Monthly Archives: March 2017

Idaho State Legislature– Week 11

Leadership in the 2017 Idaho Legislature had set a target date of March 24 for adjournment. In the end, it didn’t work out that way, and the session will head into Week 12.

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Part of the difficulty has been in the House, which has seen tension throughout this session, with some members pushing back at House leadership. The House was at ease for most of the day Thursday and members were in caucus for most of the day. The House came to order at 10:00 a.m. MT/9:00 a.m. PT and worked on only a handful of bills.

“8 hrs to vote on 3 bills after GOP members require full reading of bills. $30,000 per day for taxpayers,” Rep. Melissa Wintrow (D-Boise) tweeted out.

On the Senate side, Majority Leader Bart Davis told senators at adjournment Thursday that the Senate would be needed on Monday.

“I know this floor is willing to stay tomorrow to get the work done,” Davis said. “I can tell you that the body across the rotunda can’t get it to us, and it’s not because their leadership team isn’t trying.

“I apologize, but we will have to be back here on Monday,” Davis said.

The Senate then adjourned for the day, having completed work on all of the bills on its calendar except for one– S 1162, GARVEE funding for roads projects. It was the smaller of two roads bills under consideration by lawmakers.

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(Idaho Senate photo via ‘Idaho in Session,’ March 23, 2017)

The Senate’s rejection of the larger of those transportation bills was a source of frustration for many lawmakers on both sides of the rotunda, and some pointed to that rejection as another reason why the session is still going.

The bill would have provided GARVEE bonding authority and general bonding authority for highway construction, would have extended the surplus eliminator from 2015 for 5 more years, among other provisions. The vote was 15-20.

Dist. 5 Sen. Dan Foreman was among the senators who debated against the legislation and is heard in this audio clip. (1:34)

There’s some hope that a compromise can be reached on a transportation bill to address needs around the state. Canyon County lawmakers have been especially adamant that a roads bill is needed, and other parts of the state have projects, as well– such as the recent collapse of Highway 5 between Plummer and St. Maries in District 5.

Friday was the 75th day of this session, Lewiston Sen. Dan Johnson told the Senate, “One day longer than last year, but still six days short of the 22nd longest. So even on Monday if we finish up we won’t be in the top 22.”

Friday was a more productive day for the House, as members took care of its business without the major delays it struggled with on Thursday. Lawmakers moved through the calendar, approving various FY ’18 appropriations, the civil asset forfeiture reform bill, and a resolution on science standards for public schools.

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(Idaho House photo via ‘Idaho in Session,’ March 24, 2017)

Part of the work completed by House lawmakers Friday was the budget appropriation of $31,287,300 to the U-Idaho Agricultural Research and Cooperative Extension Service for fiscal year 2018.

That represents a 2.4% increase over the FY ’17 appropriation and includes $500,00 for continuing capital outlay needs.

“The lab renovation and housing for half a million dollars,” Dist. 34 Rep. Ron Nate said on the House floor. “I would just ask the question. If we had limited funding, would we feel comfortable raising taxes for another half million dollars for this one line item?”

“This is for 4-H,” Dist. 9 Rep. Judy Boyle said. “As a former 4-H leader, I can assure you that 4-H does a tremendous amount of good for kids, incredible amount. This is also for ag research so if you like to eat, this is a good bill.”

The budget passed, 64-3-3. The bill has passed the Senate and now goes to Governor Otter.

The UI has ten research and extension centers across the state and cooperative extension services in 42 counties.

There  was other business completed during the week, as well.

The FY ’18 appropriation bills for Idaho’s K-12 public school system are headed to Governor Otter’s desk. The seven bills passed the Senate Wednesday and had previously passed the House.

Public schools make up the largest share of the state budget. Public school funding increases 6.3% under the bills.

One other large appropriation bill, S 1152, was passed by the House Wednesday. It appropriates $564,958,700 to the State Board of Education and the Board of Regents of the University of Idaho for colleges and universities and the Office of the State Board of Education for FY ’18.

The vote was 56-14.

“Seeing as how universities are sitting on $159 million of reserves, and that this budget increases expenses by $7.5 million from the General Fund, I don’t think we need to be spending more taxpayer money,” Rep. Ron Nate said.

“I think the money the universities have in reserve is prudent financial planning,” Dist 5 Rep. Caroline Troy said.

Rep. Wendy Horman, the floor sponsor, said university reserves are used for items such as the need to remove asbestos discovered during the University of Idaho remodel of the College of Education, and will be used by Lewis-Clark State College to help meet the cost of its new Career-Technical Education building.

Rep. John Gannon expressed concerns with rising tuition costs. “Our generation didn’t pay tuition and didn’t pay much in fees, either, but today our young people are strapped with tuition and fees of $6,000 to $7,200 a year just to begin, and many are burdened with health insurance on top of it.”

