Posts tagged: idaho legislature
Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Transportation Department says speed limits on rural sections of interstates in the southern part of the state will go up to 80 mph starting Thursday. That's an increase from 75 mph on rural sections of Interstates 15, 84 and 86. Speed limits for trucks will increase to 70 mph. The agency says speed limits on interstates in urban areas will remain unchanged at 65 mph. Speeds will also not increase in northern Idaho. Agency officials say the speed limits won't increase until signs are put in place. Lawmakers approved the increases earlier this year.
Idaho argued its appeal in the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals today of a federal judge's ruling overturning the state's “fetal pain” abortion law that sought to ban all abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy. Idaho was one of seven states to enact such laws in 2011; it was voided by a federal judge in March of 2013 as unconstitutional. Jennie Linn McCormack, an eastern Idaho woman, and Richard Hearn, an attorney and medical doctor, sued the state after she was charged with felony illegal abortion because prosecutors said she took an abortion-causing drug obtained over the Internet to terminate a pregnancy that was past the 20-week mark. In its appeal, the state contended McCormick couldn't argue the law put an undue burden on women because charges against her had been dropped and the case was moot. But that argument drew sharp questions Friday from the appeals court judges to Deputy Idaho Attorney General Clay Smith immediately drew sharp questions Friday, especially after it was determined the 5-year statute of limitations on the charge initially faced by McCormick hasn't expired. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Keith Ridler.
Year-end state tax revenue figures announced yesterday showed that Idaho ended up with $7.2 million more than expected at the end of the fiscal year June 30, but the state actually has a significantly larger budget surplus than that. Here’s why: This year’s state budget didn’t call for spending all the tax revenue the state expected to collect. Instead, $36 million was transferred to various budget stabilization funds, and another $44.4 million was left unspent, creating a year-end balance or surplus.
The monthly Budget and Revenue Monitor from the Legislature’s budget staff lays out the figures; you can see it here. It shows the ending balance, or surplus, at the end of fiscal year 2014 at $44.4 million, $17.6 million higher than was anticipated at the close of this year’s legislative session.
Factors pushing the number higher, aside from the increased revenue collections, are year-end reversions of unspent money from various state agencies, including $6.4 million from the Catastrophic Health Care Program due to lower than anticipated costs; $5.9 million from other agencies; and $1.6 million in other year-end adjustments, all adding to the surplus. (If you’re doing the math, the Legislature’s budget figures already counted part of the $7.2 million based on revenue reports that came in before the Legislature adjourned; so by its calculation, the additional year-end boost from revenues was $3.6 million beyond expectations rather than $7.2 million.)
When lawmakers return to town in January, they’ll need to act on a series of deficiency warrants largely consisting of $17.5 million for firefighting costs; that would still leave more than $26 million from the surplus. An additional reversion from Medicaid also is expected to boost the total in August or September.
Coeur d’Alene actually had the highest score in the competition for a state mental health crisis center by a slim margin, Coeur d’Alene Press reporter Taryn Thompson reports today, but lost out to Idaho Falls because North Idaho lawmakers didn’t support the project. North Idaho Reps. Kathy Sims, Vito Barbieri, and Ron Mendive and Sen. Bob Nonini all voted against SB 1352, which passed the House 28-6 and the Senate 53-14 and sought to establish three of the centers. JFAC approved funding for just one in the first year, putting three locations – Coeur d’Alene, Idaho Falls and Boise – in competition for it.
Thompson reported that the Department of Health & Welfare scored the competing proposals, then worked with the governor’s office to make the final choice. “The fact that a majority of legislators in eastern Idaho wanted the project helped in the final decision,” Otter’s press secretary, Jon Hanian, told the Press; he cited a “proven level of legislative support in eastern Idaho.”
You can read Thompson’s full report here; she obtained the scoring data through a public records request under the Idaho Public Records Act. Over the weekend, Thompson reported on the magnitude of the mental health crisis in North Idaho that had local officials hoping for funding for a 24-hour crisis center; see that report here. Letters in support of the Coeur d’Alene crisis center were signed by the county commissions and sheriffs of all five North Idaho Panhandle counties.
Barbieri told Thompson that law enforcement and others don’t need to “panic or specifically worry.” He said, “If it turns out that there's as dire a need here as opposed to somewhere else in the state, they'll get it. … Of course, with a bureaucrat, they all need it right away.”
