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Eye On Boise

Archive for July 2007

Coeur d’Alenes come to aid of Shoshone-Paiutes

The Coeur d’Alene Tribe has sent $25,000 to the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes after the Shoshone-Paiutes’ Duck Valley Reservation was hit hard by the Murphy Complex fire on the Idaho-Nevada border, which burned 200 power poles and left the reservation without power. “The Coeur d’Alene Tribal Council stands ready to support members of our Idaho tribal family,” Coeur d’Alene Tribal Chairman Chief Allan said in a statement. “After the community spent a week without power, and after learning about the devastation caused by this massive wildfire, we hope to provide some comfort to those in need.”

Sali on Congress: ‘Things do not make sense’

Bill Sali says he arrived in Congress to find a system that’s “goofy.” Congressmen debate bills in an empty chamber. Testimony at committee hearings is by invitation only. Votes are noisy, messy affairs. Bills have multiple issues tucked into them, and the only choices are all or nothing.

“Things do not make sense,” said the freshman Idaho Republican, whose seven months in office so far have been marked by “no” votes on an array of popular bills. He voted against economic development funding for Indian tribes, because he objected to the bill including native Hawaiians. He opposed reauthorizing Head Start because it didn’t include “faith-based” programs. He turned thumbs-down on scientific research funding, small-business loans and incentives, rural housing money and community policing grants.

Sali said he’s “trying to keep us from spending our grandkids into bankruptcy.” He added, “People like the way I’m voting, and I’m getting encouragement all the time, saying, ‘You’re doing a great job, keep it up.’ ” He hasn’t opposed all spending. Sali introduced legislation to continue federal timber payments to counties, pushed for earmarks for road projects and hospital programs in Idaho and even was taken to task by a free-market blogger for backing federal funding for a Boise detox center.

About 85 percent of the time, Sali has voted with the majority of Republicans in the House. The other 15 percent of the time, he’s tended to vote “no,” often as part of a small minority that doesn’t include Idaho’s other congressman, 2nd District Republican Mike Simpson. Read my full story here in Sunday’s Spokesman-Review.

Where the fires are

Most of the wildfires in the country are clustered in a big clump in the center of Idaho, while another semicircle of them wraps around the southern edge of the state. Click here to see a NIFC map of the country on which the numbered dots are all currently burning major wildfires.

Two federal magistrates to retire next year

Both Chief Magistrate Judge Mikel Williams and Magistrate Judge Larry Boyle will retire in 2008, the U.S. District Court in Boise announced today. Williams has served on the federal court for 24 years, and will retire March 29, 2008. Boyle will retire on Sept. 27, 2008 after 16 years of service with the federal court.

It’s official - it’s a disaster

If the ugly brownish-grey gloom hanging over Boise wasn’t hint enough, Gov. Butch Otter has now declared disaster emergencies in five Idaho counties due to wildfires. The five, Cassia, Idaho, Nez Perce, Owyhee and Twin Falls counties, are the ones that have officially contacted the governor’s office and requested such declarations, which clear the way for state aid if necessary.

“Federal, state and local help has been mobilizing since last week,” Otter said. “Now that county leaders have reviewed the situation, we’re ready to provide all the assistance we can to folks damaged or at risk from the fires. All over the state, Idahoans are pulling together to protect their homes and property. The state is committed to supporting those local efforts.”

The National Interagency Fire Center reports today that Idaho has 14 major fires burning on 828,169 acres – the most, by far, of any state.

Changing the system

Idaho has made a big change in how it approaches substance abuse treatment, moving from a fragmented system that had various agencies doing their own thing with no particular coordination, to one in which they’re forced to work in concert.

“You can just see this new feeling out there of cooperation that I’ve not seen before,” said Debbie Field, the new head of Gov. Butch Otter’s Office on Drug Policy, a position some are still calling Idaho’s “drug czar.” Field, a former longtime legislator and chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee, overflows with enthusiasm for her new task and says she’s hearing the same from state employees, agency directors, treatment providers and others.

