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Eye On Boise

Archive for February 2011

Lawmakers deadlock over liquor hours, delay budget-setting

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on the deadlock in JFAC today over later hours at some state liquor stores. Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, dubbed the possible extension of some store hours from 7 to 9 p.m. “the gettin-in-trouble time,” and said, “Seven to 9 p.m. is not a normal time for buying liquor for responsible people. Responsible people usually do that right after they get off work or on Saturdays.” The dispute prompted the joint committee to delay setting a budget for the state's Liquor Division until at least tomorrow.

‘Worse than sausage:’ Bill would allow texting if driver not distracted

How about a texting-while-driving bill that says it's OK to text if you're careful, but not if you're not? That's what an Idaho lawmaker has proposed as a compromise, after a texting ban was killed on the last night of last year's legislative session. Insurance companies and the Idaho Sheriffs Association have endorsed the new bill, HB 141, but the AAA of Idaho opposed it Monday, and a House committee decided to wait a week and look at ways to amend it; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Texting bill decision: Wait a week

The House Transportation Committee has voted 8-7 to hold HB 141 until next week to try to work up new amendments to address various concerns raised about the “lite” version of a texting-while-driving ban.

Teen: Texting-lite bill is a ‘legitimate start,’ urges passage

Colton Grainger, a 16-year-old Rocky Mountain High School junior from Meridian, spoke passionately in favor of HB 141, the texting bill. “I am a teen driver and I'm very happy with this bill,” he told the House Transportation Committee. No bill can anticipate everything, Grainger told the lawmakers, urging them to pass this one. “It is extremely irresponsible to not address technological changes such as this. … The biggest educational tool that can be used is the fact that there are red and blue lights pulling you over.” He said, “It is the social norm for people to text and drive.” The bill, he said, is a “legitimate start” to address the issue.

Kane: ‘A new tool in the shed’

Mike Kane, lobbyist for both the Property and Casualty Insurance Association of America and the Idaho Sheriffs Association, said it's rare that he's on the other side of an issue from the AAA, but his clients are supporting HB 141, the new “lite” version of a texting-while-driving ban. Kane said the idea of limiting the bill to texting raised concerns about other types of distractions, and some thought a misdemeanor penalty for texting was “heavy-handed.” Kane said, “Rep. Hagedorn … has been steadfast in trying to find another way.”

Kane said the “due care” standard in the bill makes sense to him as a lawyer. “Due care is essentially the opposite of negligence,” Kane told the House Transportation Committee. “That's a term that is used in the law all the time. … We could've said 'texting is no good,' but there's a lot of other types of devices out there in the world.” He said more serious cases that result in accidents could be charged under the inattentive driving law as misdemeanors, as they are now. Said Kane, “It will give a new tool in the shed to law enforcement.”

AAA: ‘Is this all we can do?’

Dave Carlson, lobbyist for the AAA of Idaho, told the House Transportation Committee that texting “is on its way to becoming the new drunk driving.” Distracted driving now is responsible for a quarter of traffic fatalities nationwide, he said. “We've been looking at the legislation in the other 30 states (that have enacted texting bans), and while we know there's no single answer to the problem, as the sponsor suggested, we feel obliged to ask, Is this all we can do?”

He said HB 141 is “overly vague,” and, “it does not specifically define texting.” That's one of the selling points that sponsor Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, used for the bill; last year, opponents in the House objected to definitions, he said, and others raised issues about other distracting behaviors besides texting.

Carlson also raised concerns about the “due care” standard in HB 141. He said it suggests the involvement of some resulting problem, like an accident, rather than preventively banning texting. “Most Americans … are very much concerned about the danger of distracted driving, particularly texting and cell phone use,” he told the committee.

Bill would still permit texting while driving for those who take ‘due care’

Under questioning from House Transportation Committee members, Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, acknowledged that his texting-while-driving bill would permit texting while driving as long as the driver is exercising “due care.” He said, “If you're driving down the road and you're using an electronic device and you are using due care … then there would be no reason for an officer to pull you over.” The proposed new law, HB 141, would come into play only if the driver's use of the hand-held electronic device causes  the driver “to be distracted or otherwise fail to exercise due care.”

Latest ‘lite’ texting-while-driving bill comes up for hearing

The House Transportation Committee is starting its hearing on HB 141, a measure that's kind of a “lite” version of last year's texting-while-driving ban. Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, said he's been working on the measure since last year, when a texting ban was defeated in the House in the session's final hours. “This is a distracted driving bill,” Hagedorn told the committee. “Basically, if a person is driving and is using a hand-held device,” even if it's an electric toothbrush, and “it distracts them from driving … an officer can pull them over.” He said, “Typically now, an inattentive driving ticket is written after an accident occurs. This will allow the officers to look at distracted behavior, inappropriate behavior while driving, and pull those individuals over.”

Here's the new section the bill would add to Idaho's state laws:

49-610. DISTRACTED DRIVING. (1) No person operating a motor vehicle shall use a hand held electronic device that causes such person to be distracted or otherwise fail to exercise due care, as that term is provided for in section 49-615, Idaho Code. This section does not prohibit the use of voice operated or hands free devices that allow the user to review, prepare and transmit a text or voice communication without the use of either hand other than to activate, deactivate or initiate a feature or function or to dial a telephone number.
(2) A violation of the provisions of this section shall be an infraction with a fixed penalty of seventy-five dollars ($75.00).

Said Hagedorn, “This truly is a piece of sausage. I can tell you that AAA is not completely happy, the insurance companies are not completely happy, the sheriffs are not completely happy, I am not completely happy, nor are the local law enforcement folks.” But, he said, “This is what we came up with.”

Teen protesters chant ‘Kill the bill’

The crowd of high school students protesting the school reform package at the state Capitol today has swelled and moved out onto the capitol steps during the noon hour, where some are holding signs and periodically the group is chanting, “Kill the bill.” Meanwhile, in Nampa, 150 students walked out of class this morning and marched to city hall, and walkouts were reported in American Falls, Pocatello, Meridian and Caldwell. Here's a full report from the Idaho Statesman on the protests, and you can click below for a full article from AP reporter John Miller.

Senators call for ‘Madison Amendment’

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — After the failure of nullification last Friday in the Senate, Idaho is pushing for a new way to take on the federal government. Lawmakers want a so-called “Madison Amendment” to the U.S. Constitution. It would allow two-thirds of states to call a constitutional convention where Congress would take up a specific amendment. Right now, states can already call for a convention, but not a specific amendment. They've never actually done this, for fear it would create a chaotic, runaway process where Congress could consider broadly overhauling the Republic's founding document. Sen. Curt McKenzie of Nampa thinks states like Idaho would gain another tool in keeping Washington, D.C. in check. On Monday, McKenzie's non-binding resolution cleared the Senate State Affairs Committee and now will get a vote in the full Senate.

High school students gather in capitol, part of statewide walkout

About 100 Boise High School students are now gathered in the second-floor rotunda of the state capitol, where they're quietly doing their homework. It's part of walkouts at high schools across the state this morning in protest of the proposed school reform plan; the Associated Press reports that about 100 students walked out of classes at Meridian High School and more than 150 walked out at Nampa High. Students were also reported to have walked out of classes at other high schools in Boise, Caldwell and Pocatello.

“We are trying to show our disgust at the Legislature's passing of the two education bills so far, and that we would not like them to pass the third bill,” said Tyler Honsinger, an 18-year-old senior. “We're skipping class. I think everyone here agrees that the passage of these bills are more important than what we're doing in class today.” It'll affect their future schooling, he said.

The pending reform plan, proposed by state schools Supt. Tom Luna, calls for increasing class sizes in grades 4-12 and cutting 770 teaching jobs in the next two years, while boosting technology and implementing a teacher performance pay plan. The AP reported that students heard about the walkout via social media networks and text messages.
  

Vander Woude: ‘I just sell beer and wine’

Among the most outspoken opponents in JFAC today of later liquor store hours was Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, who operates a convenience store that sells beer and wine and is open until 11 p.m. He argued in the JFAC debate, “By extending the hours, we're saying it's OK to increase consumption for our profit and that's why we want to do it.”

Vander Woude said afterward that he doesn't view state liquor sales as competing with his store's beer and wine sales. “They sell the hard liquor, I don't sell any of that,” he said. “I just sell beer and wine.” Asked whether he thinks private businesses like his also shouldn't sell alcohol in evening hours to avoid encouraging alcohol consumption, Vander Woude said, “You know, honestly, I never had looked at it that way. I guess to me it's the promotion.” He said, “I think the state should not be in the liquor business. We deal with substance abuse. … How can we be on the other side of that?”

The Liquor Division already has about a dozen state liquor stores that are open until 9; its request was for $455,000 to add staff to allow 27 more stores to stay open between 7 and 9 for a six-month experiment; the division anticipated a $2 million return.

JFAC rebuffs Hagedorn move to slash Hispanic Commission funding

JFAC has voted 14-5 to set a budget for the Commission on Hispanic Affairs that cuts the tiny agency's budget by 5.5 percent next year, heading off a move by Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, to cut it by 47.3 percent in state funds and 18.4 percent in total funds. Gov. Butch Otter had recommended a general-fund reduction of just 3.5 percent. “Every dollar we take out of here would be in furloughs and personnel and it truly would cripple the organization,” said Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise. Even the governor's recommendation, she said, “is pretty harsh. We probably shouldn't cut them more.”

Hagedorn said, “While ensuring equal rights and equal opportunity for all Idaho citizens is a top priority for the Legislature, the current budgetary situation does not allow the state to provide ongoing general fund support for the commission at historic levels.” Hagedorn said, “This is an effort to help us get back on track in balancing our budgets.”

Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, said further cuts in the tiny budget go beyond that issue; the agency has only three employees. “It becomes a question of whether we're even going to have a viable Hispanic Commission,” he said.

‘Gettin’-in-trouble time’

Here's an odd twist on this morning's debate in JFAC over the evils of opening state liquor stores later: About a dozen state liquor stores already are open until 9 p.m., though standard hours statewide are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. The proposal in the Liquor Division's request for next year would add the evening hours at 27 more of the busiest stores, on a six-month trial basis, into what Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, called the “gettin'-in-trouble time.”

Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, said the division consulted with the Idaho State Police before making the proposal, and determined that most liquor-related problems occur after 10 p.m.; that's why the agency set the closing time in its proposal at 9 p.m. Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, arguing against the later hours, told JFAC, “I don't believe the state should be in the business of encouraging more consumption of alcohol by having longer store hours. I think we should be in the business of encouraging responsible consumption of alcohol, and by extending the hours we're saying it's OK to increase consumption for our profit and that's why we want to do it. I just don't think we should be in that position.”

Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, said, “The agency has taken a very thoughtful, conservative approach to the store expansion hours and days. … They have found that a lot of younger folk shop on Sundays and after 7 at night. … I think that the goal would be to not allow intemperate use, and that I don't think will happen with this,” she said. “I'm much opposed to good Rep. Eskridge's description of what happens between 7 and 9 p.m. … I think they can … actually make some more money for the state.”

Both motions fail on later liquor hours

Rep. Joyce Broadsword's's motion fund the state Liquor Division budget for next year without Rep. George Eskridge's move to leave out funds to open later hours - a $455,000 expenditure expected to bring in a $2 million return - has failed on a 10-10 tied vote. Then, Eskridge's motion died on a 9-11 vote.

The committee has now agreed by unanimous consent to hold off one day on setting the Liquor Division's budget.

JFAC spars over evening liquor-sale hours

Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, is pushing a motion to head off a proposal from the state Liquor Division to allow the 7 busiest state liquor stores to stay open as late as 9 p.m., rather than closing at 7 p.m., a move the agency expects to bring a $2 million return. Eskridge said, “We have to recognize there is an issue between making money and responsible use,” he said. “This is a gettin'-in-trouble time. This is when the parties start winding out of their refreshments, and people say, 'Let's just make one more stop, the liquor store's still open, we can go down and get some more and we can party-hearty longer. I think that deviates from the mission,”

Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, offered a substitute motion setting the budget for the Liquor Division for next year while leaving out Eskridge's change. “They can actually make some money for the state,” she said. Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, said tourists in her district often don't arrive until evening, or get off the lake or the ski slopes, and they need to stock their condos; the later hours make sense for that, she argued.

Divided vote in JFAC…

The substitute motion to cut more deeply into the budget for the Office of Species Conservation has been defeated on a 6-14 vote, with just Reps. Hagedorn, Vander Woude, Thompson, Patrick, Bell and Eskridge voting in favor. The original motion then passed 19-1, with just Rep. Vander Woude opposing it.

Debating cutting further…

JFAC has approved the governor's recommendation for the Fish & Game budget, with one “no” vote from Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow. The department receives no state general funds; the budget approved for next year shows a reduction of 0.9 percent. Now, the joint committee is debating the budget for the Office of Species Conservation. Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, and Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, proposed a 5.5 percent decrease in state general funds and a 0.1 percent cut in overall funding; Reps. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, and Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, proposed a 24.4 percent cut in state general funds, cutting an additional $100,000-plus, in hopes the agency could shift federal grant funds to cover costs. Whether it can do that, however, was unclear. Vander Woude said he tried to ask the governor's Division of Financial Management about that on Friday “and they didn't get back to me,” though he did  get a message this morning from over the weekend.

JFAC setting budgets, holding off on shifting fund balances for now

As the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee convenes this morning, it's scheduled to set agendas for Fish & Game, the Office of Species Conservation, the state Liquor Division, the Historical Society, the Commission for Libraries, the Commission for Hispanic Affairs and the state lottery. The governor's budget for the liquor division includes a fund shift of $8 million from an excess cash balance, but JFAC won't take that up this morning; it's delaying consideration of shifts from agency cash balances as a budget-balancing maneuver, after the House GOP leadership objected Friday when the joint committee was in the midst of debating a shift from an unused balance at the Industrial Commission.

Above it all…

Thank you, Bogus Basin, for keeping me sane this winter. The politics may be hot and heavy in town, but up on the mountain, when I get to sneak up there on weekends, it's cold, clear and crisp. Not only that, it's cheap, it's non-profit, and everyone's welcome. Let it snow.

Computer firms eye business from Idaho school reform plan

As Idaho looks at education reforms that could place laptops in every high school, computer companies are already eyeing what could become a lucrative contract with the state, according to the Associated Press; click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.

Former Sen. Jim McClure dies at age 86

Longtime Idaho Sen. Jim McClure, who served six years in the U.S. House and 18 in the U.S. Senate, has died at the age of 86. He held Idaho's 1st Congressional District seat from 1966 to 1972, and represented Idaho in the Senate from 1972 to 1990. Click below for a full report from Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey.

The week that was…

On tonight's “Idaho Reports” on Idaho Public TV, I join host Jim Weatherby, Brian Murphy, and host Greg Hahn to discuss the events of the week, and Greg interviews House Tax Chairman Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot; UI political scientist David Adler; and BSU sociologist Martin Orr.  The show airs tonight at 8 p.m., then re-airs Sunday at 10:30 a.m. Mountain time, 9:30 a.m. Pacific; it also can be seen online at www.idahoptv.org.

Click here to see a slide show of the week in pictures, as the seventh week of Idaho's 2011 legislative session comes to a close.

Nullification bill’s demise…

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on how an Idaho Senate committee killed legislation seeking to nullify the federal health-care reform bill on a voice vote today after a nearly three-hour hearing, angering a crowd of close to 200 that grew restive afterward, with some confronting lawmakers. Two Idaho Attorney General's opinions said the bill, HB 117, was unconstitutional.

Denney asked Bell to pull her motion to shift $5 million

Why did JFAC Co-Chair Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, withdraw her motion this morning in JFAC to shift $5 million from an excess balance in the state Industrial Commission to help balance the state budget? Lewiston Tribune reporter Bill Spence reports on his blog, “Political Theater,” that Bell got a note from House Speaker Lawerence Denney saying the House GOP caucus wants to discuss the move. A surprised Bell told Spence, “You assume you’re doing your job, trying to find any unused funds that we can use, but apparently not in this case. The whole purpose is to not let entities sit on unused funds when we’re cutting, cutting, cutting.” You can read his full post here.

How the hearing ended…

As the nullification hearing closed today, just after the sponsors finished wrapping up, “Coach” Dave Daubenmire, a radio talk show host from Hebron, Ohio, pushed up to the microphone and demanded a chance to speak, and he was allowed to. As he spoke, at times shouting, the crowd called back with cries of “Amen!” and “Yes!” Daubenmire thundered to the senators, “In the name of God, do your duty!” He was greeted with loud applause. Then, Whitney Rearick of Boise said she was from Idaho and wanted to speak too, but wasn't permitted to. “I just feel like those of us who are against it weren't given a fair shake,” she declared. “This is very undemocratic. I'm very disappointed.”

The committee then began debating the bill, and some members asked questions of Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane. Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, chairwoman of the Senate Health & Welfare Committee, asked whether the bill would require the state to return $12 million in grants for “those who through no fault of their own cannot care for themselves.” Kane said, “We don't know the answer to that yet.”

Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis thanked all those who testified, and spoke out strongly of his opposition to the federal health care reform law, saying he thinks it's unconstitutional. But he said the Constitution doesn't permit states to nullify federal laws. “I agree that we should do all we can to push the federal government to return to its enumerated powers,” he said. “But for me, I need to do it within the system. … My heart, but not my mind, is with the supporters of this legislation.”

Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, told the crowd, “We're angry and we're frustrated, and I have a sacred Constitution that I believe provides for remedies for that. … I find no constitutional justification for the things that we are talking about here today. I commend you for your … goals… (and) passion. … I cannot pursue them in the manner that some of you are prescribing.”

Crowd is restive after nullification bill killed

The crowd is restive, with people milling around the Capitol Auditorium after the nullification bill was killed on a voice vote, and some forcefully confronting lawmakers. “You know we're left with no alternative but to defend ourselves,” one young man told Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, before stalking away. An angry crowd briefly gathered around Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, as she stacked up her papers to leave the committee hearing; one man slammed his hand on the wooden counter in frustration as a security guard joined the group. Outside the auditorium, Lori Shewmaker, who had testified in favor of the bill shouted “coward” at senators as they left the hearing.

Nullification bill killed on voice vote

Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, moved to send HB 117, the health care nullification bill, to the full Senate with a recommendation that it “do pass.” “I do believe that we as the states do have this right,” Fulcher said. “I believe that we must act.” Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, seconded the motion, but it failed on a voice vote - only Fulcher and Winder voted in favor. That means the bill dies.

McKenzie: ‘We are on record as opposing that’

With time running out at the still-full nullification hearing in the Senate State Affairs Committee, committee Chairman Curtis McKenzie, R-Nampa, has again cautioned those testifying that as for “what I call Obamacare, we are on record as opposing that, both in the committee and on the floor.” He asked people to limit their testimony to the bill itself, HB 117. The Senate was scheduled to convene its morning session right now, but the committee hearing still is going.

Plan to finance state’s unemployment debt to feds clears House committee

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A plan headed to lawmakers in the Idaho House would refinance some $200 million in federal loans the state has used to buttress its unemployment safety net. The House Commerce and Human Resources Committee approved the legislation Friday. It now goes to the full House. Idaho began borrowing from the federal government in June 2009 and under the legislation, would sell revenue bonds to retire the debt then repay the bonds over four years. Selling the bonds at less than 3 percent interest, thanks to Idaho's solid credit rating, is expected to save millions of dollars in interest. Proponents of the plan say it will also spare businesses a $157 million hit from a federal tax credit they'd otherwise lose if Idaho remains in arrears to the federal government.

Testimony: ‘Oligarchy,’ ‘I will go to jail,’ ‘Worse than Dracula,’ ‘Terribly irresponsible’

Among those testifying so far at the hearing this morning on HB 117, the health care nullification law, was Leah Southwell of Coeur d'Alene, who told the Senate State Affairs Committee, “We have strayed so incredibly far from the original intent of our founding fathers. … If the Supreme Court is the final arbiter then no longer are we a republic. We are an oligarchy ruled by a few.”  Southwell said, “Idaho has a choice and a chance to be the leader in freedom, to return back to those founding principles, to be the check on the federal government.”

Jack Stuart of Meridian told the senators, “I will not accept or obey the health care law. I will go to jail. … Give me liberty or give me death.” As he concluded, there were loud whispers of “yes!” from the audience, which then broke out into applause and loud whistles. Committee Chairman Curtis McKenzie, R-Nampa, asked the crowd to refrain from showing approval or disapproval of the testimony.

Thomas Rogers of Nampa told the panel, “This is going to create a monster. It's going to be worse than Dracula.” He urged the senators to “drive a stake through its heart,” and said, “If the government will just get out of the way, we can do a better job.”

The only person to testify against the bill so far was Donna Yule, executive director of the Idaho Public Employees Association. She told the committee, “If you pass this law and the governor signs it, that very day you will turns thousands of working Idahoans into criminals just for showing up to work in the morning.” She called the bill “a terrible idea,” and noted that an Idaho Attorney General's opinion said the measure could opt Idaho out of receiving more than $1 billion in federal Medicaid funds. “Idahoans' lives depend on that funding,” Yule said. “It's terribly irresponsible for this body to put such a large part of Idaho's population at risk.”

JFAC puts off $5 million transfer

After much debate, JFAC has put off for now a decision on whether to transfer $5 million in unused funds from an $18 million excess fund balance at the state Industrial Commission into the state general fund, to help balance this year's budget. JFAC Co-Chair Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, who had moved to make the transfer, withdrew her motion after other JFAC members raised questions.

Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, said, “I worry about what we're doing here. … Every time we do this we're putting more one-time money into the budget, and we're just increasing the structural deficit of the budget going forward.” Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said he shares that concern, and lawmakers are trying to set a budget with less one-time money rolled into it for next year than the governor recommended. Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, said he'd rather declare a holiday on the tax to use up the fund balance, than use it to balance the budget.
 
Industrial Commission Director Tom Limbaugh told JFAC, “The money is not the Industrial Commission's money, it's the state of Idaho's money.” The commission has proposed legislation this year, HB 77, to allow it to adjust the tax rate up or down, but that bill hasn't been heard; some lawmakers say an agency shouldn't move a tax rate up and down, and the commission should instead propose a decrease in its tax rate. At this point, Limbaugh said, “We don't have any authority by statute to do anything with the balance in that fund.”

Cameron said, “I'm not giving up on it. We're going to bring it back, and we'll find the appropriate middle ground that everybody is comfortable with.” He said the co-chairs and vice-chairs of JFAC also have met with two other entities and will be making additional fund-shift proposals, but they'll give the joint committee more notice and time to consider the moves.

Wrestling with budget cuts…

JFAC has voted 19-0 for a budget for the Division of Professional-Technical Education for next year that included a 2.2 percent cut in state general funds and a 1.7 percent cut overall, though backers of the plan acknowledged that it fails to meet federal maintenance of effort requirements for funding, and might mean future penalties for the state. “That is serious,” said Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, one of several JFAC members who helped craft the budget. “We're making a conscious decision recognizing that there is a maintenance of effort problem with this budget, just as there was last year.”

JFAC also approved a budget for the state Department of Agriculture that calls for a 2 percent cut in state general funds, but a 6.4 percent increase overall; that's because it draws, on a one-time basis, $900,000 for the aquatic weed program to target invasive milfoil from a federal grant, rather than taking that money from the state general fund, and also includes federal stimulus grants for noxious weed control. The budgets still need approval from both the House and Senate and the governor's signature to become law, but budget bills rarely are changed after they're set by the joint committee.

Bell: IPTV budget ‘has become a lot about transparency in government’

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee has set several agency budgets so far this morning, including the budget for Idaho Public Television, which passed on a 16-4 vote. The plan calls for a 1 percent cut in state general funds for IPTV next year, and a 4.6 percent cut in total funds. It's a slightly smaller cut overall than the governor had recommended, because it restores $97,200 that was cut from the IPTV budget last year because the network got a one-time federal grant for that amount; the governor hadn't recommended restoring the money, though the grant is over.

“I think that besides the things that public TV normally does in terms of delivering a great program out to the people of Idaho, they've done a tremendous job of helping us make our government much more transparent and much more accessible to the people this year,” said Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow. “We've had hearings that JFAC has had with many people coming. The efforts of public TV have helped people around the state have access to the information shared and the comments shared, and I think we owe them a lot.”

Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, noted that IPTV's budget bears the cost of Legislature Live and broadcasting legislative hearings, which has been a big thing this year. “I appreciate what they do with all these meetings we have and all this activity that goes on in this Capitol,” Bell said. “This has become a lot about transparency in government.”

Pearce: ‘A giant step into socialism’

Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, told the Senate State Affairs Committee this morning, “We assert that states have rights and we assert that they have been established.” He called the national health care reform law enacted by Congress “probably the worst bill in American history.” He said, “At a time when we're in serious financial troubles we can't afford … our citizens are being forced to buy health care or else be fined.” Said Pearce, “This bill is about government control of people. It's a giant step into socialism.”

Before the hearing began, committee Chairman Curtis McKenzie, R-Nampa, said it was his intention to complete the hearing today and have the panel vote on the nullification bill, HB 117. After a group of co-sponsors including Pearce made comments to the committee, McKenzie is now hearing public testimony, with those testifying limited to 3 minutes apiece. Among them so far: Idaho County Commissioner Jim Chmelik, who said, “This health care bill is an economic nightmare and a disaster waiting to happen.”

Barbieri on HB 117: ‘There is nothing to stop the federal government’

The Senate State Affairs Committee has a substantial crowd in the Capitol Auditorium this morning for its hearing on HB 117, the health care nullification bill. Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, the bill's lead sponsor, asked the panel, “Are the state agencies responsible to the federal government or to the state of Idaho? This is not a nullification bill,” he said. “It merely directs state agencies to cease work,” on anything related to the new national health care reform law. “We ask them to stop implementing this onerous bill,” Barbieri said. “If we can't take a stand on this issue, where the court has already decided in Idaho's favor, there is nothing to stop the federal government doing as it pleases when it pleases.”

JFAC co-chairs identify $5 million to help fill state’s budget hole

The co-chairs of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee have identified $5 million from an $18 million fund balance at the state Industrial Commission that could be transfered to the general fund to help balance the budget, and the Industrial Commission has agreed to the move. It's the first of several, said Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, including “another one that's a pretty good piece.” The Industrial Commission fund shift will be up for consideration in JFAC this morning when it sets the commission's budget.

At the joint committee's early-morning briefing this morning, Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said, “The Industrial Commission has been operating with about a $17 million to $20 million fund balance. It's excessive for their needs, and they readily admit it.” He said he's been talking with the commission about that for two years; excess collections on all other insurance products whose taxes go through the state Department of Insurance go to the state general fund, but the Industrial Commission holds onto its balance. Even if it proposes legislation to lower the tax, Cameron said, there's still an existing balance - and this is a reasonable thing to do with part of it.

Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, said the figure was negotiated with the head of the Industrial Commission, Tom Limbaugh. “We were not going to push him any further,” she said. “There needs to be public policy changed on that, if he has built up that kind of a balance.” Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, said, “This is $5 million that we really needed. So I just want to commend the co-chairs for finding this money, $5 million - good work.”

Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, expressed some concern that businesses that paid the tax should get it back. Cameron said, “Our workers comp rates are not high. That's not the issue. It's unemployment insurance that is high. Whether this $5 million would even make a dent in the cost of unemployment insurance, that would be a real question. At the same time , by using the $5 million you may be avoiding significant reductions or worse reductions in public schools and Health & Welfare and Medicaid.” Cameron said as an employer, if the $5 million were distributed as a rebate across all employers who pay the workers comp insurance tax - for which there's now no mechanism - he'd get less than a dollar. “I'd rather you keep the dollar and make sure that Health & Welfare cuts aren't as egregious or education cuts aren't as egregious,” he said.

Video Service Act killed on 10-9 vote

The House State Affairs Committee today killed the Video Service Act, HB 156, on a 10-9 vote. Here's a report from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A House panel voted 10-9 to reject Qwest Communications' push to tinker with how video franchises are handed out in Idaho. The House State Affairs Committee on Thursday listened to municipalities like Pocatello that argued upending the existing system could cost them tens of thousands of dollars in revenue — and spell doom for their public access channels. The Idaho Video Service Act sought to allow Qwest to get franchises for new video services through the secretary of state's office, instead of dealing with local governments that oversee the process now. Rep. Jim Guthrie, from near Pocatello, said he'd gotten about 200 letters urging him to reject Qwest's proposal. As more states shift oversight of cable TV to state government, much of the territory where Qwest operates hasn't followed suit.

