End of Session Letter – 2017
Dear Friends and Neighbors of District 19,
It has truly been an honor to serve as the Senate Assistant Minority Leader. Working in partnership with Minority Leader Senator Michelle Stennett and Minority Caucus Chair Senator Maryanne Jordan is a joy. We share a strong sense of purpose, and styles that complement, challenge and support each other and a commitment to lead with purpose, compassion, and humor. I am appreciative for the high degree of collaboration we have established, and maintained with Majority Leadership this session.
New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings.
The Legislature may be winding down, but I am not. Here are updates of what is happening in the State House.
Victim's Rights-Marsy's Law
The Senate unanimously passed an amendment to an existing clause in Idaho's Constitution regarding the rights of crime victims. SJR 103 will now make its way to the House where it will need 2/3rd support to pass, as well as majority support in the next general election in order to change the Constitution. The change would require victims of crimes receive a "reasonable and timely" prior notification of all legal proceedings, the right to attend those proceedings, the right to confer with prosecutors, as well as "full and timely" restitution for economic losses. Marsy's law was motivated by the tragic death of Marsalee (Marsy) Nicholas who was stalked and murdered by her ex -boyfriend while attending University of California Santa Barbara in 1983.
Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.
- Abraham Lincoln
JFAC Approves Emergency Roads Funds
On March 1st, the Joint Financial Appropriations Committee (JFAC) approved $52 million dollars in emergency funds for transportation repairs. The funds will provide repairs for damages which occurred during the abnormally harsh winter this year. The allocation is a onetime emergency fund coming from the state's budget surplus. While the vote in JFAC was unanimous, the appropriation must be approved by the House and Senate and then signed by the governor.
I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.
After hearing hours of testimony regarding striking five paragraphs on climate change from Idaho's Science Standards, the Senate Education Committee postponed the vote last Friday. Chairman Mortimer did so in order to confer and negotiate with the House. The House Education Committee elected to stand firm in their rejection of the five paragraphs. Senator Ward-Engelking and I cast the only votes against removing climate change from the standards. The new standards will be in place until next session when they will be up as a pending rule.
"In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute."
-Thurgood Marshall, first African American U.S. Supreme Court member
We are taking action in the education arena by implementing the career-ladder model, and fighting to ensure that education standards are in the best interest of Idaho's children. On Thursday afternoon, the Senate Education Committee heard two hours of testimony from concerned constituents across Idaho on the removal of five paragraphs discussing climate change and human impact. The committee will vote on whether or not to accept the House's changes on Monday.
In a presentation from the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), the Senate Education Committee heard the results of a two-year study conducted on international comparisons in education. Findings indicated that most U.S. state education systems are falling dangerously behind the world in a multitude of international comparisons, rendering U.S. students ill-prepared to succeed in the 21st century economy. The report from the study quoted Representative Mary Stuart Gile, D-New Hampshire, "In several of the countries studied, teaching is regarded as an honorable and respected profession, comparable to medicine and law, and not a burden on the local property tax." It is imperative that we honor and pay our teachers appropriately. They shape not only our children's futures, but also the future of our communities, the state and the world.
"Without a struggle, there can be no progress."
- Frederick Douglass
Teacher Background Checks
Currently, new teachers are often required to pay for a background check through the school district, as well as each individual school they apply for. This leads to unnecessary financial strain for new employees. Senate Bill 1094 would require the employing school district the employing school district, when requested at the time of the application or within 6 months following the performance of the criminal history check. A copy would also be provided to the applicant upon request.
The House Health and Welfare committee introduced legislation intended to provide some basic primary care and limited prescription coverage on a first come first serve basis to people earning less than 100% of the federal poverty level. The proposal is to use the state's Millennium Fund to cover the cost. This funding mechanism will not leverage any additional federal dollars. A public hearing on this bill will at least open the conversation on health care for this session.
I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.
- Angela Davis
Child Welfare & Foster Care Report
The Joint Legislative Oversight Committee (of which I am a member) heard the results of a study from the Office of Performance Evaluation, on "Child Welfare and the Foster Care System". Findings call out the critical shortage of foster parents and excessive caseloads for social workers. This has been a long term, on-going issue.
The study indicated an 8% decrease in the number of foster parents since 2014 while social workers are stretched to handle 28% to 38% increase cases over the same period. The need for additional foster parents and social workers is great. Increasing staff as well as recruiting, training and retaining the number of foster parents are critical to meeting the ever growing needs of the children in the system. This shortage has at times made it necessary to place children with foster parents who are ill equipped to deal with their needs.
Keep on Pushing
I've got to keep on pushing
I can't stop now
Move up a little higher
Some way, somehow
'Cause I've got my strength
And it don't make sense
Not to keep on pushing
- The Impressions
The legislature is in full swing and things are busy! Here is an update on what we've been up to.
In acknowledgement of Kristin Armstrong's third gold medal win at the Rio Olympics, I presented a concurrent resolution to the State Affairs Committee last week. This resolution honors the work and achievements of the Idaho native as a professional cyclist and three-time Olympic Gold Medalist.
"Life's most persistent and urgent question is what are you doing for others."
-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Week 3: January 23-27, 2017
The Capitol was buzzing with all things education last week: exhibits in the rotunda, presentations to education committees, and lots of youngsters bringing light and enthusiasm to throughout the building. It is a pure joy to talk with Idaho students. They were thoughtful, respectful, asked great questions, shared articulately and were just too much fun! The Senate Education Committee heard presentations from institutions of higher learning covering a wide range of topics including strategic objectives, funding needs, opportunities, and highlighting student achievement. The committee also had the opportunity to hear from Idaho Teacher of the Year Mary Spiker, kindergarten teacher from Pocatello. Her presentation was powerful and very touching. She is making a real difference in the lives of her students.
"Courage is found in unlikely places."
- J.R.R. Tolkien
In the second week of the legislature, committees have been deeply entrenched in rule review.
State of the Judiciary
Chief Justice Roger S. Burdick presented the State of the Judiciary address to the Senate on Wednesday, January 18th where he discussed new technology and some of the state's judiciary challenges and successes.
iCourt, a transformative technology system, will take Idaho out of the paper-based legacy and into a web-based system. The transition will take place over the course of several years and updates can be tracked on their website . Additionally, the courts have completely revamped their accounting system for enhanced analytical capability, transparency, and accountability not only in the Supreme Court, but in each judicial district in the state.
"Not everything that is faced can be changed;
but nothing can be changed until it is faced."
- James Baldwin
Week one and all I can say is we are hitting the ground running. There is lots of news in the education arena.
Without a doubt, education is foundational not only to our children's future, but also to the future of Idaho. I was pleased to hear focus on education funding in Governor Otter's State of the State address where he recommended investing an additional $58 million on top of the $75 million previously invested over the past two years in the career ladder pay-model to keep us on track for our goal. He also recommended funds allocated for leadership training, professional development, and evaluation framework training.