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Rep. Tom Loertscher: House Highlights, Feb. 8

February 8th, 2016 by Halli

by Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Bone

The other day, after the House had adjourned, a few of my colleagues gathered around my desk and our conversation was reminiscent of the way we used to talk to each other before the capital was renovated. In our civil discourse workshop we had during the first week of the session, one of the things that we learned was that we need to talk to each other and get to know each other a little better. I’ve been making an effort to do that and have found interesting stories about some of my colleagues.

One said that she did not want to run for office at all, but was told by people in her district that she needed to do so. She told them no! They got the paperwork together and persuaded her to file. There are several here who are no stranger to hardships in their lives and those stories are very interesting and sometimes heart wrenching.

This past week was the week that County commissioners and other County elected officials found their way to Boise for what they call their Midwinter Conference. It gives them a chance to visit with everyone from the Governor to their legislators. One of the topics of discussion was the proposal that the Governor has made for the state to create a new public defender program. The biggest concern that our counties have is that they would lose control and possibly end up paying for services that they would not receive or have no use for. For the most part, the counties of district 32 just want to be left alone, and they are telling us that they are doing just fine. When it comes to government that is how a lot of people feel.

I was approached by one of the press corps asking about my feelings on how frequently Idaho seems to amend its constitution. Right now there are several proposals that are being looked at, one of which is referred to as the Blaine amendment. Because there is a prohibition in the Constitution about using state funds on religious schools, and the fact that we have established what is known as the Opportunity Scholarship, there is concern that such a scholarship could not be used at any of the religiously sponsored colleges in the state. What the amendment would do would be to clarify the language to make it possible for scholarships of that kind to be used in that setting. A couple of examples of those colleges are Northwest Nazarene College in the Treasure Valley and BYU Idaho a little closer to our area of the state. The email stream on that has picked up substantially and it looks like we will be having a hearing on that in State Affairs in the coming week.

The budget committee is still working diligently on putting a budget together, or at least hearing from all of the agencies along with their wish lists. We are still on track to keep our commitments to education that we began last year. Educators at home still want to make sure that they have discretionary funds, aka, money without strings attached.

The Senate Health and Welfare Committee took up the subject of Medicaid expansion and the result was about the same as poking a five hundred pound gorilla. They called it informational, with very little testimony taken. Dr. Krell from Idaho Falls blamed the Legislature for the death of a thousand people for not doing expansion. That did not sit well and it also unleashed blistering editorials around the state on both sides of the issue. While it is easy to play the blame game, there is as with most things more to the story. For me, I just wish my colleagues would do their homework and decide what is best for Idaho.

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

Rep. Tom Loertscher: House Highlights, Feb. 1

February 1st, 2016 by Halli

by Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Bone

The pace of the session has picked up and we now find several bills coming forward. We just hit a deadline last Friday which was the time for the filing of personal bills. A personal bill is one that is taken directly to the Chief Clerk of the House and is introduced to the whole without having gone through a committee first. On Friday a large number of personal bills were read across the desk, more than in recent years. Subject matter ranged from permitless concealed weapons carry legislation to constitutional amendments.

A rarely used maneuver on the house floor occurred on Friday as well, and that was the motion to lay on the table. It takes a simple majority of the body to lay it on the table which means that it cannot be considered unless two thirds of the body agrees to take it off the table. In effect it kills a bill. The motion was not successful and one of our age-old customs of the crow flying occurred. It is a little statuette in the form of a crow that passes around the body from time to time when a member makes a motion that does not get at least 20 votes in support. The effort made didn’t even come close, and the crow flew.

There’re a lot of background things going on right now, one of which is discussions on water. The governor has called for money to be used for recharge. We of course are very hopeful and there seems to be more snow around at the moment than we’ve seen for a couple of years. If that is any indication we might actually have water available for recharging our aquifers.

It might be of interest that this past week there were personal bills introduced in the Senate for the expansion of Medicaid. The chairman of the health and welfare in the Senate has agreed to hold hearings on the bill. It’s a pretty heavy subject for a committee to consider in the short time available, and it will be interesting to see how it is handled there. I had a chance to visit with some folks this week about the governor’s proposal of primary care and at this point it looks a little bit like it might have a tough sell among some legislators. Most of the discussion centers around how the program would be funded and is felt that if it is to get anywhere it will have to be modified some.

