The Kootenai County Republican Central Committee held a Town Hall meeting on Saturday, March 1, 2014 at the Coeur d’Alene Public Library. Senator Nonini and Representative Mendive (District 3), Representative Kathy Sims (District 4), Senator Vick and Representative Barbieri (District 2) were in attendance. The event was well attended and lasted well over two hours with many questions and much discussion on current legislative issues.
This week Senate honored four Idaho servicemen who fought and lost their lives in Afghanistan this past year. Families of the honorees attended the special ceremony. The men honored are U.S. Army Specialist Thomas P. Murach of Meridian, U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Octavio Herrera of Caldwell, U.S. Air Force Captain David Lyon of Sandpoint, and U.S. Army Specialist Mitchell K. Daehling who grew up in Pocatello. This is the third year the Senate held a memorial to honor Idaho servicemen killed while serving their country.
We appear to be right on course for the goal of a March 21st end to this legislative session, with long days and long sessions taking place. This week the Senate has approved a number of bills that will now go to the House for consideration.
The Senate voted unanimously in favor of S1350 which would create a five-person State Treasurer Investment Advisory Board and removes securities lending agreements from the list of allowable investments by the State Treasurer. Board members will be compensated $50.00 per day for meetings they attend and reimbursed for direct expenses.
The Senate also unanimously approved of S1377 which clarifies the responsibility of adoption of curriculum lies at the local school district trustee level. During discussion on Idaho Core Standards, it was pointed out that Idaho code was in conflict with practice as well as rule in regard to who is responsible for adoption of curriculum.
S1309 would make changes to help prevent private property owners from having to pay large amounts of money to protect their land from condemnation. It allows the court to require government entities to reimburse the property owner for reasonable cost of fighting eminent domain, especially if the condemnation process is amended. It was unanimously approved by the Senate.
S1353 would give some juvenile offenders a second chance to get on the right track. The bill would allow a juvenile case to be dismissed if the offender successfully completes and graduates from an authorized juvenile drug court program, juvenile mental health court program or other authorized problem solving court program. This is similar to what is currently allowed for adults. The Senate approved the bill 35-0.
The Senate hopes to crack down on Patent Trolls with S1354. Patent Trolls send threatening demand letters to businesses large and small, containing vague allegations of patent infringement and demand payment from those businesses. Many pay because of the intimidation and fear of the cost to defend against patent infringement lawsuits. This gives the Idaho Attorney General the ability to carry out action under the Idaho Consumer Protection Act. It passed unanimously.
Because of challenges such as below market salaries and remote hospital locations, S1362 would allow the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare to offer educational loan repayment programs to current employees and employee candidates. The hope is the repayment program would help attract and retain physicians and mid-level practitioners for State Hospital North and State Hospital South. The Senate approved the bill on a 35-0 vote.
The Senate also unanimously approved S1368 which appropriates the Department of Finance in the amount of $7,210,900 which is a 5.8% increase over last year’s appropriation.
Also passing unanimously was S1369 which gives the attorney general’s office oversight and allows the office to do preliminary investigations of claims of civil or criminal law violations brought against county officials.
The Senate approved S1371, the Department of Correction budget which provides an 11% increase in state funds next year over last year’s budget.
The governor has signed the Agriculture Security bill. Here are some of the other bills now sent to his desk for a decision:
House Joint Memorial 7 received a unanimous vote by the Senate. The memorial requests Congress prohibit the FDA from adopting proposed rules that including any numerical water quality standards for irrigation water, transportation rules and any future FSMA rules until a clear understanding of their impact can be determined. The irrigation water quality requirements alone would cost each farm an estimated $30,566 the first-year.
The Senate voted unanimously in favor of H391 which may make more low interest loans available for communities to upgrade their wastewater treatment systems. The bill will allow funds to be transferred between the drinking water and wastewater state revolving loan accounts, allowing money to be used where it is most needed. The dedicated drinking water fund has had unused money the past couple of years while there is currently a high number of request for wastewater loans.
H406 allows Idaho to start the process to seek primacy for the National Pollution Discharge Elimination Program (NPDES). Primacy means that Idaho would be taking over as the administrator and enforcement authority for the permits, rather than the Environmental Protection Agency. Currently there are just four states that do not have Primacy. This bill passed unanimously in both the House and now the Senate.
