Archive for February 2005
Usually, anyone who wants to can testify at a public hearing on a local planning and zoning issue. But if it’s about a confined animal feeding operation – those big, smelly operations called CAFOs – only residents who live within a mile of the project are allowed to testify, by state law. You live a mile and a half away? Tough luck.
Opponents of that law have fought for several years to reverse it. Today, their attempt drew a 17-17 tie vote in the Senate – which meant the bill, SB 1112, failed. One senator, Sen. Jack Noble, R-Kuna, who is being investigated for ethics violations, was absent. Lt. Gov. Jim Risch, who breaks ties when he’s presiding over the Senate, was filling in as acting governor because Gov. Dirk Kempthorne is in Washington, D.C. for a National Governors Association meeting.
Opponents of SB 1112 said local county commissioners can waive the 1-mile rule if they want to; backers of the bill said they shouldn’t have to, and CAFOs should be treated like any other development.
Though this is mostly an issue in southern Idaho, North Idaho senators split right down the middle. Voting for the bill to do away with the 1-mile limit were Sens. Dick Compton, R-Coeur d’Alene; Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint; and Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow. Voting against were Sens. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle; John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene; and Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake.
Broadsword told the Senate that she opposed the bill because she favored local control by county commissioners. But Compton said he favored the bill for the same reason. “As a county commissioner who’s sat in lots of hearings,” he said, “you have lots of latitude as a county commissioner to run more hearings or limit it however you want. But I don’t think you need to have it limited by us here.”
As if Sen. Jack Noble’s ethical problems – the subject of the first Senate Ethics Committee investigation in 15 years – weren’t enough, more revelations keep piling up. On Saturday, the Idaho Statesman reported that the state has placed liens against Noble’s convenience store and another of his businesses for more than $10,000 in unpaid sales taxes. Click here
to see the full report.
Also last week, Statesman columnist Dan Popkey reported that two years ago, Noble introduced another bill
to benefit his own store – this one allowing 18-year-olds to sell beer and wine. Three of Noble’s kids work in his store, which sells beer and wine. The bill didn’t pass.
Rep. Jim Clark, R-Hayden Lake, earned himself the “crow” in the House this week for getting his bill, HB 129, overwhelmingly killed. The mock statue of a crow is presented to any representative whose bill or motion gets fewer than 20 votes. This time, Clark’s colleagues cawed like crows as the item was delivered to Clark’s desk, and added an additional insult: Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, presented Clark with a small stuffed bear that screeches, “I’m a loooooser!” The trophies will remain on Clark’s desk until another representative’s bill suffers a similar ignominious fate.
HB 129 would have given county prosecutors and their deputies the same early retirement benefits as police officers.
During the Senate Ethics Committee meeting today, accused Sen. Jack Noble, R-Kuna, brought in a prominent lawyer, admitted he lied to the same panel two days earlier and closed out the two-hour-plus meeting with an emotional apology.
Noble is under investigation for failing to disclose his personal interest in a bill he introduced, which would have allowed liquor sales closer to schools. He owns a convenience store that’s across the street from an elementary school, and he and his wife had inquired about getting a liquor license for the store, which is up for sale.
Today, Noble had an attorney by his side, former Idaho Lt. Gov. David Leroy. Leroy, in his questioning of various witnesses, emphasized a state regulation that prevents a partisan elected official from getting a retail liquor license. Noble had told the committee on Tuesday that he knew the regulation meant he couldn’t get a liquor license, but admitted today that he didn’t learn about it until last weekend, long after his bill had been proposed and killed.
“Senator, are you in agreement that the information you provided the committee under oath in these hearings was false information?” Sen. Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, the ethics committee chairman, asked Noble. “I’ll tell you that I believe I did not state this right during this meeting,” Noble responded. “It was not my intent to falsify.” Hill then asked Noble, “In your opinion, did you mislead the committee?” Noble responded, “I could have misled the committee.”
To emphasize the point, the committee listened to a tape of the conversation in question, from its earlier hearing. Everyone in the packed room leaned in close as the tape played. Five television cameras recorded the proceedings, and spectators filled every seat and stood in back.
Noble offered a new excuse for why he brought the bill: He said the state liquor dispensary asked his wife to ask him to sponsor it for them. State liquor officials, called to testify under oath, denied it.
