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Eye On Boise

Archive for December 2012

‘An odyssey for Boise State’

Boise State University has backed out on a commitment to join the Big East, the Associated Press reports, and will instead remain a member of the Mountain West. The school and the conference announced today that they've come to an agreement to keep the Broncos playing football in the league they have been a part of for the past two seasons.

Boise State was scheduled to join the Big East next year for football only, but more recent defections from the Big East made it reconsider. BSU said as part of its agreement with the Mountain West, TV rights to its home football games will not be part of the conference's future media contracts. Click below for a full statement from BSU President Bob Kustra, who said, “This has been an odyssey for Boise State, with all the unexpected turns and changes that term suggests.” In the end, Kustra said the new deal with the Mountain West is best for BSU in terms of “geographic footprint, revenue and national exposure,” and he said, “Thanks to the success of Coach Petersen and his staff, Boise State football is a unique program with a value in media and ticket sales attractive to a number of conferences and bowl venues.”

Tougher DUI ignition interlock law touted for Idaho

Though Idaho's senior senator likely will be required to have an ignition interlock device installed in his car after his Virginia DUI arrest, that wouldn’t have been the case in his home state of Idaho. Idaho doesn't require the devices for first-time DUI offenders, but there’s a growing chorus of groups saying it should. Seventeen states, including Washington and Virginia, require the devices to prevent even first-time convicted drunken drivers from starting up their cars while under the influence. But Idaho requires the devices only for repeat offenders.

When Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo was stopped for suspected drunken driving in Virginia on Dec. 23 after running a red light, he registered a 0.11 blood-alcohol level at the scene, and a higher, 0.14 level in a test taken later at the Alexandria, Va. jail. Crapo, a first-time offender who was known as a teetotaler due to his Mormon faith, has said he doesn’t plan to contest the charges; his court date is Friday. Virginia law likely will require him to get an interlock device to drive, which prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver’s breath reveals the presence of alcohol.

Last month, the National Transportation Safety Board called for all states to require the devices for first-time drunken driving offenders, and sent letters to states including Idaho asking for their response within 90 days.  “It’s time for the other 33 states to step up for safety and require ignition interlocks for all offenders,” said Deborah Hersman, NTSB chairwoman. An ITD spokesman said the NTSB letter is under review; meanwhile, groups including the AAA of Idaho and Mothers Against Drunk Driving have come out for a tougher, all-offenders interlock law. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Federal extended unemployment benefits end for 6,300-plus Idahoans

More than 6,000 unemployed Idahoans have now seen their federal extended unemployment benefits terminated, the Idaho Department of Labor reports today. The program to provide jobless workers with extended benefits during the recession expired last week; Idaho workers who were getting the payments got their last one this week. Click below for the full news release from the Idaho Department of Labor.

Since the program began in mid-2008, 95,000 Idaho workers shared $900 million in federally financed extended benefits; now, only the regular state unemployment benefit of 10 to 26 weeks is available for the 15,000 Idaho workers who still haven't found new jobs. Last week, just over 6,300 received the extended federal benefits, with an average payment of $248.

Report: Most Idaho gun deaths self-inflicted

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press:  TWIN FALLS, Idaho (AP) — A report from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare shows that 199 Idaho residents died from being shot in 2010, and most of those deaths were self-inflicted. The Times-News (http://bit.ly/TsFl5e) reports that 183 of those deaths were found to be suicides. According to the report, just 12 gun deaths were found to be homicides, three were because of an accidental discharge of a gun and one was of undetermined intent. Ross Edmunds with the department's division of behavioral health said western states tend to have higher suicide rates than other parts of the country, and about 90 percent of people who commit suicide have either a mental health or substance abuse problem. 

State backtracks on commercial feed rule

Idaho state agriculture officials have backed down on a new commercial feed rule, the Idaho Business Review reports, after the J.R. Simplot Co. and others objected to applying it to potato processors; they will now be exempt from the new rule. Click below for a full report from the AP and the Business Review.

Custer County road dispute ends in settlement

The U.S. Department of Justice and the BLM have reached a settlement with Custer County over a remote mountain road that county officials had threatened to use a front-end loader to reopen, the AP reports. The BLM had closed the road in 1999; the dispute escalated this past spring when county Commission Chairman Wayne Butts threatened to haul away a regional BLM official in “pretty pink handcuffs” if he dared to show up to stop the county's road-reopening efforts; Herd Creek Road is in the Jerry Peak Wilderness Study Area, where no motor vehicles are permitted. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller and the Idaho Falls Post Register; in it, U.S. Attorney for Idaho Wendy Olson praises all sides for reaching the settlement.

Second blood-alcohol test on senator showed higher, 0.14 reading

The Associated Press reports that a second blood-alcohol test conducted on Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo about an hour after his Dec. 23 drunken driving arrest registered 0.14, well above the original roadside test result of 0.11, and the higher reading is the one that will be used in court. It is 1/100 of a percentage point below the level that would have mandated jail time under Virginia law. Meanwhile, Crapo's office said the senator doesn't plan to contest the charges; click below for the full AP report.

Otter announces school improvement stakeholder group, no 2013 legislation

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter announced today that he'll form a broad stakeholders' group to examine the best ways to improve Idaho's schools in the wake of the failure of the voter-rejected “Students Come First” reform plan, and said he's not looking for legislation in 2013. “I will not be prescriptive other than to say I remain committed to equal access to opportunity for our children and to increasing support for our educators,” the governor said in a guest opinion distributed today to Idaho newspapers. “The goal is to move education in Idaho forward for our students, our educators, and the businesses, colleges and universities that receive the product of our K-12 system. I do not expect this to be entirely about producing a legislative product. If participants find that best practices can be shared and schools improved without statutory changes, so be it.”

He added, “Should legislation be necessary for school improvement efforts I expect this group to build consensus around those ideas by the 2014 legislative session.” Otter said he's asked the State Board of Education to head up the effort; his op-ed piece includes supportive comments from the IEA, state schools Superintendent Tom Luna, Senate Education Chairman John Goedde of Coeur d'Alene, and state Board President Ken Edmunds. Click below to read the governor's full article.

“Men and women of good will can sometimes disagree passionately about the specifics of public policy, especially when it involves our children,” Otter writes. “But I’m confident we can broadly agree on the need for improving how we educate Idaho students, and I’m equally confident that the people of Idaho will rise to the occasion of this renewed opportunity for taking positive steps toward achieving our shared goals.”

Documents: Sen. Crapo said he had ‘consumed several shots of vodka’

The Washington Post’s “Crime Scene” blog reports that when Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo was stopped early Sunday morning for running a red light and arrested for DUI, he told the police officer who pulled him over that he had “consumed several shots of vodka,” according to court documents detailing the arrest. Reporter Allison Klein writes that the documents show Crapo said he drank the vodka hours earlier and hadn’t had anything to drink since. You can read her full report here.  Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports that Crapo returned to Washington, D.C. yesterday to participate in negotiations over averting the looming fiscal cliff, and had no comment on the arrest, in which he had a 0.11 blood-alcohol level. The AP reported that the senator’s spokesman said he’ll provide more information about the arrest within the next several days; he has a Jan. 4 court date.

Bogus Basin to open night skiing, Superior chair on Wednesday

Bogus Basin has announced that it'll open for night skiing on Wednesday, Dec. 26th, and also that day will open the No. 3 Superior chairlift, the resort's newest high-speed quad and the last major side of the mountain not yet open for skiing. Starting Wednesday, a full day/night lift ticket will be $48; a night lift ticket will be $22; click below for the full announcement. That makes tomorrow - Christmas Day - the last day for discounted, $30 lift tickets; the resort will be open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Dashing through the snow…

It's amazing how much difference a few inches of snow can make. Our local ski mountain was starting to look a little like a bran muffin in places on Saturday, but after 3 inches of snow overnight, Sunday morning it was transformed into a glittering, frosted cupcake (albeit with a few nuts and raisins still poking through). This shot was taken Sunday; it's the view from Paradise. Really. From the run called Paradise on the back side of Bogus Basin. Since then, a few more inches of snow have fallen, and then a few more inches. The wind did its part, redistributing the snow around the mountain, and today was an awesome powder day.

Sen. Crapo arrested for DUI in Alexandria

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Michael Crapo was arrested early Sunday morning and charged with driving under the influence in a Washington, D.C., suburb, authorities said. Police in Alexandria, Va., said Sunday that the Idaho Republican was pulled over after his vehicle ran a red light; his booking photo is at right. Police spokesman Jody Donaldson said Crapo failed field sobriety tests and was arrested at about 12:45 a.m. He was transported to the Alexandria jail and released on an unsecured $1,000 bond at about 5 a.m. “There was no refusal (to take blood alcohol tests), no accident, no injuries,” Donaldson said. “Just a traffic stop that resulted in a DUI.”

Police said Crapo, who was alone in his vehicle, registered a blood alcohol content of .110. The legal limit in Virginia, which has strict drunken driving laws, is .08. The 61-year-old Crapo has a Jan. 4 court date. “I am deeply sorry for the actions that resulted in this circumstance,” Crapo said in a statement Sunday night. “I made a mistake for which I apologize to my family, my Idaho constituents and any others who have put their trust in me. I accept total responsibility and will deal with whatever penalty comes my way in this matter. I will also undertake measures to ensure that this circumstance is never repeated.” Click below for the full AP report.

Opening day at Bogus Basin…

This shot of sunrise at Bogus Basin this morning was taken before the lifts opened, but not before skiers already were getting their gear ready and heading out to the lift base. Despite early-season conditions, it was a very fun opening day for Boise's local non-profit ski resort, with some untracked powder up-top early, a variety of conditions around the mountain and through the day, and a whole lot of smiling skiers and boarders. There was even plenty of room to spread out, with Chair 6, Pine Creek, on the backside opening today along with the whole front side.

The kids I rode up with on the first chair ride this morning had counted - they said we were on the 10th chair (woo-hoo!). And kudos to Bogus for opening up despite the thin early snow; everyone I talked to, without exception, was just glad to be up there and out on the slopes again, even if it meant some rocks and the like were still poking through (bring your rock skis).

Next up: More snow. We're ready…

Off on vacation…

Well, that's it for me for now. I'm off for the next week and a half; will be back at work on Dec. 31. I may still post a few things while I'm off; but they might just be ski photos or the like… Let me know what I miss, and see you in the new year!

Tax Commission releases first-ever comprehensive analysis of personal property tax paid in Idaho

With the business lobby IACI pushing hard for elimination of the personal property tax on business property and many lawmakers talking about it as the 2013 legislative session approaches, the Idaho State Tax Commission has released its first-ever comprehensive analysis of the tax in Idaho. The 51-page analysis concludes that total personal property tax collected in Idaho in 2012 was $140.9 million; that’s then broken down into great detail, by type of taxing district, operating property and more. “The percentages and categories identified as personal property in this analysis should not be construed as any type of policy statement,” wrote Alan Dornfest, property tax policy supervisor for the Tax Commission.

Instead, the analysis, developed with “a lot of cooperation and help from the counties,” Dornfest said, is being made available as a tool for policy makers as they consider related issues. You can see the full study here.

