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Gov. Otter floats personal property tax cut plan

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The measure everybody has been waiting for — personal property tax relief — is finally in play, after Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter released a draft proposal for review by counties, cities, schools, business groups and lawmakers. Otter's plan, released on Thursday, would eliminate the $140 million tax on business equipment over six years. Under the proposal, Idaho's taxpayer-supported general fund would replace some of the money that cities, counties and other local governments stand to lose under the repeal. Local governments could replace the rest, by shifting the burden to real property. The Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry has been working feverishly for repeal, to help members including Idaho Power Co. and Micron Technology Inc. that contend the tax is unfair. Otter's chief of staff, David Hensley, expects modifications.

Also, Lewiston Tribune reporter Bill Spence has a post on the proposal at his Political Theater blog here.

Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Valentine’s Day rally against sexual, domestic violence draws dancing crowd to Statehouse

On this Valentine’s Day, dance rallies were held as part of an international event protesting violence against women and girls dubbed “One Billion Rising,” and it happened in Boise, too, on the Statehouse steps. The Boise Weekly reports that hundreds danced in front of the Capitol today as part of the local event, sponsored by the Idaho Council Against Sexual and Domestic Violence. You can see the Weekly’s post and pictures here.

The One Billion Rising organization is based on the idea that one in three women on the planet will be attacked in her lifetime, with the saying, “One billion women violated is an atrocity; one billion women dancing is a revolution.” This year is the 15th that the event has been held.

Bill to curb urban renewal killed after committee hears extensive opposition

After nearly two hours of testimony, the House Local Government Committee has overwhelmingly rejected HB 135, a proposal from Rep. Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d’Alene, to require a city-wide or county-wide vote before any urban renewal agency could establish a new revenue allocation area within its district; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com. Urban renewal officials from Boise, Twin Falls and elsewhere spoke out against the bill, saying it posed serious legal and functional problems for urban renewal districts in their operations. Lobbyist Ken McClure told the committee, “This is the kind of thing that will severely impact the ability to attract the next Chobani.” McClure said, “I think HB 135, in many cases, will be the exact reverse of the incentive you are looking for for building a vibrant business community in Idaho.”

The Idaho Chamber Alliance was among those testifying against the bill; the onlye group speaking in favor was the Idaho Freedom Foundation.

Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, said, “When I ran for office, people asked me what I wanted to accomplish, and I said one of those things is to not make bad law. And I think this is bad law.”

The bill was killed on a 4-9 vote; the only committee members supporting it were Sims and Reps. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens; Steven Harris, R-Meridian; and Lenore Barrett, R-Challis, the committee’s chairman. Barrett asked, “Why do you not want to vote? Is that not what America is all about?”

Barbieri said, “I understand that urban renewal allocation districts is one of the few tools, but it has become primarily used to avoid the vote that’s otherwise necessary for bonding of cities.” He made the unsuccessful motion to pass the bill to the full House.

After the vote, the committee agreed at Barbieri’s request to hold his bill, HB 136, in committee; it had been next up on the agenda. The move kills the bill for this legislative session. That measure would have made extensive changes to Idaho’s local land-use planning laws, including requiring any comprehensive plan changes to be approved by voters; making the state’s land-use planning law apply only in cities and counties that opt in to use it; and requiring, in those cases, that a property rights council be established to review all planning and zoning decisions.

The panel then voted unanimously, with no debate, to pass HB 137, Rep. Luke Malek’s bill to remove an obscure clause from existing law that allows an urban renewal district to enter private homes within the district to make inspections.

Hearing set for next week on two anti-marijuana measures

Two controversial measures dealing with marijuana have been scheduled for a public hearing in the Senate State Affairs Committee next Wednesday morning, and committee Chairman Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, is trying something new: He’s letting people sign up in advance to testify. “I think it would make it a little easier for people to sign up and avoid so much confusion that morning,” McKenzie said. He said he’ll also offer people the opportunity to sign up to testify that morning.

Senate State Affairs meets at 8 a.m.; the hearing is scheduled Wednesday for the Capitol Auditorium. The two measures are SCR 112, which would state the Idaho Legislature’s firm opposition to legalizing marijuana in the state for any purpose; and SJM 101, a non-binding memorial calling on the federal government to enforce federal anti-drug laws in all states, including those, like Idaho’s neighbor Washington, that have legalized marijuana. “Legalizing this substance is a threat to all states and citizens, not just to the few states that have opted to violate federal law,” the measure states. Both measures are sponsored by Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise.

