From wolves to guns, 2011 session provoked debate
Updated: Tuesday, April 12, 2011 9:58 AM
By JESSIE BONNER and JOHN MILLER
BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- Drama was rarely far from the 2011 Idaho Legislature, as lawmakers debated wolves, guns on campus and even a piece of obscure American history that some conservatives hoped would help them block enactment of Congress' health reforms in the state.
Conservatives drew on writings of Thomas Jefferson from 1798 to promote a plan to nullify Congress' health insurance overhaul that's despised by Idaho Republicans.
The House passed the measure, but state senators found it unconstitutional. Backers resurrected a tuned-down version that orders government not to implement "discretionary" parts of the federal insurance overhaul which they believe will undermine America.
"It takes away our right to choose our doctor, sets up death panels, (and) sets up a wealth of programs in the home to take our children away from us, which is the same way the Nazis did," Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, said during debate on the Senate floor last week.
This wasn't the only issue that inspired emotional rhetoric during the 88-day session. Here's a brief rundown of some of the other bills that also dominated discussions:
Guns on campus: Idaho lawmakers love their guns, but decided to leave it to university leaders to decide how to regulate firearms on campuses across the state. The House passed a measure that would have prohibited schools from banning firearms anywhere on campus except in undergraduate residence halls, but state senators killed the bill, arguing "there are times and places where guns are not appropriate on campus."
Who's afraid of the big bad wolves? Idaho: Lawmakers passed an emergency declaration that would allow Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter to enlist local law enforcement agents to help eliminate problem wolves in the state. The measure cleared the 2011 session despite concerns from some lawmakers that the measure expands powers of the executive powers beyond what is intended in the state constitution.
Jobs bill: Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's measure to reward employers who add to their payrolls through 2013 will be a pick-me-up that helps dig the state economy out of its doldrums. His so-called "Hire One Act" offer employers tax credits worth between 2 percent and 6 percent, with the companies that have held onto workers during the recession getting the biggest breaks.
Scarf-gate: House Democrats led the charge to kill legislation that would have lifted the state's cap on charter schools, staging a protest over promotional items -- mainly bright yellow scarves with pro-charter school slogans -- that were passed out to lawmakers before a vote on the measure. Efforts to revive the last-minute were fruitless and House Speaker Lawerence Denney used his final remarks to apologize for the dustup that became known as the "scarf incident."
Wind rebates: Idaho wind energy companies and utilities including Idaho Power Co. struck a deal to extend a sales tax rebate to alternative energy developers that's worth tens of millions annually. All seemed to be breezing along, before the Idaho Senate killed it 18-17 on the final day of the session. Wind developers' lobbists stood by, stunned by the vote.
Megaloads: In a bid to protect oil equipment shipments from Exxon Mobil on U.S. Highway 12 from lawsuits, lawmakers passed a measure require anyone using the courts to challenge plans to haul oversized loads on state roadways to post a bond equal to 5 percent of the load's insured value. Democratic foes said the bill created an onerous hurdle to legitimate lawsuits, while advocates said it would protect trucking jobs from activist groups who use lawsuits to thwart economic activity.
Abortion: Idaho would ban abortions after the fetus has reached 20 weeks after fertilization, a new tact promoted by anti-abortion advocates based on disputed evidence that fetuses in the womb can feel pain. The measure was modeled after a Nebraska law, but opponents raised concerns that it could interfere with parents making heartrending decisions about fetuses suffering from genetic anomalies. In another move to limit abortions, lawmakers approved a plan to ban state insurance exchanges from providing coverage for elective abortions.
Cigarette tax hike -- snuffed out: Proponents of boosting Idaho's 57 cent-per-pack cigarette tax had hoped a $1.25 hike would help discourage youth smoking -- and add $50 million to the Medicaid budget. But support for the measure never really materialized among Republicans, despite a Democratic protest, and it never got an official hearing.
Assisted suicide: Helping a person kill himself in Idaho would carry penalties of five years in prison for violations, under a bill that makes assisted suicide a felony. It's awaiting Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's signature.
