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Eye On Boise

Archive for November 2011

Commerce Dept. names Ronk as PIO, Gilliam as economic development chief

Megan Ronk, executive director of the Idaho Meth Project for the past five years, is the new public information officer for the Idaho Department of Commerce, Director Jeff Sayer announced today; he said she'll “play a key role in developing branding, marketing and communications strategies for the department.” Click below for the full Commerce announcement, and also for the department's announcement that it's named a new chief economic development officer: Gynii Gilliam, who most recently was executive director of Bannock Development Corp. in Pocatello. Sayer said Gilliam will “lead the agency's economic development team and will be responsible for creating economic growth, across all industry sectors, for the state of Idaho.”

Idaho looks to phase out program for patients with end-stage renal disease

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter is proposing to phase out the state's end-stage renal disease program, a fully state-funded program that now serves 169 participants, has 39 people on its waiting list and has a $527,700 budget. A new Office of Performance Evaluations report on the program supports that move, finding that the 1970 program now duplicates other programs and no longer matches the mission of the agency under which it exists, the state Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.

“I would be concerned about whether we're letting anybody fall through the cracks in the transition,” said Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow. The Joint Legislative Oversight Committee voted to follow up on the report in three months. The program was created when dialysis treatment and kidney transplants were relatively new procedures and weren't covered by insurance; now, end-stage renal disease is covered by Medicare, though the state program covers uncovered expenses such as medications, travel expenses for treatment, insurance premiums and limited transplant services.

Otter is recommending phasing out the program by June 30, 2013, to allow current participants time to make other arrangements.

Views of funding equity vary by campus…

Representatives of Idaho universities were given an opportunity to respond to the new higher ed funding equity report, and while all praised the work that went into the report, each had a different perspective on the funding equity issue; click below for a full report on the issue from AP reporter John Miller.

J. Anthony Fernandez, president of Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, said, “Whatever system comes out of this work, we hope it would be fair and equitable for all students, regardless of what their choice of school is and what discipline they decide to pursue.” He said, “We have some questions about some of the weights that are given … and the formulas … in the current enrollment workload adjustment. But that's not the issue here. The issue is … fairness for our students.” He added, “Nothing is going to be perfect, we realize that, but always keep in mind the students.”

BSU President Bob Kustra said he's worked in other states where funding equity never was at issue, because appropriate formulas were in place. “I don't think we should lose sight of the fact that we have a formula,” he said. It may not be perfect, he said, but “it works. And the Legislature chose in certain recent years not to fund it, putting in peril certain universities who were growing during these last few years.”

Kustra noted that 71 percent of the new students to enroll in Idaho public universities since 2007 came to Boise State. “We're not here to ask for any more than I think what we rightfully deserve,” he said. “The Legislature did not fund the formula.”

ISU President Arthur Vailas said costs for providing health education programs like those at ISU have grown more than other types of inflation. And University of Idaho representative Marty Peterson noted that UI awards a greater percentage of its degrees in science, technology, mathematics and engineering than other state institutions, and that those programs are more costly to provide.

Mike Rush, executive director of the state Board of Education, said he agreed with Rep. Maxine Bell that it's “certainly the board's job to get this done.” He said the board “didn't ignore” the issue, and did sign on to the 2005 agreement. “They may not have solved every problem, but they've made an effort,” he said. “They've also made continuing efforts.”

Bell on higher ed equity: ‘Going to have to come from existing funds’

The new report from the state Office of Performance Evaluation draws no conclusion as to whether there's inequity or not currently in higher ed funding in Idaho, concluding instead that the state Board of Eduction should determine what really constitutes equity, and that Idaho currently lacks such a definition. “Each institution has a different mission,” said evaluator Lance McCleve. “Each institution has a unique student body that they are providing for.” Funding levels are “expected to be different,” he said, but that “doesn't mean all differences are justified.”

Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, co-chair of the Legislature's joint budget committee, commended OPE for the report. “This is a policy, this should be policy,” she said. “It has nothing to do with funding.” She noted that when the state reached agreement about funding equity in 2005, “At that time we did do some additional funding.” But, she said, “I can tell you right now that there will be no additional money to put in as there was at one time from this effort, so it's going to have to come from the existing funds.” Bell said she thought back in 2005 that the state board was going to be examining standards for equity and following up on that. “If they'd have done what they said they would do in the ensuing years since 2005, there would be a plan and some equality,” she said.
  

Panel tells UI changes needed to protect student safety

University of Idaho administrators should develop better ways to handle concerns about disturbing or disruptive behavior by faculty members, an independent panel is recommending, to keep students and employees safe. AP reporter John Miller reports that the panel, headed by former Idaho Supreme Court Justice Linda Copple Trout, sent the university a five-page report today, reviewing the Moscow-based university’s safety protocols after psychology professor Ernesto Bustamante resigned Aug. 19 then gunned down 22-year-old Katy Benoit three days later.

Copple Trout called it imperative that the university figure out a better way for people on campus to report alarming faculty and staff behavior. “While this area is more challenging to address than concerns about student behavior, it is no less important,” she wrote in her report to UI President Duane Nellis; click below for Miller's full report.

Lawmakers examine higher ed funding equity…

The Joint Legislative Oversight Committee is meeting this afternoon, and has just received a report from the state Office of Performance Evaluations on equity in higher education funding, long a thorny issue as state colleges and universities have jockeyed for scarce state funds. “It's an issue that goes back for at least three decades,” evaluator Maureen Brewer told the lawmakers, “a deeply political issue.” The goal of the report is to avoid the politics and provide objective information, she said.

Among the findings: Differences in general fund dollars per weighted full-time equivalent student are larger now than they were in fiscal year 2001, when the state last declared the funding inequitable, and also are larger than they were in 2007, when the state officially declared the inequities addressed in a settlement. Further, though there's a perception that the Legislature was to resolve inequities in part by funding an annual enrollment workload adjustment for each institution, that adjustment hasn't always been funded, and even if it had been, “it would not have resolved the differences seen,” Brewer said.

Representatives of the University of Idaho, BSU, ISU and LCSC are here to participate in the meeting.

Boise joins wave with smoking ban…

The Boise City Council last night enacted a far-reaching anti-smoking ordinance, banning smoking in all bars in the city, at most outdoor patio dining areas, near bus stops or line-ups, in public parks and within 20 feet of the city's Greenbelt path. Idaho already bans smoking statewide in restaurants and most workplaces, but neighboring states Washington, Oregon, Montana and Utah go further, banning smoking statewide in bars as well. According to the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation, which tracks smoke-free laws, as of Oct. 7, there were 479 U.S. municipalities that banned smoking in all non-hospitality workplaces, restaurants and bars; Boise now joins that list.

Prior to the council's action, Idaho was one of just 12 states whose capital city still permitted smoking in bars. The City Council's vote on the bar smoking ban, which also covers bus stops, patios and other public places, was unanimous; there was just one dissenting vote on the ban for parks.

Increasing complexity of state lands issues separated forester position

Under Idaho law, the state forester is either the director of the state Department of Lands or his/her designee. The last two state lands directors, George Bacon and Winston Wiggins, served as state forester as well as director, but Bacon appointed David Groeschl as acting state forester in July before he retired, leaving the question of a permanent decision to the next director. Current state Lands Director Tom Schultz said, “Clearly I have to have my hands and feet in the forestry issues, but a lot of those issues take place up in Coeur d'Alene, where the timber basket is.” That's where Groeschl is based. “I think there probably was a day when things were less complex,” Schultz said, and “allowed the director to directly engage in state forestry issues probably more than I can.” These days, the state lands director is engaged in lots of other issues as well, from state-owned cabin site leases to legislation.

Schultz noted that in both Montana and Washington, the state forester is a separate position from the state lands director.
  

Idaho names new state forester

David Groeschl (it rhymes with special) has been named Idaho's state forester by state Department of Lands Director Tom Schultz. Groeschl, who's been the acting state forester since July, joined IDL in 2008 as the forestry and fire division administrator; prior to that, he was forest management bureau chief for the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation from 2004 to 2008, after working in private, industrial and public forestry around the nation. Groeschl holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Wisconsin in forest management and a master's degree in forestry from Virginia Tech.

Schultz said, “We are lucky to have someone of David’s caliber to take over the reins as the state forester. He brings experience from the private sector and other parts of the country adding to his extensive forestry background in Idaho to help us succeed in our endowment mission to maximize these resources for the beneficiaries of the state.” The state forester is required by law to carry out the  provisions of the Idaho Forestry Act and the rules and regulations of the state Land Board on forest and watershed protection.

Schultz became Idaho's state lands director in August, replacing longtime IDL employee George Bacon, who retired; like Groeschl, Schultz came from Montana, where he was administrator of trust land management for the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation and had worked since 1997. Schultz, an Air Force veteran, holds a degree in government from the University of Virginia, a master's in political science from the University of Wyoming and a master's in forestry from the University of Montana.

AARP says it’ll push for new consumer utility advocate when lawmakers convene

The Idaho AARP now says it'll push for establishing a new state consumer utility advocate during the legislative session that starts in January, after the idea was passed over in revisions to the Idaho Energy Plan recently approved by a joint legislative committee. “It's clear whose voice was heard and whose wasn't,” said Jim Wordelman, state director for AARP in Idaho. “Idaho utility companies were really the only ones opposed to creating a stronger voice and presence for consumers by establishing an office to advocate on their behalf.” The senior citizens group wants a consumer advocate office to advocate for consumers in rate cases before the Public Utilities Commission and the courts; Idaho is the only western state that doesn't have one.

A motion in the Energy, Environment and Technology Interim Committee to explore the concept as part of the state's energy plan revisions failed on an 8-4 vote. “We are disappointed to say the least,” Wordelman said, who noted that numerous AARP members submitted comments to the panel supporting the idea. “AARP will revisit the creation of the consumer advocate office in the upcoming legislative session. We only hope the legislature will be more responsive to the needs of Idaho's residential consumers and small businesses.”

Idaho among 10 states both suing over health care reform, getting grants under it

Seven states that are suing to overturn the national health care reform legislation are among 13 that today were awarded grants under the law, the Associated Press reports. Idaho is among the seven; the grants are for planning work to help set up state insurance exchanges. Three more plaintiff states in the lawsuit already got the grants. Click below for a full report from the AP in Washington, D.C.

F&G offers whopper of a gift idea: A lifetime of Idaho hunting or fishing

Need a whopper of a gift idea for the avid outdoorsman- or -woman on your list? Idaho Fish & Game has one: A lifetime of Idaho hunting or fishing - or both. Fish & Game has been offering lifetime license certificates since the late 1980s, and since 1995, they've sold 7,895 of them. The lifetime certificates can be purchased only at Fish & Game regional offices or their state headquarters; they vary in price depending on age. “Occasionally people will come in and buy a lifetime license certificate for a child,” said F&G spokesman Niels Nokkentved. “It's a pretty good deal if you're a young person, not so good perhaps if you're a senior citizen.”

The prices: For kids 0 to 1 year old, $276.75 for hunting only, $601.75 for fishing only, $795.50 for combination. That jumps up to $386.75 for hunting-only for ages 2 to 50 years, $841.75 for fishing-only or $1,113 combo; or, for ages 51 and older, $221.75 for hunting-only, $481.75 for fishing-only, or $636.75 for combo. Lifetime license holders who move out of state can keep their licenses, but must pay the nonresident tag and permit fees; tag and permit fees aren't included with the license certificates.

Idaho Fish & Game has sold 296 lifetime certificates so far this year, up from a total of 294 last year but down from 2009's 343. Asked if there's a bump in sales around the holidays, officials said not really – they're an item that's most popular for birthdays, or just after the announcement – but before the effective date – of a fee increase. Gift certificates also are available for annual hunting and fishing licenses, if you're not that big a spender.
  

Idaho court upholds schoolyard search of 18-year-old smoker’s car

The Idaho Court of Appeals has upheld a 2009 warrantless search of an 18-year-old high school student's car in a school parking area, which turned up a marijuana pipe and brass knuckles and led to misdemeanor drug and weapon charges, because the student, Joseph Voss, was at school smelling of cigarette smoke and tobacco products are banned on school grounds. The court rejected an appeal  arguing that because Voss was legally of age to buy tobacco products, the search was flawed.

