At 4:30 this morning, Boise Police were called to a scene where a driver had passed out at the wheel of a running car, his head on the horn and the horn blaring non-stop; citizens called the cops. The suspect, Levi R. Curtis, 33, “appeared to be very intoxicated,” police said. With prior DUI convictions, he was charged with felony DUI. And that was the second one of the night.
Two and a half hours earlier, police had stopped a moped rider after several illegal lane changes; that suspect, Anton D. Moore, 35, also “appeared to be very intoxicated” and registered a .17 blood-alcohol level. He, too, had prior DUI convictions and was charged with felony DUI.
As the holiday weekend kicks off, more than 70 law enforcement agencies around the state have additional officers on the road patrolling, as part of a statewide mobilization from May 20 to June 2 funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The mobilization, which funds additional overtime hours for traffic patrol officers, is aimed at seatbelt enforcement, but in Idaho, with no primary seatbelt law, officers have to pull drivers over for another offense in order to issue seatbelt tickets. “Basically they’re going to be out doing traffic enforcement,” said Steve Grant, Idaho Transportation Department spokesman.
Meanwhile, the AAA is projecting that more than 164,000 Idahoans – 10.3 percent of the population – will be out on the roads over the holiday weekend, driving to their holiday destinations. Be careful out there…
Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo is defending his former campaign manager who lost $250,000 in campaign funds in a risky investment, while also calling the incident “discouraging” and “deeply distressing.” Crapo’s then-campaign manager, Jake Ball, loaned $250,000 in campaign funds in 2008 to a longtime friend’s now-defunct investment company, Blueberry Guru LLC, which invested it into real estate ventures in Nevada and California that promised a quick profit. Instead, the money disappeared.
Crapo said he wasn’t informed about the bad loan until late 2010; he worked with the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s office to try to pursue the matter, but to no avail; now, he’s filed amended campaign finance reports for 2008 and 2009 to reflect the loss.
In his quarterly telephone town hall meeting with Idahoans this past week, Crapo addressed the issue before taking questions on other matters. Among his revelations: Crapo said 1st District Rep. Raul Labrador was informed about the investment loss when Ball left Crapo’s staff to become Labrador’s district manager in Idaho in December of 2010. “At that time, my staff informed me that he had informed Rep. Labrador about the circumstance,” Crapo said. When the news of the investment loss surfaced two weeks ago, Ball quit his job with Labrador, saying he wanted to pursue a business opportunity.
“Jake had been working for me in different capacities since about 2002, starting as an intern and holding positions in Washington, D.C. and in Idaho, in my Senate office before moving to my campaign, and he had always exhibited good judgment in those positions,” Crapo said. “In fact, during his tenure as campaign manager, through traditional investments which are government-backed CDs, he had brought in over $300,000 in interest payments. But this one bad loan was made and it was very discouraging.”
Crapo said he’s “taken steps to ensure nothing like this ever occurs again on my campaign.” Now, he said, “At least two separate individuals review and approve any expenditure.” Plus, an accounting firm, Professional Data Services, has been hired to oversee all campaign expenditures and reports. “This is a very discouraging circumstance,” Crapo said. “I deeply appreciate those who have contributed to may campaign over the years. And it’s distressing to have to report this matter not only to those donors, but to all Idahoans.”
Crapo’s quarterly tele-town halls are posted as audio on his Senate website, but you won’t find these comments there; they’ve been edited out. The reason: “It’s because we can’t post on the Senate’s official website anything of a campaign nature,” said Crapo spokesman Lindsay Nothern. “We had a big discussion about that, because we wanted to put (up) the whole thing, but we checked with the Ethics Committee,” and it wasn’t permitted.
The city of Jerome has backed off from its attempt to bill a downtown apartment building owner $96,000 for firefighting costs after a fire destroyed her building and damaged two others, the AP reports. “The invoice sent to Sylvia Moore was sent in error. No recovery costs will be sought against Ms. Moore for the fire occurring upon her property,” city officials said in a statement issued Thursday. After receiving the three-page, itemized bill, Moore told KTVB-TV, “You think you've got a fire department that's paid with your tax money. I don't know what to think. Really I don't.” Click below for the full AP report.
