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Eye On Boise

Archive for March 2011

House wraps up by passing Dem-sponsored bill

After the dust-up over the reading of the sex offender bill, the next bill up in the House was one sponsored by House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston. SB 1100 makes technical changes to child immunization laws; it earlier passed the Senate on a unanimous vote. When Rusche asked for unanimous consent to waive the full reading of SB 1100, Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, who was presiding over the House, drew a laugh when he said, “That's kind of awkward.” It was granted, though, and the bill passed, though there were plenty of “no” votes. The House then adjourned for the day; it'll be back in session at 8:30 a.m. tomorrow. Click below for an entertaining look from AP reporter John Miller at the events and antics of the day.

Reading cut off after lawmakers offended

Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, objected to the full reading of the sex offender registration bill, saying its language was offensive - it included wording about crimes of a sexual nature. “Having the clerk have to get up and read that, that's ridiculous,” Wood said. “I think it's cruel to her to make her read that, and it's certainly not something we want to go out on TV.” Wood added, “It's bad enough we have to deal with it in committee. Everybody doesn't have to have their nose rubbed in it.”

The reading continued, but then Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, rose and said he thought the full reading of this particular bill was “inappropriate,” and asked unanimous consent to waive further reading of the bill. This time, Democrats didn't object. The bill was then presented by its sponsor, Rep. Julie Ellsworth, R-Boise, and quickly passed on a unanimous vote.

Senate adjourns for the day; House launches into lengthy bill-reading

The Senate has adjourned for the day, and indicated it won't be working this weekend; meanwhile, the House has taken up SB 1154a, the “Sexual Offender Registration Notification and Community Right-to-Know Act.” Democrats objected to waiving the full reading the bill, and the full text is now being read - it's 28 pages long. It could be a while.

Liquor Division budget passes on 38-30 vote

The budget bill for the state Liquor Division drew plenty of opposition when it cleared the House just now, passing on a 38-30 vote, after much talk about how the division plans to keep some stores in busy areas open for later hours. The bill, SB 1182, earlier passed the Senate on a 27-8 vote; it now goes to the governor's desk.

Higher ed budget approved after much debate, opposition; lowest level since 2000

The House has voted 47-21 in favor of SB 1181, the budget for Idaho's state colleges and universities, after much debate. The budget bill, which earlier passed the Senate, now moves to the governor's desk; it sets state funding for the state's colleges and universities at its lowest level since 2000.

Several representatives objected to the budget as too low, while others objected that it didn't reflect percentage cuts as deep as those in the community colleges budget that the House approved this morning. That's largely due to additional dedicated funds built into the university budget from increased student tuition and fees. Rep. Tom Trail, R-Moscow, told the House, “We've really not met the challenge to adequately fund higher education.”

Bill: Tips are for services, not goods

Senators have voted unanimously in favor of HB 213, legislation co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of senators and representatives from throughout the state, to clarify - retroactively to Jan. 1 - that a tip is not part of the sales price for a restaurant meal. The issue came up when the state Tax Commission suggested otherwise to an Idaho restaurant, suggesting it owed thousands in back sales taxes. The bill says, “The gratuity or tip can be either voluntary or mandatory, but must be given for the service provided and as a supplement to the service provider's income.” The bill's statement of purpose says it's designed to be clear that services aren't subject to the sales tax; it earlier passed the House unanimously, and now goes to the governor's desk.

The Senate also voted unanimously in favor of HB 163, to ban the use of restraints on pregnant prisoners while they're giving birth; backers said that's not the practice in Idaho's prisons now, but no one wants it to become the practice. That bill, too, now heads to the governor.

What a contrast…

It could not be more gorgeous outside - it's 66 degrees in Boise, sunny, with light wind. Yet political storms still are raging inside the state Capitol, where it appears that lawmakers still will be in session all next week. Step outside, and it's really, really difficult to come back in…

‘Sticking it to the disabled kids’

The House has moved slowly through its business today, with Democrats refusing to agree to waive full reading of the text of several bills, though they allowed appropriations bills to be debated without full reading. The Dems still are holding out for hearings on a cigarette tax increase and an advisory vote on school reform; Republican leaders haven't budged. “The message that we have is that people should be heard, and we'll do what we can to make it happen,” said House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston. “What we have done is we've made legislators uncomfortable, and that isn't necessarily a bad thing.”

However, Rusche had harsh words for a GOP retaliation move last night, in which Republicans killed SB 1080a, a measure aimed at helping children with special needs get access to early intervention services, because it was being sponsored in the House by a Democratic lawmaker, Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise. “That's petty, vindictive - this is bullying,” Rusche said. “It was an important piece of legislation that people worked really hard on for a long time.” He called the move “Republicans … sticking it to the disabled kids of Idaho because they aren't getting their way on everything.”

Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, the Senate sponsor of SB 1080a, said he was “disappointed” at the move. “It's a $20,000 budget,” he said. The early childhood coordinating council will survive, even without the bill, he said; it's operated until now under a governor's executive order. But Corder said, “It bothers me that occurred. It bothers me that we do things like that in the first place, that government can't simply function the way it's supposed to.”

Senate panel votes to amend guv’s job tax credit bill

The Senate Local Government & Taxation Committee has voted unanimously to send HB 297, the governor's “Hire One Act” job tax credit bill, to the Senate's 14th Order for amendment. Committee members pointed out some technical issues with the bill's wording that they said need correcting.

Bill to cut state funding for driver’s ed draws fire from AAA of Idaho

The AAA of Idaho is decrying HB 314, which it describes as “last-minute legislation introduced just last Friday,” that the motorists' group says would “double the cost for the ten thousand families who opt to send their teens to driver training through public schools.” The bill emerged from the House Education Committee this morning on a 14-3 vote and headed for consideration in the full House; it's sponsored by Rep. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett. You can read the AAA's full statement here.

Senators have lots of questions about governor’s ‘Hire One Act’

Gov. Butch Otter's “Hire One Act,” creating a new jobs tax credit bill, is up for a hearing this afternoon in the Senate Local Government & Taxation Committee, and so far the senators, who killed an earlier job tax credit bill proposed by the Idaho Chamber Alliance, have had lots of sharp questions for state Labor Director Roger Madsen about how the bill would work, what it means, its costs, and its wording.  The credit is for jobs that include health benefits; Madsen was asked how many small employers offer benefits now, and he said the number is declining. But, he said, “I think this may incentivize them to reconsider.”

Senators questioned how the bill's various mechanisms would work; for example, county unemployment rates may not be available at the time that the hire is made, and that's part of the criteria for determining which jobs qualify for the credit.

Otter: ‘Virgil has some big shoes to fill’

Gov. Butch Otter has issued this statement on today's appointment of Virgil Moore as Idaho's new Fish & Game director, replacing the retiring Cal Groen:

“I want to thank Cal Groen for the outstanding job he did as director of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game over the past four years. He set a high standard within the department for collaborating with a broad base of stakeholders on fish and wildlife resource issues and their impacts on Idaho’s economy. Virgil has some big shoes to fill. But given his long experience at the department, I believe he can ably handle these new responsibilities. I look forward to working with him.”

Wind energy compromise bill passes House on 41-25 vote

HB 337, the compromise wind energy rebate extension bill, has passed the House on a 41-25 vote, after a debate that stretched through and past the noon hour. The measure now moves to the Senate for consideration. The bill extends the current renewable energy rebate through Dec. 31, 2014, provided that if it's for wind or solar, the company will have to have obtained a power purchase agreement with a utility by Oct. 31, 2011. Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, said, “This is an issue of fairness.” Wind developers started projects in Idaho based on the existence of the tax rebate, he said, but that process was interrupted as a result of action by the Idaho PUC. “This legislation solves that by giving them just a four-month extension on the ability to consummate those contracts. If they don't have those contracts in place by October, they have in fact lost their rebate, and I think it's only fair that we give them that opportunity.”

The House then recessed until 4 p.m.

Renewable energy debate: ‘Our future’

Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, debating in favor of the renewable energy rebate bill, told the House, “This is going to be our future. … Good policy is going to be very important to address.” He noted that he co-sponsored legislation several years ago to encourage renewable energy development on state endowment lands, and said, “We actually have wind development right now under construction on endowment lands. … We are making some progress. … The more we develop on those endowment lands, the less tax we have to pay, because those monies are dedicated to the schools.” Anderson said,  “I will be supporting this bill. I'm not saying it's perfect. … I think this is something that we need to do.”

Rep. Brian Cronin, D-Boise, said the Legislature picks “winners and losers” all the time through tax policy. “This bill has been done well, it's been done with many of the stakeholders at the table, it's been a collaborative process.”

Rep. Erik Simpson, R-Idaho Falls, said, “They're multi-billion dollar corporations, ladies and gentlemen, that have found a way to game the system under PURPA. … Yes, the wind developers create jobs and make investments in our state, but look who pays for those jobs, it's you. You're paying it through your state taxes and through your federal taxes.”

Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, said, “The issue is the competition that we have with other states.”

Eskridge: ‘Wind is free’

Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, responding to questions from Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, told the House, “Wind is a benefit to the ratepayer, because it costs less.” Fuel costs are nil, he said, compared to utilties' current “resource of preference,” natural gas, because “wind is free.” He said, “I don't think an increase in wind is going to increase our rates. In fact, I think it'll help keep our rates down.”

Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, said, “Base load is what we really ought to be after, not intermittent.” He said, “When are we willing to say we are not gonna subsidize it with taxpayers' dollars and let the free market dictate what we need? I will be voting against it.” Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, said, “We are talking about getting an industry started. We're still in the process of doing that.”

Rep. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, said, “There are aspects in here I would support. … This is a tough decision.” He said, “I think that the Legislature does have to take action in this arena on the tax policy and on the energy policy, and on the siting issue … however, I'm not able to support it as presented in this package.”

Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, said, “What I've been really interested in is the creation of green jobs. I think as a Legislature have an obligation to try and create jobs for those 74,000 that are unemployed. … I'll be supporting this legislation. I think this has been a lot of hard work here.”


  

House debating wind energy bill…

The House is now debating HB 337, the wind energy rebate bill. First, the four-page bill was read in full; now it's being vigorously debated. The bill extends the current renewable energy rebate through Dec. 31, 2014, provided that if it's for wind or solar, the company will have to have obtained a power purchase agreement with a utility by Oct. 31, 2011.

Rep. Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said Idaho will need to address questions about siting of wind power turbine plants, just as it has confined-animal feeding operations.

Meanwhile, the Senate broke for lunch and committee hearings and will reconvene at 3 p.m. Before senators wrapped up, bills they passed included the appropriation bills for public health districts and the Office of Drug Policy and HB 205a, the amended bill regarding Internet filtering requirements at Idaho libraries.
  

‘The spat that’s become the Idaho House’

“In the spat that's become the Idaho House, Democrats and Republicans are still going at each other in a style that befits siblings in the family car's backseat,” the AP reports today. “Thursday morning's hearing in the chamber's State Affairs Committee was another good example. Democratic Rep. Phylis King of Boise was pushing a resolution to promote adoption as a state policy. When her party mate Rep. Elfreda Higgins of Boise moved to send the measure to the House floor, however, Republicans refused — though most GOP lawmakers support promoting alternatives to possible abortions. The bad blood continues because Democrats are forcing bills on the House floor to be read, a delay tactic meant to pressure dominant GOP lawmakers into holding a hearing on a cigarette tax hike. So far, nobody is giving ground.”

Video francise bill fails - again

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Public-access TV proponents were the mouse that roared Thursday in the House State Affairs Committee, where they helped scuttle a bill aimed at revamping how video franchises are handed out in Idaho. Telecom giant Qwest Communications has all session sought to convince lawmakers to allow it to get a franchise for new video services through the state, instead of from local governments. As more states shift oversight of cable TV to state government, much of Qwest's territory hasn't followed suit — to the Denver-based company's chagrin. Qwest had Department of Labor director Roger Madsen in its corner, calling this a competition-boosting “jobs bill.” But southwestern Idaho-based Treasure Valley Community Television argued these corporate-driven changes would likely doom it to obscure, difficult-to-find channels “down in the 400s,” chasing off their viewers.

Right-to-farm expansion heads to governor

The Senate has voted 32-2 in favor of HB 210, the right-to-farm law expansion; the bill now goes to the governor's desk. Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, who voted in favor of the bill, said, “What comes to me is something that we all seem to be missing, and that is something I've seen in other states, and that's an urban growth boundary. That means when you leave a city, you leave the city, you enter the farmland, you enter the wilds. … Instead we've created a checkerboard of farms that have been sold out for development and we create these conflicts.” LeFavour said Idaho needs to “do something to address this issue in the long run.”

Hammond: ‘You just need to live with it’

Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d'Alene, debating in favor of HB 210, the right-to-farm expansion, recalled the field-burning smoke issue on the Rathdrum Prairie. “In fact, the same folks who were fussing about the smoke didn't realize the irony of getting rid of that smoke and getting rid of the agriculture actually resulted in more pollution,” when that land instead was developed, he said. “We don't grow crops any more, we just grow houses,” he said. “We have not the right to move in next to an agriculture operation and then complain of noise or smoke or dust. You want to live out in the country, it's a different lifestyle, you just need to live with it. But you have no right to take away somebody's way of life and the way that they make their living because you find it a nuisance.”

Community college budget cut called ‘dagger in heart’ of job creation

SB 1180, the budget for Idaho's community colleges for next year, which includes a cut of more 5.6 percent in total funds and no funding to cover enrollment growth, has passed the House on a 53-14 vote, but not without objections. Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, said, “What we're doing is disinvesting. … Priorities matter, hard choices have to be made, and this is our future we're talking about. This is about whether Idaho will have the workforce that it needs to attract the jobs that will be critical in the future. The business of this Legislature and this government I believe is to create jobs. That should be our No. 1 priority, and I think this is a dagger in the heart of that effort.”

Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Bonneville, the bill's House sponsor, responded, “This is a good budget that balances, the budget has been balanced and therefore I ask for your green light.” All of the House's Democrats voted against the bill; they were joined by Rep. Tom Trail, R-Moscow. Having already passed the Senate, the budget bill now moves to the governor's desk.

Virgil Moore named new F&G director

Virgil Moore, the current deputy director for field operations ad the Idaho Fish & Game Department, has been named the department's new director. Moore, 59, will replace Cal Groen, who is retiring. Click below to read an announcement from Fish & Game.
  

Senate debating ‘Right to Farm’ expansion

The Senate is debating HB 210, the expansion of Idaho's “Right to Farm” law to protect expansions of ag operations from nuisance claims or local ordinances declaring them nuisances “There really is no one in agriculture, no one, who wants to be found to be a bad actor,” said Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home. “No one wants to be a bad neighbor.” He said the measure won't protect anyone who violates laws. “An expansion cannot be denied purely on the basis of being a nuisance,” Corder told the Senate. “It could be denied on the basis of water quality, it could be denied on the basis of size, it would be denied on a number of other bases. Nothing will change that prospect.”

More bill-reading on tap in House today…

Full reading of the text of bills is likely to continue in the House today. House Speaker Lawerence Denney said he talked with Minority Leader John Rusche this morning, and, “We'll agree to disagree, I guess.” He said, “I suspect that those that have any length to 'em, we'll read.”

Rusche said his discussion with his counterparts in the majority was “very collegial.” He said, “But their position is they don't have to, so they won't.” Democrats want hearings on two bills: A $1.25  increase in Idaho's 57-cent-per-pack cigarette tax, and a measure calling for an advisory vote of the people on this year's sweeping school reforms.

Rusche noted that new bills were being introduced in committees this morning. “So it's really just a question of power - that's really all it is. We believe that the people's voice should be heard, and they're saying, 'You can't make us do that.'”

Republicans kill bill co-sponsored by Democrat after full reading

The House has voted 52-15 to kill SB 1080a, on early childhood and early intervention; only the House's 13 Democrats and two Republicans, Reps. Nesset and Trail, voted in favor of the bill. There was no debate; the vote appeared to be in retaliation for Democrats' forcing full reading of bills - including this one, which stretched for 14 pages and had earlier passed the Senate on a 27-8 vote. A noticeably upset Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, the House sponsor of SB 1080a, then voted “no” on the motion to adjourn for the night; she co-sponsored the bill with GOP Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home.

Emissions bill passes House

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Drivers who fall out of compliance with auto emission testing rules could get their vehicle registrations reinstated at no cost, under legislation advancing in the 2011 session. The Idaho House voted 57-10 on Wednesday to approve the measure, sending it to the Senate. The legislation is sponsored by lawmakers from Canyon County, where local government leaders have resisted emissions testing for several years and branded the mandatory requirement a government overreach. Republican Rep. Brent Crane of Nampa says the registrations of more than 7,000 drivers have been yanked over non-compliance with emissions testing, including an Idaho serviceman who was deployed overseas at the time. Under Crane's bill, drivers who bring their vehicles back into compliance with the emissions standards could have their registrations reinstated at no charge.

The slowdown showdown…

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on how action in the Idaho House slowed to a near-standstill today, as House Democrats made good on the threat they issued a day earlier to use whatever means they have available to stall the session in protest until majority Republicans allow hearings on two bills. The Democrats want hearings on a proposed $1.25 increase in Idaho's 57-cent-per-pack cigarette tax, a proposal that's been hanging since before the session started but never has been introduced; and a measure calling for an advisory vote of the people on state schools Superintendent Tom Luna's controversial school reform package.

House GOP leaders said they hoped to get through the remaining House bills on their 2nd and 3rd reading calendars today; they've done that, and are now taking up a Senate bill, SB 1080a, on early childhood and early intervention service; it's 14 pages long, and is being read in full.

Dems didn’t force full reading on appropriations bills today

So far today, House Democrats have forced the full reading of numerous bills in the House chamber, but not of a few appropriations bills that came up. Asked why, Minority Leader John Rusche said in an email, “It might be deemed cruel to have the clerk try to read those columns and charts.  We thought we could get nearly the same effect reading the bills.” He said that decision might change if it comes to the biggest budgets - those for public schools and Medicaid. “But it appears that they are unwilling to yield to questions on those bills that are read,” he said. “We can have legitimate questions that need to be answered in order for us to have a good vote.”

Among the bills that were read in full and then passed this evening were HB 328, on public records, which passed on a unanimous 67-0 vote; and HB 231a, on hunting and aircraft use, which passed on a unanimous 64-0 vote.

New version of Insurance Dept. budget passes House on 53-15 vote

The House has approved a new budget bill for the state Department of Insurance, HB 324, without $2.5 million in federal grants for a state health insurance exchange that aroused the ire of some House members and caused the original, Senate-passed budget bill to be pulled from the House floor and sent back to JFAC. The new version, which instead spends $500,000 in state funds to plan for setting up an exchange, passed on a 53-15 vote, with opponents including Rep. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries; it now move to the Senate.

Senate passes primary election bill on party-line vote

SB 1198, the primary election bill, has passed the Senate on a 28-7, party-line vote. “This hasn't been an easy year,” Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, told the Senate. There have been “Republican against Republican” disputes, he said. “Some feelings have been hurt. Some have felt abandoned. … Where we've been torn apart, we must come together. Where we've been injured, we must bind up our wounds. Where we've been offended let us be forgiven.” The bill, which now moves to the House, gives Idaho its first-ever registration by party, and permits political parties to bar anyone other than their own members from voting in their primary elections, if they so choose.

Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, said that was the last legislation the Senate will take up today. The House, however, is still going.

HB 298, latest anti-health care reform bill, passes House on a 50-17 vote

HB 298 has passed the House on a 50-17 vote, with all 13 House Democrats joined by four Republicans - Reps. Smith, Trail, Wood and Nesset - in opposing it. Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, told the House, “We're just targeting the discretionary aspects of this. So with that I would appeal to your 'yes' vote.”

Barbieri earlier sponsored legislation to “nullify” the federal law; it passed the House despite two Idaho Attorney General's opinions saying it was unconstitutional, but then died in a Senate committee. The new version declares that aspects of the health care reform are unconstitutional, and orders a one-year ban on implementation of discretionary pieces of the law, including accepting any federal funds.

House takes up new version of nullification bill, launches full reading

The House just voted 56-12 to suspend its rules to take up HB 298, latest bill seeking to stop implementation of the federal health care reform law in Idaho. Then, the sponsor, Rep. Vitio Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, asked to waive further reading of the bill; House Minority Leader John Rusche objected, and now the full reading of the bill has begun. HB 298 is three pages long.

House holds informational hearing on medical marijuana legislation

The House Health & Welfare Committee began an informational hearing on HB 19 today, Rep. Tom Trail's bill to legalize medical marijuana for limited use by the chronically ill, but ran out of time, and will continue the hearing on Monday. Trail told the committee that if enacted, the proposed law would be the most restrictive medical marijuana law in the nation. He said medical marijuana can effectively treat patients suffering from serious diseases and pain, without the costs and side effects of other prescription medications.

Among those testifying so far was William Esbensen, of Ontario, Ore., who told the committee, “I am an Idahoan. I had to move to Oregon to legally get medicine.” He told the committee, “I'm just asking you … as humans to have an open mind, do the research. You'll find that medical marijuana works for a lot of patients.”

After the hearing, committee Chairwoman Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls, said, “Personally, I guess my opinion is that it's probably much less toxic than a lot of the pharmaceutical drugs that are produced that people take now.” McGeachin said it will take a major educational process before Idaho is ready to pass such a law. “To me, this is just kind of a very first step … to start talking about it and learning about it.” McGeachin said Trail has proposed such legislation for years, and “he's never been granted a public hearing. I think it's an interesting discussion. … It never hurts to talk about different ideas.”

Senate takes up primary election bill

The Senate has just suspended its rules and taken up SB 1198, the primary election bill. It just came out of committee this morning on a party-line vote; the bill would give Idaho its first-ever voter registration by party, and would allow parties to prevent people not registered as members of their party from voting in their primary elections. Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, the bill's Senate sponsor, said a federal court overturned Idaho's current law as it relates to the Idaho Republican Party primary because it allowed non-party members to cross over and vote in the GOP primary over the party's objections and counter to its rules. “We can't walk away from it - we can't ignore this,” Hill said.

Meanwhile, the House passed its last bill after having it read in full; now it's moved on to HB 183a, a measure on mobile home landlord-tenant laws that already passed the House once, but then was amended in the Senate and now is up for final passage as amended. Again, Democrats refused to waive the required full reading, and the 15-page bill, as amended, now is being read in full.

GOP leaders: ‘We’ll work into the weekend’

House Republican leaders held a press conference this afternoon to decry House Democrats' stalling tactics in protest of the lack of hearings for two bills they want heard. “Republican legislators have kept their promise to balance the budget without raising taxes this year,” declared House GOP Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly. “The budget has been balanced.” Roberts said he's “had enough of playing the political games,” and said, “We want to close up shop.”

The two bills Democrats want hearings on are a cigarette tax increase and a measure calling for an advisory vote of the people on school reform. Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, the House education chairman, said he thinks Idahoans support the reforms. “I don't see this overwhelming outcry to do anything,” he said. “I'm hearing good support up home.” Roberts said he, too, is hearing “strong support.” When a Fox 12 TV reporter asked Nonini about the extensive protests outside the Capitol against the school reform bills, Nonini said, “I think most of the protesters out there were probably teachers from the Boise-Meridian areas. It's easy for them to get over here.”
    
House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said as for the Democrats' demand for hearings, “The legislative process has been used and found that there's not support for those hearings.” But neither of those bills has been introduced. Roberts said, “To get those bills before a committee for a hearing, you have to have enough votes to get 'em introduced.” Bedke said the Legislature doesn't want to consider a cigarette tax increase until it addresses issues with “our neighbors the tribes.” He said, “If we do continue these types of tactics, we'll work longer hours, we'll work into the weekend.”

Shortly after the press conference, the House returned to session, and Democrats again objected to waiving full reading of bills. The House is now hearing its next bill, HB 140a, a seven-page bill on juvenile corrections, read in full.

Wind energy rebate back on track

Wind energy developers with projects nearing completion are closer to winning tens of millions of dollars in tax breaks, the Associated Press reports, after the House Rev & Tax Committee voted today to send a bill backed by Idaho Power Co. and other utilities to the House floor. The measure was approved on a 12-5, and includes extending the rebate for geothermal, manure digesters and other alternative energy projects until 2014; click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Rusche: ‘A perversion of the process’

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said, “There's not a lot of ways we can bring protests to the system up in front of everyone.” Forcing full reading of bills, as required by the Idaho Constitution, is one of them, he said. Rusche said House Chief Clerk Bonnie Alexander “did really well” reading a 25-page bill in full today, adding, “I probably owe her a box of throat lozenges. We did volunteer to help, and we'll continue to do that.”

Rusche said “there's an easy way” that Republicans can bring the stalling tactics to a halt. “All we're asking is give the people a chance to be heard on issues that are of great importance to them,” he said. “Really, that's all we're asking.” Democrats are demanding hearings on two bills: A $1.25 per pack increase in the state's cigarette tax, and a measure calling for an advisory vote of the people on this year's school reforms. Rusche said House Democrats are prepared for the consequences of what they're doing, including possibly being in session through the weekend or into late hours. “Friendships will be frayed,” he said. “Some of our bills may end up getting deep-sixed, not that we have so many we were able to get introduced.”

Rusche, a physician, said Idaho would benefit greatly from increasing its cigarette tax, both from deterring people from smoking and from garnering $50 million to boost its Medicaid program. “There are really good public policy reasons to consider this, and not to be able to present this is really a perversion of the process,” he said. He also decried the introduction this morning of two bills to add emergency clauses to the already-passed school reform bills, a move that would prevent a referendum campaign from blocking them from taking effect, though it still could overturn them in November of 2012. “Big changes, rushed through, with serious opposition in the Idaho population - you can ask anybody,” he said. “Are they trying to slam things down the throats of Idaho citizens?” He said the move appears designed to “speed things up to subvert legal recourse and popular opinion.”

An Idaho Statehouse showdown…

It's an Idaho Statehouse showdown: Despite spending practically the entire morning House session reading one bill, House Speaker Lawerence Denney says he's still not inclined to allow hearings on two bills that minority Democrats want heard, a cigarette tax hike and an advisory vote on school reform. “I don't think I'd say 'under no circumstances,' but I don't see any value right now,” Denney said.

House Chief Clerk Bonnie Alexander read the text of HB 301 for an hour this morning. “We told Bonnie when she got tired, let us know,” Denney said. “We're going to continue. It's certainly their prerogative to make us read bills, and we'll do that.” The House will be back in session at 3:30 this afternoon, and “we will work late, and we will probably work Saturday and Sunday if that's what it takes,” Denney said.

Majority Leader Mike Moyle already warned of a possible “call of the House” this afternoon. Any member may request a call of the House, as long as it's supported by a third of those members present. At that point, the chamber's doors are locked, and anyone not present it rounded up and brought in. No one can leave the chamber until the call is lifted, for any reason. “You get people with full bladders and they start calling,” Denney said with a chuckle. “They can't leave.” He said his hope for today was to take up the half-dozen House bills that still remain on the 3rd and 2nd reading calendars, but that plan hasn't gone so well thus far. “We need to get those House bills over to the Senate,” he said. The Legislature likely couldn't have adjourned before the weekend anyway, he noted, with the two biggest budget bills still awaiting action, plus the final education reform bill, which awaits House passage.

House reaches noon break, after reading a single bill…

The full reading of HB 310 has concluded in the House. Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, told the House, “This is good legislation, one that's been developed over a year's work with the catastrophic fund and the counties.” The bill will save the state $1.6 million a year, he said. Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, asked if Loertscher would yield to a question, and he refused. The House then voted unanimously, 67-0, to pass the bill; by that time it was noon in Boise.

House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, told the House, “It's our intention to come back on the floor at 3:30.” He said, “Be prepared to be here Saturday if we need to keep doing this exercise, we will be here Saturday.” He also warned of a possible “call of the House” this afternoon, and told all House members to stay close, and “be in their seats so that we don't have to have the police go arrest people.”

Legislative action comes to a standstill…

Action in the Idaho House has come to a standstill, as House Democrats made good on their threat yesterday to use whatever means they have available to slow down the session in protest until majority Republicans allow hearings on two bills the Democrats want heard: A $1.25 per pack increase in the cigarette tax, and a measure calling for an advisory vote of the people on state schools Supt. Tom Luna's school reform package. House Assistant Minority Leader Elfreda Higgins, D-Garden City, said, “It is an outrage that the Legislature refuses to listen to the people. The people of Idaho have clearly voiced their support for a tobacco tax increase and their unrelenting opposition to the education bills. We are prepared to fight to get these bills heard.”

Here, House Chief Clerk Bonnie Alexander reads the full text of HB 310, legislation from the state's counties regarding the catastrophic health care fund - a 25-page bill. Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, tried to interrupt and ask again to waive the reading, but Minority Leader John Rusche objected, and the reading continued. Meanwhile, the Senate is locked in debate on HB 162, legislation regarding hospital peer review that barely passed the House earlier on a 38-30 vote.
  

