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Senate ethics debate: ‘People should not be exposed to public embarrassment’

Among the debate in the Senate on proposed new Senate ethics rules:

Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, said, "People should not be exposed to public embarrassment or ridicule when there is no legal or factual basis for the allegations. …. This bill does strengthen the ethics rules of the Senate. I've looked at the rules. I want to know. I want to be my best self because of this institution, and I think we need to preserve and protect the institution of the Senate by making sure that we handle all ethics complaints in a very appropriate manner and we make sure that each of us lives up to the standards that are set for the Senate and that are expected by the people of the state of Idaho."

Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise: "In this session, conducted in private, three senators can block the ability for an ethics complaint to proceed. On a party-line vote, one party, in darkness, can squash an ethics complaint. That is not a strengthening of our ethics rules. That is a weakening of our ethics rule. That is a way to ensure that one party can ensure that the other party is not capable of bringing forth a complaint."

Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow: "I appreciate that this has been brought forward, and we've had issues that we need to address. I think we need to step back a little bit and think about some of the assumptions that we're making. And some of the assumptions we're making in this rule, in this change, are built into this very building that we function in. This is a partisan body. The assumption that three and three removes partisanship is, it's false, it can't happen. To remove partisanship from an ethics review, it has to step outside of this body."

Sen. JIm Hammond, R-Coeur d'Alene: "We saw some problems. There was a genuine effort to make some improvements. … Let's just not continue to beat this dead horse, come on. We're genuinely trying to make some improvements, let's make these improvements. Next year … if you want to make further improvements, great."

Sen. Diane Bilyeu, D-Pocatello: In drafting the rules, "You all in the majority party made them behind closed doors, and we were not there."

Ethics debate: ‘Nobody is ever going to know complaint was made’

Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, noted that Democrats in the Legislature introduced a package of ethics reforms at the start of the sessino. "The can got kicked down the road, and it looked like nothing was going to happen," he said. "An ethics issue did arise … because there was a real ethics issue that needed to be investigated. And believe me this was a painful process for all, it was a gut-wrenching experience for me personally. … This was very difficult."

Now, he said, "We have a set of changes in front of us, and I just think they're lacking. I think they're lacking for a number of reasons. First of all, like I said, the first time I saw these changes was this morning. It just seems a bit too much like, you know, we need that window dressing … to show we're going to be responding to some of the events that occurred in the Senate in the last few weeks, and we don't have to take the time to draft a thoughtful, detailed statutory structure to put in place ethics rules that make sense, that satisfy those who are governed, and to allow disclosure … so that the governed can make decisions about who they should elect and who they should not."

Bock said Democrats had some concerns about the current process, in which an immediate complaint is filed and is made public, even if it's "totally, totally frivolous or false." But he said, "What we've done with this new set of rules is to go to the opposite extreme. Rather than strengthening with these new rules, we're weakening them. … .The person that submits the complaint can't even talk about it. … And if the decision is against taking action, nobody, nobody is ever going to know that the complaint was made. And the person who made the complaint is going to be muffled."

Bock said the Senate needed to take time to develop balanced rules. "What we need is a statutory change, not some window-dressing rules that .. instead of opening up the process … make it much more concealed and hide it from the public eye, and hide it from the media, so that nobody may ever know that there was a complaint and what the complaint was." He said, "It's a bad rule. It weakens what we've got." He called for establishment of an independent ethics commission, outside the Legislature, as 41 other states  have.

Senate takes up ethics changes, including new secrecy clause

The changes to the Senate Ethics Committee process, including make the entire process - including the appointment of the ethics committee - secret until the committee votes that probable cause exists of a violation, are up now in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, said, "I think it's healthy for us to do it in that fashion. It allows us to go into executive session for the consideration of … augmented or increased standards," and then the bipartisan committee, including three Republicans and three Democrats, can "use their judgment going forward as to whether there is probably cause that misconduct has occurred, and whether or not there should be some action taken by the committee and by the Senate."

Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, rose to debate against the bill. "I found this bill on my desk this morning and it was the first time I saw it," he said. He asked senators to think about what ethics in government means. "State government operates with the consent of the governed," he said, quoting Thomas Jefferson. "They reached the conclusion that the people had the intelligence to decide how their government should operate." He said, "The people have the right to decide what goes on here, but they can only exercise that right if they are fully informed. It requires a transparency of action."

He said, "We cannot operate this government in secrecy. … The people have a right to know what we do and why we do it."

