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Posts tagged: 2013 Idaho Legislature

Five months after voters rejected them, teacher contract curbs from Prop 1 are back on the books

Five months after Idaho voters strongly rejected them, a series of laws limiting school teacher contract rights in the state is back on the books.   Gov. Butch Otter has signed five controversial bills into law to revive parts of voter-rejected Proposition 1, on everything from limiting negotiated teacher contract terms to just one year to allowing school districts to cut teacher pay from one year to the next without declaring financial emergencies. Four of the five bills have emergency clauses making them effective immediately – one, the bill limiting contract terms to one year, is retroactive to Nov. 21, 2012, the day the voters’ Nov. 7 decision took effect.

“Maybe there was some partisanship in those, I fully understand that,” Otter said. “I don’t think I could’ve asked, nor did I ask the Legislature to only address those things that they were going to get total, unanimous support for. I said where you can find consensus, come forward with ‘em, and we’ll work on ‘em, and we’ll work on ‘em together.” He said, “I think we picked the low-hanging fruit, and the low-hanging fruit was those things that seemed reasonable, those things that reached a consensus and those things the Legislature passed. And I’m proud.”

Otter pointed to other measures that won broad support, some of which passed without a dissenting vote in either house. One of those revived a little-remarked provision from Proposition 1 to require all teacher negotiations to take place in public; another revived a requirement for master labor agreements to be posted on school districts’ websites. A third, HB 261, forbids teacher layoffs from being done solely by seniority; that’s a change from Proposition 1’s provision that seniority not be considered at all, and the bill passed unanimously.

But the five bills, like the 2011 “Students Come First” school reform laws that Idaho voters repealed through three historic referenda in November, all passed with little or no Democratic support and with bipartisan opposition in both houses. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Otter lets organ donor bill become law without his signature, signs teacher pay-cut bill

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has allowed a twice-amended bill to promote organ donation to become law without his signature. The bill, SB 1072aa, allows Idahoans to make a voluntary $2 contribution to an organ donation fund when they apply for or renew their driver’s licenses; the money would go to maintaining a statewide organ donation registry.

Otter, in a transmittal letter, said that while he supports organ donation as “a simple and effective way for citizens to save or dramatically improve a life,” he has concerns about how the program would work at the Idaho Transportation Department and how it would impact ITD’s vehicle registration systems. He directed ITD, the Legislature and others involved with the bill to make sure the department’s costs for collecting the donations and administering the new fund would be covered by the donations.

SB 1072aa was one of just two bills that remained for Otter to act on yesterday from this year’s legislative session; the other was SB 1040, a controversial bill to allow school districts to cut teacher pay or contract days from one year to the next without declaring a financial emergency. That measure was the last bill to pass in this year’s session, after a bitter hour-long debate in the House. Otter quietly signed it yesterday, and so far hasn’t said why he decided to make it law. It’s among a group of bills pushed by the Idaho School Boards Association this year to revive voter-rejected curbs on teacher collective bargaining rights that were voted down in Proposition 1 in November.

Funding spat leads to veto…

Changes in Idaho law designed to make sure public corruption and open meeting law violations by county officials are adequately investigated have been vetoed by a governor who actually supports the changes, amid a spat between House members and the Idaho Attorney General’s office over funding. Gov. Butch Otter last week vetoed SB 1080, because a companion measure to provide funding for the new program died without a vote in the House. “I agree with this legislation’s intent,” Otter wrote in his veto message. “Unfortunately, the decision by the House of Representatives not to take up the … appropriation in SB 1195 makes my veto necessary.”

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden requested the veto, writing to the governor that he asked for the move “with deepest regret.” Without the funding, Wasden wrote, SB 1080 was “an unfunded mandate.”

Six Canyon County lawmakers banded together to sponsor the bill, in the wake of that county’s experience with disgraced former county Prosecutor John Bujak, whose case has included embezzlement charges and multiple lawsuits, but no convictions.  It would have made the Attorney General’s office responsible for the preliminary investigations in cases in which county elected officials are accused of criminal or civil offenses or open meeting law violations, rather than the local county prosecutor – who also serves as those officials’ lawyer in their day-to-day work, and thereby has a conflict of interest.

Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, the bill’s lead sponsor, said, “It will help citizens have greater confidence that things are done right and that problems are resolved appropriately.”

The follow-up appropriation bill, SB 1195, gave the Attorney General’s office $212,000 a year to hire an additional attorney and investigator to investigate such crimes or violations. It passed the Senate with only one “no” vote – from Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, who voted against all appropriation bills – but was pulled from the House floor. House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, said House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, asked her and her vice chairman, Rep. Darrell Bolz, R-Caldwell, to pull the bill back to their committee. “He said they didn’t need it,” Bell said. “We were perfectly willing to fund what they needed. What he said was they can do it out of their budget.”