“Somebody that’s been in this field for 20 years … said, ‘I’m about ready to retire and I wish I was just starting,’ because they’re feeling so good about, finally, this new direction,” Field said. She added, “Everybody can expect that they all need to work together. … To me, that’s the best thing we’re doing.”

It’s a huge task. A 2005 state performance audit found that Idaho’s substance abuse intervention and treatment efforts were so fragmented that no one knew how much was being spent, how many people were being served, or whether it was working. There were high rates of failure and dropouts among those who received treatment, and little oversight of providers’ qualifications.

Last week, an update to that audit found substantial progress, including the passage of a slew of major legislation in this year’s legislative session. Among the changes was the bill creating Field’s office, which passed both houses unanimously. “This has probably been one of the best projects I’ve ever been involved in in my life,” said Rep. Jim Clark, R-Hayden Lake, current chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. “It’s never been done before – it’s a brand-new idea.” Read my full story here in the Sunday Spokesman-Review.


Two youthful inmates blow it

Two 18-year-old inmates at the North Idaho Correctional Institution escaped last night by climbing over a fence, but were recaptured this morning. Both were serving time for grand theft; both had just recently arrived at the Cottonwood facility for “riders,” or retained jurisdiction sentences. That’s when a judge sentences an offender to a relatively short term of intensive treatment and evaluation at Cottonwood, and if they succeed, they can get out on probation rather than serve out their full prison terms. Both, obviously, have now failed. They were Scott Michael Hernandez, who was convicted in Kootenai County, and Cody Robert Nesland, who was convicted in Ada County.

“The sad part is both offenders were 18 years old,” state prison official Pam Sonnen told the Board of Correction this morning, which was meeting as the escapees were recaptured and got the news right away. One had only been at Cottonwood for two days, the other for two weeks. “So those young boys will be looking at some pretty serious time now,” Sonnen said. “But everybody’s safe.”

The naming of a college

The new community college in the Treasure Valley is being called the College of Western Idaho, or CWI. Considering that the two existing community colleges are the College of Southern Idaho (CSI) in Twin Falls and North Idaho College (NIC) in Coeur d’Alene, how did they pick CWI over WIC? “I don’t really know why … there wasn’t any specific reasoning or thought process behind it,” said state Board of Education spokesman Mark Browning. Asked if perhaps it was because WIC is already a well-known acronym for a different government program, the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program, Browning said, “I’d like to say that there was that much forethought in it, but I think it was just sheer luck.”

M.C. Niland, one of the CWI’s newly named trustees and co-chair of the campaign to create the college, said organizers had no particular name in mind when an attorney reviewing the petition for the election told them they needed a name. “Just without any discussion, we just said, ‘Let’s call it College of Western Idaho,’” Niland said. The new college will serve the entire Treasure Valley, but the name Treasure Valley Community College was already taken – that’s the name of the community college in Ontario, Ore. “Obviously that would have been maybe even our first choice,” Niland acknowledged. But she called CWI “a great name,” and added, “We loved it!”

Crapo says Iraq surge ‘remains best option’

As the U.S. Senate prepares for all-night debate on U.S. troops in Iraq, Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo says it’s “a good opportunity for discussion, but the timetable for decision-making should remain the same.” In a news release issued this afternoon, Crapo said he’s standing by President Bush.

“The President’s plan has shown mixed results since the full complement of forces arrived in Iraq in June, but it is very important to allow the surge time to demonstrate results,” Crapo said. “Congress agreed to wait until September to evaluate the effectiveness of the recent troop surge.”

Otter: Looking for a revenue stream, not pond

Here’s Gov. Butch Otter’s reaction to state Controller Donna Jones’ press release today urging against a tax increase for roads, and instead calling for spending the state’s surplus on road needs: “We appreciate the state controller’s suggestion, because we know she recognizes, as we do, the serious condition many of our roads and highways and bridges are in,” said Jon Hanian, Otter’s press secretary. “However, when it comes to one-time surpluses, there always seems to be many more ideas as to what to do with it than there are matching dollars to go around.”

