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Eye On Boise

Public invited to Monday retirement celebration for Ysursa in the Capitol

The public is invited to a retirement celebration on Monday, Dec. 22, honoring Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, who is retiring after 12 years as Idaho’s secretary of state and 40 years in the office, including many years as chief deputy to then-Secretary of State Pete Cenarrussa. The celebration will be from 2-4 p.m. in the 2nd floor rotunda of the state Capitol, and is intended to wish Ysursa “Agur Eta Zorionak!” That’s Basque for “Goodbye and Good Luck in Your Retirement.”

Student journalist makes waves: Plagiarism with a purpose

A local high school newspaper included a plagiarized editorial in its latest issue – intentionally. Student writer Harmony Soto, after first contacting Boise Weekly writer George Prentice for permission, published his piece as her own – then acknowledged it in a biting editorial note, reports Melissa Davlin of Idaho Reports. “You may find parts of this article similar to previous articles written by George Prentice for the Boise Weekly,” Soto wrote. “We could apologize and say this is a mistake on part of the Borah Senator Staff, but if our new state superintendent was able to get away with it, is it even worth it?”

The student was commenting on a plagiarism scandal that arose during state schools Superintendent-elect Sherri Ybarra’s campaign, in which Ybarra acknowledged that campaign staffers copied some material on her campaign website from the campaign website of her Democratic opponent, Jana Jones. Prentice told Davlin, “I’m not certain how I feel about having my work plagiarized. On the other hand, I’m fascinated that it’s part of a bigger conversation about quite a bit of aggregating and borrowing and just flat-out stealing that is going on, that I can’t remember any time in my lifetime as much as I see now. If it is part of the bigger conversation, that’s not a bad conversation to have.”

Davlin’s full report is online here at her blog, “Idaho Reports in Blog Form.”

Brundage to open Friday for the ski season

Brundage Mountain has announced it will open Friday for the ski season, with three lifts, the BlueBird Quad, Lakeview Lift and Easy Street, operating from 9:30 to 4:30 and seven-day operations planned. Early-season conditions remain on the lower half of the mountain, according to spokeswoman April Whitney, due to recent warm temperatures, so the Bear Chair and the lower portions of some runs won't be open, but conditions are expected to be excellent on the Lakeview side; Brundage has gotten 6 inches of new snow since Saturday, and has a 10-inch base but 36 inches at the summit. “Terrain for beginners will, unfortunately, be limited,” Whitney said. “We have some snow in the forecast and will open more terrain as soon as it's safe and feasible to do so.” Lift tickets will be discounted to $48 for adults; there's more info here. Meanwhile, Bogus Basin, which is reporting a 13” base, is hoping to open for the holiday break by this weekend but has made no announcement; there's a chance of snow in the forecast from tonight through the weekend.

Otter: Supreme Court should hear Idaho’s input before deciding on gay marriage

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter believes the state’s arguments against gay marriage are so compelling and comprehensive that the U.S. Supreme Court should wait until it gets Idaho’s case before deciding on the issue. In arguments filed with the nation’s highest court, lawyers for Otter said waiting for Idaho’s case would help Supreme Court justices resolve “the marriage-litigation wave in all respects.”

Attorneys Gene Schaerr and Tom Perry filed those arguments in a friend-of-the-court brief for a petition to have the Supreme Court hear a same-sex marriage case out of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; you can read Otter’s 31-page brief here.

Otter lists several reasons why he thinks Idaho’s case is the “best vehicle” for the whole same-sex marriage issue to be decided. Among them: Idaho’s case includes both the question of in-state marriages and recognition of out-of-state marriages; it would test the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals’ application of a heightened standard of scrutiny for discrimination based on sexual orientation; it brings up religious liberty issues; and Idaho officials, unlike those in many states, have mounted a vigorous defense of their ban on gay marriage.

The legal brief cites “the enormous societal risks accompanying a genderless-marriage regime,” and says, “Common sense and a wealth of social-science data teach that children do best emotionally, socially, intellectually and economically when reared in an intact home by both biological parents.” “Of all the pending court of appeals cases,” the lawyers write, Idaho’s “is the only one in which public officials presented a robust ‘institutional’ defense of the man-woman definition of marriage.”