McKenzie said those wishing to sign up in advance to testify can do so by email to the committee secretary at sstaf@senate.idaho.gov.

Gun-rights bills coming forward…

Fearful that President Barack Obama will move aggressively to limit firearms, a Republican lawmaker said Thursday at least two bills meant to bolster gun rights will begin their journey through the Idaho Legislature starting early next week, the AP reports. House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, is encouraging proponents of firearms-related legislation to come forward with proposals quickly, AP reporter John MIller reports, so lawmakers have a chance to adequately vet them."It's time to start moving bills," Bedke said, estimating that the 2013 session is about half over. Click below for Miller's full report.

House votes 62-7 for governor’s “HOME” jobs tax credit bill

The House has voted 62-7 in favor of HB 88, the governor’s “Hire One More Employee” or HOME tax credit bill, sending it across the rotunda to the Senate side. The measure revises the existing “Hire One” new jobs credit, adding an extra $1,000 credit if the new employee is a veteran, and revising the amounts and qualifications for the credit. “It makes it simpler,” said House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, the bill’s House sponsor. “A new job is a benefit to the state of Idaho.” The bill’s estimated cost is $10.4 million a year.

Rep. Dell Raybould, R-Rexburg, said, “I think we’ve got to look at it from a business sense, that if you can spend a little money to create business, it will profit the state.” Said Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, “I think it’s an investment in our future.”

Opponents included Rep. Lenore Barrett, R-Challis, who called the bill “government meddling in the free-enterprise system.” She said, “If we’re going to do tax breaks, let’s do tax breaks for everybody.” Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, said, “What we’re doing is we’re handing out taxpayer money to folks who are probably going to hire somebody anyway.”

In the vote, those opposing the bill were Barrett, Luker, and Reps. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome; Steven Harris, R-Meridian; Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton; John Rusche, D-Lewiston; and Ed Morse, R-Hayden.

Siddoway: Personal property tax talks ‘alive,’ but not ‘well’

Senate Local Government & Taxation Committee Chairman Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, used his presentation to JFAC to report on talks on repealing or reducing the personal property tax on business equipment. “I wish I could stand here today and report to you that all is well, but unfortunately that is not the case,” he said. Discussions are ongoing, he said, but are stuck in part on whether they should include exempting operating property, such as utility lines, railroad tracks and pipelines. He said there’s been recent discussion of using tax shifts as a way to cope with the cost of reducing the tax: For example, he said, a school levy might cost a typical homeowner more, because personal property wouldn’t be included in the base taxed for the levy. “That makes it harder to pass that levy,” Siddoway told JFAC. “But with that shift, the voters have an opportunity to say yea or nay on it. So that’s one way some of the moneys could be shifted.”

Siddoway said discussions are continuing. “The proposal is still alive,” he said. “I don’t know how well it is, but it’s still alive.” He added that any plan likely would look at a multi-year phaseout, and might not exempt all personal property from tax.

Click below for comments from other committee chairs addressing JFAC this morning.

Rep. Wood on Medicaid: ‘I don’t see how you’re going to reduce it any more’

Among the committee chairs presenting budget recommendations for their subject areas to JFAC this morning was Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, chairman of the Health & Welfare Committee. JFAC Co-Chair Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, questioned why Medicaid costs have seen such large swings over the years, sometimes requiring big supplemental appropriations, and other times, like this year, turning back millions; Wood said the history of the program for the past 15 years has been tumultuous, between federal funding changes, budget downturns, major updates to operating systems and more. Now, he said, it’s a more efficient system where it’s easier to see where the money goes. “I think we’ve tightened that down as far as we could get it,” he said.

Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, the Senate co-chair of JFAC, asked Wood, “Nobody knows more about the Health & Welfare budget in this room than you do, you’ve worked that budget inside and out and helped us thru some difficult times. … I hear rumors around in the halls once in a while now that we’re going to try and take another $32 million out of Medicaid. Do you think that that’s possible?”

Wood, who worked on the H&W budget for six years as a JFAC member before taking on the H&W committee chairmanship, said the budget when he first arrived had been increasing steeply, but that’s slowed, with increases the last six years at just over 3 percent. “I think we’ve bent that cost curve, under the current program, down about as far as we can,” he said. “I can’t see how you’re going to reduce it any more. … Until you get a good managed care program in place, I don’t think you’re going to reduce that. Because what you’re talking about now is reducing it by 7 or 8 percent. … I don’t know where you’re going to get that.” He noted that two years ago in HB 260, “We took $35 million out of that system, but that severely impacted it. … The following year we had to go back and put money in, because we truly impacted some individuals beyond the point of good care for the citizens, so I worry about doing that, I truly do.”

