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Posts tagged: idaho legislature

ITD board approves 80 mph speed limits for three southern Idaho freeway routes

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.

New law requires ITD board to review 80 mph speeds, but board delegated that to its staff

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.

Idaho’s new 80 mph speed limit scrutinized

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.

Lawmakers wary of marijuana-derived treatment for seriously ill child

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.

Dairymen’s bid to join Idaho ag-gag lawsuit denied

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 weigh options for high school WiFi networks

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.

Still no answer on missing e-rate funds for Idaho Education Network, but some contacts made

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.

Six years after recession hit, Idaho’s state budget still below ‘09 level

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.

Milstead chosen as new legislative services director

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 being interviewed to be next legislative services chief

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.

Idaho’s federal lands panel hires private attorney

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.

Mortimer eyes Senate Ed chairmanship after Goedde’s defeat in primary

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.

North Idaho Republicans splinter as legislative races loom

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.

Rep. Henderson joins former Sens. Hammond, Compton to form new ‘Job Creators PAC’

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.

Rep. Henderson to retire after current term, endorses Chambers for his seat

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.

Patterson’s House seat to be vacant when legislative session opens next week

Rep. Mark Patterson’s House seat will be vacant when Idaho’s legislative session opens next week, Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey reports, because of Patterson’s decision to make his resignation effective at midnight on Jan. 5. Patterson, R-Boise, was urged to resign by his GOP legislative district committee, after the revelation last month that he pleaded guilty in a 1974 rape case; that news surfaced after the Ada County sheriff revoked Patterson’s concealed weapon permit for not revealing the case in his application. The first-term lawmaker claimed the sheriff was after him because of legislation he proposed.

Popkey reports that the District 15 GOP committee set a Dec. 27 meeting to consider nominees to replace Patterson, hoping to get the required three names to Gov. Butch Otter in time to have the seat filled by Jan. 6. But Otter’s office reviewed state law and concluded that the committee would have to wait until after Patterson’s resignation took effect, so the meeting was canceled. “Our interpretation of the statute is the vacancy must occur before the process can begin,” said Jon Hanian, Otter’s press secretary. “We’re prepared to fill that seat as quickly as they can make the nominations, but we’re going to do it by the book.”

Popkey reported that the committee is now targeting Jan. 9 or 10 for its meeting, after which Otter must make the appointment. He also reported that Patterson will continue drawing his legislative pay until his resignation takes effect; he’ll receive his last full biweekly paycheck for a gross of $632.23 on Jan. 3, followed by a pro-rated check on Jan. 17 for his final days in office. Popkey’s full report is online here.

Rep. Hixon on home foreclosure: ‘We’re taking care of it’

Freshman Idaho Rep. Brandon Hixon, R-Caldwell, has defaulted on his home mortgage and hasn’t paid a house payment since June of 2012, four months before he was elected to the Legislature. The news, first reported by the Caldwell Guardian and detailed in a Sunday article in the Idaho Press-Tribune, surfaced in a legal notice printed Friday in the newspaper, which said Hixon’s Caldwell home is set for auction in March. Hixon, however, says he’s been negotiating a home mortgage modification with his lender, Wells Fargo, and expects that to be completed by late January, averting any foreclosure auction.

“We’ve got a plan drafted and I think it will work out just fine,” Hixon told Eye on Boise. “This doesn’t have any kind of impact on my ability to be an effective legislator. Obviously it’s a trying time, when it comes right down to it, but I think we’ve worked through it diligently. We’re going to come out leaner and stronger as a family from this thing.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Hixon, who at 32 is currently the youngest member of the Idaho Legislature, narrowly defeated Democrat Travis Manning in 2012, though the district is heavily Republican. During the campaign, the Press-Tribune, Hixon’s hometown newspaper, reported that Hixon had five misdemeanors by age 21 for such offenses as urinating in public and minor in possession of alcohol, and 15 infractions, mostly for traffic violations, between 1998 and 2009, along with small-claims court orders to pay past-due rent in 2003 and 2005. Hixon told the newspaper then, “Obviously I’ve changed. … It’s not a reflection on what’s going to happen in the future. You basically grow up. You understand what true responsibility is.”

Hixon said his financial problems aren’t a sign of a return to his youthful mistakes. “I haven’t had so much as a speeding ticket in the last four and a half years,” he said. “I think what’s important to remember here is the fact that I gave up a very high-paying job to come to my service to the people of Legislative District 10. This is personal, and we’ll work it out.”

Hixon, who is married with four children ranging in age from 2 to 13, said he resigned from his job as an insurance agent for Liberty Mutual in May of 2012, after the firm belatedly informed him it viewed legislative service as a conflict of interest with his employment. Since then, he’s been an independent agent, but said his business has suffered due to his legislative service. “It’s taken time away from my business as an insurance agent,” he said. “The time demands on a legislator are pretty significant.”

Hixon said his constituents have been supportive. “I’m not a multimillionaire retired legislator, I’m a working guy,” he said. “I think I’m very in touch with the people. … People say, ‘This guy’s a regular guy, an average guy who’s having troubles like hundreds of thousands of Idahoans, and obviously he’s getting it taken care of.’”

He added, “I’m up-front about everything from Day 1. That’s what everybody needs to understand. I don’t think it’s been any big secret that it has been a financial crunch for me. But at the end of the day, we’re not on state assistance, we’re not out there begging for a handout, we’re taking care of it.” Click below for his full statement.

Otter appoints Ward-Engelking to Senate

Gov. Butch Otter has appointed Rep. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, to the Idaho Senate, to replace former Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise, who resigned to move to the Seattle area; Ward-Engelking was the top choice of the Democratic Party committee for the legislative district. “Rep. Ward-Engelking was part of an exemplary freshman class in the Idaho House,” Otter said, “Now she has the opportunity to continue her work in the Idaho Senate, where I’m confident she will continue to serve the people of District 18 well.

The district committee now must submit three nominees to Otter to fill Ward-Engelking's House seat.

 

Malloy says he’ll seek appointment to Patterson’s House seat, just to serve out term

Chuck Malloy, a former editorial writer at the Idaho Statesman and former aide to the House Republican Caucus from 2007 to 2010, has announced he's seeking the appointment to serve out the remainder of the House term of Rep. Mark Patterson, R-Boise, the embattled freshman representative who said this week he's resigning; Malloy said he would not run for a full term in the post. “My aim is not to launch a political career, or walk away with a sweepstakes prize. My sole interest is to provide a service to the people of my district and the state I love,” he said. Malloy said he's one of seven people laid off from the Idaho Statesman just after Thanksgiving, and said the state of Idaho's economy is a big concern for him. Click below for his full announcement. When a legislator resigns, the party committee for that district, from the party of the former legislator, submits three nominees to the governor for appointment, and the governor chooses from among the three.

Dems forward 3 names to Otter to replace Sen. Durst, Ward-Engelking tops list

Three names have been forwarded to the governor to replace Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise, who resigned from the Senate to move to Seattle. Atop the list, submitted by the legislative District 18 Democratic central committee: Rep. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, who now represents the same district in the House. Listed second was Lawrence Crowley, president and director of the Energy Strategies Group, and third, Elizabeth “Beth” Oppenheimer, executive director of the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children.

If Otter selects Ward-Engelking, a similar process would then be followed to fill her House seat.

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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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