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David Ripley: A VERY Disappointing Legislature

April 3rd, 2014 by Halli

Idaho Chooses Life

The 62nd Idaho Legislature adjourned yesterday, clearly in a rush to return home to begin their campaigns for re-election. The Primary Election is less than ten weeks away.

We are pained to report that this Legislature made absolutely no progress in protecting Idaho’s preborn children from the scourge of abortion. In fact, we probably went backwards over the past two years. There is simply no good spin to put on the matter.

We worked long and hard this session to get legislation enacted that would govern the use of RU-486 in order to protect the health and lives of women and girls using the dangerous pills. At the end of the day, we were unable to get a hearing in the Senate State Affairs Committee for our legislation. Part of that result can fairly be blamed on the pro-Life community itself: We had a very difficult time resolving serious disagreements over the profound question of how Idaho should treat cases of self-abortions. Yet agreement on language was finalized on February 27th, three weeks before the Legislature’s expedited adjournment.

We were then told that there was “insufficient time” to move an abortion bill.

It was a painful and frustrating message. We have seen many times the Legislature move quickly on issues it cares about. In fact, on the last day for a possible committee hearing, the State Affairs Committee took up the pressing matter of raising salaries for constitutional officers. And you can sure that that legislation was moved through the process before they quit.

There were heroes in this session: Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, Sen. Steve Vick, Sen. Bart Davis, Rep. Judy Boyle and Rep. Tom Loertscher devoted many hours to studying the issues involved in regulating the use of RU-486 and offering assistance in negotiating the differences between pro-Life groups.

But their leadership and energy was insufficient to overcome this Legislature’s inertia.

This lack of action carries potentially serious consequences. As we will discuss in future postings, the Legislature has yet to respond to several devastating rulings by federal Judge Lynn Winmill – rulings which have cut a huge hole in numerous parts of Idaho’s Abortion Code. Those rulings are now some three years old.

The failure to rise in defense of preborn children this year is particularly upsetting given last year’s defeats. As you will recall, the Legislature was determined to partner up with the President in imposing ObamaCare upon the people of Idaho. They then rejected our call for a Religious Liberty Amendment to that legislation which would serve to protect Christian employers from being forced to purchase insurance plans which cover abortion-causing drugs like Plan B and Ella.

Making matters even worse, the Idaho Senate failed to approve modest legislation last year which would have given the state’s pro-Life pregnancy centers support and encouragement by exempting them from the state sales tax – a measure which might have cost $10,000 a year. Good grief.

Time is short and the pro-Life community in Idaho must rally if we hope to move forward on protecting babies and their mothers in the years ahead. Our opportunity to elect a more compassionate Legislature is just weeks away.

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Posted in Constitutional Issues, Family Matters, Guest Posts, Idaho Legislature, Idaho Pro-Life Issues, Rep. Tom Loertscher, Taxes | No Comments »

Rep. Tom Loertscher: House Highligts – March 17

March 17th, 2014 by Halli

by Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Bone

After arriving home for the weekend, I took a few minutes to wander outside the house and take a look around. There was no wind to speak of and no cloud cover to be seen. There was however a beautiful full moon and it was scarcely necessary to turn the lights on in order to get around. After being in Boise for the week it was a pleasant experience to be able to just observe such a beautiful sight.

I think if you were to ask almost anyone in the House they would tell you that it was an exhausting week. Usually, a couple of weeks before the session ends each year, there is a lull with very few things on the third reading calendar. This year however, our calendar has been full and out of necessity we worked a couple of days into the evening in order to clear the legislation from the board. As a result of that we have in excess of sixty new laws passed in two days.

Probably the most memorable of debates in the House was a bill about lengthening the terms for highway district commissioners. After the discussion started the Majority Leader stood and made an impassioned plea in opposition to the bill. The assistant Minority Leader then spoke about not very often agreeing on matters with the previous gentlemen, and then just said, “Amen.”

