2017 Legislative Updates

Week 12

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Senate is on standby while the House tries to catch up from the upheaval that was caused by some of the political in-fighting that has gone on last week.  Several members of the House caused the reading of the bills brought to the House floor which slowed the activities in the House to a crawl.  Those who were part of this disruption complained that their bills were not being heard and that leadership is holding the legislature to an arbitrary timeline even though the date set for end of session was established very early on.  Some major issues still need to be addressed.

A public hearing in House Judiciary and Rules committee was called to allow testimony regarding a repeal of the State grocery tax.  People came out of the woodwork to weigh in on this issue.  The committee voted unanimously to approve the amendments to House bill 67 as amended in the Senate.  The bill is headed to the Governor’s desk.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Senate took up transportation funding with S 1206 and after lengthy debate on both sides of the issue, the bill passed with a vote in the affirmative of 19 to 16.  Some legislators were upset by the additional amendments to this bill and would rather have voted for Senate bill 1162 which provided for GARVEE bond funding only.  Senate bill 1206 is headed to the Governor’s desk.

 To learn more about GARVEE bond funding go to: GARVEE BONDS

 Wednesday, March 29, 2017

 Sine Die!

We can breath a sigh of relief that this legislative session is behind us.  Avoiding a call for a Constitutional Convention, successfully defeating a bill that would have made it much more difficult with victims of Asbestos related illness to file claims, and avoiding another attack on teachers’ collective bargaining rights are just some of the most damaging issues that organized labor was able to successfully lobby against.

 Unfortunately, one of the most important issues facing the working poor was not addressed in any meaningful way this session.  Closing the Gap and providing a path to healthcare for the roughly 78,000 Idahoans who live in the gap was not taken up.  Legislators fell back on the uncertainty of the new administration in the White House as a way to, once again, do nothing on this matter.

 Professional licensing was a focal point for legislators:

A bill sponsored by Rep. Kelley Packer created a professional license for Sign Language interpreters.

Another bill raised the cap on fees for CDL skills testing.

 Another bill attempted to expand the homeowners’ exemption for electrical installations with broad interpretation and potentially hazardous implications.

 Another bill merged the barber and cosmetology boards and revised the requirements to achieve a certificate in cosmetology bringing Idaho in-line with most other states.  It also provided an exemption for those who provide services for weddings and special events “in the field”.

We have a lot of work to do in preparation for next years’ session.  Numerous bill proposals have surfaced from our affiliates so it will be important to continue to discuss these issues with our elected officials over the summer.  If you have any ideas or concerns, please contact myself or a member of our executive board.

Week 11

Update: HB 139

HB 139, concerning Cosmetology and Barber law in Idaho, will be heading to the Senate floor for final consideration following the Senate Commerce and Human Resource Committee hearing on March 22.

Proponents of the bill pressed the potential impact that the legislation could have in allowing freelance beauty work in the state and growing a new industry in event styling. Additionally, they believe that the bill will allow a modernization and standardization of licensing requirements. Opponents expressed concerns about the quality of health and safety standards accompanying potential freelance work, as well as the cosmetology schools’ ability to impart critical learning topics upon students facing the proposed reduction in hours from 2,000 to 1,600.

After hearing testimony from both sides of the issue, the committee voted to send HB 139 to the floor with a “Do Pass” recommendation.

 S 1195

The Idaho Department of Labor and the Office of the Governor have come forward with S 1195, an unemployment insurance tax relief bill designed to influence the calculus for the Idaho unemployment fund.

Prior to the Great Recession, there was a tax cut initiated that led to a depleted unemployment fund in our State.  Due to insufficient funds during the recession, the State of Idaho was forced to take out around $200 million in federal loans to fund the unemployment program. That debt has since been paid off through increased tax revenues.  The new legislation seeks to adjust the fund size multiplier from 1.5 to 1.3 in 2018 to provide Idaho employers with a 30% tax savings and around $115 million over the next three years. Even with this change, the fund is expected to reach $900 million by 2020, which the Department of Labor is confident will be enough to withstand another recession of the same magnitude as the Great Recession.

S 1195 passed out of the Senate Commerce and Human Resources to the floor with a “Do Pass” recommendation.

