Friday, February 28, 2014

2014: Week 8 at the Capitol

roylacey
We just think things are moving fast and furious and then we get into a floor debate and progress comes to a mere crawl.   However, we do make progress every day and the budgeting process is right on schedule for a March 21 ending date for 2014.

Just yesterday we passed legislation designating March 4, (the date the Idaho Territory was established) as IDAHO DAY.    This day will be featured each year to remember our heritage as Idahoans and we do have quite an interesting history as was evidenced in the Senate floor discussion.

Through some extremely hard work by a young lady, Idaho now has a State amphibian which is the Idaho Giant Salamander.   The story behind this legislation is one of tenacity and passion.  As I did not know about this amphibian, I have included a picture so all can be as informed as me.
                                                               
STATE AMPHIBIAN


While I reported that the Governor had ordered an investigation into the private prison issue, we have since learned that (1) only one Idaho State Police investigator was assigned and (2) that the agreement for the $1 million settlement may have absolved CCA from all responsibility.  Two of our Democratic Representatives have requested that the FBI begin an investigation. I will give more information on this at another time.

Some other new reports on a” recycled” item: The courts have given Syringa Wireless permission to continue their lawsuit against the State regarding the improper awarding of the school WIFI contract. The Supreme Court has said, “All contracts made in violation of Idaho Code… are void, and any money advanced… must be repaid.” If monies must be repaid, the total bill for services could be in the $27 million range.

We have had a wide variety of demonstrations almost every day this week. There have been several LBGTQ events, a religious event, and a well-attended “no guns on campus” demonstration. Most of these have been peaceable and respectful.

The “guns on campus” legislation is being heard in the House today and kudos to the Chairman of the State Affairs Committee for allowing all testimony to be heard, (even taking a break for lunch and returning to hear from the last 19 people who had signed up to give testimony). While this measure passed the Senate quite easily, more information has come forward since then that will hopefully affect the outcome on the House side. So far the testimony has been overwhelmingly against this measure.

I will be ending on a sad note. I heard today that our friend Millie Flandro has passed after a very long illness. Also, it continues to break my heart to learn that our young people are being bullied into making some very devastating decisions resulting in the recent loss of two Pocatello teenagers. I was also greatly saddened to hear about the tragedy in the Parrish family. I wish to express my sincere condolences to these families.

As we still have 4 or 5 weeks left, please continue to contact me with any ideas, suggestions or comments – rlacey@senate.idaho.gov or 208 332 1406.

Senator Roy Lacey

Friday, February 21, 2014

2014: Week 7 at the Capitol

roylacey
Week seven at the Capitol has been one of long days as we work hard to finish the work by the target sine die which is March 21.   My unofficial guess is that we will be here until March 28.

The minimum wage bill that was introduced by Senator Michelle Stennett has not been given a committee date and a hearing probably won’t happen.   However, the news media in Idaho has heard about this legislation and it may be one of the most talked about bills of the year. While the raise to $9.75 by 2015 still is below the poverty level there is no traction in the Legislature.

Last week I wrote about the legislation to abolish the CAT fund and have the community health centers treat those without insurance.   This measure did not pass due to too few community health centers and no provisions made to pay hospitals if indigent people received services.   This week another CAT abolishment bill was presented that would take effect in two years to give the legislature that long to figure a method to pay for indigent care.  I am sure the sponsor of the bill would like to see the redesigned Medicaid take affect by then as that is the only reasonable method of handling these expenses.   This measure will be headed to the House for vote soon.

The famed “license to discriminate bills” (HP 426 and 427) have been pulled back into committee and will most probably still be on committee docket and not make it to the Senate before the end of session. 

Governor Otter has finally had enough pressure to change his mind and now is asking for a full investigation into the private prison.   While he said “no thanks” at the start, public perception and pressure has worked and the investigation can go forward.  The same should happen in our investment (State Treasurer) and contracts (Administration/Schools), but one step at a time.