“There is no question that the assistant principal had reasonable suspicion that Voss was violating the school policy,” wrote appeals court Judge Sergio Gutierrez for a unanimous court. “Voss was on school grounds, smelled of cigarettes, and had driven his car to school that morning. As Voss did not have cigarettes on his person, an obvious and customary place to also look was Voss’s vehicle.” You can read the decision here; click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

BPD: Fewer local businesses selling alcohol to minors

The Boise Police say area businesses are getting better about refusing to sell alcohol to minors; the BPD's latest alcohol compliance check yielded just a 7 percent failure rate, down from 20 percent in checks in late August and late September. Of 59 businesses checked over the weekend, only four failed, BPD reports, by selling alcohol to 18- or 19-year-olds who offered their real Idaho state I.D. Violations can bring fines and business license suspensions.

Idaho Supreme Court sets redistricting arguments for Jan. 5

The Idaho Supreme Court has issued an order setting oral arguments on the Twin Falls County challenge to Idaho's new legislative redistricting plan for Jan. 5 at 2 p.m.; it's also set a briefing schedule. It's not clear yet whether that would change if, as expected, an additional challenge is filed tomorrow by a group of northern Idaho counties; if the issues raised are similar, it's possible the two could be consolidated for oral arguments.

The Twin Falls challenge submitted its own proposed redistricting plan, but it wasn't submitted with the state's “Maptitude” software and has little detail beyond population breakdowns between districts; this image shows the statewide map submitted with the challenge. There are also a half-dozen regional close-ups, but detail is sparse. “So far, this is all we've got,” said Idaho Supreme Court Clerk Steve Kenyon.

DEQ cuts amount to quarter of its budget…

Idaho's Department of Environmental Quality has lost a quarter of its budget  to cuts since the recession began, AP reporter John Miller reports, and it's part of a national trend that's seeing conservation programs and environmental regulations pared back significantly as states grapple with budget deficits. Miller reports that because environmental programs are just a sliver of most state budgets, the cuts often go without much public notice, while more attention is focused on larger reductions in Medicaid, public education or prisons. Click below for his full report.

AP: Aging sagebrush rebel keeps up fight against the feds

The Associated Press reports that a 75-year-old lawyer who fought private property rights battles alongside Idaho U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth and her Nevada rancher husband Wayne Hage in the 1990s is still cultivating the Sagebrush Rebellion's roots. Fred Kelly Grant has been slowed by age and heart surgery, reports AP reporter John Miller, but he's in demand from counties — and tea partyers who attend his $150-per-person seminars — as conservative elements in the West's continue to clash with the federal government. California's Siskiyou County is paying Grant $10,000 to help block removal of four Klamath River dams. Montana and Idaho counties have enlisted him to trim hated wolf populations and thwart U.S. Forest Service road closures. Click below for Miller's full report.

Open records, meetings seminars coming to North Idaho next week

Everyone in Idaho should know what is covered - and what's not - by the state's public records and open meetings laws. That's the premise behind a series of educational seminars that Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and Idahoans for Openness in Government, or IDOG, have been holding periodically around the state since 2004. Now, the seminars are coming to North Idaho, for the first time since 2005.

Full disclosure here: I'm the president of IDOG, and this long has been an issue close to my heart. We all benefit when everyone, including government officials, members of the news media, and the public, are fully aware of the public's rights to access government information and observe the conduct of the public's business.

IDOG seminars are lively and interactive, and attendees may find themselves playing a part in a skit designed to illustrate a point about one or the other of the laws. They're also free, and include  refreshments. Here's the schedule for the North Idaho seminars:

    * Monday Dec. 5, Sandpoint - 5:30-8 p.m., Sandpoint Library public meeting room, 1407 Cedar Street
.  Co-sponsored by the Bonner Daily Bee
    * Tuesday Dec. 6, Coeur d'Alene - 6-8:30, Spokesman-Review Building 1st floor public meeting room, 608 Northwest Blvd. Co-sponsored by The Spokesman-Review and the Coeur d'Alene Press
    * Wednesday Dec. 7, Moscow - 6-8:30 p.m., Moscow City Hall, City Council Chambers. Co-sponsored by the Moscow-Pullman Daily News
    * Thursday Dec. 8, Lewiston - 6-8:30, Lewis-Clark State College, Sacajawea Hall Room 115. Co-sponsored by the Lewiston Tribune
    
These sessions are free and open to the public, but as space is limited, those who would like to attend are asked to RSVP by Dec. 2 to bzrussell@gmail.com or toll-free to (866) 336-2854. IDOG has sponsored 19 of these seminars around the state since 2004, from Preston to Moscow, from Pocatello to Coeur d'Alene. Each has been personally led by Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. Attendees get copies of the latest version of Wasden's Idaho Open Meeting Law Manual and Idaho Public Records Law Manual.

IDOG is a broad-based, nonprofit coalition for open government. Like similar coalitions in more than 40 other states, IDOG's mission is to promote open government and freedom of information; its board includes people from inside and outside of government, the media, civic organizations and more. IDOG's seminars are funded in part by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, through the National Freedom of Information Coalition. There's more information at IDOG's website, www.openidaho.org.

North Idaho, eastern Washington parents more likely not to immunize kids

North Idaho and eastern Washington share a grim distinction: Both have far higher rates of parents choosing not to immunize their children against childhood disease than either Idaho or Washington as a whole. As a result, health authorities say youngsters in the region are at increased risk for illnesses like whooping cough and measles - in early November, nine North Idaho children were diagnosed with whooping cough, also called pertussis.

“It's a personal choice that does carry consequences, and heavy consequences for some,” said Cynthia Taggart, spokeswoman for the Panhandle Health District, which offers low-cost immunizations in all five North Idaho counties. She noted pertussis can be fatal for babies, which is part of the reason that adults who come in contact with babies are advised to get pertussis booster shots.

In the North Idaho Panhandle, 7.4 percent of schoolchildren are exempt from immunization, compared to 3.8 percent statewide. That includes the 6.2 percent of North Idaho children whose parents cited only a personal exemption, rather than religious or medical reasons; compared to 3.2 percent statewide.  In Spokane County, 6.4 percent of schoolchildren are exempt from immunization, while in Stevens County, the figure is 15.3 percent and in Pend Oreille County, 15.4 percent. Statewide in Washington, 5.8 percent of children are exempted from immunization, the vast majority by parents citing personal reasons. You can read my full story here from Sunday's Spokesman-Review.

Energy plan revisions came on close votes…

A panel of Idaho lawmakers approved big changes to the state's 2007 Idaho Energy Plan in a series of close votes last week, but critics say nearly all of them will weaken the plan by loosening its requirements. Gone from the plan: Support for local-option taxes for transit; encouraging regional land-use planning designed to reduce trips; support for higher fuel efficiency in vehicles; and support for tax incentives for energy efficient technologies. Rejected: Calls to establish a consumer utility advocate's office in Idaho and to offer new help to low-income ratepayers.

“It seemed like the utilities were definitely writing the agenda,” said Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, who serves on the joint legislative panel. Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, the panel's co-chairman, said, “It was a pretty intense exercise, but I think it was worthwhile, it was beneficial.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com; the plan revisions, once finalized, go to the full Legislature for approval in January.
  

Second lawsuit in works to challenge Idaho legislative redistricting plan

Seven North Idaho counties are planning a second lawsuit to challenge Idaho's new legislative redistricting plan. “These northern counties want to make sure that their interests are represented, and their interests may diverge somewhat from the Twin Falls petition,” said attorney Christ Troupis. Troupis is working with Bonner, Boundary, Benewah, Lewis, Idaho, Shoshone and Clearwater counties on the legal challenge; he's expecting formal approval from them to launch the challenge next Tuesday.

The Lewiston Tribune reported today that Idaho County commissioners voted Tuesday to join the lawsuit, and the others either are on board or are considering it. Already pending at the Idaho Supreme Court is a challenge to the legislative district plan filed by Twin Falls County, with backing from Kootenai, Owyhee and Teton counties and several cities in Twin Falls County. That challenge includes a proposed new legislative district map for the state that splits fewer counties, just six instead of the 11 divided in the district plan approved by Idaho's bipartisan citizen redistricting commission.

Troupis said the group of northern counties likes that petition's arguments that the new plan is unconstitutional, but favors a different new map; it likes the North Idaho portion of L-82 (shown above), a map submitted earlier by GOP redistricting commissioners  Lorna Finman, Evan Frasure and Lou Esposito. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
  

Boise attorney Allen Derr honored for landmark gender-equity case

Marking the 40th anniversary of the landmark “Reed vs. Reed” case, Boise attorney Allen Derr is being honored both in Idaho and in Washington, D.C. Derr, 83, who still practices law, represented Sally Reed of Boise when she sought control over her son's estate rather than yield that to her abusive ex-husband, despite an Idaho law declaring males to be favored over females in such proceedings. Derr pressed the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled the Idaho law unconstitutional under the equal protection clause; joining him in the case at the Supreme Court was then-attorney, now-Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Last week, Derr was a guest at a panel discussion at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. along with Ginsburg. Next week, Derr will be honored by the University of Idaho College of Law, from which he graduated in 1959, with a reception Nov. 30 at the Idaho Water Center, 322 E. Front St., Ste. 590, from 5:30 to 7 p.m.; RSVP to Eric White at 364-4560 or emwhite@uidaho.edu.

The National Women's Law Center calls Reed vs. Reed “a landmark decision,” and says it opened the door for successful challenge of numerous other discriminatory laws under the equal protection clause. In Reed vs. Reed, the high court's unanimous decision called the Idaho law in question “the very kind of arbitrary legislative choice forbidden by the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” You can read more about the case here, and click below for a report from AP reporter John Miller.

Bruce Willis puts Idaho home on market for $15 million

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: HAILEY, Idaho (AP) — “Die Hard” movie star Bruce Willis is asking $15 million for his Idaho home complete with a guesthouse, gym and pool with water slides. The Idaho Mountain Express (http://bit.ly/upNUKX ) reports Willis' property in Hailey's Flying Heart subdivision is up for sale because he hasn't been able to spend much time in the area. This is just part of Willis' plans to pare his ties to the region. He's also trying to unload The Mint bar and nightclub on Hailey's Main Street after dropping the price to $4.5 million, from $6 million when it went on the market last year. Willis and former wife, Demi Moore, became part of the celebrity scene in the Sun Valley area during the 1990s. Willis still owns a ski area, Soldier Mountain, west of Hailey.

Otter op-ed: ‘Idaho sets example of responsible governance’

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has sent out a guest opinion entitled, “Leaner, more focused government must be our new normal,” that already has appeared in the Capitol Hill newspaper “Roll Call,” in which he says Idaho sets “an example of responsible governance for the rest of America.” Otter says the state did that by not raising taxes and balancing its budget. “It wasn't easy, and it wasn't always popular,” he writes. Click below for his full opinion piece.

AAA: Idaho gas prices up from a year ago, but down from last month

While gas prices in Idaho are considerably higher than they were a year ago, AAA Idaho says they're down from the level of a month ago, and nationwide, 4 percent more Americans are expected to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday. The auto owners group reports that today's average gas price in Idaho is $3.46 per gallon, 52 cents higher than a year ago, but 15 cents less than a month ago. The national average gas price is $3.34, down 12 cents from last month's average of $3.46.

AAA is also advising motorists to check road conditions before they head out for the holiday, either by dialing 511 or going to www.511.idaho.gov.

Associated Taxpayers of Idaho to hold annual confab next Thursday

In what's long been considered something of a warmup for the legislative session, the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho will hold its annual conference on Dec. 1, inviting business and government leaders, taxpayers and others to hear a series of presentations about federal, state and local government finances, the impact of a slower-growing economy over the next 10 years, and the outlook for this year's legislative session; typically, about 300 people attending, including numerous legislators. The event will run from 8:30 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. at the Boise Centre, Summit Auditorium. The conference, which includes a luncheon featuring Lt. Gov. Brad Little, is open to all, but costs $100 for non-ATI members, or $50 for the luncheon only; there's more info here.

Redistricting challengers submit own map, dividing only six counties

The four Idaho counties that are suing to challenge Idaho's new legislative redistricting plan - which include Kootenai County - have drawn up and submitted to the Idaho Supreme Court their own version of a new legislative district plan, dividing just six counties, vs. the 11 divided by L-87, the plan developed by Idaho's bipartisan redistricting commission. Led by Twin Falls County Prosecutor Grant Loebs, the group maintains that cities aren't “communities of interest,” and legislative districts should instead be drawn solely according to county lines and economic ties.

“Cities change constantly, they grow and they expand,” Loebs said, “whereas county borders are fixed and never change. So that's part of the problem with saying that cities are a community of interest.” He argues in the petition that L-87 violates the law by pairing, for example, portions of Twin Falls and Owyhee counties with Elmore County, when Twin Falls and Owyhee have “significant irrigation issues” that Elmore residents don't share. “The voice of the residents is diluted in the legislature by being combined with Elmore County, which could create very serious water issues in the future in those communities,” the petition argues.