Week 10

H 139

H 139 addresses cosmetology, barber, esthetics and nail technician licensing provisions. This bill is being accompanied by trailer bill HB 220. If passed, HB 139 would reduce the required schooling hours of cosmetologists from 2,000 hours to 1,600. This change is being made to update the law to current standards, as they have not been updated since the early 20th century. This change would put Idaho in line with the national average of 1,600 hours of cosmetology school training. Additionally, the required schooling and training for barber-stylists and electrologists would each be reduced by 200 hours. We have weighed both sides on this measure and thus far, have decided to remain neutral on the current proposal. However, we would like to express our support for those apprenticeship programs available to barbers and cosmetologists, as they not only allow young workers to earn money for their training, but allow for a valuable and extensive on-the-job learning experience.

 S 1162, 1163

Senator Brackett introduced S1162 and 1163 that deal with GARVEE bonding of highway construction and maintenance in Idaho. These bills are designed to create designated projects for the Idaho Transportation Board to request GARVEE bonds to fund. The bills would allow up to $300 million in bonds for highway transportation projects, to be paid through appropriated federal funds from the State Highway Account. They would also allow for up to $200 million in bonds for new highway construction paid by appropriations from the State Highway Account. S1163 would shift apportioned funds for the Idaho State Police from the Highway Distribution Account to Idaho sales tax revenues. We support S1162 and 1163 and appreciate Senator Brackett’s efforts to invest in Idaho’s infrastructure.

Week 9

H 139 – Cosmetology

This bill combines the Idaho Barber Law and the Idaho Cosmetology Law to combine the Board of Barber Examiners and the Idaho Board of Cosmetology into a single board to regulate the barbering, barber-styling, cosmetology, and electrology professions. This legislation allows for the transfer of education between professions and will facilitate efficiencies in licensing and oversight. The bill decreases barriers to employment and provides for business opportunities by exempting from licensure individuals who engage only in event styling and exempting from licensure businesses that only provide demonstrations of thermal styling products.

H 220 - Cosmetology

This legislation is a trailer to House Bill 139. That bill combined cosmetology and barber occupational licensure boards. The bill also decreased barriers to employment by exempting from licensure individuals who engage only in event styling and exempting from licensure businesses that only provide demonstrations of thermal styling products. Because House Bill 139 will take effect July 1, those individuals engaged in these business practices would be denied employment opportunities until the law takes effect. This bill would allow those exemptions to take effect from and after passage and approval. The bill would be null and void on July 1, when House Bill 139 takes effect.

H 221 - Asbestos Bankruptcy Claims transparency Act

The Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry proposed a bill to tip the scales in favor of corporate interests.  Those lobbying in favor of the bill claim it is needed to fill a “void” in Idaho Statute regarding Asbestos claims filed in State Court against solvent companies who exposed their employees to asbestos.  Initially, the bill was deemed unconstitutional by the Idaho Attorney General’s office.  IACI re-worked the bill and a new version was introduced in privileged committee.  On March 7, we were able to testify against House bill 221 in House Judiciary and Rules Committee.  The Idaho Trial Lawyers Association, Idaho Alliance for Retired Americans, Idaho Building Trades, United Steelworkers, Professional Firefighters of Idaho, Idaho Education Association, all stood together in opposition.  We lobbied, wrote letters, and coordinated our efforts to be as effective as possible in fighting this bill.  that is being brought before every legislature in the country.  After four hours of testimony and debate the committee voted to hold the bill.

H 264 – Teacher Negotiations

Statement of Purpose - This legislation would allow a school board, if it chooses, to ask for verification that the local education organization 1) held an election by secret ballot and 2) conducted the election within the last two years wherein a majority indicated their desire to be represented by the organization. This legislation leaves in place the statute that says the school board may request verification that the local education organization represents at least 50 percent of the professional employees.