Chicken ranch rules: With some lawmakers fearing big California chicken ranches are coming to Idaho, they took another crack at it and passed legislation to give state Department of Agriculture officials oversight over big poultry farms.
This bus brought to you by: A move to allow school districts to boost their revenue by selling ads and corporate logs on their buses failed. Supporters called it free cash for school districts, while foes argued the idea of it undermines the notion of a free, independent public education.
Right to farm: Farmers and ranchers won new protections from nuisance lawsuits when expanding their operations, a sign of changing times in Idaho as agriculture feels under threat from expanding suburbia. Supporters called this "right to farm," while foes called it a "right to pollute" measure that undermines neighbors ability to weigh in about dairies or a mint distilleries.
Medicaid malaise: Idaho lawmakers cut $35 million in state funding from Medicaid programs for Idaho's disabled, elderly and low-income residents. Democrats said these cuts -- which with federal funding losses will total about $108 million in fiscal year 2012 -- will shift costs to emergency rooms, jails and prisons. Supporters including Rep. Janice McGeachin said she took special care to listen to interest groups -- and make sure cuts are as humane as possible.
Grocery tax break: Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter pledged back in 2008 to only delay expansion of the grocery tax break for virtually all Idaho residents in the event of a budget crisis. The crisis finally arrived, with Otter supporting the delay -- but not the end -- of the tax credit expansion, saving the state about $15 million in the fiscal year starting July 1.
Sticky note protest: After verbal appeals to Senate State Affairs Committee Chairman Curt McKenzie failed, gay rights activists resorted to sticky notes -- pasted to McKenzie's committee room door -- to protest his refusal to hear a bill that would ban workplace and housing discrimination against people who are gay, lesbian or transgender. McKenzie still wouldn't give them a hearing.
Closed primary: Republicans who sought to close primary elections only to party faithful to thwart crossover voting won a big victory in March when a federal judge threw out Idaho's 38-year-old open primary law. Now, primary elections will be restricted to registered voters, unless party leaders agree to allow unaffiliated voters to participate. Especially galling to minority Democrats was this tidbit: Idaho taxpayers had to pay the Republican Party $100,000 for its legal fees from the court case.
Inattentive driving: If you weren't paying attention, you might have missed the Idaho Legislature's latest attempt to give police more power to punish people who drive inattentively while texting. Under Rep. Marv Hagedorn's bill, drivers could have continued texting, but only if they were actually paying attention to the road, too. Lawmakers who dumped the bill 41-28 feared it could put all use of a cell phone behind the wheel in jeopardy
Video licensing: Qwest Communications was repeatedly rebuffed in its efforts to convince lawmakers to put the state in charge of handing out franchises for new video services, something that's now under control of local governments. Initially, it was Boise and Pocatello that raised objections, while later versions won the scorn of public access TV stations like Treasure Valley Community Television.
Internet taxes: Another year, another opportunity for the House Revenue and Taxation Committee to balk at joining a nationwide effort to tax Internet sales. A separate effort by a Republican lawmaker, Rep. Julie Ellsworth of Boise, to highlight the requirement that people report their Internet taxes on the state tax forms -- something that's already required -- went down to defeat, too.
Rape-by-fraud: Lawmakers closed a loophole that allowed a man to skirt rape charges, if the woman he tricked into having sex wasn't officially his spouse. The law was changed after a bizarre incident in Ada County where a judge said she had to release two men accused of rape, because Idaho's rape-by-fraud law currently only covered married people.
Geddes departure: First, Sen. Bob Geddes resigned his post as Senate president pro tempore. Then, he stepped down from the chamber altogether, after he was appointed by Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter as chairman of the Idaho State Tax Commission. Geddes set about helping repair the reputation of the agency following the resignation of Royce Chigbrow, who quit while being probed for ethics lapses.
Crime won't pay -- at least not more fees: The bill was supposed to be simple: Boost fees assessed criminals and other lawbreakers by $1.50 to add $390,000 to the state police academy's dwindling budget. But conservative House lawmakers killed the measure on a 35-31 vote, setting a clear precedent that tax and fee increases, no matter how small and on whom they were to be assessed, were endangered species in the 2011 session.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.