All of this “jamming” of legislation through the process reminds me of a quote I heard someplace. “When you hurry you are more apt to make mistakes.” That certainly is the case as we move very rapidly through legislation in the final days of the session. It seems like every year when we act in haste that we pass legislation that may have consequences that we did not anticipate. When that happens we find ourselves in the situation of having to fix things in the future. So when we get in a big hurry around this place I sometimes think we would be better off if we would take just a little bit more time. As a result of jamming things through at the pace we have been over the past few days, it looks like it is possible for us to adjourn by March 21. That of course depends on whether or not we have some sort of wreck along the way.

There have been some sharp disagreements over the rules of the Racing Commission and we now find ourselves deeply scrutinizing those rules and trying to make a decision about what to do with them. It’s awfully late in the session to be doing so, but the House State Affairs Committee wants to make the right decision, especially when it concerns wagering.

Robert Louis Stevenson said, “He who sows hurry reaps indigestion.” In the legislature however, hurry seems to reap inferior law in addition to indigestion. So with Tums in hand, we’ll hustle to the end of the session.

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Posted in Constitutional Issues, Guest Posts, Idaho Legislature, Rep. Tom Loertscher, Taxes | No Comments »

Rep. Tom Loertscher: House Highlights – March 9

March 10th, 2014 by Halli

By Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Bone

Ronald Reagan said, “Governments tend not to solve problems, only to rearrange them.” With some of the things we do I think that we are not really solving much but rather we are trying to correct what we have done or not done in the past. One of those items this week is what we call the annual “Codifiers bill” that corrects small errors in the law that have crept in over time, misspelled words, incorrect references, and stuff like that. What is most interesting is that there is someone whose job it is to read and re-read the law books looking for these things.

Along the lines of trying to solve a problem, I had a little tax bill in the Revenue and Taxation Committee to correct an oversight having to do with the renewable energy producers’ tax exemption. In spite of the Tax Commission having the bill to review for a couple of weeks, thirty seconds before the presentation they explained a problem that needed to be addressed. I guess I should be grateful it happened before the meeting, rather than my being rearranged in front of the committee.

At long last we have begun the process of setting the 2015 budget. It seems like it happens every year in the same way, the smaller budgets first, then the budgets that spend very little General Fund Revenue, and last of all come the big items. One budgetary item of interest to our smaller school districts, at least, is what is called “use it or lose it” money. It is just what it sounds like, if a district could not use the funds for the purpose it was designated, we have provided the flexibility for them to use the money in other ways. That flexibility has been extended for another year with a gradual phase-out in the future. It’s not a real problem solver but a rearrangement that gives some time to adjust.

A bill that would have helped reduce the expenditures for the county medically indigent program and the Catastrophic Health Care Cost Program passed the House easily and then met with an ignominious death in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee. It provided that individuals would become responsible for their own medical care by their use of the Idaho Health Exchange and federal subsidies. Here again, it really didn’t solve much but did rearrange who pays in the end. If we do nothing, our local taxpayers will have a much larger share of funding medical care into the future.

And then there is daylight savings time. A House member from Boise introduced a bill that would have kept Idaho on daylight savings time year round. That created quite a firestorm of comments from all over the state. Some want regular time, some want daylight savings time, and the rest don’t see a need to change. It is like cutting a foot from one end of a blanket and sewing it on the opposite end and saying you have a longer blanket. The sponsor asked me to hold the bill. I think President Reagan was right. It is now 10:30 PM. Oh! Wait a minute, its 11:30. My life has just been rearranged, by government of course.

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Posted in Education, Guest Posts, Idaho Legislature, Politics in General, Rep. Tom Loertscher, Taxes | No Comments »

Rep. Tom Loertscher: House Highlights, February 24

March 1st, 2014 by Halli

By Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Bone

It is thought that Americans are not much on tradition. On the other hand there are many who think that the legislature operates mostly on tradition. It may seem that way because we have a certain way of doing things. This week however, there were several traditional things that occurred that have become annual events.

Each year on the Monday we celebrate Presidents’ Day, it has been customary for 4-H young people to come to town for what is known as the Know Your Government Conference. On the Monday morning of their stay, before they return home, the tradition is to have breakfast with government officials from all three branches. We had a large number of young people from our district attend the event this week.

