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Senate back in session, just one bill left…

The Senate is back in session; it has just one bill left, the year-end transfer bill that JFAC approved yesterday and the House already passed earlier this morning. It transfers any surplus beyond $20 million into the budget stabilization fund; it was requested by the governor.

House members filter back in…

House members are filtering back in to the chamber after their caucus; next up will be SB 1200, the public schools budget. The House has only one other bill left, SB 1040a.

Senate passes school maintenance flexibility bill, goes at ease…

The Senate has passed SB 319 on a unanimous, 34-0 vote. That bill allows school districts coping with limited budgets to shift up to two-thirds of their required school building maintenance match to other purposes, under certain circumstances. That bill also now moves to the Senate. After passing that bill, the Senate went at ease; both parties in the House are still behind closed doors in caucus.

Senate passes school budget, 29-5

The Senate has voted 29-5 in favor of SB 1200, the new version of the public school budget. There was little debate. “It’s not a perfect budget, but it is a collaborative budget … to do what’s best for our schools, our teachers, and our children,” Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, told the House.

Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, explaining his vote, said, “I’ve voted no on every appropriation bill as my way, I guess, of trying to make my little point of the increased cost of benefits. I believe they’re unsustainable. We’ve kicked that can down the road. … I think our priorities aren’t in order, I think we need to address this in the near future. This senator will be voting no.”

Sen. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, said, “I will be voting aye, however I still have an issue with the discretionary funds, and hopefully in the future we can stop the epidemic of the overrides or the supplementals in our schools by increasing supplemental funds."

Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, also explaining his vote, said, “I intend to vote aye on this bill. I think we have problems with one-time money, but that will be the decision of the gentleman on the 2nd  floor. I also would like to see more money in discretionary and really addressing the operations expenses that districts have, but that’s a topic for discussion on another day in another year.”

The bill now moves to the House.

House passes HB 345, surplus eliminator sending $ to reserve fund

House Appropriations Chair Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, told the House that HB 345 would transfer any year-end surplus beyond $20 million to the budget stabilization fund. “This is a year-end surplus eliminator,” Bell said. “It is going to take a lot of faith on our part, because at this point, there is no surplus to eliminate.” The bill passed unanimously, on a 67-0 vote.

The House then recessed for short caucuses for both parties. Meanwhile, the Senate is debating SB 1200, the public schools budget.

Both houses convene for final day…

Both the House and the Senate are in session this morning for their final day of this year’s legislative session, the 88thday. First up in the Senate is suspension of rules to consider SB 1200, the new version of the public school budget. The House is debating SCR 103, encouraging Idaho colleges and universities to compete to become test sites for drone technology. The House also will soon be suspending its rules to consider SB 1200, Majority Leader Mike Moyle told the House, along with HB 345, on year-end transfers.

A week and much angst later, new school budget matches old one

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on how Idaho lawmakers wrote a new public schools budget today, one that’s virtually identical to the $1.3 billion spending plan that was rejected by one vote in the Senate last week, but this budget was the result of a different process – including a public hearing early Wednesday morning before the joint House and Senate Education committees – and Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, who led the move to kill the budget in the Senate last week, said it was a better one. “From what I know at this point, I plan on voting for the budget,” Goedde said late Wednesday. “I don’t have any huge arguments with what’s been moving forward.”

Goedde said he liked tweaks the education committees made to the wording in SB 1199, the bill they passed and that lawmakers sent to the governor today; he also appreciated clarification that the $21 million for teacher merit bonuses and professional development and the $3 million for technology pilot project grants were one-time money. Though there’s no change in how those funds are handled in the new version of the budget, it more specifically calls out the one-time nature of those two appropriations.

Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, supported the original school budget this year, HB 323, and also supported the new version in JFAC today. “I don’t think there’s really much of substance that’s different,” she said. “I think it was kind of an expensive exercise.”

The emergence of the new school budget from the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee puts the Legislature on track to adjourn on Thursday. Predicted Goedde, “We’re out by noon.”

House passes ed policy bill, SB 1199, adjourns for day

House Education Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, told the House that his committee heard supportive testimony on SB 1199 today from the Idaho School Boards Association, the Idaho Association of School Administrators, and the Idaho Education Association. “There was no opposition to this whatsoever,” DeMordaunt said. “In addition, we had a number of teachers there on their own accord who were strongly in favor of this. So it clearly is an idea that has strong support.” The bill then passed the House on a 51-12 vote, with all 12 opponents coming from the GOP side; it now goes to the governor’s desk.