Hanian noted that Otter is dealing with many competing needs, including a burgeoning prison population, issues with state mental health services, and an array of education needs from pre-K to K-12 to higher education. “So you factor all of those things in there, we know all of those folks are going to be making their own case for how best to spend this one-time money,” he said of the state’s budget surplus, which totaled $247 million at the close of the fiscal year.

Hanian said Otter’s commitment to funding a $200 million a year funding gap for road maintenance and repairs hasn’t changed. “Fiddling while our roads are falling apart is not one of the options – that hasn’t changed,” Hanian said. “We don’t have the specifics yet. … He’s going to do this in collaboration in terms of how we end up generating that revenue stream, and I think it’s fair to say that he is looking at a revenue stream and not a pond.”

State controller takes on governor over road taxes

Idaho State Controller Donna Jones announced today that the state has a $247 million budget surplus – and she thinks that money should be spent to fix roads, rather than Gov. Butch Otter’s idea of a $200 million a year tax increase. “As a former legislator, seeing a surplus of this magnitude brings two thoughts to mind,” Jones said in a news release. “First, taxes are too high on Idaho’s families. Second, instead of looking at raising taxes to pay for road and bridge repair, the Legislature could potentially use $200 million of this surplus to tackle Idaho’s backlog of road repairs.”

Otter in recent weeks has openly acknowledged what his state Transportation Department has long been warning of – that Idaho’s need for road maintenance and repairs is seriously outstripping the available revenue, leaving the state with clogged, deteriorating and unsafe highways. “I feel obligated right now to step up forward and say, ‘Folks, I’m sorry, but we’ve got to have it,’” Otter told the Idaho Statesman earlier this month. “I think we’ve got to prepare the environment, and when folks say, ‘I’m sick and tired of paying taxes,’ well, folks, I’m sick and tired of paying taxes. But we’ve got to look to the need. We’ve got to look to the economy.”

The state transportation department, based on a series of studies, is predicting a $6.1 billion shortfall in highway funding over the next 30 years. The shortfall comes partly because of a decline in federal funding, partly from rising costs, and partly because revenues from Idaho’s 25-cent-per-gallon gas tax – the state’s main source for funding road repairs and improvements – have long been flat, as vehicle fuel efficiency has risen. State transportation officials have identified a $200 million gap between available funding and transportation needs each year in Idaho. The department called this year for major tax increases to fund everything from pothole patching to expanding crowded highways. The package included 75 percent hikes in vehicle registration and permit fees, a 7 percent surcharge on gas, new development impact fees, fees on rental cars and more. The legislation was introduced, but went nowhere – but Otter’s been making it clear that he’s heard the message, and it’s shaping up to be a major issue for next year’s legislative session. Though Idaho is the third fastest growing state, the money it generates for its transportation needs has barely grown in the last decade.

Jones, like Otter, is a Republican. Read the full story here on spokesmanreview.com.

Affordability move stymied by ‘snafu’

A new law designed to cover more uninsured Idahoans by letting more college students and young adults stay on their parents’ health plans has run into a glitch that’s rendering it inapplicable to most large health plans. “It’s a snafu on my part and on the part of bill-drafting,” said Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, lead sponsor of SB 1105. The bill sought to allow unmarried dependents to stay on their parents’ health insurance policies until age 21, or until 25 if the dependent is a full-time student. Previous law allowed that only until age 19, or 23 for full-time students. The change is designed to reduce the number of uninsured Idahoans. Cameron said the bill inadvertently referenced sections of Idaho Code that apply to individual and small-group insurance plans, but not those covering large group plans – those covering more than 50 employees.

The new law took effect July 1. Some insurance carriers, including Delta Dental, have said they’ll voluntarily comply with the intent of the law and extend the change to large group insurance plans as well as smaller ones. But at least one major carrier, Blue Cross, has declined to do so. “We are appealing to Blue Cross to reconsider their decision,” Cameron said. “We will propose legislation if necessary to address it.” Read my full story here in today’s Spokesman-Review.