PUC ruling favors small renewable developers, but not big wind or solar projects

New rules governing small renewable energy projects in Idaho will likely make it tougher for wind and solar developers to succeed but will be helpful for new dairy digesters and small, canal-based hydroelectric projects, reports AP reporter John Miller. The Idaho Public Utilities Commission issued a 69-page decision today, establishing new ground rules for renewable power projects and regulated utilities under the Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act, or PURPA, a 34-year-old federal law meant to promote alternative resources.

Under the decision,Miller reports,  solar and wind projects must generate less than 100 kilowatts, on average, to qualify for federally mandated contracts. That limit makes it more difficult for new projects to get off the ground but is a victory for utilities like Idaho Power Co. that complained they've been overloaded with unwanted wind power. By contrast, the three-member panel stuck with 20-year power contracts — utilities wanted just five-year pacts — and awarded valuable environmental credits to small developers, over utilities' insistence they were the rightful owners. This will help developers including those seeking to produce power from dairy manure by making it easier for them to win financing; click below for Miller's full report.

Bankruptcy court tosses out Hart’s second filing, opens way for state, federal collection efforts

A federal bankruptcy judge has dismissed former Idaho state Rep. Phil Hart’s second bankruptcy filing, opening the way for federal authorities to go after his log home in Athol for back federal  income taxes, and for the state to launch collection efforts over his state tax debts. “We’re kind of in line behind the feds, and I’m not sure what’s going to be left,” said Bill von Tagen, deputy Idaho attorney general for the Tax Commission.

The federal foreclosure lawsuit already has geared back up; a federal judge issued an order today calling for Hart to submit to a deposition on Jan. 7 as part of the case. The tax-protesting four-term state lawmaker has been fighting court orders to pay more than $600,000 in back state and federal income taxes, penalties and interest; he’s lost repeated attempts to declare the taxes unconstitutional and to claim that  legislative privilege should free him from some or all of his tax debts.

You can read my full story here at spokesman.com. In September, Hart sent the state Tax Commission a copy of a 63-page appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, in which, acting as his own attorney, he argued that the Idaho Supreme Court wrongly dismissed his legislative privilege argument and improperly scheduled a hearing at a time when he couldn’t attend because he was serving in the Legislature. Though that arrived at the state Tax Commission on Sept. 17, shortly before the deadline for such a filing with the high court in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Supreme Court never received the filing, and the deadline passed. In that appeal, Hart wrote that he’s a victim of “political persecution.”

Bogus Basin to open for skiing Friday

It's looking mighty pretty up toward Bogus Basin today, with the recent new snow shining in the sunshine, and now Boise's non-profit ski resort has announced that it'll open up for skiing on Friday.The resort will open its front side plus the No. 6 Pine Creek chair on the backside, and skiers are advised to expect early-season conditions; lift tickets will be discounted to $30, and hours will be 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. You can read the resort's full announcement here. Local skiers have been anxiously awaiting this news, after last year's record-late Jan. 19 opening.

‘Remembering where this money’s going and who it’s supporting’

Idaho’s state Land Board heard a “year in review” presentation this morning culminating in the presentation of a giant facsimile of a check for $31,292,400 to high school students, made out to “Idaho’s Public Schools.” Capital High School choir students who attended the ceremony also performed earlier in the statehouse rotunda. State Lands Director Tom Schultz said it’s part of “remembering where this money’s going and who it’s supporting.” Idaho’s state endowment, including both endowment lands and the state’s permanent endowment fund, are a trust, with proceeds going to support specific beneficiaries, the largest of which is the state’s public schools. In the past year, the endowment distributed $46 million, with $31.3 million going to schools. Other endowment beneficiaries  include colleges and universities, state hospitals and prisons.

The year-in-review presentation highlighted a timber sale for 2012 of more than $50 million; the planting of nearly 1.5 million trees; the final stage of the “lot solutions” process to prepare state-owned cottage sites for future sale or exchange; and two land exchanges, one trading the McCall Outdoor Science School property for commercial property in Idaho Falls, and the Camas Prairie land exchange with Bennett Industries, which swapped 2,900 acres of timber land for 1,200 acres of highly productive farmland and 450 acres of timber land.

State lands staff also noted that though Idaho had one of its worst fire seasons in history, only half the 20-year average burned on state-protected wildlands.

Lawmakers urged to reconsider voter-rejected rollback in teacher collective bargaining rights

Idaho voters rejected a rollback in teachers’ collective bargaining rights in the November election, but the state’s school boards association is gearing up to try to put some of the same provisions right back into Idaho’s laws. “We really tried to focus on the things that the trustees felt were most important to them, and to leave the rest of it alone,” said Karen Echeverria, executive director of the Idaho School Boards Association. “We hoped that the union would support at least parts of this – we know they won’t be able to support all of it.”

 Among the provisions the school boards group wants to revive: A June 10 deadline by which, if districts haven’t reached agreements with their local teachers unions, they can just impose contract terms unilaterally. At least 16 Idaho school districts did that this year; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com. “It’s Proposition 1 right back up there again,” said Maria Greeley, a Boise school trustee who opposed the resolution at last month’s state school boards association conference. “I’m not saying that everything in it is bad. … The one piece that concerns me the most is that deadline, because it gives districts the opportunity to abuse the negotiation process. It doesn’t make them come in and do the tough work of working through it.”

Senator John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said of the voters’ rejection of Proposition 1 by 57 percent, “I guess you can interpret that any way you want. They rejected Prop 1 in totality. I don’t know that that means there aren’t parts of Prop 1 that they would not support.”  He said he expects legislation along the lines of the ISBA resolution to “move forward fairly early in the process” when lawmakers convene in January. “I think we will get lobbied very hard by members of the school boards association, locally elected trustees, to move that forward,” Goedde said. “And if locally elected trustees are supportive of that, I think it deserves a hearing and discussion.”

Duncan case headed back to Idaho courtroom for competency hearing

Condemned killer Joseph Duncan will be back in an Idaho federal courtroom in January,  for a two-week hearing on whether he was mentally competent when he waived his right to appeal his death sentence. U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge is now sorting through issues relating to experts who will testify;  he issued a ruling last week on that. You can read a full report here from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.  Duncan’s defense attorneys say the crux of the case is whether Duncan suffered from religious delusions or merely held unusual religious beliefs, according to court documents.

In 2008, a federal jury sentenced Duncan to death for the kidnapping, torture and murder of 9-year-old Dylan Groene of Coeur d’Alene. He also received nine life sentences for a murderous rampage in 2005, in which he killed three members of Dylan’s family in order to kidnap and molest the family’s two youngest children; only Dylan’s then-8-year-old sister, Shasta, survived. Since then, Duncan also has been convicted of a previous kidnapping and murder involving a 10-year-old California boy, drawing two more life sentences; in that case, after weeks of expert testimony, the court also ruled him mentally competent.

In the Idaho case, however, despite extensive delays for evaluations of Duncan’s mental competency, the judge had never held a competency hearing in open court. That meant all the information on Duncan’s mental competency remained secret. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that without such a hearing there was “reasonable doubt” about Duncan’s competency, and ordered Lodge to hold a “retrospective” competency hearing on Duncan’s mental state in 2008.  If, after the hearing, Lodge rules that Duncan was competent when he waived his right to appeal, the death sentence stands. But if not, Lodge would then have to hold another hearing to determine if Duncan was mentally competent when he waived his right to an attorney in his 2008 sentencing trial and instead represented himself. That could force a replay of the whole sentencing trial.

That sentencing trial included graphic testimony and evidence about the crimes of the serial child molester and murderer. In his closing statement in that trial in 2008, Duncan told the jury, “You people really don’t have any clue yet of the true heinousness of what I’ve done.”

It’s final: $1 million lottery ticket sold in Meridian left unclaimed

It's official: A Powerball lottery ticket worth $1 million has expired without its winner claiming the prize. The ticket-holder, who bought the winning ticket at a Maverik store at Locust Grove and McMillan in Meridian in June, never came forward by the deadline, which was Friday of last week. The Idaho Lottery announced today that the store still will get its $20,000 bonus for selling the winning ticket, but the winnings will revert back to the Lottery's beneficiaries, the state's schools and permanent building fund, which builds and maintains state buildings. Click below for the full announcement from the Idaho Lottery, which includes a reminder to ticket-buyers to check their numbers.

New lawmaker tones down claims in exaggerated online bio

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A newly-minted Idaho lawmaker changed his Internet biography after questions about its accuracy. When Rep. Mark Patterson was elected in Boise's District 15, his Facebook site listed him as a University of Southern California student and petroleum engineer. But Patterson never attended USC and isn't an engineer, though he once worked in Wyoming's oil fields. The 60-year-old Republican says the inaccurate details were posted by a former campaign staffer, without his knowledge. Patterson, whose company makes bike lubrication products, did stick to claims he was a professional cyclist. Though he held no professional license, Patterson said he was paid in the 1990s by another lube company to market products by riding amateur races. House Majority Caucus Chairman John Vander Woude said the matter shows lawmakers should monitor their online identities. 

Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Rep. Henderson going strong, excited to lead as new committee chair

Idaho state Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, who was appointed chairman of the House Business Committee a day after he celebrated his 90th birthday, is excited about his new role. “The composition of the whole committee includes a number of experienced legislators, so I think if I can give it effective leadership, that it’s going to be a very productive committee,” Henderson said. He said he’ll be bringing proposals to help boost existing Idaho companies, including possible new investment tax credits. “We’ll be looking for new ideas,” Henderson said. You can read my full Sunday column here.

When the House, near the close of its organizational session last week, took note of Henderson's birthday and offered to sing “Happy Birthday” to him, he wasn't there. That's because he was over at the state Department of Commerce, meeting on economic development initiatives.

Becoming a committee chair “was not a burning ambition with me,” Henderson said, but he said he wasn't surprised by the appointment; he was in line for the post, as the vice-chair of the panel. “I'm pleased to be there,” he said. “It's going to satisfy a legislative ambition,” he said, “to help the Idaho economy grow and diversify, from when we were just agriculture, timber and mining.”

Of polls, private and public, and next steps on school reform…

Buoyed by the results of a private poll commissioned by Education Voters of Idaho, some backers of the failed “Students Come First” school reform laws – including Gov. Butch Otter – are calling for reviving “parts and pieces” of the voter-rejected laws. But the leaders of the successful referendum campaign against the laws say they shouldn’t be the starting point for new school reform discussions. “We just had the ultimate poll,” said Mike Lanza, referring to the overwhelming rejection of the laws by voters on Nov. 6. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Labrador switches to Judiciary Committee to work on immigration reform

Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador has been assigned to the Judiciary Committee in the House – the panel that’s expected to handle immigration reform, on which Labrador is positioning himself to become a player.  Yesterday, Politico dubbed Labrador one of “five Republicans who matter on immigration,” beyond the “big three,” Marco Rubio, John McCain and Lindsey Graham. “This freshman with rock-solid conservative credentials is high on the list of likely partners for Democrats on any immigration overhaul,” Politico reported. “Labrador certainly has the expertise; he practiced immigration law for years and started his own practice. And the Puerto Rico native, who moved to the mainland as a teenager with his single mother, brings a compelling personal tale to the debate.”

Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey reports that to get the Judiciary Committee seat, Labrador had to give up his spot on the Oversight & Government Reform Committee, where he’s been a vocal critic of the “Fast and Furious” gun scandal and has repeatedly called for the resignation of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder; you can read Popkey’s full post here.

