Idaho Legislature quits after contentious session, revives aspect of Luna Laws

After what Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill called “a really difficult session,” the Idaho Legislature adjourned for the year late Thursday morning.

The Senate came first, shortly before 11 a.m., after Hill thanked lawmakers. “You conducted yourself with dignity, with civility,” Hill said, adding that he hopes any hard feelings will heal before the 2014 session.

Photos from the Legislature’s final day

The Senate adjourned at 10:51 a.m., the House at 11:31 a.m.

The House closed down after a final hour-long debate in which Democrats fiercely opposed Senate Bill 1040. The measure, brought by the Idaho School Boards Association, has an emergency clause and would take effect upon Gov. Butch Otter’s signature.

SB 1040 will allow school districts to cut salaries from year to year, now prohibited by law except in cases of officially declared financial emergency. Democrats argued SB 1040 ignores the will of voters in November, when they rejected Proposition 1 and the other parts of  Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna’s “Students Come First,” which included a similar provision.

“The voters of Idaho said no, so I’m saying no,” said Rep. Sue Chew, D-Boise.

The bill passed 47-21.

Rep. Linden Bateman, R-Idaho Falls, a retired teacher, said he reluctantly backed the bill to give districts more financial flexibility.

Bateman agreed with Democrats that recruiting and keeping good teaches is difficult. “The morale of the teachers is very, very low,” Bateman said. “But we’ve got to give those school boards the flexibility that they need. It’s with a heavy heart that I vote for this.”

Two GOP lawmakers who have served on school boards — Reps. Wendy Horman of Idaho Falls and Julie VanOrden of Pingree — said the change was necessary for districts facing financial troubles.

House Education Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Star, said SB 1040 gives districts an alternative to “the nuclear option — firing.”  He added that the state has done well by schools, increasing state support by 2.2 percent in fiscal 2014. “We’re doing all that we can,” DeMordaunt said.

Rep. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, said districts already have the tools they need if they declare a financial emergency. “This is not the way to do this. School districts have the ability and the flexibility to declare a financial emergency.”

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, said teachers are better off than the unemployed in rural Idaho. “Teachers have good jobs compared to those who have no jobs,” Boyle said. “The real nuclear option is closing the district’s doors.”

In the Senate, there was no such last-day controversy.

Sen. Roy Lacey, D-Pocatello, won the Senate’s annual adjournment pool with his prediction that the Senate would adjourn at 11 a.m. Thursday, besting 129 other predictions.

Lacey received the limited edition, “100 Years Idaho and its Parks,” published by the Idaho Department of Parks and recreation.

Copy No. 605 of 750 copies is signed by its editor, Rick Just, as well as by Gov. Butch Otter and all the other statewide elected officials; majority and minority leadership from both the House and Senate; Supreme Court Justices Roger Burdick and Jim Jones; and former state and U.S. Sen. Larry Craig.

The book is dedicated to late-Gov. Bob Smylie, the “father of Idaho’s state parks.” Smylie negotiated the transfer of land for Harriman State Park, which prompted the growth of the state park system.

The last signature belongs to Dewain Gaudet, manager of the Capitol Gift Shop, who sold the book to Senate Doorkeeper Al Henderson at cost. Gaudet came close to getting back his book, finishing second in the pool with his 11:55 a.m. prediction.

Henderson has conducted the end-of-session pool for years and had considered charging $1 per submission. That would have raised $130 this year for a gift to the winner. But Henderson said Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, nixed the fee. “I asked if I could get a buck for every entry and the Pro Tem said, ‘Nope!’”

The House adjourned after Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, said, “It’s been a good year. Thank you for your hard work.”

Minutes later, Otter came to the House, where he served in the 1970s, to attend a reception hosted by Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley.

“Well look who’s here,” said Bedke.

“Where’s the cake?” asked Otter, before plunging in to shake hands with lawmakers relieved to be heading home.

 

Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

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