Archive for March 2012
On tonight's “Idaho Reports,” I join Jim Weatherby, George Prentice, Dan Popkey and host Greg Hahn to discuss the legislative developments of the week. Tonight's program also includes Hahn's interviews with Lt. Gov. Brad Little and with Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise; a report on energy policy from Aaron Kunz; and more. It was the session's last week, and it's the next-to-last “Idaho Reports” program of the year.
The show airs tonight at 8 p.m. on Idaho Public Television; it repeats Sunday at 11 a.m. Mountain time, 10 a.m. Pacific; and will be replayed on Boise State Public Radio on Sunday at 6 p.m. After it airs, “Idaho Reports” also can be viewed online at www.idahoptv.org/idreports/.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Call it Tuber Tour 2012. The Idaho Potato Commission is commemorating its 75th anniversary and hoping to dispel some bad press for potatoes by taking a lifelike, six-ton spud on a seven-month, 32-state tour. The Big Idaho Potato departed the state Capitol Friday morning with a ribbon-cutting ceremony by Gov. Butch Otter. The building-sized potato that was first seen at the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl will be making stops that include Chicago, New York, Washington, Denver and Los Angeles. The Idaho Statesman reports (http://bit.ly/H3f8lP) that one stop will be outside the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where officials last year questioned whether potatoes should be included in school lunches and banned it from the food stamp program; read more at the Capital Press here. The public can trace the route on the Big Idaho Potato's website, http://www.bigidahopotato.com.
Gov. Butch Otter praised lawmakers today, calling this year's legislative session “productive.” “I think it was a great session - in fact, I would give a good solid 'A' to the Legislature.” He said, “The Legislature got it right this year.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Otter lauded the full funding of the “Students Come First” school reforms, which include technology boosts and a teacher merit-pay bonus program; an increase in funding for hard-hit colleges and universities; the IGEM university research program; and a cut in corporate and individual income tax rates for top earners.
Asked if he would have signed the pre-abortion ultrasound mandate bill had it reached his desk, Otter said, “No comment - next question.” Click below for Otter's full statement.
House and Senate Democrats responded to this year's legislative session today, criticizing the Republican majority for its priorities, including tax cuts for top earners and social legislation on contraception and abortion. “They played special-interest social politics and forgot that people care about their personal freedom,” declared House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston.
While lauding some of the session's accomplishments, from youth concussion legislation to suicide hotline funding to a ban on texting while driving, Rusche said the GOP leaders fell short on education, ethics, job creation and more. “The real hope now is not that these leaders will remember their promises,” he said. “Rather it's that the voice of the people is heard this November through recall of the Luna laws.”
He also called for a constitutional amendment “to protect a citizen's rights to refuse government mandated medical procedures and make it necessary to have their consent for health care treatments,” saying, “One wouldn’t think it necessary in Idaho, it wouldn't be necessary to protect the freedoms and rights of our citizens from the overreach of government, but if anything, experience has shown that not all Idaho legislators have the same perceptions of personal freedom.”
Click below for the Democrats' full statement.
Election is coming…
Now it's just time for the spin
As lawmakers pack it all in
So if you approve
Or opposed every move
It's time to get your vote in.
The Idaho Senate has adjourned for the session at a little after 7 p.m., four hours after the House did the same. Here, Lt. Gov. Brad Little applauds the end of the session, which ran for 81 days. The final hours included tearful goodbyes, speeches, and even a “Thanks for the Memories” serenade of the Senate by Sens. Chuck Winder and Dean Mortimer. Click below for a session wrap-up story from AP reporter John Miller; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com on the House's final action, returning Rep. Bob Nonini's $10 million tax credit bill for private school scholarships to committee.
The Senate has been saying its goodbyes, including emotional farewells from the longest-serving Idaho senator ever, Sen. Denton Darrington, R-Declo; from Sen. John Andreason, R-Boise; Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle; Sen. Diane Bilyeu, D-Pocatello; Sen. Shirley McKague, R-Meridian; Sen. Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello; and Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise; and more. When Lt. Gov. Brad Little asked if there were “any more announcements,” Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, turned with a grin and pointed at Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, saying, “It's your turn, Bert.” There was laughter; the two will face off in the GOP primary this year after redistricting landed them in the same legislative district.
LeFavour, Idaho's only openly gay lawmaker, told the Senate, “I know I'm not the first gay person to serve here. I think we all know that. Maybe I'm the first one to feel safe enough to be honest about who I am.”
Darrington said, “The Senate has been my life for 30 years. … I think when you take on the responsibility, I think you take it all on. That's been my creed.”
“The Senate has completed its business and is about to adjourn sine die,” Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis said. Committees are being sent to notify the House, which adjourned for the session nearly three hours ago, and the governor.
With no debate or discussion, the Senate has passed HB 698, the teacher salary bill, on a 28-7 party-line vote. That's the House version of the bill to cancel future cuts required by the “Students Come First” reform law in teacher salary funds, in order to pay for the law's initiatives including laptop computers and merit-pay bonuses for teachers. The House bill also declares those initiatives the top funding priorities in the school budget, and requires that whenever teacher base salaries are increased, the minimum teacher salary must rise by twice the percentage. The bill now goes to the governor.
The Senate has voted unanimously, 35-0, in favor of HB 662 to declare the Idaho Guard Youth Challenge program to start a school in Pierce, Idaho a secondary alternative school. The funding for that was defeated in JFAC, however. Backers hope to get state matching funds for federal funds and private donations to operate the school.
The Senate has voted 28-7 along party lines in favor of HB 563, the $35.7 million cut in Idaho's corporate and top individual income tax rates; just over 17 percent of Idaho tax filers would benefit. “This is a good way to use that money,” Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, said in his closing debate, “to give a little tax relief to the citizens of Idaho, that may not even realize they're going to get it. But … it has a multiplier effect.”
“It should go to higher education and K-12 education,” said Sen. Diane Bilyeu, D-Pocatello, who voted against the bill. Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, initially voted against the bill, then changed his vote to yes, leaving only the Senate's seven Democrats voting no.
Among comments in the tax cut debate so far:
Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, said, “I guess I would look for a bill at this point in the session that creates jobs, and this one I don't think does. … I am really sorry to see that this is the bill we have at the end of the session.”
Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg: “The fact is we're not competitive in our income tax rates with our states right around us, and those are the ones we're competing with the most.” He said he sees the tax cuts, state savings, and restoring teacher salary-based apportionment as “a package deal.”
Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise: “In many instances, people will never know they got this,” because the small amount will be buried in people's tax returns.
Senate Assistant Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, opening debate on HB 563, the tax-cut bill, said, “I know that some are willing to support increased funding for teacher pay. I know that some want tax relief. I know that some want money put away in savings. All we have to do is decide our priorities.”
He said of the reduction in Idaho's top income tax rate and its corporate tax rate, “It's not a huge amount, but it does make a statement, and I think a very positive statement.” Said Winder, “I think even if you got $75 or $100 back, that'll buy some gas, that'll pay for some groceries. It'll have some impact.”
The $35.7 million tax cut would go to corporate filers, and to top earners who now pay the state's highest rate for individual income tax. For a single person who doesn't itemize and takes the standard deduction, that equates to a minimum gross income of $36,260 to start getting any tax break. For a married couple filing jointly with no dependents, it's $72,520. For a couple with two children, it's $79,920. Just over 17 percent of Idaho income tax filers would benefit from the cut; taxes for lower earners wouldn't change.
Poverty level for a family of four, according to the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare, is $22,350 a year; for a single person, it's $10,890.
Now the Senate is moving on to HB 563, the House-passed $35.7 million income tax cut for top earners.
The Senate has adopted proposed new ethics rules in a straight party-line vote, 28-7. In his closing debate, Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis said, “There's a lot that was said in opposition to the bill that I agree with.” But he said a public ethics process before probable cause has been determined “does not … preserve reputations against frivolous allegations.” He said, “When we make it part of the public discourse, let's at least have confidence that we've met a probable cause standard, and if we have, then it should be part of the public discourse.”
He noted that the new rule includes provisions for ethics complaints for conduct unbecoming a senator, which wasn't previously in the rule, along with complaints for violating any state law “that brings discredit or embarrassment to the Senate or that constitutes a breach of public trust.”
Davis said, “We and our predecessors care about the Senate, and I have confidence that our successors will be similarly devoted, and if not, the people of the state of Idaho know how to correct that, and they should.” He said he thinks the new rule sets “substantially increased standards for ethical review.”
Among comments in the Senate debate this afternoon on proposed new ethics rules:
Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, who chaired the Senate Ethics Committee this year and helped draft the rules, said, “My heart is broken. … This I believe is the best we can get and we can do for right now. Is it perfect? No. Will it ever be perfect? Probably not.”
Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise, said, “Yes we value openness, but we also place some value on the dignity of the individual … on fairness. … In my view this resolution strengthens our rules.”
Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, said, “This really was an effort to try to be fair to everyone, in both parties, in all parts of the state. I was so naive I actually thought the minority would join in on this. I had heard comments that it probably should be kept confidential until there was some kind of reasonable cause. … There are so many things we could have done with this to make it unfair.” He said the rule tried to “protect the innocent, and yet to protect people's right to know if there's been a violation.”
Senate Minority Leader Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello: “The best, not perfect, the best approach of being acceptable to what we all might see to be fair, would be for both sides to come together and figure it out together. That's what experience teaches me. … We could have perhaps arrived at a proposal that we all could have bought into, but we didn't. … That process was absent.”
Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, pointed to a clause in the proposed new Senate ethics rule that would make it a violation of the rules of the Senate to disclose “any information that is confidential concerning the preliminary investigation … or … the disclosure of any information, preliminary investigation or written complaint.”
“What we're doing is we're gagging every senator,” Werk said. “As you and I know very well, rumors run quick. And if you remember from the ethics investigation we just had, the only people that were complaining weren't a set of senators. We had emails firing off at us pretty quickly. So everything is going to be swirling, most likely, and then we'll be expected to somehow not say anything, with a violation of the ethics rules, the rules of the Senate, hanging over us.”
Werk said, “What we need to be favoring is the public. … This will not instill public confidence, it will erode public confidence.”
Among the debate in the Senate on proposed new Senate ethics rules:
Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, said, “People should not be exposed to public embarrassment or ridicule when there is no legal or factual basis for the allegations. …. This bill does strengthen the ethics rules of the Senate. I've looked at the rules. I want to know. I want to be my best self because of this institution, and I think we need to preserve and protect the institution of the Senate by making sure that we handle all ethics complaints in a very appropriate manner and we make sure that each of us lives up to the standards that are set for the Senate and that are expected by the people of the state of Idaho.”
Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise: “In this session, conducted in private, three senators can block the ability for an ethics complaint to proceed. On a party-line vote, one party, in darkness, can squash an ethics complaint. That is not a strengthening of our ethics rules. That is a weakening of our ethics rule. That is a way to ensure that one party can ensure that the other party is not capable of bringing forth a complaint.”
Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow: “I appreciate that this has been brought forward, and we've had issues that we need to address. I think we need to step back a little bit and think about some of the assumptions that we're making. And some of the assumptions we're making in this rule, in this change, are built into this very building that we function in. This is a partisan body. The assumption that three and three removes partisanship is, it's false, it can't happen. To remove partisanship from an ethics review, it has to step outside of this body.”
Sen. JIm Hammond, R-Coeur d'Alene: “We saw some problems. There was a genuine effort to make some improvements. … Let's just not continue to beat this dead horse, come on. We're genuinely trying to make some improvements, let's make these improvements. Next year … if you want to make further improvements, great.”
Sen. Diane Bilyeu, D-Pocatello: In drafting the rules, “You all in the majority party made them behind closed doors, and we were not there.”
Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, noted that Democrats in the Legislature introduced a package of ethics reforms at the start of the sessino. “The can got kicked down the road, and it looked like nothing was going to happen,” he said. “An ethics issue did arise … because there was a real ethics issue that needed to be investigated. And believe me this was a painful process for all, it was a gut-wrenching experience for me personally. … This was very difficult.”
Now, he said, “We have a set of changes in front of us, and I just think they're lacking. I think they're lacking for a number of reasons. First of all, like I said, the first time I saw these changes was this morning. It just seems a bit too much like, you know, we need that window dressing … to show we're going to be responding to some of the events that occurred in the Senate in the last few weeks, and we don't have to take the time to draft a thoughtful, detailed statutory structure to put in place ethics rules that make sense, that satisfy those who are governed, and to allow disclosure … so that the governed can make decisions about who they should elect and who they should not.”
Bock said Democrats had some concerns about the current process, in which an immediate complaint is filed and is made public, even if it's “totally, totally frivolous or false.” But he said, “What we've done with this new set of rules is to go to the opposite extreme. Rather than strengthening with these new rules, we're weakening them. … .The person that submits the complaint can't even talk about it. … And if the decision is against taking action, nobody, nobody is ever going to know that the complaint was made. And the person who made the complaint is going to be muffled.”
Bock said the Senate needed to take time to develop balanced rules. “What we need is a statutory change, not some window-dressing rules that .. instead of opening up the process … make it much more concealed and hide it from the public eye, and hide it from the media, so that nobody may ever know that there was a complaint and what the complaint was.” He said, “It's a bad rule. It weakens what we've got.” He called for establishment of an independent ethics commission, outside the Legislature, as 41 other states have.
The changes to the Senate Ethics Committee process, including make the entire process - including the appointment of the ethics committee - secret until the committee votes that probable cause exists of a violation, are up now in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, said, “I think it's healthy for us to do it in that fashion. It allows us to go into executive session for the consideration of … augmented or increased standards,” and then the bipartisan committee, including three Republicans and three Democrats, can “use their judgment going forward as to whether there is probably cause that misconduct has occurred, and whether or not there should be some action taken by the committee and by the Senate.”
Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, rose to debate against the bill. “I found this bill on my desk this morning and it was the first time I saw it,” he said. He asked senators to think about what ethics in government means. “State government operates with the consent of the governed,” he said, quoting Thomas Jefferson. “They reached the conclusion that the people had the intelligence to decide how their government should operate.” He said, “The people have the right to decide what goes on here, but they can only exercise that right if they are fully informed. It requires a transparency of action.”
He said, “We cannot operate this government in secrecy. … The people have a right to know what we do and why we do it.”
The Senate has voted 28-7, in a straight party-line vote, to approve a second change to Senate rules, this one giving the Senate pro-tem sole authority to hire or fire all Senate employees. “I have a lot of trouble with this,” said Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum. “I think there was some middle ground we could have come to.” She said she respects current Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill for being “even-handed” and having no malicious intent, but that might not be true in the future. Hill responded, “This is what we got. Without it we go back to what we had. It's the choice of the Senate.” The party-line vote followed.
Current rule, which hasn't been invoked in recent history, states that the full Senate by two-thirds vote may remove a Senate employee for failure to perform duties, incompetence, or improper conduct.
The Senate is now beginning debate on changes in Senate ethics rules. First up: A change to its disclosure rule for conflicts of interest to clarify that it applies both in committee and in the full Senate. “The changes are very few, but I think they are significant and positive,” said Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise. “They add clarity and they take us in the right direction of disclosure.”
Next up is a rule relating to dismissal of employees; after that is one that makes the entire Senate Ethics Committee process - even the appointment of the committee - secret and confidential until the bipartisan committee votes, by a majority vote, that there is probable cause that an ethics violation has occurred.
The House has adjourned sine die, despite a chorus of “nays” to the motion. “The House stands adjourned sine die,” Speaker Lawerence Denney declared, banging his gavel to loud applause.
The House committee to inform the Senate that the House is preparing to adjourn sine die has arrived in the Senate. “Mr. President, we are pleased to join you,” said Rep. Bob Schaefer, R-Nampa, “in fact one of us is wishing to come over next year.” Schaefer is running for the Senate. Lt. Gov. Brad Little told the House members, “Tell them to maybe grab a little dinner.” He added, “We'll be sending a trio over to see you at some time later today.”
The Senate is back in, with nine pieces of legislation on its docket; first up are the three bills that came from JFAC and just passed the House. Also pending are Senate ethics rule changes; the teacher salary bill; the youth challenge bill; and tax cuts. Meanwhile, the House has come back into session and is preparing to adjourn sine die, which means “without a day” - for the session.
The Senate Education Committee has voted unanimously in favor of HB 662, the National Guard Youth Challenge bill declaring the proposed Pierce, Idaho school an alternative secondary school - the bill whose funding was defeated yesterday in JFAC. Committee Chairman John Goedde said, “General Sayler, I'd sure like an invitation to your first graduating class.” With that the committee adjourned.
House Speaker Lawerence Denney invited all those who will be leaving the House after this year to assemble in the well in front of him; with the huge crowd standing there, he then banged his gavel and asked loudly, “Haven't you learned anything?” House rules forbid walking into the well when the House is in session. Amid laughter, the big group of departing representatives then posed for pictures.
“The last two or three years have been particularly hard for all of us,” Denney told them. “Those of you who are retiring, congratulations. I think retirement is not bad. Those of you who are going to the Senate, I don't know what happened to you.” Amid more laughter, he said, “But again, we do appreciate the association we've had.”
House Education Chairman Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, has thrown in the towel on his $10 milion tax credit bill for private school scholarships; he just asked for unanimous consent to return the bill to the House Education Committee. “In light of HB 670 as amended and we being at the end of our session, I think probably the right thing to do without asking this body to vote on a suspension of rule and to continue to work on this and maybe look at it again, next year, I would ask HB 670 be returned to the Education Committee,” Nonini told the House.
At that point, House Speaker Lawerence Denney said with a grin, “I think we're out of business.” The House has cleared its calendar, having approved the final three JFAC bills, HB 701, the trailer appropriation bill on the judges' retirement fund; HB 702, the year-end transfer bill, including transfers to the budget stabilization fund; and HB 703, the appropriation to the Attorney General's office of $500,000 from a legal settlement to help homeowners facing foreclosure.
The Senate Education Committee took up SB 698, the salary-based apportionment bill, and immediately passed it, with no discussion. “There's only one condition that I would support this motion, and that is that if Rep. Nonini agrees not to testify,” Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, said to laughter. Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, responded, “Sen. Fulcher, I think that's what we were trying to accomplish.”
Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, said the bill is similar to one already approved by the committee, and pointed out the changes, the minimum teacher salary clause and the language regarding funding priorities.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Bob Nonini, who is running for the Senate, told the panel, “I would just hope that if I'm successful in my election bid next November, that this was an indication of things to come.” Goedde responded, “'Thanks' would be plenty.”
The Senate has recessed to about 2:30 p.m., and the Senate Education Committee is going to meet now. There are two items on its agenda: HB 662, on the National Guard Youth Challenge - for which funding was defeated in JFAC yesterday - and HB 698, the teacher salary-based apportionment bill that just passed the House.
The House is back in session, and is quickly moving through the three final bills that have arrived from JFAC: The year-end transfer bill, including transfers to state reserves, and two trailer appropriation bills.
Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis told the Senate that the fact that the appropriation bills are out and are up in the House means the Legislature will be able to adjourn sine day today. “We will stay until our work is done today,” he said.
The House has voted 59-9 in favor of HB 698, the salary-based apportionment bill, which cancels future teacher-salary cuts required by the “Students Come First” reform law, while also declaring that the law's reforms, including laptop computers and performance-pay bonuses, are top funding priorities in the public school budget. It also requires that when base teacher salaries increase, the minimum teacher salary must rise by twice the percentage; current law says 1.5 times the percentage.
“I think this bill addresses things that we've had to cut in the past,” House Education Chairman Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, told the House. “Revenues are back up. It's a good piece of legislation and I encourage your yes vote.” The bill now moves to the Senate, where the Senate Education Committee is planning a quick hearing.
Though the bill has been characterized as restoring $35 million in teacher pay over five years, it doesn't actually add any money to the school budget, instead addressing priorities within the budget.
The House is now debating HB 698, the salary-based apportionment bill. Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, asked Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, the bill's sponsor, whether the bill's requirement that in the future, the state's minimum teacher salary must rise by twice the percentage of the base salary for all teachers, would allow the minimum salary to rise without the base salary going up at all. Nonini said no. Ringo said, “It would seem to me we have violated it already this year, because we have increased the minimum pay for teachers without increasing the base at all.” She said, “I think it also makes a statement that we really value our new teachers more than we do our experienced ones. … Those people aren't foolish, and they're going to notice what the potential is for them in years out.”
Rep. Mack Shirley, R-Rexburg, said, “We've made significant improvements and we ought to feel good about our effort to support education this year, I believe.”
SB 1303a, the animal cruelty bill sponsored by the state's cattle industry that creates the state's first felony penalty for animal cruelty - for a third aggravated offense - has been endorsed by the Senate with its House amendment. “They did make what I think is a good addition,” said Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson. The House amendment adds felony penalties in certain cases for organized cockfighting. “We can't defend organized cockfighting, particularly where drugs and gaming is involved,” Brackett said. The bill now moves to Gov. Butch Otter; Idaho currently is one of just three states with no felony penalties for animal cruelty.
The amended bill passed on a 24-11 vote, after several senators said they fear the livestock industry could face attacks in the future as a result. Earlier, the Senate had approved SB 1301 31-1; since then, the only change was the addition of the cockfighting clause, but seven former supporters opposed the bill today. The Senate has now recessed to 1:30.
The judges' retirement bill, HB 660, has passed the Senate on a unanimous, 34-0 vote and now heads to the governor's desk. Sen. Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, said he arrived at this year's legislative session ready to kill the judges' retirement bill, but today he's the Senate sponsor. The reason: “This is the solution that best works today to stabilize that fund,” he said.
After the vote, Davis announced that while the new Senate ethics rules won't be voted on before the lunch break today, but will be moved to the 10th Order of business so they can be taken up this afternoon. He said it's still his plan that the Senate will adjourn sine die today, but “We'll see what the next several hours bring.” The Senate Education Committee's meeting shortly after the lunch break will be the last committee meeting the Senate will have this year, he said.
Now, the Senate is taking up SB 1303a, the House-amended animal cruelty bill.
The Senate has passed HB 697, the Boise County debt bill. But first, Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, read from the letter to House Speaker Lawerence Denney from Boise County Prosecutor RJ Twilegar threatening a lawsuit on behalf of Boise County women if SB 1387, the forced ultrasound bill, is enacted. “Now why is this pertinent? To me, that just gives you a peek inside the window of the mindset of who we're dealing with here,” Fulcher said, speaking against the bill, which would allow the county, after a vote, to levy additional taxes for a bond to pay off a multimillion-dollar court judgment. “Apparently Boise County has the energy and the resources to file suit against us if they don't like what we do on one bill, while at the same time asking us to grant them taxing authority for violating the law,” Fulcher said.
“Let the taxing districts solve their own problems,” he said. “What about a loan? I haven't heard about that as an option. … If this were coming to us in the form of a loan I would be all over that. … But not to grant taxing authority for violating the law. … In my opinion this is an unjustified bailout. This is bad policy and it's bad precedent and I'll be voting no.”
Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, called Twilegar's letter “appalling,” and said, “Boise County, take responsibility - you created your mess, you get out of it.” However, after hearing Sen. Tim Corder's closing debate, he voted in favor of the bill.
Corder, R-Mountain Home, said of Twilegar's letter, “That doesn't have anything to do with this issue. He was not the counsel of record in this case … and he has not been the counsel of record in any part of these proceedings.” As to Fulcher's suggestion of a loan, Corder said that's what Boise County is trying to do - take out a loan, in the form of a bond, to pay off the debt. The vote was 28-7, with opponents including one Democrat, Sen. Dan Schmidt of Moscow, and six Republicans, Sens. Fulcher, McKague, Mortimer, Nuxoll, Pearce and Vick.
The Senate was just disrupted by a scream from the gallery, of “Give that back!” Several Occupy Boise protesters in the gallery were being accosted by Idaho State police officers, who escorted them out, as the same woman shouted, “I didn't do anything!” and “You're hurting me!” and another yelled, “Is this democracy?” Majority Leader Bart Davis immediately set the Senate at ease; now that the protesters have been removed, the Senate is back in session debating the Boise County debt bill. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.
The Senate has voted 28-7 along party lines in favor of HB 693, the Capitol Mall rules bill covering the site of the Occupy Boise vigil; all Republicans voted yes, and all Democrats voted no. “My question is the rush and the emergency,” said Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum. “I really think that we should be addressing what the cost would be for the expanded authority and the enforcement.”
Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, the bill's Senate sponsor, said the state needs the rule-making authority to appropriately manage the grounds. “The Department of Administration says that they wanted to get this in place for the spring so that they can do that maintenance,” he said.
Senate Assistant Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, said, “I think this is much more than just sprinklers and lawnmowers, I think it's about access.” He said the state has rules for protests on the Capitol steps, and he called that “a very orderly process,” saying, “I think it should apply to all the property.”
The Senate has just suspended its rules and taken up HB 693, the latest anti-Occupy bill. This is the emergency measure to authorize rule-making by the state Department of Administration regarding behavior on the Capitol Mall grounds, making violations of those rules infractions, and empowering the director of the department to sue to enjoin threatened violations.
Now the House has decided it won't come back in session until 1 p.m. after all; it'll take up HB 698, the salary-based apportionment bill, first thing then and get it over to the Senate as quickly as possible, Majority Leader Mike Moyle said.
The House is rethinking its plan to recess until 1 p.m. Majority Leader Mike Moyle just checked in with House Democrats, who were gathered on the House floor for a picture-taking session while majority Republicans are upstairs in caucus, to see if they can come back on the floor in a few minutes to take up HB 698, the teacher salary-based apportionment bill, because the Senate has an Education Committee meeting scheduled for 1 p.m. to consider it. The Dems said they were fine with that and haven't gone anywhere.
Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis has outlined a plan by which the Legislature could adjourn today, including the Senate passing a slew of bills this morning, including new Senate ethics rules (read about them here). Then, it'd have an Education Committee meeting at 1 p.m., then return to the floor, suspend rules, and pass legislation including HB 563, the House-passed income tax cuts bill for top earners. However, he warned that timelines for drafting appropriation bills might cause a need to go into tomorrow even if those other timelines held…
The House is unexpectedly recessing until 1 p.m. for a closed-door majority caucus. Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, said he wasn't planning to back off on his push for HB 670a, his bill to grant a $10 million-a-year tax credit for donations to scholarships to send Idaho kids to private schools; he maintains the big tax credit would save the state money because there would be fewer kids to educate in public schools.
“Yeah, we have procedure around here, and sometimes procedure gets in the way of good policy,” Nonini said. “The Idaho Constitution says all revenue-generating measures begin in the Idaho House.” Nonini said he planned to make a motion to suspend all rules interfering with immediate consideration of the bill, HB 670a, and see if he can get 47 votes, the two-thirds required to suspend rules. “I want to debate it on the floor today,” Nonini declared. “It's good policy. … If we're going to be supporters of choice in education, I think this is a good way to go about it.”
Asked what he thinks about House Education Chairman Bob Nonini's scholarship tax credit bill bypassing the House Rev & Tax Committee, instead coming through Education, House Tax Chairman Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, said, “I think it stinks.”
Asked if the bill would have passed in Rev & Tax, Lake said, “Who knows? I'm not going to speak for the committee, but at least we ought to have a chance to take a look at it and see how it fit in with all the other tax credits we do, and we do a lot of 'em.” He noted that the panel hasn't done any this big in some time.
