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Mar 27

House Extends Secure Rural Schools, Health Care Programs

Posted on March 27, 2015 at 10:13 AM by Mindy Linn

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House Extends Secure Rural Schools, Health Care Programs
 
Thank you for contacting your Representatives! Today, March 26, 2015, your voices were heard as the House overwhelmingly passed legislation that reauthorizes the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program for Fiscal Years (FY) 2014 and 2015, extends the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and other health care programs. The bill, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (H.R. 2) passed by a vote of 392-37. To see how your member voted click here, and please remember to thank them for supporting Secure Rural Schools and county health care priorities.
 
Secure Rural Schools (SRS) Extension
 
The legislation provides two years of critical SRS funding to rural counties and school districts affected by the decline in revenue from timber harvests on federal lands. It authorizes $500 million to support local schools, roads, law enforcement and other critical services in more than 720 counties and 4,000 school districts in 41 states. H.R. 2 also includes measures to expedite SRS payments to counties by requiring the federal government to make SRS payments within 45 days of the bill's enactment and provides greater flexibility for how a county may elect to spend SRS funds.
 
Without SRS funding, counties and school districts would be forced to terminate employees, cancel teacher contracts, stop construction on critical infrastructure and reduce many other services.
 
Medicare and the Health Care Programs
 
H.R. 2 would permanently correct the formula by which physicians are paid under Medicare, the federal health insurance program for Americans over 65. In addition, the bill extends a number of health and human services programs that counties use to maintain their local health care systems including the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Community Health Centers, National Health Service Corps, Teaching Health Centers and the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program—all by two years. It also permanently extends the Qualifying Individuals and Transitional Medical Assistance Programs benefitting low-income beneficiaries. In addition, it delays scheduled reductions to Medicaid disproportionate share hospital (DSH) payments by one year. DSH supports county hospitals and others serving a disproportionate share of Medicaid beneficiaries and uninsured.
 
Senate Passage Needed
 
H.R. 2 must now be taken up by the U.S. Senate. Given procedural and time constraints, if the Senate is unable to pass H.R. 2 by unanimous consent before the two-week Spring recess begins, they will have to take it up after session resumes on April 14, 2015. 
 
Check out NACo Resources on These Issues:            
 
For questions regarding the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program, please contact NACo's Associate Legislative Director Chris Marklund at cmarklund@naco.org or 202.942.4207.  For questions regarding Medicare and health care programs, please contact NACo's Associate Legislative Director Brian Bowden at bbowden@naco.org or 202.942.4275
Mar 12

Boundary County conservation easement protects working forest and wildlife habitat

Posted on March 12, 2015 at 9:53 AM by Mindy Linn

(BONNERS FERRY) – Seven hundred forty-eight acres of forestland in Boundary County will be conserved as working forest and wildlife habitat in perpetuity after the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL), in partnership with The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Forest Service, purchased a conservation easement from the Hubbard family in February.

For more than half a century, the Hubbard family has lived on and actively managed the property for timber production, farming, wildlife habitat, and recreation.  The activities support jobs and revenue in industries vital to northern Idaho’s economy.  The property provides habitat and connectivity for Idaho’s iconic wildlife such as elk, moose, white-tailed deer, black bear, mountain lion, and several sensitive bird species. 

 “This conservation easement assures the property we have owned and sustainably managed for three generations will remain intact as a working forest, leaving a legacy of conservation for our heirs,” members of the Hubbard family said.  “We would like to thank those who helped our family with this most important and rewarding project, the Idaho Department of Lands, The Nature Conservancy, and Greg Johnson, Idaho Department of Fish and Game retiree.”

The conservation easement acquisition was funded entirely through the Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program, which protects environmentally and economically important forests from conversion to non-forest uses.  Nationally, the program has protected more than two million acres of forestland in 48 states and territories.

 

Using federal grant funds, IDL purchased the easement for a discounted price, and the Hubbard family contributed the difference as donated land value.  Additionally, this conservation achievement would not have happened without significant contributions by The Nature Conservancy.

