove the end-of-life care part failed on a near-party line vote. As written, the bill would permit a nurse, for example, to refuse to disconnect a feeding tube that a dying patient wanted removed, if doing so would violate the nurse’s conscience. The bill was written by anti-abortion advocates with the group Idaho Chooses Life.
1st District GOP congressional candidate Vaughn Ward has announced that Lori Otter - Idaho’s current first lady - and Patricia Kempthorne, a past Idaho first lady, will co-chair his “Republican Women for Ward” group, which Ward said now has more than 300 members. Said Ward, “These remarkable women have done many wonderful things for the state of Idaho during their careers and I appreciate their help as we reclaim Idaho’s 1st congressional district for the Republican Party.” Ward is running in what’s turning into a rather crowded GOP primary contest for a chance to challenge Democratic 1st District Congressman Walt Minnick; you can click below to read his full release on “Republican Women for Ward.”
The Senate State Affairs Committee has passed Rep. Mike Moyle’s voter I.D. bill, but only after lots of discussion and many questions from Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly, D-Boise, who said, “I have concerns about its implementation as well as its constitutionality, and I’ll be speaking to the Attorney General about that.”
Moyle, R-Star, the House majority leader, wants to require voters to show photo I.D. at the polls before they vote; his bill, HB 496, earlier passed the House on a 64-6 vote. Said Kelly, “It’s unnecessary - the existing system works. There’s virtually no evidence of fraud in Idaho, and it’s an unnecessary burden on voters and election officials as well.” She added, “There was a lot of talk about public perception of voter fraud, but in fact there isn’t voter fraud.”
House and Senate Democratic leaders say the latest unemployment figures underscore the need for economic development legislation like the 10 bills their party has proposed, including six as part of their “IJOBS” package, but none of those bills has passed; just one had received a public hearing before today, while a second is up for a hearing this morning. “Democratic legislators understand that the number one issue for Idaho’s citizens is jobs,” Senate Assistant Minority Leader Elliot Werk said in a news release. “While the Majority has focused on playing politics with a series of memorials and bills that will do little more than force the state to defend costly lawsuits, there has been precious little discourse about how we can help the private sector create jobs for Idahoans.”
You can read the Democrats’ release here, and a full report here from reporter Brian Murphy in today’s Idaho Statesman, in which House Revenue & Taxation Committee Chairman Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, says, “Any bill that passes out of committee, I want it to pass on the floor and if I don’t think it’s going to pass out of the committee, I’m not going to have a hearing on it. Some of these bills that come up are strictly for political reasons or trying to pat or scratch somebody’s back. My job is to sift that stuff out.”
The Senate has given final passage to HB 533, legislation raising the fee for invasive species stickers for non-motorized or out-of-state boats by $2 apiece. The non-motorized stickers would jump from $5 to $7; out-of-staters would pay $22, up from $20. “We are asking to increase the fees just a little bit,” said Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home.
Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, asked if it was true that the state hasn’t even gone through a full year with its current fees, and Corder confirmed that. The additional boost in the fees is to pay a vendor fee, Corder said. Said Mortimer, “I have objections to raising a fee when we really have no track record. … There were a lot of my constituents that were very concerned about the fee to begin with.” Corder said, “It is true, we don’t have a track record - except that we don’t have mussels.” The sticker fees help fund prevention efforts to keep invasive quagga and zebra mussels out of Idaho waterways.
Sen. Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, said he’s heard from local boy scouts concerned about a huge impact given the number of canoes they have at scout camp, so he voted “no.” The bill passed on a 21-14 vote, and now heads to the governor’s desk.
Among the additional candidates filing for office this afternoon are incumbent Lt. Gov. Brad Little, who is seeking a full term in office to which he was appointed by Gov. Butch Otter; and “Pro-Life,” the frequent candidate previously known as Marvin Richardson before he legally changed his name to the slogan, who is running for governor as an independent. You can see the full list here.
Gov. Butch Otter has been quietly signing bills into law, but to date - as of the 65th day of the legislative session - he hasn’t held a single public signing ceremony. He’s now scheduled his first for tomorrow, for HB 391a, the “Idaho Health Freedom Act.” The bill, which bans enforcement of any federal mandate for Idaho residents or businesses to purchase health insurance and requires the Idaho Attorney General to go to court to fight any such requirement, drew heavy objections from minority Democrats, and passed the House on a straight party-line vote, while three Republicans joined Senate Democrats in opposing it. Otter will hold his signing ceremony at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, along with GOP legislative sponsors Reps. Jim Clark, Raul Labrador and Lynn Luker, and Sen. Monty Pearce.
In his opening debate on a bill in the Senate this afternoon, Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, made this comment: “This portion of the bill really sucks, in my opinion.” That brought an immediate objection from Sen. Denton Darrington, R-Declo, who makes a point of objecting when Senate protocol is violated, including through the use of “exceptional words.” Rather than lodge a formal objection, Darrington told the Senate he just wanted Siddoway to consider himself warned. Siddoway was presenting HB 416, a bill that earlier passed the House unanimously, and was sponsored by Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, a former Idaho Fish & Game commissioner, to clear up conflicting wording in the law governing wasting of edible portions of game animals. Despite the dust-up, the bill then passed unanimously.
All three proposed constitutional amendments on municipal indebtedness - for airports, publicly owned hospitals, and municipal power systems - have now passed both houses of the Legislature with more than two-thirds support, and will go on the ballot for voter approval in November. The Senate passed the final two this afternoon. David Frazier, the citizen activist whose lawsuit resulted in an Idaho Supreme Court decision in 2006 limiting municipal indebtedness, told the Associated Press today that he’s fine with the power cities amendment, but opposes the other two. Lawmakers contend the amendments ensure that taxpayers won’t be on the hook for unpaid bonds if a project fails. Click below to read a full article from AP reporter John Miller.
Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — House Democrats failed to narrow a bill that seeks to give health workers’ permission to abstain from giving care they find morally objectionable. Democrats proposed an amendment on Tuesday to strike a provision that frees nurses, pharmacists and others from having to provide end-of-life treatment for dying patients, if it violates their conscience. Ketchum Democrat Rep. Wendy Jaquet says this would complicate cases involving elderly patients by allowing nurses to back away from providing care at a crucial time. But just one of the chamber’s majority Republicans, Rep. Leon Smith, R-Twin Falls, joined the Democrats’ push to alter the bill, which has already cleared the Senate, while one minority Democrat, Rep. James Ruchti, D-Pocatello, voted with the Republicans. The bill is intended to shield nurses and pharmacists opposed to providing treatment for end-of life care, abortions, emergency contraception and stem-cell therapy. State law now affords doctors conscience protections involving abortions. The House will likely debate the bill this week.
Among today’s candidate filings, so far, is Robert Vasquez’ new bid to run against Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, in the May GOP primary. The former Canyon County commissioner, unsuccessful congressional candidate and vocal anti-illegal immigration activist makes the primary a three-way race, as GOP challenger Greg Collett of Caldwell already had filed, along with the incumbent. Democrat Leif Skyving also has filed for the seat. Also, state Controller Donna Jones has picked up a primary challenger, Todd Hatfield of McCall; Rep. Anne Pasley-Stuart, D-Boise, has withdrawn from the Senate race in District 19 and incumbent Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, is back in, seeking re-election; and Democrat David Cadwell of Boise has filed for Pasley-Stuart’s House seat.
Rep. Chuck Coiner, R-Twin Falls, has drawn a primary challenger, Lee Heider of Twin Falls; and Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, faces Harold Mohlman of Rupert in the primary. Republican James Stivers of DeSmet has joined the District 3 GOP Senate primary, making it a three-way race, as Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, already faces Dennis Engelhardt of Sagle. Steve Vick of Dalton Gardens, a former Montana state legislator and House Appropriations Committee chairman, hasn’t officially filed yet but announced today he’ll run against Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, in the GOP primary. You can see the full list here at the Idaho Secretary of State’s Web site, which is being updated twice a day as candidates file; the filing period runs through Friday.
Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A House committee will take a little more time before voting on a bill bringing the state a step closer to taxing online sales. The House Revenue and Taxation Committee decided Tuesday to postpone its vote on a bill authorizing the Tax Commission to study tax code changes needed to impose a 6 percent sales tax on Internet sales. Those revisions are necessary for Idaho to join 22 other states that collect revenue from online sales across state lines from major retailers like Best Buy, Walmart and Target. House Majority Leader and Star Republican Mike Moyle said he was concerned about spending money to revise and simplify the tax code. The Senate passed a similar bill unanimously earlier this session. But the House committee introduced its own version because all tax legislation traditionally starts in that panel. The House has killed three similar attempts since 2007.
The Senate Commerce & Human Resources Committee was so enthusiastic about HB 604 this afternoon - the bill to ban pension-padding retirement bonuses like those paid to three state employees in the past year, including the retiring state human resources director - that the panel not only passed the bill unanimously, it sent it to the Senate’s “consent calendar,” which is reserved for bills with wide support that need little debate and will all be passed in a single vote. HB 604, sponsored by Reps. Anne Pasley-Stuart, D-Boise; Elfreda Higgins, D-Garden City; and Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, and endorsed by GOP Gov. Butch Otter, earlier passed the House on a unanimous, 64-0 vote. The Otter Administration said while it had given the bonuses in the past, it no longer felt they were a good use of taxpayer dollars, particularly with the state’s tight budget.
Soil conservation districts from around the state set up displays in the 4th floor rotunda of the Capitol today, to show lawmakers what their districts do.
Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on today’s Land Board decision to hike cabin-site rents on Priest and Payette lakes by an average of 9 percent a year for the next five years, or 54 percent, plus impose new surcharges when the leases change hands. The Land Board voted 3-2 in favor of the plan, which will take effect when all of the state’s cabin-site leases on both lakes come up for renewal on Dec. 31st.
Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Senate passed the first of three constitutional amendments to allow Idaho cities and publicly-owned hospitals to sign long-term financing contracts without a vote, if no taxpayer money is pledged to repay debts. Senators supported the amendment, 34-0, to allow hospitals more flexibility. The chamber is due to take up the remaining measures Tuesday afternoon. To be successful, all must pass voter muster next November after receiving at least two-thirds support in each house of the Legislature. In 2006, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled that the state Constitution forbade the city of Boise from building a new airport parking garage without residents’ approval — even though the city planned to use parking revenue, not taxes, to pay off the building. Cities and publicly-owned hospitals say that decision has hurt their ability to buy snow plows, enter into long-term electricity contracts or even purchase medical equipment.
The charging of “premium rent” when state-owned cabin sites - on which private renters build and maintain their own cabins and other improvements - change hands is designed to recapture part of the gain in value of the premium lakefront lots for the state, rather than having all the appreciation go to the cabin owner who sells. The idea is that if the state really is charging market-rate rents, there’s essentially no value in the leasehold itself, the right to rent the land. That, instead, is paid through yearly rents. However, leasehold values have skyrocketed over the years. In fiscal year 2009, 10 cabins on state endowment leased land sold. The state received $305,901 in premium rent, at a 10 percent rate. That means the sellers collected $2.75 million in gains on their state-owned leaseholds, according to the state Department of Lands.
That’s why a state Land Board subcommittee originally proposed to hike premium rents to 50 percent over the next five years. The subcommittee’s report says, “Since 2003, cottage site owners have realized in excess of $25 million for the use of state endowment lands while the endowment received only $2.7 million” in premium rents. The problem with that approach was illustrated in a letter to the Land Board from cabin site lessee Karl Klokke, who said he and his wife bought their Payette Lake lakefront cottage site leasehold in 2005 for $750,000, then spent another $100,000 to demolish existing buildings, build retaining walls and make other site improvements to prepare for a new home - which never was built. Now, Klokke says, he’d be lucky to sell his leasehold as-is for $300,000. If the state took 50 percent of that, it’d take $150,000 and, rather than tapping anyone’s profits, just compound his losses. Klokke suggested the state charge premium rent only on the increase in value of the leasehold - the net, rather than the gross.