Another tradition we observe, is to have a memorial service for former legislators that passed away during the last year. We honor these people for their achievements during their time in office and the impact they have had on their families and on the state. We honored ten former members of the House last week.

Another event that takes place each year in Boise is the girls and boys basketball tournaments. This last week a team of girls from Teton County stopped by and I was able to spend a few minutes with them in the governor’s office and have a mini tour of the capitol. We were able to spend a few moments on the House floor and they asked several questions about how we do business in the House.

This was the beginning week for another tradition that we see each year. The Lincoln Day celebrations got underway and it was good to be able to get home and attend a couple of them over the weekend. It’s always a pleasure to visit and talk about legislative matters and life in general.

It may not be a matter of tradition, but it seems that around this time of session the pace picks up quite a bit. Our daily agendas are full and we are spending more time debating legislation on the floor of the House. One item was a little Fish and Game bill that would discount leftover big game tags. It must be traditional to debate Fish and Game issues vigorously because we took much time on the bill.

As the movie Fiddler on the Roof begins there is a long discussion by the main character Tevia about tradition. He said that tradition defines who we are and what is expected of us. Around this place it isn’t much different with some things. We are required to operate under a set of rules for our actions to be valid. If that is tradition, it is a good one.

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Posted in Constitutional Issues, Guest Posts, Idaho Legislature, Rep. Tom Loertscher | No Comments »

Rep. Tom Loertscher: House Highlights, Feb. 17

February 20th, 2014 by Halli

By Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Bone

One of the best things ever invented was the extended cab pickup. It gives the ability to keep a few things inside and out of the weather. The backseat can be a little cramped but with some juggling around it is adequate to carry a passenger or two on occasion. This weekend Linda and I were getting ready to depart for home and one of our granddaughters decided to come along. After packing the items necessary for all three persons there was barely enough room for our granddaughter. Linda being concerned about whether Loria would have enough room asked, “Do you feel like a sandwich?” Loria answered, “No grandma, I already had lunch.”

One of the issues coming to the forefront last week, is that we should stop taxing food at the register. It is a rather intriguing idea because there are some savings that come to the state as a result of not having to deal with the grocery sales tax credit on income tax returns. It isn’t enough to make up the difference in revenue, but in a year when we still have a projected amount over our revenue estimates, it makes sense to at least give a full discussion to the idea.

Another item that came forward this past week has to do with the cigarette tax that has been designated for paying off the bonds for the renovation and expansion of the Capitol building. The last payment is about to be made and as you can imagine with the amount of money that is involved, everybody wants a piece of it. One of the proposals is to take about half of the money earmarked for the capitol and use it to retire the GARVEE bonds for roads. If that were to occur, it would at least free up some of our regular budget money for road maintenance. Another proposal lingering out there is to dedicate a portion of that money to aquifer recharge. Just let your imaginations wander and you can come up with an idea that has already been proposed for this “windfall” revenue. Here’s a novel idea. Why don’t we figure out a way to get that money back to the taxpayer?

It looks like the joint finance and Appropriations Committee will be setting budgets based on a 6.1% increase in revenue over last year. That might be a little bit optimistic for a spending plan and in fact exceeds what the governor proposed in his State of the State message. This percentage of increase may well be pretty close to what is expected, but if past history is any indication, it is not a good idea to spend absolutely every penny you anticipate in revenue.

We’re not always the best at making ourselves understood and around this place that seems to happen often. In the state affairs committee the other day we had a piece of legislation with the word “escheatment” in it. I won’t even begin to try to explain the variations on that word that came up before the meeting began. As the meeting started I cautioned everyone that there would be no bad language tolerated. The lesson is, be careful what you say and how you say it, someone might get a completely different meaning.

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Posted in Guest Posts, Idaho Legislature, Rep. Tom Loertscher, Taxes | No Comments »

Rep. Tom Loertscher: House Highlights, February 10

February 11th, 2014 by Halli

by Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Bone

Probably the last thing that a legislator would have been thinking about at the beginning of this last week, took place as the week began. All things were on high alert as protesters attempted to blockade the entrance to the Senate. The security personnel in the capitol aided by the State Police stepped up to the plate and contained the situation. There have been protests staged in the capitol in the past, however not of this magnitude.

