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Optum Idaho’s Executive Director Georganne Benjamin and Government Relations Dir Erin Russell invited me to discuss legislative efforts we have been working on to reduce our healthcare costs. The 55 Optum employees asked great, pointed questions and we shared a number of proposals. Thank you for the opportunity to speak and share these ongoing efforts with you!

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The Session Might Be Over, But the Work is Not…

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The week was full; Governor’s office for press conferences about the session, various bill and proclamations signings, American Legion, Victims rights, Faith healing debates, Gowen Strong F35, Dist 14 update and Permanent Building Fund meetings kept my week busy!

2017 Legislative Summary

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The laws enacted this session will continue to positively impact the lives of all Idahoans for many years to come. As this session of the Idaho State Legislature comes to a close, I want to thank you for allowing me to serve you in the Idaho State Senate. It is truly an honor and a privilege to represent you. Our state revenues are projected to be up in FY18 by ~5.4%. Our focus has been to continue to ensure state services are funded appropriately, while not overspending on those services, still meeting the needs of Idahoans who need a hand up. Because of that forecasted growth in FY18, we were able to address tax relief while, at the same time, moving General Fund revenues to needed into transportation infrastructure, as well as increase our spending on improving our Education systems. With the growing economy and low unemployment our State is enjoying, our good, trained employees have more opportunities in the private sector in which the State must compete to retain them. We were able to provide a 3% merit based employee salary increase to each department to ensure they will be able to continue to keep those employees on the job and providing services from plowing roads to educating our children. Due to that projected growth, I was proud to have co-sponsored the effort to remove our sales taxes on groceries and return some of that growth to taxpayers. There were other tax reduction options discussed, but this sales tax impacts not only every Idahoan, but our boarder economies as well. Removing this tax, along with the credit, streamlines the tax code, reduces personal expenses on food, and keeps Idahoans in our boarder communities shopping in Idaho! This bill was widely supported in both the Senate and the House and sits on the Governor’s desk as I write this letter to you. I’m hoping he will recognize the overwhelming support of removal of this tax and allow it to become law. Without raising any taxes, we were able to put more money on our roads this session as well. When I was appointed to the Legislature in 2007, I was skeptical of the GARVEE bonding program that Idaho had adopted in 2006. After understanding it’s benefits of use, it has proven to me that it has enabled the State to build much needed roadways that are safer, and move people and goods much faster at a cost we can afford. The caps on GARVEE have worked well over the last 10 years, and data shows it’s not only saved lives but has reduced congestion and the air pollution that comes along with sitting in traffic. Getting people to work and back home quickly equates to a better quality of life and attracts more business, aiding in our economic growth. The importance of getting goods to market efficiently, also adds to the attractiveness of Idaho’s business climate. Without good businesses and better jobs, we won’t be able to afford our continuing investments in education and public safety that we all desire. We set up a process this session to move excess year end General Funds and also take 1% of the State Sales tax (~41% of our revenue) dedicating that to both State and local road systems, while authorizing $300m for future expansion projects under the GARVEE bonding program where the service debt is paid through federal funds. We also set up an emergency fund of $52M to be used as matching funds for Federal FEMA funds available to repair all of our damaged roadways caused by this winters snowfall and flooding. We have had tremendous population growth in our state, and that growth is being reflected in the increased student load in many of our school districts. We successfully funded an additional $68M for our Teachers Career Ladder program, the 3rd year of our plan for improving our education system. The increase in funding the baseline K-12 budget reflects an equivalent of 99 new classrooms of students into that system! For the first time in the history of Idaho, we’ve dedicated over $2 billion to Idaho’s public education system, 62.9% of our General Fund budget. We revised the duties of the Oil and Gas Commission, as well as the duties of the Department of Lands, as they relate to oil and gas, and provided for more property/mineral right owner protections for exploration and drilling. The changes created better transparency of the industry and revises the rights and options for royalty owners. We clarified water right ownership for livestock by the federal government as well as provided some clarification for exhibition dog races at local events and sled dog racing. We revised some of the civil forfeiture laws that related to vehicles and currency, ensuring all state agencies would operate now under the same rules when forfeitures are applied. We also clarified, for the courts, assignment of attorney fees ensuring that no Idahoan is limited on their rightful day in court against someone or company that has deeper pockets than they.
Last year, you might recall, I was happy to have been able to lay the groundwork for a Veteran’s Cemetery in Eastern Idaho. This year we authorized the seed money needed to get federal VA dollars available for the new Veteran’s Cemetery in Eastern Idaho. I hope that this will allow more Idaho veterans the ability to use a cemetery close to their home and families. It is the least we can do to honor and respect the time and sacrifices them and their families spent serving our country. Soon there will be a more comprehensive outline of this session’s work on the legislative website (legislature.idaho.gov legislature.idaho.gov) where you will be able to view our projected income and expenditures across the spectrum of State statutory services (I will also post much of this information on my social media pages). This summary will include the highlights of laws passed and their intended proposes. While we may not have agreed on every vote, please know I took into consideration and appreciate the thousands of pieces of correspondence, phone calls and visits that came my way while studying each issue as best I could before I cast each vote. If there are any concerns or questions you have about this session, or if there is anything you think I may be able to help you with, please let me know. Continue to stay informed and communicate with me so that I can better serve you along with all residents of District 14.

