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Posts tagged: 2014 Idaho Legislature

Balukoff says IACI ‘slander campaign’ shows Otter dodging record

A.J. Balukoff, the Democratic challenger to Idaho GOP Gov. Butch Otter, in response to yesterday’s announcement from the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry that it’s launching an independent campaign against him, said it shows that Otter “is determined to run away from his poor record on education and jobs in Idaho.” Said Balukoff, “He has decided to go negative. That’s disappointing, because we feel the voters should hear directly from the candidates about their views and records.”

He also slammed IACI – the business lobbying group that’s the former employer of Otter’s campaign manager, Jayson Ronk – for launching a “slander campaign,” noting that the group’s new anti-Balukoff website is critical of positions he’s taken that match those of IACI, including support for Medicaid expansion and the state health insurance exchange. You can read Balukoff’s full statement here.

Click below for a full report on the IACI effort from AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi.

Last-minute campaign cash flying in governor’s race

In this final period before the May 20 primary election, large donations – those of $1,000 or more – must be reported by Idaho candidates within 48 hours. So far, last-minute campaign cash has been flowing to Gov. Butch Otter and GOP challenger Russ Fulcher. Since last week, Otter has received eight of those donations and Fulcher has received five.

Here are Otter’s: $10,000 from Frank and Belinda VanderSloot; $10,000 from Allan P. Bloxsom III of Boerne, Texas; $5,000 each from JP Morgan Chase and CenturyLink Idaho PAC; $4,000 from Comcast Corp.; $2,500 from the NRA Political Victory Fund; and $1,000 each from the Idaho Cattle Association and Phoenix-based Apollo Group.

Fulcher has received $5,000 each from Jack Beverage and Kelly Beverage of Middleton and Ben Buckendorf of Boise; $2,000 from Rod Furniss of Rigby; and $1,000 from Ryan Moyle of Heyburn.

Telemedicine practice draws sharp sanctions in Idaho

The Idaho Legislature this year overwhelmingly passed HCR 46, calling for the state to develop a new set of standards for telemedicine and “tele-health,” which it defines as using technology “to enable the diagnosis, consultation, treatment, education, care management and self-management of patients at a distance from health providers.” Telemedicine, the measure says, “can result in significant savings to patients and payors by avoiding travel costs, duplication of tests and loss of work time,” and “will play an increasingly important role” in Idaho, with its rural nature.

Yet, just as the resolution passed, the Idaho Board of Medicine was imposing career-threatening sanctions against a young doctor for prescribing a commonly used antibiotic to one Idaho patient through a telemedicine company without an in-person physical exam. “You want to have an established patient relationship – you want somebody that’s evaluated you, looked at you,” said Nancy Kerr, executive director of the Idaho Board of Medicine. Now the nation’s largest provider of telemedicine consultations has pulled out of the state.

For 38-year-old doctor Ann DeJong, who is licensed to practice medicine in nine states including Idaho, the board’s sanction has triggered reviews of her licensing in all those other states, and now threatens her board certification. “When you’re not board certified and you have restrictions on your license, your credibility burns out and nobody wants to hire you,” DeJong said. “I was the guinea pig, I guess, the precedent,” she said. “I’m like a mouse in some sort of horrible maze.”

Kerr said Idaho has long had telemedicine, in the form of doctors consulting with other doctors through electronic means. But the treatment of patients from a distance has drawn a no-go. In March, the chief of medicine for Teladoc, Dr. Henry DePhillips, requested to appear before the Idaho Board of Medicine. That’s the telemedicine provider that bought out DeJong’s former part-time employer. The board unanimously declined to give him that opportunity, according to its minutes, “due to existing Idaho Code prohibition on the model of practice described.” You can read my full story here at


Idaho payday loan interest rates tops in nation, new reform law won’t change that

Here’s a link to my full story at on Idaho having the highest interest rates in the nation for payday loans, at 582 percent, and how payday loan reform legislation passed by this year’s Legislature won’t change that. Washington’s average percentage rate for payday loans is 192 percent, because of additional restrictions that state places on payday lending businesses. Idaho is one of just seven states with no limits on interest charges or fees.

This year’s legislation was highly controversial, with numerous groups opposing it for not going far enough to reform the business in Idaho, and major payday lenders backing it as a “progressive” move to protect consumers. But many of the lawmakers who voted against the bill thought it went too far. Said Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa, “I don’t think it’s government’s role to protect people from themselves.”