 

"We are grateful to the Hubbard family for their commitment to keeping these forests working, while also providing vital wildlife habitat," said Kennon McClintock, watershed manager for the Conservancy in Idaho. "Working collaboratively with local families, IDL and the Forest Service, we've been able to conserve this amazing area of Boundary County for people and nature." 

 

“The Idaho Department of Lands strives to provide landowners with the tools necessary to protect and sustain their natural resources,” IDL Director Tom Schultz said.  “All Idahoans will benefit from the continued economic contributions of these sustainably managed timberlands and the protection of water, wildlife habitat and open space.”

 

# # #

The Idaho Department of Lands manages more than 2.4 million acres of Idaho endowment lands, benefitting the people of Idaho through active, sustainable management of forestlands, rangelands, mineral and gas resources and other endowment assets. The IDL also administers Idaho’s Forest Legacy Program through the Forestry Assistance Bureau. To date, this program has successfully invested nearly $24 million into Idaho’s economy and conserved 72,000 acres of private forestland.

More information about the Forest Legacy Program can be found at:

http://www.idl.idaho.gov/forestry/forest-legacy/index.html http://www.fs.fed.us/spf/coop/programs/loa/flp.shtml

Mar 05

2015 NACo Legislative Conference Report By IAC WIR Representative Gordon Cruickshank

Posted on March 5, 2015 at 10:51 AM by Mindy Linn

Saturday Feb 21st

8:00 AM I attended the NACo Legislative update provided by NACo staff. 

Items discussed were SRS with two bills possible, PILT has a Dear Colleague letter being circulated to work on longer term funding, ESA briefing at the Capitol on Feb. 24th, efforts on transportation funding which included fuel tax, Highway User Funding, Map 21 and vehicle miles traveled.

9:00 AM to Noon, I attended the WIR Board meeting

Dustin Van Lieu with Western Resources Legal Center reported on their efforts on Natural Resource issues by utilizing interns to do research. He also discussed grazing issues as well as catastrophic wildfire conditions.

We then heard from Lee May who is running for NACo 2nd Vice President.

Spencer Kimball with Western Energy Alliance reported he is moving to staff the House Natural Resource Committee. He discussed the Sage Grouse and how it was listed from the result of a court order with plans to be completed by September 2015 on how states will manage the Sage Grouse. Some counties are creating areas to exchange for habitat to help with concern.

David Kim with the Federal Highway Administration reported on the Highway Trust Fund and how it has received 32 short term extensions since 2009. The need for a long term funding is critical if local jurisdictions are to plan for future projects, rail freight has never had dedicated funding for improvements and not the system is in need of repairs. With 31% of the travel on county roads there is a higher need for safety improvements as they have a higher accident rate. To do it right we will need a 30 year plan to maintain and improve as it is predicted that a 45% increase in freight will happen as the population increases mostly in the west.

Dan Chadwick with IAC presented on the small committee proposing By-Law changes for WIR and how it handles the Public Land Trust fund into the future. Final decision will be at the NACo Annual Conference in July.

Chris Marklund new NACo staff to work Public Lands and WIR provided the work he has been doing to help SRS reauthorization and PILT issues with the congressional offices and county officials. We did discuss the issue of no SRS will change the PILT payment however no funding and doesn’t replace the full amount of SRS.

David Keen as NACo Finance officer reported on WIR financials and that we are in good shape for our budget.

Chris Marklund continued his report with PILT being funded for this year and the need to work towards long term sustainable funding. The Dear Colleague letter and how counties can provide their support by contacting their congressional offices. Then let NACo staff know of support or issues they need to work on to get support.

He then reminded us of the ESA meeting on reform if we were interested.

 

Discussed the efforts he is seeing on transportation funding. Where everyone says it must be done this year as 2016 will be difficult to do anything.

Randy Phillips Forest Service Liaison to NACo is working with NACo to help with SRS. Matt Chase Executive Director of NACo had a conversation with Speaker Boehner to see if the voting criteria could be relaxed.

Jerrie Tipton, Commissioner, from Mineral County, Nevada and Chair of the Wild Horse and Burro sub-committee reported on the topic and what might be done with the excess horses and burros. Legislation is being introduced to possibly allow states to manage instead of the BLM.

