Archive for July 2012
State officials say the plan to supply the first laptop computers of a multi-year phase-in aimed at getting one to every Idaho high school student is on track for fall, despite hitting a snag last month when the state canceled bidding for insufficient response and instead opted to negotiate directly with providers. “We are still on track to meet the program's original delivery objectives with the first wave of mobile computing devices reaching schools this fall,” the state Department of Administration advised the state Department of Education ina memo late last week, the AP reports; click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.
Sharon Harrigfeld, director of the Idaho Department of Juvenile Corrections, has released a statement in the wake of a whistleblower lawsuit charging abuses at a Nampa juvenile center run by the department, saying, “I believe in our programs and I believe in our staff.” The lawsuit includes charges that staff members had sex with jailed juveniles at the center. Here's Harrigfeld's full statement:
“While it is standard practice for an agency facing a lawsuit to limit discussion about the allegations outside of the legal process, when questions are raised about the safety of juveniles in our care and custody and the safety of our staff it is important for me as the director to provide reassurance that our facilities are safe. I am confident that our staff and the procedures we have in place focus on the safety and protection of juveniles in our custody and ensure that when allegations of misconduct are brought forward they are investigated and appropriate action is taken.
“This is a difficult time for the Department, especially for the staff who do incredible and challenging work in the facilities to provide the best services to the juveniles committed to their care. I believe in our programs and I believe in our staff. I thank all staff for the public service provided each day to community safety.”
The Idaho Transportation Department and law enforcement agencies across the state are partnering up for an anti-aggressive driving push - including intensive patrols on popular routes focusing on speeding and other aggressive driving behaviors - from Aug. 1-13.
The reason: Idaho has higher rates of crashes involving aggressive driving than the nation, and aggressive driving was a contributing factor in nearly half of Idaho car crashes in 2011. Speeding is a factor in more than a third of Idaho's traffic deaths.
“Law enforcement is not just writing tickets for bad driving behavior,” said Boise Police Chief Mike Masterson, whose agency is among 49 joining in the two-week enforcement push. “Law enforcement agencies across the state are partnering to target aggressive drivers and motorcycle riders to make our roads safer for Idahoans who want to arrive home safe to their families.” Click below for ITD's full announcement.
So just how much of a boost did Washington's liquor-privatization move give Idaho's state liquor stores along the Idaho-Washington border? A nice bump, but not anything they're counting on lasting. The reason: Though Washington liquor prices went up, waves of discounting - not allowed at state stores - are likely in the future under that state's newly privatized system. You can read S-R reporter Jim Camden's recent full report here.
Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on today's discussions in the Legislature's Health Care Task Force, at which state Insurance Director Bill Deal told lawmakers it may already be too late for Idaho to set up a state-run health insurance exchange in time to meet federal deadlines.
Idaho has reported its first human case of West Nile Virus this year, a Twin Falls County woman in her 40s who had recently traveled to Valley County; it's not clear in which county she contracted the disease, which is spread by infected mosquitoes. The woman has recovered, Idaho Health & Welfare reported. Last year, Idaho had three human cases of West Nile Virus; in 2006, it had 1,000 infections and 23 deaths.
Mosquitoes have tested positive for the virus so far in Ada, Canyon and Payette counties. Click below for the full announced from Health & Welfare.
The Idaho Court of Appeals has rejected an appeal from a Kootenai County man who said a state law removing his commercial driver's license for life after his second, off-the-job DUI constituted double jeopardy and excessive, cruel and unusual punishment. Steven Leslie Williams sued the Idaho Transportation Department, but 1st District Judge Lansing Haynes rejected his challenge of his lifetime suspension; a unanimous Court of Appeals upheld Haynes' decision.
Chief Judge David Gratton, writing for the court, found that the punishment wasn't excessive and it was related to legitimate legislative goals. “The reason for the deprivation is public safety, one of the legislature's highest priorities,” Gratton wrote. “Removing a problem driver from the roadways in order to protect public safety is rationally related to a lifetime CDL disqualification for driving offenses occurring while driving a non-commercial vehicle.”
Noted Gratton, “Williams chose to drive while impaired, endangering the public on two separate occasions. If Williams wanted to retain his CDL, he could have abided by the conditions placed on his CDL.” The court also noted in a footnote that state regulations allow the Idaho Transportation Department to reinstate a lifetime suspension after 10 years, if the driver has successfully completed a state-approved rehabilitation program. You can read the court decision here.
Idaho's catastrophic health care fund, which covers care for indigent patients with no other coverage and is run through Idaho's counties, which each pay $11,000 per case before the fund kicks in, is starting to climb in costs again, CAT fund board Chairman Roger Christensen, a Bonneville County commissioner, told lawmakers on the Health Care Task Force this afternoon. Cost controls implemented in recent years dramatically slowed the expected growth, he said, but, “Unless we can come up with some kind of a rabbit out of a hat, we're going to see some of the trends start going back up.”
Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, a retired physician and CAT fund board member, congratulated Christensen and Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, on the savings found in the program in recent years, as part of an effort Cameron launched. “We've had roughly a 40 percent decrease over what would have been expected in the indigent costs,” Rusche said. “So, Sen. Cameron, when you put that work group together up in the attic of the (Capitol) Annex, I don't think you realized what a good deal you were doing.” He added, “But you're right, the easy wins are done. We can expect to see a 7, 8 percent increase in the total amount of CAT fund expenditures if we don't have some other alternatives.”
The successful cost-cutting moves included a 5 percent discount on provider reimbursements, which will sunset in 2013; stepped-up efforts to identify alternative payers for specific patients; and a new federal reinsurance pool for people with pre-existing conditions who have been denied traditional insurance, which will expire in 2014. But the cost of health care has continued to rise. Last year, the CAT fund, between state appropriations and county spending, spent a little over $60 million and saw 1,292 cases; in the coming year, it expects 1,425 cases at an average per-case costs of $27,742 .
Christensen said Idaho's CAT fund system is “unique,” in how it targets the same population that now is targeted for a state-option Medicaid expansion under the national health care reform law, and how it pays for their care. “It's one of the only, if not the only state, where the eligible population that would be picked up by the Medicaid expansion are (now) picked up by state general fund dollars and by county property tax dollars,” Christensen said. “That's the safety net. And that's the majority of our clientele, are those single individuals without disabilities.”
The proposed Medicaid expansion, which Idaho has not yet decided whether to sign on for, would cover that population with 100 percent federal funds for the first three years, phasing down to 90 percent federal funds by 2021; the state and counties now bear 100 percent of the CAT fund costs.
One question that's come up several times today at the Legislature's Health Care Task Force: Could the governor implement a particular type of health insurance exchange by executive order, without legislative action? When lawmakers posed that question to Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane, he said, “I think the best way to explain it is that both the governor and the Legislature have authority, but they're both subject to checks by the respective other body.” So, he said, if the governor declared by the Nov. 16 deadline that the state would take a particular course, some legislative action likely would be required to implement that, whether it's through funding or authorizing legislation. The Legislature, when it convenes, could endorse a different course. But legislative decisions are subject to the governor's veto, which could leave the state with no officially endorsed direction.
“I believe the default at this point would be a federal exchange,” Kane told the lawmakers. “But that's a lot of contingencies. … Hopefully, there would be some sort of consensus on which direction the state is moving.”
Asked what would happen if the governor and Legislature disagreed on Medicaid expansion, Kane said, “That would be a very legally interesting situation.” It's unclear what the outcome would be, he said. “That's a very involved powers-of-government question, from my perspective.”
Idaho Health & Welfare Director Dick Armstrong said the governor's working group that he chairs, on the issues surrounding whether or not to expand Medicaid under the national health care reform law, will be reviewing extensive data on where those patients are now getting their health care, and who's paying for it; that information is being gathered now. “The decision is going to be complicated,” he said. The law gives states the option of expanding Medicaid to cover low-income uninsured adults; for the first three years, the federal government would pay 100 percent of the cost, and after that, it would phase down to 90 percent by 2021.
Armstrong also told lawmakers this morning that if Idaho doesn't create a state-run insurance exchange, there will be costs to connect to a federal exchange, and the state could apply for a federal grant to cover those costs. “It only seems reasonable that if the federal government is going to make us make system changes, that they pay for it,” he said.
Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, asked state Insurance Director Bill Deal about the “partnership” option on a health insurance exchange. “I think most Idahoans would prefer that the federal government not be in their insurance buying decisions,” said Cameron. “So as I try to analyze, it seems to me that if the state has an exchange, then the state can keep the federal government out of those decisions. … If the state decides not to do an exchange, then the federal government does their exchange and is in the lives of Idahoans.” He asked, “How does a partnership keep the federal government at bay? … And why is that even a viable consideration? It seems to me that either we jump in with both feet and do our own exchange, or we walk away and say 'we're not going to do anything' and we'll let the federal government do it to us.”
Deal said, “I think most us of having to do with insurance have been aiming toward a state-based and run exchange.” But he said time is running out. Deal said states can change their mind every November as to which route they choose. “So many states are considering this partnership thing as a way to get started, a way to fund an exchange, and then down the road, 2015, 2016, they can put together an exchange, move in a different direction, go with a state-based operation. … That's why I mentioned the partnership, because it is an alternative.” He said that also could include partnering with other states. Deal said going with a federally operated exchange would mean giving up a substantial amount of the state's authority to regulate insurance.
The next deadline for Idaho to apply for a federal grant to fund work on a health insurance exchange falls in mid-August, state Insurance Director Bill Deal told lawmakers this morning, but Idaho still hasn't decided whether it wants a state-run exchange, a federally-run one, or a partnership. Therefore, he said, “We have declined to submit a grant application at this particular time, which again puts us a little bit more behind the time with the funding need, should we make that decision. So the next opportunity for a grant is November. I think whichever way Idaho would move … we're going to need some money from the federal government. So that's our next opportunity, is in November.”
In 2011, Idaho received a $20.4 million federal grant to start work on a state-run health insurance exchange, but the 2012 Legislature declined to accept the money, and now it's gone.
Some provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act already have taken effect in Idaho, state Department of Insurance Director Bill Deal reported to lawmakers on the Health Care Task Force this morning. “Most of them took place in September 2010,” he said, including banning pre-existing condition exclusions for people age 19 and under; removal of lifetime benefit caps; and phaseout of certain limits within policies. The ban on pre-existing condition exclusions will extend to all policies in 2014, he said. Other changes also were made in underwriting, rating and bands. “All of these changes have been implemented. They were implemented by federal law,” Deal said. “And I think that as far as the state is concerned, that Idaho is going to need to take a look and see if those changes in coverages be put into Idaho law.”
Deal noted that federal law gives states authority to regulate insurance. Said Deal, “It is recommended by the Department of Insurance, under Title 41, Idaho Code, that we amend those sections necessary to give the state of Idaho the authority to regulate with these new implemented changes in coverages.”
Deal is chairing the governor's working group on health insurance exchanges; it will hold its first meeting on Aug. 2, he said.
Federal officials are currently anticipating they'll have to run health insurance exchanges for lots of states - “as high as 30,” Joy Wilson of the National Conference of State Legislatures told Idaho lawmakers this morning. “And that means that there won't be much customization. So there'll be a template and this is how they'll do it. So if you have particular issues in your state, whether it's geography or special populations or just something that is unique about your state, the likelihood that that will get addressed is diminished if it's a federally facilitated exchange, because they just can't do customization.”
She added, “It kind of depends on how comfortable you are with HHS having that big a role in your insurance market. I think it really comes down to if you can find solace in that or not.” That drew a murmur from the crowd at the Health Care Task Force meeting, which has now swelled to about 75, and includes many lobbyists and representatives of various parts of the health care industry.
Wilson told the task force, “The (Medicaid) expansion is a tougher issue. Your providers are very concerned about states not doing the expansion because of the uncompensated care. … So there's a lot of concern by different constituencies in your state, and I think each state's going to have to take a really hard look at how the numbers look, and you're going to see a lot of variation in how states respond.”
