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Labrador suggests GOP should cut off all hearings on appointments in response to president’s immigration action

Idaho GOP Rep. Raul Labrador, in an interview airing now on NPR, says he thinks the president’s planned executive action on immigration is illegal, and while shying away from talk of impeachment, had these suggestions on how congressional Republicans might respond:

“Well one of the things, I think, is Mitch McConnell should say first thing tomorrow morning that he will not allow any appointments that this administration has made. So there will be no hearings on the new attorney general, there will be no hearing on judges, there will be no hearing on anything this president wants and that he needs. I think that would be one action that we can take immediately.”

“I think we can look at funding, different agencies, different things, we could look at that. We can do something procedural. We can ask the president to have a comment a period before something like this major change happens. I think we can do that through asking for an administrative procedures act, put that in some sort of funding bill. That would have nothing to do with funding, that wouldn't shut down the government.”

You can see, and hear, the full interview online here.

Idaho agribusiness, Hispanic Chamber call for Congress to pass immigration reforms

A day ahead of the president’s speech tonight on executive action on immigration, Milk Producers of Idaho President Brent Olmstead and Ivan Castillo, president of the Idaho Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, held a press conference in Boise to call on Idaho’s congressional delegation to pass “meaningful immigration reform in Congress as soon as possible.” Olmstead said as Republicans take control of both houses of Congress, “Now is the time for them to live up to promises they made in the election and fix the broken immigration system.”

Castillo said, “When you give people the opportunity to come out of the shadows, you give people the opportunity to help this country.” The event was coordinated with the Partnership for a New American Economy, which ran a special section in the Washington Times yesterday featuring conservatives calling for immigration reform, and sponsored events around the country, including one in Washington, D.C. led by Americans for Tax Reform CEO Grover Norquist.

The Boise Weekly, in its report here on the Boise event, reported that Olmstead said there are permits available for an additional 40,000 head of cattle across the state that aren't being used because of a labor shortage. He called for reforms including a guest worker program, enhanced border security, work permits renewable in the United States through employers, English language learning and an increase in the number of visas available to highly educated or skilled immigrants. You can read the group's statement here. Olmstead said, “There's a visa to bring a ballerina into this country, but there isn't a visa to work on agricultural supply.”

Lawmakers concerned as state tries to salvage school broadband network

State Department of Administration Director Teresa Luna told Idaho EdNews today that the state is “exploring all opportunities” to keep broadband in the state’s high schools, as the state contests a court decision earlier this week voiding the $60 million contract for the Idaho Education Network. EdNews reporter Kevin Richert has a report here on what’s next for the IEN.

Meanwhile, I spoke with House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, about it today.  “At the end of the day, this is an important thing,” he said. “We need to get a new contract as quickly as possible and keep the service up and going during the school year.” He said, “You have school districts that are dependent on this service, they’re in the middle of a term, and … the less disruption the better here, on our way to a new contract that addresses the issues that have been raised.”

Two lawmakers who serve on the IEN Program Resources Advisory Council, or IPRAC, that oversees the network, told Richert they have concerns over the state’s motion this week for the judge to reconsider his ruling. “I’m a little frustrated, quite frankly,” said Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint. “It just seems like this is just another chapter in legal maneuvering, as opposed to solving the problem.” Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, doesn’t think the judge will be persuaded. “I think the odds of that are pretty low.” The panel has a special meeting scheduled for tomorrow morning, but the only item on its agenda is a closed-door executive session for a legal briefing on the case.

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, told Eye on Boise, “I think that we sometimes have trouble identifying when the horse we’ve been beating is dead. … My guess is if we want to get the e-rate money flowing back, we have to follow the judge’s rules and get that contract re-bid in some manner. And I think that’s the important thing, is to get the support for the telecommunications and broadband services the schools need.”

Federal e-rate money, which comes from a tax on telephones, was supposed to pay for three-quarters of the cost of the IEN, but the feds cut off the payments because of concerns about the contract issuance, forcing lawmakers to approve an $11.4 million bailout to keep the service from going dark. “Going to the mat to defend a process that’s not clean doesn’t make sense,” Rusche said. “To have that money sitting on the sidelines because we don’t want to do it in a clean manner, I don’t think that makes sense.”

