Legislature heads for end like jet on final approach

From The Statehouse
by State Senator Jim Guthrie

Unless you’re John Madden you’ve probably had the opportunity to fly on a large jetliner. Ever notice how for much of the trip the aircraft is at full throttle as it powers its way to cruising altitude. Once above the weather things smooth out and the sometimes mundane task of going from departure to destination begins in earnest.

Then you feel it; the engine noise changes slightly, and you can tell the plane is in a decent attitude. The effort the jet engines put forth earlier to fight gravity, now finds Newton’s Law on more friendly terms. And even though the tarmac is still a ways off you know the heavy lifting is done and the end is in sight. Within the past week we experienced that very thing here in Boise. Yes, there is still much work to be done but with a sine die target date of March 29 we can all but see the runway.

This past week brought us closer to or final closure on several key pieces of legislation:

H 248…. Health Insurance Exchange

I have mentioned before and nothing has changed. The health insurance exchange has been the most contentious issue in a good long while. H 248 is headed for the governor’s desk after passing the House 41-29 and the Senate 23-12, but not without political bloodshed. I support a state-based exchange because I believe it’s the best option for how we deal with Obama Care, not because I support Obama Care. I hope others are willing to recognize that distinction.

H 315…. Personal Property Tax

Debate was finally held on H 276 and H 272, the IACI and Idaho Association of Counties bills, respectively. A stalemate ensued and out of that H 315 was born. In typical end of the session fashion the House took H 315 from hearing to floor passage in less than a day. The vote on the Senate floor is expected in a few days.

H 315 exempts the first $100,000 of personal property from taxation and appears to have fairly broad support. It also provides ongoing tax relief on future purchases of under $3,000.

S 1148…. Teacher Contracts

This bill was greeted with resistance on the Senate floor and after good debate was defeated on a close vote, 14-19. I was among those who voted against S 1148 as I believe it tipped the scales unfavorably against teachers’ opportunity for good faith negotiations. It would have allowed school districts to lower teacher pay and increase the number of work days as they saw fit. While I understand the need for school districts to have flexibility, I thought this bill went too far, too fast.

Other Education Bills

Still lurking and with at least some opposition is the appropriation bill for education, H 323, and a couple of charter school bills. H 323 passed the House 52-16 and is headed for the Senate. The amount of funding proposed is not being debated as much as the way it is being spent. Some would like to see more allocated for discretionary funding and not earmarked for specific needs. The $12 million cost to restore two frozen lanes, $21 million for differentiated pay, and $13 million for technology, comes at the expense of less money for school district discretion.

H 206 provides an opportunity for charter schools to receive around $1.4 million from the education stabilization fund based on a fairly complicated formula. This fund helps pay the interest on plant facility levies passed by local school districts. Charter schools are not able to pass levies and proponents say H 206 will help reconcile that disparity. This one will likely have some lively debate.

At this point March 29 is looking better to me all the time. The request for permission to land sine die has been made. We await clearance from air traffic control and I look forward to visiting more, once on the ground.

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