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We have completed the first half of the 66th legislative session and will start the second half on Feb. 27.

The House Appropriations Committee has been going through every line of every agency budget. We expect that the state budget, as it leaves the House at crossover, will have spending below the governor's recommendation. We expect an increase in ongoing expenses of about 4 percent.

The House budget will call for a 2 percent salary increase each year of the biennium for all state employees. We are also budgeting to continue to pay for 100 percent of the employees' health insurance costs. Because those costs are up front in the process, the budget will reflect the employees getting a 5 percent increase the first year of the biennium and 2 percent the second. Paying 100 percent of the employees' insurance costs adds another 3 percent to the budgeted amount.

The House budget does not provide funding for any of the Legacy Fund proposals coming from the executive branch, with the exception of the unmanned aircraft proposal, but general fund dollars are designated for that cost.

The three divisions of House Appropriations have completed their work and the full committee is reviewing each of the agency budgets as well as policy bills containing state funding, before they are sent to the House floor for final decision.

House Bill 1426, regarding dental therapists, was defeated in the House last week. The bill sponsors are convinced it would have provided increased quality dental care in our state by using a new mid-level provider called dental therapists. The bill's sponsors are also convinced that mid-level providers like dental therapists will eventually be accepted in the state.

The House defeated House Bill 1500 that would have started the process to change the State Board of Higher Education to a two-board structure. The suggestion came from the Governor's Task Force on Higher Education. The question would have eventually had to be decided by a statewide vote because it is a constitutional question. However, the idea won't be forwarded to the Senate; only 19 of the 94 House members voted for the bill.

The House dealt with several tax bills. It approved House Bill 1530, which will use Legacy Fund earnings to reduce income taxes. House Bill 1172 passed, which will exempt Social Security earnings from the state income tax. The Senate will deal with both bills after crossover.

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Rep. Jim Schmidt, R-Huff, is vice chairman of the Education and Environment Division of House Appropriations Committee.

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