The Senate voted 23-8 in favor of H395 which restores cuts to Medicaid, and would again allow adults with disabilities or special health needs to receive preventative dental services
The House took up S1254 which clarifies the conflict between state law and university ordinances, regarding one’s legal right to carry a firearm on college campuses. It passed 50 to 19 with one absent and it now goes to the governor for his decision.
The Senate approved H504 which grants $15.8 million in “leadership awards” to teachers. The bonuses go to teachers who participate in mentoring other teachers, teach advanced or duel-credit classes.
The Senate also approved H403 which would allow a special license plate to support the 4-H Program. The plate will feature the 4-H clover logo. 4-H will receive $22.00 for the initial issuance of each plate, and $12.00 for each succeeding annual registration.
By a vote of 24 to 11 H399 was approved by the Senate. The bill moves the age for big game hunting from 12 years down to 10 years of age. A 10 or 11 year old would be required to take hunter education and must be accompanied in the field by an adult with a hunting license.
The Joint Finance Appropriation Committee (JFAC) has been setting budgets this week.
JFAC voted to increase budgets for all levels of education. Motions for the public school budget added up to a $66.2 million increase (5.1%) in general funds for public schools next year. It was a unanimous vote to boost the community colleges budget 9.1% up to $2.8 million. Four year colleges and universities would see a 6.6% increase from general funds.
When the budget was set for the Department of Administration, JFAC attached some legislative intent language regarding contracts. It requires the department to re-examine its contract management practices, report back to the Legislature on that next year, and to notify the Legislature in writing 90 days in advance of any early contract renewal. In addition, the department would be required to submit a list of contracts exceeding $1 million that are due for renewal in the upcoming fiscal year, as part of the budget-setting process.
The Agriculture Security Bill S1337 passed in the House 56-14. It now heads to the governor’s desk for his decision. While the legislature is in session, once the governor receives a bill approved by both the Senate and the House, he has five days to decide if he will sign it into law, veto it, or allow it to become law without his signature.
The Senate voted unanimously in favor of HB 378, to establish a new “Idaho Day” holiday each year on March 4. It would not be a paid holiday and government offices would not be closed, but it would be a day to highlight Idaho’s history and heritage. On March 4, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed a congressional act creating Idaho Territory. The bill now moves to the governor’s desk for his decision.
The following Senate bills are now headed to the House for consideration:
The Senate voted 30-4 in favor of legislation to let the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) increase the top speed limit on some rural stretches of interstate to 80 mph. S1284 would also allow the increase of top speeds on some sections of state highways to 70 mph. ITD would have to do engineering and traffic studies, and would have to have the final approval of its board before top speeds were raised on any section of road.
The Senate voted unanimously in favor of S1357 the justice reinvestment bill which is intended to slow the growth of the prison population, reduce Idaho’s high recidivism rate, promote public safety and save $288 million. This bill has the support of law enforcement, prosecutors and the courts.
In a 27-8 decision, the Senate passed S1351 which would make it a felony for patients to attack health care professionals while being treated. The maximum penalty would be a 3 year sentence if convicted.
It was a 28-6 Senate vote to approve S1352 which would establish three behavioral health community crisis centers around the state. Supporters say it will provide a better option than jails or hospital emergency rooms for people suffering from a mental health crisis and have not committed a crime.
This week the Senate unanimously passed S1270 which would allow the parents of service members killed in action to live in one of three Idaho State Veterans Homes. Spouses of veterans killed in action are already allowed into the veterans homes.
Child Advocacy Centers provide child forensic interviews when there is suspicion of child abuse. S1221 defines and recognizes them in state code, which may allow the centers to receive more federal funds. This bill passed the Senate 33-1.
The Idaho Giant Salamander is one step closer to becoming the state amphibian. The Senate approved S1271 by a vote of 33-2. Seventh grader Ilah Hickman proposed the bill she has been working on for four years.
The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC) is into the heavy lifting of the session. Here are some of the decisions the committee has made this week:
JFAC approved a 5.8% increase in funds for the Idaho State Police (ISP). The budget includes 13 new positions, including six patrol officers and two detectives, and $3.1 million for replacement items including ballistic vests and vehicles
JFAC unanimously adopted the recommendations of the joint Millennium Fund Committee. The tobacco settlement proceeds will fund a variety of health and anti-substance program again for next year.
JFAC also approved $6.6 million to keep Idaho Education Network broadband network running while waiting for federal funds to come in. The federal government hasn’t paid its portion since March 2013.
