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Eye On Boise

Archive for June 2011

Western Governors wrap up CdA meeting

On the same day that Washington eliminated its tourism promotion funding and shut down its state tourism office, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, in her new role as chair of the Western Governors Association, announced that her initiative for the year will be a “Get Out West!” campaign, promoting outdoor recreation, conservation, tourism and volunteerism across the 19 western states. “This is a wonderful opportunity for us to do it collectively with governors in the West,” she declared. Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com, which also includes a wrap-up of today's final day of the Western Governors Association's annual meeting in Coeur d'Alene, at which Gregoire took over the chairmanship from Idaho Gov. Butch Otter.

Not in the story: This tidbit from Otter. He says this is the first WGA meeting he can remember to which Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer didn't bring his dog. Why not? “He said he rolled in some dead fish, and so he wasn't going to bring him.”
  

Gregoire announces ‘Get Out West’ initiative for WGA

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, in her new role as chair of the Western Governors Association, has announced that her initiative for the year will be a “Get Out West” campaign, promoting outdoor recreation, conservation, tourism and volunteerism. Ironically, the move comes just as her state is eliminating all funding for tourism promotion. “The state can no longer afford to do some things it has done historically,” Gregoire said. “So we're turning to the private sector to see if we can't fund a coalition. … This is about partnering with private-sector organizations that have already come forward to me and said how enthused they are. REI has already stepped up and said, 'Let us know what you want us to do.'”

Said Gregoire, “I just think we're in a time right now where government can't do it all.” She said, “If I had money, it would go into tourism in Washington state. You know I can't cut schools and keep government money in tourism. So we'll be turning it over to the private sector. … It's time for the private sector to partner with the state. … This is a wonderful opportunity for us to do it collectively with governors in the West.”

Ritter: State policy key to prompting energy-savings by industry

Former Gov. Bill Ritter of Colorado told the Western Governors Association that states can set the tone for both private-sector and public-sector moves into industrial energy efficiency. He quoted from the association's newly published report on the topic: “A governor's leadership within a state is key to encouraging industrial energy efficiency.” Ritter said, “Policy is really key,” from building codes to energy efficiency standards to financing options. Plus, he said, “You can get more emissions reduction from what you do around energy efficiency than almost anything else.”

Simplot official: ‘We have good incentives to go after energy efficiency’

Among the panelists addressing industrial energy efficiency at the Western Governors Association today is Don Sturtevant, energy manager for Simplot Corp., the company where Idaho Gov. Butch Otter worked for 30 years. “When I was there, it took 27,000 BTUs to make one pound of french fries,” Otter said. Sturtevant said, “I'm happy to say we're now 2,600 BTUs per pound of french fries, and we're continually driving that down.” He said of Simplot Corp., “We are a large french fry manufacturer, fertilizer manufacturer, and hold a lot of land and cattle. We use a lot of energy. … It can be … our single largest uncontrolled expense. … We have good incentives to go after energy efficiency.”

After Sturtevant's comments, Otter joked, “With all these savings I fully expect my retirement check to go up.”

Of wildfires, energy efficiency and low-hanging fruit…

Click below for an article from AP reporter Nick Geranios on this morning's discussion of wildfire and forest health at the Western Governors Association meeting in Coeur d'Alene; now, moving into its afternoon agenda, the governors are beginning a session in reducing energy demand by improving energy efficiency. “If we don't use it, we don't have to produce it,” declared Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, who called conservation “the low-hanging fruit in the energy orchard.” Kathleen Hogan, deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency at the U.S. Department of Energy, said she'd go one step further: “It's the fruit already on the ground, ripe for us to be picking up and taking advantage of.”

WGA, NOAA ink agreement to work together on distributing weather data

Jane Lubchenco, administrator of NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is at the Western Governors Association today to sign a memorandum of understanding on making crucial weather and climate science information more broadly available to the states and others in the west. “I think it goes without saying that few environmental factors affect our economy … businesses and lives … more than weather and climate,” Lubchenko said. She noted the “extraordinary does of severe weather” the nation suffered this spring. Preliminary estimates put the damage at more than $20 billion, she said. Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire said, “We're very excited about signing this agreement to memorialize our great working relationship,” shortly before the WGA voted unanimously to approve it. Said Lubchenko, “I look forward to a long and very robust working relationship with WGA on these issues.” Here's a link to a full announcement from the WGA.

WGA elects Gregoire of Washington, Herbert of Utah as its new leaders

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter formally nominated Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire as the incoming chairman of the Western Governors Association, and the nomination was approved unanimously amid a round of applause. Otter then nominated Utah Gov. Gary Herbert to be vice-chairman of the group, and that nomination, too, won unanimous approval.

Canadian ambassador: ‘Canada is your biggest customer’

Gary Doer, Canadian ambassador to the United States, told the Western Governors Association today that western premiers and governors “share a vision” of land management. “Our wildlife does not require 'Real ID' to get across our border,” he said to chuckles. “You know that Canada is your biggest customer. We buy more goods and services from the United States than the whole European Union put together.” He added, “You probably know that we've got lots of tourists visiting you all the time.” In a country of 35 million people, 25 million visit the United States, he said. “We love to travel to the United States.”

Doer also touched on cooperation between Canada and the United States on international issues, including Libya, Afghanistan and Iran, and trade and energy issues. “We are with the U.S. and with Israel on not allowing or accepting unilateral declarations of countries that do not believe in the right of Israel to exist,” he declared. Doer also got a round of applause when he said, “I also want to congratulate the United States for that great and successful Navy Seals mission in Pakistan.” He said, “We really appreciate that skill, and our soldiers and military wanted me to pass that on to you and to the American people here today.”

Kitzhaber: More funding needed for management, to save later on firefighting

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber said there's long been a struggle to get funding for management efforts on federal lands like thinning and prescribed burns, and Washington, D.C. doesn't seem to recognize that spending up-front on management could save money on fighting devastating wildfires. Washington Congressman Doc Hastings said, “I get frustrated by that, and every year we try to put more money in there.” Long term, he said, there should be more flexibility to act on the local level. Kitzhaber said funding still is needed, as many of the required thinning efforts won't pay for themselves. He said it should be thought of as “investment in forest health.”

WGA: ‘Checkerboard’ ownership hinders forest land management

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter asked about addressing “checkerboard” land ownership among federal, state and private lands, and Washington Congressman Doc Hastings noted that changing that takes “literally an act of Congress” any time federal land is transferred, but said he's open to ways to streamline that process. Harris Sherman, undersecretary of agriculture for natural resources and the environment, said he favors a “good neighbor policy” to make an “all-lands” approach to forest management work.

Idaho forestry official David Groeschl said, “If we look back 20 years, the missions of state trust lands, private lands and federal lands were … much more aligned.” Now, they're not, he said, and “it's created definitely some tensions at some times as well as increased costs. … There is some benefit at looking at trying to consolidate lands. … Reducing that interspersed, intermingled nature of it, you can realize reduced costs and increased benefits from doing that. So that is one tool that would be really helpful.”

Idaho endowment lands described to WGA as forest management model

David Groeschl, administrator of the Idaho Forestry and Fire Division, described the “forest asset management program” that Idaho is following on its state trust lands that are part of the state's endowment to the Western Governors Association, and offered it as a model for forest management. “The trust land model is really about sustainable forests, sustainable revenue that supports our education here in Idaho as well as benefit our local communities in perpetuity,” he said.

Unlike federal forests, Idaho's state trust lands are required by the state Constitution to be managed for a single, specific goal: Maximizing long-term returns to the trust's beneficiaries, the largest of which is the state's public schools.

Wettest year in 117 years is also driest period on record for parts of the country…

Harris Sherman, undersecretary of agriculture for natural resources and the environment, said this is the wettest year in the last 117 years. Yet, he said, “We are having the driest period on record in many parts of the country, while we are having the greatest period of flooding that we've had in literally decades in other parts of the country.” He displayed a slide showing snowpack in most parts of the Northwest at 150 to 180 percent of normal, but said if it were fully updated, it could be as high as 200 to 300 percent “in most parts of the country.” The conditions have only increased the need for forest land restoration efforts, he said.

Sherman agreed with earlier comments by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer that forest restoration efforts need to take place on a “landscape scale.” He said, “Random acts of conservation are not enough.” Instead of looking at projects to restore 300 or 500 acres, he said, projects should look at areas of 1 million acres. “We just have to do this on a larger scale. … This can be a great way to employ people and to give strength to rural communities in the future.”

Current efforts already under way include partnering with ski areas to restore land on their borders, which is important to the ski areas for fire protection; lift ticket surcharges are funding those efforts, Sherman said. “We need to build public-private partnerships to a greater degree than we have in the past. … We need to work with recreation interests, with the energy industry, with the utility industry, with the water industry, to come up with joint projects together to help restore these lands to protect the benefits that all of us enjoy.”

Hastings calls for ESA revamp, says he’s working with Idaho Rep. Simpson

Washington Congressman Doc Hastings, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, told the Western Governors Association this morning that more timber harvesting is needed on federal lands, and states need more control. “I think if you have a greater opportunity to manage the land within your area, you probably will have a better outcome,” he told the governors. As Congress considers the future of the legislation initially known as Craig-Wyden, the secure rural schools and communities act that provides payments to rural counties to make up for lost federal timber money, Hastings said, “The true solution to the secure rurals act is more harvesting of timber. That's what we really should be doing.”

He also said the Endangered Species Act, last reauthorized in 1992, “cries for being reauthorized” now, but instead “Congress keeps kicking the ball ahead,” creating no incentive to address it. “This year, I've been working very closely with Congressman Mike Simpson,” Hastings said. “We have worked together on a number of issues and will continue to do so. … There has to be a way by which we incentivize people to sit down and talk. … We'll probably work through the appropriations process to hopefully affect that outcome, because it needs to be done in a rational way and in a grown-up way.”

Brewer: Arizona fires have destroyed 1% of state, ‘losses so, so great’

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber invited Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer to share an update on the wildfires in her state to open this morning's Western Governors Association panel on forest health. “We now have the largest fire in our history in the state of Arizona,” Brewer said. “The destruction is vast, and the losses are … so, so great.” Already this year, 1 million acres have burned, she said. “About 1 percent of the total land mass in Arizona has already burned in this fire season alone, and the season is not even over yet,” Brewer said. Though most of the fires are now nearing containment, they won't be put out completely until the monsoon season arrives, she said. “And when those rains do arrive, they will bring flooding, and we will need to prepare for that as well.”

Brewer said, “These fires have destroyed some of the most beautiful parts of our state, and it will take years to recover. But we do know what's needed. … We need to better manage our forests to prevent this from happening again or at least to minimize the devastation.” She called for “large-scale forest restoration,” and said, “We are quickly losing opportunities to be proactive. … We know what needs to be done, quite simply we need to do it and we need to do it now.”

Western Govs turn to forest health

Forest health is the first topic for the Western Governors Association this morning. “We have had some problems in being able to afford to do things that we need to do in order to have healthy forests and manage healthy forests,” Idaho Gov. Butch Otter told the group. “Federal agencies need to be good neighbors, they need to work with the states.” Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber will lead the discussion; panelists include Washington Congressman Doc Hastings, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee; Harris Sherman, undersecretary of agriculture for natural resources and the environment; and David Groeschl, administrator of the Idaho Forestry and Fire Division.

Western guvs: States must help veterans

Western governors are interested in following Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire's lead to closely track National Guard members after they return from deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan, for everything from health to employment needs.     Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said, “I want to go back and make sure that's what we're doing, and if we're not doing it, make sure we're doing it. … Because I really do believe that the key issue here is first make sure the veterans know. … It doesn't matter how good the program is if they are not aware of it.”

It was just one of an array of solutions western governors discussed for how to help the many veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan in a dismal job market, as they convened the annual conference of the Western Governors Association on Wednesday in Coeur d'Alene. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Montana judge dismisses one claim against megaloads, but rest continues

A Montana judge has dismissed a portion of a lawsuit against a plan for hundreds of megaloads of oil equipment to travel through the state, on a constitutional issue, but not the rest of it, so the case will continue. Click below for a report from the Associated Press.

Gregoire: State licensing rules must shift to recognize vets’ military training

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire said when military veterans return home from deployment, “The transition has got to be seamless.” She shared “a little issue that my state has come upon:” That returning vets may have learned valuable occupational skills, “but for whatever reason we've set up licensing criteria that for whatever reason is just a little off.” Instead of adjusting, she said, “We say, 'No, you're not qualified, you have to go and get the credentials.' It seems minor, but it actually is quite a significant issue.” She said Washington state has been “breaking down the bureaucratic barriers inside state government to recognize that it ain't the training we may give, but it is equal to or better than the training we may give.”

WGA: States may play increasing role for returning vets, as feds cut budgets

David Brasuell, administrator of the Idaho Division of Veterans Services, said several programs in the state are gearing up to help returning veterans. Among them: The state Department of Transportation got a grant to work with the state Department of Labor to help returning vets with experience driving heavy equipment get their commercial drivers licenses. “It's already helped 18 veterans,” he said, 12 of whom have recently gotten commercial trucking jobs. The agencies are seeking a bigger grant next year to take the program statewide.

The state Department of Labor also has been holding weekly orientations for returning veterans, he said, and there's a growing inter-service family assistance council that includes the National Guard, employers, nonprofits and more. He said federal budget cuts likely will put more pressure on states to step up to provide such services. “This post-9/11 G.I. bill is the best veterans education program we've had since World War II, it's a great program,” Brasuell said. But college isn't for everyone, and vocational and other programs also need to be offered, he said. “I totally agree with the general that the TAP classes need to be revamped. … It's in need of changing.” He said, “It's the inter-agency cooperation that's going to get things done.

Poll of more than 5k recently discharged vets told ‘sad tale’ about transition help

Brigadier General Robert F. Hedelund, addressing how states can better help returning veterans, said, “This is a very, very important subject to the Marine Corps.” He said the military can't promise veterans jobs outside the service, “but we can promise them, I think, opportunity … make sure they're as prepared as we can make them.” The Transition Assistance Program that all branches of the military, including the Marines, offer, “has not been renovated, retooled, re-looked at in 19 years,” Hedelund said. “I think everybody in this room can acknowledge that a lot has happened in our country in 29 years, so it's time to start looking at this.”

The Marines have polled more than 5,000 who have left the service over the last year or so, and asked them what they got out of transition assistance, he said. “And it's a pretty sad tale.” Among the challenges: Preparations need to start long before discharge, to give military members the tools they'll need well in advance. “Career-long learning is what we're talking about,” he said, and it's being developed now. The new program will include four “pathways,” he said: Career-oriented, for those who want to make a career of skills they've learned in the military; vocational training, for those who need training for a different vocation; education; and entrepreneurship. He said, “We know that this is going to take a team effort, and we're ready to join the team.”

WGA: More than one in four young returning veterans are jobless

Former U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson told the Western Governors Association this afternoon that more than 27 percent of returning veterans age 18-24 “do not have a job today - that's more than one out of four. So I think we can stipulate that this is a problem.” Education programs, including the “new G.I. Bill,” are good, Nicholson said. “The problem is not that, the problem is jobs. Twenty-seven percent of these young returning guys and gals are unable to find a job.”

The reason is more than just the current downturn, he said, though that exacerbates the situation. “We've discovered that are many reasons. Among them is a lack of confidence on their part, because they left high school, many of them, did a four-year enlistment, so they haven't had any experience in that civilian sector. … They have difficulty articulating their military experience in a way that articulates to a human resources person interviewing them.” Nicholson urged western governors to “encourage your employers, public and private, to go out of their way to employ these vets, because No. 1, they're very good, and No. 2, it's the right thing to do.” He said, “I'm so glad you governors are on top of it.” Employment of returning veterans, he said, is “so strategically important to our country.”