Bill would protect CAFOs, feedlots against neighbors’ complaints

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho lawmakers are mulling a bill supporters say would make it easier for farmers to enlarge their feed lot operations and more difficult for opponents to challenge those plans in court. The House Agricultural Affairs Committee heard testimony Thursday on a bill to strengthen Idaho's Right to Farm Act. The committee voted to delay until next week any formal vote on the measure, sponsored by House Speaker Lawerence Denney. Denney and industry supporters of the bill say it would give needed protections, for example, to dairy farmers seeking to enlarge feedlot operations and curtail local ordinances that regulate feedlots. But nearly a dozen detractors complained the changes would shield big, corporate farms from nuisance lawsuits and roll back local government's ability to regulate growth of livestock operations.
  

Nonini: School reform bills ‘some of most important things we’ll do this year’

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on today's Senate passage of two controversial school-reform bills, including a far-reaching measure to strip the state's teachers of many of their existing contract rights. Both measures now move to the House, where there's more support for them; House Education Committee Chairman Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, who backs the bills, already has scheduled committee hearings on them starting Tuesday morning. Nonini said he expects the measures to pass, calling them “some of the most important things we're going to do this year.”

Candle-carrying walkers protest bills

About a hundred people are walking around the Capitol in a vigil, carrying small candles shielded by paper cups, silently protesting the Senate's votes today to pass two school-reform bills, including a measure removing many of Idaho teachers' existing contract rights. The event is one of 23 hastily scheduled across the state today after the bills passed this afternoon in an extended Senate debate that stretched for five hours; you can see the full list here.

Nonini schedules HB 1108, 1110 for House Ed hearings starting Tuesday

House Education Chairman Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, said just now, “After visiting with leadership, we have decided to hold the hearings beginning next Tuesday morning.” The two school reform bills that already have passed the Senate - SB 1108 and SB 1110 - will be considered by the House Education Committee starting at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, Nonini said; he's already reserved the Capitol Auditorium, the Statehouse's largest hearing room, for three days, though he said he hopes it won't take that full time. The hearings will run from 8-11 a.m.

Nonini said he initially thought he should wait until all three bills arrived, but with the third undergoing a rework in the Senate Education Committee, he said that “could be a week or more.” Said Nonini, “We  just thought we should get the two bills we have moving.”

Candlelight vigils set across state

Twenty-three candlelight vigils will be held around the state today in response to the Senate's passage of the first two bills in state schools Supt. Tom Luna's school reform plan, the Idaho Education Association announced, starting with one on the sidewalks ringing the state Capitol at 5 p.m. You can see the full list of vigils here. IEA President Sherri Wood said in a statement, “Twenty members of the Idaho Senate today defied Idahoans by voting to advance two of the three bills in Superintendent Tom Luna’s cynical package to overhaul education in Idaho. Many of the Senators noted in debate that they’ve heard more public opposition to this plan than on any other issue in their careers, yet 20 of them ignored that input and voted to pass the bills.” You can read her full statement here.

Goedde: Senate Ed likely to start discussing changes to SB 1113 Monday or Tuesday

Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, asked what's next on the third, and biggest, piece of the school reform plan, said, “We've had individual committee members working on parts of it. We will schedule it for discussion Monday or Tuesday.” At that point, he said, the committee will “see … where there might be some opportunities to make changes.” Most likely, Goedde said, SB 1113 will be held in committee and a new, revised bill introduced.

SB 1113 is the centerpiece of state schools Supt. Tom Luna's reform plan; it calls for increasing class sizes in grades 4-12 and cutting 770 teaching jobs in the next two years, to save millions that then would be funneled into technology upgrades, a laptop computer for every high school student, online courses, teacher performance pay, and more. That measure was pulled back to the Senate Education Committee yesterday, amid concerns in the Senate about raising school class sizes. The other two pieces of the plan, SB 1108, reducing Idaho teachers' contract rights, and SB 1110, setting up the performance-pay plan, both passed the Senate today on identical 20-15 votes.

Senate Dems: ‘Mean-spirited plan’

Senate Democrats have issued a statement calling today “a sad day for educators,” after the Senate's two 20-15 votes in favor of the first two school reform bills; you can read their full statement here. Senate Minority Leader Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello, said, “It saddens me that my colleages in the Senate would pass these laws knowing full well the extent to which our citizens are offended by Tom Luna's mean-spirited plan.” Malepeai also discusses in the statement the Senate Democrats' reasons for forcing the bills to be read in full before they were voted on, a move they hadn't made since the special session in 2006 on eliminating the school property tax levy. “We requested the bills be read at length because we believe that this legislation is being rushed through the Legislature and we had deep concerns that many of our fellow senators intended to vote yes but had yet to read the bills in their entirety,” he said.

Luna: ‘A great day’

State schools Supt. Tom Luna had this statement in response to today's Senate passage of two of this three reform bills: “This is a great day for Idaho and its children. With these two bills, we have reformed the way we pay teachers, and we have reformed the way school districts can operate by returning authority and flexibility to locally elected school boards. Next, we must reform Idaho's classrooms so all students learn in a 21st century classroom and are prepared to succeed in the world that awaits them.”

Luna told Eye on Boise, “I'm very proud of the governor, I'm very proud of our elected officials and their willingness to make some tough choices and reform our system. … We still have a few steps to go.”

SB 1110 passes Senate on same 20-15 vote

SB 1110, the teacher performance pay bill, has passed the Senate on a 20-15 vote - the same vote as the previous bill, SB 1108 on teacher contracts.
  

Darrington: ‘Measure of success of teacher is not at the moment’

Sen. Denton Darrington, R-Declo, a longtime 8th grade teacher, recalled having students come up to him years later and tell him what they learned from him. He told the Senate, “The greatest measure of the success of a teacher is not at the moment, it's down the road. … And you can't measure that, you can't … but it's significant.”
  

Debate: ‘Just creates more frustration,’ ‘definitely a better way’

Sen. Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello, told the Senate of teaching troubled and disadvantaged children. It's a challenge, he said, to help those youngsters in cases where their parents aren't involved. “Ladies and gentlemen, this bill doesn't figure it out,” he said of SB 1110, the teacher performance-pay bill. “It just creates more frustration.”

Sen. Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, said, “I had a lot of good teachers growing up. I didn't grow up as well as they hoped. I've heard from some in the last two weeks.” He said, “There's no completely fair system, folks. There's no completely fair system. The system we have right now is as unfair as any system I can think of. This may not be the best way, but it's definitely a better way.”

Pearce: ‘Do it for the kids’

Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, debating in favor of SB 1110, the teacher performance pay bill, said, “Today I think is one of the most exciting days in Idaho history, where we've had the nerve and the internal fortitude to stand up and say it's time to do it right, it's time to make a change.” He said, “I hope we have the wisdom … to stand up and really do it for the kids.”

Debate on merit-pay bill: ‘Not ready, not funded,’ ‘teachers finally rewarded’

In the debate on SB 1110, the teacher performance-pay bill, Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, said, “I believe this bill is not ready and it certainly is not funded.” Passing it without a funding source, she said, threatens to compete with existing school funding for already-strapped school districts.

The bill is part of a three-bill package proposed by state schools Supt. Tom Luna; its funding would come from raising class sizes in grades 4-12, but that bill has been sent back to the Senate Education Committee for a rework.

Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d'Alene, debating in favor of the bill, said, “It's important that those folks who are willing to put in their time to create a new curriculum, or those folks who are willing to mentor new teachers, or those folks that are willing … to provide leadership, are rewarded. That's really what we're talking about here.” He said it will let teachers “be able to have more control over their wages.”

Sen. Melinda Smyser, R-Parma, said, “It's just like a business. If I'm not doing the job, I'm going to be fired. … With this bill, teachers will finally be rewarded.”

Teacher performance-pay debate: Goedde says there’s ‘no funding source’

Sen. John Goedde, opening debate on SB 1110, the teacher performance pay bill, said it will reward teachers with bonuses for outstanding work, and let districts pay more to those in hard-to-fill positions. “Senators, we have an educator pay scale that's built in the 19th century,” Goedde said. “It doesn't work, it doesn't recognize excellence.”

Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said, “I'm having a hard time understanding how we're actually funding this. Where does the money actually come from?”

Goedde said the cost would be $38 million starting in fiscal year 2013, and “there is no funding source attached to this.” In subsequent years, according to the bill, it would cost $51.3 million a year.

How they voted…

Here's the Senate vote breakdown on SB 1108, the teacher contracts bill:

Voting in favor: Sens. Bair, Brackett, Davis, Fulcher, Goedde, Hammond, Heider, Hill, Lodge, McGee, McKague, McKenzie, Mortimer, Nuxoll, Pearce, Siddoway, Smyser, Toryanski, Vick, and Winder.

Voting against: Sens. Andreason, Bilyeu, Bock, Broadsword, Cameron, Corder, Darrington, Keough, LeFavour, Malepeai, Schmidt, Stegner, Stennett, Tippetts, and Werk.

Nearly four hours in, second bill now being read in full in Senate…

The Senate has been debating school reform bills since 10 a.m., and it's now twenty to 2. It's launched right in to SB 1110, the teacher performance pay bill, and once again, Democrats have objected to waiving the requirement for full reading of the bill. So now, that bill, too, is being read in full in the Senate chamber.

SB 1108 passes, 20-15

SB 1108 has passed the Senate on a rather close 20-15 vote, with bipartisan opposition. The Senate has now moved immediately to take up SB 1110, the teacher performance pay bill.

Goedde: Reward good teachers, stop making excuses for bad ones

Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, in his closing debate on SB 1108, the teacher contract bill, read from a speech by President Obama, “We want to reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones.” He said, “This is a first step in providing some additional control for local school districts to administer and to accept the responsibility that our electorate provides when they sent them to office.”
  

SB 1108 debate: ‘Unfinished product,’ ‘not mean-spirited,’ ‘slap in the face’

Sen. John Andreason, R-Boise, told the Senate, “This bill has some good points to it, but in my view, it's an unfinished product.” He said his local school districts “especially don't like sections 6, 10 and 12.”

Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, said, “I cannot see how the current system is sustainable. … This isn't mean-spirited. We just need to change how we do our business. … No one's trying to hurt anybody.”

Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, said, “This is a direct slap in the face to every teacher in our classroom who make our children want to learn. When we tell them they are not valued for the job they do and that we're going to break every contract they have because long term contracts are bad, I disagree that this isn't about teachers. This is about teachers, and they do do a good job. … Why not allow them to come to the table and be part of this discussion? Don't do a bill and say, 'here, take it or leave it.'”

Sen. John Goedde has now begun the closing debate.

Hammond: ‘Building a new paradigm for instruction’

Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d'Alene, told the Senate, “Teaching is worthy of greater respect from our society than what we currently give it, and it's worthy of compensation relative to its importance.” The former school principal said, “This bill is about starting over, it's about stepping back. … It's about building a new paradigm for instruction.”

He praised the provisions of SB 1108 that give principals more say over the staff at their schools. “We're in the business of providing an education to our children, first of all, so they can be active citizens in our government, and secondly so that they know how to live in this modern day world,” he said. “I'm not crazy about this bill and the way it's worded. But at some point, we need to start. Maybe this bill won't be the final product. … But the good thing about it is we're doing more than just talking. We're really being forced to ask those hard questions. Yes, we could delay, and there's a part of me that would really like to do that. But I also fear that that delay moves us back to the status quo, and we won't really get to the point where we need to be.”

Keough: ‘Undermine our efforts to truly put students first’

Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, said the school board members and school administrators in her district aren't supporting SB 1108, and have urged her to “not allow SB 1108 to go forward today.” There are some things in it they like, she said, “but there are so many other things that will upset the current situation we have in our schools. It is difficult enough, with the financial considerations that we are facing, to turn upside down teacher contract law at this time, at this point, without adequate deliberation.” She said the move would “undermine our efforts to truly put students first.”

Keough said the bill would abrogate currently existing contracts and get the state and local school districts sued, and its fiscal note doesn't reflect the cost of that. She recalled last year's unprecedented deliberations in the joint budget committee on the school budget, in which all the stakeholders were invited to the table to participate. “One of my concerns with this bill, SB 1108, is the stakeholders were not a part of this discussion up-front,” she said. She said, “There are pieces of this legislation that I like, and I think we could do a better job.”

Mortimer: ‘Our school boards … are in a very difficult position’

Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, debating in favor of SB 1108, told the Senate, “This bill returns control to the school boards, invests them with proper authority they should have as elected officials of their school district. This bill prevents past boards from binding future boards with debts and obligations. This bill ensures that elected officials are held accountable for their actions and not the actions of prior boards.”

He said, “Our school boards, our local elected officials, are in a very difficult position.” He touted provisions of the bill allowing school boards to keep the “best” teachers, “not the most senior.” He said it allows local elected officials to “put the needs of students first.”

Debate: ‘Hit at the heart of every teacher’

Sen. Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello, who said he's one of just three senators in the chamber who's taught as a classroom teacher, told the Senate, “I do know something about this. This bill is going to hit at the heart of every teacher. … This I do know.”

Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, is offering his first debate in the Senate, speaking against SB 1108. He said he appreciated the full reading of the bill, and thought it was important.  “I do not believe that this bill will improve local control,” Schmidt said. “I think it will create chaos and disturbance,” particularly for small school districts like those in his region. “I do not believe this bill leads us toward quality,” he said. With his comments, every Democratic senator in the chamber has now spoken against the bill.

More debate against SB 1108: ‘Punishing teachers … the public knows it’

Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, told the Senate that under SB 1108, “Our predecessors put this in place because there were problems, and those problems were many, and those problems have not disappeared.”

Sen. Diane Bilyeu, D-Pocatello, said, “SB 1108, in my opinion, is the beginning of dismantling our public schools in Idaho by punishing teachers, and that's really what it does. And the public knows it.”

So far, more than two hours in, no one has debated in favor of the bill except its sponsor, Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, in his opening debate.

Corder: ‘We destabilized our ed funding’

Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, told the Senate he attended a meeting in his district at which 250 people turned out to discuss the legislation. He heard teachers, high school students and others speak out against SB 1108. He even received a petition from 4th graders against the measure. “But what do 4th graders know, right?” he asked. “What do high school kids know?” He said he started to look into “what was broken … what is the problem we're fixing with these pieces of legislation?” Corder said, “It appeared that some of us believe that the problem is with the union. … Some believed the problems were student performance, and if we could get rid of the unions, if we could fire teachers, if we could do all these other things that we're trying to do, somehow student performance improves.” Others thought there were problems with accountability, he said.

Corder said the state hasn't addressed “administrative dysfunction,” which he said must be implicated in any failure to fire bad teachers now. Overall, he said, he concluded, “The problem we're really trying to solve is the cost of education.” But, he said, “We don't even know what this is going to cost.” He said when the Legislature eliminated the property tax levy for schools in 2006, “We destabilized our educational funding when we did that.” Yet, he said, people are paying more in property taxes now - “because now we're forcing locals to pass supplemental levies, we're forcing them to do these things.”

Corder said what the state should have done is identified the problems, and brought stakeholders together to find solutions to those. “I reject the idea that we have to do all this or none of it,” he said. “I reject the idea that we have to do it today.”

LeFavour: ‘Open season on those teachers’

Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, asked several questions of SB 1108's sponsor, Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene. Among them: Whether “grandfathered” continuing contracts can be terminated, under the bill, during a reduction in force. Goedde said yes, that's what the bill requires. Sen. Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, objected to some of LeFavour's questions, saying they constituted debate, not questioning of the sponsor.

LeFavour then debated against the bill. “In my mind, that is a pretty vulnerable continuing contract,” she told the Senate. “There are very few provisions that will remain in place to protect that individual from the politics of districts.” That could include teachers who are demanding, and have the children of powerful community members in their classes, she said; teachers who discuss difficult subjects in health or other classes; and teachers who are of a different religion than members of their local school board. “That assurance and that academic integrity that comes with continuing contracts will be completely lost,” LeFavour said. She said the bill will declare “open season on those teachers.”

Motion to delay defeated on party-line vote

“I've received more email on this bill than any other bill in my years in the Legislature,” Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, told the Senate, debating in favor of the motion to delay SB 1108. “We need more time to look at this. … We need more time. What is the rush?”

Sen. Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, who repeatedly objected to debate that was offered by Democratic senators on the motion that Davis said was actually debate on the bill, said Bock's argument - great public interest - is a reason to vote on the bill now. “I urge you to vote against the motion,” he said.

Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, said, “To me it's astounding that this legislation has come this far and the changes that have been made to it are so minor, in the face of the overwhelming opposition that we have received on this bill.” Sen. Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello, said, “In four weeks, we rushed through this without any stakeholder input into this process. … Get the process in place to do this thing right, and that is to have input from those who are going to be affected by this.”

Sen.. Curtis McKenzie, R-Nampa, said, “At the end of the day, our job here is to make decisions on things that come before this body. … We have had more input on this than any bill that I know, and we have had historically large hearings on this bill. Never before in our state history have we had or even been able to have as large of hearings as we've had this legislative session. I'm proud of that. … It's time for us to do our job and make a decision.”

Sen. Diane Bilyeu, D-Pocatello, said, “I think it would be a very positive thing to delay this bill, so that we can get our arms around all three of these bills, frankly.” The motion to delay debate of SB 1108 indefinitely then was defeated on a straight party-line vote, 7-28.

Dems move to postpone S1108 ‘indefinitely’

Sen. Diane Bilyeu, D-Pocatello, moved that consideration of SB 1108 be indefinitely postponed, and Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, seconded the motion. Bilyeu said there are too many questions about the bill. Sen. Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, responded, “This is a bill that has been well-vetted.”

Debate: ‘How mean-spirited this bill seems to be’

Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, told the Senate that SB 1108 is so important that it needed to be read in full, for all senators to understand everything the measure would do. “I'm really concerned with how mean-spirited this bill seems to be,” she said.

Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, questioned Sen. John Goedde about his suggestion that those teachers who have continuing contracts now will keep them. Goedde said they'll be “grandfathered,” but Keough pointed out that various clauses in the bill end specific features of current continuing contracts.

Goedde: ‘This bill’s time has come’

Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, told the Senate that SB 1108 will give broader say to “school board members who are elected today,” rather than “being bound by school boards of yesterday.” He said, “There are some who say that these changes will cause teacher to flee Idaho. Right now we are losing teachers every day.” He said they're going to private industry, where there may be fewer contract rights, but higher pay.

“My fellow senators, your education committee has spent hours hearing testimony,” Goedde told the Senate. “This bill's time has come.”

Goedde opens debate on SB 1108

Senators were almost done reading the full text of SB 1108 when Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, asked to cut off the reading and start the debate. Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, has now opened the debate, touting “the overarching promise of this legislation - local control.”
  

Cameron takes over bill-reading…

Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, now has taken over the full reading of SB 1108. He's on page 22 of the bill. On that page, the measure says, “If no agreement regarding compensation has been reached by the parties on or before June 20, the board of trustees, at a meeting held no later than June 22, shall establish compensation for professional employees for the ensuing school year as it deems appropriate.”

Darrington takes over bill-reading…

Sen. Denton Darrington, R-Declo, has now taken over the reading of SB 1108 in the Senate chamber. Among little-discussed clauses of the bill that have been read: The bill goes on for more than a full page with new requirements on how teachers must be notified of options for purchasing professional liability insurance and available providers of that insurance. Teachers would have to certify each year that they'd received this notification; even substitutes would be required to comply. That's on page 16. On page 20 of the bill, the measure declares that “evergreen” or continuing clauses in negotiated teacher contracts “are contrary to the tenets of a free republic.”

McGee takes over bill-reading…

Senate GOP Caucus Chairman John McGee, R-Caldwell, has now taken over the reading of the bill, SB 1108 to trim teacher contract rights. He's on page 16 of the 25-page bill.

In break from reading bill, Senate honors Medal of Honor recipient

The Senate has now gone at ease, after first the clerk of the Senate, and then Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, read from the text of SB 1108. Davis wasn't done; numerous more pages remain to be read in the bill. Now, the Senate is taking a break to honor a Medal of Honor recipient, Arthur J. Jackson, who's present in the chamber today.

Dems force full reading of teacher contract bill

When Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, asked the Senate just now for unanimous consent to waive further reading of SB 1108, as is the usual custom, and permit the debate on the bill to begin, Senate Minority Leader Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello, objected, so now the bill is being read in full in the Senate.

The bill to trim teacher contract rights…

Two of the three bills in state schools Supt. Tom Luna's reform package are up for debate in the Senate today: SB 1108, trimming teacher contract rights; and SB 1110, establishing a pay-for-performance system for teachers. Here's a list of the changes that SB 1108 would make, as detailed in the bill's Statement of Purpose:

• Phasing out continuing contract rights, sometimes called “tenure,” for all current and future teachers who have not yet earned it. New teachers instead would have one- or two-year contracts.
• Requiring student achievement measures, such as test scores, and feedback from parents to be factored into teacher evaluations.
• Eliminating seniority as a factor in decisions on layoffs.
• Giving principals more control over teacher hires.
• Providing liability insurance options for teachers.
• Eliminating the 99% average daily attendance protection feature of the state funding formula, which protects school districts that lose students from one year to the next from sharp drops in state funding,
and replacing it with a 10% severance payment for teachers laid off due to enrollment swings.
• Eliminating the Early Retirement Incentive Program.
• Limiting the length of negotiated labor agreements to one year.
• Eliminating “evergreen” clauses from negotiated labor agreements.
• Requiring that unions provide documentation that they represent over 50% of employees in
order for collective bargaining to take place.
• Limiting collective bargaining to salaries and benefits.
• Requiring that all labor negotiations be conducted in public meetings.

Tight budget set for AG’s office, but flexibility added

After much debate, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee has set a budget for the Idaho Attorney General's office for next year that cuts state general funds by 1.1 percent but reflects an overall increase in total funds of 2.2 percent. Attorney General Lawrence Wasden warned earlier that continued cuts in his office's budget are endangering the state's legal representation. Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, offered a substitute motion with the same figures, but offering the attorney general “lump sum” authority, meaning he could shift funds from one area to another to cope with the budget crunch. “He is basically the people's lawyer,” Jaquet said. “I think he needs the ability to be able to move his budget around.”

Rep. Darrell Bolz, R-Caldwell, who made the original proposal, said, “They are very short in terms of being able to meet their obligations right now.” Jaquet's motion passed on a 13-7 vote. The budget, which still needs House and Senate approval and the governor's signature to become law, cuts $182,200 from the office's special litigation program, but does include funding for an additional attorney in the Medicaid fraud unit; nearly three-quarters of the funding for that comes from federal funds.
  

Senate Dems: School reform plan ‘flawed”

Senate Democrats have issued a statement saying they're “standing with the vast majority of Idahoans and fighting passage of the Otter-Luna education gambit during today's floor debate.” Among the concerns the minority senators raise is how the Senate can vote today on SB 1110, the teacher pay for performance plan, when the bill that would provide the funding for it, SB 1113, has been sent back to committee. It would raise class sizes to gain the savings. The estimated cost for the performance pay bill, SB 1110, is $38 million in fiscal year 2013, and $51.3 million in each year thereafter. Also scheduled for debate in the Senate today is SB 1108, which would trim back teacher collective bargaining rights. You can read the Senate Democrats' full statement here.

Budget debate: ‘Pennywise and pound foolish’

The first general-fund budget that was up for JFAC to set this morning, for the office of the governor, led to a debate, after Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, proposed the governor's recommendation - a 1.1 percent cut in state general funds for next year, and 1.9 percent cut in total funds - and Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, proposed an alternative plan with a deeper cut of 2.2 percent, cutting just over $40,000 rather than $18,700. Mortimer's motion failed on an 8-12 vote, and Keough's then passed.

“We are asking all of our departments and agencies to make the necessary sacrifice to get a balanced budget,” Mortimer said. “I'm going to be making proposals in the days subsequent where the cuts are going to be significant, and I, in good conscience, cannot make those cuts without making this cut.” Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said the “meager amount of money” in question didn't warrant overstepping constitutional divisions between the legislative and executive branches, and he cautioned that budget “targets” JFAC has discussed are guidelines, not requirements for every agency budget. “In some cases, we are starting to prohibit our entities from being able to fulfill their constitutional duty,” Cameron said. “We are starting to impact the ability for us to provide good government.”

Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, said, “I think it's going to be really hard to vote to cut education or to cut any of the others, Health & Welfare, unless we lead by example, and I really think, I think the governor would be on board to lead by example.” Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Bonneville, said, “In this hard economic time that we're in, all the departments need to make necessary cuts across the board, and we're asking all agencies to participate.” They proposed a similar cut to the next budget, the governor's Division of Financial Management, though that agency already has its employees taking hundreds of furlough hours and is holding positions open including the state's chief economist.

Said Cameron, “I would just caution the committee that we not be pennywise and pound foolish.” He said, “You increase furlough hours to the point where they are unable to make appropriate decisions, it will end up costing the state more money in the long run.” That substitute motion died on a 4-16 vote.

Idaho spending $25K a month to defend Lowe firing in court

The firing of former state Transportation Director Pam Lowe, and defending the resulting wrongful-termination lawsuit, is costing Idaho about $25,000 a month, the Idaho Statesman reports today, with the state's legal bills for the outside lawyers it's hired to handle the case now at $257,913 and counting. That's just for March through December. A trial in the case is scheduled for Aug. 8, and there are a lot big legal bills to come; last month, the state submitted a 5,400-page brief in the case. You can read a full report here from Idaho Statesman reporter Cynthia Sewell, which includes questions about whether the state has cut the Idaho Attorney General's office budget back so far that it's having to turn to pricier alternatives like more-expensive outside counsel.

Anti-bullying bill heads to Senate’s amending order for changes

After an intense, two-hour hearing, the Senate Education Committee has voted 5-3 to send SB 1105, a measure to strengthen Idaho's anti-bullying laws, to the Senate's amending order. The bill, co-sponsored by Sens. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint; John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene; and Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise; includes provisions calling for more education, training and attention to bullying issues, plus a provision making a third offense a misdemeanor rather than an infraction. Senators on the committee heard disturbing stories about children beaten up, harassed, threatened and repeatedly intimidated in Idaho schools; but some objected to the way the bill was worded and how it would go about trying to strengthen the law. In the end, the sponsors said they'd be willing to amend the bill to remove the criminal-penalty section, to, as LeFavour said, “make sure that we truly do, this year, improve our bullying statutes.”

Lawmakers upset tribes with cig tax push

Here's a link to our full story at spokesman.com on how Idaho Republican lawmakers have raised strong concerns among the state's five recognized Indian tribes by starting a push to tax cigarettes on Indian reservations, introducing the legislation today without first consulting with the tribes. Said Helo Hancock, legislative director for the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, “It just sounds like another creative way to stick it to the tribes.”

Of megaloads, lawsuits, legislation, and alternate routes…

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on how St. Maries Rep. Dick Harwood introduced legislation Wednesday designed to impose huge bonding requirements on anyone who sues to block a megaload - or anything else - from traveling on Idaho's highways. Meanwhile,  megaloads opponents today filed a petition asking ITD to reconsider its initial approval of 207 proposed megaloads that ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil plan to send across Highway 12, now that the company has begun modifying many of the loads to allow them to be trucked to Alberta, Canada via the interstate system instead.

Highway 12 resident Borg Hendrickson said, “Throughout 2010, Exxon/Imperial repeatedly told Idahoans that no alternative route existed for these massive loads, but now 60 of them are being shipped from Vancouver via an alternative route and 30 more are also going to be shipped via an alternative route,” after modifications as they sit in Lewiston. “ITD's decision needs to be based on real facts, and our petition, in effect, asks ITD to step back and get those facts.” You can read the petition here.

Council on Indian Affairs calls for slowdown on reservation cig tax bill

The Idaho Council on Indian Affairs is meeting in the state Capitol today, and its members expressed strong concerns about the introduction of legislation today regarding tobacco taxes on reservations without any consultation with the tribes. “Nobody's ever talked to us, approached us,” said Chief Allan, chairman of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe. “I'm a little disappointed again that all of our efforts, all of these tribal leaders around the table trying to bridge that gap with the state, we seem to be taking a step backwards again. That's not the way I envisioned this. I would hope we as two government bodies could sit around the table and work our differences out.”

