Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on how Idaho Republican Party leaders are calling on the state Legislature to invalidate local city ordinances that ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation - like the one Coeur d’Alene passed after an emotional community debate just two weeks ago. Six Idaho cities have passed such non-discrimination ordinances in the past year and a half, and a seventh, Idaho Falls, is looking into one now.
The party central committee's resolution isn't binding on the Legislature, which is 81 percent Republican. “It’s a way for the people to make their expressions known to the Legislature,” said Idaho Republican Chairman Barry Peterson. “We let ‘em know that this is the way that the majority of the party feels.” Coeur d’Alene Mayor Sandi Bloem countered, “The Republican Party itself appears to be somewhat fractured, so I’m not assuming that it would get full Republican support. … I would assume that there would certainly be some that would recognize the local rights.” Coeur d’Alene’s city council passed the ordinance on a 5-1 vote.
Cornel Rasor, a former Bonner County commissioner and chairman of the Idaho GOP’s resolutions committee, said, “I’d hire a gay guy if I thought he was a good worker. But if he comes into work in a tutu … he’s not producing what I want in my office.” Rasor presented the resolution on behalf of a constituent in Bonner County; another similar one was proposed by Idaho County’s GOP central committee, and the two were combined into one. It was approved with little debate at the central committee’s summer meeting over the weekend in McCall.
There are 81 Idaho schools in the running for $3 million in new technology pilot program grants, Idaho Education News reported. All the applications put together total nearly $19.5 million. The State Department of Education plans to announce the winners by July 1; you can read a full report here from Idaho EdNews reporter Clark Corbin.
An environmental group is suing federal water and wildlife agencies, contending that the agencies have long delayed taking the steps needed to protect Idaho's water quality, the Associated Press reports. Northwest Environmental Advocates, based in Portland, Ore., filed the lawsuit in Boise's U.S. District Court against the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Friday. The environmental group claims that the federal agencies have dragged their feet for 17 years when it comes to requiring Idaho to protect its waters and aquatic species. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.
Anyone selling you insurance on your smartphone in Idaho will need to be licensed with the state Department of Insurance, starting July 1; that’s under legislation that passed in 2012 and is just now taking effect. More than 40 states now regulate sales of portable electronics insurance; Idaho’s new regulations, like those in many other states, require the sellers to disclose to customers that the policies may duplicate their existing coverage under their homeowner’s, renter’s or other insurance. They also allow the portable electronics insurance policies to be canceled at any time.
Idaho Department of Insurance Director Bill Deal said, “This type of insurance has been available without regulation for some time. By requiring vendors to be licensed, the department has the ability to monitor the product and protect consumers.”
Washington’s similar law took effect in 2008; other states with such laws in effect include Oregon, Utah, Nevada, Montana and Wyoming.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: MCCALL, Idaho (AP) - Republican Party leaders are urging the Idaho Legislature to put a stop to local communities' efforts to provide discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. The approval of the non-binding resolution came Saturday at the GOP's annual Central Committee summer meeting in McCall. The GOP-dominated Idaho Legislature has refused to add housing and workplace protections for gays and lesbians to the Idaho Human Rights Act. As a consequence, numerous municipalities including Coeur d'Alene, Sandpoint, Ketchum, Moscow and Boise are passing their own local protections. That didn't sit well with the majority of Republicans in McCall, who say that Idaho lawmakers should put a stop to it. According to the resolution, the Legislature should pass a law making local discrimination protections unenforceable if they go beyond the state's protections.
An Idaho family business that produces specialty animal feeds is eyeing Taiwan's multimillion-dollar pigeon racing business as a target for a new export line. The AP reports that Zamzow's Dynamite Marketing is looking to transform Idaho-grown safflower and corn, and a top-secret, blood-boosting brew of mushroom powder and yeast cell wall extract it makes in its 102-year-old feed mill, into an annual export business worth up to $15 million. Click below for the full story from AP reporter John Miller.
Two conservation groups are offering $6,500 in rewards for information leading to the arrest and a conviction in the case of a grizzly bear killed near the Idaho-Montana border last fall. The bear's radio collar was found, cut off, in a stream; it had been fitted with the collar just 18 days earlier. The Western Watersheds Project and Cottonwood Environmental Law Center sued in federal court last month, contending that the U.S. Sheep Experimentation Station, near where the grizzly disappeared, has been involved with multiple grizzly deaths, though the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has ruled that it hasn't.
