Sunday, January 27, 2013

Week 3 at the Capitol

roylaceyIn most of the committees we are just finishing up rules reviews. If we would stop passing so much legislation this process would be much shorter and we could get to business sooner. However, with every law passed the affected agency must write or change rules to comply with the new legislation. I guess this is the “business of government.”

We have had an interesting week in JFAC as it was Education Week. We have heard from all the Universities, Colleges and from Superintendent of Public Instruction on the K-12 outlooks. I have been amazed about some of the differences in the presentations as the President’s focus on the strong points of the institution. President Vailas did a remarkable job of projecting ISU into the future with emphasis on Community and the Students. Some of the programs and steps being instituted will insure the success of our University into the future. Contrast this with some of the others who seem to dismiss the concept of helping the struggling student, cooperating with high schools and generally are just focused on this year.

The K-12 issue is not clear as with the defeat of the Propositions a new budget was prepared in just 30 or so days. This budget will require quite a lot of review before it can be approved. It is interesting that a figure of $33M is being set aside for whatever the task force would deem necessary in 2014, even though this budget will be in effect on July 1, 2013. Also, even though the media and others are saying that the Superintendent is increasing the budget by 3% and the Governor’s recommendation is an increase of 2%, in all actuality, when the $33M is pulled out the budgets are even and 1% lower that the monies allocated last year – which were not nearly enough to insure a quality education for our children.

The other K-12 issue is the $30M or so that was designated for laptops which must be reallocated. There are some options such as do nothing and put it in rainy day type accounts for use later, reallocate it to the schools this year and, of course, just give it to the general fund. The mood in the Capitol is to give it to the schools for use this year. There are several ideas being discussed, but many of us are attempting to have as much as possible be given to our K-12 schools as discretionary funds. Many schools made difficult decisions and restructured according to the law prior to the defeat of the Propositions and now must adjust their budgets, so discretionary funds are necessary.

Now the good news --- on Thursday the legislation being proposed by Representative Donna Pence and I regarding a proposal to increase jobs in the agriculture area passed the print hearing unanimously. It will now be printed, given a bill number and we will present it again, hopefully as soon as next week. Last year we proposed a similar bill and while it passed the House was introduced to the Senate late in the session and was never heard. We are taking no chances this year and have presented the bill early. We have great support from both sides of the aisle and the prospects are good for passage. This bill could be impetus for the creation of many jobs.

There are some other ideas floating around but most have not gained too much traction yet for this session, but some of them are as follows:

  • Ban cell phone use in vehicles for those under 18 years of age.
  • Pay Day Loan restrictions (no more than 36% interest).
  • Law to make it more difficult to put referendums on the ballot – this law would have made it almost impossible to have had the Propositions voted on by the people.
Give me some feedback on these – how do you feel?

I thank each of you for allowing me the opportunity to be part of the Idaho Legislature. I take this responsibility seriously and enjoy hearing from the folks in Bannock County. Please contact me with any suggestions, ideas or even complaints via email at rlacey@senate.idaho.gov or call (208) 332-1406.

Written by Representative Roy Lacey.

Friday, January 25, 2013

January Legislative Forum

carolyn meline

elainesmith

roylacey

District No. 29 Legislators Elaine Smith, Roy Lacey, and Carolyn Meline in conjunction with the Bannock County Democrats will be hosting a Legislative Forum to give Bannock County residents an update on what is happening in the Idaho Legislature.

The public meeting will be held at Pocatello City Hall, located at 911 N. 7th Ave. on January 26th, at 10am.

They will discuss the ongoing 2013 Legislative Session and answer questions from the public. They look forward to meeting and talking with Bannock County residents.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Week 3 (January 21-25) at the Legislature

elainesmithIt has been another busy week with more Rules discussions, presentations, and print hearings on what sponsors hope will be future House bills. In Environment, Energy, & Technology Committee we had 6 presentations pertaining to broadband in Idaho on the subjects of LinkIDAHO, libraries, health care, business, education, and public safety.

JLOC report, “Strengthening Contract Management in Idaho”, was reviewed Monday. Agencies are not necessarily properly trained and more monitoring is needed. It was determined that more training for state agencies is the best way for Idaho to improve its contracting process. The next JLOC report will be on State Employee Compensation and Turnover on January 30th.

This week in Senate State Affairs legislation was printed making it harder to collect enough signatures to qualify to get an initiative or referendum on the ballot. This bill would require signatures of 6% of registered voters in 22 of Idaho’s legislative districts. There are 35 legislative districts. I believe this is reaction to the Prop 1, 2, and 3 which were on the 2012 ballot. To give your input, go to the legislative website, www.legislature.idaho.gov, for a list of committee members to contact on this and any other issues.

