The House Education Committee will begin testing a program this session to allow citizens to testify even if they cannot travel to Boise.
Committee Chairwoman Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree, announced the remote testimony pilot program during House Education’s organizational meeting Tuesday.
The program, pushed by Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy, R- Genesee, is designed to open the legislative and policymaking process to Idahoans who live outside the Treasure Valley. This means residents from far-flung corners of Idaho won’t have to rearrange work and childcare schedules and brave icy highways in order to make their voice heard.
In previous sessions, residents who wished to testify were basically out of luck if they could not travel to Boise to attend a legislative hearing.
During the pilot program, residents will be able to visit a regional location, and use video teleconferencing technology to offer live remote testimony to House Education.
“I think it’s awesome,” VanOrden said. “It gives the citizens of Idaho the ability to testify to the Idaho Legislature without having to come to Boise.”
Troy said she pushed for the idea after she and a North Idaho constituent split a plane ticket to allow the resident to testify on a bill. After buying the ticket, the committee process got sideways, the bill fell apart, the constituent was unable to testify and they were out money for the plane ticket, Troy said.
The experience was disappointing, but Troy said it inspired her to look for a better way.
Because it is a pilot program, the remote testimony program will only be available for certain days and certain bills, which VanOrden will announce 72 hours in advance. The program is open to residents who live more than 100 miles outside of Boise, and they will have to testify at centers in Twin Falls, Pocatello, Moscow, Carmen, Coeur d’Alene and Idaho Falls.
Troy said she initially received pushback from some legislators who worried the program could extend the session or length of meetings. But she said House Speaker Scott Bedke offered to give his blessing if Troy could find a committee chairman who would agree to embrace the system.
Troy found that advocate in VanOrden.
“This is why I wanted to be in the Idaho Legislature,” Troy said. “I want to bring the voice of Idaho to Boise, and I think this is a great way to do it.”
More information about the project, including a training video, guidelines and specific location details, is available online.
New legislator assigned to House Education
In other news Tuesday, House Education added a new member, newly appointed Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls. Last month, Gov. Butch Otter appointed Ehardt to fill the unexpired legislative seat of former Rep. Janet Trujillo, who Otter appointed to the State Tax Commission. Ehardt is a member of the Idaho Falls City Council who finished second in the city’s mayoral runoff election Dec. 5.
Ehardt is a former head women’s basketball coach at Cal State Fullerton who now works as a coach and youth programming manager at an Idaho Falls athletic club. Her City Council term expires Thursday.
JFAC begins looking at the state budget
The budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee released its hearing schedule Tuesday morning.
Anyone interested in watching the education budgets come together should circle the week of Jan. 22 on their calendars. That week culminates Jan. 25 with Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra’s closely watched budget hearing. That event marks the chance for Ybarra to make her formal budget pitch to the Legislature and advocate for her spending and policy proposals.
Throughout that week, JFAC will also conduct hearings for each of the state’s colleges and universities.
Each year, the K-12 budget is the state’s largest general fund expense. Once higher education is figured in, education spending accounts for about 63 percent of all general fund spending.
JFAC is expected to start setting budgets on Feb. 16.
JFAC key hearing dates
- Jan. 22: State Board of Education, community colleges.
- Jan. 23: Idaho State University, Boise State University.
- Jan. 24: University of Idaho.
- Jan. 25: Ybarra’s K-12 budget hearing.