Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Taking a stand for clean, safe water

Democrats on the Idaho Senate Health and Welfare Committee today raised objections to the majority votes on two Department of Environmental Quality rules on groundwater quality and sub-surface sewage disposal.

“Like all Idahoans, we want clean and safe water,” Senator Les Bock said. “The majority votes on these issues go against the Department of Environmental Quality’s charge to protect that precious resource."

On the groundwater safety rule, Bock and Senator Nicole LeFavour challenged how the rule revision allows mining companies a permanent exemption from state rules and standards protecting groundwater from contamination.

The Democrats expressed concerns that the rule does not provide a framework of how the operator or the DEQ will monitor the site in perpetuity. “The Idaho Legislature has entrusted DEQ with maintaining high-quality water supply, and we feel the new ground water rule does not provide adequate monitoring to ensure that safety for the public,” Bock said.

“It is very troubling to me that in this rule our state government is picking and choosing where it will enforce ground water quality laws and where it will not,” LeFavour added. “It’s also troubling that we set a precedent that allows economic considerations to trump the need to protect Idaho's clean drinking water for families and our children.”

The committee also voted to reject a pending rule on sub-surface sewage disposal, while Bock and LeFavour voted to uphold that rule, which revised the method for determining wastewater flow and capacity for the design, installation and use of septic tanks at residential structures.

DEQ proposed the rule to address an existing condition where wastewater is seeping into lakes and streams below substandard septic systems that were approved under previous DEQ rules. The rule was to address the health risks and remediation costs to taxpayers associated with fecal contamination of Idaho lakes, streams and groundwater.

“Developers and homeowners have been using creative ways to get around the intent of the law by designating bedroom spaces to non-bedroom spaces,” LeFavour said. “Again, DEQ is trusted with maintaining our state’s water quality. This new rule was designed to do that, and public comment before the ruling found that these changes were both reasonable and in the best interest of public health. We are disappointed that our colleagues on the Health and Welfare Committee did not agree.”

Monday, January 26, 2009

Rusche: Plan undermines Constitution

Idaho House Minority Leader John Rusche had an op-ed in the Idaho Statesman yesterday about Rep. Steven Thayn's proposal to pay parents to keep their children home from kindergarten. Here's a snip:

Make no mistake - this is an assault on public schools, something Rep. Thayn and his ultra-conservative kind have been promoting for years. But his plan is worse than foolish. It is a dangerous attack on a core American value: common public education.

Public schools and the values of fairness and opportunity that they offer are so important that the founders of Idaho placed them in our Constitution:
"Article IX: Education and School Lands.
"Section 1. Legislature to Establish System of Free Schools. The stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it shall be the duty of the legislature of Idaho, to establish and maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools."

If anything, a "general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools" is even more important now - in this difficult economy and amid global competition for jobs - than it was at Idaho's founding. Idaho needs leaders who will look toward 2050, not 1950.

Read the whole op-ed here.

Update, January 28: It looks like House Leadership isn't taking Thayn too seriously.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Week 2: Legislators' reports

Here are excerpts from some of the e-mail newsletters that Idaho Democratic lawmakers sent home to their constituents during Week 2 in the 2009 Idaho Legislature. If you would like to receive regular updates from your legislators - Democrat or Republican - be sure to let them know.

Rep. Liz Chavez (District 7) - Education is the backbone of our country ... and educators have seen lean times before. The difference this time is that the economy hasn't stopped falling yet, so it's hard to know what to expect or how to compensate for the loss of revenue. The school districts in Legislative District 7 have dedicated personnel who are working every day to meet the needs of our children and somehow find the money to keep the lights on. I'm doing everything I can do to convince the Governor and others that using more of the emergency funds now may hold off disaster for many small school districts. ... Transportation is taking a lot of energy, and while I know that funding creates jobs, raising registration fees right now when people have to have a vehicle to get to work seems counter -productive. This is especially true if we are cutting Medicaid therapy hours, education and other services needed by the most vulnerable of our citizens.

Rep. Wendy Jaquet (District 25) - The Office of Performance Evaluations via the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee released the long awaited Idaho Transportation Performance Audit on Monday. The consultants said our highway program situation is "untenable." They indicated that the Idaho Department of Transportation, ITD, funding is not enough to catch up and match the expected costs of maintaining and preserving state highways and bridges; our highways are deteriorating faster than resources are available and the costs to do road construction are rising faster than inflation; they said that $137 million dollars is merited and probably understated; they criticized the department because they believe ITD's programs are reactive in nature; that the department doesn't have a strategic vision and that there is no coordinated long term/infrastructure management plan.

