Idaho state Department of Correction Director Brent Reinke, in his resignation letter submitted to the Board of Correction today, wrote, “For the past 18 years I have enjoyed the privilege of serving the state of Idaho, first at the Department of Juvenile Corrections and for the past eight years at the Department of Correction. Today, I submit my resignation to the Board of Correction. It's been an incredible run, but it's time for me to serve in a different way.”
Reinke said, “We have truly made a difference for public safety in Idaho these past eight years. The work is not done, but we have a great start.” He thanked and praised the Corrections staff, and signed off with, “As always, I think you for your dedicated service. Remember, 'Safety First!'” You can read his full letter here.
Click below for a full report from AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has confirmed that it's rescinded permits it granted two weeks ago for a wolf derby on 3 million acres of public land in Idaho. Joe Kraayenbrink, Idaho Falls district manager for the BLM, said the derby sponsors contacted the BLM's Salmon field office last Thursday with “material and substantive” modifications to how the predator derby would be run. The BLM had spent five months on review before issuing the Nov. 13 permit; Kraayenbrink said at this point, “Ambiguity about details of the Derby operation make it difficult to conclusively determine whether an SRP (Special Recreation Permit) is appropriate under our regulations, and if so what terms and conditions would allow BLM to effectively manage and protect public lands and resources.”
You can read the BLM's full announcement here.
Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Department of Correction Director Brent Reinke is stepping down from his post after leading the department since 2007. His tenure included overseeing the fallout of a private-prison scandal, handling the first two executions since 1994 and enhancing the department's contract oversight. Reinke submitted his resignation Tuesday during a special Idaho Board of Corrections meeting. However, department spokesman Jeff Ray says the board declined to accept his resignation, but will meet sometime next week to finalize Reinke's resignation. Reinke's resignation comes after a 2013 private-prison scandal involving Corrections Corporation of America wrongly telling the state that guards were working shifts that were actually left vacant. The company has since pulled out of Idaho, but the FBI is looking into the situation for possible criminal fraud charges.
Click below for a news release from the Department of Correction.
The recount has been completed in Nez Perce County in the District 6 House race, and the outcome was the same as it was on Election Night: Freshman Rep. Thyra Stevenson, R-Lewiston, has lost to Democratic challenger Dan Rudolph. The final figures from the recount showed Rudolph beating Stevenson by 25 votes, down from the 26-vote margin in the final, unofficial count on Election Night; Stevenson gained one vote in the recount. The Lewiston Tribune covered the recount and has a full report here.
Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said an audit of the vote-counting machine in the county came out “right on,” with a hand-count of random precincts exactly matching the machine count. “So I didn’t expect any great change in this thing, and there wasn’t,” he said. “And of course the other gentleman has not asked for a recount, and after seeing this, maybe saved his money.”
Unsuccessful GOP challenger Mike Kingsley had considered asking for a recount in the same county after his 48-vote loss to House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston in District 6, but Rusche reported on Facebook on Saturday that Kingsley told him he’d decided against it. “I got a phone call from Mike Kingsley this afternoon,” Rusche wrote. “He told me that he was not seeking to recount our race, and wished me the best for my term of service. Mike was gracious, and I have to admit that as close as the race was I might have considered a recount if things had been reversed. But the history of recounts is that they do not make a large difference in vote totals. Thanks to all who supported me. Congratulations to Mike Kingsley and the Republicans for a tight, well fought race.”
The permit for a controversial wolf derby in eastern Idaho reportedly has been rescinded by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in the face of a lawsuit. “We have it in writing from their attorney that they’re withdrawing it, and they said they expected to have it withdrawn today and they expected to have an announcement,” said Laird Lucas, director of litigation for Advocates for the West. He said, “BLM’s first-ever approval of a wolf killing derby on public lands undermines wolf recovery in the Northern Rockies and was not in the public interest. So it’s good BLM lawyers realized they needed to yank the permit after we sued.”
BLM officials in Idaho said they couldn’t confirm or deny the news, but are planning a public announcement within the hour.
The derby, which was planned to operate every year for the next five years and target predators including wolves, coyotes, weasels and more, with prizes for those killing the most or top predators, had been initially approved for 3 million acres of public land in Idaho by the BLM. Advocates for the West and Defenders of Wildlife sued, and said the agency received more than 100,000 comments from people strongly opposed to the derby.
“The public spoke loud and clear against this wildlife killing competition and we are glad to see senior officials at the Department of the Interior ultimately respond to the public’s opposition by directing that the permit be withdrawn,” said Suzanne Stone, Defenders of Wildlife senior representative. “By denying the permit, BLM is supporting sound wildlife management practices as opposed to endorsing archaic killing competitions on our public lands that Americans so clearly oppose.”
Environmental groups and the Nez Perce Tribe have filed a lawsuit to stop proposed dredging of the lower Snake River to aid barge traffic to Lewiston, the AP reports. The lawsuit, filed Monday in federal court in Seattle, challenges the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' approval of a $6.7 million dredging project scheduled to begin next month. Opponents contend barge traffic on the lower Snake River is declining and doesn't justify the dredging, which they say will hurt salmon, steelhead and Pacific lamprey; click below for a full report from AP reporter Nick Geranios in Spokane.
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.
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 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 spokesman.com.
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.
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 spokesman.com.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”