Joel Bousman, Commissioner, from Sublette County, Wyoming and Chair of the ESA sub-committee reported that four bills are being considered for ESA reform of some kind. NACo does have policy on supporting improvements on how ESA is utilized. Legislation is expected to stall out.

Gordon Cruickshank reported on the SRS, PILT and LWCF sub-committee. Efforts were made to expedite the SRS 2014 payments by creating a Resolution to be introduced in Public Lands Committee. PILT had a recommended simple formula change by lowering the population from 5,000 to 1,000 for the formula. LWCF is receiving a neutral position at this time due to more understanding on how it can be used before any position n is taken.

John Martin from Garfield County, Colorado reported on the RS 2477 legislation he is proposing to settle the issue however has not found a sponsor for a bill at this time.

Amanda Clark with NACo provided the proposals received for the 2016 and 2017 WIR conferences. 2016 will be held in Jackson Hole, Wyoming and 2017 will be held in Bend, Oregon at the Sun River Resort.

We watched a video of Kauai, Hawaii where the WIR Conference will be held this year in May.

We discussed some about having a PILT Fly In when the need arises.

Gordon informed the WIR Board about the fall board meeting for October being in Boise, Idaho.

Doug Briedenthal provided a review of a proposed Resolution on Post Litigation that values timber off the National Forest when burned by fire off private lands. These receipts should be part of the 25% funding.

1:00 PM Public Lands Committee on Resolutions

Burying Beetle, Blake Pine Snake, Reclassification of timber that is Disease or Insect Infested as forest products, Post Fire Settlement and Wildfire Disaster Funding were all supported. SRS expedited funding needs some better language and will be brought to Public Lands.

2:00 PM Public Lands Committee on Federal Payments

Rural Counties will be hurt the most if SRS funding not reauthorized as PILT payments will not make up the difference.

What’s next? Need agency based payments that are consistent, Forest Management Reform will take time, and PILT will need to be Mandatory and Permanent.

We heard from William McGrath who is the staff director on House Oversight. Will need to get problems fixed with how payments are funded and managed, the Interior Sub-committee is focusing on more of the Public Land issues such as the Keystone Pipeline (which was Vetoed by the President) and new NEPA requirements will increase the cost of projects. 

   

3:00 PM Public Lands Committee on Federal Land Management

Eastern states do not understand the vast landscape of the West. It is tough to understand the law enforcement and other duties to perform from an eastern view.

The Antiquities Act is being abused in what the original intent was. Three National Monuments signed just last week. Congressman Bishop in Utah is leading charge to get local agreement into program.

The Utah Prairie Dog is only found in Utah but the ESA says habitat must be looked at in other states. Some species are only found in one area of one state but habitat requirements say you need to look in all areas where habitat might be available. Up to 60 percent of the listings are impacting more than one state even though the species is found in one state. Regulatory agencies are now telling private landowners that they have to comply as well.

Sunday February 22nd 

9:00 AM started with attending the Public Lands Committee meeting.

A resolution was supported to allow Title III funding for National Forest patrols for law enforcement.

A revised resolution for Expedited 2014 SRS payments was supported so hopefully counties will receive their funding for this budget year.

Many of the issues discussed on Saturday were discussed, including the other resolutions were approved from the day prior when submitted in sub-committees.

Cynthia Moses-Nedd, BLM Liaison to NACo, reported on fraking issues, Wild Horse and Burros efforts and the need to have a county representative on the committee, (Cope did this prior), looking for off range space for the Wild Horses and the Social Economic only works when counties are involved.

Tom Tidwell, Chief of the Forest Service, reported on the Forest Service need to restore the landscape, prescribed fire, looking for more funds to work outside the WUI areas, the need to export and expand the saw timber, using the Green Energy program to build taller buildings using wood products, President’s Budget included SRS and it should have been funded by now, fire suppression costs are increasing every year, only 1% of the fires hit the wildfire funding need, contamination of groundwater needs addressed, conflict is driving management and he feels there is a common effort to do something now with management.