KTEC bill passes Senate, goes to governor

HB 236, the bill to allow the Kootenai Technical Education Campus, a joint project of three North Idaho school districts, to start construction a year earlier by lifting a requirement to wait until all money from a tax levy has been collected first, has passed the Senate on a 34-1 vote, and now heads to the governor's desk. This is the second version of the bill, after the first aroused concerns in a House committee. This one drew questions yesterday in the full Senate, causing a day's delay before it was taken up. Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, said the bill is written in such a way that “there's no obligation to the state should a shortfall occur.” Essentially, the bill puts the risk on the contractor; contractors testified at an earlier committee hearing that they were OK with that.

House Dems follow through on threat, force full reading of bill

House Democrats have followed through on their threat to slow down the session in protest over the majority's decision not to allow hearings on the Democrats' bills. First up was HB 310, legislation proposed by the counties in regards to the catastrophic health care fund, making a series of changes. When Democrats objected to waiving the full reading of the 25-page bill, the full reading was begun. But first, there was a dust-up over whether the title, too, had to be read in full. After the House went at ease for a bit, Speaker Lawerence Denney announced, “The speaker would rule that the Constitution says that the bill will be read section by section, and that does not include the title. So the clerk may begin reading at Section 1.”

House Chief Clerk Bonnie Alexander then began reading, but at one point, Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, interrupted to point out that she'd missed a line, a mistake she then corrected. Yesterday, Denney downplayed the possibility of a slowdown, and told Idaho Statesman reporter Brian Murphy that if Democrats want to try parliamentary maneuvers, “That's certainly their prerogative.” You can read Murphy's full story here.
  

New ed trailer bills would add emergency clauses, delay referendum’s effect

Two “trailer bills,” or bills that follow after and amend other bills, were introduced in the House Education Committee this morning to amend already-signed SB 1108, the teacher contract bill, and SB 1110, the teacher merit-pay bill. They make a series of mostly minor changes, but both bills also add emergency clauses to the already-enacted laws - which would prevent a planned referendum campaign from blocking them from taking effect before the November 2012 election.

Here's why: Under Section 34-1803 of Idaho Code, referendum petitions, which are petitions to have voters overturn a law passed by the Legislature, must be filed within 60 days after the final adjournment of the session of the Legislature in which the bill was passed. The filing of the petition places the matter on the next biennial general election ballot, which in this case would be November of 2012. And, the law says, “Any measure so referred to the people shall take effect and become a law when it is approved by a majority of the votes cast thereon, and not otherwise.”

That means laws that take effect July 1, like most state laws, would be blocked until after the public vote. But laws with emergency clauses, which already would be in effect at the time of the filing of the referendum petition, wouldn't be blocked - they'd be in effect until voters overturned them. There was no mention of this issue when both bills were introduced in the committee this morning; the bills are sponsored by Senate Education Chairman John Goedde and House Education Chairman Bob Nonini, both Coeur d'Alene Republicans.

One possible side effect of the change: It appears that the master teacher bonus payments for next year, which are repealed under SB 1184 but then reinstated for those already getting them in 2013 under SB 1110, would instead be reinstated next year as a result of adding the emergency clause to SB 1110.

House concurs in Senate amendments to HB 95a, the urban renewal bill

The House has just concurred, by unanimous consent, in the Senate amendments to HB 95a, the urban renewal bill. “When the Senate got it, they added some stuff to it and they took some stuff away,” Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, told the House. “While I do not necessarily agree with all of the amendments, I think overall the bill is a better bill than we currently have in statute.” He then asked that the House concur in the amendments, which it did. Now, the amended bill still must be engrossed and go back on the House calendar for final passage as amended.

Party-line vote passes 20-week abortion ban in House committee

The House State Affairs Committee has voted along party lines to pass SB 1165, the 20-week abortion ban, sending it to the House with a recommendation that it “do pass.” Rep. Carlos Bilbao, R-Emmett, said, “Anyone, anyone who denies the existence of life at the beginning is wrong in mind. And when it comes to a standard that the courts say, my standard is life, my standard is what God gave me to make a right choice, and I'll make the right choice today.”

The four Democrats on the committee opposed the bill. “There are a litany of things that cause me a little bit of concern,” said Rep. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, from classifying induction of labor as abortion to criminalizing physicians. “Bottom line, it's unconstitutional,” she said. The bill earlier passed the Senate.

Primary bill clears committee on straight party-line vote

Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, moved to send SB 1198, the primary election bill, to the full Senate with a recommendation that it “do pass,” and his motion carried on a voice vote, split along party lines. Senate Minority Leader Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello, said he has concerns about the bill. How people vote and which party they choose is “a very, very private thing amongst a lot of people,” he said. “I also worry about how complicated this system could be.” He said he worries about senior citizens trying to figure out their options under the bill, and “the impact on the people in those towns where they are a very small minority.”

Sen. Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, countered, “A good number of the people I work with already think of themselves as registered Republicans or registered Democrats.” But he said he agrees with Malepeai that people who prefer to be unaffiliated should be encouraged to vote. He said he hopes both parties will encourage that.
  

Ysursa: Primary turnout in Idaho is ‘abysmal’ now, needs to rise

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said he wanted to correct Allen on the cost of party registration; the figures submitted in the lawsuit were on a mail-in changeover system, he said, while this bill anticipates voters would register for the first time simply by showing up to vote and making a declaration. Ysursa said the bill will be a big change, and voter participation is a priority. “I think our primaries right now are abysmal - we need to get 'em up,” Ysursa told the senators. “We need to get all our election participation up.”

Grant: ‘A Republican intramural fight’

Larry Grant, chairman of the Idaho Democratic Party, told senators, “The Idaho Democratic Party believes in open primaries. … This is essentially a Republican intramural fight.” He said, “We as Democrats would prefer you spend your time on something other than what I see as a Republican issue.”

He also noted that the primary election bill, SB 1198, would create “two classes of voters” by setting different dates for non-affiliated and affiliated voters to switch registration before primaries; he suggested that might be unconstitutional. “The last thing we need is more litigation,” he said.

‘Poke independent voters in the eye’

Gary Allen, attorney for a group of independent voters, told the Senate State Affairs Committee, “I'm here on my 50th birthday, and I can't think of any better way to spend it than talking about democracy.” He said he and his clients disagree with the federal court ruling overturning Idaho's current system, and are appealing it. Independents don't want to publicly declare affiliation with one party or another, he said. “In our view, this is an unnecessary intrusion on voters' privacy,” Allen said. “Frankly, our clients do not want to do this, and we've seen no evidence that other independents in Idaho want to do this either. At a time when Republican Party identification in Idaho is falling like a stone … I would not think that the Republican Party would want to poke independent voters in the eye.”

Allen said he estimates switching to the new party-registration system will cost the state “well in excess of $2 million,” between state and county expenses. “I think you owe it to the people of Idaho to get to the bottom of this and be up-front about the cost of this change,” he said. “Frankly, we see all of these costs as simply welfare for politicians.” Allen said the Republican Party could hold a convention or caucus to choose its candidates instead. “If this were done, the Republican Party could prepare its own member list without the need to expend taxpayer dollars to pay for the party's private preference.”

‘Keep known political operatives from participating in another party’s primary’

Senate Minority Leader Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello, asked why party-affiliated people would have to switch their party affiliation by the end of the filing period in March or not at all for that year's primary, under the bill. “You may not even know what the roster is at that date,” said Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum.

Sen. Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, said, “If you are previously affiliated with a party, hopefully by mid-March you know whether you want to continue to be affiliated with that party. … By doing it this way, you keep individuals who are known political operatives from participating in the primary of another party if that party chooses to exclude them. And that is a freedom of association right, that I think Judge Winmill is trying to protect. So that's why that suggested date is included in this bill.”

Davis said Stennett was assuming a non-affiliated mindset, but that part of the bill deals with those who consciously affiliate themselves with one party or another. “Certainly as a member of the Republican Party, I hope that someday we can get you into the Republican Party,” he told Stennett, adding, “You'll need to change your vote on a few things to do that.”

‘There is no privacy’ on party choice in new system, Hill tells senators

Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said she had a question of “sensitivity,” saying, “Being from the very, very minority party, particularly in some districts, if you're walking into the grange or the home or the small precincts where you walk up and you may be the one Democrat that is going to take the primary ballot, is this a very public forum, where you say, 'I'm taking Democrat, I'm taking Republican'? I'm trying to envision where there is any element of privacy to it.”

Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, responded, “It doesn't go up on a bulletin board or anything, but it's not really that private either, and I would expect it would be different from precinct to precinct. But remember, once it's done it's a matter of public record, so there is no privacy with regard to which party you affiliated yourself with, based on the ballot you took.”

Current Idaho Republican Party rules put it under SB 1198’s ‘default option’

Under SB 1198, the Idaho Republican Party, under its current party rules, would choose what Sen. Brent Hill called the “default option,” that only registered members of the Republican Party could vote in its primary election. Unaffiliated voters could switch to Republican by use of same-day registration, but they would then be registered Republicans. However, at any time after the election, those voters could switch their affiliation back to non-affiliated, if they so chose. Those who are registered with another party, such as the Democratic Party, couldn't switch on Election Day; they'd have to make their switch by the end of the candidate filing period in March.

Hill: ‘It’s not a closed-primary bill, as some would call it’

Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, is presenting the primary election bill, SB 1198, to the Senate State Affairs Committee. Under the recent federal court decision, he said, the state can't mandate which way a party must go as far as who it allows to vote in its primaries. “We have a major role, but it's not just up to us,” he said. So the bill sets out options for parties. “It's not a closed-primary bill, as some would call it,” Hill told the committee. “I call it more of a constitutional primary bill, as required by Judge Winmill.”

Under the bill, by 180 days before each primary election, each party would choose one of three options: The default option, which would let only its registered party members vote; Option B, which would let registered party members plus unaffiliated voters participate; or Option C, which would let all those plus members of other parties - which the party could specify - participate as well.

“It's incumbent on us, the Legislature, to structure the primary election process without mandating the proocess by which the parties choose their candidates,” Hill said.

Senate to look at amending Bayer’s legal counsel bill

The Senate State Affairs Committee this morning took up HB 277, Rep. Cliff Bayer's bill to permit state constitutional elected officers to hire their own outside lawyers and shift the money to pay for it from the Idaho Attorney General's budget. Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane told the committee, “If that were to occur today, we don't have the money for it.” He said, “Our office doesn't feel that we should be required to pay for essentially constitutional officer counsel, unless there's some other extenuating circumstance.” Hiring outside counsel could cost many times more than the cost of using existing lawyers on the AG's staff, Kane said. “It comes down to do we actually have the money in our budget to divert.” Kane said the bill would be acceptable with an amendment to clarify that if the constitutional officer chose to hire outside lawyers rather than use the existing ones in the attorney general's office, the officer's budget would pay. Bayer, R-Boise, responded, “I don't know that it's entirely necessary, but I don't see any harm in it.”

Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, moved to send the bill to the Senate's 14th Order to make that amendment. “It seems to me that it's a logical change, and until we have an 'Office of Legal Counsel' in the Legislature, we're going to have to take the advice of our attorney general,” he said. Sen. Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, said the amendment would be an improvement, but he said of the bill, “I don't know that it's the right public policy.” He noted that some years ago, Idaho consolidated its legal services under the attorney general's office; this move starts to reverse that. McGee's motion passed on a divided voice vote, and the bill will head to the amending order.

Winder: 20-week abortion ban comparable to state cruelty to animals laws

Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, is presenting SB 1165, the bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks on grounds of fetal pain, to the House State Affairs Committee this morning, and as he did in Senate committee hearing, he has experts from places like Nebraska here to testify. Kerry Uhlenkott of Right to Life of Idaho said her group and its national affiliate picked up the cost for that. Two Idaho attorney general's opinions have found the bill unconstitutional, as it conflicts with the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision that bars states from restricting abortions prior to the point of fetal viability. Winder told the committee, “There is a body of science that shows beyond a doubt that the fetus as it develops feels pain. … The state, if they have an interest in cruelty to animals, they should have an interest in cruelty to human beings.”

Uhlenkott told the  committee that Kansas just passed a similar bill, and Oklahoma likely will do so next week. The measures are patterned after a law enacted a year ago in Nebraska, which hasn't yet been challenged in court; it's part of a strategy to change the terms of the abortion debate to chip away at the Roe vs. Wade decision, which legalized abortion in 1973; in recent years, the U.S. Supreme Court has been more open to some state restrictions on early abortions, but not outright bans. SB 1165 would allow abortions after 20 weeks only to save the life or physical health of the mother; it contains no exceptions for cases of rape, incest or severe fetal abnormality.

Primary election bill goes to both committee, full Senate tomorrow…

Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, just announced that the Senate plans to suspend its rules and take up SB 1198, the “modified-closed primary election bill,” tomorrow. That measure also is scheduled for its committee hearing tomorrow, at 8 a.m. in the Senate State Affairs Committee. The bill is the result of the Idaho Republican Party's successful lawsuit against the state, challenging Idaho's current open primary system; the state also is paying $100,000 to cover the Republican Party's attorney fees, after losing the lawsuit in federal court. The party wants to close its primary elections to those other than registered Republicans, though the bill would allow some options for non-affiliated voters; Idaho never has had party registration, but under the bill, it will now.

Senate passes GARVEE bonding bill

The Senate has voted 26-9 in favor of HB 285, the GARVEE bonding proposal for next year, which would bond for $162 million worth of work to wrap up the bond-funded “Connecting Idaho” program. The money would be split between two final projects, and all would go for construction: State Highway 16 from I-84 to State Highway 44 in the Treasure Valley; and U.S. Highway 95 from Garwood to Sagle in North Idaho. Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, noted that the money is only enough to finish the Garwood-to-Sagle project up to Granite, which is near Athol - not all the way to Sagle. She also noted that the Idaho Transportation Board has informed the Legislature that unless lawmakers direct otherwise, this will be the final installment of GARVEE bonding, which is a special type of bonding authorized by Congress to permit states to borrow against their future federal highway allocations.

The bonding plan has been controversial over the years, but there was no debate in the Senate today - perhaps because the Senate has been on the floor continuously for two and a half hours, it's 5:30 p.m. in Boise, and this was the last bill senators were scheduled to consider today. HB 285, which earlier passed the House on a 42-28 vote, now goes to the governor's desk.

Bill to expand anti-gang act wins final passage

Legislation to expand Idaho's Criminal Gang Enforcement Act to cover more crimes has won final passage in the Senate on a 34-1 vote, but Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, a lawyer who cast the only “no” vote, said he's concerned about the move. “I just worry about when we create enhancements about who you associate with or what you're thinking at the time,” he told the Senate. “I think it should be based on the conduct itself.” The bill, HB 235, which both adds crimes to the act and increases the penalty enhancements, earlier passed the House unanimously; it now goes to the governor's desk.

Bill to cover midwife-assisted births under Medicaid heads to guv’s desk

HB 165, which would permit Medicaid to pay for midwife-assisted births rather than hospital births, if the mother chooses, has passed the Senate on a 33-1 vote, and now heads to the governor's desk. Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, said the bill is estimated to save the state $100,000 in its Medicaid program, but the savings could be greater if it results in fewer caesarean deliveries; the rate of those deliveries for Medicaid-funded births is much greater than the rate for Idaho births as a whole, Broadsword said. “It is very possible that Idaho could save much more than the $100,000,” she said. “This legislation gives women who are Medicaid-eligible a choice. I think it's worthy of our consideration.”

Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, said, “The ladies want this - I think we should give them an option, and it would save the state a lot of money.” Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, a doctor, said, “I think it's appropriate care.” He noted that under the bill, midwife-assisted births would be paid 100 percent from state general funds, while physician-assisted births are funded at the usual Medicaid match rate, with federal funds paying 70 percent or more. “Even with that consideration, midwife deliveries save the state money,” he said. Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, said he was concerned about that, and couldn't support the bill because of the precedent of funding services in Medicaid that must be fully state-funded; he cast the only “no” vote. The bill, which already has passed the House, now goes to the governor's desk.

How they voted…

Here's how Idaho senators voted today on HB 187, the end-of-life conscience law amendment:

Voting in favor: Sens. Andreason, Bair, Brackett, Cameron, Darrington, Davis, Fulcher, Hammond, Heider, Hill, Lodge, McGee, McKague, McKenzie, Mortimer, Nuxoll, Siddoway, Smyser, Tippets, Vick, and Winder.

Voting against: Sens. Bilyeu, Bock, Broadsword, Corder, Goedde, Keough, LeFavour, Malepeai, Schmidt, Stegner, Stennett, Toryanski, and Werk.

Absent: Sen. Pearce
  

AARP: Bill will ‘force dying patients to go doc shopping,’ calls for veto

The Idaho AARP has issued a statement saying the Senate's passage of HB 187 will “force dying patients to go doc shopping,” and calling on Gov. Butch Otter to veto the bill. Jim Wordelman, state director, said,  “This bill is government overreach, plain and simple – and at the worst possible time, the end of someone’s life.” Click below to read the group's full statement.

House Dems say they’ll slow down session if two bills don’t get hearings

House Democrats held a press conference this afternoon to call for hearings on two pieces of legislation that majority Republicans so far haven't agreed to hear: A $1.25 per pack increase in the cigarette tax, and a measure calling for an advisory vote on state schools Supt. Tom Luna's school-reform legislation. The minority leaders said until they get hearings on the bills, they'll use any means available to them to slow down the legislative process in protest. “If we need to add a few more days to the legislative session, then so be it,” said Rep. Brian Cronin, D-Boise.

Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said Democrats want the cigarette tax heard, to address smoking and generate $51 million for state services to offset budget cuts. Polling shows strong support for the bill among Idahoans, he said. “We're puzzled, dismayed and frankly frustrated that we're approaching the end of the 2011 session, and a bill that we know exists and has bipartisan support has not seen the light of day.” Rep. Elfreda Higgins, D-Garden City, said on the advisory vote, “The superintendent, the governor and backers of this plan insisted that there is a silent majority in Idaho who stands behind them. We very much doubt that,” as she said calls and emails to legislators are running strongly against the legislation. “Let's put it to the voters so they can officially weigh in.”

Senate passes end-of-life conscience bill over opposition from AARP, seniors

The Senate has voted 21-13 in favor of HB 187, the “narrow fix” to Idaho's “conscience” law to address living wills. The conscience law allows any health care provider to refuse to provide any type of treatment that violates the provider's conscience, if it has to do with abortion, emergency contraception, stem-cell research or end-of-life care. Seniors throughout the state and the AARP have raised strong objections to the inclusion of “end of life care” in that bill, saying it interferes with patients' legal rights to state in a living will what type of care they want to receive, and not receive, as they're dying. HB 187 says physicians must follow the living will law, but doesn't mention other health care providers.

“Those of us who voiced concerns about this bill on this floor last year were promised a fix,” said an angry Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, who was among those voting against HB 187. “This is not a fix.” Broadsword said the bill still “takes the choice out of the patient's hands.” Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, said, “There were were simple solutions that would have actually done something to this bill and remedied what many people think is a grave error.” Seniors, he said, are “furious about the end-of-life inclusion in the statute.” Bock said the new bill “does absolutely nothing.” Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said there are 34 communities in Idaho that have no physicians, only nurse practitioners or physicians' assistants, and patients who die there need to know their wishes will be respected.

Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, the bill's sponsor, said, “I know this is one of those issues that there are definitely two sides on, and there's not any real gray in the middle.” He said since the conscience law was enacted last year, he's not heard of a “a single example of where this has interfered with someone's living will or their right to determine their care at the end of life.” He told the Senate, “I personally don't think this amendment is necessary, this change, but I'm going to support it, because … even though it is redundant,  it does put into the code a clarification that they must comply with the code dealing with the Natural Death Act,” which codifies living wills.

The bill, which earlier passed the House, now goes to Gov. Butch Otter. Last year, he allowed the conscience bill to become law without his signature, saying he was concerned about the end of life issue and wanted it fixed if it causes problems; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

House endorses additional tax collectors

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A plan to boost staffing at the State Tax Commission to generate more than $19 million in additional revenue has cleared the Idaho House. The House voted 59-8 to approve the $34.9 million budget, which is up 8.7 percent in total funding next year; the bill, HB 308, now goes to the Senate. The budget includes more than $4 million to increase staffing and stem furloughs at the agency, which is expected to rein in $19.7 million in additional tax revenue under the plan. Republican Rep. Darrell Bolz, of Caldwell, says the state could yield a 4-to-1 return on its investment in the tax commission budget. Lawmakers plan to use the additional money to boost state support for Idaho's public schools, which face a $47 million loss in total funding next year, but without this would have faced even deeper cuts.

Distracted-texting while driving ban killed in House on 21-48 vote

The House has killed HB 141a, the not-quite ban on texting while driving, on a 21-48 vote. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, told the House in his closing debate, “This is not a perfect bill, I will grant you that.” He said, “Texting never killed anyone. That person taking their eyes off the road while they were doing that is what killed somebody.”

But objections came from all sides - from those who want to ban texting while driving, and those who don't. Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, said the bill wouldn't cover a driver who's distracted by eating a hamburger while driving, because a hamburger isn't an electronic device. Rep. Dell Raybould, R-Rexburg, said, “To me the language in this is just absolutely too ambiguous to justify what we're trying to accomplish. I am totally opposed to texting while driving. But that isn't what the bill says.” He said, “You can talk on your cell phone, see out of your windshield, see out of your side windows, see what's going on around you. If you're texting, you're probably looking down, have both hands off the wheel and with your thumbs going. … Let's solve this texting problem.”

Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, said, “I just think this bill is not ripe, it needs some more work.” Click below to see the full vote roll call.

Plenty of questions in House on not-quite texting-while-driving ban bill

In the House's debate on HB 141a, the bill from Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, to ban use of a hand-held electronic device while driving if that use distracts the driver, but not if it doesn't, there've been lots of questions about the bill from other lawmakers. Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, asked if it affects use of a CB radio; Hagedorn said no, based on the definition of hand-held device, but Luker, a lawyer, disagreed.

Hagedorn told the House, “There are a number of states now that are finding out that their texting statutes have no teeth, because they can't get the data from the service providers.” He said, “We have more issues than just texting. People are updating their Facebook on their smartphones now… People are using their MP3 players and scrolling for different music… So this issue of distracted driving has become more than just texting.”

Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, said the bill doesn't appear to ban texting while driving. “The folks who talk to me, my constituents, really want to have something done about this,” she said.

Hagedorn said, “The issue is the behavior of the driver changes by using an electronic device. If they can use that electronic device safely and are not distracted by it, say you're using a hands-free telephone … that's OK. You are not distracted, and you can still use it. … The officer has to make a judgment call.”

Rep. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, asked Hagedorn if there's a legal definition of “distracted driving” as used in the bill. Hagedorn said he thought distracted driving was “readily apparent when an officer recognizes someone is not actually watching the road.”
  

Ed reform bill heads to full House; lawmakers take up texting bill

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on today's House committee approval of SB 1184, the third in state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna's three-bill school reform plan, and the one that shifts salary funds to technology purchases. The bill now moves to the full House; if it passes there, the governor has pledged to sign it into law.

Meanwhile, the House this afternoon has begun debating HB 141a, Rep. Marv Hagedorn's bill to ban use of a hand-held electronic device while driving if that use distracts the driver, but not if it doesn't.
  

Dems: ‘Unconscionable’ to pay GOP legal fees with taxpayer money

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Democratic Party leaders are unhappy with legislative budget writers' decision this week to pay the state Republican Party $100,000 for attorney fees after the state lost a GOP-led lawsuit in federal court over Idaho's open primary. In early March, U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill ruled that Idaho's 38-year-old open primary was unconstitutional. Republicans brought the lawsuit, arguing that allowing voters to choose from the parties' ballots was causing crossover voting, resulting in GOP candidates who didn't really follow Republican principles. A bill that will close Idaho's GOP primary to all but registered party voters is now working its way through the Legislature. House Minority Leader John Rusche said Tuesday it was “unconscionable” to make Idaho pay the legal fees for a lawsuit that will limit voters' access to the ballot. You can read the Democrats' full statement here.

House Ed passes SB 1184 on 12-6 vote

The substitute motion, to amend the bill, failed, and then the House Education Committee voted 12-6 to send SB 1184 to the full House with a recommendation that it “do pass.” Three committee Republicans, Reps. Bateman, Nesset and Trail, voted with the panel's three Democrats against the bill; all “yes” votes came from Republicans on the committee.

Two motions on school reform bill…

Rep. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, moved to send SB 1184 to the full House with a recommendation that it “do pass.” Rep. Sue Chew, D-Boise, offered a substitute motion to send the bill instead to the House's amending order for changes.

Rep. Linden Bateman, R-Idaho Falls, said he opposes Chew's motion, saying, “I think we should defeat the bill right here in committee.” Bateman said he's supported Luna's other reform bills. But, he said, “We don't need the bill. Computer technology is just surging forth - it's astounding.” He's visited schools and seen it, he said. “To stop it would be like trying to hold the ocean back with a pitchfork.” He said, “They're already … loaded up with computer devices, to the gills. … It's tremendous. It's exciting to see.”

Thayn: SB1184 would let parents ‘escape effects of a poor teacher’ by going online

The House Education Committee is now debating SB 1184. Rep. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, said, “This gives power to parents to escape the effects of a poor teacher or a teacher that student doesn't get along with … by being able to take online classes. … My perspective is if you have a good teacher you wouldn't take an online class, but that's not always the case.”

Luna’s closing comments: ‘They deserve to live the American dream’

In his closing comments on SB 1184 this morning, state schools Supt. Tom Luna told the House Education Committee, “A 21st Century classroom is not limited by walls, it's not limited by bell schedules, it's not limited by school calendars, it's not limited by geography. … By the proper application and introduction of technology, teachers and students will be able to offer a world-class educational opportunity to students no matter where they live.” He said, “They deserve to live the American dream like you and I are living it today.”

Guv’s aide: ‘Students must be prepared for life in online world’

Roger Brown, aide to Gov. Butch Otter, told the House Education Committee, “It is important we take up this challenge with what we have,” rather than waiting for the economy to improve. He said, “Whether a child lives in Boise or Blackfoot, it should not matter - they should have the same tools at their disposal, and the same access to a quality education. … Our students must be prepared for life in an online world.  … This is a profound investment in the kind of education that will enable Idaho's students to compete globally.” He reiterated that “this legislative package is the governor's top priority.”

School boards: ‘Exactly where these cuts are going to be made’

Karen Echeverria, executive director of the Idaho School Boards Association, is the final education stakeholder called to speak on SB 1184 to the House Education Committee. The hearing has now run for three hours - half an hour past the House's scheduled time to convene its floor session today.

“We believe that we have proven to you that we can handle the responsibility that was given to us through the financial emergency statute,” she told the lawmakers. “Unfortunately, we believe that this legislation as written takes some of that flexibility away from school districts by putting some of the funding into line items over which school districts have very little say and may not be needed due to … technology already in place.” She said trustees want a survey of existing technology in use in Idaho schools before purchasing more. And, she said, “A law that forces a reduction in funding over a five-year period” is “an unprecedented move, and one that we cannot support.”

Answering questions from committee members about where school districts will cut when their funding is cut, Echeverria said, “When 85 to 90 percent of school districts' budgets are made up of teacher salaries and benefits … that's exactly where most of these cuts are probably going to be made.”

Senate backs amended urban renewal bill

The Senate has voted unanimously in favor of HB 95a, the amended urban renewal bill. “What this bill is intended to do is put some further restrictions on urban renewal … to be sure that they focus on the basic intended purposes of urban renewal law,” Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d'Alene, told the Senate. Sen. Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston, said, “A lot of hours went into this.” Four bills came over from the House, he said, and “parts of three of them are in this. … It is what I think is a consensus piece of legislation, (for) not just the Senate but the entire Legislature.” Backers said the bill will add “sideboards” and more “transparency” to the urban renewal process in Idaho. The bill now returns to the House for concurrence in the Senate amendments.

Ed stakeholders air concerns on SB 1184…

Phil Homer, speaking for the Idaho Association of School Administrators, told the House Education Committee, “Without question, we are willing to deal with those cuts caused by the economic downturn. … However, we do have some issues, after review of SB 1184.” He said, “We strongly disagree with the funding mechanism,” in proposing cuts in salary-based apportionment over five years.” That proposal “surprised” his association, he said.

Laurie Boeckel of the Idaho PTA told the panel her group “opposes unfunded state mandates,” and also doesn't think they should come from political appointees, like those on the state Board of Education.

Senate endorses safety course requirement for young off-roaders

The Senate has voted 26-9 for SB 1001a, which would require kids under age 16 who don't have a driver's license and who ride motorbikes, ATV's or other off-highway vehicles on federal lands to have completed an approved safety course. The U.S. Forest Service has been considering closing down some forest roads to off-highway vehicles since Idaho lawmakers changed state law to allow unlicensed youngsters to ride on them, because of safety concerns including conflicts with logging trucks and other vehicles that use the roads. Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, a doctor, told the Senate, “I don't think you guys have spent a weekend in an emergency room. I've seen a lot of injuries. In my opinion this is not about sovereignty, it's about safety.”