Idaho ranks middling for percent of legislative races contested in the general election

The National Institute on Money in Politics reports that 36 percent of state legislative races in this year’s general election, nationwide, were uncontested, up from an average of 31 percent from 2001 to 2012. And in some states, including Wyoming, a large majority of races went uncontested. The group examined the 46 states in which there were legislative elections this year; Idaho had the 25th-most contested races, putting us in the middle of the pack. Sixty percent of Idaho’s legislative races were contested in the general election this year, the group reported. That’s down a bit from Idaho’s average from 2001 to 2012 of 67 percent.

The states with the most contested races, Michigan and Hawaii, both came in at 100 percent, followed by California at 96 percent. The states with the fewest were Arkansas and Wyoming, both at 36 percent; South Carolina, 28 percent; and Georgia at just 20 percent. You can see the group’s full report here.

Otter files additional arguments to 9th Circuit in marriage case

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has filed a motion with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals asking that the state be allowed to file additional arguments in its motion for an en banc review, a reconsideration by an 11-judge panel of the earlier three-judge panel’s rejection of Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional. “Since the Governor submitted his petition, the Sixth Circuit has issued an opinion counter to this Court’s ruling in the case, requiring a reply by the Governor regarding this new circuit split,” Otter’s attorneys wrote. They also cited an amicus brief filed in the Fifth Circuit same-sex marriage case in Louisiana, and submitted a copy, saying it has presented “a gold mine of scholarship regarding the practical, real-world impact of redefining marriage.”

“Plaintiffs … have no answer to Gov. Otter’s showing that by its ‘explicit terms’ Idaho’s marriage laws discriminate facially, not on the basis of sexual orientation, but on the basis of biological complementarity,” the lawyers wrote. “Removing the man-woman definition threatens serious harm to the institution of marriage, and, thus, to the children of heterosexual couples.” You can read Otter's brief here.

Recount requested in District 6 legislative race, set for next week

The Idaho Attorney General’s office has received a request for a recount of the Nez Perce County portion of a District 6 legislative race, from losing candidate Thyra Stevenson, a Republican. Stevenson lost to Democrat Dan Rudolph by 26 votes. Mike Kingsley, who lost to House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, by 48 votes, also is considering a recount request, but the Lewiston Tribune reported this week that he's waiting to see the outcome of Stevenson's. The district also includes Lewis County, but the recount was requested only for the 33 precincts in Nez Perce County. Deputy Attorney General Mike Gilmore and Chief Deputy Secretary of State Tim Hurst will head north to do the recount early next week, to get it done before the Thanksgiving holiday; click below for more.

Idaho voter participation hits record low

As Idaho certified its official election results on Wednesday, a troubling distinction emerged: This year’s election was the first time ever that less than 40 percent of Idaho’s voting-age population cast ballots in a general election. “Frankly, it was disappointing,” said Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa. “We broke through a barrier that we didn’t want to break through.”

The previous low – 40.21 percent of the voting age population – came in the last mid-term election in 2010, as Idaho has continued to see declining voter participation, a trend that’s been steady since 1980.

Idaho’s not alone – Ysursa said the national average turnout this year, in percent of voting-age population, was 37 percent. “It’s abysmal,” he said, “and we need to turn it around.”

Final turnout figures showed that 56.1 percent of Idaho’s registered voters participated in the election. The number of voters registered was roughly equal to that of the last mid-term election in 2010, but there were 12,441 fewer ballots cast. Just 37.59 percent of Idaho’s voting-age population voted in the Nov. 4 election. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

State asks judge to reconsider ruling voiding $60 million IEN contract

The Otter Administration is asking an Ada County judge to reconsider his ruling that the $60 million Idaho Education Network broadband contract was issued illegally and is void, reports Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News. Richert reports that the private attorneys for the state filed a 12-page motion Tuesday asking 4th District Judge Patrick Owen to either clarify or reconsider his decision; you can read his full report here.

The legal problems have thrown into limbo a broadband network that serves 219 high schools across Idaho, and already have cost the state millions. The judge ruled that then-state Department of Administration Director Mike Gwartney illegally cut Syringa Networks out of the contract in 2009 in favor of Qwest, now CenturyLink, and Education Networks of America, both of which are big donors to Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s campaigns.

