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Testimony: ‘Stakeholder groups are closer together’

In testimony this morning on SB 1199:

Ryan Kerby, superintendent of the New Plymouth school district, said, “We believe that the bill is a little stronger now. … The expectations are a little bit clearer, and we think we’re going to probably be better off at the end. … We’re very pleased … that the stakeholder groups are closer together, have a better working relationship on these concepts than we’ve had in many, many years. That’s a very big deal when we’re out there in the middle trying to improve things.”

Lisa Boyd, principal at Desert Springs Elementary School in the Vallivue School District, between Caldwell and Nampa, said her school is a pilot school for her district in providing iPads to kids. “This last yer we’ve been lucky enough to get a classroom set per grade level as well as some of the infrastructure we need,” she said. She said her school includes high numbers of low-income students and students who are just learning English. “I think we could pull the fire alarm and they don’t move,” she said. “They’re glued to that iPad. … They’re super, super excited.”

Robin Nettinga, executive director of the Idaho Education Association, said, “We realize that while the public school funding bill is yet to be written and vetted, and that SB 1199 simply codifies certain areas that were of concern to members of the committee … the language before you, at least in terms of differentiated pay, is almost identical.” She said the IEA supported HB 323. “Changing the way school employees are paid is complex,” she said. If done well, it can drive achievement, she said, while “if done poorly, it can create dissension. … SB 1199 allows for that local decision-making.”

Testimony: ‘Could find ways to use that money,’ ‘Excitement for learning’

In public testimony so far this morning on SB 1199:

Rob Winslow of the Idaho Association of School Administrators spoke in support of the bill. “Two key points that we greatly appreciate, certainly, are in the differential pay, it gives flexibility to districts in how they handle that differential pay, and … the other part for technology with a grant process, we support that. We have worked on grants before, and districts look fwd to that option as well.” Sen. Branden Durst asked Winslow if district superintendents have expressed any “consternation” about the bill. Winslow said, “At least the prior bill that has similar language, and things that we had time to discuss with them … they felt they could work through this. … They felt that all of them could find ways to use that money to take care of their needs.”

Colleen Johnson, principal at Paul Elementary, spoke in support of technology grants, describing her school’s experience with a grant from iSchool that supplied iPads for every student. “With the full school deployment, the entire staff had the opportunity to learn technology together,” she said. “Since we deployed the iPads in November, we’ve also seen an increase in academic achievement. … The most apparent benefit is higher student engagement and excitement for learning.” She noted that her school’s copy count went down by 20,000 copies after one month. “We will not need to buy consumables or workbooks for next year,” she said.

Ashley Johnson, a 5thgrade teacher at Paul Elementary, said, “They each have their own device, actively engaged in learning.” She said last year, she had six iPads in her class for 25 students to share; this year each student has his or her own. “I’ve seen increased excitement for learning,” she said. “This is a learning device, this isn’t to play games.”

Luna presents SB 1199 to House, Senate ed committees

State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna presented SB 1199 to the joint hearing this morning of the House and Senate Education committees. He summarized the bill, noting that it sets policy for the public schools budget in two areas, both on just a one-time basis: Authorizing district-directed merit bonuses, and allowing for technology pilot project grants to districts for one to two years.

House and Senate committee members are now asking Luna questions about the bill. Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise, questioned whether the bonuses would impact other legislation setting triggers regarding when districts can cut teacher pay from one year to the next. Luna responded, “This $21 million is not an increase to the amount we are spending on teacher compensation.” He noted that in this year’s budget, there was $38 million for teacher merit bonuses, under the now-repealed “Students Come First” laws.

The $21 million for one-time bonuses next year would go out based on individual school districts plans, which could include using up to 40 percent of the money for professional development. Incidentally, the $21 million figure doesn’t appear in SB 1199, which contains no dollar figures; those are left up to JFAC to set, but Luna indicated they’re expected to remain largely the same as those specified in the earlier, Senate-rejected public school budget. That was $21 million for the bonuses and professional development, and $3 million for tech pilot project grants.