Gregoire: ‘Actionable ideas’ states can take home to help returning vets

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire is moderating the Western Governors Association session this afternoon on how states can better help returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. She said she pledged to visit her state's national guardsmen who were deployed to Iraq, and when she did so, she was shocked to hear their concerns, at base after base, focused on whether they'd be able to support their families when they returned home. “We've worked very hard in Washington state, to take the training they had, get it recognized by the state and get them into really good, family-wage jobs,” Gregoire said. “The goal here is for us as governors and those of you who've joined us today to walk out of here with some really actionable ideas that we can take home and implement.”

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter said, “We always tell these soldiers as they're shipping out that it's our job to take care of their families while they're being deployed, it's their job to get over there and get the mission accomplished.” More than 2,800 individuals from western states were deployed to Iraq last fall and likely will be returning home this fall, Otter said. “We need to be prepared as well as we can.”

Coach Pete: Formula for success for any team is about culture

BSU head football coach Chris Petersen told the Western Governors Association that for the past decade, he's been studying successful teams - not just athletic teams, but other groups, and what makes them successful. “It doesn't matter if it's sports, business, government, individual success, the principles are very, very similar,” Petersen told the group. When asked the reason for the BSU Broncos' success, he said, his answer is, “It's nothing in particular, but it's everything in general. … It's really about culture.”

Petersen said his “formula for a successful team” is an equation. “I think it's very simple that you're not going to win the Derby on the back of a donkey,” he said. “It's all about going out and getting talent. Talent for us, when we're talking about our team … it's athletic ability with experience, and it's depth. … Secondly, we've got to motivate them. … You add that with preparation … you'll end up with some confidence. And we know this, nothing great in life can be accomplished without tremendous confidence. You can't operate scared in this world, you've got to have confidence.” He said, “You get those four things all in line, we think you're going to have success.”

All that goes into a team's culture, Petersen said. “A culture can be very motivating or unmotivating. We've all worked in places that were miserable to show up to, and places that were pretty exciting to get out of bed and go to work. So I think the correct culture is a very motivating thing.” He said at Boise State, he works for a “championship culture,” and said, “If the culture is correct, the rest takes care of itself.”
  

WGA meeting opens in CdA

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has opened the annual meeting of the Western Governors Association, which opened with the singing of both the U.S. and Canadian national anthems by Aaron Baldwin, along with a flag ceremony. The governors in attendance so far are those of Idaho, Washington, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, and Arizona; the governor of Oregon is en route, and the governor of Colorado will join the group tomorrow. Next up: A keynote speech from BSU Broncos Coach Chris Petersen. “Coach, help us build a team with some discipline and values,” Otter told Petersen as he introduced him.

Otter chats with Canadian ambassador before start of WGA confab

As western governors, state and federal agency officials, lobbyists, industry people, lawmakers, reporters and others filter in for the soon-to-start Western Governors Association meeting, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, the association's current chairman, buttonholed the Canadian ambassador, Gary Doer, here to talk about a water issue.

Western Governors convening in CdA

After several days of gorgeous weather, clouds have moved in over Coeur d'Alene, the breeze is kicking up and thunderstorms are threatening as the Western Governors Association gathers for its annual meeting, which starts today at the Coeur d'Alene Resort. Eight western governors will convene; nine had been scheduled to attend, but North Dakota Gov. David Dalrymple of North Dakota canceled at the last minute due to flooding in his state. First up for the governors today: A keynote speech from Boise State head football coach Chris Petersen, and a session on how western states can increase educational and career opportunities for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Megaloads could take both Idaho routes

It's possible that giant megaloads of oil equipment bound for the Kearl oil sands development in Canada could take both identified routes through Idaho - scenic Highway 12, where the extra-wide loads would take up both lanes of the two-lane road, and a Highway 95/I-90 route. On Monday, Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil got a favorable ruling from a state hearing officer on its bid to take the loads across Highway 12, its preferred route; it's also been issued two permits to start bringing reduced-height loads from Lewiston up Highway 95 through Moscow to Coeur d'Alene, then across I-90 to Montana and Canada. Imperial/Exxon spokesman Pius Rolheiser said, “Given the delays we have already experienced and the schedule for the Kearl project, we're looking at all options available to us.” Could that mean the loads travel on both Idaho routes? “Yes, it could,” he said.

For now, the company is awaiting the final outcome on the Highway 12 permits, which still have an appeals period pending, and a court ruling in Montana on a challenge to road construction projects there to accommodate the extra-big loads on the Montana portion of the Highway 12 route. The two permits for the freeway route were effective on Monday, but Rolheiser said the company's still working with the Idaho State Police on staffing issues for escorts for the loads. “They have some other priorities they need to manage including the Western Governors and the Fourth of July holiday,” Rolheiser said. The company hopes to get revised dates for those first loads, which are still just as wide and long but have been reduced in height by half, to ITD this week. “It's very much our intent to move the disassembled modules on U.S. 95 and I-90 east of Coeur d'Alene,” he said.  “At the same time, we're continuing to pursue permits for U.S. 12. … Obviously we would like to move as soon as we can.”

Gov. Otter: Potato getting a ‘bad rap’

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter is ripping the new Harvard University study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that finds a link between eating Idaho's most famous crop - the potato - and weight gain.  “News flash: Regularly eating ANYTHING in an irresponsible way contributes to weight gain and other health concerns!” Otter declares in an op-ed piece. He adds, “You might be interested to know that at age 69, besides being Governor I still actively work my ranch and compete in rodeo events – and I get my energy from regularly eating Idaho’s famous potatoes – Harvard, the New England Journal of Medicine and the Los Angeles Times notwithstanding.” Click below to read his full.

Further appeals likely on megaloads…

Megaload opponents aren't giving up after today's ruling from a state hearing officer. “Obviously we're disappointed, but we think the hearing officer misunderstood some of the facts and the evidence,” said Laird Lucas, attorney for the opponents. “I need to confer with my clients, but I think there's a likelihood we'll be filing a motion for reconsideration.”

Meanwhile, a business group dubbed “Drive Our Economy” that's been pushing for approval of the loads derided the opponents in a statement issued late Monday. “Environmental activists have claimed for months that their opposition was rooted in protecting the communities of Highway 12. But as they continue their opposition in communities like Moscow and Coeur d’Alene, it becomes increasingly clear that their only goal is to stop the shipments altogether – regardless of their routing,” said Alex LaBeau, president of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry. “They do not care about Idaho jobs and commerce, or the best interest of our communities.”

Retired state Judge Duff McKee, the hearing officer, wrote in his ruling wrote that opponents are essentially offering a “not in my backyard” argument. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

McKee recommends permits for megaloads

Retired Judge Duff McKee has issued a 63-page ruling on the proposed Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil megaloads on Highway 12, recommending they be permitted. Click below for a full announcement from ITD; you can read the ruling here.

Luna: ‘Opponents tried to make it personal’

State schools Supt. Tom Luna issued this statement today on the failure of a recall drive against him over his “Students Come First” school-reform laws: “Students Come First has always been about reforming education so we can educate more students at a higher level with limited resources. Opponents of the laws have tried to make it personal. Reforming education has never been about me; it’s about giving our students more opportunities.  Our focus and priority has been and will continue to be implementation of the laws.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Redistricting may come in ahead of schedule; could force two North Idaho senators to face off

Idaho's bipartisan citizen redistricting commission has now held 10 public hearings around the state, including four in North Idaho last week, and members say it's going well - so well that they've set a target of reaching a redistricting plan by July 27, a full month ahead of schedule. “The input we're getting from the public hearings has been excellent,” said commission Co-Chairman Allen Andersen, a Democrat from Pocatello. “It's given us insight. … A target date in July is achievable.” Said GOP Commissioner Lou Esposito of Boise, “I think we have a good chance of making that goal.” He added, “We're hoping to have a 6-0 vote, that's our goal.”

The numerous public hearings, including some in smaller communities like Sandpoint and Soda Springs, have been eye-openers for the commissioners. “We're really paying attention to public input,” said GOP Co-Chairman Evan Frasure of Pocatello. “As you do that, it takes a lot of the political gamesmanship off the table.”

Among the revelations from the hearings so far: North Idaho's District 2 is likely to be completely realigned, and that could mean that District 2 Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, ends up in District 1 - along with District 1 Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint. Even Broadsword told the commission the district has to change. “It isn't about seated legislators. It's about what's best for the citizens who live in those districts, what's easiest for them to be able to get to the polls and participate in the system,” she said at the hearing in Sandpoint. “That's just the reality,” Frasure said. “I think all of us are committed to do the right thing. … She testified against her own legislative district.”

The commission still has three more public hearings scheduled this week, in Burley, Twin Falls and Hailey; there's more info here, and you can read my full Sunday column here.

ITD says reorg saved $5.7M, will go to roadwork, snowplows, grader, fuel

The Idaho Transportation Department says it's saved $5.7 million in the fiscal year that ends this week though holding open vacant positions as part of its organization realignment and savings on liability insurance premiums; it plans to funnel the savings into highway maintenance projects ($2.4 million); replacing two 36-year-old rotary snowplows ($1.1 million); replacing and upgrading highway equipment such as a motor grader used for winter maintenance, sweepers and a signal controller ($1.1 million); and covering higher high diesel fuel costs. ($1.1 million). “We are rethinking how the department serves its customers,” said ITD Director Brian Ness. “The department is improving service while reducing costs.” Click below for his full announcement.

Recall drive falls short; no special election in August on Luna, Toryanski, Ellsworth

The effort to recall state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna has officially failed, with backers falling well short of the 158,000-plus signatures needed by today's deadline to force a special election in August. An effort to target two Boise legislators for recall, GOP Sen. Mitch Toryanski and Rep. Julie Ellsworth, for their support of Luna's school reform bills, also fell short, gathering only about a quarter of the required signatures. Morgan Hill, campaign manager, said, “It's not that we didn't have support for it. I think that people all over the state were looking to sign a recall petition. We're still getting people even today who are coming up to us. But a lot of people didn't have access to us, they didn't know about it. … A lot of folks didn't even know who Tom Luna was to begin with, which was the most surprising thing.”

Hill, a Boise pilot, said the campaign raised only about $4,500, plus another $15,000 worth of in-kind advertising donations, and relied entirely on volunteers. Though it reported in early June that it had more than 75,000 signatures, Hill said an “error in the numbers” forced a recount yesterday, which led to the conclusion late last night that the campaign had gathered only about 50,000 signatures for the statewide recall petition. “Yeah, the bar was very high, and maybe unachievable, but we did a very great thing, and that's involving people in the political process,” Hill said. “Something we can look forward to in the future is that we have so many more people, tens of thousands more people now, who are involved in the political process who would not have been otherwise.”

Hill said the campaign also was hurt by the Idaho Education Association's decision not to support the recall effort; the teachers' union backed a successful referendum drive that will place all three of Luna's controversial new school reform laws on the ballot for possible repeal in the November 2012 election.

Hill will hold a press conference on the state Capitol steps at 4 p.m. today, and he said the campaign consider forming a new nonpartisan watchdog organization. “This was all started because of one man's reckless leadership and his intention to basically deconstruct the education system and basically feed it off to special interests,” Hill said. “The people came together because of that. Despite that we didn't make it, we did accomplish a much bigger goal, which is involving so many more people into the political process. I think that is the real victory, that a lot more people are aware now.”

Otter’s focus as head of Western Govs Assn: Vets, nukes, industrial energy

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, who wraps up his term as chairman of the Western Governors Association at the group's annual conference this week in Coeur d'Alene, says he's “found a lot more comfort … and productivity with the Western Governors than any of the other governors associations.” In fact, Otter quit the National Governors Association two years ago as a money-saving move amid state budget cuts; he says he feels like he can get more done working with just the 19 western states. At the WGA, during his term as chairman, Otter's brought additional focus on industrial energy efficiency, nuclear power development in the west in the wake of the Japanese tsunami, and, at this week's conference, a special session on how western states can help out returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan; he's also continued the association's work on issues like forest health and water. Here's a link to our full Q-and-A with Otter.

The China thing…

It turns out that the John Birch Society, through its magazine, “The New American,” has been whipping up the swirl of online outrage over Idaho being sold off to the Chinese, Idaho Statesman reporter Rocky Barker reported on Sunday; you can read his full article here, which included this tidbit: Last week, the online frenzy bumped a six-month-old Statesman story about about an effort to court Chinese investment in Idaho to the most-viewed article on the Statesman's website, drawing tens of thousands of viewers. Barker's article includes a Q-and-A “fact check” on the claims, noting that the Chinese have not bought 50 square miles of Idaho, nor would a possible free-trade zone exempt the Chinese from American laws; Idaho has a free trade zone for Canada now in Boundary County.

In the latest “New American” article on June 9, writer Joe Wolverton blasted Idaho Gov. Butch Otter's “Project 60,” a plan to increase the state's gross domestic product while Otter is governor, as “an extraordinary display of misdirection all designed to lull the citizens of the sovereign state of Idaho into a stupor while their state is sold to the Chinese.” Barker reports that Otter fielded questions from concerned Idahoans about the reports at his recent Capital for a Day event at Castleford.

Court considers blocking new anti-union laws

A federal judge is now pondering whether Idaho's newest anti-union laws should be blocked while they're challenged in court, the Associated Press reports; the two laws, intended to weaken the power of labor organizations in Idaho, were passed during the 2011 legislative session and are scheduled to take effect July 1. Two unions are challenging the measures as unconstitutional; U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill is expected to rule this week on a request for a preliminary injunction; click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Latest episode in Rammell saga…

Former Idaho gubernatorial candidate Rex Rammell's continuing saga got even wackier yesterday, when he called a press conference outside the Bonneville County Courthouse, saying he wanted to “discuss the Felony Jury Tampering charges he now faces, in addition to the Misdemeanor for illegally possessing wildlife.” His press release was headed, “Rex Rammell Felony Charge.” His event was interrupted as officers showed up, cuffed him and arrested him; Rammell said he had intended to turn himself in. “They're treating me like a criminal,” he says in video of the incident on KPVI-TV. “This is unnecessary - I'm a good citizen. … All I was doing was trying to inform the jury of their rights.” You can see the video here from KPVI, which includes a handcuffed Rammell trying to answer questions from the press as deputies try to load him into a squad car.

Here's Rammell's latest press release: “At 11 AM  I arrived at the Bonneville County Courthouse to hold a press conference.  County deputies were obviously waiting for me, because three of them were on me lack a pack of dogs on a rabbit.  They were very physical.  They forcefully handcuffed me and hurried me away from the Courthouse, despite my objections.  TV 6 and 8 filmed the entire episode.  I posted bond and am scheduled for a preliminary examination, July 6, 1:30.”

The felony charge in question is jury tampering, for handing out fliers to jurors who were about to hear the case against Rammell for poaching an elk in November.

‘Aggravated battery with a frying pan’

It's not even a full moon, but the Boise Police is reporting, among its usual list of overnight incidents, a case of “aggravated battery with a frying pan.” According to the police report, Daniel J. Lovely, 24, was arrested early this morning after police responded to a report of a fight between roommates, in which the victim told them the suspect “used a cast iron frying pan to strike him more than once in the head, breaking the handle of the frying pan.” The victim was taken to the hospital with a head laceration. Lovely was booked into jail, and “the frying pan was recovered from the home.”

