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Eye On Boise

Archive for April 2, 2013

Otter signs bill making it tougher to qualify measures for Idaho ballot

Gov. Butch Otter has signed SB 1108 into law, the measure making it tougher to qualify an initiative or referendum measure for the Idaho ballot. “I thought it was the right thing to do,” said Otter, who signed the bill yesterday. “I agreed with the arguments that it’s an issue for all of Idaho – why shouldn’t all of Idaho be included in it?”

Under current law in Idaho, it takes signatures from 6 percent of registered voters to qualify a measure for the ballot; SB 1108 adds a requirement for 6 percent of the registered voters in each of 18 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts. The Idaho Farm Bureau Federation pushed the bill, saying it would preserve the voice of rural areas if animal-rights activists decided to run ballot-measure campaigns.

The bill followed November’s historic voter rejection of the “Students Come First” school reform laws in three referendum measures, the first time since 1936 that Idaho voters had overturned laws passed by the Legislature through a referendum vote. Initiatives have proven only slightly more popular in Idaho; 14 have passed since statehood.

Otter said he didn’t want ballot measures to be driven by “the great state of Ada,” referring to Ada County, home of Boise and the state Capitol and the state’s largest population center. “We’re a government for all of Idaho,” he said. “I think if the initiative has enough support from all over the state, you could get signatures from all over the state.” Meanwhile, a follow-up bill from Secretary of State Ben Ysursa would ease the burden the new law would otherwise place on initiative signature-gatherers by not requiring them to juggle three separate clipboards and petitions in Kootenai County – where there are three legislative districts - nine in Ada, etc., and not requiring voters to know their legislative district to sign, under penalty of law. Instead, county clerks would look up and verify that information; you can read my full story here at

Interim committees set on fed lands, public defenders, K-12 ed, criminal justice system

Legislative leaders have decided on the interim study committees that will be funded between now and next session; they include four new ones, along with several existing and continuing ones. Here are the new study committees and their authorizing legislation:

HCR 21: Studying how Idaho can acquire title to and take over management of federal lands within the state.

HCR 26: Studying how to reform the state’s public defender system.

HCR 33: Studying how to improve and strengthen Idaho’s K-12 public school system.

SCR 128: Launching a complete study of the Idaho criminal justice system.

Continuing interim committees include the Natural Resources Issues study committee; the Health Care Task Force; and the Energy, Environment & Technology Issues study committee.

One measure that was proposed, but not included for funding due to the number of interim committees proposed: HCR 28, proposing a complete study of Idaho’s alcoholic beverage laws.

Rural Idaho schools face demand from feds to pay back timber payments

Schools in Idaho’s timber-dependent rural communities could be facing a bill from the federal government for $400,000, Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News reports, as the feds demand a refund of payments already sent out under the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, as part of sequestration cuts. Thirty-one U.S. House members sent a letter to the Obama Administration last week objecting to the demand for repayment; they included Idaho’s 2nd District Rep. Mike Simpson, but not 1st District Rep. Raul Labrador, Richert reports. You can read his full post here.

New school budget may have only ‘minor tweaks,’ but Goedde says it’s a better process

Click below for a full report from AP reporters Hannah Furfaro and John Miller on the session-ending deal on the education budget, which includes the introduction of SB 1199 today, to let the House and Senate Education committees vet proposals on locally-directed teacher merit bonuses and technology pilot project grants. Even if the new school budget that gets set later this week ends up very similar to the Senate-rejected one, Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, said it'll come about through a better process. “Those 'no' votes weren't about where the money was going,” he said. “It was about allowing the process of changing our Idaho code to remain in germane committees, where the public gets involved and where the role of policy setting is supposed to start.”

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee actually held unprecedented public hearings the last two years, which drew hundreds of people from across the state to have their say on state spending issues. This year, the joint committee scheduled two such hearings, but then canceled them at the direction of legislative leaders. Goedde noted that the House and Senate Education committees then held their own “listening sessions,” “and people came with all kinds of issues and addressed the committee, and that's great.”

New bill gets number - SB 1199 - and Senate, House adjourn ‘til tomorrow…

The Senate reconvened, and introduced the new education bill – which got the bill number of SB 1199. Then it adjourned until 10 a.m. tomorrow. The House already has adjourned until 11 a.m. tomorrow.

Senate panel introduces new ed bill, with thanks all around…

The Senate State Affairs Committee convened just briefly – it only took a few minutes – and introduced new legislation sponsored by Sen. John Goedde, Rep. Reed DeMordaunt and state schools Superintendent Tom Luna aimed at resolving the impasse over the defeated public school budget. The new bill provides for two new programs, with a sunset, or expiration clause, one year out. The two are a differential pay, or merit bonus, program, with the bonuses to be distributed under local school district criteria, and with up to 40 percent of the money to go to professional development; and a technology pilot project grant program.