House Ed approves bill that restores current-year school funding

The House Education Committee has approved HB 65, the bill sponsored by its chairman, Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, and Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, to restore funding for the current year back to the public school budget despite program eliminations due to the defeat of Propositions 1, 2 and 3 in the November election. “I put this before you at this point in time to allow our school districts to have the funds they need in order to meet the expectations that we already set for them,” DeMordaunt told the committee.

The bill is complex, restoring some items but not others; the bottom line is a small increase for schools this year rather than a potential loss of $30 million. Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, said, “I ‘m a little bit surprised that we don’t have some people coming in here and saying thank you.”

Rep. Donna Pence, D-Gooding, said, “This bill was necessary. … There were unintended consequences, and there always are. … We really needed to come in and do these things to hold our school districts, make them whole. Because there were some really tough things – well, impossible things if that money was not put back. … They can’t meet their obligations, and we can’t do that to them.”

Among other provisions, the bill restores funding for additional math and science teachers added this year; covers costs for students already enrolled in dual courses; shifts $2.5 million tabbed for laptop computers into technology-related professional development for teachers; and restores funding for payments to teachers who achieve national board certification. The bill now moves to the full House for debate. Without it, those funds would have sat unallocated in the school budget, and flowed, at the end of the year, into the public education stabilization fund, a savings account for schools.

Millennium Fund panel divided over tobacco-prevention funding for next year

The Joint Millenium Fund Committee presented its funding recommendations to JFAC this morning, detailing how it’s voted to spend next year’s distributions from earnings on the trust fund Idaho created with its proceeds from a national tobacco settlement. The fund has $10.7 million available to distribute next year, but Gov. Butch Otter recommended distributing just $6.34 million in grants, with the biggest recipient the Department of Correction’s community-based substance abuse treatment services, at $1.9 million; followed by the Department of Health & Welfare’s “Project Filter” smoking cessation services at $2 million. The committee’s recommendation came in just under the governor’s, at $6.31 million. It recommended the remaining funds revert to the corpus of the trust fund.

The committee’s plan would give the same amount the governor recommended to Corrections for the community drug treatment, while reallocating the Project Filter funds, to give $1.5 million to tobacco cessation, and $500,000 to the project’s anti-tobacco counter-marketing campaign. H&W had requested $1 million for counter-marketing, but the governor hadn’t recommended any funding.

The only other change from the governor’s recommendation in the committee’s list is that it rejected $30,000 the governor had allocated to Health & Welfare for a cancer data registry. Both recommendations include $270,000 from the Millenium Fund next year for the Idaho Meth Project; both rejected a group of other grant applications, including a $2 million one from the American Lung Association and other groups for an anti-tobacco program.

A minority report from the 10-member committee’s four Democratic members noted that the panel’s final meeting was held when two of them couldn’t attend, and decried the decision to return $4 million in available grant funds to the permanent trust. “This is counter to the intent of the Tobacco Master Settlement,” the Democrats wrote. “The purpose of the settlement was to prevent the use of tobacco, to fund cessation activities, and to mitigate the cost of tobacco related illnesses to the states.” They called for more funding for preventive programs. The final decisions are up to JFAC as it sets agency budgets that plug in the amounts from the fund.

Committee chairs begin reports to JFAC in prep for agency budget-setting…

Today, the chairs of germane committees in both houses are beginning their presentations of recommendations to JFAC as the joint committee prepares to begin setting state agency budgets. First up this morning were the chairmen of the Senate and House education committees.

JFAC Co-Chair Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, asked Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, about funding levels for public schools for next year. “The governor’s proposal is for a 2 percent increase to public schools; that’s in line with his 3 percent budget,” Cameron said. “The superintendent proposed a 3 percent increase to public schools, about $13 million more, which doesn’t fit in with the 3 percent budget, unless we can somehow magically find $13 million in some other place. Did the committee or do you have a personal feeling as to which direction you would like to see this committee head?”

Goedde responded, “I don’t think there was anybody on the committee who would say we need less money for education. There are ways to spend 3 percent very effectively. And we did not focus on the revenue side, we only focused on the expenditure side.”