Deborah Ferguson, attorney for the four Idaho couples who successfully sued to overturn Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage, said she’d oppose any petition for the U.S. Supreme Court to take up Idaho’s case, “as the 9th Circuit correctly decided the marriage equality issue.” Idaho’s constitutional ban on gay marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships was overturned last May in federal court; the state appealed to the 9th Circuit but lost there, too. Idaho has a request pending for reconsideration from the 9th Circuit, but Otter’s brief says if it’s not granted within days, he will file an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 5. Same-sex marriage became legal in Idaho on Oct. 15. You can read my full story here at

Lawmakers charged with overseeing IEN huddle with lawyers, take no action

The group of lawmakers charged with overseeing the troubled Idaho Education Network met today, but took no action, just meeting with lawyers behind closed doors, reports Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News; his full report is online here. The group, known as IPRAC, for IEN Program Resource Advisory Council, was huddled with its lawyers for just over an hour, Richert reports. In November, District Judge Patrick Owen voided the multimillion-dollar contract for the network, ruling it was issued illegally to Qwest, now Century Link, and Education Networks of America. The state has requested the judge to reconsider.

Idaho exchange enrolls nearly 75,000 during first month of open enrollment

Your Health Idaho, Idaho’s health insurance exchange, reported today that it processed 74,689 enrollments in the first month of this year’s open enrollment period, including both new applicants and people renewing their coverage from last year. “There is a huge demand for health insurance in our state,” said the exchange’s executive director, Pat Kelly. “We are pleased so many Idahoans have already found a health insurance plan that fits their needs. However, we still have a lot of work to do before open enrollment ends and many more Idahoans to help.” The figures are for enrollments from Nov. 15 to Dec. 14.

Kelly told exchange board members Tuesday that the number fell somewhere mid-range of the exchange's projections, the AP reported. Last year, about 76,000 Idahoans enrolled in health insurance through the exchange. This year’s open enrollment period runs through Feb. 15, 2015.

Error causes over-billing on North Idaho school district’s tax levy

Wallace School District residents got a surprise in their property tax bills last month – a school bond payment that should have cost the average homeowner about $61 this year instead came out at $183. It was a mistake – the Idaho district had refinanced the 30-year bond that a decade ago built Wallace Junior-Senior High School, where 244 students now attend the 7th through 12th grade. That move two years ago was designed to save the local taxpayers money, not cost them more; all told, Superintendent Bob Ranells estimates it’ll save taxpayers $100,000 and also shorten the repayment period.

But as the district transitioned from the old loan to the new one, an error occurred, and the amount the district certified to the county for tax bills for 2014 included both the new payment and the old one, tripling the amount that taxpayers were billed for the year. The actual bond payment that’s due for the year is $187,494; the amount the district certified to the county was $559,610. For the owner of a $150,000 house with a homeowner’s exemption, that’s the difference between $61.39 for the year and $183.22, according to Shoshone County Deputy Auditor Linda Daugherty.

Asked if she’s been hearing a lot about the overbilling, Daugherty said, “Oh, yes.” Under state law, Shoshone County commissioners are the ones who will decide what to do: Re-calculate, re-bill and issue refunds; or do nothing, letting this year’s overpayments hold over to cover future years’ bond payments. Few are backing that option; Ranells said he’s recommending rebilling, even with an estimated $4,000 cost. The county has set a public hearing on the issue for tomorrow; you can read my full story here at

Idaho man convicted of killing grizzly bear

An Idaho man has been sentenced to 2 years' probation after Idaho Fish and Game officials said he illegally killed a grizzly bear, the AP reports. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game announced the conviction on Monday, saying it was the first time the state has successfully prosecuted such a case since grizzly bears were protected under the Endangered Species Act in 1975. Normally the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service handles those types of cases. Idaho Fish and Game says 23-year-old Kenneth Tyler Sommer, of Newdale, Idaho, was hunting for black bears in eastern Idaho when the grizzly was shot. Sommer told conservation officers he shot the grizzly after it charged him and his wife, but Idaho Fish and Game investigators said they found no evidence that the bear had ever charged.