In party-line vote, Senate puts pro-tem in sole charge of Senate hiring, firing

The Senate has voted 28-7, in a straight party-line vote, to approve a second change to Senate rules, this one giving the Senate pro-tem sole authority to hire or fire all Senate employees. "I have a lot of trouble with this," said Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum. "I think there was some middle ground we could have come to." She said she respects current Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill for being "even-handed" and having no malicious intent, but that might not be true in the future. Hill responded, "This is what we got. Without it we go back to what we had. It's the choice of the Senate." The party-line vote followed.

Current rule, which hasn't been invoked in recent history, states that the full Senate by two-thirds vote may remove a Senate employee for failure to perform duties, incompetence, or improper conduct.

First Senate ethics rule change: ‘Take us in the direction of disclosure’

The Senate is now beginning debate on changes in Senate ethics rules. First up: A change to its disclosure rule for conflicts of interest to clarify that it applies both in committee and in the full Senate.  "The changes are very few, but I think they are significant and positive," said Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise. "They add clarity and they take us in the right direction of disclosure."

Next up is a rule relating to dismissal of employees; after that is one that makes the entire Senate Ethics Committee process - even the appointment of the committee - secret and confidential until the bipartisan committee votes, by a majority vote, that there is probable cause that an ethics violation has occurred.

House adjourns sine die

The House has adjourned sine die, despite a chorus of "nays" to the motion. "The House stands adjourned sine die," Speaker Lawerence Denney declared, banging his gavel to loud applause.

Little to House members: ‘Tell ‘em to maybe grab a little dinner’

The House committee to inform the Senate that the House is preparing to adjourn sine die has arrived in the Senate. "Mr. President, we are pleased to join you," said Rep. Bob Schaefer, R-Nampa, "in fact one of us is wishing to come over next year." Schaefer is running for the Senate. Lt. Gov. Brad Little told the House members, "Tell them to maybe grab a little dinner." He added, "We'll be sending a trio over to see you at some time later today."

Senate back in session, House preparing to adjourn sine die…

The Senate is back in, with nine pieces of legislation on its docket; first up are the three bills that came from JFAC and just passed the House. Also pending are Senate ethics rule changes; the teacher salary bill; the youth challenge bill; and tax cuts. Meanwhile, the House has come back into session and is preparing to adjourn sine die, which means "without a day" - for the session.

Senate Ed votes in favor of Youth Challenge bill for which funding was defeated yesterday…

The Senate Education Committee has voted unanimously in favor of HB 662, the National Guard Youth Challenge bill declaring the proposed Pierce, Idaho school an alternative secondary school - the bill whose funding was defeated yesterday in JFAC. Committee Chairman John Goedde said, "General Sayler, I'd sure like an invitation to your first graduating class." With that the committee adjourned.

House begins its goodbyes…

House Speaker Lawerence Denney invited all those who will be leaving the House after this year to assemble in the well in front of him; with the huge crowd standing there, he then banged his gavel and asked loudly, "Haven't you learned anything?" House rules forbid walking into the well when the House is in session. Amid laughter, the big group of departing representatives then posed for pictures.

"The last two or three years have been particularly hard for all of us," Denney told them. "Those of you who are retiring, congratulations. I think retirement is not bad. Those of you who are going to the Senate, I don't know what happened to you." Amid more laughter, he said, "But again, we do appreciate the association we've had."

Nonini gives up on scholarship tax credit bill; House finishes calendar

House Education Chairman Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, has thrown in the towel on his $10 milion tax credit bill for private school scholarships; he just asked for unanimous consent to return the bill to the House Education Committee. "In light of HB 670 as amended and we being at the end of our session, I think probably the right thing to do without asking this body to vote on a suspension of rule and to continue to work on this and maybe look at it again, next year, I would ask HB 670 be returned to the Education Committee," Nonini told the House.

At that point, House Speaker Lawerence Denney said with a grin, "I think we're out of business." The House has cleared its calendar, having approved the final three JFAC bills, HB 701, the trailer appropriation bill on the judges' retirement fund; HB 702, the year-end transfer bill, including transfers to the budget stabilization fund; and HB 703, the appropriation to the Attorney General's office of $500,000 from a legal settlement to help homeowners facing foreclosure.