Gov. Butch Otter and Idaho Health Insurance Exchange Board Chairman Stephen Weeg are defending Idaho's work toward a state-based insurance exchange, after a Wall Street Journal article today pointed to decisions by Idaho and New Mexico to make use the federal government's computer platform for the exchange's initial launch as a sign that the two states are no longer committed to state, rather than federal, exchanges.
At its May 9 meeting, the Idaho exchange board voted to move on “parallel tracks” toward setting up its own IT platform for its health insurance exchange, and exploring the benefits of using the federal government's platform temporarily, until Idaho's is ready to go. Today, the board voted to take the same step for the “SHOP” portion of the exchange, which stands for Small Business Health Options Program, and is the portion of the exchange that will serve small businesses, while the rest is for individuals purchasing insurance plans.
Asked by other board members to clarify the step, Weeg said, “We’ve made a decision to use the federal government’s contractor that operates the platform to be our contractor for our platform for a short period of time, while we can get our platform fully developed.” He and other board members stressed that only Idaho insurance products would be sold under Idaho rules on the state exchange, regardless of whether it uses the federal IT platform.
Otter and Weeg distributed a guest opinion to Idaho newspapers today entitled, “Implementing state insurance exchange requires moving quickly, creatively,” in which they stressed that Idaho's still looking at a state - not federal - exchange. “Once again - and despite misleading headlines and the drumbeat of those who oppose anything short of nullifying a federal law that's already been found constitutional - our efforts will not result in a partnership or a federal exchange,” the two wrote. “Idaho is building and will have a consumer-friendly state-based exchange run by Idahoans for Idahoans.” Click below to read the full opinion piece.
Idaho's sold more than $500,000 worth of its new $10 state parks passports in the first six months of the program, and state parks officials have high hopes the low-priced passes tied to Idahoans' vehicle registrations will take off big and help fund the park system. “The process is a little more complicated, but I think Idahoans have been so receptive,” said Jennifer Okerlund, Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman. “I think sales are on track.”
The transition to the new system has been a little confusing for folks, however; you can't buy the new annual pass at the parks, only at the county Department of Motor Vehicles. For out-of-staters, there's still a $40 annual pass that can be purchased at the parks. But the real bargain is the $10 annual pass for Idaho residents. With state park entry fees at $5, there's a quick break-even for those who purchase it. As of the end of March – after six months of sales – 41,389 Idahoans had done so, including 6,839 in Kootenai County. They have the option of a one-year pass for $10, or a two-year pass for $20.
The complicated part: The pass is good for a year, but the year cycle must be the same as that of the registration for the vehicle for which it’s purchased. That means if your car registration is up in September and you buy a pass now, it’s only good until September; if you renew then, you’ll get a full year. There’s no pro-rating. Kootenai County Assessor Mike McDowell, whose office oversees the local DMV, said he’s advising those who want to head to parks now but have a registration that’ll expire mid-summer to just renew their car registration early. That way, they can get a full year out of their new parks pass; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden has announced two more settlements with e-book publishers, entitling Idahoans who purchased e-books to $485,000 in restitution. It's part of a 33-state settlement, and still awaits federal court approval; it involves allegations that Penguin and MacMillan conspired with other book publishers and Apple Inc. to manipulate prices for e-books. “These settlements have a dual effect of gaining restitution for Idaho consumers forced to pay higher prices for e-books and restoring competition in the e-book market by promoting competition,” Wasden said. Similar settlements were reached earlier with three other e-book publishers; click below for Wasden's full announcement.
Eighty-eight of Idaho’s 200 cities lost population in 2012, while 107 gained and five went unchanged, according to the latest U.S. Census figures. Statewide, Idaho’s population went up by 0.8 percent in 2012; city populations were up 1 percent from 2011 to 2012. The upshot: Idaho’s population gain in 2012 was concentrated in its cities rather than its rural areas, continuing a longstanding trend. In 2012, 69 percent of Idahoans lived in incorporated cities; that’s up from 59 percent in 1990.
