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Eye On Boise

Panel backs changing some misdemeanors to infractions as part of public defense reform

One move to change Idaho’s public defense defense system that’s getting support from an interim legislative committee: Reducing caseloads for public defenders by changing some misdemeanors to infractions, reports Idaho Reports co-host Melissa Davlin. People charged with misdemeanors are entitled to a public defender if they can’t afford their own attorney; not so for infractions, like traffic tickets. Davlin reports that Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, has drafted multiple bills to make such changes; you can read her full post on her blog here.

Lawmakers reject counties’ proposal for state to be in charge of public defense

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Lawmakers on a committee charged with improving Idaho's broken public defense system have killed a resolution that would have given the state full responsibility for assigning attorneys to indigent defenders. Earlier this year, representatives from the state's 44 counties voted in favor of a resolution calling for Idaho to manage the public defense system. However, members of the Legislature's Public Defense Reform Interim Committee at a meeting Monday agreed that counties should remain in control. According to committee member and Republican state Sen. Dean Mortimer, county officials have local expertise to best address the system. The American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho and other legal experts have warned lawmakers since 2010 that Idaho's public defense system is a potential target for lawsuits. The Idaho Association of Counties says the resolution won't be presented again.

Former Sen. Craig appealing federal court decision on misuse of campaign funds for bathroom sex sting defense

Former Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, the newly named finance chairman for the Idaho Republican Party, has filed a notice of appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals D.C. Circuit in Washington, D.C. of a September judge's order that he pay $242,535 to the U.S. Treasury to make up for improper use of campaign funds to cover legal expenses incurred after his 2007 arrest in an airport bathroom sex sting. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson on Sept. 30 ordered Craig to pay the “amount he was unjustly enriched” by tapping the campaign funds, $197,535, plus a court-imposed $45,000 penalty, “which the Court finds necessary and appropriate to punish defendants’ misconduct and to deter future misconduct by others.”

Craig’s one-page notice of appeal, filed today, simply says he wants to appeal the judge’s decision. He pleaded guilty to one count of disorderly conduct after the arrest, then tried unsuccessfully to rescind the plea; Craig claimed he was on official Senate travel between Idaho and Washington, D.C. at the time of the arrest, so the incident occurred in the course of his official duties and he was justified in tapping campaign funds. Both the Federal Election Commission and the federal judge disagreed. In 2008, the Senate Ethics Committee formally admonished Craig, both for his conduct during and after the incident, and for his use of campaign funds on his legal defense. You can read my full story here at

Suicide prevention hotline marks 2 milestones: 2nd anniversary, and 24/7 operations

The Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline will expand to 24/7 staffing this Wednesday, adding Sunday days and Sunday through Thursday overnights to its existing hours. The hotline, at (800) 273-TALK, also is celebrating its second anniversary, and is recruiting volunteers to become trained crisis phone workers, with the next training class set to start Jan. 31. “It’s been a long, challenging but incredibly rewarding journey the past two years to achieve 24/7 suicide hotline response in Idaho,” said executive director John Reusser. “We couldn’t have done it without the support of our amazing funders and community partners, and our dedicated team (of) paid staff, volunteers and interns.”

Idaho has the nation’s eighth-highest suicide rate. You can read the hotline’s full announcement here.

Report finds CdA Basin water quality improving amid cleanup efforts

A new report from the U.S. Geological Survey shows that the cleanup of mining contamination in the Coeur d’Alene Basin has resulted in improved water quality, with concentrations of cadmium, lead and zinc significantly reduced since cleanup activities started in the 1990s, S-R reporter Becky Kramer reports. Overall, the report is “good news for the people of the basin,” said Rick Albright, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund cleanup director in Seattle. “We still have a long way to go in our cleanup efforts, but it’s nice to have scientific confirmation that we’ve made solid, measurable progress in reducing metals loads and improving area water quality.” You can read our full story here at

BSU debaters overcome winter travel troubles, win tournament

As we head into this week’s heavy Thanksgiving travel period, here’s a local tale of travel mishaps overcome: Boise State’s Talkin’ Broncos speech and debate team won a major debate tournament – for the fourth straight year – despite a long and harrowing bus trip through winter weather. “Our bus ran into some problems with the snow and ice, and an eight-hour trip turned into a 21-hour trip,” said Manda Hicks, director of forensics, “leaving the competitors with about 90 minutes to change their clothes and go to the tournament. They were running on empty and pushed through to victory.”

