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Eye On Boise

Archive for September 2011

Senator gets pay for extra residence for session, but sleeps at parents’ for free…

The Associated Press reports that Republican Sen. John McGee lives 26 miles from the Idaho Capitol but takes an extra per diem payment from taxpayers for a second residence that adds up to some $6,000 annually — even though he lives with his parents in their Boise home during the session. Another Republican, Sen. Curt McKenzie of Nampa, took extra per diem cash during the 2011 Legislature while sleeping on his small law firm's couch.

By taking the money, they're not just boosting their annual pay; they'll likely see higher pension payments when they retire. Click below to read the full story by AP reporter John Miller.

4th District judge upholds SB 1108, IEA to appeal to Idaho Supreme Court

Fourth District Judge Timothy Hansen has ruled against the Idaho Education Association, upholding the constitutionality of SB 1108, the piece of state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna's “Students Come First” three-part school reform package that limits teachers' collective bargaining rights, ends an early-retirement incentive program and makes other changes. The IEA sued, saying the bill unconstitutionally violates existing contracts, in part by retroactively ending them; Hansen ruled that it imposes “substantial impairment” on existing contracts, but that it's not unconstitutional because it does so for a “legitimate public purpose,” in this case, giving school boards more power in bargaining with teachers. He also rejected arguments that the bill was unconstitutional for addressing more than a single subject.

The IEA said it will appeal the decision to the Idaho Supreme Court. “The bills wrongly curtail the rights of teachers, the IEA, and its local education associations, and they rob local school districts’ ability to make the best decisions for students,” the IEA said in a statement. Paul Stark, IEA general counsel, said, “All involved anticipated that whether it was a win, lose, or draw, Judge Hansen’s decision would be appealed and ultimately decided by the Idaho Supreme Court. The Idaho Education Association appreciates Judge Hansen’s expedited decision that allows the parties to have the issues presented to the Supreme Court as soon as possible. The Idaho Education Association further looks forward to the November 2012 election when Idaho voters will finally have a say in overturning the harmful education laws passed this year.”

A referendum in the 2012 general election will give Idaho voters the choice of rejecting all three pieces of the reform package; the others shift funds from salaries to technology boosts, impose a merit-pay bonus system and bring a new focus on online learning. You can read the judge's decision here, and click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.
  

Redistricters set hearings…

Idaho's new citizen redistricting commission has set public hearings for Wednesday Oct. 5 in Idaho Falls, from 6-8 p.m. at Idaho Falls City Hall, 680 Park Ave.; Thursday Oct. 6 in Coeur d'Alene, from 6-8 p.m. at Coeur d'Alene City Hall, 710 E. Mullan Ave.; and Friday Oct. 7 in Boise at the Capitol Auditorium, at a time to be determined. The public is invited to testify; the commission wants to hear about areas of local community interest, demographics, economics, geography, population trends and political and historical factors it should consider in adopting new congressional and legislative district lines. There's more info here.

Following the three hearings, as promised, the commission has set meetings starting Tuesday Oct. 11 at 9 a.m. at the state capitol, and continuing at 9:30 a.m. every weekday (but for Friday, Oct. 21) through Oct. 31st. Those meetings will take place in Room 422 of the capitol, where the commissioners will be able to sit around a table facing each other, and will be audio-streamed live. Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey has a look at the personal dynamics of the new commission and the thinking behind the move to a “kitchen table” setting in his Thursday column here.

State insurance fraud investigators sue, say fired for pursuing case

Idaho Statesman reporter Cynthia Sewell reports today that four former investigators for the Idaho Department of Insurance have filed a federal lawsuit, claiming they were fired or forced out of their jobs for pursuing - and alerting federal authorities to - a fraud investigation into an eastern Idaho insurance company. The investigation led to a joint federal-state raid, involving the state department, the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service, on the company's offices and homes in Idaho Falls and Rexburg on Oct. 19. You can read Sewell's full report here.

Thanks for ‘Best of Boise’ honors…

Thank you to the readers of the Boise Weekly for voting Eye on Boise “best local blog” in their annual Best of Boise awards for a second straight year - I really appreciate the kudos. And to all of you out there, thanks for reading.

Beitelspacher: ‘It was personally powerful,’ but no telling yet on plan

Former state Sen. Ron Beitelspacher of Grangeville, the new Democratic co-chairman of the Idaho redistricting commission, said of the proposed redistricting plans his predecessors presented today, “They put a lot of work into that. We're going to look at it. I've been through many reapportionment sessions, I'm aware of how hard it is. I'm aware of how hard they worked on it. Is it going to be what we vote on, what we adopt? I haven't a clue.” Beitelspacher said he saw the plan for the first time today, and all six commissioners must mull it and the public input they get as they begin their task.

Beitelspacher said, “It was personally powerful - there was a lot of emotion in that room when they were there. … They traversed a long trail. We want to try to learn the lessons that they have.”

The new commission scheduled a full day of Maptitude training for tomorrow, and then will take Friday off. But it set an ambitious hearing schedule, with public hearings scheduled for next Wednesday in Idaho Falls, next Thursday in Coeur d'Alene and next Friday in Boise; exact times and locations are pending. The following Monday, Oct. 10th, is Columbus Day, but the new commissioners plan to start meeting every day the next day, and continue, all day, for the rest of the month or until they're done. “Nobody can get sick,” GOP Commissioner Randy Hansen of Twin Falls said with a laugh.

Democratic Commissioner Shauneen Grange said, “I think it's the best use of taxpayer dollars, and that we need to get in there and get it done. We've got a good group that really want to move forward.”
  

Finman: ‘We’re now passing the baton to get to the finish line’

Four of Idaho's former redistricting commissioners, plus a fifth who sent a letter of support, made a strong pitch to their successors today to adopt the legislative and congressional district plans that they reached over the past weeks, after they'd been officially disbanded, and save taxpayers the cost of starting from scratch. Commissioner Lorna Finman of Rathdrum told the new commission, “We got down to a point where we needed some legal clarity from the courts on the constitutional and statutes in Idaho. We expected clarity from the court to close the negotiation we were working on. But due to a procedural technicality, that we did not have an agreed-upon map, we were unable to finish the job. We needed five more minutes to come in and finish the job.”

She said, “When that happened, which was unexpected to all of us, we felt an obligation … to not have wasted the taxpayers' money. … A lot of work was done. … We decided on our own nickel to spend the time and get the job done.”

All six former commissioners signed and submitted letters of support for their new legislative district plan, L-83, and for congressional district plan C-38. However, Finman said, “I have to add as full disclosure that since we had agreement on all those letters, Commissioner Frasure has had some reluctancy now to go forward with this signed letter. That's kind of changed over the last few days, so I will make that full disclosure here.”

Finman said, “Maybe this is like a relay race. We started, we ran hard and fast, and we're now passing the baton to get to the finish line. … I'm asking you to consider these two maps and all the work and effort that's gone into them, and to save the taxpayer money. This is a bipartisan map with bipartisan support. We did our best to accommodate all aspects and all criteria that we are faced with. It is a better map than what is out there today.”

New redistricters hear from former ones…

After hearing a presentation from the former redistricting commissioners on the plans they agreed on last week, new Idaho redistricting Co-Chairman Ron Beitelspacher said, “It's very difficult to draw legislative maps. I have done it in several sessions, several special sessions. It's extremely difficult. I want to thank you again for the effort you put into it. Some of us have just received your map for the first time; we need some time to look at it and study it. We will do that. The law requires us to have some public hearings, so we need to do that and let the public comment on your product, and we will do that.” He added, “I want to thank you for your efforts, thank you for your time, for coming down here, for the time spent on your own dime. Thank you very much.”

Commissioner Randy Hansen then asked for more information on which areas the commissioners found the most agreement on, so former Commissioner Lou Esposito ran through the legislative plan from north to south, pointing out the most difficult spots and the thinking of the former commissioners. You can listen live here to today's redistricting commission meeting.

And the new redistricters are at work…

The new redistricting commission's agenda for today includes going over policies and procedures, a briefing from the Attorney General's office, and this afternoon, a presentation from the former redistricting commissioners. The new commission also is scheduled to get an introduction to the Maptitude online map-drawing software, and to discuss its meeting schedule, including possible hearings around the state. It's also tentatively scheduled for all-day Maptitude training both Thursday and Friday.

New Commissioner Randy Hansen, when asked about the legislative and congressional district plans that the former commissioners agreed to unanimously last Friday after they'd officially been disbanded, said, “We'll have the opportunity over the next couple weeks to look at that really seriously.” He said he's hopeful that the new commission can reach agreement in a matter of weeks. “That's my hope, that we can come together,” he said.

Looking at costs, budget for second go-round of redistricting…

The Idaho Legislature budgeted $424,000 for redistricting this year, Legislative Services Director Jeff Youtz informed the new redistricting commissioners this morning. About $175,000 of that was spent on hardware, software and preliminary costs. The first commission's 90 days of deliberations, including 14 public hearings and 24 business meetings, cost about $149,000, and that figure included about $60,000 for technical and administrative support. Legislative staffer Keith Bybee warned the new commissioners that if it takes another 90 days, it likely will see a similar cost for technical and administrative support, which would eat up more than half its budget of about $100,000, but if the process is shorter, those costs will be less.

Expenses the first time around included about $20,000 for commissioner compensation; $22,000 for GOP partisan mapping assistants, $18,000 for Democratic partisan mapping assistants; and $27,000 for travel, hotel and per diem.

Youtz said, “There's about $100,000 left, which I think is adequate for the commission to get the job done. We will cover you regardless.” If necessary, Youtz said, the Legislature will go to the state Board of Examiners for permission to spend more.

Bybee said the commission is required to hold meetings around the state, and could take advantage of the Idaho Education Network to link five locations around the state to the Capitol for one big hearing, in addition to holding meetings in different parts of the state.
  

New redistricters sworn in, have first unanimous vote - on co-chairs

Idaho's new citizen redistricting commission has been sworn in by Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, who greeted the six new commissioners, saying, “Good morning, all of you, welcome. I facetiously was telling some of you that I thought you were smarter than this, to be on this commission.” He said, “You have a daunting task in front of you. … It may be unfair to you, but time is of the essence. … We need to have a plan in place as quickly as we can, a legally defensible plan. … I commend you for your willingess to serve.”

The six commissioners then unanimously elected their new co-chairs: Dolores Crow from the Republican side, and Ron Beitelspacher from the Democratic side. Both are former longtime state legislators. “See how easy it is to get a unanimous vote?” asked Legislative Services Director Jeff Youtz.

New redistricters prepare to convene…

New Idaho redistricting commissioners Shauneen Grange, left, Dolores Crow and Elmer Martinez visit with Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa this morning as the new six-member bipartisan commission prepares to convene for the first time. First, Crow, a former state lawmaker, had to resign from the state Capitol Commission; redistricters can't serve in other state positions.

ITD drops police escort rule for latest Highway 12 megaloads

The first Nickel Bros. megaload on scenic Highway 12 in north-central Idaho, which crossed into Montana late Monday night, traveled without any state police escorts – and the Idaho Transportation Department now says it won't require police escorts for any of the company's eight remaining oversized transports on the route. Idaho State Police troopers traveling both in front and in back of each load were key points of previous permits issued for megaloads on Highway 12; the companies paid for the troopers' overtime.

Idaho Transportation Department spokesman Adam Rush said, “It was determined an ISP   escort was not available, and upon reflection determined not to be necessary.” Instead, he said, emergency radio coordination was delegated to an emergency medical technician traveling with the shipments.

Opponents of the giant equipment transports on the narrow, winding road are steamed at the change, and say the state trooper escorts for the oversize loads – which are wide enough to block both lanes of travel, creating a rolling roadblock – have been described all along as key to safe transport of the big loads on the route. “To us this is a major concern of public safety and it's a major violation of what ITD and ISP has consistently told the public for 15 months,” said Linwood Laughy, a Highway 12 resident who's been a leading opponent of the giant transports. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
  

Labrador now backs term limits, but won’t self-limit his own terms without law

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on how freshman Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador, after serving in the U.S. House and seeing what it's really like, has changed his mind and now supports term limits. “It's really a shame,” Labrador said. “All decisions back in Washington, D.C. are based on whether you're going to be elected, re-elected, whether you're going to be in the majority or not.”

However, he said he won't unilaterally impose term limits on himself, without them applying to everyone in Congress. “I think that hurts you as a congressman,” he said. “But I am going to start advocating for term limits.” Labrador said he was contemplating a self-imposed limit, but the daughter of the late Idaho Rep. Helen Chenoweth, who voluntarily limited herself to three terms or six years in Congress, “just begged me, 'do not self-impose,'” Labrador said. “She always regretted it.” Chenoweth represented Idaho's 1st District, the same district in which Labrador now serves.

GOP names Dolores Crow, Randy Hansen to redistricting panel

Idaho Republicans have named their final two appointees to the new Idaho redistricting commission: Dolores Crow of Nampa, former chairwoman of the House Revenue & Taxation Committee; and former state Rep. Randy Hansen of Twin Falls. Click below for their full announcement.

Congressman: Send letter, not email, if you live in 2nd District

Congressman Raul Labrador was questioned by a City Club attendee about why, when the Idaho resident – who lives in the 2nd District but owns a business in the 1st District – comments to Labrador's official website, his comments are rejected, with a message saying Labrador doesn't respond to emails “from an individual residing outside my congressional district.” The questioner asked, “Don't you represent all Idahoans? Why can't I comment to you as an Idaho resident and employer?”

Labrador responded, “It's a great question, and whoever asked it, thank you, because we're having a major problem with this.” He said his office receives 2,000 letters, calls and emails every week. “So we have to do something on our website, that we cannot allow anybody who lives outside of our congressional district to send emails to us through the Website. If you send a letter, we will always respond.” He said the number of emails just overwhelms his staff. “A lot of people want to communicate with us, so please do it by letter and we will always respond to you.” His staff said the office also responds to calls and faxes from 2nd District residents - just not emails through its website, whose programming blocks messages from outside the district.

Labrador: ‘Tea Party is a good movement’

“I believe the Tea Party is a good movement,” Congressman Raul Labrador told the City Club in response to a question. “Because people are being vilified so much by the media, they're not calling themselves 'tea party' any more, they're saying 'conservative Republicans.' … The message of the Tea Party is a message that I've always advocated.” He added, “I don't consider myself a 'Tea Party freshman,'” even though that's how the national media always refers to him. “I consider myself a conservative Republican representative from the state of Idaho. … If you don't think that borrowing 40 cents of every dollar … is too much, you are in the minority and not in the majority.”

Labrador said of the tea party movement, “The movement believes in conservative fiscal discipline. … I was a fiscal conservative before the movement started.”

Labrador says after experiencing D.C., he’s now in favor of term limits

Freshman Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador, in response to a question about term limits at the Boise City Club today, said, “This is actually an area where I have changed in the last eight months. I believe that we need term limits in politics, especially congressional politics.” He said in his months in Washington, D.C., “I have heard people actively voice openly that the reason that theyre not making the tough decisions they have to make … is because they're worried about the next election.” Asked by moderator Jim Weatherby if his change of heart on term limits extends to state offices as well, Labrador said, “Yes.”
  

Labrador: Spending cuts alone not enough

“We cannot fix our current situation by spending cuts alone,” freshman 1st District Congressman Raul Labrador told the Boise City Club today. Instead, he said, the nation must “grow our way out of this economic mess.”

Labrador is addressing the City Club today, nine months into his first term in Congress. He promised the crowd of several hundred “an open and honest conversation on an issue facing not only the Treasure Valley and Idaho, but in fact all Americans, and that issue is the economy.” He said, “I think for too long politicians have been afraid to have an honest conversation” about the nation's finances, “just plainly be honest about the problems that are facing our nation.”

Labrador said, “The debt is at $14.5 trillion and climbing.” He said, “Democrats would love to blame all of our current problems on the so-called Bush tax cuts, and Republicans would love to believe that all of our problems magically appeared one day when President Obama took office. The truth is obviously … somewhere in the middle.” He said, “Clearly policies of both parties have been responsible for our current situation.”

The Eagle Republican said he recently wrote to President Obama suggesting that he work with Republicans on three areas: “regulatory reform, spending cuts and reforming the tax code.”

Labrador acknowledged that he's “stridently anti-tax,” and said, “I know that not everyone in this audience is as conservative as I am, I'm just taking a guess.” But he said people of all political persuasions should be concerned about regulatory overreach and its effect on the economy. He also said he would “like to enact a massive overhaul of the tax code, replacing it with a system that is flatter and fairer.”

The congressman said, “When people scream about Republicans unwilling to raise taxes on the rich, they are partly right. We don't want to raise taxes on anyone. … It is fundamentally unfair … (that) companies like GE are making huge profits and are paying no taxes. … We just can't cut our way out of this mess, no nation has ever cut its way to prosperity, and we certainly can't tax our way to prosperity either. We must cut spending and reform our tax code while eliminating burdensome regulations .. to allow our economy to grow.”

Chadderdon won’t run, so Hart, Barbieri keep clear shot at seats

Rep. Marge Chadderdon, R-Coeur d'Alene, says she's not planning to seek a fifth term in the state House of Representatives, so the fact that a proposed new legislative district plan unveiled today puts her in the same district as Reps. Phil Hart, R-Athol, and Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, wouldn't force any face-offs among incumbents. Chadderdon said she made her decision back when she was sworn in for her fourth term last December; she subsequently ended up missing the 2011 session while undergoing cancer treatment, and her daughter, Julie Chadderdon, filled in for her.

“That isn't the reason I'm not running,” Chadderdon said today. “I had made up my mind regardless.” Her daughter, also, has made it “very, very clear” she doesn't want to run, Chadderdon said, “ever, ever.” Chadderdon said when her current term ends on Nov. 30 of 2012, it'll be just two days before she turns 75. “And I think it's time to have someone else,” she said. Her cancer treatment was successful, she said, and she's back to attending legislative meetings in her district now. “I'm looking forward to a good session,” she said. “I feel very good. … I'm almost up to the energy level that I had before.”

The proposed new district, which would be the new District 2, includes just one incumbent senator, Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens.

Animal rights activists claim credit for blaze at fireworks and fur business

That fire early this morning at Rocky Mountain Fireworks & Fur Co. that temporarily shut down an Idaho highway? AP reporter John Miller is reporting that an animal rights group has claimed responsibility for the blaze.

An e-mail from anti-fur activists described details of the fire, Miller reported; agents for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are leading the investigation. A request for comment was forwarded to the federal agency's Seattle office.

The fire was contained without significant damage to fireworks or fur articles, according to the Middleton Fire Department. It fire closed down Idaho Highway 30 as well as a U.S. Interstate 84 exit; there were no injuries. Business owner Dennis Heck didn't answer a phone call. Heck sells trapping supplies and buys bobcat pelts; click below for Miller's full report.

