April 5, 2008 in Idaho

Senate hopes to educate school board

Betsy Z. Russell The Spokesman-Review

BOISE – Senators say the state Board of Education should work on open meeting law compliance, financial procedures and attendance, and the governor should move the board away from administering programs.

The Senate Education Committee has sent letters to the board and Gov. Butch Otter summing up their findings from months of complaints and a dramatic hearing in which the senators grilled state board members about their handling of the ISAT testing program, a million-dollar budget deficit and the scramble to save a federal grant.

Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, said it’s been “a historic year in the education committee,” and complimented Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, for his leadership.

The letter to the board members recommends that the board get annual refreshers on open meetings laws and policies and procedures for expenditure of funds, and calls for the board to “set a minimum attendance standard for its members and enforce it.” It also calls for a nationwide search for a new executive director.

The letter to the governor recommends that the board “return to its constitutional mandate to provide ‘general supervision’ over education in Idaho,” rather than administer programs itself.

Tent gone, but the circus hadn’t left town…

Something was missing from the Capitol Annex grounds as the final week of the legislative session opened – the festive white tent in the back parking lot, with its scalloped-edge trim, that housed the deluxe flushing Port-a-Potties brought in for the legislative session. Though not heavily used, the potties were there to supplement the sparse bathroom facilities in the old courthouse that’s serving as a temporary Statehouse while the Capitol is being renovated. As of Monday, they were gone, and so was the tent. However, the session still wasn’t over.

Governor lashes back at lawmakers with veto

One line-item veto issued by Gov. Butch Otter was aimed straight at state legislators, and hit them where it hurts - scratching out the funding for the Legislative Services Office for technology upgrades and to purchase 108 laptop computers next year for use by legislators.

Otter said the $274,000 line-item veto came because the Legislature didn’t join in a new money-saving effort to consolidate computer purchases under the Department of Administration. However, lawmakers said separation of powers concerns between the executive and legislative branches of government preclude the Legislature from doing its purchasing through the state department.

The swipe appeared to be payback for the Senate having voted to override Otter’s veto of substance abuse treatment funds. Otter negotiated a compromise deal with the House, and eventually both houses approved it, to restore $15 million of the $16.8 million he’d vetoed, or 90 percent of the treatment funds.

‘Get the flock out of here’

For the final week and a half of this year’s legislative session, Statehouse reporters wore ugly ties as a sign that it was time for the session to end. It’s a custom based on the thinking that lawmakers will be so disgusted by the unattractive neckwear that they’ll just want to leave. So Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, promised to deliver one of his apparently hideous “sheep ties” to the press corps to aid in that effort, “so we can get the flock out of here.”

Otter signs auto emission testing bill

The governor has signed into law HB 586, the measure on vehicle emission testing to avoid federal sanctions in areas of the state with high levels of air pollution. “Clean air is among Idaho’s most precious resources,” Otter wrote in a signing message. “We are blessed with skies as open and clear as any in the world. Unfortunately, there are a few relatively heavily populated areas of our state where congestion and the pollution that comes with it threaten to put us under the federal regulatory thumb. Within those areas, we face the very real prospect of losing control of our own destiny – unless we act first and decisively.” However, he dubbed the bill “a less-than-perfect solution” and said sponsors have agreed to work with him on other measures to propose in next year’s legislative session.

Ah, April Fools…

When the House convened after lunch on April 1 – April Fool’s Day – Speaker Lawerence Denney was moving the House to the next order of business, when much of the House, Democrats and Republicans alike, got up and walked out. Pausing in midoratory, the speaker said the next order of business would come “as soon as the April Fools get out of here,” at which the representatives laughed and returned to their seats. The Legislature has been reluctant in some years to end its session on April Fool’s Day and brand itself as a fools’ legislature. Yet it’s been done before. Legislative sessions in both 1994 and 1987 adjourned on April 1. But those were the only times, according to legislative records that stretch back to 1890. So do they intentionally run for another day? The cost to keep the Legislature in session for a day exceeds $30,000.

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