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2016 Legislative session

The 2016 Idaho State Legislature’s session has concluded. During this session we addressed over 580 pieces of legislation. This year’s session addressed a variety of issues, but the focus was once more on education and setting the budget. The economy has shown good growth, so there was money to restore more of the cuts that were made to government services. As I worked on the Joint Finance Appropriations Committee (JFAC), one of my priorities was to ensure the taxes of Idahoans are distributed in an efficient and effective manner.

This year, the state again balanced its budget, at $3,271,392,000, with the majority of these funds going toward education ($2.01 billion), health and human services ($704.5 million), and public safety ($325.1 million). I believe this amount of funding will provide the basic, needed services while providing a significant boost of 7.4% to K-12 education. High lights of the school budget include:

• Increasing state spending on education by $108.8 million over the current year.
• Fully funding the second year of the career ladder teacher salary law with $33.5 million.
• Boosting schools’ operational funding or discretionary spending by $31.2 million. This operational spending finally provides the per classroom spending of $25,696 which is the level from 2008-09. It is important to note, there has been an increase of over 1000 classrooms since 2008.
• Putting $5,000,000 in college and career counseling.
• Spending $16.4 million on teacher professional development.
• Paying $16.6 million for teacher leadership premiums that are designed to reward educators for mentoring or taking on hard-to-fill positions. This funding allows our high performing educators and staff to be rewarded for outstanding service.
• Increasing technology spending to $18,000,000 to provide the information in the classroom to enhance student learning.

Education was a major focus of this legislative session. As chairman of the Senate Education Committee, we continued to support legislation that improves the lives of students in Idaho. The goal is to help them prepare to actively participate in the workforce upon completion. The Career Technical education component was also a priority.

Another long term effort was made toward economic stability by increasing our state savings accounts, the current balances are approximately $366 million.
State employees were again provided a 3% raise in their salaries based on merit in an effort to retain and attract good employees

There was for a third year a focus on change in the approach Idaho takes concerning the reform of our criminal justice system. These changes should improve treatment, supervision, parole, and probation processes, especially for nonviolent offenders. There was also a continued focus on the public defender system to ensure it adequately serves the public.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare worked diligently to find a solution to the needs of those Idahoans who are struggling with health care. There was a slight increase in the number of participants in Medicaid. The department continues to work with the legislature to find ways to care for the disabled and impoverished while trying to prevent abuses of public funds.

Transportation funding saw a large increase in spending because of the legislation passed last session, you might remember that this was legislation that provided approximately $95 million per year to try and fill the $262 million needed to maintain and improve our roads and bridges. There was also approximately $56 million dollars taken from year end revenues that was earmarked for transportation.

As you know Idaho’s greatest natural resource is water. Significant legislation was addressed this year to protect, facilitate and promote water along with aquifer recharge. Protecting this resource and making it available for agriculture, industry and our citizens is something that needs constant and vigilant effort.

For a more detailed summary on the legislation considered and passed this year please go to the “sine die” report on the Idaho State Legislature page: http://legislature.idaho.gov/. On this website you will also find details about the current and all past legislative sessions and budget information.

I appreciate all of the emails, phone calls, and letters received throughout the session. Your input helps me understand the issues and how they impact us. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve District 30. If there are concerns or questions you have about this session please contact me. You can also keep in touch with me by email at dmortimer@senate.idaho.gov. Thank you again for your support.

Another Legislative Session 2016

The 2016 Legislative session has begun with a rush. As chairman of the Senate Education committee I was presented with a pile of education bills just days after my arrival. This session promises to be busy and I hope productive. Just a quick note that if you have some issues, feel free to contact me at dmortimer@senate.idaho.gov. I look forward to reporting on this session soon.

