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2015 Legislative Summary

The 2015 Idaho State Legislature’s session has concluded. During this session we addressed over 590 pieces of legislation in an 89 day long legislative session which is a little longer than the previous several years. This year’s session addressed two major issues; education and transportation, while juggling the time and resources of the taxpayers of Idaho, who continue to struggle with the continual improvements in the economy. The realities of these conditions have been on my mind as I worked on the Joint Finance Appropriations Committee (JFAC) to ensure the taxes of Idahoans are distributed in an efficient and effective manner. This year the state again balanced its budget, at $3,072.084,000, with the majority of these funds going toward education ($1.9 billion), health and human services ($685.5 million), and public safety ($309.8 million). I believe this amount of funding will provide the basic, needed services while providing a significant boost of 7.4% to K-12 education. High lights of the school budget include:
• Increasing state spending on education by $101.2 million over the current year.
• Fully funding the first year of the career ladder teacher salary law with $33.5 million.
• Boosting schools’ operational funding or discretionary spending by $33.2 million. Per-classroom operational funding will increase from $22,401 to $23,868. Even with the increase, per classroom spending still lags behind the $25,696 level from 2008-09.
• Raising minimum teacher salary levels from $31,750 to $32,700.
• Spending $13.2 million on teacher professional development.
• Paying $16.1 million for teacher leadership premiums that are designed to reward educators for mentoring or taking on hard-to-fill positions. This funding will be paired with the $33.5 million in the career ladder.
• Earmarking $6 million to pay for advanced college courses that students complete while still in high school.
• Budgeting $2.1 million for Wi-Fi for Idaho schools.

Education was a major focus of this legislative session. There was a new compensation plan put in place that will raise teacher salaries over the next five years. It also raises beginning teacher salaries to $37,000 to make them more competitive.. As chairman of the Senate Education Committee, we continued to support legislation that improves the lives of students in Idaho and help them prepare to actively participate in the workforce upon completion of their education.

Another long term effort was made toward economic stability by increasing our state savings accounts in the amount of $25.4 million while giving state employees a 3% raise in their salaries. A new goal of 10% in our Budget Stabilization Fund was set last year and we have savings accounts totaling $311 million in all of the savings for future unknowns.

There was for a second year a focus on change in the approach Idaho takes concerning the reform of our criminal justice system. These changes should improve treatment, supervision, parole, and probation processes, especially for nonviolent offenders. There was also a continued focus on the public defender system to ensure it adequately serves the public.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare told the legislature that this is the second year since the recent recession that there has been a declined and flatting in the number of participants in Medicaid. The department continues to work with the legislature to find ways to care for the disabled and impoverished while trying to prevent abuses of public funds.

Transportation funding has been worked on and discussed all session long. There have been many starts and stops. A conference committee was finally convened in the last days of the legislature to find a workable solution. After considerable deliberations there was finally a resolution that will provide approximately $95 million per year to try and fill the $262 million need to maintain our roads. The last time that gas taxes were raised were in 1996.

Here are some other issues we addressed this year that you may find interesting:

1. Senate Bill 1071a-This legislation requires all senior students to take the national civics test along with their government class.
2. Senate Bill 1081-This bill allow greater flexibility and choice in self funded health care plans.
3. House Bill 001-This bill names and provides for a state amphibian, the giant salamander.
4. House Bill 110- This bill establishes a mastery based education system for our public schools. It starts as a pilot and then advances.
5. House Bill 189-This bill provides for Tele-health access and how it is to be implemented.

For a more detailed summary on the legislation considered and passed this year please go to the “sine die” report on the Idaho State Legislature page: http://legislature.idaho.gov/. On this website you will also find details about the current and all past legislative sessions and budget information.

We may not agree on every piece of legislation that was considered and passed this year, but you need to know that I consider all opinions and input from my constituents. I appreciate all of the emails, phone calls, and letters received throughout the session. Your input helps me understand the issues and how they impact us. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve District 30. If there are concerns or questions you have about this session please contact me. You can also keep in touch with me by email at dmortimer@senate.idaho.gov. Thank you again for your support.

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