The Justice Reinvestment legislation is finalized and should start moving through the process.   There have been some modification as others, namely the prosecutors, have collaborated to insure the legislation is accepted by all the players.  While the initial investment seems huge (about $33 million) the estimated savings over ten years ($255 million) makes this a great return on investment.

Legislation to fund the Agriculture Education Programs in the High Schools is moving quickly and should pass both the House and the Senate.   After many years of being the victim of reductions these courses have been struggling. One of the interesting outcomes of the Ag Education program is that 63% of the students taking these courses go on to post secondary schools.   Again, a good investment in our children.

Our Idaho Insurance Exchange is exceeding all estimates.   It was reported that 38,000 Idahoans now have insurance through this venue, with an additional 56,000 in the process of applying and securing insurance.  The original estimate was 42,000 in the first year.   Idahoans are able to get insurance at an affordable price.

We had the 5th annual “the government is going to take our guns” legislation (SB 1332).   This legislation passed the Senate unanimously.   How can this happen, you may ask?   After all the reworking of this bill, it has been rendered virtually harmless – this is legislation that has no teeth. 

The trucking industry is proposing that the tax on fuel be increased two cents per year for three years with the money to be used on our roads.   I don’t know how this will fare, but there are other road repair bills out there such as taking two cents of the sales tax (taking away from schools?) and another that would take any sales tax from any increase over a defined base to be used for road repair.  

On Wednesday we had Buy Idaho day and I saw several individuals from Pocatello.   It is so nice to see a familiar, friendly face.   Be sure to stop by if you ever come to Boise --- and don’t forget we will be having a Town Hall meeting in Pocatello at City Hall on Saturday, February 22 at 9:30AM. 

I remain humbled and at the same time proud of the trust that has been placed with me to represent Pocatello and I thank you for this.   Please continue the e-mails letting me know your positions so I can do my best to be a good Senator for Pocatello.   My contact information is rlacey@senate.idaho.gov or 208 332 1406.

Senator Roy Lacey

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

February 2014 Central Committee Meeting

democrat-sign
On Tuesday, February 25th, the Bannock County Democrats will be holding their scheduled monthly meeting of the Bannock County Democrats' Central Committee, beginning at 7:00 PM and ending shortly after 8:00 PM. Precinct Captains are reminded to attend, and all county Democrats are invited to attend and participate.

This event will be held at our headquarters, which are located at 355 Yellowstone Ave., across the street from Mama Inez restaurant. Entrances are at the front and back of the building, with parking in back.

This month's agenda is available online here. The treasurer report for the month of February can be found here.

Attend Central Committee to get updated with what is happening with the party and our plans for the future. We look forward to seeing you there! For more information about this event, please contact our organization via email at chairman@bannockdemocrats.org, find us on Facebook or call us at (208) 234-8908.

Monday, February 17, 2014

February 2014 Town Hall Meeting

carolyn meline elainesmith roylacey District No. 29 Legislators Elaine Smith, Roy Lacey, and Carolyn Meline in conjunction with theBannock 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 February 22nd, at 9:30am.
They will discuss the ongoing 2014 Legislative Session and answer questions from the public. They look forward to meeting and talking with Bannock County residents.

Friday, February 14, 2014

2014: Week 6 at the Capitol

roylacey
We have reached Week 6 for 2014 and many are saying this is the half way point and the downhill run begins now. It seems like we have been on a run for 6 weeks already, but maybe things will start running faster now, if that is possible.

The great news is that we are beginning to set budgets next Monday and in past years it is the budgeting process that delays the sine die. Last year, the education budget held us here an additional week for a small technicality which we are being very careful not to repeat. I was a bit ambitious this year and am working on about 25 budgets, all of which will affect our district. I have met with the analysts and have started on about 10 of them already and have 8 motions ready to go. All I can say is --- so much money but also so many places to go. The budget this year is $2.9 billion and may end up a little more than that.