2015 Legislative Summary

The 2015 Idaho State Legislature’s session has concluded. During this session we addressed over 590 pieces of legislation in an 89 day long legislative session which is a little longer than the previous several years. This year’s session addressed two major issues; education and transportation, while juggling the time and resources of the taxpayers of Idaho, who continue to struggle with the continual improvements in the economy. The realities of these conditions have been on my mind as I worked on the Joint Finance Appropriations Committee (JFAC) to ensure the taxes of Idahoans are distributed in an efficient and effective manner. This year the state again balanced its budget, at $3,072.084,000, with the majority of these funds going toward education ($1.9 billion), health and human services ($685.5 million), and public safety ($309.8 million). I believe this amount of funding will provide the basic, needed services while providing a significant boost of 7.4% to K-12 education. High lights of the school budget include:
• Increasing state spending on education by $101.2 million over the current year.
• Fully funding the first year of the career ladder teacher salary law with $33.5 million.
• Boosting schools’ operational funding or discretionary spending by $33.2 million. Per-classroom operational funding will increase from $22,401 to $23,868. Even with the increase, per classroom spending still lags behind the $25,696 level from 2008-09.
• Raising minimum teacher salary levels from $31,750 to $32,700.
• Spending $13.2 million on teacher professional development.
• Paying $16.1 million for teacher leadership premiums that are designed to reward educators for mentoring or taking on hard-to-fill positions. This funding will be paired with the $33.5 million in the career ladder.
• Earmarking $6 million to pay for advanced college courses that students complete while still in high school.
• Budgeting $2.1 million for Wi-Fi for Idaho schools.

Education was a major focus of this legislative session. There was a new compensation plan put in place that will raise teacher salaries over the next five years. It also raises beginning teacher salaries to $37,000 to make them more competitive.. As chairman of the Senate Education Committee, we continued to support legislation that improves the lives of students in Idaho and help them prepare to actively participate in the workforce upon completion of their education.

Another long term effort was made toward economic stability by increasing our state savings accounts in the amount of $25.4 million while giving state employees a 3% raise in their salaries. A new goal of 10% in our Budget Stabilization Fund was set last year and we have savings accounts totaling $311 million in all of the savings for future unknowns.

There was for a second year a focus on change in the approach Idaho takes concerning the reform of our criminal justice system. These changes should improve treatment, supervision, parole, and probation processes, especially for nonviolent offenders. There was also a continued focus on the public defender system to ensure it adequately serves the public.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare told the legislature that this is the second year since the recent recession that there has been a declined and flatting in the number of participants in Medicaid. The department continues to work with the legislature to find ways to care for the disabled and impoverished while trying to prevent abuses of public funds.

Transportation funding has been worked on and discussed all session long. There have been many starts and stops. A conference committee was finally convened in the last days of the legislature to find a workable solution. After considerable deliberations there was finally a resolution that will provide approximately $95 million per year to try and fill the $262 million need to maintain our roads. The last time that gas taxes were raised were in 1996.

Here are some other issues we addressed this year that you may find interesting:

1. Senate Bill 1071a-This legislation requires all senior students to take the national civics test along with their government class.
2. Senate Bill 1081-This bill allow greater flexibility and choice in self funded health care plans.
3. House Bill 001-This bill names and provides for a state amphibian, the giant salamander.
4. House Bill 110- This bill establishes a mastery based education system for our public schools. It starts as a pilot and then advances.
5. House Bill 189-This bill provides for Tele-health access and how it is to be implemented.

For a more detailed summary on the legislation considered and passed this year please go to the “sine die” report on the Idaho State Legislature page: http://legislature.idaho.gov/. On this website you will also find details about the current and all past legislative sessions and budget information.

We may not agree on every piece of legislation that was considered and passed this year, but you need to know that I consider all opinions and input from my constituents. I appreciate all of the emails, phone calls, and letters received throughout the session. Your input helps me understand the issues and how they impact us. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve District 30. If there are concerns or questions you have about this session please contact me. You can also keep in touch with me by email at dmortimer@senate.idaho.gov. Thank you again for your support.