The Idaho Supreme Court is reviewing the petition, and likely will set a briefing schedule today and determine which parties should submit legal briefs. However, with the timelines for such cases, oral arguments aren't likely until as late as January; click below for more on this from my Sunday column.

Idaho libraries prepare for requirements of new Internet filtering law

On the lower level of the Coeur d’Alene Public Library, 11 computers sit in a circle for use by kids, with Internet filters blocking access to inappropriate material. “Adults can’t use those,” said Bette Ammon, library director.  Upstairs, kiosks offering work stations with Internet filters for adults are usually busy; a computer lab with unfiltered computers also draws patrons. “They’re clearly marked, and people can choose,” Ammon said. “It appears to be working really well.” But the Coeur d’Alene library, like every other library in the state, will have to change its system between now and October, under a new law enacted by the Idaho Legislature this year; you can read my full story here from Sunday's Spokesman-Review.

Otter appoints Gayle Batt to complete Rep. Takasugi’s term in House

Gov. Butch Otter has appointed Gayle Batt of Wilder to complete the Idaho House term of state Rep. Pat Takasugi, who died after a three-year battle against cancer of the appendix. Batt was Takasugi's choice to fill in for him in the last legislative session, when his health prevented him from attending the session.

“I have known Gayle for years, and I know her to be a keen student of public policy and the legislative process,” Otter said in a statement. “She knows her county, her district and her state exceedingly well, and I have great confidence that she will continue to be an exemplary member of the Idaho Legislature.”

Batt was Takasugi's campaign manager in both 2008 and 2010, and is a former president of  the Food Producers of Idaho and the Canyon County Republican Women. Click below for the governor's full announcement.
  

Otter: ‘Rhoades has been held accountable’

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter issued this statement today on the execution of Paul Rhoades, Idaho's first execution in 17 years:

“My thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their loved ones, the mother of Paul Ezra Rhoades and everyone who has been impacted by these crimes. Mr. Rhoades took full and unfettered advantage of his right to due process of law for more than 20 years. That process has run its course and Mr. Rhoades has been held accountable for his actions. The State of Idaho has done its best to fulfill this most solemn responsibility with respect, professionalism and most of all dignity for everyone involved.”
  

Prosecutor: ‘Nothing brings total justice’

Tom Moss, who prosecuted Paul Ezra Rhoades in 1987 and later served as U.S. attorney for Idaho, said after this morning's execution, “Nothing brings total justice. They don't get their loved ones back. But it brings some satisfaction to them.” He said, “I've often said I don't think I will live to see anybody executed. So there's a certain amount of closure to see one of 'em get executed. … There is satisfaction to see finally the law comes to its conclusion, it's done. These families don't have to read any more in the paper about there's something going on with Paul Rhoades. … This case is closed.”

Rhoades, in final words, takes responsibility for one murder, not other two

The media witnesses to Paul Ezra Rhoades' execution are now answering questions from other reporters about what they witnessed. “Perhaps the most noteworthy thing was Mr. Rhoades' final statement,” said AP reporter Rebecca Boone. “He apologized for the Michelbacher murder, but did not take responsibility for the other two murders.” Boone said Rhoades said to the families of his other two victims, “I can't help you guys, sorry.” She said, “He said, 'Mom, goodbye,' then he turned and faced the warden, Randy Blades, and said, 'You guys, I forgive you, I really do.'”

ABC Channel 6 reporter Mac King said, “The whole thing was incredibly sterile, with the exception of his statement. Everyone was really professional.” King said there were “some tears” from the victims' families.

Nate Green, reporter for the Idaho Press-Tribune, said, “It was very quiet and somber, it was silent throughout. One gentleman, apparently a friend of the Michelbacher family, said the devil had gone home.”

Execution delay was due to ‘unexpected’ motion for stay from outside lawyer

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said the last-minute delay in the execution of Paul Ezra Rhoades this morning was prompted by a motion for a stay filed at 3 a.m. by an attorney from Mountain Home who had never previously represented Rhoades, and who didn't purport to be representing him now. “At about 8 o'clock this morning, 8:11, I believe … the administrative district judge in Ada County issued a denial of that stay,” Wasden said. The motion for stay charged that Rhoades' attorneys weren't properly qualified; they were appointed by the federal court to represent him in the capital case.

“I would say it was somewhat unexpected,” Wasden said.

Rhoades has been executed

Paul Ezra Rhoades has been executed; the time of death was 9:15. “The procedures are complete.” announced Corrections spokesman Jeff Ray. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Execution back on track, just delayed by 55 minutes

After just a brief holdup, today's scheduled execution of Paul Ezra Rhoades is now back on track, scheduled to occur 55 minutes later than originally planned. “Procedures have started again,” state Corrections spokesman Jeff Ray just announced. “Attorney General Wasden will be here after the completion of the procedures to explain what happened.”

Rhoades execution on hold

Paul Ezra Rhoades' execution is on hold, due to a filing in 4th District Court, which is the state court here in the Boise area. “Right now the procedure has been delayed,” said state Corrections spokesman Jeff Ray. “Right now a judge is reviewing that,” Ray said, though there is no stay of the execution. As a result, Rhoades has remained in his isolation cell, and has not been brought into the execution chamber, though the procedure was scheduled to happen right now. Ray said at this point, if the go-ahead is given, the earliest the execution could begin is 9 a.m. Mountain time, an hour later than originally scheduled.

Protesters: ‘One more pain of so many’

About 45 people gathered in a circle in the freezing darkness outside Idaho's state prison complex this morning to protest capital punishment, as the clock ticks toward Idaho's first execution in 17 years. “This is a heartbreaking morning,” said Mia Crosthwaite of Idahoans Against the Death Penalty. “It is good to be with other people.” The group prayed for condemned killer Paul Ezra Rhoades and his family, and for his victims and their families, prosecutors, police and more. Some held signs, with slogans including, “Life in prison=Justice, Killing=Vengeance,” “Cruel and unusual punishment” and “What would Jesus do?” Nearby, another group of seven people sat in a row in a silent vigil, facing the prison and the slowly lightening sky. At the circle, Crosthwaite told the group, “Today's execution is one more pain of so many.”

Across the road, the space set aside for pro-death penalty protesters was mostly empty. Tasha Wiegand, a former eastern Idaho resident, stood at one edge of it, but said she and her son weren't taking a position for or against the death penalty; they were just there to support the family and friends of the victims, whom they knew. “I think this is where we need to be,” Wiegand said.

Crosthaite said she and her group came out to the prison gate at 6 a.m. today to protest the execution. “We'll stay until it's over,” she said. “It is cold. I was expecting a handful, so I'm glad there's so many people standing up together, and I think we're going to see more people come as the morning progresses.”

Reinke: ‘Law requires and justice demands that Rhoades be held accountable’

Addressing the media in the chill of the press tent this morning, state Corrections Director Brent Reinke said, “The law requires and justice demands that Mr. Rhoades be held accountable. … Today we carry out the execution order.”

All Idaho state prisons, statewide, are on lockdown and high alert, Reinke said. In the execution chamber, there will be two phones: One red, connected to the governor's office, and one black, connected to the satellite office for Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, who is on site at the Idaho Maximum Security Prison. Reinke said his role includes picking up that black phone at 8:07 a.m. to inquire of the Attorney General if there are any last-minute legal impediments to the execution. If not, the order will be given to proceed, and the Attorney General will join the witnesses in the chamber.

Witnesses will include the sheriffs of both counties where Rhoades was convicted and sentenced to death, Bonneville County Sheriff Paul Wilde and Bingham County Sheriff Dave Johnson; prosecutors from both counties; representatives of the victims' families; Ada County Coroner Erwin Sonnenberg, who will pronounce death; Idaho Maximum Security Institution Warden Randy Blades, who will read the death warrant; Reinke; relatives of the condemned; and four media witnesses, who just were chosen by random drawing: Nate Green of the Idaho Press-Tribune, Mac King from ABC Channel 6, Ruth Brown from the Post Register in Idaho Falls, and Rebecca Boone of the AP. Said Reinke, “We are all witnesses to justice as prescribed by law.”
  

Reinke: Rhoades ‘understands what is about to happen’

Idaho Corrections Director Brent Reinke, asked about the demeanor this morning of condemned prisoner Paul Ezra Rhoades, said, “He's very serious. He understands what is about to happen. His spiritual adviser and his attorney have been with him throughout the night.”

Fog lifts, preparations under way…

Idaho state Corrections Director Brent Reinke will brief reporters momentarily on the preparations for this morning's execution of Paul Ezra Rhoades. The fog has lifted over the prison complex, and it's clear, cold, and 32 degrees. Click below for an AP report on the final preparations.

Fog shrouds prison complex as execution approaches

It's foggy and spooky out at Idaho's state prison complex this morning, where the first execution since 1994 is scheduled for 8 a.m. Space has been set aside for protesters both for and against the death penalty at the main entry gate to the prison complex on Pleasant Valley Road; inside the prison complex, the media is gathering at a “media center” that consists of a tent out in a dirt parking lot; the lights of the medium- and maximum-security prisons glow faintly in the fog.

Unlike the last person executed in Idaho, who dropped all appeals and asked to be put to death, condemned murderer Paul Ezra Rhoades has pursued every appeal possible, including another last-ditch appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court last night. None have worked. He admits his crimes, which terrorized an eastern Idaho community for three weeks in 1987 and left three people to die terrible deaths. His appeals have focused mostly on technicalities and on his abusive childhood and drug addiction; he says he's changed in his quarter-century in prison. Click below for a report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone on Rhoades' story.
  

U.S. Supreme Court rejects Rhoades’ last-minute bid for stay of execution

Here's a news item from the Associated Press in Washington, D.C.: WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court is refusing to intervene in the case of an Idaho inmate who is scheduled to be executed Friday for killing two women nearly a quarter-century ago. Paul Ezra Rhoades' lethal injection would be the first execution in Idaho in 17 years. Rhoades' lawyers asked the high court for time to challenge the state's lethal injection policy. They argue that it amounts to cruel and unusual punishment that is barred by the Constitution. Lower courts have rejected their arguments, and late Thursday, the Supreme Court denied two requests for a stay. Rhoades was sentenced to death for killing newly married, 21-year-old Stacy Dawn Baldwin and 34-year-old Susan Michelbacher, a special education teacher. He received a term of life in prison for killing 20-year-old Nolan Haddon.

Rhoades presses last-minute appeals

Late yesterday, condemned killer Paul Ezra Rhoades filed a petition for a rehearing en banc by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals of his bid for a stay of execution; today, the appellate court rejected that motion. He also filed an additional motion for a stay of execution, this time arguing that another pending federal court case could provide grounds for Rhoades to seek a stay based on ineffective assistance of counsel, because his lawyers didn't have him tested for brain damage. Today, the 9th Circuit denied that motion as well; you can read that decision here. Now, Rhoades has filed a petition and application for a stay with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Idaho restricts witness access to execution

The Idaho Department of Correction says it will not allow media witnesses to view the entire execution of Paul Ezra Rhoades, and two separate groups are protesting the policy, the Associated Press reports. Rhoades is scheduled to die by lethal injection Friday, making him the first person to be executed under Idaho's new lethal injection guidelines.

Prison officials say to maintain Rhoades' dignity, they won't allow witnesses to view him being restrained or having the IVs inserted. They also said changing the procedure now could be disruptive. But a group of Idaho news organizations say that policy conflicts with a 2002 federal court ruling that found the public, through the media, must be allowed to view executions in their entirety. The news organizations have asked the state to reconsider. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

9th Circuit rejects Rhoades’ appeal for stay of execution

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals tonight rejected Paul Ezra Rhoades' last-minute bid for a stay of execution on grounds that Idaho's lethal injection method, if improperly administered, could cause him severe pain; a three-judge panel of the federal appeals court issued its decision the same day the state filed its response to Rhoades' 9th Circuit appeal, clearing the way for his scheduled execution on Friday.

“Death penalty cases are wrenchingly difficult to assess because of the superordinately high stakes for the prisoner whose execution is scheduled and for society which plans to take the prisoner’s life as a sanction for the murder of one or more of its citizens,” the appeals court wrote. “But the key rules that govern this appeal have already been set. The Supreme Court has approved of the death penalty as a continuing option for states that choose to invoke this supreme punishment. … Many, but not all, states have chosen to maintain the death penalty, including Idaho.”

