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Eye On Boise

Posts tagged: 2012 Idaho Legislature

Idaho legislative panel to look into wastewater primacy for state

The Legislative Council, the leadership group that oversees legislative issues when the Legislature isn't in session, has voted unanimously this morning to have the Natural Resources Interim Committee look into whether Idaho should try to take over primacy on wastewater regulation from the EPA, and bring recommendations back to the Legislature. The Senate passed a resolution for such a study during this year's legislative session, but it didn't pass the House. “It's my understanding that the House … was not opposed to the consideration of the issue … but felt like this committee could be tasked to do it,” said Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls. House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, said he'd like to add Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, as an ad hoc member of that interim committee this year for that discussion. Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d'Alene, also was added.

There was no change in chairmanships for the four continuing interim committees that will meet this summer. Sen. Monty Pearce and Rep. Dell Raybould will continue to co-chair the natural resources committee; Sen. Curt McKenzie and Rep. George Eskridge will continue to co-chair the Energy, Environment and Technology Interim Committee; Sen. Dean Cameron and Rep. Gary Collins will continue to co-chair the Health Care Task Force; and Sen. Edgar Malepeai and Rep. Bob Nonini will continue to co-chair the Idaho Council on Indian Affairs.

New rules for Capitol Mall protests: 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. only, other restrictions…

Idaho's state Department of Administration has published new rules for use of the Capitol Mall grounds, as authorized by last-minute legislation that passed on the final day of this year's legislative session. The new rules, which take effect immediately but still will be reviewed by next year's Legislature, are targeted at the Occupy Boise protest across from the state Capitol, but also include rules for protests and exhibits in and around the state Capitol and other state facilities. Among them: No event can run more than 11 consecutive hours or seven consecutive days, and events are limited to the hours of 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The effect of the new rules on the Occupy Boise vigil are unclear, as a federal judge has ruled the 24/7 vigil and its tents are protected free speech; a June 7 court hearing is scheduled on the matter. The Idaho Statesman has a full report here on the new rules; you can read the new rules here, along with information on how to submit written public comments. A separate set covers indoor events. The Department of Administration is accepting written public comment on the rules through 5 p.m. on Friday, June 1.
  

Co-op’s landfill gas power plant lands in middle of utility energy credit fight

Methane gas that long has formed deep within the rotting garbage at Kootenai County's Fighting Creek Landfill is going to a new use today: It's generating enough electricity to power 1,800 homes. The county and the non-profit Kootenai Electric Cooperative flipped the switch on their joint venture last month, launching a new clean, renewable, local power source that has officials beaming with pride.
    
“It's going to generate revenue for the county, and it's so good for the environment,” said Kootenai County solid waste director Roger Saterfiel. “We were just burning the gas off. … It's being put to a use now.”

But in the larger world of energy politics, the project has landed KEC in the middle of a big-bucks fight between Idaho's largest utilities and small generators of renewable power that's threatening a key piece of the new plant's long-term financial plan.     At issue are renewable energy credits, also called “green tags,” which have great value in states where utilities must generate a significant and growing percentage of their power from renewable energy. Idaho isn't among those states - Washington is - but the credits can be sold on the open market, potentially for millions.

Idaho's three largest utilities - Avista Corp., Idaho Power and Rocky Mountain Power - introduced legislation this year declaring that when a utility buys power from a renewable generator, it gets the credits too. The bill didn't pass, but it set off a fiery debate that's now playing out in a pending case at the Idaho Public Utilities Commission, which has approved some contracts in recent years in which utilities and generators split the credits.

KEC's already given half the credits from its new 3.2 MW plant to the county, under its contract, and is counting on the other half for its own money-making purposes. Now the cooperative is trying to sign a deal to send the landfill power to Oregon - where state law says the generator gets to keep the renewable energy credits; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

KKK mailing targeted several Idaho lawmakers, including Idaho’s only black legislator

The Idaho Statesman reports that Rep. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, the state's only black lawmaker and a current candidate for the state Senate, received an application in the mail to join the Ku Klux Klan, hand-addressed to her and postmarked in Great Falls, Mont. “It conjured up a lot of things for me that weren’t very comfortable — not fear, but sometimes we get to thinking things are settled,” Buckner-Webb told the Statesman; you can read the Statesman's full story here. Meanwhile, the Moscow-Pullman Daily News reported that three other Idaho lawmakers also received similar mailings; click below for their report. Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, said he also received the letter. “I was offended and shocked as well (we have an adopted daughter from India),” he said in an email. “But in this job we get a lot of offensive mail so I did what I do with the rest of it and threw it away.”