Idaho GOP names former Sen. Larry Craig as finance chair on its executive committee

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Republican Party has named former U.S. Sen. Larry Craig as finance chair for the party’s executive committee. Party officials said Wednesday that Craig fills an empty volunteer fundraising position. Craig was arrested in a 2007 airport bathroom sex sting. He was accused of soliciting sex in a men's bathroom at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport by an undercover officer. According to the officer, Craig tapped his foot under the stall and signaled that he wanted sex. He retired in 2009, then faced legal battles with the Federal Elections Commission over his use of campaign funds. In September, a federal judge ordered him to pay nearly $242,000 to the U.S. Treasury for improperly using campaign funds to cover legal expenses involving his sex sting.

ISU eyes new house for school president

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: POCATELLO, Idaho (AP) — Idaho State University wants to spend about $600,000 to buy a new house for the school's president. The Idaho State Journal reports (http://bit.ly/1uQRQdE) that the State Board of Education will vote on whether or not to spend the money on Monday during a special teleconference meeting with school officials. The 6,000-square-foot house school officials are eyeing is south of the Pocatello city limits and includes several acres of land. The current house for ISU presidents was built in 1917 by a wealthy sheepherder and is a few blocks from the ISU campus. It became the home for ISU presidents in 1951.

Idaho one of seven states where number of unauthorized immigrants grew from ‘09 to ‘12

Idaho was among seven states where the number of unauthorized immigrants increased between 2009 and 2012, the AP reports, according to a report released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center. The report estimated that Idaho jumped from 35,000 unauthorized immigrants in 2009 to 50,000 in 2012, an increase of 15,000 people that was “driven by increases in unauthorized immigrants from countries other than Mexico,” the report said. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Nick Geranios. The Pew report found the overall number of unauthorized immigrants in the nation remained stable from 2009 to 2012, and was down from a 2007 peak of 12.2 million.

Medicaid redesign group opts for hybrid model, includes private insurance

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — An Idaho work group has tweaked its recommendations on expanding Medicaid eligibility in a last-minute effort to make their plan more politically palatable to lawmakers. Work group facilitator Corey Surber says the 15-member group approved a hybrid model Friday. The group had finalized a proposal to Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter back in August. However, lawmakers warned the proposal's blanket support of Medicaid expansion would fail to even be considered when the Republican-controlled Legislature convenes in January. Unlike in August, this proposal won the support of three out of the four lawmakers who sit on the work group, with only House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, voting no. Under the new plan, adults earning 100 percent to 138 percent of the poverty line could purchase private insurance on Idaho's health insurance marketplace using federal dollars. Adults below 100 percent of the poverty line, Idaho's lowest-income participants, would be provided Medicaid coverage. Idaho currently doesn't cover adults on Medicaid unless they're disabled or have children; non-disabled parents are covered only up to 26 percent of the poverty line.

Report finds Idaho has bigger wage gaps for women, minorities than nation

A new report on pay disparities finds that women and minorities in Idaho who work full-time are far less likely to earn a living wage than the population as a whole, and though such disparities also show up nationwide, they’re more pronounced in Idaho. The report “Equity in the Balance,” which examined pay disparities in 10 states including Idaho, found that for single adults in Idaho working full-time, just 51 percent make a living wage, which for Idaho was calculated at $14.57 an hour, enough to cover basics including food, housing, transportation and child care. For women, that percentage fell to 43 percent; for Latinos, 31 percent; for people of color, 39 percent; and for Native Americans, 37 percent. Even bigger disparities were found for households with children.

Nationally, the study estimated that 61 percent of all workers earn a living wage, with the number falling to 57 percent for women, 42 percent for Latinos, 52 percent for people of color and 50 percent for Native Americans.

“It’s more pronounced in Idaho,” said Ben Henry, a senior policy associate with Seattle-based Alliance for a Just Society, the lead author of the report, which also was produced in collaboration with the Idaho Community Action Network. “Women and people of color just simply are not making ends meet,” he said. “It’s concerning and sobering to say the least.”