Wood: ‘This legislation trades teachers for technology’

After more than two hours of questions for state schools Supt. Tom Luna and his aide, Jason Hancock, the House Education Committee is now taking stakeholder testimony. Sherri Wood, president of the Idaho Education Association, told the panel, “What we know is that Idaho needs jobs more than anything else, and SB 1184 could mean hundreds and perhaps thousands of lost jobs for Idaho.” She said, “By imposing technology mandates and a new pay for performance scheme… the Luna plan means districts will have little choice but to increase class size, cut pay, reduce staff, or continue furlough days, or perhaps all of the above. These gimmicks in this plan are hidden now, but they are still there.”

Wood said, “This legislation trades teachers for technology. Let's be clear. SB 1184 creates a permanent line item for computers, while reducing the amount of direct teacher time for every student. … How is this going to attract teachers to Idaho? How is this going to help our economy recover?” Responding to questions from committee members, she said she's already heard of Idaho teachers applying for jobs in other states and Idaho students studying to become teachers who are now hoping for jobs in Wyoming, Washington and elsewhere, not in Idaho.

Trail: Families want choice, not top-down mandate for online classes

Rep. Tom Trail, R-Moscow, said he's talked with many of his local school administrators, teachers and parents in the last several months, and they have two big questions about the school-reform plan. The first: Why the state would require online learning for all students. The second: Why the state would require multi-year cuts in salary-based apportionment to fund the technology program and other reforms. “There's really scattered research out there,” Trail said. “The families I've talked to want to have a choice of instructional delivery models and don't support requiring online courses for all students. They feel it's being mandated from the top down.”

Luna responded, “We have decided that we think all students should take four years of English, not just some, but all. What the state board will decide is whether they think all students should take online courses before they graduate from high school. … It won't be an interior product that is offered online, becuse it has to meet the same criteria as a course that is offered in a brick and mortar school.”

On the multi-year cuts in the salary-based apportionment, the main state funding stream to school districts for salaries, Luna said, “It's expected that revenue for education is going to increase over the next five or six years, which is going to reduce that kind of stress at the local level. … The governor has made it clear … that when revenues begin to increase, the first place it will go is into education.” He said the salary fund is “the only part of the school budget currently where there is use-it-or-lose-it language,” and that's why it was targeted.
  

Questions about possible forced consolidation of school districts…

Rep. Donna Pence, D-Gooding, asked Jason Hancock about the “Three Pillars Financial Table” distributed by the superintendent's office that shows how school funding would fare. “This basically is saying that if we accept this we are getting underfunded by that $10 mil dollars,” she said. “Is there any change in the new one, or are we still going to have this discrepancy?” It's the same funding discrepancy Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, highlighted during his debate on SB 1184 in the Senate, saying the plan calls for forced consolidation of school districts in seven counties  to save that amount of money, though that's not specifically mentioned in SB 1184.

Hancock replied, “It's true that if all three of these bills pass, and two of the three already have, that … if we wanted to keep everything else that's funded within public schools the same, and you also had these various requirements, the Legislature would have to come up with $10 million more for public schools in FY '13. But, as we've seen in the past, when the Legislature is short money, then they can make adjustments and they do. All of these formulas could be adjusted by a future Legislature as needed to make that fit.” He added, “If that $10 million is a concern, non-passage of 1184 should be a greater concern than that.”

Pence responded, “I have two counties” that are among the seven classified as “least efficient” and suitable for forced school district consolidation. “I find it kind of ironic that this $10,740,000 is the amount they would be getting from that. … It's problematic for some of my counties.”

Deals in the Capitol gift shop today…

The Idaho State Capitol Gift Shop is having a one-day sale today, featuring $10 golf shirts, $15 Idaho state capitol sweatshirts, and “other great bargains.” The gift shop is open until 4 p.m. today; it's in the “garden level,” or lower level, of the state capitol.

Luna: Statewide laptop purchase would ‘drive cost down considerably’

Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, asked state schools Supt. Tom Luna about SB 1184, “In one part of this we said we was gonna give the money to the districts for buying the technology, and then the state was going to pay for the maintenance. … If the districts decide how those instruments can be used and what the kids do with them etc. etc., … and the state's responsible for maintenance, I can see a conflict there, because the districts wouldn't have any skin in the game when it comes to maintenance.”

Luna responded, “Those devices are provided, maintained, repaired and replaced by the state. The devices are owned by the local school districts, and they decide how they will be deployed in the classroom.” But he said the cost of purchasing and maintaining the laptops, or “computing devices,” would be borne by the state. “The reason that is handled at the state level is for an economy of scale,” Luna said. “It's all handled through one procurement, and you can drive the cost down considerably.”

Luna said, “We want them to have a stake in the game, we want them to have ownership. We also want to do this in the most economical way possible and the most efficient way possible.” Those details will be addressed by a task force the bill sets up, Luna said.

Hancock: ‘That’s as local as it gets’

Rep. Brian Cronin, D-Boise, asked Jason Hancock why SB 1184 includes a clause that allows parents to sign up their students for any online course “with or without” the permission of their school or district, and the districts have to pay for it. “I don't understand why that provision is in there,” Cronin said. “Clearly we're taking local control away from the districts where you would think that the school boards would want to be controlling the quality of the course work that would be done online. … Can you talk about why the districts lose control there?”

Hancock replied, “I don't see how control gets any more local than a parent getting to decide what kind of a class their child takes, that's as local as it gets.” He said once the state Board of Education sets requirements for online courses for graduation, it likely would give districts the say over which classes they want taken online, though “they don't necessarily control which provider they take it from, but I suspect through the contracting process you'll find that most students will go with the provider that the district has contracted with and is making available to them.”

Cronin: Why no transparency requirements in SB 1184 for online providers?

Rep. Brian Cronin, D-Boise, asked Jason Hancock about the transparency requirements in SB 1184, which require school districts to post various spending information online. “Why have we omitted private online course providers from these transparency provisions?” Cronin asked. “Why are we not asking for transparency from private companies to see what their profit margins are, what their expenditures are … on courses that are provided?” Hancock responded that the state never requires such disclosures from private companies. “That would be an invasion of privacy and quite possibly a constitutional violation of privacy,” he told Cronin.

Cronin said, “We're talking about expenditures of public, i.e. taxpayer dollars, and the whole idea behind these provisions is that we want accountability for these public expenditures.”

Hancock: Interplay between reform bills would eventually finish pending master teacher payments

Jason Hancock, aide to state schools Supt. Tom Luna, told the House Education Committee this morning that the repeal of the $2,000-per-year payments for five years to those teachers earning national board master teacher certification in SB 1184 actually is offset by a provision in the already-passed SB 1110, and sure enough, on page 7 of that teacher pay-for-performance bill, it says “notwithstanding” the bill's other requirements, employees who earned national board certification prior to July 1, 2011, who no longer are receiving the payments, would get them again once that bill goes into effect in 2013 “until all moneys that would have been paid under the previous provisions … have been paid.”

That means that the roughly 55 Idaho teachers who were receiving the payments in 2010 and didn't get them this year due to budget cuts, also wouldn't get them next year, but they'd finish up the payments in later years.

Luna: ‘These are changes we have all talked about for many, many years’

“If we don't start now we risk holding our students back,” state schools Supt. Tom Luna told the House Education Committee, introducing SB 1184, his third school-reform bill. “These are changes we have all talked about for many, many years, more technology in the classroom, more professional development for teachers, dual credit opportunities for students and more.”

Now, Luna aide Jason Hancock is starting to go through the bill, which the House committee hasn't been presented with before - not even its earlier versions, as committee Chairman Bob Nonini pointed out - section by section. Hancock, however, is focusing on the differences from SB 1113, the earlier version, saying he thinks the committee is “fairly familiar with SB 1113.”

Luna: ‘Devices’ would let Idaho customize its school textbooks

Once Idaho has one “mobile computing device” for every high school student, state schools Supt. Tom Luna told lawmakers this morning, “It provides not only an effective way to educate our students, but a more efficient way. Because when we have this one-to-one ratio, then this device, whether it be an iPad or a laptop … becomes the textbook … it becomes the math calculator … it's the word processor … It serves multiple purposes. Rather than spending millions of dollars on printed, bound textbooks that are outdated and they wear out quickly, we move to an e-type of textbook, which is becoming more and more common.”

Luna said that shift also would allow Idaho to customize its textbooks, whereas textbook content now is determined by educators in Texas and California, because textbook designers build around population bases and their desires. “Now with the miracle of technology, states and school districts can customize what they want their textbooks to look like,” he said.

Luna: School cuts are ‘the new normal’

State schools Supt. Tom Luna told the House Education Committee this morning that the school budget set by JFAC yesterday shows the need for his reform bill, SB 1184. “Here we are facing a third year of funding cuts in our public schools,” he said. “It's clear this is the new normal in our economy. … we have to give our schools the tools they need to do more with less, and technology is the key to making that happen.”

The bill shifts funds from teacher salaries to purchasing technology. The 24-page bill also makes a series of changes in how Idaho's schools are funded and brings in a new focus on online learning, while phasing in a plan to have one “mobile computing device” for every high school student in Idaho. “I believe, and I think you believe, that there will be more online learning going on five years from now in our colleges and in our workplaces,” Luna said. “Understand in Idaho we have a technology gap.”

House Ed opens hearing on SB 1184, the third school-reform bill

The House Education Committee has opened its hearing this morning on SB 1184, the third school-reform bill, with state schools Supt. Tom Luna leading off. “This bill helps supply more tools to our teachers,” Luna told the committee. “This bill is the bill that reforms our classrooms.”

Committee Chairman Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, said after the superintendent, the committee will hear from education stakeholders: The Idaho Education Association, Idaho Association of School Administrators, and the Idaho School Boards Association, and then from Roger Brown, education adviser to Gov. Butch Otter, and then finally a wrapup from Luna before voting on the bill, which earlier passed the Senate after much debate. Nonini said the House, which is scheduled to convene at 10:30, will wait if the hearing takes longer, but he expects it to be done by that time.

Bill would end pension perks for former lawmakers who take state jobs at end of career

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Generous pensions for former legislators who win more-lucrative state appointments may become tougher to come by, if a southeastern Idaho Republican gets his way. Rep. Dennis Lake of Blackfoot is pushing to end special perks that allow a legislator who earns $16,116 for the part-time job in the state House or Senate to have his or her retirement pay based on their last 42 months of state service in a higher-paying job. For instance, former Senate President Pro Tempore Bob Geddes, appointed this year to the $85,000-a-year Idaho State Tax Commission chairmanship, stands to boost his monthly pension to roughly $2,500 from about $430. A previous Legislature created this benefit, but Lake told the House State Affairs Committee on Monday when he introduced his bill that the practice should end.

New version of health care nullification bill clears House committee, but prospects uncertain

The House State Affairs Committee this morning voted along party lines, with just the committee's Democrats objecting, in favor of HB 298, the latest version of legislation to nullify, or declare unconstitutional and bar for one year from taking effect in Idaho, the federal health care reform legislation. An earlier version passed the House despite Idaho attorney general's opinions stating it was unconstitutional, but died in a Senate committee.

Committee Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, said, “It's been watered down an awful lot, and probably it's more likely to sell.” But, he said, “I don't know that the Senate will even take it up.”

The school budget…

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on the public school budget set by JFAC today, the single largest slide of the state budget and the focus of much angst in this year of budget-cutting. Idaho's public schools would see a $47 million funding cut next year, considerably less than the $62 million cut lawmakers had been pondering, but still a big hit to already hard-hit schools that would see state funding drop for all school employees' salaries.

Overall, the budget reflects a 0.8 percent increase in state general funds, and a 1.3 percent cut in total funds, but that total-funds percentage is skewed because the total-funds budget for next year includes $25.8 million in federal jobs money, the second half of $51.6 million in federal jobs money that arrived in the state in August to save teaching jobs; the first half never was counted in this year's budget, because it came in after the budget was set. If you leave out that $25.8 million, the total-funds school budget for next year is cut by $47 million, or 3 percent. Here's a link to a breakdown of the motion that shows those figures.

Roberts moves to scuttle wind energy deal

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The future of Idaho's sales tax rebate for wind power developments is in limbo after a lawmaker introduced a measure to scuttle a deal that industry and utilities worked out last Friday. Republican Rep. Ken Roberts of Donnelly played spoiler Monday by introducing a bill to extend the 6 percent sales tax rebate on qualifying purchases by geothermal, low-impact hydro, biomass and landfill gas projects until 2014. It dumps the five-year-old sales tax rebate for wind and solar projects after July 1. Roberts' bill is now competing for votes with a separate measure, developed after talks between utilities, wind developers and their lobbyists, to give the rebate to wind projects, too, provided they secure utility power contracts by this Oct. 31. A hearing on both measures is set for Wednesday.
 
Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Senate passes HB 260 on Medicaid cuts

The Senate has voted 27-8 in favor of HB 260, the Medicaid cuts bill, sending it to the governor's desk. All seven Democrats and Sen. Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston, voted against the bill.

House passes anti-assisted suicide bill, sends to guv’s desk

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The House voted overwhelming to send a bill banning helping somebody else commit suicide to Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter for signature. Monday's 61-8 vote came after brief debate on the chamber's floor. Republican Rep. Lynn Luker of Boise argued prohibitions on assisted suicide were necessary to help prevent abuse of elderly residents by their caregivers who are seeking to profit from their patients' demise. Luker says this bill, which foresees penalties of five years in prison for violations, protects “all concerned.” Democratic Rep. Grant Burgoyne complained this is inappropriate government intervention in a private decision. Burgoyne says, “My life is mine. It's mine for me to decide when and how it should end. It's not the business of the government to tell me when and how I should end it.”

Procedural question bogs down debate on Medicaid bill…

The Senate has gone at ease, after Democrats mentioned a “minority report,” but Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, noted that report hadn't yet been spread upon the pages of the journal of the Senate. It's a rules and procedure question, which is now being extensively debated by a huddle of senators.

Closed primary bill introduced

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Republicans introduced a bill in the Senate to close their GOP primary to all but registered party voters starting in 2012. Under Monday's measure, Republicans would vote in GOP primary races, while Democrats would vote in Democratic primaries. Party leaders —likely their central committees — could allow unaffiliated voters to participate, with their ballot choice becoming a public record. Voters could switch sides by the close of the candidate filing period before each primary election. This has long been a goal of GOP conservatives who suspect crossover voting, allowed since 1972, has produced candidates who fail to hew closely enough to Republican principles. The bill comes after a federal judge ruled that Idaho's 38-year-old open primary system violates the GOP's right to associate with whom it wishes while nominating candidates.

The bill introduction came the same morning that JFAC approved spending $100,000 in state general funds to pay the legal costs of the Idaho Republican Party, which successfully sued the state to overturn the current primary election system.

Senate takes up Medicaid cuts…

The Senate has begun debating HB 260, the House-passed bill to cut $108 million out of the state's Medicaid program, including $35 million in state general funds. “Suggestions were received and heard, adjustments were made,” Senate Health & Welfare Chairwoman Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, told the Senate in her opening debate. “Our choices were few - the elimination of entire programs, or, with a sharp scalpel, trimming programs. … Our choice was the latter - trimming services.” She said no individual will lose eligibility for Medicaid because of the bill.

Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, a physician, spoke against the bill. “It is not simply that our choices will harm people,” he said. “I do not say we should spend money we don't have.” But, he said, “We can … do it differently. This bill does not chart that course. … Despite hints otherwise, it is truly more of just the same.” Schmidt said, “My analogy for thsi bill is that it is like saving money on your car by not changing the oil. We will pay more later.”

Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, Senate Health & Welfare vice chair, noted, “A good share of the reductions in this bill don't come from patients. … They come from the hospitals and the nursing homes.” Some of the business changes in the bill, she said, won't hurt patients. “By and large it just makes it fair for the taxpayers and fair for eveyone else. … There are a number of really good steps forward in this legislation that I think we need to realize.”

Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, said Medicaid must be cut to balance the budget, and he dismissed concerns that the cuts bill will eliminate hundreds of jobs across the state. “Providing jobs is not the goal of the Medicaid program of Idaho,” he said.

Luna: Budget better than anticipated, but still a third year of cuts for schools

State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna had this reaction this morning to the public school budget set by JFAC: “It's considerably better than what we were anticipating and talking about before the Legislature came to town, but it's still the third year in a row where schools are going to receive less money.”

Luna added, “It's moving us away from one-time money that we've been living on the past couple of years as part of our ongoing funding. I think it's important that we're making steps to get public education back on long-term funding and not just every year trying to rob this fund or that fund for one-time money to prop up the budget. This gets us closer to that.”

New Insurance Dept. budget set without federal health exchange grant

JFAC has set a new budget for the state Department of Insurance, after the previous one was pulled from the House because some House Republicans objected to accepting $2.5 million in federal grants for the state to do preliminary planning work on setting up Idaho's own health insurance exchange. Under the new bill, the department could spend $500,000 of its own dedicated funds, which come from fees paid by insurers, “to protect state regulation from federal encroachment.” Those funds otherwise would have flowed to the state's general fund, so it's equivalent to tapping state general funds. If Idaho doesn't set up its own exchange and the lawsuit over national health care reform fails, the state would be subject to the feds taking over the task and moving into regulation of Idaho's insurance industry. Bell said the new budget as written would “ensure that the insurance industry is regulated by a local entity. It's a firewall for us.”

Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, said, “I really liked our appropriation as it was before, and this almost feels a little bit like a chest-thumping activity.” But the new version passed on a 16-4 vote - not a party-line vote, however. Sen. Diane Bilyeu, D-Pocatello, voted in favor, and Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, vice-chairwoman of the Senate Health & Welfare Committee, voted against it. The new budget bill replaces the earlier one that had passed the Senate, and now must pass both houses.

State to pay $100K for legal costs for GOP in primary case

JFAC has voted 14-6 to pay $100,000 to reimburse the attorneys for the Idaho Republican Party for the party's closed-primary lawsuit against the state, since the state lost the case. The plaintiff's attorney fees and costs were set at $143,900, but they agreed, after negotiations, to accept $100,000. It'll go to the Idaho Secretary of State, whom the party sued, to pay the GOP lawyers. “So it's passed through the Secretary of State to compensate the Republican Party for the lawsuit, their attorneys,” said Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum. “This is kind of a darned if you do, darned if you don't, because you're taking money from the general fund for this.” She said, “I think you just have to plug your nose and vote for this,” to which Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, responded, “I think you're right.”

Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, said, “Four years ago we did try to avoid this lawsuit, and we were unfortunately unable to do that in this body, so we're just going to have to kinda pay the price.” In the 14-6 vote, the six “no” votes came from Sens. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint; Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle; Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise; and Diane Bilyeu, D-Pocatello; and Reps. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, and Jaquet.

Funding boost for colleges fails

JFAC has voted 7-13, defeating a motion from Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, to shift $10 million from a $25 million unused fund balance at the state Division for Veterans Affairs into higher education, to fund unfunded enrollment growth costs at the state's universities and community colleges. Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, said, “Our appropriation for state colleges and universities was not nearly what we would have liked to have had it be,” and she called the shifting of the funds “an opportunity that would serve our young people very well.” Ringo said, “Other nations … are making investments in higher education. I think our failure to do that is not going to serve us well in the future.” Jaquet said, “It's not like we're taking the entire cash balance.” But the motion failed, though three Republicans joined the joint committee's four Democrats in supporting it; they were Sens. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, and Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise, and Rep. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls.

Jaquet pushes plan to tap unused fund balances for higher ed enrollment growth

Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, has proposed shifting $10 million from unused fund balances identified in an earlier state audit into higher education and community colleges, to cover part of the unfunded costs for their enrollment growth. “To me, this is probably the best investment that our committee could make with regard to economic development right now,” Jaquet told JFAC. “We have some pretty scary kinds of data that tells us about what's happening in our state. … We really can't afford this brain drain.” She added, “This is one-time money.” The money is from two accounts at the Veterans Services Division, and the division supports the move, Jaquet said, distributing a letter from the division. Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, said he opposes the move, because the division's letter suggests it could perhaps make use of the money.

First unanimous vote of the day in JFAC, on surplus-eliminator

In the first unanimous vote for JFAC today, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee has voted 19-0 to approve a “surplus-eliminator” bill to address federal maintenance-of-effort requirements for schools and higher education. Those rules require the state to spend certain amounts of its available revenue in exchange for accepting federal stimulus funds.

Federal ‘maintenance of effort’ rules could bring schools more $, or not

JFAC is now looking at the federal “maintenance-of-effort” requirements that came with federal stimulus funds. Those require that if the state gets additional revenue in the current fiscal year, portions of it would have to go to schools or higher ed, where stimulus money went earlier. The state had been kicking around an idea of appropriating more money to schools on June 30, the last day of the fiscal year, and taking it back the next day, the first day of the next fiscal year, to meet technically meet the requirement. “From some of the conversations we had, that would be disingenuous, from the perspective of the federal government,” legislative budget director Cathy Holland-Smith told the joint budget committee. “It obviously wouldn't allow them to spend the money at all.”

So the new plan calls for a “surplus-eliminator” bill. If state revenues grow by the projected amount this year, $6.5 million more would be given to public schools at the end of the year, for use in the 2012 budget, which would mitigate some of the cuts. School districts would have the option of spending that money in fiscal year 2012 or 2013; Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, warned that if they get it, they'd be wise to hold off on spending it until 2013 in view of the economy.

In the higher ed arena, additional revenue that comes in would first spur an additional appropriation to make up cuts in professional-technical education, and then to community colleges to cover unfunded costs for enrollment growth; amounts would depend on revenues.

Dems win one vote in school budget, requires report on dual credit $$

Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, offered a substitute motion on the “intent language” that accompanies the public school budget, making just one change: Requiring a report tracking how much is spend for dual enrollment next year, as required by SB 1184. Dual enrollment is when high school students enroll in college courses and get both high school and college credit at the same time; Idaho has had it for several years, but SB 1184 requires school districts to pay all costs. “I think since we're stepping out on new ground, requiring districts to do this, I've even heard it referred to as a new entitlement … we just would like to have some good, accurate information about how that money's used and how it benefits us so that we can make solid decisions for future years,” Ringo said. Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, said, “This seems to me like a friendly amendment. … It doesn't seem unreasonable.”

State schools Supt. Tom Luna, asked to respond, said, “It's valuable information, it's probably information that we would have gathered anyway.” He said the state department would have no problem with the requirement, but school districts might view the reporting as a burden. Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, questioned “whether we want to mandate it or whether we want to collect the information.” Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, noted that SB 1184 requires the state Department of Education to distribute the dual-credit funds, so, she said the department will have the information, and, “There won't be an extra burden on the school districts.” Ringo's motion passed on a 14-5 vote, with five Republicans opposing it, Sen. Mortimer and Reps. Bell, Bolz, Wood and Thompson.

Maintenance match would be suspended

Among the provisions in the extensive “legislative intent” language that accompanies the public school budget is a clause to suspend the state's “maintenance match” requirement to school districts for next year, which saves the state $1.8 million. Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, said a separate piece of legislation is pending to remove the requirement for local school districts to put in their portion of the building maintenance match next year as well. The intent language also accomplishes various shifts between funds anticipated in the earlier budget motions; permanently eliminates the master teacher bonus program; makes the cuts in base salaries for teachers, administrators and classified staff; and more.

Party-line vote on last division, now JFAC takes up ‘intent language’ on schools

The final division of the public schools budget, for educational services for the deaf and blind, has passed on a party-line, 15-4 vote, with Democrats objecting. It calls for a 1.3 percent cut in total funding next year. Now the committee is moving on to the extensive, and complicated, “legislative intent” language that accompanies the public school budget. That's the strings that are attached to funding in budget bills, and it has the force of law, lasting for one year. The intent language includes the cut in base salaries for teachers, administrators and classified workers in schools.

Facilities budget, including lottery funds shift, approved on 13-6 vote

In the facilities division of the public schools budget, there's a proposal to, for a third year, shift $17.6 million in lottery funds out of the the facilities division and into discretionary funds. Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, said, “My comfort level isn't real high with this. It seems like we're wanting to move down this path long-term, and when the people put the lottery in place, the notion was that that money would be spent a certain way.” Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, said, “I guess what bothers me is that this is another shift to the property taxpayer. People are having to go to their voters to ask for help on these buildings. … They're not going to have that funding for the maintenance.”

Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls., said, “I think it's important to realize that this is a motion that allows flexibility, meaning that that money is still there, but it is put down into discretionary, where the schools, if they can, can put that to other things, but if they need if for their buildings, they can use it. … It is left to their discretion.” Jaquet countered that that was the state's previous approach to funding facilities, and “it wasn't happening, so that's why we put this program here.”

The motion, including the shift, then passed on a 13-6 vote. Two Republicans, Rep. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, and Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise, joined the four Democrats on JFAC in opposing it.

Another, smaller bid to boost school discretionary funds falls short

In the Division of Children's Programs portion of the public school budget, Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, offered a substitute motion to shift $963,500 targeted for paying for college entrance exams to school district discretionary funds. Ringo said those exams still would be required to be funded, as it's in state rules, but as the dollar amounts are uncertain, it would give school districts the flexibility to use unspent funds for other uses. That motion failed on a 4-15, straight party-line vote (Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, has left to address a bill in another committee). The original motion, without that change, then passed 15-4.

Dems’ motion fails, 6-14

The Democrats' attempt to add $10 million to discretionary funds for school districts next year, tapping an unused balance in a school facilities fund, has failed on a 6-14 vote, with GOP Sens. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, and Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise, joining the four Democrats on JFAC in supporting it. The original motion, without that money, then passed on a reverse vote of 14-6.

Broadsword said she doesn't usually differ so much with her fellow GOP committee members. But, she said, “I think that our school districts have been handed a number of new unfunded mandates, and while I don't like to dip into the school facility funds, because the sponsor has allowed for a payback of that money, I'm going to support the motion.” Nevertheless, it failed. The operations budget includes repeating this year's move of shifting a slew of the usual line items in the school budget into discretionary funds, from $7.5 million in transportation funds to $8.3 million from the safe and drug-free schools program. Even so, discretionary funds per support unit, or classroom, would be down significantly next year.

Dems try to add $10M for school district discretionary funds

Democrats on JFAC are offering a substitute motion on the budget for the division of operations within the K-12 public schools budget. The difference: They want to plug in another $10 million to go to discretionary funds for school districts. Under the original motion from the panel's Republicans, discretionary funds per support unit to school districts would drop by 10 percent next year from this year's level, which was down 14.4 percent this year from the previous year. Democrats want to take the money from an unused balance in a school building fund, then pay it back in future years. Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, said, “I believe with the onus that we're putting on the school districts with requirements for technology and the decrease in money for salary-based apportionment, it's important that we give them this shot in the arm for discretionary funds, which is still a significant decrease from discretionary funds in 2011.”
  

Teachers division motion draws some Republican opposition on JFAC

The second motion in the public school budget, for the teachers division - which includes a cut in base salaries -  passed on a 14-6 vote in JFAC, with two Republicans, Sens. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, and Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise, joining the committee's four Democrats in opposing it. “I have been pleasantly surprised that we are were we're at today with this budget,” said Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, who supported the motion. He noted that the overall-funds decrease in the school budget as a whole, as proposed, is only 1.3 percent, though that figure is skewed by the inclusion of the second year of a federal jobs allocation even though the first year wasn't counted into the budget, since it came in after the budget was set; a more accurate percentage may be a drop of 3 percent. Even so, Mortimer said, that's “amazing to me.” He said, “I want to compliment all those that have worked so diligently to find the funds necessary to protect our K-12 education budget.”

Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, countered that the budget could have avoided the cuts to schools by setting a different revenue projection figure that she said would have been more realistic. Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, noted that the pay cuts will hit some teachers harder than others, depending on where they are on the state's salary grid. Now, the joint committee is moving to the operations portion of the school budget.

First school budget motion passes on straight party-line vote

The first motion in the public schools budget, which is divided into six divisions, has passed JFAC on a 16-4 party-line vote, with the joint committee's four Democrats voting no. Included in the next budget division, which covers teachers, is permanent elimination of the $2,000 payment each year for five years that teachers previously got for attaining master teacher certification; that was suspended this year, and will be removed permanently in next year's budget. That means about 55 of Idaho's best teachers who received the money in 2010 won't get the rest of those bonuses. The hope is that a new pay for performance plan that contains different bonuses, that will start in 2013, will partly offset that loss for some of those master teachers in the future, though it'll be distributed on a different basis.

The teachers division budget also includes permanently repealing the early retirement incentive program for teachers, as required by this year's education reform bills. It includes $1.6 million to move Idaho's minimum teacher salary back up to $30,000 from the current $29,655; but overall, teacher pay would be cut.

JFAC preparing to set public school budget…

JFAC is preparing this morning to set the public school budget, the single largest piece of the state's budget. Though the joint committee had been working most of the session toward a target of $1.208 billion in state general funds, a significant cut, the target this morning is $1.224 billion, an increase of about $15 million over that original target, which would be a $9.3 million increase in general funds rather than a $6 million cut. The difference comes from additional tax collections anticipated at the state Tax Commission due to the addition of auditors. The result still would be a cut in overall funds for schools next year, but a small increase in state general funds of 0.8 percent.