February 1st will be a joint public hearing of the House and Senate Education committees on policy issues. Committee hearings, daily floor sessions, and joint committee meetings are audio/video streamlined on the internet at www.idahoptv.org.

This has been the week of universities at the Capitol, Idaho State University, University of Idaho, and Boise State University. Education Week in JFAC is where the university presidents made presentations on the needs of each university. The Governor’s budget recommended funding for the Treasure Valley Anatomy and Physiology Laboratory at Idaho State University in Meridian and updating the Anatomy Lab at ISU. The Bannock County legislators did meet with Dr. Vailas one evening and also with ISU Alumni and friends another evening.

There were Dept. of Insurance meetings this week and last week for legislators to receive information about the difference in state and federal insurance exchanges. Also, the Governor has sent information to each legislator about myths and facts on state health insurance exchange. Currently Nevada and Oregon are testing their systems for a state health insurance exchange. It would be possible for Idaho to piggyback with the State of Nevada which would be less costly for us on a state exchange system. I have found several citizens who believe if Idaho would not support any type of exchange then the Affordable Health Care Act would go away, which is inaccurate. The current law states each state will have a health insurance exchange. It is up to each state to determine what the exchange will look like and this is a very hot topic in the Legislature.

There is now legislation proposed to create a standing House Ethics Committee with three members elected by the Majority Caucus and two members elected by the Minority Caucus to serve for two years. The Speaker of the House would appoint a Chair from those elected. This bill will be heard in House Judiciary and Rules committee; Representative Carolyn Meline is a member of this committee.

The way to contact me is by e-mail at esmith@house.idaho.gov, the website www.legislature.idaho.gov, toll free number is 1-800-626-0471, my office number is 208-332-1031 or my home number is 237-1462.

Written by Representative Elaine Smith.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Presidential Inaugural Blue & White Ball

Inaugural BallPocatello, Idaho — Prepare to trip the light fantastic at the 2013 Inaugural Ball: A Blue & White Celebration. The Inaugural Ball will be held on Monday, January 21st (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday) at the Stephens Performing Arts Center at Idaho State University in Pocatello, hosted by the Bannock County Democrats and ISU College Democrats. This is a community celebration of the second inauguration of President Barack Obama and Vice-President Joseph Biden.

Program, emceed by Dr. James "Byrd" Yizar, featuring former Idaho legislators Diane Bilyeu and James Ruchti.

Enjoy light hors d'oeuvres and dancing to live music from the band Blind Autumn.

Tickets are $10 for students, $15 for individuals and $25 for families. Cash or checks accepted. Semi-formal dress is requested.

Plan to attend and enjoy a great evening with fellow patriotic Bannock County Democrats and dance the night away.

For more information or buy tickets, call 234-8908 or go to www.bannockdemocrats.org.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Week 2 (January 14-18) at the Legislature

elainesmithDistrict 29 legislators will be holding a town hall meeting on Saturday, January 26, at 10 a.m. at Pocatello City Hall Council Chamber. The three legislators are looking forward to hearing about your opinions.

Twenty six bills in the House have been printed so far, so you can go to www.legislature.idaho.gov on the internet to see the topics of the bills and which committees where they will be discussed. When you go to the website you can see which bills are starting in the House or in the Senate. Also, you can communicate with any of the 105 legislators.

Here is an update on some agency rules that affect some state property. In the House State Affairs sub-committee, I made the motion that we refer the Dept. of Administration rules to the entire committee for a public hearing because of First Amendment concerns, with the motion passing. The Senate State Affairs committee rejected certain sections of the rules because of freedom of speech concerns for the State Capitol grounds and surrounding areas. These rules were brought forth because of legislation passed in 2012 due to camping by Occupy Boise.

Tax 101 class by the State Tax Commission was held on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons for all legislators. The first day we received information on the Tax Commission overview, multistate, product and fuel taxes, and property taxes. The next day income tax, sales tax and the issues on streamlined sales tax were discussed. Twenty four states have adopted streamlined sales tax agreements, but Idaho is not one of those states. We were informed that 1400 retailers have voluntarily collected over $700 million in sales tax for those 24 states. It is estimated that Idaho in 2012 lost $51.5 million. Since personal property tax elimination is one of the major issues of this session, I appreciated the detailed information from our state tax commission.

The Ag All Star dinner for 2012 legislators was held at the beginning of the week. There were only 4 Democrats of 64 honorees, but Senator Lacey and I were part of this group with our votes on agricultural issues in the 2012 session. The Legislative Sportsmen Caucus held a chili feed for all legislators with the Fish & Game Commissioners and the Department staff before the Commissioners held a public hearing. Of course, Randy Budge, Southeast Idaho Commissioner, was present.

