The Idaho Legislature held its first session in 1890. At that time the legislature was composed of 18 senators and 36 representatives. The state constitution was amended so each county had at least one Senator and one Representative. Currently reapportionment that occurs every 10 years determines the size of the Idaho Legislature. Until 1968 the Legislature was only in session every two years. In 1968 the Legislature shifted to annual sessions to meet more frequently to pass needed legislation and to prepare budgets that more closely suited the changing needs of state agencies.
According to Idaho state law, each legislative session is to begin on the Monday closest to the ninth of January, and to continue for 60 to 90 days, however much deemed necessary, until late March or early April. The Governor may call a special legislative session, but they are uncommon, and rarely exceed a few days in length. According to tradition, Republican House members sit to the right of the podium facing the front and Democrats sit to the left. In the Senate the majority party sits to the left and the minority party members sit to the right.
The most senior legislators are given first choice of seats on their party’s designated side. Another unique tradition of the Idaho Legislature is that of the black cloth crow. If the House defeats a bill by an overwhelming margin the legislative sponsor is awarded the crow as a symbol of their legislative ineptness. The crow must be tied to the microphone until it can be passed to another unsuccessful legislator. This years session was unexpectedly delayed a week because President Pro Tem Jerry Twiggs died on the opening day, thus creating a absence of leadership.
The Senate elected Robert T. Geddes, a Republican from Soda Springs, as the new President Pro Tem. The confusion because of the uncertain course of action for the legislature to follow resulted in a bill signed into law this session that would put in place a clear procedure for an interim succession if the President Pro Tem dies, resigns, or becomes incapacitated. Governor Dirk Kempthorne kicked off the legislative session with the governor’s annual budget request, followed shortly thereafter by the State of the State address.
Governor Kempthorne began his budget plans with a provision for an increase of $14. illion over last year’s higher education budget. His budget also included $2. 5 million for the Idaho Public Broadcasting System to begin the conversion from analog to digital broadcasting; to meet the new federally mandated technological requirements. Governor Kempthorne’s most daring budget move was his recommendation to set aside $54 million of Idaho’s share of the tobacco lawsuit settlement into a rainy day fund- now called the millennium fund. In his State of the State address he also called for legislation that would ban weapons on school grounds and for the death penalty for cop killers.
The Governor voiced his support for exiting standards, plans to share fiscal responsibility of maintaining schools with school districts, an increase in fish and game license fees, added assistance to PERSI members, and for the parental consent law for teen abortions. Many of the legislation introduced this session is fueled by recent current events. Cassie’s Law passed as an extension of the domestic abuse law to include dating relationships. This legislation was pushed after the death of a 17-year-old Soda Springs girl because the court found no legal grounds to issue a protective order against her boyfriend.
New laws were passed dealing with issues facing Idaho in the area of crime and punishment of those offenses. One new law, allows crime victims one year to sue their offender after they are released from incarceration. This law supports a popular national trend to give rights back to the victim. After the recent shooting death of Idaho police officer Linda Huff, a new law ensures that anyone convicted of killing a cop faces the possibility of the death penalty. Changes in courtroom procedure allow jury trials to be waived if both sides consent.
Another law allows domestic violence orders to be sent through certified mail if the party waives personal service before the court. Other laws dealing with crime issues have passed both Houses during this session and at present only await the Governor’s signature to become law. Some of these include; the addition of sex under duress to the definition of rape, a doubled maximum sentencing penalty for aggravated drunken driving, a requirement for convicted drug traffickers to register with the Department of Law Enforcement, and the elevation of battery against a household member to a felony offense.
Always a hot topic for our legislature, education proved to be a very touchy and pressing subject in the face of the lawsuit brought against the state. Three facilities bills should pass through at the very tail end of the session as a last minute attempt to appease the judge. The solutions include a bill that would allow school districts to extend payment on levees up to 20 years, the Uniform Safety Building Code, and a $20 million low interest revolving loan, afforded to school districts to fix unsafe buildings.
Another bill sent to the Governor creates the Idaho Promise Scholarship awards for up to 5,000 eligible students for a maximum of $1,000 per year for two years, which was created to encourage top Idaho students to stay in the state and attend Idaho schools. In an unprecedented move, the Superintendent of Public schools, Marilyn Howard, has been given sole discretion of $873 million of general tax support for education. As the issue of school safety is a growing concern for the entire country, a bill to make it unlawful to possess a firearm or other deadly or dangerous weapon on school property awaits the Governor’s signature.