Idaho distributors threaten 10 Barrel’s brewpub license for Boise

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho beer distributors are taking issue with a Boise brewpub now that the business has been purchased by Anheuser-Busch. The Idaho Statesman ( reports the beer outlets contend that 10 Barrel brewpub is now too big to operate as a small brewery under Idaho state law. Idaho has a three-tiered system that requires alcohol producers, distributors and retail sellers to operate independently of each other. The law is designed to prevent large producers from controlling the distribution chain and squeezing out competitors. Members of the Idaho Beer and Wine Distributors Association say the Anheuser-Busch purchase means 10 Barrel now occupies two tiers. Currently, the Idaho State Police's Alcohol Beverage Control unit only counts beer produced in Idaho. Lt. Russ Wheatley says the state will review the complaint. 10 Barrel brewery produces about 42,000 barrels sold in Oregon, Idaho and Washington state.

Idaho Statesman reporter Zach Kyle's full report is online here.

Otter checks to make sure Lands contract extension won’t be with any campaign donors

There was an odd moment late in today’s Land Board meeting, when the board had gone through an array of recommendations related to a consultant’s report on how to better manage the state endowment’s land assets; click below for the department's full announcement of those management changes. The recommendations, which include prudently divesting from investments in commercial property, call for a number of steps to bring more professional management to the endowment’s land investment portfolio, including hiring some new staff at the state Department of Lands and extending a consulting agreement with Callan Associates, the consulting firm that did the report, for the next four years at $145,000 a year.

Gov. Butch Otter interrupted with this question: “Can you tell me if Callan Associates and any of its principals donated to any member of this board’s campaign?” Janet Becker-Wold, who was on the phone for the meeting and was the lead presenter of the consultant’s report, responded, “I didn’t. Sally didn’t.” That referred to her co-author, Sally Haskins.

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, who is retiring, said, “I know they didn’t give to my campaign, I’ll tell ya that.”

Otter asked Attorney General Lawrence Wasden if anyone who did receive such a donation would need to abstain from a vote on extending the consulting agreement. Wasden said not necessarily. “The procedure would be, give notice to the board of the potential conflict,” he said. “I’m not aware of any of ‘em that have donated to my campaign – I’m just not that popular.”

State schools Supt. Tom Luna said, “If there’s any question in anyone’s mind, then although it’s not required, there’s nothing preventing us from doing an RFP process. It takes longer, but if there’s any question, that would be a process that I think would be more than fair.”

Otter responded, “I apologize for not being able to tell you if a donation was made to my individual campaign. I don’t want to delay the process here, but at the same token, I think it should be of concern to each of us.”

Ysursa noted that the state already issued a Request for Proposals for the Callan consulting contract. Tongue in cheek, he said, “And I believe there was a plethora of candidates who submitted their proposals – we had one.”

At the board’s request, Betsie Kimbrough, election worker in the Idaho Secretary of State’s office, checked the campaign finance donation records. “I don’t find them contributing to anybody,” she reported. “I searched the whole database for every candidate.” Callan Associates is based in San Francisco, was formed as an employee-owned investment consulting firm in 1973, and now also has offices in Chicago, Denver, Atlanta and New Jersey. Ron Peyton of San Francisco is its chairman and CEO.

Three-year cabin site auction plan for 180 lots wins Land Board approval

Plans for additional auctions of state endowment-owned cottage sites on Priest and Payette lakes won approval from the state Land Board today, calling for 60 lots a year to be auctioned for the next three years. A random drawing, conducted by the Idaho Lottery, was made from among all those leasing lots who want their lots to go into the auction, and priority order numbers were assigned to each lot, letting them know in which order each would come up for auction. At auction, the current lessees can bid on the land under their cabins, as can others; the vast majority thus far have sold for the appraised value, which is the starting bid, to the current lessee. So far, Idaho has auctioned off 31 cottage sites at Payette Lake and 59 at Priest Lake.

There were actually 278 lake lot lessees interested in auctions and issued numbers, 72 percent of the 385 total state lots at the two lakes. If a lot comes up for auction and the lessee isn’t ready to proceed, the next number on the list moves up, if that one is ready. The proceeds from the auctions go largely to the permanent endowment fund for schools.

