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Otter signs off on Alzheimer’s resolution, state plan effort

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter has signed off on a resolution recognizing the significant impact Alzheimer's disease has on thousands of Idahoans. Otter signed the resolution Tuesday in part to raise awareness of the disease and the state plan being developed to deal with the growing number of people suffering its effects. Doctors say more than 26,000 are diagnosed with some level of the disease, and the number is growing. The Idaho Alzheimer's planning group has been working to develop a strategy to help Alzheimer's patients. The group will continue its work this year, focusing on increasing community awareness, data collection and the need for resources to help patients and their families. Nationwide, 23 states have Alzheimer plans. The group hopes to present its finished plan to the Legislature next year.

Death bill passes House, heads to gov

The House has passed the death bill, SB 1348a, which would ensure that treatment, food and fluids aren't denied to a dying patient if the patient wants them and if they “in reasonable medical judgement will preserve the life of the patient,” on a 57-12 vote; it now goes to Gov. Butch Otter. Rep. Erik Simpson, R-Idaho Falls, called the measure “a good bill for Idaho citizens that helps balance the end of life equation.”

“I'm kind of torn by this bill,” said Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, a retired physician. “I was originally somewhat offended by the implication that physicians in the state of Idaho would not listen to the authentic desires of the patient, either verbally given or through their … end of life document.” But he said he felt the bill was “appropriately amended.” Rusche said, “I think that I probably will come down on the side of voting in favor, because it does clearly state that the personal wishes of the patient take precedence, and I think it's well for us to remember that in other situations as well.”

The bill was amended in the Senate to address concerns from the Idaho Medical Association and advocates for the developmentally disabled, changing the language to more closely match existing law and standards of care, and causing those groups to drop their opposition.

The House is now recessing until 2 p.m.; the Senate hasn't yet returned from its majority party caucus.

House passes judge retirement bill after extensive debate

The House has voted 46-22 in favor of HB 660, the judges' retirement bill, after extended debate. Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, spoke out against the bill. “The judges have an increase in pay coming - maybe that increase in pay should go to their retirement,” Nonini declared. Lawmakers have approved a 2 percent pay hike for judges, the same as all other state employees are getting and the first increase in four years.

Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, said, “This is a solution that works.”  Rep. Bob Schaefer, R-Nampa, said, “I feel it's a little too generous for my blood.”

Rep. Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, said, “This is the solution we came up with, it has buy-in from all parties. … This was the negotiated settlement, we think it's a reasonable one. If we don't do it now then the question is, when do we do it? Because we still have the obligation. It does not go away.” The bill now moves to the Senate.

Winder: Ultrasound bill would need ‘significant changes’ before coming back next year…

Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, the lead sponsor of this year's controversial forced ultrasound bill, had this to say today about the measure's demise without a hearing in the House: “I think it's the process. The process worked.” Proposed amendments to the bill, he said, “wouldn't have satisfied some.” Winder said the mandatory ultrasound “seemed to be the fatal flaw, at least in the House.” Looking ahead to next year, he said, “I support the concept of it - I think there's a lot more ground work that needs to be done before a bill is brought forward. I think a bill similar to 1387 would have difficulty, and so significant changes would have to be made to it.”

Senate goes at ease for GOP caucus…

The Senate has gone at ease for a majority party caucus, after completing its calendar; Majority Leader Bart Davis said “it is our hope to return” after a “fairly short period of time.” At that point, he said, the Senate will take up a suspension calendar.

Meanwhile, there's a JFAC meeting scheduled for 4 p.m. today, with agenda items including transfers to the budget stabilization fund and the public education stabilization fund. The Senate State Affairs Committee also has a 4 p.m. meeting scheduled on HB 693, the Capitol Mall rules bill regarding the site of the Occupy Boise vigil, and the House Ways & Means Committee has scheduled a 1:30 p.m. meeting on a new version of Rep. Phil Hart's “food freedom act.”

In February, Hart proposed an “Idaho Farm Freedom Act” that would exempt from any licensing, certification or inspection requirement the sale of farm products at farmers markets, at roadside stands, or directly to consumers, including for a “traditional community social event” like weddings, church socials, school events or potlucks. The Food Producers of Idaho sharply objected to the bill, HB 431, asking in a letter, “Why would we want to risk consumer health and potentially cause harm to the reputation of farmers markets in Idaho?” The group urged lawmakers to oppose the bill “for the good of Idaho agriculture and protection of the buy local movement impacting our state.” At that point, Hart asked the House Agriculture Committee to hold off on hearing the bill.