Sen. Jon Thorson (District 25, sitting in for Clint Stennett, who is on medical leave) - Last year, Sen. Stennett introduced a bill to provide more oversight for the placement of major power plants throughout the state. Currently, merchant power plants can be built without state oversight, and it falls to the consent of two out of three county commissioners. I, along with my fellow Democratic Senators, have introduced this legislation again so that all stakeholders in energy plant development can be represented in the decision making.

Rep. James Ruchti (District 29) - As you are aware, Idaho families are being hit hard by the effects of the economic downturn. Just as Idaho families must tighten their belts, so too must Idaho government. Budgets must be cut; however, we must act carefully and with an eye towards the future. I will work to preserve government services that are necessary in your lives while finding ways to be more efficient with taxpayer money. Job creation must be our first priority. At the same time, we must continue to invest in economic development and education at all levels.

Rep. Elaine Smith (District 30) - On Thursday, the entire Idaho House of Representatives voted to reject the pay increase and per diem increase, which was the only correct thing to do since Idaho families are struggling. This House Concurrent Resolution now goes to the Senate side. I believe as a legislator that I should not have a pay increase in this turbulent time of our economy, especially when the Legislature is looking at budget cuts to agencies and universities.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Dem senators list priorities

As reported on the Idaho Statesman's legislative blog, the Senate Democratic Caucus today proposed five pieces of legislation that would be priorities for the 2009 Legislature if Democrats (now just seven of 35 lawmakers) ran the show:

Fair Elections Act: The bill would allow voluntary public funding in legislative elections as is the case in Arizona and Maine. The Democrats claim elected officials "would be holden to no one" and it would open the process for individuals of lower economic means to run for office. The bill would add a fee to court filings and fines to generate money for publicly financed elections and potential candidates would have to meet certain thresholds to qualify.
Major energy facility siting: The bill calls for more deliberate planning of major energy facilities, such as coal and nuclear.
• Move homeowners' exemption to $150,000
Sunset sales tax exemptions so that they can be reviewed by the Legislature: The Democrats said that tax exemptions are not reviewed by the Legislature after they are approved to find out if they are serving their purpose of "enhancing the economy." "Every exemption should be up for review," Elliot Werk said, adding that it did not mean the exemptions should be taken away, only that they should be reviewed.
Prohibiting campaign contributions to legislators while in session: Because the state's "bribery laws are toothless," Kate Kelly said, she is proposing a bill that would prohibit legislators from taking campaign contributions from registered lobbyists while in session.

Read more here.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Democrats get slot on KBOI

Idaho Democratic legislators will have a new slot on KBOI starting Friday, January 16, when Senate Minority Caucus Chair Elliot Werk and Assistant House Minority Leader James Ruchti visit with Paul J. Schneider and Chris Walton from 8:30 to 9 a.m. The show can be heard in the Treasure Valley at 670 AM or on the Internet at

Be sure to tune in as James and Elliot talk about how Idaho Democrats are challenging the governor's budget priorities of valuing potholes more than people. Call 336-3700 or 1-800-529-KBOI (5264) to have your say.

Do you know of another Idaho radio station that takes guests on local call-in shows? Make sure we know, too. Send the details (station name, town, dial position, and time and date of local talk shows) to And watch Working for Idaho for news of other Democrats visiting KBOI on what will be a weekly slot each Friday during the 2009 Idaho Legislature.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Misplaced priorities, missed opportunities

In a response to the governor's State of the State message, Idaho Democratic leaders today questioned Gov. Butch Otter's priorities in seeking tax hikes for transportation while making deep cuts to public education.

House Minority Leader John Rusche said that Democrats recognize that the economy is in crisis and that state government must tighten its belt just as Idaho families and businesses are having to do.

But Democrats said the current fiscal crisis has been compounded by years of inertia from the legislative majority. "A year ago, we stood here and spoke about the 'do-nothing legislature of 2007' and how it left town with few real solutions to the serious problems facing Idaho," Rusche said. "Well, in 2008 the legislature again failed to address our most pressing problems. Last fall, however, our chronically unfinished business collided with the worst economic downturn in decades, and now the crisis we all face is much worse. This year, as the Governor said, the legislature must take responsibility to preserve critical services for Idaho families and empower people to decide their own futures."

Democrats called on the legislature to reconsider using only 35 percent of the state's emergency funds, especially if using the money now could help the recession be "shallower and shorter," according to Rep. James Ruchti, Assistant House Minority Leader.