Cities losing population were mostly the smallest ones; there were just three with populations of more than 10,000 that had losses: Rexburg, Mountain Home and Blackfoot. Click here for a full report from the Idaho Department of Labor, including a breakdown by city that shows each city’s population in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: MIDDLETON, Idaho (AP) — Election officials in southwest Idaho's Canyon County say it appears a do-over vote will be needed to determine the winner in a school board election. The Idaho-Press Tribune reports (http://bit.ly/10Ojjcr) that 23 Middleton voters were assigned to the wrong school zone in Tuesday's election that ended in a tie for a trustee position. Canyon County Chief Deputy Clerk Brad Jackson says the number of voters in the wrong place is high enough to trigger another election. Bu he says he's waiting for the Idaho Secretary of State to tell them how to go forward. The school board election ended in a tie between Marc D. Gunning and Steve Cluff.
Three next-door neighbors in east Boise have had their small dogs attacked by a mountain lion in their fenced back yards in the past two weeks, and two of the dogs have died. Fish & Game officials are calling on the public to immediately report incidents with mountain lions in town. The three attacks happened at Surprise Valley, a neighborhood on the city’s eastern edge that backs up to native sagebrush land; it’s the first mountain lion incident reported in Boise this spring, but the city’s had plenty in recent years. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
“We have mountain lions in Boise all the time,” said Evin Oneale, Southwest Idaho regional conservation educator for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. “They come and go all the time. Some of them we see, some of them we don’t, but they don’t tend to cause any issues or hang around. It’s when we have a lion like this that exhibits this kind of behavior that our awareness of the situation becomes heightened.”
Fish & Game learned of the big cat when a Surprise Valley resident called the sheriff’s department yesterday morning. She’d let her two Yorkshire terriers out into her backyard about 5:30 a.m., and a few minutes later, heard a yelp; click below to read more.
Prosecutors now say they won't seek a death sentence for Lacey Mark Sivak, who was one of the longest occupants of Idaho's Death Row after being sentenced to death in 1981 for the murder of Dixie Wilson; his sentence was reversed on appeal in 2011, and he's up for re-sentencing this fall. The Associated Press reports that Ada County prosecutors have decided to ask for a fixed life term in prison, after consulting with relatives of the victim, then-30-year-old Dixie Wilson.
“They've waited 30 years for this to end, and now they have the prospect of having to wait another 20 years, because you know how long it takes to get an execution in the 9th Circuit,” Ada County Deputy Prosecutor Roger Bourne told the AP. “They didn't want to wait. They decided they needed closure. So, we are asking the judge for a fixed life sentence.” Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone; Idaho currently has 12 people on Death Row, 11 men and one woman.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The 2013 Legislature's passionate debate over gun rights has been extended beyond the session, with a lawmaker whose bill was killed now complaining that his measure was torpedoed by lobbyists who weren't properly registered. Republican Rep. Mark Patterson of Boise sponsored a measure to charge Idaho law enforcement officers with a crime for assisting the federal government in confiscating newly banned weapons. The bill died. But Patterson this month complained to the Idaho secretary of state that Idaho Sheriff's Association director Vaughn Killeen wasn't registered as a lobbyist. Furthermore, Patterson contends the group's registered lobbyist, Michael Kane, didn't properly disclose his firearms-related lobbying. Killeen and Kane have since amended their filings. Killeen contends he wasn't required to register as a lobbyist, but did so May 15 to avoid future misunderstandings.
Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.
Yesterday was Election Day across the state, with elections for an array of school district and special district races. In some of the most notable races, two of three incumbents were defeated for seats on the Greater Boise Auditorium District board, two of three members elected to the board of the financially troubled Nampa School District are new, and in the Coeur d’Alene school board race, a slate of conservative Republican activists, including an appointed incumbent who home-schooled his children, was defeated by challengers.
Voter turnout is typically low for the low-profile races; in Ada County, where ballot issues included the Auditorium District, school board races in Meridian, Kuna and Melba, a bond issue in Eagle, and sewer district races in Eagle and West Boise, a total of 9,457 ballots were cast, for a turnout of 5.38 percent of registered voters; you can see full results here.
