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Boise, ID 83720-0081

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Boise Idaho Senator Michelle Stennett, Idaho State Senate Minority Leader

News Blog

2016 Legislative News, WEEK NINE, March 7-11

Michelle Stennett

Most people spend more time and energy going around problems than in trying to solve them...Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success. ~ Henry Ford

The "public nuisance" bill passed the Senate handily (28-6) as predicted in last week's newsletter and awaits House approval. Without irony, the Senate also passed H463 (27-8) preempting local control over the passage of minimum wage ordinances and we anticipate the same next week for the House-passed bill that denies local control over plastic bag prohibitions. It concerns me that the legislature doesn't trust local communities to regulate wages or grocery bags but does trust one local official with oversight of all the public lands in their county. The argument for prohibiting local communities from setting their own minimum wage is that it creates a patchwork of laws that would harm businesses. But Idaho already has a patchwork of wages across the state and certainly a patchwork of living costs that make it foolish to hold one community hostage to another's standard of living. In reality, Idaho has one of the highest rates of minimum wage workers in the nation and this formula will never keep our best and brightest at home. Meanwhile no public hearing has been held on H400 to incrementally raise the minimum wage statewide. This is a disservice to our citizens who are being muzzled by their own representatives in the statehouse.

The Senate floor had a long debate over S1350 intended to establish rules for Idaho delegates to an Article V constitutional convention should one be called by two thirds of the states. It failed on a vote of 12-23. The bill required an Idaho delegate to swear an oath to only consider, approve or propose the authorized amendment(s) established by the state legislature prior to the convention with no guarantee other states would hold their delegates to this high standard. The legislation also removed eligibility for Idaho's congressional delegation. Limiting and undermining the representative authority of our own delegates would put Idaho at a distinct disadvantage. There are no rules to a constitutional convention so state law cannot control delegates. The late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a renowned constitutional scholar, observed, "A constitutional convention is a horrible idea. This is not a good century to write a constitution."

I was very proud of my colleague Senator Grant Burgoyne who sponsored S1373, which resoundingly passed the Senate on Wednesday (31-3). He showed an astute legal grasp of the issue but also conveyed true compassion for the victims of stalking who currently have no recourse if their aggressor was not connected to them through a domestic relationship. I sincerely hope this measure passes the House and is signed by the governor so that any victim of malicious harassment or stalking can obtain a restraining order to protect themselves or their children.

H431, which passed the Senate 23-11, represents a tax shift by removing the indexing used in Idaho since 2006 to determine property tax exemptions and instead cap the amount at $100,000 or 50 percent of assessed value, whichever is less. Some businesses and agricultural property owners may see a benefit while many homeowners will see an increase to their tax bill. The legislature is very slow to react to market changes and the index enabled adjustments that better leveled volatile fluctuations. I am grateful for the input from officials in three of the four counties in District 26 that led to my no vote.

The Wolf Control Board again asked for their annual appropriation of $400,000 despite having nearly that much left unspent in their account. Senator Dan Schmidt, my colleague on JFAC, moved to reduce the appropriation to a more reasonable $110,000 but that measure failed and the on-going expense was approved 15-5. With 72 kills recorded in 2015, the costs are holding steady at nearly $6,000 per wolf killed. Recently we had a presentation from a consortium of groups, including Hailey's own Lava Lake Lamb, outlining the successes seen in the Wood River region using more cost-effective non-lethal wolf control methods.

JFAC recommended an increase of 8% for colleges and universities but did not approve the governor's recommendation for $10 million to lock tuition costs for four academic years to provide financial certainty for incoming freshman. The budget committee showed unanimous support for funding Governor Otter's proposal to boost Career-Tech Education. However, several of the recommendations from the governor and superintendent were not embraced by either the germane committees or the budget writers, which doesn't fully support education to the levels anticipated at the start of this session.