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Bills met smooth sailing in short Legislative session

This year’s Idaho legislative session seemed like a sprint compared to the previous year when lawmakers labored with budget shortfalls and a sales tax increase.

The four legislative bills proposed by the Idaho Transportation Department were part of that smooth ride that required less than three months to complete.

Two of the new bills (see below) relate to the Division of Motor Vehicles; they cover special license endorsements and clarify or amend existing requirements. Another legislative proposal completed the permanent transfer of four audit unit employees and appropriation for related operating expenses to the Idaho Tax Commission.

The fourth proposal allows ITD to use the existing administrative hearings process to resolve bid disputes. Currently the only remedy is civil, and while this change still allows for the use of the court system, it offers a quicker and potentially less expensive solution to resolve disputes. (See details below.)

Julie Pipal, ITD’s manager of Budget, Policy and Intergovernmental Relations, called the session “low-key” and “no-nonsense.”

“It was a short session, the atmosphere was congenial and legislators were committed to getting the work done and going home… Legislators were well prepared and determined to take care of business. They generally accepted the governor’s budget, which was very austere. JFAC (the Joint Finance Appropriations Committee) and the governor were very close on their budget approach.”

ITD and state workers who endured two fiscal years without increased salaries, will benefit from a slight improvement in the economy and salary package approved by legislators. There was little debate over a recommendation by the Change in Employee Compensation committee to appropriate a 2 percent increase in funding for employee compensation.

State agencies are given discretion in how to apply the merit-based salary increases, Pipal said. Two percent, across-the-board increases are not guaranteed.

The salary package also includes an additional one-time 1 percent merit increase if state revenue exceeds projections by more than $5 million.

ITD’s four bills were passed by the Legislature and were signed into law by the governor:

1) Transfer of Motor Carrier Services audit unit
ITD and the Idaho Tax Commission entered into a memorandum of understanding in 2003 that would transfer the Motor Carrier Service’s commercial truck audit function to the latter’s jurisdiction.

Operation of the unit, including four full time auditors, a half-time clerical position and associated operating funds, was transferred from ITD to the commission this year under the memorandum. A change in Idaho law was required to make the transfer permanent.

2) Driver Services cleanup
Several minor driver-related statutes needed to be modified and updated to align their language with current procedures.

The first addresses requirements, suspensions, disqualifications and revocations.

Another section requires that written notification of sex-offender registration requirements be presented to individuals applying for identification cards and driver licenses.

Finally, the new legislation authorizes licensed physicians assistants and licensed advanced-practice nurses to certify permanent disability for driver license purposes.

3) Administrative remedy for bid disputes
The third legislative proposal creates a new option for bidders on ITD projects who wish to challenge the department’s determination.

Under previous procedures, the only avenue bidders had to challenge the department’s decision is to file a motion in District Court. Many state highway projects are time sensitive, and it is in the best interest of the contractors and the department to obtain a prompt, impartial decision when a dispute surfaces over which bidder submitted the lowest and best bid.

To expedite the appeal process, the new legislation allows the department to use the Administrative Procedures Act to resolve disputes through the use of hearing officers.

Challenges must be filed within five calendar days of the bid opening and be presented to the department’s chief engineer for the appointment of a hearing officer. The chief engineer has the authority to allow the contract award based on the hearing officer’s determination if such award is in the best interest of the state.

The Division of Purchasing and the Department of Administration already use similar procedures to address bid disputes involving the acquisition of personal services and property.

4) USA PATRIOT Act requirements for commercial driver licenses
Adopted to ensure the safety and security of Americans following terrorist attacks, the USA PATRIOT (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) Act introduces new requirements for commercial truck drivers to obtain endorsements to transport hazardous materials.

The legislation prohibits the issuing, renewing, transferring or upgrading of a commercial driver license with a hazmat materials endorsement unless the U.S. Department of Justice has conducted a background records check. The Transportation Security Administration also must determine that an applicant does not pose a security risk that warrants denial of the hazmat endorsement.

An applicant must be a U.S. Citizen or be an alien classified as a lawful permanent resident of the United States with valid Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) alien registration number.

The Division of Motor Vehicles anticipates the new background-check procedure will create an additional cost of $50 for applicants seeking a hazmat endorsement.

Other issues related to transportation in Idaho:

  • Three of four new license plates proposed this year gained legislative approval – the Historical Lewiston license plate and the School Transportation Safety Awareness plate, and a new military license plate for motorcycles. Gov. Dirk Kempthorne signed the motorcycle plate law on the Capitol steps March 18.

    The legislature rejected a Free Mason license plate.

  • A bill forwarded by Sen. Hal Bunderson that would have allowed the Transportation Department to use GARVEE bonds to fund and expedite highway construction projects was held in the Senate Transportation Committee.

  • Proponents of a Safe Routes to School proposal will make a presentation to the Idaho Transportation Board at its June 18 meeting in Boise.

  • By a 20-15 vote, senators rejected a bill that would have amended existing law to codify and permit the use of political signs on state highway rights-of-way.

  • Legislators approved funding of an interim committee to study public transportation and related air quality issues in Idaho.

  • House members rejected creation of a local highway economic investment fund by a vote of 41-29.

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