Kootenai County Town Hall

Our Republican Central Committee in Kootenai County sponsors a Town Hall meeting once each month during the legislative session, and invites all 9 of the area legislators.  Our county contains Districts 2, 3 and 4, so there are three Senators and six Representatives included.  Our first Town Hall of the year took place yesterday and the turnout was great!  More people came out to talk and ask questions than in most previous meetings, and the energy and interest were high.

After a short intro from each legislator, as we all sat behind a long table with microphones, the questions began. They were respectful and thoughtful, on topics ranging from urban renewal to state employee pay and benefits, taxes and tax cuts, medicaid vs the new PCAP program, Real ID, state vs federal control of Idaho resources, the Oregon standoff, and much more.

The range of questions shows the challenge for any legislator because we are expected to know about such a diverse mix of issues. At the Town Hall, we let those legislators on the related committees answer the particular question, with any of the rest chiming in as desired. The two hours flew by, with another hour to mingle and chat with individuals.

It was a great chance to understand the concerns of our constituents and was a well- organized event by the central committee.  Thanks to all who attended!

Possible Changes for Urban Renewal

Below you will find the list of ideas Rep. Clow and I have put together.  He is the former mayor of Twin Falls, where they use urban renewal in a far different manner than here in Coeur d’Alene. We both sit on the Legislative Interim Committee to study urban renewal, and these suggestions will be discussed at our next all-day monthly meeting this coming Monday, November 16th, down in Boise.

Our list of proposals started with my compilation of the public comments I received before, during and after the Town Hall meeting on urban renewal here in Coeur d’Alene this past September.  My condensed comments were presented to the committee last month, and Rep. Clow contacted me later to suggest a collaboration.  It’s great for two legislators from very different methods of using urban renewal to hash over ideas making the tool more responsible, transparent, accountable and fair to the community.

Here are our suggestions, we’ll see what the committee thinks next week!  –Mary

 

November 4, 2015

Legislative Interim Committee on Urban Renewal

Re: Proposed Modifications to Urban Renewal Laws

It has been suggested that members of the committee provide suggested talking points for potential changes to the URA Laws. We have heard from the stakeholders at several meetings and it is time that we focus on what we will recommend to the legislature for the 2016 Session.

Senator Souza and I have worked on issues that we believe can be addressed in the following list:

  • Election and, or appointment of URA Board Members:

    • Election of URA – Board Members: Provide an “option”, by local ordinance, for the local sponsoring government to establish elections:

      • Elections would be held in the election cycle of the sponsoring local government.

      • Board Members must live within the sponsoring local government.

      • If a city council member, Mayor or county commissioner wishes to serve on the URA Board they should be allowed to be on the ballot for either the city or county, as well as the URA ballot.

    • Board Members: URA Boards may allow for elected members of the sponsoring local government, however, in no case should the board include a majority of members from any particular elected commission or council. For purposes of a majority, a mayor would be included in the limitation of a majority.

    • Appointments and Terms of URA Board Members: If an URA has an appointed board, the Mayor shall appoint and the council shall confirm all appointments to the URA Board, including vacancies. The URA shall establish a limit on the number of consecutive terms any citizen my serve and the length of such terms. The limits established by local ordinance shall be within the following:

      • One term can be up to 3 years.

      • A maximum of three terms shall be allowed. The appointment to a vacated term shall not count toward the number of terms established as a limit.

    • URA Support Staff and Operating Expenses: Staff, operations and space requirements of the URA may be contracted with the city or county. An elected official may not serve in a paid or contracted position for the URA.

    • Limits on use of TIF: The local sponsoring government may, by ordinance, detail the acceptable uses of tax increment financing within its municipal boundaries, or URA District if it extends beyond the respective city or county limits.

Limits on Revenue Allocation Areas (RAA):

  • URA shall establish a long term map/district for redevelopment, which may be amended by ordinance.

  • URA shall establish a plan for development within the URA District.

  • URA may establish Revenue Allocation Areas, within the URA District, with specific purposes, goals and time limits based upon specific redevelopment or economic development projects.