Other tribal leaders agreed. McCoy Oatman, chairman of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee, noted that tobacco plays a significant role in his tribe's culture. “It's a part of our traditional way of life, it's part of our religion,” he said. The tribe needs to consult its elders about the issue, he said. Chairman Nathan Small of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes said his tribe is very concerned about impacts on its tribal tax revenues. “Right now, tobacco taxes are being utilized for good purposes, and for it to be taken away from us, it would have a devastating effect on our people,” he said.

Allan moved to call on the House Revenue & Taxation Committee to hold off on hearing the bill until the tribes have an opportunity to review it, and Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, seconded the motion. Council Chairman Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, said he supported it as “a worthy motion,” and it passed. Jaquet suggested naming a date, the the council agreed to ask that no hearing be held before March 7; Nonini said a letter making that request on behalf of the council will be sent to Rev & Tax Chairman Dennis Lake and House Speaker Lawerence Denney, the bill's sponsor.

Luna: ‘A positive step’

Here is state schools Supt. Tom Luna's statement on today's Senate move to pull the main school reform bill back to committee: “This is another positive step toward reforming education in Idaho. Two of the Students Come First bills will be taken up on the Senate floor tomorrow. If there are improvements that can be made to Senate Bill 1113, we are open to those ideas. This is how the legislative process works, and I look forward to working with the Senate to pass this reform package.”

Labrador to lawmakers: ‘You’re in the front lines’

New Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador returned today to the Statehouse where he used to serve, addressing both the state Senate and House for the first time as a congressman. “My four years serving with you were some of the best years of my life,” Labrador told state lawmakers. “This is where I cut my teeth and learned how to be a legislator and how to serve those I represent. … For this I will always be grateful.”

He said, “Many of the issues facing America as a country are the same issues that we have faced here in the state. You're in the front lines of these battles. … I hope that you have seen that I have applied the lessons learned from you in my new job.”

Labrador said he's part of a large freshman class in the U.S. House that comes from all walks of life and is dedicated to ending runaway federal spending. “Congress as a whole is now acting on what we here in Idaho have known for a long time,” he said. “We are broke, and if we don't radically decrease our borrowing and spending we will go bankrupt. … Congress must become responsible again.”

Main school reform bill pulled from Senate, sent back to committee

The Senate has agreed to send SB 1113, the main bill of state schools Supt. Tom Luna's school reform package, back to the Senate Education Committee. “We still have a little bit of work to do on this,” Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, told the Senate. “We tried and it didn't quite get there. We're going to try again.” The Senate unanimously agreed to move the bill back to the committee; it also held the other two reform bills, SB 1108 and SB 1110, until tomorrow.

House delays urban renewal bills, Labrador to address lawmakers

The House has put off consideration of several urban renewal bills, as House Majority Leader Mike Moyle said the plan is to consider all the bills on one day, and two are on the amending order awaiting amendments first. Meanwhile, new Congressman Raul Labrador is scheduled to address both the Senate and the House today.

House rebuffs move to pull bill from committee

A move to pull HB 28, legislation from Rep. Leon Smith, R-Twin Falls, from the House State Affairs Committee, where it's been languishing without a hearing, has failed in the House on a 53-16 vote. The bill would amend last year's “conscience law” to protect patients' living wills and advance care directives from being violated because of conscience concerns by health care providers. Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, House State Affairs chairman, told the House, “Though it has been some time since HB 28 was introduced, I'd like to assure the members of the body that it has not gone unnoticed.” He said there's still work going on “behind the scenes” on the issue.

Denney introduces cigarette-tax incidence bill on reservation sales

Idaho House Speaker Lawerence Denney introduced legislation this morning to change the incidence of Idaho's cigarette tax, requiring essentially that it be charged by Indian tribes on reservations, but that the tribes would get rebates for the tribal taxes they charge, up to the amount of the state's tax, and tribal members purchasing cigarettes on the reservation would be exempt from the tax, as they are now. The bill would end up revenue-neutral - any additional taxes collected by tribes would be rebated back to them - but it would provide an incentive for tribes to match their tribal cigarette taxes to the level of state taxes.

Denney said the bill was driven by concerns regarding the national tobacco settlement and the possibility that Idaho could be sued, but he said it certainly has implications for proposed legislation to raise Idaho's cigarette tax by $1.25 a pack. With that change, Denney said, without his bill, “My contention would be that you would not decrease the smoking, you would change the point of purchase,” because he said cigarette-buying customers would just go to reservations for lower tax rates. Though the Idaho Indian Affairs Council is meeting today, Denney said he didn't consult it or Idaho tribes in crafting the bill. He did, however, give a copy to Indian Affairs Council Chairman Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene. “I suspect that they will discuss it,” Denney said.

He said the legislation was drafted by the Idaho Attorney General's office. Denney said he expects Idaho retailers to support it, though he said he's not consulted with them, either.

JFAC overrides Millenium Fund committee

Idaho's Joint Millenium Fund Committee went through 11 motions this year before it settled on a recommendation for how to divvy up Millenium Fund money among health and substance-abuse programs next year. But today, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee overrode the plan the other joint committee had painstakingly put together, instead voting 12-8 in favor of a competing motion to enact Gov. Butch Otter's recommendation. The key differences: The Idaho Meth Project would get $500,000 from the Millenium Fund next year, instead of $250,000; and state tobacco cessation programs would get less than half what they requested - $650,000 for Project Filter, Quitnet, Quitline and programs that provide nicotine replacement therapy and counseling through the state Department of Health & Welfare, down from $1.25 million; and $250,000 for tobacco-cessation programs through public health districts, which target pregnant women, rather than $560,000.

There also would be a larger fund shift from the Millenium Fund to state substance-abuse programs, by close to $1 million, something Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, who pushed the alternate plan, said was key.

AARP: ‘We don’t view this as progress’

Here's what the Idaho AARP thinks of the new narrow conscience law amendment bill, HB 187: “We don't view this as progress,” said David Irwin, Idaho AARP spokesman. “It still allows all health care professionals in Idaho to have a conscience objection to somebody's living will or advanced directive, and those are legal documents. … We think it can be clearer, and we think it can be done better.”

Under Idaho's Natural Death Act, people can file legal living wills or advanced care directives to specify which “artificial life-sustaining procedures” should be used, or not used, when they're dying. The state's conscience law, passed last year, lets any health care provider refuse to provide any end-of-life treatment that violates the provider's conscience.

Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, a co-sponsor of HB 187 and the lead sponsor of the conscience law last year, said, “The physician ought to have some say in what the treatment is, and whether it's appropriate. … He swears an oath that he's going to keep people alive.” Winder said, “There's kind of a balancing act going on here. We think it's important not only at the beginning of life, but at the end of life, that medical providers be able to exercise their conscience.” He said he's been through difficult situations with family members regarding when to remove artificial life supports. Asked what a family should do if a doctor opposes the patient's and family's wishes on that question, Winder said, “Get a  different doctor.”
  

House State Affairs Committee refuses to introduce broader conscience law fix

The House State Affairs Committee has voted 13-6 against even introducing legislation from Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, that's identical to a bill from Rep. Tom Trail, R-Moscow, to amend the “conscience law” to remove references to end-of-life care and treatment. Trail's bill hasn't gotten a hearing for possible introduction. King said she's received hundreds of emails from constituents, questioning why the law, passed last year, would let a health care provider's conscience concerns override a patient's living will or advanced care directives regarding what types of treatments they want to receive or not receive as they die.

Rep. Erik Simpson, R-Idaho Falls, told King, “The conscience law has been on the books for seven months.” He asked her if there's been any incident in which a patient's living will has been violated by a provider. “I am not personally aware of any,” King responded. “I think this just causes a lot of angst with a lot of seniors. And perhaps those that have passed away without their directives being heard aren't going to come forward.”

Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, asked King how her bill differs from one introduced yesterday by Rep. Julie Ellsworth, R-Boise, to make a more narrow change in the conscience law regarding living wills. “That refers to physicians, and does not refer to all health care professionals,” King responded. “I think this is a little broader.”

King urged the committee to introduce her bill so the various proposals could be examined “side by side” to decide the best way to approach the issue. Rep. Max Black, R-Boise, moved to introduce the measure, but Rep. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls, made a substitute motion to reject the measure. “I'm concerned about having too many bills out there on the same issue,” she said, “and maybe we should have a hearing on the one that we received yesterday and see what happens with that one first.” Simpson said, “There's no evidence there's a problem that even exists.”

Harwood bill would target anti-megaload lawsuits

Rep. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, has introduced legislation requiring anyone who files a lawsuit against a transportation project on state highways to post a bond equal to 5 percent of the value of the items being hauled, and if the plaintiffs lose the lawsuit, the whole bond would go to the Idaho Transportation Department. Plus, the bill would authorize the court to award damages to the hauler in the amount of its loss for delays related to the lawsuit.

Harwood said, “This has been brought because of the megaloads. Any time an individual group can stop our commerce from flowing, it's not a good thing, and that's what happened.” Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, an attorney, raised questions about the bill, saying, “It looks like they're paying twice.” Harwood said, “It's the transportation department that most likely will be sued, that's what happened.” Luker said if the bond is excessive, the petitioner should get amounts back beyond the department's costs associated with the project, but said, “the bill doesn't say that.”

Rep. Max Black, R-Boise, said, “I think that that's totally justifiable because they really did put the Department of Transportation into a lot of extra hearings, and transportation costs, going to North Idaho for the hearings and whatever else. Ultimately, they won, but without this, there was no reimbursement for their extra expenses.” The House State Affairs Committee voted to introduce the bill today, though Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, objected; Harwood said he expects the bill to be assigned to the House Transportation Committee for a hearing.

Harwood compared his proposal to bonds required for lawsuits over state timber sales, and said those bond requirements “pretty much ended any lawsuits on the Department of Lands.”

Building fund budget trims back some construction projects

JFAC is setting budgets this week, starting with non-general fund agencies. Among today's: The state's Permanent Building Fund. Gov. Butch Otter had called for shifting $10 million from the building fund in a budget-balancing move without holding up any planned construction projects, but that proved impossible. Instead, JFAC members, the governor's office and the state Division of Public Works have crafted a plan to shift $7 million - $3 million from the construction contingency fund, and $4 million cut from scheduled construction projects, in order to allow alterations and repair funding to remain untouched.

The plan, sponsored by Reps. Darrell Bolz, R-Caldwell, and Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, cuts next year's expenditure for a multi-year renovation of the Capitol Annex from $2.5 million to $1.5 million; eliminates $500,000 that had been planned to start BSU's Institute for Arts & Humanities building; and cuts back remodels at ISU and LCSC to just planning funds of $100,000 at ISU, instead of $1.1 million, and $200,000 at LCSC to upgrade the fine arts building, instead of $1.7 million.

Left unchanged are the governor's recommendations to complete installation of mobile shelving at the state Historical Society, which at $890,000 completes that project; and $500,000 to expand the Idaho Veterans Cemetery, which is needed up-front to match a federal grant but will be reimbursed to the state later. The plan also gives the Division of Public Works the flexibility to shift funds around to other projects if costs prove lower than anticipated. JFAC approved the plan this morning on a 20-0, unanimous vote.

Bill offers Medicaid money-saver: Midwives vs. hospital births

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho lawmakers have introduced legislation that would give pregnant women on Medicaid the option of using a licensed midwife, potentially saving the state money that could help alleviate budget woes. Lawmakers on the House Health and Welfare Committee backed the measure Tuesday. It now goes to the full House. Sponsors of the measure say Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance program for the poor and disabled, now covers nearly 40 percent of all births in Idaho and the state could save up to $100,000 in general funds each year if the midwife option is available. Kris Ellis with the Idaho Midwifery Council says a hospital delivery costs Medicaid about $6,000. The cost of a midwife-assisted birth, which is currently not an option for women on Medicaid, is estimated at about $1,500.

Bill would leave non-emergency indigent hospital bills unpaid

Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, is pushing legislation to scale back payments for the medical bills of indigent Idahoans to just emergency services, rather than the current “medically necessary” standard that includes ongoing treatment for chronic diseases such as cancer and mental illness. Luker told the Lewiston Tribune the state CAT fund can't afford to keep picking up the costs. Lewiston Rep. John Rusche calls the move bad public policy, noting that hospitals can't turn patients away, so the costs would be shifted to insured patients, driving up overall health care costs, along with prompting lawsuits over what is and isn't an emergency. Click below for a full report from Lewiston Tribune reporter Bill Spence.

IACI funds ‘town hall’ call on school reform plan

Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey reports today that IACI, the big-business lobby, paid for a “town hall” phone call Monday night with Gov. Butch Otter and schools chief Tom Luna, “the latest move in a high-stakes game between supporters and detractors of the 'Students Come First' reforms;” some who joined the call said it was a “sales job.” You can read Popkey's full report here.

Senators question class size hikes

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on how Idaho senators raised new concerns Tuesday about increasing class sizes in the state's schools, as state schools Supt. Tom Luna's sweeping school reform plan remained stalled on the Senate calendar despite narrowly clearing a Senate committee last week. Increasing class sizes in grades 4-12 is the centerpiece of Luna's reform plan, allowing the state to cut 770 teaching jobs in the next two years and providing the millions in savings that then would be funneled into technology upgrades, teacher performance pay and online courses for high school students.

Mortgage practices top consumer protection complaints in 2010

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Complaints about mortgage practices kept lawyers in Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden's office busy last year. Wasden released his annual consumer protection report for 2010 on Tuesday. He says his attorneys handled 261 complaints about loans, compared to just 109 in 2009. In response, Wasden says his office pursued several enforcement actions against deceptive loan modification companies. It also hired a housing counselor to assist Idaho homeowners and spearheaded a public education program related to foreclosures, mortgage modifications and purchasing a home. Other significant consumer protection activity included lawsuits and settlements with pharmaceutical manufacturers over their marketing and pricing of drugs. Wasden says lawyers in the consumer protection division recovered nearly $6 million in restitution, the second largest amount ever recovered by the attorney general's office.

IEA files public records request for names of those Luna consulted

The Idaho Education Association has filed a public records request seeking information on “outsiders” whom state schools Supt. Tom Luna consulted as he developed his school reform plan. The teachers group, which has been strongly opposing the plan, noted that Luna told the Idaho Statesman he consulted with “people that are leaders in education in Idaho that I trust, have confidence in and bounce a lot of ideas off of,” but he said he’d keep their names to himself. “The third pillar of Mr. Luna’s plan is called ‘Transparent Accountability,’” said IEA President Sherri Wood. “As a public official, he needs to come forward with the names of his advisors so Idahoans have a fuller understanding of who had input into this plan and who was left out.” You can read the IEA's full statement here.

No answer today on fate of school reform bills

After huddling for 20 minutes in the senate president pro-tem's office, Senate GOP leaders and Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, emerged without any decision as to the next step on the school reform bills, and headed off to a meeting in the governor's office. “We're not going to know today,” said Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls. Options include pulling one or more of the controversial school reform bills back to committee, introducing new versions to replace them, or amending the bills in the Senate. After a Senate majority caucus today on the issue, senators were asked to let their leaders know what they want changed in the bills; Davis told the Idaho Press Club today that proposed increases in class sizes are among senators' concerns.

The reform bills call for increasing class sizes in grades 4-12 and eliminating 770 teaching jobs in the next two years, to save millions that would be funneled into technology upgrades, a teacher pay-for-performance plan and more. Though they cleared a Senate committee last week, the three bills currently are stalled on the Senate's 3rd reading calendar as senators debate what to do. Asked how other senators have been reacting to concerns he's raised and other issues with the bills, an exhausted Goedde, who's been at the Capitol today since just after 4 a.m., said, “It's been an interesting discussion.”

School bus ads bill clears Senate committee

It's the Meridian School District that wants to allow advertising on school buses, district spokesman Eric Exline told the Senate Education Committee this afternoon, after he was introduced by the bill's legislative sponsor, Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian. Exline said in the current economic times, “My board, I think like the Legislature, is not that keen on raising people's property taxes or their taxes generally. So as a school district, we've been looking for ways not only to reduce our expenditures, but how to generate revenues.” Some of those things can be done locally, like renting out some of the district's office space, but this one needs legislative approval, Exline said, because current state rules for school buses don't allow for ads.

The Meridian School District, the state's largest, has 280 buses that travel 3 million miles a year, and he estimated that ad sales, if maximized, could bring the district $1.5 million in gross annual revenues, and about $400,000 in net proceeds a year. The school buses still would have to look like school buses, Exline said; the legislation, SB 1111, calls for the State Board of Education to promulgate rules to regulate the school bus ads, including making sure . Exline said at least six states now allow school bus advertising, and several other states are considering it.

Winder told the committee, “We have cut the districts significantly over the past two years. … They've come forward with a creative way to try and generate some funds for their district, and I would hope the committee would support that.” The committee then approved the bill on a voice vote, and sent it to the full Senate with a recommendation that it “do pass.”

Legislative leaders: Urban renewal, cig tax, fund balances, process…

Here's some more of what the House and Senate majority leaders had to say when they addressed the Idaho Press Club today at the annual Headliners Lunch:

URBAN RENEWAL: House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, said, “I think that right now we have several urban renewal bills that are out there. Some have broad support, some don't, and we have an opportunity now to have that discussion.” He said he thought the bills to trim back urban renewal authority had broader support in the House this year than they've had in past years; the House is likely to debate the bills next week, he said. Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, said, “I've not read the legislation. What I don't want us to do is roll back the legislation so that we push away from urban renewal districts. … There's a lot of value in them, even in my home town of Idaho Falls. … I hope we're not making such large wholesale changes that we lose that significant opportunity for our communities.”

WISCONSIN: Asked if Idaho's House or Senate have rules that would prevent the chamber from operating if the minority members walked out - as has occurred in Wisconsin this year - both said no. Davis said, however, “I don't even like to have the gavel come down without at least one member of the minority party there.” It's never been an issue, he said. Moyle said there has been at least one incident in which the minority party walked out in the House. “In the past, we had proceeded on and kept going,” he said. “We're not going to let a process of a bunch of members walking out stop that process.”

CIGARETTE TAX: On the proposal for a $1.25 per pack increase in Idaho's cigarette tax, Davis said, “I personally will support it, but I get there from the health care, the deterrent, more than I do the revenue side.” Moyle said, “Ultimately, I don't think any revenue enhancement's going to happen, but that's today.”

TAPPING FUND BALANCES: Asked about the $58 million-plus in available fund balances that legislative auditors have identified in state agencies and the possibility of tapping those balances to avoid bigger cuts in the state budget next year, Moyle said, “I think there's a real concern in terms of, you've got $80 million worth of one-time money in the budget this year.” With economic uncertainty, he said, the state no longer has reserve funds to turn to if things sour. “There would be an inclination to leave those fund where they are.” Davis said, “I think you might see a modest amount of use of those types of funds.” He said to “try to bring this budget as close to a structurally balanced budget as you can this year …. that's what I believe the ultimate target is for both the House and the Senate.”

SCHOOL REFORM PROCESS: Davis said, “Do I wish … the stakeholders had a more active involvement sooner? Yes, I do. Do I have confidence that my Senate and Senate Education Committee has been seriously and actively engaged from the moment we have undertaken it 'til now? I really believe we have. My Chairman Goedde could not have worked any harder than he is. My education committee I think has gone the extra mile in making sure that stakeholders have an opportunity to participate and testify in committee.” Moyle said if the bills come to the House Education Committee, it'll be up to House Education Chairman Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, as to whether there will be House committee hearings like those held in the Senate. “That's his call as chairman,” Moyle said.

Legislative leaders: School reform, revenue sharing, Medicaid cuts…

Asked by reporters at the Idaho Press Club lunch today if they disagree with state schools Supt. Tom Luna that class size doesn't affect student achievement, both Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis and House Majority Leader Mike Moyle noted that they are married to teachers. Davis said he's been “counseled otherwise” by those that have “great influence over me.”

When asked about comparisons between the process of passing the national health care reform bill and the Legislature's handling of the school reform issue, Moyle said, “They never fixed the bill.”
 
Asked about cutting revenue sharing to cities and counties to help balance the state budget, Moyle said, “I don't see that happening,” and Davis said, “The Senate's probably not interested in doing it at all.”

Asked about Medicaid cuts, Moyle said a draft bill should come out today on how cuts might be made. “We'll know more in the next couple of days,” he said. Davis said, “That has the potential of being one of the more difficult issues that we face as a state, including in this session. Those will be very, very difficult proposals, those will be hard votes to cast, and … we need to learn a little about ourselves in that regard.”

Senate considering changes in ed bills, including questions over class sizes

Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, who along with House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, is addressing the Idaho Press Club, said there's been no decision yet on the fate of the school reform bills after today's majority caucus in the Senate, but there could be more of a sense by the end of the day. “We could pick those up in the next few days, if that's what the desire is of the Senate,” Davis said. For now, he said, the caucus has asked its members to weigh in on “what is, in fact problematic” in the bills. “I don't know the answer as we speak,” he said. Options include pulling one or more of the bills back to the Senate Education Committee; printing new bills; and sending one or more of the bills to the Senate's amending order, where any senator may offer amendments. “Very candidly, I don't think that's the kind of legislation that I'm ultimately inclined to take to the amending order,” Davis said, unless there's “consensus” in the Senate on specific changes that should be made.

“There are active, ongoing conversations with both the governor, the superintendent and the stakeholders,” Davis said. “We are trying to find the changes that we believe are necessary in order to secure passage of the legislation. We believe that what the Senate is trying to do is put together an education bill that the Senate has confidence in, and that's what we will do over the next several days.”

He said, “There are still some genuine concerns that I believe make ultimate passage of the complete package more difficult. … We are working on it.” Among those: Class size.

Second anti-union bill passes House

The House have voted 55-15 in favor of SB 1007, to ban wage subsidies with job targeting or marketing funds on any kind of construction contracts. Rep. Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, a supporter, told the House, “It sends a message to those who choose not to join a union that the Idaho Legislature still cares about them.” Opponents, however, called the bill “government overreach,” and said it limits a practice Idaho hospitals have used to save money. “I think it goes too far,” said Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise. “I think this is more than a bill about business vs. labor, I think it's a bill about freedom.” Other opponents said the measures would lower wages for Idaho workers. “I think that would be to the detriment of our hard-working families,” Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, told the House. The bill, which already passed the Senate, now goes to the governor's desk; click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

House passes anti-union bill, sends to guv

The House has voted 55-14 in favor of SB 1006, to ban project labor agreements in public works construction contracts, a measure strongly opposed by union workers; the Senate-passed bill now moves to the governor's desk. Backers, including House sponsor Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, said the measure would level the playing field for union and non-union bids for public contracts, but opponents said it would do the opposite. “This bill puts its hands on the scales and tilts the scales against the workers, in my estimate,” said Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise. “It does not create a level playing field, it creates a stacked deck.” All House Democrats plus Rep. Tom Trail, R-Moscow, voted no, but all remaining House Republicans voted yes; Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, was absent. Next up is SB 1007, to ban wage subsidies with job targeting or marketing funds on any kind of construction contracts, which is drawing more opposition.

Senate majority to caucus on ed bills

Senate Republicans plan to go into a closed-door caucus at 11 a.m. today, according to Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg; there's no word at this point what will happen with the education reform bills, but there could be after the caucus.

New conscience law amendment bill introduced, with Loertscher’s backing

Rep. Julie Ellsworth, R-Boise, has introduced a measure to amend last year's “conscience law” in what she called a “narrow” way to eliminate any conflict with the state's law requiring physicians to follow patients' living wills and advance care directives regarding what kind of treatments they want or don't want as they die. “My intent here is to support the conscience law that you worked on as a committee, and to resolve a narrow conflict between the conscience law and the Natural Death Act,” Ellsworth told the House State Affairs Committee. “I know that none of the intent was to override a patient's living will, but because there have been concerns that have arisen, this bill that the chairman and I are proposing to you is to put those concerns to rest.”

Ellsworth's co-sponsors on the bill are House State Affairs Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona; Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls; and Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, the lead sponsor last year of the conscience law. The State Affairs Committee today voted unanimously to introduce the new measure with no discussion, clearing the way for a hearing.

The bill adds this sentence to the existing conscience law: “In cases where a living will or physician's orders for scope of treatment (POST) is operative, as defined by the medical consent and natural death act, and a physician has a conscience objection to the treatment desired by the patient, the physician shall comply with the provisions of section 39-4513(2), Idaho Code, before withdrawing care and treatment to the patient.”

Bill would authorize off-track betting

Off-track betting would be authorized in Idaho, under legislation introduced in the House State Affairs by a divided vote this morning. As Rep. Carlos Bilbao, R-Emmett, came to the microphone to propose his bill this morning, a horse race trumpet fanfare sounded, drawing a laugh from the committee. The bill would authorize a live horse race track to get a special license from the Idaho State Racing Commission, if local county commissioners approve, to offer betting on simulcasts of races that take place elsewhere; there could only be one such license per county, but it could be transferred from one county to another. Proceeds would go to race purses for live horse racing in the state, with excess proceeds beyond $14 million a year going to the Promise Scholarship fund and to youth programs of the Idaho Horse Board. The committee's vote today clears the way for a full hearing on the bill.

Moyle bill would ban hunting by plane

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The flat hilltops and gullies of western Idaho may be suited for airplanes, but hunters are apparently using this aircraft-friendly landscape to exploit a loophole in state law that forbids aerial hunting. One Idaho lawmaker wants it to stop. House majority leader and avid hunter Mike Moyle says landowners in Washington and Payette counties last year complained that hunters were using small airplanes to shoot big game animals. They'd land on a flat patch of ground nearby, load up their quarry and be flying again within a matter of minutes. Idaho law forbids hunting from helicopters, but doesn't expressly prohibit using planes. Moyle's bill, introduced Monday, would forbid using all aircraft for hunting, transporting hunters and gear, or the taking of any animals on the ground on the same day.

Freshman lawmaker introduces son’s bill

New Rep. Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton, introduced her first bill today, but it's actually from her son, Wallace attorney James McMillan. She told the House State Affairs Committee, “I would like to yield my time to my son to explain this further,” to which chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, responded, “I think that would be appropriate.” It's a non-binding memorial to Congress demanding that the EPA be removed from Shoshone County, along with its Superfund designation, within five years. “I'm actually the ultimate author of this resolution and I am here on behalf of Rep. Shannon McMillan,” James McMillan told the committee. He said the EPA's proposed multi-year cleanup plan “would have a devastating effect upon our mining industry.”

James McMillan said human health concerns in the Bunker Hill cleanup already have been addressed. “Now they say that their focus is fish and wildlife,” he told the committee. “They keep changing the focus. … We need to tell them that this needs to stop.” The committee voted unanimously to introduce the bill, clearing the way for a hearing. Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, said that the EPA's proposed Record of Decision for an expanded mult-year cleanup in the Coeur d'Alene Basin could mean big costs for the state, and Rep. Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d'Alene, disclosed that she sits on the board of a mining company but still planned to vote.

Afterward, James McMillan, 29, said he first started working on the resolution as a proposal to his local Republican Central Committee, where he's a youth committee member and also a precinct committeeman. “I've been kind of working it through the Republican Party,” he said. His mother, asked why she didn't pitch the measure herself, said, “Because he was the one that wrote it, so he has a better understanding of it at this point in time.” She said, “It just happened to work out that I got in this year, so I could introduce it.”

Goedde wants reform plan pulled back for changes

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on how a controversial school reform plan that calls for larger classes, fewer teachers and more technology may be pulled back for changes at the urging of a Coeur d'Alene senator, after it narrowly cleared the Senate Education Committee last week. Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, who chairs the committee, met with representatives of three key education groups Monday - teachers, school administrators, and school board members - for more than six hours, and came out with a long list of possible changes to the bill. Goedde said he wasn't trying to reach a consensus, but wants to “make whatever moves forward a better bill.”

 The move came as parents, students, teachers and others rallied across the state Monday against the plan; more than a thousand people turned out for a rally in a Boise park across from the state Capitol, and in Coeur d'Alene, more than 200 marched down Sherman Avenue through downtown amid occasional snow flurries. Well-attended rallies also were held in eight other locations across the state.
  

