The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience ~ Atticus Finch.
"To Kill a Mockingbird" is the classic tale of two children confronting the harsh realities of racism on their way to adulthood. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Harper Lee, who passed away last week. Destined to become a classic, "All the Light We Cannot See" also takes us along on the journey of two young people against the harsh landscape of WWII. Last year, Anthony Doerr became the first Idaho-based author to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. On Thursday, the Senate unanimously passed a concurrent resolution which honors the Boise-based author, a source of pride for our state.
This week, JFAC began the budget-setting process. Finalizing appropriations is the main requirement for our concluding business for this legislative session and appropriation bills were set this week for dedicated funds as well as the Department of Health & Welfare. JFAC recommended adding two Idaho seats to the medical program at the University of Utah and five spots for first-year medical students from Idaho to WWAMI's Regional Medical Education Program. This five-state collaborative provides publically-funded medical education to students from Idaho and the state sees a significant return on this investment.
Idaho currently has no medical school but on Thursday, Idaho State University unveiled the for-profit Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine (ICOM). The four-year medical school at ISU's Meridian campus is slated to open in 2018 and will be financed with private funds as well as a state tax break of nearly $4 million.
We amended part of the transportation funding plan passed last year by removing the additional tax on hybrid vehicles. With improvements in fuel efficiency, and the added taxes paid by hybrid car buyers, this additional fuel tax was unfair. SB1311 passed the Senate on a vote of 27-7 and I was one of three senators to declare a potential conflict of interest as the owner of a hybrid vehicle.
On Friday, my State Affairs committee took public testimony on SB1342 which would expressly permit the use of the Bible in Idaho's public schools. The Supreme Court has affirmed the use of the Bible in classrooms and testimony cited its pervasive use so this is yet another unneeded statute. In fact, it may conflict with Article IX of Idaho's Constitution which states that "no sectarian or religious tenets or doctrines shall ever be taught in the public schools" and the Attorney General's office considers the proposal indefensible on constitutional grounds. The committee voted to send the bill to the floor for amendments that could include eliminating references to astronomy, biology and geology and add language to include "religious texts including the Bible." As I argued in committee, all religious texts should be considered for study to open the eyes of our children to the increasingly global and diverse society in which they will live and work.
SB1339 passed the Senate Thursday evening. As mentioned in a prior newsletter, this bill would establish a new application process for oil and gas drilling and shift duties from the 5-member Oil & Gas Commission to the Director of the Idaho Department of Lands. It is important for the legislature to establish laws that promote business and our shared economy. It is equally important that we defend the property rights of our citizens who support that economy. This bill, written by the oil and gas company that stands to gain much, does not strike a fair balance for the homeowners who stand to lose everything. Having received 150 emails in opposition and zero in support, I voted no.
A bill that allows public charter schools to craft teacher contracts without approval from the Superintendent of Public Instruction passed the Senate 22-13 with my no vote. This will create two, unequal classes of teachers. It also raises legal concerns and undermines the recommendations from the governor's Task Force for Improving Education designed to empower Idaho to recruit and retain the best teachers.
Yesterday we passed SB1277 which creates a new statute for sexual battery of an adult that carries a penalty of up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. It also makes rape laws gender neutral and removes the resistance requirement that the victim must fight back for the assault to be considered rape. Also passed, with my no vote, was a bill allowing pharmacists to prescribe/administer immunizations to children as young a six years of age (down from the current age of 12). Vaccinations have doubled since 2000 and we need to be careful about immunizing young children whose bodies and brains don't always react the same way as older kids.
This week, GOP Secretary of State Lawerence Denney agreed to change 22 billboards put up across the state deceptively advertising "Official Information" on "The Presidential Primary" set for March 8. This date only reflects the voting opportunity for members of the Republican and Constitution parties. The state already paid $2 million to fund this separate, closed primary and the additional $20,000 in taxpayer money for misleading billboards was inappropriate, a fact Secretary Denney was compelled to recognize.
Kudos to my colleague Senator Cherie Buckner-Webb who saw the unanimous passage of her resolution designating March, 2016 as Idaho Women's History Month. She is an admirable woman worthy of celebration in her own right.