Medicaid adult dental health is on the fast track. Back in 2010 when it was discontinued the argument was that without maintenance, the cost for emergencies would skyrocket. This was the case and the approval of emergency costs only have exceeded the savings that some anticipated by removing this service from Medicaid. The old adage that if you care for something it will cost less in the long run is true.

While the increase in minimum wage bill was sent to print, it seems stuck in committee and may never be given a hearing. Meantime, Idaho remains at the bottom of the heap for average wage with most people working and trying to make ends meet for $7.25 an hour.

I have found it very interesting that the Idaho Transportation Department has been winning awards for efficiency and innovation – all well deserved – yet we have been underfunding them for years. Congratulations to the Director for making things work, but Idaho needs $262 million a year if our road systems are not to deteriorate beyond reasonable repair. Yet we continue to only spend Federal dollars on our roads which are inadequate for the long term. Money spent right now would be much less than in the future at a rate of $1 not spent now will cost an estimated $14 in the future.

Election year legislation becomes very political. There is a measure that would allow the legislature to hire its own attorney if the Attorney General doesn’t agree with the legislature. Last election year, the majority party set aside $200,000 to hire outside counsel if they disagreed with the Attorney General. The only real problem with these bills is that the Attorney General and staff continue to give wise counsel and have a great track record of being correct.

“Guns on campus”, another election year ploy, is moving through the Senate. The committee chair is also the sponsor of the legislation and as we know well, committee chairs seem to be all powerful. The NRA presented the bill and was allowed 40 minutes to testify with only a few minutes given to each of the long list of people waiting to speak in opposition. Many who wanted to testify were denied the opportunity and the vote was pushed forward even though a bi-partisan group asked for more testimony and a delay. Some of the testifiers had come great distances and those not allowed were the police, universities, colleges and others who would be greatly affected. With this legislation an intended or not intended consequence may be that there would be no jurisdiction of open carry, so those with no training would be allowed to carry guns on campus as long as the guns are not concealed.

There is legislation being proposed to eliminate the CAT fund and provide the services through community health care facilities. We may find some funding problems as the community health care facilities are required to provide services to a percentage of uninsured. If Idaho pays, will this continue to be classified as uninsured? This may result in lost Federal Funding.

Our Attorney General has proposed that investigation be continued into the private prison understaffing, however, the Governor has said “no thanks”. We need to hold CCA accountable and the $1 million received as settlement from CCA may not be adequate for services that were withheld and paid for by Idaho.

The recommendations for State employee compensation increases seem to be accepted by most and we recently had presentations regarding doing the same for our teachers. We have underfunded our schools and teachers for so long, it is now time to step up to the plate and help them with some increases which will hopefully slow down the exodus of good teachers from our State.

I appreciate all the contacts that I have had this week with constituents in Pocatello and ask that you continue to contact me regarding your concerns – sometimes I even have the right answer! My contact information is rlacey@senate.idaho.gov.  Thank you for your trust in allowing me to be your representative in the Senate, I am truly humbled by this responsibility.

Senator Roy Lacey

2014: Legislative Week 6

elainesmith
House bill 396 was brought forth by the Prescription Drug Abuse Workgroup  to state prescribers shall register for online access to the Controlled Substances Prescriptions Database.  Only 32% of Idaho prescribers are registered, so this bill will improve that statistic.  The bill passed in the house with 64 yes and 6 no.  Currently Idaho is fourth in the nation for having the most prescription drug abuses.  There are more deaths by prescription drug abuse than there are deaths in car accidents. 

House Joint Resolution 2 passed the house on a vote of 67 yes with 3 absent.  This resolution proposes an amendment to Article III of the Constitution of the State of Idaho.  If passed by the voters in November 2014, legislative delegation of rulemaking authority over state agencies would be placed in the Constitution.  Idaho is the only state in the nation to oversee state agency rules.

