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Eye On Boise

Archive for March 2013

The week that was…

On tonight’s “Idaho Reports” program on Idaho Public Television, I join Jim Weatherby, Kevin Richert and host Greg Hahn to discuss the week’s developments in the Legislature. Plus, Jim, Greg and I interview Sens. Branden Durst, D-Boise, and Chuck Winder, R-Boise; Aaron Kunz has a report on water quality issues; Melissa Davlin interviews freshman Rep. Kellly Packer, R-McCammon; and I offer my “Eye on Boise” rundown of some of the week’s happenings. The show airs at 8 p.m. tonight; it re-airs Sunday at 10:30 a.m. Mountain time, 9:30 Pacific; and plays on Boise State Public Radio on Sunday at 7 p.m. After it airs, you can watch it here online any time.


Justices: Syringa can pursue claim against Idaho over purchasing violations

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Supreme Court justices ruled Friday phone consortium Syringa Networks can pursue its claim against the Department of Administration alleging the agency's bidding process violated Idaho statutes governing purchasing. Syringa sued Idaho in 2009, claiming the Department of Administration illegally handed Qwest Communications Inc. a $60 million contract to install the broadband infrastructure for the Idaho Education Network, an ongoing project to link public schools, universities and businesses in Idaho. A 4th District Court judge dismissed Syringa's lawsuit, on grounds it hadn't exhausted administrative remedies. But justices said there were no administrative remedies to exhaust. Among other conclusions, Supreme Court Justice Jim Jones wrote then-Department of Administration Director Mike Gwartney “appears to have been the architect of the state's effort to bend the contracting rules to Qwest's advantage.”

You can read the Idaho Supreme Court decision here.

Rammell loses second appeal in elk poaching case

Former Idaho gubernatorial candidate Rex Rammell has lost his second appeal over a 2010 elk poaching charge, with the Idaho Court of Appeals ruling unanimously that two lower courts correctly upheld Rammell’s misdemeanor conviction. He challenged it on multiple grounds, nearly all centering around his contention that the state didn’t prove he intended to unlawfully kill an elk in the Tex Creek Zone on Nov. 30, 2010. But the high court found that the offense requires no specific intent. “It only requires general intent, namely, that a person knowingly possessed an animal protected under the statute, not that he or she intended to commit a crime,” wrote Court of Appeals Judge David Gratton.

He added, “Rammell does not argue that he did not kill an elk in the wrong hunting zone. His argument rests on the fact that he thought he was allowed to kill an elk wherever he wanted during open season. As the state notes, Rammell’s argument is actually a defense of ignorance of the law. Ignorance of the law is not a valid defense. Regardless of whether Rammell intended to violate the law, he still had the intent to possess the elk.”

Rammell gained notoriety in the state after a herd of domestic elk at his eastern Idaho hunting ranch escaped in 2006, prompting then-Gov. Jim Risch to order the escaped animals shot to avoid spreading disease to the state’s wild elk herds. Rammell fought an extended but unsuccessful court battle over that incident, culminating in an Idaho Supreme Court decision against him in September. He also launched a political career out of it, running against Risch for the U.S. Senate in 2008 as an independent and getting 5 percent of the vote.

In 2010, Rammell ran for governor, losing to Gov. Butch Otter in a six-way primary but coming in second with 26 percent of the vote. Last year, he lost a GOP primary for the state Legislature in Idaho County, then announced he’d “given up on Idaho” and moved to Wyoming.

A jury convicted him on the elk poaching charge in June of 2011. His appeals challenged the jury instructions and rulings on evidence related to intent, but all were upheld. Representing himself in court, he also offered a novel argument to the Court of Appeals that the court lacked jurisdiction over him because it charged him as “Rex F. Rammell,” which he called “a false designation, his name being Rex Floyd Rammell.” That argument also was rejected.

Senate adjourns ‘til Monday at 1:30

The Senate has now adjourned until 1:30 on Monday, but before doing so, it debated and passed SB 1040a on a 21-14 vote, allowing Idaho school districts to cut teacher pay from one year to the next. That replaces a similar bill to do the same thing, that the Senate defeated last week. That ends the 82nd day of this year’s legislative session.

Controversial ‘last best offer’ bill for teacher talks withdrawn

The most controversial of the Idaho School Boards Association’s array of bills this year to reinstate pieces of voter-rejected Proposition 1 has been withdrawn. Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, asked for unanimous consent of the Senate to return HB 260, the “last best offer” bill, to committee, and no one objected. “This is at the request of the sponsors, both the school boards association and the administrators,” Goedde told the Senate.

The measure, which passed the House two weeks ago on a 55-14 vote, would have revived a provision from the “Students Come First” reform laws requiring that if school districts and their local teachers unions haven’t reached a contract agreement by June 10, the board unilaterally impose the terms of its “last best offer.” Opponents said it would turn the negotiation process on its head by giving one side the power to just wait the other out and win.

The rule was in effect last year, before voters rejected the “Students Come First” laws in three voter referenda; 22 Idaho school districts failed to reach agreement with teachers and unilaterally imposed contract terms.

House Ed chair says panel won’t meet today or Monday; senators peruse proposed bill…

When the House got to its committee meeting announcements before its adjournment earlier this morning, Chief Clerk Bonnie Alexander said, “The only one that I have is for Education Committee, will meet subject to the call of the chair.” But House Education Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, told Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert after that announcement that his committee won’t be meeting today – or Monday. DeMordaunt suggested any legislation to settle the impasse over the public schools budget may have to start in the Senate, where the House-passed budget was defeated this week. You can read Richert’s full post here.

Across the rotunda, Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, one of the leading opponents, came directly from a meeting with state schools Superintendent Tom Luna to the morning Senate session, clutching a copy of a draft bill. “It is a vast improvement over the intent language,” Thayn said. He huddled on the floor with Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, and Vice Chairman Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, before the Senate convened, looking over the proposal.

HB 65 passes Senate unanimously, heads to governor’s desk

HB 65, the “fix-it” bill to restore $30 million to the current year’s public school budget that otherwise would shift to a reserve fund due to the passage of Propositions 1, 2 and 3, has passed the Senate on a unanimous, 34-0 vote. Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, said, “School districts based their budget on this money, and it’s my belief that we owe it to them to have it reinstated.” He added, “This is an important bill to our local school districts.” The bill earlier passed the House unanimously, and now heads to the governor’s desk.

The bill doesn’t reinstate the controversial reform programs; it just keeps the funds for public schools this year at their current level.

How they voted…

Here’s how senators voted on SB 1192a, the bill to exempt a state parking garage project near the Capitol from Boise city planning and zoning rules; it passed, 24-11, and now goes to the House:

Voting in favor: Sens. Bair, Bayer, Brackett, Cameron, Davis, Fulcher, Goedde, Guthrie, Hagedorn, Heider, Hill, Keough, Lodge, Mortimer, Nonini, Nuxoll, Patrick, Pearce, Rice, Siddoway, Thayn, Tippets, Vick and Winder.

Voting against: Sens. Bock, Buckner-Webb, Durst, Johnson, Lacey, Lakey, Martin, McKenzie, Schmidt, Stennett, and Werk.

Senate passes bill to exempt state garage project from city P&Z rules

Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, told the Senate that SB 1192a would let the state override the city of Boise’s design review process if appeals can’t be resolved in a timely manner over a proposed state parking garage near the Capitol. “It was not the intent of the state to go around the design standards – in fact, they thought they had designed a building that met the design standards,” Winder said. The bill has been amended so it only applies to the block on which the parking garage is proposed, and it expires in 2014; he said the bill was requested by the state Department of Administration. As originally proposed, the bill would have exempted the entire Capitol Mall area from local planning and zoning requirements, permanently. “Some of us felt like that was going a little too far,” Winder said. “We do have responsibility, we do have accountability within the community.”

Winder said cities do have authority on local planning. But, he said, “That authority comes from the land use planning act that this Legislature passes. So if we give them the authority, we also have the authority to not necessarily override it, but to exempt ourselves from that.”

He added, “This is the last step in a process if they can’t come together sometime in the future. … To keep the process moving and not have to have the delay in cost and time.”

Three Boise senators debated hard against the bill. Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise, said it came up at his local neighborhood association meeting last night, and a former Idaho Supreme Court justice was there, and said the bill’s unconstitutional as a local and special law. “I would say when we put in code a specific city block and say what a city may or may not do with that block, we are in direct violation of the Idaho Constitution. … This law is unconstitutional if we pass it, and we should know that that’s the case before we get into it.”

Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, said the state got the cart before the horse by designing and selling bonds for the garage before securing city approval; and Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, urged respect for the three designated historic districts that abut the site.

Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, said he didn’t think the bill was unconstitutional. “The Capitol Mall is not the business of the city of Boise,” he said. “It is the business of the citizenry of the entire state to have adequate facilities in the Capitol Mall for the business of governing the entire state.”

Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa, said, “I’ve certainly suffered through what I feel are perhaps overreaching regulations in the private sector with my clients on these kinds of issues, but at the same time I believe in local control. … My problem here is giving ourselves an exception when the private sector is required to comply.”

Winder, in his closing debate, said, “This is needed, it is timely and it needs to be moved along.” The bill then passed on a 24-11 vote, and now moves to the House.

Senate won’t do public lands transfer bills today…

The Senate will not take up the two federal lands transfer measures today, HCR 21 and 22. Instead, it will suspend rules to consider three bills now on its 2nd Reading Calendar: SB 1192a, exempting the state parking garage project from local Boise city planning and zoning design review rules; SB 1040a, an amended education bill letting school districts lower teachers’ salaries or cut contract days from one year to the next; and HB 65, the “fix-it” bill that restores $30 million to the current year’s public school budget that otherwise would have shifted as a result of voters’ rejection of Propositions 1, 2 and 3 in November.

‘Sine Die Sale’ in the Capitol Gift Shop…

The Capitol Giftshop, located off the garden level rotunda of the state Capitol, is holding its “Sine Die Sale” starting today, on everything from “Idaho State Capitol” hooded sweatshirts to books signed by their Idaho authors. The gift shop sale runs through the day today, but the gift shop will be closed on Monday; the sale will resume on Tuesday.

Miller on flowers: ‘It’s kind of something a gentleman does’

The House had wrapped up its business for the day by 8:35 this morning, and adjourned until 1:30 on Monday – which also happens to be April Fools Day. “There’s a good vibe in the room, and I think it has to do with the upcoming weekend,” House Speaker Scott Bedke told the members.

The House chamber is looking springy and festive this morning, thanks to bouquets of colorful spring flowers on the desks of each of its 22 female members. “They’re from the gentlemen,” said a smiling Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa. Rep. Steve Miller, R-Fairfield, got the male members of the House to chip in for the bouquets for the female members; he said “pretty much most of them” did. Said Miller, “It’s nice to recognize the women of the House – it’s kind of something a gentleman does.”

Each bouquet was accompanied by a card saying, “Thank you for your service… From the gentlemen of the House.”

House honors retiring Idaho Public TV chief Peter Morrill

The House this morning is honoring Peter Morrill, the retiring general manager of Idaho Public Television. “There are just a few things in this vast state of ours that tie us together,” said Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, a co-sponsor of the proclamation, HP 1, along with House Speaker Scott Bedke, Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, and Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett. “Certainly the Snake River, famous potatoes on our license plate, Highway 95, and Idaho Public  Television.” He said, “This proclamation recognizes the heart and driving force for Idaho Public Television, Peter Morrill, on his retirement after a 34-year career with Idaho Public Television.”

The proclamation, approved by a unanimous voice vote, notes that under Morrill’s leadership, Idaho Public TV has become the No. 1 most-watched PBS station in the nation; Morrill also spearheaded the  Internet streaming that’s brought the proceedings of the Legislature and its committees live to citizens across the state.

Morrill was in the House gallery this morning; after the proclamation was approved, the House honored him with a standing ovation. Bedke, drawing laughter, told him, “Mr. Morrill, thank you for all that you’ve done. You can’t leave unless you pick a good replacement.”

The resolution says in part, “We recognize, honor and commend PeterMorrill for his years of service to Idaho Public Television as well as his positive contributions to the Idaho Legislature and to the citizens of Idaho,and we wish him well in retirement.”

Health worker assault bill killed as CdA lawmakers clash

Here’s a link to my full story at on how Coeur d’Alene Rep. Luke Malek's bill to make attacking a health care worker a felony - a measure requested in part by Kootenai Medical Center, which says violent attacks there are increasing - was killed in the Senate Thursday after the lieutenant governor broke a rare tie vote, and Coeur d’Alene Sen. Bob Nonini decried the measure as too “harsh.”

House kills bill to hike wolf tag fees to pay livestock owners

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — House lawmakers voted 35-33 against shifting money from hunting licenses to compensate ranchers for livestock losses and fund state efforts to kill wolves. Thursday's narrow rejection came after the Idaho Department of Fish and Game raised objections along with hunters and outfitters. Rep. Judy Boyle, a Midvale Republican and ardent wolf foe, sought to hike wolf hunting tags by to $15 for residents, up $5.25, and $188.25 for non-residents, up $4. From each license, Boyle then wanted to shift $8 into a “Wolf Depredation Account.” Half its proceeds would have gone to wolf control, half to livestock owners who lost animals to wolf attacks. But Rep. Marc Gibbs, a former Idaho Fish and Game commissioner, said hunters worried about the poor precedent set by using hunting-tag revenue to reimburse ranchers.

Lt. Gov. Little: ‘That’s why I read the bills’

Idaho Lt. Gov. Brad Little said not 10 minutes before he was called on to break a tie vote in the Senate today, he’d been talking with Senate pages, who asked him if he ever got to vote. He explained that he voted only in case of a tie – which at that point hadn’t happened yet this year – but that he never knew when that would occur. “That’s why I read the bills, because I never know until the roll call,” Little said.

When the Senate’s vote came out 17-17 on HB 292, legislation to make assaults or batteries on health workers felonies, Little said he’d just been convinced to oppose the bill by Sen. Curt McKenzie’s debate, when McKenzie explained his vote. “I was going to vote for that,” Little said. But he said McKenzie’s discussion of the “low hurdle for battery” offenses persuaded him that a battery could be any unwanted touching. “We’d have more people going into the penal system,” Little said. “We’re always saying we’ve got too many people incarcerated.”

He added, “I have to think that next year, Luke (Malek) will probably bring that bill back.”

Fed judge rejects former Sen. Craig’s official duties argument

A federal judge today refused to dismiss a Federal Election Commission lawsuit against former Idaho Sen. Larry Craig for using $217,000 in campaign funds for his legal defense after his arrest in a 2007 airport bathroom sex sting, the Associated Press reports. Craig had argued the use of the funds was appropriate because the incident occurred in the course of his official duties, but U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson found that the charge against Craig didn't relate “to his conduct as a legislator, but only actions undertaken in the privacy and anonymity of a restroom stall.” The judge set a scheduling conference in the case for April 26; click below for a full report from AP reporter Frederic J. Frommer in Washington, D.C.

Nonini: ‘No comment’

Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, declined to respond to questions from a reporter about his debate against HB 292, the health worker assault bill, or his response to Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, the bill’s sponsor, who said Nonini questioned his ethics for sponsoring the bill. “I told you ‘no comment,’ and let’s leave it at that,” Nonini said.

Malek points to ‘misconceptions’ on health assault bill; Nonini faults Malek’s ethics

Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, a former Kootenai County deputy prosecutor whose first bill as an Idaho state representative was defeated on a tied Senate vote today – a tie that was broken by a no vote from Lt. Gov. Brad Little – said, “I’m disappointed that it was defeated this year, but confident that once we iron out the misconceptions voiced in the floor debate, we will be successful next year.”

Malek said Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, was mistaken when he said the bill would make it a felony to just assault a health care worker with words. “There is no such thing as verbal assault,” Malek said. He pointed to Idaho Code 18-901, which includes the “by word or act” phrase to which Nonini referred in the Senate debate. The full section defines an assault as:

“(a) An unlawful attempt, coupled with apparent ability, to commit a violent injury on the person of another; or

(b) An intentional, unlawful threat by word or act to do violence to the person of another, coupled with an apparent ability to do so, and doing some act which creates a well-founded fear in such other person that such violence is imminent.”

So a verbal threat alone, Malek said, isn’t an assault.

In addition, Malek objected to an email Nonini sent to the director of emergency and trauma services at Kootenai Medical Center, which has been pushing for the bill, questioning Malek’s ethics for sponsoring it. “It sure appears as a conflict that Luke Malek did not disclose that he was doing this as a favor to his father and KMC,” Nonini wrote. “Young Luke needs to understand that we expect more transparency in government that Luke is willing to concede.”

Both of Malek’s parents are doctors; his dad is an emergency room physician and his mom is in family practice; both practice in Coeur d'Alene and have done so for more than 20 years. Malek, 31, said he first heard about the issue at an Idaho Medical Association legislative meeting in Coeur d’Alene, and there’s no conflict between his father’s profession and his sponsorship of the bill.

Malek said of Nonini, “This isn’t the first time he’s impugned my character. He makes a habit out of telling people to follow the money if he disagrees with whatever decision I’m making.” Malek said as a lawyer, he’s especially sensitive to allegations of ethics violations. “You’ve got to get out ahead of ethics complaints,” he said. “An accusation can sometimes be as damaging as an actual violation.”

He added, “I think what we are seeing in Bob’s case is mostly frustration with an inability, once again, to create any sort of coherent legislative agenda on his own behalf. That would be about the only explanation for his inability to correctly construe the plain meaning of rules, which he should, by now, be very familiar with.”

Malek said he welcomes a chance to work more on HB 292 and make sure senators are informed about the issues behind it; KMC and other health care providers in the state have cited a growing tide of violent attacks against health care workers in calling for the felony-penalty bill. Said Malek, “It’s another opportunity to make something that I think is great better. I think a lot of that is just explaining things, like the ‘verbal assault.’”

Monday joint Ed meeting canceled, at least for now…

The joint meeting of the House and Senate Education committees that Senate Ed Chair John Goedde had announced earlier today - which was set for 8 a.m. Monday - has been canceled, at least for now. “It appears that the ideas being developed for the germane committee work and public input are not yet seasoned enough to be heard,” Goedde said in an email. “The meeting I announced in the Senate Education Committee this afternoon has been cancelled for the present.”

Little breaks tie, kills health worker felony assault bill

Rep. Luke Malek’s House-passed bill to make assaults on health care workers a felony has been defeated in the Senate, after Lt. Gov. Brad Little broke a 17-17 tie vote, voting against the bill and killing it.

The bill, HB 292, was sought by Kootenai Medical Center and other health care providers around the state, who said there’s been a growing number of violent attacks on health workers, and they’re required to treat all patients, even violent ones. Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, said, “What we do know is that there is a problem with assault and battery on health care workers.” But, he said, “If we were enforcing the laws we currently have, we would see a deterrent effect without this bill. … It’s horrible for someone to assault a health care worker. It’s just as horrible to assault a cashier in a grocery store, or somebody at the park, or any other member of society. … We keep increasing the penalties, not enforcing the ones we already have.”

Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, disagreed. “I think we’re dealing with a unique group of people here,” he told the Senate. “We expect them to provide medical emergency services when they arrive at the emergency room. … I think we have to recognize that this is a special class, and we should treat them accordingly.”

Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, spoke out against the bill, saying it would include verbal assaults. “I think this legislation goes a bit far,” he said. “They’re going to be subject to five years in the state penitentiary? … I would hope that the sponsors could work on this over the interim … come back with something a little tighter, maybe not so harsh.”

Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa, the bill’s Senate sponsor, said, “We are talking about individuals that are different than Joe Citizen. … This is not the cashier in the grocery store that has the sign in the front that says, ‘No shirt, no shoes, no service.’ They have to provide medical care… and in doing so they put themselves into close proximity to those people.”

It was the first time this legislative session that Little, the president of the Senate, has had to vote; he votes only to break a tie.

Both public lands transfer measures clear Senate panel, Dems dissent

Rep. Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, urged passage of both lands-transfer measures. “For the management of the resource, I think this is a discussion that we have to start,” he said. Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, moved to approve HCR 21, the study committee resolution, and his motion carried in the Senate State Affairs Committee on a voice vote.

Siddoway then moved to approve HCR 22 as well, the resolution demanding the transfer of title to the lands. Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, said he’s support the motion but reserve the right to not support the measure in the full Senate, after he’s had a chance to read through more material on it.

Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, offered a substitute motion to hold HCR 22 in committee, but it failed on a party-line vote. “The study committee, I can live with,” Werk said. “I’m not convinced HCR 22 is needed for us to do that study.” After that motion failed, Siddoway’s motion passed on a party-line vote, with just the panel’s two Democrats objecting; both public lands transfer resolutions now move to the full Senate. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Testimony on lands transfer: ‘Contrary to Constitution,’ ‘Lots of benefits’

Jonathan Oppenheimer of the Idaho Conservation League spoke against both public lands transfer resolutions, HCR 21 and HCR 22. HCR 21 would set up a study committee on a state takeover of federal land within the state; it passed the House on a 64-4 vote. HCR 22 demands that the federal government turn over title to the land to the state; it passed the House on a 55-13 party-line vote, with all House Democrats opposing it.

“This is contrary to the Idaho Constitution and admissions acts,” Oppenheimer told the Senate State Affairs Committee. “Public lands really represent the areas where Idahoans fish, where we hunt, where we recreate. They represent a tremendous economic engine to the state.” He said if title were transferred, “Public lands would be at risk for sale to the highest bidder, a notion that is steadfastly opposed by the majority of Idahoans.”

Wally Butler, range and livestock specialist for the Idaho Farm Bureau, spoke in favor of the measures. “Being a resource person, I see lots of benefits in the analysis that’s been prepared,” he told the committee. “HCR 22 does pull back or proposes to pull back the wilderness areas, monuments, etc.”

Betty Richardson, former U.S. Attorney for Idaho, said she’s concerned that proponents of the bill have looked only at the possible benefits to the state from the move, and haven’t looked at the full potential costs. “As the U.S. Attorney for Idaho for seven years, I know that the costs are not only the cost of the rangers and the biologists and the technicians, it is also the cost of federal law enforcement,” she warned. She urged the Legislature “to do the study committee first.”

Otter throws in towel on HOME tax credit for this year

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter said today that he’s no longer working on his $10 million “Hire One More Employee” or HOME tax credit this year; the bill, HB 88, passed the House on Feb. 14, but never got a hearing in the Senate Local Government & Taxation Committee. The measure renewed and expanded a little-used existing new-jobs tax credit, changed some of its provisions, and added an extra $1,000 credit if the new employee is a veteran.

Senate Local Government & Taxation Committee Chairman Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, has declined to hold hearings on an array of House-passed tax credit and tax exemption bills this year. He said earlier this week that he was concerned that the bill did nothing for employers who kept all their workers on through the recession, rewarding only new hires now.

Otter said, “There was concern about the price tag, how it fit into the appropriation process. So we beg leave to come back another day. I’m confident we’ll come back with something next session.”

Denney pitches federal lands transfer resolutions to Senate committee

House Resources Chairman Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, is pitching his two federal lands transfer measures to the Senate State Affairs Committee this afternoon. The measures, he said, “make the historic and legal case for the transfer of title of the public lands within the boundaries of the state of Idaho from the federal government to the state of Idaho.”

He said, “The bigger policy issue before us is the management and the ownership of the lands within our boundaries. … We’re not proposing to clear-cut the entire forest, but to manage for multiple use and sustained yield.”

Joint Ed hearing Monday to focus on tech pilot projects, teacher merit bonuses only

Senate Education Chairman John Goedde announced at the close of today’s Senate Education Committee that “there will be an RS (bill) or two that will be printed in the House committee tomorrow,” and then will come up for a hearing before the joint House and Senate Education committees at 8 a.m. on Monday in the Lincoln Auditorium. Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, asked “what that Monday meeting might entail – is it going to be a listening session with hours of testimony? Is it just going to be for legislators?”

Goedde responded, “I think we’ll hear from some stakeholders. The RS’s deal with the technology pilot program and the awards for excellence piece, sections 25 and 26 that were in the appropriation bill. We’re not going to be taking testimony on anything outside that scope.”

He added, “It’s scheduled 8-9:30, and we may not take that much time.”

After the meeting, Goedde, asked about concerns he'd expressed during the Senate debate on the rejected public school budget about restoring frozen steps in the teacher salary grid, said, “We're not going to approach that - that will stay with the joint committee. They're the ones that froze it.”

House clears two more ISBA-backed bills

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — On party-line votes, the House approved two school board association-backed bills aiming give to districts more leverage during negotiations as well as require the teachers union to prove it represents a majority of a district's educators before it can bargain for them. The two measures, pushed by the Idaho School Board Association after similar provisions were dumped as part of voters' rejection of the “Students Come First” laws in November, each cleared the chamber on 57-13 votes, with Democrats against the measures. Idaho School Board Association Executive Director Karen Echeverria has said the legislation gives school boards more flexibility to manage their finances. The Idaho Education Association teachers union opposed the measures. Both bills, SB 1147 and 1149, have already cleared the Senate and now go to Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter for his signature.

Senate Ed finally passes HB 65

Just as soon as the Senate Education Committee convened this afternoon, Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise, moved to approve HB 65 and send it to the Senate with a recommendation that it pass. Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, seconded the motion. “It seems to me that for the benefit for the students in our schools, this is probably the time that we should get this done for them so they can have some certainty in this school year,” Durst said. “I’m glad that we finally had a chance to make a motion on it.”

The bill, which passed the House unanimously more than a month ago, keeps school funding whole for the current school year; otherwise, the failure of Propositions 1, 2 and 3 would have put $30 million of current-year funding in limbo. “I’ve gotten a lot of emails saying we shouldn’t put anything in that the props took out,” Thayn said. But he said those emailers don’t seem to understand that the $30 million is part of the current year’s school budget, aside from the controversial reforms on which the propositions focused. “I think this is the thing to do,” Thayn said. “This is just this year’s fix.”

Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, complimented committee Chairman John Goedde on his work on the bill. “The largest school district in the state is mostly in my backyard,” he said. “I know this has had a big impact and is extremely important to them. Your work and persistence on this is not lost on me and my school district.”

The bill was approved on a unanimous voice vote and now moves to the full Senate.

Transportation funding issue resurfaces…

Five bills were introduced in the House Transportation Committee this week for big boosts in state funding for roads, from shifting sales taxes from sales of tires and automotive equipment to the highway fund, to phasing in a 10-cent increase in Idaho’s gas tax, to raising registration fees for cars and semi-trucks, to imposing new fees on electric and hybrid vehicles and a new tax on rental cars. Four were from Senate Transportation Chairman Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, and one from Rep. Clark Kauffman, R-Filer. None are moving forward this year, but all have been introduced in the House for public comment and discussion between now and next year.

Gov. Butch Otter, whose big transportation funding initiative failed in the 2009 legislative session, subsequently appointed a task force chaired by Lt. Gov. Brad Little that studied the issue for more than a year and determined that Idaho needs to spend more than $540 million more annually than it does now to adequately maintain and improve its state and local road system. Otter said today that he doesn’t know if his proposals would have a “softer landing” in today’s Legislature than they did back in 2009, but said, “I think it’s time to begin that discussion.”

Joint House, Senate Education hearing set for Monday morning at 8

Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, has just announced that the Senate and House Education committees will hold a joint hearing on Monday morning at 8. He said notices will be going up shortly for that joint hearing. Meanwhile, the Senate Education Committee meets at 1 today; and the Senate State Affairs Committee will meet at 2:15 in the Judiciary & Rules meeting room.

The Senate has now recessed until 2:30 p.m., and the House until 3 p.m.

Senate endorses charter school governance overhaul on 28-7 vote

The Senate has voted 28-7 in favor of HB 221a, the bill overhauling charter school governance in Idaho. Like HB 206a, the charter school facilities funding bill, the measure now heads back to the House for concurrence in the Senate amendments.

Charter governance bill: ‘Measurable academic standards’

Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, said HB 221a, the charter school governance bill, overhauls Idaho’s charter school system in ways negotiated by stakeholders including the Idaho Charter School Network, the Idaho School Boards Association, the State Department of Education and others. “It made great strides in aligning Idaho’s charter school laws to the national model as proposed by the national alliance of public charter schools,” Goedde told the Senate.

Among the changes: “Every five years they have to go back to their authorizers,” Goedde said, to show they’ve met commitments; when first authorized, the term is three years. “It holds both charter schools and their authorizers to measurable academic standards,” Goedde said. The bill also overhauls the membership of Idaho’s charter school commission, and allows public or private colleges or universities to authorize charter schools; currently only the state commission or local school districts can do that.

The most controversial piece of the bill as originally written, letting non-profit 501c3 corporations set up publicly funded charter schools in Idaho, was removed in Senate amendments to the bill.

Charter facilities bill passes Senate, 20-15

The Senate has voted 20-15 in favor of HB 206a, the charter school facilities funding bill. That measure now returns to the House for concurrence in the Senate amendments. Now, the Senate is taking up HB 221, the bill making changes to charter school governance in Idaho.

Charter facilities debate: ‘We just give them free money,’ ‘A huge help in paying their mortgage’

In the debate on HB 206a, the charter school facilities funding bill:

Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise, said, “We’re talking about taking money out of the general fund. … They actually set up a parallel system rather than integrating systems together. … We’re making new statutory spending … we just give them free money.”

Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, said, “We fund traditional schools as if they were a Chevy Malibu. We fund charters as if they were a Chevy Nova. It’s less money.” He said there’s a charter school in his district that’s among the top high schools in the nation, and it’s “slowly depleting its reserve trying to make every dollar stretch. … $34,000 would be a huge help in paying their mortgage.”

Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said, “I have an issue and a concern that we are now embarking down a road where we are admitting that we are going to pay for facilities. … Right or wrong, it’s been the public policy of this state that the state would not provide facilities.”

Senate takes up charter school facilities funding bill

The Senate is now debating HB 206a, the bill to provide state funding for school facilities at charter schools, to be distributed through a per-student formula. “I would argue that all schools have improved due to the presence of these public charter schools, and as importantly, Idaho parents have more educational choice because of these charter schools,” Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, told the Senate.

Mortimer said charter schools now have to tap their per-student classroom funding from the state to pay for building costs, compared to traditional schools, which ask voters to approve bond or facility levies to fund that. “Certainly our charter schools have the right to … claim facilities funding from the state in order to maintain safe and secure” school facilities, he said. “As a matter of fact, there’s a state constitutional requirement to provide a general uniform and thorough system of public free common schools and also to work on those facilities. This bill provides just a very small step. … The average charter school will receive about $34,000 in one year under this proposal.”

Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, spoke against the bill, and a companion measure, HB 221a. “I was on the Senate Education Committee when we established charter schools, voted for it … and have supported them ever since, and continue to do so,” Keough told the Senate. “I believe they do offer an alternative and a choice in our system. I’ll be voting no on this bill and the next one because at the time when we set it up, we were setting up a system that at that point in time, it was about innovation and laboratories of experiment that could provide choice but also provide  laboratories of research in how to do things better in our traditional system. And when we set the charter system up, we did some special things for the charters that we don’t do for our traditional schools.”

“Our charters can go to the bank and get a loan,” Keough said. “Our traditional schools have to pass a levy, either a facilities levy or a school bond which requires a two-thirds majority. I really think now the time is for us to integrate the sytem, and I recognize that perhaps this bill does that, but I think it doess it in a piecemeal system. … I think it’s been long enough since the charter system was established that we should take a holistic look … and make what’s working for the charters work for the traditional, and vice versa.”

Otter: ‘We’ve got an end in sight’

Talking with reporters after his bill-signing ceremony this morning, Gov. Butch Otter called his meeting with key lawmakers and others last night on the failed public school vote in the Senate yesterday a “successful” one. “I believe that No. 1 that meeting that we had was successful in laying out a timeline strategy and also molding the differences into … a path forward and agreement,” he said. “We’ve got a process that we need to follow.”

