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Idaho children’s organization says debate over JFAC changes is holding up supplemental budgets


Officials with the Idaho Children Are Primary organization have told Idaho legislators that a debate over whether to change the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee’s voting procedures is threatening supplemental funding for emergency rental assistance.

On top of a supplemental funding request for emergency rental assistance, dozens of other supplemental funding requests are also awaiting action by JFAC, including a $1 million supplemental funding request for security and support of University of Idaho students following November’s quadruple homicide, according to the 2023 Legislative Budget Book.

On Monday, Idaho Children Are Primary’s founders and board of directors emailed members of JFAC and Senate leadership to say that the potential voting change has delayed votes on supplemental appropriations requests in front of JFAC, including for emergency rental assistance. Idaho Children Are Primary co-founder Diane Schwarz told the Idaho Capital Sun that the deadline to act on the $15.5 million supplemental funding request for emergency rental assistance is Jan. 31.

“If this vote does not happen by the end of January 2023, which is one week away, many Idahoans, including children, will become housing insecure and/or evicted and homeless,” the letter to Idaho legislators states. “Idaho’s children are disproportionately impacted by housing instability and will benefit greatly from emergency rental assistance. Many of these low income renters are families with children.”

Former legislators John Rusche, D-Lewiston, and Jarom Wagoner, R-Caldwell, and former Idaho first lady Patricia Kempthorne were among those Idaho Children Are Primary board members who signed Monday’s letter. Wagoner is the current mayor of Caldwell.

Idaho Children Are Primary describes itself as a nonprofit 501(c)4 organization dedicated to using guidance from childhood experts to propel issues affecting children and families to the forefront of policy discussions.

Gov. Little’s request for funding to assist with University of Idaho homicides also held up

On top of emergency rental assistance, Gov. Brad Little’s request for $1 million in one-time funding for security at the University of Idaho following the Nov. 13 murders of four University of Idaho students is also awaiting consideration in JFAC. That request is coming before the JFAC as a supplemental funding request because Little authorized it after the current 2023 fiscal year budget was set. According to the 2023 Legislative Budget Book, that $1 million would be used for costs of service for Idaho State Police, increased security, a safe shuttle service, counseling services, a vigil, consulting services and a physical security review.

On Jan. 13, Speaker of the House Mike Moyle, R-Star, told the Sun that he favors changing how JFAC votes on budgets. JFAC is a joint committee with 10 members from the Idaho House and 10 members from the Idaho Senate. The current, longtime practice is for JFAC to vote as one joint committee, with all 20 members. Moyle supports having the 10 House members vote separately from the 10 Senate members, with budgets having to win a majority of support in both votes to advance out of JFAC for a floor vote.

Moyle said making the change could build more support for budgets and reduce the likelihood that budgets would be killed on the House floor or the subject of big floor fights.

But House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, called the proposed change a terrible idea, saying changing JFAC’s voting procedures would create a huge obstacle to approving funding recommendations for programs such as public schools or Idaho Department of Health and Welfare programs. She said the changes would make it easier to kill or block budgets at the committee level.

Moyle told the Sun he doesn’t think the Idaho Legislature would need to change its rules to change JFAC’s voting procedures because he thinks it should be handled that way anyway under current policy.

In a follow up email Monday, Schwarz told JFAC members and Senate leaders that upon further research she does believe the Idaho Legislature would have to change its rules in order to change how JFAC votes. Schwarz cited a list of 17 rules posted on the 2023 Joint Finance Appropriations Committee’s section of the Idaho Legislture’s website.

Rule 3 states, “Necessary majority: All decisions shall be by simple majority of the quorum present, except decisions to reopen a budget, or to suspend rules.”

An additional list of rules on JFAC’s webpage labeled as “Rules commonly operative in joint committee meetings (from Senate rules)” states, “A quorum shall consist of a majority of the committee membership.”

Schwarz told the Sun on Monday afternoon she has heard responses from several JFAC members and was told the decision about voting procedures will be handled by House and Senate leaders.

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