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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 TEN, March 16-20, 2015

Michelle Stennett

It's the first day of Spring so it seems fitting that education legislation, namely the career ladder for funding teacher salaries, has come out of hibernation. 20 years of deep cuts to education funding devalued Idaho's teaching professionals and the critical role education plays in our economy. But today I'm happy to report that an arduous but highly collaborative negotiation process has led to a unanimous vote by the House Education Committee to send H296 to that chamber's floor with a "do pass" recommendation

After the first career ladder bill was met unenthusiastically by many stakeholders, a second five-year plan that incorporated teacher feedback was introduced on Wednesday only to be replaced that same afternoon with this third version. A main sticking point was language in version two that would award a $4,000 bonus to any individual teacher who qualified. Rep. Ryan Kerby, who is also the Superintendent of the New Plymouth School District, objected to this provision contending it would cause division between teachers so new language enables the awarding of the bonus to individuals or groups of teachers.

A revision is pending on the fiscal note and the bill still needs to advance through the House, Senate committee, Senate floor and get JFAC funding, but there is much to be optimistic about today. In addition to the vocal support of the Governor and Legislative Leaders, the hearing included glowing comments from the Idaho Association of School Administrators, Idaho School Boards Association, Idaho Rural Schools Association and Idaho Education Association, whose representative called the process a "textbook illustration of consensus" in crafting legislation.

Conversely, S1096a passed the Senate (23-12) without the support of the IASA, ISBA, IEA, many local school districts or me. This proposal would establish a process for withdrawing children from any activity, class or program that clashes with the values, principles or firmly held beliefs of any of the child's parent(s) or guardian(s). This overly-broad and poorly-defined legislation presents a host of unintended consequences and runs over existing district-level opt-out clauses. We can expect conflicts between sets of parents/guardians, chaos for schools, and obstacles to graduation requirements - not to mention the financial implications the sponsor failed to include in the fiscal note.

Other legislation addressed this week:

Wolves - The Senate voted 29-5 to appropriate another $400,000 for the Wolf Control Fund. Since established last year, the Wolf Depredation Control Board has spent $140,000 to kill 31 wolves. When you compare this $4,500 per-wolf spending to Idaho's per-pupil spending of $6,821, I think it's clear why I voted no.

Salamanders and Diapers - A measure designating the Idaho giant salamander as the official state amphibian grew a new tail this week. H1 was the first bill introduced - and quickly killed - at the start of the session. Sponsored by my colleague Senator Janie Ward-Engelking and crafted by Boise 8th grader Ilah Hickman the bill was reconsidered and approved in a rare move by House State Affairs Chairman Tom Loertscher. Ilah's been working on this since studying the salamander in 4th grade and a similar measure overwhelmingly passed the Senate last year. Ironically, the Chairman was inspired by the Ward-Engelking-sponsored Diaper Awareness resolution which has now passed both chambers.

Anti-bullying - Bi-partisan legislation co-sponsored by my colleagues Rep. Ilana Rubel and Sen. Ward-Engelking (Go Janie!) easily passed out of the House Education Committee. The public testimony was emotional and unanimously supportive of this measure to train school staff in best practices for preventing and reacting to bullying.

Sex Offender Registry - The 2011 Legislature recommended that the newly created Sexual Offender Management Board (SOMB) develop procedures for a risk-based, tiered sexual offender registration process. S1095 creates a 5-level registration and notification system. Registration requirements and duration are dependent upon an assigned level assessed by a sexual offender's crime of conviction combined with a measure of applicable risk factors, such as the likelihood to re-offend.

The Central Sex Offender Registry, within the Idaho State Police, will continue to maintain oversight of the registry. The initial implementation cost is projected to be $1,467,600 with ongoing costs at $911,500. It's hard to approve sending so much money to the underfunded correctional system when we need to address our underfunded educational system. But a 2009 Supreme Court ruling revealed statutory deficiencies that had to be addressed.

Federal fund reporting - S1152, which unanimously passed the Senate this morning, would codify a 2014 Executive Order and establish annual reporting requirements for state agencies who receive federal funds. The reporting would highlight available federal funds, the potential impact of having those funds reduced or any indications of future reduction or elimination of federal funds. This will enable the state to better prepare for a situation like the one that arose with the Idaho Education Network where federal funds were withheld for months before the legislature was notified. This failure to report cost taxpayers millions and likely led to the resignation of Department of Administration Director Teresa Luna announced this week.

Telemedicine - H189 passed the Senate on a vote of 31-3 with  my reluctant aye vote. While I appreciate the value of the growing field of telemedicine, especially in rural Idaho, and support the need to implement regulations, it's disappointing that we needed to exclude family planning services in order to get this bill passed through both chambers.

CAT Fund - Today the Senate unanimously passed S1123, sponsored by my physician colleague Sen. Dan Schmidt. This legislation will enable health care providers to use lower-cost services that meet industry standards when providing care to the indigent population. The indigent sick are covered by county programs and the State CAT Fund, both of which are skyrocketing. Of course this was a bitter pill to swallow for those of us who support the expansion of Medicaid through the Healthy Idaho Plan which would eliminate the need for the costly indigent care program while adding coverage for mental health treatment.