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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 »

Rep. Tom Loertscher: House Highlights, March 9

March 10th, 2015 by Halli

by Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Bone

Saturday night I made the mistake of changing only a few of the clocks in the house for the time change. When we woke up Sunday morning the conversation went something like this: Linda: What time is it? Tom: Ten to five. Linda: Is that real time? Tom: Well, I set this clock to daylight savings time. Linda: Did you move the clock forward or back? Tom: I moved it the correct way, I’m sure. Linda: What time is it then? Tom: Ten minutes to five. Linda: But is that real time? Tom: I give up.

This last week was the week to dread things. My mother-in-law would have said that we had enough dread. The issue that desperately needed attention was the “permitless conceal carry” bill. I did the novel thing of reading the bill. In addition to a misplaced modifier, the language actually would have required someone who desired to conceal carry without a permit, to comply with all of the requirements to get a permit (I am not making that up). Even though the sponsors tried to argue the point, I am sure that is not what they intended at all. Other portions of the bill left our reciprocity with other states in question, which was also not intended. Others around here have been working hard on this issue and we may soon see new legislation coming forward.

Historical racing is another of those things we have been dreading. If other members of State Affairs have had the kinds of discussions I have had on this bill, they have been busy. I had one lobbyist suggest that there needs to be a broader discussion of the future of gaming in Idaho, and that a gaming commission would be the pathway forward. I asked him if he saw wide open gaming in Idaho’s future. There was no real response. The horsemen are telling us that live horse racing will be destroyed if the repeal passes, and the Tribes are telling us that the machines the horsemen are using for historical racing are not legal. It looks like we are caught in the middle of another issue. House State Affairs will begin the hearing for this one on Wednesday.

Another item that has received some attention is a new Naturopath licensing bill that does something I have not previously seen. The bill would create a second naturopath board but would allow both groups to use the same titles with a slightly different scope of practice. Two different boards for the same profession is not what we see anywhere else. This has been a ten year process that has not been resolved, and this doesn’t seem like the right approach either.

Budgets are beginning to trickle into the full House with many more to come. There is still no consensus on what will be coming forward in the way of increases for highway funding. So far everyone is thinking that the other guys should pay, but there are way too many “other guys.” Ideas are bouncing around in a very creative way. The latest is to inflict a little pain on every conceivable source. It kind of reminds me of the idea that if you hit your thumb on your right hand with a hammer after you hit the left one, it won’t hurt so badly. But hurt it will.

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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, March 2

March 10th, 2015 by Halli

by Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Bone

I was participating in a video conference and describing all of the issues that are before the House State Affairs Committee. Someone on the other end of the meeting said, “Wow! You get all the good stuff!” A member of State Affairs told me that it is certainly not a committee that gives you a chance to relax much. Relaxation is over-rated anyway.

There are some who want to come up with a consensus about increased funding for highways. Progress on that front is slow at best, with no clear-cut way forward. Everything that has been proposed so far has not gained much support. A new sales tax for roads bill is yet to be introduced, and may not come about at all. The main idea floating around is a one cent increase coupled with not taxing groceries coupled with eliminating the grocery tax credit coupled with a reduced income tax rate to a flat tax. That is even confusing to write about, let alone writing a bill that would cover all of those bases.

Another little non attention getter (except in local government circles) is a bill to take half of the new construction tax and give it to schools to pay off bonds and other limited uses. We are getting an earful on this one from the counties. What most people don’t know is that this is money that comes in after the levies are set and is over and above what is budgeted but can be spent without going through the normal budgeting process. It is still stuck in committee.

We are still struggling with the procurement rules of the Department of Administration. Like some other proposals I read here, I can’t seem to read them without wanting to change every sentence. When it comes to how the State asks for bids for contracts, awards them and renews or extends them, there is much room for improvement. We are told that The Department of Education, for example has about fifteen hundred contracts in existence, about half of which are active. Seems like a lot in either case.

