With the Medicaid and Welfare Division budgets set, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee has reached the end of its agency budget-setting schedule – a milestone. Typically, lawmakers can wrap up their legislative session as soon as two weeks after the end of agency budget-setting. JFAC’s work isn’t done, however. The joint committee has now started work on so-called “trailer bills” – bills that trail behind others that already are passing, to provide the funding called for in the fiscal notes on those bills.
Two are up today, and more will still be coming. The first one today is for SB 1329, regarding “time-sensitive emergencies” within the Emergency Medical Services program. This one actually doesn’t add any funding; it transfers it from one program to another, with no bottom-line impact. The second is larger: Following passage of HB 406, the state will move to take over primacy from the EPA for issuing wastewater permits under the federal Clean Water Act. The bill starts an eight-year phase-in of the takeover; next year, it will cost the state $300,000 in the DEQ budget, and require adding three employees. Eventually, the new program is expected to cost the state $2.5 million a year.
The primacy funding bill passed on a unanimous, 18-0 vote, though legislative budget analyst Ray Houston, asked by JFAC members if eventually some of the funding for the program might not come from fees or the federal government, said fees for municipalities are often a very political issue, and “Basically it does not look like the federal government would contribute any money.” He said, “I think it's safe to say that over the next eight years, the state is likely to pick up the most part of this $2.5 million.”
JFAC won't meet on Monday, but it will meet on Tuesday. Among items yet to be decided: Additional trailer bills; year-end transfers, including to state savings accounts; the request for $7.3 million for Idaho Education Network contractors in 2015 to replace missing federal e-rate funds; and recommendations from two interim committees on justice reinvestment and public defense.
Legislative budget writers have set a budget for Medicaid that reflects only 0.4 percent growth next year in total funds, 3.1 percent in state general funds. That’s in part because the “woodwork effect” of more people signing up for Medicaid who already were eligible, but just hadn’t realized it, hasn’t materialized to the extent it was expected to. “Medicaid numbers are flat,” budget analyst Jared Tatro told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, who crafted the budget plan with Rep. Thyra Stevenson, R-Lewiston, said the two slashed the funding for caseload increase in half from the governor’s recommended level. “We haven’t been seeing the growth that we were expecting from the woodwork,” Schmidt said. “We’re taking a bit of a risk. … It’s a budget for growth, but it’s not as much as they asked for.”
Because when people apply for health insurance plans on the state insurance exchange, they’re first evaluated for eligibility for Medicaid, the state anticipated lots of people “coming out of the woodwork” to sign up for Medicaid without any change in eligibility for the program. Thus far, Tatro said, those signing up for the Medicaid basic plan are up slightly, but numbers for the enhanced plan, for those with disabilities or special health needs, are “way down, and that’s the big expense driver.”
JFAC voted 17-2 in favor of the proposed budget, which totals $492 million in state general funds for next year, and $2.03 billion in total funds; just Sens. Nuxoll and Bayer dissented. Medicaid is funded roughly 70 percent by the federal government, and 30 percent by the state. It provides health coverage for the state’s disabled and poorest residents.
The joint budget committee also approved a budget for the Division of Welfare in the state Department of Health & Welfare, which includes the process of determining eligibility for Medicaid. That budget shows a slight decrease in state funds, but a 5.9 percent increase in federal funds, largely because of the $11.8 million federally funded project to integrate the eligibility determination system with changes in Idaho’s insurance exchange. In its first year, the state exchange has used the federal eligibility determination system, but next year, it will be transitioning to a state-operated eligibility system. That budget cleared JFAC on a 15-4 vote, with just Sens. Nuxoll, Bayer, Mortimer and Thayn dissenting.
Sen. Dean Cameron’s “Option 1” intent language for the public school budget – which lets school districts opt out of a statewide high school WiFi contract that state schools Supt. Tom Luna signed with Education Networks of America and get alternative funding for their own high school WiFi networks if they do – has passed JFAC on a 15-5 vote, after Sen. Dean Mortimer’s alternative proposal failed on a close 9-11 vote.
The five “no” votes on Cameron’s motion came from Sens. Mortimer, Vick, Bayer, Thayn and Nuxoll. On Mortimer’s motion, supporters included those five plus Reps. Eskridge, Youngblood, Thompson and Stevenson, but that was still short of a majority.