Moyle said he worked with several House members to amend SB 1080 in the House to ensure that only the preliminary investigation would be up to the Attorney General’s office; after that, the case would be referred back to the county, which would be required to appoint a special prosecutor. “Once the amendments were made to the bill, it was my understanding that the funding was not necessary,” Moyle said.

Rice said, “This kind of got caught up in a disagreement with the Attorney General’s office and some in the House about that budget.” He said he’s planning to bring a version of the bill back next year; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Nonini wins two newspapers’ ‘jeers’ for reticence to Idaho reporters

Two Idaho newspapers, the Lewiston Tribune and the Idaho Falls Post Register, offered “jeers” on their editorial pages on Friday to Coeur d’Alene Sen. Bob Nonini, both picking up on not only points on which they disagree with Nonini’s legislative agenda, but his reluctance to talk to Idaho reporters.

Personally, I attempted to ask Nonini about his debate and vote against a fellow Coeur d’Alene lawmaker’s bill in the Senate this year immediately after that day’s session concluded, only to have him run off the Senate floor. That was followed by a comical sequence in which he jumped into a crowded Senate elevator, I joined him, he jumped out as the other senators gaped, and headed down the stairs, and I followed, only to receive “no comment.” I gave up after a flight and a half. Click below for the two newspaper’s “jeers.”

After I reported extensively last spring on Nonini's campaign finance activity during the primary election, he told me at the beginning of this year's legislative session that he doesn't like my reporting and wouldn't be speaking to me. Other than an occasional social comment, he kept that up all session. The editorial jeers weren't referring to his interactions with me, however, but to an item reported by Idaho Education News, the online Idaho news outlet that focuses on education.

Gun laws make Idaho a haven for firearms supporters

As the nation is locked in debate over expanding background checks and other measures aimed at stemming gun violence, Idaho lawmakers this year debated nine gun bills and passed four – every one of them aimed at increasing protections for Idahoans’ gun rights. The bills that passed were mostly minor tweaks to Idaho’s existing gun laws; the most significant creates a new enhanced concealed weapons permit, allowing Idahoans to choose to go through more training and get a special concealed gun permit that will be recognized in more states than Idaho’s existing permit.

“There’s little doubt that Idahoans are very supportive of the 2ndAmendment,” said House Speaker Scott Bedke. “I think we made significant progress on that front.”

Some lawmakers expressed disappointment that the state didn’t go further; the House passed a bill, HB 219, to make it a misdemeanor for Idaho police officers to enforce any new federal gun laws, but the bill died without a hearing in the Senate amid constitutional questions. Idaho’s existing gun laws already are among the least restrictive in the nation. The NRA calls Idaho a “gun-friendly” state, and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence rates it as tied for next to last among states in its gun-control laws, scoring only 2 out of 100 possible points.

“Since I’ve been in the Legislature, every year we work on gun laws, tightening up our gun laws and making sure we’re protecting people’s rights to own,” said Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, a retired Navy officer who’s sponsored lots of gun-rights legislation and is in his seventh year in the Legislature. “It’s getting hard for us - there’s no easy fixes any more.” That hasn’t stopped Idaho lawmakers from trying. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Otter vetoes wolf management fund shift bill, Bujak bill

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter has vetoed a pair of bills, including legislation that called for diverting money from Idaho Fish and Game to a program aimed at managing problem wolves. That bill sponsored by Midvale Republican Rep. Judy Boyle would have moved $100,000 currently used for hunter access to a separate program focused on eliminating wolves that prey on livestock and prized game like elk and deer. Otter vetoed the bill Thursday, saying it could create a rift between sportsman and livestock producers — two groups he says are vital to controlling predatory wolves. He also says stakeholders weren't consulted or given the chance to review the proposal. Otter also killed a second bill Thursday that would shift power to the attorney general to investigate misconduct by elected county officials.

Here are links to the governor’s veto messages on HB 278, the wolf funds bill, and SB 1080, the Bujak bill.

Nonini says he’ll be back next year with private school tax credits bill

Coeur d’Alene Sen. Bob Nonini says he’ll be back next year with his legislation to grant $10 million a year in tax credits for donations to scholarships to private schools, which Nonini pitched unsuccessfully this year as a way to save the state millions by getting thousands of Idaho students to switch from public to private schools. Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News reports that Nonini made that announcement  in a discussion with the Heritage Foundation; you can read Richert’s full post here.