S 1152 has been passed by the the House and Senate and will go to Governor Otter for his deliberation.

 

Week 12 begins Monday, March 27.

Posted Saturday, March 25, 2017.

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Idaho State Legislature– Week Ten

The 2017 Idaho State Legislature heads into what it is targeted to be its final week with several big issues still on the agenda– transportation, healthcare, and tax cuts chief among them.

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Week Ten at the Idaho State Capitol featured an informational hearing on March 15 attended by the largest crowd of the session– and the topic was climate change.

The session was held at the Lincoln Auditorium, the largest hearing room in the Capitol, and the crowd overflowed into three other rooms.

Boise State Rep. Ilana Rubel organized the session. “This is an historic day,” she said as she opened the event. “I believe today is the first time that Idaho legislators have held a hearing on climate change in our Capitol.”

University scientists from around the state made presentations at the hearing, with a focus on Idaho’s citizens, its environment, economy, and future. Specific topics included wildfires, erosion, and water.

One of the presenters was John Abatzoglou, an associate professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Idaho.

“The big picture, though, is pretty clear,” he told the audience. “Mainly that the climate is warming, that humans are the predominant cause of the warming and that we have far more warming ahead of us.”

Issues include what might the impacts of climate change be on the state’s water resources, the state’s agriculture, or the susceptibility of the state’s forests to fire? How will the population change? How will we share technology? How will we utilize energy?

Rep. Rubel hopes that people will spread the word about what they learned at the hearing to create the momentum to take “meaningful action at the state level.”

“Science has allowed us to identify future vulnerabilities here in Idaho,” Abatzoglou said. “So that we can begin to anticipate and adapt.”

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The Idaho House Ways and Means Committee voted unanimously on Friday to introduce healthcare legislation, “Relating to the Idaho Accountable Community Care Act,” focused on primary care.

“I sat on the interim committee during last session and one of the conclusions we came to, that it was important to try to provide primary care,” Nampa State Rep. John Vander Woude said in presenting the bill. “But also, as we try to provide primary care, is to try to make sure it’s accountable and to try to improve the system.”

Vander Woude told the committee the legislation would do several different things. “It asks for an increase in the number of residencies, it talks about the pharmaceuticals and how we can buy the drugs at a better cost, it talks about insurance companies, and there’s a lot in this thing but I think it’s a good step in the right direction.”

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As Idaho lawmakers consider tax reform proposals, Governor Butch Otter has written to Senate leadership to “clearly state” his opposition to “eliminating the grocery tax credit and removing the sales tax on groceries.”

Otter says the grocery tax credit is working, and that Idahoans will receive about $147 million back from the state in FY ’18. He says removing the sales tax would reduce General Fund revenue by almost $194 million.

Otter’s letter came after the Senate voted on Thursday to change a House income tax cut plan and instead repeal the 6% grocery tax.

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The Idaho House State Affairs Committee opened a hearing Friday on SJR 103, which proposes an amendment to the Idaho Constitution relating to the rights of crime victims.

According to the resolution’s ‘Statement of Purpose,’ those rights would include “the right to notification of court proceedings, reasonable protection from the accused, and a voice in the criminal justice process.”

The public hearing will continue Monday, March 20.

There was sometimes emotional testimony today from victims of crime and their frustrations with the justice system. Lawmakers raised concerns about whether the best way to address the issues was through a constitutional amendment or through statute.

In this audio clip, Sen. Todd Lakey presents the bill and discusses its intent. (1:06)

The Idaho Senate on March 17 passed H 211, to increase the invasive species sticker fee for the boats of nonresidents from $22 to $30.

Sen. Michelle Stennett told the Senate the total expected revenue from the increase is $70,000- $80,000 a year. In this audio clip, she tells senators the bill is about protecting the state. (1:00)

The Idaho House voted unanimously March 16 in favor of H 273, the bill to apply the state’s Open Meeting Law to all public agencies established by Executive Order.

In this audio clip, Rep. Tom Loertscher says a flaw was discovered in the state’s Open Meeting Law, which the legislation would correct. (:53)

With a target adjournment date of March 24, Week 11 begins Monday, March 20.

Posted March 19, 2017.

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Idaho Legislature– Week Nine

With an adjournment target date of March 24, Idaho lawmakers have moved into what one state representative calls “the negotiating stage” to see what bills and issues get addressed in the time remaining.

Will it be taxes? Transporation? Healthcare?

Time will tell, but either way that time is winding down.

In a March 10 newsletter, District 6 State Senator Dan Johnson said, “The First Regular session of the Sixty-fourth Idaho Legislature is nearly complete. The last remaining bills of the session are making their way through the committees and onto the floors of the House of Representatives and the Senate.”