Among the insights from Joy Wilson of the National Conference of State Legislatures into the health care choices facing states like Idaho: “The Medicaid expansion affects every state differently. … Most states are in the process of running numbers to try to determine what the impact will be of the expansion in their state.” That's key for all states to do, she told the Idaho Legislature's Health Care Task Force this morning.
On health insurance exchanges, there is a Nov. 16 deadline and three choices for states: A state-run exchange, a federally run exchange, or a partnership exchange, in which the federal government and state share duties, with states handling the eligibility, operations and/or the consumer assistance portions of the exchange.
She also noted that by Sept. 30, states must declare what their essential health benefit package is going to be. “The default plan would be the small group plan in your state with the largest enrollment,” Wilson said. “For the most part, state insurance commissioners are making the decisions,” though in some states, legislators are participating. Wilson also noted that deficit reduction actions in Congress could affect funding for aspects of Medicaid. “It is certain that there will be significant reductions in discretionary health programs as part of deficit reduction,” Wilson said.
There's a crowd of about 50 in the audience for today's legislative Health Care Task Force meeting, which runs all day in room EW 42 of the state capitol. There's particularly high interest, as the state ponders its next steps in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the national health care reform law. “This meeting, just to set everybody's mind at ease, is not intended for us to make a decision certainly at this point in time,” Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, co-chairman of the task force, said as the meeting opened. “We're gathering information. We're certainly not trying to get out in front of the governor's select committee.” He noted that a number of lawmakers on the task force serve on the governor's two panels exploring issues surrounding a health insurance exchange and possible Medicaid expansion. “We applaud the governor in his efforts to take a thoughtful approach to the decisions that Idaho must make, and look forward to working with them and trying to determine what is the best for Idaho citizens.”
First up for the joint task force today is a report from Joy Wilson of the National Conference of State Legislatures, by phone, offering an analysis of the Supreme Court decision and its implications for states.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press/Moscow-Pullman Daily News: MOSCOW, Idaho (AP) ― A 2nd District Court Judge in northern Idaho is scheduled on Wednesday to hear arguments concerning a request by the University of Idaho and Idaho State Board of Education to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the parents of a former student who fell from a fraternity house window. Esmeralda Banda and Raul Andaverde in September filed the lawsuit claiming the university, state board and several fraternities and sororities on the Moscow campus didn't do enough to ensure the safety of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon house where their daughter was injured. Amanda Andaverde was seriously injured in the 2009 fall. The Moscow-Pullman Daily News reports (http://bit.ly/Pds6if) the school and board of education have filed a motion for summary judgment to dismiss the lawsuit.
A proposal for a fourth dam and new reservoir on the Bear River in eastern Idaho - on the last free-flowing stretch of the river that's accessible to the public - has been rejected by the Idaho Department of Water Resources. The dam proposal, first submitted in 2007, drew vigorous opposition from anglers, recreationists and environmentalists, the Associated Press reports; the department found that the benefits of the dam wouldn't outweigh the benefits of keeping the river as-is, including its value to fisheries. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.
Idaho Department of Commerce Director Jeff Sayer is crowing about company expansions and recruitments that are running far ahead of expectations, just a month into the state's new fiscal year. “We have probably 10 projects, all in different regions of the state, that will bring anywhere from 50 to 200 jobs per project,” Sayer told Eye on Boise today. “The best part is that they're a combination of companies that are expanding and new companies coming into the state. So if that pace keeps up, this year should be a really exciting year for us.”
Details are scarce at this point, but Sayer is promising more later; the jobs in question will be added within the next four to 18 months. “We're finally seeing the culmination of several months of momentum that's been building across the state, and now it's finally coming to the surface where what we were hearing is actually turning into actual jobs,” Sayer said. “We're seeing growth in sectors that people aren't even aware exist in Idaho, like the aerospace sector near Spokane. We're seeing a lot of manufacturing. We're seeing a lot of strength in some of our existing industries that are finally starting to expand and grow.”
The current upswell is unexpected, Sayer noted. “This is probably six to nine months ahead of what I would have predicted. So it's fun. And we're seeing even more conversations that are starting to fill our pipelines, so it's not like once we get done with these we're done - there are several more coming.”
Here's a news item from the Association Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― A group of Idaho Department of Juvenile Corrections employees have revised their lawsuit against the agency, alleging that some staffers at a juvenile detention center in Nampa had sex with the youth incarcerated there. Attorney Andrew Schoppe first filed the lawsuit in Boise's U.S. District Court on behalf of seven employees who contended that the Nampa detention center is rife with problems including cronyism and policies that put staffers and kids at risk. Last week department officials filed a response denying all those allegations. The new version of the lawsuit filed Wednesday adds six plaintiffs along with allegations that juveniles frequently have sex with each other, and that managers failed to act when some staffers had sex with juveniles. The allegations include that a female staffer had a sexual relationship with an incarcerated male juvenile, and then moved in with him after his release; and that a male staffer had sexual contact with a female juvenile detainee. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.
Idaho has seen two major drug raids in the last 24 hours, as federal authorities raided 11 locations in Twin Falls County in a crackdown on selling “spice,” or synthetic marijuana; and Idaho State Police detectives, along with aerial support, raided 12 marijuana grow sites in a Gooding County cornfield, pulling 3,684 marijuana plants that ISP said have an estimated street value of more than $7 million.
The ISP received an anonymous tip last night, prompting the cornfield raid; they're asking anyone with information to call a tip hotline at (800) 524-7277.
The spice raids, which were preceded by five indictments for conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance analogue, were part of a nationwide spice crackdown and targeted businesses including a Twin Falls auto sales lot, a skate shop, a tattoo and body piercing shop and more. The defendants, if convicted, could face up to 20 years in prison. Click below for a full announcement from Idaho U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson; the raid is part of a national push that earlier targeted 13 head shops in the Treasure Valley, in which nine were found to be openly selling spice.
Said Olson, “This week's law enforcement actions should send a strong message that if you're selling spice under any name or packaging you need to stop.”
Gov. Butch Otter's health insurance exchange working group, chaired by Idaho Insurance Director Bill Deal, has announced it'll hold its first meeting next Thursday, Aug. 2, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the west conference room of the J.R. Williams Building, 700 W. State St. The meeting is open to the public; you can see the full meeting notice here.
Meanwhile, the Medicaid expansion working group, chaired by Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dick Armstrong, will hold its first meeting Aug. 6, also from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; it'll be at the seventh floor conference room of the Pete T. Cenarrusa Building, 450 W. State St.
Otter appointed the two groups to look into both issues and advise him how the state should proceed after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the national health care reform law. A joint legislative panel, the Health Care Task Force, will discuss some of the same issues during an all-day meeting on Monday, starting at 9 a.m. in room EW 42 of the state capitol; that meeting's agenda includes presentations from both Deal and Armstrong.
1st District Democratic challenger Jimmy Farris has a “buoyant” 60-second TV ad filmed and ready to go, but doesn't have the cash yet to actually run it, reports Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey. Popkey reports that Farris, a former NFL football player and Lewiston native, is hoping to tap his former teammates in a fundraising push. You can read Popkey's report here, and see Farris' ad here, which opens with the broad-shouldered young man on the state Capitol steps, saying, “People from small towns know how to dream big. … My dreams never included being a politician, but I always wanted to make a difference.”
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― An Idaho man who was able to escape a fiery car crash suffered non-life threatening injuries when he was struck by a semitrailer as he tried to flag down help. The Idaho State Police says 37-year-old Patrick Grimm of Pocatello was eastbound on Interstate 84 east of Boise at about 4:30 a.m. Thursday when he fell asleep at the wheel. His car went off the road, through a fence and came to rest about 300 yards off the road, starting a fire that burned about 10 acres. Grimm escaped the car and returned to the interstate where he tried to flag down help and was struck by a semitrailer. The ISP says Grimm was taken to a Boise hospital by air ambulance with non-life threatening injuries. The crash remains under investigation.
Idaho multimillionaire and big-money Republican donor Frank Vandersloot is the target of two new federal audits, the Associated Press reports, one by the Internal Revenue Service and the other by the U.S. Department of Labor. Vandersloot, the founder and CEO of Idaho Falls-based health care products company Melaleuca Inc., said he learned of the two federal inquires within the last month. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Todd Dvorak.
The Idaho Law Foundation is inviting people in the Treasure Valley who want to learn more about the law and how it affects them to enroll in a free, 12-week “Citizens Law Academy.” Co-sponsored by local attorneys and judges, the Fourth District Bar Association and the U.S. District Court, District of Idaho, the academy will meet Tuesday evenings from Sep. 4 to Nov. 13; anyone 18 or older is eligible. Click below for more information.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) ― Former Idaho Republican lawmaker Jack Barraclough has died at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center. Barraclough's son, Jared Barraclough, told the Post Register (http://bit.ly/OCH6Gn ) that his father suffered a massive stroke earlier this month and died at the hospital on Tuesday. He was 84. Barraclough represented Idaho Falls for seven terms in the Statehouse, taking over as chairman of the House Education Committee in 2004. His tenure in the Legislature lasted through 2006, when he lost a bid for re-election to Democrat Jerry Shively. Before joining the Legislature, Barraclough was a hydrologist and project chief with the U.S. Geological Survey. State Sen. Bart Davis of Idaho Falls said Barraclough was well-respected by other lawmakers for his knowledge of water issues and his work on legislation involving the Snake River Plain Aquifer.
When should a parent lose custody of a young child for refusing consent for a medical procedure? How likely must the harm to the child be for that to happen, and what if the potential harm is unlikely but dire? And should doctors and police who seize custody and perform the procedure over parents' objections bear any liability? Those questions and more are at the heart of a parents' rights case that brought a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to Boise on Tuesday for the first time since 2003, to hold a special sitting to hear arguments on an appeal from parents Corissa and Eric Mueller.
“This is a very difficult case,” said Senior Circuit Judge J. Clifford Wallace of San Diego. “We’ve all found it a very difficult case.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Among a boatload of interesting items posted on the Idaho Statesman's Idaho Politics blog by columnist Dan Popkey are these:
* At least five Idaho lawmakers are off to Salt Lake this week for the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) conference, including defeated Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, who is traveling at state expense, as is Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens. Popkey reports that Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, the Idaho state chair for ALEC, opted to go at her own expense; read his full post here.
* In the primary election, the Idaho Education Association funneled $9,320 into a new PAC called Idaho Republicans for our Schools, which used the money for robo-calls supporting five GOP legislative candidates: GOP Sens. Shawn Keough, Tim Corder and Dean Cameron, and GOP candidates Stan Bastian and Alan Ward. Rick Jones of Rathdrum, IEA vice president, a Republican and the treasurer of the new PAC, told Popkey, “There are many Idaho educators who are Republicans. What we're saying is let's vote for Republicans who support public education, they're not mutually exclusive.” You can read Popkey's full item here.
* Word that Holland & Hart, the private law firm hired by the state to defend it against former ITD chief Pam Lowe's wrongful-firing lawsuit, spent $4,419 in state money to hire Gallatin Public Affairs Group for “litigation assistance” in the first half of 2010, including advice on how the lawsuit would be portrayed in the news media. Read the full report here.
Here's an interesting question about the forced spinal tap that St. Luke's performed on a 5-week-old baby in 2002 over her mother's objections, seizing custody of the child to do so: Who paid for the medical procedure? I posed that question today to the Michael Rosman, attorney for Eric and Corissa Mueller in the case at the center of a 9th Circuit appeal that was argued in Boise this morning.
“They tried to get the Muellers to pay for it,” Rosman said. “The Muellers refused to pay for the procedures they didn't authorize.” Eventually, he said, “St. Luke's agreed to accept the insurance alone,” and forego any further payment from the parents.
Rosman, asked why his organization, the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Individual Rights, decided to represent the Muellers pro-bono in the case, said, “This case struck us as a case in which individual rights were violated. The important right of parents to make medical decisions for their children in reasonable circumstances was violated.”