  • Impacts on Local Governments and overall market values: URA goals should include how the investments within the district and the revenues from the RAA will have short and long term impacts on the local governments whose taxes would be allocated to the RAA.

    • Base Values of RAA: At the establishment on an RAA the all properties will be identified as to their current values and the local taxing jurisdictions shall retain the taxable value for their tax rolls. Each property value shall be identified by the underlying land value and the improvements. The land value shall always be retained as the base for local taxing jurisdictions. If a property is razed as part of a redevelopment project, the value of the original improvements shall be considered part of the underlying land value. The new construction and improvements shall be considered Incremental Value for the RAA.

      • This will provide for the increasing values of the land within the RAA to help support the local government services provided to properties and citizens within the RAA. It also recognizes that a razed building value was included for the value of the land, and not the building. And, that the cost of demolition and remedial environmental cost, which will be included in the incremental value, was considered as a discount to the original base valuation.

    • Revenues Streams directed for local government services: Local government jurisdictions do have increased demands by growth within the RAA and should participate in the growth to generate a stream of revenue to help offset the costs of operating the local governments. Therefore it is proposed that we consider some level of sharing revenues based upon the expected demands on services.

      • Residential Properties: Single Family Residential Properties (which includes 1-4 family units) within an RAA shall have the taxes on the value of their improvements split between the RAA and the local taxing districts. It is suggested that the local taxing districts shall retain 70% of the improvements, plus the value of the land. The RAA would receive 30% of the improvements.

      • Multi-Family Residential Properties: (Residential Properties with greater than 4 family units). It is suggested that the local taxing districts shall retain 50% of the improvements, plus the value of the land. The RAA would receive 50% of the improvements.

      • Mixed Use Residential/Commercial Properties: Properties with four or more residential units and Commercial units. It is suggested that the local taxing districts shall retain 20% of the improvements, plus the value of the land. The RAA would receive 80% of the improvements.

      • Commercial Properties: It is suggested that the local taxing districts shall retain 10% of the improvements, plus the value of the land. The RAA would receive 90% of the improvements.

      • Industrial Property: It is suggested that the local taxing districts shall retain 5% of the improvements, plus the value of the land. The RAA would receive 95% of the improvements.

    • Transparency: Requirements and local policy appears to vary by jurisdiction. Urban Renewal Budgets, meeting schedules and notices, reports, plans and public records should be easily found by a link to the local governing entity, identified as the Urban Renewal Agency.

      • The Secretary of State can accommodate a repository for any records for cities or counties that sponsor an URA, but do not have a website. The state site can simply provide links to the URA websites or actually provide storage for digital access.

      • Annual Reports to the Sponsoring local government must be properly noticed and part of a regular meeting, not a special meeting.

      • Any committee or sub-committee created by the URA governing body shall be governed by the open meeting laws, including the rules that apply to Executive Sessions.

      • Political or quasi-political lobbying may only be done through the sponsoring local government. No tax increment financing shall be used for this purpose.

      • All Urban Renewal Agencies would be required to operate and disclose records as identified under state law, for example The Twin Falls Urban Renewal Agency. This would not eliminate the use of a DBA for marketing purposes. However, all legal records and notices must reflect the official agency name and identifiable as the Urban Renewal Agency.

    • Public Buildings Funded by URA: HB239 addressed this with the text similar to the following. The urban renewal agency shall not use revenue allocation funds to construct municipal buildings. For purposes of this section, a municipal building is a central administrative public safety building, a city hall, a library, a court house or other judicial building.

      • Except where the municipal building can be specifically determined to be necessary to the redevelopment or economic development purposes of the RAA, or as a renovation of an existing municipal building within the RAA. This does not exclude the URA use of RAA funds to provide the infrastructure needs for the public building that would be provided to an otherwise qualified non-municipal property. RAA funds may be used in support of the municipal building that has been placed before the voters for bonding of the local government’s portion of the project; or, built/remodeled with reserved funds of the local government.

    • Oversight: It is the responsibility of the sponsoring local government to monitor, track and address any complaints regarding the URA Board. Unresolved alleged violations of the URA Laws may be appealed to the County Prosecutor or the Attorney General’s office.