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The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee has completed the work of setting state agency budgets for FY ’18, with the exception of trailer bills.

Budgets set on Friday included the STEM Action Center, UI’s Agricultural Research and Extension Service, Career Technical Education, and divisions of the Department of Health and Welfare.

The budget approved for Ag Research was just over $32 million in total funds.

The CTE budget reflects an FY ’18 increase of 5.3% in state general funds.

“We know that career-technical has a very high employment rate,” Sen. Dean Mortimer said,”has good wages, and we know that that’s a good portion of the Idaho workforce. This, again,is a very important part of education and workforce development.”

University of Idaho and Lewis-Clark State College projects were on the list of projects receiving funding support Thursday from JFAC’s approval of the Permanent Building Fund budget.

The UI’s project is the Idaho Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (CAFE), planned in the Magic Valley near Twin Falls. The center will focus on livestock and crop agriculture and food processing in Idaho. The total estimated cost is $45 million.

LCSC’s project is a new Career Technical Education facility and would be located adjacent to the proposed new Lewiston High School in the Lewiston Orchards. The total estimated cost is $20 million.

The UI and LCSC projects each received $10 million in support from JFAC. The remaining funds needed to complete the projects need to be identified by the institutions and partners.

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(Photo via ‘Idaho in Session,’ JFAC, March 10, 2017)

The State Legislature took action on several items related to the fight against invasive species.

The mussels have not yet been found in idaho, but they have been discovered in Montana. Lawmakers warned against the potentially crippling effects on the state economy if the mussels were to gain a foothold and clog waterways.

The Idaho House Agricultural Affairs Committee passed H 256, which would establish the position of ‘administrator of invasive species policy’ in the Office of the Governor. The bill also lays out the coordination needed between the Department of Agriculture and the Idaho Invasive Species Council.

On March 6, the Idaho House voted 65-4 to pass H 211, to increase the invasive species sticker fee for the boats of nonresidents. The bill would raise the fee from $22 to $30. On a voice vote, the House also passed HJM 4, encouraging collaborative state and federal efforts against invasive mussels.

The House also passed S 1112, authorizing $1,010,000 in FY ’17 for watercraft inspections to help keep invasive species out of Idaho. The bill has already passed the Senate and now goes to the Governor. The legislation coves the time period until the end of the current fiscal year, June 30.

In this audio clip, Rep. Maxine Bell describes the need for the funding and what it will be used for. (:54)

(Photo, audio via ‘Idaho in Session’)

In other business:

The Idaho House Education Committee voted to hold a bill “authorizing school districts to adopt an elective course in firearms safety education and to authorize instructors.” Committee members said they wanted to work on parts of the the bill for next session;

The Idaho House passed, on a 52-18 vote, H. 250, a bill that would reverse the state’s ban on telemedicine abortions;

The Idaho Senate Health & Welfare Committee sent S 1142, which would implement a Health Care Assistance Program, to the 14th Order for possible amendment;

The Idaho House Ways and Means Committee voted to introduce a bill being pushed by Dist. 5 Rep. Paulette Jordan and Rep. Sally Toone to grant teachers and counselors in rural Idaho school districts loan forgiveness of up to $3,000 a year for up to four years;

Two transportation funding proposals were introduced in the Idaho Senate on Friday;

A bill introduced by the Idaho House Ways and Means Committee March 9 would revise the sales tax revenue distribution formula to Idaho cities and counties;

Dist. 5 State Rep. Caroline Nilsson-Troy is pushing a bill to create a pilot program to allow constituents to testify on bills and issues using video-conferencing, without having to be in Boise in person.

Bills local lawmakers are tracking include include H 235, which would expand the property tax exemption authority for county commissioners to encourage business expansion opportunities, and H 216, on the private property rights of Idaho homeowners and the right to rent their property.

Week Ten begins Monday, March 13, 2017.

Posted March 12, 2017.

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Idaho Legislature– Week Eight

“Today there were no ‘maybes.”’

That’s how Rep. Maxine Bell, co-chair of the Idaho State Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, ended the budget panel’s debate and discussion of the FY ’18 budget for public schools last week.

“You basically have done the heavy lifting today,” Bell said. “The rest of it we’ll just smile and say ‘aye,’ or ‘no,’ or ‘maybe,’ but today there were no ‘maybes.'”

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An Idaho public schools support budget of $1.685 billion, a 6.3% hike in state general funds, was what was finally approved. Including all funds, the budget totals about $2.04 billion.

“We do believe that this is a budget that fully funds those task force priorities,” Idaho Falls State Rep. Rep. Wendy Horman said, discussing the FY ’18 public schools budget and the recommendations from Governor Otter’s education task force.