Nonini's bill would give $10 million a year in tax credits for donations to scholarships for K-12 kids to attend private schools; he contends it would save the state money by leaving fewer kids for the state to educate in public schools. The House is still at ease and milling around.
House Tax Chairman Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, has objected to the House taking up 670a, Rep. Bob Nonini's bill to give $10 million a year in tax credits for donations to scholarships for K-12 private schools; the bill would allow a corporate giver to erase half its state income tax liability, and an individual to erase his entire liability. Nonini argues that despite the $10 million cost, the bill would save the state money because it would have fewer kids to educate in public schools.
Lake objected because the bill didn't come out of the House Revenue & Taxation Committee - it came from the Education Committee, which Nonini chairs. “Tax measures always start in the Rev & Tax Committee,” Lake told the House. “This bill, HB 670, incorporates a tax credit by reference and we have not had a chance to vet that.”
The House skipped the bill for now, then went at ease. Meanwhile, the judges retirement bill, HB 660, cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee after many questions and now heads to the full Senate; and the Boise County debt bill, HB 697, passed the Senate Local Government & Taxation Committee unanimously and also heads to the full Senate.
The Senate Local Government & Taxation Committee has voted 6-3 in favor of sending HB 563, the House-passed income tax cut bill for top earners, to the full Senate without recommendation. Those voting yes were Sens. Rice, Hammond, McKenzie, Hill, Johnson and Siddoway. Those voting no were Sens. Werk, Bilyeu and Corder.
Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, said people in his district are struggling. The House-passed tax cut bill, he said, asks him “to take their tax money and redistribute it up to the wealthy.” He called the bill “disappointing,” and said the Legislature could have found better ways to boost Idaho's economy. “I don't think this will have any stimulative effect whatsoever.”
Sen. Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, said, “I'm not disappointed.” He said a “targeted tax policy” would pick winners and losers, but general changes in tax policy help everyone. “Quite frankly doing nothing is not going to impact the economy in a good way. We have studies. I've been studying this for a long time … talking about the impact of tax cuts here and there and everywhere. … There are studies out there to show whatever you would like to show. But having dealt with business for 35 years … there are a lot of things that people do consider.” He said businesses look at opportunities and costs when they consider expansions, and income taxes are a cost.
Hill noted that Idaho is gradually increasing the grocery tax credit, which benefits the poor; he called the income tax cut for top earners “a few dollars comparatively.”
Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, said, “What we do know is that jobs are created by people that have the money to create jobs.” Sen. Diane Bilyeu, D-Pocatello, said, “I can't see where this will help our economy.” She said she favored putting the money into education, especially higher education, and the state's infrastructure instead.
Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d'Alene, said he's not convinced that the state can afford the tax cut, bearing in mind the lessons he learned sitting on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee for years as that panel had to make deep and painful cuts. However, he said he'll support the motion to send the bill to the full Senate so all senators can weigh in.
Sen. Jim Rice has moved to send the tax-cut bill to the full Senate with no recommendation; Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill seconded the motion.
Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, then spoke. “I believe that we've accomplished some good things this legislative session and I've seen them first hand. … I believe we've done some good things with what we were handed. I also believe that there are some obstacles to economic development, and one of them is … a shrinking and a struggling middle class. I'm a member of that. We have decreasing high-paying jobs in Idaho. If I had it my way, Idaho would have put some money back into early-childhood education, that's something I'm very passionate about, but it's not part of our budget. .. I think the record shows that when we invest in our children, when we invest in early-childhood education it prepares them for a lifetime of success, for a lifetime of learning. That tells you a little bit about myself.”
He also shared some more personal stories, including having a benign tumor removed from his head, and his son having heart surgery when he was a single parent. “I've been without a home, and I've accepted public assistance,” Johnson said. “I look at this issue through a different lens. I look at it as an investment … in the future of Idaho.” He said he favors tax reforms.
“I came to a decision about how I would vote on this last night. … It's not an easy decision, it's not a perfect decision, but I've made my decision, and I am going to vote in favor of sending this bill to the Senate floor, because I … think we need to hear from all the members of the Senate.” Johnson said Gov. Butch Otter contacted him and asked him to support the bill. “I told him I would vote my conscience … and that's what I'm doing today.”
The Senate Tax Committee is questioning Sen. Chuck Winder and deliberating on HB 563, the tax-cut bill for top earners. “I haven't seen anything in here that indicates there would be a single job created,” Sen. Elliot Werk. “Have you or the proponents done any studies?” Winder noted that the Idaho Chamber Alliance testified in favor of the bill. “Various chambers believe that this will help their businesses,” he said. “I think we all know that we need to get people back to work, and I think this will help do that. … Part of this is that it does send a message out that we are willing, in order to … get people back to work, to lower our tax structure a little bit.”
“We've heard that this only benefits the rich,” said Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d'Alene. “Have we truly figured out who the beneficiaries are overall?” Winder noted that the governor proposed $45 million in tax cuts, and this is less at $35 million. “I think from the standpoint of most people in the state of Idaho … that a significant number of people will benefit, not just the rich, because the rich in Idaho may be someone that makes $26,000.”
The proposed $35.7 million tax would go only to those paying Idaho's corporate income tax, and to top earners who now pay the state's highest rate for individual income tax. For a single person who doesn't itemize and takes the standard deduction, that equates to a minimum gross income of $36,260 to start getting any tax break. For a married couple filing jointly with no dependents, it's $72,520. For a couple with two children, it's $79,920. Just over 17 percent of Idaho income tax filers would benefit from the cut; taxes for lower earners wouldn't change.
Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, said if the $35 million wasn't spent on tax cuts and was just left in reserves, it wouldn't create any jobs.
Public testimony has wrapped up on the tax cut bill, and Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, is now giving his final comments to the Senate tax committee. “This tax relief will help Idaho's economy and Idaho's taxpayers; after all this is their money and not ours,” he said. “I think it sends a resounding message across the nation that we're different from most states. … We have taken care of our budget needs.”
The Senate Local Government & Taxation Committee is hearing emotional testimony this morning against HB 563, the House-passed tax-cut bill for top earners. “It's a shameful message to send to Idaho's working families,” Marty Durand told the committee. Cindy Tiferet said, “We once again choose to help only those who are doing the best.”
David Hensley, chief of staff for Gov. Butch Otter, told the committee, “For the governor, tax relief is a first step, and he believes it's an important first step this session.” Tax reform, he said, will take more time and “thoughtful consideration.” Said Hensley, “DFM and JFAC agree that there's enough money to accomplish the priorities that you've set forth that the governor agrees with.” He said the governor believes cutting top individual and corporate income tax rates will help new and existing companies create jobs in the state.
Senate Assistant Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, who presented the bill to the committee, said it's part of a three-pronged session-ending deal, restoring teacher salary cuts that would have been required in future years by the “Students Come First” reform law; refilling drained reserve funds; and cutting taxes. “We need all three legs of this plan to hold us up and get us on our way home,” Winder told the panel. He said he thinks he has the votes to pass the bill in the full Senate if it clears the committee.
The Senate Judiciary Committee this morning took up three changes to Senate rules, including a major revision of its ethics rules. Among the changes: More secrecy. Under the proposed changes, ethics complaints would be secret until the bipartisan Senate Ethics Committee votes that they are valid and should proceed to a full investigation; the Ethics Committee would meet in closed-door executive session to deliberate on that.
Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, noted that that means if the panel deadlocked 3-3 along party lines, the complaint would be dismissed - and would never become public. “The effect of that would be then for one party to be able to squash the complaint of another without any notice of the process,” she said. Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, said he didn't think that would happen, noting that the vote to dismiss ethics charges against Sen. Monty Pearce this year was unanimous. “I have chosen not to live in the world of fear on this issue, but by making sure that both parties have equal buy-in in the process,” Davis said. “I like the idea that both parties take ownership of the ethics of this body.”
Other changes include a more clear requirement that conflicts of interest be disclosed in committee as well as on the floor of the Senate; and more specific grounds for bringing ethics complaints, including conduct unbecoming a senator. Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, said, “I think all of this is a step in the right direction. I do think that our goal should be to have an independent commission, but I do think that in the interim this is a good step, and I appreciate all the hard work that has been done on it.” Another change removes a clause in Senate rules that requires a two-thirds vote on the floor to dismiss a Senate employee; Davis said that's never been done, and such matters generally are handled by the Senate president pro-tem.
Two of the three resolutions, the employee dismissal one and the expanded disclosure rule, were approved on unanimous votes in the committee; the ethics revision rule drew one dissenting vote from LeFavour. The rules resolutions now move directly to the full Senate for final passage.
Yesterday afternoon, while all eyes were on JFAC, the Senate State Affairs Committee took up the Capitol Mall rules bill, and after negative testimony in a public hearing, passed it.. Occupy Boise member Mary Reali wrote afterward, “Well, a lot of us testified, a few questions were asked, some non reassuring 'pledges' were given and H693 passed on party lines, to be voted on in the general Senate.”
Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey writes today about appointed Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, the swing vote in this morning's Senate committee consideration of the House-passed tax cut bill. “The most important lawmaker in Idaho today is an appointed senator who’s spent three months on the job,” Popkey writes. “Republican leaders need his vote, and Gov. Butch Otter has asked for it. Colleagues ready to call it quits are dying to know what he’ll do. Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, is handling the pressure with veteran cool, declining to say whether he favors a full Senate vote on a $35.7 million income tax cut that will benefit only corporations and individuals in the highest tax bracket.” You can read Popkey's full column here.
On the new $200,000 legislative legal fund, controlled by the speaker and pro-tem:
Things that come up very late
May not be a plus for the state
The legal slush fund
Is case No. 1
Would more scrutiny have sealed its fate?
Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said now that legislation is back on track to cancel the future cuts in teacher salary funds required by the “Students Come First” law, and JFAC has approved transfers to the state's rainy-day accounts, he's willing to support the House-passed tax cut bill, which is up for a committee hearing in the Senate tomorrow morning. “For me, getting the salary bill … and getting a large chunk into reserves is a pretty fair compromise, and I'm willing to go along with the tax cut,” Cameron said.
House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said he was disappointed that JFAC didn't put any money into the new higher education stabilization fund, which he helped create; only the Democrats on the joint committee supported a $1 million appropriation for that. But he also said the money going into the budget stabilization fund is “the same suit of clothes, it's just another pocket.”
Bedke said JFAC's action fits well with the ongoing session-ending negotiations. “I don't think it boxes us in,” he said. “It certainly doesn't preclude anything that might happen at this point.” Asked what he thought would happen next - there's been much speculation that if the Senate Local Government & Taxation Committee doesn't pass the tax cut bill tomorrow morning, the session will drag on, possibly into next week and beyond - Bedke said, “I suspect that by 8 o'clock tomorrow, that they'll have the votes in that committee.”
Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, moved to transfer funds to the budget stabilization fund beyond the statutorily required amount, including “any excess cash balance” beyond a $5 million carry-over at the close of fiscal year 2012. Based on current revenue estimates - and assuming that the proposed $35 million tax cut bill passes - that would transfer $12.2 million in addition to the statutory transfer of $10.9 million, for a total transfer to the budget stabilization fund of $23.2 million. If the tax cut bill didn't pass, that would transfer $35 million more into the budget stabilization fund.
Cameron said, looking at the with-the-tax-cut numbers, if you add that to the transfer already approved to the public education stabilization fund of $21.5 million, “and then if you add the money that's still sitting in the Veterans Division if necessary in an economic downturn, you could access about $80.6 million.” The motion, seconded by Sen. Diane Bilyeu, D-Pocatello, passed unanimously.
The way the JFAC motion was structured, it works either way: If the tax cut passes, it accounts for it; if the tax cut doesn't pass, it routes that money into the reserve account.
Cameron praised members of the joint budget committee for their work this session, which he said set an “austere” budget but one that addresses the state's critical needs.
Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, moved to transfer $1 million to the new higher education stabilization fund, and Rep. Shirley Ringo, seconded the motion. Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, spoke against the motion. He noted that that would mean $1 million less to the budget stabilization fund, the state's main reserve fund. “If we're going to need this money, that's where we're going to need it first,” he said. “I think by everybody's measure, we have treated higher ed very well this year.” Ringo noted that that came after “a very long dry spell” for higher education in Idaho; colleges and universities have seen big state budget cuts in recent years. Jaquet's motion was defeated on a 4-16 party-line vote.
The first two year-end transfers from the state's general fund approved this afternoon by JFAC: $2 million to the disaster emergency fund; and $21.5 million to the public education stabilization fund, the state's savings account for schools. Next up: Discussion of transfers to the budget stabilization fund, the state's rainy-day savings account.
JFAC is back in, and Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, tried to move approval of just the dedicated and federal funds for the Youth Challenge, but JFAC Co-Chair Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, told him, “Your motion is out of order.” JFAC is now moving on to the question of transfers to rainy-day funds.
JFAC has gotten snagged in an extended parliamentary dispute, after the joint committee defeated, on a 10-10 tied vote, an appropriation bill, called a “trailer bill” because it trails after the substantive legislation, to match the House-passed bill, HB 662, authorizing funding of the National Guard Youth Challenge as an alternative secondary school.
Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, said, “We've all agreed” that the program should be made available to the state's youth, by passing authorizing legislation last year, and HB 662 this year, which passed the House today. The program would start up a military school for at-risk youth; much of its funding would come from federal funds and donations, Hagedorn said, though the state would provide $600,000 next year in matching funds, and $1.2 million each year thereafter. Hagedorn asked for reconsideration, which requires a two-thirds vote. Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, noted that last year when lawmakers pushed for approval of the program late in the legislative session, “They made a promise that they would not ask for general fund dollars.” He said, “This is not the way to start a program.”
“I have no doubt that it would be good for that community up north,” Cameron said. “But there's a lot of stuff that we can't fund.” Starting a new program requiring an ongoing commitment of state funds should require coming in early in the session and making a case, he said.
Hagedorn said he wanted to make a slightly different motion, not reconsider the one that failed; committee members are now checking rules and disputing over which way to go.
Another trailer bill, to follow HB 660, the judges' retirement bill, was approved on a 19-1 vote, with just Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, dissenting.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Senate has voted to remedy a special-use permit problem, passing HB 691 and sending the bill to the governor. Senators called the bill a shotgun wedding that married a fix for a recent Idaho Supreme Court decision that undermined thousands of existing special-use permits with new rules governing wind farms. The bill passed 31-3 Wednesday; it earlier passed the House 59-10. In January, a Supreme Court ruling in a Teton County case threw Idaho's 35-year history of special-use permitting into question. Bill sponsor Sen. Tim Corder says a remedy was needed, to keep decades of land-use planning from descending into chaos. But House members also demanded the bill include new public-notice requirements meant to govern industrial wind farms. The combination, something Sen. Elliot Werk of Boise called one of those “funny” little peculiarities that emerge in bills during a legislative session's waning days, was inserted by turbine foes.
JFAC has convened at this unaccustomed late-afternoon hour, and its first item of business is a request to allocate $660,000 from a mortgage foreclosure settlement to the Idaho Attorney General's office for use in helping Idaho homeowners affected by foreclosure. The AG's office made a presentation to JFAC some time back on the proposal; the money from the settlement is expected to come in soon; the expenditures would be over the next three years. The overall settlement is expected to bring in $13.3 million.
Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, moved to transfer $500,000, rather than the full $660,000, and Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, seconded the motion. Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls, proposed a substitute motion with the same bottom-line total, but cutting out funding to help low-income families negotiate loan modifications through Idaho Legal Aid Services, instead shifting that money to HUD for housing counselors; Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, seconded that motion. Thompson's motion was defeated, 5-15, and Jaquet's motion then passed unanimously.
Both the House and the Senate are now adjourning for the day, and JFAC is preparing to meet. Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis said, as to whether the Legislature can adjourn tomorrow, “I remain hopeful that that is possible … but I wouldn't give Friday away yet.”
SB 1413, the bill to put another $500,000 in state general funds into the nearly-drained Constitutional Defense Fund to cover legal judgments against the state, has passed the House on a 61-6 vote, after earlier clearing the Senate on a party-line, 28-7 vote. Much of the money in recent years has gone to pay legal fees for Planned Parenthood after the state lost major court cases over anti-abortion legislation that was overturned as unconstitutional; several other cases also have tapped into the fund. The bill now goes to the governor.
The amended Senate animal cruelty bill, SB 1303a, has passed the House on a 64-2 vote, with just Reps. Dick Harwood and Paul Shepherd voting no. The bill, which makes the most aggravated charge of animal cruelty a felony on a third offense, was amended in the House to add penalties for cockfighting; Idaho is now one of just three states with no felony penalties for animal cruelty. Rep. Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, said, “I think the bill has been well-vetted throughout the livestock industry and we're in agreement with it.” The bill now returns to the Senate for concurrence in the House amendments.
HB 662, to fund the proposed National Guard Youth Challenge school in Pierce in north-central Idaho as an alternative school, has passed the House on a 50-19 vote. Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, told the House, “These are not additional dollars that we are asking for, folks, these are dollars that we would spend for any of our students to go to alternative schools today.” The cost to the state would be $600,000 next year and $1.2 million each year thereafter. Rep. Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, said that money will go to match federal funds that will bring total funding up to $4.7 million a year. The bill now moves to the Senate.
The nine-member Senate committee that will take up the tax-cut bill tomorrow morning is deeply divided, reports AP reporter John Miller, and its chairman, Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, prefers to see the $35 million in question go into state rainy-day savings. Corder says the House-passed bill provides a family of four earning $100,000 with just $71 in tax relief — not enough to really make a difference. “My vote is 'No,' ” Corder told the AP. “That's where I am, truly and squarely.”
Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, favors the bill, while Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, opposes it. “What's the conservative and prudent thing to do? It's to save money,” he said. Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d'Alene, is on the fence but leaning toward supporting the bill to attract companies looking to move to the state. “I want to put every dime I can into savings,” Hammond said. “But I also appreciate, as we start climbing out of the hole in the economy, one of the things we can do is create a better first impression.”
Hill said, “We don't know if it's going to come out of committee.” Click below for Miller's full report.
After much debate, the House has voted 48-21 in favor of HB 697, the latest Boise County bill. This one, unlike the previous one that failed in the House on a tied vote, requires a vote of the people before the county could bond to cover costs of a big legal judgment.
Rep. Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, called it a “difficult issue” and said it's one of the toughest he's worked on in the Legislature. He said he hopes the county's voters can pull together and pass the measure. Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, was among those speaking out against the bill. “This was brought about by bad decisions, wrong decisions, by county commissioners,” he told the House. “I think they need to think long and hard before they make these decisions.” Rep. Marc Gibbs, R-Grace, countered, “The good citizens of Boise County have got a problem, and the public officials have made bad decisions. But to continue to penalize the public officials that have stepped up now to try to solve these problems isn't the way to go about it.”
The bill now moves to the Senate.
Boise County Prosecuting Attorney Ron Twilegar, a former Senate minority leader and former Boise city councilman, has delivered a letter to House Speaker Lawerence Denney suggesting that SB 1387, the forced ultrasound bill, “violates Article 1 of the Idaho Constitution and, thus, the rights of women of Boise County.” Twilegar said as a former lawmaker, he doesn't consider the bill dead until the session is over, even though its backers say they've now withdrawn it. “Under certain circumstances, SB 1387 could mandate a patient agree to 'forced consent' to invasion of a body with a medical procedure not recommended by her physician, but rather a medical procedure compelled by the Government,” he wrote
He wrote, “If SB 1387 becomes law … I intend to file a civil action to enjoin any physician from implementing the provisions of SB 1387 in Boise County as a violation of the constitutional and statutory rights of women in my jurisdiction.”
Twilegar said, “I'm an elected official. There are 44 county attorneys - where are they all on this bill?” You can read his full letter here.
The Senate has voted 23-11 in favor of HB 695, which sets up a new $200,000 legislative legal fund to be spent at the sole discretion of the Senate president pro-tem and the House speaker, with each in charge of $100,000. The bill already has passed the House, so it heads now to Gov. Butch Otter. Currently, the Idaho Attorney General, an elected official, provides legal opinions and other legal representation for the Legislature; the new fund would allow lawmakers to turn to outside counsel rather than use the Attorney General's staff.
The Senate is taking up HB 695, to create a $200,000 legal fund for the Legislature to hire its own attorneys. Meanwhile, the House is taking up HB 697, the latest version of the Boise County bill, to enable that county to pay a large legal judgment.
Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, told the Senate that the legal fund would allow lawmakers to hire another lawyer when, for example, the Attorney General has voted an issue on the Land Board and therefore would have a conflict of interest. Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, responded, “I appreciate the opening debate but none of it holds any water whatsover. This bill is about lawyer shopping and opinion shopping, very simple, at the taxpayer expense.” Werk, who served on the Senate Ethics Committee this year, said, “I've learned a lot about what conflict of interest actually means, and there's no way,” just because the Attorney General had voted on an issue on the Land Board, “that an entire gazillion-member staff can't be counted on to provide an honest and open accounting of an opinion on a bill.” He added, “It's disturbing … to see this come up at the last minute. … The idea of shopping for legal opinions on the taxpayer dime to try and refute what the Attorney General might say about the next hot-button issue - I don't think that's a good use of taxpayer funds, I don't think it's appropriate for the Legislature.”
Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, a lawyer, said, “I would call this the Idaho legal profession stimulus fund.”
Sen. Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, noted that the governor has his own lawyer. “Most legislative bodies already have their own in-house legal team that are not bill-writers, or just bill-writers, but they perform many of the functions that we lean heavily against our Attorney General for,” Davis said. “There are occasions … that we will want to look and draw upon scholarly legal assistance to guide us, on a variety of issues,” outside the Attorney General's staff. “There are other individuals who have a professional expertise that we're not able to draw upon because we lack this tool,” Davis said. “This allows us to draw upon outside assistance.”
The House Ways & Means Committee introduced two new bills this afternoon, but neither is expected to go any further this session; both were introduced just for discussion. In the words of House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, the moves will “get 'em a bill number, put 'em in the public domain.”
One, from Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, is a new version of his “food freedom act,” which, in its earlier incarnation this session as HB 431, the “Idaho Farm Freedom Act,” would have exempted from any licensing, certification or inspection requirement the sale of farm products at farmers markets, at roadside stands, or directly to consumers, including for a “traditional community social event” like weddings, church socials, school events or potlucks. That measure drew strong opposition from the Food Producers of Idaho, who said it would risk consumer health and hurt the reputation of Idaho's farmers markets.
Hart's latest version, which is 14 pages long, is aimed at “allowing an unregulated and uninhibited relationship between the farmer and/or the farmer's agent and what the bill defines as an 'informed end consumer' of the farm product,” according to its statement of purpose. He said he'd talked with the Idaho Potato Commission about his bill and included a provision at that panel's request; several ag lobbyists who attended the meeting said they hadn't yet seen the new bill.
The second bill introduced in the committee today was from Rep. Brian Cronin, D-Boise, to create an Idaho Office of Utility Consumer Advocate to represent ratepayers in utility rate cases before the Public Utilities Commission. Cronin said his proposal is for a “hybrid model,” with the Attorney General appointing a director and a utility ratepayer advisory commission. Forty-three states have some form of consumer advocate in their utility rate-setting process, Cronin told the panel.
Both bills were introduced on unanimous votes, with the understanding that they won't proceed further this session.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter's proposed $35 million income tax cut will be in the hands of the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee Thursday morning. But its fate remains uncertain. During Wednesday's behind-closed-doors Senate Republican caucus meeting, committee chairman Sen. Tim Corder of Mountain Home agreed to give Otter's tax relief bill a hearing. That's despite Corder's misgivings that Idaho's finances aren't strong enough to merit the relief — and that it provides only $71 for families earning $100,000. Corder will oppose the cut. Meanwhile, one of the nine-member committee's swing votes, Republican Sen. Jim Hammond of Coeur d'Alene, is leaning toward supporting Otter. But Hammond says he's gathering information about whether the state can afford it. The Idaho House has already passed the measure, one of Otter's 2012 priorities.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho House lawmakers marked Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's third birthday in captivity of a Taliban-allied group in central Asia. Bergdahl is a U.S. soldier from Hailey, Idaho, taken prisoner in Afghanistan in June 2009 who is now being held by the Haqqani network. The now-26-year-old Bergdahl was born March 28, 1986. Rep. Wendy Jaquet represents the central Idaho district where Bergdahl was born and where his parents live. As Wednesday morning's House session closed, Jaquet somberly asked lawmakers to keep him in their prayers and their hearts — in the hopes that he will soon return home. As recently as this year, there have been discussions of a possible deal between the Taliban and the United States that could clear the way for Bergdahl's release. So far, however, nothing has materialized.
Senate Republicans emerged from a 90-minute closed-door caucus with no particular announcement; they're now planning to recess the Senate for lunch. “We're just looking at how to get out of here,” said Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis. “We have work ahead of us, and we're working on it.”
He said, “I think we're on a good path forward to getting out of here in a few days.”
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter has signed off on a resolution recognizing the significant impact Alzheimer's disease has on thousands of Idahoans. Otter signed the resolution Tuesday in part to raise awareness of the disease and the state plan being developed to deal with the growing number of people suffering its effects. Doctors say more than 26,000 are diagnosed with some level of the disease, and the number is growing. The Idaho Alzheimer's planning group has been working to develop a strategy to help Alzheimer's patients. The group will continue its work this year, focusing on increasing community awareness, data collection and the need for resources to help patients and their families. Nationwide, 23 states have Alzheimer plans. The group hopes to present its finished plan to the Legislature next year.
The House has passed the death bill, SB 1348a, which would ensure that treatment, food and fluids aren't denied to a dying patient if the patient wants them and if they “in reasonable medical judgement will preserve the life of the patient,” on a 57-12 vote; it now goes to Gov. Butch Otter. Rep. Erik Simpson, R-Idaho Falls, called the measure “a good bill for Idaho citizens that helps balance the end of life equation.”
“I'm kind of torn by this bill,” said Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, a retired physician. “I was originally somewhat offended by the implication that physicians in the state of Idaho would not listen to the authentic desires of the patient, either verbally given or through their … end of life document.” But he said he felt the bill was “appropriately amended.” Rusche said, “I think that I probably will come down on the side of voting in favor, because it does clearly state that the personal wishes of the patient take precedence, and I think it's well for us to remember that in other situations as well.”
The bill was amended in the Senate to address concerns from the Idaho Medical Association and advocates for the developmentally disabled, changing the language to more closely match existing law and standards of care, and causing those groups to drop their opposition.
The House is now recessing until 2 p.m.; the Senate hasn't yet returned from its majority party caucus.
The House has voted 46-22 in favor of HB 660, the judges' retirement bill, after extended debate. Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, spoke out against the bill. “The judges have an increase in pay coming - maybe that increase in pay should go to their retirement,” Nonini declared. Lawmakers have approved a 2 percent pay hike for judges, the same as all other state employees are getting and the first increase in four years.
Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, said, “This is a solution that works.” Rep. Bob Schaefer, R-Nampa, said, “I feel it's a little too generous for my blood.”
Rep. Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, said, “This is the solution we came up with, it has buy-in from all parties. … This was the negotiated settlement, we think it's a reasonable one. If we don't do it now then the question is, when do we do it? Because we still have the obligation. It does not go away.” The bill now moves to the Senate.
Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, the lead sponsor of this year's controversial forced ultrasound bill, had this to say today about the measure's demise without a hearing in the House: “I think it's the process. The process worked.” Proposed amendments to the bill, he said, “wouldn't have satisfied some.” Winder said the mandatory ultrasound “seemed to be the fatal flaw, at least in the House.” Looking ahead to next year, he said, “I support the concept of it - I think there's a lot more ground work that needs to be done before a bill is brought forward. I think a bill similar to 1387 would have difficulty, and so significant changes would have to be made to it.”
The Senate has gone at ease for a majority party caucus, after completing its calendar; Majority Leader Bart Davis said “it is our hope to return” after a “fairly short period of time.” At that point, he said, the Senate will take up a suspension calendar.
Meanwhile, there's a JFAC meeting scheduled for 4 p.m. today, with agenda items including transfers to the budget stabilization fund and the public education stabilization fund. The Senate State Affairs Committee also has a 4 p.m. meeting scheduled on HB 693, the Capitol Mall rules bill regarding the site of the Occupy Boise vigil, and the House Ways & Means Committee has scheduled a 1:30 p.m. meeting on a new version of Rep. Phil Hart's “food freedom act.”
In February, Hart proposed an “Idaho Farm Freedom Act” that would exempt from any licensing, certification or inspection requirement the sale of farm products at farmers markets, at roadside stands, or directly to consumers, including for a “traditional community social event” like weddings, church socials, school events or potlucks. The Food Producers of Idaho sharply objected to the bill, HB 431, asking in a letter, “Why would we want to risk consumer health and potentially cause harm to the reputation of farmers markets in Idaho?” The group urged lawmakers to oppose the bill “for the good of Idaho agriculture and protection of the buy local movement impacting our state.” At that point, Hart asked the House Agriculture Committee to hold off on hearing the bill.
The House is now debating HB 660, the judges' retirement plan bill. Rep. Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, said legislation to address funding and structural problems in the plan has failed in the House on close votes twice in the last five years. He called this year's bill “compromise legislation .. that we can all sign onto.” It both increases contributions and trims benefits for new judges. Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, said, “The changes that were made back in 2000 had left the plan … being drained.”
The Senate has voted 19-16 in favor of SB 1256a, a controversial big-game auction tags bill that was amended in the House. Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, told the Senate, “Utah's auction tags once began the same way that 1256 proposes. … Within last two decades, just a few auction tags developed into a program that is now used primarily for trophy hunting. This year, in 2012, Utah will auction off a total of 848 wildlife tags, a far cry from the first one that initiated the program back in 1981.” Benefit goes to the nonprofit organizations and the bidders who get a tax deduction, she said, but the state's wildlife department gets only 30 percent of the revenue. “Idaho is one of the last bastions for equal opportunity to all of our hunters,” Stennett said. “Our sportsmen don't care for elite hunting or trophy hunting conventions. … I'll be voting no.”
Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, said the program is limited and in line with other existing programs at Idaho Fish & Game; the bill now moves to the governor's desk. It creates new special big game auction tags to be designated as “Governor's wildlife partnership tags.”
Idaho Statesman reporter Sean Cockerham had a profile today of Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, who is running for Congress against 2nd District GOP Congressman Mike Simpson. Cockerham wrote, “Nicole LeFavour knows what it’s like to fight incredible odds. LeFavour, Idaho’s only openly gay legislator, gave copies of the movie 'Brokeback Mountain' for Christmas to 60 fellow members of one of the most conservative legislatures in the nation and pushed in vain a bill to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.”
Today, Statesman reporter Dan Popkey caught up with Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, the only lawmaker who reportedly was offended by the gift; in his post here, Popkey recounts Nonini's reaction.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Senators will meet behind closed doors on a plan informally known as “35-35-35” that's being touted as the 2012 Legislature's going-home package. That's $35 million to restore teacher salaries over five years, $35 million for tax cuts and $35 million for rainy-day accounts. Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill said Wednesday those numbers are the basic outline of a proposal meant to satisfy the House, Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter and his chamber. The package would direct any additional surplus money come July 1 to savings accounts drained since 2008. House Speaker Lawerence Denney said Wednesday that he believes House Republicans would support that proposal. Not all Senate lawmakers are on board, however. Some favor ditching the tax cuts in favor of stocking up reserves — just in case Idaho's economy heads south again.
Both the Senate and the House this morning have been working through bills on their 3rd reading calendars; Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, noted that the Senate majority will go to caucus within the hour, and said, “It is contemplated that we will be here tomorrow.”
Meanwhile, after just a couple of bills, the House has been set at ease; Majority Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, announced that it was due to negotiations with the Senate. Also, a “very brief” meeting of the House State Affairs Committee was announced, to occur immediately, apparently to approve minutes, but also to consider SB 1386, a bill from Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, regarding the Civil Air Patrol.
The House Education Committee has approved HB 698, the teacher-pay bill that cancels the future “Students Come First” cuts to teacher salary funds, while setting budget priorities for fiscal year 2014 saying that the reform programs will be top priority for funding. The approval, however, came only after committee members expressed concerns about a clause in the bill that will bump up the minimum teacher salary more whenever the Legislature funds an increase in base salaries for all teachers; under the bill, the minimum salary would go up by twice the percentage, rather than 1.5 times.
Jason Hancock, aide to state schools Superintendent Tom Luna, said that's not likely to be an issue any time soon; currently, both base teacher salaries and the minimum teacher salary are below their 2009 levels. “Based on the other provisions we have in statute, the first thing that has to happen is that pay for performance has to get funded, so that's the first place where new dollars go, going forward,” he said.
Rep. Donna Pence, D-Gooding, expressed concern that the higher minimum salary means new teachers will continue at the same salary before nine years before getting a pay raise. Hancock said they'd be eligible for merit-pay bonuses under “Students Come First,” and said if Idaho hadn't set the higher minimum teacher salary, the state's teachers now would start at just over $23,000 rather than the current $30,000. “I don't know about you, but if I was asked as a new employee, do you want to start at $30,000 now … or would you rather start at $23,000 and then over a nine-year period we will gradually get you to $30,000, I'd take the $30,000 now,” he said.
Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, said he thought that was something the Legislature should re-examine in the future. He recalled that in his career as a law enforcement officer, after four years on the job his salary was raised, “but I was right back at where the starting people were. … That didn't set well with me.” He said, “It seems to me somewhere we've got to make a break from starting salary to move them to where they are above someone that's just come in.”
The bill was approved on a voice vote, but the panel's three Democrats voted against it; it now moves to the full House.
She got the last laugh
With Shirley McKague in the chair
Bart Davis got caught unaware
Can Senate decorum
Survive such a forum?
Wait 'til those reps all get there.
Here's a link to the final, updated version of my story today on the demise of SB 1387, the forced ultrasound bill. Among the comments from lawmakers included in the article:
Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, a co-sponsor of the bill: “I think that the proponents just weren't ready for the firestorm that it lit.” Barbieri said his emails were running “at least 10-to-1 against” the bill.
Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene: “I was concerned about the trans-vaginal ultrasound. I don't think I could've supported that bill in its current form.”
Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, a retired physician: “It's terrible medicine, terrible public policy, and an assault on personal freedom. … And unfortunately, that's what this session is going to be known for.”
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Foreclosure trustees would be banned from having financial interests in papers that run their legal notices, according to a bill that cleared the Senate. Tuesday's 28-6 vote sends the Newspaper Association of Idaho-backed bill to Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter. The newspaper group brought the measure, HB 624, after the Kuna-Melba News in southwestern Idaho was purchased by a company linked to the Northwest's largest foreclosure trustee. Idaho requires legal notices be published at statutorily fixed rates in the local paper before auctioning a foreclosed home. Consequently, the Newspaper Association of Idaho says it's unfair for a trustee to buy up small newspapers, because their distribution is too small to provide adequate notice to people interested in the auction. Sen. Jim Rice argued Idaho should prevent trustees from hiding their notices in corners.
Planned Parenthood has issued a statement hailing the failure of SB 1387, the forced ultrasound bill, calling the move “a victory for women in Idaho.” Hannah Brass, the group's Idaho legislative director, said, “Now the legislature can return to spending the rest of the session focusing on the issues that matter most to Idahoans, such as jobs and education. Women, and men, in Idaho are watching and voting to ensure lawmakers know that this sort of mandate, which demeans and shames women, is not OK—now or ever.” You can read the group's full statement here.
After a 90-minute-plus hearing, the Senate Transportation Committee has killed HB 628a, the highway width bill, on a voice vote, but the committee also voted unanimously to call for an interim study committee on the topic. The bill, sponsored by House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, was in response to a 2011 Idaho Supreme Court decision about prescriptive easements for rights-of-way across private land; the committee heard conflicting legal opinions and lots of debate about 100 years of history, public interest and private property rights.
House Democratic leaders have issued a press release blasting the decision to let the Senate-passed anti-bullying bill, SB 1358, die without a hearing in the House Education Committee. “I am dismayed that my Republican colleagues refuse to even let the bill be heard and debated,” Rep. Brian Cronin, D-Boise, said in the statement, which adds, “Refusal to debate important issues is becoming the standard for a majority that has slashed education budgets and championed plans to replace teachers with laptops and online courses.” Click below for the leadership's full statement; eight Republicans backed House Democrats' move today to pull the bill from committee, but it fell short.
House Education Chairman Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, defended his decision not to hear the bill. “We had a hearing on that last year, and it was somewhat of a contentious hearing,” he said. “I talked to (Senate Education) Chairman (John) Goedde early in the session and said I wasn't interested in seeing a bullying bill over here.” The bill came through the Senate Judiciary Committee this year. Nonini said, “I'm not hearing that it's a big problem - I'm sure there's isolated instances, for sure, but I think the districts have policies to deal with those.” He added, “Some of my committee members asked if we could just get by another year without hearing another bullying bill.”
He also defended the prerogative of a legislative committee chairman to kill a bill by leaving it in his desk drawer, rather than granting it a hearing. “I also think there's a whole … lot of people happy right now that Chairman Loertscher's not giving that (ultrasound) bill a hearing,” he said. “A chairman is responsible for protecting his committee.”
Among the bills successfully amended in the House this afternoon: HB 670, Rep. Bob Nonini's bill to grant up to $10 million a year in tax credits to individuals or corporations for donations to “scholarship granting organizations” that would give scholarships for K-12 students to attend private schools; and SB 1303, the Senate-passed animal cruelty bill, which was amended to include one of the provisions of HB 650, the House-passed animal cruelty bill, regarding penalties for cockfighting.
After concluding its amending order, the House is moving to adjourn for the day.
The House has reconvened and gone into its amending order, where a half-dozen bills have been hanging awaiting amendments.
The Idaho Democratic Party has sent out a news release entitled, “Invasive Assault on Women Postponed Until After the Election,” on the demise of SB 1387, the forced ultrasound bill. “Don’t forget that the Idaho Senate—despite unanimous Democratic opposition and a public outcry— already passed this repellent intrusion upon women’s rights,” the Dems wrote. “The simple fact is that no Idahoan will be safe from an over-reaching state government until the Republican regime is reined in and more Democrats are elected.” You can read their full release here.
House Education Chairman Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, said he met with Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, and he was supportive of Nonini's new compromise version of Cameron's legislation to cancel future teacher pay cuts required by the “Students Come First” school reform laws, while also writing in that the reform law's provisions, including laptop computers, would be top funding priorities within the school budget. “Everyone seems to support it,” Nonini said, saying Cameron likely will co-sponsor the bill.
Cameron said, “He asked me if I would, and I said I would be favorably disposed, but I wanted to check with my Senate colleagues. … I don't want to be the only senator on board.” Cameron said he's checking with the co-sponsors of his bill, SB 1331, which passed the Senate unanimously and had 15 co-sponsors; Nonini never held a hearing on it in the House committee. “I suspect we will end up being co-sponsors,” Cameron said.
Right to Life of Idaho has issued a press release saying it's pulling the proposed forced ultrasound bill. “Due to misconceptions about SB 1387, the complexity of this issue, and the lack of time left in the session, we have decided to pull Senate Bill 1387 to work on concerns with plans to bring it back next year,” said Jason Herring, president of the group, in the release. Click below for the rest of his statement.
The Senate has voted 31-3 in favor of HJR 2, the right-to-hunt amendment to the Idaho Constitution; that's more than two-thirds, so the House-passed measure now will go to voters in November. “This is a very important step that we're taking today, and an even more important step the citizens of Idaho will take in November,” Sen. Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls, the measure's sponsor, told the Senate. “I maintain that this amendment does indeed clarify our rights. It tells us what we can do. It says we have a right to hunt, fish and trap, and that right shall be preserved for the people.”
After that vote, the Senate adjourned for the day; they'll be back in at 9 a.m. tomorrow. The Senate Transportation Committee will meet at 1 p.m., the Senate Local Government & Tax Committee right afterward; and the Senate Judiciary Committee at 1 or just after. Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said JFAC is “hoping” to meet tomorrow morning at 8, although the agenda is still in the works.
Moving boxes are stacked up in the foyer of the House, the tried-and-true sign that the end of the legislative session is near. The House is about to recess to 1:30 p.m.; Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, explained that this is the time in the session when they have to “hurry up and wait.”
SB 1410, the public school budget, has passed the House on a 54-15 vote; the spending plan, the single largest piece of Idaho's state budget, earlier passed the Senate 31-4 and now heads to Gov. Butch Otter. Under the budget, state general funds for schools would rise 4.6 percent next year, but total funds would be up from this year's reduced level by just 0.4 percent.
Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, spoke out against the budget, saying it still doesn't restore a freeze on the first two years of the teacher salary grid imposed during the state's budget crunch. “Any new teacher coming in to teach for us can look forward to being frozen on the grid for the first three years,” she said. That's saved the state $12.2 million that would have gone to teacher salaries since fiscal year 2011, Ringo said, “to help us meet economic challenges, and I think it's time we dealt with that.”
Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, said under the budget, teachers will benefit from a new merit-pay bonus system, so some will see pay increases beyond what's reflected in Idaho's teacher salary grid. Rep. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, said, “The Department of Health & Welfare is what's eating into the extra funds that we could be putting into education. … I would maintain that if we really want to fund public education the way some people would like to we need to think of ways to improve and reform some other budgets in this state.”
SB 1387, the mandatory ultrasound bill, is dead, House State Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, just confirmed. “I spoke with the right-to-life people this morning,” he said. “They agreed that there's not much that can be done with the bill this year. … We will not be scheduling a hearing on it.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com
Loertscher said of the bill, “The big problem that's been identified is the mandatory ultrasound.” He said it presents a significant enough legal problem that it could cause a federal court to toss out Idaho's entire existing informed-consent law for abortion. “We certainly don't want to do damage to that,” he said. He said he suggested to pro-life advocates that they “make a run at this in a little bit different way” next year.
The bill would have required any Idaho woman seeking an abortion to first undergo an ultrasound; in some cases early in pregnancy, an invasive trans-vaginal procedure would have been required to get the information required in the bill, including recording fetal heartbeat and gestational age.
House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, speaking in favor of HB 693, the Capitol Mall rules bill, said, “There is no rule. When the next group comes, is it first come, first served? … I think that we don't want to revert to the law of the jungle, if you will, of whoever is there the firstest with the mostest wins. And I think that is outside the spirit of exercising our 1st Amendment rights as well.” Bedke noted that the state's rule-making process is open and includes public input. “Regulating speech as to time, place and manner is a settled issue in the courts,” he said.
Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, spoke against the bill, saying, “I don't think it's needed.” She read from current Idaho Code, which authorizes the director of the Department of Administration to promulgate rules regarding the Capitol building and its grounds, and requires her to consult with the governor, House and Senate, and Capitol Commission when doing so. “This gives all the authority to promulgate rules to the director of the Department of Administration,” King said.
The House voted 55-14 in favor of the bill, sending it to the Senate; it was a near-party-line vote, with all House Democrats opposing the bill along with one Republican, Rep. Tom Trail, R-Moscow.
The House is debating HB 693, the latest bill dealing with the Capitol Mall grounds and their use; that's the site of the Occupy Boise vigil. Earlier this session, lawmakers passed legislation to ban overnight camping on the site, aimed at evicting the encampment, but a federal judge ruled that the Occupy Boise tents are protected, symbolic free speech - so they can remain 24/7, though actual camping isn't allowed. The new bill authorizes the state Department of Administration to make rules, with violations classified as infractions, and with the department's director authorized to sue to enjoin threatened violations.
“This is meant to be not invasive or not to crowd the court order, the temporary order that we have at this point,” House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, told the House. “No one has a big problem that we have several pages worth of regulations about the use of the Capitol steps.”
With no debate, the Senate has voted 32-3 in favor of HB 678, the corrections budget for next year. The budget shows a 7.3 percent increase over this year in state general funds, which is an $11.4 million increase, but a drop in other funds from this year; the overall increase in total funds is 3.5 percent.
It includes a 3 percent increase in per-inmate payments to Corrections Corporation of America, which operates the Idaho Correctional Center south of Boise for the state, as required by the state's $29.8 million annual contract with CCA; and a $3.8 million boost in ongoing state general funding for community-based treatment, to replace a similar amount funded on a one-time basis this year from the tobacco-settlement Millenium Fund. It also includes a $1.3 million boost in spending, all from general funds, for a 4.5 percent rate adjustment in the state's medical services contract for prison inmates. The House-passed appropriation bill now heads to Gov. Butch Otter.
Rep. Brian Cronin, D-Boise, tried a parliamentary maneuver in the House this morning to pull SB 1358, the Senate-passed anti-bullying bill, out of the House Education Committee, where Chairman Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, hasn't held a hearing on it. Nonini argued against the move. “I have talked about SB 1358 with my committee members, and I believe the best place for that Senate bill to sit right now is in the Education Committee,” he told the House.
Cronin countered, “This bill is very similar to a bill that actually passed the Education Committee last year very overwhelmingly and never got a vote on the House floor. It passed the Senate overwhelmingly this year. … This isn't a trivial matter, Mr. Speaker. If we want to put the interests of students first, if we want to put the safety and protection of students first, we need to consider this bill and its very clear intent to curb the bullying behavior that we know is occurring in our schools and hurting a lot of kids right now. … I am standing up for children all across this state who dread going to school every day, who go to school in fear. My own daughter has experienced this and it's been painful for our family. This bill deserves to be heard, and I feel as if we've exhausted all other options.”
Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, said he thought current law already addressed bullying. “I would suggest that this bill may not be necessary,” he said. Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, said if that's the case, a committee hearing would have brought that out. “I also believe in the committee process,” he said. “In the committee process, we also have hearings.”
However, the House voted 48-21 against the move, and the bill won't be pulled from committee.
Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, said the compromise bill on teacher pay introduced in his committee this morning was negotiated “above my pay grade” by leadership. “Most of that compromise I think was worked out between House leadership and Senate leadership and the gentleman on the second floor (the governor),” Nonini said. “I was willing to compromise the whole time.”
However, he said key senators haven't yet signed off on a central paragraph in the bill, which reads, “For fiscal year 2014, any increased state funds appropriated for the educational support program, above the amount appropriated for fiscal year 2013, shall be directed pursuant to the provisions of sections 33-1004i (pay for performance), 33-1022 (technology), 33-1626 (dual credit for early completers) and 33-1627 (one-to-one laptops; all those sections are from the “Students Come First” laws), Idaho Code, and also for costs associated with any increase in the number of support units, prior to the funding of any other increases in the educational support program.”
Nonini estimated that his bill commits $34.7 million in general funds to specific items in the school budget over the next five years, allowing an argument that there's a 35-35-35 deal: $35 million for tax cuts next year, $35 million for state rainy-day funds, and $35 million for education.
That doesn't include the bill's provision that whenever Idaho's base teacher salary for all levels is increased, the minimum teacher salary must rise by twice the percentage increase, rather than the current 1.5 percent; no base teacher salary increase is being funded for next year, though the public school budget that passed the Senate does include a boost in the minimum salary, from the current 30,000 to $30,500 a year. “We're hearing that teachers don't want to come to Idaho because our starting pay's so low,” Nonini said. “We need to be competitive.”
The House Education Committee has voted unanimously this morning to introduce new compromise legislation on teacher salaries; it'll hold a full hearing on the bill tomorrow morning. House Education Chairman Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, said the only differences between his compromise bill and the earlier one from Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, that passed the Senate unanimously, is that in addition to canceling the future teacher pay cuts mandated by last year's “Students Come First” reform laws, the bill also requires funding minimum teacher salary increases in 2014 and beyond at twice the rate of any base salary boost for teachers, rather than the 1.5 times currently required by law; along with declaring all the “Students Come First” reforms, including phasing in a laptop computer for every high school student, funding a teacher merit-pay bonus program, and a dual-credit program for early high school completers, to be top budget priorities, along with student enrollment increases, before any other school funding increases.
Nonini said, “I think it's good policy to set forth in this regard.” Rep. Mack Shirley, R-Rexburg, said, “It, in my opinion, is a great compromise to Sen. Cameron's bill, and an improvement in some ways. I think it fulfills the expectation that many of us have had for the backfill of teacher salaries.” He moved to introduce the bill, and the motion passed unanimously.
Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, said, “This is good positive thinking for the future, however, if indeed the economy surprises us and moves the other direction, then we might have to rethink this in the future.” The new bill replaces Nonini's earlier proposal, which would only have canceled the cuts to salary-based apportionment for next year, leaving future years' cuts in place; the first cut occurred this year, and would not be restored under either bill.
Several hundred people circled the Capitol in a silent march Monday evening against SB 1387, the bill to require Idaho women to undergo an ultrasound, in some cases through an invasive trans-vaginal procedure, before having an abortion. Here, Courtney Bohl of Boise, center, marches with a sign saying, “Women Are Watching.” She told the Idaho Press-Tribune, “I'm just here to speak out about women's rights.”
Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey reports that possible amendments to the bill are in the works, to add exceptions for cases of rape and incest and clarify medical emergency cases, but the bill's two main sponsors, Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, and Rep. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls, hadn't yet signed off on the changes. “Also, it’s a timing issue, just whether there’s time to get through,” Winder told Popkey; you can read Popkey's full report here.
Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports that House Speaker Lawerence Denney said the two houses are inching closer to a session-ending agreement on tax cuts, teacher pay and rainy-day savings. Denney told the AP he doesn't believe either a health insurance exchange, which had early on figured to be a major issue of the session, or the abortion ultrasound bill will figure in the closing equation, though he's ruling nothing out.
About 150 supporters of SB 1387, the stalled bill to require any Idaho woman seeking an abortion to first undergo an ultrasound, are gathered on the state Capitol steps to rally for it; later this evening, opponents of the measure have scheduled a vigil for the same location, starting at 7:30 p.m. The bill's fate remains uncertain, after a House committee hearing on it was canceled last week, though backers are keeping up the fight for it.
Rep. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls, a co-sponsor of the bill, told the crowd she's seen “very un-Christian-like behavior” directed toward the bill's lead sponsor, Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, who's taken national heat for his comments in the Senate debate on the measure. “This is what happens, there's a lot of chaos when we work to do the right thing,” McGeachin said. Protesters carried signs with slogans including, “Life is precious,” “Yes S1387 Child's right to be heard!” and “Justice for ALL?” above a picture of a fetus super-imposed on an American flag.
This morning, House State Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, said, “There are still negotiations going on, so we don't know if we're going to have a hearing or not,” adding, “Just have to stay tuned.”
The Senate has adjourned for the day, and Senate Republicans have headed into a closed-door caucus. The Senate will convene at 9 a.m. tomorrow, as will the House. Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, said the Senate will work through the morning and finish its calendar by noon, after which focus will turn to the three remaining big issues that are hampering the close of the legislative session: tax cuts, teacher pay, and state savings. Davis said the Legislature will “hopefully be out of here a few days thereafter.” Amid murmuring, he added, “Think positive, folks.”
Tomorrow morning, the House Education Committee has scheduled an 8:30 a.m. meeting on both HB 656, House Education Chairman Bob Nonini's version of the teacher pay bill, and a proposed new bill on the same topic; the Senate earlier unanimously passed legislation to cancel the future years' teacher pay cuts mandated by last year's “Students Come First” school reform laws to pay for technology boosts and merit-pay bonuses, but Nonini has declined to hold a hearing on the bill.
The budget for Medicaid for next year has passed the Senate on a 29-4 vote and now heads to the governor's desk; the bill, HB 682, earlier passed the House 52-14. It's for $474.2 million in state funds, $1.9 billion in total funds; that's an 8.7 percent increase in state funding from this year, 5.7 percent in total funds, and includes the $1.55 million that's being restored to Medicaid by reversing three of this year's service cuts for disabled people on the program. The federal government funds more than 70 percent of Medicaid, Idaho's health care program for the poor and disabled; the federal-funds portion of the Medicaid budget for next year is $1.2 billion.
Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, said he was voting against the budget as a “protest, because the federal government runs this budget. … Much of it is out of our hands … and that's really frustrating to me. … When I see growth like this, I need to vote no.”
Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, said, “I don't think any of us likes to spend this kind of money, but we have to remember, this is for the Medicaid program. … As the federal government gets its house in order, we're going to have to make tough decisions here at the state level. But this isn't the year. This year, we're going to spend the money they send us and we're going to make sure the people who need these services get them.”
After more than an hour's debate, the Senate has voted to kill HB 542a, the ATV hunting bill; the vote was 15-20.
Here's this session's legislative limerick No. 3:
Making it right?
Lawmaking sputters along
And no one has banged on the gong
From Occupy tents
To speed-trap offense
They're targeting all they find wrong.
Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on Idaho lawmakers' latest skirmish with Occupy Boise, and here's a link to my full story on the Idaho House's vote today to back a new $200,000 fund for the Legislature to hire its own lawyers.
The House has now adjourned until tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. Meanwhile, the Senate is debating HB 542a, the ATV hunting bill, which emerged from committee by only a one-vote margin. After a lengthy opening debate in favor of the bill from Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, is now debating against the bill, which is opposed by the state's Fish & Game director. “If I may, Mr. President, don't roll your eyes yet - I'm just getting wound up,” Bair said to chuckles. Bair said the bill forbids Fish & Game from any rule-making regarding motorized vehicles, not just ATVs.
Legislation to penalize employers who, after a warning, still fail to report new hires to the state Department of Labor, allowing those workers to fraudulently continue to collect unemployment benefits, has been returned to the House Commerce Committee by unanimous consent of the House. Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, who earlier pushed through a move to send the Senate-passed bill, SB 1369, to the amending order, asked for the move. “In the intervening time, we've had discussions with the Department of Labor. They were much appreciative of the ideas and thoughts that came forward of making this bill more friendly to the interests of the businesses that would be involved,” Hartgen told the House. As a result, the bill will be reworked and a new version presented next year, he said.
Though the bill had passed the Senate unanimously, House members called it big-government overreach and too onerous on employers, and suggested instead paying employers who comply with the reporting law, rather than penalizing those who don't with a $25 fine. The department estimated the state is losing $5 million a year on unemployment fraud that could be avoided with employer reporting.
Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, has asked for and received unanimous consent from the House to sent SB 1303, the Senate-passed animal cruelty bill, to general orders for amendments. “We have heard HB 650, which most of you supported,” Andrus told the House; that's the House-passed animal cruelty bill he sponsored, which hasn't gotten a committee hearing in the Senate. “HB 650 over on the Senate side has some objections, and there are some objections from the animal industry. In order to take out those objections and reach a compromise, which we feel we have done, and to incorporate the good parts of 650 into 1303, I ask that you support sending 1303 to general orders,” Andrus said.
