Wednesday, February 20, 2008

why milk?

In the last couple of days I have received some heat from a few individuals regarding my legislation that would make milk the offiical beverage of Idaho. Given that, I thought you all would like an explanation as to why I decided to introduce this legislation.

To begin, I should be clear that it was never my intention to make a mockery of the legislative process. As someone who has studied the policymaking process and has a graduate level degree in the area, I am particularly sensitive to anything that is detrimenal to the process. I have devoted my professional life to the policymaking process and subsequently I have always and will always take my responsibility as a policymaker seriously and professional. My committement to the process is second-to-none. This is why I regularly vote in opposition to motions on the floor to "suspend rules." The legislative process is sacrosanct and no policy is above the process.

Now on to milk...

Some have hypothesized that I proposed this legislation because I am beholden to the dairy industry. Based upon the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, I don't know how this hypothesis could hold true. If this were true, then I would likey not have been as consistently critical of the industry regarding confinded animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and the environmental impacts of the industry.

Some have said that this legislation is a waste of time. To those, I would make a couple of points. To begin, my motivation for this legislation has always been about finding a way to reduce childhood obesity. The IdahoPTA has identified childhood obesity as one of its primary legislative objectives. They state on their website:
Childhood Obesity 11/05 (R) Idaho PTA will promote the healthy eating habits among children and youth and will support the inclusion of parents and other in determining the use and products of vending machines.

As a parent of three young children, I am particularly concerned with this issue. I don't find anything about childhood obesity laughable and I certainly don't be believe that it is in anyway a waste of time. In addtion to the IdahoPTA, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, an organization supported by the Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association, has identified beverage consumption as a major area of concern, but one that is frequently overlooked. From their website:

Beverages are often overlooked, but they are a source of many hidden calories in people’s diets.

  • Too Much Sugar: The USDA recommends eating no more than 10 teaspoons of added sugar per day. One can of soda is over one and a half times that!
  • Taking Bigger Gulps: Boys today drink, on average, over two 12 ounce sodas a day, with girls averaging almost two a day.
  • Two Sodas a Day: A child who drinks two cans of soda per day consumes about eighteen teaspoons of sugar per day just from soda.

    Ultimately, the question becomes, "How does making milk the official state beverage impact childhood obesity?" As I have stated on many occassions and in numerous forums, I believe that the State has a role to play in influencing the habits of children. This role, I believe, includes being a proponent of healthy decision making, like drinking milk rather soda pop or certain juices that are loaded with sugar. Are their others things we can do to impact childhood obesity? Yes, there are and we should be doing them, but many of them have the potential to cost the State significantly. Due to the current economic picture, now may not be the time to add an additional expense to the State. This bill has a very limited impact on State funds and can do no harm. I hope this clears up some of the confusion. Please feel free to leave comments if you have them.

    Tuesday, February 12, 2008

    My legislative update #1

    At the beginning of the session I gave you all a preview of the legislation I was going to be working on this year. We are five weeks into the session so I thought now was as good of a time as any to let you know where things were at. Without any further delay, here we go:

    SB1404 - Purpose of this legislation is to provide that children of four years or older may attend prekindergarten in the public schools and to provide that Idaho public schools may offer prekindergarten programs if a majority of voters approve such a program in an election and to provide that the voters may approve a levy to pay for the program.

    STATUS - I am very happy to be a co-sponsor of this important legislation. The bill is currently in the Senate Education Committee. Read the bill here.

    RS17860 - The purpose of this legislation is to establish and implement a voluntary child-care rating system designed to provide assistance to parents and promote high quality family centered child care. Ratings will be based upon national health and safety standards (environment), parental involvement, staff-to-child ratios, planned curriculum, and professional development. By offering rating information to parents, they will be better equipped to make an informed child-care choice. Participating providers will be assisted in developing plans and practices that increase their ratings. The goal is to improve early childhood learning and increase school readiness. This legislation requires that those administering the program measure, analyze, and report outcomes to the legislature annually over a three year period for the purpose of evaluating its effectiveness. At the end of this time period, results and recommendations will be made as to the continuation, modification, or termination of the Idaho STARS Quality Rating System.

    STATUS - This legislation has been "put in the drawer" by Senate Health and Welfare Chairwoman Patti Anne Lodge prior to a print hearing despite its bipartisan support. Unfortunately, no further action is expected this session.

    HB413 - The purpose of this legislation is to give absentee voters the option of applying for status as a permanent absentee voter in all elections for which they are qualified. The current procedure for making application as an absentee voter will not be altered, except for an additional box on the application that can be marked indicating the voter's desire to seek permanent absentee voting status. The county clerk will inform all applicable taxing districts as to the voter's status to ensure they receive the proper ballots. All returned ballots will be processed in the same manner as absentee ballots are today. The voter loses his status as a permanent absentee voter upon his request, death, disqualification, cancellation of voter registration, or when a ballot is returned as undeliverable. In addition, the legislation also codifies access to absentee ballots by military servicemen and women. Exercising this option is voter driven and initiated. The voter request an application and return it to the county clerk before receiving any ballots. This measure will better serve those voters who must or choose to always vote absentee.

    STATUS - The bill was printed with near unanimous support in the House State Affairs Committee, but has not yet had a full hearing. Updates will be provided as the become available. Read the bill here.