    • Penalties: The URA laws should specifically reference the penalties associated with civil and criminal violations found within Idaho Code and any local ordinance. This clarifies that those involved with URA are not exempt from penalties and fines.

 

Respectfully submitted,

Lance W. Clow, Idaho State Representative

Mary Souza, Idaho State Senator

Ignite CDA: Try Honesty and Accountability

Tuesday’s CdA Press headline shouted “Butting heads on branding”, with a photo of LCDC / ignite cda executive director Tony Berns  right next to a picture of me.  It was a bit overly dramatic, in my opinion, but did serve to get people’s attention.

The story stems from LCDC, our urban renewal agency in Coeur d’Alene, and their recent name change to ignite cda.  This public agency, which is funded by property tax dollars, is spending and budgeting a total of $120,000 on this rebranding name change and public relations campaign. (They say it’s not public relations, it’s community outreach.)

As the State Senator from District 4, which is the entirety of Coeur d’Alene, and also as a member of the legislature’s new Interim Committee to study Urban Renewal in Idaho, I remain concerned about this use of public dollars.

Two weeks ago I wrote Tony Berns a letter, asking seven basic questions about the agency’s decision.  The Press called me right away to ask if they could run an article about my letter and I agreed.  You can read that lively piece here.

In the above-mentioned  August 20th article, Tony Berns is quoted, saying he “sent the request to his legal counsel on Wednesday and asked them to craft some answers to the senator’s questions.”

Professionally crafted answers are what we got back, finally, after almost two weeks. I wonder how much those cost? You can find the full version of my letter and ignite cda’s responses by clicking here then also click “Related Documents” on the side.

Tony sent a lot of words.  He, through the efforts of his legal advisors and probably the public relations firm, all of whom are paid with taxpayer dollars, tried to defend the decision by the urban renewal board to spend $120,000 to improve their public image.

It appears that perhaps, despite the expensive defense by the agency’s attorneys and consultants, they are now making some small changes after my questions. Their website has a newly added subtitle under the “ignite cda” logo, which identifies it now as Coeur d’Alene’s urban renewal agency.  And in an advertisement in today’s Press, they explain that the Kroc Center was funded by a $72 million dollar grant from the Kroc family, and that LCDC gave $535,000 (which is less than 1%). They also failed to mention the $4 million dollars provided by the City of CdA .

LCDC takes credit for the Kroc Center and the Library. The Kroc Center did not need LCDC, it would have been built anyway.  It fails the “but for” test, which is this:  But for urban renewal, would the project have been built?  Yes, the Kroc Center would have been built.  Yes, the Library also would have been built without urban renewal—remember, we voted to approve a public bond for the library.

We want the responsible use of the public’s money by this public agency. What we really need from our urban renewal agency in Coeur d’Alene is honesty and accountability.

Here’s my advice: Ditch the new name and logo, cancel the PR contract, return to the original name of Coeur d’Alene Urban Renewal Agency. Get rid of the paid consultants, lobbyists and the overpaid executive director position.  Hire a manager and a clerical assistant and let’s have the board members stand for public election.  We can even pay them a small fee for their time, which would place them under a higher level of the Idaho Ethics law.

And on the legislative interim committee, we will work toward a clear, responsible, updated law with built-in limitations, supervision and accountability.

Here we have Idaho, a state full of good, hard working, responsible, honest people simply looking for their government’s public agencies to be the same.

More Than Meets The Eye

I’m sure you’ve heard the buzz about the Child Support bill that was not passed by the legislature and is the reason we are all going back to Boise again for a Special Session starting on Monday.  I’ve been wondering when and how to tell you that what you’ve been hearing from the media is not the full story; there’s much more to this topic than meets the eye.

I’ve been browsing through yet another round of news and online stories about the Child Support bill, formerly known as S1067 but now called H1, and came across a good example of the slanted agenda promoted by some media outlets. I thought this might be a good time to lay out my concerns.

