Monthly Archives: March 2016

Otter Cites Legislative Efforts in K-12, Career Training

Idaho Governor Butch Otter met with reporters on Monday to highlight what he saw as the accomplishments of the 2016 Idaho State Legislature. Specifically, he praised lawmakers for approving many of his recommendations “aimed at improving public schools for Idaho children and enhancing career training for Idaho workers.”

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(The Governor’s press conference on Monday, March 28, 2016. Nishant Mohan photo)

The Governor’s office released this list of successes, as identified by Governor Otter:

K -12 Task Force Recommendations

  • Funding the career ladder: $42 million. 
  • Restoring operational or “discretionary” funding: $31.3 million. 
  • Advancing literacy: $9.1 million. 
  • Improving college and career counseling: $5 million.
  • Teacher professional development: $2.375 million. 
  • Classroom technology: $5 million. 
  • Statewide Wi-Fi services: $2.1 million. 
  • Mastery‐based system planning and assessments: $1 million.

Higher Education

  • Career and Technical Education post-secondary expansion: $3.8 million.
  • Opportunity Scholarship: $5 million.
  • Community college startup: $5 million (eastern Idaho).
  • Complete College Idaho: $2.6 million.
  • Idaho National Laboratory-Boise State University Cyber-security Program: $1 million.
  • WWAMI: $278,900. (To help pay for up to 40 Idaho seats in the medical education program starting next fall).

Additional Education Highlights

  • Advancing science, technology, engineering and math or STEM education: An allocation of $1.5 million in ongoing funding and an additional $500,000 in one-time funding for the STEM Action Center.
  • Boosting targeted STEM initiatives: A one-time $2 million transfer to the new STEM Education Fund to support startup STEM education programs.
  • Creating the Office of School Safety within the Division of Building Safety: $270,000

Posted March 30, 2016

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Wasden Warns of IRS Phone Scam

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden is warning consumers this tax season to avoid telemarketing scams involving callers posing as IRS employees. Idaho Public Radio’s Glenn Mosley reports. (:55)

Listen here:

This telephone scam has been going on for several years. The callers impersonate officials with the IRS or the U.S. Department of the Treasury and make threatening remarks. Federal officials say the IRS scam has reached epidemic levels.

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden says the IRS scam is the leading example of telemarketing fraud in the state, and he advises Idahoans to hang up right away:

Lawrence Wasden: ‘It is a scam. There’s been threats of physical violence over the phone, there have been ‘we’re going to sue you.’ That’s not what the IRS does. That’s not the process they follow. The easy answer here is simply hang up.”

Nationwide, the Treasury Department says it’s received about 896,000 contacts from consumers about the IRS scam since Oct. 2013, and more than 5,000 victims have reported losses of more than $26.5 million.

I’m Glenn Mosley.

Online–

IRS Consumer Alerts:

https://www.irs.gov/uac/Tax-Scams-Consumer-Alerts

Idaho Attorney General:

http://www.ag.idaho.gov/index.html

Copyright 2016 Idaho Public Radio

Posted March 28, 2016

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Idaho Lawmakers Wrap Up 2016 Session

by Taylor Nadauld

Idaho Public Radio

State Capitol Bureau

The Idaho Legislature wrapped up its 2016 session this week after legislators addressed some significant last minute bills – with topics ranging from abortion to tax cuts – and gave tributes to their retiring coworkers.

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(The Idaho Senate in the final hours of the 2016 legislative session. Taylor Nadauld photo)

The Unborn Infants Dignity Act, sponsored by Representative Brent Crane – which would prohibit the sale, transfer, or distribution of the remains of an aborted fetus – passed the House 54-14 on Thursday, to the chagrin of House Democrats.

“This is a terrible bill,” Representative Matt Erpelding said on the floor during debate.

Fellow representatives Paulette Jordan (D), Elaine Smith (D), John McCrostie (D), and Melissa Wintrow (D) stepped out of the House during the bill’s hearing. The representatives also stepped out of the House State Affairs Committee they serve on for the bill’s first reading.

That was not the Democrat’s biggest loss in the final days of the session though, as a much anticipated bill – which would have addressed the 78,000 person healthcare gap in Idaho – failed in the House on a party line vote.