The panel found that Rhoades didn't prove that the medical team that would be administering his lethal injection was unqualified or likely to botch it; instead, they wrote, each member of the team has at least 15 years professional experience, and the team leader is an experienced registered nurse. You can read the 9th Circuit decision here.

As execution approaches, Otter’s in Maui, LIttle’s in charge

As last-minute pleas for clemency continued to pour into Idaho's state Capitol this week in advance of the state's first execution since 1994, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter wasn't there – he was at a posh resort in Maui to speak about presidential politics, leaving Lt. Gov. Brad Little in charge.
 
Little has been Idaho's acting governor from Sunday, when Otter left for Hawaii, until Thursday, when Otter is planning to return to Boise, leaving the California Independent Voter Project's “Business and Leader Exchange” a day early to make it back for the Friday execution. During that time, condemned killer Paul Ezra Rhoades had two bids for a stay of execution rejected by the U.S. District Court in Boise and filed an appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals; state attorneys filed their response to that appeal today.

Where was Otter, who could commute the sentence? As the guest of the California group, he and First Lady Lori Otter flew to Hawaii for the group's conference at the Fairmont Kea Lani Resort, a beachfront spread with three swimming pools, a 140-foot water slide and an array of luxury amenities.

Little, who says he's “really uncomfortable with capital punishment, just because of the very nature of it,” but has come to support it after much “soul searching,” says as acting governor, he wouldn't reverse Otter's stand, which has been to deny clemency for Rhoades. Little said he hasn't even read the letters and emails that continued to come in to the Capitol regarding the execution this week, leaving them instead for Otter on his return. “I guess I could go ask for 'em if I wanted to, but I have chosen not to do that,” Little said. He said he agrees with Otter's stance in this case. “I don't think anybody's arguing that Paul Ezra Rhoades is anywhere close to innocent.”  You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
  

Redistricting challenge filed at Idaho Supreme Court

Twin Falls County has filed its redistricting challenge with the Idaho Supreme Court today, as promised, and it includes several additional parties. Those joining the county's challenge include not only several cities in Twin Falls County, including Twin Falls, Filer, Hansen and Buhl, but also three other counties: Kootenai, Teton and Owyhee counties. The legal challenge charges that Idaho's new redistricting plan impermissibly splits counties; it divides 11 of Idaho's 44 counties.

State Board picks EITC VP to fill president’s spot

Idaho's state Board of Education, in a special meeting this afternoon, named Steven Albiston the new president of Eastern Idaho  Technical College, replacing Burton Waite, who will retire at the end of December. Albiston, an eastern Idaho native and longtime EITC employee, is the current vice president for instruction and student affairs. Click below for the board's full announcement.

Witness to Idaho’s last execution recalls quiet, ‘antiseptic’ procedure

Bob Fick, former longtime Associated Press correspondent in Boise, witnessed Idaho's last execution in 1994, and shares his experience in an interview today with Boise State Public Radio's Samantha Wright; you can listen here. Fick said his lasting impression came from how quiet and antiseptic the proceeding was, compared to the crimes that Keith Eugene Wells had committed, beating two people to death with a baseball bat. “That's the thing I remember the most, is how antiseptic it was,” he told Wright. “If somebody … if their purpose was revenge, to get some measure, some pound of flesh as payback, I don't know that that method of execution would achieve that end.”
  

Rhoades files bid for last-minute reprieve from 9th Circuit

Attorneys for condemned Idaho inmate Paul Ezra Rhoades have filed an emergency appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, seeking a stay of his execution while his legal challenge to Idaho's three-drug lethal injection method of execution proceeds in court. A U.S. District Court magistrate judge in Idaho rejected Rhoades' bid for a stay yesterday, concluding in part that a stay would not be in the public interest. Rhoades has exhausted all his appeals from the 1987 eastern Idaho murders for which he was convicted and sentenced to die; the U.S. Supreme Court rejected his last one last month.

In their 33-page brief, Rhoades' attorneys wrote, “The strong public interest is in an orderly and deliberate decision of the important issues raised. If Idaho is to exact the ultimate penalty, it should only do so in a humane manner, without inflicting severe and unnecessary pain on the condemned inmate.” They argue that Idaho hasn't proven its team that will inject the lethal drugs is sufficiently trained to do so properly, and that improper administration could result in severe pain.

In other developments in the case, when U.S. Magistrate Judge Ron Bush yesterday rejected Rhoades' bid for a stay of execution, he also rejected another last-minute motion for a stay filed by Rhoades' attorneys on Sunday. Also, all sides in the litigation reached agreement today on one count in Rhoades' lawsuit: That he be permitted to have his attorney present at the execution. With that agreement, Rhoades dropped that count from the suit.

Meanwhile, KTVB-TV reports here that Rhoades is spending what likely are his final days in daily visits with his mother, watching TV, reading and doing some art work. He's also spending time with his spiritual advisor and his attorney. Idaho Corrections Director Brent Reinke told KTVB, “There's an anxiousness on Death Row,” and the warden at Idaho's maximum security prison has agreed to allow Death Row inmates to sign a card for Rhoades.

Redistricting challenge to be filed tomorrow

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on how Kootenai County commissioners voted today to sue over Idaho's proposed new legislative district plan, saying they object to a proposed large new district that would take in a 5,000-person chunk of the county and pair it with others to the south and east. “We just didn’t think that was right,” said Commission Chairman Todd Tondee. “Our county can be kept whole, and we would like it to be kept whole for our citizens.”

The Kootenai commissioners said they'll join a filing by Twin Falls County; that county's prosecutor, Grant Loebs, said he intends to file it in the Idaho Supreme Court on Wednesday. “There’ll be several more entities” joining in the case, Loebs said, including the cities of Twin Falls and Filer. “There are several other counties that we’re working with that haven’t formally called me back yet today to tell me I can say anything publicly.”
  

Kootenai County to sue over new legislative district plan, doesn’t like the new District 7

Kootenai County's board of county commissioners has formally decided to join a planned lawsuit challenging Idaho's new legislative redistricting plan that Twin Falls County plans to file this week. The North Idaho county's commissioners say in a news release that they object to the proposed new District 7, which would include about 5,000 residents of Kootenai County, along with all of Shoshone, Clearwater and Idaho counties stretching to the south, an arrangement the commissioners contend “will make representation very difficult.” They wrote, “Kootenai County is unique in the northern part of the state in that we have the population base to have three legislative districts contained completely within our county borders.  Our goal is to keep our county whole as dictated by the state constitution and ensure appropriate representation for our citizens.” You can read their full statement here.

New fracking rules approved after much testimony for and against…

After a hearing that stretched for more than an hour and a half and saw extensive testimony both for and against, Idaho's Oil & Gas Conservation Commission has voted unanimously to approve new rules for development of crude oil and natural gas resources in Idaho, including “fracking,” or hydraulic fracturing. Lt. Gov. Brad Little, who was presiding in place of Gov. Butch Otter, abstained from the vote because of pending negotiations regarding possible gas drilling on his land. The state Oil & Gas Conservation Commission, which consists of the members of the state Land Board, approved temporary rules for gas drilling, including the controversial practice, in April; today's vote marked final approval, though lawmakers still will review the rules during their legislative session that starts in January. You can see the full 22-page rule here.

Supporters of the new rules said they'd promote jobs; opponents said they threaten clean water in the state. Boise Weekly reporter George Prentice has posted a full report here, and you can read Rocky Barker's full report here in the Idaho Statesman.

Rhoades attorneys plan 9th Circuit appeal today

Attorneys for condemned killer Paul Ezra Rhoades have issued a statement saying they plan to file an appeal to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals today seeking a stay of execution; Rhoades' execution is scheduled for Friday. “We remain dedicated to challenging Idaho's lethal injection protocol, as we maintain it could subject Mr. Rhoades to substantial risk of severe pain,” the attorneys wrote. You can read their full statement here.

They also said they're continuing to urge Gov. Butch Otter to grant Rhoades a reprieve until a clemency hearing can be held by the Idaho Board of Pardons & Parole; that board earlier rejected Rhoades' bid for a clemency hearing.
  

Judge: Staying Rhoades execution wouldn’t serve the public interest

U.S. Magistrate Judge Ron Bush, in his decision on Paul Ezra Rhoades' emergency motion for a stay of his Friday execution, wrote that Rhoades proved in court that “if Rhoades is not rendered sufficiently unconscious from the first drug used in the three-drug lethal injection protocol, then he will certainly suffer excruciating suffocation and pain from the remaining two drugs. The Court also finds, as agreed by the parties, that if properly anesthetized, there will be no risk of pain for Rhoades.”

But the judge said the Idaho Department of Correction “has provided appropriate safeguards to protect against a substantial risk that Rhoades will not be adequately anesthetized at the beginning of the execution process,” and “the safeguards of the Idaho protocol are substantially similar to those contained in execution protocols approved by the United States Supreme Court and by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in similar cases.”

The judge wrote, “The Court finds that the public interest favors denial of the request for a stay of the execution. Rhoades has previously appealed the convictions and the sentences that brought him to this fast-approaching execution date, and has sought relief from the federal courts under federal habeas claims. Those appeals and collateral proceedings have run their course, and those issues are not before this Court. It has been over 23 years since Rhoades was first sentenced to death. The State of Idaho allows imposition of the death penalty for crimes such as committed by Rhoades. … The State of Idaho has an interest in seeing that its laws are enforced, and further delay will not meet that interest.” He added, “The public has an interest, independent of the difficult debate over the death penalty as a form of punishment at all, to have such proceedings reach a conclusion.” Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.
  

Rhoades execution is on…

U.S. Magistrate Judge Ron Bush has issued his 43-page decision in Paul Ezra Rhoades' last-minute bid for a stay of his execution - scheduled for Friday - while he challenges Idaho's lethal injection protocol, and the judge has denied a stay. That means Idaho's first execution since 1994 is on for this Friday at 8 a.m. “Rhoades has not demonstrated entitlement to injunctive relief,” the judge wrote. “Therefore, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED THAT Plaintiff’s Emergency Motion for Preliminary Injunction or Stay of Execution (Docket No. 17) is DENIED.”

Rep. Higgins to retire, redistricting would have pitted her against other incumbents

One more contest between legislative incumbents prompted by Idaho's new legislative redistricting plan has been averted by an incumbent lawmaker's decision to retire: Rep. Elfreda Higgins, D-Boise, had this announcement on Facebook over the weekend:

“I have had numerous inquiries regarding my running for re-election next year. I am not going to run for a third term. My husband, Paul, and I want to spend more time with our family and friends and traveling. This will be my third 'retirement' and one I feel that I deserve.”

Higgins landed in a new District 16 that also included Rep. Max Black, R-Boise, who is in his 10th term, and second-term Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise. Higgins is currently the House assistant minority leader and is in her second term; she is a retired businesswoman and former Garden City Council president.

Higgins, 66, said redistricting didn't weigh into her decision; instead, she said, “I just decided it's time for me to retire and have some fun time.” Her grandkids all live far away, and she wants to have time to go visit them, she said, adding, “I've worked since I was 18 years old.”

Higgins said her new district is much like her old one. “I think we only have three precincts from District 15, so that really had nothing to do with it at all,” she said. “There's going to be a lot of people having to run against other incumbents, and that's to be expected, when the redistricting happens. And people are just going to have to make a choice.”
  

Federal judges in Idaho face swelling caseload

Idaho's two U.S. District Court judges are juggling three times the caseloads of federal judges in Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota and Alaska, and each of those states has three federal judges, instead of two, the Idaho Business Review reports. In fact, the state's population has more than doubled since Congress last approved an additional federal district judgeship here. Click below for a full report from the Business Review and the Associated Press.

Judge’s ruling due today on whether or not to stay Rhoades execution

Today is the day that a federal judge will decide whether to stay the execution of triple murderer Paul Ezra Rhoades, which is scheduled for Friday, while he challenges Idaho's lethal injection execution method as unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment. Yesterday, Rhoades' attorneys filed another emergency motion for stay of execution, demanding background checks into the qualifications of the execution team members to insert IV's and assess depth of unconsciousness.

The state prison system argued earlier that it had reviewed those qualifications, but then destroyed the documents; the team members' identities are being kept confidential.

Meanwhile, Idaho Statesman reporter Patrick Orr had this look over the weekend at how legal complexities stall executions, and why Idaho has seen fewer executions than other 9th Circuit states since the death penalty was reinstated in 1979; Idaho's actually had more Death Row inmates freed - three - than executed - one. Also, Associated Press reporter Rebecca Boone reports here on preparations for the execution, which have taken months; click below to read her look at Rhoades' three victims.