Guns on Campus bill (Senate 1254) passed with a committee vote of 7 yes to 2 no to the full Senate for a vote.  It is really too bad that testimony was cut off, so many individuals who came from big distances in Idaho did not get a chance to give their opinion.  The bill should have been held over for one day to allow more testimony the next day.  Several of the universities and law enforcement were present, but were not allowed to testify.  I expect the bill will pass on the Senate floor.

The Idaho Soil and Water Conservation Districts did a presentation to the House Environment, Energy & Technology Committee about the Pebble Creek Project in Southeast Idaho.  This project was brought forth by the landowners with several different agencies participating to reconstruct two channels, which had been straightened in the 1940s for irrigation purposes, to their original meandering pattern.  This project promotes  a healthy stream, reduce livestock impacts, and creates a healthy fish habitat.  This project preserves natural resources with a larger impact on conservation due to many partners.  Way to go Southeast Idaho!     

The bill to provide necessary support for the implementation of a new technology system for the Idaho Courts was introduced in House State Affairs, but will have a full hearing by the House Judiciary and Rules Committee.  This bill will improve access to the courts and court records,  will  use electronic filing for efficiency, will have electronic storage of records, and will use video conferencing.  This will greatly enhance the court system into the modern age of information and communication.   

On Thursday The Office of Performance Evaluations presented to JLOC (Joint Legislative Oversight Committee) the report on Confinement of Juvenile Offenders.  The office reported that the average daily custody of confined juvenile offenders has decreased with most juvenile offenders remaining in the community and are not confined.  It was found that more than 31% of the department’s appropriation goes to the counties.  I do have a list of all the programs in every county.  There were suggestions give for follow up by the department.  One was to direct state efforts toward prevention and early intervention for at-risk-children and their families.  I agree the state needs to reinvest in prevention and early intervention efforts within Idaho’s schools.  Some ways for these efforts to be achieved would be to reinstate community resource workers, social workers and other support staff to work with at risk children.  Dedicated Safe and Drug Free School dollars and early childhood education could also assist with early intervention.  Head Start in Pocatello always has a waiting list, so it would help to have their federal grant expanded.

Thank you for the opportunity to be District 29 State Representative.  Keep communicating and hope to see you at the next District 29 Town Hall meeting on February 22nd.

Elaine Smith
      

Friday, February 7, 2014

2014: Week Five at the Capitol

roylacey This has been a week of revelations which cause great concern.  Transparency is important; it is my policy to be transparent as the citizens of Idaho need to know what is going on in the “peoples” house.

The concerns began last Friday afternoon in meetings with Department of Administration and Department of Financial Management as they explained the need for a $14.5 million (yes million) bailout needed for the Idaho Education Network.  It appears that a court decision regarding the possible inappropriate awarding of a contract may stop funds from the FCC to the schools for WIFI coverage.   In fact, funding was suspended in March 2013 and nothing was made public until just last week.  We found that payments are made directly to the vendor; the Department of Administration did not maintain records on the payments even though a portion of the funding was being paid by the State.  A more complete description of what is occurring can be found on Senator Dan Schmidt’s blog.  Senator Dan Schmidt from Moscow has researched this subject and the blog has some great information. My question is about accountability and who is responsible.   It appears that no one is accepting responsibility – just asking for $14.5 million to bail out Idaho Education Network (IEN) for the short term and maybe more money will be needed long term. If the contracts were indeed not awarded correctly, the State may be required to pay back all money received.

Next, we see the news that our State Treasurer exceeded his authority and may have cost the State $10.7 million dollars in improper investments and the number could rise to more than double this amount.   All this was covered up by the (inappropriate) transfer to another group of accounts so the (inappropriate) investment wasn’t readily evident.   This information was brought out by an audit by Legislative Services.   At the JFAC presentation, the State Treasurer would not directly answer the questions, saying that hindsight was 20-20, but was not accepting responsibility.   Again, where is the accountability?   Apparently, there is none and there are no consequences as evidenced by his announcement that he will seek a fifth term in office.

