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Eye On Boise

Lawmakers to take action on IEN mess Tuesday morning

The Legislature’s immediate solution for the Idaho Education Network mess will be debated by the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee tomorrow morning, JFAC Co-Chair Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, announced this morning at the end of today’s joint committee meeting. “In order to protect schools, I think we’re going to have to move tomorrow,” Cameron said.

Queried by reporters after the meeting, Cameron said the language still is being finalized, but the joint committee’s co-chairs and vice-chairs plan to propose “a fix, a partial solution.” He said, “We’re doing our darnedest to protect public schools and kids.”

The proposal won’t include the Otter Administration’s proposals for a one-year “bridge contract” exactly mirroring the current IEN, Cameron and Senate Finance Vice-Chair Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, said. Nor will it include the administration’s proposal to pass “legislative intent” language to allow the state to continue paying the current vendors under the voided $60 million IEN contract.

“The Attorney General advised us to appropriate to a contract that’s now considered to be void would be considered a misuse of public funds,” Cameron said.  “We felt like any emergency contract that would retain the current providers would cause additional problems.”

He added, “Our legal counsel has strongly advised us, through the Attorney General’s office, that the best long-term solution for the IEN is to have a complete, clean break from the current system. They interpret that in every sense of the word.”

The IEN issue is a late addition to tomorrow’s JFAC agenda; the joint committee meets at 8 a.m. Cameron also said the initial estimate from the state Department of Administration that it would take $1.6 million to keep broadband and video-conferencing services to Idaho high schools running from now to the end of the fiscal year June 30 was a under-estimate, and the full bill likely is closer to $2.4 million. Cameron and Keough said they don’t think there’s any chance that services for the remainder of this school year will qualify for federal “e-rate” matching funds that were supposed to pay for three-quarters of the service; the feds cut off the payments in 2013 out of concern over the illegally awarded contract for the IEN. That’s left Idaho paying four times as much as planned for the service.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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