Idaho prison leaders are looking for a new company to run the state's largest prison, the AP reports, after Corrections Corporation of America admitted to understaffing and overbilling for its work operating the Idaho Correctional Center. But the Idaho Department of Correction won't be allowed to submit its own bid or take over operations at the prison south of Boise, because Board of Correction Chairwoman Robin Sandy said that would amount to expanding state government.
The three-member Board of Correction made the decision during a meeting Tuesday evening, opting not to let an automatic two-year extension of CCA's $29.9 million contract kick in when the current contract expires on June 30, 2014. The board also decided that it would consolidate medical services at all the prisons under one statewide medical contract, rather than keeping the medical care services at the Idaho Correctional Center separate. Currently, Corizon provides medical care at every prison in the state except for Idaho Correctional Center, where it is handled by CCA. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.
An Uzbek refugee accused of terrorism-related crimes in Idaho and Utah has a new lawyer whose resume includes successfully defending a man accused of murdering a federal agent and helping free a Saudi college student charged with working for a group funneling money to terrorists, the AP reports. A federal judge has appointed Charles Peterson to take over Fazliddin Kurbanov's defense; click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.
Idaho has some of the nation’s lowest crime rates, but its prison population is growing quickly at a time when most states are seeing declines. So now all three branches of state government in Idaho – from the governor to the Supreme Court to the Legislature – are coming together to launch an intensive new effort to find out what’s going wrong and fix it, with the help of grant funding and aid from the Pew Charitable Trusts, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, and the Council of State Governments’ Justice Center; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
The state qualified for more than a quarter-million dollars in grant funding for the effort, which Gov. Butch Otter unveiled at a news conference in his office today, joined by Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Burdick, legislative leaders, top officials from an array of state agencies and representatives of Pew and CSG. “Criminal justice is taking a larger and larger share of our state budget every year,” Otter said. And despite Idaho’s low crime rates, one of every 34 males is involved in the criminal justice system and one of every 156 females, he said. Plus, 51 percent of those in Idaho’s prisons are repeat offenders. “So what are we not doing while we have them, to prepare them for a life outside of the correctional environment that they end up in?” Otter asked. “What more can we do?”
Other states including Texas, Kansas, South Carolina and more have worked with the same partners on the “justice reinvestment” approach, which involves intensive analysis of data, developing policy options, putting new strategies in place and measuring results. Some states have seen impressive results. Texas estimated that it averted $340 million in operational costs and $1.5 billion in prison construction costs. South Carolina was expecting an increase of 3,000 prison inmates in 2010 and $300 million in increased costs; instead, its prison population dropped.
“We’re going to use every tool we possibly can,” Otter said. That could include changes in sentencing, treatment, education, rehabilitation and more. A broad, multi-agency working group started meeting on the project today, and a legislative interim committee is holding its first meeting this afternoon, chaired by the House and Senate judiciary chairmen, Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, and Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry. The aim is to develop solutions as soon as possible, including some that could be considered in the legislative session that starts in January of 2014.
Wills, a retired state trooper, said, “It’s going to be a great opportunity for us to bite the bullet, to save money, and to prepare our citizens that need it, that are housed behind those walls, to get out and do something constructive rather than destructive as we’ve seen in the past.”
Idaho will auction off three new undeveloped cabin sites on Priest Lake this year, partly to get a sense of the true bare-land values as the state moves toward divesting itself of the numerous state-owned lots there on which renters have built and owned cabins for years. The state Land Board approved the auction plan this morning; the auction will take place in late August or early September. The three lots, all contiguous and lakefront, will be marketed nationwide.
“Although historically there have been 354 cottage sites associated with Priest Lake, an additional 17 have been platted and are unleased and undeveloped at this time,” Thomas Felter, the state Lands Department’s manager of commercial and residential real estate, told the board, which consists of the state’s top elected officials. “We believe a sale auction would help determine the market value for vacant and unimproved lots.”
The state had planned to allow some voluntary auctions of existing cabin sites this year where the lessees wanted to go that route – and perhaps bid against competitors to keep their cabin sites, or get paid for their improvements if a competitor won the bidding - but the need to reappraise all the existing sites has slowed that process down. Felter said none of the existing Priest Lake cabin sites will be ready for voluntary auctions before 2014; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
A federal administrative law judge has rejected plans for suction dredge mining along a prized cutthroat trout stream in northern Idaho, the Lewiston Tribune reports. Judge Robert Holt, with the U.S. Department of Interior, concluded that recreation opportunities like fishing and camping and the archaeological history along the North Fork of the Clearwater River trump the miners' quest to pull gold from streambed. In the last several years, at least 30 placer claims have been filed along a 30-mile stretch of the river that runs through the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest. Click below for a full report from the Lewiston Tribune via the AP.
Idaho’s gearing up for an above-normal fire season on state land, state forester David Groeschl told the state Land Board this morning, after Secretary of State Ben Ysursa inquired. “We’ve got some awful dry conditions,” Ysursa said. “What’s your crystal ball on the fire season coming up?” Groeschl said long-range predictions call for warmer than average temperatures and below-normal precipitation over much of the state. “And right now, the fuel moistures are lower than we normally see this time of year,” he said. “So if weather conditions do not change, I would expect a very active fire season.”
He added, “We are preparing for an above-normal fire season.”
Asked about the Idaho GOP Central Committee’s new resolution calling on the Legislature to overturn local anti-discrimination ordinances, like those six Idaho cities have passed to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, Gov. Butch Otter said today that the resolution runs counter to his views on local control. “I think, even though the cities and counties are creatures of the state, the state has always recognized the value of local control, local decision-making, and these folks having a responsibility to establish for themselves the character of their community,” Otter said. “Although I understand some of the reasoning behind that effort, I really think that the overriding value of local folks making local decisions about local policies is much more valuable than us directing folks from Boise.”
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.