It was the week for the Farm Bureau to be in town, and in talking with them about their concerns, I’ll bet you can guess what their biggest concern is– – water. Of course that is not all we talked about because there are so many things that can happen during each legislative session that affect agriculture. It’s always good to see people from home and to talk with him about the issues. One piece of legislation that should be particularly of benefit to Idaho agriculture is to gain some flexibility with EPA regulations that are coming down from the feds. It will be a long process for Idaho to take control of these issues through our DEQ, but it is thought at least, that this will be of great help to agriculture in the long run.

This was also Association of Counties week at the capitol. There were commissioners from most of our counties and we had a chance to discuss local issues. Those discussions included personal property tax, repeal of the medically indigent law and the catastrophic fund, and interestingly enough our rural counties are very much concerned about the public defender commission that the governor talked about during the state of the state. The counties in District 32 are telling us that they are reluctant to participate in such program because it will cost our local taxpayers so much more than is currently being demanded. The model that seems to work for our rural counties is the one where they contract for public defender services.

Medicaid expansion suffered a blow this last week as the House Health and Welfare Committee declined to introduce (print) a measure to implement what the Department is calling Medicaid Redesign. There have been some small groups of legislators meeting to discuss healthcare issues in the state but they have not been successful in coming up with any type of a workable solution. I don’t think there is anyone here who disagrees with the idea that we have to get something done with this issue. It just doesn’t seem to be this year. I find it even more interesting that not very many in the legislature want to even talk about the Medicaid. It is also interesting that a bill has been introduced to reinstate adult dental services, which was one of the programs that was eliminated during the economic downturn. So I guess in our own way, piece by piece, Medicaid will be expanded anyway.

Prior to a big meeting that the State Affairs Committee was having mid week, that we knew would be well attended with possible security concerns, two Idaho State Police officers stopped by to visit before the meeting. I am very impressed with their professionalism and I know all members of the legislature will attest to that fact. They have our profound gratitude for their service.

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Posted in Constitutional Issues, Family Matters, Idaho Legislature, Politics in General, Property Rights, Rep. Tom Loertscher, Taxes | No Comments »

Rep. Tom Loertscher: House Highlights, February 3

February 3rd, 2014 by Halli

By Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Bone

This was supposed to be the year of non-controversy. In that light the press has had a field day saying that the members of the legislature are trying to play it safe in an election year. I find that not to be the case, and we are tackling the difficult issues that come before us.

We had a little bill come before the full House this week that should have been a very non-controversial piece of legislation. Last year we enacted a bill that prohibited the use of debit and credit cards for automated lottery machines. The new historic horse racing, that was authorized last year is done all by electronic machine. In keeping with what we enacted last year, it was thought that we should make it clear that debit and credit cards could not be used in these machines either. The bill came out of the State Affairs Committee very easily but was defeated on the House floor on Friday. After the bill failed, I was discussing it with a member of the State Affairs Committee who changed their vote and opposed the bill. The comment was that a debit card is the same as cash. What I have noticed however, is that there is something about having cash in your hand that is far different from having a piece of plastic with which to spend money. It isn’t the same at all. Cash in the hand makes a link that travels up the arm to the brain.

This past week we also had a joint House and Senate State Affairs Committee hearing where we asked five different agencies to come before the panel to go over the process of negotiated rulemaking that was recently put in to law. We had the Department of Administration, the Department of Environmental Quality, the State Tax Commission, the Department of Fish and Game, and the Department of Health and Welfare make presentations to us. The Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Health and Welfare are the most experienced at doing negotiated rulemaking while the Tax Commission and the Department of Fish and Game are just beginning the negotiated rulemaking process. It was interesting to hear their responses to questions. I think this was a healthy exercise because it put the agencies on notice that the legislature is very much concerned about how the rules get made.

