COEUR d'ALENE - Local legislators say the pace of this year's legislative session is quickening as the deadline for sending bills to opposing chambers approaches.
Legislative District 4
According to Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d'Alene, the transmittal deadline for new legislation is coming up on March 9, meaning House bills that will be heard in the Senate, and Senate bills that will be heard in the House, must be transmitted by then, or they will not be considered this session.
"If a bill is not transmitted by March 9, then it's going to have to wait," Souza said, adding things are really getting busy for her.
Souza said her sunshine bill, which would require school board candidates to report campaign contributions, will get a hearing today.
"My parental rights bill will be heard later in the week," she said, adding she is going to sponsor an urban renewal bill later in the week as well, but she could not discuss details until it is introduced in committee.
"It is just a little bill," she said. "It's not designed to damage urban renewal."
Rep. Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d'Alene, is working on a couple of urban renewal bills as well.
"One deals with the board members of an urban renewal district being required to reside in the municipality," she said, adding the other bills she working on with Souza. "They will all come through Local Government, so I know they will be heard."
Sims is the vice chair of the House Local Government Committee. She also sits on the House State Affairs Committee, which was fairly busy this past week.
"State Affairs was definitely interesting this week," she said. "But State Affairs was is always busy. I have heard so many people testify this session."
Sims said transportation funding is the paramount issue for every legislator right now.
"We are so far behind," she said. "Why have we kicked the can down the road so long?"
Sims said if all the other state agencies could hold the line on their budgets this year, there would be enough growth in revenues to help fund the transportation needs.
"But that is not going to happen," she said, adding it seems like every agency wants to increase its budget by 4 or 5 percent.
"It's always a challenge, but this will be a tough year," Sims said.
Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d'Alene, said things are moving very slowly on the big issues he is grappling with.
"It is slow," he said. "There has been almost no movement on transportation funding."
Malek, who sits on the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee and a special task force on the Idaho Education Network, said they are still looking for ideas on how to fund broadband in schools.
"The big thing right now is funding for fiscal year 2016," he said, explaining that would be from July 1 of this year to June 30, 2016. "That's going to be another appropriation."
Malek said his wife, Tara Malek, is going to be sitting in for him for a couple of days next week. Tara said she is looking forward to the experience.
"It will be nice to see what he does while he is down there," she said.
Legislative District 3
Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, said the Veterans Home bill seeking $11 million in state matching money is set for a hearing in the Senate State Affairs Committee on Monday.
"I don't anticipate any opposition to that," Nonini said. "But you never know on these things."
He said his "Pay for Success" bill has passed the full House and is making its way into the Senate. That bill would create a state reimbursed private sector program to encourage reading in pre-kindergarten aged children.
Nonini has also started a Science Technology Engineering and Math, or STEM, Caucus in the Senate. He is going to have his second caucus meeting this coming week.
"The last time we got 36, or about a third, of the legislators to attend," he said. "This time I am expecting close to 50 legislators."
Nonini is bringing in the director of Utah's STEM Action Center to discuss the STEM concept in terms of economic development.
"Most people were thinking STEM is only about education," Nonini said. "It is about education, but it is also economic development."
Nonini said he would like to pursue a STEM Action Center in Idaho to coordinate all of the STEM efforts in education, economic development and private sector business.
He has invited the superintendent of public instruction, and the head of the Idaho's Department of Commerce.
"It's like we have a lot of pieces to the jigsaw puzzle, but nobody has put them all together yet," Nonini said, adding a STEM Action Center could do just that.
A big issue that is coming up this week will be the Real ID issue, Nonini said.
"Come 2016 if we don't have Real ID, we won't be flying," he said. "The transportation department is telling us that it is a five-year process just to do the federal paperwork for Real ID."
Rep. Ron Mendive, R-Post Falls, said he has been buried in a lot of bills and emails this session.
"It's busy, really busy," he said. "Even though we have less bills to deal with this year, it's been extremely busy."
Mendive said the Real ID issue is working its way through the system. The legislature is trying to pass legislation that would seek an extension to implement the federal Real ID drivers licenses in Idaho.