Cronin selected as Aspen Institute fellow

Idaho state Rep. Brian Cronin, D-Boise, has been selected as a fellow of the Aspen Institute, in its Aspen-Rodel Fellowship program that focuses on transcending political partisanship and focusing attention on leadership and governance. Cronin is only the second Idahoan to be selected for the program; the first was Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden in 2007. The program selects 24 elected officials a year, half Democrats and half Republicans and all under age 50; the fellows will participate in three weekend seminars in Aspen, all expenses paid.

Mickey Edwards, a former longtime Republican congressman from Oklahoma who chairs the program, said, “Fellows are selected based on their reputations for intelligence, thoughtfulness, and a willingness to work across party lines to seek solutions to public problems.” Click below for the institute's full announcement.

Federal judge issues restraining order in Idaho abortion law challenge

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A federal judge has issued a temporary restraining order to keep a prosecutor from refiling charges against a woman accused of having an illegal abortion. Jennie Linn McCormack sued over Idaho's so-called “fetal pain” law banning abortions after 20 weeks and over a law that effectively prohibits women in her region from getting a medication-induced abortion. She filed the lawsuit in federal court after Bannock County Prosecutor Mark Heideman charged her with a felony, saying she obtained an abortion drug over the internet and administered it to herself. Those charges were later dropped without prejudice, allowing the prosecutor to refile the charge if he chose. On Friday, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill issued a 14-day restraining order barring the prosecutor from refiling charges as McCormack's federal lawsuit moves forward.

L-83 splits 12 counties, but not Ada…

Proposed legislative district plan L-83, endorsed unanimously by the six former bipartisan citizen redistricting commissioners, would split 12 counties: Bonner, Kootenai, Latah, Benewah, Canyon, Twin Falls, Minidoka, Power, Bannock, Bingham, Bonneville and Madison. It wouldn't split Ada County, which would have nine districts contained entirely within it, nor would it split the remainder of Idaho's 44 counties. The plan includes four districts that violate the connecting-road rule, which is permitted with five of six votes of Idaho's redistricting commissioners; they are Districts 7, 9, 23 and 30. It also includes numerous divisions of precincts, which also are permissible with five votes.

The overall population deviation of the plan is 9.51 percent, with the smallest district being District 15 in fast-growing West Boise, with 42,698 people, 4.67 percent below the ideal population; and the largest District 30, in the southeastern corner of the state, with 46,955 people, 4.84 percent above the ideal population.

That 9.5 percent deviation falls within the range considered presumptively constitutional - under 10 percent.

As for the incumbents, L-83 would force 6 Senate faceoffs, 9 in House

I filed an Idaho Public Records Act request for the impact of the new proposed legislative redistricting, L-83, on existing legislative incumbents, and here's what my analysis of that data shows: The plan would force six face-offs among Senate incumbents, and would create nine House districts that have three incumbents, who would vie for just two seats. It also would create six open Senate seats and nine open House seats, with no incumbent.

Here are the potential face-offs: Sens. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, and Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, both would be in the new District 1. In the new District 2, there would be three House incumbents: Reps. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens; Marge Chadderdon, R-Coeur d'Alene; and Phil Hart, R-Athol. The new District 7 also would have three House incumbents: Reps. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries; Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton; and Paul Shepherd, R-Riggins.

The new District 9 would include three current GOP House incumbents: Reps. Carlos Bilbao, Ken Roberts and Steven Thayn, but would have an open Senate seat. The new District 11 would see a face-off between sitting Sens. John McGee, R-Caldwell, and Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston. The new District 13 would have three GOP House incumbents: Reps. Gary Collins, Christy Perry and Bob Schaefer.

In the new District 16, there would be face-offs for both Senate and House seats. Sens. John Andreason, R-Boise, and Les Bock, D-Boise, both fall into that district; as do Reps. Max Black, R-Boise; Elfreda Higgins, D-Garden City; and Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise. District 23 also would see face-offs in both houses, with GOP Sens. Bert Brackett and Tim Corder both in that district, along with GOP Reps. Pete Nielsen, Jim Patrick and Rich Wills.

Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, co-chairman of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, lands in a new District 25 that also includes Reps. Sharon Block, R-Twin Falls, and Leon Smith, R-Twin Falls. In the new District 27, the other JFAC co-chairman, Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, faces off with longtime Sen. Denton Darrington, R-Declo, if both want to remain office; also in that district, there are three GOP House incumbents: Reps. Scott Bedke, Bert Stevenson and Fred Wood.

In District 31, GOP Sens. Bart Davis and Steven Bair would be forced into a face-off if both wanted to stay in office. In District 32, there are three GOP House incumbents: Reps. Janice McGeachin, Erik Simpson and Jeff Thompson.

L-83, a recommendation from former redistricters to new ones…

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on this morning's legal decision from state officials that a last-ditch attempt by Idaho's former redistricting commissioners to propose new legislative and congressional districts - nearly three weeks after their deadline - has no legal value, other than as a recommendation to a new commission that will convene on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the new legislative district, L-83, plan is up on the redistricting commission's website. Here's a first look.

Both party chairmen say no preconditions on new redistricters…

Both Idaho GOP Chairman Norm Semanko and Idaho Democratic Party Chairman Larry Grant said they'll have no preconditions on the new redistricting commissioners to require them to accept an agreement reached Friday by the former commissioners. Grant noted that his party had already appointed its three new commissioners before the agreement was reached.

“From my standpoint, there are no preconditions,” he said. “I'm simply an appointing authority. … They're the commissioner, they have to make their own decision, they have to do what they feel is right to get to an agreement.” He added, “I feel comfortable, though, that I think anyone as a commissioner is going to take a look at an agreement that's been reached by the prior commissioners very carefully and take that as certainly a step forward, than having no map at all. So I think it'll be considered very carefully, and I think the new commissioners will do their job in good faith.”

Semanko said, “We were very supportive of them continuing to talk. The fact that they've reached agreement, we would like to see that move forward in some form. The form that it's going to move forward is a recommendation to the new commission.” Semanko said he's advised his likely appointee to “factor that in,” but said, “I don't have a litmus test other than that I think that that's a person that will fulfill the constitutional and statutory duties, and hopefully someone who would return my phone calls. That was my criteria.”
  

Ysursa: ‘A positive development’

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said he views the agreement on legislative and congressional district lines among the former redistricting commissioners as a “positive development,” and the agenda for the new commissioners' first meeting on Wednesday morning will be amended to include a presentation from the former commissioners on the agreement. Still, he said, “There's not a valid plan unless a legally constituted commission adopts the plan. … That will be up to the new commission.”

Idaho Republican Party Chairman Norm Semanko and Democratic Party Chairman Larry Grant said they both were prepared to endorse the plans approved by the former commissioners, but given today's legal guidance, they'll proceed with the new commission. “From the secretary of state we got very clear guidance today that the appropriate (course) … is for those commissioners to come to the new commission … with a recommendation,” Semanko said.

Said Grant, “The former commissioners worked on it and worked on it until they came to what they believed to be an appropriate agreement. I support those guys, people, I should say, for working that hard and coming to an agreement and continuing on. And as party chairman, I wouldn't say that I like everything in the plan, but it is a compromise, and I think at this point it's good … if we can get this taken care of, if we can get on with the election, and get started with the campaign.”

The officials said they didn't review the district plans during their hour-long meeting - a map brought in by a redistricting staffer never got unfurled - but they did ask about how the plans can be gotten out quickly to the public for comment. The congressional plan, C-38, already is online from the last commission's earlier deliberations; the new legislative district plan, L-83, will go online shortly on the redistricting commission's website.
  

Verdict: Only value of new agreement is as recommendation to new commissioners

Officials have emerged from their confab on redistricting, and announced that the former commissioners' new agreement on legislative and congressional district lines has no legal significance, other than as a recommendation to the new commission, which will start meeting on Wednesday.
  

Redistricting staffers join meeting, bring map…

Idaho's three redistricting staffers from the state Legislative Services office, plus Legislative Services Director Jeff Youtz, have now joined the meeting in the Secretary of State's office on redistricting; they brought papers and a large, rolled-up map. They were called and asked to come to the already in-progress meeting by Deputy Secretary of State Tim Hurst.

Hill joins redistricting confab…

Officials huddled in a meeting at the Idaho Secretary of State's office on redistricting have been joined by Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg.
  

First new GOP redistricting commissioner: Sheila Olsen

Idaho Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill has named his appointee to the new citizen redistricting commission: Sheila Olsen of Idaho Falls; you can see his appointment letter here. Two more GOP appointees still are pending; Democrats have named Ron Beitelspacher, Shauneen Grange and Elmer Martinez.

Officials huddle over redistricting…

Idaho Republican Party Chairman Norm Semanko and party executive director Jonathan Parker, seen here heading into a meeting room at the Idaho Secretary of State's office, have arrived for this morning's confab on a proposed new redistricting plan, as has state Democratic Party Chairman Larry Grant. The party officials have joined Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, his chief deputy Tim Hurst, and Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane for a closed-door discussion of the legalities; Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden is joining the discussion by phone. The complications: This proposed new plan, L-83, was developed by the previous citizen commission, which failed to meet its Sept. 6 deadline, forcing the appointment of a new commission that's scheduled to start meeting this Wednesday. The former commissioners also said they'd reached agreement, three weeks after their deadline, on a congressional plan, C-38. This morning's meeting is to figure out what's next; the officials plan to talk with the media as soon as it concludes.

When Idaho lawmakers drew their own districts…

Recent calls by majority Republicans in Idaho to return to the days when lawmakers themselves were in charge of drawing new legislative districts overlook the angst, delays, multiple court battles, and “poisoned” legislative sessions that resulted back then - when even those handling the task decided it should go to a citizen commission instead.

“It consumed the legislative activity and agenda completely,” said Pam Ahrens, a former Republican state representative who served during both the 1980s and 1990s reapportionments, and chaired the legislative redistricting committee in 1991-92. “I saw the best and worst of people.” Said Gary Moncrief, a Boise State University political scientist and nationally known expert on redistricting, “It was generally a mess.” Jim Hansen, a former Democratic state lawmaker who served on Ahrens' committee, said conspiracy theories abounded, with lawmakers accusing others of shifting district lines to hurt them personally - and therefore refusing to support them on other legislative bills. “It just completely poisoned the atmosphere in the Legislature,” he said.

And that was nothing compared to the redistricting a decade earlier, in the 1980s, which led to three Idaho Supreme Court decisions, four vetoes, a failed special session and a set of elections in 1982 held with districts that already had been declared unconstitutional. There was even a fistfight between two senators in a Capitol corridor as the redistricting tensions hit their height in March 1982. Idaho's 1970s reapportionment plan was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court - as was the 1960s plan - and on March 7, 1974, the Associated Press reported a plan finally was approved and signed for that go-round, noting, “All the action came in the 52nd day of the current session and the Legislature has been working on reapportionment practically all that time.”

Former House Speaker Bruce Newcomb said it “wasn't conducive to doing the state's business.” That's why two thirds of the members of each house of Idaho's Legislature voted in 1993 to turn the task over to a bipartisan citizen commission, and in 1994, Idaho voters agreed. You can read my full story here from Sunday's Spokesman-Review.

Redistricters reach agreement 3 weeks after deadline, impact unclear…

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on how Idaho's previous redistricting commission has now reached unanimous agreement on legislative and congressional district plans, three weeks after its deadline passed and it was disbanded. As to what legal effect the new agreement has, Idaho GOP Chairman Norm Semanko said it's unclear, and that's why he and Idaho Democratic Party Chairman Larry Grant will meet with Secretary of State Ben Ysursa first thing Monday morning. Semanko, an attorney, said he hoped there would be “lots of smart lawyers in the room.” Grant and Ysursa also are attorneys.

The Democratic Party already has named three new redistricting commissioners; Semanko said the Republicans still plan to name three new commissioners by Wednesday.

Semanko on redistricting twist: GOP will still name new commissioners, ‘need to figure out what’s next’

Idaho Republican Party Chairman Norm Semanko said of the unexpected news that the previous redistricting commission has now reached agreement on congressional and legislative districts, “The Supreme Court, in their ruling, I think everybody noticed they said they can't order the commission to reconvene. The commissioners didn't take that to mean they can't continue to talk of their own accord, and that's exactly what they did. I encouraged our commissioners to do that. I met with (Democratic) Chairman (Larry) Grant last Friday morning, and asked him if he was receiving the same signals from his guys and he was, and I encouraged him to encourage his guys to keep talking, so that's what we all did.”

“So they reached agreement today, the six of them.” Semanko, an attorney, when asked what the legal effect of this is - when a new commission is scheduled to start meeting on Wednesday - said, “What legal effect that has is precisely the reason we're meeting with (Secretary of State) Ben (Ysursa) at 9 on Monday … to see what the next appropriate steps are.” He said, “I guess the good news is those six commissioners … have reached agreement on both a legislative and a congressional plan, and that's obviously a welcome development.”

Semanko said the Republican Party still plans to comply with the order to name three new commissioners by next Wednesday; the Democratic Party already has named its three. “We fully intend to meet that deadline,” he said. “That's not at issue. What's at issue is the fact that these six have met, they've come to agreement, and Larry and I are in the position now of presenting that to the Secretary of State on Monday. … We're going to need to figure out what's next.”
  

Redistricting twist: Both parties now say their former commissioners have reached agreement

In the latest twist in this year's Idaho redistricting saga, the Idaho Republican and Democratic parties have just issued a joint media advisory saying the previous redistricting commissioners, from both parties, have now reached agreement on both congressional and legislative district plans, and will present them to Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa on Monday morning at 9. The previous commission, of course, was disbanded after it failed to meet its Sept. 6 deadline, and a new six-member commission is scheduled to be sworn in and start work on Wednesday. In the joint advisory (click below to read it in full), the two parties said the now-agreed-upon congressional plan is C-38, one the previous commission discussed earlier, and the new legislative plan is L-83, a new plan that will go up online for viewing on Monday.

State reply to Hart tax appeal: Legislators subject to same rules as anyone else

Attorneys for the Idaho State Tax Commission have filed their response to Rep. Phil Hart's state income tax appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court, writing that Hart seems to be arguing different rules apply to him just because he's a state legislator. “Appellant appears to be arguing that his status as a legislator excuses him from the requirement to file a timely appeal,” the state attorneys wrote.

Hart, a tax protester who stopped filing both federal and state income tax returns for three years in the 1990s, had 91 days to appeal his order to pay more than $53,000 in back state income taxes, penalties and interest for tax years 1996 to 2004, but instead waited more than six months, saying an intervening legislative session entitled him to more time. Because it was too late, his appeal was rejected, a decision he's now appealed five times. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com, and read the state's brief here. Hart now has another week to file his reply to the state's response, and then the case can be set for arguments before the Supreme Court, which likely won't happen before April of 2012.

Death Row inmate challenges Idaho’s lethal-injection execution method

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho death row inmate Paul Ezra Rhoades is challenging the state's method of execution in federal court. Rhoades, who was convicted of three murders in Idaho Falls and Blackfoot in 1988, says lethal injections are frequently botched, Idaho's protocol doesn't require enough training for the execution team, and that other problems with the system would render his execution unconstitutional. Rhoades is one of a handful of Idaho death row inmates whose cases may be nearing an end. The Idaho Department of Correction, in anticipation of at least one execution occurring within the next year, has been taking several steps to prepare — including updating its execution protocol. Department spokesman Jeff Ray says the protocol is still being drafted, but it's designed to fully comply with all U.S. Supreme Court rulings.
  

Montana judge to rule next month on megaloads

The Missoulian reports that a Montana judge says he'll rule next month on whether to repeal or change his order to keep an ExxonMobil subsidiary's oversized oil refinery rigs bound for Canada off Montana highways. Judge Ray Dayton heard two hours of arguments Thursday on why he should or shouldn't rescind or modify his preliminary injunction against the megaloads project in Montana; click below for a full report from AP and the Missoulian.

10-year-old escapes mountain lion attack with just minor scratches

The mountain lion that was killed by authorities in rural Boise County last night attacked a 10-year-old boy, who escaped with minor scratches, the Associated Press reports. The youngster and his dad were looking for their missing dog near their home about 15 to 20 miles northeast of Boise when he came upon the cougar - which had killed the dog. The boy ran, but stumbled and fell. That's then the mountain lion took a swipe, scratching the boy's arm and hand, before the dad fired into the air and scared the big cat away. Officers tracked down and shot the mountain lion late Thursday; you can read a full report here, and click below to read the Idaho Fish & Game news release, which notes that this is only the second-ever incident of a mountain lion attack causing injuries to a human in Idaho.

PETA brings anti-fishing campaign to Idaho

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, is bringing its anti-fishing campaign to Boise today, with a noon protest scheduled outside a bait and tackle shop on Vista Avenue, Idaho Angler, to press the group's current campaign that fishing is cruel. “Parents should get their kids hooked on compassion, not on maiming and killing fish,” said PETA's Virginia Fort in an announcement of the Boise protest. The group contends that “fish are intelligent, sensitive animals who experience stress and pain when they are cruelly hooked or hauled up from the deep in commercial nets.”

Idaho is known for its fishing, which has a long history and culture in the state; hundreds of thousands of Idahoans hold fishing licenses, according to Idaho Department of Fish & Game records, and more than 100,000 out-of-staters purchased short- or long-term Idaho fishing licenses in 2010.
  

Mountain lion killed after child injured

Idaho Fish & Game officials will be releasing more information shortly about an incident last night in which a mountain lion was killed after causing minor injuries to a child near a Mores Creek subdivision; it was the latest in a series of wildlife incidents, including one in which a mountain lion was shot by authorities in Boise near St. Alphonsus Hospital earlier this month, after being spotted around town for several weeks.

Luna joins Obama at White House, praises new NCLB waiver process

Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna was among more than a dozen state school chiefs invited to joint President Obama and his education secretary, Arne Duncan, at the White House this morning to unveil a new waiver process for states under the No Child Left Behind Law. Luna said Idaho, which earlier refused to comply with changing rules in the program, will be among the first states to apply for one of the new waivers in November.

“Idaho has been extremely vocal on what the waiver process should look like, so I'm not surprised they invited Supt. Luna,” said Melissa McGrath, Luna's spokeswoman. After the White House ceremony, Luna said in a statement, “This will not be a waiver from accountability, but it will give the necessary flexibility states need to increase accountability and focus on making sure every student in Idaho is growing academically every year they are in school. I believe this is a symbolic shift of power from the federal government back to the states.”