Otter lets last three bills become law without his signature; no vetoes this year

In the end, there were no vetoes - not a one - as Gov. Butch Otter today allowed the last three bills passed by lawmakers this year to become law without his signature. That makes 342 bills passed and zero vetoes. The three:

SB 1321a, which altered a law about the Fish & Game winter feeding account to specify that it only can be spent for actual food, not for improvements to winter range for the same animals being fed, or for anything else. That controversial measure passed the Senate 25-8 and the House 40-30; it was sponsored by Sens. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, and Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton. Otter pointed out some serious problems with the bill in his transmittal letter - including that by specifying the fund could only go for food, it couldn't pay for the transportation costs to get the food out to the animals and other related costs, and therefore would put pressure on fishing and hunting license funds to fill in those costs. Nevertheless, he  didn't veto the bill.

HB 603, the new “97 percent protection” bill for Idaho school districts, which partially restores a program eliminated under the “Students Come First” school reforms that protected districts from big, sudden drops in state funding if they lose students from one year to the next. Under the bill, districts that lose more than 3 percent of their students from one year to the next will be funded as if they've lost just 3 percent, but the money for the protection will come from school districts themselves, spreading the cost among all the state's school districts. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mack Shirley, R-Rexburg, and the Idaho Association of School Administrators, received only one “no” vote in either house - from House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star. Otter said in his transmittal letter that he opposed such funding protection as double funding of students.

HB 611, the bill that was promoted as a move to ease sale of abandoned horses by horse boarders by adjusting a law that currently requires, after 60 days, that the animals be sold at a licensed livestock auction, to simply allow them to be sold at a public auction. Sponsored by Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, the bill passed both houses unanimously. However, Otter noted in his transmittal letter that “the scope of this legislation goes beyond the intent 'to provide for an alternative method of selling boarded horses when the owners do not pay.'” Otter, an avid horseman and rancher himself, wrote, “The legislation is not limited to horses but provides for public auction of 'livestock of any kind.' This broad language has raised concerns from owners of livestock auction yards.” Still, he didn't veto the bill, saying instead  that he looks forward to “working with all parties in resolving these concerns” during next year's legislative session.

No vetoes yet, and just three bills to go…

Gov. Butch Otter has acted on all but three of the bills passed in this year's legislative session; he has until 1:50 p.m. tomorrow to either sign or veto the final three, or let them become law without his signature. Asked if these are measures the governor just hadn't gotten to yet, or whether he was still debating on them, Otter's press secretary, Jon Hanian, said, “I think there may be a little of both.”

The remaining bills: HB 1321a, on the Fish & Game winter feeding account; HB 603, on education support units and attendance; and HB 611, on livestock liens. So far, Otter hasn't vetoed a single one of the 342 bills passed by this year's Legislature.

Idaho to license massage therapists, joining 43 other states

Idaho will join 43 other states and start licensing massage therapists, after Sen. Jim Hammond‘s bill was signed into law last week by Gov. Butch Otter. Therapists will have 18 months to become licensed; currently, anyone can claim to be a massage therapist and charge for the service, including criminals. “Everybody giggles about massage therapy, but really it has become a mainstream therapy for healing and for maintaining good health,” said Hammond, R-Coeur d’Alene. He said people taking a relative or family member for massage therapy – which now often is prescribed for everyone from people recovering from medical procedures to the elderly or disabled – “want somebody of high moral character … who’s well-trained.”

You can read more in my Sunday column here, which also includes info on why the governor let two other bills become law without his signature - on one, he noted a conflict of interest - and the state asking for public input on arguments for and against the two constitutional amendments that will appear on the November ballot, the Right to Hunt amendment and a one-word change regarding county misdemeanor probation services.
  

Final ‘Idaho Reports’ show of the season airs tonight

On tonight's “Idaho Reports,” I join Jim Weatherby, host Greg Hahn and two retiring lawmakers, Rep. Brian Cronin, D-Boise, and Sen. Melinda Smyser, R-Parma, to discuss the recently completed legislative session. Tonight's program also includes Hahn's interviews with Senate Assistant Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Meridian; and with Rep. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise; and a panel of business reporters including Brad Iverson-Long, Bill Roberts and Emilie Ritter Saunders.

