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Legislative Summary for 2008

April 2008

First, let me say how good it is to be back home. I would also like to thank many of you who took the time to call and e-mail me your comments, concerns, and opinions during the recent legislative session. We also made history. The second regular session of the 59th Idaho Legislature became the first session in the state’s history to meet outside of the capitol building. With renovations underway, we are looking at a two year process in our temporary facility adjacent to the capital complex. This session was also conducted with seven fewer staff members to assist the legislators. Our cramped quarters dictated we do with less and it worked out just fine.

One of the major accomplishments started with fiscal responsibility. The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC), did a good job in adjusting the state’s budget to the sudden changing conditions that faced Idaho’s economy. What began as the Governor’s proposal to increase overall state spending at 9.1% was cut by JFAC to 4.6% overall. This still allowed the legislature to fully fund—with some slight increases in certain areas—the programs and services that are important to Idahoans, thus avoiding the threat of any budgetary holdbacks. April is traditionally a pivotal month for revenue coming into the state’s coffers, with regard to tax collections on the 15th. This will be a good indicator on how wisely we as legislators set the budget and what may need to be done next year.

On the positive side, the House took the lead with two major tax relief initiatives. One was the grocery tax credit and the other one was the personal property tax imposed on business equipment. The grocery tax credit is aimed at eventually offsetting the sales tax paid on groceries. Labeled as one of the most unfair taxes, the personal property tax on business equipment changes were reached in a House-Senate Conference Committee. Under the compromise, business owners will be allowed up to $100,000 exemption on business equipment. This gives tax relief to approximately 88% of Idaho businesses.

There is still unfinished business. One is the important task of fixing Idaho’s transportation needs. We did request a performance review evaluation for the transportation department, which was approved by all parties. This will help the citizens of Idaho in having more confidence in this agency’s operations. The other is the continuing effort to improve our education system.

As I complete my first term in the House, and with the retirement of State Senator Mel Richardson, I announced in early March my candidacy to run for that seat. Mel’s shoes will be hard to fill, but I’m ready to represent the constituents in the Senate in Legislative District 32. It has been a pleasure serving you in the House, and with your continued support, I look forward to serving you as the next State Senator from Bonneville County.

Thank you for the opportunity you have entrusted in me to represent you in the legislative process. I recognize this responsibility and I take my oath seriously. I continue to pledge my best efforts and time. If you would like to contact me with any questions, issues, or concerns, please e-mail me at dmortimer@house.idaho.gov. You can also obtain a Sine Die summary report on the session by logging on to the official web site for the Idaho Legislature at http://www.legislature.idaho.gov.

Dean M. Mortimer

State Representative, District 32

Everyone Is Responsible for Education

We spend a lot of time talking about accountability in education as it applies to students, teachers and schools. Students are required to take a number of standardized tests, schools can be penalized if the test results don’t measure up, and we’re constantly looking at ways to measure teacher performance.

We should demand accountability. Idaho spends about $1.4 billion on our public schools – which is by far the largest appropriation in state government. We spend on average $8,279 per student, from kindergarten through the 12th grade. But what about accountability from parents?

If I were “king for a day,” I’d require all parents to be involved with their children’s education – and not just with sports and other school activities. Parental involvement makes the difference between success and failure for kids’ education. Our parents must take the time and make the effort to help their children succeed in the educational process.

Not long ago, I received a letter from a woman who described herself as “a parent of five children, grandparent and educator” for the past 17 years. I’d like to share parts of that letter.

“In education, there are many factors to consider when a child does not pass his ISAT examination each spring and fall. It is always easy to blame the teachers or the students for the students’ failure, but what about the parents? In every school system across the state, there are children who miss 30 to 40 days of school each year and yet, these same students are still expected to pass the ISATs and if they don’t the teachers and the school administrators are held accountable.”

The writer makes an excellent point. If that child misses that much school, there’s no way to attain favorable results on a test. But the question is, don’t the parents know, or care, if their child is missing that much school?

The letter writer offers a solution:

“Students in middle schools should be allowed to go to high school only if they have passed their classes. That’s one way to get the attention of parents.”

“Our laws are so weak, schools do not have the teeth to require a child to stay back if they don’t pass their classes, and guess what? The students know this, thus adding to the problem,” the woman writes. “Schools need new laws requiring parents to have their kids in school…As educators, we love the kids we teach, we want them to succeed, but we can’t teach them if they are not in school.”

As a state, we are obligated to provide for a “free” public education system. It isn’t free, and we need to remember that. Everyone who gains from the resources spent to run our “free” education system should have some stake in it.

I read an interesting commentary from Wm McAndrew, a past superintendent of Chicago schools, published in the 1934 edition of the Boy Scout handbook.

“Apparently this is not intended as a free gift for me. The whole community is paying for my education for some return due to the community itself. If I study the ideas that were put forward when American education was made a public and not a private expense, I find hat the men who made it so promised that those educated by public taxes would serve the community.”

