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‘Been a lot of conversation going on…’

The Senate and House have both convened this afternoon; the Senate won’t be taking up HCR 21 and 22, the public lands transfer resolutions, until tomorrow. The path forward on the defeated public schools budget isn’t yet clear.

“There’s been a lot of conversation going on over the weekend, and today as well,” said Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis. He said he’s hoping “at some point today that we could print an RS … that would deal with a part of what would be essential in order for the joint committee to go back to work.”

That would require convening a privileged committee in the Senate to introduce the RS, which stands for routing slip, the preliminary version of a proposed bill. “Things are fluid,” Davis said, “and they change from hour to hour. … But before we send any committee to go to work to print, we have to get an RS that we think is doable, and currently, that’s where the rub is.”

The Senate has passed HCR 33, to set up an interim committee to examine “how to improve and strengthen Idaho’s K-12 educational system.” Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, said unlike the governor’s education stakeholders task force, “This interim committee would not be restricted to not taking a look at collective bargaining and my guess is that would be one of the focuses on the interim committee.”

The House, meanwhile, is taking up HB 111a, the bill from House Agriculture Chairman Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, to make a second offense of animal torture a felony.

Limerick No. 2: Back in session, Day 85

Alas for the budget for schools

For some can be stubborn as mules

When politics play

At $30,000 a day

We may be the April fools.

End-of-session fight: Grand bargain turns to debacle for lawmakers

What was supposed to have been a grand bargain for Idaho public schools has become a grand debacle, extending the 2013 legislative session indefinitely as opposing sides try to patch together the $1.3 billion education budget, reports AP reporter John Miller. The Senate last week rejected the appropriations bill 18-17, a narrow defeat for a measure viewed as a compromise that had the backing of Idaho's public schools chief, school boards and the Idaho teachers union. But it fell apart after Senate opponents charged the Joint Finance-Appropriations budget committee with not properly consulting with the Senate Education Committee about how key slices of the money were to be spent.

Now, Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, says the House and Senate education committees should be given the chance to formally weigh in on provisions guiding how the education budget will be rewritten — but without radical departure from the existing plan. “If you start pulling pieces out of it,” Cameron said, “you're going to unravel the grand bargain.” Click below for Miller's full report.

This session, Democrats ‘in play’

The Idaho Legislature’s minority Democrats, though outnumbered 4 to 1, were “in play” this year, reports Idaho Statesman Reporter Dan Popkey, providing the key margin on the health exchange vote in the House and playing significant roles in other issues, from budgets to business issues. Marveled lobbyist Pat Sullivan, “On the health care exchange, the Democrats were on the side of business.” You can read Popkey’s full report here.

The week that was…

On tonight’s “Idaho Reports” program on Idaho Public Television, I join Jim Weatherby, Kevin Richert and host Greg Hahn to discuss the week’s developments in the Legislature. Plus, Jim, Greg and I interview Sens. Branden Durst, D-Boise, and Chuck Winder, R-Boise; Aaron Kunz has a report on water quality issues; Melissa Davlin interviews freshman Rep. Kellly Packer, R-McCammon; and I offer my “Eye on Boise” rundown of some of the week’s happenings. The show airs at 8 p.m. tonight; it re-airs Sunday at 10:30 a.m. Mountain time, 9:30 Pacific; and plays on Boise State Public Radio on Sunday at 7 p.m. After it airs, you can watch it here online any time.

 

Senate adjourns ‘til Monday at 1:30

The Senate has now adjourned until 1:30 on Monday, but before doing so, it debated and passed SB 1040a on a 21-14 vote, allowing Idaho school districts to cut teacher pay from one year to the next. That replaces a similar bill to do the same thing, that the Senate defeated last week. That ends the 82nd day of this year’s legislative session.

Controversial ‘last best offer’ bill for teacher talks withdrawn

The most controversial of the Idaho School Boards Association’s array of bills this year to reinstate pieces of voter-rejected Proposition 1 has been withdrawn. Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, asked for unanimous consent of the Senate to return HB 260, the “last best offer” bill, to committee, and no one objected. “This is at the request of the sponsors, both the school boards association and the administrators,” Goedde told the Senate.

The measure, which passed the House two weeks ago on a 55-14 vote, would have revived a provision from the “Students Come First” reform laws requiring that if school districts and their local teachers unions haven’t reached a contract agreement by June 10, the board unilaterally impose the terms of its “last best offer.” Opponents said it would turn the negotiation process on its head by giving one side the power to just wait the other out and win.