The University of Idaho says it has raised $1.1 million in gifts and pledges for renovation of the old Ada County courthouse, now known as the Capitol Annex, into a new Idaho Law Learning Center. The old courthouse, which hosted two sessions of the Legislature while the state Capitol was being renovated, has stood vacant since; it's tabbed as the future location of the Boise branch program of the University of Idaho College of Law; the Idaho State Law Library, which is open to the public; state judicial education offices; and other law-related public programs.
The UI also says it's raised another $500,000 from donors for education programs at the new center, which initially will include the third-year law school Boise program authorized by the State Board of Education in 2008 and started in 2010. That program, which has graduated nearly 60 students, is currently housed at the Idaho Water Center at Broadway and Front. Click below for the UI's full announcement.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― The Idaho Lottery is reporting another record year, posting more than $175 million in sales during the last fiscal year. Lottery officials on Tuesday also turned over $41.5 million to funds benefiting Idaho public schools and public buildings. That amount is the biggest since the lottery started in 1989 and the ninth consecutive year of record dividends. For fiscal year 2012, the lottery reported sales of $175.8 million, up 19.5 percent or $28 million compared to 2011 and the single biggest annual revenue jump in the lottery's history. The $41.5 million dividend is double the $20.5 million payout in 2003. The dividend is being split among three separate accounts ― the Department of Education's public school building account and the state building fund, and a fund that helps match school bond payments.
Click below for the Lottery's full announcement.
Here's how John Runft, the Boise attorney in the Mueller parents' rights case that was argued before a 9th Circuit panel in Boise today, puts the legal issue at the heart of the case: “When the danger dips below a probability into a possibility, it's wrong - there should be no deprivation of the constitutional rights. One should not lose the parental rights which are in the Constitution.”
The case involves a baby with a slight fever, whom an emergency room doctor said had a small - possibly 5 percent - chance of a serious bacterial infection such as meningitis. Meningitis can be fatal or cause brain damage in an infant within 12 hours. Administering a spinal tap and antibiotics to a 5-week-old infant also carries risks, though the child wasn't harmed in this case. “There is a presumption that parents act in the best interest of their children,” attorney Michael Rosman told the 9th Circuit judges. “The court below recognized this” in an earlier ruling. But that presumption wasn't included in the jury's instructions in the case, he said. Plus, he argued that the allowing an expert witness to say he thought the child did have meningitis “prejudiced our case before the jury.”
9th Circuit Judge Randy Smith responded, “I don't know that I can find a mistake of the law in what Judge Winmill gave as his instructions. He may have misformulated it.” Judge Stephen Trott noted that the emergency room doctor conferred with a pediatrician, who concurred with his opinion. “I know everything that happened - I read this twice,” Trott told Rosman. Trott questioned how the city police detective who declared the child in imminent danger could be held responsible; he's among those being sued. “You're trying to visit on a detective a possible mistake made by a doctor.”
Kirtlan Naylor, attorney for the city of Boise, defended city police officers' detention of the mother in a small room; they dragged her several steps down a hallway toward the room as she resisted. “While her detention may have been an inconvenience, it was not unreasonable under the Constitution,” Naylor told the court.
Trott questioned Rich Hall, attorney for emergency room doctor Dr. Richard McDonald, about testimony to the jury given by a defense expert. “Did he not go beyond that and say in his opinion she had meningitis, and the administration of these antibiotics saved her, regardless of the results of the lumbar test?” he asked. Hall responded, “That is one of the opinions that can be solicited from him.”
When Christopher Pooser, attorney for St. Luke's, began his arguments, Trott interrupted him, asking if his argument is that “all they were doing was following state law?” Pooser said yes. He said when the hospital social worker called Child Protective Services and the Boise Police, “He was merely reporting as he was required to by the law.”
Rosman said instead of seizing custody of the child, the hospital could have allowed the mother to consult with her husband and other doctor to see if she wanted to consent to the procedure, and if not, it could have called an on-call judge for a hearing on whether custody should be removed. “Don't forget the cure can be worse than the disease,” he told the court. At that, Judge J. Clifford Wallace retorted, “Well, how can a spinal tap be worse than death? The outcome they were worried about was death.”
At the conclusion of the arguments, which lasted a little over an hour, Wallace said, “This is a very difficult case. … We've all found it a very difficult case.” He said the court will take the case under submission, and try to get a disposition “as soon as we can.”
A capacity crowd filled a sixth-floor courtroom at Boise's federal courthouse today, as three judges from the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals sharply questioned attorneys from both sides in a parents' rights case; it was the first time the 9th Circuit has held a special sitting in Boise since 2003. Attorneys, reporters, law students and law clerks were among those looking on, and the court permitted cameras in the courtroom, so a TV camera quietly rolled in a corner, and an AP photographer unobtrusively captured the event in photos.
“It's a great opportunity for the legal community in Idaho to be able to watch the 9th Circuit in action, something we don't get to see a lot of times,” said U.S. Attorney for Idaho Wendy Olson, who was in the audience, as were all of the legal externs from her office. “This was what we call a 'hot bench,' where there are lots of questions for the lawyers.” She called it “a great opportunity in a case that's of great importance for the legal community.”
The case involves a 5-week-old baby whose mother brought her to St. Luke's emergency room in 2002 with a low-grade fever. Doctors insisted on giving the infant a spinal tap and antibiotics because of the slight but serious risk of meningitis. The mother refused to consent, asking instead to first call and confer with her husband and naturopathic physician; the hospital called in a social worker, who called in police and Child Protective Services, and the child was seized from her mother's custody and the treatment given while the mother was held in a small room nearby and not permitted to use a phone. The test found the baby just had a cold. The parents had to hire a lawyer to regain custody of their child, which they got back about 36 hours later after going to court.
The parents, Corissa and Eric Mueller, sued, but a jury ruled against them, and they had to pay trial costs for the city, the emergency room doctor and the hospital. Today marked the second appeal to the 9th Circuit in the case, in which the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Individual Rights is representing the Muellers without charge. “I think parents should care about what happens to the extent they want to make medical decisions for their children,” said Michael Rosman, attorney for the center. If what happened in the Muellers' case is legal, he said, police can seize a child from its parents' custody simply because the parents bring the child to an emergency room with minor symptoms. “If that's what the law is, I think parents should be terribly concerned.”
Rich Hall, attorney for the emergency room doctor, Dr. Richard McDonald, told the judges, “I've tried these cases for 40 years. I've seen the other side,” when a doctor didn't test for meningitis or didn't test quickly enough; it can quickly be fatal to an infant. “In this case, what Dr. McDonald did was consistent with the standard of care.”
The appeal raises several points, including objecting to the admission of the testimony of an expert witness who told the jury he believed the child had meningitis and the treatment saved her, even though the test showed otherwise; and objecting to instructions given to the jury. If the appeal is successful, the jury verdict likely would be overturned and the case returned to Idaho for a new trial. Today's 9th Circuit panel consisted of Judges Randy Smith, Stephen Trott and J. Clifford Wallace.
A longtime GOP activist and former aide to Idaho Rep. Helen Chenoweth has come forward and identified herself as “AlmostInnocentBystander,” the anonymous commenter on the Huckleberries Online blog whose comment about Kootenai County GOP Chair Tina Jacobson triggered a lawsuit from Jacobson. Linda Cook said Monday that she posted the comment; The Spokesman-Review had been ordered by a court to identify the commenter by Tuesday.
“I would say this is exactly what the First Amendment is about,” said Cook, 54, of Rathdrum, reports S-R reporter Meghann Cuniff. “If you know that someone will come and sue you, which is an expensive proposition, but what you’re bringing out is a matter of public interest, shouldn’t you be able to speak anonymously?” You can read Cuniff's full story here at spokesman.com.
The case of a five-week-old Boise baby with a slight fever who was brought to a local emergency room and then removed forcibly from her family's custody after the mom refused to consent to a spinal tap and antibiotics goes before 9th Circuit judges on appeal Tuesday in Boise; a three-judge panel of the appellate court will hold a special sitting in Boise for the first time since 2003. It turned out the infant just had a cold. The parents sued St. Luke's hospital and the city, whose police officers removed the child from her mother, but a jury sided with the hospital and the city. Now the parents have appealed. Click below for a full report on the case from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.
Trapping is back in the spotlight in Idaho, the Times-News reports, with a constitutional amendment on the November ballot to enshrine the right to hunt, fish and trap. Sen. Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls, pushed for the amendment; opponents are objecting that trapping shouldn't have been included. Click below for a full report from Times-News reporter Melissa Davlin.
Idaho, Oregon and Washington have jointly launched a “Squeal on Pigs” campaign to combat the latest invasive species - feral swine - that's turned up in all three states. Originating in Europe and Asia and imported for domestic use, the wild pigs, also known as the Russian boar, can grow to several hundred pounds and cause extensive damage to crops, wildlife and habitat; the three states' invasive species councils want folks to be on the lookout for the swine in the wild and report them if seen.
It's not just their destructive rooting and grubbing. Feral swine, defined as any pig that is not confined within a fenced property, often carry diseases that may be transmitted to livestock or humans; they prey on lambs, calves, fawns, upland birds and other wildlife; and they're remarkably fertile, producing a couple of litters of four to eight piglets a year and traveling long distances to invade new watersheds. Oregon has the most of the three states right now - 3,000 to 5,000 - and the Northwest states don't want to end up like heavily infested Texas, which sees more than $50 million a year in damage from feral swine.
“We don't know who brought 'em in or how they came,” said Amy Ferriter, Idaho's invasive species council coordinator. “That's really why we're trying to get the word out. If people see these things in the wild, they should report them to us.” The “Squeal on Pigs” campaign includes a toll-free hotline number to call: (888) 268-9219. The campaign's full slogan is: “Squeal on Pigs! Protect our Water and Land from Feral Pigs.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
The presidential campaign is on its way to Idaho, with both the Republican and Democratic candidates planning major fundraisers in Sun Valley - within a two-day span. Mitt Romney has a $1,000-a-head reception scheduled for the Sun Valley area on Aug. 3, possibly followed by a high-dollar dinner; Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey reported here on that event. And now it turns out that the Obama campaign will hold a high-dollar reception and dinner in Ketchum the previous day, Aug. 2, featuring Vice President Joe Biden.
The Sun Valley area is a target for national campaign fundraisers because of its high-dollar givers to both parties. Republicans have captured the lion's share of Idaho donations so far in the 2012 presidential campaign, with Idahoans donating $1.3 million so far to Republican candidates, and $287,229 to Democrats, according to the Federal Election Commission. Donations to Romney accounted for $970,147 of the GOP giving; 100 percent of the Democratic giving went to Obama.
For the Obama Idaho fundraiser with Biden, attendees can pay $250 just to attend the reception, $1,000 for preferred seating there, or $2,500 for a photo reception; supporters can become dinner co-hosts for $10,000 to $50,000. Romney's event will be his fifth Idaho fundraiser. Neither has announced any public events in conjunction with the fundraisers.
A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals will hold a special sitting in Boise on Tuesday for the first time since 2003, to hear oral arguments in the case of a 5-week-old baby girl who was given a spinal tap, antibiotics and steroids over her mother's objections, after the mom brought the infant to the St. Luke's emergency room with a low-grade fever at 10:15 on a summer night in 2002. When the mother, Corissa Mueller, refused the treatment, the hospital called in a hospital social worker who called police, and they then seized custody of the baby and performed the test. It found nothing. The protesting mother was dragged down the hall away from her baby by two police officers; she was kept from seeing the nursing infant for more than two hours; she was kept from using a phone to call her husband or her naturopath doctor; and the parents had to hire an attorney to regain custody of their child.
Parents Corissa and Eric Mueller sued St. Luke's, the emergency room doctor, the police officers and the city, but in 2010, a jury ruled against them after five days of deliberations, and they not only didn't recover any damages, but were ordered to pay the hospital's and city's trial costs. The Muellers have appealed to the 9th Circuit, and on Tuesday, three 9th Circuit judges - Randy Smith of Pocatello, Stephen Trott of Boise and J. Clifford Wallace of San Diego - will hear oral arguments in the appeal. The hearing will be held at the James A. McClure Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Boise, starting at 10 a.m.