Tax cuts have been a major issue during this session because of the budget surplus. The tax cut originally proposed in the House called for a $41 million tax cut but the Senate defeated it. The Senate then sent it’s own package of $29 million in cuts to the House who subsequently passed it to the Governor. Another bill sent to the Governor readjusts the formula for splitting tax proceeds because the old formula dates back to 1965.
An issue that became very controversial was the state’s settlement with the American Trucking Associations. For eight years Idaho charged out of state truckers higher mileage rates than in-state truckers. The courts found this to be unconstitutional so Idaho has agreed to pay $27 million to settle the suit instead of risking an even costlier battle in court. At first the proposed solution to find the funds to cover the suit involved charging truckers increased rates but this drew a lot of angry responses.
The bill currently headed through the legislature will take $17 million from the rainy day fund and $10 million from the pollution fund. Another transportation bill passed by the legislature creates supervised driving permits beyond regular training programs for young drivers. This bill aims to increase safety on the roads and to ensure the training of young drivers is more extensive. A new law passed will re-evaluate the way forest lands are valued and give immediate tax relief to timber owner’s despite claims that this will threaten funding for schools.
The legislature also endorsed a bill to take the authority over endangered species from the Fish and Game Department and place it with the governor’s office. Other legislation approved fee hikes for fishing and hunting licenses and $4. 4 million budget increase for the Fish and Game Department. Lawmaker’s also approved a measure to elevate the Division of Environmental Quality department status. Governor Kempthorne began the session strongly supporting legislation that would require parental consent for a minor to have an abortion.
The Christian Coalition, Idaho Family Forum, and anti-abortion activists backed the bill. The bill passed both Houses and was signed into law despite misgivings about the actual target of the bill and safety concerns for the few girls that would be affected by the bill. Another law passed that is drawing harsh criticism is the so-called freedom of religion bill. The bill requires proof that a compelling government interest exists before any laws are enacted that would substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion.
The legislature has passed a bill to Governor Kempthorne to have all public school students recite the pledge of allegiance daily. There is a provision that will allow students not to participate if they object to it. In an attempt to not appear hypocritical, the House has adopted a measure that requires legislators to also recite the pledge of allegiance daily. With a strong backing from Attorney General Al Lance, a few new laws will help to protect consumers. One such bill requires callers for a persuasive poll to clearly identify themselves.
Another bill headed to the governor’s desk would create a registry of people in the state who do not want to be contacted by telephone solicitors and then hold companies that use these techniques accountable for unwanted calls. On the electronic mail front, anyone sending unsolicited email messages with out a return address becomes illegal. The Attorney General’s office would enforce the law. Lastly, a new law passed this session prohibits the release of personal information from motor vehicle registration and drivers licensing with out that persons written consent.
A few key decisions regarding PERSI, or state employment retirement, were made this session. New legislation will back the retirement plan against poor economic times and increase the pay by 4. 3%. Another bill amended existing law to authorize the PERSI board to establish and administer the unused sick leave pool for voluntary employee participation. PERSI members now may also purchase up to 48 months membership service. JFAC went along with most of Governor Kempthorne’s budget plans.
The legislature had to appropriate $3. 6 million to Idaho Public Broadcasting System instead of the $2. illion governor Kempthorne included because it needed $2 million alone to even notify the Corporation for Public Broadcasting that it is committed to converting to digital transmission. The legislature did set aside some of the money in the millennium fund but not the full $54 million. Some went to cover the trucking industry lawsuit and a little went to public schools. His call for legislation that would ban weapons on school grounds and harsher penalties for cop killers was answered with two bills that passed through and he signed them in as law.
Exiting standards did pass through but the Joint Finance Committee has been holding out the necessary funding so they will not be in effect very soon. To sidestep the lawsuit a few plans passed to share the fiscal responsibility of maintaining schools with school districts and ease any state burden with a negative ruling. Fish and game license fees were increased as he wished to cover extra funding for that agency. PERSI members received additional benefits and protections and the parental consent law for teen abortions passed by his desk and he was able to sign his bill into law.