School reform plan may be pulled back to Senate Education Committee for changes

The controversial school reform plan proposed by state schools Supt. Tom Luna could be pulled back to committee for changes, Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde said this afternoon. Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, met with representatives of three stakeholder groups today - the Idaho Education Association, the Idaho Association of School Administrators, and the Idaho School Boards Association - and the group came up with a long list of questions, problems and technical fixes for the package. “We went through each bill section by section,” Goedde said. “It's not too late. … We could have the bills that are out there right now returned to committee.”

The meeting between Goedde and the stakeholder group stretched for more than six hours - from 7 a.m. to 1:45 p.m., with one break. Goedde said of possibly pulling the bills back from the Senate - where they otherwise could be up for a vote this week - “I suggested that it might be a positive step, and I received support from leadership.”

Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, said, “We're very amenable to that. We want to get it right.” The move comes as 10 rallies across the state today are drawing strong turnout from opponents of the plan.
  

Of death and dying, freedom of conscience and assisted suicide…

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on how Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, chairman of the House State Affairs Committee, continues to refuse to hold hearings on three bills seeking to amend the  “conscience law” he helped sponsor last year to protect patients' living wills and advance care directives from being overridden by a care-giver as they're dying. “Where we don't want to go is we don't want to compel the health care provider to assist somebody to commit suicide,” Loertscher said today. Asked if he was equating assisted suicide with living wills or advance care directives that call for disconnecting a dying patient's artificial life supports, such as ventilators or feeding tubes, Loertscher said, “You could view it that way.” Idaho already has legislation pending in the Senate this year to specifically outlaw assisted suicide and make it a felony.

Loertscher said he'll consider another bill in his committee on Tuesday from two anti-abortion groups that helped write the original conscience law, “in an effort to try to clarify it.” But he said HB 28, from Rep. Leon Smith, R-Twin Falls, would destroy the conscience law. “It just absolutely tears it to shreds,” Loertscher said. He also said he hadn't yet decided whether to schedule print hearings on conscience law amendment bills from Reps. Tom Trail, R-Moscow, and Phylis King, D-Boise.

Rally against school reform plan draws 1000+

More than a thousand people are closely packed into Capitol Park across from the state Capitol today for what was billed as a rally in favor of public education, and is decidedly a rally against state schools Supt. Tom Luna's school reform plan. Periodically, the crowd broke out into chants of “Kill the bills, kill the bills.” Longtime Boise School District trustee Rory Jones told the crowd, “This bill solves one problem and one problem only, and that is the lack of resolve to fund public schools.”

A Timberline High School senior, Jonny Saunders, told the crowd, “Teachers don't like this bill, students don't like this bill. Who is this bill for? … It's for the out-of-state education companies.” The head of the Boise Education Association, Andrew Rath, was among those speaking; and Maria Greeley, a Boise mother of four and parent volunteer, acted as master of ceremonies. “It is just grass-roots efforts, just everybody putting word out to everybody else,” said Greeley, the lead organizer of the Boise rally. Nine other rallies also are scheduled today around the state. Signs at the Boise rally included such slogans as, “My dog ate my laptop;” “Luna's plan: Cronies come first;” “Big classes equals dumb masses;” and “Luna's legacy, doing less with less.”

Two drug bills pass, another dies

The House has voted unanimously to pass HB 119, banning a synthetic drug that has been marketed as “bath salts” or plant food, and HB 139, a measure to ban the drug known as “spice,” a synthetic version of marijuana that already had been banned by administrative rule of the state pharmacy board. Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, sponsor of HB 119, told the House, “We're not referring to the bath salts that you put into your bathtub for normal use.” The designer drug, he said, is “known as fake cocaine or fake methamphetamine.” Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, sponsor of HB 139, said, “This is the spice bill - it obviously is not the kind of spice that your mom cooked your birthday cake with.” He compared it to the earlier bill, and said, “Same problem - you've got the labs out there trying to find some new way to dispense drugs to our kids and public in a way that is detrimental.” Both bills passed on 69-0 votes, and now move to the Senate side for consideration.

Meanwhile, legislation introduced earlier to ban “blunt wraps,” a type of roll-your-own cigar wrapper, has stalled, and Senate Judiciary Chairman Denton Darrington, R-Declo, said, “That bill is totally dead in my drawer, withdrawn by the sponsor.” That measure, too, had been portrayed by its sponsor, the Cigar Association of America, as targeting a new way that drug dealers are reaching out to youngsters with a legal product; it sought to ban the roll-your-own cigar wraps, which are made of tobacco and sometimes come with flavorings, as drug paraphernalia. But it turned out that competing tobacco companies strongly oppose the move, and cigar wraps made of tobacco leaf already are classified and taxed as tobacco by U.S. Customs and other agencies.

When the lobbyist for the cigar company, Russ Westerberg, introduced the measure, he said he knew of no legal purpose for the wraps - that people use them to roll marijuana joints, and users like the tobacco and flavoring in the wraps because it disguises the aroma of the drug - but that if there are legitimate uses for the wraps, others might bring those forward. Other industry groups said they're used  to roll cigars, and that's legal. Darrington said of the bill, “I've got it in a safe place. I was willing to go with it, but it wasn't wise.”

Both houses hold memorial services today

Today is the day that both the House and Senate will devote all or a portion of their floor sessions to a memorial service for those former members who have died in the past year. The House will honor 10 former state representatives, including the late Hilde Kellogg, who served 10 terms; and the Senate will honor five, including the late Sen. Atwell Parry, former co-chairman of the joint budget committee. The late Sen. Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum, will be memorialized by both houses; he served two terms in the House before moving to the Senate, where he served eight terms. Also being memorialized in both houses today: Gary Gould of Bannock County, who served in both.

The House service begins at 10 a.m.; the Senate's at 11 a.m.

Rallies for schools set across state today

Ten rallies have been scheduled across the state today in support of public education, including one at Capitol Park in Boise at noon. Click below for the full list of the rallies statewide.

ISP megaload escorts spur JFAC discussion

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee has voted 17-3 to authorize the Idaho State Police to spend up to $41,000 on overtime and associated costs for state troopers to accompany Emmert International megaload truck shipments on U.S. Highway 12 from Lewiston to Montana; Emmert is paying the cost, but the legislative approval lets ISP spend the money it receives from them. Several members expressed concerns about avoiding any state expense, especially since the initial megaload truck shipment, sending giant coke drums to the ConocoPhillips Billings Refinery, experienced several unexpected delays. “I want to be sure we're not putting any general funds into this,” said Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum.

Wayne Hammon, the governor's budget chief, told the joint committee that any additional expenses would be brought to the Board of Examiners for approval to receive the private funds; the state wouldn't have to pay. Jaquet said, “We have so few officers. … And certainly this first trip took longer. … In a way it ends up being a cost to the state because people aren't able to cover their state jobs they could be covering … because this contract is taking longer. This is an extraordinary kind of escort which is taking a lot longer.” Jaquet was joined by Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, and Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, in voting against the supplemental appropriation.
  

Eyeing agencies’ cash balances…

Gov. Butch Otter's proposed budget for next year already calls for draining parts of the cash balances at several agencies to help balance the budget, including $8 million from the state liquor division and  $500,000 from the Commission for the Blind. This morning, Don Berg, manager of the legislative audits office, made a presentation to JFAC on cash balances at other state agencies that might be available to be tapped, and they total $58.8 million. That includes $18.5 million at the state Industrial Commission, $25.7 million between two different funds at the Division of Veterans Services, and $7.3 million each at the state Department of Insurance and the Department of Finance. Not all of those funds could be drained, Berg noted, “much like you don't drain your checking account to zero and hope you can pay your bills. … Some cash is good.”

But Berg said the question is, “Do they need this much cash on hand?” Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, asked if tapping those cash balances might affect the state's bond rating. Berg said he can't speak for bond rating agencies, and “it could have a slight effect,” but a “fractional” reduction in the cash balances of 2, 3 or 5 percent, he said, “wouldn't have an effect.” JFAC Co-Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said the joint committee's leadership and staff is looking at “a couple of places” for possible cash to tap for the state's general fund from agency cash balances. “We will share those with you as we have the information available,” he said.

Article traces roots of Luna reform plan

Here's a link to reporter Dan Popkey's story in Sunday's Idaho Statesman, tracing the roots and development of state schools Supt. Tom Luna's school reform plan. The article is subtitled, “How Tom Luna’s co-workers from the Bush administration — and the private education companies they now help run — positioned Idaho’s schools chief to make changes that the for-profit education industry may cash in on.”

More on what local school districts could and couldn’t decide, under Luna bill…

In AP reporter John Miller's story today, state schools Supt. Tom Luna's spokeswoman, Melissa McGrath, says Luna's school reform plan won't direct local school districts to use a specific content provider like K12. “Local school districts, not the state or state superintendent, will determine which courses are delivered online and how they are delivered online,” she told the AP. “All those decisions are left to the local level, and they have many options.”

Actually the bill, SB 1113, is very specific on this question: On pages 40-41, it says, “the school district or public charter school may designate the required courses that students must successfully complete each school year, but may not prescribe the provider of such courses.” The students and parents pick the providers, and the local school districts have no say over them - they just have to pay them, at a pre-set amount laid out in the bill in its “fractional ADA” provisions. (Schools could pay a different amount if they already have a contract with the provider, but nothing obligates students or parents to choose the district's contracted provider.)

This was an issue at Senate Education Committee hearings this week, when Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, a supporter of the reform plan, questioned that provision. “I'm curious,” he said. “We're going into unknown territory here, and some (providers) are just better, and if we want the best for our kids,” he asked, shouldn't districts be able to choose the best providers? He also asked if there's data on which providers are better and their student failure rates. Luna aide Jason Hancock responded that a task force looking at how to implement the technology issues can look at that between this year's legislative session and next year's.

When I asked Senate Education Chairman John Goedde about this provision earlier in the week, he said he thought the bill let school districts approve a list of providers, but it has no such provision; both Hancock and Luna said the control that local districts get is in determining which courses - say, health - must be taken online. Luna said students can't take additional courses beyond a full class load and make their districts pay for it. But if they choose to take more of their class load online, under the bill, the district must pay for it whether it wanted that class to be taken online or not, and whether it likes the provider or not. You can read the bill here.
  

Albertson’s heir made millions on K12 Inc., promotes it to Idaho schools

Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller on how Albertson's heir Joseph B. Scott, Joe Albertson's grandson, has made millions on Virginia-based for-profit online education company K12 Inc., and his family foundation has promoted it by giving Idaho schools grants to contract with the firm. The Albertson's Foundation ran full-page ads in newspapers across Idaho, including the Spokesman-Review, promoting state schools Supt. Tom Luna's school reform plan, which would require every high school student to take four online courses and equip every high-schooler with a laptop.

The week that was…

On tonight's “Idaho Reports” on Idaho Public TV, I join host Greg Hahn, Jim Weatherby, Jessie Bonner and Clark Corbin to discuss the events of the week, and Greg interviews Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, and Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, about the state budget. The show airs tonight at 8 p.m., then re-airs Sunday at 10:30 a.m. Mountain time, 9:30 a.m. Pacific; it also can be seen online at www.idahoptv.org, along with continued discussion on a “Web Extra” segment.

Click here to see a slide show
of the week in pictures, as the sixth week of Idaho's 2011 legislative session comes to a close. Let your cursor hover over the bottom part of the frame as the pictures show, to see the captions.

First lady urges support for reform plan

Idaho First Lady Lori Otter, a former teacher, has sent out an op-ed piece in favor of the “Students Come First” school reform plan being pushed by her husband, Gov. Butch Otter, and state schools Supt. Tom Luna. “As a former teacher, I am excited about the possibilities this plan provides for great teachers now and in the future,” the first lady writes; click below for her full article.

Saturday capitol forum to address revenues, shortfalls

Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, is inviting the public to a “Bipartisan Citizens Forum At the Statehouse, For Responsible Government,” scheduled from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday in the Capitol Auditorium, in the lower level of the state capitol. The forum will include presentations on the state's fiscal situation and possible sales tax reforms, plus include public testimony from any interested citizens or groups. At the end of the forum, each attendee will be asked to sign a form on preferred  alternatives: Revenue enhancements to make up the state's funding shortfall, no tax increases, or other.

Medicaid rallies set Sat. across the state

Seventeen rallies will be held across the state Saturday to “tell legislators why Medicaid matters,” with families and businesses gathering to discuss the impact of proposed cuts to the program on people with disabilities, their families, businesses and communities. The rallies will include on on the Idaho state Capitol steps at noon; other locations include the Nampa Civic Center; Moscow's Friendship Square; the Emmett City Band Shell; the Cassia County Courthouse; and Driggs City Hall. Click here for a link to the full list of all the rallies. A budget target adopted by JFAC on Friday potentially sets Medicaid up for an additional $9.8 million in state funding cuts next year, on top of the governor's recommendation for $25.2 million in cuts; each dollar cut in state funding for Medicaid means losing three in federal matching funds.

The budget target…

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on today's JFAC decision on a budget target for next year - one that would force $57 million more in cuts than already recommended by Gov. Butch Otter.

Idaho Dem party criticizes GOP lawmakers

The Idaho Democratic Party has issued a statement criticizing GOP state lawmakers for “being anti-healthcare reform, anti-assisted suicide, anti-education funding, anti-urban renewal, anti-labor, and the list goes on,” but not enacting jobs legislation. “Republican leaders’ idea of addressing jobs is by suggesting thousands of jobs be cut due to the elimination of Health and Welfare services and a failure to properly fund education,” said Shelley Landry, the party's interim executive director; click below for the full statement.

Bike helmet bill for kids killed, sponsor says ‘we know the costs’

The Senate Transportation Committee yesterday, after two days of hearings, killed SB 1072, Sen. Diane Bilyeu's proposal to require bicycle helmets for children 12 and younger when they ride on public roads. The measure was killed on a party-line vote, with only Bilyeu, D-Pocatello, and Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, supporting it. A disappointed Bilyeu, who proposed the bill after a constituent approached her whose young daughter survived a severe bike accident only because of her helmet, said Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, “came in and said he was concerned about mandating to people what they could and couldn't do.” Her constituent and his daughter traveled to Boise for the hearing on the bill. Bilyeu said, “To me, we live in a different time now. We have more people. And if anything, the bike helmet bill was an attempt to educate people.”

Said Bilyeu, “We're one of the few states that does not regulate this for children, and we know the costs.”

JFAC members on picking budget target: ‘Difficult choices’

Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, said of JFAC's newly set budget target for next year: “I think that it's artificially low, and it forces us into making cuts to programs which are substantial. There are certain agencies that absolutely can't sustain those cuts.”

Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, said, “I was here .. when we had to do holdbacks.” She said she's heard consistently from state agencies, including schools, over the years that they want lawmakers to “set the number, even if it's low - don't turn us upside down in the middle of the year.”

Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said, “We don't have the reserves to protect us. January was good. But we have no idea whether that will translate into April.” He said he's not saying Idaho will see less growth next year than this year, even though the budget figure is based on just 3 percent tax revenue growth next year, when this year's growth is tracking at 4.8 percent. “What we're saying is … this is the number we're confident in,” he said. “We hope it's 6.9 We'd love to be wrong. But … the consequence of us picking too high a number and then having to make holdbacks to public schools or Medicaid is much more severe than to make those difficult choices up front.”

Party-line vote calls for additional budget cuts for next year, despite forecasts

JFAC has voted 15-4, along party lines with the panel's four Democrats objecting, to approve a budget target that calls for an additional $56.73 million in budget cuts beyond those already recommended by Gov. Butch Otter. JFAC Co-Chair Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said even though the state economic forecast is for 6.9 percent revenue growth in 2012, “The cochair and I felt like it was more prudent to budget at a 3 percent level. We felt more comfortable that we could actually hit that number.”

Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, objected, noting that that means the state would assume it'll have only 3 percent growth next year, when it's tracking at 4.8 percent right now. “I guess I find that pretty pessimistic and pretty low,” she said. “I wouldn't mind so much if there weren't so many lives in the balance. … I don't think that 'caution' that puts lives at risk is really maybe the most prudent thing.”

Interestingly, if you combine the additional cuts JFAC is calling for - $56.73 million - and the cuts Gov. Butch Otter already has recommended in his budget for next year - $35.04 million - the total cuts are $91.77 million. That's almost exactly the amount the governor is leaving on the table - $91.5 million - by going with a 3 percent revenue growth assumption for next year rather than his forecasters' estimate of 6.9 percent. That means if the forecasts prove right, virtually none of the cuts actually would have been needed.

JFAC looks at possible additional budget cuts of $56.7 million beyond Otter’s

Legislative budget director Cathy Holland-Smith has laid out the current assumptions about state revenue for the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. State tax revenues for fy 2011 are actually tracking now at 4.8 percent, above the current administration estimate of 4.2 percent. But the committee's assumptions don't count on any excess revenue from this year, though the state is now $10.2 million ahead; the governor's budget counted on $33 million in excess, so that makes the bottom line lower by $33 million. Also, there's the cost of partial tax conformity, about $10.5 million this year and $9.6 million next year. And legislative figures for transfers from various funds are a bit lower than anticipated in the governor's budget, plus there's a $1 million expense for disaster recovery in the military division that wasn't anticipated in the governor's budget.

The bottom line is that, compared to the governor's budget recommendation, legislative estimates show a $56.7 million shortfall. That's using the governor's revenue assumption for next year of just 3 percent growth in state tax revenues, even though his own economic forecasters predict 6.9 percent. The difference between those two forecasts is $91 million. It also assumes the governor's recommended line items will be funded, and his $35 million in varying budget cuts to state agencies are made.

If lawmakers must cut another $56.7 million from the governor's budget, spread evenly across state agencies, that would be an additional cut of 2.21 percent. The evenly-spread result would be an additional cut for public schools of $27.3 million from the base budget. Because of enrollment growth and other factors, that'd be $5.7 million less in dollars for schools than this year's budget.

For colleges and universities, the additional budget cut beyond the governor's budget would come to $4.7 million. The dollar difference from the 2011 appropriation for colleges and universities would be $7.6 million.

Second megaload on the move with revised travel plan through Idaho

The Idaho Transportation Department yesterday issued a permit for the second ConcocoPhillips megaload to travel on U.S. Highway 12 in north-central Idaho, and this morning, ITD reports that the load began moving last night and “arrived safely today at a pullout two miles west of Orofino at approximately 4 a.m.” The permit for the second load came after ITD approved the company's new plan to reduce traffic delays. During the company's first megaload shipment, numerous delays longer than the permitted 15 minutes occurred, including one of nearly an hour. The loads are so wide they block both lanes of the twisting, two-lane highway.

ITD said the revised plan calls for taking two nights, rather than one, to travel between Orofino and Kooskia; seven trucking companies that use the route at night have agreed to rearrange their schedules to avoid the megaload; the loads will now have seven nights to travel from Lewiston to the Montana line; and “to better negotiate curves through this section, the load will be manually steered. This method allows sharper turns. It is similar to the steering used on longer fire engines.”

JFAC tackles supplementals…

This morning, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee is handling supplemental appropriations for the current year, some of which are fairly minor, like shifts of a small amount of money from one spending category to another within an agency. Some of the more substantive requests have been delayed for consideration when JFAC takes up the agency's budget for next year. So far, one that was approved that actually required spending more general-fund money this year: The public safety officer dependent scholarship, which lawmakers enacted a year ago, grants full-tuition scholarships to the dependents of Idaho peace officers or firefighters who are killed in the line of duty. Under the new law, two scholarships were granted in fiscal year 2010. Now, two more students are entering the four-year scholarship program in fiscal year 2011, which means it needs $30,000 more. JFAC voted 18-1 to fund the program; the one dissenter, Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, didn't say why he voted no.

After considering a full slate of supplemental appropriation requests this morning, JFAC is scheduled to set a target figure for setting next year's state budget.
  

Bill introduced to ban all public-sector collective bargaining, but won’t advance

The Senate State Affairs Committee has introduced legislation this morning, at the request of Sen. Shirley McKague, R-Meridian, to ban all public-sector collective bargaining in Idaho, but McKague said she planned only to introduce the bill this year, not move forward with it. “It'll be printed and that's all,” she said. “That's all I asked to do this year. I think we've got enough going on in the state right now - I don't think it's good timing.”

Sen. Curtis McKenzie, R-Nampa, the committee chairman, said, “I allowed the print hearing with that understanding - that we will not hear that in committee.” McKague said she introduced the bill because “some people approached me” with interest in the issue. In the fiscal note on her bill, she wrote, “There could be a positive impact for the state.”

McKenzie said the plan was the same for another measure introduced this morning at the request of the National Rifle Association, altering Idaho's firearms laws in several ways, including loosening the law that makes it a misdemeanor to possess a deadly weapon with intent to assault, changing that to “intent to use unlawfully” and adding a clause saying “intent … may not be inferred from the mere … carrying … of the weapon;”  and making changes in Idaho's concealed weapon license law. “We will not have a hearing on that,” McKenzie said.

School reform plan heads to full Senate

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on the controversial school reform plan clearing the Senate Education Committee today, after two weeks of intense hearings that saw strong public opposition to the move. The key piece of the package barely squeaked through the Senate Education Committee on a 5-4 vote. That measure, SB 1113, contains the most-disputed pieces: The increases in class sizes in grades 4-12, online course requirements for all high school students, and giving each student a laptop computer. The other two bills,  SB 1108 on teacher contracts and SB 1110 on performance pay for teachers, both passed on 6-3 votes.

Goedde: ‘Proud of everyone that participated’

After today's intense, three-hour Senate Education Committee hearing - at the end of which all three bills in the Luna school reform plan passed, though one just squeaked through on a 5-4 vote - committee Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, said, “It was a couple really hard weeks, and I'm proud of everyone that participated. It shows their commitment to the education system in Idaho and their concern.”

Third Luna bill passes on 6-3 vote

SB 1108, the one on labor relations and teacher contracts, has now cleared the Senate Education Committee on a 6-3 vote, with Sen. John Andreason, R-Boise, joining Democratic Sens. Edgar Malepeai and Nicole LeFavour in opposing it. Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, who made the motion to send the bill to the full Senate with a recommendation that it pass, said, “I know there are a lot of people that feel we still need to make changes to some of these bills. … I believe … this is the direction that we need to go.”

Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, said, “Of all the bills, this one saddens me more than any other. … I think there was a bit of an overdoing of the harsh treatment of people who teach our kids.” Sen. Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello, said the bill appears to have nothing to do with student achievement, but “it certainly hits at the heart of teachers.” He said, “I believe this is going to be a restraint for those coming into the state, and it's going to have an effect on retention of the best in our local school districts throughout the state.”

Sen. Chuck Winder said, “I think that's been one of the saddest parts of this whole debate process, that there's some idea that because we want to make some changes it's mean-spirited or that we are opposed to teachers. I really do feel bad about that part of it. My wife's a teacher, my daughter's a teacher.” He told the audience, “You can roll your eyes if you want to roll your eyes, but I can assure you the spirit I'm voting on is not in opposition to the teacher.” Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise, said, “This will result in fewer litigation costs, which means more money to the schools. That's good for the kids.”

SB 1113 clears committee on 5-4 vote

The Senate Education Committee has voted 5-4 in favor of SB 1113, the biggest piece of the Luna school reform plan, with class size increases, laptop computers for high-school students and required online courses. Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, said there's still time for amendments or trailer bills; he said the committee doesn't have the final say, as the bill still must move through the full Senate and the House. Joining the two Democrats on the panel in voting no were Sens. Toryanski and Andreason.
  

Toryanski: ‘This plan is not quite ripe’

Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise, said SB 1113, the reform bill, with its class-size changes, technology upgrades and online course requirements, unlike the performance pay plan, “was brought to the Legislature after the session began, just last month.” Since then, with all the public input, he said, the bill has been improved. “If that can happen in a week or two, imagine how much more they can be improved … between now and next session,” he said. Toryanski said he thinks reform will happen. Yes, a leader has to lead, he said, but, “Once in a while a leader has to glance over his shoulder, and make sure the people he's leading are behind him,” he said. “At least in District 18, the people are a long distance away.”

He said, “At this point … this plan is not quite ripe. I'll be voting no.”

Fulcher moves to approve SB 1113

SB 1113, the reform bill that includes class-size changes and technology upgrades, is up next. Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, moved to send it to the full Senate with a recommendation that it pass. “These probably aren't perfect bills, but you know what, on a bill of this magnitude, it's just not likely to be,” Fulcher said.

Performance pay bill passes on 6-3 vote

SB 1110 has now passed on a 6-3 vote. Sen. John Andreason, R-Boise, said, “I represent the two largest school districts in the state. … These two districts have problems with these bills that they think we can work out in a few days. …. If we don't do that, this senator is going to vote no on these bills.” He joined the panel's two Democrats in opposing the measure.

Toryanski on performance pay bill: ‘In this case, the process was there’

Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, shared some statistics showing kids falling short in test scores. “I think we need to do something, and I think pay for performance will begin to give us that chance to cause our students' scores to go up,” he said. Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise, said of the pay-for-performance bill, “The basic idea of it was agreed to. … In this case, the process was there. And what does this bill do? It rewards growth, and I think that's what we want.” Toryanski quoted Frank VanderSloot, who told the committee earlier that if you reward something, you're going to get more of it. He said he'll have more to say later about process on the other bills.

Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, said, “We're paying for this by laying off teachers.”
  

First motion fails on 2-7 party-line vote; Pearce moves to pass performance pay bill

Sen. Malepeai's motion to kill all three bills has died on a 2-7, straight party-line vote, with only Malepeai and Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, supporting it. Now, Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, has moved to send SB 1110, the pay for performance bill, to the full Senate with a recommendation that it pass.

Malepeai: ‘Resounding number of folks had problem,’ moves to kill all three bills

The committee now has the bills before it. Sen. Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello, began by commending the committee chairman, Sen. John Goedde, for the unprecedented public hearings and input the panel has received. He said he's received 1,500 emails against the bills. “It seems clear to me that a resounding number of folks from all walks of life had a problem or another, with each of these factors,” Malepeai said of the reform plan. “I do not see us going down the road and have us as an experimental station for the other 49 states,” he said. “I want good information and I want research. … If we move down this road and it doesn't work, it's going to be more expensive. It is worth it to use to take a slow approach to these bills and find out what we need to do.”

Malepeai said, “I think the process was flawed. … I feel like I'm being rushed into something that has a whole lot of questions.” He moved to hold all three bills in committee, killing them. Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, seconded the motion.

Winder: What if bills don’t pass?

Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, asked state schools Supt. Tom Luna, “If none of these bills pass, what happens, in your opinion?” Luna said, “This legislature is obligated by law to set a schools budget, and the only things left to cut in the current budget are teacher salaries and benefits, transportation, which we've already cut considerably.” He said perhaps the math and reading initiatives would be cut. “We have robbed Peter to pay Paul as long as we can,” Luna said. “Peter is broke, and something has to give.” When Winder asked what would happen if the bills don't pass and lawmakers lift “use it or lose it” rules on state funding to school districts, as the school administrators association suggested, Luna said, “If we make those kinds of cuts and remove the use it or lose it, class sizes will explode. … You will see classroom size explode around the state.”

Luna plan: Pessimistic or optimistic?

Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, said the state is at the bottom of a huge economic downturn, and she questions why state schools Supt. Tom Luna says this is the “new normal.” “Is your pessimism that deep, that we are not going to recover like the rest of the states?” she asked. Luna responded that he views his plan as “optimistic,” because it would address teacher pay and technology upgrades even in a down economy.

Andreason: ‘A finished product?’

Sen. John Andreason, R-Boise, asked state schools Supt. Tom Luna, “Is it your opinion that we now have a finished product?” Or, he said, with all the changes, is there a need to go back and work over the plan with all the stakeholders? Luna responded that he's asking the committee to pass the three bills today. “There are some things that have to happen immediately,” he said. Among them: Addressing the current funding crisis, and giving school districts “the ability to manage” personnel and labor decisions.

Said Luna, “This is the product that has to move forward.”

Andreason said, “Mr. Chairman, I've received over 1,400 emails - 90 percent were against this plan. I'm trying to save the plan.”

