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For the week of January 7 - 13, 2004


District 25
legislators gear up
for ‘contentious’
winter at Legislature

Express Staff Writer

Following last year’s record 118-day legislative session and a drawn-out stalemate on the state’s budget conundrums, Idaho’s District 25 lawmakers are gearing up for another difficult winter in Boise.

The session begins Monday, Jan. 12 in Boise.

"I think it’s going to be contentious, and I’m disappointed to think that," said Senate Minority Leader Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum.

Stennett said bills on issues like gay marriage, placement of a Ten Commandments monument on state property and abortion appear to be surfacing. He called them "litmus test kind of issues for the right wing."

"They’re going to be there, and I see that as being very contentious," Stennett said.

House Minority Leader Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, predicted a shorter session than last year’s record-setting winter. But she, too, said she anticipates an antagonistic session.

"I think it’s going to be fractious again," she said.

The session will kick off with a speech by Gov. Dirk Kempthorne on Jan. 12. That speech will be followed by the governor’s budget proposal on Jan. 14.

At the top of her list of concerns, Jaquet said she is worried that state education budgets could be put on the chopping block again.

"That will be pretty emotional, I think," she said. "If we have the money, I think we should try to restore some education funding."

Jaquet also predicted that a power struggle between State Superintendent of Public Instruction Marilyn Howard and the State Board of Education over federal education funds could become a big fight.

Until this year, the state schools superintendent—Howard since 1999—has had legal control of the federal money, which totals more than $131 million this year. But the other board members, all appointed by Kempthorne, convinced the Republican legislative majority to shift control of the money away from Howard.

At the time, GOP leaders said the shift of control to the board only places the ultimate responsibility for the cash where it belonged. Board President Blake Hall, a former state Republican chairman and influential Idaho Falls attorney, said in a letter that the board did not intend to actually implement and administer the money or control Howard's employees who had.

Democrats, supported privately by some Republicans, called it a political play to strip power from Howard, the lone Democrat. On Friday, Democratic legislative leaders again urged Kempthorne to intervene, at least to the point of asking the board to account for its actions.

Both lawmakers said water would be one of the winter’s top, high-profile issues.

"There’s going to be a huge water fight," Stennett said. "It doesn’t matter if we get a 200 percent of average snowpack. I assume that all sides will be in to try to flex their political muscle, and somebody’s going to be a loser. I’m not looking forward to that."

Jaquet said she and Stennett represent a myriad of water users, all of whom deserve representation.

"It’s a finite resource, and we need to start making decisions that will help everybody instead of just one group," she said.

The two Democrats also expressed concerns about the state’s decision last year to suspend raises for state employees. The situation has created low morale among employees, and, in some cases, is costing the state more money to attract new employees to posts that have been left, they said

"It is my understanding that we are being penny-wise and pound foolish by not giving dedicated, long-term employees at least cost-of-living raises," Stennett said. "We’ve just got to be smart about how we’re running the government. We should look for a way to address that issue square on."

Reflecting further about the tasks at hand and last year’s lengthy session, Stennett hedged.

"I would hope for a short session, but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it," he said.

District 25 Rep. Tim Ridinger did not return the Mountain Express’ telephone calls.



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