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Eye On Boise

Archive for June 2012

Idaho poised to send 450 inmates in next year to private CCA lockup in Colorado

Idaho's state Department of Correction has selected a private prison in Colorado run by Corrections Corp. of America to take overflow Idaho inmates in the next year - and expects to have 450 Idaho inmates there by this time next year. “Idaho's inmate population is 8,099 and has grown by more than 500 inmates since the fiscal year began on July 1, 2011,” the department reported in a news release. “Idaho is managing its prisons at capacity and also houses more than 800 inmates in county jails statewide.” Click below for the department's full announcement.

What changed, what didn’t in GOP platform…

Idaho Republican Party officials say their platform got a good “going-over” at their state party convention in Twin Falls last weekend, with days of subcommittee and committee hearings before the new version was presented to the full convention and approved. “I think everybody got a chance to say what they wanted to say,” said platform chairman Grant Loebs. “If there was strong disagreement, it wasn't strong enough that anybody wanted to take it to the floor and bring it up.”

My analysis shows that despite being reorganized and updated, the vast majority of the platform remained unchanged from the platform adopted by the party in Idaho Falls two years ago. Among items remaining unchanged: Provisions for a closed primary election; calls to repeal the 17th Amendment that provided for direct election of U.S. senators; abolishing the federal reserve, returning to the gold standard and encouraging Idahoans to “participate in a systematic acquisition of precious metals which represent real value as opposed to paper currencies;” support for privatizing Social Security; support for nullifying federal laws seen as unconstitutional; a call to amend the Idaho Constitution to eliminate the citizens reapportionment commission; and opposition to term limits.

Said GOP activist Rod Beck, “The platform got a much heavier going-over than it ever has before. … There was plenty of opportunity by anybody who wanted to amend any of those areas to do so, and they chose not to do it.”

What changed:

* The phrase “naturally born” was removed from a plank opposing “expansion of the definition of marriage beyond that of a bond between one naturally born man and one naturally born woman.” Loebs said the change was to accommodate people with certain medical conditions at birth.
* A section on labor issues was shortened; among items removed was this sentence: “We support the Idaho Human Rights Commission, which allows for initial in-state handling of employment discrimination.” Loebs said, “There was no opposition to the Human Rights Commission, but they decided that really the statement of support for it was basically superfluous.”
* This sentence was added: “We support the total abolition of inheritance taxes.”
* On abortion, after “We reaffirm our support for the sanctity of life,” the phrase “from conception to natural death” was added. Removed was this sentence: “We recognize many strong and diverse views within our party membership on this issue.”
* This paragraph was removed: “We believe there is an inseparable link between a vibrant economy and a high-quality education system. It takes a vibrant economy to provide the tax base necessary to fund a high-quality education system. Equally, it takes a high-quality education system to provide the highly skilled labor force necessary to meet the demands of a growing, vibrant economy.”
* Several sections were reworded and shortened, and the order of topics was changed.

Loebs said, “It's much more concise now than it was.”

Idaho GOP sticks with its tea party platform planks

Idaho's super-dominant Republican Party was widely expected to swing back toward the middle this year, after tea party activists peppered the party platform two years ago with planks urging abolishment of the Federal Reserve, eliminating direct election of U.S. senators and pushing Idahoans to stockpile gold - and then forced all state GOP candidates to pledge allegiance to the platform or specify publicly where they disagreed. But after last weekend's Idaho GOP convention, very little changed. All those planks remained in the platform, except the pledge - but it was removed solely because it duplicated party rules, where it remains.

“It's my personal feeling that the convention is an illustration that the strength of the party is in the foundation, which is essentially made up of the precinct committeemen who elect the delegates from amongst their peers,” said new Idaho GOP Chairman Barry Peterson. “The quicker in my mind that any elected official realizes that they get their power and authority from the grass roots, the better public servant they'll be.”

The relatively few changes to the platform included hardening the party's anti-abortion stance; removing a clause expressing support for the Idaho Human Rights Commission; and calling for “total abolition” of inheritance taxes. “I don't think the party moved further right or came back any to the middle,” said state Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, who chaired the resolutions committee at the convention. “I think maybe we have a good direction going forward right now.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
  

Congress grants one-year extension of timber county payments

Members of Congress from timber country came through Friday with a promised one-year extension of federal payments to rural counties dominated by federal lands, reports AP reporter Jeff Barnard in Grants Pass, Ore. The one-time distribution of $346 million to 700 rural counties in 41 states - including $27.4 million to Idaho - was approved as part of a compromise version of a national transportation bill today, Barnard reports; click below for his full report.

Idaho Supreme Court strikes down law protecting state cabin sites from conflict auctions

The Idaho Supreme Court ruled that leases of state-owned cabin sites, like those on Payette and Priest lakes, are subject to competitive conflict auctions when the leases come up, striking down a state law that exempted the cottage sites. You can read the court's full decision here, and click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Senator: State panel’s email vote on gov’s mansion violated open meeting law

A Democratic senator contends Idaho officials violated public meetings laws with a hasty email vote this week on the $177,400 budget to cover landscaping, mowing and watering the expansive lawn below the vacant Idaho governor's mansion, the AP reports. Sen. Les Bock of Garden City sits on the Governor's Housing Committee, which oversees the hilltop mansion in Boise. He said Thursday the committee's budget vote didn't give the public adequate notice to consider whether the spending plan was appropriate.

The five-member panel voted 3-2 via email on Tuesday to spend the money for fiscal year 2013, with Bock and Democratic Rep. Phylis King of Boise opposing it. Voting in favor were Teresa Luna, director of the Department of Administration, and Boise Republicans Sen. Chuck Winder and Rep. Max Black. Now, an in-person meeting of the panel is being planned, after Bock, an attorney, wrote to the committee saying, “I have concluded that the recent vote on the Governor's Housing Committee's FY2013 budget was conducted in violation of Idaho's open meeting law. The vote on the budget is, therefore, null and void.” Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Blue Cross of Idaho: Now state needs to establish an insurance exchange

Blue Cross of Idaho has issued a statement in response to this morning's ruling on health care reform, saying, “In Idaho, our major focus should now be on establishing a state-based health insurance exchange. As the law currently stands, states must have taken steps to implement a state-based exchange by January 1, 2013, or risk losing control of the individual insurance marketplace to the federal government.” Click below for their full statement.

Idaho leaders stunned by health care ruling, face big decisions

Idaho leaders were stunned by Thursday's ruling upholding the federal health care reform law, and face big questions on how to respond. State lawmakers this year refused to set up a state insurance exchange under the law, betting instead that courts would overturn it. They turned away $20 million in federal grants for the exchange. Idaho House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewistion, a retired physician and health insurance executive, said the ruling “means we have a lot of work to do.”

State Insurance Director Bill Deal still is studying the decision and weighing how to proceed. In addition to the exchange issue, Idaho officials were taken by surprise that the court said states could opt not to go along with the reform law's Medicaid expansion; it would raise Idaho's Medicaid caseload by as much as 70 percent, largely at federal expense, at least at first. But if Idaho opts out, its citizens still would be subject to the individual mandating, requiring that they buy insurance or pay a penalty.

North Idaho Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, who's been among the Idaho Legislature's most outspoken opponents of the health care reform law, said, “I know if the states do not comply, that they at least can't strip the regular Medicaid help that the federal government is doing. But what does that mean for our constituents, and what is the added burden to the taxpayers in Idaho? How will the law affect their burden?” For now, Idaho doesn't have those answers. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Otter phones in statement ripping court ruling from multi-day horseback trail ride

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has been gone all week on a multi-day horseback trail ride, and that's why he hasn't been available for comment on this morning's health care reform ruling all day. Just now, nearly seven hours after the decision was issued, his office issued this statement from him:

“Although five Supreme Court justices upheld Obamacare and the individual mandate under Congress’s power to tax, it does not mean it’s the right thing to do. Obamacare has been bad for America from the beginning. This is a sad day for self-determination and for individual liberty. Change is now in the hands of the American people and we must elect a new president and congressional candidates who will repeal Obamacare and protect our freedom to remain the architects of our own destiny.”

Spokeswoman Amy Wernsing said, “We spoke to the governor by phone.” The governor is out of the office all week. His chief of staff, David Hensley, said Otter doesn't plan to call a special session of the Legislature in response to the ruling.

Labrador: ‘Founding fathers would be appalled’

1st District Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador is decrying the U.S. Supreme Court decision this morning upholding the health care reform law. “Our Founding Fathers would be appalled that their vision of a limited government no longer exists,” Labrador declared; click below for his full statement.

Barbieri: ‘The nanny state has now taken its final step’

North Idaho Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, who's been among the Idaho Legislature's most outspoken opponents of the health care reform law, was deeply disappointed by today's health care ruling. “The state has no power to stop the federal government from taxing, so that kind of shoots any aggressive action to try and blunt the intrusion that I've been talking about over the last couple of years,” he said. Barbieri said he's still analyzing the decision to see if there's a way states can fight it, but he hasn't found one yet.

“My gut reaction is the nanny state has now taken its final step to controlling just about everything that we do,” Barbieri said. “This is central planning at its worst, and it's a major step toward the collectivist mindset that the federal government's been moving toward for decades.”

Wasden: High court’s reasoning ‘a significant win for states’ rights’ on future Commerce Clause questions

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden finds something to celebrate in this morning's U.S. Supreme Court ruling, though the state didn't succeed in getting the health care reform act overturned: The high court's reasoning, he said, includes “a significant win for states' rights.”

That's because the court's majority rejected the government's argument that the individual mandate was justified under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, while upholding it instead under the taxing powers of Congress. “The whole argument that we raised was that the attempt by Congress here was an unconstitutional exercise of commerce clause power, and we were vindicated in that,” Wasden said. “The court said that this is in fact an unconstitutional exercise of commerce clause power, and said furthermore that this was not saved by the necessary and proper clause. The court then went on to say that this was a tax, and it was an exercise of congressional taxing power.”

He added, “The court then went on to say that the federal government could not coerce the state government to comply and expand its Medicaid program, that there was an agreement between the state and the federal government with regard to the current program. … So there is significant vindication in the arguments that we presented to the court.”

Idaho was one of 26 states suing to overturn the law, which Idaho lawmakers and Gov. Butch Otter strongly opposed.

Wasden said of the court's reasoning, “It does matter. It's not really so much the issue of today, but the issue of what the analysis under the Commerce Clause is that's going to exist into the future, and what's the relationship of the state government to the federal government into the future. These are very significant questions. It is precedent … that there is a limit under the commerce clause.”

Said Wasden, “What we've learned is that there is, in fact, a limit to that Commerce Clause power, that individuals cannot be compelled to engage in commerce. That's very significant.”

Idaho insurance chief: ‘Now we know, and we can move forward’

Idaho's state insurance director, Bill Deal, said he was surprised that this morning's health care ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate. “So now we know, and we can move forward, with hopefully some good direction in mind,” he said.

As for a health insurance exchange in Idaho - which lawmakers refused to begin planning for during this year's legislative session, betting that the law would be overturned - Deal said, “It leaves us basically at square one.” Idaho had a $20 million grant to begin planning its exchange, but lawmakers rejected it. “That money's essentially off the table,” Deal said. “So there are other grants that are available, but we're going to have to really sit down and determine if we go for grants, if the Department of Insurance and Health & Welfare will get spending authority to move forward with what now would be implementation.” It's also unclear whether the federal government will now impose a federally run exchange on Idaho. “At this point I can't tell you,” Deal said. He said his office is still working to “decipher” and “digest” the decision, and likely won't know how it will proceed for several weeks.

Crapo: ‘Not the ruling that the American people wanted’

Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo today called the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on the health care law “very disappointing,” and said, “It is not the ruling that the American people wanted.” Crapo said, “This law threatens our country’s financial strength and the American way of life.”

He said, “As a member of the Senate Finance Committee and the Gang of 6, I will continue to work to address our nation’s health care problems and to reform our tax code to make it simpler, not more complex and burdensome, for the American people.  This ruling has put these issues squarely in front of Congress and the American people.  With increased public awareness and clarity, we can improve our health care system and reform our tax code accordingly.  Today’s ruling makes it even more important to do so.” Click below for Crapo's full statement.

Risch: Repeal health reform law

Idaho Sen. Jim Risch, in response to this morning's health care ruling upholding the Affordable Care Act, called for the act's repeal. “The Supreme Court has now ruled that it is a tax increase, underscoring the deception by which this law passed,” Risch said. “Those who voted for this, every Democrat in Congress, should join us in repealing this massive tax increase and replace it with a reasonable and understandable plan that reduces costs and allows Americans to choose the health care plan and provider they want.” Click below for Risch's full statement.

Rusche: Health care ruling means Idaho has ‘a lot of work to do’

Idaho House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewistion, a retired physician and health insurance executive, said this morning's U.S. Supreme Court ruling on health care reform “means we have a lot of work to do.” He said, “Whether the law was upheld or not, the issues of cost and quality and access of health care to Americans wasn't going to go away. But it just seems to me that this tool is available.” He said the now-upheld national law provides tools that Idaho can use to address those problems, including the individual mandate. “The majority of the Supreme Court justices realized that you can't run a health care system for a country without having everybody play,” Rusche said.