The Muellers unsuccessfully sought class-action status in the case, to sue on behalf of all parents who bring their young children to emergency rooms. The doctor argued that the risk, though small, of potentially fatal meningitis in infants with similar symptoms meant the baby was in imminent danger. You can read the amended complaint here from the original Idaho lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Boise.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― A federal judge is ordering a Canadian mining company to comply with the nation's clean water laws and pay at least $2 million in penalties for polluting a tributary of the Boise River system. The order and penalty represent another loss for Atlanta Gold Corp., which is seeking to extract gold from the mountains near the historic mining town of Atlanta, Idaho, northeast of Boise. Earlier this year, U.S. Magistrate Judge Mikel H. Williams ruled that the company is legally responsible for high levels of arsenic and iron flowing from an abandoned mine shaft. His order issued Thursday wraps up the penalty phase of the case. The mining company was sued last year by environmental groups over allegations it was exceeding daily discharge levels for pollutants set in its federal permit.
Click below for a full report from AP reporter Todd Dvorak.
Puncture vine, the noxious weed that produces the notorious “goat heads” that routinely flatten bicyclists' tires in Ada County, can do even more harm to sheep, cattle, hay and crops, Ada County warns. The county is calling on residents to find puncture vine on their property and pull it before it begins producing seeds and the sharp burrs that contain them. The county also advises that after pulling the weeds, dropped burrs can be removed by sweeping or raking the ground, then patting the ground with a piece of carpet to collect the burrs; they and the plants should then be placed in a plastic bag in the trash. Read the county's full warning here, which calls the plant “flat-out noxious” and “one of the most annoying of toxic weeds.”
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― State officials say the number of unemployed workers in Idaho has dipped below 60,000 for the first time in nearly three years. Idaho's jobless rate fell to 7.7 percent in June and 59,000 workers counted as unemployed, or about 700 fewer than the previous month. The state Department of Labor says August 2009 marked the last time Idaho had fewer than 60,000 workers without jobs. The agency says payments from Idaho's unemployment trust fund were also down last month, as fewer than 21,000 workers received $19.7 million in benefits. That's a big decrease compared to a year ago, when more than 30,000 workers received $28.8 million in June 2011. Nationwide, jobless rates fell in just 11 states and Washington D.C.
The Idaho Transportation Board, meeting in Coeur d'Alene today, voted to move up nine major road construction projects around the state, saying cost savings and interest savings are allowing them to push them up. Three of the projects, all in the Treasure Valley, also will tap $80 million in existing GARVEE bonding authority for part of the project cost; they will reconstruct the Meridian Road, Broadway and Gowen Road interchanges on I-84, with work scheduled to start in 2014.
The other projects include straightening and realigning U.S. 2 from Lake Street to Cedar Street in Sandpoint, on which construction will start in 2013; realigning U.S. 95 from Thorn Creek to Moscow, a seven-mile project now scheduled to start construction in 2015; restoring four miles of pavement on I-84 from the Meridian Interchange to Five Mile Road, which will start in late 2012; and construction of a new eastbound interchange at the junction of I-84 and U.S. 93 near Twin Falls, on which work will start in late 2012. Click below for the ITD board's full announcement.
Students taking online classes from K12 Inc. in four states, including Idaho, are lagging in test scores and graduation rates compared to students in traditional schools, according to a new study by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder. The study “raises enormous red flags,” center director Kevin Welner told the Associated Press. K12 Inc. is the nation's largest for-profit online education provider, and it runs Idaho's largest charter school, the Idaho Virtual Academy, a state-funded online charter school that enrolls nearly 3,000 Idaho children across the state in kindergarten through 12th grade. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.
Note: The Idaho Statesman has a story today questioning the study's application to Idaho, as Idaho math and reading assessment results weren't out yet when the center did its analyses and therefore were missing from the study; Welner apologized to the Statesman and told the newspaper, “Idaho is not a focus of the achievement-outcome analyses.” The AP report on the data issues is included with the original article below.
Dr. Ted Epperly, a Boise family physician, director of the Family Medicine Residency of Idaho and former chairman of the American Academy of Family Physicians, recently published a book entitled, “Fractured: America's Broken Health Care System And What We Must Do To Heal It.” He says our current system is focused more on disease and sickness than on wellness and health, creating a society where many are living sick and dying young. He'll discuss it tonight on Idaho Public Television's “Dialogue” program, with host Joan Cartan-Hansen; the show airs at 8:30 p.m. Mountain time, 7:30 p.m. Pacific.
In the book, Epperly draws on his decades as a family physician and his experience in the military to describe how the nation can reduce costs and improve people's health. “I want to elevate the dialogue beyond rhetoric and spin, and help make the central issues crystal clear so that America can arrive at the best possible solution for our people and for our nation's health,” he said. Epperly also is a clinical professor in the department of family medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine, and is among those recently appointed by Gov. Butch Otter to working groups examining Idaho's options in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision upholding the national health care reform law. There's more information here on tonight's Dialogue program, which also will re-air Sunday at 10:30 a.m. Mountain time, 9:30 a.m. Pacific.
Brigadier General William Shawver is leaving his position as director of the Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security to take a private-sector position, and Col. Brad Richy has been named the new director. Richy, 54, currently serves as the commander of the 124th Fighter Wing of the Idaho Air National Guard; he's a decorated veteran who's a recipient of the Bronze Star and also holds a master's degree in business administration.
Gov. Butch Otter said, “The Bureau of Homeland Security is the key State agency tasked with working closely with local government authorities to address disaster response and emergency preparedness throughout Idaho. General Shawver has done a masterful job of addressing the unique needs of communities in every corner of our state. He departs from that role with my thanks and great appreciation for his skills. I also know that Colonel Richy will continue that important work requiring both a diplomat’s tact and patience and a seasoned leader’s discipline and operational awareness.”
Shawver will continue to serve as commander of the Idaho Air National Guard. The appointment was announced today by Idaho National Guard Adjutant General Major General Gary Sayler; click below for the full announcement.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― Authorities are building a case against a Boise man accused of trying to steal $400 worth of Lego sets. KTVB reports (http://bit.ly/SFeiBu ) 31-year-old Jeremy Mark Liedtke was arrested Monday for attempting to steal the Legos from a Boise store in late June. According to the Ada County Jail, Liedtke was taken into custody on a felony burglary charge and has since been released on bond. He is accused of filling up a shopping cart with Legos and then leaving the store without paying for the toys. Police say that when store employees confronted Liedtke in the parking lot, he fled. A felony warrant had been issued for his arrest. Court records show he will be arraigned next Tuesday in Idaho's 4th District Court on felony burglary and petit theft charges.
An invasive insect common in south-central Europe has been turning up in southwestern Idaho, the first time the elm seed bug has been detected in the United States, the AP reports. The quarter-inch pests don't pose any public health or crop risk, officials say, but they do tend to enter houses and buildings in huge swarms, and can have an unpleasant odor, especially when crushed. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.
A bat that bit a child playing near the Indian Creek Bridge in Caldwell yesterday has tested positive for rabies. Southwest District Health officials said today that the girl's family has been notified and treatment will begin today. Rabies can be fatal if left untreated; officials are warning people to steer clear of bats. You can read the health district's full announcement here.
Gov. Butch Otter has named Dustin Miller head of his Office of Species Conservation; Miller has been acting administrator in the office since former head Nate Fisher resigned in March. Miller, who holds a degree in environmental science from the University of Idaho, previously served as the office's environmental liaison; he also worked previously as natural resources field coordinator for then-Sen. Larry Craig and as an issues advocate for the Idaho Farm Bureau. Click below for Otter's full announcement.
Idaho's 2nd District congressional candidates are raising big bucks for their campaigns, Boise State Public Radio reports today, with Democratic challenger Nicole LeFavour raising $156,016 so far for her run, and incumbent Republican Rep. Mike Simpson taking in $955,982. BSU radio reports that LeFavour has raised more than any Democrat who has challenged Simpson in years, but Simpson is on a record pace in his own fundraising as well; you can read their full report here.
The figures reflect fundraising for the election cycle to date, as updated by the latest filing, the July quarterly report. Interestingly, Federal Election Commission summaries show that cash-on-hand figures for the two candidates aren't near as far apart: Simpson had $196,703 as of June 30, while LeFavour had $117,602. That's partly because of high expenditures by Simpson: In the most recent period, Simpson raised $193,734, but spent $151,024. LeFavour raised $88,065 and spent $28,258. And though Simpson has raised $955,982 to date, his campaign spending to date came to $604,302, plus he's transferred $300,000 to other committees, including $50,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee in the most recent quarter.
In the 1st District race, freshman GOP Rep. Raul Labrador has raised $551,568 to date, compared to $37,388 for his Democratic challenger Jimmy Farris, according to FEC summaries; in the latest reporting period, Labrador raised $68,725, spent $66,293, and closed the quarter with $202,947 in the bank. Farris' quarterly fundraising came to $9,899; he spent $8,762; and had $8,306 on hand at the close of the quarter.
9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge N. Randy Smith has been inducted into the Idaho Hall of Fame, which was established in 1995 to recognize those, living or dead, who have “advanced the common good of the state of Idaho.” A display in the lower-level rotunda of the state Capitol highlights the inductees, who include historical figures, sports stars, business leaders, military officials, elected officials and more. Among those honored: Sacajawea, Harmon Killebrew, Lana Turner, William Borah and Barbara Morgan.
Smith, who served as an Idaho district judge before being named to the 9th Circuit court in 2007, said, “I am a bit overwhelmed to be included in such company. I don't know if I am in the same league with these people, but I am very honored.”
The Hall of Fame made a controversial decision on an honoree in 2007, choosing then-Sen. Larry Craig - in the midst of the scandal over his arrest in an airport bathroom sex sting. Craig had been selected before the news broke, but the induction ceremony, which he attended, came just a week after he announced he'd serve out his term, despite earlier saying he intended to resign in the wake of the scandal. Craig was among 11 inductees that year.
Nine individuals were inducted this year, along with five businesses or organizations. In addition to Smith, this year's honorees included artist James Castle; human rights activist Tony Stewart; Benewah County commissioner and trucking company owner Jack Buell; and architect Charles Hummel.
As Idaho moves toward transferring hundreds of state-owned cabin sites on scenic Priest Lake to private owners through land exchanges or auctions, the state wants to protect the value of the land - and nearby state endowment land - through restrictive covenants. Most Priest Lake cabin owners who now own their cabins, but not the land, are on board with the idea, but some are objecting.
The restrictions would keep in place current regulations limiting the sites to single-family homes, rather than condos, resorts or commercial development; ban mobile homes; require earth tones and “unobtrusive” construction; and require erosion control and defensible space to cut wildfire risk. Restrictive covenants aren't being proposed for similar cabin sites on Payette Lake to the south, but that's because those cabin sites are within the McCall city area of impact, subjecting them to restrictive zoning regulations. That's not true of the Priest Lake sites, where Bonner County's current zoning regulations could permit a variety of changes if the land became privately owned.
Gov. Butch Otter requested a formal legal opinion from Attorney General Lawrence Wasden on the matter today; once the board receives that in a week or so, it'll set a special meeting to decide on the covenants. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
The state of Idaho's legal bill for fighting the wrongful termination lawsuit from former Transportation Director Pam Lowe: $540,479 and counting. Information obtained under the Idaho Public Records Law shows that's how much the state has paid the Boise law firm of Holland & Hart for the case thus far; the case has now been settled, though final papers still are to be filed in court. The last payment was made March 8, according to state records. The Idaho Transportation Department hired prominent attorney Newal Squyres of the firm, who when hired was the president of the Idaho State Bar, to defend the state against the suit; Lowe won a major ruling on March 31, when a federal magistrate held that she was not, as the state had argued, an “at-will” employee who could be dismissed without cause.