It was good to get home over the weekend and to take care of a couple of pressing matters there. The good news is, at least a portion of them got completed in time for my speedy return back to the capital city. It started to snow almost the moment I got home on Friday, snowed some more on Saturday, and it was snowing when I left home. And I only got stuck once. Together it accounted for approximately 10 inches of new snow. The little grandkids had a ball playing in the fluffy white stuff but not so much in the heavy wet snow that fell on Friday. Some places I traveled over the weekend, I noticed the fences starting to disappear little by little. Keep your fingers crossed, maybe this is one of those one year in ten recharge years. One of my friends commented that he didn’t care for the snow a whole lot and then admitted,” We sure do need it, so we’ll take it.” My sentiments exactly.

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

Rep. Tom Loertscher: House Highlights Jan. 24

January 24th, 2016 by Halli

Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Bone

Probably the hottest topic discussed around the legislature this last week, was all of the issues that are going to appear on our agenda soon. Even though several issues were discussed by various groups, not much actually came forward at least in a way we could begin introducing legislation. What will more than likely occur is that all at once we will have much on our plate and then we might hurry too fast getting things done.

I was asked last year and this to participate on what has been fondly dubbed the CEC Committee. The CEC stands for change in employee compensation and in other sectors they call it employee raises. The purpose of the committee is to recommend to JFAC (budget committee) what state employees should be paid in the next fiscal year. After much discussion and three different hearings on the matter and five different motions, the committee recommended that the governor’s proposal for salary increases be adopted.

What that translates into is a 3% across-the-board raise for state employees in the coming year and in addition the state will pick up all increases in employee health insurance costs. I thought there was a better motion out there that would have given a 2% across-the-board raise and then move the pay policy closer to the private sector by using the other 1% and have that pickup the increase or at least part of the increase in health insurance costs.

That decision was made very early in the morning on Tuesday and I had the privilege of reporting the result to House leadership and committee chairs in their regular weekly meeting. Because of the CEC meeting I arrived a little late and found that they had been discussing the governor’s budget and all kinds of brake lights were coming on in the room. The memory banks were alive with what occurred around this place in the year 2002, when a 13% increase in spending took place in spite of a 6% increase in revenues being predicted. That led to the longest session of the legislature in 2003 trying to find a way to close the budget gap created by overspending and revenues coming in at less than the 6% that had been forecast. So it looks like there is some caution being expressed and reservation about spending at a level that exceeds what we project for revenue increases. Alarm bells are beginning to come on for some.

We had the privilege of listening to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Jim Jones and I have to say that his talk was somewhat refreshing from others I have heard from the court. He had just finished his presentation to the Senate and as he began his comments in the house after we had waited for a few moments for his arrival he said, “I’m sorry that you were waiting for me so long but there was some windbag over in the Senate that prevented me from getting here any sooner.”

Representative Batt, the State Affairs Vice Chairman, spends a lot of time doing the rules review for the agencies that come before the committee. She discovered that two different agencies had written two sets of rules concerning the same matter. What was even more interesting was that neither agency knew what the other was doing. Her comment to me was that at least you would think they would talk to each other.

I received a call from the inventor of powdered alcohol who lives in Arizona. He sounded a bit unhappy about the bill that was introduced to ban the product. He wants to come to Idaho to testify before the committee. We’ll try not to hurry through this one or put it off too long.

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

Rep. Tom Loertscher: House Highlights, Jan. 17

January 17th, 2016 by Halli

by Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Bone

Due to all of the press reports that have been circulating before the legislative session started this year I have been repeatedly asked if this would be a short session. My response has been that you can’t use short and session in the same sentence.

As is the case every year the first thing on the agenda is to hear from the governor. He spoke more optimistically than some years especially in light of revenues that have been coming in stronger than expected. He outlined a robust increase in education spending both in K-12 and higher education, somewhere in the $150 Million range. He also put an item in his budget to create another community college to replace Eastern Idaho Technical College in Idaho Falls. Given that it will require local voters to approve such a move, and given that it has failed locally in the past it will be interesting to see how that would come to pass.

One of the more creative things he proposed is a four year freeze on tuition for college students. Can you say “administration nightmare?” The devil is always in the details.

