March 23, 2009 in Idaho

N. Idaho senators kill Women’s Commission funding

By The Spokesman-Review
Betsy Russell photo

Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, joined Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, on Monday to propose zero-funding the Idaho Women’s Commission and eliminating the agency’s operations from the state budget.
(Full-size photo)

BOISE - Two female state senators from North Idaho led a successful move today to zero-fund the Idaho Women’s Commission next year, and also eliminate its sole part-time employee.

Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, who made the motion with backing from Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, said much of what the Women’s Commission undertakes is duplicated by other private non-profit or government agencies in Idaho.

“I have no doubt that the folks that are involved in that group do good work and have good intentions, but for me, the priority this year is for those that are needy and for K-12 education,” Keough said. “I simply cannot support spending money on the commission this year.”

Keough and Broadsword’s budget proposal won the support of the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee on a 15-5 vote. The budget bill still must pass both houses and receive the governor’s signature to become law, but budget bills rarely are changed after they clear the joint committee.

Said Broadsword, “This year we’ve cut money in life and death situations, including cystic fibrosis and PKU (treatment programs) in the Department of Health and Welfare. We’re contemplating cuts to public education. I am struggling with any way to support funding something that is not mandatory and desperately needed.”

Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, offered an alternate proposal to cut the commission’s funding roughly by half. “This is just another approach,” she said. “It would put the final decision off, I guess, another year.”

For many years, male members of the joint budget committee have protested the funding of the Women’s Commission, saying there’s no comparable men’s commission. But in recent years, female lawmakers have led the charge to do away with the statewide panel.

Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, backed Keough’s motion. “I think this is the right thing to do - the original motion (from Ringo), I think, is just prolonging the agony at this time to make this decision,” he said.

In the vote, four female committee members - including Ringo - opposed the zero-funding move, along with one male lawmaker. Four female committee members joined 11 male members in backing the move. Among its backers were North Idaho members Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls; and Reps. Eskridge and Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls.

Kitty Kunz, director of the commission, gathered with three of her commissioners outside the committee’s meeting room after the vote, to talk about scheduling a final meeting.

“At this point, we will not be a fully functioning commission after July,” Kunz said. “It’s a year when the budget is down, so it gives them a good excuse to go ahead and cut it.” The commission had requested just under $30,000 in state funding for next year.

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