Statehouse roundup, 4.8.2015

Seven minutes.

That’s how long the Senate and House education committees each needed to complete what could be their final meetings of the session.

Blink and you’d miss it, but seven minutes proved just long enough to advance some of the final education bills of the session.

First up on Wednesday, Senate Education Committee members voted unanimously to advance House Bill 323, which was billed as a cleanup bill needed to reconcile the career ladder salary law with the removal of a sunset clause from another new law passed this session, Senate Bill 1088.

Senate Bill 1088 is a labor law dealing with continuing contracts and reductions in force.

Members of the House already passed the reconciliation bill 69-0 on Tuesday.

Early Wednesday evening, members of the full Senate took House Bill 323 up on the Senate floor and quickly passed it 33-0 without any debate.

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On Wednesday morning, members of the House Education Committee also met — again for just seven minutes — to consider changes the Senate made to a bill designed to create a savings reserve account for charter schools.

Clow New
Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls

House Bill 309 was pitched as a way to help charter schools combat high interest loan costs by providing a safety net that lenders could consider before approving a building loan. The House had already passed the bill, but Senators added amendments that would require any charter school that borrows from the fund to repay the money within 10 years.

Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, called the amendments a smart move and said he would have included them in the original bill if he had been aware of the possibilities that charters could — potentially — tap into that funding source, use the money and get back on their financial feet without failing.

“I wish (the changes) had come earlier in the session, not a week or two after we should be home,” Clow said.

The amended bill next heads to the House floor — with the committee’s blessing — for consideration.

The major education issues of the legislative session appear to be resolved – between Otter signing the career ladder bill into law Thursday and the House passing the seven K-12 public school budget bills on Monday.

Both education committee have adjourned “subject to call of the chair” meaning there are no additional meetings scheduled unless either Sen. Dean Mortimer or Rep. Reed DeMordaunt decide to reconvene the groups.

In other Statehouse action:

Broadband. Late Wednesday members of the Senate State Affairs Committee voted to introduce a new bill that would create a committee to oversee broadband programs in Idaho schools.

A couple of hours later on Wednesday evening — before members of the public could read or provide feedback on the new Senate concurrent resolution — members of the Senate voted 33-0 to pass the proposal and send it over to the house.

The move comes at what is likely the end of legislative session in which lawmakers wrestled with the collapse of the statewide Idaho Education Network broadband program.

Before the bill went to the floor, Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, questioned the cost estimate for the committee. Sponsoring Rep. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa, said the committee could cost between $10,000 and $200,000, depending on whether they take action or recommend appointment of a statewide broadband facilitator. Hill asked Lakey how the Legislature could afford such costs through its small legislative account — the committee was not included in Otter’s budget request or the K-12 public school budgets that cleared the House on Monday.

The bill does not define what a facilitator is or what role such a person would play, Lakey said under questioning on the Senate floor.

Nevertheless, committee members and the full Senate voted unanimously to advance it.

The two-page bill does not specify how many people would be appointed to the committee, only that the Legislative Council would appoint the members.

STEM Center. Members of the House voted 60-9 to approve $647,300 to pay for a new STEM Center.

Lawmakers already passed a bill creating the center, which would be designed to coordinate and oversee the implementation of STEM programs and promote science, technology, engineering and math education initiatives.

The idea for the STEM center, which would be housed in Otter’s office, sprang from the STEM Caucus meetings that Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, and DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, organized this session.

The bill approved Wednesday provides funding for the center. On Wednesday evening, members of the Senate voted 30-2 to pass the STEM Center budget bill and send it to Otter for final consideration.

Legislative end game. While education issues appear to be resolved, lawmakers continued to wrestle with transportation and tax issues Wednesday. Those unresolved issues, coupled with a small number of budget bills awaiting votes, are the reasons lawmakers have not adjourned for the year.

On Wednesday, members of the Senate Transportation Committee voted 6-3 to pass House Bill 310, a transportation bill that would shift money around to cover roads funding, Betsy Z. Russell of the Spokesman-Review reports.

Otter and several education groups have said they do not support bills that would dip into state general fund monies to pay for roads.

A day earlier, on Tuesday, Senators amended a different transportation bill, House Bill 312. The Senate amendments change the proposal from a $20 million roads bill to a $127 million roads bill by increasing the gas tax and raising registration fees, Russell reports.

The amended road bill went back to the House Wednesday afternoon, when the House Transportation Committee swiftly rejected the Senate amendments, leaving adjournment questions unresolved, Russell reports.