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Defining 'Great'

Legisleaders cut and run and call it good


Well, that's all folks. They packed their bags, some emptied their desks, and like dandelion seeds, they scattered to the winds, to the jagged corners of the Gem State. If your bed time was early that Monday evening when the 2010 legislative session ended, know that your lawmakers ordered some pizza (Chicago Connection, we deduced), and finished up at about 8:30 p.m. The following morning, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and Republican leaders declared victory.

"As far as I'm concerned, we had a great session," said Otter. "I'm most proud of the fact that No. 1, we balanced the budget; we're living within the taxpayers' means. I think that's one of the reasons people send us up here."

Republicans and Otter touted their skill with the budget scalpel in hard economic times: "Some of those agencies we have cut, we've cut big time, over 35 percent in some of 'em," said Otter. "Some of 'em over 20 percent in order to keep as much money in the classroom as possible."

Democrats decried the cuts in terms of predicted job losses in the public and private sector--some 5,000 by one estimate--while not quite condemning budget cutting overall, since they were often in on the action.

They openly mocked the majority's focus on issuing decrees and letters to Congress.

"The first half of the session was focused on the budget, and the second half was focused on this mono-maniacal bashing of the federal government," said Lewiston Democrat John Rusche.

And some Republicans acknowledged the lack of creativity in putting the state back on the right track.

"It was not a happy session, it was not something fun to do," temporary Sen. Darrell Kerby, a Republican from Bonners Ferry who filled in for Sen. Shawn Keough at the end of the session, told the Associated Press. Perhaps Kerby did not have time to attend enough GOP caucuses, as he continued, "It was about trying to do as little damage as possible, as opposed to being creative and looking for ways to help the state go forward."

During the course of the session, Idaho lawmakers printed 816 bills and numerous resolutions or memorials, numbering almost 1,000 pieces of legislation, according to the Legislative Services Office. In total, 366 of those bills passed both the House and Senate, and ended up on Otter's desk. At press time, he had 213 left to review, with 153 already on the books (the governor gets a few days after the end of the session to sort things out).

With the cost of a legislative day at about $30,000, including weekends, this year's 78-day session cost roughly $2.3 million, not counting the use of legislative services and other considerations. So what'd we get for our money, Idaho citizens? Now that the 70th regular session of the Idaho Legislature has wrapped up, let's take a look at the smoking crater--or flowering cornucopia--left behind.

• The House Health and Welfare committee introduced a bill to create the Childhood Immunization Policy Commission, which would work as an arm of the Department of Health and Welfare. The plan seeks to improve immunization rates of Idaho children. Former physician and House Minority Leader Rusche felt that the immunization progress was a real win. "Kids and families in Idaho will be able to get vaccines at the lowest possible cost," he said.

• Urban Renewal reform got up to bat, but ended up striking out in the House Revenue and Taxation Committee. Expect to see it again next year.

• While the cuts made to state budgets attempted to spare public schools, they did however take a cut, for the second year in a row. Softened by some reserve dollars, the cuts will result in lower teacher salaries and elimination of school supplies. Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna acknowledged the cuts are unprecedented. "The real stress and the real pressure is shifting to the local school districts," he said.

• The voter ID bill, brought by Republican Rep. Mike Moyle of Star, passed and now requires Idaho voters to provide identification when voting at a polling place. The bill was aimed at stemming voter fraud, though many feel it will be a barrier to voting.

• The so called "conscience bill," which would allow physicians and other medical professionals to refuse to provide abortion, contraceptive or end-of-life services based on their personal beliefs, became law without the governor's signature. The AARP of Idaho cautioned lawmakers about the consequences of the law for the elderly.

While we have not conducted any formal poll of how many Idahoans agree that what just happened could be described as a "great" session, there is an election this year starting with primaries in May. Every legislator and state official from the governor down is up for re-election. Will their 10th Amendment statements of states' rights and willingness to castrate state agencies be enough at the polls, or will voters focus on the effects of the cuts and so much hot air?

Whatever happens to them, we'll be back next year, unda' the rotunda.