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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 ELEVEN, March 23-27, 2015

Michelle Stennett

The career ladder teacher funding legislation has passed both chambers by a wide margin (96 aye votes out of 105) and heads to the Governor for his preordained signature. Starting teacher salaries will rise from $31,750 to $32,700 in year one and to $44,375 by year five. The Idaho Education Association has an online salary allocation calculator for determining how the career ladder will impact individual teachers based on years of experience and levels of education.

This morning, the budget committee unanimously recommended fully funding, at a cost of $33.5 million, year one of this 5-year plan and a total education budget increase of 8.4% (1% of which represents federal funding). The appropriation will likely pass both chambers but we must sustain our commitment to restoring education funding over the next five years. JFAC also recommended transferring into the Public Education Stabilization Fund $21.5 million that came from a legal settlement with Standard & Poor's. There will be at least $10.6 million taken from PESF to cover student growth and higher-than-anticipated participation in dual credit courses which leaves a PESF balance of nearly $82 million to cover other unanticipated operating costs.

With the education budget close to completion, attention has turned at long last to addressing transportation funding. The House Majority Leaders introduced a trio of bills (H310, H311, H312) on Wednesday, all of which already passed committee review, to address road funding through a complex tax scheme. Their plan would rob the General Fund of $64 million, raise taxes on anyone earning less than $172,800 annually, and generate less than half the $262 million needed just to maintain our roads and bridges annually.

Echoing the Governor, the Senate Majority is not inclined to consider General Fund subsidies for transportation spending as those funds are largely earmarked for education and health & welfare. The non-partisan Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy has a clear analysis of the impact of H311 and we're hearing already that the numbers don't add up for our Budget Analysts. At least one other transportation bill has been drafted that mirrors the Democratic plan but has yet to be introduced. I'll address transportation more next week since we are likely to remain in session, perhaps even past Easter. Having recently joined the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee, I may have a role in considering tax-related legislation.

Yesterday, my colleagues Rep. John Rusche and Sen. Dan Schmidt, both physicians, held a press conference and urged our GOP colleagues to extend Medicaid coverage to the 78,000+ Idahoans who fall into the "coverage gap." The plan, which would also extend medical and mental health coverage to 10,000 uninsured veterans, has widespread support from counties, social service organizations, the health care industry and Governor Otter's own task force. If we have time this late in the session to entertain tax cuts for the wealthiest among us, we have time to address insurance coverage for the poorest among us. We need to implement the Healthy Idaho Plan soon if we are to uphold our moral and fiscal responsibilities.

The non-partisan Office of Performance Evaluations released two reports this Monday including a damning critique of Schoolnet, a statewide database intended to measure school performance. I sit on the bi-partisan Joint Legislative Oversight Committee which directs OPE's studies and this report outlining the abject failure of Schoolnet was met with universal disgust. This poorly designed and mismanaged assessment tool cost Idaho taxpayers $40 million and wasted incalculable hours of school resources. Another effort by the state to wrest control away from local school districts and another costly, inefficient program for Idaho. JLOC met again on Tuesday to select topics for study during the 2015 interim and there was unanimous support for a review of Optum, the state's contractor for outpatient behavioral health services. Also selected were studies on administrative hearing officers and public health district financing.

S1146, known as Alexis' Law, provides a limited affirmative legal defense for the possession of or use of cannabidiol (CBD) oil, a plant-based extract containing only trace amounts (under .3%) of tetrahydrocannabidiol (THC). CBD can reduce the number and duration of seizures in children and adults living with epilepsy, allowing patients to reclaim some of their mental and physical abilities and improve their quality of life.

Alexis' Law is named for a young girl living in Idaho who suffers from Dravet Syndrome, a form of intractable epilepsy that causes hundreds of seizures a day, some lasting hours. Infants and small children with these intractable, life-threatening diseases endure brain surgeries and/or a toxic pharmaceutical regimen that severely impacts their cognition and mobility without adequately controlling seizures.

S1156 sets up the framework for an expanded access program (EAP), similar to a controlled clinical trial, using a purified CBD oil called Epidiolex produced by British company GW Pharmaceuticals. With permission from the company, and with DEA/FDA regulatory assistance, a neurologist and clinical researcher can partner with the state's Dept of Health & Welfare.

The EAP will accept 25 severely ill children all of whom will receive the CBD oil with no placebo control group. The cost to the state for patient visits, tests, research, and data collection is $223,500 for 25 children the first year, with the possibility of this expensive program continuing in subsequent years. The DHW Director is authorized to enter into certain agreements concerning investigational drugs and the administration and supervision of FDA-approved EAPs in order to facilitate access to investigational drugs for persons with serious or immediately life-threatening conditions or diseases lacking therapeutic alternatives. A note of concern here; S1156 gives a lot of power to the Director beyond this one EAP.

In September of 2013, an order was issued for members of the Big Wood & Little Wood Water Users Association, who are entitled to delivery of water from the Big Wood River below Magic Dam, having suffered from premature curtailment of delivery of their surface water rights. All the surface water rights are located in Water District 37 and are hydrologically connected to ground water rights in the Wood River Valley aquifer system.

 In 1980, Idaho Department of Water Resources issued a policy memorandum declaring surface water in the Big Wood River basin, and its tributaries, upstream from Magic Reservoir was fully appropriated and no new water permits for consumptive purposes were issued. However, IDWR continued to issue water permits for the consumptive use of groundwater within the Wood River Valley aquifer system. All of this has precipitated the need for action and the ground water users in the Bellevue Triangle are in the process of forming a ground water district.

 S1169 allows only new ground water districts to increase charges from $1 per inch of water to $3 per inch of water after it is formed so as to provide enough money for the district to run an election and afford its defense or mitigation of ground water rights. It has passed the Senate and House Resources and Conservation committee unanimously and will be on the House floor next week.