After the speech each year he has a punch and cookie event in his office for all legislators. I told him that he had outlined pretty ambitious budget plans and he said, “Tom, we have the money.” While that may be true, reversals can happen very fast and some I have talked with want to make sure we don’t overdo it.

Leadership decided to have a training session for all of us entitled “Civil Discourse.” They began the meeting by telling us that this did not mean that we are not civil in how we do things in Boise. Even if we do behave civilly with each other and the public we can always stand improvement. I found it helpful while others around this place not so much. We’ll see if we learned anything as the session progresses.

State Affairs this week lived up to its reputation by introducing a ban on powdered alcohol and by not introducing a bill for the Public Utilities Commission. There are not many who have heard of powdered alcohol but our liquor control people are telling us it is becoming a problem. As for the PUC bill, it will be back in some form.

Other items that are out on the horizon but not yet drafted are a couple of ideas for constitutional amendments, so called constitutional concealed carry legislation, on-line voter registration, horse racing, and some other liquor issues. Needless to say there is no shortage in the number ideas for new laws around these halls.

So how long will the session be this year? The honest answer is that no one knows for sure. The only thing we are required to do by our constitution is to adopt a budget and it must be balanced. But I can promise you that there will be somewhere in the neighborhood of three hundred new laws to consider, and thankfully not all will become law.

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

Rep. Tom Loertscher: House Highlights, April 13

April 19th, 2015 by Halli

By Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Bone

The last two or three days of most legislative sessions are hectic and slow moving at the same time. This year was different and full of “firsts” from beginning to end, at least in my memory.

For the State Affairs Committee it was a year of long hearings on tough issues and hard votes. Most years we see a couple of bills that have some controversy surrounding them. This year there was not a week that went by without major and difficult legislation to consider. Add the words, historical racing, chemical abortion, special liquor licenses, gaming commission, Cananbidiol, agency purchasing, and open meeting law just to name a few. I can’t begin to express how hard the committee worked this year and even though everything didn’t turn out the way I would have liked no one around this place could claim that House State Affairs did not give them a fair and thorough shot.

Whether you agree with what the legislature did or not there were some milestones achieved. Amid continual cries that it was not enough, about $120 million new dollars are going into education. Career ladders for educators with a path forward to fund them are seen as a major step forward. Will these steps improve what our detractors call “Failing Idaho?” Time will tell. By the way and for the record, I for one think that we have schools that are achieving great things. I don’t know about the rest of the state but we have teachers, administrators and parents in District 32 who are innovators and work hard for our kids. The idea of long distance learning and dual credit courses had its real beginning right here at home.

Probably the most visible issue this year was transportation funding. Early on in the session the discussion surrounding transportation was about the same as usual, not enough money to keep the roads in good condition. Also as usual, the level of increase was argued back and forth. What came out of that early talk was an effort that could have provided some sweeping changes in tax policy in Idaho. That effort was summarily dismissed by the Senate. What happened then is what lead to a final week of turmoil on the issue.

This is what came from that process. A 7 cent per gallon increase in gas and diesel tax, a $21 increase in registration fees ($25 for trucks), and the return of the infamous ton mile tax for all trucks over 60,000 pounds which has a delayed implementation date. Most interesting of all is a method of tapping the General fund by sweeping half of any surplus to transportation. It is a little more complicated than that but in general terms that is how it would work. And that brings us to the last two days.

There was very little for most legislators to do except to wait for the results of a conference committee to iron out the differences between the House and the Senate. From the vantage point of the House it looked like the House flinched first. After four redrafts on Friday night, the amendments went to the Senate first and then to the House. The full House did not receive those amendments until about 12:50 AM Saturday morning and then voted on the measure about 1:15 AM. By that time most were willing to vote for anything just to get out of there.

I once asked my dad why he didn’t use the lights on the tractors and tried to quit when the sun went down. His reply has been good advice over the years. He said, “Tom, after dark is when the serious mistakes happen.” That is the feeling I had at the close of this session at 1:30 am on Saturday morning.

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

David Ripley: Thank You, Governor Otter

April 19th, 2015 by Halli

Idaho Chooses Life

Thank You Governor Otter
Posted: 08 Apr 2015 04:30 AM PDT
Governor Butch Otter signed HB 154 this week – our legislation to better regulate chemical abortions in the state.

