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Posts tagged: 2011 Idaho Legislature

Otter signs closed-primary law, $100K payment to GOP, and school reform ‘emergency’ bills

Gov. Butch Otter has signed major legislation into law to impose party registration in Idaho and close the state's primary elections if parties choose to exclude anyone other than those registered as party members; he quietly signed HB 351 into law yesterday. Also, the same day, Otter quietly signed SB 1202 into law, making a $100,000 payment to the Idaho Republican Party for its legal fees in its successful lawsuit against the state that overturned the state's current primary election law as unconstitutional, because it kept the GOP from closing its primary.

Also, on Monday, Otter quietly signed all three “trailer bills,” bills that trail after and amend others, to amend the three already-signed education reform bills, SB 1108 on teacher contracts, SB 1110 on teacher merit pay, and SB 1184 on technology, by adding emergency clauses. The emergency clauses ensure that even if voter referenda qualify for the ballot in a bid to overturn those laws in the November 2012 general election, they aren't blocked from taking effect between now and then.

At 10:30 this morning, Otter will give his take on the legislative session in a press conference; it will be streamed live on the Internet, and you can watch here.

Jobs bill praised as one of few bright spots for job creation in session

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter signed a tax incentive bill into law Wednesday for new hires that's winning bipartisan praise as a bright spot in addressing Idaho's biggest issue this year - job creation - but there were few others in this year's legislative session. “I don't think as long as you've got one person in the state of Idaho out of work, we're ever doing enough,” said Otter, who noted that 74,000 Idahoans are now unemployed. “We're doing what we can.” You can read my full story here at

The bill, HB 297a, passed during the same legislative session in which lawmakers killed the state's major tax incentive for alternative energy development in a spat over neighbors' objections to wind turbines, and cut hundreds of public- and private-sector jobs through budget cuts in education and Medicaid. In this year's Boise State University public policy survey, Idahoans listed jobs as by far the most important issue facing the state.

Otter signs jobs bill; lauds bipartisan effort

Gov. Butch Otter has signed HB 297a into law, his “Hire One Act” to give a tax credit to employers who make new hires. “This was a bipartisan effort, and for as much of the things that we had disagreement on, we had a lot of agreement on this,” Otter declared. Among those joining him as he signed the bill were GOP floor sponsors Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell; and Rep. Mike Moyle, R-Star; Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, who said, “I think it enjoyed very broad bipartisan support - the need is obvious … Hopefuly this bill can make a difference;” Chamber of Commerce representatives; and Reps. Julie Ellsworth and Mitch Toryanski, Boise Boise Republicans who were among the bill's co-sponsors, and both targets of a recall effort launched yesterday over their votes on school reform legislation; neither Ellsworth nor Toryanski spoke during the bill-signing.

McGee said when he and Otter campaigned together last fall, “Across the state of Idaho, one thing that kept coming up over and over was jobs - and this legislation directly takes on that issue and improves the situation. I think it's going to be very successful.”

Otter said, “I don't think as long as you've got one person in the state of Idaho of work we're doing enough. We're doing what we can. We're doing what we believe. We know it's going to cost the state a little over $7.5 million, but we think the result of that is going to be about a $25 million income to the state,” as those newly employed workers pay taxes.

Under the bill, for-profit Idaho employers who make new hires on or after April 15 - this Friday - would be eligible for a tax credit if the jobs include health benefits and pay at least $12 an hour in counties where employment is above 10 percent, or $15 an hour in counties where it's below 10 percent. The amount of the credit would vary from 2 to 6 percent of the new worker's gross wages, based on the employer's rating in the state unemployment insurance program; that's to ensure that employers who laid off workers during the recession and are just now hiring them back aren't rewarded as much as those who kept their workers on, and now are expanding.

The refundable tax credit expires on Jan. 1, 2014. Otter said Idaho could have done more to promote job-creation. But, he said, “What we were looking for was something that was either revenue-positive or revenue-neutral, and this is what we came up with.” He said he's confident the “Hire One Act” will come out “revenue-positive” for the state.

After the session…

Here's a link to my Sunday story on the issues and outcomes of this year's legislative session, and here's a link to my Sunday column. As for me, after a really great closing weekend of skiing at Bogus Basin (no, that's not me in this Charlie Litchfield photo; it's Joe Reitan of Boise who donned a cookie monster outfit for the final day of skiing), I'm taking a couple of days off; I'll be back Wednesday.

