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‘It’s not usually like this’

Lots has happened in the past two weeks, including Gov. Jim Risch’s replacement of state Corrections Director Tom Beauclair with former longtime Ada County Sheriff Vaughn Killeen. Beauclair’s been the director since 2001 and has 30 years experience with the department; Killeen has been a candidate for the position before. Beauclair, whose last day is July 28, said he’s been thinking of retiring and praised Killeen, who takes over a department struggling to cope with over-full prisons and a fast-arriving load of new inmates – and no control over those numbers, as it’s the Legislature that determines sentencing laws and funds prisons, and the courts that convict.

Also, Risch has named the state’s first “drug czar,” Boise city councilman and former longtime Boise police officer Jim Tibbs. Tibbs is the current chairman of the state Board of Correction, but said he plans to resign that post for his new job, which will try to corral the various fragments that make up the state’s approach to substance abuse, including methamphetamine abuse.

Democrats came out with an alternative property tax relief plan, as Risch hones his plan to call a special legislative session to replace the $3 per $1,000 property tax levy that funds basic school operations with a sales tax increase. Risch also would use part of the state’s budget surplus to ease the impact on schools. The Democratic plan would use half the $203 million budget surplus to eliminate residential homeowners’ $105 million share of the levy, but leave the property tax on businesses, farms and utilities, which haven’t seen the kinds of huge increases in recent years that residential property has experienced. The Democrats oppose a sales-tax increase, and contend Risch’s proposal gives $150 million in property-tax breaks high-powered special interests like IACI at the expense of lower-income Idahoans who pay the sales tax on necessities like groceries.

Me, I spent a small part of my two-week vacation huddling in a “m’mahd,” a reinforced safe room, inside a home in Haifa, Israel, listening to the blare of air-raid sirens and distant, dull thumps as Katyusha rockets slammed into the city and killed eight people, and trying to stay cheerful as we read “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” out loud to my three young nephews, ages 5, 7 and 9, who had never experienced anything like that before. After a tense and frightening morning, we all got out safely and drove to safer parts of the country. My sister-in-law joked that for their next family vacation, they were considering Iraq or Afghanistan. (Haifa, Israel’s third-largest city, hasn’t had an air raid in 30 years, and is known as a place where Christians, Muslims and Jews live side-by-side in peace. But Hezbollah’s intense bombardment of northern Israel is something new.)

Now that I’m back in Boise, we’re in the midst of a 100-plus-degrees heat spell that’s expected to last all week. But of course we can take comfort in the old saying about Boise weather: “It’s not usually like this.”


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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