House takes up ‘compromise legislation’ on judges’ retirement plan

The House is now debating HB 660, the judges' retirement plan bill. Rep. Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, said legislation to address funding and structural problems in the plan has failed in the House on close votes twice in the last five years. He called this year's bill “compromise legislation .. that we can all sign onto.” It both increases contributions and trims benefits for new judges. Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, said, “The changes that were made back in 2000 had left the plan … being drained.”

Senate passes big game auction tags bill on 19-16 vote

The Senate has voted 19-16 in favor of SB 1256a, a controversial big-game auction tags bill that was amended in the House. Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, told the Senate, “Utah's auction tags once began the same way that 1256 proposes. … Within last two decades, just a few auction tags developed into a program that is now used primarily for trophy hunting. This year, in 2012, Utah will auction off a total of 848 wildlife tags, a far cry from the first one that initiated the program back in 1981.” Benefit goes to the nonprofit organizations and the bidders who get a tax deduction, she said, but the state's wildlife department gets only 30 percent of the revenue. “Idaho is one of the last bastions for equal opportunity to all of our hunters,” Stennett said. “Our sportsmen don't care for elite hunting or trophy hunting conventions. … I'll be voting no.”

Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, said the program is limited and in line with other existing programs at Idaho Fish & Game; the bill now moves to the governor's desk. It creates new special big game auction tags to be designated as “Governor's wildlife partnership tags.”

Why Nonini didn’t like LeFavour’s Xmas gift…

Idaho Statesman reporter Sean Cockerham had a profile today of Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, who is running for Congress against 2nd District GOP Congressman Mike Simpson. Cockerham wrote, “Nicole LeFavour knows what it’s like to fight incredible odds. LeFavour, Idaho’s only openly gay legislator, gave copies of the movie 'Brokeback Mountain' for Christmas to 60 fellow members of one of the most conservative legislatures in the nation and pushed in vain a bill to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.”

Today, Statesman reporter Dan Popkey caught up with Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, the only lawmaker who reportedly was offended by the gift; in his post here, Popkey recounts Nonini's reaction.

Caucus to address ‘35-35-35 plan’

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Senators will meet behind closed doors on a plan informally known as “35-35-35” that's being touted as the 2012 Legislature's going-home package. That's $35 million to restore teacher salaries over five years, $35 million for tax cuts and $35 million for rainy-day accounts. Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill said Wednesday those numbers are the basic outline of a proposal meant to satisfy the House, Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter and his chamber. The package would direct any additional surplus money come July 1 to savings accounts drained since 2008. House Speaker Lawerence Denney said Wednesday that he believes House Republicans would support that proposal. Not all Senate lawmakers are on board, however. Some favor ditching the tax cuts in favor of stocking up reserves — just in case Idaho's economy heads south again.

‘We will be here tomorrow’

Both the Senate and the House this morning have been working through bills on their 3rd reading calendars; Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, noted that the Senate majority will go to caucus within the hour, and said, “It is contemplated that we will be here tomorrow.”

Meanwhile, after just a couple of bills, the House has been set at ease; Majority Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, announced that it was due to negotiations with the Senate. Also, a “very brief” meeting of the House State Affairs Committee was announced, to occur immediately, apparently to approve minutes, but also to consider SB 1386, a bill from Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, regarding the Civil Air Patrol.

House Ed clears teacher pay bill amid concerns starting teachers will go 9 years without raises…

The House Education Committee has approved HB 698, the teacher-pay bill that cancels the future “Students Come First” cuts to teacher salary funds, while setting budget priorities for fiscal year 2014 saying that the reform programs will be top priority for funding. The approval, however, came only after committee members expressed concerns about a clause in the bill that will bump up the minimum teacher salary more whenever the Legislature funds an increase in base salaries for all teachers; under the bill, the minimum salary would go up by twice the percentage, rather than 1.5 times.

Jason Hancock, aide to state schools Superintendent Tom Luna, said that's not likely to be an issue any time soon; currently, both base teacher salaries and the minimum teacher salary are below their 2009 levels. “Based on the other provisions we have in statute, the first thing that has to happen is that pay for performance has to get funded, so that's the first place where new dollars go, going forward,” he said.