A liquor lobbyist also testified that he contacted Noble to ask about the bill, and Noble told him he was carrying it for the state liquor dispensary, so the lobbyist, Greg Nelson, said his group would support it. Later, when Nelson learned from news accounts that the bill wasn’t proposed by the liquor dispensary, he contacted Noble again and withdrew his support. At that time, Noble told him the bill had originated with “a person named Ken who had called his wife, who was well-known to the Legislature.”
Liquor Dispensary Superintendent Dyke Nally presented e-mails from his chief financial officer, Ken Winkler, saying Noble’s wife called him to inquire about getting a liquor license despite the proximity to the school, and told Winkler “she would have her husband, Sen. Noble, run a bill.”
At the conclusion of today’s testimony, the ethics committee set its next meeting for Wednesday, when it will make its recommendations. They could include dropping the ethics charges, reprimanding or censuring Noble, or ejecting him from the Senate.
The House Resources Committee won’t vote tonight on the Nez Perce water rights agreement after all. As Chairman Bert Stevenson opened this afternoon’s hearing on the huge agreement, he said the vote is being put off to Friday, to allow more time tonight for public testimony. “We can go longer and give those who’ve come to speak an opportunity take a little more time,” said Stevenson, R-Rupert.
The ballroom at Boise State is packed for the hearing, which so far has included testimony from the Mark Munkittrick of the Idaho Forest Owners Association (against the agreement), forest owner Vincent Corrao of Northwest Management Inc. (for), Chuck Cuddy of the Orofino Chamber of Commerce (against), Dick Rush of IACI (for), Martin N. Thompson of the Idaho/Lewis Cattle Association (against), and Mike Webster of the Idaho Cattle Association (for). There’s lots more to come, including open public testimony.
Here’s a sampling of comments so far:
Rush: “The agreement is truly a historic document and it is one that is written to benefit the state of Idaho from north to south, from east to west.”
Munkittrick: “In their closed-session negotiations they forgot they were making decisions that would affect those who were not represented.”
Cuddy: “Everybody was included in the negotiations except Orofino, Idaho.”
Corrao: “This allows landowners to continue to manage in a sustainable manner.”
Thompson: “You are selling out the non-tribal residents of the reservation. … My great-grandfathers didn’t know that their rights would come into question 110 years later. They homesteaded in good faith.”
Four new bills were introduced in the House Revenue & Taxation Committee this morning to give tax breaks to business. The first, from Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, answers complaints that his big corporate incentive package would help only the biggest businesses, which likely would be in Boise. It would offer scaled-down tax goodies to smaller businesses that make less investment and offer not-quite so highly paid jobs.
Another bill from Rep. Mike Moyle, R-Star, would offer the breaks to a business creating only 10 new highly paid jobs.
Two other bills, sponsored by key House leaders, are designed for Micron Technology, and provide property tax and sales tax breaks.
Right after the committee introduced the bills with little discussion, Rep. Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, got into a heated discussion with Chairwoman Dolores Crow, R-Nampa, as the committee room emptied. Crow insisted that Idaho’s economy needs the boost, but Lake questioned that and noted that Idaho’s already growing.
There’s lots of interest among North Idaho lawmakers in a meeting coming up at 1 p.m. between representatives of BNSF Railway Co. and the state Department of Environmental Quality. DEQ officials said it’s a “compliance conference,” requested Friday by the company in response to DEQ Director Toni Hardesty’s letter last Thursday requesting an immediate shutdown of the company’s Hauser refueling facility until all leaks have been located and repaired. The company hasn’t complied with the request.
Company officials reportedly are coming in to Boise from North Idaho and from Texas for the meeting.
The 3 p.m. meeting of the Senate Education Committee already had started when Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, finally made it back to Boise and slipped into his seat to chair the meeting.
“We did have an interesting set of circumstances today,” Goedde said. “But I am here.”
Goedde was one of seven North Idaho lawmakers stranded in Spokane after an early-morning Southwest flight headed down to Boise, circled over the foggy airport, and then returned and dumped its passengers back in Spokane. Goedde and Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, ended up riding on a plane chartered by the Idaho Forest Association’s Jim Riley, who also was on the turned-back flight.
“I am really unhappy with Southwest,” Goedde said after his day-long odyssey. “They essentially knowingly stranded about 70 people in Spokane.” He added, “It was one of those days you’d just rather not remember when traveling.”
