Idaho Capitol

Idaho Capitol

Here are links to the legislative stories of the day, as the 10th week of this year’s legislative session comes to an end:

VOTER INITIATIVE BILL: After hours-long and passionate public testimony, nearly all of which strongly opposed a bill that would make it harder to qualify an initiative or referendum for the ballot, the Senate State Affairs Committee on Friday voted unanimously to hold the bill in committee at the discretion of the chair, writes Idaho Press reporter Savannah Cardon. But it could come back for a vote anytime, and according to chairwoman Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, it will be soon. “We’re ready … it’ll be sometime next week,” Lodge told the Idaho Press. You can read Cardon’s full report here at idahopress.com (subscription required), or pick up Saturday’s Idaho Press.

MONEYTREE LOBBYIST ADVISED GROW ON INITIATIVE BILL: Boise State Public Radio reporter James Dawson reports that John Sheldon, former president of Treasure Valley Racing and the face of the big-bucks Proposition 1 initiative campaign that unsuccessfully sought to re-legalize gambling machines at Idaho horse racetracks, now lobbies for Moneytree and has been advising Sen. C. Scott Grow on the controversial bill he’s sponsoring to limit future Idaho initiatives and referenda; you can read Dawson’s full report here at boisestatepublicradio.org.

GIDDINGS DECRIES PERSECUTION OF CHRISTIANS: a resolution was introduced in the Idaho House on Friday decrying the persecution of Christians worldwide, writes Post Register reporter Nathan Brown. The resolution, sponsored by Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, says freedom of religion for all "undergrids the very origin and existence of the United States and the State of Idaho," and that 90,000 Christians around the world have been killed for their faith every year over the past decade. Giddings cited a recent presentation to lawmakers by anti-Muslim pastor Shahram Hadian. You can read Brown’s full report here.

LIQUOR SAMPLING BILL KILLED: The House State Affairs Committee has killed a bill that would have let liquor stores give customers samples, Brown reports. Sponsored by Rep. Clark Kauffman, R-Filer, the bill passed the Senate 22-12 on Feb. 27. It would have let liquor stores give people quarter-ounce sized samples in a specified roped-off area of the store. Customers would have been limited to three samples a day. Kauffman said the bill would help consumers given the proliferation of more expensive specialty liquors in recent years. "Before you spend $50 or $60 or $70 you might want to see what it tastes like," Kauffman said. The bill ran into opposition from lawmakers who disapprove of drinking; you can read Brown’s full report here.

STATE TREASURER MOVE: Lewiston Tribune reporter Bill Spence reports that the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee reconvened today and approved a $10.6 million supplemental appropriation to move the state treasurer’s offices out of the state Capitol, and remodel that office space into offices for House members. Here's his report:

By William L. Spence, Lewiston Tribune

BOISE – A long-standing proposal to relocate a portion of the Idaho state treasurer's staff and provide more office space for House lawmakers is expected to cost about $10.6 million.

The joint budget committee approved a funding request for that amount on Friday.

The budget includes $3.5 million to move most of the treasurer's staff out of the Statehouse, plus $7.1 million to construct 49 private offices and remodel some legislative staff space.

That comes out to about $145,000 per office, not including the treasurer's move.

House Assistant Majority Leader Jason Monks, R-Nampa, said the project dates back to 2007, when then-Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter balked at plans to expand the capitol building by adding two, two-story wings onto the House and Senate.

Otter said one-story extensions were good enough. Legislative leaders went along with him after he agreed to relinquish control of the first floor space.

The only exception to the deal was the treasurer's ceremonial office and an adjacent room that has a large vault. The remaining office space was supposed to be turned over to the Legislature once incumbent Treasurer Ron Crane left office.

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“That time has come,” Monks said. “Now we're looking to put more House offices there on the first floor.”

Every member of the Idaho Senate has a private office, but only 21 of 70 House members do. The others work in open cubicles that range in size from small to extremely cramped.

“It's very difficult to work in the cubicles,” said Rep. Caroline Troy, R-Genesee, who serves on the budget committee. “It's impossible to have a confidential meeting or telephone call. I think this is an important move for the future of the Legislature to be able to work effectively and to value our constituents equally between the House and Senate.”

Troy's motion to approve the $10.6 million project passed 16-2. Sens. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, and Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville, opposed the measure.

Johnson supported the legislative portion of the funding request, but had concerns about the $3.5 million to relocate the treasurer's staff. Crabtree had concerns about the overall budget.

“If we going to be conservative, it's hard for me to explain to my constituents how we need spend $10 million so some of us can have nice offices for three months out of the year,” he said.

State Treasurer Julie Ellsworth, who was elected last year after former Treasurer Ron Crane retired, opposes the relocation and has sought legal advice on whether lawmakers can force the move.

“They want $10 million for private offices that they'll use three months of the year,” Ellsworth said Friday. “I understand that the Legislature can do this, but they need to let people know about it.”

Ellsworth, who previously served six terms in the House, noted that the joint budget committee typically doesn't take public testimony. Consequently, the public won't have a formal opportunity to weigh in on the relocation and remodel plans.

Given the potential lack of suitable space for her staff to relocate – as well as the historical nature of the current office space, which is part of the original capitol building – she also suggested the final price tag will be higher than projected.

“It will cost more than $10 million,” Ellsworth said.

Scaling back the capitol expansion plans in 2007 saved an estimated $11 million. That would have provided another story on both the House and Senate wings.

If the House and Senate approve the funding request, it will go to the governor for his signature.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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