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Eye On Boise

Archive for November 2012

Formal ethics training planned for both new and returning Idaho lawmakers

After a string of ethical lapses and questions about Idaho lawmakers' conduct that's only been increasing in recent years, new lawmakers will face something unprecedented when they arrive in Boise for their organizational session next week: Formal ethics training. And that's not all. When the Legislature convenes its 2013 session the second week of January, business will pause on the session's third day, as all lawmakers, old and new, are put through an hours-long ethics training session.

“Obviously, we've had some issues with breaches of ethical behavior over the last few years,” said Idaho Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg. Hill said he and House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, decided to institute the new training, and the Legislative Council, a panel of legislative leaders, approved it.

“I think it's a good idea,” said House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston. “I applaud it.” But he noted that a bipartisan working group of senators and representatives met for weeks during the 2012 legislative session without success, trying to reach consensus on new, tougher ethics laws, from an independent ethics commission - which only Idaho and eight other states lack - to financial disclosure requirements for lawmakers, which only Idaho and two other states don't have. Said Rusche, “I still think there's a long way to go.”

The list of ethical lapses is long, ranging from matters that barely raised eyebrows to several prompting full ethics investigations; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Group pushes tax credits to fund scholarships to private, religious schools

In the wake of the Idaho's bitter debate over state school Superintendent Tom Luna's now-repealed school reform plan, the 2013 Legislature could discuss another education policy change that wasn't in Luna's package but could prove just as divisive: Tax credits to fund scholarships to private and religious schools, the AP reports. AP reporter John Miller writes that the proposal is similar to one introduced near the close of last year's session by Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, and is being pushed by Wayne Hoffman's Idaho Freedom Foundation; click below for Miller's full report.

House passes STEM jobs bill, but it’s not expected to be taken up in Senate

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: WASHINGTON (AP) ― The House has approved legislation to offer green cards to foreign students with advanced degrees, but only after a partisan fight that portends trouble when Congress attempts a wholesale immigration overhaul next year. In approving what is called the STEM Jobs Act on a 245-139 vote, Republicans who control the House were signaling Hispanic voters who abandoned them in the election that they're serious about fixing the flawed system. The bill passed Friday would provide 55,000 permanent residency visas to foreign students with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. But it drew fire from Democrats because it would kill a program that helps less-trained people from Africa and elsewhere gain entry to this country.

Click below to read Labrador's news release on the House vote; you can see his floor speech here in favor of the bill, in which he compares himself to Charlie Brown and the Democrats to Lucy, saying they keep pulling away the ball in a game of political football over immigration reform.

Labrador on piece-by-piece immigration reform: ‘If we don’t do it this way, it’s never going to get done’

Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador has his STEM jobs act up for a vote again in the House today, after it failed in a September House vote; he was interviewed by NPR's Renee Montagne about it this morning. The bill would replace the current diversity visa program, which grants 55,000 immigration visas a year through a lottery, with one targeting those completing post-graduate degrees in science, technology, engineering or math fields. “The diversity visa doesn't make any sense for the United States for the problems that we have today,” Labrador told Montagne. “We need high-skilled workers.”

Labrador said President Obama has come out against his bill “because it is not part of a comprehensive immigration reform plan.” He said, “If we do a comprehensive package, what you're going to have is a bill that every single member of Congress hates a certain aspect of it, and no one is going to vote for it. Let's start with the easiest thing first. … If we don't do it this way, it's never going to get done.”

Montagne asked Labrador about the Dream Act, which would allow young people brought illegally to the country as children a way to stay legally in certain circumstances, and Labrador said, “That should be the next thing we work on.” You can listen to the interview here, and read more here on today's vote from the Washington Post, which reports that the bill is likely to pass the GOP-controlled House, but not be taken up in the Senate.

