February 17, 2012

It has been six weeks since the Legislature began and the pace has really begun to pick-up at the State Capitol Building. The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC) is in the process of wrapping up testimony regarding the budget. They will begin making their recommendations for State Government Funding for fiscal year 2013. This signals the beginning of the end of the legislative session. The rule of thumb is that the legislative session will end about two weeks after JFAC has finished their budget recommendations, which would get us out of town by about March 23rd or the 30th.

This week, the Senate Transportation Committee printed S1274, a bill to ban texting while driving. This bill defines texting as, "engaging in the review of, or manual preparation and transmission of written communications via handheld wireless devices…. This definition does not include voice operated or handheld devices." As you can see from the definition of texting included in the bill, you may still use your phone while driving to make phone calls and talk on the phone, but texting itself is banned. If S1274 is enacted into law, violators could receive a citation and a fine. Under this proposal, texting would be a primary offense, meaning that if you are caught texting while driving, law enforcement may pull you over for texting alone.

The Idaho Senate is considering a joint resolution that would allow Idahoans to vote this November on adding an amendment to the state’s constitution that would protect the right to hunt, fish, and trap. The proposed amendment is based on other states’ constitutional amendments on the same subject.
I support this legislation. This amendment to the Idaho Constitution is the response to recent initiatives proposed by animal rights organizations in other states, which potentially threaten hunting, fishing, and trapping. This amendment protects Idaho from having outside groups dictate what our state laws should be. The proposed amendment further acknowledges and helps preserve our important heritage and way of life here in the State of Idaho for future generations. EDUCATION

There was a rare meeting of the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday morning – the Senate half of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee – to consider a bill proposed by Senator Dean Cameron, Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Senator John Goedde, Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, to make further changes to the "Students Come First" education reform laws. This bill would eliminate the laws’ requirement that the state teacher salary fund be permanently reduced by set percentages each year for six years in order to fund technology boosts and a teacher merit-pay bonus plan. This bill would also remove any future reductions in teacher pay in order to pay for last year’s education reform laws, which was originally included in the laws.
Senators are still considering backfilling teacher pay this year with extra funds. The Finance Committee voted unanimously to print the bill, which will now go to the Senate Education Committee for a full hearing. CAPITOL MALL CAMPING

On Tuesday, the Senate passed HB 404a, the bill which prohibits camping on Capitol grounds and would evict the encampment from state property on an emergency basis. The emergency clause refers to the fact that the bill will go into effect upon passage of the bill, as opposed to on July 1 of the same year the bill is passed. I supported this legislation and debated in its favor on the Senate floor. Although I disagree with protestors camping on state property to bring awareness to the issues they care about, I asked my fellow Senators to continue to keep their doors open to citizens who want to talk to their elected representatives in the Legislature.
The bill now goes back to the House for a vote on the Senate amendments which adjusted clauses on property seizure.
Thank you again to everyone who has taken time to contact me. Please continue to make me aware of your thoughts and opinions regarding proposed legislation. You may contact me at http://www.CWinder@Senate.Idaho.Gov&lt;www.CWinder@Senate.Idaho.Gov>, www.ChuckWinder.com<www.ChuckWinder.com>, 208-332-1307, and find me on Facebook and Twitter.

Senator Chuck Winder
Assistant Majority Leader