Friday, March 7, 2014

Starting to Count Down

I think it's a fairly unanimous call ringing throughout the Statehouse - "We're going to be done by the 21st."

Here's a brief update on what's been going on in the Idaho Legislature since my last post. To put it simply -- a LOT has been going on. We've past the "date of no return," in other words, no more new legislation can be introduced, and today is the goal date for the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, the budget-setters, to wrap up the state's 2015 budget.

Here's the update from The Argonaut --

The full House passed Senate Bill 1254, the bill that would allow concealed firearm carry on Idaho college and university campuses, by a 50-19 vote. It will now be moving on to Gov. Otter's desk -- and in the past he said he supports it.

JFAC set the budget for 4-year colleges and universities, giving them a 6.6% increase in funding along with a 2% uptick in employee compensation.

Otter signed the "ag-gag" bill -- Senate Bill 1337 -- the one that would punish activists who surreptitiously gather photos or video of an agricultural production without owner permission. The bill stemmed from a video of employees severely abusing cows at a large southern Idaho dairy. But, Greek yogurt maker Chobani wrote a letter to Gov. Otter requesting he veto. He's one of the key stakeholders in the dairy business, as his $450 million-dollar factory brought over 500 jobs to Twin Falls, Idaho. There have been no statements that Otter will reconsider.

And finally, Otter is officially running for a third term as Idaho governor. That is all.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Session in Review

The 62nd Idaho Legislature will begin its third month of session in two weeks, bringing with it a considerable number of bills moving through both the House and Senate side for further review.

President Pro Tempore Brent Hill said the session is looking to end right on their goal date of March 21, and much business is taking place on the House and Senate floor week after week to ensure ending by that goal.

Two of the state's primary topics – education funding and justice reinvestment – have moved smoothly from each side of the Statehouse.

Funding education
Joint chairs of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, and Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, said education is in the forefront of JFAC's mind while setting the budget for fiscal year 2015.

While putting the state's budget together, they said it is very much a piece-by-piece process.

“We either set (the education budget) first to make sure we can put everything we've got into it, or we set it last to make sure we've gathered everything we can for it,” Cameron said.

JFAC has set March 7 as their target date to have the budget completed. The state public education budget is the single largest budget in the state's ledger book.

Reinvesting in justice
Figuring out just how the Idaho State Prisons would change hands from private contracted control to state control has been an issue for select lawmakers since June 2013.

Marc Pelka, program director of the Council of State Government Justice Center has collaborated with lawmakers over the past eight months to create a batch of policies to decrease recidivism and increase responsible spending within state's the prison system. By tweaking programming and establishing a process focusing on treatment and probation, the state is able to save millions of dollars by not having to build a new prison facility.

Senate Bill 1254 – One of the most-discussed issues of the session, this bill would allow concealed gun carry on state university and college campuses. After passing through the full Senate by a 25-10 vote, the bill is currently in review by the House. It is expected to be up for hearing later this week.

SB 1271 – A bill sponsored by one of the newest senators to the Idaho Legislature, Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, in conjunction with 13-year-old Ilah Hickman, to make the Idaho giant salamander the state's official amphibian. Hickman pitched the idea to a House committee last year but never received a hearing. This year the Senate State Affairs Committee voted in favor of the bill, and it will next move to the House for approval before landing on the governor's desk for introduction to law.

SB 1327 – The full Senate voted unanimously to allow schools to supply Epi-Pens and similar allergy-related lifesaving items in case of an unexpected and severe allergic reaction. The bill will now move through the House for continued examining.

SB 1337 – Called the “ag-gag” bill, this would criminalize taking video or photos of an agricultural-based operation without owner permission. The bill was created following the leak of a video containing images of severe abuse to cows at a large southern Idaho dairy. The House Agriculture Committee voted 13-1 in favor of the bill.

SB 1357 – Called the “justice reinvestment bill,” this bill utilizes the study crafted by the Council of State Government Justice Center to reduce the percentage of the prison population that soon re-offends after being released and rework programming and sentencing to save space in the prisons. It received unanimous support from the Senate Judiciary Committee and is currently moving to the full Senate.

House Bill 426 – This bill presented another hot-button bill in this session of the legislature. Sponsored by Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, 426 would protect professional liscensure in the case of violations when citing “sincerely held religious beliefs.” This bill never received a public hearing, and isn't likely to advance.

HB 427 – Luker's companion bill to HB 426, this bill would make it legal to protect individuals who deny services to others if they cite religious beliefs. Following a three-and-a-half hour public hearing largely in disapproval of the bill, it passed through the House State Affairs Committee on a 11-5 vote to general orders, but isn't likely to advance for the remainder of the session.