Idaho congressional delegation wants more time for Lake Lowell comments

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — All four members of Idaho's congressional delegation are asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to extend the public comment period for a conservation plan that could put new restrictions on Lake Lowell. The public comment period is scheduled to expire July 29, but The Idaho Statesman reports the delegation sent a letter this week asking for a 120-day extension. Canyon County officials, boaters and others are worried about the planning process, which they expect will put new restrictions on activities around the man-made lake and surrounding Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge. But refuge managers say the changes would help safeguard wildlife while still allowing public access. The proposed plan would limit motorized water sports and bicycles, impose access and boat-launch fees and bar dogs and horses from the refuge.

EITC president to retire, state board launches national search for replacement

Eastern Idaho Technical College President Burton Waite says he'll retire on Dec. 31, prompting the state Board of Education today to announce a national search for a replacement. Waite has headed the state college in Idaho Falls since July of 2008. “I have absolutely enjoyed every minute of it,” he said. You can read a full announcement here from the State Board of Education.

Idaho gets $600K in pharmaceutical settlement

Idaho will get more than $600,000 in a legal settlement with two pharmaceutical manufacturers, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden announced today, over unfair and deceptive practices in manufacturing and distributing four drugs the companies manufactured in Puerto Rico, including Paxil CR, a popular antidepressant drug, and Kytril, a drug used to prevent nausea and vomiting caused by cancer chemotherapy and radiation therapy. The companies, GlaxoSmithKline and SB Pharmco Puerto Rico, no longer are using the Puerto Rico manufacturing plant, and all tainted batches of the drugs were recalled; click below for the full announcement from Wasden.

Activists may target megaloads

Here's a news item from the Associated Press and the Lewiston Tribune: LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) — An environmental activist group is gathering in the Lolo National Forest next month and organizers say they may target oversized truckloads of oil refinery equipment traveling along U.S. Highway 12. Earth First! organizer Greg Mack of Moscow says the gathering is set to run July 5 through July 12 between the Idaho border and Lolo, Mont. Mack told the Lewiston Tribune that the day after every annual rendezvous the group performs an act of civil disobedience. He says that if the oversized trucks, dubbed megaloads, aren't moving at that time, the group may choose a different subject. ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil wants to send more than 100 oversized loads on U.S. Highway 12. The Idaho Transportation Department hasn't granted permission for the megaloads. It's waiting on a recommendation from a hearing officer.

Turns out this is ‘Lightning Safety Awareness Week’ - really

Would you believe that this is Lightning Safety Awareness Week? Really. It runs from June 19-25. In observance of the annual week, the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety is urging attention to surge protectors and grounding, saying lightning strikes are responsible for 5 percent of all insured property losses annually and caused $1 billion in insured losses in 2010. Meanwhile, the National Weather Service in Lincoln, has put up a special web page about lightning risks, saying lightning killed an average of 55 people a year in the last 30 years.

Last night’s whopper of a storm was fifth-biggest lightning show in a decade

It's amazingly calm and mild in Boise this morning, with only a few puddles testifying to last night's wild weather - massive amounts of lightning, hard, soaking rains, and whipping wind gusts. We lost power at 10 p.m., which meant TV and computer were silenced in favor of watching the incredible lightning show by candlelight for the next hour and a half. The Boise Police reported two lightning-caused fires totaling 12 acres. “At about 11 p.m., as firefighters had the fires both under control, fire crews had to retreat to their vehicles for their own safety as another very active storm cell brought numerous lightning strikes to the area,” reports BPD spokeswoman Lynn Hightower. “Fortunately the storm also brought moderate to heavy rainfall. Crews were clearing from both fires by midnight.”

The Idaho Statesman reported that a Garden City man was struck by lightning while standing in the front doorway of his home, touching a metal screen door frame; he was taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

Valerie Mills, a meteorologist and senior forecaster with the National Weather Service in Boise, said there were about 50 lightning strikes recorded in Ada County, the fifth-most in the last 10 years. “So yeah, it was a big night,” she said. The violent storm was kicked off by Boise's first really hot day of the year, which wasn't a record but hit 95 degrees. “We had warming below, and cooling aloft,” Mills said. “We also had moisture. That added instability, and the moisture that we had was just the ingredient that was needed to trigger those thunderstorms.” It wasn't the typical Idaho rainstorm - a few drops, a lot of wind, and it's over. Instead, the whopper of a storm was enough to clear out worsening air quality, water everyone's lawns and put on a big light show. “It was quite a day for Ada County, in fact other areas around too, in southeastern Oregon and Southwest Idaho,” Mills said.

Testimony: How communities fit in redistricting, economics vs. politics…

John Cross of Post Falls, Region 1 chairman for the Idaho Republican Party, told the Idaho redistricting commission at its hearing in Coeur d'Alene tonight, “I want to recommend that the state maintain the 35 legislative districts. I believe it will help to prevent  the rural low-population districts from becoming larger geographically than they already are.” Asked by Commissioner George Moses if he didn't think the Legislature perhaps should be a part of an overall move to shrink the size of government, Cross said, “I don't think you're going to get the proper representation for the people in the rural areas in particular. … To reduce it, I think, would make very little difference in our state budget as far as I can tell.”

Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, urged the commission to “keep the city (of Coeur d'Alene) in as much of a single district as possible.” Jeremy Boggess, an independent who ran against Goedde in the last three elections, made a similar plea, asking the commission to preserve cities and other communities of interest.

Ed Morse, a real estate appraiser from Coeur d'Alene, said the current district plan links some areas with “really no commonality.” “I appraise real estate throughout the Panhandle, and really throughout the state. In that regard I guess I'm a microeconomist,” he told the commission. He urged consideration of economic commonalities in drawing district lines, including geography, employment, shopping and transportation, rather than existing “political interests” like cities. He also spoke out against any plan to link North Idaho with eastern Idaho in a single congressional district, saying there's no economic tie.

CdA Tribe wants its reservation in a district with Kootenai County

Among those testifying tonight in Coeur d'Alene at the public hearing on redistricting is Helo Hancock, legislative director for the Coeur d'Alene Tribe. The Coeur d'Alene Reservation is now in District 2, and Hancock said, “It's our understanding that that district will change quite substantially.” As that happens, he said, “We would like to see the Coeur d'Alene Reservation stay intact, and we would like the reservation to be included in a legislative district that is joined with Kootenai County.”

Reasons include cultural, economic and historical ties, he said; the original boundaries of the reservation, established by presidential executive order in 1873, extended from the Cataldo Mission due west to the mouth of the Spokane River, and then along the river to the Washington line. “So these were our homelands,” Hancock said. Significant tribal communities are located along the Highway 95 corridor and in the Kootenai County portion of the reservation, he said. “We're the largest employer in North Idaho, and about 65 percent of our employees are not Indian,” Hancock said, noting that many, like him, commute from Coeur d'Alene.

Bruning: Keeping CdA whole in redistricting ‘not just sensible,’ but fits numbers

Coeur d'Alene city councilman John Bruning is the first to testify at the Idaho bipartisan citizens' redistricting commission's public hearing tonight in Coeur d'Alene, which follows a hearing this afternoon in Sandpoint. “Thank you for holding hearings in North Idaho,” Bruning told the commission. He noted that his city's population grew by more than 9,600 people in the past decade, nearly 28 percent growth since 2000. “Coeur d'Alene grew at a faster pace than the overall state of Idaho, for many good reasons,” Bruning told the commission, “among them a healthy business climate, a good place to live, a caring community … a desirable place to call home.” Speaking for the whole city council and the mayor, Bruning urged the commission to keep Coeur d'Alene and other cities whole in redistricting, rather than dividing them among legislative districts. Given the numbers, Bruning said, “Keeping Coeur d'Alene whole in redistricting is not just sensible, it is almost mathematically perfect.”

Commission Co-Chairman Evan Frasure noted that using exact city limits as legislative district lines can be problematic when the lines move due to annexation and previously unbuilt land gets developed; that's how Ada County ended up with district lines running through the middle of some people's homes. You can listen to the hearing live here. Tomorrow, the commission will hold public hearings in Moscow and Lewiston; there's more info here.

Luna to feds: Idaho won’t raise NCLB ‘benchmarks’ next year

Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna has sent a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan saying Idaho won't increase the “benchmarks” its students have to reach under the federal No Child Left Behind law next year, as the law requires, because the law measures only proficiency, not student academic growth from year to year. Instead, Idaho will use its own system for gauging student achievement, and not comply with that provision of No Child Left Behind until the federal law is overhauled to use better measures, the AP reports; click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner. You can read Luna's letter to Duncan here.

Of school funding, data system problems and commitments…

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on Idaho's budget-crunched schools looking at a possible $50 million one-time boost in July, no strings attached, if state tax revenues meet projections in the final month of the state's fiscal year that ends June 30. And here's a link to my full story on the dustup over the state's new longitudinal data system for schools, which local school officials around the state say has serious problems, but state schools Supt. Tom Luna says must be in place by September. After Tom Taggart, president-elect of the Idaho Association of School Business Officials and director of business and operations for the Lakeland School District, urged lawmakers today to “slow down” the process so bugs can be worked out, Luna said that's not an option, under strings tied to the $300 million in federal stimulus funds Idaho's accepted in the last few years. “We lost that option when we took the money from the feds – we have a Sept. 30, 2011 deadline,” Luna said. “It's time to meet those commitments.”

Testimony: Changes proposed for legislative districts 1, 2

Among other testimony at today's public hearing on redistricting in Sandpoint: Mike Keough, husband of state Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, delivered a letter from his wife, who's at a JFAC meeting today. “She's pleased that you have given the people in the area the opportunity to visit with you face to face as you chart our political structure for the next 10 years,” he told the redistricting commissioners. In her letter, Keough said she favors adding all of Clark Fork, Priest River and Oldtown back into District 1, where they were before the last redistricting a decade ago. She said she backs the rest of Bonner County remaining in District 2, joining northern Kootenai County; Shoshone and Benewah counties, which now are joined to Bonner in District 2, should be in another, more connected district, she suggested.

Dennis Engelhardt, a former GOP legislative candidate from Sagle, urged the commission not to trim down Idaho's legislative districts to fewer than 35, though the law lets the number drop as low as 30. “Many people I've talked to up here are opposed to lowering to 30 or anything less than it was now,” he  told redistricters. “You would deprive your people of representation.”

Byron Lewis of Clark Fork asked the commission to return his area to District 1. “It is important to me that I am allowed to go to the same polling place as my neighbor,” he said. “As it stands now, I can't do that.” He added, “Because of the way the lines were drawn, some folks may have decided not to vote. Some folks … chose to use the absentee ballot.” From homes in his area, the polls might best have been accessed “by boat, and then walk 2 miles to the polling place,” he noted. Commission Co-Chairman Evan Frasure of Pocatello thanked Lewis for his testimony and said it shows how helpful it can be for the commissioners to hear directly from people who know their areas. Lewis' desire to have Clark Fork all in one district - District 1 -  “makes a ton of sense to this commissioner, at least,” Frasure said.

Redistricting hearing kicks off in Sandpoint

Tom Dillon of Sandpoint, chairman of the Legislative District 1 Republican Central Committee, was the first to testify at this afternoon's public hearing on redistricting in Sandpoint. “Today I represent myself,” Dillon told Idaho's bipartisan citizen redistricting committee. “I have some disagreements with Republicans on this issue.” Dillon said he's been trying to come up with bipartisan proposals, but has been disappointed in the response he's gotten. “I was met with a highly partisan response so far,” he said. “The attitudes and proposals are adversarial and totally lacking in public spirit. They favor incumbents, special interests, a political party or a particular individual. I can personally testify that both Republicans and Democrats are blatantly promoting their own interests.”

You can listen live to the hearing here. Tonight, the redistricting committee will hold a public hearing in Coeur d'Alene; there's more info here.

Guardian: Pro-megaloads group asked to cease using state seal

Boise blogger David Frazier reports on his Boise Guardian blog that a pro-megaloads group, the “Western Legacy Alliance,” has been asked by the Idaho Secretary of State's office to cease using Idaho's official state seal in its materials, including newspaper ads that ran in the Idaho Statesman touting the big loads, to imply state endorsement. “The Seal must not be used to mistakenly convey State of Idaho approval, sponsorship or affiliation,” the secretary of state's office told the Guardian; it said the group has now indicated that it will stop using the seal. You can read Frazier's full post here.

Luna: Some concerns about data system valid, some not

State schools Supt. Tom Luna said some concerns raised by local school officials about the new longitudinal data system are valid, but others aren't. He said school districts could choose whether to automate the process of entering data into the new system the first year. “To date, districts have chosen not to automate the process but to use this money for personnel and upload this data manually,” Luna told JFAC. “This is why many districts are reporting additional burdens on staff and resources. I continue to encourage districts to automate this process so they can minimize labor and maximize the benefit of this system.”

He said the state department needs to help districts more with the system, and acknowledged there have been many “frustrations.” But he said there also have been “success stories.” He said the department has heard the concerns, and, “We are taking steps to address them.”

Luna said he's launching a third-party audit of the data collection to verify its accuracy, and has asked school districts to volunteer for similar audits at their end; a half-dozen have now volunteered, he said.

Luna on data system: ‘This is the most accurate data we have ever had’

State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna is now addressing JFAC about the new longitudinal data system, and his picture is very different than that offered by local school district business managers. “This is the first year ISEE has been operational,” Luna told lawmakers. “We are the last state in the nation to deploy a statewide longitudinal data system, but we have made progress quickly. This is the most accurate data we have ever had.”

He said the state and districts have made “impressive progress” in getting the system up and working right. “It's been a huge undertaking for us as we work with limited time and limited resources,” he said.

School data system in ‘emergency’ situation

Lakeland School District business manager Tom Taggart, head of the Idaho Association of School Business Officials, told JFAC that district workers feel the new longitudinal data system and its problems is an “emergency” situation. “We think the entire process should be slowed down,” he said. “We think that a big step forward would be the leadership of the state department standing up saying, 'This has not gone as well as we hoped, it's got serious problems, we could've done a better job at the start.' I think that acknowledgement gives us comfort we're going to fix it.”

He said, “I think when it's done and it's fully implemented and it works well, we will love it, and we're willing to help get there. But overwhelmingly, the people in the districts are frustrated and they're upset and they're looking for help.”

School data system ‘not working for the school districts’

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee is now hearing an update on the new student longitudinal data system, known as ISEE, or Idaho System for Educational Excellence. “The system is pretty well developed now and the department is transitioning off of federal funds,” explained legislative budget analyst Paul Headlee. “It looks like at this time, both the development and maintenance of the system is less than was originally proposed in 2008.” From fiscal years 2009 to 2011, the state has appropriated $8.64 million for development, including a $5.9 million federal grant, and in fiscal year 2012, the state has appropriated $1.09 million for maintenance and operations.

Tom Taggart, president-elect of the Idaho Association of School Business Officials, told the lawmakers, “We want to look forward in what we can do to make this work, without being too negative, but I think part of our message is a dose of reality as to what's going on at the school level with ISEE. We're the nuts and bolts people who are in the business offices in the schools. We like it when things work, and when they don't work we like to find a way to fix them.”

On ISEE, he said, “There's still a lot of concern and frustration. … We're not here to whine, we're not here to put up roadblocks. We don't have any political agenda. We want see this thing work. However to our members it's clear at this point it isn't working for the school districts, and we haven't seen what we'd like to see in response to our concerns.” Trying to get the system to work has placed a “huge burden” on school district staffs, Taggart said. “They are spending hundreds and hundreds of hours. … A lot of time it's like whack-a-mole: You solve this problem and three more pop up over here you have to deal with.”

As a result, he said, “I'm not sure anyone can say exactly how many units are being funded this year, how many teachers are being funded. … Normally at this time, we'd have that information.” That's created uncertainty in setting district budgets, he said. “There's great frustration out there.”