His move followed a lunch-hour meeting between House and Senate Ag Committee members, livestock industry representatives, animal-rights activities and House and Senate leaders.
Both houses are back in session; the Senate plans to go 'til 4 p.m., then adjourn as the majority party holds a closed-door caucus. In the House, HB 561, Rep. Erik Simpson's two-year moratorium on new wind farms, was moved to the top of the calendar, where Simpson asked unanimous consent to return the bill to the House Local Government Committee. There was no objection, and the moratorium bill, which had languished for weeks on the House calendar, was sent back to committee, likely sidelining it for the session.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Lawmakers set aside a plan to give school districts along Idaho's borders more bargaining power when sending students out of state. The legislation was proposed at the urging of the Bruneau-Grand View School District, which said Idaho was getting hamstrung by Nevada officials charging $700,000 to educate 60 students. That's about $12,000 per kid. The Idaho House approved a bill allowing the district to secure additional funding to either bus students to the nearest Idaho school, or at least threaten to when negotiating with the other state. But turns out, the mere threat of legislation was enough. Sen. Bert Brackett said Monday the Nevada school district has already agreed to a lesser amount, saving Idaho about $80,000. The bill was pulled from the Senate floor at Brackett's request.
Both the House and Senate have recessed until 1:30 p.m.; a slew of quick committee meetings are planned between now and then, including a just-announced joint House/Senate Agriculture Committee meeting at 12:30 in the 4th floor House GOP caucus room to discuss HB 650 and SB 1303, the two animal cruelty bills; a 1 p.m. Senate Resources meeting on HJR 2, the right-to-hunt constitutional amendment; and a 1 p.m. Senate Education Committee meeting on HB 672 on waiving building maintenance match requirements for school districts.
HB 485a, expanding a tax deduction for energy-efficiency upgrades to existing Idaho residences, has passed the Senate on a 31-4 vote. The bill, which earlier passed the House unanimously, now heads to the governor's desk. Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, the bill's Senate sponsor, said the expanded deduction could cost the state up to $1 million in general tax funds in the future, but that cost would be offset by increased energy savings and the economic boost those savings create. The bill's lead sponsors are Reps. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, and Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum.
The House has voted 53-16 in favor of setting up a $200,000 legal defense fund for the Legislature, funded from the state's general tax funds and controlled by the Speaker of the House and the President Pro-Tem of the Senate. “It is for any time that they should happen to need outside legal counsel,” House Appropriations Chair Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, told the House. Minority Democrats spoke out against the bill. “This is a really interesting and I think wrong-headed precedent that we're setting here … and appropriating what's really a significant amount of money,” said Rep. Brian Cronin, D-Boise. “We already have a constitutionally elected officer in an office that handles these matters, and so we pay for that. So to have duplicative efforts like this definitely represents a growth of government, and I don't think it's prudent.”
Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, debated in favor of the bill, HB 695. “I think as the lawmaking body we ought to have flexibility in where we're going to go to get a legal opinion,” Hart told the House. “I think this is very much needed.” Rep. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, said, “We need to have our own counsel, not relying on the executive branch to tell us what's right and what's wrong.”
House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, called the measure a “slush fund” for the majority's political concerns, and pointed to last year's fight over bills seeking to “nullify” federal laws that the Attorney General said were unconstitutional. That prompted a push for the Legislature to get its own legal counsel.
Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, said he saw a conflict of interest in the Attorney General's office when he proposed legislation regarding investments by the state Land Board, on which the Attorney General serves. “I think there are situations that do arise with a conflict of interest,” he said. The bill, which earlier cleared the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee on a party-line vote, now moves to the Senate.
The House is suspending its rules to take up House bills on its 2nd Reading Calendar this morning, which includes HB 695, the bill to set up a new $200,000 legislative legal defense fund. First up is HB 694, amending a provision of the “Students Come First” reform law that required school districts to provide lists of liability insurance providers to teachers.
Rep. Brian Cronin, D-Boise, told the House, “This bill is really nothing more than trying to grant free advertising to a Washington-based organization that provides liability insurance for teachers.” The Northwest Professional Educators Association from Spokane testified for the bill in committee. That organization bills itself as the teachers association that's “not a union,” offering “affordable liability coverage, legal representation, and other education-related benefits without paying for controversial political agendas.”
Rep. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, the bill's House sponsor, said the original reform law required school districts to distribute the lists of liability insurance providers, which teachers must sign; this year's bill shifts that responsibility to the State Department of Education. The bill passed the House on a 53-15 vote and now moves to the Senate side.
The Senate has voted 31-4 in favor of SB 1410, the single largest piece of the state budget: The public school budget for next year. The appropriation bill includes a 4.6 percent increase in state general funds, but just a 0.4 percent increase overall.
Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, said, “This budget could be a lot better. … We have a lot of money still on the table as a state.” She said recent years' cuts have hit schools hard, raising class sizes and making other big changes. The budget as proposed, LeFavour argued, would “keep our schools in that same state of crisis and emergency.”
Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said, “This is, in my opinion, the most important budget that we pass on the Senate floor. … It is a dramatically improved budget from the previous year.” He noted that the budget would increase Idaho's minimum teacher salary, and includes a small increase in discretionary funds to school districts. “The last four years have been very difficult,” Cameron said. “We're in a very fragile but improving economy.”
The budget bill now moves to the House.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The House is once again due to vote on a plan to help Boise County satisfy a $5.4 million federal court judgment stemming from its commission's illegal handling of a youth treatment center in 2010. A measure to allow the county to sell bonds to pay the debt narrowly failed the House March 15. Foes complained the bill robbed citizens of a voice. So Rep. Ken Roberts' latest bill, which cleared the House Revenue and Taxation Committee Monday, requires residents to approve the county's plan by simple majority. Roberts contends his changes put voters back in control. Several of the original bill's foes spoke in favor of this renewed legislation. Regardless of how this issue is resolved, Boise County property owners face a hefty tax hike to satisfy the debt. The committee not only introduced the bill, but sent it directly to the full House for consideration.
The House State Affairs Committee has approved HB 693 on Capitol Mall rule-making, aimed at restricting behavior in the area that's the site of the Occupy Boise vigil, on a party-line vote; the bill now moves to the full House. The committee's Democrats opposed the bill, but a substitute motion by Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, to amend the bill failed on a party-line vote.
Among those testifying against the bill was Mike Despot, the retired former Capitol Mall facilities manager. “This law is totally unnecessary, it is pointed at a certain group, it is to inhibit free speech,” Despot told the committee. “We are told we can have free speech by coming to your offices. As we were being told that, the offices were being locked down.” Most House members' office areas remain locked by order of House Speaker Lawerence Denney; he issued the order early this session.
Others objected that a federal judge already has ruled in favor of allowing the Occupy tents to remain and has scheduled further legal proceedings on the issue. Dean Gunderson, an Occupy supporter, said, “Boy, I would sure love it if you passed this particular piece of legislation, because it would be one more nail in the coffin of the state's case. … I would just love to have that in hand by the time we go into evidentiary hearing on June 7th.”
Violations of the new rules created under HB 693 would be infractions, and the director would have the authority to sue to enjoin any violation or threatened violations of the rules; you can read the bill here.
Roger Brown, an aide to Gov. Butch Otter, told the committee that the governor supports the legislation, and the Department of Administration currently doesn't have the appropriate rule-making authority. Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, read from current law that says the director has authority to promulgate rules. Teresa Luna, director of the Department of Administration, said the bill is needed “in order to allow the Department of Administration the authority it needs to manage and maintain its properties.”
After the committee's vote, Occupy Boise members chanted in unison a message that included this line, “Please join the people later today as we issue an eviction notice to the corrupt members of this legislative body.” Committee Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, banged his gavel and declared that the loudly protesting group would be removed; two Idaho State Police officers escorted the chanting protesters out.
The Senate has voted 28-7 in favor of HCR 47 to authorize construction of a new multi-level parking garage on the Capitol Mall, using savings from refinancing other current state bonds. Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, the resolution's Senate sponsor, said, “This has been a project that 's been talked about for a long, long time.”
The latest legislation dealing with the Capitol Mall, site of the Occupy Boise vigil, is up for a hearing in the House State Affairs Committee this morning. State Department of Administration Director Teresa Luna told the committee that HB 693 would “better define the Capitol Mall properties,” and authorize rulemaking about behavior there. “While the need for this legislation became clear because of the litigation regarding use of the the Capitol Annex, this legislation is not targeted specifically at that use,” she said. Her comment was greeted with a light sprinkling of laughter from the audience, which includes more than a dozen Occupy Boise supporters. Luna said the bill would allow rules like requiring pets to be leashed.
“This is another anti-Occupy bill,” Katie Fite of Boise told the committee. She said under the bill's language, she questioned whether the state would be “trolling the Internet” for signs that anyone's planning an “illicit picnic on the Capitol grounds,” and asked, “Is this bill aimed at controlling and perhaps even spying on those you don't like?”
Kay Marquart told the committee, “I really really think that your time could be spent on much more important issues. Many of you have become an embarrassment to the citizens of Idaho that you have not tackled the real issues.” Committee Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, gaveled her at that point; Marquart said she was done.
“We have spent a great deal of time listening to people about this particular issue,” Loertscher said. “This is not a Legislature vs. the world issue. This is what needs to be done concerning the state properties, so please confine your remarks to the issue and not to the individuals involved.”
The Senate has convened this morning with a whopping 123 pieces of legislation on its calendar. However, that figure includes measures that already have passed, and simply are awaiting a signature or transmittal. The actual number on the calendar today that are still up for a vote is 36. That's still a lot, though. The House has 26.
Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, pitched SB 1348, the death bill, to the House State Affairs Committee this morning, saying her measure, backed by pro-life groups, would ensure that treatment, food and fluids aren't denied to a dying patient if the patient wants them and if they “in reasonable medical judgement will preserve the life of the patient.” The bill was amended in the Senate to address concerns from the Idaho Medical Association and advocates for the developmentally disabled, changing the language to more closely match existing law and standards of care, and causing those groups to drop their opposition. Nuxoll told the committee that the IMA supports the bill, and said she's not aware of any groups that oppose it.
Ken McClure, lobbyist for the IMA, offered a correction. “We don't support the bill,” he told the committee, “but we have negotiated a set of amendments which cause it to be acceptable to us. … We want to thank the sponsors for their willingness to negotiate those amendments with us.”
Julie Lynde of Cornerstone Family Council, a backer of the bill, shared a story about her father's death from cancer; he wanted all means to continue to preserve his life even as he died. She said she and relatives had to continually fight with medical care providers over that, and that at one point, a nurse falsely told her mother that her father had whispered that he wanted to die. “My mom said, 'how dare you' … She later admitted that she lied,” Lynde said. “We knew he was dying.”
A tearful mother, Pamela Dowd, shared the story of her daughter's death six months ago, during which providers at one hospital wouldn't follow her wishes, though a second hospital later did. “She wasn't a vegetable. She was very much alive,” Dowd told the committee. The committee approved the bill on a unanimous vote; it now moves to the full House.
As lawmakers push to wrap up the 2012 legislative session this week, tax cuts, teacher salaries and state savings are taking center stage. “We're getting closer. I don't think were there yet,” Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, told the Associated Press. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Alex Morrell.
What if Idaho didn't spring forward for daylight saving time? Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, and seven GOP cosponsors, including House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, have introduced legislation to end the practice in Idaho, though the bill isn't expected to move forward this year; the idea is to spark a national conversation, reports Twin Falls Times-News reporter Melissa Davlin. You can read her full story here.
Some years, Bogus Basin doesn't get any spring skiing, because winter runs right up until closing day, and then it's all over. Not this year. Over the weekend, as temperatures nudged and topped 70 degrees in the valley, Bogus Basin skiers enjoyed a cornucopia of corn snow, a slathering of soft slush, and the warm feeling that spring has sprung…
On this, the 75th legislative day of the session, it's taken me forever to get a chance to pen my next legislative limerick, but with all apologies, here it is:
On Day 75…
It should've ended today
But politics got in the way
Bombast or circus
Savings or tax cuts
We all know who gets to pay.
On tonight's “Idaho Reports,” I join Jim Weatherby, Kevin Richert, and host Greg Hahn to discuss the legislative developments of the week, from ethics to ultrasound. One thing we don't get to, as time runs out: A chance for Dr. Weatherby to say, “I told you so.” He was the only one of a previous show's panelists who said the legislative session wouldn't end by today; it certainly didn't, and I was among those with the wrong prediction. Tonight's program also includes Hahn's interview with Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls; with a panel of lobbyists including Alex LaBeau, Wayne Hoffman and Lee Flinn; with two former lawmakers, Randy Hansen and David Callister, on ethics and conflicts of interest; and more.
The show airs tonight at 8 p.m. on Idaho Public Television; it repeats Sunday at 11 a.m. Mountain time, 10 a.m. Pacific; and will be replayed on Boise State Public Radio on Sunday at 6 p.m. After it airs, “Idaho Reports” also can be viewed online at www.idahoptv.org/idreports/.
Things have been quiet on the ultrasound front yesterday and today after Wednesday's tumult, with no House hearing scheduled on the controversial Senate-passed bill to require Idaho women who want an abortion to first undergo an ultrasound, but talk in the halls of the Statehouse has continued. Anti-abortion activists who pushed for the bill, SB 1387, are still promoting it, but skittish House Republicans haven't been enthusiastic.
The House State Affairs Committee, which on Wednesday abruptly canceled its hearing on SB 1387 that had been scheduled for Thursday morning, didn't meet today, and has posted an agenda for a Monday morning meeting that doesn't include the bill. Asked yesterday about the developments, Senate Assistant Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, the bill's lead sponsor, said, “I guess the thing I would say is that this is the process that works. If the House has some concerns with it, that's certainly their right to consider those.”
Today, Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, who supported the bill both in committee and on the floor of the Senate, said, “It certainly became a bill that had political dynamics that I didn't foresee, including an understanding of how people would look at the legislation.” Davis said he “honestly did not believe at the time we printed the bill or I committed to the bill” that it would “include the Virginia-style language,” regarding invasive trans-vaginal ultrasounds; an early version of the bill specifically referenced that invasive procedure, but Winder removed that clause, instead specifying that patients and doctors could decide which type of procedure to use. However, the bill still required specific information, including recording of the the fetal heartbeat and other data, that opponents said would have required use of the more invasive procedure early in pregnancy, when most abortions occur.
Said Davis, “I wish that I had done a better job in carefully reviewing the effect of the language of that bill.”
The bill still could come up next week in the House, or not; lawmakers are pushing to adjourn their session before the end of next week.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter signed the bill restricting local control over the natural gas industry, putting the finishing touches to a measure that launched the Senate's ethics investigation into Sen. Monty Pearce. The law, HB 464, went into effect Friday, forbidding local governments from enacting ordinances to prohibit gas drilling. From now on, Idaho cities and counties can't require exploration companies to secure conditional use permits for their projects. Though the bill cleared the House and Senate on wide margins, it created a sensation in the 2012 Legislature when Democrats accused Pearce of not disclosing a conflict of interest. Pearce has leased land to Snake River Oil & Gas, the company behind the bill. He didn't disclose his leases publicly until the final vote. Wednesday, the Senate Ethics Committee dismissed the complaint.
Without comment, Gov. Butch Otter has signed HB 481, lifting all caps on creation of new charter schools in Idaho, into law. Currently, Idaho limits the creation of new charter schools to six per year and one per school district; both limits are removed under the bill, sponsored by Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene.
An an analysis, AP reporter John Miller writes that this week's ethics proceedings in the Idaho Senate underscored natural tensions built into Idaho's citizen Legislature, in which people with unrelated occupations come together for lawmaking - which often affects their lines of work. Largely lost in the Pearce hubbub this week, he writes, was a stark example of one lawmaker who quietly rose above his self-interest: Lt. Gov. Brad Little, a rancher with well-known leases to oil and gas exploration companies, who broke a 17-17 tie in the Senate on a motion to let local governments and citizens have more input into oil and gas drilling — even though he arguably stood to benefit if cities or counties didn't have any say.
Little chuckled about how his ranching friends in western Idaho were apoplectic over his vote. Some told him they were driving to Boise to give him a piece of their minds, Miller writes; meanwhile, Idaho Association of Counties officials, whose members were divided on the bill, told Little “they just about fell out of their chairs.” “It was a classy act,” the county group's director, Dan Chadwick, who was following Little's vote via Internet that afternoon, told the AP. “I thought, 'There's a guy who's not afraid to vote against his self-interest.” Click below for Miller's full report.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― The state Board of Education is opposing efforts to lower Idaho's cap on annual general fund spending to 5.3 percent of total personal income. Trustees voted 5-1 on Friday to testify against the legislation, HB 559, should it come before the Idaho Senate. Board members say there's too much uncertainty about the bill's potential impacts, particularly on funding for universities. Idaho currently caps state spending at 6.3 percent of total personal income generated in the state. House Majority Leader Mike Moyle says lowering the cap to its original level, set in 1980, signals the GOP commitment to small government. Moyle's bill passed the House Monday. But trustees are concerned the lower rate could mean less funding for higher education, which took a 26 percent hit in state support amid the economic downturn.
Legislation to ban texting while driving is headed to the governor's desk, after the Senate today approved SB 1274a, as amended in the House, on a 29-5 vote. The House added amendments to remove an exemption for law enforcement or emergency vehicles, and to specify that citations for texting while driving won't count as penalty points on insurance. Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, said, “I've been working on this bill for many years and we finally have a bill that I think is probably the best that has come along. I regret that we do not have the points aspect in the bill, but all things considered, after all the labors that we've put into this issue, I think this is a reasonably good bill, and I urge your aye vote.”
Senate Transportation Chairman Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d'Alene, sponsored this year's bill; Idaho lawmakers have tried without success for the past three years to outlaw texting while driving. This year, an 18-year-old Idaho woman, Taylor Sauer, died in an Idaho freeway crash in January while texting; her family offered strong support for the bill at committee hearings in both houses.
The House has adjourned until Monday, after a thundering debate from Rep. Carlos Bilbao, R-Emmett, in favor of SJM 104, a non-binding memorial opposing the Obama Administration's contraceptive coverage rule. The memorial was approved on a 51-16 vote, with all the House's Democrats and three Republicans, Reps. Trail, F. Wood and L. Smith, opposing it.
“This is a conscience issue, not a contraceptive issue,” Bilbao said forcefully and repeatedly during his debate. “I should be able to purchase insurance without contraception if I want. … This is a battle over our most fundamental freedoms, freedom of religion, and it is a battle over the Constitution, whether Congress can allow government agencies to legislate.” The non-binding measure has six legislative co-sponsors, all Republicans.
The House also approved two other non-binding memorials: SJM 105 from Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, and 23 co-sponsors, urging the federal government to back off and allow states more latitude on issues including endangered species; and SJM 103, from Anderson, Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, and nine legislative co-sponsors, urging reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools Act funding to rural communities, and also promoting the “Community Forest Trust” concept formulated by Shoshone, Boundary, Clearwater, Idaho and Valley counties as a pilot project to be included in the program. “I think it could open the door to better management of a huge part of our state,” Anderson told the House.
When SB 1243a first passed the Senate on Feb. 3, it would have limited future specialty license plates to those benefiting government purposes. The bill was twice amended in the House, and today the Senate passed the amended version and sent it to the governor's desk. “It's not nearly as good of a bill as it used to be, but it still has some value,” Senate Transportation Chairman Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d'Alene, told the Senate, “in that those clubs who collect money through a specialty license plate, whether they are previous clubs or new clubs, all of those organizations have to submit an accounting annually to the Idaho Transportation Department as to how those funds have been expended. In terms of limiting specialty license plates … that has been stripped out. So it's not nearly as good as it used to be, but it's better than nothing.”
The Senate passed the amended bill with no debate. Unremarked on was a clause that requires any non-profit agency that applies for a new specialty plate to “submit evidence to the department that the application has 501(c)(3) federal income tax status that has been in existence for at least two (2) years.”
Earlier this session, former Congressman Bill Sali introduced legislation for a new “In God We Trust” specialty license plate whose proceeds would go to a new heritage education nonprofit he'd just formed. Sali said his new organization had applied for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status from the IRS, but hadn't yet received it; that approval can take many months.
SB 1243a doesn't have an emergency clause, so it takes effect July 1 and wouldn't affect Sali's pending bill; but his bill never got a hearing in a House committee, rendering it likely dead for the session. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
The Idaho Senate has voted 26-9 in favor of HB 619a, which removes from Idaho cities the ability to set local speed limits where state highways pass through town. The bill, now headed to Gov. Butch Otter's desk, reverses legislation passed several years ago to give cities that ability.
Senate Transportation Chairman Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d'Alene, said, “Because it's small communities this affects, they don't have the staffing to do the engineering studies … to do this kind of work. So it's really better for ITD to do that.” He said the Idaho Transportation Department would work with cities on the limits.
But Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, said, “I was part of the effort to pass it many moons ago, in direct response to ITD not being helpful to cities, especially in areas in rural Idaho where the state highways go right through the middle of your town and in some cases residential areas. I'm hopeful that ITD has gotten more responsive. But quite frankly, in my view it tips the balance right back to where we were before. I'm not someone who enjoys a speed trap or slowing down unnecessarily. But at the same time, I'm not sure that this is the right answer.”
Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, said there's a seven-mile stretch of highway between Picabo and Carey that's 55 mph, though the whole rest of his trip home to eastern Idaho from Boise is 65 mph, and he suggested there's no good reason for the difference. Other senators said there are some cities that have extended their speed zones far further than needed.
Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, told the Senate, “Of all the things that we give local governments control over, perhaps the speed at which people travel through their towns might be one of them. I'll be voting no.”
The House got into an extended debate today over SB 1399, the appropriation bill for the Permanent Building Fund, because it includes the next, $1.5 million stage of improvements to the Capitol Annex, the now-vacant old Ada County Courthouse across from the state Capitol. Rep. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, objected that a sign posted outside the annex identifies it as the future home of a University of Idaho law learning center. He said he felt the budget bill was “a back door around this body here … to kinda have a yes or no vote on it, what we're going to do with that building.” He expressed fear that the University of Idaho's law school would be moved to Boise and occupy the building, and said he felt that was counter to the state's founding fathers' idea of locating universities in different areas of the state.
“Everything's going to be here in Boise,” Harwood said, “and what's the reason for going into the rural parts of the state? I'm bothered by this.”
Members of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee said there's been no decision made on the future use of the building; but there has been a decision to shore up the structure with a phased, multi-year $6 million total investment that will keep it suitable for any use. Rep. Max Black, R-Boise, said he said he checked with UI, and, “As I understand … there's absolutely no intent of the University of Idaho moving the law school to Boise.”
Rep. Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, said, “The building as it is now is essentially unusable.” He reminded the House of what it was like when the Legislature occupied it for two sessions. “Recall … little teeny tiny odd-shaped rooms,” he said. “I can only tell you that we made a wise decision about three years ago to spend about $6 million over time to make the building so that it's functional.” The bill already passed the Senate on a unanimous, 35-0 vote; the House passed it on a 48-18 vote, and it now heads to Gov. Butch Otter's desk.
After approving a resolution honoring the late jazz singer Mildred Rinker Bailey, a Coeur d'Alene Indian, the Senate went at ease, and a bit of her music was played: Bailey singing “Thanks for the memories,” one of her biggest hits. Bailey was a pioneering singing star of the 1930s and '40s, and a mentor to Spokane native Bing Crosby.
The Senate also today approved HCR 46, commending General Darrell Manning on his retirement after a long career of public service.
The Idaho House has voted 63-4 to let school districts, for a fourth straight year, shift funds that the state requires districts to put toward school building maintenance into other non-personnel needs in the district. Rep. Mack Shirley, R-Rexburg, said the state budget for public schools is still below its fiscal year 2009 level, and districts want that flexibility; the state Department of Education requested the bill, HB 672. House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said, “I guess I have some concern, having worked on the school facilities lawsuit for much of my legislative life.” He questioned whether a fourth-year shift of the funds would hurt the state's legal position in the case; Shirley said the department thinks a requirement for annual school-building safety inspections will ensure schoolhouses are safe.
Rep. Brian Cronin, D-Boise, said “I will be voting yes on this bill, but reluctantly. … We are once again talking about deferred maintenance, and we are enabling deferred maintenance of our school facilities through this bill. Now I understand why we're doing it, and I know the school districts have asked for this flexibility. … But we should be mindful of … how much money is not being set aside over these last three years because we are essentially allowing this waiver.” It's $20 million a year from the state, and $40 million a year from the districts, he said. “At $60 million a year for three years, that's $180 million that has potentially not been set aside to maintain our school facilities. … The fact is, when we continue to defer these maintenance expenses, the bills will eventually come due, and those safety inspections will not pass at some point. … We're simply again kicking the can down the road.”
HB 672 now moves to the Senate side; it would waive the maintenance funding requirement through fiscal year 2013.
With no debate, the House has voted 55-12 in favor of HB 689, to shift the state's food stamp distribution from a single distribution to all recipients on the 1st of the month, to a staggered distribution over several days. Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa, the bill's sponsor, said the current system is “flooding the food stores with recipients on the first of the month,” causing difficulty not only for the food stamp recipients, but also for the stores, and for others who shop on the 1st day of the month because that's when they get their paychecks, Social Security or disability checks. “Much food goes wasted,” she said, when frustrated shoppers facing long lines abandon their carts; frozen food can't be reshelved and must be thrown out.
The bill now moves to the Senate side.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― A Boise Democrat who has been one of the minority party's major voices on the House Revenue and Taxation Committee plans to retire from the Idaho Legislature. Rep. Bill Killen had originally filed to run in November. But the U.S. Navy veteran and Stanford University graduate has been struggling with health issues that have caused his weight to drop about 30 pounds. The 73-year-old Killen, first elected to District 17 in 2006, said he's been fighting a mysterious gastrointestinal disorder that's forced him to limit his food. A former Democratic legislator, John L. Gannon, who served a term in the House in the early 1990s, has filed to replace Killen. Others running are independent Gus Voss and Republican Kreed Ray Kleinkopf. During his tenure, Killen advocated for joining national efforts to tax Internet sales, out of fairness to Idaho's brick-and-mortar businesses.
The Senate State Affairs Committee easily approved a resolution this morning to build a new multi-level state parking garage, using savings from refinancing of several existing state bonds at lower interest rates; the House-passed measure now moves to the full Senate. “It's an opportunity to really fix the parking problem in the Capitol Mall for many years to come,” said Legislative Services Director Jeff Youtz.
He noted that when the Capitol was renovated and expanded, parking never was addressed – though thousands more people now flock to hearings during the legislative session each year in big new hearing rooms. In combination with a re-examination of all parking policies in the Capitol Mall, Youtz said of the new garage, “It has the potential to really triple public parking, which really is a plus for the Capitol Mall.”
The measure doesn't specify the location, leaving that to state experts, but one likely spot is an existing large surface parking lot just north of the Len B. Jordan Building, on the second block north of the Capitol.
Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on the failure today of freshman North Idaho Sen. Steve Vick's proposed constitutional amendment to require two-thirds votes not only for any tax increase, but also for any fee hike or the removal or reduction of any tax break. The measure, HJR 1, actually got a bare majority - 37-33 - but not the required two-thirds.
If he's re-elected, Vick said, “I do plan on bringing it back in the future.”
The Idaho Statesman's Dan Popkey reports on something of a media poetry slam in the Statehouse press room this afternoon, with House Majority Leader Mike Moyle and House Minority Leader John Rusche joining in. Check it out at his blog here.
Outgoing Sen. Melinda Smyser, R-Parma, has been named the southwest regional director for Sen. Jim Risch, starting late this spring, Risch announced this afternoon. Smyser will replace Matt Ellsworth in the position, who will remain on the staff but shift to a different position within Risch's office. Smyser is a second-term state senator who decided not to seek a third term after redistricting placed her in the same district as Senate Health & Welfare Chair Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston. Click below for Risch's full news release.
The Senate Health & Welfare Committee has voted 5-3 to kill HB 486a, the bill to ban kids under 16 from using tanning beds and require those age 16 or 17 to have parental consent; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com
Sharee Skinner, owner of Southern Exposure Tanning Center in Nampa, told the committee her salon already requires parental consent for minors to tan and won't allow anyone under 13 to tan. She called the bill “great overreach of the government,” and said, “You can moderately tan and that's what we have people do in our salon.” Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, said, “This is going to hurt your business, I'm trying to understand how much, like, what percentage of your business is kids under 16?” Skinner said, “Under 16 is probably about 5 percent of our business. Under 18, more like 20, 25 percent of our business.”
Skinner also objected to warning signs the bill would require. “That's like asking the meat counter to put by the red beef that red beef, if you eat it is going to cause you to have a heart attack … it's going to give you cancer. … Don't ask us to put signs up that we don't believe are true.”
Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, a physician, showed the committee a sample warning sign, and said, “This is a perfectly legal sign - I made it on the computer. Not very expensive.”
He said, “This is about kids and tanning beds. It's not about french fries, it's not about red meat, it's not about swimsuits, it's not about being out in the sun. There is clear evidence. I have 68 studies. … The World Health Organization, the FDA, have all called for a ban on tanning beds for minors.” Rusche said, “We believe the role of adults is to help protect and raise children into healthy adults. This bill will lower cancer risk and cancer deaths.”
Lobbyist Erik Makrush of the Idaho Freedom Foundation told the committee, “The nanny state of government keeps getting the proverbial nose of the camel under the tent,” and said he felt the bill would restrict parents' rights. “Drinking and driving obviously does affect other people, whereas this affects only the individual,” he said. The bill was backed by groups including the American Cancer Association, the Idaho Medical Association, numerous Idaho dermatologists and melanoma survivors.
Senators voting to kill the bill were Sens. Nuxoll, Vick, Heider, Smyser and Lodge. Opposing the motion were Sens. Schmidt, Bock and Broadsword.
The Senate Health & Welfare Committee is holding its hearing on HB 486a, the tanning-bed bill, in a different room than normal, WW 55, because another committee meeting in its regular hearing room went long. So far, committee Chairwoman Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, and Vice Chair Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, have had sharp questions about the proposal and expressed considerable skepticism.
Joseph Levy of Denver, executive director of the International Smart Tan Network, representing tanning salons, is now testifying. He called previous testimony from an Idaho dermatologist and others a “gross misrepresentation,” saying melanoma is not increasing in young women but in older men. He told the committee, “Indoor tanning salons do not increase risk.”
He said, “If this bill is enacted, teenagers will just use home units,” which he said are more dangerous than tanning beds in salons. “You would create a garage tanning industry.”
Long-sought legislation to license massage therapists in Idaho, as do 43 other states, has passed the Legislature and headed to Gov. Butch Otter's desk. Among lawmakers who have worked on such bills in the past is former state representative and later Congressman Bill Sali.
SB 1295a, sponsored by Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d'Alene, passed the House today on a 39-29 vote, after earlier passing the Senate 28-6.
Rep. Jim Marriott, R-Blackfoot, told the House that currently, with no licensing, anyone can claim to be a massage therapist. “There'll be no assurance that citizens will receive the proper care from a trained therapist without that,” he said.
Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, said massage therapy has become an increasingly accepted part of medical treatment. “It is not uncommon for medical doctors to prescribe … massage therapy as part of the overall recovery program from certain medical procedures,” he said. “This request should be approved.”
Massage therapists around the state requested the licensing bill; they would pay fees up to a maximum of $200 a year to cover the costs of the licensing program. Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, a physician, said, “This is truly a new treatment modality, or an old treatment modality that's found new usefulness. I think patients deserve to know who's been trained and qualified to deliver this scientifically based and effective treatment, and who is giving a rubdown.”
Opponents spoke out against any new licensing. “I'm always concerned about the impact of new licensing schemes which basically preclude people from employment,” said Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise. Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, said, “The more restrictions we have, the less jobs we have.”
Marriott said, “I just want to remind you that right now, I can advertise to be a massage therapist with no training.”
The House has now voted 41-28 in favor of sending SB 1369, the unemployment fraud bill, to general orders for amendment. Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, said, “Let's make an attempt to see if we can get this right in the closing days of the session.” At this point, the House has run all the way through the noon hour and beyond, and is now preparing to adjourn for the day.
Among the announcements: The House State Affairs Committee will not meet on Friday - that's the panel that canceled a hearing today on the pre-abortion ultrasound bill. Also, House Democrats are headed into a closed-door caucus.
The motion to send SB 1369 to the amending order has been ruled appropriate. Rep. Jim Marriott, R-Blackfoot, said he'd like to see the bill amended to pay employers “for doing that, filling out that form,” rather than fining them for not doing it. The bill would fine employers who, after a warning, still didn't comply with the law requiring them to report new hires, to prevent those workers from fraudulently continuing to collect unemployment benefits.
As the House reconsiders SB 1369, the unemployment fraud bill, Rep. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls, said as an employer, she'd “think twice” about hiring another employee because of the bill. “I guarantee you I will think twice about that,” she told the House.
Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, said he's been an employer for 25 years. “Every conflict I've had with the Department of Labor in this or other states, I've lost, even though I think the facts are on my side,” he said. “There is a bias against employers.”
Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, moved to send the bill to general orders for amendment, but amid debate on that motion, Rep. Julie Ellsworth, R-Boise, raised a point of order: A motion to do that already was defeated. The House is now at ease to sort the matter out.
Now, House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, has called for reconsideration of SB 1369… “I was compelled by the arguments that put the onus for this on the employer,” Bedke told the House. “I've had experiences with employers over the last year that make me think that the employers are not the problem here, and to further penalize them doesn't sit with me. And so that's how I feel. I've got to sit with myself. You guys all vote your conscience, but I feel better about, if I get a chance to vote 'no' on that bill.”
Rep. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, spoke in favor of the bill. “They're not wanting to raise money from this bill,” he said. “They see a significant problem with overpayment of unemployment policies. They're working to try to solve this problem. … We can reduce the cost to business of having unempoyment insurance, which is keeping them from hiring other people and further reducing the rate of unemployment.” Said Thayn, “This is a serious issue, the cost of unemployment insurance, and I think this is a very reasonable way to move ahead.”
Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, said, “This bill adds to the burden of business.”
The House bogged down today in an extended debate over SB 1369, a Department of Labor bill that passed the Senate unanimously and that would save the state $5 million in unemployment fraud, before finally barely passing the bill on a 36-34 vote. (Note: This later changed - see posts above…) A motion from Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, to send the measure to the amending order failed, 21-49.
The bill would impose a $25 penalty on employers who, after getting a warning, still fail to comply with the law requiring reporting of new hires, allowing those workers to continue fraudulently collecting unemployment benefits. ” I think it's big government at its worst, penalizing the people providing the jobs,” declared Rep. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls. “Twenty-five dollars is totally unreasonable. Five dollars is probably too much.” Rep. Bill Killen, D-Boise, said, “By the simple expedient of complying with the law, your penalty will be zero.”
Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, told the House, “It discourages employers from hiring people. It will cause us to have fewer jobs in the state of Idaho. … I think this makes it more difficult to employ people.” Rep. Tom Trail, R-Moscow, the bill's House sponsor, said it cracks down on those who are “double dipping, you might say. It is worthwhile, with a $5 million fiscal note.”
The measure, which earlier passed the Senate 34-0, now heads to Gov. Butch Otter's desk.
The Senate has paid tribute to longtime Sen. John Andreason, R-Boise, who is retiring after this year; he's the former legislative budget director. “It has been quite a ride,” Andreason told the Senate. “It has been a special privilege and a special pleasure to serve in this body from Dec. 1, 1967, and yes, it'll be 45 years to the day when I retire in December of this year. But it's been a special privilege that I've appreciated very much, and been a real pleasure working with you folks.”
To laughter, he shared this story about Lt. Gov. Brad Little: “When I first met the president of the Senate, he was my intern - and we called him Little Brad.”
With former longtime Idaho Secretary of State Pete Cenarrusa, 94, looking on from the gallery, the Idaho House has approved HJM 14, commending peace and reconciliation in the Basque country. “It commends and encourages the peace process,” Rep. Carlos Bilbao, R-Emmett, told the House. “Idaho has approximately 8,000 self-defined people of Basque ancestry, second to California, which has the biggest population in the United States, with approximately 25,000. Why would the Idaho Legislature be interested in raising its voice to support a peace process halfway across the planet? Because law month, the state of Idaho Lt. Gov. Brad Little signed an agreement with the Basque autonomous government to promote economic development between the two public adminstrations, and Idaho wants to do business with a region that promotes peace, democracy and civil rights for all.” He said, “I urge your 'yes' vote for humanity and the Basque people.”
After the voice-vote approval of the non-binding memorial, the House went at ease to recognize Cenarrusa with a standing ovation.
HJR 2a, a proposed constitutional amendment adding a right to fish, hunt and trap to the Idaho Constitution, has passed the House on a 63-4 vote with no debate, and now moves to the Senate. The measure, which you can read here, would declare that the rights to “hunt, fish and trap, including by the use of traditional methods, are a valued part of the heritage of the State of Idaho and shall forever be preserved for the people.” To amend the Constitution, it would need to pass both houses by at least a two-thirds margin plus receive a majority vote of the people at the next general election.
The House has voted 37-33 in favor of HJR 1, the proposed constitutional amendment to require a two-thirds vote of each house for any tax or fee increase, increase in any existing tax or fee, or removal or reduction in any existing tax break - which is not enough. The proposed constitutional amendment required a two-thirds vote in each house to go before voters at the next general election. In the House, that means it needed 47 votes.
“The good thing about this bill is that as a constitutional amendment, we're putting this to the public,” said the measure's House sponsor, Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise. “We're putting this option to the public to say do you like this or not. … This is a good opportunity for the public to comment on an important fiscal objective or policy.”
House Tax Chairman Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, said he liked the idea of a two-thirds requirement for tax or fee hikes - but not the part about reducing or eliminating tax breaks. “We have, in this state, literally hundreds of exemptions and deductions that have been enacted for one reason or another … that will be locked into place,” Lake told the House. “They was all put there with a simple majority vote, and now we're going to take a 2/3 to remove them. … Until that section of the bill is removed, I can't support it.”
House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said, “I submit that Idaho has not done too badly controlling expenses and keeping ourselves in a relatively healthy fiscal state. I think that there could be an argument that an additional barrier does nothing except impair our ability to continue to manage successfully.” He also said the measure, as written, appears to rule out the state's current procedures for fee increases by agency rule within statutorily set limits.
Rep. Dell Raybould, R-Rexburg, questioned whether the 2/3 rule would apply to commodity commission fees, which are generated “not from the general taxpayers, but from the users of a particular product.” Luker said it would.
Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa, said, “I always struggle with the 2/3 vote … because I know that I like to operate on the premise that the majority should win, not the minority. … If it takes 2/3 … all I have to do is get 1/3 and one person, and I can stop it. So it seems like to me you're putting the power into the one third, more than the power into the two-thirds.”
Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis has announced that the Senate hopes to deal with all the bills on its 3rd Reading Calendar today, as well as suspend rules and take up additional ones, but it's not an attempt to finish the legislative session by tomorrow or Saturday. “It's our intention to adjourn tomorrow at noon,” Davis told the Senate. “It is our current hope that a sine die motion will be made the first to middle part of next week. I'll just let you know that that's what we are planning to do.”
Two senators, Sens. Jim Hammond and Dean Mortimer, have excused absences for the day, so measures they're sponsoring won't be taken up.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Senate has signed off on HB 632, legislation intended to protect Idaho youth athletes from devastating concussions. Senate lawmakers voted unanimously Wednesday to approve the bill, which requires Idaho schools to develop rules for when students must be pulled from sporting events following a possible concussion. The plan, which already passed the House, now heads to Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter for final consideration. Declo Sen. Denton Darrington sponsored the measure, saying the growth of athletes and the damage concussions cause make the risk too large to ignore. Schools would have leeway to design their own plans dictating when athletes should be pulled from games after a head injury, and when they can return. Proponents also say coaches and schools that follow federal base guidelines could be shielded from liability.
Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on today's developments on SB 1387, the pre-abortion ultrasound bill, from a live ultrasound demonstration in a Capitol hearing room, to sign-waving protesters gathered outside, to the abrupt cancellation of tomorrow morning's House committee hearing on the bill. As the bill's opponents celebrated, House State Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, said, “We're still looking for some more information on the bill before we proceed, if we do.”
Reaction to the abrupt cancellation of tomorrow morning's House committee hearing on the ultrasound bill has been rippling through the Statehouse. “This is a bill that we thought was invasive to women, so we're glad to see that it's been postponed,” said Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise. “We had hundreds of emails. … There's a lot of people concerned, a lot of women.”
Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, said he sent an email out Wednesday to 15 Republican women in his district about the bill, SB 1387; 12 responded, and only one supported the bill. “They felt this was not in the interest of either the party or women,” Hartgen said.
Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, said, “There are so many people that really see this as an invasion of their privacy, men and women.” Said Rep. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, “I am so thrilled and excited to see a legion of women come together about things they care about, stand up together and make a difference. … One lady said, 'I found my voice again.'”
Rep. Darrell Bolz, R-Caldwell, said, “It's mixed emotions with me, but I have some real concerns about it. I told people I'd vote no on it. … We talk about government invasiveness into people's lives. … I'm pretty much for right-to-life, but I have to represent my constituents. I've heard from a lot of my constituents - they're pretty emphatic about it. That's who elects us.”
Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, a co-sponsor of the bill, said she was still hopeful the bill would get a hearing, either Friday or sometime next week. “They've canceled the hearing, but that doesn't mean the bill is dead,” Nuxoll said.
Hannah Brass, legislative director for Planned Parenthood in Idaho, issued this statement on today's live ultrasound demonstration in the Capitol:
“The biggest difference between today's demonstration and this legislation is that the women today all chose to have an ultrasound. Idaho’s Senate Bill 1387 takes that decision away from a woman and her doctor and places it in the hands of politicians. Politicians should not be dictating private health care matters. In addition, what proponents of the bill fail to acknowledge is that women who are in a state of medical emergency or are victims of rape are not exempt from this bill, which mandates ultrasounds that should be left up to a woman and her doctor. SB1387 is an example of politicians meddling in private medical decisions for political points when they should be focusing on the real things Idahoans care about, like jobs and education.”
After an hour-long, closed-door House GOP caucus, House Republican leaders refused to say whether or not SB 1387, the pre-abortion ultrasound bill, is dead - but if it's not, it appears to be on life support. “We don't know,” said House Speaker Lawerence Denney. “We haven't made the decision on it.”
Tomorrow morning's committee hearing is definitely off, and the House State Affairs Committee won't meet at all tomorrow. Denney said he has no plans to assign the bill to a different committee.
House State Affairs Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, said, “We're still looking for some more information on the bill before we proceed, if we do.” He said his committee still had a couple of bills it has to hear, so it will convene again before the session is over.
Loertscher said today's GOP caucus was “reminiscent of some of the old days,” saying, “A lot of times, caucuses, in recent years, have been informational only. Today was more of a discussion. … I think it was the free expression of a lot of different ideas. I think it was very constructive, it was very constructive discussion - I'm one that's not afraid to debate.”
Loertscher said personally, “I'll come down on the side of life every time.” He said, “I don't know why everyone is so afraid of information, especially when it comes to the unborn child.” Asked if today's live ultrasound demonstration on pregnant women in a state Capitol hearing room was appropriate, Loertscher said, “I'm not going to go there.” And asked whether he thought the House GOP caucus should meet again to talk about SB 1387, Loertscher said, “That's not my call.”
House Assistant Minority Leader Elfreda Higgins, D-Garden City, said 10 minutes ago, House State Affairs Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, came to her office and told her that tomorrow morning's hearing on the pre-abortion ultrasound bill, SB 1387, has been canceled and the committee won't hear the bill - which would mean it's dead. (Later, however, Loertscher said there's not yet been a decision on whether the bill will receive a hearing.) House Republicans have been in a closed-door caucus, and are still in there; Kerry Uhlenkott of Idaho Right to Life, a leading backer of the bill, is waiting nervously outside and had no comment. The committee secretary has confirmed that tomorrow morning's meeting has been canceled; House State Affairs won't meet at all tomorrow.
HB 542a, the controversial bill to bar the state Fish & Game Commission and department from in any way restricting motorized vehicles or ATVs on trails or roads, has squeaked through the Senate Resources Committee on a 5-4 vote. However, Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, who voted in favor, noted for the record that he may not vote the same way on the floor of the Senate that he did in committee, saying he was torn on the issue. Those voting in favor of the bill were Sens. Pearce, Cameron, Brackett, Heider and Tippets. Voting against were Sens. Bair, Siddoway, Werk and Stennett.
The bill earlier passed the House 48-21 after an hour-long debate.
The House committee hearing on SB 1387, the bill to require Idaho women to undergo an ultrasound before they could get an abortion, has been scheduled for tomorrow at 7:45 a.m. in the Capitol Auditorium. The controversial bill passed the Senate Monday on a 23-12 vote; the House State Affairs Committee will consider it next. House sponsor Rep. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls, will present the bill. The full House is scheduled to convene at 10 a.m. tomorrow.
The House voted 52-14 in favor of HB 682, the Medicaid budget for next year, with no opposing debate; it then adjourned for the day. Both the House Republicans and House Democrats are headed into closed-door caucuses. Meanwhile, the Senate has reconvened. Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, said the majority has decided not to caucus now after all; he had earlier said the Senate majority caucus would gather to “bring everyone up to speed,” on issues including the “going-home list,” with the session's three remaining priorities: Savings, tax cuts, and teacher salary-based apportionment; the Senate unanimously passed legislation to cancel future-year teacher pay cuts required under the “Students Come First” reforms enacted last year, but the bill hasn't gotten a hearing in the House Education Committee, where House Education Chairman Bob Nonini has introduced a competing proposal to leave future years' cuts in place, and cancel only next year's.
Legislation to ease outdated restrictions that are crimping a joint venture between Ponderay's Laughing Dog Brewing and a new microbrewery starting up in Post Falls, Selkirk Abbey, has passed the House on a 58-5 vote and is headed to Gov. Butch Otter's desk. “This gives us an opportunity for us to have an industry within Idaho that uses Idaho employment and Idaho products, and gives us economic development opportunities, especially in our rural area,” Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, told the House; he's co-sponsoring the bill with both of the other District 1 lawmakers, Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, and Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint. The bill earlier passed the Senate on a unanimous vote.
Current law restricts brewery owners from having a financial interest in another facility that offers retail or a tasting room, though no such restrictions exist for Idaho wineries. As a result, Selkirk Abbey was denied a state license because Laughing Dog co-founder and brewmaster Fred Colby was a partner. The bill, SB 1344, lets Idaho microbrewers - there are 24 in Idaho now - have an interest in one other operation. Selkirk Abbey representatives told lawmakers that Colby, with his expertise and distribution contacts, was key to the new startup's business plan.
Laughing Dog, which sells its beer in 35 states and Canada, makes award-winning brews including Alpha Dog IPA, Cold Nose Winter Ale and Huckleberry Cream Ale.
Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, has issued a statement responding to the Senate Ethics Commission's unanimous vote today to dismiss an ethics complaint against him, saying, “I welcome the committee’s unanimous decision to clear me of the charges leveled last week. I did nothing wrong and have a clear conscience.” You can read Pearce's full statement here.
Anti-abortion activist Brandi Swindell is conducting the live ultrasound demonstration in the Statehouse today with the enthusiastic air of a lively state fair product-demo host. “Isn't this fun? Who doesn't love seeing an ultrasound image of a baby?” she asked, adding, “Remember, this is first trimester, so the baby is tiny, tiny, tiny.”
A bamboo screen hung with a banner saying, “Voices from the Womb” and “Knowledge is power,” is set up to screen the table where the six pregnant volunteers from Swindell's organization, Stanton Healthcare, are taking their turns lying down for ultrasounds that are being projected on screens. Only two lawmakers have been sitting through the demonstration, Rep. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls, and Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, though a few others have stopped in briefly. Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, popped in for about 3 minutes before heading off to the House. Asked what he thought, he said he'd seen ultrasounds of both his children before, but said, “It's neat.” Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise, also sat in for a few minutes.
At one point, Swindell declared, “This is just simply giving women access to medical information that every woman deserves, every woman deserves this. … Women deserve access to medically accurate information.” A woman in the audience called out, “I have access, Brandi, already.” Swindell then admonished the audience, which consists mostly of onlookers and reporters; there also are protesters in the hallway. “I hear a lot of mocking and I hear a lot of laughing,” Swindell said. “I think it's highly insensitive.”
The crowd quieted, but later, several began heckling Swindell and there was loud applause; volunteers and Idaho State Police officers escorted the hecklers out of the room.
About 150 sign-waving protesters gathered outside the state Capitol at noon to protest the pre-abortion ultrasound bill, SB 1387, and comments made in the Senate debate by the bill's sponsor, Senate Assistant Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Meridian. During the rally, James Mace, a 36-year-old self-published novelist from Meridian and Iraq war veteran, announced a write-in campaign against Winder, who is now running unopposed for re-election.
Mace told the crowd, “This is a decision I made about 11 o'clock last night. … I won't lie to you - I got pretty upset yesterday.” He said, “Why are we debating this, why? What's it got to do with jobs? What's it got to do with the economy? What's it got to do with education? … The only thing I see this bill doing is humiliating and degrading women.”
Mace added, “I'm tired of being embarrassed nationally and internationally. People know who Idaho is now - they don't mistake us for Iowa any more - however it's for the wrong reason.” Rally participants carried signs saying, “Rape is not an 'issue,' rape is a crime” in response to Winder's closing debate on the bill, in which he referenced rape victims; and “Say NO to Winder.”
Mace said he's a “recovering Republican” and former Dirk Kempthorne supporter who's now a Democrat. A registered write-in candidate must receive at least 50 votes in the primary election to make the general-election ballot.
Denis Stevens, consul general of Canada for the Pacific Northwest, is addressing both the House and the Senate today. Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, told the Senate, “He is the highest representative of the nation of Canada for this region.” Based in Seattle, Stevens is Canada's senior representative for the region that includes Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.
“At the heart of our partnership and what has made it thrive is the fact that we not only share borders and interests, but we are friends who share fundamental values,” Stevens told the Senate. “Canada and the United States have one of the largest, most successful trading relationships in the world. … Canada is Idaho's No. 1 trading partner.”
However, he said, “We can't afford to coast.” He lauded recent agreements between the Canadian prime minister and the U.S. president that he said are aimed at making the borders between the two nations harder for criminals or terrorists to cross, but easier for those who are visiting or doing business. He also expressed hope that the Keystone XL pipeline “will ultimately be approved.”
He said, “We have a long and illustrious history as allies.”
The Twin Falls Times-News reports today that Gov. Butch Otter has allowed HB 574, the supplemental appropriation for the Catastrophic Health Care Fund for the current year, to become law without his signature. Otter, in a letter to House Speaker Lawerence Denney, said he was concerned about uncertainty over health care programs with the pending challenge to national health care reform. The bill had passed both the House and Senate unanimously; its sponsors said the state has to fund its county indigent program regardless of the national health reform issue. You can read the full story here from Times-News reporter Melissa Davlin.
Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, said, “I'm going to recommend that this committee make a recommendation to the Senate to adopt a disclosure rule. Several things have surfaced in regard to disclosure and conflict of interest. There's been confusion, for example committee vs. on the floor of the Senate. There are several areas that have been unclear.” Bracket moved that the committee recommend the Senate adopt a disclosure rule, and Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d'Alene, seconded the motion.
After some discussion, committee Chairman Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, said the panel will meet against Friday morning and requested that Brackett and Hammond withdraw the motion. Brackett said, “Mr. Chairman, with reluctance I will, I'll honor your request.”
Afterward, Mortimer said he needs to get more information about the authority of the Ethics Committee in that area. Brackett said he'd still like to see the panel make that recommendation. “I think it was appropriate that this committee send a message to the body.”
Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d'Alene, moved to dismiss the ethics charges against Senate Resources Chairman Monty Pearce. “In terms of public perception, he would've been well-served to disclose in committee,” Hammond said. “That would have helped the situation. But what I don't want to do is get us in a situation where when we pass a budget for education, I've got to disclose because my children or my grandchildren go to school in the state of Idaho. Or when we pass the higher education budget, I've got to disclose because my wife is an employee of Lewis-Clark State college. There is a huge disconnect, and that's a huge class of people who benefit from that budget. Do we need to disclose for every one of those? I don't think so. … I have found nothing here relative to our rules that lead me to do anything but move that we dismiss the charges.”
Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, seconded the motion. “With our investigation, I do not believe we can demonstrate direct pecuniary benefit to Sen. Pearce for his actions supporting the bill, HB 464,” Schmidt said. “If indeed we were able, he may be in a class that would be large enough that would exclude him from the necessity to declare a conflict. Nonetheless, Sen. Pearce's actions, that is to be actively engaged in bringing forward legislation through his committee, indeed controversial legislation that evoked public input with no public declaration of conflict at the time, then before the final vote on the floor to declare a possible conflict, following which he argued for the legislation, saying that passage of such would increase gas production in Idaho, therefore benefiting lease holders, his actions placed Sen. Pearce's conduct in doubt and necessitated these painful deliberations we conclude today.”
“I want to assume all senators are acting in good faith, and I want the public to assume that too,” Schmidt said. “This open, public, albeit painful process honors the rules that we follow, it honors the body we attend and the public we serve.” To Pearce's attorney, Chuck Peterson, Schmidt said, “For those who dismiss this as a pure political theater … you denigrate me, you misrepresent the Senate.”
The vote was unanimous.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Senate's conflict-of-interest cup runneth over. Since Democrats complained about Sen. Monty Pearce's alleged disclosure transgressions, Republicans have been disclosing en masse. Maybe it's a protest of solidarity with Pearce, like Sen. Jeff Siddoway did Monday when he asked to be recused from voting on an abortion-related bill — because he has two daughters. Maybe it's out of spite. Either way, it's slowed the gears of democracy. There was Sen. Chuck Winder, who Tuesday told lawmakers his job as a developers' representative could pose conflicts. Sen. Tim Corder said he belongs to the human race, breathes air and walks on dirt. Even House lawmakers are joining, with Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke Tuesday declaring a conflict on a highway-width bill — in his words, to head off the “witch hunt.”
Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane reviewed oil and gas leases on Payette County's website, and reported to the Senate Ethics Committee this morning, “Each of these leases, for most of the operable purposes, are pretty much the same.” He submitted a packet of leases for the panel's review. Some members had questioned whether Senate Resources Chairman Monty Pearce's lease with Snake River Oil & Gas had more favorable terms than other leases.
Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, told the Senate Ethics Committee that she doesn't believe Senate Resources Chairman Monty Pearce is exempt from conflict-of-interest issues regarding his oil and gas lease as a member of a broad class of similarly situated people. “There are 22,600 inhabitants in the county,” Stennett told the panel. “The leases, even at its most, is 500, about 2.21 percent of the population.” Only a tiny percentage of Idahoans hold oil and gas leases, she said.
The Supreme Court has sided with an Idaho couple in a property rights case, the Associated Press reports, ruling they can go to court to challenge an Environmental Protection Agency order that blocked construction of their new home and threatened fines of more than $30,000 a day. Wednesday's decision is a victory for Mike and Chantell Sackett, whose property near a scenic lake has sat undisturbed since the EPA ordered a halt in work in 2007. The agency said part of the property was a wetlands that could not disturbed without a permit; click below for a full report from AP reporter Mark Sherman in Washington, D.C.
Chuck Peterson, defense attorney for Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, told the Senate Ethics Committee this morning that regardless of Senate rules, “There is a kind of notion of fair play in the United States that if somebody is going to accuse us of something,” that they “bring to the table their evidence.” Peterson said, “The focus needs to be on what is alleged in the complaint, not this sort of broad-ranging … looking at each lease. … The complaining parties have no evidence that he received anything different than anyone else who signed those leases with Snake River Oil.”
Peterson said Pearce's lease is “exactly like the other 255 leases with Snake River Oil in Payette County, nothing different.” Though Pearce didn't disclose his lease until the final vote in the Senate on the oil and gas drilling bill, HB 464, Peterson said he doesn't believe he ever needed to disclose it. “I don't think he has a conflict of interest as Idaho law defines conflict of interest,” he said.
The Senate Ethics Committee has reconvened this morning, and heard first from Senate Assistant Minority Leader Les Bock, who urged the panel not to summarily dismiss the ethics complaint against Senate Resources Chairman Monty Pearce. Citing Senate rules, Bock said, “It says this committee shall investigate and determine if an ethical violation has occurred. … To date, we have had no investigation.”
Bock said, “The good senator's attorney has said that this is an act of political theater. Well, I object to that.” He said Pearce came up to him yesterday in a parking lot, “and said this is just a political game. This is not a political game, this is dead serious. It implicates the ability of the Senate to perform its duties in an objective, comprehensive way. And I urge you to uphold the integrity of the legislative process and not dismiss the complaint. It should go forward.”
Bock noted that Pearce disclosed a conflict of interest before the Senate's final vote on HB 464, on oil and gas drilling, because he has oil and gas leases on his land, including one with a major proponent of the bill. “This isn't merely speculative,” Bock said. Pearce had already cast at least three votes on the bill at that point. “The fact that he mentioned that he may have had a possible conflict, demonstrates that he knew that he had an obligation to disclose,” Bock said, “and those prior votes therefore become suspect.”
JFAC has voted unanimously to transfer $500,000 to the Constitutional Defense Fund, which has been drained by lawsuit settlements; and by a 16-4 party-line vote to put $200,000 in state general funds into a new legal defense fund for the Legislature, to be controlled by the Senate president pro-tem and the speaker of the House.
Minority Democrats objected to the new legislative legal fund. “I see this as going to get a third opinion on something that the Attorney General isn't going to give the 'right' opinion,'” said Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum. But they were outvoted.
JFAC has voted unanimously to fund half the requested increase in payments to foster families next year, after earlier setting a budget for the Division of Child Welfare that included no increase. Idaho's foster care payments are the fifth-lowest in the country, at just $274 a month for a child ages 0-5; $300 for a child age 6-12; and $431 for a child age 13-18.
“In retrospect, I really felt that we needed to do something on this request,” said Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, who noted it was among the top budget requests from the germane committees. Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, said a recent study showed Idaho's reimbursement rates would need to rise by 75 to 130 percent to cover foster parents' actual expenses.
Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, spoke out in favor of Jaquet's motion. “I believe that it's very critical for these children at this age to place them into families and to protect them and give them the solid environment that they need,” he said. “These are challenging kids, and I think we really should be supporting families that are willing to take on those challenges.” The increase amounts to $150,000 in state general funds, less than half the division's $309,000 request; and $498,100 in federal matching funds, for a total of $648,100 next year.
The joint budget committee also voted unanimously for a $33,000 current-year budget adjustment to the Council for Deaf & Hard of Hearing to prevent that council from having to shut its doors for the rest of this fiscal year, which the previously set Vocational Rehabilitation budget would have forced; most of that is a shift from other areas, with just $3,000 in additional general funds.
The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee is meeting this morning for the first time since finishing up most agency budget-setting on March 9. Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, told the joint committee that this may not be its last meeting this session, but it could be its second-to-last.
This morning's agenda includes “trailer” bills to adjust budgets to match legislation that's passing, including the state Historical Society's bill to take over some records management from the state Department of Administration; and the bill to shift alcohol beverage license fees to the state's Alcohol Beverage Control Division to allow it to add enforcement officers. Also on the agenda are two agency budget reconsiderations, for foster care and the Council for Deaf & Hard of Hearing; transfers to the constitutional defense fund and legislative legal defense fund; and a briefing from the Attorney General's office on a mortgage foreclosure settlement.
An anti-abortion group planning a live ultrasound exhibition in a Senate hearing room today can't restrict attendance to only those it wants in the room, the Associated Press reports. The event in room WW53 on the state Capitol's lower level is part of efforts by anti-abortion advocates to require women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound examination.
Right to Life of Idaho, the exhibition's promoter, indicated in an e-mail it would limit attendees to lawmakers, their families, Capitol staff and accredited media. However, the AP reports that Capitol officials said Tuesday the building's meeting rooms are open to the public.
Democratic House Minority Leader John Rusche has concerns that extra security might be needed.
Rusche, a retired pediatrician, says there are many, many angry women concerned about the ultrasound mandate. It passed the Senate Monday, and now is up for House debate.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Land developers whose grand designs for their properties were thwarted by the recession could soon win tax relief. The Senate voted 28-7 Tuesday for the measure, HB 519, which would exempt the value of improvements to properties until the construction of homes or buildings begins — or the developer unloads the parcel to somebody else. The measure has cleared the House and is now destined for Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter's desk. Advocates including Sen. Lee Heider of Twin Falls described the bill as an economic relief effort, to help hard-hit developers carry their inventory until their fortune changes. Foes, however, feared the bill could undermine revenue to local governments that rely on property taxes. Sen. Joyce Broadsword of Sagle told colleagues she'd heard from multiple county assessors who had concerns about the bill.
Sen. Chuck Winder's comments about rape victims in his closing debate yesterday on the pre-abortion ultrasound bill in the Senate have set off a national firestorm of criticism, after they were picked up by the Huffington Post and other national outlets, which linked to the comments as reported on this blog. Winder's comments prompted accusations that he was suggesting women use rape as an excuse to seek abortions; Winder told the AP today that he didn't mean that, saying he was pointing out that a woman would likely want to consult with her physician and perform tests to determine if the child she was carrying was a product of a rape, so as not to allow doctors to abort a consensual conception. “There was never any intention on my part to question the honesty of a woman in cases of rape,” Winder said.
Still, critics called Winder's comments insensitive; click below to read a full report from AP reporter John Miller.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Bottle-cap maker Crown Holdings might want to pop the top off a celebratory bottle, after a bill to limit its asbestos liability in Idaho cleared the Senate and headed to Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter for signature. The measure cleared the chamber 19-15 on Tuesday, reflecting a strong minority's reluctance to help it off the legal hook. The House had approved the bill 47-22 in February. For years, the Pennsylvania-based company has sought protection from claims filed by lung-disease patients. Though it has just a handful of claims from Idaho, it also wants protections here from having to make future payments related to its ill-fated purchase of an asbestos-tainted company in 1963. That's resulted in $700 million in payouts, with 50,000 claims still pending. Crown has won protections in 14 states.
The House has voted 39-30 in favor of HB 486a, the tanning-bed bill; now that it's passed the House, the measure moves to a Senate committee.
Opponents included Rep. Erik Simpson, R-Idaho Falls, who said, “We're in essence requiring an owner to put down the product, the very product that he is marketing. … We're suppressing their 1st Amendment rights.” Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, said, “In my particular legislative district, I have spoken with a tanning salon who has asked me not to support this legislation.”
Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said, “Yes, it does require that tanning bed operators tell the truth about their product.” He said, “Sixty people died of melanoma last year. … We're going to see more melanoma before we see less. … So I think this is a good bill. It protects kids, it allows parental consent, and … it will save lives.”
The House is now debating HB 486a, the tanning-bed bill. Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said the bill as amended bans use of tanning beds for children 15 and under, and requires parental consent for those age 16 or 17. Idaho already has such regulations regarding tattoos, he noted. “Tattooing, while it may be weird and it may be ugly, does not cause cancer. “
Rusche, a retired pediatrician, said, “There is an epidemic of melanoma, particularly in young women. Over one-third of young women age 16-18 in Idaho use tanning beds. Use of tanning beds has a 75 percent increase in melanoma incidence.”
House Health & Welfare Chair Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls, said her earlier concerns over the bill have been put to rest through two extensive hearings on the bill in her committee. “There's absolutely no reason for an individual under the age of 15 to be going into a tanning bed,” she told the House. “I look at it purely from a health perspective. … I can support this legislation because I do believe that it's a serious health risk and we are seeing a really high incidence of melanoma skin cancer. It's causing people to get sick and die.”
After much debate, the House has just killed Rep. Phil Hart's gold and silver coin bill on a 35-35, tied vote. The bill sought to declare gold and silver coins to be legal tender in Idaho, and Hart said it would allow people to pay for transactions like buying a car in gold and silver coin. “In the attorney general's opinion that was written on this bill there as a big misunderstanding,” Hart said. “The author of the opinion thought this legislation would set up some sort of alternative currency, when in fact what it does is declare to be legal tender gold and silver coins that are already legal tender as declared by Congress.”
Hart said in some transactions, the coins would only be good for face value - $50 for a one-ounce gold coin, or $1 for a one-ounce silver coin - but if buyer and seller agreed, it could be at a much higher market value as determined by that day's “London fix.” He told the House, “Gold and silver has been money for 6,000 years. I think the state of Idaho ought to be recognizing it as money today.”
Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, backed the bill, saying, “To allow us to have an alt ernate way to store our wealth that is money is only practical given the out-of-control spending of Washington, D.C.” Rep. Lenore Barrett, R-Challis, spoke out in favor of the bill. “Why is it so hard for people to understand the value of solid, solid money?” she asked. “We used to be on the gold standard, worked a lot better than what we have now. If I understand what I hear on the news, our dollar isn't worth piddly.”
Opponents including Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, raised questions about the measure and its provisions. “If there is anybody who thinks their folding money isn't worth very much, just send it my direction,” he said.
Idaho Statesman reporter Patrick Orr has a full story today on Cynthia Clinkingbeard, the 1st District congressional candidate who was arrested over the weekend after threatening Staples employees with a 9mm handgun. The former physician, whose medical license was revoked in 2005, was charged with three felony counts of aggravated assault and one count of use of a deadly weapon in the commission of a crime, Orr reports; she also was suspended from her college teaching post for “erratic behavior.”
Here's the thing: This is the second time in 16 years that a candidate who was also a physician has filed for Idaho's 1st District congressional seat and then had a public meltdown; the last one, back in 1996, was running against Helen Chenoweth in the GOP primary. I was on the reporter panel at KTVB's “Viewpoint” program when that candidate, William Levinger, offered me $5,000 in hundred-dollar bills for an on-camera kiss (I declined); later in the interview, after I'd left the studio, he removed his clothes, refused to leave and was arrested for trespassing.
Back then, that prompted me to look up some other odd candidate behavior over the years. Some examples: When Republican Roger Fairchild announced his bid for governor back in 1990, his big news conference featured his ex-wife shouting out allegations of wife-beating and cocaine abuse. In 1996, a Democrat announced for Latah County Sheriff from inside the county jail, where he was serving time on a misdemeanor assault charge. Julius E. Beyer Sr., who had a long arrest record, said he was fed up with local law enforcement.
Jim Sorrell, a candidate for mayor of Boise in 1985, didn't halt his political bid after he was accused of exposing himself. Instead, he reportedly contacted the North End Neighborhood Association and asked to be included in a candidate forum, saying he needed more exposure.
But few can match Thomas Bennett, who ran for Congress in 1875. He actually went to Washington and served in Congress for nearly two years before the folks back in Boise discovered he hadn't really been elected. As governor of Idaho, he had been in charge of tallying the votes.
After House debate turned sharply against the bill, Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, today pulled HB 663 from the House floor, asking that it be sent back to the House Education Committee. The bill would allow charter schools to tap into a subsidy program that now matches part of bond interest for school districts whose voters pass building bonds by a two-thirds margin; the charter schools would just need a vote of their board for their debt to qualify for the match. House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, told the House, “This bill will dilute the limited amount of support we have for public school facilities.” DeMordaunt asked to return the bill to committee, saying, “I think good colleagues have pointed out some issues we may need to work on a bit more on this.”
The House Ways & Means Committee has voted along party lines to introduce new emergency legislation regarding the Capitol Mall, aimed at authorizing the state Department of Administration to promulgate rules governing the property and requiring permits for various uses. State Department of Administration Director Teresa Luna said, “We believe that the state has not only the right but the responsibility to manage and maintain our properties.”
House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, noted that the state already is in the midst of a federal lawsuit over the Occupy Boise vigil across from the Capitol. House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said, “This keeps in place the judge's order,” but allows state regulations.
Asked what prompted the bill, Luna said in addition to the Occupy Boise group, a counter-protest group had parked cars on the lawn amid their tents “in an effort to say that their cars are their voice;” they were towed because they were violating parking regulations, but since then, Luna said, they've started driving their cars across the law amid the tents without stopping. “They're not parking, they're driving,” she said. The bill likely will be scheduled for a hearing this week in the House State Affairs Committee.
The House has recessed until 2:30; the House Ways & Means Committee will meet at 1:15 and consider a new bill from state Administration Director Teresa Luna regarding rules governing the Capitol Mall. Meanwhile, the Senate has recessed until 3:15 p.m., and tomorrow morning's Senate Ethics Committee hearing has been pushed back to 9 a.m. to allow for an 8 a.m. JFAC meeting. The Senate won't go on the floor tomorrow until 11 a.m., and will come back on the floor tomorrow at 3 p.m.
The Senate has voted 12-22 against HB 524, House-passed legislation from Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, to expand Idaho's disturbing the peace law to address a situation that's arisen between hostile neighbor his his district. Numerous senators said the bill, which would make it a misdemeanor to engage in “conduct that is intended to seriously alarm or harass a person such as would cause a reasonable person substantial emotional distress,” appeared to restrict both freedom of speech and private property rights, by criminalizing, for example, the hanging of a sign on one's own property.
After nearly every attorney in the Senate had spoken against the bill, Sen. Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, also an attorney, said, “I'm kinda leaning toward the bill.” He noted that the existing disturbing the peace law also has vague language in it, such as “tumultuous or offensive conduct.” Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, another attorney, then drew a big laugh when he told the Senate, “I don't think having bad language in a statute is a reason to add more bad language.” The bill then was decisively killed; it had passed the House unanimously.
It's long been the custom for Statehouse reporters to don ugly ties when the legislative session stretches overly long, in hopes that the garish neckwear will so disgust and offend lawmakers that they'll wrap up their business and get out of town. I've taken a different route in recent years, turning instead to bad rhymes designed for similar effect. So with all apologies, here's my first legislative limerick of the 2012 session:
May is on the way…
Idaho's political round
Is clearly closed-primary bound.
When hot-button issues
Mean get out the tissues
It's lawmaking in ultrasound.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Sen. Jeff Siddoway's unconventional conflict-of-interest declaration during Monday's debate over an abortion ultrasound mandate was designed to protest an ethics investigation into his Senate colleague. Siddoway made a motion asking to be excused from voting, claiming his two unmarried daughters posed a conflict. A 15-minute, behind-doors session resulted, as Senate leaders debated what to do. Siddoway eventually withdrew his motion and voted for the mandate. But following the bill's 23-12 passage, he described his true motivation: He believes Sen. Monty Pearce is getting a raw deal from Democrats who have complained he didn't disclose a conflict of interest on gas-drilling measures. Pearce leased land to a company exploring for gas. Siddoway sought to underscore inherent conflicts facing a citizen legislature whose members vote on bills that touch their lives outside the Legislature.
The House has voted 53-17 in favor of SB 1274a, the bill to ban texting while driving. It's a significant vote - the bill had languished for weeks on the House calendar, and it's an issue that's been quashed in the House repeatedly in recent years despite strong support in the Senate and from an array of backers, from teens to law enforcement to the Idaho Farm Bureau to insurers. At committee hearings in both houses, an Idaho family whose daughter was killed in a texting-while-driving crash this year offered emotional testimony in support of the bill, which passed the Senate Feb. 21 on a 29-6 vote. In the House, it was amended to remove an exemption for law enforcement or emergency vehicles; they said the didn't want or need the exemption. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Rep. Julie Ellsworth, R-Boise, told the House, “I just wish I could text you all and tell you to vote for it. But I'm just going to ask you, please support this legislation. We need to send a strong message. … Don't you just want to shake people and say, 'Why are you doing this?' It truly takes away your attention in three critical areas for driving.”
The 17 “no” votes came from Reps. Barbieri, Batt, Bayer, Boyle, Crane, Hart, Harwood, Marriott, McMillan, Nonini, Patrick, Perry, Shaefer, Shepherd, Simpson, Sims, and J. Wood. The bill now returns to the Senate for concurrence in the House amendments.
The House is now debating SB 1274a, the texting-while-driving bill that's been languishing on the House calendar for weeks.
The Senate Ethics Committee has adjourned until tomorrow at 8 a.m., and things got a little hot at the end. Senate Assistant Minority Leader Les Bock wanted to offer a few more comments, but Chairman Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, opted to put that off. Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d'Alene, said he's ready to dismiss the complaint right now. “I am not seeing any evidence that this individual senator enjoyed any benefit greater than anybody else in that class, and I don't see that we have a need to pursue this any further,” he said. Sens. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, and Diane Bilyeu, D-Pocatello, said the panel hasn't examined whether Sen. Monty Pearce's lease was different from other leases, and wants that examination.
Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, said, “I'd like to take the senator at his word, he told me he had a conflict, and I'd like to hear from him. He's been accused and I think he needs the right of a defense. I think that's an opportunity need to give him.” Mortimer said, “It's my understanding that the senator does not have to respond other than in writing one way or the other.” Schmidt said he does see evidence of a gain to Pearce, because “I do believe that 464 would increase gas production in Payette County.” Under Pearce's lease, he gets an eight of the proceeds from any gas produced.
Hammond interjected, “'Do believe it would increase' - that's speculative. It might increase.” At that point, Mortimer adjourned the meeting.
Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d'Alene, made it clear that he's not convinced Sen. Monty Pearce had a conflict of interest in oil and gas legislation, despite having signed an oil and gas lease with a company that was a major proponent of the bill. “The gain that he could receive as a result of that bill is purely speculation, and it is a gain that is the same for him as for hundreds of other lessees or possible lessees within that class,” Hammond said. “I am really feeling frustrated at this point, because I've been dealing with conflict of interest as a public official for 30 years, I understand conflict of interest.”
Hammond said, “Sen. Pearce would have been well served to have said that, said his conflict sooner. From a personal gain, from a pecuniary gain, I can't see that he had anything possible to gain greater than anybody else in his class.”
Pearce's attorney, Chuck Peterson, responded, “I think you're absolutely right.” Peterson said Pearce's lease “was a matter of public record, and it is a form contract that is based on a dollar amount per acre, like so many other Idahoans, hundreds and perhaps up to a thousand Idahoans who have signed similar contracts. Will any of those contracts result in a single dollar outside the value that is in the leasehold interest? Will any one of them? Can anybody answer that question? Of course not. We don't know. … We have no idea whether any individual well would result in a dollar's worth of income to any of the thousand Idahoans who have signed similar leases to this.”
“When that bill comes out of committee, it is nothing more than a recommendation,” attorney Chuck Peterson told the Senate Ethics Committee on behalf of Sen. Monty Pearce. “And his actions in committee do not necessarily result in any action on the floor … That's not to suggest that maybe you shouldn't change the rule so that it's clear that if you have a conflict, you should disclose the conflict in committee. … But I don't think that's what the rule says currently.”
Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, told attorney Peterson, “I guess we're going to agree to disagree on rule 39h, because to me it clearly includes committee action, and to read it differently means a whole stretch. And No. 2 the wording, what I really like is the phrase, 'The senator is presumed to act in good faith and in the public interest.' Because in essence, that's what our role is here today. As a committee, I believe our job is to reinforce and address that the Senate does indeed that. And the idea that we have a conflict, we come to this role of representing the public interest conflicted. We have our own personal interest, we have people we live with and work with, we may be in a certain party … but today we're going to address the interests of the Senate. So to me the Senate rules are primary.”
He added, “I think it's fairly clear that the rules 39hs do address the necessity to declare a conflict. We talked earlier about whether people can vote. And that is actually the heading of that section, 'Right to Vote,' and we do want people to vote, we want them to represent their people, but we want that vote to be in the light of day, under the bright shining clear light of full disclosure. You said earlier that things in committee aren't like a full vote on the floor, and I disagree. We have things that happen in committee that prevent a full vote on the floor. So to me, any time a question is considered before a full body, it is our duty to disclose a conflict of interest that may reflect on the Senate … not on the senator.”
Chuck Peterson, attorney for Senate Resources Chairman Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, told the Senate Ethics Committee this morning on Pearce's behalf that though he recognizes other disagree, he doesn't read the Senate rules to require disclosures of conflicts of interest before committee votes. “The rule is not specific about that,” he said. That's why, in his letter submitted to the panel this morning, “I suggested that I didn't think he had to do that. … I think he went above and beyond what was required by your rules. … I think that there is at least some ambiguity there.”
Peterson said, “The citizens of this state recognize that you will undoubtedly have conflicts of interest. The question is whether or not the types of conflicts of interest you have … will cause you to have to disclose.” He said, “We recognize that you might be teachers, doctors, farmers.” Peterson cited “the law in Idaho,” as opposed to rules, defining conflict of interest as including a “private pecuniary benefit” to the official, a member of the official's household, or a business with which the official is associated.
He said Pearce's oil and gas lease with Snake River Oil & Gas is a “standard-form lease,” and said of its terms, “They did not change, he did not acquire anything new as a result of any vote or any action that he took here in his capacity as a senator.”
Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane is addressing some questions for the Senate Ethics Committee now. He said Senate Assistant Minority Leader Les Bock was correct that Mason's Manual, which lawmakers follow for rules of order, “does refer to both personal and pecuniary benefit” when determining if a conflict of interest exists. However, Kane said, “I think that when you get into trying to define a personal interest, it gets very tricky.” That's because it can be difficult to distinguish between personal interest, public interest, a constituent's interest, and other factors, he said.
“With Mason's, it refers to a private personal benefit as well, so they are looking for that more singular connectivity. … It think it's absolutely, as Sen. Bock pointed out, … appropriate … for the committee to weigh the extent of personal interest as opposed to private pecuniary benefit,” Kane said. Whatever the ethics committee decides, he said, then sets the new standard for the Senate under its rules. Kane cited a Nevada case in which a city official voted for a casino license for his campaign manager; that case involved a personal, rather than pecuniary, benefit.
Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, said, “So I think what you said is: The bar for disclosure is lower than the standard for voting.” Kane said that's “certainly true,” noting that the presumption is in favor of a senator voting, even after disclosing a potential conflict, to ensure that the senator's district doesn't go unrepresented on the issue.
Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, who serves on the Senate Resources Committee, is now detailing for the Senate Ethics Committee the process of consideration that committee members went through when considering HB 464, the oil and gas development bill that pre-empted county authority over siting of wells. She said under the bill, Payette County, where Pearce lives, “had no more control, could not do their conditional-use permits … had no control of the siting of these additional wells.” She said, “HB 464 speaks to that the state would have the control over the siting, and that the local entities wouldn't. During this whole time, Sen. Pearce never indicated he had a conflict of interest, that he had a lease with the company that was presenting before us.”
She also said Pearce was “instrumental in actually taking it out of the 14th Order and not allowing for amendments for local control and putting it back on the 3rd Reading Calendar, which … nullified the ability for us to make the amendments, which half of the Senate had agreed upon, to take it to the 14th Order.” All that occurred prior to Pearce's conflict-of-interest declaration before the final Senate vote on the bill.
Stennett also told the committee that rules permitting fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, increase the value of existing oil and gas leases. “Those have the potential for financial gain, if they prove to be, with this technology, better producing,” she said.
Senate Assistant Minority Leader Les Bock, D-Boise, an attorney, though one who's no longer practicing, told the Senate Ethics Committee this morning that Senate Resources Chairman Monty Pearce's own declaration that he had a conflict of interest with HB 464, regarding oil and gas developing, that shows he did. “Fact No. 1 is he did say he had a conflict,” Bock said. “Fact No. 2, he voted, at least three times, maybe more times, without disclosing his conflict. He did not tell us whether that conflict influences his vote one way or the other.” He noted that on Nov. 4, “The good senator signed an oil lease with one of the primary proponents of HB 464, who I understand was actually involved with the drafting of HB 464. … Now if this doesn't represent a conflict, I don't know what does.”
Bock, who said he dealt with conflict of interest issues in a former position as corporate secretary of the Albertson's Corporation, said, “This is what I would call a primal example of a conflict of interest, and it should have been disclosed from Day 1.”
Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d'Alene, responded, “I don't see in this case where there is that quid pro quo. With regard to HB 464 … the lease had already been signed. … Doesn't that bill benefit a whole class of people who might in the future want to sign leases, rather than just one individual? If it's one individual, I understand that, it's personal. But we're talking about a whole class of people who are landowners who might possibly lease in the future.”
Bock said, “By no means does there have to be a direct quid pro quo in order to have a conflict.” He said, “Our position is that the good senator came down on the side of expanding his personal interest in (developing) … his property for naturall gas or petroleum … to the extent he ignored the interest of Payette County.”
The Senate Ethics Committee this morning has received a revised complaint from Senate minority leaders and a response from Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, to the ethics complaint against him. The Democrats' revised complaint adds some detail about “pecuniary interest,” saying that Pearce's oil and gas leases on his property stand to increase in value as a result of oil and gas legislation he's supported in the Legislature this year. “The actual personal and financial benefits of this to Senate Pearce cannot be accurately determined without further technical investigation by a qualified expert,” the Democratic leaders wrote. They also noted, “As set forth in Senate Rule 53(B), it is the duty and authority of the ethics committee, not the claimants, to conduct a preliminary investigation using the vast resources at your disposal including the power to take testimony under oath and to issue subpoenas. … This duty to investigate relates not only to possible pecuniary benefits enjoyed by Senator Pearce, but also to any personal benefits that he may enjoy.”
