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Report on the 2007 Legislative Session

Dear Constituent:

As many of you know this was my first legislative session. Many have asked how did it go? Did you like it? What did you learn? Well, I am proud to say that I am a survivor!! To some that may not sound like much, but to me it is an accomplishment. I learned a lot to say the least and met some outstanding people. It was a study in group dynamics and human behavior. I was extremely challenged and would call the experience intense. I just wished they gave advanced college degrees for the experience since I have always wanted my doctorate degree. It was physically exhausting, starting most of my days at 5 a.m. and finishing late in the evening. Overall, however, it was rewarding and I worked hard to represent each of you well. I served on three committees: Education, Commerce and Human Resources, and Transportation and Defense. I also served as a Chairman of a subcommittee which reviewed rules for Transportation and Defense. For a freshman with limited experience, it was challenging and humbling. One of the first matters of business during the sessions is the review of rules by each committee. These rules are proposed by the different departments to implement the new laws passed the previous year or years. This is a very beneficial exercise in that those who make the laws also approve or disapprove the rules. Idaho is one of the very few states that participate in this healthy process.

What were some of the accomplishments and challenges of this legislative session?

Funding: The “state savings account” or Budget Stabilization Fund was increased to $121 million. The Public Schools Stabilization Fund is $103 million and growing. An Economic Recovery Reserve Fund was established with $60 million.The “state savings account” or Budget Stabilization Fund was increased to $121 million. The Public Schools Stabilization Fund is $103 million and growing. An Economic Recovery Reserve Fund was established with $60 million.

Education: $1.37 billion budget for public schools, which earmarked more then $20 million for classrooms where I believe it belongs, in textbooks, classroom supplies and remediation for those students that need assistance. Higher education was also given an 8.4% increase. Education for the first time in two decades received more money than Medicaid, which was held to a 5.4% increase, largely due to our strong economy, thus fewer applicants. A needs based scholarship program was established with a $10 million dollar endowment and $2 million of ongoing authorization. The Robert R. Lee scholarship was opened up to all students including those who are home-schooled. New legislation allows retired teachers and administrators to be rehired as “at will employees” without jeopardizing their state retirement benefits. There was a provision made for increased money available to school districts to conduct consolidation plans and studies, which makes available one time employee severance payments, increased state subsidies paid on bonds passed and increases the amount that goes to a school district from savings realized as a result of consolidation. A bill was passed that would provide for the creation of regional profession-technical charter schools. Teachers were given a 3% raise and the beginning salary for teachers was raised to $31,000.

Drug and Substance Abuse along with mental health treatment was clearly a major priority and necessity. A Drug Policy Office was created and funded under the direction of the Governor which provides for budget coordination and program direction for substance abuse programs utilizing state funds. Eastern Idaho was given a test project for mental health and drug abuse in the local courts.

Idaho Rural Development Partnership was permanently created to assist in the coordination and development of resources and information as well as solutions to improve the quality of life in the rural communities of Idaho.

Water Resources: Legislation and funding was provided for the Idaho Water Resource Board to aggressively pursue development of a comprehensive aquifer management plan to encourage resolution of surface and groundwater rights.

Energy: Legislation was passed that authorized cities to participate as joint owners or power purchasers in joint electric generation and transmission projects. A 50/50 matching grant program was created for Idaho retail fuel dealers who choose to invest in qualified fueling infrastructure projects dedicated to providing bio-fuels to their customers. This legislature adopted the “Idaho Energy Plan” as Idaho’s first comprehensive, statewide energy plan since 1982. The legislature passed a resolution of support for the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership for the research and development of a three-phase research facility that is being considered by the Department of Energy and its possible placement in Eastern Idaho.

Taxation: The time for an appeal of property tax valuations was increased from five to ten days. House Bill 249aa gives to the distributor responsibility for the tax liability for motor fuels, authorized distributors to include an amount equal to the tax as part of the selling price, and provided the process for remittance of fuel tax when the distributor, retailer or consumer is exempt from the tax liability. Law was established which created a new method of financing transportation infrastructure utilizing a State Tax Anticipation Revenue (STAR) process which gives a sales tax rebate to a developer of a retail complex with stores selling tangible personal property or taxable service for project expenses incurred for transportation improvements.

Transportation: New routes were added to the list of special pilot projects in southern Idaho designated for overweight vehicle loads of 129,000 lbs. We created a special “Support Our Troops” license plate program to support the families of men and women from Idaho who serve in all branches of the United States military. Extended from four to six months the period required for a supervised permit for drivers under the age of 17 and limited the number of passengers for the first six months after licensing.

There were many other pieces of legislation passed. You can see the summary of the legislation and specifics by going to the state web site located at www.idaho.gov and reviewing the Sine Die Report published by the state.

What are some of the challenges still ahead of us?

  • Maintaining sufficient funding for highway maintenance and construction is one of the biggest.
  • Keeping and supporting family issues as an overriding concern in future.
  • Developing and maintaining a better system of budgeting and cost controls.
  • Helping our students and parents realize the importance of taking personal responsibility for the educational process.
  • Getting a handle and control on substance abuse and mental health issues.
  • There are others, and I am sure each of you could add a few. I would appreciate your input and help in the process of self-government.

I just wanted to take a minute to thank you, my constituents and friends for the opportunity to serve you as a State Representative in District 32 this past year. I have truly enjoyed the experience and learned so much. If I can be of service to you and if you have issues or concerns that you feel needs our attention, I would welcome the opportunity to work with you.