Monthly Archives: January 2019

Coffee with District 5 Legislators

by Glenn Mosley

Idaho Public Radio

Building off a legislative send-off event held in December, the Moscow Chamber of Commerce hosted a “Coffee with District 5 Legislators” on Saturday to give local constituents a chance to hear from state lawmakers and to ask questions.

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“Learning a lot, learning the people in the Senate,” new District 5 State Sen. David Nelson told the gathering.

“You get up about 5:30 in the morning and crawl into bed about 10:30 at night,” new State Rep. Bill Goesling said.

“Although I’m not a freshman, I do feel like I’m drinking through a fire hose with serving on JFAC,” Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy said. “I’m the first Republican from Latah County on JFAC since Doc Lucas served from 1994 to 1996…It’s a very big honor and it’s a lot to learn about.”

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Issues discussed includes funding for road and bridge repairs, school funding, school safety, legalizing hemp, and the gas tax. The legislators discussed bills they are working on and the committees they are serving on.

The 2019 legislative session just completed its third week; week four begins Monday, January 28. JFAC is conducting budget hearings and bills have started to be heard; much of the session’s heavy lifting remains to come– funding Medicaid expansion being one example.

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As much as anything, those who attended the Chamber’s event seemed just as satisfied to be able to talk to their representatives as they were with any particular topic raised or answer given to a question.

Moscow Mayor Bill Lambert said he met with the District 5 lawmakers at separate event recently and he welcomes the collaborative spirit. “We’ve got our legislators working for us here in north Idaho,” he told the chamber gathering.

The Moscow Chamber of Commerce will be holding similar gatherings on February 9, February 23, and March 9.

Posted January 27, 2019

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Idaho State Legislature– Week 3

Week 3 at the Idaho State Legislature was Education Week– and at a time when a new statewide survey from Boise State University says Idahoans believe education to be the state’s top priority, students, teachers, parents, administrators, and lawmakers walked the halls of the Idaho State Capitol to discuss budget and public policy issues impacting education at all levels in the state.

Idaho State Board of Education President Linda Clark kicked the discussion off before JFAC on Monday, speaking about students having the opportunity to “develop lives with purpose and meaning . Listen:

Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra is requesting an 8% increase to the K-12 budget for FY 2020 (pictured, below).

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(Cheyenna McCurry photo)

A full house was on hand as Ybarra presented her budget request on Thursday to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.

The budget request comes to almost $2 billion for the upcoming fiscal year. About 4.8% of the requested increase is required by state law, including the career ladder to boost teacher salaries.

During her presentation, Ybarra cited school safety and a shortage of teachers as concerns facing districts.

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(Cheyenna McCurry photo)

University of Idaho President Chuck Staben and other higher education officials made their budget pitches to JFAC. The U of I spoke to JFAC on Wednesday about its budget request and those for WWAMI, Idaho Geological Survey, the Forest Utilization Service, and Ag Research and Extension.

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WWAMI is a successful 47 year partnership between the University of Idaho, the University of Washington School of Medicine, and the state of Idaho “to provide access to public funded medical education for the citizens of Idaho.”

That’s what Dr. Mary Barinaga of the medical education program told the state’s budget writers this week.

“Throughout the years, over 50% of Idaho WWAMI graduates have practiced in Idaho,” Barinaga told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee on January 23. “This is significantly higher than the national average of other medical schools, at about 39%.”

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(Hunter Funk photo)

Idaho State Board of Education Exec. Dir. Matt Freeman told JFAC Friday there are 3,423 students on the waiting list for the state’s Opportunity Scholarship. “There’s tremendous demand,” he said. Gov. Little has proposed increasing the fund by $7 million.