2015 Legislature Begins

The 2015 Idaho Legislative Session is in full swing again. Governor Otter’s “State of the State” address was earlier this week, highlighting the topics of education, the economy and transportation. On a personal note, I am serving on the Finance Committee as well as the Education Committee of which I am Chairman. The Governor proposes a $101 million increase in education spending over our current fiscal year, which is a 7.4 percent increase. Overall, his budget expects 5.5 percent revenue growth, which is a 5.2 percent increase from last year.
Although my focus of responsibilities will be spent heavily on the economy and education, other topics of importance, include, but are not limited to, funding transportation projects and water issues. Please feel free to email me at dmortimer@senate.idaho.gov. Your questions, comments, and suggestions are important to me. Also, please take advantage of legislative updates and information, much of which is accessible through both live streaming and media archives at www.legislature.idaho.gov.

2014 End of Session

The 2014 Idaho State Legislature’s session has concluded. During this session we addressed over 550 pieces of legislation in a 80 day long legislative session which is much shorter than the previous several years. This year’s short session enabled the legislature to save time and resources for the taxpayers of Idaho, who continue to struggle with the slow, yet continual improvements in the economy. The realities of these condition s have been on my mind as I worked on the Joint Finance Appropriations Committee (JFAC) to ensure the taxes of Idahoans are distributed in an efficient and effective manner. This year the state again balanced its budget, at $2,936,008,400, with the majority of these funds going toward education ($1.78 billion), health and human services ($680.9 million), and public safety ($307.9 million). I believe this amount of funding will provide the basic, needed services while providing a boost to the educational community and acting as a check against the growth of state government.

Another long term effort was made toward economic stability by increasing our state savings accounts in the amount of $36 million while giving state employees a 2% raise in their salaries. A new goal of 10% in our Budget Stabilization Fund was set in order to prepare for future unknowns.

Education continues to be a major issue. As a member of the Senate Education Committee, I continue to support legislation that improves the lives of students in Idaho and help them prepare to actively participate in the workforce upon completion of their education. The Governor’s Educational Task Force reported their findings and suggestions to the legislature. Increasing the funding of education significantly in nearly all sectors, including an increase of K-12 education by 5.1% was a step in the right direction. We requested funds to be placed in the Public Education Stabilization Fund in the amount of $10 million and Higher Education Stabilization $2 million. There was also a privacy of student information bill and the creation of a test review committee made up of stakeholders from the public and educational stakeholders to make our new assessments Idaho specific.

Serving on the Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee, I participated this year in a dramatic change in the approach Idaho takes concerning the reform of our criminal justice system. These changes should improve treatment, supervision, parole, and probation processes, especially for nonviolent offenders. We also reviewed the public defender system to ensure it adequately serves the public.
The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare told the legislature that this is the first year since the recent recession that there has been a declined in number of participants in medicaid. This decline made it possible for the legislature to once again provide adult recipients of medicaid with preventable dental services. The department continues to work with the legislature to find ways to care for the disabled and impoverished while trying to prevent abuses of public funds.

Here are some other issues we addressed this year that you may find interesting:

1. Senate Bill 1332-This legislation will protect second amendment rights by penalizing local authorities who confiscate guns under orders from the Federal Government.
2. Senate Bill 1314-This bill places restrictions on payday loan lenders and the amount of interest they can charge their customers.
3. House Bill 479-This bill appropriates $15 million to improve the infrastructure of Idaho’s water resources.
4. House Bill 378-This bill designates the historical date Idaho was signed into law as a territory by Abraham Lincoln as Idaho Day. March 04th, 2015 will be the first observation of this holiday.
5. House Bill 452- This bill establishes a public defender commission.
6. Senate Bill 1357-This bill reorganizes the criminal justice system.

For a more detailed summary on the legislation considered and passed this year please go to the “sine die” report on the Idaho State Legislature page: http://legislature.idaho.gov/. On this website you will also find details about all past legislative sessions and budget information.

We may not agree on every piece of legislation that was considered and passed this year, but you need to know that I consider all opinions and input from my constituents. I appreciate all of the emails, phone calls, and letters received throughout the session. Your input helps me understand the issues and how they impact us. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve District 30. If there are concerns or questions you have about this session please contact me. You can also keep in touch with me by email at dmortimer@senate.idaho.gov. Thank you again for your support.