10:40 AM Transportation Committee

Counties do more with less funding with more of the roadway miles than what the States and Federal Government can do, Matt Chase with NACo testified on behalf of the counties on the need for funding, Map 21 is needed, funding the Highway Trust Fund effectively for a long term is critical for all jurisdictions and report back to Jessica NACo staff on transportation conversations with congressional offices.

The Resolutions in Transportation were approved to move forward with one exception that will be brought back to the Annual Conference after some clarification is completed. This was concerning when a person or organization could challenge the findings that stall projects.

1:00 PM meeting on Transfer of Public Lands

In this meeting many of the existing issues were reviewed. Equal Footing, Taylor Grazing Act, Federal Lands Management Plan, impacts to the public if any, wildfire cost if transferred and a congressional working group to study the idea.

3:00 PM NACo Board Forum

A review of all the Resolutions that would be submitted for approval to move forward from the various committees was presented. Much time was spent on a proposed alternative to how NACo elections Guidelines/Rules are utilized. The issue was postponed until the next NACo President takes office in July.   

This evening I met with a former staff of retired Senator Larry Craig. They now live in Idaho however they were in Washington DC at this time. We had a great visit to catch up and see how congress and agencies have changed since their working in Washington DC.

Monday February 23rd

7:30 AM was a meeting of the Western Region where we discussed issues happening in the western states. Much if not all is covered in my meetings prior and after so I won’t double up.

9:00 AM General Session

To enter the General Session this morning all attendees were run through security similar to airport screening.

The reason, Vice President Joe Biden was speaking to the NACo membership. He covered topics on maintaining our infrastructure with a focus on transportation, educating our students, especially after they leave High School, doing more with Technical Training for those who don’t want college and university degrees and paid leave payments. 

He also spoke that more jobs are filled today than several years ago.

US Trade Ambassador, Michael Froman, then spoke to us on the changes in companies wanting to return to the United States so their products can be American made. This is part of a Grow America program of bringing industry back to the United States with what they are calling Re-Patriotism.

Jason Grumet, President of the Bipartisan Policy Center, ended this session on how programs worked to bring the emphasis back to doing the peoples work and how they help with his organization.

10:45 AM I attended the ESA Reform workshop where we discussed attempts to collect the data upfront before a listing is created as we are seeing listings happening prior to understanding the need which might stop a listing. Joining us were staff from the Senate and House Committees who deal with these issues. 

Local folks on the ground quite often know the conditions and can help determine if there is a need or not. Additionally more folks are becoming familiar with the process and becoming involved as it impacts their livelihood or has the potential to impact. Some private landowners are being told they must provide habitat even though the species may not exist on the landscape currently, which is causing considerable frustration. 

The intent is to have responsible listings and plans to manage and not just a wish list for critical habitat as we have seen in the past. 

We also discussed listed species that have been recovered however they are still on the list and must be looked at for habitat. Removing them off the list would assist in reducing studies as they are recovered.

1:45 to 4:30 PM I attended the NACo Board of Directors Business and Resolutions meeting. During this meeting they discussed reaching out to new elected officials to explain NACo benefits, new information using technology, reviewed the NACo financials, heard from Utah Governor Gary Herbert on the lack of trust with Congress, how counties may slip and fall however they get back up and move on and reviewed the resolutions to be approved for the NACo Annual Conference in July.

During this meeting we also heard from NACo Executive Director Matt Chase on the direction NACo is headed and new ways of connecting with the NACo membership. He mentioned that more meetings being held on Capitol Hill by NACo helps to brief the congressional offices of impacts to counties by their legislation or lack of legislation in some cases. He spoke of the new website materials created by NACo allows any county to look at their data that NACo has collected to show how you might compare with other states or counties.

This evening I was invited to attend the Nevada attendee’s dinner event where I met some new Nevada commissioners and a former Nevada Congressman who is now working on Nevada’s behalf as a lobbyist. This is a great event to network with other commissioners and see how our issues are more common than a person thinks.

Tuesday February 24th 

Today started with another General Session at 10:00 AM. 