One-time funding boost for schools could be ‘very significant’

The possible $50 million additional payout of discretionary money to Idaho schools, if state surplus funds hold up in June, will be “very significant,” said JFAC Co-Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert. “We were hoping it'll be a little higher,” he said. “It may be the very thing that helps 'em through this tough budget year.”

His co-chair, Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, cautioned, however, “June isn't here yet.” June typically is the fourth-largest month for state tax revenues, and in some past years, she noted, it's brought bad news. Said Cameron, “We'd feel better about June had May been a better number.”

School districts, already facing big cuts, will have full discretion on how they spend the one-time payout of discretionary funds. “They can do whatever they feel they need to do,” Cameron said. “They may buy back furlough days. They may use it toward staffing needs.” Bell said, “This has no strings attached to it at all.” But both Cameron and Bell said they'd encourage them to “be cautious, because we know the next budget may be worse.”

The state budget for schools for next year includes a 1.6 percent cut in salary-based apportionment, the main state funding source for staff salaries for schools, and the following year, that apportionment will be cut by 4.2 percent as part of the new school reform laws, with those funds shifted elsewhere, including to technology investments. “That's already built in in statute,” Cameron said. “From my perspective, they are wise to hang onto it for the following budget year.”
  

Possible additional money for schools under federal MOE requirements: $50M

The final numbers aren't in yet, but the latest estimates suggest that, depending on what happens with state tax revenues in June, Idaho school districts and charter schools could get about $50 million in a one-time distribution of discretionary funds to satisfy federal maintenance-of-effort requirements attached to federal stimulus funds Idaho accepted earlier. That would be about $3,587 per support unit; a support unit is a calculation roughly equal to a classroom.

Legislative budget analyst Paul Headlee said under the same requirements, community colleges likely would get about $5.5 million. If there's a negative variance in this year's school funding formula calculations, the amounts to be distributed could drop; if the state collects more than forecast in June, they could go up, and if it collects less than forecast, they could drop.

Where federal jobs funds for schools stand…

Legislative budget analyst Paul Headlee told JFAC members this morning that of the $51.6 million in federal jobs funds that became available to Idaho school districts to save jobs, about $13.7 million have been drawn down by the districts, leaving $37.8 million; the funds can be spent between now and the first three months of fiscal year 2013. However, when Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, noted that the breakout showed the Kuna school district hadn't spent any of its jobs money but the district told him it's spent half, Tim Hill of the state Department of Education said the payments are processed only every other week, so additional amounts could have been spent since the last report. The state budgeted as if districts would spend half that money this year, and half that money next year, in fiscal year 2012.

JFAC gathers for interim meeting: ‘Not using word ‘normal’ any more’ on school funding

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee is gathered for its interim meeting and tour today, starting out at Columbia High School in Nampa. Nampa School District Superintendent Gary Larsen, asked by committee members how he'll cope with state budget cuts and new requirements to shift salary funds to technology, said, “We'll work with what we get. … I'm a little leery about cutting back the workforce more than we have.”

JFAC Co-Chair Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, said, “We're not even using the word 'normal' any more in this situation.”

Among those joining the joint legislative budget committee for its meetings this morning are state schools Supt. Tom Luna.

Leno’s defense for McGee: ‘There’s not a lot to do in Idaho’

Comedian Jay Leno tonight returned to the story of Idaho state Sen. John McGee, proclaiming it one of his “favorite stories,” and recounting once again the DUI arrest and jackknifed SUV and cargo trailer two doors down from where it was taken from a stranger's home by the prominent GOP politician. “In his defense, there's not a lot to do in Idaho,” Leno said. “Ever been to Idaho? There's not a lot going on.”

School officials pan new student data system, JFAC to review it

Idaho's longitudinal data system for its K-12 public schools has been roundly panned in surveys of the members of the Idaho Association of School Administrators and the Idaho Association of School Business Officials. The business managers survey found that only 1 percent rated the state Department of Education's overall job implementing the project, which is dubbed the “Idaho System for Education Excellence,” positively, while 30.3 percent were neutral and 68.7 percent rated it negatively. Asked if their school district “fully understands the reasons for, and uses of, ISEE,” 37.8 percent of the business managers said yes, while 62.2 percent said no. Among the school administrators, 91.2 percent said the ISEE has added “a great deal of additional work” for personnel in their school districts.

An overview and demonstration of the multimillion-dollar student data system, along with the survey results, is on the agenda for the Legislature's Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee tomorrow, which is beginning its interim meeting and tour in Nampa. JFAC also will discuss school funding and the Idaho Education Network.

When a surplus isn’t a surplus…

Gov. Butch Otter's budget director, Wayne Hammon, has a presentation about the state's fiscal picture that he's now sent to every state lawmaker and state agency director, and it may seem counterintuitive: Though Idaho's state tax revenues are now running $66.1 million ahead of forecast for the fiscal year, Hammon says, “The bottom line is that although the state has more revenue than it anticipated, most of that money has already been spent.” A majority of whatever year-end surplus materializes must go to maintenance-of-effort requirements for education and related programs that were attached to federal stimulus funds Idaho already accepted. By his estimates, the real state surplus at this point is just $6.6 million. Then, he points to pressing needs ahead, drained reserves and falling federal funding.

“Despite this year's revenue coming in ahead of the forecast, there is no budget surplus,” Hammon writes in the presentation; you can see the full document here. “All of us in state government need to prepare now for an additional round of budget cuts – this time in federal funds that will not be replaced with state resources. Our first priorities for any new revenue must be education and restoring our rainy day accounts.”

Summer (finally) arrives in Boise

That really shouldn't be news, considering that today is June 21st, the official first day of summer. But it's been such a long, long wait through such an unseasonably cool, wet spring! Now the sun is shining, the roses are blooming, the trails are drying out, and at sunrise today, the rainbows were dancing in the spray from the windsurfers and kitesailors up on Lucky Peak lake. It's about time!

Death penalty off the table in Shackelford resentencing

The death penalty is now off the table in the resentencing of convicted murderer Dale Shackelford, the Moscow-Pullman Daily News reports. The Idaho Supreme Court has upheld all convictions and sentences against Shackelford for the 1999 killing of his ex-wife and her boyfriend except for the death penalty, which was imposed in addition to a fixed life term in prison without the possibility of parole; the Ring vs. Arizona decision from the U.S. Supreme Court requires juries, rather than judges, to find aggravating factors warranting a death penalty.

Latah County Prosecutor Bill Thompson said seeking the death sentence would mean requesting a new 10-week trial and jury selection in an attempt to reconvict Shackelford on the two murder counts. “We simply couldn't justify that,” he told the Daily News; he'll now seek consecutive life sentences for each count of first-degree murder. Shackelford is in the state's maximum-security prison; click below for a full report.

Leno on McGee: ‘Is it spring break for politicians?’

Oh, my. Idaho state Sen. John McGee's troubles made Jay Leno's monologue tonight. Leno asked, “Did you hear his excuse? He said computer hackers got into his bloodstream and put alcohol in there.” Reflecting on the recent revelations about a New York congressman, a California governor and an Idaho state senator, Leno asked, “Is it spring break for politicians?”

Former Idaho DEQ employee gets federal prison term for school-bus contract fraud

A Boise couple who defrauded the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality of hundreds of thousands in federal grant funds – and while they were at it, damaged Idaho school buses and caused a need for thousands in costly repairs – was sentenced in federal court today by U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge. Jorge Garcia, 50, a DEQ employee who submitted a fraudulent bid to do the federally funded work and then awarded the contract to himself and his wife, was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison followed by three years of supervised release. His wife, Karen, was sentenced to five months of probation with 10 months of home detention with electronic monitoring, also followed by three years of supervised release. The two also must pay restitution; you can read the U.S. Attorney's office's full announcement here. “The Garcias violated the public trust,” said U.S. Attorney Wendy J. Olson. “Today’s sentencings make clear that abuse of positions of trust and intentional misuse of taxpayer money will result in sure punishment.”

McGee’s attorney: Medical issue involved

KTVB-TV is reporting that state Sen. John McGee's attorney, Scott McKay, said at McGee's arraignment this afternoon that a medical issue was involved in McGee's behavior over the weekend when, in a bizarre incident, he was arrested sleeping in a stranger's SUV, towing a cargo trailer, after he'd jackknifed it in a neighbor's yard. Police say McGee had been drinking at a golf course Saturday night, before being found in the SUV in the early-morning hours Sunday. He was arraigned this afternoon on charges of misdemeanor drunken driving and taking a vehicle without the owner's consent causing damage, a felony, the Associated Press reports. Here's a link to KTVB's report. McGee's bond was set at $5,000; he's a fourth-term Republican senator who serves as the Senate majority caucus chairman and has long been rumored as a candidate for higher office.

State suspends payments to hospitals

The Idaho Department of Health & Welfare is suspending payments to hospitals this week due to a budget crunch, the Twin Falls Times-News reported over the weekend; you can read their full story here. The suspension, which just puts off paying bills that still must be paid, comes because of a surge in Medicaid patients, the department says – one that wasn't anticipated in this year's budget.

Why Crapo’s not on Romney list: ‘Doesn’t like to tell people how to vote’

Here's why Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo isn't among the Idaho GOP leaders on Mitt Romney's Idaho steering committee list: “He's not on that letter for Romney because he doesn't generally endorse,” said Crapo's spokesman, Lindsay Nothern. “He wasn't very active in the last go-round with McCain. He's not likely to be on anything in the near future. That's just his style. He's not one that gets in real early.”

Added Nothern, “His rationale is he doesn't like to tell people how to vote, basically. … I would expect he'll sit out for quite a while, if not the whole election.” Crapo wasn't at the Romney fundraiser in Boise today; he's in Washington, D.C. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Politico: Labrador could be GOP’s ‘credible face for immigration reform’

Politico yesterday took a look at Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador as a possible “credible face for broader immigration reform” for the GOP. Reporter Marin Cogan writes, “Wading into the tricky politics of immigration reform would seem to be a dead end for any Republican these days — let alone a conservative freshman from Idaho. But Rep. Raul Labrador, a Puerto Rican-born former immigration lawyer and overnight tea party darling, is doing just that — meeting with Republicans and conservative opinion-makers to try to build a 'conservative consensus' to the seemingly intractable problem that defied a national reform effort nearly four years ago and still roils the political landscape on a state level.” You can read the full article here.
  

Labrador at Romney fundraiser, but still undecided in presidential race

The list of top Idaho GOP elected officials on Mitt Romney's Idaho steering committee for his presidential campaign is so comprehensive that what stands out is who's not on it - 1st District Rep. Raul Labrador, and U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo. Labrador's spokesman, Phil Hardy, said Labrador's at the Romney fundraising breakfast this morning. “He hasn't made a decision yet,” Hardy said. “He is there now, he is attending the event, but he has not made, as of now, a decision on who he is supporting for the presidency.”

Romney endorsed both Crapo and Labrador in the 2010 elections and his “Free and Strong America PAC” sent them donations, $5,000 to Crapo and $3,500 to Labrador.

Romney picks up Idaho leaders’ support, holds private Boise fundraiser

GOP presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is zipping through Boise this morning for a campaign fundraiser breakfast, but the event is closed to the press and his campaign won't talk about it. “It's a private fundraiser,” said campaign spokesman Ryan Williams. “We don't discuss our fundraising. He's just going to be in town briefly.” Romney also has another brief stop scheduled today in Idaho Falls, and then he's off to Colorado this afternoon for another fundraiser. “It's a private event,  but we will be back for public events over the next few months,” Williams said. “We have strong support in Idaho, and we will be back.”

This morning, Romney announced his “Idaho statewide steering committee” for his presidential bid, and it includes many of the top names in Idaho Republican politics, with Gov. Butch Otter and U.S. Sen. Jim Risch as co-chairmen. Others on the committee: 2nd District Rep. Mike Simpson, Lt. Gov. Brad Little, Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, state schools Supt. Tom Luna, state Controller Donna Jones, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, House Speaker Lawerence Denney; Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis and Assistant Majority Leader Chuck Winder, and House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke and caucus chairman Ken Roberts.

In a news release, Romney said, “I am proud to have the support of so many Idaho leaders. They will help spread my message to Idaho voters of creating jobs, balancing our budget, and reversing President Obama's failed policies.” Risch said, “We need a president with experience creating jobs – Mitt Romney has that experience.”
  

State senator arrested for DUI, theft

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Republican Senator John McGee says he is embarrassed by his arrest on allegations he drove off in a stranger's vehicle and was driving under the influence of alcohol. The four-term Senator from Caldwell was arrested early Sunday and is being held in the Ada County Jail pending arraignment Monday. Authorities say a breath test found he had a blood-alcohol content of .15, nearly twice Idaho's legal limit. McGee's attorney Scott McKay says McGee has never been in this kind of situation before, but is confident in the justice system and vows to handle the matter responsibly. McGee faces a potential felony of grand theft for taking the vehicle. KTVB-TV has a full report here and KIVI-TV has a full report here, each adding some twists to the bizarre story; McGee is expected to be arraigned on Monday.

ITD issues first two permits for mini-megaloads on Hwy 95, I-90

The Idaho Transportation Department has issued the first two permits for “mini-megaloads” of oil equipment to travel up U.S. Highway 95 from Lewiston to Coeur d'Alene, where they'll turn onto I-90 to Montana and Canada; read my full story here at spokesman.com.

The two could start moving as soon as a June 27, a week from Monday. They're among 33 giant loads of oil field equipment, bound for the Alberta oil sands, that have been stalled in Lewiston for months, awaiting permits to travel on scenic, twisting U.S. Highway 12 to Montana. Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil has been cutting those loads in half, reducing their height but not their length or width, to allow them to travel on the interstate.

“Based on review by the department's traffic and bridge engineers, we believe the modules can be moved safely (with) minimal impact on traffic and emergency services,” said Alan Frew, Division of Motor Vehicles administrator for ITD. Click below for ITD's full announcement.

Risch: Keep Guantanamo open, hold detainees indefinitely

Idaho Sen. Jim Risch visited the Guantanamo Bay detention facility on Monday, and he said today that he believes it should stay open indefinitely, and the detainees there should be held indefinitely - though President Barack Obama pledged shortly after he was elected to shut the facility down; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com. “It's been a matter of constant debate in Washington, D.C., constant debate in the media and constant debate in the international community,” said Risch, who serves on the Senate foreign relations and intelligence committees. Risch said conditions at the detention camp are far better than they were shortly after the 9/11 attacks, when they caused international outrage. “The orange jumpsuits are gone. Camp X-Ray is closed,” Risch said. “The pendulum has swung way back the other way.”

Detainees at Guantanamo now “get very nourishing meals,” Risch said, and “the sensitivity toward their cultural and religious practices is very high.” Risch said, “When I was there it was 106 degrees and humidity was higher, but once you entered the facility, it was air-conditioned and kept at a very moderate temperature. … It's a whole different ballgame than it was 10 years ago.”

The initial facility there, opened shortly after the 2001 terrorist attacks, was open-air and tin-roofed. It's now a modern prison facility. Guantanamo now houses 171 men, mostly from Yemen, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia; at its height, it had more than 700. “They're people who were taken on the battle field and have important information,” Risch said. “In fact, they are prisoners of war - they were picked up during a war.” They may not have been uniformed soldiers, Risch said, but he said the war on terrorism is a different kind of war. “We have to defend ourselves,” he said. “The hostilities are ongoing.”

Mason Clutter, counsel to the Rule of Law program at the Constitution Project, a bipartisan Washington, D.C. think tank that tracks issues related to Guantanamo, said for her organization, “It's not a matter of closing the facility or keeping it open - it's more of a matter of ending the harmful policies that have come out of Guantanamo, the policies of using military commissions to try these individuals, as well as the policy of detention without charge. … There may be room to hold, pursuant to the laws of war, some of the individuals who are at Guantanamo Bay, but certainly not all of them.”