PNWER (Pacific Northwest Economic Region) Day in Boise occurred this week. I am the official Democrat delegate from the Idaho House of Representatives to these meetings. This organization comprises of 5 Pacific Northwest states and three Canadian provinces and 2 territories as members. Last summer I went to Saskatchewan and will be attending the annual conference in Alaska for state legislators, other government officials, and businesses. Some of the issues at the conference are on transportation, cross-border security, invasive species, energy, agriculture, and health care.

During the first two to three weeks of the legislature, legislators review rules of the state agencies and state boards. I will be hearing the rules of DEQ, Dept. of Administration, Homeland Security, Board of Accountancy, Dept. of Finance, and the Bureau of Occupational Licenses.

SEICAA representatives were in town this week for the Community Action Partnerships meetings with Julia Campbell receiving recognition. Captain Rick Capell from the Pocatello Police Dept. and Idaho State Planning Council on Mental Health and Dr. Linda Hatzenbuehler, also on the State Mental Health Council, participated in the annual state Mental Health awards to individuals.

The way to contact me is by e-mail at esmith@house.idaho.gov, the website www.legislature.idaho.gov, toll free number is 1-800-626-0471, my office number is 208-332-1031 or my home number is 237-1462.

Written by Representative Elaine Smith.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Week 2 at the Capitol

roylaceyThings are buzzing in the Capitol as we are ending the second week of the session. There is much talk about school funding, insurance exchanges and business personal property tax repeal to go along with the dreaded rules review process that occurs at the beginning of each session.

Attention to gun violence has risen, especially since the tragedy at Sandy Hook. An announcement was made on the federal level regarding some possible changes and restrictions. Although Idahoans respect guns and value gun rights, any state legislation at this time would be based on fear rather than fact and may not serve Idaho well. Whenever fear is a component in bill making, logical thinking and analysis of long term consequences may disappear. Several of the fear generated solutions could conflict with the constitutional test and may potentially end up costing the state a lot of money to defend, only to lose. The prudent course at this time would be to determine what the US Congress does and make our decisions accordingly.

Another elephant in the room is the $30.6M (or possibly more depending upon which report you see) that was set aside in the budget for school technology as part of the propositions. Now that the propositions were defeated, this money cannot be spent until the appropriation is changed. While the Joint Appropriations and Finance Committee will undoubtedly make the final decision, it is my understanding that the proposals considered will be coming from the Education committees of the House and Senate. Visits with these groups and others seem to indicate that schools will be made whole, or still receive the funds. Support seems to be there to accomplish this. At question is the amount of money that would be allowed as discretionary funds. This decision should be made soon.

In our JFAC hearings this week, the Health and Welfare divisions gave their testimony and presented their budgets. Most are without major expansion and in line with the Governor's budget presented the first day of the session. Thus far no efforts to reinstate any of the cuts that this body (legislature) made in 2011 have been approached, especially in the mental health area. Other states and even our federal government are considering some changes to increase the treatment of this problem. In Idaho, we are contemplating the building of a new wing to our prison to house mentally ill inmates away from the general prison population. While this may address the problem at the tail end of the spectrum, a very small amount of money put into the front end with monitoring and counseling to proactively help the mentally ill would seem to be the better investment – especially when much of this expense could be covered by the federal government, not the state.

Along these lines, the CAT fund that is administered by counties to take care of the indigent population (people without insurance) has seen a dramatic increase in claims, generally attributed to more mental health issues. Increases in recent years amount to these figures, growing year to year: 4,300 in 2010, 4,500 in 2011 and 6,400 in 2012. Our counties cannot continue to pay for this tremendous increase. There is a solution and that is the expansion of Medicaid to include the optional coverage. The initial savings to the state has been estimated to be approximately $60M. This option would then reduce the need to use the CAT fund and should result in substantial savings to the tax base that our homeowners are now paying. The bottom line is that mental health is a growing problem and at some point we need to address the situation and provide solutions.

Lastly, there are several thoughts regarding the establishment of the insurance exchange which must be implemented by January 1, 2014.The Governor has made a wise recommendation that a non-profit entity be established to run an Idaho designed exchange. An exchange developed specifically for Idaho will consider the best interests of our citizens and make this exchange unique and inclusive. However, there is a segment, albeit small, that is encourages inaction. This is similar to our attempts to nullify everything in 2011. However, this is now the law. It is good for Idaho to design its own exchange and an Idaho based non-profit will undoubtedly be the best method to implement this process. While most businesses, individuals and even legislators are in favor, this small faction is very powerful and very noisy. We can only hope that no undue pressure will be placed upon some to derail this process.