The week that was…

On tonight's “Idaho Reports” on Idaho Public Television, I join Jim Weatherby, Kevin Richert, John Miller and host Greg Hahn to discuss the events of the week. 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 There's also a “Web Extra” of our continued discussion after the show; you can see that at

Click here to see a slide show of the week in pictures, as the 13th and final week of Idaho's 2011 legislative session comes to a close. Let your cursor hover over the bottom part of the frame as the pictures show, to see the captions.

Hagedorn detains intruder at gunpoint

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Republican lawmaker Marv Hagedorn says he detained an intoxicated intruder at gunpoint outside his Meridian home until police arrived on scene. Meridian police say they apprehended 21-year-old Nicholas Kuklish at Hagedorn's home. Police told the Idaho Statesman that Kuklish was extremely intoxicated and had used Hagedorn's hot tub, thinking he was at his own house located about a half-mile from the Hagedorn home. Hagedorn is a Navy veteran and one of the leading lawmakers who pressed this session for a bill allowing guns on college campuses. He sometimes carries a firearm at the Capitol. Hagedorn says he was awakened by his wife after 3 a.m. Friday, grabbed a semi-automatic pistol and found Kuklish outside. He told the Statesman it took at least four minutes for police to arrive. Kuklish is facing trespassing charges.

House Dems: ‘A Legislature run amok’

House Democrats called a press conference today to share their views of this year's legislative session, and Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said,  “In the exercise of absolute power the Republicans bullied, blustered and bungled their way through an extremist agenda that suggests to us that they are out of touch with average Idahoans.” He said, “For the last three months, reasonable discourse was discouraged, independent thinking was punished. Extremism was rewarded. … And Republican leadership didn't listen. They didn't listen to us, they didn't listen to dissenting voices in their own party, and they certainly didn't listen to the people of Idaho. This is a Legislature that has run amok, with no accountability to the people.” You can read the Dems' full statement here.

IBCEE didn’t endorse SB 1184, the technology and online reform bill

When Gov. Butch Otter opened his signing ceremony this morning on SB 1184, the school technology and online learning bill, he began by recalling consulting with the Idaho Business Coalition for Education Excellence, a group of business leaders, when he first became governor. “I think we will have fulfilled the vision of the IBCEE,” Otter declared. However, when asked if that group has endorsed SB 1184, Otter said, “I don't know.”

In fact, asked that same question, Christine Donnell, IBCEE executive director, said, “No, they didn't.” She said, “It came along pretty quickly after the first two of Tom Luna's reform bills went through. we had not had a meeting, we didn't feel like we had vetted the changes very well in terms of explaining it to our members and getting their feedback, so we just didn't take a position on it at all.”

The business group testified in favor of the first two reform bills in the Otter/Luna package, but not SB 1184. “IBCEE's membership just said we strongly support reform,” Donnell said. “They did not want to get into the details of it, did not want to take a positon on how many online courses, or the whole issue about the technology, class sizes, none of it. They just said they strongly supported the Students Come First plan, but just not into the details.”

Otter: Referendum a ‘responsibility and a right’

Asked about a potential referendum to overturn the school reforms he'd just signed into law, Gov. Butch Otter said today, “The people have a responsibility and they have a right and they have the power to engage in a referendum to change whatever they think is wrong.” He said, “That's covered in our Constitution - we the people that are the government.”

Referendum drive launched to overturn SB 1184

No sooner had Gov. Butch Otter signed SB 1184, the third major school-reform bill, into law, than a new group of parents and teachers calling itself “Idahoans for Responsible Education Reform” had delivered the preliminary paperwork to the Idaho Secretary of State's office for a referendum seeking to overturn the new law. “Frankly, this is very much a parent-driven effort,” said Mike Lanza, a Boise father of two who's joined Boise parent Maria Greeley to form the new group. Secretary of State Ben Ysursa received the documents and said, “We'll expedite this … the clock is ticking.” The referendum supporters now have 60 days from yesterday to gather 47,432 signatures from registered voters to overturn each of the three main school reform bills, SB 1184 on technology and online learning, SB 1110 on teacher merit-pay bonuses and SB 1108 removing most collective bargaining rights from teachers.