To the same question, House Education Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, responded, “We really did not focus on the revenue aspect. It was more of a discussion on the concepts, programs and ideas.” DeMordaunt called for pilot programs in technology at Idaho schools, with proposals from school districts to be reviewed by the state Department of Education; and also called for eliminating an early-retirement incentive program for teachers. “This has been ineffective, it has not achieved the desired results,” he said. Both called for the $33.9 million tabbed in both the governor’s and superintendent’s budget proposals to stay in the school budget, for such uses as professional development for the new Common Core standards; DeMordaunt also suggested using part of that for teacher pay for performance at the direction of local school districts.

Goedde called for funding improvements in administrative evaluation of teachers, and said, “Technology money needs to be sent to districts, for computer devices, wireless networks and professional development.”

The two committee chairmen hosted two open “listening sessions” in the Capitol Auditorium in the past few weeks on education issues that drew hundreds of people, and much testimony focusing on shortfalls in funding for charter schools and traditional Idaho school districts, and opposition to reviving labor provisions from voter-rejected Proposition 1, some of which are now pending in both committees. Though both weighed in on their committee’s views on a series of budget lines from the superintendent’s proposed budget, neither chairman mentioned the testimony in his presentation to JFAC.

Cross-border liquor sales: ‘Their mistake is our gain’

Idaho’s seen big boosts in sales in its state liquor division from Washington residents, division Director Jeff Anderson told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee today. “Sales along the border there are up probably 20 to 30 percent,” Anderson said. “With the addition of the Stateline store, combined Post Falls/Stateline is tracking about plus-70 percent.”

The sales got a boost when Washington’s liquor prices spiked after the state’s voters decided to privatize their state liquor system, but to keep all state taxes and fees in place. Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, asked, “As consumers in Washington get used to the convenience, I guess, of buying it out of the store, even though it’s got a higher price, my question is, will we continue having the same advantage? Or will the Washington consumers adapt to their prices and elect to stay home?”

“It’s difficult to predict,” Anderson responded. “I can tell you we monitor about 13 stores along the border, from Lewiston up to Oldtown.”

He said, “There are moves in the Washington Legislature, on the part of Costco and others, to try and repeal portions of how that whole system was implemented. But for the time being, we anticipate to continue to have additional business.”

An example is the “super premium” Patron brand of tequila, Anderson said. “It sells for around $50. In Idaho, out the door, that’s about $53. Pre-1183 (the Washington initiative), Washington state might have been maybe $56. So there was really no reason for a super-premium consumer to drive to try and find it at a lower price. Now, that same product in Washington can sell for as much as $75 to $80, when you add in all the taxes and fees. So when you think about the difference  between $53 and $75, that’s really what’s driving this, is the premium/super-premium categories.”

Eskridge responded, “We’ve got something good going here. We’ve got cheaper liquor prices, cheaper gas prices, cheaper tobacco prices. We need to keep on that trend and maybe we’ll continue improving our revenue situation in relation to Washington state. Their mistake is our gain, so let’s continue that.”

Shakeup of state oil & gas board wins Senate panel’s support

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho's oil and natural gas industry is a step closer to getting new regulators after a Senate panel approved a shakeup of the state's Oil and Natural Gas Commission. Currently, the Idaho Land Board, with Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and the attorney general, secretary of state, controller and public schools superintendent, regulates the industry. A newly constituted panel, approved unanimously by the Senate Resources and Environment Committee on Wednesday, would have five governor-appointed members. One person would have knowledge of drilling, another with geology experience and another technical expertise in water issues. There would also be two landowners, one with and one without mineral leases.The idea is to put decision-making in the hands of people with deeper knowledge of the issues, while reducing elected officials' conflicts of interest.

Idaho business profits have rebounded, while wages still lag pre-recession levels

Idaho’s wages are still short of their pre-recession peak, state Department of Labor Director Roger Madsen reported to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee this morning, but profits for Idaho businesses have rebounded, passing their pre-recession high in the spring of 2011 and growing by another 8.3 percent last summer. “While slow growth in wages is a concern, the importance of business profits in Idaho’s economy cannot be overlooked,” Madsen told lawmakers. “Over the past decade, business profits have been responsible for an increasing share of the gross state product. Since 2003, business profits have grown from 36.5 percent of gross state product to over 42 percent in 2010. With limited wage growth and profits rising significantly, that shift will likely continue.”

Madsen said overall, “Growth is slow, but is strengthening.”

