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We are a little more than a month into the Legislative Session, and it seems priorities, for some, are taking an interesting turn. Rather than focusing on more pressing issues, I have seen numerous efforts to pass restrictive, preemptive measures that limit local communities in Idaho. This erosion of local control is not beneficial for hard-working Idahoans and forces our municipalities to petition the state in order to achieve their goals. With this in mind, here is a look at three troublesome pieces of legislation currently under consideration.

 

A Ban on Plastic Bag Bans

First, HB 372, which recently passed the House, is a measure that bars cities from implementing bans or restrictions on disposable containers and plastic bags. If localities wish to enact such measures, they must first obtain permission from the legislature. Curiously, there has been no great outcry from the public for a blanket ban on plastic bags. In fact, the opposite has occurred; large numbers of Idahoans have written to the legislature protesting this bill, citing in particular, its profound environmental consequences. On the face of it, HB372 appears to be little more than a desire to wrest power from communities and voters to solve local problems.

West Ada School District Targeted

Next, SB 1308, which was introduced in the Senate State Affairs Committee, was inspired by current recall efforts in the West Ada School District. Sponsored by Senator Chuck Winder, the bill proposes that when a majority of school board members are facing a recall election, those who resign may not be replaced by a vote of the remaining members. According to its sponsor, the intent is to prevent those "of like mind" from joining the board. What is "of like mind," you ask? I inquired myself in committee. No answer was forthcoming. This heavy-handed reaction, which appears to be directed to West Ada, would impact school districts across the state. I find the legislation both unusual and unnecessary.

A Ban on Local Control Over Minimum Wages

Source: MSNBC

And finally, HB 463 presents yet another example. Introduced in the House Business Committee, the bill bars municipalities from determining their own local, minimum wage. During the debate, House Minority Leader, John Rusche, cited that the cost of living in McCall has risen so much that low-wage service workers can no longer afford to live in town. This example effectively demonstrates the fatal flaw in a bill such as this. HB 463 would strip low-income workers of their right to improve their standard of living, negatively impact local business, and restrict local leaders from addressing the critical needs of their communities.

Public Defense

I am pleased to report that the Public Defense Interim Committee, on which I serve, has completed its work and drafted legislation to support comprehensive reform of the public defense system in Idaho. The bill, which must pass the State Legislature, calls for investment of $5.48 million towards a ramped-up Public Defense Commission that would oversee the following priorities:

  • New funds would be sent to counties as grants to help them provide better funding for their public defense systems
  • Counties could get additional funding by agreeing to merge their public defense systems
  • The commission will increase its oversight of county systems in order to make sure they meet constitutional muster. This would include adding 4.5 full-time paid positions
  • The commission will expand training sessions for public defenders and enforce a set of standards that county public defense systems must adhere to

Source: Idaho Post Register

This new bipartisan agreement is truly a much needed step forward in our state's efforts to ensure that all citizens receive adequate legal counsel regardless of their financial circumstances. I hope to see the resulting legislation on the Governor's desk later this session.

Health and Welfare Update

Issues related to Health and Welfare remained front and center in the Capitol this week, with a presentation in the Lincoln Auditorium on Thursday, and another informational hearing held by the Senate Health and Welfare Committee on Friday. Thursday's presentation dealt with the subject of Medical Neglect and Childhood Mortality in Idaho, and was spurred by Representative John Gannon's introduction of legislation that requires that lifesaving medical treatment for children be administered, regardless of their parent's religious beliefs. Friday's hearing, meanwhile, was called by the Chairman of the Health and Welfare Committee, and provided a forum for Idahoans to express their concerns and advocate for legislation. As expected, the main topic of discussion was Healthy Idaho, as dozens called for their citizen legislators to "close the gap," and provide affordable healthcare.

Upcoming Townhall Forums

You are cordially invited to meet with my District 19 colleagues, Representatives Mat Erpelding and Melissa Wintrow and me for our town hall meetings during the legislative session. We will be taking your questions and sharing our perspectives on the issues confronting the State Legislature. I would love to welcome you to the conversation. I hope you will join us:

February 17, 2016 - Hidden Springs Club House

5892 W Hidden Springs Dr, Boise, ID 83714

March 2, 2016 - Quail Hollow Golf Course Club House

4520 36th St, Boise, ID 83703

As always, it is both a pleasure and an honor to represent you in the Idaho State Senate. Let's stay connected.

 

Your Senator,

Cherie Buckner-Webb

District 19

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