‘A little different procedure’ for this morning’s joint education hearing

There’s quite a crowd of lawmakers on the dais in the Lincoln Auditorium this morning for the joint House-Senate Education committees hearing on SB 1199; here, they’re gathering for the 8 a.m. hearing. “Committees, this is a little different procedure,” Senate Education Chairman John Goedde said. “We’re operating individually at the same time in this proceeding. So at the end … when it’s necessary to take up the bill, we can dismiss the House, they will adjourn, and we can do the business before us.”

House Education Chairman Reed DeMordaunt said, “So this is our public hearing on SB 1199. However, we will not and cannot vote on this piece of legislation; it will need to make its way through the process. And when we see it at the House, at that point in time, we will convene our committee and take the necessary action at that point in time.”

Limerick No. 3: The House freshmen

Although it was just their first year

They turned the whole place on its ear

House freshmen avowed

They would not be cowed

Though purists might threaten and jeer.

Otter signs bill making it tougher to qualify measures for Idaho ballot

Gov. Butch Otter has signed SB 1108 into law, the measure making it tougher to qualify an initiative or referendum measure for the Idaho ballot. “I thought it was the right thing to do,” said Otter, who signed the bill yesterday. “I agreed with the arguments that it’s an issue for all of Idaho – why shouldn’t all of Idaho be included in it?”

Under current law in Idaho, it takes signatures from 6 percent of registered voters to qualify a measure for the ballot; SB 1108 adds a requirement for 6 percent of the registered voters in each of 18 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts. The Idaho Farm Bureau Federation pushed the bill, saying it would preserve the voice of rural areas if animal-rights activists decided to run ballot-measure campaigns.

The bill followed November’s historic voter rejection of the “Students Come First” school reform laws in three referendum measures, the first time since 1936 that Idaho voters had overturned laws passed by the Legislature through a referendum vote. Initiatives have proven only slightly more popular in Idaho; 14 have passed since statehood.

Otter said he didn’t want ballot measures to be driven by “the great state of Ada,” referring to Ada County, home of Boise and the state Capitol and the state’s largest population center. “We’re a government for all of Idaho,” he said. “I think if the initiative has enough support from all over the state, you could get signatures from all over the state.” Meanwhile, a follow-up bill from Secretary of State Ben Ysursa would ease the burden the new law would otherwise place on initiative signature-gatherers by not requiring them to juggle three separate clipboards and petitions in Kootenai County – where there are three legislative districts - nine in Ada, etc., and not requiring voters to know their legislative district to sign, under penalty of law. Instead, county clerks would look up and verify that information; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Interim committees set on fed lands, public defenders, K-12 ed, criminal justice system

Legislative leaders have decided on the interim study committees that will be funded between now and next session; they include four new ones, along with several existing and continuing ones. Here are the new study committees and their authorizing legislation:

HCR 21: Studying how Idaho can acquire title to and take over management of federal lands within the state.

HCR 26: Studying how to reform the state’s public defender system.

HCR 33: Studying how to improve and strengthen Idaho’s K-12 public school system.

SCR 128: Launching a complete study of the Idaho criminal justice system.

Continuing interim committees include the Natural Resources Issues study committee; the Health Care Task Force; and the Energy, Environment & Technology Issues study committee.

One measure that was proposed, but not included for funding due to the number of interim committees proposed: HCR 28, proposing a complete study of Idaho’s alcoholic beverage laws.

Rural Idaho schools face demand from feds to pay back timber payments

Schools in Idaho’s timber-dependent rural communities could be facing a bill from the federal government for $400,000, Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News reports, as the feds demand a refund of payments already sent out under the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, as part of sequestration cuts. Thirty-one U.S. House members sent a letter to the Obama Administration last week objecting to the demand for repayment; they included Idaho’s 2nd District Rep. Mike Simpson, but not 1st District Rep. Raul Labrador, Richert reports. You can read his full post here.