Though that'd be $9.3 million more in state general funds than this year, the hit to schools would be roughly a $47 million cut, once accounting for student growth and for the loss of $35 milion in one-time funds, including an extra payment from the state endowment, that helped prop up the schools budget this year. This year's budget reflected an unprecedented $128.5 million cut from the previous year in overall funds. Sen. Dean Cameron, JFAC co-chair, said of the $47 million figure, “That's what the schools will feel.”

To accomplish that budget, legislative budget writers wrote into their plans a 1.87 percent pay cut for teachers, administrators and classified staff in base salaries. Part of that comes from a $14.8 million reduction in salary-based apportionment required under the new school reform bill, SB 1184, and an additional $13.3 million cut designed to help balance the budget and meet the bottom line. The overall budget is $12 million below the governor's recommendation for public schools for next year.

Reform bill has good news for virtual charter schools

Among the little-noticed provisions of the complex, sweeping school reform bill that’s rocketing through the Idaho Legislature is one that would double-fund virtual charter schools for their existing computers; here's a link to my column from Sunday's Spokesman-Review taking a look at the issue.

SB 1184, state schools Superintendent Tom Luna’s reform bill that passed the Senate on Thursday and is awaiting consideration in the House, sets a goal of a 1-to-1 ratio of computers to high school students, phased in over several years, and it shifts money out of the state’s teacher-salary fund to pay for the purchases. But school districts that already have reached that 1-to-1 ratio will get the money as discretionary funds, to use for whatever they like. Here’s where the double-funding comes in: Idaho already has paid for one computer for every student at virtual charter schools, which are online charter schools in which students study at home and are issued computers and other materials. Idaho has three of those, with more than 4,000 students enrolled; all three would qualify for the new discretionary money.

Callers back cig tax hike, but it’s never even been introduced…

Idahoans are calling their lawmakers, urging support for the proposed $1.25 per pack cigarette tax increase - but that bill's never been introduced, despite big plans before the session. “We don't need it,” said House Majority Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly. “The budget is balanced.” Click below for a report from Associated Press reporter John Miller on what happened to the cigarette tax hike.

The week that was…

On tonight's “Idaho Reports” on Idaho Public Television, I join Jim Weatherby and host Greg Hahn to discuss the events of the week, and Greg interviews Gov. Butch Otter, on everything from school reform to Medicaid to wolves. 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. There's also a “Web Extra” of our continued discussion after the show and another of Greg and the governor; you can see those at www.idahoptv.org/idreports/.

Click here to see a slide show of the week in pictures, as the 11th 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.

Insurance Dept. budget bill pulled from House amid health reform protests

House Appropriations Chairwoman Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, pulled the budget bill for the Idaho Department of Insurance from the House floor today, after House members indicated they wouldn't pass it with $2.5 million in federal grants in it to allow the state to begin planning for its own health insurance exchange, because of opposition to the federal health care reform law. “It's been hanging for some days, and I could not find any buy-in on that federal money,” Bell said. “Frankly, it's one of those cutting off your nose to spite your face affairs, because somebody's going to get that money. They're passing it out, and we couldn't see that there were any strings attached. Frankly, I kinda thought it was a rebate on money I just paid in taxes.”

But, she said, “The last I heard I might have 28 votes, and frankly, there was nothing that would change their mind.” Bell said, “That's new for me. I didn't like to do it. I don't think I've ever pulled a bill back. It makes me feel like a failure.”

The bill, SB 1158, passed the Senate by a narrow 20-15 margin, but only after more than an hour of heated debate. “Dean was an hour saving it in the Senate,” Bell said of her JFAC co-chairman, Senate Finance Chair Dean Cameron, R-Rupert. The joint budget committee now will have to write a new budget bill for the Department of Insurance; Bell said that should happen early next week.

Senate Dems: ‘We say shame’

Senate Democrats have issued a sharply worded statement on the passage yesterday of SB 1184, the school reform bill, which they all opposed, saying, “Yesterday, Gov. Butch Otter, Supt. Tom Luna and their cronies in the business sector took a major step forward in realizing their dream of privatizing public education in Idaho.” In the statement, Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, says, “To the proponents of this bill, we say shame.” You can read the full statement here.
  

Senate votes 31-3 to limit future specialty license plates

The Senate has voted 31-3 in favor of SB 1179, Senate Transportation Chairman Jim Hammond's bill to limit new specialty license plates to just public agencies or the foundations that benefit them. Hammond said Idaho's getting to many special plates for extraneous causes. Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, spoke in favor of the bill. “Something needs to be done,” he said. “We run the problem, senators, of eventually having the choice of having a pro-life plate or a pro-choice plate, a religious plate - these types of things have happened in other states, and it's probably bad policy.” He noted that the bill includes a grandfather clause allowing existing specialty plates to continue. The bill now moves to the House.

New bill amends SB 1108 on school funding

The House Education Committee introduced legislation this morning proposed by House Majority Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts, to make a change to the newly signed SB 1108, repealing a provision that requires teachers who are laid off in the fall due to falling enrollment to get severance payments of 10 percent. That repeal would be permanent. Then, Roberts' bill would, for one year only, grant partial relief from the loss of the “99 percent floor” in state funding for school districts that lose enrollment, which was repealed by SB 1108. What the new bill would do is allow a district that's lost enrollment in the 2011-2012 school year to get 97 percent of its previous-year state funding, rather than 99 percent as the previous law required, or no protection, as SB 1108 required. But that would last for just one year, and then it would expire. After that, districts would get neither.

There were lots of questions from committee members, but the bill was introduced.

Senate passes grocery tax credit freeze

The Senate has approved HCR 25, the measure to put off the scheduled $10 bump-up in the grocery tax credit for all Idahoans next year, to save $15 million in next year's state budget. Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, told the Senate, “I don't like this very well.” But he said when the escalating grocery tax credit was enacted, it included this possibility: That the scheduled $10 increases each year could be held up in certain circumstances, “should the economy take a very negative turn.” The grocery tax credit is now $50 for most Idahoans and $70 for the low-income, with an additional $20 for seniors in either category.

“The reality is I do understand the economic situation that we're in,” Fulcher told the Senate, urging support for the concurrent resolution. Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, said, 'We've failed to make choices that would allow us to raise revenue in ways that could be meaningful and instead we're going to go after a break in the tax on food, which I don't believe we should have a tax on food at all.” Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, decried the move as “raising revenue on the backs of the people who are the most vulnerable.”

But Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, said the grocery tax credit goes to the well-off as well as the poor. “I personally feel that this is a very appropriate place to raise revenue this year,” she said. “It's the least we could do.” The resolution passed on a 29-5 vote; that's final passage, as it's already passed the House.

Bill would cut driver’s ed funding

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — As the state resets its education priorities, the Idaho House will debate a plan to strip millions in funding from driver's education classes, essentially ending a subsidy for programs offered through public schools. Republican Rep. Steve Thayn of Emmett says his bill, introduced Friday in the House Education Committee, would boost the private share of driver's ed classes to $325, from about $200 now. His measure would redirect $2.2 million annually to the public school rainy day account and $100,000 to the Idaho Transportation Department. Another $1 million now in an account for the driver's training programs would be returned to Idaho state government's general fund. Thayn says these changes would likely spur private driver's ed businesses, but insists his main goal is to have a debate about spending priorities.

Move to amend guns-on-campus bill fails, bill dies in committee

Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, moved to send HB 222 to the Senate's 14th Order for amendment, saying he's concerned about venues like football stadiums. He said, “I think I know the issue somewhat coming in, and I hear and get exposed to thoughts and comments by people who've come from different vantage points, and I think it underscores the value of the comments by people who've come from different vantage points. I think it underscores the value of the process that we incur.”

Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, who said she's been in high-security situations and had to give up rights, seconded the motion, and said, “I think we can make this a better bill by just a few amendments, and I want to ask those sponsors in the House to work with Sen. Fulcher on those. It's not too late in the session to make sure that we do this right.”

But Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, said, “I can't remember any times in my history where a highly emotional, controversial issue comes out better when it goes to the 14th order of business, placing it in the hands of people who, one, have not had the opportunity of sitting here for the last couple of hours.” He said, “As you know any amendments, any amendments can go on this in the 14th Order. By considering such an amendment as has been described by Sen. Fulcher, we are acknowledging that there are times and places where guns are not appropriate on college campuses, yet in our typical legislative arrogance we're saying we know better where those places and times are,” than do university officials. “In our great wisdom, we're saying we can evaluate every circumstance, every venue … better than those” at the campuses, he said. “Once again, our lips preach local control, but our hearts are far from it.”

Fulcher's motion then died on a 3-6 vote, which means the bill stays in committee, dead for the session. Those voting in favor were Fulcher, Lodge and committee Chairman Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa. Those voting against were Sens. Davis, Hill, McGee, Winder, Malepeai(McWilliam), and Stennett.
  

AP: The chickens are coming…

Idaho lawmakers are trying for a second year to revamp rules governing large poultry operations, the AP reports, including moving oversight from the state's environmental agency to its Department of Agriculture. A bill is now up for a state Senate vote, after clearing the House; the state's anticipating lots of chickens arriving, in part due to increasing costs and regulation of large poultry operations in California. Click below for the full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Testimony: ‘Nothing has changed since 2008’

Testimony at the guns-on-campus hearing has now included the BSU security chief, who opposes the bill and said the campus provides 24/7 security escorts and permits mace and pepper spray for personal protection; a Boise police captain who said guns on campus don't reduce crime; and university attorney Kevin Satterlee, who submitted documents showing that the United States Military Academy at West point, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, and the U.S. Air Force Academy all prohibit the carrying of guns on campus, including in football stadiums.

Satterlee said BSU implemented every recommendation from a commission that investigated the Virginia Tech mass shooting, including locating a Boise police substation on its campus; armed Boise Police are now on campus 24 hours a day, seven days a week, he said, and their response time to campus incidents is extremely quick.

Former House Speaker Bruce Newcomb, now BSU's government relations director, said a deal was struck in 2008 to remove university campuses from promoting gun rights.  “Nothing has changed since 2008,” Newcomb said. He noted that survivors and families of the deceased in the Virginia Tech shooting have sent emails to the committee opposing the bill.

Charlotte Twight, a BSU professor of economics who said she is speaking only for herself, spoke in favor of HB 222, citing a 1998 book several bill proponents have cited, “More Guns, Less Crime,” by John R. Lott Jr. Twight said, “I narrowly escaped being attacked on campus after dark several years ago.” She said, “Existing policy announces to criminals that we are defenseless.” Sen. Bart Davis asked her the same question he'd asked an earlier speaker: “From a public safety standpoint, do you believe that the leaders of my church are wrong when they prohibit guns on campus at BYU and BYU Idaho?” Twight responded, “I believe that based on the factual evidence they have made what seems to me to be an incorrect judgment,” but she said as private institutions they have the right to do that.

Davis: ‘This is not an intellectual exercise’

Jonathan Sawmiller told the Senate State Affairs Committee that students with guns aren't, as some might suggest, “nothing more than drunken frat boys who would stumble about campus firing indiscriminately.” A law student, Iraq war veteran and BSU graduate, Sawmiller said, “I am a mature, responsible, law-abiding citizen trained in firearms usage. … Student concealed weapons holders do not suddenly go insane” when they enter college campuses, and he said as an undergrad, “I had to choose between risking expulsion and giving up hunting for several years.”

Sen. Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, interrupted Sawmiller to quietly ask him this question: “Are the leaders of my church wrong in precluding guns on campus at BYU and BYU Idaho?” Sawmiller said they have that right because it's a private institution. “The University of Idaho does not have that right,” he said.

Davis said, “My 23-year-old son was shot eight years ago last week by a concealed weapon permit holder. Both BSU students. Off campus, at a college environment. I know for you, that you served our country nobly, I thank you for it. I trust you. But there are others that I have concerns about. This is not an intellectual exercise for me and my family. To you and your successors who speak here today, please be sensitive in couching your remarks.”

Sawmiller responded, “I am very sorry for your tragic loss.”

Guns-on-campus hearing draws testimony on both sides…

The Senate State Affairs Committee is hearing HB 222 this morning, the guns-on-campus bill. Sponsor Erik Simpson, R-Idaho Falls, told the senators, “It is a basic human right to be able to protect yourself,” and said current law that permits Idaho colleges and universities to ban guns on campus creates “a false sense of security.” His bill would eliminate that ability for state colleges and universities, except in undergraduate residence halls.

Joel Teuber of the Fraternal Order of Police, shown here answering questions from the committee, spoke in favor of the bill. He said, “I've heard that crime statistics at Virginia Tech were very low.” That didn't stop the deadly shooting there from happening, he said, when a disturbed student opened fire. Teuber told the committee, “You can harden a target by allowing your people to carry firearms. … A way to prevent bad things from happening at those schools is to harden those targets.”

Marty Peterson, special assistant to the president of the University of Idaho, told the committee that the university, its faculty, its associated students, and the Moscow Police Department all oppose the bill. Every college in Idaho, public or private, bans firearms on campus except for law enforcement officers, he said, and there's good reason for that. The UI currently is in court, being sued by a law student who wants to keep guns in his on-campus housing. “We believe that the courts, rather than the Legislature, is the appropriate place for this to be decided.”

Michael Blankenship, a professor of criminal justice at Boise State University and a former police officer, told the committee that armed students would create further chaos in the case of a campus shooting. “This is bad policy,” he said. “This bill will introduce a greater degree of danger of college campuses.” Blankenship said studies show that high numbers of college students contemplate suicide, but only 5 percent succeed in carrying it out; having a firearm would increase their success rate, he said. He told the panel, “Eighty percent of my students are opposed to this bill.”

Parrish Miller told the senators, “Every man has the natural right to defend himself against attack. … Today and for the last 400 years the preferred method of self-defense has been the gun.” Current rules, he said, “only serve to disarm the law-abiding.”

SB 1184 now likely to become law…

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on the passage of SB 1184, the third school-reform bill, in the Senate today by a narrow margin, which virtually ensures the bill will become law. It now moves to the House, where there's more support for it, and Gov. Butch Otter already has pledged to sign it into law. State schools Supt. Tom Luna issued a statement praising the bill's passage and saying, “I thank the senators for their passionate debate, hearing from the public, considering the facts, and voting accordingly;” you can read his statement here. The Idaho Education Association said, “Once again, Idahoans’ voices were ignored in the rush to pass “reform,” no matter what it looks like and no matter how many people object;” you can read their statement here.

The Idaho PTA issued this statement: “Anytime legislation is lightning fast that will erode meaningful parental involvement for years to come, it is not in the best interest of Idaho’s children.  We are greatly disappointed.” And the Idaho Democratic Party issued a statement calling the bill “a disaster for rural schools;” you can click below to read that.

Hammond on why he voted yes…

Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d'Alene, said he decided to vote for SB 1184 after all for “the same reason as the other two bills - I really believe in some efforts to bring our education into the 21st Century.” Besides, he said, “To me this is not a teacher displacement bill.” Hammond said after he heard Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron say JFAC has identified $13 million that could fund school technology next year, he figured, “The money's still there.” Though SB 1184 specifically requires cutting salary-based apportionment to fund technology, and requires even bigger shifts in future years to fund both technology and performance pay, Hammond said he thought JFAC could set a budget that includes a clause “notwithstanding” SB 1184, and direct the extra $13 million back in to make up the cut to teacher salary funds.

“I've heard some discussion” of doing that, said Hammond, who doesn't serve on JFAC. “That's what gave me comfort.”

SB 1184 passes, 20-15

The Idaho Senate has voted 20-15 in favor SB 1184, the third bill in state schools Supt. Tom Luna's “Students Come First” school reform package. The seven Senate Democrats were joined in opposing the bill by eight Republicans, Sens. Andreason, Broadsword, Cameron, Corder, Darrington, Davis, Keough, and Stegner.

Goedde: ‘This is nothing new’

Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, in his closing debate, said it's difficult to cut funding for schools, as Idaho is doing, without cutting into salaries and benefits, but local districts can make those decisions. “They can look at salaries, they can look at benefits, they can look at furlough days, they can look at downsizing the number of teachers,” he said. He said no version of the bill he's seen since December required school district consolidation. “We're committing a very fundamental part of our funding to this long-term plan, and it needs to be in policy,” he said. He said, “This is nothing new,” saying Idaho's funded technology before and made changes in education policy before.

He said, “Idaho's not first down this road. There are 15,000 schools in the United States that have 1-to-1 laptop programs.”


  

Goedde begins closing debate…

Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, is giving his closing debate now on SB 1184; the debate has stretched for nearly three hours.

Hammond: ‘Class size does make a difference’

Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d'Alene, said he is struggling with how to vote on SB 1184, and hasn't decided. He told senators that if they support this bill, he hopes they'll commit to not increasing class size as a way to fund improvements. During the debate over school reform, he said, there have been claims that research shows class size increases won't make a difference. But, he said, “The difference is that back in 1973 when I was teaching 35 children, they were very homogenous. … Their levels of skill were very homogenous. … The reason that that classroom was so homogenous, was that those other children who had severe mental or physical disabilities were not in that classroom. They were self-contained in a separate classroom, probably even in a separate school, and the rest of the kids didn't even see those children.” That's not true today, he said; those children are in the regular classroom with all others.

“So class size does make a difference,” said Hammond, a former school principal. “If you're going to support this measure, we can't do it by reducing class size (he meant to say, 'increasing'). We have to find another way to do it.”

Debate: ‘Have to change,’ ‘Double-dipping,’ ‘Difficult for rural districts’

Sen. John Tippets, R-Montpelier, said, “This isn't the bill that I would have drafted.” He said the bill “gets a bad rap” because it has to fund the earlier bills lawmakers passed. But he said he likes the funding mechanism in this bill “better than the original,” which sought to increase class sizes and eliminate hundreds of teaching positions to generate savings for technology boosts and merit pay. “Senators, I believe we have to change,” Tippets said, noting that employers expect people to have online skills.

Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, said, “If you think our kids don't know technology, you're fooling yourself.” He noted that virtual charter schools that already receive state funding for student computers from school transportation funds would qualify for new funding under the bill, which would pay to phase in purchases of one computer for every high school student over several years; those schools that already have one computer per student would get the money as discretionary funding. “We're going to be handing over a bunch of money to the virtual schools,” Werk said. “They'll be double-dipping in that pot.”

Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, said, “This legislation is going to make it really difficult for my little rural school districts that are already struggling to make ends meet. The bottom line is we're providing mandates, unnecessary technology and a loss of pay for teachers.”

Winder: ‘It’s been hard’

Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, said the debate over school reform has been tough. “We've been belittled. We've received some of the most gross emails you can imagine,” he said. “We have in town hall meetings been shouted down. … I can tell you it's been hard. … It's hard when you get home and there are gross messages on your phone that your wife has to hear. … I think the policy is right. I think we've got to make some changes.” He said, “As a member of the education committee, I can tell you that we've agonized over it, many, many hours.”

Senate debate: ‘Tech is way of world,’ ‘Who will be in the classroom?’

Sen. Melinda Smyser, R-Parma, pointed to reporters, lawmakers and audience members who are using laptop computers and other high-tech devices to send tweets, emails and more, even as the debate proceeds.  “Technology, whether we like it or not, it is the way of the world,” she said. “I'm an educator. I'm excited about the changes.” She said the “only way this bill is not going to work is if all the stakeholders don't get together” and make it work.

Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, debated against the bill. “For me this bill still contains unfunded mandates or mandates that are funded, as was mentioned earlier, from one side of the pocket to the other side of the pocket.” Keough, who is the Senate's JFAC vice-chair, said, “The language of the bill does lock in formulas, and in those formulas it takes money off the top … and it does so automatically.”

Keough said, “I am not opposed to technology. It's about how that technology is being integrated.” That varies around the state, she said. “There are places in Idaho that do not have high-speed Internet, and quite frankly, their telephone signal isn't all that good either.”

She asked, “If teachers are laid off to buy laptops, which is what this bill does, who will be in the classroom with them?” The “fractional ADA” formula in the bill, she said, “takes away what are already scarce resources at the local level and gives them away to online course providers.”
  

Senate debate: ‘Teachers pay for own bonuses,’ ‘Framework for success’

Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, debating against SB 1184, said, “I don't think anyone is debating the value of technology today.” She said in the bill, “The line items are subtracted from the support that we give to schools. … Now we're talking about creating new line items of $13 million.” At the same time, she said, “We have even fewer dollars to commit to the public schools budget this year than we did last year.” She said lawmakers supported pay-for-performance when they passed an earlier reform bill, SB 1110. But under this bill, she said, “Those teachers … whose bonuses would be coming in are actually going to pay for their own bonuses with cuts in their own pay. … I don't think any of us wanted that.”

Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise, debating in favor, said, “This bill is the result of compromise and collaboration. There's been a lot of discussion, a lot of meetings, and a lot of rewrites, and a lot of passionate debate, much like what we're having here today.” He said for people in his district there were three big concerns from the previous version: Raising class sizes, student ownership of laptop computers, and online courses as graduation requirements. He said those have been addressed to his satisfaction in SB 1184, and he said the bill includes a task force that will draw in stakeholders, who want to be heard. “It represents a strategic direction for education in our state,” Toryanski said. “It provides a framework for future success.”

Senate debate: Let districts decide, ‘Importance of the technology’

Sen. Denton Darrington, R-Declo, a retired teacher, said there have been numerous and major reforms in education over the years. “Why aren't the reforms recognized?” he asked. He said the state needs to let school districts decide how to cope with cuts. “Send 'em the money and tell em to spend it wisely, and audit what they do,” he said.

Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, said he scrapped his prepared remarks. “This bill does not determine how much money we spend on education,” he said. “All of us want to put as much money as we can into education in this Legislature.” He said he believes lawmakers have the resolve to put more money into schools when they can. The bill's requirements for shifts out of the salary-based apportionment fund don't necessarily mean less money for education in future years, he said, and he said that fund likely would be cut this year even without the bill, because of the state's budget shortfall.

Mortimer noted that Idaho funded school technology for years, at the prodding of his predecessor, former Sen. Mel Richardson, R-Idaho Falls. But this year, no money was specifically allocated to it, as lawmakers moved the various specific line-items in the school budget into the discretionary category to allow school districts flexibility to cope with this year's unprecedented $128.5 million budget cut. But Mortimer said his local school district is spending more on technology now, not less. “They have seen the importance of the technology in their classrooms,” he said. “Are we going to go backward instead of forwards?”
  

Cameron: ‘It’s wrong for our kids’

Here are Sen. Dean Cameron's sixth through ninth reasons he's opposing SB 1184:
6 - The multi-year reduction in salary-based apportionment, which he called the “most appalling” part of the bill. “It's not just a one-year reduction because we need the money this year, it' a multi-year commitment.”
7 - He said the bill “avoids transparency at the state level,” because, “in many cases … this bill puts the public schools budget on auto pilot.” It gives “new authority and power to expend and distribute funds” to the state superintendent of schools, he said, not the legislature.
8 - “I have grave concerns over the approval of the online courses. I am a fan of online courses.” But Cameron said the bill requires taxpayers to fund any online courses parents want their students to take, with or without their school district's approval. “Why in the world would we say with or without?” He said there are many courses that students or parents may want to take, but that doesn't mean taxpayers should pay for them.
9 -  “The bill creates three new entitlements.” He said, “The public wants to do the right thing. I think the voters, at least in my district, were emphatic that they wanted the state to continue to control spending, they wanted to continue to control the size of government. They did not want to create more entitlements.” The three new entitlements Cameron said the bill creates in Idaho state law: Online learning, dual credit for early graduates, and mobile computing devices for all high school teachers and students.

Cameron said, “It's wrong for Idaho and it's wrong for the taxpayer. It's wrong for education, and most importantly it's wrong for our kids.”

Cameron: Bill would force big future funding cuts to schools in 7 Idaho counties

Sen. Dean Cameron's second through fifth reasons he's opposing SB 1184 (see item below for his No. 1):
2 - “Every single stakeholder is opposed to it.” It's not a consensus approach, he said.
3 - “This bill lacks flexibility to school districts.” He said, “All the time it's giving flexibility, it takes money away.”
4 - “In my humble opinion, this bill does lock us in and does bind future legislators. … The bill contains inflators and deflators. … It ties the hands of JFAC and future legislators.”
5 - Consolidation of least-efficient school districts. “I know the senator from (District) 4 will say it's not part of the bill. … But it is part of the plan, and it at least was part of the plan until Tuesday.” He said the bill, as written, will force that move in the out years, cutting $10.8 million in funding from schools in seven counties - Shoshone, Payette, Canyon, Gooding, Twin Falls, Lincoln and Bingham.

Cameron: ‘It’s competely unnecessary’

The first three people to debate all are speaking against SB 1184, the school reform bill. Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, told the Senate that her concerns about SB 1184 include that the bill gives too much power to the state superintendent of schools, who would play key roles in determining how the technology initiative takes shape.

Sen. Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, said, “For me there's a lot to like in this bill.” He said he likes investing in technology, for example. But he said he objects to “taking money from salary-based apportionment … statutorily demanding reduction in the pool of money we use to pay our teachers.”
He said, “My fear is that school districts will have little choice with less money for teacher salaries but to increase classroom size. I have not and I do not support that as a funding mechanism.” He also said he has a separation-of-powers concern about the bill, because it “gives away too much spending authority in a difficult economic time” to the executive branch. “My worry is that this bill would make future needed adjustments far too difficult.”

Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said he has “nine reasons why I am compelled to vote against this bill.His reason No. 1: 'It's completely unnecessary.” Cameron said the bill won't solve the current funding problem for schools. “It doesn't generate one additional dollar for public schools. In many cases it's simply taking money out of your left pocket and putting it in your right pocket, and pretending it generates more money.” He said JFAC has identified the $13 million state schools Supt. Tom Luna wants for technology, without the bill. “This bill is not necessary to advance technology,” he said.

‘Ramrodding it through’

Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, was the first to rise to debate, and she said she was disappointed the majority would ignore the constitutional requirement for full reading of the bill, despite Democrats' objections, and “keep running it and ramrodding it through - that disappoints me.” Sen. Bart Davis angrily asked that the Senate be set at ease. He said only debate of the bill is now appropriate. Several huddles then followed, first of the leadership of both parties at the president's desk; then with Lt. Gov. Brad Little and Majority Caucus Chairman John McGee at Davis' desk.

Then, the Senate recovened, and Stennett began debating the bill.

Goedde: ‘This is landmark legislation’

“This is landmark legislation” Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, told the Senate as he opened debate. “SB 1184 sets the new normal in public education funds. It is a policy bill.” He said, “We wish we were working under different circumstances. … We have to do things differently, and we do not have more money right now.” So, he said, the state must spend its existing school funds differently. “We must adapt or we risk becoming irrelevant.”

He touted the “1-to-1 laptop program” in the bill, which calls for a laptop computer for every high school student in the state within five years. “Research has shown 1-to-1 ratio in the classroom helps improve student achievement,” Goedde said. He said whether this bill passes or not, schools will receive a funding cut.
  

Davis, Hill cut off bill-reading

The Senate was only partway through reading the bill, when Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, stood and asked to waive further reading of the bill. Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, rose to object, but before he could speak, Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, declared that there was no objection and further reading would be waived. Senate Assistant Minority Leader Les Bock, D-Boise, was off the floor at the time, as were several other senators. Werk was visibly angry after his objection was ignored.

Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, then began the opening debate.
  

Senators take over bill-reading…

Various senators are now reading the full text of the 24-page school-reform bill, SB 1184. Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, read from the bill in a conversational tone. Sen. John Tippets, R-Montpelier, read quickly but quietly. The full reading was forced by Senate Democrats in protest of the bill; they also objected to suspending rules to take it up today, when it was on the Senate's 2nd Reading Calendar; without the two-thirds vote to suspend the rules, the bill couldn't have been taken up before tomorrow.

The bill shifts funds from salary-based apportionment, the main funding stream from the state to school districts for teacher salaries, to instead fund technology and teacher merit-pay bonuses. It also permits parents to enroll students in any online class, with or without their school's permission, and directs a portion of the school district's state funding to pay the online provider through a funding formula laid out in the bill. In a program phased in over several years, the bill requires shifting more of the salary funds each year, as it phases in purchases of laptop computers for every high school student in the state, though school districts would control how those computers are used. The first laptops, to be purchased in 18 months, would be for teachers. It also directs the state Board of Education to develop rules requiring online courses as a high school graduation requirement, starting with students who start 9th grade in 2012.

Dems force full reading of SB 1184

When Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, moved to waive further reading of SB 1184, the third school-reform bill, Democrats in the Senate objected. Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, said “I object,” and began to say something about the public, when he was cut off by Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, who signaled for the full reading of the bill to begin. The bill is 24 pages long. Jeannine Wood, secretary of the Senate, is now reading the bill. Sen. Monty Pearce has arrived in the chamber; all senators now are present.

Rules suspended, though Dems vote no

The Senate has voted 27-7 to suspend its rules to take up SB 1184, the school reform bill, now; all Senate Democrats voted no, but that's still a two-thirds majority, enabling rules to be suspended. One senator, Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, is absent.

Next up: School reform bill

Senators are beginning to filter into the Senate chamber for the scheduled 3 p.m. (Boise time) debate on SB 1184, the school reform bill, and Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, has been counting people and urging the gathering of a quorum so business can start, but few are here as yet. This debate is the big one: If the bill passes the Senate, it's likely to also pass the House and become law.