The 2014 Legislature Begins

The 2014 Idaho legislative session began this week. We listened to the governor present the “State of the State’. It seems that things are going to start very fast. The target date set by leadership for the completion of the session is March 21st. It may happen if this week is representative. I am still serving on three committees. The Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee, Education Committee and Judiciary and Rules Committee. All three will take a major role in issues being presented to this year’s legislature. Education was the focus of the state of the state because of the governor’s task force and the possibility of restoring some of the education budget. There have been two interim committees on judicial issues which will also bring some reform and legislation. Water will also take a front row seat with discussions about aquifer recharge and funds for major water projects.
Please feel free to email me at dmortimer@senate.idaho.gov to give me your input or ask questions. You can get on the legislative website at legislature.idaho.gov and watch and listen to all of the committees and the Senate and House when it is in session.

Legislature 2013 Begins

The 63rd session of the Idaho State Legislature has begun in full stride with an enthusiastic speech from Governor Otter. I too am cautiously optimistic about this year as there is much to accomplish in the next few months which gives the Legislature many opportunities to improve upon the lives of Idaho residents.
The most impactful legislation this year will also be the most contentious. The Legislature expects to continue to find a way to balance Idaho’s budget while implementing pragmatic changes to adjust to changes required to conform with the new national health care law, enact new rules to accommodate the public’s rejection of education proposals 1,2, and 3, and potentially repeal the personal property tax. Please inform yourself of these possible changes.
Many of these decisions will impact Idahoans in great ways in the years to come. Please contact me to notify me what your stance is on proposed legislation is and how the legislature can improve existing rules. You can follow legislation by watching committees online. Please keep in mind I am involved with the Joint Finance Appropriation Committee, the Education Committee, and the Judiciary and Rules Committee. More information about the meeting times and other members of these meetings can be found by clicking on the committee you are interested in. After perusing the committees you can get more information about the legislature and proposed statutes at http://legislature.idaho.gov/.
I look forward to serving you for the next few months as your Senator. Please let me know what concerns or suggestions you have as we move forward with the promising opportunities this year has to offer. Thank you for choosing me to represent District 30 and the State of Idaho.

2012 Legislative Session

The 2012 Legislative Session has recently ended and what a session it has been! It wasn’t the normal budget issues that dominated the discussion. It was a session filled with personal feelings, from ethics to hunting and everything in between.

Budget:
The Legislature’s first and foremost priority is fulfilling its constitutional duty of balancing the state’s budget. As a member of the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee (JFAC), I was intimately involved with this process from day one. This year’s revenues have been slightly higher than expected as the economy is showing a slow, yet steady, recovery. I am proud to say that this year’s budget includes no cuts to any major state departments. In fact:
• FY 2013 has an overall budget of $2.701 billion, an increase of 4.5 percent from FY 2012.
• Public schools were given an increase in general fund revenues of 4.6 percent, offsetting cuts that were made during previous legislative sessions.
• Medicaid saw an 8.7 percent increase over last year, providing relief to some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens and yet still trying to keep this budget conservative.
• State employees received a 2 percent on-going pay raise, the first of any pay raise in over four years.
• $80 million put back into savings accounts for budget stabilization, public education, and other savings.

Education:
Education has been somewhat quiet this year, mostly correction bills to make minor changes to the Students Come First legislation from the past year. A few other points:
• 5.8 percent increase in teacher compensation, this includes merit pay
• Eight in Six Program implemented; Incentivizes students to complete high school early and take college courses during high school.
• Idaho’s teacher’s pay will increase by an average of $2,082 this year; this will be dependent on how they participate in the merit pay program.
• An estimated $39 million set aside to implement statewide pay-for-performance plan; at least 85 percent of teachers will earn some form of performance bonus this next year.
• Public School Facilities, Coop Funding to protect against decreasing enrollment-HB633
• Retired Administrators have the ability to continue to serve-HB579.
• Charter School Cap Removed-HB481.