Otter standing by decision not to spare killer’s life

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, a Catholic who once studied for the priesthood, is the only one who could spare the life of condemned Idaho inmate Paul Ezra Rhoades, a multiple murderer scheduled for execution next Friday. Otter, a supporter of the death penalty, has stuck by his position, even in the face of pleas for mercy from the pope, from the Swiss ambassador, and from the bishop of the Catholic diocese of Idaho.

“It's tough, it's tough,” Otter said, when asked about balancing his faith and his position. He's been reluctant to discuss the matter as Idaho approaches its first execution since 1994, when condemned murderer Keith Eugene Wells dropped his appeals and requested to be put to death. This case is different: Rhoades has tried every appeal, exhausted every remedy, and still is attempting in federal court to challenge Idaho's lethal-injection execution method as unconstitutionally cruel; a federal judge will decide Monday if that challenge should delay the scheduled execution. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
  

BSU honors vets on the blue

Boise State University, with more 2,200 veterans among its students, was one of 150 colleges and universities across the nation today to participate in Remembrance Day National Roll Call, in which the names of the casualties of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars over the past decade were read aloud and tributes offered. You can see the Idaho's Fallen Heroes list here; it's 56 names long. More than 250 people attended today's ceremony at Bronco Stadium, which included remarks from BSU President Bob Kustra, student body Vice President Eric Schuler and Jim Vance, director of the regional office of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The ceremony was followed by a reception and dedication of the new campus Veterans Services Center, just across University Drive from the stadium. More than one in 12 BSU students are either veterans or active military members, which is among the highest ratios in the nation.

Sen. Stegner named UI’s new top lobbyist

Idaho state Sen. Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston, has been named the new special assistant to the president of the University of Idaho for state governmental relations - chief lobbyist - and will start his new job Dec. 1, UI President Duane Nellis announced today. “The pool of applicants was truly impressive,” Nellis said. “However, Joe’s breadth and depth of experience in the legislature and business, as well as his commitment to education made him stand out from many other capable leaders.”

Stegner replaces Marty Peterson, who retired from the post after two decades; the seventh-term senator said he was “honored” to be chosen for the job, and said, “This is an exciting opportunity that doesn’t come along very often, and I’m very thankful for this chance to work for the continued excellence of the University of Idaho and Idaho’s higher education community.”

Stegner, 61, a retired grain dealer and a University of Idaho graduate, served as assistant majority leader in the Senate until this year, when he was ousted by Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian; he currently chairs the Senate Local Government & Taxation Committee. You can read the university's full announcement here.
  

Idaho exports headed for record level

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Overseas demand for Idaho dairy products and silver helped drive export growth to 16.6 percent from July to September, keeping the state on pace for record out-of-country sales for 2011. Idaho's third-quarter export growth trailed the national rate of 17.7 percent, compared to the year-ago period. Department of Commerce director Jeff Sayer says international markets continued to be a bright spot for Idaho's economy. Dairy exports rose by 70 percent to $194 million as fast-growing Asia Pacific countries had an appetite for whey protein and powdered milk. High prices for precious metals increased demand for mining products, where exports more than doubled to $362 million. And while domestic construction remains mired in a slump, Idaho wood products exports to Canada, Japan, Mexico and China rose 58 percent to $79 million.

Killer’s bid for last-minute reprieve stretches into evening, judge to rule Monday

A hearing that started at 1 this afternoon stretched into the evening tonight, as condemned killer Paul Ezra Rhoades pressed for a last-minute reprieve from his execution, scheduled for next Friday. The Associated Press reports that after the arguments, U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald Bush said he'll try to decide by Monday whether to postpone the execution. The judge said Thursday night he was concerned that the Idaho Department of Correction seemed to be “playing catch-up” when it came to planning for Rhoades' execution. Rhoades, who was convicted of murdering three people in 1987 and sentenced to die for two of the murders, has sued over Idaho's lethal injection protocol. He contends the state's policy doesn't include enough safeguards to ensure that he is adequately anesthetized and doesn't experience excruciating pain during the execution. Idaho attorneys counter that their protocol is similar to methods that have been upheld by the courts in other states. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Election law passed two years ago created headaches for some in city elections

A 2009 law passed by the Idaho Legislature drew complaints from voters in Tuesday's city elections that they were forced to drive miles outside their cities to personally cast absentee ballots; Secretary of State Ben Ysursa is considering backing changes in the law as a result, the Associated Press reports. The 2009 law consolidated all of Idaho's elections to four dates each year and put counties in charge of all of them. That meant Tuesday's vote was the first time county clerks were running city elections, and though there are multiple cities in each county, each county typically has just one polling place for early voting, forcing long drives for some to cast ballots. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Open access: Holding government accountable…

I just got back to Boise from Moscow, where I spoke at a symposium at the University of Idaho entitled “Open Access: Citizens, Media & Government,” sponsored by the University of Idaho School of Journalism and Mass Media, with support from the McClure Center for Public Policy Research and the Society of Professional Journalists. There was a great turnout from both students and members of the community; more than 150 people attended the symposium. A new documentary film by UI students Hans Guske and Ilya Pinchuck, “Fighting Goliath: Megaloads & the Power of Protest,” made its debut; a panel including megaloads opponents Lin Laughy and Borg Hendrickson, Lewiston Tribune reporter William Spence and myself discussed “In the Sunshine: Holding Government Accountable;” and I delivered a lecture entitled “Open Government: Why it Matters” last night. Here's an excerpt from my talk:

The laws that ensure openness in government in our state and nation, including the Idaho Open Meeting Law, the Idaho Public Records Law and the federal Freedom of  Information Act, allow people to hold their government accountable, prevent and uncover corruption, and actually participate in governing themselves, as our founding fathers intended. Because we can't have government of the people, by the people and for the people if the people don't know what the government is doing. … In 1820, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of this society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion.”

Redistricter Andersen dies at age 67

Former state Rep. Allen Andersen, D-Pocatello, has died of an apparent heart attack, the Idaho State Journal reports. Andersen co-chaired the first Idaho redistricting commission this year; he was 67 years old. Andersen was a retired high school math teacher and ISU professor, and served one term in the state House of Representatives in 2003-04.
  

Simplot to cut up to 800 Idaho jobs

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The J.R. Simplot Co. is planning to build a new potato processing plant in Caldwell. But it's coming at a cost for the company's employees elsewhere in Idaho. Company executives announced Wednesday plans to build a 380,000-square-foot facility designed to help keep Simplot competitive. Officials say the new facility in Caldwell means the company will shut down older plants in Aberdeen and Nampa in the next two or three years, resulting in the loss of fewer than 800 jobs. Spokesman David Cuoio says competitors have better plants that are more efficient and Simplot needs to modernize to keep pace. The new facility will be built on the site of the company's original potato processing plant in Caldwell. Executives are not releasing the cost of the new plant.

Capitol evacuated, jobs forum moved

The Idaho state Capitol was evacuated today after a white powder was discovered in an envelope, though it was later found to be “benign.” The 11 a.m. evacuation disrupted Congressman Raul Labrador's jobs forum, but it was moved to another location, the conference room of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, 816 West Bannock, 5th Floor, and is continuing there, reports Labrador spokeswoman Ellen Carmichael. The white powder later was discovered to be aspirin.

The Associated Press reports that the Capitol was cleared. KTVB-TV reports a spokesperson for the Idaho Department of Administration confirmed there was also a bomb threat Wednesday at the Idaho Statehouse. The Idaho Statesman reports police dogs found no evidence of an explosive device as of 2 p.m.

Steele gets 50 years in murder plot

Former attorney for the Aryan Nations Edgar Steele was sentenced to 50 years in prison today for a foiled murder-for-hire plot that targeted his wife and mother-in-law, reports S-R reporter Meghann Cuniff from Coeur d'Alene, who reports that Steele gave an hour-and-a-half-long rant to the court, calling case a vast conspiracy by the federal government, the Anti-Defamation league, and the Russian mafia to silence him for his political views and legal work. “I, too, am a victim. My entire family is a victim. In fact, all of American society is a victim in this case,” declared Steele, 66. U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill said it’s “human temptation” to respond to claims about government corruption but it’s best not to. In Steele’s case, “a conspiracy can only be found if you ignore the facts and your world view dictates that there’s a conspiracy everywhere,” Winmill said; you can read Cuniff's full report here at spokesman.com.
  

Andrus pushes White House to use Antiquities Act for Boulder-White Clouds

Former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus says he has been in touch with “high levels in the White House” about using the Antiquities Act to declare a national monument in the Boulder-White Clouds, in order to prompt action on Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson's Boulder-White Clouds wilderness proposal. A move like that, Andrus told Idaho Public Television during a “Dialogue” Web Extra taped Tuesday, would “get some of those knotheads to listen to reason and understand the balance that is necessary.” Andrus, former U.S. secretary of the Interior, said, “That is the only vehicle I can see that can accelerate this action. … If it were me, I'd do it in a flash.” You can see video of Andrus' comments here. The full interview with Andrus will air on “Dialogue” on IPTV next Thursday, Nov. 17.

Election results: Mayors re-elected, bag ban rejected…

In city elections across the state yesterday, some notable outcomes: In Hailey, a ban on plastic grocery bags pushed by local high school students failed 864-620, according to the Idaho Mountain Express, while Ketchum voters rejected a switch to a city manager form of government. In Eagle, appointed mayor Jim Reynolds easily turned back a challenge from Idaho Republican Party chairman and Eagle city councilman Norm Semanko, 78 percent to 22 percent. Meridian Mayor Tammy deWeerd was handily re-elected, and longtime Hayden Mayor Ron McIntyre polled more than 60 percent in his re-election bid.

Dan Gookin bested former state Rep. George Sayler for a Coeur d'Alene City Council seat as critics of McEuen Field renovation plans cruised to victory, while a sewer bond passed in Worley and a fire protection bond in St. Maries. Boise Mayor Dave Bieter polled nearly 75 percent in winning his re-election bid, and former longtime Kuna Mayor Greg Nelson defeated the incumbent to regain the office. Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey writes today that the results show voters' anger at incumbents nationally doesn't translate to their home turf; you can read his take here.
  

Idaho Labor chief Madsen: Don’t extend unemployment benefits

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The head of the Idaho Department of Labor is urging lawmakers to resist the urge to extend unemployment benefits again. Labor Department Director Roger Madsen made his appeal in a letter sent to Congress and state lawmakers Monday and in advance of Thursday's congressional hearing on unemployment insurance. Madsen says he's concerned about unemployed Idahoans. But he says state business owners need to regain confidence in the program — and the best way to do that is to better manage the federal budget. He says the goal of the department is getting people working so they can receive a paycheck instead of monthly benefits. Since the recession's start, an estimated 150,000 Idaho workers have received more than $750 million in federal extended benefits beyond the basic 10 to 26 weeks. You can read Madsen's full letter here.

Labrador jobs forum today will be live-streamed

Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador will join members of the Idaho Legislative Business Caucus and congressional staffers from the Idaho delegation for a jobs forum today at the Capitol Auditorium, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Representatives from more than 20 businesses across the state and from various industries will offer their views on steps lawmakers could take to spur economic growth; the Idaho Department of Labor and Idaho Department of Commerce also will participate. The forum will be live-streamed on the Web courtesy of Idaho Public Television here. “We look forward to hearing from Idaho’s job creators about how we as public servants can best serve our constituents during this critical time in our nation’s history,” Labrador said.

Luna testifies to Congress about reforming No Child Left Behind law

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna is commending efforts in Congress to reform the federal No Child Left Behind law to measure student academic growth from year to year. Luna is president-elect of the Council of Chief State School Officers and testified Tuesday before a U.S. Senate panel, saying he supports efforts to overhaul the nation's governing education law. Idaho was among three states that vowed to ignore the latest requirements under No Child Left Behind, saying the education program sets unrealistic benchmarks for schools while failing to accurately measure student growth. Idaho and other states are implementing new statewide accountability systems. President Barack Obama announced in September that since Congress had failed to rewrite No Child Left Behind, he was allowing states a waiver to get around it.

Lawyers spar over Idaho, Montana wolves in California courtroom

Attorneys for wolf advocates and government officials sparred in a Pasadena, Calif. courtroom today over ongoing wolf hunts in Idaho and Montana; a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals heard the arguments. The conservation groups want an injunction to halt the hunts while the case proceeds, though two previous such requests have been denied; there was no immediate decision. Click below for a full report from the Associated Press.