The show airs tonight at 8 p.m. on Idaho Public Television; it repeats Sunday at 11 a.m. Mountain time, 10 a.m. Pacific; and will be replayed on Boise State Public Radio on Sunday at 6 p.m. After it airs, “Idaho Reports” also can be viewed online at www.idahoptv.org/idreports/.

Otter signs texting ban into law

Gov. Butch Otter has signed HB 1274a, the bill banning texting while driving, into law. The new law, which passed this year after three  years of unsuccessful attempts in the Legislature to enact such a ban, makes texting while driving an infraction. Idaho currently has misdemeanor penalties for inattentive driving, but unlike most states, no specific law banning texting while driving.

Two years ago, a ban that had passed the Senate died on the final night of the legislative session in the House, when then-Rep. Raul Labrador, now an Idaho congressman, used a parliamentary maneuver to force a two-thirds vote. The bill failed, with just a 37-30 majority. Last year’s version would have banned texting while driving if it distracted the driver, but not if it didn’t; it failed.

This year’s bill got strong support in committee hearings, from teens to law enforcement to the AAA to to insurers. It also got a solemn boost when an 18-year-old Caldwell woman, Taylor Sauer, died in January in an Idaho freeway crash while texting. Her surviving family members offered tearful testimony in favor of the bill in committee hearings in both houses.

Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d'Alene, sponsored this year's bill, a simple, one-page measure; the new law takes effect July 1.

State cost to fight Pam Lowe’s lawsuit tops half a million; CIP contract swells to $82.9M

The cost to the state of Idaho for fighting the wrongful-firing lawsuit from former ITD chief Pam Lowe: $540,479 and counting, reports Idaho Statesman reporter Cynthia Sewell today, who learned that figure by filing a public records request under the Idaho Public Records Law. That's the total as of March 31 for the taxpayers' tab for the private law firm the state hired to fight Lowe's lawsuit. You can read Sewell's full report here.

Meanwhile, I'm on vacation for much of this week (and the spring skiing up at Bogus Basin today was fabulous, absolutely fabulous!), but I did receive some info in response to a public records request of my own to ITD: The Connecting Idaho Partners contract, which Lowe contends she was fired for trying to trim back, has swelled to $82,929,461 - that's right, $82.9 million - as of the end of March 2012. The management contract with URS, formerly Washington Group, and CH2M Hill, was first envisioned at $50 million over 10 years; Lowe was trying to reduce it to less than $30 million.
  

Six weeks later, ISP still investigating McGee…

Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey reports that the Idaho State Police are still looking into the actions of state Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, who resigned Feb. 22 amid allegations of sexual harassment of a female Senate staffer. “It is still with ISP and is an ongoing investigation,” ISP Capt. Steve Richardson told Popkey. “There would be nothing that we would release at this time. It has not been forwarded to any other agency.” You can read Popkey's full post here.

Rep. Hart presses legislative privilege argument to skeptical justices in state tax appeal

Tax-protesting Idaho Rep. Phil Hart pressed his case to the Idaho Supreme Court today, arguing to the justices in Coeur d'Alene that his status as a state lawmaker should have given him months longer than other citizens to appeal an order to pay more than $53,000 in back state income taxes, penalties and interest. “It’s not about me,” Hart told S-R reporter Tom Clouse after the hearing. “It’s really about the Legislature and whether it’s going to be free to do its work or … be subject to distractions when they are trying to do the work of the people.” Clouse reports that “the justices appeared to have little patience for the Athol lawmaker’s claims that the state constitution shields him from tax collectors.” You can read his full report here at spokesman.com.

The session that was…

Idaho’s legislative session this year was long on drama, but many of the biggest and hottest debates won’t mean much for most of the state’s residents. Instead, it’s the smaller things, some of which passed with little controversy, that will make the most difference in everyday Idahoans’ lives. Examples: Idaho became the first state to enact legislation letting drivers show proof of insurance electronically on their smartphones. New youth concussion legislation will require schools to better protect young athletes who suffer head injuries on the playing field. A state suicide hotline got funding to start back up after a six-year gap. Some of the session’s biggest debates, on the other hand, will have little effect on state residents. You can read my full story here in today's Spokesman-Review.

In other looks back at the session, click below for AP reporter John Miller's report on “what went splat” during this year's legislative session, from ultrasound to insurance exchange to a cigarette tax hike. You can read my Sunday column here, “Session comes to a screaming end.” AP reporter Alex Morrell has a session wrapup here, read how Gov. Butch Otter backtracked here on an education funding claim, and read a report here from Times-News reporter Melissa Davlin on the high number of retiring lawmakers this year, including five longtime Magic Valley legislators.

