Idaho lawmakers didn’t stop for President’s Day Monday. Gun rights, education and state employee paychecks are all issues that will come up this week. Betsy Russell writes the Eye on Boise blog for the Spokesman Review. We caught up with Russell to get her take on how this week will play out at the statehouse. Russell says she's watching the debate over raises for state employees today.
“This afternoon there are two legislators who are asking state employees and other people to come in and just give their comments about state employee pay, working conditions, compensation issues and so on,” says Russell.
“This is something that the Legislature traditionally did every year during its session in order to determine what they call around here CEC, Change in Employee Compensation, which was something they voted on each year and that’s basically raises for state employees. Well, they haven’t held these hearings in recent years and they haven’t been giving raises to state employees.
"So two legislators, Rep. Shirley Ringo (D-Moscow) and Rep. Phylis King (D-Boise), decided to hold this hearing on their own. Rep. Ringo does have legislation in the works. She says that we need to give raises to state employees, whose pay is clearly far below the market levels, according to state-sponsored studies, is the state needs more revenue. But that would mean tax increases, and those are not very popular around here."
Q. Will we see a bill to repeal the personal property tax?
A. There was some draft legislation released by the Governor’s office last week, lots of talks and negotiations and so forth are underway, it’s very unclear as to when, or even if, we’ll see a specific piece of legislation on that, but that’s very much in play right now.
Q. The Legislature’s budget committee, JFAC, also known as the Joint Finance Appropriations Committee, is setting budgets this week. Doesn’t that turn a corner, because lawmakers can’t go home until the budgets are set?
A. That’s right. That’s a process that takes several weeks. It just starts this week on Tuesday, with setting some of the agency budgets. Most of the ones that come up this week are not that controversial, but there are some fairly major budgets in there, including the budget for the Department of Environmental Quality. The issues of state employee pay ties right into that, because before they started setting budgets, JFAC voted on what are the assumptions they’ll have when they build every state budget. Well, one of those assumptions is that there won’t be raises for state employees unless their proposed on a case-by-case basis in the individual budgets.
Q. Will we see any movement on the seven education bills this week?
A. We are starting to see movement on some of those. Those bills are beginning to come up for hearings in committees in one House or another and if they clear the committees they’ll be out to the full chambers and so those bills are definitely on the move.
Q. Aren’t those bills controversial?
A. They certainly are. The House and Senate Education Committees held joint listening sessions, two of them, and one of the three broad themes that emerged from the public testimony was opposition to these very bills, which would revive portions of Proposition 1, having to do with limiting teacher collective bargaining rights. Now these same measures passed the Legislature in 2011, the voters overturned them last year, and legislators feel strongly, many of them, about bringing them back forward.
Q. There are a couple of bills on gun rights coming up, including one this morning?
A. That’s right. We saw one introduced just this morning to create a new class of concealed weapons’ permits, a voluntary program that people could participate in that would require a higher level of training and the sponsors believe this might allow holders of Idaho Concealed Weapons’ Permits who opt for that to carry their weapons in others states and perhaps to persuade school districts to allow people with that type of certification to carry guns on school campuses. These are among the first of what we’re expecting to be a slew of gun rights bills, designed to protect gun rights in the face of national proposals.
Q. From the Obama Administration after the Sandy Hook murders?
Q. What’s going on this week that will interest or affect the lives of Idahoans, who don’t watch the Legislature every day?
A. On Wednesday morning, there’s going to be a public hearing in the Capitol Auditorium at 8:00 a.m. Both of these are from Sen. Chuck Winder (R-Boise). One of them states the strong policy of the Idaho Legislature that marijuana shall never be legalized in Idaho for any purpose.
The other is a non-binding memorial to Congress and the U.S. Department of Justice saying that the Idaho Legislature feels that federal drug laws, with regard to marijuana, should be enforced in all states, including those states that have opted to legalize marijuana. So it’s actually asking the feds to come into other states and enforce federal laws against the wishes of those states’ voters. This is a very controversial proposal and we’re expecting quite a hearing in the auditorium, the public is invited to speak.
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