The full report is online here. The sponsors say raising the minimum wage, expanding Medicaid and other steps could ease the burden for low-wage workers in Idaho. Idaho currently ties its minimum wage to the federal minimum wage, so it’s $7.25 an hour, a rate that hasn’t changed in five years. Last year, legislation was introduced to phase in an increase in Idaho’s minimum wage to $9.75 an hour, but the bill, sponsored by three Democratic state senators, never got a hearing.

Land Board receives final report on endowment mix that disfavors commercial property investments

Idaho’s state Land Board accepted the final version of a consultant’s report today on the asset allocation of the state’s endowment investments, including both land and financial investments; it found that timber land is an excellent investment for the endowment, grazing land is just marginal, and individual commercial properties in Idaho are not a good investment for the endowment. “It’s the concentration issue, the lack of diversity,” explained consultant Janet Becker-Wold of Callan and Associates. “If something happens to that property, then your whole portfolio can suffer.” To be a good investment for the state’s $1.8 billion-plus endowment, she said, “You either have to do it bigger and more diversified, or just don’t do it at all.”

The board is scheduled to discuss how to respond to the consultant’s reporting at its December meeting. “This is exactly what we have been needing in order to help us fulfill our fiduciary duty,” said Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. “It certainly gives us a record that we can use and sustain our decision-making.” Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said, “I think we’re going to have a good, positive blueprint forward, and a lot of that will be fleshed out in our December meeting. It was time to have a look.”

Ysursa said the consultant’s analysis will help the state look at the whole endowment, rather than considering each piece of it separately – the timber land, the investment fund, etc. “The whole idea was to get a study of the entire scenario,” he said. “We called time-out on commercial … over a year ago to examine that, get independent verification and expertise. … We were headed into areas where we didn’t have expertise.”

Investments into some Idaho commercial properties, including a mini-storage business, raised concerns from critics including some state lawmakers about competing with private businesses in Idaho. A legislative interim committee is now examining the issue; the consultants presented the report to that panel on Friday.

Ysursa said, “We’re good at timber – we’re in the market, we’ve been doing it for years.” As for grazing land, of which the endowment owns plenty but the study found only marginal returns, Ysursa said the state is in the midst of a long-term study of grazing fees that could help chart a new direction.   

Earnings from the state endowment largely benefit public schools; the Land Board is required by the state Constitution to manage the endowment for maximum long-term returns. The consultant’s analysis found that timber land is a good balance for the volatility of the endowment’s financial investments, and that the overall allocation of the endowment’s assets is appropriate. It recommended “prudent divestment” over time of the commercial real estate holdings.

Labrador’s Idaho County shooting range bill passes the House

Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador's bill to transfer 31 acres in the Riggins area from federal to Idaho County ownership for a shooting range passed the House late Tuesday on a voice vote. To become law, it still needs Senate passage and the president's signature; click below for Labrador's full news release on the bill's passage. Labrador, who said the federal Bureau of Land Management backs the move, said, “Given the broad support, I’m hoping the Senate will move quickly to pass this bill.” It's the third Labrador bill to pass the House.

Idaho exchange part of big success story for Silicon Valley tech firm

The successful launch of Idaho’s new health insurance exchange website is part of a big success story for a Silicon Valley tech firm that's providing the software through a $37 million contract, and also working with exchanges in California, New Mexico and Mississippi.  GetInsured, headed by two tech entrepreneurs with a history of successful startups, formed as a private insurance exchange company in 2005, then got into the state exchange business after the Affordable Care Act passed; it beat out companies 10 times its size for the New Mexico contract, which is worth $39.9 million. Idaho's paid it $26 million so far; the project's on budget and on time.

“It was a great implementation,” said company spokeswoman Andrea Riggs, in Palo Alto, Calif. “It went very smoothly. … It’s a testament to the power of software as a service and the platform that we’re using.” The company’s co-founders, Chini Krishnan, above, and Shankar Srinivasan, at right, both have two-decade track records in the high-tech industry. Krishnan, the CEO, earlier played a key role in an innovative secure browser released by Enterprise Integration Technologies, and his last company, Valicert Inc., went public in 2000 and merged with Tumbleweed Technologies in 2003. Srinivasan, the chief operating officer, served as vice president of eBusiness services at JP Morgan Chase, co-founded CyberBills, and was a member of the founding team behind WebMD. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

One House leadership contest already shaping up: Youngblood vs. Crane

Melissa Davlin of Idaho Reports writes on her blog here that there’s at least one contested leadership race shaping up in the Idaho House: Rep. Rick Youngblood, R-Nampa, is running for House Assistant Majority Leader, as is the current holder of that post, Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa. Crane had earlier said he was considering a run for speaker against Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, but then decided against it, and said in October he’ll run for his current leadership position again.