We are grateful for his continued support of the pro-Life movement, his defense of those most vulnerable babies in the womb. Governor Otter has created a tremendous pro-Life legacy.

Thank you Butch.

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

Rep. Tom Loertscher: House Highlights, 6 April

April 19th, 2015 by Halli

By Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Bone

I started to look a little bit ragged around the edges so I went to Great Clips and checked in to get a haircut. As the hair cutter began she said to me, “You’re from eastern Idaho aren’t you?” I responded, “Yes. How do you know that?” She said, “Oh I remember you, you’re not a Senator.”I complimented her on her fine memory and then she said, “I could never do a job like that because no matter what you do someone doesn’t like you for it.” I asked her if she watched the news and kept track of what was going on at the Statehouse. She said she never watches the news as it’s too depressing. She may be onto something there.

It was quite an eventful week as the House did its business and tried to move us closer to the end of the session. One of the transportation bills that was sent to the Senate had an interesting fate as it arrived there. They had a hurry-up meeting of the Senate Transportation Committee and sent the bill to the floor without recommendation. After a brief caucus they convened on the floor and immediately sent the transportation bill back to committee and tabled it from the floor of the Senate. I think everybody in the place was rather stunned that there was never a vote taken and was summarily killed without discussion.

So I guess it’s back to the drawing board for the transportation issue. More importantly, until the issue is either put to bed for the session or some type of bill passed, the transportation budget cannot be set. A friend of mine commented that they must be undecided about whether to spend $550 million on roads next year or $650 million. At any rate it looks like it will be a matter of who flinches first.

Also during the week there was another long House State Affairs Committee meeting on the use of cannabidiol (CBD) oil for the treatment of patients, especially children, with intractable seizure disorders. CBD comes from a variety of the cannabis family that has virtually no THC (less than 3/10 of a percent) and has no hallucinogenic properties. It also has high levels of CBD which is the ingredient that seems to help with reducing the seizures. The committee initially kept the bill in committee on a tie vote and then the next day had second thoughts and sent it to the floor. It was a heart wrenching hearing, especially listening to the parents of young children who have continual seizures with no means of stopping them with any conventional medicines.

House and Senate leadership decided that it would be a good idea for us all to go home for Good Friday and return on Monday. It’s that time of session when tempers tend to flare a bit and we start saying and doing things that are not the best for anyone. So if the plan works at least we might calm down some nerves and get on to the end of the session.

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

David Ripley: Idaho Gives Final Approval to Chemical Abortion Restrictions

April 19th, 2015 by Halli

Idaho Chooses Life

The Idaho House gave final legislative approval to HB 154, our legislation to restrict the practices of Planned Parenthood in dispensing this deadly drug. It should reach the Governor’s desk in a day or two.

The Abortion Industry fought this legislation strenuously – because it greatly interferes with their agenda of expanding abortion access across the state by circumventing the FDA regulations surrounding the use of RU-486. Throughout the public debate, Planned Parenthood has denied that our legislation involved any legitimate concern over a woman’s health. Instead, they tried to argue that they could be trusted to self-regulate.

The likes of Kermit Gosnell shows us what happens when government abdicates its responsibility for ensuring the health and safety of women and girls who submit themselves to an abortion.

Planned Parenthood is certainly motivated by convenience and profits in its drive to create a “remote control” abortion access system across the nation. But they are also driven by ideology.

They are attracted to using RU-486 over surgical abortions because it advances the notion that abortion is nothing more than treating a headache with aspirin. That is why they fought so hard over the terminology of chemical abortions – preferring that the media call them “medication abortions” instead.

Even their language is designed to deceive women and girls.

We are grateful to leaders like Rep. Tom Loertscher and Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll who stood tall this session to help us gain an important legislative victory.

And we are grateful to you, our readers and supporters for your prayers and participation in demonstrating that Idaho does, indeed, choose life.

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

Rep. Tom Loertscher: House Highlights, March 30

April 19th, 2015 by Halli

By Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Bone

Legislators receive all types of calls from constituents needing help with problems that they encounter with government. I received such a call over the weekend concerning a property valuation issue. I was asked if I could have my staff write up something for him. I was quick to inform him that he was talking to my entire staff. Sometimes that is the limiting factor around this place especially at this time of session when things are coming at us so rapidly. Please don’t misunderstand me, I am not advocating for a larger staff. That notwithstanding, it makes us stay on our toes as things come so quickly.