Caldwell kindergarten teacher put 5-year-old in dark room, forgot him and left for the day

A 5-year-old boy was placed in a dark room by his kindergarten teacher at a Caldwell elementary school, KTVB-TV reports, and the teacher then forgot about the child and left for the day. The boy's parents, panicked when their son didn't return from morning kindergarten, went to the school and found him in the darkened room, crying; he'd been there at least an hour and a half. You can read KTVB's full report here.

ISU students targets of tax prep scam

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: POCATELLO, Idaho (AP) ― A 38-year-old Dallas man has pleaded guilty to federal charges that he conspired to falsify income tax returns for Idaho State University students. The U.S. Attorney's Office says Moses Mukuka pleaded guilty Wednesday in Pocatello to conspiracy to file false claims for a refund and making a false claim against the United States. Sentencing is set for Feb. 13. Prosecutors alleged Mukuka entered into an agreement with another person to place flyers around the ISU campus advertising himself as an accounting student who would do income tax returns for $10. Mukuka sent the students' paperwork to another individual who submitted returns to the IRS with false information designed to increase the refund. Mukuka distributed a small portion of the refund to the taxpayers and wouldn't provide them with copies of their returns.

Second-grader from Lewiston wins holiday card art contest

This image of birch trees on a winter night was created by a second-grader, Benicio Avila of Lewiston, who goes to Orchards Elementary School. It's been selected as the grand prize winner in the State Department of Education's 2012 Holiday Card Contest, and will be featured on cards sent to schools, districts and others; the young artist also will receive a certificate and copies of the greeting card to share with family and friends. “We are so proud of Benicio Avila for being selected as the statewide holiday art contest winner,” said Joy Rapp, Superintendent of the Lewiston School District. “His artwork is unique, and he has already developed his own style. His card is an amazing example of art work as a creative form of expression.”

One Idaho ticket buyer won $1 million in Powerball, two others get $10K each

One Idaho Powerball lottery ticket buyer in Boise has won $1 million, Idaho Lottery officials say, and two other tickets, sold in Caldwell and Meridian, won $10,000 each. That's among the nearly 57,000 winning tickets sold in the state for the big $587.5 million Powerball jackpot, the AP reports; the two big winners who will split the jackpot are from Arizona and Missouri. Winners have 180 days to claim their prizes.

Winning $1 million required matching the first five numbers in the drawing; winning $10,000 required matching four of the first five and the Powerball number.

UI, WSU officials looking into repeated student falls from frats…

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: MOSCOW, Idaho (AP) ― University officials are trying to figure out how to respond after a series of falls from buildings that have injured students at the University of Idaho and Washington State University campuses. But they also acknowledge the challenge of changing student attitudes on alcohol and dangerous behavior. Washington State University Dean of Students Melynda Huskey says more needs to be done to help educate students on risky behavior. But she also says males in their early 20s aren't always the best judges of personal risk. Since September, the Lewiston Tribune reports (http://bit.ly/TvTIVM ) there have been five cases of students suffering injuries after falling from buildings at both campuses. Alcohol was a factor in four of five falls. WSU has created an alcohol and drug task force as part of its response.

Click below for a full report.

Popkey: Purchasing official’s departure prompts questions over laptop deal

Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey reports this morning that state Purchasing Manager Mark Little resigned nine days after voters rejected the state's proposed $180 million-plus school laptop contract, prompting Statehouse speculation that he'd left in disgust over the process. State Department of Administration Director Teresa Luna told Popkey that Little left to take a job closer to his family and grandkids and defended the laptop contract process; Little declined to comment. You can read Popkey's full post here.
  

Layers of fog and clouds…

Layers of fog and clouds decorate the skies over Boise this morning, where the overnight low dropped into the 30s, but highs today are expected to get up as high as 51 degrees. There's a 30 percent chance of rain today, rising to 90 percent tomorrow, according to the National Weather Service.