“I plan to continue the push for tax credits for donations to organizations that grant scholarships to qualifying families,” Nonini the foundation, in a Heritage Foundation article published by the Chicago-based Heartland Institute. “The legislation made substantial progress this year. I will in the interim now be visiting with senators from the tax committee that did not support the legislation to attempt to address their concerns.”

Otter signs 49 bills into law, including public school budget

Gov. Butch Otter signed 49 bills into law yesterday, including SB 1200, the public school budget bill that delayed the end of the session by a week. Otter had no comment as he signed the bills; the school budget gives Idaho schools a 2.2 percent increase in state funds next year, slightly above the 2 percent Otter recommended but below the 3 percent state schools Superintendent Tom Luna requested. The school budget set for next year, at $1.3 billion, still lags $138.7 million below the school budget Idaho lawmakers set for fiscal year 2009.

Other bills signed into law by the governor yesterday included a half-dozen appropriation bills, including the budgets for higher education and community colleges; a measure authorizing any year-end surplus beyond $20 million to be transferred to the budget stabilization fund; a bill authorizing hospitalization of mentally ill minors; another giving school districts relief from two-thirds of their maintenance match requirement for next year; and one authorizing funding for the new Veterans Recognition Fund, which would route surpluses that had been building up at the Division of Veterans Services into a fund for veterans that could, in the future, fund a new state veterans home.

Also signed into law was HB 241, a measure sponsored by Avista Corp. and Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, to crack down on metal theft in Idaho. Among its provisions: Scrap dealers will be required to photograph those who sell them metal, along with their vehicles and license plates and the metal they sell; and it will become a felony to steal metal from an electrical substation that causes damage or service interruption.

Idaho Court of Appeals overturns marijuana DUI conviction

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Court of Appeals has reversed a lower court's decision upholding a Boise man's conviction for driving under the influence of marijuana. The court ruled last week in the case of Geirrod Stark, who was found guilty in 2010 of driving while impaired. In its ruling, Judge Pro Tem Jesse Walters overturned the conviction, arguing Stark's blood test results only prove he'd used marijuana recently — not the day he was stopped. There's no question Stark was impaired that day Walters said, but there's no proof that drugs — and not some other condition — caused his erratic driving. During his original trial, Stark said he was disoriented because he was dehydrated and hungry. He said he also suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

You can read the court's full decision here. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Hannah Furfaro.

Lawmakers offer differing views on accompishments during session…

At the close of the legislative session this year, I asked a slew of North Idaho legislators what they felt like they accomplished this year. The answers varied pretty widely. Rep. Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton, said, “I just go and do my work. I don’t know what I accomplished.” Others were in the thick of the session’s biggest debates. Some met defeat with their own proposals; others carved our small but significant victories. You can read my full Sunday story here.

Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, who cited an economic development bill and building relationships for future work as his top accomplishments, said, “I’m just totally pleased with the quality of the new legislators. They’re very high-quality people. They brought legitimate business experience and a high level of integrity and understanding that impressed me.” Added Henderson, 90, “I didn’t have to babysit anybody.”

Idaho’s Girl Scout cookie tax fight makes the front page of the Wall Street Journal

Idaho's Girl Scout cookie tax fight made the front page of the Wall Street Journal today, in a story headlined, “No Brownie Points for Idaho Senate as It Keeps Tax on Girl Scout Cookies; Top Lawmakers Wouldn't Hold a Hearing Because 'Nobody Could Say No' to Cute Kids.” It's a great read. “Who can resist a Girl Scout selling something, except perhaps the state of Idaho?” the Journal asks, reporting, “Girl Scout troops for decades have lifted millions of dollars from adult wallets selling cookies to raise money for their programs. They've also been some of the nation's best lobbyists, deploying their youthful charm to fight off so many tax writers that, today, just two states―Idaho and Hawaii―try to take a bite out of their cookie sales.” You can read the full story here.
  

The week that was…

On tonight’s “Idaho Reports” program on Idaho Public Television – the final program of the year - I join Jim Weatherby, Melissa Davlin, Aaron Kunz and host Greg Hahn to discuss the week’s developments in the Legislature. Plus, Jim, Greg and I interview House Speaker Scott Bedke; Melissa interviews freshman Rep. James Holtzclaw; Emilie Ritter Saunders offers a view of some end-of-session frivolity; and I offer my “Eye on Boise” rundown of some of the week’s happenings. The show airs at 8 p.m. tonight; it re-airs Sunday at 10:30 a.m. Mountain time, 9:30 Pacific; and plays on Boise State Public Radio on Sunday at 7 p.m. After it airs, you can watch it here online any time.

