Friday, March 25, 2011

Senate eyes April 1 adjournment

Controversial education levy bill awaits hearing

Express Staff Writer

The Idaho Senate has announced its intentions to adjourn by the end of the month, but one local legislator says she's concerned the swiftly approaching closure doesn't provide time for public input.

"Bills get printed one day and the next they get voted on in committee," said Rep. Donna Pence, D-Gooding, in a press release Tuesday. "[This] leaves very little time for the public to hear about the bill and actually get to testify on it."

In addition to taking action on the swiftly moving third part of state schools Superintendent Tom Luna's cost-cutting plan to reform public schools, the Legislature is expected to vote next week on a bill that would cut funding to Blaine County Schools.

The budget stabilization levy elimination bill, which could result in the loss of $29.5 million annually to county schools, was passed on to the Senate after a House vote on March 7. Blaine County is one of four school districts statewide that is allowed to issue an automatic levy on property taxes, which provide more than 60 percent of its general operating fund.

Calls to the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee as well as to the Department of Education to determine if the bill had been scheduled for next week were not returned as of press time.

Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, said last week that she expected the budget stabilization levy elimination to come up once several urban renewal bills, which were in the same committee, have been amended and have been sent to the Senate floor. The bills are currently in the Senate amending order.

Jaquet said in a legislative update Monday that bills regarding closing the tax gap, one cutting $39 million in Medicaid funding and a bill allowing firearms on college campuses still must be addressed before the Legislature can adjourn.

And even though he admits the public education budget could delay the adjournment date, Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, said he remains optimistic.

"I am unaware of any other legislation right now that can't be done in that two-week time period," he said.

Katherine Wutz:

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