Week 8

H 221 - Asbestos Bankruptcy Claims transparency Act

The Idaho AFL-CIO stands in opposition to House bill 221.  It is bad for injured workers.  We have been actively lobbying against this legislation along with the Building Trades, Professional Firefighters of Idaho, The Idaho Education Association, United Steelworkers, Idaho Alliance for Retired Americans, Idaho Trial Lawyers Association, and others.  The proponents of the bill claim that it will streamline the claims and litigation process and point to the State of Ohio as an example of such success.  We have contacted the Ohio AFL-CIO and spoke with an Attorney who deals with Asbestos claims in Ohio to confirm whether or not their assertions are correct.  We found out that the bill does nothing to make it easier for workers to file claims and truly is designed to allow companies to postpone litigation until the claimant is discouraged from filing a claim or dies while in the process of filing a claim.

 H 137 – Electrical exemptions revised

The Idaho AFL-CIO is taking a neutral position on this bill as amended.  After lengthy discussions with the Division of Building Safety and Representative Ron Nate who is the bill sponsor, the parties have agreed to language modifications that alleviate our concerns regarding the unintended consequences of it.  Originally, we felt the bill could have been interpreted very broadly and created a loop hole for homeowners that you could drive a truck through!  We are satisfied that the bill as amended allows the Division of Building Safety to interpret the language in a way that protects our interests.

 H 164 – Employment Security Law

Statement of Purpose - Allows the department to request and require an employee or applicant to provide the information and fingerprints necessary for obtaining criminal history information from the Idaho State Police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, pursuant to section 67-3008, Idaho Code. The department will use this information to determine the suitability of its employees, prospective contractors, subcontractors, interns, volunteers, and applicants for employment with the Idaho Department of Labor, and for providing the employee with access to certain records maintained by the department and/or as necessary for the candidate, applicant, or employee to perform the essential functions of the position for which they were or will be hired.

In order for the Idaho Department of Labor to perform some of the functions necessary in processing unemployment claims, etc., they must obtain information from the U.S. Department of Labor, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Federal Bureau of Investigations.  This bill gives the Idaho DOL, statutory authorization to maintain compliance with the requirements of the federal agencies they need to work with on a regular basis.

 SCR 108 – Article V Constitutional Convention

When a bill such as this comes before one of the legislative bodies, it has a way of giving us a window into each legislators political leanings that we don’t often get to see.  After lengthy debate on the Senate floor this bill failed.  If you get an opportunity, the testimony presented is worth listening to.  You can download the audio for March 1, 2017 at the Idaho Legislative Media Archive

 S1107 – CDL Skills Testing Fees

Raising the cap from $60 to $200.  So far, S1107 has passed the Senate floor and has been received in the House.  We have not taken an official position at this time although the notion of raising testing fees is concerning.  Proponents of the bill claim that testing agencies are quitting business because they can't afford to administer the test at a cost of $60.

 Once again, the Idaho Education Association is under attack with a new bill proposal that would require the local education organization to have held an election wherein the votes were cast by secret ballot and counted by a third party. Those voting in support of representation must comprise 50% plus one of the professional employees in the district. Essentially, every district would have to show a majority of support for the Union to be able to negotiate the contract on behalf of those employees.

This is an attempt to break the Union and strip teachers of the right to collective bargaining. Simple as that. The bill sponsor is Representative Dorothy Moon.

 H 249 – Wage claims, statute of limitations revised

In cooperation with the Building Trades, the Idaho AFL-CIO has been advocating for a revision to the statute of limitations for wage claims.  Representative Mat Erpelding deserves our thanks for the effort he has put in shepherding this bill toward introduction.  He was able to successfully appeal to leadership that the proposed changes in this bill are worthy of debate in a full hearing and got it introduced.  Unfortunately, we ran into opposition from interested groups that have caused us to rethink some of the language.  Strategically, the Building Trades decided to pull the bill and come back next session with a compromise bill.

Week 7

H 137 – Electrical Licensure

After another hearing in Business committee this week, Representative Ron Nate agreed to send the bill the General Orders for amendment.  This means that anyone in the House of Representatives can propose amendments to the bill.  The IBEW, the Building Trades, and Associated General Contractors, and Division of Building Safety are all uncomfortable with the current proposal.  We’ll see what comes out of the amending order.

 On Sunday, the Idaho Statesman printed an Op Ed. from our office arguing the importance of fair and equitable working conditions for Idahoans.