New school budget may have only ‘minor tweaks,’ but Goedde says it’s a better process

Click below for a full report from AP reporters Hannah Furfaro and John Miller on the session-ending deal on the education budget, which includes the introduction of SB 1199 today, to let the House and Senate Education committees vet proposals on locally-directed teacher merit bonuses and technology pilot project grants. Even if the new school budget that gets set later this week ends up very similar to the Senate-rejected one, Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, said it'll come about through a better process. “Those 'no' votes weren't about where the money was going,” he said. “It was about allowing the process of changing our Idaho code to remain in germane committees, where the public gets involved and where the role of policy setting is supposed to start.”

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee actually held unprecedented public hearings the last two years, which drew hundreds of people from across the state to have their say on state spending issues. This year, the joint committee scheduled two such hearings, but then canceled them at the direction of legislative leaders. Goedde noted that the House and Senate Education committees then held their own “listening sessions,” “and people came with all kinds of issues and addressed the committee, and that's great.”

New bill gets number - SB 1199 - and Senate, House adjourn ‘til tomorrow…

The Senate reconvened, and introduced the new education bill – which got the bill number of SB 1199. Then it adjourned until 10 a.m. tomorrow. The House already has adjourned until 11 a.m. tomorrow.

Senate panel introduces new ed bill, with thanks all around…

The Senate State Affairs Committee convened just briefly – it only took a few minutes – and introduced new legislation sponsored by Sen. John Goedde, Rep. Reed DeMordaunt and state schools Superintendent Tom Luna aimed at resolving the impasse over the defeated public school budget. The new bill provides for two new programs, with a sunset, or expiration clause, one year out. The two are a differential pay, or merit bonus, program, with the bonuses to be distributed under local school district criteria, and with up to 40 percent of the money to go to professional development; and a technology pilot project grant program.

There are no dollar figures in the bill; instead, it says the funding is “dependent on budget decisions.” The description of the two programs appears similar to what was described in the intent language in the defeated budget bill.

Senators on the committee thanked all those who worked on the measure, including representatives of education stakeholder groups who were in the room, Luna, and lawmakers involved in the talks that led to the bill. “I’m grateful that we’re in this position,” said Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis.

Goedde asked the committee to introduce the bill to help resolve the education budget impasse, saying it’s a “recodification of that in an effort to send it through the germane committee, where it will be properly disposed of.” Davis responded, “’Properly disposed of’ has got me worried.” Goedde said, “My view of 'properly disposed of' at this point is sending it to the floor with a do-pass recommendation.”

Senate honors retiring IPTV head Morrill, Mortimer says ‘he’s made me a convert’

The Senate is honoring Peter Morrill, the retiring longtime general manager of Idaho Public Television. An array of senators have offered praise to Morrill. Among them was Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, who said, “He’s made me a convert.” Mortimer said, “Many years ago when I came to the Legislature, there was always a little bit of hesitancy … to fund and support our public television.” Mortimer said he never received so many emails as when public TV’s funding was threatened. He said he’s also been impressed with the service over the years, including the way Idaho PTV has opened up legislative proceedings to statewide viewing through live streaming. “To me, that is worth every dollar that we pay,” he said.

Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, said, “Idaho Public Television is one of the gems of the Gem State.” After the resolution, HP1, was unanimously approved, Morrill, who was in the gallery with his daughter Sadie, was honored by the Senate with a standing ovation.

Senate passes fed lands transfer demand on 21-13 vote

The Senate has voted 21-13 in favor of HCR 22, the resolution demanding that the federal government cede title to all federal land within Idaho to the state. Several senators argued that they don’t believe the resolution will be effective – the feds won’t just hand over the deed – but said they want to make a protest. The resolution is not a non-binding memorial, however; it’s a concurrent resolution, like HCR 21, which sets up an interim legislative committee and has the force of law, requiring the expenditure of state funds for operations of the panel. Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, said to him, the measure answers the question: “How do we kick back” against the federal government? Concurrent resolutions don’t go to the governor, so that was final passage for the measure.