The education of our children is of the utmost importance and I look forward to my continued work in the education system in Idaho.

Corrections:
The corrections budget has an overall increase of 3.5 percent from last year. This increase includes a 3 percent increase in per-inmate payments to Correction Corporation of America, which operates the Idaho Correction Center just south of Boise for the state. DNA testing of all felons was debated and passed and this measure should help enhance the safety of our state. The state has seen an increase in the prison population recently which raises major concerns. We will continue to monitor this very closely.

Legislation:
There were approximately 525 pieces of legislation considered this year. Some particular pieces you might find interesting are:
• Fish and Game-Auction Tags – SB 1256aa
• Texting while Driving – SB1274a
• Animal Cruelty – SB1303a
• All Excess Revenue to Budget Savings – HB702
You can review all of them at www.legislature.idaho.gov and also a short summary in the Sine Die report on this same web page.

Redistricting:
Redistricting, which happens every ten years to create equity in representation, was contentious but finally was wrapped up in January. Our district shrank in size and also changed numbers to District 30. The redistricting process will dramatically change the makeup of the legislature next year. There are in excess of 23 House members and 9 Senators that will not be returning. There should be some interesting campaigns around the state and I invite you to stay informed.

Constitutional Amendment:
An amendment to the Constitution of the State of Idaho will come before you, as citizens, in the November ballot. This amendment guarantees the citizens of Idaho the right to hunt, fish and trap within the rules and regulations set forth by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. Please take a moment to inform yourself on this issue.

Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to serve. I work hard to represent you well. I am always available for any questions, comments or concerns. Please feel free to email me at dmortimer@senate.idaho.gov.

The 2011 Legislative Session

 

The 61st session of the Idaho Legislature has finally come to a close. It went a week longer than many of us thought and proved to be a difficult session.  I would like to share what was accomplished. It was a session filled with challenging decisions based mainly around the constitutional duty to balance the state budget.  It is worth noting that Idaho’s economy is starting to improve, but because savings and federal stimulus dollars were used in the past two years, cuts to all state government budgets were required. 

The Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee (JFAC) of which I am a member, is responsible for setting the state budget.  We were able to do this without increased taxes.  As many of you have heard, as well as participated in, JFAC held open public hearings on both the education and health and welfare budgets.  This is unprecedented.  Over a thousand Idahoans attended these two hearings on these budgets and thousands more were able to watch on public television or online.  The positive impact can be seen in the many pieces of legislation that were improved through public input, whether through a letter sent, email received, or a testimony given.  A special thanks to those who were involved in this process of self-government.

 Public Education and Health and Welfare reforms dominated most of this legislative session.  There were many days of public testimony for each of these issues and again the testimony and communication of our citizens was extensive. After hours of testimony and deliberation, it was determined that no Medicaid program should be eliminated. Many different programs were reevaluated and reduced in order to balance the budget. Approximately $35 million from the General Fund was removed from the Health and Welfare budget.

 Education reform focused on putting citizens and local districts in control of the educational process. School districts were provided more control in the contracting and budgeting process through openness, flexibility and transparency.  Legislation passed will require that budgets, expenditures and contracts be online for the public to review.  A pay for performance plan was approved that will compensate school employees on student growth and specific objectives predetermined by each local district.  The beginning salary for teachers as well as the salary grid was restored.  The legislature made a supreme effort to fund public education at the highest level possible. 

 A five-year plan for the implementation of technology in the classroom was approved.  Technology is not new to Idaho.  Last year it was recognized as the third best state in the Union for online learning.  Idaho has budgeted between $7-11 million each year for technology since 1995.  For the past two years Idaho has been implementing the Idaho Educational Network which will provide broad band accessibility to all of our high school students by the end of this year.  This will allow all high school students to participate in a myriad of online learning opportunities.  This will permit students from one school to be receiving instruction from a highly effective teacher with students in another school via teleconferencing.  This is already happening today.  This network makes it possible for those districts, large or small, with limited resources to provide their students with an excellent teacher and curriculum that meets each individual student’s needs.  Idaho’s Idaho Digital Learning Academy provided more than 15,000 online courses to Idaho students last year.  These courses are instructed with an Idaho approved teacher and Idaho approved course standards.  We recognize technology doesn’t replace a good teacher or administrator, it only assists and makes the learning process more uniform and challenging.  