The Idaho Senate just passed a bill to create a new special license plate to honor science and technology, with proceeds to go to the state office of science and technology. But the bill didn’t pass without some protests that the state’s getting too many special plates.
“Unless we get to a point where everybody will be able to pick their own individual license plate, we are fast approaching a saturation point,” said Sen. Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston.
In addition to the tech plate, bills are pending this year to create special plates to honor Basque heritage and certain private colleges. There’s also a bill pending, sponsored by House Transportation Chair JoAn Wood, to ban any additional special plates from being created. Wood’s bill, HB 101, declares that “authorization of special motor vehicle license plate programs has been overused and has become unnecessarily burdensome.”
History was made in the Idaho Senate today, as a six-senator ethics committee convened to consider a complaint against Sen. Jack Noble, R-Kuna. Noble introduced a bill to rewrite a section of state liquor laws to permit his own convenience store to sell liquor, even though it’s across the street from an elementary school, without revealing that he was bringing the bill on his own behalf.
Under mounting pressure, Noble submitted the complaint himself, writing, “I wish to clear my name.”
On the floor of the Senate, shortly before the panel convened, Noble launched a semi-coherent attack against Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey, whose reporting on the issue brought it to light.
“I want you to know … his objective is to bring or sow discord amongst this body,” Noble told the Senate. “Mr. Popkey wrote a story … less than half a truth so help him God,” Noble said. “I just hope that each and every one of you will think about it, look at it.”
Noble faced TV cameras as he left the Senate, and he insisted that the bill he introduced wouldn’t have allowed his Melba convenience store, Jacksmart, to get a liquor license, because he said he could get one right now. He claimed his store is 500 feet away from the elementary school across the street.
That would have been the result of SB 1085, which would have redefined how distance is measured between liquor stores and elementary schools. Current law says liquor can’t be sold within 300 feet of a school. Though it’s only about 40 feet across the street, Noble’s bill would have required measuring from entrance door to entrance door, thus resulting in the longer distance.
Noble said, “I decided to author this in order to clear it up, so that the liquor dispensary was no longer defining it as they liked.”
He told reporters that his wife was looking into obtaining the liquor license for the store when he drafted the bill. “I was not involved,” he said. “My wife, she looked into it.”
Then, he said, after he’d presented the bill and it’d been killed, his wife told him she’d decided against seeking a liquor license because it wasn’t worth the hassle. Noble said he’ll never get a liquor license for his store.
A few minutes later, the six-member ethics committee convened. It is chaired by Sen. Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, and also includes Sens. Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello; Kate Kelly, D-Boise; Bert Marley, D-McCammon; Hal Bunderson, R-Meridian; and John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene.
Goedde said, “It’s one of those responsibilities that you assume when asked. It’s not a pleasant task.”
After its investigation, the committee could recommend dismissing the ethics charge against Noble, reprimanding him, censure, or expulsion from the Senate. Expulsion from the Senate would take a two-thirds vote.
Idaho passed its Ethics in Government Act in 1990. Violation is a civil offense with a fine of up to $500. Criminal charges could be pursued only after the Senate took its action.
The last time the Senate had an ethics committee, it was in 1990, when Sen. Larrey Anderson filed a complaint against Sen. John Peavey for going through his mail. Peavey had taken Anderson’s large bulk-mailing into his office to count it, and complained that it violated Senate mailing rules by including more than 400 letters. That ethics committee found no violation either by Peavey or Anderson.
Said Goedde, “This is potentially a different magnitude.”
The Idaho House also convened an ethics panel in 1990, which resulted in the censure of then-Rep. Ray Infanger for threatening a state agency’s funding if the agency didn’t grant his son an electrical contracting license.
About 100 Idaho prison inmates each year refuse parole, opting instead to serve out their full terms and get out with no conditions or oversight. State Commission on Pardons and Parole Director Olivia Craven told JFAC this morning that offenders need treatment programs to change their behavior – and those who opt against parole also typically refuse treatment. “The bottom line is these people do not want to address their problems because they do not want to change,” Craven said.
