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Posts tagged: 2011 Idaho Legislature

Federal judge overturns both of last session’s new anti-union laws

A federal judge has invalidated both the new anti-union laws pushed through by Idaho GOP lawmakers last session, saying they violate federal law. The two measures, SB 1007 and 1006, both expansions of Idaho's Right-to-Work law, sought to ban “job targeting programs” and “project labor agreements” and proposed steep penalties for violations; an injunction in July blocked SB 1007 from taking effect.

Both bills were sponsored by Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, who acknowledged that there was “a lot of talk about” legal issues with the bills, but said, “I thought that we were OK.” Goedde said, “We had instances where the carpenters union from Portland was disrupting work, and I think that was the real emphasis behind the effort.” He said the issue was brought to him by former state lawmaker Dean Haagenson of Coeur d'Alene, who is with the Inland Empire Associated Building Contractors. The Inland ABC, which filed an amicus brief in the case supporting the two bills, already has filed a notice of appeal to the 9th Circuit, saying it should have been allowed to intervene as a full party in the case.

U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill wrote in his 39-page decision that the various programs targeted by the bills weren't, as the Inland ABC argued, “a form of compulsory unionism.” Wrote Winmill, “Nothing about a job targeting program … makes union membership compulsory. Because Idaho is a right-to-work state, membership in any local in Idaho is entirely voluntary.”

John Littel, regional political director for the Carpenters Union, said, “We were pretty surprised about how much momentum there was to really, I think, try to take a bite out of the unions, and specifically the carpenters.” He added, “Regardless of what a legislator thinks or feels about a union's right to exist or not, these are protected activities.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Judge blocks anti-union law, says practice proposed for ban is protected by fed law, saves money

Here's a link to the 22-page decision from U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill granting a motion for a preliminary injunction to block a new Idaho anti-union law from taking effect; Winmill issued his decision on Friday. At issue is SB 1007, the “Fairness in Contracting Law,” which otherwise would have taken effect Friday and sought to ban unions from using dues funds to subsidize members' wages to help contractors win project bids.

Winmill ruled that the law directly conflicted with federal law, which protects such “job targeting” programs. Plus, he wrote, “There is some evidence that job targeting programs may have resulted in financial savings on state and local public work projects.” The bill passed amid a flurry of anti-union zeal in this year's Idaho Legislature, reportes John Miller of the Associated Press; click below for his full report.

Court considers blocking new anti-union laws

A federal judge is now pondering whether Idaho's newest anti-union laws should be blocked while they're challenged in court, the Associated Press reports; the two laws, intended to weaken the power of labor organizations in Idaho, were passed during the 2011 legislative session and are scheduled to take effect July 1. Two unions are challenging the measures as unconstitutional; U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill is expected to rule this week on a request for a preliminary injunction; click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

E. Idaho roads dustup stretches from state Capitol to the courts…

Over the holiday weekend, the Idaho Falls Post Register broke a story about House Speaker Lawerence Denney and House State Affairs Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, sidetracking and killing a bill regarding disputes over county roads, while Loertscher and former state Sen. Stan Hawkins were in the midst of a dispute over county roads in Bonneville County - they filed a lawsuit in April seeking to declare three designated county roads there as private, over the objections of neighbors who no longer would be able to use them. The Post Register is calling for an ethics investigation; you can read their Sunday editorial here and the Friday article here by reporter Emma Breysse.

A capitol year for unusual ideas…

It wasn't just in Idaho that state lawmakers ventured onto unusual ground this year, attempting to unilaterally nullify a federal law, debating allowing guns on state college campuses and nearly cutting off unemployed Idahoans from receiving federal extended unemployment benefits on grounds that the benefits will make them lazy. Montana lawmakers backed a bill to let local sheriffs stop federal law enforcement officers from making arrests in their counties, though the governor vetoed it. They also debated measures to legalize hunting with a hand-thrown spear and declare global warming “beneficial to the welfare and business climate of Montana.” Florida legislators outlawed droopy pants on schoolkids that show their underwear. Illinois made it legal to pick up road-killed animals for food or fur, saying it'll clean up the roads.

Utah lawmakers ordered schools to teach kids that the United States is a “compound constitutional republic” rather than a democracy, after the bill's sponsor said “schools from coast to coast are indoctrinating children to socialism.” South Carolina looked at setting up its own gold or silver currency in case the federal reserve system fails. And a Georgia lawmaker pushed unsuccessfully to abolish driver's licenses because he said requiring them violates people's “inalienable right” to travel.