The bills now before the full House number in the mid thirties and I sense that there are a few of those that will be taking some longer than average debates. There are still no budget bills among them, but that will change soon. As for State Affairs, we still have some interesting stuff ahead. A year without a liquor bill or two would not be normal and on that score it will be a normal year. Still to be heard is the historical racing bill and of course a little thing dubbed Constitutional Carry. And don’t leave out doing away with Daylight Savings Time from being looked at, again. I’ve been trying all weekend to get in touch with a legislator buddy in Utah to see where they are on that issue. In any event brace yourself for the change next week. It’s not one of my favorite things, or anything close to it.

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

Rep. Tom Loertscher: House Highlights Feb. 24

March 10th, 2015 by Halli

by Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Bone

I can’t remember a year in the legislature that has been anywhere near as busy as this one. This last week was jam-packed full of committee hearings, memorials, page presentations, and speeches from our two US senators. I also can’t remember a session where there are as many contentious issues as we have before us at this time.

There are several bills in the State affairs committee that are awaiting their turns for hearings that are bound to bring many to the capital for comments. Among those are historical racing, state purchasing, parental rights, constitutional carry, and open records to name a few. I am sure there will be a few things appear that we don’t know about yet.

There is an annual 4-H conference known as Know Your Government that brings young people from all over the state. We are invited to visit with them over breakfast, talk about their experiences at the capital, discuss what they have learned and what their plans are for the future. We seem to have the largest group from District 32 and they are a lot of fun to be around.

Another of our annual events is for us to honor those former members that have passed away in the previous year. It is a chance for us to reflect on their achievements and to remind us that all who have served touched the lives of many. There were eleven memorialized this year and the scary part for me is that I served with seven of them.

Our first set of pages are on their way home now and it is customary for them to do a skit for the House before they leave us. It is shocking to see how observant they are of what we do here. They portrayed our idiosyncrasies to a tee and we found it very entertaining. These are great young high school seniors that make it possible for us to do our work.

It was my thousand mile weekend and I was able to visit with many in Montpelier and Idaho Falls. The calving season has begun at home as well and we could not ask for better weather. One cattleman in Montpelier told me that the only problem with this kind of weather during calving season is that you have to catch the calves the first day or it is impossible to do. So I left that for the boys and returned to Boise. Oh well, they are better at it anyway.

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

Rep. Tom Loertscher: House Highlights, Feb. 10, 2015

February 23rd, 2015 by Halli

By Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-BOne

This week reminded me of saying I heard once, “Ideas are like pizza dough, made to be tossed around.” There are a wide variety of topics that will probably shape the outcome of this year’s legislative session.

There are a number of ideas about how to provide additional funding for roads and bridges for the state. There has been a menu developed from which we would be able to choose. One item is to increase the fuel tax five cents per gallon this year and add an additional one cent each year thereafter. Another item is to impose large increases for registration of electric cars and hybrids. Yet another item on the menu is to impose a fuel transfer fee on each gallon of fuel including fuel used in agriculture. Since Idaho has some of the lowest vehicle registration fees in the country, (we are told) another proposal is to increase all registration fees for all types of vehicles with even heavier increases for large trucks.

Those are just a few of the ideas that are being tossed around having to do with transportation funding. While meeting with County officials last week, they put in their idea for a share of the gas tax increase to go to local governments for road construction and maintenance.

There are a few folks around here that are pushing for a separate presidential primary to be held in March of each presidential election year. There have been a lot of concerns expressed about the caucus system that is being used by both the Republican and Democratic parties. I’ve been asked by several what I thought of the idea, and I have been quite frank about it. If you think it is hard to get a good turnout at two elections in a year, just imagine how much more difficult it would be to have a large turnout three times in one year. And then there is the cost to consider. Well, at least at this point it’s just an idea.

Another issue that is getting a lot of conversation around this place is the Idaho Education Network. At this point there is so much conflicting information about where we are and what potential solutions might present themselves, that it is difficult to even come up with ideas to fix the problem. So far rather than ideas, the main focus seems to be on damage control. That lends itself to the idea of correcting problems that exist in the way services are contracted for the state. A lot of different numbers have been floating around about what it will take to keep the network operating at least until the end of the school year.

So there you have it, just a few of the ideas that are being tossed around the legislature like pizza. So far a lot of tossing to see what might stick. Ideas are like pizza in another way, some really good and others not so much.