Additionally, we have found out that the Commission for Pardons and Parole is almost five years behind in publishing minutes of parole hearings which are public records.   The excuse given was that the minutes must be verbatim and there was no time to review them – after five years, who would even know if they are verbatim?   Once again, accountability.   Last year the report was nearly the same and suggestions were made to fix this problem to no avail.   These positions are appointed by the Governor, so apparently there is no need for accountability.

Please do not think that all State Government agencies lack accountability.  Most are good stewards of the State’s money and resources, but this week we have been faced with reports of failures all at once and, quite frankly, it seems formidable.

In my last newsletter I indicated that the House Health and Welfare Committee had agreed to allow Minority Leader John Rusche to present legislation for the redesign of Medicaid.  The GOP committee members of the House Health and Welfare Committee voted to block consideration of the bill.  Take note, this is the month before the deadline to announce who will be running in the Republican primaries for 2014.  Is this a ploy to get extra votes?

We will have a minimum wage increase bill presented to Senate State Affairs on Monday, February 10.   This legislation is being carried by Senator Michelle Stennett. The GOP has also guaranteed to not print this bill as well. 

The “guns on campus” legislation continues to come up during election year sessions.   It is again being introduced this year (probably as a way for some to get extra votes in election season) despite all eight University and College Presidents having declared that they do not want guns on their campus. 

This week a group of our citizens staged a demonstration to bring attention to “Add the Words”.  It was a peaceful and quiet demonstration for most of the morning.  The demonstrators were, however, blocking the entrances to the Senate chambers.   Prior to the time the session was to begin, several options were offered to the demonstrators, including moving to the gallery to observe the session, which, by the way, would have been a powerful and moving solution.   Instead, the demonstrators, at the encouragement of their leader, chose to be arrested and were moved to another part of the Capitol building.   Then the leader, who is a former Senator, chose to stay on the floor of the Senate, holding the door open.  Idaho Senate rules of decorum allow former Senators to be on the floor. However, lobbying is not allowed on the floor of the Senate and it was voted that she be removed. All news accounts were about the leader – not about the movement and I feel very few hearts were softened with the staging and end results of this demonstration.

There were two pieces of legislation introduced on the House side of the Rotunda which allow discrimination if you have “sincere” religious objections.  Both have been deemed as flawed and possibly unconstitutional by the Attorney General.  Why would some legislators even consider the consequences of unconstitutional laws?   One has been held in committee and the other has been passed to the House of Representatives floor on the amending order.   Maybe both will just be held until the end of the session.   Idaho is already considered the most discriminating State.

So sorry about all the bad news this week, but it has been a tough one – please continue contacting me, stop in to say hi (we had the County officials this week).   Best to everyone this week.

Senator Roy Lacey

Monday, February 3, 2014

Bannock Democrats Welcome A.J. Balukoff

elainesmith
The Bannock County Democrats welcome A.J. Balukoff, the Democratic Party's candidate for Governor of Idaho, to speak to Bannock County residents about his vision for the state of Idaho at their monthly Political Soup luncheon on Wednesday, February 12th.

This event will be held at the Pocatello Labor Temple, which is located at 456 N. Arthur Ave. in Pocatello. Yummy food will be served between 11:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.

A.J. Balukoff holds an accounting degree from Brigham Young University, founded a major accounting firm and a chain of health clubs, and co-owns the Grove Hotel, the Idaho Steelheads hockey team, CenturyLink Arena and downtown Boise office buildings. He also serves on the boards of the Boise Public Library, St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center, the Esther Simplot Performing Arts Academy and Ballet Idaho. More information about the candidate can be found at www.ajforidaho.com.

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. We look forward to seeing you there! For more information about this event, please contact our organization at bannockdemocrats@gmail.com or call (208) 234-8908.