The bill’s line items included $400,000 for a study of the gap, $5 million in grants to various Idaho community health centers, and an added amendment to apply for a Medicaid expansion waiver.

The amended bill passed the Senate Thursday night. Shortly after, the Senate adjourned Sine Die at 9:03 p.m.

But the bill failed to pass the House the next day, effectively killing it and leaving Idahoans in the gap with no solution this year.

“Talk to the physicians in your community and ask them whether we’ve made progress or not,” Representative John Rusche said in a press conference after adjournment. “I’d submit that we didn’t.”

The House also passed some last minute budgets by the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee that drew controversy, including $2 million to the Constitutional Defense Fund, $400,000 to the Wolf Control Fund, and a new budget for the Arts Commission, $200 more than an original budget which failed to pass.

With little time left and the Senate already adjourned, a bill pushed through the House by Representative Mike Moyle  that would have expanded Internet sales taxes and cut income taxes, was voted unanimously by the House to be left on the calendar without taking it up, effectively killing the bill.

The House adjourned Sine Die at approximately 12:12 p.m. on Friday.

In the Senate, Senator Lori Den Hartog  gave an emotional plea for what Senator Dean Mortimer called “the last public education budget” of the session.

H 647 calls for additional funding to the Public School Support Program/Division of Children’s Programs and the State Board of Education to be used for literacy interventions, local school innovation, and the career ladder.

“If we don’t take care of this,” Sen. Den Hartog said with teary eyes, “we will have failed our responsibility to our kids.”

The bill passed both the Senate and the House and was sent to Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter’s desk.

Before adjournment, both bodies paid sometimes emotional tributes to their retiring members, including Representatives Rudolph (D), Demordaunt (R), Batt (R),  and Bateman (R), and Senators McKenzie (R) and Lacey (D).

Senators Bart Davis (R) and Mortimer also received thanks for their services to the legislature.

Copyright 2016 Idaho Public Radio

Posted March 27, 2016

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Idaho Legislature: No Healthcare Gap Coverage

by Nishant Mohan

Idaho Public Radio

State Capitol Bureau

The debate on providing healthcare coverage to the estimated 78,000 Idahoans who live without it drew the 2016 legislative session into its eleventh and final week.

No legislation on the issue passed both chambers. House lawmakers adjourned Friday, shortly after a party-line vote in which the House of Representatives killed the final healthcare proposal introduced this session, which had passed the Senate Thursday. It would have appropriated $5.4 million for a grant program to support clinics, and was amended to include a request for a Medicaid waiver that the legislature could consider next year.

Following adjournment, Speaker of the House Rep. Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, told reporters he intends to create a legislative working group to address the 78,000 in the gap.

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(House Speaker Scott Bedke speaks to reporters Friday, March 25th. Nishant Mohan photo)

“The medical services that they receive are inadequate, they’re expensive when they do receive them, it’s an inefficient use of taxpayer dollars, and it has bad medical outcomes,” Bedke said. “This is job one.”

A form of Medicaid expansion was recommended by Governor C. L. “Butch” Otter’s task force on the subject, but was considered by most legislators this year to be a non-starter. Instead, Otter proposed the Primary Care Access Program, which he created with Department of Health and Welfare Director Richard Armstrong and Health and Welfare Committee Chair Rep. Fred Wood. Democrats holding out for Medicaid killed this one, voting with the opposition on a partial funding bill.

Two Medicaid expansion bills from Moscow Democrat Sen. Dan Schmidt were given a public hearing, a first for Medicaid in Idaho, but no vote was taken on them.

In the final week, a waiver bill appeared on a committee agenda for Monday, but was delayed and then finally removed. The bill that kept the House an extra day was originally limited to the grant program, but was amended to add the waiver.

Before the waiver amendment, Health and Welfare Committee members Rep. Kelly Packer, R-McCammon, Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa, and Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Genessee, came to what was meant to be a short procedural meeting of their committee with prepared letters. With a poor outlook for any substantial gap legislation being passed in the session, the three legislators pledged that next session they would vote against any bill, rule, or measure that comes before the committee in 2017, regardless of fiscal impact, until a waiver proposal is presented to the House for a vote. Two other GOP members of the committee also joined the pledge.