Some reactions to the election lawsuit

Some interesting reactions to the filing of the lawsuit by 72 Idaho Republicans who want the state’s GOP primary closed to all but registered Republicans:

From Keith Allred, Harvard professor and head of The Common Interest, a citizens group: “There’s obviously a schism within the party on this. … Those who are really pushing to close the primary don’t trust the Legislature. … This suit is bad for Idaho. The evidence is clear that when you close an open primary, we get representatives who are less reflective of the people. … They will be more ideologically extreme.”

From Kirk Sullivan, Idaho GOP chairman: “There’s two different opinions to it, there are people who think we should have an open primary or have a closed. We haven’t taken a poll of people who claim to be Republicans. There are certainly two sides, and people have strong feelings about it. … The state central committee did vote for it, 88-58. … There were a lot of proxies in there, so there were not 88 people in there who voted for it.”

From Idaho Senate Democratic leader Clint Stennett: “This Republican ‘purity project’ shows that the center has been forced from power in that party. Idaho is being governed from the far right. Idaho Democrats are now at the center – we are the party of the Idaho independent voter.”

From Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa: “That’s really the question they’re trying to ask, you boil it all down, who is a member of which party? You have to be a member of our party, is what they’re saying, to vote in a Republican primary. Seven hundred thousand of us are registered now without party affiliation.”

From lawsuit lead plaintiff Rod Beck: “I invited the chairman of the party to be a participant in the lawsuit. He respectfully declined. I would prefer that the leadership of the party would support the overwhelming grass roots effort and support of the party.”

Check out my full story here.

Idaho teacher: Space launch ‘starting to feel real now’

In less than four weeks, McCall, Idaho, elementary school teacher Barbara Morgan will launch as part of a seven-member crew on the Space Shuttle Endeavor, heading out on a space flight she’s awaited for 22 years. “It’s really starting to feel real now,” she said Wednesday. “Lots of things worth doing take a long time to get there. That’s one of the things we work with our students (on) all the time. They think, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to be in school forever.’ From their perspective, 12 years of school seems like a long time. … Things worth doing take time and effort, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Morgan was the backup in 1986 for the nation’s first designated “Teacher in Space,” Christa McAuliffe. The two trained together for the mission. But the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after takeoff, killing McAuliffe and the other crew members. “Things are so fresh from 20 years ago,” Morgan said. “There have been lots of painful lessons along the way.” She’s now designated as an “educator-astronaut,” a fully trained mission specialist, rather than the original “teacher in space” designation. People shouldn’t view her flight as completing what McAuliffe started, she said. Rather, she’s continuing McAuliffe’s work, Morgan said. Read my full story here in today’s Spokesman-Review.


A process that isn’t pretty

Idaho’s state capitol, as part of its ongoing renovation project, has been shorn not only of the grand old trees that once stood on its grounds, but also of the graceful steps that formerly adorned the east side of the building. The demolition is necessary as the historic structure is both restored and expanded with underground wings on its east and west sides. But it’s still just a little shocking to see in progress – perhaps a bit like watching state laws get made…

New law leads to first abuse lawsuit

It took years for Ron Morgan to muster the strength to go public with the story of how a volunteer scout leader sexually abused him as a young teen. But this morning, standing on the courthouse steps in Boise, Morgan spoke out - and filed a lawsuit, the first of its kind under a new state law extending the statute of limitations in such cases.

The case, filed on behalf of both Morgan and another, unnamed younster who allegedly was repeatedly abused at the age of 9, charges that the Boy Scouts knew for more than four years that an assistant scoutmaster in the Boise area was a pedophile, but did nothing to stop the man before he was arrested in 1983. “I’m hoping that this lawsuit will make a difference in how these organizations handle their youth programs so that there are protections in place so that people like Jim Schmidt never come in contact with kids,” Morgan said. He noted that his own 10-year-old son is now in scouting. “Since Zachary has been in scouting, it’s become more of a concern to me. I don’t want him or anyone else to have to go through this.”