The week that was…

On tonight's “Idaho Reports,” I join Jim Weatherby, George Prentice, Dan Popkey and host Greg Hahn to discuss the legislative developments of the week. Tonight's program also includes Hahn's interviews with Lt. Gov. Brad Little and with Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise; a report on energy policy from Aaron Kunz; and more. It was the session's last week, and it's the next-to-last “Idaho Reports” program of the year.

The show airs tonight at 8 p.m. on Idaho Public Television; it repeats Sunday at 11 a.m. Mountain time, 10 a.m. Pacific; and will be replayed on Boise State Public Radio on Sunday at 6 p.m. After it airs, “Idaho Reports” also can be viewed online at www.idahoptv.org/idreports/.

Otter gives legislative session an ‘A’

Gov. Butch Otter praised lawmakers today, calling this year's legislative session “productive.” “I think it was a great session - in fact, I would give a good solid 'A' to the Legislature.” He said, “The Legislature got it right this year.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Otter lauded the full funding of the “Students Come First” school reforms, which include technology boosts and a teacher merit-pay bonus program; an increase in funding for hard-hit colleges and universities; the IGEM university research program; and a cut in corporate and individual income tax rates for top earners.

Asked if he would have signed the pre-abortion ultrasound mandate bill had it reached his desk, Otter said, “No comment - next question.” Click below for Otter's full statement.

House, Senate Dems respond to session…

House and Senate Democrats responded to this year's legislative session today, criticizing the Republican majority for its priorities, including tax cuts for top earners and social legislation on contraception and abortion. “They played special-interest social politics and forgot that people care about their personal freedom,” declared House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston.

While lauding some of the session's accomplishments, from youth concussion legislation to suicide hotline funding to a ban on texting while driving, Rusche said the GOP leaders fell short on education, ethics, job creation and more. “The real hope now is not that these leaders will remember their promises,” he said. “Rather it's that the voice of the people is heard this November through recall of the Luna laws.”

He also called for a constitutional amendment “to protect a citizen's rights to refuse government mandated medical procedures and make it necessary to have their consent for health care treatments,” saying, “One wouldn’t think it necessary in Idaho, it wouldn't be necessary to protect the freedoms and rights of our citizens from the overreach of government, but if anything, experience has shown that not all Idaho legislators have the same perceptions of personal freedom.”

Click below for the Democrats' full statement.

Legislative limerick No. 6: Election is coming…

Election is coming…

Now it's just time for the spin
As lawmakers pack it all in
So if you approve
Or opposed every move
It's time to get your vote in.

Senate adjourns sine die

The Idaho Senate has adjourned for the session at a little after 7 p.m., four hours after the House did the same. Here, Lt. Gov. Brad Little applauds the end of the session, which ran for 81 days. The final hours included tearful goodbyes, speeches, and even a “Thanks for the Memories” serenade of the Senate by Sens. Chuck Winder and Dean Mortimer. Click below for a session wrap-up story from AP reporter John Miller; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com on the House's final action, returning Rep. Bob Nonini's $10 million tax credit bill for private school scholarships to committee.

Senate says its goodbyes…

The Senate has been saying its goodbyes, including emotional farewells from the longest-serving Idaho senator ever, Sen. Denton Darrington, R-Declo; from Sen. John Andreason, R-Boise; Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle; Sen. Diane Bilyeu, D-Pocatello; Sen. Shirley McKague, R-Meridian; Sen. Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello; and Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise; and more. When Lt. Gov. Brad Little asked if there were “any more announcements,” Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, turned with a grin and pointed at Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, saying, “It's your turn, Bert.” There was laughter; the two will face off in the GOP primary this year after redistricting landed them in the same legislative district.

LeFavour, Idaho's only openly gay lawmaker, told the Senate, “I know I'm not the first gay person to serve here. I think we all know that. Maybe I'm the first one to feel safe enough to be honest about who I am.”

Darrington said, “The Senate has been my life for 30 years. … I think when you take on the responsibility, I think you take it all on. That's been my creed.”

Senate prepares to adjourn…

“The Senate has completed its business and is about to adjourn sine die,” Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis said. Committees are being sent to notify the House, which adjourned for the session nearly three hours ago, and the governor.

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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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