Idaho’s state Division of Purchasing is making progress toward better monitoring of multimillion-dollar state contracts, according to a new state report to lawmakers. Incensed over big problems with big contracts, lawmakers have passed four pieces of legislation in the past two years calling for better oversight; as a result, the division has developed enhanced monitoring requirements for service contracts that are worth $5 million or more over the life of the contract, along with other measures. Though that figure accounts for just 45 current contracts, it covers $2.6 billion in state funding commitments.
“That’s big bucks – billions,” said Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, co-chair of the Legislature’s joint budget committee and a member of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee, which today received the new report from the Legislature’s Office of Performance Evaluations. She said lawmakers were spurred by problems with the multimillion-dollar contract the state Department of Administration signed with Education Networks of America for a broadband network to connect state high schools; this year, that contract for the Idaho Education Network ended up costing the state millions more than expected due to questions over the original contract award holding up federal “e-rate” payments that were supposed to cover three-quarters of the cost.
“I think the eyes opened,” Bell said. “There were details that were troublesome.” Big contracts like that are happening at “all levels of government, and no one was paying attention,” she said.
Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, JLOC co-chair, said, “Clearly we’ve had some difficulties, and I’m very happy that people are paying attention. We’re going to have to very carefully monitor our progress on this and make sure that we’re getting results. I would say we’re part-way there … but I wouldn’t say we’re at the finish line yet.”
The new report, a follow-up to one issued in January of 2013 on how the state could strengthen its contract management, notes that an array of contracts still are exempt from state purchasing rules – those issued by the Legislature, the judiciary, and under the offices of statewide elected officials like the state schools superintendent. The 2013 report called for lawmakers to consider setting minimum standards for all state contracting, including those areas, but no legislation was introduced. Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, said today that he’s working with a group of lawmakers to address that and is hoping for bipartisan backing.
As a result of the legislation already passed, Bill Burns, head of the state Division of Purchasing, said administrative rule changes are in the works and will be presented to lawmakers in January to follow an array of recommendations from the 2013 report, from developing best practices for all agencies in contracting; to adding more oversight of big contracts, including from the division, the agency, and outside subject-matter experts; to notifying the Legislature prior to contract extensions and renewals. Burns said the division will ask lawmakers next year for a new training position to ensure the new requirements can be carried out; if the Legislature expands the division’s oversight to now-exempt agencies, it may need another position as well, he said.
Ringo said, “This is a direction we need to go, and I think that we’re making progress.”
The Idaho Transportation Board has voted unanimously to approve 80 mph speed limits for southern Idaho freeway stretches on I-84, I-86 and I-15 that now are 75 mph, but only after a long discussion of questions about the changes and with the condition that the new limits be reviewed in one year. The board’s resolution, approved this afternoon during its meeting in Coeur d’Alene, takes note of comments received from the Idaho Trucking Association and AAA of Idaho, and also notes that the new state law allowing the higher speeds requires the board’s concurrence for them to be imposed. The ITD's staff had recommended the changes, after traffic studies showed motorists already are traveling that fast on those routes.
Idaho's new 80 mph speed limit law specifically requires that the state Transportation Board approve any speed limit boosts under the new law – the bill repeated that requirement four times – but the board delegated the matter to its staff and hadn't planned to review the changes. Then, after the department announced that an array of southern Idaho freeway routes would go to 80 mph on July 1 and changes to North Idaho routes were being studied, it heard concerns from the public and changed course. Now, the board will review the proposed higher speeds in southern Idaho at its regular meeting Friday in Coeur d’Alene.
Board members and department officials say they don't think they violated the new law.“I guess it might be kind of a gray area,” said Idaho Transportation Department Director Brian Ness. ITD Board Chairman Jerry Whitehead said, “The board delegates a lot of things. However, we’re going to have a review of that whole thing” at the board meeting.
Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, author of the new law, SB 1284, said he intended the board's review to allow for public input. But Whitehead says he sees little need for public input, as the department's speed studies provide that by documenting the speeds drivers are going on the routes now. “If the traffic is already going 80 mph … then it’s probably a no-brainer,” Whitehead said. “I don’t know as we need public input.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
When Idaho lawmakers this year voted to boost the state’s top speed limit to 80 mph, all the focus was on southern Idaho, where the road to Utah connects up to a similarly wide, smooth freeway that already has an 80 mph limit. But the Idaho Transportation Department has announced that in the wake of the new law, it’s studying all rural stretches of interstate freeway in the state - including I-90 in North Idaho - to see where the new higher limit may be warranted. That’s raising some eyebrows in North Idaho.
