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Otter gives Idaho legislative session an ‘A’

Gov. Butch Otter, at a press conference on Thursday, declares this year's legislative session
Gov. Butch Otter, at a press conference on Thursday, declares this year's legislative session "a very successful one." (Betsy Russell)
BOISE - Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has declared this year’s contentious Idaho legislative session “very successful,” saying, “I’d give ‘em an A.” The GOP governor’s assessment was far sunnier than that of lawmakers themselves, who’ve described this year’s session as “difficult,” “frustrating” and even “dreadful.” Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, called it “a difficult session among some of the worst economic times in memory.” Otter, at a post-session news conference Thursday, said, “It was a successful legislative session for myself and my administration.” He said his proudest achievement of the session was balancing the state budget without raising taxes; he also cited major school reform legislation, and defended his signing of emergency-clause bills for each of the school reform bills, which he did quietly earlier this week. Citizens have launched a referendum drive to overturn all three of the bills, which remove most collective bargaining rights from teachers, impose a teacher merit-pay system, and shift funds from teacher salaries to technology purchases and online learning. “If we hadn’t had an emergency clause in those, obviously we would have been waiting to see, No. 1, whether or not the referendum got on the ballot, and then 18 months from now, whether or not the referendum passes to repeal those bills,” Otter said. “But I see no reason to wait. They’re great ideas.” Without the emergency clauses, a successful referendum campaign could have halted the bills from taking effect until after the November 2012 election. With the clauses, the bills take effect now, but still could be overturned in 2012. The governor also said he signed the 20-week abortion ban bill into law on Wednesday, also with no announcement or fanfare. “I signed it because I thought it was the right thing to do,” he said. “I’ve been a right-to-life candidate … all my life.” The bill bans abortions after 20 weeks on grounds of fetal pain, except to save the life or physical health of the mother; it includes no exceptions for rape, incest, severe fetal abnormality or the mental or psychological health of the mother. Otter said he thinks “there’s enough safeguards … that it doesn’t infringe, I believe, on Roe v. Wade. Obviously, I have a different analysis of that than the attorney general.” Two Idaho attorney general’s opinions found that the bill likely would be held unconstitutional, as it conflicts with the Roe v. Wade ruling’s restrictions on state abortion bans prior to the point of fetal viability. Otter also said he hasn’t yet taken action on legislation declaring a wolf emergency in Idaho, and is waiting to see what happens in Congress with legislation that would remove the wolf from endangered species protection in the state. If that legislation becomes law - it’s part of a major congressional spending-cuts bill that passed both the House and Senate on Thursday - Otter said, “We would not need that wolf bill.”
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