Rep. Donna Pence, D-Gooding, expressed concern that the higher minimum salary means new teachers will continue at the same salary before nine years before getting a pay raise. Hancock said they'd be eligible for merit-pay bonuses under “Students Come First,” and said if Idaho hadn't set the higher minimum teacher salary, the state's teachers now would start at just over $23,000 rather than the current $30,000.  “I don't know about you, but if I was asked as a new employee, do you want to start at $30,000 now … or would you rather start at $23,000 and then over a nine-year period we will gradually get you to $30,000, I'd take the $30,000 now,” he said.

Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, said he thought that was something the Legislature should re-examine in the future. He recalled that in his career as a law enforcement officer, after four years on the job his salary was raised, “but I was right back at where the starting people were. … That didn't set well with me.” He said, “It seems to me somewhere we've got to make a break from starting salary to move them to where they are above someone that's just come in.”

The bill was approved on a voice vote, but the panel's three Democrats voted against it; it now moves to the full House.

Legislative limerick No. 4: She got the last laugh

She got the last laugh

With Shirley McKague in the chair
Bart Davis got caught unaware
Can Senate decorum
Survive such a forum?
Wait 'til those reps all get there.

‘What this session is going to be known for’

Here's a link to the final, updated version of my story today on the demise of SB 1387, the forced ultrasound bill. Among the comments from lawmakers included in the article:

Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, a co-sponsor of the bill: “I think that the proponents just weren't ready for the firestorm that it lit.” Barbieri said his emails were running “at least 10-to-1 against” the bill.

Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene: “I was concerned about the trans-vaginal ultrasound. I don't think I could've supported that bill in its current form.”

Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, a retired physician: “It's terrible medicine, terrible public policy, and an assault on personal freedom. … And unfortunately, that's what this session is going to be known for.”

Newspaper legal notice bill heads to governor’s desk

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Foreclosure trustees would be banned from having financial interests in papers that run their legal notices, according to a bill that cleared the Senate. Tuesday's 28-6 vote sends the Newspaper Association of Idaho-backed bill to Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter. The newspaper group brought the measure, HB 624, after the Kuna-Melba News in southwestern Idaho was purchased by a company linked to the Northwest's largest foreclosure trustee. Idaho requires legal notices be published at statutorily fixed rates in the local paper before auctioning a foreclosed home. Consequently, the Newspaper Association of Idaho says it's unfair for a trustee to buy up small newspapers, because their distribution is too small to provide adequate notice to people interested in the auction. Sen. Jim Rice argued Idaho should prevent trustees from hiding their notices in corners.

Planned Parenthood: ‘A victory for women in Idaho’

Planned Parenthood has issued a statement hailing the failure of SB 1387, the forced ultrasound bill, calling the move “a victory for women in Idaho.” Hannah Brass, the group's Idaho legislative director, said, “Now the legislature can return to spending the rest of the session focusing on the issues that matter most to Idahoans, such as jobs and education. Women, and men, in Idaho are watching and voting to ensure lawmakers know that this sort of mandate, which demeans and shames women, is not OK—now or ever.” You can read the group's full statement here.

Senate panel kills highway-width bill, calls for interim study

After a 90-minute-plus hearing, the Senate Transportation Committee has killed HB 628a, the highway width bill, on a voice vote, but the committee also voted unanimously to call for an interim study committee on the topic. The bill, sponsored by House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, was in response to a 2011 Idaho Supreme Court decision about prescriptive easements for rights-of-way across private land; the committee heard conflicting legal opinions and lots of debate about 100 years of history, public interest and private property rights.

Dems blast bullying bill’s demise; Nonini defends chairman’s prerogative…

House Democratic leaders have issued a press release blasting the decision to let the Senate-passed anti-bullying bill, SB 1358, die without a hearing in the House Education Committee. “I am dismayed that my Republican colleagues refuse to even let the bill be heard and debated,” Rep. Brian Cronin, D-Boise, said in the statement, which adds, “Refusal to debate important issues is becoming the standard for a majority that has slashed education budgets and championed plans to replace teachers with laptops and online courses.” Click below for the leadership's full statement; eight Republicans backed House Democrats' move today to pull the bill from committee, but it fell short.

House Education Chairman Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, defended his decision not to hear the bill. “We had a hearing on that last year, and it was somewhat of a contentious hearing,” he said. “I talked to  (Senate Education) Chairman (John) Goedde early in the session and said I wasn't interested in seeing a bullying bill over here.” The bill came through the Senate Judiciary Committee this year. Nonini said, “I'm not hearing that it's a big problem - I'm sure there's isolated instances, for sure, but I think the districts have policies to deal with those.” He added, “Some of my committee members asked if we could just get by another year without hearing another bullying bill.”

