Week Five-February 8-12, 2016
To prevent government from becoming corrupt and tyrannous, its organization and methods should be as simple as possible, its functions be restricted to those necessary to the common welfare, and in all its parts it should be kept as close to the people and as directly within their control as may be ~ Henry George
Local control is decried loudly and often in the Statehouse and the source of ire is always the big, bad feds. But just as loudly and often, the state looms over local decisions best made at the city or county level.
Legislation passed the House last week that would preempt local jurisdictions from banning the use of plastic bags. This "bag-ban ban" caught the attention of District 26 where a 2011 effort by Hailey high schoolers to ban plastic bags was defeated in a local vote. In promoting model legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that benefits the narrowest of Idaho business interests, this bill asserts that only legislators can make such decisions. The measure is currently being held in my Local Government & Taxation Committee.
This week, a bill was introduced that would bar local jurisdictions from considering a minimum wage higher than the $7.25/hour set by the state. Idaho has one of the highest rates of workers earning the minimum wage in the nation. If a community has a compelling argument for setting a higher minimum, that should be determined by local voters. Another bill just printed would insinuate the state into the recall process for local school board trustees. The school trustee issue is messy but specific to one district and I've yet to hear compelling testimony that would convince me the state needs to intervene.
The Senate passed a tax conformity bill this week which should have been a pro forma alignment of Idaho's tax code with federal changes. Unfortunately, the House objected to the original version deleting a statute section about marriage that is unenforceable after the ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. The archaic language still embedded in Idaho's constitution remains along with a new section that grudgingly allows same-sex couples to file joint tax returns. Assigning second-class status to any citizen is objectionable but failure to approve this bill would only further delay tax filings in Idaho.
There is a proposed appropriation that would reduce the Idaho State Police budget by $16.4 million from dedicated gas tax money. This money is earmarked for safety and patrol. The ISP is already operating with 90 fewer troopers than needed for adequate coverage of the state and this budget recommendation could reduce the existing force by 75%. There is no assurance we can cover these losses with general fund dollars which puts public safety in jeopardy.
My Resources and Environment Committee had a jam-packed week dedicated in large part to water issues. These include resolutions regarding the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer deal brokered between surface and groundwater users, aquifer stabilization and managed recharge. The funding mechanisms for all of these proposals are still being considered. The ESPA deal establishes a template for negotiations that will apply across Idaho. Stabilization is required for declining aquifers from Mountain Home to Lewiston and one of the measures asks the Idaho Department of Water Resources to address water calls in the Big and Little Wood Rivers basins. I am pleased to be a part of the collaborative process with our water users.
The Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children held a rally this week and highlighted the fact that Idaho is ranked 50th nationally on public pre-K. A separate but related report was issued this week that addresses the fact that nearly half of Idaho's children are inadequately prepared for kindergarten. Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra presented her proposal for Rural Education Centers including her request for $300k in funding to provide assistance to the 70% of Idaho's school districts classified as rural. We have 11 school districts within Blaine, Camas, Gooding and Lincoln counties so designated. The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation released a report entitled Idaho// Ready For Change and their executive director published a guest opinion on the report which revealed widespread support across the state for proper education funding.
On Friday, the Health & Welfare committees held a joint public hearing which included one speaker who spoke on behalf of "the little, the lost, and the lonely." Some spoke to foster care deficiencies, some spoke to the need for improved services for the 40k residents suffering from mental health conditions, some spoke to lives lost, and many spoke to the committee about adopting the Healthy Idaho Plan. All spoke from a place of desperation, pain and need. The governor's PCAP proposal, which cleared its first hurdle in the House this week, will not adequately resolve the gaps in care and we need to strive for the best solutions.