The Idaho Legislature’s office that tracks the performance and accountability of state agencies will spend the rest of the year studying the state liquor dispensary, emergency medical services, and services for senior citizens. The Office of Performance Evaluations (OPE) will report back late this year or early next year, and its reports could lead to policy changes in the next legislative session. The guidance came from a panel of lawmakers who oversee OPE. Attempts by Democrats on the panel to study exemptions to the state sales tax failed.

“I would like to do projects that could have an immediate impact,” OPE director Rakesh Mohan told the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee (JLOC), which on Monday set OPE’s investigations for the year. Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, one of the chairs of JLOC, sided with four Republicans in selecting the agencies to examine. Werk said the proposal would be a reasonable workload for OPE staff, and were reasonable agencies to study.

Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, said the state liquor division should be studied due to its recent expansion. “The growth continues, and there doesn’t seem to be any policy in this area,” she said. The $15 million in yearly funding for the liquor division comes from the profits on liquor sales, though the division’s budget is approved by lawmakers. Bell said the study would answer a key question: “Are we continuing to build this behemoth, and does this building outpace the funding?” she asked.

Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d’Alene, said he hopes OPE will examine whether Idaho should stop having state liquor stores. “Government is here to provide things that private enterprise can’t provide by itself,” Hammond said, also saying that other states allow private companies to distribute and sell liquor.

OPE will also examine Idaho’s seven Area Agencies on Aging. The proposal from Rep. Darrell Bolz, R-Caldwell, would focus on the large budget for senior services in Region Three, which serves southwest Idaho. Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, said there’s a great deal of confusion regarding who is in charge of those services. “There’s just, I believe, a lot of inefficiencies right now,” McGee said. State funding for the area agencies comes from the Commission on Aging, which gets $5 million in state tax dollars.

The study of emergency medical services, suggested by Huston Republican Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, would compare Idaho’s first responders and other service providers to their counterparts in other states.

Among the topics of inquiry rejected by lawmakers were comparing the costs and benefits of charter schools, magnet schools, and traditional public schools, examining the state’s prison sentencing laws, and studying sales tax exemptions. Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, said she wanted OPE to look at exemptions, since revenues have been a contentious issue this legislative session. She said she wants to make sure that tax exemptions all serve a purpose. “We have given exemptions in hopes of stimulating jobs,” she said. “We never really go back and look at those and see if they’re proving up.”

OPE released studies about the Idaho Department of Correction and Idaho Commission on Pardons and Parole. Those studies made news, but have not led to significant legislation this session. Read IdahoReporter.com’s coverage of the corrections department here and parole commission here.

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