His comment was right on target. I wish more students – and parents – would take it to heart. The citizens of this great state are putting up the money. Students and parents need to commit to the effort and time for education success.

State Senate Bid Announced

State Representative Dean Mortimer (R, Legislative District 32) announced today that he will seek the District 32 Senate seat, currently held by Mel Richardson, who announced his retirement in Boise last week.

Mortimer is completing his first term in the House. He currently serves on the Transportation & Defense, Education & Commerce and Human Resources Committees.

With rapid growth in Eastern Idaho and the increased importance of the Idaho National Laboratory to both the local and state economy, Mortimer feels his business background and financial expertise will serve him well as a strong voice in the State Senate.

“I have added a business viewpoint to the House–the kind of perspective that is needed in the Legislature,” said Mortimer, a mortgage banker and Idaho Falls businessman.

Mortimer entertained running for the State Senate seat two years ago. However, Richardson announced then that he would seek another term.

Mortimer believes he can better serve Bonneville County in the Senate. “The Senate has half the number of members than the House, therefore offering a greater opportunity to advance the issues I feel are important to Eastern Idaho.”

Mortimer praised Sen. Richardson, who is completing his eighth term. “Mel’s shoes will be hard to fill, but I’m ready to represent the constituents of legislative district 32 in the Senate,” Mortimer concluded.

Legislative District 32 encompasses all of Bonneville County.

The legislature is currently in session

As many of you maybe following the session, a short update might be in order. There are bills being considered and passed and more coming each day. Please do not hesitate to get on the state website and follow them.

You can also go there and watch the session live each day. Sometimes the debate isn’t to thrilling but you can definitely get a flavor for what is happening.

This past week we have been having both a morning and afternoon session beside attending morning and afternoon committee meetings. There are still some major issues that need addressing, for example: grocery tax credits, personal property tax reform, and transportation revenue and control, to just name a few.

I have been sending some survey letters to constituents to get a feeling for what you feel the key issues are if you are interested in getting one e-mail me at dmortimer@house.idaho.gov.

Concurrent Enrollment – A Must for Our High Schools Students

Serving on the House Education Committee has given me a unique opportunity to take a look at what works in public education and what does not. It’s an assignment I enjoy tremendously. I especially appreciate the forward approach taken by committee members, our Colleges and Universities, Eastern Idaho Technical School, State Superintendent Tom Luna and many others in promoting a concurrent credit program for Idaho — a system that allows high school juniors and seniors to earn college credits for certain advanced courses taken.

The Superintendent has included $3.5 million in his public school budget request to help pay for juniors and seniors to earn college credits while in high school. That’s a sound investment, considering what we would be getting. Here are some facts about concurrent credit courses:

  • 75 percent of Idaho students who take concurrent credit courses in high school go to college. That’s significant, because only 45 percent of high school seniors in Idaho go to college after graduation. Concurrent credit courses give students who may not think they are “college material” a chance to see what college is like.
  • Concurrent credit courses add more rigor to the junior and senior years in high school by providing opportunities to take advanced courses. That would be one way to deal with the “senior slump” that some students experience.
  • Concurrent credit courses help high school students prepare for what awaits them, whether it’s college, professional-technical education, the work force or the military.
    We don’t have to go far to see the success of concurrent credit courses. Utah has had the program since 2003, and the results have been remarkable. 36 percent of juniors and seniors in Utah (about 27,000 students) are taking concurrent credit courses and 400 to 500 students are graduating from high school with an associate degree every year. Nearly half of Utah students who took concurrent credit courses graduated from college within four years. By comparison, only 21 percent of non-concurrent credit students graduated from college in four years.

Concurrent credit courses have been a positive for Utah and I’m convinced they will be a positive for Idaho. I support this program as a member of the House Education Committee and urge parents and students to take advantage of this great educational opportunity.

Rep. Mortimer Receives Ag Award

From the Food Producers of Idaho, Inc.:

For Immediate Release

Ag All Stars Legislators Named

Ninety-one legislators were named Ag All Stars by Food Producers of Idaho based on their voting record on certain pieces of legislation in the 2007 Idaho Legislative Session. The legislators were honored at a recognition banquet at the beginning of the 2008 Session. Food Producers of Idaho, representing 38 different agriculture commodity and farm organizations in Idaho, annually honors legislators for their voting record on issues supported or opposed by the organization. According to Rick Waitley, Executive Director, the first year a legislator is honored, the award is an Ag License plate that reads “Al Str”. Each year after the initial award, a smaller plate with that year engraved is presented to each honoree.Ag All Star legislators are important to the Idaho agriculture and natural resource industries. The award has been present for the last six legislative sessions. Every issue that is identified as a tracked issue by the Food Producers organization may be an issue that will be used on the organizations scorecard at the end of the session.

Rep. Dean Mortimer was honored as a 2007 Food Producers of Idaho Ag All Star.

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.