Our first Town Hall meeting is scheduled in the City of Pocatello Council Room on January 26 at 10AM. The meeting is open for anyone to attend. With me will be Representatives Smith and Meline, and hopefully together we will be able to answer any questions. I am looking forward to seeing you.

I appreciate the trust that each of you have placed in me to represent you in the legislature. Please feel free to contact me at any time regarding issues that may be of concern or maybe just to say hi. You can contact me at rlacey@senate.idaho.gov or 208 332 1406.

Written by Representative Roy Lacey.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

January 2013 Political Soup

Pocatello — On Wednesday, January 16th, the Bannock County Democrats will be holding a Political Soup luncheon. We'll be serving up some yummy soup and bread between 11:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.

This event will be held at our headquarters, located at 355 Yellowstone Ave., across the street from Mama Inez restaurant.

Our speaker will be Pocatello City Councilman Roger Bray. He is the pastor at Central Christian Church. He is also a board member of the Bannock Development Corporation. He will be speaking about the anti-descrimination ordinace that is currently being drafted.

Political Soup is a great way to stay in touch with fellow Democrats in our area, as well as to pass around ideas and suggestions. Entrances are at the front and back of the building, with parking in back (please do not take parking spaces belonging to businesses along adjacent buildings). We look forward to seeing you there! For more information about this event, please contact our organization at chairman@bannockdemocrats.org or call (208) 234-8908.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

First Week of 2013 Legislative session

elainesmithGreetings!

The 2013 legislative session has begun and I look forward to serving District 29. I am honored to represent you in the Idaho House of Representatives. The District 29 legislators will be having a town hall meeting the morning of Saturday, Jan. 26th, at Pocatello City Hall Council Chamber. The time will be announced at a later date.

I have been assigned to the same three committees during this session—State Affairs, Business, and Environment, Energy & Technology. Also, I have been reappointed to JLOC (Joint Legislative Oversight Committee) and the Health Care Task Force.

This week JLOC held a meeting for the evaluation report by the Office of Performance Evaluations on “Workforce Issues Affecting Public School Teachers”. The key considerations in this study were class size is a concern, turnover is not as bad as reported, compensation is a concern, and there is a strong undercurrent of despair among teachers. The most common hard to fill positions are special education, math, and science teachers. The recruitment challenge cited by administrators is teacher compensation. Idaho’s average teacher salary ranks fifth out of seven among our neighboring states. For more information on this report, check the Idaho legislative website.

When listening to the Governor’s speech at the beginning of the week I was pleased to see he had some money to help local governments in transition, if the personal property tax is repealed. I also liked that the Hire One Act will be updated and will have an incentive to employers on hiring veterans. However there is no increase in salary for state workers, while their average age among employees is increasing because younger workers are not being retained by the state.

The Economic Outlook and Revenue Assessment Committee, of which I am a member, met two days in pre-session meetings. We heard from a wide array of businesses and state agencies. On Jan. 10th the committee voted 14 – 4 to support the Governor’s recommendation on revenue forecast because it was reasonable. The estimate by the Governor and the committee median for the rest of FY2013 was 2.7%, while my prediction was 2.9%. The estimate by the Governor for FY2014 was 5.3%, committee median at 3.1%, and mine was 3.6%. The estimate by the Governor for FY2015 was 6.2%, committee median at 3.3%, and mine was 4%. It was interesting to note that the most optimistic on the forecasts were the Democrats and the Governor.

During the first two to three weeks of the legislature, legislators review rules of the state agencies and state boards. I will be hearing the rules of DEQ, Dept. of Administration, Homeland Security, Board of Accountancy, Dept. of Finance, and the Bureau of Occupational Licenses.

Already the first week has brought people from Bannock County to the Legislature. I have met with some parents and staff of Head Start, saw Matt Hunter from the Chamber, Arlen Wittrock from Idaho Economic Advisory Council, former Representative Pete Black, and the news anchors from Channel 8 and Channel 3. Our weekly phone call with the Chamber will begin this coming week.

The Legislature will work on many challenging issues this year that will affect every Idahoan. Healthcare exchange implementation, personal property tax and education reform are just a few of the tough bills where votes will occur. I will be looking forward to your opinion on these issues.

The way to contact me is by e-mail at esmith@house.idaho.gov, the website www.legislature.idaho.gov, toll free number is 1-800-626-0471, my office number is 208-332-1031 or my home number is 237-1462.

Written by Representative Elaine Smith.