There has been an agreement reached on education issues. Instead of the $91 million of new money the amount agreed on was $125 million. About a fourth of that money goes to career ladder development. Other parts of the budget will allow for more spending flexibility for districts. That is one of the things the local school districts have wanted for a long time.

There is still a lot of finger-pointing going on with regard to the Idaho Education Network. In the meantime local schools will be able to have their own contracts and the ability to provide Internet access at a much reduced cost. The legislature’s Office of Performance Evaluation released their report of the data collection system that was supposed to be of such great value to our schools. At the time, many of us here were skeptical that the program would do what it was intended to do and the evaluation made that very determination.

The other big issue that still does not have resolution is for increases in transportation funding. I’ve been making some inquiries about how much money we spend on roads each year in the state of Idaho. Another interesting little tidbit that came along this last week was how the GARVEE bonds that we used for major projects over the last few years is coming back to haunt us. We are now spending an awful lot of money on servicing that debt which prevents us from being able to have enough money to keep up with our maintenance projects.

The bill that will be before us early in the week would increase the sales tax to 7 cents, remove sales tax on food, eliminate the grocery tax credit, increase the fuel tax by 7 cents, increase registration fees and cut income tax rates. Bottom line is over $100 new money for transportation. Complicated is not an adequate word to describe this one.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to best describe this past week of this legislative session. It reminds me a little of the last time we worked the cattle before putting them where the sheds are for the calving season. There’s always a few of those critters get off by themselves and don’t want to come anywhere near the corral. It takes longer to round up the last half-dozen than it does to gather the rest of the herd. Rounding up those last couple of issues this year has consumed a lot of time. And just like the cattle, we’re all running off in different directions. Hang on your hats, the rodeo isn’t over yet.

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Rep. Tom Loertscher: House Highlights, March 16

March 16th, 2015 by Halli

By Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Bone

A few weeks ago I was asked by a lobbyist when I would be scheduling a hearing on a particular bill. Kidding him a little I replied that I was looking at February 30th. He began to quiz me on why I had chosen that date. Another legislative advisor standing nearby began to laugh and then we had a good laugh together. We sometimes tend to take ourselves too seriously.

I was listening to some commentators on public TV and their lamenting that this has been a ‘do little” session. If that were true, some I know would say that’s a good thing. Also if it were true, it surely hasn’t seemed like we have been doing nothing. I imagine that comment comes because some of the larger things are still not resolved, namely education and transportation. Teacher career ladder legislation went down in flames in the Education Committee to the delight of teachers but not so much happiness for administrators. Work has begun on a different approach which might fare better.

As for transportation, three more ideas were introduced that don’t get to the level the governor wants or wouldn’t fill the gap that is said to exist. All of a sudden the effects of GARVEE bonds are settling in leaving us short on maintenance dollars.

All too often we encounter legislation that is aimed at fixing disputes between opposing groups. One of those issues that passed the House last week was the naturopath bill. Rather than fixing much it looks like it might cause more problems. If you read it carefully and if the Governor were to not appoint a board for the larger group of naturopaths, they would not be able to be licensed. The Attorney General sees some problems in the way the bill would operate. Because of the potential conflicts, I voted against the bill, but it now resides in the Senate.

We are in the middle of three other groups, the Racing Commission, the simulcasters and the Tribes. The historical racing repealer was heard in committee for a total of eight hours on two separate days. One comment from a conservative think tank that provoked some discussion was that this piece of legislation did not belong in the legislature because the result would be made by politics rather than sound principles of free enterprise. Maybe that’s fair but there is not a political safe haven on this one. A vote in favor of the bill makes it look like you favor one group over another , and a vote against it makes it look like you fully support gambling in Idaho. Being caught in the middle isn’t comfortable.

Looking toward an adjournment date, given the issues we have yet to resolve, looks like at least a week beyond the target date of March 27th. The test for an adjournment date in days gone by was that when the ground dried out enough for crops to be planted we’d head out of town. It isn’t that way so much these days. There is still serious business to do and in our part of the world, March seems too early to plant. Most of us are more concerned about water. With little or no snow pack, it’s going to take a lot of timely rain to make up the difference.

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

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