Otter said leaders are concerned about complying with the Idaho Open Meeting Law in giving adequate notice of public hearings that will be held on education issues. “I felt that there was some agreement just to get it going as soon as possible,” he said.

Part of the discussion focused on HB 65, he said, the bill restoring $30 million to school districts in this year’s public school budget to keep them whole after the failure of Propositions 1, 2 and 3. Though that bill passed the House unanimously more than a month ago, it’s languished in the Senate Education Committee. “There was a question about why it hadn’t been treated,” Otter said. “We had to see some movement on 65.” The Senate committee now has that bill on its agenda for its 1 p.m. meeting today.

Said the governor, “We’ve got an end in sight, we’ve got a strategy to get there. I believe we have an agreement, although I think it may be a little fragile … to go forward.”

Otter signs ‘Opportunity Fund’ bill, Commerce says there’s ‘whole pipeline’ of projects

Gov. Butch Otter held a bill-signing ceremony this morning for HB 100, establishing a $3 million “Idaho Opportunity Fund” in the state Department of Commerce to help the state convince existing and new businesses to create jobs in Idaho, by awarding grants to communities to support public infrastructure needs specifically tied to new jobs. “Obviously our first priority is to keep those folks that are in Idaho in Idaho, and if they need to expand we want ‘em to stay right here and expand, and if we can attract some new businesses with a little bit of help and a little bit of opportunity, that’s exactly what the Idaho Opportunity Fund is all about,” Otter said.

Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, chairman of the House Business Committee, said, “HB 100 is uniquely structured. … It does it on the basis of performance that’s actually achieved. Resources are made available on the basis of jobs that have actually been created. It’s unique, it is aggressive, and it is a new tool, and we look forward to putting it to work.”

State Commerce Director Jeff Sayer said he has “a whole pipeline” of projects that could be eligible for the funds. “In fact, our pipeline right now … exceeds 2,000 jobs and exceeds $400 million in capital investment for the state, so this will be one of the resources,” he said. “The fun part is that some of those are expansion projects.”

Hill: No adjournment before at least mid-week next week

Gov. Butch Otter met with legislative leaders for 45 minutes this afternoon, and they emerged with only one thing certain: The session won’t be ending Friday, following today’s Senate defeat of the $1.3 billion public schools budget. Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, told the Associated Press that there will be public hearings in the House and Senate education committees on all the disputed issues: Teacher salaries, funding for school operations and technology.

The meeting in the governor's office also included House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley; state schools Superintendent Tom Luna; Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene; House Education Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle; Lt. Gov. Brad Little; House Appropriations Chairwoman Maxine Bell, R-Jerome; and Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, along with several of the governor’s staffers.

“Certainly no solution has come forward yet,” Cameron said afterward. “Obviously the two germane committee chairs are going to meet and discuss potential pieces of legislation that could come forward, and we’ll see how that works. But I’ll say it was a healthy discussion and a healthy exchange of thoughts and positions.” He added, “We had an opportunity to share some ideas as to how to move forward, but there’s still a lot of work to be done and a lot of work by the germane committees. So we wish them well and hope that they have success in doing what they want to do.”

Cameron said the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, under its rules, wouldn’t reconvene to consider action from germane committees until that legislation has passed at least one house. “It won't be this week,” he said. “I don't see us meeting until probably the middle of next week, and maybe that's pushing it, too, depending on how it happens.”

Senate passes bill F&G opposed to shift $$ from access program to animal damage control

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Senate voted 26-8 to divert money from a Department of Fish and Game hunter-access program to wolf control, an effort backed by the state's livestock industry. Wednesday's vote came over objections from Idaho's wildlife agency, whose Fish and Game Commission opposed the measure. Supporters of shifting funding from the Sportsmen's Access Yes! program to Idaho's animal damage control account argued the cash would reduce predators, helping ranchers as well as big-game hunters angry that wolves eat too many elk. Foes included Pocatello Sen. Roy Lacey, who said he was among residents eager to see wolves eradicated. Lacey suggested they might attack him while he rides his bike near Island Park. Even so, Lacey said this bill amounted to raiding Fish and Game money. The measure, HB 278, has passed the House, and now heads to the governor.

Senate Ed sets hearing - again - on HB 65; leaders huddle with Otter…

The Senate Education Committee has posted a meeting agenda for tomorrow at 1 p.m., and it includes HB 65, the budget fix for schools for the current year that makes sure schools don’t lose $30 million in current-year funding due to the failure of Propositions 1, 2 and 3 in November. The bill passed the House unanimously, 69-0, on Feb. 19, but it’s languished on the Senate side, where it’s appeared on the Senate committee’s agenda three other times, but not moved.

Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, said earlier this afternoon, “My concern has been that I don’t know that we’ve got the votes in committee to move it forward. There’s no question that we have to do something to get that money to districts before we (adjourn) sine die.” Goedde said he thought the defeat of the fiscal year 2014 public school budget on the Senate floor today would help HB 65’s chances in his committee.

What’s not on tomorrow’s agenda, at this point: Any particular action in the wake of the budget bill’s defeat…

Late this afternoon, Goedde, Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, and GOP legislative leaders huddled with Gov. Butch Otter in the governor’s office, where the governor met with them just after returning from his “Capitol for a Day” event in Emmett; when I checked, they'd been in at least half an hour. “We don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Otter’s communications director, Mark Warbis. “They’re just trying to see what they can work out.”

The last time a school budget was defeated, in ‘92, it happened four times…

When was the last time a public school budget was defeated on the floor of the Idaho House or Senate? Turns out the answer is 1992, and it was a doozy. That year, the first version of the school budget, HB 704, failed in the House on a 32-52 vote. The second version passed the House, but failed in the Senate, 18-24. The third version again passed the House and failed in the Senate, 17-25. The fourth version went straight to the Senate, where it failed, 18-24. The final version, HB 878, passed the House 47-37 and then cleared the Senate on a razor-thin 22-21 vote before being signed into law by then-Gov. Cecil Andrus.

Law Dean Don Burnett named interim president of U of I

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: MOSCOW, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho State Board of Education has named Donald Burnett as interim president of the University of Idaho. Burnett is the dean of the College of Law at the Moscow-based university. The board voted unanimously on Wednesday to place Burnett in charge while it searches for a permanent replacement for Duane Nellis, who is leaving to become president of Texas Tech University. Burnett will be paid $240,000 a year and his new position becomes effective on June 1. Nellis took over UI's top administrative post in 2009 after an 11-month search. Since 2003, UI has had four different leaders, including two presidents and two interim presidents.

Limerick No. 1: Radiator capping in an Internet age

(See Davlin post and Popkey post for the background on this)

To Facebook with such a lament

Good Senator Hagedorn went

There to embroil

With Moyle and Boyle

And where they did all cybervent.

House votes 63-7 in favor of anti-marijuana resolution

The House has voted 63-7 in favor of SCR 112, the resolution stating that it’s the position of the Idaho Legislature that marijuana should never be legalized in the state for any purpose. “It doesn’t do anything other than just state our position that we’re against it,” Rep. Jason Monks, R-Meridian, told the House. Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, told Monks, “I happen to share your opinion about use of marijuana and medical marijuana. However, I have a question, good gentleman: What are we trying to do with this resolution?” Monks responded by reading from the resolution, including the “therefore be it resolved” part. “So this just states that we support the laws of the state of Idaho the way they are now, correct?” Rusche asked. “I suppose that’s one way you could look at the resolution,” Monks said.

Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, a former deputy Kootenai County prosecutor, said the resolution was in order because unlike other crimes already outlawed in Idaho, marijuana offenses “are being legalized en masse around the nation, and medical marijuana in my opinion is a pretty farcical predatory scheme that’s getting worse.”

Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, said, “I’m afraid I would be remiss if I didn’t speak up for certain individuals I know that are suffering from debilitating disease that is painful, and they tell me they do get some relief from using this product on a medicinal basis. That’s not to say maybe that they couldn’t find something else, but I think they’re very grateful for the relief that they can get.”

Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, a retired state trooper, said he’s spent much time in the summers the last 10 years trekking through the Idaho mountains, searching out marijuana grows as part of law-enforcement operations. “This gives me a great warm feeling,” Wills told the House. “Law enforcement officers all over the state of Idaho are grateful” for the anti-marijuana resolution, he said. The resolution earlier passed the Senate 29-5; today’s House vote marks its final passage.

Senate kills overseas voter bill

HB 176, Coeur d’Alene GOP Rep. Kathy Sims’ bill to ban Idaho voters who’ve moved overseas from voting in state or local elections, has been defeated by a single vote in the Senate. The bill was just voted down, 17-18, after senators raised concerns about how it might affect Peace Corps volunteers, students studying internationally or young people serving religious missions. “We’ve got the best system in the world, but it’s only that way because people have the right to vote, and I don’t think we should take that away,” declared Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa. Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, described his son’s Peace Corps volunteer service. “The idea that my son would be deprived of the right to vote while he was off doing service to his country is something that I can’t accept, and I urge you to vote no,” he said.

Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, who like McKenzie and Bock is an attorney, said the way the bill is written, “Anybody who just moved to a different house in the state would get swept up in this.”

Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, the bill’s Senate sponsor, said it was written in response to Canadians voting in a Coeur d’Alene city election. “The purpose of this is not to disenfranchise voters,” Nonini said. “In the case of the voters that voted in the Coeur d’Alene city election, they had purposely left and taken up residence in another country, they didn’t maintain a residence in Idaho.”

The bill earlier passed the House on a 53-14 vote; it was co-sponsored by Sims and Rep. Ed Morse, R-Hayden.

‘We might as well just be writing blank checks’

Here’s a link to my full story at on today’s stunning and historic defeat of the public school budget by one vote in the Senate, derailing plans to end Idaho’s legislative session this week. Though opponents complained that the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee overstepped its bounds by setting policy in the budget bill, JFAC Co-Chair Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said this year’s budget included less “intent language” along with the budget numbers than most public school budgets. “The idea that JFAC shouldn’t be able to write language is ludicrous,” Cameron said. “Otherwise, we might as well just be writing blank checks.”

Goedde: ‘We’re here to do it the right way’

Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, who led the historic move in the Senate to defeat the public school budget today – after it had cleared the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee on a 15-5 vote and passed the House 52-16 – said after the vote that he believes the germane committees in both houses, the House and Senate education committees, need to hold hearings on proposals like merit bonuses for teachers and technology pilot project grants. “I think leadership’s going to have to carve out time for that to happen,” Goedde said. “We’re here to do it the right way. … There was no public input on policy changes.”

Though the public school budget bill, HB 323, was backed by an array of interests ranging from two-thirds of JFAC to state schools Superintendent Tom Luna to the associations of school boards, administrators and teachers – and was crafted in part through long meetings mediated by House Speaker Scott Bedke – Goedde said, “I was the education chair that was not included in the grand compromise.” Goedde cited “a number of discussions, most of which in the speaker’s office,” that occurred “at the time of session that my father passed away.” He said, “I did spend 2-1/2 hours in the speaker’s office one afternoon.”

Goedde said he was confident going in to the Senate vote, though no public school budget has been defeated in either house of the Legislature in the past two decades. “I thought I had it 19-16,” he said; the vote was 18-17.

He said, “I thought there were more votes on the floor against the process than … the bill itself,” and suggested the two programs he wants committee hearings on might well win approval, though possibly with some modifications. “I support differentiated pay,” he said, “and I support technology, and pilots have worked very well in Utah.”

Session won’t end this week after all…

With the defeat of the public school budget in the Senate today, the legislative session won't end this week as had been anticipated. “I think at a minimum you're adding another week to the session,” said JFAC Co-Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert.

How they voted…

Here’s how senators voted in today’s historic defeat of the public schools budget, HB 323:

Voting in favor of the budget bill: Sens. Bock, Buckner-Webb, Cameron, Davis, Durst, Hill, Johnson, Keough, Lacey, Lakey, Lodge, McKenzie, Rice, Schmidt, Stennett, Tippets, and Werk.

Voting against: Sens. Bair, Bayer, Brackett, Fulcher, Goedde, Guthrie, Hagedorn, Heider, Martin, Mortimer, Nonini, Nuxoll, Patrick, Pearce, Siddoway, Thayn, Vick, and Winder.

Senate defeats public school budget on 17-18 vote

The Senate has defeated the public school budget, HB 323, by one vote; it was 17-18.

Cameron: ‘It seems almost a little bit surreal’

After comments from Sen. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, against HB 323, the school budget, Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, has begun his closing debate. “It is our highest priority to fund public education,” he told the Senate. “This isn’t an easy budget. It’s not easy because it contains many pieces and factors that in the past myself personally have stood and opposed. … It seems almost a little bit surreal that I’m standing here with a budget that has money in it for excellence in education awards, when I have opposed that in the past, and some of my friends who were supporters of that concept are now opposing this budget.”

He’s now describing the process that the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee goes through when it sets the public schools budget, the largest one it sets. Cameron said it’s the closest thing to zero-based budgeting that Idaho has. “Everything in the public schools budget is out on the table every year,” he said. “The process is very open and transparent, and we try very hard to satisfy the concerns of the stakeholders.”

Cameron said in his view, the provision in the budget restoring frozen steps on the teacher salary grid gives school districts more flexibility - because many reacted to the freeze in state funds for teacher pay by shifting other district funds to keep teacher pay whole. “They now have the ability to move that money back down to discretionary,” he said.

“I’d love to have more money in discretionary,” Cameron told the Senate. “Let me just tell you what we’ve done to salary-based apportionment since 2010. We’ve had two base salary reductions. Froze education credits on grid for one year. Froze experience credits on the grid for two years. Reduced minimum teacher salary. And we’ve had an overall reduction of 1.67 percent. The last place we hit in the public school budget was discretionary. The first place that got hit was salaries. This is the first step back. And it is a step back for discretionary as well, because we are freeing up discretionary dollars and we are giving an increase in discretionary dollars.”

Durst asks to be excused from voting on school budget; permission denied

Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise, asked unanimous consent of the Senate to be excused from voting on HB 323, the public school budget, saying he has a conflict of interest because his family would get “a direct pecuniary benefit” from the budget bill. There was an objection, however, from Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, and he was not excused; he will be required to vote.

Durst said his wife is a teacher and will get a pay increase under the budget bill. “To not excuse yourself when a direct financial benefit is certain is to corrupt the process and undermined the public trust, in my opinion,” Durst said in a tweet.

Opponents of school budget call for more flexibility for districts

Sen. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, also debated against HB 323, the public schools budget, saying he opposed the $21 million for merit bonuses and professional development, and instead thought that money should go to discretionary funding for school districts. “I just think we should properly fund the schools,” Patrick said. “The first place we’ve got to restore is in this discretionary funding. … Let’s just keep the lights on and put the money where it should be.”

Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, who cast one of five votes against the budget in the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, said school districts are suffering financially. “They’re seeing large increases in … utility costs. … Their budgets are at the very, very bottom,” he said. He said with the current funding crunch, “Our districts need flexibility.” Mortimer said he believes the technology pilot projects and the locally directed teacher merit bonuses included in the budget overstep the bounds of the budget committee.

Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, said, “I don’t think this budget has enough money for discretionary. So if we pay the teachers, but we have to RIF (reduction in force, or lay off) some teachers in order to free up some money for discretionary, that doesn’t seem to make sense. … I’m a proponent of starting over on this bill.”

Goedde: ‘We’re pouring money into a broken system’

Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, is speaking against the public school budget. He said he has no problem with the bottom line amount. “My problem lies in some specific areas in the budget,” he told the Senate. Goedde said he objects to restoring frozen steps on the teacher salary grid, contending the state would use one-time money for ongoing expenses. He also said schools have gotten more for salaries through the recession than other state agencies, and said rather than restore teacher pay, he’d prefer to “buy three additional contract days,” to allow for more professional development for teachers.  Said Goedde, “Everyone wins. … Students win from the opportunity of better-prepared teachers.”

Goedde said he thought the $21 million included in the budget for locally directed teacher merit bonuses and professional development lacked adequate “sideboards,” saying, “That allows the bar to be set at ankle height.” He also contended the money targeted toward wireless networks at the state’s high schools was inadequate, and said there were insufficient restrictions on the $3 million for grants for technology pilot projects. “In theory, the superintendent of public instruction could take that $3 million and send it to one pilot school and say this will pay for your program for six years,” Goedde said. “That gives me some concern.”

Goedde also said he wanted to preserve the $34 million that had been discussed at the start of the session as funding for recommendations from a stakeholders task force. “These are decisions the joint committee could make if this budget is returned to them,” he said. “I urge you to send the budget back to the joint committee for further work.” Goedde acknowledged that would extend the legislative session, now scheduled to adjourn by the end of this week.

He said, “I’m going to suggest to you that we’re pouring money into a broken system.” He said later that he was referring to the state's teacher salary schedule in that comment, not to the school system as a whole.

Senate opens debate on public school budget…

The Senate has begun its debate on HB 323, the public schools budget – the single largest slice of the state’s general fund budget. “This is not a perfect budget by anyone’s imagination or stretch, but it is a good budget,” Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, told the Senate. “It’s not as good a budget as we had in 2008 or 2009, but it’s as good a budget as we’ve seen in a while.” He said, “We are in this unique position, caught between the policies and ideas of the past and the desire to improve our educational system and move forward. The budget that is before you is a compromise budget, a bipartisan budget and a balanced approach.”

Cameron said the budget is supported by “all the stakeholders,” including state schools Superintendent Tom Luna; the Idaho School Boards Association; the Idaho Association of School Administrators; and the Idaho Education Association. Still, he said, “It is still about $110 million below where we were in 2009.”

Popkey: Still no apologies from Sen. Nonini to colleagues…

After Sen. Bob Nonini’s comments in Senate debate last week that he’s now “embarrassed by my actions last May in something that you’re probably all aware of,” when he spent thousands to back primary challengers against six GOP incumbents, Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey tracked down all six to see if Nonini ever apologized. The answer: No. Sen. John Tippets, R-Montpelier, told Popkey that Nonini approached him privately at the June state GOP convention.  “I received what I considered an apology,” Tippets said. “Maybe he didn't use that word, but that's how I took it.”

Asked if she’d like an apology, Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, told Popkey, “That's up to him. It’s his own conscience he has to live with. We're big people.” Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, said she was grateful for Nonini’s kind words about Tippets during the Senate’s health insurance exchange debate. “It's obvious that it eats at him,” said Keough, who serves with Nonini on the Transportation Committee. “He's made remarks off and on in committee. Never directly. Just side comments in front of other people about how he wants to move past it. I know it weighs heavy on his mind. I think the senator needs to build some bridges.”

Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, another Nonini target, told Popkey, “I don't care where people spend their money. My disappointment is that I thought Bob and I were friends, and that's pretty hard on a friendship.”

You can read Popkey’s full report here. Nonini wouldn’t comment for the article; that’s not surprising to me. After my coverage of Nonini’s campaign finance activity during the primary last spring, he told me at the beginning of this year’s legislative session that he doesn’t like my reporting and therefore won’t talk to me. Aside from a casual social comment, he’s not answered a single question since. He’s also refused to speak to several other Statehouse reporters when they posed questions about legislative issues.

House State Affairs reconsiders drone privacy bill it killed yesterday

Yesterday, the House State Affairs Committee killed SB 1134, Sen. Chuck Winder’s drone privacy bill. Today, the committee has voted to reconsider it. Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, said some amendments are in the works; Rep. Gayle Batt, R-Wilder, said she worked with a bipartisan group of committee members and the ACLU to craft amendments.

Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, said the proposed amendment “takes out the commercial aspect of it, which was wide as a barn door,” removing an exemption for commercial photography; adds a requirement for a warrant for specifically targeted attempts to gather information about people or private property; and makes several other changes, including altering the civil penalty provisions.

The committee voted unanimously to send the bill to general orders in the House for amendments.

Of silver coins, milkshakes, and spending less than comes in…

Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, jingled some silver coins for the House State Affairs Committee. “Gold and silver coin is the only lawful monetary option for states,” he intoned. “Right here I have some silver coins, four quarters and two half-dollars. … Those four quarters combined together have a little over three-quarters of an ounce of silver in them.” Nielsen recalled, “When I was a kid living in Hazelton … I had the opportunity to walk home the 4 miles from Eden to Hazelton, or we hitchhiked. … Every night my friend … he would stop at the drugstore in Eden, Idaho and buy a hard ice cream milkshake … with one of these quarters.” Today, the silver in that quarter is worth “a little over five bucks,” Nielsen said. “You can take this quarter today and still buy that same milkshake. It did not lose its purchasing power, and that’s what we’re talking about. … Gold and silver coin retains its purchasing power.”

Nielsen brought legislation to the committee for “specie legal tender,” saying, “Idaho can protect its citizens  by establishing this alternate legal currency prior to any … financial crisis.” Similar bills have been backed in the Legislature for several years, including by former Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol; none have become law. Nielsen said the alternate currency would solve the problem of inflation.

Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, said, “You say that there’s never enough money as we print it. Why isn’t there enough money if we spent less than came in, regardless of the type of monetary system we’re on? There would be money, in my view there would be money if we didn’t spend more than we had.”

Garage: ‘Our lack of planning becomes somebody else’s emergency’

Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, asked why the state issued bonds and committed to a design for a parking garage near the state Capitol before it had gone through the city of Boise’s permitting and design review process. Jeff Youtz, director of legislative services, said, “Our problem … was one of timing. The bonds have been sold. We’re retiring the bonds by the users of the parking facility.” He said, “The bonds were at historically favorable interest rates for the state to undertake this project.” Youtz said since the Legislature won’t be in session when the city’s process finishes up, “We just felt there was a need for a fallback situation in case we saw this project delayed for another year.”

Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, who once ran for mayor of Boise, said after meeting with Boise Mayor Dave Bieter and other state and city officials, he wants to revise the bill to make it specific only to the proposed parking garage; as written now, it exempts anything in the entire capitol mall area from local P&Z processes. He also wants to add a sunset clause so the bill expires in 2014. “No one intentionally goes out and invests in a design of something that they don’t think meets the standards,” Winder said. “They’re going to make every effort possible to work through this process.” He said he hopes the state “won’t ever need this piece of legislation,” and said an amended version of the bill would be “an effort to accommodate the needs of the city without hitting them with a huge hammer.”

Werk said of Winder’s amendments, “I certainly think it improves the bill,” but said, “This is an upsetting piece of legislation to me, because it feels like our lack of planning … becomes somebody else’s emergency. I think it’s just a rotten precedent. I understand that we’re going to work with the city, but what we’re basically doing here is saying if you don’t do what we want to do, we’ll just override you. … I just feel like this could have been avoided and should have been avoided.”

The committee then approved Winder’s motion, seconded by Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, to send SB 1192 to the Senate’s 14th Order for amendments.

Locals urge senators not to override local P&Z on capitol parking garage

Legislation seeking to exempt the state from local city planning and zoning rules as it develops a new parking garage near the state Capitol has drawn an array of opponents to testify against the bill, SB 1192, in the Senate State Affairs Committee this morning, from historic preservation advocates to the Boise City Council president to a state representative who represents the district. Dan Everhart, advocacy chair for Preservation Idaho, said the location abuts three designated historic districts, designated in 1976, 1982 and 2004, and could hurt historic values in those districts, “by sidestepping the typical procedural reviews … which allow for public comment and dialogue.” He told the senators, “We and our members highly value the opportunity to participate in the public process.”

He added, “This bill sets an unhealthy precedent that could directly impact communities around the state. … If a state project would take longer than DPW (the state Department of Public Works) prefers, would the state take … action to sidestep the processes of those cities as well?” Everhart called the bill “poorly conceieved” and “an attempt to speed along a public project that would remove public comment.”

Rep. Holli Woodings, D-Boise, said, “I’m here today to ask you to uphold Idaho’s commitment to local review of local functions. … City design review … is a proper function of the city that does not warrant state interference.” She said the state simply failed to comply with the process like all other developers have to. “We expect a contractor to revise a design that does not meet reasonable standards, rather than immediately pursuing appeal,” she said. “Now we are being asked to tilt the playing field.”

Scott Schoener, president of the Downtown Boise Association, said his firm has invested more than $50 million in downtown Boise in recent years, and developed the only privately funded parking garage downtown. “We went through the process,” he told the senators. “I actually found it to be a reasonable process. Design review, while time consuming, was actually helpful, it helped us improve our design.” He added, “It’s a pretty simple process, it really is. I understand the timing issues you guys are dealing with and the budget issues you guys are dealing with. … Every project has timing issues and budget issues.” 

Senate votes unanimously in favor of HB 315, personal property tax relief bill, sends to governor

Only one senator, Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, debated on HB 315, the personal property tax relief bill; he spoke in favor of it. Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, the bill’s Senate sponsor, said, “We’ve got to some way find a way to succor businesses into this state so that we can create the jobs that we need to create.” He said he has relatives who’ve moved out of the state for lack of work. He shared a story about a struggling calf, and said he hopes that with the bill, Idaho can “make sure when we have businesses that want to come to Idaho … that see the opportunity to come here and profit, that we can offer them this fatted calf.” The bill then passed unanimously – 35-0 – and now heads to the governor’s desk.

Abortion bill stalls for this year

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A bill aimed at bringing Idaho's abortion laws in line with a recent federal court decision striking down the so-called fetal pain law has stalled in the Senate.The measure would have deleted sections of the existing law but also added new requirements physicians must meet before administering drugs that terminate pregnancies. Meridian Republican Sen. Russ Fulcher said Tuesday the legislation introduced last Friday is stuck because time is running out on the 2013 Legislature. The bill came as a response to U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill's decision earlier this month overturning Idaho's law banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Fulcher said the Idaho Attorney General could appeal the decision, or wait for lawmakers to make necessary changes to the laws next year.


Senate takes up personal property tax bill

The Senate is now taking up HB 315, the personal property tax relief bill. Though this was highly controversial earlier in the session – when a much farther-reaching bill was proposed by IACI – this measure passed the House a week ago on a 67-2 vote and zipped unanimously through the Senate’s tax committee. The measure, like an earlier one first passed in 2008 but never implemented, exempts the first $100,000 in business equipment for each taxpayer, in each county, from the tax; the total cost to the state is about $20 million to make up the lost revenue to local governments and schools at current-year levels.

Senate panel kills private school tax credits, other tax exemption bills

Here’s a link to my full story at on the Senate Local Government & Taxation Committee’s 7-2 vote today to kill HB 286, the bill from Sen. Bob Nonini to grant $10 million a year in tax credits for scholarships to private schools. After the meeting, I asked committee Chairman Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, the fate of other House-passed tax exemption or credit bills on which his committee hasn’t acted, and he said they’re all dead. “My plans are to hold those bills,” he said, including the Girl Scout cookie sales tax exemption and the exemption for anti-abortion pregnancy resource centers. “If everybody gets an exemption, then when does our sales tax go from 6 cents to 7 cents?” He said he had the “same argument” for the House-passed bill to grant a limited, two-year sales tax exemption for non-profit homeless shelters.

Senate Ed defies chairman, spikes bill

Amid the late-session tumult in both houses today, the Senate Education Committee saw all its members vote against their chairman and vice-chairman to kill a bill to force school districts to use nearly $14 million in salary money to rehire teachers or restore classroom days, reports Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News. That measure, HB 325, was scuttled in Senate Ed this afternoon, Richert reported; only Sens. Goedde and Mortimer voted against the motion to kill it. Meanwhile, the committee shipped another measure, SB 1040, to the Senate’s amending order with the idea of “radiator-capping” it, or transforming it completely, to match a previously killed Senate bill, SB 1148, allowing school districts to cut teacher salaries or contract days from one year to the next. You can read Richert’s full report here.

Sign of pending adjournment: Boxes sighted in House hallway

This is a sign that the Legislature really is moving toward adjournment this week - cardboard boxes are now stacked in the hallway outside the House chamber. That means the time to pack up - and adjourn sine die - is growing nigh…

Senate panel kills private school tax credit bill on 2-7 vote

The Senate Local Government & Taxation Committee has killed HB 286, Sen. Bob Nonini’s $10 million tax credit bill for scholarships to private schools; only Sens. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, and Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, voted in favor of the bill. “Our time is short, but I do have to explain why I can’t support the motion,” said Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg. “There’s probably a lot of reasons. By the very nature of this, this is a 501c3 organization – the donor is going to get a charitable contribution deduction both for federal and state income taxes for the full amount … he contributed. The donor is going to profit off of making this donation at the expense of the public, and I don’t think that’s what fiscal conservatives want, I don’t think that’s what the state Republican Party wants, is to have something like that happen. That’s not appropriate. It’s just not fair.”

Hill, a CPA, said under the bill, it would cost the public “at least $107, not counting what the feds are going to pay … for a $100 contribution,” plus “10 percent for administrative costs.” He said, “We’d be a lot better off just making an appropriation for $8 million to these schools, however our Constitution won’t let us.”

Nonini pitches private school tax credit bill to Senate panel

Sen.. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, is now pitching HB 286, his bill to grant $10 million a year in tax credits for donations to scholarships to private schools, with the idea that the state would save millions because kids would switch from public to private schools. “There’s a projected savings overall of $5.8 million” a year, Nonini told the Senate Local Government & Taxation Committee, between his estimates of savings to the state and to local school districts. The bill earlier passed the House, but very narrowly – the vote was 35-33, with two House members absent. “What this bill is is a choice in education bill,” Nonini told the Senate panel.

House amends school-safety bill, ‘radiator caps’ it into new version of two gun-rights bills

Rep. Jason Monks, R-Meridian, pushed amendments to Sen. Marv Hagedorn’s school safety bill, SB 1133, to remove the entire bill and replace it with the text of his gun-rights bill, HB 280, which passed the House but never got a hearing in the Senate, and also the text of Rep. Mark Patterson’s bill, HB 219, which criminalizes Idaho police officers if they try to enforce newly enacted federal gun laws, which is in the same position. “The chamber on the other side of the rotunda had made it clear that they didn’t have time to debate or have a hearing on these particular bills, and we felt that it was important enough that they did have a hearing or get to see the light of day,” Monks told the House.

Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, asked, “To clarify, whatever happened to that school safety bill? Is it gone forever?” Monks responded, “That has been removed in this amendment, yes.”

That type of amendment is sometimes referred to as “radiator-capping” a bill, with the metaphor comparing the bill to a vehicle on which the radiator cap has been removed, an entirely new vehicle driven under, and then the cap screwed down onto the new vehicle. In that metaphor, the radiator cap - the only thing that stays the same - is the bill number.

There was an objection that the amendment violated House rules because it wasn’t relevant to the bill, but House Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane, R-Nampa, ruled it relevant. “The chair has ruled that it is – there is a nexus between school security and firearms,” Crane said. When a voice vote on the amendment was too close to call, division was called for, and Crane declared that the motion had carried. That means SB 1133 is no longer a school-safety bill, and is now a compilation of the two House-passed gun rights bills.

Other House members asked Monks if he thought the amended bill would be received favorably by the Senate, and he said no.

Doctor-lawmakers call for Medicaid expansion

Two doctor-lawmakers, Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, and Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, called on the Legislature today to debate Medicaid expansion, potentially saving Idaho taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and providing health coverage to 100,000 poor Idahoans. “By putting it off now, we’re harming the state,” Rusche said. “They’re big numbers,” Schmidt said. “We’re talking in the first six months of delay, $40 million from Idaho.”

The two Democrats, both physicians, acknowleged that they’re in the minority in the GOP-dominated Idaho Legislature, where members already are suffering from “health care fatigue” after extended debate over legislation authorizing a state-based health insurance exchange. Said Rusche, “It really is disappointing that there is not the sense of urgency and the courage to follow through.”

The Legislature plans to adjourn this Friday. Asked if they thought it was worth staying longer to address the Medicaid issue, both said yes. “I think to offer improved health to 100,000 Idahoans, and also to save almost half a billion to taxpayers – yeah, I think I could stay,” Rusche said. Schmidt said, “I haven’t bought a ticket home yet.”