Committee members discussed various parts of the funding, such as health insurance costs, at length. Bell eventually said, “We’ve had a good discussion. A lot of feeling, and a lot of concern about what we’re doing, and that’s the way it should be.”

The budget includes just under $62 million for the third year of the teacher salary ‘career ladder;’ $5 million in classroom technology; a 4.1% increase in discretionary funds; $4.25 million for professional development; and a 3% base salary hike for those administrators and staff not on the career ladder.

JFAC also set a Medicaid budget of $2.285 billion in total funds, $531.9 million in state funds, along with budgets for other parts of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

“I just want to express my appreciation for the hours and hours and hours and the consideration and the care that has been put into these budgets this morning,” Rep. Bell said at the close of the meeting.

The next day, JFAC approved an FY ’18 budget for the state’s four year colleges and universities of $563.3 million in total funds, $287.1 million of that in state general funds.

That’s an increase of about 2.7% in state general funds over the current year, and an increase of 1.2% in total funds.

Line items include:

* Replacement items include $329,400 to replace computer equipment at Lewis Clark State College and $234,400 for equipment and system upgrades at U-Idaho;
* U-Idaho occupancy costs of $14,500 for the aquaculture institute research lab, $861,200 for IRIC, $27,700 for university house, $18,500 for the McCall Outdoor Science School shower house, $118,400 for Targhee Hall, and $8,800 for the lobby of the ag science building.
* $715,100 to UI for a third year of computer science course work at North Idaho College;
* $582,000 to the UI for the first phase of its library investment;
* $255,500 to LCSC for to expand social work and kinesiology programs;
* $338,500 to LCSC for advising and career readiness, including veterans advising.

The budget writers also approved $52 million in emergency relief funding for counties in southern Idaho hit hard by winter conditions. The funding will come from various sources, including $39 million in state tax collections that have come in over projections.

In this audio clip, Brigadier General Brad Richy, director of the state Office of Emergency Management, tells JFAC about what happened this winter. Millions of dollars of damages have been estimated from winter conditions and subsequent flooding. (:48)

Elsewhere, the Idaho Senate rejected SCR 108, the resolution calling for Idaho to join those states asking for an Article V constitutional convention to add a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The vote was 11-24. In this audio clip, Boise State Sen. Grant Burgoyne debates against the resolution. (:59)

Discussion on healthcare coverage legislation served as a bookend to the week.

At the start of last week, Idaho State Rep. Fred Wood told a meeting of the Joint Millennium Fund said he didn’t think the House would move this session on healthcare coverage for the gap population– those who don’t qualify for Medicaid but who earn less than 100% of the federal poverty level.

Two weeks earlier, Wood had filed a $10 million bill to provide some primary care, but he pulled the bill back, saying it didn’t have enough votes to clear a committee hearing.

On Friday, Sen. Marv Hagedorn filed a similar bill in the Senate; the measure says funding would come from the Joint Millennium Fund.

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In a newsletter to constituents on March 5, District 5 State Senator Dan Foreman said the session “has gone very well so far.”

Foreman said his initial legislative effort was a proposed bill “that would have outlawed abortions in Idaho. This bill would have made abortion first-degree murder with an affirmative defense allowed for a mother opting for an abortion required to save her own life in a medical emergency situation.” Foreman wrote that the law would also have applied to anyone “participating in or providing an abortion.”

Senator Foreman was not successful in having the bill printed. He said he will consider reintroducing it or a similar bill next session.

Foreman is serving on the Agricultural Affairs, Health & Welfare, and Judiciary & Rules committees this session.

Legislative leaders are still aiming for a March 24 adjournment.

Posted March 5, 2017

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“Any Day Can Be Human Rights Day”

“Any day can be Human Rights Day”– that’s what Idaho State Senator Cherie Buckner- Webb told a University of Idaho audience in Moscow Tuesday. Idaho Public Radio’s Glenn Mosley reports. (:50)

Listen:

“The battle,” Buckner-Webb said Tuesday, “is not yet won.” She was urging an audience at the University of Idaho to be engaged to do the work that’s needed to be done in the cause for human rights:

Cherie Buckner-Webb: “We are obligated to do the work. We must be about the business of sustaining life, of championing the rights of everyone, not just those who look and think and act and feel like I do.”

Buckner-Webb is a fifth generation Idahoan and assistant minority leader in the Idaho State Senate. She was in Moscow Tuesday to deliver the MLK Celebration keynote address, rescheduled from January because of bad weather.

She told the students in the audience that she stood there to commend a new generation for its commitment, its scholarship, its determination, and for its vision to learn how to make a difference.

I’m Glenn Mosley.

Posted March 1, 2017

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