Ysursa: ‘Honor and privilege to serve’

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa says he’s attended more than 400 state Land Board meetings in the past 40 years; he’s retiring at the end of his current term and participated in his final one today. He lauded the board for sticking to its constitutional mission: “That is the No. 1 goal of the Land Board is to maximize income for the long term for our beneficiaries under Article 9, Section 8 of the Constitution,” Ysursa said. The largest of those beneficiaries is Idaho’s K-12 public schools.

“I think we should never forget that the most valuable asset in the state of Idaho are its people, those are the ones we work for,” Ysursa said. “There’s also ones we work with, so I want to thank the Department of Lands staff over the years for the good work that they’ve done. Director (Tom) Schultz and others have really focused in on that mandate, again, it’s all about getting money for the beneficiaries. It’s been my honor and privilege to serve, and I appreciate it.”

Schultz presented both outgoing Land Board members – Ysursa and state schools Supt. Tom Luna – with paintings of Priest Lake, in memory of the board’s long dealings with cottage sites on the lake.

Luna: Endowment making a difference for Idaho school kids

Outgoing Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna had some parting words at his final state Land Board meeting today, as he ends his eight years in office. “Numerous times a year, I often press this board for larger and larger distributions (to schools ) – and there’s a reason for that,” he said. “These dollars that are provided to our public schools provide us the opportunity to go a little bit above and beyond the ability of the Legislature, and so I thought I’d walk you through just a couple programs.” The state’s endowment, overseen by the Land Board and the state Department of Lands, provides schools $32 million to $34 million year, Luna said. “So what do you get for $32 million to $34 million dollars?”

He pointed to the Idaho Space and Aerospace Scholars program, through which 500 Idaho students have now attended space camp and worked with NASA; state funding for all Idaho high school juniors to take the SAT and sophomores to take the PSAT; $16 million in performance pay for teachers this year through district leadership awards; advanced programs through which tens of thousands of students have earned college credit while still in high school this year; and the state’s math initiative.

“And while we’re always looking for more and I would encourage you to continue to pursue to find ways to increase the distribution, I would just thank you for your dedication to this fund and to this endowment and the good that it’s brought to Idaho kids,” Luna said, “and here’s the evidence.”

Want to be a federal district judge? Senators looking for possible nominees

Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch are asking people interested in becoming Idaho’s next federal district judge – replacing longtime U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge when he takes senior status next summer – to fill out a questionnaire and send it in to their offices. “We’ve had some interest,” said Lindsay Nothern, spokesman for Crapo.

President Barack Obama will name the next judge, and there's no guarantee he'll pick the Idaho GOP senators' nominee, but the Senate does confirm the choice and generally defers to the state's Senate delegation on the pick. Crapo's office says the ideal nominee would be someone “amenable to both parties.” It's a lifetime appointment.

Lodge, Idaho’s longest serving judge ever, will take senior status on July 3, 2015; between his state and federal service, he’s been on the bench more than 50 years. Idaho hasn’t had a new federal district judge appointed since 1995, when current U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill was named to the court. He succeeded the late U.S. District Judge Harold Ryan, who took senior status in 1992.

Typically, the highest-ranking member of Idaho’s congressional delegation who is of the same party as the president would play a key role in the nomination, but Idaho doesn’t have any Democrats in its delegation; Crapo and Risch both are Republicans. You can read my full story here at

Insurance exchange extends deadline amid long phone waits, technical glitches, but tonight’s midnight deadline still on for tax credits

Idaho’s state health insurance exchange, YourHealthIdaho, has extended the deadline to sign up for health insurance that starts Jan. 1 to Dec. 20, but people still need to sign up before midnight tonight to get tax credits that help cover the cost; then they can have until the 20th to select a plan. Click below for the exchange’s notice about the extension, which doesn’t mention the reason for it – but the Idaho Statesman reported on Saturday that telephone wait times at the exchange averaged 43 minutes in December amid last-minute demand spikes and some technical problems. The Statesman’s full report is online here.

Exchange Executive Director Pat Kelly told the Statesman Friday that “operational” problems, including the long wait times, coincided with a flood of demand and prompted Your Health Idaho to make the deadline extension; he also cited a technical glitch, in which some Idahoans received emails to activate their accounts to shop for insurance that included broken links. As a result, some consumers, agents, brokers and community members helping people enroll have tried to create two Your Health Idaho accounts, which causes problems and “can take significant time to fix,” he said. Kelly told the newspaper the exchange is “working to train additional call center representatives on how to fix the problem quickly.”