The final proposal from the subcommittee, approved today on a 3-2 vote, offers an either-or: The state would charge either 10 percent of gross leasehold value when the lease changes hands, or 50 percent of net leasehold value - compared to what the seller originally paid for the leasehold - whichever is better for the state. For those who acquired their cabins decades ago or had them passed down through their families, though, that’d be a steep hit.
Chuck Lempesis, attorney for the Priest Lake cabin owners, said that’d be enough to stop anyone from wanting to either sell or buy one of the leases. “The marketplace is already in catastrophic condition,” he said. “This is probably its death knell, at least for the short term, because of the instability.” Bud Belles, president of the Priest Lake cabin owners’ association, said, “I think they’ve truly taken an action that will reduce the value of the property at Priest Lake.” But with rising rents, he said, “We have a lot of lessees that just cannot afford it any more.”
The Idaho Land Board has voted 3-2 in favor of Secretary of State Ben Ysursa’s motion on state-owned cabin site rents, with Ysursa, Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna and Gov. Butch Otter voting in favor, and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and state Controller Donna Jones voting against.
Secretary of State Ben Ysursa has moved to adopt the subcommittee’s recommendation - rents for state-owned cabin sites on endowment land to be set at 4 percent of the average value over the past 10 years, phased in over a five-year period, plus a premium rent of either 10 percent of gross leasehold value or 50 percent of net, whichever is better for the state. The result would be rent increases of an average of 9 percent a year for the next five years, or about 54 percent total over that time period, he said. Still, he said, the state won’t be collecting full market-rate rents as the state constitution mandates. “Why aren’t we at current? We, everybody on this board, has voted for a freeze at least one time, some of us two times. We are complicit in the problem that we’re at.” Currently, because of the freezes, he said, the state’s not even at 2.5 percent of current value in its rents - and it still wouldn’t be with the proposed increases.
State Controller Donna Jones spoke out against the motion. “I don’t think it’ll bring us to a true market rent,” she said. Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said, “We have an obligation to obtain the maximum long-term return. I do not feel we’re fulfilling that obligation with regard to this motion. … I’ll be voting no.” Gov. Butch Otter said, “I believe there’s a great value in stability.” Most importantly, he said, he wants the state to “get on a program” to “in some way trade ourselves out of, auction ourselves out of, sell ourselves out of these lots. And I think I’ve made myself clear on that.” State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna said, “We’re never going to maximize earnings for these properties until we sell them … or trade them for other assets.”
Laurie Boeckel, legislative vice president of the Idaho State PTA, urged the state Land Board to keep in mind the beneficiaries of the state endowment when it makes its decision on cabin lease rents, urging the board to “act in a manner that has the undivided loyalty to the beneficiaries, which are the children in public education now and in the future.” She also requested that if the process goes into mediation, the PTA be invited to participate. Attorney General Lawrence Wasden thanked Boeckel for participating in the meeting, saying the beneficiaries’ interests are key.
Former Idaho Attorney General Tony Park, speaking on behalf of Payette Lake cabin owners, urged the state Land Board to go into mediation on the remaining lease issues rather than decide the issue today. “Mediation shouldn’t take more than a few days,” he said. Gov. Butch Otter responded, “What’s to stop us” from entering mediation even after a decision? Park said, “I’m fearful … that will unleash the litigation mode. … If we set aside another 30 days to try to mediate these four sticking points and hopefully reach agreement on those four sticking points, and include those in the new lease, we don’t have that, we obviate the need for litigation.”
Gov. Butch Otter, responding to cabin owners’ concerns, said, “This is going to give us at least a point of beginning, and … I’m willing to do anything to divest ourselves of these headaches (which drew laughter from the audience), these cabin leases. I never felt that that was proper. … They were all done for good and pure purposes. But I’m going to stick with the subcommittee’s recommendations now, and if for no other reason to move forward, beginning today.” Otter indicated he may or may not be chairing the Land Board a year from now - an election lies between now and then. “If that’s changed a year from now, whoever changes it, fine, but I’m going forward,” he declared.
Chuck Lempesis, attorney for Priest Lake cabin owners, urged strongly against the Land Board’s new premium rent proposal. “This will destroy the marketplace, I am telling you,” Lempesis declared. “Who in their right mind would buy anything, particularly in the next year, with the word out there” of a possible 50 percent premium rent on future sales, he asked. “And who would sell under those circumstances?” If 50 percent of net proceeds go to the state, he said, once taxes and transaction costs are taken out, “There is nothing, or hardly anything that the seller gets.”
Lempesis urged the board to just approve one-year leases for the next year, and keep premium rent as-is. “The people who will suffer the most if you impose today the 50 percent … will be the beneficiaries of the endowment,” he said. “It will drive down the values substantially of the properties. … If you go to 50 percent of net you’re going to take that market down.”
The state Land Board has begun the cabin-site rent issue; subcommittee Chairman Ben Ysursa, Idaho Secretary of State, noted that at its last meeting, the board voted to work toward eventually getting out of the cabin-site business, through selling or exchanging the properties. The board also voted to go with a 10-year lease when all its state-owned cabin sites at Payette and Priest lakes come up for renewal on Dec. 31, 2010. Since then, Ysursa said, the subcommittee has met again with cabin-site owners, and discussed a new proposal on premium rent. The subcommittee still is sticking with its previous rent proposal of 4 percent of value, based on an average of the past 10 years’ values, phased in over five years, and recalculated every five years. “We have not gotten off the 4-10-5,” Ysursa said.
The new proposal for premium rents, which are paid when the state leases change hands, would set it at either 10 percent of the gross leasehold value - where it is now - or 50 percent of the net leasehold value at sale. Originally, the subcommittee had been looking to phase in a 50 percent premium rent. “We are in a disposal mode,” Ysursa said. “The least amount of chaos or disruption would be the way to go while we’re in this transitional mode.”
Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho lawmakers have scheduled a hearing on Wednesday morning for a bill aimed at reforming the state’s urban renewal laws, first passed 45 years ago to help cities improve blighted areas and boost economic development. Existing districts fear some of the 26-page bill’s proposed changes could hamper their ability to sell bonds for their projects by triggering a requirement for them to ask voters first. Meanwhile, urban renewal agency critics say the measure falls short of boosting public oversight of districts they believe horde their cash to help them expand beyond their original purposes. Rep. Scott Bedke, a Republican from Oakley, conceded that it may not be possible to make everybody happy. Bedke says, “You’ve got to let the dogs bark, but at some point, you’ve got to let the caravan move on.”
On the Net:
— For HB 672 http://www.legislature.idaho.gov/legislation/2010/H0672.htm
After last month’s stormy special Land Board meeting at which a divided board opted to take an additional $22 million from school endowment reserves to help Idaho’s schools through next year’s budget crunch, the board now has received another request, from State Hospital South, for an additional $1.2 million special distribution in fiscal year 2011. The State Hospital South endowment reserve actually has $1.6 million in excess of its goal of five years’ worth of regular distributions.
The board isn’t scheduled to decide on that request until next month, but Gov. Butch Otter said the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee should be informed of the possibility. Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said endowment distributions at one time were “supposed to be the gravy on top of the regular appropriation,” not to function in place of general funds. But Otter said, “Nothing is normal about this … process this year, and there is no gravy.” State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna said the issue raises the question of who the endowment reserves, which include earnings on endowment lands, are for. “I do believe that the earnings are for current beneficiaries, and the corpus is for the future,” Luna said. The board agreed to revisit the overall issue in August when it makes endowment distribution decisions.
It’s standing-room only at the state Land Board meeting this morning, where the big item on the agenda is raising lease rates for state-owned cabin sites on Payette and Priest lakes. A Land Board subcommittee is recommending setting rents at 4 percent of the average appraised value of the lot over the most recent 10 years; currently, rents are set closer to 2.5 percent of the value of the bare land on which lessees build and maintain their cabins, though they’ve been frozen in recent years amid controversy over possible big hikes. The subcommittee also is calling for premium rents, which are paid when the state leases change hands, to be set at either 10 percent of the gross leasehold value, or 50 percent of the net leasehold value at sale.
Rent for a state lot under a cabin at Priest Lake now costs around $7,000 a year; in 1945, the leases cost $10 a year. With values rising and the new rent formula proposal, those could jump sharply, though the subcommittee’s proposal calls for a five-year phase-in of increases.
The Correctional Alternative Placement Program, Idaho’s newest state prison, could open July 1 rather than be delayed until September, under a plan being worked out by the Otter Administration, state Corrections Director Brent Reinke and the co-chairs of the Legislature’s joint budget committee, the Associated Press reports. Though the budget that JFAC set for the state’s prison system was based on the delay, Reinke is working on a plan he hopes will cost the same amount but allow the earlier opening, taking advantage of budget flexibility that JFAC wrote into his appropriation. The idea: Prisoners who go through the CAPP, receiving short- and medium-term but intensive drug and alcohol treatment, will be released sooner than those housed in regular state prisons, saving money overall. Click below to read the full report from AP reporter John Miller.
Among the candidates filing for office today are Democrat William Bryk, a New Yorker who told Eye on Boise in October that he’d never been to Idaho, but wanted to challenge Sen. Mike Crapo so a sitting senator wouldn’t go unchallenged; Crapo also faces two other challengers so far: Democrat P. Tom Sullivan of Tetonia, and Republican Claude “Skip” Davis III of Weiser. Also filing today were Judge John Bradbury of Lewiston, challenging Supreme Court Justice Roger Burdick; and Republican Allan Salzberg of Boise, joining an array of candidates seeking the 1st District congressional seat now held by Democrat Walt Minnick, who is seeking re-election.
In legislative filings today, Democrat Paula Marano of Coeur d’Alene filed for the legislative seat now held by retiring Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene; you can see the full list here.
Warring sides in the debate over Idaho’s 45-year-old urban renewal laws are raising concerns about reform efforts that have dominated hours of hearings in the 2010 Legislature, but have so far managed to make nobody really happy, reports AP reporter John Miller. Click below to read Miller’s full report.
If a 16- or 17-year-old girl has consensual sex with her 18- or 19-year-old boyfriend, Sen. Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, says the boy shouldn’t be convicted of felony rape and branded a sex offender for life. That’s the current law in Idaho, the eastern Idaho senator told his fellow senators today, and it’s been ruining young men’s lives. “In most states, in fact 35 states, the age of consent is 16,” Hill told the Senate today. In Idaho, it’s 18. Under his bill, SB 1385, the age of consent would remain 18, except in cases where the girl’s partner is less than three years older than her. “It doesn’t protect anybody over 20 years old, nobody,” Hill told the Senate. “It doesn’t protect anybody who uses force.” Also left untouched is the law that makes plying the girl with alcohol or drugs and then having sex the same as forcible rape, at any age.
Hill said he’s accumulated a thick file of cases in which consensual, boyfriend-girlfriend relationships have led to such convictions. “He’s branded forever. He’s a felon convicted of a sex crime. He can’t choose where he wants to live, in some cases he can’t be around little sisters, nieces, and will have a hard time getting a decent job. I have a whole folder here … of young men who’ve gone through exactly that.” Holding up a volume of Idaho Code, which includes the current rape law, Hill declared, “We have a book right here that labels almost half the boys in the graduating class of 2010 as rapists, felons, criminals.” There was no debate on the bill, and it passed unanimously, 35-0; it now moves to the House.
Two years later, the Idaho House has voted unanimously in favor of a resolution honoring U.S. Olympic gold medalist Kristen Armstrong for her 2008 cycling medal. “Kristin Armstrong is a positive and inspirational role model for all of us,” Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, told the House. “We recognize and honor Kristin Armstrong for her superior attitude and conduct, her medal-winning performance … and for the pride and inspiration she brings.” The measure won a unanimous voice vote, as Armstrong and her husband looked on from the House gallery. Rep. Tom Trail, R-Moscow, noted that she’ll be the commencement speaker at the University of Idaho this year.
