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New laws take effect as Idaho’s fiscal year begins

The start of a new month in Idaho also marked the introduction of a series of new state laws and the beginning of a new fiscal year.

Measures approved by the 2011 Legislature and signed into law by Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter include regulations dealing with Medicaid programs, public schools and labor unions.

Other debuting legislation aims to close a loophole in Idaho’s rape law; ban state insurance exchanges from providing coverage for elective abortions; bolster the state’s list of gang-related crimes; expand off-track betting; and allow pregnant women the option of a midwife under their Medicaid coverage.

As for the new fiscal year, Idaho lawmakers in a budget-driven 2011 session approved $2.5 billion in state general fund spending. That’s about $47 million less than the budget approved five years ago before the economic recession gripped the state.

The budget resulted in significant changes to the state Medicaid program — which will end or roll back dental, chiropractic and vision services for some adults.

During the 2011 session, hundreds attended hearings on a measure to cut some $39 million in Medicaid spending. Lawmakers eventually cut $35 million from Medicaid programs for disabled, elderly and low-income residents.

Lawmakers also passed sweeping changes to Idaho’s public education system, signing off on a plan authored by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna.

The major parts of the plan included emergency clauses that made them go into effect immediately with the governor’s signature. Under the education overhaul, Idaho will restrict education union bargaining rights, introduce teacher merit pay and shift money from funding for salaries to classroom technology.

Other parts of the plan didn’t take effect until July 1 and include a measure that gives principals a stronger role in the hiring of teachers for their schools. A principal’s permission is now required before a school board can bring on a new educator.

Idaho’s “Right to Farm” law also was expanded.

The measure gives farmers and ranchers new protections from nuisance claims when expanding their operations. Under the new law, agricultural operations can’t be dubbed a nuisance if they weren’t so designated when they began — even if they expand.

Lawmakers also closed a loophole that allowed a man to avoid rape charges if he tricked a woman into having sex who wasn’t his spouse.

The law was changed after a bizarre incident in Ada County where a judge said she had to release two men accused of rape, because Idaho’s rape-by-fraud statute only covered married people. Lawmakers changed the law to protect both married and unmarried victims.

Other news laws aim to weaken the influence of labor organizations in Idaho. Two building and construction unions have sued in Boise’s U.S. District Court, saying the laws are unconstitutional because the state is attempting to pre-empt matters already governed by Congress.

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