Luna made the trip to the White House from New York, where he was attending a conference on education technology hosted by the New York Times. After the D.C. ceremony, he's scheduled to fly back to New York to participate in NBC's “Education Nation” school-reform summit, part of which will be televised on Sunday on MSNBC. Luna is due back in Idaho the evening of Sept. 29. Click below for a full report on the new waiver process from AP reporter Jessie Bonner, and you can read Luna's full statement here.

9th Circuit tosses closed-primary appeal

An appeal by independents of the federal court decision declaring Idaho's open primary unconstitutional has been tossed out by the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which said it's moot, now that Idaho's changed its election laws and allowed for a closed GOP primary election this spring, in which only registered Republicans will be allowed to vote. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.
  

Otter names new commerce chief

Gov. Butch Otter has named a new state commerce director to replace Don Dietrich, who resigned in August: Jeff Sayer, an eastern Idaho business consultant, CPA and former  president and chief financial officer for Mountain View Hospital in Idaho Falls; he'll start Oct. 3. Otter said, “Jeff’s diverse, bottom-line experience in private business and his commitment to Idaho make him a great choice to join my team. He brings an extraordinary skill set to this position that’s so crucial to helping businesses create career opportunities for Idaho citizens.” Sayer also is the brother of Doug Sayer, head of Premier Technology in Blackfoot and chairman of the Idaho Innovation Council. Click below for the full announcement.
  

Nickel Bros. megaload to roll on Highway 12 tonight

The first Nickel Bros. megaload will roll tonight on U.S. Highway 12, the Idaho Transportation Department announced late today; the giant load of evaporator equipment is bound for a Weyerhaeuser pulp mill in northern Alberta. Wayne Roznowsky, Weyerhaeuser spokesman, said the company planned to start its shipments right away, and hasn't had permit issues regarding the Montana portion of its route.

A 14-day appeal period on Ness' decision is still running, but Natalie Havlina, attorney for Friends of the Clearwater, which filed a petition for a hearing on the project, said, “ITD has made it clear that they don't intend to wait for a motion for reconsideration or go ahead and let that run before … they authorize the loads to go. That is disappointing but not surprising.” She said she found it “very concerning” that ITD gave such little advance notice to the public that the giant load would be traveling. It is scheduled to travel between 10 p.m. and 5:30 a.m., and take five nights to traverse the scenic north-central Idaho route to the Montana state line at Lolo Pass; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Stapilus on Romney and Idaho: ‘It’s complicated’

Political historian Randy Stapilus notes in his most recent Ridenbaugh Press post that Mitt Romney seemed to have the Idaho Republican support wrapped up in the last presidential race, though it hardly mattered, since by the time Idaho's May primary rolled around, Romney was out of the race and John McCain had the nomination sewn up. This time, though, it could matter more, with Idaho Republicans following their Democratic counterparts and switching to an early caucus to assign their presidential delegates; and there are some signs Romney's lock on Idaho GOP elected-official support is being offset by differing preferences among party activists - Romney placed fourth in the recent Kootenai County Reagan Republicans straw poll, with Rick Perry coming in first, followed by Ron Paul. You can read Stapilus' full post here.

Idaho lawmakers unharmed in bomb blast in Ankara, Turkey

Here's a news item from the Associated Press and Idaho Statesman: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — State Sen. John McGee says he and other Idaho lawmakers vising the Turkish capital on Tuesday were unharmed when a car bomb went off near a high school. The Idaho Statesman reports that McGee posted to his Facebook account, saying he and his wife were a few blocks away from the explosion in downtown Ankara that killed three people and wounded 34 others. McGee said he and other state lawmakers visiting the city on a trip sponsored by the Pacifica Institute were unharmed. McGee and at least four other Idaho lawmakers are on the trip that started last Tuesday and was expected to end this Saturday. Others traveling include Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, Sen. Joe Stegner, Senate Minority Caucus Chairwoman Michelle Stennett and state Rep. Donna Pence. Here's a link to Statesman columnist Dan Popkey's full post about the incident.
  

ITD gives go-ahead for Nickel Bros. megaload to move tonight on Highway 12

The Idaho Transportation Department has announced that it's issued a permit for Nickel Bros. transportation company to take its first megaload across U.S. Highway 12 tonight, bound for a Weyerhaeuser pulp mill in northern Alberta. The load will be 29 feet high, 24 feet wide, and 185 feet long, and weighs 567,650 pounds. The Moscow-based conservation group Friends of the Clearwater filed a petition for a contested-case hearing on the plan, which includes a dozen oversize loads, several of which are wide enough to block both lanes of the two-lane road, but ITD Director Brian Ness rejected the petition. Click below to read ITD's full announcement.

IACI to Otter: ‘Wise decision’ on health insurance exchange grant

The Idaho Association of Commerce & Industry, a lobbying group that represents the state's biggest businesses, has sent a letter to Gov. Butch Otter praising his decision to apply for federal grant funds to start an Idaho health insurance exchange, and laying out its ideas on how an exchange should work. In the letter, IACI President Alex LaBeau said the group's support for seeking the grant funds is “based on two very practical reasons: (1) to protect Idaho's citizens from higher taxes, and (2) to safeguard Idaho's ability to control its own destiny when developing an exchange, which we believe is a conceptually sound policy idea.”

He added, “Your wise decision gives Idaho control of its own destiny. By not requesting the grant money, Idaho would have lost its ability to work in the best interests of small business and individuals. The result of the loss of control would have dictated that Idaho be forced to turn over precious resources to the federal government, in the form of potentially higher taxes and fees, which would put an already delicate economy further in jeopardy.” You can read the full letter and proposal here.

New GEMS bill-drafting system wins award

Idaho's Legislative Services Office has won an award from the National Conference of State Legislatures for its new Government Electronic Management System, or GEMS, that handles bill-drafting, processing of bills and votes, journals, calendars and more during the legislative session. Legislative services spokeswoman Sheila Ison said the new system was developed in-house to replace an old bill-drafting system that was purchased from a company 30 years ago that's since gone out of business; the old system was no longer supported. While other states have spent millions to purchase and customize new products, Idaho decided to develop its own system from scratch. The result: Fewer staffers now are needed to operate the system, they don't have to put in as many long hours during the session, and information is available to legislators, staff and the public faster. The project cost a total of $2.6 million, took six years to develop, and became operational in August of 2008.

The GEMS development team included IT systems analyst Norma Clark, Noreen Chen, Michael Ramshaw and Kelly Reister.

Chambers want transportation improvements, local-option taxes

The Idaho Chamber Alliance, which represents chambers of commerce across the state, hosted a Southwest Idaho legislative summit in Meridian today, one of a series it's doing in regions around the state to settle on its legislative priorities for the 2012 legislative session. In this region, the priorities that emerged were job creation, cutting Idaho's corporate income tax rate, transportation infrastructure improvements, local-option taxes and education, according to ICA lobbyist John Watts. Statewide legislative priorities for the group will be established by mid-October, he said.

Upgrading the Meridian Interchange on I-84 was highlighted as a top priority. Adam Bartelmay, spokesman for the Boise Metro Chamber, said that interchange, at Meridian Road between the 10-Mile interchange and Eagle Road, was left out of the GARVEE bond-funded upgrade program, resulting in a stretch of heavily-traveled I-84 that slims down to three lanes in each direction between two sections that are four-lane, and an overpass with no safe passageway for walkers or bicyclists. On the local-option tax issue, Bartelmay said the chambers didn't express preference for a voter initiative or legislation - they just want something enacted.

Building an Idaho health insurance exchange…

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on Gov. Butch Otter's decision today to give the go-ahead for Idaho to apply for nearly $31 million in federal grants to start an Idaho health insurance exchange. Otter remains a firm opponent of the national health care reform legislation that he dubs “Obamacare,” and the state is continuing to press its lawsuit seeking to overturn the law. But Otter said the idea of health insurance exchanges has been around since long before the legislation and was “co-opted” by the national law; he said Idaho's been looking into it since 2007.

Exchanges are envisioned as places or portals where people or small businesses could go to find health insurance they can purchase, see if they're eligible for federal subsidies, and compare costs and benefits. Plans offered on the exchanges would have to comply with guidelines. The state exchanges are a centerpiece of the national health care reform legislation; they'd be designed to let Americans who lack insurance get easier, more affordable access to it. In Idaho, 17 percent of residents lack insurance, but that figure soars to 31 percent for those age 18 to 34.

Prison lawsuit settlement requires CCA to make changes at privately-run Idaho lockup

Click here for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone on today's settlement of the prison-violence lawsuit between Idaho prison inmates and Corrections Corp. of America, which operates the Idaho Correctional Center state prison south of Boise. CCA doesn’t acknowledge the allegations but agrees to increase staffing, investigate all assaults and make other sweeping changes at the lockup south of Boise. If the company fails to make the changes, the inmates can ask the courts to force CCA to comply.

While the prison is owned by the state, Boone reports, it is run for a profit by CCA under a contract with the Idaho Department of Corrections. The inmates claimed the company made decisions based on profit, rather than on “responsible administration of the prison.”
  

Land Board to update its asset management plan in wake of criticism

Idaho's state Land Board, which is chaired by the governor and includes the state Attorney General, Secretary of State, Controller and Superintendent of Public Instruction, voted unanimously today to begin crafting updates to its asset management plan for the state endowment, to reflect recent updates, such as the decision dispose of many lakefront cottage sites, and to “clarify desirable types of land investments.” Though board members continue to clash over the endowment's purchase last year of a self-storage business, which is operated for the state by a contractor - and criticism from some legislators and others that the endowment is competing with the private sector - all said they thought the updates were a good idea; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

“I for one believe that clarification in our overall plan is probably appropriate, to help us focus our thoughts and our actions and also … educate the public and the Legislature about what we're trying to accomplish,” said Attorney General Lawrence Wasden.

Gov. Butch Otter said he thought the self-storage purchase was the first time the Land Board had “changed the character of our position” from simply being a landlord, to being “dependent on … profits and loss.” Deputy Lands Department Director Kathy Opp noted that there are other types of leases where the endowment gets a percentage of profits; the Tamarack Resort lease was one, she noted. Otter said that one included a base payment, with the percentage on top of that - and he's comfortable with that arrangement. “Then you have a posture of being the landlord,” he said. “You're not at risk.”

State Schools Supt. Tom Luna said he's concerned about impacts on local property taxes when the endowment purchases land in a particular county, city or school district; that property becoming publicly owned, and thus exempt from property taxes, would cause others in the same jurisdiction to pay more to make up the difference, he said. Secretary of State Ben Ysursa noted, “There are more taxes than property tax - there's income and sales taxes, and sometimes work on the endowment property impacts that area, too. … They go into the general fund, and a pretty high percentage goes to public schools.” He said, “You can't discuss that in a vacuum. … You've got to look at the whole picture.”

Some lawmakers, including House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, have suggested that the endowment should make payments in lieu of taxes to local governments. But Otter said, “It's been pointed out again and again, the Constitution prohibits us from doing that.” He said he was interested in exploring some type of “mechanism” to allow something along those lines, but that'd likely take a constitutional amendment. Wasden noted that when the endowment buys property in one jurisdiction, it typically sells or trades away property in another jurisdiction - so any property tax impact in one is balanced by the opposite impact in the other.

The Lands Department will work on the updates to the asset management plan and coordinate with all the Land Board members and their staffs, and present them to the board at its November meeting.

Idaho officials mull ‘all new’ oil, gas issues…

Idaho's Oil & Gas Conservation Commission, which consists of the members of the state Land Board - the state's top elected officials - voted this morning to set the levy on all oil and gas produced in Idaho at the maximum level currently allowed by law, 0.5 percent per barrel of oil or per 50,000 cubic feet of gas. But it also noted that the Department of Lands is preparing legislation to propose to lawmakers in January to increase that levy to 1.5 percent and raise application fees. The panel also discussed granting regulatory authority to the Idaho Public Utilities Commission to oversee “gathering pipelines,” which are lines used to transport raw gas from the well head to the treatment plant and from the treatment plant to the main pipeline. Gov. Butch Otter said the board needs to be kept informed. “This thing is moving so fast … and it's all new to us - it's new to me,” he said.

If the state chooses to assume oversight of regulatory safety jurisdiction for these types of gas pipelines, it would require legislation in the next session.

State endowment fund had a ‘tough’ month in August, but distributions still ‘well secured’

The month of August was “a tough one for the endowment,” state endowment fund investment manager Larry Johnson reported to the state Land Board this morning, with a loss of 4.5 percent for the month, for a total loss for the fiscal year, since July 1, of 5.3 percent. “All of our managers are performing about as you would expect them to in this environment,” Johnson said. Distributions from the fund for fiscal year 2012 remain “well secured,” Johnson said.

Fire season on state lands a light one so far…

The fire season on Idaho state lands so far this year has seen only 48 percent of the 20-year average number of fires, while the acres burned are only 7 percent of the 20-year average, the Idaho state Land Board heard this morning. That's the fourth-fewest number of fires in the last 28 years, and the fifth-fewest acres burned. That was largely because the active fire season was delayed by the cool, wet spring; September is predicted to be warmer and drier than normal, so wildfires could increase. Still, the state is likely to save money on firefighting costs for the year.

CCA settles with inmates over prison violence at Idaho lockup

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A potential class-action lawsuit against the nation's largest private prison company over allegations of violence at the Idaho Correctional Center has been settled in federal court. The agreement between the inmates and Nashville, Tenn.-based Corrections Corporation of America was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court. In it, CCA doesn't acknowledge the allegations but agrees to increase staffing, investigate all assaults and make other sweeping changes at the lockup south of Boise. If the company fails to make the changes, the inmates can ask the courts to force CCA to comply. The inmates, represented by the ACLU, said in their lawsuit that the prison was so violent it was dubbed “Gladiator School,” that guards used inmate-on-inmate violence as a management tool, and that assaulted prisoners were frequently denied medical care.

Otter gives go-ahead to apply for fed grant to start Idaho health insurance exchange

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter announced today that he's decided to allow the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare and the Idaho Department of Insurance to apply for federal grant funding to start an Idaho health insurance exchange. “It’s a difficult choice, but one I find far preferable to submitting to a federally established insurance exchange, with all the loss of control over our own destiny that entails,” Otter said. He said the exchange will be designed to make health coverage more accessible and affordable for Idahoans; click below for his full announcement.

Imperial/Exxon heads to court in Montana to try to clear Hwy 12 megaloads

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — Imperial Oil of Canada is asking a Montana judge to dissolve or modify his order that effectively stopped huge loads of oilfield equipment from travelling along two-lane roads in Montana. District Judge Ray Dayton, of Anaconda, is scheduled to hear arguments Thursday in Missoula, the Missoulian reported Tuesday.

Dayton sided with Missoula County and three environmental groups in May in ordering a temporary injunction preventing the Montana Department of Transportation from issuing any more permits for pullouts along the route. Dayton said the agency didn't seem to adequately consider the impact of new turnouts along the route and the environmental assessment wasn't clear on how the agency concluded an interstate route wasn't feasible. Imperial, a Canadian subsidiary of ExxonMobil Corp., called Dayton's ruling unprecedented.

“There is no reported case in Montana of an injunction of such breadth and scope with respect to the use of a public highway,” Imperial Oil argued. It said the injunction had already cost the company millions of dollars because it had to disassemble 33 modules at the Port of Lewiston so they could fit on interstate routes. Imperial also argued that Dayton relied on evidence introduced by the plaintiffs that they did not bring up in court briefs, including the possibility that the project could lead to a permanent corridor for megaloads through the area.

Imperial said even if the injunction isn't dissolved Thursday, it could be modified to allow the company to move equipment along U.S. Highway 12 through Idaho to Lolo and then to Missoula. The company said such a ruling would also address one of the court's concerns: “No high-wide corridor would be established on the … route because the injunction would only be partially lifted.” The equipment is for an oil sands project in Canada.
  

Dems name Beitelspacher, Martinez and Grange to new redistricting panel

Idaho Democrats have named their three new redistricting commissioners: Former state Sen. Ron Beitelspacher of Grangeville, who served in the Idaho Senate from 1980 to 1992, appointed by state party Chairman Larry Grant; former state Rep. Elmer Martinez of Pocatello, who served in the Idaho House from 2003 to 2006, appointed by Senate Minority Leader Edgar Malepeai; and longtime Democratic staffer and activist Shauneen Grange of Boise, appointed by House Minority Leader John Rusche. Idaho Republicans have yet to name their three new picks. The new redistricting commission is scheduled to convene on Sept. 28. You can see the Democrats' formal notice of the appointments here, and read more about the appointees here.
  

History shows bipartisan compromise at Idaho’s redistricting commission…

Much attention has been focused on the fact that 10 years ago, when Idaho's first evenly-split bipartisan redistricting commission settled on a new legislative district plan, L-66, one Republican, former state Rep. Dean Haagenson of Coeur d'Alene, joined with three Democratic commissioners in the 4-2 vote. Less attention has been paid to the other action of the commission on that same date, Aug. 22, 2001, when it also adopted a congressional redistricting plan, C-15. That, too, was a 4-2 vote: There were two Republicans and two Democrats voting in favor, and one Republican and one Democrat voting against. That congressional plan stood up and wasn't challenged in court.

After the Idaho Supreme Court rejected the first legislative plan, L-66, which had a population deviation of 10.69 percent, the commission on Jan. 8, 2002, adopted plan L-91. This time, it was Democratic Commissioner Ray Givens of Coeur d'Alene who joined with the three Republican commissioners in the majority for a 4-2 vote. Plan L-91, however, was overturned by the court for two reasons: Impermissibly dividing counties, which the Idaho Constitution forbids; and too high a population deviation, at 11.79 percent.

Finally, On March 9, 2002, the commission adopted plan L-97, which had a population deviation of 9.71 percent, on a 5-1 vote - three Democrats and two Republicans supported it, with only GOP Co-Chair Kristi Sellers voting no. That plan was challenged in court, but upheld.

Plan would fill hole in heart of downtown Boise

It's big news for Boise that Zions Bank plans its new headquarters for the corner of 8th and Main streets downtown - site of the infamous Boise hole, where the historic Eastman Building stood until it burned to the ground in 1987, just as it was poised for renovation in the heart of Boise's downtown redevelopment district. Now, a 15-story office tower is being proposed for the site, including two floors of retail and restaurants with a 2nd-story plaza and balcony along 8th Street; three floors of parking on floors 3 through 5, connecting to the Eastman parking garage next door; an on-site health club and more. Boise Mayor Dave Bieter announced the plan today; you can see the developers' plans here (h/t to KTVB). The site has been the subject of various lavish proposals since the destructive fire on that icy night 24 years ago, but none have come to fruition.