Nearly all of the Idaho Department of Labor’s funding comes from federal funds; its $302,400 request for state general funds for next year reflects a 30 percent drop, due to the fourth year of the four-year phaseout of state general funds for the Idaho Human Rights Commission. That move cuts the last $140,000 in state funding for the commission, which now operates within the department largely with dedicated or federal funds.

Bill would limit overseas voters

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Voters who once lived in Idaho but now reside overseas could be barred from casting ballots in local elections, under legislation introduced in a House committee Wednesday at the urging of Rep. Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d'Alene. The House State Affairs committee agreed to introduce the legislation to keep former Idahoans who live abroad indefinitely from voting in city council or other municipal elections. Federal absentee laws would allow those citizens to vote in national elections. The bill would not bar military personnel from voting in local races. Sims says the goal is to prevent voter fraud. In a neck-and-neck 2009 city council race, at least four Canadians cast ballots. A lawsuit on that case was ultimately decided by the Idaho Supreme Court. Sims introduced a similar bill last year to tighten standards for absentee ballots, but it bill died on the House floor.

Substitute Sen. Quane Kenyon: ‘I thought I knew where everything was’

Former longtime Associated Press reporter Quane Kenyon covered many an Idaho legislative session, but his role in the Capitol today is a different one – he’s a substitute senator, filling in today through Friday for Sen. Fred Martin, R-Boise. Martin is off to Atlanta with his wife to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary.

As the Senate’s floor session concluded today, Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, said to smiles, “It is wonderful to have a member of the press, even if a retired member of the press, sitting with us Republicans.”

Kenyon said afterward, “I thought I knew where everything was, because I prowled these halls for 26 years. So I get down here, and everything’s moved.”

Counting regular sessions, organizational sessions and special sessions, Kenyon said he covered 40 sessions of the Idaho Legislature for the Associated Press; he also covered the Michigan legislature. While he’s subbing for Martin, Kenyon said, “I hope to avoid making any really hard decisions, since I’m just a caretaker.”

Senate holds Lincoln commemoration

After a two-day delay due to an over-long floor debate on Monday, the Idaho Senate held its annual Lincoln Day ceremony today, with teen Senate pages taking center stage, both singing and offering inspiring quotes. That was the idea of freshman Sen. Fred Martin, R-Boise, who had been scheduled to give the ceremony's closing comments, but was gone today.

House freshmen band together for clout

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on how 16 Idaho GOP House freshmen have banded together on the health insurance exchange bill, saying if their changes pass, they’ll back Gov. Butch Otter’s state exchange. That’s close to enough votes to put the governor’s controversial measure, SB 1042, over the top in the highly conservative Idaho House; the bill is now pending in the Senate, after clearing a Senate committee last week on an 8-1 vote.

Among the reaction to the freshman reps’ move: House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said, “We’ll be talking about this bill in our caucus. … I think this is good work from good legislators who are saying … we want to have our voice heard, so we’re going to find a way to make it louder.” Wayne Hoffman, executive director of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, said the freshman lawmakers’ move wouldn’t sway his group from its vocal stand against Otter’s bill. “It’s still very, very bad,” Hoffman said. “We’re still opposed.”

Another interesting note: The 16 freshmen said they may weigh in, en masse, on other issues in the Legislature as well.

House votes 65-5 in favor of phone companies’ bill to revise ‘do not call’ rules

There was no debate at all in the House this morning as HB 55, making changes to the rules for Idaho’s “do not call list,” passed on a 65-5 vote. The measure would lift the current ban on telephone companies, cellular or cable companies making solicitation calls to their existing customers if they’re on the list; under the bill, those companies could call those customers, but if the customers ask them to stop, they must, or they face penalties including a $500 fine. The bill extends that requirement to all businesses that make solicitation calls to their existing customers who have chosen to be on the “do not call” list.

“A telephone corporation, unlike all other businesses, may not call its existing customers to let them know about new services or products that are available in the customer’s area,” Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, told the House. “This bill removes the discriminatory provision.”

The bill was sought by two phone companies, Frontier Communications and Century Link. It’s opposed by the Idaho Attorney General’s office, which operates the current “do-not-call” program, and reported that Idahoans are asking for fewer telephone solicitations at their homes, not more. All House members backed the bill except for Reps. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome; Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise; Sue Chew, D-Boise; Donna Pence, D-Gooding; and Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow. The measure now heads to the Senate side for consideration.