Youngblood told Idaho Reports he was first encouraged to run for Crane’s post when Crane was considering leaving it, but he’s in now, planning to challenge Crane.

Sierra Club announces free electric vehicle charging station in downtown Boise

The Idaho chapter of the Sierra Club is opening a free electric vehicle charging station in downtown Boise, and encouraging other businesses and government offices downtown to do the same. “For a business, it’s a fairly simple and inexpensive perk that they could give for their employees, to put in a couple of charging stations,” said Harold Orien, chapter president.

The Sierra Club’s station, located at its downtown office at 503 W. Franklin St., will officially open tomorrow, when an 11 a.m. press conference is planned, but it’s already up and running. There’s just one charging station, and most cars are expected to need to charge for about two hours, so it likely will be able to accommodate up to five vehicles a day. There’s no charge for using the station. “We are going to allow anyone that wants to use it to simply register and come in,” Orien said. “We’re just trying to encourage overall the usage of electric vehicles and charging stations.”

He noted that the station is near the state Capitol, City Hall, and downtown shops, restaurants and offices. The club hopes to encourage people to use electric cars for commuting to work and when visiting downtown businesses or attractions, to reduce pollution caused by gas-burning vehicles.

The Sierra Club’s charging station will work for all brands and models of electric vehicle. Most take two to three hours for a 50 percent charge; Orien said the idea is to charge the cars back up to where they were before the trip downtown, so they can make the return trip on electric power. “We’re going to monitor the usage of it and then add more stations as needed,” he said. For more information, call the Sierra Club at 384-1023.

Idaho insurance exchange reports flawless enrollment launch over the weekend

Idaho’s state health insurance exchange – unlike Washington’s – reported a flawless launch over the weekend to its second open enrollment period, as the state shifted from relying on a federal technology platform to its own home-built one. “It’s 360 degrees different,” said Pat Kelly, Your Health Idaho executive director. At last year’s launch, he said, “It just plain didn’t work.” This time, he said, “We had a very successful first couple of days, no technology problems to speak of.” The Washington state exchange went down early Saturday due to a glitch over calculating tax credit information; it started back up on Sunday.

Idaho had one of the nation’s strongest enrollment rates through its state exchange last year, with 76,000 Idahoans using it to enroll in health plans and, if they qualified, receive tax credits to offset some of the costs. That made Idaho third in the nation for exchange participation, behind only Vermont and Florida.

Idaho’s exchange, approved by state lawmakers two years ago after a big fight and at the behest of GOP Gov. Butch Otter, allows the state to control the marketplace, the carriers and the plans that are offered, and to use Idaho insurance agents and brokers. Had Idaho not started its own exchange, under the federal Affordable Care Act, its residents would have used a federal insurance exchange, which charges higher fees – 3.5 percent of premiums, vs. Your Health Idaho’s 1.5 percent fee.

But Idaho wasn’t ready last year to have a website up and running for its exchange, so it relied on the federal exchange website, making Idaho’s exchange a federal-state partnership. Now, that’s all happening in-state. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Change coming to committee chairmanships, some leadership posts in Legislature

When the Idaho Legislature convenes it organizational session on Dec. 4, six committee chairmanships and two leadership posts will be up for grabs, due to election outcomes, retirements and other moves. The chairmanships: Senate Education, Senate Resources, House Business, House Local Government, House Resources, and House Ways & Means. The leadership posts are Senate majority caucus chair and House assistant minority leader. You can read my full Sunday column here; it also includes a report on the recently filed arguments in Idaho’s same-sex marriage case, in which Gov. Butch Otter is seeking an en banc re-hearing from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals; and a state budget update.

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About this blog

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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