He also defended the prerogative of a legislative committee chairman to kill a bill by leaving it in his desk drawer, rather than granting it a hearing. “I also think there's a whole … lot of people happy right now that Chairman Loertscher's not giving that (ultrasound) bill a hearing,” he said. “A chairman is responsible for protecting his committee.”

Bills amended include $10M tax credit bill for scholarships for private K-12 schools

Among the bills successfully amended in the House this afternoon: HB 670, Rep. Bob Nonini's bill to grant up to $10 million a year in tax credits to individuals or corporations for donations to “scholarship granting organizations” that would give scholarships for K-12 students to attend private schools; and SB 1303, the Senate-passed animal cruelty bill, which was amended to include one of the provisions of HB 650, the House-passed animal cruelty bill, regarding penalties for cockfighting.

After concluding its amending order, the House is moving to adjourn for the day.

House goes to its amending order…

The House has reconvened and gone into its amending order, where a half-dozen bills have been hanging awaiting amendments.

Idaho Dems: ‘War on Women’ just postponed ‘til after election

The Idaho Democratic Party has sent out a news release entitled, “Invasive Assault on Women Postponed Until After the Election,” on the demise of SB 1387, the forced ultrasound bill. “Don’t forget that the Idaho Senate—despite unanimous Democratic opposition and a public outcry— already passed this repellent intrusion upon women’s rights,” the Dems wrote. “The simple fact is that no Idahoan will be safe from an over-reaching state government until the Republican regime is reined in and more Democrats are elected.” You can read their full release here.

Cameron may co-sponsor Nonini’s new teacher-pay bill…

House Education Chairman Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, said he met with Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, and he was supportive of Nonini's new compromise version of Cameron's legislation to cancel future teacher pay cuts required by the “Students Come First” school reform laws, while also writing in that the reform law's provisions, including laptop computers, would be top funding priorities within the school budget. “Everyone seems to support it,” Nonini said, saying Cameron likely will co-sponsor the bill.

Cameron said, “He asked me if I would, and I said I would be favorably disposed, but I wanted to check with my Senate colleagues. … I don't want to be the only senator on board.” Cameron said he's checking with the co-sponsors of his bill, SB 1331, which passed the Senate unanimously and had 15 co-sponsors; Nonini never held a hearing on it in the House committee. “I suspect we will end up being co-sponsors,” Cameron said.

Right to LIfe of Idaho: ‘We have decided to pull SB 1387’

Right to Life of Idaho has issued a press release saying it's pulling the proposed forced ultrasound bill. “Due to misconceptions about SB 1387, the complexity of this issue, and the lack of time left in the  session, we have decided to pull Senate Bill 1387 to work on concerns with plans to bring it back next year,” said Jason Herring, president of the group, in the release. Click below for the rest of his statement.

Right-to-hunt amendment clears Senate, will go to voters in November

The Senate has voted 31-3 in favor of HJR 2, the right-to-hunt amendment to the Idaho Constitution; that's more than two-thirds, so the House-passed measure now will go to voters in November. “This is a very important step that we're taking today, and an even more important step the citizens of Idaho will take in November,” Sen. Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls, the measure's sponsor, told the Senate. “I maintain that this amendment does indeed clarify our rights. It tells us what we can do. It says we have a right to hunt, fish and trap, and that right shall be preserved for the people.”

After that vote, the Senate adjourned for the day; they'll be back in at 9 a.m. tomorrow. The Senate Transportation Committee will meet at 1 p.m., the Senate Local Government & Tax Committee right afterward; and the Senate Judiciary Committee at 1 or just after. Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said JFAC is “hoping” to meet tomorrow morning at 8, although the agenda is still in the works.

Idaho Legislature kills bills aimed at cyclists, ATV hunters

Two bills of interest to outdoor recreationists have died in the Idaho Legislature.

  • Legislation that would have taken away the authority of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to regulate hunting with ATVs died in the state Senate on a 20-15 vote. See the story here.
  • Idaho state Rep. Roy Lacey's H.586 would have required motorists to give bicyclists a three-foot safety zone when passing them on the roadway. See the story here.

House recesses, moving boxes on tap…

Moving boxes are stacked up in the foyer of the House, the tried-and-true sign that the end of the legislative session is near. The House is about to recess to 1:30 p.m.; Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, explained that this is the time in the session when they have to “hurry up and wait.”