The rule was in effect last year, before voters rejected the “Students Come First” laws in three voter referenda; 22 Idaho school districts failed to reach agreement with teachers and unilaterally imposed contract terms.

House Ed chair says panel won’t meet today or Monday; senators peruse proposed bill…

When the House got to its committee meeting announcements before its adjournment earlier this morning, Chief Clerk Bonnie Alexander said, “The only one that I have is for Education Committee, will meet subject to the call of the chair.” But House Education Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, told Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert after that announcement that his committee won’t be meeting today – or Monday. DeMordaunt suggested any legislation to settle the impasse over the public schools budget may have to start in the Senate, where the House-passed budget was defeated this week. You can read Richert’s full post here.

Across the rotunda, Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, one of the leading opponents, came directly from a meeting with state schools Superintendent Tom Luna to the morning Senate session, clutching a copy of a draft bill. “It is a vast improvement over the intent language,” Thayn said. He huddled on the floor with Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, and Vice Chairman Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, before the Senate convened, looking over the proposal.

HB 65 passes Senate unanimously, heads to governor’s desk

HB 65, the “fix-it” bill to restore $30 million to the current year’s public school budget that otherwise would shift to a reserve fund due to the passage of Propositions 1, 2 and 3, has passed the Senate on a unanimous, 34-0 vote. Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, said, “School districts based their budget on this money, and it’s my belief that we owe it to them to have it reinstated.” He added, “This is an important bill to our local school districts.” The bill earlier passed the House unanimously, and now heads to the governor’s desk.

The bill doesn’t reinstate the controversial reform programs; it just keeps the funds for public schools this year at their current level.

How they voted…

Here’s how senators voted on SB 1192a, the bill to exempt a state parking garage project near the Capitol from Boise city planning and zoning rules; it passed, 24-11, and now goes to the House:

Voting in favor: Sens. Bair, Bayer, Brackett, Cameron, Davis, Fulcher, Goedde, Guthrie, Hagedorn, Heider, Hill, Keough, Lodge, Mortimer, Nonini, Nuxoll, Patrick, Pearce, Rice, Siddoway, Thayn, Tippets, Vick and Winder.

Voting against: Sens. Bock, Buckner-Webb, Durst, Johnson, Lacey, Lakey, Martin, McKenzie, Schmidt, Stennett, and Werk.

Senate passes bill to exempt state garage project from city P&Z rules

Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, told the Senate that SB 1192a would let the state override the city of Boise’s design review process if appeals can’t be resolved in a timely manner over a proposed state parking garage near the Capitol. “It was not the intent of the state to go around the design standards – in fact, they thought they had designed a building that met the design standards,” Winder said. The bill has been amended so it only applies to the block on which the parking garage is proposed, and it expires in 2014; he said the bill was requested by the state Department of Administration. As originally proposed, the bill would have exempted the entire Capitol Mall area from local planning and zoning requirements, permanently. “Some of us felt like that was going a little too far,” Winder said. “We do have responsibility, we do have accountability within the community.”

Winder said cities do have authority on local planning. But, he said, “That authority comes from the land use planning act that this Legislature passes. So if we give them the authority, we also have the authority to not necessarily override it, but to exempt ourselves from that.”

He added, “This is the last step in a process if they can’t come together sometime in the future. … To keep the process moving and not have to have the delay in cost and time.”

Three Boise senators debated hard against the bill. Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise, said it came up at his local neighborhood association meeting last night, and a former Idaho Supreme Court justice was there, and said the bill’s unconstitutional as a local and special law. “I would say when we put in code a specific city block and say what a city may or may not do with that block, we are in direct violation of the Idaho Constitution. … This law is unconstitutional if we pass it, and we should know that that’s the case before we get into it.”

Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, said the state got the cart before the horse by designing and selling bonds for the garage before securing city approval; and Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, urged respect for the three designated historic districts that abut the site.

Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, said he didn’t think the bill was unconstitutional. “The Capitol Mall is not the business of the city of Boise,” he said. “It is the business of the citizenry of the entire state to have adequate facilities in the Capitol Mall for the business of governing the entire state.”

Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa, said, “I’ve certainly suffered through what I feel are perhaps overreaching regulations in the private sector with my clients on these kinds of issues, but at the same time I believe in local control. … My problem here is giving ourselves an exception when the private sector is required to comply.”

Winder, in his closing debate, said, “This is needed, it is timely and it needs to be moved along.” The bill then passed on a 24-11 vote, and now moves to the House.