Rep. Margaret Henbest, D-Boise, asked how inmates can get away with refusing parole. If they do so, she suggested, “We ought to be charging them room and board” as long as they remain in prison. Craven said, “A couple years ago we forced two people out that said they didn’t want parole. They both came back with new felonies within months.”
Jim Caswell, head of Idaho’s office of species conservation, brought a big vase of what looked like colorful flowers with him to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee this morning – but it was actually plastic reproductions of various noxious weeds that are found in Idaho.
“This is star thistle, knapweed, dalmation toadflax, leafy spurge,” Caswell said, pointing out the leafy blooms.
Gov. Dirk Kempthorne’s recommended budget for Caswell’s agency includes $82,900 to add a state invasive species coordinator to implement a new plan for keeping all invasive species out of Idaho. But tight-fisted budget panel members wondered whether there was money to add the position next year.
“I think there is doubt, but it’s an important opportunity,” Caswell said, fingering a bright plastic flower. “This stuff is really damaging. It costs big money once it’s loose.”
Four state legislators from Kootenai County issued a joint statement this morning calling for the entire Burlington-Northern refueling depot to be voluntarily shut down until all problems are corrected. The statement was in response to a leak in one of the depot’s three main fueling lines that was revealed last night – a leak that had gotten through two containment areas designed to protect the region’s drinking water aquifer, which lies below the depot.
“The aquifer is too precious an asset to risk damage,” said the statement from Reps. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, and Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls; and Sens. Dick Compton and John Goedde, both Coeur d’Alene Republicans.
Nonini said the lawmakers want to back up what they consider “a reasonable request” from Kootenai County commissioners to Burlington-Northern to shut down the whole operation until the problem is addressed. He said he talked both with Kootenai County Commissioner Gus Johnson and a Burlington-Northern representative this morning, and also planned to contact the state DEQ. “We support the commissioners,” Nonini said. “We just feel … that the whole facility should be shut down, rather than risk further damage.”
Henderson said officials were assured that the depot was a state-of-the-art facility that wouldn’t leak. “Obviously, something failed,” he said. “We just need to know what and how much. … The issue today is contain it and get it corrected.”
Nonini said he credits Burlington-Northern’s early-detection system with finding the leak, and expressed hope that it was caught before the aquifer was damaged.
Idaho Democrats are calling for hearings in North Idaho on the water rights agreement with the Nez Perce Tribe. Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene, said, “The judge’s gag order shut out the people’s opportunity to participate in the settlement, and now the people’s voices will be shut out again unless they can afford to leave work, pay for transportation and overnight lodging.”
The House Resources Committee has set two days of public hearings on legislation implementing the agreement for Feb. 22-23 in Boise.
Norm Semanko, executive director of the Idaho Water Users Association, says he’s running for the 1st District congressional seat that Butch Otter will vacate in two years. Otter announced even before he was sworn in for his current term that he’ll be leaving after this term to run for governor.
Semanko, 38, grew up in North Idaho and is a 1984 graduate of Lakeland High School in Rathdrum. A University of Idaho grad, he worked for Sen. Larry Craig from 1988 to 1993, including a stint as field representative in Lewiston. He also worked for the Republican National Committee in Washington, D.C. He now lives in Eagle.
Semanko said it would be “a dream come true” for him to represent the 1st Congressional District, which includes all of North Idaho. “That’s why I wanted to let my friends and relatives in North Idaho be among the very first to know that I will seek the office.”
Others who have indicated interest in the open congressional seat thus far include state Controller Keith Johnson and former state Sen. Sheila Sorensen, both Republicans. Democrat Naomi Preston, who ran against Otter this past fall, also has expressed interest, and several others from both parties reportedly are considering the race.
Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, questioned whether expanding Idaho’s smoke-management program statewide would mean funding being funneled away from the North Idaho program. The program, which requires farmers to register their fields in advance of field-burning and to burn only when weather conditions are favorable, now applies only to the 10 northernmost counties in the state. Legislation that’s up for a hearing Wednesday in a House committee would expand the program statewide.
State Agriculture Director Pat Takasugi said the North Idaho program won’t be affected. “Many of your constituents in the north are very anxious about the possibility of expanding the smoke management program to the south. We’ve reassured them that the monies that are collected from the 10 northern counties will be … used in the north,” Takasugi told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. Because the North Idaho program already is established and the southern Idaho program would just be starting, “It will function as two different programs to start,” Takasugi said. Later, once the southern program is up and running, the two would “mesh,” he said.