The Idaho Legislature, strongly opposed to the health care reform law, refused this year to accept millions in federal funds to start setting up a state-run health care exchange under the law. “It leaves us kind of behind,” Rusche said. “I know the Republican mantra is 'we'll just go and repeal it,' but the fact is that it's the law of the land, and my guess is that there will be some action to try to comply.”

Idahoans on both sides react to ruling

Among the Idaho reaction so far to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling this morning upholding the individual mandate and the national health care reform law:

Hannah Brass, Idaho legislative director at Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, issued a statement headed “Idaho Women Win with Today’s Supreme Court Decision, Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest applauds preventative health coverage benefits that are already improving the lives of 283,000 Idahoans.” Said Brass, “While we’re glad the Supreme Court upheld the important protections in the ACA, the real credit for the breakthrough legislation belongs to those who passed it. The Affordable Care Act marks the biggest advance for women’s health in a generation, and we thank President Barack Obama for this leadership on this issue.”

Wayne Hoffman, head of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, which opposes the health care reform law, said, “Without question, the ruling is a major blow to freedom. That said, we are not done fighting. The health care system is broken. This law makes that system worse. We plan to continue presenting solutions that help lower costs and improve health outcomes.”

U.S. Rep. Simpson: ‘Fight isn’t over’

Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson says he's “disappointed” in this morning's U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding the health care reform law, and he's vowing that the “fight isn't over,” calling on Congress to repeal the law.  “While the Supreme Court has ruled that Obamacare is Constitutional, they have not said that it is a good idea or that it will bring down costs,” said Simpson, a Republican who represents Idaho's 2nd Congressional District. “Congress should re-double its effort to repeal Obamacare and begin the process of enacting market-based reforms that will truly lower costs and increase access.” Click below for his full statement.

Link to full U.S. Supreme Court opinion

Here's a link to the full U.S. Supreme Court opinion issued this morning on health care reform. It's 193 pages long.

How the 5-4 ruling broke down…

Here's how the U.S. Supreme Court justices came down in the health care decision, according to the Associated Press:

Chief Justice John Roberts was joined by justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor in upholding the law.

Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented.
  

U.S. Supreme Court upholds health care reform, individual mandate

Lots of confusion initially this morning as the complex U.S. Supreme Court ruling on health care reform comes out, but here's a summary from SCOTUSBlog: “The bottom line: the entire ACA is upheld, with the exception that the federal government's power to terminate states' Medicaid funds is narrowly read.” The high court upheld the individual mandate on a 5-4 vote. Here's the initial report from the Associated Press in Washington, D.C.:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the individual insurance requirement at the heart of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. The decision handed Obama a campaign-season victory in rejecting arguments that Congress went too far in requiring most Americans to have health insurance or pay a penalty. Chief Justice John Roberts announced the court's judgment that allows the law to go forward with its aim of covering more than 30 million uninsured Americans.

You can read a full report here from Roll Call, with more detail.

The AP also offers this report on where Idaho stands as the decision hits:

NUMBER OF UNINSURED: 294,000 state residents are uninsured, or about 19 percent.
WHERE THE STATE STANDS: Idaho has not implemented health insurance exchanges, over objections from insurers including Blue Cross of Idaho. The GOP-controlled Idaho Legislature declined to accept federal grants for the project and also balked at putting together a scaled-down state-funded version while awaiting the Supreme Court's decision.
WHAT HAPPENS NOW: Idaho lawmakers were the first in the nation to pass a law in 2010 requiring the state to sue the federal government over the health care overhaul. In 2011, they toyed with the idea of nullifying the law within state borders. Now, they're banking on the U.S. Supreme Court turning down the measure, or barring that, an eventual push by a Republican president and GOP members of Congress to repeal provisions, including the individual mandate or refuse to fund the enterprise. Many GOP lawmakers in Idaho have said they would work hard to block key provisions of the health care changes if the Supreme Court upholds the law.

Idaho school funding again ranks 50th in nation

Idaho's school spending per pupil ranks 50th in the nation for a second straight year, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Census, while Washington's is 32nd, one place worst than last year's ranking of 31st. Washington education officials bemoaned the ranking as too low, but Idaho's said their lower ranking wasn't particularly concerning; Idaho bested only Utah.

“Funding is a factor in education but it’s not the most important factor,” said Idaho State Department of Education spokeswoman Melissa McGrath, “and it is not the factor that determines the quality of an education system.” She noted that Idaho - like Washington - has higher than average student test scores. The U.S. Department of Education's National Assessment of Educational Progess shows eighth-graders in both states scored above average in reading, math and science in 2011. “In Idaho, our state spends less per student compared to most other states, but our students continually outperform students across the United States in reading, math and in science,” McGrath said. “It’s clear that Idaho is doing well spending its resources effectively and efficiently to benefit Idaho students.”

The census figures, which are drawn from the 2009-2010 school year, also include rankings for school spending per $1,000 in per-capita income for each state. By that measure, Idaho improved slightly from last year's ranking of 41st, coming in 38th. But it's still far below where the state ranked back in 2001, when it was 17th. Former Idaho state chief economist Mike Ferguson, now the head of the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy, said that echoes a report he released in April that found that the share of Idaho's personal income that goes to schools dropped 23 percent from 2000 to 2013; his report dubbed that drop “a stunning reduction in the state's commitment to public schools.” Ferguson said Wednesday, “The fact is that we've been essentially disinvesting in children.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Federal magistrate: U.S. falsely imprisoned al-Kidd under material witness law post 9/11

The federal government falsely imprisoned former University of Idaho football player in 2003 as a material witness, a federal magistrate judge has ruled, finding that a jury should decide if the government has misused the material witness law in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the AP reports. Abdullah al-Kidd was imprisoned for 16 days, repeatedly strip searched and at times left naked in a jail cell, after federal agents said he had a first-class, one-way ticket to Saudi Arabia. It was actually a round-trip coach ticket with an open return; he was going there to study. Al-Kidd was never actually called to testify in the trial against fellow University of Idaho student Sami Omar al-Hussayen, who was acquitted on terrorism charges.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Mikel Williams ruled that the court essentially was duped into issuing the arrest warrant; click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Firm that was luring vets to certain for-profit colleges must give up website, turn it over to V.A.

Idaho is among 20 states that are part of a consumer protection settlement forcing the shutdown of a California-based website that targeted military veterans to attend for-profit colleges. The states charged that the company's websites, including GIBill.com, were deceptive and misleading, giving the appearance that they were operated or endorsed by the U.S. government or military. They directed users only to the website owner's clients, which were presented as “eligible GI Bill schools.”

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said, “This settlement ends the deceptive practices this company used to mislead the people who risk their lives to protect our freedom. Our veterans and active duty military personnel have earned their educational benefits and should not be subjected to trickery when deciding where best to use those benefits.”

As part of the settlement, the company, QuinStreet Inc. of Foster City, Calif., will pay $2.5 million, including $100,000 to reimburse Idaho for its costs to participate in the case, and the firm will relinquish the domain “GIBill.com” to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which will use it to educate service members about benefits available to them. Click below for a full announcement from Wasden's office.

Only three bids on school laptops, and only one qualifies, so bidding abandoned…

After only three companies submitted bids to supply Idaho high schools with laptop computers over the next five years, and only one of those bids met the qualifications, the state is abandoning the bidding process and instead will negotiate with providers of computers and services, the Associated Press reports. Under Idaho's “Students Come First” school reform law, Idaho plans to spend $60 million over the next five years to achieve a “1-to-1” ratio of laptop computers to high school students; teachers are up to receive the first laptops this fall, with the first batch going to students in the fall of 2013 - if voters don't overturn the law in a November referendum vote.

State Department of Education spokeswoman Melissa McGrath said the department is still confident it can get the first laptops to teachers this fall despite the bid setback; click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Whistleblower lawsuit filed against Idaho Juvenile Corrections

Seven employees with the Idaho Department of Juvenile Correction have filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the agency, reports AP reporter Rebecca Boone, contending that a Nampa detention center is understaffed, has security policies that are dangerous to staffers and kids, that some employees are committing fraud and wasting public money, and that those who speak out against misdeeds are harassed and skipped over for promotions. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Boise on Monday, and includes allegations the department is rife with problems that put juveniles at risk. Click below for Boone's full report.

Opponents of ‘Students Come First’ school reform laws kick off campaign

More than 100 people gathered on the steps outside Boise High School today to kick off a statewide campaign against the “Students Come First” school reform laws, which are up for possible repeal in three referendum measures on the November ballot. “We urge Idahoans to vote 'No' on all three propositions,” said Mike Lanza, a Boise father of two and campaign chairman. “These laws take us backward, not forward. They make it harder for teachers to do their jobs effectively. They are bad for children, bad for teachers and bad for Idaho.”

Gov. Butch Otter already has formed a PAC to fight to preserve the laws, and state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna, the laws' author, pushed hard for them at last weekend's state Republican Party convention.

Lanza, drawing applause, said, “This is a non-partisan campaign. We have people from all political persuasions who support this effort. Education is important to everybody.” Speakers at the campaign launch included Boise mother of four Maria Greeley, who said her son struggled in an online class last summer and ultimately opted to withdraw and take the class in person.  She decried the new requirement for online classes as a high school graduation requirement. “This one-size-fits-all mandate hurts our students and diminishes the quality of education,” Greeley said.

Nampa 5th-grade teacher Sonia Galaviz said last year was the most difficult of her teaching career. “My classroom size jumped from 27 to 35,” she said. “I had no aides. … However last year we did get various technological devices. … We would have done anything to turn those … into a live human teacher.”

The reform laws include phasing in a laptop computer for every high school student, a new focus on online learning, a merit-pay bonus program for teachers based partly on test scores, and rolling back teachers' collective bargaining rights. Any new funds in the public school budget in future years would go first to those new programs, before other expenses such as teacher salaries.

Finder not keeper of James Castle art found in ceiling of home

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― An Idaho judge says the heirs of artist James Castle are the rightful owners of drawings found in the ceiling of his former home. The Idaho Statesman reports 4th District Judge Deborah Bail ruled Friday that Jeannie Schmidt of Boise must turn over the art she found in her home along with $120,000 she received from selling three pieces while the ownership was being disputed. Bail's ruling says under Idaho law, identifiable mislaid property belongs to the owner or his heirs. Castle's descendants sued Schmidt for about 150 pieces of art and 30 books Castle hid as early as the 1930s. Schmidt argued Castle's nieces told her any artwork she found was hers when she bought the house in 1996. Castle's drawings were made with a sharpened stick dipped in soot and saliva.

“Finders, Keepers” is a playground chant, not a legal doctrine,” Bail wrote in her ruling Friday, reports Idaho Statesman reporter Patrick Orr. “In Idaho, the person entitled to identifiable mislaid property is the owner and his or her heirs, not the finder.” You can read Orr's full report here.
  

Idaho lawmakers slated for 2% raise

Idaho state legislators should get a 2 percent raise next year, a citizens committee decided Monday, while also tightening up rules about compensation for a lawmaker's second residence near the capitol. “They've not had a raise since 2007,” said Eva Gay Yost, a member of the panel. “They rejected the last one. State employees got 2 percent, so I thought it was appropriate.” Lawmakers this year approved 2 percent raises for all state employees performing to standards in the coming year, the first state employee raise they've funded in four years.

The committee's recommendation takes effect unless lawmakers reject it - which they did in 2009, when the panel recommended a 5 percent raise. Two years ago, the committee recommended no raise.

The second-residence rule became an issue in 2011, when the Associated Press reported that two Canyon County senators - Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, and then-Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell - were claiming the compensation, which adds up to roughly $6,000 a year, without actually setting up second residences near the capitol. McGee stayed with his parents, and McKenzie slept on his law office couch. Legislative leaders put a stop to that this year, but Debora Kristensen, chair of the six-member citizens panel, said the group voted to add specifics to the compensation recommendation “to give some clarity as to what that means.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
  

Drunk driver must pay for pants, not police car

A recalcitrant drunken driver must pay $68 to replace pants that a Boise police officer ripped during a foot chase, the AP reports, but the Idaho Court of Appeals ruled the man doesn't have to fork over another $1,089 for damage to a patrol car that hit and killed his dog during the 2010 incident, for which he pleaded guilty and was sent to prison for up to 15 years. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller; you can read the Court of Appeals decision here.

High court issues rulings on Arizona immigration law, Montana campaign finance law

The U.S. Supreme Court is issuing major rulings this week, but it now appears it won't issue its ruling on the federal health care reform law until Thursday. This morning, the high court ruled on the Arizona immigration law, overturning much of it, but upholding the controversial provision requiring police to check the immigration status of someone they suspect is not in the United States legally. That decision upholds the “show me your papers” requirement for the moment, but it takes the teeth out of it by prohibiting police officers from arresting people on minor immigration charges, the Associated Press reports; you can read a full report here at spokesman.com, and read the court's full three-page decision here.

Also this morning, the high court struck down a Montana law limiting corporate campaign spending; the case was seen as a test of the 2010 Citizens United decision that opened the door to unlimited independent campaign expenditures by corporations. It was a 5-4 decision; you can read a full report here at spokesman.com, and read the 76-page full court decision here.

Idaho was one of 22 states that filed a brief in support of Montana's law, even though Idaho has no state laws restricting corporate campaign spending. Idaho allows direct corporate giving to campaigns, and unlimited corporate independent expenditures on campaigns, but does subject corporations to the same contribution limits to candidates as individuals, and requires reporting. The state Attorney General's office said Idaho weighed in on a state sovereignty basis, seeking to protect state authority.