Senate Ed quickly passes teacher pay bill with no debate

The Senate Education Committee took up SB 698, the salary-based apportionment bill, and immediately passed it, with no discussion. "There's only one condition that I would support this motion, and that is that if Rep. Nonini agrees not to testify," Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, said to laughter. Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, responded, "Sen. Fulcher, I think that's what we were trying to accomplish."

Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, said the bill is similar to one already approved by the committee, and pointed out the changes, the minimum teacher salary clause and the language regarding funding priorities.  

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Bob Nonini, who is running for the Senate, told the panel, "I would just hope that if I'm successful in my election bid next November, that this was an indication of things to come." Goedde responded, "'Thanks' would be plenty."

Senate recesses, Senate Ed to meet now…

The Senate has recessed to about 2:30 p.m., and the Senate Education Committee is going to meet now. There are two items on its agenda: HB 662, on the National Guard Youth Challenge - for which funding was defeated in JFAC yesterday - and HB 698, the teacher salary-based apportionment bill that just passed the House.

House and Senate both back in, Senate says sine die will be today…

The House is back in session, and is quickly moving through the three final bills that have arrived from JFAC: The year-end transfer bill, including transfers to state reserves, and two trailer appropriation bills.

Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis told the Senate that the fact that the appropriation bills are out and are up in the House means the Legislature will be able to adjourn sine day today. "We will stay until our work is done today," he said.

Teacher pay bill passes House, 59-9

The House has voted 59-9 in favor of HB 698, the salary-based apportionment bill, which cancels future teacher-salary cuts required by the "Students Come First" reform law, while also declaring that the law's reforms, including laptop computers and performance-pay bonuses, are top funding priorities in the public school budget. It also requires that when base teacher salaries increase, the minimum teacher salary must rise by twice the percentage; current law says 1.5 times the percentage.

"I think this bill addresses things that we've had to cut in the past," House Education Chairman Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, told the House. "Revenues are back up. It's a good piece of legislation and I encourage your yes vote." The bill now moves to the Senate, where the Senate Education Committee is planning a quick hearing.

Though the bill has been characterized as restoring $35 million in teacher pay over five years, it doesn't actually add any money to the school budget, instead addressing priorities within the budget.

House begins debating teacher salary bill…

The House is now debating HB 698, the salary-based apportionment bill. Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, asked Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, the bill's sponsor, whether the bill's requirement that in the future, the state's minimum teacher salary must rise by twice the percentage of the base salary for all teachers, would allow the minimum salary to rise without the base salary going up at all. Nonini said no. Ringo said, "It would seem to me we have violated it already this year, because we have increased the minimum pay for teachers without increasing the base at all." She said, "I think it also makes a statement that we really value our new teachers more than we do our experienced ones. … Those people aren't foolish, and they're going to notice what the potential is for them in years out."

Rep. Mack Shirley, R-Rexburg, said, "We've made significant improvements and we ought to feel good about our effort to support education this year, I believe."

Senate approves amended animal cruelty bill, 24-11

SB 1303a, the animal cruelty bill sponsored by the state's cattle industry that creates the state's first felony penalty for animal cruelty - for a third aggravated offense - has been endorsed by the Senate with its House amendment. "They did make what  I think is a good addition," said Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson. The House amendment adds felony penalties in certain cases for organized cockfighting. "We can't defend organized cockfighting, particularly where drugs and gaming is involved," Brackett said. The bill now moves to Gov. Butch Otter; Idaho currently is one of just three states with no felony penalties for animal cruelty.

The amended bill passed on a 24-11 vote, after several senators said they fear the livestock industry could face attacks in the future as a result. Earlier, the Senate had approved SB 1301 31-1; since then, the only change was the addition of the cockfighting clause, but seven former supporters opposed the bill today. The Senate has now recessed to 1:30.

Judges’ retirement bill passes Senate, 34-0

The judges' retirement bill, HB 660, has passed the Senate on a unanimous, 34-0 vote and now heads to the governor's desk. Sen. Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, said he arrived at this year's legislative session ready to kill the judges' retirement bill, but today he's the Senate sponsor. The reason: "This is the solution that best works today to stabilize that fund," he said.

After the vote, Davis announced that while the new Senate ethics rules won't be voted on before the lunch break today, but will be moved to the 10th Order of business so they can be taken up this afternoon. He said it's still his plan that the Senate will adjourn sine die today, but "We'll see what the next several hours bring." The Senate Education Committee's meeting shortly after the lunch break will be the last committee meeting the Senate will have this year, he said.

Now, the Senate is taking up SB 1303a, the House-amended animal cruelty bill.