If anyone had any doubts about the attitude of the state’s Department of Agriculture, which has been charged in recent years with key roles in regulating such issues as field-burning and dairy odor, Director Pat Takasugi put them to rest today as he concluded his annual budget presentation to lawmakers:
“I feel that the role of the department is to support our industry in the state, not to put our industry out of business,” Takasugi told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. “We still feel education first, regulation second is a good one-two. … Bottom line is if we can’t help Idaho producers compete in the world market, then we’re not doing our job.”
Word is still going around about a one-letter typo in the Statement of Purpose on the bill that the Idaho Association of Counties introduced yesterday, to deny most county-funded indigent medical care to illegal aliens.
Dan Chadwick, head of the association, didn’t have the typo in the version he brought with him as he presented the bill, but the senators on the Health & Welfare Committee did. “I had started right in deadly serious,” Chadwick recalled, when Sen. Dick Compton, the committee chairman, interrupted.
Instead of saying, “The provisions of this bill are designed to address…” the version the senators had said, “The provisions of this bull…”
Chadwick said the chairman told him, “Finally somebody that’s really honest.”
“It was pretty hilarious, actually,” Chadwick said. “Denton Darrington told me afterwards, ‘That is the funniest thing that’s happened all session.’”
The committee voted to correct the typo as it introduced the bill. After hearing about it from just about everyone for the next 24 hours, Chadwick moaned, “It is pretty funny, but why did it have to be me?”
Legislation approving the Nez Perce water rights agreement was introduced in the House Resources Committee this afternoon, with a standing-room-only crowd in attendance. Among those looking on: Former U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth-Hage.
After three bills to implement the agreement were introduced on 16-1, 15-2 and 15-2 votes, Chairman Rep. Bert Stevenson, R-Rupert, introduced Chenoweth-Hage to applause. (For the record, the votes against the bills were all from Reps. Lenore Barrett, R-Challis, and JoAn Wood, R-Rigby.)
Stevenson told Chenoweth-Hage, “We appreciate your interest in these things.”
Asked afterward why she came, Chenoweth-Hage said, “I just wanted to see what was going on with the water bills.” She wouldn’t say if she’s for or against them: “I have to read them first. I have to see how they affect North Idaho.”
She added, “Some of the people from the Farm Bureau asked me to come.”
The Idaho Farm Bureau is the leading opponent of the Nez Perce agreement, while most other agriculture groups in Idaho are backing the deal, which already has the support of Congress, President Bush, and Gov. Dirk Kempthorne.
Stevenson said the committee will hold two days of public hearings on the bills Feb. 22-23.
Idaho State Police Chief Dan Charboneau introduced some of his staff before he started his annual budget presentation to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee this morning. Next to him sat Rick Ohnsman at the computer, operating the Powerpoint presentation.
“To my left, playing the keyboards, is our planner Rick Ohnsman,” Charboneau said to laughter.
The Senate is “rolling votes” – using the same unanimous roll call repeatedly, in order to save time while passing non-controversial bills. But on the last one, Senate President Pro-tem Bob Geddes may have gotten a little overenthusiastic. He initially reported that without objection, SB 1006, a measure dealing with audits at the state retirement fund, had passed by a vote of 36-0. But there are only 35 senators.
Geddes quickly corrected himself – it was 35-0.
Idaho Republican senators went behind closed doors today for about an hour to discuss the state budget – specifically, a shortfall in the public school budget that’s anticipated this year because enrollment is up higher than anticipated.
Often, enrollment falls short of projections, leaving extra money in the school budget. But this year, Idaho has about 90 more classrooms full of kids than anticipated, and that will increase the state’s education expenses by about $11 million.
At the same time, tax revenues have been coming in to the state above projections. But Sen. Brad Little, R-Emmett, the Senate Republican caucus chairman, said with the education shortfall, “that right there about consumes it.”
New senators had lots of questions about the budget and how it works, Little said, and there also was discussion about the Medicaid budget and the lack of any budget plan for an eventual southern Idaho water settlement.
So why did all that discussion have to take place behind closed doors? “Because it was a caucus meeting,” Little said. He said newer members particularly may feel more comfortable asking “a dumb question” when the public’s not admitted.
