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Otter gives Idaho lawmakers an ‘A’

Gov. Butch Otter with GOP lawmakers in his office Friday (Betsy Russell)
Gov. Butch Otter with GOP lawmakers in his office Friday (Betsy Russell)

BOISE - Idaho Gov. Butch Otter praised lawmakers Friday, giving the just-concluded legislative session top marks even as minority Democrats blasted it.

“I think it was a great session - in fact, I would give a good solid ‘A’ to the Legislature,” Otter declared. “The Legislature got it right this year.”

The governor lauded the full funding of the “Students Come First” school reforms enacted last year, which include technology boosts and a teacher merit-pay bonus program; an increase in funding for hard-hit colleges and universities; the new $5 million IGEM university research program; and a cut in corporate and individual income tax rates for top earners.

Otter personally lobbied wavering senators in the final days of the session, pushing for the $35.7 million tax cut. “I gave additional information, I gave additional options,” he said. “I think the merits of that bill carried the day.”

Asked if he would have signed the controversial forced ultrasound bill for Idaho women seeking abortions had it reached his desk - instead, it died in the House without a hearing - Otter said, “No comment - next question.”

But that bill figured prominently in House and Senate Democrats’ review of the session on Friday, at which House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said, “They played special-interest social politics and forgot that people care about their personal freedom.”

The Democrats called for a constitutional amendment “to protect a citizen’s rights to refuse government mandated medical procedures and make it necessary to have their consent for health care treatments.” Rep. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, who is running for the Senate, said she’ll be working on the measure for next year.

Rusche, a retired physician, said, “One wouldn’t think it necessary in Idaho, it wouldn’t be necessary to protect the freedoms and rights of our citizens from the overreach of government, but if anything, experience has shown that not all Idaho legislators have the same perceptions of personal freedom.”

Otter stuck to wins as he gathered with GOP lawmakers to praise the session; he noted the refilling of Idaho’s depleted rainy-day savings accounts; approval for a National Guard Youth Challenge secondary school in rural Pierce; a new regulatory framework for the state’s emerging oil and gas industry; and the addition of wolf tags to the “Sportsman’s Pak” package deal sold by the state Fish and Game Department, so they no longer would have to be purchased separately.

“By and large, the people of Idaho should consider the 2012 session a success,” Otter said. “It’s a tough job, and I appreciate legislators’ work and wish them well.”

Democratic leaders, while lauding some of the session’s accomplishments, from youth concussion legislation to suicide hotline funding to a ban on texting while driving, said the GOP majority fell short on education funding, ethics, job creation and more.

“The real hope now is not that these leaders will remember their promises,” Rusche said. “Rather it’s that the voice of the people is heard this November.”

In addition to votes on every seat in the Legislature, Idaho’s November election will ask voters whether they want to repeal the “Students Come First” reform laws.

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