Crane says relatives should cover added limo costs

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — State Treasurer Ron Crane says relatives accompanying Idaho officials on annual trips to New York City should repay the state if their presence adds to ground transportation costs. Last week, The Associated Press reported Crane's office spent $10,000 since 2009 on stretch limousines and executive sedans to transport state employees and their family members while in New York. In an interview Tuesday, Crane said past instances where relatives added to costs, including for cars carrying their luggage, reflected “oversights,” not common practice. If spouses or children increase the bill, Crane said they should cover it. Still, Crane said transporting officials by limousine to meetings with ratings agencies to discuss Idaho's credit-worthiness remains appropriate, because it lets them travel together without risking getting split up, as they might in multiple taxis. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Otter, first lady kick off next phase of Idaho Meth Project

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and First Lady Lori Otter attended Brian Barber's health class at Boise High School this morning, with classes from four other high schools around the state watching online, to kick off the next phase of the Idaho Meth Project. The public-private anti-drug program is launching a new interactive teen website and advertising in eight states including Idaho, along with mobile and social media campaigns aimed at educating teens about the dangers of methamphetamine use.

Otter asked the Boise High kids, mostly sophomores and juniors with a sprinkling of seniors, “How many of you have heard about the meth project?” Most raised their hands. “That's encouraging,” he declared. Lori Otter told the kids the new website, MethProject.org, is “a resource you can go to that is factual, that lays it out, that does not sugar-coat it.” She said, “You are being presented with a valuable tool to help you and your friends make good choices in life.”

The students were receptive; some said they want to volunteer to help with the campaign. Like earlier Meth Project ads, the new TV commercials feature actors presenting shocking scenarios to illustrate the dangers of meth, while the radio ads and website rely more on actual teens' testimonials and experiences with the drug. The latest TV ads are directed by Darren Aronofsky, director of the movies “Black Swan” and “The Wrestler.” The website has games and activities centered on meth dangers, from a mugshot-match game to show how meth users' appearances change to an Operation-style activity showing the effect of the drug on different parts of the body, along with a place where teens can post their own art, poems, stories or other messages with an anti-meth theme.

This is the first time the project has launched a major campaign, including TV, radio, print, billboards and online advertising, in all eight states at once; the eight are Idaho, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Montana and Wyoming.

It’s Election Day in Idaho…

It's Election Day for nonpartisan city races across Idaho today, and the polls are open until 8 p.m. Things weren't exactly busy when I stopped in at my local polling place to vote this morning; just a trickle of voters was showing up to vote for positions including mayor and city council posts. For Boise-area races, some resources about voting and the candidates include the Ada County elections office website here, the Idaho Statesman's election page here and KTVB-TV's voter guide here. In North Idaho, check out the Spokesman-Review's North Idaho election page here, and the Kootenai County elections office website here. The Idaho Association of Counties has a guide to all 44 counties here, including links to their websites.

Just nonpartisan races are up for a vote today, including city offices, other nonpartisan taxing districts, and city or taxing district ballot measures. Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said turnout in nonpartisan city elections often is “pretty low,” but noted, “Candidates and issues make turnout.” Among races drawing attention today are the mayor's race in Eagle, city council races in Kootenai County and a vote on a plastic grocery bag ban in Hailey.

Ysursa said off-year elections like this year's typically see low turnout, sometimes down in the teens as far as the percentage of registered voters. “Without the parties and the money being spent big-time on advertising and whatever, you just don't lots of times see the turnout that you should, in my opinion, in these nonpartisan elections,” he said. “But they're very important, and some would say affect our lives more directly than the statewide or the federal offices, because you deal with them every day.”

Otter: ‘Law requires and justice demands that Mr. Rhoades be held accountable’

Idaho's Commission on Pardons and Parole, which has been studying the case of Death Row inmate Paul Ezra Rhoades for the past two weeks, met Friday morning in executive session, as required by law, to deliberate on a petition from Rhoades and his attorneys for commutation of his death sentence. “Their decision was to deny setting a commutation hearing,” said Olivia Craven, executive director of the commission. The commission's decision was delivered to Idaho Gov. Butch Otter today.

If the commission had agreed to hold a hearing, the governor would have 30 days to decide whether to commute the sentence. But because that didn't happen, the clock is still ticking, and Rhoades' scheduled Nov. 18 execution date is still on. It would be only Idaho's third execution since the 1950s, and the first since 1994. Rhoades was sentenced to death for the 1987 murders of Susan Michelbacher and Stacy Baldwin in eastern Idaho; he also was convicted of a third murder there; click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Gov. Otter is the only one who can commute the death sentence. It's happened once before; in 1996, then-Gov. Phil Batt agreed with the recommendation of the commission and commuted the sentence of Donald Paradis from death to life without parole amid questions about his original conviction; Paradis later was released in 2001, after pleading guilty to being an accessory to murder.

Otter, a supporter of the death penalty, issued this statement today: “Paul Ezra Rhoades has taken full and unfettered advantage of his right to due process of law for more than two decades. That process is running its course. The law requires and justice demands that Mr. Rhoades be held accountable for his actions as a judge and jury have directed. I appreciate the Commission of Pardons and Parole carrying out its statutory duty respectfully and professionally.”

October state revenues barely miss target

Idaho's general fund revenues for October are in, and they're almost exactly on target, missing the forecast by just 0.7 percent. At $209.9 million, the month's tax take is $1.6 million below the $211.4 million forecast. That's because sales taxes came in $4.1 million below the expected level, but all other categories came in ahead of the forecast. Individual income tax revenues for October were 5.9 percent above October of the previous year; the forecast was for 4.9 percent growth. Sales taxes were up 1.6 percent over the previous October; the forecast had called for 6.3 percent.

For the fiscal year to date, which started July 1, Idaho revenues are very close to the forecast level, falling 1.3 percent below it. You can see the full monthly general fund revenue report here.
  

No limit on re-tries for state-funded online classes

During the “Students Come First” school technology task force meeting today, a new wrinkle emerged as far as the impact on school district finances of the new focus on online education. In response to a request from the Boise School District's business manager about how many times a district will have to fund an online provider if the student doesn't pass the course, state Department of Education official Jason Hancock said, “Essentially, right now, if a student is in a brick-and-mortar situation and they take a course and fail it, we still fund the district.” He said the full payment districts will be required to make to online course providers - two-thirds of the “average daily attendance” funding the district receives from the state for that student for a class period - will be divided into two parts, with the first part to be paid to the provider on the student's enrollment in the online class, and the second only upon the student's successful completion of the class.

If a student failed, the first payment would have to be repeated if the student took the class again (it wouldn't be refunded), and there's no limit on retries.  Hancock said, “Through putting together statewide contracts with these online course providers, we can actually build into the contract certain performance criteria, so that if students are being unsuccessful in these courses, if these are not high-quality courses and an excessive number of students are failing the course, we can terminate the contract.” However, the reform plan also allows students or parents to choose courses from any approved provider, not just those in the state contracts, and trigger payments from their school district.
  

Tech task force ponders contracts for online classes, hears tech presentations

Now that Idaho has approved a requirement that high school students take at least two credits online, officials are working on plans for a statewide contract expected to include a list of providers for districts to choose from when selecting virtual courses, the Associated Press reports. Idaho will also phase in mobile computers, such as a laptops or iPads, for every high school teacher and student while making online courses a graduation requirement under sweeping new education changes backed by public schools chief Tom Luna and the governor.

A task force aimed at helping implement Luna's plan to increase technology in the classroom met today at the state Capitol. Luna told the AP the goal is to provide schools with a list of online course providers approved and contracted by the state to offer classes to Idaho students. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner, including concerns about how school district funding will be impacted by the new online class requirement.

During the task force's lunch break today at the J.R. Williams Building across from the Capitol, members heard presentations from Discover Technology, Lorna Finman's Rathdrum-based non-profit organization that promotes science, technology, engineering and mathematics education in schools. Finman brought along her “STAR Discovery Bus,” a mobile lab for teaching kids about science and math. “It can go anywhere,” Finman said. She said she has another, larger bus in the works, since this one can only accommodate about 15 students at a time. “We're not asking for any money from the schools,” she said. “This is all privately funded by business people.”

As task force members toured the bus, which includes touchpads and work stations for kids, Dennis Kimberling told them, “The hands-on is the hook for the kids in the science and technology.” Nearby, a full-sized robot named “DiscoTech” greeted people and carried on conversations; the remote controlled robot was built by kids in Discovery Technology's robotics programs, Finman said. Discovery Technology also holds summer robotics camps for kids in kindergarten through 12th grade and sponsors after-school robotics programs.

‘Occupy Boise’ encampment hits Day 3

More than 40 tents are now pitched on the lawn of the old Ada County Courthouse as part of the “Occupy Boise” encampment, but only a little over a dozen people were there early this afternoon, quietly talking, sitting in the sun, listening to classical music on the radio and, in one case, working on a laptop computer. A sign inked on cardboard next to the food tent announces the encampment's “good neighbor policy,” which includes “zero tolerance for drugs or alcohol anywhere in our encampment.”

The scent of freshly donated corn bread and soup wafts around the encampment as a white-haired Vietnam veteran who gives his name as David Redfeather relaxes in a lawn chair. “I just came by - I was on my way back from the V.A.,” he said, “so they asked me if I wanted to join.” He said he's planning to stick around, “Because I don't believe in corporate greed.” A 21-year-old transient with facial tattoos who goes by the name Seesea has spent two nights at the encampment in a cardboard refrigerator box, covered with a tarp and insulated with leaves. “It's been amazing,” he said. “I feel that the community mentality is on point. Everyone has a sense of that and everyone is acting on that.”

His neighbors are staying mostly in nearly-new camping tents, and many are gone during the day. “There still are folks that have jobs, that need to work,” Seesea said. “I've 100 percent devoted all my time to social change.” Signs around the encampment have slogans including, “Veterans for Peace - Abolish All War,” “Gov't Inc.” with a slashed circle over it, and “We are the 99 percent, We the people not we the corporations.” Another says, “Why should I pay for your greed???” while one lettered on a big piece of cardboard decries CCA, the Corrections Corporation of America, which runs Idaho's troubled privately-run prison south of Boise. “You crush the soul of people in the name of justice,” the sign declares.” Another just says, “Think.”

A volunteer with the group who didn't want to be named said donations have been pouring in, from hot food and warm clothes to cash. At the group's general assembly tomorrow, it'll debate whether to rent a handicap-accessible Porta-Potty for the encampment. The encampment started Saturday, and so far has weathered two cold nights and Boise's first snow.

Wolf arguments set for tomorrow in 9th Circuit

A panel of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals will hear arguments tomorrow in California on an appeal seeking to stop the ongoing wolf hunts in Idaho and Montana; as of today, Idaho Fish & Game reports that 107 wolves have been taken in Idaho since Aug. 30 in this year's hunting season. Prior requests in federal court for an emergency injunction against the hunts were rejected; the Alliance for the Wild Rockies has appealed to the 9th Circuit. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Matthew Brown in Billings.

No quagga mussels in Idaho, Washington yet; plenty of close calls…

Tens of thousands of boat inspections later, Idaho and Washington have come through another boating season without getting invasive quagga or zebra mussels established in either state's waters - but there were plenty of close calls. Idaho intercepted 24 mussel-contaminated boats entering the state, and Washington decontaminated 20. While most were coming from the heavily infested Great Lakes region, nearly half were Northwest-bound from federal waters in Arizona and Nevada - and that has officials in both states concerned.

“Mussel-fouled boats continue to leave infested waters without proper decontamination,” Idaho Department of Agriculture Celia Gould said. “The federal government needs to do a better job of containing infestations in their waters and preventing the spread of these species to the Pacific Northwest states.”

Allen Pleus, aquatic invasive species coordinator for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the good news is this: “To our knowledge, there are no established or known detections of zebra or quagga mussels in any Columbia River Basin locations, including British Columbia, Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. So we're the last great water basin without these species in the United States.” You can read my full story here from Sunday's Spokesman-Review.
  

Idaho Supreme Court rules Lewiston stormwater fee an unconstitutional tax

The Idaho Supreme Court has ruled against the city of Lewiston in a lawsuit challenging the city's stormwater utility fee as an unconstitutional tax because it wasn't authorized by the state Legislature. The lawsuit, brought by the Lewiston School District, Lewis-Clark State College, Nez Perce County, the Port of Lewiston and the Lewiston Orchards Irrigation District, was successful at the District Court level, but the city appealed; the high court now has upheld District Judge John Bradbury's ruling invalidating the fee. You can read the court's unanimous decision here, which was written by Justice Warren Jones.