Said Rusche, “We’re paying for every other state now. Your federal taxes aren’t going to drop one iota if we decide to forgo this for Idaho’s citizens.” He added, “I don’t see the political atmosphere getting any better next year,” when every member of the state Legislature will be up for re-election.

House, Senate recess for lunch; Senate GOP leadership splits over lottery ticket sales amendment

The House has recessed until 1:30, at which time it’ll go into its amending order; and the Senate has recessed until 3 p.m. The Senate just completed its amending order, the 14thOrder, in which amendments were approved to four bills: HB 259, on school teachers' involuntary leaves of absence; HB 98a on the catastrophic health care program; HB 120 on lottery ticket sales; and HB 206a on facilities funding for charter schools. The charter bill amendment clarifies a detail regarding authorizer fees that charter schools would pay to the state charter commission under the bill.

The amendment to the lottery ticket sales bill was considerably more controversial. Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, debated against it, as did Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls; it was sponsored by Senate State Affairs Chairman Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, and Senate Assistant Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Boise. The amendment changes the bill to require cash only for lottery ticket sales from customer-operated machines, but allow credit or debit cards to be used for other purchases. Hill called that “contrary to good public policy,” and told the Senate, “We all face temptations with a credit card in our pocket. … We do not want to be responsible for leading others into temptation.”

McKenzie countered, “There’s two principles here: One limits access to gambling, the other is protecting our people from the consequences of their own choices. That is a principle that I try to avoid – letting people make their own choices, rather than having the government restrict those. And so in this case I tried to narrowly focus the limits that we have before us in order to balance those two principles.” McKenzie prevailed and the amendment was approved; HB 120aa now needs debate and passage in the Senate as amended, and to go back to the House for concurrence in the Senate amendments, before it could go to the governor.

Rev & Tax members reject, decry income tax surcharge bill

Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, proposed legislation this morning for a 5 percent income tax surcharge on those earning more than $77,100 a year, to raise $44 million a year to spend in areas where state is failing to comply with state laws, policies or interests due to inadequate general fund revenues. She said that would include raises for public employees and teachers and restoring cuts to education.

“I feel that we have weakened our efforts in education and in those workforce preparation areas that can attract higher paying entities to come to the state,” Ringo told the House Rev & Tax Committee. “And by doing that, I think we have gradually worked ourselves down to the point where we have a median income that’s lower than any other state in the nation.  … I think addressing it with the income tax is one of the least regressive ways.”

Committee members decried the proposal, however. Rep. Mark Patterson, R-Boise, called it “this tax on tax,” and Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, said, “Just philosophically I think this is sort of a pure redistributionist approach toward sort of raising some folks’ income and taking it away from others.” Rep. Lenore Barrett, R-Challis, said, “I oughta make a record, I guess, and just keep playing it every time we have a motion. … We’re talking about raising taxes, and this is not the time to do that and certainly not in this way. … Even if you could find something that was compelling in this bill to justify its existence, this is not the time to do it.”

Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, said, “Were this bill to come before the committee on the merits, I don’t know whether I would support it or not, but I think the issue that the good representative has presented to us is one we should consider.” However, the committee voted 11-3, along party lines, against introducing the bill, with only the panel’s three Democrats dissenting.

Rev&Tax refuses to introduce streamlined sales tax bill to plan for future online sales taxes

Freshman Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, proposed legislation this morning to move Idaho into position to be able to tax Internet sales should Congress pass laws enabling states to do so, by joining the multi-state streamlined sales tax project. House Rev & Tax Chairman Gary Collins, R-Nampa, said, “If the committee does decide to introduce this RS, that’s as far as it goes this year. There is no plan to have a hearing on this. I know Rep. Clow has put a lot of work into this.” However, the committee then voted 10-5 against even introducing the bill.

Clow said there’s been “an exponential increase” in online sales across the nation, as part of a “shift in retail sales over the Internet. … We’re estimating it could be as much as $1.08 billion in Internet sales going on from Idaho citizens buying on the Internet. E-commerce is growing at two to three times faster than traditional retail sales, therefore it’s going to become a much more significant issue.” He noted that backers of the bill include the Idaho Association of Counties, the Association of Idaho Cities, the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, the Idaho Chamber Alliance, and the Idaho Retailers Association. “All confirm their continued support of this concept and legislation,” he told the Rev & Tax Committee.

Clow said printing and introducing the bill now would make it available so “any retailer, any organization that has interest can go to the bill and study the bill and understand what’s involved.” He said, “My initial goal is to get the bill on the books so if something does happen, we’ll be ready to go.” Rep. Lenore Barrett, R-Challis, said in her view, any move to tax online sales would constitute a tax increase. The only members of the committee supporting introducing the bill were Reps. Kauffman, Trujillo, Burgoyne, Erpelding and Meline.

Drone privacy bill killed in House State Affairs Committee

Sen. Chuck Winder’s drone privacy bill, SB 1134, has been killed this morning in the House State Affairs Committee. “I think this is certainly a laudable attempt to try and address an upcoming issue, but I see serious issues in this bill still,” said Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise. “We have a body of law already that protects us from invasion of privacy and I see this as actually undermining that protection, because of the liquidated damages in this. … I think it’s one of those unintended consequences.” He added, “There’s still a whole lot of work to do.”

Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, said, “I do agree with Rep. Luker’s analysis. I think it creates serious issues, this particular bill. It certainly undermines protections.” The bill was voted down on a voice vote; Rep. Gayle Batt, R-Wilder, dissented.

House Rev & Tax votes down bill to require reports on sales tax paid on tires

After much debate, the House Revenue & Taxation Committee has voted down HB 326, a proposal from Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, to require reporting of sales tax paid on tires in Idaho. Wood said it’s data the state needs should it decide in the future to tap that source to fund roads; that money now goes to the state’s general fund. “We’re already paying it,” Wood told the committee. “Everybody who has a vehicle is buying tires, and that’s a lot of them across the state.” Retailers objected to the bill, saying it would create a big reporting burden for them; the state Tax Commission raised technical concerns.

Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, moved to hold the bill in committee. “I think it’s time to consider raising the fuel tax,” he said. “It wasn’t the time in ‘09 when I voted against that.” He said of the bill, “Why are we limiting this to tires? … If we want the data, if the data is somehow necessary, then why isn’t the data necessary for all auto parts, for all automobiles?”  

Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, said, “I think it’s a much broader issue we need to look at. … One in every six dollars in sales tax that we collect comes from the auto sector. … I think this bill is too narrowly crafted. We’re really not asking the data that we need.” He also questioned how other states are funding their roads “in a changing environment.” Burgoyne’s motion passed on an 11-5 vote.

Divided House Ed backs bill reviving limits on contract term lengths from Prop 1

The House Education Committee has approved SB 1147a on a divided vote, to ban so-called “evergreen” clauses in teachers union master agreement contracts that carry on from one year to the next. Paul Stark, attorney for the Idaho Education Association, said the bill violates the Idaho and U.S. constitutions by banning multi-year contract clauses retroactively to Nov. 21, 2012, the date that the voters’ rejection of Proposition 1 took effect. “We’re seeing a cut-and-paste from the repealed laws,” Stark told the committee. “The Legislature constitutionally is forbidden from nullifying contracts.”

Two Idaho school districts, Twin Falls and Coeur d’Alene, had signed Memorandums of Understanding with their local teachers unions saying that if Proposition 1 and the “Students Come First” laws were voted down, they’d reinstate previous master agreements, including multi-year clauses.

Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, arguing for the bill, said, “This I believe puts our districts in position to review what they want and agree what they want quickly, but move ahead.” The bill, which includes a one-year “sunset” clause or expiration date, now moves to the full House; it’s already passed the Senate. It forbids any contract terms between districts and teacher unions from extending for more than two years, or for more than one year if they’re regarding salaries or benefits. Karen Echeverria, executive director of the Idaho School Boards Association, stressed that the bill applies to master agreements negotiated between teachers unions and school districts, not the individual employment contracts that each year are granted to individual teachers binding districts to employ them for the year.

The politics of Medicaid expansion…

Twin Falls Times-News reporter Melissa Davlin has a look at the politics of the Medicaid expansion debate today; you can read her full report here. It notes that next year is an election year, changing the way some lawmakers may see the issue playing out back home. “If you can’t face it this year because of your central committees and your attacks from the right, what about next year when you’re two months away from the primary?“ asked House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston.

Senate wraps up for day; charter facilities funding bill headed for amendments

The Senate has adjourned until 9:30 on Tuesday morning, but before doing so, it agreed to move two bills to the 14th Order for amendments. The bills: HB 206, the controversial charter school facilities funding bill; and HB 120a, a measure dealing with purchases of lottery tickets. Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, said of the charter bill, “We think we have consensus on a little change in language that will satisfy the concerns of the senator from 27.” That would be Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert.

HB 120a was moved to the amending order at the request of Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, who said he wanted to clarify that a customer purchasing gas, other items and a lottery ticket could pay with a credit card; Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, spoke against the move, but it was approved on a divided vote. Senate Republicans also announced they’ll hold a closed-door caucus immediately after adjourning today; Senate Democrats caucused earlier today.

Letter: ‘It is the people of Kootenai County that will lose’

The Idaho Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has sent a three-page “open letter” to Kootenai County commissioners, decrying the firing of longtime Kootenai County Public Defender John Adams. “Individuals familiar with both Mr. Adams and his office have noted that the decision to end his tenure as the Kootenai County Public Defender is ‘disastrous,’ ‘shameful,’ and ‘catastrophic,’” the letter says. “We too must add our voices to those who recognize that it is the people of Kootenai County that will lose if your decision stands.”

The association, which has more than 300 members statewide, applauded Kootenai County for launching a “comprehensive evaluation of the public defender program,” but said dismissing Adams “appears to presuppose the outcome of any comprehensive evaluation would be a recommendation for new management of the office, or to disband the office and move to an assigned counsel system.” To the contrary, the group said, a report issued three years ago by the National Legal Aid and Defender’s Association ranked the Kootenai public defender’s office, under Adams’ leadership, the best in the state. “Notably, one of the problems that was actually identified with the office was the Commission’s political influence over the defense function,” the group wrote. “Choosing this time to terminate an experienced, well respected, effective and seasoned public defender seems imprudent at best.” You can read the full letter here.

Panel: Time to study the public defender system

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Members of an Idaho Senate panel believe it's time to take a closer look at the condition of the state's public defender system. The network of public defenders has been plagued by staffing shortages in recent years and criticized by civil rights groups as insufficient in some counties. The Senate Judiciary and Rules committee voted Monday to approve a resolution calling for the creation of a legislative committee to study the issue this summer. Caldwell Republican Rep. Darrell Bolz said Idaho's Criminal Justice Commission has also found some problems, including excessive caseloads. He said only three counties have public defenders offices. The other counties, he said, regularly use contract attorneys to complete public defense work. The resolution already by passed the House now heads to the Senate floor.

Legislature backs new limits on Tax Commission’s ability to garnish delinquent taxpayers’ pay

Idaho lawmakers have sent a bill to the governor’s desk to limit the state Tax Commission when it garnishes a delinquent taxpayer’s pay for back taxes, penalties and interest. Under SB 1047a, the state couldn’t nab any more than 25 percent of the taxpayer’s wages. And if the IRS also is 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, the bill’s House sponsor, to the House. “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 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. The bill passed the House today on a 64-1 vote, with just Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, dissenting.

ACLU condemns Kootenai County’s firing of longtime public defender

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A civil rights group is condemning a recent decision by Kootenai County officials to terminate the contract of the region's chief public defender. Last week, Kootenai County commissioners ended its 17-year relationship with John Adams. The termination came three weeks after Adams filed a harassment claim against a commissioner and two weeks after notifying officials he needed time off for cancer treatment. Adams says he was stunned by the decision and others in the north Idaho legal community decried the move. But the reaction of the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho was even more forceful. The organization criticized the decision and is urging commissioners to reconsider. Idaho's public defender system, including Kootenai County's, has come under national scrutiny for being flawed, deficient and impacted by outside political influence.

Click below for a full report from the Associated Press.

Senate committee backs Malek’s felony health-worker assault bill

The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved HB 292, legislation from Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, to make assaults and batteries on health care workers a felony with up to a five-year prison term. Malek proposed the bill at the prompting of Kootenai Medical Center and other health care providers around the state who say violent assaults on health workers are a growing problem, often from drug-seeking patients who show up at the emergency room.

Dr. Mark Urban, pediatric medical director for the St. Luke’s health system, said he trained in Arizona, and there it was a felony to attack a health care worker. “They know not to hit the doctor or nurse,” he said. Since coming to Idaho, Urban said, he’s been assaulted twice, both times in the emergency department. Once was by a patient who began throwing things and threatening health workers when he was refused permission to smoke a cigarette while hooked up to oxygen. Several other health care workers told of serious attacks on doctors, nurses and other workers.

“We are the front line,” Urban told the senators. “We are required by federal law to provide a medical screening exam … to any patient that is brought to the hospital.”

Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, asked if health care workers use Tasers or other means to defend themselves from violent patients, which drew laughter from health care workers in the audience. Malek responded, “They’re there to make people healthier, and to that extent, they’re not going to be carrying weapons - they’re going to be carrying stethoscopes and Q-tips. … Self defense isn’t really an option for them.”

David Lehman, lobbyist for KMC, said the problem has worsened considerably in North Idaho since a pain clinic closed down. “We have about 700 patients who no longer have a place to go to be prescribed narcotics, so they end up frequently in emergency rooms … in doctor’s offices, seeking those drugs,” he said. With the bill, he said, “The prosecutor now has a bigger lever. … They’re staring down the business end of a potential five-year sentence. We believe this is an appropriate step to increase protection for health care workers.”

“I think there is some deterrent value here,” said Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa. “These are individuals that in my opinion deserve additional protection - they're required to help these people. They're required to put themselves in close proximitiy in a very vulnerable position when they work with these individuals.” Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, supported the bill, but said it could be better drafted - and he worried about potentially making verbal assaults into felonies. The bill now moves to the full Senate.

Anti-metal theft bill clears Senate panel

HB 241, to make it a felony to enter an electrical substation with the intent of stealing metal, and to require scrap dealers to photograph both sellers and the metal they sell them in efforts to deter growing metal theft, cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee this afternoon after much testimony. Neil Colwell, lobbyist for Avista Corp., said the utility has seen 92 thefts in the past three years resulting in losses of about $400,000. “It’s not just an issue in our service territory, but it is statewide,” he told the committee. He said farmers and utilities increasingly are losing metal that nets the thief a small amount of money, but costs the farmer or utility tens of thousands to replace the equipment; theft of metal from utilities also threatens public safety and interrupts service, he said.

Several scrap dealers – who just this morning hired lobbyist Roy Eiguren to represent them – said they want input into new regulations in their business. “We didn’t learn about this until last week, we weren’t part of the process,” Michael Cataldo told the committee. Colwell and Eiguren said a working group is being formed and will start meeting in May, including the scrap dealers, to develop farther reaching regulations to cope with the problem. The committee approved the bill on a unanimous vote; it’s now headed to the full Senate.

Gov’s Medicaid work group: ‘Negative business ramifications of delaying expansion’

Gov. Butch Otter's working group on Medicaid expansion has sent a letter to Otter saying, “Our recommendation to you to expand Medicaid has not changed in direction, only in urgency. An independent actuarial analysis of the updated federal policies shows that optional Medicaid expansion will save the state more money than previously thought and that no expansion will cost the state more than previously thought.”

The group writes, “Idaho’s bordering states of Montana, Washington, Oregon and Nevada have committed to optional expansion, with Utah and Wyoming still weighing options. This leaves Idaho citizens in the frustrating dilemma of Idaho federal tax dollars supporting expansion in other states, while our taxpayers reap none of the benefits.”

They continue, “The workgroup urges serious consideration of the negative business ramifications of delaying expansion. This could include workforce migration to states that provide optional coverage, adverse business relocation decisions, and significant loss of revenues to current Idaho healthcare providers and hospitals, which stand to lose millions of dollars for uncompensated care to low-income citizens.” You can read the full letter here.

Senate passes ‘trailer’ bill to ease impact of SB 1108 on petition signature-gatherers

The Senate has voted 33-1 in favor of SB 1191, a “trailer” bill to SB 1108, the bill that makes it tougher to qualify initiatives or referendum measures for the Idaho ballot. Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, said the idea behind the trailer bill is to ease the signature-gathering process in counties like his and Ada County, where there are multiple legislative districts. SB 1108 requires signatures from 6 percent of registered voters in 18 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts for a measure to qualify for the ballot, and it requires signature-gatherers to have a separate petition for each district, and signers to face penalties if they signed the petition for the wrong legislative district.

“It seemed like a cumbersome and unwieldy process,” McKenzie told the Senate; Ada County alone has nine legislative districts, meaning signature gatherers there would have been required to juggle nine separate clipboards as they gathered signatures. The change in SB 1191 allows signature-gatherers to just have one petition per county, and then county clerks, when they verify the signatures, would identify the legislative districts of the signers to see if the numbers meet the new requirement.

“It just makes the process a little easier for those who are out trying to gather signatures,” McKenzie said. The Senate passed the bill without debate; it now moves to the House side.

Ways & Means introduces bills lauding Morrill, raising wolf tag fees, more…

The House Ways & Means Committee met briefly just after the House adjourned for the day, and introduced three new measures: A bipartisan resolution sponsored by House and Senate leaders honoring retiring Idaho Public Television General Manager Peter Morrill for his accomplishments; a joint memorial calling on the FAA and Congress to maintain services at five Idaho airports that face closure of their air traffic control towers due to federal budget cuts; and an emergency bill from Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, to increase wolf tags by $8, and use the additional funds to cover depredation control and payments to livestock owners who lose animals to wolf depredation.

Boyle said, “This is a repeat of last year’s bill, which was held to give Fish & Game time to look at this issue. They never did anything about it, so I’m going to run it again.”

The House has adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m.; the Senate has recessed until 3 p.m. The Senate Judiciary, Commerce and Resources committees all will meet at 1 p.m.; the Senate Education and Health & Welfare committees will meet at 2 p.m. Several House committees have 1:30 meetings scheduled.

Organ donor fund legislation wins final passage, heads to gov

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho drivers will be able to contribute to a voluntary fund to promote organ donations, following a 61-6 House vote on a measure creating an organ donation fund. Monday's vote sends the bill to Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter for signature. It's already passed the Senate unanimously. According to the measure, people applying for or renewing their driver's license can give $2. Furthermore, people could make a voluntary contribution when applying for or renewing their vehicle registration. Backers of the measure aim to promote the system of matching up people in dire need of eyes, kidneys, tissues and other vital organs with those who want to make a donation, should they be killed in an accident. Anyone can be a potential organ and tissue donor, regardless of age or medical condition.

Bedke pushes toward Friday adjournment

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — House Speaker Scott Bedke is doing everything possible to adjourn the 2013 Legislature by Friday. Bedke told Republican committee chair persons and Democratic leadership Monday this target doesn't mean quitting if there are still important issues that remain unresolved. One thing's certain: Bedke won't hold any more hearings on expanding Medicaid this session. There's insufficient time to tackle the issue, he said. Among important matters still pending: the $1.3 billion public schools budget, now facing a Senate vote Wednesday. That's one of the “must-accomplish” issues still before the Legislature. Bedke also says he hopes Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter's jobs-creation measure succeeds, if not in its present form with a $10.4 million price tag, then at least a version that helps promote hiring of military veterans. It's languishing in the Senate.

Divided Senate passes hearings limit bill for teacher firings

The Senate has voted down a motion from Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, to send SB 1150 to the 14th Order for amendments. The bill deals with appeals to district court of teacher firings or suspendsions for conduct violating certification standards; the motion failed on a 7-27 vote; Sen. Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, urged senators to vote against the bill if they object to it, but not to send it to the amending order. Democratic senators argued that the bill is legally flawed, preventing evidence from being brought forward in court if it’s not permitted to be aired in an earlier school district hearing.

Sen. Jim Guthrie, R-McCammon, said as a former school board member, the bill concerned him. “I can see where that could put some additional burden on the school board … and also on the teacher,” he said, requiring both sides to come “armed to the teeth” to the school district hearing. “So you have those high costs twice.”

Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, noted that the bill was proposed by the Idaho School Boards Association. “If the school boards association thought this was a problem, they would not have brought the legislation,” Goedde told the Senate. Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa, said school boards would have their attorneys present for such hearings. “The school board should be presented with the fullest case at the local level for them to be able to make the best decision,” he said. “This bill is really about the appropriate deference that should be given to the local school board.” The bill then passed the Senate on a 22-12 vote, with bipartisan opposition, and now heads to the House side.

House passes bill to put A.G. in charge of investigating county officials’ crimes

Legislation to put the state Attorney General in charge of investigating civil or criminal law violations by county elected officials, including open meeting law violations by boards of county commissioners, has passed the House on a 62-3 vote and now heads to the governor’s desk. Rep. Gayle Batt, R-Wilder, said current law sets up a conflict of interest, requiring county prosecutors to investigate violations by county officials – including themselves. “The bottom line is that no public official should be deciding if they should make an ethics investigation on themselves or their client, the county officials,” she told the House.

The bill was co-sponsored by six Canyon County lawmakers, in the wake of that county’s experience with disgraced former county Prosecutor John Bujak. It calls for adding an additional deputy attorney general and one investigator in the Idaho Attorney General’s office, at a cost of $212,600 a year, to create a new unit to investigate such crimes.

The three “no” votes in the House came from Reps. Moyle, Bedke and Barrett; no one debated against the bill.

Senate sends governor two concealed weapons bills

The Senate has voted unanimously in favor of HB 192, to create a special optional enhanced concealed weapons permit, requiring more training, that would be recognized by more states. After that 35-0 vote, it took up another concealed weapons bill, HB 223, which would legalized certain concealed knives, tasers and pepper spray. Though there were questions and some debate on that one, it, too passed 35-0.

Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, shared a story about how a prison inmate stabbed someone in the chest with a ballpoint pen, and how he had a ballpoint pen in his pocket – concealed. “People of ill will are going to be people of ill will regardless of the best concealed weapons laws we craft,” Rice told the Senate. “The only people that will tend to be really affected are people who do not have ill will. … I see them generally as ineffective. But I will support this change, because I think it limits the one we have.” Both House-passed bills now head to the governor.

Liquor Division budget passes House on a 36-29 vote

SB 1160, the budget for the state’s Liquor Division, has passed the House on a 36-29 vote. Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, noted that the budget includes no state general tax funds and reflects a 1.2 percent increase over this year’s level; it includes funds to relocated and expand five existing liquor stores, and to expand hours at stores in Boise to make them uniform, and at stores in Stateline and Kellogg, to allow for Sunday hours.

Rep. Janet Trujillo, R-Idaho Falls, asked, “Why, in an appropriations bill, are we allowing for the sale of liquor on a Sunday?” Eskridge responded, “We went through a lengthy debate on this several years ago. It’s a matter of convenience for people in our resort areas primarily to be able to do business with the liquor store on Sunday. I have to tell you I debated against that … when we first looked at it, but looking back on it, it’s been a success in terms of accommodating the general public and especially our outside visitors from outside the state who use our ski areas and other resort facilities.”

No one debated against the budget bill, but the number of “no” votes was high. Among those voting no was Rep. Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton, whose area would get Sunday hours at the Kellogg state liquor store under the bill. The budget bill now goes to the governor’s desk.

Bill would let farmers exceed road weight limits

With no debate, the House has voted 65-1 in favor of legislation to let farmers exceed weight limits by 2,000 pounds on any road other than interstate freeways; the exemption wouldn’t apply to posted bridge weights or other seasonal or temporary weight limit postings. “The current practice of loading farming commodities in rural Idaho can be a challenge,” Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, told the House. “Commodities can vary with respect to pounds per bushel. … This legislation would allow some latitude to compensate for those shipping realities.” She added, “There are no weigh stations coming off the farming property, and it’s really difficult.”

The bill, HB 290, lets vehicles owned and operated by a farmer or designated agents transporting agricultural products exceed weight limits by up to 2,000 pounds “in excess of any axle, bridge or gross vehicle weight limit.” It was proposed by Sen. Jim Guthrie, R-McCammon. Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, cast the only dissenting vote in the House; the bill now moves to the Senate side.

Wood told the House the bill would “give them a little bit of leeway with dirt on potatoes, beets, that type of thing, or shifting of the load as they come up on the highway.”

Senate to take up public school budget on Wednesday morning

Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, announced to the Senate this morning that the public schools budget is likely to be considered on Wednesday morning.

House Health & Welfare defeats motion for hearing tomorrow on Medicaid expansion

The House Health & Welfare Committee has been meeting since 7:30 this morning; the House has convened on the floor, but has now gone at ease to await the committee’s arrival. The panel just voted, in a divided vote, to approve an amended substitute motion to send SB 1114a, regarding behavioral health, to the House’s amending order.

Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, then said, “I move that we add HB 309 and 308 to our agenda for tomorrow.” Chairman Fred Wood, R-Burley, called a brief recess, then reconvened the committee. Those two bills, he said, are “the property tax relief through the elimination of indigent care, the catastrophic health care program in the state of Idaho, and the expansion of Medicaid. … Is there any discussion?”

Rep. Brandon Hixon, R-Caldwell, said, “I think those are two big, critical issues that we really need to take a look at. I’m not in favor ot this point in time of doing the Medicaid expansion or going down that road,” so he said he’d oppose the motion.

Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, said, “I’ve never seen a committee where the committee members start setting the agenda, it’s always been up to the chairman to set the agenda, and I would respect the chairman’s position that he sets the agenda.” Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa, questioned whether there was time to properly notice a meeting tomorrow morning.

Wood said, “The chair would also oppose that. The chair has no intention of having a meeting tomorrow, or for the foreseeable future. We’re all frustrated by the fact of what happens with the amount of money that we’re leaving on the table, etc. Rep. Rusche’s motion comes out of frustration, I understand that.” He said, “Out of respect to let Rep. Rusche have his say etc., I certainly allowed the motion, but I certainly don’t intend to have a meeting tomorrow either, and that certainly is the discretion of the fair.” He called for the vote; only Rusche and Rep. Sue Chew, D-Boise, supported the motion, so it failed. The committee then adjourned.

Two views on the impact of Medicaid expansion in Idaho…

Former longtime Idaho state chief economist Mike Ferguson argues in a new op-ed piece that the importance of a state insurance exchange is “dwarfed” by the ramifications of whether or not Idaho expands its Medicaid program, “yet we have heard almost no consideration of that issue by Idaho's legislature.” He writes, “Medicaid expansion … has enormous impacts on Idaho and Idahoans. It will impact how many people in Idaho die over the next year. It will impact Idaho’s ability to fund other essential public services (education, public safety, and other aspects of health and human services). And it will impact Idaho’s overall economic performance.” Click below for his full op-ed piece.

Meanwhile, Wayne Hoffman of the Idaho Freedom Foundation has issued a press release calling Medicaid expansion “a bad choice for Idaho,” contending it will shift costs to future generations; you can read his release here.

Final hurdles: Public schools budget

Painful votes on the insurance exchange are now behind the Idaho Legislature, reports AP reporter John Miller and the upcoming Senate vote on cutting business personal property taxes by $20 million appears less disputed than once expected. As lawmakers prepare to adjourn this Friday, however, a dispute over the 2014 public education budget — the $1.3 billion behemoth that's the state's biggest single spending plan — could provide some fireworks. The House passed it 52-16 last Friday; it's now awaiting a vote in the Senate. Click below for Miller's full report.

‘The speaker’s living room’

Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey reports on how a little redecorating, a promise of openness and a new assistant have helped House Speaker Scott Bedke transform a 13-by-23 space into the Capitol's most productive venue - the newly transformed speaker's outer office. The space has always played a vital gatekeeper's role, Popkeyu reports; but after winning a close race for speaker in December, Bedke lowered the gate and started playing host, inviting lawmakers, lobbyists, agency heads, reporters and ordinary citizens to join him in his Statehouse salon. “This room is inviting, it puts people at ease,” said Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls, sitting in one of three armchairs reserved for guests. “People feel comfortable coming here to get things done. It's a change of culture.” Click below for Popkey's full report, via the Associated Press.

On putting off decision on Medicaid expansion…

At the close of Friday morning’s joint meeting of the House and Senate Health & Welfare committees, Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, moved to send HB 309 to the floor of the House with a recommendation from both panels that it pass. But his motion was ruled out of order; Chairman Fred Wood said the meeting had only been noticed as a informational one, and the committee couldn’t pass the bill without taking public testimony.

The committee had just heard some rather stunning figures, including that expanding Medicaid this year could bring the Idaho economy a $9.2 billion boost over the next 10 years. The expansion, which would be 100 percent federally funded for the first three years and then phase down to 90 percent, would replace the current state-county medical indigency and catastrophic care program, which is funded 100 percent from the state general fund and local property taxes. The latest estimates show both the state and local property taxpayers could save tens of millions with the optional expansion, which would provide health coverage, including mental health, to the population that’s now eligible for the costly catastrophic care reimbursement program.

After the meeting, Schmidt said, “There has been a lot of effort put forward. … I think it’s doable, and I think it’s doable this year. It’s just going to take some effort – and probably courage.”

Later on Friday, House Speaker Scott Bedke offered an answer of his own: “I think it’s an important issue that the state needs to take a look at,” he said. “I think having those bills in the public domain over the interim can accomplish that. I am not going to get out ahead of the governor’s office on that issue. At first blush it appears there could be significant property tax relief to the whole state – not just personal property tax, but property tax for everybody. We ought to look at that.”

However, Bedke said, “We are going to be done by Friday, and I don’t think we can give that issue the thorough public vetting that it needs between now and then.”

“They have my full attention, because it seems to offer very, very significant property tax relief.” You can read my full Sunday column here; click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

The week that was…

On tonight’s “Idaho Reports” program on Idaho Public Television, I join Bill Spence, Marty Peterson and host Greg Hahn to discuss the week’s developments in the Legislature. Plus, Sadie Babits interviewsMacMillan of the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation and Bob Lokken of Idaho Business for Education; Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, discusses the Idaho Human Rights Act and other issues; Melissa Davlin interviews freshman Rep. Brandon Hixon; and I offer my “Eye on Boise” rundown of some of the week’s happenings. The show airs at 8 p.m. tonight; it re-airs Sunday at 10:30 a.m. Mountain time, 9:30 Pacific; and plays on Boise State Public Radio on Sunday at 7 p.m. After it airs, you can watch it here online any time.

House passes statewide heavy-trucks bill

You can read my full story here at on the House passage today of legislation that could let extra-heavy trucks roll on any non-freeway route in the state, including North Idaho’s Highway 95. The big rigs – 129,000 pounds instead of the usual limit of 105,500 pounds – are allowed in southern Idaho only on 35 designated routes that were in a 10-year pilot project. Just this week, lawmakers declared that pilot project a success and made it permanent, but just on those routes.

Rep. Cindy Agidius, R-Moscow, pleaded with the House to reject the bill. “Do you have so little respect for those of us in the north that you would force something on us in our region in a manner that you would not have allowed in your own?” she asked. But she was outvoted 49-18, and some North Idaho lawmakers spoke out in favor of the bill, SB 1117. It’s already passed the Senate, so the bill now heads to the governor’s desk.

Bedke: ‘Very, very significant property tax relief’ with Medicaid expansion, but no time to ‘vet’ this year…

The House and Senate Health & Welfare committees heard rather stunning figures from state Health & Welfare Director Dick Armstrong and others this morning, including this one: A University of Idaho economist estimates that Idaho’s economy would get a $9.2 billion boost over the next 10 years if Idaho opted for Medicaid expansion this year. The state budget would save $649 million, county property taxpayers would save $478 million, and the new federal funds coming into the state would generate $614 million in new state tax revenues and economic activity. Subtract out program costs and the net savings to the state budget plus new revenues come to $699 million.