Senate won’t do public lands transfer bills today…

The Senate will not take up the two federal lands transfer measures today, HCR 21 and 22. Instead, it will suspend rules to consider three bills now on its 2nd Reading Calendar: SB 1192a, exempting the state parking garage project from local Boise city planning and zoning design review rules; SB 1040a, an amended education bill letting school districts lower teachers’ salaries or cut contract days from one year to the next; and HB 65, the “fix-it” bill that restores $30 million to the current year’s public school budget that otherwise would have shifted as a result of voters’ rejection of Propositions 1, 2 and 3 in November.

‘Sine Die Sale’ in the Capitol Gift Shop…

The Capitol Giftshop, located off the garden level rotunda of the state Capitol, is holding its “Sine Die Sale” starting today, on everything from “Idaho State Capitol” hooded sweatshirts to books signed by their Idaho authors. The gift shop sale runs through the day today, but the gift shop will be closed on Monday; the sale will resume on Tuesday.

Miller on flowers: ‘It’s kind of something a gentleman does’

The House had wrapped up its business for the day by 8:35 this morning, and adjourned until 1:30 on Monday – which also happens to be April Fools Day. “There’s a good vibe in the room, and I think it has to do with the upcoming weekend,” House Speaker Scott Bedke told the members.

The House chamber is looking springy and festive this morning, thanks to bouquets of colorful spring flowers on the desks of each of its 22 female members. “They’re from the gentlemen,” said a smiling Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa. Rep. Steve Miller, R-Fairfield, got the male members of the House to chip in for the bouquets for the female members; he said “pretty much most of them” did. Said Miller, “It’s nice to recognize the women of the House – it’s kind of something a gentleman does.”

Each bouquet was accompanied by a card saying, “Thank you for your service… From the gentlemen of the House.”

House honors retiring Idaho Public TV chief Peter Morrill

The House this morning is honoring Peter Morrill, the retiring general manager of Idaho Public Television. “There are just a few things in this vast state of ours that tie us together,” said Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, a co-sponsor of the proclamation, HP 1, along with House Speaker Scott Bedke, Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, and Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett. “Certainly the Snake River, famous potatoes on our license plate, Highway 95, and Idaho Public  Television.” He said, “This proclamation recognizes the heart and driving force for Idaho Public Television, Peter Morrill, on his retirement after a 34-year career with Idaho Public Television.”

The proclamation, approved by a unanimous voice vote, notes that under Morrill’s leadership, Idaho Public TV has become the No. 1 most-watched PBS station in the nation; Morrill also spearheaded the  Internet streaming that’s brought the proceedings of the Legislature and its committees live to citizens across the state.

Morrill was in the House gallery this morning; after the proclamation was approved, the House honored him with a standing ovation. Bedke, drawing laughter, told him, “Mr. Morrill, thank you for all that you’ve done. You can’t leave unless you pick a good replacement.”

The resolution says in part, “We recognize, honor and commend PeterMorrill for his years of service to Idaho Public Television as well as his positive contributions to the Idaho Legislature and to the citizens of Idaho,and we wish him well in retirement.”

Health worker assault bill killed as CdA lawmakers clash

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on how Coeur d’Alene Rep. Luke Malek's bill to make attacking a health care worker a felony - a measure requested in part by Kootenai Medical Center, which says violent attacks there are increasing - was killed in the Senate Thursday after the lieutenant governor broke a rare tie vote, and Coeur d’Alene Sen. Bob Nonini decried the measure as too “harsh.”

House kills bill to hike wolf tag fees to pay livestock owners

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — House lawmakers voted 35-33 against shifting money from hunting licenses to compensate ranchers for livestock losses and fund state efforts to kill wolves. Thursday's narrow rejection came after the Idaho Department of Fish and Game raised objections along with hunters and outfitters. Rep. Judy Boyle, a Midvale Republican and ardent wolf foe, sought to hike wolf hunting tags by to $15 for residents, up $5.25, and $188.25 for non-residents, up $4. From each license, Boyle then wanted to shift $8 into a “Wolf Depredation Account.” Half its proceeds would have gone to wolf control, half to livestock owners who lost animals to wolf attacks. But Rep. Marc Gibbs, a former Idaho Fish and Game commissioner, said hunters worried about the poor precedent set by using hunting-tag revenue to reimburse ranchers.

Lt. Gov. Little: ‘That’s why I read the bills’

Idaho Lt. Gov. Brad Little said not 10 minutes before he was called on to break a tie vote in the Senate today, he’d been talking with Senate pages, who asked him if he ever got to vote. He explained that he voted only in case of a tie – which at that point hadn’t happened yet this year – but that he never knew when that would occur. “That’s why I read the bills, because I never know until the roll call,” Little said.