Judge fighting DUI charge resigns

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: TWIN FALLS, Idaho (AP) ― Fifth District Magistrate Judge Nicole Cannon has resigned two months after being charged with excessive driving under the influence in Boise. Cannon's resignation was announced Friday in a statement released by 5th District Trial Court administrator Linda Wright. The resignation was effective immediately. She had served on the bench for 15 months. Cannon's resignation announcement made no mention of the DUI charge filed in April. Court records say her blood-alcohol level tested at 0.239 percent and 0.221 percent. A judge denied requests by Cannon's defense attorney to have the traffic stop deemed unreasonable and to throw out the breath tests. Cannon has pleaded not guilty and her trial is set to start on Aug. 28. Wright says recruitment for Cannon's replacement would start Monday.

Otter on ‘Five Wives’ vodka flap: ‘It could’ve been handled differently’

Gov. Butch Otter, asked about the “Five Wives” vodka flap, said, “I suppose it could've been handled differently. I expect next time it will be.” He also said he stands by his liquor chief's decision, and didn't weigh in as the division flip-flopped and decided to allow the Utah vodka to be sold by special order in Idaho, despite initial concerns that the brand would offend Idaho's Mormon population. “They did the right thing in saying, 'If people want to special order it, we'll do that,'” Otter said.

He added, “I would anticipate that if we start getting a lot of call for Five Wives Vodka, well, we'll probably start stocking it.” You can read my full Sunday column here.

All Idaho GOP delegates go to Romney

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: TWIN FALLS, Idaho (AP) ― Idaho Republicans voted to send their 32 delegates to the national convention this summer to support presidential candidate Mitt Romney. According to Idaho GOP rules, the delegates selected at Saturday's state convention are bound to support Romney during the first round of balloting at the five-day GOP national convention in Tampa Bay starting on Aug. 27. Before the state convention in Twin Falls, there had been murmurings that supporters of Ron Paul would openly seek to undermine Romney's support. That didn't materialize. Romney, who will face Democratic President Barack Obama, won Idaho's “Super Tuesday” caucus March 6, with Paul finishing a distant third behind Rick Santorum. Paul supporter Ryan Davidson, an Ada County delegate, said discussion of attempting to direct delegates away from Romney in Twin Falls was always “theoretical.”

Idaho Republicans pick Peterson as new state party chairman

Idaho Republicans on Saturday elected a Mountain Home hardware store owner to lead the state's dominant party ahead of November's big ballot fight over education reforms, the Associated Press reports. Barry Peterson was chosen chairman over charter school activist Gayann DeMordaunt from Eagle. Peterson replaces outgoing chairman Norm Semanko. The 64-year-old Peterson was described by backers as an example of rural Idaho's conservative roots; his grandfather settled Elmore County in 1885.

“We will unitedly work to have a more effective and impactful role in the politics of our state,” Peterson told delegates. Click below for AP reporter John Miller's full report.

GOP convention skirts closed primary fight

Idaho State Republican Party convention delegates in Twin Falls likely skirted a renewed, potentially messy internal fight over their party's closed primary by recommending the issue be studied, not addressed head-on, reports AP reporter John Miller. According to a resolution that cleared a convention committee Friday, state leaders will be asked to scrutinize the 2012 closed primary's consequences on turnout and Republican success before deciding if changes are necessary for 2014. The Republican Party limited its May 15 primary election to registered GOP voters; click below for Miller's full report.

State GOP convention under way in Twin Falls

Reopening the Idaho Republican Party's closed primary and dismantling federal agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency are among 16 proposed resolutions up for consideration at the state GOP convention in Twin Falls this weekend, the Associated Press reports. The proposals have been submitted ahead of the Thursday-through-Saturday confab, and include abolishing the federal departments of Energy and Education and the EPA. Meanwhile, the Moscow-Pullman Daily News reports that leaders from Idaho's 44 counties have one request for Republicans meeting this week in Twin Falls: Rethink the policy of having closed primary elections. The Idaho Association of Commissioners and Clerks sent a statement urging Republican party leaders to go back to an open primary; members blame the the closed primary ― and its requirement that voters register with the party before getting a GOP ballot ― for record-low turnout statewide.

Twin Falls Times-News reporter Melissa Davlin has a report here on Thursday's platform discussions, which included a narrow subcommittee vote to keep a “sound currency” plank, and another to get rid of the phase “naturally born” that preceded the party’s definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman; that descriptor could exclude transgendered people and people born with certain medical conditions. The discussions continue today and Saturday. Davlin reported that subcommittee head Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, said Thursday's discussions went well, even when she disagreed with the vote outcome. “I was pleased with the civility and discourse,” she said.

Convention activities today include a general session, updates on redistricting and school reforms, and a speech tonight from GOP Gov. Butch Otter.

Teacher talks fail in at least 21 Idaho school districts, under new reform law

At least 21 Idaho school districts are unilaterally imposing contract terms on teachers this week, after failing to reach agreement with local teachers unions - an option for districts under the state's controversial “Students Come First” school reform law.
 
In the Lakeland School District in Kootenai County, members of the Lakeland Education Association voted 96 percent “no” on the district's last offer on salaries and benefits for the coming year, which, like the past four years, includes no base salary increase, but did offer some small thaws in the multi-year pay freeze. “The law is pretty strict now,” said Lakeland business manager Tom Taggart. “So pretty much what they rejected, we just turned around to the board and the board approved it.”

Other North Idaho school districts unilaterally imposing contract terms this week include Kellogg, Mullan and Wallace; in southern Idaho, they range from small districts like Middleton and Cascade to larger ones like Idaho Falls, Nampa and Caldwell. Carrie Scozzaro, a high school art teacher and outgoing president of the Lakeland association, said teachers feel like they're no longer being listened to as professionals. “There's that sort of hopelessness of not being part of the process and being accused of being part of the problem, which is frustrating,” she said.

The Students Come First laws included rolling back most collective bargaining rights for teachers; limiting contract negotiations to salary and benefits and making all contract terms expire each year; and shifting funds from salaries to merit-pay bonuses, a new focus on online learning, and laptop computers for high school students. State schools Superintendent Tom Luna, who proposed the reforms, said it's good news that just 21 of Idaho's 130 school districts and charter schools weren't able to reach agreement by strict new deadlines. “They said there would be strikes, there would be walkouts, there would be lawsuits - none of that has happened,” Luna said Wednesday. “If you measure this against the doomsday scenario that they painted, I think this is very positive news.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
  

Megaload opponents ‘gratified,’ say tourism is only growing industry along Highway 12

Opponents of megaload transports through Idaho's scenic Highway 12 river corridor have issued the following statement on Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil's withdrawal of its permit application to the state of Montana for the loads:

“The Rural People of Highway 12-Fighting Goliath feel gratified that the industrialization of the beautiful Lochsa-Clearwater U.S.12 corridor has, for now, been stopped and that the Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil threat to north central Idaho's outdoor recreation paradise and its single growing industry, tourism, has been removed.”

Meanwhile, a lawsuit from Idaho Rivers United still is pending in federal court, charging that the U.S. Forest Service and the Federal Highway Administration have failed to enforce federal laws including the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act because they haven't moved to stop megaload transports through the designated wild and scenic river corridor.
  

Imperial/Exxon withdraws Montana megaloads permit application

Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil has withdrawn its application to the state of Montana to haul more than 200 megaloads of oil sands equipment over Lolo Pass and through northwestern Montana into Canada. The company said it's already brought in all the loads it needs for the first phase of its oil sands project via other routes, the Associated Press reports.

Imperial spokesman Pius Rolheiser told the AP that the company has contracted for the demolition of a huge test module that has been sitting in a parking lot at Lolo Hot Springs since May 4, 2011. The load will be removed in chunks that won't require oversized permits.

The proposal to haul the giant, oversized loads across Idaho's scenic HIghway 12 to Lolo Pass drew legal challenges and protests in Idaho as well, though lawmakers and Gov. Butch Otter welcomed the prospect. The three-story-high loads would have been wide enough to block both lanes of the two-lane road, creating rolling roadblocks. In Montana, environmental and traffic issues were raised about the route, and Missoula County, the National Wildlife Federation, the Montana Environmental Information Center and the Montana Chapter of the Sierra Club all filed suit.

Idaho's Highway 12, a designated state and federal scenic byway, runs along two wild and scenic river corridors dotted with campgrounds, hot springs and historic sites, and roughly follows the route taken by explorers Lewis and Clark into the region two centuries ago. Click below for a full report from the AP in Missoula.

Wolf pup leaves Boise for its new home, Busch Gardens in Virginia

The wolf pup that tourists near Ketchum mistook for an abandoned puppy and brought to a local vet left Boise this morning and is on its way to a new home: Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Va., which has nine wolves, including two other pups that are six weeks old. That's also where the National Zoo, which is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, sends its staff to receive captive wolf training.

After DNA tests confirmed the pup was a wild wolf, and Fish & Game officials were unable to track down its pack to return it to the wild despite extensive efforts, the pup was cared for at Zoo Boise while officials compiled a list of facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums that would be suitable for it; Fish & Game selected the Virginia facility from the list. It has successfully housed wolves for more than 12 years.
  

Otter names Hurlock, Naillon to Idaho Fish & Game Commission

Gov. Butch Otter has named two new Idaho Fish & Game commissioners: Joan Hurlock, a fitness center owner from Buhl who also is a former forensic chemist for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Explosives and Arson Unit and a former member of the U.S. Capitol Police; and of Buhl and Will Naillon of Challis, a Salmon native and fifth-generation Custer County miner. “Both these fine individuals have shown a great passion for and commitment to the protection and effective management of Idaho’s fish and wildlife resources for future generations,” Otter said. “They understand and embrace the challenge of addressing sometimes contentious issues. Just as importantly, they have demonstrated the ability to work effectively and collaboratively with diverse groups and individuals toward achieving shared goals.”

Hurlock replaces outgoing Region 4 commissioner Wayne Wright of Twin Falls; and Naillon replaces outgoing Region 7 commissioner Gary Power of Salmon. Click below for Otter's full announcement; the two appointees will be up for confirmation in the state Senate in its 2013 session.

Simpson amendment adds potatoes to WIC program for at-risk pregnant women, infants

Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson has successfully added an amendment to the 2013 Agriculture Appropriations bill in the House to include fresh potatoes in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. WIC provides supplemental nutritious foods to low-income at-risk pregnant women, infants and young children; it provides things like infant cereal, iron-fortified adult cereal, vitamin C-rich fruit or vegetable juice, eggs, milk, cheese, peanut butter, dried and canned beans and peas and canned fish. The program also offers tofu, fruits and vegetables, baby foods and whole-wheat bread.

Simpson, in a news release, said, “Fresh potatoes have been excluded from the WIC program despite their widely known nutritional value. This important amendment corrects the unfair exclusion on fresh potatoes and allows participants to make smart wholesome food choices for their young families.”

Simpson is a member of the House Appropriations Committee, which approved his amendment and the full bill yesterday; the bill now awaits consideration by the full House.

Peterson, DeMordaunt face off for GOP chair

Barry Peterson, a 64-year-old former Elmore County commissioner and Mountain Home hardware store owner, and Gayann DeMordaunt, a 46-year-old charter school proponent from Eagle, Idaho, are facing off for the chairmanship of the Idaho Republican Party. AP reporter John Miller writes that Gov. Butch otter has indicated he'd accept either of the two, but neither are in agreement with Otter on key issues. For instance, Otter contends the party should return to the open primary, to bolster turnout after dismal 24 percent turnout on May 15, while both chairman hopefuls support sticking with the closed elections. “If you're on the Republican team, you should be the ones choosing your candidate,” Peterson said. DeMordaunt said she's open to new ideas, but agrees the closed primary was a good idea. “I was definitely an early advocate of closed primaries, and I believe we can massage it to make it work for all Idaho Republicans,” she said. Click below for Miller's full report.

Third Idaho man gets prison time for defacing ancient Nez Perce pictographs

For as many as 2,500 years, red-pigmented pictographs of animals and geometric shapes at a rock shelter along the Snake River bore silent testimony to the presence of the Nez Perce tribe and its ancestors, the Associated Press reports. On Feb. 7, 2010, it took just a few minutes for three vandals armed with cans of spray paint to cause roughly $100,000 worth of damage that will require the services of a rock art conservator to remedy.

Two of the vandals, Freddie Michael Bernal, 21, and Tyler James Carlson, 23, were sentenced in March, with Bernal to spend three years behind bars and Carlson headed to prison for four months. This week, the third member of the vandalism party, 25-year-old Jarad Bovencamp, was sentenced to five months in prison, five months home detention and 200 hours of community service. All three pleaded guilty to willful injury or depredation of property of the United States, by spray painting words including “Freddie B” and the initials “TC” on the basalt at the riverside cliffs. Click below for the full report from the AP.

AAA predicts July 4 holiday travel will jump this year

AAA is predicting more holiday travelers covering more miles over the July 4 holiday this year, with a jump big enough to tie the past decade's high mark, set in 2007 prior to the recession. “We view the projected increase in travel as a positive signal, even though it's surrounded by a mixed bag of economic drivers,” said Dave Carlson, AAA Idaho public affairs director. Factors pushing toward more travelers include the holiday falling in the middle of the week, which likely will prompt more travelers to make longer trips and extend their holidays. A survey by AAA found that 54 percent of those planning to travel for the holiday will begin their trip prior to the start of the work week that includes the Wednesday holiday.

