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Lawmakers Help One Charity For Fifth Straight Session, Epilepsy League Receives Donation From State

Legislative budget writers showed preference to just one private charity again on Thursday, voting to shell out $69,000 from taxpayers to the Epilepsy League of Idaho.

“How come we take care of epilepsy but we don’t take care of Lupus or heart or anyone else?” House Appropriations Chairman Kathleen Gurnsey, R-Boise, asked her colleagues.

But she already knew the answer.

“It’s called lobbying,” Gurnsey told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. “They were effective in getting this program established.”

It was the fifth straight session the House-Senate panel has made what essentially is a donation to the non-profit charity, a practice begun in 1991 by former Republican state Sen. Lee Staker of Idaho Falls.

“I have a request from 12 different agencies,” Gurnsey said. “Why don’t we let them all share in this, give them each $5,000?”

But unlike past sessions when the contribution has been formally challenged, the committee simply voted 13-6 to continue it another year. Joining Gurnsey against the gift were Republican Reps. Bob Geddes of Preston and Dan Mader of Lewiston and GOP Sens. Dean Cameron of Rupert, Stan Hawkins of Ucon and Atwell Parry of Melba, the finance chairman. Republican Sen. Joyce McRoberts of Twin Falls did not vote.

Although Republican Gov. Phil Batt included the $69,000 for the Epilepsy League in his 1996 budget blueprint, administration budget director Dean Van Engelen has said it probably should have been eliminated and would likely be a target of the spending ax in the 1997 budget.

But while the budget committee kept that money intact, it stripped $45,000 from Batt’s proposed $10.8 million aid package for the community colleges in Twin Falls and Coeur d’Alene. The reduction was made to remove cash earmarked to cover inflationary expenses since no inflationary adjustment was specifically included in the university aid package.

It was the second straight year that efforts by Republican Sen. Dean Cameron of Rupert and GOP Rep. Maxine Bell of Jerome to secure as much cash as possible for their community college have essentially backfired.

But the committee did exceed Batt’s tightfisted budget plan in several areas. It added a clerk to handle inmate education records in the prison system, an assistant for the director of the council that works to help disabled people live independently and $300,000 more than Batt wanted for general vocational education programs.

“Vocational education is the area we should do a lot better on,” Republican Rep. James Lucas of Moscow said. “People go get jobs after this. Seventy-five to 80 percent of our people don’t get or have no use for a college degree.”


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