Otter lauds expanded ‘cloud’ software tax exemption at mock signing ceremony

Gov. Butch Otter has been holding a series of mock signing ceremonies for bills he signed into law this year earlier and quietly. This morning, as he celebrated with backers of HB 598, this year’s “cloud services” sales tax exemption bill, Otter was asked why he didn’t just go public when he took the action.

“It was all the timing,” he said. “Quite frankly, every one of the bills, it’s been timing. When we have a mock session, it’s a result of the folks wanting to get together one more time, saying, ‘Job well done,’ and making sure those that worked the hardest on it got the credit for it, and that’s not always possible during the waning days of the session, or the 10 days after.” Otter said if he’d waited to sign HB 598 until all its backers were available, “Then it would’ve become law without my signature, and I was so supportive of this, that wasn’t going to happen.”

The bill expands a law that passed last year to exempt software services delivered through the “cloud” from sales tax, under the argument that those are services, not tangible personal property. This year’s bill is much more broad; the state Tax Commission objected that its fiscal note wasn’t accurate, and its wording could lead to exempting numerous other software sales that could cost the state as much as $40 million a year in lost sales taxes. That would include not only services delivered through the “cloud,” but also downloaded software and so-called “load and leave” software that companies have installed on their systems.

Asked about those concerns, Otter said, “Well, just like with any legislation, it’s going to be a work in progress. And if we’ve got unintended consequences … then we’ll have to make those changes.” He said, “I heard what the Tax Commission was saying. They told me what they were going to say when they went up to talk about it, and I said, ‘Well, then it’s going to be up to you guys to come back and say, ‘Here’s how we achieve what we intended here, but at the same time clean up the unintended consequences that we cause.’”

Joining Otter at today’s ceremony were House Majority Leader Mike Moyle; Idaho Technology Council President Jay Larsen; Vice President Rich Stuppy, the council’s chairman; Hawley Troxell attorney Rick Smith, whom Larsen describe as “our tax guru here,” Micron lobbyist Mike Reynoldson; and more. “We had so many industry folks really support this legislation, and we’re so thrilled about this passing and the support we’re getting from our state government,” Larsen said. He said tech folks across the country are “starting to say, 'What's happening in Idaho?'” 

Otter signed the bill into law April 4; it takes effect July 1. Its fiscal note says “the fiscal impact is not expected to be significant and is estimated here at $2 million to $5 million annually.”

Four Republicans who want to head Idaho’s schools…

None are particularly well-known; all are educators; and all are seeking a key statewide office that’s become a lightning rod for controversy under the current superintendent. Twin Falls Times-News reporter Kimberlee Kruesi runs down the four GOP candidates vying for a chance to run for state superintendent of schools, with two-term Superintendent Tom Luna retiring. The winner will face Democrat Jana Jones in November, who is unopposed in the primary. Kruesi’s report is online here, talking with Andy Grover, Randy Jensen, John Eynon and Sherri Ybarra.

It’s so officially official…

Of the 400 pieces of legislation enacted by the Idaho Legislature this year – 357 bills and 43 resolutions or memorials – just one required specifically among its provisions that copies of it be furnished to the Idaho Capitol Correspondents, who are the reporters credentialed to cover the legislative session. I know, because, having toiled as chairman of the correspondents association for some years, I have never before been called upon to assist the Chief Clerk of the House of Representatives in performing this solemn duty.

The measure in question? It’s HCR 38, a concurrent resolution by freshman Rep. James Holtzclaw, R-Meridian, commemorating 2014 as the 60th anniversary of the addition of the phrase “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. Holtzclaw said in the measure’s Statement of Purpose that the resolution is intended to “highlight its legacy to American citizens.”

Thus, shortly after the session ended, I was contacted by the chief clerk’s office about distributing the copies to the more than 55 credentialed Idaho capitol correspondents. I emailed the electronic copy of HCR 38 to all correspondents. I received a couple of responses, including one tongue-in-cheek request for a notarized copy, and another from a reporter who claimed he’d been “wondering when we would get our personal copy.” Now, today’s mail has brought the official copy, dutifully mailed out by Chief Clerk Bonnie Alexander. 

State seeks dismissal of lawsuit challenging new ‘ag-gag’ law

Attorneys for the state of Idaho are asking a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit challenging a new law that makes it illegal to secretly film animal abuse at agricultural facilities, the AP reports.  Otter signed the law in February after Idaho's $2.5 billion dairy industry complained that videos showing cows being abused at a southern Idaho dairy unfairly hurt business. The Los Angeles-based animal rights group Mercy For Animals released the videos, which showed workers at Bettencourt Dairy beating cows in 2012. Attorneys for Otter and Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden filed the motion to dismiss last week, saying the law violates neither free speech nor equal protection, and the opponents don't have legal standing to challenge it; click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone. The plaintiffs say the law was designed to criminalize whistle-blowers.