There is also a piece of legislation coming from the Senate having to do with concealed weapons being carried on campus at our universities. This year’s effort has a much different approach than last year’s bill. For example this year the bill is requiring that an individual be at least 21 years of age and must have an enhanced carry permit, which has training requirements. Another sideboard is that there will be some discretion on the part of the university presidents to restrict concealed carry at events of all types at the universities. At this time it is expected that this bill will pass.

As you can see this probably isn’t the year of non-controversy at all. One of the most interesting experiences I have had in my life, was the very first time that I had to cast a vote in the legislature. It was a strange feeling for me because I all of a sudden realized that I was there to make these kinds of decisions and I absolutely had to vote. It’s not always comfortable but I wouldn’t have it and any other way.

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Posted in Guest Posts, Idaho Legislature, Politics in General, Rep. Tom Loertscher, Second Amendment, Taxes | No Comments »

Rep. Tom Loertscher: House Highlights, January 20

January 21st, 2014 by Halli

Representative Tom Loertscher, R-Bone

This time of session is a good time to begin drafting legislation. Sometimes it takes several tries to get a draft in shape for introducing in a committee. A lot of ideas are bouncing around right now to see if there is enough support before testing them in front of a committee. One example was an email I received from someone in Boise this past week wanting to introduce a bill naming the salamander the state reptile. Since they came to the House last year I suggested that they start in the Senate this time around.

Rules review continues and as usual there are some with a bit of controversy attached. We had received word that a Racing Commission rule was allowing for betting machines in Historic Racing that were not talked about last year, and being one who likes to see firsthand what is happening, a few of us went down to see what it looked like. It was interesting to see the machines operate. Time is always the judge of some of the things we do here and if this is to help live horse racing it will become apparent soon.

You may have read what the CEC (state employee raises) committee did this week and the recommendation is now being reviewed by the budget committee. The caution, that is expressed every year, is to make sure that one time money is not used for ongoing wage increases. My conversations with budget folks, so far at least, is that the one and one approach (one percent pay line move and one percent merit pay increase) is a number that can be achieved with the revenue projection that been made. None of this discussion has been about teachers but we are fully aware how the state employee raise issue influences the final outcome for teachers. I would expect we will see increases from the state for teachers as well.

The CAT (Catastrophic Healthcare Cost Program) presentation was made in the Budget Committee on Thursday. No conversation about healthcare is complete these days without bringing up the ACA (Obamacare) and how that figures into this budget. While there are a lot of unknowns because of the absence of solid numbers going forward, the other thing that cannot be easily overlooked is Medicaid Expansion or Redesign. Again as I talked to Budget people after the meeting, the resistance is still strong but may be weakening a bit. I cut my weekend short and traveled back to Boise to speak to a group, advocating for expansion. I have spoken to other groups as well these past few months and the title of my presentation is “Medicaid Expansion vs. Status Quo or Be Careful What You Ask For.” These were interesting conversations.

Throughout the discussion about the ACA is the cry for fresh ideas, and there are some that are forthcoming. One of those is community based clinics with a totally private solution, not involving government at all. Bring me the bill, I want to read it.

Helen Keller said, “College is not the place to go for ideas.” And what also proves accurate is that neither is the Legislature. Most of the real good ideas that come to this place come from our constituents. Ideas come and go but I would like to think that only the best ones make the cut.

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Posted in Constitutional Issues, Education, Guest Posts, Idaho Legislature, Rep. Tom Loertscher, Taxes | No Comments »

Rep. Tom Loertscher: House Highlights, January 13

January 14th, 2014 by Halli

By Rep. Tom Loertscher, Bone

A friend or two over the weekend asked me how the new legislative session was going so far. I responded that it seemed to be normal in that there is some extra money for which every agency wants the lion’s share and then some. One thing that is different is that the optimism is flowing very strongly in hopes of a short session, but in reality the way we do things in this place takes time and we are bound to have a hang up or two along the way.

Also new this year, or at least revisited, is the practice of convening a Change of Employee Compensation committee (CEC) that has not been done for a while. I was assigned to the committee and all but a few things were as expected. Most revealing to the committee was that this year because of what is affectionately called the ACA or Obamacare (take your pick) there will be a tax of about $3.8 Million imposed on the state for its health coverage for state employees and will increase as time goes by. The net effect of that and other federal requirements is that health insurance premiums for the state plan will increase dramatically both for the state’s share and the employee share. That is the first time in memory that the cost of health insurance is being driven by more than medical inflation and utilization.