HB 470 – Gov. Otter listed wolves as one of his main priorities in the State of the State address Jan. 6, 2014. Now, HB 470 is bringing that priority into focus by injecting $2 million into the creation and operation of a state board to manage the wolf population. The House voted 49-16 in favor of creating the board. Rep. Marc Gibbs, R-Grace, said the state is increasingly losing control over the population, and 35 to 40 percent the wolf population needs to be harvested each year to maintain balance.

HB 504 – This house bill would grant $15.8 million in leadership bonuses to Idaho teachers, beginning next year. Both the House and Senate Education Committees are working to bring Idaho's teacher salaries and educational programming more in like with the recommendations made by the Governor's Task Force to Improve Education. HB 504 would set up a reward system in which teachers deemed deserving by their district receive the awards. The bill passed through the full House in a 62-6 vote then passed through the Senate Education Committee and will soon be seen by the full Senate. If approved by the full Senate, it will travel to Gov. Otter's desk to become law.

Monday, February 24, 2014

ISU Nuclear Program At Risk

Since the passing of Senate Bill 1254 – the bill allowing concealed gun carry on state university and college campuses – Idaho State University has raised issue with Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter concerning their nuclear research unit.

ISU's nuclear research unit runs on the guidelines set by the national Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which has a zero-tolerance policy regarding firearms at licensed nuclear facilities. ISU President Arthur Vailas told Otter the research program is at risk if the legislature continues to support introducing concealed firearms on campus.

Gov. Otter said he had no idea as to the commission's guidelines.

SB 1254 is scheduled for a committee hearing in the House State Affairs Committee Thursday, Feb. 27.

Read Spokesman-Review reporter Betsy Russell's story here.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Playing Catch-Up

Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, stands to debate Senate Bill 1254 -
the highly-controversial bill allowing concealed weapons on campus
Tuesday, Feb. 18 on the Senate Floor. The bill passed 25-10.
What a whirlwind week! Even if a lowly reporter like me is down with a bad cold, the legislature must go on.

This week we've seen the S.E.C.U.R.E Idaho Campuses Act -- Senate Bill 1254 -- pass through the full Senate by a 25-10 vote, as well as the pulling of Rep. Lynn Luker's highly controversial religious freedoms bills from the House reading calendar. I suspect they're both pulled for the remainder of the session, but we'll see.

Here's a quick update on stories from Boise in The Argonaut:

Breaking barriers to post secondary education, right here.

Campus carry continues, the bill passed through the Senate Floor. Read that here.

Finding fiscal balance, right here.

Read today's edition of The Argonaut right here.

Twitter: @crchloerambo | Instagram: @crchloerambo | The Argonaut

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Breakfast with the Governor

Chapter President Clark Corbin is moderating
the "on-the-record" meeting today.
Nearly every reporter in the area is gathered at Beside Bardenay, a downtown Boise eatery, for the annual "Breakfast with the Governor" put on by the Idaho Press Club. Here, we get Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter for nearly an hour and all information is on the record and up for grabs.

Here's an update on work in The Argonaut:

Religious protections bill up for hearing, receives negative response

Combining technology, education: Technology to bolster SBOE efforts

Students say no to concealed carry: UI, ISU, BSU student body representatives vote against concealed campus carry

Twitter: @crchloerambo | Instagram: @crchloerambo | The Argonaut

Friday, February 7, 2014

Update from The Argonaut

UI Interim President Don Burnett sits
next to other state college and
university presidents at the SBOE meeting
Monday, Feb. 3.
Here's a link to an interactive and readable PDF copy of today's Argonaut.

Happy Friday!

Twitter: @crchloerambo | Instagram: @crchloerambo | The Argonaut

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Luker's Bill Receives a Hearing

"Add the Words" organizer Mistie Tolman speaks at the Add the Words
rally Jan. 11 at the Capitol. Tolman testified against HB427 today in front
of the House State Affairs Committee.
Rep. Lynn Luker's religious freedom bill is currently in a public hearing in the House Affairs Committee room at the Capitol here. The crowd was, correctly, expected to be large and organizers set up an overflow room.

There are currently 21 individuals listed to testify, and the group is roughly one-half of the way through the list.

So far, only two individuals have testified in support of the bill. Julie Lynde and a member of the board of directors of Cornerstone Family Council said the bill is a necessary technical update to Idaho's current laws.

You can listen to the rest of the hearing live right here.

Twitter: @crchloerambo | Instagram: @crchloerambo | The Argonaut