Idaho names new state fire marshal

Knute Sandahl has been named Idaho’s new state fire marshal, effective next week, replacing former Fire Marshal Mark Larson, who retired in October. “He brings a wealth of experience and industry knowledge to his new position, and I am confident that he will continue to do an outstanding job in his new role,” said state Insurance Director Bill Deal. Sandahl is currently the chief deputy fire marshal; he’s been with the state fire marshal’s office in 2006 and has had a 31-year career in fire safety, including serving as an EMT, police commander, deputy coroner, and fire district captain.

Cow dodging slaughter leads officers on chase through streets of Pocatello

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: POCATELLO, Idaho (AP) — A 1,000-pound cow being prepared for slaughter jumped a 6-foot fence and bolted through the streets of Pocatello before police shot and killed it following a lengthy pursuit. Pocatello Police Chief Scott Marchand tells the Idaho State Journal ( that his officers fired two shots at the heifer because it posed a safety risk. The cow had escaped from Anderson Custom Pack, a meat processing business, on Friday afternoon. Early in the chase, an officer shot the cow in the head but the wounded animal kept running. The cow led police and animal control officers on a chase on foot and in vehicles through the city's north side. It rammed an animal control truck and two police cars. The animal was eventually cornered in a residential backyard about 3 miles away, and was shot and killed by a police officer.

Labrador’s gun range, grazing bills pass, but he votes against them

Two bills sponsored by Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador, one extending grazing leases and the other transferring a shooting range from the BLM to Idaho County, have passed the Senate and are headed for the president's desk, Labrador announced today - though in the end, Labrador voted against them. That's because they were attached to the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, in the closing days of the 113th Congress, Labrador's office said in a new release.

“The NDAA was totally unrelated to the substance of Labrador’s bills, which had previously passed with bipartisan support,” Labrador's announcement said. “Labrador voted against the defense bill because he continues to object to the NDAA on both foreign policy and civil liberties grounds. He opposes the NDAA's authorization of $1.6 billion to arm and train Syrian rebels and continues to have concerns about the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism.” Click below for the full announcement.

Standing-room only for open government workshop in Sandpoint

It was standing-room only in Sandpoint yesterday afternoon as 75-plus people filled the Sandpoint Library’s community room for a workshop on Idaho’s open meeting and public records laws – a record turnout for Sandpoint, which had half as big a crowd the last time IDOG’s open government sessions came to town in 2011. “In the simplest terms, the open meeting law is your ticket to the show, and the show is government,” Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane told the crowd. “When in doubt, open it up.”

Those attending ranged from the county sheriff to local elected officials to government employees, reporters, a newly elected state lawmaker and lots of interested citizens. However, the Bonner County Daily Bee, which co-sponsored the session, pointed out the next day that Sandpoint city officials skipped the workshop – and held a controversial, closed-to-the-public meeting about oil and coal train traffic in the region the same afternoon.

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, the lead presenter at the workshop, said, “It’s important that we have an understanding about how to access information in our government. It’s really important, and the reason for that is the greatest strength in our system is public involvement. … Our system works because people can have access to information.”

New Daily Bee publisher Jim McKiernan welcomed the crowd, and members of the audience participated in a series of humorous skits as they learned about the provisions and requirements of the Idaho Open Meeting Law and the Idaho Public Records Act. Attendees also left with handouts including the Attorney General’s manuals on both laws.

North Idaho officials bar public from coal train meeting

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: SANDPOINT, Idaho (AP) — City officials in Sandpoint are defending banning the public from a meeting about oil and coal train traffic attended by three area mayors, a state senator, county commissioner and officials from the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality. Sandpoint Mayor Carrie Logan tells the Bonner County Daily Bee ( that the meeting Thursday was for information only and no actions were taken. Sandpoint city attorney Scot Campbell says the meeting didn't have to be open to the public because there was only one county commissioner and a council member present. The region is dealing with increased coal and oil train traffic that has many residents concerned. The closed meeting was held on the same day Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden visited the city to educate officials about Idaho's open meeting laws.

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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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