“I don't know how many of these are going to become laws or withstand constitutional scrutiny, but it does seem like you have a wider range of ideas that are out there now,” said Seth Masket, a political scientist at the University of Denver who studies state legislatures. “For those who are concerned that politicians have just been peddling the same old ideas for years, this seems like a very good thing. … You have some people who are willing to think outside of the box.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
  

Idaho’s day-care wars didn’t end in ‘09, but new law this year could settle issue

When Idaho passed landmark legislation two years ago to, for the first time, require state licensing of day-care operations that served fewer than 13 kids, the state's day-care wars didn't end. Instead, social conservatives in the Idaho House who opposed the whole idea of day-care regulation - including some who said mothers should just stay home with their kids - blocked approval of the rules to implement the new law two years running, though it took effect anyway under temporary rules.

Now, a compromise reached at the close of this year's legislative session between the House and Senate has brought changes to the law that all sides expect to settle the issue, in part by removing all maximum group sizes for child care operations and restructuring required staff-child ratios. Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, said, “It is simple, it's easy to understand, and it's easy for people to comply with.” Broadsword, who along with Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, revamped HB 129 to remove House-backed changes including no longer counting kids of providers in staff-child ratios, said, “I think that everybody had the best interest of the children of Idaho at heart. We just saw different ways to get there.” You can read my full story here from Sunday's Spokesman-Review.

AARP: Lawmakers ignore voices of older voters, campaign finance reforms needed

The Idaho AARP has issued a new report on campaign contributions in Idaho, concluding that corporations, businesses and PACS spent $2.7 million on Idaho's winning 2010 campaigns for governor, lieutenant governor and state Legislature; that 35 percent of those contributions came from outside Idaho; and that 34 legislators received 90 percent or more of their campaign contributions from those groups - including seven for whom it was 100 percent. The report also showed that nearly 90 percent of lawmakers got the majority of their campaign funds from corporations, businesses and PACs.

Idaho AARP State Director Jim Wordelman said the group was disappointed with the Legislature's lack of response to AARP members' concerns, including finding new revenues to address the state budget shortfall, such as closing business tax loopholes, rather than cutting programs; and protecting the wishes of dying patients from being overridden by the conscience concerns of medical providers. “The outcomes of this past legislative session left many AARP members believing that Idaho has a golden rule, and that is, those who have the gold make the rules,” Wordelman said. “When the most powerful voting group in Idaho, voters aged 50 and older, feels that their voices and issues are ignored by state lawmakers, we've got an issue of public confidence in the system.”

The seniors group is calling for requiring Idaho candidates to raise the majority of their campaign funds from individuals living in their districts; limiting contributions to and by PACs; and limiting contributions to state political parties. You can see the AARP's full report here, and its statement here.

IEA files suit to challenge SB 1108, the teacher-contracts bill

The Idaho Education Association filed a lawsuit in 4th District Court in Ada County today challenging the constitutionality of SB 1108, the bill to remove most collective bargaining rights from Idaho teachers, and related “trailer” bills including one adding an emergency clause to that measure. “Because the Legislature, Gov. Otter and State Superintendent Luna failed to listen to the voices of Idaho citizens and, in the case of SB 1108 and the trailer bills, overstepped their legal bounds, the IEA supports citizen efforts to place referenda on the ballot challenging the Luna laws,” said Sherri Wood, IEA president.  “Likewise, we will challenge the constitutionality of SB 1108 and the trailer bills.”

You can read the group's legal complaint here, and its news release here, and read our full story here at spokesman.com.

Rusche: Otter veto ‘prevented legal mayhem’

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, a pediatrician, is praising GOP Gov. Butch Otter's veto of HB 298, the grandson-of-nullification bill on health care reform, saying, “Gov. Otter prevented legal mayhem - for that he is to be thanked.” He has concerns, however, about the executive order Otter signed the same day he vetoed the bill, echoing many of the bill's provisions but allowing waivers with his personal signoff; click below to read Rusche's full op-ed piece.

Session’s tally: 335 of 336 bills that passed both houses became law

Here's a  link to my full story at spokesman.com on how final piece of legislation from Idaho's  tumultuous 2011 legislative session has been allowed to become law without the governor's signature, adding a one-year phaseout to a funding cut for school districts that lose enrollment from one year to the next. That makes a total 335 of the 336 bills passed this year that Otter's allowed to become law, four of them without his signature; he vetoed just one.