You know the House Judiciary and Rules committee heard testimony on S1067 on the last day of the regular session, early last month, and they voted 9-8 to hold the bill and not pass it through. The press and blogs have gone wild since then, calling them all kinds of names, including “ignorant”, “idiots” and much more.  They have accused the legislators of hating children, being greedy Republicans and on and on. (An economics professor, school superintendent, lawyer, etc.; these are highly capable and careful people who voted to hold the bill.)

The legislators are not stupid at all, they were acting responsibly. They had serious questions about an important piece of legislation, and, in the final hours of the whole session, right before adjournment for the rest of the year, their questions could not be adequately answered by the Health & Welfare Dept. or others, so a majority of the committee voted to hold the bill.

Only now, after all these weeks of unrelenting ridicule, does a bit of acknowledgement by the media appear.  But it is still presented in a purposefully muted manner.

For example, Betsy Russell’s Eye on Boise blog, for the Spokesman Review, carried some sensational headlines and descriptions when S1067 was first held back. All of these were designed to get readers to open and read the articles. Here are a few of them:
4/13: “Otter ‘concerned’, says State’s ‘child support system at serious risk.”
4/13: “Brouhaha over killed child support bill divides House Republicans”
–Betsy wrote a long description and included several highly controversial quotes.
4/14: “Four lawmakers aired Sharia law concerns before House committee killed child support bill”
–Her description teased the link to a CdA Press column with an excerpt saying the committee “caused reason to fly out the Capitol window.”

This weekend, on Betsy Russell’s Eye on Boise blog, she has a post titled “How we got here on child support legislation”. In her short, plain, one paragraph description she says there’s a new report by Melissa Davlin, who reviewed hundreds of emails exchanged by the House committee members regarding S1067.  But Betsy doesn’t reveal any of the findings. She doesn’t “tease” in the headline or try to compel readers to go to the link she provides. No quotes. No controversy. It’s all very dry. Unless you actually go to the report by Melissa Davlin, who by the way, seems to be the only real reporter willing to do any research these days, you’d know nothing of the interesting facts discovered through the emails.

I wonder why Betsy didn’t herald that Melissa’s report revealed, “Members of leadership said no one from the Department of Health and Welfare or the governor’s office contacted them about the child support bill until around the time of the committee meeting.”
(My Note: It is quite unusual that the administration didn’t offer information, answer questions and didn’t make sure leadership and the committee were comfortable with the bill ahead of time. Yet this same Health and Welfare Department penned a scathing rebuke of the House committee after the bill was held back. One long-time lobbyist told me he’s never seen that happen before.)

Or maybe the sensational media could have reported Melissa’s research shows that only “Hours before the April 10 committee meeting, the state Office of Child Support Enforcement received informal word from the federal government that it had no issue with amendments to different sections of code, as long as UIFSA (treaty) language wasn’t altered.”  (My Note: The committee had previously been told absolutely no wording changes or amendments would be allowed.)

Betsy had several posts on her blog, Friday, discussing travel expenses for the special session. Several lawmakers were highlighted and  quoted, in my opinion grandstanding, to say they wouldn’t ask the state to cover their travel expenses because the legislature “didn’t finish the job”.  But Betsy didn’t highlight that Melissa’s research revealed, “House Speaker Scott Bedke also pointed out that while lawmakers have taken heat for the cost of the special session…it would have been more expensive for them to stay the extra week required to research more options and vet the amendments with stakeholders.”

And, finally, there’s a great deal of interesting information in Melissa Davlin’s report. One key headline could have been that House leadership “Maintains the lawmakers who had concerns did the right thing”.

Please take a few minutes to read Melissa’s report at: http://www.idahoreports.blog.idahoptv

You might also want to listen to the 4 min. radio clip of US Senator Crapo’s thoughts on this bill, where he compliments the 9 who stood their ground when answers were not available.  You can hear it by clicking here.

US Senator Jim Risch told me recently that he won’t give an opinion on the bill but he is glad the legislature is grappling with it because that’s our job.