The motorists' group also cited stable airfares and declining gas prices nationwide, though Idaho's average gas price is now six cents a gallon higher than it was a year ago; the U.S. average gas price is 15 cents per gallon lower than it was a year ago. Idaho now has the sixth highest average gas price of any U.S. state. Though more travelers are expected to travel farther this year, they're also expected to spend less each; median spending is expected to be down 7 percent from last year.

Idaho Dems unveil platform; GOP to craft theirs later this week

Idaho Democrats have unveiled their new party platform, crafted at the party's state convention last weekend; it takes aim at some Republican initiatives that have emerged in the last two years in the Idaho Legislature, the Associated Press reports. Examples: The Dems' new platform rejects closed primary elections, which the Idaho GOP championed; and also rejects government intrusion into personal medical decisions, “unproven educational experimentation” in Idaho's public schools; and the notion that state government has a legal right to nullify federal laws. “I urge everyone to take a careful look at the positions of the Idaho Democrats,” said Eldon Wallace, chairman of the platform committee. “Compare that to the rightward drift of the more radical elements of the GOP that would dramatically change our society and reduce our quality of life.” Click below for a full report from the AP; you can read the party's full platform here. The idaho Republican Party will craft its platform at its state convention, which runs this Thursday through Saturday in Twin Falls.

Land Board votes to give director a raise after positive 6-month review

Idaho's state Land Board has voted unanimously to give state Lands Director Tom Schultz a raise from $112,800 per year to $120,000 a year, after a six-month review gave him high marks for his performance in the post. “Speaking for the entire board, Tom Schultz has done a great job for us as our director of the Department of Lands, and I think we made a very good hire and we're patting ourselves on the back,” said Secretary of State Ben Ysursa.

Gov. Butch Otter said, “He's hit the ground running.” Schultz, the former administrator of trust land management for the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, was the first department director hired from outside the department in decades. In Montana, he headed the trust land management division for the state for a decade; he'd been with the state since 1997 and also served as chief of the forest management bureau and administrator of the water resources division. An Air Force veteran, he holds a degree in government from the University of Virginia, a master's in political science from the University of Wyoming and a master's in forestry from the University of Montana.

Otter said he's been impressed with Schultz's enthusiasm and ideas; he oversees management of the state's 2.4 million surface acres of endowment lands and 3.3 million acres of endowment minerals, along with overseeing fire protection on 6.2 million acres of state and private lands and the department's regulatory functions over forest practices, lake protection and surface mining. “Most specifically, I was really pleased with the feedback that I got from the Legislature,” Otter said, “because as you know, there were some things proposed that we felt infringed upon the constitutional direction of the agency and of the commission itself. So he's satisfied on all fronts.”

Schultz originally was hired at the same salary paid the previous director, George Bacon, which was below the state policy level for the position of $116,000, but with the promise of a review and possible adjustment after six months.

State Payette Lake cabin site renters get appraisal option

Owners of cabins on state-owned lots at Payette Lake will be offered the option of an appraisal to determine the land value on which their lease rates are based, or sticking with assessments set by Valley County, under a new process approved unanimously by the state Land Board this morning. The appraisal process would be similar to that used to set rents for state-owned cabin sites at Priest Lake. “We received a letter from the Payette association, they want to do that,” said Secretary of State Ben Ysursa. He noted that it'll be at the option of the lessee.

Cabin owners who opt to stay with the county assessment won't need to do anything; those who want to switch to appraisals would need to sign a lease adjustment before Aug. 1. The state Department of Lands would then contract with an outside appraiser during the fall of 2012, with the new appraisals used to calculate 2013 rent.

State Controller Jones transferred to rehab, undergoing ‘intensive therapy’

Gov. Butch Otter opened this morning's meeting of the state Board of Examiners with an update on state Controller Donna Jones, who suffered a broken neck in a one-vehicle rollover on May 25. Jones, 73, has been moved to a rehabilitation facility within St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center, Otter said. “She is receiving intensive therapy daily,” he said, and appears to be on the road to full recovery. Jones is not yet ready to receive visitors, he said, “But she can receive flowers - and chocolates.”

Otter complimented the staff at the state controller's office for keeping the office's business on track, paying the state's bills and payroll and operating the state's main data center.

Jones credited a seatbelt with saving her life in the car accident; she was returning from a personal trip to eastern Idaho when her Cadillac Escalade went off the side of I-84 near Heyburn mid-day on a Friday; she overcorrected and the vehicle rolled. She was taken by ground ambulance to Minidoka Memorial Hospital in Rupert and then flown to St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center, where she arrived in critical condition and underwent surgery; she has remained hospitalized since.

Jones suffered a total of 14 broken bones in the accident, including two vertebrae. “They have her up and walking around,” said her chief of staff, Brandon Woolf. “She keeps joking, saying, 'Get me out of here - I'm ready to go. Get me back to work.'” Woolf said both Jones' family and medical providers are “very pleased with the medical milestones she's achieved.”

“She's under a pretty good therapy program right now,” Otter said. “It's going to take a long time.” Jones, as state controller, is a member of the state Land Board, which issued this statement as it opened its meeting today following the brief Board of Examiners meeting: “State Controller Donna Jones continues to be in the hearts and prayers of the members of the state Board of Land Commissioners, who send her best wishes for a rapid recovery.”

This week’s Idaho GOP convention to test tea-party influence on party

The upcoming Idaho Republican Party convention, which kicks off Thursday and runs through Saturday, will show whether Idaho's tea-party tide will rise further or if it's on the ebb in this election year, writess AP reporter John Miller. Miller reports that at the party's 2008 Sandpoint convention, as well as the 2010 edition in Idaho Falls, mainstream Republicans rolled their eyes as libertarians added planks to the party platform — the GOP's guiding document — urging the Federal Reserve's abolition, the gold standard's resurrection, support for “nullifying” federal laws and abandoning popular elections of U.S. senators. Yet tea party candidates were repudiated in May's GOP primary, with several high-profile challenges to mainstream GOP incumbents falling far short.

“If you have individuals with more libertarian leanings there as delegates, you'll probably see more of what we have had in the last couple of conventions,” Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, told the AP. “I am hopeful that more conservative than libertarian principals will be the standard in the party platform, but that's the purpose of the convention.”

The party also will choose a new chairman; Miller reports that GOP Gov. Butch Otter has given his blessing to the two candidates, charter-school activist Gayann DeMordaunt and Elmore County GOP Chairman Barry Peterson. Click below for his full report.

Otter asks state agencies to brace for possible cuts in federal funds

Gov. Butch Otter has asked state agencies to begin planning for possible cuts in their federal funds of 20 percent. Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey reports that in a speech last week at the IACI annual conference in Sun Valley, Otter said, “I’ve asked them to factor in a 20 percent cut in their federal funds and then come back to me with an action plan on what we’re gonna have to do.” Popkey reports that no cuts have been ordered as yet; Otter is preparing for possible federal cuts, and the 20 percent figure was suggested by Lt. Gov. Brad Little as a worst-case scenario; he expects something closer to 10 percent. You can read Popkey's full report here.

It includes this comment from Little: “If you did 20 percent, you’d have so much stress on the economy that it would slow the economy and make the numbers even worse. We don’t want to have a gun pointed at our heads like some other states where you turn a bunch of prisoners out, go to four-day-a-week schools and close all the parks. We can do this if we’re smart about it.”
  

Father’s Day, Roosevelt, Wash.

A beautiful day…

Kristin Armstrong is headed to London Olympics, will ride in time trial, road race

Boise cyclist and Olympic gold medalist Kristin Armstrong is headed to the London Olympics, USA Cycling announced today, despite having broken her collarbone in a crash at the inaugural Exergy Tour just three weeks ago. Armstrong and Amber Neben were selected for the 18-mile Olympic time trial on Aug. 1; they'll also ride in the women's road race, along with Evelyn Stevens and Shelley Olds. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Ex-Sen. McGee quits job after latest charges

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― Former Republican state Sen. John McGee quit his Idaho hospital job Friday after being charged with misdemeanor crimes linked to sexual harassment allegations. West Valley Medical Center in Caldwell confirmed that McGee had resigned as marketing director and spokesman, a role in which he was often the public face of the facility. The hospital said the departure of McGee, 39, will help avoid distractions linked to his unfolding legal travails. Click below for more.

Rammell sells RV, dinosaur, moves to Wyoming

Flamboyant former Idaho gubernatorial candidate Rex Rammell told Eye on Boise this afternoon that after he lost last month's GOP primary for a House seat in District 7, there was no reason not to move to Wyoming and take a high-paying veterinarian job at a livestock auction. “When I lost the race, there was nothing here to hold me,” Rammell said, adding that Wyoming suits his politics better anyway, with its lack of a personal or corporate income tax and its strong stand against wolves. “I probably was too optimistic that I could turn Idaho into Wyoming,” Rammell said. You can read my full story here about Rammell's departure, which was first reported yesterday by the Lewiston Tribune.

Labrador: Obama immigration move ‘blatantly political’

Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador, an immigration attorney who touted his expertise on the issue as he ran for Idaho's 1st District congressional seat two years ago, blasted President Obama's announcement today of a major change in the nation's immigration law enforcement: Young illegal immigrants will be able to avoid deportation if they can prove they were brought to the United States before they turned 16 and are younger than 30, have been in the country for at least five continuous years, have no criminal history, graduated from a U.S. high school or earned a GED or served in the military. They also can apply for a work permit that will be good for two years with no limits on how many times it can be renewed.

“Our nation's first commitment must be to follow the rule of law and this action by the president bypasses the existing legal process,” Labrador said in a statement. “President Obama had two years in the White House to move immigration legislation through a Democrat-controlled House and Senate and he failed to do so. There are many Republicans in Congress who have been working to fix our broken immigration process. Instead of joining them to produce legislation in a constitutional manner, the president acted unilaterally in a blatantly political manner.”

Click below for a full report on the president's announcement from the Associated Press in Washington, D.C.

Dems up their candidate numbers for Legislature

Idaho Democrats recruited more than 90 candidates to run for office this year, and there were nine contested Democratic primary contests across the state last month, Democratic Party Chairman Larry Grant told his party's state convention today. Now, there are 82 Democratic candidates on the ballot for legislative seats.

“Some are placeholders,” Grant acknowledged. “You've got to have placeholders in these elections, because you never know when somebody is going to steal an RV and … crash it, or refuse to pay their taxes,” he said to laughter. But Grant said there are 60 Democratic legislative candidates “running honest, sincere and vigorous races across the state. … That's more candidates than anybody can remember in the state of Idaho … since the '60s.”

Boise State University political scientists Gary Moncrief said, “We've usually got about 40 to 50 seats that are uncontested, just doing the math; a lot of those that are contested are barely contested. So if in fact they're running 60 serious races, I would think that's higher than we've seen in some time.”

In 1990, when the Senate split evenly between Republicans and Democrats, there were more seats in the Legislature, at 126. Democrats only failed to compete in 30 of those races that year. In 1992, which was both a competitive time between the parties and, like this year, a redistricting year, which typically draws more candidates, the Dems left 31 of 105 seats uncontested. This year, according to records at the Idaho Secretary of State's office, Democrats were on the ballot for all but 28 of the seats in the Legislature in the primary, and five more Dems made the ballot as primary election write-ins, for a total of just 23 seats not contested by Democrats in November.

The Democrats begin debating their state party platform late this afternoon; tomorrow, they'll finalize the platform and elect delegates to the national party convention.

Farris to Dems: ‘It’s about bringing people together, not dividing them’

Idaho Democrats are gathered for their state party convention today and tomorrow in Boise, while Idaho Republicans will gather for their state convention next Thursday through Saturday in Twin Falls. At today's Democratic confab, 1st District congressional candidate Jimmy Farris was the luncheon speaker, drawing an enthusiastic response from a crowd of about 100. Farris, a former NFL football player and Lewiston native, was wearing his Super Bowl ring, and led off by thanking his “team,” as he  introduced his campaign staffers. Farris looks younger than his 34 years, and has an unmistakably athletic bearing, particularly when he doffed his jacket and worked the crowd.

“I've accomplished a lot and learned a lot and sacrificed a lot, and ultimately I'm running because I care a lot, I want to make a difference,” he said earnestly before his speech. “Don't let the young face fool ya.”

He shared stories from his NFL days, decried the current state of things in Idaho from school funding to unemployment to crumbling infrastructure to high numbers of uninsured, and said his experience has been rooted in “working with people from different backgrounds and being able to work together” to solve problems. He also painted freshman GOP Rep. Raul Labrador, the incumbent, as a promoter of “division and gridlock.” Said Farris, “That's what this campaign is all about. It's about bringing people together, not dividing them. It's about being part of a team, not a … one-man show.”

Farris acknowledged he has a “tough campaign” ahead of him, challenging a sitting congressman from a Republican state who's become a tea party favorite in the nation's capital. “I say here today it's time we put Congressman Raul Labrador on waivers,” Farris declared. “Let's give him a two-year head start on his run for governor.” Among those in the audience was former state Sen. Mary Lou Reed, D-Coeur d'Alene, who called Farris “refreshingly strong” and “a very smart guy.”