The Mahaffey Memorial Tournament in McMinnville, Ore., which took place Nov. 14-16, is a big one for college speech and debate competitors. “Every school wants to win the Mahaffey,” Hicks said. In addition to the team’s tournament win, BSU students won six of the 10 individual events.

Federal grand jury indicts 14 on gang-related drug, firearms charges

A federal grand jury in Boise has indicted 14 gang members and associates of the Norteno, or Northside gang, which is active in Nampa and other parts of the Treasure Valley, for multiple crimes including trafficking in methamphetamine, conspiracy and gun violations. Federal drug trafficking charges carry penalties of up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $1 million.

It’s the sixth major gang prosecution investigated by the multi-agency Treasure Valley Metro Violent Crime Task Force, which includes federal, state and local authorities, since 2009. “These charges mark a significant point in the Metro Task Force’s thorough and aggressive efforts to combat gang violence and drug trafficking in Treasure Valley communities,” said Wendy Olson, U.S. Attorney for Idaho. “Violent street gang members and their associates who engage in criminal conduct have clear and fair notice that law enforcement will identify them, investigate them and bring them to justice. Public safety demands this strong response.” You can read her full announcement here.

Idaho wages grew in 2013, but still just 75.6% of national average

Average wages grew in 36 of Idaho’s 44 counties in 2013, the Idaho Department of Labor reports, although the average wage in the state remained at just 75.6 percent of the national average. That was an improvement from 2012, when Idaho’s average wage was 74.4 percent of the national average.

Ada County’s average wage of $43,937 was above the state average of $37,800, and was 87.9 percent of the national average. Canyon County, at $33,230, was below the state average and 66.4 percent of the national average. Kootenai County, at $34,834, was 69.7 percent of the national average. You can see the Department of Labor’s full report, based on new estimates from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, online here, including breakdowns for all 44 counties.

Boyle on IEN: ‘Crony capitalism, corruption, special favors’

Idaho Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, last week sent a guest editorial out to Idaho newspapers that's sharply critical of the Otter Administration's handling of the now-voided $60 million contract for the Idaho Education Network high school broadband project. “Why did this occur? It is an example of crony capitalism, corruption, special favors for campaign donors, the Governor’s staff moving to lobby and/or work for the very businesses receiving the contracts or from those companies to the Governor’s staff,” she writes. “It is back-slapping, good old boy networks, winks and nods, cover ups, denying involvement, blaming others, attacking those asking questions or with the courage to say the Emperor has NO clothes.” Click below for her full article.

9th Circuit lets Otter file reply, but not 57-page amicus brief

The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals today granted Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s motion to submit additional arguments in the state’s same-sex marriage case, but rejected without comment his bid to submit a copy of a 57-page amicus brief from a Louisiana case that Otter argued presents “a gold mine of scholarship regarding the practical, real-world impact of redefining marriage.” Otter wants an en banc review, by an 11-judge panel, of the earlier 9th Circuit decision overturning Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional, which was made by a three-judge panel. Same-sex marriage has been legal in Idaho since Oct. 15; you can read the court's latest order here.

Idaho AFL-CIO chief: Immigration action ‘rational and humane’

In sharp contrast to statements from Idaho’s all-GOP congressional delegation, Idaho AFL-CIO President Aaron White has issued a statement praising President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration. Here’s his full statement:

“We have witnessed an important step toward rational and humane enforcement of immigration law.  On behalf of Idaho’s workers, we appreciate the President’s willingness to act boldly on this matter.  With the extension of work authorization to an estimated 4 million people, the Obama Administration has effectively helped to prevent those unscrupulous employers from using unprotected workers to drive down wages and working conditions for all of us. Unfortunately, more than half of those who currently lack legal protections will remain vulnerable to wage theft, retaliation, and other forms of exploitation.  The labor movement will continue to stand with all workers, regardless of status, to ensure that their voices are heard and their rights are protected.”