The Department of Corrections and Judiciary’s work to reduce substance abuse and provide mental health support remains a bright spot in our state.  Specialized courts, with an understanding of these issues, have reduced recidivism, incarceration, and have assisted in producing more productive and contributing citizens.  Both of these departments are to be complimented for their hard and successful work within current restrictive budgets.  These bright spots in state government and Idaho policies are exemplary for our nation.

 There are a few specific pieces of legislation that might be of interest to you:

  1.  An internet filter policy was passed for public libraries to protect minors.  There has not been a state policy at all in the past.  This legislation will ensure that our libraries will continue to be a family friendly environment.
  2. There have been many small changes with water law and canal companies. 
  3. The right to farm legislation which has been in effect since 1983 was changed to reflect current conditions.
  4. State emergency rights to control the wolf population and wild game.
  5. Modification of the state day care provisions to clarify rules and allow local communities to have their own standards.
  6. New primary election procedures for political parties.

There were just over 350 House bills introduced to print and approximately 210 Senate Bills, plus resolutions, memorials and proclamations.  This is considerably fewer than previous sessions, but the content was more significant.  For a more complete review of bills and journals I urge you to visit www.legislature.idaho.gov.  

The main requirement of any legislative session is to balance the budget.  This was accomplished, while keeping education as whole as possible and providing the funding for public safety and transportation to maintain the basic structure for our state. Health and Welfare spending was reduced while maintaining basic services. Education was a high priority for funding and policy reform. This wasn’t accomplished without a significant amount of effort and struggle. Both the legislature and the public have been very involved with many of these issues. 

I want to express my thanks for your comments and concerns during this difficult legislative session.  I deeply feel the responsibility to represent the constituents of District 32.  I have tried diligently to fulfill that duty with hard work and fairness.  Feel free to contact me at dmortimer@senate.idaho.gov. I am open to your comments, questions, and concerns.

It’s About That Time

It has been a very interesting election season.  Needless, to say I appreciate the opportunity of representing the good citizens of Legislative District 32 for another two years.  It is always challenging and educational.  I look forward to serving.

There was a North Idaho Legislator Tour the first weekend in November and then the organization session the first week of December.   Legislature leadership elections were held and there is a new leadership team in the senate.  I look forward to working with them and helping them achieve the Republican Caucus agenda.  During the organizational session, seating is determined as well as committee assignments.  I will again have the opportunity to serve on the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee, the Education Committee, and the Judiciary and Rules Committee.  I have been invited to serve as the Vice Chairman of Education again.

I am working hard to prepare some legislation for the upcoming sessions which will begin on January 10, 2010.  We will actually go over the week before to attend the annual Economic Outlook Committee meetings as well as the inauguration events and the Senate Caucus Fundraiser.

November and December have been filled with meetings with special interest groups, state agencies and departments, all preparatory to the upcoming session.   Add your business interests and trying to prepare to leave for three months and you keep busy.

I think that we are going to really struggle this upcoming session as we try and cut budgets again without any savings or stimulus dollars to help supplement the budget.  It will be a challenge.  The requirement of a balanced state budget is not anything different than our businesses and families have had to work with the last three years.  I can speak from experience as I reflect on the significant cuts we have had to make in our own personal businesses.  I predict that this legislative session will go longer than normal because of these special circumstances.  The budget process will also take longer as we try and involve the different affected parties in the budget cuts.

I continue to wish all of us well as we continue to struggle and work our way out of these trying times.  I am convinced that with the great citizens and leaders in this great state that we can do it.