House passes public school budget, 54-15

SB 1410, the public school budget, has passed the House on a 54-15 vote; the spending plan, the single largest piece of Idaho's state budget, earlier passed the Senate 31-4 and now heads to Gov. Butch Otter. Under the budget, state general funds for schools would rise 4.6 percent next year, but total funds would be up from this year's reduced level by just 0.4 percent.

Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, spoke out against the budget, saying it still doesn't restore a freeze on the first two years of the teacher salary grid imposed during the state's budget crunch. “Any new teacher coming in to teach for us can look forward to being frozen on the grid for the first three years,” she said. That's saved the state $12.2 million that would have gone to teacher salaries since fiscal year 2011, Ringo said, “to help us meet economic challenges, and I think it's time we dealt with that.”

Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, said under the budget, teachers will benefit from a new merit-pay bonus system, so some will see pay increases beyond what's reflected in Idaho's teacher salary grid. Rep. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, said, “The Department of Health & Welfare is what's eating into the extra funds that we could be putting into education. … I would maintain that if we really want to fund public education the way some people would like to we need to think of ways to improve and reform some other budgets in this state.”

Forced ultrasound bill is dead

SB 1387, the mandatory ultrasound bill, is dead, House State Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, just confirmed. “I spoke with the right-to-life people this morning,” he said. “They agreed that there's not much that can be done with the bill this year. … We will not be scheduling a hearing on it.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com

Loertscher said of the bill, “The big problem that's been identified is the mandatory ultrasound.” He said it presents a significant enough legal problem that it could cause a federal court to toss out Idaho's entire existing informed-consent law for abortion. “We certainly don't want to do damage to that,” he said. He said he suggested to pro-life advocates that they “make a run at this in a little bit different way” next year.

The bill would have required any Idaho woman seeking an abortion to first undergo an ultrasound; in some cases early in pregnancy, an invasive trans-vaginal procedure would have been required to get the information required in the bill, including recording fetal heartbeat and gestational age.

House passes rules bill for Occupy site 55-14, sends it to Senate

House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, speaking in favor of HB 693, the Capitol Mall rules bill, said, “There is no rule. When the next group comes, is it first come, first served? … I think that we don't want to revert to the law of the jungle, if you will, of whoever is there the firstest with the mostest wins. And I think that is outside the spirit of exercising our 1st Amendment rights as well.” Bedke noted that the state's rule-making process is open and includes public input. “Regulating speech as to time, place and manner is a settled issue in the courts,” he said.

Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, spoke against the bill, saying, “I don't think it's needed.” She read from current Idaho Code, which authorizes the director of the Department of Administration to promulgate rules regarding the Capitol building and its grounds, and requires her to consult with the governor, House and Senate, and Capitol Commission when doing so. “This gives all the authority to promulgate rules to the director of the Department of Administration,” King said.

The House voted 55-14 in favor of the bill, sending it to the Senate; it was a near-party-line vote, with all House Democrats opposing the bill along with one Republican, Rep. Tom Trail, R-Moscow.

House takes up Capitol Mall rules bill

The House is debating HB 693, the latest bill dealing with the Capitol Mall grounds and their use; that's the site of the Occupy Boise vigil. Earlier this session, lawmakers passed legislation to ban overnight camping on the site, aimed at evicting the encampment, but a federal judge ruled that the Occupy Boise tents are protected, symbolic free speech - so they can remain 24/7, though actual camping isn't allowed. The new bill authorizes the state Department of Administration to make rules, with violations classified as infractions, and with the department's director authorized to sue to enjoin threatened violations.

“This is meant to be not invasive or not to crowd the court order, the temporary order that we have at this point,” House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, told the House. “No one has a big problem that we have several pages worth of regulations about the use of the Capitol steps.”

Senate passes prison budget, sends it to governor’s desk

With no debate, the Senate has voted 32-3 in favor of HB 678, the corrections budget for next year. The budget shows a 7.3 percent increase over this year in state general funds, which is an $11.4 million increase, but a drop in other funds from this year; the overall increase in total funds is 3.5 percent.

It includes a 3 percent increase in per-inmate payments to Corrections Corporation of America, which operates the Idaho Correctional Center south of Boise for the state, as required by the state's $29.8 million annual contract with CCA; and a $3.8 million boost in ongoing state general funding for community-based treatment, to replace a similar amount funded on a one-time basis this year from the tobacco-settlement Millenium Fund. It also includes a $1.3 million boost in spending, all from general funds, for a 4.5 percent rate adjustment in the state's medical services contract for prison inmates. The House-passed appropriation bill now heads to Gov. Butch Otter.