Clutter said the administration in 2010 identified 36 of the detainees as appropriate for prosecution either in military commissions or civilian federal court, while it identified 47 for indefinite detention without charge. But in December, Congress voted to ban transfers of Guantanamo detainees to U.S. locations or to third countries, except under very narrow circumstances. The Constitution Project maintains that detainees at Guantanamo aren't receiving appropriate due process. “It's against the rule of law,” she said. “It also damages the U.S. reputation abroad.”

Risch said Obama has offered no appropriate alternative to Guantanamo. “There is no alternative on the table of what they're going to do,” he said.

Some state workers get bonuses after three years of cuts, furloughs

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Administrators for the Idaho Legislative Services Office and the Department of Finance have approved cash bonuses for dozens of staffers at the close of the fiscal year. Records obtained Friday by The Associated Press show 102 staffers will be getting one-time bonuses on the final pay day scheduled for June 24. The bonuses range from $1,300 to as high as $5,000 for employees of those two agencies. Smaller bonuses have been approved for staffers in the Idaho Appellate Public Defender's Office and the Idaho Commission for Libraries. This year's round of bonuses is the first approved in several fiscal years for state workers. The pay perks also come in the wake of three years of significant budget cuts among state agencies and several years of state employee layoffs and furloughs; click below for a full report.

Idaho unemployment drops in May, but job numbers still down

Idaho's unemployment rate fell for the second straight month in May, but it's not all good news – employers are hiring at rates below the seasonal norm, and certain key sectors are way off – manufacturing payrolls are stuck at 1991 levels, construction employment is at 1994 levels and May's total nonfarm jobs in the state were 0.3 percent lower than May of 2010. “Wages have been rising modestly in recent months due to employers restoring hours cut during the recession or giving raises to workers who took on more responsibilities as payrolls shrank,” writes Bob Fick of the Idaho Department of Labor. Idaho's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in May was down two-tenths of a point from April to 9.4 percent. Meanwhile, the national unemployment rate rose two-tenths – but it also was at 9.4 percent. You can read Fick's full report here.

Simpson hails demise of USDA’s ‘biased anti-potato rule’

Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson says a proposed USDA rule to limit potatoes, corn, green peas and lima beans to one cup per week in school lunches was “senseless” and costly, and he's hailing the passage in the House today of the fiscal year 2012 agriculture appropriations bill, HR 2112, which includes language designed to head off the rule. “The USDA proposed rule would have been another completely unnecessary, unfunded mandate by the federal government,” Simpson said, extolling the nutritional benefits of potatoes. “A medium potato contains over 200 milligrams more potassium than a banana and has as much fiber as a similar serving of broccoli,” the congressman said in a statement. Schools would have faced substantial increased costs to comply, he said; the approprations bill includes a clause directing the USDA to issue a new proposed rule that will not carry any increased costs for schools. You can read Simpson's full news release here.

Two Idaho men indicted in firebombing

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A federal grand jury has indicted two Idaho men accused of using Molotov cocktails last month to destroy government vehicles and a private business building in Payette. The eight count indictment was issued Wednesday against 48-year-old David Vonbargen, of Fruitland, and 21-year-old Donovan Bolen, of Payette. They face a range of charges, from conspiring to use explosive devices in a federal crime to possession of stolen firearms. Federal prosecutors say the charges stem from the theft of guns from a pawn shop in Fruitland May 27. The indictment alleges Vonbargen and Bolen used Molotov cocktails to destroy a U.S. Department of Agriculture truck and all-terrain vehicle, as well as a building owned by Western Core Company Inc. If convicted on the charges, each faces at least 35 years in prison.

Clement named deputy director of Idaho Dept. of Health & Welfare

Leslie Clement, Medicaid administrator for Idaho's Department of Health & Welfare, is being promoted to deputy director overseeing Medicaid, Behavioral Health and Managed Care Services, replacing Deputy Director Dick Schultz, who is retiring after 33 years with the state. Daily administration of the Idaho Medicaid program will be handled by Paul Leary, who is being promoted to Idaho Medicaid plan administrator.

Dick Armstrong, state Health & Welfare director, said, “Like almost every state, Idaho is struggling with escalating Medicaid and mental health costs. Our challenge is to control those costs through managed care strategies while continuing to provide participants with necessary medical care. We are thrilled to have Leslie Clement lead our managed care efforts. She is a knowledgeable, well-respected, and an engaging leader who is skilled in building consensus with very difficult policy issues.”

Clement, who's been with the state since 2000 and has a master’s degree in public administration, said, “We have had to make very difficult decisions over the past few years and although we aren’t out of the woods yet, it is necessary for us to begin laying the groundwork for a different approach to the current health and social services delivery system.” You can read the department's full announcement here.
  

Anti-megaloads lawsuit now targets two federal agencies over wild, scenic values

Idaho Rivers United has filed an amended complaint in its lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service over megaloads in the wild and scenic river corridors of the Lochsa and Middle Fork Clearwater along U.S. Highway 12; now, in addition to the Forest Service, the group is suing the Federal Highway Administration. The federal lawsuit charges that both agencies violated the federal Wild & Scenic Rivers Act by allowing ITD to issue permits for hundreds of megaload transports along the route.

“These rivers represent the embodiment of what the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act was meant to protect,”  said IRU Conservation Director Kevin Lewis. “The industrialization of this river corridor clearly violates the desires of Idaho’s late Sen. Frank Church, who authored the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act. It also violates the will of Congress and the American people, who have overwhelmingly supported the protection of these two treasured rivers.” You can read the group's full announcement here, and its amended complaint here.

ITD eases traffic-delay rules for megaloads

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on today's Idaho Transportation Board action to eliminate the 10-minute limit on traffic delays from oversize loads traveling Idaho roads, including giant megaloads. The rule change takes effect July 1.

ITD board votes unanimously to eliminate 10-minute delay rule for megaloads

The Idaho Transportation Board has voted unanimously to eliminate the 10-minute limit on delays from oversized loads traveling Idaho roads. “We don't like any more delays than we have to have, but sometimes it becomes necessary to move big equipment,” said ITD Board Chairman Darrell Manning. “Commerce is important in the state of Idaho, especially right now.”

Manning said he doesn't think the rule change - which takes effect July 1 - will have any effect on the pending contested-case process for 200-plus proposed megaloads to travel on U.S. Highway 12 in north-central Idaho, though a central point of the objections to the permits has been that the traffic plan couldn't comply with the 10-minute limit on traffic delays. ITD board member Jim Coleman said, “The issue is we have conflicting rules, basically.” One rule requires traffic control plans for major projects, and the department interprets its requirements for those as falling back on the 15-minute delay rule for road construction projects. “Then we have this rule that says a 10-minute delay,” Coleman said. “Now they're just consistent. I think that's the way they should be.”

Regina Phipps, the department's vehicle size and weight specialist, said projects that don't submit traffic plans shouldn't be an issue, because “usually, in those instances, they don't have any delay problems anyway.”

ITD board member Jan Vassar asked why the rule change didn't include fee revisions to ensure that fees for oversize load permits cover the departments staffing costs to process the permits. Deputy Director Scott Stokes said a review of those fees is still in the works. “We still haven't finaled this out. It could be another month or two,” he said.

Proposed megaloads rule changes would take effect July 1st

The law that the ITD board says it's implementing with this morning's rule change is HB 228, which says that oversize farm tractors and other agricultural implements can be on the roads when they're being moved to repair shops or to or from sale, rather than just when being moved from farm to farm. It was sponsored by acting Rep. Gayle Batt, R-Wilder. It contains no references to the 10-minute traffic delay rule that's been at issue in the megaloads debate.

A draft resolution the board will consider in a few minutes says, “The Idaho Transportation Board has authority to approve required changes to Department rules; and … the Idaho Transportation Board finds the required changes … necessary due to Legislative changes and for the industry within Idaho.”

If approved by the board this morning, the rule changes would take effect July 1 as temporary rules; they'd then go to the Legislature next year for review.

ITD board poised to eliminate 10-minute delay rule for megaloads

The Idaho Transportation Board this morning is poised to eliminate the 10-minute rule for traffic delays by oversized megaloads, as part of an obscure agenda item related to a new law regarding farm tractors on roads. “Whenever they have a rule change on a particular rule, they'll do cleanup work on any other areas of the rule,” said Molly McCarty, ITD legislative liaison. But she couldn't say why elimination of the 10-minute delay rule would be considered “cleanup.”

The rule has been at issue in the contested-case fight over permits for hundreds of huge, oversized megaloads of oil equipment to travel narrow, twisting U.S. Highway 12, enroute to the Alberta oil sands. Also included in this morning's proposed rule change is elimination of the current 24-foot maximum width for any loads traveling on interstates, which also could affect plans to move reduced-height megaloads on I-90.
  

Montana bridge analysis for megaloads questioned

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A group that opposes an oil company's plans to haul 200 huge loads of oil field equipment from Idaho and through northwestern Montana argues that the state didn't adequately analyze the impact of the megaloads on the state's bridges. Zach Porter with the group All Against the Haul says two engineers, including the co-chair of the group, reviewed the bridge analyses performed by departments of transportation in Montana and Idaho. They found Idaho reviewed 14 different truck size and weight configurations while Montana analyzed one. Lee Newspapers of Montana reports Porter presented the findings to a legislative interim committee on Wednesday. Montana Transportation Director Jim Lynch told lawmakers the concerns raised by the group sound similar to those the state already addressed in its environmental assessment of the project. You can read a full report in the Missoulian here.

Redistricting commission taking testimony in eastern Idaho

The citizen redistricting commission has opened its public hearing this afternoon in Idaho Falls; it runs from 2-4 p.m., and you can listen live here (incidentally, I couldn't get the streaming to work in Mozilla this afternoon, for some reason, but it's working fine in Safari, so your browser may affect your access). Among the testimony so far: Idaho Falls City Councilor Sharon Parry called the existing sprawling District 31 in eastern Idaho “rather crazy,” saying, “I'll just say it, it's a fairly appalling job description that those folks have to represent that wide of an area.” She urged redistricters to “start from the outside of the state borders and then work in.”

The redistricting commission has another hearing scheduled for tonight from 7-9 p.m. in Pocatello, and another tomorrow from 7-9 p.m. in Soda Springs. There's more info here; next week, the commission will hold hearings in Sandpoint, Coeur d'Alene, Moscow and Lewiston.

Snake-infested house traumatizes residents

An eastern Idaho house that's infested with so many snakes that the ground around it appears to move has been abandoned by its traumatized residents, who were told when they bought it that the snakes were was just a story invented by the previous owners to escape their mortgage, reports AP reporter Jessie Bonner. The former residents of the five-bedroom Rexburg home said it was like living in a horror movie; a wildlife biologist says the house likely was built on a winter snake den, where  snakes gather in large numbers to hibernate for the winter. Click below for the full story.

For-profit online course providers to compete with locals, under school reform law

The Idaho Statesman's Dan Popkey reports today that some members of the Students Come First Technology Task Force got an unwelcome surprise in subcommittee meetings of the group this week - the consortiums their school districts are forming to offer distance-learning classes over the Idaho Education Network won't qualify as online courses for graduation requirements for the kids in their own district, who are in the same building as the teachers. It also appears that their efforts won't prevent district funds being siphoned off to other online course providers, including for-profit ones, if students decide to take classes from them.

That's the “fractional ADA” provision of the reform laws, the part that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush yesterday described as unique in the country. ADA stands for average daily attendance, which determines how state school funds are parceled out to school districts. Under the reform laws, if students decide to take an online class, a fraction of the ADA for that student is automatically shifted to the online course provider, whether or not the school district approves of it.

Popkey reports that Cliff Green, regional vice president for the for-profit Insight Schools and a member of the task force, sees opportunity in the new formula, making it easier for companies like his to compete with the state-operated Idaho Digital  Learning Academy, which now offers online courses to all Idaho schools. “It's been hard to come into a state and compete with subsidy,” Green said, referring to IDLA. “Now, whoever has the best product will win.” You can read Popkey's full story here.

Idaho plan for online course requirements called ‘model for rest of country’ by Jeb Bush

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on this morning's visit from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise to boost state schools Supt. Tom Luna's “Students Come First” school reform plan; Bush proclaimed Idaho's new laws requiring online courses and funding them “one of a kind,” and said he thinks they “will be the models for the rest of the country.” And here's a link to an April New York Times story on how Bush is pushing his “Florida Formula” for education reform around the nation.

Idaho Statesman publisher promoted to head Kansas City Star

Idaho Statesman publisher Mi-Ai Parrish has been named the president and publisher of the Kansas City Star, the McClatchy Co., which owns both papers, announced today. Parrish, 40, has been the Statesman's publisher since 2006. You can read the Star's full story here, and the Statesman's announcement here, which says McClatchy is “searching for a replacement in the weeks to come” to replace Parrish in Boise; she starts in Kansas City June 20. It's a big jump up for Parrish; the Star's circulation is 259,258 daily and 357,450 Sunday, according to McClatchy, while the Statesman's is 61,636 daily and 81,041 Sunday.
  

Bush: Digital learning ‘tip of the spear’

After their address to Idaho's school technology task force, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise joined Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and Idaho schools Supt. Tom Luna for a press conference. Luna said, “There's no better example of education reform experts in the country than these two gentlemen.” Bush said, “I'm here just as an evangelist for digital learning, but also here to commend the incredible, bold leadership of these two gentlemen, in passing the comprehensive suite of reforms that really is as important as any state effort in the last decade.”

Bush called digital learning “the tip of the spear” in education reform, but said, “What I learned in Florida was that in order to have rising student achievement happen, more often than not you have to attack this through a comprehensive effort.” He said, “The spear itself is how you reward teachers, particularly in the underserved areas and the underserved subjects, how you bring accountability to the system, how you bring a little bit of dynamic pressure so that student achievement becomes the norm rather than the exception. It requires broad policy changes, and that's what you did this year.”

Bush also said he thinks Idaho's move toward digital learning will be “a huge economic development tool,” as educators create “the content that can be exported from Idaho to other places around the country as this digital revolution takes hold.”

He said Florida requires one online course in high school. Idaho's plan, to have the state Board of Education set a requirement that likely will be much higher, will “put Idaho on the map,” Bush said. “I don't think any other state has taken this to this step.” Also unique to Idaho, he said, is the provision of the school reform law that automatically shifts funds from school districts to online course providers if students decide to take online classes. “This is part of the funding formula, so it's not just an interesting peripheral, it's front and center, it's at the core of what education's about,” Bush said. “That is unique. I don't think any state's done that in the country.”

Bush likes lobbyist vault in Idaho capitol…

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, leaving a press conference in the lower level of Idaho's state capitol, passed the lobbyist room, which, since the capitol renovation, is located in a former vault, still with its historic (but no longer locking) vault door. Bush had to stop and have someone snap a photo. He said, “We'll send this to our friends in Tallahassee - this is where they put the lobbyists!” Ducking inside, he asked, “Is this a joke?” Then, walking out of the room (he's the blur in this photo), he pronounced it “a much better way of doing it.”

Former guvs: Tech part of bigger picture, stay the course for results…

Former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise said, “I happen to believe that every child needs a mobile Internet access device.” But, he said, “It needs a strategy behind it.” He praised Idaho's approach of giving the devices to teachers first. “That makes a lot of sense,” he said. “It's the pedagogy of technology that also needs to be a major element. You're thinking those things through. … Technology is part of the total learning environment now, it's not just an add-on.”