Last Session Bills Must be Understood before we vote on them. Leaving it on the field…

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www.spokesman.com/blogs/boise/2017/mar/28/senate-d…usage

Last Week’s Summary of The Idaho Senate’s Efforts to Finish Sine Die…

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We’ve passed the majority of the budget bills, but there are still a few in the House that the Senate still needs to wait for and consider. The loss of the Transportation bill was also quite a setback from being able to Sine Die on Friday, so we will again meet tomorrow and the rest of the week if that’s what it takes to finalize a tax reduction bill and a transportation package for much needed maintenance and expansion projects required due to population growth. We are working on transferring existing General Funds to our multi-billion dollar transportation infrastructure and also enable a limited level of bonding to be able to build some badly needed projects that are very large and expensive. Some of the highlight bills are as follows:
S1142A (The Healthcare Assistance bill I’ve worked on for 6+ months for the Gap population) failed to pass the Senate Floor. The purpose was to provide primary healthcare assistance to 15,000 individuals, many of which are chronically ill. Some thought it would be better to use federal funding as well and have access to $90 million versus $10 million. Some thought it would be best to not use federal funding giving the State of Idaho more authority. Others felt it would be wisest to see what the final outcome of the federal healthcare program was before acting as a state.
H250 (Abortion relating Telehealth) passed the Senate Floor. The purpose of this legislation is to terminate the lawsuit between the State of Idaho and the United States District Court. It would repeal certain provision of the law regulating the performance of chemical abortions adopted by the legislature in 2015. Some felt we should continue to fight on principal. Most felt it was highly unlikely to win this particular lawsuit and it would be best to reframe the issue and fight another day.
H222 (Secure Facility for Violent Incompetent Individuals) passed the Senate Floor. The purpose of this legislation is to allow for a wing of the facility to have secured features protecting more vulnerable clients and the community from the violent individuals.
S1182 (In Regards to Faith Healing) failed to pass the Senate Floor. The purpose of this legislation was to provide a civil avenue to protect the life of the child and not criminalize a parent if they chose prayer or spiritual means of treatment for the child. In the context of treatment by spiritual means, a court could only take action under the Child Protection Act if the child was likely to suffer serious permanent injury or death and then was required to balance the constitutional interests involved. The court would also consider the desires of a child while weighing their age and maturity as in family law custody cases There were a variety of opinions in favor and against this bill. It was heavily yet respectfully debated.
S1194 (Appropriations to Permanent Building Fund) passed the Senate Floor. This legislation provided funding in the amount of $71,425,700 for several projects including the Idaho State University Gale Life Sciences Building, Psychiatric Hospital Transformation, Boise State University for Materials Science, Lewis-Clark State College Career-Technical Education Building, and University of Idaho Center for Agriculture.
The Senate adopted House Joint Memorial 8. The purpose of this Memorial is to request that the federal government appropriate $8 million of federal matching funding of the authorized $20 million allowed for fiscal year 2018 to the four Northwest States of Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington for the purpose of combating the immediate threat of invasive quagga and zebra mussels.
H274aaS (Invasive Species) passed the Senate Floor. It would amend the Idaho Invasive Species Act by establishing in the Office of the Governor, an Administrator of invasive species policy and establish the Idaho Invasive Species Council. This legislation sets up duties of the Administrator and the Department of Agriculture and lays out the coordination of efforts between state agencies.
House Bill 67aaS (Grocery Tax) passed the Senate Floor with 25 ayes and 10 nays. This piece of legislation would repeal sales taxs on groceries, and also remove the grocery tax credit given back to taxpayers at income tax filing time. The Governor has indicated he is not a fan of this bill, so it it’s taken up in the House is anyone’s guess. An alternative is a 1/10th of a percent reduction at all levels of the income tax (i.e., reduce the top level of tax from 7.4% to 7.3%) that could be sent from the House to the Senate for consideration.
S1188a (Transportation Plan, Relating to GARVEE bonding) failed to pass the Senate Floor with 20 nays and 15 ayes. This legislation provided authorization for selling up to $300 million in GARVEE bonds issued by Idaho Housing and Finance Association for ITD to finance highway transportation projects around the state. Ninety two percent of the repayment amount on Garvee bonds are paid from the federal dollars received by ITD and the state is not liable if it does not receive sufficient federal funds to make the bind payments. This piece of legislation deals directly with I-84 from Nampa to Caldwell as well as many other priority expansion projects around the state. There has been a lot of good, diplomatic debate on both sides of this issue, although this bill failed, we are staying to try put a transportation package together before we Sine Die.
H301a (Oil and Gas) passed the Senate Floor unanimously. The purpose of this legislation is to protect private property owners, state endowment lands, and taxpayers. It would do so by updating the Idaho law in accordance with other Rocky Mountain States and it would improve processes, transparency, and reporting of oil and gas development.
We were shooting for finishing last Friday, but just couldn’t get consensus to finish some very tough bills. We will come together once again this week and try to finish our work. Again, thank you for allowing me to represent you in the Idaho Senate!

Would it be hypocritical to be Pro-life while at the same time not support the protection of children from neglect?…

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Asking for a friend.

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This will be my last term in the , have learned a lot & want to apply that to my next endeavor. Intend on being ID’s next Lt Gov!!!:

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