The reason: Otter didn’t like phaseout of 99% funding floor for school districts

Gov. Butch Otter's education adviser, Roger Brown, says the reason Otter decided to let HB 315 become law without his signature was that he “wasn't crazy about” its provision for a one-year phaseout of the 99 percent funding floor for school districts; the bill creates a one-year, 97 percent funding floor to ease the transition as that funding protection goes away. “If the districts were going to get all these new tools and all this ability to manage those contracts, and we have technically the ability now to follow our students in real time and more closely link the funding to the student, then there's no need for the 99 percent protection,” Brown said. But, he said, it was “important to some of the legislators who worked so hard on this.”

Otter didn't have a problem with the bill's other piece, Brown said, which removed a requirement to pay 10 percent severance payments to teachers laid off in the fall due to unexpected drops in enrollment.

Otter allows school-funding floor bill, HB 315, to become law without his signature

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has allowed HB 315, legislation from Rep. Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, regarding school funding and teacher contracts, to become law without his signature. There's no word yet on why the governor took that stance, which signals he had a problem with the bill but still opted to let it take effect. Roberts' bill, which you can read here, provides a one-year partial phase-out of the current state funding provision that protects school districts that see sharp drops in student enrollment from one year to the next from correspondingly sharp swings in their state funding; until now, those districts were eligible for 99 percent of their state funding the year before as a “floor.” Under HB 315, next year they'd be eligible for 97 percent, and after that, there'd be no more funding “floor” protection.

The bill also eliminates a provision of SB 1108, one of state schools Supt. Tom Luna's school reform bills, that would have ordered 10 percent severance payments to teachers laid off in the fall as a result of enrollment drops. SB 1108 is the same bill that eliminated the 99 percent funding floor.

So far this year, Otter has signed 332 bills into law, vetoed one, and allowed three others to become law without his signature. The earlier ones were HB 17, a measure from the Idaho Transportation Department to have Idaho comply with federal rules on reporting of medical conditions by holders of commercial drivers licenses - if Idaho didn't comply, it stood to lose a big chunk of its federal highway funds; HB 144, restoring the slice of the state's fuel tax distribution that helps fund the Idaho State Police and state parks trails programs - Otter had sought to shift those costs two years ago as part of his bid to increase highway funding; and SB 1071a, providing for the display of the POW/MIA flag; Otter said he wanted broader rules allowing for more display of the flag, something he'll propose next year.

The one bill Otter vetoed: HB 298, the final version of the “nullification” bill on national health care reform; he replaced it with an executive order with some of the same provisions; you can read that here.

Otter on veto: ‘No one has opposed Obamacare more vehemently than me’

You can read my full story here at spokesman.com on Gov. Butch Otter's first - and only - veto of legislation this year, in which he vetoed the final version of the health care reform “nullification” bill, HB 298. Otter said Idaho can set up its own health care exchange regardless of the national law - and if it doesn't, under the law, the federal government could step in and set up Idaho's exchange as the feds see fit. Otter said he was for the idea of an exchange “before the concept was co-opted by the national government,” and declared, “No one has opposed Obamacare more vehemently than me.”

Otter’s veto message…

Here's a link to Gov. Butch Otter's veto message on HB 298, the final version of the “nullification” bill on the national health care reform law. “Even though I vetoed the bill today, I have issued an executive order … prohibiting state agencies and departments from implementing Obamacare, while allowing us to develop our own health care solutions,” Otter wrote. “That avoids the unintended consequences of this legislation and strikes an appropriate balance between achieving the spirit of HB 298 - which I support - and my desire to not capitulate to the national government.”

This is the first and only bill Otter has vetoed this year, from all the legislation passed in the 2011 Idaho legislative session.

Otter vetoes final version of nullification bill

Gov. Butch Otter has vetoed HB 298, the final version of a much-debated legislative effort to “nullify” the federal health care reform law; the bill declared that Idaho wouldn't comply with discretionary provisions of the law for one year, made various declarations, and prohibited the state from accepting federal money to implement the federal law. Here's a link to the bill. An earlier version that sought to declare the national law void passed the House despite two Idaho attorney general's opinions warning that it violated both the U.S. and Idaho constitutions and lawmakers' oath of office; after that bill died in a Senate committee, HB 298, variously described as “grandson of nullification,” “nullification-lite” and the “watered-down” version, passed both houses.

Of politics, power and brinksmanship…

When lawmakers were considering the fate of Idaho's renewable energy sales tax rebate, a lobbyist for a major wind developer told them that without it, hundreds of millions worth of his company's projects in Idaho would be canceled. The rebate was killed by one vote in the final moments of the session, but the wind energy firm has retreated from the threat. AP reporter John Miller reports that the brinksmanship is nothing new to the Idaho Legislature, especially when millions are at stake - grocery chain Albertson's Inc. did it in 2005, threatening then-Gov. Dirk Kempthorne's administration it would move elsewhere without lucrative concessions. Lawmakers went along, but Albertson's was sold just months later to an out-of-state competitor. Click below for his full report.

