MONDAY the House passed a bill tightening the penalties for cruelty to companion animals. Farming groups had opposed previous versions they feared could negatively impact agriculture, but they’re not opposing this one, and it cleared the House 62-5. It will not, according to the sponsor, impact your right to shoot a stray cat on your property.

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee also set the education budget. When they’re done, it’s expected to come in at a 7.4 percent increase, the same hike as last year and a bit less than what the governor and Superintendent of Public Instruction asked for.

And, a couple of lawmakers from Utah and the lawyer who is leading the state’s efforts to sue the federal government to get control of public lands came to Boise to make their case. The environmental groups packed the Lincoln Auditorium with hundreds of land transfer opponents, and the trio faced a hostile audience that would laugh, scoff or shout them down and loudly applauded the Democrats on the panel as they asked skeptical questions. House Resources and Conservation Chairman Dell Raybould said he doesn’t expect any legislation this session to stem from their presentation.

TUESDAY House Speaker Scott Bedke and Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill had lunch with the Capitol press corps at Beside Bardenay, a restaurant on the Basque block that is, I learned, known for its chorizo bean soup. The two discussed a number of topics lawmakers want to address this session, including public defense reform, cutting income taxes and efforts to devise a compromise health-care plan.

A bipartisan coalition in the Senate killed a bill to allow primary enforcement for seat belt laws on people under 18, citing a mix of profiling concerns and libertarian objections. And by a single vote, the chamber also killed Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s proposed completion scholarship for adults who have some college and want to graduate. His proposal to freeze tuition at public universities doesn’t seem to be going anywhere either.

WEDNESDAY JFAC approved funding for two new crisis centers, one in Twin Falls and one in Boise. Senate State Affairs printed a new bill to get rid of the requirement for a concealed carry permit in city limits. It has the support of the House leadership, but the Idaho Second Amendment Alliance has come out against it because it wouldn’t allow permitless carry for out-of-state residents or for adults between ages 18 and 21.

Senate Resources and Environment cleared a bill to let counties demand the feds make maintenance fixes on public lands, which has the support of the Idaho Freedom Foundation and is opposed by environmental groups. And House Ways and Means had its first meeting of the year and printed a bill banning foreign law — any foreign law, but Shariah law is the target — in Idaho. Sponsor Rep. Eric Redman gave committee members a packet of information on the dangers of Shariah law, including a picture of a severed hand. This is only my second session, but I’m pretty sure that’s a first.

THURSDAY the Idaho Freedom Foundation called a news conference to defend itself from Rep. Kelley Packer’s accusations that the influential conservative organization bullies lawmakers.

“We’ll do what we have to to protect our name and reputation,” IFF head Wayne Hoffman said.

The IFF is one of the most visible groups at the Capitol, testifying for and against bills (such as the public lands bill mentioned above), reporting through the affiliated Idaho Reporter website and scoring lawmakers on a “Freedom Index” based on their votes.

“Some lawmakers hate our scorecard because it debunks their narrative of how conservative they are,” Hoffman said.

The Magic Valley’s lawmakers mostly fall in the “establishment” Republican camp and tend to score lower than some Democrats even; Rep. Pete Nielsen of Mountain Home was the only one to have a net positive ranking last year.

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JFAC set the water budget, including a funding boost for aquifer recharge efforts in the Magic Valley. The Senate killed, with some help from Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, a resolution lauding water fluoridation. And the Republican presidential candidates met for their last debate before Tuesday’s Idaho primary. Ted Cruz was scheduled to be in Coeur d’Alene and possibly Boise on Saturday, and Marco Rubio is supposed to speak in Idaho Falls at 5:30 p.m. and in Boise at 7:30 Sunday.

FRIDAY was Idaho Day. Senate State Affairs printed a bill to ban “intact dilation and extraction” abortion, a form of late-term abortion often referred to as “partial-birth abortion.” Stennett, who voted against it, said the bill is unconstitutional, and even some of the Republicans who backed it said they want guarantees it will be defensible in court.

“I’m happy to support as many lawful restrictions on this practice as we can,” said Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa. “At the same time, I want to make sure we win if there’s a challenge.”

The committee also cleared a resolution commemorating the 130th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty brought by Hy Kloc, a Boise Democrat who was born in a refugee camp in Germany after World War II and much of whose family was killed in the war and the Holocaust. Chairman Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, noted the resolution was particularly timely, given the refugee crisis in Europe and opposition to refugee resettlement in the United States based upon the religion of some refugees.

“I think it’s good for us as a nation to reflect upon our heritage,” McKenzie said.

NEXT WEEK except hearings on many bills. The week should be busy; we’re reaching that point in the session where lawmakers want to get as much done as possible and adjourn. Hill said this week he expects sine die to be March 24, the day before Good Friday.

And the Republican and Constitution party primaries are Tuesday. If you’re a member of either party, (and you can register at the polls) vote!


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