When the Senate’s vote came out 17-17 on HB 292, legislation to make assaults or batteries on health workers felonies, Little said he’d just been convinced to oppose the bill by Sen. Curt McKenzie’s debate, when McKenzie explained his vote. “I was going to vote for that,” Little said. But he said McKenzie’s discussion of the “low hurdle for battery” offenses persuaded him that a battery could be any unwanted touching. “We’d have more people going into the penal system,” Little said. “We’re always saying we’ve got too many people incarcerated.”

He added, “I have to think that next year, Luke (Malek) will probably bring that bill back.”

Nonini: ‘No comment’

Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, declined to respond to questions from a reporter about his debate against HB 292, the health worker assault bill, or his response to Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, the bill’s sponsor, who said Nonini questioned his ethics for sponsoring the bill. “I told you ‘no comment,’ and let’s leave it at that,” Nonini said.

Malek points to ‘misconceptions’ on health assault bill; Nonini faults Malek’s ethics

Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, a former Kootenai County deputy prosecutor whose first bill as an Idaho state representative was defeated on a tied Senate vote today – a tie that was broken by a no vote from Lt. Gov. Brad Little – said, “I’m disappointed that it was defeated this year, but confident that once we iron out the misconceptions voiced in the floor debate, we will be successful next year.”

Malek said Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, was mistaken when he said the bill would make it a felony to just assault a health care worker with words. “There is no such thing as verbal assault,” Malek said. He pointed to Idaho Code 18-901, which includes the “by word or act” phrase to which Nonini referred in the Senate debate. The full section defines an assault as:

“(a) An unlawful attempt, coupled with apparent ability, to commit a violent injury on the person of another; or

(b) An intentional, unlawful threat by word or act to do violence to the person of another, coupled with an apparent ability to do so, and doing some act which creates a well-founded fear in such other person that such violence is imminent.”

So a verbal threat alone, Malek said, isn’t an assault.

In addition, Malek objected to an email Nonini sent to the director of emergency and trauma services at Kootenai Medical Center, which has been pushing for the bill, questioning Malek’s ethics for sponsoring it. “It sure appears as a conflict that Luke Malek did not disclose that he was doing this as a favor to his father and KMC,” Nonini wrote. “Young Luke needs to understand that we expect more transparency in government that Luke is willing to concede.”

Both of Malek’s parents are doctors; his dad is an emergency room physician and his mom is in family practice; both practice in Coeur d'Alene and have done so for more than 20 years. Malek, 31, said he first heard about the issue at an Idaho Medical Association legislative meeting in Coeur d’Alene, and there’s no conflict between his father’s profession and his sponsorship of the bill.

Malek said of Nonini, “This isn’t the first time he’s impugned my character. He makes a habit out of telling people to follow the money if he disagrees with whatever decision I’m making.” Malek said as a lawyer, he’s especially sensitive to allegations of ethics violations. “You’ve got to get out ahead of ethics complaints,” he said. “An accusation can sometimes be as damaging as an actual violation.”

He added, “I think what we are seeing in Bob’s case is mostly frustration with an inability, once again, to create any sort of coherent legislative agenda on his own behalf. That would be about the only explanation for his inability to correctly construe the plain meaning of rules, which he should, by now, be very familiar with.”

Malek said he welcomes a chance to work more on HB 292 and make sure senators are informed about the issues behind it; KMC and other health care providers in the state have cited a growing tide of violent attacks against health care workers in calling for the felony-penalty bill. Said Malek, “It’s another opportunity to make something that I think is great better. I think a lot of that is just explaining things, like the ‘verbal assault.’”

Monday joint Ed meeting canceled, at least for now…

The joint meeting of the House and Senate Education committees that Senate Ed Chair John Goedde had announced earlier today - which was set for 8 a.m. Monday - has been canceled, at least for now. “It appears that the ideas being developed for the germane committee work and public input are not yet seasoned enough to be heard,” Goedde said in an email. “The meeting I announced in the Senate Education Committee this afternoon has been cancelled for the present.”
  

Little breaks tie, kills health worker felony assault bill

Rep. Luke Malek’s House-passed bill to make assaults on health care workers a felony has been defeated in the Senate, after Lt. Gov. Brad Little broke a 17-17 tie vote, voting against the bill and killing it.

