Congratulations to Kaitlyn Farrington for winning the gold medal in the halfpipe at the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi this week! Here is a wonderful profile of Kaitlyn and her parents Gary and Suz Farrington of Bellevue. You have made Idaho so proud.
Thank you to everyone who showed up for our town halls last weekend. That so many braved the weather to participate in policy discussions is a point of pride for our community. There was a lot of dialog with so many viewpoints expressed that it really did show the great diversity of District 26. I will be joining Representatives Donna Pence and Steve Miller again this Friday at the Fairfield Senior Center at 3:00 p.m. for our final town hall of the legislative session.
I had the pleasure of meeting with several dairy operators during our town halls and I know they, and the majority of Idaho's dairymen, run exemplary businesses. Sadly, SB1337, which passed the senate today on a vote of 23-10, would protect the bad actors who commit or allow the horrifying abuse of animals. This so-called "ag gag" bill is narrowly crafted to benefit just dairy operators and concerns have been raised by processors and other non-dairy agricultural producers who fear this action will erode the public's trust in Idaho's entire agriculture industry. This bill creates a perception that industry is intent on hiding animal abuse. Idaho already has a Right to Farm Act and numerous trespassing laws protecting dairy owners but our state's whistleblower law only extends to the public sector so this bill would further extend an imbalance of power. I voted against this measure and my floor debate is available via the senate floor archive.
On Monday, I introduced a bill to incrementally raise the minimum wage from the current federal minimum of $7.25/hour to $9.75/hour by mid 2015. Idaho has the highest percentage of minimum wage jobs in the nation and I think it is incumbent upon us as lawmakers to initiate a conversation about how our state can reverse this dubious distinction. Both academic studies and anecdotal stories show that raising compensation improves workforce stability and our economic status. I've heard from some business owners who suggested an age limit of 18 or 19 to differentiate between the high school student working a summer job and a family of four who are struggling to earn a living wage. I welcome the feedback; as I said, the point of the bill is to start a dialog among lawmakers and those impacted by an increase.
A bill allowing guns on the campuses of Idaho's public colleges and universities passed out of the Senate State Affairs committee on Wednesday and goes to a floor vote next week. Idaho would become only the second state to strip this authority from the schools themselves, the other being Utah where the law is being challenged in court. Not only does this action subvert local control, it fails to recognize that colleges and universities confront special challenges including substance abuse, bullying and other scenarios that could inspire harmful action from suicide to assault. This point is not missed by the U.S. Supreme Court which ruled in D.C. vs. Heller that "nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings."
Beyond my concerns over the bill itself, the committee process did not serve the public interest. Only a third of those who came to testify were allowed to speak and an effort by Senator Elliot Werk and myself to extend the testimony for one more meeting failed. Among those muzzled were the president of the University of Idaho, associated students groups and the chiefs of police from our three largest college communities. In other words, those expected to implement, endure and enforce this law (police have serious concerns that putting guns on campuses will simply escalate confrontations and make it harder to single out the bad guy). To limit public testimony while crafting public policy is to miss the point of our work as lawmakers.
In last week's newsletter I reported Department of Administration Director Teresa Luna had shifted $7 million from her own budget to cover funds being withheld as a result of her department's controversial IEN contract. Although Director Luna is requesting an additional $17 million to cover broadband delivery, the amount shifted was in fact $550,000. Thank you to Director Luna and JFAC Co-Chair Maxine Bell for alerting me to the error which I am happy to correct.
Speaking of JFAC, they voted on Wednesday in support of a 6.4% budget for FY2015. This short summary by the Idaho Education Association covers the highlights.
It remains my honor to serve District 26 and this representation of you is best served by your input which is welcome via phone (208-332-1353) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org).