Lawmakers asked Armstrong if his department is ready to act, should the state decide to go that route. “We are ready to act on the eligibility side,” he said. “We’ve been working on that project through Medicaid eligibility for over a year.”

Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, said, “I don’t see us tackling the cost portion of this.” Armstrong responded, “By putting in managed care and putting in accountable benefit design, it is our expectation that we’ll be able to control the rate of growth enough to actually be able to show a flattening of this as we go out.”

Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, said,  “Given that pressure of time, I’m going to propose a motion, that HB 309 be sent to the floor of the House with a recommendation from this committee for passage.” Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, responded, “Senator, my heart is with you, however I’m going to have to tell you I’m going to rule this motion out of order.” This morning’s meeting was “noticed up as an informational meeting only , and no testimony was taken,” Wood said. “We simply cannot conduct business when the public has not had an opportunity to weigh in. I understand your frustration. … Where you want to go, I want to go there too, but at this point in time, senator that motion is out of order.”

Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, asked, “Is it the intent of the chair to have a real working hearing on these bills?” Wood said, “Are you talking about in the next week?” and Rusche responded, “I’m talking about this year.” Wood said, “At this point in time, representative, a decision has not been made by the chair with respect to that.”

After the meeting, Schmidt said, “There has been a lot of effort put forward. … I think it's doable, and I think it's doable this year. It's just going to take some effort - and probably courage.”

Later in the day, House Speaker Scott Bedke offered an answer of his own. “I think it’s an important issue that the state needs to take a look at,” he said. “I think having those bills in the public domain over the interim can accomplish that. I am not going to get out ahead of the governor’s office on that issue. At first blush it appears there could be significant property tax relief to the whole state – not just personal property tax, but property tax for everybody. We oughta look at that.”

However, Bedke said, “We are going to be done by Friday, and I don’t think we can give that issue the thorough public vetting that it needs between now and then.” He added, “They have my full attention, because it seems to offer very, very significant property tax relief.”

Idaho firefighting group reaches deal with OSHA over firefighter’s death

Officials from an Idaho firefighting organization have reached an agreement with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration over citations and fines levied after a 20-year-old firefighter was struck and killed by a falling tree while working on a wildfire last summer, according to the AP and the Lewiston Tribune. The Orofino-based Clearwater Potlatch Timber Protective Association has agreed to a $10,500 fine, down from the $14,000 fine that OSHA proposed in February for the death of U.S. Forest Service firefighter Anne Veseth of Moscow; the state Land Board authorized the agreement this week. Click below for the full report.

Senate seeks to out-maneuver Boise in garage spat

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Senate is considering a way to outmaneuver the city of Boise in its dispute over a new Capitol parking garage. The Senate State Affairs Committee introduced a bill on Friday that would exempt the state from Boise planning rules and regulations for projects on Capitol mall grounds. Last year, lawmakers approved a multi-story, 580-stall parking facility to help ease the state government parking squeeze. But in January, a city review committee rejected a portion of the design plans — a decision later upheld by the city's Planning and Zoning Commission. State officials are appealing to the city council. If the appeal fails, Boise Republican Sen. Chuck Winder says his bill allows the state to proceed with construction without city approval. The committee will debate the bill next week.

One bill to limit teacher contract rights defeated in the Senate

One of the bills reviving selected provisions of voter-rejected Proposition 1 regarding rolling back teachers’ collective bargaining rights was defeated in the Senate today on a 14-19 vote, reports Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News. SB 1148 was the bill to let school districts raise or decrease teacher salaries or add or eliminate contract days from one year to the next, eliminating a law that prevents such year-to-year decreases. The Idaho Education Association opposed the bill.

Richert reports that Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, said some senators voted against the bill to send a message about the public schools budget that passed the House today on a 52-16 vote, although he wasn’t among them. But Idaho School Boards Association executive director Karen Echeverria told Richert, “I don’t see a linkage. That’s why it’s a little confusing to us.”

Richert reports that opposition to the bill cut across partisan and ideological lines, and didn’t seem to follow a clear pattern; you can read his full report here.

How they voted… on the public school budget in the House

Here’s how House members voted today on HB 323, the public schools budget, which passed on a 52-16 vote and now heads to the Senate:

Voting yes: Reps. Agidius, Anderson(01), Anderson(31), Anderst, Andrus, Bateman, Batt, Bedke, Bell, Bolz, Burgoyne, Chew, Clow, Collins, Dayley, DeMordaunt, Erpelding, Eskridge, Gannon, Gibbs, Hancey, Harris, Hartgen, Holtzclaw, Horman, Kauffman, King, Kloc, Loertscher, Luker, Malek, Meline, Mendive, Miller, Monks, Morse, Nielsen, Packer, Pence, Perry, Raybould, Ringo, Romrell, Rusche, Smith, Stevenson, Thompson, VanOrden, Ward-Engelking, Wood(27), Woodings, and Youngblood.  

Voting no: Reps. Barbieri, Barrett, Boyle, Crane, Denney, Gestrin, Hixon, McMillan, Moyle, Palmer, Patterson, Shepherd, Sims, Trujillo, Vander Woude, Wood(35).

Absent: Reps. Henderson and Wills

How they voted… on SB 1108, initiative/referendum bill

Here’s how House members voted on SB 1108, the bill to make it tougher to qualify initiatives and referendum measures for the Idaho ballot, which passed 45-21 and  now heads to the governor:

Voting yes: Reps. Anderson(31), Anderst, Andrus, Barrett, Bateman, Batt, Bedke, Bell, Bolz, Boyle, Collins, Crane, Dayley, DeMordaunt, Denney, Eskridge, Gestrin, Gibbs, Hartgen, Hixon, Holtzclaw, Horman, Kauffman, Loertscher, Luker, McMillan, Meline, Miller, Monks, Moyle, Nielsen, Packer, Palmer, Perry, Raybould, Romrell, Shepherd, Stevenson, Thompson, Trujillo, VanOrden, Vander Woude, Wood(27), Wood(35), and Youngblood.

Voting no: Reps. Agidius, Barbieri, Burgoyne, Chew, Clow, Erpelding, Gannon, Hancey, Harris, King, Kloc, Malek, Mendive, Patterson, Pence, Ringo, Rusche, Sims, Smith, Ward-Engelking, and Woodings.

Absent: Reps. Anderson(01), Henderson, Morse and Wills.

How they voted…

Here’s how House members voted on SB 1117, the statewide heavy-trucks bill, which passed 49-18 and now heads to the governor:

Voting yes: Reps. Anderst, Andrus, Barbieri, Barrett, Bateman, Batt, Bedke, Bell, Bolz, Clow, Collins, Crane, Dayley, DeMordaunt, Denney, Erpelding, Gibbs, Hancey, Harris, Hartgen, Hixon, Holtzclaw, Horman, Kauffman, Loertscher, Malek, McMillan, Meline, Mendive, Miller, Monks, Moyle, Nielsen, Packer, Palmer, Patterson, Perry, Raybould, Romrell, Shepherd, Sims, Stevenson, Thompson, Trujillo, VanOrden, Vander Woude, Wood(27), Wood(35), and Youngblood.

Voting no: Reps. Agidius, Anderson(01), Anderson(31), Boyle, Burgoyne, Chew, Eskridge, Gannon, Gestrin, King, Kloc, Luker, Pence, Ringo, Rusche, Smith, Ward-Engelking, and Woodings.

Absent: Reps. Henderson, Morse and Wills.

House passes extra-heavy trucks bill, 49-18

The House has voted 49-18 in favor of SB 1117, the statewide extra-heavy trucks bill. “This is about local control, and we’ve pointed out that the state highway (department) does have jurisdiction on the state highway going through your community,” Rep. Marc Gibbs, the bill’s sponsor, told the House. “But we also have spoken many times about the fact that local communities have the ability to set speed limits … I don’t think that there’s any way if the local community is dead-set against it, that the highway department's going to come in here and create this route for you. But there are places where … I think 129,000 pounds is going to make more sense. … It can be done, it can be done safely.” The bill, which already has passed the Senate, now goes to the governor.

A 'trailer' bill, HB 322, ensuring that local road jurisdictions have discretion over the matter when it comes to their local county or city roads, then passed unanimously; that doesn't apply to state routes like HIghway 95.

Debate: ‘We don’t have truck routes in Sandpoint’

As the House continues its debate on the statewide heavy-truck bill, Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, told the House she couldn’t believe that big trucks would roll right through the center of towns. “Even in the little town that I live in, we have a truck route that goes around the town,” she said.

Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, said, “We don’t have truck routes in Sandpoint. We don’t have ‘em in Laclede, we don’t have ‘em in Priest River. … We don’t have a truck route in Bonners Ferry either.”

Rep. Cindy Agidius, R-Moscow, said, “It’s being brought from the north by a few companies. There’s just as many companies that don’t want it.”

Rep. Terry Gestrin, R-Donnelly, said, “This issue, and the people that support it in the north, are mainly the shippers. When you talk to the truckers … they have great reservations.” He said, “Please consider what the people who have to operate this equipment, and how they feel about it.”

Debate: ‘They’re not able to transport their products’

From the House debate on SB 1117, the statewide heavy-trucks bill:

Rep. Kelly Packer, R-McCammon, said, “We have many people who have their hands tied right now in commerce, in the commerce industry, because they’re not able to transport their products.”

Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, said, “It was people from the north who brought the bill and asked for the opportunity to have these routes.”

Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, said, “I appreciate the ability for local jurisdictions to make a decision on other than state highways. … Highway 95, that is a state highway, and that is not what we’re talking about. … I will be supporting this bill.”

Rep. Rick Youngblood, R-Nampa, said, “We’re not going to allow heavy trucks on highways that don’t have the ability to carry that kind of weight. I just don’t see that happening.”

Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, said, “The city of Moscow has weighed in, and they would not like to see these heavy trucks rumbling through downtown Moscow.”

Statewide heavy-trucks bill would let ITD decide on Highway 95, not locals…

Backers of the statewide heavy-trucks bill said a trailer bill that will follow ensures that local jurisdictions have full discretion over whether to designate routes for extra-heavy trucks, up to 129,000 pounds, on their roads. But for state highways – like Highway 95 through North Idaho – the Idaho Transportation Department would make the call, not local road jurisdictions. “So the decision on designation … is not made by the local entities on state and federal highways, even those that are within their geographic boundaries?” asked Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston.

Rep. Clark Kauffman, R-Filer, said, “That is correct.”

Debate: ‘Do you have so little respect for those of us in the north?’

Rep. Cindy Agidius, R-Moscow, made an impassioned plea to the House against SB 1117, the bill to allow extra-heavy, 129,000-pound trucks statewide. “My concerns center around safety,” she said. “Last week, many loggers, truckers and county commissioners came to the transportation hearings to try to explain what a bad idea this is. … They reminded us of all the severe geographical differences we have in the northern parts of the state, and what it’s like when a big truck jackknifes on a narrow, icy road because they cannot control their trailers.”

She said, “I did not oppose the lifting of the sunset on the pilot project on the trucks in southern Idaho. … Do you have so little respect for those of us in the north that you would force something on us in our region in a manner that you would not have allowed in your own?”

Agidius said before extra-big trucks are allowed up north, there should be studies, designated routes, a sunset clause and other restrictions, just as there was in southern Idaho, where a 10-year pilot project concluded successfully this year. “Please listen to the concerns of the people who live in the north,” she said. “We don’t want to impede the expansion of the big truck routes in southern Idaho. We love agriculture, too. I live in the middle of wheat country. … Let’s say no to this bill. Let’s write a different bill that lets the great agricultural businesses that we have in southern Idaho try more routes, but let’s also write something that doesn’t have the potential to cost lives in North Idaho.”

House takes up statewide heavy-trucks bill

The House is now taking up SB 1117, the bill to expand the use of extra-heavy trucks, up to 129,000 pounds, statewide.

House passes SB 1108, 45-21

The House has voted 45-21 in favor of SB 1108, the bill to make it more difficult to qualify an initiative or referendum measure for the Idaho ballot; there was bipartisan opposition. The bill, which earlier passed the Senate, now goes to the governor’s desk.

House debate: ‘This is gaming the system’

From the debate in the House on SB 1108, the bill on initiatives and referenda:

Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise: “This is gaming the system. This is saying we think the result will be bad, so we’ll just take away from people’s rights, and that’ll work for us. … It’s probably the most hurtful piece of legislation with respect to voting and exercising the people’s rights that I have seen.”

Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian: “I hold this office only for the convenience of my constituents. … I won’t do anything to prevent them from running their own bills.”

Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs: “We have heard here that we shouldn’t disenfranchise any citizen from signing a referendum or an initiative. … If a person doesn’t know what legislative district they’re in, maybe they shouldn’t have a great influence on initiatives and referendums.”

Rep. Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree: “I don't feel like the timing on this bill coming out is relevant to the propositions.” She noted that she serves on the Agriculture Committee, and said, “If something came forward that would affect that industry, I certainly would hope that at least 18 Idaho legislative districts would have a say in that.”

House debates bill to make it tougher to get initiatives, referenda on ballot

The House is now debating SB 1108, the bill to make it tougher to qualify an initiative or referendum measure for the Idaho ballot by adding a requirement for signatures of 6 percent of registered voters in 18 of the state’s 35 legislative districts; currently, the requirement is just for 6 percent statewide. Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, said the aim is the same as that of a late-1990s law that was overturned in federal court; it required signatures from half of the state’s counties. For the three years it was in effect, no measures qualified for Idaho’s ballot; it was overturned in federal court as a violation of the one-person, one-vote rule.

“It’s not anything that’s particularly new,” Luker told the House. “But it’s doing so in a constitutional manner by referring to the legislative districts.”

Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, said, “Last year, there were three referendums on the ballot in November, and three months later we have this very significant revision to the initiative and referendum process. In general, this SB 1108 makes the initiative and referendum process more difficult, more paperwork, more cumbersome, and doesn’t really address an issue that we have here in this state. … It’s not necessary.”

House passes DeMordaunt bill, 44-20

HB 325, Rep. Reed DeMordaunt’s bill to tie strings to the newly restored 1.67 percent of teacher salary funds included in next year’s school budget, has passed the House on a 44-20 vote, with bipartisan opposition. “I believe we can all stand proud that we across the board have done a great deal for education this year,” DeMordaunt told the House, “and this is something else, one thing we are doing to make sure that we’ve reduced those class sizes when they’ve been increased and to make sure that we get teachers back that have been let go.” The bill now moves to the Senate side.

House debates DeMordaunt bill to tie strings to teacher-pay restoration

House Education Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, told the House that HB 325, his bill to tie strings to how the restored 1.67 percent in salary-based apportionment funds may be spent by school districts next year, is intended “to unroll this in exactly the same way that those cuts are rolled out.” The “Students Come First” law cut 1.67 percent from state teacher salary funds; when those laws were rejected by voters in November, that money was restored to the school budget for next year. DeMordaunt’s bill requires that the restored money go first to two items, adding back positions and school days, both to 2011 levels, before they can be used to restore teacher salaries.

Rep. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, said, “HB 325 dictates how school districts will use the 1.67 percent of salary-based apportionment money that’s reinstated in the public school budget. This bill will allow school districts to use these funds for restoring teacher salaries only after they have first restored all the furlough days and hired staff positions lost since 2011.” Ward-Engelking said every school district handled the cuts differently. “Put this in the hands  of local school districts, let them decide how they need to spend this money,” she said.

Rep. Hy Kloc, D-Boise, also spoke against the bill. “I believe that the first business is to make these teachers whole,” he said. “We’ve all heard about how discouraged teachers have become, and many of them are leaving their positions or the state to find better jobs.”

Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, debated in favor of the bill. He said he opposed an earlier version of the bill that only permitted the money to be spent for the two purposes. But he said the current version gives districts the flexibility to restore teacher pay. “If you’ve already done these other things, you can bring it back,” he said.

Rep. Linden Bateman, R-Idaho Falls, said, “I think indeed the local school district should be trusted to have latitude with these funds.”

House passes school budget, 52-16

The House has voted 52-16 in favor of HB 323, the public schools budget; it now moves to the Senate. All 16 “no” votes came from House Republicans.

Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, said, “I have to vote no on this because of all of the intent language that’s coming out of JFAC. Intent language should be used in the germane committees, not coming from JFAC.”

House Education Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, said, “For those that have been around for a while, you realize that this is an ongoing conversation that’s always had, what should be in intent language vs. what should be in policy. .. I’m not sure that we’re ever going to come to a conclusion. However, as I’ve reviewed this intent language, I’m certainly comfortable with the wording in it. But I’m more comfortable with the fact that this is for one year. This gives us an opportunity … It provides this data that’s going to be critical for us as we move forward as a state.” DeMordaunt said, “I could talk a long time about this budget because I think it does a lot of good things. Is it perfect? No it isn’t. But I believe it moves us forward. We all want to invest in education, and we want those investments to be the most effective possible. I think we have a lot of that in this budget.”

Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, questioned whether the governor’s education stakeholders task force had approved the plan for $3 million for school technology pilot projects that’s included in the technology funding. Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls, responded, “This budget was put together, especially this part, by all the stakeholders including the superintendent of public instruction. To my knowledge, at that time the committee had met but they had not come up with a recommendation.”

Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, said, “I don’t like this budget, I don’t like it at all, but I’ll vote for it. … I would just note that the high-water mark for education funding in Idaho was 2009. … Even if this budget got us back to the 2009 level, we would be behind. … What we have to do in education is going to require more of us.” He said, “This budget is probably the best that can get through this legislature, and I will vote for it.”

House takes up public school budget: Despite small increase, still below 2009 level

“This budget represents an important step in the process of restoring and moving Idaho education forward,” said Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls. It reflects a 2.2 percent increase in state funding , above the governor’s recommended 2 percent but below state schools Superintendent Tom Luna’s 3 percent request.

Thompson noted that while the budget includes a small increase in the minimum teacher salary and restores previously frozen steps on the teacher salary schedule, teacher salary funds appropriated in the budget are “still 5 percent below the amount appropriated in 2009.” The total general-fund budget, he said, is “still $110 million below where the fiscal year 2009 appropriation was.” The budget does include $21 million in one-time funds for teacher merit bonuses and professional development at local school district discretion; and provides a boost in technology funds to school districts.

House takes up public schools budget

The House has suspended its rules and will now take up the public schools budget, HB 323, the single largest slice of the state budget. Following that, it’ll take up HB 325, Rep. Reed DeMordaunt’s new bill to restrict how restored teacher salary funds are spent next year.

Loertscher: ‘We have the opportunity to make a huge difference’

The House and Senate Health & Welfare committees are assembled for a joint meeting this morning in the Lincoln Auditorium, to hear presentations on HB 308 and 309 – eliminating Idaho’s county indigent and state catastrophic care fund programs, and expanding its Medicaid program instead, largely at federal expense. The county and state programs are now funded 100 percent by local county property taxpayers and the state general fund; the Medicaid expansion would be funded 100 percent by federal funds for the first three years, then scaling down to 90 percent federal funds.

House Health & Welfare Chairman Fred Wood, R-Burley, said this is an “informational hearing only – there will be no business conducted at this meeting today.”

Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, who served on the House Health & Welfare Committee for 24 years but got his start on the issue as a county commissioner in the 1970s, told the committees, “I’ve been around this for what seems to me as forever. … I believe it was about 1976 when the counties were put on the hook for medically indigent folks in the state. And at first, the numbers weren’t very big. … Very rapidly, though, as I took office in 1979, things began to escalate a lot.”

Loertscher said, “I don’t think that anyone is too enamored with the prospect of these escalating costs, these all being, of course, our taxpayers’ money.”

Doing away with the county/state indigency and CAT program would save Idaho property taxpayers $478 million over the next 10 years, Loertscher told the committees. “This is a program that was put on counties that’s just becoming unbearable. It’s consuming more and more of commissioners’ time as well as more employees to keep up with the demands.”  In addition, the latest estimates show the state, too, would save millions; here's a link to my story on the topic from September.

“We’re at kind of a crossroads right now, and we’ve got to make a decision about this,” Loertscher said. “I would be a strong advocate of repealing the counties’ indigent responsibilities. It is direct property tax relief.” He added, “It’s late in the session and I don’t like doing things in a hurry.” But, he said, “The iron is hot now, Mr. Chairman, and this is the time to strike it, because we have the opportunity now to make a huge difference. … If we don’t do that, we’re going to continue to see that stuff shoved back to the counties.”

Report: Idaho would save with Medicaid expansion

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idahoi (AP) — Lawmakers considering expanding Medicaid for more low-income people will hear a new report concluding Idaho would see financial benefits that exceed earlier estimates. House and Senate Health and Welfare committees meet Friday to discuss, though not vote, on a plan to broaden Medicaid coverage, while eliminating Idaho's system for covering indigent people's medical bills. Despite this new report, however, Republicans exhausted considerable political capital on another provision of President Obama's overhaul by passing a state-based health insurance exchange. Consequently, GOP appetite to tackle Medicaid is limited. Additionally, Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter opposes expanding Medicaid, at least until he wins reforms to boost patient responsibility. House Minority Leader John Rusche says Medicaid expansion is arguably more important for Idaho than the exchange issue, but “politics are what's going to block it.”

Otter wins exchange fight with Legislature

The Idaho Legislature has made it official – Gov. Butch Otter has won his biggest legislative victory in his seven years in office, persuading reluctant GOP lawmakers to approve his plan for a state-based health insurance exchange. After more than three hours of debate, the Idaho Senate voted 23-12 in favor of the bill Thursday and sent it to the governor’s desk; the measure, HB 248, had earlier passed the House on a 41-29 vote. Despite the long debate, no senators changed their votes from a month earlier, when they passed an earlier version of the bill by the exact same vote; you can read my full story here at

Senate tax panel gives unanimous support to HB 315, personal property tax bill

Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, moved to send HB 315 to the full Senate with a recommendation that it “do pass,” and Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, seconded the motion, which then passed on a unanimous voice vote. That’s the business personal property tax relief bill that was so controversial earlier this session.

Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, noted the parade of supporters who testified in favor of the bill. “I’m generally in favor of tax cuts, and it just is rather odd for me to see all of these taxing jurisdictions come up here in favor of a tax cut. In my nine or so years of legislative experience it’s a first for me,” he said. “But I think it’s a good bill.” HB 315 now moves to the full Senate for a final vote.

House passes bill demanding title to federal lands on party-line vote

The House has voted 55-13, a GOP-led party-line vote, in favor of HCR 22, the resolution demanding that the federal government cede title to all federal lands in Idaho to the state. “There’s a few things that I’ll come out of the chair to debate and this is one of those,” said House Speaker Scott Bedke. “This is worth trying.”

“I read frustration in this, and I don’t think the federal government is going to punish us for being frustrated,” said Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake. He said where he lives, there are stark differences between side-by-side swaths of federal and state public land. “It’s … remarkable how much pride, the pride that we have of our state land there,” he said. “It just doesn’t exist on the federal side. … Come see for yourself. It’s very obvious. I don’t blame the federal government – I think they do the best they can. But I know that we can do better.”

The resolution now moves to the Senate. The House also approved another resolution, HCR 21, on a 64-4 vote, calling for an interim legislative study committee to examine possible state management of federal lands in the state.

All those testifying on HB 315, personal property tax bill, are in favor…

Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, the chairman of the Senate Local Government & Taxation Committee, has opened up public testimony on HB 315, the counties personal property tax relief, but he warned first that there’s dinner and coconut cream pie on the 4thfloor that’s calling to senators on the committee. “As I look through the agenda here, there are no con’s, everyone’s a pro, so don’t blow this,” Siddoway said to laughter.

Among those testifying in support are representatives of the Idaho Association of Counties, the Idaho School Boards Association, the Idaho Association of School Administrators, the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce and others.

Senate shelves bill to criminalize Idaho cops for enforcing fed gun laws

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Senate has shelved a measure that sought to make it a misdemeanor for Idaho law enforcement officials to enforce any new federal firearms restrictions. The bill cleared the House on a party-line vote and is awaiting a Senate State Affairs Committee hearing. But its chairman, Republican Sen. Curt McKenzie of Nampa, said Thursday he won't have adequate time to give it a public vetting during the 2013 session. There have been concerns it could complicate relationships between Idaho law enforcement and federal agencies that currently cooperate, including on drug investigations. Rep. Mark Patterson, a Boise Republican and the measure's sponsor, has said his bill is intended to protect Idahoans' gun rights. However, President Obama's administration has said it has no plans to confiscate weapons or require national firearms registration.


Senate panel takes up House-passed personal property tax bill

HB 315, the House-passed bill to exempt the first $100,000 of business equipment for each taxpayer in each county from the personal property tax, is up for a hearing this afternoon in the Senate Local Government & Taxation Committee. Seth Grigg of the Idaho Association of Counties is now presenting the bill to the senators. 

Otter appoints Powell as ISP chief

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has appointed Lt. Col. Ralph Powell director of the Idaho State Police, also elevating Powell to the rank of colonel. Powell has been acting director since Col. Jerry Russell retired in January; he’s been deputy director since 2012 and is a 30-year ISP veteran. Click below for Otter’s full announcement.

Otter on exchange passage: ‘I know this wasn’t easy’

Gov. Butch Otter has issued this statement on the final passage in the Senate today of his state health insurance exchange legislation, sending it to his desk:

 “I know this wasn’t easy, not for the Legislature and not for me. Nonetheless, I appreciate the civility and quality of debate that’s taken place on this issue in both the House and Senate. And I appreciate the Legislature’s support enabling me to do what I believe is right for our citizens. Of course we share strong objections to Obamacare, but as responsible elected officials we also are committed to constructively working together for the best possible outcomes for Idaho. I’m grateful for that collaboration.”

House suspends rules, takes up federal land transfer resolution

The House has convened, and held all the bills on its 3rd Reading calendar for today; instead, it’ll suspend rules and take up measures that were on 2nd Reading. First up: HCR 22, the resolution demanding that the federal government transfer title to all Idaho federal lands to the state.

“Examples of federal inefficiency and mismanagement abound,” said Rep. Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, opening the debate.

Senate adjourns for day; afternoon committee meetings pushed back a half-hour

The Senate has adjourned until 9:30 tomorrow morning, after its hours-long debate on HB 248. This afternoon's Senate committee meetings have been pushed back; those scheduled for 1:30 will meet instead from 2-3:30; and those scheduled for 3 p.m. will meet instead at 3:30.

Senate votes 23-12 in favor of exchange bill, same vote split as last time

After more than three hours of debate, the Senate has voted 23-12 in favor of HB 248, Gov. Butch Otter’s state health insurance exchange bill. That’s the exact same vote split as on the earlier version of the bill, SB 1042, on Feb. 21; no senators changed their votes. The House-passed bill now heads to the governor’s desk.

Hill on exchange: ‘We all want to do the right thing’

The Senate’s debate on HB 248, the governor’s insurance exchange bill, is still going, three hours in; several senators have now debated for a second time. “We all want to do the right thing,” said Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg. “Many will criticize your choice here today, either way you vote, because the choices we have stink. But the critics are wrong if they question what’s in your heart, and I thank you for what I see in your hearts. I’m proud of you.”

Sen. John Tippets, R-Montpelier, is now giving the closing debate. He told the Senate, “I think that one thing we can agree on is this has been a frustrating process. … I'm saddened about how this issue has divided the body.”

“We can say no. We can say it all we want,” Tippets said, “and the federal government will simply come in and impose a federal exchange.”

Powerball jackpot up to $320 million, players have ‘til Saturday night…

The Powerball jackpot has hit $320 million, and players have until Saturday night to buy a ticket, according to the Idaho Lottery, which is reminding people to “play responsibly.” “Big Powerball jackpots are a lot of fun and we want to remind everyone that when they do play, to only spend what they can afford not to go overboard,” said Idaho Lottery Director Jeff Anderson. “It does only take one ticket to win.” Click below for the Lottery’s full announcement.

House recesses, Ways & Means meets…

The House has voted 56-11 in favor of SB 1078, legislation to order public universities to allow student religious groups to require their leaders to adhere to their religion; that bill now goes to the governor’s desk. The House then recessed until 2:30 p.m.; now, the House Ways & Means Committee is meeting in the JFAC room. It’s scheduled to introduce three new bills; one from Rep. Donna Pence on printing products for Correctional Industries; one from Rep. Mike Moyle on professional practice requirements for Idaho student graduates; and one from Rep. Mat Erpelding on Weed Awareness Week.

Debate: ‘Doesn’t implement ACA,’ ‘Start of slavery,’ ‘Tremendous amount of compromise’

Here's more from the debate on HB 248, the governor's state health insurance exchange bill, in the Senate this morning:

Sen Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, said, “This exchange doesn’t implement the Affordable Care Act. It will be implemented fully with or without this bill.”

Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, called the state exchange bill “one of the most monumental decisions we will ever make,” governing “the start of slavery over freedom.”

Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, “This bill represents a lot of due diligence and a tremendous amount of compromise from this entire legislature, and we should honor that, regardless of our position.”

Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, said, “This issue in particular has been particularly frustrating for me, because as everyone recognizes and seems to acknowledge, there’s a lack of a solution here.”

Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise, said he wanted caps on consumer fees in the bill. “That is where I draw the line, why I cannot support SB 248,” he said.

Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, said, “Typically in a partnership you try to set down the rules to begin with, and we don’t have them. … The ground rules have not been set out in good, strong financial terms.”

Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said, “No one is required to purchase through the exchange. You don’t want to go to the exchange? Don’t go to the exchange.”

Nonini: ‘This is a dark day for Idaho’

Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, drew an objection from Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, when he said the insurance exchange issue has prompted something “that really bothered me … lobbyists mocking people.” Hill said, “I think our rules require … discuss the merits of the bill itself.” Nonini was asked to stick to the bill.

“In my eight-plus, almost nine years here, I’ve never seen an issue like this touch on as many emotions as it has,” Nonini told the Senate. He said he picked out his darkest suit to wear for today’s debate. “I believe this is a dark day for Idaho. I believe this is a dark day for this building,” he said. “I’m just so frustrated by this – I feel like I’m in mourning. Because we’re losing something here this morning. We are losing our freedom. We are giving up our sovereignty to the federal government.”

Nonini also said during this debate that he’s “embarrassed by my actions last may, something you’re all aware of,” with regard to Sen. John Tippets, R-Montpelier, the bill’s sponsor. “He’s quite a gentleman,” Nonini said. Nonini, through his “Idaho Association for Good Government” PAC, backed a challenger against Tippets in the GOP primary; he also targeted several other GOP incumbents, all unsuccessfully.

Vick on exchange: ‘We didn’t bring the snakes into the house’

Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, spoke out against HB 248, Gov. Butch Otter’s state health insurance exchange bill, saying he rejects the idea that health care reform is “the law of the land.” Said Vick, “Those states that opposed slavery, did they say, well I guess the best we can do is when those slaves get into our free states, is make sure that we take care of ‘em well, clean ‘em up and send ‘em back home to their slave owners? No they did not. They formed the underground railroad and they got those people to Canada.” He brought up civil rights icon Rosa Parks and her resistance to segregation laws. “Did she do that by taking the very best seat at the back of the bus? No, she did it by sitting at the front of the bus, by not complying with the law. History teaches we don’t change a bad law by complying with it,” Vick said.

“Now if you want Obamacare to be run in the best possible way for the people in Idaho, you may want to vote for a state exchange, because we may very well do it better. But if you want to reverse Obamacare, put an end to it, and encourage others to fight Obamacare, then you need to vote no. … We may embolden a citizen or two or 10 or 100 to join us in that fight. That historically is how you stop an unjust law. To me taxing people for failing to buy insurance is unjust.”