Luna: ‘We have to do something different’

State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna told the Senate Education Committee, “This historic piece of legislation is necessary, it's timely, it's urgent.” He said, “Let's remember why we're here.” He reviewed the deep cuts schools have suffered in recent years, including a historic $128.5 million funding cut this year. “We have to do something different,” Luna said. “We can't just continue to cut, cut, cut the current system. We can't continue to cannibalize the system we have today. … We have to change the system permanently. … We have to reduce expenses at our local school districts … based on the funding that we know we have.”

Luna said school districts that don't want to raise class sizes and eliminate teaching positions can cut in other areas instead, like teacher pay. “It is the responsibility of this body to put our schools back on firm financial footing,” he said. “We know that the economy we have today is the new normal, and this is the reality we must face. … The truth is something has to give.”
  

Guv’s aide: ‘Leaders have to lead’

Roger Brown of Gov. Butch Otter's office, the final “stakeholder” to address the Senate Education Committee before its expected vote on a three-bill school reform plan, told the committee, “The world changed on us.” He said, “There's nothing radical about the three bills that are in front of you today,” and said they're a “transformational agenda for education.” He said, “For four years, everyone's been part of the process. … Leaders have to lead.”

He said of raising Idaho's class sizes: “That's where we get the money.” He said, “It's the No. 1 priority for the governor.”

‘We have not drilled down on the details’

Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, asked former Meridian School District Superintendent Christine Donnell, who is representing the Idaho Coalition for Education Excellence, a business group, whether the school reform bills, which her group is supporting, might have serious impacts on the Meridian school district, such as putting more kids in classrooms than will fit or endangering accreditation. And then she asked  Donnell why, if the bill calls for an 18-month ramp-up on the technology reforms, she wouldn't prefer waiting until next year to pass bills, “to perfect what we have here … and then come back and look at legislation once we've got it right.”

Donnell responded, “I can't answer that. … We have given our broad support. … We have not drilled down on the details. We don't feel that that's our role.” She said she has her own personal opinions on the bills, but she's not here to present those; she's speaking for the business group.
  

‘Stakeholders’ weigh in, object to increases in class sizes, more

The Senate Education Committee has begun “stakeholder” closing comments on state schools Supt. Tom Luna's school reform plan, which now consists of three bills: SB 1113 on technology upgrades, increased class sizes and other reforms; SB 1110, a teacher pay-for-performance plan; and SB 1108 on labor relations and adjustments to teacher contract rights. First up was Dallas Clinger, head of the Idaho School Boards Association. “We as a school boards association are in favor of or generally support the labor and entitlement portion of this plan,” he said, referring to the second two bills, “with the elimination of the 99 percent protection factor.” That's a clause that would eliminate a funding “floor” that school districts now get for one year when they lose students; that would go away under the plan. “Our biggest concern is still the increase in the teacher-student ratio. … We as trustees at the local level know that the closer you can get to a 1-1 teaching ratio, the better the education and the better the achievement.”

Speaking for the Idaho Association of School Administrators, Byron Yankey called for holding off on reforms. “Do not add new programs and additional expenditures at a time when austerity is required,” he said. If Idaho must cut school funding next year, he called for making cuts proportionally from the three large areas - pay, benefits, and discretionary funds - and removing all “use it or lose it” rules to let local school districts figure out how to cope with the cuts and get through the year. “We recommend you consider postponing the pay for performance piece,” he told the Senate Education Committee. “The original support for pay for performance was contingent on value-added funding. Unfortunately, today's economic conditions do not provide the additional funding.”

Idaho Education Association President Sherri Wood opposed the plan, saying, “The bill would end decades of win-win negotiations that ensure our schools work well for students, teachers, administrators, and parents. From class sizes to student health and safety to lesson planning, collective bargaining gives teachers a voice into how they do their jobs. Without that voice, we risk going back to the 1960s, when Idaho was a place teachers wanted to avoid.” You can read her full remarks here.


Laurie Boeckel of the Idaho PTA said, “Increasing class sizes … is not in the best interest of Idaho's students.” She thanked the senators for hearing so much public testimony, and urged the senators to heed it.

Vince Hannity of the Idaho Coalition for Education Excellence repeated his earlier statements that the plan is a “bold and innovative step” toward needed reforms. “Several elements of the plan are controversial,” he said. “We ask all stakeholders to keep the desired end in sight, to have the most effective, efficient education system for Idaho with the resources available.”
  

State board suspends ISU faculty senate, after senate dissed Vailas

The Idaho State Board of Education has voted to suspend the Faculty Senate at Idaho  State University, after the senate voted “no confidence” in ISU President Art Vailas, in whom the state board had just voted its full confidence. In a news release, the board said the move was “the most reasonable action to take at this time.”

Board President Richard Westerberg said, “The impasse between the leadership of the senate group and the administration has reached a point where the prospect of any kind of progress was simply non-existent. It’s time to start over.” The board, meeting today in Boise, instructed Vailas to implement an interim faculty advisory structure, and come back to the board with a model to review by April.
  

Lawmakers, seniors, AARP call on Rep. Loertscher to allow hearing on conscience law fix

There are now three bills seeking to amend Idaho's “conscience law” to protect patients' living wills and advance care directives as they're dying, and one House committee chairman has buried all three in his desk drawer and refused to hold hearings on them, the AARP of Idaho, legislative sponsors of the bills and a group of Idaho seniors announced at a Statehouse press conference today.

“I probably had 100 contacts saying, 'Please fix that bill,'” Rep. Leon Smith, R-Twin Falls, the sponsor of one of the stalled measures, said today. His bill was introduced in the House Judiciary Committee on a unanimous vote, but then the speaker assigned it to the State Affairs Committee, where Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, stuck it in his desk drawer. “Despite frequent contacts, almost daily contacts … he would never give me an explanation,” Smith said.

Smith's bill simply adds a line to the existing conscience law, of which Loertscher was a co-sponsor last year, to say it can't override patients' legal living wills and advance care directives. Tom Trail, R-Moscow, also has drafted a bill; it removes “end of life care and treatment” from the conscience law entirely, which is mainly aimed at allowing health care providers to refuse to provide care related to abortion or emergency contraception that violates their conscience. Trail said he's gotten a “very favorable attorney general's opinion on it - it would do the job for us.” He took his bill to Loertscher for introduction in the State Affairs Committee, but it's never been scheduled for consideration. Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, drafted a bill almost identical to Trail's, and had the same experience.

Trail said, “I urge Rep. Loertscher to give us a hearing. … Otherwise, it's a great overstep by the state in squashing the individual rights of our senior citizens.”

Peggy Munson, 72, the volunteer state president of the Idaho AARP, said, “We've got a problem here and we need our lawmakers to tackle it this session. I've heard from members across Idaho this past year, ever since this 'conscience' law passed, and they are outraged at the law's impact on their medical directives. They don't want any sate law messing with their legal rights, and this law does just that. This is a case of government overreach, and it's just plain wrong - I don't want to learn someone else's conscience on my deathbed. I want my rights protected.”

The group delivered 500 letters to Loertscher after the press conference, pressing him to give the bills a hearing. Click below to read the group's full statement. Said David Irwin, AARP spokesman, “We're not going away.”
  

Threats, name-calling preceded narrow House vote to kill tribal policing bill

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on the House's 34-35 rejection today of HB 111, the Coeur d'Alene Tribe's policing legislation. A disappointed Rep. Julie Ellsworth, R-Boise, said afterward, “I think there's merit to the bill - you can't just close your eyes to it.” Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, a retired state trooper, said he's received hundreds of calls and emails threatening him and questioning his integrity for backing the bill. “I've had threats I'd better never go into the county again,” he said. “I've been called all kinds of sundry names.”

Opponents raised fears ranging from the tribe taking away the guns of non-Indians who have concealed weapons permits and pass through the reservation, to provisions of tribal code being used to impose civil penalties on non-Indians - something that already can occur today on the reservation. “This doesn't change anything about that,” Wills said. Instead, it addressed criminal violations - saying tribal police officers could enforce state law against non-tribal members, but they'd have to be cited under state law and into state court. “This allows them to use the state court,” Wills said.

How they voted…

Here's the vote breakdown on HB 111, the tribal policing bill, which failed on a 34-35 vote in the House today:

Voting in favor: Reps. Anderson, Bateman, Bayer, Bilbao, Buckner-Webb, Burgoyne, Chadderdon, Chew, Crane, Cronin, DeMordaunt, Ellsworth, Guthrie, Henderson, Higgins, Jaquet, Killen, King, Lacey, McGeachin, Moyle, Nonini, Patrick, Pence, Perry, Raybould, Ringo, Rusche, Shirley, Sims, Smith(30), Takasugi(Batt), Trail, and Wills.

Voting against: Reps. Andrus, Barbieri, Barrett, Bedke, Bell, Block, Bolz, Boyle, Collins, Eskridge, Gibbs(Wheeler), Hagedorn, Hart, Hartgen, Harwood, Lake, Loertscher, Luker, Marriott, McMillan, Nesset, Nielsen, Palmer, Roberts, Schaefer, Shepherd, Simpson, Smith(24), Stevenson, Thayn, Thompson, Vander Woude, Wood(27), Wood(35), Denney.

Absent: Rep. Black
  

House kills tribal policing bill by one vote

After debate finally was cut off by a two-thirds vote to move the previous question, a parliamentary maneuver designed to cut off debate, the House has voted 34-35 against HB 111, the tribal policing bill; it fails by one vote. The debate stretched through the lunch hour to 1 p.m.
  

Tribal policing debate: ‘Ghosts and goblins’

When Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, tried to suggest that the Coeur d'Alene Tribe will take people's guns if they come onto the reservation with concealed weapons permits, Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, gave a blistering rebuttal. When the NRA brought up an “11th hour” concern, Nonini said, the tribal council held an emergency meeting this week and changed its tribal code. “There are ghosts and goblins out there that people are trying to come up with … that don't exist,” Nonini said.

Rep. Julie Ellsworth, R-Boise, noted that there have been other places - she cited an instance in Michigan - where federal law has been invoked, and people had to deal with questions about fishing licenses and the like in federal court. That's not what Idaho wants, Ellsworth said. She said concerns that have been raised about tribal law and civil offenses have nothing to do with the bill, HB 111, which is about criminal offenses. The tribe can issue civil citations right now, for things like zoning regulations or hunting license issues. “They have the ability to do that right now,” she said. “This debate is used to confuse. Because you see, if we don't act, all that goes on anyway. The new law clarifies that it will go to state court.” She said, “We are not going to change a single thing about that tribal court by voting against this bill. This bill clarifies you will be in state court when you are pulled over by a tribal officer.”

Roberts withdraws his motion

House GOP Caucus Chair Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, has withdrawn his motion to shift HB 111, the tribal policing bill, to general orders for amendments.

Roberts tries to amend tribal policing bill, angering committee that heard it

Rep. Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, has moved to send HB 111, the tribal policing bill, to general orders for amendments - drawing vehement debate against his motion from members of the House Judiciary Committee, who voted down such a motion after a six-hour hearing last week, and voted instead to send it to the full House for an up-or-down vote. “I'm tired of the games,” said Rep. Julie Ellsworth, R-Boise. Reps. Bill Killen, D-Boise, and Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls, also spoke out strongly against the motion, as did Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, who said the House should respect the committee process.

Harwood: ‘A heavy heart’

Rep. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, told the House, “I stand here with a heavy heart today to debate this bill.” He said some have accused people from his county of being racist. “I'll tell you that's nothing more than hate speech and that is not true, it is definitely not true. It's highly offensive to me and to the people of my county,” he said.  He told the House, “It's hard for me to debate this bill because both the county members and the tribal members are my constituents. And the very reason that we're here is because the tribal council wants us to be here.” Harwood said he opposes HB 111, the tribal policing bill, because, “This bill will give the power to an entity that is not accountable to the people that it has the power over. That flies right in the face of everything this country's about, doesn't it? It sure seems like it to me,” he said. “HB 111 diminishes Idaho sovereignties by setting a precedence to further expand federal and tribal authority over Idaho citizens.”

Said Harwood, “This is a local matter really, and it should be solved at the local level.” He also questioned the bill's fiscal note, which shows no cost to the state. “What about all the people that they're going to be sending to the state jails?” he asked. He said, “Tribal police are for the tribal members only.”

Debate for and against tribal policing bill…

Rep. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, debated in favor of HB 111, the tribal policing bill, noting, “There's been much correspondence, and some of it quite insulting to me.” He said, “I can't see why it would be an issue.” Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, said he spent time on the reservation on Friday nights and Saturdays back in the early '80s before the institution of cross-deputization, when he was a county commissioner. “It was just a wild area, because of the lack of police protection for non-tribal members as well as tribal members. As a result of the cross-deputization, we sorted out most of the problems. … It was significantly better from a public safety standpoint. It was also better from a cost standpoint to the county.”  Henderson said, “I strongly support the adoption of this because the law itself builds in the sideboards that protect against abuse.”

Rep. Steve Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, debated against the bill. “This is an issue which ought to be handled at the local level,” he told the House. “I think we should turn this legislation down and encourage the counties, as they did last year, to work towards an agreement that is acceptable to the residents of that area, both native and non-native.” Another opponent, Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, said, “I think we need to give it more time.” He said to support the bill, he'd want more specificity:  “I'd like to see a very detailed roadmap, when you encounter a non-tribal member you do this, when you encounter a tribal member you do that.” The bill contains no such language; it requires tribal police officers enforcing state criminal laws to cite violators into state court.
  

Shirley: ‘Prejudices and biases’

Rep. Mack Shirley, R-Rexburg, debating in favor of HB 111, the Coeur d'Alene Tribe's policing legislation, told the House, “I've grown weary of the arguments I've heard about this for the past two or three years. The whole issue is just to provide proper law enforcement within  the bounds of the reservation.” He said he found the continuing dispute “baffling,” and said, “I get bothered when I hear that the Indians are a sovereign nation and they already have too many benefits, don't give them more. I think that's a poor argument. You know, we're all Idahoans.”

Shirley said he was stunned to hear that the first question a dispatcher asks in Benewah County is whether the person calling in with an emergency is an Indian or non-Indian. That's just not right, he said. “This action now compromises safety, cost-effectiveness and just plain good neighborly co-existence.” The dispute, Shirley said, boils down to “prejudices and biases that are counter-productive to improved law enforcement. … Not only is it a safety issue for the officers, but I think it's a safety issue for the public as well.” He said, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is a good bill, and it's time to resolve this issue. Please vote yes.”

House takes up tribal policing bill

The House today is taking up HB 111, the Coeur d'Alene Tribe's policing legislation; Rep. Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d'Alene, is now introducing the bill. The tribe last year dropped proposed legislation when just as lawmakers were getting ready to pass it, Benewah County agreed to a cross-deputization agreement. Then, after the legislative session ended, the county backed out of the agreement. House Judiciary Chairman Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, traveled to Benewah County in December to try to broker a deal, and an agreement again was reached - and again the county backed out. The new bill, HB 111, wouldn't require the county to be involved; tribal police officers could function as police officers under state law if they had all the required training and insurance and cite all non-tribal criminal offenders into state court, not tribal court.

Since Benewah County suspended its cross-deputization agreement with the tribal police in 2007, tribal officers have had to detain people they stop until a county or state officer shows up to take over the arrest; if they don't show up in time, the offender goes free. “This is a public safety issue,” Sims told the House. The tribe has continued to have a successful cross-deputization deal with Kootenai County. Sims noted that under federal law, the tribe could federalize its officers and cite non-Indians into federal court; it doesn't want to do so, and instead wants to operate under state law.

JFAC makes first budget decisions, big one is coming tomorrow

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee is making its first budget decisions this morning, on deficiency warrants - bills for fire suppression, pest control and hazardous material incidents during the past year that the state is obligated to pay. A bigger-picture decision will come tomorrow, when the joint committee is scheduled to set a target figure for next year's budget.

The fire suppression bill from the state Department of Lands came to $3.08 million, considerably below the 28-year average, and covered 183 fires, of which 94 percent were kept to less than 10 acres. “This is a bill that has already been incurred by the state, and we have a financial responsibility to pay our bills,” said Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, as he moved to approve the payment. It passed unanimously, on a 19-0 vote.

Similar votes approved the two other pending deficiency warrants: $68,500 for hazardous materials emergency response; and $209,000 for the Department of Ag for pest deficiency warrants, including $153,200 for the quagga and zebra mussel program and a rather small number, $100, for grasshoppers and mormon crickets, reflecting the costs exceeding those directly billable to a federal grant. Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, said, “Sen. Brackett and I were just wondering how many Mormon crickets you could kill for 100 dollars.” Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, responded, “Not enough.”

Bill would require filtering of library Internet

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — State lawmakers have introduced a bill that would require Idaho's public libraries to block offensive content on computers. Rep. Mack Shirley, R-Rexburg, says lawmakers have already adopted similar safeguards for Internet use in public schools. Shirley now wants to extend those protections to computers used at taxpayer-funded libraries, blocking Internet access to obscene materials such as child pornography and any other content deemed harmful to minors. Libraries would implement a separate Internet use policy for adults and could disable the filtering software for “legitimate” research, under the bill introduced Thursday. Shirley says 25 other states have adopted Internet use legislation since the federal Children's Internet Protection Act was passed a decade ago. Under the Idaho legislation, library boards would draft rules at the local level to comply with the proposed state law.

New version of community college district election bill introduced

The House State Affairs Committee has introduced a new version of Rep. Frank Henderson's bill to require community college trustees to run by district, rather than at large. Henderson said the new version corrects an error, plus makes a series of mostly minor changes requested by the College of Western Idaho. One more substantive change: Deleting a new requirement for community college trustees to file campaign finance reports. Henderson noted that legislation already has been introduced in the Senate to make that requirement, and it's moving forward separately. Henderson wants to make sure outlying areas of counties, not just population centers, are represented on community college boards. The bill would apply to all three of Idaho's community colleges, CWI, CSI in Twin Falls, and NIC in Coeur d'Alene, plus any new ones that might be formed.

Two more bills targeting urban renewal authority clear committee

Now the House Local Government Committee has passed the final two bills on its agenda as well, HB 114, from Rep. Kathy Sims, requiring countywide elections for city urban renewal boards; and HB 110 from Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, imposing additional public hearing requirements for urban renewal projects. Both will go to the full House with a recommendation that they pass, though on HB  114, a motion to send the bill to the amending order instead was narrowly defeated. All in all, this afternoon's hearing in the rarely convened House committee last four and a half hours.

Urban renewal hearing still going, four hours later…

The urban renewal hearing in the House Local Government Committee is still going - it started at 1:30 this afternoon, and it's now past 5:30 p.m. Boise time. Thus far, the committee has voted to send all four of the bills it's taken up to the full House, two for amendments and two without change. Those headed to general orders for amendments, so far, are HB 95, a compromise bill from Rep. Mike Moyle, R-Star, and the Meridian urban renewal agency; and HB 99, from Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, on requiring countywide elections for urban renewal bonds. The two the committee endorsed as-is are HB 96, from Moyle, allowing taxing districts to opt out of urban renewal districts; and HB 97 from Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, to require advance, narrow descriptions of urban renewal projects and binding expiration dates, and require unexpended money to be refunded to local taxing districts.

The committee is now debating HB 114 from Rep. Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d'Alene, requiring countywide elections for city urban renewal boards. Still on the agenda after that one is HB 110 from Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, requiring public hearings for urban renewal projects.

Capitol sees flurry of anti-union bills

Union workers flooded the Capitol this week to testify against legislation aimed at weakening the leverage of labor organizations in Idaho, the AP reports, but both bills cleared a House committee and are now headed for a final vote in the full House, having already passed the Senate. Meanwhile, legislation is advancing to trim the authority of the state's teachers unions. The moves come as Idaho marks its 25th year as a right-to-work state where workers can't be required to join unions as a condition of employment. High-profile protests by the carpenters union in Idaho's capital city also have made some lawmakers angry; click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.

House vote sends nullification bill across rotunda to Senate side

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on today's House debate and vote on HB 117, the health care nullification bill. The measure passed on a 49-20 vote and now moves to the Senate, where its fate is uncertain. The opposition was bipartisan, and nearly an hour and a half of debate preceded the vote.

Senators question teacher-contract rule changes in school reform plan

As the Senate Education Committee continues going over state schools Supt. Tom Luna's reform bills this afternoon, several members asked why the bills would ban teacher contract negotiations from covering anything other than salaries and benefits, prevent any negotiated contract from lasting beyond a single fiscal year and allow school boards to simply impose terms if they don't reach agreements in negotiations with teachers unions. “What do these changes accomplish?” asked Sen. John Andreason, R-Boise. Luna aide Jason Hancock said they would “unbind school boards” from decisions made by previous boards, so they're more free “to run the affairs of their school district.”

Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, said, “It seems like an odd thing to be part of this package. I want to make sure that this is in the best interest of students, and that this is done for no other reason than that.” Hancock responded, “I think it really gets to the issue of accountability. The only part of accountability the public really has with a school district is through those trustees, that's who they vote for.”

The Senate committee has scheduled “closing comments” from a series of stakeholders tomorrow, in its meeting that will start at 3 p.m.; they include representatives of the Idaho School Boards Association, the Idaho Association of School Administrators, the Idaho Education Association, the Idaho PTA, the Idaho Business Coalition for Education Excellence, and the governor's office.

Tax Commission: Scratch that dire warning about energy tax shortfall…

Idaho's state Tax Commission has retracted its dire report that sales tax rebates for wind energy development would chomp an unanticipated $47 million hole in Idaho's state budget between this year and next year, and now says the rebates will be a “net neutral event, as far as impact on general fund revenues,” the AP reports. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller. This news comes as JFAC gears up to set a figure Friday for its target as it begins setting agency budgets for next year; earlier, the governor and GOP legislative leaders had warned that the state faced a budget hole for next year as big as $185 million, up from the $35 million in cuts Gov. Butch Otter had proposed next year. Since then, $50 million of that  potential shortfall evaporated when the cost of an IRS conformity bill was less that first anticipated; now another $47 million of that calculation is gone.

Bill makes assisted suicide a felony

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on how, amid quotes from scripture and urgings from anti-abortion activists, an Idaho Senate committee today approved legislation to outlaw physician-assisted suicide in the state, making it a felony. SB 1070 won support from the Idaho Medical Association, which persuaded the groups sponsoring it to include wording to protect physicians making appropriate patient-care decisions for dying patients or following those patients' living wills or advance care directives. The bill now moves to the full Senate with a recommendation that it “do pass.”

How they voted…

Here's the breakdown on the 49-20 House vote on HB 117, the health care nullification bill:

Voting in favor: Reps. Andrus, Barbieri, Barrett, Bateman, Bayer, Bedke, Bell, Bilbao, Block, Bolz, Boyle, Collins, Crane, DeMordaunt, Ellsworth, Gibbs(Wheeler), Guthrie, Hagedorn, Hart, Hartgen, Harwood, Henderson, Lake, Loertscher, Luker, Marriott, McGeachin, McMillan, Moyle, Nielsen, Nonini, Palmer, Patrick, Perry, Raybould, Roberts, Schaefer, Shepherd, Shirley, Simpson, Sims, Stevenson, Takasugi(Batt), Thayn, Thompson, Vander Woude, Wills, J. Wood, Denney.

Voting against: Reps. Anderson, Black, Buckner-Webb, Burgoyne, Chew, Cronin, Eskridge, Higgins, Jaquet, Killen, King, Lacey, Nesset, Pence, Ringo, Rusche, E. Smith, L. Smith, Trail, F. Wood.

Absent: Rep. Chadderdon

Nullification bill passes House, 49-20

The House has voted 49-20 in favor of HB 117, the health care nullification bill. In his closing debate, Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, said in his closing debate, “Now is the time. If Idaho is to stand for its sovereign rights, it must do so by every peaceful means. … The federal government must be restrained.” The bill now moves to the Senate side for consideration.

McGeachin: State overpaying for those caring for disabled at home

House Health &  Welfare Chairwoman Janice McGeachin has issued a news release charging that the state is overpaying for families who care for disabled members at home through the Medicaid program, and asking,  “When did we make the shift to decide that the taxpayer should be responsible for what has traditionally been the role of the family?” Click below to read her full release.

House GOP leaders defend Luna plan

The House GOP leadership has issued a two-page statement defending state schools Supt. Tom Luna's school reform plan, saying, “Times of uncertainty require strong leadership, and plans for change in times of hardship will always meet resistance from those who wish things could stay the same.” Click below to read their full statement.

Nullification debate: ‘They speak with a forked tongue’

Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, told the House, “Our people are telling us that they are not happy.” She decried “a federal government who is spending us into a bankrupt government,” and said, “They speak with a  forked tongue. … We have a right to dissent. This bill is our dissent. Our voice will be heard in this chamber and in the courts.”

Rep. Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton, said, “We need to stop the health care before it goes further and we are deeper into it. … How do we remove something that the federal government has already put into place? … If it isn't so important or imperative, then why the federal government, why don't they put it on pause and wait until the decision comes down? Why the rush? Why are they pushing it?”

Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, said, “We've got to remember that America wasn't founded by some kind of a military coup. … America was founded by the signing of a document, and that was the Declaration of Independence.” Hart said, “I think that this bill is entirely appropriate as a way to weigh in … to say we think that Congress has overstepped its bounds. … I think this is a very appropriate step for us to take.”

Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, told the House, “The people are starting to rise up. Yes, they've been asleep for a very, very long time.”

Barbieri: State can ‘dictate to’ cities and counties, but feds can’t to state

Rep. Tom Trail, R-Moscow, asked Rep. Vito Barbieri about unfunded mandates that the state passes down to cities and counties. “Would they not have the right also to pursue nullification?” he asked. Barbieri responded, “Contrary to what others expressed here, I do not believe the states are creatures of the federal government. However, cities and counties are creatures of the state government. … Through creation of those government entities, we are in a position to dictate to them. … This does not stretch the other way.”  Trail responded, “United we stand, divided we fall.”

McGeachin: ‘Do not wish to give my opponent undue name recognition’

Rep. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls, told the House, “The reason why I support HB 117 is because it is a strong policy telling our agencies what they shall or shall not do in regards to the federal health care law.” McGeachin said she wouldn't refer to the law by the term so often tossed around in the Idaho House - “Obamacare” - because “I do not wish to give my opponent any undue name recognition.” She urged other lawmakers to follow her example.

McGeachin, the House Health & Welfare chairwoman, distributed a written statement from the Heritage Foundation asserting that there is no requirement for states to assist in the implementation of federal law. “We can do a lot of the things that are being proposed in the federal legislation,” she said. “We could do a lot of the management in health care that the federal law requires. But if we choose to do that as a state, we're going to do it in the way we see fit for our state, in the state of Idaho.” She said, “If we set it up the way the federal government wants us to, they will be the gatekeeper.”

Debate: ‘This bill is symbolic’

Rep. Linden Bateman, R-Idaho Falls, debating in favor of the nullification bill, HB 117, said as a longtime teacher of government and history, “I cannot begin to express my satisfaction that this bill has reached the House of Representatives.” He said, “This bill is symbolic of a growing awareness throughout this country that our federal system of government needs to be finely tuned.” He said the balance between the two has been thrown off due to growth in federal power, and needs to be restored.

Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, debating against the bill, said, “The federal government is not an agent of the states. The states and the federal government are together agents of the people.” He said, “I believe that bills such as this spring from the notion that this legislature is a better protector of the rights of the people than is the United States Supreme Court. I do not accept that.” Burgoyne said the nation's federal government is “not a tyrannical, occupying foreign power.” He said, “I know who I am. I'm an American.”

Anderson: ‘Let’s abide by the Constitution’

Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, debating against HB 117, took issue with fellow North Idaho Rep. Vito Barbieri's claim that a vote against the nullification bill is a vote in favor of the national health care reform law.  “I do not believe it good for the country, I do not believe it good for Idaho, and I would like to see it repealed, and I hope that the Supreme Court will declare it unconstitutional,” Anderson said of the health care reform law. “Such a ruling will be a victory for Idaho, and it will vindicate our decision to challenge it in federal court.”

But Anderson said he can't support HB 117. “This is a difficult thing, because I believe this goes to the root and foundation of our oath of office and what we believe in,” he told the House. He quoted from the Federalist Papers, recalled the nation's history, the secessionist movement and the Civil War. He said the state's fight in court to have the national bill declared unconstitutional is on the right track. “We do have a favorable ruling, we've got a couple of them, we've got a couple on the other side, but this is Round 2 of a three-round fight. Everybody agreed the Supreme Court would have the final say.”

