Latest Idaho news, sports, business and entertainment at 9:20 p.m. MDT

XGR-TAX CUT-REWRITE

Idaho Senate rewrites tax plan to remove grocery tax

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Senate lawmakers have narrowly decided to repeal the state’s taxation on groceries in order in a fight over what sort of tax relief will be provided to Idahoans at the end of the legislative session.

Earlier this year, the Idaho House sent a $51 million tax cut plan to the Senate with expectations it would be amended. On Thursday, the Senate not only debated several changes, but also completely rewrote the bill to remove the state’s current grocery tax rather than reduce Idaho’s top income and corporate tax rates.

Sen. Cliff Bayer, a Republican from Meridian, says repealing the grocery tax will offer the biggest tax relief to the most people. Bayer’s amendment also removes the grocery tax credit, which was implemented to help offset the burden of paying taxes on food.

The House must now reapprove the newly amended proposal.

AMAZON-IDAHO SALES TAX

Amazon to begin collecting Idaho sales taxes in April

(Information from: KTVB-TV, http://www.ktvb.com/)

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Online retail giant Amazon says it will begin collecting state sales tax from Idaho shoppers starting next month.

Boise TV station KTVB reports Amazon will begin collecting the 6 percent sales tax on April 1. Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter called the change a matter of fairness in a prepared statement, saying it will help Idaho taxpayers comply with state law and create a more level playing field for brick-and-mortar retailers.

All online sales are already legally subject to sales tax in Idaho, but the state doesn’t have a simple way to collect from out-of-state sellers. That means consumers typically have to self-report and pay the taxes on their own. State officials have long suspected many people don’t self-report.

Amazon already collects state sales taxes from all but a handful of states.

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FIELD BURNING

Idaho loosens agricultural field burning restrictions

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho officials have approved rules loosening restrictions on agricultural field burning that health advocates say will lead to breathing problems for some residents.

The Idaho Board of Environmental Quality voted Thursday to allow field burning during worse air quality thresholds for ozone that could start in 2018 if approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Idaho Department of Environmental Quality officials say the change will be healthier for residents because it allows burning on days more conducive to dispersing smoke.

The rule brings the state agency in line with a statute approved by Idaho lawmakers earlier this year.

Health advocates say the change betrays a 2008 agreement struck after a federal court in 2007 banned Idaho field burning. The groups say taking legal action again is a possibility.

STATE BUILDING PURCHASE

Otter announces plan to purchase $126M in state office space

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter is urging Idaho lawmakers to approve a resolution authorizing state officials to negotiate the purchase of $126 million in new office space.

Otter announced Thursday that he needs approval from the House and Senate to enable the Department of Administration to finalize the purchase office space on the former Hewlett-Packard campus in Boise. The buildings will house the Idaho State Tax Commission and possibly other state agencies.

The department has already signed a non-binding letter of intent to enter into talks with HP to purchase the complex.

Last year, several state agencies found themselves in a housing crisis after being alerted that owners of their Boise building had accepted an offer from a separate company.

The governor’s office said the state issued a request for proposals in October for state office space and received 46 responses.

XGR-OPEN MEETING LAW-EXPANSION

Bill expanding open meeting law clears Idaho House

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A measure expanding Idaho’s open meeting laws has won unanimous support from House lawmakers.

The proposal is one of the rare bills introduced this legislative session that increases the state’s laws protecting the public’s right to an open and transparent government. However, there have been several attempts introduced by lawmakers to limit public access, though they have not advanced far in the Statehouse.

According to the legislation, boards and commissions created by executive order would be subjected to the Idaho Open Meeting Law. Currently, these panels are not required to let the public know when they’re meeting, post an agenda or allow the public to attend the meeting.

House members advanced the bill on Thursday, in the middle of Sunshine Week. It’s a time of year around James Madison’s birthday, March 16, honoring his advocacy for the Bill of Rights.

XGR-COLLEGE BUDGET

Idaho Senate passes colleges, universities budget

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Senate has approved a slight budget increase for Idaho’s four-year colleges and universities.

Senate members voted 34-1 Thursday to give slightly money to college and universities next fiscal year, which starts on July 1, for a total of roughly $564 million or a 2.7 percent bump in state funding. The money will help expand a career readiness program at Boise State University, a health education program at Lewis-Clark State College and provide more funding for the University of Idaho to invest in library research.

The proposal must now pass the House before it can be signed into law by the governor.