Brothers and Sisters,
The 2012 Idaho legislative session ended last Thursday evening. When it did, the chances of passing our presumptive illness legislation ended also. As frustrating as this is we need to consider what we did accomplish.
When we began the session, our highest priority was to prevent the collective bargaining legislation from passing. We thought that it would consume most or our time and effort for the session. We were fortunate that the bill was derailed early, giving us the opportunity to pursue our other priority – presumptive illness legislation.
This is an issue we have been working on for over ten years as an organization. In 2002 our first proposed legislation received a hearing in the House Commerce and Human Resources Committee where it was beat up severely before being shot down in a lopsided vote. Our next attempt wasn’t until 2007, where we couldn’t even get it printed. Over the course of the next 5 years, we continued to try to get the bill off the ground but were only successful in even getting it printed once (2009), but failed to get a full committee hearing. All along, however, we have been building the foundation for its success.
This issue is a complex one that cannot be explained in a 30 second sound bite. It requires time to explain the nuances of the concept and answer the countless questions that skeptics generate. Laying this groundwork over the years made it possible to even attempt running this legislation again. What really made this difference for us, however, was the work we did in the last interim (the time between the end of the 2011 session and the beginning of the 2012 session) to prepare for the collective bargaining fight. All of the positive media and political work put us in an excellent position not only to fight for collective bargaining, but also to run this or any legislation we had chosen.
Going into the session the work we did in the interim helped to develop relationships with numerous legislators that we could never have predicted would pay off the way they did. Our sponsors were about the best a person could chose - both Representative Cliff Bayer and Senator Curt McKenzie are smart and articulate legislators who are respected on both sides of the legislature. We also had key allies working behind the scenes to assist us. Even those that weren’t actively supporting us looked upon us favorably because of our positive media messaging and political work. I’m proud of the work our membership has done. Our success is a direct result of so many of you stepping up to help the cause.
That work centers around messaging (to the public and to policy makers) who we are and what we’re about. Although it is contrary to our nature, we can’t sit back and just say “aw shucks, I was just doing my job” when we have something we can proudly show to the public/to be proud of/brag about. We all have remarkable stories about the work we do and the kind of people we attract to this job. We should be willing to share this with the public and with elected officials, because eventually there will be some negative stories about us. If we wait until then to show people what we’re about, we will be digging ourselves out of a hole. Media experts say it takes about ten positive stories to counter one negative story. We stockpiled quite a few in this last year. Thankfully we didn’t really see any major negative stories. But I digress…
This year’s presumptive illness legislation (S1336) got further than we’ve ever gotten before. Our bill had no opposition in the Senate State Affairs committee and passed with a very comfortable margin through the Senate body (23-10-2). It transmitted to the House where it was referred to the House State Affairs Committee - a committee we were confident was our best choice. By our count we had all but about 4 of the 19 committee members with us on the vote. Unfortunately, we did not have the committee chairman. Committee chairman wield great power in the legislature. They have the ability to decide at their whim whether or not a bill assigned to their committee gets a hearing. By not giving a hearing, or “putting the bill in the drawer”, they can effectively unilaterally kill a bill. This was what happened to our bill.
Our sponsor worked every angle he knew to leverage the chairman while we worked the angles we had available to us. Had we gotten a hearing, I have no doubt it would have passed out of the committee. From there it wasn’t as clear how the House body would vote, but with the supporters we had on board, I believe we had a good shot at getting through the House. We did have a complication in that we needed to amend the bill a second time in the House to fix a typo we found after passing the Senate and to specify which version of NFPA 1582 we wanted to mandate for pre-employment physical exams. Even so, had the bill gotten a hearing in a timely manner it could have been accomplished.
Again, it is frustrating to get so close and come away empty handed, but we need to realize what we’ve done this year. Our goal was to keep collective bargaining and continue to continue to move presumptive illness down the road. To have succeeded with the first and gotten the second through half of the legislature is significant. We should be well positioned for these same goals next year even with a legislature that may lose up to 40% of its current membership.
Our focus now must be on just that - next session. The success we had this year is because of you. The success we have next year will also be because of you. We need to continue the work we did last interim regarding media and politics. I am certain that we have not seen the last of the collective bargaining attacks. We need to be driven by the same motivation we had last year when we knew an anti-collective bargaining bill was coming. Please continue to proactively engage the media to get our good stories out there. Also, meet with your legislators and other key local leaders. This is an election year, so we’ll need help electing those candidates that will be supportive of what we want to do. If there’s a key election in your area we will advise you and ask for your assistance in passing out literature, knocking on doors, or pounding signs. We also need everyone to vote, both in the primary and the general elections.
Thank you again to all of you who have done so much for the membership. To all of you and those who are yet to give, keep up the good work and press on! We have great challenges facing us, but I think our greatest time is still ahead.
Please contact me with any questions or comments.
Professional Firefighters of Idaho
Executive Vice President