Hart said he intended to bring the measure earlier, but Armstrong was traveling; then, the Legislature was in the annex, where there was no public gallery, so he decided to wait until this year. He said he wanted to propose the measure because he’s a former bicycle racer himself. Today wasn’t Armstrong’s first appearance at the Legislature this year; she testified to a Senate committee in favor of two bicycle safety bills that then were sent to the Senate’s amending order, where they remain.
A new, 26-page urban renewal reform bill was introduced this morning in House Rev & Tax, after a subcommittee of that panel studied seven other bills from various sponsors which then all were rejected in favor of the new measure. The new bill introduced this morning was proposed by Rep. Leon Smith, R-Twin Falls, who chaired the subcommittee. Here’s a report on it from the Associated Press:
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Boise economic development officials are raising concerns that a bill aimed at reforming Idaho’s 1965 urban renewal law includes provisions that could hurt their ability to sell bonds to finance their projects. The 26-page bill, introduced Monday in the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, would, among other things, make it easier for a mayor or city council to remove members of an urban renewal district’s board. Phil Kushlan, executive director of the Capital City Development Corp. in Boise, has been told by lawyers that such a provision — aimed at increasing accountability of urban renewal districts — could result in a judge deciding that such districts are mere extensions of local governments. If that’s the case, two-thirds of voters would be required to approve any long-term debt incurred by the district, something that’s not currently required.
The House State Affairs Committee has voted largely along party lines to both introduce and send to the full House a new version of HCR 60, a resolution backed by Gov. Butch Otter and the Idaho Republican Party that urges amendments to the U.S. Constitution to narrow the scope of the Commerce Clause and broad the 10th Amendment on states’ rights. Rep. Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, called the measure “a significant step towards bringing the control back to the individual states.” He said, “For decades we have shared increased frustrations dealing with the federal government and its agencies. From wolf and grizzly bear management, to gun control, to endless regulation and unfunded mandates, the federal government has become far too intrusive. … If we want to limit the role of the federal government, the limitation must be placed in the document from which the federal government and courts derive their power, the Constitution of the United States.”
The new version, which makes several changes to the original HCR 60 for legal reasons, drew opposition from four of the five Democrats on the panel, with just Rep. Mary Lou Shepherd, D-Prichard, joining the committee’s Republicans in backing its quick passage.
The Idaho Statesman’s Brian Murphy reports today on how the Idaho Meth Project will get another half-million dollars from the state next year, with the money coming from tobacco-settlement Millenium Funds. The state also contributed $1 million in 2009, and $500,000 this year to the private, non-profit project that’s championed by Gov. Butch Otter and First Lady Lori Otter; you can read Murphy’s full report here.
The House State Affairs Committee has voted in favor of HB 633, Rep. Phil Hart’s silver medallion bill, with just one no vote, from Rep. Anne Pasley-Stuart, D-Boise. All testimony was in favor of the bill. Larry Pegg of Canyon County told the committee, “I’ve had over 100 people through my home, meetings on various political ideas. Almost every meeting, somebody brings up the currency that we are now operating under. … The Constitution states we’re going to have gold and silver coins, in 1913 they changed that - everybody’s looking for a way to get back to gold and silver.”
John Blattler of Boise County told the panel he’s concerned about the impact of inflation on U.S. dollars. An American could purchase a “fine man’s suit back in the 1900s” for a $20 gold piece, Blattler said. “Now for a 20-dollar bill, you’d be lucky to get a fine tie - well, you can’t get a fine tie for $20 dollars. … Our currency is losing its value.” The bill now moves to the full House.
Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, is pitching his silver medallion bill to the House State Affairs Committee this morning. HB 633 would permit Idaho’s state treasurer to contract with a firm to produce an Idaho silver medallion that could be used as legal tender to pay state taxes. The bill also would grant 10-year income and property tax exemptions to a firm that opens a silver processing operation in Idaho; and provide incentives for processing ore at the Bunker Hill Superfund Site. “HB 633 is about trying to put some Idahoans to work,” Hart said, and also creating a silver medallion “that citizens of Idaho can use to protect the value of their savings or the value of their investments.”
In his bill, Hart quoted from Section 10, Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution, “No state shall … make anything but gold and silver coin a tender in payment of debts.” He said, “I’m not sure how exactly it came about that we ignored that, but that is in our Constitution.” He said in his view, the nation did better under the 1792 Coinage Act than it has under the 1913 Federal Reserve Act. “From 1792 to 1913, we had 17 percent inflation in the United States. Since 1913 to today we’ve had 3,200 percent inflation.” Said Hart, “This bill is not setting up another money system, in fact I would be surprised if more than 1 percent of money in circulation in Idaho took this form. But it would give Idahoans … an option, where they could store their wealth, they could store it in a precious metal. … It would give our citizens a place to store some of their wealth while at the same time putting Idahoans to work.”
Asked if the medallion would have a face value for use in paying taxes, Hart said, “It will not have a face value; my feeling is if it did, we would be coining money, which we can’t do under the U.S. Constitution. … So what it does, is it would fluctuate in value with the market.” The bill says the medallion’s value would be pegged to that of the existing American Eagle medallion.
As the 64th day of the legislative session kicks off this morning, spring is in the air. Over the weekend, local ski area Bogus Basin got a 6-inch powder dump on Saturday, followed by a day of bright sunny skies on Sunday, and somehow things started to look brighter - at least from up there… Today brings rather full agendas both in committees and on the floor, as the legislative session kicks into its final weeks and candidates continue to file for office, heightening the hurly-burly.
Here’s a link to the ninth week of Idaho’s legislative session in pictures, as a slide show. Let your cursor hover over the bottom part of the picture frame, and the captions will appear as the slide show plays. Tonight, on Idaho Public Television’s “Idaho Reports,” we’ll talk about the Idaho Education Network, budgets, texting, politics and more. Guests joining host Thanh Tan include JFAC Co-Chairs Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, and Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome; House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star; and Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly, D-Boise. I join commentators including Jim Weatherby and Kevin Richert on the program, which airs tonight at 8, is rebroadcast Sunday at 11 a.m. Mountain time/10 a.m. Pacific time, and can be viewed online here. The show also is broadcast on the radio at 3 p.m. on Saturday on KISU-FM, and 10 a.m. Sunday on KBSX 91.5 FM.
Here’s a link to my full story on today’s approval of a plan to hire more tax auditors to go after a chunk of Idaho’s “tax gap” next year - and help balance the budget - and here’s a link to my story on the last remaining immigration bill of the session, which cleared a Senate committee today but is headed for the 14th Order for amendments; both previous bills died in committee.
District 1 lawmakers won $5,000 for their local schools today, as part of Regence BlueShield of Idaho’s fifth annual “Move It” competition, which pits lawmakers against each other by district to see who can take the most steps in a four-week walking challenge, as measured by pedometers. District 25 came in second, and District 17 third. The District 1 team consisted of Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, and Reps. George Eskridge, R-Dover, and Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake; the program is aimed at promoting healthy behaviors and physical activity to combat child obesity. Click below to read the full announcement from Regence BlueShield.
He’s still made no official announcement, but Gov. Butch Otter today put the speculation to rest over whether he’ll seek a second term: He will. Otter filed his candidacy papers with the Secretary of State’s office today. Also filing today were Republican Vaughn Ward, who’s running in the GOP primary for the 1st Congressional District seat now held by Democrat Walt Minnick; P. Tom Sullivan of Tetonia, a Democrat who filed to run against U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, who’s seeking another six-year term; and Republican Steven Dana Pankey of Shoshone, a Republican who filed to challenge incumbent Lt. Gov. Brad Little in the primary. You can see the full list here; the candidate filing period runs through March 19.
Also today, Otter announced that his campaign manager will be Debbie Field, who led his 2006 campaign (she’ll take a leave from her post as head of the state Office of Drug Policy); and he named Sheila Olsen of Idaho Falls as his eastern Idaho regional coordinator, and Kendra Waitley of Boise as his finance director; you can read his press release naming the staffers here.
Final passage in the House came unanimously today for SB 1329, legislation from the Idaho Sheriff’s Association regarding when two boats bump. The bill raises the trigger for mandatory investigations of boat accidents from $500 in damages, to $1,500 in damages - matching state law regarding motor-vehicle accidents. “All we’re doing is upping it before you have to make a report,” said House sponsor Rep. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries. The vote was 65-0, sending the bill to the governor’s desk; it earlier passed the Senate, also unanimously.
The Senate State Affairs Committee has voted 6-1 to send SB 1271, the last remaining immigration bill this session, to the Senate’s 14th Order for amendment, after a two-hour hearing that drew extensive testimony overwhelmingly opposed to the bill. Among its provisions: Anyone falsifying documents for employment could be sent to prison for 14 years.
Numerous people who testified said the immigration legislation has stirred up anti-Hispanic sentiment in their communities. Raquel Reyes of the Community Council of Idaho, formerly the Idaho Migrant Council, said, “This bill only adds fuel to the flame of those who would have an enforcement-only solution.. .. Both federal and state laws already exist to go after individuals using forged documents to go after employment.” She said the real problem is a “broken system.” “This bill is creating real tension within the communities,” she said. “Immigrants … are being harassed because of the color of their skin.” She told the story of an incident between two schoolchildren; the girl gave the boy a flier about Cinco de Mayo, and when he saw a Mexican flag on it, he said, “You are an illegal alien, I will get my daddy’s gun and shoot you.” The girl was a U.S. citizen and a child of U.S. citizens; the boy was suspended from school for a day. “It is likely he is only repeating what adults are saying,” Reyes told the lawmakers.
Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis proposed sending the bill to the amending order to add an “e-Verify safe harbor,” a provision like the one in unsuccessful legislation from Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, to absolve employers from sanctions if they use the “e-Verify” system to check on an employee’s legal status. Brent Olmstead, lobbyist for a coalition of agriculture and business groups, testified in favor of the bill - the only entity other than the bill’s sponsor to testify in favor, while 13 people testified against - but said after the hearing that if Davis’ amendment were added, his group would oppose the bill.
Davis said the felony penalty and 14-year prison term “sure seems very strong,” but he didn’t propose changing it. Sponsors of the bill said that was intended to apply to those in the business of manufacturing false documents, but as written, if the employee filled in his name on the falsified document, he’d be eligible for that penalty as well. The bill also includes two-year misdemeanor penalties for employers and employees in false-document cases.
Idaho’s Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) has run out of money three weeks earlier than usual, due to increased demand, and is shutting down today; it usually operates through April 1. “This year was an incredibly difficult year for tens of thousands of Idaho families,” said Mary Chant, Community Action Partnership Association of Idaho executive chair. “We could have easily served twice as many as we did if more funding had been available.”
The state’s allocation of $17 million in federal funds served 45,000 low-income households this year. The Idaho Department of Health & Welfare said families can apply for home heating assistance through the program only through the close of business today; after that, they’re advised to call 211 or go to www.idahocareline.org for “information on other resources that may be available to those struggling to meet home energy or other needs.”
Now that most state agency budgets have been set by the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, the committee has gone through a series of unanimous votes on transfers from various funds necessary to balance the state’s budget, both this year and next year. “We have to have a balanced budget by the constitution, and this is just one step in going that direction,” said Rep. Darrell Bolz, R-Caldwell, JFAC co-chair. The result of all those moves: The budget stabilization fund would be down to just $40 by the end of fiscal year 2011, while the Public Education Stabilization Fund still would have its current balance, $17.9 million, and the Economic Recovery Reserve Fund would be drawn down to just under $1 million. Not touched by the move is any Millenium Fund money; about $71 million remains there as a hedge against possible future drops in the federal Medicaid match.
“We took a lot of money out of our savings accounts, and thank goodness we had them,” said Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls. “So our savings accounts are pretty much gone. We have done everything we can,” he said, to create “the least amount of impact that we can” on public education. Responded JFAC Co-Chair Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, “That was the reason for our savings accounts. We hope that the time comes when the revenue stream is there so that we can fill those savings accounts again.”
