On the same day the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (DHW) announced its move to full-day closures every other Friday through the end of June, the House State Affairs Committee approved Rep. Scott Bedke's , R-Oakley, plan to make it legal for the department to do so.
The panel approved the plan, which would make it fully legal for state offices to close their doors due to furloughs ordered as a result of budgetary hold backs ordered by Gov. Butch Otter and a scaled-down budget for the current fiscal year revised by lawmakers. DHW originally announced half-day closures in January, but was forced to move to full-day closures after new budget numbers were announced. According to reports, DHW director Richard Armstrong's office has remained open during the half-day closures and will remain open until Bedke's bill is enacted into law.
Bedke's bill contains an emergency clause which allows the measure to take effect as soon as it is signed by Otter. DHW reports that the closures, furloughs, and a 5 percent pay cut in annual salaries will save the state more than $1 million.
Current state law says that state officers may only close their offices on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, though it does not offer specifics for which holidays offices should be closed. It also mandates that state offices be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on regular business days.
Bedke was not present at the hearing. The bill was presented by Rep. Steve Kren, R-Nampa, who volunteered for the duty. When questioned by fellow Nampa Republican Brent Crane about the possible impact of the reduction in services for citizens, Kren characterized the legislation as necessary.
"I am concerned about the amount of services citizens get, but it is important with these budgets … there are going to be some substantial changes within government," said Kren. "Hopefully this will be one the citizens will be willing to accept."
The bill now heads to the House floor for approval.
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