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Boise, ID 83720-0081

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Boise Idaho Senator Michelle Stennett, Idaho State Senate Minority Leader

News Blog

Legislative News, WEEK TWELVE, March 25-29, 2013

Michelle Stennett

The week twelve newsletter comes as the result of a single vote. On Wednesday, the Senate rejected the 2013-14 public education budget on a vote of 18-17. Had the vote gone the other way, you would be reading my end of session letter right now.

The $1.3 billion earmarked in the K-12 budget was not the primary concern. A long-simmering debate erupted over the role of the budget-setting Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC) versus the policy-writing germane committees - in this case the Senate Education Committee. Chairman John Goedde made the point that policy decisions pass through his committee only after a full public hearing. On the other hand, Finance Chairman Dean Cameron presented a reasonable budget that won the approval of House Education Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, the full House (where it easily passed 52-16) and all major education stakeholders including the Idaho School Boards Association, the Idaho Education Association and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna.

JFAC's budget included the restoration of $12 million dollars to unfreeze the grid by which teacher salaries are determined. Senator Cameron made a compelling argument during floor debate that it is the policy of the state that JFAC fund the salary grid which was frozen in 2010 and 2011 amidst the recession. Furthermore, HO323 allocated $3 million for technology pilot programs and up to $21 million for teacher development and pay for performance. So it's back to the drawing board and now we face the possibility that the 2.2 % increase in school funding contained in the original budget will be reduced before the dust settles.

Some other education-related bills considered this week: 

-HO206 and HO221 passed the Senate with amendments and will go back to the House for final approval. I oppose both measures which grant charter schools advantages at the expense of public schools. For the first time since they were authorized, Idaho's approximately 40 charter schools will receive taxpayer funds to cover facilities and maintenance costs as a result of HO206. HO221 weakens the Public Charter School Commission where appointees will no longer be selected by the governor with Senate oversight but will instead be unilaterally selected by the Pro Tem of the Senate and the Speaker of the House. HO221 also expands the definition of charter school authorizing entities to include public or private colleges and universities despite the rejection by voters of this concept as part of Props 1, 2, 3.

-HO65 addressed the funding fix needed to restore over $30 million languishing after the repeal of Props 1, 2, 3. Having unanimously passed the House on February 19, the Senate quickly acted on this bill after the defeat of the education budget and it was unanimously approved today. HO65 restores a measure of funding certainty for school districts.

-SB1040  passed the Senate today on a vote of 21-14. I voted no on this bill which resurrected the previously failed SB1148. The Idaho School Boards Association measure did not improve with age.

There were other issues addressed this week that didn't revolve around education. We killed a bill elevating assaults on health care workers from a misdemeanor to a felony and another that would have stripped Idahoans living overseas of their right to vote in state and local elections. HB315, the Idaho Association of Counties' compromise bill granting businesses tax exemptions on personal property up to $100,000, passed unanimously. Retroactive to January 1, 2013, the law effectively eliminates the personal property tax for 95% of Idaho businesses. The Senate suspended rules to quickly address SB1192aa which subverts the role of local jurisdictions in planning, zoning and design review so that the state can build a parking structure within the Capitol Mall complex in Boise. I voted no on the measure which passed 24-11 (so much for local control).

The Senate State Affairs Committee voted to send HCR21 and  HCR22 to the floor with "do pass" recommendations. Senator Elliot Werk and I were the only committee members to oppose these resolutions which simultaneously call for a study committee [HCR21] and the immediate transfer of title on all 33 million acres of Idaho's public lands from the federal government to the state [HCR22]. It creates confusion to address these two measures at the same time since one calls for the study of the other. Furthermore, similar land grab efforts have met with judicial review and were ruled unconstitutional. Finally, and most importantly, these resolutions send a message that Idaho is for sale.

Yesterday, Majority Leader Bart Davis ceded his authority to adjourn the Senate floor session to me as a way to recognize and honor the 27th birthday of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from Hailey. Yesterday marked Bowe's fourth birthday in captivity after being abducted by the Taliban-allied Haqqani network in June 2009. Our thoughts and prayers remain with the Bergdahl family as they confront another year without Bowe's release to freedom.