Labrador remains on the House Natural Resources Committee. “I am excited to join the Judiciary Committee,” Labrador said in a statement. “It will allow me to work on realistic reforms to many of the most important issues facing Idaho and our country. … One of my top priorities as a member of the committee will be to fix our broken immigration system. I will fight to find a conservative consensus on immigration reform that secures our borders and modernizes our immigration system.”

State sues feds over UI fire after ROTC BBQ

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The state of Idaho is suing the federal government for nearly $1.6 million because state attorneys say members of the U.S. Navy's Reserve Officer Training Corps negligently caused a fire at the University of Idaho. The lawsuit was filed in Boise's U.S. District Court earlier this week. Deputy Idaho Attorney General Mike Gilmore says members of the Navy ROTC program at the University of Idaho caused serious damage to a World War II-era building when charcoal briquettes were left smoldering after a BBQ last year. The state contends that that the federal government was responsible for the upkeep of the ROTC building, and that Navy ROTC officers and students should have known that dumping briquettes in a flowerbed would pose a fire risk. Click below for a full report.

Lanza, Greeley applaud Otter, call for thoughtful, year-long approach to school reform

The co-chairs of the successful campaign to defeat Propositions 1, 2 and 3 on the November ballot, the “Students Come First” or Luna laws, today released a statement applauding Gov. Butch Otter for looking into forming a broad stakeholder task force to look into future school reforms, but urged against enacting any new reform laws in the upcoming legislative session. “It’s entirely feasible that this group could issue recommendations by the end of 2013, in time for the 2014 Legislature,” the two said in their two-page statement; you can read it here.

Lanza said, “Let’s go back to ground zero – we should not be talking about bringing back laws that were overwhelmingly rejected.” He and Greeley called for the 2013 Legislature to address school funding issues brought about by the laws’ repeal, to keep school districts “whole” in their funding for the current school year. “This money should go to the schools, and it shouldn’t be used for other agendas,” Lanza said. “The Legislature voted to allocate that money and they shouldn’t pull the plug on schools now. … This is budgetary housekeeping that the Legislature could do quickly.” Greeley said the state funds that this year’s school budget allocated for specific items under the reform laws should be turned over to local school districts. Said Lanza, “I think for the most part, those districts know exactly what they need it for.”

The two said they’ve had many conversations and meetings with others on all sides of the education reform issue since the election, including the governor’s office, and have felt a broad sense of agreement that future school reforms in Idaho should be aimed directly at improving student achievement. “We’re very encouraged by both the commitment of a lot of frankly influential people, and the caliber of ideas that they are bringing to the table,” Lanza said.

Last week, Gov. Butch Otter told an audience of 400 at the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho convention that he’s looking into naming a 33-member stakeholder group, to be overseen by the State Board of Education, to examine school reform issues in the wake of the laws’ defeat.

Learning about open meetings, records

There was an excellent turnout last night in Payette, where more than 35 folks filled the historic Portia Club to learn about Idaho's open meetings and public records laws at the latest IDOG seminar - that's Idahoans for Openness in Government. Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden was the featured speaker, along with Assistant Chief Deputy Brian Kane and myself as president of IDOG. Those attending ranged from local government officials to interested citizens to news reporters and editors. They participated in interactive skits to learn how to comply - and how not to comply - with the laws, received handouts including the Attorney General's manuals on both laws, and had the opportunity to have all their questions answered after detailed presentations from Kane on how the laws work.

Among the questions from the audience: Is this meeting tonight legal under the Open Meeting Law? The answer: Yes, and it's not a meeting under the law's definitions - which define a meeting as the “convening of a governing body of a public agency to make a decision or to deliberate toward a decision on any matter.”

More than 60 people attended a similar session in Boise last week; the next one is scheduled for Nampa on Jan. 9th, at 7 p.m. at Nampa City Hall; there's more info here and here.

Micron announces 30 layoffs in LED program

Here’s a news item from the AP and the Idaho Statesman: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Micron Technology Inc. is scaling back on its plans to develop energy-efficient lighting technology it launched in 2009, leading to the layoff of at least 30 workers. Micron spokesman Dan Francisco confirmed the decision Wednesday in a story published by the Idaho Statesman (http://bit.ly/Z19bCH). The Boise-based computer chip maker started the LED light technology program in 2009 with the help of $5 million in federal economic stimulus cash. The division had 170 employees, and after the job layoffs 30 workers will remain with the program while another 110 have already taken other jobs with Micron. Francisco says increased competition in the LED market, a changing world economy and decision to focus on computer memory led Micron executives to narrow the focus on the development of LED technology. Click below for a full report.

McMillan files finance report; other candidates report campaign debts

At 1 minute to 5 p.m. today Boise time, the Idaho Secretary of State’s office reported that Rep. Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton, had filed her campaign finance report; up to that point, she was the only incumbent lawmaker who hadn’t filed. The deadline was Dec. 6. By getting the report in now, she avoids possible $50-a-day fines.

In other news from North Idaho lawmakers’ and candidates’ latest finance reports, the candidate who ended the election cycle with the biggest campaign debt in North Idaho is new Rep. Thyra Stevenson, R-Lewiston, who reported $21,000 in campaign debt to herself at the close of the reporting period. Stevenson defeated Democrat Pete Gertonson with 54.2 percent of the vote. In second place for campaign debt was independent Jon Cantamessa, with $14,786, whose challenge to Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, fell short; she won with 64 percent of the vote.

The third-highest campaign debt reported in North Idaho, in districts 1 through 7, belongs to new Rep. Ed Morse, though the $10,000 debt is a holdover from his hard-fought primary race, in which he defeated then-Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol.  GOP candidate Ken DeVries, who failed to unseat Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, reported $6,119 in campaign debt; Democratic challenger Anne Nesse, who failed to unseat Rep. Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d’Alene, reported $5,559 in debt.

North Idaho lawmaker misses campaign finance deadline, could be fined…

Second-term Rep. Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton, hasn’t filed the required post-election campaign finance report, the only North Idaho legislative incumbent or candidate to miss the filing deadline. The reports were due the 6thof December – today’s the 12th. Candidates can meet the deadline by having that postmark, so the Secretary of State’s office is just gearing up now to go after those who haven’t filed; notices will go out tomorrow. In addition to McMillan, six unsuccessful legislative candidates around the state missed the deadline; she was the only incumbent.

The tardy candidates will get a warning that if they don’t get their reports in within five days, they could be fined – and the fines are $50 per day for every day that it’s late.

Meanwhile, the final round of campaign finance reports for North Idaho lawmakers and candidates don’t contain a ton of news, but they do show that K12 Management Inc. of Herndon, Va., the for-profit online education company, gave last-minute donations to five lawmakers in Districts 1 through 7, with new Sen. Bob Nonini’s $500 donation reported as arriving on Nov. 6 – Election Day. Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, got a similar donation on Oct. 17, while Sen. Steve Vick R-Dalton Gardens, reported getting his $250 from the firm on Nov. 13, a week after the election, as did Rep. Paul Shepherd, R-Riggins. Rep. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, reported receiving hers on Oct. 24.

Jack Buell, a Democratic Benewah County commissioner since 1974, made a last-minute campaign donation to Republican legislative candidate Cindy Agidius, a donation Agidius reported receiving on Election Day. She defeated Democrat Paulette Jordan by 123 votes.

Funniest billing address: New Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, a 30-year-old who is one of the few candidates who reported online advertising on Facebook as part of his campaign, reported that his payments for that went off to the firm at “1 Hacker Way,” in Menlo Park, Calif. And that is, in fact, Facebook’s address. The L.A. Times earlier this year called it “Silicon Valley’s premier vanity address,” in a place where Apple Inc. is located at “1 Infinite Loop” and Genentech Inc. is at “1 DNA Way.”

Caldwell optometrist gets three years for Medicaid, Medicare fraud

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — An optometrist from southwest Idaho convicted for defrauding Medicaid and other health care programs has been sentenced to three years in prison. A federal judge on Tuesday also ordered 60-year-old Christopher Card of Caldwell to pay $1 million in restitution and another $100,000 in fines. Card pleaded guilty in a deal with federal prosecutors in August to defrauding health care programs. He is the former owner and care provider at Total Vision, P.A. The plea agreement says that between 1993 and Aug. 31, 2010, Card gave phony diagnoses of glaucoma, colorblindness or other eye diseases so he could bill and be reimbursed by Medicaid, Medicare and other insurance programs for expensive tests and treatments that he never administered. Federal officials say health care fraud nationally costs taxpayers $78 billion annually.

Otter names new budget chief, Jani Revier first woman to hold the post

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has named a new budget director:  Jani Revier, who served on his congressional staff and has worked as a special projects manager for Congressman Mike Simpson since 2007. Revier, the first woman to hold the position, will start as Otter's Division of Financial Management chief Jan. 2; the appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.

Revier, who also previously worked for the U.S. House Agriculture Subcommittee on Forestry, Conservation and Rural Revitalization and as a legislative assistant to then-U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, is the daughter of state Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson. “I’m extremely fortunate to have such an experienced, savvy and proven leader agree to assume the responsibilities of budget director,” Otter said in a statement. “I worked closely with Jani in Congress and I’ve known her and her family for many years. They are great people, and Jani is an excellent addition to my team.”

Click below for Otter's full announcement; Revier replaces Wayne Hammon, who resigned in September after five years in the position to head the Idaho Association of General Contractors. Although Revier is the first woman appointed as theIdaho  governor's budget chief, theIdaho Legislature's current budget chief also is a woman: Cathy Holland-Smith.

 

Report: Citizen lawmakers’ occupations differ from state as a whole, affect policies

StateImpact Idaho took a look at the occupations of the 105 citizen legislators who make up the 2013 Idaho Legislature, and compared them to those of Idahoans as a whole. The conclusion: They don’t match up. For example, 21 percent of Idaho legislators work in agriculture; just 5.3 percent of Idahoans as a whole work in ag-related fields, including forestry, mining, fishing and hunting.

Most Idahoans work in educational services, health care, and social assistance, according to the U.S. Census. But StateImpact found that just one Idaho legislator works in education, although several are listed as retired educators; and nearly 26 percent work in business, including small retail owners, consultants, construction company owners, and entrepreneurs.

That could help explain the Legislature’s tendency to favor tax policies beneficial to business; you can read the full StateImpact Idaho report here.

Otter opts for state-based exchange in Idaho

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on Gov. Butch Otter's announcement today that he's recommending a privately operated, state-based health insurance exchange in Idaho as the best option for Idaho to maintain control over how health care reform operates in the state. Said Otter, “I know the earnest and well-intentioned debate will continue,” as lawmakers consider the exchange legislation he'll propose in January.

Otter’s decision applauded, decried…

The Idaho Health Exchange Alliance, a coalition of more than 400 insurers,  businesses, individuals and trade associations in Idaho, applauded Gov. Butch Otter's decision today to recommend that lawmakers approve a privately operated, state-based health insurance exchange. “We're very grateful that Gov. Otter has shown Idaho the way forward on this issue,” said Heidi Low, executive director of the group.  “A state-based exchange will help Idaho have more control over Idaho's health insurance costs and keep Idaho in the driver's seat on health insurance issues.” You can read the group's full statement here.