The station is operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and grazes about 2,000 sheep on 16,000 acres of land high in the mountains — an area biologists contend is also a prime travel corridor connecting Idaho and Yellowstone National Park for threatened grizzly bears. Click below for a full report from the Associated Press.
Republican leaders in Idaho on Saturday dumped a plan calling for party officials to vet GOP primary election candidates, the AP reports. The rejection came at the Republican Party Central Committee's summer meeting in McCall, where the state's dominant political group was setting its policy direction for the year to come. The proposal was from former Senate Majority Leader Rod Beck, as a way to pressure GOP candidates into adhering more to the wishes of their local party leaders, but it came under fire from an array of top Idaho Republicans, who said it would put decision-making in the hands of just a few people and disenfranchise broader GOP voters. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.
When former Idaho Gov. Phil Batt was honored yesterday with the naming of the Idaho Transportation Department headquarters after him, he shared some transportation-related stories from back when. One was about changing a flat tire on the old White Bird Hill segment of Highway 95 in North Idaho in the sleet and rain with a pregnant wife and two big dogs in the car. Others touched on other “hair raising” stretches of road in the state before they were upgraded. “They really raised your eyebrows,” he said.
Then there was this story from his time as governor: Batt once was headed out to a funeral for some wildland firefighters south of Kuna when a Russian diplomat stopped by his office. “I told him I’d give him 10 minutes. I knew I had to get going. A half-hour later, I finally booted him out of there and we got in the car.”
Batt told an aide to “step on it,” and put in a call to the state police, saying, “Cut us a little slack, we’re running late. We need to get over to this funeral.” Laughter started up among the audience. “Course, the radios picked that up and it was in the newspapers and all over the place,” Batt said. “I had to apologize and write a poem for the paper and all that. But that was one of my easier duties, it was all right.”
Idaho Falls is considering enacting an anti-discrimination ordinance to cover sexual orientation and gender identity; if it does, it'd be the seventh Idaho city to enact protections from discrimination that state lawmakers have repeatedly refused to add to the Idaho Human Rights Act. The Idaho Falls Post Register reports the city council is working on a draft ordinance and collecting public comment on the issue. Meanwhile, the Idaho Republican Party's central committee will consider two proposed resolutions this weekend calling for the state to invalidate all such local ordinances. Click below for a full report from the Associated Press.
As the Idaho Republican Party’s state central committee meets in McCall tomorrow to take up proposed rule changes and resolutions, there are a slew of things on the agenda beyond Rod Beck’s controversial proposal to require all GOP primary candidates to be approved by party officials, or be excluded from the ballot. That’s one of 10 proposed rule changes; there are also 30 proposed resolutions, on everything from asking the state Legislature to invalidate all city non-discrimination ordinances that go beyond state law, like those six Idaho cities have enacted to ban discrimination over sexual orientation or gender identity; to abolishing daylight saving time; to calling for repeal of the state health insurance exchange.
The proposed rule changes range from opening back up the closed GOP primary election to requiring the state central committee to withdraw financial or in-kind support from any GOP office-holder who casts any vote that the committee feels violates any of the party’s resolutions. You can read the eight pages of proposed rule changes here, and the 27 pages of proposed resolutions here.
There's apparently something of a potato price war on, the Associated Press reports, as a battle between grocers and potato growers has a U.S. wholesaler accusing America's spud farmers of driving up prices while spying on farmers with satellites and aircraft fly-overs to enforce strict limits on how many tubers they can grow. The spud skirmish has been silently hitting shoppers' pocketbooks, the Associated Wholesale Grocers charge in a lawsuit against potato growers in U.S. District Court in Idaho, while the growers say they're just doing smart marketing through agricultural cooperatives as authorized by a 1922 federal law. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.
A new statewide poll shows Idaho voters strongly in support of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” immigration bill now being debated in the U.S. Senate, with 67 percent saying they support the bill, 75 percent saying they back a path to citizenship that includes tough requirements, and 89 percent saying the United States should fix its immigration system this year.
Damond Watkins, Idaho Republican national committeeman, said, “The results of this statewide poll should be yet another indication to our elected officials in Washington that their constituents want, and are ready for, a real and lasting solution to mend our broken immigration system. Comprehensive immigration reform is one of the rare issues that is both good politics and good policy.”
In the first two procedural votes in the Senate on the measure thus far, both Idaho senators, Jim Risch and Mike Crapo, were among the 15 opponents of the bill.