The bill, HB 292, was sought by Kootenai Medical Center and other health care providers around the state, who said there’s been a growing number of violent attacks on health workers, and they’re required to treat all patients, even violent ones. Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, said, “What we do know is that there is a problem with assault and battery on health care workers.” But, he said, “If we were enforcing the laws we currently have, we would see a deterrent effect without this bill. … It’s horrible for someone to assault a health care worker. It’s just as horrible to assault a cashier in a grocery store, or somebody at the park, or any other member of society. … We keep increasing the penalties, not enforcing the ones we already have.”

Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, disagreed. “I think we’re dealing with a unique group of people here,” he told the Senate. “We expect them to provide medical emergency services when they arrive at the emergency room. … I think we have to recognize that this is a special class, and we should treat them accordingly.”

Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, spoke out against the bill, saying it would include verbal assaults. “I think this legislation goes a bit far,” he said. “They’re going to be subject to five years in the state penitentiary? … I would hope that the sponsors could work on this over the interim … come back with something a little tighter, maybe not so harsh.”

Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa, the bill’s Senate sponsor, said, “We are talking about individuals that are different than Joe Citizen. … This is not the cashier in the grocery store that has the sign in the front that says, ‘No shirt, no shoes, no service.’ They have to provide medical care… and in doing so they put themselves into close proximity to those people.”

It was the first time this legislative session that Little, the president of the Senate, has had to vote; he votes only to break a tie.

Both public lands transfer measures clear Senate panel, Dems dissent

Rep. Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, urged passage of both lands-transfer measures. “For the management of the resource, I think this is a discussion that we have to start,” he said. Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, moved to approve HCR 21, the study committee resolution, and his motion carried in the Senate State Affairs Committee on a voice vote.

Siddoway then moved to approve HCR 22 as well, the resolution demanding the transfer of title to the lands. Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, said he’s support the motion but reserve the right to not support the measure in the full Senate, after he’s had a chance to read through more material on it.

Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, offered a substitute motion to hold HCR 22 in committee, but it failed on a party-line vote. “The study committee, I can live with,” Werk said. “I’m not convinced HCR 22 is needed for us to do that study.” After that motion failed, Siddoway’s motion passed on a party-line vote, with just the panel’s two Democrats objecting; both public lands transfer resolutions now move to the full Senate. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Testimony on lands transfer: ‘Contrary to Constitution,’ ‘Lots of benefits’

Jonathan Oppenheimer of the Idaho Conservation League spoke against both public lands transfer resolutions, HCR 21 and HCR 22. HCR 21 would set up a study committee on a state takeover of federal land within the state; it passed the House on a 64-4 vote. HCR 22 demands that the federal government turn over title to the land to the state; it passed the House on a 55-13 party-line vote, with all House Democrats opposing it.

“This is contrary to the Idaho Constitution and admissions acts,” Oppenheimer told the Senate State Affairs Committee. “Public lands really represent the areas where Idahoans fish, where we hunt, where we recreate. They represent a tremendous economic engine to the state.” He said if title were transferred, “Public lands would be at risk for sale to the highest bidder, a notion that is steadfastly opposed by the majority of Idahoans.”

Wally Butler, range and livestock specialist for the Idaho Farm Bureau, spoke in favor of the measures. “Being a resource person, I see lots of benefits in the analysis that’s been prepared,” he told the committee. “HCR 22 does pull back or proposes to pull back the wilderness areas, monuments, etc.”

Betty Richardson, former U.S. Attorney for Idaho, said she’s concerned that proponents of the bill have looked only at the possible benefits to the state from the move, and haven’t looked at the full potential costs. “As the U.S. Attorney for Idaho for seven years, I know that the costs are not only the cost of the rangers and the biologists and the technicians, it is also the cost of federal law enforcement,” she warned. She urged the Legislature “to do the study committee first.”

Otter throws in towel on HOME tax credit for this year

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter said today that he’s no longer working on his $10 million “Hire One More Employee” or HOME tax credit this year; the bill, HB 88, passed the House on Feb. 14, but never got a hearing in the Senate Local Government & Taxation Committee. The measure renewed and expanded a little-used existing new-jobs tax credit, changed some of its provisions, and added an extra $1,000 credit if the new employee is a veteran.

Senate Local Government & Taxation Committee Chairman Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, has declined to hold hearings on an array of House-passed tax credit and tax exemption bills this year. He said earlier this week that he was concerned that the bill did nothing for employers who kept all their workers on through the recession, rewarding only new hires now.