Meanwhile, Wayne Hoffman, executive director of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, decried the governor's announcement, issuing this statement: “I have a great deal of respect for my friend, Gov. Otter. However, I strongly disagree with his decision. More than 20 states have indicated that they will not implement a state exchange. States are opposed because they understand that Obamacare depends entirely on states to implement it. States are opposed because they know that a state exchange affords almost no flexibility and makes states co-owners of the looming disaster in medicine: higher insurance premiums, more expensive medical care, reduced accessibility and worse patient outcomes. Gov. Otter's decision makes the national effort of resistance much more difficult and more likely the law will remain in place, at great cost to Idaho families, businesses and our nation's economic vitality. Idaho Freedom Foundation will do everything it can, along with other opponents of Obamacare, to make sure Idaho never implements this destructive law.”
  

Lawmakers react: ‘The right thing,’ ‘Inclined to resist,’ ‘Interesting’ politics ahead…

Among lawmakers reacting to Gov. Butch Otter’s health care exchange announcement today is Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, who spoke from Denver, where he’s attending an education meeting. “ I think the governor did the right thing in the face of certainly a lot of opposition,” said Goedde, who served on Otter’s working group. “I don’t think that we have any choice - we’re going to establish  a state-based exchange, or we are going to get the federal exchange by default.”

Goedde, a longtime insurance broker, said Idaho’s health insurance premiums are among the lowest in the nation, in part because Idaho has so few state mandates on what insurance plans must offer. If the state were lumped in with other states in a federal exchange, “There’s no question in my mind … it’s going to drive the cost of insurance up.”

Some Idaho  lawmakers have been outspoken in opposition to doing anything required by “Obamacare,” and ideological groups like the Idaho Freedom Foundation have been lobbying hard against a state-based exchange, even as Idaho business groups and insurers  pushed for it.  Last year, the Idaho Legislature took no action on an insurance exchange, gambling that the U.S. Supreme Court would overturn the law. Instead, it upheld it.

“I’m just proud of our governor,” Goedde said. “He knows he’s going to be taking heat, but he did the right thing.”

Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, has been among the most outspoken opponents of a state exchange. “My inclination is to resist,” he said after the governor’s announcement. “The bottom line is if the federal government is going to control it, they should run it. I’m just not inclined to believe that the Legislature should just rubber-stamp this, but there’s a lot of new people there and we’ll have to see how they go. I’m just not going to be able to go along. I don’t think it’s good for my state, I don’t think it’s good for my constituents, and I’m absolutely convinced that my constituents do not want it.”

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, a retired physician and former health insurance excecutive, said, “Idaho’s a low-cost health insurance state. And if we’re pooled with the national average, you can expect that you’d be paying the national average.” He estimated that Idahoans pay $500 to $1,000 less in annual premiums than the nation as a whole, mainly because of few state manda and low utilization rates. Putting Idaho into a federal exchange would force Idahoans to pay national rates, he said.

“It’s the better decision,” Rusche said of Otter’s announcement.  He added, “The politics of this are going to be really interesting.”

Exchange would be privately operated and state-based, details in State of State…

Gov. Butch Otter’s recommendation for a state-run health insurance exchange matches that of his working group that studied the issue for months – it’d be a privately operated, state-based exchange. Jon Hanian, Otter’s press secretary, said the privately run feature was a “better option” because it can get up and running more quickly than a traditional state agency. But, he said, “Let’s be honest. There was very little in these options that he liked. … But I think given all the work that the working group did and the fact that this decision kind of preserves some options and preserves flexibility for Idahoans, I think that’s why he came down where he did on this.” He added, “It’s going to be a work in progress.”

Health insurance exchanges, under the national health care reform law, will provide an online marketplace where consumers can shop for the plans, rates and features they want, and also access government subsidies if they qualify for them. States have the option of setting up their own exchanges, partnering with the federal government, or doing nothing and allowing the federal government to operate their state exchanges.

Said Otter, “All the criticisms of the exchange mandate that I and many others have expressed remain valid and troubling. The law is governed by an evolving set of increasingly complex rules and requirements. It is onerous, unwieldy and fraught with unknowns. That makes it all the more important to remember that my decision today can be rescinded if the Legislature disagrees or withdrawn by me if circumstances warrant – a real possibility on such a constantly moving target. But with what we know today, this is our best option.”

Otter will propose legislation when lawmakers convene in January to set up the new exchange. “We will have details about it in the State of the State,” Hanian said, the message the governor delivers to a joint session of the Legislature on its opening day, Jan. 7.

Otter opts for state-run health insurance exchange

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter announced today that he's notifying the federal government that Idaho will opt for a state-run health insurance exchange, subject to legislative approval. “This is not a battle of my choosing, but no one has fought harder against the mandates and overreaching federal authority of the Affordable Care Ac,” the governor said in a statement. “No one has more consistently and clearly demanded that Idaho retain the authority and flexibility to chart our own path forward. There was a judicial process for challenging Obamacare, and the presidential election was at least in part a referendum on its enactment. But despite our best efforts, the law remains in place, and almost certainly will for the foreseeable future. There will be a health insurance exchange in Idaho. The only question is who will build it.”

He added, “Our options have come down to this: Do nothing and be at the federal government’s mercy in how that exchange is designed and run, or take a seat at the table and play the cards we’ve been dealt. I cannot willingly surrender a role for Idaho in determining the impact on our own citizens and businesses.” Click below for his full announcement, including a Q-and-A about the decision.

Blackfoot school board admits secret payouts to former supt, open meeting law violations

The Idaho Falls Post Register reports that the school board in Blackfoot agreed in April to a $210,000 contract buyout with the district's former superintendent, then took steps to keep the payments secret, according to documents the district released under a court order Monday. The documents were made public pursuant to an open records lawsuit filed by former teacher Joyce Bingham and the Post Register newspaper. To ensure no one found out about the deal, the board tried to hide the document in Crane's personnel file, the newspaper reported, a move 6th District Judge David Nye rejected. The board also admitted twice violating the Idaho Open Meeting Law, publicly apologized for the violation and promised to seek training in open meeting law compliance from the Idaho Attorney General’s office or the Bingham County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. Click below for a full report from the AP and the Post Register.

Unclaimed $1 million Idaho Lottery prize about to expire…

Last summer, someone bought a lottery ticket in Meridian that won a $1 million prize - but they've never claimed it, and it's about to expire. The Idaho Lottery announced today that the Powerball ticket, which matched all five numbers but not the Powerball, will expire on Friday - and thereafter be worth nothing. The ticket was sold for the June 20, 2012 Powerball drawing. “Time is of the essence for the holder of the ticket to come forward and claim their $1 million prize,” said Jeff Anderson, Idaho Lottery director. “Due to state and federal processing requirements, at 3 p.m. Friday, December 14, 2012, if no one has brought the ticket in for validation, the ticket will expire and we will be unable to pay the claim.”

It wouldn't be the first time. A similar $1 million prize went unclaimed in 2010, and $200,000 prizes went unclaimed in 2008 and 2006. Unclaimed winnings go back to the Idaho Lottery's beneficiaries - the state's schools and its permanent building fund, which builds and maintains state buildings. Click below for the full announcement from the Idaho Lottery.

Former Govs. Andrus, Batt oppose changes to nuclear waste settlement agreement

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Two former governors oppose modifying Idaho's 1995 nuclear cleanup agreement with the federal government after a new draft report suggested changes be considered as part of efforts to assure the Idaho National Laboratory's future. Republican Gov. Phil Batt sent a letter to the Idaho Statesman Monday and Democratic Gov. Cecil Andrus wrote to Department of Commerce director Jeff Sayer, who headed up the Leadership in Nuclear Energy Commission. Sayer's panel last week released a preliminary report to spur public comment about Idaho's nuclear future. Its authors wrote, among other things, that changes to the 1995 pact could help preserve the INL's status as America's lead nuclear energy laboratory. To that, Batt cautioned Sayer against “modification of my nuclear waste agreement,” while Andrus reiterated his opposition to accepting more nuclear waste.

Brundage to open for skiing Friday

Brundage Mountain Resort announced today that it will open for the ski season on Friday. “We got 9 inches of new snow since Thursday,” the resort reported. “At this point, we have just enough snow to open three of our five lifts, but more snow is in the forecast for this week, which could make the difference on those other two lifts.” This shot from Brundage today shows the groomed slopes of the Main Street run; there's more info here.
  

Dunham joins Risch Pisca

The Boise law and lobbying firm Risch Pisca has announced that Mark Dunham, former CEO of the Associated General Contractors of Idaho, is joining the firm as a legislative consultant. “Mr. Dunham has had a very long and distinguished career in Idaho Policy and Politics with a very heavy emphasis on tax policy, construction, real estate and education,” partner Jeremy Pisca said in the firm's announcement. Dunham is an elected trustee of the College of Western Idaho; and served for 18 years as the CEO of the Idaho Association of Realtors. He left his position with the contractors in June to focus on his recovery after he suffered a stroke in January.

Northern Idaho lawmakers double their numbers on JFAC

Lawmakers from Lewiston north will take up eight of the 20 seats on the Idaho Legislature's powerful joint budget committee when the legislative session convenes in January, doubling the representation for the region on the budget-writing panel. “Five of us are in the northern Panhandle, so to the degree there might be northern issues that we all would agree on, we certainly would have the opportunity for some leverage there,” said Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, a ninth-term senator who will again serve as the Senate vice-chair of the joint committee.

Clout for North Idaho has varied over the years in the Idaho Legislature, with no North Idaho lawmakers serving in the majority leadership of the House or Senate, either in the past year or the upcoming session; this time, none even ran. But the budget committee is a place where lawmakers from a region can combine to boost a project from their area. Meanwhile, the number of committee chairmanships held by North Idaho lawmakers will stay even in 2013. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Byron Johnson, former Idaho Supreme Court justice, dies at age 75

Former Idaho Supreme Court Justice Byron Johnson died Sunday at his home of cancer; he was 75. Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey calls Johnson “a singular character in Idaho public life,” reporting that he was a baseball star at Boise High School, once striking out future Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew; was a Harvard-trained lawyer who retired from Idaho's highest court after 11 years in 1999; and that he quit wearing ties in court, wrote poetry, climbed mountains and was a part of the unusual culture of Idaho City, where he lived for many years with his wife, Judge Patricia Young. You can read Popkey's full post here.

He reports that Johnson passed away about 1 a.m. Sunday with two of his four children at his side. “Blessedly, it was peaceful,” Young told Popkey. Johnson will be remembered with a wake on Jan. 6, the Twelfth Day of Christmas, at the Barber Events Center in Barber Park.

In May, Johnson sat down for an interview with the Boise Weekly's George Prentice in which he talked about his cancer, his life, his beliefs, and who he likes in today's Idaho politics, on both sides of the aisle; you can read it here.
  

Judge: District ‘trying to hide its decision-making from the public’ re $105K payout

An eastern Idaho judge has ordered the Blackfoot School District to release all documents surrounding a separation agreement and a consulting fee by mid-week, the AP reports. Sixth District Judge David Nye issued the order Friday afternoon in response to an open records lawsuit filed by former Blackfoot teacher Joyce Bingham and the Post Register in Idaho Falls. Bingham and the newspaper sued after the district refused to make public a separation agreement between the school board and former Superintendent Scott Crane, as well as details of a contract payout worth more than $105,000.