Harwood says amendments would ‘virtually gut’ his megaloads bill

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on the Senate Transportation Committee's decision today to amend HB 193s, Rep. Dick Harwood's bill that requires a big cash bond before anyone can sue over a “megaload” or other transportation project on Idaho roads. Harwood urged against the move, saying amendments proposed by the Idaho Trial Lawyers Association and others “virtually guts this bill.” Senators said the bill was confusing and poorly written.

Library Internet filtering bill to be amended in compromise

Rep. Mack Shirley, R-Rexburg, told the Senate Education Committee this afternoon that he's reached agreement with the Idaho Library Association on amendments to HB 205, the bill to require Idaho libraries to filter Internet access for adults. The changes, Shirley said, “are actually huge, but minor in wording,” and “should accomplish what we're trying to resolve.” The changes including changing “shall” to “may” in a portion directing libraries on exactly how they must comply, and an effective date of October 2012 to allow libraries time to acquire technology and develop procedures. John Watts, lobbyist for the libraries, said, “This is an unfunded mandate,” but he said libraries are willing to comply with the compromise.

Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, said, “I want to again applaud the libraries and also Rep. Shirley and the Citizens for Decency and all of those that have worked so diligently to make sure that we've got this protection for our youth.” He moved to send the bill to the Senate's amending order, and the motion passed.

Senate committee votes to amend Harwood’s pro-megaloads bill

The Senate Transportation Committee has voted to send HB 193a, Rep. Dick Harwood's bill seeking to block anti-megaloads lawsuits, to the Senate's 14th Order for amendment. “I've listened to the discussion today and I'm supportive of what Rep. Harwood is trying to do,” said Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell. “I do think that there should be some sort of bond posted in these situations. But we've had testimony, both on the committee and otherwise, that indicates that the legislation is confusing at best. … I think this bill begs an amendment and some changes to it to make it better.” Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, made a substitute motion to hold the bill in committee, and Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, seconded it. “I do not think that the language in this bill at this late date is salvageable for us to try to amend on the fly and then have go back to the House and have them try to evaluate those amends as well,” he said. His motion died on a 3-6 vote, however, with just Sen. Diane Bilyeu, D-Pocatello, joining Corder and Werk in supporting it.

McGee's motion then passed with the same split, 6-3, and the bill will go to the Senate's amending order, where any senator may offer amendments.

Manning: ‘Frivolity is in the eye of the beholder’

Darrell Manning, chairman of the Idaho Transportation Board, told the Sente Transportation Committee, “In the 37 years that I've been associated or watched the transportation department, this is the first time we've ever had a legal challenge on permits that I'm aware of, was on Highway 12. I don't know anyone who isn't opposed to frivolous lawsuits, but as Sen. Werd said, frivolity is in the eye of the beholder.” He said, “Our board has not reviewed this bill, and so I cannot speak for the board. The department has a standard approach to decline to take a position on non-department legislation,” and just to provide information on impacts “to the department or its customers.” He said, “I fully understand the importance of what they're trying to do here,” but urged the committee not to limit public input or to make it harder to issue a permit.

Asked about value of the loads involved, Manning said, “It's in the millions.”
  

More questions on megaloads bill: ‘They’re not the ones who issue permits to themselves’

Hannah Brass, legislative director for the ACLU of Idaho, told the Senate Transportation Committee, “We are also concerned about HB 193. … We think it would chill public access to the courts.” The bill, Rep. Dick Harwood's measure to stop lawsuits against megaloads or other proposed hauls on Idaho roads, is up for a hearing in the committee this afternoon; it's drawn lots of questions and criticisms.

Brass noted problems in the bill, as well, responding to questions raised earlier by Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home. Corder said the bill targets lawsuits against the Idaho Transportation Department, but also seems to envision the business proposing the haul as a co-defendant in the lawsuit. “I fail to see how that business becomes a party to the action,” he said. Brass noted a similar concern in how the bill treats the business involved, when the lawsuit is over ITD's issuance of a permit. “They're not the ones who issue the permits to themselves,” she said.

Trial lawyers: Harwood bill ‘very confusing’

Barbara Jorden, lobbyist for the Idaho Trial Lawyers Association, told the Senate Transportation Committee her group opposes HB 193a, Rep. Dick Harwood's bill to require a 5 percent bond for anti-megaload lawsuits against ITD. “We in theory don't disagree with this bill, but it is very confusing to us, I think just as confusing to our association as it is to you trying to understand it,” she said. She said it's clear that the bill responds to an incident that's just happened. “I would like to say that it would be nice if we didn't pass legislation based on one incident,” she said. “We need to look at it a little more broadly than that one particular case, because that case was very confusing, it was confusing for the people that brought the case, it was confusing for the department. … given that we have been through that process in the last year and a half, I think that there is a greater understanding of how it is all supposed to work.”

She noted that Idaho law already has provisions to address frivolous lawsuits. “We already do have a mechanism within our state that covers and takes care of any instance where the lawsuits are just not appropriate,” she said. The bill seems to confuse a bond with a fee, Jorden said. She recommended killing the bill, but if lawmakers want to advance it, she proposed extensive amendments. However, she said, “It needs some more significant work than I think we can right now do to fix it.”

Senators question Harwood on bill seeking to block megaload lawsuits

Rep. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, is presenting his pro-megaloads bill, HB 193a, to the Senate Transportation Committee, and he's getting lots of questions; the bill would require a huge cash bond before anyone could file a lawsuit to block a transportation project on Idaho highways. Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, noted that Harwood spoke repeatedly of “frivolous lawsuits” and talked about the lawsuit that was filed in north-central Idaho against the proposed megaloads on Highway 12, but noted, “It's not my impression that the lawsuit that was brought in the megaloads case was considered to be frivolous by either the hearing officer or the judge.” Harwood responded, “I just used that term because sometimes that's how I feel they are.”

When Werk asked Harwood about his contention that people can find judges who'll rule any way they want, Harwood said, “Certain judges do lean in different directions. A lot of times maybe their … personal opinon, and I know in my case often my own personal opinion overrides the right thing to do.”

When Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, asked how much a typical 5 percent bond against the insured value of a load would be, as envisioned in the bill, Harwood said to haul an excavator requires $750,000 in liability insurance. Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, who owns a trucking company, questioned that. “That's what I understood,” Harwood said. “I might say that that's what my friend Jack Buell told me, so I'm going with what he told me.” Corder responded, “You might need to get a new friend. We haul them all the time, because we own them. … We don't have $750,000 on anything. So that's probably another piece of information that isn't quite correct.”

Schools that get ‘transportation’ money for computers…

Idaho has three virtual charter schools that receive “pupil transportation” funds from the state to pay for computers, Internet connections and the like for their students; those payments totaled $1.57 million last year. The three schools are the Idaho Virtual Academy, which had 2,817 students last year; iSucceed, which had 748 students; and Inspire, which had 568.

SB 1184 would double-fund virtual charter schools for existing computers

Last year, lawmakers requested a report from the state Department of Education on how the transportation funds it sends out to school districts are spent; a task force looked into the issue, and came back with its “Pupil Transportation Report - 2010 Legislative Report.” Among its findings: About six years earlier, the Legislature had authorized funding student computers and other high-tech equipment for virtual charter schools from the state's pupil transportation funds, reasoning that where brick-and-mortar schools have to transport students to school, virtual charter schools use computers to transport the education to the students.

The report found, “Virtual Charter Schools 'transportation' reimbursement represents approximately $1,200,000 in pupil transportation funding each year and continues to grow with each new virtual charter school,” and recommended that the practice end. “The Task Force feels that this program offers no true incentives for virtual schools to find ways to reduce their cost in 'transportation' expenses and that if the Legislature wants to continue to fund virtual schools technology use in homes, then it should be done by means of an alternate funding mechanism.”

No action ever was taken on the report, and virtual charter schools continue to get student computers funded by the state in this manner. Last year, they got $1,573,222, according to the state Department of Education. “Schools can only receive reimbursement for certain items, such as internet connectivity or computers, to name a few,” said Melissa McGrath, department spokeswoman. “This does not cover all their technology costs.”

Now, with SB 1184, Idaho would phase in a program to pay for a “one-to-one ratio” of computers to students in all Idaho high schools, and those schools that already have reached that ratio would get the money as additional discretionary funds. That means the three virtual charters, which already provide one computer per student, would get the discretionary money. McGrath said they could choose instead to get new computers and upgrade, but if they do that, they couldn't also get transportation reimbursements for the same new computers. They could, however, continue to claim transportation reimbursements for other qualifying expenses, like Internet connections. That means the bill would double-fund the virtual charters for their existing computers, but only single-fund new computers they purchase.

The bill, the third piece of state schools Supt. Tom Luna's sweeping school reform plan, is up for debate and passage in the Senate today at 3 p.m.

Senate readies for urban renewal amendments

Rep. Vito Barbieri's bill to require an additional hearing at urban renewal districts has been pulled from the Senate's amending order and sent back to the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee. Sen. Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston, the committee chairman, said, “The sponsor admits that the wording is somewhat conflicted in that bill in terms of what it wants to do. … Unfortunately we really were unable to clarify that. No amendments have come forth.” So HB 110 was returned to committee, by unanimous consent of the Senate. The Senate now is moving into its amending order and plans to make amendments to the larger urban renewal bill, HB 95.

Higher ed budget is lowest since 2000

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on the Senate's fiery debate and party-line vote today in favor of a higher ed budget for next year that sets state funding at its lowest level since 2000. Senators also approved a bare-bones budget for Idaho's community colleges today; none of the community colleges' requests for increased funding, including those to cover enrollment increases, were granted. Both budget bills now move to the House.

Senate passing budget bills, House heads into caucus

The Senate has voted 28-8 in favor of the budget bill for the state Liquor Division, SB 1182. Meanwhile, the House adjourned without taking up any of the bills on its 3rd Reading Calendar, and both parties there have gone into closed-door caucuses.

Party-line vote for higher ed budget in Senate

The Senate has voted 28-7 in favor of SB 1181, the higher education budget for next year, which calls for further cuts on top of those that have hit the state's colleges and universities for the past three years. It was a party-line vote, with the Democrats voting against, and the Republicans in favor.

Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, told the Senate, “Please understand while this may not be the budget you want to vote for, it is the best we can do given the situation we have, given the revenue stream that is projected.” Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, said, “I think we all recognize that we are in difficult times.” He lauded the state's colleges and universities for “doing more with less.”

Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, said, since 2009, colleges and universities have been cut by $75 million in state funds, a 26.4 percent reduction. “It is the budget that has taken the biggest hit of any budget that we pass, and this is our economic development engine that we are starving for resources.” Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise, who supported the bill, noted that while state general funds for universities would be cut again, a small increase in total funds is anticipated in the budget for next year due to a jump in dedicated funds; that additional money, however, largely is from increased tuition paid by the fast-growing student population.

Fiery debate in Senate on higher ed funding

The Senate is in the midst of a fiery debate over the higher education budget, which calls for additional cuts. Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, criticized minority Democrats for opposing the cuts, saying, “The electorate has placed us here as a guardian and as a watchdog over their pocketbook.”

Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d'Alene, said, “We're talking about higher education here.” He noted that most Idaho students don't even go on to higher ed, but those who do benefit greatly, including by earning higher salaries throughout their lives. “Tuition in Idaho is still one of the best buys in this country,” Hammond said, “and yes, they will have to pay a little more. … This all costs money and the students have to bear some of that load.” He said, “Quite frankly I'm not going to feel bad about that. They've got to have some skin in the game as well, and it's good for them.”
  

Amendment defeated, texting bill still allows texting while driving by the adept

The anti-texting while driving bill, HB 141, has been amended in the House, but an amendment proposed by Rep. Bill Killen, D-Boise, was voted down narrowly in a voice vote. Other amendments, which sought to clarify the bill, passed unanimously, and Killen supported them as well. But they didn't change the main thrust of the bill: That it would become illegal to text while driving if doing so distracts the driver, but not if the driver is able to do so without becoming distracted. Killen said his amendment would “make it abundantly clear that texting while driving is prohibited for all drivers in Idaho. … The purpose of this amendment is to remove any doubt in that regard. I urge your support.”

Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, the bill's sponsor, said he thought that would confuse things, and Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, said the change could foreclose regulating some new high-tech means of communication that might come out in the future. Killen disagreed. His amendment, he said, merely adds “a generic term to cover the manual entry. The whole purpose of that language is to keep your hands on the wheel and not on this hand-held device. I've been told and I don't disagree that this will be difficult to enforce.” He said the same could be said for the rest of the bill. “My point, though, is to send a message to everyone, young and old alike, regardless of the enforcement issue, that texting is not permitted on the roads of Idaho.”

Because Killen's amendment was defeated, the version of the bill that now will move forward still permits texting while driving as long as it doesn't make the driver distracted; officers couldn't pull someone over for texting while driving unless they notice a change in driving that reflects distraction.

Senate suspends rules, passes bill adjusting days-per-year for horse racing

SB 1133a, legislation adjusting the required number of days for horse racing each year, has passed the Senate on a 27-6 vote, after the Senate suspended its rules to bring the amended bill up for a vote today. The bill now moves to the House.

Bracing for the mini-megaloads: Still big enough to block both lanes of travel

ITD says it has no idea when the 66 ExxonMobil megaloads would travel through Moscow and Coeur d'Alene, as proposed in a new application, though it could be very soon - a crew of 100 is now working to cut the megaloads in half so they can travel on that route; you can read our full story here in today's Spokesman-Review. “Basically, their proposal does not contain a time frame,” said ITD spokesman Jeff Stratten. “If the proposal is approved, they have the ability to apply for a permit at that time for any time frame they desire.”

On the two-lane portions of Highway 95 where the giant loads of oil equipment would travel, the loads, even after being cut in half, would be big enough to block both lanes of traffic, which would have to wait up to 15 minutes to be guided around the loads when they pull off. On the sections that are more than two lanes, pilot cars should be able to guide traffic around the loads on an ongoing basis, Stratten said. That should be the case on all portions of I-90 the loads would travel, he said, as even where there are just two lanes on one side of the divided freeway, freeway lanes are larger and there are wider shoulders.
  

School bus ads bill resurfaces with amendments

The House Education Committee has voted to send SB 1111, the bill to permit advertising on school buses, to the House's amending order with a series of amendments attached, designed to address concerns  raised by opponents in an earlier House debate. The concerns were so widespread that House Education Chairman Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, pulled the bill back to committee for more work, rather than see it killed.

The measure was proposed by the Meridian School District, which estimates it could make hundreds of thousands for schools by selling the bus ads. Amendments proposed in the committee this morning would clarify that the ads can only go on the exterior of the buses, not the interior; would clarify that no political ads or ads for alcohol, tobacco or sexually explicit items could be placed; and require the placement of the ads to comply with rules for safety markings on school buses. They'd also specify that the money would go to the local school board for “appropriate educational purposes.” Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, said the bill is an example of “some out-of-the-box thinking” that he said “could generate some revenue that we think should go directly to the classroom.”

Rep. Brian Cronin, D-Boise, said, “I like these amendments, I think it certainly makes it a stronger bill. I haven't opposed this bill, and yet I've still felt uneasy about it since the get-go. … We're making school districts more of a commerciall venture. … There are a lot of ways that schools could go down this path,” such as having school shop classes produce items that then are sold for a profit. Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, the bill's lead sponsor, said, “I think we're all disappointed in the economic situation we're in, making the cuts. … We could say, 'Too bad, tough luck,' or we could allow the districts to use some creative way. This is a very limited way - this doesn't open up the slipperly slope to all the things that you've mentioned. … We've tightened it up.”

Rep. Mack Shirley, R-Rexburg, said, “I don't think this is setting a precedent for public schools. We've endorsed and utilized advertising for a long, long time. You just need to go to athletic fields and look at scoreboards. The only difference is this is a moving target. But all over our schools we have stationary advertising.” He said, “I still think that what Rep. Cronin brought up is correct - we need to be tastefully concerned that we just don't turn our schools into a commercial area or resource for advertisers.” But he said he's “comfortable” with the amendments. “I can't see this being a threat to safety if it's done appropriately on buses.”

Library Internet filtering bill draws concerns at hearing

The Senate Education Committee has been holding a hearing this afternoon on HB 205, the House-passed bill to require Idaho public libraries to filter Internet access for adults; the hearing stretched for well over two hours. Numerous questions were raised about the bill, including from librarians and others who said that Idaho libraries already filter Internet access in many cases, but the bill as written would impose unworkable and expensive burdens on how they function. State Librarian Ann Joslin told the committee, “HB 205 imposes a fiscal impact on our public libraries at a time when their usage is going up and in some cases skyrocketing, and their property tax revenues are declining.”

The Idaho Library Association had offered to work with the sponsors of the bill in the House to alter it to make it more workable for Idaho libraries, but the group behind the bill, “Citizens for Decency,” refused. Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, just adjourned his committee's hearing and said the panel will take the bill up again tomorrow at 2 p.m.

Day care licensing bill heads to Senate’s amending order to be ‘tweaked’

HB 129, the bill making various changes to Idaho's day-care licensing law, has been sent to the Senate's amending order, after a hearing that stretched for more than two hours this afternoon in the Senate Health & Welfare Committee. “There's a few things that need to be tweaked,” said committee Vice Chairwoman Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle. “We need something that's usable, that everybody can agree on, and I think if we can amend it and fix it so that the providers are happy, the Senate's happy, the House is happy, we've gained.” After Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll's substitute motion to pass the bill as-is failed on a voice vote, Broadsword's motion to send it to the 14th Order for amendment passed. Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, said he's confident senators can find “a compromise that will work, and I don't think it will be that difficult.”

ITD: Megaloads now proposed to run through Moscow, Coeur d’Alene

The Idaho Transportation Department has issued a news release saying ExxonMobil submitted plans to it detailing how it now plans to move 60 giant megaloads of oil equipment from Lewiston up Highway 95 to Coeur d'Alene, then east on I-90 to Montana. “The largest shipment proposed is 24 feet wide, 15-feet-10-inches-tall and 207 feet in length, including the transport truck and trailer,” ITD reports. “The heaviest load proposed weighs 165,347 pounds, not including the transport truck and trailer. Each shipment would move between 10 p.m. and 5:30 a.m., and take three nights. Traffic delays would be limited to 15 minutes.” Click below for the full ITD news release, which doesn't say anything about when the transports would happen, only that “engineers from the department have just started analyzing the plan.”

AP: North Idaho spat threatens renewable energy extension deal

The Associated Press reports that a spat between Avista Corp. and Kootenai Electric Coooperative is threatening to scuttle a deal between wind industry lobbyists, Idaho Power Co. officials and the governor's office over extension of a renewable energy tax rebate; click below for the full story from AP reporter John Miller.

GOP leaders close to deal on closed primary

Idaho Republican leaders are close to inking a deal that would limit GOP primary elections to the party's registered voters, the AP reports, long a goal of conservatives who suspect crossover voting that's been allowed since 1972 has produced GOP candidates who fail to hew closely enough to the party line. The Senate's GOP members met privately on Tuesday on the plan, while House Republicans will do likewise Wednesday or Thursday, reports AP reporter John Miller, who writes that the bill comes after a federal judge ruled this year that Idaho's 38-year-old open primary system was unconstitutional. According to the draft measure, Republicans would vote in GOP primary races, while Democrats would vote in Democratic primaries. Party leaders —likely the parties' central committees — could allow unaffiliated voters to participate, with their ballot choice becoming a public record.

An independent voter group announced Wednesday it was appealing the court decision, though that will hardly deter legislative action. House Speaker Lawerence Denney said he expects a bill introduction by Friday. “We are very close,” said Denney, R-Midvale. Click below to read Miller's full report.

Dems decry latest ed bill as ‘repackaging of same flawed proposals’

House and Senate Democrats have issued a statement criticizing the latest school reform bill as “a repackaging of the same flawed proposals introduced in January, masquerading as 'new and improved.'” They also decried “intimidation tactics being used by bill supporters;” you can read their full statement here.

Anti-abortion bill: ‘Here we go again, folks’

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on the passage of anti-abortion legislation in the Idaho Senate today to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy on grounds of fetal pain, despite Idaho attorney general's opinions warning that the bill is likely unconstitutional. “So here we go again, folks, we're passing legislation that we know is unconstitutional,” warned Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, who opposed the measure. “We're putting good money after bad.” The bill makes no exceptions for cases of rape, incest, or severe fetal abnormalities, nor would it permit consideration of the mother's mental or psychological health; it would allow post-20 weeks abortions only to save the mother's life or physical health. The bill, SB 1165, now moves to the House.

EPA says it’d take over Idaho air quality regulation if HB 282 becomes law

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The federal Environmental Protection Agency says it would likely intervene in how Idaho protects its air quality if the Legislature passes the latest effort to gut auto emissions testing in Canyon County. Rep. Brent Crane of Nampa has become the latest standard bearer for what's become an annual — but decidedly longshot — effort to kill emissions tests that his constituents brand a government overreach. A similar measure died last year. Crane's bill, HB 282, would end testing, prohibit the state Department of Environmental Quality from regulating vehicle pollution and repeal regional air quality councils. In its letter Monday, EPA regulators warned Idaho Department of Environmental Quality Director Toni Hardesty that such a law could prompt the federal agency to assume oversight of how Idaho complies with federal Clean Air Act requirements.

Guv’s job tax credit bill passes House, with help from Dems

GOP Gov. Butch Otter's “Hire One Act,” providing a tax credit for new hires, has cleared the House on a 60-9 vote. Oddly, opposition to the bill came mainly from House Republicans, while minority Democrats argued in favor of the bill, HB 297. House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, responding to opponents who suggested the bill smelled, told the House, “It's the fertilizer to grow jobs in the state of Idaho.” The bill now moves to the Senate.

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said the bill is similar to one he co-sponsored with Moyle last year, which passed the House but died in a Senate committee. “It's nice to be ranting and be political - every now and then you have to do something that actually helps,” he said.

Senate to take up school reform bill tomorrow

The Senate has announced that it'll take up SB 1184 tomorrow afternoon, which will require a two-thirds vote to suspend rules, as the bill will only have been on second reading that morning. Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, said he asked the indulgence of senators to make that move “from a time-management point of view.” He said, “By picking that up earlier, it will allow the joint committee to go back to work and set the education bill for budgets. If we wait on 1184 until next week, that means we lose the weekend time plus Thursday and Friday in getting that legislation ready, and you can tack every one of those days onto the length of the session.”

Southwest schedule change forces change in Legislature’s floor sessions

Southwest Airlines won’t be getting happy passenger testimonials from 15 North Idaho legislators, reports S-R reporter Tom Sowa. Those 15 senators and representatives’ change in travel arrangements, set in motion by Southwest’s recent elimination of one nonstop flight from Boise to Spokane, is forcing the Idaho Legislature to convene an hour earlier on Fridays. North Idaho lawmakers used to catch a 2:35 p.m. flight to Spokane on Fridays, but now the only Boise-to-Spokane flights on Southwest are at 1 p.m. and 9 p.m.; Southwest is the only airline that flies nonstop between the two cities. You can read Sowa's full story here in today's Spokesman-Review.
  

Otter: Ed bill is ‘result of concerns’

Gov. Butch Otter answered questions from reporters today after a bill-signing ceremony for SB 1074, the bill to allow 16-year-olds to donate blood with their parents' permission. He acknowledged that he was hit with lots of questions from citizens during his recent trip to North Idaho about this year's school-reform legislation. “The bill that we've now got in process and working its way through the Senate is result of a lot of the concerns that we heard during the hearings,” Otter said. “Obviously it did find considerable favor in the education committee; we hope it finds the same degree of favor on the Senate floor.”

Otter said with the state short of funds, “We can do a better job with the money” in the public school budget; the new bill, SB 1184, shifts funds from teacher salaries to technology.

Asked about the guns-on-campus bill, Otter said he wasn't ready to give his opinion yet, saying, “It's in process.” He said he's met with the bill's sponsors, and said he still has the same concerns he had about a similar measure three years ago.

How they voted…

Here's how Idaho senators voted on SB 1165, the 20-week abortion ban, which passed on a 24-10 vote and now heads to the House:

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

Voting against: Sens. Bilyeu, Bock, Broadsword, Keough, LeFavour, Malepeai(McWilliam), Schmidt, Stegner, Stennett, and Werk.

Senate votes 24-10 in favor of SB 1165, banning abortions after 20 weeks

The Senate has voted 24-10 in favor of SB 1165, Sen. Chuck Winder's bill to ban all abortions after 20 weeks on grounds of fetal pain, unless it's to save the mother's life or physical health. The measure includes no exception for cases of rape or incest, or for severe fetal anomalies, and passed after an emotional and at times heated debate. The bill now moves to the House.

Werk: ‘I heap my scorn on this bill’

Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, told the Senate, “I've read several attorney general's opinions on this and while my good friend from 21 says we're not causing a problem, the attorney general says that a rapist could file suit over this. I've read the attorney general's opinion that says this is unconstitutional.  So here we go again, folks, we're passing legislation that we know is unconstitutional. … We're putting good money after bad.”

Broadsword said she read a report showing there were only four abortions after 16 weeks gestation in Idaho in 2009. “That's not a big problem,” she said. “We're having to choose between our morals and our ethics. When we vote for an unconstitutional bill, we put our ethics in danger. I don't think that this is good legislation. It's not written properly. There are problems with the bill. If you want to address this issue, come back and do it right - do it so that it's constitutional.”

Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, told the Senate, “I can't believe what I'm hearing on the floor today, that we are willing to provide a legal remedy to rapists because we don't think it'll be such an issue.” He declared, “I heap my scorn on this bill.”

Debate in Senate on abortion bill…

The Senate is debating SB 1165, Sen. Chuck Winder's bill to ban all abortions after 20 weeks on grounds of fetal pain, unless it's to save the mother's life or physical health. “I think it's worthy of our consideration during a very stressful legislative session,” Winder told the Senate. “This is not an effort to challenge Roe vs. Wade. This is to take a bite out of the apple, to move it back, under new science, new information that's available to us, relating to pain suffered in the event of an abortion.”

But Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, told the Senate that the thinking behind the bill is that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy has cited fetal pain issues in his writing on abortion, and he'd be the deciding vote on abortion, which Roe vs. Wade legalized up to the point of fetal viability. “It just seems like there's a very great chance, with Kennedy being the deciding vote on the Supreme Court,” she said. “In his decisions … he talked about the fetal pain. … That 's our contention is that this would be upheld by the Supreme Court if it came to that point.”

Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, spoke against the bill, citing cases of serious fetal abnormalities. “These are fetal conditions that are incompatible with life outside of the womb after birth. This bill would not allow the parents to have a choice, but would require the mother to go through a painful birth, because natural vaginal birth is painful, only to watch the baby die,” she said. She also noted that the bill would give a rapist standing to sue a doctor over an abortion past 20 weeks.

Both Winder and Nuxoll said the issue of rapists probably wouldn't apply because most pregnancies that are a result of rape are detected before 20 weeks. “Usually in rape they check the woman right away,” Nuxoll told the Senate.

Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, a doctor, said, “We have a problem here. … We are discussing a bill that potentially could make many doctors in this state felons unknowingly.” The way the bill is written, he said, it redefines gestational age to calculate it from the date of fertilization, and it defines inducing labor as an abortion. “In my opinion this is a fatal flaw for this bill,” said Schmidt, who noted that the Idaho Medical Association opposes it for that reason. “There are lots of other issues, and I could take a lot of time on those, but I won't. This is a fatal flaw.”
  

Rev & Tax votes 14-4 to kill energy rebate extension bill, look at new versions

The House Revenue & Taxation Committee has voted 14-4 to hold HB 250, the energy tax rebate extension bill, in committee, in favor of two new bills to be introduced soon, one dealing with the sales tax rebate, including a sunset date and the dates contracts must be signed to qualify, and the other dealing with issues regarding PURPA, the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act, which requires utilities to purchase power from small generators of renewable energy. The four “no” votes were from a bipartisan group: Reps. John Rusche, D-Lewiston; Bill Killen, D-Boise; Lenore Barrett, R-Challis; and Bob Schaefer, R-Nampa. No date was set for consideration of the two new bills; that was left at the call of the chairman.

Barbieri withdraws ‘Legislative Counsel’ bill

Rep. Vito Barbieri has withdrawn HB 278, his bill to have the Legislature set up its own “Office of Legislative Counsel” rather than seek advice from the Idaho Attorney General, and shift funding and staff from the AG's office to accomplish that. “After yesterday's hearing, realizing how pressed State Affairs is to try to get done here, and after the questions that I received, I just withdrew the bill,” Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, said this morning. “I just thought discussion needs to be a little more in-depth. With State Affairs as pressed as they are, it seemed better to withdraw it and talk about the issue over the interim, and maybe bring it back next session. It's just too late. There's some educating that needs to go on here.”

Barbieri said, “I think it is an issue that is more serious than it's being made out to be. But it's not so crucial in terms of time. It's just that the Legislature has gotten into the habit of running and getting permission. I think once they recognize the freedom of having their own counsel, they'll see that the conflict is serious.”