Pearce's letter, from his lawyer, Chuck Peterson, says, “Not a single fact has been advanced that is evidence Senator Pearce's actions would have resulted in his receipt of a private pecuniary benefit. Neither has any fact been alleged that Senator Pearce would be treated differently than other Idahoans with similar oil and gas leases.”
Peterson went through each of the oil and gas bills passed this session and wrote that none created a direct benefit to Pearce. “The complaint against Senator Pearce is wholly without merit,” Peterson wrote. “Whether intended to do so or not, the allegations have unfairly hurt his reputation.”
The committee is now hearing from Senate Assistant Minority Leader Les Bock, D-Boise, on the Democrats' complaint. “Somebody who has a conflict of interest has divided loyalties,” Bock said. “In the committee … he did not reveal his conflict.” He argued that disclosure of conflicts is required when there's any personal benefit, not just a specific “pecuniary” benefit, which means financial benefit.
The Senate has now adjourned until tomorrow, but before it did, there were a couple of announcements: The JFAC meeting scheduled for 8 a.m. tomorrow has been canceled, because several members are on the Senate Ethics Committee that's meeting at the same time; it's been reset for Wednesday at 8 a.m.
Also, Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, announced that Stanton Health Care, a crisis pregnancy center, will sponsor a live ultrasound demonstration in the state Capitol on Wednesday afternoon entitled, “Voices from the Womb.” Three Stanton clients, one in each trimester of pregnancy, will participate, Nuxoll said. “Idaho will be the first state in the nation to have a live ultrasound display in the Statehouse,” she said; however, Ohio's Statehouse hosted a similar demonstration last year, and activists staged a similar demonstration on Capitol Hill last fall. The Idaho demonstration will take place in room WW 53 on the lower level of the state Capitol from noon to 2:30 p.m., Nuxoll said. You can read my full story here on today's Senate passage of SB 1387, the pre-abortion ultrasound bill.
The House has revived and amended - twice - a Senate-passed bill that sought to limit future specialty license plates to government purposes; the bill, which doesn't do that any more, instead now requires several accountability measures for those who sponsor special license plates. This afternoon, the amended bill, SB 1243aa, passed the House on a 51-16 vote; it now returns to the Senate for concurrence in the House amendments.
Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, spoke out against the bill, saying, “It's too exclusive of a process, (it) sets up a lot of red tape.” Rep. Julie Ellsworth, R-Boise, the measure's House sponsor, responded, “We have tried to … incorporate those sideboards that will make specialty license plates still possible but make (sponsors) … more accountable.” She noted that other states are facing lawsuits over specialty plates they've authorized.
The House Commerce Committee has approved SB 1295a, the bill to license massage therapists in Idaho, after extensive testimony, nearly all in favor of the bill. The Senate-passed bill now moves to the full House for a vote.
Suzanne Budge, lobbyist for the American Massage Therapy Association Idaho Chapter, told the committee the bill would set a maximum annual licensing fee of $200, but a licensing board would likely set it lower, just to cover the costs of the program. “They're willing to bear those costs because licensing is important to them,” Budge said. “They … truly believe the time has arrived for Idaho to join these 43 other states including all of our surrounding states, and provide for licensure of this practice here.” Among other provisions, the bill would revoke licensing for anyone who engaged in lewd or unlawful behavior with a client.
Paul Weston, massage therapy coordinator for Gritman Medical Center in Moscow, said the bill “creates entry-level standards for the massage therapy profession.” Currently, he said, “There are no appropriate safeguards for the consumer. … The use of massage therapy has grown exponentially. … It now plays an incredibly important role in individual wellness and health care today.”
The bill would give massage therapists 18 months to become licensed. Budge said Idaho State University trains massage therapists, but has had problems placing students because of Idaho's lack of licensing standards. “You have a person on a table who is much more vulnerable than someone getting their nails painted or their hair cut,” she said. “This gives the state a tool to deal with those individuals.”
The amended version of the “8 in 6” program, a plan to allow some Idaho students to take additional summer or online courses at state expense so they can complete both the first two years of college, two years of junior high and four years of high school all in six years rather than eight, has passed the Senate on a 28-7 vote. Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, said, “They sent us over a framework of an idea, and we had to fill in the missing blanks.”
Goedde said under HB 426a, the first year of the program, next year, wouldn't cost the state additional money because money already budgeted for the Idaho Digital Learning Academy, a state-operated service that provides online classes to Idaho high school students, would go to cover the program's costs. The IDLA is funded for next year, under the budget approved by JFAC, at $1 million less than its level this year. In subsequent years, Goedde said, the “8 in 6” program would cost the state “around $2.3 million dollars that would have to be appropriated … to move this forward.”
The bill now moves back to the House for concurrence in the Senate amendments. The amended bill says the state would pay for additional regular high school courses for high-achieving students, up to two a year for a total of eight per student, so that those students would be eligible to take dual-enrollment courses that carry college credit in their final two years of high school; the state wouldn't pay for the dual-enrollment courses. Only 10 percent of Idaho students could participate in the program.
The Senate is has voted 24-10 in favor of SB 1348a, Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll's bill to forbid health care providers from withholding food or medication to dying patients without the patient's consent. Nuxoll said pro-life groups support her bill. Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, asked the Senate, “What problem are we solving?” He said, “I'm a bit mystified.”
Schmidt, a doctor and former county coroner, said, “I just don't see the need for this bill, and I'm going to be voting against it.” He objected to Nuxoll's contention that doctors don't have to provide care if they think it'd be “futile.” Said Schmidt, “I'm going to totally disagree with that. We should always give care. … I have cared for many people through their illnesses and up to their deaths. We always give care. The appropriateness of the care … is a question that lies between the patient and their physician.”
Nuxoll told the Senate, “This is a balance between extremes of keeping patients alive by machines … and letting patients die. … I would just ask you senators to make sure, how would you feel when you're in the hospital receiving treatment for whatever. Don't you want to make sure that is the treatment that you want? That is what this bill does.” The bill now moves to a House committee.
Washington is among the least “corruptible” states in the nation, while Idaho placed 40th out of 50 in a scorecard released Monday, reports S-R reporter Jim Camden. Two watchdog organizations, the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity joined with Public Radio International and journalists around the country to score the states on some 330 points involving a wide array of government activities. (Disclosure here: I was the Idaho reporter on this project.) The scores were then tallied, and letter grades assigned; no state got an A. Washington ranked third in the nation.
Idaho, by contrast, got As for its redistricting and internal audit processes, but Fs for a lack of laws that allow residents to keep its executive and legislative officials accountable, determine whether its civil service and pension fund are well managed, and having no agency assigned to monitor or enforce ethics laws. Idaho's overall grade was a D-minus; you can read Camden's full story here at spokesman.com; see Idaho's full report card here, and read my full report here for the State Integrity Investigation.
Medical care is so poor at an Idaho state prison that it amounts to neglect and cruel and unusual punishment, the AP reports, according to a report that was unsealed Monday. Correctional health care expert Dr. Marc Stern said there have been some improvements at the Idaho State Correctional Institution south of Boise. But terminal and long-term inmates sometimes went unfed, nursing mistakes or failure likely resulted in some deaths, and one inmate wasn't told for seven months that he likely had cancer, reports Associated Press reporter Rebecca Boone; click below for her full report.
The House has recessed its after-lunch session to 4 p.m., while the Senate will be back on the floor at 3 p.m….
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The House has approved a bill that would cap annual general fund spending at a little more than 5 percent of total amount of Idaho's total taxable income. The bill approved 48-21 Monday would set the cap at 5.33 percent on the total amount of taxable income estimated by state tax officials each year. The measure also requires that any revenue above that cap be used to replenish state rainy day accounts before dealing with tax relief. House Republican Majority Leader Mike Moyle says the cap signals the GOP commitment to keeping government lean and making sure taxpayers get back what the state doesn't need. Democrats and a handful of Republicans objected. House Minority Leader John Rusche said 5.33 percent is too low and ignores the increasing demands on government.
Ten House Republicans have voted against a non-binding memorial backing improved cooperation with Canada on trade and security, but HJM 13 passed the House, 56-10, and now moves to the Senate. The memorial, co-sponsored by Reps. George Eskridge, R-Dover, and Max Black, R-Boise, and Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, recognizes that the U.S. and Canada are each other's largest single export market, and calls for Congress and the federal administration to work together to carry out the “Beyond the Border Action Plan” released in December 2011, pursuant to an initiative announced a year earlier by the president of the United States and the prime minister of Canada.
Eskridge told the House, “39,900 jobs in our state depend on Canada-U.S. trade; 34 Canadian-owned companies in Idaho employ 2,742 people. And in terms of Idaho exports, we sell more goods to Canada than to any other country in the world. These numbers point to an excellent opportunity to look to our closest neighbor to increase our jobs.” The action plan is aimed at streamlining cross-border trade and travel while providing for improved intelligence sharing on security.
Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, expressed concerns about “cross-border policing” as part of the two nations' cooperative efforts, and opposed the measure, as did nine other House Republicans, including North idaho Reps. Phil Hart, R-Athol; Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton; and Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries.
Here's how Idaho senators voted on SB 1387, the bill to require Idaho women to undergo an ultrasound before they could have an abortion; the bill passed 23-12 and now heads to a House committee:
Voting in favor: Sens. Andreason, Bair, Brackett, Cameron, Darrington, Davis, Fulcher, Heider, Hill, Johnson, Lodge, McKague, McKenzie, Mortimer, Nuxoll, Pearce, Rice, Siddoway, Smyser, Tippets, Toryanski, Vick, and Winder.
Voting against: Sens. Bilyeu, Bock, Broadsword, Corder, Goedde, Hammond, Keough, LeFavour, Malepeai, Schmidt, Stennett, and Werk.
The Senate has voted 23-12 in favor of SB 1387, the pre-abortion ultrasound requirement. Retiring Sen. Diane Bilyeu, D-Pocatello, rising to explain her vote, said, “You know, fellow senators, as a woman, and as a person of faith, this bill makes me want to cry. I want an end to abortion as well as all of you do, and I am totally opposed to abortion except in the case of rape, incest or the life of the mother. But I find this bill to be intrusive into my faith and it is punitive as a woman. This senator votes no.”
In his closing debate in favor of SB 1387, Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, said, “This bill does not require a trans-vaginal exam. … It leaves that up to the patient and the physician to make that determination.” He said, “Rape and incest was used as a reason to oppose this. I would hope that when a woman goes in to a physician with a rape issue, that physician will indeed ask her about perhaps her marriage, was this pregnancy caused by normal relations in a marriage or was it truly caused by a rape. I assume that's part of the counseling that goes on.”
Winder said, “I believe the state does have an interest in the life of the unborn. That's what the debate's about. Does it add cost? Yes, it does. I would just ask you to consider the pricelessness of the unborn.” He noted the Senate's recent commemoration of military members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan in the past year. “Each person has a life story,” Winder said. “Those were cut short. Let's not choose to cut others short.”
Senators puzzled over rule books and gathered in back rooms during a 10-minute break in the SB 1387 debate, the pre-abortion ultrasound bill; then the Senate reconvened, and Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, withdrew his request to be excused from voting.
As the vote nears on SB 1387, the pre-abortion ultrasound bill, Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, rose and said, “Senators, I feel deeply conflicted here. I, like the good senator from 30, also have two daughters of child-bearing age, both are unwed. Now depending upon the, what shall I say, opportunities that they have and the choices that they make, they may be in a situation that this bill could have a profound effect on our family. And because of that, Mr. President, I move that I may be excused from the vote.” Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill said such a motion requires a two-thirds vote, but Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis objected, saying the motion required a second. Hill ruled that it didn't. “The rules say that a senator can ask to be recused,” he said.
Davis then asked to place the Senate at ease.
Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, posed a question to Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, the only practicing physician in the Senate. “I'm calling on you as a physician,” Goedde said. “I heard the good senator from 25 (Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum), talk about pregnancies 10 weeks of duration and the requirement for establishing fetal heartbeat. Can that be done with other than a trans-vaginal sonogram?” Schmidt responded, “It depends on the position of the embryo, it depends on the position of the uterus, it depends on the size of the woman. But most, from my experience, most ultrasonographers would argue that the information could be obtained through a trans-vaginal ultrasound. An abdominal ultrasound done across the abdomen would be limited.”
Sen. Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello, said if he were king for a day, he'd excuse all male legislators from considering SB 1387 and replace them with women. “I have no idea, I have no idea, what a woman goes through when they make these kinds of decisions,” he said.
Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, responded, “I can assure you that I have discussed this issue with my wife many many times at great length. She has borne four children. Three of those children were alive when they were born and one was not. And I can tell you that I am pleased to do whatever I can to protect innocent human life. I support this legislation because I believe that it gives the unborn one more chance to make the case that they should live, and to me that overrides the other concerns that I might have about this bill.”
Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise, said, “We are talking about an elective procedure.” He compared SB 1387, the bill requiring Idaho women to undergo an ultrasound before they could have an abortion, to requiring that an organ donor go through a blood screening, or requiring a medical exam for a private pilot's license. “Government requires medical screening in many cases,” he said. “The use of a screening device to provide information, it is hardly novel.”
Retiring Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d'Alene, said, “In my last primary election, I had an opponent who alleged that I was pro-abortion, of all things. I don't think anyone is pro-abortion. … In the years that I've served in this body, I've had to examine my own heart and my own beliefs in regards to this issue. … I fell down to the side of the unborn. And my views on that have not changed.” But Hammond spoke against SB 1387.
“In my private life, I teach employers and employees how to better manage their health care benefits, how to keep costs down. One of the things that we teach them is avoid unnecessary procedures. Question your doctor - that's not something we've been taught to do. Question your doctor, ask them is this really necessary, is this really appropriate. … My problem with this bill is it kind of flies in the face of that because it forces procedures on you whether you wish them or not, and that's the kind of stuff that raises health care costs. We often talk about less government, about the government being too intrusive. I have a concern that here we're intruding in an area that belongs between a physician, a patient, and maybe that patient's clergy. Because no one should be required to have a medical procedure they don't wish to receive.”
He told the Senate, “I hope this bill isn't just another litmus test to prove that you're truly a conservative. There seems to be a presumption that a woman considering abortion is uninformed and needs government guidance. … But I would submit that rather than government guidance, their guidance should come from their physician and their family and their clergy.”
Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, addressing questions about why SB 1387 would require a rape or incest victim to undergo an ultrasound before having an abortion, told the Senate that a third of rape victims “keep their babies, well not keep their babies, but give life to their babies.” She compared the bill to recently passed legislation requiring information about the manufacture of honey that's sold in the state. “Here we require information about food. Why can't we require information about woman?” Nuxoll asked the Senate. She said, “This bill is needed for women's rights and dignity.”
Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said, “The absence of an exclusion for victims of rape, incest or medical emergencies disturbs me. A mandated medical procedure would be a second assault on these victims.” She also said the bill conflicts with the Idaho Medical Consent Act. Stennett said she researched state-mandated medical procedures, and could only find a forced blood draw in certain DUI cases and lethal injection for execution. “Senators, with this bill we treat a woman like a criminal before she takes any action,” she said. “SB 1387 takes the decision away from the woman and places it in the hands of the state.”
Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, said, “Those are important rights, but we're also talking about another right, and that is the right to life.” He said, “I cannot see a point other than conception at which I can determine that life begins.” Quoting from “Horton Hears a Who,” Rice said, “A person is a person, no matter how small.”
The Senate is taking up SB 1387, the pre-abortion ultrasound bill. “Fellow senators, you've been bombarded with emails over the last week or so,” Senate Assistant Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, told the Senate. “I can tell you that I come here with no malice or no judgment. I stand here with a heart that offers forgiveness, offers understanding, and offers compassion.” He noted that Idaho passed a law in 2006 regarding pre-abortion ultrasounds, though it didn't, like SB 1387, require every Idaho woman who has an abortion to first undergo an ultrasound, whether or not the patient or doctor want one.
Winder said he won't answer any questions from other senators during this morning's debate, as is customarily done; instead, he said, he'll make note of questions and answer them in his closing debate. “It's out of the respect for you and your position, you may not agree with this, but in order to keep the civility and the emotional level intact, I do request that that be honored,” Winder said.
Senate Ethics Committee Chairman Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, ruled that the Senate minority leaders must provide more specifics on their ethics complaint against Senate Resources Chairman Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, by 8 a.m. tomorrow, including the “specific definition for private pecuniary gain being alleged.” Senate Minority Leader Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello, said, “I will comply with whatever the committee desires. If that's your request, we will certainly make an effort to respond.”
Defense Attorney Chuck Peterson, representing Pearce, then asked the committee to delay its request to have Pearce respond in writing to the complaint; he's already been asked to respond by 8 a.m. tomorrow. “Rather than speculate on our part as to what the proposed pecuniary benefit might be,” Peterson said, “… if the committee could give us 24 hours to respond… that would seem appropriate.”
However, after some discussion, Mortimer ruled that the committee's request for response from Pearce by 8 a.m. tomorrow stands. “If the committee feels that there is benefit by having them respond by 8 a.m., I am sure that Sen. Pearce and Mr. Peterson would respond more than once,” he said, to which Peterson responded, “We're happy to do that, senator.”
The ethics committee then adjourned until 8 a.m. tomorrow.
As the Senate Ethics Committee continued discussing the definitions of conflict of interest and Senate disclosure rules this morning, Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d'Alene, said, “Most of the time we try to err on the side of making sure that we do disclose rather than not, even though it's a bit of a stretch in terms of personal conflict.” Kane said that's not uncommon. “You have two courts, and I may be able to get you a win in the legal court,” he said, “but that does not equate to a win in the court of public opinion, as you have identified.”
To determine if a state senator had a conflict of interest, Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane told the Idaho Senate Ethics Committee this morning, “The real key is are you creating legislation that benefits you more personally than it does everyone else.”
Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, told Kane, “I appreciate all of this - it's extraordinarily helpful.” Senators on the panel have had numerous questions for Kane about the rules, the laws, and the definitions; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com on this morning's convening of the Senate Ethics Committee for the first time in seven years; it's investigating a complaint against Senate Resources Chairman Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, for not disclosing that he'd signed oil and gas leases on his Payette County property while voting 22 times in committee and in the full Senate on oil and gas legislation. Pearce revealed his conflict last week before the full Senate's vote on the final and most controversial measure, HB 464.
“The sunshine of disclosure cleanses your interest,” Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane told the Senate Ethics Committee this morning, “because now it puts everyone on notice that you have competing interests within a piece of legislation, meaning you have interests as a private citizen, and you also have interests within the public trust. It lets everyone know, 'This is where my legislator is coming from.' And then they can make an appropriate decision as to whether the legislator has appropriately quantified and represented … that interest.”
The decision then “comes home to roost at the ballot box,” Kane said, when voters can decide, with all the information, whether they believe a legislator is appropriately representing them. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com on the Senate Ethics Committee convening for the first time in seven years.
Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane told the Senate Ethics Committee this morning that there is a “broad presumption” that a senator may vote on a bill, even despite a conflict of interest. “This preference for voting arises from the strong interest in insuring that a Senator's constituents do not find themselves unrepresented on a piece of legislation,” he said. “The rule requires disclosure, but once disclosure is made, a senator may fully participate in all proceedings of the Senate, through its committees and the body as a whole.”
Kane noted that the Senate's ethics rule regarding conflicts of interest specifically cites committees as well as the full Senate. “You'll notice in the second line there that it includes the word 'committees,'” he said.
The ethics complaint against Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, is for failing to disclose a conflict regarding oil and gas legislation; he has maintained that he wasn't required to make such disclosures in committee, and that he really only had a conflict with the final bill, HB 464, on which he made a disclosure before the full Senate vote. According to the complaint, he cast 22 previous votes in committee or in the full Senate, on both rules and legislation, without disclosing that he holds oil and gas leases on his Payette County property, including one signed in November.
Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee, announced that as required by Senate rule, he has notified Senate Resources Chairman Monty Pearce of the ethics complaint against him. “He has until 8 a.m. tomorrow … to respond in writing if he so chooses,” Mortimer said. “The purpose of this committee is only to determine whether a conflict of interest requiring disclosure exists or existed.”
Mortimer added, “Our objective today will be to define and make sure that we understand conflict of interest.” The committee will meet again tomorrow at 8 a.m., he said. “I'm sure that is when we will start into the particulars of the complaint. But I think we've got our work really cut out for us even today to define conflict of interest.”
Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, has arrived for this morning's Senate Ethics Committee with attorney Chuck Peterson, one of the state's leading criminal defense attorneys. Peterson defended Randy Weaver in the Ruby Ridge case; was part of the team defending Sami al-Hussayen against terrorism charges and defended 14-year-old Zachary Neagle on charges of murdering his father.
This morning's meeting will mainly consist of orientation for the ethics committee members, who consist of six senators evenly divided between the two parties. Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane will brief the senators about the applicable laws and rules. Pearce is accused of ethics violations for failing to disclose he signed oil and gas leases on his Payette County property, before voting on numerous pieces of legislation and rules in committee and in the full Senate on oil and gas drilling. He disclosed the conflict before the full Senate's vote last week on the most controversial bill, HB 464.
Boise Police arrested Cynthia Clinkingbeard, 58, Boise - a Democratic candidate for Congress in the 1st District - for aggravated assault on Friday night, after she entered a store and threatened workers there with a gun, the Idaho Statesman reports. Clinkingbeard, a physician whose medical license was revoked in 2005, filed last week to run against former professional football player and Lewiston native Jimmy Farris in the Democratic primary for a chance to take on GOP 1st District Congressman Raul Labrador. You can read the Statesman's full report here.
On tonight's “Idaho Reports,” I join Jim Weatherby, Scott Logan, host Greg Hahn to discuss the legislative developments of the week, from the Senate ethics issue to cigarette taxes to animal cruelty. The program also includes Hahn's interviews with longtime Sen. Denton Darrington, R-Declo; and with House Education Chairman Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene; a report on local-control issues in this year's legislative session; and more.
The show airs tonight at 8 p.m. on Idaho Public Television; and will be replayed on Boise State Public Radio on Sunday at 6 p.m. After it airs, “Idaho Reports” also can be viewed online at www.idahoptv.org/idreports/.
Some Idaho communities have begun charging people who get involved in car accidents “incident response fees” in the hundreds of dollars, and Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa, said lawmakers want to “limit this new practice and kind of nip it in the bud before it becomes entrenched in the state.” The House agreed with her today, passing HB 647 on a 54-7 vote and sending the measure to the Senate.
“We should be opposed to allowing local governments to bill for emergency services that are already being paid for by property tax dollars - this amounts to a form of double taxation,” Perry told the House. 'Our emergency responders are not businesses designed to make a profit, but their expertise does lie in the emergency care and public protection. They receive tax dollars to carry out their mission.”
Perry said cities, counties and insurance companies all agreed to the legislation, though fire districts opposed it. She cited fees charged in Idaho including one person charged $435 an hour for “scene assessment and stabilization,” and in another case, an invoice to cover responders' lunches. “The act of charging citizens for simply responding to accidents is bad policy and a form of double taxation on the taxpayer,” Perry said.
The bill applies only to responses to motor vehicle accidents, and doesn't prohibit charges for ambulance or EMT services, towing, or repairs to public property. It also wouldn't apply to emergency search-and-rescue charges, which are assessed against people who enter closed areas and then require search and rescue. The bill was co-sponsored by House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star.
The Senate Committee on Ethics will meet Monday at 8 a.m. in room WW17 on the lower level of the state Capitol, committee Chairman Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, has announced. The six-member, bipartisan panel will investigate an ethics complaint against Senate Resources Chairman Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, regarding non-disclosure of a conflict of interest in oil and gas legislation. You can listen live to the meeting online; a link on the Legislature's main page, under “Announcements,” will connect to the audio stream.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho lawmakers decided battlefield training is no substitute for a good hunter safety course. A Senate committee Friday unanimously rejected exempting military members from having to take a hunter education course before getting a hunting license. The measure had cleared the House 49-21, but it raised Senate Resources Committee members' eyebrows. They questioned why a three- or four-hour course was really such an onerous requirement. Panelists also underscored that hunter safety courses cover ground that even people well-versed in field stripping their weapons would find useful before heading out in pursuit of game. Rep. Lynn Luker of Boise sponsored the bill after hearing from an Iraq veteran who decided on a spur-of-the-moment hunting trip — but was blocked by the course requirement from immediately being able to purchase a license.
Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, has named the six members of a Senate Ethics Committee that will investigate a complaint against Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth. Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, will chair the panel.
The other members are Sens. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson; Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d'Alene; Elliot Werk, D-Boise; Diane Bilyeu, D-Pocatello; and Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow.
“The committee will make a preliminary investigation of the complaint,” Hill said in a news release. “If, after the investigation, the committee determines no violation has occurred, the complaint will be dismissed. If the committee determines probable cause exists that a violation may have occurred, Senator Pearce may request a hearing before the committee. Based on the investigation and hearings, the committee may recommend dismissal of the charges, reprimand, censure, or expulsion.” You can read the full news release here.
Hill also said he won't go along with Senate Democrats' request that Pearce be removed from his chairmanship of the Senate Resources Committee while the complaint is investigated. “Any decision regarding his chairmanship will not be made based on mere allegations,” Hill said.
Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill said he's close to making the appointments for a six-member Senate Ethics Committee to handle a complaint against Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, charging undeclared conflict of interest. Hill said he's still trying to reach two potential appointees to see if they can serve; once that's settled, he plans to issue a news release. By Senate rules, Hill will appoint six members including the panel's chair; three of those will be with the concurrence of the Senate's minority leader.
Also to be addressed in the news release: Hill's response to Senate Democrats' requests that Pearce be removed from his chairmanship of the Senate Resources Committee and recuse himself from any votes on oil and gas issues while the issue is pending. The complaint charges that Pearce failed to disclose that he'd signed oil and gas leases on his Payette County property before 22 votes in committee and in the full Senate on oil and gas legislation; he disclosed the leases before the Senate's vote Wednesday on HB 464, the most controversial of the oil and gas bills taken up by the Legislature this year.
Late yesterday, Pearce released a statement, saying in part, “As a landowner, the only measure where I could have a conflict was H464, and on that bill I made the proper declaration.” Pearce said today that he can't comment further. “I've got an attorney, and I guess I've been told to keep my mouth shut,” he said. “It's political assassination, that's all I can say.” He added, “I maintain I will be cleared.”
The House has passed the budget bill for the state Department of Environmental Quality for next year on a 42-23 vote, sending it to the governor's desk. Under the bill, SB 1359, DEQ will get a 3.5 percent increase in state general funds next year, but just a 0.8 percent increase in total funds; with deep budget cuts in recent years going unrestored, the department will be funded next year at a level below its state funding in 2001. The budget is very close to the governor's recommendation, but adds $50,000 each to restore funding for the Pend Oreille Lakes Commission and the Bear Lake Regional Commission. Both were zero-funded last year amid budget cuts.
The Idaho Democratic Party has responded to Sen. Monty Pearce's charge that an ethics complaint against him from Senate Democrats is “political” and a partisan-motivated attempt to sully his reputation. “There is nothing political about insisting that our statesmen act like statesmen and follow the rules,” the party said in a news release today. “It is past time that they hold themselves to a high ethical standard.” Click below to read their full statement.