Cameron said the JFAC co-chairs and vice-chairs met with Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane to go over options, and simply canceling the contract through non-appropriation at this point turned out to be a risky course. “Unfortunately, you’d probably spend as much in legal costs defending that decision, based on the lack of information we have, as you would in paying for the contract, so that didn’t seem to be a wise choice,” Cameron said. “Our legal counsel impressed upon us that what we really needed to do was make a good-faith effort, gather information, and then make appropriate decisions down the road. … That’s what Option 1 attempts to do.”
He noted that under that option, the state could end up paying more next year, if some districts opt out and ask for funding, when the contractor has already been paid. If that occurs, the funding would come from the Public Education Stabilization Fund.
Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, said, “We have a contract with a provider. … We’re saying we’re allowing you to withdraw. I’m wondering how that would violate the contract, how that works out.”
Cameron noted that schools Superintendent Tom Luna has letters amending the contract from its original flat-fee, $2.25 million annual payment to a per-school payment for services rendered. “I would remind the committee this is one-time money,” Cameron said. “This is a one-year appropriation, with one-year intent language. At the end, next year we would be able to make a decision as to how to proceed – whether to continue with the contract, or whether to do something completely different. … We’ll have a better defensible position.”
Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, is arguing for Option 1 on high school WiFi network funding – which would let school districts opt out of the statewide contract with Education Networks of America if they want, and get state funding for their own networks. Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, is arguing for Option 1, which would continue the statewide contract and pay districts that didn’t sign on for that, but not give any funding to districts that already are in the contract but don’t want to continue.
Mortimer said, “They voluntarily opted in, they said they were willing to work with the state. … They all said, ‘This is what we want.’” He said, “I believe that in good faith the state put forth the contract, the districts opted in, and it is important to keep that contract.”
Cameron said, “In discussing this with our legal counsel, the least expensive option is to fund the contract and do nothing else.” But that doesn’t do anything for those districts that opted not to participate, he noted, or those that aren’t satisfied with the services they get.
Cameron’s proposal calls for a “service audit” to see what services are being provided where, what they cost, and how satisfied districts are with them. Then, he said, next year the state can decide what it wants to do about the contract, with full information at hand. He noted that the funding, like this year’s funding, is one-time only – meaning JFAC will have to consider it again next year. “There’s a fundamental difference between the two options, although the good news is we’re talking about wireless for all the schools,” Cameron said.
The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee is looking at two possible options on intent language for the public schools budget this morning with regard to state high school WiFi networks: One would allow school districts to “opt out” of the current long-term, statewide contract, and get a share of the funding for their own WiFi networks, while continuing the contract for those who want to stay in; the other would provide funding to districts that haven’t already opted into the contract, but wouldn’t give any money to those that already are in but want out; it also would continue the contract.
State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna signed the five- to 15-year contract with Education Networks of America over the summer, based on a one-time appropriation from JFAC last year.
The Idaho Falls Post Register has a report today about how Gov. Butch Otter ended up appearing in what eventually turned out to be a soft-core porn movie, years after he agreed to provide horses to a California movie crew working on a “low-budget horse opera” that was filming near Weiser. Reporters Nate Sunderland and Jeff Robinson report that the movie, which began filming in 1993, was released straight to video as an R-rated film in 1997 and rereleased as unrated in 2003; DVDs of the film remain for sale on Amazon.
Staffers for Otter said the final version, which they hadn't seen, apparently is nothing like the film Otter signed on for; then the state’s lieutenant governor, he acted the part of a sheriff in a few scenes in the film, none of which contained any explicit content or themes. The other content apparently was added years later.
A federal judge says a whistleblower lawsuit against the Idaho Department of Juvenile Corrections can move forward in court on some of the claims it raises, charging that young prisoners at a Nampa juvenile detention facility were sexually abused by staffers, and agency leaders not only didn't effectively act to stop the abuse, but retaliated against workers who complained about that and other problems at the lockup. “This is a whistleblower case,” wrote U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill in a Thursday ruling. “The 10 plaintiffs — employees at the Nampa facility operated by the Idaho Department of Juvenile Corrections — claim they suffered retaliation when they protested unsafe conditions at the facility. They claim that the retaliation was designed to suppress their protected speech and prevent the public from finding out about deplorable conditions at the facility that placed juvenile inmates in danger.” Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.
