Legislative endgame: The live blog

6:58 p.m.: And now it’s official on the House side as well. The 2014 Legislature adjourns sine die.

6:57 p.m.: And the first final gavel drops — on the Senate side. The Senate adjourns sine die.

5:34 p.m.: The last piece of the K-12 puzzle for 2014 passed the House.

House Bill 589, the amended school safety bill, will now head to the governor’s desk. The bill will allow school districts to siphon cigarette tax money to a variety of safety functions — such as hiring school resource officers, installing intercoms and lock systems, or completing school safety plans.

The vote was 65-5.

(For more on this bill’s voyage through the legislative chambers Thursday, scroll down to my 2:21 p.m. and 10:47 a.m. posts.)

5:14 p.m.: The $4.8 million broadband bailout bill passed the Senate 35-0, with no debate.

The bill will keep the Idaho Education Network afloat until Feb. 28. The funding provides the “bare minimum” required to retain broadband until the 2015 legislative session, said Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, co-chair of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.

The Senate vote came roughly three hours after the House said yes to the bailout. (For details, scroll down to my 2:21 p.m. post.)

2:44 p.m.: The Senate gave its unanimous blessing to a school safety bill, another last-day piece of the puzzle on the K-12 front.

House Bill 589 would allow school districts to tap into cigarette tax dollars to develop and establish safety plan.

The bill still needs to go back to the House for another vote, since the Senate amended the bill earlier Thursday. (Scroll down to my 10:47 a.m. post to get the details.)

2:21 p.m.: Early Thursday afternoon action on both sides of the Rotunda:

  • “It equates to I.O.U.” With that rejoinder, JFAC co-chair Maxine Bell moved from the alphabet soup of Idaho’s broadband budget mess to the business of keeping the program afloat. The House approved a $4.8 million bailout to keep the Idaho Education Network online through February — allowing the 2015 Legislature another look at the issue. The vote was 68-1. Idaho Falls Republican Rep. Janet Trujillo cast the lone no vote.
  • The final pieces of the K-12 budget sailed through the Senate Thursday afternoon: funding for deaf and blind programs and central services. The latter bill drew a little bit of blowback, since $2.7 million of the budget goes into professional development for the Idaho Core Standards. The bills passed, 34-0 and 29-5 respectively. The components of the $1.37 billion K-12 budget now go to Gov. Butch Otter’s desk.
  • After the Senate finished its work on the K-12 budget, Sens. Cameron and John Goedde took turns praising retiring state superintendent Tom Luna, who watched Thursday’s proceedings from the gallery. Goedde, a Coeur d’Alene Republican and chairman of the Senate Education Committee, conceded problems in the process behind Propositions 1, 2 and 3 — but said current education reform efforts have their roots in the three voter-rejected laws. “Where we are today we would not be, had Students Come First not come forward. … The catalyst was Students Come First.” Senators gave Luna a standing ovation.

1:08 p.m.: A day after the House passed the seven pieces of the K-12 budget, a key budget-writer was explaining his whereabouts Thursday.

Rep. Jeff Thompson was conspicuous by his absence Wednesday, when seven Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee took turns carrying pieces of the K-12 budget on the House floor. Thompson has carried K-12 budget bills on the floor in past sessions. On Wednesday, Thompson was back in Idaho Falls; he spent part of the day at a fundraiser for Otter and Rep. Mike Simpson, headlined by former presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

Thompson’s absence did not go unnoticed by Bell, who worked a little barb into her opening debate on one of the spending bills. “Someone’s off with Mitt Romney and I’m here with you,” said Bell, R-Jerome.

Here’s what Thompson told  the Spokane Spokesman-Review’s Betsy Russell Thursday: “I had a couple of appointments in Idaho Falls I had to make, so I went home Tuesday night. It just happened to coincide with when the governor was here, so I was able to participate.” He said the K-12 budgets were not on the calendar when Thompson left town Tuesday night.

12:06 p.m.: Five down. Two to go.

It took the Senate roughly 30 minutes to spend just over $1.1 billion of general fund dollars on K-12.

With little debate, senators passed five of the seven K-12 budget bills. Four passed on unanimous 34-0 votes. Only the budget for teacher pay drew opposition and dissent.

But the opposition had little to do with teacher pay: a 1 percent teacher pay raise and $15.8 million in teacher leadership premiums. The opposition centered on professional development money to support the new Idaho Core Standards. Republican Sens. Steve Vick of Dalton Gardens and Sheryl Nuxoll of Cottonwood used this vote as an opportunity to voice objections to the new standards — which were approved in 2011 by legislative rule, but not by a vote of the entire Legislature.

Supporters of the bill conceded that they would like to do more for teacher pay. A state committee is looking at tiered teacher licenses, the mechanism for a $253 million salary ladder structure; the committee recommendations will be ready in time for the 2015 session. “I look for substantial changes next year,” said Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, a member of the licensure committee.

The budget represents “headway” on teacher pay, said Boise Democrat Janie Ward-Engelking. But the retired teacher says the state needs to put more money into teacher pay.

The teacher pay bill passed 29-5.

The Senate took a break after passing five budget bills, for a graduation ceremony for student pages.

Here’s a recap of Wednesday’s more heated House debate on the K-12 budgets, and a breakdown on the budget bills.

10:47 a.m.: One other K-12 issue hanging fire Thursday: House Bill 589, which would allow school districts to tap into cigarette tax dollars to develop and establish safety plan.

The Senate amended the bill to carve out $80,000 for the state’s Commission of Hispanic Affairs. Under HB 589’s original funding formula, the commission stood to lose this funding, said Cameron, R-Rupert, co-chairman of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.

If HB 589 is to pass this session, this bill may well need to navigate through both houses today. The Senate approved the amendments this morning but still will need to vote on the bill. Then the House will need to take up the bill all over again; the House approved the initial version on a 54-16 vote.

It’s not unusual, however, for both houses to suspend legislative rules and pass the same bill in one day, during the final hours of a session.

New state Rep. Patrick McDonald, a Boise Republican and retired U.S. marshal, has been playing a key role on this bill. Click here for Clark Corbin’s profile of McDonald.

10:01 a.m.: Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis kicked off Thursday’s floor session with a challenge to his colleagues: “Let’s go home today.”

Sen. Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls

Legislative leaders are trying to make a push to wrap up business Thursday — on what would be the 74th day of the 2014 session, and one day ahead of their self-imposed March 21 target date for adjournment.

There are two big spending matters hanging fire Thursday, with direct links to K-12. The first is the $1.37 billion package of seven K-12 budget bills, which passed the House Wednesday afternoon and now have to get through the Senate. The second is the $4.8 million bailout to keep the Idaho Education Network broadband system afloat through February; House Bill 650 hasn’t passed either chamber.

Stay tuned here, and elsewhere at Idaho Education News, for updates.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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