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Eye On Boise

Archive for April 4, 2013

Session wraps up after 88 days…

Here’s a link to my full story at on how Idaho lawmakers adjourned their legislative session today after 88 days, running nearly a week longer than planned amid a deadlock in the Senate over the budget for public schools. In the end, the budget that passed both houses Thursday morning – with a 29-5 vote in the Senate and 57-11 in the House – was identical to the original one, giving schools a 2.2 percent boost in state funding next year to $1.3 billion. But rancor remained over the direction of education policy in Idaho; in November, voters repealed the “Students Come First” school reform laws that lawmakers had enacted in 2011 with a historic referendum vote.

An interim committee of legislators and a panel of education stakeholders organized by Gov. Butch Otter both will examine education issues and hold hearings around the state this summer. Meanwhile, the final bill to come up in this year’s legislative session was one of a slew of proposals from the Idaho School Boards Association to revive various pieces of Proposition 1, the voter-rejected measure that sought to roll back teachers’ collective bargaining rights. The bill, SB 1040a, lets school districts reduce teacher salaries from one year to the next, something Idaho law now prohibits; the House debate lasted nearly an hour. Finally, it passed on a 47-21 vote and headed to the governor’s desk.

Limit on garnishing of delinquent taxpayer’s pay becomes law without Otter’s signature

Gov. Butch Otter has allowed a bill to become law without his signature, saying he’s concerned that it’ll reduce collections by the state Tax Commission by as much as $5 million in the first year it’s in effect. The bill, SB 1047a, limits the Tax Commission when it garnishes a delinquent taxpayer’s pay to taking only up to 25 percent of the taxpayer’s wages. And if the IRS is also going after that same taxpayer’s pay for back taxes, the state would be limited to 10 percent.

“Currently, garnishments for back taxes can go up to 100 percent,” Rep. Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, told the House when it passed the bill on March 25. “While there may be some value in the collection process to be able to garnish at 100 percent, there are also many problems that would be created by taking 100 percent of somebody’s paycheck. … I believe that this is a reasonable compromise.”

The governor, in a letter to lawmakers, said he encourages the Legislature “to carefully review the impact of this legislation and make adjustments where they are needed.” You can read Otter’s letter here.

The subject may be familiar to lawmakers because a former House member, four-term Rep. Phil Hart, revealed that the IRS was garnishing 100 percent of his legislative pay for back taxes, penalties and interest. In that case, however, the federal agency left nothing for the state to grab. Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, proposed SB 1047a, saying limiting the garnishing should result in more collections in the long run, as people wouldn’t quit their jobs.

Ed stakeholders task force sets seven community forums around the state in April

The governor's education stakeholders task force has scheduled a series of seven community meetings across the state this month, including sessions in Nampa, Twin Falls, Lewiston, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho Falls, Pocatello and Boise; click below for the full list, including times and locations.

“This is an opportunity for all stakeholders to learn about what the Task Force has been working on and to offer feedback and ideas about education in our state,” said Richard Westerberg, task force chairman and state Board of Education member. “We hope to get the input of a broad cross section of the public including parents, students, educators and civic leaders.” The Coeur d'Alene, Idaho Falls and Boise sessions will be streamed live on the Internet by Idaho Public Television.

Otter, legislative leaders announce they’ll work on gun-rights legislation over the interim

Gov. Butch Otter and GOP legislative leaders announced today that they'll work together over the interim on gun-rights legislation, after several bills were proposed this session but didn't pass both houses. “Some ideas percolated in the Legislature this year but never got fully vetted,” Otter said. “We’ll look at those as well as model legislation and what’s been tried in other states. And we’ll do it in the context of the ongoing assessment of security needs at our public schools.” Otter already has appointed a task force, headed by just-retired former Idaho State Police Col. Jerry Russell, to look into school safety issues in the state.

House Speaker Scott Bedke and Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill said they'll work with the governor. “The extent and nature of federal attempts to restrict our access to arms and ammunition are still coming into focus, so we will join the governor in watching that process carefully while charting our own course forward,” Bedke said. Click below for Otter's full announcement.