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

Rep. Tom Loertscher: House Highlights, Feb. 1, 2015

February 23rd, 2015 by Halli

by Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Bone

We were greeted early Monday morning by a crowd of people backed up for almost the entire length of the west and east wings of the capitol. I got a few laughs along the way as I asked, “Is there a party going on somewhere?” I knew of course that they had come from all over the state to participate in the hearing for House Bill 2 (aka; add the words). It turned out to be what is thought to be the largest and longest hearing in the history of the state.

It took over 22 hours of committee time with almost 200 people testifying on the legislation. Everyone who indicated they wanted to testify had a chance to do so. the committee was preached to, castigated for waiting so long, and we even had a lecture or two from lawyers and psychologists. At the beginning of the third day I quoted a former legislator that was famous for his homey little homilies in an effort to expedite the testimony and to avoid duplication. “The oftener you run over a dead cat, the flatter it gets” was his favorite.

Testimony from both sides was passionate and very emotional. After all of the testimony was taken, the vote was to hold the bill in committee. No one in those hearings came away without having deep impressions from what was heard.

There is so much in the background that happens to facilitate a hearing like this. A huge thank you goes out to the Sergeant of Arms and support staff, the Secretaries, the Pages, Security and the State Police. Having directly seen what they did I am in awe.

Other things around this place of interest this week have mostly to do with the budget process. This was the week for education with all of the University Presidents in town to make their pitch for more money, guaranteeing no increase in tuition if the legislature appropriates the money they say they need. The Superintendent of Public Instruction presenting a budget request lower than the Governor is a first, but in either case a large increase.

Hearings will soon begin on the Idaho Education Network. There are several ideas floating around about how to fix this mess, one of which is for the local school districts to apply directly to the Feds for funds to operate the network. I keep thinking about possible outcomes for the Historical Racing issue and I am sure the State Affairs Committee has only begun with interesting hearings this year. As for Medicaid Redesign, I hear a groan every time it is brought up.

It was great to get home for the weekend and get some fresh air and prepare for the week ahead. Linda was in Boise with me last week and as we pulled into our driveway she did what she always does after being gone for a few days. She said, “This is the best place on earth.” Home always is, isn’t it?

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

Rep. Tom Loertscher: House Highlights, 19 January 2015

January 19th, 2015 by Halli

by Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Bone

Setting the stage for a legislative session is usually what the first week is all about. At least that is what most people around this place would tell you. Generalities were the order of the day as the Governor delivered his message. There were lots of goals with not a great deal of detail about how to get there.

The top of the list this year, as in other years, is education with larger increases than some might have expected. Most of what he outlined might be achievable if the revenue stream for it holds up. Keep in mind that the budget we will set is eighteen months out and is the caution that we look at every year. Subtopics up for a lot of discussion are Common Core (a hot one) and State Affairs will be taking a hard look at what happened and where we are headed with the Idaho Education Network as a part of a larger topic of purchasing for these types of items.

Another theme was more road money and since the State Of The State, legislators have been trying to figure out just what he really meant and how there were no plans laid out for the Legislature to consider. “This is what we need, you figure it out,” does not give a lot of direction. He was firm about not diverting sales tax spent on vehicle related items such as tires, batteries and repairs to the road fund. I can already hear the talk now how this is the right time to up the gas tax because the cost of fuel is down so people can afford it. Just when you thought you had an extra buck in your pocket.

Medicaid expansion suggestion is one of just listen to the folks who worked on the committee and then again, you decide. What I have been interested in is a plan that is being looked at by several here to do a system involving primary care. What will gain traction around here remains to be seen. There are plenty of Medicaid skeptics in these halls.

House Bills 1, 2, and 3 are coming to the State Affairs Committee for further review. It’s a little unusual that the first three are all headed in our direction. House Bill 1 is to designate the Idaho Giant Salamander as the State Amphibian. That should be a great bill to start the session. House Bill 3 is a correction of election law to bring it into compliance with the State Constitution. House Bill 2 will be a big one and I am sure you will be hearing a lot about” add the four words” over the next little while.

So stay tuned and hold on to your wallets, the Legislature is in session. The stage definitely is set for long days and a myriad of topics. And I haven’t even mentioned agency rules.

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

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 »

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