May jobless rate up a tenth, ending string of 9 straight monthly declines

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― The state Department of Labor says Idaho's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose a tenth of a percentage point to 7.8 percent in May, ending a string of nine straight monthly declines. The agency says more people entered the job market while hiring slowed in much of the service sector. The national unemployment rate also was up a tenth to 8.2 percent for May. Over 721,000 Idaho residents had jobs in May, while fewer than 61,000 were unemployed. In May 2011, total employment was under 702,000 and 67,500 workers were unemployed.

Sen. Nuxoll repays state for end-of-session letter to GOP voters

Campaign finance reports show that Idaho state Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, has reimbursed the Senate for the cost of an end-of-session letter she sent out to Republican voters that touted her record and thanked supporters as she seeks re-election. Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, said he initially thought the letter only skated close to the line between campaign material and mere information, but after learning that it was sent only to Republicans, he called Nuxoll to discuss it.

“We just visited about it, and I said I thought it would be best if she reimbursed for all of it,” Hill said this week. “It was a mutual agreement. If I hadn't suggested it, she would have by the end of our conversation.” Nuxoll's post-primary election campaign finance report shows that she paid $890.09 to the Idaho State Senate on May 5 for a category of expenditures that takes in literature, brochures and printing. Nuxoll said today, “I wasn't legally liable, but you see the records.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

JFAC members tour U of I, which has lost $30M in state funding in four years

The Legislature's Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee is holding its interim meeting in north-central Idaho today and tomorrow, and today the lawmakers, along with State Board of Education members, state Division of Financial Management officials and staffers, toured the University of Idaho's research facilities and labs in Moscow and talked with professors and students. UI President Duane Nellis said over the past four years, the university has lost $30 million in state funding, but has partnered with 250 private and public entities to keep research and academic programs going. “While we're very proud and very grateful for the non-governmental support we've received, we realize that there is a limit to the lifelines others can provide,” Nellis said in a statement. “We believe our legislators will understand that we're exceptionally good stewards of our resources.”

The legislative budget writers will be in Lewiston and Orofino tomorrow, with stops including the Port of Lewiston, the Idaho Correctional Institution-Orofino, Clearwater Valley Hospital, and a juvenile corrections center in Lewiston.

Rammell moving to Wyoming, says he’s ‘given up’ on politics in Idaho

The Lewiston Tribune reports today that former Idaho gubernatorial candidate Rex Rammell, who lost a bid for the state House in May's GOP primary, is planning to move to Torrington, Wyo. next week and take a veterinary job at the Torrington Livestock Auction. Rammell told Trib reporter Kathy Hedberg that in the future, “If I do anything with politics it won't be in Idaho. I've kind of given up on Idaho, to be right honest with you.”

Rammell challenged Rep. Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton, for a House seat in the new District 7, which includes Idaho County, where he moved after the county backed him for governor in his primary run in 2010. But Rammell got just 30.3 percent of the vote in a three-way primary contest last month, with Ed Galloway at 21.9 percent and McMillan winning with 47.8 percent.

Rammell is a former elk rancher who entered politics after he vociferously objected, and unsuccessfully sued, when then-Gov. Jim Risch ordered Rammell's escaped domestic elk shot in 2005 to avoid spreading disease to Idaho's wild herds. He was known for campaigning around the state in a giant decorated RV, and adopting a large inflatable T-Rex dinosaur as a campaign mascot. Rammell told the Tribune that he's recently cleared up his legal problems stemming from a poaching charge.

Rifle practice with illegal exploding targets blamed for four wildfires

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― Exploding targets may go off with a satisfying bang, but federal land managers say they're behind a spate of human-caused wildfires in Idaho. The Boise District Bureau of Land Management said on Wednesday it has investigated 19 human-caused fires this season and suspect that four have been ignited by exploding targets. The targets are popular for rifle practice, because they scatter incendiary materials for several feet after they've been hit by bullets. But in combination with dry grass, they can become the culprit behind fast-moving range fires. What's more, they're illegal during the wildfire months between May 10 and Oct. 10 on territory managed by the BLM, Forest Service and Idaho Department of Lands. Violators face jail time, up to $100,000 in fines ― and possible firefighting costs, if caught.
  

McGee to plead guilty to new charges

Former Idaho Sen. John McGee will plead guilty in August to new charges of disturbing the peace and violating probation that are connected to a sexual harassment investigation, the Idaho Statesman reported this afternoon, citing court documents. The newspaper reported that in February, McGee had become “sexually provocative” toward a female Senate staffer, who first told only her mother what had occurred, but later told other employees after they noticed she was “unhappy, tearful and crying often.” You can read the Statesman's full report here.

McGee, R-Caldwell, who was Senate majority caucus chairman, resigned from the Senate Feb. 22 rather than face an ethics probe over the harassment allegations. The criminal charges, both misdemeanors, were announced yesterday after a months-long investigation.

Hart bankruptcy filing shows IRS has been garnishing entire legislative salary

When the state of Idaho made out its paychecks for tax-protesting state Rep. Phil Hart twice a month for the past seven years, the money didn't go to Hart - it went straight to the IRS. That's what Hart reported in documents filed this week in his bankruptcy case, in which he lists more than $600,000 in debt, most of it to the IRS and the Idaho State Tax Commission. In his supporting documents seeking a Chapter 13 bankruptcy reorganization, Hart reported, “100 percent of Legislative pay garnished since 2005, $16,000 annually.”

Bruce Newcomb, who was Idaho's longest-serving House speaker, said he was troubled by the revelation. “Let's put it this way: I find it very odd,” he said. “A person has a right to protest their taxes. But this has been one of the more extreme endeavors I've ever seen in my life's experience.” Newcomb said he worries about the impact of the case on the institution of the House. “The general public is suspicious of politicians in general, and when something like this comes along, it only serves to confirm what some people think,” he said. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
  

Idaho gets top rating for short-term bonds

Idaho has received top bond ratings from three ratings agencies for its upcoming annual sale of Tax Anticipation Notes, state Treasurer Ron Crane announced today; the favorable ratings mean easier sales and better interest rates. Said Crane, “Our bonds are so highly sought after in the market that we generally receive nine times the demand for the paper we are selling at any given time. It is not unusual for us to sell a half a billion dollars in Idaho bonds within an hour.”

Idaho will make its annual sale of short-term notes on the bond market on June 19, with $500 million in bonds; click below for Crane's full announcement.

Otter names new 4th District judge, Melissa Moody of Attorney General’s office

Gov. Butch Otter has named Melissa Moody, a deputy Idaho attorney general, to be a 4th District Judge, filling a vacancy left by the retirement of 4th District Judge Michael McLaughlin. Moody is the lead deputy in Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden's special prosecutions unit; she'll begin her term on the bench June 30. Click below for Otter's full announcement.

McGee arrested, released on bond

Former Idaho Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, was arrested last night on misdemeanor charges of disturbing the peace and violating his probation from his 2011 DUI conviction; McGee turned himself in after an arrest warrant was issued, and then was released on bond, $1,000 for each charge. He's due to appear in court on Aug. 21 on the charges. The disturbing the peace charge is the outcome of a months-long investigation into allegations that McGee sexually harassed a female Senate staffer; he resigned from the Senate on Feb. 22 rather than face an ethics probe over the charges. The complaint against McGee on that charge says he “used profane and offensive language and/or offensive conduct” in the presence of an unidentified person on Feb. 7. “The new charge is based on criminal conduct that occurred in the former senator's office during the 2012 legislative session,” Ada County Prosecutor Greg Bower said in a release. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Tests confirm found pup is full-blooded wolf

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― State wildlife officials have confirmed that a puppy found in central Idaho by out-of-state campers was actually a young wolf. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game says the tourists took the puppy to a veterinarian in late May after watching for an hour without seeing any signs of a wolf pack. Fish and Game officials spent several days searching for a wolf pack in the area north of Ketchum, but were unable to locate one. A DNA test confirmed the animal is a wild wolf. It has been held at Zoo Boise, where officials are compiling a list of facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums that would be suitable for the pup. Zoo officials say the pup is gaining weight and his health is improving.

Fish & Game said in a news release, “People are reminded that it is best to leave young animals in the wild alone. In the case of the pup, it is possible that the pack was moving with the pups – perhaps from a den to a rendezvous site – and may have been disturbed by traffic on the road.”


  

What the witnesses saw…

“The six correctional officers, wearing surgical masks and stationed three to a side like pallbearers, lifted the inmate off the gurney and strapped him to the execution table inside the Idaho state prison on Tuesday,” AP reporter Rebecca Boone, who witnessed today's execution of Richard Leavitt, writes in her account. “They attached intravenous lines to Richard Leavitt's arms and electrodes to the convicted killer's chest and stomach to measure his breathing and heart rate.”

“A week ago, no one aside from the prison officials would have seen the state's lethal injection process in its entirety. But a federal judge ordered it open, siding with more than a dozen Idaho news groups, including The Associated Press, who sued in federal court for access.” Click below for her full article, which includes this comment from state Corrections Director Brent Reinke: “I am grateful that we have four media witnesses here to tell you what they saw. Our goal was to make this as professional as possible with dignity and respect, and I believe we met that mark.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Arrest warrant issued for former Sen. John McGee

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― Arrest warrants for former Idaho Republican state Sen. John McGee were issued after prosecutors charged him with misdemeanor disturbing the peace and violating probation terms for a 2011 DUI conviction. The warrants were issued Tuesday in 4th District Court against McGee, who resigned from the Idaho Senate in February amid allegations that he sexually harassed an employee. McGee didn't return a phone call Tuesday. According to the complaint, McGee is charged with disturbing the peace on Feb. 7. Prosecutors say he used profane and offensive language and/or offensive conduct in the presence of an unidentified victim during the 2012 Legislature. He's also charged violating his misdemeanor DUI probation. He was convicted last year after a drunken Father's Day incident in which he drove a stranger's car pulling a trailer, jacknifing it in a nearby yard. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller; you can read the Ada County Prosecutor's office news release here.

Leavitt execution completed, ‘procedures carried out as prescribed’

Convicted murderer Richard Leavitt was declared dead at 10:25 this morning, executed by lethal injection. State Corrections Director Brent Reinke said, “The procedures were carried out as prescribed. … The Department of Corrections has fulfilled the obligation that the law requires and that justice demands.”

Four media witnesses who observed the execution described it as quiet and precise. “They appeared to be able to insert the IVs in both arms on the first attempt,” said AP reporter Rebecca Boone. KBOI-TV reporter Scott Logan said, “He was asked if he wanted to make a final statement. He just shook his head.” Added Logan, “I was struck by the military precision with which the escort team brought him into the chamber and the way it was carried out. I didn't see anything to suggest any problems.”

Members of the medical team wore balaclava-style coverings and goggles in addition to surgical garb. Reinke said he was satisfied that their anonymity was protected by those measures. That was an issue the state raised in objecting to allowing witness access to the early phases of the execution, including insertion of IVs; the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which held that the First Amendment requires that representatives of the public be able to view executions in their entirety, ordered the process opened up. Reinke, asked if the big legal fight was necessary given his satisfaction with the open process, said, “In my opinion it was. We learned a lot in this process, and we took the necessary steps to make sure we had a court order before we proceeded.”

Leavitt was executed for the 1984 murder of Danette Elg of Blackfoot. Two of Elg's surviving relatives witnessed the execution; Logan, who sat behind Elg's sister, said in the final moments, as it became clear that Leavitt was dead, she nodded quietly. Leavitt's body will be cremated, and the ashes will be given to his family.

Protesters: ‘Appalled that this killing is being done in our name’

About a dozen protesters had gathered outside Idaho's prison gates by 9 a.m., to protest the execution this morning of Richard Leavitt. “As citizens of this state, we are appalled that this killing is being done in our name,” Mia Crosthwaite of Idahoans Against the Death Penalty told the group, as they gathered in a circle to pray. Crosthwaite, who also protested at the November execution of Paul Ezra Rhoades, said she believes that Idahoans will be no safer with Leavitt dead than confined in prison for life. “We believe that killing people by the state of Idaho is wrong,” she said. “It was wrong for the murder to happen. It is wrong for this killing to happen.” She added, “We hope that our governor looks into his heart … and calls and says, 'Stop.'”

Some of the protesters held signs with slogans including, “Execute justice, not people” and “Cruel and unusual punishment.” A half-hour later, the number of protesters had doubled to about 25.

Reinke: ‘This is not a normal day’

“We're here today to carry out the court order,” Idaho state Corrections Director Brent Reinke announced to the press this morning at an early-morning briefing, in advance of the scheduled execution of Richard Leavitt. He said corrections employees have been preparing for today's procedure since the November execution of Paul Ezra Rhoades. “They take no joy in this duty,” Reinke said. “Their actions reflect their deep respect for the rule of law and their commitment to our system of government.”

Asked the attitude of the condemned prisoner, Richard Leavitt, Reinke said, “His is resolved at this point.” Leavitt has had his attorneys with him in his cell. “They were having an open discussion,” Reinke said. Leavitt had the option of having a spiritual adviser accompany him, but he has not requested one. He has received several mild sedatives since his last meal yesterday at 6 p.m.

