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Eye on Boise: Legislator nudging Washington and North Idaho to switch time zones

Crowds gather on Time Zone Bridge in Riggins in 2017 to watch the Salmon River Jet Boat races on the river below. The bridge marks the dividing line between the Pacific and Mountain time zones in Idaho. (Riggins Ambulance)

If Sen. Steve Vick had his way, North Idaho would be on Mountain Standard Time year round – so it’d be in the same time zone as Boise in the winter, but wouldn’t change clocks for daylight-saving time in the summer.

Vick proposed a resolution to the Idaho Senate last week noting that the state of Washington considered, but didn’t pass, legislation last year looking at making the change. That would have essentially put Washington in its current daylight-saving time zone year-round. If Washington were to change, Vick said, North Idaho should too.

“I think people get frustrated by the switching back and forth,” Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, told the Idaho Senate. “I think North Idaho is very well situated to stay in one time zone year-round, and if we do, I don’t want it to be Pacific Time.” He said that’s because “it already gets light at 4:30 in the morning in the summer, and 3:30 in the morning – that hour of daylight there just doesn’t do me any good. Probably some people it does, but not me.”

Vick’s resolution passed the Senate unanimously.

North Idaho, like Washington, is on Pacific Standard Time in the winter, and Pacific Daylight Time in the summer. Southern Idaho, from “Time Zone Bridge” in Riggins to the south, is on Mountain Time, and changes to Mountain Daylight Time in the summers.

Vick said he wouldn’t propose changing North Idaho’s time zone unless Washington changed, too; his resolution would notify the U.S. Department of Transportation, which makes time-zone decisions, and the state of Washington that Idaho is “prepared to act.” Vick said that’s his way of giving Washington lawmakers a nudge to look at the idea again.

Vick said North Idaho should definitely stay in the same time zone as Washington. Otherwise, he said, “It’s like having Boise and Nampa on different time zones, if Coeur d’Alene and Spokane were on different time zones.”

The resolution would apply to the 10 northernmost counties in Idaho.

Wolves compared to ‘cobra snakes,’ ‘gangs’

The Idaho House voted 64-6 last week in favor of legislation from Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, to extend the state Wolf Depredation Control Board, which is charged with contracting to have problem wolves exterminated, for another year. Her bill would continue the board, and the assessments on livestock raisers and sportsmen that help support it along with state funding, for one more year; it had been scheduled to expire after this year.

Gov. Butch Otter had proposed making the board permanent but dropping the amount the state contributes toward the effort in future years from the current $400,000 a year to $220,000; Boyle’s bill would just keep the current arrangement for another year, which she said is necessary to fulfill the initial five-year commitment.

During the debate on Boyle’s bill, Rep. Van Burtenshaw, R-Terreton, compared wolves in Idaho to “having us bring cobra snakes and let’s turn ‘em loose in the Boise Valley and then have you abate ‘em and pay for that.” He said, “It’s the same type of thing, it’s like moving a gang into neighborhood.”

All North Idaho representatives except Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, voted in favor of Boyle’s bill, which now moves to the Senate.

Nugent honored by House

The Idaho House on Friday honored the Legislature’s longtime chief bill drafter, Mike Nugent, who is retiring. Lawmakers from both parties lauded Nugent’s impartiality, hard work, extensive knowledge and quick and on-target work.

House Speaker Scott Bedke, addressing Nugent as he watched from above in the House gallery, said, “We will miss your institutional memory. We salute you for your dedicated service to the state of Idaho.” Bedke told Nugent he’s “set the bar pretty high,” and told all the state’s bill drafters, “There’s your standard to which you can aspire. Thank you again, Mike.” The House gave Nugent a standing ovation, and Bedke added to Nugent, an accomplished golfer, “Hit ‘em long and straight.”

Returning to the speaker’s podium, before calling the House back into order, Bedke commented, “Kinda sucks to pass mileposts sometimes, you know?”

Nugent is retiring after 41 years of service. A resolution unanimously adopted by the House honors Nugent as a “dedicated public servant who has spent his entire professional career in service to the Idaho Legislature.”

Higher ed, Medicaid budgets set

Among state agency budgets set by the Idaho Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee in the last week were those for the state’s four-year colleges and universities and the budget for Medicaid, the state-federal program that provides health care mostly for low-income children and disabled people.

The Medicaid budget is set for a 7 percent boost next year, mostly driven by growing caseloads. Lawmakers set it below Gov. Butch Otter’s recommendation, largely because they zeroed out funding for Otter’s proposed Idaho Health Care Plan; that bill was pulled from the House last week and sent back to committee. It would have provided coverage for half of the 78,000 who now fall into a coverage gap, making too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to qualify for subsidized insurance through the state insurance exchange.

“This was a difficult budget,” said Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene. “We wrestled with every one of these (line items), and looked at it so closely, because these are huge numbers. This is our most vulnerable population.”

For colleges and universities, legislative budget writers unanimously approved a 3 percent increase in state funding next year, up from Otter’s proposed 2.3 percent increase.

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