When the House received the amendment for a Medicaid waiver, all five voted with the rest of their party to kill it. Perry said she knew it would not have the votes, so she voted with the others to maintain “cohesion” going into next year.

Despite the legislature not coming any closer to what he would consider a solution, Schmidt said the session was a win-win for him.

“It got addressed,” Schmidt said. “I was very surprised it got any traction at all.”

Doing something about the gap population has drawn bipartisan support in the Legislature this session. Of those in the gap that Health & Welfare has data on, 65 percent are employed. Armstrong said the reason so much support exists is because the data broke stereotypes of the people in the gap.

Opposition has come from a stigma against the Affordable Care Act, caution about expanding Medicaid if the next president leads to a repeal of the law and, according to some, the coming state primary elections.

In one of the last meetings of the Health and Welfare Committee, accusations flew against both parties that their statements were for the purpose of campaigning.

“I would bet that if we did this after primary elections, things might be different,” said Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, after adjournment on Friday.

Copyright 2016 Idaho Public Radio

Posted March 27, 2016

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Idaho Lawmakers Back Firefighters Coverage

by Nishant Mohan

Idaho Public Radio

State Capitol Bureau

H 554, aimed at making it easier for firefighters to receive workers’ compensation for occupational diseases, such as certain kinds of cancer, passed the Idaho State Senate unanimously on Thursday, March 17th, following a 65-3 vote in the House of Representatives the week before.

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Various forms of the bill have failed to pass the legislature over the last 16 years.

“They’ve tried most every year I’ve been here,” said Rep. Kelley Packer, R-McCammon. “Nobody wanted to grant them a presumption if it would stick the state with more workers’ comp claims.”

“It’s because there’s been significant concerns over possible ramifications,” said Rep. Neil Anderson, R-Blackfoot. “You want to see them treated fairly, not preferentially versus other citizens.”

Firefighters tend to be healthier than the average person, Dr. Francesca Litaw told a House committee by phone.

“So when we find firefighters have any increase in cancer rates, that’s unsettling,” Litaw said.

The bill would create a ‘rebuttable presumption’ that the illness is caused from occupational exposure, said Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, the bill’s sponsor. He said this means if a firefighter contracts one of the cancers listed in the bill, it is presumed the illness was caused from exposure during work, but evidence can be presented to refute the claim. Currently, the law requires the firefighter prove his/her cancer was caused by occupational exposure in a process Malek said is near-impossible.

“Without this legislation, no fireman’s bills will be paid by workers’ compensation,” said Nampa attorney Richard Owen, who handles job injury cases.

Anderson said the bill was formulated through a give-and-take process and that it took addressing a number of concerns to get it passed. He said these include exemptions for genetic predispositions and tobacco use, a limit on the presumption to 10 years after retirement, and inclusion of volunteer firefighters.

Another addition was a 5-year sunset clause to reassess the law and to update it with modern data. Anderson said the CDC is currently conducting a study that will likely affect future versions of the bill.

“This is a bill I am satisfied with,” said Anderson, who filled in as chair of the committee working on the bill. “I could have kept it in committee to make it perfect, but we felt we needed to get this done for them.”

Packer said she was eager to do something for the firefighters, whose boots she had a chance to literally step into when she participated in Fire Ops 101, an event to give elected officials an idea of what firefighters go through.

“I broke into tears. It was horrific, and that was in a controlled situation,” Packer said. “I thought these people deserve not only our respect, but our help. It just makes the road a little easier, and I think that’s reasonable.”

Copyright 2016 Idaho Public Radio

Posted March 20, 2016

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Rural Education Plan Pushed Forward

by Nishant Mohan

Idaho Public Radio

State Capitol Bureau

A new version of a plan to share resources between K-12 schools pushed by Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra was presented to the House Education Committee Friday.

The committee opted to send the plan directly to the floor without the usual hearing process.

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(Sup. Ybarra before the House Education Committee Friday. Nishant Mohan photo)

Ybarra had first presented the proposal earlier in the session. The overall plan calls for the creation of Rural Education Support Centers, which would coordinate and deliver staffing resources to schools according only to what they specifically request, based on a Washington state model.

Rep. Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay, requested the immediate introduction of the new bill on Friday, which would create a pilot program in School District Region 1, where his legislative district lies.

