[Federal lands survey] work is helping us to see that the greatest questions before us are not partisan questions, but questions upon which men of all parties and all shades of opinion may be united for the common good. Among such questions, on the material side, the conservation of natural resources stands first. ~ Theodore Roosevelt.
The so-called public nuisance bill passed my Resources and Environment committee and heads to the floor where passage is likely. S1338 asks the state to codify a soapbox for a single county official to "demand" action from federal land managers. The two county commissioners who testified indicated they would immediately sue if their demands weren't met. This crosses the line of constitutionality and opens us up to costly legal battles. While the legislature works to strip local control over wages and plastic bags, this bill would give unilateral authority to one rogue official to engage in hostile interactions with federal officials. Collaboration is the method we should continue to pursue as Idaho has led the way on improving land management by engaging all stakeholders to secure the greatest good.
On Monday, the Joint Resources and Environment committees were confronted with a presentation from two Utah representatives urging the "takeover" of federal lands. This land grab notion was well-vetted and Idahoans vehemently oppose relinquishing our legacy to the highest bidder intent on privatizing the public lands we cherish. Utah paid a New Orleans law firm $500k to study legal actions that their state could take against the federal government, a lawsuit estimated to cost $14 million. Fortunately, Idaho has an excellent Attorney General who, at no additional charge, clearly stated that such action would violate both the U.S. and Idaho Constitutions. We should focus on conserving our resources, both natural and financial, and not let outside groups lead us down the garden path to a no trespassing sign.
Out of 100+ budgets being set by JFAC, my Democratic colleagues have taken the lead on crafting about two thirds of them. Senator Dan Schmidt worked on 25 and Senator Roy Lacey, who I'm sad to see retire at the end of this term, tackled up to 40. The two also moved to increase the public education budget by an extra $5 million in discretionary funds bringing the overall increase almost to the governor's recommendation of 7.9% Instead, the committee approved a 6.8% overall increase with the total expected to hit 7.4% once the Education committees pass more bills. JFAC did not fund Superintendent Ybarra's $300,000 request to pilot Rural School Centers which is disappointing for the many rural schools in District 26.
On Tuesday, the Idaho Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that voided the illegally-awarded contract for Idaho Education Network, the defunct statewide broadband system. The negotiations are ongoing and well-outlined by Idaho Education News so I will hold further comment until details of the settlement are resolved. What is known is that two bills unanimously passed the Senate which will support broadband at the local level. S1333 would establish the Broadband Infrastructure Investment Grant (BIIG) Fund within the state treasury. Grants are open to any E-rate eligible institutions and cover up to 10% of the cost for broadband infrastructure investments as well as the potential for additional E-rate funds and discounts. S1334 would provide state-level support for technology, security, contracting and distribution to entities seeking federal E-rate funding. It's nice to see some acknowledgment in the legislature that local communities know best how to address local needs.
S1280 passed the Senate after amendments were added to disqualify non-citizens from paying in-state tuition at Idaho's colleges and universities, even if they are currently enrolled and paying the in-state rate. Fortunately, making higher education more accessible is the laudable goal of IDeal, Idaho's 529 College Savings Program. IDeal helps citizens save now to cover the costs of future educational goals for themselves or a beneficiary. 27,000 Idahoans are already taking advantage of tax deductions that come with a 529 plan to pay for tuition and other related expenses at any eligible, accredited U.S. institution. The savings plan can be used for trade schools, community colleges or universities so every aspirational goal is within reach.
HCR034 sought to recognize community water fluoridation as a significant public health achievement. My testimony clarified that 70% of public water supplies in the US contain artificially fluoridated water. Fluoride is a mineral, not an essential nutrient. No disease, not even tooth decay, is caused by a fluoride deficiency. The dose is impossible to control since everyone consumes different amounts. Infants drinking baby formula and competitive athletes may ingest more than the average person. Fluoride accumulates in the body, largely in calcifying tissues such as bones, and can pose a health risk. It failed 16-18-1 in the Senate.
The minimum wage pre-emption bill passed out of my Local Government and Taxation committee without my support. The cost of living varies dramatically across Idaho. If the state wants to usurp local control and dictate the minimum wage for Idaho, then we should pass H400 which incrementally raises the minimum hourly wage from the current $7.25 to $9.25 by mid-2017.
Thanks to delayed start-up costs at previously approved centers, JFAC found enough money to fund two new crisis centers this year. This alleviates the burden of selecting the next community able to treat citizens in mental health crisis rather than relying on law enforcement. Boise and Twin Falls will join Idaho Falls and Coeur d'Alene as the first four of seven anticipated centers. This commits JFAC to fund 100% of the costs for the first year or two for each center with the expectation that local support will cover half the operational costs moving forward.
A related measure that won unanimous passage in the Senate is S1326, which adds suicide prevention services to the basic mission of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, one person dies by suicide every 27 hours in Idaho and each of these deaths costs the state over $1 million in medical bills and lost wages.
S1297aa, aa, indicating it was twice amended, will establish online voter registration for Idaho following the elections this November. This effort, which passed the Senate unanimously, would lead to cost savings given that online registration costs about 80 cents less per voter than paper and will bring Idaho up to par with the 30 other states already utilizing this technology. With only 70% of the voting-age population registered to vote, the hope is that this measure, co-sponsored by my colleague Grant Burgoyne, will encourage greater participation in our elections. On that note, I was proud to file my paperwork for candidacy this week for the November election.
Last Saturday, I was honored to judge The American Legion High School Oratorical State Championship in Mountain Home and very proud when Senate Page Nellie Christensen of Burley was awarded 3rd place.
The pace of legislation is so swift now that it's difficult to convey all the actions being considered in a weekly newsletter. Should you have any questions about legislative actions, please feel free to reach out to me by phone or email. It remains my honor to represent District 26 in the Idaho Senate.