Vick said supporters of the state exchange are saying, “We fought, and we lost, so let’s comply.” He compared that to opponents of segregation. “They had to defy the unjust law,” he said. He also compared the exchange issue to killing rattlesnakes as a youngster. “One summer I personally killed 13 rattlesnakes,” he said, “but you know what I didn’t do … we didn’t bring the snakes into the house to try to control ‘em or to try to contain ‘em, we didn’t bring ‘em into the house to try to keep an eye on ‘em.”

New version of DeMordaunt teacher salary bill clears committee

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — House Education Chairman Reed DeMordaunt has finally won enough support in committee for his plan to tie strings to $12 million that school districts will get in the school budget next year for teacher pay. The Eagle Republican on Thursday unveiled a revised version of a bill that died in committee earlier this week on a tie vote. His original bill would have given districts the option to use money dedicated to teacher salaries only to either restore days previously lost to furloughs or hire teachers. DeMordaunt's new version was changed to allow districts to boost teacher salaries only after they restore furlough days and staff positions lost since 2011. The revamped version passed on an 11-4 vote and will be sent to the House. Idaho Falls Republican Rep. Linden Bateman joined the three Democrats in voting against. The money involved is the 1.67 percent of state teacher salary funds that were redirected to reform programs under the voter-rejected “Students Come First” laws; that money now is being restored to school districts.

Land Board votes 4-1 to give Priest, Payette cabin owners reprieve on rent hike, but at a price

Idaho’s state Land Board, meeting this morning, voted 4-1 to give state cabin lease holders on Priest and Payette lakes a reprieve on their 2014 rent payments to the state, reports Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News. Tom Schultz, state lands director, told the board that looming rent increases in 2014 could prompt 8 to 10 percent of Priest Lake cabin owners to walk away from their cabins and leases.

Under the plan, Richert reports, leaseholders can defer the difference between their 2014 payments and their 2013 payments, for up to two years, though they must pay 6 percent annual interest. Attorney General Lawrence Wasden cast the lone dissenting vote; you can read Richert’s full post here.

Senate debate: ‘Less costly, less onerous,’ ‘Wrong for Idaho’

“Those of us who support a state exchange believe a state exchange would be less costly, less onerous for the citizens of Idaho, provide better product choices and make better use of the insurance professionals who are in this state,” Sen. John Tippets, R-Montpelier, told the Senate this morning, in his opening debate on SB 248.

Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, was the first to debate against the bill. “My good senators, you’ll recall that I vigorously opposed SB 1042, and I vigorously oppose HB 248. There are some minor changes, but the effect is the same. This is the voluntary implementation of the Affordable Care Act.” He said, “My experience tells me that there is really nothing I can say right now that is likely to change any minds. My heart tells me that I need to try. I do believe this is the most important issue of my legislative career. … My heart, my mind and my soul believes that this is the wrong thing for Idaho.” Fulcher said, “We don’t know the costs, and there’s no guidelines, there’s no boundaries in this legislation that would limit that.”

He added, “The answer has always been and continues to lie with the free market, not regulated activity; with self-sufficiency, not government control.”

Senate begins exchange debate…

Sen. John Tippets, R-Montpelier, thanked Senate Secretary Jennifer Novak for her reading of the full health insurance exchange bill, HB 248. The reading, demanded by Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, took 10 minutes.

“Senators, here we are again,” Tippets told the Senate. “The House took SB 1042 that passed this body, made some changes, passed the bill and sent it back to us.”  He read again, echoing Novak, from the bill, which says:

“It is the public policy of the state ofIdaho to actively resist federal actions that would limit or override statesovereignty under the 10th amendment of the United States constitution.Through this legislation, the state of Idaho asserts its sovereignty byrefusing to surrender decision-making authority over health care issues,which are matters appropriately left to states and individual citizens.The purpose of this chapter is to establish a state-created, market-drivenhealth insurance exchange that will facilitate the selection and purchase ofindividual and employer health benefit plans. The creation of a state-basedhealth insurance exchange will provide an Idaho-specific solution that fits the unique needs of the state of Idaho. Participation in the exchange isvoluntary in that no person or employer shall be required by this chapter topurchase a health benefit plan through the exchange. Creation of the exchange and its operation is deemed a public purpose intended to enhance Idaho residents' choice regarding options and access to health insurance.”

Among the major changes from SB 1042 to HB 248: Three more voting members, all legislators, are added to the exchange board. The new bill incorporates proposals from a group of 16 House GOP freshmen who wanted more legislative oversight of the exchange.

Another change says that if any portion of the national health care reform law is overturned, the exchange will immediately cease following it. Said Tippets, “If that happens, we don’t even have to take any actions to get out of this mess - it’s already done right here.”

Opponents force full reading of insurance exchange bill in the Senate

The time has come for the Senate to take up HB 248, the governor’s health insurance exchange bill. But Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, objected tothe unanimous consent request to waive full reading of the bill – so the Senate secretary, Jennifer Novak, has now begun reading the bill in full. The bill is six pages long.

Turkish firm rebuffed in its bid to trademark ‘IDAHO’ in Turkey for its ag products

The Turkish ambassador, Namik Tan, has sent a letter to Idaho Gov. Butch Otter letting him know that the Turkish Patent Institute has ruled against letting a Turkish firm trademark the word “IDAHO” for use on its agricultural products; Otter, the Idaho Potato Commission and the Idaho Legislature had strenuously objected to the idea. “The application was rebuffed with in accord with the concerns you have rightfully raised,” the ambassador wrote; you can read the full letter here.

Boise State Public Radio reporter Jessica Robinson reports today that the Turkish company Beta Ziraat has two months to appeal the decision, but now the Idaho Potato Commission has also filed a patent application in Turkey, to trademark the phrase “Famous Idaho Potatoes.” You can read her full report here.

Senate finally adjourns, sets exchange debate for Thursday morning

The Senate was on the floor until after 7 p.m. tonight before it finally finished its amending order. It's now adjourned until 9:30 a.m. tomorrow; before adjourning, senators reordered their calendar to put HB 248, the state health insurance exchange bill, up first tomorrow.

Senate rejects Democratic amendments to two school labor bills

Democratic  Sens. Branden Durst, Cherie Buckner-Webb, and Dan Schmidt unsuccessfully offered amendments to SB 1147, the bill that requires that teachers get only one-year contracts. This is one of the controversial school labor laws that was proposed by the Idaho School Boards Association this year  and has a one-year expiration date. Buckner-Webb proposed an amendment to say that school districts “may” offer one-year contracts to teachers, rather than that they “shall.” Durst, arguing for the amendment, said, “Why as a state are we advocating a top-down mandate? We’re saying … that we as a state know better than our local school boards. … If a district wants to allow multi-year contracts, they should be allowed to do it.”  The amendment was voted down, however, as was another from Durst and Schmidt to state that all parties to the negotiation process must consent to terms before they take effect.

“The deck is being stacked,” Durst complained. “We are stacking the deck on one side, and saying to the other side, ‘Deal with it.’”

Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, and Buckner-Webb proposed amendments to SB 1148, another one-year bill regarding teacher contracts, that says teacher contracts can be issued for shorter or longer terms, and for greater, lesser or equal salaries, than the preceding contracts. Durst noted that Idaho voters rejected the teacher contract changes in Proposition 1 in November. “It was clearly stated by those that elect us that continuing contracts should not be dispensed with,” he told the Senate, but the Democratic amendments were voted down.

Durst amendment voted down, Goedde amendment adopted…

Sen. Branden Durst’s amendment to HB 221 has failed, with just nine senators backing it; it would have eliminated clauses letting public or private colleges and nonprofit corporations form new state-funded charter schools. Instead, the Senate has adopted Sen. John Goedde’s amendment to that section of the bill, which would eliminate the clause letting non-profit corporations start charter schools. That’s the major change the Senate has approved to the charter school bills today.

Durst also proposed an amendment to require new virtual charter schools to be approved by local school districts, but it, too, was voted down. Goedde told the Senate, “Understand that this is only virtual public charter schools. The challenge is what school board should be presented a petition for a virtual charter school that may have enrollment from all the districts in the state? That’s one of the reasons that virtual charters were directed to the charter commission, and I think they’re appropriately kept there, although the language would allow virtual charters also at universities.”

Reporter Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News has an analysis here of the impact of the approved change.

Durst: ‘Paying private companies to open schools in Idaho’

Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise, proposed a competing amendment to HB 221 to also do away with the clause letting public or private colleges establish charters. Durst said “the state ought to have some say” over entities that set up charter schools, and questioned whether career colleges would take advantage of that. “What we’d be doing is paying private companies to open schools in the state of Idaho,” he said.

Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, countered, “I am pretty comfortable with going to the University of Idaho if they want to be an authorizer, and having them apply. And I see charters authorized by the University of Idaho being excellent training grounds for the people in their college of education. Some place, they need practical education, and that’s a great opportunity.”

Durst said he wouldn’t object to a public college participating, but wanted to block the private ones so they couldn’t “take advantage of state tax dollars to set up a private school (for students) they could then send to their career colleges later.”

Goedde proposes axing clause letting nonprofits start state-funded charter schools

Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, has proposed an amendment to HB 221, the charter school governance bill, to delete the clause in the bill that would allow non-profit corporations to establish state-funded charter schools in Idaho.

Bonding plan for charter schools rejected

Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise, said of his bonding plan for charter schools, “It gives them access to a fund that would create a low-interest loan. …We could talk about a large enough sum of money to actually be able to purchase a building or to build a school.” He said, “The legislation as it’s currently drafted wouldn’t provide that. … It would simply give a small sum of money. … It really solves the problem.” Durst proposed his plan as an amendment to HB 206, the House-passed charter school facilities funding bill.

Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, debated against Durst’s amendment. “Currently 24 charter schools in this state lease or rent buildings. That is because they can’t afford to buy buildings,” he told the Senate. “While a loan fund may help them buy buildings, I would submit, with the limited funding that they have, how are they going to repay a loan to the revolving loan account any easier than they are to a bank? It may help a few charters, but it certainly won’t help the bulk.”

Durst said the schools could spend the amounts they’re now spending for lease payments instead on bond payments to get their own buildings. “If we’re really trying to solve the problem instead of throw some money at it, then let’s actually make the investment in these charter schools.”

The Senate then voted on Sen. Dean Mortimer’s amendment, which was in conflict with Durst’s – and it passed on a near-party-line vote, with only a handful of Republicans joining all Senate Democrats in opposing it. That meant Mortimer’s amendment will be added to the bill, and Durst’s was lost.

Two competing amendments to HB 206, the charter facilities funding bill…

The two competing amendments to HB 206, the charter school facilities funding bill, include one from Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, to cap the amount that charter schools would receive for facilities at an amount equal to the average that Idaho school districts receive from the Bond Levy Equalization Fund, which this year totaled $17.4 million and was accessed by 58 school districts to match part of their bond payments. It also would make some changes to the “authorizer fees” in the bill, which require charter schools to pay fees to the entity that authorizes them to cover overhead costs; currently, there are only two such entities, the state Charter Commission, or Idaho school districts. The amendment limits those fees to actual costs plus 15 percent.

The next bill that'll be up for amendments, HB 221, which overhauls charter school governance in Idaho, adds additional potential authorizers.

The other amendment to HB 206, from Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise, would instead allow charter schools to apply for loans for school facilities through the Idaho State Building Authority, which would be empowered to issue bonds for up to a total of $20 million, over a maximum of 30 years.

Senate begins amending order…

After both caucuses, the Democrats and the Republicans, emerged from closed-door caucuses, the Senate has now reconvened and moved into its 14th Order, where bills are amended. There are multiple, competing amendments for both HB 206, which has two amendments, and HB 221, which has four amendments. Those are the two charter school bills. “We're going to have some today with conflicts,” said Senate Assistant Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Boise, who chairs the amending order. “Be a little patient - we've got a lot to do here today.”

Senate convenes, Republicans go to caucus, charter bill amendments on tap…

The Senate has convened, then gone at ease for a majority party caucus. When it returns, Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis said the Senate will go into its 14th Order and amend the bills that are awaiting amendments there. Those include the two controversial charter school funding bills, HB 206, to tap the public school budget to fund charter school buildings; and HB 221, to allow public or private colleges and non-profit corporations to set up new state-funded charter schools.

Senate Ed passes ‘last best offer’ bill for teacher talks on 6-3 vote

The Senate Education Committee has voted 6-3 in favor of House-passed legislation to let school boards unilaterally impose terms if contract talks with teachers unions haven’t reached agreement by June 10. That was a feature of the “Students Come First” laws that voters rejected in Proposition 1 in November, so that rule has been in place the past two years. “Negotiations under these conditions went very well,” Karen Echeverria, executive director of the Idaho School Boards Association, told the committee. “We only had 22 school districts that were unable to reach an agreement.”

Bert Marley of the Idaho Education Association strongly disagreed. “It eliminates valuable tools that are directly responsible for a system of collective bargaining that has been successful for over 40 years,” he said. “This system of collective bargaining gives educators a voice in their workplace. It’s critical to the culture and to the working environment of any school district.” In the 1970s and ‘80s, before the rules, he said, Idaho saw a series of teacher strikes and other labor unrest. “It’s not really bargaining … in any sense of the word, if at the end of the day one person gets to say, ‘this is the way it’s going to be.’”

Linda Clark, superintendent of the Meridian School District, spoke in favor of the bill, HB 260. “I am comfortable with the process that we’ve had, but I think this is a better process,” she said. “There just needs to be a date certain when that process ends.” The bill includes a one-year expiration date, so lawmakers can re-examine it.

Rep. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, said, “It is not often that Sen. Marley and I agree with each other. … I think this bill is a little premature, and there might even be some different ways to go about it.” But only Thayn and the committee’s two Democratic members, Sens. Branden Durst and Cherie Buckner-Webb of Boise, opposed the bill, which now moves to the full Senate.  Sen. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, said, “I fully believe that there should be a deadline and I think that’s a reasonable deadline.”

House passes felony bill for attacks on health workers

After much debate, the House has passed HB 292, to make attacks on health care workers a felony with up to a five-year penalty, on a 40-27 vote. Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, sponsored the bill in response to concerns from Kootenai Medical Center in Coeur d’Alene about increasing violent attacks against workers there, along with similar concerns from others around the state in the health care industry. It requires that the attack be made with intent to trigger the enhanced penalty, to ensure that a mentally ill patient isn’t unduly penalized.

Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, spoke out against the bill. “I think the bill itself brings confusion to the penalties for assault and battery,” he said. “Whether this would actually deter this behavior … is I think questionable. … I think that this bill just needs some work and probably is not appropriate at this time.” Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian, questioned why attacks against health care workers should carry greater penalties than those against “the night shift at 7-11,” and said, “We’re going too far.” Rep. Jason Monks, R-Meridian, said, “If increased penalties will solve our problem, then why are we stopping here? … I just don’t see the consistency here in our approach.”

Malek said health care workers are mandated to provide care to patients even if they’re violent, a situation that often arises in emergency rooms. The bill now moves to the Senate side.

A meeting room with a history…

The House Ways & Means Committee, which met briefly on adjournment of the House today to introduce three new bills, is meeting in the JFAC room now because that room has audio streaming to allow the public to listen in. Lobbyist Bill Roden, an attorney, was presenting a bill, and was invited to sit at the central desk by the microphone to address the committee. “The last time I was in this room at this spot I was appearing  before the Supreme Court years ago, and it seems strange to be here,” he commented with a smile. The JFAC room is the former Idaho Supreme Court chamber; the court sat there until it moved to the current Idaho Supreme Court building in 1970.

Roden’s legislation, on behalf of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, is an effort to clear up an unintended consequence of a state Tax Commission rule issued in 2011 that inadvertently changed the withholding status of tribal members who are working on different reservations from the one where they’re enrolled. Roden said he’s working with the Tax Commission on the issue. “It is the intent of the state Tax Commission not to enforce this rule, but for tax preparers … they need something in writing,” he said. “They will come back to you next year.”

The committee voted unanimously to introduce the resolution; it also introduced two others measures, one from Rep. Rich Wills to have Idaho joint the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children; and one from Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, to have the speaker designate a custodian of public records for the House, for purposes of responding to public record requests. The Senate has a similar rule in the works.

How they voted…

Here’s how House members voted in the 35-33 vote to pass HB 286, the $10 million private school tax credits bill:

Voting yes: Reps. Anderst, Barbieri, Barrett, Bateman, Batt, Boyle, Collins, Crane, Dayley, DeMordaunt, Denney, Gestrin, Harris, Hartgen, Holtzclaw, Horman, Loertscher, Malek, McMillan, Mendive, Monks, Morse, Moyle, Nielsen, Palmer, Patterson, Raybould, Shepherd, Sims, Thompson, Trujillo, Vander Woude, Wills, Wood(35), and Youngblood.

Voting no: Reps. Agidius, Anderson(01), Anderson(31), Andrus, Bedke, Bell, Bolz, Burgoyne, Chew, Clow, Erpelding, Eskridge, Gannon, Gibbs, Hancey, Hixon, Kauffman, King, Kloc, Luker, Meline, Miller, Packer, Pence, Perry, Ringo, Romrell, Rusche, Smith, Stevenson, VanOrden, Ward-Engelking, and Woodings.

Private school tax credits bill barely squeaks through House, 35-33

The private school scholarship tax credits bill, HB 286, has barely squeaked through the House, on a 35-33 vote. Two members of the House were absent for the vote, Reps. Fred Wood, R-Burley, and Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls.

House debates tax credits for private school scholarships…

The House is now debating HB 286, the bill to give $10 million in tax credits for donations to scholarships to send Idaho kids to private schools, with the idea that the state would save millions if kids dropped out of public schools to enroll in private schools instead. Rep. Mark Patterson, R-Boise, told the House that his children attend private schools. “This levels the playing field and it’s a great step in the right direction,” he said.

Rep. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, countered, “I think the issue is not whether private schools are good for children in this state, because they are. I think the issue is this is policy that siphons money away from public and charter schools to be used for private schools. … We don’t give tax credits to adults who have no children, nor should we be giving tuition tax credits to those who have chosen an alternative to public education. It is their right and their choice, but the state should not subsidize that choice. We do not have enough money for public schools and public charter schools right now.”

Rep. Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, said, “A third of our counties don't even have private schools. It doesn't add up to me.” He said, “Private schools should not benefit from taxpayer money, and our Constitution demonstrates that.” Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, said, “The attorney general has stated … it would vigorously defend this bill if it became law, under the provision that it would not be a transfer of state funds and therefore would not be in violation of the Constitution.”

Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, called opposition to the bill “reverse discrimination,” and said, “It’s education, no matter how you look at it. … It’s education. That’s what’s of great interest to this Legislature, it’s educating our children. … I know from cases I’m aware of that it’s very helpful for some students to be able to go to … other than a public school.”

Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, questioned how the bill would work; one big donor could use up the whole $10 million limit on tax credits, he said. “It's just very confusing and cumbersome in terms of process.”

School safety bill sent to amending order

The House Education Committee has voted to send SB 1133a, Sen. Marv Hagedorn’s school safety and security bill, to the House’s amending order, after hearing a series of concerns about various aspects of the bill. Several committee members said they’ve been hearing from police chiefs all over the state concerned about how the bill is written; Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, said as written it overlooks charter schools; and the committee heard testimony from representatives of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, the Idaho ACLU and the Idaho Press Club that the bill’s public records exemption is too broad.

“The whole discussion is being driven underground by this bill,” Wayne Hoffman, head of the Freedom Foundation, told the committee. “There should be a little more accountability.” Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian, said, “This bill really isn’t ready for prime time.” Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, moved to hold the bill in committee, but Horman’s substitute motion carried, to send it to the amending order.

Disclosure: I’m the longtime president of the Idaho Press Club, whose volunteer lobbyist, Julie Hart, was among those testifying to the committee today.

Longtime IPTV general manager Peter Morrill to retire

The Idaho State Board of Education announced that Peter Morrill, longtime general manager of Idaho Public Television, is retiring. Morrill will continue to serve while the state board launches a search for a replacement by the end of the summer, and will assist through the transition; he's been general manager at IPTV since 1996.

“Peter has been an exceptional leader, and our state has been truly fortunate to have a person of his caliber at the helm of Idaho Public Television,” said Don Soltman, state board acting president. “Under Peter's direction, IdahoPTV has garnered national acclaim for excellence in providing programming that informs, educates and inspires.”

Morrill started at IPTV in 1979 as a director/videographer. He worked as a producer/director and executive producer before taking the helm as general manager. This year, Idaho Public TV was named the No. 1 most-viewed PBS station in the country, based on Nielsen ratings; that means a higher percentage of the population watches IPTV, and watches it more, than that in the viewing area of any other public TV station.  IPTV also won 53 national and regional awards in 2012, including an Emmy and an Edward R. Murrow Award. Click below for the state board's full announcement.

F&G expands hunting opportunities for elk, wolves

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Big game hunters in Idaho will have a chance to bag more elk next season and more time to hunt wolves in certain parts of the state. The Idaho Fish and Game Commission on Tuesday adopted a series of new rules and regulations for the 2013 big game hunting season. Major changes for elk include an increase of more than 2,300 controlled hunt tags. The commission also made adjustments in a variety of hunting zones across the state for elk season. Commissioners also approved extending the wolf hunt on private land in the Panhandle Zone to year-round and stretched the season in the Middle Fork Zone north of the Selway River to June 30. Changes also included expanding wolf trapping in certain hunting zones.

JFAC: ‘This may be our last meeting, we’ll see’

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee met this morning to vote on a series of “trailer” appropriation bills, to appropriate funds to match bills that already are making their way through the Legislature. Most have passed on fairly routine, unanimous votes; an exception was the appropriation for SB 1114, formalizing regional behavioral health boards. No additional funds are being added to the Department of Health & Welfare’s Mental Health Services division; instead, the trailer bill reappropriates unspent money within the department and permits transfers between programs. Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, said both he and the department were comfortable that that plan would work. It was approved on a 17-3 vote.

Also approved this morning were funding bills for a new Internet Crimes Against Children Unit in the Idaho Attorney General’s Office, at $2 million, which will be covered by a transfer from the office’s consumer protection fund; and $212,600 for a new unit to investigate elected county official misconduct, in line with SB 1080.

At the close of this morning’s meeting, co-chairman Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said, “This may be our last meeting, we’ll see.”

McKenzie: ‘It’s open dialogue that is important on issues like this’

At the close of the presentations this morning on amending the Idaho Human Rights Act, before opening it up to questions, Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, told the House and Senate State Affairs committees, “Sometimes these topics are undiscussable. So we appreciate the opportunity to broach the subject.”

Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, said, As you know we grew up in the era of segregation… For me that’s a no-brainer, all that was going on was wrong.” But, he said, “I struggle … as I try and weigh my position on ‘Add the Words’ or other issues based on discrimination, I look to the law and I look to try and figure out the impact of that discrimination. So I want you to know that it is a struggle.” He asked Boise Police Chief Mike Masterson about “the facts of discrimination in our community,” saying, “Some of my issues also deal with protection, equal protection, of someone being assaulted – any person should have protection, no matter what.”

Masterson responded, “I really don’t have a lot of data.” He said, “I’ve received complaints from as far away as Boston, from a mother who says, ‘My son’s jaw was broken, you’re not doing anything about it.’ It turned out it hadn’t been reported to the police. … It underscores the under-reporting issue we have.” Masterson said to him, the effectiveness of a new law like Boise’s anti-discrimination ordinance isn’t necessarily measures through the number of complaints. Instead, it’s through fewer complaints and the message getting out that discrimination won’t be tolerated.  He stressed the “importance of a message that you as elected officials send to your constituents and to all Idahoans about what you value in terms of justice and trust.”

Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, thanked the presenters, and said, “If we’re going to cope with this problem in this country, I think we need to be better educated. We need to learn from one another, we need to appreciate one another.” He said, “I think discrimination is much more a matter of the heart than it is of statute. I think we’ve gone a long way for that.” Buckner-Webb responded, “Thank you for these incremental steps.”

Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, Senate state affairs chairman, said, “I understand the passions that people have on this issue. … I appreciate the respect for the process, the respect for the committee. … It’s open dialogue that is important on issues like this.” Buckner-Webb said, “Thank you – we’ll be inviting you for more.”

Lawmakers hear presentations on amending Idaho Human Rights Act

In the Lincoln Auditorium this morning, the House and Senate State Affairs committees are assembled for a presentation about amending the Idaho Human Rights Act to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, though no bill is before the committees. “Many of us feel impatient about it, and I know that the progress cannot be made without … good understanding,” Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, told the committees. “We have before you five people who will be doing presentations and a number of people from our community that are able to answer questions.”

First to speak was Don Curtis Sr., a retired general manager from Hewlett-Packard, who shared his “personal journey of understanding.” He said, “I remember realizing my own sexual orientation around age 10 or 11, in about the 5th  grade, when I began to realize that girls are attractive.” He said, “I had never made a choice. I was oriented sexually the way I was created, and was conveniently blind to believe everybody else … (was) the same way, heterosexual.” Curtis said he assumed that anyone who wasn’t had chosen to be different. But he learned otherwise when he had a gay son.

Mistie Tolman of Add The Words told the committees, “Nobody should have to live in daily fear of being fired.” She described hiding from co-workers the nature of her family life, putting off questions, for example, about her “husband.”  “There is no protection for you, and you are very aware of it,” she said. “You keep yourself at arm’s length from everyone, especially your boss.” She said, “The simple question before you today is whether gay and transgender Idahoans must continue to live as second-class citizens.”

Under current Idaho law, people can be fired from their jobs, or denied housing or access to public accommodations, for being gay. Mike Masterson, Boise police chief, told the lawmakers, “Trust is the basis for the social compact that we as police officers have with those we serve. … However, that trust can be jeopardized when the citizens we serve lose confidence in our ability to protect them.” He described a violent attack against a man perceived to be gay, and said, “People aren’t reporting crimes because they fear being outed to their employers.” Masterson said that situation promotes crime and threatens justice.

He said 90 days ago, the city of Boise passed an ordinance to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity - the same change that's being sought for the state Human Rights Act. Since then, he said, his department hasn't received a single complaint. Boise is one of several cities around the state that's now taken that step.

Davis to Senate: March 29 adjournment date is ‘doable’

The Senate was on the floor until nearly 6:30 tonight, and worked through 31 pieces of legislation today. The reason: They’re pushing to try to meet the goal of a March 29 adjournment sine die. “It is doable,” said Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis. He told the Senate tonight that tomorrow, HB 248, the state health insurance exchange bill, will be moved up on the calendar at the end of the day, so it can be taken up on Thursday. Also, the Senate is shooting for going into the 14thOrder, its amending order, to amend a series of education bills late tomorrow afternoon, including two controversial charter school bills. Then, on Friday, the Senate likely would suspend rules to take up and act on some of the amended bills.

Tomorrow morning, the House and Senate State Affairs Committees will hold a joint meeting in the Lincoln Auditorium, starting at 8 a.m., to hear a presentation on the question of amending the Idaho Human Rights Act to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Also, JFAC will meet at 8 a.m. to consider “trailer” appropriation bills.

House passes HB 315, personal property tax bill, on 67-2 vote

The House has voted 67-2 in favor of HB 315, the new business personal property tax relief bill. The only dissenters were Reps. John Gannon, D-Boise, and Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow. Rep. Hy Kloc, D-Boise, missed the vote.

“This could be an economic driver for our state, and we hope that it will,” said Rep. Gary Collins, R-Nampa. Rep. Mike Moyle, R-Star, said, “This is a good start in the right direction.” The bill now moves to the Senate side; click below for a full report.

House debate: ‘It isn’t perfect’

Rep. Marc Gibbs, R-Grace, said his position on this issue has been clear all session, as “Caribou County is affected the most of any county in the state,” and the Soda Springs school district is hit harder than any other by a potential loss of personal property tax revenue. He said his local officials have advised him that “they think this is a good compromise and the best we can do, and they have encouraged me to support this legislation, and I will be voting for it.”

Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said, “I‘m in favor of this bill. It isn’t perfect. … We especially need to pay close attention to tax policy because of the economic condition of the households of Idaho. But I would point out that it isn’t because we have high taxes. Overall tax burden for the citizens of Idaho including local and state taxes is 51 out of 50 states and the District of Columbia,” he said. “Even when you correct it for our relatively low income we’re 46th out of 51 nationally. … So it isn’t that we have an excessive tax burden, and this really is a tax shift – it’s sales tax instead of personal property tax. So I think that minding our tax policy is good, but I don’t think that thinking that we need to drop it because it’s an excessive burden is necessarily factual. I do think, however, it’s a very good deal for our small businesses and decreasing the hassle factor, and that’s why I’m supporting it.”

Rep. Brandon Hixon, R-Caldwell, said, “Idaho has some of the lowest wages in the nation, and anything we can do to help current businesses out in our current communities and then to entice new businesses to come into this state is something I believe needs to be put on the table, any chance we can get it there.”

Rep. Lenore Barrett, R-Challis, said, “I don’t think it’s a mystery to anyone in this body that I like tax cuts and I will support this bill. But I just wish that once in a blue moon we could give tax cuts without shifts.”

Patterson: ‘We’re rotting on the vine’

Rep. Mark Patterson, R-Boise, spoke out in favor of HB 315, the business personal property tax relief bill. He decried Idaho’s low rates of personal income compared to other states. “We’re rotting on the vine,” Patterson said. “Something isn’t right, and it’s our taxing policies. … This is policy we need to start moving Idaho in the right direction, to give this state star quality so we can get people to move here with their businesses.“

Gannon: ‘Revenue such as this should be used for our public schools’

Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, spoke out against HB 315, the business personal property tax relief bill. “The voters have repeatedly said in the last five elections that they want the public schools supported,” Gannon told the House. “This last week … 36 of 41 measures were passed by local school districts around this state. According to published reports, that was $107.8 million in property tax measures that were approved by the voters. Yet we seem to be going in the opposite direction in this body, because we’re reducing general fund revenue by $20 million, making it that much more difficult to adequately fund our public schools.”

He noted that in 2006, Idaho cut property taxes and increased the sales tax to replace property taxes that previously went to schools. “We’re not following that,” he said. “These voters are voting for education, in part because they’re not getting the adequate funding from the state. If we’re going to pass a significant tax reduction such as this, a source other than the sales tax should be found as a replacement. … Revenue such as this should be used for our public schools.”

Collins: ‘Removes the business personal prop tax from 90% of Idaho businesses’

House Rev & Tax Chairman Gary Collins, R-Nampa, told the House, “HB 315 removes the business personal property tax from approximately 90 percent of Idaho businesses.” Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, co-sponsor with Collins on the bill, said, “This issue’s been around all session. We’ve heard a lot of pros and cons and had a lot of pressure regarding this issue. … I think it at least moves the issue toward final resolution. I think it gets us down the road toward where we want to be. … It does eliminate the tax on almost 90 percent of the businesses in the state of Idaho, it keeps our schools, counties and cities held harmless with replacement funding. I think it’s a reasonable compromise as we go down the road toward hopefully future elimination of this tax, and I hope you can support it.”

Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, asked Moyle why operating property – centrally assessed property, such as utility lines, pipelines and railroad tracks – was included, when the earlier version of the counties bill excluded that property. “The cost of adding operating property is about $500,000,” Moyle said. “It treats everyone equally.” Including that property also would make sure Idaho doesn’t get sued over treating different taxpayers differently, he said.

Rep. Cindy Agidius, R-Moscow, asked Moyle, “Just to be clear, we’re making the cities whole, the counties whole, and the school districts whole, yet we’re committing at least $20 million a year to our budgets in perpetuity?” Moyle said yes.

House suspends rules, takes up personal property tax bill…

The House is in session and has voted 66-2 to suspend its rules and allow HB 315, the personal property tax bill, to be considered immediately. The two “no” votes on the suspension of rules were from Reps. Cindy Agidius, R-Moscow, and Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow.

