Statehouse roundup, 3.14.13

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Rep. Gary Collins, R-Nampa

Personal property tax: Will they or won’t they? House Revenue and Taxation Committee Chairman Gary Collins, R-Nampa, has said a new personal property tax repeal bill would be up for committee consideration Friday.

But as of 5 p.m. Thursday, no such item was on the committee agenda. The author of the new bill, Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry president Alex LaBeau, said he has submitted a new bill, but hasn’t heard back.

So, stay tuned.

Public schools have a $38.6 million stake in the debate; that’s how much they collected in 2012 from this tax on business equipment, machinery and supplies.

Revenue and Taxation will meet at 8 a.m. Friday, and one item is on the agenda: House Bill 286, Sen. Bob Nonini’s bill to allow an income tax credit for donations to private school scholarships.

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Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle

Salary dollars. Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, introduced a new bill in the House Education Committee that would require the 1.67 percent salary cut restored in the pending 2013-14 school budget go to teachers’ salaries or extended contract days.

DeMordaunt said the bill attempts to strike a balance between intent language adopted by the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee and policy guidance he believes the education committees should provide.

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The dispute over intent language appears to be one of the sticking points on the school budget bills, which have yet to advance after JFAC set the school budget March 4.

Use-it-or-lose-it. House Education sent House Bill 275 to the floor with a recommendation it pass. The bill extends use-it-or-lose-it salary funding flexibility for districts into the 2013-14 school year. Districts would be able to employ up to 9.5 percent fewer education positions than they receive funding for.

The original funding flexibility was adopted to allow districts some freedom with local budgets in response to funding cuts and the recession.

Labor negotiations. On what was nearly a party-line vote, the House passed a bill to allow school boards to impose its last best offer in the event of a negotiations impasse. House Bill 260, fashioned after language from the defeated Proposition 1, is co-sponsored by the Idaho School Boards Association and the Idaho Association of School Administrators. The House vote was 55-14; Rexburg Republican Douglas Hancey joined Democrats in opposition. The bill goes to the Senate.

Another ISBA labor bill, House Bill 259, cleared the House with a similar vote — 56-13. This bill allows school districts to place employees on unpaid leave if they are subject to a court order preventing them from fulfilling their contracts. Gooding Democratic Rep. Donna Pence joined 55 House Republicans in supporting the bill. Caldwell Republican Rep. Darrell Bolz joined 12 House Democrats in opposing the bill.

Early retirement program. On Thursday afternoon the House passed a bill that would repeal the teachers’ Early Retirement Incentive Program.

The program provides financial bonuses to teachers between ages 55 and 63 who seek to retire before they reach the state pension fund’s  “rule of 90” eligibility threshold.

The program was enacted in 1996, but taken off the books during the past two years while Students Come First laws were in place. Following the voter repeal, the retirement incentive went back into law.

Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, said not repealing the incentive will cost the state $3.6 million because it was not included in the pending school budget set earlier this month. Boyle also said the program is outdated and doesn’t really function as an incentive.

“We are sending the wrong message to our experienced teachers by saying ‘we want you to retire so we can hire much less expensive, inexperienced teachers,’” Boyle said.

House Democrats attempted to block the bill, saying it is an important way for teachers who stayed home to raise children to offset early retirement penalties.

“(The program) helps defray the cost of health care premiums for some teachers who would never reach the rule of 90 and have to take a penalty for the years they retire before (the sum of) their age and experience reach 90,” Rep. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise.

The bill passed 54-15, with Republican Reps. Mike Moyle of Star and Douglas Hancey of Rexburg joining all 13 Democrats in opposing the bill. The bill passed the Senate 29-6 on Feb, 26 and now heads to Gov. Butch Otter for final consideration.

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Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls

School bonds: The Senate Education Committee approved House Bill 218, which would allow school boards to take out 30-year bonds.  Currently, the maximum is 20 years. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, conceded that the longer bonds would cost more — but would give districts added flexibility. The bill now goes to the Senate floor.

School security. The Senate passed a bill that would require school districts to work with local sheriffs on safety and security plans — and submit threat assessments to the state Department of Education. The plan will not go into effect until the 2014-15 school year, sponsoring Sen. Marv Hagedorn said, and this would allow a school safety task force to tweak the plan in 2014. The vote on Senate Bill 1133 was 33-1, with Boise Democrat Branden Durst in opposition; the bill now goes to the House. (For more about the public records aspect of SB 1133, check the EDge blog.)