“We are here because thousands of emails, thousands of people attending rallies across Idaho, and the testimony of parents, school board members, school administrators and teachers did not matter to Gov. Otter and the majority of the state Legislature,” Lanza said. “Idahoans made it clear that we do not want to trade teachers for laptops and required online courses. And we do not support laws that accomplish little beyond denigrating teachers. The governor and Legislature rammed this plan through against the overwhelming opposition of the public. They passed it despite being told by administrators and teachers who will have to implement this poorly designed plan that it will be a financial and educational disaster for Idaho's public schools.”

He said, “The truth is we should not have to pursue this referendum effort. We should be able to rely on our elected representatives to respect the will of their constituents. By signing the last bill this morning, Gov. Otter sent a clear message that he, Supt. Luna and their supporters in the Legislature have chosen their political agenda over public opinion.”

Four online classes: ‘That’s the minimum’

State schools Supt. Tom Luna now says it was a “misquote” when the New York Times quoted him this week saying that he'll ask the state Board of Education to require four online classes for graduation, though he then repeated that. “I was very comfortable with four,” he said. “That will be the starting number. This decision is going to be made after a lot of research and a lot of discussion through the work of the state board. I am confident that we will have some number. And we have many states that are beginning to adopt graduation requirements when it comes to online credits. … I think four is a reasonable number.” Gov. Butch Otter then added, “That's the minimum. … That's going to be the minimum . And if we experience in Idaho the same things other states have experienced,” Otter said students likely will be taking “12 or 15” online classes.

Otter signs third school-reform bill

Gov. Butch Otter has signed SB 1184 into law, the third major school-reform bill, saying, “The system we had wasn't working, wasn't producing the kind of students that we needed.” The bill shifts funds from teacher salaries to technology boosts and a merit-pay program, and brings a new focus on online learning. “With the signing of this bill, the work will just begin,” Otter said. “There are those that want us to fail - we are not going to fail. We're going to push this education package, this reform, until it meets the needs of our future workforce, until it meets the needs of students today.”

State schools Supt. Tom Luna, who joined Otter at the signing along with a big group of legislative sponsors and supporters, said, “This is a great monumental day for students in Idaho, for the children in Idaho.” He said the bills will do “things that we know we should have done long ago.” The other two pieces of the plan, already quietly signed into law, remove most collective bargaining rights from teachers and set up a merit-pay bonus system.

Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, said when he first heard from Otter in November that “we need to talk about education reform … I had no idea of the depth of reform that we were talking about. … It's landmark legislation.” House Education Vice Chair Mack Shirley, R-Rexburg, filling in for House Education Chairman Bob Nonini, said, “I think every teacher will be a better teacher with the proper utilization of technology in the classroom.”

Day after: The $100,000 story, school-reform signing, referendum launch

Here's a link to my full story in today's Spokesman-Review on how lawmakers rushed a bill through in the final days of the legislative session to pay $100,000 to the Idaho Republican Party for its attorney fees in its successful lawsuit to overturn Idaho's open primary election system; that bill now awaits action by Gov. Butch Otter.

Meanwhile, Otter is scheduled to sign SB 1184, the third major school-reform bill that shifts resources from teacher salaries to technology boosts, online learning and and a teacher merit-pay plan, at 10:30 this morning, joined by state schools Supt. Tom Luna and legislative sponsors.

And a group called “Idahoans for Responsible Education Reform” has announced it'll launch a referendum drive to overturn 1184 an hour later; you can read their announcement here. Also, House Democrats will hold a press conference after the governor's bill-signing to discuss this year's legislative session.

Last day matches prickly session…

The Senate killed a hard-fought energy compromise by one vote, the House speaker booted two moderates out of their committee chairmanships, and Idaho's wild 2011 legislative session ground to a finish Thursday after 88 days - the seventh-longest session in state history, and clearly one of the prickliest. Minority Democrats branded the session the “worst in memory,” and even majority Republicans called it “difficult” and “frustrating.” House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, said, “It was a difficult session, but I think when it's all said and done, that we did what we had to do.” You can read my full last-day story here at

‘A dreadful exclamation point’

House Speaker Lawerence Denney's sudden moves to replace two committee chairmen - Reps.  Leon Smith at Transportation and Tom Trail at Agriculture -  announced quietly just as the House was adjourning, sent shock waves through the House. Denney said he made the move to enforce party discipline. Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, said, “It's not always easy being in leadership, that's all I can say.” House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said, “I think they will lose something. Leon has huge experience in transportation, and I'm not sure that Joe does.”