Eastern Idaho school district refusing to release info on $105K payout to ex-superintendent

Here's a news item from the AP and the Post Register: BLACKFOOT, Idaho (AP) ― An eastern Idaho school district has rejected a request by a former teacher and newspaper to turn over a contract payout agreement signed earlier this year with the former superintendent. The Post-Register and former teacher Joyce Bingham asked Blackfoot School District 55 to release the agreement and documents related to a $105,000 payout made the day after Scott Crane retired. School officials have refused to release the documents, citing personnel protection laws. On Tuesday, the Post Register reported (http://bit.ly/Uc3HOt ) the district once again refused to produce the documents at Crane's request. The newspaper and Bingham are also suing the district in state court to get access to the documents. The lawsuit also claims the district violated open meetings laws in reaching agreement with Crane during a closed-door session. Click below for a full report.

Sen. Nuxoll: Let’s drop it

Idaho Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, whose touting of a tea party plan to upset the presidential election results through an electoral college boycott got national attention after I wrote about it in my Sunday column, now says she's ready to drop the idea, which experts said was based on a misreading of the 12th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“I floated an idea out there on November 19 about the electoral college,” Nuxoll wrote today in a message posted on Twitter. “Our country is a country of opportunity to discuss ideas and effect progress and change. I believe in less government, more opportunity and I will fight for that motto because of my love for this state and country and our exceptionalism. But there is no upside to division in our country now since we are all in this together. Some have rejected the idea, so lets drop it and continue on. To villify me because you don't like the idea is unnecessary.”

Judge to hear arguments in January in school funding case

A judge will hear arguments early next year on whether Idaho's school fees are unconstitutional, reports AP reporter Rebecca Boone. The lawsuit, from former Nampa school district superintendent Russ Joki and a group of parents and grandparents, contends that Idaho's schools are charging fees that violate the state Constitution's guarantee of a free public education. A judge will hear arguments Jan. 10 on Joki's motion for a summary judgment; he's also filed reports from two experts backing his claims, saying Idaho's school funding has sharply declined over the last 25 years, worsening problems that prompted the state's school funding system to be declared unconstitutional in 2005. “If the Legislature's system of funding was unconstitutional in 1999, as found by the Supreme Court in 2005, it is even more so today,” one of the reports states. Click below for Boone's full article.

Exergy drops men’s cycling team sponsorship, cites doping scandal

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― The owner of a struggling Idaho renewable energy developer who blames utilities for killing his business' projects now blames doping for forcing him to pull his sponsorship money from men's pro cycling. Exergy Development Group Chief Executive Officer James Carkulis says his company will end its three-year support of a men's cycling team. From his Boise offices, Carkulis issued a statement Tuesday accusing the cycling industry of failing to grasp the sport's “scandal and deceit.” Apart from Carkulis' ethical concerns, however, his business has been foundering. Exergy's problems include $323 million in suspended Idaho wind projects, loss of control of a Minnesota wind farm, federal lawsuits targeting it for not meeting financial obligations and the possible cancellation of two biogas-to-power projects amid a dispute with utility Idaho Power Co.

You can read more on this here from Velo News.
  

Idaho delegation lauds new, smaller caribou habitat designation; ICL says it’s not enough for recovery

Idaho's congressional delegation is praising the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for its final designation of critical habitat for endangered woodland caribou in the Selkirk Mountains, which, instead of the original 375,552 acres, designates just 30,010 acres, only 6,029 of it in Idaho. That Idaho habitat is all on national forest land in Boundary County; no land in Bonner County was included.

“I am pleased that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service listened to the public outcry regarding the impacts this expanded critical habitat designation would have had upon people's livelihoods,” said 1st District Rep. Raul Labrador. “This is an example of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service recognizing the need for improved species management and we applaud the efforts of the men and women on the ground in Idaho who made this decision.”

Sen. Jim Risch called the final designation “more realistic than the initial proposal,” and 2nd District Rep. Mike Simpson called it a “reasonable and fact-based decision.” Click below for their full statements.