There are no dollar figures in the bill; instead, it says the funding is “dependent on budget decisions.” The description of the two programs appears similar to what was described in the intent language in the defeated budget bill.

Senators on the committee thanked all those who worked on the measure, including representatives of education stakeholder groups who were in the room, Luna, and lawmakers involved in the talks that led to the bill. “I’m grateful that we’re in this position,” said Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis.

Goedde asked the committee to introduce the bill to help resolve the education budget impasse, saying it’s a “recodification of that in an effort to send it through the germane committee, where it will be properly disposed of.” Davis responded, “’Properly disposed of’ has got me worried.” Goedde said, “My view of 'properly disposed of' at this point is sending it to the floor with a do-pass recommendation.”

Senate honors retiring IPTV head Morrill, Mortimer says ‘he’s made me a convert’

The Senate is honoring Peter Morrill, the retiring longtime general manager of Idaho Public Television. An array of senators have offered praise to Morrill. Among them was Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, who said, “He’s made me a convert.” Mortimer said, “Many years ago when I came to the Legislature, there was always a little bit of hesitancy … to fund and support our public television.” Mortimer said he never received so many emails as when public TV’s funding was threatened. He said he’s also been impressed with the service over the years, including the way Idaho PTV has opened up legislative proceedings to statewide viewing through live streaming. “To me, that is worth every dollar that we pay,” he said.

Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, said, “Idaho Public Television is one of the gems of the Gem State.” After the resolution, HP1, was unanimously approved, Morrill, who was in the gallery with his daughter Sadie, was honored by the Senate with a standing ovation.

Senate passes fed lands transfer demand on 21-13 vote

The Senate has voted 21-13 in favor of HCR 22, the resolution demanding that the federal government cede title to all federal land within Idaho to the state. Several senators argued that they don’t believe the resolution will be effective – the feds won’t just hand over the deed – but said they want to make a protest. The resolution is not a non-binding memorial, however; it’s a concurrent resolution, like HCR 21, which sets up an interim legislative committee and has the force of law, requiring the expenditure of state funds for operations of the panel. Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, said to him, the measure answers the question: “How do we kick back” against the federal government? Concurrent resolutions don’t go to the governor, so that was final passage for the measure.

Moscow passes non-discrimination ordinance

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: MOSCOW, Idaho (AP) — The Moscow City Council has passed an anti-discrimination ordinance that makes it illegal to make housing and employment decisions based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The council passed the ordinance Monday amid protests by Mayor Nancy Chaney and some residents who say they were not given a chance to comment on the proposal. Councilman Dan Cascallen says the panel had received volumes of emails and felt it had taken enough public opinion. Chaney says she believes the ordinance warranted discussion from all sides. She says she believes the council's action will put a blight on the city. The Moscow-Pullman Daily News reports ( ) the ordinance passed unanimously. Other Idaho cities that already have passed such non-discrimination ordinances include Sandpoint, Boise, and Hailey; the state Legislature has refused to consider a statewide non-discrimination ban for the past six years.

Senate debate: ‘Put people back to work,’ ‘Only the lawyers are making money’

The Senate is debating HCR 22, the resolution demanding that the federal government transfer title to all federal lands in Idaho to the state. Among the comments:

Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, said, “Growing up in North Idaho in a small timber community, you either dry-land farmed or you worked in a mill or you worked in the woods. That’s what we did.” He said his father worked in the Potlatch mill for more than 17 years, and he worked there himself – before deciding to join the Navy after seeing lots of fellow workers with missing fingers and the like. Hagedorn said that business has fallen off now that less timber is being cut from federal lands. With a transfer of those lands to the state, he said, “We could actually create a ton of jobs … a heck of an economic revitalization for those that are struggling now and no longer have the mills.” He said he believed the measure would allow families in which generations grew up logging “to get back and do that again.” He said, “There’s some good reasons why we should do this. To put people back to work is a great reason for me.”

Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, the measure’s Senate sponsor, said, “There’s certain provisions of this bill that I don’t agree with at all. But the overall intent of the bill, to allow Idahoans to manage Idahoans’ lands, sets very well with me.”

Sen. John Tippets, R-Montpelier, noted that he voted in favor of HCR 21, the measure for a study of a federal lands transfer, but said he can’t support HCR 22. “Senators, I’m cautious by nature and I know that,” he said. “I think it’s entirely appropriate for us to study the issue of title to federal lands being given to the state, but I’m nervous about some of the words in this resolution.”

Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, quoted from a decades-old Idaho attorney general’s opinion that found “legal impediments remain in adopting this approach – most notably it’s against our Idaho Constitution.” Stennett said collaborative management efforts on public lands around Idaho have “achieved on-the-ground success,” both creating jobs and protecting lands. On the other hand, she said, “Legal debate … has never amounted to a single tree being cut or a single job being created, and probably only the lawyers are making money at that point.”