Now I will make my way to Boise and be ready for the special session on Monday.  I am on the Senate Judiciary & Rules committee, so will be part of the joint public hearing on the child support bill.  Both House and Senate committees will hear public testimony together, then the House committee will deliberate and vote.  If they pass the bill, it will go to the full House for a vote. If successful, the bill will come to our Senate committee for a vote and then, if it passes, the full Senate. Will this whole procedure take only one day as the Governor is predicting?  We’ll see what happens.

You can watch Monday’s action live on your computer by going to http://www.legislature.idaho.gov, then go down the list to “audio and video streaming” and choose the Lincoln Auditorium as the location of the proceeding.

I have been reading and researching a great deal and will listen with an open mind to the testimony we hear Monday. This is a complex issue with serious potential ramifications for children and families. It also involves international law and a multifaceted international treaty, with language to be woven into our state law. None of this should be taken lightly.

Eye on Boise is widely read and valued by many government officials, but it’s emblematic of most media today which highlights stories that fit their agenda and lowlights those which do not. Let’s keep that in mind and remember to always look beyond the headlines.

Have a great Sunday!  –Mary

**********************************
Mary Souza is a long time citizen advocate and current Idaho State Senator from District 4, which is Coeur d’Alene.  Her opinions are her own.  You may email questions or responses to: marysouzacda@gmail.com, or visit her web site: marysouzaforidaho.com to sign up for this newsletter.

End of Session Wrap Up!

April 15, 2015 :  Dear Journal Readers, below is a copy of my formal, end-of-session letter that was sent out last Friday by postal mail to 2000 constituents of all persuasions.  I thought you might like a copy as well.  Please keep checking  on this Journal because I will be posting about the late night Transportation tax bill we had to deal with at 1:00 AM on the last day of the session.  I will also tell you about the currently controversial S1067, which has to do with Federal funding for child support payments in Idaho.  It’s getting a great deal of press with tag lines involving fears about Shari law.  There are many more issues and experiences I will be sharing on this Journal, now that I have some time.  Thanks for your support!  –Mary

Dear Friends,

My first legislative session in Boise as your State Senator from Coeur d’Alene is coming to a close after three full months, and it has been a great honor to represent you. It has also been highly interesting and challenging. Experienced folks here describe a legislator’s first term as “drinking from the fire hose” because of the large amount of information we must learn quickly. Everyone has been wonderfully helpful, respectful and professional. They honestly work very hard, most often for 12 to 14 hours each day. It is not an easy job.

In addition to the daily full Senate sessions, I sit on three committees: Education, Judiciary and Rules, and Agriculture. Each has been a great learning experience. Let me give you a quick run-down:

  1. Education: We have worked closely with the new Superintendent of Public Instruction who has prioritized state and local control of testing, standards, data collection and decision-making. These changes won’t happen overnight, but we are optimistic that we’ll see improvements in the next year or two. We passed the Teacher Career Ladder bill which increases teacher pay, maps out an advancement pathway, and details local accountability options. There are also a number of new supports for at-risk and other students to continue their education after high school for skills certification or college.

The difficult news for education in Idaho is that three major programs, the Idaho Education Network (IEN) digital connection system for schools, the Idaho System for Educational Excellence (ISEE) data collection system, and the School Net information management system, which were put in place during the past several years, have not been successful and have lost a tremendous amount of public money. You can go to the Office of Performance Evaluation (OPE) at http://www.legislature.idaho.gov to read the reports on these failed systems. Investigations are underway and many changes are being made by the new team.

  1. Judiciary and Rules: Two bright spots this year are the Judicial Reinvestment Program to streamline laws and procedures, and the reorganization of the Department of Corrections after the private prison fiasco. Both efforts appear to be going well.

  1. Agriculture: Did you know that Idaho’s dairy industry is the third largest in the nation? Idaho farms have had four consecutive years of record high earnings, hitting almost $10 billion last year. Understanding Agriculture is essential to understanding Idaho, as Agriculture has a very big impact on our economy.

In addition to some committee bills, I have authored or co-authored three special bills. Only one became law this year, but I’ll briefly describe each of them:

  1. Senate Bill 1072, my “sunshine” bill, was just signed into law by the Governor last week. It requires candidates for school board elections to report their campaign donations and expenses.