Otter’s statement on personal property tax bill, HB 441a

Here’s Gov. Butch Otter’s statement on why he allowed HB 441a, the personal property tax bill, to become law without his signature:

“I am a strong supporter of eliminating the inherently unfair personal property tax, and I remain committed to working with stakeholders to eliminate this arbitrary assessment. But despite some positive, meaningful and necessary provisions in the original language of HB 441, amendments crafted late in the process have created potential ambiguity for some taxpayers who remain subject to the personal property tax.

I expect Idaho tax policy to reflect the values of predictability, simplicity and fairness. In implementing this law, and the inevitable future legislative efforts to address the tax and paperwork burden on Idaho businesses, I expect that we can and will do better.”

Otter issues first veto, line-item vetoes out gov’s pay increase for next year

Gov. Butch Otter has issued his first veto of this year’s legislative session – on the very last bill. He invoked his line-item veto power to nix an $1,800 appropriation for next year for a 1.5 percent raise for the governor. “While I appreciate the Legislature’s intentions in approving a pay increase for the governor, it is not my desire to accept this increase in the context of having not recommended a similar change in compensation for our valued state employees,” Otter wrote in his veto message.

Otter recommended zero raises for state employees next year; the Legislature instead approved merit raises to average 2 percent, with half of that permanent, and half as a one-time bonus. Separately, lawmakers passed legislation to grant raises to all top state elected officials, mostly 1.5 percent per year, for the next four years; the state Constitution prohibits giving those officials raises during their terms, so that issue can only be considered once every four years, prior to the election.

Otter’s veto message assumes his re-election – that he’ll be the one receiving the governor’s salary next year. The line-item veto was applied to SB 1430, the appropriation bill that followed SB 1395a, the raises bill. He allowed SB 1395a to become law without his signature. In his line-item veto message, he said he intends to donate $1,800 of the governor’s compensation in fiscal year 2015 to Bishop Kelly High School, and wrote, “I also encourage my fellow constitutional officers – who likewise did not seek pay increases – to make similar donations … to the educational institutions of their choice.”

Last year, Otter vetoed two bills; you can read my full story here at

Governor signs 18 bills into law, lets personal property tax bill become law without his signature

As a 4:40 p.m. deadline ticks near, Gov. Butch Otter has signed 18 bills today and allowed one to become law without his signature, and now has just two left on his desk from this year’s legislative session: SB 1395a, and SB 1430. Those are the bill to grant raises to top state elected officials for the next four years, and the appropriation bill tapping the funds for those raises in next year’s budget.

I’m awaiting a copy of the governor’s statement on why he allowed HB 441a, the personal property tax bill that was amended in the Senate, to become law without his signature. The bill was part of a session-ending compromise between the House and the Senate, in which both houses agreed to reject a rule the state Tax Commission adopted in November to draw the line between real and personal property for purposes of the new $100,000 per-taxpayer, per-county personal property exemption.

In place of the rule, which specified that a group of types of property like railroad tracks, pipelines and cell phone towers are real property – not personal property – and thus not eligible for the exemption, HB 441 as amended in the Senate rewrote the definitions in law, rather than rule. The outcome moves Idaho back to a more clear “three-factor” test to define the two categories, and has essentially the same result. HB 441 is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2014.

Among the 18 bills signed so far: SB 1410, which sets standards for wireless networks in Idaho high schools to receive state funding; SB 1396, setting up a 30-member committee to review student test questions and suggest which ones to revise or eliminate; HB 633, the budget for the state Department of Agriculture; HB 593, to set up a tax relief fund and deposit into it any sales taxes remitted to Idaho by remote retailers who aren’t now required to do so; and SB 1370aaa, the bill regarding legislative substitutes that was amended three times in the Senate, and in the end does little to change the current system beyond asking lawmakers to verify that their subs are eligible to serve.

Otter signs new jobs tax-reimbursement incentive bill into law

A plan to use big tax breaks to lure businesses to expand in Idaho won the governor's stamp of approval, the AP reports. Under the new law, HB 546a, which Gov. Butch Otter signed today, Idaho would refund up to 30 percent of state corporate income taxes, payroll taxes and sales taxes to businesses that create 50 new jobs in urban areas and 20 in rural areas. Proponents hope that will be enough to sweeten the deal for big employers mulling a move to the Gem State. The incentive will also apply to Idaho-based businesses that expand or take on a new project, if they create the required numbers of new jobs paying at least the county average wage; click below for a full report from AP reporter Katie Terhune.