The one state agency budget still not set is the Department of Administration. Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said the joint committee likely would take that up “next week or the first of the following week.” Now, for the first time in months, the joint committee won’t meet on Monday morning.
JFAC has voted unanimously, 18-0, in favor of the proposed budget for the state Tax Commission from Reps. Wendy Jaquet and Darrell Bolz, which includes a boost in both permanent and temporary staffers in the audits and collections division, both to make up cuts from the past year and to add auditors to bring in more state tax revenue. Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, said he was wary, but supported the plan. “I question really the return on investment,” he said. “I would ask the Tax Commission to be very precise and very accurate in separating the information that will show what the additional cost of this investment is going to be, and what the actual return on this investment will be.”
Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, questioned whether there’s any “science” behind the high expected returns, and legislative budget analyst Ray Houston said there is. Expected returns are higher for permanent staffing additions than for temps, he noted; the state has a track record showing how much collections have increased from past investments in additional auditors. Jaquet said, “They are doing very well right now with the $1.5 million,” which Gov. Butch Otter transferred to the Tax Commission for that purpose this year from the budget stabilization fund. The commission is on track to exceed the goal of $10 million in additional collections. “We think that they’ll be able to do it. It was not nearly what they wanted, and it’s one-time - we felt like we were really holding them accountable,” Jaquet said.
Rep. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, said, “You can create an overzealous employee. … I just want to make sure it’s fair. I want the reporting, I think that’s necessary. But I want to make sure that the intention is not to go out and just make claims everywhere to show you’re performing your job.” JFAC Co-Chair Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, responded, “So noted.”
Rep. Darrell Bolz, R-Caldwell, said Gov. Butch Otter has a compliance initiative aimed at closing what the state Tax Commission estimates as a $67 million annual “tax gap” in taxes due, but not collected. “What we’re trying to do in this tight economic time is to increase revenue as much as possible, and here’s the opportunity to try to decrease that tax gap,” Bolz said. Otter originally recommended spending another $1.5 million on the effort next year, but the JFAC plan takes that a step further toward his eventual plan, adding another $1.8 million next year.
“We want to commend the gentleman on the second floor and his Tax Commission … for wanting to address this tax gap,” Jaquet said. “We know that there’s a concern about diminishing returns.” So, she said, the additional spending is one-time, and is phased in by quarter in the coming year, with extensive reporting requirements to allow its impact to be evaluated. “Evaluating it on a quarterly basis is much more prudent and will hold this process accountable,” Jaquet said.
The plan developed by Reps. Darrell Bolz and Wendy Jaquet to phase in an increase in tax auditors next year calls for first restoring cuts already made in the audit and collections to 2009 levels. Without that restoration, the Tax Commission estimated it’d lose another $17.2 million in taxes next year. Then, the plan restores 10 vacant positions, with an estimated gross return of 8 times, or $4.5 million. Then, as detailed in the Otter Administration’s tax compliance initiative, another $1.6 million would add an array of 43 temporary positions, including compliance technicians, compliance officers, tax auditors, financial technicians and technical records specialists. That initiative is estimated to have a 7 to 1 return, or $11.5 million. Another $50,000 is shifted within the department into audit and collection, to fund a permanent position estimated to bring in a 10-1 return for the expenditure.
Overall, the proposal is $3.3 million higher than JFAC’s original target for spending at the Tax Commission next year, but with the $16.4 million the additional positions would bring in, the net impact on the general fund would be a positive $13.1 million.
Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said, “I want to commend Rep. Jaquet and Rep. Bolz, because we charged them with trying to find a reasonable expectation of what those auditors would get. We couldn’t have blue sky out there and balance the budget on blue sky. They worked very hard with the Tax Commission to make a reasonable assessment of what those funds would generate.”
Overall, JFAC’s target budget had anticipated a $5.5 million shortfall in the fy 2011 budget, which would have been made up from Millenium Fund earnings due this spring. Now, that wouldn’t be necessary; the budget hypothetically would show a $2.5 million surplus, based on current revenue assumptions.
Two JFAC members have come up with a plan to add tax auditors at the state Tax Commission in a carefully phased plan designed to collect $16.4 million more in already-owed taxes next year, and when they presented it at an early-morning workshop meeting of JFAC today, it drew rave reviews. Reps. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, and Darrell Bolz, R-Caldwell, the House Appropriations vice-chair, developed the plan working closely with the state Tax Commission.
It would continue the $1.5 million that Gov. Butch Otter put into auditors this year, plus add $560,000 to restore audits and collections to 2009 levels and $1.6 million for “Phase 2” of the Tax Commission’s “compliance initiative,” its four-year strategy to close Idaho’s “tax gap.” The gap is the amount of taxes that are due but not being paid.
When JFAC talked about the cumulative impacts of all budgets set this year during its early-morning workshop today, legislative budget director Cathy Holland-Smith said, “First of all, I want to thank Ray (Houston, budget analyst), and Rep. Bolz, and Rep. Jaquet for balancing the budget.” Bolz said with a grin, “It’s a way to get revenue, OK? If you can get a 5-1 or 7-1 or 8-1 return, why wouldn’t you do it, OK?” Jaquet said, “We think that they’ll be able to do it.”
Former one-term state Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, who lost to Rep. Rich Jarvis, R-Meridian, in the GOP primary in 2008 by 65 votes, has filed for a rematch in this year’s Republican primary. To see the full list of candidate filings so far, click here; the filing period runs through March 19.
Benewah County Sheriff Bob Kirts sat in the front row of the large audience at today’s tribal law enforcement hearing, but never spoke, leaving that instead to county Prosecutor Douglas Payne. Disappointed lawmakers said they wished they’d heard from Kirts. Asked about that afterward, he retorted, “Well, isn’t that a pain?” and walked off, refusing to comment.
Payne said after the hearing that the county remains willing to talk with the tribe. The big sticking point for the county, he said, is that it wants the tribe to pledge not to book boaters cited for infractions like speeding on Lake Coeur d’Alene into tribal court, if they’re not tribal members. That situation is complicated because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the tribe owns the southern third of the lake - it’s not like highways, which are owned by the state. Payne said the county won’t concede on the boating infraction issue because it views that as a form of giving the tribe criminal jurisdiction over non-tribal members on the reservation. “That’s a bright line that we never want to compromise, don’t want to blur,” he said.
Chief Allan, chairman of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, said he personally doesn’t care whether speeding boaters are cited into state court or tribal court, but said that’s an issue for the lawyers given the U.S. Supreme Court decision. He also expressed some doubt that the county really is down to just one issue. “I’ve been in this game long enough to know that we do something, and it’s always something else,” he said.
During today’s tribal law enforcement hearing, when Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, asked Clearwater County Commissioner Don Ebert what caused his county’s animosities with the Nez Perce Tribe to dissipate, Ebert mentioned several things, including how a Harvard mediator helped all sides work out tensions over a “jurisdictional alliance” local officials had formed in opposition to the tribe some years back. The mediator: Keith Allred, a former Harvard professor from Twin Falls who is now the Democratic candidate for governor of Idaho.
Idaho lawmakers are stepping up the pressure on Benewah County and the Coeur d’Alene Tribe to reach a cross-deputization agreement, after a four-hour hearing Thursday that left some appalled. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
In the end, there was no decision from the House Judiciary Committee today on HB 500, the tribal law enforcement bill - other than to put a decision off for six days, in hopes of the two sides reaching a cross-deputization agreement between now and then. But committee members made it clear they were ready to do something: Two motions were pending to move the bill on to the House’s amending order for technical amendments suggested by both Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, and some of those who testified today. “I just wish you guys wouldn’t even be here today, and you would just sit down and come to an agreement,” said Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle. “And I’m troubled with some of the emails I have received - it seems that there’s something deeper than just a difference of opinion. I don’t understand why we have public safety officers that are just sitting there waiting for a long time for another public safety officer to respond to a call. I don’t understand why we’re allowing crimes to occur in the community and nothing’s being done about it. It just really troubles me.”
Rep. Donna Boe, D-Pocatello, suggested passing the bill with an enactment date in 2011, to see if that would spur the county to the negotiating table. Rep. Steve Kren, R-Nampa, said, “I’m content with moving this bill forward with the amendments to give some time for some last-minute negotiations, if you will.”
The motion to hold off for six days passed on a 10-5 vote, with those objecting holding out for moving forward now. Afterward, House Judiciary Chairman Jim Clark, R-Hayden Lake, said, “I think it was a great hearing, lots of information, both sides of the issue. It’s still alive. I think we’re going to get something out of it - I don’t know what.”
Chief Allan, chairman of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, was the final person to testify at this afternoon’s hearing on the tribe’s law enforcement legislation, before each side started wrapping up. “It’s just a bill for public safety,” Allan told lawmakers. “It’s a vote for putting more police officers out there on the street. … So let’s put a stop to all this rhetoric.” When Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, asked Allan about the county’s concern that tribal police would cite non-tribal members into tribal court, Allan said, “I don’t care what court they go to, they can go to state court. These are actually bad guys getting away. … I’m not making this stuff up - this is what’s happening.”
Idaho and the Corrections Corporation of America have been sued by the ACLU over what the lawsuit describes as an extraordinary level of violence at the Idaho Correctional Center, the privately operated state prison south of Boise. “Our country should be ashamed to send human beings to that facility,” said Stephen Pevar, senior attorney for the ACLU. The suit seeks $155 million in punitive damages; click below to read a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.
Clayne Tyler, Clearwater County prosecutor, testifying on behalf of the Idaho Prosecuting Attorneys Association, spoke against HB 500, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe’s law enforcement bill, but his comments riled Rep. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls. “‘Yielding to a foreign government’ - I have a problem with that,” McGeachin told Tyler. “The Native Americans are people who were in this country far before any of us. … I think we need to be respectful. I think that’s an inflammatory statement.” Tyler responded, “I apologize if you took that as inflammatory. What I’m talking about is the language utilized by the court system when it discusses tribal sovereignty. It is a quasi-dependent sovereign government, not the state of Idaho.”
Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, asked Tyler why prosecutors haven’t worked out the issue - since all parties share concerns about appropriate law enforcement. “Why haven’t we solved this problem, instead of having a three-hour meeting today?” Labrador asked. Tyler responded, “This truly is a localized, one government to another government issue.” He said he doesn’t want to “change the fundamental basis of our relationship with the Nez Perce Tribe.” Nez Perce Tribal Chairman Samuel Penney, however, testified in favor of the bill. “We do have a good working relationship with Clearwater County,” Penney told lawmakers. But, he said, “As local elections take place, sheriffs can change over the years as well. … We previously had a very difficult time with some of the previous sheriffs within our area.”
More than two dozen college students, most of them from ISU, are at the Capitol today to protest cuts in funding for higher ed and proposed fee hikes. At a rally on the Statehouse steps this afternoon, students chanted, “Cuts hurt,” “fight for the future,” and “no more budget cuts; we’re already poor,” according to idahoreporter.com. A large contingent also attended this afternoon’s Senate Education Committee meeting to protest budget cuts.
Diana Painter, one of the organizers of the event, said in a new release, “We are the future of the Idaho economy. To continue to tax students in this way is like eating your seed corn. Idaho needs a government who values public education. If this one doesn’t, we should elect one that does.” She said more than 200 hundred students protested in front of ISU’s administration building on Feb. 25 about proposed tuition increases.
Budget-setting for the next phase of the Idaho Education Network won’t happen tomorrow, the AP is reporting, and instead is being put off until mediation begins next week in a lawsuit over the $60 million statewide broadband system. Sen. Dean Cameron, head of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, said the Legislature’s Republican leadership instructed him to hold off on tackling the entire fiscal year 2011 budget for the Department of Administration, which oversees the network, until the out-of-court talks are under way. “We do have to address it before we leave,” Cameron, R-Rupert, told the AP. “We’re just trying not to get out in front of the mediation.” Click below to read a full report from AP reporter John Miller.