If this one does, it'd fill in the final hole in the original redevelopment plan for downtown Boise, which at first envisioned leveling an eight-block swath of the downtown core - including its original Chinatown - for a never-built indoor mall. That demolition got halfway done, resulting in decades of bare gravel parking lots and city-politics gridlock before the plans shifted to a mix of office and retail that allowed for saving remaining historic buildings. All but the one remaining corner filled in, with everything from the Grove plaza to the distinctive triangular office tower at 9th and Main to the downtown convention center and Grove Hotel.

State Dept. of Ed recommends passing on chance at $50M for pre-K education

Idaho's state Department of Education is recommendation the state abandon efforts to compete for up to $50 million in federal grant money to improve preschool education programs during the latest round of the “Race to the Top” contest, reports AP reporter Jessie Bonner. “We came to the conclusion we did not want to expand our current public education system with one-time funding,” department spokeswoman Melissa McGrath told the AP late Friday. One of the goals of the grant program was to help states that have traditionally not funded early education programs launch those efforts; Idaho is one of 12 states that doesn't fund pre-K education. Click below to read Bonner's full report.

Idaho jobless rate dipped in August

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho's unemployment rate dipped to 9.2 percent in August, down from 9.4 percent in July. The state Department of Labor released the latest jobless numbers Friday. While Idaho posted its lowest unemployment rate since May 2010, the agency says 70,000 workers were still without jobs last month. Camas County had the highest jobless rate at 16.9 percent, while the lowest was recorded in Owyhee County at 5.3 percent. Nationwide, Idaho was among 12 states where the jobless rate decreased. The federal Labor Department reported Friday that unemployment rates increased in 26 other states and were unchanged in the remaining 12 states. The national unemployment rate stayed at 9.1 percent for the second straight month.

Idaho ranks fair to middling on civic engagement, voting…

A national survey of “civic engagement” finds that Washington scores well, while Idaho's fair to middling, on such measures as voting, volunteering, participating in a group and working with neighbors to solve community problems.

Washington's scores in the new survey by the Corporation for National and Community Service and the National Conference on Citizenship are “admirable,” said David Adler, a University of Idaho constitutional law professor and head of the UI's McClure Center for Public Policy. “I think that many in Washington have fully seized the potential of participation in the civic life of their state. And so that represents a standard toward which Idahoans can aim.”

Washington ranked fourth in the nation for the number of residents who participate in a group, such as a religious institution or a neighborhood association; sixth for voting; 11th for volunteering; and ninth for working with neighbors to fix a community problem. Idaho ranked 17th for participating in a group; 25th for voting participation; 10th for volunteering; and fifth for working with neighbors to fix a community problem - the state's highest ranking. However, the numbers were very low in that measurement: Idaho's high-scoring level was just 13.6 percent participation on average each year over the last three years. Washington's was 12.8 percent, and the national average was just 8.4 percent. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
  

ITD says no hearings on new Highway 12 megaloads proposal

Idaho Transportation Director Brian Ness today denied a petition to intervene and hold a contested-case hearing on a new proposal from Nickel Bros. and Weyerhaeuser Inc. to run nine large oversize loads, including several wide enough to block both lanes of traffic, across U.S. Highway 12 in north-central Idaho. Ness ruled that all the issues the Friends of the Clearwater raised in their petition already were addressed in the contested-case hearings over plans by Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil to send more than 200 megaloads of oil equipment across the same route, and in an earlier hearing over ConcoPhillips' now-completed plans for four megaloads on the same route, so there was no reason to hold further hearings.

“A third contested case hearing is not warranted. The facts and concerns raised in the petition have been fully considered in two separate hearings and resolved by hearing officers,” Ness said; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

However, during the earlier hearings, when opponents raised concerns about the ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil loads setting a precedent for turning the scenic river corridor into a megaload-friendly industrial route, ITD stressed that it was considering only the proposal before it - and not any precedent. The latest decision suggests otherwise. “The law does not require nor allow a party to re-litigate issues and claims that have already been ruled upon by the appropriate authority,” Ness said in an ITD press release. You can click below to read the full release, click here to read Ness' full decision, and click here to read the Friends of the Clearwater's petition for intervention.
  

Rural Idaho libraries are seeing faster broadband service, bears or no…

Though Idaho achieved the dubious distinction this week of being declared the state with the slowest Internet by the New York Times - a study earlier this year showed Idaho has the nation's slowest residential Internet download speeds, the city with the slowest service anywhere was Pocatello, and some Idahoans apparently are having Internet service problems due to interference by bears - the Idaho Commission for Libraries says there's a bright spot in the gem state: Libraries. The commission is in the midst of a statewide broadband deployment initiative that's sharply increasing the broadband speeds at some of the state's least-connected public libraries. It's funded through grants from the Federal Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, or BTOP, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Gens Johnson, BTOP coordinator for the Idaho libraries commission, said, the “online@your library” project is making high-speed Internet available to more and more Idahoans, regardless of their residential service speeds.

Among the 56 mostly rural libraries that have benefited so far: The public library in tiny Preston, Idaho got 12 new computers and 11 mbps broadband connections; and the Sandpoint library jumped up to 45 mbps broadband and got 22 new computers. Libraries in the program have gone from average upload and download speeds of 1.5 mbps, to 11 mbps for downloads and 8 mbps for uploads. The program also adds wi-fi service to libraries so patrons can get service on their own computers. You can read the Commission for Libraries full statement here.

ISU students vote to back campus smoking ban

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  POCATELLO, Idaho (AP) — Students at Idaho State University have voted to support a proposed smoking ban on the Pocatello campus. The existing university policy requires smokers to be at least 20 feet from buildings. School administrators sought feedback last year on the smoking policy and wondered if they should leave it unchanged, ban smoking or designate a few areas where smoking is allowed. The Associated Students of ISU to pass a resolution two weeks ago in support of making the campus smoke-free. The Idaho State Journal reports (http://bit.ly/rcEhih ) student president Shaun Stokes said the resolution was prompted by campus surveys and also driven by health concerns about secondhand smoke. Elsewhere in the state, the College of Southern Idaho, North Idaho College and Boise State University already have smoking bans in place.

CAES researchers win $5.3 million in DOE grants

Researchers at the Center for Advanced Energy Studies, a partnership between Idaho's three public research universities and the Idaho National Laboratory, have won three different U.S. Department of Energy grants worth a total of $5.3 million. The three are for solar energy, geothermal energy and energy efficiency, and include researchers from Boise State University, the University of Idaho, Idaho State University and the INL. CAES Director Bill Rogers said, “Winning these grants illustrates the power of collaboration and what the CAES partners can achieve by working together.” He added, “We are very proud of our researchers. Their hard work is really paying off.” You can read more about the three grants here.
  

Inmate, CCA settle lawsuit over violence at Idaho’s private prison

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — An inmate who sued a privately run Idaho prison over allegations of extreme violence and medical neglect has reached a settlement with the private prison company Corrections Corp. of America. Meanwhile, dozens of other inmates who also sued the Nashville, Tenn.-based CCA in federal court are in settlement talks with the company that could end the potentially class-action case by the close of the week. Riggs and the other inmates claimed the Idaho Correctional Center south of Boise was so violent that it's called “Gladiator School,” and that guards used inmate-on-inmate violence as a management tool and then denied injured prisoners adequate medical care. Riggs' settlement with CCA was sealed by the court, so the terms weren't available. He was seeking $55 million in compensatory and punitive damages. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Idaho lawmakers propose ‘redundant’ changes to Endangered Species Act

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on how both of Idaho's U.S. senators and North Idaho's congressman introduced legislation today to amend the Endangered Species Act to clarify that it's OK to shoot a grizzly bear in self-defense or in defense of another person, in response to the Jeremy Hill incident. However, the law already says that - in the very next section after the one the new bill would amend. A spokesman for Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo said the bill would “bolster” that provision, but a national species conservation group called it “simply political grandstanding.”

Jeremy Hill of Porthill, Idaho shot a grizzly last May after it and two others wandered onto his property and were seen near his children's 4-H pig pen; he feared his six children were outside playing at the time. He was charged with a federal crime, but it later was dropped in favor of a non-criminal infraction, and Hill agreed to pay a $1,000 fine.
  

Species group: ‘Simply political grandstanding’

Derek Goldman, Northern Rockies representative for the Endangered Species Coalition, a national network of hundreds of groups that support species conservation, today blasted new legislation proposed by two Idaho senators and one Idaho congressman to amend the Endangered Species Act. “This is case of politicians using a single, rare and unfortunate incident to pander to extremists who want to undermine common-sense protections for wildlife,” Goldman said. “This is simply political grandstanding by politicians who want to weaken laws that protect our wildlife and wildlife habitat for future generations of Americans.” Click below for his full statement. 
  

Idaho lawmakers’ ESA amendment repeats provisions already in the law…

Here's something odd: I've been hunting for the existing language in the Endangered Species Act that would be modified by the new legislation introduced today by three members of Idaho's congressional delegation, Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch and 1st District Rep. Raul Labrador, to clarify that people can shoot grizzly bears in self-defense. It turns out that practically identical language already exists in the very next section of the ESA that follows the one the Idaho lawmakers would amend.

Their bill says, “Notwithstanding any other provision of law (including regulations), the provisions of this Act shall not apply with respect to the taking of any grizzly bear by an individual who demonstrates to the Secretary by a preponderance of the evidence that the individual carried out the taking as a result of: 1 - self defense; 2 - defense of another individual; or 3 - a reasonable belief of imminent danger posed by the grizzly bear to any individual.” This language, under the bill, would be tacked on to the end of Section 10 of 16 USC 1539.

In the existing law, in 16 USC 1540, there are two clauses, one about civil penalties, and one about criminal violations. They say: “Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, no civil penalty shall be imposed if it can be shown by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant committed an act based on a good faith belief that he was acting to protect himself or herself, a member of his or her family, or any other individual from bodily harm, from any endangered or threatened species.” And: “Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, it shall be a defense to prosecution under this subsection if the defendant committed the offense based on a good faith belief that he was acting to protect himself or herself, a member of his or her family, or any other individual, from bodily harm from any endangered or threatened species.”

I queried University of Idaho law professor Dale Gobel, an expert on the Endangered Species Act, to find the existing language in the law. “It's in the statute,” he said, noting of the bill with a chuckle, “It seems redundant, but other than that, why not?”

Two Idaho tribes get U.S. Justice Dept. grants for law enforcement, safety

The U.S. Justice Department has awarded $1.9 million in grants to the Coeur d'Alene Tribe and Nez Perce Tribe in Idaho to “enhance law enforcement practices and sustain crime prevention and intervention efforts.” The grants are for eight specific aims: Public safety and community policing; methamphetamine enforcement; justice systems relating to alcohol and substance abuse; corrections and correctional alternatives; programs targeting violence against women; programs targeting elder abuse; juvenile justice; and tribal youth programs. U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson, who announced the grants today, said, “I am pleased to see such significant federal grant support to these two Idaho tribes. The U.S. Attorney's office is committed to working closely with and supporting public safety in Indian country.” You can read the full announcement here.

Idaho official wins national tech award for boating safety programs

Dave Dahms, boating law administrator for the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, has been awarded the Innovations in Technology Award from the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, for developing an online grant application for county sheriff's offices to request Safe Boating Act funds. Dahms said counties have given the department “lots of positive feedback” on the new system. “It's much easier to submit a grant than our old system, and it saves them time,” he said. “This allows our valued county sheriff partners to spend less time on paperwork and more time working to make the waters safer for Idaho boaters.”

Last year's winner was the Alabama Marine Police for its Conservation Officer Operations Reporting System; the award recognizes initiatives that use technology to advance boating safety.

Crapo, Risch, Labrador introduce ESA changes in wake of North Idaho grizzly shooting

Three members of Idaho's congressional delegation - Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch and 1st District Rep. Raul Labrador - are introducing legislation aimed at amending the Endangered Species Act in the wake of the Jeremy Hill case, in which a North Idaho man was charged with a federal crime for shooting one of three grizzly bears that wandered onto his property; the charge later was reduced to an infraction and Hill agreed to pay a fine. The three lawmakers said their new bill would clarify that it's not a crime to shoot a grizzly bear in self defense, in defense of another individual, or out of “a reasonable belief of imminent danger posed by the grizzly bear to any individual.”

Hill said he was concerned about his children, who he thought might have been playing outside when the mother grizzly and two cubs wandered into his yard near a pen holding the children's 4-H pigs. Risch said, “Everyone who followed Mr. Hill’s case understood that he was not hunting a grizzly bear.  He was protecting his family, which he truly believed was in harm’s way. This legislation will allow an individual to act in self-defense without having to mount a costly defense for their actions, if done appropriately.  This is a common-sense change that needs to be passed.” You can read the three lawmakers' full statement here.

The Endangered Species Act already permits killing a grizzly bear in self-defense. “This just basically adds some more language to further bolster the self-defense language that's in the ESA,” said Lindsay Nothern, Crapo's press secretary. “I wouldn't call it a major change in the law.” But he said the lawmakers believe the Jeremy Hill case showed “that maybe we need to clarify the language in the law, and that's what we're doing.”

Lawmakers schedule meeting to discuss health care exchanges

The Idaho House Health & Welfare Committee has scheduled an interim meeting for Sept. 29. to talk about health insurance exchanges. The meeting will from from 8-10 a.m. in the Capitol Auditorium; the committee is also inviting members of the Senate Health & Welfare Committee, the House Business Committee, the House and Senate commerce committees, other interested legislators and the public to attend. The group will hear an overview of other states' efforts to establish exchanges, an update on Idaho's proposed approach, and a presentation from the Heritage Foundation. A full agenda will be posted at the Legislature's website.
  

Simplots say they’ll help state maintain guv’s mansion

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The committee that holds the purse strings to the Idaho governor's mansion says the family of the late french fry billionaire J.R. Simplot is willing to help the state sustain the home for the next several years through a major fundraising campaign. The move could help Idaho avoid draining a fund to maintain the house and leaving taxpayers on the hook for upkeep of the water-guzzling, electricity-sucking hilltop mansion that the Simplot family donated to the state in 2004. The Governor's Housing Committee reported Tuesday that the fund holds about $936,000, which is enough to pay for about five to six years of maintenance. The committee is expected to consider a slew of options — which still could include selling the home — at a meeting later this year. Click below for a full report.

Order is out to form new redistricting panel, clock starts ticking…

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa has issued his formal order establishing a new redistricting commission, which starts the clock ticking. The appointing authorities - the House speaker, the Senate president pro-tem, the House and Senate minority leaders, and the state Democratic and Republican party chairmen - now have up to 15 days to name their nominees, and then the new commission will have up to 90 days to adopt new legislative and congressional districts for the state. “The first meeting of the committee is scheduled on Wednesday, Sept. 28,” Ysursa said in a statement. “A lot of work has already been accomplished by the former committee and I hope the new committee will take advantage of that work and come to agreement on a plan quickly for the people of Idaho.”

BSU responds to NCAA infraction report; says ‘no impact on our on-field efforts’

Boise State University officials, commenting on the NCAA's report today on infractions in five sports, said they've taken steps to address the concerns raised by the NCAA. “We defended the athletic program to the best of our abilities at the hearing and had hoped our self-imposed sanctions and corrective measures would be sufficient,” said BSU President Bob Kustra.

“A number of decisions have been made since the beginning of the investigation that have demonstrated our commitment to the NCAA process. Boise State will have a diligent and meticulous approach to compliance, with a new level of leadership and accountability. The infractions and subsequent penalties have left us no margin for error going forward, and have changed the nature of oversight required.” Head football coach Chris Petersen said, “Like Dr. Kustra, I was surprised by the findings. I am also disappointed. However, it will not have an impact on our on-field efforts.  At this time we are completely focused on winning Friday’s game at Toledo.” Click below for BSU's full statement responding to the NCAA infractions report, and click here to read the full 73-page report.

NCAA cites BSU for violations in five sports

The NCAA has announced its findings on rule violations by Boise State University, citing BSU for major violations in five sports, with the biggest focusing on women's tennis. Penalties, some of which were self-imposed by the university and adopted by the NCAA's Division I Committee on Infractions, include public reprimand and censure; three years of probation; a one-year ban on post-season play following the 2011-12 women's tennis season; and a reduction of football scholarships from 85 to 82 for the 2011-12, 12-13 and 13-14 academic years. Click below for the full announcement from NCAA, which is being released now, at 1 p.m. Boise time; the NCAA also is holding a news conference.

9th Circuit to honor Nelson in Boise session

Judges of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will convene a special session Friday in Boise to celebrate the memory of the late Senior Circuit Judge Thomas G. Nelson of Boise, who died in May at the age of 74. The session will be held in the Capitol Auditorium at 2 p.m. and is open to the public; among those scheduled to speak are 9th Circuit Judges Sidney R. Thomas of Billings, Mont.; Richard C. Tallman of Seattle; Barry Silverman of Phoenix; and Randy Smith of Pocatello; along with Idaho Supreme Court Justice Joel Horton, Boise attorney John Rosholt, and two of Nelson's sons, Kyle Nelson and Dr. Hal T. Nelson.

August revenues slip below forecast

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho missed tax revenue forecasts in August by 4.4 percent or $8.7 million, as individual income tax and sales tax receipts lagged expectations. After two months of the fiscal year, total collections are $403 million, or $9.2 million less than forecast. Individual income tax collections in August were $91.4 million, about 3.9 million less than forecast. Sales tax receipts were expected to be $93.6 million, but came in at only $86.8 million. Remaining revenue categories hit their targets or were only slightly below. State lawmakers and Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter are watching tax receipts in hopes of Idaho producing a second year of surpluses following the Great Recession. If Idaho hits its fiscal year 2012 target, it should have about $180 million more than is in the current spending plan.

New redistricting commission now won’t be convened for two more weeks

Instead of next Monday, it now looks like a new Idaho redistricting commission won't be convened until Sept. 28th. Secretary of State Ben Ysursa had originally asked all the appointing authorities to get him new names by this Wednesday - tomorrow - so he could convene a new commission on Monday, but some said they couldn't act that quickly - and pointed out that the state Constitution gives them 15 days to make their appointments. “There were some legitimate concerns on timing, they couldn't get things done in time,” Ysursa said this morning. “So the law and the Constitution gives them 15 days, technically, from the date of the order.” He's working on an order with plans to get it out today. “I was trying to push it and expedite it, and they had some legitimate concerns. … This kind of caught all of us by surprise to do the new commission, so I took some of their concerns to heart. But I want to get things going.”

Jonathan Parker, Idaho Republican Party executive director, said last night, “We're going to act as quickly as we can with Chairman (Norm) Semanko's appointments to the commission, but the Constitution is very clear, we do have 15 days. We would like to expedite that, but that's a decision that Chairman Semanko is not going to take very lightly. We'll have to get our task force back online, ask them for further recommendations.”

