Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Legislators recount session's highlights

Jaquet, Pence review work in 2006

Express Staff Writer

Although Democrats are far outnumbered in the Idaho Legislature, two Democrat Blaine County representatives called this session "really successful."

Reps. Donna Pence, D-Gooding, and Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, spoke to a room full of Rotarians Tuesday, April 25, in Ketchum.

"Sempra was a big issue," Pence said, referring to the California company's now defunct plans to build a 600-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Jerome County.

"We did manage to get a two-year moratorium. That was hard fought. It was truly a grassroots thing. It was non-partisan and it was over the entire spectrum. We had people who had never been involved in anything get out there. That's a true democracy."

The integrated energy plan to be jumpstarted by a summer committee was an outgrowth of that, said Jaquet, who will be an ad-hoc member.

The energy plan will address not only conventional energy, but also alternative sources, she said.

As part of the formulation of a 10-year plan, Jaquet and other members of the Energy, Environment and Technology Interim Committee will travel to Bismark, N.D., in June to witness a coal gasification plant in action. Such technology is considered by advocates to be a cleaner way to use coal in energy generation than traditional coal burning.

Jaquet said another accomplishment for Blaine County residents came from the passage of a bill allowing beer and wine sales at four Idaho movie theaters.

Three of those theaters are in Blaine County—Ski Time and Magic Lantern in Ketchum, and the Opera House in Sun Valley—while one, the Flicks, is in Boise.

No other movie theaters will be allowed to have alcohol as concessions.

People on the other side of the silver screen were not left out of legislators' debates.

Filmmakers who spend more than $200,000 shooting in Idaho will have their sales taxes refunded.

The Capitol will be restored, despite Jaquet's and Pence's opposition to the two-level underground wings that are part of the plan.

"I thought if we were going to do underground wings, we should do single levels," Jaquet said.

That project's money will come from cigarette taxes.

Property tax relief was also on the minds of lawmakers—and voters.

Jaquet's proposal to enact a 1 percent real estate transfer tax, also known as a RETT, failed this session. The proposal would have taken half of the revenues and put them toward property tax relief and half to capital projects, such as affordable housing.

A RETT is opposed by many in the real estate field since it requires a sales price disclosure.

The legislators, whose District 25 includes Blaine, Lincoln, Gooding and Camas counties, noted other efforts that failed to gain ground.

One was a proposition to increase the state's minimum wage from the current $5.15 an hour.

Although Jaquet pegged that as a bi-partisan issue, majority leaders dubbed it "partisan" and wouldn't co-sponsor it.

An investigation on gas gouging similarly went nowhere.

"Sometimes I want to just put my head down ... and say, 'Oh my gosh,'" Jaquet said.

Still, the session saw both parties working in concert on many issues, Jaquet said.

"There's a lot of good working together for what's best for the state," she said.

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