Senate panel backs exchange bill, 8-1

The Senate Commerce Committee has overwhelmingly approved HB 248, the governor’s state insurance exchange bill. Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, moved to approve the bill, sending it to the full Senate with a recommendation that it “do pass.” “I believe that our only option is this option, and I cannot in good conscience acquiesce to the federal government on those decisions,” Cameron said. “I am convinced that if the state does not act, the federal government will act.” He added, “I think we are more at risk that abortion would be covered under a federal exchange than under a state exchange.” Sen. Jim Guthrie, R-McCammon, seconded the motion.

Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise, offered a substitute motion to send the bill to the 14th Order for amendments to add a limit on fees, but his motion died for lack of a second. The committee then voted 8-1 in favor of the original motion, with only Durst objecting. That's the same vote by which the same committee passed the earlier version of the bill, SB 1042.

Exchange hearing testimony: ‘Lies,’ ‘Affordable,’ ‘Info for anybody to hack, steal’

Among those testifying at this afternoon’s health insurance exchange hearing: Chad Inman told the Senate Commerce Committee, “The lies will come out and be told, as they’re continuing to be told right now.”  Corey Surber of St. Alphonsus Health System called the state exchange “a mechanism for the state of Idaho to help working families shop for and enroll in health coverage.” Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, said she represented both her legislative district and “many Catholics around the state of Idaho” in speaking against the exchange bill, saying it would implement abortion by covering emergency contraceptives. Christine Tiddens of Catholic Charities of Idaho spoke in favor of the bill on behalf of both her group and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Idaho. “Idaho has already taken proactive measures to limit abortion coverage,” she said. “Our goal in advocating for this bill is to promote affordable, high-quality coverage for all families of Idaho.”

Toni Lawson,vice president of the Idaho Hospital Association, said, “This is important to our members because we know what it’s like to deal with the federal government.” James Widmeyer told the committee, “Our information would be out there for anybody to hack, anybody to steal.” Insurance lobbyist Woody Richards said, “It’s going to be less expensive to have a state exchange.”

JFAC to meet tomorrow at 8 a.m.

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee has set a meeting for tomorrow morning at 8, to consider a series of “trailer” appropriation bills to provide funds for legislation that already is passing. Those range from SB 1079, to set up an Internet Crimes Against Children Unit in the Idaho Attorney General’s office, to SB 1114 regarding behavioral health regional boards. You can see the full agenda here.

Hearing opens in auditorium on health exchange bill

The Senate Commerce Committee has opened its hearing this afternoon in the Abraham Lincoln Auditorium on HB 248, the House-passed version of the governor’s state health insurance exchange legislation. Committee Chairman John Tippets, R-Montpelier, said the committee has only until 3 p.m. for its hearing today; it’ll hear from David Hensley, Gov. Butch Otter’s chief of staff, to introduce the bill, and from Wayne Hoffman of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, to criticize it; then, the public will be allowed to testify with a 3-minute limit until 2:45.

Ways & Means introduces three new bills, including heavy-trucks ‘trailer’ bill

The House Ways & Means Committee met just after the House adjourned today, and approved introduction of three new bills: One from Reps. Monks and Moyle to require notification to parents when an autopsy is performed on a minor; one from Rep. Tom Loertscher regarding road widths; and one from lobbyist Ken McClure as a “trailer bill” to SB 1117, the statewide heavy-trucks bill that cleared the House Transportation Committee yesterday. The trailer bill was promoted as clarifying that local jurisdictions have discretion and wouldn’t be forced to let extra-heavy, 129,000 pound trucks run on their roads over their objections. However, it keeps a controversial clause from SB 1117 in place, saying that if a local jurisdiction designates a route for the extra-heavy trucks, it “shall” issue permits for 129,000 trucks on it.

The trailer bill adds a clause that local jurisdictions can modify or repeal routes that they’ve designated, adds language about discretion over making the designations, and adds a requirement for a public hearing on route designations for the extra-heavy trucks. It also requires local road jurisdictions to analyze the “safety and feasibility of adding such routes” if anyone requests to run the extra-heavy trucks, again saying they “shall analyze,” but doesn’t address highway districts’ concerns that they lack the funding to do such studies. The trailer bill also deletes a clause from SB 1117 requiring the state Department of Commerce to “assess economic development opportunities of such routes.”

House to suspend rules, take up personal property tax bill this afternoon

The House has recessed for lunch, but plans to come back on the floor at 3:30 – and to suspend its rules and take up HB 315, the new bill, just introduced yesterday, to exempt the first $100,000 in business equipment for each taxpayer in each county from the personal property tax. The bill was proposed by the Idaho Association of Counties, and was approved unanimously in an early-morning meeting today by the House Rev & Tax Committee.

House backs TV anti-indecency measure

The House has voted 57-13 in favor of HJM 2, a non-binding memorial calling on the Federal Communications Commission to crack down on indecency on television. Rep. Darrell Bolz, R-Caldwell, said an individual from Canyon County has been pushing for several years for the Legislature to pass a law on the matter, but he conferred with the Idaho Attorney General’s office and determined that a non-binding memorial would be more appropriate. “This is not making any new regulation whatsoever,” Bolz told the House. “All we are asking for is the FCC follow the standards that are already in force that they have at the current time.” He added, “We all realize that the moral standards of society have started to decay quite a bit. … I think it’s important that we take a stand and let people know where we stand in terms of the moral fabric of this country.”

The measure calls on the FCC to “resume enforcement of traditional American standards of decency and prohibit the implied portrayal of or discussion of sexual intercourse on television when it pertains to unmarried persons in fictitious programs, reality shows and advertisements, including jocular references topremarital sex, characters lying in bed together and characters disrobing orundressing.”

Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, debated against the measure. “This is essentially calling for censorship,” he said. “I am opposed to censorship - I will be voting no.”

The 13 “no” votes included 11 Democrats and two Republicans, Reps. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, and Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake.

House Ed kills chairman’s bill on tie vote; sought to block restoration of teacher pay cuts

The House Education Committee has killed legislation proposed by its chairman, Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, on a tied 8-8 vote, reports Clark Corbin of Idaho Education News; the bill, HB 307, sought to tie strings to the public schools budget specifying that the restoration of 1.67 percent previously cut from teacher salary funds couldn’t go to pay raises – it could only go to adding more staff or adding contract days. That’s the amount that was cut from salary-based apportionment, the main funding stream the state sends to districts for salaries, under the “Students Come First” laws to cover reform programs; the failure of those laws through three referendum measures in the November election brought the salary funding back, and it’s included in the school budget for next year set by the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.

All the testimony at the committee hearing was against the bill; Adria Hultberg, a second-grade teacher, told the committee, “Really it feels like a slap in the face. That’s the way it feels to us as educators.” She said her salary was either frozen or cut over the past four years, costing her $10,000 a year; you can read Corbin’s full report here.

House passes Girl Scout cookie tax break

With no debate, the House passed the tax-exemption bill for Girl Scout cookies on a 59-11 vote. Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, said, “Cookies are about a quarter of the price of a box of cookies themselves. The remainder of that cost is actually the programs. … When you tax a box of Girl Scout cookies, you’re taxing all of those program needs also.”

Idaho is one of just two states that still taxes Girl Scout cookies; as a result, 22 cents from every $3.75 box sold goes to the state, rather than to Girl Scout programs. Granting the sales tax exemption would cost the state $140,000 a year. A big group of Girl Scouts and their leaders watched from the House gallery as the House voted on the bill, HB 250.

The bill now moves to the Senate side, where several House-passed tax exemption bills this year haven’t been taken up in the Senate Local Government & Taxation Committee. 

Anti-pot resolution clears House committee

The House State Affairs Committee has approved SCR 112, the anti-marijuana resolution, on a voice vote, sending it to the full House. Rep. Holli Woodings, D-Boise, asked to be recorded as voting no. The vote came after lots of testimony, most of it in favor of the resolution, which declares that it’s the position of the Idaho Legislature that the state should never legalize marijuana for any purpose.

House State Affairs opens hearing on anti-marijuana resolution

“Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States,” Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, told the House State Affairs Committee this morning, pitching his SCR 112, a Senate-passed resolution declaring that it’s the position of the Idaho Legislature that the state should never legalize marijuana for any use. “I think what this resolution is trying to do is just to make a statement that Idaho recognizes the problems that marijuana is creating in other states,” Winder said. “This is just a statement, it doesn’t change the law. … It’s just a statement on behalf of the Legislature of Idaho.”

Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, said he’d like to propose an amendment to add, “Except when prescribed by physicians specializing in cancer treatment for the treatment of patients with terminal cancer.” He asked, “Would that be something that would be acceptable to the sponsor?” Winder responded, “Under our joint rules, we’re not allowed to amend resolutions.” He said, “That’s something you could propose I think in the form of legislation, if you chose to.”

There are lots of people wanting to testify on both sides of the measure. Lindsey Rinehart of Compassionate Idaho was first up to speak; she said her group last week launched a medical marijuana initiative in Idaho. “What we are trying to do is legalize marijuana for seriously ill and terminally ill patients,” she said. “We need safe access for patients to obtain their cannabis legally, without becoming part of a black market society.” Rinehart, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, said, “It is appalling for people to tell me to leave the state I love to go get the medical care that I need.”

Elisha Figueroa, administrator of the Idaho Office of Drug Policy, told the committee, “It has no medical use and is addictive.” She said, “Marijuana use has also been directly linked to mental illness.”

Both federal lands takeover resolutions clear House panel on party-line votes

The House State Affairs Committee has voted along party lines to approve HCR 22, a resolution demanding that the federal government “imminently transfer title to all of the public lands within Idaho’s borders directly to the state of Idaho.” The resolution says the state would cede back national parks, designated wilderness areas, national monuments, Department of Defense lands and Department of Energy reservations. The committee’s three Democrats opposed the move; all Republicans on the panel supported it.

Rep. Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, the bill’s sponsor, said Idaho could make millions for its schools by cutting much more timber from the federal lands than current federal managers allow; he said that would offset costs for firefighting, law enforcement, management and more. “When the question is asked how can we afford to take over the management, I think the answer is we can’t afford not to,” he said.

The committee also voted along party lines to approve HCR 21, setting up an interim legislative study committee to “undertake and complete a study of the process for the State of Idaho to acquire title to and control of public lands controlled by the federal government.” Again, the panel’s three Democrats voted no; all its GOP members voted yes. Both measures now move to the full House.

Rev & Tax unanimously passes HB 315

Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, moved to send HB 315 to the full House with a recommendation that it “do pass.” Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, said for anyone watching the legislative process for an academic paper, this issue would “certainly be a great one on the sausage-making process of legislation.” Still, he said he saw “a number of plusses” to the Idaho Association of Counties bill to eliminate the personal property tax on the first $100,000 in business equipment for each taxpayer in each county. “This is in fact a removal of a tax. It may not be as much as we would have liked in certain circumstances,” he said. He called it “a good first step.”

The committee then approved the bill on a unanimous voice vote. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Testimony all in favor on HB 315…

The testimony at this morning’s business personal property tax hearing so far is all in favor; representatives of the Idaho Association of School Administrators and Idaho School Boards Association have spoken, along with Boise County Assessor Brent Adamson and Payette County Treasurer Donna Peterson. Adamson said, “We’re giving away value and we understand that, but we also understand there’s an interest in solving a problem that was started more than a decade ago when ag equipment came off the rolls.” Peterson said the bill would free up county treasurers like her from “spending tax dollars to chase pennies;” she said every year she has to send out 250 to 300 letters to taxpayers who haven’t paid their business equipment personal property tax bills in amounts ranging from “$3 to a couple hundred dollars,” and if they don’t pay, by law, “I have to send the sheriff out to collect those pennies.”

Phil Homer of the IASA said, “My organization supports HB 315 for two reasons: No. 1, HB 315 is the most affordable plan, and No. 2, it protects market value for future school district levies,” compared to HB 276. Pat Charlton, Vallivue School District superintendent, also spoke in favor; that wrapped up the public testimony on the bill.

Rev & Tax convenes early-morning hearing on personal property tax bill…

The House Rev & Tax Committee has convened at the unaccustomed hour of 7:30 a.m. today, to hear HB 315, the latest personal property tax relief bill from the Idaho Association of Counties. “We hope it provides a path forward for the Legislature to deal with personal property tax this year,” said Seth Grigg of the IAC, who said the bill also is supported by the Idaho School Boards Association and the Idaho Association of Cities. The new bill, introduced yesterday in the House Ways & Means Committee, would, like HB 272, exempt the first $100,000 in business equipment from the tax for each taxpayer in each county, but it also would include operating property, bumping the price tag for the state up to $20 million a year, and it would double the exemption for newly purchased items from $1,500 to $3,000.

It would replace the lost funds to local governments and taxing districts, but at a fixed, 2013 level that would not grow.

Lawmaker offices reveal private side, hunting zeal…

With paintings of George Washington, family photos and plaques from the Future Farmers of America, Idaho lawmakers who virtually live at the Capitol this time of year have personalized their offices, providing a home away from home while conducting the people's business, reports AP reporter John Miller. Adornments on senators' and representatives' walls reflect who they are, where they're from — and often, how they legislate. Occasionally, they offer a touching insight into the events that have shaped their lives. Click below for Miller's full report.

Chairman: Anti-tribal gaming bill won’t get a hearing this year

Gambling opponents launched a new attack on tribal casinos in Idaho on Monday on moral grounds, introducing legislation calling for a state-funded legal challenge, declaring tribal gaming machines unconstitutional and requiring lawmakers to approve any gaming compact changes.  “The purpose of this is to again establish legislative control over the gambling in the state of Idaho,” former Idaho Supreme Court Justice Robert Bakes, a gambling opponent, told the Senate State Affairs Committee.

He and political activist Mike Duff introduced the bill on behalf of “United Families Idaho,” a group that was active in favor of a successful 2006 anti-same-sex marriage constitutional amendment in Idaho, an effort largely funded by eastern Idaho businessman Frank VanderSloot. Duff said his group would like to see the Legislature consider and pass the bill as quickly as possible. But committee Chairman Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, said the bill will go no further; it won’t get a hearing this year. “It’s very far-reaching,” McKenzie said. “I don’t know if it’s the Legislature’s prerogative necessarily to say what the state Constitution means. I think the courts would interpret that.”

Duff said, “We’re about 2,700 families across the state who are intent on defending the family as the fundamental unit of society.” You can read my full story here at

Both charter school bills head to Senate’s amending order; fight predicted…

Amendments are in the works for two controversial charter school bills, reports Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News, with the Senate Education Committee voting this afternoon to send both HB 206 and HB 221 to the Senate’s 14thOrder for amendments. HB 206 is the controversial measure to tap into the public schools budget to fund building costs for the state’s charter schools through a per-student formula; HB 221 is the bill that overhauls charter school governance in Idaho, including allowing groups ranging from public or private universities to non-profit corporations to start up charter schools. Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, predicted a floor fight at least over the non-profit clause, and possibly more.

Richert reports that the committee also sent three other education bills to the amending order today; you can read his full report here.

House panel passes controversial statewide heavy-truck bill

The House Transportation Committee has voted in favor of SB 1117, the controversial bill to open all non-freeway routes statewide to extra-heavy trucks of up to 129,000 pounds, if local road jurisdictions determine that the roads meet ITD-set engineering standards. The bill was strongly opposed by North Idaho residents, truckers, local officials and more; it was backed by southern Idaho agricultural interests along with North Idaho mills that want to start trucking the extra-big loads along Highway 95 in North Idaho. You can read my full story here at

Opponents of the measure worked with sponsors over the weekend and proposed a slew of amendments to clarify that local jurisdictions wouldn’t be forced to approve the extra-heavy trucks on their local roads against their will. But the sponsors today said they’d prefer that those amendments follow in a separate “trailer bill” rather than see SB 1117 amended in the House.

Rep. Linden Bateman, R-Idaho Falls, said, “I feel real good about this now with the trailer bill. I feel economic benefits far outweigh the other concerns.” He moved to approve the bill as-is. But Rep. Terry Gestrin, R-Donnelly, said he’d be more comfortable with pairing the amendments and the bill together; he moved to send the bill to the House’s amending order with committee amendments attached. However, that motion was defeated on a 6-10 vote.

In the final vote, Gestrin and Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, joined the panel’s minority Democrats in opposing the bill. Henderson, who favored sending it to the amending order, said, “I voted no because the trailer bill represents what my constituents in the 3rd District wanted. It takes out any ambiguities.”

The hearing stretched over two days; the first part of it, last Thursday, ran long into the evening before the chairman finally called a halt well after 7 p.m. Among those who testified on Thursday night was Wally Burchak, part-owner of KBC Trucking in Kooskia, who said, “I have not talked to a single person in the transportation industry that is for this because of the safety concerns. We have an enormous amount of concern over the safety of this for these roads in northern Idaho.” He said, “Our roads are steep, they’re windy, they’re narrow, and a significant proportion of them are two-lane roads.” He said, “What scares our drivers about this bill is you’re going to increase loads and weight on roads that do not have good sight lines.”

Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, opposed the bill, with or without amendments. “I would never like to be seen as someone that stands in opposition to progress, but I think that for progress to be successful we have to be ready for it, and I think that we really are not ready for this,” she said. “We studied those experimental routes in southeast Idaho for quite some time.”

Rep. Mark Patterson, R-Boise, noted that the bill was introduced in the Senate. “Here it’s had all this time to get any amendments on it,” he said. “If it was this big of a deal why didn’t it get done sooner?” He said, “If the trailer bill doesn’t get done ‘til next year, that’s the way it goes.”

Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, the committee chairman, said he “absolutely” planned to hold a hearing on the trailer bill, and will do so “the second it gets available to my committee.” Henderson said he has faith that the trailer bill will come forward. “I’ve got confidence, because I think people like Ken McClure and that group are people of their word,” he said.

SB 1117 now moves to the full House.

Former Rep. Harwood returns to House to testify against heavy-truck bill

Former state Rep. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, is among those testifying this afternoon against SB 1117, the bill to allow extra-heavy trucks statewide. “I’m here as a citizen and an opponent,” he told the House Transportation Committee. “I’m here representing Bud’s Big Burger – that’s the place I go for coffee.” The bill’s been the subject of lots of talk there, he said. “In my town, when you’re going out of St. Maries, you’re crossing the St. Maries River and you’re crossing the railroad bridge. They both are longer than the longest trucks that we haul. So you got the truck on there. … It’s a lot more tear on them bridges, and those are old bridges. They’ve been there since the ‘60s.”

He added, “Up in North Idaho, most of our roads are two-lane, narrow roads. … There’s 110 corners from St. Maries to Plummer, I’ve counted ‘em many times.” Harwood recalled when the pilot project for extra-heavy trucks was approved in southern Idaho. “They promised us at that time it will never come north, that was their argument,” he said. “I know they can’t tie you as legislators to that.”

Lobbyist Jane Wittmeyer offered a very different view of North Idaho’s roads, and said Highway 95 in North Idaho is well-suited to heavy trucks. “They’ve upgraded those roads and it’s really quite nice,” she said. “It is no longer a ‘goat trail,’ because of those investments that have been made.”


New personal prop tax bill adds operating property, keeps exemption at $100K

The House Ways & Means Committee has voted unanimously to introduce the new personal property tax bill from the Idaho Association of Counties; the new bill has a total cost to the state of $20 million a year. It would, like the earlier counties bill, exempt the first $100,000 in business property in each county from the tax for each taxpayer. In changes from the earlier bill, it would include operating property, and it would double the “de minimus” exemption for newly purchased property from the $1,500 in the earlier bill to $3,000. It also streamlines the application process for the exemption.

New version of health worker felony assault bill clears House committee

Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, has reworked his bill to make it a felony to assault or batter a health care worker, and this time, the bill won unanimous support from the House Judiciary Committee and is headed to the full House for debate. An earlier bill was shot down in the same committee on a tied vote, amid concerns over imposing a 25-year prison term and other questions. The new bill, HB 292, imposes up to a five-year prison term, and adds protections for mentally ill patients who don’t intend to harm their health care providers. It also limits the additional penalty to attacks on a state-licensed, certified or registered health care provider or an employee of a hospital, clinic or medical practice who is attacked on duty or because of their work.

“It taught me the importance of the process,” Malek said. “We believed in the bill we brought at first, but it truly is a better bill for being shot down and reworking it.” Malek now has two House co-sponsors, fellow freshman GOP Reps. Mark Patterson and Janet Trujillo. He said he was prompted to pursue the legislation by reports from Kootenai Medical Center about increasing violent attacks on health care workers; Idaho law already has felony provisions for attacks on EMS providers, police officers, social workers and certain others.

Second bill introduced to criminalize Idaho officers for following federal law

A second bill to criminalize Idaho police officers if they follow certain federal laws has been introduced in this year’s legislative session; today’s bill, from Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, is dubbed the “Idaho Liberty Preservation Act.”

The House already has passed HB 219, legislation from Rep. Mark Patterson, R-Boise, to impose misdemeanor criminal penalties against Idaho officers who enforce any new federal laws that ban or require registration of any guns or ammunition. That bill, which passed the House on a 55-13 vote a week ago, hasn’t yet had a hearing in the Senate.

Pearce said he brought his new bill because the National Defense Authorization Act approved by Congress “allows for the government to come in and pick up our citizens and never have them appear before a judge, they can be moved anywhere and in prison for untold periods of time.” He said he believes that violates the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 8thand 14thamendments to the US. Constitution, so he’s proposed legislation that both declares those portions of the national law to be “invalid and illegal in this state,” and to impose misdemeanor penalties, including up to 180 days in jail and up to $1,000 in fines, for any Idaho officer who “participate(s) in any way” in enforcement of them.

“It says we in the state determine what the Constitution is, how our state officers will function,” Pearce told the Senate State Affairs Committee. After several question, the panel voted, on a divided voice vote, to introduce Pearce’s bill.

One heavy-trucks bill heads to gov, another generates far more controversy

The House has voted nearly unanimously, 69-1, in favor of SB 1064, the bill to make permanent a 10-year pilot project allowing extra-heavy trucks – up to 129,000 pounds – on 35 designated southern Idaho routes. Only Rep. Sue Chew, D-Boise, voted against the bill, which earlier passed the Senate on a similarly near-unanimous vote.

That’s far different from another heavy-trucks bill that’s pending and up for a continued hearing this afternoon in the House Transportation Committee. SB 1117, which passed the Senate on a 22-13 vote, would open up any non-freeway route in the state to the extra-heavy trucks, without any pilot project, as long as the local road jurisdiction rules that the roadway meets engineering standards  set by ITD. There’s been strong opposition to that bill from North Idaho.

At a hearing last week that ran long into the evening, Clearwater County Commissioner Stan Leach told the committee, “After 30 years of driving trucks and 10 years of working on the local road system, I would say that there’s not a single road in my area” that would be safe for the extra-heavy rigs. “The sharp turns that are up in my area will make it difficult for drivers operating longer vehicles,” he said. “I can tell you from experience what an awful feeling it is to spin out on a steep grade when you have a heavy load on.” He also cited weather conditions, including ice, snow, rain and wind. “I can see why this might work in southern Idaho where the roads are relatively flat and straight.”

Mark Benson of Potlatch Corp. told the panel his company would like to use the extra-heavy trucks to “move wood chips … along the Highway 95 corridor,” and ITD officials confirmed that by their standards, Highway 95 through North Idaho would be eligible for the extra-heavy truck routing envisioned under the bill.

After last week’s extended hearing ended with six people still to testify, the bill is up again this afternoon, starting at 1:30 in room EW 40.

Ways & Means to introduce new personal property tax bill from counties

The House Ways & Means Committee has scheduled a meeting for 2:30 p.m. in the JFAC room, where it will have a new bill to introduce from the Idaho Association of Counties on personal property tax relief.

House votes down indoor tanning ban for kids 15 and younger

The House has voted down legislation that it passed last year, to ban kids age 15 and younger from using artificial tanning beds in commercial salons, and require parental consent for those ages 16 or 17. The bill failed on a 25-43 vote. “If a high school student comes to school with a tan, is that high school student immediately sent to the principal’s office and asked where’d you get the tan?” asked Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa. “I really think that there’s a personal responsibility here, and I think we’re really overstretching.”

Rep. Terry Gestrin, R-Donnelly, said, “One more time we’re asked to place a burden on small business. … Small business has a tough enough time to make it today, I don’t think it’s our position to put further restriction on small business. This decision … lies with the parents.”

Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, a physician, said, “I think the science is very clear here, I don’t think there’s much dispute about that.” Indoor tanning at a young age increases the risk of skin cancer, he said. “I think that this is a true public health question.” Rep. Paul Romrell, R-St. Anthony,who serves on the Health & Welfare Committee, said, “We heard considerable testimony. … This is a bill where we can save lives, and when those lives are our kids or our grandkids, that should be an easy decision, I think, for us to make.”

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, told the House, “It was presented to us that many children tan without their parents’ knowledge or consent. … It’s not often that we as legislators vote on bills that will save lives. … This bill will save lives.” Last year’s measures passed the House but died in a Senate committee; this year’s, which had no criminal penalties, didn’t make it past the House.

State Affairs runs out of time for hearing on public lands bills, will continue tomorrow

The House State Affairs Committee, which had been scheduled to hear two measures this morning regarding state takeover of federal lands, has run out of time as the House is scheduled to convene its floor session now. The committee has decided to hear from two people who came from out of town to testify on those measures; Idaho County Commissioner Jim Chmelik and Payette resident Jeff Wright, both supporting the measures. “This issue should cross party lines and bind us to a common cause,” Chmelik told the committee. “I do believe we could do a better job of it.”

Committee Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, said the hearing will continue tomorrow.

House, Senate committees to hold forum on anti-discrimination bill, but not introduce it

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Adding protections for gays and lesbians to Idaho's Human Rights Act won't get a vote this year. But it is due a hearing. On Wednesday at 8 a.m. in the Abraham Lincoln Auditorium, the joint House and Senate State Affairs committees are set to hear presentations spearheaded by Democratic Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb of Boise. Sen. Curt McKenzie, a Nampa Republican and Senate State Affairs Committee chairman, said on Monday that Buckner-Webb requested proponents of adding workplace and housing discrimination protections for gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender individuals get a forum to keep discussion of the issue alive. A year ago, a bill was killed in McKenzie's Senate panel, with GOP lawmakers refusing to introduce it for a public hearing. McKenzie says he's convinced the vote hasn't changed since then, so he doesn't want to schedule a formal hearing; no public testimony will be taken at Wednesday's session.

House State Affairs passes bill to restrict initiatives on divided voice vote

The House State Affairs Committee has approved SB 1108, the bill to make it tougher to qualify initiatives or referendum measures for the Idaho ballot, on a divided voice vote; it came after a hearing in which testimony was overwhelmingly against the bill. Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, moved to hold the bill in committee, “on the basis that it’s more cost, it’s more paperwork, it’s more difficulty for a problem that doesn’t appear to exist.” But his motion was defeated on a divided voice vote; a motion from Rep. Gayle Batt, R-Wilder, to approve the bill then passed on another divided voice vote, but no one requested a roll call.

“I’m not sure that we have an issue to fix here,” said Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens. “Has there been some domination by Ada County or some other county of this process that we’re trying to remedy?” Russ Hendricks, lobbyist for the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, which proposed the bill, said, “We want to shut the door to the barn before the horse is out. We want to address an issue before it becomes a problem.”

Gannon asked how signature-gathering would work under SB 1108 for someone gathering signatures at the Ada County Courthouse; Ada County alone has nine legislative districts. “Under SB 1108, you would need a petition per legislative district,” Hendricks said. “You would need to know what legislative district that person lived in, and then have them sign the appropriate petition.” Gannon responded, “So at least logistically, this proposal that you’re bringing before this committee, it’s going to be much, much more difficult for people to gather signatures that would qualify to put the initiative on the ballot, is that true?” Hendricks responded, “I would not characterize it as much, much more difficult. There will be some logistical things that they will have to work through.”

Bert Marley of the Idaho Education Association said, “This will make the process for signature collectors a nightmare.” Five people testified against the bill, including GOP activist Rod Beck and Payette County resident Jeff Wright; two others spoke briefly in favor of the bill, both of them lobbyists, representing the Beer & Wine Distributors and the Food Producers. The measure earlier passed the Senate 25-10; it now moves to the full House.

Bill to make initiatives, referenda tougher to qualify draws opposition from across political spectrum

Testimony so far this morning on SB 1108, the Senate-passed bill to make it tougher to qualify an initiative or referendum measure for the Idaho ballot, has been almost all against the bill. Anne Nesse of Coeur d’Alene brought a petition against the bill that she said has 580 signatures collected online from all over the state, both from rural and urban areas, and is getting 100 more signatures a day. “I have met personally with Kootenai County Republicans, who were appalled, frankly,” she said. “They were practically hugging me when I left, and I’m a Democrat.” She told the committee, “I would guess that you should check with your constituency on this.”

GOP activist and former state Sen. Rod Beck told the committee, “This legislation has done something that doesn’t get achieved too often: It’s put me and other conservatives on the same side as the Idaho Education Association, the ACLU and others. That doesn’t occur too often.” The only one to testify in favor of the bill so far, other than its sponsor, the Idaho Farm Bureau, was a representative of the Idaho Beer & Wine Distributors.

Beck said rather than empower rural voters, “I believe this legislation will have the reverse effect.” It requires signatures from 6 percent of registered voters in at least 18 legislative districts to qualify a measure for the ballot; the current requirement is 6 percent statewide. Beck said, “If this legislation becomes law, all it’s going to do is cost more money. An organization that wants to get a measure on the ballot with sufficient resources will be able to do it.” He said, “It's already real hard to get an initiative or referendum on the ballot.”

Monica Hopkins of the Idaho ACLU spoke against the bill, saying it “would make it nearly impossible for all but the richest proponents to qualify initiatives for the ballot.”

New bill goes after tribal gaming in Idaho on ‘moral,’ constitutional grounds

Opponents of tribal gaming in Idaho brought new legislation this morning to go after tribes' casinos, charging that they violate the Idaho Constitution. “The purpose of this is to again establish legislative control over the gambling in the state of Idaho,” former Idaho Supreme Court Justice Robert Bakes, a gambling opponent, told the Senate State Affairs Committee. Current tribal casinos in Idaho are legal under a voter-approved initiative and under compacts negotiated with the state, and they've survived multiple reviews in court. But Bakes and anti-gambling activist Mike Duff said they want to launch a new legal attack; their bill authorizes a new lawsuit by the state against tribal gaming, and would require legislative approval of any future gaming compacts or amendments to existing compacts.

Duff said the two represent “United Families Idaho,” and said, “We are Idaho's largest non-partisan, non-sectarian pro-family advocacy group. We utilize social science research to validate the moral and legal standards by which the institution of the family is maintained and preserved in Idaho. We are here today with this RS because we're very concerned about Article 3, Section 20 of the Idaho Constitution. We believe that constitutions are where the people establish their highest standards of morals and values, and we're concerned about activities which seems to be circumventing that particular section.” The bill also would place restrictions on Idaho Lottery games, which Duff said his group believes are moving toward unconstitutional electronic games.

Duff said his group would like to see the Legislature consider and pass the bill as quickly as possible, but committee Chairman Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, said if the committee voted to introduce the measure this morning, he'd told the sponsors that's as far as it would go in his panel. “We wouldn't have hearings beyond that if it comes back to committee,” McKenzie said. The committee then voted, in a divided voice vote, to introduce the measure.

The week that was…

On tonight’s “Idaho Reports” program on Idaho Public Television, I join Jim Weatherby, Molly Messick and host Greg Hahn to discuss the week’s developments in the Legislature. Plus, Aaron Kunz interviews state Sen. John Goedde and Rep. Janie Ward-Engelking; Melissa Davlin interviews freshman Rep. Paul Romrell; and I offer my “Eye on Boise” rundown of some of the week’s happenings. The show airs at 8 p.m. tonight; it re-airs Sunday at 10:30 a.m. Mountain time, 9:30 Pacific; and plays on Boise State Public Radio on Sunday at 7 p.m. After it airs, you can watch it here online any time.