In 2012 the legislature enacted a measure to require the agencies to have negotiated rulemaking and as a result we have decided to have a few agencies in to see how they are handling the process. The agencies we have invited are, Health and Welfare, Department of Environmental Quality, Fish and Game, and the Tax Commission. We now have their written responses in hand and the hearing is scheduled for January 23rd. The committee members already have questions to ask of the directors. This is something we have not done before and we hope it will provide us with information on how the agencies do their rules and we also hope it will inspire them to have good public and stakeholder input in the process.

Talking about the beginning of the session would not be complete without mentioning a few items that were brought up by Governor Otter in his State of the State Message. For the most part, it was pretty vintage Governor Otter, but there are two things that deserve mentioning. The first is his desire to place $86 million in our various savings accounts. I am a big fan of preparing for a future rainy day. It is going to be interesting to see if we are able to place that much in savings. I’m sure there will be an amount, but possibly not that large. The other program that he intends to begin is to put in place mental health centers as a pilot project in some of the communities throughout Idaho. This is most interesting to me because prior to the Department of Health and Welfare consolidating all the mental health services in fewer regions, he now desires to shift those programs back to the communities where in my opinion we will be able to do much better job. In the past, community run mental health programs did much better than we have experienced in recent years with the centralized system.

It may seem that things are normal, but it might not last long. Every session seems to take on its own character and this one will probably not be an exception.

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Posted in Constitutional Issues, Family Matters, Guest Posts, Idaho Legislature, Presidential Politics, Rep. Tom Loertscher, Taxes | No Comments »

Rep. Tom Loertscher: House Highlights – April 8

April 8th, 2013 by Halli

Rep. Tom Loertsher, R-Bone

Every year we have what we call the “Going Home Bill.” Some years it is about how to balance the budget and this year it was the Education budget. While there were a few other bills that remained to be done in the final few days, this was the one that drew the most attention. This was the week that it took to do about a half of a day’s business due to the slow-down in the Senate the previous week.

History will be a better judge of how well we did this year than trying to evaluate the session at this time. But then why not try anyway? So here is a little run-down of what we did and some of the effects of all of these new laws.

The biggest and most controversial issue by far was the Health Insurance Exchange bill. It consumed the discussion for several weeks and may be the matter on which history will judge us the most critically. You may be asking just what the effects of this process will be? The only honest answer is that we just don’t know yet and won’t know until there are more answers from Washington, D.C. There are so many variables at this point and we are hearing new little unpleasant details almost daily, or so it seems.

Personal Property Tax has to be the number two big deal worked on, again over a several week time frame. At one time it looked like the issue would die altogether and then there was suddenly a bill that came forward from the counties. The process in the bill is cumbersome but should have a positive effect on small businesses.

One noteworthy outcome for the education budget this year is that the general fund increase this year was in excess of eleven percent, which is not bad for a year that general revenues are predicted to come in at an increase of under three percent. Even the minority party supported the budget.
Time will also tell if we should have looked more carefully at Medicaid redesign and the counties’ medically indigent responsibility and the Catastrophic fund. It is sure to be the most talked about issue over the interim.

There is a long list of other things that did not get the attention of the press much or even mentioned for that matter. Federal land management, horse racing purse enhancement, tribal liquor licenses, election law clarifications, and changes to Idaho road law just to mention a few.

It has been a session to remember and now that it has come to a close, the criticism and/or praise is about to commence. And as for me, I had a funny feeling Sunday afternoon in finding myself at home going through the cattle instead of heading back to Boise. I could tell that the Duramax had the same pangs because I had to chain it to the shed to keep it from taking off on its own.

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Posted in Constitutional Issues, Education, Guest Posts, Idaho Legislature, Idaho Pro-Life Issues, Politics in General, Presidential Politics, Rep. Tom Loertscher | No Comments »

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