All Idaho state prisons are on modified lockdown this morning, with inmates confined to living areas. Said Reinke, “This is not a normal day, as you can well imagine. … We want to make sure that we conduct our business with the utmost professionalism.”

Idaho prepares to carry out second execution in seven months this morning

This is the scene inside the media tent at the Idaho state prison complex this morning, where at 10 a.m., the state is scheduled to carry out its second execution in seven months, inside the Idaho Maximum Security Institution. Richard Leavitt is scheduled to  die by lethal injection for the 1984 murder of Danette Elg. Four media witnesses will represent the public; it is the first time witnesses will be allowed to watch the whole process of lethal injection in the state after a legal challenge by media organizations.

Death row inmates in Idaho and nationwide have challenged lethal injection procedures in part by claiming that the insertion of the IVs can be easily botched, resulting in excruciating pain or other problems, the AP reports. But until now, witnesses in Idaho and several other states were barred from watching the first part of the procedure, including the insertion of IVs.

State witnesses who will be present are Ada County Coroner Erwin Sonnenberg; Bingham County Prosecutor Scott Andrew; Bingham County Sheriff Dave Johnson; Mark Warbis, communications director, office of the governor; Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden; and Robin Sandy, chair of the state Board of Correction. The media witnesses are Rebecca Boone, Associated Press; Ruth Brown,  Idaho Falls Post Register; Scott Logan, KBOI-TV; and John Funk, Idaho Press-Tribune.

Idaho has switched its lethal injection procedure to a single drug, a lethal dose of the surgical sedative pentobarbital. Leavitt and three other Death Row inmates had filed a lawsuit challenging the previous three-drug procedure.

FEC sues Larry Craig over using campaign cash for legal defense in restroom sting case

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― Former U.S. Sen. Larry Craig was sued by federal election regulators contending he misused some $217,000 in campaign funds for his legal defense against charges stemming from a 2007 Minnesota airport bathroom sex sting. Federal Election Commission officials said in Monday's complaint in U.S. District Court that the Idaho Republican should repay the money. The FEC contends Craig's campaign paid $139,952 to Sutherland, Asbill and Brennan in Washington, D.C., and $77,032 to Kelly & Jacobson in Minnesota for legal services related to his guilty plea. The FEC said the money was converted to personal use because his defense wasn't related to his campaign. The commission is also seeking penalties of up to $6,500 from Craig and his treasurer. A call to Craig's lobbying firm, New West Strategies in Washington, D.C., wasn't returned. You can read the complaint against Craig here; click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

U.S. Supreme Court rejects Leavitt’s final appeal

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected condemned Idaho murderer Richard Leavitt's final appeal, clearing the way for his execution, which is scheduled for tomorrow morning at 10. Leavitt received the death sentence for the 1984 mutilation and murder of Danette Elg, 31, of Blackfoot. “Mr. Leavitt is calm and meeting with his attorneys and approved visitors,” Idaho Department of Corrections spokesman Jeff Ray reported today in an email. “At the visitors' request, IDOC is not releasing their names.”

Said Ray, “For his last meal, Mr. Leavitt was given his choice of any item on the IDOC menu. He chose baked chicken, french fries and milk.”

Idaho Supreme Court stands by ruling, won’t reconsider Rep. Hart’s tax appeal

The Idaho Supreme Court, without comment, has dismissed tax-protesting Idaho state Rep. Phil Hart's request to reconsider his state income tax appeal, in which he argued the court should have given more consideration to his legislative privilege argument. In a one-page ruling, the Supreme Court declared, “After due consideration, it is hereby ordered that Appellant's petition for rehearing be, and hereby is, denied.”

Hart appealed an order to pay more than $53,000 in back state income taxes, penalties and interest, but filed his appeal months after the 91-day appeal period had expired. He argued that because an Idaho legislative session fell just after the appeal period, his status as a lawmaker should entitle him to more time to file. The Idaho Supreme Court strongly disagreed, writing in its unanimous decision in April, “In this instance, Hart is just a taxpayer, with no greater privilege than his constituents.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Idaho motorcycle deaths fall 40% in one year; awareness programs credited

Idaho motorcycle deaths dropped by nearly 40 percent from 2010 to 2011, the Twin Falls Times-News reports. Here's the news item, via the Associated Press: TWIN FALLS, Idaho (AP) ― A study by the Governors Highway Safety Association shows that the number of motorcycle deaths dropped in Idaho last year, but remained consistent nationwide. Idaho Transportation Department analyst Steve Rich told The Times-News (http://bit.ly/KZNIBB ) that there were 17 motorcycle deaths in 2011, compared to 28 in 2010. The Governor's Highway Safety Association found that motorcycle deaths remained at about 4,500 nationwide. Stacy Axmaker, director of the Idaho STAR Motorcycle Safety Program, says the drop suggests that efforts in motorcyclist training, motorist awareness and an emphasis on riding sober are working. The program offers skill training for riders of all levels. Axmaker says men older than 40 riding cruisers and touring bikes are more likely to be in crashes than young riders on sport bikes.

‘Five Wives’ vodka lawyer also challenging Utah law on behalf of ‘Sister Wives’ star

The attorney and law professor who prompted Idaho’s state liquor division to reverse itself on allowing “Five Wives” vodka to be sold in the state last week also is pressing a lawsuit challenging Utah’s bigamy laws on behalf of the star of the reality TV show “Sister Wives.” In Turley’s Utah case, Utah announced on May 31 that it wouldn’t prosecute Kody Brown and his four wives for bigamy, but Turley and Brown pledged to continue the lawsuit.

Brown and his wives and 16 children moved to Nevada after Lehi, Utah, police began an investigation into possible charges after the family appeared on the TLC reality series. They sued, citing issues of privacy and religious freedom. Turley argued that the Browns didn’t have multiple marriage licenses and were being prosecuted “solely because they call themselves a family in the eyes of their church.” You can read my full Sunday column here at spokesman.com.
  

As Leavitt execution draws near, he maintains innocence claim, but courts unconvinced

As tomorrow's scheduled execution of Richard Leavitt draws near, Leavitt has continued to proclaim his innocence, but officials involved with the 28-year-old murder case say they're convinced of his guilt, as are the courts. Leavitt's blood was found at the scene of Danette Elg's murder, and he received stitches at the local emergency room that night for a cut on his hand, which he claimed he'd cut on a fan. He later said his blood was at the scene of the bloody mutilation murder because he'd had a nosebleed there earlier.

Idaho Falls Post Register reporter Ruth Brown offers a look back at the case in an article here; click below for an article from AP reporter Jessie Bonner on the case. A day before her death, Elg called police to report that Leavitt, who had a violent history, had tried to break into her home. Leavitt's attorneys say the condemned murderer has passed a lie detector test saying he didn't stab Elg; he has lost every appeal. A final appeal was filed yesterday to the U.S. Supreme Court; you can read it here.
  

Popkey: Leadership fight taking shape in Idaho House

House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, is poised to do something Idaho hasn't seen in 30 years, reports Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey: Defeat the top leader of a house of Idaho's Legislature. Popkey reports that Bedke is in good position to challenge weakened House Speaker Lawerence Denney, who's served three terms as speaker; such a toppling hasn't happened since 1982, when Jim Risch beat then-Senate President Pro-Tem Reed Budge. Denney has drawn fire for targeting sitting GOP lawmakers in the primary; unsuccessfully attempting to fire his own appointee to the Idaho redistricting commission, former state Rep. Dolores Crow, R-Nampa; and unceremoniously dumping two House committee chairmen on the last day of the 2011 session for insufficient loyalty.

Popkey reports that the well-liked Bedke has contributed to 14 incumbent Republicans and nine newcomers, building good will in his caucus ahead of the Legislature's organizational session Dec. 6; you can read his full column here.

State: Execution will be Tues. as scheduled, with the court-required access changes in place

The Idaho Department of Corrections has announced that the execution of Richard Leavitt will go forward as scheduled on Tuesday, with full witness access as required tonight by the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Jeff Ray, department spokesman, said, “We'll take the necessary measures to ensure that the execution continues as scheduled. We're still looking it over and figuring out the specifics, but we will do what the court says we need to do, and the execution will continue on Tuesday.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

9th Circuit sides with news media, orders Idaho executions opened up

The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has sided with the news media, ordering a preliminary injunction to require Idaho to permit full viewing of the upcoming execution of Richard Leavitt, including early stages in which IVs are inserted. “The State of Idaho has had ample opportunity for the past decade to adopt an execution procedure that reflects this settled law,” the appellate court wrote, reversing U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge's rejection of a preliminary injunction. “We fault the State, not the media plaintiffs, for our need to consider this question several days before an execution: the State has missed opportunity after opportunity to bring its execution procedures into compliance with the clear law of this circuit.” You can read the court's 13-page decision here, and read my full story here at spokesman.com.

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.
  

Judge: Occupy Boise must temporarily vacate site for lawn maintenance

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― “Occupy Boise” protesters must temporarily vacate the old Ada County Courthouse by Wednesday to allow state officials to assess damage to the grass where their tents have been erected since last November. U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill made the decision Friday, modifying an order he gave in February that allowed tents to stay on the state-owned site. At the time, the judge concluded a law signed by Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter to evict them violated their constitutionally-protected, free-speech rights. But with his latest decision, Winmill is giving the Idaho Department of Administration up to eight weeks to assess damage to the property and begin a rehabilitation plan. Come mid-August, Winmill says Occupy Boise can return, but its adherents must allow unobstructed access for workers to water and mow.

You can read Judge Winmill's decision here. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

May state tax revenue slightly off, year-to-date surplus at $33.7M

Idaho's state tax revenues for May came in $3.4 million below forecast, but with just one month left to go in the fiscal year, year-to-date collections are still $33.7 million ahead of forecast. Individual income taxes were well below forecasts, but that was due to bigger than expected refund payments, and the state's Division of Financial Management said it reflects changes in historical refund patterns that have shown up throughout the year. Much of the drop in individual income tax revenue for the month was offset by a big national mortgage settlement that brought the state $13.3 million. You can read the DFM's general fund revenue report here, and the legislative budget office's budget monitor report here.

Idaho legislative panel to look into wastewater primacy for state

The Legislative Council, the leadership group that oversees legislative issues when the Legislature isn't in session, has voted unanimously this morning to have the Natural Resources Interim Committee look into whether Idaho should try to take over primacy on wastewater regulation from the EPA, and bring recommendations back to the Legislature. The Senate passed a resolution for such a study during this year's legislative session, but it didn't pass the House. “It's my understanding that the House … was not opposed to the consideration of the issue … but felt like this committee could be tasked to do it,” said Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls. House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, said he'd like to add Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, as an ad hoc member of that interim committee this year for that discussion. Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d'Alene, also was added.

There was no change in chairmanships for the four continuing interim committees that will meet this summer. Sen. Monty Pearce and Rep. Dell Raybould will continue to co-chair the natural resources committee; Sen. Curt McKenzie and Rep. George Eskridge will continue to co-chair the Energy, Environment and Technology Interim Committee; Sen. Dean Cameron and Rep. Gary Collins will continue to co-chair the Health Care Task Force; and Sen. Edgar Malepeai and Rep. Bob Nonini will continue to co-chair the Idaho Council on Indian Affairs.

Trial set for judge facing DUI charge

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: TWIN FALLS, Idaho (AP) ― A trial has been scheduled for a south-central Idaho judge charged with excessive drunken driving in Ada County. The Times-News reports (http://bit.ly/LzR3GJ) Twin Falls County 5th District Magistrate Judge Nicole Cannon has pleaded not guilty to the DUI charge. Her trial is scheduled to being in Idaho's 4th District Court on Aug. 28 in Boise, where she was cited during an April traffic stop. Police say Cannon had a blood alcohol level of nearly three times the legal limit. Fifth Judicial District Court administrator Linda Wright has said Cannon will not hear DUI cases while her own case is pending. In Ada County, several 4th District judges have disqualified themselves from hearing Cannon's case. A judge can choose to seek disqualification if he or she knows the defendant.

Popkey: Firing attempt backfired, cementing bipartisan redistricting panel

Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey reports on a “frank postmortem” of this year's Idaho redistricting process offered by members of the bipartisan redistricting commission this week, as they received an award from the Boise City Club. “The adversity that we had bound us together even more so,” GOP commissioner Sheila Olsen told the group; GOP leaders tried unsuccessfully to fire two of their appointees during the process. You can read Popkey's full column here.

Court hearing on Occupy Boise focuses on lawn maintenance issues

A hearing yesterday in federal court on the Occupy Boise case focused on maintenance of the lawn at the Idaho Capitol Annex where the group's tent vigil has taken place, and how much the vigil should be disrupted to accommodate that lawn maintenance; U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill said he’ll issue a written decision by today, the Idaho Statesman reports. He also asked attorneys for both sides to participate in a conference next week to discuss the state’s new rules governing use of state property. You can read the Statesman's full article here by reporter Katy Moeller, which also notes that the larger issue, whether the state law banning camping on state property is constitutional, will be decided later.