Otter’s been taking lots of questions up north on school reform bills…

Gov. Butch Otter was questioned - a lot - about the school-reform proposals when he and Lt. Gov. Brad Little were in Sandpoint, Wallace and Bonners Ferry in recent days, Little said this morning. “Most of the questions were about the public education bill - he took a lot of questions up there.”

Responding to questions from reporters, Little also said he fully expects Otter to complete his term as governor. “If he was going to be a short-termer, he wouldn't be making all the tough decisions he's making right now.”

Asked about the guns-on-campus bill, Little said he hasn't studied the legislation and reached a final conclusion, but said he's concerned that it may put public colleges and universities at a competitive disadvantage, because the private schools would have more latitude to set their own policies regarding campus issues. “I think it's going to be an issue for 'em,” he said. Little said when he was a college student, he often had guns in his room, but “times have changed.”
  

Little: Nothing he’d veto so far this year…

Asked if there are any bills so far this session that he would veto - the lieutenant governor is acting governor when the governor is out of state, and gets to sign or veto bills - Lt. Gov. Brad Little said, “Actually I have written a few notes on a couple bills,” and he said he's seen a draft of a letter on one bill that Gov. Butch Otter may let become law without his signature. But, Little said, “There's nothing I've seen yet that I would veto. But it's no different than serving in the Legislature. There's a lot of bills that you vote on that you wish you had 'none of the above' as an option, but it's action that has to take place. It's just like these incredibly complex education series of bills. There's little bits and pieces of it that I don't like, but the total direction of it I think is absolutely essential.”

Little: Ed reform bill likely to pass, problems could be fixed ‘down the road’

Lt. Gov. Brad Little, who serves as president of the Senate, was asked this morning about SB 1184, the new school-reform bill that cleared the Senate Education Committee late yesterday. “I think it'll pass,” he said. “They traded off the denomination, the number of positions, in essence to respond to people's complaints that it was too restrictive, so now it's less restrictive. … I support the concept of reforming public education, of allowing more tools, of improving technology. … Are there some details of it that I haven't fallen in love with? Yes.” But he said with the time frames laid out in the bill, “If we run into those problems and they need to be changed, they can be changed down the road.”

Little: New closed-primary bill not perfect, but better than expected

Idaho Lt. Gov. Brad Little is addressing the Idaho Press Club this morning; answering questions from reporters, Little said he's generally in favor of the closed-primary bill that's in the works, though he would have preferred leaving Idaho's primary election system the way it is. “I'm kinda like the secretary of state, I think participation is a very important thing in the electoral process, so maximizing participation is very important,” he said. The new bill, which Little said is likely to come out late this week or early next week, still would permit “non-affiliated” voters to vote in Republican primaries under certain circumstances, he said. “Is it perfect? In my opinion, no. Will it satisfy the federal judge? Yes. Will it maximize participation? I think it will more than I thought it was going to.”

Senate committee passes Medicaid cuts bill on party-line vote

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A bill that cuts $35 million from state Medicaid funding is now cruising through the Senate. Republicans on the Senate Health and Welfare Committee on Tuesday sent it to a full chamber vote. It results in a total loss of $108 million, including federal matching funds. It's been the subject of hours of debate this year, but tepid state revenue and the Republican-dominated Legislature's reluctance to boost taxes has necessitated chipping further away at this health care program for poor and disabled adults, children and elderly people. In Tuesday's Senate hearing, Democrat Les Bock of Boise suggested slashing Medicaid would produce costs elsewhere in the public safety net. Republican Sen. Patti Anne Lodge countered this bill results from a “small paring knife” that targets waste and duplication, not whole programs; it cleared the committee on a party-line vote.

Senate panel sides with Luna on school reform

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on today's committee approval of the third school reform bill in state schools Supt. Tom Luna's three-bill package, after the measure was reworked but kept its main parts - phasing in new laptop computers for every Idaho high school student, diverting school district funds to online course providers, and shifting funding from teachers to technology. The Senate Education Committee's 6-3 approval of the bill, SB 1184, came after invited stakeholders unanimously panned the new bill; it marks a victory for the committee's chairman, Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, the bill's lead legislative sponsor.

Goedde: ‘There never is a good time to institute change’

Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, presided over today's committee meeting, but never said much. Afterward, asked about the bill, SB 1184, which he's sponsoring, he said, “I think it made some improvements in 1113 without sacrificing the goal of reform, and this piece was to develop the 21st Century classroom. We have to do that with giving teachers the training and the equipment to improve the education of our students.”

Asked about the unanimous opposition from all the education stakeholders he invited to testify today, Goedde said, “Remember that all the stakeholders are faced with allocating the funds that are available to them in a manner that they see fit, subject to the line items that are available. … In a tight budget year, we're putting further restrictions on how they can spend the money that we're sending.” He said, “There never is a good time to institute change. But the third bill was critical in the change that's been envisioned by the superintendent and the governor, and I think down the road 10 years, we'll wonder why it took us so long.”

Luna: ‘We have accomplished comprehensive reform in Idaho’

State schools Supt. Tom Luna said after the Senate Education Committee's vote, “We've addressed the concerns - that's the process.” He said, “I wish there was more than the $13 million going for technology, but I understand the fiscal constraints.” He said his original bill, SB 1113, would have put $24 million into technology. Luna said between the new bill, SB 1184, and the two already signed into law, SB 1108 on teacher contracts and SB 1110 on teacher performance pay, “We have accomplished comprehensive reform in Idaho.” He also noted that the bill cleared the committee today by a stronger margin than the last one; SB 1113 had just squeaked through the panel on a 5-4 vote.

Committee passes SB 1184, 6-3

The Senate Education Committee has voted 6-3 in favor of SB 1184, the school reform bill, which now goes to the full Senate with a recommendation that it “do pass.” Those voting in favor of the bill were Sens. Toryanski, Winder, Fulcher, Mortimer, Goedde, and Pearce. Those voting against were Sens. Andreason, McWilliam, and LeFavour.

Committee debate: ‘My concerns … were acted upon’

So far, Sens. John Andreason, R-Boise, and Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, have spoken of their opposition to the bill, and Sens. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, and Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise, have spoken of their support. Andreason said the main reason he serves in the Senate is because of his concern for education, and his constituents are telling him “this isn't good legislation.” LeFavour said, “Before us we have a huge commitment on a grand scale to an experiment that we haven't tested, and a tradeoff that I think is going to hurt Idaho kids and schools in really dire ways, that people have very clearly expressed their opposition to.”

Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise, said, “It seems to me that my concerns and the concerns of many of my constituents were heard and were acted upon.” He said in his view, the bill is “good for kids, good for parents and good for teachers.”

Mortimer: No way to avoid cuts to schools

Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, said, “Because of our budget circumstances, I believe that there's no way we're not going to have cuts to education.” He said the cuts to salary-based apportionment in the bill are not cuts to education, because the money still would go to education, though it'd be rerouted to technology. “We want to spend as much as we can on our children,” he said. “But that amount is set, and will be set, by the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.” Discussion within that figure about how to spend the money, he said, is appropriate.

He said, “Some people are saying wait on the technology piece.” But he said it's less than 1 percent of the overall budget, and asked, “Isn't that important enough that we maintain that 1 percent? … The technology outdates, it's old. We have to have the money in technology to continue forward.”
  

Committee begins debating SB 1184, the latest school reform bill

Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, objected to Otter aide Roger Brown's closing remarks, saying, “This does not appear to save the state any cuts in education.” She said basic math shows her that the bill, SB 1184, increases cuts to education, not reduces them.

Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, said, “This has been a very difficult process of all of us.” He said no one wants to mandate five years' worth of cuts in education, and he hopes Idaho's economy will improve in the future. But he said the state is unlikely to have “lots more money next year,” and said, “This bill probably is necessary in its current form.”

Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, moved to send SB 1184 with a recommendation that it “do pass.” Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, seconded the motion.

Brown: ‘We cannot be deterred’

In his closing comments, Otter aide Roger Brown told the Senate Education Committee, “This is a sacred obligation by the state.” He said the Idaho Constitution demands education. “It's very difficult. A lot of passions have been ignited,” he said. “Cutting the system is equally painful, perhaps moreso. … We cannot be deterred from trying to do more with that money. Circumstances today, through no fault of our own in Idaho, dictate that we do more with less.”

Boeckel: “Idaho PTA objects”

Laurie Boeckel of the Idaho PTA told the Senate Education Committee, “Idaho PTA … objects to mandates being determined by the state Board of Education, consists of political appointees … who are not able to be held accountable by the public.” She said, “This legislation erodes meaningful parent involvement. … PTA opposes increasing classroom sizes. … After historic cuts to public education, Idaho PTA objects to additional mandates outlined in the bill to local districts.”
  

Wood: ‘Trades teachers for technology’

Sherri Wood, president of the Idaho Education Association, told the Senate Education Committee, “We all know that what Idaho needs is more jobs. SB1184 will mean hundreds and perhaps thousands of lost jobs for Idaho.” She said the bill's technology mandates and other funding changes mean “districts will have little choice but to increase class size … cut staff, increase furlough days, and perhaps all of the above.” She said, “We know technology is a tool that can only supplement, not replace, the guidance of a caring, competent adult in the room. That is why SB 1184 is so insidious.” Wood said, “We're going to say it again, (the bill) trades teachers for technology. … SB 1184 creates a permanent line item for computers while reducing the amount of direct teacher time for the student.” She said, “Idaho could lose up to a quarter of its current teaching jobs. Think about what that will do to class size. How is this going to attract teachers to Idaho? … Worst of all, what does it mean for Idaho's children?”

In response to questions from senators, Wood said, “I don't like standing up here saying we don't want the technology, because we do. But you don't buy these new things when you can't afford the basics.”

Homer: ‘We strongly disagree with the funding mechanism’

Phil Homer, legislative liaison for the Idaho Association of School Administrators, told the Senate Education Committee, “We strongly disagree with the funding mechanism” in SB 1184. “As you might understand, our association was quite surprised,” he said, that the “Students Come First” plan would be funded by shifting money from salary-based apportionment. He said the group also objects to that source as the funding source for the pay-for-performance bill, which the group supported. Homer said he hoped there was “a better way.”

Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, asked Homer, “If not salary-based apportionment, where do we go, what do we tap into?” Homer answered, “I do not have the answer to that question. That's the reason I would ask for the opportunity for a group of us to sit down and dialogue. Maybe there is no other way, but maybe there is.”

School boards: ‘An unprecedented move, and one we cannot support’

Karen Echeverria, executive director of the Idaho School Boards Association, joked, “This is a warning that by having me testify first, there might be dire consequences. That's not a threat.” That was an allusion to news reports over the past two days about an email she sent to school trustees across the state warning that working against SB 1184 would bring “consequences,” including forced consolidation and cuts in funding.

The first “stakeholder” scheduled to testify today, Echeverria said her group wants flexiblity. “School districts have been through some very tough financial times for the last two years,” she said. “We believe that we have proven to you that we can handle the responsibility that was given to us through the financial emergency statute. … Unfortunately, we believe that this legislation as written takes some of that flexibility away from school districts by putting some of the funding into line items over which school districts have very little say and may not be needed due to … technology already in place.” She said trustees want a survey of existing technology in use in Idaho schools before purchasing more. And, she said, “A law that forces a reduction in funding over a five-year period” is “an unprecedented move, and one that we cannot support.”

Boise, Meridian districts tally losses under SB 1184

The superintendents and school board chairmen of the state's two largest school districts, Boise and Meridian, have sent a letter to their local lawmakers urging them to oppose SB 1184, because they estimate the districts will lose millions of dollars in state funding under the bill. “SB 1184 would have an ongoing, cumulative negative impact on the general fund budgets of the Meridian and Boise districts,” the letter says; you can read it here. “Though we support the use of technology to improve instruction and efficiency, and are developing online and blended approaches, we cannot support these reductions to Salary-Based Apportionment, which will occur over and above any losses to the Districts because of the economy.”
  

Brown says districts will be ‘gatekeepers’ for online classes, but bill says otherwise

In response to a question from acting Sen. Carole McWilliam about school districts having to pay for online classes that students then fail, Otter aide Roger Brown told the Senate Education Committee that the new bill removes that concern. “The bill before the committee today is very specific about the fact that if the child is going to be registered in an online course, it must be through the registration process at their district,” he said. “I can say that the concerns you're expressing are not represented in this legislation … We have deferred to the district or the school as the gatekeeper on whether a child can register for an online course.”

But SB 1184, on page 22, says, “Beginning with the 2012-2013 school year, parents and guardians of secondary students shall have the right to enroll such students in any online course, WITH OR WITHOUT the permission of the school district or public charter school in which the student is enrolled,” as long as the provider is accredited and the course meets Idaho content standards. The bill does say that parents will register their students for the online course “through the school district or public charter school's normal registration process,” but it requires that process to “accommodate such enrollment requests” as long as they're made by 30 days before the end of the previous term.

‘Invest in vital new programs by seeking efficiencies in school budget’

Carole McWilliam is filling in for Sen. Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello, this week, as he's gone for a family funeral. She just asked whether the state Department of Education has “baseline data” on how many teachers are not already trained on using technology, how many teachers don't have computers, and how many classrooms don't already have high-tech smartboards. Luci Willits, chief of staff for  state schools Supt. Tom Luna, said she can get that information, but didn't have it with her.

Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, asked Otter aide Roger Brown about timing on the pay-for-performance plan already signed into law. Brown said the new bill provides the funding in subsequent years, through its required shifts within the public school budget; it's not scheduled to start until 2013. “This piece of legislation will fully fund pay for performance,” Brown said. “This bill finds ways to invest in vital new programs by seeking efficiencies in the current public schools budget.” He said the bill “invests in all the right places.”

‘Difficult decision to reallocate resources’

After Otter aide Roger Brown assured the Senate Education Committee that the reform plan doesn't envision replacing teachers with computers, Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, said, “In the bill, there are at least three places where money is taken out of the funds that fund teachers, and … put into technology.” She said, “In that case, who will replace those teachers, or what will replace those teachers?”

Brown said, “The reality is we do not have the funds. … It is a difficult decision to make to reallocate any of those resources.” But he said Gov. Butch Otter believes the advantages of boosting technology in schools “merits consideration, serious consideration.” He said, “We don't want to be overly prescriptive in telling a district what they must or must not cut.”

Otter aide: ‘Students must be prepared for life in an online world’

Roger Brown, aide to Gov. Butch Otter, is presenting SB 1184, the new version of state schools Supt. Tom Luna's third school reform bill, to the Senate Education Committee. He said, “Our students must be prepared for life in an online world.” The new bill shifts funds from salary-based apportionment, the main funding stream from the state that pays for teacher salaries, to pay for technology upgrades including laptop computers. “We do indeed … do more with less thanks to the efficiency of technology,” Brown said. He said the bill proposes “an unprecedented investment in training and best practices” for teachers on use of technology, plus buying laptops, first for teachers, and then in subsequent years for all high school students.

Meridian supt on SB 1184: Like being asked whether to cut ‘an arm or a leg’

Linda Clark, superintendent of the Meridian School District, the state's largest, has submitted a letter to the Senate Education Committee, which won't be taking public testimony today on SB 1184, objecting to the bill. She writes that her district strongly supports “many of the concepts in this legislation.” But, she wrote, “We stand strongly in opposition to the manner in which SB 1184 will fund them. Significantly reducing salary based apportionment for multiple years (and placing this in statute) is an inappropriate method of funding even the most worthwhile projects,” Clark writes.

“Further, suggesting that school districts will have “choices” for how to pass along the reductions misses the reality that every school district in Idaho will be faced with “bargaining” with their staff for reductions in salary over the next six years. Is it truly “local control” to have to decide between fewer contract days, fewer teachers, and/or lower salaries? The situation that will be created is somewhat akin to the notion of telling someone that they are about to lose an appendage and then giving them the “choice” of whether it will be an arm or a leg.” You can read her full letter here.

Measure to limit specialty license plates clears Senate committee

The Senate Transportation Committee has approved SB 1179, the bill to limit new specialty license plates to just public agencies or foundations that benefit them, sending it to the full Senate, after much debate. Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, said he sponsored legislation to limit specialty plates two years ago; it passed the Senate but stalled in the House. But he said this bill, proposed by new Senate Transportation Chairman Jim Hammond, goes too far by limiting the plates to just government agencies.

“There are groups and organizations that are using these plates successfully,” McGee said, such as the Special Olympics, which wouldn't qualify under the bill; existing plates, however, would be grandfathered in. McGee moved to hold the bill in committee, but Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, made a substitute motion to send it to the full Senate with a “do pass” recommendation, and that motion carried on a voice vote. “There are all kinds of things that people are trying to do with plates to benefit groups out there that many of us wouldn't agree with,” Werk said. “I just think it's a good idea to try to do this.”

Nonini on tribal cigtax bill: ‘I guess no news is good news’

The Idaho Indian Affairs Council met at the state Capitol yesterday, and when asked what was up with tribal law enforcement legislation, Helo Hancock of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe said there were “no real new developments with any legislation,” since the House narrowly rejected the tribe's policing bill, HB 111. “Since then, we've been beginning the process to have our officers go through the federal deputization and moving towards that alternative, so that's in the works now,” he said. When Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, asked what that would mean for a non-Indian stopped for a violation on the reservation, Hancock said it would depend on what law they were violating, but said, “Under certain circumstances, that person could be arrested under federal law and then they would be … in federal court for citation or prosecution.”

Also on the council's agenda: HB 196, a bill that House Speaker Lawerence Denney introduced shortly before the council's last meeting, blindsiding tribal representatives by proposing to tax reservation cigarette sales. The council sent a letter objecting, and Nonini reported that he's received no response. “I have not heard another thing - it's been very quiet,” he told the assembled tribal leaders and state officials. “I guess maybe we can think that this council is so powerful that just us writing a letter squashed the speaker of the House's legislation, that's how powerful we are.” Nonini added, “And I have not wanted to push to hear another thing. … I think there's a big push for us to be out of town, maybe by the end of next week.”

Nonini said after the meeting that he's heard nothing more about the bill since the day it was introduced. “I guess no news is good news,” he said. “I know the speaker has got a real strong feeling about being done next week.”

‘Right to Farm’ law expansion clears Senate panel

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A Senate committee has endorsed changes to the state's “Right to Farm” law that would make it more difficult to file nuisance lawsuits against farmers seeking to expand their operations. The Senate Agricultural Affairs Committee on Tuesday passed the bill 6-2, with Democrats voting against. Approval comes amid concerns farmer growth would be unchecked, not only by local government officials seeking to enforce zoning laws but citizens and neighbors worried about farm and feedlot growth pushing to their property lines. But farm industry lobbyist Roger Batt says the bill aims to protect one of Idaho's biggest economic engines and enable farmers big and small to operate without fear of reprisals from nuisance lawsuits. The bill, HB 210, earlier passed the House.

Hart’s wolf bill sent off for fixes

Rep. Phil Hart's bill to ban any state or local government employee from assisting “in any way” with wolf management or enforcement ran into problems yesterday in the House Resources & Conservation Committee, but the panel agreed, at Hart's request, to send HB 274 to the amending order in the full House for fixes. “It probably needs to be worked on some more,” Hart told the panel. “It could be more clear, I agree.”

Rep. Dell Raybould, R-Rexburg, noted that the bill as written would prevent the state from doing its annual count of how many wolves are in the state, “so that we continue to know what kind of a menace we have in population and size.” Sharon Kiefer of the Idaho Fish & Game Department said the bill, as written, would penalize Fish & Game employees for referring wolf issues to federal authorities, which is their current procedure under the governor's order to turn wolf management back over to the feds. A Fish & Game receptionist would be penalized under the bill for referring a caller to the Fish & Wildlife Service. “That lady at the front desk, now you make her into a defendant,” Kiefer told the committee.

Bill London, speaking for the association of Idaho conservation officers, said, “It would make the officer a defendant and subject them to penalties for forwarding the information,” even when their code of ethics would require forwarding it, or when failing to pass along evidence provided to the officer to the appropriate authority would constitute evidence tampering.  Hart said he thought his bill covered all that by allowing state workers to do those things on their time off, but said, “I didn't anticipate that a receptionist who's on the state's clock would get a phone call on the state's time.”

Rep. Lenore Barrett, R-Challis, told Hart she'd support the move to the amending order “in the hope that in your diplomatic role you can come to some terms on this particular issue, but I will tell you right now … maybe there's an ethical thing here, but as far as I'm concerned here it's tattling, and I don't think we need to tattle to the federal government.”

Crapo: Fiscal crisis looms due to federal debt

U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo's message to the Senate and House today was a somber one: “Right now the United States faces a crisis, a fiscal crisis,” he said, saying the national debt is out of control. “You cannot continue as a nation to carry that kind of a debt level.” Crapo said, “We are not changing course yet.” He served on the president's fiscal commission that proposed $4 trillion in spending cuts and tax increases over 10 years; but the commission needed 14 of its 18 members to vote for the plan for it to be presented to Congress, and it got only 11 votes, Crapo's included. “So the commission report did not get put before Congress for a vote,” he said.  “There are some of us now who are … negotiating to see if we can put something of that scope together to put before the Senate. … So that's where we are. I don't know if we will get something. I do know that we have no real alternative but to get something and move forward.”

Crapo said if the nation doesn't change course, “Frankly we lose the confidence of the bond markets that we will be able to service our own debt.” That, he said, would lead to skyrocketing interest rates and inflation and devaluation of the dollar. “The economic consequences are literally of the scope that they will jeopardize the American dream.”

He said, “My message to you today is that the fight is on, and it's a fight that we must win. It's not a Democrat or a Republican fight. It's a fight for America.”

Barbieri’s ‘Office of Legislative Counsel’ bill draws lots of questions

Lawmakers on the House State Affairs Committee had plenty of questions this morning about Rep. Vito Barbieri's bill to set up a separate “Office of Legislative Counsel” to provide legal opinions for the Legislature, sidestepping the state Attorney General's office - and cutting its budget and staff to fund the new office. Barbieri, who is a lawyer but is not licensed to practice in Idaho, said he sees an “inherent conflict of interest” in the attorney general providing opinions to the Legislature; asked for an example, he cited his health care nullification bill, which the attorney general advised was unconstitutional. “That purported to be a legal opinion but in having come before the bill was even introduced, it became a political opinion,” Barbieri told lawmakers. “And these kinds of conflicts need to be alleviated or at least avoided.”

Rep. Elfreda Higgins, D-Garden City, responded, “I fail to see how that's a conflict.” She asked if Barbieri's bill set the stage for both the House and Senate to say they wanted their own lawyers, and the minority and majority too. “Couldn't everybody just stand up and say, 'Well, I want my own attorney that will say what I want them to say?'” Barbieri responded, “The Legislature already has the power to hire its own attorneys, so this is not adding a new power or a new policy.” Given that response, Higgins and other committee members questioned why the bill was needed.

Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, a lawyer, questioned how a two-attorney “Office of Legislative Counsel” would compare to the broad array of legal expertise the attorney general's staff has now, on topics ranging from public utilities to natural resources to Medicaid. Barbieri said, “That is certainly a point well taken,” but said he thought “two attorneys should be sufficient.”

Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, questioned what would happen when an attorney hired by the Legislature had a different opinion than the state's elected attorney general. “What if they're in conflict and it is a constitutional question? Who rules? Who decides?” he asked. “That is precisely the point, Rep. Henderson, is that you decide,” Barbieri responded. “The Legislature will make that determination.” The committee ran out of time and will continue its hearing on the bill, HB 278, tomorrow; a representative of the attorney general's office is scheduled to testify next.

Sen. Crapo to address both houses today

U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo is scheduled to speak to the Senate this morning at 11, and the House this morning at 11:30. Because of that and other scheduling concerns, the Senate will not take up the abortion bill, SB 1165, today; that's the bill that would ban all abortions after 20 weeks gestation on grounds of fetal pain. Instead, it'll be up first thing tomorrow, Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, told the Senate.

House committee approves anti-assisted suicide bill, backer says God approves

The House State Affairs Committee has voted unanimously in favor of SB 1070a, the bill to ban assisted suicide and make it a felony. Jason Herring, president of Right to Life of Idaho, told the committee, “All this belongs to God, all this is under His control.” He said anyone assisting with a suicide is “usurping the authority of God and robbing the deathbed of all that is precious and holy in His eyes.” He said,  “We believe the state of Idaho has a vested interest in promoting and maintaining what is righteous and just in the eyes of God.”

Rep. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, while complimenting Herring on his faith, said, “Will you grant that there are those in the state that might not follow the same faith tradition as yours, and whose perspective on death might be different?” Herring responded that he thought his views on the Creator matched those of the founding fathers, but said he respected that others have other views. “I do agree and understand what you're saying, that not everyone has that same faith background,” he said.

The bill now moves to the full House; it already has passed the Senate. Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, said, “I kinda had a lot of doubts when I came in the room, because I was thinking this would allow some frivolous person to stop palliative care of a terminal patient.” But she said she's comfortable now that the bill wouldn't do that; as amended in the Senate, it's backed by the Idaho Medical Association. “I think this is actually a pretty decent bill,” King said.

JFAC sets fund shifts; looks ahead to public school budget-setting…

Roughly following Gov. Butch Otter's recommendation, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee has voted to shift $36.96 million from various fund balances into the state general fund to help balance next year's budget: $21.96 million from the Millennium Fund, $8 million from the Liquor Control Fund, and $7 million from the Permanent Building Fund. The vote was 18-2, with Democratic Reps. Shirley Ringo of Moscow and Diane Bilyeu of Pocatello objecting. Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, noted that the numbers match the governor's recommendation on all but the permanent building fund. “We met with the Permanent Building Fund folks and determined … the $10 million as originally recommended … would hurt alteration and repair projects that were needed for state facilities and on college campuses throughout the state,” he said. “So it was our decision to reduce that down to $7 million.”

He said, “Unfortunately, that means new projects would not be able to be funded, at least for now, given our current financial situation.” Ringo and Bilyeu expressed concern about the building fund shift, but Cameron said, “This money is necessary in order for us to balance the budget.” JFAC then adjourned at the call of the chair. The joint committee isn't expected to meet again until it's ready to set the public school budget; it's waiting to see what happens with SB 1184, the newest school reform bill.

If that bill comes out of committee this afternoon, Cameron said, “I think we're stuck waiting for the disposition on the Senate floor.” If the bill fails in committee today, JFAC could set the public school budget as soon as Thursday morning. “If it doesn't come out of committee, then I think we'll set a public schools budget and aim for going home … as soon as we can,” Cameron said. SB 1184 would shift millions from the salary-based apportionment fund in the public schools budget, which largely funds teacher salaries, to fund technology next year; but Cameron noted that with the $13 million JFAC is now ahead on its budget targets for next year, that's enough to fund state schools Supt. Tom Luna's technology request for next year without shifting the salary money. He said, “I will argue … we have that $13 million.”
  

Wind power moratorium bill killed in committee

After days of hearings and testimony, the House State Affairs Committee has voted to kill legislation proposing to slap a moratorium on new wind power development in Idaho. A motion to instead send the bill to the full House for amendments failed on a 9-10 vote, and the motion to kill the bill then passed on a 11-8 vote.

HB 265 would have imposed a two-year moratorium. Rep. Erik Simpson, R-Idaho Falls, sponsor of the bill, called wind power “a heavily subsidized industry,” and said, “The industry's getting all the benefits and the incentives and the end result is we're getting higher utility rates. That is not a good deal for the economy and it's not a good deal for rate payers.” In multi-day hearings, eastern Idaho residents who oppose turbines going up near their homes spoke out in favor of the moratorium.

But Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, said, “I cannot in good conscience shut people off and chase 'em out of the state after they've invested several million dollars, when we encouraged 'em to come and build wind farms.” He said, “I understand that there's a problem in Bonneville County, but that is a siting problem with the (local) officials. I think they ought to face up to their responsibility there.” Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, said the move would violate the state's 2007 energy plan, and that plan is up for review this summer by an interim committee. Rep. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls, said she supported the tax incentive for renewable energy development, but said, “I never in my wildest dreams would have thought that it would be as successful as it has turned out to be. … It has munched up so much more of our revenues than we anticipated.” Said Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, “This is an issue that needs to be brought to a head.” He proposed the motion to amend the bill, but it fell short.

JFAC sets Tax Commission budget that brings state $13M - possibly for schools

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee has voted unanimously for a budget for the state Tax Commission for next year that reflects a 10.2 percent increase in state general funds and an 8.7 percent increase in total funds, but it anticipates a big return from the investment: $19 million in increased collections on state taxes that already are owed. The budget plan calls for continuing the phase-in of additional auditors in a multi-year tax compliance initiative, plus adding back $480,000 in ongoing funding to restore the agency's base funding and eliminate six furlough days that full-time auditors otherwise would have had to take next year. “A $4 million increase to get back a $19 million return is a really good investment,” said Rep. Darrell Bolz, R-Caldwell, who proposed the motion along with Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum. The budget reflects an overall $2.8 million increase over the current year, but the targeted investments total a little over $4 million.

The budget is significant because rather than being behind its budget target, it puts JFAC ahead of its target for next year's budget overall - by about $13 million. Many lawmakers want to target those additional funds to public schools, to ease cuts there.

