Monday, March 2, 2009

Week 7: legislators' reports

Here are excerpts from some of the e-mail newsletters that Idaho Democratic lawmakers sent home to their constituents during Week 7 of 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. James Ruchti (District 29) - As many of you are aware, the proposal to raise taxes on beer and wine to pay for alcohol and drug abuse was presented and debated this week. I heard from many of you on this issue and I appreciate your feedback. After three days of listening to public comment, the Revenue and Taxation Committee, of which I am a member, voted against this bill: 13 against and 5 in favor. I was one of the legislators who voted “no” on this bill.

Although I strongly support treatment programs for substance abuse, I simply could not vote to raise these taxes on small businesses in our community at a time when they are struggling to survive one of the worst economic downturns since the Great Depression. The testimony presented at the hearing clearly showed the need to adequately fund treatment programs, and I know the industry heard the message that the Legislature expects them to be part of the solution. I hope it encourages them to come to the table when an improved bill is up for consideration.

On another note, after getting a clearer understanding of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, I am feeling more optimistic about our future here in Idaho. Like many of you, I have concerns about the cost of this package, but the money is here and Idaho has some serious needs and complex problems to solve. As we consider how to use this money, I will be pushing for projects that solve long-term problems including upgrades to sewer and water systems, as well as school remodels and renovations that will yield energy and tax savings for years to come.

In my mind, projects like these are the most efficient way to use this one-time money and stretch it out for our future through cost-savings in normal general fund expenditures. Although we are not out of the woods yet economically, I have incredible confidence in the ability of Idahoans to face adverse situations and come out triumphant and better than before. This will prove to be the case yet again. Yes, we are facing hard times and, yes, this recession may be longer than any of us initially thought, but I agree with President Obama, “We will rebuild, we will recover and we will emerge stronger than we were before."

Sen. Nicole LeFavour (District 19) - Some days I walk myself to the statehouse in the dark, sit attentive through long committees, ask unwelcome questions, end up the sole no or yes vote on a bill, look at the long list of evening events we are supposed to attend and wonder what I am doing. I forget how many kind people have written to tell me how much better it makes them feel that I am here. I forget that on occasion I do make a change that affects lives, I give voice to what isn't heard or those who will be harmed. And that is something.
It is hard though.

Today when we heard a simple bill to mandate that insurance companies cover "elemental formula" as if it were medicine so that kids (whose lives depend on eating this formula instead of food) can afford it and can stay alive. So that you know, some kids can't eat regular food. At about two months their bodies reject their mother's milk and if they are lucky their doctor figures it out and puts them on special formula and then about 1/3 of them get better quickly, another bunch get better in a year or two and a very few need the formula for life.

But Idaho insurance companies don't cover this stuff. And after today's vote they still won't. ...
I sat there today and listened to those parents' stories. I can only ask what kind of nation makes people lose everything because someone in their family is sick? What kind of government tells them to get a divorce so they can maybe qualify for Medicaid so their child does not die? What kind of state makes people go through this? Run up tens of thousands on their credit cards, sell everything? What kind of people refuse to do anything because the insurance company lobbyists are really nice people and they promise us things if we will only agree not to make them do what they don't want to.

I'm disgusted because we have no backbone, because I work in one of the few places where we COULD fix some of what is wrong with healthcare and we won't. I'm disgusted because I work in one of the few places in the state where the people I work with mostly don't seem to think there is anything wrong with insurance companies or the way health care works. Or worse, they use how broken the system is to agree to do nothing at all. (See Nicole's blog here.)

Rep. Brian Cronin (District 19) - ... Renewable Energy: I am co-sponsoring a bill with Rep. Wendy Jaquet that will expand a property tax exemption currently extended to wind and geothermal energy producers to other forms of renewable energy (solar, biomass, landfill gas). The Revenue and Tax Committee agreed to print this bill last week.

Parents as Teachers: This is a highly effective program that operated in Idaho successfully for a number of years and was then suddenly and unjustifiably cut by Gov. Otter in 2007. This international program has proven successful in improving parenting practices, detecting developmental delays and health issues, increasing the school readiness and scholastic success of children, and preventing child abuse. This bill, which I’ve been working on with Rep. Branden Durst, will statutorily create the authority to re-establish this program, with the hopes that federal money and grants will be available to make it a reality.

Daycare Regulation: I strongly support SB 1112, sponsored by Rep. George Sayler (D-4) and Sen Tim Corder (R-22). This bill seeks to extend basic licensing and safety provisions to daycare facilities that care for 5-12 children. As a preschool owner, I have provided thes sponsors with input, which has made its way into the bill. And I plan to testify when the bill is heard in the Senate Health & Welfare Committee. This issue has been before the Legislature many times before and it has failed to act. This is an issue of protecting our children and it's time that our Legislature get on board. Fuel Mix Disclosure: This bill would have required utility companies to inform their customers of the sources of fuel (coal, nuclear, hydro, wind, etc.) by percentage on a semi-annual "bill stuffer." Strong opposition from utility companies meant I ultimately did not present the bill, though it appears the utilities have already gotten more serious about disclosing this information to consumers. ... (see Brian's blog here and watch one parent's story about Idaho day-care safety here.)

Rep. Phylis King (District 18) - I remain firm that I will vote “no” on raising fuel tax and registration fees at this time when families are hurting. We heard that Micron will lay off another 2000 employees—many live in my district. With the stimulus bill giving the average worker more money in his/her pocket, raising fuel taxes and registration fees at this time would effectively take some of that tax break away from those workers. Plus, all the stimulus money for transportation will keep the Idaho Department of Transportation plenty busy. ...

... I have received a lot of email about the increase on beer and wine tax bill. That bill failed in committee by 13 to 5. I have also heard about two education bills HB 117 and HB 118. HB 117 is being redrafted but may come out as a completely different bill. ... ... My largest endeavor is a rewrite of the Mobile Home Landlord Tenant act. It is dead for this year but two Republican legislators agree that this is an important issue and want to help me with future legislation. My plan is to draft a piece of legislation around each section/idea of the Act and let the committee debate several bills instead of just the one. Based on all the press that this issue is getting, I believe that this is a really important issue and is supported by many people and organizations.

We (there are five of us) have rewritten the Local Option Authority bill. We cannot seem to get this introduced. It is a sales and use tax that needs to be approved by 2/3 of the voters and absolutely NO constitutional amendment. It has been drafted with co-sponsors Rep. Grant Burgoyne, Rep Bill Killen, Rep Leon Smith and Rep. Elfreda Higgins.