Testimony is continuing the hearing on the tribal law enforcement bill. Here’s some of it:
Don Ebert, Clearwater County commissioner, told the House Judiciary Committee, “We don’t have any problems to fix. We get along good with the tribe. It used to be there were differences of opinion, animosities, maybe some strained racial relations. In the past seven, eight years we’ve pretty well respected one another, do things together. … You try to fix something and sometimes you make it worse. I’m afraid that if this bill goes through it will actually make our situation worse.” Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, asked Ebert what caused his county’s animosities with the tribe to dissipate. “I’ve always respected the tribe,” he said. He noted that there were tensions when some county officials were involved with a jurisdictional alliance, and a Harvard mediator helped all sides work that out. Then, negotiations over the Snake River Basin Adjudication required the sides to talk. “I don’t know,” he said, “just time, I guess, and mutual respect.”
Jeanne Buell, who said she was just testifying as a citizen and area resident, said the tribal police were the first responders at two serious car accidents involving her family members on Highway 95. “They’re responsive, they’re polite, and very professional,” she said.
Rep. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, testified against the bill. “Depriving one’s liberties is pretty much unconstitutional I think, and what I mean by that is the way it works now,” if a constituent comes to him with concerns about a state agency, “we know who to go to … we work our way up the ladder. … If this goes forward and the tribes … get this kind of a status, we have nowhere to go. You’re depriving the liberties of the non-tribal member because they have no place to go to stop their grievances, because you don’t get a vote in the tribal government, they have no place to go.” Harwood added, “When somebody gets a problem, gets crossways with somebody, we have an elected official they can go to who’ll stand accountable to the voters, and they don’t have that.” Harwood said he didn’t think a bill was needed. “I would think we could work it out, to tell you the truth,” he said, “but I think we need a mediator to do it.”
Keith Hutcheson, police chief of the Coeur d’Alene Tribal Police Department police chief, told lawmakers, “Since termination of the agreement, the department has been confronted on a daily basis with inability to enforce law with regard to non-tribal members on the reservation. We experience a slow to no response from the Benewah County Sheriff’s Department, causing a great risk to my officers.” He said his force has 14 officers, all of whom have gone through the state’s POST, or Police Officer Standards and Training academy. Yet, they can’t make arrests of non-tribal members in the Benewah County portion of the reservation, and must instead wait for a sheriff’s officer to show up to make the arrest.
“Criminals know that we can’t act in Benewah County,” Hutcheson said. “They find the holes and say, ‘Oh, we’ll go to Benewah County. … So they come to the area where we cannot enforce the law.” He said a recent incident in which sheriff’s officers wouldn’t respond involved a non-tribal member who was shooting a gun into the ground toward a park, “where there were children playing. … There was no response.” He said, “We’ve had incidents where we’re waiting for hours for a deputy to show up. … We don’t leave the scene, we hold them on-scene and wait for the deputy to show up.”
Benewah County Prosecutor Douglas Payne is now testifying. He opened by saying he couldn’t count all the objections he has to the bill. “This bill should not pass. … It confuses the public,” he said. “They get a ticket into tribal court and they say, ‘What do I do with this, I’m not a tribal person.’ … Essentially what we’re doing here is blurring that line that says that Indian tribe does not have criminal jurisdiction over a non-tribal person on the reservation. … It upsets a balance of power which exists right now between tribal and county governments. … At least we have some bargaining power, to say if you do that we will not deputize you. … It has already aggravated race relations in a very negative way in my county. I’m not sure that aggravation is legitimate, it is already there, and I’d tell you that if this bill passes it is going to get worse.”
He also said tribal police are “not an element of Idaho state government, they are … paid by the federal government.” Payne said, “Increasingly the federal government is telling states what to do in a way that we states find offensive.” Payne held up a thick stack of paper he said was a petition against HB 500 signed by more than 1,300 county residents. “It takes away the power of local people to have a say in their government,” he said of the bill, adding, “we are always ready” to sit down and try to work things out with the tribe.
Though Payne focused much of his concern on tribal police citing non-Indians into tribal court, the bill says in its Statement of Purpose, “All enforcement of state law by Tribal peace officers will be processed through Idaho state courts,” and the text of the bill requires a tribal officer making an arrest to “comply with all duties imposed on peace officers by the laws of the state of Idaho relating to arrest and custody, and the entitlement to judicial proceedings, by or on behalf of the person arrested, in a state court of competent jurisdiction.”
After Mike Kane, lobbyist for the Idaho Sheriffs Association, told the House Judiciary Committee that he’s confident that Benewah County and the Coeur d’Alene Tribe can work out their disagreements and reach a new cross-deputization pact, Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, asked him, “You guys have known that this issue was going to be brought before the Legislature. Why haven’t you worked it out - why is this bill even before us?” Kane responded, “We’ve tried. … We’ve tried.” He said there have been differences between the two over whether infractions are criminal or civil, and thus belong in state or tribal court, as well as other concerns, including that non-tribal members can’t vote for the tribal council, but tribal members can vote for the county sheriff; and questions about accountability of tribal police forces. The two sides had a cross-deputization agreement until 2007, when the county sheriff revoked it.
Mike Kane, lobbyist for the Idaho Sheriff’s Association, said, “There has been some very vigorous lobbying on both sides of this bill. … At the end of the day, there is no good guy and bad guy. These are all law enforcement entities.” Kane told the House Judiciary Committee, “We have reviewed this bill very closely. … They did in fact approach us prior to our December meeting of the sheriff’s association, they made some changes as a result of the discussion with our sheriffs, and many of the things you see here actually originate with various sheriffs around the state.” However, he said the sheriffs’ group has some fundamental differences with the bill, centering on the fact that county sheriffs don’t have jurisdiction over tribal members on reservations. The bill doesn’t change that, he noted. Cross-deputization agreements, however, can.
Kane called the bill something of a “one-way street,” because it would allow tribal officers to gain jurisdiction over non-tribal members on the reservation, in certain circumstances, if cooperative talks fail, but the other side of the equation - sheriff’s jurisdiction over tribal members on the reservation - would remain unaddressed.
Coeur d’Alene Tribe legislative director Helo Hancock told the House Judiciary Committee, “Our intent here is to encourage cooperation among the county and the tribe, and if cooperation cannot be reached, there’s still recourse … for the residents and the tribe to have the law enforcement that they deserve.” Now, lobbyist Bill Roden is walking the committee through the details of the tribe’s bill, HB 500.
The legislation encourages Idaho tribes and county sheriffs to negotiate and reach cooperative agreements for law enforcement within reservations; if an agreement isn’t reached after six months of negotiations, tribal police officers could begin enforcing state laws on the reservation if they meet certain requirements, including being state-certified, sending all cases to state courts, and that the tribe carry liability insurance and waive its sovereign immunity so it can be sued in cases of officer wrongdoing.
The Coeur d’Alene Tribe had cross-deputization agreements with both Kootenai and Benewah counties, but the Benewah County sheriff revoked that county’s agreement in 2007. Now, the tribe contends criminals are going free because its officers on the Benewah County portion of its reservation are stopping drunken drivers and being called to crime scenes, but can’t make arrests of non-tribal members, and sheriff’s officers aren’t showing up to make the arrests for them. Benewah County Sheriff Bob Kirts disputes that. The issue has prompted many to pick sides in North Idaho - all North Idaho county commissioners have signed a letter opposing the bill, while an array of North Idaho mayors have sent a letter backing it; the measure also is championed by the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations.
The hearing this afternoon on HB 500, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe’s legislative proposal on policing on Indian reservations, has attracted a large crowd, including representatives of several of Idaho’s Indian tribes and numerous uniformed law enforcement officers. It’s beginning with Helo Hancock, legislative director for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, giving some background for the House Judiciary Committee on land ownership on Indian reservations, and how they ended up, on some reservations like the Coeur d’Alenes’, in a checkerboard pattern of Indian and non-Indian ownership. On the Coeur d’Alene reservation, there are 10,000 residents, Hancock told the committee, but only about 1,500 of them are tribal members. “Which means that our tribal police officers come in contact, either responding to 911 calls or pulling over cars … that involve non-Indians, and this is a frequent occurrence.”
It was unanimous - the House has voted 64-0 in favor of HB 604, legislation to ban the practice of buying extra PERSI service for state employees as bonus for certain employees when they retire. That’s what the state did three times last year - in one case, buying $72,781 in PERSI service for the retiring state director of human resources, in exchange for her agreeing to retire eight months earlier than she’d planned. Though the Otter Administration maintained it’d done nothing wrong - the state law that bans severance payments wasn’t deemed to cover such services - the administration decided to support HB 604 and end the practice, which also resulted in a $42,142 payment to one state worker in 2009 to allow her to retire two years early rather than be laid off, and a $13,530 payment in a settlement to another who was being fired for disciplinary reasons, allowing him to qualify for full retirement, the Spokesman-Review reported in November.
Rep. Anne Pasley-Stuart, D-Boise, called the moves an “outrage,” and her co-sponsor, Rep. Elfreda Higgins, D-Garden City, said the $125,000 spent on those payouts in 2009 “would have paid for three teachers, tax collectors, park workers or other services that are more important to the people of Idaho than paying money to three people so they could retire early.” The bill now moves to the Senate.
The latest candidate filings show a slew of new legislative challengers filing in the past day and a half; you can see the full list here. Among them: Rep. Leon Smith, R-Twin Falls, has drawn two Republican challengers, Mark Goodman and Rusty Satterwhite, both of Twin Falls; Rep. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, has drawn a primary challenger, Marla Lawson of Lowman, and a Democratic challenger, Henry Hibbert of Glenns Ferry; and Rep. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, has drawn a Democratic challenger, Jon Ruggles of Wallace. Meridian School Board Chairman Mike Vuittonet, a Republican, has filed against Sen. Shirley McKague, R-Meridian; Republican Jeff Nesset of Lewiston has filed to run against Rep. Liz Chavez, D-Lewiston; Democrat Melissa Sue Robinson of Nampa has filed against Rep. Gary Collins, R-Nampa; and Republican Dan Loughrey of Boise filed to run against Rep. Sue Chew, D-Boise.
There are now three Republicans running for Rep. Jim Clark’s seat in District 3, now that he’s retiring: Vito Barbieri of Dalton Gardens, Fred Meckel of Rathdrum, and Duane Rasmussen of Hayden. And for the seat of Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, a candidate for Congress, two Republicans have filed so far: Nathan Mitchell of Star and Reed deMordaunt of Eagle.
Also filing today: Republican Kathy Sims of Coeur d’Alene, who earlier served briefly in the state Senate, for the seat now held by Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene, who is retiring.
The Senate has voted unanimously, 33-0, in favor of creating a “higher education stabilization fund,” to hold money deposited in good years to help see the state’s colleges and universities through down times. There’s not much to put in the fund now. Sen. Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston, the Senate sponsor of HB 544, said, “This is an idea that many of us wish we had come up with a while ago.” The bill already has passed the House, and now goes to Gov. Butch Otter, who is co-sponsoring the bill.
Rep. Donna Boe, D-Pocatello, won’t be seeking re-election, the Idaho State Journal newspaper reports today. The seven-term lawmaker said in a statement, “Serving in the legislature has been an exciting, challenging, and growing experience for me. … However, it is time to make way for people who can bring new energy, enthusiasm and ideas to this legislature.” The Pocatello newspaper reported that Roy Lacey, the Eastern Idaho administrator of The Idaho Food Bank, will run for Boe’s seat. You can read the State Journal report here, and Boe’s statement here.
The Senate was fairly deep into debate on HB 493, the education “mastery” bill, when its Senate sponsor, Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, abruptly asked to move the bill to the 14th Order for amendment. Fulcher said he thought the program set up by the bill - incentives, including scholarships, for kids who move through school more quickly and graduate a year or more early - was a pilot program for just six years, but in looking through the bill, he couldn’t find the expiration clause. Fulcher asked to move the bill to the amending order “for the purpose of making sure that that sunset is as advertised,” and the Senate unanimously agreed.