Thomas Peres with the US Department of Labor started us off speaking on the last 59 months of a job rise in the labor market, the West Coast Ports Labor Strike and the impacts to the global market. He commented on the need to listen to local folks as they provide valuable insight to issues. He called Community College’s the Secret Sauce of the future and commented on the need for Paid Leave Payments.

Utah Congressman Rob Bishop spoke to us about the status quo doesn’t cut it. We need creative solutions, Public Lands should create opportunities not hamper them. Secure Rural Schools will be funded for 1 Year, and the need of reform for SRS and PILT, creating a positive outcome by having a sustainable base to work from, the US is now leading in Energy Production and the need to explore Public Lands and not just rely on Private and State lands. The Antiquities Act is a misused program with the public being shut out. County officials have the toughest job as everyone has your phone number.  

We then heard from Pennsylvania Congressman Bill Shuster who chairs the House Transportation Committee. He spoke on the pressure local government officials have to do transportation maintenance as all goods require some form of the transportation system. The Waters of the US bill will impact the cost of maintenance which will increase the cost of construction however no increase from the Federal Government for funding. He applauded NACo 1st Vice President, El Paso County Commissioner, Sallie Clark for testifying in front of Congress on the impact of the Waters of the US as it pertains to local road jurisdictions and road maintenance.

12:30 PM I attended a Transportation Briefing at the Senate Capitol Visitors Center. At this meeting we heard from Delaware Senator Tom Carper, California Representative Jeff Denham, Oregon Representative Earl Blumenauer and one other Senator to discuss transportation issues and potential funding. We then had a panel of county elected officials who discussed local transportation needs both from a large urban and rural perspectives and what they were doing to fund projects and the impacts of government regulations.

I then went to the Senate offices with Dan Chadwick, Len Humphries (Fremont Sheriff) and Kristin Cundiff. 

At 2:30 PM we met with Senator Risch and Darren Parker to discuss Midas Gold operations in Valley County, SRS funding need and to expedite payments for 2014, PILT funding on a permanent level and provided his office with information on NACo’s publications that show data for all states and counties including Idaho. Senator Risch did explain that he felt SRS funding would happen in some form but would not confirm when.

At 4:00 PM we met with Senator Crapo and Peter Stegner and discussed much of the same as Senator Risch however when I mentioned the need to place Antimony and Tungsten minerals on the Strategic Minerals list, Senator Crapo asked Peter to look for any bills that might do this and if not then to look into the potential of creating a bill to do this. Senator Crapo also commented that SRS is important and we were talking to supporters of the need. Senator Crapo also mentioned that more bills are moving this session than all of last session. 

PILT is indeed in need of mandatory funding of some kind and he is supporting it in a recent bill he is sponsoring with Oregon Senator Wyden however it wasn’t specified being mandatory but it is a Federal obligation to the counties.  

At 5:00 PM we arrived at Congressman Labrador’s office ½ hour early only to find Congressman Labrador had been called to visit with President Obama on a Sentencing Bill Congressman Labrador had introduced. So we visited with Aaron Calkins and Brad Griff on the issues. In addition to the same issues we discussed with the Senate offices the staff assured us that SRS is on the focus of the House members and expected to see something in the next 2-3 weeks. The House is also looking to introduce Forest Management Reform this summer. Our Sheriff Len Humphries asked the staff about the Excessive Force Bill that Congressman Labrador had signed onto. Staff said that he had signed onto the legislation to start the conversation however they felt the language went a different way than the Congressman was willing to go. They also mentioned a new bill on the same issue being developed that they didn’t think the Congressman would be signing onto. When asked if they felt transportation funding would happen in some form they said there is growing sense to do something. After an hour meeting with the Aaron and Brad we felt we had covered the issues.

This evening Dan, Kristin, Len and I met with Iowa’s Executive Director and staff for dinner. We learned that Iowa had just passed a state transportation funding bill to raise their fuel taxes. They now go to 32 cents per gallon for their funding which I believe I heard them say it would raise 700 million in revenue for their transportation needs.

Wednesday February 25th

Today about 30 of us were invited to the Eisenhower Office Building at 9:00 AM to meet with White House Advisors on Domestic Policy.