Now that we’re into the fifth week of the legislative session, Gov. Dirk Kempthorne’s big tax-incentive package to attract corporate headquarters to Idaho is going to be unveiled. “The long-awaited corporate incentive bill from the governor’s office has arrived,” House Tax Chairman Dolores Crow told the House Revenue & Taxation Committee today. “We will hear it tomorrow morning.”
House Tax Chairman Dolores Crow issued a warning to her committee this morning: “From now on, it’s crunch time,” she said. “We will be getting a lot of bills.” She warned lawmakers that if they see a proposal they don’t support, “for heaven’s sake don’t vote to introduce it. … Don’t vote for it just because you feel sorry for somebody.”
All eyes immediately turned to Rep. Shirley McKague, R-Meridian, who was up next to propose a bill giving a property tax break to homeowners over age 70. But McKague’s bill got introduced on a unanimous vote. It will go to a subcommittee studying property tax relief bills. Already there is one from Rep. Leon Smith, R-Twin Falls, to offer a voluntary deferral of large property tax increases for taxpayers 65 or older, with the balance due when they sell, move or die.
A few minutes later, David Lehmann, an aide to Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, faced the committee to pitch a bill allowing an income tax checkoff to help families of National Guard members. “I appreciate your comments earlier,” Lehmann told Crow. “I would ask that the committee not pay too much attention to them for a few more minutes.”
Amid laughter, Crow warned, “That’s not smart.”
But the checkoff bill, too, got introduced on a unanimous vote.
The biggest complaint from Idaho consumers to the Attorney General’s consumer protection office in the past year was about unsolicited fax ads – by far. Of the 4,078 consumer complaints the office received in 2004 – the highest number since 1998 – 2,726 were about telecommunications, and most of those were about fax spammers, said Attorney General Lawrence Wasden.
Wasden, who released his 2004 annual report on consumer protection activities, said a settlement with Fax.com, a California company he described as the “largest fax spammer or fax-blaster in the United States,” should help cut down on Idahoans’ complaints. Under the settlement, Fax.com is now banned from sending unsolicited faxes into Idaho.
Wasden noted that Idaho law makes it illegal to send unsolicited fax ads. “Simply sending an unsolicited ad by fax is a violation of state law,” he said. “There is nothing in the law that permits sending these faxes until the consumer tells you to stop.”
A prime target of fax spammers is small businesses, Wasden said, who can see their fax machines tied up and their paper, ink and supplies wasted. Said Wasden, “I encourage Idaho consumers to continue to complain to my office as they receive unsolicited fax advertising.”
When new state Environmental Quality Director Toni Hardesty came before the Senate Health & Welfare Committee for a confirmation hearing, Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, zeroed right in on one line in Hardesty’s resume.
“I have some concerns – you’ve come from Region 10 of EPA,” Broadsword told Hardesty. “I want some assurance that you’re not going to do up by-the-book for EPA.”
Hardesty responded, “It was 14 years ago that I worked for EPA.”
She started her career at the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, worked two years for the EPA in Seattle, then went into the private sector for more than 10 years. In 2003 she rejoined the Idaho DEQ as water quality administrator, and then last summer, was appointed interim director by Gov. Dirk Kempthorne.
Hardesty said she thought her perspective, from working in the federal, state, and private sectors over the years, would help her see all viewpoints. Several senators on the committee praised her leadership thus far.
After a two-hour hearing, the Senate State Affairs Committee today voted 5-4 for a resolution calling for tearing down the historic Ada County Courthouse across from the state Capitol and replacing it with a new building – a measure the same panel had rejected last week. Its hearing room was packed with 100 people – all of whom favored preserving the historic structure. The cost of renovating and expanding it is close to the cost of razing and replacing it.
Before the decision, Sen. Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston, proposed an alternate plan: Add “wings” on either side of the state Capitol to get more space, rather than do anything with the now-vacant courthouse. That proposal went down on a 4-5 vote.
The tear-it-down measure passed only because Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, changed his vote from last week, when he’d favored renovation. Davis said he just wanted something done. The building has been standing empty for three years because lawmakers can’t decide which way to go.
Not sure how much Idaho Senate President Pro-tem Robert Geddes, R-Soda Springs, has in common with Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. But the buzz in the Statehouse is that the two kind of look alike…