School districts warned to support new reform bill - or else

You can read about the threat here in today's Idaho Statesman, and in Times-News reporter Ben Botkin's “Capitol Confidential” blog here. The new bill, SB 1184, is scheduled for a hearing this afternoon in the Senate Education Committee.

Whoppers in the House…

There were a few whoppers told on the House floor today in the debate over HB 193a, the bill to block citizen lawsuits over giant megaloads on Idaho roads. First, the bill's sponsor, Rep. Dick Harwood, repeatedly said the companies shipping megaloads will post a $250 million bond to cover damage; the bond is actually $10 million. Secondly, Harwood told the House repeatedly that the giant loads are only  permitted to travel from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m., and said, “They only travel from 11 at night 'til 4 o'clock in the morning, and I'm not sure there's a lot of scenic people out running around from 11 at night 'til 4 in the morning looking at scenery.” Actually, the giant loads are permitted to travel from 10 p.m. until 5:30 a.m.

And finally, Harwood talked about “how much the company has done for the state of Idaho - we have gained a lot. We've got a blacktop road and lots of turnouts. They've done a lot for the road.” Actually, ExxonMobil paid to improve nine turnouts along Highway 12 by graveling and leveling them, but did not pave the route or add any new turnouts; the highway has been paved since 1962.

Trail: Megaloads subsidized by Idaho taxpayers

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on the House's passage today of legislation designed to block citizen lawsuits against giant megaloads on Idaho roads. Rep. Tom Trail, R-Moscow, said the state's current permit fees for giant megaloads don't cover all its costs to process the permits. “So each one of those loads that goes over Highway 12 is partially subsidized by the Idaho taxpayers,” he said. “This legislation is very discriminatory against individuals and businesses along routes like this, as well as other citizens, who might have a legitimate gripe that they want to bring to the legal process.”

Rep. Lenore Barrett, R-Challis, said, “You need to cut to the chase. If we're going to improve (and) retain what economy we have in this state, we need to get equipment from here to there, we need production. And in order to facilitate that, we need this lawsuit issue resolved. This bill does that. You may not like it, but it's necessary.” A week and a half ago, Idaho Rivers United filed a federal lawsuit challenging the ExxonMobil megaload permits.

Bill expands anti-gang law

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho lawmakers are considering expanding the list of gang related crimes and give judges more latitude to issue tougher sentences for those convicted of gang activity. The Senate State Affairs Committee unanimously approved a bill Monday that would also increase punishments for crimes committed by gang members. The measure now moves to the full Senate for debate. Idaho Criminal Justice Commission member Jim Tibbs says the legislation would add at least 11 more crimes to the state's criminal gang enforcement statute. Crimes committed in prisons, sexual offenses and street crimes like graffiti are among those that would be added to the statute. Under the bill, a judge could impose tougher, longer sentences for those crimes if they were committed by gang members.

House passes GARVEE bill, 42-28

The House has voted 42-28 in favor of HB 285, the final GARVEE bonding proposal for highway work; it calls for $162 million in bonding next year.

This is the last of a multi-year series of bonding efforts to complete major improvements to a series of highway corridors around the state; this final installment is targeted for construction on two projects: U.S. Highway 95 in North Idaho between Garwood and Sagle, and state Highway 16 in the Treasure Valley from I-84 to State Street. Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, said, “All that's left on Highway 95 and Highway 16 is construction - those are jobs. … This is about the economic engines of this state.”

Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, was among those who said he objects to the idea of any debt financing. “I'm ashamed,” he said. “I don't know where the end will be. … I don't favor going into debt.” Rep. Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, spoke against the bill, saying he'd prepared amendments. But House Appropriations Chairwoman Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, said “We don't need a fix on this bill.” She said, “This is the end of GARVEE. … There's safety factors here, there's economic factors here. There are no paths for our committee to go anyplace else with funding. This is it. Please vote for this.”

GARVEE debate: ‘We need those jobs,’ ‘Very serious debt,’ ‘So close to done’

As the House debates the $162 million GARVEE bonding proposal, HB 285, there's been plenty of debate so far on both sides. The bill would fund the remainder of the last two bonded projects: The Garwood-to-Sagle project on U.S. Highway 95 in North Idaho, and the state Highway 16 project in the Treasure Valley, connecting I-84 to State Highway 44. Rep. Carlos Bilbao, R-Emmett, said the latter project is “essential to these communities: Meridian, Nampa, Star, Eagle and Emmett. Emmett is at the end.” He said, “Are we going to take a step back and say no, and stop economic development in one part of our state. I say no. I say what we need to do is forge ahead. … There's only 17,000 of us in Gem County, and we need those jobs.”

The final installment of the bonding would go entirely to construction - the Highway 95 project is ready to go, and construction will start this spring if the bill passes, said Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover; the Highway 16 project is ready for construction by fall. He noted that all the preliminary work on the two projects, from design to right-of-way acquisition, already has been funded. “If we did not approve this $162 million, then some of this money would be lost and would be gone and would have been wasted,” he told the House. “This is for construction. … It's going to provide employment as well as improvements on the highway system.”

Rep. Leon Smith, R-Twin Falls, the new chairman of the House Transportation Committee and a longtime opponent of the bonding program, spoke out against it.  “This accelerating debt by the state is getting to be very, very serious at this point,” he said. “It's loved by representatives that have a project in the area, they always love this. And it's loved by ITD because it allows them to build projects. … Is this a time to increase our debt this substantial amount, $162 million?”

GARVEE bonds are a special type of financing approved by Congress to allow states to borrow against their future federal highway allocations; former Gov. Dirk Kempthorne pushed lawmakers to enact the multi-year plan, dubbed “Connecting Idaho,” to do major highway projects sooner by use of the bonds. Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, said, “I think it's time to say that these projects should come to an end.” Rep. Bill Killen, D-Boise, said, “I don't think now is the time to pull the plug, when we're so close to completing the program.”

House suspending rules, taking up budget bills

The House this afternoon is suspending rules to take up the appropriation bills that are on its 2nd Reading Calendar, a move House Majority Leader Mike Moyle said is needed if the Legislature is going to wrap up its work within the next two weeks. First up was the budget for the Idaho Transportation Department, which passed on a 64-6 vote; next up is the proposal for $162 million in GARVEE bonding next year.

Party-line vote introduces new version of health care nullification bill

The House Ways & Means Committee has voted 4-3, along straight party lines, to introduced Rep. Vito Barbieri's new health care bill, which, like his earlier health care nullification bill, would seek to declare the national health care reform law unconstitutional, forbid any state employees from doing anything to carry it out, and declare that Idaho employers don't have to follow the law.

Barbieri's new bill has a fiscal note that declares there's no impact to the state general fund, because, “The state will, in fact, save taxpayer resources from being expended on a law whose constitutionality is still in question.” House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, moved to return the bill to sponsor, on grounds that the “fiscal note is inadequate.” That motion failed on a 3-4 party-line vote. Then, House Majority Leader Mike Moyle's motion to introduce the bill - he said he wanted it introduced “knowing that it would be an interesting hearing to watch” - passed on a 4-3 party-line vote, with Republicans voting in favor and Democrats against.

Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, and Idaho Freedom Foundation executive director Wayne Hoffman looked on and conferred periodically with Barbieri. After the meeting, Rusche said the new bill is another nullification bill; attempts by the state to nullify federal laws have been flagged as unconstitutional in two Idaho Attorney General's opinions, which found they violate both the U.S. and state constitutions and lawmakers' oath of office. Barbieri's earlier bill passed the House, but died in a Senate committee. Rusche said of the new bill, “It's really unclear to me what it's going to accomplish, other than put a delay in doing what's necessary for compliance” with the national law. He called the bill “son of nullification-lite,” noting that Barbieri's first version of the bill sought to declare the federal law “null and void,” and the second, which passed the House, just declared it “void.” This one, Rusche said, says, “It's really the law of the land but we're just not going to do anything.”

Land Board’s cottage site bill barely squeaks through Senate, 18-16

The state Land Board's legislation on state-owned cottage sites, which repeals an unconstitutional law that protects the sites from conflict auctions when leases come up for renewal, has passed the Senate in a narrow 18-16 vote. Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, said she's been hearing from many lessees of Priest Lake cabin sites who are concerned about the bill. “Many of these lease lots have been leased 30, 40, 50 years, and home have been built upon them,” Keough said. “They placed their faith in the state, made quite an investment in the homes that they have on these lots.”

Sen. Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston, said he, too, has heard concerns from cabin leaseholders. “There is great concern bordering on distrust that there are other motives that will result in some situations that disadvantage families that have been involved in some of these leases for a long, long time,” he said. Sen. Curtis McKenzie, R-Nampa, the bill's sponsor, noted that the bill was unanimously endorsed by the state Land Board, which is chaired by the governor and consists of the state's top elected officials. McKenzie said, “They indicate to me that this is neutral to that current litigation … and it takes the Land Board out of a difficult position where they've been enjoined by the district court not to apply the statutory provisions which is in conflict with their duty under the Constitution.” The bill, SB 1145, now moves to the House.

Senate endorses loosening requirements for disease testing at elk farms

The Senate has been locked in debate this morning over SB 1085, which would loosen regulations on domestic elk farms that require testing of the elk for chronic wasting disease. Sen. Cheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, said, “There's been no chronic wasting disease in the last five years in the domestic elk herds.” But Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, said, “We need good samples, we need good testing, we need to make sure our wild herds are preserved.” The farmed elk are regulated in the interest of preventing the spread of disease to Idaho's wild elk herds. Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, said not all elk farmers are responsible. “We've got people out there who will be irresponsible, we know that,” he said. “This legislation is uniformly opposed by the sportsmen and sportswomen of Idaho.”

The bill deals with “domestic cervidae,” which means farmed elk and related animals. Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, the bill's Senate sponsor, said, “They're still regulated, we're still protecting our herds. … This is a wonderful program.” After debating the bill for much of the morning, the Senate voted 25-9 in favor of the bill, which now goes to the House.

House backs public records exemption for dairy waste plans

Legislation to make dairy farms' nutrient management plans, which detail how they deal with waste from dairy cows, would be exempt from the state's public records law, under legislation that cleared the House this morning on a 61-7 vote; the bill, HB 269, now goes to the Senate. Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, said dairies want to protect their business information like other businesses. Opponents included Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, who read a letter from the Environmental Protection Agency saying the measure would violate federal rules, and others who expressed concerns about hampering counties in their efforts to regulate issues relating to local dairy waste. Boyle said a federal court decision late last week dealt with the issue raised by the EPA.

State touts wind power development, even as lawmakers debate blocking it

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Department of Commerce's glossy business magazine this month gushes “Wind developers find sweet spot in Idaho.” Even Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter weighs in, bragging how Idaho has the “raw materials in abundance, with hydropower, geothermal, wind, solar and biomass.” Outside this irrepressibly bubbly PR publication, however, the sweet talk is decidedly more bitter as debate over the industry's future dominates the Capitol. On Monday, a House committee spent a second day listening to impassioned testimony on a measure to cancel all new wind development for the next two years. Meanwhile, Idaho Power Co., along with its allies Avista Corp. and Rocky Mountain Power, succeeded in derailing a separate measure to extend a 6 percent sales tax rebate for alternative power developers while negotiations over a compromise continue.

Barbieri brings out ‘last gasp’ bill seeking to block national health care reform

Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, has a new bill up for introduction in the House Ways & Means Committee today that he said is “our last gasp before the session is over” to try to block implementation in Idaho of the federal health care reform law. Barbieri sponsored legislation that passed the House seeking to nullify the federal law; it was killed in a Senate committee. Under the new bill, he said, “We're again trying to direct the state agencies to wait until the Supreme Court decision on the … Florida case with (Judge) Vinson.” He said, “We just want to stop things in their tracks until the Supreme Court rules. We're hoping that may rush the process so that we can get a resolution in the Supreme Court.”

Ways & Means is scheduled to meet today “at the call of the chair;” no time has been identified. House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, said the leadership panel likely would meet around noon.

House backs pro-megaloads bill to block citizen lawsuits

The House has voted 53-16 in favor of HB 193, Rep. Dick Harwood's bill to require anyone suing over a transportation project on Idaho roads to first post a bond equal to 5 percent of the insured value of the load. Harwood said his bill was prompted by the controversial hauling of giant megaloads of oil equipment on Highway 12, to which local residents and businesses along the route have objected.  “The emergency clause was put in there because we felt that there was going to be more lawsuits coming, and we felt that we needed to get this done before July 1st,” Harwood told the House. Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, said the bill would block “frivolous lawsuits,” and said, “We have a number of frivolous lawsuits now that cost our state money, that don't accomplish very much but delay our economic growth and viability.”

Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, asked, “How are these individuals going to come up with the amount of money that is going to be necessary, which could be considerable amounts of money?” She said, “To me, it puts in place sort of a David and Goliath situation.” Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, said, “I think the people that live on Highway 12 and the people that recreate on Highway 12, including the outfitters and guides, have a huge financial stake in this process. For that reason, I think there needs to be an open public process.”  Jaquet also said Idaho needs to raise the fees it charges for permits for such loads, because current fees don't cover ITD's costs. In the 53-16 vote, all of the House's minority Democrats voted against the bill; they were joined by three Republicans, Reps. Tom Trail of Moscow, Leon Smith of Twin Falls, who is the House Transportation chairman, and Lynn Luker of Boise. The bill now moves to the Senate.

Panel endorses Otter’s ‘Hire One’ job tax credit bill

The House Revenue & Taxation Committee has voted unanimously in favor of Gov. Butch Otter's proposed “Hire One Act,” which would provide a sliding-scale tax credit for employers adding new workers, with those who've made less use of the state's unemployment insurance system in the recession getting a higher credit. “What we are trying to do with this piece of legislation is show our confidence in our economy,” Otter aide Mark Warbis told the committee this morning. Warbis said the bill was designed to address a concern from senators who killed an earlier jobs tax credit bill, about rewarding employers who've laid people off during the recession and now are beginning to hire them back. The sliding scale, which varies from 2 percent to 6 percent of the new employee's gross wages, is “for those employers that have been good corporate citizens during the recession,” Warbis said, “and actually made a priority of keeping employees on the job.” Those who've paid in more to the unemployment insurance system than their laid-off employees have drawn out would get the 6 percent credit; those with average ratings on that get 4 percent; and those with negative ratings get 2 percent.

The bill allows jobs paying $12 an hour and providing benefits to qualify for the credit in counties with more than 10 percent unemployment, and $15 an hour in counties with less. State Commerce Director Don Dietrich noted that the credit would expire after three years; it's retroactive to Jan. 1 of this year. “The sunset provides the motivation to hire now,” Dietrich told lawmakers. “This legislation is about creating jobs today and providing a jump-start to Idaho's economy.”

The name of the proposed new law echoes Otter's call in his State of the State message this year for every Idaho employer to hire one new worker to boost the state economy. However, the state itself is looking at possibly eliminating hundreds of public and private-sector jobs next year through budget cuts, including those in the Medicaid program and the public schools. The credit is estimated to cost the state general fund $7.9 million a year, but generate $25.3 million in new tax revenue to offset that. It was previously introduced as HB 279, but Warbis said today that the bill was missing a line, so the committee introduced a new version, which hasn't yet gotten a bill number, and sent it directly to the full House's 2nd Reading Calendar.
  

Otter scuttled last guns-on-campus push

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter scuttled the last push to permit guns on Idaho college and university campuses in 2008, the Associated Press reports. “He had concerns then, I believe he has concerns now,” said Sen. Curt McKenzie, a Nampa Republican behind the 2008 effort to allow concealed weapons on campuses. Click below for the full story from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.

The week that was…

On tonight's “Idaho Reports” on Idaho Public Television, I join Jim Weatherby, John Miller and host Greg Hahn to discuss the events of the week, and Greg interviews Sens. John McGee, R-Caldwell, and Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, and Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston. 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. There's also a “Web Extra” of our continued discussion after the show; you can see that at www.idahoptv.org/idreports/.

Click here to see a slide show of the week in pictures, as the 10th 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.

Goedde: ‘There is no additional money’

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on the new version of school reform legislation unveiled today, and how it's a lot like the old version that stalled in the state Senate - it calls for phasing in new laptop computers for every Idaho high school student, diverting school district funds to online course providers, and shifting funding from teachers to technology.

The one big difference from SB 1113, the controversial earlier version: It doesn't require larger class sizes and cutting 770 Idaho teaching jobs in the next two years to pay for it all. Instead, the money is taken from the existing school budget and local districts would have to decide how to make the cuts. “It would be wonderful if our economy turned around and we could start putting more money into education,” said Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, who is sponsoring the bill along with state schools Supt. Tom Luna and Gov. Butch Otter. “At some point, that's going to happen. In the meantime, what this bill does is it gives some legislative direction to local districts in some specific areas. … We're setting direction for a vision of the 21st century classroom, and there is no additional money. So we have to use the funds that we have in a manner that accomplishes the goal.”
  

Group launches referendum campaign

A group of parents and representatives of the Idaho Education Association has filed paperwork with the state to launch a referendum on SB 1108 and 1110, the two bills signed into law this week on teacher contracts and teacher merit pay as part of state schools Supt. Tom Luna's school reform package. “We're in the exploratory phase, and no final decisions have been made,” said Sherri Wood, IEA president. “But we filed initial paperwork with the Secretary of State in order to start the process and preserve our options to refer these bad laws for a citizens' veto.”

The group would have to gather 47,432 signatures to get a referendum on the 2012 general election ballot, and submit them within 60 days of the end of the legislative session. You can read its full announcement here. If the group gets a referendum on the ballot, it'd be only the fifth referendum in Idaho's history; just one of those, in 1936, succeeded in rejecting legislation by a vote of the people.

Surprise: New school reform bill still calls for online courses, laptops for students

A read through the new school-reform bill introduced today, SB 1184, yields some surprises: It still seeks to provide a laptop computer to every Idaho high school student. It just pushes the plan back a year, providing laptops and training to teachers in 2012-13, then to a third of high school students the following year, continuing until there's one laptop for every student. It still envisions requirements for online courses; the state Board of Education would be charged with setting rules requiring online courses as a graduation requirement starting with the Class of 2016 - that's students who start 9th grade in the fall of 2012. And the bill still permits parents to enroll students in online classes with or without the permission of their local school districts, and requires the school districts to pay the online course providers through a “fractional ADA” formula that directs part of the district's state funding to the online provider.

You can read the bill here. Its fiscal note says it would cost the state $5.5 million next year, which would be covered by $9.4 million in savings from the already passed SB 1108, then save the state $21.7 million the next year and $35 million in each subsequent year. But a breakout from the state Department of Education shows that all those “savings” would go to fund the teacher pay-for-performance plan enacted in the already passed SB 1110; there would be no net savings. Instead, the bill shifts money from existing salary-based apportionment, the funding stream from the state to school districts that largely goes to salaries, to cover the new technology requirements and the performance pay.

“Districts are going to decide how they're going to deal with those cuts at the local level,” said Melissa McGrath, spokeswoman for state schools Supt. Tom Luna. “It's instead of increasing the divisor under the old bill. They said they would rather just be cut and deal with it at the local level. It's basically reducing the amount of state money that's going to school districts and letting them decide how they're going to deal with that, rather than increasing the divisor.”

The divisor is the formula that determines state funding per classroom; the previous version of the bill, SB 1113, would have raised the divisor, increasing class sizes and cutting 770 teaching jobs over the next two years, to get the money to funnel into technology upgrades and merit-pay bonuses.

House passes grocery credit freeze, 55-10

The House has voted 55-10 in favor of HCR 25, the measure to keep the grocery tax credit as-is for the next year rather than have it increase as scheduled. “I really think it's the prudent thing to do in our budget situation,” said Rep. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, the resolution's sponsor. The opposition was bipartisan, including three Democrats and seven Republicans.

Grocery tax credit debate: ‘Credit will not go backwards,’ ‘A tax increase’

Rep. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, opening debate on HCR 25, the measure to freeze the grocery tax credit for the next year rather than have it rise by $10 as scheduled, told the House, “I want to state clearly that the grocery tax credit will not go backwards. This proposal is to keep it static for an additional tax year. Idahoans when they file will get the same amount in the 2011 tax year as they got in 2010. It is a delay of the increase.”

idaho's grocery tax credit currently is $70 for the low-income and $50 for most Idahoans, with an additional $20 for seniors; without the resultion, it'd rise to $80 and $60 next year. It's meant to offset the 6 percent sales tax that Idaho charges on groceries.

Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, said, “I won't be voting for this. It's a tax increase. In my view it is a tax increase of the worst kind in very bad economic times.” He said, “We're asking them to pay more tax than they otherwise would on groceries,” and said, “I think this is a particularly cruel tax. … I don't think we shoudl be balancing this budget on the backs of the people who are least able to pay.”

Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, said there are many ways Idaho could be looking at raising additional revenue to balance its state budget, but, “We are limited on the floor to this one idea. … I think that is really unfortunate.” Instead, she said. “We should be discussing which one works best.”

House to take up grocery tax credit freeze

The House has moved HCR 25, the measure to hold off on the next scheduled bump-up in the grocery tax credit, to the top of its calendar, and has gone at ease for 5 minutes to allow time for House Democrats to hold a brief caucus. Then, it'll debate the concurrent resolution, which was recommended by Gov. Butch Otter and would save $15 million in next year's budget.

The Medicaid budget…

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on the Medicaid budget approved along party lines today in the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee; it reflects all the cuts called for in HB 260, a measure that passed the House yesterday and now awaits consideration in the Senate.

Wind moratorium vote delayed at least to Monday

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — After more than three hours of testimony, an Idaho House committee decided to delay its vote on whether Idaho should take a breather on wind energy. The House State Affairs Committee members decided on Friday morning to wait until at least Monday before voting on a proposed 2-year moratorium on new wind energy projects. Eastern Idaho residents turned out in force to push for the temporary ban, arguing Idaho needs to assess the benefits of adding more wind energy to its electricity grid. Scott Vanevenhoven, an Idaho Falls resident, told the panel that utility scale wind projects are disrupting lives of people in his region — and boosting power rates. Suzanne Leta Liou of RES Americas countered that a moratorium could scuttle her company's project on southern Idaho's China Mountain.

New ed bill already drawing criticism

More education legislation is in the works, reports Idaho Statesman reporter Brian Murphy, and the new bill introduced this morning already has opposition from one legislative leader, Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, who said it shifts money to technology from salaries. Murphy has a detailed look here.

LeFavour: ‘These are people’s lives we’re talking about in these budgets’

JFAC is now hurrying through the rest of the divisions of the Health & Welfare budget, as the House had been scheduled to go into session at 10 a.m, 10 minutes ago. Sen. Nicole LeFavour, after being cut off from asking a question because a vote already had been called for, objected when the next motion came. “Mr. Chairman, I realize we're in a hurry to get to the floor. These are people's lives we're talking about in these budgets,” she said. “I would like a listing of some of the impacts from the rule savings, please.” When the next motion came up, on the Division of Welfare, she got it. A Health & Welfare staffer explained that $1.4 million in savings in the Aid to the Aged, Blind and Disabled program due to rules changes impacted services to about 2,000 people. That budget passed on a 15-4, party-line vote.

Dems try, but fail, to restore some of this year’s cuts in mental health services

Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, led a move to spend $2.2 million of the Millenium Fund payments that will come in to the state over the course of fiscal year 2012 on a backstop for people cut off from mental health services by the state - to restore their services in cases where they'd be a danger to themselves or others, or would cost the state general fund more by being institutionalized or needing crisis or emergency services. Idaho made big cuts in mental health this year, she said. Her motion failed on a party-line vote in JFAC, with only the joint committee's four Democrats supporting it. Sen. Diane Bilyeu, D-Pocatello, pointed to a shooting in her area, where a man was shot outside a coffee shop by a patient who'd recently been cut off from state mental health services. Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, said, “I just think that this is a vulnerable population and we incur costs.” Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, said the state Health & Welfare Department has been able to track only some of the patients it's cut off from mental health services; it's documented at least two suicides and more than a half-dozen incarcerations. “When we make these cuts, we know that the need doesn't go away,” she said.

Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, spoke out against LeFavour's move, which he called “just an end-around HB 260,” the Medicaid cuts bill that passed the House yesterday. “It is just further reducing the $34 million from HB 260 by putting it into another Health & Welfare budget,” he said.

As for tapping the Millenium Fund, Wood said, “This is not typically the way we do it, we let it accumulate and then we spend it, as opposed to spending it before it accumulates.” He said, “Yes, I understand that we've had some incidents of people getting hospitalized, people committing violent crimes, people committing suicide etc., and those are all very unfortunate. The real issue however is how is that different than the last two years, in the previous 10-year baseline before that, because unfortunately that happens. And to date, we've never figured out a perfect system to completely prevent all of those horrible mishaps to our citizens.” He said the proposed budget for mental health services for next year - without the additional money - fully funds the department's request. “Lastly, we're going to need all the money for 2013 we can get, and we've got an adequate amount for 2012 in my estimation,” he said. His motion, without the extra money, passed on a 15-4 party-line vote.

A busy Friday in the Statehouse…

Fridays typically are slow days in the Idaho Legislature, but not this morning. JFAC is debating and setting the complex Health & Welfare budget this morning, and after that, is scheduled to set the budget for the state Tax Commission for next year - including a plan to restore furlough days for Tax Commission workers in addition to adding more temporary audit workers, in an effort to bring in $19 million more in state tax revenue next year. That would make a significant dent in the anticipated budget shortfall. Meanwhile, the House State Affairs Committee has been meeting since 7 this morning, and is still debating HB 265, Rep. Erik Simpson's bill calling for a moratorium on wind power plants. The Senate State Affairs Committee has a full agenda this morning, including introducing the new school-reform bill along with a slate of other legislation. And both houses have lots on their agenda today; the House is scheduled to begin its floor session at 10 a.m., the Senate at 10:30.

New ed bill unveiled

Here's a news item from the Associated Press on this morning's action by the Senate State Affairs Committee to introduce a revised education reform bill: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Lawmakers have unveiled the third piece of a plan to reform Idaho's public schools and boost technology in the classroom. The legislation has undergone significant changes since it was first introduced in the 2011 Idaho Legislature. Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde says a provision that would have eliminated hundreds of teaching jobs and boosted class sizes is gone, leaving decisions over how to allocate state funding and how many educators to retain up to the local school districts. While a previous version of the bill would have required students to take online courses, the revamped legislation directs the state Board of Education to draft rules governing how the Internet will figure in the classroom. Ninth-graders would still eventually get laptops, but teachers will get them first, along with training.

Substance abuse treatment budget set

Legislative budget writers have approved the budget for statewide substance abuse services on a unanimous, 19-0 vote, but not without some concerns being expressed. Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, asked about waiting lists for the services. Kathy Skippen, program manager, told JFAC that the state has stopped keeping waiting lists, “Because we were putting people on a waiting list with the expectation that they would get into treatment, knowing that they wouldn't. … We certainly understand that there is a considerable need in the state for substance abuse treatment that isn't being met.” Priority, she said, goes to “the need in the criminal justice system.”

The budget approved by JFAC shows big decreases, but that's only because the various components of the substance abuse budget are being transferred into individual agencies, including corrections, juvenile corrections, drug courts and Health & Welfare, rather than continuing to be consolidated under the Interagency Committee on Substance Abuse, which is expiring. Legislative budget analyst Amy Johnson said the funding for the services actually ends up identical to this year, except that it includes an additional $2.5 million in federal funds under the Access to Recovery grant.

The budget was the second set today within the Department of Health & Welfare, which is divided into 12 divisions for budget-setting purposes; the largest, by far, is Medicaid, the budget that was set first.

Party-line vote passes Medicaid budget reflecting all of HB 260’s cuts

JFAC has voted  15-4, along party lines, in favor of a budget for Medicaid for next year that makes all the cuts called for in HB 260, the Medicaid cuts bill that passed the House yesterday. Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, asked to have the service cuts the budget requires described, but Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, told her, “If you want to debate HB 260, you'll have your chance on the Senate floor - not here.” The joint budget committee then voted on the Medicaid budget without any further debate. Crafted by  Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, and Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, the budget, while reflecting $34.5 million in general-fund cuts per HB 260, still grows substantially, largely due to the need to make up for a change in federal matching rates for Medicaid.

It sets a general-fund budget for Medicaid for next year of $436 million, a 46.2 percent, $137.8 million increase from this year. In total funds, the Medicaid budget grows by 16.2 percent to $1.8 billion, but it grows only 3.6 percent in federal funds. Medicaid is the joint federal-state program that covers health care for the poor and disabled; the federal government covers roughly three-quarters of the cost.

School funding recommendation: No recommendation

Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, made his presentation to JFAC this morning on how to deal with the public school budget, and in the end, there essentially was no recommendation. “We couldn't get consensus,” Goedde said. He told JFAC, “We had no consensus in our committee although we debated that for a number of hours.”

House Education Chairman Bob Nonini didn't speak this morning. “Rep. Nonini was offered an opportunity to come to us,” said Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert. “He basically had the same message that Sen. Goedde has. … They had met, spent a lot of hours with our staff, and really couldn't come to a consensus or a conclusion as to a recommendation for us.” He told Goedde, “We're grateful for the time you spent on it, and we'll look forward to working with you to come up with a solution.”