Report: This year’s Legislature drafted fewer bills, but more of them became law…

The annual Sine Die Report, or Key Actions Summary, of this year’s legislative session is out now from the Legislative Services Office and posted on the Legislature’s website here. Among the interesting things it points out about the 2013 session: Fewer bills were drafted this year than any year in the past 40 years, at 777, “but curiously, the number of these RS’s that became law was the highest percentage ever recorded at close to 50 percent. Normally only about one-third of RS’s make it through the committee and floor gantlet to become law.” The stats, the report says, “seem to suggest that the legislature had a focused and limited agenda by design, and bill proposals were better thought-out to begin with and well designed to address the issue at hand.”

The report also notes that this year’s Legislature had a record number of new members, with 41 of the 105 legislators newly elected to either the House or the Senate.

Schmidt: ‘Legislature adjourns with unfinished business’

Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, a physician and an outspoken advocate of expanding Idaho's Medicaid program to replace the current county-state medical indigency and catastrophic care program, has sent an op-ed piece to Idaho newspapers saying, “The Idaho legislature adjourns with unfinished business. As health care reform moves forward, Idaho will have 100,000 people, many working poor without health coverage unless they have a catastrophic illness or injury. Then county taxpayers will pick up the bill, after the injured is found indigent, liens are filed and bankruptcy ensured.”

Schmidt writes, “We currently pay for health care for this population in an inefficient way,” and says, “We have work to do.” Click below for his full article.

Session wraps up after 88 days…

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on how Idaho lawmakers adjourned their legislative session today after 88 days, running nearly a week longer than planned amid a deadlock in the Senate over the budget for public schools. In the end, the budget that passed both houses Thursday morning – with a 29-5 vote in the Senate and 57-11 in the House – was identical to the original one, giving schools a 2.2 percent boost in state funding next year to $1.3 billion. But rancor remained over the direction of education policy in Idaho; in November, voters repealed the “Students Come First” school reform laws that lawmakers had enacted in 2011 with a historic referendum vote.

An interim committee of legislators and a panel of education stakeholders organized by Gov. Butch Otter both will examine education issues and hold hearings around the state this summer. Meanwhile, the final bill to come up in this year’s legislative session was one of a slew of proposals from the Idaho School Boards Association to revive various pieces of Proposition 1, the voter-rejected measure that sought to roll back teachers’ collective bargaining rights. The bill, SB 1040a, lets school districts reduce teacher salaries from one year to the next, something Idaho law now prohibits; the House debate lasted nearly an hour. Finally, it passed on a 47-21 vote and headed to the governor’s desk.

Limit on garnishing of delinquent taxpayer’s pay becomes law without Otter’s signature

Gov. Butch Otter has allowed a bill to become law without his signature, saying he’s concerned that it’ll reduce collections by the state Tax Commission by as much as $5 million in the first year it’s in effect. The bill, SB 1047a, limits the Tax Commission when it garnishes a delinquent taxpayer’s pay to taking only up to 25 percent of the taxpayer’s wages. And if the IRS is also going after that same taxpayer’s pay for back taxes, the state would be limited to 10 percent.

“Currently, garnishments for back taxes can go up to 100 percent,” Rep. Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, told the House when it passed the bill on March 25. “While there may be some value in the collection process to be able to garnish at 100 percent, there are also many problems that would be created by taking 100 percent of somebody’s paycheck. … I believe that this is a reasonable compromise.”

The governor, in a letter to lawmakers, said he encourages the Legislature “to carefully review the impact of this legislation and make adjustments where they are needed.” You can read Otter’s letter here.

The subject may be familiar to lawmakers because a former House member, four-term Rep. Phil Hart, revealed that the IRS was garnishing 100 percent of his legislative pay for back taxes, penalties and interest. In that case, however, the federal agency left nothing for the state to grab. Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, proposed SB 1047a, saying limiting the garnishing should result in more collections in the long run, as people wouldn’t quit their jobs.

Otter, legislative leaders announce they’ll work on gun-rights legislation over the interim

Gov. Butch Otter and GOP legislative leaders announced today that they'll work together over the interim on gun-rights legislation, after several bills were proposed this session but didn't pass both houses. “Some ideas percolated in the Legislature this year but never got fully vetted,” Otter said. “We’ll look at those as well as model legislation and what’s been tried in other states. And we’ll do it in the context of the ongoing assessment of security needs at our public schools.” Otter already has appointed a task force, headed by just-retired former Idaho State Police Col. Jerry Russell, to look into school safety issues in the state.