Wheels grind into motion toward possible Thursday adjournment of session

As the Senate began its business this morning, Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, announced that the Senate will go at ease later this morning to allow the State Affairs Committee to meet and introduce the new bill regarding issues in the public school budget – the measure aimed at ending an impasse that’s delayed the end of this year’s legislative session. Then, the Senate will reconvene to read the bill over the desk and set the stage for a hearing in the Senate and House education committees on Wednesday morning.

If the bill wins committee approval, the Senate would suspend its rules and consider it on the spot, with an eye to getting it over to the House. Also, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee would convene tomorrow afternoon to consider a revised public school budget.

If all proceeds smoothly, Davis said, the Senate should be in a position to adjourn sine die on Thursday.

Senate passes fed lands transfer study measure, takes up HCR 22, demanding title to the lands

The Senate has voted 26-6 in favor of HCR 21, the resolution setting up an interim legislative study committee to examine how the state can take over management of federal lands. Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, said the idea’s been studied before. “The ideas don’t work, this isn’t valid, and I don’t think we should be spending taxpayer money,” he told the Senate. There was no other debate and that measure passed; now the Senate is taking up HCR 22, the farther-reaching public lands bill, demanding that the federal government turn over title to all federal lands in Idaho to the state.

House State Affairs passes state parking garage P&Z exemption bill, 11-5

The House State Affairs Committee has voted 11-5 in favor of SB 1192a, the bill to exempt a state parking garage project near the Capitol from Boise city planning & zoning requirements. Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, spoke out against the bill. “I do think it’s bad form for the state to require everyone else to comply with this process and somehow the imperial government doesn’t need to,” he said. “The process is there and everybody’s got to go through it. … It just seems to me that somehow we might be overreaching here, and I’m not sure that it’s appropriate simply because of some bond timing.”

Rep. Kelly Packer, R-McCammon, said, “Just because we can doesn’t mean that we should. … We have an obligation to uphold the laws … abide by them. … I think we need to follow the same processes that we ask everybody else to.”

The five opponents of the bill in the committee were Reps. Barbieri, Packer, Smith, Gannon and Woodings. Those voting in favor were Reps. Loertscher, Batt, Anderson(1), Andrus, Luker, Crane, Palmer, Sims, Holtzclaw, McMillan and Monks. You can read my Sunday column here about the debate in the Senate over this bill.

State parking garage P&Z exemption bill up for hearing in House State Affairs

Jeff Youtz, director of legislative services, is presenting SB 1192a, exempting a state parking garage project near the Capitol from Boise city planning and zoning requirements, to the House State Affairs Comnmittee. Youtz said the bill was requested by legislative leadership, and might never be invoked, as talks with the city have been going well on a pending design-review issue. Legislative leaders, Youtz said, decided “we need a what-if fallback here in case this goes south.”

Rep. Kelly Packer, R-McCammon, asked, Youtz, “There’s no other option than this to address some of the questions or concerns or time delays? … This seems, I don’t know, a little aggressive in my opinion. … I’m just wondering if there’s no other way for us to be able to address this ongoing dynamic with the city.”

Youtz responded, “I think we’ve got a lot of flexibility to still respond to the city’s request to improve the design up to a point, but we’ve got a budget we’ve got to live within too.” Bonds already have been sold for the $8.9 million project; the state last year took advantage of a low 2.98 percent interest rate.

Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, asked, “From a public policy standpoint, why should the government, except in a time of war or national emergency, ever be exempt from the local public involvement process?” Youtz responded, “I don’t set public policy. I guess I’d say that’s a question for you to answer. … Our intent is not to circumvent the local planning process, we intend to go through it. This is just a fallback.”

Youtz said Senate amendments to the bill, limiting it to the block where the garage project is planned rather than the entire Capitol Mall area, and adding a sunset clause making the bill expire in 2014, prompted the mayor of Boise to drop his opposition to the bill and take a neutral stance.

Ross Borden, an aide to Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, told the committee, “I think this situation is going to work out just fine.” Boise City Councilor Elaine Clegg told the panel the state might want to change its procedures in the future to sell bonds for construction projects only after design approvals are secured; that’s a process the city already follows, she said. She also suggested the state might want to look into encouraging car-pooling and alternate means of transportation for state employees rather than just focusing on providing parking.

House, Senate Education committees set joint hearing for 8 a.m. on Wednesday

Here’s a sign that adjournment could still happen this week: The Senate and House education committees have scheduled a joint hearing for Wednesday morning at 8, on legislation – sponsored by Senate Chairman John Goedde and House Chairman Reed DeMordaunt – regarding the education budget, “Sections 25 and 26 pertaining to differential pay and technology pilot projects.” The hearing will be in the Lincoln Auditorium.

For now, there’s no bill number, just an RS number; Goedde said the panel can’t hear the bill until it’s printed, which likely would happen today; the agenda will be amended to add the bill number once that happens.

Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News reports that the Senate State Affairs Committee is likely to introduce and print the bill today; you can read his full post here.

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About this blog

Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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