Eventful week at the Statehouse as session winds down

Eventful week at Capitol as session simmers.

BOISE -- It has been a busy week for lawmakers at the Idaho Statehouse. More legislation - some with support from both sides of the aisle winds- was introduced and voted on. But after this week, things will start to wind down.

From invasive species, to transportation, to victim's' rights, a lot of bills were heard in both houses of the Legislature this week.

Legislators are getting to that time in the session now when very few to no new bills will be introduced in committees unless they're coming from the other side of the building.

"A lot has happened this week, it's been quite an exciting week," Senate President Pro Tempore Sen. Brent Hill (R- Rexburg) said. "We're trying to wind down in another couple weeks and so this is kind of the last big week to get things through."

We begin this week's legislative wrap in the Idaho State Senate, first looking at transportation: The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to introduce two bills on Friday - each calling for hundreds of millions of dollars in new federal GARVEE bonding to pay for road repairs and maintenance- especially in light of this brutal winter.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, GARVEE is "a type of anticipation vehicle, which are securities (debt instruments) issued when moneys are anticipated from a specific source to advance the upfront funding of a particular need. In the case of transportation finance the anticipation vehicles' revenue source is expected Federal-aid grants.... GARVEEs enable a state to accelerate construction timelines and spread the cost of a transportation facility over its useful life rather than just the construction period."

"The needs are now and the money isn't all there yet," Sen. Hill said.

Marsy's Law for Idaho was introduced in the Senate State Affairs committee. It is a proposed constitutional amendment that expands the rights of crime victims and their families and is aimed at giving victims more of a voice throughout the entire criminal justice process.

"Post-conviction relief, parole hearings, bail hearings where their voice is important," the bill's sponsor, Sen. Todd  Lakey (R- Nampa), told us last week when KTVB did a full story on this bill.

MOREMarsy's Law: Legislation aimed at giving victims more rights

"If I was able to be there and just say, 'Hey judge, here's my concerns," maybe he wouldn't hear them or care but at least I would feel like I had a voice," Ashlee Birk, whose husband was murdered in 2011, told KTVB last week.

After a very moving, hours-long hearing, the committee voted unanimously to send the proposal to the Senate floor.

Moving on to the other side of the building- the Idaho State House of Representatives, which experienced an eventful week.

"There's been some fighting from probably the most radical wing inside the House," House Minority Leader Rep. Mat Erpelding (D- Boise) told KTVB. "This would be a group that calls themselves the Liberty Caucus."

Rep. Erpelding said there were a few great pieces of legislation that were introduced and passed this week.

Erpelding's legislation geared at stopping Quagga mussels from invading our waterways advanced to the Senate.

"It's not just going to be a problem for the recreation industry, but it's going to damage our hydroelectrics. And the other piece of real concern is that invasive species kill endangered species, and that's a real problem for us," Erpelding added.

There is also a Senate bill moving through the Legislature aimed at stopping the same thing.

"We also introduced the rural teacher loan forgiveness bill that we've been working on this year," Rep. Erpelding said. "It has a price tag and that price tag is where we're trying to figure out how we're going to pay for it. But what we know is we need hundreds of teachers in rural communities."

Though the House Ways and Means Committee voted unanimously to introduce the legislation on Thursday, Erpelding says the bill will have to be taken up again next year.

A controversial highway district bill - amended from its previous form - passed the House Transportation Committee on Friday.

"It's a bill that basically puts the onus on the cities to plow the alleys," Rep. Erpelding said.

It also keeps snow removal as part of a highway district's road maintenance responsibilities - which is one of several terms the bill original struck out of the current law's text. The intent of the bill is to make clear the definition of "maintenance." This bill would make clear that it is not the affirmative obligation of highway districts to do snow removal on sidewalks. This bill would affirm that "cities and counties shall continue to regulate snow removal on sidewalks". It goes on the say that the definition of maintenance only obligates a highway district to "keep existing highways in suitable condition for public use within the district's resources and funding".

There are pressing issues the Legislature won't get to this session; one in particular that garnered more attention this week after Republicans in Washington, D.C., began repealing the Affordable Care Act.

"There's always the hope that we're going to do something about health care and something to address those 78,000 uninsured Idahoans," House Assistant Minority Leader, Rep. Ilana Rubel (D- Boise), told KTVB.

Sen. Hill says there are several decisions made by the Trump administration that affect the states, one of those being health care. He says, essentially, the Idaho Legislature must wait on the federal government.

"It does keep us from going through and passing certain legislation - not knowing how that's going to be affected by federal policy," Sen. Hill added. "If it doesn't get done in the next couple of weeks it's going to have to wait a year before it gets done. And that's very disappointing to some."

Hill says the Joint Finance-Appropriation Committee has finished setting the budgets. Going forward, it will take about two weeks for bills that have been introduced to go through the formal process in both houses.

Hill says the Legislature's target for the end of session is Friday, March 24.

The Idaho State Senate voted on Thursday to shift more than $50 million in this year's budget to emergency road repairs. Roads all over the Gem State have taken a beating during this record-breaking winter.

"That's something we've never done before - at least not since I've been here in last 15 years - is appropriate a large amount of money to address that specific problem."

This bill is now moving to the House for a vote.
 

Copyright 2017 KTVB


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