Meanwhile, the Idaho Conservation League noted that the number of caribou has dropped from 46 in 2009 to just 27 in 2012. Brad Smith, ICL conservation associate in Sandpoint, said of the new habitat designation: “Unfortunately, this represents that habitat used by an imperiled herd rather than a recovered herd. More habitat must be protected to have a growing herd and achieve recovery.” He released a Q&A on the caribou habitat designation; you can read it here.

Winder drops leadership challenge to Davis, Mortimer says he’ll run…

Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey reports today that Senate Assistant Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Boise, has decided against a challenge to Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, after his estimated vote count came in at a tied 14-14. “For me to run with that close of a vote would have been divisive,” Winder told Popkey. Now, Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, has decided to make a last-minute challenge to Davis. Lawmakers in both houses will hold leadership elections in closed-door caucuses the evening of Dec. 5, prior to the Legislature's upcoming Dec. 6 organizational session. You can read Popkey's full report here.
  

High court won’t review Delling case, Idaho’s lack of insanity defense stands

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected an appeal from convicted Idaho multiple murderer John Delling, challenging the lack of an insanity defense in Idaho. Idaho is one of four states that doesn't permit defendants to claim they're not guilty by reason of insanity. Three justices dissented; Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor wanted to hear the case. Click below for a full report from the Associated Press.

Albertson Foundation gives $5M to UI, NNU for teacher training on tech

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation is giving $5 million to two Idaho universities to better equip and train teachers. The grant announced Monday will be divvied up between the University of Idaho and Northwest Nazarene University. The money will be used to create two new centers for innovation and learning. The centers ― scheduled to open early next year ― will focus on developing new teaching methods for incorporating technology in the classroom and studying the latest hardware and software available for teachers and students. University of Idaho President Duane Nellis says he's hopeful the research that emerges will help the state make better choices for bringing technology into classrooms in the future.

The grant actually totals close to $8 million over three years; in the first year, NNU will get $4.6 million, and UI in Moscow will get $983,000. UI then will get subsequent payments in the second and third years of $962,000 and $1.1 million, respectively.

So many deer being hit on Idaho roads that Fish & Game is concerned over hunting impact

More than 5,000 deer, elk and moose were killed by cars on Idaho’s roads last year, a number so high that Fish and Game officials are worried about impacts on hunting and are ramping up monitoring and wildlife crossing programs. “Right now, we think we’re losing the same number of deer that we harvest in our biggest deer unit every year, so that is significant,” said Gregg Servheen, wildlife program coordinator for Idaho’s Fish and Game Department. “As we try to maintain deer harvest and sportsman interest and opportunity, that becomes key.”

And it’s why a new section of U.S. Highway 95 being built north of Coeur d’Alene features a $1 million wildlife underpass, shown above, designed to allow deer, elk, moose, bears and other critters to cross freely – without endangering either themselves or the motorists whizzing by on the state’s main north-south route. Extensive fencing will route the animals to the safe crossing.

The underpass, just south of Silverwood, will be the state’s fifth when the highway project is completed next fall. Another that was built on Highway 21 east of Boise in 2011 has seen large herds of deer crossing safely as car-deer collisions at the site plummeted; the ITD photo at left shows deer using the Highway 21 underpass. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Sen. Nuxoll touts tea party scheme to flout presidential election results

A state senator from north-central Idaho is touting a scheme that's been circulating on tea party blogs, calling for states that supported Mitt Romney to refuse to participate in the electoral college, in a move backers believe would change the election result. Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, sent an article out on Twitter headed, “A 'last chance' to have Mitt Romney as President in January (it's still not too late).”

Constitutional scholar David Adler, director of the Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University, said the plan is not “totally constitutional,” as touted in the article, but is instead “a radical, revolutionary proposal that has no basis in federal law or the architecture of the Constitution.” Adler dubbed it “really a strange and bizarre fantasy.”

Said Nuxoll, “Well I guess that's one lawyer.” You can read my full Sunday column here at spokesman.com.