HCR 018 – Article V Constitutional Convention

Representative Loertscher from Iona brought this resolution that seeks to call for an Article V Constitutional Convention “for the specific and limited purposes relating to the reduction of the abuse of power by the federal government; adopting certain reservations, understandings and declarations limiting the application; and adopting certain selection criteria for commissioners as well as limitations upon their authority.”

 SCR 108 – Article V Constitutional Convention

Representative Hagedorn from Meridian sponsored this resolution to call for an Article V Convention of the States to draft a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution of the United States “for the sole purpose of proposing for ratification an amendment to the constitution which requires a balanced federal budget.”

 S1107 – CDL Skills Testing fees

Senate Transportation Committee Hearing- 2/23/17

 S 1107 proposes to change the CDL licensing fee cap from $60 to $190. Third-party CDL testing administrators would be allowed to set their testing fees up to $190, excluding the Idaho Department of Transportation's $10 administrative fee. The Idaho Department of Transportation's administrative fee will remain the same under S 1107. Therefore, the total amount for CDL skills testing can be up to $200. Senator Brackett, who presented the bill, says that the change to the cap price of the fees is to allow the free market to establish the value of the skills test. He claims that S 1107's raising of the fees addresses issues like inflationary expenses for testing administration, as well as the proported 10% loss over the last year of testing administrators. Senator Brackett said that Idaho's current fee of $60 is considered low, where other states average around $120.  While S 1107 will be going to the Senate floor, Senator Hagadorn was concerned about raising the price of the CDL skills test.

Week 6

H 177 – Asbestos Bankruptcy Claims transparency Act

This bill has been pitched by proponents to prevent “double dipping” by claimants in cases of asbestos exposure.  The truth is, that it provides the mechanics for companies or, “defendants” to postpone the claims process essentially until the claimant or, “prosecution” dies.  Many of our Union members have worked in hazardous conditions and have been exposed to asbestos and many other dangerous toxins.  The underlying intent of this bill is to shift the massive liability of asbestos claims off the books of insurance companies who are currently on the hook to make victims of asbestos exposure whole.

 SCR 108 – Federal Budget

Senator Marv Hagedorn introduced this bill which calls for an Article V Convention for the sole purpose of proposing an amendment to the Constitution which requires a balanced federal budget.  U.S. Senator Tom Coburn who was hired by “The Convention of States Project” as a Senior Advisor was invited by the Speaker of the House, Scott Bedke and Senate Pro Tem, Brent Hill to address the matter of whether or not to request a call for an Article V, Constitutional Convention.  In a spirited debate that was less than well attended, Senator Coburn made his case to call for a Constitutional Convention.  The Senator admitted that he could not guarantee that if an Article V were called for that the subject matter for consideration would be limited to only those that were brought before it by the states.  This has dangerous implications.

Wage theft bill – still working on getting the bill introduced.  Stay tuned.

 S 1076 - Public employee whistle-blower bill

The Public Employees Association and the Trial Lawyers Association are working to put a stop to this bill.  It appears to provide protections to State workers but does not cover all scenarios in which an employee may need to seek whistle-blower protection, therefore it is limited.

 H 137 - Electrical Licensure

In cooperation with the Building Trades, the Associated General Contractors, and the Division of Building Safety, we are actively engaged in opposing this legislation.  Currently, the bill could be interpreted to allow for commercial scale projects to be built using a homeowner permit.  The bill has been drafted twice now, and we expect a third attempt to follow.

 H 160 – Health Care Assistance Program

While we appreciate the work that the legislature is doing in taking steps to address healthcare in Idaho, this bill is not a complete solution to the coverage gap and will still leave many Idahoans with no ability to gain access to healthcare coverage.  We continue to advocate for a complete solution through our partnership with the “Close the Gap” coalition.

Week 5

Professional Firefighters of Idaho were gracious enough to invite me to their annual Freshman Legislator luncheon.  This was a great opportunity to get acquainted with some of the newly elected members and begin to understand where they stand on working family issues.  I want to thank PFFI for their hospitality.