Lowe's lawsuit, which charged political pressure, sex discrimination and more in her dismissal, was filed in 2009 after the ITD board abruptly fired the professional engineer and longtime employee; she was ITD’s first female director.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter today, asked about the state's three-year fight against Lowe's lawsuit and the resulting legal bill, said, “I'm not sure I'm allowed to say anything about anything - everything's sealed.”
Gov. Butch Otter is sporting a shiner today, after a tree limb he was cutting over the weekend snapped back and hit him in the face. “With those windstorms that came through, I can't tell you how many trees I've lost,” Otter said. “It was a cottonwood tree, and they're pretty springy.” His chainsaw had stopped working, so he was cutting the limb with a buck saw when he got smacked. “It was under some tension, and bingo, she snapped and hit me in the eye,” Otter said. He added, “I should've spent some time making up a more romantic story.”
He noted, “We did have one fall on a horse trailer,” but he was disappointed to find that the damage didn't require any of his newly developed aluminum welding skills, honed in a community college class this spring. “It was just a dent,” the governor said with a chuckle, “so I have to take a class in removing dents from aluminum now.”
The Idaho Department of Correction has signed a contract with Corrections Corp. of America to pay the private prison firm more than $4.8 million in the current fiscal year to house Idaho inmates at a private lockup in Colorado, the Associated Press reports. With the state's prison population growing far faster than forecast, the department plans to ship 250 Idaho inmates to Colorado in August, and have a total of 450 inmates there by this time next year. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.
First it was Boise (by the fairgrounds); now Canyon County's got 'em too - mosquitoes that test positive for West Nile Virus. The new batch to test positive came from a trap in south Nampa near the Shaffer's Access to the East Side Recreation Area of Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge. Canyon mosquito abatement district officials report that the recent hot weather has led to an increase in population of the species of mosquito most likely to carry the virus; they're launching aerial spraying in several areas, including neighborhoods south of Greenhurst Road. You can read the full announcement here.
Former Idaho Transportation Director Pam Lowe, contacted at her new job in Delaware, said of her settlement with the state of Idaho in her wrongful-firing lawsuit, “All I can tell you is this has been resolved, and I'm pleased with the resolution. … I can't talk about what's in it. I just can tell you that I'm very pleased to have it resolved.”
Lowe said, “I'm just really excited about looking to the future.” She's currently working as financial director for the state Department of Transportation in Delaware. “I'm enjoying the challenges here and I'm doing a lot of fascinating, interesting things,” she said. “They hired me to work on some projects and I'm going to continue to do that. So I'm excited about the things I'm actually accomplishing here, but Idaho is my home and I do plan to return.” She added, “My house and my husband and my family are still in Boise, and that's still my home.”
The state of Idaho has settled a lawsuit filed by fired former Transportation Director Pam Lowe, who charged she was illegally let go for standing up to political pressure and was discriminated against because she was female. Lowe was the Idaho Transportation Department's first female director; after she was fired, she was replaced by a man who is being paid $22,000 a year more than she made.
No information was immediately available on the terms of the settlement; Lowe had sought reinstatement in her job, back pay and benefits, and attorney fees and costs as well as damages for emotional distress. Just the back pay, benefits and attorney fees would add up to close to half a million dollars. Lowe , a professional engineer, was a longtime ITD employee, starting there in 1993 and rising to director in January of 2007. She was named the department’s first female district engineer in 2000.
In April, she won a key ruling in the case, when U.S. Magistrate Judge Ron Bush ruled that Lowe wasn't an “at-will” employee who could be dismissed without cause, as the state had argued. She contended her firing came because she tried to scale back a big contract with a politically well-connected firm; that she was fired without cause and without being allowed a hearing; and that she was discriminated against because she’s female. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― Idaho has reached a $1.7 million settlement with a pharmaceutical company over allegations of excessive wholesale prices paid by the state's Medicaid program. Attorney General Lawrence Wasden announced the deal Monday with Watson Pharmaceuticals Inc., and Watson Pharma, Inc. Watson is among the top four generic drug companies in the world. Wasden sued the company in 2007 seeking to recover taxpayer money used to pay high prices charged to Idaho Medicaid for prescription drugs. Before filing the lawsuit, Wasden said an investigation by his office found drug companies like Watson were posting false and inflated prices for their drugs on the wholesale market. The state will use about $1.05 million to reimburse overpayments made by Medicaid; $50,000 will cover the state's investigative and legal costs; and $423,725 will go to the the state's general fund. So far, Idaho has recovered $22 million in similar lawsuits with drug makers.
State Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, refused to answer numerous questions about his finances in a meeting Friday with creditors in his bankruptcy case, a move attorneys called unprecedented and likely to imperil his case in court. An attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice and another representing the Idaho State Tax Commission grilled Hart about his business interests, income, assets and debts during a meeting conducted by the trustee in Hart’s Chapter 13 bankruptcy filing; Hart was questioned under oath in the session at the Coeur d'Alene federal courthouse.
Hart, a longtime tax protester who owes the IRS more than $550,000 and the state more than $50,000, said he thought many of the questions – including ones about corporations he helped set up and about the Athol house he lives in – were inappropriate or irrelevant to his bankruptcy filing. He repeatedly responded, “I decline to answer.”
Refusing to answer such questions is highly unusual in such a meeting, said Ford Elsaesser, a Sandpoint lawyer representing the trustee in the case. Elsaesser said he has conducted around 30,000 debtor-creditor meetings. “I’ve never had a debtor decline to answer the routine questions that were asked,” he said. “Refusals to answer are not likely to be looked upon favorably by the bankruptcy court.” You can read our full story here from S-R reporter Scott Maben at spokesman.com.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has named the 26 members of two working groups he's appointing to explore issues surrounding a state health insurance exchange and a possible Medicaid expansion under the national health care reform law; state Health & Welfare Director Dick Armstrong will chair the Medicaid expansion group, which will hold its first meeting Aug. 6; while Idaho Department of Insurance Director Bill Deal will chair the exchange group, which is still working to schedule its first meeting. The groups include people from both the public and private sectors, including several state lawmakers; click below for the full list. Both groups will report back their findings and recommendations to Otter by fall.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― Idaho is further from its goal of doubling college completion rates by 2020, even as more people earn degrees nationwide. The U.S. Department of Education released numbers Thursday showing 39.3 percent of adults nationwide between ages 25 and 34 had some kind of postsecondary degree in 2010. That's up from 38.8 percent in 2009, according to the census data. At the same time, Idaho's degree rate fell from 33.4 percent to 32.7 percent. Idaho is among states participating in a national campaign aimed at battling dismal college completion rates. The goal: Make sure 60 percent of adults ages 25 to 34 hold an associate or bachelor's degree by 2020. The benchmark falls in line with President Barack Obama's desire to once again make the U.S. the leader in college attainment.
The first West Nile virus in Idaho mosquitoes has been found in mosquitoes in a trap near the Expo Idaho fairgrounds, prompting a warning from the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare. This is much earlier than last year, when the first West Nile didn't show up in Idaho until August. The virus can cause severe illness; in 2006, Idaho led the nation in West Nile infections, with almost 1,000 people infected and 23 deaths. Last year, three people in Idaho caught the virus from infected mosquitoes.
Click below for the full warning from Health & Welfare, including tips on how to “fight the bit.”
Two peregrine falcon chicks born in a nest high atop a downtown Boise office tower fledged this morning, the Peregrine Fund reports, testing their wings between 6 and 7 a.m. today. The young birds are doing well, and a third is thinking about following them. Anna Ravegum Taafe of Idaho Fish & Game reported that the two fledglings are perched safely on tall buildings downtown, and their watchful dad is nearby. One made it to a building a block away that's higher than the nest box at One Capital Center. You can check out the nest box on web-cam here, but there may be little activity there, as the third chick is out on a wide ledge, where the young birds have been flapping their wings and taking short hops to experiment with flying. A “fledge-watch” team is prepared to rescue any fledglings that land on the ground or in an unsafe location.
That 2,000-acre wildfire that was set off this week by a car accident on I-84 south of Boise? Turns out the driver was a 19-year-old woman fleeing the destructive Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado Springs, who had loaded her most-valued possessions into her car - including her mother's wedding dress - and headed off for her father's house in Oregon. A mechanical failure caused the young woman to lose control while passing another vehicle, the ISP said, and the Subaru crashed and burned, igniting dry grass along the roadway. The woman, Krista McCann, told KTVB-TV she lost everything in the car in the resulting blaze except her purse; she escaped without injury. “This is everything I own now,” she told the TV station, holding open her purse. Click below for a full report from the Associated Press and KTVB.
Gov. Butch Otter is lauding the state's year-end financial position, saying, “I’m grateful that Idaho’s economy continues to improve and that more Idahoans are finding work.” Otter also says he doesn't consider the state's year-end excess revenue, compared to its projections, to be a surplus, since lawmakers passed legislation this year to direct any such leftovers into state rainy-day accounts, which were drained through the years of economic downturn.
“I am also pleased that we have been able to set aside almost $75.5 million for future rainy days,” Otter said. “We begin fiscal 2013 with a lot of uncertainty about the national and global economies and fiscal policies, but with a higher level of certainty and stability in Idaho’s State government. That should translate into still more opportunity for growth and future prosperity here at home.” Click below for Otter's full statement, and a Q-and-A on how the administration views the year-end revenue numbers.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― Idaho ended the 2012 fiscal year with more revenue than forecast in January, allowing the state to replenish reserves to nearly $90 million after draining the rainy day funds since the economy soured in 2008. The state said Friday it booked $2.59 billion in receipts through June, amounting to about $35 million more than anticipated. That's a 5.9 percent increase over the 2011 fiscal year. With the 2013 budget balanced, the excess has been deposited into four rainy day funds, including public education reserves that now total about $37 million. Acting state controller Brandon Woolf said in a statement accompanying the final year's revenue announcement that Idaho's fiscal house is in good order. Sales tax for the year came in at $1 billion, about 1.4 percent more than expected.
You can read the June state general fund revenue report here, from the Idaho Division of Financial Management.
Ken Roberts, a farmer and former school board member from Donnelly, says he's “willing to dig in and learn” as a new full-time state tax commissioner. He'll be one of four members of the Tax Commission; the others are former state Sen. David Langhorst, D-Boise, the current acting chairman; CPA Rich Jackson, a Republican; and former Bannock County Commissioner Tom Katsilometes, a Democrat. By law the commission must be bipartisan. Tax commissioners must work full-time, and are paid $87,156 a year.
“I look forward to the new challenges in the Tax Commission, learning that job, and really seeing tax policy from an implementation side instead of a policy side,” Roberts said. “And seeing where I can offer assistance to maybe make some changes. … I think I have a good perspective from which to jump into that job. I've seen tax policy for 12 years in the tax committee in the legislative branch, and now this is a little bit different hat to wear, and I'm looking forward to the challenge.”
Roberts was one of the sponsors of the 2006 law proposed in a special session by then-Gov. Jim Risch to shift school funding off the property tax and onto state sales taxes, a move that many today blame for the recent years' unprecedented cuts in school funding. Roberts stands by the change. “It was the right thing to do, because it took what was an automatic escalator of property values and taxes that were being paid and it more defined people's property taxes based on the budget system that they have today, vs. something that was based on market values,” he said. “And that provides stability on people's property taxes.”
He added, “We've got to remember that the taxpayers, the property taxpayers were paying that bill, and it was without regard of their ability to pay the tax.”
Roberts, who is completing his sixth term in the House, has had a difficult year; his wife, Mary Jo, drowned in the Payette River in 2011, and he faced tough legislative fights during the session on such issues as a bill to help Boise County cope with a crippling financial judgment; a rift in House leadership led to unsuccessful efforts to defeat him in the primary in May.
Said Roberts, “You know, I just, I feel really honored and blessed to be given the opportunity to continue to serve the citizens of the state in a little different capacity. … It's going to be an adventure. I'm looking forward to it.”