Said Anderson, “The proponents of this bill read the 10th Amendment differently than I do.” He told the House, “Let's abide by the Constitution.”

Anderson said, “I believe, Mr. Speaker, that Congress has exceeded its constitutional authority in passing the health care law, and I now believe that this body will be exceeding its constitutional authority if they pass HB 117. …  Two wrongs don't make a right.”
  

Nullification debate: ‘Misinformation and ideologies’

Lawmakers have received two Idaho attorney general's opinions on nullification; the first said any attempt by state lawmakers to nullify a federal law through legislation would violate both the U.S. and Idaho constitutions and lawmakers' oath of office. The bill was revised after that, but the second opinion still said the new version likely is unconstitutional; plus, it said HB 117, if passed, could have the effect of opting Idaho out of participation in the federal Medicaid program - including receiving more than $1 billion in federal funds that now provide health care to the state's poorest and disabled residents.  

Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, debating against the nullification bill, asked the House, “Can we risk the health care of 500,000 people?” She said, “It's one thing to campaign on misinformation and ideologies, but it's another thing to govern.”

House opens debate on nullification bill

Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, has opened the debate on HB 117, the health care nullification bill, urging support for the measure “with all the passion I can muster.” Barbieri said a federal judge's decision in Florida that the federal health-care reform bill is unconstitutional “settles the issue.” He said, “But for its own reasons the White House continues apace, and worse, our state officials will not stop implementing the national mandate unless specifically directed to do so by this body. … This is Idaho's moment.”

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, responded, “I oppose this bill as a violation of the Constitution of the United States and of the Constitution of Idaho, both of which I have sworn to uphold.” He quoted George Washington, saying the idea that a state can “nullify” a federal law is “preposterous” and “would lead to the dissolution of the union.”

House State Affairs approves two Senate-passed anti-union bills

The House State Affairs Committee has voted 12-6 to send SB 1007 to the full House with a recommendation that it pass, after two days of hearings that drew strong opposition from union workers. The move came after a motion to amend the bill failed, 16-2; Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, who made the motion, said the measure was “overbroad” and “we are probably buying a lawsuit” by passing it. Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, the bill's sponsor, said, “The intent was to restrict unfair competition and provide a level playing field.” Earlier, the same committee passed SB 1006, another anti-union bill decried by the same opponents. “We don't want to reduce the wages in Idaho, do we?” asked Boise pipefitter J.D. Day. “Don't we want 'em to come up?”

Jane Wittmyer, lobbyist for the Associated Builders and Contractors, told the committee, “It's a leveling of the playing field for the merit shop organizations to be able to compete fairly at the bidding table.”

Dems call for ‘start afresh’ on Luna school reform plan

House and Senate Democrats held a press conference just now against state schools Supt. Tom Luna's school reform plan. “Frankly some parts of his plan are intriguing,” said House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston. But, he said, “We agree with the citizens of Idaho - this is not ready. We ask Supt. Luna to take the time to work collaboratively, to revise his vision.”

Senate Minority Leader Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello, said the plan lacks involvement or buy-in from the stakeholders who would have to implement it, including teachers. Rusche said lawmakers have received thousands of calls and emails from people all over the state, “almost universally in opposition to this plan.” Senate Minority Caucus Chair Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said, “We need to start afresh, both from a policy and a process perspective.” Click below to read their full statement.

Parent group: ‘Shocked and disappointed’

Idaho Parents and Teachers Together, the group that organized a rally on the Statehouse steps last week against state schools Supt. Tom Luna's school reform plan, has issued a statement in response to yesterday's events, including Luna blaming reform opponents for the vandalism of his truck and other incidents in recent days. “We were frankly shocked and disappointed by the statements from Superintendent Luna and other state political leaders linking opponents to Mr. Luna’s plan to vandals,” the statement says; you can read it below.

Anti-assisted suicide bill clears Senate panel

Legislation to outlaw physician-assisted suicide in Idaho has cleared the Senate State Affairs Committee, which just voted to send SB 1070 to the full Senate with a recommendation that it pass. The bill was sponsored by anti-abortion activists, but was negotiated with the Idaho Medical Association, which got wording added to protect physicians making appropriate patient-care decisions for dying patients or following those patients' living wills or advance care directives. Ken McClure, IMA lobbyist, told the committee, “Under current law, it is not at all clear whether assisted suicide is a crime or not.” It's not currently a part of Idaho's standards for patient care, he said, and doctors don't want it to be. “This law gives a physician the assurance that if proper medical care is being given, he or she is safe from prosecution,” McClure told the senators.

Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, who noted she has lost three family members in the past year including her husband, former Sen. Clint Stennett, raised questions about whether the bill would hold patients, family members or doctors criminally liable for decisions about when to remove artificial life supports. “These are all very personal personal things for the family and the individual,” she said.

David Ripley of Idaho Chooses Life presented the bill, and Jason Herring, president of Right to Life of Idaho, told the committee, quoting from the book of Psalms, “Unto God the Lord belong the issues from death. … We don't believe that this belongs to a doctor or hospital, this is not something that belongs to a panel or even a patient, this is something that belongs to our Creator.” He said, “Hastening their demise in death they are usurping the authority of God.”

The bill makes it a felony to assist in a suicide, plus revokes the licenses of physicians who do so. It also authorizes court injunctions against anyone “reasonably believed to be about to violate” the new law.

Whoops - one of school reform bills introduced yesterday was wrong one…

Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, is scheduled to introduce a new bill as part of the “Students Come First” school reform plan tomorrow morning in the Senate State Affairs Committee; asked why, he said it's because one of the bills introduced yesterday in the Senate Education Committee was the wrong one. Two of the bills introduced yesterday had the pay-for-performance plan in them, one as a stand-alone, and the other combined with the plan's other reforms. Instead of the combo bill, Goedde said, the committee should have introduced the reforms bill that doesn't include the pay-for-performance plan, rather than duplicate it in two bills. “It's the one that should've been introduced yesterday,” Goedde said.

Goedde said of today's two and a half hour meeting, “I think the committee's asking good questions, and I'm sure we will have good debate when it comes to that.” That likely won't be tomorrow, he said, but, “It could be Thursday.”

Going through details of school reform bills…

The Senate Education Committee today has continued going over state schools Supt. Tom Luna's lengthy school reform bills in detail with Luna aide Jason Hancock, in a decidedly subdued process compared to the days of public testimony last week. Among items that have come up during today's review: Senators expressed safety concerns about raising class sizes for students in juvenile detention centers. Hancock said that's not an issue, because, “The school district isn't the one that provides for the safety of the facility, but they do provide education services there.” Sen. Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello, said he worried that the move could “put people in harm's way, especially if you don't have the staff to supervise some of these instructional times when they're taking place.” Hancock said he'd note the concern.

Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, asked why the bills eliminate all the laws enacted a couple of years ago permitting school districts to declare a financial emergency and reopen teacher contracts. “You've deleted all that language that we fought so dearly for a few years ago,” Winder said. Hancock responded that later in the bill, “You have language in there that gives the Board of Trustees the same kind of ability that it has under this statute to establish the compensation level in the event that they have failed to reach a negotiated agreement.” No financial emergency declaration would be required to do that, under the Luna plan, Hancock said.

“Essentially these provisions allow a district, whether they have an emergency or not, frankly, to do a lot of what we put into the emergency clause,” said Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise. Hancock responded, “That's correct.”

Committee Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, told the committee it'll continue until about 5:30 p.m. today, then pick up again tomorrow.

Money-making idea: Ads on school buses

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — As Idaho's cash-strapped school districts scour for creative ways to make ends meet, state lawmakers are looking to help them out. Senate Assistant Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Boise, introduced a bill this week that would allow districts to sell advertising space on school buses. Winder's bill would direct the state Board of Education to draft rules with “reasonable restrictions” on the content of the bus ads. About half a dozen states already allow bus advertising and the idea can be traced back more than a decade, though budget woes have led to a resurgence in recent years. While supporters of the idea say it's practically free money, opponents argue the tactic isn't much different than dressing teachers in sponsor-emblazoned uniforms.

House ethics rule change effective immediately

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on today's unanimous House vote to amend House ethics rules in the wake of four ethics complaints this year, three of them against tax-protesting Rep. Phil Hart. The change in ethics rules takes effect immediately; it needed a two-thirds vote of the House to pass.

Fish & Game director to retire next month

Idaho Fish & Game Director Cal Groen has announced that he'll retire next month and move back to Lewiston; he's worked for the department for 21 years. “Four years ago, I made a commitment to the commission to be director for four years, and I promised my wife. Those four years are up,” Groen told the Lewiston Tribune. Click below for a full report.

GOP on anti-Luna incidents: ‘This is what happens when you fight status quo’

The Idaho Republican Party has issued a statement decrying “the recent incidents of harassment toward Superintendent Luna,” saying, “This is what happens when you step out and fight against the status quo. As Idahoans we cannot let these scare tactics win.” Click below to read the party's full statement.

Exxon cutting down megaloads so can send them along interstates

Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil is cutting down the size of 33 loads of equipment headed for an oil sands project in Alberta, Canada so they can be moved along interstate highways, the Missoulian and Lewiston Tribune newspapers reported today. “Because of delays in getting the oversized permits from both Idaho and Montana, Imperial is planning to begin reducing the size of the 33 modules in Lewiston to mitigate further schedule and cost exposure to the construction site,” Imperial/Exxon spokesman Pius Rolheiser told the Missoulian on Monday; click below for a full report.

Lottery tried, but $1M winner never showed…

Here's some more info on that $1 million Powerball jackpot that went unclaimed this year: The winning ticket was sold at Huskey's in Irwin, near the Idaho-Wyoming border, for the March 6, 2010 Powerball draw. The Idaho Lottery issued multiple press releases to try to draw attention to the win, including repeated follow-ups in the area and even contacts with Wyoming news media. There was a public ceremony to present a $25,000 check to the store that sold the ticket, along with reminders that the winner had 180 days to come forward. He or she never did; the ticket expired on Sept. 2, 2010.

“It got a fair amount of attention,” said lottery spokesman David Workman. “But what happened to it, where it ended up, is really very much a mystery. I don't think we actually received any phone calls, not even one, not even somebody playing a prank.”

The unclaimed prize helped boost the lottery's budget for the year, making up what otherwise would've been a drop-off in the anticipated dividend to the state for the year of $37 million; it's the biggest prize the Idaho Lottery has ever had go unclaimed. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
  

Otter, Luna call for ‘civil discourse’

Gov. Butch Otter and state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna stood in the governor's office today to condemn personal attacks and call for “civil discourse” in the debate over school reform in Idaho. 'I've kicked around this building for a long time,” Otter said. “The Idaho way is always, you can disagree without being disagreeable.” He said, “The Idaho way is to have good, robust debate. The Idaho way is for us to have exchange in our ideas and do that in a civil way.”

Luna defended his use of the phrase “union thuggery” in reference to an angry teacher who confronted him outside his mother's home, and noted that he didn't mention the Idaho Education Association, the state's teachers union, by name. “If the term 'union thuggery' makes them uncomfortable, you might ask them why,” Luna said. “I was talking about what happened at my mom's house. If people want to accuse me that my rhetoric was a little too strong in defense of my mom, then I'm guilty.”

Luna said he doesn't blame any particular group for the vandalism of his vehicle last night or his heckling this morning at a coffee shop, at which he said he was glad a police officer was present. But Luna said anonymous Facebook posts and websites have encouraged people to confront lawmakers and others by listing their home addresses and phone numbers; Luna said, “People have to be accountable for that kind of rhetoric.” The IEA has specifically denied sending such messages and said in a statement today, “We extend the call for civility to Mr. Luna, too. … We do not resort to violence or harassment to solve problems.”

Luna said, “Families and personal property are off limits.”

Luna’s truck vandalized; he blames school-reform opponents

The Associated Press reports that vandals slashed two tires and spray-painted the truck of Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna overnight, in a move he linked to his controversial school reform proposals. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner; Luna and Gov. Butch Otter have scheduled a press conference for 1:30 “about the Students Come First plan and recent incidents.”

Another citizen-initiated ethics complaint came in before vote, Denney says it’s ‘frivolous’

Prior to today's unanimous House vote to amend the House ethics rules - including clarifying that only a House member, not just anyone, can submit an ethics complaint - the House had received another ethics complaint from a citizen, House Speaker Lawerence Denney said. It's not against Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, who's been the subject of three ethics complaints this year. “It's frivolous, I think,” Denney said. “It is from North Idaho.” Denney said he referred the complaint, which he received last week, to House Ethics Committee Chairman Tom Loertscher, since the ethics committee already is seated and still has to meet again to approve its minutes from its last meeting. Said Denney, “In my opinion, it is frivolous.”

Tribal policing debate likely Thursday, nullification debate tomorrow in House…

The House has put off consideration of HB 111, the Coeur d'Alene Tribe's policing bill, until Thursday. House Speaker Lawerence Denney said it was simply an issue of “time management.” Tomorrow, HB 117, the health care nullification bill, is scheduled for a House debate and vote.

House passes jobs tax credit bill despite concerns

HB 126, legislation sponsored by the Idaho Chamber Alliance to grant a refundable tax credit for employers who make new hires for jobs that pay at least $12 an hour and have health insurance, has cleared the House on a 64-3 vote, but Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, spoke out against the bill. “I have continuing issues with tax credits,” he said. “I think they skew our tax system. … To me, people are going to be hired because there's a need in a business, it's not going to be because of a tax credit.” He also said a refundable credit could get the state into the same kind of budget trouble it's seen with an existing wind-power tax rebate. “I just don't think this is a good bill right now,” Luker said. “We need jobs, but I have a problem with doing it this way.”

House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, the bill's sponsor, countered, “If this economy and this state is going to get back on track, we have to encourage people to create jobs.” The only other representatives joining Luker in opposing the bill were Reps. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls, and Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens. The bill now moves to the Senate side.

House votes unanimously to amend ethics rules

HR 2, the measure to amend the House ethics rules, has passed the House on a unanimous, 70-0 vote, after not only House Speaker Lawerence Denney and House Minority Leader John Rusche debated in favor of it, but so did Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, the subject of three ethics complaints this year. “I have a few things in this bill that I really like,” Hart told the House. “One is that the phrase 'legislative duties' appears four times.” He said, “The due process process is better spelled out. It was already there, but it was difficult to ferret out. I think there are some things that we were unclear about that are now made clear, so I'm going to support the bill.”

The measure adds a clause covering ethics violations for “conduct unbecoming a member of the House;” clarifies that the target of a complaint can respond in writing; declares that only a member of the House - not just anyone - can submit an ethics complaint; and makes ethics complaints confidential, and requires them to be heard in closed sessions of the ethics committee, until the committee has found “probable cause” to look into the complaint.  

Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, asked Denney how a citizen might bring a concern about ethics concerning a House member. He responded, “There are two major avenues that people can voice those complaints: No. 1 is called an election and that happens every two years, and the other one is a recall, and that happenss immediately.” He added, “Plus they can call my office. If there is something egregious, I'm going to take it to the minority leader, we will discuss it, and one of us will, if it merits response, we will bring it before an ethics committee.”

The House vote is the final action on the rule change; it required a two-thirds vote to take effect.
  

Dems: GOP leaders favoring out-of-state online retailers over locals

House Democrats have issued a statement saying that by burying HB 57, the online sales tax bill, the House GOP leadership “places interests of out-of-state online retailers over homegrown Idaho businesses.” You can read their full statement here.

Looking at the list…

House Speaker Lawerence Denney has handed the gavel over to House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, as Denney is sponsoring a bill that's coming up fairly soon on the House calendar, HR 2, making changes in the House's ethics rules. Before he left the speaker's desk, he appeared to be looking over a printout of the roll call from the vote on the motion to call HB 57 out of the Ways & Means Committee, on which at least two Republicans joined Democrats, though the move fell far short. Denney took the printout with him to his seat on the House floor. Asked if there are consequences in store for the Republicans who broke ranks on that vote, Denney said, “Probably not - I just wanted to know.” According to the roll call, GOP Reps. Jeff Nesset of Lewiston and Tom Trail of Moscow were among those supporting the motion.

Rusche tries to call online sales tax bill out of Ways & Means, move falls short

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, tried a parliamentary maneuver in the House today to pull HB 57, the streamlined sales tax bill, out of the House Ways & Means Committee, where House Speaker Lawerence Denney has sent it to die without a hearing. “This bill does not obligate any change in our tax policy,” Rusche told the House. “It merely allows us to participate in this project. It's something that I think is good for us, good for our Main Street businesses, and I think something that's desired by the citizens of the state.” Rusche said he wanted to “call for a full debate here, in front of the body.” Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, spoke in favor of the motion, saying Idaho already has a law requiring people to report and pay sales and use tax on their catalog or online purchases; if Idaho could be a part of a national movement to allow sales taxes to be collected on Internet sales, it could eliminate that poorly enforced law, he said.

No one testified against the motion, though Rep. Julie Ellsworth, R-Boise, objected to Burgoyne's testimony, saying he was addressing the merits of the bill, not the motion to pull it from Ways & Means. Denney upheld her objection. The motion then died on a 15-54 vote - notably, not a straight party-line vote, as there are only 13 Democrats in the House.
  

House State Affairs continues union bill hearing to tomorrow morning

The House State Affairs Committee has run out of time to vote today on the two Senate-passed anti-union bills, SB 1006 and 1007; there's still one person left to testify on SB 1006, the first bill it's taken up. Chairman Tom Loertscher just announced, “In an effort to resolve this all tomorrow, we will take up here in the State Affairs Committee tomorrow at 8 a.m.”

Union workers protest anti-union bills in House committee hearing

There's a full house in the House State Affairs Committee this morning, where two Senate-passed anti-union bills, SB 1006 and 1007, are up for a hearing. The committee watched a video of loud, angry carpenters union pickets at the state capitol from two years ago, but many of those testifying said they disavow such tactics and the bills won't fix them, they'll hurt union workers in the state. “I think you're being sold a bill of goods,” J.D. Day, a union pipefitter from Boise, told the committee. “It's not good for Idaho.” He said the carpenters union has withdrawn from the AFL-CIO and “we abhor what they're doing.” Said Day, “I would lot rather work as a cooperative partner with somebody than trying to coerce 'em into something - what kind of a relationship is that?” Day said his union has 500 workers in Boise. “Do we pass a law like this to get rid of one noisy group?” he asked. “This is a law that's going to hurt a lot of union families. It's going to hurt the wages that we have in the state.”

McKenzie: No hearing for bill to expand Idaho’s anti-discrimination law

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Since 2007, state lawmakers have rejected legislation to ban discrimination in Idaho against people who are gay, lesbian or transgender. And Republican Sen. Curt McKenzie says this year will be no different. McKenzie chairs the Senate State Affairs Committee and says he doesn't plan to schedule a hearing on a bill introduced in the 2011 session to ban workplace and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Idaho's Human Rights Act now forbids discrimination based on race, sex, religion, color, national origin and mental or physical disabilities. Senate Minority Leader Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello, introduced a measure to include people who are gay, lesbian and transgender and feel they are victims of discrimination. But McKenzie told the Idaho Press Tribune there's not enough support among Idaho's conservative lawmakers to move the bill forward.

Boost for state budget: A $1 million lottery winner never cashed in ticket

Idaho Lottery revenues are forecast to be down by 2 percent this year, state lottery Director Jeff Anderson told legislative budget writers this morning, because to date in fiscal year 2011, only 6 percent of advertised Powerball jackpots have exceeded $100 million. In the last three years, 26 percent have been higher than that mark, which drives sales. “Consequently our net margin will decrease slightly, because draw games are our highest-margin products,” Anderson said. “Nonetheless, we do forecast being able to deliver the $37 million in dividends promised for fy 2011, due to the unclaimed prize fund and our rigorous management of expenses.”

Here's the oddity in the unclaimed prize fund: “This year we had a $1 million Powerball ticket go unclaimed,” Anderson told JFAC. “When that ticket went unclaimed, it goes into the unclaimed prize fund. It was somewhat of an unusual event, that someone would win a million dollars and not claim their ticket, but it is what happened this year.”

The result: A better budget picture for the lottery, the bulk of whose proceeds are divided evenly between schools and the state's permanent building fund. A portion also goes to the school bond levy equalization fund.

Typically, the lottery's unclaimed prize fund collects about $2 million to $3 million a year, Anderson said, mainly made up of small, $2 or $3 wins in Powerball drawings in which the tickets don't win the big jackpot. “They just don't think they won, so they don't claim their ticket,” Anderson said. “That's typically where most of the unclaimed prizes come from.”

The retooled school reform plan…

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on the retooled version of state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna's school reform plan that was introduced today; it makes no change in the most controversial provision: Raising class sizes and cutting hundreds of teaching jobs. Instead, Luna proposed reducing his requirement for online classes for every high-school student from six classes to four; more flexibility for school districts to decide in what year students should be given laptop computers, rather than requiring them to go to all 9th graders; and elimination of the clause requiring that students be given ownership of the laptops when they graduate.

ITD issues permit to ExxonMobil for test megaload

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Transportation Department has issued a permit for Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil to transport an oversized test load on U.S. Highway 12 beginning on Feb. 22. ITD Motor Vehicle Administrator Alan Frew also issued a memorandum of decision Monday that states Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil's requests for permits for the remaining 200 loads should be granted. Frew said Monday the test load was proposed by Exxon to make sure its preparations are adequate for the loads to be shipped on U.S. 12 from Lewiston through northwestern Montana and into Alberta, Canada. The test load is 24 feet wide, 30 feet high, 208 feet long and weighs approximately 508,000 pounds. ITD also began a contested case hearing process to allow opponents of the shipments to present evidence and testimony. No timeline for the hearings has been set.

Goedde: Changes to ed reform plan ‘positive’

Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, said it likely will take his committee “a number of days” just to go through the details of the school-reform bills. “In an hour, we went through probably 12 pages, and this bill is 60 pages,” he said. But, he said, “I think we owe it to committee members to go into this kind of detail.”

Goedde said he thinks concerns about raising class sizes that were brought up by hundreds of people who testified to the committee last week can be addressed both with local flexibility to possibly take cuts elsewhere, such as in teacher pay, and possibly by getting more of Idaho's school administrators to each teach a class. “The idea of administrators teaching a class I think needs additional investigation,” Goedde said. “I've had complaints over my 11 years here that administrators are out of touch with classroom instructors. What better way to get them in touch than to put them in the classroom?”

Goedde, a sponsor of the Luna reform package - in fact, his name appears first on the list of sponsors of each of the three new bills as well as the two old ones, right above that of Gov. Butch Otter - said of the changes to the package, “I think they're positive.”

Gov, supt: Changes only ‘enhance’ plan

Gov. Butch Otter and state schools Supt. Tom Luna said in a news release today that the changes made to the education reform bills, which were introduced in a new three-bill package today, only “enhance” the plan. Click below to read the full news release.

Luna on how plan went from two bills to five to three…

State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna said the reason his school reform proposal jumped from two bills to five and then back to three was just because of different configurations of the same items; for example, the two bills not introduced today did things like the reform plan and the pay-for-performance plan in one bill, rather than in separate ones. “We wanted to make sure that every option was available,” Luna said after today's Senate Education Committee hearing.

He said there's been no change in the bills to give more flexibility to school districts on class sizes. “That flexibility is available, and i don't think the people realize that,” Luna said. “I wanted to make sure that that flexibility is there. Ultimately, class sizes will be determined at the local level.”

That's why, though the state's teacher-student ratio may be around 18, many districts now have class sizes of 30 or more kids. Luna's new reform bills still would would raise the divisors used in the state's funding formula by the same amount as proposed in his original bills; that means districts would be funded for fewer teachers and larger classes. If they didn't want that, they'd have to shift things around to cut other things, like teacher pay, rather than increase class sizes.
  

Districts would have no say over online course providers, just have to pay

Under the Luna school reform plan, school districts would designate which online courses their students would be required to take, but couldn't specify from which provider the students take the class, Luna aide Jason Hancock told the Senate Education Committee. “They can certainly suggest, they can try to steer their students toward a particular vendor, maybe one they have a contract with,” he said. But they can't require it. “If the parents aren't happy with that, or they don't think it's a good enough course or it's not high-enough quality, then they can go elsewhere with that,” Hancock said. Also, students could take additional online classes beyond those required, and the school district would have to pay for them, as long as they're accredited and meet state content standards.

Of class sizes, pay cuts, and putting administrators back in the classroom…

“If a local school district wants to keep their class sizes the same, then they're going to have to do one of two things,” Jason Hancock, aide to state schools Supt. Tom Luna, told the Senate Education Committee. First option, he said: Taking the reductions “in elementary PE teachers or reading coaches who do not have a classroom of kids,” Hancock said. “Or coming to an agreement at the local level that they're going to reduce pay rather than give up positions, because they do have that flexibility.” Hancock said, “I think we had a number of teachers through this hearing process bring up the point that they'd rather take another pay cut, rather than see class sizes increase. That is possible under this plan.”

Committee Chairman John Goedde said if every administrator taught one class, class sizes could remain the same; there's legislation to that effect out there, he said, but it hasn't been introduced and is not in front of the committee today.

Luna aide on class sizes: Schools managed to function in mid-90s with larger classes

Asked about the proposal to increase class sizes by Sen. John Andreason, R-Boise, Luna aide Jason Hancock said, “Nobody wants to increase these divisors. Nobody wants to see class sizes get bigger.” But, he said, “Keep in mind that until the mid-90s, Idaho's class sizes were higher than they're going to be under this change and we were still able to have a functioning education system at those levels.”

Andreason asked Hancock if the class-size plan was discussed with the superintendents of the Boise or Meridian school districts, the state's two largest districts, before it was unveiled. “The divisor changes were a part of the overall plan,” Hancock responded. “And we did have some discussion with those superintendents before this plan was brought out publicly.” Andreason asked, “Were they in agreement with the changes?” Hancock responded, “I don't recall what each individual superintendent commented as far as what they liked and did not like, I'm sorry.”

No textbooks would be replaced under Luna plan, just virtual ones

There's no money in the Luna school reform plan for purchasing or replacing any textbooks, Luna aide Jason Hancock told the Senate Education Committee as he went over SB 1069. Instead, there's only money for technology in anticipation of virtual textbooks in the future. “The budget for textbooks was eliminated last year,” Hancock told the senators. “That was what came out of the stakeholders meeting with JFAC.” Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, said, “So we just continue until this technology phases in, without replacing textbooks?” Hancock responded, “You don't have money in this proposal that's specifically lined out for the purchase of physical textbooks.” LeFavour said she'll have to meet with Hancock and go over the figures at more depth. “It's not working on my sheet here,” said LeFavour, who serves on JFAC.

Questions about new ed reform bills…

Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, said, since she didn't get an opportunity to ask any questions on the new Luna bills, she wants to make sure that when the committee takes them up, more information is available on the impacts of the bills on property taxes; whether the bills are constitutional, both as they affect property taxes and as they allow differences between districts in class sizes; and whether the new plan would require districts “to lay off experienced teachers just because they're more expensive.” Said LeFavour, “I would like some more detail next time.” Committee Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, told LeFavour he thought state schools Supt. Tom Luna would be happy to answer LeFavour's questions before the next hearing.

The Senate Education Committee has now moved on to having Luna aide Jason Hancock go through the old Luna bills, SB 1068 and 1069. Goedde said Hancock will point out where provisions change with the new versions. Hancock is starting with SB 1069. Said Goedde, “It's the only bill that we have that the public has, so I'm suggesting that we use this old bill so that they can follow along with the language.” When the new bills come to the committee after printing, he said, the committee can switch over to the new ones.
  

Luna: Testimony was not ‘window dressing to us’

State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna told the Senate Education Committee, “The testimony that was given to this committee over those three days was not window-dressing to us. We heard good ideas and good comments, and we've responded accordingly.”

The Senate Education Committee then quickly voted to introduce all three of Luna's new bills; the single motion passed without discussion, and Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, said the committee will have the bills back on Wednesday for more discussion.