Larry Grant, Idaho Democratic Party chairman, said, “We were scrambling around yesterday trying to find our people to get the names to him by Wednesday. Then we got a call from (deputy secretary of state) Tim (Hurst) yesterday afternoon saying they had changed their mind.” He said, “We're actively getting our commissioners in line now, so we'll be ready,” and added, “We had a full slate from last time that we could have used, so now we just have to go back and check people's availability.”

Meanwhile, former GOP Commissioner Lou Esposito said he and the other two GOP members of the redistricting commission that disbanded last week without reaching agreement on a plan, Evan Frasure and Lorna Finman, are “taking a serious look” at whether to challenge the Idaho Supreme Court's ruling that a new commission must be appointed. “We believe that there is a possible basis to petition the court to reconsider, and we'll probably have a decision on that by early next week,” Esposito said.

Grant, an attorney, said, “Our understanding is the commission is over. Those guys don't have any legal authority to do anything. … It's just not legally possible, I don't think.”

Ysursa, also an attorney, said, “The way I read the court order and the way the Attorney General read the court order and the state statute, it seemed pretty clear to us that a new commission is involved, but you know, people can challenge anything.” He said his main concern is to get the process completed in time to allow for Idaho's next election, which is coming up next spring. “The further on it gets into the year and starts approaching the calendar year, it's time to get a plan and get going,” Ysursa said.

Johnson Post on redistricting: ‘Here’s an idea: Let Ben do it’

Marc Johnson's “Johnson Post” blog today offers an alternative on Idaho's current redistricting mess, saying, “When Idaho’s “citizen” reapportionment panel deadlocked recently everyone in the state looked to the Big Man on the second floor of the state capitol building for guidance. And for good reason. Ben Ysursa has forgotten more about Idaho’s election process than most of us could ever hope to know. So here’s a novel idea that will never happen, but should – let Ben draw the lines. I apologize in advance to my friend, Ysursa, but stay with me.” You can read Johnson's full post here.

Rammell arrested for battery in Idaho County

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) — Former gubernatorial candidate Rex Rammell has been charged with felony battery in Idaho County after authorities say he confronted a couple for trespassing. The Lewiston Tribune report (http://bit.ly/rppC7J ) Rammell tried to place the couple under citizens' arrest and is accused of grabbing and trying to choke the man, William Shira, during the confrontation Thursday. The Idaho County Sheriff's Office says Rammell also resisted arrest. Rammell is set to make an initial court appearance on Sept. 27, nearly two months after his last legal battle ended. An eastern Idaho jury convicted Rammell of poaching a cow elk in July. The following month, Rammell pleaded guilty to criminal contempt in a case that started when he was arrested for tampering with jurors in the poaching trial.

Idaho school reformers cancel visit to Microsoft in advance of big computer buy

You can read my full story here at spokesman.com on how Idaho officials on a task force planning for the state's purchase of computers for every high school student have had to cancel a trip to Redmond, Wash. to meet with Microsoft officials, after concerns were raised that the trip would violate state purchasing rules. A state purchasing officer told the task force members, “Don't discuss this procurement with vendors.”

 

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna persuaded lawmakers this year to pass his “Students Come First” school reform legislation, which shifts state school funding from salaries to technology boosts, limits collective bargaining rights for teachers, imposes a new merit-pay bonus system and calls for new emphasis on online learning. The plan includes phasing in the purchase of a “mobile computing device” - a laptop computer, tablet, or similar device - for every Idaho high school student and teacher, using funds that now go to salaries. The entire plan is up for a referendum vote in November of 2012 to ask if voters want to dump it, after opponents gathered thousands of signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot.

 

In the meantime, Luna is continuing with starting up the program. The task force meets through tomorrow; it has additional two-day meetings scheduled each month through December.

Idaho must start over with six new redistricting commissioners…

Idaho has to appoint an entirely new redistricting commission - not including any of the six commissioners who blew their deadline last week - and start the process over, Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa announced this morning. The reason: A 2009 law that the Legislature enacted that made several changes to the redistricting commission process, including banning past commissioners from serving again. “I think it's the law of unintended consequences,” Ysursa said; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

 

The statute mainly dealt with requiring legislative districts to have road connections. “That was part of the road statute and everything else, and I don't think that was discussed a lot,” Ysursa said. “I had to go back and refresh my memory and look at it.”

 

As a result, the redistricting clock will start over - six new commissioners will be appointed, and they'll have up to 90 days to draw new legislative and congressional district plans. “I can't limit 'em,” Ysursa said. Possible complications include that the budget for the redistricting commission already is about three-quarters spent, leaving around $110,000 to fund the new commission's work; and that if it took the full 90 days, it'd bump up against various deadlines related to running the state's next election, in May of 2012. He noted, “We've been able to do it in much less time,” including in 1984, when new plans were coming out at the last minute and the court actually extended the filing period for candidates by a week. But, he said, “That's not our goal.”

 

“All appointing authorities have been notified,” Ysursa said. They include the House speaker and Senate president pro-tem, the House and Senate minority leaders, and the chairmen of the Idaho Republican and Democratic parties. Ysursa said he's hoping they'll send him the names by this Wednesday, and he'll swear in a new commission next Monday at 9 a.m. “There's been a lot of work already accomplished and done,” Ysursa said. “Hopefully the new commission will see that and be able to complete their task expeditiously.”

Roll Call: Some of simplest redistricting states, with just 2 districts, having toughest time

Roll Call has published an article noting that of the five states with the easiest task in redrawing congressional districts lines - those with just two districts - two, Idaho and Maine, have seen “some of the most contentious redistricting battles of the summer.” You can read the article here.

Tech task force to look at survey on ‘mobile computing devices’

The “Students Come First” Technology Task Force will take up funding timelines, the timelines for putting out the requests to vendors for computers, and hear from Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, on the results of a “mobile computing device” survey, as its meeting continues this morning; you can listen live here. It'll also hear a “site visit protocol presentation,” then break into subcommittees for the rest of the day today. Tomorrow, the subcommittees will continue meeting from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m., then the full task force will reconvene from 10:30 to 11:30, and the two-day meeting will close with an executive committee meeting from 11:45 to 1, at which the subcommittees will present their results.

Luna on canceled vendor visit: ‘They were frustrated, we were frustrated’

State Superintendent of School Tom Luna told state purchasing officer Sarah Hilderbrand, “We were invited by a vendor to go to that vendor's location” and hear from “a parade of these international experts” on online education, “to basically be their guests. We would travel at our expense, not at their expense, but it raised a lot of red flags to the point where we at the last minute canceled it. I think they understood. I think they were frustrated, we were frustrated. … How do we do the homework to make sure that the recommendations that we move forward are going to, that the water's going to get to the end of the row?”

 

Hilderbrand responded, “I can tell you from a procurement perspective, we discourage site visits when we are even at the beginning of the procurement process. In the last 15 years I've seen too many projects derailed by just the appearance of preferring one vendor over another.”

 

Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, commented, “It's getting grayer all the time.”

 

Luna said, “I've had more than one vendor make it clear to me that they are watching this very, very closely, and they'll take action” if they think they're not getting a fair shot at “providing products and services to the state.” Luna said he doesn't want the task force to go to all this work, only to end up in a protracted lawsuit over the procurement process.

 

 

Tech task force members object to restrictions on contacts with computer vendors

Several committee members are raising concerns about warnings to school technology task force members to avoid contacts with computer vendors. “Certainly the members of this committee are not the experts and need to be looking to the outside community, whether it be schools or vendors or research,” Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, told state purchasing officer Sarah Hilderbrand. “I think you're suggesting that we put on blinders.”

Hilderbrand explained that if a particular senator met with two vendors, but not with any others, that wouldn't be acceptable in the purchasing process. “We want to make sure that it is above board, we want to make sure that there isn't any appearance that we're getting certain information, but we're not talking to this vendor over here,” she said.

Ed tech task force cautioned against contacts with computer vendors

The “Students Come First Technology” Task Force has opened a two-day meeting this morning in the Capitol Auditorium; you can listen live here. State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna urged the members to focus on “features of a high-quality online course” and bring recommendations forward tomorrow. Now, the panel is hearing a presentation from Sarah Hilderbrand, purchasing officer for the Division of Purchasing, on the “do's and don't's” of the state purchasing process. “This is one of the most important and timely presentations we're going to receive,” Luna told the group, which is making recommendations for the “Students Come First” plan of purchasing a laptop computer at state expense for every Idaho high school teacher and student. He said the committee needs to know “what kind of vendor contact you as a committee member can have, what is appropriate for vendors in their relationship with us. … I don't want there to be any gray area.”

 

Luna said, “We've already had a couple of situations that we had to deal with because we did not understand the do's and don't's. Many of us had a trip planned to Washington (state) that we had to basically cancel, because there was too many gray areas in what we would be doing while we were there, who we would be visiting with.”

 

He noted that many representatives of vendors are in the audience this morning, and he cautioned them to listen, too. Hilderbrand told the committee, “Don't discuss this procurement with vendors. We want to make sure everybody has the same information. … It could potentially stop the whole project if there is misinformation out there.”

State board backs new online course requirement, opens 21-day comment period

Idaho's State Board of Education voted 8-0 on Friday to approve a rule requiring all Idaho students to take two online courses to graduate from high school, despite strongly negative testimony at seven public hearings around the state. One of the two courses must be asynchronous, meaning the students and teachers participate on their own schedules. The board's vote opened a 21-day comment period on the new rule, which takes effect with the graduating class of 2016, this year's eighth-graders. Click below for a full article from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.

Idaho SupCourt issues stunner of an order on redistricting today

The Idaho Supreme Court has issued an unexpected order this afternoon on redistricting, tossing out the GOP commissioners' lawsuit and Secretary of State Ben Ysursa's lawsuit, and declaring that the court has no authority to order the redistricting commission back to work - because the commission hadn't adopted any plan the court could rule on, giving it jurisdiction. Instead, there's only the 2002 plan from the last round a decade ago, which Ysursa asked the court to declare unconstitutional in his legal challenge, because it doesn't meet one-person, one-vote requirements due to the population shifts of the last decade. He also asked them to send the commission back to work for up to 60 days, while the GOP commissioners asked the court to adopt a plan or send commissioners back to work for up to three days.

The court, in its order, says the Secretary of State can organize a new commission instead. It also sets oral arguments for Oct. 12 on the constitutionality of the 2002 redistricting plan, and permits anyone who wants to file to defend that plan as constitutional a chance to do so within the next 14 days. You can read the court's order here, and read my full story here at spokesman.com; click below to read the Supreme Court's just-issued news release.

Redistricters spar over lawsuit and whether taxpayers should foot legal bill

On last night's “Dialogue” program on Idaho Public Television, Idaho redistricting commissioners Lou Esposito and George Moses were asked whether they think the redistricting commission should pay for the GOP commissioners' lawyers in their separate legal challenge, which was filed in addition to the Secretary of State's request for a writ of mandamus after the commission failed to agree on legislative and congressional district plans by its Tuesday deadline.

 

Esposito, a Republican, said, “We don't see it as a suit, really, and it's semantics, but we really do see it as a petition. … We paid for all the initial filings and all the work out of our own pockets, the commissioners did. If this does become a protracted suit and we end up getting the specific guidance that gets us to a resolution, I'm confident that we'll end up having the attorney fees compensated by the state.”

 

“I'm less confident of that,” responded Moses, a Democrat. “I know that there are state officials who aren't real pleased about the idea of the state continuing to shell out six figures of money to private lawyers for stuff that's essentially state business. … Procedurally, the commission never voted to hire any outside counsel like this, and it would take that in order to be able to pay someone. And you can understand why Democratic commissioners would be less than eager to pay to bring a suit like this one.”

 

The Republican commissioners' lawsuit asks the court to adopt proposed Republican redistricting plans as superior to those proposed by Democratic commissioners. Esposito said, “Quite honestly, when we were putting all this together … our attorney, who is one of the top attoreys in the country on this … he posed the question … do you want to ask the justices to approve a map? And we came to the conclusion, you know, it just doesn't hurt to ask sometimes, so we decided to ask.”

 

Moses said, “The map that they've asked the court to adopt is a map that was presented to the commission in the last hour of deliberations. We never had a chance to look at it, we certainly never got to a point where we could vote on it, and now the Republican suit is asking the court essentially to pre-empt the commission and adopt a map that the commissioners never had a chance to consider. ”

 

You can watch the full Dialogue program, plus a continued “Web Extra” discussion, online here.

GOP leader: Minority party shouldn’t have equal representation in redistricting

Idaho Republican Party Executive Director Jonathan Parker has sent out a guest opinion entitled “Idaho's Redistricting Process is Broken and Needs to be Fixed,” in which he writes, “Due in part to an even-numbered commission, Idaho’s redistricting process is systematically designed for failure and has proven to be an unnecessarily expensive process that doesn’t accurately reflect the political makeup of our state where Idaho Democrats don’t hold a single Congressional or Statewide office, and control less than 20% of seats in the Idaho legislature.” Parker decries the evenly split bipartisan commission because it “artificially gives the minority party equal representation and therefore the opportunity to abuse the system;” you can read his full article here.

Local-option ballot measure in the works

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A consortium of Idaho business people have resurrected a failed idea from the 2008 Legislature that for many still holds the allure of helping communities address local needs while boosting their economies: Letting residents vote to tax themselves to expand public transit or build roads. Former Albertsons Inc. Chief Executive Officer Gary Michael, property manager Skip Oppenheimer and Republican consultant Jason Lehosit are among those mulling a 2012 ballot initiative on local option sales tax authority. Three years ago, legislation died after Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter and House GOP lawmakers insisted on constitutional restrictions that proponents couldn't live with. Michael says the idea re-emerged during informal talks over giving local governments new financing tools. Foes from 2008 like House Majority Leader Mike Moyle fear it's another way to hike taxes.

Redistricters on ‘Dialogue’ tonight…

Tonight on Idaho Public Television's Dialogue program, I'll join host Joan Cartan-Hansen and BSU political scientist Gary Moncrief, along with two Idaho redistricting commissioners - Republican Lou Esposito and Democrat George Moses - to discuss Idaho's currently stalled redistricting process. The show airs at 8:30 p.m. Mountain time, 7:30 Pacific, and will take live calls. To submit questions before the show, email them to dialogue@idahoptv.org; to call in during the half-hour broadcast, call (800) 973-9800.

Dems: ‘Nothing wrong with makeup of Idaho Redistricting Commission’

Idaho Democrats issued a response today to a statement from the Idaho Republican Party calling for re-examining the makeup of the bipartisan citizen redistricting commission. “There’s nothing wrong with the makeup of the Idaho Redistricting Commission,” said Larry Grant, Idaho Democratic Party chairman.  “The commission worked last time and it would have worked this time if the Republicans wanted it to.  The real problem is that the Republicans are just not satisfied with the 80% of the legislature they already have.” Click below for the Dems' full statement.

GOP commissioners want taxpayers to foot bill for their separate legal challenge

It turns out that the GOP redistricting commissioners want the state's taxpayers to pay for the outside attorney they've hired to file their own, separate legal challenge over the commission's failed deliberations, which in part asks the court to adopt their plans as superior to those proposed by Democratic commissioners. Christ Troupis, the Republicans' attorney, told the Associated Press that he expects to be paid from Republican commission members' taxpayer-funded budget. “I was told I'd be paid,” he said.

The Idaho Legislature approved $424,700 for redistricting, with $290,000 spent so far on hotel rooms, meals and commissioner travel, leaving more than $100,000, AP reporter John Miller reports. “There's been a couple of us that have covered his costs,” said Republican commissioner Lou Esposito. “If this ends up being long and protracted, probably the state will end up bearing the costs, since it is related to the commission business.”

However, since the commission disbanded at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Republican commissioners likely don't have authority to approve a payment of taxpayer money to hire an outside lawyer, Miller reports. “They would have needed an affirmative vote of a majority of the commission to hire outside counsel,” said Keith Bybee, the Legislative Services aide who has helped guide the redistricting process.

That happened in 2001, but not this time. In fact, the possibility of a third party filing a claim led Ysursa to file his brief at 8 a.m. Wednesday, to pre-empt someone else from demanding the commission be reconvened, then asking Idaho for their attorney's fees in a “slam dunk” case. “We're trying to save taxpayer dollars,” said Tim Hurst, Ysursa's deputy. “We didn't want somebody else making money on the state for something they know is going to happen.” Click below to read Miller's full AP article.

Charge dropped in North Idaho grizzly shooting

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has dropped misdemeanor charges against a Porthill, Idaho, man who shot and killed a grizzly bear in his yard, reports S-R reporter Becky Kramer; you can read her story here at spokesman.com. Instead, Jeremy M. Hill was issued a citation for the May 8 shooting of the male grizzly, and paid a $1,000 fine.

Dem redistricters: ‘We moved drastically in their direction’

Democratic members of Idaho's redistricting commission have sent out a guest opinion disputing GOP commissioners' criticisms of the Dems' proposed district maps. “We moved drastically in their direction,” the commissioners write. “We worked in good faith to address all the voiced concerns from our Republican colleagues. Once we addressed their points, new concerns were voiced. The bait-and-switch tactics used in the last minute negotiations stymied progress.” Click below to read the full article.

9th Circuit overturns Sivak’s death sentence

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed the death sentence of an Idaho man convicted of brutally slaying a former coworker because the state allowed a jailhouse informant to lie on the witness stand. Lacey Mark Sivak was sentenced to death for the 1981 murder of Dixie Wilson at the Baird Oil gas station in Garden City. In a ruling handed down Wednesday, the appellate court said that while Sivak's murder conviction was appropriate, the outcome of his sentencing hearing might have been different if prosecutors hadn't knowingly presented the testimony of an inmate who lied on the stand. Still, the appellate court said state attorneys may decide to hold a new sentencing hearing if they still want to seek the death penalty for Sivak's crimes.

Esposito: ‘This process should only take three days’

In an Idaho Republican Party news release this afternoon, GOP Redistricting Commissioner Lou Esposito says he thinks the commission could come up with a redistricting plan in just three days. “If they give us the proper clarification and guidance on our inquiries contained within our petition, this process should only take 3 days of reconvening for the Commission to reach an agreement,” Esposito said. He and the other two GOP commissioners filed suit this morning, asking the Idaho Supreme Court to adopt GOP redistricting plans or give the commission three days to finish the job; Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa also sued, asking the court to send the commission back to work for up to 60 days. Click below to read the full release.

ITD chief rules in favor of Exxon megaloads

Idaho Transportation Director Brian Ness has formally accepted the recommendation of state hearing officer Duff McKee that Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil be issued permits to transport more than 200 megaloads of Canada-bound oil equipment across scenic Highway 12 from the Port of Lewiston to Montana. In his five-page ruling, Ness ruled that administrative procedures were properly followed and all sides had a fair opportunity to present their case. Any party still can ask Ness to reconsider his decision by filing a motion within 14 days. Click below to read ITD's full news release.
  