Former Florida Gov. Job Bush said, “Big ideas require, first, leadership and stubbornness - I would call that dogged determination.” He said, “It takes time for results. … If someone slashes your tire, put on a damn new tire and execute - no offense, Tom,” an aside to Luna. “And just show fortitude, as the governor has and leaders of this state, for bolder policy. In the execution you get results.”

Bush: Good results will diminish opposition

As members of Idaho's school technology task force get the chance to question former governors Jeb Bush and Bob Wise, the first question was from state Sen. Melinda Smyser, R-Parma, a school board member, who asked “what one thing made the difference in making it successful, your whole revamping of education.” Bush responded: Results. “We have rising student achievement as measured by independent means,” he said. “That's exactly what I think you'll see with these sweeping reforms that you all passed. Implemented right, you're going to see rising student achievement. It takes away a lot of the opposition.” He added, “You can measure whether they're successful or not by the actual results.”

Wise: ‘We’re either boldly innovative, or we’re badly irrelevant’

Former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise told Idaho's school technology task force, “This is the choice: We're either boldly innovative, or we're badly irrelevant.” he said, “You already demonstrated your capacity to be boldly innovative. You have the chance to be the leader not only for Idaho but for all of the country.”

What they’ve done, their ‘10 elements’…

Here's a link to the “10 elements of digital learning” established by the Digital Learning Council, headed by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise. Bush, who served two terms as governor of Florida ending in 2007, is known for reforms including private-school vouchers, online courses and requiring third-graders to pass reading tests before they move up to fourth grade, ending “social promotion.” Wise served as West Virginia's governor from 2001 to 2005, and pushed successful “promise scholarship” legislation that helped thousands of West Virginia high school graduates continue their education; he's also the chairman of the national board for professional teacher standards.
  

Wise: Schools face ‘3 looming crises’

The nation is facing “three looming crises,” former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise told Idaho's school technology task force this morning: Declining state revenues; mounting teacher shortages, including in specific subject areas; and a growing demand for an increasingly educated workforce. “At the same time we know we have to send more on to post-secondary, we have at least a 42 percent remediation rate going on in our community colleges,” he said. “These are students who didn't get what they needed the first time.”

Wise asked, “Is there somebody to blame?” whether it's unions, parents, teachers, government, or anyone else. “I would suggest to you that there are a lot of people trying very, very hard,” he said. Showing a slide of a cell phone from 10 years ago vs. an up-to-date smart phone, Wise said we're using different and better tools now. “That's what can happen in the classroom,” he said.

Bush, Wise say digital learning is future of ed

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush told Idaho's school technology task force, “Six years from now, there's probably not going to be textbooks as we know it. … There won't be paper-driven assessments. … These will all be digitally driven with the ability to get immediate feedback.” He said, “The teachers ought to be prepared for this, they ought to be given the training, they ought to be given the tools to be able to administer and coach.” Bush said his and Wise's Digital Learning Council has set 10 elements for high-quality digital learning, and he reviewed those. “I think you all are really ahead of the game in this regard - you're not just passing laws,” he said. Instead, he said, Idaho is “looking at how do you create the infrastructure so that digital learning can be accessed any time, in any way.”

Bush said, “All across the country, there are efforts under way, so don't feel like you're alone in this effort. Democrats and Republicans are working together to try to transform education on behalf of kids.”

Former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise told the task force, “Our mission is that every student graduates from high school ready for college and career.” He said, “What digital education and technology does is permit us to draw the best information and content from wherever we can in the world and make it available. … That's what's so exciting.”
  

Jeb Bush: Idaho school reform laws ‘one of a kind’

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, speaking this morning to Idaho's Students Come First Technology Task Force, said he thinks Idaho's laws moving toward requiring online courses and funding them are “one of a kind,” and said he thinks it “will be the models for the rest of the country.”

Bush and former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise are addressing the council this morning; the two head the Digital Learning Council, which promotes high-quality digital learning. “You may know this: I'm a Republican,” he said. “You may know this: Gov. Wise is a Democrat.” Bush said, “We share a common bond that we believe education needs to be a national priority, where 50 states and lots of different communities trying different things … create a much better outcome.”

You can listen live here to the presentation from Bush and Wise.
  

Luna moves on reforms even as referendums to undo them make ballot

Idaho state schools chief Tom Luna opened the deliberations of a 39-member task force today that'll help determine how to implement big new school technology investments, even as the Idaho Secretary of State's office issued certificates officially placing three referendums on the November 2012 ballot to overturn the reforms. The final tally, issued Monday, showed each of the three referendum petitions on Luna's “Students Come First” reform bills received more than 74,000 signatures, far more than the required 47,432.

Nevertheless, Luna said today, “We're implementing the law. … It's the law of the land. We can't have the education system in Idaho in limbo, so our job now is to implement this properly. … That's why this committee is meeting today.” House Education Chairman Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, who serves on the task force, said, “We've got our work ahead of us. … We'll just move forward as if the referendums are not going to pass.”

After a full day of meetings today, including afternoon gatherings of five subcommittees, the task force scheduled to hear Tuesday from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise; you can watch live here. “This is just the beginning,” Luna said. “There's meetings every month from here on out.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Three referendums officially on ballot, more than 74K signatures on each in final count

Official certificates were issued by the Idaho Secretary of State's office today placing three referendums on the November 2012 ballot to give Idaho voters a say on whether to repeal the three major education reform bills enacted by the Legislature this year. In the final count, SB 1108, the bill removing most collective bargaining rights from teachers, got 74,024 signatures, and will be Proposition 1 in November; SB 1110, the bill setting up a merit-pay bonus system, got 74,129 signatures and will be Proposition 2 on the November ballot; and SB 1184, the bill shifting funds from teacher salaries to technology, got 74,922 signatures and will be Proposition 3.

“All three referendums exceed the number of signatures required,” wrote Chief Deputy Secretary of State Tim Hurst in a letter to Mike Lanza, head of Idahoans for Responsible Education Reform, in a letter dated today. The signed petitions were delivered to the Secretary of State's office last week in 125 boxes.

Incidentally, I had been using “referenda” to describe the three measures, and was surprised to see my newspaper use “referendums” as the plural, prompting me to look it up. My dictionary says either is acceptable, but the AP stylebook, without explanation, prefers “referendums.” The personal blog of Lord Norton of Louth, a professor of government at the University of Hulls who sits in the British House of Lords, notes, “Referendum is one of those rare gerunds for which there is no plural in Latin. I quote from footnote 1 in David Butler and Austin Ranney’s, Referendums Around the World: ‘We speak of referendums, not referenda, on the advice of the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary: 'Referendum is logically preferable as a plural form meaning ballots on one issue (as a Latin gerund referendum has no plural).  The Latin plural gerundive referenda, meaning ‘things to be referred’, necessarily connotes a plurality of issues.’ ” So I'll call them referendums.

Grant calls on Loertscher to resign

Idaho Democratic Party Chairman Larry Grant is calling on House State Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, to resign from the Legislature, citing Loertscher's killing of a bill proposed by Idaho highway districts to require a public hearing before a public road is vacated, shortly before he filed a lawsuit seeking to declare a road on his land private. “Loertscher’s actions are highly suspicious,” Grant said.  “It certainly appears he has used his office for personal advantage.” House Speaker Lawerence Denney, who assigned the bill to Loertscher's committee at his request, rather than to the Transportation Committee, has declined thus far to call for an ethics committee to investigate the issue, though any House member may request one. Click below for the party's full news release.

ISU sanctioned for ‘poor faculty governance’

Idaho State University has been sanctioned for poor faculty governance practices by a national association of university professors, and while ISU is dismissing the sanction as “meaningless,” one of its major donors disagrees and says the sanction will hurt faculty recruitment. The Idaho State Journal reports that ISU President Arthur Vailas' request to suspend the ISU Faculty Senate, a move the state Board of Education backed, was sharply criticized in the organization's sanction statement. Click below for a full report from the Associated Press, and read more in the State Journal here.

Luna opens tech task force, says Idaho ed needs ‘comprehensive, systemic change’

State schools Superintendent Tom Luna has opened the first meeting of his “Students Come First” Technology Task Force this morning with a speech calling on Idaho to become a “global leader” in education, saying, “Our economic competition is global and it's focused and it's fierce and unrelenting.” He said, “The fact is that everyone in the world wants our jobs, and for the first time ever they have the means to take them.” Jobs will go “where the educated workforce is,” he said. “Intellectual capacity is the currency of the 21st century, and other countries have figured this out.”

Luna said the answer is “a comprehensive and systemic change” to Idaho's education system, focusing on technology and online learning. “We have to transform every classroom in Idaho. Some are already on the way there,” he said. “This square peg will no longer fit in this round hole no matter how hard we pound on it. … We have to bring 21st century technology and all that it makes possible into every classroom.” He said that's the key to making sure all students have up-to-date educational opportunity, no matter where they live, and despite the state's budget crunch. “Do we wait for the economy to improve, do we wait for increased revenues? We can't,” he said. “We have to be willing to spend the money that we know we have differently in order to give every student equal educational opportunity.”

The 39-member task force will come up with recommendations to the 2012 Legislature on how to implement Luna's program to bring all Idaho's high schools up to a “one-to-one” ratio of mobile computing devices to students in five years, “not just some but all,” Luna said. “This device becomes the textbook for every class, it becomes the word processor,” the calculator, and the tool for myriad other uses. “It's the portal to a world of … knowledge … for every student.” You can watch the meeting live online here.

May revenues down; state’s year-to-date surplus at $66.1 million

The latest state tax revenue figures are in, and in May, they came in $8 million below forecast; that puts the state, at a $66.1 million surplus for the fiscal year to date, down from $74.2 million a month ago. You can read the full monthly general fund revenue report here.

Idaho drug czar resigns post

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Debbie Field is resigning her post as director of the state's Office of Drug Policy. Field, a former lawmaker and campaign manager for Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, told staffers this week she was stepping down. Her last day in the office will be Friday. Otter appointed Field as Idaho's Drug Czar in January 2007. In 2009 she was awarded the President's Award from the National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors for her work on substance abuse treatment. She also promoted the Idaho Meth Project. Field says she's looking forward to spending more time with her family and that she'll stay involved with some projects via contract. Click below for a full report.

Redistricters agree on public hearing schedule

Idaho's redistricting commission has unanimously approved plans for 11 public hearings in June outside the Treasure Valley area, a day after the panel deadlocked over differing hearing schedules. Already the commission had held hearings in Boise and, last night, in Caldwell. Here's the rest of the June schedule:

June 14, Rexburg, 7-9 p.m.; June 15, Idaho Falls, 2-4 p.m., and Pocatello, 7-9 p.m.; June 16, Soda Springs, 7-9 p.m.; June 22, Sandpoint, 2-4 p.m., and Coeur d'Alene, 7-9 p.m.; June 23, Moscow 2-4 p.m. and Lewiston, 7-9 p.m.; June 28, Burley, 7-9 p.m.; June 29, Twin Falls, 7-9 p.m.; and June 30, Hailey/Ketchum, 7-9 p.m.

“Based on the discussion we had yesterday regarding the need to hold public hearings around the state … we felt that would probably be a positive thing we should do,” Democratic commission Co-Chair Allen Andersen of Pocatello said. He noted that staff indicated the commission's budget can handle the additional hearings.

The compromise: More hearings, as the Republicans originally proposed; on several occasions doing two in one day for cost savings, as the Democrats originally proposed. The commission will later consider additional public hearings in July.

Scratch that - redistricting meeting back to original 1 p.m. time

The redistricting commission has decided not to move up its meeting time today after all, and will stick with the previously announced 1 p.m. time to meet in the Capitol Auditorium and set a public hearing schedule.

Redistricters move meeting up to 11:30 today to set hearing schedule

The citizen redistricting commission reportedly has reached an agreement on a public hearing schedule, so it's pushed up its business meeting that had been scheduled for 1 p.m. today to 11:30 a.m. to approve that. It'll be in the Capitol Auditorium, and it'll be streamed live here.

Rep. Hart appeals his state income taxes to the Idaho Supreme Court

Tax-protesting Idaho state Rep. Phil Hart is taking his fight against paying his back state income taxes to the Idaho Supreme Court, despite already having lost four appeals. Hart lost his fourth round in March, when 1st District Judge John Mitchell rejected Hart's request that the judge reconsider his December 2010 decision tossing out the appeal. In a 13-page decision, the judge twice termed Hart's arguments “simply wrong,” and called his central argument – that he'd actually filed his appeal one day earlier than the state says - “patently wrong.”

Hart, whose first court appeal in November of 2010 charged that the state income tax is unconstitutional, also is arguing that he should have months longer to appeal his taxes than other citizens because of his status as a state legislator. Plus, he's claimed a requirement that he submit a 20 percent bond when filing his appeal is unconstitutional. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com, and see the latest court decision and Hart's notice of appeal here.

Redistricting hearing on tap tonight in Caldwell; commish meets again Thurs.

Idaho's bipartisan citizen redistricting commission will hold its second public hearing tonight from 7-9 p.m. at Caldwell High School; anyone who wants to offer input on the drawing of new legislative or congressional district lines can testify. You can listen to the hearing live online here. The commission also has scheduled a meeting for tomorrow at 1 p.m. to approve a public hearing schedule.

Church, city settle zoning lawsuit

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  MOUNTAIN HOME, Idaho (AP) — The city of Mountain Home has agreed to let a church hold worship services at a local building after church leaders sued, saying its parishioners had been discriminated against. No Limits Christian Ministries sued in federal court late last month, saying that the city's zoning rules violated the U.S. Constitution because they specifically barred religious groups but allowed other clubs and organizations. The church had sought a conditional permit to allow it to worship in a vacant building it owned, but the city originally denied the church's request.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge approved a settlement between the city and the church that recognizes the church as a “permitted use” of the property and allows it to begin holding services in the Main Street building; click below for more.

Idaho won’t pay for Jeb Bush, Bob Wise presentation to ed technology task force

Idaho won't be paying anything to bring former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise to Boise next Tuesday to address state schools Supt. Tom Luna's “Students Come First” technology task force, according to Luna's office. “They're just coming on their own - they're paying for their own way, we're not paying for them,” said Melissa McGrath, Luna's spokeswoman. “We just invited them and asked if they would be interested to come and present at our technology task force. They had kind of kept track of the legislation as it moved through the session … and were interested. … We asked them if there would be speaking fees involved, and they said no. … They're paying their travel and their hotel. … We are very excited to have them come.”

The two head the Digital Learning Council, a group they launched in 2010 to promote “high quality digital learning.”

Both sides back down from deadlock; will set hearing schedule later

The citizen redistricting commission has reconvened, and both GOP Commissioner Lorna Finman and Democratic Commissioner George Moses withdrew their previous motions on the commission's public hearing schedule. Co-Chairman Evan Frasure, who spent some time chatting with his Democratic counterparts during the commission's break, said, “That's an issue that we will have further deliberations on as far as the schedule, and hopefully we can come to an agreeable conclusion on that in a short time frame, where we can handle that issue.”

Redistricting commission hits first partisan deadlock - over schedule

Idaho's citizen redistricting commission has gotten locked in its first party-line debate - over, of all things, its public hearing schedule. This afternoon, Democratic commissioners proposed adopting the proposed public hearing schedule presented by the commission's staff, which called for five public hearings outside the Treasure Valley area to be held over the course of June. Republican commissioners offered a substitute motion with an entirely different schedule, calling for 10 out-of-the-area hearings between now and July 1, adding hearings in Sandpoint, both Lewiston and Moscow rather than one or the other, and Soda Springs, Burley and Hailey.