Boise County debt bill passes after digs over prosecutor’s letter

The Senate has passed HB 697, the Boise County debt bill. But first, Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, read from the letter to House Speaker Lawerence Denney from Boise County Prosecutor RJ Twilegar threatening a lawsuit on behalf of Boise County women if SB 1387, the forced ultrasound bill, is enacted. "Now why is this pertinent? To me, that just gives you a peek inside the window of the mindset of who we're dealing with here," Fulcher said, speaking against the bill, which would allow the county, after a vote, to levy additional taxes for a bond to pay off a multimillion-dollar court judgment. "Apparently Boise County has the energy and the resources to file suit against us if they don't like what we do on one bill, while at the same time asking us to grant them taxing authority for violating the law," Fulcher said.

"Let the taxing districts solve their own problems," he said. "What about a loan? I haven't heard about that as an option. … If this were coming to us in the form of a loan I would be all over that. …  But not to grant taxing authority for violating the law. … In my opinion this is an unjustified bailout. This is bad policy and it's bad precedent and I'll be voting no."

Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, called Twilegar's letter "appalling," and said, "Boise County, take responsibility - you created your mess, you get out of it." However, after hearing Sen. Tim Corder's closing debate, he voted in favor of the bill.

Corder, R-Mountain Home, said of Twilegar's letter, "That doesn't have anything to do with this issue. He was not the counsel of record in this case … and he has not been the counsel of record in any part of these proceedings." As to Fulcher's suggestion of a loan, Corder said that's what Boise County is trying to do - take out a loan, in the form of a bond, to pay off the debt. The vote was 28-7, with opponents including one Democrat, Sen. Dan Schmidt of Moscow, and six Republicans, Sens. Fulcher, McKague, Mortimer, Nuxoll, Pearce and Vick.

Occupy protesters escorted from Senate gallery

The Senate was just disrupted by a scream from the gallery, of "Give that back!" Several Occupy Boise protesters in the gallery were being accosted by Idaho State police officers, who escorted them out, as the same woman shouted, "I didn't do anything!" and "You're hurting me!" and another yelled, "Is this democracy?" Majority Leader Bart Davis immediately set the Senate at ease; now that the protesters have been removed, the Senate is back in session debating the Boise County debt bill. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Capitol Mall rules bill passes Senate on party-line vote

The Senate has voted 28-7 along party lines in favor of HB 693, the Capitol Mall rules bill covering the site of the Occupy Boise vigil; all Republicans voted yes, and all Democrats voted no. "My question is the rush and the emergency," said Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum. "I really think that we should be addressing what the cost would be for the expanded authority and the enforcement."

Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, the bill's Senate sponsor, said the state needs the rule-making authority to appropriately manage the grounds. "The Department of Administration says that they wanted to get this in place for the spring so that they can do that maintenance," he said.

Senate Assistant Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, said, "I think this is much more than just sprinklers and lawnmowers, I think it's about access." He said the state has rules for protests on the Capitol steps, and he called that "a very orderly process," saying, "I think it should apply to all the property."

Senate suspends rules, takes up latest anti-Occupy bill…

The Senate has just suspended its rules and taken up HB 693, the latest anti-Occupy bill. This is the emergency measure to authorize rule-making by the state Department of Administration regarding behavior on the Capitol Mall grounds, making violations of those rules infractions, and empowering the  director of the department to sue to enjoin threatened violations.

Scratch that - House won’t be back ‘til 1…

Now the House has decided it won't come back in session until 1 p.m. after all; it'll take up HB 698, the salary-based apportionment bill, first thing then and get it over to the Senate as quickly as possible, Majority Leader Mike Moyle said.

House rethinks recess ‘til 1, may be back in a few minutes for teacher salary bill…

The House is rethinking its plan to recess until 1 p.m. Majority Leader Mike Moyle just checked in with House Democrats, who were gathered on the House floor for a picture-taking session while majority Republicans are upstairs in caucus, to see if they can come back on the floor in a few minutes to take up HB 698, the teacher salary-based apportionment bill, because the Senate has an Education Committee meeting scheduled for 1 p.m. to consider it. The Dems said they were fine with that and haven't gone anywhere.

