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.

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