Brothers and Sisters,
The first week of the legislative session is completed. The goal we set for this week was to get a feel for the tone of the Legislature, start meeting the new legislators, and determine what kind of fallout there may be from the November elections. There are some things we know at this point, but it’s still too early to know entirely what we are in for.
One thing is clear - there will definitely be fallout for some groups. Most notably will be the teachers. Superintendant of Public Instruction Tom Luna gave his plan for public schools for the coming year. His plan will have a pretty devastating effect on teachers. Besides increasing class size and laying off about 800 teachers statewide, their collective bargaining rights will be severely undermined. They will still have collective bargaining, but with the restrictions proposed, it will be inconsequential. This is a serious development and is concerning as the only other group in the state with this right. I have not heard of anyone looking to come after our bargaining rights, but an attack on the teachers’ rights should serve as a caution sign to us. There is some speculation that this is political retaliation for the teachers supporting the wrong candidates in last fall’s election. This makes me wonder if we backed enough of the “right” ones.
Another certainty about this session is that there will be “discussion” about PERSI. We are fairly certain that there is a bill waiting to be printed that would adversely change the current benefit structure. As of the first week we have not seen or heard anything specific. The first week or two do not generate any real legislation, but are spent reviewing the administrative rules proposed from the various state departments. If we are going to see anything I would expect it in the next week or two. Obviously trying to ward off any attacks to our retirement will be a major focus of our lobbying efforts this year.
Also from a defensive perspective, we are waiting to see how the EMS issue develops this session. Again, we haven’t seen anything as introduction of legislation hasn’t begun in earnest. We haven’t heard anything on this issue yet either. We have some feelers out with several key legislators to sense what direction the legislature wants to head with this. My hope is that there won’t be a rush to ram-rod something through in the wake of the OPE study, but that the legislature will methodically work through the OPE report to craft a bill that even-handedly meets its recommendations. We want to make sure that the recommendations from this report would not be overly tweaked when put into bill form and put our members’ departments at a disadvantage in determining their level of service. We must stay vigilant to ensure this does not happen. Ideally we would not see legislation this year but we are prepared if it does.
The sense I get of this session from discussions with legislators and other lobbyists is that this may be a good year to keep a low profile. The Legislature seems to be on the war path, making it wise to avoid drawing too much attention to yourself. In this sense it may be best for our presumptive illness legislation that we cannot run it this year. Because we will not conclude our work with the Work Comp Advisory Committee until later this spring, our bill won’t be run until next session. This is a bill that will definitely generate some controversy and draw attention toward us. Although we’ve been working for a long time on this, we need to be patient and expect it to take even longer. That being said, we have a lot of work to be done before our next meeting with this committee (in April) but I feel very confident in the progress we’ve made.
Given the atmosphere at the legislature, we want to be cautious as we press forward with our other pieces of legislation. As you know we have been planning to run legislation that would require special placards to be placed on the exterior of commercial buildings that are built with truss assemblies. This was inspired by other states that passed similar legislation in the name of firefighter safety. With the few legislators I spoke to about this I received surprising push back. One of the things we have been hearing over and over at the statehouse is an anti-government/anti-regulation sentiment and this “sounds like regulation” to some. Our take is that this is minimal regulation with virtually no burden on business owners (there is no fees or costs associated with this). Even so, this will be in the fire code which has a strong distaste for much of the Legislature.
The other piece of legislation is the bill to make the medical examination requirement for new hires meet the most current edition of NFPA 1582. As it reads now, the statute requires compliance with specific sections of the 1997 version of 1582. This may be our easiest sell in this environment. One vulnerability will be the unknown costs of medical exams in the future as the NFPA standard changes over time. This is a late addition to our agenda and is one we will probably work closely with the Idaho Fire Chiefs on.
Please contact me with any questions or comments.
Executive Vice President
Professional Firefighters of Idaho