Doug O’Brian, White House Senior Advisor for Rural Affairs, spoke to us about rural child poverty with 1 in 8 children being in deep poverty. He also commented on the need to educate these children as this is the best way to improve their desire to do something with their future. Watching the Free and Reduced meals program for schools was mentioned as an indicator of how the needs are changing. We were reminded that the children of today will be our future leaders of tomorrow.

Nate Loewentheil, White House Senior Policy Advisor for the National Economic Council spoke on the public’s involvement for building infrastructure, funding for transportation at a flat level doesn’t keep up with rising costs. He is working towards a 6 year funding program for transportation to get the United States away from funding 6 months at a time with no certainty for the next 6 months. He also commented on the need of providing a better system to support sea port infrastructure.

Roberto Rodriguez, Special Assistant to the President for Education and the White House Domestic Policy Council, spoke on improving opportunities and outcome for better education. 2/3 of future jobs will need more than a High School Diploma. We seem to have a good program for K – 12 grades, however lack when it comes to higher education. Community Colleges will be a great way to start to achieve the goal. Pre-school and Head Start programs need to be better utilized as we continue with the process of “No Child Left Behind”

Nora Super, Executive Director, White House Conference on Aging, spoke on conferences that provide listening sessions to hear about issues with our aging population. She spelled out the priorities of her duties. #1 Long Term Health Care, #2 Transportation and Housing, #3 Long Term Support Services and #4 Elder Abuse and how the Elder Justice Act is handling.

Jerry Abramson, with Intergovernmental Affairs for the White House Advisory Council, discussed the ability to work with NACo and the issues by having conference calls each month with Matt Chase and NACo staff to see where the Administration can assist.  

At 11:30 AM I caught up with Dan, Len and Kristin to meet with Congressman Simpson and James Neil. Congressman Simpson was in a House Hearing so we met with James. James informed us there is a good chance of SRS being funded for 1 year and they will be working with Utah Congressman Bishop on long term funding after the 1 year is passed. They are also having conversations with Oregon Congressman Walden and Washington Congresswoman Rogers on the same issue of long term funding for SRS. They are watching what Oregon Senator is proposing for the Land and Water Conservation Fund as well. Congressman Simpson is working hard on his Wilderness Bill for the Boulder White Clouds so the President doesn’t use the Antiquities Act to do the National Monument. 

Sheriff Len Humphries discussed the Excessive Force Bill with James and voiced Idaho’s concern of what the legislation could mean for Sheriff’s id Idaho. 

After leaving the office we were headed out of the building when we ran into Congressman Simpson in the hall of the building. Congressman Simpson had a few minutes to speak to us and thank us for coming to Washington DC to help explain the needs of the citizens directly. He also mentioned that he had the Wilderness Bill he has proposed ready to introduce and we should see it soon. 

Well that pretty well ended the meetings and appointments we had and some were catching flights home this afternoon. My flight didn’t leave until Thursday so I had some time to work on reports and wind down after several days of on the go.

Thursday evening at the last minute I was invited to dinner with NACo 1st Vice President Sallie Clark, a Colorado Commissioner and an Arizona Commissioner whom I had attended the County Leadership Institute with. It was a great evening discussing county issues from other states that are so similar to Idaho. As Sallie will be our incoming NACo President at the annual conference we discussed potential folks who might want to serve on Steering Committees and such. It will be great to serve with Sallie as I will be installed as the NACo Western Interstate Region President in May so Sallie and I will serve together on the NACo Board of Directors for a period of one year each. 

We also discussed the SRS funding and PILT payments as to how the lack of permanent funding hampers the budgeting for counties to operate.

So in summary I would say this was a great conference (except for the cold weather, 0 to 30 degrees, biting wind, and snow on the ground). It appears SRS will be funded, hopefully our efforts get the payments coming soon, and PILT is on their minds to do something permanent as well. NACo’s new data is available and shows how counties across the nation are impacted in many ways. ESA reform is not just a dream as I believe congress is getting the message. 

And remember this is all from what I saw, heard and understood from my perspective.

Thanks,

Gordon Cruickshank

Valley County, Commissioner and IAC WIR Representative