Idaho hasn’t changed execution procedures yet; court decision awaited

The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has posted the audio online of this morning's oral arguments on media access to Idaho executions; you can listen here. During the arguments, all three members of the 9th Circuit panel - Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, Judge Marsha Berzon, and Judge Stephen Reinhardt - expressed strong concerns about the state's position in the case, which is that witnesses, including the media, should be excluded from the earlier portion of the lethal injection procedure, including the insertion of IVs to administer the lethal drugs. That specifically contradicts a 2002 9th Circuit case that found that the public has a First Amendment right to see the full execution, including those early stages. Four states in the circuit, including Idaho and Washington, haven't been complying with that ruling, but Arizona has just changed its procedure, allowing witnesses to view the early portion via closed-circuit TV. You can read our full story here at spokesman.com.

“California's been doing it, Ohio's been doing it, Arizona just announced today they're going to do it,” Berzon told Deputy Idaho Attorney General Mike Gilmore. “At least on a preliminary injunction basis, you have put nothing in the record to show that Idaho is different in this regard - that you haven't done.” The state is arguing that allowing witnesses to see the early stages of the execution would violate the privacy of the condemned prisoner and the sensitivities of his friends and family; that it could impact other Death Row inmates; and that it could identify or stress members of the masked execution team, possibly causing them not to want to participate.

The judges also raised questions about the news media's request for a preliminary injunction being rejected on the basis of timeliness, because Richard Leavitt's execution is coming up June 12. They suggested that the upcoming execution, instead, could make the issue “ripe” for decision. When they questioned whether Idaho would have to change its formal protocol for executions in order to draw open the curtain between witnesses and the execution chamber earlier in the process, Gilmore told them, “You would have to change the procedure, but not the protocol.”

At the close of the arguments, the judges asked Gilmore if he'd like to call the warden and see if Idaho would like to change its procedures without an injunction, while the judges had their lunch and before they started writing their opinion. Within a couple of hours, the court had posted that the arguments are complete in the case and it's under advisement.

Jeff Ray, Idaho Department of Corrections spokesman, said in an email, “We have made no changes to the procedures. We are waiting for a ruling.” He was unable to confirm whether or not Gilmore spoke with the warden today. Gilmore told the Associated Press after the arguments that he would try to reach the warden to see if a policy change could be made in time for next week's execution of Leavitt for the 1984 murder of Blackfoot resident Danette Elg.

Charles Brown of Lewiston, attorney for more than a dozen news media outlets and organizations, led by the Associated Press, that brought the lawsuit, said, “I felt that the jurists listened to our arguments and I felt good about how everything went, but we're waiting for the decision.”

9th Circuit asks why Idaho shouldn’t comply with execution access rules, like other states

There was no ruling from the bench, but the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has asked Idaho officials to see if they can change the state's execution access rules in time for the June 12 execution of Richard Leavitt, to allow the full procedure, including the insertion of IV's, to be viewed by witnesses. During oral arguments this morning in Pasadena, Calif., Judge Marsha Berzon questioned why Idaho should be an exception when other states have decided that entire executions can be seen by the public. “California has been doing it. Ohio has been doing it. Arizona just announced they are going to do it,” Berzon said. “You haven't put anything in the record that Idaho is different in this regard. That you haven't done.”

The news organizations also took issue with Lodge's finding that the lethal injection protocol could be altered in the future without harm to the parties involved. Charles Brown of Lewiston, attorney for the news media, argued this represented a “profound event.” “The lower court is essentially finding that a First Amendment right can be violated today as long as it is possible for First Amendment rights to be reasserted at some date in the future. Such a finding flies in the face of what our constitutional rights are all about,” Brown said in court documents. Click below for a full report from AP reporters Greg Risling and Jessie Bonner.

9th Circuit asks if Idaho can make execution access changes in time for June 12 execution

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) ― A federal appeals court in California has asked Idaho prosecutors to inquire whether a prison warden would allow full viewing access to an upcoming execution in a case filed by The Associated Press and 16 other news organizations. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments Thursday in a lawsuit that seeks to strike a portion of Idaho's regulations preventing witnesses from watching executions until after catheters have been inserted into the veins of death row inmates. Idaho Deputy Attorney General Michael Gilmore says he will try to reach the warden to see if a policy change could be made in time for next week's execution of Richard Leavitt, who was convicted of a 1984 murder. The three-judge panel noted it has already ruled in a California case that every aspect of an execution should be open to witnesses.

Texting driver crashes into parked sheriff’s patrol car north of Rigby

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: RIGBY, Idaho (AP) ― Police say a 22-year-old eastern Idaho driver was looking at a text message on his phone when he hit a sheriff deputy's parked patrol car. Brian J. Anderson, of Idaho Falls, was treated Tuesday for non-life threatening injuries. Idaho State Police say Anderson was traveling on U.S. Route 20 north of Rigby when the accident occurred. Police say Anderson was looking at a text message on his phone when he drove into the back of a patrol car parked on the side of the road. The Idaho State Journal reports (http://bit.ly/KRgTqo) that the Jefferson County sheriff's deputy was not in the patrol car at the time. The vehicle's lights were flashing to alert drivers to a fire in the median of the road. Anderson was cited for inattentive driving.

Idaho lawmakers this year made Idaho the 39th state to ban texting while driving, but the law doesn't take effect until July 1.

Otter, Luna name Terrell, Horman and Shirley to anti-referendum campaign group

Gov. Butch Otter and state schools Superintendent Tom Luna have named leaders for their campaign to fight three voter referenda in November that seek to overturn the “Students Come First” school reform laws Luna and Otter championed in 2011. The controversial laws roll back teachers' collective bargaining rights and shift existing school funding to a new focus on online learning, laptop computers for every student, and a new performance-pay bonus system for teachers, along with other changes. Opponents gathered more than 74,000 signatures to place the referenda on the ballot, but follow-up bills added emergency clauses so that the reform laws took effect in the meantime; that would stop if voters decide in November to repeal them. Yesterday, the State Department of Education announced the 32 school districts that will be up first to receive laptops, with teachers to get them this fall and students in the fall of 2013.

The new “Yes for Idaho Education” group will be co-chaired by state Board of Education member Milford Terrell and Idaho Falls school board member Wendy Horman, with retiring state Rep. Mack Shirley, R-Rexburg, as treasurer. Lobbyist Ken Burgess is coordinating the effort. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner. Burgess said Otter plans a formal launch for the group in the coming days.

Perry Swisher dies at 88, served in Leg. as both Republican and Democrat

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― Perry Swisher, a longtime state representative and senator who served as both a Republican and Democrat, has died. He was 88. Swisher died Wednesday morning at Chateau De Boise retirement residence in Boise of congestive heart failure, said his son, Larry Swisher. Perry Swisher was elected to the Idaho House of Representatives in 1952 as a Republican, and was a member of the Idaho Senate from 1962 to 1966, also as a Republican. In 1966 he ran unsuccessfully as a third party candidate for governor, and then in 1976 returned to the House as a Democrat. Gov. John Evans in 1979 appointed him to the Idaho Public Utilities Commission. Swisher is survived by his wife, Nicky, son Larry, four grandchildren and two great grandchildren. Another son, Eric, died in 2009. You can read the Idaho Statesman's full article here.

Idaho Liquor Division reverses itself, will immediately make ‘Five Wives’ vodka available by special order

The Idaho State Liquor Division has announced that it will make Five Wives Vodka available in Idaho by special order “to avoid unnecessary litigation.”

In a news release, state Liquor Division Director Jeff Anderson said the division will immediately begin accepting special order request for the Ogden, Utah-made product, which it previously had declined to carry, in part because it deemed the brand offensive to the state's substantial Mormon population. “In a shared desire to avoid unnecessary litigation costs to Ogden's Own Distillery and the people of Idaho, today we have informed the makers of 'Five Wives' vodka that we will immediately begin processing special order requests for both on-premise licensees and retail customers,” Anderson said.

The product may be ordered at any Idaho liquor store.

No clemency hearing for Leavitt

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― The Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole says it won't consider a clemency request from condemned inmate Richard Leavitt, who is scheduled to die by lethal injection on June 12. Leavitt was sentenced to death for the 1984 murder of Blackfoot resident Danette Elg. Commission director Olivia Craven says the panel decided late Tuesday to deny Leavitt's request for a commutation hearing. Craven says Leavitt was seeking to have his death sentence changed to life in prison. Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter received the commission's recommendation without comment. Under Idaho law, only the governor has the authority to grant clemency on death penalty cases, but in order for the governor to do so, the parole commission must first consider the request and make a recommendation to the governor.

Washington D.C. law prof goes to bat for Five Wives Vodka, threatens federal lawsuit against state

An attorney and law professor at George Washington University Law School has sent a letter to the Idaho State Liquor Division demanding that it reconsider its decision not to allow the sale of “Five Wives” vodka in Idaho within 10 days, or face a federal lawsuit. The vodka, made by Ogden's Own Distillery in Utah, was rejected both for general sale in Idaho's state liquor stores and for special orders, in part because the division said the brand was offensive to a prominent segment of Idaho's population; about a quarter of Idaho's population is Mormon.

“The actions of the agency constitute flagrant violations of the United States Constitution,” the attorney, Jonathan Turley, wrote in the five-page letter, adding, “Your action reflects not only an unconstitutional purpose in barring this product, but an equally unconstitutional underlying policy that gives you the alleged authority to bar products that you deem offensive.” The vodka, which features a label showing five women hiking up their long skirts, is approved for sale in Utah's state-run liquor stores.

State Liquor Division Director Jeff Anderson said of the letter, “I received it, and I have no comment.” He said he is consulting with legal counsel. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessica Gresko in Washington, D.C., who reports that Ogden's Own Distillery spokesman Steve Conlin said today the company would sue Idaho on principle if necessary.

Three peregrine falcon chicks hatch in nest atop downtown Boise office tower

Three chicks hatched over the weekend in the peregrine falcon nest high atop a downtown building, One Capitol Center at 10th and Main streets. You can see their progress, and that of the parents who are  carefully tending them, on a live webcam here, sponsored by the Peregrine Fund, Idaho Fish & Game and Fiberpipe. The chicks weighed about an ounce and a half when they hatched, but will be full grown by the time they leave the nest. According to the Peregrine Fund, by the time they fledge in July, the young falcons will be 18 inches tall and have a wingspan of more than 3 feet. Young falcons typically fledge five to six weeks after hatching.

For now, the adults are brooding the chicks, keeping them warm as they're too small to regulate their own body temperature; that will continue for about 10 days. The nest box, on the 14th floor of the office tower, has been used by wild peregrine falcons each spring since 2003; falcons typically nest on rocky cliffs or tall buildings like the one in Boise that simulate a rocky cliff environment.

Once an endangered species, the peregrine falcon was restored through a captive-breeding and release program by the Peregrine Fund. The fast-flying bird of prey, known for its spectacular high-speed dives, was removed from the endangered species list in 1999. Today, there are about two dozen breeding pairs in Idaho.

News media court case on execution procedures: ‘It’s an access issue’

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on today's developments in the media access execution case, in which a federal judge declined to issue a preliminary injunction against limits on witness access to Idaho's executions, finding that while the news media presented “a strong case on the merits” that the limits are unconstitutional, their timing was poor, because Idaho has an execution coming up on June 12; the news media are appealing the ruling.

“Simply put, the current scheduled execution does not allow adequate time for discovery, an evidentiary hearing, a ruling by this Court and a potential appeal by the non-successful litigant to the 9th Circuit before the scheduled execution date,” wrote U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge. Lodge said he'd like to hold full hearings on the issue, with any subsequent ruling to apply to future executions - but not to the upcoming one of eastern Idaho murderer Richard Leavitt. Leavitt on Tuesday lost a bid in the Idaho Supreme Court to quash his death warrant on due-process grounds; it was the fourth attempt to stay his execution that he's lost in the past week.

“We're disappointed that the judge feels there's not enough time to resolve this before June 12,” said Gary Graham, editor of The Spokesman-Review, one of more than a dozen Idaho media outlets and news groups pressing the lawsuit.  “All of the editors and reporters involved here feel it's critical … that we, the media, have access to this kind of an event. An execution is not something to be taken lightly. … It's an access issue for us, and we feel the public is best served if the media is there as their representative, to report how the process goes.”

Idaho easing rules requiring quick fixes of land-line phone outages

Idaho's land-line phone providers would no longer have to fix outages within 24 hours or be forced to give customers a month's service credit, under a rule change pending at the Idaho Public Utilities Commission. The Idaho AARP is decrying the change as a prime example of why Idaho needs a consumer advocate in its utility regulating process; Idaho is the only state in the west without one. “Had we not had a volunteer of ours bring it to our attention, we would have completely missed it, as have, I believe, the majority of Idaho consumers,” said AARP spokesman David Irwin.

AARP submitted comments protesting the rule change on May 31, the final day of a public comment period, more than a month after the IPUC had convened settlement talks with telephone companies and drafted the rule change. It was prompted by an application from CenturyLink, the state's largest land-line telephone provider, and several related companies, for an exemption from the rule, which the company argued is obsolete. Washington has a somewhat similar 48-hour rule; there's no move on in that state to change it. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Idaho Supreme Court upholds death warrant for Richard Leavitt

The Idaho Supreme Court has upheld a death warrant for Richard Leavitt, who is scheduled to be executed June 12 for the 1984 murder of Danette Elg. In a 10-page opinion issued this afternoon, the justices both affirmed the death warrant, and affirmed a district court decision denying a motion to quash that warrant. Leavitt's attorneys charged that the death warrant was improperly issued, and came as Leavitt still had other appeals pending in federal court. “It is important to note that Leavitt received due process prior to the signing of the death warrant,” the justices wrote, in a unanimous decision authored by Justice Warren Jones. “He received due process from the numerous appeals, petitions for post-conviction relief, and habeas corpus relief that he filed in this Court and in federal court over the last twenty-seven years. The issuance of the death warrant is a natural consequence from numerous courts affirming his guilt and sentence of death.”