“Everything about this case smacks of a public agency trying to hide its decision-making from the public,” the judge wrote. “Parties cannot exempt a public record from disclosure and hide it from the public simply by placing it in a personnel file and declaring the personnel file exemption to be applicable to it.” Click below for the full AP report.

Idaho school funding back in spotlight

Last week, Gov. Butch Otter told a crowd of more than 400 people that Idaho is “probably not” meeting the state Constitution's requirements to provide for education. The implications of that are serious: The state currently is being sued over the issue. “I would say we're probably not, but we're doing the best job that we can, and we're going to continue to do the best job that we can,” the governor said.

Asking the question of the governor was his former longtime chief economist, Mike Ferguson, who now heads the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy. Ferguson has sent out an op-ed piece to Idaho newspapers, headed, “Election Over, Now It's Time To Focus On Resources,” exploring the issue of school funding in the wake of the failure of the school reform propositions on the November ballot. “Two critically important issues need to be factored into this discussion: How much of our financial resources are we devoting to the education of our children, and how are we allocating those resources among those children?” Ferguson asks.

His conclusion to the first question is that the Idaho is spending less and less on public education, falling from 4.4 percent of personal income in 2000 to 3.5 percent this year - a 20 percent decline. He also raises questions about the distribution of Idaho's state school funds with regard to equity; click below to read his full article. You can read my Sunday column here at spokesman.com.

Full list of House committee assignments

Click below for the full list of House committee assignments for the upcoming 2013 legislative session.

The House’s new JFAC members include three freshmen

The House Appropriations Committee - the House half of JFAC - has the following members for the 2013 legislative session: Reps. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, chair; Darrell Bolz, R-Caldwell, vice-chair; George Eskridge, R-Dover; Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls; Marc Gibbs, R-Grace; Steve Miller, R-Fairfield; Thyra Stevenson, R-Lewiston; Rick Youngblood, R-Nampa; Phylis King, D-Boise; and Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow.

House adjourns, organizational session done

The House has now adjourned its organizational session, a bit before noon on its second day. “I would like to thank all the members of the body for their patience and their forbearance these last two days,” said Speaker Scott Bedke. “I think the House of Representatives is in very good shape, regardless of the amount of turnover that we had,” he said.

New House committee chairs include Henderson, Anderson, Hartgen, Collins

New House committee chairs' names have been read across the desk. Among them: Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, is the new chairman of the Business Committee, and Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, is the new chair of Ways & Means.

Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, will chair Commerce; Rep. Lenore Barret will remain as Local Government chair; and Rep. Joe Palmer will remain as Transportation chair. Rep. Gary Collins will chair Rev & Tax, with Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, as vice-chair.

The Health & Welfare Committee will move its meetings to mornings, and it will have privileged-committee status.

Denney will be House Resources chairman

Former House Speaker Lawerence Denney is the new chairman of the House Resources Committee. “I told Scott that I want to do anything that I can to help him be successful, and if a chairmanship was what he wanted, I'd do that,” Denney said. New Speaker Scott Bedke, who ousted Denney as speaker on Wednesday night, said yesterday that he wanted a “substantive” role for Denney, saying with the high number of freshman lawmakers in the House this year, “I feel very strongly that we don't have the luxury to not use our experienced legislators, including Rep. Denney.”

Denney, shown here talking with new House GOP Caucus Chair John Vander Woude, R-Meridian, said he considers the Resources Committee among the most important in a state like Idaho, but doesn't yet have specific issues he wants to address there. “It's still pretty new for me,” he said.

Denney said, “I think the founding fathers made this process a great process by having this organizational session a month before we started the regular session, to give us all a month to acclimate ourselves.” This year's session will include “some very substantive issues that we need to deal with, and with all the new people, I think it's going to start very slowly … while they're all learning the ropes,” he said.

For now, he said, leaving the House floor to head downstairs, “I've got to get down there and get trained to be a chairman.”

The Idaho House is back in session this morning to continue its organizational session; it just briefly convened before recessing. “We're almost done, trust us - we're almost there,” Majority Leader Mike Moyle told the House. “Stay close,” he said. “We'll recess for a few minutes.”

House GOP leaders are hoping to finalize committee assignments by 11 a.m. or so.
  

Woolf names Goicoechea chief deputy state controller

Idaho State Controller Brandon Woolf has announced the appointment of Dan Goicoechea as his chief deputy; Goicoechea earlier held the same position under former state Controllers Donna Jones and Keith Johnson. Most recently, he worked as a lobbyist for a mining firm; click below for Woolf's full announcement.

Scratch that - House will wait ‘til morning to announce committee chairs, but some are known

OK, scratch that - the House leadership has decided not to release the list of new committee chairs until it's formally read across the desk in the morning. Word already is out about many of them; Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, is in line to become the new Health & Welfare chairman; Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, is headed for the Education Committee chairmanship; and JFAC Co-Chair Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, will continue in her role.

Health & Welfare will now be a morning committee, a change that means Wood no longer will be able to serve on JFAC. “I liked JFAC … it was fun, it was interesting,” Wood said. “Been there six years, and it's time to move on.” A physician, he said he sought the Health & Welfare chairmanship, and this will be a key year for that panel, with big issues in store. “There will be a lot of discussion,” he said, “as opposed to trying to run major pieces of legislation without having full discussion in both caucuses of the House about what the legislation is, what the implications of the legislation is, etc. I think that's a good thing, that is a welcome change in the future as opposed to how sometimes we've done it in the past.”

House adjourns ‘til morning, committee chairs to be announced shortly

The House has now adjourned for the day; it'll come back into session at 9 a.m. on Friday. “We've made most of the decisions,” Speaker Scott Bedke told the House. “We want to sleep on some of them. We'll come back fresh in the morning and we will announce the committee assignments. The chairs have been assigned, and we will be making an announcement to the press on adjournment.”

He said, “We appreciate your forbearance today, and the patience that you've shown. These are always trying days, but I think we've come through this day as easily as any I can remember in the past.” The list of House committee chairs should be available shortly.

Senate concludes organizational session and adjourns; House is still working on it

The Senate has adjourned its organizational session sine die - meaning without a day, or for good - wrapping up its business. Here, that's formalized by committees of senators who visited the governor's office and the House leadership to inform them the Senate is now organized, and reported back. Now there's just the House still getting organized for the 2013 session.

Former Senate H&W Chair Lodge is the new Judiciary & Rules chair

Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, former chairwoman of the Senate Health & Welfare Committee, is the new chair of the Senate Judiciary & Rules Committee, taking over from longtime Chairman Denton Darrington, R-Declo, who retired from the Senate. “It wasn't something I was aspiring to do, follow in Denton's footsteps,” Lodge said. “But it's a great challenge. I've been on the committee for 12 years.”

Lodge's husband, Edward, is the state's senior federal judge.

Said the seventh-term senator, “I hope I'll provide something important that's beneficial for the taxpayers.”

Lots of new faces on Senate Finance…

The Senate Finance Committee, the Senate half of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, will have a high number of new members in the coming session. Among them: Sens. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens; Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood; Cliff Bayer, R-Boise; Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston; Steven Thayn, R-Emmett; Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow; and Roy Lacey, D-Pocatello.

Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, continues as vice chair; and Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, will continue to serve on the panel.

Vick, a second-term senator, said he's wanted to get on the joint committee since he arrived in the Senate. “Not everybody likes to do it, because it is a lot of work and a lot of numbers,” he said. “I spent eight years in the appropriations committee in Montana.” Vick said the panel, which writes the state budget, is “the most important committee,” and said his goal there will be to “keep government spending low.”

Nonini gets three committee posts; Hill says there were ‘no cries’ for retribution

New Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, got three committee assignments: Education, Agriculture and Transportation. There had been some speculation that Nonini might be left without committee assignments as punishment for his attempts in the primary to unseat sitting GOP senators by bankrolling their primary challengers.

“I talked to all those that were involved,” said Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg. “There was no indication anyone wanted retribution.” He added, “I had no cries from those that were most affected to mete out any kind of punishment. … I would speculate that if it were to happen again, the mood would be very much different. … We can make a mistake once.”

Nonini pronounced himself “very happy” with his committee assignments.

Senate names committee chairs, members

Though the House is still working, the Senate has settled on its committee assignments and chairmanships, and will convene at 3 p.m. to formalize that. New committee chairs are Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, Agriculture; Sen. John Tippets, R-Montpelier, Commerce; Sen. Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls, Health & Welfare; Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, Judiciary & Rules; Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, Local Government & Taxation; and Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, Transportation.

Continuing committee chairmen are Goedde, Education; Cameron, Finance; Pearce, Resources; and McKenzie, State Affairs.

You can read the full list here of all Senate committee assignments for the 2013 session.

Lawmaker marks 90th birthday; says parents gave him ‘some durable genes’

Idaho's oldest lawmaker turned 90 today; Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, is spending his birthday participating in the Legislature's organizational session and working on economic development issues. “It's spectacular,” Henderson said. “Sixth of December, 1922. My parents said they gave me some durable genes, and that's what it takes.”

Asked if there's anything else he'd rather spend his 90th birthday doing, Henderson said he does like to travel. But, he said, “This is an important part of my life.” Henderson said he'll travel later. StateImpact Idaho has an radio interview with Henderson on NPR today; you can listen here.

Bedke considering ‘substantive’ role for Denney - possibly a chairmanship

New Idaho House Speaker Scott Bedke is considering a “substantive” role for former Speaker Lawerence Denney, Bedke said today - possibly a chairmanship. “We do not have the luxury to overlook experience, given the current makeup,” Bedke said. “I want to sit down with him.” Denney hasn't requested a chairmanship, Bedke said. “He has not asked.” But he said, “I feel very strongly that we don't have the luxury to not use our experienced legislators, including Rep. Denney.”

“My platform all along has been one of inclusion,” the newly elected speaker said. “I think we need to make a few fundamental changes in the way we do some things behind the scenes, given the size of this freshman class. … They've all come to go to work.” He said, “There'll be freshmen on Rev & Tax, there'll be freshmen on JFAC, there'll be freshmen on each of the committees.” Bedke said of the big new freshman class in the House, “By necessity they will have more of a role this time, because of the large turnover.”

He also said he plans to meet with each existing committee chairman; he's not planning any changes, but said, “I reserve the right to make changes based on these interviews.” Bedke also said he wants to consult with each chairman on the choice of members for each committee; that could stretch out today's business of assigning committees, possibly into tomorrow, though he hopes to conclude it today. “I suspect I'll be more hands-on in the committee selection process,” Bedke said.

He said he'll strive for both regional and, where possible, ideological balance on committees. “I think when you avoid the appearance of a stacked committee, then things go a lot better.”

Bedke said the new Idaho House has a “can-do attitude.” “We're not divided,” he said. “There's been changes, that's sure, but we're not at odds with one another.”

He said, “I'm very impressed with the caliber of people we have here. … In my discussions with caucus members, I've emphasized … each of these people bear acquaintance, and to avoid the tendency to label, avoid the tendency to stereotype.” Said Bedke, “We will find the consensus on each issue and if you're outside that consensus, that should be OK, and then we'll go on to the next issue.” House members shouldn't be afraid to speak out, he said. “I would like to create a very positive group dynamic. I believe if we all feel comfortable laying our cards on the table, that we can make a hand that's superior to each of ours individually.”