The poll was conducted in 29 states; in Idaho, it had a sample size of 590, a margin of error of 4.03 percent, and was conducted by phone using interactive voice response June 2-3. Harper Polling, a GOP firm, and Public Policy Polling, a Democratic pollster, collaborated on the poll, which was commissioned by three groups, Alliance for Citizenship, Partnership for new American Economy, and Republicans for Immigration Reform.
The pollsters said they found “overwhelming, bipartisan support for the bill” in all 29 states in which they conducted polling. “The bill that’s been constructed has broad support with every segment of the electorate in every part of the country,” the pollsters wrote. You can read the full Idaho results and poll questions here.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, former Gov. Phil Batt, and an array of other top GOP officials have come out against a proposed new Idaho Repubican Party rule that would require party officials' blessing before any candidate could appear on a GOP primary ballot, the AP reports. The rule is up for consideration at a state GOP central committee meeting this Friday and Saturday in McCall.
“This is not the party of Phil Batt, this is not the party of Ronald Reagan,” Otter said, of proponents of the plan's loyalties. “It seems to me they want to limit freedom of choice, rather than expanding it.” Batt told AP reporter John Miller. “It's a very poor idea. We need to broaden participation in our elections. I think that would narrow it.” Click below for Miller's full report. Also, Idaho political reporter Melissa Davlin has a report here on opposition to the proposed new rule that's cropping up among Republicans on social media.
Second District Congressman Mike Simpson's amendment to include fresh potatoes in the federal WIC nutrition program has cleared a House committee. “Fresh potatoes have been excluded from the WIC program despite their widely known nutritional value,” the potato-state lawmaker said. “This amendment corrects the exclusion of fresh potatoes and allows participants to make wholesome food choices for their young families.”
The amendment to the 2014 Agriculture Appropriations bill was approved on a voice vote in the House Appropriations Committee, on which Simpson serves; click below for his full news release.
A federal judge has cleared the way for the Internal Revenue Service to foreclose on former state Rep. Phil Hart's Athol, Idaho log home over years of unpaid taxes, the AP reports. U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge ruled last week that Hart, a Republican, was still the true owner of the log home and that his attempt to transfer the property to a trust was ineffective. The judge also said Hart couldn't claim a “head of household” tax exemption because he had no dependents at the time.
Hart, who lost his bid for a fifth term in the Idaho House last year, stopped filing income tax returns in 1996 while he pursued a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the federal income tax. He lost the lawsuit and the IRS is seeking to collect more than half a million dollars in back taxes, penalties and interest. His home was built partly with logs taken from state school endowment land; Hart never fully satisfied a court judgment over the timber theft. He claimed as a citizen he was entitled to take the logs. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.
By the way, the reason that the foreclosure can proceed even though Hart's filed a third bankruptcy case is that a federal bankruptcy judge ruled in late February that Hart's third bankruptcy filing in one year is not entitled to an automatic stay on the foreclosure case, like the last two prompted. “The bankruptcy, when viewed in light of Debtor's previous two filings, appears intended to halt the progress of the federal litigation,” wrote U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Terry Myers, adding that Hart's petitions were “filed without regard to eligibility but with an eye toward delay and potential forum shopping.”
Idaho named its state Transportation Department headquarters after former Gov. Phil Batt today, and at the ceremony unveiling the new name, Batt sent a stern message to the current Legislature and political leaders: Idaho needs to step up to fund its transportation needs, as it did for many years under many governors, but hasn’t for the past 17 years; read my full story here at spokesman.com. Batt, who served as a senator, senate leader, transportation board member and lieutenant governor before being elected governor in 1994, pushed through the state’s last gas tax increase in 1996, and it hasn’t been raised since. That’s the main way Idaho funds its roads, and the per-gallon tax not only isn’t indexed for inflation, it’s seen declines as vehicles have become more efficient.
Batt recalled major upgrades Idaho’s roads have seen over the years, including treacherous sections of U.S. Highway 95 in North Idaho and down south, Horseshoe Bend hill, which “used to regularly develop mysterious sinking sections.” Now, he said, they’re safer, more useful highways. “These projects and others like them throughout the state cost a pile of money, but Idahoans in early days were willing to tax themselves to pay the bill,” Batt told the crowd gathered for the building renaming ceremony. But that’s now changed, he said. When the state decided to upgrade the freeway between Boise and Canyon County, it borrowed money from the federal government through GARVEE bonds. But Batt warned that federal funding can’t be relied on, and will be decreasing in the future. “We need to get together and raise the finances to take care of all our state's transportation needs, not just the Treasure Valley, and not by borrowing money – that honeymoon is over.”
