It’s a busy week for Idaho lawmakers. Education, budgets, health insurance exchanges – these issues will all come up in the next few days. Betsy Russell writes the Eye on Boise Blog for the Spokesman Review. She’s been covering the Legislature, as she does every year. Samantha Wright caught up with her Monday afternoon after the Senate rejected Governor Butch Otter’s candidate for the Idaho Fish and Game Commission. We sat in an empty committee room to talk about the week ahead, starting with the Senate Education Committee.
“There are so many bills on the agenda for the Senate Education Committee this afternoon, I believe there are eleven new bills being introduced there,” says Russell. “The reason for this is partly because there’s a deadline to introduce new bills in non-privileged committees, but also because the seven very controversial bills that were introduced earlier by the School Boards Association to bring back pieces of Proposition 1, having to do with teachers contracts and teacher collective bargaining rights, have been basically withdrawn and are being re-written and new versions are being proposed now. Some of those are coming out today in Senate Ed, some are scheduled to come out tomorrow in the House Education Committee.”
Q. It’s the 36th day in the Legislature, isn’t time running out for bills to get introduced?
A. Boy are they (bills) flying. We’ve seen so many bills introduced, just in the last few days and the dust will have to settle until we see what those are all. When they come in clumps like that, they get less attention as to what’s in them and it won’t be until later when they come up for hearings that we find out what the implications of them really are.
Q. Has anything surprised you so far this session?
A. This is the first time I have seen the Senate reject a Governor’s nomination. In fact, I just came from very dramatic and passionate debate in the Senate, which went on for two hours, ran through the lunch hour, and ran through the time that had been set aside for the Lincoln Day Ceremony, that’s now been put off until Wednesday in the Senate. This was the Governor’s nomination of Joan Hurlock to be on the Idaho Fish and Game Commission.
She is only the second woman ever to serve on that commission. The opposition was centered around a contention that she was not qualified because she was not an avid enough hunter and fisher. The debate went around well, a Fish and Game Commissioner has to be someone who hunts and fishes all the time, or maybe not, maybe there’s something else that’s involved. There were certainly some people concerned that sexism played a role in this. It was a close vote, 19-16, and the Senate has rejected that nomination.
Q. What’s coming up this week to watch?
A. There’s a ton coming up this week to watch. The way that legislation moves around here, it goes in stages. For example, we had big hearings on the health insurance exchange, one of the biggest issues this session, that will arrive in the full Senate probably this week. We will see a big debate and vote there which will then clear it, if it passes, to move to the House, which may be a tougher test for that legislation. We’re going to see all the education bills. We’re going to see the chairs of all the germane committees begin coming before JFAC [the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee] and giving their recommendations on what they’re committees think should be done on budgets. Budget setting is not that far away, so that starts I believe on Thursday and is another key step forward in the process of this legislative session.
Q. JFAC, the budget committee, aren’t they very busy this time of year?
A. Oh yeah, they’ve been holding hearings on every agency’s budget and they’re still working through those. Just this morning they heard the Department of Transportation, which doesn’t get General Funds so a little bit different debate there, but some big concerns about future funding and what’s going to happen with federal funds. Once they finish working through all the budget hearings, it time to make the decisions, they’re going to decide what the state’s going to spend next year.
Q. Say it’s Friday and you’re looking back on the week that was, what would you say where the highlights?
A. Around here it’s kind of difficult to keep things in perspective that way because here we are on Monday and what we just saw in the Senate was historic, the rejection of a Governor’s nomination. It’s kind of hard to imagine something being bigger news than that later this week, but the Legislature always tops it and I wouldn’t be at all surprised is something even more remarkable were to happen.
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