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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 »

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 »

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