Friday, January 7, 2011

Legislators convene Monday

Issues include education cuts, rape bill


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

The Legislature kicks off its 2011 session Monday, leaving legislators faced with the difficult task of running the state on rapidly dwindling funds.

"It's going to be a pretty difficult session, I think," said District 25 Rep. Donna Pence, D-Gooding.

The state's $2.2 billion budget may have to be cut by about $270 million this session. State programs, such as health and welfare and education, may come under the knife as legislators try to make up the shortfall.

"Those are going to get cut, and cut badly," Pence said, adding that the Department of Health and Welfare has already been cut to "bare bones."

Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, said she anticipates a 7 percent decrease in school funding to help cut state expenses. Such cuts may mean that schools will need to shorten hours or start sharing resources such as school counselors.

However, Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said she's not sure how much more funding decreases schools can take.

"We're operating really, really leanly already," she said.

Stennett, chair of the Democratic caucus, has served one session in the Legislature, having served as a substitute for her late husband, Sen. Clint Stennett, in 2010. She was elected to her first full term in November, and will serve in the 2011 and 2012 legislative sessions.

Stennett said her newcomer status might impact her political movements this session.

"I'm a brand new person to this, with a brand new leadership position," she said. "I'm going to be a co-sponsor to things we develop as a team."

Both Stennett and Jaquet said they would focus on Tax Commission reform and collecting almost $250 million in unpaid state taxes. Jaquet has suggested that the politically appointed tax commissioners should be overseen by an elected executive to give the commission more accountability.

Jaquet said another issue likely to be addressed is a statute that says rape can be charged if a woman is fooled into thinking she's having sex with her husband, but not if she thinks the man is her boyfriend. The loophole was brought to light in November when an unmarried woman was prevented from pressing charges against a man who she said tricked her into having sex by posing as her boyfriend.

"We'll fix it," Jaquet said of the law.

The session convenes at noon Monday at the Capitol Building in Boise. Gov. Butch Otter will address the Legislature with his State of the State speech at 1 p.m.

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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