Surprised Democratic commissioners questioned the budgetary impact of the additional hearings. Commissioner Lorna Finman of Rathdrum said she'd forego any compensation, including travel and per diem, to help offset the cost of additional hearings. “I'm not charging anything - per diem , travel costs, zero,” she said. Commission staffers reported that the commission's budget could easily accommodate the additional hearings. Democratic Commissioner Julie Kane said she'd already arranged with her employer for time off for the original, staff-proposed schedule. After some sparring back and forth, the Democrats requested a caucus; the commission is now on break for that.

Asked why the Republicans didn't share their alternate schedule with their Democratic counterparts before proposing it, Commissioner Lou Esposito said, “We just had the time to turn to that, just over lunch. Things are moving quickly.” Added Finman, “Everybody's got busy schedules.” Said commission Co-Chair Evan Frasure, “We just want to have more public input.” The alternative schedule would add hearings in areas where lawsuits arose 10 years ago or where current districts were controversial, including Soda Springs and Sandpoint.

Luna schedules Jeb Bush to address first tech task force meeting

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Public schools chief Tom Luna says two former governors will visit Idaho next week to help him kick off the first meeting of his technology task force. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise are expected to make presentations Tuesday when Luna's task force convenes at the Idaho Capitol in Boise. The task force was formed as part of Luna's new education reforms and the group will study the implementation of a laptop program for Idaho high school students. The state will also limit teachers union bargaining rights, introduce merit pay and shift money from salaries to classroom technology as part of Luna's education reforms. Some teachers, parents and students have criticized the measures, prompting a referendum campaign aimed at repealing them.

Hearing wraps up; ‘goal is to make sure each person’s vote counts’

Only about 40 minutes in to the first public hearing on redistricting, the public testimony is all done. “I think we're realizing more and more the complexity and some of the problems we're going to be faced with,” said Allen Andersen, the citizen redistricting commission's co-chairman, who is presiding tonight. “We will come up with a plan, and I'm sure it's not going to be accepted 100 percent by everyone, but … we will take into account all the information that we receive at these hearings.”

Commissioner Julie Kane of Lapwai, an attorney, noted that the commission has to operate within certain constitutional and statutory requirements, including the one-person, one-vote rule as an overriding aim; a state constitutional requirement to minimize splits of counties; and requirements to preserve communities of interest. “Our goal is to try to make sure that each person's vote counts,” she said.

The hearing then adjourned at 7:40 p.m. Boise time.

Testimony: ‘Remember the stakeholders’

Among those testifying to the redistricting commission tonight:

* Jeff Almeida, former vice chairman of the Ada Democrats, said, “A number of us have submitted maps to you already” to demonstrate “the feasibility of keeping Ada County intact.” He said, “Given the population shifts … we could actually achieve the goal of keeping Ada County intact in congressional redistricting.”

* Aaron White, a representative for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, asked the redistricting commission to “consider carefully the notion of one person one vote in making your decisions when you draw the lines, to where the percentage of voters that make the decision is more equitable, and also considering communities of interest.”

* Steve Holbrook, who lives in a precinct in the Warm Springs Mesa area in east Boise, said he's heard of a plan to “move this precinct to Boise County and Idaho City.” Such a move “would really concern me in terms of the offices and the elected officials that we would be able to vote for,” he said. “I'm concerned even from a tax standpoint - do I have a voice in electing people who are in my county and my city offices, where my property tax goes?”

* James Philpott, of the legislative District 19 Democrats, told the commission, “Please remember your duty, remember your constitutional obligation, remember the stakeholders. We're very divided as people right now, and I would love to see this commission heal, rather than divide further.”

Plea to redistricters: Use roads as boundaries

Among those testifying tonight at the first public hearing on redistricting is Phil McGrane, chief deputy to Ada County Clerk Chris Rich. He pleaded with the panel to use roads as boundaries, rather than things that can move over the course of 10 years, like irrigation canals or even city boundaries, which change when cities annex or de-annex. “We've had in the past to actually visit homes to figure out where master bedrooms were, to figure out where somebody voted,” McGrane told the panel. “It creates tremendous voter confusion and frustration.” District lines in the past have cut through subdivisions, sometimes making residents of three homes in a subdivision vote in a different district than all their neighbors - or even worse, slicing right through homes.

“We've seen tremendous change over the course of 10 years,” McGrane told the commissioners. The problem has come when districts were drawn based on section lines or irrigation canals, and then later, the land was developed into subdivisions. “Using major streets to the best extent possible … is much more reliable, and it will last long into the future,” he said.

Bieter to redistricting panel: Keep Boise whole

At the first public hearing on redistricting this evening, Boise Mayor Dave Bieter was the first to testify. “Our request is that you keep cities whole in this process,” Bieter told the Idaho citizen redistricting commission. “I do believe that will be a consistent thing that you hear across the state, but on behalf of our city, I am making this request.” He distributed copies of a resolution from the City Council, and said the local Chamber of Commerce also is backing the city's request. “There is significant precedent for keeping cities whole, and we would ask on behalf of the city of Boise that you do that,” Bieter said.

Boise long has been split between the 1st and 2nd congressional districts, but population shifts would allow it to be all in one or the other now, depending on how the plan is drawn. Tonight's hearing is being streamed live here.

Redistricting starts, first public hearing is tonight

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on today's first meeting of the state's bipartisan citizen redistricting commission; here, new redistricting commissioner Lorna Finman of Rathdrum, right, visits with state GOP Executive Director Jonathan Parker, left, during a break in today's meeting. Tonight at 7, the commission will hold its first public hearing in the Capitol Auditorium. Anyone who wishes to  can offer input on how to draw new legislative and congressional district lines in Idaho, and the hearing will be streamed live here. Another public hearing is scheduled for tomorrow night in Caldwell, from 7-9 p.m. at Caldwell High School; the commission also plans to schedule public hearings around the state in the coming weeks.

Former redistricters: ‘Remember who you’re responsible to’ - citizens, not party

Former redistricting commissioners Dean Haagenson, a Republican from Coeur d'Alene, and Tom Stuart, a Democrat from Boise, told the new commissioners this afternoon that they've got a tough task ahead of them. Haagenson said he jumped at the chance to offer advice to new commissioners, because he learned from experience. First, he said, “Remember who you're responsible to - you're responsible to the citizens of Idaho. You're not responsible to your respective political parties.”

He also highlighted “a couple big mistakes that we made,” chiefly in starting at the Canadian border, “because you have to,” and then working south and through the western part of the state, and ending up in the eastern part. “Don't do it,” Haagenson said. “Start at both ends and come back to Boise or Ada County, Canyon County, where it's densely populated. You can move the line a few blocks and equalize a district. But if you're trying to do that where nobody lives, it's a difficult thing to do, so I think we got ourselves into a box.” He said he thought the other mistake the last commission made was being too worried about splitting counties. “I would advise drawing a plan that is less than 10 percent deviation, but crosses county lines to the extent that is necessary to make reasonable, good, compact districts of communities of interest,” he said. He noted that the backward-C shaped District 2 could have been avoided by coupling northern Kootenai County with southern Bonner County, two areas that are “very much alike.” But that wasn't done because of the desire to avoid splitting Kootenai County. “If it's under 10 and you can show by virtue of documenting it why you did that, I think you can sell it,” he said.

Stuart disagreed, and said he thought it was important to preserve counties where possible. “I think you'll get a lot of input in the days to come, probably far more than you want and far more than you need,” Stuart told the new commissioners. “Recognize public theater for what it is and be ready to get on with business.” He said no plan that's been developed by one party or the other will get quick approval. “I just don't think that's reasonable - that certainly didn't happen last time,” Stuart said. “I think ultimately the plan that will be approved is one you develop jointly and one that you develop collaboratively.”

Stuart also urged against concern over protecting incumbents. “As I look back a decade, many of the incumbents that everyone was trying to protect are gone,” Stuart said. “It's often an error to design districts now to deal primarily with today's incumbents. I would encourage you to look past that.”

Theoretically, redistricting commissioners could cut House in half…

Brian Kane, deputy Idaho attorney general, is now briefing the redistricting commission on legal issues, from constitutional and statutory requirements for the redistricting process to complying with the Idaho Open Meeting Law and Idaho public records law. In response to a question from Commissioner George Moses about constitutional requirements, Kane said the commissioners, if they wanted to, could create a plan for 35 senators and 35 representatives - rather than 70 representatives as now. His comment prompted a moment of stunned silence. Then he added that historically, Idaho's always had two representatives per senator. The constitution allows between 30 and 35 senators, divided into districts, and no more than two representatives per senator; there are now 35 districts, each with one senator and two representatives.

Among the legal restrictions on those serving on the commission: They can't become a candidate while they're serving, or they're booted off; they can't serve on a redistricting commission more than once; and they can't run for the Idaho Legislature for the next five years. “You're at least letting us know that this small segment of the Idaho population won't be running for the Legislature for the next five years,” Kane told the commissioners.

For a new legislative redistricting plan to pass legal muster with the courts, Kane explained, it must meet the one-person, one-vote rule within a 10 percent deviation (anything below that deviation is “presumptively” constitutional, under a 1984 Idaho Supreme Court case), with minimal splits of counties, per the Idaho Constitution. The law recognizes that it's impossible to create a redistricting plan for Idaho that doesn't split any counties, he noted. Other factors include preserving communities of interest and avoiding oddly shaped districts - though Idaho is an oddly shaped state. “You're not going to create a  plan with 35 square districts - it's just not going to happen,” he said.

Advice to redistricters: ‘Develop a thick skin’

BSU political scientist Gary Moncrief offered this advice to Idaho's new bipartisan citizen redistricting commissioners this morning, displayed on a Powerpoint slide under the heading, “My Humble Recommendations:”  “Use the staff. Understand there are more issues than just partisanship. Understand there will be a lawsuit. Recognize the woeful history of Idaho plans before the court.” And, finally, “Develop a thick skin.”

“What's going to happen is you're going to eventually come out with a plan and a lot of people aren't going to like it,” Moncrief told the commissioners, “and it doesn't matter what the plan is, a lot of people aren't going to like it.”

Legislative districts in Idaho will ‘have to be substantially changed’ this year

Idaho's current legislative districts will “have to be substantially changed” this year, BSU political scientist Gary Moncrief told the redistricting commission this morning, whose job it is to draw those new district lines. That's because the ideal district size, should Idaho stick with 35 legislative districts, is now 44,788. That's about 8,000 more people than the ideal legislative district size 10 years ago. But while some areas have grown substantially in population, others haven't grown much or have even shrunk.

If new districts had a variation in population of up to 10 percent - from 5 percent below ideal to 5 percent above - new districts could have between 42,548 and 47,024 people. But Idaho's current districts, according to the latest census data, now have between 34,066 and 76,940 people - and most of the current districts fall outside the acceptable population range. “We are in a position where the current districts obviously have to be substantially changed,” Moncrief said.

When a third could elect a majority…

Before U.S. Supreme Court decisions in the early 1960s required states to divide their legislative districts by population, rather than just by county lines, most states had districts that allowed just a small minority of the state's population to elect a majority of the state Legislature, BSU political scientist Gary Moncrief told the Idaho redistricting commission this morning. In 1962, 32.7 percent of Idaho's population could elect a majority of the Legislature. In 1966, after the court decisions, it took 46.7 percent of Idaho's population to elect a majority of the Legislature. The figure is still slightly below 50 percent, as it is in most states, Moncrief said; that's because states are permitted to use county lines as a factor in redistricting, though population - the one-person, one-vote rule - is the overriding factor.

Watch it live…

Today's Idaho redistricting commission meeting is being streamed live on the Internet, as is tonight's public hearing, which begins at 7 p.m. in the Capitol Auditorium; to listen and watch live, click here. After electing its co-chairs this morning, the commission is now hearing an overview and history of redistricting in Idaho from Boise State University political scientist Gary Moncrief.

The state's software for drawing new congressional and legislative district lines is available for anyone to use who'd like to try their hand at drawing new district lines for Idaho; more than 210 people have accessed it so far. To give it a try, go to the Legislature's website, www.legislature.idaho.gov, click on “Redistricting Commission,” and then on “Maptitude.”

Two Pocatello reps elected co-chairs of new redistricting commission

Former state Sen. Evan Frasure of Pocatello, and former state Rep. Allen Andersen, also of Pocatello, have been elected the co-chairmen of the citizen redistricting commission; Frasure is a Republican and Andersen a Democrat. Rathdrum GOP Commissioner Lorna Finma nominated Frasure as the GOP co-chair, and Lapwai Democratic Commissioner Julie Kane nominated Andersen as his Democratic counterpart. Democratic commissioner George Moses of Boise said that after reviewing the minutes from the last redistricting commission - which met a decade ago - “It seemed to us that the concept of co-chairs served the commission well. … Continuing that seemed like a good idea.” The vote was unanimous, and Frasure said he'd yield to Andersen to chair the commission's first meeting today; in the future, they'll trade off.

Redistricting commissioners take office; ‘the 90 days starts counting today’

Idaho's Citizen Commission for Reapportionment has convened this morning. “You have an arduous task ahead of you,” Secretary of State Ben Ysursa told the six new commissioners. “I think you're all up to it. The 90 days starts counting today.” The bipartisan panel has 90 days to come up with new district lines for Idaho congressional and legislative districts. To start it off this morning, Ysursa administered the oath of office to the six commissioners: Republicans Evan Frasure of Pocatello, Lou Esposito of Boise, and Lorna Finman of Rathdrum. The group convened in the Capitol Auditorium, where it's scheduled for a full day of business. “Like it not, you're on for 90 days,” Ysursa told the commissioners.

Referendum backers deliver petitions to qualify measures for 2012 ballot

Backers of three referendum measures to overturn this year's school reform bills formed a line outside the state Capitol this afternoon under a light rain, stretching from a truck parked at the corner of 6th and Jefferson streets all the way inside the state Capitol, where they passed 125 boxes of verified petition signatures from hand to hand, then loaded them on carts and delivered them to the Idaho Secretary of State's office. The referenda needed at least 47,432 valid registered voters' signatures each to make the 2012 ballot, but far more than that were delivered. “They're about 25,000 over what they need,” said Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, looking over the boxes, which were stacked in his small conference room, nearly filling the room. “This is more than we've ever seen – seventy-some thousand times three. That's the most we've ever seen, times three.”

The Secretary of State's office will count the verified signatures over the next two days or so, before making the official announcement that the measures will be on the ballot, but Ysursa said that's pretty well assured.

More than 100 supporters wearing bright-yellow, blue and white T-shirts with slogans including “Idaho says NO to larger class sizes,” “Idaho says no more cuts,” and “Idaho says no to replacing teachers with laptops,” gathered afterward to rally in the Capitol rotunda. “This is a huge achievement,” Mike Lanza, a Boise parent and chairman of Idahoans for Responsible Education Reform, told the group. “We're turning in 72,000 to 73,000 signatures on petitions that we needed 47,000 for. … This is not a vocal minority, as some people have claimed. This is the people of Idaho … who think this is a bad plan for Idaho schools.”

Lanza said he was “pleasantly surprised” that the group gathered so many signatures. “Certainly we assumed at the start it was going to be a challenge,” he said. In the final two weeks, after state schools Supt. Tom Luna issued a memo warning teachers statewide that their certification could be endangered if they engaged in political activity at school, the numbers surged, Lanza said. “That motivated people more,” he said. “It was incredible to see.” Addressing the crowd, Lanza said, “The people of Idaho will finally have their say on these widely unpopular laws. … By turning in these kinds of numbers, we have sent a powerful message: Idaho's parents and educators will not be ignored.”

Mountain View High School English teacher Sally Mitchell told the crowd, “The misguided and mean-spirited attacks on teachers by those in office are inexcusable. Standing up for my profession does not make me a thug.” She said, “Our power as citizens is ultimately greater than theirs.”