This is the bill that broke the impasse over the Senate-defeated public school budget; it separates two programs that had been included in the budget, for $21 million in a combination of locally-directed teacher merit bonuses and professional development, and $3 million in technology pilot program grants, into a bill that went through the education committees, rather than just being in the budget bill.

Those voting “no” were Reps. Barbieri, Barrett, Boyle, Gestrin, Crane, Palmer, Harris, McMillan, Monks, Sims, Wood(35), and Holtzclaw.

With that bill passed, the House adjourned until 9 a.m. tomorrow.

House suspends rules, takes up SB 1199

The House is suspending its rules and taking up SB 1199, the new education policy bill on locally-directed teacher merit bonuses and state grants for technology pilot projects in school districts. It will be the last bill the House handles today; tomorrow morning, Majority Leader Mike Moyle said, the House will have three bills left, some back-and-forth with the Senate, and then it'll be done for the session.

Why they voted no, and why one switched…

Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, said the reason he joined the four-person minority in 20-member JFAC today voting against half the motions in the new public school budget was because he voted only for the divisions that didn’t include salary and benefit funding or discretionary funding to school districts. He said he remains concerned that the state should allocate more to discretionary funding. “This budget is very lopsided into salaries and benefits,” he said. “Teachers and administrators are hard-working … they haven’t received the money that I would like them to get, but there has to be a balance.” He said he hopes next year, the Legislature will pay more heed to restoring recent years’ cuts in discretionary funding.

Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, said he voted no on those motions because there were “no changes from the previous budget,” which he also opposed; HB 323 earlier cleared JFAC on 15-5 vote and easily passed the House, but died by one vote in the Senate.

Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, who was part of the 5-vote minority in the first go-round in JFAC but voted with the majority today in favor of all the public school budget motions said, “Well, that’s going to be the budget. We had our discussion, we lost, and I still think there could have been some adjustments to it to get a little bit more discretionary, but I didn’t see that voting against it was going to do any good. It was not a bad budget to begin with.”

House passes Senate-amended charter facilities funding bill, 40-27

HB 206aa, the charter school facilities funding bill, has passed the House as amended in the Senate, sending the measure to the governor's desk. There was bipartisan opposition; the bill passed on a 40-27 vote, with those dissenting including Majority Leader Mike Moyle R-Star. The measure grants charter schools a per-student allocation from the state budget to cover a portion of their building costs each year; unlike regular school districts, they can't ask voters to raise their own property taxes to fund school buildings, which is the major way that Idaho funds schoolhouses. Under the bill, the per-student allocation would go only to brick-and-mortar, as opposed to "virtual" or online charter schools; but the virtual charters could get state reimbursement for 50 percent of their documented building expenses, for expenses like offices or testing center. The cost of the bill next year is estimated at $1.4 million; it would rise through a formula in future years.

The House also voted 45-22 in favor of the Senate-amended version of HB 221aa, the charter school governance overhaul bill. The Senate amended the bill to remove a clause that would have let 501c3 nonprofit corporations set up state-funded charter schools; the bill now adds only private and public colleges or universities as charter school authorizers. That measure, too, now goes to the governor's desk.

Final budget motion: Any surplus at year-end beyond $20M goes to budget stabilization fund

The final action considered by the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee this afternoon is a new bill to transfer any unanticipated surplus in the state budget in excess of $20 million at the end of fiscal year 2013 into the budget stabilization fund, the state’s main savings account. The fund would otherwise have a balance of $49.7 million on that date, June 30, 2013. It was approved on a unanimous vote.

There was little discussion on the bill, which was requested by Gov. Butch Otter. "We didn't see anything wrong with doing it," said Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert. "We think it's optimistic."

Intent language adopted unanimously, public school budget set at same level as before

There was no objection to the intent language attached to the public school budget in the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee this afternoon, so it was adopted by unanimous consent. That leaves the new public school budget pretty much the same as the Senate-defeated one, with the difference being that it leaves out items that have been incorporated into SB 1199, and instead references that legislation. Overall, schools would get a 2.2 percent increase next year in state general funds.

Some 16-4 votes, some unanimous…

The motion for the children’s programs division in the school budget passed unanimously in JFAC this afternoon, on a 20-0 vote. Then, the motion for the division of facilities passed on a 16-4 vote, the same as earlier motions, with Sens. Mortimer, Nuxoll, Vick and Bayer objecting. The final motion, from Rep. Steve Miller for the Division of Educational Services for the Deaf & Blind, passed unanimously.

That wraps up the public school budget-setting, resulting in a new budget that's identical to the previously approved, Senate-rejected one, but for two differences: The two items of intent language that were removed and instead refer to SB 1199, and breaking the technology funds from a single $13.4 million line item into two items, at $3 million and $10.4 million. The joint committee is now looking at the intent language that is tied to the various motions.