When current House Majority Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, leaves the House and instead becomes a state tax commissioner on Monday, he'll leave behind what's shaping up to be a battle for leadership in the House GOP caucus. Late yesterday, Roberts acknowledged that he had planned to run against current House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, for the No. 2 position in House leadership, up from his current No. 4 post; Moyle worked unsuccessfully to defeat Roberts in the May GOP primary.
“I know that it's a fluid situation, and there's been a lot of phone calls made even today about who's going to run for what,” Roberts told Eye on Boise. “I have great confidence the House majority caucus will elect individuals to leadership that they can trust.” Asked what he meant by the “trust” comment, Roberts said, “You can take it at face value.”
House Speaker Lawerence Denney, who funneled leadership PAC funds into a series of interconnected PACS that then tried to defeat several GOP incumbents in the primary, including Roberts, is facing a likely challenge from the majority's No. 3 leader, Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley. “I'm going to leave that alone,” Roberts said. “The new caucus members that'll be elected in November, I'll let them make that decision.” He said, “There's four elective leadership jobs that come up every two years. I'm sure there will be some people that will run that have not run before, and I think there'll be some people that will run that have run before. A lot of things will happen and change between now and the first week in December.” That's when the Legislature will convene its organizational session and the new leaders will be chosen.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has named state Rep. Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, to the Idaho State Tax Commission, a full-time post; Roberts is currently the House majority caucus chairman. Roberts will resign from the House and begin his new job on Monday.
Roberts will fill out the unexpired term of former Commission Chairman Royce Chigbrow, who later was replaced by former Senate President Pro-Tem Bob Geddes; the term is up April 1, 2013. Otter said, “I chose him from a very talented and qualified group of candidates. I could not have gone wrong by selecting any of them.” Roberts said, “I am looking forward to the challenge and to continuing to serve the citizens of Idaho in this new capacity.”
The appointment will have ripple effects in the pending House majority leadership battle, where Roberts was expected to make a bid to move up, possibly challenging Majority Leader Mike Moyle, who worked unsuccessfully to defeat Roberts in the May GOP primary. Click below for Otter's full announcement.
The Treasure Valley's air quality has gotten so bad - with an orange air quality alert issued by the state DEQ - that tonight's scheduled k.d. lang concert at the Eagle River Pavilion has been canceled. CTTouring announced the cancellation “due to the poor air quality in the Treasure Valley and the DEQ orange air quality alert suggesting that people stay inside;” click below for their full announcement. The DEQ has posted tips here for people to reduce their exposure to wildfire smoke and protect their health. Yesterday's air quality index of 104 and today's predicted level of 110 both fall into the orange, or unhealthy, range. Children and people with asthma are considered to be most at risk; all outdoor burning is banned in Ada and Canyon counties.
Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, the Grill at 8th and Main, offices of the Holland & Hart law firm, 1st American Title, the Idaho Fitness Factory and more will join the Idaho headquarters of Zion's Bank in a new 18-story office tower to rise at the corner of 8th and Main streets in downtown Boise, from the infamous “Boise hole” that's stood vacant for a quarter-century. Ground was broken for the office tower today, and Tommy Ahlquist, chief operating officer of the Gardner Co., the developer, announced the tenants.
Also listed: CTA Architects, the Idaho Technology Council and Beck Advisory Group. Ahlquist addressed Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, who attended and spoke at the groundbreaking. “Mayor Bieter … thank you for believing in us and not laughing us out of your office the first time I came in and said, 'I think we're going to fill this hole,' ” Ahlquist said.
John May, board chairman of the Capital City Development Corp., Boise's urban renewal agency, said, “As the last kind of major undeveloped parcel in the central business district, I don't have to tell you that this parcel has been a … challenge for many, many years.” It's been vacant since the historic Eastman Building burned to the ground in 1987 in a spectacular overnight fire, just as the long-vacant office building was on the verge of a major renovation; squatters who set a campfire inside were blamed for the mid-winter blaze. Numerous proposals for new buildings there since then have all failed, including one that left tall rebar standing in the hole for years.
Today, more than 300 people gathered for the groundbreaking ceremony, at which Christian Gardner, CEO and president of the Gardner Co., said, “I am just honored and excited to be here in this hole.” A representative of the Native American community was brought in to offer a blessing - and ease whatever curses might be afflicting the site. “We want good things to happen here,” said Mike Cutler, a BSU professor, who also drummed and sang a traditional song. “We want good things to happen to all the people … making this a useful and helpful place.”
The new $76 million building is scheduled for completion in January of 2014. It'll have two levels of retail and restaurant space, including a Zions Bank branch, at ground level, with a basement level below, and three levels of parking above connected to the adjacent Eastman Parking Garage behind. Above that will be 12 levels of Class A office space, including two and a half floors for Holland & Hart. Every floor will have showers and the basement level will offer storage to accommodate bicycle commuters; ESI of Meridian will be the lead contractor. Gardner said, “We are excited to be forever changing the Boise skyline with this building.” An elated Bieter said, “I would like to say to Gardner and Co. and to Zion's: Please start filling this hole!”
S-R columnist Shawn Vestal has a provocative column today entitled, “Why defend an anonymous troll's right to insult?” in which he takes on the free-speech arguments in the current case involving an anonymous Huckleberries Online commenter whom the Spokesman-Review is being ordered by a court to identify. “A judge has ordered this newspaper to turn over information about a person who made a potentially libelous comment under an assumed name on the website,” writes Vestal. “This, of course, will have a chilling effect on free speech. A chilling effect is what we in the free-speech business always warn about. We do not want to chill speech; we want it hot and loose. This speech, though? This anonymous lobbing of insults? Chill it. Give it frostbite, even.” You can read his full column here.
The L.A. Times analyzes the Idaho court ruling ordering The Spokesman-Review to disclose the identity of an anonymous online commenter in an article today; you can read it here. “When entering the comment forum of your typical news website or blog these days, it sometimes seems like a good idea to wear a helmet,” writes reporter Kim Murphy. “Well-crafted insult? Barbed bombast? Bring it on. Often cloaked in the anonymous protection of screen names, readers feel free to unload on one another, and at the world in general, with impunity. But that protection may be an illusion.”
It was a smoky, hazy sunrise in Boise today, as seen here looking across Lucky Peak Lake just east of town. That's from the numerous wildfires still burning in the region. The Stone fire, between 8th Street and Rocky Canyon road in the foothills just east of town, was contained last night at 50 acres; no structures were burned, and crews will continue monitoring it today, said Boise BLM spokesman Brandon Hampton. The Avelene fire in Boise County was 50 percent contained last night at 250 acres; more than 100 firefighters were fighting it, including hand crews, engines, helicopters and air tankers. “There are homes within close proximity to the fire, but at this point all the forward progression of the fire has been stopped,” Hampton said.
The smoky sky in Boise, however, isn't from those two nearby fires - it's mainly from the 475,000-acre Long Draw fire about 160 miles southwest of Boise in east-central Oregon, 10 miles west of the town of Basque, Ore. That fire is 30 percent contained, with a Type 1 incident management team on it and about 300 firefighters working to fight the flames; no structures are threatened and it's burning mainly in grass and sage.
There's also the Stout fire 14 miles north of Hammett, about 60 miles east of Boise. “That fire is also impacting Boise with smoke,” Hampton said. “There are just so many fires around Boise geographically that everything is impacting Boise. We just don't have very much air movement, so it's somewhat sitting in the valley here.” Continued relatively stagnant air is forecast in the valley today, but Hampton said firefighters are bracing because more lightning - the cause of most of the wildfires - is predicted for the weekend.
Gary Spackman, who has served as interim director of the Idaho Department of Water Resources for the past three years, today was named the permanent director there by Gov. Butch Otter. Spackman, who holds both a law degree and an engineering degree and is a professional engineer, has been with the state for 26 years, and previously served as administrator of the department's water management division, manger of its western regional office, and a hearing officer on contested water rights cases.
He stepped up to interim director in June of 2009 when then-Director David Tuthill resigned. Click below for Otter's full announcement.
Idaho 1st District Congressman Raul Labrador today defended his vote in the House to repeal the national health care reform law, saying, “Since my time in the Idaho State Legislature, it has become clear to me that Idahoans oppose every aspect of Obamacare. … This law forces Idahoans to purchase a product against their will under the threat of paying a tax for not doing so.”
Meanwhile, his Democratic challenger, former NFL football player Jimmy Farris, criticized the vote, saying Congress shouldn't be backing repeal of help for uninsured Idahoans while its members enjoy health insurance benefits. “The fact is, Congressman Labrador is a well paid obstructionist with no plan,” Farris declared in a statement. “While making $174,000 and enjoying a Cadillac health care plan provided by the taxpayers, he abandons 294,000 uninsured.”
2nd District Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson also voted for the repeal in the House today; it passed on a 244-185 vote, with five Democrats siding with all House Republicans. The vote was symbolic, as repeal doesn't have the votes to pass the Democratic-controlled Senate. It followed dozens of similar House votes in the last year and a half.
Labrador said, “I will continue to fight to repeal Obamacare in Congress until the job is done. We must enact real health care reform such as health savings accounts, tort reform and association health plans which will lower the cost of and increase access to health care. We can even look at retaining such provisions as coverage for pre-existing conditions or the ability to keep our kids on our insurance for a longer time - but we must find ways to do so without raising taxes on millions of Americans.” You can read Labrador's full statement here.
Farris countered that the repeal vote sought to do away with those very provisions protecting young people and those with pre-existing conditions, without proposing replacement programs; and also would reverse a ban on insurance companies imposing lifetime caps on benefits. He called on Labrador to reveal how he'd reform the health care system and cover uninsured Idahoans; click below to read his full statement.
The Western Governors Association sent a letter to congressional leaders today urging more and speedier federal aid for states hard-hit by wildfires this year, plus more aid for the states to cope with the fallout after the fires, from restoring wildlife habitat to protecting municipal water supplies from erosion.
“We recognize our request comes at a time when there is a broad bipartisan consensus that we must reduce the federal deficit,” the western governors wrote. “However, response and recovery from natural disasters should not require offsets elsewhere in the budget or come at the expense of ongoing forest restoration and wildfire prevention efforts.”
In addition to current WGA Chairman Gary Herbert, governor of Utah, and vice chair John Hickenlooper, governor of Colorado, the letter bears the signatures of both Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, the association's lead governors for forest health; you can read the full letter here.
Joshua Whitworth, a Mackay native and 2004 graduate of Idaho State University, has been named the new executive director of the Idaho Republican Party by new party Chairman Barry Peterson. Whitworth, 30, fills the position previously held by Jonathan Parker. Click below for the full announcement from the Idaho GOP.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― After Democrats used Idaho's official seal on their campaign material, minority party members are now complaining that Republicans are engaging in similarly inappropriate behavior. Idaho's secretary of state warns candidates and lawmakers not to misappropriate the seal for election purposes, contending it's only for official business. Republican Sen. Mitch Toryanski of Boise incorporates Idaho's seal into his re-election web site. His opponent in November, former Democratic Rep. Branden Durst, complained to The Associated Press Tuesday, contending Toryanski's use of the seal merits reporting ― “in the name of impartiality.” That's after news reports that three Democrats ― Sen. Elliot Werk, Rep. Sue Chew and House hopeful John Gannon ― sent a note emblazoned with the seal to voters Monday seeking to highlight GOP ethics transgressions. Toryanski didn't return a call.
Boise is choking on smoke this morning from the numerous wildfires, including one in the Boise foothills just east of town near Aldape Summit. The Stone fire ignited this morning between 8th Street and Rocky Canyon road; Shaw Mountain Road is closed due to the fire, as are numerous Boise foothills trails. The city of Boise sent out this trail closure advisory this morning:
“A wildfire ignited this morning near Aldape Summit in Rocky Canyon. As such, Rocky Canyon Road is currently closed, and trail users will likely be turned around by fire crews on 3 Bears Trail #26, Femrite's Patrol #6, 8th Street Motorcycle Trail #4 and Watchman Trail #2. Shane's Trail #26A, 5-Mile Gulch Trail #2 and Orchard Gulch Trail #7 will not be accessible from their trailheads on Rocky Canyon Road. Please avoid using this area until further notice.”