The House has voted unanimously, 69-0, in favor of HB 630, the bill co-sponsored by Gov. Butch Otter, Senate Tax Chairman Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, and House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star. “This is a good bill,” Moyle told the House. House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said, “I think it’s a good avenue to increase the participation financially in these very important civic organizations.”
The bill would temporarily boost an existing tax credit for donations to Idaho schools, libraries, and Idaho Public Television, and also expand it to cover the state Council for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, the Developmental Disabilities Council, the Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired, the Commission on Hispanic Affairs and the State Independent Living Council. Otter has said he’s trying to drum up “voluntary” support of those agencies, as they face cuts in state funding. The credit would increase to $500 for a single filer, from $100 now; and $1,000 for a couple, from $200 now. For corporate taxpayers, the maximum annual credit is increased to $5,000, from $1,000. The bill would bring an estimated $10 million more a year to the agencies, while only cutting state tax revenue $5 million, according to its fiscal note; the bill would expire in five years.
Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Quit talking about repealing tax exemptions. Bring a bill. That’s the message Rep. Dennis Lake, the House Revenue and Taxation Committee chairman, is sending to the Senate. Lake said he will shelve a Senate-passed bill calling for an annual review of existing sales tax exemptions without a hearing. That measure, SB 1381 from Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, earlier passed the Senate on a 27-7 vote. Along with the absence of a tax on Idaho services, the exemptions — some of them dating back more than 40 years — have resulted in the state not collecting $1.7 billion in revenue annually. But Lake points out that Idaho has reviewed exemptions before, most recently in 2007, but has so far never managed to agree to repeal any of them. If the Senate really wants to repeal all exemptions, Lake said, it should put together a bill calling for that — and include enough sponsors to win a majority in the chamber.
Gov. Butch Otter went on-air last night to help boost fundraising for Idaho Public Television, saying viewers need to give any amount they can - even if it’s just a dollar - to help keep the educational network on the air in this time of state budget cuts. Before his appearance, which came during the airing of the “Capitol of Light” documentary, Otter talked with reporters. He told KIVI Channel 6, “I’ve supported them before, and this is the first time I’ve been asked for some time.”
Other reporters asked Otter about his spat with Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire over Otter’s “love letter” to Oregon and Washington businesses, urging them to move to Idaho to avoid tax hikes in those states. Gregoire took sharp exception to that message. Otter told reporters last night that the two governors have talked and agreed to a friendly wager. “I agreed that we should have a bet on the first business that moves from Washington to Idaho or the first business that moves from Idaho to Washington, and I’m prepared to ante on that bet,” Otter said.
After two days of emotional testimony overwhelmingly opposed to the bill, the House State Affairs Committee has voted along straight party lines to pass SB 1353, Sen. Chuck Winder’s “conscience” bill to permit any licensed health care provider to refuse, on conscience grounds, to provide any treatment or medication related to abortion, emergency contraception or end-of-life care. Rep. Elfreda Higgins, D-Garden City, offered a motion to remove the part about end-of-life care, but it, too, failed along party lines, with just Democrats supporting it, and Republicans opposing it.
Higgins said the bill threatens to override patients’ advance directives or living wills, and shared the story of the death of her father, a minister who had a living will stating that he didn’t want his life preserved by artificial means. But when he was in the hospital dying, the hospital didn’t have a copy of the will. Against his wishes, he was resuscitated, given medications that paralyzed him and kept alive by machines, while Higgins and her relatives worked with a lawyer to stop it. When they prevailed, he was taken off the machines, and lived for five more days before dying in peace, holding his daughter’s hand. He told her the experience on the medication and machines was the worst one of his life. Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, countered that he didn’t think the proposed law would affect such cases, because it would protect health care providers who don’t want to be “required to provide” a treatment. “That’s a different situation than a DNR,” he said. The bill, which already has passed the Senate, now moves to the full House.
Because of constitutional requirements, while many state employees are facing furloughs and layoffs, the state’s top elected officials all have gotten raises; their pay has jumped 8.5 percent since 2007. Some have donated the raises and objected, but lawmakers are barred from changing constitutional officers’ pay during their terms, a provision meant to avoid political shenanigans, so the raises were set in 2006. As Ben Botkin reports in today’s Times-News, now it’s time for pay to be set for the next four-year term for the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state and state controller, to take effect after the November election. He reports that House Speaker Lawerence Denney and Senate President Pro-Tem Bob Geddes are looking at a possible pay freeze for a year or two, with any raises later in the four-year period; you can read his full report here.
A series of emails between Gov. Butch Otter’s budget chief and lawmakers has prompted even more consternation in the midst of a big flap over the Idaho Education Network, the pricey high-tech network linking Idaho schools that’s already brought the state a lawsuit and a passel of angry local Internet service providers who contend they could provide the same service - and in many cases already are providing it - at a fraction of the cost. You can click here to read the emails between administration budget chief Wayne Hammon and Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert.
Cameron said the first email from Hammon went to all the Republicans on JFAC - except for the co-chairs, himself and Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome. Lawmakers who saw Hammon’s message as a threat quickly shared it with their co-chairmen; Hammon warned in the email that delaying Friday’s scheduled budget-setting in JFAC on the IEN was “a very bad idea on a number of levels,” and warned, without explanation, of “what might happen if IEN is not approved this Friday.”
All this comes as the state is headed into mediation next week in the lawsuit, brought by a successful bidder on the IEN, Syringa Networks, which contends it was cut out of the project and then bullied by state Department of Administration chief Mike Gwartney after complaining; and as JFAC members prepare to set the Department of Administration budget on Friday, including spending authority for the next, $3 million phase of the IEN. Cameron said he’s been upset in recent weeks that JFAC members have had questions for the department and haven’t gotten answers, though he said the administration now is being more responsive. “I have personal concerns about going forward, but I’m leaving that up to cooler and wiser minds to make that decision - leadership, my co-chair,” Cameron said. “Right now, the decision has not been made.” Click below to read a full article about the flap from AP reporter John Miller.
Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — President Obama has nominated Assistant U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson to be U.S. Attorney for the District of Idaho. The White House announced Olson’s nomination Wednesday evening, saying she would be resolute in the pursuit of justice and serve Idaho with distinction. If confirmed by the Senate, Olson would replace Tom Moss, who announced his retirement two years ago but has continued to serve until his successor is found. Olson has been with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Idaho since 1997, and became senior litigation counsel in 2006.
Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A Senate committee has advanced a bill that would ease statutory rape laws for adolescent males accused of having sex with girls younger than 18 years old. The bill approved Wednesday by the Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee would make it legal for an older male to have sex with a girl 16 years or older. State law now makes it a felony to have sex with girls under 18 because they’re not considered old enough to give consent. Sen. Brent Hill, a Rexburg Republican and sponsor of the bill, says the problem with the existing statute is it exposes young men to prison time for engaging in sex that may be consensual. Idaho prosecutors disagree, and oppose the bill. Idaho Prosecuting Attorneys Association President Dane Watkins says attorneys need the existing statute to prosecute young men who specifically target girls under age 18.
Two lawmakers from the same North Idaho district - Sen. Mike Jorgenson and Rep. Jim Clark, both Hayden Lake Republicans - are at opposite ends of a legislative battle over Internet sales taxes, which Idahoans already are required by law to pay, but almost no one does. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com
The special hearing convened today by Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, on questions surrounding the Idaho Education Network wrapped up by 1:30 (Mountain time, that is) when virtually all of the legislators listening had to scurry off to other committee meetings. The hearing got pretty hot and heavy before that. Travis Johnson, president of Microserv, an Internet service provider in Idaho Falls, told the lawmakers, “We can provide the same or better service to any of those school districts than what Qwest … can provide.” He noted that his firm currently serves nine school districts, and has served one of those for almost 12 years, “back before Qwest was even an Internet provider.” He said, “Qwest or whoever it may be, Syringa or anyone else, isn’t doing anything magical. They are not installing or putting anything in place that we are not already doing right now, and I’m serving nine school districts.”
Charlie Creason, general manager of Project Mutual Telephone Cooperative in Rupert, said his firm provides service to the College of Southern Idaho and “exclusive service to Cassia School District, based on a complete fiber solution to every school in the Cassia School District.” He said, “We’d love a chance to bring the state some of the most finest, advanced and least-cost services possible.”
Melissa Vandenberg, deputy attorney general for the state Department of Administration, said, “What these gentlemen are asking you to do, with all due respect, is to allow them to come back in after a process which the Attorney General’s office has reviewed all along, and essentially circumvent, when the project worked.” The bid process for the IEN, of course, currently has the state embroiled in a lawsuit. But Vandenberg said, “These gentlemen did not bid on the contract. We had four bidders. … When we have contracts that are let, we don’t do that, we don’t allow someone to come in after the prices are already disclosed and the cost disclosures are public record, to come in and say, ‘Hey, I can do it cheaper.’”
Gayle Nelson, vice president of Education Networks of America, the current contract partner with Qwest on IEN, said, “It’s not an apples to apples comparison. Delaying this project … I think would be devastating. … I think the momentum would end, I think it would essentially kill the project.”
State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna said, “We relied on experts, we turned this over to experts outside the Department of Administration. … The dog I have in this fight are the 278,000 students in our schools today, and too many of them do not have access to high-quality instruction and high-quality courses only because of where they live.” He said, “There is no pause button in this project, there’s only a kill switch.”
Steve Meyer of Intermax in Coeur d’Alene said, “This is all about bandwidth. … Once this gets onto the network, regardless of whose routing protocol is put at the front end and whose security safeguards is put at the back, we can do the same thing that is done by Qwest. … It’s really about last mile and about cost. … We suggest to you that revisiting the most effective way to deliver the service has merit for the state.”
Sen. Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow, suggested that the issue is analogous to the state suddenly deciding to get a statewide contractor to provide food service at all schools, pushing out of business local providers who already might be doing that locally at much lower cost, but aren’t in a position to bid for a statewide contract. “Pretty quick we’re over to having statewide services, and what we do is we replace these gentlemen with bureaucrats on the public payroll,” Schroeder said.
Internet service providers from around the state turned out for the special hearing, and afterward, gathered with the Department of Administration’s Greg Zickau. Goedde noted that all were meeting for the first time. “Well, at least we got ‘em talking - so maybe something positive will come from it,” Goedde said. “I don’t think we reached any resolution here today. … But I don’t know how the state backs away from a contract that they’ve already cut, unless it’s by mutual agreement.” The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee is scheduled to consider $3 million in spending authority for the IEN on Friday, to allow an Albertson Foundation grant to be spent on the next phase of the project. Gov. Butch Otter is pushing hard for approval.
Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, has convened a meeting in the state Capitol’s largest auditorium on the Idaho Education Network and questions that have been raised about its costs - including charges by local Internet providers around the state that they could provide the service for millions less than the state is spending. Among those attending are state Department of Administration chief Mike Gwartney, Gov. Butch Otter’s chief of staff Jason Kreizenbeck, state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna, and nearly two dozen state lawmakers, along with local Internet service providers from around the state.
Before the hearing started, Goedde said, “I’m hoping that we can unearth the misinformation that may be floating around and come to some consensus on what is fact and what is fiction and then move forward, because I think the IEN is a very important tool, and I don’t want its future to be jeopardized.”
Kreizenbeck spoke first, emphasizing “the governor’s strong support for the Idaho Education Network,” followed by Garry Lough, communications director for the IEN, who said, “The cost comparisons … are not meaningful.” He said the IEN has 56 schools connected so far. “We’re proud to say that we’re on budget and ahead of schedule,” Lough told Goedde and the assembled lawmakers.