The Senate has spent lots of time in session today, and is still going now, at a quarter to 6 p.m. Boise time. Among the bills it’s passed this afternoon: HB 504, the measure to give $15.8 million in leadership bonuses to Idaho teachers next year. The bill, which previously passed the House on a 62-6 vote, passed the Senate unanimously, and now goes to Gov. Butch Otter. The only opposition in either house came from six House Republicans, Reps. Barbieri, Barrett, Dayley, Harris, McMillan and Sims.
The bonuses are a small piece of the recommendation from Otter’s education improvement task force to sharply increase teacher pay in the state, mostly by developing a new career ladder and tiered licensure system. That’s still in the works and won’t happen this year, but the bonuses piece was simpler. In addition to HB 504 passing both houses unanimously, the funding for the bonuses was included in the public school budget set earlier this week by the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.
You can read my full story here at spokesman.com on today’s final passage of SB 1254, the bill to allow guns on Idaho’s public college and university campuses, though the colleges don’t want them and strenuously opposed the bill. It now goes to Gov. Butch Otter, who already has said he supports it on Second Amendment grounds.
Frustrated student leaders from the state’s campuses, who had delivered petitions with more than 3,000 signatures against the bill to lawmakers a day earlier, said lawmakers dismissed opposition from all eight public university presidents, the state Board of Education, faculty senates and student associations. “Who does this legislature represent?” asked Megan Greco, vice president of the Student Association of the College of Western Idaho. “The answer is clear: Lobbyists, and apparently, themselves.”
Senate Local Government & Taxation Committee Chairman Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, said today that he’s sticking to his determination not to give House-passed legislation to cut individual and corporate income tax rates a hearing in his committee. “I’m sticking to my guns,” Siddoway said. “If we properly fund education and our public safety requirements, we have to have that money.”
He said he may support depositing more money into state rainy-day savings accounts as “a conservative way to handle money.” But, he said, “We can’t cut taxes and fund everything.” He’s still holding out hope for his favored tax cut – an expansion of the property tax exemption on business property that lawmakers passed last year; last year’s exemption eliminated the tax for the vast majority of Idaho businesses. But that measure would have to start in the House Revenue & Taxation Committee, he noted. “First we’ll see if we can get enough horses to pull it out of there,” Siddoway said. “It has to start in that House committee.”
HB 548, the income tax cut bill, passed the House on a 54-13 vote on Monday; it has 37 co-sponsors, all house Republicans, including House Speaker Scott Bedke and Majority Leader Mike Moyle. It would phase in $126 million in tax cuts over the next six years.
SB 1254, the guns on campus bill, has passed the House on a 50-19 vote, and now goes to Gov. Butch Otter. All 13 House Democrats voted no, as did six Republicans, Reps. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake; George Eskridge, R-Dover; Maxine Bell, R-Jerome; Darrell Bolz, R-Caldwell; Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls; and Lynn Luker, R-Boise. All other Republicans voted yes, except Rep. Cindy Agidius, R-Moscow, who missed the vote.
After an hour and a half, the House debate on SB 1254, the guns on campus bill, has wrapped up, and Reps. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, and Christy Perry, R-Nampa, are giving their closing debate. “The authority surrounding the 2nd Amendment has always resided within the Idaho Legislature,” Perry told the House. “Agency heads are not elected - they do not have the same accountability. … Handing the authority to the multiple boards of trustees has not worked well for Idaho citizens. … Send it back to the Legislature where it actually belongs.” The vote is up next.
More from today’s guns-on-campus bill debate in the House:
Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, complimented House State Affairs Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, for how he ran the earlier committee hearing on the bill. “We were there for seven hours, we heard everyone who wanted to speak, and I learned a lot. I appreciate that,” Gannon said. He questioned whether Idaho adequately checks whether people who get concealed weapons permits suffer from a mental disability. “I want my kids safe,” he said. “I don’t want somebody coming on that campus with a gun and start shooting people.”
Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, said, “I do not believe this bill does anything but establish a policy giving a few people comfort that they can carry on campus.” He said he supports gun rights, but raised a number of concerns about the bill as written. “This bill is constitutional. So is the law that it’s modifying,” Clow said.
Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, said university officials “gave us some very compelling reasons to reject this bill.” He said, “I, like you, have received the emails, they’re overwhelmingly against this.” But he said he’s watched a video clip - “I’ve seen it more than once” – about a University of Nevada-Reno student who was raped at gunpoint in a campus parking lot, and who didn’t have her gun because they weren’t allowed on campus. “I cannot in good conscience vote to deny that young lady or any other person from the right to exercise the choice to defend themselves, when it is guaranteed in both the federal and state constitutions,” Andrus said. “I cannot go there, and I hope you cannot go there either.”
Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said, “Eighty percent of the firearm deaths in Idaho are self-inflicted gunshot wounds. The highest percentage of suicide attempts is in adolescent and young adult males. I think that’s a deadly combination that we’re setting ourselves up for.”
Rep. Jason Monks, R-Meridian, said if people can’t have guns on campus and they’re on campus regularly, that essentially bans them from having guns at all during their day. “What are they supposed to do with it?” he asked. “We’ve effectively said all week long, you’re not allowed to do it, and I don’t think the Constitution said that your right to bear arms was only on the weekends. Effectively that’s what we’re doing here. What are you supposed to do if you can’t take it with you in the morning, you’ve got no place to put it in the afternoon, you can’t go to the store, you can’t go to the restaurant afterward?”
Here’s some of the debate in the House this afternoon on SB 1254, the guns-on-campus bill:
Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, an attorney, said, “Idaho courts have found that restrictions on guns in schools are legitimate under the Idaho Constitution. … This is really just a question of policy.” She noted that the state’s public colleges and universities say it will cost them millions to comply with the bill, though the measure says it will have only a “de minimus” cost for signage. “Where are we going to find this money? This bill sure doesn’t provide it,” Rubel said. “And what’s the justification of this financial knee-capping of colleges? … Just to make an abstract philosophical statement?”
Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, asked Rubel, “What do you think the price of an individual’s freedom and their personal safety is? What kind of price tag would you put on that?” Though both House Speaker Scott Bedke and House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, took issue with the question, Rubel said she was willing to answer it. “I have seen no indication that this bill would in any way improve anyone’s personal safety, so I think the question is a little bit moot,” she told Crane, adding that she thought it could be argued that the bill would actually reduce people’s safety.
Rep. Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, told the House, “So few people are asking for this. It wasn’t something that was a crisis to this Legislature in the first place. In fact, my district, the district that I represent, has emphatically rejected this legislation, and I know that other districts have emphatically rejected this legislation.” At the end of his comments, after mentioning problems like bullying, Erpelding said he thought right after this debate, the Legislature should “add the words,” referring to banning discrimination against gays; his comment prompted immediate objections from several House Republicans.
Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, told the House, “Ladies and gentlemen, you know where this is coming from. We’ve got people all across the United States who are very unhappy about the assault that has been coming for years on the ability to bear and keep arms and protect ourselves. Probably any one of you that’s tried to buy ammunition knows what is going on in the United States. This isn’t by accident, we all know that. We know that there is a certain feeling across the country that there needs to be much more control on arms. … Can you really blame us for taking tiny steps, which we’ve been doing for some time, to try to secure our right to defend ourselves?”
The House has convened for its afternoon session, and quickly disposed of its first bill at hand unanimously. Now, it's time for the guns-on-campus bill. Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, is opening the debate on SB 1254.
“This is the bill that you’ve all been hearing about and waiting for,” Boyle said, and read from the Idaho Constitution, “The people have the right to keep and bear arms, which right shall not be abridged; but this provision shall not prevent the passage of laws to govern the carrying of weapons concealed on the person.”
She said, “The Legislature can regulate carry-concealed licenses, but not open carry, unless we change our Constitution. This bill does not change our Constitution. It does not do anything with open carry at this time. It does set restrictions on guns on campus.” Boyle yielded to Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa, to finish the opening debate in favor of the bill. “The presence of firearms (carried) by law-abiding citizens has never been proven to cause crime rates to go up,” Perry told the House. “There is no reason for anyone to restrict their rights.”
“Most of you know that I do carry a gun with me,” Perry said. She shared a story from years ago, in which she said she was driving on a darkened road at 5 a.m. when the driver ahead of her was driving erratically, slamming on the vehicle’s brakes. She attempted to pass, and the other driver ran her off the road, into the ditch. As she sat there fumbling for her phone, she said, the other driver approached her car. “I grabbed my gun,” she said. “The person came back, I held the gun in the window. … When they looked at it, they took off at a high speed. I didn’t have to do anything else. I did call the police. … I did get a license number. … I was still extremely scared to even be put in that position.” She said, “It’s my right to be able to defend myself, regardless of where I’m going to be.”