Heider pulls bill to ban kids with criminal records from public schools

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The sponsor of a bill intended to keep convicted felons out of Idaho's public schools has pulled the legislation. Republican Sen. Lee Heider of Twin Falls said Wednesday he decided to remove the bill from the Senate Education Committee after realizing it may have unintended consequences for young people who get into trouble. The bill would require school boards to deny enrollment to anyone convicted of a violent felony. Heider says felons are more likely to be involved in gangs or peddle drugs than their peers. But he said Wednesday the bill's current language could result in punishing students who aren't criminals, but simply get involved school fights. Heider says he's not sure if he will seek amendments to the bill or drop it altogether for this year.

Click below for a full report from AP reporter Hannah Furfaro.

Sixteen House GOP freshmen say they’ll back gov’s exchange bill if their trailer bill passes

Sixteen House GOP freshmen gathered in a Statehouse press conference this morning to announce that if the trailer bill introduced this morning by freshman Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, passes, they will support the governor’s state health insurance exchange bill, SB 1042. “That’s why we’re here,” said Rep. Kelly Packer, R-McCammon, to nods all around.

 The group formed after hallway conversations, the freshmen said, over how they oppose the national health care reform law, but don’t like the idea of just letting the federal government do as it wishes and run a federal exchange in Idaho. Malek said, “The Legislature needs information that will allow us to decide whether our state exchange is providing us a seat at the table or forcing us merely to be a puppet for the federal government.”

“We’re freshmen,” said Rep. Robert Anderst, R-Nampa. “I think everybody here recognizes the fact that individually we have no influence. … Let’s stand together.”

Malek said he’s “honored” to work with the group of freshman lawmakers, saying, “We have spent a lot of time together.” Malek said, “They have shown passion, integrity. … Their mission is to protect individual rights and state sovereignty.”

Rep. Ed Morse, R-Hayden, said, “Legislation is a complicated process. … None of us liked the choices that we were given. None of us felt the protections in the existing bill were adequate. So we formed this group. We can pretty well say no state act will pass without our support, and the current bills did not garner our support. So this is an attempt, we believe, to end up with more assurances, better protections, and represent our constituents.”

House panel votes to introduce freshman reps’ insurance exchange ‘trailer bill’

Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, told the House Health & Welfare Committee this morning, “This is a trailer bill that will attach to what most of you probably know as SB 1042 over on the Senate side. This is a legislative oversight bill meant to protect individual rights and state sovereignty.”

Malek said his bill will add two legislators as non-voting members of the new health insurance exchange board, and will add additional oversight requirements.  “It will keep the Legislature and the public informed of each change that comes down from the federal government,” Malek told the committee. “It forces the federal government to pay for their mandate. It forces each move of the board into the public eye.” Malek said the measure also ensures the state can act immediately if the mandate to have an exchange goes away.

Rep. Brandon Hixon, R-Caldwell, said, “I think most people in the state don’t want to see PPACA coming down to where it’s at today, but I think this is a very good provision that we’ve put together in making sure that Idaho has some good say over what we have to do. … These are some good provisions. I’m going to support this motion.”

Rep. Ed Morse, R-Hayden, said, “I would certainly echo Rep. Hixon’s comments. I commend Rep. Malek, and I urge the committee to vote in support of introduction and printing of this bill as additional conditions before I think a state exchange could be considered over here on this side of the House.”

The committee then voted overwhelmingly to introduce the bill; only Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, dissented. He said he was worried about process, in moving forward a trailer bill before the original bill has passed at least one house. Committee Chairman Fred Wood, R-Burley, said he had the same concern, but checked with Legislative Services, and no rule forbids such a move. After the meeting, Vander Woude said, "I'm against a state exchange. Why would I vote for something that helps create it?"

Malek, Morse and Hixon all are House freshmen. In a few minutes, Malek and other House freshmen are holding a press conference on the issue in the 4th floor House majority caucus room.

Idaho per-capita liquor sales remain low, despite boost from Washington buyers

Idaho’s per-capita liquor consumption remains low, state Liquor Division director Jeff Anderson told legislative budget writers this morning. “We’re well below the national averages, despite the Washington state effect that has had an impact on sales at the border.” He said Washington’s move to privatize liquor sales – in a state that already had the nation’s highest liquor prices, adding a private profit margin to those prices to keep state revenues whole – resulted in “a significant price advantage for us at the border.” If sales to Washington residents are extracted, Anderson said, Idaho’s per-capita liquor sales are “even below the control-state average.”

