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Opinion >  Column

Eye on Boise: Move afoot to rein in specialty license plates

BOISE – New Idaho Senate Transportation Chairman Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, thinks the state issues specialty license plates for too many themes and causes, so he’s proposing legislation to limit them to state or public agencies or “foundations supporting the interests of state or local government.”

Hammond said he doesn’t want to do away with any of the existing specialty plates, which would be grandfathered in. “Any further specialty plates would have to support a general government good,” he said. “The government of Idaho would get out of the business of raising money for private causes.”

Current specialty plates include ones to benefit the Special Olympics, tout the National Rifle Association, an “Idaho Freemason” plate and a “Corvette, America’s Sports Car” plate. Hammond said new House Transportation Chairman Leon Smith, R-Twin Falls, has agreed to co-sponsor his bill.

Urban renewal changes

Senators are planning to amend the two remaining bills that seek to trim the authority of urban renewal districts. A slew of bills was introduced in the House with that aim, but only HB 95 and HB 110 remain.

The Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee spent two days last week taking testimony and working on extensive amendments, some of which draw in elements from the other two House bills on urban renewal that passed this year, HB 96 and HB 97.

“This is a very complicated issue,” said committee Chairman Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston. “It’s my hope that this adds some transparency and additional public process to do away with some of the criticisms of urban renewal districts, to the point that we are not revisiting this every year.”

Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, thanked Stegner and Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, for all their work on the proposed amendments to HB 95, which he said “make these better bills.”

As for the other bill, HB 110, which would add a public hearing requirement on urban renewal proposals, committee members raised questions over whether the bill actually required two hearings on the same plan. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, told Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, “It needs to be reworked – I think your point is well-taken.” Hammond said he thought amendments could “clean it up” by striking about half the bill’s wording.

‘What they want to hear’

Bob Cooper, spokesman for Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s office, had this response to Barbieri’s introduction of legislation to create a new Office of Legislative Counsel so the Legislature could hire its own lawyers:

“Well, it’s a policy choice whether the Legislature wants to get legal advice from the attorney general or from its own lawyers,” he said. “I think the majority of legislators are going to think about whether they want accurate, objective legal advice that helps them write laws that stand up in court, or if they just want lawyers that’ll tell them what they want to hear, even if that means that some of their laws get struck down, and the taxpayers pay for the lawyers on both sides of the fight in that instance.”

Barbieri was the sponsor of this year’s controversial health care nullification law, which the attorney general’s office advised violated both the U.S. and state constitutions and lawmakers’ oath of office; he disputed that opinion. Barbieri is a lawyer, though he’s not licensed in Idaho.

KTEC bill advances

The Senate Education Committee has endorsed HB 236, the House-passed bill to allow the Kootenai Technical Education Campus to open a year earlier by starting construction before all the money for the multidistrict vocational education center is in from a tax levy. Coeur d’Alene Schools Superintendent Hazel Bauman told the senators, “Unfortunately this year, even with Coeur d’Alene’s graduation rate of 88 percent, over 100 of our students will drop out. … This is just the ticket for a lot of them. They really would like to be in a professional-technical school learning a trade.”

Bauman said the funding plan is similar to how the Coeur d’Alene school district has handled its school plant facility levies. “In every single one of them, we have started construction prior to collecting all the money and phased the construction … to match the revenue stream,” she said. “Contractors have been happy to do that.” The bill now heads for a final vote in the Senate.

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