IPTV names Hahn as Idaho Reports host

Idaho Public Television has announced that Greg Hahn has been hired as the new producer and host of Idaho Reports, the program that reports on the state Legislature. Hahn, who most recently was news editor for the Idaho Statesman, filled in as moderator on the program last year after former host Thanh Tan left for a job with the Texas Tribune. IPTV conducted a national search for Tan's replacement, and Hahn was selected. He covered the Legislature for about a decade, first for the Twin Falls Times-News and then for the Statesman; he's also reported on stories from Burley to Baghdad to the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Hahn holds a degree in anthropology and film from the University of California at Santa Barbara and a master’s degree in journalism from New York University. Outside the legislative-session program, Hahn will work on documentaries and other stories.

Luna wants a third of next year’s surplus for schools

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Public schools chief Tom Luna says education would get about a third of the projected $180 million budget surplus Idaho is expected to carry into the next fiscal year, under a spending plan he's submitting to the governor. Luna told The Associated Press on Wednesday he wants at least $61 million of the surplus to go toward public education in the 2012-2013 school year. Under Luna's budget request, more than $20 million of that extra money would be used to replace funding that would be taken from funding for salaries to pay for new education changes backed by Luna and the governor, such as teacher merit pay. The shifting of money from salaries to pay for classroom technology and pay-for-performance was among the most debated parts of Luna's education changes.

Two redistricting challenges filed with Idaho Supreme Court

The Idaho Supreme Court has received not one, but two legal filings this morning challenging Idaho's legislative and congressional districts lines, now that the redistricting commission has failed to meet yesterday's deadline to draw new plans - one from Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, and another from attorney Christ Troupis on behalf of the GOP members of the redistricting commission. You can read Ysursa's challenge here, and the GOP challenge here.

Ysursa asks the high court to declare current district lines unconstitutional, provide guidance to the commission on which factors - constitutional and statutory - it must weigh and in which order, and send the commission back to work for up to 60 days to draw new plans. The GOP commissioners ask the court to rule that statutory provisions such as the road rule must be complied with rather than just seeking to minimize county splits, and adopt plans it has proposed reflecting that; or, if the court finds minimizing county splits outweighs the other rules, that the court adopt the GOP commissioners' proposed minimum county splits plan as superior to the Democratic commissioners' proposals; or to give the commission three more days to approve an appropriate plan. They also ask the court to adopt a GOP-proposed congressional district plan.

Ysursa's filing, by contrast, asks the court to “defer to the Commission to provide it the full opportunity possible to comply with the Constitution's directive that the Commission apportion legislative and congressional districts,” and says, “Alternative means of apportionment should only be considered as a last resort.”

Idaho GOP: Re-examine makeup of bipartisan redistricting commission

The Idaho Republican Party has issued a press release noting the state's citizen redistricting commission's failure to meet its Tuesday 5 p.m. deadline to draw new congressional and legislative district lines, and calling for re-examining the makeup of the evenly split bipartisan commission. “It doesn’t surprise me that a six member commission, made up of equal parts Republicans and Democrats could not reach an agreement on a single map,” Idaho GOP Chairman Norm Semanko said. “For the sake of the taxpayer and to accurately reflect the political will of the people, I hope the legislature will consider the idea of revisiting the makeup of the Commission so ten years from now we won’t have a repeat of this year, in which precious money, resources, and time were spent only to reach a stalemate.” Click below for the party's full statement.

Finman: ‘We were actually pretty close’

GOP Redistricting Commissioner Lorna Finman was wistful after the commission adjourned without meeting its 5 p.m. deadline today to adopt new legislative and congressional districts lines. “I think we were actually pretty close,” she said. “We were just a district and a few precincts away from pulling this off.” She said, “We just didn't get down to reality in time. I think another two or three days and we could've had it.”

Democratic Co-Chairman Allen Andersen was less optimistic. “A lot will depend on Commissioner Frasure if he does in fact resign, and who they replace him with.” While GOP Commissioner Lou Esposito said he thought the commission could settle on plans fairly quickly if the court orders it back to work - “a week, 10 days - that should do it,” he said - Andersen said, “If they're going to keep holding to the maps that they have so far, it's going to take a lot longer.” Andersen said he's still unwilling to allow Pocatello to be divided into multiple legislative districts.

Redistricters miss deadline

The hour has arrived, and Idaho's bipartisan citizen redistricting commission has missed its deadline to come up with new legislative and congressional district maps, forcing the issue into the courts. Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said he's ready to sue first thing Wednesday morning, filing a writ of mandamus with the Idaho Supreme Court. “Papers are prepared,” he said. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Without new legislative and congressional district lines, Idaho has lines from 10 years ago that don't reflect the big population shifts since then - and therefore don't comply with the U.S. Constitution's one-person, one-vote rule. That means the state's current districts are unconstitutional; Ysursa said he expects the court to order the commission back to work.

Current legislative districts, after the new 2010 census, have a 96 percent variation in population, far more than permitted. Idaho's two current congressional districts now have a 14.8 percent deviation in population; new congressional districts must evenly split the state population, with virtually no deviation. “It's obviously out of sync with the Constitution,” Ysursa said. “I'm confident we will have a commission plan - obviously now it looks like it will be later, rather than sooner.”

Co-Chairman Evan Frasure said, “As I understand, we may get called back, we may not.” He said health concerns, including a massive heart attack several years ago, may prevent him from continuing on the panel.

Not gonna make it…

It's now within 10 minutes of the redistricting commission's deadline, and though various additional plans have been introduced, there's been no movement toward a settlement. Deputy Secretary of State Tim Hurst is in the room, awaiting the outcome - if there's no plan adopted by 5 p.m. (Boise time), the commission has missed its deadline, and Secretary of State Ben Ysursa says he's prepared to sue in the Idaho Supreme Court first thing in the morning, as Idaho would then have legislative and congressional district lines that violate the U.S. Constitution's one-person, one-vote rule.

In the final minutes, Democratic commissioners proposed a new congressional district plan, with the dividing line between the two districts in Ada County matching legislative district lines; but it failed on a 3-3 party-line vote.

GOP redistricters propose ‘Hail Mary’ compromise plan

Redistricting Commissioner Lorna Finman is introducing several new legislative district plans, including a couple of variations on earlier Republican plans, plus a new one, L-78, that she described as “our Hail Mary attempt here at the last minute.” L-78 incorporates the North Idaho compromise that Finman and Kane worked out, along with a stab at what the GOP commissioners see as acceptable compromises for Ada County and for eastern Idaho.

GOP Commissioner Lou Esposito said, “This keeps Boise city together, it keeps Garden City together. … We did have to dip in and pick up some voters out of more northwest Ada County to go with Boise, Gem and Valley counties,” to make the numbers work, a move to which Democratic commissioners have objected. The commission then took a brief break, planning to reconvene at 4 p.m. - one hour before its deadline.

Redistricters take ‘final’ recess…

Idaho's citizen redistricting commission has now taken what members say will be their “final recess,” until 3:30. GOP Commissioner Lou Esposito said Republican commissioners are “in the process … of bringing down a map” to incorporate the North Idaho compromise with discussions on eastern Idaho and a proposal for Ada County. He said he hoped “with a little tweaking in the Bannock County area, the Pocatello area, we'd be able to get it done.” Co-Chairman Evan Frasure responded, “We're down to two hours now. … If it's beneficial we can keep bantering back and forth, but … we don't have much luxury of time here.”

Commission not ready to vote, not even just on North Idaho compromise…

Redistricting Commissioner Lorna Finman moved to approve L-71, the North Idaho compromise she negotiated with Commissioner Julie Kane. But though Kane said, “I think we do have an agreement on that area,” she said, “I think our position all along has been that we don't want to do this piecemeal, that it needs to come all together, including the congressional line. … I think it all needs to be in a package. I really would not like to vote on it at this point.” Over the protests of Co-Chairman Evan Frasure, Finman said, “I would be willing to yield on that vote, withdraw the motion.” So now there'll be no vote on that. Frasure said, “I'm giving up hope. Is there anything else to come before the committee?” He proposed adjourning - throwing in the towel, and admitting the panel won't be able to reach agreement on new legislative and congressional districts before 5 p.m. today.

Finman said, “I would prefer, I think we're still doing some work on some of the other areas. I'd like to, even if we don't make it today, try to make a little more progress.” Kane said, “I concur with Commissioner Finman. I think we at least have to make our best effort through our deadline, and I would request that we go upstairs and try to work some more.” For the moment, Frasure and Commissioner Allen Andersen are discussing various options for eastern Idaho.

How the North Idaho compromise would affect legislative incumbents…

It took a bit to sort out the data, but here's the effect on incumbents of L-71, the North Idaho compromise plan for legislative districts 1-7: Sens. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, and Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, would end up in the same district, forcing a face-off in the GOP primary if they both want to keep the seat. In the proposed new District 2, there would be three incumbent state representatives vying for two seats: Reps. Phil Hart, R-Athol; Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens; and Marge Chadderdon, R-Coeur d'Alene. In the proposed new District 5, there would be four incumbents vying for two House seats: Reps. Tom Trail, R-Moscow; Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow; Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries; and Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton.

With pressure on, commissioners trade ideas for eastern Idaho…

Redistricting Commissioners Evan Frasure and Allen Andersen have been going back and forth, with Frasure maintaining they're just two precincts apart on solving eastern Idaho legislative district lines - and offering to let Andersen pick the two. “We can work that into a statewide map in about half an hour,” Frasure declared. “All we need is two more precincts in Blackfoot and that thing falls together. … I'll gladly let you pick the precincts.” Andersen balked. “I'm afraid under this pressure it's not going to happen,” he said. “I'm not going to agree to that until I see a statewide map, because I want to know what you're doing with the rest of the state.” Commissioner George Moses said, “I could see a ripple effect. … Accepting resolution of a small area without seeing the effect on the larger map is in my view irresponsible, because you're buying something blind here.”

But Frasure noted that's what the commission did in welcoming the North Idaho compromise map drawn by Commissioners Lorna Finman and Julie Kane, which can fit with many different configurations for the rest of the state. Time is ticking down - the deadline is 5 p.m., and several hours may be required to draw up formal findings if the commission agrees on a plan - but it's now taken a 15-minute break.

Another 3-3 partisan vote…

GOP redistricting Commissioner Lorna Finman jumped into the back-and-forth over eastern Idaho, which was getting hot between GOP Commissioner Lou Esposito and Democratic Commissioner Allen Andersen, “since I was involved as the intermediary in that area.” She said, “Another day or half-day we would have gotten somewhere. I don't think we were at the point of politically jousting.” She added, “If I may say, I think the citizens of the state are going to be disgusted that we cannot get to a solution here when we're down to just a handful of areas, granted the most contentious areas. We are so close on this map. … There needed to be a little give and take.”

Commissioner Julie Kane called for the vote on her motion, the combo of the North Idaho compromise and Democratic legislative district plan L-60. It failed on a 3-3 partisan vote. Finman was the only one who explained her vote. She said, “I'm going to vote no, and my reasons are the very large district and District 31.”

Republican commissioner on Dem proposal: ‘Just an abomination’

Democratic Commissioner Julie Kane moved to approve a new legislative district plan combining L-71, the North Idaho compromise, with L-60 for the rest of the state, an earlier Democratic proposal, and Democratic Commissioner Allen Andersen seconded the motion.

GOP Commissioner Lou Esposito said, “I think we did make great strides up in North Idaho.” But he pointed to the resulting District 8 in this combo map, which stretches across the mid-section of the state. “Once again we have Salmon, Idaho connected with Weiser,” Esposito said. “We also have Arco connected with Council on this map. … The only way to describe this is just an abomination for political advantage, I don't know how else to even characterize it.”

Redistricters get heated…

Democratic Commissioner George Moses has presented L-72, a partial legislative district plan for Ada County that he says reflects a good-faith effort by Democrats to comply with the Republican request not to pair downtown Boise with Eagle. GOP Commissioner Lou Esposito responded, “Unfortunately we have once again people that are geographically challenged. … You would actually see that what you have continued to do is grab part of downtown Eagle.” He said a version he sent Moses earlier wasn't the same, as Moses contended, but reflected a different split. Esposito said, “We want to pull up dueling maps, I'm more than ready to do it. We have given you a reasonable compromise that comprises the districts that most accurately reflect the current situation in Ada County.” He derided Moses' map as “the definition of gerrymander.”

Moses responded by decrying GOP proposals that put some Ada County voters in with residents of Horseshoe Bend. “In order to keep all of Ada County voters represented by Ada County legislators, this is the map we've proposed,” he said. GOP Commissioner Evan Frasure said Democrats now have seven legislative districts statewide in which they have a majority, and they're trying to stretch that to 10 or 11. “There just isn't enough Democrats to go around,” he said.

Redistricters reconvene with complaint, no statewide compromise…

Redistricting commissioners are back at work, and first up was a complaint from Democratic Co-Chairman Allen Andersen, about GOP Co-Chairman Evan Frasure gaveling down Democratic Commissioner George Moses before the break rather than allowing him to propose another map before the recess. “I'd like to offer an official complaint,” Andersen said.

Frasure responded, “Thank you,” and said “we'll move on to, Commissioner Moses did have a map. … I chose to back off at that time so that we could hopefully get a compromise. Obviously that has not happened.”

The North Idaho compromise…

Here's a look at the North Idaho legislative district map, L-71, submitted today by GOP Commissioner Lorna Finman of Rathdrum and Democratic Commissioner Julie Kane of Lapwai. It puts Boundary County and the majority of Bonner County, including the entire Clark Fork area, into District 1. District 2 contains the southernmost precincts of Bonner County plus northern parts of Kootenai County. “That's a very similar community of interest, kind of rural small-town area,” Finman said. District 3 contains the core of Coeur d'Alene, while District 4 has mostly Post Falls and the Rathdrum area.

District 5 consists of Shoshone County and parts of Benewah, Kootenai and Latah counties, including the Moscow area, along with most of the Coeur d'Alene Reservation. District 6 pairs two rural Latah County precincts with all of Nez Perce County and part of Lewis County, and includes most of the Nez Perce reservation; while District 7 has part of Benewah County along with all of Clearwater and Idaho counties, and part of Lewis County. You can see the map and related reports online here.

Initially, it appeared that the plan would force only one pair of North Idaho incumbent lawmakers into a face-off: Sens. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, and Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle; but now it appears other incumbent lawmakers also might end up in the same districts; stay tuned.

Compromise North Idaho legislative district plan submitted, praised

Redistricting Commissioners Julie Kane and Lorna Finman have presented their compromise plan for legislative districts in North Idaho, for Districts 1-7; it's been submitted as partial legislative plan L-71. “We 've eliminated that contentious backwards C,” Finman said. “We've been able to retain Clark Fork whole in District 1. Some of the top Kootenai County districts are not that dissimilar to what they currently are.” Said Kane, “We've had several pragmatic and honest discussions. I just want to make clear that this map is a compromise with a capital C.”

After briefly reviewing the new North Idaho plan, the commission took a break until 1 - though Democratic Commissioner George Moses was trying to lay another map before the commission. Co-Chairman Evan Frasure gaveled him down and recessed until 1 p.m.

The North Idaho compromise plan doesn't split precincts and doesn't violate the rule that districts must be connected by highways. GOP Commissioner Lou Esposito said, “Thank you, Commissioner Kane, Commissioner Finman. I think this has clearly demonstrated the ability to find resolution within in the context of what we're trying to accomplish here. I believe if we go back and look at the testimony that we received up north, that it gives incredible weight to that testimony and I applaud both of you.”

Redistricters reconvene…

Idaho's bipartisan citizen redistricting commission is back in session now; it's going through an update on its budget, which is in order. Here, GOP commissioners, from left, Lou Esposito, Lorna Finman and Evan Frasure confer.

Idaho tribes look to federalize their police to bridge jurisdiction gaps

Federal authorities say jurisdictional gaps are hampering law enforcement in Indian country, so they're working with three Idaho tribes, including the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, to federalize tribal police officers and let them issue federal citations to non-Indians on the reservation for certain minor offenses. Once the lengthy process is completed - likely in time for next summer's boating season - non-tribal members who are boating on the southern third of Lake Coeur d'Alene and violate boating laws could get tickets issued by tribal officers and backed by the federal court. The southern third of the lake belongs to the tribe; the U.S. Supreme Court decided that in 2001.

The other two tribes working with the U.S. Attorney's office and the federal courts to federalize their officers are the Nez Perce and the Shoshoshone-Bannocks; you can read my full story here.

Redistricters still holding out hope of meeting today’s 5 p.m. deadline…

The citizen redistricting commission convened this morning, took care of some brief business, and then went at recess until 11 a.m. “The negotiations are continuing,” said GOP Commissioner Lou Esposito. “We're still, we're making progress. Commissioner Finman and Commisioner Kane continue to do their great work.” Commissioners Lorna Finman, a Republican, and Julie Kane, a Democrat, the only women on the six-member panel, offered over the weekend to mediate among the feuding males on the evenly split bipartisan commission; that's continuing now. Asked if he thinks the commission will settle on legislative and congressional plans by today's 5 p.m. deadline, Esposito said, “At this juncture, I think we will. I think we will come to an agreement.”

Kane said, “I think it's definitely possible - I've always thought it was possible.” She and Finman have been working on legislative district lines for North Idaho, along with mediating other talks. “I think we're getting to the point where we may be able to agree to North Idaho first, and then move on to the other parts of the state.” Asked if she thought it was worth it for the commission to meet through the holiday weekend, Kane said, “I think so - in the grand scheme of things, I think a deadline helps.”

Redistricters gather…

Idaho's redistricting commission is scheduled to start meeting shortly this morning; it's facing a drop-dead deadline of 5 p.m. today to submit legislative and congressional district plans to the Secretary of State. Despite working through the holiday weekend - including Sunday and Labor Day - the commission hasn't yet settled on a plan.

Redistricters adjourn until 8 a.m. tomorrow, mount last-ditch effort at plan

Well, it's down to the last-ditch try for Idaho's bipartisan redistricting commission. The panel reconvened at 3 p.m., at which point GOP Commissioner Lou Esposito said, “I think we've been making great progress - I'm encouraged. Of course we need some more time - that's just been the nature of this. So if we could have another couple of hours to let commissioners Finman and Kane continue to work their magic, I would appreciate it.” He called for a recess until 5 p.m., but a clearly exhausted GOP Commissioner Evan Frasure said, “We have not had our lunch yet even - we've been working through on these numbers to try to hand back to you in the spirit of compromise - I'm tired of it.” His eyes red-rimmed, Frasure proposed adjourning until tomorrow, rather than bring the staff back today at 5. The rest of the commission agreed, and they're now adjourned until 8 a.m. Their drop-dead deadline to have a plan is 5 p.m. tomorrow.