Senate to take up new ethics rules before noon, tax cut this afternoon…

Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis has outlined a plan by which the Legislature could adjourn today, including the Senate passing a slew of bills this morning, including new Senate ethics rules (read about them here). Then, it'd have an Education Committee meeting at 1 p.m., then return to the floor, suspend rules, and pass legislation including HB 563, the House-passed income tax cuts bill for top earners. However, he warned that timelines for drafting appropriation bills might cause a need to go into tomorrow even if those other timelines held…


House recesses to 1 p.m., heads into caucus

The House is unexpectedly recessing until 1 p.m. for a closed-door majority caucus. Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, said he wasn't planning to back off on his push for HB 670a, his bill to grant a $10 million-a-year tax credit for donations to scholarships to send Idaho kids to private schools; he maintains the big tax credit would save the state money because there would be fewer kids to educate in public schools.

"Yeah, we have procedure around here, and sometimes procedure gets in the way of good policy," Nonini said. "The Idaho Constitution says all revenue-generating measures begin in the Idaho House." Nonini said he planned to make a motion to suspend all rules interfering with immediate consideration of the bill, HB 670a, and see if he can get 47 votes, the two-thirds required to suspend rules. "I want to debate it on the floor today," Nonini declared. "It's good policy. … If we're going to be supporters of choice in education, I think this is a good way to go about it."

Lake: ‘I think it stinks’

Asked what he thinks about House Education Chairman Bob Nonini's scholarship tax credit bill bypassing the House Rev & Tax Committee, instead coming through Education, House Tax Chairman Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, said, "I think it stinks."

Asked if the bill would have passed in Rev & Tax, Lake said, "Who knows? I'm not going to speak for the committee, but at least we ought to have a chance to take a look at it and see how it fit in with all the other tax credits we do, and we do a lot of 'em." He noted that the panel hasn't done any this big in some time.

Nonini's bill would give $10 million a year in tax credits for donations to scholarships for K-12 kids to attend private schools; he contends it would save the state money by leaving fewer kids for the state to educate in public schools. The House is still at ease and milling around.

Lake objects to Nonini bringing tax bill through Ed, not Rev & Tax

House Tax Chairman Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, has objected to the House taking up 670a, Rep. Bob Nonini's bill to give $10 million a year in tax credits for donations to scholarships for K-12 private schools; the bill would allow a corporate giver to erase half its state income tax liability, and an individual to erase his entire liability. Nonini argues that despite the $10 million cost, the bill would save the state money because it would have fewer kids to educate in public schools.

Lake objected because the bill didn't come out of the House Revenue & Taxation Committee - it came from the Education Committee, which Nonini chairs. "Tax measures always start in the Rev & Tax Committee," Lake told the House. "This bill, HB 670, incorporates a tax credit by reference and we have not had a chance to vet that."

The House skipped the bill for now, then went at ease. Meanwhile, the judges retirement bill, HB 660, cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee after many questions and now heads to the full Senate; and the Boise County debt bill, HB 697, passed the Senate Local Government & Taxation Committee unanimously and also heads to the full Senate.

Tax-cut bill clears Senate committee on 6-3 vote

The Senate Local Government & Taxation Committee has voted 6-3 in favor of sending HB 563, the House-passed income tax cut bill for top earners, to the full Senate without recommendation. Those voting yes were Sens. Rice, Hammond, McKenzie, Hill, Johnson and Siddoway. Those voting no were Sens. Werk, Bilyeu and Corder.

Debate on tax cut: ‘Redistribute it up to the wealthy’

Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, said people in his district are struggling. The House-passed tax cut bill, he said, asks him "to take their tax money and redistribute it up to the wealthy." He called the bill "disappointing," and said the Legislature could have found better ways to boost Idaho's economy. "I don't think this will have any stimulative effect whatsoever."

Sen. Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, said, "I'm not disappointed." He said a "targeted tax policy" would pick winners and losers, but general changes in tax policy help everyone. "Quite frankly doing nothing is not going to impact the economy in a good way. We have studies. I've been studying this for a long time … talking about the impact of tax cuts here and there and everywhere. … There are studies out there to show whatever you would like to show. But having dealt with business for 35 years … there are a lot of things that people do consider." He said businesses look at opportunities and costs when they consider expansions, and income taxes are a cost.

Hill noted that Idaho is gradually increasing the grocery tax credit, which benefits the poor; he called the income tax cut for top earners "a few dollars comparatively."

Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, said, "What we do know is that jobs are created by people that have the money to create jobs." Sen. Diane Bilyeu, D-Pocatello, said, "I can't see where this will help our economy." She said she favored putting the money into education, especially higher education, and the state's infrastructure instead.