The Democrats also released a copy of Pearce's Nov. 4, 2011 lease to Snake River Oil and Gas, along with a copy of a redacted lease from Bridge Energy, another company, for comparison; the Snake River lease says Pearce will get 1/8 of the oil and 1/8 of the gross proceeds of the revenues from natural gas pumped from 288 acres of his Payette County property.
The Senate won't get to SB 1387, the controversial bill to require Idaho women to undergo an ultrasound before they have an abortion, this week. The measure had been second-up on the Senate's 3rd Reading Calendar this morning, but the Senate spent much of the morning on a resolution commemorating service members who died in Iraq and Afghanistan in the past year. Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, told the Senate just now, “I made a commitment to several members on this floor, because of limited flight opportunities … I'd have a hard adjournment time of noon today. In order to do that and finish the work I have still in the 11th and the 12th orders of business, I don't believe I'm going to have the time to pick up either of the first two bills in the 13th order of business. So it is my intent to hold … those two pieces of legislation.” He said, “I thought I'd let you know now, so that you can plan your debate accordingly.”
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter has signed legislation creating a $5 million plan intended to bolster university research and businesses that can help grow Idaho's economy. Otter's signature this week caps one of his chief priorities heading into the 2012 Legislature. In January, the Republican governor urged lawmakers to get behind his so-called Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission — or IGEM. The goal is to get cutting-edge research being done at Idaho universities to commercial markets more quickly. Otter says IGEM sends a signal to the world that Idaho is ready to enter a new era of opportunity, collaboration and innovation. The plan would put $1 million toward grants for startup businesses or technologies, as well as $2 million each for the Center for Advanced Energy Studies and Idaho's three research universities.
After much debate, the House has decided by unanimous consent to return HB 662, the bill to declare the National Guard Youth Challenge program an alternative secondary school and make it eligible for state funding, to committee. Lawmakers have struggled to find ways to support the proposed school in Pierce in north-central Idaho, but Gov. Butch Otter didn't recommend state funding in his proposed budget for next year, and there are questions about possible federal funding.
The House has voted 50-13 in favor of HB 651, the bill to give Idaho's judges and justices the same 2 percent pay hike next year that most state employees will get; it'll be the first raise lawmakers have funded either for judges or state workers in four years. “The judges would probably really appreciate it,” said Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry; no one debated against the bill, which now moves to the Senate side.
The Senate is commemorating the seven Idaho servicemen who died serving in Iraq and Afghanistan in the past year with SCR 133, a resolution honoring them. The seven are U.S. Army Private First Class Robert Near, who has ties to the Nampa area; U.S. Army Sergeant Nathan Beyers of Coeur d'Alene; U.S. Army Specialist Nicholas Newby of Coeur d'Alene; U.S. Army Sergeant Devin Daniels of Council; U.S. Army Specialist Robert Dyas of Nampa; U.S. Army Sergeant Ryan Sharp of Idaho Falls; and U.S. Marine Corps Lance Corporal Kenneth Cochran of Wilder.
Senators, including Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, shown here, are sharing memories and stories about the seven young men. Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, shared with emotion his experience in Coeur d'Alene when two of the young men's bodies were returned there. “There were people lining the streets,” he said. Said Davis, “We as a Senate recognize, honor and memorialize their ultimate sacrifice.” You can read the resolution here.
The House has passed HB 659, the budget for Idaho's colleges and universities for next year, which sponsor Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls, noted includes an 8.4 percent funding increase over this year - but only after a 26.4 percent funding decrease since 2009. The increase is mostly for new research initiatives and to cover anticipated enrollment growth next year; it doesn't restore the past cuts. The budget bill now moves to the Senate. Several House members said they wished the budget was more generous but would support it because it showed an increase; Rep. Lenore Barrett, R-Challis, said she'd oppose it because she thought the state had been more than generous to education. The House vote was 58-9.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Faculty leaders at the University of Idaho want the state Board of Education to reconsider removing the term “flagship” from the school's mission statement. The board approved updated mission statements for Idaho's public universities in February. The University of Idaho in Moscow was founded in 1889 and is the state's oldest. The word “flagship” was added to a proposed new mission statement last year, though school officials have long used the word to brand the university. The board, however, didn't deem the term appropriate and it was struck. In a resolution circulated to the media Thursday, the university's Faculty Senate expressed “profound disappointed” with the Feb. 16 omission. Faculty called on the board trustees to reconsider their decision at their April meeting in Moscow.
The House has voted 40-27 in favor of HB 594a, Rep. Dennis Lake's bill to “sweep” budget surpluses into the budget stabilization fund whenever they occur. House Appropriations Chair Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, spoke against the bill, saying it conflicts with the budget process the state follows, which includes supplemental appropriations that lawmakers examine and approve to cover unanticipated expenses during the budget year. Bell said under the bill, they'd have to tap the stabilization fund whenever such issues came up. “It should be a savings account, not a checking account,” she said.
The bill now moves to the Senate side, where its fate is uncertain this late in the legislative session.
Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, the subject of an ethics inquiry in the Senate over failing to disclose a conflict of interest through numerous committee and full Senate votes on oil and gas rules and legislation, tells the Associated Press he did nothing wrong, pointing out that he did disclose during Senate-floor debate on Wednesday over House Bill 464 that he had leases dating back to the 1980s for oil and gas. Pearce's latest leases in western Idaho are to Snake River Oil and Gas, one of the main companies behind the 2012 legislation.
Pearce told the AP he believed the complaint against him was a partisan-motivated effort to sully his reputation. He also contends Senate rules don't require him to disclose potential conflicts during committee hearings, only during floor votes when he's required to tell the lieutenant governor of potential conflicts before voting.
“This is political,” he said. “As a landowner, the only measure where I could have a conflict was House Bill 464, and on that bill, I made the proper declaration. In short, I met the spirit and letter of Senate rules. I look forward to clearing my name and receiving an apology from those who made these baseless allegations.”
Idaho's Senate minority caucus has backed its leadership's call for an ethics committee on non-disclosure of a conflict of interest by Senate Resources Chairman Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, and the ethics panel likely will be convened within the next 24 hours. “If that's what they decide, then that's what we'll do,” said Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, just before the Senate convened at 4:30 this afternoon; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com. After the late-day session, majority and minority leadership will meet to receive the word from the minority caucus.
Senate Democrats filed an ethics complaint today charging that Pearce failed to disclose his conflict of interest - that he has oil and gas leases on his property in Payette County - prior to 22 votes in committee or on the floor of the Senate, before finally disclosing the conflict yesterday prior to a final vote on HB 464, a controversial bill that passed the Senate 24-10. Pearce, who wasn't immediately available for comment, told the Idaho Statesman today that he had simply not thought about the potential conflict until the final vote, and had held the leases since the 1980s.
Senate Minority Caucus Chair Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said, “We were all in agreement that we would ask for an ethics panel to be put together. That was the decision of the caucus.”
She said, “We've been talking all session about making sure that we operate in transparency.” She said Senate ethics rules are “fairly broad and very loose,” and while serving on a bipartisan House-Senate ethics working group this session, she concluded they need strengthening.
Meanwhile, she said, “We are responsible. … The first line of fire is for us to monitor each other as senators, and that's why we're doing this.”
Stennett, who serves on the Resources Committee, said, “I have a tremendous amount of respect for Sen. Pearce - I mean no ill will.” Its clear that “it was required by the rules to say that he has a conflict of interest, and he never did,” she said, until the surprise announcement Wednesday during the HB 464 debate. “We want to follow the process. … We just felt like we couldn't be quiet about this.”
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Small breweries in Idaho are toasting a plan under debate by House lawmakers that would lift restrictions on investing in more than one company that brews beer. The House State Affairs Committee said “cheers” Thursday to a measure that could generate 25 new jobs initially by dumping limits on brewers who make less than 30,000 barrels of beer per year. Wineries already enjoy freedom to hold a financial stake in multiple enterprises; brewers are limited to one. Professional brewer Fred Colby is helping lead the charge. He owns Laughing Dog Brewery in Ponderay, the second-largest microbrewery in Idaho, but says the antiquated Idaho law forced him to renounce his stake in an up-and-coming new brewery, Selkirk Abbey in Post Falls. Idaho has more than 20 breweries, with three more set to open in 2012.
The Senate-passed bill to ease the restriction, SB 1344, heads to the House for a final vote; it's sponsored by all three District 1 lawmakers: Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint; and Reps. George Eskridge, R-Dover; and Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake.
As State Board of Education Member Milford Terrell came up for his confirmation hearing this afternoon in the Senate Education Committee, Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, grilled him about the board's decision to remove the word “flagship” from the University of Idaho's mission statement. Terrell, who has served on the board since 2003, is a BSU alum and former president of the Bronco Athletic Association.
Before he even came in for questioning, Terrell brought up the “flagship” issue. “Of the 73 land grant institutions in the United States, only six include the word flagship” in their mission statements, he told the committee. “Those are lead institutions for a statewide university system.” An example, he said, is Maine, where he said the University of Maine's mission statement calls it “the flagship campus of the University of Maine system, so that state is one system. It has all the schools under one umbrella, with a flagship where the president resides, and then has chancellors under him.” Click below for more on the exchange.
After a long and passionate debate, the House has killed HB 585a on a 32-36 vote, short-circuiting Majority Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts' legislation to ease Boise County's ability to cope with a multimillion-dollar court judgment. “In comparison, this would be like a $3 billion lawsuit against the state of Idaho - that's the magnitude of what we're dealing with as compared to their budget,” Roberts told the House. “The reason I believe it's the right thing to do is because No. 1, the bill is due and payable - whether there's a vote or not the bill is due and payable. … I work for the taxpayers of this state, and the best way I know how to work for the taxpayers in this county is to provide them the best deal to pay an existing bill.”
Among those debating vociferously against the bill was House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star. The bill would have allowed the county to sell bonds to cover its $5.4 million debt from the court judgment, and raise taxes without a vote to pay off the bonds; under current law, Roberts said, because the county is up against levy limits, it couldn't legally raise taxes even with a vote, though it's obligated to pay the judgment.
Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, met behind closed doors with all members of both the Senate's minority and majority leadership, and then briefly with Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth. When he emerged, he said an ethics committee could be convened within 24 hours on the Democrats' complaint against Pearce, though it's not clear yet whether that will happen or not. “We're just trying to decide the best way forward,” Hill said. “'We don't want to cover anything up. We're working with the minority party. They're not sure that an ethics committee is the best way forward, neither are we.”
Both the Senate Democrats and the Senate Republicans then headed into closed-door caucuses.
Hill mused, “Maybe an ethics committee is the best way to determine … if there are violations out there.” The state's conflict-of-interest laws are “fairly technical,” he said, and raise issues about “whether something applies to a class of people or to an individual.” He said, “Intent or lack of intent, as in most things in the law, can affect punishment.”
Asked about Lt. Gov. Brad Little, who broke a tie vote on a procedural issue on an oil and gas bill and who also has leases on his land, Hill said, “We have no jurisdiction over the executive branch of government, only with our members do we have any jurisdiction at all.” Hill noted that he chaired a Senate ethics committe a number of years ago. “We're working through the system,” he said. “We want to take care of it immediately.”
After minority leaders confer with their caucus members, Hill said Senate majority leaders will talk with them again. “If they want to request an ethics committee, I have to put one together,” he said. “I would probably do that within the next 24 hours.”
Idaho's Senate minority leadership has filed an ethics complaint against Senate Resources Chairman Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, alleging that he voted 22 times in committee or on the Senate floor on oil and gas issues before finally disclosing, before the Senate's final vote on HB 464, that he had a conflict of interest in that he had oil and gas leases on his land in Payette County. Senate ethics rules permit senators to vote despite a conflict, after having disclosed it. Pearce told Idaho Statesman reporter Rocky Barker today that he had simply not thought about the potential conflict until the final vote, and had held the leases since the 1980s. “I vote on an animal cruelty bill and I have animals,” he told Barker. “I vote on water rights and I’ve got water rights.” You can read Barker's full post here.
The Democrats, Senate Minority Leader Edgar Malepeai, Assistant Minority Leader Les Bock and Minority Caucus Chair Michelle Stennett asked Hill to launch an ethics investigation, and requested that, while that's pending, Pearce be immediately removed as Senate Resources chairman and recuse himself from voting on “any matters pertaining to the oil and gas industry.”
The Democrats, in their complaint, wrote of Pearce's disclosure yesterday, “This revelation was shocking to colleagues who had witnessed Senator Pearce repeatedly vote on issues relating to oil and gas in the Senate Resources and Environment Committee as Chairman, and on the floor of the Senate without revealing his conflict of interest as required by Senate Rule 39H.”
Senate Rule 39H says, “Right to Vote. — (H) A Senator has the right to vote upon all questions before the Senate and to participate in the business of the Senate and its committees and, in so doing, the Senator is presumed to act in good faith and in the public interest. If a Senator has a conflict of interest under applicable law, such conflict must be disclosed to the presiding officer in writing or to the body. Upon disclosure of any such conflict, the Senator may vote upon any question or issue to which the conflict relates, unless the Senator requests to be excused. “
The Senate is following a bit of an odd schedule today, recessing now until 2 p.m., coming back on the floor briefly, then breaking again for a closed-door majority caucus. That will end by 3 to allow for scheduled 3 p.m. committee meetings, and the Senate will come back into session at 4:30 p.m. for an hour or hour-and-a-half. Meanwhile, the House is still debating HB 585a, Rep. Ken Roberts' bill regarding Boise County's financial problems in the wake of a big court judgment; just now, Majority Leader Mike Moyle called for a recess until 1:15. The House spent more than an hour this morning debating HB 542a, Rep. Judy Boyle's bill regarding hunting on ATV's; it passed on a 48-21 vote.
The Senate has voted 22-12 to lift all caps on creation of new charter schools in Idaho, both the six-per-year cap and the one-per-school-district cap. The House-passed bill, HB 481, now heads to the governor's desk. Backers said Idaho's caps make the state not seem “charter-friendly,” and have hurt the chances for federal and private foundation grants for charter schools.
Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, said, “I had some concerns about this from a financial impact on small districts, where a small district might be faced with more than one charter coming into that district in one year. I was assured by the charter school commission personnel that one of the things they consider, when they consider new petitions, is the impact on a local school district, and it would be highly unusual if two charters could ever be … set up in one year in a small district.”
Goedde said there are “six or seven” in the works, and Idaho could get more than six new ones next year if the governor signs the bill into law. “It should be just a one-year aberration,” he said, rather than “open(ing) the floodgates.”
Opponents said the sudden creation of lots of charter schools would destabilize school district funding, by shifting funds to follow students to the new charter schools, while fixed costs, like electricity, remain the same in the traditional schools those students leave. Sen Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, who said she's a strong supporter of charter schools, said, “What we do not fund at the state level becomes a property tax mandate.” She warned that lifting the cap would result in higher property taxes. Sen. Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello, said, “There may be a time when we may have to look at this and remove that cap. I don't believe right now is a good time, under the economic circumstances that we're looking at in this state.”
But Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, said, “Charter schools are public schools. A lot of our public don't understand that. … To me, it's a matter of choice.”
The House has voted 66-2 in favor of HB 551, legislation from Rep. Carlos Bilbao, R-Emmett, to allow county coroners to order unclaimed bodies cremated, not just buried. “Unfortunately, it is a common occurrence that upon a death, a body does not get claimed,” Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, told the House. “They may find relatives in another state, but commonly relatives in another state simply don't care, and the body then becomes an issue for the county commissioners to solve.” Currently, he said, unclaimed bodies may remain in funeral home morgues at county expense, with the costs falling on the county indigent fund.
If the unclaimed body is that of a veteran, Henderson said the ashes after cremation will be sent to the nearest veterans' cemetery. The bill now moves to the Senate side.
The Senate has voted 25-8 in favor of SB 1358a, the long-sought anti-bullying law. The bill clarifies the definition of bullying in Idaho schools, an infraction; requires school districts to have policies and to train staff on the issue, and to report and address cases of bullying.
Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, the bill's lead sponsor, told the Senate, “The state Department of Education gets more than one call a week who are concerned because their school is not doing anything” about their child being bullied.
Some opponents questioned whether the measure would be too burdensome on school districts, and others questioned whether it would impact home-schoolers, though the bill includes a specific exemption for home schools. Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, said, “There's nothing in here that encompasses home schools.”
Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, asked, “Really, are we making a mountain out of a molehill?” She said the issue should be addressed at the local level.
Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, the Senate education chairman and a supporter of the bill, said that as a sixth grader, “I guess I was a little bit of a bully. … I'm here to hope we can not have that happen to someone else.”
Sen. Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello, said as a teacher, “I have dealt with bullying at the high school level. … It's there.” He said what's missing is a consistent policy to ensure school districts address it.
Mildred Rinker Bailey was known to fans as “Mrs. Swing,” whose slight, throaty voice won her acclaim as one of the great white jazz singers of the 1930s and 1940s, reports AP reporter John Miller. But the Coeur d'Alene Indian Tribe is now hoping to set the record straight once and for all: Bailey, who died impoverished in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., in 1951, was an American Indian who spent her childhood on the reservation near DeSmet, Idaho.
A resolution honoring Bailey, sponsored by Idaho Indian Affairs Council Chairman Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, is pending in the Idaho House. It's part of a push to convince the Jazz at Lincoln Center Hall of Fame in New York City to add her to its inductees. Bailey grew up singing with future great Bing Crosby in Spokane, who credited her with teaching him much about music.
“It's sad to think she died penniless, or nearly penniless, after all the things that she accomplished,” Nonini said, “But it's never too late to recognize somebody.” Click below to read Miller's full report.
House Education Chairman Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, pulled his salary-based apportionment bill, HB 656, from his committee agenda this morning, citing “some moving targets.” Nonini said later that the bill, which differs substantially from a measure that unanimously passed the Senate, is the topic of session-ending discussions between House and Senate leaders. “I'm willing to talk and listen,” Nonini said. “My bill, 656, is a little bit different from (SB) 1331. I'm willing to see if we can find some common ground.”
SB 1331, which is co-sponsored by 16 senators, would end all future cuts in teacher salary funds required under the “Students Come First” reform laws to pay for technology boosts or merit pay. The state still would have to fund the reforms, but it wouldn't be required to cut teacher and administrator pay to come up with the money. Nonini hasn't scheduled a hearing on the Senate bill, instead proposing HB 656, which just cancels the salary-fund cuts scheduled for next year, leaving future years' cuts in place. The budget set for public schools for next year already offsets next year's cuts by “backfilling” other state funds into the school budget. The first cuts in state funds for teacher and administrator pay under “Students Come First” took effect this year.
Nonini said, “We've got to have something that will pass both bodies. I think it could be part of a going-home group of one or two bills.”
The House Education Committee, on a divided voice vote, has approved legislation to let the state's charter schools tap into a share of the bond levy equalization fund that now subsidizes a small part of voter-approved building bonds for school districts. Charter school supporters estimate that the cost to the state next year at $370,000 if HB 663 passes; the bill just was introduced this week. Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, told the committee that voters around the state on Tuesday approved school bond levies - to raise their own property taxes for their local schools - but those levies don't benefit any charter schools, though charter school students' families still pay them like anyone else; charter schools don't have taxing authority, relying instead fully on state per-student funding.
Rep. Brian Cronin, D-Boise, noted that the bill would mean all state taxpayers would subsidize building-debt decisions approved by the board of a charter school, when regular school districts can't tap the funds without two-thirds approval of voters. “Currently with this equalization fund we subsidize decisions that emerge from the wisdom of the general populace, and all qualified voters have the ability to ratify or deny a districit's request,” he said. “If this bill passes, we as a state are no longer just subsidizing these decisions that are made by general voters, but decisions that are made by a handful of people.”
John Gannon, a Boise attorney, former state lawmaker and current legislative candidate, spoke against the bill. “I don't think that the state can afford to start a second school system until it pays for the one that it has now,” he said, adding that if the state were to subsidize loans taken out by charter schools, it should have liens or some type of security. The bill now moves to the full House.
Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d'Alene, urged the Senate to approve SB 1295a to license massage therapists in Idaho. “It is not unusual to find massage therapy prescribed as part of a physical therapy program,” he said. Licensing, he said, would “assure that the provision of this therapy is accomplished in a … safe and medically appropriate manner.”
Sen. Steve Vick R-Dalton Gardens, said he believes occupational licensing in general is a bad thing. “It limits competition and … will drive prices up,” he said. He quoted a report calling occupational licensing rules in states generally “onerous” and “pointless.” He said, “I have a good friend who's a massage therapist and he actually wants me to vote in favor of this bill.” Vick said he's received numerous emails, all in favor of the bill, but “they're all from the incumbent cartel - they're there to protect their interests,” he said, “and I just don't think that we need to do this.”
Hammond said 43 states license massage therapists. “Right now you license people to cut your hair - not a very invasive procedure,” he said. “Massage therapy has become a part of medicine, a whole different area of professional work. … It's not a trade.” He said, “I will tell you that I worry a lot more about who is providing that kind of a service to my grandchildren, or my grandparents, than I do about who's fixing the plumbing under my sink.” Hammond said if a massage therapist will be in a closed room with a potentially vulnerable client, it makes sense to ensure “that they are somebody who will do what is appropriate medically and professionally.”
The Senate voted 28-6 in favor of the bill; it now moves to a House committee. After that vote, the Senate adjourned for the day.
The Senate killed SB 1362a, a measure from Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, about national constitutional conventions, on a 13-21 vote, and now has taken up SB 1295a, the massage therapist licensing bill.
The Senate has voted 32-0 in favor of HB 450a, the bill to shift $1.5 million from alcoholic beverage license fees away from the state's general fund and into a new dedicated fund to pay for liquor license enforcement. Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, the bill's Senate sponsor, said, “In 1964 we had 10 enforcement officers and a population of about a million less. So now we've got one, and I think this is the right thing to do, and it's going to help out our communities.” Sen. Denton Darrington, R-Declo, said, “Really, it's about time, and we are doing the right thing for the state of Idaho.”
Because the bill was amended in the Senate, it still must go back to the House for concurrence in the amendments, which adjusted wording referring to the state budget process.
The Senate is back in session, and is now debating HB 450a, the bill to fund the state's Alcohol Beverage Control operation and allow it to add back 10 officers to return to its staffing level from decades ago. Alcoholic beverage license fees of $1.5 million would be shifted from the state's general fund to set up the new ABC fund. ABC enforcement is now down to just one officer, due to cuts over the years.
The Senate Education Committee has approved HB 603, the bill to restore “97 percent” funding protection to Idaho school districts to protect them from sharp state funding drops if they lose enrollment from year to year, but to charge the districts themselves to pay for it. The House-passed measure, backed by the Idaho Association of School Administrators, now moves to the full Senate for a final vote. Previous funding protections for school districts from sudden year-to-year funding swings were eliminated as part of the “Students Come First” school reforms, after state schools Supt. Tom Luna argued they amounted to funding “ghost students.” Idaho doles out much of its state funding for schools through a formula based on student enrollment, as measured by average daily attendance.
A stinging mass email sent by Rep. Robert Schaefer, R-Nampa, to people who contacted him about a proposed cigarette tax increase - he voted against introducing the bill, which was rejected - has raised concerns for the American Lung Association and others who received the message, reports Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey. Kera Goold of Meridian, a 10-year Idaho employee of the Lung Association, told Popkey she was “appalled” by Schaefer's note, which she called “an attack.” The message began, “Using the FORCE of government is anathema to the freedoms given by our Maker and spoken of in our Federal Constitution. Have you no ability to make your case to the youth themselves?” Schaefer defended his mass email to Popkey and has now sent a follow-up message; you can read Popkey's full post here. Schaefer, a 14-term state representative, is running for the Senate.
The House Agriculture Committee has passed SB 1303, the Senate-passed animal cruelty bill that's sponsored by the state's livestock industry, on a unanimous voice vote.
Wyatt Prescott, executive vice president of the Idaho Cattle Association, told the committee his industry needs to stand up to those who'd like to run producers like him out of business. “The only thing we can do as an industry is to do the right thing, to act responsibly, to take proper care of those animals.” he said. “That's why SB 1303 is in front of you.”
Lisa Kauffman, executive director in Idaho for the Humane Society of the United States, said her national organization opposed SB 1303 in the earlier Senate committee hearing because “we didn't feel it went far enough. But I feel with HB 650 … I agree with Stan Boyd that the two will complement each other. I think that will put to rest a lot of fears, I know for my organization. I can't speak for others.” Jeff Rosenthal, executive director of the Idaho Humane Society, endorsed the bill both today and in the earlier Senate hearing.
The bill now heads to the full House.
Stan Boyd, lobbyist for the Idaho Cattle Association and Idaho Wool Growers, is pitching SB 1303 on animal cruelty to the House Agriculture Committee this afternoon, saying the Senate-passed bill is complementary to HB 650, Rep. Ken Andrus' animal cruelty bill that passed the House this morning. Boyd said, “It's been pointed out many times, Idaho is one of only three states that doesn't have a felony provision for animal cruelty. We join North Dakota and South Dakota with that distinction. The livestock industry … is very proud of the way we treat our animals. … We're very proud to bring forward a bill that would place animal cruelty, the third offense in 15 years, as a felony.”
Andrus' bill bans cockfighting and creates a felony penalty for a third offense of torturing a companion animal, such as a pet dog or cat. Boyd's bill, which passed the Senate 31-1 last month, would make a third offense of intentional and malicious animal cruelty a felony punishable by a year in prison, for any animal; all agricultural practices would be exempt. The felony penalty in the bill is only for the “intentional and malicious infliction of pain, physical suffering, injury or death upon an animal.” Maliciously overworking, starving, and abandoning animals would remain misdemeanors. Representatives of the cattle industry told lawmakers they tried tougher legislation in past years, but it didn't pass.
After two days of hearings, the Senate Resources Committee has held HB 495, the bill to restrict the state Land Board's business investments for the state endowment, in committee for lack of any motion to either pass or kill the measure. The bill was proposed in the wake of the endowment's controversial acquisition of a self-storage business.
Former GOP state Sen. Rachel Gilbert told the committee, “We've been at this bill now for a year and a half. It has gone through an interim study, this bill has been discussed, it has been cussed. … Please don't hold it in committee. Maybe you won't like it, but send it to the floor and let's have a hearing. … After what this bill has been through, I'm not asking you to do that, I'm begging you to do that, because it's going to be coming back year after year.”
The state Land Board voted 3-1 to oppose the bill as unconstitutional; the state constitution requires the Land Board to manage state endowment lands for the maximum long-term returns to the endowment's beneficiaries, the largest of which is the state's public schools.
University of Idaho officials raised concerns that the bill as written could forbid them from operating their research dairy, though Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, told the senators, “I believe that argument is bogus.” He said, “I do not want the permanent endowment fund or the endowment fund to get rid of their land. … I don't want the state to be selling off all this land. That to me is what qualifies as long-term investments and long-term return, is if you keep it into land.” He said, “I think this bill really is philosophical, what's the proper role of government and what's the proper role of the Legislature. … I think it's the proper role of government to stay out of the private sector competing with businesses.”
Vander Woude co-sponsored the bill with Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, an attorney who told the committee he thought the bill was constitutional.