“The roads are not as straight and flat as down there, and it just doesn’t work,” said former state Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, who chaired the Senate Transportation Committee until 2012. “In fact, I’m surprised that there would be any recommendations for higher speed limits up here.”
Damon Allen, ITD’s district engineer for North Idaho, said, “We didn’t have necessarily any 80 mph candidates, but we did have a couple of segments of I-90 that might bump up 5 mph, maybe to 75. So we’re going to do those studies this summer.” Allen said the stretch of I-90 from Stateline to Coeur d’Alene could rise from 70 mph to 75, and the stretch roughly from Kellogg to Wallace could go up from 65 to 70 mph.
Locals haven’t been requesting speed limit boosts, Allen said. “Nah, it’s been really quiet about the speeds up here.” But the new law prompted ITD to take a look at it. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
The parents of a terribly ill 9-year-old Idaho girl worked with state lawmakers from both parties this past session, Boise State Public Radio’s Adam Cotterell reports, to get an exception to Idaho’s strict anti-marijuana laws for a treatment that could help reduce the child’s frequent, lengthy seizures – but, while lacking in the ingredients that cause users to become high, is extracted from the marijuana plant. However, Cotterell reports, though lawmakers initially kept telling the Idaho couple there was a chance, no legislation was drafted or introduced.
Senate Health & Welfare Chairman Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls, told Cotterell, “This would not be an easy sell, I don’t think, in Idaho, given the nature of our conservative Legislature.” Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, however, said the issue is separate from medical marijuana, and he’s confident lawmakers can address it next year. “If we can find a way that doesn’t legalize marijuana but helps these kids, I believe Idahoans and Idaho legislators are compassionate and will want to work on this,” he said. Utah already has passed an exception for the specific treatment oil to help patients with the rare condition. Idaho lawmakers last year passed a resolution opposing any future legalization of marijuana in the state for any purpose; it passed the Senate 29-5 and the House 63-7. You can see and hear Cotterell’s full story here.
Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A federal judge has denied a request by the Idaho Dairymen's Association to join Idaho in defending the recently passed law criminalizing surreptitious recording at agriculture facilities. The Times-News reports (http://bit.ly/1lDTAxw) that U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill shot down the request Monday. Winmill said in his ruling that the state can represent the dairymen's interests without the group getting involved. Animal rights, civil liberties and environmental groups are suing the state to overturn the so-called “ag-gag” law. The law, which lawmakers passed in February, was backed by Idaho's $2.5 billion annual dairy industry. Winmill allowed the dairymen's group to file a brief supporting the state. Those is in favor of the law argue that it protects private property rights. Opponents counter the law infringes on free speech rights.
School districts across Idaho are weighing whether they want to continue with or sign on to a statewide contract for WiFi at every high school in the state, or set up their own WiFi networks with state funding that lawmakers approved this year. “We were not real happy that we had entered into a multi-year contract with one-time money, so we wanted to give the districts an opportunity to really choose,” said Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, following a JFAC discussion today. “It’ll be interesting to see how they choose.” Last year, lawmakers allocated funding to start paying for high school WiFi; state schools Superintendent Tom Luna relied on that to sign a five- to 15-year contract with Education Networks of America to put WiFi in at every high school in the state. This year, JFAC gave school districts the option of joining that contract or getting funding for their own networks.
The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee heard from tech officials from two school districts – Bonneville and Boise – both of whom said they’re weighing their options. Scott Woolstenhulme of the Bonneville School District said it would cost his school district about $180,000 to replace what it’s getting from the state contract with Education Networks of America, and the district would qualify for about $65,000 a year in state funding. The advantage, he said, is that in three years, that could all be replaced and the district could start adding WiFi networks at its middle and elementary schools, where it has none.
David Roberts of the Boise School District said it’d cost his district about $345,000 to replace the contracted WiFi. “We could get about half of that if we opted out,” he said. Joyce Popp, chief information officer for the State Department of Education, said the department is working to get information to all school districts about the choices available to them. “We let people know that they had choices,” she said.
Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, said, “It’s a fascinating policy question that needs a lot of attention. I’m very appreciative of how we’re getting feedback from the districts.” Cameron said he’s been hearing that some districts think the state contract may have more stable funding than the direct funding to districts who don’t take part in the contract, but that’s not the case. “I believe they’re both on equal footing,” he said.
Idaho still has no answer on more than $14 million in missing federal e-rate funding for the broadband network that links all the state’s high schools, but officials say they’re at least in contact with federal officials now. State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee today that he brought the issue up with the chairman of the FCC when the two spoke at the same conference a couple of months ago; in a phone call an hour later, “He said he had directed USAC to engage with us, and they did,” Luna said. “It definitely got the attention of USAC.”
That’s the agency that administers the federal e-rate funds, which come from telephone fees and were supposed to pay for three-quarters of the cost of the Idaho Education Network; it’s called the Universal Service Administrative Company. Last year, lawmakers learned to their surprise that the federal money had stopped flowing due to concerns about a lawsuit challenging the award of the contract for the IEN to Education Networks of America and Qwest; that stuck the state with the full tab, at least for now.
Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane told the lawmakers, who were gathered at Boise High School as part of a three-day interim meeting, that the Attorney General’s office has had a conference call and sent some letters. “They seem somewhat receptive, but they’re also skeptical,” he said. “We’ve got someone that we can talk to, at this point.” Kane said the state’s trying to impress upon the federal agency the point that the services are being provided – funds haven’t been hijacked to buy someone a yacht or anything. It’s just that there’s a dispute between parties who wanted to be the ones to provide the service to schools. “Generally, they’re looking for some sort of fraudulent conduct,” he said.
Teresa Luna, director of the state Department of Administration, said the lawsuit, filed by unsuccessful bidder Syringa Networks, is continuing; a hearing on several motions in the case was held May 6, and a ruling on those is expected in a couple of weeks. “I don’t expect that we’ll hear from USAC before … mid-August,” she said. “It is still our first priority.”
JFAC Co-Chair Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said after the briefing, “In some ways it’s heartening. I’m a little disappointed we haven’t made more headway with the lawsuit, but it sounds to me like the appropriate contacts have been made with USAC so we can at least make our case.” Lawmakers have agreed to cover the missing federal funds only through February; if the issue isn’t resolved by then, they’d have to ante up millions more or see the broadband network connecting the state’s high schools go dark.
The Legislature’s joint budget committee is starting a three-day interim meeting in Boise today that will include tours and presentations along with discussion of state revenues and where the state budget stands. Comparing the budget that the Legislature set for fiscal year 2009 to the budget for the year that begins July 1, fiscal year 2015, the impact of the big recession is clear: The total state budget is still $23.2 million less than it was; that's 0.8 percent less. That’s despite big increases in student numbers, Medicaid caseloads, population and more.
Education funding overall has dropped 5.3 percent since 2009, including a 3.1 percent drop in funding for public schools; funding for natural resources programs is down 35.2 percent; and funding for economic development is 16.1 percent lower. Health and Human Services spending is up 10 percent from the 2009 level, public safety is up 13.1 percent, and general government spending is up 3.1 percent, including costs for the Idaho Education Network through the state Department of Administration.
Eric Milstead, who’s been a non-partisan staffer for the Idaho Legislature for the past 17 years, today was named the next director of legislative services; he’ll take over at the end of September when longtime director Jeff Youtz retires. Milstead was selected by a unanimous vote of the Legislative Council, after the bipartisan panel of lawmakers that oversees legislative business outside of sessions interviewed four finalists; the others were Ross Borden, Dwight Johnson and Ken Roberts.
“I am quite honored and humbled,” Milstead said. He’s an Idaho native who holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Oklahoma State University and a law degree from the University of Kansas; he practiced law for a while and clerked for a court of appeals, then saw a job opening working in budget and policy for the Kansas Legislature. “It sounded intriguing – I jumped at it,” Milstead said. After four years in that position, “We kind of wanted to get back to Idaho,” he said. So he joined the Idaho Legislature as a performance evaluator at the Legislature’s Office of Performance Evaluations. In 2001, he switched to the office of budget and policy, where he worked as a budget analyst, until 2007, when he shifted to research and legislation, taking a position as a research analyst and bill drafter.
Milstead is married with two children; the youngest just graduated from high school, and the oldest is in the Navy.