    HCR35 - Directs the Legislative Council to create an interim committee to study and recommend solutions to assist small business owners pay for health insurance for themselves and their employees.

    STATUS - The House Business Committee will begin hearing printed bills in the upcoming weeks. Details to come. Read the bill here.

    HB497 - This legislation amends the public works contractor licensing requirements to include contractor provided comprehensive health insurance as an additional condition.

    STATUS - The House Commerce and Human Resources voted unanimously to print this bill and is expected to have a hearing in the upcoming weeks. Read the bill here.

    SB1380 - The purpose of this bill is to allow consumers to "freeze" access to their credit reports, as a means to help prevent fraud and identity theft. A "freeze" means that anyone attempting to obtain a credit report on a consumer will be unable to get one, and will simply be told that the credit report is frozen. Because most creditors and merchants won't extend significant credit without reviewing the consumer's credit report first, it will be more difficult for fraudsters to obtain credit using someone else's stolen identity. If, having frozen his credit report, the consumer himself needs to obtain credit, he can temporarily lift, or permanently remove, the freeze on his own account. The bill specifies how a consumer can place a freeze with a credit reporting agency, how the consumer can temporarily lift the freeze so that the consumer may engage in a credit transaction, and how a consumer can permanently remove a freeze. It also sets out a number of exceptions to the freeze, to allow creditors to use credit reports to monitor, service and collect their existing credit accounts, to allow the credit reporting agency to comply with subpoenas and court orders, to allow screening by potential landlords and employers, and to allow other legitimate non-credit related uses of credit reports. In order to defray the costs associated with placing and lifting a freeze, the bill allows a credit reporting agency to charge a fee of up to $6 to place a freeze or to temporarily lift a freeze. No fee may be charged for permanently removing a freeze. A consumer who has been a victim of identity theft may not be charged a fee for placing or removing a freeze. Credit reporting agencies who fail to comply with this bill's requirements are subject to suit for damages, punitive damages and injunctive relief by consumers and by the Attorney General.

    STATUS - It was determined by Senator Bart Davis that this legislation should not be sponsored by any legislators and simply run as a neutral bill under the guide of the organizations that assisted in its composition. Provided that the bill makes it to the House Business Committee I will be in full support and hope to be able to carry it on the floor.

    HB485 - This legislation will make, "Milk: the Official Drink of Idaho!" This is a step in symbolizing Idaho's position in favor of healthy decision making especially given the alarming rise of obesity rates amongst our school-aged children.

    STATUS - The bill will be heard next Monday in the House Agricultural Affairs Committee. Read the bill here.

    If you have any questions about any of these pieces of legislation please let me know!

    Saturday, February 9, 2008

    Whatever happened to iSTARS?

    For those of you that followed the debate surrounding Superintendent Tom Luna's iSTARS proposal, but find yourselves at a loss for any closure I think we may have it. On Friday, in the House Education Committee, Chairman Bob Nonini enlightened all of us as to his information about the status of teacher pay discussions. Given the substantial impact of the proposals (the IEA also has one named weTEACH) it was vitally important that we know what we were up against before making a decision. As you may have already guessed, iSTARS as it was proposed is no more. Members of the Senate Education Committee were diligent in their consideration and ultimately concluded that it wasn't a prudent move, just as I did the first time I heard about it.

    In the last couple of weeks a few things that I predicted have happened and they were daggers in iSTARS. My first contention was that iSTARS would collapse under its own weight. The economy has clearly slowed down and with several sectors underperforming revenues would certainly not be what were projected. Without the money to pay for the plan, it was not likely that the State would commit itself to such a huge financial liability in the face of so much uncertainty, nor should it.

    My second contention, as I told a group of teachers (at a Boise Education Association meeting in the Media Center at Timberline High School) more than 3 months ago, it was clear to me that there were at least a couple of illegal or unconstitutional components to iSTARS. I specifically pointed to restrictions regarding the newly proposed Category IV contract, which removes a teachers continuing contract and replaces it with a one to three year contract. As I told the audience, I had serious questions of the legality of requiring a school district to accept a teacher’s contract status when the teacher moves from one district to another. By way of example, consider a teacher with a Category IV contract in the Meridian School District that moves to the Boise School District. Under iSTARS the Boise School District is obligated to maintain the Category IV contract. This immediately raised a red flag for me because it is the local school district, not the State of Idaho, which is the contractually obligated employer. The Attorney Generals opinion spoke specifically to this concern, agreeing with my contention.

    I also questioned the suggestion by Supt. Luna that once a teacher opted into a Category IV contract he/she could revert back to a Category III contract should the funding for iSTARS cease. I questioned Supt. Luna directly about this matter and he had his budget director Jason Hancock, attempt to identify where it was within the language of the legislation that stipulated that this was the case. Needless to say, I never got a good answer and the Attorney Generals opinion concluded, as I contended, that this non existent and futhermore the concept was lacking legal grounding.

    The irony, it seems to me, is that the Category IV contract turned out to be limestone around the neck of iSTARS rather than the life jacket it was proposed to be. That is, Supt. Luna insisted on several occasions that without the Category IV contract, iSTARS would be sunk because it wouldn't have the necessary buoyancy to keep it afloat throughout the legislative process. Ultimately, however, it was the Category IV contract that took iSTARS to it's watery grave.