If we cannot now end our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. ~ John F. Kennedy
As we approach the anticipated conclusion of our legislative session next week, the introduction and consideration of bills has reached a rapid-fire pace that is challenging and rigorous. We have passed 205 pieces of legislation in both chambers to date versus 98 passed by this time last year. Here then is a laundry list of issues addressed in the Statehouse this week:
-Using a 3-year average as a guide, JFAC approved $34 million for FY17 to cover the cost of fighting wildfires.
-JFAC approved $1 million to begin bailing the state out of the long-running Idaho Education Network lawsuit but passage is required in both chambers. HCR48 will extend by one year the interim study of Idaho's procurement process intended to avoid expensive and improperly-awarded statewide contracts in the future.
-With the completion of trailer bills (those lagging behind the main K-12 education budget), a total of 7.4% has been appropriated for public schools. This translates to nearly $1.6 billion from the state's general fund.
-JFAC approved $2 million to refill the depleted Constitutional Defense Fund; just in time as more legislation of dubious constitutionality gets passed this year.
Bills passed by both Chambers:
-The public nuisance bill passed the House (56-13). See above re: Constitutional Defense Fund.
-With H372 passing the Senate (20-15), plastics bags can no longer be banned at the local level. This not only hampers the waste management required of communities, it undermines local control.
-H524 passed 31-4 and only slightly enhances Idaho's lax animal cruelty law. In the wake of the horrific Patches incident this past year, I'm disappointed we couldn't agree to join the majority of states in making aggravated animal cruelty a first-offense felony.
-H526 won unanimous passage in the Senate to boost K-3 literacy and the budget committee appropriated $9.1 million for next year to fund the necessary remediation efforts.
-H528 also unanimously passed both chambers. This long-overdue legislation requires timely testing of rape evidence kits and was sponsored by Representative Melissa Wintrow (D-Boise).
-Also from Rep Wintrow, her Right to Try bill allows terminally ill patients to pursue (and assume full responsibility for) investigational drugs that have passed basic safety testing but not final approval by the FDA.
-H512 requires existing community college districts to be divided into five trustee zones to spread representation across the district. Current trustees will be able to complete their current term before the changes are implemented.
-H513a finally brings Idaho into compliance with the federal REAL ID Act of 2005 (albeit on a limited, voluntary basis) thus removing the restrictions we would face in boarding flights or accessing federal facilities such as INL with an Idaho-issued driver's license.
-H504 won unanimous Senate passage and culminates a 3-year legislative study into improving public defense services at the county level with additional funding and enhanced statewide standards
-H516 purports to expand information to women seeking an abortion by requiring doctors to provide a list of clinics providing free ultrasounds with no requirements that staff be licensed or the information medically accurate. The bill makes numerous references to hearing the fetal heartbeat but this can only be achieved through a high-intensity ultrasound known to cause fetal tissue damage.
-H554 changes worker's compensation laws for firefighters by removing the burden of proof that certain types of cancers, contracted within specific timeframes, are caused by the toxic chemicals confronting our first responders in the line of duty. This measure took 16 years to win passage which proves that firefighters are as tenacious as they are heroic.
-H514 will improve the safety of Idaho's public schools by utilizing existing on-site officers to provide enhanced security analysis and training for school staff to reduce the threat of violence.
-For several years I've pursued recognition for Idaho's cowboy culture and was happy to participate in the passage of HCR38 on the Senate floor. Each July 25th will be observed as the Day of the Cowboy with official ceremonies.
-S1389, which extends permitless concealed carry laws to incorporated cities, only passed the Senate (27-8) on Wednesday but the House suspended rules to vote on this measure Friday and it passed (54-15). Polls indicate the majority of citizens are happy with the current system requiring permits, training and background checks to carry a concealed weapon. I heard from a lot of constituents and while a few were supportive, most of you were adamantly opposed.
-Appropriations for the Attorney General's office, Idaho Fish & Game and the Commission on the Arts still need legislative action.
-H380, the tax cut bill for top earners sponsored by House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, was killed by the Senate Local Government & Taxation committee on Thursday. On Friday, Rep. Moyle convinced the House to return H581, which addresses online sales taxes, to committee where he intends to amend it with provisions from his failed bill.
-Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra's Rural Schools Center effort was surprisingly resurrected on Friday. I am supportive of this measure as it will positively impact the many rural schools in District 26.
-We have tried all session to pass legislation that would address the healthcare coverage gap and even made a parliamentary move to get a floor vote on S1204 and 1205. Senator Dan Schmidt, my physician colleague who crafted these bills, resigned from the inefficient CAT Board which funds indigent care and even dropped his own taxpayer-funded health care this week to raise awareness of this life-or-death crisis. Perhaps this heat got things cooking because a bill will be introduced on Monday that we hope resolves this inaction.
Women's History Month
My colleague Senator Cherie Buckner-Webb hosted an event last Monday celebrating Women's History Month with an exhibit featuring a pictorial timeline of women's suffrage from its origins to the passage of the 19th Amendment. This gathering of current and former female legislators and others was also intended to raise awareness for the need to boost the participation of women on statewide boards and commissions.