Amid laughter, Batt said, “I ran as a skinflint for governor and I served as a tightwad.” But, he said, “What could be more equitable than charging users fees for our roads, gas tax and registration fees? … We’re broke – our credit card is maxed out.”
Then, abruptly, he said, “But enough of my lecture. I just wanted to thank you all for the honor, this is a great honor for me.”
Numerous speakers lauded Batt, whose accomplishments over his career included major transportation upgrades for the state, the Idaho Human Rights Act, securing long-sought workers’ compensation for agricultural workers, signing a nuclear waste agreement with the federal government requiring waste to be removed from the state, and much more. Said Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, “Gov. Batt will always be remembered for doing the right thing, even if it’s not popular at the time.” Idaho’s congressional delegation, in a letter read at the ceremony, called Batt “a true innovator in fiscal matters, infrastructure and overall leadership.” Gov. Butch Otter said to laughter, “I couldn’t say enough about Phil, and I’d spend a lot more time than the few minutes that he ever allowed me as his lieutenant governor.”
The ITD headquarters on State Street is now officially emblazoned, “State of Idaho, Transportation Department, Philip E. Batt Building.” The ceremony included music, including Batt's compsition “Freedom Idaho,” performed by West Junior High School students; Batt, a noted jazz clarinetist, accompanied them on clarinet. Transportation Board member Jim Kempton told Batt, “I look forward to walking into this building every time I come here with your name on it.”
Several lawmakers in attendance said they took Batt’s message about transportation funding to heart. “I think he’s absolutely correct,” said Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise. House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said, “This generation cannot duck our responsibility to maintain the investment that previous generations have put into our roads, so when the time’s right, I’m optimistic that we’ll step up.”
Batt said if the gas tax set in 1996 – “two bits” a gallon, or 25 cents – were the same percentage of what people were then paying for gas, it’d be 76 cents today. “Butch has tried his best to get some funding,” Batt said after the ceremony. “It’s the legislators that wouldn’t cooperate. There’s some talk that they won’t do it again this year because it’s an election year. I never believed in that philosophy, but I understand it.”
Otter called Batt’s warning “a great message,” adding, “And I think it’s a message that you’re going to hear more about.”
First-term state Rep. Luke Malek of Coeur d’Alene filed a federal lawsuit against President Obama and top national security officials late yesterday on behalf of Coeur d’Alene resident Anna Smith, contending that collection of information about her Verizon cell phone use violates the law and the Constitution. “Plaintiff Anna Smith is a mom and a neonatal intensive care nurse,” the lawsuit states, whose “primary means of communication is with her cell phone.”
The suit says Smith “communicates with her family, friends, employer, her children’s teachers, her doctor, her legal counsel, and nearly everyone else by way of her cell phone. None of these communications relate in any way to international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities. Rather, these communications are being monitored simply because they are occurring.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court asks the court to declare the government’s collection of the data in violation of federal law and the 1st and 4th amendments to the U.S. Constitution; permanently bar it; and order the government to purge all its call records relating to Smith’s communications. Malek’s co-counsel in the case is Peter J. Smith IV of Lukins and Annis, who is married to the plaintiff; you can read the complaint here. Malek is a Republican representative and a former deputy Kootenai County prosecutor.
Peter Smith said of his wife, “It’s kind of an interesting situation; she has access to resources that a normal person may not, that is legal counsel and knowing that this case probably won’t be dealt with quickly or easily and probably will wind its way through.” Smith said he approached Malek to serve as co-counsel on the case.
Teton High School in Driggs is looking for a new nickname, logo and mascot, now that it's decided to drop its longtime one: “Redskins.” That decision came to show respect for Native Americans, the school principal said; the school board approved the move Monday night, the AP reports. “Students need to be taught to see people beyond the color of their skin,” said Monte Woolstenhulm, the school principal and a former student at the school. “They need to get to know who people are without using nicknames or assumptions based on outward appearances.” The school newspaper, “The War Cry,” also will be renamed. Click below for a full report from the Associated Press.
Farmers in Idaho have filed a federal lawsuit against seed giant Monsanto after genetically engineered wheat was found in an eastern Oregon field, the Associated Press reports. The farmers, represented by a Boise law firm, filed the federal lawsuit Friday contending that Monsanto's development of Roundup Ready wheat resulted in increased production costs and lowered prices because the genetically engineered wheat is likely to infiltrate the non-genetically engineered wheat supply; the discovery of the Roundup Ready wheat growing in Oregon in May prompted Japan to suspend some wheat imports. A handful of lawsuits have been filed in other courts around the country over the same issue; click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.