Otter said, “There was concern about the price tag, how it fit into the appropriation process. So we beg leave to come back another day. I’m confident we’ll come back with something next session.”

Denney pitches federal lands transfer resolutions to Senate committee

House Resources Chairman Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, is pitching his two federal lands transfer measures to the Senate State Affairs Committee this afternoon. The measures, he said, “make the historic and legal case for the transfer of title of the public lands within the boundaries of the state of Idaho from the federal government to the state of Idaho.”

He said, “The bigger policy issue before us is the management and the ownership of the lands within our boundaries. … We’re not proposing to clear-cut the entire forest, but to manage for multiple use and sustained yield.”

Joint Ed hearing Monday to focus on tech pilot projects, teacher merit bonuses only

Senate Education Chairman John Goedde announced at the close of today’s Senate Education Committee that “there will be an RS (bill) or two that will be printed in the House committee tomorrow,” and then will come up for a hearing before the joint House and Senate Education committees at 8 a.m. on Monday in the Lincoln Auditorium. Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, asked “what that Monday meeting might entail – is it going to be a listening session with hours of testimony? Is it just going to be for legislators?”

Goedde responded, “I think we’ll hear from some stakeholders. The RS’s deal with the technology pilot program and the awards for excellence piece, sections 25 and 26 that were in the appropriation bill. We’re not going to be taking testimony on anything outside that scope.”

He added, “It’s scheduled 8-9:30, and we may not take that much time.”

After the meeting, Goedde, asked about concerns he'd expressed during the Senate debate on the rejected public school budget about restoring frozen steps in the teacher salary grid, said, “We're not going to approach that - that will stay with the joint committee. They're the ones that froze it.”

House clears two more ISBA-backed bills

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — On party-line votes, the House approved two school board association-backed bills aiming give to districts more leverage during negotiations as well as require the teachers union to prove it represents a majority of a district's educators before it can bargain for them. The two measures, pushed by the Idaho School Board Association after similar provisions were dumped as part of voters' rejection of the “Students Come First” laws in November, each cleared the chamber on 57-13 votes, with Democrats against the measures. Idaho School Board Association Executive Director Karen Echeverria has said the legislation gives school boards more flexibility to manage their finances. The Idaho Education Association teachers union opposed the measures. Both bills, SB 1147 and 1149, have already cleared the Senate and now go to Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter for his signature.

Senate Ed finally passes HB 65

Just as soon as the Senate Education Committee convened this afternoon, Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise, moved to approve HB 65 and send it to the Senate with a recommendation that it pass. Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, seconded the motion. “It seems to me that for the benefit for the students in our schools, this is probably the time that we should get this done for them so they can have some certainty in this school year,” Durst said. “I’m glad that we finally had a chance to make a motion on it.”

The bill, which passed the House unanimously more than a month ago, keeps school funding whole for the current school year; otherwise, the failure of Propositions 1, 2 and 3 would have put $30 million of current-year funding in limbo. “I’ve gotten a lot of emails saying we shouldn’t put anything in that the props took out,” Thayn said. But he said those emailers don’t seem to understand that the $30 million is part of the current year’s school budget, aside from the controversial reforms on which the propositions focused. “I think this is the thing to do,” Thayn said. “This is just this year’s fix.”

Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, complimented committee Chairman John Goedde on his work on the bill. “The largest school district in the state is mostly in my backyard,” he said. “I know this has had a big impact and is extremely important to them. Your work and persistence on this is not lost on me and my school district.”

The bill was approved on a unanimous voice vote and now moves to the full Senate.

Transportation funding issue resurfaces…

Five bills were introduced in the House Transportation Committee this week for big boosts in state funding for roads, from shifting sales taxes from sales of tires and automotive equipment to the highway fund, to phasing in a 10-cent increase in Idaho’s gas tax, to raising registration fees for cars and semi-trucks, to imposing new fees on electric and hybrid vehicles and a new tax on rental cars. Four were from Senate Transportation Chairman Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, and one from Rep. Clark Kauffman, R-Filer. None are moving forward this year, but all have been introduced in the House for public comment and discussion between now and next year.

Gov. Butch Otter, whose big transportation funding initiative failed in the 2009 legislative session, subsequently appointed a task force chaired by Lt. Gov. Brad Little that studied the issue for more than a year and determined that Idaho needs to spend more than $540 million more annually than it does now to adequately maintain and improve its state and local road system. Otter said today that he doesn’t know if his proposals would have a “softer landing” in today’s Legislature than they did back in 2009, but said, “I think it’s time to begin that discussion.”