You can read the Idaho Supreme Court's decision here. It was the fourth bid to stay his execution that Leavitt has lost in the past week; arguments are scheduled on another Thursday at the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

News media file notice of appeal over Idaho execution access limits

Idaho's news media, led by the Associated Press, have filed a notice of appeal to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals of a federal judge's decision today against issuing a preliminary injunction over constitutional problems with Idaho's execution procedure. The 9th Circuit will hear arguments on Thursday. U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge today ruled that the case is strong on the merits, but just poorly timed, coming so close to the scheduled June 12 execution of Richard Leavitt. Lodge, while ruling against the injunction, said he'd like to hold full evidentiary hearings in the case, which questions restrictions that block witnesses from seeing the early portion of the lethal injection process, including the insertion of IVs. A 2002 9th Circuit case ruled that such restrictions violate the First Amendment.

Judge rejects news groups’ injunction bid based on timing, says case has merit

U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge has issued his ruling in the Idaho news media's bid for a preliminary injunction regarding limits on witness access to the state's execution procedures, finding that while the news media has presented “a strong claims on the merits,” it's just too close to the June 12 execution of Richard Leavitt for him to justify issuing a preliminary injunction. Instead, Lodge said he'd like to hold full evidentiary hearings in the case, with any subsequent ruling to apply to future executions - but not to the upcoming one. An appeal of the ruling to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals still is possible; the 9th Circuit has scheduled time for oral arguments in the case for Thursday, should either side appeal.

Numerous Idaho news media outlets and organizations, led by the Associated Press, filed suit over Idaho's execution procedures charging that they violate the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, because they bar witness access to the early stages of the lethal injection process, including the strapping of the condemned inmate to a gurney and the insertion of IV lines. A 2002 9th Circuit decision specifically held that such restrictions are unconstitutional under the First Amendment, but only two states in the circuit - Nevada and California - have been complying with the 2002 decision, California First Amendment Coalition v. Woodford. “The public enjoys a First Amendment right to view executions from the moment the condemned is escorted into the execution chamber, including those ‘initial procedures’ that are inextricably intertwined with the process of putting the condemned inmate to death,” the 9th Circuit court found in that case.

In Idaho, complying with that decision would mean opening the curtain between the execution chamber and the witness viewing room approximately 20 minutes earlier in the process.

“The Court is very concerned that to the extent Plaintiffs could establish the IDOC’s protocol does need to be changed to protect First Amendment rights of the public, there is insufficient time for the IDOC to amend the policies and practice changes in the protocol without a delay in the scheduled execution,” Lodge wrote. “Simply put, the current scheduled execution does not allow adequate time for discovery, an evidentiary hearing, a ruling by this Court and a potential appeal by the nonsuccessful litigant to the Ninth Circuit before the scheduled execution date.”

The judge also wrote, “The undisputed reality as supported by the newspaper accounts of past executions and the specific language in IDOC’s Protocol 135 (which provides for numerous witnesses including the media), is that some portion of the public has historically viewed the execution process in Idaho. Further, this Court agrees with Plaintiffs that society has a critical interest in having at least some members of the public view the government’s implementation of a death warrant.”

32 school districts around state chosen to get first laptops under ‘Students Come First’ laws

A mix of large and small school districts will be first in line when Idaho starts providing laptop computers for every ninth- through 12th-grader next year, according to a list obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press. AP reporter Jessie Bonner reports that the state Department of Education selected 32 districts, allowing up to 47 high schools to participate when the laptops start going to students in 2013 under reforms championed by public schools chief Tom Luna.

The list includes big districts like Meridian and Boise in southwest Idaho, though they'll be limited on how many high schools can participate. Tiny school districts such as Culdesac in the north and Kimberly in the south also made the cut, as did two charter schools. The laptops will first go to every high school teacher this fall. Idaho has yet to select the device that will be deployed into high school classrooms statewide, Bonner reports; a May 25 deadline for computer vendors to submit bids to the state's Division of Purchasing has been extended until Monday.

Under Luna's reforms, Idaho is also becoming the first state in the nation to require high school students to take at least two credits online to graduate. The sweeping changes, which also limited collective bargaining talks while introducing teacher merit pay, were approved by state lawmakers in 2011 and targeted by critics, who were successful in getting a repeal initiative on the November ballot; click below for Bonner's full report.

News media have witnessed all but one Idaho state execution since 1901

As Idaho's news media spar with the state in federal court over limits on access to executions, the case has turned a spotlight onto Idaho's long and consistent history of media witnesses attending its state executions to serve as the eyes and ears of the public. In fact, media witnesses have been present for all but one Idaho execution since 1901, and published detailed accounts of them.

“The body swung not to the right and left, the rope made not a single twist, but facing the sun in the eastern sky, like one standing erect, all that was mortal of Ed Rice was there before his fellows, while the tide of life fast ebbed away,” the Idaho Daily Statesman reported in 1901, recounting the first state execution held at Idaho's state prison. Prior to 1901, executions were conducted at the county level in Idaho, and most were public, with hundreds attending.

Idaho's news media, including the Associated Press, The Spokesman-Review, the Idaho Press Club and more than a dozen other news outlets and organizations, are suing in federal court over Idaho's current execution procedures, which bar witnesses from the first portion of the lethal injection procedure, when the condemned prisoner is strapped down to a gurney and IVs are inserted. The media have been in discussions with the state over the issue since before Paul Ezra Rhoades was executed in November, but the state has refused to change its procedure. Now, another Idaho execution is scheduled: Richard Leavitt is scheduled to die by lethal injection on June 12. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Leavitt’s attorneys raise questions of guilt, state says 28 years of litigation is enough

In arguments at the Idaho Supreme Court today, defense attorney David Nevin contended there are questions about condemned murderer Richard Leavitt's guilt that have yet to be explored in court. But Deputy Attorney General LaMont Anderson told the justices, “We've been at this case now for 28 years.”

Justices peppered Nevin with questions about whether his interpretation of court rules would allow endless appeals to head off any execution. He countered, “We are not in the business of frivolous appeals here. There's a serious and significant issue as to guilt pending in the federal court.” Justice Jim Jones, a former Idaho attorney general, recused himself from the case; sitting in as a justice pro tem was retired Chief Justice Gerald Schroeder.

Late Thursday, the justices dismissed a major filing by Leavitt's attorneys, a petition to vacate the death warrant and conduct a new hearing. Then on Friday, U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill dismissed a bid to stay the execution on the basis that a March U.S. Supreme Court decision cleared the way for consideration of Leavitt's earlier claim of ineffective counsel, with regard to testing of blood from the crime scene. Nevin immediately appealed that decision to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which will hear arguments on it Thursday.

Today, U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge dismissed the portion of a lawsuit challenging Idaho's lethal-injection execution procedure that involves Leavitt, declining to issue a stay of execution, but leaving the case active for three other Death Row inmates. Leavitt is scheduled to die June 12 for the 1984 murder and mutilation of Danette Elg in eastern Idaho; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com on how he's lost three bids to stay his execution in the past five days.
  

Nelson to retire from Associated Taxpayers of Idaho in July

Randy Nelson, president of Associated Taxpayers of Idaho, will retire at the end of July after 22 years with the group. ATI is setting up a transition committee to head its search for a new president. The business-funded group does research on tax issues, offers informational testimony on tax-related legislation, and  sponsors a well-attended annual conference that's become a traditional warmup for Idaho's legislative session each year. Before joining ATI, Nelson worked for 13 years as transportation and principal planner for what's now called the Community Planning Association, or COMPASS, in Ada County.

“Randy is largely responsible for making ATI what it is today,” said the group's board chairman, Gene Marchioro. “I wish him all the best in this new chapter of his life.” ATI is a non-profit, 501c4 organization first formed in 1946.

Leavitt loses two bids to stay June 12 execution; more arguments today

U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge has dismissed the portion of a lawsuit challenging Idaho's lethal-injection execution procedure that involves Richard Leavitt, who is scheduled to be executed on June 12. Lodge wrote in his 55-page decision and order today that he would allow more time for briefing in the case of the three other condemned prisoners who sued, Thomas Creech, James Hairston and Gene Stuart, but expedited Leavitt's portion because of his pending execution date.

The gist of the lawsuit challenged the state's three-drug lethal injection procedure, charging that if the earlier drug to inflict unconsciousness failed, the condemned inmate would suffer severe and excruciating pain when the later, lethal drug took effect. Since then, Idaho has announced it will use a single-drug lethal injection procedure - exactly what Leavitt sought in the lawsuit - so those points were ruled moot. Leavitt also raised several other issues, but the judge found them not sufficient to warrant a stay of execution. Among them: He challenged the experience level of the people assigned to administer the lethal drugs through IVs, but state prison officials said the least-experienced member of the team has 15 years of relevant medical experience.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill dismissed another bid from Leavitt to stay his execution on the basis of ineffective assistance of counsel, tied to a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision; Leavitt's attorney, David Nevin, immediately filed an appeal of that decision to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. This afternoon, the Idaho Supreme Court will hear arguments on remaining issues raised in state court by Leavitt's defense as his execution date approaches.

Duncan competency hearing set for Jan. 8

A court hearing on whether condemned murderer Joseph Duncan was mentally competent when he waived his right to appeal his death sentence has been set for Jan. 8, 2013. “There will be no extension … of the Jan. 8 date,” U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge said this morning as he set the hearing. Lodge appointed Michael Burt, a death penalty expert from San Francisco with expertise in mental health issues, as Duncan's attorney for the hearing.

The judge had hoped to set the hearing earlier, first looking at July and then October, but Burt isn't available until December. Lodge said he set the January timing “to avoid any holiday issues with potential witnesses.”

In 2008, a federal jury sentenced Duncan to death for the 2005 kidnap, torture and murder of a 9-year-old North Idaho boy; he also received nine life sentences for a murderous attack on the child's family that left three other people dead. After Duncan declined to appeal his death sentence and represented himself in court at his Idaho sentencing trial in 2008, his standby attorneys filed an appeal for him against his will. Duncan now says he's changed his mind and wants to appeal the sentence; he pleaded guilty to all the charges.

However, in court filings, federal prosecutors noted, “Whether the defendant now wishes to appeal, and whether he was incompetent at the time he waived his right to appeal, are separate issues. Only the second issue is before the Court.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
  

Hart wants Idaho Supreme Court to reconsider his legislative immunity claim

Tax-protesting Idaho state Rep. Phil Hart is asking the Idaho Supreme Court to reconsider its dismissal of his state income tax appeal, saying the court should have given more consideration to his legislative privilege argument. Hart appealed an order to pay more than $53,000 in back state income taxes, penalties and interest, but filed his appeal months after the 91-day appeal period had expired. He argued that because an Idaho legislative session fell just after the appeal period, his status as a lawmaker should entitle him to more time to file.

The Idaho Supreme Court strongly disagreed, writing in its unanimous decision in April, “In this instance, Hart is just a taxpayer, with no greater privilege than his constituents.” Hart's bid for reconsideration argues that the framers of Idaho's Constitution “were intimately aware that their full attention, without any distraction of any nature, was required in order for them, and future legislators, to accomplish their work on behalf of the people.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
  

Idaho Supreme Court sets arguments for Monday in Leavitt case

The Idaho Supreme Court has set oral arguments for Monday at 3 p.m. on a series of last-minute issues raised by condemned murderer Richard Leavitt, who is scheduled to be executed June 12. Late yesterday, the high court dismissed a major filing by Leavitt's attorneys, a petition to vacate the death warrant and conduct a new hearing. The remaining issues, including a notice of appeal first filed May 21 in Bingham County, will be argued on Monday.

The Supreme Court has posted a link here on its website to all the last-minute filings in the capital murder case, which also include federal court filings; you can read its Thursday order here. Leavitt's death warrant was issued May 17 for the July 1984 murder and mutilation of Danette Elg in Blackfoot; his final appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was rejected on May 14. Idaho completed its first execution in 17 years in November, putting triple murderer Paul Ezra Rhoades to death by lethal injection.
  

Wolf pup undergoing testing; authorities say leave young wild animals alone

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― State wildlife officials are still uncertain what to do with a young wolf pup that was recovered a week ago near Ketchum by a pair of tourists. In fact, Idaho Fish and Game biologists say they aren't quite sure the pup is pure wolf or some kind of hybrid. For now, the little critter is at Zoo Boise, where he will undergo additional testing. The pup was recovered last Friday in the Smoky Mountains northwest of Ketchum by two out-of-state campers. The tourists say they watched the pup for an hour and didn't see any signs of the wolf pack before deciding to pick up the pup. Fish and Game officials spent two days trying to locate the pack, but questions remain whether the pack would welcome the pup back.

Idaho Department of Fish & Game warns, “People are reminded that it is best to leave young animals in the wild alone. In the case of the pup, it is possible that the pack was moving with the pups – perhaps from a den to a rendezvous site – and may have been disturbed by traffic on the road.”

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About this blog

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

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

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