Idahoans suggest other possible uses for unused governor’s mansion…

Idaho could turn its unoccupied, hilltop governor's mansion into the “Governor's Hill” winery, one citizen suggests, remaking the grassy hillsides into terraced vineyards and the house into a tasting room and visitor center. Or it could give the place, former home of the late billionaire J.R. Simplot and adorned with a huge American flag, to the Veterans Administration for a recovery center, “of course keeping the flag flying in honor of all those who have served,” proposed another.

Idaho still hasn't figured out what to do with the vacant mansion - where no Idaho governor has lived - but a month after a public hearing drew calls for getting rid of it, the state's received 50 public comments to a legislative panel charged with overseeing it. Nine wanted to keep it as a governor's residence, but all the rest had other ideas. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Zoo break-in suspect’s dad defends son, says not ‘malicious monkey murderer’

The father of a 22-year-old man accused of killing a monkey after breaking into an Idaho zoo said he believes the tragedy was a drunken prank that got out of hand and “turned into a horrible situation,” the Idaho Statesman newspaper reports. Michael J. Watkins was arrested Monday and faces at least two felonies: burglary, for allegedly breaking into Zoo Boise; and grand theft, for allegedly taking the monkey and beating it so severely that it later died. His first court appearance is set for Wednesday. Watkins' father, Jerry Watkins, defended his son to the newspaper, saying he is “not a malicious monkey murderer;” click below for a full report from the AP and the Statesman.

Eastern Idaho man gets year in federal prison for theft from Sho-Ban casino

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― A 32-year-old eastern Idaho man is headed to prison for a year after acknowledging he stole thousands from an Indian reservation casino. John R. Mejia of Rigby was sentenced Tuesday to 12 months plus a day, followed by three years of supervised release and the requirement he repay $177,611. Mejia was indicted in July 2011, on one count of theft from the Shoshone-Bannock Fort Hall Casino. He'd been working there as a gaming technician and admitted he took money from the casino by creating duplicate vouchers from gaming machines and redeeming the vouchers for cash. U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill says Mejia didn't merely steal from a casino, he targeted a nation of 5,000 people: The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson adds that Mejia abused the public's trust.

Said Olson, “I commend the cooperative work of Fort Hall Tribal Police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

Land Board unanimously approves land swap for UI outdoor science campus in McCall

Idaho's state Land Board has voted unanimously in favor of a land exchange to trade the University of Idaho's McCall Outdoor Science School property for a 32,138-square-foot office building in Idaho Falls that houses Battelle Energy Alliance, the contractor for the Idaho National Laboratory. The office building, known as Education Research Center 1, has an existing lease with Battelle that runs for another seven years, and annual base rent is $538,312. That compares to the $248,000 that UI is currently paying to lease the McCall property, which is adjacent to Ponderosa State Park.

The university plans to buy the McCall property from the office building owner for its appraised value, $6.1 million. UI has leased the McCall property from the state endowment for 65 years; this year, the annual lease payment went up fivefold. Land Board members had several questions before their unanimous vote, noting that the two properties being exchanged have equal value and the rate of return to the state endowment will substantially increase.

“I want to thank the staff for the background information that they provided that showed the impact this would have on the property tax base in Bonneville County and also historically the impact that state owned lands has had on the property tax of Bonneville County,” said state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna. “It was helpful for me, it answered my questions.” Lands Department staff reported that Bonneville County collected $36,000 in property tax in 2011 from the office building, and once it becomes state endowment property, it'll generate no local property tax, meaning the rest of property taxpayers in the county make up the difference. However, since statehood, 64,669 acres of endowment land has been sold to private parties in Bonneville County, an estimated $45 million in property value that generated nearly $550,000 in local property taxes in 2011.

Click below for a statement from the University of Idaho about the transaction involving “one of the most beautiful and pristine settings in the world,” its McCall outdoor science campus.