The new Idaho law facilitating today’s suit went into effect on July 1. It extends the statute of limitations on child abuse cases to five years from the time of the abuse or the discovery that the abuse caused the victim injury or trauma. “It expands the time for the victim to realize their harm,” said Boise attorney Andrew Chasan. “It’s a recognition of the psychological science that victims tend to suppress the memory.” Read the full story here at spokesmanreview.com.

One thing we’ve got: Wind

Idaho has so much wind that tumbleweeds pile up along its fence lines and windsurfers careen across its lakes. Yet the 13th-windiest state in the nation lags in wind energy development, even as neighboring Washington, which ranks 24th, has become a leader in capturing power from the wind. Washington ranks fifth in the nation for wind energy production, according to the American Wind Energy Association. Only one wind turbine was installed in Idaho in the past two years, and it was at someone’s house. “Washington has a lot more wind farms than we do, and that is because of policy, not because of wind,” said Todd Haynes, a research engineer at Boise State University and co-owner of a small wind farm.

Two regulatory cases at the Idaho Public Utilities Commission are now being settled, ending a two-year stalemate that has blocked most new wind energy development in Idaho. As a result, the door could open to development of a renewable resource whose potential eclipses all of Idaho’s existing energy resources combined. “This is huge,” said Gerald Fleischman, an engineer with the Energy Division of the Idaho Department of Water Resources. “This is not a small, side alternative energy source that it’s nice to talk about and it’s going to help us out a little bit. That is not what it is. It is a big, monster resource.” Read my full story here in The Spokesman-Review.

And the new trustees are – still unknown

The state Board of Education had a special meeting scheduled this morning to name the five trustees who will serve as the founding board of the new Western Idaho College, the newly approved community college to serve the Boise area, Ada and Canyon counties. But the meeting ended up not happening. At least 114 people applied for the five positions, and a board subcommittee had whittled that down to five nominees it planned to propose to the full board this morning. But at the last minute, one of the nominees declined. “So it’s my understanding that the committee wants to reconvene and then come back to us with a new slate, or a completed slate later in the week,” said Sue Thilo, state board member from Coeur d’Alene. “The committee had a lot of legwork to do, a lot of going through letters and resumes and phone calls and that sort of thing.”

She said, “We’re kind of waiting for the committee to regroup and come back. We do need to move ahead on this – it’s a historic thing to start a new college, and we want to make sure we do the right thing.”

Water war headed off for now

Idaho Water Resources Director David Tuthill has accepted mitigation plans submitted by the Idaho Ground Water Appropriators and the Idaho Dairymen’s Association, and rescinded the threatened curtailment of junior water rights in the Thousand Springs area for 2007. He also set a hearing on the issue for Oct. 10th. Last Friday, the IGWA doubled the amount of recharge water it was willing to offer senior water-rights holders to head off the curtailment, and on Tuesday, almost 100 members of the dairymen’s association signed onto a mitigation plan adding another 9,500 acre-feet of recharge water. Between the two, Tuthill ruled today that the plans were acceptable. To read the full press release from the Idaho Department of Water Resources, click here.

Field-burning talks set

Idaho farmers who in the past have annually burned their fields and a clean-air group that opposes field-burning on public health grounds will meet separately with a dispute resolution expert on Friday. “These are preliminary discussions to see if there’s any room for dialogue to try to find a middle ground,” said Jon Hanian, spokesman for Gov. Butch Otter. Otter has been an advocate of negotiations between the various sides on the issue. However, a federal court has stopped all field-burning in Idaho while the state works on a new plan to comply with the federal Clean Air Act regarding open burning, a process that could take three years.

Duke University law professor Francis McGovern will meet separately with growers and with Sandpoint-based Safe Air For Everyone. Hanian said Otter is “hopeful something productive might come from it.”

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About this blog

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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