Senate debate: ‘Put people back to work,’ ‘Only the lawyers are making money’

The Senate is debating HCR 22, the resolution demanding that the federal government transfer title to all federal lands in Idaho to the state. Among the comments:

Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, said, “Growing up in North Idaho in a small timber community, you either dry-land farmed or you worked in a mill or you worked in the woods. That’s what we did.” He said his father worked in the Potlatch mill for more than 17 years, and he worked there himself – before deciding to join the Navy after seeing lots of fellow workers with missing fingers and the like. Hagedorn said that business has fallen off now that less timber is being cut from federal lands. With a transfer of those lands to the state, he said, “We could actually create a ton of jobs … a heck of an economic revitalization for those that are struggling now and no longer have the mills.” He said he believed the measure would allow families in which generations grew up logging “to get back and do that again.” He said, “There’s some good reasons why we should do this. To put people back to work is a great reason for me.”

Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, the measure’s Senate sponsor, said, “There’s certain provisions of this bill that I don’t agree with at all. But the overall intent of the bill, to allow Idahoans to manage Idahoans’ lands, sets very well with me.”

Sen. John Tippets, R-Montpelier, noted that he voted in favor of HCR 21, the measure for a study of a federal lands transfer, but said he can’t support HCR 22. “Senators, I’m cautious by nature and I know that,” he said. “I think it’s entirely appropriate for us to study the issue of title to federal lands being given to the state, but I’m nervous about some of the words in this resolution.”

Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, quoted from a decades-old Idaho attorney general’s opinion that found “legal impediments remain in adopting this approach – most notably it’s against our Idaho Constitution.” Stennett said collaborative management efforts on public lands around Idaho have “achieved on-the-ground success,” both creating jobs and protecting lands. On the other hand, she said, “Legal debate … has never amounted to a single tree being cut or a single job being created, and probably only the lawyers are making money at that point.”

Wheels grind into motion toward possible Thursday adjournment of session

As the Senate began its business this morning, Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, announced that the Senate will go at ease later this morning to allow the State Affairs Committee to meet and introduce the new bill regarding issues in the public school budget – the measure aimed at ending an impasse that’s delayed the end of this year’s legislative session. Then, the Senate will reconvene to read the bill over the desk and set the stage for a hearing in the Senate and House education committees on Wednesday morning.

If the bill wins committee approval, the Senate would suspend its rules and consider it on the spot, with an eye to getting it over to the House. Also, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee would convene tomorrow afternoon to consider a revised public school budget.

If all proceeds smoothly, Davis said, the Senate should be in a position to adjourn sine die on Thursday.

Senate passes fed lands transfer study measure, takes up HCR 22, demanding title to the lands

The Senate has voted 26-6 in favor of HCR 21, the resolution setting up an interim legislative study committee to examine how the state can take over management of federal lands. Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, said the idea’s been studied before. “The ideas don’t work, this isn’t valid, and I don’t think we should be spending taxpayer money,” he told the Senate. There was no other debate and that measure passed; now the Senate is taking up HCR 22, the farther-reaching public lands bill, demanding that the federal government turn over title to all federal lands in Idaho to the state.

House State Affairs passes state parking garage P&Z exemption bill, 11-5

The House State Affairs Committee has voted 11-5 in favor of SB 1192a, the bill to exempt a state parking garage project near the Capitol from Boise city planning & zoning requirements. Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, spoke out against the bill. “I do think it’s bad form for the state to require everyone else to comply with this process and somehow the imperial government doesn’t need to,” he said. “The process is there and everybody’s got to go through it. … It just seems to me that somehow we might be overreaching here, and I’m not sure that it’s appropriate simply because of some bond timing.”