Best, worst, or something else?

The conclusion of this year's legislative session has prompted widely differing takes on how it went, from Gov. Butch Otter giving lawmakers a grade of “A” to Senate Democrats' pronouncement that the session was the “worst in memory.” On tonight's “Idaho Reports” on Idaho Public Television, editorial writers from around the state weigh in, and Times-News editorialist Steve Crump, Post Register editorial writer Corey Taule in Idaho Falls, Jim Weatherby and I join host Greg Hahn to discuss some of the fallout. The show airs tonight at 8 p.m., then re-airs Sunday at 10:30 a.m. Mountain time, 9:30 a.m. Pacific; it also can be seen online at www.idahoptv.org.

NEA president in Boise talk on Luna plan: ‘It’s about political payback’

The president of the National Education Association, Dennis Van Roekel, spoke to the Idaho Education Association's delegate assembly today in Boise, and spoke out against the Idaho school reform bills pushed by state schools Superintendent Tom Luna. He likened the Luna legislation to moves against public employee unions in Wisconsin and other states, and said it's “not about education. What it’s about is political payback. It’s about wealthy CEOs who put themselves before country and put making money before everything else. It’s the wrong direction for America.”

You can read the IEA's full news release here.

Otter says he hopes closed primary won’t hurt turnout, but ‘this is now the law’

Gov. Butch Otter has signed into law historic changes in Idaho's election system, requiring, for the first time, that all Idahoans publicly declare their party affiliation to vote in the state's primary election. “I felt that that was a compromise effort between the House and the Senate,” Otter said of the closed-primary bill. “With the judge's ruling, there weren't very many other alternatives that we felt could meet constitutional muster.”

Otter said he's “not an advocate of closing the primary,” and said, “In fact, I think the Republican Party has done an outstanding job over the years being able to attract not only members of the Democratic Party but a majority of the independents. … But it was an agreement that was worked out with the House and the Senate and the leadership on both sides.” Otter also signed legislation to pay $100,000 to the Idaho GOP for its legal costs in suing the state to overturn the current system. You can read my full story here on the governor's assessment of this year's legislative session, which he offered in a news conference in his office today.

Asked if he thought the new system might dissuade some Idahoans from voting in the primary, Otter said, “I hope it doesn't.” He said, “I've always been concerned about folks having to register for one party or another, because, you know, I think that's their personal and their quiet decision and that should be made on their own.” He said, “It may be something, people just say, 'I don't want to have to declare what party I want to belong to.' But this is now the law, this is what the members of the Republican Party fought for, and that's now where we are.”

Otter: Session ‘a very successful one’

Gov. Butch Otter declared this year's legislative session “a very successful one,” saying, “It was a successful legislative session for myself and my administration.” He said if he had to give the session a grade, “I'd give em an A, I feel comfortable with that. And that's not a social advancement either.”

Otter said his proudest achievement of the session was balancing the state budget without raising taxes; he also cited the school reform legislation, and defended his signing of emergency-clause bills for each of the school reform bills, which he did quietly this week. “If we hadn't had an emergency clause in those, obviously we would have been waiting to see, No. 1, whether or not the referendum got on the ballot, and then 18 months from now, whether or not the referendum passes to repeal those bills,” Otter said. “I believe there's sufficient promise, and that's why I worked so hard on them, I think we were very successful in making the kinds of accommodations and adjustments in the legislative package that the Legislature finally accepted. … But I see no reason to wait. They're great ideas.”

The governor also said he signed the 20-week abortion ban bill into law yesterday, also with no announcement or fanfare. “I signed it because I thought it was the right thing to do,” he said. “I've been a right-to-life candidate … all my life.” The bill bans abortions after 20 weeks on grounds of fetal pain, except to save the life or physical health of the mother; it includes no exceptions for rape, incest, severe fetal deformity or the mental or psychological health of the mother. Otter said he thinks “there's enough safeguards … that it doesn't infringe, I believe, on Roe v. Wade. Obviously, I have a different analysis of that than the attorney general.”

He also said he hasn't yet signed the wolf emergency bill, and is waiting to see what happens in Congress with legislation that would remove the wolf from endangered species protection in Idaho. If that legislation passes - it's part of a major congressional budget bill - Otter said, “We would not need that wolf bill.”
  

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About this blog

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

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

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