“I am not going to be heavy-handed - I think that's counterproductive long term,” Bedke said. “But I do have my limits.”

The new speaker said, “I'm gratified, I'm humbled, I'm happy. I didn't take this on lightly. I worked.”

House applauds Denney, sets to work on new order

Before the House recessed subject to the call of the chair, House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, stood and said, “I'd like to take this opportunity on behalf of myself and my caucus to offer my respects and thanks to the former speaker for the service he gave the House of Representatives.” The House then gave outgoing Speaker Lawerence Denney a standing ovation; he stayed in his seat, emotions playing on his face.

New Speaker Scott Bedke said he hopes to wrap up the business of committee assignments and chairmanships today, but it could go into tomorrow.

Senate recesses ‘til 3, hopes to have committee assignments done by then

With seat selection completed, the Senate has recessed until 3 p.m., at which time it hopes to have committee assignments completed, including chairmanships. Here, new Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, a former House member, attaches his name tag to his new front-row seat in the Senate chamber.

Lawmakers pick seats in chambers, prep for session ahead…

As House members' names are called in order of seniority so they can select their seats in the House chamber, Chief Clerk Bonnie Alexander called new Speaker Scott Bedke's name, but said, “He has his seat.” In the group of lawmakers standing waiting for their turn, Rep. Linden Bateman, R-Idaho Falls, chuckled, “He does - that's an understatement.”

For those of equal seniority, Alexander is literally drawing the names out of a hat to see who goes first.
  

Denney swears Bedke in as speaker

It fell to outgoing House Speaker Lawerence Denney this morning to call for the motions for nomination for speaker of the House, knowing that it won't be for him. Majority Leader Mike Moyle formally nominated new Speaker Scott Bedke, and Minority Leader John Rusche seconded the motion. Denney tripped over the formalities in his final duties as speaker, calling for a voice vote before the nominations had been closed - at which everyone said “aye.” “Shouldn't have done that,” Denney said quietly with a wry smile.

After Moyle had asked that nominations cease and a unanimous ballot be cast, Denney declared, “The ayes have it and the motion carries.” Bedke was escorted to the speaker's chair, where Denney administered the oath of office to him and handed over the gavel and lapel microphone. Then, Denney was escorted quietly back to Bedke's former seat on the floor.

Prior to that handover, all members of both the House and Senate took their oaths of office. The House and Senate both have now gone at ease for selection of seats, which occurs in order of seniority. Moyle told the House, “This is the time where you hurry up and wait … after we choose the seats.” For the remainder of the organizational session, committee assignments and chairmanships will be hashed out by legislative leaders, before they're finalized and formalized on the floor.

House, Senate convene organizational sessions…

Both the House and Senate have convened their organizational sessions this morning, with outgoing Speaker Lawerence Denney presiding in the House, and Lt. Gov. Brad Little presiding in the Senate. The first business is the reading of the certificates of election of all those lawmakers elected this year, followed by the oaths of office. This morning is Denney's final turn in the speaker's desk; last night, he was ousted by Rep. Scott Bedke, R-Oakley.
  

Just a reporter, not a time traveler…

I understand there was some consternation last night that I was posting some legislative caucus election results before those votes had even occurred. That would indeed have been quite a feat. Alas, I am not a time traveler. Here's the explanation: My newspaper's servers are in the Spokane/Coeur d'Alene area, which is in the Pacific time zone. Yet I work in Boise, which is in the Mountain time zone, one hour later. So when I post an item on this blog at, say, 9:28 p.m. in Boise, the time stamp shows 8:28 p.m. - the time in Pacific time.

That means I'm not really posting this item now at just after 6 a.m., though after a long night last night, it feels that way. It's just after 7 a.m. in Boise.

Vander Woude wins three-way House caucus chair contest

Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, has won a three-way contest to be House GOP caucus chair. He defeated Reps. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, and Christy Perry, R-Nampa. Vander Woude is a retail store operator who served in the House from 2007-2008, then was elected in 2010 and 2012; prior to his election to leadership, he served on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.

That's the final leadership vote of the night; in the morning, the 2013 Legislature will convene for its organizational session. That's when lawmakers take their oath of office, select their seats in the House and Senate chambers, formally elect the speaker and pro-tem, and hash out committee assignments and chairmanships, a process that could take all day.

Crane chosen House assistant majority leader

Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, has been elected House Assistant Majority Leader in a three-way contest, defeating Reps. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, and Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls. Still to go is the three-way contest for the House's No. 4 leadership position, majority caucus chair.

Moyle stays as House majority leader

House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, has survived a challenge from Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, to keep his leadership post. This came after House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, was ousted by former Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, which means Bedke will leapfrog over Moyle from the No. 3 to the No. 1 leadership post. Still to come are votes on House GOP assistant majority leader and caucus chair, each of which is a three-way contest for an open seat.

Bedke ousts Denney as House Speaker

Three-term Idaho House Speaker Lawerence Denney, arguably the most powerful member of the Idaho Legislature, lost his leadership post tonight to rival Rep. Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, in a dramatic political upset. The ouster, which happened during closed-door legislative caucus elections, marked the first time in three decades that a top Idaho legislative leader has been deposed by his own party.

Bedke, a seventh-term state reprsentative and a rancher, didn't differ much with Denney on issues; both are conservative Republicans. But Denney's bare-knuckle style has increasingly grated on his large majority caucus in recent years, culminating in May's primary election, when he funneled party leadership PAC funds - donated by caucus members - into efforts to defeat several GOP incumbents. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Fulcher defeats challenge, full Senate GOP leadership team stays in place

Senate Majority Caucus Chair Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, has defeated a challenge from Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, keeping the Senate's entire current GOP leadership team in place.

House Dems choose Rusche, Burgoyne and Pence as leaders

The House Democratic Caucus has announced its leadership contest results. Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, will continue as minority leader. Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, was chosen as assistant minority leader, and Rep. Donna Pence, D-Gooding, will be the new caucus chair. All three were uncontested for the leadership posts. The previous assistant leader and caucus chair, Reps. Elfreda Higgins of Garden City and Brian Cronin of Boise, didn't seek re-election.

Winder re-elected as Senate assistant majority leader

Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, has turned back a challenge from Senate State Affairs Chairman Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, to continue as Senate assistant majority leader.

Davis keeps Senate majority leader post, defeats challenge from Mortimer

Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, has defeated a challenge from Sen. Dean Mortimer, also an Idaho Falls Republican, to keep his leadership post. Davis is an attorney and eighth-term senator. “I continue to be honored to serve,” Davis said.

Also, Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, will continue in the top Senate leadership post.

Stennett chosen Senate minority leader

The first legislative leadership caucus election results are in, from the smallest of the four caucuses meeting tonight, the Senate Democrats. They elected Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, as their new minority leader, replacing Sen. Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello, who retired from the Senate. Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, was elected assistant minority leader, a position formerly held by Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise; and new Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, who moved over from the House, was elected caucus chair, the position Stennett formerly held.

Stennett is in her second term; she was appointed to the Senate in 2010 and first won election in 2011 to the seat formerly held by her husband, the late Sen. Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum.

The party's two spots on JFAC, the powerful Joint Finance-Appropriations Commitee, went to second-term Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, and new Sen. Roy Lacey, D-Pocatello, who moved over from the House this year after serving one term there.

Werk said, “In our caucus, we sit down, as we're doing right now, we talk things over, we figure out where people are best slotted. It's a super-collaborative process. We're small enough that we talk it over, and there are no hard feelings.”
  

Leadership races on tap tonight

Both the majority and minority parties, in both houses of the Idaho Legislature, will hold closed-door caucuses tonight to elect leaders. The highest-profile matchup is the one between House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, and Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, for the speaker's post. Bedke is shown here at right in this AP file photo; Denney is at left. House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, faces a challenge from Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry; and there are three-way races for the other two open House GOP leadership posts. Democrats in the House have two leadership posts to fill with the retirements of Reps. Elfreda Higgins and Brian Cronin; Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, is unopposed.

Also unopposed to continue in leadership is Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, but the Senate GOP has contests for its other leadership posts, including a challenge of Majority Leader Bart Davis by fellow Idaho Falls Republican Sen. Dean Mortimer. Senate Dems will be electing a new minority leader, with the retirement of former Minority Leader Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello. I'll post the results here as they become available.

New proposal: Eliminate personal property tax, but allow full local-option taxing authority

Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, told the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho today that he supports eliminating the personal property tax, because it's difficult for businesses, but doesn't want to cut basic funding for local government services that now rely on that tax. “No matter what we do, we're talking about a tax shift,” Burgoyne said, “unless we're prepared not to have jails, unless we're prepared not to have paramedics, unless we're prepared not to have firemen show up. … We're really talking about a tax shift, but tax shifts aren't always bad. If tax shifts have positive economic conseqences rather than negative economic consequences, they can help us move the ball down the field.”

Therefore, he said, “I've drafted legislation which would eliminate the personal property tax, but would grant cities and counties the authority to raise taxes.” Under his bill, he said, they could decide what type of taxes - sales, income, or whatever. “They might want to pass taxes on liquor, they might want to pass local taxes on meals, other things that help them pay their bills,” Burgoyne said.

That'd be a huge departure for Idaho, in which the state Legislature long has held tightly to almost all taxing power, leaving local government agencies almost entirely reliant on capped local property taxes.

Gov. Otter: State ‘probably not’ meeting constitutional standard for education

When Gov. Butch Otter asked for questions at the end of his luncheon speech to the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho today, the first one came from former longtime state chief economist Mike Ferguson. “Do you believe that the state of Idaho is maintaining a general, uniform and thorough system of public education?” That's the standard required by the Idaho Constitution. “And if so,” Ferguson asked, “how do you square that with the dramatic increase in unequalized property taxes to fund public schools in Idaho?”

Otter first said, “I'm not prepared to answer that question, to be quite frank with you.” He noted the “rural nature of the state,” and how that's led to differing course offerings in remote school districts, vs. more urban ones. Otter also said he thought the Idaho Education Network was helping with that, by offering distance education to remote rural districts.

“I would say we're probably not, but we're doing the best job that we can, and we're going to continue to do the best job that we can,” the governor said.

Otter: Health insurance exchange choice won’t please everyone

Gov. Butch Otter noted today that a decision on whether to start a state-run health insurance exchange or not will have to be made shortly. “There's some decisions that are going to have to be made between now and the 14th of December that are going to have a lot of impact on that session,” he said of the upcoming legislative session. “There's going to be a lot of heavy lifting, because in many ways we're not the architects of these problems but … I believe … that we are up to the task.”

He complained about continued changes in federal rules regarding the exchange. “Every time we're at a point where we think we're going to make a decision on it, then we get another set of rules and regulations that changes the dynamic of what we thought we were dealing with.” He noted that some of his colleagues, other states' Republican governors, have decided to let the feds operate their exchanges because “they're still philosophically opposed to what is the law, and what is the law of the land. I want to remind you that we are a republic,” Otter said. “Like it or not, we tried to change the law, we've done everything we possibly could, and now with the best interests of … Idahoans we now have to make that decision and that decision will come down. It's not going to please everybody, I'm sure. Those of us that have to make the decision probably won't be pleased about it.”