Lewiston gas explosion caused big fire yesterday, no serious injuries

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) ― A construction worker digging with a backhoe in Lewiston struck a 4-inch natural gas line, sparking an explosion and fire that rocked the downtown area, destroyed the backhoe and damaged a nearby building. No one was seriously injured. The Lewiston Tribune reports flames shot 100-feet into the air after the explosion at 1:35 p.m. Monday. The newspaper and several nearby businesses were evacuated while firefighters battled the blaze. Avista spokesman Mike Tatko says three natural gas lines that serve the area were shut off within 20 minutes of the explosion. The fire was out about 20 minutes later. Laura Von Tersch is administrator for the city's Urban Renewal Agency. She says the quality of mapping used for the renovation project may be partly to blame for the explosion.

In this AP photo by the Lewiston Tribune's Kyle Mills, a firefighter keeps his distance as flames engulf an excavator on Fifth Street in downtown Lewiston, after it struck the gas line.
  

Idaho had 20% of nation’s wildfires for year, but state lands had half the usual

In this year's wildfire season, about 1.75 million acres burned in Idaho, while about 9.1 million acres burned nationwide. “That puts us close to 20 percent of the acres nationally that burned, occurred in this state,” Idaho state Lands Director Tom Schultz told the Land Board this morning. However, on the 6 million acres of state lands and those for which the Lands Department provides fire protection, only 4,674 acres burned this year. That's only half of the historic average of just over 9,000 acres. The state spent $22.7 million on firefighting and was reimbursed $8 million, for a net firefighting expenditure of $14.5 million.

“We took significant assignments out of state,” Schultz reported. “We still do have some staff helping in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy on some of those issues.” He said, “It was a substantial fire season, very long, it went into October, and we had a lot of folks that gave a lot. We did have the one fatality, Anne Veseth, on the Steep Corner fire.”

Gov. Butch Otter, who chairs the Land Board, said, “I notice that the number of fires, 182, 101 of them were human-caused. Is there recovery there above and beyond the $8 million?” Schultz said the state hasn't projected amounts for that, but said, “We do pursue those with our counsel. … So we are involved in some of those investigations.”

The Idaho Statesman reported today that on the Boise National Forest this year, half the fires were human-caused, which is way up from historical levels; that included the destructive Trinity Ridge fire.

Suspect in monkey killing charged with two felonies

Michael Watkins, 22, of Weiser, has been charged with two felonies, burglary and grand theft, in connection with the death of a Patas monkey at the Boise Zoo early Saturday morning. He was arrested this afternoon in Washington County, where he is currently in custody; click below for the full Boise Police Department news release.

“I know the community demands and deserves answers to the many questions that surround this senseless crime,” Boise Police Chief Mike Masterson said at a news conference this evening. “This case is long on emotions and short on facts, for the time being.” More information will come out during the court process to come, he said. “We obviously have more information than we are able to provide tonight. Our detectives have done an outstanding job.”

The arrest was made around 2 p.m. today, Masterson said, following up on a citizen tip received last night, and the suspect's seeking treatment at a local hospital where “the story did not seem to mesh with the injuries.”

Masterson said the second person sighted outside the zoo has been identified and contacted, but not charged. The suspect who was arrested had injuries to his upper torso, the chief said. A gray baseball cap that was recovered inside the zoo “was found to be the hat that the individual, the suspect that we arrested, had worn that evening,” Masterson said. He added, “These may not be the only two charges that this individual faces.”
  

Arrest made in monkey killing at Boise Zoo

Police have arrested one person in connection with the death of a monkey at Zoo Boise, the AP reports. Police spokeswoman Lynn Hightower said no other information was immediately available, but officers and a representative from Zoo Boise were expected to hold a press conference Monday evening. The Patas monkey was found dead of blunt force trauma to the head and neck early Saturday morning, shortly after a zoo security guard frightened away two male intruders. The death left zoo workers shocked and devastated, zoo director Steve Burns said, and prompted an organization called Crime Stoppers to offer an award of up to $1,000 for information leading to an arrest of the culprits. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Land Board set to consider land swap for UI McCall science campus

