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Eye on Boise: Lawmakers ready if city won’t go their way

BOISE – The state Legislature makes the laws, including the ones that say cities can govern local planning and zoning issues.

“So if we give them the authority, we also have the authority to not necessarily override it, but to exempt ourselves from that,” Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, told the Idaho Senate on Friday.

At issue: His bill, SB 1192a, to exempt a proposed new state parking garage near the Capitol from Boise city planning and zoning requirements. The parking garage, which abuts three designated historic districts, flunked a city design review, and the state is now appealing that ruling.

An array of local officials and historic preservation advocates opposed the bill in committee. Winder said the opposition was part of what prompted him to have the bill amended. As originally requested by the state Department of Administration, the measure 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.

The amended bill just exempts the block on which the new parking garage is planned, and the exemption expires in 2014.

Three Boise senators spoke out strongly against the bill in the Senate on Friday, even after the amendments. Others questioned if the state would take the same step in other communities around the state.

Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise, charged that the bill is an unconstitutional “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,” Durst said.

Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, disagreed. “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, “My problem here is giving ourselves an exception when the private sector is required to comply.”

Winder said the Department of Administration won’t invoke the law if it can settle things quickly with the city, but it wants it as a backstop. “This is needed, it is timely and it needs to be moved along,” he said. That was enough to get the bill passed Friday in the Senate on a 24-11 vote; it now moves to the House.

Radiator capping

Late-session shenanigans in the Legislature last week included a move by House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, to amend a Senate bill on school safety and security, removing the entire original bill and replacing it with the text of two gun-rights bills that have passed the House but never got a hearing in the Senate.

That’s sometimes referred to as “radiator-capping” a bill, with the metaphor comparing the bill to a vehicle on which the radiator cap has been removed, an entirely new vehicle driven under it, and then the cap is screwed down onto the new vehicle. In that metaphor, the radiator cap – the only thing that stays the same – is the bill number.

Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, was plenty steamed at the demise of his school safety bill, SB 1133, and took to Facebook to complain. There, Moyle countered his arguments, telling Hagedorn, “your bill was DOA” and “We did you a favor.” Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, chimed in, telling Hagedorn he should “be proud you have the opportunity to carry this in the Senate, my friend.”

Actually, the transformed bill will go no further.

The episode prompted my first legislative limerick of the session, which I’ve titled, “Radiator Capping in an Internet Age”:

To Facebook with such a lament

Good Senator Hagedorn went

There to embroil

With Moyle and Boyle

And where they did all cybervent.

Road funding issue returns

Five bills were introduced in the House Transportation Committee last 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 semitrucks, to imposing new fees on electric and hybrid vehicles and a new tax on rental cars. None are moving forward this year, but all have been introduced 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 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.”