Rep. Takasugi dies of cancer at 62

KIVI-TV reports that Idaho state Rep. Pat Takasugi died late Sunday night at a Boise hospital, surrounded by his family, after a three-year fight against cancer; you can read their full report here. Takasugi, 62, is a second-term Republican from Wilder; he was the director of the state Department of Agriculture from 1996 to 2006, and also a longtime farmer, an Army veteran, a College of Idaho graduate and former chairman of the Canyon County Republican Party. He is survived by his wife, Suzanne, and three children; Takasugi missed the last legislative session due to his health, and Gayle Batt filled in for him.
  

Exxon plans freeway route for all its remaining megaloads, skipping scenic Highway 12

Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil has applied to the Montana Department of Transportation to send all its remaining Canada-bound megaloads of oil equipment along freeway routes, rather than along scenic U.S. Highway 12, the Associated Press reports. The application covers about 300 reduced-size loads headed to Alberta via interstates 90 and 15; Exxon's original proposal to send more than 200 giant loads across the twisting scenic route's Idaho portion prompted protests and legal challenges. The firm then began reducing the height of the loads and sending them on freeway routes, including up Highway 95 from Lewiston to I-90 at Coeur d'Alene. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Matt Volz in Helena.

Imperial/Exxon spokesman Pius Rolheiser said the firm isn't giving up on the Highway 12 route. “Imperial continues to view U.S. 12 as a viable option, as a viable route,” he said. But with permitting delays experienced thus far, he said, the company wanted to have a “contingency plan” in place.
  

Snowflakes hit the foothills, and it’s Ski Swap time in Boise…

It is snowing - snowing! - right now in the Boise foothills. It's not sticking, but the timing is perfect for today's start of Boise's big annual Ski Swap, which opens at 5 p.m. today at the Western Idaho Fairgrounds, also known as “Expo Idaho.” The swap, which benefits the Bogus Basin Ski Education Foundation, runs through Sunday; it costs $3 to get in, and is the place to find deals on new-to-you gear, from skis and snowboards to helmets and outfits, or unload your kids' outgrown gear and find replacements.

Sellers can take their gear in (11 a.m. to 9 p.m. today or 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday) to check it in for sale; the swap takes a 25 percent commission on items sold. The swap is open to buyers from 5-10 tonight (folks line up for the opening); 10-8 Saturday and 10-3 on Sunday.
  

AP: State treasurer’s office defends New York limo use

A stretch limousine for eight people - with minibar, mood lights and TV - awaited Idaho Sen. Dean Cameron when he arrived with his wife at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport on June 7, 2009, reports Associated Press reporter John Miller. Cameron was with state Treasurer Ron Crane's annual Wall Street pilgrimage, to meet with ratings agencies over the $500 million in short-term debt securities that Idaho sells yearly to finance government's day-to-day affairs. “I was surprised,” said Cameron, a Rupert Republican. “I don't think I'd ever ridden in a stretch limousine before, nor have I since.” Cameron, who rode into Manhattan with Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, and their spouses, was also surprised this week to finally learn the limo bill: $244.13. Miller reports that Crane's office spent nearly $10,000 on stretch limousines, Lincoln Town Cars and executive sedans to transport Idaho state employees and their family members from 2009 through 2011, when taxis would have been cheaper, and that similar expenditures were made by state treasurers in previous years as well. Click below for Miller's full report.

Lawmakers extend comment deadline on Idaho Energy Plan to Nov. 18

The Idaho Legislature's Interim Committee on Energy, Environment & Technology wrapped up two days of meetings today on updates to the 2007 Idaho Energy Plan today, and decided to extend the public comment period to Nov. 18. The joint committee will meet again Nov. 21-22 in Boise. It's wrestling with negative reactions from an array of parties to changes in the plan proposed by the board of the Idaho Strategic Energy Alliance, from reducing energy efficiency and conservation from the “highest priority” to just “a priority,” to taking out support for local-option taxes for transit. Numerous task forces of the alliance board developed a draft that had more widespread support before their board made the final changes.

Comments can be sent by email to mnugent@Lso.idaho.gov, or mailed to the Energy, Environment & Technology Interim Committee, Legislative Services Office, Statehouse, Boise, 83720-0054. There's more info here.

Westerberg: ‘There is no equivocation among the board members’

Richard Westerberg, president of the Idaho State Board of Education, said after the board's unanimous vote to approve an online-class requirement for high school graduation, “We certainly received some input.” He said, “The board is firmly behind online learning. We believe it's imperative moving forward that our students be able to have skills in that area.” Mark Browning, state board spokesman, noted that many of the public comments objected to the law calling for requiring online courses. “That ship has sailed,” Browning said. “We have a law passed by the Legislature.”

Westerberg said the public comments received in public hearings across the state, which were largely negative as were those received in the final comment period on the rule, “actually informed what the rule might be.” He said, “Two credits is actually a fairly modest requirement.” State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna's original proposal was to require eight online classes for graduation.

Westerberg said, “There is no equivocation among the board members - that's an area that we need to get good at, our students need to get good at.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

IEA: Decision on online classes should be for ‘students and parents, not state’

The Idaho Education Association has issued a statement in response to the state Board of Education's vote today to require every Idaho student to take two online classes to graduate from high school, saying in part, “Idaho educators, parents, and students see value in online classes. We recognize that they are a good choice for many students. However, Idahoans have said repeatedly since last January that the decision to take online classes should be made by students and their parents, not by the state.” Click below for the full statement.

State board members on online class rule: ‘I thought that was pretty good’

State Board member Don Soltman, who made the motion to approve the online class requirement, said, “For the record, during the 21-day comment period there were … additional comments,” generally saying that they “felt there should not be an online learning requirement.” He said, “Additional concerns were expressed” about financial impacts on school districts and on the Idaho Digital Learning Academy.

Board member Milford Terrill said he had a discussion about the rule with his grandson. “He's a home schooler, and he is now in one of our universities here in the state of Idaho, and he's writing a paper in his English class on why this is so important to kids, to have these credits in being able to do stuff online, because he, everything he does, his assignments, everything that the teacher has to say, he has to go online to find that out. And now he's doing a speech, as we speak, in communications class as to why this is important. And I found that very interesting, a kid 19 years old, is writing an epistle on why this is good and giving speeches on why we should have this in our institutions, and in our K-12 program. So I thought that was pretty good.”

The board's unanimous vote means Idaho students now must take two online classes to graduate from high school. The Legislature will review the rule during its session that starts in January, but it already passed the school-reform legislation that called for the new online-class requirement.
  

Online class requirement approved

State Board of Education members have voted 8-0 in favor of requiring every Idaho student to take two online classes to graduate from high school, a rule that's been widely panned at public hearings across the state and drawn mostly negative public comment, but is a centerpiece of state schools Supt. Tom Luna's “Students Come First” school reform plan.

State board to vote on online-class requirement

Idaho's state Board of Education also is scheduled to vote this afternoon on whether to make Idaho the first state in the nation to require high school students to take at least two classes online to graduate, a proposal that's come in for heavy criticism across the state; the state board's staff is recommending the board give the rule its final approval. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner on the issue.

State Board approves possible Big East move for BSU football

State Board of Education member Milford Terrell moved to authorize BSU President Bob Kustra to make the final decision “as to whether it is in the best interest of the university to accept an invitation to the Big East conference as a football-only member, and to another conference as to the remainder of the university's intercollegiate sports.” Board member Rod Lewis seconded the motion.

Asked how long all this would take, Kustra told the board, “I would think that by next week we would have a resolution in this matter.” He noted that the appropriate conference varies by sport. “Our wrestling team, for example, is in the PAC-12, because that's simply the best place for our wrestling team to be,” he said. It's important, he said, to find the “best match.”

Board member Bill Goesling proposed to delay a vote so the board could gather more information, but his proposal got no second. The board then passed Terrell's motion on a 7-1 vote, with Goesling, of Moscow, casting the only dissenting vote. Kustra told the board that BSU would join the Big East only if it would play in a new Western Division the conference is establishing, which could include Southern Methodist University, the University of Houston, Boise State, Air Force, and at least one other western school.

Kustra: Big East’s proposed new western division attractive

BSU President Bob Kustra told the state Board of Education today that a new western division of the Big East conference for football could include Southern Methodist University, the University of Houston, Boise State, and Air Force, plus two more he's not “at liberty” to name, “but I will tell you I'm very pleased about the prospects of this western division, including not only the four I mentioned but two more that would be very solid citizens in a western division like this.”

Asked by the board if it would be a “deal breaker” if the Big East didn't establish a western division, Kustra responded, “Yes, without a doubt, that is a deal breaker.” The idea would be for the western schools to play the western schools, he said.

Full house at State Board this afternoon…

There's a full house for this afternoon's Idaho State Board of Education meeting, which has two hot-button items on its agenda: A conference change for intercollegiate athletics at Boise State University, and final approval of a rule requiring every Idaho high school student to take two online classes to graduate from high school.

 

BSU President Bob Kustra told the board that the Mountain West “is simply not the same conference that we first agreed to join. … My hope for a competitive and compact conference has been dashed.” Now, he said, BSU football has been in talks with the Big East. “We're really honored to be considered for membership,” Kustra said. “It would be good not only for athletics but for the entire university to forge new relationships.” Kustra said he's concerned about travel, but said, “The good news is that the Big East is working to provide us partners through the creation of a western division.”

He said, “There have been no formal invitations, but today I seek your authorization to make a decision once an invitation is extended, and also to make a decision regarding what conference basketball” and other BSU sports would be in.

Labrador wants to eliminate green energy tax incentives, cut corporate taxes

Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador held a press conference in Washington, D.C. today joining, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, to announce that he's co-sponsoring legislation to do away with “all energy subsidies,” including tax incentives for plug-in electric and fuel cell vehicles, the production tax credit for renewable energy and the investment tax credit for equipment powered by solar, fuel cells or geothermal. “Instead of America's hardworking taxpayers footing the bill for billions of dollars in government subsidies, our legislation would empower the free market to determine which forms of energy our families and businesses use each and every day,” Labrador declared.

The measure is sponsored by Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kansas; Labrador said it would eliminate $90 million in energy tax subsidies over the next 10 years, while reducing the corporate tax rate by a like amount. Groups backing it include Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform, the Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity, a group backed by oil billionaire David Koch. You can read Labrador's full news release here.
  

Labor, IRS to work together to recoup unemployment overpayments

Idaho's Department of Labor will start intercepting federal tax refunds headed to more than 5,000 Idahoans next year, to recover nearly $10 million in unemployment benefit overpayments due to fraud or misreported earnings. To avoid the move, the people involved, who all are being notified, will have to repay the amounts by Jan. 3, 2012, including interest and penalties; agree to a repayment plan; or request a review. For information, call toll-free (800) 672-5627.

 Department official Larry Ingram said department has collected $23 million in overpayments, interest and penalties since 2007, and has withheld state income tax refunds as part of its collection efforts, but this year will be the first time federal officials have allowed it to tap into federal income tax refunds.

UI: At least one Moscow police officer knew of Bustamante gun threats

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — University of Idaho officials say at least one police officer knew of alleged gun threats against a graduate student before she was shot and killed by a professor she had been dating. The school issued a statement Wednesday saying a police officer included on a threat assessment team was made aware of the threats that 22-year-old Katy Benoit reported. Benoit complained to the university in June that professor Ernesto Bustamante had threatened her with a firearm three separate times during the relationship. Moscow Police Chief David Duke said Friday he was unaware of gun threats until after Bustamante shot and killed Benoit on Aug. 22 and committed suicide. On Wednesday, Duke said the officer on the assessment team reported after the shooting that the team had brief talks about gun threats.

A gloomier forecast than three months ago, but growth still predicted in Idaho

Idaho's October economic forecast is out, and it's a gloomier outlook than the state's last forecast in July. That's mainly because national forecasts have changed, raising the likelihood that the national economy would slip into a recession from 25 percent in July to 40 percent in October. “The outlook for Idaho's economy has also darkened somewhat,” wrote Idaho's chief economist, Derek Santos, in the new forecast. “Instead of shifting into higher gear in the first half of 2011, job growth slipped into neutral. As a result, there were fewer jobs in the second quarter of 2011 than in the fourth quarter of 2010.”

That's depressed job-growth forecasts going several years out, Santos noted, though growth still is predicted. You can read the full forecast here, which predicts computer and electronics employment will be relatively stable; logging and wood products employment will rise 6.5 percent this year, decline slightly next year, then grow more the following two years; construction jobs are predicted to drop through 2012, then begin growing very slowly the following two years; durable good manufacturing jobs are expected to recover in 2011 what they lost in 2010; and service jobs are expected to grow.

