Statehouse roundup, 3.24.17: House picks up pace

One day after procedural battles brought the House floor to a virtual standstill, lawmakers picked up the pace Friday.

Maverick lawmakers set aside their objections — which on Thursday forced House clerks to recite three bills on the floor, and triggered a tense, three-hour closed-door Republican caucus meeting.

They didn’t make headway on the two topics that stand in the path of adjourning the 2017 legislative session: transportation and taxes.

The Senate is still holding onto one transportation bill — a $300 million highway bonding plan. The Senate could have voted on the bill today, but set it aside for the weekend.

The House hasn’t acted on a bill — rewritten and passed by the Senate — to eliminate the sales tax on groceries. The House Revenue and Taxation Committee is scheduled to take up the bill Monday afternoon, and House members will have to decide whether to go along with the Senate’s complete rewrite of a tax bill. The Senate took a House-passed bill to reduce income tax rates, deleted all references to income tax reductions and plugged in grocery tax language.

With transportation and taxes in limbo, the Legislature took up one education topic of note.

Both houses approved a spending bill earmarking $400,000 for a review of the state’s K-12 funding formula. That money will support a legislative committee that will spend the next several months reviewing the funding formula — and perhaps writing up recommended changes.

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Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, pushed the interim committee funding bill. Horman, the interim committee’s vice chairwoman, said the $400,000 will pay for a consultant and the use of computer modeling software that can simulate the impact proposed new school funding models will have on school districts.

Nobody debated against the spending bill, which passed the House 65-2. Reps. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, and Megan Blanksma, R-Hammett, cast the only “no” votes, but they did not explain their opposition.

The Senate approved the spending plan 35-0.

Science standards

House Democrats made one last-ditch effort Friday to rekindle the debate over removing five references to human impact on the environment and climate change from a slate of temporary school science standards.

Although lawmakers voted to remove the climate change references earlier this year, Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, and eight other Democrats attacked Senate Concurrent Resolution 121, which extends all legislative rules, not just the sciences standards.

Rubel referenced an informational hearing on climate change earlier this month that attracted hundreds to the Statehouse, saying Idahoans truly are interested in studying climate change and learning about how humans affect the environment. Rubel also said removing climate change references from school science standards “takes us into the dark ages of science denial.”

Rep. Scott Syme, R-Caldwell, the lawmaker who led the effort to remove references to climate change, said his problem with the science standards is they don’t tell both sides of the debate and don’t point out any positive human impacts on the environment, such as efforts to embrace clean, renewable energy sources. Syme also pointed out the science standards are temporary, and will return to the Legislature again in 2018.

In the end, the House voted 56-9 to approve SCR 121.

Idaho Education News reporter Clark Corbin contributed to this report. 

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