“This seems like an excellent opportunity,” Dixon said. “I know the superintendents in my district are very excited about this.”

Ybarra is requesting $300,000 for plan, which she said is seed money to get the pilot program going. The schools would complete the funding by paying for the services. It is unclear where the funding would come from, as public school budgets were finalized by JFAC, the budget committee, earlier in the day.

Some lawmakers on the committee opposed the motion, but not because they disliked the plan.

“I would like to see this, on the first round, go out to everybody,” said Rep. Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree. “Instead of incubating something, I would like to have something that’s really solidified.”

She said she would like a year or two to get the program, which she said she thought was a great idea, ready for all districts.

Ybarra said she and her staff are ready to move forward on the plan for the North Idaho district.

She said if districts could do this already, they would be,” Ybarra said. “We thought this through wholeheartedly and believe we’re on the right path.”

The plan has been absent since Ybarra’s presentations earlier last month, and the education committees have focused on other initiatives, including literacy interventions.

“There’s likely not to be any new money in education any time soon,” Ybarra said. “If there’s ever another recession, this is going to be the approach that we need to get services out to our kids.”

Copyright 2016 Idaho Public Radio

Posted March 18, 2016

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Orofino License Plate Bill Clears Idaho House

by Taylor Nadauld

Idaho Public Radio

State Capitol Bureau

A controversial bill allowing the creation of a specialty license plate featuring the Orofino High School ‘Maniacs’ mascot narrowly passed the Idaho House on Tuesday in a roller coaster of a vote that was locked in twice.

“We [the Orofino Maniacs] are an enthusiastic bunch,” Representative and Orofino High School alumna Caroline Troy, (R- Genesee), said in support of the bill.

Other representatives took issue with both the way the bill goes about funding schools, and the mascot itself, which has been a topic of controversy.

“What does this say about Idaho?” Representative John Rusche (D- Lewiston said during debate. “Is this what we’ve come to?”

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(The Idaho House debates the Orofino license plate bill. Taylor Nadauld photo)

The bill’s sponsor, Representative Paul Shepherd (R-Riggins), quoted the Webster Dictionary definition of “maniac” as “a person who is extremely enthusiastic about something.”

The bill failed in a 35-35 tied vote, which was locked in and recorded.

That is, until Representative Pete Nielson – who made headlines recently for his comments that rape and incest are less likely to result in pregnancy – stood, after a few more bills had been read and voted on, and asked to change his “no” vote on the license plate bill to “yes.”

“I made a mistake,” Rep. Nielsen said.

After a recess, Rep. Nielsen’s request was treated as a motion. The House voted 35-30 to reconsider the bill.

The bill was then voted on a second time, with four representatives absent. The House voted 34-32 to pass the bill.

House Bill 413aa allows a financially struggling Orofino High School to receive funding from a specialty license plate featuring its cartoon “maniac” mascot that some say resembles a patient in a hospital gown screaming and jumping.

The bill has faced strong opposition since its first reading in the House Transportation and Defense Committee last month.

Five people testified against the bill in the committee, saying the mascot is offensive to people with mental illness.

The school is located near Idaho State Hospital North, an adult psychiatric hospital.

Kathie Garrett, vice president of Idaho National Alliance of Mental Illness said the term “maniac” is offensive and that the mascot perpetuates a negative stigma about people with mental illness.

Maniac

 

(Graphic courtesy maxpreps.com and Orofino School District)

“By allowing the Orofino Maniacs name to be put in our Idaho code and their mascot to be placed on our Idaho license plate, it will signal that Idaho officially sanctions the use of the word and the image that is hurtful and stigmatizing to every Idahoan whose lives have been touched by mental illness,” Garrett said.

Some pointed out that the mascot appears to be dressed in a hospital gown.

Jill Woolsey of the Clearwater Community Foundation said the mascot is a huge part of the Orofino community and positive representation of it and the school.

“We are asking for you to approve a terrific method, through the special plate program, to assist with funding in a school district in desperate need of funds,” Woolsey said.

All Idahoans would have the option to purchase the specialty license plate and donate a portion of the payment to Orofino High School.

The bill will now move on to the Senate where it will face further consideration and voting.

Posted March 12, 2016

Copyright 2016 Idaho Public Radio

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