The liquor division has added 18 stores since 1995, but its current focus is to “get more out of the stores we have as opposed to adding more stores.” The one exception: A new store in Stateline, at the Washington state line, added in 2012, due to pressure on the Post Falls store from cross-border sales. “It’s quickly becoming our No. 1 store,” Anderson said.

The liquor division’s budget request for next year is a “maintenance of service” request, Anderson said, with no new state liquor stores proposed; it does, however, propose remodels or locations for five existing stores. The division's distribution of proceeds to the state this year was $63 million; in the next 10 years, Anderson said forecasts show the division should bring the state $700 million in distributions.

Otter praises Malek exchange bill, said it would ‘complement’ his by increasing legislative oversight

Gov. Butch Otter isn’t opposing the new health insurance exchange bill that Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, will propose in House Health & Welfare this morning at 9 – in fact, he’s praising it. “I think he understands what they’re trying to do and appreciates their effort,” said Otter’s chief of staff, David Hensley. “Rep. Malek presented that information to our office, so we had a chance to review it.”

One of the concerns raised at the Senate committee hearing on the governor’s exchange bill, SB 1042, was about legislative oversight, though the Senate panel approved the governor’s bill on an 8-1 vote. Malek’s bill proposes more legislative oversight, including adding two legislators to the exchange board, chosen by the speaker and pro-tem, and providing for additional legislative oversight in the process, including of rates the board would set.

“The governor believes that it complements SB 1042, thinks there are some good ideas represented in that RS,” Hensley said.

Why it was tougher than usual to find a parking spot near the Capitol the past two days…

It was harder than usual to find a parking spot on the streets near the Capitol for the past two days, the Boise Weekly reports, as the Right Truck for Idaho Coalition parked big rigs and a demonstration trailer containing a truck driving simulator outside the Capitol on 6th Street, taking up much of both sides of the street and numerous parking spaces. The coalition is pushing for lawmakers to approve SB 1064, to permanently allow heavier trucks on Idaho roads on 35 designated routes, raising the allowed truck weight from 105,000 pounds to 129,000 pounds. A pilot project has allowed the heavier rigs on a growing number of specified routes for the past decade. You can read the Boise Weekly’s full report here.

New health insurance exchange bill set for consideration in House committee

The House Health & Welfare Committee has a new bill dealing with a health insurance exchange on its agenda for Wednesday morning, sponsored by freshman Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene. Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey reported that the measure is aimed at capturing votes for Gov. Butch Otter’s proposed state exchange; the governor’s bill, SB 1042, already has cleared a Senate committee on an 8-1 vote, but won’t come up for Senate debate this week, Popkey reports. It’s not clear whether Malek’s bill is a replacement for the governor’s bill or a companion measure; Malek declined to say. You can read Popkey’s full post here.

Anti-animal torture bill clears House Ag committee

Legislation to make a third-time offense of torture of a companion animal, like a pet cat or dog, a felony has cleared the House Agriculture Committee, with three members objecting in the voice vote. It’s now headed to General Orders in the House, for addition of a technical amendment.

Committee Chairman Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, sponsor of HB 111, said, “If you do it three times you are a felon.  You can be charged with a felony. Under this bill you can be convicted of a felony.” The bill wouldn’t apply to livestock production, only to pets.

Lisa Kauffman of the Humane Society of the United States cited a litany of horrific animal abuse cases from across the country, from kittens intentionally drowned on video to puppies skinned and decapitated; she included a few abuse cases from Idaho. “It just gives you an idea, it happens – it’s out there,” she said, her voice breaking.

Rep. Gail Batt, R-Wilder, said she thought the anti-animal torture bill went too far in that similar actions against children could, in some cases, just be misdemeanors. “ I think it’s wrong that we’re trying to move public policy to where … we’re going to have stronger stands for Idaho’s animals than we do child abuse laws here in the state of Idaho,” she said.

Brent Olmstead, executive director of Milk Producers of Idaho, told the committee he’s in the rare position – for the first time ever – of taking a position neither in support nor opposed to the bill. “I do want to be on the record for down the road when another bill comes up similar to this that includes production animals, and it will happen,” he said. “This bill provides a consternation for Milk Producers of Idaho, in that things keep happening in small pieces.”

Andrus, a rancher, said if the Legislature doesn’t stiffen penalties for animal torture, animal welfare groups will propose more far-reaching legislation through a ballot initiative. “I feel we don’t have time – we need to be proactive,” he said. “Without doing something, I don’t think we can defend ourselves from a ballot initiative.” Joining Batt in opposing the bill were Reps. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, and Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree.