  2. Senate Bill 1096 is the Parental Rights in Education bill that Sen. Den Hartog and I co-sponsored. It passed the Senate Education Committee and the full Senate but got held by the Chairman of the House Education Committee over concerns about the Smarter-Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test and possible monetary penalties from the federal government if quotas are not met. We will work on it again next year.

  3. My third bill is about Urban Renewal. It simply requires cities to either have the Urban Renewal Board stand for election, or have the city council become the Urban Renewal Board as has been done in at least four Idaho cities. Either way, they become accountable to the voters. The politics of urban renewal are legendary and the bill met a powerful roadblock, but I will keep pursuing it because we need public accountability for these boards that handle many millions of public dollars each year.

Several other bills I have strongly supported are: Denying the use of Eminent Domain for bike trails and path ways, supporting Direct Primary Care, banning dangerous chemical web-cam abortions, adding the citizenship civics test for high school students, and creation of a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education center. I also voted in favor of funding the Behavioral Mental Health Center to be located in our area.

As I write this letter, there is a “Conference Committee” consisting of three people each from the House and Senate. The purpose of this open meeting is to find agreement on a Transportation bill which started in the House, was heavily amended by the Senate and then subsequently rejected by the House. I’m told there hasn’t been a Conference Committee, on any topic, since 2009. The roads and bridges in most of Idaho have not had upgrades for many years, though in North Idaho we have seen some great improvements because of special bonds. I believe it is important that if there are any increases in gas tax and vehicle registration fees, there should be offsetting tax relief for those who are still struggling to recover from the economic downturn.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve you as State Senator. My priorities have been, and will continue to be, increasing transparency in government and its accountability to the people, as well as reducing the size and unwanted intrusion of government into our lives. Please contact me with any questions you may have.

With great appreciation for Idaho,

Senator Mary Souza
District 4, Coeur d’Alene

Parents and Teachers are Important for Kids!

We had a big win yesterday, and now the Parental Rights in Education bill I am co-sponsoring with Sen. Lori Den Hartog is on its way to the House side of the capitol.  It will go to the House Ed Committee and, if it passes, will go on the the full House for a vote and then to the Governor for his signature, if successful.  The Senate side is often viewed as the most difficult, but you never know.

Believe it or not, the Idaho Constitution does not say, anywhere, that parents have rights, or even a role, in the education of their children. Our bill, S1096, puts those words into law.  It says that “A student’s parent or guardian is the primary person responsible for the education of the student, and the state is in a secondary role…”

Codifying these rights has to be done by the legislature because that’s what the Constitution of Idaho says–the legislature must “maintain” the public school system and the State Board of Ed runs it according to the laws set by the legislature.

The rest of our short bill uses very broad language to bring together “school districts and the boards of directors of public charter schools, in consultation with parents, teachers, and administrators” to create a process, if they don’t already have one, for parent participation, how parents can find out what their child is studying so they can follow up at home, and how parents can object or withdraw their child from “any learning material or activity on the basis that it harms the child or impairs the parents’ firmly held beliefs, values or principles”. The broad language is to allow local districts to establish their own policies, or use those that they may have in place already.

So why is this bill needed and what is the opposition to the bill?  First, the need: I wish I had room here to tell you the vivid stories sent by parents–the one whose high school daughter was told she had to read aloud a page that included foul language, and if she didn’t, her grade would be reduced.  She took the lower grade but was very upset.  Or the mom who repeatedly asked to have her child not take a certain test–one that did not count toward a grade–and she even kept the child home on testing day.  When the child returned to school, he was pulled out and forced to take the test without calling his mom.  Or the parent of the gifted child who wanted to sit in the class to observe the teacher for part of a day, but was not allowed because it was “against district policy”.  That policy needs to change!  I could go on and on with the direct stories from parents about their experiences.  I also know there are wonderful stories, schools, districts and teachers.  A great many of them.