Risch says he’ll run for re-election to U.S. Senate in 2014

It's more than a year before the primary election, but Idaho Sen. Jim Risch announced today that he'll seek re-election in 2014. “When I ran for this office just over four years ago, I said our country was facing many challenges,” Risch said in a statement. “Those challenges not only remain, they have gotten worse.” Click below for Risch's full announcement.

Second egg in peregrine nesting box…

There's now a second egg in the nesting box high atop a downtown Boise building where a family of peregrine falcons makes its home; you can see it live here. Experts with the Peregrine Fund expect a third egg to follow on Saturday…

Otter gives session high marks, says work remains for next year…

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter today gave this year's legislative session high marks, saying, “What they produced was impressive and consistent with my priorities and our shared commitment to responsible, accountable and limited government. We also have a path forward on several key issues and a firm foundation for more improvements in 2014 and beyond.”

Otter gathered GOP legislative leaders plus House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, in his office for a news conference on the completion of the legislative session. “I think we all worked very well together,” the governor said. He called the personal property tax relief bill for business equipment “one of the outstanding achievements of the Legislature,” saying, “We started out very aggressively. we looked at resources available, so that we did no harm to local governments. And through constant vetting and massage of what our idea was, I think that what we came up with was affordable and it gives us a path forward.”

Otter said that's a model for an issue the Legislature didn't take up this year: Medicaid expansion. “When we do do it, I want it to go through the same process that we did with personal property tax,” he said. “I want to have all the eyes on it that we can possibly get.”

He also suggested next year's Legislature will need to look at transportation funding improvements, an issue he pushed unsuccessfully in 2008 and 2009. “There's a need there,” the governor said.

“I believe it was an excellent session, especially considering some of the tough courses that we had to take,” Otter said. He said the education stakeholders task force he's convened should give the state good direction on education policy for next year. “I am praying, and I think we have all the players and stakeholders in position to come up with a reform of our public education system,” he said. He quipped, “We left some things undone so we could have a reason to come back.” Click below for the governor's full news release.

Dems sound positive note in look back on session, with some exceptions…

House and Senate Democrats sounded a positive note in their post-session press conference this afternoon, saying their majority Republican colleagues were more willing to work with them this year. “We hold it as a sacred duty to listen to all of our constituents regardless of party affiliation,” said House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston. He praised Republicans for being willing to “tone down the rancorous voices of some of their more vocal activists” and work together “for reasonable and moderate solutions to our challenges.”

Among those, he cited the state health insurance exchange legislation, Gov. Butch Otter’s big legislative victory and one the Democrats supported while Republicans were more divided; and the personal property tax relief for business equipment, which was scaled back to a level that wouldn’t endanger local government services. “Lawmakers agreed to stop spending tax dollars on an empty governor’s mansion,” Rusche said. “We made a step toward gaining an understanding of why human rights protections must be extended to all members of society.” He also lauded the addition of five WWAMI medical school seats, and “a respite in the erosion of teachers’ salaries.”

However, Democrats decried other moves made this year, particularly the series of bills to revive various pieces of the voter-rejected “Students Come First” school reform laws. Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said, “It would have been much wiser to let the governor’s schools task force find consensus and seek input from parents, teachers and students.” She also decried the bill to make it tougher to qualify initiative or referendum measures for the ballot, saying, “there was no reason to pass this legislation,” and the Legislature’s refusal to consider Medicaid expansion this year. “GOP leaders couldn’t find the courage to do the right thing,” she said. Click below for the Dems' full statement.

Otter expresses concerns to lawmakers about two bills, but still signs them…

Gov. Butch Otter today sent two transmittal letters to lawmakers, noting bills that he had signed into law, but with caveats. They included HB 315, the personal property tax relief bill, which exempts the first $100,000 in business equipment from the tax in each county, for each taxpayer. “This legislation is a good and important start toward the goal of eliminating the personal property tax in Idaho,” Otter wrote. “However, it is only a start. … For now, please accept my thanks for working through a complex and potentially divisive issue and for delivering this legislation to my desk. It is welcome relief for most Idaho businesses.”