The legislative budget writers also unanimously approved a boost in the budget for the Agriculture Research & Extension Service. The 8.2 percent funding increase adds back 4.5 positions, and brings back several functions at the 12 research and extension centers across the state. Also included is $82,500 to restore funding for a full-time Future Farmers of America (FFA) coordinator.
JFAC also transferred $1 million from the general fund to the Constitutional Defense Fund. The Constitutional Defense Fund, by law, can be spent “to examine and challenge, by legal action or legislation, federal mandates, court rulings, and authority of the federal government, or any activity that threatens the sovereignty and authority of the state and the well-being of its citizens.”
On Monday the Senate passed HB 214 which amends and strengthens Idaho’s paternity statutes. The legislation is intended to make sure that at the end of an adoption all parties can feel contentment and a sense of peace. The Senate Education Committee had a busy afternoon passing a slate of bills: H 206, H 221, H205 and S 1148. All of these bills were sent to the amending order on the Senate calendar.
Tuesday, the Senate Commerce Committee heard public testimony on HB 248 (the House bill on the state exchange). After public testimony the bill passed the Committee on an 8-1 vote. The bill now moves to the floor of the Senate for debate. The full Senate passed S 1136. This bill bans the formula of two new forms of synthetic cannabis and aims to keep Idaho’s citizens safe from harmful substances.
Wednesday morning the State Affairs Committee heard testimony on the “Add the Words” legislation. This legislation would ban workplace and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation. The actual legislation is not going to come up this session. The Senate unanimously passed House Concurrent Resolution 019. HCR 019 is intended to showcase the problem of physical inactivity and poor eating habits and increase awareness of the role of nutrition and physical activity in a healthy lifestyle. This HCR will also aid in writing and securing grants and foundation dollars for needed projects, interventions and research to improve the health and reduce healthcare costs for citizens in Idaho. Later in the evening the Senate voted on several amendments relating to education bills HB 206, HB 221, SB 1147 and SB 1148. The bills will be amended and returned to the reading order to be voted on at a later date.
Thursday, the Senate took up HB 248 (state exchange). After meaningful debate and conversation the bill passed.
Friday, the Senate passed SB 1149. SB 1149 would require that both sides show good faith in school contract negotiations by proving they have majority support of their members. In everyday life for a business to survive it must have the support of its employees and customers and this is no different.
On Monday the Senate passed SB 1108 which would allow rural communities to have more of a say in the initiative process by requiring that 6% of registered voters in 18 of 35 legislative districts signal their support for the initiative to make the ballot. In the Education Committee testimony was heard on H 206, 221, and 224 regarding funding, renewals and contracts for charter schools.
Tuesday, the Senate passed SB 1079 which creates an Internet Crimes against Children Unit within the Office of the Attorney General. The creation of this unit would allow for the additional hiring of staff needed to aid in investigating and prosecuting those who use the Internet and technology to exploit children. The ICACU would partner with local and state law enforcement agencies to pursue the prevention of sexual exploitation of Idaho’s children. In the Senate Commerce Committee “opportunity grants” were unanimously supported. These grants would provide aid to local communities to attract and keep new businesses.
On Wednesday the Senate passed SCR 124 which asking the federal government to cleanup networks of trails damaged by years of wildfire. The Frank-Church–River of No Return Wilderness area would be designated a natural disaster area allowing for its cleanup by the US Forest Service. The move ensures Idaho taxpayers are not responsible for paying for land the federal government should be taking care of. The Senate also passed HB 159 which would allow the Nez Perce Convention Center to receive a liquor license. This would promote economic activity in the area and create new jobs.
Thursday, the Senate and Judiciary Rules Committee unanimously voted to add two version of synthetic marijuana, “spice,” to the state’s list of banned substances. The additions now allow law enforcement and local police agencies to crack down on its distribution.
Friday, the Senate had the honor to unanimously pass SCR 124, a Senate Concurrent Resolution that honored five fallen Idaho servicemen. The five fallen servicemen who gave their lives in the service of their country are listed here: U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Daniel J. Brown, 27; U.S. Army Sergeant Chris J. Workman, 33; U.S. Army Private First Class Cody O. Moosman, 24; U.S. Army Specialist Ethan J. Martin, 22 and U.S. Army Private First Class Shane G. Wilson, 20.