SB 1254 would allow retired law enforcement officers or anyone with Idaho's new enhanced concealed weapons permit to carry a gun on Idaho's public college or university campuses, anywhere except in a dorm or a large entertainment venue seating more than 1,000 people. The bill is opposed by all of the state's public colleges and universities and the State Board of Education. Currently, Idaho law lets public colleges and universities regulate guns on their own campuses; all ban them in most cases.
The House has recessed until 1:30, with just one more bill left to address before it gets to SB 1254, the controversial bill to allow guns on Idaho public colleges and university campuses. All of Idaho's public college and university presidents oppose the bill, as does the state Board of Education, but it's already passed the Senate. The National Rifle Association-backed bill is expected to pass, and Gov. Butch Otter has said he supports it.
Meanwhile, the Senate has recessed until 4 p.m.
HB 550, the supplemental appropriation bill to pay $6.6 million in state general funds to Education Networks of America to make up for missing federal e-rate funds that haven’t arrived as scheduled this year to fund the Idaho Education Network, has passed the Senate on a unanimous, 35-0 vote. “This stinks, but it is something we have to do,” said Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene. “We can’t turn the lights off on our students.” Goedde said he’s also plenty steamed at the state Department of Administration for extending the contract with ENA through 2019 without informing lawmakers.
Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said the bill is something “many of us will have to plug our nose and vote for, because not to do so would not necessarily harm ENA, it would not necessarily harm the Department of Administration, it would harm the kids that are participating in the Idaho Education Network.” The IEN is a broadband network that links every Idaho high school and also provides video-conferencing.
Cameron added, “Frankly, based on our discussions with legal counsel, we are obligated for this piece. I need to inform you that this is the first half. The second half we are still arguing and discussing and re-discussing what we do for fiscal year 2015. … This is for this current fiscal year.” The bill earlier passed the House 66-1, with only Rep. Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton, objecting; it now heads to the governor’s desk.
HB 567, Rep. Janet Trujillo’s parental rights bill, has passed the House on a 64-5 vote, after House members had lots of questions for Trujillo about what the bill actually does, including whether it would allow parents to opt their child out of standardized testing. “No, this is not an opt-out statute,” Trujillo replied. “Now, there are many states that within their statutes do have opt-out policies, but within Idaho we prefer to handle that on the local district level, and your individual district may have opt-out policies already in place.”
When the bill had its House committee hearing earlier, two supporters testified in favor of the bill, saying it would let them opt out of standardized testing for their kids. Trujillo said attorneys for the state school boards association examined the wording of the rather vague bill and “they were very comfortable with it.” The measure, which has 18 GOP co-sponsors, now moves to a Senate committee. It says parents and legal guardians have “a right, responsibility and obligation to participate in the education of such minor children.”
Both the House and the Senate are now in session; House Majority Leader Mike Moyle said the House will first suspend rules and take up those House bills that are on its 2nd reading calendar, and then it’ll start working its way down its 3rd reading calendar. The controversial guns-on-campus bill, SB 1254, is on the 3rd reading calendar, and it’s the 11th bill down. There are six House bills on the 2nd reading calendar that will be taken up first. So, depending on how much debate there is on the various bills, the House may or may not get to SB 1254 this morning; it will reconvene this afternoon after a lunch break following its morning session.
In the Senate, senators also are planning to suspend their rules in order to take up Senate bills on their 2nd reading calendar. In addition, Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis advised the Senate that senators will go into their 14th order for amendments this morning, and again this afternoon as additional bills arrive there; the Senate will reconvene for its late-afternoon session after its afternoon committee hearings.
About 35 Add the Words protesters are ringing the 3rd floor Statehouse rotunda today, each in turn telling their stories of discrimination and why they're involved with the movement, while the others stand with their hands covering their mouths. The voices are ringing down through the Capitol rotunda. Later, the protesters all began reading their stories at once and repeatedly, creating a loud cacophony.
The protesters want the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” added to the Idaho Human Rights Act, to ban discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations based on those factors.