Emma and I have been meeting with Legislators who serve on the House Commerce and Human Resource committee to begin laying the ground work for some Building Trades proposed bills.  The first being a bill that would require the state to consider employers use of apprentices as a pre-qualification to bid on public works projects.  All of the legislators we have spoken with about the value of Apprenticeship agree that it is a much needed path to a career for our youth and the opportunities should be expanded.  Unfortunately, we were hoping to gather support for the bill in partnership with the Associated General Contractors but they were not willing to support it citing that it would give an unfair advantage to the Union Contractors.  Associated General Contractors has a membership made up of both Union and Non-Union Employers and the board could not reach consensus.  We were unable to convince the Chairman of the committee to allow a print hearing with opposition from the AGC.  Back to the drawing board.

Another bill the Building Trades are promoting deals with Wage Theft.  Current Federal law allows Employees to go back two years when filing a wage claim. Idaho state law on allows you to go back six months.  The proposal is to align state law with federal and allow two years in both instances.  Hopefully, we can get a print hearing on this one and begin to move this proposal forward.

We are expecting to see some bad legislation come up dealing with asbestos exposure.  Industry is seeking “Liability Reform” essentially making it more difficult for Employees to file a claim against an Employer when they have been exposed to asbestos.  Similar legislation is cropping up in other states so we are looking into those outcomes and how best to fight this attack on workers in Idaho.

 It appears the work that we have participated in with the Close the Gap coalition is paying dividends.  Although we may not see a bill that would provide a complete solution for Idahoans, legislators are planning to bring proposals that would begin to emphasize a managed care approach.  In Colorado, legislators are taking steps to dismantle their state-run exchanges and leave hundreds of thousands of Coloradans without coverage options.  So far, we have not seen any attempts like this in Idaho.

Week 4

Things are starting to heat up at the Capitol and it seems the highest priorities for our elected officials is deciding what to do with the current budget surplus.  Some legislators are determined to give the money back in some form of tax relief.  Others are making an argument for investing in infrastructure and education.

I am excited to report that we have hired a legislative intern for the session!  So far, we have been meeting with legislators and promoting the core principles of Organized Labor.  This effort has prompted opportunities to assist legislators in building arguments for draft legislation that will benefit wage earners in Idaho. 

Representative Wintrow has introduced a personal bill, (HB 71) that would prevent Employers from asking how much Employees were compensated at their previous jobs.  The intent of this bill is to keep Employers from using the information in a discriminatory manner.

Representative Erpelding has been taking a strong lead in developing several bill proposals on behalf of labor.  One proposal is designed to promote Apprenticeship utilization on Public Works projects.  The other deals with wage theft claims.    

Senator Burgoyne is proposing a bill that addresses Family Medical Leave.

Representative Nate brought forward a bill that would expand the homeowners’ exemption for electrical installations.  We are working with representatives from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Building Trades, and the Division of Building Safety to ensure that this bill meets the expectations of all parties.

Finally, Idaho is being targeted by groups who say they only six more states to call for an Article V Convention in order to open the Constitution for revision.  The Speaker of the House, Scott Bedke, Representative Tom Loertscher, and Senator Jeff Siddoway are hosting an event on Wednesday, February 15, from 4:30 to 6:00 pm at the Lincoln Auditorium in the Idaho State Capitol with former U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. to present a case that Idaho should call for an Article V Convention.

This approach to fixing our countries woes seems unnecessary.  Our Constitution Works. The U.S. Constitution has guided our government for 225 years. It has withstood wars, economic fluctuations and social pressures. Those seeking to make an amendment have existing, tested methods in place to do so.

Week 3

Health and Welfare committee joint meeting

On Friday, 01/27, there was a joint meeting of the Senate and House Health and Welfare committees.  Many issues pertaining to health care were brought up.  Representatives of the Close the Gap coalition testified as to the urgent need to address the 78,000 Idahoans who don’t qualify for Medicaid and can’t afford to purchase health insurance on their own.  We anticipate the legislature will wait to see what happens with the Affordable Care Act before any action is taken in Idaho.

Here is a list of bills we are keeping an eye on:

 HB 46:  Sign Language Interpreters

Statement of purpose:

“Recognizing that by using sign language interpreters can profoundly affect the lives of people of the state of Idaho, it is the purpose of this act to set standards of qualification for those who engage in the practice of sign language interpreting and protect the public from unprofessional conduct in the practice of sign language interpreting.”

This bill brings accountability to an industry that is relatively un-regulated.