Senate Assistant Minority Leader Kate Kelly gave examples of misplaced priorities within the budget holdbacks made so far, as well as in the governor's 2010 proposal. "For example, was it wise for the Idaho Tax Commission – at a time of plummeting revenues – to lay off 65 employees who were chasing after tax cheats? Is it wise to slash the Department of Commerce budget at a time when we need to attract new jobs and keep the ones we have? Is it smart to ask Idahoans to pay more for road maintenance while cutting school resources, the best engine we have for our future economic security?"

"The Governor’s proposed budget is a lose-lose for the people of Idaho – cutting education and healthcare while raising taxes to fill potholes. In these troubled economic times it is just plain wrong," Rusche said. "It’s wrong for Idaho’s struggling economy and its wrong for struggling Idaho families and businesses. Our goal this session will be to help our colleagues in the Majority face the issues responsibly. We will encourage the state to use Idaho taxpayer dollars for their highest and best use. We will not sacrifice our state’s long-term future for short-term gain, nor will we turn away ready resources that can equip Idahoans with the tools we need to quickly pull out of this recession."

"Taking responsibility also includes trusting the people," Kelly added. "Why can’t the legislature trust Idaho’s citizens and local communities to decide for themselves what local road and transportation projects to fund? Like most Idahoans, we believe in local control, local decisions and local responsibility. It’s time for this legislature to remove this roadblock to local road projects and approve local option authority without an unneeded and unwise Constitutional amendment."

Democrats also noted that the governor paid scant attention to energy and economic development in his remarks. "We are far behind our neighboring states, which are much better positioned to take advantage of the coming new energy economy with good, high wage jobs that will reduce our dependence on Middle Eastern oil tyrants while growing our economy," Kelly noted.

"The governor also didn’t say much about the need to extend broadband to rural communities where unemployment rates are running as high as 10 percent above the state average. These are areas that deserve our attention now," Rusche said. "If we can use this current crisis as a time to draw the players together and face these long-neglected issues, our communities and families will emerge stronger from this recession."

People vs. potholes

Cross-posted from Rep. Branden Durst's Idaho18 blog

So what do we mean when we (Democrats in the Idaho Legislature) say "people versus potholes"? Simply stated, we mean that in a time of economic downturn, it doesn't make sense to us to raise taxes on already-hurting Idahoans to build roads while cutting critical services like education and professional technical programs.

Oh, but Senate Transportation Committee Chairman John McGee says "People AND Potholes," so maybe there isn't any conflict. Well, let's consider his reasoning. According to McGee, potholes represent job creation. He is right: They do, but not necessarily for Idahoans. You see, Idahoans aren't required to get the contracts for road jobs and there is quite a bit of very recent precedent to suggest they won't. I for one don't want to advocate for a tax increase on my constituents so that we can employ people that aren't going to help stimulate our Idaho economy.

Let's not miss something. Do roads need improving? Yes, yes and yes. Unfortunately, as I stated above, without any certainties that Idahoans would be employed, this isn't the BEST use of our money. Idahoans will see more benefit and for a longer period by keeping education strong and building up our workforce. We need to stop looking at the short-term and start thinking about our future.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Dems will respond to State of the State

Gov. Butch Otter will deliver his 2009 State of the State address at 3 p.m. Mountain/2 p.m. Pacific today at the Boise State University Special Events Center. (The public can attend; arrive by 2:30.) The speech will also be carried live on Idaho Public Television and on other TV and radio stations, as well as on the IPTV website.

Democratic House and Senate leaders will hold a news conference to offer their response to the speech at 10 a.m. Tuesday in room 228 of the Capitol Annex.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Honor Rep. Jaquet on January 10

Come Honor Rep. Wendy Jaquet and our new Democratic legislators at an Idaho Democratic Legislative Caucus reception set for 5 to 8 p.m. on Saturday, January 10, at The Modern Hotel, 1314 W. Grove St. in Boise.

The event will pay tribute to Jaquet, who served 10 years as House Minority Leader and is now taking a seat on the important Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. We'll also honor new state Representatives Grant Burgoyne, Brian Cronin and Elfreda Higgins and new state Senators Les Bock and Nicole LeFavour.

RSVP to Randy Johnson at (208) 869-3902 or Suggested donation is $50, payable at the door. (Please make checks payable to the IDLC.) Can't attend? You can still donate by sending a check to the IDLC, P.O Box 445, Boise, Idaho 83702

Hosts for the event are Boise Mayor Dave Bieter; United Transportation Union Idaho Legislative Board; Benton, Ellis and Assoc.; Roy Eiguren; Roger Seiber and Jerry Deckard; Bill Roden; and the Idaho Hospital Association.
If you are interested in being a host for this event please contact Randy Johnson.