Critics of this bill worry that parents will charge into the schools and demand their child be given a special curriculum, designed by the parents.  That will not happen.  The bill does not say the schools will give any special treatment to a student because of the parents’ beliefs or wishes.  It simply says parents should be involved in their child’s education and, if there is something the parent thinks is harmful to their child, they have the right to remove their child from that activity. Parents have rights and are the primary decision makers in their child’s education. It’s a basic concept and will hopefully be in Idaho code soon.

March Madness and Sunshine

The past two weeks have been incredibly busy down here in Boise.  The “transmittal deadline” was Monday, March 9th, and while that’s not a totally firm cutoff point, it is the suggested time to have all bills into the line up so they can get through the Senate and over to the House.  (“transmitted across the rotunda”) Everyone was scrambling.  I’ve been working on three special bills this session, in addition to supporting several  bills being sponsored by other Senators.  Here’s the status of my first bill:

S1072: Sunshine / Campaign finance reporting for school board candidates: This is the bill that passed the Senate Ed. committee a week ago Monday and passed the full Senate yesterday by a vote of 24-11. It was a great learning experience because I thought it would be a simple bill that would sail through without much trouble.  Not true.  It had some resistance from the start from the Idaho School Board Assoc. (ISBA)  They didn’t like the emergency clause, with would have made this effective right away, in time for the upcoming May elections. (Otherwise all new laws go into effect on July 1st )  The ISBA also wanted to exempt small districts with less than 1000 students.  I decided to go forward to committee with the bill unchanged and, even though the ISBA assured me they would not oppose it in its original form, they got up and testified against it.  It still passed committee.  When it came up on the floor of the Senate, there was debate against it from several Senators, especially Sen. Dan Schmidt, (D) Moscow.  I decided to amend the bill and remove the emergency clause and exempt districts with less than 500 students, which removes the requirement from 45 out of our 115 districts.  Dan wanted all districts with less than 10,000 students to be exempt, which would leave only 7 districts disclosing. The amendments come up as a separate vote on the floor of the Senate.  Dan Schmidt was the only one to debate against them (typically amendments don’t have people speaking against)  He was also the only one to debate against the full bill when it was up for a final vote yesterday, but it passed with a 24-11 bipartisan vote, having several Democrats, especially those from Boise, in support.  Sen. Schmidt told me the reporting forms are “hard”, even if you spend no money.  He’s a retired medical doctor.  The form is one page if you have no donations or expenditures. Is that too much to expect of school board candidates who, if elected, will supervise multi-million dollar budgets, negotiate teacher contracts and make critical policy decisions?   Transparency is important for us all!

Meningeal Worms in Elk–Who Knew its Importance?

For the past month or so, our Agriculture Committee has been dealing with the meningeal worm parasite issue, off and on.  We’ve had three days of testimony, each lasting for well over an hour, from a room full of passionate people.  What is the meningeal worm?  It’s a parasitic worm present in the Eastern United States, east of the 100th parallel, which is about the middle of North Dakota.  This worm is commonly carried by White Tail Deer, but it doesn’t affect them; they are just the carrier.  The worm larva pass out in the deer droppings, then snails slime over the droppings and inadvertently pick up the worm.  When elk or moose eat the snails, or even the grass they snails slime over, they can become infected with the worm, which is deadly for them.

So here’s the dilemma:  For many years there has been a ban in Idaho on importing elk from east of the 100th parallel.  This year we had a rule request to drop that ban for elk from private ranches, and only after one treatment with a de-wormer,  The elk ranchers in Idaho adamantly believe it is safe to import from private ranches.  The sportsman community and hunters do not agree and think the risk is too great.

We heard from 4 different Veterinarians, a whole line up of experts on both sides and impassioned folks from various viewpoints.  Then this morning, our committee of nine Senators had to make our decision.  It was very difficult because I support business and don’t want undue regulation.  But there’s also a matter of safety.  We have the rule in place right now.  Any change should be driven by a preponderance of evidence.  It was just not there.  The science on both sides was weak, the dewormer cannot cross into the central nervous system where the worm resides, and both sides lacked reliable, up to date research.  So I voted to retain the current rule in place, but I encouraged the elk ranchers to work on the experimental blood test, now in process, that might offer the ability to test for the infection  in the future.

