WEEK SEVEN, February 23-27, 2015
What a long, strange week it's been! The pace of legislation is picking up dramatically with the introduction of bills ranging from religious shield laws in the guise of parental rights to abortion legislation that got Idaho national attention. A resolution to officially declare Idaho a Christian state was defeated and a scandalous email from a lobbyist angry over funding tax cuts vs. teacher salaries was leaked. Maybe we need to expand the scope of the anti-bullying bill introduced by Representative Ilana Rubel to cover more than school-age children.
I am happy to report, however, that many important issues were addressed this week including the Governor signing the stop-gap funding bill for the Idaho Education Network. We learned today that all but one school district has been able to secure individual contracts for broadband services. This emergency funding is a critical first step to get us through the current school year. Still, it remains to be seen how the legislature will address a long-term solution for statewide broadband and what measures will be taken to avoid such contracting scandals in the future.
One great solution was introduced this week by my colleague, House Minority Leader John Rusche. His proposal would establish an Office of the Inspector General which would be responsible for investigating allegations of fraud, waste, abuse or corruption by any state agency, elected official or state employee (excluding the judiciary). The Office, which would have an annual budget of $350,000, would be housed in the Governor's office, as is the norm in the 19 states with an Inspector General. This has the potential of improving efficiency, transparency and public confidence in the government contracting process in addition to saving our citizens tens of millions of dollars in costly legal challenges. In addition, the House passed H90 and H91 which would make minor improvements to transparency and ethical accountability, measures I will support when they come to the Senate for a vote.
I am thrilled to report that we were able to get our minimum wage bill printed this morning in Senate State Affairs. In a show of good-faith negotiation, the proponents worked hard to craft reasonable, incremental increases to the minimum wage and we even lowered the figures from the bill I sponsored last year. The current bill calls for increases to $8.25/hour on July 1, 2015 and $9.25/hour on July 1, 2016. Second only to Tennessee, there are 10,000 Idahoans earning the minimum wage of $7.25/hour, 54% of whom are women with children. I'm so grateful to the committee members for their unanimous support in getting this bill printed and providing an opportunity to conduct healthy, public discussions of the proposal. I look forward to engaging all stakeholders on the issue so we can move this valuable segment of Idaho's workforce out of federal poverty level wages.
Following up on an issue discussed last week, the Senate passed, on a 20-13 vote, S1044 which restricts the autonomy of local governments and their access to the rarely used doctrine of eminent domain. It's unfortunate that a body so consistent in proclaiming the need for local control when it comes to the federal government is more than willing to step on the toes of Idaho's cities and counties. I see no reason why one community should be able to dictate to another when it comes to constructing trails and greenbelts or any other amenities desired by the majority of local residents.
Three names have been submitted to Governor Otter to fulfill the remainder of Senator Elliot Werk's term as the Senator for Boise's District 17. We appreciate the effort that went into the selection process and applaud the Governor's willingness to make the appointment quickly. Perhaps by my next newsletter, I will have a colleague to introduce as the newest member of the Senate Minority.
I value your input on these or other issues of importance to you and can be reached by phone (208-332-1353) or email (email@example.com).