Otter asks stakeholder group to look into why Props 1, 2 and 3 failed, what can be salvaged

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter said today that he's asked the State Board of Education to head up a 33-member stakeholder group to look at parts of the failed school reform referenda that should perhaps be salvaged. “I believe we're going to have in this legislative session a revisit of Props 1, 2, and 3 or parts and pieces thereof,” Otter told the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho. “We lost. I'm not one that's going to go around and shoot the wounded. … The rejection was pretty obvious. But I do believe that we will see … parts and pieces of all those come back at us.”

Otter said he's asking the group to look at “exactly why they failed where we think they should have passed, and where we failed in our construction efforts” in putting together the laws. “We will be providing that kind of information as well to the Legislature and to the leadership group, so it will be an ongoing process,” Otter said, one that might not finish this year.

Otter declines to confer with empty chair, draws laugh…

An empty chair stood next to Gov. Butch Otter as he spoke today to the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho. “I apologize for this chair up here,” Otter told the crowd. “The lieutenant governor asked me if I was going to pull a Clint Eastwood, and I said, 'I was there - I don't think so.” His comment drew a laugh.

Otter challenges counties to identify local government services they’d eliminate

Gov. Butch Otter, in his luncheon address to the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho today, challenged county commissioners to bring him a list of state-mandated services they provide that they'd like to do away with. “I'd be remiss if I didn't open the floor to the question of what are we going to do about personal property taxes,” including proposals to eliminate them. “I've made no mystery of the fact that I've been a supporter of that,” Otter said, “but I also understand how 44 counties … the question is always what are you going to do with that share of our budget which we get in our counties from personal property tax, and I said frankly I don't know.” He said, “I want to engage in those discussions.”

He said the budget will be challenging in the upcoming legislative session, and the latest tax revenue figures are forcing a downward revision in projections. “I will tell you we do not have a placeholder for $130 million in that budget,” to offset elimination of the personal property tax. “We will have those discusssions, and I hope that we can come up with a plan. … I understand the plight of the counties, when it represents in some counties upwards of 35 percent of their budget.”

Otter said two years ago, he asked for a list of “those things which you think you can do without in your county that we mandated, and I'll be your champion to get rid of those services, to stop those services and to relieve you from that financial burden, because I understand that. But I have yet to see the list.”

IACI pitches personal property tax break for state’s largest businesses

Alex LaBeau, president of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, is pitching his plan to eliminate the personal property tax, speaking to the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho. He decried calls to focus on small businesses, like the current law, passed in 2008, that would eliminate the tax on the first $100,000 of business property, removing it entirely for most Idaho businesses; that will take effect when state tax revenues rise by 5 percent above the previous year, which hasn't yet happened. LaBeau said, “It forces a relatively small group of larger taxpayers to pay the brunt of the personal property tax in the state of Idaho.” Said LaBeau, “The top 4 percent of employers in the state employ half your population - half. … The small vs. large argument does not hold water in this state.”

Chadwick: Don’t ‘stick it to the counties’ to cut personal property tax

Dan Chadwick, executive director of the Idaho Association of Counties, says he's heard comments from state lawmakers in recent years that demonstrate “a clear lack of understanding of what county government does.”

He said, “The Legislature sets the rules, and counties and other local governments have to follow those rules. … What we do and how we do it are established by the Legislature.”

The comments he's heard, he said, include these: “We're going to stick it to the counties and see how they like it,” and, “The counties haven't suffered enough in this economic downturn.” Said Chadwick, “Pardon me, but what the hell is that supposed to mean? We have a job to do as counties, the Legislature sets the rules. Are we supposed to suffer some consequence because we don't have the tools necessary to deliver the service? I don't get that at all. … The mandates the Legislature imposes on counties without sufficient revenue to pay for the responsibility is problematic.”

Chadwick said when it comes to county government in Idaho, “Artificial restrictions are placed on raising revenue, and they have absolutely no relationship to delivering those services. That's one of the biggest problems we have at the county level, money vs. services, no relationship. … When we reach our budgetary caps, it doesn't matter. … We're still obligated to deliver the service.”

Chadwick took on the idea of eliminating Idaho's personal property tax without replacing the revenue for counties head-on. Doing so, he said, “undermines the ability of counties in providing their constitutional and statutory responsibilities,” and he argued it would provide little benefit to most businesses and the state's economy. Idaho already has passed legislation to exempt the first $100,000 of business property from the personal property tax. “Why not exempt the first $250,000 of business property?” he asked. “Now we're really talking, and we're really dealing with some serious tax relief for businesses.”

He said eliminating the tax would remove 10 percent of counties' tax base statewide, and 20 to 40 percent in rural counties. “If the Legislature is not willing to give us the funds or provide the ability to raise the funds, then I think it's time to start looking at whether the counties ought to deliver the service,” he said. “We're not going to be able to meet our statutory and constitutional responsibilities. … Our services are not discretionary at the county level,” he said.

Casey on fiscal cliff fight: ‘We keep focusing on the wrong thing’

At the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho annual conference this morning, Curtis DuBay of the Heritage Foundation opened with a pitch for his organization's views on the fiscal cliff and national spending policies, saying spending is the problem and taxes shouldn't be raised. He was followed by Greg Casey, president and CEO of BIPAC, the Business Industry Political Action Committee, who told the crowd of several hundred lawmakers, local and state officials, lobbyists and more, “The chance of the Heritage tax plan passing is … Zero.” He added, “I love youthful enthusiasm.”

Said Casey, “This is a moving target. We are deeper in the muck than we were last year, with even less clarity.” He said, “We're most certainly going to have another credit rating downgrade if we don't come up with a realistic solution.”

Casey, a former U.S. Senate sergeant-arms and former chief of staff to then-U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, said,  “We got where we are because politics brought us here, and we will either get out or we will go over depending on where politics takes us from here. And in politics there is always one outcome. … The losers execute the scapegoats … and the victors define the mandates, regardless of whether those mandates are based in fact. And victor-defined mandates drive the deliberations.”

President Obama was the victor in the election, Casey said. “He won. Elections have consequences.” To close the deficit, Casey said, “We have to have increased revenues and we have to have cut spending. … We keep focusing on the wrong thing,” in GOP resistance to increases in tax rates.

“This fixation that we have on the tax rate is precisely what the president wants and needs in order to achieve his objectives,” Casey said. “He wants to raise taxes on the rich.” That's a political issue, Casey said. “The more the GOP are tagged with defending the rich, the more ground they lose in trying to figure out how to reform taxes.” He said Idaho's congressional representatives signed Grover Norquist's no-tax-increases pledge before the Bush tax cuts and other cuts. He drew laughter when he asked if it would violate the pledge for members of Congress to vote for the tax rates in effect when they signed it.

“At the end of the day, the issue is revenues vs. expenditures,” Casey said. “It's not tax rates vs. expenditures - it's revenues.” He said, “If our path is unaltered, the fiscal cliff becomes an off-ramp right smack into the fiscal abyss.”

With unanimous council vote, Boise bans job, housing discrimination against gays

Boise has become Idaho's second city to enact an ordinance banning discrimination in employment, housing or public accommodations based on sexual orientation or gender identity; the Boise City Council last night voted unanimously in favor of the ordinance, a move that was followed by a standing ovation in a packed Capitol Auditorium. You can see a full report here from KBOI2 News.

Sandpoint last year became the first Idaho city to enact such an ordinance; Pocatello has one in the works. It's an issue the Idaho Legislature has repeatedly refused to consider, despite an outpouring of support across the state last year for the “Add the Words” campaign, which called for adding the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the Idaho Human Rights Act. That's the law that currently makes it illegal to fire someone, evict them or deny them service in a restaurant on the basis of race, sex, color, national origin, religion, age or disability. The state legislation has been rejected for six straight years; this year's push included well-attended rallies across the state, including one that drew more than a thousand people to the state Capitol.

Boise's ordinance takes effect Jan. 1; it exempts churches and private organizations like the Boy Scouts.

Feds consider possible trophy hunts for grizzlies around Yellowstone

Federal authorities are laying groundwork for possible trophy grizzly bear hunts around the Yellowstone area as soon as 2014, the AP reports, in the surest sign yet that more than 30 years of ederal protection for grizzlies in the area is nearing an end. Officials stressed that any grizzly season would differ significantly from the aggressive wolf hunts now underway in Idaho and Montana, and would not be aimed at reducing grizzly numbers. “It would be a very careful, limited hunt,” said Chris Servheen, grizzly bear recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. A federal-state committee that oversees grizzly bears will consider adopting a pro-hunting policy during a meeting next week; click below for a full report from AP reporter Matthew Brown in Billings.

Idaho tax collectors seek computer system upgrade, say problems fixed

Idaho needs to invest $5.2 million for a major computer upgrade in its tax collection system, state tax officials say, and it'll pay off big not far down the road. The upgrade, which state tax commissioners plan to pitch to lawmakers in January, could pay for itself within its first full year of operation, officials estimate, by allowing the state to better pursue fraudulent returns and tax lien debt.

The proposal comes as the state's four-member Tax Commission has been working to boost public confidence and employee morale, two years after a former director resigned amid scandal and charges that the commission was cutting secret deals with influential taxpayers. Current Chairman David Langhorst, a Democrat, said the commission is working toward “a more open and transparent way of doing business, and better communication within our own ranks.” The Tax Commission assessed its status and outlook at its annual meeting today; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Boise woman claims $1 milion Powerball prize

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― A Boise woman who took a chance on winning the $597.5 million Powerball jackpot last week is thrilled with her $1 million runner-up prize. Susan Worthington appeared at a press conference announcing her win Tuesday at the Albertsons store in West Boise where she bought her ticket, which matched all the white balls, but not the Powerball. Worthington, a 63-year-old recent retiree, says her first big purchase was an $80 keyless entry remote for her car. She says she plans to spend some of the money to finish up the kitchen and do some landscaping at the house she just purchased after moving to Boise from Yakima, Wash., in January. Worthington says the winnings will allow her to retire comfortably. She says her 83-year-old mother urged her to buy the tickets. Click below for the Idaho Lottery's full announcement.

Report: Crapo could build compromise as new ranking member of Senate banking panel

Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo is “all but official” for the top Republican spot on the Senate Banking Committee next year, Politico reports today; and reporter Patrick Reis writes that Crapo will “face a tall order: Cutting deals with with Democrats over housing and financial regulation that have eluded the panel in recent years.” The full Politico story, headlined “Ascending Mike Crapo seeks compromise on Senate Banking panel,” is online here. It reports that Crapo says he believes the committee is on the verge of a more cooperative era, and that there is more to agree on than meets the eye.

Three Idahoans die from flu; vaccinations urged

Three people have died from the flu in Idaho, the state Department of Health & Welfare reports, all women over age 50; one was from southeastern Idaho and two from southwestern Idaho. “With the holiday season fast approaching, we strongly urge people to be vaccinated for flu so they and their loved ones remain healthy through the season,” said Dr. Kathryn Turner, the department's communicable disease prevention bureau chief.

This year's flu shot is a “great match to the circulating strains,” Turner said. “However, it takes about two weeks before peak antibody levels are reached and the vaccine’s protection is maximized. Unfortunately, only about a third of adults and 40 percent of children have received the flu vaccine so far this season. We’d really like to see an increase in vaccinations so people have a better chance at staying healthy.”