The committee voted 5-4 to keep the existing rule.

Eminent Domain For Trails?

Senate bill 1044 is getting all kinds of attention.  It is an eminent domain bill authored by Sen. Jim Guthrie, and it seeks to disallow the use of eminent domain for trails, bike paths and greenways.  Seems pretty reasonable, don’t you think?  Well many do not. The bill passed out of Committee last week and will be heard on the floor of the Senate today.

I am getting all kinds of emails asking me to vote No on this bill.  Here’s an actual example of one, with my reply:

“Dear Senator,

When 13 out of 16 people testify to oppose Senate Bill 1044 and only 3 of 8 senators on the panel vote No on the bill something is very wrong. Again, 81% testify opposing SB1044 and only 38% vote No. The numbers do not represent the people. So who are you representing, the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation or the people you are supposed to represent in Idaho? It’s not all about private property rights – public rights also need to be addressed. There could and should be a balance between the two sides.
Please work for the majority of the people not just your lobbyist.

Melissa, thanks for sharing your frustration. Each Senator in Idaho represents approx. 44,000 people. If only 16 were able to attend the hearing, should we base our vote only on those voices? Or should we vote on the principles outlined in our campaigns, and upon which people voted to elect us? I believe in personal property rights. It is not the proper role of government, in my opinion, to force someone, against their will, to give up their property for anything less than a critical community need: roads, school, hospital, etc. A bike path or trail does not measure up to that standard, and therefore I will be voting yes on S1044.

Sen. Mary Souza
Coeur d’ Alene

PS–please remember that the municipality can still negotiate with the landowner and buy the needed property, they just can’t force the owner to sell.”

"Instant" Horse Racing?

One highlight of this past week was the vigorous hour-and-a-half debate on the floor of the Senate over bill S1011, which repeals legislation from 2013 that allows para mutuel betting on previously run horse race machines, also called “historic” or “instant” horse racing. The debate was interesting.  A dozen or so Senators stood, one after another, to express their opinions on this difficult topic.  Here are some of the main points of contention: –Nearly every Senator who spoke felt “duped” or mislead by what promoters told them in 2013.  The machines described by promoters were to feature “historic” horse racing, which would help save the failing horse industry in Idaho.  The reality, however, is something quite different:  The machines look and  and play like Vegas slot machines, with a big screen featuring spinning wheels, bars, cherries, etc..  The “horse racing” screen on the machines is extremely small, about 2″x3″, tucked in a corner, and shows only the last 4 seconds of a race. –The Idaho Constitution clearly states that no para mutuel gaming shall look like or simulate casino games such slot machines.  There’s absolutely no way around the fact that the current machines  simulate slot machines.  No one even argues this point.  And, to complicate the matter even more, the Idaho Racing Commission, which was supposed to supervise this process, was part of the problem rather than the solution, so that’s something else that needs attention. –Proponents of the 2013 law claim it’s unfair that the Indian Casinos, particularly the CdA Tribe, were pushing for the repeal of this law.  Yes, that’s true, and yes they are competitors.  But the Tribes are granted the ability to have gaming under Federal laws and a special Compact agreement with the State of Idaho many years ago.  It’s a whole different situation and must be considered / reviewed separately. So, when the time came to vote on the repeal of the bill last Tuesday, I had a tough choice.  I’m a big believer in free markets and business, but I see this as a matter of honesty and integrity in dealing with government.  The proponents of these machines knew about the language of the Idaho Constitution but went forward with installing these machines anyway. It’s a matter of holding folks accountable, and with no other effective mechanism in place, I voted in favor of the repeal. The repeal bill passed the Senate 25-9.  It will now go to the House State Affairs Committee and, if it passes there, on to the full House for final approval before the Governor’s signature.  Perhaps the proponents of these machines will offer to make substantial changes and follow their original plan–not sure if it would help at this point, but it’s worth a try. (Sorry I don’t have a photo of the machines to post, I left it in Boise and am home for the weekend now, but you can look them up online, if you’d like.)