For the GBAD board, unofficial final results showed incumbent Peter Oliver winning a two-year term by the narrowest of margins, just 19 votes, over challenger George Tway. For the two six-year terms, challenger Jim Walker was the highest vote-getter, with 24 percent, followed by challenger Steve Berch at 22 percent. Incumbents Rob Perez and Stephanie Astorquia trailed with 19.43 percent and 19.67 percent, followed by challengers John May, 11.37 percent, and Noah Bard, 3.44 percent.
Nampa School District voters returned just one incumbent to their school board, Bob Otten, the Idaho Statesman reports. Twelve-year trustee Dale Wheeler was defeated by challenger Mike Fuller; and former board member Brian McGourty won a three-way race for an open seat after board chairman Scott Kido decided not to seek re-election.
In Coeur d’Alene, school board incumbents Brent Regan and Ann Seddon, both of whom were backed by the conservative Kootenai County Reagan Republicans, were defeated by challengers Christa Hazel and Dave Eubanks. Tom Hearn won an open seat; Hazel, Eubanks and Hearn all were backed by Balance North Idaho, a group that countered the Reagan Republicans’ push to target local non-partisan races and used the slogan “qualifications over ideology.” Reagan Republicans-endorsed candidates did win two seats on the Post Falls school board, however. They lost bids for two seats on the Kootenai Hospital District board; you can read a full report here from S-R reporter Scott Maben.
In other election results, the Idaho Falls Post Register reports that Salmon-area voters again rejected a school bond to replace the local elementary and middle schools – the ninth defeat for the proposal in eight years – and also voted down a $3.6 million proposal for safety repairs at the schools. A state loan program will now step in to cover the safety repairs, and local taxpayers will have to repay the loan. Jefferson School District’s supplemental levy measure failed.
The Boise Guardian reports that just six voters cast ballots in another contest, for a $325 million bond issue proposed by the Spring Valley CID north of Eagle. Four of the six favored the bond, giving it the needed two-thirds majority; future homeowners will have to repay the debt.
Idaho Education News has a roundup here on school bond and levy votes around the state; they report that voters around Idaho said yes to at least $128.7 million in bonds and levies.
Priest Lake cabin owners who object to new Idaho appraisals that showed the state-owned land under their lake homes ballooning in value this year by an average 84 percent can request new appraisals, the state Land Board decided Tuesday, and if they object to the new values, they can appeal. The catch: Once the new values are set, the leases for the cabin sites again would be offered up for potential conflict bids from others. And for those cabin owners who are already part of pending land exchanges aimed at trading other ground to the state so they can gain ownership of the land under their cabins, new appraisals might not be ready in time.
“People are going to have to decide what’s in their best interest,” said Chuck Lempesis, attorney for the Priest Lake State Lessees Association. But he called the Land Board’s unanimous decision “a very positive step forward” that provides “options for our lessees who are in difficult positions.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — An Uzbek national facing terrorism-related charges in Idaho will remain jailed pending his trial after waiving his right to a detention hearing. Lawyers for Fazliddin Kurbanov on Tuesday waived a hearing where a U.S. District Court judge was to have considered whether he should stay in Ada County jail in Boise until his July 2 trial. Kurbanov is a refugee from Uzbekistan in Central Asia who arrived in Boise in 2009. He was arrested last Thursday. The 30-year-old truck driver was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges that included teaching people to build bombs intended to target public transportation. It's unclear whether the alleged targets were in the United States or elsewhere. Prosecutors say they've contained Kurbanov's threat, but haven't said if more arrests are pending.
Idaho remains stuck at the bottom of public education funding, ranking second to last of all states in per-student spending for a third straight year, the U.S. Census Bureau reported today; S-R reporter Scott Maben has a full report here. The latest census data showed Idaho spent $6,824 per student in the 2010-11 school year, above only Utah. Meanwhile, neighboring Washington ranked 30th – up two spots from the previous year – with $9,483 spent per student.
Both Idaho and Washington fell below the national average of $10,560 per student, and the average itself has dropped 0.4 percent from 2010. That’s the first decrease in per-student spending since the Census Bureau began collecting data in 1977.
Asked about the new figures today, Idaho state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna said, “How much we spend per student is an important factor, but it’s not the only factor.” He said Idaho’s low ranking is influenced by demographics. “There’s a reason that Idaho and Utah constantly end up at the bottom end … and it’s because we have large families,” Luna said, adding that he has six children. “We have fewer taxpayers per student in Idaho than we have in many other states.”
