Statehouse roundup, 4.9.15: Lawmakers want say on broadband

Before the state writes a new contract to provide high school broadband, lawmakers want their chance to weigh in.

Lakey New
Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa

Both the House and Senate have passed resolutions to create a legislative “interim committee” to study the issue. The moves come in the aftermath of the Idaho Education Network contract fiasco — which left Idaho without a statewide system, and left school districts scrambling to find a replacement.

The Senate passed its version of a broadband resolution Wednesday, before the House countered with a streamlined version Thursday morning. This version passed the House 63-0.

The Senate will likely defer to the House’s version, said Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa, the Senate’s majority caucus chairman.

Both resolutions have the same basic objective: to give the Legislature a chance to influence a new statewide broadband contract — and to weigh in on the need for a statewide framework. The House-passed resolution authorizes an interim committee “to undertake and complete a study of and make recommendations for broadband services and governance for the state of Idaho.”

After District Judge Patrick Owen voided the first Idaho Education Network contract, the Department of Administration began working on a rebid. The department has already sought feedback from would-be bidders, and has said it wants to go out for bids this summer.

This may affect the interim committee’s timetable, said Lakey. “That committee may be meeting quickly.”

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Other education issues seem all but settled for 2015, but the Legislature started and ended its 88th day with tax issues at center stage and no clear path toward adjournment.

Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis said it was still possible for the Legislature to adjourn for the year Friday, but he expressed disappointment a deal on roads and taxes wasn’t reached Thursday afternoon.

“If they can get something put together before we go on to the floor tomorrow (at 10:30 a.m. Friday) we still could adjourn sine die tomorrow, and that is what I’m still hoping for,” Davis told Idaho Education News Thursday afternoon.

Here’s a quick look at the issue:

Transportation. In one Senate committee room, a rare House-Senate conference committee spent all day trying unsuccessfully to hammer out some kind of an end-of-session highway funding compromise.

One potential question facing the conference committee’s four Republicans and two Democrats: Does Idaho break with custom and begin funding highway projects through general fund tax dollars? Gov. Butch Otter has said he opposes this idea, since it would pit highway repairs against education funding.

The committee is scheduled to reconvene at 8 a.m. Friday. If you want to listen to the conference committee’s deliberations, click here. And here’s a wrapup of the process from Betsy Russell of the Spokane Spokesman-Review.

Moyle New
Rep. Mike Moyle, R-Star

Grocery taxes. The House Thursday gave its blessing to a bill to boost Idaho’s grocery tax credit by $10 per person. The vote was 68-1, with Burley Republican Fred Wood casting the sole no vote.

If it becomes law, the increased tax credit would take $13.8 million from the state’s general fund. The bill would still need to pass the Senate before going to the governor’s desk.

House Majority Leader Mike Moyle is seeking the increase in the credit. Earlier this session, Moyle engineered a far-reaching tax overhaul that included a repeal of the sales tax on groceries. The bill passed the House but was quickly rejected in the Senate.

Check back with Idaho Education News on Friday for continuing coverage of the late-session showdown between the House and Senate. 

 

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