Esposito said afterward that GOP Commissioner Lorna Finman and Democratic Commissioner Julie Kane have been working with Frasure and Democratic Commissioner Allen Andersen on district lines for eastern Idaho, and the two women are nearly done with North Idaho districts. “I just received another map on Ada County,” Esposito said. “It doesn't appear there's been any movement there, but we'll see. Everybody's tired. We're putting our trust in Commissioners Finman and Kane.”

Finman said, “We're trying. It's kind of fragile. We're giving it our best shot.” Kane said, “I just think it's good that we're making progress. I don't want to be too optimistic, but I think we're working hard. I'm hopeful - I've been hopeful throughout the process.”

Asked if there's really any chance at this point that the commission could make tomorrow's 5 p.m. deadline, Andersen said, “I think it can be, if they are truly willing to do what they're going to have to do to put this all together, instead of keep talking.” If the commission fails, the ball likely would be kicked to the Idaho Supreme Court - which likely would kick it back to the commission, ordering it back to work.

Redistricters break on slightly more hopeful note…

Before breaking until 3 p.m., Idaho's bipartisan citizen redistricting commission has taken a brief look at where things stand between Commissioners Lorna Finman and Julie Kane on North Idaho - with a District 2 that eliminates the controversial backwards C shape, instead vertically slicing off the eastern third of Bonner County to attach to District 2, which stretches through Shoshone County and south, keeping Clark Fork whole rather than dividing it. “We've actually looked at it in a pragmatic way,” Kane told the commissioners. “This is a pretty clean map. … I just wanted to sort of bring this up as an illustration of … kind of a step in the direction of moving toward a solution in the north.” The map still is evolving, she noted. “I concur with what Commissioner Kane is saying,” Finman said. “This was a good kind of map to springboard from, and we've made some tweaks up there that we're very close on now. I think it's very doable.”

Then, Democratic commission Co-Chair Allen Andersen presented a handout to the GOP commissioners, a map of Idaho colored mostly red, but with three small white blotches and one tiny blue blotch.

The white blotches are in north-central Idaho, in southeastern Idaho and around Blaine County, and the blue blotch is in the northern part of the Boise area. “We would prefer these areas be maintained as having a Democratic influence,” Andersen said, noting, “As you can see, the rest of the state is completely red.”

He said, “What I would like the Republican commissioners to think about, what I'd like 'em to do is to take this … handout, make any line, draw any legislative districts they want to draw, keeping these areas that I've identified whole.”

GOP Commissioner Lou Esposito objected to the blue blotch. “I'm going to say this as gently as I can, the reach from downtown Boise to Eagle is just plain unacceptable, it's greed at its worst. I am fully prepared to give Commissioner Moses status quo; this goes far beyond that. So we need to figure out a way to get through that. But I remain hopeful that if we get North Idaho done, we can work through all this. I appreciate you giving us this map to show the areas of concern.”

Female redistricting commissioners offer to mediate among feuding males

GOP Redistricting Commissioner Lorna Finman called for everyone to take a step back. She noted that she and Democratic Commissioner Julie Kane are close to agreement on North Idaho legislative district lines, and there seem to be just a few districts in southeastern and southwestern Idaho where the other commissioners are clashing. “In effect, we probably are all agreeing on 30 out of the 35 districts, and the handful left are obviously real sore spots.” Finman made her fellow commissioners an offer: “I do believe that Commissioner Kane and I are very close to an agreement on the north.” If they can conclude that, the two of them would be willing, she said, to serve as intermediaries to help the other commissioners work out their remaining sore points. “We've had a good, positive dialogue that's been open and reasonable, and if we can … support our other colleagues … still hopefully we can leave with something everyone can feel good about.” She noted, “We're very, very close, obviously, to this falling apart.”

Commissioner George Moses was skeptical, saying he and Commissioner Lou Esposito have more than a handful of districts in dispute in Ada County alone. Commissioner Evan Frasure said he wasn't done entering into the record the partial maps he released yesterday; the commission has now taken a brief recess to allow the staff to get all the details of those ready for submission. During the break, Kane said  she's with Finman - she's willing to help mediate. Co-Chairman Allen Andersen smiled and indicated he liked the idea, saying it would “get all of the testosterone out of it.” Esposito said, “If that's what it takes, I'm all for it.”

Redistricters spar in Labor Day session

GOP Commissioner Lou Esposito, responding to complaints from Democratic Commissioner George Moses that GOP commissioners never gave their response to five proposed legislative plans the Democratic commissioners submitted several days ago, said, “You did submit five plans the other day, and we were busily working toward some compromises. … We did take a close look at your plans and then made the decision in the hopes of reaching an agreement not to publicly review the plans because of the fact that they were unacceptable, and we could go through point by point and point out all the flaws in each one of the plans, but we truly had hoped to find a starting point and that's what we did.” Moses responded, “Pick the one you find least objectionable and let's talk about what the flaws are.” Esposito said, “I think that's what we've been doing.”

He noted that “to their credit,” commissioners Lorna Finman and Julie Kane have continued working on North Idaho lines and have made progress, and moved to recess the committee to 2 this afternoon for more work.

But before that, Commissioner Evan Frasure said he's been informed that after publicly releasing partial maps for eastern Idaho yesterday that he and Commissioner Allen Andersen had been negotiating, he has to formally submit those as partial legislative district plans, so he's doing that now. Going through the details, Frasure noted that one of his proposals put GOP Rep. Jim Guthrie into a district with three other Republicans. “I just threw Jim under the bus … by me offering to compromise to follow the Democratic plan,” he said. He offered that and other details as proof that he wasn't taking a “my way or the highway” position.

Redistricters deadlock 3-3, three times…

Democratic redistricting Commissioner George Moses moved this morning to approve a congressional redistricting plan - starting with a publicly submitted plan that kept all counties whole, and created a new District 2 in the southwest corner of the state, including Ada and Canyon Counties, while the rest of the state is District 1. “The public has done, in many cases, a very good job in meeting the criteria,” Moses said; that plan has a population deviation of .28.  GOP Commissioner Lou Esposito said, “I guess Commissioner Moses is entitled to a vote. We've been over all this ground over and over again. We've had staff research the fact that congressional districts nationwide have gone to zero deviation, let me repeat that … zero deviation. … If this is the effort by our Democratic colleagues to move this process forward, I'm kinda sitting here scratching my head. … we already have agreement on the record on another plan, only held because of wanting to vote on a legislative plan.”

GOP Commissioner Evan Frasure said, “I appreciate the fact that we're voting - the only way to find out people's position is to cast votes. … Hopefully we can salvage a congressional line, hopefully today,” before tomorrow's 5 p.m. deadline.

The congressional district plan, C-2, then was voted down on a 3-3, party-line vote, with the Democrats in favor and the Republicans against. Moses then moved another publicly submitted plan, C-4, with a deviation of .16 percent; it, again, creates a new District 2 in the southwestern corner of the state, with the rest of the state making up District 1. It too failed on a 3-3 vote, as did C-9, another publicly submitted plan that created a northern District 1 including Ada County, and a southern District 2 including Canyon County.

Redistricters open on somber note

The Idaho redistricting commission opened on a somber note this morning, as Co-Chairman Allen Andersen fiddled with a colorful hand-held wooden puzzle, saying it's an interesting toy that can come together in a variety of ways. As he toyed with it, he said, “Last night, I was chagrined in realizing that I had been sucker punched. … It appears that my confidence was breached, which caused me some real concern. So I got to spend a lot of time last night seeing if there was a way I can make this work.” Twisting the colored pieces, he said, “It is difficult, especially when trust is a part of the process and that trust is breached. But we still have to move on best way we know how. This can be worked with, different combinations, permutations are made, eventually a design will come out of it that is pleasing. Hopefully that's what we can do today.”

Day of redistricting talks ends on ‘a very sour note’

Tonight's breakdown in redistricting commission negotiations was rather stunning, after a day of what had appeared to be strong progress, as the evenly split bipartisan commission focused on resolving regional disagreements in various parts of the state on how to draw new legislative district lines. Boise State University political scientist emeritus Jim Weatherby, who watched today's proceedings, said afterward, “It's not clear what progress they were making at all. This ends on a very sour note.”

The commissioners have only until Tuesday at 5 p.m. to agree on legislative and congressional district plans; if they don't meet their deadline, Idaho will have districts whose populations are so far out-of-whack that they clearly violate the U.S. Constitution's one-person, one-vote requirement, and the Idaho Supreme Court likely would be asked to step in. The commission wouldn't be off the hook; the court, in that case, most likely would order the commission back to work.

Two redistricting commissioners stay out of tonight’s fray…

The bitter round of name-calling and recriminations that closed today's Sunday session of the Idaho redistricting commission didn't include two of the six members - the two female commissioners, Democrat Julie Kane and Republican Lorna Finman, who both say they've made continuing progress on negotiating district lines in North Idaho, though they're not done. “Commissioner Finman and I are still talking,” Kane said, but added, “I don't think it can be done in isolation.”

After GOP Commissioner Lou Esposito said, “I think what we need to do is talk about the dirty little secret of all this and what's going on. This is all about politics. … We've had earlier maps that for better or worse disregarded all of that. … We have gerrymandering in order to try to come up with a four-district advantage in Ada County for the Democrats. … It's unacceptable, it's not going to work,” and told the Democrats, “When you say you're going to do something, keep your word or don't say it,” Kane remonstrated. “It's late, I don't appreciate being chastised on the public record, especially when things aren't being characterized properly. But I don't want to get into tit for tat, I want to move forward. And if we aren't going to be moving forward, let's not accuse each other of wrongdoing. … Don't chastise anybody on the public record - it doesn't help, I can tell you. It doesn't help us to move forward. Let's get home, get some rest, come back in the morning and try again in the morning.”

GOP Commission Co-Chairman Evan Frasure then distributed all the proposed maps he and Democratic Co-Chairman Allen Andersen have traded back and forth regarding district lines in the Bannock County area, and accused Andersen of being willing to divide multiple counties just to save the seat of incumbent Sen. Diane Bilyeu, D-Pocatello. He said, “We … have gone from I thought pretty high, noble causes to now it's just flat-out, hard-knuckle politics.” Andersen responded, “I resent the fact that you're trying to portray us as obstructionists to this process when all we're doing, all I was doing, is offering a counter approach to try to solve the problem in District 31. … We have offered a compromise. … You're going to take that and turn it into a political football.” Commissioner George Moses then displayed a map of a proposed Ada County district and said he'd invited Esposito to draw the line dividing Eagle from the downtown Boise district.

Finman said not a word. Asked afterward how her negotiations with Kane were going, she said, “I think we're still working back and forth. I think Julie and I have been working fine. But I think there's definitely some things that have to be worked on below the north, obviously. We have gone through quite a few iterations. It seemed like we were making progress.”

Redistricting talks end for night in bitter partisan breakdown, no deal

After a day of promising negotiations, work toward developing new legislative and congressional district lines has broken down badly this evening, with Republican and Democratic redistricting commissioners bitterly blaming each other. In Ada County, “We've put all of their incumbents in safe districts and that's not good enough,” declared GOP Commissioner Lou Esposito. “And quite honestly I'm really fed up with where we're at at this point. If this is the style of negotiating, where we're given a map, and then we end up going back and forth and then we get the original map thrown in our face … we're not gonna get there.” He particularly objected to Democrats sticking with a district that paired downtown Boise with Eagle. “It's all about incumbent protection,” he said.

Esposito said Democrats made a deal to vote on a congressional district map earlier but reneged; Democratic Commissioner Allen Andersen strongly disagreed. “There was never an agreement to vote on a congressional district, and I resent the fact that you keep saying that there was,” he told Esposito. Democratic Commissioner Goerge Moses said there was a two-sided agreement: “We with some reluctance would agree that we would find our way to support a line that we didn't especially care for, it appeared to us to be an incumbent protection line, but we would vote for it, in return the vote for that would be delayed until we had a map of both the congressional and the legislative sides to vote on. It was a very clear understanding.”

Said Moses, “We presented map after map. … We presented five maps, we asked our colleagues to pick one, any one, either move it or tell us what was wrong with it. We got a number of suggestions for improvement, none of which involved Ada County. We were led to believe that there wasn't a problem with Ada County. … What I'm seeing today are maps that go back to the original Republican proposal to take northeast parts of Ada County and ship it off to  Boise County, and to take southeast parts of Ada County and ship 'em off to Canyon County. … Suddenly today we're back at the start.”

The commissioners have adjourned until tomorrow morning at 10. “Unfortunately it has broken down tonight,” said GOP Co-Chairman Evan Frasure. “I don't see much hope in reviving it this evening. … If this is the art of compromise, we're not there.”

Redistricters still at work…

Redistricting commissioners have briefly reconvened again, and this time recessed until 7:30 p.m., giving them another hour and a half to work on redistricting plans. “We are making tremendous progress,” said Co-Chairman Evan Frasure. “I think I speak for the entire commission, we plan on being here as long as we need to be tonight, because we recognize we have Monday and Tuesday to get a whole dictionary written to explain what we did. … I just want to compliment the entire commission on their willingness to stay late, work hard, and eventually get to a compromise.”

Frasure initially suggested a two-hour break, but a grumbling Democratic Commissioner George Moses said that sounded like either too much time or too little. “If we're looking for answers tonight, we don't need two hours, I don't think,” he said, asking to either come back in an hour or adjourn until tomorrow morning. Frasure said he didn't want to break the current momentum. “Let's call it 7:30,” he said. “I'd sure love to have an hour to stay at that computer.” Before the group convened, Democratic Commissioner Moses and GOP Commissioner Lou Esposito hunched frowning over a district map in the aisle of the auditorium, still apparently in disagreement.

Redistricters trade ideas, laughs, say they’re getting closer…

Idaho's redistricting commission reconvened at 5 Boise time, but just for a few minutes, going right back into another hour's recess. “We probably just had the most productive hour that we've had since we started this process, in my humble opinion,” GOP Co-Chairman Evan Frasure announced. “Both sides are communicating really well.” Frasure said the “only scary part” is that commissioners are working in pairs on three different parts of the state, and “when all three collide” they'll have to be “sort of married” together. “I'll just report we're making great progress,” he said, and there were smiles all around.

Democratic Commissioner Julie Kane distributed a copy of a “Dilbert” cartoon, shown here above, that she said fits what's going on. In it, a co-worker asks Dilbert, “Did you see my email objecting to your plan?” Dilbert replies, “No, but I saw your email objecting to what I assume is your hallucination of my plan.” The co-worker says, “You seem defensive,” to which Dilbert retorts, “Have we narrowed down the problem to me?” Just before the commission reconvened, Frasure, who's been working with Democratic Co-Chairman Allen Andersen on eastern Idaho district lines, said with a wry smile, “I didn't know 'til today what Allen has been wanting.”

Andersen said, “I think we've at least come to agreement, Mr. Frasure and I, on one square block. I've indicated another area he may look at and explore. … It'll get me where I need to be.” He added with a grin, “Right now I think it just, that cartoon fits it.”

It's not clear how late the commission will go tonight. “We may go all night if we have to,” Andersen said. “We're committed to staying here until we get it done.” However, the commission already is scheduled to meet again tomorrow morning at 10 - on Labor Day.

Redistricters: ‘We’re very close’

There are now just under 49 hours left before the deadline for Idaho's bipartisan citizen redistricting commission to agree on new legislative and congressional district plans; the commission just convened briefly in the Capitol Auditorium, and then recessed for an hour for more work on redistricting plans. It's an extremely rare Sunday session; this commission has never met on a Sunday before; the state's first citizen redistricting commission, which took 76 days to reach its plans a decade ago, also met on the Sunday of its final week of deliberations; the following Wednesday, it approved its plan and adjourned at 8:30 p.m. (That commission, however, took just 76 days to settle on a plan; this commission is pushing its 90-day limit.)

When the commission convened at 4 p.m., GOP Commissioner Lou Esposito said there's been lots of progress - on lines for North Idaho, eastern Idaho, and the Treasure Valley - asked for an hour's recess, 'til 5 p.m. “I think if we have about another hour, hopefully we'll be able to come back with even bigger smiles on our faces,” Esposito said. All sides agreed, and they recessed and headed back up to their work rooms upstairs in the state capitol, which lack air conditioning on the weekends - perhaps providing additional incentive to get the process finished. As he left the auditorium, GOP Commissioner Evan Frasure said, “That's really a more more helpful sign than you think.”

Esposito, as he left, said, “We've made progress in all three areas.” He's holding out hope for decision tonight. “I'm hoping that we're going to be able actually to come to an agreement,” he said. “We're very close.”

Redistricters adjourn until tomorrow afternoon, report progress on North Idaho

Returning from an hour break, Idaho redistricting commissioners reported significant progress on new legislative district lines for North Idaho; they've now adjourned until tomorrow at 4 p.m. “Commissioner Kane and I had a very productive meeting, we're getting some consensus, and we have our staffers just doing a few tweaks,” reported Commissioner Lorna Finman. “I think we need some more time, but there's hope that we could actually converge on that today.” Commissioner Julie Kane nodded, and said, “I concur.”

Commissioner Allen Andersen said with a smile, “Commissioner Frasure and I discussed at length southeastern Idaho - he is trying to browbeat me into submission. So far he hasn't succeeded.” Andersen said he's gathering some more information. “We would need some time to put those numbers together and see if there's any settlement coming out of that.”

He then said, “The other area would have been Commissioner Moses and Commissioner Esposito, and he's looking pretty solemn down there,” looking toward Esposito. “As I understand, they did not meet. Do you have any statement?” Esposito said, “That's correct, Mr. Chairman.” He added, “I think in all fairness to the other members of the commission, I have been on the record publicly willing to work through Ada County, on basically two conditions, that North Idaho gets resolved and eastern Idaho gets resolved, and that we can also have a vote and a commitment to a vote on getting the congressional plan done as we came very close to getting done in mid-July. So I stand ready, once Commissioners Kane and Finman get their work done and Commissioners Andersen and Frasure get their work done, to get this wrapped up and completed.”

Frasure said though he and Andersen haven't agreed about eastern Idaho, they've made progress.  “I think you started off at Pluto and I was on Mercury, and  I think … now you're on Mars and I was on Venus. So we're almost back to earth.”

Kane said, “I was going to say something about gender, but I won't.” She and Finman both said they'll continue working on North Idaho issues today. Finman, as she left, said, “We're going to make it.”