Steve Meyer and Mike Kennedy of Intermax, an Internet service provider in Coeur d’Alene, spoke next. “This is not exactly going as it could have been for the taxpayer and for the citizens of Idaho,” Kennedy, a Coeur d’Alene city councilman, told the lawmakers. “The cost differentials are very meaningful and very significant. … don’t let the mumbo-jumbo of the technology baffle you - we are doing what Qwest is doing already.”
The Senate majority caucus has headed behind closed doors. The topic: Budgets. Caucus Chair Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, said he expected the session to wrap up by noon.
During the debate on the texting-while-driving bill, at least six cell phones were delivered to Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, sponsor of the bill, after he offered during the debate to make adjustments to another senator’s phone. When one of the stack of phones on his desk then rang during the debate, he demonstrated how to push “Ignore.” After the debate, a laughing McGee said, “I’ve adjusted some of them already.”
As Senate President Pro-Tem Bob Geddes retrieved his phone from McGee, he asked if McGee had gotten his text. During the debate, before sending his phone over to McGee, Geddes sent this text to him: “Is it a violation to text while driving someone crazy?”
After a half-hour’s debate, the Senate has voted 29-5 in favor of SB 1352, to add a clause to Idaho’s inattentive driving law banning texting while driving. “It’s uniquely dangerous,” said Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, the Senate transportation chairman. He answered numerous questions from other senators - including offering to make adjustments to some of their smart phones to help them comply with the measure - and said young people, who are most likely to text while driving, have come to him overwhelmingly in support of the new ban. The definition in the bill is broad enough, he assured senators, that it covers reviewing or sending text - so it covers not just text messaging, but also e-mailing, tweeting and Facebooking. “According to the University of Utah, using a handheld device while driving slows down a driver’s reaction time as much as a blood-alcohol level of .08,” McGee told the Senate. “Texting while driving multiplies your chances of getting in an accident by four times.”
Among the opponents was Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, a lawyer, who said, “What we’re doing here is criminalizing looking at a text message when it doesn’t cause you to drive inattentively at all, when it’s done in a perfectly safe manner. … Let’s criminalize conduct that is unsafe, and not criminalize conduct that is done in a safe manner.” Backers included Sen. Chuck Coiner, R-Twin Falls, who said a cheerleader in his district who was running late was responding to text messages from her squad members urging her to hurry up when she crashed her car and was seriously injured. The bill now moves to the House.
The House State Affairs Committee has run out of time in its extended hearing on the “conscience” bill on abortion, emergency contraception and end-of-life care, and has put the matter off to tomorrow. Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, said it’ll be the first item on the agenda tomorrow morning at 8 a.m.
The House State Affairs Committee is still going this morning in its hearing on SB 1353, the Senate-passed “conscience” bill to permit any licensed health care provider to refuse, on conscience grounds, to provide any treatment or medication related to abortion, emergency contraception or end-of-life care. There’s a big crowd; the hearing has entered its second hour.
The Idaho State Journal reports today that Rep. James Ruchti, D-Pocatello, the House Assistant Minority Leader, won’t seek re-election. He told the paper he wants to spend more time with his family and on his law practice, and that former Pocatello Mayor Greg Anderson plans to run for his seat. You can read the State Journal’s account here.
The House Rev & Tax Committee has voted 10-8 to introduce new legislation sponsored by Reps. Leon Smith, R-Twin Falls, and Bill Killen, D-Boise, to have Idaho participate with 23 other states in discussions in the streamlined sales tax project, aimed at preparing states to eventually be able to collect sales taxes on Internet sales. Other than its title, the new bill is identical the legislation from Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, that already passed the Senate unanimously. “This is our response,” Smith told the committee. “It’s pretty simple - it just puts a tax commission representative at the table for the streamlined sales tax discussions.” He noted that Idaho’s losing out on an estimated $35 million in sales taxes on online, catalog and other remote sales - taxes that actually are due, but no one pays them and they’re not enforced.
Killen told the committee that Idaho merchants want the taxes collected. “They’re operating at a 6 percent disadvantage,” he said. Rep. Jim Clark, R-Hayden Lake, sharply questioned the bill’s backers, and in the vote, all three members of House GOP leadership who serve on the committee - Reps. Moyle, Roberts and Bedke - voted no. Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, who passed on the first round of voting, cast the final vote to introduce the bill rather than kill it. Moyle said afterward that those taxes should be paid, but he said Congress has to act or the coalition of states doesn’t accomplish anything. “Until Congress acts it does nothing more than waste state tax dollars to send people on junkets all over the country,” he said.
All three public indebtedness constitutional amendments - HJR 4, 5 and 7 - have cleared the Senate State Affairs Committee on overwhelming votes and headed to the Senate for possible final passage.
Members of the Senate State Affairs Committee had lots of questions for Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane this morning, as they consider three constitutional amendments allowing public hospitals, airports, and municipal electric systems to incur debt without a vote. The three amendments, HJR 4, HJR 5 and HJR 7, already have passed the House; they need two-thirds passage in both houses plus a majority vote of the people at the next election to amend the state constitution.
Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, had a bill-introduction on the JFAC agenda this morning, to create a “secondary aquifer planning and management fund.” Bair said as part of the CAMP, or Comprehensive Aquifer Management Plan, process, the Idaho attorney general recommended creating a separate fund to take deposits of money collected from non-state entities, including water districts, surface water users, ground water users, municipalities, pumpers and more. “They need someplace to put those funds so that they can be used by the water board for management purposes to try and keep our aquifer healthy,” Bair said. The bill creates the fund; the joint committee approved it unanimously.
Substitute Sen. Darrell Kerby, R-Bonners Ferry, actually made a budget motion during budget-setting in JFAC this morning, in his third day on the job filling in for Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint. That means he proposed a budget for a state agency - and it passed. The joint committee was in the midst of setting simple, bare-bones budgets for agencies like the executive office of the governor, the Division of Financial Management and the lieutenant governor’s office. Kerby proposed the motion for the lieutenant governor, “a maintenance budget,” he said. “I believe this budget is another bare-bones operation,” Kerby told JFAC. The vote, like those that preceded it, was unanimous. Said JFAC Co-Chair Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, “It goes very quickly when everything’s bare-bones, doesn’t it?”
The budget set for the executive office of the governor showed a cut in general funds of 4 percent, and an overall drop of 79 percent. It includes $15,000 from the budget stabilization funds for transition costs if a new governor is elected in November, a legal requirement. For the DFM, the budget shows a 9.5 percent drop in state general funds and an overall decrease of 10.2 percent, and for the lieutenant governor, whose office receives only state general funds, a 9.7 percent drop. Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, and Rep. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, also worked on all three budget plans.
Asked what he thought of his budget, DFM chief Wayne Hammon said, “Doing more with less and living within the means of the state’s
taxpayers is what we have asked all agencies across state government to do;
DFM is no different.”
In the latest candidate-filing news, Republican Michael Chadwick of Post Falls has filed for the 1st District congressional seat, and Republican Chick Heileson of Idaho Falls has filed for the 2nd District seat. The filing period for all state offices, including every seat in the Legislature, runs through March 19; you can check the list, which is being updated twice a day, at the Idaho Secretary of State’s Web site here.
Here’s a link to my full story on the budget that lawmakers set today for Idaho Public Television, a budget that Gov. Butch Otter, who earlier called for phasing out all state funding for IPTV, said today he supports. Otter also agreed to appear on IPTV tomorrow night to help with fundraising. And you can click below to read the full story from AP reporter Jesse Bonner on today’s higher-ed budget setting.
The Idaho AARP has released a statement saying the Idaho Senate “fail(ed) Idahoans struggling with high health care costs” by passing HB 391a, the “Idaho Health Freedom Act,” which now is headed for the governor’s desk. “Idahoans buckling under soaring health care costs didn’t get any help from the Idaho State Senate tonight,” the seniors group said in its statement. “In fact, with the passage of the Idaho Health Freedom Act (House Bill 391), they may have just made matters worse.” Click below to read AARP’s full statement.
The Senate has voted 24-10 in favor of HB 391a, the “Idaho Health Freedom Act,” to ban the enforcement in Idaho of any federal requirement that all individuals and businesses purchase health insurance, and to require the state’s attorney general to go to court to fight any such requirement; with three Republicans joining all Senate Democrats to oppose the bill. Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, the bill’s Senate sponsor, said, “States may provide stronger protections of individual freedoms than the U.S. Constitution allows. … The Supreme Court cases have upheld the power of the states to protect individual freedoms.”
Sen. Kate Kelly, D-Boise, noted that the state of Idaho already requires students at state colleges and universities to have health insurance; that conflict forced an earlier amendment to HB 391 in the House. “There may very well be other consequences with this bill,” she said. “This is not just a memorial to Congress. … This is not a resolution. This is a code change, this is law that we are putting in place.” She distributed an Idaho Attorney General’s opinion saying the bill would require Idaho to go to court to defend non-citizens on J-1 visas from deportation if they violate the existing requirement of their federal visas that they maintain health insurance.
Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, questioned spending as much as $100,000 on a court fight over federal health care reform legislation, saying that could pay salaries for three teachers. Pearce said, “That’s only an estimate,” and noted that Congress might not pass such a requirement, in which case there’d be no cost. Plus, he said, “As Americans, what is our freedom worth? If it’s only $100,000, that’s a cheap buy.”
Sen. Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston, said, “In my opinion, this bill ignores the history and the reality of the supremacy clause and the interstate commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution, and I’ll be voting no.” Sen. Chuck Coiner said, “What disturbs me about this … is the fiscal note.” This session, he noted, any bill that would cost the state money has been frowned upon; he said he thought the legal costs to defend the bill could add up to “many hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, said, “For me this legislation is more than just what’s provided in the bill itself. For me this legislation is an opportunity to tell the federal government to back off. The federal government has overreached for a long time.” Hammond said, “I recognize that insuring all citizens would be a good thing,” but he said, “Reform is a whole different issue and I’ve yet to see any real reform on the table. … We citizens of this great state need to assert our sovereignty … and I intend to support this bill.” Sen. Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow, said, “This is a pro-choice bill,” because it’s about “citizens making decisions for their own health care, their own life.”
The bill earlier passed the House on a 52-18, straight party-line vote with all Republicans voting in favor and all Democrats voting against. It now goes to Gov. Butch Otter.
Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and Secretary of State Ben Ysursa have unveiled a new, updated version of their “ProtecTeens” DVD, which informs parents about how to protect children and teens from sexual predators on the Internet. State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna and an array of other partners in the project joined Wasden and Ysursa for the unveiling; it updates a program first developed by Wasden’s office in 2005 that’s seen more than 100,000 copies distributed and hundreds of presentations made to schools and organizations around the state. “We know that it has prevented children from being victimized,” Wasden said.
The new video includes sections on Internet risks and safe practices; social networking; online chat and instant messaging; cell phones and “sexting;” online gaming and virtual worlds; and cyberbullying. Said Wasden, “This new video … includes subjects that were not even on the radar screen five years ago.” The entire video, which can be viewed in full or in sections, is available online here; it’s also available in Spanish. The attorney general’s ProtecTeens Web site also includes related tools for parents, including an Internet lingo dictionary, a family Internet contract and more.
The House Resources Committee has voted 9-5 to amend HB 532, Rep. Judy Boyle’s “conservation permit” bill to require permits for those without hunting or fishing licenses to use Fish & Game lands, rather than pass the bill as-is or kill it outright. Some on the panel argued for each of those other alternatives. In the end, members agreed to propose an amendment to make the permit a “family pass,” with just one $10 permit required per family ($20 for non-Idaho residents), rather than one for each person.
Boyle promoted the bill from the start as applying only to adults, but Rep. Dell Raybould, R-Rexburg, pointed out during today’s committee hearing that the bill never said that, opening the possibility that a family of five could have to pay $50 - or $100 if they’re from out of state - “to go out and sit by a crick and have a picnic.” Boyle then agreed an amendment was appropriate to spell that out. She defended her proposal, saying, “People are not forced to go out on Fish & Game land to begin with - if they want to picnic somewhere else they can do that. This is a fairness issue to the sportsmen; we have always paid for the department.”