Luna proposes change: Districts, teachers could cut own pay to avoid bigger class sizes

State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna has switched his list of five new bills to just three: One on labor conditions, one on reform, and a separate bill on pay for performance. Introducing the new measures, Luna said, “Ultimately because of this legislation, class sizes will be determined at the local level.” He said that he heard from teachers and other stakeholders that they wanted that option. “They expressed an interest in being able to choose to reduce their own pay in order to keep class sizes at the same level in their district,” Luna said, and to prevent teaching jobs in their district from being cut.

He said other changes include cutting requirements for online classes for high school students from six to four; letting districts decide which students in grades 9-12 should get laptop computers first; and requiring the state to set standards for “online citizenship.”

Sunshine bill, anti-bullying measure introduced

The Senate Education Committee has voted unanimously to introduce legislation to require community college trustee candidates to file sunshine reports on their campaign finances just as do other candidates for elective office; and to strengthen Idaho's anti-bullying laws. Now it's moving on to the new versions of the Luna school reform bills.

Minority members of Senate Ed come out against Luna reform bills

Minority Democrats on the Senate Education Committee have issued a statement opposing SB 1068 and 1069, state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna's education reform plan. Senate Minority Leader Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello, said the plan was “flawed from the beginning” because of the lack of input from students, parents, teachers and others. “In my ten years as a legislator, I have never seen such a spontaneous outpouring of public sentiment in opposition to a proposal as I’ve seen against Tom Luna’s plan to eliminate experienced teachers and increase class sizes,” Malepeai said. You can read the full statement here.

House panel rejects megaloads hearing requirement, won’t introduce bill

The House Transportation Committee, voting along party lines, rejected proposed legislation from Rep. Tom Trail, R-Moscow, to require a public hearing before permitting megaloads of more than 500,000 pounds to travel on Idaho roads, refusing even to introduce the bill. Trail said afterward that he was “very disappointed,” and had heard “real questions and concerns” about the issue from people both along the Highway 12 corridor in north-central Idaho and all over the state. The Idaho Transportation Department estimated that the hearing requirement could cost the state about $115,000 a year, but Trail said that could be rolled into permit fees for giant, over-legal weight truckloads, so that it wouldn't cost the state anything.

He picked that large weight, he said, because “it just seemed to be a figure that really is a pretty gigantic impact and potential impact on these roads.” Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, spoke out in favor of introducing the bill, saying, “I have been rather intimately involved in this process and I definitely see the need for the RS (proposed bill). I think people can't recognize how extraordinary this really is unless you have the opportunity to go stand beside one of these loads. They're up to 230 feet long, over two-thirds of a football field, they're two to three stories high, and their weight is seven times the legal federal load limit.” For residents along routes like U.S. Highway 12 in north-central Idaho, where hundreds of such loads are proposed to travel en route to the Alberta tar sands project, “It's kind of hard to see what the benefit is and there's a lot of risk,” Ringo said.

Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby. said ITD already can hold public hearings if it chooses to. “I do think there's a danger in allowing commerce to be impeded by someone that's unhappy with something that's going along on their road, something they didn't particularly like,” Wood declared. “I really don't see the need for the legislation.”

She moved to return the bill to Trail, and her motion passed on an 11-3 vote, with only the panel's three Democratic members objecting. Trail said afterward that he remains concerned about the issue, and said three months ago, he requested an analysis from ITD about whether permit fees fully cover the agency's costs for issuing permits for megaloads, and he still has had no response. Trail noted that the first megaload to travel Highway 12, which just arrived in Montana in recent days, had unforeseen problems along the route including traffic delays of nearly an hour; Ringo said it scraped the rock walls along the highway corridor.

Five new ed reform bills proposed, but class size hikes, teacher cuts remain

Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, has scheduled five new bills for introduction at his committee hearing this afternoon to replace SB 1068 and 1069, state schools Supt. Tom Luna's proposed school reform package. However, Goedde's committee, which meets at 3 p.m. today, also has three other bill introductions on its agenda, along with “in-depth review” of both existing reform bills, SB 1068 and SB 1069; and the Senate is scheduled to go back into session at 4:30 this afternoon due to today's deadline for introduction of legislation by non-privileged committees.

Goedde said his committee may simply introduce the new Luna bills in a single motion; or it may hold off. “I have been given some discretion from leadership” to go past that bill-introduction deadline, Goedde said today. “They will allow that.”

Goedde, in a memo today addressed to his committee and education stakeholders, outlined the changes from the two reform bills contained in the five new bills; they're mostly minor, but would include an adjustment to the “fractional ADA” proposal under which a portion of school districts' funding would be siphoned away after the district's budget is set and directed to online course providers; a reduction in the requirement for high-school students to take online course from six courses to four; more flexibility for school districts to decide what year students should be given laptop computers, rather than requiring them to go to all 9th graders; and elimination of the clause requiring that students be given ownership of the laptops when they graduate. There's no mention of any changes to the plan to fund the entire proposal by raising class sizes and eliminating teaching positions, the move that drew the most negative testimony over four days of public hearings last week. You can read Goedde's memo here.

Today’s House session focuses on Lincoln Day program, music, students

The Idaho House is holding its Lincoln Day commemoration today; the Senate held its on Friday. In the House, the program led off with bagpipes and drums from the Treasure Valley Professional Firefighters Pipes and Drum corps; also on the program are remarks by Rep. Linden Bateman, R-Idaho Falls, and Judy Boyle, R-Midvale; performances of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “Deep River” by Idaho state representative and singer Cherie Buckner-Webb; and a performance by Midvale third and fourth grade students, seen here in costume awaiting their part, of “Encouragement from the Past, by the Future.”

Every state agency asked to submit scenarios for 5% cuts

Every Idaho state agency has received a memo from the Legislature's joint budget committee asking it to prepare and submit information by this Thursday on how a possible general fund reduction of 5 percent could be accomplished at the agency in next year's budget. “Although the governor's initial general fund recommendation for state government included a reduction of $35 million in additional cuts, it was too optimistic considering the recent news that we have received about revenues,” the letter states. “The co-chairmen of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee have directed our office to notify all agencies that receive general fund support consider programmatic changes that support a lower spending level for FY 2012.” You can read the full memo here.

Such a cut would total $126.3 million across the state budget, but that's including the $35 million in cuts Gov. Butch Otter already recommended in his proposed 2012 budget. The memo includes a breakout showing, straight across, what a 5 percent cut in general funds would mean for each state agency. By far the single largest hit: $60.8 million to public schools. That would be a cut from this year's level, in which schools already took a historic budget hit that Otter has long promised he'll make back up as soon as the state's economy improves. The second-largest figure on the list is $22 million for Medicaid, but Otter's already recommended $25.2 million in cuts there.

Otter's budget anticipated just 3 percent growth in state tax revenues next year, though the state's economic forecast anticipates 6.9 percent growth, and Idaho's forecasters have stuck by that figure. The difference, which Otter would leave on the table: $91 million. Many lawmakers said they wanted to wait for January's tax revenue figures before deciding which way the economy really was heading; they came in $15 million ahead of forecasts.
  

In midst of budget crisis, Idaho plans to go without chief economist for 18 months

Wayne Hammon, Gov. Butch Otter's budget director, says he's not planning to replace the recently retired chief economist of the state either this year or next year, even as the state faces potentially huge  budget cuts based on questions about how much the state will or won't collect in tax revenue next year. “Right now we just don't have the money to do so,” Hammon said. When longtime Chief Economist Mike Ferguson retired, the state's other economist, Derek Santos, was moved temporarily into Ferguson's job in an acting capacity, but Santos' job wasn't filled. It'll stay that way for the next 18 months, Hammon said. In addition, the Division of Financial Management, which Hammon heads and which handles economic forecasting for the state, also has lost its accountant, and that position also isn't being replaced. Hammon said he hopes to fill the positions in fiscal year 2013. “Before they left, we were looking probably at a layoff in 2012,” he said.

Study: Substance abuse treatment saves the state $$, but it’s being cut anyway

Idaho now has the data to show that its substance abuse treatment services directly save the state money - for every $1 spent on treatment costs, Idaho avoided $1.38 in criminal justice costs, according to new research from the Washington State University Public Policy Center. But the news comes as Idaho is contemplating cutting the services by 30.3 percent next year in state general funds, and 10.8 percent in total funds. “This is a place that you can show a return,” said Debbie Field, director of the state Office of Drug Policy. “But there's only so many dollars to go around. … This is a real tough one.”

For the new study, the control group consisted of those on the state's waiting list, who didn't receive treatment. “Any difference is attributed to treatment,” Sharon Burke of the Office of Drug Policy told JFAC this morning. “Our $23.5 million investment conservatively saved the system $32 million in other costs.”

The study of the results of Idaho's interagency substance abuse efforts is aimed in part at answering questions raised by Gov. Butch Otter several years ago when he vetoed substance abuse treatment funding because he said data hadn't been submitted showing the benefit; that prompted a legislative scramble to keep the program funded and make a case that it saves the state money. This morning, Field presented the interagency substance abuse treatment budget to JFAC, along with Burke, Josh Tewalt of the state Division of Financial Management and others.  

Field told JFAC it's her fifth time in front of the committee, and the first time she appeared, “You couldn't seen the numbers and couldn't validate them.” That's now changed, she said. “It's really been a pleasure to come before you … and really analyze the numbers for this process. … Our providers are doing a great job in helping people return back to society.”

About 18 months ago, Field said, the waiting list for substance abuse services topped 2,500 people and the state decided to give up on keeping waiting lists - because it couldn't realistically promise those on the lists they'd get services. Now, she said, the state serves only those it's required by law to serve, including federal priority populations, and those referred to it by the courts. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

The week that was…

What a week this was! On tonight's “Idaho Reports” on Idaho Public TV, I join host Greg Hahn, Jim Weatherby, and Kevin Richert to discuss the events of the week, which was marked by a huge outpouring of public input to lawmakers on everything from education reform to health care nullification. The opening scene of tonight's show: The now-famous gavel-banging at the education hearing this week that was so strong that it sent the gavel's base flying.

Greg also interviews Senate Education Committee members Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, and Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, about this week's education hearings and what they're hearing from the public on school reform. The show airs tonight at 8 p.m., then re-airs Sunday at 10:30 a.m. Mountain time, 9:30 a.m. Pacific; it also can be seen online at www.idahoptv.org, along with continued discussion on a “Web Extra” segment.

Click here to see a slide show of the week in pictures, as the fifth week of Idaho's 2011 legislative session comes to a close. Let your cursor hover over the bottom part of the frame as the pictures show, to see the captions.

Hart proposes bill to fine workers who aid in wolf-kill investigations; panel balks

Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, proposed legislation today to impose a $500 fine on any Idaho state or local government employee who investigates or prosecutes the killing of an endangered wolf or who in any way assists federal authorities with such an arrest or prosecution. That's for a first-time violation; repeat violations would be misdemeanor crimes. However, the House Resources Committee today declined to introduce the bill, voting instead to hold it in committee at the call of the chairman. Hart's bill included a clause saying the governor could suspend the proposed new law by executive order, but only for up to one year.

ISU faculty votes no-confidence in Vailas, calls for resignation

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: POCATELLO, Idaho (AP) — A vote held by the faculty at Idaho State University shows a lack of confidence in school president Arthur Vailas. Faculty at the Pocatello-based campus held a no-confidence vote Thursday, and results released Friday show 76 percent of faculty on campus lack faith in his leadership. Based on the results, faculty leaders called for his resignation. Vailas was hired to lead the school in 2006 but has had difficulty winning the support of the faculty, especially in the last two years. Campus administrators say President Vailas remains committed to the job and focused on his work with faculty, students and staff. Top officials blamed the discontent on a negative campaign led by few and based on half-truths. Earlier this month, Vailas won the support of the Idaho State Board of Education.

Bill would ease rule for competition water skiers

Two North Idaho legislators say there's nothing wrong with the state law that requires water ski boats to have an observer aboard in addition to the driver - except when the ski boat is in a legal, regulation slalom course.    So Reps. George Eskridge, R-Dover, and Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, have introduced legislation - with the backing of the Idaho Sheriff's Association - to lift that requirement on those competition courses, and replace it there with a requirement for a rear-view mirror. Seventeen states have such laws. Anderson, who used to do competition water skiing - including jumping - when he was younger, said, “When you're in competition, you're trying to generate the smallest wake possible.” The problem with carrying an observer: The extra body adds weight, which increases the boat's wake.

The observer, who raises a flag to warn other boaters when a skier is down in the water, is a must for recreational water skiing, both lawmakers said.; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Local officials wary of legislative raid on sales tax revenue-sharing

The Times-News reports today that local officials are wary of an idea circulating in the Statehouse to help balance the state's budget by grabbing some of the $128.5 million in sales tax revenues that the state sends to cities and counties each year. Though no bill has been written, the paper reports that the idea is “echoing in whispers” at the state Capitol. “When we say everything’s on the table, that’s part of everything,” House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, a member of the House Rev & Tax Committee, told the paper. But he stressed that he would be opposed to such a proposal if the result would mean a shift to higher property taxes. “We’re exploring the possibility at this time,” said Rep. Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly. You can read the full Times-News story here.

A piece of Idaho history accompanies Historical Society’s budget presentation

As Idaho State Historical Society Director Janet Gallimore finished her budget presentation to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee this morning, she unveiled a special exhibit: The original painting of Idaho's state seal, painted by Boise artist Emma Edwards. Edwards' painting won a $100 prize and beat out designs from artists all over the country; it was named Idaho's state seal in 1891, making Edwards the first and only woman to design a state seal. “Our agency is honored to preserve and promote the history of our great state of Idaho,” Gallimore told JFAC. Co-Chair Dean Cameron, told her, “Thank you for sharing some of history with us, and your hard work.” The original artwork also will be displayed in the Senate today, which will hold its annual Abraham Lincoln commemoration.

Egyptian president Mubarak resigns

For those following events in Egypt, here's a link to our latest AP story, which says Hosni Mubarak has  resigned as president and handed control to the military today after 29 years in power, bowing to a historic 18-day wave of pro-democracy demonstrations by hundreds of thousands. “The people ousted the president,” chanted a crowd of tens of thousands outside his presidential palace in Cairo.

Bill would shift most animal neglect complaints from Ag Dept. to local cops

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A southern Idaho legislator wants to ease the duties of Idaho Department of Agriculture investigators now stretched thin due to a deluge of complaints of animal neglect. Republican Jim Patrick of Twin Falls would shift inspections of complaints about companion animals to local law enforcement authorities, while leaving Agriculture Department employees responsible for livestock inspections including working horses, sheep and cattle. Recreational horses would become the purview of local law enforcement agencies. The poor economy has contributed to instances where some animal owners don't have resources to feed or properly care for their animals. That's increased the work for state inspectors, when somebody complains. The bill was introduced Thursday in the House Agricultural Affairs Committee, where Patrick said he didn't expect the shift to unduly burden local law enforcement agencies.

AARP warns of ‘disastrous’ consequences of health care nullification bill

The Idaho AARP is criticizing backers of the health care “nullification” bill for “playing politics with health care,” warning, “The results could be disastrous.” The organization warns that 18,000 Idaho seniors who now fall in to the “doughnut hole” on prescription funding could lose big; 212,000 older Idahoans could lose free preventative health screenings through Medicare; and 857,000 Idahoans could face losing their health coverage by hitting lifetime limits that the national health care reform law would eliminate. Click below to read their full statement.

ExxonMobil clears hurdle in Montana on its plans for 207 megaloads

ExxonMobil's plans to send 207 megaloads across U.S. Highway 12 in north-central Idaho have cleared a significant hurdle in Montana, the Lewiston Tribune reports; no permits have yet been granted in Idaho for those loads. Click below to read the Tribune story from reporter Elaine Williams.
  

Study: Welfare drug tests not cost-effective

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A Department of Health and Welfare study concludes federal regulations forbid Idaho from requiring drug tests for recipients of Medicaid, food stamps and other big welfare programs. For two small programs where testing wouldn't be illegal — child care and temporary cash assistance for families that help 10,500 people — the agency says the cost of the tests, treatment and potential litigation would likely consume prospective savings. Republican lawmakers demanded the study last March, saying their constituents considered it unfair that some Idahoans are drug tested by their employers while those on public assistance are not. Proponents wanted to see if savings from booting offenders from public assistance would pay off. Arizona, Minnesota and Wisconsin have testing programs now, but Michigan's was struck down a decade ago by the courts. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

One thing still growing: Liquor sales

At the Idaho State Liquor Division, “We've experienced growth in spite of the negative economic environment that we've been operating in,” Director Jeff Anderson told legislative budget writers this morning. The division turned over a record $47.2 million in net proceeds to the state in fiscal year 2010; most of that went to the state general fund, cities and counties, with slices going to courts, substance abuse treatment, community colleges and substance abuse treatment. “It's a very stable revenue stream,” Anderson said.

Among the division's proposals for next year, it plans to increase hours at some of the largest stores to as late as 9 p.m. and possibly open on some holidays; this year, it tested opening on New Year's Day and saw some increased profits as a result. The division gets no state general funds, operating entirely on proceeds from liquor sales. Anderson estimated that the proposal to increase hours of operations would generate $1 million in profit. It also plans, under the governor's budget proposal, to turn back to the state general fund on a one-time basis $8 million now held in the division's cash balance. Anderson said a cash balance of that magnitude no longer is needed with current inventory processes, and the move won't impact day-to-day operations.

Thirty of Idaho's 44 counties now permit liquor sales on Sundays. Idaho's per-capita liquor consumption is 1.28 gallons per person, well under the U.S. average of 1.44 gallons and the average in “open” states, where the state doesn't control liquor sales, of 1.49 gallons. Idaho's bottle sales have grown 32 percent over the last five years.

House Dems: Nullification bill ‘flies in the face of legal advice’

House Democrats have issued a response to the health care nullification bill that cleared the House State Affairs Committee today, saying it “flies in the face of legal advice by Idaho's own attorney general,” and it is “nothing more than 'nullifying' the union of the United States.” You can read the full statement here.
  

IEA chief: Ed bills need new transmission, not just oil change

Idaho Education Association President Sherri Wood this evening said of the school reform bills, “It sounds like lawmakers have sent the bills back for an oil change when they really need a new transmission.” Click below for her full statement.

Third day of heavily attended school reform hearings wraps up after three hours

The third straight day of heavily attended school reform hearings has wrapped up at close to 6 p.m. Boise time, after three hours. Of the 69 people who signed up to testify today, only six were in favor of the proposed school reform plan; all those testifying in the final hour are against it. Among them: Meridian high school student Kristen Drake told lawmakers, “Class sizes are already too high. There's no way that we can increase them. … All of my classes are overcrowded. I currently have 42 students in my AP calculus class. Students who are not early to class have to sit on the floor.”

Scott Hill, a charter school principal from Meridian, told the senators, “We know cuts are coming - we're not naive. We just ask to be a part of the solution.” Marilyn Shuler, a former school board member and the former head of the Idaho Human Rights Commission, said the state will pay a “tremendous price” if it diminishes its public schools. “I'm willing to pay more taxes,” she said. Businessman George Harad told the committee, “The proposal is half-baked and in many respects foolish.”

Down to one minute for testimony…

The school reform hearing still is going, and now the time has been reduced to one minute for each person testifying. Everyone testifying is against the Luna school reform plan. Those testifying have included teachers, administrators, business people, parents, students, even a sixth-grader; the tech-savvy youngster said she researched the Luna bills online, asked her teacher and parents questions about them, and decided she's against them.

Testimony: ‘There are lobbyists afoot’

Tony Norris, a small business  owner and father of two from Coeur d'Alene, said he's concerned about the prospect of larger class sizes in his kids' schools. “If my 4th grader, who's 10, came to me and said, 'I'm going to have a birthday party with 35 of my friends,' I don't think even with my wife's help, I would ever say that's a good idea,” he told senators.

Kathryn Primrose, a student from Rupert, told the Senate Education Committee that based on her own experience, “Online classes are difficult, even for those who are self-motivated.”

Ben Peressini, who has two kids at Bryan Elementary School in Coeur d'Alene, said his family bought its home in the school's attendance area specifically to have his kids at a good school - not a fancy one, but a quality one with good teachers. “To undermine the stability of the teachers' working environment is to undermine the stability of my children's learning environment,” he said.

Nephi White, a retired teacher from Priest River, said he opposes the Luna reform plan because “it's too much of a big-business, big-government pan that takes away too much local control.”

Christina Schilling of Boise questioned who benefits from the plan. “I understand that there are lobbyists afoot from computer companies,” she said. She also expressed concern that “things were not made clear during the election process. The cards were placed face-down on the table.”

Meghan Ridley, a special ed teacher from Coeur d'Alene, told the senators, “Right now this proposed reform is more about politics than people.” She said, “The IEA is not a union running amok, rather it is the collective body of educators in this state.” Sen. John Andreason, R-Boise, told her, “In my view, special ed teachers are saints.” Ridley told him that one of her students told her, “'I'd love a laptop, but I'd rather read 25,000 books than lose my teacher.' And this is a  kid that struggles with reading.”

Goedde decides to take more public testimony for rest of today’s hearing

Senate Education Chairman John Goedde said today's hearing has now gone past the allotted time for public testimony, but he thinks the panel should continue to hear it. “Mr. Hancock, I'm guessing that we're not going to get to you today,” he told Jason Hancock, aide to state schools Supt. Tom Luna, who had been scheduled to go over details of the reform bills today after public testimony concluded. Said Goedde, “Let's go for another half-hour, and then we'll talk about shortening the testimony.”

CdA teacher: ‘Stop this ship’

Tim Sandford, a teacher at Lake City High in Coeur d'Alene, said the teacher contracts in his district have worked well for years. “It allows us to teach with integrity, innovate and invest our lives within our communities,” he said. “It's not about protecting bad teachers - it's about protecting good ones.” He added, “I'm a conservative voter, I'm a member of the IEA - they're not mutually exclusive.”

Sandford said, “The negotiation process works when it's done in a collaborative manner. We have fostered that in Coeur d'Alene in the last few years.” He said, “I don't think we should throw out the baby with the bathwater.” He suggested looking at models around the state that are working, and trying those in other districts that are struggling, as a way to achieve reform.

Sandford said it's been recently reported that when the Titanic hit the iceberg, if the captain had stopped the ship, it would've slowed the in-rush of water and allowed everyone on the ship to escape alive. “I'm calling on you to stop this ship, take our time, and bring all stakeholders to the table,” he said.

Testimony: ‘Strong concerns’ re class size

Meridian Schools Supt. Linda Clark told the Senate Education Committee, “We agree with and support many elements of Mr. Luna's plan; we think it is taking us potentially in the direction we should be going. We have long supported performance pay and other elements.” However, she expressed “strong concerns” about how “these very valuable things are being funded.” For her district, she said, the plan in its funding details poses major problems. “We still do not get one teacher for every 18.5 high school students,” she said. “Class size is larger, because the total students must be divided by all of the services that we have to provide.” She said, “Our opposition comes in increasing class sizes to obtain those things.”

Janet Orndorff, a Boise School District board member for two decades, asked the senators to consider removing sections 6, 10 and 11 from SB 1068. “Sections 10 and 11 take away the rightful authority of school trustees,” she said. Section 6 removes the “flooring” funding provision, which Orndorff said “would devastate rural districts. … Teachers know that if they lose their job in October, they will not find any openings at that time of year.” She said she agrees with Lakeland School District business manager Tom Taggart, who suggested to lawmakers yesterday that they hold off on SB 1069, and instead study how best to implement reforms between now and the next legislative session.

Stephanie Archuleta, head of the Caldwell teachers' association, offered testimony against the Luna reform plan in verse, rhymes and all. Kim Farmer, a teacher from Boise, said, “I would support pay for performance if it was based on teacher evaluation,” including evaluations by, among others, seasoned teachers in the same content area. She said teachers get all kinds of students, including homeless students who come to school only for a short time. “We have students that are very bright, but for various reasons do not do well on standardized tests.”

Testimony: Kindergarten, class sizes, tech tools and student success

Robert Mayer told the Senate Education Committee that in his view, any teacher who can't handle 19.8 kids in a classroom, or even 30 or 35, is “in the wrong business.” He added, “I think you ought to … support Steven Thayn's concept to severely limit or defund entirely the kindergarten system.”

Laurie Kiester, a teacher at Parma High School, told the senators, “You've been given piles of research that show increasing class sizes is bad for education. You have been given petitions from students.” She said online classes are not right for all students. “Mr. Luna has touted choice in education, and yet you want to mandate to us the type of education we give our children.”

Sen. Russ Fulcher, responding to a comment from Kiester, said, “If there's others in the group that somehow think that the fix is in and that we already know what vote counts are, for what it's worth Ms. Kiester, I don't know.”

Renee Sinclair of Apple Inc., told the committee, “Technology needs to be treated as a tool, not a curriculum area.” She said the Luna plan does that. “Research suggests that classroom technology initiatives are only as effective as their teachers. It's when teachers use the technology tools to connect students to resources … that students become more engaged.” She added, “One of the things I like best about your legislation is that it provides funding for teacher professional development.”

Kaitlyn Lange, a Meridian high school student who noted that she's not on a class assignment, spoke forcefully against the plan. “If you want students to succeed, put more into the curriculum and increase the standards,” she told the lawmakers.
  

AP teacher: Students say offer advanced computer skills, not required online classes

Steve Mendive, an AP government teacher at Boise High School, told the Senate Education Committee “NCAA rule 2009-64 … states, 'Online courses will not be accepted for Division 1 eligibility in the areas of English, math, science, social studies and foreign languages.' This will hurt many in Idaho who are going to college on an athletic scholarship.” Sen. John Goedde asked him to double-check on that, because he said he'd heard that just applies to college-level classes; Mendive said he'd do so, but said, “I did check with my career counselor at Boise High right before I came over here, confirmed that this was the impression that people are under at the school level. But I will check on it.”

Mendive told the committee, “I polled my students. One hundred percent are planning to graduate with bachelor's degrees.” He said, “I paraphrase their unanimous consent: Don't waste our time with mandatory online classes. If you really want to help us,” he said the students told him, offer advanced computer skills in the classroom starting in junior high. He added, “All of you, I invite you to come to my classrooms at Boise High and discuss these issues with my AP students.”

Shackelford: ‘SB 1068 will cast us back to mid-1960s environment’

Jim Shackelford, the former longtime executive director of the Idaho Education Association, detailed for lawmakers the history of Idaho's collective bargaining law. The first time it was proposed by the IEA in 1966, he said, it was quickly rejected. By the time the Legislature adopted the law in 1971, the state had been through a lot - including “one-day teacher strikes from Wallace to American Falls.” He said, “There was a growing recognition that the key critical public policy question that the Legislature was being asked to decide was, Is there a role for teachers' voices in determining what the teaching and learning conditions, as well as the employment conditions, are in a teacher's professional and personal life? And if so, what should the process look like? I believe that's the issue that you confront in SB 1068 today.”

Shackelford said the collective bargaining process has evolved and works well now in most Idaho school districts, in “a very sophisticated partnership model.” He told the Senate Education Committee, “I fear that the provisions of SB 1068 will cast us back to a mid-1960s environment, and I would encourage you to give that your most special and thoughtful consideration.”
  

Ed Tech Assn: ‘We can develop these concepts’

Paul Anderson of the Idaho Education Technology Association is the first of two stakeholders to testify today; Sen. John Goedde said each of the two will have 5 minutes, rather than the previously scheduled 10 minutes. Anderson told the senators that his association supports the technology portions of the Luna reform plan. “We can develop these concepts into a solid plan that is respectful of taxpayer dollars,” Anderson said. “Many school districts around the state are already contemplating investing in some components of the plan.” He said the three major technology components are the “one-to-one” initiative, providing each high school student a laptop computer; classroom technology; and building wireless.

Today’s school reform hearing starts…

As the school reform hearing starts this afternoon, Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, said he thinks there's enough time to get through everyone who wants to testify today if everyone takes only two minutes. “We're going to go pro and con, and there's a very distinct reason for that,” he said, “because this committee needs to know both sides of the issue.” He noted that few of those signed up to testify are in favor of the Luna reform plan, but said the pro-con alternating shouldn't be an issue today because everyone should get their say.