Lawmakers request AG’s investigation into anti-exchange robocalls

Seven Idaho lawmakers – all House freshmen – have asked the Idaho Attorney General to investigate whether robocalls by opponents of the governor’s health exchange legislation violated the Idaho Telephone Soliciation Act, reports Dan Popkey of the Idaho Statesman. Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, told Popkey she received about 120 computer-generated calls on her unlisted cell phone and office phone that failed to include legally required disclosures, including the identity of the person for whom the call was made; the calls came in Saturday and Tuesday. On Wednesday, the House spent seven hours debating the bill before passing it on a 41-29 vote. Popkey reported earlier this week that the head of the Gem State Tea Party said his group was behind the calls; you can read Popkey’s full report here.

Drone privacy bill headed for amendments

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Legislation intended to protect Idahoans' privacy by restricting how law enforcement uses drones is headed to the Senate for possible changes to allow more law enforcement use. The bill, aimed at establishing legal guidelines for the use of unmanned aircraft in criminal investigations, could see amendments to add more flexibility for state and local police, according to its Republican sponsor, Sen. Chuck Winder of Boise. After the Senate State Affairs Committee discussed the bill Friday, Winder said he would explore adding language to let search and rescue teams and law enforcement use unmanned aerial drones during lawful searches. The original version allowed police to use drones without warrants in marijuana eradication cases only. Winder said the new language would allow unmanned aircraft to be used for other reasons, like hostage or school intruder emergencies.


House backs open teacher negotiations, sends bill to governor’s desk

A rare consensus bill to revive a piece of the voter-rejected “Students Come First” laws – a measure backed by both the Idaho Education Association and the Idaho School Boards Association to reinstate a requirement that teacher negotiations be conducted in open meetings – has won final legislative passage. The House approved SB 1098 on a unanimous, 61-0 vote; it now heads to the governor’s desk.

No personal property tax vote before next Tues. or Wed., chairman says

This morning’s Rev & Tax Committee hearing came and went without taking up any new proposal – or either of the existing bills – on cutting personal property taxes for business equipment. Rep. Gary Collins, R-Nampa, the committee chairman, said, “We will have a vote – not necessarily on these particular bills, but we will have a vote before the committee. But it won’t be before Tuesday or Wednesday of next week.”

Asked if the committee will hear a different bill – like the new one already submitted to it by IACI this week – Collins said, “I haven’t decided that yet.” He said, “A number on the committee have requested some time to look at both proposals a little bit more. There are those that would just as soon not do anything this year. We’re working to see if there is something that would be worth bringing forth – I’m not going to bring something forth that I know is going to go down in flames, I’m not going to do that.”

The two existing bills were the subjects of a big public hearing on Tuesday and Wednesday that drew dozens of people to testify. They are HB 272, from the Idaho Association of Counties, which would exempt the first $100,000 in business equipment for each taxpayer, in each of Idaho’s 44 counties, at a cost to the state of up to $19 million a year.  And HB 276, from the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, which would phase out the tax entirely over seven years, at a cost to the state of up to $120 million a year.

“This is an extremely important thing for cities, counties, schools,” Collins said; officials from all of those raised big concerns at the hearing about the impact of HB 276 on their services and local tax bases. “We’re just trying to find consensus.”

He said of IACI’s new bill, on which IACI hasn’t commented other than to say that it’s put a new one forward, “I do have the RS. … That’s in the mix.” Collins said he hasn’t yet received any other new proposals, but that could happen. He said he’s interested in consensus not just in his committee, but on a wider basis, including across the rotunda in the Senate. “We’re trying to come to a consensus that would be acceptable not only here but on the other side, too,” he said.

Senate panel clears two concealed weapons bills

Two House-passed bills dealing with concealed weapons won approval from the Senate State Affairs Committee this morning, the AP reports. The first, HB 293, is designed to make Idaho's concealed weapons permit valid in more states, by creating a voluntary, “enhanced” permit requiring more traing. The second, HB 223, exempts the carrying of knives with up to 4-inch blades, tasers, stun guns, pepper spray and cooking knives from concealed weapon permit requirements. Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, said he decided to pursue changes in the statute after his son was cited for illegally concealing a four-inch knife under his car seat. Both bills now move to the full Senate.

Senate honors fallen service members

The Senate is holding  a special ceremony this morning to recognize five Idaho servicemen who lost their lives in Afghanistan in the past year. In a departure from history and tradition, the ceremony in the Senate chamber includes Gov. Butch Otter, who is sitting next to Lt. Gov. Brad Little at the Senate president's desk. “It was important to our governor that he be here today,” said Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, “and so we have strained our Senate rules and found a way to make this happen, and I feel comfortable with what we are doing today.”

The service members being memorialized are: U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Daniel J. Brown, 27; U.S. Army Sergeant Chris J. Workman, 33; U.S. Army Private First Class Cody O. Moosman, 24; U.S. Army Specialist Ethan J. Martin, 22; and U.S. Army Private First Class Shane G. Wilson, 20. You can read SCR 124 here, honoring the five.

House Rev&Tax backs private-school scholarship tax credits bill on 12-4 vote

The House Revenue & Taxation Committee has voted 12-4 in favor of HB 286, Sen. Bob Nonini’s bill to give up to $10 million a year in tax credits for scholarships for students to attend private schools. Among those testifying in favor of the bill this morning was Chris Finch, principal of Genesis Prep Christian Academy in Post Falls. “Many, many families, month after month, week after week, come to our schools,” and would like to enroll their students, he said, “but are not able to afford the tuition. … 52 percent of students receive some sort of discount, some sort of tuition assistance. … But we can’t do it all. We have to subsidize those costs by paying our teachers less.” He said, “This legislation would provide a tremendous opportunity for students in my community that we could effect change in their lives.”

Alex Knoll, an 8-year-old student at LAM Christian Academy in Coeur d’Alene, dressed in a neat dark-blue suit, told committee, “I am blessed to go to a school that allows me to learn and experience things that I might not be able to experience in other schools. My classmates and I are way ahead of most other kids in our area.”

Speaking against the bill were representatives of the Idaho Association of School Administrators, the Idaho School Boards Association and the Idaho Education Association, all of whom said the bill would take state money away from the state’s already cash-strapped public schools. Paul Stark, general counsel for the IEA, also raised questions about whether the bill would violate the Idaho Constitution’s prohibition on any public funding to sectarian or religious schools.

Those voting against the bill were Reps. Neil Anderson, R-Blackfoot; Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise; Lauren McLean, substituting for Rep. Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, and Caroline Meline, D-Pocatello.

Those voting in favor were Reps. Collins, Wood(35), Barrett, Moyle, Raybould, Denney, Anderst, Dayley, Hartgen, Kauffman, Patterson and Trujillo. The bill now moves to the full House.

Nonini: Idaho could save millions if tax credits entice kids to switch from public to private schools

Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, told the House Revenue & Taxation Committee this morning that he believes his bill to provide $10 million a year in tax credits for scholarships to private schools would prompt 2,622 Idaho students to transfer from public to private schools, plus another 465 kindergartners to enroll in private rather than public schools. “That’s a total savings to the state budget of $3.3 million,” Nonini said, saying each child who switches “will accrue a $4,251 savings into the state budget.” The bill, HB 286, would grant the tax credits to corporations or individuals who donate to organizations that provide the scholarships .

He calculated that public schools would get $11 million less in state funding through the average daily attendance formula due to the switch, though that would be offset by an estimated $8 million in tax credits, his calculation for how much of the $10 million is likely to be used.

Rev & Tax members had questions about Nonini’s calculations. “If a school was to lose a handful of students, the building wouldn’t get smaller, the cost to heat the building wouldn’t get smaller, the cost to maintain the parking lot, plow the snow wouldn’t get smaller,” said Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise.

Nonini also presented an attorney general’s opinion he requested, that said the idea “has provoked and likely will continue to provoke substantial litigation,” but said the state would defend the law as constitutional if it were passed. “I can’t control if there’s challenges or not challenges,” Nonini told the committee. “I think the AG’s opinion has covered it quite well.”

Nonini said, “There’s not any state money going into a transfer,” and “both sectarian and non-sectarian schools receive equal treatment.” The Idaho Constitution has strict prohibitions against state funding for religious schools. Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, citing the same attorney general’s opinion, said it also suggests that “the transfer of funds is essentially an artful dodge to allow sort of a shell with respect to support of religious schools.”

Senate Ed passes financial emergency bill for schools

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A bill brought by the Idaho teachers union that lowers the bar for school districts to declare a financial emergency is on its way to the Senate floor. On Thursday the Senate Education Committee approved the measure. It aims to make reopening teacher salary negotiations during tough budget years easier for cash-strapped schools. Current law requires school boards to show a 5 percent reduction in general funds or property tax revenue to qualify their economic condition as a fiscal emergency. The bill sponsored by the Idaho Education Association teachers union would lower that threshold to 1.5 percent. IEA Executive Director Robin Nettinga said the proposal would give more districts financial flexibility while protecting teachers' collective bargaining rights.


Prison inmates need, uh, quilting material?

The Idaho Department of Correction reports that it needs donations of quilting material, especially batting and backing, for its inmate quilting program. “The quilting program is entirely self-sufficient, it gets no taxpayer support,” said department Director Brent Reinke. “The program keeps inmates busy and gives them a way to give back to society.” The quilts, many of them made from old prison-issue jeans and other recycled materials, are donated to needy families or auctioned to raise money for charity. Click below for the department's full announcement.

Yesterday’s House debate included flubbed civil rights history…

In yesterday’s seven-hour House debate over the state health insurance exchange bill, House Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane, R-Nampa, flubbed a historical allusion, building his debate around an argument that Rosa Parks stood up to the federal government, reports Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey.  “One little lady got tired of the federal government telling her what to do,” Crane declared, saying, “We need to have our Rosa Parks moment.” Actually, Parks was defying a municipal code when she refused to give up her bus seat to a white man in 1955.

 “Parks’ arrest by Montgomery police is considered the spark that kindled the civil rights movement,” Popkey reports. “The year-long Montgomery bus boycott that followed elevated a young Martin Luther King Jr. to national prominence. The following year, the city’s segregation laws were struck down as unconstitutional, first by a U.S. District judge in Alabama and then by the U.S. Supreme Court. Later, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 to address generations of discrimination against African Americans.”

 Crane told Popkey, “If I made a mistake I will own it. She was part of the civil rights movement. I’m sorry if I misquoted that.” He said, “The point I was trying to make is that she said she had had enough and decided to stand up. That’s where I’m at with the federal government.” You can read Popkey’s full report here.

House passes bill to end early retirement incentive for teachers

SB 1089, which repeals Idaho’s teacher early retirement incentive program, has passed the House on a 54-15 vote. All House Democrats opposed the measure, as did GOP Reps. Mike Moyle, R-Star, and Douglas Hancey, R-Rexburg. The measure, which had earlier passed the Senate, now heads to the governor’s desk. Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, said there’s no money in the public schools budget for the incentive next year, so if the bill didn’t pass, the state would have to come up with $3.6 million. Rep. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, argued against the bill, saying the incentive program has saved the state $100 million, as retirees were replaced with newer, lower-earning teachers.

Otter calls on feds to protect INL cleanup from sequestration cuts

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter called on the U.S. Department of Energy today to protect court-ordered cleanup work at the Idaho National Laboratory from sequestration cuts, saying, “Safety and the environment are non-negotiable terms for the State of Idaho.” Otter told the department, “INL is a significant asset and Idaho is prepared to exercise leadership to ensure the Lab remains the nation’s flagship nuclear research facility,” and added, “I strongly believe that in times of sustained reductions in discretionary spending, the federal government can and should consolidate its nuclear work in Idaho.” Click below for the governor's full news release. 

House Rev&Tax kills TEDZ bill for road financing

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The House Revenue and Taxation Committee dumped a bid to help developers to finance highway projects with bonds backed by Idaho sales taxes.Thursday's 9-6 rejection came after representatives said they were leery of putting Idaho taxpayers on the hook, if tax revenue promised to accompany such projects to pay for the bonds doesn't materialize. Jeremy Pisca is a lobbyist representing developer M3 with land along State Highway 16 in southwestern Idaho that could have benefited from a so-called “Transportation and Economic Development Zone.” Pisca contends strict rules would have protected Idaho from risky endeavors — while freeing up money for infrastructure projects that the state Transportation Department can't pay for now. But Rep. Lenore Barrett of Challis dubbed it a “fly now, pay later” government program that could backfire.

Canadian consul general draws applause in House for touting Keystone XL pipeline

Denis Stevens, consul general of Canada, spoke to both the Idaho House and Senate today, and touted the strong relationship between his nation and the United States – and the state of Idaho. “We’ve created what may be the most successful bilateral relationship in history,” Stevens said. “Canada is this state’s No. 1 trading partner, your No. 1 export destination, as well as No. 1 for the United States as a whole.”

He added, “Canada is your largest supplier of all forms of imported energy,” saying, “Even with all of the energy development under way and anticipated in your country, U.S. energy self-sufficiency is likely a long way off.” He called Canada’s oil sands, the world’s third-largest oil reserve, “a major resource for our shared North American energy security.”

And in the House, Stevens drew applause when he spoke out in favor of the Keystone XL Pipeline. He said it “would allow you to free yourself completely from oil imports from Venezuela,” and said, “We will build it together.” The consul general is Canada’s senior representative in the Pacific Northwest, which includes Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. This evening, the government of Canada will host a reception for all Idaho lawmakers at the Boise Depot.

‘Last best offer’ teacher negotiations bill passes the House

Legislation to revive one of the most controversial pieces of voter-rejected Proposition 1 – letting Idaho school districts unilaterally impose contract terms if negotiations with their local teachers unions don’t lead to an agreement by June 10 – cleared the House today on a near-party-line vote, with just one Republican, Rep. Douglas Hancey, R-Rexburg, joining all 13 House Democrats in opposing it. HB 260, which passed on a 55-14 vote and now heads to the Senate side, would allow school districts to impose their “last best offer” if no agreement is reached by that point. “This legislation would require that both parties negotiate in good faith,” Rep. Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree, told the House. Rep. Hy Kloc, D-Boise, responded, “It doesn’t sound like negotiations to me.“

Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, said, “This legislation is particularly concerning because in my view it goes against what the people voted for last November, and I don’t think that this body should override that.” Noting that a state task force is working on school reform issues, he said, “Somebody is going to have to take a step toward reconciliation, and that task force was supposed to do that, and the school boards association decided to make an end run around the process.”

Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, a school board member, countered, “This bill is not an end run by the school boards association, and certainly does not eliminate the negotiations process. In fact, they could have brought legislation seeking to limit it, as it was before, to salary and benefits – they did not. What they chose to do was set up a timeline deadline for the process.” Proposition 1 also limited teacher negotiations to only salary and benefits, foreclosing discussion of any other working conditions or issues; the Idaho School Boards Association specifically said it wouldn’t seek to revive that clause.

Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, noted that a one-year expiration has been added to the bill. “We are forming an interim committee that will look at these specific issues,” he said. “There’s data that’s going to be collected that we could then learn from and hopefully make this better in the future.”

Rep. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, who like DeMordaunt serves on the task force, said, “I have talked to many of the teachers and parents on that task force, and they feel like this has the potential to derail the whole process.”

Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said, “I tell you … the real problem with this bill, and several others, is that we have seen a systematic disinvestment in K-12 education, and that is why our school boards are grasping for straws, looking for a leg up, and in so many ways are taking it out on what is their largest expense, the employees.” 

Nez Perce liquor bill passes Senate, House measure calls for interim study of liquor license laws

After much debate, the Senate has voted 27-7 in favor of HB 159, the bill to allow a liquor license at the Nez Perce Tribe’s new convention center. Several senators complained about special laws allowing liquor licenses, saying instead the state’s system should be reformed. Gov. Butch Otter proposed that several years ago, but lawmakers rejected it, keeping the current system that requires a special law to grant a liquor license outside a city limit, and limits those within cities on a strict, population-based formula. HB 159, which previously passed the House, now heads to the governor's desk.

Meanwhile, the House State Affairs Committee this morning introduced a resolution from Rep. Mark Gibbs, R-Grace, to appoint an interim legislative study committee to examine the state’s alcoholic beverage laws with an eye toward reform. Gibbs sponsored unsuccessful legislation this session to allow more restaurants in resort towns like Driggs to sell liquor; despite being an often-busy resort town, Driggs’ population limits it to just two liquor licenses.

House measure calls on FCC to crack down on ‘indecent’ TV portrayals of premarital sex

The Federal Communications Commission would be encouraged to crack down on TV portrayals of premarital sex in fictional TV programs, reality shows and ads, under a non-binding memorial that won the approval of the House State Affairs Committee this morning, including “implied portrayal of or discussion of sexual intercourse on television when it pertains to unmarried persons … including jocular references to premarital sex, characters lying in bed together and characters disrobing or undressing.”

HJM 2, sponsored by Rep. Darrell Bolz, R-Caldwell and six GOP cosponsors, cites the Idaho Constitution’s statement that “the first concern of all good government is the virtue and sobriety of the people, and the purity of the home,” and says, “Inappropriate and indecent material is being broadcast more frequently.”  It also notes that the FCC is charged preventing the broadcast of indecent programming between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., “when children might be watching,” and calls on the federal agency to “resume enforcement of traditional American standards of decency.”

The committee’s support of the measure wasn’t unanimous. Among those opposing it was Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, who said, “I don’t think it takes into account different American lifestyles.” HJM 2 now moves to the full House for debate. Its co-sponsors are Sen. Todd Lakey and Reps. Rick Youngblood, Brent Crane, Gayle Batt, Gary Collins and Jeff Thompson.

House H&W votes unanimously to introduce bills to expand Medicaid, eliminate CAT fund

The House Health & Welfare Committee voted unanimously this morning to introduce two bills proposed by Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona: One to eliminate the county medical indigency and state catastrophic health care program; and the other to expand Medicaid. Together, the two moves would save Idaho’s local property taxpayers $478 million over 10 years, Loertscher told the committee. “That’s a substantial amount of money,” he said. “I think that’s a very conservative number.”

Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, said, “I don’t mind having the discussion, but I really don’t want Medicaid expansion.” He said, “We’re basically shifting property tax to federal income tax, is what we’re doing. But it is a shift, it’s not a savings in cost.” Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, countered that Idahoans are paying twice now – once in their local property taxes to pay for indigent medical costs, and “once through our federal taxes that we wouldn’t be able to use if didn’t expand Medicaid.”

Loertscher told the committee that the CAT program has seen “exponential growth,” and said, “There’s no end in sight.”  He said, “This is one of those unfunded mandates that the state passed a long time ago.”

Committee Chairman Fred Wood, R-Burley, praised Loertscher for bringing the proposals forward. “I think this is one of the things that does need to happen in the reform of medical care in the state – we certainly have to reform the whole thing, not just part of it,” he said.

Rusche said swapping the CAT program for a Medicaid expansion – which would be 100 percent federally funded for the first three years, then gradually cutting back to 90 percent federal funding – offers more than just savings. It also offers, he said, “the opportunity to really do better. Our current CAT fund is just reimbursement, it’s not a health plan. We get a bill for services that are done really in the most expensive manner.” By moving the population that now applies to counties for catastrophic medical expenses into Medicaid, mental health services would be covered, Rusche said, along with preventive health care. “This is really an advantage to the mental health services that we have in the state of Idaho,” he said. “It may actually improve the suicide and other fatality problems that we have.”

Loertscher said, “If you’re going to do Medicaid expansion, if that’s your desire, now’s the year.” If Idaho waits a year, it’d lose one year of eligibility for the 100 percent funding, changing the bottom line. Vander Woude said, “It looks like a net savings with a lot of unknowns.”

Senate Ed delays two teacher labor bills

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A Senate committee has delayed a vote on two measures pushed by the Idaho School Board Association giving school districts more leverage in teacher contract and salary negotiations after nearly three hours of testimony on Wednesday afternoon. One piece of legislation debated in the Senate Education Committee would limit terms and conditions of teacher's salary contracts to one year, which school districts say is critical to managing their yearly budgets. A second bill would give districts permission to reduce salaries and shorten teacher contracts. Teachers who testified against the bills argued they send a negative message to educators and voters who struck down similar measures at the ballot box last November. Committee chairman Sen. John Goedde of Coeur d'Alene indicated he will bring the bills back for discussion and a vote.

House GOP freshman ‘Gang of 16’ drops to 14 in exchange vote…

The House's freshman 'Gang of 16' dwindled to 14 members on the vote to approve Idaho's state-based insurance exchange, the AP reports. Last month, this group of first-year representatives made a unified showing with reporters, introducing new provisions to the measure setting up a marketplace for online insurance they said would increase legislative oversight and public confidence. But the solidarity didn't survive Wednesday's vote, with Republican Reps. Cindy Agidius of Moscow and Thomas Dayley of Boise peeling off and voting with those aiming to shoot Gov. Butch Otter's plan down, AP reporter John Miller reports. Both Agidius and Dayley were among lawmakers who had concerns that the bill didn't include robust-enough protections on abortion. They also voted to divert the measure for amendments, a failed push that was intended to add prohibitions on insurance coverage for emergency contraception.

Judge dismisses state from school fees lawsuit

A state judge has agreed to dismiss the state from a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the fees many public schools charge for classes and the legality of Idaho's overall education funding system, the AP reports. Ruling from the bench, 4th District Judge Richard Greenwood sided with lawyers from the Attorney General's office, finding that an existing statute protects the state from being involved at this point in the case; the case will continue with Idaho school districts as the defendants. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Todd Dvorak.

How they voted…

Here’s how members of the House voted tonight on HB 248, the exchange bill, which passed on a 41-29 vote:

Voting yes: Reps. Anderson(01), Anderson(31), Anderst, Bedke, Bell, Bolz, Burgoyne, Chew, Clow, Collins, Erpelding, Eskridge, Gannon, Gibbs, Hancey, Hartgen, Henderson, Hixon, Horman, Kauffman, King, Kloc, Malek, Meline, Miller, Morse, Packer, Pence, Perry, Raybould, Ringo, Romrell, Rusche, Smith, Thompson, VanOrden, Ward-Engelking, Wills, Wood(27), Woodings, and Youngblood.

Voting no: Reps. Agidius, Andrus, Barbieri, Barrett, Bateman, Batt, Boyle, Crane, Dayley, DeMordaunt, Denney, Gestrin, Harris, Holtzclaw, Loertscher, Luker, McMillan, Mendive, Monks, Moyle, Nielsen, Palmer, Patterson, Shepherd, Sims, Stevenson, Trujillo, Vander Woude, and Wood(35)  

Exchange bill passes House, 41-29

The House has voted 41-29 in favor of HB 248, the governor's health insurance exchange bill, after seven hours of debate. You can read my full story here at

Closing debate: ‘We did the citizens proud’

Rep. Lenore Barrett, R-Challis, the fourth House member to debate for the second time, urged everyone to stop debating. “We knew this morning that noses were counted and heels dug in,” she said.

Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, is now giving the closing debate. “We carried on a debate today that was extremely passionate, extremely heartfelt, and I think we did the citizens of Idaho proud, I really do.”

House exchange debate continues past the 5 o’clock hour…

As the House debate on the health insurance exchange bill stretches on, Reps. Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d’Alene, and Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, have debated against HB 248; Reps. Clark Kauffman, R-Filer, and Brandon Hixon, R-Caldwell, have debated in favor. Now just past 5 p.m. Boise time, that brings those debating to 18 against, 17 in favor. The House has 70 members; the bill needs 36 votes, a simple majority, to pass and head over to the Senate.

By the way, the House debate has now  officially gone longer than the Senate's six-hour debate, even accounting for its hour lunch break.

Rep. Rick Youngblood, R-Nampa, who debated in favor, said, “Well guess what: Our nose is already under the tent, and we’ve got tar all over us. … It's not going away.” He said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m an Idaho native, I’m mad as heck, and I’m not gonna take it any more. Vote yes.”

UPDATE: Others debating against include Reps. Boyle and Denney; and debating in favor, Reps. Youngblood and Perry. That brings the tally to 20 debating against, 19 in favor.

Tomorrow’s personal property tax votes canceled, IACI says new bill to be introduced Fri.

The Twin Falls Times-News reports that tomorrow’s vote in House Rev & Tax on two competing personal property tax relief bills is off, and instead, a new bill will be introduced on Friday. You can read the full report here from Times-News reporter Melissa Davlin, who reports that IACI President Alex LaBeau said a third bill would be introduced on Friday, but had no other comment. LaBeau confirmed to Eye on Boise that IACI has a new bill, and the committee chairman has told him it'll be up for introduction on Friday.

House debate continues, Loertscher gets a laugh…

Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, got a laugh at the start of his debate against HB 248 when he said, “If all of the members of this body who have drifted off to sleep during this debate were placed end to end, they’d probably be a little more comfortable.”

Loertscher spoke against the bill, as did Rep. Jason Monks, R-Meridian. Debating in favor of the bill were Reps. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, and Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls. That brings the number debating so far, by my count, to 17 against, 15 in favor.

House debate stretches into sixth hour…

Another five House members have now debated on HB 248. Debating in favor were Reps. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, and Kelly Packer, R-McCammon. Debating against were Reps. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs; Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton; and Brent Crane, R-Nampa. So far, by my count, 15 have debated against the bill, 13 in favor. The House has now been debating for more than five and a half hours, not counting its one-hour lunch break.

Debate has been split almost evenly so far…

Thus far, 12 House members have debated against HB 248, and 11 have debated in favor. Here are some of the latest:

Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, said, “We’ve talked today about oversight, and I don’t believe we really have oversight in this bill, I think it’s really lacking. … I call it a lot of overview but not much oversight. … What else I really feel is lacking in this thing is the protection of life and religious freedom.” He said in the House Health & Welfare Committee’s public hearing on the bill, the individuals who testified that they were speaking for themselves, rather than lobbying for an organization, opposed the bill. “Ladies and gentlemen, I will stand with the people, rather than with the lobbyists.”

Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, told the House, “I have listened to this debate, ladies and gentlemen. It makes my heart sick.” She said of the federal government, “They don’t have the power to conscript our agencies, we will give them the power with this bill.” She said, “We do have other alternatives. It makes my heart heavy to watch my own Idaho, my own compatriots hand over their freedom to a broke and morally corrupt federal government. … I will not go willingly down this path.”

Rep. Steven Miller, R-Fairfield, said, “I find myself in a very peculiar position here, Mr. Speaker. I’m in favor of this bill because I believe it serves my constituents, the best of two absolutely rotten choices. … The bill we should be debating today is nullification. … I think that is where our hearts are.”

House debate: ‘A ‘no’ vote for 248 is a vote for a fed exchange in Idaho’

Here's more from this afternoon's House debate on the state insurance exchange bill:

Rep. Lenore Barrett, R-Challis, said, “The federal government needs the state to get this done. The state does not need the federal government. And I realize … some of us say the federal government will do it. If they have to do it, they will fail. They will implode upon themselves and then we’ll be out of the health care act.” She told the story of the Trojan horse. “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts,” she said. “A word to the wise used to be sufficient. I’m not sure that’s the case any more.”

Rep. Ed Morse, R-Hayden, cited the same exchange details cited at length earlier by Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, an exchange opponent. “These are elements that allow citizens in Idaho to displace federal control,” he said. “We’re allowed to make those decisions, we and not the feds. It’s hard to logically and consistently argue that we have no control, and then at the same time enumerate the issues and the items and say, ‘What an overwhelming task.’ Every one of those burdens we take over, we displace federal control.”

Rep. Robert Anderst, R-Nampa, said, “Today I stand not necessarily in favor of a state exchange, but absolutely opposed to a federal exchange. I’m not here to negotiate on behalf of Idaho, I’m here to protect Idaho. … We feel that we can control these kinds of situations better on a local level.” He disputed “that somehow we can do nothing and there’s no consequence to it,” saying, “I’m more convinced than ever that that option doesn’t exist. Let’s make no mistake: A ‘no’ vote for 248 is a vote for a federal exchange in Idaho.”

House exchange debate, from building a house to Brer Rabbit and the tar baby

The House debate is continuing. Among those speaking:

Rep. Neil Anderson, R-Blackfoot, compared the process of setting up an exchange to building a house. There are lots of decisions involved, he said, “But at some point you’ve got to build a house. … If we don’t start now, when do we start?”

Rep. Janet Trujillo, R-Idaho Falls, said she believes the exchange legislation violates religious freedoms. “The easiest path is not always the right path,” she said.

Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, offered a 13-minute debate that included a tale from his dad’s childhood during the Depression when all there was for dinner was “lumpy dick,” which he explained was “boiling water with flour in it, and you ate that as it coagulated and that’s what you had for supper.” Nielsen said the Depression caused some to think “a little socialism doesn’t hurt.” Now, he said, “We have traveled down the road of socialism, socialism, socialism, accepting a little more and a little more. … What do we end up with? A floor here today that is discussing the merits of a federal exchange vs. a state exchange. … We are a state and we can say ‘no thank you’ to both.”

Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, touted the requirement in HB 248 that all exchange meetings be subject to the Idaho Open Meeting Law. “I believe Idahoans are entitled to that transparency,” she said. “Whatever amount of control we do retain with a state exchange, I submit, will be more than a federal exchange.”

Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, shared the story of Brer Rabbit and the tar baby. “Well, this is what we’ve got here - we’ve got ourselves a tar baby,” he said. “Nothing in government comes out as simply … as we think it's going to be. We know going into it, it's complicated. Do you think it's going to get any better? … We haven't seen the beginning of it. It's a tar baby … and now we're turning to embrace it.”

Senate approves disaster memorial re Frank Church wilderness

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A non-binding memorial urging the federal government to help clean up networks of trails damaged by years of wildfires in the eastern Idaho wilderness has blazed through the Senate. The Senate on Wednesday approved a resolution asking the U.S. Forest Service to declare the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness' trail system a natural resources disaster area. The House passed the measure, HJM 1, earlier this month. The problem supporters say is that wildfires and erosion has slowly degraded trails in the 2.3 million acre preserve. Terreton Republican Sen. Jeff Siddoway said trails are blocked by fallen trees, making it difficult for hikers and sportsmen to enjoy it. Ketchum Democrat Sen. Michelle Stennett said calling the region a disaster area could hurt local outfitters or tourism groups making a living on the land.

Freshmen weigh in in House debate…

Three House GOP freshmen have just debated, two in favor of HB 248, one against:

Rep. Paul Romrell, R-St. Anthony, said his long experience in local government taught him that the best government is that closest to home. After the Senate version of the health exchange bill came out, he said, “We as freshmen didn’t like some of what was in that bill.” Now, HB 248, he said, includes “several of those changes that the ‘Gang of 16’ had written into it. I think it’s a much better bill than it was in the Senate, and I’m proud and honored to be a part of the Gang of 16. And I would urge your yes vote when that time comes.”

Rep. Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree, another member of the group of freshmen, said, “I have to go with my district. … They’re concerned about jobs.” She said, “I have talked to very, very conservative people who said that a state exchange would be the best way to go.”

Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian, said, “I do want to express my concerns. Whenever I discuss this with someone who is intent on voting for the state exchange, they always sort of hold their nose and say, ‘We don’t want the exchange any more than you do, but it’s the law, we have to do it. At least it will be under state control.’ But when I look at the law, I see very little state control. Even the control we could have claimed, we’ve turned over to a nonprofit with very little oversight. … I refuse to be complicit to the biggest government takeover in our lifetime. … What do you want to hear when it’s all said and done? Brought to you by Obama? Or brought to you by the Idaho Legislature?”