The three bills eliminate most collective bargaining rights for teachers; impose a new merit-pay bonus system; and shift funds from teacher salaries to technology investments and more online learning. All three passed the Legislature this year and were signed into law by Gov. Butch Otter, who joined Luna in championing the reform package they dubbed “Students Come First.”

Gang law gets test in Idaho high court

Idaho's highest court is deciding if a law against gang recruitment is constitutional, reports AP reporter Rebecca Boone, after hearing arguments from attorneys today over whether gangs exist solely to commit crimes or if they offer cultural, educational or other benefits to members. Click below for Boone's full report. It's the first test of Idaho's Criminal Gang Enforcement Act, under which Simona Manzanares of Caldwell was convicted of recruiting a criminal gang member, including contacts with teens and younger children at concerts and car shows. She's challenging the law as violating the constitutional right to free association.

Idaho prison health contractor fined $382K for big contract violations

Idaho's prison health care contractor, Correctional Medical Services of Creve Coeur, Mo., has been fined nearly $400,000 by the state for contract violations including leaving the South Boise Women's Correctional Center without an OB/GYN for two years, and leaving the Idaho Maximum Security Institution without a staff psychologist for at least eight months, when the contract with the state required vacancies to be filled within 60 days, the Associated Press reports. Furthermore, the state renewed its contract with CMS last year. The AP uncovered the fines through a series of public records requests; click below to read the full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Regions and redistricting…

Idaho's bipartisan citizen redistricting commission is gearing up to draw new legislative and congressional district lines, and this time around there'll be just one North Idaho member: Businesswoman Lorna Finman of Rathdrum, a GOP appointee. Ten years ago, both the Democrats and the Republicans appointed Panhandle members – Democrat Ray Givens and Republican Dean Haagenson – and they ended up having substantial influence on the result, which must include at least one commissioner voting with members of the other party to get a four-vote majority on the six-member commission.

This time around, it's Boise and Pocatello that each have two members on the panel, one from each party. So this time, it's those areas holding that potential card. Ten years ago, there were two Boiseans on the commission, but they were both from the same party (Democrats). The redistricting commission starts its work tomorrow; you can read my full Sunday column here.

It’s official: June 1 snowpack one of deepest ever for Idaho

It's official - Idaho has one of the deepest June 1 snowpacks ever measured in the state, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.  “In an average year up to about two-thirds of the snowpack melts during April and May,” said Ron Abramovich, water supply specialist with the service. That hasn't happened this year - and, in fact, snow has continued to fall at higher elevations. The risk: A sudden melt-off in June that could flood Idaho streams and rivers. Click below for the NRCS' full announcement.

Analysis: Idaho more conservative than most states in revenue forecasting

A new analysis shows that over the past 31 years, Idaho's been more conservative than most states in estimating its state tax revenues - the key figure that determines how lawmakers set the state budget. In 11 of the last 31 years, over-estimates of revenues resulted in deficits; but in 20 of the last 31 years, under-estimates resulted in surpluses. The issue has been much in the news the past few years, as Idaho and other states saw revenues fall short during the sharp economic downturn, then under-estimated revenues, forcing deep budget cuts even as the economy began to rebound.

A recently released study by the Pew Center on the States and the Rockefeller Institute of Government found that from 1987 to 2009, states nationally have seen their revenue estimating errors grow, as forecasters missed turns in the economy. “It's not just the state of Idaho - it's everybody,” said Idaho legislative budget analyst Ray Houston. “All states miss it.” The national study found that state tax revenues have become more volatile, and recommended several steps for states, from removing politics from the estimating process to refilling rainy-day funds to manage volatility.

Houston ran the numbers for Idaho for the past 31 years, to compare to the national study; here's a graph of his findings for fiscal years 1980 through 2010. Idaho's state revenues have been rebounding in the current fiscal year, 2011, which ends June 30, though lawmakers set a budget for the coming year anticipating little growth. Houston said when you compare the time periods that are in both his analysis and the national study, Idaho had a positive 3.4 percent error rate over 23 years, while nationwide, states had a 1.5 percent negative error rate.

“We are still more conservative than the other states in terms of our error rates,” Houston told the Legislative Council.

Of whistleblowers, fraud and audits…

Don Berg, head of Idaho's legislative audits division, told the Legislative Council today that two of his staff members are now certified fraud examiners. But he said the best way to find fraud is through whistleblower protections and encouraging tips from state employees or citizens; many states have hotlines for that purpose. Under questioning from lawmakers, Berg said he worked with the state controller's office on a hotline plan several years ago, but then the state economy tanked and the project was abandoned for the moment. Said Berg, “The audit process is rarely the catalyst that identifies the fraud or the issue, although we're trying to be more proactive and alert to that.” He said when he opens the newspaper every day, “I hope that the front-page story isn't some grandiose fraud from some senior state official that I should have known about.”

Among the biggest challenges in the audit division now, he said, is the continuing issue with Molina, the Medicaid billing contractor with the state Department of Health & Welfare. Because the company's problems created big delays in payments to providers, it sent interim payments out to tide them over, but now, Berg said, “There's $120 million paid to Medicaid providers that they can't identify the client or the service.”

Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, a retired physician and health insurance executive, said, “That $120 million of unidentified expenses makes it very difficult to do valid managed-care contracting, because you can't identify the services.” That'll be a problem, he warned, as this year's Medicaid reform bill, HB 260, requires moves toward managed care starting in the upcoming fiscal year.

Berg said the interim payments “sidestepped the entire process, so they're simply sending this chunk of money out to the providers and then doing this enormous reconciliation. … To connect the dots to the client - this is the thing that they're trying to work through.”

Capitol Giftshop goes online

Say you're in the market for some Idaho items, like a Spuddy Buddy beanie or a state Capitol T-shirt, to send to far-off relatives. The state Capitol Giftshop is making it easy now - it's online; you can shop it here. Prices include shipping. Asked if the shop charges sales tax on online sales, capitol staffer Robyn Lockett said, “Yes we do,” prompting appreciative laughter from the Legislative Council. Lawmakers have been reluctant to enact any legislation to participate in a multi-state effort working toward online sales taxes, but Idaho already requires people to pay sales tax on online sales - if they don't pay it when they buy, they're supposed to report it and pay it on their income tax forms.

Big capitol hearings dubbed ‘success’

Reviewing this year's legislative session, Legislative Services Director Jeff Youtz told the Legislative Council this morning that this year's unprecedented large public hearings were a success. “By and large it went very well, I thought,” Youtz told the council, which is chaired by House Speaker Lawerence Denney and Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill. “The opportunity for the public to participate is just tremendous in this newly redesigned building. We could never have done that in the past.”

Senate Minority Leader Edgar Malepeai said some hearing attendees were frustrated, including one who complained of traveling from Coeur d'Alene and being high on the signup list, but not being called to testify. “There's nothing more frustrating than having someone fly in at their own expense, and realize they're never going to get in front of the committee,” Malepeai said. He suggested a consistent process for hearings, but several other lawmakers disagreed, and said it's worked well to have committee chairmen determine how hearings are handled. “There may be from time to time those tragic kinds of examples, but we saw those committees running deeply into the evening to accommodate people who came from not the Treasure Valley area,” said Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis. “I don't recall a session where we had a greater amount of public input including from people outside of this valley than this year. … I think it was remarkable.”

Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, said she was bothered by the alternating of testimony from people for and against legislation. “That pro-con trading … attempts to present the two sides as if they are equally divided when in fact they are 8-1,” she said. “I think that tends to warp what is going to come out.” Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, said, “I like the idea of leaving how those hearings are run in the hands of the committee chairmen. That's their responsibility to do that. I'd hate to mandate from somewhere else how those are done. I think each one of those hearings is a little bit different.”

Budget crunch precludes any new interim committees for second year

For the second year in a row, the Idaho Legislature will have no new interim committees this summer  due to the state's budget crunch. Interim committees are the panels lawmakers form to study issues in-depth, take testimony, hold hearings and develop proposed legislation in advance of the legislative session. “Not that there aren't some issues that need to be discussed, but they're not vital at this point and can be deferred until the budget looks better,” said Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg.

The Legislature will continue its two existing, multi-year interim committees, the Natural Resources Interim Committee, which this year likely will look at cottage-site and state lands issues, among others, and the Energy, Environment & Technology Committee, which has been focusing on energy issues. It also still has a Health Care Task Force. Interim committees typically include lawmakers from both houses and both parties, to lay the groundwork for major legislation in ways that can't be done during Idaho's typical three-month legislative session.

Fly fishing enthusiasts the losers in latest hair-fashion trend

Anglers across the country apparently are grumbling, because the latest trend in fashionable hair accessories is rooster saddle feathers - the same long, skinny feathers, called hackles, that fly fishing enthusiasts use to make lures. Now some fly shops are getting bought out of the feathers by hair salons, and their price has skyrocketed. AP reporter Jessie Bonner reports that the trend apparently got a boost from “American Idol” judge Steven Tyler, who wears the feathers in his long hair; click below for her full report.

Denney says he won’t call for ethics committee on Loertscher road scandal

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho's House Speaker says he will not call for an ethics investigation into whether Rep. Tom Loertscher benefited personally from a bill he helped kill during the 2011 Legislature. Speaker Lawerence Denney said Thursday he doesn't believe Loertscher acted inappropriately or gained financially by burying a bill designed to clarify the process of abandoning public roads. Loertscher is a Republican from Iona and is suing in state court to have old roads that provide public access across his ranch declared private. But last week, the Post Register reported that Loertscher took his case to court weeks after using his authority as chairman of the State Affairs Committee to derail a bill that would have required counties to hold public hearings before vacating roads. Idaho law also allows individual House members to request an ethics investigation.

Commissioners from a sixth North Idaho county back megaload shipments

Nez Perce County this week became the sixth northern Idaho county to adopt a resolution in favor of oversize megaload transports; Nez Perce commissioners join the commissioners of Idaho, Clearwater, Lewis, Shoshone and Boundary counties in adopting such resolutions since December. “Our highways were built for commerce,” the Nez Perce county resolution declares.

Doug Mattoon, executive director of the “Valley Vision” economic development agency in Lewiston, said, “Kudos to our Nez Perce County commissioners for recognizing the economic benefits this project brings to our region, and for taking a stand in support of the Port of Lewiston.” Mattoon's comments came in a press release sent out by “Drive Our Economy,” a business group that backs the proposed giant truck shipments of oil equipment bound for the Alberta oil sands, which currently are the subject of a contested case at the Idaho Transportation Department regarding permits. The proposed loads also are the target of a lawsuit in Montana; opponents, including residents and businesses along the route and the Nez Perce Tribe, say they'll harm tourism and the environment.

In the same press release, Alex LaBeau, president of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, said, “There's no question public support is building for this particular project, and for allowing commerce in general to proceed on Idaho's roadways.” The new Nez Perce County resolution is entitled, “Resolution Supporting Commerce & Trucking in Nez Perce County.” The counties' resolutions have some differences, with the Shoshone and Boundary resolutions headed, “A Declaration Supporting Trucking in Idaho County,” even though a proposed alternative route for some of the loads that are being cut in half could bring them right through Shoshone County on I-90. Ken Burgess, spokesman for Drive Our Economy, said that came about because Idaho County Commissioner Skip Brandt, who was the first to successfully push such a resolution, encouraged the other counties' commissioners to follow suit; you can read the Nez Perce County resolution here.

Church sues city over zoning rules

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  MOUNTAIN HOME, Idaho (AP) — A church is suing the city of Mountain Home in federal court, contending the city's zoning rules violate the U.S. Constitution by discriminating against religious groups. No Limits Christian Ministries applied for a conditional use permit so the church could worship in a vacant building. But the city denied the church's request, saying that there weren't enough parking spaces for the congregation and that people who parked on blocks adjacent to the building would have to cross busy city streets, possibly posing a hazard. In the lawsuit, the church says Mountain Home's zoning rules violate the First and 14th Amendments because while it allows clubs, lodges and other group activities without requiring special permits, it specifically bars churches and requires that religious groups prove they deserve a conditional use permit.

Gov. Otter vows to personally campaign against school-reform referenda, as signatures stack up

Idaho Gov. Otter vowed today to personally campaign against the voter referendum to overturn this year's school reform legislation, even as the tally of Idahoans signing petitions to place the measures on the ballot hit the 65,000 mark - nearly 20,000 more than the number required. “That's the people's right - that's what being part of a republic is all about,” Otter said. “We're going to do our level best to make sure that the correct information gets out.” Otter said, “I fully intend to be as involved as I possibly can be,” and added, “I hope they fail.”

Mike Lanza, a Boise parent and chairman of Idahoans for Responsible Education Reform, said, “The governor has made it clear from the start that he's a supporter of Supt. Luna's plan. He did not seem to be very concerned at all about the enormous public outcry against the plan when it was in the Legislature, so we believe that the governor is simply out of touch with public opinion on this one.”

The latest figures show county clerks have verified 65,088 valid signatures to place a referendum on SB 1108, the teacher contracts bill, on the November 2012 ballot; 65,252 for SB 1110, the merit pay bill; and 63,744 for SB 1184, the technology bill. It won't be official until backers present the verified petitions to the Idaho Secretary of State's office on Monday, the deadline, but Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said with the numbers running thousands above the required 47,432, “It's pretty solid that they're going to be on.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Obama backs away from ‘wild lands’ plan

The Obama administration is backing away from a plan to make millions of acres of undeveloped land in the West eligible for federal wilderness protection, the Associated Press reports. In a memo today, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said his agency will not designate any of those public lands as “wild lands,” and instead will work with members of Congress to develop management proposals for the land. Congress had been pressuring the administration not to move forward with the “wild lands” proposal; click below for a full report from AP reporter Matthew Daly in Washington, D.C.

Quilt commemorates fallen soldiers, displayed in Idaho state capitol

A quilt commemorating fallen soldiers from all 50 states and all branches of military service is in the Idaho state capitol today, where it will be displayed through Monday; Idaho is the 31st state to host the quilt so far, which will arrive in Washington, D.C. by Sept. 11, 2011 and be displayed at Arlington National Cemetery Visitors Center until Veterans Day 2011, before permanent placement in a museum. Childhood photos of fallen military members represent each state; Idaho is represented by Cpl. Carrie French, who was 19 when she was killed by an improvised explosive device in Iraq in 2005; according to the Idaho National Guard, she was the first Idaho female to die in military conflict.

French's mom, Paula Hylinski, called the “Lost Heroes Art Quilt” “just beautiful,” and said, “You want people to remember. It's really nice to know that this is going to go into a museum, and be seen for a long time. People are not going to forget my child.”

The quilt, created by artist Julie Feingold, is being displayed in the 2nd floor rotunda of the state Capitol, where officials including Gov. Butch Otter, right, and Idaho National Guard Adjutant General Gary Sayler, left, joined Hylinski, center, to welcome it this morning. The artist's concept was to use childhood photos of each of the lost military members, “evoking the potential of his or her life.” In addition to the 50 squares representing each state, another 32 “lost heroes” are pictured around the quilt's borders, including Curtis Ralph Hall of Twin Falls, who died in combat in 2007. The slogan at the top of the quilt says, “Without a witness, they will disappear.”

Disabled Idahoans appeal cuts

More than 100 disabled Idahoans and their caregivers, who say state budget cuts could force them out of certified family home care and into costlier institutions, gathered at the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare yesterday to press appeals over the cuts; a hearing officer likely will rule in July on whether the appeals should proceed administratively or go to federal court. The cuts, ordered last year in the Aid for the Aged, Blind and Disabled cash-assistance program, affected 2,000 people, 1,400 of whom lost coverage for their living expenses altogether and another 600 of whom had their payments reduced. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

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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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