The 2000 Census found that Utah had the highest number of children under 18 per family, followed by Alaska at second-highest, Idaho third, and California fourth. However, Alaska ranked third-highest for per-student spending in the latest Census report; California was 36th.
While acknowledging that Idaho’s school funding per student compares poorly to other states, Luna said, “What I measure our system against isn’t how much are we spending per student – it’s are we getting the results?” Currently, he said, the answer is no – too few Idaho students go on to college or other higher education after high school. He said that means Idaho needs reforms for its schools.
The Idaho Fish & Game Commission, at its meeting late last week in Coeur d’Alene, voted to support the removal of grizzly bears in Idaho from the federal list of threatened and endangered species, saying the bears have recovered sufficiently and now are starting to move into areas where there are increasing conflicts with humans. Tony McDermott, Panhandle Region commissioner, said, “Idaho can manage the bears better.”
The commissioners adopted a position statement saying that state has the regulatory and enforcement mechanisms in place to manage grizzly bears, and that people in Idaho would be more tolerant of bears if the state were managing them. “Key to the success of this effort is effective and efficient management of bear-human conflict,” the statement said.
It also said if delisting were to occur, the commission would continue to act to ensure sustainable grizzly bear populations in the occupied core habitats that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has identified in Idaho. You can read the full statement here.
The value of Idaho’s state endowment fund hit an all-time high of $1.46 billion at the end of March, up 14 percent from the start of the fiscal year July 1. That’s partly because of strong investment returns this year – through yesterday, the fiscal year-to-date investment earnings show a 19 percent gain – and partly because of higher revenue from endowment trust lands, which was up 14 percent through the end of March compared to same nine months of the previous year. The receipts: $59.5 million. Much of the land revenue comes from logging on endowment lands. (In April, the fund had more gains, bringing it to $1.48 billion as of April 30.)
The state Land Board was briefed on the fund’s gains today by the Endowment Fund Investment Board, and there were smiles all around.
Investment returns for Idaho’s endowment fund have averaged 6.7 percent for the past five years, a big turnaround from the precipitous drops the fund saw after the state first started investing it in the stock market in the early 2000s. The fund lost nearly 15 percent of its value from 2000 to 2002, going from $803.7 million to $683.2 million.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Federal land managers are imposing a ban on paintball warfare and rock climbing in and around a raptor sanctuary along the Snake River canyon south of Boise. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management announced the new rules Monday for the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey area. Agency officials have been crafting the rules for several years in hopes of better protecting raptor habitat and improving public safety in the area. New rules prohibit rock climbing and rappelling in the canyon within the sanctuary boundaries to protect 16 species of raptors that nest along the rock walls, though bouldering is allowed. Paintball guns have also been outlawed inside the area and within a quarter-mile of the boundary. New restrictions have also been implemented for campfires. Offenders could be fined or sentenced to prison.
Click below for the BLM's full announcement.
A Sun Valley couple who had been using the Twitter handle @SunValley for three years is suing after the Sun Valley Resort and the online service took the handle away, saying it belongs to the resort. Twitter told the couple that after the resort brought the issue to its attention, it determined that their use of the handle violated its policies as a “non-parody impersonation.” Click below for a full report from the AP and the Idaho Mountain Express.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: JORDAN VALLEY, Ore. (AP) — An animal-rights activist has been arrested after refusing to quit videotaping at an Eastern Oregon rodeo with an event where contestants rope horses by the legs. The Malheur County sheriff's office says 30-year-old Adam Fahnestock (fawn-stock) of Vancouver, Wash., was accused Saturday of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. The group Showing Animals Kindness and Respect says he is a volunteer. Undersheriff Travis Johnson told the Ontario Argus Observer (http://bit.ly/12ppCpt) the Jordan Valley Big Loop Rodeo was on private property, so it could refuse to allow videotaping. The rodeo in far southeast Oregon is the only one in the state known to hold an event that sponsors call horse roping and opponents call horse tripping. The Oregon Senate has voted to ban the event. The House is considering the bill.