Rep. Kelly Packer, R-McCammon, said, “Just because we can doesn’t mean that we should. … We have an obligation to uphold the laws … abide by them. … I think we need to follow the same processes that we ask everybody else to.”

The five opponents of the bill in the committee were Reps. Barbieri, Packer, Smith, Gannon and Woodings. Those voting in favor were Reps. Loertscher, Batt, Anderson(1), Andrus, Luker, Crane, Palmer, Sims, Holtzclaw, McMillan and Monks. You can read my Sunday column here about the debate in the Senate over this bill.

State parking garage P&Z exemption bill up for hearing in House State Affairs

Jeff Youtz, director of legislative services, is presenting SB 1192a, exempting a state parking garage project near the Capitol from Boise city planning and zoning requirements, to the House State Affairs Comnmittee. Youtz said the bill was requested by legislative leadership, and might never be invoked, as talks with the city have been going well on a pending design-review issue. Legislative leaders, Youtz said, decided “we need a what-if fallback here in case this goes south.”

Rep. Kelly Packer, R-McCammon, asked, Youtz, “There’s no other option than this to address some of the questions or concerns or time delays? … This seems, I don’t know, a little aggressive in my opinion. … I’m just wondering if there’s no other way for us to be able to address this ongoing dynamic with the city.”

Youtz responded, “I think we’ve got a lot of flexibility to still respond to the city’s request to improve the design up to a point, but we’ve got a budget we’ve got to live within too.” Bonds already have been sold for the $8.9 million project; the state last year took advantage of a low 2.98 percent interest rate.

Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, asked, “From a public policy standpoint, why should the government, except in a time of war or national emergency, ever be exempt from the local public involvement process?” Youtz responded, “I don’t set public policy. I guess I’d say that’s a question for you to answer. … Our intent is not to circumvent the local planning process, we intend to go through it. This is just a fallback.”

Youtz said Senate amendments to the bill, limiting it to the block where the garage project is planned rather than the entire Capitol Mall area, and adding a sunset clause making the bill expire in 2014, prompted the mayor of Boise to drop his opposition to the bill and take a neutral stance.

Ross Borden, an aide to Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, told the committee, “I think this situation is going to work out just fine.” Boise City Councilor Elaine Clegg told the panel the state might want to change its procedures in the future to sell bonds for construction projects only after design approvals are secured; that’s a process the city already follows, she said. She also suggested the state might want to look into encouraging car-pooling and alternate means of transportation for state employees rather than just focusing on providing parking.

House, Senate Education committees set joint hearing for 8 a.m. on Wednesday

Here’s a sign that adjournment could still happen this week: The Senate and House education committees have scheduled a joint hearing for Wednesday morning at 8, on legislation – sponsored by Senate Chairman John Goedde and House Chairman Reed DeMordaunt – regarding the education budget, “Sections 25 and 26 pertaining to differential pay and technology pilot projects.” The hearing will be in the Lincoln Auditorium.

For now, there’s no bill number, just an RS number; Goedde said the panel can’t hear the bill until it’s printed, which likely would happen today; the agenda will be amended to add the bill number once that happens.

Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News reports that the Senate State Affairs Committee is likely to introduce and print the bill today; you can read his full post here.

Progress reported in school budget talks; new bill likely to be printed in morning to address some of the concerns

House-Senate talks over the defeated public school budget broke up around 6:30 tonight, and leaders emerged cautiously optimistic that a bill will be printed tomorrow to address some of the concerns. “We have more than modest confidence in the language,” said Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis. “We need to vet it with some additional stakeholders, and it is hoped that we will have that RS (preliminary bill) available to print tomorrow morning. If we can resolve all of the various concerns on language, and I think we have some confidence on the concepts, we just need to see how that RS will look in final form, and then get the stakeholders buy-in, then we’ll print it out of State Affairs on the Senate side and refer it to the Education Committee and have them have a public hearing.”

