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BOISE — Last week, the third of the 2019 legislative session, state officials and lawmakers:

Heard what’s going on at Idaho National Laboratory

INL Director Mark Peters was at the Capitol on Tuesday and Wednesday, and the Leadership in Nuclear Energy Commission met all day Wednesday. Gov. Brad Little, who was co-chairman of the commission when he was lieutenant governor and has taken a strong interest in INL issues, plans to issue an executive order in the coming months extending the commission’s existence.

Peters said an impasse over 900,000 gallons of untreated liquid waste that has led Attorney General Lawrence Wasden to block shipments of spent nuclear fuel for research could imperil the lab’s future as America’s preeminent nuclear laboratory. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. The IWTU is gearing up, several years late, to treat this waste and could start before the end of the year. A few years from now, after this waste is treated, the U.S. Department of Energy will have to grapple with the future of the facility, the same question it recently weighed with the Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project.

Lawmakers learned about the status of NuScale Power’s plans to build small modular reactors at the DOE desert site to provide power to INL, Idaho Falls and the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems. And the LINE Commission heard about the reactor innovation center that could be sited at INL soon. The center is a research facility that INL officials hope will give them a mission for decades to come.

Started weighing in on budgets

While the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee is still reviewing budget proposals and hasn’t set any bills yet, a couple of committees that deal with pieces of the budget did take votes last week.

The Millennium Fund committee voted to fund Medicaid expansion, except they lopped $900,000 off of Little’s $10.6 million request and decided to put it toward the state’s addiction recovery centers instead. And the Change in Employee Compensation Committee voted to recommend giving state employees 2 percent raises, rather than the 3 percent Little requested.

These decisions still need to be approved by the full Legislature.

This week

The Idaho Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday in the Idaho Freedom Foundation-backed lawsuit seeking to overturn the Medicaid expansion initiative voters passed in November. Idaho Falls lawyer Bryan Smith, who is active in local Republican circles, is arguing the case for the plaintiffs.

On Wednesday, the Constitutional Defense Council, which consists of the governor, attorney general, Speaker of the House and Senate president pro tempore, will meet to vote on paying the legal fees of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the animal rights group that sued successfully to overturn the so-called “ag-gag” law banning secret recording at agricultural facilities.

JFAC will go over more budgets, including the ones for the Department of Health and Welfare, the Idaho Transportation Department and the Public Defense Commission.

While committee schedules largely haven’t been set yet, expect to see hearings on some bills that have already been introduced as well as some new bills being brought.

Quotes of the week

“We don’t need a law for every single behavior.”

— Rep. Chad Christensen, R-Ammon, arguing in favor of stopping municipalities from passing local bans on using a cellphone while driving.

“Local elected officials are the most approachable, accessible representatives in American government and this proposed legislation would limit our ability to serve our communities.”

— Idaho Falls City Councilman Jim Freeman, who crafted the city’s ban on using a cellphone while driving.

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.

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