This marks the end of our eighth week and it's possible we will leave town after just 15 more days of legislative work. The Majority Leaders addressed the press this week and they are sticking to their goal of adjourning on March 27th. There is every reason to believe we would do so without meeting our duties. Failing to adopt the Health Idaho Plan could cost the state and her counties $653 million over the next decade. Failing to address transportation infrastructure means we sink deeper into a maintenance deficit. But failing to adequately fund education means we lose another year of meeting the needs of Idaho's students and teachers. I'm willing to stay as long as it takes to do what we were sent here to do; craft public policy that benefits the citizens of Idaho.
H222 was introduced yesterday by Governor Otter's office and repeats the unilateral approach that doomed the Luna Laws. Intended to address the "career ladder" for teacher salaries, its fate is uncertain as there appears to be something for everyone to dislike in this proposal. Among the top priorities of the Governor's own education task force was recruiting and retaining the best teachers, a goal that can only be achieved by addressing changes holistically. This measure maintains an emphasis on a flawed testing tool (the not-ready-for-primetime SBAC) without the commensurate salary increases intended to work hand-in-hand with the accountability requirements. The House Education Committee will hold a public hearing on H222 on March 10th at 8:00 a.m. in EW42 (you can follow the proceedings online at http://idahoptv.org/insession/leg.cfm).
Yesterday, the Executive Committee of the powerful business lobby IACI, voted to place President Alex LaBeau on a temporary leave a full week after the leak of a profane email that showed true disdain for teachers. IACI used to represent businesses big and small and employed an education lobbyist but currently their membership consists solely of very big corporations and their goal is tax cuts. Emily Walton wrote a thoughtful opinion piece for the Idaho Statesman this week which sums up the fatal flaw of any business group that doesn't give full support to properly funding education.
No hearings will be held to amend the Idaho Human Rights Act in Idaho this year but the Republican-controlled Utah Senate just passed a bill that would extend anti-discrimination protections to the LGBT community there, a move that has the full support of the Mormon Church. After a decade of effort, Idaho should extend overdue protections to the LGBT community in housing, employment, education and public accommodations.
This past Tuesday we were treated to an invocation from visiting Hindu religious leader Rajan Zed. The invocation alternated between Sanskrit and English and spoke of service, duty, unity and peace. Sadly, several lawmakers took offense to any religion but Christianity being allowed a voice in the People's House and stayed outside the chamber until the prayer was concluded.
Here is a snapshot of some legislative issues from the past week:
The Senate passed a resolution sponsored by my colleague, Senator Janie Ward-Engelking, to raise awareness for diaper banks and other avenues for distributing diapers to low-income citizens prohibited from using food stamps for the purchase of this basic necessity. Kudos to Janie for shining a legislative light on this worthy cause.
S1066 passed Tuesday on a vote of 23-11. This measure allows for a presidential primary election in March, rather than a May caucus, a move that will cost taxpayers $2 million. Given the closed primary the Republican Party sued to allow, this move will benefit only registered Republicans. This is fiscally irresponsible and I voted no.
The House passed a nonbinding memorial yesterday stating that genetically engineered foods are as safe as non-GE foods, that the FDA be the sole arbiter of GE labeling regulations and that such labeling remain voluntary. The measure was sponsored by Rep. Steve Miller of District 26 and, while I appreciate his intentions, I respectfully disagree with the assertions made about GMOs as well as the suggestion that local control isn't valued in this instance. I have long supported the rights of consumers to make purchasing decisions based on full-disclosure, especially when it comes to food. It is unfair for the GMO industry to be held to different standards or to cite proprietary ingredients as a reason to withhold information from consumers who are allergy-sensitive or who want to make fully informed decisions regarding their diets.
Senate Concurrent Resolution 115 and SB1134 were presented to the Senate State Affairs Committee for printing. SCR115 was referred back to the Senate State Affairs committee for debate and SB 1134 will go to the Senate Resources & Environment Committee.
SCR115 seeks assistance from Idaho's Congressional Delegation to facilitate the working relationships with land management agencies and develop an economic model that would allow for self-sustaining use of federal lands. The Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) would enter into long-term trust agreements with federal agencies for management and establish an internal working group.
When speaking of self-sustaining use of federal lands...to whom? The state, the federal government, both? The resolution language still transfers all or any part of federal lands and titles indicating the ability to sell those lands which is still unconstitutional. In the list of exclusions, such as national parks and Indian trust lands, the resolution does not include wilderness, so the Frank Church Wilderness as an example, is not protected.
In addition, IDL is constitutionally required to manage lands for the "maximum long-term financial return," not for hunting, fishing, or recreating. The fiscal note claims zero cost for this new function. Employees aren't just sitting around. This would require dedicated personnel and additional operations.
SB1134 creates an Office of Public Lands in the Idaho Department of Lands allowing an administrator the autonomy to direct state agencies in how they negotiate with the federal government through the legislature. This creates an executive institution controlled by the legislature and not the Governor. If the Governor directs IDL to make a transaction and the director of this new office chooses a different plan, who has more say? This changes the balance of government and undermines the executive branch.
The 9-member council, appointed by the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, would choose the administrator of the Office of Public Lands (notice "public lands" which impacts state and federal lands) and be confirmed by the Senate. The fiscal impact is $250,000 annually, money that could be better spent on teachers or transportation.
I value your input on these or other issues of importance to you and can be reached by phone (208-332-1353) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org).