Debate: ‘How we say ‘yes, ma’am,’ ‘No mandates for enrollment,’ ‘Privacy will cease to exist’

Here's more from the continuing House debate on the health insurance exchange legislation this afternoon:

Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, said, “Most everyone came into this chamber today having a pretty good idea how you were going to vote.” He went through sections of the national Affordable Care Act, and said he doesn’t think it gives the state much leeway in how it operates the exchange. “The only flexibility we have is perhaps how we say ‘yes, ma’am,’” DeMordaunt said. “I don’t see that we have much flexibility at all.”

Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, said, “For more than a year it’s been my ambition for the creation of a medical insurance exchange that operates independently and without subsidy from every government. I have always believed that the private sector could perform the function of an exchange better and more efficiently than a similar service housed in a state or federal governmental agency. However today since that ambition wasn’t fully achieved, it’s my opinion that HB 248 fulfills that ambition to the greatest extent possible and practical. The independent exchange created by this bill will offer voluntary participation by companies, their employees, and individual citizens. There are no mandates for enrollment. Employees of the exchange may not be state employees, and public tax dollars may not be used to sustain its function. The exchange created therefore and thereby will be totally independent and will be self-sustaining, and … will provide us with the local control that I think is so essential.”

Rep. Ron Mendive, R-Coeur d’Alene, speaking against the bill, compared it to the “Real ID” law that Idaho opposed, and said a card for the new health exchange will be “Real ID on steroids. … Privacy as we’ve known it in this country will cease to exist.” Mendive said, “In the mid 1800s, this country took a serious wrong turn. Prior to that time, the study of law in this country referred to the study of God’s law. … Now a study of law consists of studying past decisions in past cases, or what is commonly referred to as case law. … We have now entered into legal positivism … that the state is the ultimate authority. … All legal truth is based on the decision of the state.” He added, “One thing that cannot be overstated in this debate is that our federal government has no money. We all talk about we’re going to get federal money … there is none. … The federal government has no money.”

Rep. Linden Bateman, R-Idaho Falls, said, “It is almost inconceivable to me that a conservative state like Idaho is not joining” other GOP-led states that are refusing to set up state exchanges. “In the long run, we’ll be selling our birthright for a  pot of porridge,” he said. “The fact is, the Supreme Court does make mistakes. … By setting up a state exchange, we implicity submit to an unconstitutional system.”

House resumes exchange debate…

The House is back in session after its lunch break, and back into its debate on HB 248, the governor’s state health insurance exchange bill. First, House Speaker Scott Bedke issued a stern warning to those watching in the gallery “to help us maintain the decorum in the House.” He said, “That would include no outbursts, no clapping.”

Senate Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, was the first to debate after the break. “In the Senate it was pigs and spurs, and here it’s mules and twine,” he said to laughter, referring to a story Majority Leader Mike Moyle shared with the House before its break about a runaway mule-and-horse pack train. “But there are a few things that I think we need to point out.” Rusche, a retired pediatrician and former health insurance executive, said, “The exchange is a new way to distribute products for individual and small group. It doesn’t involve large group, it doesn’t involve self-funded, it doesn’t involve Medicare or Medicaid. It’s only for small group and individual policies. … Those are the ones that are most sensitive to price differences.” So he said that’s where the lower operating cost for a state exchange, vs. a federal exchange, becomes key.

Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, quizzed Rusche about whether he favored the “independent body corporate and politic” approach in the bill as opposed to a state agency under the state Department of Insurance. “One of the problems with it being a department of state government is you have employees, and you have PERSI, and you have purchasing and you have all the other rules of state government that you would have to work under for really what is a tool to manage private industry, which is private insurance policies.” Therefore, Rusche said, “I would pick the body corporate and politic rather than have it run by state employees. However, that doesn’t appear to be the choice we would have.”

Lawmakers are deciding whether to set up a state-based exchange – and the bill does that through the independent body corporate and politic  – or default to an exchange that would be run for Idaho by the federal government.

How they voted… on motion to amend

Here’s how the House voted on the unsuccessful motion to send HB 248, the governor’s state health insurance exchange bill, to the amending order; the motion failed, 32-38:

Voting Yes: Reps. Agidius, Andrus, Barbieri, Barrett, Bateman, Batt, Boyle, Collins, Crane, Dayley, DeMordaunt, Denney, Gestrin, Harris, Hartgen, Holtzclaw, Loertscher, Luker, McMillan, Mendive, Monks, Moyle, Nielsen, Palmer, Patterson, Shepherd, Sims, Stevenson, Thompson, Trujillo, Vander Woude, and Wood(35).

Voting No: Reps. Anderson(01), Anderson(31), Anderst, Bedke, Bell, Bolz, Burgoyne, Chew, Clow, Erpelding, Eskridge, Gannon, Gibbs, Hancey, Henderson, Hixon, Horman, Kauffman, King, Kloc, Malek, Meline, Miller, Morse, Packer, Pence, Perry, Raybould, Ringo, Romrell, Rusche, Smith, VanOrden, Ward-Engelking, Wills, Wood(27), Woodings, and Youngblood.  

House exchange debate: ‘Rather work with our local state people,’ ‘Hogwash’

After nearly two hours of questions to the sponsor and a move to amend the bill, House members have begun debating the governor’s health insurance exchange legislation. First was Rep. Dell Raybould, R-Rexburg, who noted that Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, referred to Idaho’s history with wolves.

“I think that was a good example,” Raybould said. “Ever since we denied management of those wolves, we have tried to get it back. … Look how many years it’s taken us to get management of the wolves back. … Nobody in this body dislikes the Affordable Care Act more than I do, but I’ve known from working with DEQ that I’d rather work with our local state people that I would have to go to Seattle and ask them whether I can run this ditch full of water or how something needed to be taken care of. … It takes years, not a month or two, to get any kind of a decision from them, let alone direction.” He said, “I for one am not willing, if I can possibly help it, to turn this size of an enterprise that’s going to affect every single person in this state over to a federal agency, that if I have a problem with ‘em I can’t get it straightened out for a year or two.”

House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, spoke out against the bill, saying he wanted to add a slew of amendments to it, including a sunset clause. “There’s nowhere in this that says that you can undo this once you start it,” Moyle declared, noting that Gov. Butch Otter supports the bill, which could make it harder for lawmakers to undo. “And by the way, you have a whole year to decide this, did you know that? You can put it off a year,” he told the House. “We can drink the Kool-Aid in a year, maybe it’ll be better by then.” He compared the state-based exchange to a “sock puppet” that has to ask “mother may I” from the federal government for anything it does. “I feel like I can see what we need to do, and I feel like we're close,” Moyle said, “but I also know that this isn't right. We're going to give something away that we can never get back. Just step back. … If you have any doubt, you better be voting no.”

The public gallery above broke into loud applause at the conclusion of Moyle's remarks - right after he used the word “hogwash” to describe the “body corporate and politic” setup of the exchange. House Speaker Scott Bedke banged the gavel and said, “We will not stand for outbursts.”  

Moyle then moved to break for lunch. Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said, “Mr Speaker, I was ready to talk, but in deference to the good gentleman from 14, I will second the motion.” The House then recessed for an hour's lunch break.

Senate passes bill to ease do-not-call restrictions, sends bill to governor

The Senate has voted 26-6 in favor of HB 55, the bill brought by two phone companies to allow telephone, cable and other telecom companies to make commercial solicitation calls to their existing customers even if they’re on the do-not-call list. Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, noted that the bill adds those companies to the existing do-not-call exemption for businesses with an existing relationship with a customer; and also adds a clause saying if one of those businesses calls and the customer tells them to stop calling, they can’t call again. Violations could mean a $500 fine.

Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, said the bill has been “misrepresented in the media” and “should not be a problem at all.” He said, “We’ve developed whole new strategies for dealing with unwanted phone calls, like not answering them. The registry is kind of becoming an anachronism.”

The Idaho Attorney General’s office opposed the bill at committee hearings in both houses, saying Idaho consumers overwhelmingly are telling the office they want fewer solicitation calls at home, not more.

Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, said he was in the Senate when the do-not-call list legislation first was approved 13 years ago. “I don’t recall a bill that was more popular and had more grease on its side than this bill,” he said. “I think we can each recall 13 years ago what it was like at supper time when you were trying to have a family dinner or watch a television show or watch a University of Idaho football game on a weekend, not always the best experience, especially in 2000. However, I know what the people in the state of Idaho wanted in 2000. And so my vote is going to be a legacy vote respecting what I believe I supported back then.”

He added, “Now, I would also be less than honest with you if I didn’t acknowledge that since 2000 the world changed in the way of telecommunication. I realize today that the current exception is not particularly fair, and that it does statutorily provide a competitive advantage to some and to the disadvantage of another. There is, however, a different way to achieve parity, and that is not done in this bill. This allows both to call, both types of industry. Another approach for parity is to say that neither can. And that is not the bill here.”

HB 55 earlier passed the House, so now it heads to the governor’s desk.

House defeats motion to send health exchange bill to amending order

The House has voted 32-38 on the motion from Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, to send HB 248 to general orders for amendment, defeating the motion. Now, it's back to the debate on the bill, the governor's state health insurance exchange bill.

House debate: ‘Make it a better bill,’ ‘Don’t kick the can down the road’

As the House continues debating Rep. Vito Barbieri’s motion to send HB 248 to the amending order, House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, backed the move, saying, “I think we can make it a better bill.” Rep. Marc Gibbs, R-Grace, opposed it, saying, “This is a big pill to swallow no matter which side of the issue you’re on. I don’t think kicking the can down the road is going to help you.” Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, backed it, calling the bill “particularly lacking” in anti-abortion protections.

Rep. Thyra Stevenson, R-Lewiston, interrupted the debate to ask Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, if he had a conflict to disclose. He said no, and noted, “I haven’t been employed by a health plan for eight years.” Bedke admonished Stevenson that it’s up to members to make conflict of interest disclosures; not for other members to inquire about them. Stevenson said she views the motion and vote as “almost the most important vote I will have in my entire life.” She said she supports the motion, to “take it slowly.”

Rep. Rick Youngblood, R-Nampa, said, “I’m offended because of this amendment. I am a pro-life Republican. I understand there’s already a bill codified under Idaho Code … that does not allow any state or federal exchange to set abortion policy.”

Debate on motion: ‘Protect the pre-born,’ ‘Not a vote against the right to life’

Rep. Ron Mendive, R-Coeur d’Alene, told the House, “I would submit that the constitutions are the law of the land, period.” Referring to lawmakers’ oath of office, he said, “The oath is to defend life, liberty and property. … Life is listed first obviously because without life all the others fall by the wayside.” He quoted from Isaiah, “Thus says the Lord who made you and formed you in the womb,” and said, “Our Legislature passes all kinds of laws to protect children, and the most dangerous place for a child in this country is inside the mother’s womb. Today we’re looking at a bill that could have contained language to protect the pre-born, but it does not.”

Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, who like Mendive was supporting the motion to send the exchange bill to the amending order, said, “The debate truly is whether you want to protect life and freedom of conscience,” and said he was concerned about “abortifacients Plan B and Ella.” Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, objected, saying, “There is no scientific evidence that Plan B and Ella are abortifacients. They are contraceptives.” Crane was admonished to keep his debate to the motion.

Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa, reminded the House that sending the exchange bill to the amending order would open it up to any amendments, and remove the opportunity for the House to vote on the bill that’s before them now. Rep. Kelly Packer, R-McCammon, asked if an amendment to a law could be made later, after it’s passed. House Speaker Scott Bedke said, “There's certainly an ability to bring another bill that would further amend the code.” Packer noted that in that case, on the question of whether to amend the bill, “It's not a vote against the right to life.”

Barbieri moves to send exchange bill to amending order

After Rep. Cindy Agidius, R-Moscow, asked Rep. Fred Wood about the use of contraceptive drugs Ella and Plan B under a health exchange and whether that might permit drug-induced abortions, Wood said no. Wood said the Idaho attorney general’s office has assured him they “did not feel that there was any loophole in Idaho’s law with respect to abortion at all. We have closed that.” Both those drugs are approved by the FDA for use only as contraceptives, he said, not as abortifacients. “Illegal use of anything, this act doesn’t govern, of course,” Wood said. “The Idaho Statute may and the attorney general may enforce that. But with respect to abortion and with respect to the state of Idaho, the state of Idaho has covered that.”

Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, then moved to send the bill to the House’s amending order, known as General Orders. He also distributed copies of an amendment he’d like to propose with respect to abortion.

Wood spoke against the move. “Mr. Speaker, we all know what happens in General Orders,” Wood said. “Debate is very limited. … General Orders is just a poor place to make public policy on a bill like this.”

Senate panel advances horse betting bill

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Legislation legalizing machines for betting on previously run horse races is heading into the final turn in the Idaho Capitol. The Senate State Affairs Committee voted Wednesday to approve a bill allowing wagering on past races using video terminals that store clips of tens of thousands of historical races. Idaho race tracks already use live and broadcast betting. Executive Director of the Idaho State Racing Commission Frank Lamb said the measure will help horse racing groups boost revenue they say will help save their industry, which has suffered as other entertainment options have gained popularity. But Jonathan Krutz, a member of the Stop Predatory Gambling Foundation, said the terminals mimic slot machines, which are illegal in Idaho except on reservations. The machines would be allowed at three Idaho racing tracks.

Listen live to House exchange debate…

At the close of his opening debate, House Health & Welfare Chairman Fred Wood, R-Burley, said he'd stand for questions from his fellow lawmakers on the health exchange legislation, HB 248. House members have taken him up on it, and he's  now fielding a series of questions. You can listen live here; just click on “House.”

Wood, opening exchange debate: ‘Idaho has a simple choice to make’

House Health & Welfare Chairman Fred Wood, R-Burley, is opening the debate in the House on HB 248, the governor’s state health insurance exchange bill.  “Prior to going through the House bill, I’d like to take  a moment to put this bill into perspective and why we’re here today,” Wood told the House. “With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, Idaho has a simple choice to make, and that choice is what kind of a state insurance exchange do we want in terms of health insurance. We have to have an exchange,  with the passage of the Affordable Care Act. We don’t have a choice not to have an exchange. … And there’s only two types, there’s a state exchange, or there’s two versions of a federally facilitated exchange.”

“Secondly, this exchange is going to be a marketplace. It’s not going to be the marketplace, and it’s not going to be the only marketplace. … There will certainly be a marketplace outside of the exchange. And thirdly, come January 1st of 2014, there will be significant changes to most health insurance products sold both inside the exchange and outside the exchange.”

With that, he began going through the provisions of the bill, which sets up the exchange as an independent body corporate and politic, like the state Insurance Fund or the Idaho Housing and Finance Association, and makes it voluntary to participate in the exchange both for customers and those offering insurance.

Animal torture bill pulled back to committee

Before the House began its debate on the health insurance exchange, Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, asked unanimous consent of the House to pull HB 111, the bill to make third-time torture of a pet a felony, back to committee. The measure has languished for weeks on the House’s amending order, since clearing the House Agriculture Committee early in the session; Andrus, who chairs the committee, sponsored the bill. “It needs further consideration, and it needs to be returned to the Agricultural Affairs Committee,” Andrus told the House; members agreed unanimously to the move.

Rev & Tax schedules vote on competing personal property tax bills for tomorrow

The House Revenue & Taxation Committee continued its hearing this morning on the two competing personal property tax bills, taking testimony from another dozen people; it’s now scheduled to vote on the bills tomorrow. Today’s meeting went for about an hour. The two bills both grant relief from the personal property tax on business equipment, but are far different in scope. HB 272, from the Idaho Association of Counties, would exempt the first $100,000 in personal property from the tax for each taxpayer in each of Idaho’s 44 counties, at a cost to the state of up to $19 million a year; that would remove the tax entirely for close to 90 percent of Idaho businesses. HB 276, from the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, would phase out the tax entirely over seven years, at a cost to the state of up to $120 million a year.

Bill restricting youth indoor tanning clears House committee

The House Health & Welfare Committee has approved HB 268, the bill to ban kids under age 16 from using tanning beds at commercial salons and to require parental consent for 16- and 17-year olds; the bill now moves to the House with a recommendation that it “do pass.” Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, proposed a substitute motion to hold the bill in committee, saying, “We need to have more parental responsibility, instead of having to apply civil penalties.” But his motion got only got three votes.

Dr. Steven Mings, a Boise dermatologist, detailed the scientific research that shows a link between tanning beds and skin cancer; he said more than 100 studies show the link, though a few outliers don’t. The risk increases with exposure at a young age, he said. Several melanoma survivors who had been big tanning-bed users shared their stories, their voices fraught with emotion.

“Tanning is addictive – I became addicted,” said Lisa Winters of Boise. “I couldn’t see myself as dark as others saw me. …. I continually chased that next shade darker,” and even bought tanning memberships for her teenage daughters. “I was one of those people who became convinced the dermatology profession was exaggerating the facts, because I was the expert. … Today I’m more educated and much wiser. All I have to do is look at the large scar on my leg.” She added, “I am one of the lucky ones – I am alive today. I did not get melanoma from the sun, I got it from the tanning beds.”

Tracie Cunningham, executive director of the Nebraska-based American Suntanning Association, told the committee that she can’t believe indoor tanning causes cancer, because if it did, “we’d be out of business.” She said, “Common sense tells me that there’s not a direct relationship.”

Salon owners spoke out against the bill, including Sharee Skinner, owner of Southern Exposure Tanning Center in Nampa, who said, “In my mind, this bill ranks moderate sunbed usage right there with tobacco use and alcohol use, which I just think is abhorrent. Those things have absolutely no redeeming qualities. They are of no benefit to our bodies.”

Several committee members, including Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa, said licensing and regulating tanning salons might be a better solution than regulating tanning bed use. Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said, “Seriously, this legislation will save lives.”

Early-morning hearing convenes on youth tanning-beds ban

The House Health & Welfare Committee is meeting at the unaccustomed hour of 7 a.m. today for its hearing on HB 268, to ban minors under age 16 from using commercial tanning beds, and require parental consent for those age 16 and 17. “This is just the first of two rodeos today,” Chairman Fred Wood, R-Burley, told the committee. “The second one starts at 9:30 upstairs.” That’s when the House convenes to begin its debate on the state health insurance exchange legislation. Wood said his plan is to finish his committee hearing this morning by 9:15.

Ken McClure, lobbyist for the Idaho Medical Association, told the panel, “It’s not lightly we bring before you  a piece of legislation that would restrict people’s rights to do something which is legal. There comes a time, however, when science teaches us that some things that were thought to be benign are not benign, they are malignant.” He said if he’d been here 40 years ago telling lawmakers that youth smoking should be outlawed, “You would have heard people say, ‘That’s silly.’ … Unfortunately as science became more clear, it became indisputable that tobacco does cause cancer.”

So do the use of artificial tanning devices, McClure said. “It’s a particular risk factor for those who begin to use them at a young age.” The science is clear, he said, “that these devices do ultimately lead to melanomas, carcinomas and other types of cancers that kill people.” Said McClure, “There exist other ways to have the beautiful glow that don’t cause cancer in young people.”

Similar legislation passed the House last year after much debate, but died in a Senate committee.

Stealthy lobbying campaign against exchange designed to slip thru gaps in Sunshine laws

A stealthy campaign of mailers, radio ads and computer-generated phone calls against the state health insurance exchange bill that's up for a vote in the House today was designed to slip through gaps in Idaho's sunshine laws, Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey reports - prompting calls to tighten the reporting laws. Chad Inman, head of Gem State Tea Party, told Popkey, “”No, I'm not disclosing a dime. That's the beauty of it.” GOP political consultant Lou Esposito will have to disclose his PAC activity - but not until Jan. 31, 2013. You can read Popkey's full report here.

Tribal property tax exemption bill passes Senate 33-2, heads to gov

HB 140, the bill brought by the Coeur d’Alene Tribe on behalf of all of Idaho’s Indian tribes to clarify that reservation property owned by tribal governments isn’t subject to county sales taxes has passed the Senate on a 33-2 vote, and now heads to the governor’s desk. Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, the bill’s Senate sponsor, said, “It was the right bill. … It’s something that should’ve been done long ago. It promotes unity.”

The only two “no” votes came from Sens. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, and Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow. Keough said after the vote, “It’s my understanding that there is a process by which tribes can take their property off the property tax rolls, through BIA and putting it into trust. I think that process as it’s been explained to me is the process that they should use.” She also questioned whether the exemption could go far beyond tribal government operations, since the tribal government could own properties not used for government purposes. “That’s why I voted that way,” she said.

The bill earlier passed the House, 64-3.

GOP lawmakers touts Medicaid expansion

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A House Republican this Thursday will introduce a measure seeking to expand Idaho's Medicaid program, a key provision in President Barack Obama's health insurance overhaul. Rep. Tom Loertscher of Bone said Tuesday he'll introduce two bills: One dissolving Idaho's existing program to pay for indigent people's medical costs, and a second to expand Medicaid to include people up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line.Loertscher said he was driven by pragmatism, contending Idaho will save state taxpayer money by expanding the health care program for the poor, elderly and disabled. Under Obama's overhaul, the federal government will initially pay for 100 percent of newly eligible Medicaid beneficiaries. But the U.S. Supreme Court forbid Washington, D.C. from forcing expansion onto states, leaving decisions up to legislators and governors.

Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

First heavy-trucks bill clears House Transportation Committee, second one not up yet…

The House Transportation Committee has given its unanimous support to SB 1064, removing the expiration date from a 10-year pilot project allowing extra-heavy trucks on 35 specific routes in southern Idaho. Roy Eiguren, speaking for the Right Truck for Idaho Coalition, said the pilot project showed big economic gains for shippers like Amalgamated Sugar Co. and U.S. Ecology Corp., and no significant increased damage to the specific routes, according to the Idaho Transportation Department. “These trucks have both a greater braking capacity, as well as a larger number of axles, resulting in fewer pounds per square inch of tire,” Eiguren told the committee. He noted that the routes involved are “all in southern Idaho, all south of the Salmon River.” The bill, which now moves to the full House, earlier passed the Senate on a 33-1 vote.

A much more controversial proposal, to open up all non-freeway routes in the state to the extra-heavy trucks – which weigh 129,000 pounds instead of the usual limit of 105,500 – if local highway districts approve based on ITD criteria, wasn’t taken up in the House committee today. That would include North Idaho routes along with the rest of the state; an array of North Idaho local elected officials have objected to the idea. Chairman Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, said, “We’ll put it on the schedule as soon as we can. We’ll definitely have a hearing.”

Dave Carlson of AAA testified against SB 1064, saying the ITD’s study included a single sentence saying “that ITD did not observe any significant effect.” He said, “But the bulk of the study does not back up that particular claim.” Carlson said AAA was hopeful that the pilot project would provide good data on the effect of the extra-heavy trucks on road surfaces and bridges, but said, “It is limited and incomplete and is not something we can depend on.”

Bill to license X-ray techs stalls; Idaho one of just 6 states with no standards

Idaho is one of just six states with no training or certification requirements whatever for workers who run X-rays on patients, from simple pictures to CT scans and other complicated imagery – and it’s the only state in the region. Yet legislation introduced this year to start licensing those technicians in the state is languishing in the Idaho Senate, where it hasn’t gotten a hearing.

“In Idaho, the people that are using radiation don’t have to go to school,” said Mike Gurr, chairman of the Idaho Society of Radiologic Technologists. “And that’s scary when you realize what we do for the medical community.” All of Idaho’s neighboring states have standards for X-ray techs or radiologic technologists; typically, an associate’s degree level of training is required. The only states that lack any rules, other than Idaho, are Alabama, Alaska, Missouri, South Dakota and North Carolina. You can read my full story here at

Highlights from GOP legislative leaders’ remarks to the Press Club today…

Here are some other highlights from the House speaker and Senate president pro-tem’s annual talk and Q-and-A with the Idaho Press Club today:

NO PERSONAL PROPTAX SHOWDOWN: Both Speaker Scott Bedke and Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill said they’ve received no pressure or threats from Gov. Butch Otter to favor one or the other of the competing personal property tax measures now pending before a House committee. “I think it’s a little early for that,” Bedke said. “You just had the first day of hearings on the bills. The concepts have been swirling since Day 1. … At a certain point, you’ve got to bring a bill, you’ve got to get the dialogue started. … It doesn’t have the feel of conclusion yet. … There’s not consensus.” Hill said, “He’s made no threats to me,” and Bedke added, “It doesn’t have the feeling of a showdown.”  Hill added, “We don’t have to deal with it ‘til we see what we get from the House. We get nothing from the House, we’re not going to deal with it.”

COOKIE TAX BREAK COULD CRUMBLE: Despite strong support in the House for legislation that cleared the House Rev & Tax Committee unanimously yesterday to remove the state’s sales tax from Girl Scout cookies, the bill – like other tax exemptions – may not go anywhere in the Senate. “I suspect that the Girl Scouts will make a compelling case to House members that may not be so compelling to the Senate,” Bedke said. Hill said, “I don’t even know if they’re going to get a hearing. The Senate Local Government & Taxation Committee has been the doorkeeper on that. … Once you start down that road, there’s no end to it. In 1965, I think we had 16 sales tax exemptions. Now we have well over 100.” He said Girl Scouts will grow up and in the future be moms shopping for groceries for their kids, and he doesn’t want to see the sales tax they pay rise because there are so many exemptions. “We need to broaden the base and lower the rate,” Hill said.

MERITS, NOT PROCESS: On the pending debate in the Senate on the public schools budget – to which some GOP senators on JFAC objected – Hill said, “We are to debate the merits of the bill,” and not the process. He said he’s advised his caucus of that.

NO NEW ABORTION LEGISLATION: Neither GOP leader expects abortion legislation to be introduced in the wake of a federal court decision overturning Idaho’s fetal-pain abortion law. “Idaho has some of the strongest informed consent laws in the United States,” Bedke said. “There’s nothing coming out at this point that I know of. … I think we can take a year off, personally.” Hill said, “I agree with the speaker. When you’ve got something that has so much to do with constitutional issues and you just had a statute thrown out by the courts, you need to regroup, you need to reassess, you need to make sure you’re coming up with something that will hold. I’m not sure you do that in two or three weeks.”

Question No. 1: Are reporters’ questions harder than those of 5th grader?

In his remarks to the Idaho Press Club today – before taking on-the-record questions from the press – Senate President Pro-tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, read a letter he received from a 5thgrader in his district. “I’m 10 years old and I live in Madison County. … I’m in 5thgrade. … I’m at Social Studies right now. I’m writing to you for a couple of questions. Also this is just a school assignment, I don’t really care about your answers. I heard that a senator represents us. I’ve met you before. Question No. 1: Are you busy? If you are, sorry to interrupt you. Question No. 2: How old are you? If you won’t tell, I totally understand. Thank you so much for your participating and reading this letter. P.S. My teaher says you have to write back.”

Hill said after submitting to those questions – and he did write back to the student – he was ready for whatever the press wanted to ask him.

House braces for big debate tomorrow on state health insurance exchange

Asked if the House is in for a six-hour hearing tomorrow when it takes up the state health exchange legislation – since that’s what happened in the Senate – the Legislature’s top leaders laughed a little. “Twice as many people – you’re looking at 12 hours tomorrow,” Senate President Pro-tem Brent Hill told House Speaker Scott Bedke.

Bedke said House Republicans will caucus this afternoon. “We’ll talk about the decorum in debate. We’ll reference some rules,” he said. “Other than that, they’ll have at it.” Bedke said, “I think we’re going to start probably around 9:30 and go, you know, ‘til we’re done. But we may break for lunch depending on how we’re doing. I think this is an issue that needs to be vetted, and there are members that feel strongly about this, and I’m certainly not going to be one that … tries to limit that debate.”

Said Hill, “There’s more reasons for debate than to change a vote, particularly since we’ve started broadcasting the sessions. … I had a few people come up to me after the debate in the Senate, or email me or talk to me even at church, and say, ‘I learned so much about that issue by listening or watching that particular debate,’ because most people have only seen or heard one side of the issue depending on which talk radio they like to listen to. And it’s a complex issue.” Hill said, “You don’t want to limit debate on something like that. I think it’s helpful for a lot of reasons.”

Bedke: ‘There’s been a click, and people are ready to go home’

House Speaker Scott Bedke and Senate President Pro-tem Brent Hill, addressing the Idaho Press Club today, both said they think it’s likely the Legislature can adjourn by the end of March. “I still don’t see anything that should keep us here after the end of the month,” Hill said. “I’m not saying there won’t be something. Two big issues – personal property tax repeal and the state exchanges – they’re going to be voted up or down. And there’s no reason why they can’t get through both bodies in the time we have left, by the end of the month. I don’t see anything there that the governor’s going to start vetoing bills to keep us around to pass. So … I still think we have a good chance of being out.”

Bedke said, “I’m learning how it feels to be the speaker, but it seems to me, when I was just a regular member of the House, that there was a definite, you could feel the wind shift or the mood change or something like that. It’s my perception that that has, the members are ready to be done. … There’s been a click, and people are ready to go home.”

Senate approves big new push to fight cybercrimes against children

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A proposed $2 million measure to boost efforts to fight child pornographers in Idaho has cleared the Senate. The bill approved on a unanimous vote Tuesday, SB 1079, would expand a task force housed in the Idaho attorney general's office that investigates cybercrimes against children. Initially, the Idaho Attorney General would use money from consumer protection cases to fund startup of the expanded Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. Boise Republican Sen. Curt McKenzie said Idaho gets over 5,000 child pornography case leads annually — a caseload too big for only two full-time investigators. The task force staff would increase to 14 investigators to crack down on the production and trading of child pornography. Ongoing costs for the agency would run about $1.6 million annually. The bill now heads to the House.

House Ed introduces disclosure bill for for-profit colleges

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — For-profit higher education institutions in Idaho that provide courses but cannot issue degrees may be required to disclose more information about job placement rates under a bill introduced in a House committee. The House Education Committee agreed Tuesday to introduce legislation requiring those institutions to be more transparent about cost, job placement rates and ability to provide transfer credits. Boise Democrat Rep. John Gannon said the measure could help alleviate high loan and default rates among students who enroll in the programs. The bill is aimed at schools offering a wide range of training, from vocational to massage therapy and taxidermy. Twin Falls Republican Rep. Lance Clow said he's concerned the bill could add an extra layer of regulatory burdens for schools already required to disclose course information.

Hearing wraps up after 37 testify, most for HB 272, against HB 276

In the end, 37 people testified; only six were in favor of HB 276, the IACI bill, with all the rest backing HB 272, the counties bill, except for two who spoke against both.  “I will allot a little time tomorrow morning in our committee to testify,” said Rep. Gary Collins, R-Nampa, Rev & Tax chairman. The committee will meet tomorrow morning at 8:30 and will complete public testimony. “Thursday we will have the sponsors of the legislation back to answer questions, and then the committee will deal with the two pieces of legislation,” Collins said.

The final person to testify, Havila Lyon, district library director for American Falls, told the committee, “I feel very strongly that HB 272 is fiscally responsible, HB 276 is not.” Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Testimony: ‘Doing business in Idaho is very cheap,’ ‘Effects could be dramatic,’ ‘Best way to approach problem’

In continuing testimony this morning on HB 272 and HB 276 on personal property tax on business equipment:

Brian Blad, mayor of Pocatello, said, “I have yet to have a discussion on a company not coming to Idaho for the reason of not paying that personal property tax. The reality is Idaho has become one of the most business-friendly states in the union. … The reality is doing business in Idaho is very cheap, taxes are cheap, power is low, wages are low, cost of living is low. … I just would urge you to support HB 272. I believe it’s a very good starting point.”

Earl Somsen, Caribou County commissioner, told the committee, “We are concerned and we have been for all the time this has been proceeding. The effects could be dramatic. We depend very solidly on personal property taxes to maintain all of our services in the county and the schools and all of the other districts in our area. It’s well understood that personal property tax is an old and maybe a tired tax.” But, he said, “Personal properties are still essential to our schools, counties, cities and other taxing districts. HB 272 will allow most of these revenues to continue without a huge tax shift.”

Richard Horner, CFO