Just 30 bills left on governor’s desk; session yielded same number as last year

There are still about 30 bills left that lawmakers passed this year but Gov. Butch Otter has not yet taken action on; he has until Friday. Among them: SB 1395, the bill to raise top state elected officials’ salaries each year for the next four years. So far, Otter hasn’t vetoed a single one of the 357 bills that passed both houses this year; the legislature also adopted 43 resolutions or memorials. Otter has been gone to a Republican Governors Association meeting; he’ll be returning later today.

The final figures have just come out, and this year’s legislative session, in the end, yielded exactly the same number of passed bills as last year’s – both 357 – and a similar number introduced, at 542 this year and 545 last year. Last year's session was longer, at 88 days, while this year's ended after 74.

Catching up on some news…

Lots of news has happened over the past week while I’ve been off work. Here’s some catch-up:

Gov. Butch Otter signed 112 bills into law on Wednesday (the list he published looked much longer, but nearly every bill was listed twice); and 48 on Friday – and still hadn’t vetoed a single one of the more than 400 bills passed this year. Among those signed on Wednesday: HB 462, the ski area liability bill; three pieces of the public school budget, which overall shows a 5.1 percent increase in state funding; SB 1314, the controversial payday loan bill; SB 1354a, on bad-faith patent infringements; SB 1372, the school student data security bill; SB 1374a, allowing the state Board of Corrections to contract out inmates for farm labor; and HB 470a, the $400,000 wolf control bill, which had an emergency clause and took effect immediately upon signing. You can read a full report here on that bill from AP reporter Nick Geranios.

Among those signed on Friday: HB 518a, modifying last year’s bill to regulate scrap metal businesses in an effort to crack down on metal theft; the remaining pieces of the public school budget; SB 1394, raising Idaho judges’ salaries; SB 1417, the higher ed budget, which reflects a 6.2 percent increase in state general funds; SB 1421, the state prisons budget, which reflects an 11 percent increase; and numerous other agency budget bills.

Reporter Clark Corbin of Idaho Education News analyzed the legislative session’s progress on the 20 recommendations of the governor’s education improvement task force; you can read his report here. And Idaho EdNews reporter Kevin Richert queried the five candidates for state superintendent of schools on how they grade the 2014 legislative session, and if elected, what their priorities would be for next year; his full report is online here.

 The Idaho Department of Labor reported that Idaho personal income jumped 3.7 percent in 2013, a full percentage point more than the nation and third-highest among the states in percentage increase; you can read more here. The department also reported Idaho’s population shift from rural to urban counties slowed in 2013 as the 33 rural counties saw their combined population increase for the first time in three years; there’s more on that here. And Boise State Public Radio reported that a new study shows an Idaho worker earning minimum wage would need to work 73 hours a week in order to afford to rent a modest two-bedroom apartment; see their report here.

The University of Idaho named Mark Adams, former vice dean at Valparaiso University Law School, as the new dean of its College of Law. The Oregonian reported that state Sen. Curt McKenzie’s ex-wife, Renee, has sued the state of Oregon for blocking her plans to marry a convicted murderer serving two life sentences in an Oregon prison. Meanwhile, Idaho Reports on Idaho Public TV took a look Friday at how lawmakers’ attention is turning to primary elections, talked with lobbyists about the 2014 legislative session, and more; you can watch here.

Idaho slips from highest in nation for workers earning minimum wage to 2nd-highest, after Tennessee

Idaho has slipped from first in the nation for its proportion of workers earning the minimum wage, to second after Tennessee, according to the latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Idaho’s percentage of workers earning the $7.25 per hour minimum dropped from 7.4 percent in 2012 to 7.1 percent in 2013, at the same time that Tennessee saw a big increase in minimum wage workers that boosted it up from 5.5 percent to 7.4 percent.

Both Idaho and Tennessee remain far below the national average of 4.3 percent, which was down from 4.7 percent a year earlier. In Idaho, two of every three jobs created in 2013 were in the service sector. You can read more here from the Idaho Department of Labor, and see the full federal report here.

Legislative session decompression: Spring skiing…

Boise’s non-profit ski resort is delivering the spring skiing this week, from soft, smooth, forgiving corduroy on the frontside in the morning (pictured at right) to sweet spring slush on the backside in the afternoon (shown above). It’s the last hurrah for Bogus Basin; the resort has announced that its last day for the season will be this coming Sunday, with possible “bonus” weekends into April if weather and snow conditions permit. Final-day festivities on Sunday will include $25 lift tickets; the annual PBR Ribbon Hunt and kids’ scavenger hunt from 9-2:30; and a live band from 1-5 p.m.