Goedde plans to introduce an education reform bill this morning in the Senate State Affairs Committee that is the new version of the former SB 1113, which had sought to increase class sizes and cut 770 teaching jobs in the next two years to generate savings to funnel into a laptop computer for every high school student, performance pay for teachers and more. Now, the bill doesn't contain any of those pieces, nor does it require online classes. Instead, Goedde said, it re-establishes line items in the public school budget for technology, for technology-related professional development, and for math and technology to meet increasing graduation requirements, and moves to bring the minimum teacher salary back up to $30,000 and begin restoring the teacher salary grid. All would be done while cutting the budget, he acknowledged.

“If this passes, the will have made some determinations for priorities of the funds we're providing to the districts,” Goedde said. That'd be a departure from last year's approach for dealing with public school budget cuts, in which legislators moved essentially all required line items into the “discretionary” category, to give school districts maximum flexibility to deal with the cuts.

AP: Renewable energy credit stalls…

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A tax break extension for Idaho's alternative energy developers is stalled until next week after talks late Thursday between utility lobbyists, wind developers, legislators and Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter's office ended without resolution. A dispute has erupted over extending the 6 percent sales tax rebate on purchases of equipment used to produce wind, geothermal and other alternative energy. Idaho Power Co. and its lobbyist Jeff Malmen oppose an extension, arguing wind energy expansion is boosting customers' costs. Wind developers counter that Idaho Power is misleading the public to save its monopoly — and protect profits. The extension is due another hearing Friday, but Rep. George Eskridge told The Associated Press his measure will likely be held in committee until next Wednesday to give disputants a shot at working out differences.

Bill killed to put 140 entities under public records law because they’re in PERSI

An effort to open more than 140 private entities to public records requests died in committee this afternoon, reports Lewiston Tribune reporter Bill Spence. The House Commerce & Human Resources Committee voted 6-3 to kill HB 267, which would have subjected all organizations that participate in the Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho to the state public records statutes. Among groups that would have been affected: The Idaho Education Association, Idaho Association of Counties, Cascade Medical Center and Clearwater-Potlatch Timber Protection Association, among many others; you can read Spence's full post at his Political Theater blog here.

Senate Ed endorses KTEC bill

The Senate Education Committee has endorsed HB 236, the House-passed bill to allow the Kootenai Technical Education Campus to open a year earlier by starting construction before all the money for the multi-district vocational education center is in from a tax levy. Coeur d'Alene Schools Supt. Hazel Bauman told the senators, “Unfortunately this year, even with Coeur d'Alene's graduation rate of 88 percent, over 100 of our students will drop out this year. … This is just the ticket for a lot of them. They really would like to be in a professional-technical school learning a trade.” Former state Rep. Dean Haagenson, R-Coeur d'Alene, a contractor, also spoke in favor of the bill.

Bauman said the funding plan is similar to how the Coeur d'Alene school district has handled its school plant facility levies. “In every single one of them, we have started construction prior to collecting all the money, and phased the construction … to match the revenue stream,” she said. “Contractors have been happy to do that.” The bill now heads for a final vote in the Senate.

What the Medicaid bill does…

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on the Medicaid cuts bill that passed the House today, HB 260; it now moves to the Senate. In addition to moves aimed at achieving long-term savings, like looking into more of a managed-care model, the bill calls for cuts in Medicaid effective next year; they include, in state funds:
    * Reduced reimbursements to providers to save $8.2 million. This includes eliminating mandatory rate increases, capping non-primary care reimbursement rates at 90 percent of Medicare reimbursement; and moving to “actual acquisition” cost for determining pharmacy pricing, rather than average wholesale cost.
    * Collecting an additional $7.5 million a year in assessments from hospitals, nursing homes and intermediate care facilities to avoid even deeper cuts.
    * Making $6.94 million in temporary cuts imposed this year permanent.
    * Reducing services to patients to save $5.34 million, from cutting psycho-social rehabilitation services for adults from five to four hours a week to limiting services like podiatry, vision, chiropractic, physical therapy, and adult dental services, and eliminating audiology or hearing-loss services for adults.
    * Discharging 35 patients from state institutions to save $1.3 million.
    * Charging co-payments to patients, $750,000.
    * Cracking down on Medicaid fraud to save $1.1 million.
    * Making other rate, management and coverage changes totaling more than $3 million.

Future of energy policy in play this week…

A debate unfolding in the state capitol this week will determine how the state's energy policy will look in the years to come, reports John Miller of the Associated Press, from hotly debated legislation to extend the state's renewable energy tax credit to a proposal for a moratorium on new wind farms. Click below for his full report.

House Dems: Medicaid cuts bill ‘cruel, heartless and foolish’

Idaho House Democrats have issued a statement calling the Medicaid cuts in HB 260 “cruel, heartless and foolish,” and saying, “Democrats voted against the bill due to hundreds of personal testimonies, phone calls and emails urging all legislators to resist further damaging cuts.” Click below for their full statement.

Idaho Dems decry Medicaid cuts

The Idaho Democratic Party has issued a statement decrying the Medicaid cuts approved by the Idaho House today, saying, “Today House Republicans voted to devastate the lives of thousands of Idahoans.” All of the 56 House members who voted for the bill, HB 260, today were Republicans; one Republican, Rep. Tom Trail, R-Moscow, joined the 13 House Democrats in opposing it. You can click below to read the party's full statement.

AG’s budget bill passes House, heads for governor’s desk

SB 1141, the budget bill for the Idaho Attorney General's office, has passed the House on a 60-9 vote; there was no debate, but those voting “no” included Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, who's proposed setting up a separate “Office of Legislative Counsel” to provide legal advice to the Legislature and shifting money for that from the attorney general's budget. Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, who presented the budget bill, noted that the budget includes an additional 1.1 percent cut in state general funds and more furlough days for the office's employees next year, which impact legal services to all state agencies. “This is an adequate budget, it's not the best budget,” Jaquet said. The budget bill, which earlier passed the Senate on a 30-4 vote, now goes to the governor's desk.

Medicaid cuts bill passes House, 56-14

The House has voted 56-14 in favor of HB 260, the bill to cut $34 million in state funds, $108 million total, from the state's Medicaid program. All House Democrats and Rep. Tom Trail, R-Moscow, voted against the bill; all other House members voted in favor of the measure, which now moves to the Senate.

Wood: Job losses under Medicaid cuts bill are ‘just reducing inefficiency’

The House's other physician member, Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, debating in favor of the Medicaid cuts bill, HB 260, said Idaho will spend a large portion of its budget on Medicaid. “We are not abandoning anybody,” he said. “Are we looking for efficiencies in the system? Yes we are. Are we looking for better ways to deliver health care in the state of Idaho? Yes we are. Is that going to be easy? The answer is no.” Providers are being asked to accept less in payment than they have in the past, and they're not happy, he said. “This is not a very popular process that we're going through here with this Medicaid budget.”

He said it's “fear-mongering” to suggest that providers will stop seeing Medicaid patients, because Medicaid will expand with national health-care reform, and providers won't want to “walk away” from that increased patient base. He touted the bill's provisions to look into moving to a managed care system, which he said will “bring a better product.”

As for the job losses under the bill, Wood said, “There will be some jobs lost, but basically that's just reducing inefficiency in the system. That's not reducing jobs that for some particular reason should be there.”

Said Wood, “This is not only about budgets this year, but it's about budgets into the future and how we're going to control costs of a health care system in the United States that's simply unsustainable, and this is the first step in that direction.”

Rusche: ‘We deceive ourselves,’ needs can be ignored but don’t go away

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, a physician, is speaking against HB 260, the Medicaid cuts bill, which he called “a flawed financial document,” and said, “It displays some of the worst tunnel-vision budgeting I've ever seen. … If we vote for this, we deceive ourselves. … Remember, just because we choose to ignore the needs of people doesn't mean that it goes away.”

Rusche said the bill includes making permanent temporary rule changes imposed in Medicaid last year that were intended to save $20 million, but saved only $7 million. Under the proposed cuts, he said, “More than a thousand jobs will be lost… all private-sector jobs, all of them paying taxes.” He said, “The illness and the need for services does not go away because we choose not to pay for them. … Damaged bodies do not heal because we pass this bill. … We will pay more, we've proven it. To deny that is really tunnel vision.”

House takes up Medicaid cuts…

The Idaho House is now debating HB 260, the Medicaid cuts bill. House Health & Welfare Chairwoman Janice McGeachin described the process that resulted in today's bill, including the removal of several proposed cuts in services for people with developmental disabilities that drew a big public outcry. “This has been a labor of love for most of our vulnerable citizens … and an inspiring tribute to the democratic process,” McGeachin said. The bill is aimed at $34 million in state savings on Medicaid for a total cut in the program of $108 million including federal matching funds.

Otter signs two controversial school-reform bills into law, SB 1108 and SB 1110

Gov. Butch Otter quietly signed two controversial school reform bills into law today, with no public ceremony; they are SB 1108, removing most collective bargaining rights from Idaho teachers, and SB 1110, imposing a teacher merit pay program beginning in 2013. The governor issued this statement after signing the two bills:

“I had the privilege of signing into law today two bills that have been a long time coming, have been publicly vetted and debated to an unprecedented degree, and will improve the ability of our public schools to fulfill their mission of educating Idaho’s children. But our work is not done. We are committed to continuing our work with lawmakers and stakeholders on legislation to provide students and educators with the technology and flexibility they need to be successful in an increasingly competitive world.”

House passes off-track betting bill

The House has voted 40-29 in favor of HB 191, the off-track simulcast betting bill, which would allow the eight small horse race tracks in Idaho to move their current licenses for betting on simulcasts of live races to a facility other than the track itself. County commissioners and state racing officials would have to sign off on the moves, and no more than one could end up in a single county. Among opponents was Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, who said, “I want to make it clear that this will expand gambling in the state of Idaho, however you want to cast this particular piece of legislation.” Acting Rep. Gayle Batt, R-Wilder, disagreed. “This does not broaden the scope of the racing, just where it occurs,” she said. “They need to do this in order to keep the racing industry alive here in Idaho.”

Rep. Carlos Bilabo, R-Emmett, said, “Several of these facilities, such as Emmett do not have a facility suited for simulcasting.” Representatives from his local fairgrounds told an earlier committee hearing that a cold, drafty 4-H building didn't turn out to be a suitable place for simulcast betting; possible alternative sites include a local sports bar or even an out-of-county spot. The simulcast betting would benefit purses for live races at the local racetracks. “I think this is a bill that is good for the counties and good for the licensee,” Bilabo said, “and for the horse industry, it's exceptional.” The bill now moves to  the Senate.”

Hearing on extending renewable energy credit to continue tomorrow…

The hearing on HB 250, to extend Idaho's renewable energy tax credit, is going to be continued tomorrow morning, House Rev & Tax Chairman Dennis Lake said, as the House goes on the floor at 10 a.m. and there are still several people left to testify. Among those testifying so far:

Idaho Falls resident Anne Detrick told the committee, “I'm here to put a personal face on this discussion.” She said she moved to Idaho four years ago after retiring  after decades as a registered nurse, “to buy a piece of land and retire.” She said, “I'm now looking at having 75 turbines go up on the land across from my home. … On my street there are going to be eight families looking at financial ruin because after these turbines go up our land will no longer be marketable. … I know that homeowners who want to put turbines on their property are here to make money, and I can't say that's a bad thing, but I'm here to protect what I've worked a lifetime to earn.” She urged against extending the sales tax rebate, saying Idaho should use that money for education or public safety instead.

Doug Glaspey, president of Boise-based U.S. Geothermal, testified in favor of the extension. “We're a small company - we started with two guys and a pickup truck,” he said. His firm now has 24 employees between its Boise corporate office and its Raft River geothermal plant in Cassia County, and an annual payroll of more than $2.2 million. “These are good paying jobs,” he said. “We want to continue to grow.” He told lawmakers, “I guess the ultimate question is does the tax rebate really make that difference in the project, whether they build it or not. … We think it does.”

Two brothers from Bonneville County who are dryland farmers, Tory and Trent Talbot, said they want to continue farming the same ground their grandfather farmed, and that wind turbines there don't hurt wildlife or keep them from farming. They said only a “small minority” of people in their community oppose the turbines.

Insurance budget bill draws debate in Senate

It took an hour of debate that ran through the lunch hour yesterday before the Idaho Senate passed the budget bill fro the Department of Insurance on a 20-15 vote. The hangup: The inclusion of $2.5 million in federal money for the initial planning of a state health insurance exchange, reports Brian Murphy of the Idaho Statesman; you can read his post here. Murphy reports that Sens. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, and Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, called the money “bait” and worried that by taking the money Idaho was undercutting its lawsuit and becoming trapped into implementing the federal health care act, a characterization strongly disputed by the bill's sponsor, Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert. Earlier in JFAC, a motion to set the department's budget without the $2.5 million failed, drawing only five votes on the 20-member joint committee.

Idaho Power: Renewable energy more costly, don’t extend rebate

Rich Hahn, lobbyist for Idaho Power Co., is testifying against HB 250, extending the renewable energy tax development rebate. He said the company now has 1,324 megawatts of renewable projects either on line or in the works; “that's 41 percent,” he said. He said lots of wind power already is coming on line in Idaho. “It is the company's position that Idaho does not need to extend the sales tax incentive for renewable energy,” he told the House Rev & Tax Committee. “This energy is more expensive than what's available from other sources and this is a significant cost.”

Hahn said, “Idaho Power is not opposed to renewable energy - it's continuing to develop a robust portfolio of renewable energy projects.” But he said the state's renewable energy tax rebate “has worked” to stimulate development, and it's not needed any more.

Eskridge says Idaho’s ‘changed the rules’ on renewables, needs to extend rebate

Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, told the House Revenue & Taxation Committee this morning that HB 250, which would extend Idaho's renewable energy tax rebate through the end of 2014 - rather than letting it expire on June 30 - creates “a limited window of 40 months to allow those projects on the table the opportunity to finish what they started without a change of rule.” Eskridge said the Idaho PUC's suspension of its contract approval process while it worked on establishing new rules for PURPA projects extended the contract approval time at the PUC by months, meaning projects that would have been ready to go now are still awaiting that PUC approval. “We've kinda changed the rules on 'em,” Eskridge said.

Eskridge said continuing the rebate “helps continue this drive for energy independence that we started six years ago in this state.” He noted that more than 80 percent of all energy in Idaho is now imported from other states.

Students decry funding inequities, oppose guns-on-campus bill

Associated Students of Boise State University came to the capitol today to highlight inequities in university funding - the students said BSU gets only 67 percent of the per-student funding that the University of Idaho gets. “I want to be clear: This is not an attack on the State Board of Education, the Idaho State Legislature, or any other Idaho college or university,” said ASBSU President Stephen Heleker. “We understand that the current funding inequity is not the result of malice or favoritism, but is largely the result of a difficult economic environment combined with a period of unprecedented growth at Boise State.” You can read an account here in the BSU student newspaper, the Arbiter; some of the students wore buttons that said “2/3 of a Vandal.”

When Hellaker spoke at a Statehouse press conference, he also was asked about today's House passage of HB 222, the guns-on-campus bill. The ASBSU passed a resolution on Monday opposing the bill, he said. “We believe that universities and colleges in Idaho need to have the role to control or not control firearms, based on their own best practices” and on student safety, Heleker said. He noted that campus security officials have extensive training on the issues involved in campus safety, and said lawmakers, who may not,  “shouldn't make that call for us as students.”

Urban renewal bills head to Senate’s 14th Order for amendments after much work

The Senate Local Government & Taxation Committee has voted unanimously to send both HB 95 and HB 110, the remaining urban renewal bills, to the Senate's 14th Order for amendments. Over the past two days, the committee has taken testimony and worked on extensive amendments, some of which draw in pieces from the other two House bills on urban renewal that passed this year, HB 96 and HB 97, and put them in HB 95. “This is a very complicated issue,” said committee Chairman Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston. “It's my hope that this adds some transparency and additional public process to do away with some of the criticisms of urban renewal districts, to the point that we are not revisiting this every year.”

Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, thanked Stegner and Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, for all their work on the proposed amendments to HB 95, which he said “make these better bills.”

As for the other bill, HB 110, which would add a public hearing requirement, committee members raised questions over whether the bill actually required two hearings on the same plan. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, told Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, “It needs to be reworked - I think your point is well-taken.” Hammond said he thought amendments could “clean it up” by striking about half the bill's wording.

Another AG opinion on anti-abortion bill: Rapists could take legal action

Here's a link to another Idaho attorney general's opinion on the bill to ban abortion after 20 weeks on grounds of fetal pain, this one in response to several specific questions from Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, a physician. Among them: In Question 4, Schmidt asked if the bill's provisions allowing the “father of the unborn child” to pursue legal action would include a rapist; the answer was yes.

How they voted…

Here's how Idaho House members voted on HB 222, the guns-on-campus bill, which passed 41-28 and now moves to the Senate:

Voting in favor: Reps. Anderson, Andrus, Barbieri, Barrett, Bayer, Bedke, Bolz, Boyle, Burgoyne, Collins, Crane, DeMordaunt, Gibbs(Wheeler), Guthrie, Hagedorn, Hart, Hartgen, Harwood, Henderson, Loertscher, Luker, Marriott, McMillan, Moyle, Nesset, Nielsen, Nonini, Palmer, Patrick, Perry, Roberts, Schaefer, Shepherd, Simpson, Sims, Takasugi(Batt), Thayn, VanderWoude, Wood(27), Wood(35), Denney.

Voting against: Reps. Bateman, Bell, Bilbao, Black, Block, Buckner-Webb, Chadderdon, Chew, Cronin, Eskridge, Higgins, Jaquet, Killen, King, Lacey, Lake, McGeachin, Pence, Raybould, Ringo, Rusche, Shirley, Smith(30), Smith(24), Stevenson, Thompson, Trail, Wills.

House passes guns-on-campus bill, 41-28

The House has voted 41-28 in favor of HB 222, the bill to prevent Idaho's colleges and universities from regulating or banning guns on campus other than in undergraduate residence halls. The measure now moves to the Senate.

Simpson: ‘Gun-free zones don’t work’

Rep. Erik Simpson, R-Idaho Falls, in his closing debate on HB 222, said, “Our universities aren't perfect. There are crimes that occur there. … These numbers represent people who are being disarmed, who cannot protect themselves.” He said, “Ladies and gentlemen, gun-free zones don't work. Every couple of years in this country this is proven.”

Debate: ‘It behooves me,’ ‘I’m not assured,’ ‘Whistle filled with blood’

Rep. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, noted the U.S. Supreme Court's decision overturning the Washington, D.C. gun law. “What we're doing here, you got the college saying that people can't pack, and the Supreme Court saying no, they have a right to pack, even if they're on a college.” He said, “The thing that saddens me about the whole thing is that we've been debating over an hour on the constitutional privilege that people have in this country to pack a gun. It just behooves me as to why we want to take people's constitutional rights away.”

Rep. Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I don't know about you, but I want to live in a country and a state where the citizens are armed.” He said, “This legislation is legislation that's about protecting the very rights that made America free.”

Rep. Donna Pence, D-Gooding, said she holds a concealed weapon permit, but she opposes the bill. “I'm not assured that my public safety on a college campus is going to be protected by people with a gun,” she said.

Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, shared a story about an incident from when he was in college at the University of Utah, and a woman who worked in the nearby university hospital was trying to decide whether to carry a gun because an ex had threatened to kill her. “She decided that she would not carry the gun, what she would do is carry a whistle,” Hart told the House. “Shortly thereafter … he met her in the parking lot. … He killed her. She blew her whistle and nobody came. Her whistle was filled with blood when they found her body.”

Debate: ‘Stinking thinking,’ ‘Calm my fears,’ ‘Bill is about rights’

Rep. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, said she was glad to hear that it's already illegal to drink and carry a gun, but she said, “Unfortunately drinking leads to stinking thinking,” and there's drinking on college campuses She urged against HB 222, the guns-on-campus bill.

Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, said she favors the bill and believes students should be able to defend themselves against attacks. “It would certainly calm my fears if I were the mother of a daughter on a college campus,” she said.

Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa, said, “This bill is not about the NCAA, it's not about whether one shooter can stop another shooter. … In my mind, this bill is about rights.” She said, “The state of Idaho has the right to regulate firearms, not a college, not a university.”

Simpson tells House guns can be openly carried on campuses now

Rep. Erik Simpson, R-Idaho Falls, just told the House that in his view, open carrying of guns on college and university campuses already is legal, and colleges can't regulate it. That's legal under the state Constitution, he said, so his bill wouldn't change it.

Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, said, “I am frankly quite confused at this point.” In committee testimony on the bill, Idaho college and law enforcement officials described an incident in which what appeared to be a shotgun was carried across campus and police responded, as guns are banned on campus.

Hagedorn insists bill just for concealed weapon permits, but it doesn’t mention them

Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, questioned repeatedly by Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, who supported HB 222 in committee, has insisted in the House that the bill wouldn't change anything with regard to open carrying of guns on campus, and that it only addresses concealed weapons permits. Actually, the bill doesn't mention concealed weapons permits at all. It simply bans universities from regulating guns on campus anywhere but in undergrad dorms. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Eric Simpson, R-Idaho Falls, has acknowledged that it would permit open carrying of guns on campus. You can read the bill here.

House debating guns-on-campus bill

The House is debating HB 222, the guns-on-campus bill. “We've taken law-abiding citizens, citizens that want to do the right things, and we've criminalized their behavior because they don't know … where those boundaries are,” said Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian. Current law lets Idaho's colleges and universities decide about guns on campus; the bill would ban the colleges from regulating them anywhere but in undergraduate residence halls.

Several supporters of the bill have been arguing that concealed weapons permit holders are responsible and should be able to carry guns on campus, but the bill doesn't just address them; it would let anyone openly carry guns on campus, including at athletic competitions and arena concerts. Hagedorn said, “That's already in the Constitution.” Opponents have argued that more guns on campus will make them less safe, rather than more safe.

Senate panel passes anti-abortion bill on party-line vote

Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, has moved to send SB 1165, the bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks, to the full Senate with a recommendation that it pass, and Sen. Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, seconded the motion. Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, made a substitute motion to send it to the Senate's amending order. She said she was concerned about the bill's lack of provisions for cases of fetal anomalies and the possibility that it could allow incest perpetrators or rapists rights in court. Sen. Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello, seconded her motion. But Davis said, “Some bills amend very easily in the amending order, but these types of bills don't.” He said if there's a problem, it could be addressed with a trailer bill, but he wouldn't support sending the bill to the amending order.

Stennett's motion then was defeated on a 2-7 party-line vote, with all Republicans on the committee opposing it, and Fulcher's then passed on a 7-2 party-line vote.

AG’s opinions: Constitutional problems

Here's a link to two Idaho Attorney General's advisory opinions, requested by Sen. Chuck Winder, sponsor of SB 1165, that raise questions about the constitutionality of his bill, SB 1165, to ban abortions after 20 weeks gestation on grounds of fetal pain. “Section 5 of the Act is unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution insofar as it proscribes some non-therapeutic abortions even before a fetus has reached viability,” states the first opinion, issued before the bill's introduction.

Testimony: Anti-abortion bill draws concerns from doctors, advocates

Marty Durand, attorney for Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, told the Senate State Affairs Committee, “We stand in opposition” to SB 1165. “The premise of this bill, that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks, is not a scientifically accepted fact,” she said. “Think about it - a family with a wanted pregnancy that goes terribly wrong must face an unwanted decision that no family wants to face.”

Ken McClure, lobbyist for the Idaho Medical Association, said the IMA rarely weighs in on abortion bills, but there are problems with the bill, including its conflict with another Idaho law that permits late abortion of an abnormal fetus that will die at birth. The bill requires such pregnancies to be carried to term, and bans inducing labor early; McClure said that likely will cause more pain to the fetus than an induced early labor. He said the bill needs several amendments, including clarifying that inducing labor at full term is not prohibited.

Hannah Brass of the ACLU she believes SB 1165 is unconstitutional. “States cannot ban pre-viability abortions and can ban post-viability abortions only if there is an exception to protect the mother's life and health,” including mental health. She said of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, “They did not change any of this precedent,” and said, “We are also concerned about the lack of a rape or incest exception.”

Doctor: No Idaho provider does elective abortions after 16 weeks, but bill flawed

Dr. Glenn Weyhrich, a Boise physician and head of OB/GYN at St. Luke's, told the Senate State Affairs Committee that to the best of his knowledge, there is currently no provider in Idaho who provides elective abortion beyond 16 weeks of gestation. Weyrich said most of his OB/GYN colleagues wouldn't oppose SB 1165 as a whole, but there are problems with “the way the bill is currently written.” Among them: Inducing labor at 39 weeks - one week past the normal length of pregnancy - would appear to be banned by the bill unless it's specifically aimed at maximizing the outcome to the fetus, as opposed to the mother. That's a problem, he said. Also, he said the bill makes no exception for “lethal fetal anomalies” when the fetus will not survive outside the womb. “There are women who choose to continue those pregnancies to term,” he said, but he said that should be their choice. “The way this bill is written now, those women would be obligated to continue those pregnancies to term.”

Minneapolis law prof: ‘No guarantee’ bill is constitutional, but she sees basis

Teresa Collett, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis, told the Senate State Affairs Committee that she believes “there is a substantial basis to believe that this law is constitutional and that it will recognize the humanity of the unborn in their capacity to feel pain.” She said, “Can I guarantee you that fetal pain will be recognized as a constitutional basis” to uphold the law? “No lawyer can, not if they're being honest,” she said, “no more than I can guarantee that you won't be sued.” She said, “Anybody with the filing fee” can file a lawsuit.

Collett said she bases her reasoning on Supreme Court decisions since 1989 that departed from the “rigid trimester system” of addressing state regulations on abortion that the high court adopted in the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision, and began to recognize some state regulations within the first trimester. She said, “This bill does not include a fetal anomaly exception. Such an exception is not required in Supreme Court jurisprudence.” Its only exception is for the life of the mother, or for her physical health as defined as “substantial impairment of a major bodily function.” She said, “The simple fact is that human pain has always been legally relevant. It's the basis of enhanced penalties in various crimes.”

Questions about abortion bill…

Members of the Senate State Affairs Committee have been questioning Nebraska physician Sean Kenney about SB 1165, the bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Sen. Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, noted that U.S. Supreme Court decisions note a compelling interest for states to legislate at 23 to 24 weeks of gestation, “but the bill talks of 20 weeks.” He asked Kenney why, “from a medical point of view,” he would “take exception to the U.S. Supreme court” on the compelling standard issue. Kenney responded that there are different ways to count weeks of gestation, and cited experiences he's had that suggest to him that fetuses feel pain very early in gestation.

Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, asked about how the bill would impact parents of a fetus with life-threatening conditions like anencephaly, or lack of a brain. Kenney told the committee of a case in which a premature infant was delivered and survived without a brain for several months, though such fetuses normally don't survive outside the womb for more than 10 minutes, he said. Kenney told the senators, “My experience is at 10 weeks post-fertilization … I have a baby in the making.”

Idaho spent more than three-quarters of a million dollars defending abortion legislation in the 1990s, including $380,000 in attorney fees the state was ordered to pay in 2007 to Planned Parenthood of Idaho after that group challenged unconstitutional provisions in a 2005 abortion parental consent law.

Sen. Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello, asked, “Have we had a problem in Idaho? Is that why you are here?” Kenney said Nebraska passed a similar bill because a provider planned to begin providing late-term abortions in the state; that law has not yet been challenged in court. “We feel in Nebraska … child abuse should not be tolerated,” Kenney said. Malepeai said under his reading of the bill, a father could sue and receive compensation, even if the father is a rapist or incest perpetrator. Kenney responded, “That is definitely theoretically possible.” But he said that'd probably be a minority of cases, and in cases of rape or incest, abortions still could be sought before 20 weeks gestation. “By the time the baby can feel pain, it should be protected,” he said.

SB 1165 would forbid all abortions after 20 weeks except to save the life or physical health of the mother; it has no exceptions for cases of rape or incest, nor would it permit consideration of the mother's mental or psychological health.

Testimony on anti-abortion bill…

In Ohio, legislation has been proposed to ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, but that state's right-to-life group isn't supporting the bill because it says it would just be overturned as unconstitutional. “The heartbeat bill will not save any babies' lives because it will not be upheld in court,” Michael Gonidakis, executive director of Ohio Right to Life, told the Columbus Dispatch. “The court has said there can be no bans on pre-viability abortions.”

In Idaho, however, Right to Life of Idaho is backing SB 1165, which would ban abortions after 20 weeks based on fetal pain. Kerry Uhlenkott, legislative coordinator of Right to Life of Idaho, told the Senate State Affairs Committee this morning, “This bill would protect the unborn child who is capable of feeling pain.” She said when the U.S. Supreme Court issued its Roe vs. Wade decision on abortion, medical research hadn't yet uncovered fetal pain issues.

Among those testifying in favor of the bill so far have been a physician from Springfield, Ill., Ferdinand Salvacion of the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, who testified about fetal pain. “The inability to commun