Senate Dems shun school boards lunch over Prop 1 revival bills

Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise, just announced on Twitter that the Senate Democratic Caucus boycotted today's Idaho School Boards Association legislative luncheon "as a sign of solidarity with voters and teachers." The ISBA introduced three bills this morning to revive parts of voter-rejected Proposition 1 limiting teacher contract rights, along with three more yesterday.

Freedom Foundation money pitch to lawmakers raises ethics concern

When the Idaho Freedom Foundation distributed its “2013 Idaho Report on Government Waste” to every lawmaker, complete with a color drawing of a cigar-smoking pig in sunglasses raking in gambling-table winnings labeled “TAXES” on the cover, it had a little extra tucked inside: A pitch for money. A donation envelope invited recipients to “support Idaho Freedom Foundation in its quest for limited, accountable government and individual freedom” by making a gift of $5,000 $1,000, $500, or $100, with the $100 level identified as a one-time payment that would make the giver a “Friend of Freedom.” There was also a space to list the lawmaker-donor’s credit card information.

House Speaker Scott Bedke, who noted that House members received the booklet and donations pitch in their legislative mailboxes, said, “The mailing privileges that we have should not be used for fundraising in any way, shape or form.” He said, “I don’t think there’s a rule that addresses that,” but said, “I think as a general rule of thumb that it is inappropriate.” Bedke said he planned to speak to the group about the issue.

“It was a solicitation for money attached to it,” he said, adding, “It was brought to my attention.”

Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, was among those concerned about the pitch for donations. “They grade us at the end of the year based on the votes that we make,” he said. “At the same time we get this book, we have an opportunity to donate to the Freedom Foundation. You could almost read into it, we all get graded. So is there some kind of an undercurrent there, some kind of a pressure, that we should donate to them in recognition that we get graded by them? It’s a little disturbing.”

Eskridge said, “As a general practice, I don’t take contributions to my campaign during the session. … I’m not sure that’s the right thing to do. We’re voting on bills, we’re doing legislation. This kind of hits me the same way. It may be legal, but is it really appropriate?”

Bedke said, “Fundraising activities during the session have fallen out of favor, I guess, for good reason.” Legislative campaign fundraising isn’t prohibited during the session, but Bedke said it’s become less common as lawmakers focus more on ethics. This year, all lawmakers went through a half day of mandatory ethics training during the first week of the legislative session.  “The different caucuses have sponsored fundraisers during the session, but we don’t now,” Bedke said. “My goal is to get everybody to step back and take a look at what they’re doing.”

Cursive resolution passes House, 68-2

Rep. Linden Batemen, R-Idaho Falls, spoke passionately in support of his pro-cursive resolution, HCR 3, before the House voted 68-2 in favor of it this morning. “If we do not teach cursive, the day will come when we will not be able to read cursive handwriting … old documents, inscriptions of any kind. … That will happen. I’m seeing it happen now,” he said. The resolution calls on the State Board of Education to include cursive handwriting in the new “Common Core” standards for what children should learn in school.

“We should not be clones of every other state when it comes to Common Core,” Bateman declared. “We should be able to customize it and make room for cursive. … For example, we might delay the keyboarding in the 3rd grade.” He said, “Ladies and gentlemen, let’s have a renaissance, a rebirth of elegant handwriting. … Let’s not let this elegant art form vanish.”

Rep. Dell Raybould, R-Rexburg, said when he was in school long ago, the focus was on the basics: Reading, writing and arithmetic. “How far we have strayed from those basics,” he said. “Writing is one of the basics.” Last fall, he said, at his potato harvest, he had 47 employees, and 26 were high school seniors. Each had to fill out a W4 form for him. “And I’ll bet a third of them, maybe more, I had to call their mother and find out how to spell their name,” Raybould said. “They couldn’t write. Many of ‘em didn’t write at all , they printed, and I couldn’t read the printing. … I think we need to get our schools back to the idea that that is a basic part of our education, that is something that is required for you to be successful throughout your life.”

Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, said, “I do think there is a bigger principle here, and that is the degree to which the Legislature should be involved in setting the curriculum for our schools.” He said he’d support the bill today because Bateman said it’s backed by state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna. But, he said, “I feel that we need to be very careful about turning curriculum issues into a matter of legislative debate.” The only no votes came from Reps. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, and Holli Woodings, D-Boise. The resolution now moves to the Senate.