Several years ago the federal government passed a law the would require an enhanced drivers license to enter any federal facility or any airplane.
At the time the state legislature passed a resolution banning the Idaho Transportation Department from implementing those federal regulations.
"Suddenly we have to address that," Mendive said. "Unless we are granted an extension, we won't be able to fly in 2016 without a passport."
Rep. Don Cheatham, R-Post Falls, said the big issue for him was the chemical abortion bill that would require a doctor's examination before the chemicals can be prescribed, and after the abortion occurs.
"The biggie was the one Vito (Barbieri) got famous on," Cheatham said, referring to comments Barbieri made during the committee hearing on chemical abortions.
Cheatham said he voted in favor of the bill because he is concerned for women who live in remote areas of Idaho and are prescribed the chemicals after talking with a doctor over the Internet.
Cheatham sits on the House State Affairs Committee, and said they were given Friday off to rest up for next week.
"We were told to get some rest because we have something coming next week," he said.
Other than that, Cheatham said he has been voting on legislation that is fiscally responsible and does not grow the size of government.
Legislative District 2
Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, said the Real ID issue is going to be a hot topic this week.
"ITD told us it is going to take five years and $30 million to implement that program," Vick said, adding many legislators are concerned about the personal information that Real ID will allow the federal government to gather on Idaho citizens.
He said the legislation that is moving through the legislature would only seek an extension to implement the program, but it doesn't address the security concerns that lawmakers have about the program.
Vick said a lot of his time has been spent on resource issues in southern Idaho. He said his biggest concerns are education and infrastructure.
"From Day 1 the governor said education and infrastructure are the top priorities," he said "And we still don't have any legislation."
Vick said Governor Butch Otter needs to lead on those issues if they are going to get done.
"So far, the governor has not taken the lead on this," Vick said.
Rep. Eric Redman, R-Athol, said he is cosponsoring Malek's paramedicine bill, which would allow certain emergency workers to perform more procedures out in the field, rather than simply transporting patients to the emergency room.
"I really think it will reduce the cost and improve the quality of healthcare," he said.
Redman said he is also co-sponsoring HB 89, or constitutional carry bill that would allow Idaho citizens to carry concealed weapons without a permit.
But he is not sure if that bill is going to get a hearing yet.
Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, said HB 89 is being vetted by the Boyle-Davis subcommittee, which was successful vetting committee established during the last legislative session.
Whether or not it is dead this year, Barbieri said it is important for the legislators to be very deliberative on these issues.
He said the House State Affairs Chairman Rep. Thomas Loertscher, R-Iona, spoke out last week about his family being personally harassed over HB 89, so the subject is a touchy one.
"We get pressured on every issue," Barbieri said. "It's not the pressure that is the problem. It's the tactics that are used."
He said personal attacks over voicemail and email are really counter productive. A reasonable approach to the issue usually works much better.
Barbieri said the historic horse racing issue has not moved into the House committee process yet, and he hopes legislative leadership will take the time to determine the nature of the video gaming machines before taking up a repeal of the law that authorizes them.
Barbieri said he is looking at the issue from a historic standpoint. He said when the legislature amended the state constitution to allow pari-mutuel wagering back in the 1960s it was to help support the agriculture and horse industries in Idaho.
Pari-mutuel gambling is the act of people betting against each other on the same race, and not against a casino.
Then, he said, the introduction of tribal gaming came along and cut into the pari-mutuel betting revenues, so the legislature allowed the horse racing industry to compete with tribes using pari-mutuel video horse racing machines to bet on historic horse races.
Barbieri said legislators are now faced with determining if the machines that they authorized in 2013 are in fact pari-mutuel in nature.
He said he met with two individuals recently who have $3.5 million in the horse racing machines, and some legislators want to repeal the law that legally authorized them.
"We don't need to knee-jerk and repeal the law," he said, adding the law, in his opinion, is certainly appropriate. "I think we need to take the time to determine the nature of these machines."