Mumps outbreak hits University of Idaho

A mumps outbreak at the University of Idaho has prompted the state Department of Health & Welfare to advise students to use their winter breaks to make sure they're caught up on vaccinations, including the MMR vaccine, which is for measles, mumps and rubella. More than 30 cases of mumps are being investigated at the Moscow campus, including 10 that already have been lab-confirmed. Click below for the full announcement from the state Department of Health & Welfare.

Idaho unemployment drops to lowest in 6 years

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho's unemployment rate fell to 4.1 percent in October. The Idaho Department of Labor in a statement Friday says that's the lowest unemployment rate in the state in more than six years. The agency also says last month's drop of four-tenths of a percentage point is the largest one-month change on record for the state. In all, Idaho added 1,200 new jobs in October.

Idaho delegation responds to president’s immigration proposals

Three members of Idaho's congressional delegation issued statements after President Barack Obama's immigration speech last night, blasting the president for taking executive action on the issue; the fourth, Sen. Jim Risch, weighed in shortly after noon today. Here are their statements; click below for a summary from the Associated Press of the key elements of Obama's executive action.

Sen. Mike Crapo:

“Rather than listening to the American people and respecting their voices in the last election, the President will instead impose his deliberately divisive action on the important issue of illegal immigration. This unfortunate choice by the President will, most importantly, hurt immigrants in the long run and undercut future prospects for lasting immigration reform.  In addition, the President has done an about-face on his executive role. Just last year, he said ‘I’m not the emperor of the United States.  My job is to execute laws that are passed.’  However, his administration has repeatedly tried to side-step Congress through the use of Executive Order.  The inherent checks and balances between the branches of government are a fundamental cornerstone of our democracy, and these actions set a dangerous precedent by violating our basic Constitutional principles.  

“No one should gain any advantage or benefit toward citizenship or legal permanent resident status because of illegal entry into the United States.  The unilateral legal protections provided lawlessly to millions of illegal immigrants by the President—benefits that legal immigrants must wait years to obtain—pose a profound  threat to our immigration system and rule of law, discouraging those who seek to come to America from doing so legally.  I will continue to press for a solid solution that will secure our nation’s borders and advocate for sound, sensible immigration policies.”

1st District Rep. Raul Labrador:

“Today President Obama conceded his failure as a leader on immigration. Instead of finding common ground with Congress, he chose to bail out his bankrupt presidency through an order he has already admitted he cannot legally take. He violated his promise to champion reform in his first term, sabotaged bipartisan House negotiations in his second and bred distrust by failing to faithfully enforce the law throughout. Now he wants to save face by imposing unilaterally what he could not achieve democratically. Congress must defend its constitutional role to make laws and immediately block his illegal action through all available avenues.”

 “The president’s action not only undermines efforts to achieve real reform – it is directly opposed to it. Real reform starts with enforcing current laws, securing the border and modernizing the visa system. Only a system that works – that drives immigrants into viable avenues for legal entry – will end illegal immigration and protect the rule of law. That is what I will continue to fight for – no matter who occupies the White House.”

2nd District Rep. Mike Simpson:

“Let me be clear, the President's actions tonight are illegal, unconstitutional, and contrary to the way in which the American people expect the President and Congress to interact. They have the potential to throw us into a Constitutional Crisis.”

“Apparently the President didn't get the message the American people sent to him two weeks ago. At the same time, I strongly believe my party's response to this inappropriate executive action should be measured and realistic.  We cannot shut down the government, impeach the President, or allow this issue to impede progress on deficit reduction, tax reform, or other critical priorities for the American people.  Instead, we should fight this edict early next year in any realistic way we can, fight the President in the courts, and move expeditiously to enact a more responsible, effective and lasting approach to immigration reform.”

Sen. Jim Risch:

“These are troubling times for America, when the President of the United States by executive decree seizes the Constitutional lawmaking power that belongs to the first branch of government. Regardless of the issue or who is president, every American should be deeply distressed by this new government the president is attempting to establish.”

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.

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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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