(Reporters Hunter Funk, Cheyenna McCurry, and Glenn Mosley contributed to this story)

Posted January 27, 2019

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Ag Research and Extension Before JFAC

by Cheyenna McCurry

Idaho Public Radio State Capitol Bureau

UI McClure Center

Dr. Michael Parrella, Dean of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) at the University of Idaho, presented the Agriculture Research and Extension Service’s budget for fiscal year 2020 Wednesday morning to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.

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Parrella proposed the UI Ag Research and Extension’s plans for the more than $32.9 million general fund request to JFAC. These plans include replacing equipment, growing research opportunities and expanding dedication to science, technology, engineering and math education for Idaho youth in the 4-H program.

“In CALS, we are generating ideas and conducting research that impacts Idaho, the U.S. and the world…” Parrella said during his presentation to JFAC.

The U of I Agriculture Research and Extension Service is a research-based division of CALS that offers agricultural research and programming for Idaho youth and college students throughout the state. They have nine research and extension centers in Idaho located in Aberdeen, Boise, Caldwell, Dubois, Idaho Falls, Kimberly, Moscow, Parma, Salmon, Tetonia and Twin Falls.

The 4-H Youth Development is one of the many successful programs that the U of I Extension offers to K-12 Idahoans of which more than 70,000 participated in 2018.

“As you can see, the work we do impacts the entire state. All of Idaho is our classroom,” Parrella said during his presentation.

According to the Legislative Budget Book (LBB), the governor recommended partial funding for the Extension’s request for replacement items, Rock Creek Cattle research and occupancy costs for completed projects at three locations. But the lack of funding for the 4-H STEM Education expansion program raised concerns at the JFAC budget hearing.

“As the governor put emphasis on our workforce development and we know that a good share of that are STEM jobs…we know the go-on rate for 4-H is 63%, why was this not at least encouraged?” Rep. Sally Toone, D-Gooding said.

David Hahn of the Division of Financial Management said that Governor Little “fully supports the 4-H program and all that is does in relation to STEM.”

“His focus is to invest in the STEM Action Center and STEM education for fiscal year 2020,” Hahn said.

Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Genesee, responded, “Do you think that’s the best way to designate those dollars that will make an impact on STEM?”

Hahn said the governor believes that since the STEM Action Center partners with several institutions and agencies statewide, “STEM is best served working through that center.”

Parrella added that the Extension is “very active in STEM education” and that they don’t plan on ending those programs. The Extension has seen an increased involvement in STEM education through the 4-H program and the agency wanted to dedicate funding for additional positions.

In addition, Governor Little also recommended a 3% increase in employee compensation.

“[This] will have a positive impact on our ability to attract and retain the employees who are here to serve the state of Idaho,” Parrella said at JFAC hearing.

Parrella also visited the House Agriculture Affairs committee on Thursday afternoon to present the Extension’s successes and needs. He told the committee that aged buildings, outdated labs and information technology system are issues limiting the Research and Extension Center’s effectiveness.

Housing for graduate students and interns on center sites is also a challenge. The UI Extension would like to train more graduate and undergraduate students in order to reinforce the research program.

“It is difficult sometimes for grad students to actually work at our R&E Centers, there is no housing for them…the idea of expediting that and making it more doable for these students, I think is hugely important,” Parrella said to the Ag Affairs committee.

The UI Ag Research and Extension has seen great strides despite the challanges. At the Nancy M. Cummings Research Education and Extension Center in Salmon, a new classroom and outreach facility has broken ground, the construction of the Germplasm Seed Potato Facility on the Moscow campus is coming along,and the Sandpoint Organic Agriculture Center became the first and only USDA certified organic center for the University of Idaho.

“We are proud of the research we conduct, the students we train and the unbiased information we deliver to the citizens of Idaho,” Parrella said during JFAC budget presentation.

Posted January 27, 2019

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Idaho State Legislature– Week 2

“Add the Words” and the proposed public school funding formula were among the key issues before Idaho state lawmakers during the second week of the 2019 legislative session.