Four finalists are being interviewed today to be the state’s next director of legislative services, after current longtime director Jeff Youtz retires Sept. 30. More than 30 people applied for the position; the four finalists who will be interviewed by the Legislative Council today are Eric Milstead, Ross Borden, Dwight Johnson and Ken Roberts. The interviews will take place in a closed-door executive session of the council; then, this afternoon, the council will convene in public again and vote on the appointment.
“We had a lot of great applicants,” said House Speaker Scott Bedke. A selection committee consisting of the speaker, the Senate president pro-tem, and both the House and Senate minority leaders winnowed the group down to the four finalists. The new director will take over Oct. 1.
The council met this morning to go over reviews of various details of this year’s legislative session, wording for ballot statements on a constitutional amendment regarding administrative rules, and interim committee appointments; it consists of lawmakers from both parties and is chaired by the speaker and pro-tem.
A legislative interim committee investigating prospects for state takeover of federal public lands has spent more than $40,000 on a private attorney, the AP reports, tapping into a new legislative legal defense fund. “We've hired legal counsel from outside of state government primarily because we didn't feel as the Legislature that we were getting the help that we needed from the attorney general's office, once they determined the legal prospects of the case against the federal government on this didn't have much merit,” said Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise. “They didn't give us a whole lot of imagination or creativity on what the political solutions might be. So we've gone to an expert attorney … to use his background and expertise to help us with this process.”
Committee member and Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said she was disappointed the panel was not informed that private attorney William Myers was being considered before his hiring. “I think it was done rather hasty without letting the rest of the committee know,” she told the Associated Press. “But they're using taxpayer money. I would have preferred for them to be more transparent.” Click below for a full report from AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi.
Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, is interested in taking over as chairman of the Senate Education Committee, Idaho Education News reports today, now that longtime Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, has been defeated in the GOP primary. EdNews reporter Kevin Richert reports that Mortimer, who was unopposed in the primary and also faces no opponent in November, is already thinking about how he’d head the panel; you can read Richert’s full report here. Decisions on committee chairmanships and assignments won’t come ‘til the Legislature’s organizational session in December.
Republicans in North Idaho have been splintering into increasingly bitterly divided factions, and some say it’s reached the point of dysfunction – and the cracks have to close if the aim is to get anything done, like bring in more jobs or improve schools. “We need everybody to get together,” said Patrick Whalen, who is running against state Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, in the May 20 GOP primary. “I don’t think we can continually split the party and succeed.” Now, an influential local group that had great success in the last election has endorsed challengers to five GOP incumbents in the primary, including Whalen over Nonini, and all sides are readying for battle. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Idaho Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, has joined with two retired senators from his district to form a new PAC that will interview legislative candidates and endorse and support those with the most skill at economic development. Henderson is joining former GOP Sens. Jim Hammond and Dick Compton in the new political action committee, which they’ve dubbed “Job Creators PAC.” The three are filling its coffers with their leftover campaign funds; Henderson, 91, is retiring after his current term in the House.
“Government does not create jobs, we enable jobs,” said Henderson. “We’ve been there, we’ve done that, and we think we’ll be able to make a good assessment of the potential effectiveness of candidates.” In addition to the three former lawmakers, a dozen other District 3 residents have signed on to help with the effort. Henderson had more than $16,000 left in his campaign fund as of the last reporting period.
Five-term Idaho Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, who is 91, announced today that he won’t seek a sixth term in the upcoming elections, and instead will endorse North Idaho businessman John Chambers, 59, a semi-retired executive at Ground Force Manufacturing, to succeed him in office. Chambers filled in as a substitute for Henderson for the first few weeks of this year’s legislative session after Henderson broke his hip during a vacation mishap in Hawaii.
Henderson is a former Kootenai County commissioner and mayor of Post Falls who’s had a long career in public service; he's also a retired marketing executive and newspaper publisher and a World War II Army veteran. Henderson’s wife, Betty Ann, serves on the Post Falls City Council.
In 2012, Henderson was named chairman of the House Business Committee a day after he celebrated in his 90th birthday; a year earlier, he’d given up his coveted seat on the joint budget committee after five years to focus his legislative work more on economic development. He sponsored key legislation that year to help Idaho aircraft parts businesses that has now led to major expansions in employment by some of those firms in the state.
After celebrating his 90th birthday during the Legislature’s December 2012 organizational session, Henderson said, “My parents said they gave me some durable genes, and that’s what it takes.” He is Idaho's oldest state lawmaker.