Click below for the full announcement from Health & Welfare.

Public comment sought on positioning INL as nation’s key nuclear research site

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter announced today that his Leadership in Nuclear Energy (LINE) Commission has presented a “progress report” to the state and is seeking public comment. “I think this progress report clearly points out that the environmental cleanup envisioned by my predecessors has largely been realized while at the same time we’ve established INL as the nation’s preeminent nuclear research and development laboratory,” Otter said in a statement. “There’s been significant economic benefit to the entire state.  As we sustain and even try to build on that in the future, the Commission is working to answer some tough questions and I applaud its effort to involve the public in that discussion before making final recommendations.”

Click below for Otter's full announcement and a list of FAQ's about the report. You can read the 52-page report here. Among its central questions:  Should Idaho modify then-Gov. Phil Batt's 1995 nuclear waste settlement agreement to allow additional nuclear materials to be brought to INL for research or other purposes, to maintain its mission as the nation's lead nuclear energy laboratory? The report's preliminary recommendation: Yes, at least in the context of specific research and manufacturing proposals. The report calls for significant investments at INL to make it the place for “concentrating and consolidating the nation’s nuclear energy research capability.”

Two new female Patas monkeys bound for Boise Zoo, to join survivor

Boise's city zoo will welcome two new female Patas monkeys within the next few seeks, the city announced today; they'll join the zoo's sole surviving Patas monkey, a male, who was left on his own after his cagemate was killed in a bizarre break-in at the zoo Nov. 17. The zoo is planning a new 1,500-square-foot exhibit for the monkeys, with indoor and outdoor living space and three large viewing windows for the public.

“As Boise has done so many times in the past, we are going to turn a tragedy into a positive new beginning,” said Mayor Dave Bieter, “and prove that no single event can dampen our spirit or discourage us from believing in Boise as a truly wonderful place to live.” The Friends of Zoo Boise, a volunteer group, has pledged to raise $209,000 for the new exhibit.

Prosecutors say 22-year-old Michael Jacob Watkins broke into the zoo to steal the monkey, and that he beat it to death with a tree branch after the monkey bit him. The Weiser resident is scheduled for a preliminary hearing on Dec. 5. Click below for the full announcement from the city.
  

New lawmakers welcomed to Capitol with energy bars, bathroom warnings

Idaho newest state legislators are on the job today, attending the first day of orientation for the record-tying 2013 Legislature's freshman class of 44. As they arrived for an opening lunch, many were greeted in the Capitol basement hallway by Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa, who's among three candidates vying for House majority caucus chair. In a large basket, she had energy bars for each new representative, from either party, along with a cheery welcome note saying, “A little something to help you keep your energy up this week.” Here, at right, Perry presents one to new Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d'Alene, telling him, “You're going to need plenty of energy.”

Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, and House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, welcomed the group at a lunch in the Capitol dining room, to kick off an afternoon devoted to sessions on legislative process, staff, the state Capitol and administrative procedures; the orientation continues Tuesday and Wednesday. Hill told the large group, “Can you believe it - you're here? And you have this kind of a responsibility?” He said, “It's really an honor for us to be here. With that honor comes a lot of responsibility as well.” Hill asked the new lawmakers to each introduce themselves. “I feel like the first day of school - excited,” said new Sen. Fred Martin, R-Boise. “I even got a new tie.” New Rep. Paul Romrell, R-St. Anthony, said, “As the pro-tem said, just to walk into this place - it gives you chills.”

Denney, who's fighting to keep the speaker's post in a challenge from House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, told the group he wanted to “welcome you all to the goldfish bowl,” saying, “Everything you do here is going to be observed.” Said Denney, “I can tell you that there's a lot of opportunity to do things that really don't bring honor to you.”

Referencing the frequent evening receptions sponsored by lobbyists and interest groups, Denney said there's plenty of opportunity to imbibe too much. “If you drink too much, I'm going to give each and every one of you my cell phone number, because I will come and take you home,” Denney promised. He also advised new lawmakers to use the restroom at every opportunity during sessions, “Because you never can tell when there might be a call of the House, and the doors are locked and you can't get out.”

Idaho justices delve into tribal sovereignty, cigarette sales on reservation…

Idaho Supreme Court justices delved into the details of tribal jurisdiction this morning, during arguments on an appeal from Native Wholesale Supply Co., which has sold more than 100 million cigarettes to an Indian-owned business, Warpath, on the Coeur d'Alene Reservation, without complying with Idaho state laws regarding a national tobacco settlement that require payments into a fund. The company is owned by an enrolled member of the Seneca tribe in New York, where it operates on a reservation; it imports the cigarettes from a native-owned manufacturer in Canada.

NWS contends the state has no jurisdiction to regulate its sales, as they're between tribal members on reservations, and there's no evidence the cigarettes ever entered any part of Idaho outside the Coeur d'Alene Reservation - since the reservation touches the state of Washington.

“Native Wholesale Supply has never sold to any Idaho consumer,” attorney Samuel Diddle told the justices. The wholesale sales to Warpath “may not be regulated by the state because of tribal sovereignty,” he said.

Deputy Idaho Attorney General Brett DeLange told the justices, “Our Legislature has spent a lot of time adopting a very comprehensive set of statutes and rules to regulate cigarette sales in Idaho. One of them is before those cigarettes can be sold, they need to be approved for sale. The Attorney General needs to know who that manufacturer is. … Native Wholesale Supply just wants to ignore all that. They don't want to comply with the state's efforts of comprehensively regulating cigarette sales in our state.”

Retired Justice Linda Copple-Trout, who is sitting in the case, said, “I know the cigarettes say that they are to be resold on the reservation, but that certainly is not a limitation against who may ultimately end up with the product.” She noted that the state's interest in its laws regarding the tobacco settlement was to recover funds from those selling “a dangerous product” to cover the state's costs for health care services related to its use.

DeLange said, “Native Wholesale Supply has introduced into Idaho over 100 million cigarettes that are not legal to be introduced and sold and imported into our state, and did all of it at wholesale.” He compared the case to an earlier one in which a Native American seller from New York sold cigarettes via the Internet to buyers in Caldwell, Boise and elsewhere in Idaho. But Diddle said this case is different, because the sales didn't occur off the reservation.

Justice Joel Horton noted that the lower court decision, which NWS is appealing, enjoined the firm not only from selling cigarettes that don't comply with Idaho laws relating to the tobacco settlement agreement, but also from selling cigarettes without an Idaho wholesaler's permit. However, he read from Idaho's law regarding the tax stamps required under Idaho's wholesaler's permits; it doesn't apply to reservation sales. “If they haven't made any sales of cigarettes subject to tax, they can't hold a permit,” Horton said.

NWS has tangled with multiple states over regulatory and tax issues. The firm also was a target of a criminal case in Seattle regarding the sale of contraband cigarettes by members of a Washington tribe without paying that state's sales tax. The Idaho case arose from a 2008 lawsuit the state filed against NWS, seeking to stop its sales in Idaho and seize profits from sales already made.

At the close of today's arguments, Chief Justice Roger Burdick said, “The matter is now under advisement and we will render a decision.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Idaho Lorax speaks for the trees, says ‘write me in please’

The Lorax, the “shortish and oldish and brownish and mossy” character with a “voice that was sharpish and bossy,” was created by Dr. Seuss in his 1971 environmentally themed children’s book by the same name, in which the Lorax “speaks for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.” And it was the title of a quirky 2012 feature film starring the voices of Danny DeVito, Zac Efron and Taylor Swift.

But did you know that the Lorax was a write-in candidate for public office in Idaho, and garnered three votes in the Nov. 6 election?

“Idaho Lorax,” with a home address of “General Delivery” in Pocatello, submitted the necessary paperwork to the Idaho secretary of state’s office to be an independent write-in candidate for the Idaho Legislature in Idaho House District 29, Seat A. It – or he? – was the only write-in candidate to file for the Idaho Legislature this year. You can read my full Sunday column here at spokesman.com, which also notes that in Idaho's final election results, of the 34 people who had filed as write-ins for president on the Idaho ballot, Roseanne Barr was by far the most popular.
  

McGee affair bleeds into Senate leadership fight

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― Former Republican Sen. John McGee's Senate exit is bleeding into a fight over leadership of the chamber's dominant GOP faction for 2013. Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis is being challenged by Sen. Dean Mortimer for the No. 2 position in Wednesday's secret vote. The two Idaho Falls lawmakers would seem natural allies. However, the Idaho Statesman reports dissatisfaction in the caucus over Davis' handling of the McGee affair. Davis remained a McGee ally, despite the Caldwell lawmaker's 2011 drunken-driving conviction. Meanwhile, Mortimer was among nine senators who said publicly they tried to oust McGee as majority caucus chair in a closed-door vote in January ― just weeks before sexual-harassment allegations ended McGee's career.

Davis declined comment to The Associated Press on Saturday; Mortimer couldn't be reached. There are two other leadership races in the Senate. Curt McKenzie of Nampa is challenging Assistant Majority Leader Chuck Winder of Boise, and Steve Bair of Blackfoot takes on Majority Caucus Leader Russ Fulcher of Meridian, who was elected to the leadership post when McGee quit in February.
  

Amid GOP House leadership fight, campaign cash flowed

As Election Day approached, Moscow Republican House candidate Cindy Agidius noticed her campaign account filling with money from prominent GOP lawmakers, from districts hundreds of miles from hers in northcentral Idaho, AP reporter John Miller reports. House Speaker Lawerence Denney of Midvale chipped in $1,000 from an internal GOP account, while Majority Leader Mike Moyle of Star gave $500. Cash from Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke of Oakley and Rep. Christy Perry of Nampa also went into her coffers.

“It was always interesting to see where the money came from, especially since I didn't ask for it,” Agidius, who won Nov. 6 by just 123 votes, told the AP. More than a show of support for a partisan colleague in a tight race, however, this election cash infusion for Agidius and dozens of other Republican candidates across Idaho underscores the tense internal House GOP fight now being waged for leadership posts; click below for Miller's full report previewing Wednesday's hotly contested House GOP leadership elections.

Hart offers to pay just $3,816 to settle more than $626,000 in tax debts

Tax-protesting former Idaho Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, is now proposing in bankruptcy court to pay just $106 a month for three years to satisfy more than $626,000 in debts, a total of $3,816 - less than a third of the amount he proposed paying in his earlier, dismissed bankruptcy filing. The debts include more than $564,000 in back federal income taxes, penalties and interest, and more than $62,000 in back state income taxes, penalties, interest and court-ordered attorney fees and costs for the state. Hart appeared before a bankruptcy trustee Friday and refused to answer a barrage of questions.

Federal authorities have filed a foreclosure lawsuit seeking to take Hart's log home in Athol to satisfy his federal tax debts; that case was put on hold when Hart filed for bankruptcy in May, then started back up when his first bankruptcy filing was dismissed in August. Then, in October, Hart filed for bankruptcy again. Last week, a bankruptcy judge refused to postpone the foreclosure, finding that Hart had filed the second bankruptcy in bad faith. You can read a full report here from S-R reporter Scott Maben in Coeur d'Alene.
  

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

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

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