Rep. Labrador plans ‘jobs forum’

Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador has announced he'll hold a “congressional jobs forum” at the Capitol Auditorium next Wednesday, Nov. 9th, from 9 a.m. To 4 p.m. More than 20 Idaho businesses from a variety of industries will discuss “how Congress and the Idaho Legislature can work to improve the business environment for Idaho's job creators,” Labrador's office said in an announcement. “Business owners from every region of Idaho will present their perspectives on business growth and development to the panel throughout the day.”

Proposal for utility consumer advocate sparks debate

A big topic of debate at today's Idaho energy plan hearing was the lack of a consumer advocate in Idaho's utility rate-setting process, a distinction Idaho shares with just a handful of other states. According to a 2004 study by the National Regulatory Research Institute at Ohio State University, 43 states and the District of Columbia at that time had an independent agency that acts as a consumer advocate, including three that had created nonprofit public corporations to serve as utility consumer advocates. The Idaho AARP reports that today, since the defunding of Georgia's office, Idaho is one of  eight states with no independent utility consumer advocate, and the only one in the west.

Charlie Acquard, executive director of the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates, said most are funded by assessments on utilities and the agencies vary in size. “They generally work,” he said. “Even a small staff is better than no staff, because it keeps 'em honest.”

Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, proposed legislation in 2001 and 2002 to establish a consumer advocate in Idaho's utility regulation process, but it was opposed both by Idaho's big utilities and the PUC, and didn't pass. However, Keough said she's been hearing increased interest in the idea from other lawmakers in the past two years. “I think it's certainly an idea that needs to be on the table,” Keough said.

Acquard said nationwide, utilities recognize that involving a consumer advocate in the process beats “at the end of the process, if you have some consumer group screaming about a rate increase.” He said, “We may be pains in the butt, but smart utilities realize we bring a sense of reality to the process.”

Some lawmakers on the Legislature's Interim Committee on Energy, Environment & Technology were cool to the idea today, however. Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, asked if the provision of up to $40,000 to fund intervenors' costs in rate cases covers that issue. Lynn Young, a volunteer board member with AARP, responded with an example: A case in which an individual consumer decided to intervene, hired a lawyer and incurred thousands of dollars in legal fees – and then wasn't deemed to have provided different enough arguments to warrant getting any of the intervenor funds, which are available to various parties, from irrigators to community action agencies. “So that provision has a very dampening effect on any residential customers who want to come before the PUC,” Young said.

Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, said, “In some cases I think there is an advocacy agency already, and it's called the Legislature and it's called the elected officials in the state.” But Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, said as a legislator, he doesn't feel qualified to intervene in a PUC case on behalf of consumers. The PUC holds quasi-judicial hearings on proposed utility rate increases. Parties that intervene in the process can participate in that hearing, cross-examining witnesses and presenting evidence for their side. But it's a complicated and somewhat obscure process.

Young said some argue that the PUC staff already advocates for consumers, but she said that's not their role. “They balance the needs of utilities and customers and other groups,” she said.

David Irwin, AARP spokesman, said, “Our argument is, look, the utility companies and several other groups are very well represented in utility rate cases. The group that is continually left out of that largely is the largest group of ratepayers in the state, and that is the consumers.”

Anderson asked why AARP doesn't fulfill that role itself; Young said the group does advocate for seniors, but that for rate case intervention, “I think having a group that is dedicated to doing that, trained, have the knowledge and experience, is a far better solution for a large group of customers that have not been adequately represented in the utility arena.”

In addition to advocating for consumers in rate cases, most state consumer utility advocates have the authority to appeal PUC decisions. Washington's falls under its state attorney general's office.

The Ohio State University study concluded, “The independent consumer advocates established by state statutes have a distinct function among consumer representatives. They have the funding and expertise that many private consumer interest groups lack.”

Energy hearing brings calls not to jettison features of ‘07 energy plan

Testimony at today's hearing on proposed revisions to the 2007 Idaho Energy Plan has included pleas to keep in the plan numerous items that the Idaho Strategic Energy Alliance board, a group appointed by Gov. Butch Otter, has proposed taking out. Among them: Backing incentives for people to use more fuel-efficient vehicles, including natural gas-powered and flex-fuel vehicles; support for local-option taxes as an option for communities that want to fund public transit; “decoupling” rate-setting from sales, as is already under way in a pilot project between the Idaho PUC and Idaho Power Co., to remove disincentives for utilities to implement energy efficiency programs; backing frequent updates to building codes for energy efficiency; and making energy efficiency and conservation the “highest” priority in the plan; the board recommends downgrading that to just “a priority.”

“Offering incentive packages is a sensible way to drive the market toward meeting energy-efficiency goals,” Heather Wheeler, executive director of the Community Transportation Association of Idaho, told the Legislature's Interim Committee on Energy, Environment & Technology. She also noted the removal of local-option taxes from the plan and said some Idaho resort communities already have made good use of local-option sales taxes for transit projects; Sen. Curtis McKenzie, co-chairman of the joint committee, said he thought the panel should discuss that. “I put that in my notes, to do that,” he told Wheeler.

Ben Otto of the Idaho Conservation League said Idaho's “decoupling” pilot project is in its fifth year and a decision is scheduled by the PUC this spring on whether to make it permanent. “It is an option that should be on the table for them to consider, and this plan should reflect that,” he said.

Testimony continues at 1:30 this afternoon after a lunch break; you can watch live here.

Ada County jury orders St. Al’s hospital to pay $52M in MRI firm dispute

St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center has been ordered to pay $52 million to an MRI company for violating a partnership agreement it had with the firm and forming a competing company, the Associated Press reports. The jury verdict, handed down Monday, is one of Idaho's biggest ever; earlier, another jury awarded MRI Associates $63.5 million in damages in 2007; a judge later reduced that award to $36 million, and in 2009 the Idaho Supreme Court sent it back for a new trial, which started Sept. 6 and lasted eight weeks. A St. Alphonsus spokeswoman said the hospital again plans to appeal; click below for a full report from the AP.

Wade Woodward, one of the attorneys with the Boise firm of Banducci Woodard Schwartzman, which represented MRI Associates, said, “Two separate juries have unanimously found that St. Al's acted badly by intentionally competing with its partners while it was in the partnership.” His firm characterized the case as a “David vs. Goliath legal battle, pitting a small business against an enterprise-level regional medical center with revenues of $450 million in 2009 and a parent company, Trinity Health, that boasted assets of more than $8 billion at the end of that year.”

Simpson, 99 other reps want SuperCommittee to ‘go big’ on deficit reduction

Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson and Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., say they want the “Super Committee” working on national deficit reduction to “Go big,” and they've got a bipartisan group of 100 lawmakers standing with them. The two unveiled a letter to the Super Committee and the names of its 100 signers at a Washington, D.C. press conference today; they want everything on the table in deficit reduction talks – including both increased revenues and cuts in entitlement programs – and they want the goal to be closer to $4 trillion in cuts over a decade, rather than the $1.2 trillion target the panel is required to propose by Nov. 23.

Simpson said, “This letter is signed by conservative, moderate, and liberal members of the House, and while their political philosophies may differ, they all understand the urgency that our national debt crisis represents. They understand that the Super Committee represents our best, and possibly only, chance to make the real reforms needed to return our country to fiscal health.” Click below to read his announcement, along with the full letter and list of signers; you can read a full report here from AP reporter Alan Fram in Washington, D.C.
  

Energy plan hearing prompts debate over sales of ‘green tags’ from renewables

The Legislature's Energy, Environment & Technology Interim Committee has opened its hearing this morning on proposed revisions to the 2007 Idaho Energy Plan. First up to testify was Annie Black, a Boise resident and former manager of the green power program at Idaho Power Co., who said Idaho's current PUC policies require utilities to sell their Renewable Energy Credits, or “green tags,” when they purchase or generate renewable power from sources like wind or geothermal. Those RECs are generally sold out of state, allowing customers there to claim the environmental benefits of that renewable power production.

“Yes, we are generating that wind in Idaho … but we're not delivering that same wind profile” to power customers in Idaho, Black said. “Credits are very desirable if you live in California and have renewable portfolio standards,” she said. “The commission has said that the renewable energy credit is not something that customers need and want. … I know there are a lot of customers that do want to be able to count some small component of what comes to their home.”

One of the three “pillars” cited in the proposed revisions to the energy plan is to enhance Idaho's collective “energy IQ,” Black said. In line with that, she said, Idahoans should be fully informed that the environmental benefits from renewable power generated in Idaho aren't actually coming to their homes; they're being sold elsewhere.

Committee Co-Chairman Sen. Curtis McKenzie said that may just confuse consumers. Under the current system, he said, “It's keeping my costs down as a ratepayer and encouraging the production of renewable energy … in the state.” Black said, however, that since the environmental benefits are sold elsewhere, consumers are being misled when they see charts showing how much renewable power is generated in the state and assume they benefit from that. “It could be the right thing for the ratepayer and the state, what we're doing,” she said, “but don't assume that the wind energy that comes to your door comes with the right to pat yourself on the back, that you're somehow … polluting less,” when that environmental benefit is actually being sold to offset higher-polluting power production elsewhere.

State Board sets final approval of online course requirement for Thursday

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho — Idaho would become the first state to require students to take at least two credits online under a plan headed to Education officials for final approval. The state Board of Education is expected to consider the measure at a special meeting Thursday. The board gave the online requirement initial approval in September despite heavy opposition at public hearings this summer. Trustees collected more feedback during a 21-day public comment period last month. A majority of the commenters said Idaho shouldn't require online learning, according to board staff. Schools nationwide offer virtual classes, but just three states — Alabama, Florida and Michigan — have adopted rules since 2006 to require online learning, according to the International Association of K-12 Online Learning. Idaho would be the first to require two credits online.

70% of Idaho employers aren’t complying with new-hires reporting law

Most Idaho employers aren't complying with a law requiring them to report new hires to the state Department of Labor within 20 days, the department says, making it harder for the department to track things like overpaid unemployment benefits and deadbeat parents who owe child support. AP reporter Jessie Bonner reports that only about 30 percent of employers are complying with the 1997 state law; click below for her full report.

‘Occupy Boise’ plans protest encampment in downtown Boise

Occupy Boise protesters say they're planning to set up an encampment later this week on the grounds of the old Ada County Courthouse, for an “indefinite vigil,” the Associated Press reports. Thus far, Occupy Boise protests have included rallies and marches; one man was arrested when he set up a tent and sought to spend the night in a city park, where camping is prohibited by city ordinance, the Idaho Statesman reported. Now the group is looking at a possible protest encampment on state property. Click below for a full report from the AP, the Statesman and KTVB-TV; you can also read the Statesman's full report here and see KTVB's here.

Former Herman Cain spokeswoman is Labrador’s new communications chief

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The former spokeswoman for Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain has gone to work for U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador. The congressman's office issued a statement Tuesday saying Ellen Carmichael had been hired as the new communications director for Labrador, a Republican who represents Idaho's 1st Congressional District. Carmichael most recently served as the chief spokeswoman and communications director for Cain's presidential campaign. She joined Labrador's office in Washington, D.C., on Monday. Carmichael's job history includes a stint as a Louisiana coordinator for the group Americans for Prosperity, which was founded by two billionaire brothers who bankroll right-leaning causes. She is from Baton Rouge, La.

Inspections intercepted two dozen mussel-infested boats

In the recently concluded boat-inspection season, Idaho reports that it inspected more than 47,000 watercraft and intercepted 24 that were carrying invasive quagga or zebra mussels into or through the state. Nearly half came from federal waters in Nevada and Arizona, the state Department of Agriculture reports. State Ag Director Celia Gould said, “The Lower Colorado River system is known to be heavily infested with quagga mussels, and we know that many Pacific Northwest boats spend extended periods of time there. … Boats that have been in those waters are considered extremely high-risk.”

The tiny, fast-multiplying mussels haven't been found in Idaho waters yet, and the state wants to keep it that way. Gould called on federal officials to do more to stop the mussels from leaving already-infested federal waters like Lake Mead and Lake Havasu. “Mussel-fouled boats continue to leave infested waters without proper decontamination,” she said. “The federal government needs to do a better job of containing infestations in their waters and preventing the spread of these species to the Pacific Northwest states. We need all hands on deck as we work to protect our waters.”

People with watercraft returning from those infested areas can arrange for an inspection by calling the Department of Agriculture at (877) 336-8676; they are also advised to clean, drain and dry their boats, including washing the hull thoroughly with hot water and waiting five days between launches into different waters.
  

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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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