Davis said it’s his hope to get the draft bill to the Education Committee as soon tomorrow morning as possible, so that panel can give notice and hold a public hearing the next morning. “But right now, we’re hopeful that we are where we need to be,” he said. State schools Superintendent Tom Luna, who joined the lawmakers at the closed-door negotiations, “did a pretty darn good job in helping us all understand what’s at stake, how important this budget is to our school districts,” Davis said. “He helped us find a path forward, and we’re fortunate to have had a mostly successful meeting, and we’re quite hopeful.”

Senate Education Committee Vice Chairman Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, said as he was leaving the Capitol, “I think there will be a bill printed in the morning. I believe we’re making progress.” 

No deal yet, but talks on school budget impasse ‘constructive,’ will continue…

After more than an hour behind closed doors, senators and representatives emerged from a meeting on the impasse over the defeated public school budget  in House Speaker Scott Bedke’s office, only to say they’re going to continue to meet, this time over on the Senate side and with state schools Superintendent Tom Luna joining them. “We do not have a deal, let’s just put it that way,” Bedke said. “But there are some makings of some concepts we want to explore.”

He said of the move across the rotunda, “We’re just changing one conference room for another.”

Said Bedke, “We’re obviously having some negotiations and talking things over. … As long as they’re being productive, I want them to continue.” He said the “good news” is that the “different factions” are having “constructive dialogue.” “Nobody has to give up their sacred cows to address the problem,” he said. “I’m confident … that we’ll come to some type of agreement.”

Otter signs heavy trucks bill but adds caveats in signing letter

Gov. Butch Otter has signed SB 1117, the statewide heavy-trucks bill, into law, but says he wants the Idaho Transportation Department to hold public hearings and take other steps before designating any new routes – including Highway 95 in North Idaho - for the big, 129,000-pound trucks. “Safety must be the highest priority,” Otter wrote in a signing letter sent to lawmakers today.  “The process of considering nominated routes also must include timely, well-noticed public hearings and notification of adjacent property owners.”

SB 1117 lets any non-freeway route in the state be designated for the extra-heavy trucks weighing up to 129,000 pounds, which currently are allowed only on 35 designated routes in southern Idaho, where they were the subject of a 10-year study and pilot project before the routes were made permanent this year.  A follow-up bill, HB 322, which passed the Senate today, adds guarantees that local road jurisdictions, such as cities and highway districts, have the say over their local roads and must hold public hearings, but that doesn’t cover state routes or ITD.

Idaho’s current truck weight limit, outside the 35 designated southern Idaho routes, is 105,500 pounds; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Senate adjourns ‘til tomorrow morning, key senators head for meeting with Speaker

The Senate has adjourned until 9:30 a.m. tomorrow – without any announcement of a committee meeting today to print a new bill aimed at resolving the impasse over the Senate-rejected public school budget.  But immediately after adjournment, Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, said, “We’re going to see the speaker.” He, Education Vice Chairman Dean Mortimer, Senate GOP Caucus Chair Russ Fulcher, Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron and Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill all headed across the rotunda.

Goedde said he thinks there’s a possible agreement, which would involve introducing a new bill and having it come up for a hearing in his committee “no later than Wednesday morning.” The new measure could be printed tomorrow morning, Goedde said. He said “maybe a dozen or so” senators have been involved in talks aimed at ending the impasse.

Hill said, “I’ve got to give ‘em credit – People did not relax as much as they could have this weekend.” He said, “They were talking, they were thinking, they were communicating and trying to come up with some solutions.”

House backs archiving of video streams of legislative proceedings, 65-1

The House has passed SCR 131, the rule change resolution to allow archiving of the video and audio streams of legislative proceedings, on a 65-1 vote, with just Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, dissenting. “We’re trying to find that sweet spot where we’re allowing these proceedings to be archived in the future, and at the same time protecting the legislative process,” House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, told the House. “It’s a necessary new rule, and I think it’s a good new rule and a good start.”

