Senator Michelle Stennett’s newsletter

Legislative News

WEEK ONE
January 2-6, 2012

Greetings from the Statehouse where we officially kicked off the 2012 legislative session on Monday with Governor Otter’s State of the State address, as is our custom. The Governor proposed $45 million in undefined tax cuts and also suggested setting aside an unspecified amount to replenish Idaho’s Rainy Day Funds. While I’d love to be able to make these kinds of financial promises, it is important to remember that the Governor’s previous budget cuts have left state agencies unable to perform some of the critical services upon which we all rely. The Department of Health and Welfare was forced to cut crucial mental health services and the Department of Water Resources can’t even afford to pay ground personnel to monitor our watersheds. We must restore adequate funding to education and refill our rainy day funds before we can consider tax cuts in an economy that is only now rebounding from a long economic downturn.
We Democrats have always promoted education and job creation and are happy to see the Governor joining us in making those his top priorities as well. During his State of the State, the Governor unveiled his Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission, or IGEM, package, which would partner industry, higher education and government in strategic research that could extend to the marketplace. While the devil is always in the details and I’ve yet to see the bill, I support this concept which echoes a 2010 bill I co-sponsored to promote university-to-marketplace technology transfers. As for Otter’s education funding proposal, I still have grave concerns about how much of the replenished funds will go to out-of-state education vendors in support of Luna’s plan which awaits a November ballot referenda.
Meanwhile, Democrats in both chambers have been working hard on a package of ethics bills intended to restore public confidence in our state agencies and officials. We are getting bi-partisan support from leaders of the majority party and feel that this is indicative of the merit of these ideas whose time has come. The cornerstone bill is the creation of an independent ethics commission which would make Idaho the 42 state in the country with such a commission to provide oversight of our public institutions. I will join the 8-member working group to craft a bi-partisan bill that we have faith will pass both chambers and be signed into law by Governor Otter.
With regards to my committee assignments, the Natural Resources interim committee began drafting a bill to amend how the Department of Lands conducts its business. Right now the law reads that when bidding on a land project, the DOL must bid the highest dollar possible for the contract. The original intent of this law was for the state to receive maximum revenue, which in turn produces endowment funds for schools and state hospitals that benefit all Idahoans. As the land market becomes more competitive, however, we run into an issue where the DOL may (by default) outbid private business. We are hoping that our work on this bill will better define the role of the DOL Board and make it so that the state can earn money while also allowing private businesses to flourish.
Finally, legislation must be passed this session to establish an Idaho Health Care Exchange as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act or we will default to an exchange set up by the federal government. I see this as a win-win because either way, Idaho’s health care consumers will have a resource to help them obtain the best coverage at the best price. However, I do believe that an exchange established by Idahoans for Idahoans is the ideal. Again, the debate is in the details.
Remember, it is only through collaboration and hard work that we can best serve our state, and I’m hoping that is exactly what we’ll see this session!
DISTRICT 25 TOWN HALL MEETINGS – Please join myself and Representatives Wendy Jaquet and Donna Pence at the following town hall meetings where we welcome your comments and questions: 

Friday Jan 27th. 5:30pm Roosevelt Grill, Ketchum
Saturday Jan. 28th. 8:00am Oak Street Deli, Bellevue
10:30am Coffee House, North Shoshone
12:15 pm Zeppies Pizza, Gooding
2:00 pm City Hall, Wendell
4:00 pm City Hall, Hagerman

 
Michelle Stennett, Idaho State Senate

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