There's an unaccustomed, bright light shining down into the JFAC chamber from the skylights above; that's because the committee usually meets in the early morning, but today it's the afternoon sun that's filtering in.

Same 16-4 votes repeated; numbers match earlier, defeated school budget

The second and third motions on the public school budget, for the divisions of teachers and operations, have passed by identical 16-4 votes, the same as the first motion, with just Sens. Mortimer, Nuxoll, Vick and Bayer objecting.

The budget motions appear to be building toward a total budget for public schools next year of $1.308 billion in state general funds, $1.6 billion in total funds, identical to the earlier defeated school budget, HB 323. That’s a 2.2 percent increase in general funds, and 2 percent overall.

At the start of the meeting, budget analyst Paul Headlee explained that the joint committee is exempt from Joint Rule 9 of the Senate and House preventing the exact same numbers from appearing in the new budget bill. There is a change from before, however: Two sections of intent language are missing, instead referring to SB 1199, the new bill that passed the Senate and won backing from the House Education Committee earlier today, regarding teacher merit bonuses and technology pilot project grants.

First motion of six in public school budget clears JFAC, 16-4

The first motion of the six in the public school budget, for administration, has passed JFAC on a 16-4 vote, with just Sens. Dean Mortimer, Sheryl Nuxoll, Steve Vick and Cliff Bayer objecting. That’s one more vote than the original school budget, HB 323, got in the joint committee earlier before being defeated by one vote in the Senate; this time around, Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, voted in favor. “The motion is straightforward, and pretty close to the original motion,” said Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls, who made the successful motion; it was seconded by Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert.

House Ed to meet on adjournment - now

The House Education Committee has just announced it'll meet on adjournment of the House - now. On its agenda is SB 1199, the new Senate-passed bill that both the House and Senate education committee held a hearing on this morning; it deals with two pieces of the public school budget, merit bonuses for teachers and technology pilot project grants.

House passes drone privacy bill, 66-2

The House has passed the drone privacy bill, SB 1134aa, on a 66-2 vote, with just Reps. Christy Perry, R-Nampa, and Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, dissenting. Now, Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, said the House plans to recess until 2:30 p.m. to allow the House Education Committee and JFAC to meet.

‘The drones are coming’

The Senate is now at ease, and members are milling around, awaiting SB 1134aa, the drone bill, from the House. The House has just begun debate on the much-amended measure, which seeks to restrict the use of unmanned drones without a warrant, to protect privacy. "You need a warrant for targeting specific individuals or specific private property," Luker told the House, explaining the amendments. "This is our best effort at this time, given the amount of time we have in the session, to deal with … expectations of privacy vs. new technology," he said.

His opening comment: "The drones are coming."

House passes P&Z exemption bill for garage on 42-26 vote

The House has voted 42-26 in favor of SB 1192a, the bill to exempt a state parking garage project near the Capitol from local Boise city planning and zoning requirements. The bill, which earlier passed the Senate, now goes to the governor's desk.

Rules suspended, bills moving quickly in both houses…

The House is working through a suspension calendar; it has already suspended rules and approved HCR 36, on reauthorizing the LINE Commission, and HB 343, the so-called “drop-dead bill” that extends all administrative rules, which otherwise would expire July 1. Now, the Senate has reconvened and is taking up HB 343, also suspending rules to allow it to come up right away.

House debating bill to override Boise city planning and zoning for state garage…

The House is debating SB 1192a, the Senate-passed bill to exempt a state parking garage project near the Capitol from Boise city planning and zoning requirements. “We sold the bonds on the parking garage last year, and we are on a very strict timetable,” Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, told the House. “We would like to have SB 1192 in our back pocket.”

Rep. Ed Morse, R-Hayden, said, “This is special-interest legislation, and while I see the equity, I also see the hypocrisy in the state exempting themselves from local government control.” He said he’d prefer to amend the bill to exempt everyone in the state from planning and zoning requirements. “This is a perfect example, an excellent opportunity to change the law for every private property owner in the state,” Morse told the House. “They’re all suffering under this system.”

Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, noted that the parking garage is six stories high. “Two stories is the height of most of the buildings that surround it,” he said. “Nobody is asking the state not to build the garage or saying, ‘Oh, well, you can’t build six stories.’ What they’re just saying, as I understand it, is can we influence the design a little bit so it fits esthetically with the neighbors. And I think that’s a reasonable discussion to have.”

Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, spoke against the bill. “I just contend that the issue is whether or not the state should comply with the rules and regulations that we’re requiring every private party to comply with, whenever they’re doing any building at all, and I urge you to vote no.”

Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, said, “This is just gaming the system. This is just saying when this Legislature decides we don’t want to play by the rules, we won’t.”

Only 13 state senators support federal lands in Idaho

PUBLIC LANDS — Would you trust the state of Idaho to manage the national forests, rangelands and parks in the best interest of a full range of the public, recreation and wildlife?


"Senators, the only reason you want title to a land is to sell it. And I don't think Idaho should be for sale."

Idaho Sen. Michelle Stennett, one of 13 who voted against House Concurrent Resolution 22, which demands Congress transfer federal lands in Idaho to the state.
- Idaho Mountain Express

JFAC to meet at 1:30

Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, has announced to the Senate that the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee will meet at 1:30 p.m. today.

Senate passes SB 1199, 31-3

There was no debate, and the Senate has voted 31-3 in favor of SB 1199, the new education bill regarding teacher merit bonuses and technology pilot project grants. Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise, who asked for 60 seconds to explain his vote, noted the pending education stakeholders task force and interim legislative committee on education issues. “I’d rather sit back and see what the fruit of those processes are,” he said. The other two “no” votes came from Sens. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, and Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens. The bill now moves to the House side.

Goedde tells Senate that SB 1199 ‘may look familiar’

Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, is presenting SB 1199 to the Senate, after a unanimous vote to suspend rules to allow the bill to come up right away. “The language … may look familiar,” he told the Senate. “It was found in another bill … but with some changes.”

Choreographing a complex legislative dance…

The Senate is at ease, while Senate leaders from both parties huddle with Senate Secretary Jennifer Novak on the complex dance that’s ahead of them, as they suspend rules, move between various orders, and pick up late bills due to arrive from the House, including HB 343, the so-called “drop-dead bill” affirming administrative rules for the session, and HCR 36, the measure reauthorizing the LINE Commission. Both of those will require the Senate State Affairs Committee to go through the “buck slip” process, in which every committee member signs off to allow the bill to proceed directly to the floor, rather than first go through a committee hearing.

Davis warned senators from the outset this morning that this was coming. “We’re at that stage of the session where we need to start and stop a few times,” he said.

He also advised the Senate that once it’s dealt with SB 1199, the education bill, and also suspended rules to consider HB 343, HCR 36, and SB 1134a, all coming from the House, “It’s our intent to adjourn for the day and allow the joint committee to go to work.” That would be the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, which still needs to approve a new public school budget bill.

Senate convenes, plans to suspend rules, take up SB 1199…

The Senate has convened this morning; it’s planning to suspend its rules and take up SB 1199, the bill just approved this morning in the Senate Education Committee regarding two sections of the public school budget, on teacher merit bonuses and technology pilot grants.

Peterson: A rightward repeat?

Longtime Idaho political watcher - and player – Marty Peterson offers some historical perspective on this year’s defeat of the public school budget in the Senate and its larger implications, in a column today at Ridenbaugh.com; you can read it here. Peterson points to the events of 1963, when Idaho’s Republican Party lurched to the right, setting in motion a process that led to conservative Don Samuelson being elected governor for a single term, after which the Democrats and Cecil Andrus captured the governorship in 1970, for the first time in a quarter-century.

“If history repeats itself, there just may be some Democrats who are quietly celebrating the shift in the philosophical control of the Senate,” Peterson writes. “The question now is, what Republican is going to play the role of Don Samuelson in 2014? And what Democrat will play the role of Cecil Andrus in 2018? In 2018 it will have been 24 years since the Democrats last occupied the governor’s office. Just like it was in 1970 when Andrus defeated Samuelson.”

Senate Ed endorses SB 1199 with just one dissenting vote

The Senate Education Committee has approved SB 1199 with just one dissenting vote, from Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise. Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, moved to send the bill to the full Senate with a  recommendation that it pass. “It’s not exactly what I would have scripted, but it does reflect some ongoing objectives that we’ve been trying to get to for some time,” he said.

Durst spoke against the motion. “I simply can’t endorse, from my standpoint, policy that hasn’t been really well thought-out and isn’t strategic in nature,” he said, noting that both the governor’s education stakeholder task force and  legislative interim committee will be addressing education issues over the coming months. “If we want to have differential pay, let’s have a discussion about what that looks like,” Durst said. “Don’t just make it a one-year thing. Make it a permanent thing if we want to do it. We tried that before, the outcome was rejection by the voters. I think at this point we’re sending a mixed message to our constituents … put it right back in their face and tell them they’re going to like it.”

Sen. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, said, “I feel much better about voting positively in this case, since we did have a public hearing, we had good testimony, and we didn’t have any opposition.” The bill now moves to the full Senate.