The other letter was about HB 192, a bill that passed both houses unanimously to create a new, optional enhanced concealed weapons permit that requires more training than a regular permit, but would be recognized in more states. “The intent of this bill is laudable,” Otter wrote. “However, it is important to note as I sign this legislation that its fiscal note was inadequate to address the actual costs that the Idaho Transportation Department and the Idaho State Police will face in its implementation. The agencies estimate they will be required to shoulder unfunded one-time costs totaling more than $80,000 – a particular burden when our budgets already are so close to the bone – plus ongoing annual costs of more than $1,500 to integrate this new permit into existing computer systems.”

He wrote, “I encourage the Legislature to be more forthcoming and thorough in its assessment of the fiscal impact of legislative actions on our state agencies and, ultimately, on our taxpayers.”

Lawmakers celebrate end of 88-day session

Once the House had adjourned, Speaker Scott Bedke invited everyone – including Gov. Butch Otter, the press, staffers and others – to a cake reception in the speakers’ office, and representatives, family members and others filled the hallways, talking and enjoying their cake. Bedke told the House amid laughter, “You’re all welcome to come to the speaker’s office and eat in the majority leader’s office.”

House adjourns sine die

The House has adjourned sine die, ending this year's legislative session. The official time was 11:31 a.m. “We look forward to meeting with you again next year,” said Majority Leader Mike Moyle.

House passes bill allowing teacher pay cuts on 47-21 vote, prepares to adjourn

The House has voted 47-21 in favor of SB 1040a, the bill to let school districts reduce teachers’ salaries from one year to the next and make other changes in teacher contract laws; all 12 House Democrats present joined nine House Republicans in opposing the bill. The Republicans voting no were Reps. Agidius, Anderson(01) Bolz, Eskridge, Hancey, Moyle, Perry, Stevenson and Wills. “Teachers have good jobs compared to those who have no jobs,” Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, the bill’s House sponsor, told the House.  “And in many places in Idaho we have folks with no jobs who are still struggling to keep their homes and their businesses and pay their property tax to support their local schools.”

That was the last bill the House had before it; the final debate lasted nearly an hour. Now, the House is preparing to adjourn for the session.

House debate: ‘The voters said no, so I’m saying no,’ ‘You just can’t get the job done’

The House is continuing to debate SB 1040a, the bill to let school districts cut teacher pay from one year to the next and make other changes to teacher contract law. “This bill comes substantially out of Proposition 1,” Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, told the House. “When is this Legislature going to start listening to the people who elected us? I know, I hear it said, well, the people didn’t know what they were doing, they didn’t know what they were voting on. If that’s the case, then the people who voted for me didn’t know who they were voting for. … If we believe in democracy on some level, we have to accept the word of the people.”

Rep. Sue Chew, D-Boise, said, “The voters of the state of Idaho said no – so I’m saying no.”

Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, told the House, “How do we attract good teachers? I don’t think through bills like this one.” She said, “We send them a message that they’re really not at the top of our priority list at all. … I think we’re going to have a dickens of a time recruiting them with bills like this.”

Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, spoke in favor of the bill. “School boards have been given the responsibility to manage their districts, but they are unable to appropriately manage 80 to 90 percent of the state general funds that come because there is law restricting reduction of salaries,” she said. “To me that is like playing the piano and having 10 fingers available, but only being able to use one or two. You just can't get the job done.”

The Senate has adjourned sine die

The Senate has now adjourned sine die, ending its session. The House is still going, debating SB 1040a, a teacher contracts bill.

Senate preparing to adjourn, House locked in debate over teacher contract bill

The Senate is sending committees to notify the House and the governor that it’s prepared to adjourn sine die. Meanwhile, the House is locked in debate on SB 1040a, a bill that lets school districts cut teacher pay from one year to the next and makes other changes to teacher contracts, including changing dates. Rep. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, urged the House to reject the bill. “This bill guts teachers’ contracts,” she said. She said SB 1146, which already passed both houses, lets school districts lower teachers’ salaries if they declare a financial emergency.

“If we continue to erode teachers’ rights in contracts, I’m worried they’re going to become little more than indentured servants,” she said, “and this is a road we don’t want to go down. We want our best and brightest to enter the teaching profession. We want them to say in Idaho.”

