Plenty of changes in House chairmanships

Though nothing changed in the leadership for House Republicans, plenty of committees and chairmanships were shuffled around Thursday as representatives prepared for the 2011 session, set to begin Jan. 11.

Leadership only had one vacancy to fill; the chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee, held by Rep. Jim Clark, R-Hayden Lake, until his retirement this year.  Only one chairman who headed a committee in the past two years lost his spot, while most of the other chairmen were simply moved to different posts within the House.  Rep. Bob Schaeffer, R-Nampa, lost his position as the chairman of the Commerce and Human Resources Committee.

Here are highlights of the larger committees and new chairmanships:

Appropriations

With the Legislature facing what could be a $400 million shortfall in 2012, leadership likely wanted the budget-setting process to be handled by experienced leaders. Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, will continue to serve as chair of the committee, and Rep. Darrell Bolz, R-Caldwell, will serve as vice chair.  The panel will feature two new additions in Reps. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, and John Vander Woude, R-Nampa.

Hagedorn said the appropriations committee was his top choice for panel assignments because he believes he can make the tough decisions ahead.  “I think we need people who don’t have a problem looking at the data and making decisions,” Hagedorn explained.  “I think it will be a great learning experience.”

But is the Meridian Republican ready to trim down government $400 million if tax revenues don’t pick up? “I think we have to be prepared for that,” Hagedorn said.  “I don’t see where we have many alternatives.”

Health and Welfare

Observers of the process in the Idaho Legislature could argue that this could be one of the more important committees in the next two years.  It has been estimated that the Medicaid program  – overseen by this panel  –  could be short $168 million.  Lawmakers on the Health and Welfare Committee may be asked to tweak programs and alter department rules to squeeze every dollar and find more efficiency within the department.

Rep. Sharon Block, R-Twin Falls, chaired this committee in the past two years, but her duties will now be handled by Rep. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls.  Rep. Carlos Bilbao, R-Emmett, will serve as vice chair, replacing Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home.  Newcomers to the panel include Reps. Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, and Jim Guthrie, R-McCammon.

McGeachin told IdahoReporter.com Friday that she plans to bring a more active approach in addressing problems surrounding health care in the state of Idaho.  “We haven’t been doing enough to work on policy to reform our health care delivery systems and promote policies that reduce health care costs,” McGeachin said.  “I am going to ask my committee members to come to work with those ideas in mind.”

In serving on the committee for the past eight years, the Idaho Falls Republican feels the committee wasn’t very strong in dealing with the Department of Health and Welfare and that the panel had become a “rubber stamp” for policies developed by the agency.  That will change in 2011 as McGeachin prepares to take a more authoritative stance with the department.  “We are – the Legislature is – the policy body for the state of Idaho,” she said.  “We need to be more active and work harder on the policy side.”

Revenue and Taxation

Like Health and Welfare, this could be one of the most important committees of the 2011 legislative session.  Maybe leadership recognized that fact because Rep. Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, will again take charge of this committee and the vice chair assignment – Rep. Gary Collins, R-Nampa, – remains the same.

Several tax options have been discussed in preparation for the new session, but no proposal has gotten more attention than an increase on the tax on cigarettes.  Lake says he will allow a hearing on the plan in 2011, a courtesy he didn’t extend this year.  The Blackfoot Republican says the idea is not about raising money for state coffers, but it rather about discouraging smoking in the Gem State.  Several members of his committee are skeptical, including Collins, who says he will hear the pitch for the bill, but notes that he has never voted for a tax increase on cigarettes or alcohol.

Committee members may also hear proposals to reduce tax rates, including a plan to cut the state’s personal and business income tax levels in a decade-long process.  Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Eagle, hinted earlier this week that lawmakers may consider tax cuts as a way to lure businesses to Idaho and grow the economy.

Transportation and Defense

Transportation and Defense is another important committee because, like every other area of government, more money is needed.   A task force met in the past two years to find a solution to road funding, but offered no solid conclusions.  The committee could be vital in implementing reforms or small changes within the Idaho Transportation Department.

Rep. Leon Smith, R-Twin Falls, will take charge of this panel in 2011 and 2012.  The vice chair will remain the same, with Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, fulfilling that role.  Newcomers to this panel include Reps. Jeff Nesset, R-Lewiston, Julie Ellsworth, R-Boise, and Bill Killen, D-Boise.

Judiciary, Rules, and Administration

Clark headed this committee through the past several years, but Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry will take control when the Legislature convenes in January.  Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, will work as a vice chair, taking duties over from Smith.

Commerce and Human Resources

Block will take the reins of the committee, which handles some economic issues and hears reports on Idaho’s efforts to develop trade relationships with other nations.  Rep. Steve Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, will serve as vice chair.

Ways and Means

Wills headed this committee, which met only a few times during the 2010 legislative session.  This committee is made up of the most powerful members of the Idaho House – leadership teams of the two parties – so it might only be fitting that the longest-tenured representative would serve as the chairman.  Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, who has served in the House for 28 years, will head up this panel in 2011 and 2012, and there will be no vice chair.  This committee is used to rush legislation through the process if needed and is also utilized by leadership to kill legislation.

Other Committees

Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, remains as the chair of the Education Committee, and Rep. Mack Shirley, R- Rexburg, continues as vice chair.  Rep. Max Black, R-Boise, will again head up the Business Committee, and Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, will carry on as vice chair.  Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, is head of the State Affairs Committee, though he will have a new vice chair through the next two years.  Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, will fill that post, a spot previously held by Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake.

For a full list of committee assignments and chairmanships, visit IdahoReporter.com’s directory here.

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