Idaho lawmakers have been in session for nearly three months and there's still a lot to get done before legislators can go home. The Governor’s health insurance exchange survived a vote in the Senate. Now the House will consider the state-based exchange this week. There are also several education and gun bills that are working their way through the legislative process.
Betsy Russell covers the statehouse for the Spokesman Review's Eye on Boise blog and she predicts lawmakers won't be wrapped up until early April. Russell says these bills, along with an attempt to repeal the business personal property tax, could be on the docket this week:
“We still have not seen a bill introduced. The draft bill that the Governor released about a week and a half ago has been circulating and has gotten some pretty negative reaction from a lot of quarters. On Friday, a new analysis from Mike Ferguson, the former long-time chief state economist, who looked at how it impacted various local governments and school districts, if that bill were to take effect,” says Russell. “He concluded that it would have a devastating impact on school districts, because the replacement funding under that bill for local government is in perpetuity but for school districts, it lasts only as long as their voter-approved levies are in place and those only last for one or two years.”
“So as soon as those expire, there would no longer be any replacement funding for school districts. That was just one of several items he identified in the bill that could have a particularly harsh impact on school funding in the state of Idaho. Of course, we had listening sessions earlier this legislative session, at which superintendents from school districts and school board members came in from all around the state and said that school districts are currently facing a funding crisis in Idaho.”
Q. A lot of cities, municipalities, they don’t like the idea either?
A. They’re very worried. Certainly, a lot of talks are going on. It’s all been in back rooms thus far. Perhaps this is the week that some of it will emerge into the public with introduction of a bill, or perhaps not, perhaps it’s just not right.
Q. Committees are very busy, what’s hot this week in the Idaho Legislature?
A. Among the things that we’re seeing come out are a lot of gun bills, and of course, a lot of education bills. One week from today the Joint Finance Appropriations Committee (JFAC) is scheduled to set the school budget and there are a ton of bills circulating that have impact on the school budget, including making some changes that are related to reviving some of the measure that were in Propositions 1, 2, and 3, particularly Proposition 1, that were voted down.
We may see hearings on some of those bills this week. There’s quite a bit of talk about a new charter school funding bill that has been introduced and which would also have a big impact on the school budget. It would actually divert a portion of the public school budget right off the top to pay for buildings for charter schools. What regular school districts do is they ask local voters to increase their own property taxes to pay for buildings, so this would be a funding mechanism. Right now, charter schools have no funding mechanism for buildings.
Q. Do we have to get those bills wrapped up before JFAC, the budget committee, can figure out how much to spend on schools?
A. Not necessarily. They could go back and pass trailer bills and adjust what they’ve already set. But it does seem to make some sense that in setting the budget for the schools next year, they’d want to have some direction overall on where they’re going, rather than perhaps setting a direction and then changing it piecemeal in dozens of different ways that that various bills would require, but that’s kind of what we’re looking at this year.
Q. What gun rights bills are in play?
A. There are a plethora of them. There are several more being introduced just this morning in the House State Affairs Committee. These are all pretty much gun rights bills. These are not bills to restrict gun rights, they are bills aimed at protecting gun by doing things like saying no matter what federal laws says, no Idaho law enforcement officer can take away somebody’s gun, things like that.
We’re going to see quite a few of those come out and have their committee hearings and emerge out on the floor for debate. I would protect strong support for gun rights in the state of Idaho, that’s been clearly demonstrated already by our legislature.
Q. Some of those would have little effect in the big grand scheme of things, because if the federal government did do something, Idaho really can’t say no, right?
A. It’s unclear exactly what some of these bills would do. Many of them are more designed I think perhaps to send a message, to make a statement, but they could have unintended consequences and some questions are being raised about some of them.
Q. What else is hot this week?
A. The state exchange is still a very, very hot issue, the state health insurance exchange. After that dramatic debate in the Senate last week, the ball has been kicked across to the House. Today there was supposed to be a hearing on the Freshmen bill to make modifications to that legislation from the Governor, to require more legislative oversight, but that’s been put off and it’s up in the air as to whether the House will choose to combine the Freshmen bill with the Governor’s legislation, let them go forward separately, consider other changes, and we’re all kind of waiting to hear and we should get news on that this week.
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