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(Cheyenna McCurry photo)

A rally was held at the Idaho State Capitol on January 16, calling for anti-discrimination protections to be added to Idaho law. By the end of the week, Sen. Maryanne Jordan, D-Boise, had filed ‘Add the Words’ legislation; the bill would add the words “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” to the Idaho Human Rights Act.

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(Cheyenna McCurry photo)

The Idaho House and Senate Education Committees held a joint meeting to receive the proposed new school funding formula from the interim committee that worked almost three years on the changes. The proposal would change the formula from one based on attendance to one based on enrollment. The committees now get to work on all the issues involved.

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(Cheyenna McCurry photo)

JFAC, the budget writing committee, heard from several state agencies this past week, including:

  • Idaho DEQ Director John Tippets told JFAC that “We enjoy what we do. We think it’s important. We think that it makes a difference.” Among the DEQ budget requests is funding for a new pollutant discharge permit program.
  • Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin presented her office’s budget and told JFAC “I stand ready to assist you.”
  • JFAC heard revisions to Gov. Little’s budget. The largest was to public school supports; there’s a $3.5 million increase in the public school support units.
  • Idaho Gov. Brad Little is requesting $200,000 for the Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Board.
  • Sara Thomas, Administrative Director of the Idaho court system, told the committee Idaho is facing a shortage of court reporters.
  • Idaho Dept. of Insurance Director Dean Cameron told JFAC the Consumer Services Bureau resolved 887 different complaints last year, recovering nearly $900,000 for consumers. Also: the Senior Health Insurance Benefits Advisors Program helped over 1,500 consumers last year.
  • The Idaho Commission on the Arts Director Michael Faison told JFAC that “Every state and territorial jurisdiction has an agency such as ours,” to stimulate the study and presentation of the arts. Faison said the commission supports Idaho’s cultural legacy and artistic innovations. Idaho Gov. Brad Little is recommending a 1.9% increase in state General Funds.
  • State Librarian Ann Joslin told the panel the commission helps build the capacity of more than 850 libraries around the state “to better serve their communities.” “Today’s library offers so much more than reading and mandatory quiet time,” Joslin said. Idaho Gov. Brad Little is proposing a $4.1 million budget for next year, down about 1.3% from last year. The reduction stems from the fact that state funding isn’t needed for the ‘Talking Book Service,’ which received its federal funding.
  • Substance abuse prevention programs in Idaho fall under the Governor’s Office for Drug Policy, Administrator Melinda Smyser told the committee. Smyser said the office’s vision is an “Idaho that is free from devastating social, health, and economic consequences of substance abuse.”
  • Idaho Veterans Services Director Marv Hagedorn told JFAC Idaho contributes 2.5% of the agency’s funding; the rest comes from the federal government. Hagedorn says the state needs more medical staff to assist with needs of veterans. He said he hopes to receive VA approval for a fourth veterans home in Post Falls
  • Gavin Gee, outgoing director of the Idaho Dept. of Finance, told JFAC that he believes Idahoans have been better served because of work done in partnership over the years with legislators.
  • JFAC passed several supplemental appropriation bills, including $1.5 million for the Idaho State Historical Society, relative to the Idaho State Museum renovation.

Idaho Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Burdick delivered the State of the Judiciary on January 16. Listen here:

Finally:

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(Hunter Funk photo)

The League of Women Voters of Moscow held postcard writing sessions to push for full funding and implementation of the Medicaid expansion law in Idaho.

Week Three of the Idaho State Legislature begins Monday, January 21, 2019.

(Reporters Cheyenna McCurry, Hunter Funk, and Glenn Mosley contributed to this story)

Posted January 20, 2019

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Lawmakers Look at Proposed School Funding Formula

by Cheyenna McCurry

Idaho Public Radio State Capitol Bureau

U of I McClure Center

Legislators at a joint House and Senate Education Committee meeting on January 18 discussed the new public school funding formula that would change the way local school districts are funded.