Two who aren’t talking…

Half an hour into the hour break for sidebar discussions among redistricting commissioners on various regions, two members - Democratic Commissioner George Moses and GOP Commissioner Lou Esposito - still haven't talked. Moses said they won't, at least for now. “We're not going to meet,” he said. “The ones that need to meet are meeting.”

Moses and Esposito have emerged as the hard-liners on their various sides on the evenly split bipartisan commission. Said Moses, “We didn't come into this expecting to gain anything, but we're not going to give anything up either. It's not necessary in order to draw a fair map.”

Redistricters look for compromises by region…

GOP Redistricting Commissioner Evan Frasure has presented another legislative redistricting plan, L-68, that has zero percent population deviation between the districts and splits 15 counties. “It's one-person one-vote carried to the extreme,” he said. It makes a few adjustments to his zero-deviation plan from yesterday, including keeping the city of Buhl whole. “That's what we have right now, potential of another one here,” Frasure said. He then requested an hour recess.

Democratic Co-Chairman Allen Andersen, who is presiding over the Idaho redistricting commission meeting today, said, “At this point as I see we are moving closer to a compromise here, what I would suggest is that perhaps we recess and allow our representatives from the various areas to sit down and discuss what's been proposed, to see if we can come to a solid agreement on any of these individual areas. And what I would suggest is that we have a group meet with the north, that's concerned about solving the issue in the north; I think we need to have the group also dealing with the Ada County/Southwest area, and then perhaps Commissioner Frasure and I being familiar with the southeast corner pretty much, perhaps we could then take this time and review where we are on this and perhaps come up with a comrpomise settlement which we all could agree on and conclude this effort.” The commission then took a recess until 11:30.

Andersen said the plan is to have Frasure sit on discussions about North Idaho between Commissioners Lorna Finman and Julie Kane, and he'll sit in on the Ada County discussions between Commissioners George Moses and Lou Esposito. “I'm probably going to try to set in with George and Lou here to try to wrestle that out.” Andersen has lots of experience as a referee - he's coached football, wrestling and basketball at both the junior high and high school level, refereed city-league soccer, “and been married and five kids, so you had to referee somewhere in there.”

Esposito, who has clashed frequently with Moses in recent weeks, said, “Quite frankly if they can get the north figured out and the east figured out, and then be willing to do what's reasonable in Ada County, like not putting downtown Boise with Eagle, we could potentially get there. But … once they get the north and the east in reasonable order, it's going to be a much different map than we've been looking at in terms of the five county splits and some other things. So Ada County will fall into place when it falls into place.”

Redistricters open Saturday session

It may be the Saturday of Labor Day Weekend, but Idaho's redistricting commission is in session. They have an audience this morning of a half-dozen government students. Democratic Co-Chairman Allen Andersen explained how the commission is trying to draw new legislative and congressional districts. “It's been arduous,” he noted. GOP Co-Chairman Evan Frasure said he has another zero-deviation legislative district plan that's in the works; “I hope to get that presented this morning,” he said. Democratic Commissioner George Moses said, “I also have another map to present.”

Moses said after seeing Frasure's five-county-split map yesterday, “Sure enough, we came up with a way to have a five-county split ourselves.” His new map eliminates the split of Madison County, and makes a change in North Idaho to keep Clark Fork whole. Andersen said the new proposal incorporates some aspects of Frasure's map from yesterday. “It's bringing the parties closer together,” he said. The new Democratic plan has an 8.35 percent population deviation.

Balloon rally fills Boise skies with color

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on this weekend's “Spirit of Boise Balloon Classic,” which is filling the skies over Idaho's capital city each morning with colorful hot-air balloons. The allure of hot-air ballooning: “It's calm and exhilarating and serene, all at the same time,” says hot-air balloon pilot Val Favicchio of Coeur d'Alene.

Federal judge says no to Boise County bankruptcy filing

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A federal judge says Boise County can't declare bankruptcy to stave off paying a more than $5 million legal judgment. Boise County was sued by developer Oaas-Laney for allegedly violating the federal Fair Housing Act. Oaas-Laney wanted to build a treatment center for teens called Alamar Ranch, and contended the county set impossible planning and zoning requirements. Last year a federal jury agreed and handed down a $5.4 million judgment. County commissioners, fearing that the county wouldn't be able to cover the cost of necessary services if they paid the judgment, filed for bankruptcy. But Oaas-Laney asked U.S. District Bankruptcy Judge Terry Myers to reject the filing, saying Boise County had enough cash in its coffers to pay. In a ruling handed down Friday afternoon, Myers agreed.

GOP presents redistricting plan with just 5 county splits, but 2 of 3 won’t vote for it

GOP redistricting commissioners have presented their legislative district plan that splits only five counties; it's similar to the latest Democratic proposal for the northernmost eight counties, which split Bonner County vertically rather than horizontally, keeping Clark Fork whole; but makes changes in southern Idaho. Among them: Blaine County would be grouped with counties to its north and east, including Butte and Clark counties. Unlike earlier GOP plans, it would keep Ada County whole, rather than group part of east Boise with Boise County and points to the east.

However, after the meeting concluded, GOP Commissioners Lou Esposito and Lorna Finman said they wouldn't vote for that plan, L-66, unless a court told them they had to, to minimize county splits. “I think it's critical to show that you can do (a plan that splits only) five counties, but you look at the results of that - it's not anything that the people of the state should live with,” Esposito said, saying it conflicts with public testimony the commission received and splits up communities of interest. “If the court comes back and says, 'That's what you need to do,' then I would vote for this plan,” he said. Said Finman, “I think that was an exercise to see what could be done with a minimum split, if that is what the court's ruling (would support).” GOP Commissioner Evan Frasure, who wrote the plan, said he'd vote for it; it has a population deviation of 8.5 percent, well within the level presumed constitutional. It takes just four votes to adopt a new district plan, but other state laws require five votes from the six-member commission to split precincts - and this one splits 62 precincts.

The commission will be back at work tomorrow morning at 10. You can see the various proposals online here; as of the close of the meeting today, all plans through L-65 had been posted, and L-66 was in the works.

Redistricters will work thru holiday weekend

Idaho's redistricting commission will, in fact, work through the Labor Day weekend holiday. The commission just agreed to come back tomorrow morning at 10, at which time it will hear the Republican reaction to five Democratic redistricting plans for legislative districts presented today; and Democratic reaction to new GOP redistricting plans presented today. The idea is to hash that out tomorrow morning, then break and return at 4 p.m. Sunday, with the hope that by Monday morning, the commission will be ready for final negotiations and settling on a plan. Its deadline is Tuesday at 5 p.m.

GOP Commission Co-Chair Evan Frasure said, “We've produced a number of plans that split six counties, so that was our goal, and very candidly, the one that we're hoping to present here shortly I think, if we can work out all the technical bugs, it absolutely only divides five counties.” Frasure thanked Democratic Commissioner George Moses for the challenge on that; Democratic commissioners have been pushing for minimizing the number of county splits, while GOP commissioners' proposed plans have proposed more county splits but fewer violations of a state law requiring highway connections within legislative districts. “It was quite a challenge,” Frasure said.

He complimented the Democratic commissioners on proposing plans today that went all the way up to 11 county splits, and said the GOP commissioners plan to show the “same courtesy” by presenting options moving toward the Democratic position of fewer county splits.

A not-so-hopeful sign for redistricting commission agreement today…

Well, the redistricting commission reconvened, and GOP Co-Chair Evan Frasure, referring to himself and his fellow GOP commissioners, announced, “We've made some serious progress during the lunch hour - we're within probably an hour of being able to produce something that might be useful for this commission.” He asked to recess the commission for another hour, until 4 p.m. At that point, Democratic Commissioner Julie Kane moved to approve a stack of minutes, but Frasure asked her to hold off for now. “I'd like to hold 'em probably 'til tomorrow or the next time we meet,” he said. “I just haven't had a chance (to review them yet), nobody on our side has.” As he left the room, Frasure, asked if that meant the commission wouldn't be agreeing on a plan today regardless - since it clearly expects to still be working tomorrow - said, apparently in jest, “We're hopeful to throw something on the table and we'll all sing Kumbaya and we're out of here at 5, right?”

The commission already has approved tentative meeting dates for Saturday, Sunday, Monday - Labor Day - and Tuesday, if needed; its deadline is Tuesday at 5 p.m.

Manwill murder case: Life without parole for Ehrlick, 25 years for Jenkins

Sentencing today in the murder of 8-year-old Robert Manwill resulted in a 25-year sentence for the late child's mother, Melissa Jenkins, and two consecutive sentences of life without parole for her boyfriend, Daniel Ehrlick, who was convicted of torturing the young boy to death, then tossing him in a canal before he and Jenkins appealed to the community to search for the missing child. You can see a full report here from KTVB-TV, including raw video from the courtroom.

Balloon classic, from liftoff to landing…

Click here to watch an audio slide show of the Spirit of Boise Balloon Classic, which is underway in Boise through Sunday; I rode along with Coeur d'Alene hot-air balloon pilot Val Favicchio yesterday, and this tells the tale. I'll also have a full story about the rally in tomorrow's Spokesman-Review.

BPD officer seriously hurt in hit-and-run, police hunt for suspect

An off-duty Boise Police officer who was riding his bicycle in Caldwell yesterday afternoon, training for an upcoming bike race, was seriously injured by a hit-and-run driver; police are searching for the driver, identified as a Caucasian female with long dark hair, driving a maroon Pontiac Grand Am, a 2001 or newer model with a spoiler and two fog lights in the rear bumper; the vehicle sustained damage to the left front fender and hood. The officer, Chris Cowling, 46, a 10-year BPD veteran, is in serious condition at St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise; he's the recipient of the department's Lifesaving Award for saving a 76-year-old man who collapsed at the Boise Airport security checkpoint in 2009. Click below for the full news release from the Boise and Caldwell police.

GOP submits new legislative district plan with zero deviation

GOP Commissioner Lorna Finman has now moved to introduce another proposed legislative district plan, this one drawn by GOP Commissioner Evan Frasure. Frasure said the new GOP map takes a bit of a different approach. “This one is a zero deviation - all 35 districts are within one person of being exact,  within the one-person, one-vote concept,” he said. That concept, from the U.S. Constitution, outweighs all other considerations in redistricting, he said, including keeping counties intact and having connecting roads within districts. Finman noted that the map would keep all of Clark Fork together in District 1. “We've had a lot of testimony to keep Clark Fork intact, and not keep splitting it,” she said.

Frasure said the new GOP proposal keeps the Coeur d'Alene and Nez Perce reservations each within a single district, “keeping that community together rather than splitting it in half.” This map creates a new District 1 that takes in just Boundary and part of Bonner counties; has districts 2, 3, and 4 in Kootenai County; and combines Shoshone, Benewah, most of Latah and part of Kootenai counties into a new District 5. It creates a new District 8 in Idaho, Adams, Washington and Payette counties that's similar to one created in one of the Democratic plans newly introduced today. The new GOP plan is L-65; it splits 15 counties. It does split precincts to reach the zero deviation, which would require a five-of-six-vote majority to approve it. Said Frasure, “It's certainly defensible, where it has zero deviation - it certainly honors the one-man, one-vote concept.”

Commissioners will look over the plan this afternoon; they're now taking a break until 3 p.m. “We could have a rather interesting afternoon,” Frasure said, with five new Democratic plans already up for review. “We'll have one more plan to show you this afternoon,” he added. Democratic Commissioner Allen Andersen said, “We might be able to finish this this afternoon.” Democratic Commissioner George Moses said of the five plans the Dems introduced, “You pick one of the five, you move it, we'll second it, and we'll vote for it.” He added, “If we get this legislative map done this afternoon, we could have the congressional map done before we leave.”

Dems: ‘We’ll hold our noses ‘til we pull ‘em off’ to reach agreement

Democratic Redistricting Commissioner George Moses submitted a total of five new legislative plans this morning, including one that makes a small modification to one of the others. “They aren't the ones that we would draw in what we would consider to be a perfect world,” Moses told GOP commissioners. “But in order to move the process forward, we are willing to hold our noses 'til we pull 'em off if we have to, and vote for any of these maps that you care to move.”

GOP Commissioner Lou Esposito said, “I appreciate the level of effort, I think obviously it's been considerable. I think because of that we're just going to need some time to sit down and go through these.” The commission then agreed to discuss the plans this afternoon.

Dems offer four new legislative district plans

Democratic redistricting commissioners are presenting four new options on legislative district plans this morning. One of them, L-62, isn't their first choice, Commissioner George Moses said, as it would split 10 counties. But it's offered as a “North Idaho fix.” This plan would divide Bonner County vertically, combining western Bonner with Boundary County and part of northwestern Kootenai County in District 1, and eastern Bonner with part of northern Kootenai County in District 2. District 3 would remain within Kootenai County, while District 4 would take in all of Shoshone County along with a big chunk of eastern Kootenai County, and Benewah County would join part of Latah County and part of Kootenai in a new District 5, while the rest of Latah would pair with Clearwater County in a new District 6.

“This reduces the size of a number of districts,” Moses explained. The Democrats' original sprawling District 2 proposal is divided up into five separate districts. “This removes all the road violations in North Idaho,” Moses said.

However, the population deviation of the map was pegged at 10.09 percent - just above the 10 percent level that's presumed constitutional. “We might have to fiddle that a little, then,” Moses said. “I was informed by the staff that it was under 10.” GOP Commissioner Evan Frasure said, “The chair would have no objection if you wanted to kind of pull that one back and get your deviation under 10.” Moses responded, “Yes, sir, we'll get to work on that right away.”

The three other new Democratic plans presented this morning include L-60, which splits just seven counties and keeps North Idaho as it was in earlier Democratic maps; L-61, which splits eight counties including Power County; and L-63, which avoids all violations of the highway rule (that requires districts to be connected by highways), while splitting 11 counties and reaching 9.98 percent population deviation. The commission has now taken a break to sort through the details of the four new Democratic plans.

Redistricting commission back at work…

Idaho's bipartisan citizen redistricting commission is back at work this morning, with its deadline looming on Tuesday at 5 p.m. First up is review of three new publicly submitted legislative district plans. One, from former state Rep. Branden Durst, D-Boise, is billed as a way to solve the District 2 problem and still split only 7 counties. His proposal pairs southern Bonner County with part of Kootenai County in District 2, then creates a District 3 that combines Idaho, Clearwater and Shoshone counties with a portion of Kootenai County.

Balloons fill the Boise skies

There are 30 hot-air ballons drifting in the skies above Boise today, as the Spirit of Boise Balloon Classic continues; this shot just shows a fraction of them. The mass balloon launches continue each morning through Sunday. Tonight, the balloons will inflate on the ground and put on a show at Ann Morrison Park with a “Nite Glow” and free concert from 6-9:30 p.m.

Three wolves taken so far in opening days of Idaho’s wolf hunt

The Associated Press reports that three wolves have been taken since Idaho's second-ever wolf hunting season opened on Tuesday. Hunters have 72 hours to report a wolf kill to the agency's regional offices. So far, Fish & Game reports that one hunter bagged a black male wolf near Island Park in eastern Idaho on Tuesday; and a hunter roaming the backcountry near Warm Lake in central Idaho shot and killed two — one female pup and an adult female. Fish & Game spokesman Niels Nokkentved said all three were taken legally.

Two 8-year-old boys from Pocatello charged with arson in wildfire

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: POCATELLO, Idaho (AP) — Two 8-year-old Pocatello, Idaho, boys are charged with third-degree arson for a fire that destroyed a house and burned more than 1,200 acres of public and private land. Bannock County Deputy Prosecutor Ian Service says the boys are accused of starting the so-called Drive-In fire on Aug. 15 in Pocatello. He says they were playing with matches and a lighter, and had ignited and extinguished several smaller fires before one burned out of their control. Officials estimate more than $750,000 was spent fighting the blaze. Service says he doesn't intend to lock up the boys but send a message that playing with fire has consequences and can cause serious damage. Third-degree arson is a felony, but the punishment for juveniles is less severe than adults.

Balloons over Boise…

Twenty-two hot-air balloons launched into the skies over Boise this morning, and 30 are expected to launch each morning tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday, as part of the Spirit of Boise Balloon Classic. “It was 20 years ago this morning that 10 balloons lifted off in this park for the first Boise River Festival,” Scott Spencer, producer of the event, told the balloon pilots at their pilots' meeting early this morning. “There are five pilots in this room this morning that have actually been here for every single launch that we've done from this field.”

During the pilots' meeting, in a large tent at Ann Morrison Park, KTVB-TV weathercaster Larry Gebert shared detailed wind and weather information, including a spreadsheet projected on a screen showing 10 dials, each with various measures of wind speed and direction. Gebert, who's provided weather reports at all the launches in the past two decades, said it was developed by his brother who's an aerospace engineer at Lockheed Martin; it shows readings taken every 15 seconds, and forecast good conditions for this morning's launch. “This is very similar stuff to what they use for missile launches,” Gebert said, adding to laughter, “There's one very brilliant member of our family, and he's not standing here in front of you today.”

Knowing those wind speeds at various elevations is key to how hot-air balloons navigate - they can move up or down to catch a stronger or lighter breeze. Spencer said, “Apparently it is rocket science.”

Spencer said that yesterday, 10 balloons landed at Boise schools, to the students' delight - five of them at South Junior High alone. Pilot Val Favicchio of Coeur d'Alene, who yesterday landed at Sacred Heart school, today set her balloon down in a dusty clearing next to some railroad tracks near Federal Way, after a brush with a big pine tree kept her from her first choice of a landing spot, a grassy field nearby free of powerlines. Favicchio, who's been ballooning for 18 years and is flying the “Spirit of Boise” balloon at this year's rally, said ballooning is unique: “It's calm and exhilarating and serene, all at the same time.”
  

The balloons are back…

The balloons are back - this week is the Spirit of Boise Balloon Classic, in which dozens of colorful hot air balloons launch in the morning skies over Boise. About 30 are scheduled to participate; this photo from yesterday shows the first day's launch, which included less than half that number as balloon teams continued to arrive in Boise for the annual event. Long associated with the Boise River Festival, the scenic balloon rally continued after the demise of the festival in 2002, and returned last year after a three-year hiatus.

More balloons are scheduled to launch this morning from Ann Morrison Park in downtown Boise; they'll also launch around 7 a.m. on Saturday, and Sunday, with a “Nite Glow” and free concert in the park Friday from 6-9:30. Also planned are morning military aircraft flyovers, balloon flight competitions, and food and coffee vendors in the park for those who want an up-close look at the launch. Scott Spencer, the balloon classic producer, said yesterday's wind conditions meant a unique flight path to southeast Boise. “It's the first time in more than 10 years we've had the opportunity to fly in that direction,” he said.

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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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