Week three at the Idaho Capitol and a lot of the focus was on "Education Week" in the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee where budget requests covering kindergarten through higher ed were presented. All eyes were on Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna as he returned to the Legislature with his first budget request since the overwhelming defeat of his "Students Come First" proposals in the November election.
His 2013-14 budget represents a 3% increase over last year and includes $10.4 million for classroom technology and the restoration of 1.67% to teacher base pay out of monies previously allocated to SCF. He would grant $33.9 million in spending authority to the just-impaneled education reform task force which consists of Superintendent Luna and 30 other education stakeholders. The main concerns I have at this early stage in reviewing the budget is the extent to which Superintendent Luna deviates from statutory requirements (as opposed to Governor Otter's 2% recommended increase based solely on existing code) and what appears to be a lack of values-based funding priorities. There will be a Joint Education Committee hearing for public testimony on February 1st from 8:00-10:30 a.m. in the Capitol Auditorium which will be available for live video streaming on the Legislature's website.
Speaking of referenda, State Affairs saw a bill introduced this week that would make it more difficult to get initiatives and referenda on the ballot. Brought by the Idaho Farm Bureau and sponsored by Chairman Curt McKenzie, the bill resembles legislation passed in 1997 which was subsequently ruled unconstitutional in U.S. District Court. I encourage you to read this well-written editorial on the subject. Idaho voters after the November elections sent a very clear message that lawmakers need to take concerns raised by citizens more seriously, not less, as indicated by this ill-conceived legislation.
Idaho Democrats have been listening and as we went door-to-door prior to the November elections, we heard many complaints about the elections process. As a result, the Democratic Caucus has crafted a slate of five bills designed to protect and enhance our fundamental right to vote. The Democratic Legislators are holding a joint press conference this Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. to unveil our Voting Opportunity and Trustworthy Elections [VOTE] Initiative. You can listen to the audio by selecting Room WW-17 from the streaming options on the Legislature's website.
On Wednesday, the Idaho Department of Water Resources (IDWR) brought new rules before Resources & Environment which set standards for the construction and use of Class II injection wells. Last year, during the big debate over new oil & gas rules with respect to fracking, we approved rules covering the development of injection wells which held the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) to a fairly high standard for protecting groundwater and aquifers. Yet the rules crafted by IDWR do not meet the same standards and their wells can be used for spent fluid from the Oil & Gas Industry with no guidelines on the sorts of fluids (i.e. cancer-causing chemicals) injected for permanent storage. In short, IDL's rules are more protective than IDWR's rules despite the fact that they regulate the same fluids for the same type of wells and could have the same impact on groundwater and aquifers-our drinking water! A failed well or one which lacks mechanical integrity could continue to operate at the discretion of the IDWR Director. Finally, IDWR controls permitting and siting of these injections wells. Besides public comment, there is no local control by cities or counties. I voted to reject the rules, but lost 2-7.
Representatives Donna Pence and Steve Miller will join me at the District 26 Legislative Town Hall Forums and we encourage you to attend. We will share what is happening at the Statehouse and listen to your questions and concerns. Here is the complete schedule:
Friday, February 1st
5:30 p.m. Ketchum Whiskey Jacques (upstairs)
Saturday, February 2nd
8:00 a.m. Bellevue Oak Street Take-Out Deli
10:00 a.m. Shoshone Community Center
12:00 p.m. Gooding Zeppies Pizza
2:00 p.m. Wendell City Hall
4:00 p.m. Hagerman City Hall
I always appreciate your input be it through town hall meetings, emails or phone calls.