Statehouse roundup, 2.1.24: Budget committee agrees on 3% employee raises

The Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee settled on 3% state employee raises Thursday. 

That decision will affect state college and university wages but not K-12 school salaries, which are set locally. Higher education institutions also supplement salaries with tuition and fee revenue. 

JFAC lawmakers unanimously voted to give state workers 1% raises, across the board, along with 2% merit-based increases. Agency heads will have the discretion to distribute the merit-based funds. 

The state government is Idaho’s largest employer, with roughly 25,000 employees. The Thursday vote concurred with the Legislature’s Change in Employee Compensation Committee recommendation on pay increases. 

The budget committee earlier this month included 1% across-the-board raises in agencies’ “maintenance budgets” — benchmark appropriations that exclude agency requests for new spending. The additional 2% merit raises will be incorporated in final budgets, which will be set in the coming weeks.

Sen. C. Scott Grow, R-Eagle

Employee compensation was one of two statewide decisions that JFAC had yet to settle before it sets final budgets. Still-outstanding is a revenue projection, which will limit how much the committee spends. 

But the employee raise decision allows JFAC to move forward with final budget-setting, starting Friday. 

“We needed this action today before we can set any more budgets,” said JFAC Co-chair Sen. C. Scott Grow, R-Eagle. 

IEA: Guns-in-schools bill is unsafe, unnecessary

A day after the House passed a bill that would allow more teachers to carry weapons in school, the state’s teachers’ union is stepping up its opposition to the idea.

In a letter to senators Thursday, the Idaho Education Association said House Bill 415 would allow untrained employees and volunteers to carry in school, which could put students at risk of an accidental shooting.

“Alternative solutions that do not involve arming school employees can be explored to address any concerns related to school safety,” said the letter, co-signed by IEA President Layne McInelly and its 27-member board of directors. “The status quo adequately meets the school district and community needs to keep students safe.”

Backed by the National Rifle Association, HB 415 would allow school employees to carry a weapon on campus, if they have a concealed weapons permit. The House passed the bill Wednesday on a 53-16 vote, sending it to the Senate.

Senate clears constitutional amendment limiting special sessions

When lawmakers in 2022 drafted a constitutional amendment giving themselves the right to convene a special session, they neglected a provision that limits how long the session could be. 

Since voters approved the amendment, there’s been no limit on how long the Legislature could meet for a special session. The Senate on Thursday advanced a new constitutional amendment correcting the oversight and limiting special sessions to 20 days. 

Senate Majority Caucus Chair Mark Harris, R-Soda Springs

The amendment would ensure the Legislature remains part-time, a “blessing” and source of “pride,” according to Senate Majority Caucus Chair Mark Harris, R-Soda Springs. “We pass laws, we work here and we go home. And we have to live by the things that we do,” Harris told the Senate State Affairs Committee last week. 

Previously, only the governor could call a special session of the Legislature. But two years ago, voters narrowly approved an addition to the Idaho Constitution that gave lawmakers the right to convene themselves. 

Meanwhile, the Constitution continues to put a time limit on special sessions “convened…by the governor,” meaning sessions called by the Legislature are unrestrained. A handful of Republicans want to keep it that way. 

Ten GOP senators Thursday opposed the joint resolution to reinstate the 20-day limit. Sen. Scott Herndon, R-Sagle, said the Legislature — an “equal branch of government” — is more cost-effective than the bureaucratic arm of the state government. And the Legislature sometimes needs to exercise budgeting and lawmaking authority outside a regular session, like it did during the COVID-19 pandemic, Herndon said. 

“I don’t want to put a constraint on what that possibility might be for future situations,” he said. 

The constitutional amendment needs two-thirds support from the House and the Senate — it cleared the Senate with just one vote to spare. The joint resolution now heads to the House. 

A majority of Idaho voters also have to approve a constitutional amendment. Publicizing the amendment ahead of a vote will cost the state $200,000, according to a fiscal note for the joint resolution. 

Ryan Suppe and Kevin Richert

Ryan Suppe and Kevin Richert

Senior reporter Ryan Suppe covers education policy, focusing on K-12 schools. He previously reported on state politics, local government and business. Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism.

Get EdNews in your inbox

Weekly round up every Friday