"This is the biggest thing we'll be able to do in this legislature," said Sen. Elliot Werk (D-Boise). Werk's cheerleading is uplifting in the wake of a legislative session that, for Democrats, has been deeply depressing. What he's cheering for is the Millennium Permanent Endowment Fund, which would hold the money Idaho receives from federal tobacco settlement funds, invest it and hopefully turn it into tens of millions of dollars in a relatively short period of time. The bill is on track to pass the House and appear on the November ballot as a constitutional amendment.
"The greatest thing is what the money is used for," said Werk. "It's real community-based stuff that directly improves people's lives." Stop-smoking programs, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, health care career scholarships and other health-related projects are all possible uses for the money. The specific beneficiaries would be handed out by the joint House-Senate Millennium Fund Committee, a bipartisan group which crafted the Fund's structure.
Werk credits the group for its spirit of cooperation, and Sen. Dean Cameron (R-Rupert), in particular. "We truly worked together to come up with a plan that everyone feels good about," he said. That may sound like political spin, but in this case, Werk said it was almost the ideal of how a legislative committee should work.
The intricacies of investment funds are about as clear as a Nampa freeway fog, but this version of the Millennium Fund won't allow any clouds around how the money is used. It's set up to guarantee that legislators can't raid it for budget emergencies. The old fund didn't have those safeguards, and in 2003 lawmakers snatched $90 million from its coffers.
"We took a bath," said Werk. "The new structure means that it can be invested for long-term growth, at much higher interest rates.
"This goes to the core of my political beliefs," said Werk. "We're protecting money that can be used for treatment instead of incarceration; to get people off drugs; for prenatal care; for health education. To be able to do this kind of thing is why I'm here--to provide the best possible services to the people of Idaho.'
Bill Sali Back On The Throne
"If I were king, I'd overturn Roe v. Wade," said Rep. Bill Sali (R-Kuna), who will introduce this year's version of anti-choice parental-consent legislation this week.
In years past, Sali's zeal to outlaw abortions in Idaho has led him to push parental-consent bills so restrictive that even some anti-choice Republicans couldn't stomach them. There's been no exception for pregnant teens who have been abused or threatened by a parent or guardian, and only murky exceptions for conditions that threaten the mother's life.
Sali has successfully passed legislation, which was signed by Governor Kempthorne three times, only to be overturned by the courts.
But Sali is trying again regardless. "I should at least get credit for perseverance," he said. "This time we're trying to build something bulletproof."
A policy change opportunity shows itself each year to Sali, a crusader in the anti-choice movement's strategy of incrementalism. Failing to outlaw abortion completely has led them to pursue almost anything that makes obtaining abortions more difficult or delay the procedure. He doesn't mention women who bear the burden of the decisions, but, "those of us who are pro-life feel a terrible burden put on us by the judicial system."
Sali became angry when asked if the anti-choice movement seeks to reduce the overall number of abortions by laws that delay abortions "until it's too late."
"Are you saying that Idaho has laws restricting late-term abortions? Why would you ask that?" he demanded, implying that the pro-choice movement doesn't believe in "too late."
When told of a new analysis by The New York Times showing that not all states with parental-consent laws are seeing the abortion rate decline, Sali said, "I just don't believe that. It doesn't make sense at all."
If Sali's legislation passes--again--will it bring more voters to the polls in November, and will they be from the left or the right?
"I think what's more likely to get people to the polls is the fact that the Republicans this session have failed the middle class miserably," said Maria Weeg with the Idaho Democratic Party. "Again, they're not talking about issues that matter to people like education and health care and job security."
David Ripley, spokesman for Idaho Chooses Life (and, full disclosure, this author's former business partner), said, "I don't know that it will have a large impact on the elections except for those legislators who vote against it." After reciting the names of Republicans who voted against last year's bill, he confirmed that his group will watch the vote carefully this year and target the races of those who oppose this one.
In other news from the far right, Sen. Gerry Sweet (R-Meridian) introduced Senate Joint Memorial 119, "limiting the jurisdiction of the federal courts relating to matters involving the acknowledgment of God as the sovereign source of law, liberty or government." The bill's Statement of Purpose identifies its purpose as "to provide the following protections: the ability of the people of Idaho to display the Ten Commandments in public buildings and express their faith in public, retain "God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, and retain "In God We Trust" as our national motto.
The Joint Memorial is expected to hit the Senate floor later this week or next.