Under the rule, streaming could be suspended on a two-thirds vote of the body, which would be the House, the Senate, or the committee involved. The House also approved two Senate-passed measures that direct the courts that legislative intent should be gleaned from the actual words of legislation and from the journal, not from statements by individual legislators on the floor of either house or in committee. That was a concern of some legislative leaders who had blocked archiving until this year.

House adjourns ‘til tomorrow, motion to adjourn sine die was an April Fools joke

The House has now adjourned until 11 a.m. on Tuesday; the House Ways & Means Committee announced that it would meet immediately on adjournment in the JFAC room, where it will consider a new bill from Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls, on the Line Commission 2.0; and the House Education Committee announced it will meet at 10 a.m. tomorrow. No agenda has yet been posted for that  meeting.

Before the House adjourned, Rep. Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, offered a motion for the House to adjourn sine die – without  a day, or for the session. House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, seconded the motion – but then Denney said, “April Fool!” Moyle then made the real motion – to adjourn until 11 a.m. on April 2.

Talks under way among key senators…

For the past few votes in the Senate, key senators involved in talks on the public schools budget – including Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, Education Committee Chairman John Goedde and Vice Chairman Dean Mortimer, Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, and others, have been out of the chamber, but have returned just in time to vote, then leave again. They’re now off the floor again…

House passes Medicaid budget on 38-29 vote

The House has voted 38-29 in favor of SB 1190, the budget for Medicaid for next year. There was little debate, but some members expressed disdain for “Obamacare,” and elements within the budget that are required because of the passage of the national law; many more voted no. The budget bill, which earlier passed the Senate on a 24-10 vote, now goes to the governor’s desk. Had this measure failed, it could have been as big an obstacle to ending the legislative session as last week’s rejection of the public schools budget.

Moyle: ‘That would be a cruel April Fools Day joke’

Next up on the House calendar was SB 1133a, the twice-amended bill that originally was a Senate bill about school safety, and now has morphed into a combination of two House-passed but Senate-neglected guns rights bills. House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, said he thought the House would hear the amended bill today, “but I think that would be a cruel April Fools Day joke.” So instead, he asked that the bill hold its place on the calendar until Thursday.

The bill was “radiator-capped,” removing its entire original content; as such, it stands no chance of passage in the Senate, which saw its bill excised out, leaving only the bill number intact.

House passes felony bill for 2nd offense of torture of a pet

The House has voted 54-14 in favor of HB 111a, the bill to make a second offense of torture of a companion animal a felony. Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, noted that the original bill had a felony penalty for a third offense. Andrus called the amended bill the “perfect balance,” and said, “I don’t think we’re responsible if we allow torture to go on without addressing it.”

The definition of torture in the bill is “the knowing and willful infliction of unjustifiable and extreme or prolonged pain with the intent to cause suffering.” It doesn’t apply to livestock or farm animals, or to unintentional acts or accidents.

Andrus said, “I think we have a lot more chance of avoiding a ballot initiative if there is a felony on a second offense. And No. 2, I thought of torture to animals, and how much should we tolerate.” He said, “Now, if we have people in our society who are doing that to animals, what do you think we should do with them? I think we should warn them, say OK, you cannot do this to animals. So we warn them with a misdemeanor. And after that what should we do? Ignore it again? I don’t think we’re responsible … if we do that.”

Rep. Lenore Barrett, R-Challis, speaking against the bill, said, “I say if somebody wants to bring an initiative, let ‘em bring it, and we’ll deal with it at the time.” The bill now moves to the Senate.


Rep: ‘Indulge me - we got a lot of time’

Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, is telling several stories as part of his opening debate on HB 111a, the animal torture bill. As he got well into the second tale, he told the House, “Indulge me, we got a lot of time – we got all week.” Amid laughter, he said, “Well, hopefully not. We’ve got some time.”