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"It Was Grueling"

Lawmakers wrap up and look ahead

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"Our most important legislation was our resolution on Napoleon Dynamite," Rep. Max Black (R-Boise 15) said with the weight of seriousness in his voice.

Lawmakers who honored one of Idaho's most famous recent exports with a resolution that warned, "Any members ... who choose to vote 'Nay' on this concurrent resolution are 'FREAKIN' IDIOTS!' and run the risk of having the 'Worst Day of Their Lives!'" saw their share of worst days this legislative session and perhaps wanted to call a usually affable colleague a "freakin' idiot" at least once.

Still, lawmakers ended the longer than usual session with a laugh and a sense of accomplishment.

"I think all in all it was a productive session," said Rep. Kathie Garrett (R-Boise 17). But, she said, "It was grueling."

The slim budget situation made for some tough votes and broad, regional issues centering on water and transportation demanded significant, state-altering decisions.

Sen. Elliot Werk (D-Boise 17) said what's perhaps most notable about the session is what did not happen. Plans to offer affordable drug coverage to seniors fell through; state employees did not get the pay raise they hoped for; plans for correction reform were all talk; and education-surprise-did not get that grand slice of the pie.

But plenty did happen at the end of session. Here's a look at some of the significant legislative moves-what did pass, what didn't pass and what you can expect around the legislative corner.

HEALTH CARE

Several Boise area lawmakers made health care a top priority this legislative session and left disappointed when they didn't see proposals materialize to make mental health care and drug treatment affordable and accessible to more Idahoans. Health and Welfare committee members said they struggled to maintain current programs and not break the already tight state budget. But some said Idahoans were unnecessarily denied some heath care coverage. Lawmakers opted not to extend family planning services to low-income women, even though federal money would have covered 90 percent of one proposed program. And lawmakers opted not to allow Medicaid recipients to go to work and still maintain their medical coverage when legislators didn't buy into the Medicaid buy-in program.

EDUCATION

Some said Boise's Broncos really took a hit with the passage of legislation that allows the state to charge college students tuition. Students have traditionally paid "fees," which could not be used for the cost of instruction. The legislation shifts the responsibility of instruction costs from the state to the students and lifts the cap off already skyrocketing college education costs.

WATER

The details of the state water issue sometimes got sticky, but meant ending blocks to completing the Snake River Basin Adjudication. In the end, the Nez Perce Tribe agreed to waive their in-stream flows claims forever. Lawmakers said the historic move created water stability and called the agreement profound for the tribe, the state, irrigators and anyone who wants to flush a toilet now and then.

TRANSPORTATION

Gov. Kempthorne finally forced through his pet legislation to utilize $1.6 billion worth of GARVEE bonds to upgrade Idaho highways. The bi-partisan legislation drew broad support from both the House and Senate, but when the bill stalled in committee, Kempthorne pulled out his veto stamp in an effort to gain more pull in the House. Lawmakers went back to the drawing table and emerged days later with a compromise. Kempthorne's use of his veto power drew praise, even from lawmakers who wanted to put a spending cap on the legislation, while other lawmakers would have liked to see Kempthorne use other forms of communication to push his agenda.

BUSINESS INCENTIVES

Lawmakers passed several income and property tax incentives aimed at attracting and maintaining big businesses. Lawmakers said they recognized that a huge tax burden could be shifted to residential homeowners if large companies such as Albertsons and Micron uprooted to another state or country. Most lawmakers agreed that a boost for business meant a boost for the state economy and jobs, but some lawmakers also wanted to see corporate accountability in any business incentive.

TAXES

Lawmakers said good-bye to the one-cent sales tax increase and entertained other ways to give homeowners and consumers a break. Some said they would have liked to extend property tax relief to residential owners and had concerns that some business incentives could place a higher tax burden on homeowners. But they said this just wasn't the year for any big property tax moves. Watch for some proposals next year to deal with this issue, as well as the revival of talk about removing the grocery tax.

CONSUMER PROTECTION

It took 20 years, but it happened: Lawmakers passed a law that requires the licensure of general contractors. They said the move could help keep you from getting ripped off and puts some accountability into a trade that is sometimes practiced by folks with limited skills and training.

Some argue that the consumer was far from lawmakers' minds when they decided to deregulate Qwest. Watch out, some lawmakers warned: Look for rising phone bills.

THE ENVIRONMENT

Lawmakers went a little green with talks of bio-fuel this legislative session and made some notable changes on the air quality front. Sen. David Langhorst (D-Boise 16) introduced legislation bringing a diversity of regional interests to the table to find solutions to those thick blankets of smog. Now the interested parties will get the resources they need to make some big decisions, and once they agree upon how to help clean our air, they will draft a new air quality law.

"It's really the people writing the law," Langhorst said. "You have to have local people at the table. I think laws work best when people have some say in how they were written."