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Expect Schools, Roads To Be Major Issues At Idaho Capitol

File photo of the Idaho State Capitol in Boise.

Republican leaders in the Idaho legislature appear poised to take up measures this year that would boost education funding and make overdue repairs to the state’s roads and bridges.

House and Senate leaders said bringing the schools budget back in line with pre-recession levels will be high on the agenda.

One major question is teacher salaries. House Speaker Scott Bedke said there’s general agreement they’re not competitive with other states.

“But when you waive a $300 million price tag in front of the legislature they immediately become very skeptical,” Bedke said.

Bedke added that salaries will likely be wrapped up in the debate over a tiered system for teacher licensing.

Republican leaders indicated this may also be the year they consider an “add the words” bill. Gay rights activists have been pushing the legislature to enact a statewide ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill said it remains to be seen whether either side will compromise. “But,” he added, “let’s have a discussion now and see if people are ready to do that.”

Legislative leaders, as well as the governor, said investing more in the state’s transportation infrastructure is also a top priority.

“It’s a matter of not only public safety, but also of commerce and economics,” Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett said. However, she said a hike in the gas tax won’t be enough to pay for the millions of dollars to keep roads and bridges from deteriorating beyond repair.

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter said about 700 bridges have outlasted the lifespans they were designed for.

Idaho has not joined its neighbors on legalizing medical marijuana, much less recreational pot, and lawmakers say they don’t intend to anytime soon. But Bedke said the legislature may be willing to explore legalizing a cannabis extract that’s been found to reduce seizures.

Legislative leaders spoke to reporters at a session preview sponsored by the Associated Press. The 2015 session starts Monday.