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(Cheyenna McCurry photo)

Members of the Interim Public School Funding Formula Committee proposed the new mathematical formula in November; the formula would change the funding system from a resource-allocation to a student-centered, local control formula.

The current education funding formula is based on student attendance and allows the state to control where money is spent in each school district and charter. The proposed formula, however, is based on student enrollment and will give the control to school districts and charters to decide where that money is spent.

“[School districts and charters] will be able to dedicate resources to where they know their greatest local and unique needs are,” Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, said in an email after the meeting.

The Interim Public School Funding Formula Committee has been working on a new formula since 2016. The interim committee collaborated with the Education Commission of the States (ECS) a year ago to find a better way to distribute funding and create a new education formula.

“We are doing so many things differently in education and I think that’s such a positive thing. But we don’t want something like how we distribute the state funds to be a hindrance to the innovation that’s happening in our schools,” Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian said at the joint hearing.

The ECS is a national non-profit, non-partisan organization that helps states create a better education policy. Emily Parker and Michael Griffith of ECS worked with the committee to aid them on the school funding issue.

In the past year, the interim committee and ECS held public meetings, online surveys and met with individuals and groups to determine problems within different school districts and charters across the state.

House Speaker, Rep. Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, walked the legislators through the formula with an example that demonstrated the formula’s funding distribution and adjustments.

“I hope members of the committee are starting to get a feel for just how powerful a tool this is and how many decisions are left to be made,” said House Speaker Bedke.

Speaker Bedke told the joint committee that there are important adjustments made in the calculations. For instance, the small school, small district adjustment allows for schools that have below 870 students in secondary and 330 in elementary education to receive more funding.

“Each time you gain a kid, you actually gain funding. Under your current system, it is possible to gain student but not any more money,” Griffith said.

It was made clear, though, that the hard work is not done. The formula developed by the interim committee is a tool for the education committee members to utilize for potential changes in funding as they work during this legislative session.

Rep. Horman said in an email that there are legislators, superintendents and business managers from around the state working on drafting a bill based on the interim committee’s recommendation. Once the bill is completed, it will go through the House and Senate Education Committee meetings where more adjustments and changes are expected to happen.

“We expect great budget stability moving ahead, as districts know their student demographics better than anyone else and will be able to estimate future revenue in a way they are unable to do now,” Rep. Horman said.

Posted January 20, 2019

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Idaho State Legislature– Week 1

The First Regular Session of the 65th Idaho State Legislature got underway January 7, 2019. Lawmakers have begun the task of writing the state’s budget and considering proposals.

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(Cheyenna McCurry photo)

Idaho’s 33rd Governor, Brad Little, delivered the State of the State and Budget Address before a joint session of the Idaho House and Senate. His focus included education, implementing the state’s new Medicaid expansion law, and reducing government regulation.

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(Cheyenna McCurry photo)

There was another moment of history on January 7, as the state’s new lieutenant governor, Janice McGeachin, the first woman to hold the office, presided over the Idaho State Senate. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Winder called it a great and historic day.

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(Cheyenna McCurry photo)

Lawmakers also got down to work organizing committee work and beginning the review of the state budget. News briefs:

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(Cheyenna McCurry photo)

  • The Idaho House Health and Welfare Committee (pictured above) recommended approval of a series of pending rules, including a 12th grade immunization rule.
  • The Economic Outlook and Revenue Assessment Committee set a revenue estimate about $93.2 million lower than the governor’s estimate. Governor Little’s budget recommends 3% merit raises for state employees.
  • The Joint Finance Appropriations Committee began its review of the state budget and heard from several agency heads and state officials, including the Idaho Treasurer and the Idaho Secretary of State. The Secretary of State, Lawerence Denney, told the budget panel that his office’s major ask this year will be cyber-security related.
  • Lawmakers attended a mandatory training session on ethics and respectful workplace.

Once the legislative session starts, many lawmakers return to their districts and hold meetings with constituents everywhere from city halls to coffee shops.