House Speaker Scott Bedke and Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill said they'll work with the governor. “The extent and nature of federal attempts to restrict our access to arms and ammunition are still coming into focus, so we will join the governor in watching that process carefully while charting our own course forward,” Bedke said. Click below for Otter's full announcement.

Otter gives session high marks, says work remains for next year…

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter today gave this year's legislative session high marks, saying, “What they produced was impressive and consistent with my priorities and our shared commitment to responsible, accountable and limited government. We also have a path forward on several key issues and a firm foundation for more improvements in 2014 and beyond.”

Otter gathered GOP legislative leaders plus House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, in his office for a news conference on the completion of the legislative session. “I think we all worked very well together,” the governor said. He called the personal property tax relief bill for business equipment “one of the outstanding achievements of the Legislature,” saying, “We started out very aggressively. we looked at resources available, so that we did no harm to local governments. And through constant vetting and massage of what our idea was, I think that what we came up with was affordable and it gives us a path forward.”

Otter said that's a model for an issue the Legislature didn't take up this year: Medicaid expansion. “When we do do it, I want it to go through the same process that we did with personal property tax,” he said. “I want to have all the eyes on it that we can possibly get.”

He also suggested next year's Legislature will need to look at transportation funding improvements, an issue he pushed unsuccessfully in 2008 and 2009. “There's a need there,” the governor said.

“I believe it was an excellent session, especially considering some of the tough courses that we had to take,” Otter said. He said the education stakeholders task force he's convened should give the state good direction on education policy for next year. “I am praying, and I think we have all the players and stakeholders in position to come up with a reform of our public education system,” he said. He quipped, “We left some things undone so we could have a reason to come back.” Click below for the governor's full news release.

Dems sound positive note in look back on session, with some exceptions…

House and Senate Democrats sounded a positive note in their post-session press conference this afternoon, saying their majority Republican colleagues were more willing to work with them this year. “We hold it as a sacred duty to listen to all of our constituents regardless of party affiliation,” said House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston. He praised Republicans for being willing to “tone down the rancorous voices of some of their more vocal activists” and work together “for reasonable and moderate solutions to our challenges.”

Among those, he cited the state health insurance exchange legislation, Gov. Butch Otter’s big legislative victory and one the Democrats supported while Republicans were more divided; and the personal property tax relief for business equipment, which was scaled back to a level that wouldn’t endanger local government services. “Lawmakers agreed to stop spending tax dollars on an empty governor’s mansion,” Rusche said. “We made a step toward gaining an understanding of why human rights protections must be extended to all members of society.” He also lauded the addition of five WWAMI medical school seats, and “a respite in the erosion of teachers’ salaries.”

However, Democrats decried other moves made this year, particularly the series of bills to revive various pieces of the voter-rejected “Students Come First” school reform laws. Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said, “It would have been much wiser to let the governor’s schools task force find consensus and seek input from parents, teachers and students.” She also decried the bill to make it tougher to qualify initiative or referendum measures for the ballot, saying, “there was no reason to pass this legislation,” and the Legislature’s refusal to consider Medicaid expansion this year. “GOP leaders couldn’t find the courage to do the right thing,” she said. Click below for the Dems' full statement.

Otter expresses concerns to lawmakers about two bills, but still signs them…

Gov. Butch Otter today sent two transmittal letters to lawmakers, noting bills that he had signed into law, but with caveats. They included HB 315, the personal property tax relief bill, which exempts the first $100,000 in business equipment from the tax in each county, for each taxpayer. “This legislation is a good and important start toward the goal of eliminating the personal property tax in Idaho,” Otter wrote. “However, it is only a start. … For now, please accept my thanks for working through a complex and potentially divisive issue and for delivering this legislation to my desk. It is welcome relief for most Idaho businesses.”

The other letter was about HB 192, a bill that passed both houses unanimously to create a new, optional enhanced concealed weapons permit that requires more training than a regular permit, but would be recognized in more states. “The intent of this bill is laudable,” Otter wrote. “However, it is important to note as I sign this legislation that its fiscal note was inadequate to address the actual costs that the Idaho Transportation Department and the Idaho State Police will face in its implementation. The agencies estimate they will be required to shoulder unfunded one-time costs totaling more than $80,000 – a particular burden when our budgets already are so close to the bone – plus ongoing annual costs of more than $1,500 to integrate this new permit into existing computer systems.”

He wrote, “I encourage the Legislature to be more forthcoming and thorough in its assessment of the fiscal impact of legislative actions on our state agencies and, ultimately, on our taxpayers.”

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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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