HB 60: Motor Voter act

Statement of purpose:

“This legislation will provide for the automatic registration of eligible citizens to vote at the same time that they apply for or renew a driver's license or state issued identification, unless they opt out of being registered to vote at that time. The act of voting — being able to elect our leaders and set our course as a state and a nation — defines the United States at home and abroad. This legislation aims to facilitate the exercise of this basic right for thousands of eligible citizens who are unregistered or have outdated registrations due to relocation.”

HB 72: Minimum wage

Statement of purpose:

“The legislation increases the minimum wage from the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour to $8.75 per hour on July 1, 2017, and to $10.50 on July 1, 2018, and $12.00 per hour on July 1, 2019. Wages for tipped employees will increase from $3.35 per hour to $4.35 per hour for employment commencing July 1, 2017, $5.85 per hour for employment commencing on July 1, 2018, and $7.35 per hour for employment commencing July 1, 2019. Beginning September 30, 2020, and on each succeeding September 30, the director of the department of commerce shall calculate an adjusted minimum wage rate in direct proportion to an increase or decrease in the United States department of labor's consumer price index for urban wage earners and clerical workers (CIP-W) or a successor index, for the period of July 1 of the previous calendar year to June 30 of the current calendar year.”

Week 2

Career & Technical Education Legislative Luncheon

The Idaho AFL-CIO sponsored a table at the Career & Technical Education Foundation Legislative Luncheon. This provided an opportunity to meet inspiring young students who are looking to become better prepared for their future working lives. A large group of Idaho's legislative body were in attendance as well. The Career & Technical Education Foundation was established in 1983 to support and provide educational opportunities for career and technical education students in the State of Idaho. The Building Trades and various other unions have gone to great lengths to establish Apprenticeship programs designed to train journey level crafts workers and the Idaho AFL-CIO continues to advocate for these programs at every  opportunity. We are constantly looking to promote federally registered Apprenticeships and this was another way to spread the word to our youth and also to our elected officials.

Union Day outcomes

I cannot stress enough the importance of the work we have done as Organized Labor on Union Day at the Capitol. Not only did we continue to build relations with our elected officials, but we also began numerous conversations that could potentially result in important policy changes in the future.  Issues from wage theft to apprenticeship utilization to family medical leave were all discussed.  Strength in Solidarity.

Legislation

We are beginning to track legislation. So far, there is little to report.

Week 1

Governor’s State of the State

Governor Butch Otter proposed a 4.6% increase to the state’s overall budget, roughly $189 million, claiming that Idaho’s economy is outpacing the fiscal needs of government and the States’ finances are secure.  Education funding was top of the list with a 7.9% increase in “k through 12” funding which equates to roughly $116.6 million.  $40 million to pay for teacher salary increases as were promised in the 5 year career ladder program.  $30 million is allocated for discretionary spending. $10.7 million literary proficiency program.  $10 million to ensure students pay the same tuition all 4 years of post-secondary education.

The legislature has been slow to address the needs of those who fall in the healthcare gap.  Some legislators have been advocating for a Primary Care program that would provide for a stipend to low income individuals without healthcare.  This “Primary Care” program proposal would cost the state roughly $32 million which the Governor has included in his budget.  Unfortunately, this proposal would do very little in providing a path to healthcare for the 78,000 Idahoans who lack coverage.

Placing special emphasis on Career and Technical Education, and with the recent establishment of a Workforce Development Task Force, the Governor also encouraged Idahoans to support efforts to turn Eastern Idaho Technical College in Idaho Falls into a full-fledged community college.  He points to the explosive growth of the College of Western Idaho as an example of the benefits a community college can provide the region. 

 Union Day

The Idaho AFL-CIO began this legislative session by hosting “Union Day” at the Capitol in Boise. 25 Unions and affiliated organizations participated in lobbying their elected officials and set up booths around the rotunda with displays representing their organizations.  The event continued into the evening at the Basque Center where union leaders and rank and file members gathered to meet legislators and discuss issues affecting them locally.  We had over 100 in attendance and saw a lot of new faces.  This event is a great opportunity to shine a spot light on Organized Labor in Idaho and remind our elected officials that we are here to stay and we will continue to fight for working people.