Legislative Breakfasts on home stretch

State Senator Steve Bair addresses the audience of the March 8 legislative breakfast over a video link from Boise.Part of the audience at the March 8 legislative breakfast, where members of the public discussed issues and the current legislative session in Boise with Bingham County's Representatives Julie VanOrden and Neil A. Anderson, and State Senator Steve Bair.
Catie Clark

The fifth of six legislative breakfasts met on Thurday, March 8, with Representatives Julie VanOrden and Neil A. Anderson, and State Senator Steve Bair, at the Homestead restaurant in Blackfoot with 13 in attendance. The three legislators called in over an internet video connection from Boise.

Bair's Report

Bair opened the meeting with an update on legislation under consideration by both the State Senate and the Joint Financial Appropriations Committee (JFAC). He reported that the bill to fund a new skilled nursing facility at the State Hospital South in Blackfoot passed the senate. Anderson and VanOrden will both be pushing the bill to pass the House this week.
Bair also commented that House bill 581 was currently under consideration. This proposed law change would remove mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug offenses "where the prescribed minimum sentence is not deemed necessary for the protection of the public."
Greg Austin of the Snake River Fraternal Order of Police expressed his concern over this bill, pointing out that "only a small number of drug offenders in incarceration are non-violent offenders."
Bair reported with regret that the "Marsy's Law" amendment for the Idaho Constitution to improve victims' rights failed in the House.

State Revenues Up

He added that the state's revenues for February were up 36 percent, which was the result of "our economy is really booming." He also warned the audience: "you better be prepared for growth!"
Blackfoot Superintendent of Schools Brian Kress made an appeal to Bair about help for students in the wake of a shooting threat.
"We are not equipped to adequately help our kids on a daily basis," Kress said, referring to last week's shooting scare at Blackfoot High School. "We need to be proactive in addressing the mental stability of our students. Maybe you could use some of that new state revenue to help us help our kids, perhaps by putting psychologists in our schools to make plans and find ways to address the concerns and fears of our students."
Bair was sympathetic and promised to take note of the concern; but he remarked that given the limited time left during this legislative session, no action was likely this year.

Anderson's Report

Anderson updated the progress of the bill for the skilled nursing facility at State Hospital South in Blackfoot. He remarked that it was scheduled to be heard in the House Health and Welfare Committee Thursday morning and that he would be there to testify in its favor.
In response to a question by former Blackfoot Mayor Paul Loomis, Anderson reported that bill 643 had passed the House. Current Idaho law allows for a majority of a district's judges to order any city to “provide suitable and adequate quarters for a magistrate’s division of the district court, including the facilities and equipment necessary to make the space provided functional for its intended use, and shall provide for the staff personnel, supplies, and other expenses of the magistrate’s division.”
Bill 643 provides state funding sources for district courts, phases out city funding of existing district courts over a five year period and prevents judges from any new orders to cities to provide facilities and services. This legislation was put forward in reaction to a lawsuit against Ada County by the City of Meridian over the monetary burden of the current law.

Bill 496 and Harriman State Park

Anderson also remarked that House bill 496 was currently "retained on general orders," meaning that it was open to amendment before going to a vote. This bill proposes to change the way three departments of the state government select their directors, including Parks and Recreation. They are currently picked by independent boards and the new law would change this to appointment by the governor.
The problem is that the change would void the terms of the deed for Harriman State Park, causing the 11,000 acre property to revert to the Harriman family. The deed stipulated that the state would own the property so long as the director of Parks and Recreation was an apolitical position.
Anderson also reported that bill 607 to establish and independent state agency for IT services and cyber-security passed. He also said that bill 464 was dead for the year; this legislation would have provided gap coverage for the 78,000 Idahoans who can't afford medical insurance.
Anderson concluded with the forecast that the new trespass bill would be voted on in the House next week.
Bair added that regarding this proposed law: "The hunters aren't necessarily happy with it but the landowners are."

VanOrden's Report

VanOrden said that bill 1280 had passed the Senate and was now under consideration in the House Education Committee which she chairs. This proposed law changes the month of school board elections from May to November with the goal of increasing voter turnout.
Also on the agenda for the Education Committee is the funding formula for public schools, to make the anticipated shift from an attendance to an enrollment basis. VanOrden said that new funding formula would come with far fewer strings attached so that school districts would have much greater latitude in how they spend their state moneys.
She said that bill 634 passed the House unanimously on Monday and was sent on to the Senate. This legislation would add to suicide prevention training programs for schools.

Alternative Certification Changes

Van Orden remarked that Bill 1293 passed the Senate and was now under consideration by the Education Committee. This proposed law change would prevent individuals on the alternative certification track from receiving tenure after three years if they had not yet received full certification from the state. The alternative certification program allows an individual up to five years to become fully certified to teach.
Austin inquired about the status of House bill 588, better known as the School Threat legislation. This proposed law broadens the definition of a threat of violence against a school. It also makes the possession of a weapon intended to carry out
such a threat a felony. VanOrden reported that the bill had been referred back to the Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee.

March 15 Legislative Breakfast

Next week's legislative breakfast will be the last one for this year. It will be from 7 to 8 a.m. at the Homestead restaurant in Blackfoot.