House passes public schools budget bill, 57-11

The House has voted 57-11 in favor of SB 1200, the public school budget bill; most of the opponents were Republicans. Now, the House is moving on to SB 1040a, on which there's been an objection on procedural grounds from House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, as the House moved to suspend rules and allow the bill to be considered immediately.

Senate passes final bill, prepares to adjourn

The Senate has passed its final bill, HB 345 regarding year-end transfers, on a unanimous, 34-0 vote, and is now preparing to adjourn for the session.

House takes up ‘going-home bill,’ the school budget

Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls, told the House he’s presenting the “going-home bill.” It’s SB 1200, the budget for public schools. The school budget earlier passed the House easily, but it was defeated by one vote in the Senate; the new version followed a different process, but has the same numbers, giving schools a 2.2 percent increase in state general funds next year. It passed the Senate earlier this morning on a 29-5 vote.

Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, debated against the bill, saying it’s not “a happy going-home bill” for school kids or property taxpayers – because he said the appropriation amount is too low. He noted the growing numbers of school districts around the state seeking, and passing, tax override levies.  “The public schools need more money,” Gannon said.

House is back in session, public schools up next…

The House is also back in session; it has just two bills left, the public school budget, SB 1200, and SB 1040a, an Idaho School Boards Association bill that lets school districts lower teacher pay from one year to the next.

Senate back in session, just one bill left…

The Senate is back in session; it has just one bill left, the year-end transfer bill that JFAC approved yesterday and the House already passed earlier this morning. It transfers any surplus beyond $20 million into the budget stabilization fund; it was requested by the governor.

House members filter back in…

House members are filtering back in to the chamber after their caucus; next up will be SB 1200, the public schools budget. The House has only one other bill left, SB 1040a.

Senate passes school maintenance flexibility bill, goes at ease…

The Senate has passed SB 319 on a unanimous, 34-0 vote. That bill allows school districts coping with limited budgets to shift up to two-thirds of their required school building maintenance match to other purposes, under certain circumstances. That bill also now moves to the Senate. After passing that bill, the Senate went at ease; both parties in the House are still behind closed doors in caucus.

Senate passes school budget, 29-5

The Senate has voted 29-5 in favor of SB 1200, the new version of the public school budget. There was little debate. “It’s not a perfect budget, but it is a collaborative budget … to do what’s best for our schools, our teachers, and our children,” Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, told the House.

Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, explaining his vote, said, “I’ve voted no on every appropriation bill as my way, I guess, of trying to make my little point of the increased cost of benefits. I believe they’re unsustainable. We’ve kicked that can down the road. … I think our priorities aren’t in order, I think we need to address this in the near future. This senator will be voting no.”

Sen. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, said, “I will be voting aye, however I still have an issue with the discretionary funds, and hopefully in the future we can stop the epidemic of the overrides or the supplementals in our schools by increasing supplemental funds.”

Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, also explaining his vote, said, “I intend to vote aye on this bill. I think we have problems with one-time money, but that will be the decision of the gentleman on the 2nd  floor. I also would like to see more money in discretionary and really addressing the operations expenses that districts have, but that’s a topic for discussion on another day in another year.”

The bill now moves to the House.

House passes HB 345, surplus eliminator sending $ to reserve fund

House Appropriations Chair Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, told the House that HB 345 would transfer any year-end surplus beyond $20 million to the budget stabilization fund. “This is a year-end surplus eliminator,” Bell said. “It is going to take a lot of faith on our part, because at this point, there is no surplus to eliminate.” The bill passed unanimously, on a 67-0 vote.

The House then recessed for short caucuses for both parties. Meanwhile, the Senate is debating SB 1200, the public schools budget.

Both houses convene for final day…

Both the House and the Senate are in session this morning for their final day of this year’s legislative session, the 88thday. First up in the Senate is suspension of rules to consider SB 1200, the new version of the public school budget. The House is debating SCR 103, encouraging Idaho colleges and universities to compete to become test sites for drone technology. The House also will soon be suspending its rules to consider SB 1200, Majority Leader Mike Moyle told the House, along with HB 345, on year-end transfers.

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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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