We caught up with Idaho District 5 State Sen. David Nelson at the Cafe Arista in Moscow on January 12. He had already met with constituents that morning at The Filling Station in Troy.

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(Glenn Mosley photo)

In an interview with Idaho Public Radio, Nelson said he heard “a lot of good information from Governor Little about his commitment to education.” “Which I was really pleased to hear,” Nelson said. “I’d like to do whatever I can for education.”

Nelson said constituents should watch for upcoming joint committee meetings on the school funding formula redesign, Medicaid expansion, and other health and welfare issues.

The Moscow Chamber of Commerce is hosting a series of discussions with Idaho District 5 lawmakers on issues before the state. The first is Jan. 26 at the Chamber’s lobby, 9:00 a.m. Others are scheduled for Feb. 9, Feb. 23, March 9, and March 23

Week 2 of the Idaho State Legislature convenes Monday, January 14, 2019.

Posted January 13, 2019.

Reporters Cheyenna McCurry and Glenn Mosley contributed to this story.

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Gov. Little Pushes Broadband Improvements

by Cheyenna McCurry

Idaho Public Radio State Capitol Bureau

UI McClure Center

 

Idaho’s 33rd governor, Brad Little, pushed his goals to increase economic growth throughout the state by implementing high-speed broadband connection in rural and tribal communities in his State of the State address on Monday, January 7.

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(Cheyenna McCurry photo)

“In my travels, I constantly hear how the absence of adequate broadband infrastructure is a deterrent to growth and economic development,” Little said. “The Idaho Department of Commerce spent the past year analyzing the statewide challenge of inadequate broadband.”

Governor Little wants to find a way to reach those communities that fall short with little or no broadband availability.

Broadband is high-speed internet received from either optical copper fibers or coaxial cables buried into the ground and connected to a server. Anyone who has access to broadband can basically do anything online including checking email, streaming Netflix and scrolling through Facebook, and usually all at the same time.

Idaho’s rural and urban communities are digitally divided due to the lack of broadband infrastructure in isolated areas. The problem is that these areas aren’t populated enough or are too far away from the nearest broadband option for telecommunication companies to reside. The installments of fiber or cable wires have been impeded in these areas due to financial or location restrictions.

If there was better connectivity, there would be numerous benefits. Ranchers would be able to purchase cattle online. Tribal communities would be able to communicate data in real time. Essentially, all Idahoans would have equal access to everything that requires broadband capabilities.

According to the 2018 Broadband Progress Report by the Federal Communications Commission, Idaho has some of the worst broadband coverage in the nation. The coverage of rural areas in Idaho is reported at 68 percent (based on the 2010 Census) as of December 31, 2016. In addition, the FCC also reported that 83 percent of tribal lands don’t have any access to broadband at all.

While the Idaho Legislature has made this a priority over the years and has implemented grant-funded programs such as LinkIdaho, rural and tribal communities have also worked to get the broadband access they need.

The Nez Perce Tribe’s Department of Technology Services enacted the Nez Perce Tribe Wireless program in 2009 to provide the broadband access essential for “rural and remote areas” on the reservation. According to the program’s web site, the program is only functioning on grants, but will continue to expand the service until the entire Nez Perce Reservation is covered.

In addition, the FCC’s Connect America Fund awarded Idaho telecom companies CenturyLink $6.3 million and Frontier Communications $5.2 million a year for six years in order to install broadband fibers in rural areas in Idaho. However, this doesn’t mean every community in Idaho will be connected if projects aren’t completed by the program’s close in 2020.

“To ensure Idaho can adapt to the rapidly evolving digital world, we must actively work to improve Idaho’s broadband access, pursuing all options to increase broadband connectivity. I will work with the Legislature to ensure both rural and urban Idaho are connected and well-positioned to attract and create maximum success,” Little said in the State of the State.

Posted January 13, 2019

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