Reps. Lenore Barrett, R-Challis, and JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, spoke out against the bill. “It’s just not a good time to be sticking this kind of thing on anybody,” Barrett said. Wood said, “I feel like we’re going to throw a bomb out there - this is going to be very unpopular with our people, according to the letters that I’m receiving from home that cannot believe that we would even consider doing this.”
Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, moved to kill the bill, saying non-hunters already pay for Fish and Game land through their utility rates, as utilities including Avista and the Bonneville Power Administration pay large amounts for fish and wildlife projects. “That’s one way the public pays for that whether they ever walk on the land or not,” Eskridge said.
Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene, an avid bird-watcher, moved to pass the bill as-is, saying it might not be perfect but it made sense for users to pay to help maintain the land. “When I go out to use one of these areas, I take something home - it’s not a physical object, it’s an experience,” he said. “And the quality of that experience is what I value. … I like to look at wildflowers and not weeds, and I think these are lands that need to be managed.”
Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, made the successful motion to amend the bill, saying non-hunters should pay just as hunters and fishermen do. The bill now moves to the amending order in the full House, with the committee’s proposed amendment attached.
Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire jabbed back at her Idaho counterpart today over whose state is better for business, saying at a press conference that her state has no personal or corporate income tax and got a better rating from Forbes Magazine for being business-friendly. Idaho Gov. Butch Otter started the exchange yesterday, when he posted a “love letter” to businesses in Washington and Oregon, inviting them to move to Idaho for lower taxes. You can read reporter Jim Camden’s full story here at spokesman.com.
Gov. Butch Otter has signed into law HB 422, the bill to allow prosecutors and law enforcement officers to exercise discretion over whether they go after any act of gambling; current law makes it a misdemeanor crime for prosecutors or officers to fail to prosecute if they know about any gambling, no matter how small-scale. The law’s been cited in reports about a recent bust of a $20 poker game at a senior center in Twin Falls. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, passed both houses with just a single no vote in each house, and Otter signed it into law without comment. It takes effect July 1.
When the House Resources Committee took up SB 1286 this afternoon, Sen. Gary Schroeder’s bill to classify raccoons as “predatory wildlife” to ease control of the pesky animals, four members of the committee donned coon-skin hats in honor of the bill. “What creativity - I love it!” Schroeder responded. The bill, which easily passed the committee and which earlier passed the Senate on a unanimous vote, was backed by the Idaho Fish & Game Commission. “We have a year-round season on raccoons,” Schroeder told the committee. “If you have a hunting and trapping license, you can take as many as you want, any time of the year. … The season’s open all year long and you can have as many as you want, and they’re common nuisance animals in both urban and rural areas.”
Reclassifying raccoons as predators allows both citizens and control agents to dispose of raccoons without worrying about possession laws or limits. Here’s how enthusiastic committee members were about the bill: Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, said, “We have a lot of them in our district, and they are creating quite a problem, right where I live.” Rep. Dell Raybould, R-Rexburg, said, “I know it’s not the correct protocol for the committee, but if I could I’d like to vote twice, once for me and once for my wife - the raccoons are terrible with her corn in her garden.” The bill now heads to the full House.
Gov. Butch Otter has issued the following statement, in response to JFAC’s action today setting the budget for Idaho Public Television for next year, which trimmed the budget but not nearly as much as Otter originally had proposed, when he called for a four-year phaseout of all state funding for the network:
“I appreciate JFAC’s action today and its careful consideration of this issue. I look forward to continuing our work together on this and other efforts to help ensure State agencies live within the people’s means. That’s the most important goal we share. Today’s action is another step in a process that began last fall when we started with holdbacks. Since then, the State Board of Education has increased its oversight of IPTV and we have a new business plan that we are examining to see if we can find more savings in the future. I also am working with Representative Moyle and Senator Hill on House Bill 630 to increase the charitable tax credit for IPTV donors. All that will contribute toward a secure and self-sustaining public television system for all of Idaho.”
Otter also is scheduled to make a fundraising appearance Wednesday night on Idaho Public Television during the airing of the “Capitol of Light” documentary. The governor is scheduled to appear around 7:20 p.m.
The House Ways & Means Committee held one of its rare meetings today, this time to introduce six new bills. The leadership panel voted to introduce: Legislation from the state’s court system regarding the duties and responsibilities of a guardian ad litem; a resolution from Rep. Gary Collins to reject a rule from the Department of Insurance (which was sent directly to the full House’s 2nd Reading calendar); two bills from Rep. Eric Anderson regarding leases of geothermal resources; a concurrent resolution from Rep. John Rusche about Alzheimer’s disease; and a measure from the Idaho Hospital Association regarding hospital assessments, a key piece of the state’s plan for funding Medicaid next year.
This morning’s report on additional candidate filings shows that 58 of the 105 incumbent legislators have now filed for re-election, plus one, Rep. Anne Pasley-Stuart, D-Boise, who’s filed to run for the Senate. Also, Jerry Lockhart of McCall, a Democrat, has filed for the District 8 seat now held by Rep. Paul Shepherd, R-Riggins.
The House has voted 52-17 in favor of HB 589, St. Maries Rep. Dick Harwood’s “Firearms Freedom Act.” The bill, which now moves to the Senate, seeks to declare guns or ammunition manufactured in Idaho exempt from all federal laws and regulation, including registration requirements. Harwood told the House that the Idaho Attorney General opined that the bill is unconstitutional, but its intent is to force a Supreme Court case that backers hope will limit the scope of the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, said, “Let’s move this forward, let’s put the federal government’s back to the wall and ask them to explain why they need to get into commerce between myself and a family member.”
Harwood, questioned about the cost of such a court fight, said, “What it will cost you if we do not challenge this, it’s going to cost you more of your freedom.” He said five states now have passed similar bills, and an Alaska measure has passed one house; overall, 26 states are considering such moves.
The final higher ed budget set in JFAC this morning is the budget for community colleges. Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, proposed the budget, which calls for a 9.2 percent cut in state general funds and a 12.6 percent cut overall. Not in the budget is the $1 million Gov. Butch Otter backed for the College of Western Idaho for its sharp uptick in enrollment this year, nor the $267,500 he wanted for the same purpose next year. In ongoing operating funds, the budget reflects a 7 percent permanent holdback that already was imposed on the state’s community colleges this year, and carries forward in the budget.
“The way they’ve handled the budget reductions in the last couple of years really has been exemplary,” said Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, who said he expects community colleges to do the same with their budget for next year. He praised the schools for boosting enrollment while keeping tuition and fees low. The budget passed on a 15-4 party-line vote, with Democrats on the panel voting no.
Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, said her motion to add another $5.7 million to an otherwise deeply trimmed budget for state colleges and universities for next year “is a choice that we could make to assist the higher ed budget. Certainly it wouldn’t make a huge difference, but it would help,” she said. Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, noted that the $25 million school facilities fund has been sitting untouched since 2006, though the Plummer-Worley School District now is applying for $11.3 million from the fund to replace an unsafe school next year. “It’s really just been sitting there,” Jaquet said. “My concern is the possibility of an increase in tuition at a time when we have people going back to school” because they’re unemployed.
Ringo said the “elephant” in the room is universities’ reserve funds, which she maintained have been appropriately used and aren’t over-large. Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said the “donkey in the room” on the issue is “whether we want to pull from public schools to fund higher education.” Ringo’s motion then failed on a 4-16 party-line vote, and the original motion, from Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, passed 17-3, with all Democrats except Sen. Diane Bilyeu, D-Pocatello, objecting.
Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, proposed the first motion this morning on funding for Idaho’s state colleges and universities. His proposal gives universities a 14.1 percent cut in state funding next year, and a 7.8 percent overall cut. Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, then proposed a competing plan, which is similar except that it would borrow from a $25 million school facilities fund to restore $5.7 million in federal stimulus money that the colleges and universities lost this year when it was shifted to public schools, due to federal guidelines that didn’t match last year’s budget-setting. “Obviously, it doesn’t fix the problem for colleges and universities, because they’ve lost a lot of funding with the cuts, and they can ill afford it,” Ringo said.
Ringo’s motion results in a similar 14.1 percent decrease in state general funds, but a lower 6.4 percent decrease in total funding. Neither motion includes specific funding for the Center for Advanced Energy Studies, a joint UI-BSU-ISU research facility in Idaho Falls, but the State Board of Education is directed to fund that from a portion of the final $4.3 million in federal stimulus money that colleges would get next year.
Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, proposed an austere budget for Idaho Public Television for next year, and JFAC Co-Chair Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, seconded the motion, which then passed unanimously. It includes a 16.2 percent cut in state funding from this year’s level, and an 8.3 percent overall cut. Part of that is accomplished by reducing the network’s state funding, on a one-time basis, by the amount of the $97,200 federal grant it won last month. The budget, however, skips over Gov. Butch Otter’s budget recommendation for a four-year phaseout of all state funding to IPTV; JFAC members have made it clear that they’re not addressing those proposals, which the governor has since said were meant merely as a “wake-up call” to spur savings in a half-dozen agencies. The budget sets state funding for IPTV next year at $1.39 million, down from $1.66 million this year; the network’s total budget for next year is $2.4 million, with much of the money coming from grants and viewer donations.
The budget for the medically indigent health care through the state’s catastrophic fund has passed JFAC unanimously; it shows a 7.6 percent cut from this year, and backers acknowledged it likely contains only enough money to pay six months’ worth of bills. JFAC member said they’re hoping already-passed legislation for reforms will lead to lower costs in the program.
A trimmed-down budget for psychiatric hospitalization, showing a 9.7 percent cut in state funds and an 8 percent cut overall, has passed JFAC unanimously, while there was considerably more debate about the budget for mental health services. “Our state has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation,” said Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise. “We really do leave people in crisis.” Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, said, “I have, in the last few weeks, met with a number of mental health providers and they have given me a list of ideas for cost savings which adds up to tens of millions of dollars in this budget. … If the department would look at those, there is the potential that this would not actually be any reduction in services.”
The budget calls for a 1.5 percent cut in state general funds and a 6.5 percent cut overall, but there’s no specific funding for any of the specific line items that both the department and governor wanted funded; instead, Health & Welfare will have to shift funding from other areas. It passed, 17-3. When LeFavour said she thought it was “highly unlikely” that the money could be found in the budget, JFAC Co-Chair Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, responded, “Well, it’s highly unlikely that the people who are out of work can pay any more taxes.” She said, “There’s enough hurt to go around on this.”
The first budget up in JFAC this morning, for substance abuse treatment and prevention within the Department of Health & Welfare, includes a 7 percent reduction in treatment - $866,500. It drew a heartfelt objection from Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise. “We have waiting lists in Idaho,” she said. “We’ve been very successful on this committee in keeping our corrections budget down by improving our ability to provide substance abuse and mental health treatment both.” In a time of economic downturn, LeFavour said, more people are prone to “despair,” leading even to “suicide … harm to others. .. This is not an acceptable time to make drastic reductions in a budget like this. So I’m sorry, I can’t support this.”
The budget passed on a 17-3 vote, with three Democrats objecting, but Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, supporting the plan; she said she favors looking at increased beer and wine taxes to fund more treatment. Rep. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls, spoke out in favor of the budget. “There are some opportunities for savings, and I think that we’re moving in the right direction here,” she said. Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, said, “We can wring our hands and express sorrow that we don’t have a full glass, or we could have no glass at all, have an empty glass. Quite frankly, we’re still doing pretty darn well, we’re doing better than most states, we’re still going to do the best we can for all these folks. … We will get through this.”
LeFavour responded, “With the deepest respect, I don’t think this is the best way to do it.” Idaho could delay part of the increase in the grocery tax credit, for example, she said, to avoid such cuts. “I’m sorry, Mr. Chairman and committee, but this is not the best we can do,” she said.