Smith, a former chairman of the Idaho Transportation Board, is in his seventh term in the House. Trail, a farmer and education consultant, is in his eighth term. Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, who represents the same district as Trail, said, “I was quite shocked by it.” She said, “This has been a dreadful session, and for me, that put a dreadful exclamation point right at the end.”

Denney pulls committee chairmanships from Trail, Smith

House Speaker Lawerence Denney has removed two of the most independent-voting committee chairmen in the House: Transportation Chairman Leon Smith, R-Twin Falls, and Agriculture Chairman Tom Trail, R-Moscow, as punishment for not voting with leadership on procedural votes, including moves to call bills from committee, to send bills to the amending order, and to return bills to committee. Among those that Smith backed calling out was his own bill on online sales taxes, which Denney unilaterally killed early in the session.

“I don't ask anybody to vote a certain way on any issue, but I do expect them to support other committee chairmen and leadership on procedural issues, and there were several votes this year that they did not support us,” Denney said.

Denney replaced both chairmen with their vice chairs: Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, who is only in his second term, is the new transportation chairman, and Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, a fourth-term lawmaker, is the new agriculture chairman.

House adjourns for the year

The gavel fell, and the House adjourned for the year at 2:21 p.m. “This has been a very difficult session,” said House Speaker Lawerence Denney. “I do apologize for the little scarf incident yesterday. I take responsibility for that. I don't want to make any excuses, but hopefully it was a learning experience for all of us, and I hope it will never happen again.”

“I think perception is very important,” Denney said. “We have to be very careful about what we say and what we do and how it is perceived.”

After calling for the vote to adjourn, Denney said, “The ayes have it, the House stands adjourned sine die.” Members rose to applaud, and their 2011 session ended.

‘Youth challenge’ bill passes, House prepares to adjourn sine die

On a 58-10 vote, the House has approved SB 1206 to create a “Youth Challenge Program” under the Idaho National Guard in Pierce. Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, debated against the bill, saying Idaho shouldn't accept federal money for the program. “We send people to Washington and say, 'Balance the budget, cut spending,' and we turn around and say we're not going to do anything to help you,” he said. “This to me is an excellent program, but I don't think it's the time to start a whole new program.” Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, said, “This is a pay-me-now or pay-me-later deal.” The high school dropouts who are targeted for the military-operated youth program will find it “life-changing,” he said. “This is a program that takes private dollars and matches it with available federal dollars.” The Albertson Foundation has committed to providing part of the matching funds.

Among those joining VanderWoude in opposing the bill were Reps. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens; Phil Hart, R-Athol; and Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton. The bill now goes to Gov. Butch Otter. It was the last vote for the House this year; the House is now preparing to adjourn sine die.

Goedde: ‘Proud of work we’ve done’

Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, said it's been a “difficult” legislative session for him. “I'm proud of the work that we've done in the education reform arena,” he said, “and it's a good first step. As we go to implement it, there may be some changes that need to be made, and that's part of the process. I look forward to working with educators over the interim to address those issues.”

Asked about the prospect of a voter referendum to overturn the reforms, Goedde said, “'Certainly that's the constitutional right of the voters. I think that if this is on the ballot in November of 2012, that there's a very good chance the voters of the state of Idaho will sustain the work that we've done.” He said he's already hearing stories about teachers coming up with ideas on how they'd earn bonuses under the plan - but those don't start until 2013. Next year, in 2012, teachers will receive a pay cut, under the school budget that lawmakers approved. “That's a function of revenue,” Goedde said. “Next year, if the revenue picture looks rosier, we can allocate additional funds to K-12, if that's the will of the body.”

Pro-megaload bill passes, heads to guv

HB 193a, the pro-megaloads bill designed to block lawsuits targeting big loads on Idaho roads, has cleared the House as amended in the Senate, on a 55-12 vote. “It'll help hopefully to curtail some lawsuits and save the state some money,” Rep. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, the bill's sponsor, told the House. Earlier in the week when he asked the House to concur in the Senate amendments, Harwood said, “I feel like we sent 'em over a bear and they sent me back the rug, but I want to concur with this.” The Senate's changes to the bill altered it from a required bond from anyone suing of 5 percent of the insured value of the load, to a judge's option to require such a bond of up to 10 percent of that value. The bill now moves to the governor's desk.

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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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