Friday, April 20, 2007

Lawmakers lament lack of action

Express Staff Writer

Rep. Donna Pence, Rep. Wendy Jaquet and Sen. Clint Stennett sit before the Sun Valley City Council on Tuesday. The lawmakers discussed legislative shortcomings and triumphs during the 2006 legislative session. Photo by Trevor Schubert

Frustration over an apparent lack of progress during the 2007 session of the Idaho Legislature dominated discussions this week between state lawmakers from District 25 and the Sun Valley City Council.

Sen. Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum, Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, and Rep. Donna Pence, D-Gooding, presented their comments on legislative shortfalls and accomplishments to the council and members of the public in attendance Tuesday, April 17.

"The governor (C.L. 'Butch' Otter) gave himself a 'D-minus' for what he accomplished this year," said Stennett, who is Senate minority leader. "I have to give him an 'A' for honesty."

The lawmakers spoke to a number of issues that failed to make it into law this year. Notable shortfalls include grocery tax reform, the need for statewide authority to oversee energy production, public transportation improvements, legislation on so-called "shooter-bull" operations and child day care safety improvements.

Otter vetoed a grocery tax credit bill and the Republican-controlled Senate declined to bring it to the floor for a potential override, Jaquet said. The Senate bill sought to reduce the grocery tax by 50 percent at the register, whereas the governor favored a sliding-scale grocery tax credit for people of limited incomes.

Stennett said he is still attempting to create a state siting authority to oversee energy production and to mitigate potential harms nuclear and coal-fired power plants can cause. But the Legislature let stand the current policy of county oversight for power plant siting in a State Energy Plan passed early in the session.

Last year, however, a bill was passed that set a moratorium on construction of coal-fired power plants in response to a large-scale plant proposed by San Diego-based Sempra Energy in Jerome County. Since then, a nuclear power plant has been proposed for a site near Bruneau.

"The only way to ensure that it (the operation of power plants) is done correctly is with a statewide siting authority," Stennett said.

As for the improvement of Idaho's public transit, "the state Legislature failed to do anything about it," Stennett said.

Stennett also worked hard to regulate shooter-bull operations that sell canned hunts for big game contained in large fenced enclosures.

Last year, more than a 100 elk escaped from a shooter-bull operation run by Rex Rammell in eastern Idaho near Rexburg. Former Gov. Jim Risch issued a kill order to prevent a possible contamination of native elk herds.

The very notion of shooting captive animals "is to me totally against our tradition and our heritage as hunters and as Idahoans," Stennett said. Legislation was introduced that would have outlawed shooter-bull operations in the state but several bills failed to make it into law.

Efforts to provide more safety regulations for small child day care centers "didn't go anywhere," Stennett said.

Jaquet said efforts to pass a community-based transit bill failed in the House. One bill would have set aside 1 percent of a community's local option tax to finance road maintenance and public transportation improvements on a 50-50 basis.

"I have a little bit of a problem telling people where they send the money," Jaquet said. "Local people should be able to decide."

On a positive note, the Wood River Legacy Project, which will permit donation of in-stream flows to the Silver Creek water system, was passed unanimously by the Legislature.

However, the Senate killed a GOP-sponsored bill that would have permitted no crossover votes in primary elections. Voting would have been limited to only registered party members, voting in their respective party's primaries.

"To me, it is unbelievably arrogant and offensive to tell people they can't vote in a publicly funded election," Stennett said.

Pence noted that the Opportunity Scholarship passed. It had broad support in both legislative bodies, and will provide money to help Idaho students go on to post-secondary education. She also applauded additional funding allocated to the nursing program at the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls. She said that Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston along with Boise State University would also receive additional funding.

On May 2, at 7 p.m., Stennett, Jaquet and Pence will speak to the Wood River Parent Teacher Organization at Woodside Elementary in Hailey.

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