There are numerous other wildfires burning in southwestern Idaho, including one near the junction of Grimes Creek Road and State Highway 21 in Boise County that's threatening homes; one that closed I-84 south of Boise for hours yesterday and spread to 2,000 acres after it was ignited by a car crash; and the now-contained 25,000-acre Benwalk fire north of Mountain Home that ignited Monday. Click below for a complete update on Southwest idaho fires from the Idaho office of the BLM.
The Spokesman-Review must provide information that could identify an anonymous reader who typed a disparaging online comment about the chairwoman of the Kootenai County Republican Party in February, an Idaho judge ruled Tuesday. You can read our full story here at spokesman.com, and read 1st District Judge John Luster's ruling here. The judge ordered the newspaper to identify one of the three commenters targeted, but not the other two; the S-R hasn't yet decided whether to appeal.
The Northwest Power and Conservation Council, which is meeting in Boise today, is calling for a $2 million federal investment in blocking invasive quagga and zebra mussels from leaving Lake Mead - pictured here - on infested boats and traveling to the still-uninfested waters of the Northwest, including Idaho. The four-state group, which also includes Montana, Oregon and Washington, wants the federal aid to add watercraft inspection and decontamination stations to intercept boats carrying the rapidly multiplying, thumbnail-sized mollusks that could wreak havoc on Columbia River hydroelectric dams, farmers' irrigation systems and lakes prized for recreation, the AP reports. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.
The council's two-day meeting in Boise continues today at the Hampton Inn downtown; today's meeting, which runs through the morning, includes discussion of wind power integration, transmission, progress on collaborative efforts to protect salmon in the Lemhi River watershed, and activities by the Columbia Basin Trust.
Nearly two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the national health care reform law, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has issued his reaction. “Like nearly everyone else, I was surprised by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling,” he writes in an op-ed piece distributed to Idaho newspapers and media. “Rather than vindication for Idaho’s legal challenge to Obamacare or clarity about a path forward, the court’s decision left me and many others with more questions than answers.”
Otter said he's not ready to join those GOP governors who already have declared they won't implement either a health insurance exchange or a Medicaid expansion, hoping instead that President Obama will be defeated and the law will be overturned in the future. “I can’t fault them for that approach and I share their desire for that outcome, but I can’t yet join them in putting all our policy eggs in that basket,” Otter writes. “My priority remains finding Idaho solutions that make quality health care more accessible and affordable for all Idahoans. To that end, rest assured I will continue working for market-based solutions while resisting tax increases and imposition of more unnecessary government bureaucracy. But I also will not put Idaho citizens in the position of hoping and working for the best outcome without also preparing for the worst.”
The governor said he's putting together working groups to research the issues surrounding the exchange and the Medicaid expansion and Idaho's options; the groups will give him their findings and recommendations by fall. Click below to read his full op-ed; meanwhile, three Democratic state representatives, Reps. Phylis King, Sue Chew and Shirley Ringo, have sent out an op-ed piece hailing the benefits of the court decision for Idaho women, from expanded coverage for preventive services to closing the “donut hole” for seniors on prescription drug coverage; you can read their piece here.
Three Boise Democratic candidates sent voters a campaign newsletter emblazoned with Idaho's official state seal, even though the secretary of state's office discourages people from using the seal on anything but official state business, the AP reports. Sen. Elliot Werk, Rep. Sue Chew and candidate John Gannon distributed the mailer by email Monday to south Boise voters. It aims to highlight what the candidates say are Republican ethics transgressions — and Democrats' push for stronger ethics laws. The email also asks for donations for two of the candidates. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.
Occupy Boise and the ACLU of Idaho have filed a legal challenge in federal court against to new administrative rules sharply limiting rallies and other protest activities around the state Capitol and nearby buildings, including the Capitol Annex, former site of the Occupy Boise encampment. “The rules expressly target speech, expressive activity, association, and assembly protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution,” the legal filing says. “Even a gathering of just two people is considered a 'rally' and strictly regulated by the rules. Altogether and in particulars, the rules are an unconstitutional regulation of speech, expressive activity, association, and assembly.”
You can read the legal filing here, and click below for the ACLU's news release announcement.
The state of Idaho and a group of Idaho news media have agreed that all Idaho executions should be open to media witnesses from start to finish, ending a lawsuit brought by the media, and the state has paid the news media's attorney fees and costs of more than $29,000 for the suit. Both sides in the lawsuit today filed a stipulation in federal court declaring that the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruling in the case settles the issues raised, and should be the practice for all future Idaho executions; the appellate court sided with the media.
The stipulation, submitted today to U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge, says witnesses to executions in Idaho will “observe the entire execution from the moment the inmate enters the execution chamber through, to and including, the time the inmate is declared dead.” The two sides also agreed that the state should pay the news media's attorney fees and costs for the case, which came to $29,297; that has now been paid.
The lawsuit was brought by 16 Idaho news outlets and organizations, led by the Associated Press, and also including the Idaho Press Club and The Spokesman-Review. The media groups charged that the state’s execution witness access rules, which prohibited witnesses, including the news media, from seeing the early portions of lethal injection executions, directly violated a 2002 9th Circuit decision. The court agreed. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Owners of cabins at Priest Lake, like this 1930s one that retired school teachers Jim and Myrna Brown spent years renovating in the hopes that it could be a family legacy, are facing increased uncertainty after the Idaho Supreme Court decision overturning a state law that protected state-owned cabin site leases from conflict bidding. The ruling affects 354 cottage sites at Priest Lake and 167 at Payette Lake. S-R reporter Sara McMullen takes a look at the issues here; cabin owners, who own their cabins but not the state-owned ground underneath, already are in the midst of working with the state in the Land Board's effort to “unify” ownership of cabin sites, through land exchanges and other steps.
The Idaho Education Association's political fundraising arm endorsed Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson in his 2012 election against Democrat Nicole LeFavour, the Twin Falls Times-News reports, via the Associated Press. The endorsement has raised questions, because Simpson is a supporter of Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, the architect of “Students Come First” education overhauls that the union is attempting to repeal this November.
Simpson gave $1,000 to Luna's election campaign in 2010, while LeFavour voted against the reforms as a state senator in 2011. The Times-News reports the decision to support Simpson was “completely member-driven,” according to the union. Click below for the full AP/Times-News report.
For more than three decades, Idaho has struggled with the issue of a governor's mansion, ever since then-Gov. Cecil Andrus refused to live in the deteriorating Boise home the state had provided since 1947. Billionaire J.R. Simplot's donation to the state of his hilltop mansion in 2004 seemed to end the dilemma, as it was donated specifically to be Idaho's official residence for future governors. But no Idaho governor has ever lived there, and lawmakers' patience is wearing thin over the maintenance costs for the 36-acre grassy hilltop spread - an estimated $177,400 for the next year, including $80,000 in grounds maintenance and $40,000 for electricity.
“I just think that the idea of a governor's mansion in general is wrong,” said Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, who's pushing to sell off the property. “We have a different perception of these kind of perks than we used to.” Bock said his constituents have been clear: “It's just the sort of thing that … just drives them absolutely nuts.”
All but five states provide official residences for their governors, and most, like Washington's, are historic properties laden with tradition and close or adjacent to the state Capitol. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
When Idaho Gov. Butch Otter led a three-day trail ride last week in the Flint Creek area in Owyhee County, the point was to talk sage grouse, including the state's pending plan to protect the chicken-like bird and try to avoid an endangered species listing. Public comments are being taken on the draft plan through July 13; you can read it and comment here.
About 50 people went on the ride this year, ranging from state and federal resource agency officials to ranchers, farmers and land owners. “There were quite a few Owyhee County cowboys who were on this ride as well,” said Otter's spokesman, Jon Hanian.
The annual ride, which Otter holds in conjunction with the Idaho Cattle Association, is something he started up when he was an Idaho congressman, after a discussion with an eastern legislator in which Otter was trying to explain an Idaho issue and ended up inviting the easterner to his home state to see for himself. “When I represented Idaho's 1st District in Congress, it became apparent that many of my congressional colleagues had a limited understanding of the western issues on which they were voting,” Otter explained in a report on this year's ride. “That's why I started my annual resources trail ride.”
“Each year we pick a different region of the state for the trail ride,” Otter said. “In past years wolves, water, and endangered or invasive species have dominated the discussion.” This year, it was the sage grouse. Owyhee County is among the areas that are affected by a potential sage grouse listing, and by the governor's draft plan to protect the grouse and avoid a listing. “It affects a mix of federal, state and private lands, and that's one of the issues that they were trying to get their arms around,” Hanian said, “and explain to folks not only what the threats are to economic development, way of life, all of that, but also what the state's recommendations are towards dealing with these issues, and letting the feds and everyone else know that we can responsibly manage the situation.”
Said Otter, “The federal government has warned that sage-grouse could be on the fast track towards a listing under the Endangered Species Act. I created a task force earlier this year to identify the delicate balance between ensuring the species' survival while at the same time protecting Idaho's economy and traditional uses of our public lands. My Sage Grouse Task Force delivered its recommendations last month, they now are open for public comment.”
Forty percent of marijuana seizures in Idaho consist of Oregon medical marijuana, according to Idaho State Police records - legal in that state in the right circumstances, but not for anyone across the border in Idaho. On the stretch of I-84 where ISP Trooper Justin Klitch patrols, it's 53 percent, the AP reports. That's led to an odd phenomenon on the Idaho border, in which longtime Idahoans risk arrest to go home from picking up their pot in Oregon, and they often get caught. “It's like crossing the Berlin Wall,” an Idaho woman told AP reporter Nigel Duara. “It's like going into another country.” Click below for Duara's full report.
Idaho's wolf hunting season ended Saturday, but a summer season with wolf hunting allowed on private lands in the northern Panhandle region opened the same day. It's the first phase of the 2012-2013 season; wolf hunting in the rest of the state doesn't open until Aug. 30. Anyone wanting to hunt wolves during the summer season must have a permit and landowner permission in advance; click below for a full report from the AP and the Missoulian.
When ailing Olympic athletes need sports massage during the upcoming London Olympics, it'll be highly trained Idaho fingers providing the relief. That's because Paul Weston, massage therapy coordinator at Gritman Medical Center in Moscow, has been named a member of the medical team for the Olympic games. He'll be based in the Athlete's Village during his two-week posting.
Weston recently returned from training in London, where he received his Olympic accreditation and uniform. “Working at the 2012 Games has been a goal since it was announced that they would be held in London,” said Weston, who is a London native. He's been massage therapy coordinator at Gritman for the past seven years, and was a leading advocate for this year's successful Idaho legislation to, for the first time, license massage therapists in Idaho.
It will be Weston's second Olympics; he also provided sports massage to athletes at the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. Weston graduated as a certified massage/neuromuscular therapist from the Colorado Institute of Massage Therapy in 1997, and earned national certification in therapeutic massage and bodywork in 1998.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: POCATELLO, Idaho (AP) ― Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter's office is seeking federal assistance for victims of a southeastern Idaho range fire that destroyed 66 homes and 29 outbuildings. Otter on Tuesday toured ground charred by the now-notorious Charlotte Fire, which left a moonscape of concrete foundations and torched houses when it roared into life near Pocatello June 28. Otter says state, county and city officials are busy exploring options for financial help from Washington, D.C. The Republican governor, who normally eschews too much gratitude to the federal government, promised locals affected by the fire that he'd exhaust every opportunity to secure aid to help the community rebuild. Otter was particularly struck by the 1,040-acre fire's hit-or-miss nature, seemingly to destroy one house at whim while leaving another nearby standing and intact, with no damage.
An Idaho soldier from Preston has been killed in Afghanistan, falling when enemy forces attacked his unit with small arms fire. Private First Class Cody O. Moosman, 24, had joined the service in 2010; his family said he'd wanted to join the Army since he was in the third grade. Click below for a full report from the Associated Press.
Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey reports today that Idaho Power Co. has joined forces with the libertarian Idaho Freedom Foundation, with both the utility and its CEO listed as sponsors of the group's upcoming annual banquet. “Idaho Power is the only old-guard sponsor,” Popkey reports. “The three other corporate backers are Internet Truckstop of Fruitland, DJM Sales & Marketing of Garden City, and Molitor & Associates, a small Boise-based lobbying firm.”
The power company also is a leading force in the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, the state's biggest business lobby; oddly, the Freedom Foundation earlier this year helped kill an IACI effort to push for a state-run health insurance exchange. Idaho Power officials wouldn't tell Popkey why they're signing on with the group; you can read his full report here.
Idaho Power's move follows Avista Corp.'s controversial effort during the GOP primary election to target two longtime GOP lawmakers from North Idaho, unsuccessfully backing their tea party challengers. The utility that serves North Idaho fell short in the effort; Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, and Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, easily defeated their challengers.
Idaho phone companies won't have to fix outages to land-line phone service within 24 hours any more, nor will they have to give credits to customers when they don't meet the new standard, which is doubled to 48 hours, under new rules approved Tuesday by the Idaho Public Utilities Commission. The PUC approved the changes on a 2-1 vote. Those opposed to the changes still have until July 24 to ask the panel for reconsideration; click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.
The wildfire season has barely begun, and already hundreds of homes have burned in Colorado and 66 homes in southern Idaho were destroyed over the weekend. The U.S. secretaries of homeland security and agriculture came to Boise on Tuesday to check in with national fire managers, after a stop in Colorado to inspect damage, and they brought a message: Get ready. The fire season spreads from south to north, and the damage already seen in the southern parts of the west will be spreading to the northern parts of the Rocky Mountain west.
“Everyone should be concerned, everybody should be preparing, preparing as best we can,” said Janet Napolitano, homeland security secretary and former governor of Arizona. “It does portend to be a long, hot fire season in the West. We've had them before, we'll have them again. This one has gotten off to a particularly tough start.” She urged property owners to clear combustible materials away from structures and create “defensible space” around homes. “What we saw in Colorado was … when defensible space is created, our firefighters have a much better chance of saving a home or a business,” she said.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack echoed that. “We did see today a circumstance where a home was completely obliterated, and next to it there were two homes that weren't touched.” Said Napolitano, “We have an opportunity now as we start seeing some rains and moisture coming into the southern part of the West, to help those in the northern part get ready.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador has joined Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., Rep. Michele Bachman, R-Minn., and a group of other national lawmakers in signing a letter urging all 50 states' governors not to implement health care exchanges as required under the national health care reform law that last week was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I urge Governor Otter to not implement an expensive, intrusive, punitive health exchange on the businesses and people of Idaho,” Labrador said in a statement. “I urge all Governors to let Congress finish the job the American people sent us to do, to fully repeal Obamacare and replace it with common-sense free market solutions.”
In Idaho, businesses interests, including the state's health insurers and the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, have been calling for setting up a state-run exchange to avoid having a federal exchange imposed on the state; in this year's legislative session, lawmakers declined to act, betting instead that the high court would overturn the law, but it didn't. Click below to read Labrador's full statement; here's a link to the letter.
Rep. Max Black, R-Boise, moved to approve the budget for the state's official governor's residence - the former Simplot mansion - for next year of $177,400 as proposed. “I don't think there's any question in anybody's mind that this isn't something we can just let go on and on and on,” Black said. “This was a very generous gift from the Simplot family. … But we do need to move forward on it, and I think what we've talked about today is rational and is a good start.” That includes scheduling a public meeting in September on the overall issue of the future of the home, to present all the related information and take public input. State Department of Administration Director Teresa Luna seconded the motion.
Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, offered a substitute motion - to approve the budget, but only on the condition that the home be put on the market immediately. “I haven't found anybody, not one single person, who supports a governor's mansion,” Bock said. Rep. Phyllis King, D-Boise, seconded Bock's motion. “To pay $177,000 just to maintain a house I think is outrageous,” King said. “It's just way too much money.”
Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, said there's money in the state's fund to maintain the house for now, “But it's something we need to deal with and need to air.” He noted that the deed requires the Simplot family to be given first right of refusal before the home is sold. “Let's give the public a chance to have their input,” Winder said. Bock then withdrew his substitute motion, and Black's motion passed on a 3-2 vote, with Bock and King dissenting.
Gov. Butch Otter today appointed Chief Deputy State Controller Brandon Woolf to temporarily serve as state controller while Controller Donna Jones continues to recuperate from a May 25 car accident. Otter said the move came at Jones' request. “Donna takes her oath of office to uphold the Constitution and faithfully discharge her duties very seriously,” Otter said. “Above all things, she puts her responsibilities to the people of Idaho first. That’s why she requested that I appoint Brandon to temporarily lead the Controller’s office – with all the duties, responsibilities and authority of that office – while Donna focuses on her physical rehabilitation and recovery.” Click below for Otter's full announcement.
The Governor's Housing Committee meeting today has drawn a number of members of the public who are objecting to Idaho continuing to maintain the former Simplot home as a governor's residence and state event facility, though no Idaho governor has lived there. One even suggested that on an interim basis, the mansion could be used to house the homeless. “We can't resolve the long-term issues here today,” said the panel's chairman, Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian. But he said he's “willing to have a process” to take public input on the issue. Today's meeting is to vote on the budget for the upcoming year, which is set at $177,400, with $80,000 of that to go for grounds maintenance.
Said Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, “We have not really tried to find out what the people want.” State Department of Administration Director Teresa Luna agreed to post information about the issue, including its history, on the Internet; and Winder said he'll set a public meeting for September.
The Governor's Housing Committee has set a public meeting for this afternoon, after a senator on the panel objected that an earlier vote by email on the committee's budget for the upcoming year for upkeep of the hilltop former Simplot mansion violated the Idaho Open Meeting Law. After Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, objected, the panel's chairman, Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, scheduled today's meeting. “It is a good learning experience for all of us, including myself,” Winder wrote in an email to the committee members.
Winder sought advice from Deputy Idaho Attorney General Brian Kane, who responded, “It appears that the committee will need to take corrective action in order to comply with the Open Meeting Law.” That, he wrote, means acknowledging the violation, convening in a properly noticed and open meeting, voiding any previous action, and taking the business up again. In addition, Kane said all email traffic should be incorporated into the committee's record.
The public meeting is now set for 3 p.m. in the Len B. Jordan state office building, Room 155. The agenda includes the panel's $177,400 budget for the coming year, much of which would go to grounds maintenance. The Simplot family donated the hilltop home to the state as a governor's mansion, but no Idaho governor has yet lived there.
The Idaho Lottery has announced it's going to bid on its contract for marketing services, a $600,000 a year contract that since 2009 has been held by the Boise firm DaviesMoore. “Our prudent examination of how we operate the Lottery, and taking our advertising and marketing services contracts out for public bid, are in no way a reflection on the performance and contributions made by DaviesMoore,” said Lottery Director Jeff Anderson. “With a contract of this size and importance we believe it is our responsibility to do due diligence and examine the opportunities this may present.” Click below for the Lottery's full announcement; the contract expires Dec. 31, and firms interested in bidding have until Aug. 15.
Dick Eardley, Boise's longest-serving mayor, died over the weekend at a local hospital at the age of 83. His son, Randy Eardley, told KIVI-TV, “He had undergone minor knee surgery, and was feeling great Friday.” He then suffered a heart attack on Saturday and died in his sleep. Eardley was Boise's mayor from 1974 to 1986. The four-term mayor, a former newsman and sports broadcaster, oversaw the opening of the current Boise City Hall, and helped create the Boise Arts Commission and attract the Peregrine Fund and the World Center for Birds of Prey to Idaho. He was involved in efforts to develop and bring major retailers to downtown Boise. “He accomplished a lot in his life, but always remained humble,” his son said. You can read KIVI-TV's full report here, and read an account here from Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey. Services are pending at Cloverdale Funeral Home.
A labor dispute between longshoremen and electrical workers at the Port of Portland has backed up all the way to Lewiston, the AP reports, where some shippers are opting for more expensive truck shipments rather than risk delays in loading their products and sending them down river on barges from the Port of Lewiston. Operations at the Port of Portland have been slowed for more than three weeks. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.
A national legal settlement with drug maker GlaxoSmithKline will bring Idaho more than $1.6 million, Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden announced today, including $732,750 to reimburse Idaho's Medicaid program, and $877,679 to go into Idaho's general fund. The firm will pay another $3.7 million to the federal government to reimburse its increased costs for Idaho Medicaid due to the fraud. Overall, the company agreed to pay $3 billion, including a $1 billion criminal fine. Click below for the full announcement from Wasden's office.
Outgoing Idaho state Rep. Phil Hart has filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy plan in federal court that proposes that he pay $200 a month for five years - a total of $12,000 - to get his entire debt of more than $600,000 discharged. The vast majority of that debt is back federal income taxes, penalties and interest owed to the Internal Revenue Service; it also includes more than $50,000 in back state income taxes, penalties and interest owed to the Idaho State Tax Commission, along with $22,000 in credit card debt.
“Debtor will pay to the trustee for a term, not exceeding 60 months, the sum of $200 monthly,” the plan says. No other payments are proposed, though Hart does report that he anticipates income tax refunds over the next five years, and agrees to turn those over as well.
A Spokane bankruptcy attorney with expertise in Chapter 13 cases said it's “unlikely” that such a plan would be approved. “Generally, you don't get to discharge your tax debts,” said David Gardner, an attorney with Winston and Cashatt. Gardner said the plan likely will draw objections from both the bankruptcy trustee and the creditors - including the IRS - when it comes up for a hearing in August. “For that amount of cash, I would expect the IRS to be very involved,” he said. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
The Idaho Division of Public Health has issued a fish advisory, warning that catfish caught in the lower Boise River have been found to have high levels of mercury, and pregnant women or children age 15 and younger should limit their consumption. Catfish often absorb more mercury than other species because of their diet, the division reports; the fish still can be eaten, but only in limited amounts. Most other fish species caught and tested in the Boise River have not shown high levels of mercury, though there is an existing statewide fish consumption advisory for bass due to mercury. Click below for the division's full announcement.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: NAMPA, Idaho (AP) ― A petition supported by Idaho grocers seeks to stagger the distribution of food stamp benefits. Grocers have complained to state lawmakers that they've been swamped by food-stamp recipients on the first day of every month. However, legislation allowing state officials to stagger the distribution of these federal benefits stalled in the Idaho Legislature earlier this year. A petition now circulating with support from grocers and the group, Idaho Interfaith Roundtable Against Hunger, calls on Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter for a fix. State officials estimate 234,000 Idahoans are now receiving food stamps. Grocers told lawmakers earlier this year that the long lines, sometimes in the wee morning hours, have caused some people to abandon their carts in the aisles, forcing $1 million in food to go to waste. Click below for the full AP report.
Idaho Democratic lawmakers have issued a call for the governor and Republican legislators to return to planning for a state-run health insurance exchange, now that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the national health care reform law. “That will mean either an Executive Order or a Special Legislative Session. Failure to act will cost Idaho millions of dollars,” the Dems said in a statement. Said House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewistion, “Our Republican colleagues cannot continue to hide behind political campaign slogans when action is needed. … The citizens and businesses of the state deserve better.” Click below for the full statement from the Idaho Democratic Legislative Caucus.
Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador reacted to Thursday's U.S. Supreme Court decision on health care reform by saying the nation's founding fathers would be “appalled.” He wasn't the only one invoking the founding fathers in the wake of the controversial decision. But David Adler, constitutional scholar and director of the Andrus Center at Boise State University, said a look at history suggests a different conclusion.
“In the 1790s, the Congress on two different occasions passed statutes that imposed health insurance mandates,” Adler said. Congress at the time was “filled with people who wrote the Constitution.” You can read my full Sunday column here at spokesman.com.