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Freshman Profile

Sen. Kate Kelly slides into session

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Early Sunday morning, downtown Boise buzzes with the sounds of lawmakers' "other" offices- a.k.a. the strip of coffee shops and restaurants along 8th Street. Then there's District 18's Democratic gain, Sen. Kate Kelly, still at work. Everyone else around a busy corner coffee shop looks relaxed in their tidy weekend garb, content to shoot the mindless weekend breeze. But Kelly and the lobbyist sitting to her left are digging into a discussion of upcoming votes and the details of pending health care legislation.

Try to interview Kelly over a cup of coffee and you'll find she's quite good a turning the tables. She's not one of those evasive politicians who dodge even point blank questions. Instead, she's just as likely to start interviewing reporters-as happened to me.

Hearing I spend a good amount of time at Boise State teaching and taking classes, Kelly asked about the talk on campus: What do students think about the proposal to start charging tuition? How about administrators? The professors? Is there even much talk about the issue? Kelly figured the tuition issue might resolve itself by press time, but in case it doesn't, she says her door is always open.

Southeast Boiseans who got a knock from Kelly on their front doors may have learned a little about the new Democratic darling who gave some pride to the shrinking party last November. For one thing, she likes open doors. She knocked on nearly 10,000 doors during her campaign.

"I feel like I got a real feel for what people care about," Kelly says.

If Kelly interviews voters like she interviews reporters, she learned a lot. Kelly says Southeast Boise folks have their pet issues, but she heard plenty about the health care system and medical catastrophes; K-12 education emerged as a pretty universal concern and a lot of talk came down to pure quality of life issues.

"Quality of life really is whatever you want it to be. It's everything that brought us here, keeps us here," she says.

Kelly, who grew up in the North Virginia beltway and moved to Idaho on "a lark," now sees it as her responsibility to protect what Idaho visitors sometimes view with envy-which she conveys with an anecdote about a recent visit to Idaho by her sisters. They were supposed to help with the campaign but that help turned into "helped" when they dashed for the hills and spent their time on rivers instead.

"The legislature has a stewardship responsibility in that regard," Kelly says of maintaining the lifestyles that bring new people to the state every year and keep others from leaving.

Kelly's resume reads like she's been prepping for this stewardship role since long before she left the beltway. She earned a M.S. degree from the University of Idaho's College of Mines and added a law degree from the University of Utah. Her subsequent tour of positions in public policy put her in the Idaho Attorney General's Office as a lead attorney for hazardous waste regulation and eventually to a lead administrative position at the Department of Environmental Quality. At DEQ she worked on legislative hot topics such as field burning in Northern Idaho and confined animal feeding operations.

Kelly left the DEQ because, as she put it, "the time was right" and Sheila Sorenson (R-Boise) had just vacated District 18's Senate post. Now Kelly tells grade school students she happily took the 80 percent pay reduction because there are all kinds of Senate job perks lawmakers would have a hard time finding anyplace else. For starters, her phone calls are returned faster than when she was an environmental regulator. She also receives letters addressed to "The Honorable Senator Kelly," and she's found new honor and respect accorded by her teenage children. Most importantly, she tells school kids, "I can make a difference and help solve some of our problems."

Some notable bills on Kelly's committee and Senate agendas:

• A growing number of patients are seeking alternative and natural health care from naturopathic physicians. But the recommendations and care from these physicians are not always recognized in other heath care settings or by medical doctors. Lawmakers are proposing legislation to expand Idahoans' health care options by licensing and setting standards of practice for naturopathic physicians, while affirming the rights of other health care practitioners to continue practicing as currently permitted. The bill is expected to go before the Senate Health and Welfare Committee Thursday, March 3.

• A newly proposed bill would authorize the Attorney General to negotiate agreements with other states to recognize Idaho licenses to carry concealed weapons in those states. Idaho State Police could also keep records of those agreements and make them available to the public. The proposal was on the Senate calendar at press time.

• A proposal to expand family planning health care services in Idaho to low income women enrolled in the Medicaid Pregnant Women and Children Program, as well as parents whose children are enrolled in the Children's Health Insurance Program Plan A, was on the Senate calendar at press time.

• In Idaho it is only a misdemeanor to abuse, exploit or neglect a vulnerable adult. A proposed bill would make it a felony to intentionally abuse, neglect or exploit a vulnerable adult under circumstances likely to produce great bodily harm or death. At press time this bill was on the Senate calendar.

Want to weigh in on health care, concealed weapons, family planning or other issues? Contact your lawmakers at: 332-1000 or to to www.legislature.idaho.gov.