Bogus is reporting that over the course of the season, it had 240,000 skier visits, a figure consistent with the last two seasons; taught lessons to 27,000 skiers or snowboarders, 70 percent of whom were children; and employed more than 600 seasonal workers. This year’s season started Dec. 8, 2013.

The session that was…

Education funding took center stage at the Idaho Legislature this year – even bumping big new tax cuts from the favored top-priority position they occupied in recent years. Lawmakers nearly doubled Gov. Butch Otter’s proposed 2.9 percent increase in school funding, to $66 million; the cash infusion was an attempt to jump-start a series of reforms recommended by a state task force. They even ditched Otter’s call for $30 million in new tax cuts – and Otter agreed. “I think that they found a better use for the money than tax relief this year,” Otter said. “In their wisdom and in my conclusion, I think they made the right decision.”

Still, Idaho’s school funding remains below where it was in 2009; so does the state’s overall budget. After years of deep cuts during an economic downturn, lawmakers this year barely started restoring some of the services they cut then. You can read my session wrap-up story online here from Sunday’s Spokesman-Review. There’s also a list of bills that went partway but didn’t end up passing, from dumping the indexing of the homeowner’s exemption to designating a state amphibian.

Rep. McMillan ‘grateful’ for House ethics review

North Idaho Rep. Shannon McMillan says she’s “grateful” for the process in which the House Ethics Committee decided to not take any formal action against her for failing to disclose a conflict of interest before voting against a bill. McMillan, R-Silverton, cast one of just two votes in the House against HB 510, which would remove a special exemption dating back to 1939 that protects elected officials and legislators from having their wages garnished due to state court judgments. She didn’t disclose that she faces numerous court judgments, including at least one in which garnishing of her legislative wages was blocked because of the special exemption. House ethics rules require such disclosures.

A week later, McMillan asked the House for forgiveness, revealed her conflict of interest and requested an ethics committee investigation into her actions. “I thank the committee for responding quickly to my request for this review,” McMillan said in a statement. “I am grateful for this process that has helped to assure that the high ethical standards of this body and my fellow members are upheld.” You can read more here in my Sunday column.

The week that was…

On tonight’s “Idaho Reports” program on Idaho Public Television, I join Jim Weatherby, Sven Berg, and co-hosts Melissa Davlin and Aaron Kunz for a discussion of the events of the week, from the final action of the legislative session to Idaho politics. Also, Davlin and Kunz interview Sen. Roy Lacey, D-Pocatello; Davlin interviews Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa; and the show explores the real-world implications of Idaho’s current medically indigent/catastrophic health care program. 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.

Otter: ‘One of smoothest sessions I’ve ever seen’

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter joined GOP legislative leaders today to declare this year’s legislative session a success. “In 74 days, I thought we accomplished a lot,” Otter said. “I think it was probably one of the smoothest sessions I’ve ever seen.” He said it “maybe didn’t meet everybody’s expectations – they didn’t meet all my expectations. But I’d gladly take the results, and appreciate ‘em. And I think it’s a good path forward, especially in the education package. I think it’s a great start.”

Otter said he wasn’t concerned that lawmakers passed over his recommendation for $30 million in additional new tax cuts next year, and instead nearly doubled his proposed increase in public school funding. “I think that they found a better use for the money than tax relief this year,” Otter said. “In their wisdom and in my conclusion, I think they made the right decision.”

Otter touted the start that lawmakers made toward funding his education improvement task force’s recommendations, including restoring part of the cuts made in recent years to public school operations funding; the state bailout of the Idaho Education Network, which faced possible shutdown as federal funds were cut off due to a dispute over the state’s award of the original contract; the passage of a criminal justice reinvestment plan; passage of business tax credit incentive legislation for companies that create large numbers of higher-paying new jobs in the state; and funding for water projects and wolf control.

“They did it all while showing the kind of fiscal responsibility and attention to the proper role of government that has been consistently lacking in our national government,” Otter said.

House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, noted that lawmakers did grant some tax relief this year – by allowing the next increment in Idaho’s phased-in grocery tax credit to go into effect next year, at a cost to the state general fund of $15 million.  That money “will accrue to all Idaho citizens in the form of increased grocery tax credit,” Bedke said. “It was policy that we set in the past, but it was another $15 million in tax relief that will accrue to all Idaho citizens.”

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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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