Making a list, checking it twice…

State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna's spokeswoman, Melissa McGrath, has issued this statement in response to Sen. John Goedde's announcement that Luna's school reform bills will be “reworked” by the committee: “This is the process that every piece of legislation goes through. The committee is still trying to finish up testimony right now and go through each of the bills line by line.  From what I understand, the Senate Education Committee will finish up public testimony this week and put together its list of proposed changes, if any, in the next couple days. The State Department of Education has not seen a list yet.”

Jobs tax credit bill goes to House

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Lawmakers are hoping to boost Idaho's struggling economy by giving businesses more incentives to create new jobs for the next three years. The Idaho Chamber Alliance brought the bill to the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, where lawmakers approved the measure Thursday. The bill now goes to the full House. The legislation would allow an employer to receive a portion of their new employee's income taxes in the form of a 4 percent refundable tax credit of a new employee's gross wage. To receive the credit, companies would have to hire new people earning at least $12 an hour with benefits. The chamber alliance says that the money returned to companies would go into hiring more workers and growing their businesses. The legislation would sunset Dec. 31, 2013.

The nullification debate…

Click below to read a full report from AP reporter John Miller on today's nullification vote in the House State Affairs Committee, which followed two days of public hearings; the bill now is headed for the full House, despite warnings from constitutional scholars that it's illegal and an unfavorable opinion from the Idaho attorney general's office.

Senate committee to ‘rework’ Luna school reform bills

Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, has announced that there won't be a vote at the end of today's committee hearing on SB 1068 and SB 1069, state Supt. Tom Luna's school reform bills, and instead, the bills will be reworked. “There are enough small corrections needed in S1068 and S1069 that they should not be held for a vote in committee as they are currently written,” Goedde said in a press release. Instead, Luna will present new drafts for printing on Monday.

“The Chairman has determined it is appropriate to allow time for Supt. Tom Luna and Jason Hancock to walk the committee through the existing language today, as it will expedite the process in the days following,” Goedde's release said.

Today's hearing, which starts at 3 p.m., will begin with 10 minutes each for two stakeholders, Paul Anderson of the Idaho Education Technology Association and James Shackelford, former executive director of the IEA, after which an hour and 15 minutes will be allotted for public testimony, Goedde announced.

Of long hearings and gavel-banging…

Here's a report from Idaho Statesman reporter Brian Murphy on a tense moment at yesterday's Senate Education Committee hearing, during which Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, banged his gavel so hard that some thought he had broken it. In Murphy's article, Goedde says he doesn't expect a vote at the conclusion of today's hearing on state Supt. of Schools Tom Luna's school reform plan, which stretches into its third day of hearings starting at 3 this afternoon.
  

Nullification bill wins ‘do-pass’ vote, heads to full House

The substitute motion, to send the nullification bill, HB 117, to the full House with no recommendation, failed on a 5-14 vote. The original motion, to send it to the House with a recommendation that it pass, then passed 14-5, though a couple of votes switched; Rep. Jim Guthrie, who made the substitute motion, voted in favor of the original motion, and Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, voted against both.

Among those supporting the original motion: Rep. Erik Simpson, while thanking University of Idaho constitutional scholar David Adler for addressing the committee and saying “I really value his opinion,” referred to a headline in the Christian Science Monitor saying the federal government would push ahead with health care reform despite a Florida judge's ruling. “What do we as states do with a federal government that is defying federal judges' rulings?” Simpson asked. “We must push back, we must.” Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, said he objected to the first version of the nullification bill and helped the sponsors redraft the second version. He called for supporting it to “put the brakes on the implementation of an unconstitutional law.” He said, “We're a plaintiff in that case and we're entitled to take advantage of a favorable ruling.”

Anderson: ‘We are winning’

Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, said the nullification bill's fiscal note is inaccurate, and that violates House rules. It estimates the state would save millions, and includes no estimate of costs for legal defense or loss of federal Medicaid funds. Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, the bill's lead sponsor, responded, “The cost of defending the state's citizens is minimal in comparison to the costs of implementing this plan.”

Anderson said he personally believes the federal health-care law is unconstitutional. “But this is the second round of a three-round fight, in my opinion,” he said. “We already are in the middle of a nullification, and that nullification is going through … the proper channels of the court system. We are appealing. We are winning. … We are winning, folks.”

New motion: Pass with no recommendation

Rep. Jim Guthrie, R-McCammon, has made a motion to send HB 117 to the full House without recommendation. Guthrie said he, like those who have testified for the past two days, is passionate about the issues raised by the bill. But he said he's troubled by several things: Why the state's attorney general wasn't consulted and involved in the legislation, when he'll have to defend it; and what impact it could have on Idaho's Medicaid funding. “Idaho currently gets $1.3 billion a year of Medicaid funding back to the state,” Guthrie said. By passing the bill, Idaho would move from an offensive stance on challenging health care to a defensive stance, he said, as its bill comes up for challenge. He said he wants to “make sure that we're not guilty of passing something as onerous for the citizens of Idaho as the federal legislation has been for citizens of Idaho.”

McGeachin: Medicare, Medicaid a ‘broken system’

Rep. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls, moved to send HB 117, the health care nullification bill, to the full House with a recommendation that it pass. “There is nothing in the federal law that requires the states to implement this federal law,” said McGeachin, chair of the House Health & Welfare Committee. She said she learned about that at a health care conference in Washington, D.C. in November. “Even if our federal courts determine that this law is constitutional,” she said, “there's still nothing in the federal law that requires us as a state to help implement the law.”  The federal government could withhold funds, she said, but without the state's cooperation, it'd have to figure out how to implement the law on its own.

“I want the people in the state of Idaho to be able to receive the health care that they need,” she said. “I'm also interested in reducing the cost of that health care so that more people can receive the health care.” But she said in her view, Medicare and Medicaid today spend too much because of excessive regulation. “We need to be doing more in the state, I recognize that, for our people, and we're having those conversations right now,” McGeachin said. “But this is not the way to go, to expand on this broken system of Medicare and Medicaid. … We need as states … to have the flexibility to solve this problem on our own.”

Sponsors: ‘Not some radical nuts’

Wrapping up after two days of testimony, Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, told the House State Affairs Committee that the federal government has “decided to go full steam ahead despite the court rulings” on health care reform. He said the bill stands up to “what appears to be an oligarchical Washington, D.C. government that needs to be blunted at this time.”

Co-sponsor Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, decried the idea of a non-binding memorial instead of the nullification bill, HB 117. “What a weak statement - it holds no teeth,” he said. He said law professors and historians can disagree. “We're not some radical nuts out in some left-wing field that are off-base,” Pearce said.

Testimony: ‘No one is going to force me to buy anything’

Bruce Nave of Sweet told lawmakers, “I wasn't going to speak until I heard the self-proclaimed scholar,” at which House State Affairs Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, responded, “I don't think he's  self-proclaimed - I think he really is one.” Nave said, “I'm also for seeing the other side of this from a scholarly standpoint.” He said, “We as citizens, we're tired of being lorded over by representatives.” He said. “We aren't kooks. My wife is in a wheelchair. … We've never asked anyone to pay for our health care. We've worked hard all our lives. No one is going to force me to buy anything.”

Acting Rep. Batt questions if UI constitutional scholar is on vacation time

Acting Rep. Gayle Batt, who is substituting this year for Rep. Pat Takasugi, R-Wilder, questioned University of Idaho constitutional scholar David Adler twice as to whether he was representing himself or the university. He said he was representing himself, and would not presume to speak for the university “or any other state agency.” He also said he wasn't advocating for or against the nullification bill, just offering his expertise as a constitutional scholar. Batt then asked Adler if he was here on vacation. He said no, and noted that he's in Boise as part of his duties as head of the McClure Center for the University of Idaho, “so I'm working,” he said.

Constitutional scholar: ‘It would flip the Constitution on its head’

University of Idaho constitutional scholar David Adler, testifying at the health-care nullification hearing, said the bill “from a constitutional standpoint really has some serious flaws.” He said, “It would flip the Constitution on its head.” Adler told lawmakers, “Since the dawn of the Republic, the Supreme Court has consistently held, without exception, that states do not have the authority to declare federal law null and void.”

House State Affairs Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, told Adler it's a “dilemma” to him that a federal judge in Florida has declared the health-care reform law unconstitutional, but the state still is being asked to comply with it. Adler noted that two federal judges have ruled in favor of the bill and two against, and the case is headed for the Supreme Court. “I commend the state for pursuing this matter in the courts,” Adler said. “I think that's entirely the appropriate way to proceed.”

The message that lawmakers want to send with HB 117 could better be addressed with a non-binding legislative memorial, Adler said. “This Legislature can make its point as effectively and as efficiently if it were to engage in the passage of a memorial,” he said. “That would be as effective as passing this bill. Because the state has no authority to nullify federal law, that means that this bill is as weightless as any other exercise of the Legislature which is beyond its constitutional authority.”

Testimony: Nullification issue ‘a political one’

At this morning's health-care nullification hearing in the House State Affairs Committee, testimony so far has included Andrew Theiss, who told the committee, “It is not about health, it is about money, power and control.” He said if Idaho accepts the federal health care reform law, “Then we should stop giving lip service to the Constitution and scrap it.”

Frank Kenny, an Air Force retiree from Meridian, asked “What's next?” Will the government require everyone to purchase a GM electric car by 2015? he asked. “A battalion of lawyers doesn't outrank the people's choice,” Kenny declared.

Pamela Dowd of Boise said her daughter, disabled after a brain injury, needs affordable health coverage, and the bill removes that option for her. “This bill throws out not just the bathwater but all of the disabled with it,” she told the committee.

George Gersema told lawmakers, “We've heard lawyers tell us about the constitutionality of this bill, and we've had much discussion and advice as to what we should do about that, but I don't believe our consideration is a legal one. … I believe strategically, the issue before us is a political one.”

Craig Campbell told the committee, “There are some things that are inherently evil about this.” He said, “We don't need you to defend the union … we need you to defend us.”

AG’s opinion: Nullification bill could opt Idaho out of all federal Medicaid $$

An Idaho attorney general's advisory opinion on HB 117, the health care nullification law, says the bill could have an unforeseen impact: Opting Idaho out of receiving its entire portion of federal Medicaid matching funds. Examining “its effect on existing and future Idaho participation in the Medicaid program,” the opinion says, “As a purely voluntary program, Idaho's refusal to comply with the expanded provisions within the PPACA (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) could potentially result in Idaho exiting the program and losing the existent federal matching funds. This could create a situation where individuals presently covered would no longer be covered, yet still require medical treatment, which likely would be required to be provided for and paid for through some non-federal means.”

“This situation, in turn, could create an intense burden on the State's budget,” the opinion states. “In sum, the Legislature may wish to consider whether its adoption of RS 20315 (now HB 117) has the practical and legal effect of opting Idaho out of Medicaid and its attendant federal funding.” You can read the full opinion here.

Six-hour hearing followed by dramatic vote

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on today's dramatic vote in favor of HB 111, the tribal policing bill, after a six-hour hearing that stretched long into the evening. More than two dozen people testified at the hearing that stretched from 1:30 in the afternoon until 7:30 at night, and most of them traveled from North Idaho to Boise to do it. The bill now moves to the full House with a recommendation that it pass.

Some looooong hearings…

The tribal policing bill hearing, which just ended a few minutes ago, lasted for a whopping six hours, running from 1:30 in the afternoon until 7:30 at night. Meanwhile, the school reform hearing today went into the evening as well, running from 3 p.m. until a bit after 7 p.m., amid some flaring tempers and a whole lot of people testifying. The education hearing continues tomorrow; the tribal policing committee debate is done, and the next stop for that bill is the full House.

Panel passes tribal policing bill, 8-6

The House Judiciary Committee has voted 8-6 to send the tribal policing bill to the full House with a recommendation that it “do pass.” Rep. Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d'Alene, voted with the majority in favor. “It was a safety issue,” she said. “Kootenai County has done a wonderful job.” She said testimony from Kootenai County Sheriff Rocky Watson was particularly convincing.

Chief Allan, chairman of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, said, “I'm excited. … I think this is the right thing to do.”

More testimony on tribal policing bill…

The police chief from the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes testified that his tribe is neutral on the Coeur d'Alenes' tribal policing bill; it wouldn't apply in their situation, he told the House Judiciary Committee.

Phil Lampert, a lifelong Benewah County resident, testified against the bill, saying, “This is a want, not a need. … We have two separate governments there in Benewah County.” He said, “Having state police authority given to the Coeur d'Alene Tribe will not necessarily stop crime on the reservation.” Lampert said he has “no problem with the Coeur d'Alene Tribe's police department.” But, he said. “We do feel that separate but respectful relations at this point in time probably will work best for us.”

Shoshone County Commissioner Jon Cantamessa said things worked well for years. “What's changed?” he asked. “I believe it is the increased wealth of the tribe and their increased aggressiveness.” He said, “I would ask you today to reject this bill and return the negotiation where it belongs, at the local level, where all citizens' concerns can be protected.”

Kootenai County Commissioner Todd Tondee said, “This is just a simple issue that is muddied up with all these other issues being brought forward. This is only to allow the tribe to endorse state law. It doesn't say anything about tribal law.” He said, “I am in favor of this. … State violations will only be cited in state court, they will not go to tribal court.” Tondee said, “This is a local issue, but it's a local issue that's not being handled locally, and it's a public safety issue.”

‘Trying to get this wrapped up today’

The House Judiciary Committee is taking a 10-minute break; it's been meeting since 1:30 on the tribal policing bill. “The hour is late, and we do still have four people signed up to testify,” as well as the concluding statements, said Chairman Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, but a break is in order. “Because these people have traveled so far, we are not going to make anyone come back another time. We're trying to get this wrapped up today.”

Harwood on tribal policing: ‘A local matter’

Rep. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, testified against the tribal policing bill. “There's no accountability,” he told the House Judiciary Committee. “You don't have an elected official that's going to be over this. It diminishes the state law, and what it does is it violates your civil liberties as a non-tribal member.” Harwood said, “This is a local matter. I think we can get it resolved - maybe not right away, maybe later.” He added, “There's a real active distrust on both sides.”

Harwood said, “They're saying that you have to buy a tribal hunting license to hunt on your own private property. … Folks, this to me, this is kinda like the health care bill, I think. You've got the American public screaming and saying don't do this, don't do this, and it seems to me we're bent to shove this down Benewah County's throat. This is a local matter, I think it should be presented and handled in a local matter.”

Skier dies at Sun Valley after hitting tree

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  KETCHUM, Idaho (AP) — Officials with the Sun Valley Resort in central Idaho say a male skier has died after colliding with a tree. Resort spokesman Jack Sibbach tells the Idaho Mountain Express that the ski patrol responded to a report of an “unconscious and unresponsive” male skier on an intermediate ski run on Bald Mountain just after 11 a.m. Wednesday. The skier could not be revived and was pronounced dead by the Blaine County coroner at 11:19 a.m. Sibbach said the resort could not release the identity of the victim, who was in ski area boundaries. He says the resort management and staff extends their sympathies to the family. The death is still under investigation. A skier died in an avalanche on Bald Mountain in January 2010.

A day of public input - huge outpouring to lawmakers on three issues

Today is really seeing an amazing outpouring of citizen input to Idaho's Legislature. This morning, more than 200 people flocked to a public hearing on health care nullification; after nearly four hours of testimony, that hearing was continued to tomorrow morning. This afternoon, hundreds have gathered for the second day of public testimony on a sweeping public school reform plan; that hearing, which started at 3 p.m., still is going on; more than 130 people signed up to testify, with opponents of the plan outnumbering backers by nearly five to one. That hearing also is scheduled to continue tomorrow. And in the House Judiciary Committee, a large crowd, including numerous people who traveled from North Idaho to Boise to testify, is giving input to lawmakers on proposed tribal policing legislation; this hearing started at 1:30, and more than five hours later, it, too, is still going.

Tribal policing hearing: ‘Serious issues’

Mike Kane, lobbyist for the Idaho Sheriffs Association, has proposed two amendments to the tribal policing bill. One would place everything under the purview of the local sheriff and prosecutor. The other would revoke POST certification of any tribal officer who cited a non-tribal member into tribal court. Lawmakers had lots of questions about the amendments, and Coeur d'Alene Tribe lobbyist Bill Roden said earlier that Kane made proposals that were unacceptable to the tribe, including “that no Indian officer could ever have anything to do with a non-Indian person, and I frankly resent that statement.”

Christina Crawford, former Benewah County commissioner, told the House Judiciary Committee, “There are serious issues in terms of response time that are not a criticism of the sheriff. It's a question of the logistics of the district.”

Dan Dinning, Boundary County commissioner, said his county has a “wonderful” relationship with the Kootenai Tribe, but said he was worried that the bill might “trump” existing agreements that counties and tribes might have. He said, “This is a local issue.”

Testimony on both sides on tribal policing bill

Clearwater County Sheriff Chris Goetz testified against the tribal policing bill, saying, “We currently enjoy a very good working relationship with the Nez Perce Tribe and the Nez Perce Tribal Police.” He said, however, that some in his county have contacted him to oppose the bill. “When we work together, I feel we get the best results,” Goetz told the House Judiciary Committee.

Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee Chairman McCoy Oatman testified in favor of the bill. “We believe that the legislation will help address some of the complex jurisdictional problems that constantly arise on tribal reservations,” he told the committee. “This bill provides a framework to allow the broadest protection possible.” Oatman said he's concerned that “many criminals that are non-tribal members feel that the reservation is a safe haven … because our tribal officers aren't able to cite non-tribal members.”

Chief Allan: Crimes on reservations are treated as federal offenses

Chief Allan, chairman of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, told the House Judiciary Committee that respect for the law is what the tribe wants to promote. In reference to earlier comments from Benewah County Prosecutor Doug Payne that crimes like arson and burglary are just civil offenses under tribal code, Allan said on the reservation, “Once you commit a crime, it's a federal offense - arson, burglary.” He said, “I'll give you an example.” His brother, he said, “just out of high school, did something stupid - broke into the tribal store and stole a case of beer. He was prosecuted under federal law,” under which he'd committed a felony. “He went to prison for stealing a case of beer, because it happened on the reservation.”

Kootenai sheriff: ‘A good working relationship’

Kootenai County Sheriff Rocky Watson told the House Judiciary Committee, “We have a good working relationship with the Coeur d'Alene Tribe. It's been going on for 10 years now.” Tribal officers go through the same training his his deputies, Watson said. They also now coordinate records and warrants. Watson said the result for the portion of the Coeur d'Alene Reservation within Kootenai County is “better service for public safety.” When a call comes in, people don't know what color uniform the responding officers will be wearing, Watson said - but they know they'll get the closest one.

Questioned by lawmakers about how things work, Watson said, “What we do now under the agreement, is all non-tribal members are cited into district court and go into our system. All tribal members are cited into tribal court and go into their system, but they're transported in the same police car and go to the same jail.” He said he has “full confidence” in his working agreement with the Coeur d'Alenes.

Benewah prosecutor: Real problem is tribe’s civil regulations

Doug Payne, Benewah County prosector, told the House Judiciary Committee that in his view, his county didn't renege on the deal with the tribe last spring after the Legislature ended. “That was not what occurred in this case,” he said. “I thought the deal was workable.” But he said the county wasn't willing to accept the tribe enforcing its civil jurisdiction over things like boating speeds, hunting and fishing on tribal lands, and so forth, through citations. The pending bill doesn't address that; it deals with criminal law enforcement only. “Non-tribal members should not be subjected to citation into tribal court period,” Payne told the lawmakers.

He said, “The concern here is that the tribe will continue to pass laws without a vote of the people being governed about all sorts of things, especially natural resources use, land, planning and zoning, any number of … subject matter, and then begin to impose them on non-tribal citizens by the use of citations.”

“It worked better, frankly, and my job was easier when tribal and county officers cooperated,” Payne said. “We need to resolve this issue so we can start getting along again like we did in the old days, and stop this constant infighting. But something has to be done between the parties. It's not something that can be dealt with elsewhere.”

Asked by lawmakers if what he's advocating would be “somehow taking away their right to have some governance over their lands,” Payne said it's a tough problem, to allow tribes to have self-determination “without subverting representative government.” He said he doesn't dispute that tribes have civil jurisdiction on reservations. But he doesn't want any citations to enforce it. “The tribe can always sue” instead, he said.

Rep. Bill Killen, D-Boise, an attorney, asked Payne, “What I'm hearing is a whole lot about tribal code and tribal court, none of which is in this bill. Are these code words for something we don't understand down here, or what?” Payne responded, “The law can be a very subtle thing.” He said he thinks the tribe will “use all available means to impose its will on non-tribal members.”

Taggart: ‘We know it’s not going to be good’

Lakeland School District business manager Tom Taggart was first off to testify to the Senate Education Committee at its school reform hearing this afternoon, which is again packed and filling overflow rooms. Taggart, speaking on behalf of the Idaho Association of School Business Officials, said his association is split on the different aspects of the school-reform plan, “like any other organization.” Many support SB 1068, the labor conditions bill, except for the “flooring” change in school district funding, he said. But they have deep concerns about SB 1069, the reform bill. “Our members are on the ground,” Taggart said. “We like things that work.”

He suggested holding SB 1069 until next year, and putting together a study committee, with all stakeholders involved, to look into the concepts. “Keep reform moving foward,” Taggart said. The result could be considered by next year's Legislature, he said.

And then, because lawmakers keep asking what the alternative is for next year's budget, Taggart presented an alternative. He said lawmakers should choose the amount they want to cut, then cut proportionally, on a one-time basis, from the three big areas within the school budget: Salaries, state-paid employee benefits, and discretionary funding to school districts. “Don't change the formula, don't change the divisors, don't do any of that,” Taggart said. Then, he said, the state should suspend all “use it or lose it” rules on state funding to school districts, to let local districts decide how best to cope with the cuts for next year. “Basically make the cuts and get out of the way,” Taggart said.

Taggart said the sweeping reform plan is not the only way to cope with next year's school budget. “There's other solutions to get through a year,” he said. “We all know it's not going to be good, no matter what.”

Benewah Sheriff Kirts: ‘Bottom line is rights’

Benewah County Sheriff Robert Kirts just told the House Judiciary Committee, “The bottom line of this issue is Idaho citizens' rights. Are you willing to sign away these rights guaranteed by the state Constitution?” He expressed concerns about existing tribal laws, and said county officers should be able to arrest tribal members and cite them into state court, an issue that's not addressed in the bill. Rep. Bill Killen, D-Boise, asked him what he thinks of the bill, HB 111.

“It adds to the problem,” Kirts responded. “First of all you have a bunch of citizens who do not wish to concur with the tribal court. … If you want to do something, make it reciprocal. If you want to arrest non-tribal members, let us arrest tribal members and cite 'em into state court.”

Asked what happened to last year's supposed agreement, Kirts told the lawmakers, “Last year both of us agreed in principle.” He said his “only issue” is he doesn't want non-Indians cited into tribal court. “I still think that we're having a misunderstanding about who goes where,” responded Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum. “I think I heard today we were using the state courts.”

Kirts said he doesn't object to all tribal authority. “I do agree that if you're on tribal land you need a tribal hunting license, I don't have a problem with that,” he said. “The only part that we disagree on is on like criminal charges or traffic charges of a non-tribal member should go to state court.” He said, “If they agree to cite non-tribal members into state court on any law, I'll deputize 'em tomorrow.” The bill, however, covers only citations for crimes - not “any law,” such as zoning regulations or other civil matters.

A committee member read from the bill where it says non-tribal members would be cited only into state court, and asked Kirts, “Are you saying there's some loophole there?”  Kirts read from a tribal code that says the “tribe may pursue civil remedies.” He said, “They can call it anything they want.”

What the tribal policing bill does…

Bill Roden, lobbyist for the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, is detailing the differences between the current tribal policing bill, HB 111, and the earlier version from this session, HB 33. There are a couple of changes suggested by the Idaho Sheriff's Association and a few clarifying tweaks. The tribe last year dropped its legislation, then HB 500, when ,just as lawmakers were getting ready to pass it, Benewah County agreed to a cross-deputization agreement. Then, after the legislative session ended, the county backed out of the agreement. House Judiciary Chairman Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, traveled to Benewah County in December to try to broker a deal, and an agreement again was reached - and again the county backed out. The new bill, like HB 33, wouldn't require the county to be involved; tribal police officers could function as police officers under state law if they had all the required training and insurance and cite all non-tribal criminal offenders into state court, not tribal court.

Rep. Mack Shirley asked Roden whether he has an attorney general's opinion on the new bill. Roden responded that he can't request one - only a lawmaker or state official can - but that an opinion on the tribe's legislation last year found it fully constitutional. House Judiciary Chairman Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, confirmed that and said he requested the opinion last year, and will make it available to the committee.

CdA Tribe: Federal option ‘doable’ but ‘last resort’

Rep. Leon Smith, R-Twin Falls, asked what the down side would be to making federal marshals out of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe's law enforcement officers on its reservation. “We already send our officers to the Idaho POST academy,” tribal legislative director Helo Hancock responded. He said the tribe views the federal option as a “last result,” but it is “doable in the event we don't have another option.” However, the tribe already has POST-trained officers enforcing state laws in the Kootenai County portion of its reservation, and would prefer to follow the same approach throughout the reservation.

Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, asked if under the federal approach, violators would have to go to federal court, and Hancock said yes.

‘Trying to navigate jurisdictionally’

“What we are trying to address today is a problem with law enforcement and crime on Indian reservations,” Helo Hancock, legislative director for the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, told the House Judiciary Committee as the hearing on the tribal policing legislation opens. “The complications that exist on Indian reservations are largely the result of federal law,” which, he said, are “laws that no one can change, but we're all left trying to navigate jurisdictionally.”

According to U.S. Supreme Court decisions, Hancock said, tribes have civil and criminal jurisdiction on their reservations. However, they don't have criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians on the reservation, “even when a crime has been committed against a member of an Indian tribe.” Tribal police do have authority to detain non-Indians for violations of state or federal law, he said. But, he said, “We have this problem where there's a gap in jurisdiction over the enforcement of the criminal laws on an Indian reservation. It's a unique situation, that I think makes police, law enforcement on the Indian reservation extremely inefficient and allows for some criminals to escape justice.”

That gap, Hancock said, can be addressed with a cross-deputization agreement, such as the one in place between the Coeur d'Alene Tribe and Kootenai County. But the Benewah County sheriff terminated a similar agreement there in 2007. “Another solution is state law,” Hancock said, like what the tribe is proposing. And, he said, yet another solution is a “federal remedy,” which is authorized by federal law - tribal officers can be federally deputized, and essentially make state law violations onto the reservation into federal laws. Hancock said the Coeur d'Alenes prefer cross-deputization, but if they can't have that, they prefer a state law approach to bringing in the feds.

Today’s nullification hearing…

Click below to read a full article on today's nullification bill hearing from AP reporter John Miller. He reports that more than 200 people crowded into the Idaho Capitol today for a hearing on a bill to void President Obama's health care overhaul, an effort that invokes the spirit of a 200-year-old state's rights doctrine championed by federal government foes but found unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Crowds in both wings of the Statehouse…

A large crowd already is gathering for the 3 p.m. Senate Education Committee hearing that will continue testimony on the Luna school reform plan; it will take place again in the Capitol Auditorium. Meanwhile, there's a packed room for the House Judiciary Committee meeting today, at which HB 111, regarding tribal police, is up for a hearing.

Senate pauses to remember Susan Bennion

The Senate paused today to remember and honor Susan Bennion, a longtime key legislative staffer who was employed by the legislative branch from 1968 to 2005. Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, said Bennion, a noted redistricting expert, was “one of those people, those quiet people, who has left a lasting legacy on the state of Idaho.” Today would have been her 66th birthday, Davis said; she died recently of cancer. Sen. Denton Darrington, R-Declo, called Bennion “a master of the English language,” and said her skills as a grammarian served the Legislature well. Said Sen. John Andreason, R-Boise. said, “She was one of the most talented people I've ever worked with. … We'll miss her.”

“She wrote over 10,000 pieces of legislation,” Davis said. “And we as a state have been blessed by her kind and gracious nature, spirit and service. And so today we wanted, on the floor of the Idaho State Senate, to recognize and remember her.” Bennion is survived by her husband David, two children and a grandchild.