2015 Legislative Outlook

January 20, 2015

One may be sure of one thing in Idaho politics: correctly predicting upcoming issues in the Idaho Legislature would take miraculous predictive abilities. Those abilities don’t exist in this Senator. After being at the Capitol for the first week of the legislative session, there are however, quickly emerging issues.

Governor Otter clearly indicated in his State of the State speech that restoring education funding and K-12 reform are his top priorities. The legislature and Governor are now aligned in purpose with education being the top priority. Our wonderful teachers will certainly receive significant wage increases. The most intense debate will be how much money to put into operational funding for school districts. My best guess is that the legislature and Governor will be nearly successful in restoring funding to pre-recession levels, if not more. Tied into those discussions will be implementation of the 20 Education Task Force recommendations.

Transportation funding will also be an issue. One cannot dispute that many of our bridges and overpasses are over 50 years old and need of updating. Discussion will develop around how to raise funds to accomplish bridge repair without shifting money away from road maintenance.

Adding the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to Idaho’s human rights statute will be discussed. The House
State Affairs Committee has already voted to introduce legislation. The legislation will receive a hearing in front of the House State Affairs committee. The hearing will likely take several days, beginning next week. One cannot predict if the committee will vote for passage or not. Behind the scenes, leadership has been meeting with Add the Words leaders to find agreement, with little success.

The one constitutional requirement by the legislature is to pass a state budget. The Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee (JFAC), on which I sit as the senior ranking member, began budget hearings the second day of the legislature. Agency presentations will continue daily until the last of February. From then on JFAC sets budgets until all 100+ budgets are set, voted upon by the legislature, and signed by the Governor. Only then may the legislature adjourn.

The Senate Resource and Environment Committee will have several very challenging rules before it, including expansion of acreage of land considered to be part of the Eastern Snake River Plain Aquifer. There are deep concerns that increasing acreage will do little except increase the number of wells and diversions subject to water calls. Also, Natural Gas drilling and production rules will be refined, some of which are also contentious. After the rules acceptance or rejection is completed, the Resource Committee will take up the Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s proposed license, tag, and permit fee increases. IDFG is proposing a 15% to 20% increase in resident fees. Input from hunters and fishermen on this issue (as on all other issues) will be deeply appreciated.

Senator Steve Bair
Chairman, Senate Resources and Environment Committee

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