The land exchange that's at the heart of the University of Idaho's plan to take ownership of the lakeshore McCall Outdoor Science School campus it's leased from the state endowment for the past 65 years is up for approval by the state Land Board at its meeting tomorrow, which starts at 9 a.m. in the Capitol Auditorium. Through the exchange, the 14-acre property adjacent to Ponderosa State Park would be swapped for an office building in Idaho Falls that currently - and still would after the exchange - houses the Battelle Energy Alliance LLC, the operating contractor for the Idaho National Laboratory. The office building is in a commercial business park called the Education Research Center, where INL's in-town operations have been consolidated since 2005.

State Lands Department staff estimates the two properties are of equal value, but the office building would bring the endowment a return of 8.25 percent of property value per year; the science campus currently brings in 4 percent of value, but historically has earned less than 2 percent of its value in annual rents.

Two members of the state Land Board, Secretary of State Ben Ysursa and state Controller Brandon Woolf, recently held an open house in Idaho Falls to share information about the proposed swap. It's a step toward diversifying the endowment's land portfolio, which is mostly rangeland and timberland.

Today's unanimous Board of Education vote for the UI to buy the property was one step in the transaction; Land Board approval for the exchange would be the other.

Slaying of monkey at Boise Zoo leaves zoo fans stunned; reward offered

Sad news surfaced over the weekend in Boise, with the news that intruders at the Boise Zoo had killed a beloved Patas monkey. The future of the monkey's cagemate, shown here, is uncertain, as the social primates don't like to be housed alone; the Boise zoo may get another, or may have to find a new home for the remaining monkey. The AP reports that police are following leads in the search for the two intruders, and that it's not yet clear whether the zoo break-in early Saturday morning was a prank that turned violent or something done with more sinister intent.

The monkey was found outside its exhibit, near the perimeter fence of the zoo, shortly after a security guard scared off two intruders; it had a head injury, and died shortly after. The zoo was closed for most of the day Saturday as police searched for evidence. You can read KTVB-TV's full report here, including a clue - police found a gray ballcap that may have been left by one of the intruders; and the Idaho Statesman's full report here; this AP photo of the remaining Patas monkey is by the Statesman's Katherine Jones. A $1,000 reward is being offered for information leading to an arrest in the case.

UPDATE: Late this afternoon, Boise Police announced that they've made an arrest; they scheduled a press conference for 7 p.m. to release more information.

ISP chief Col. Jerry Russell to retire in January after six years at helm

Col. Jerry Russell, director of the Idaho State Police since January of 2007, plans to retire on Jan. 18, Gov. Butch Otter announced today. “I couldn’t have asked for a better director, a better leader or a better example of a true public servant than I’ve had with Jerry Russell,” Otter said. “I regret losing him, but I know that one of his priorities has been establishing and maintaining a strong bench of leaders at ISP who can continue his great work. … I wish him the best in all his future endeavors.” Click below for Otter's full announcement.

State Board dumps ‘fractional ADA’ on 8-0 vote, after repealing online grad rule

After its 7-1 vote to repeal the requirement that every Idaho student take two online courses to graduate from high school, the State Board of Education today voted unanimously, with no discussion, to repeal its rules covering “fractional ADA,” a funding scheme that was part of Proposition 3 that automatically diverted state funds from school districts to online course providers, if students opted to take up to half their high school course load online, whether or not their districts approved.

That was part of the “Students Come First” reform plan's push for a new focus on online learning; it also included a failed proposal to provide laptop computers to every Idaho high school student, at a cost of more than $182 million over the next eight years. Unlike the online graduation requirement, the board had no choice on this matter; legally, once the “Students Come First” laws were repealed, the board's fractional ADA rules had to go, too. “Fractional ADA” refers to Average Daily Attendance, which is the basis on which school districts receive their state funding, as it's tied through a complex formula to the number of students; the law diverted a fraction of the school district's funding, depending on how many online courses a student chose to take, to the online course provider.

You can read my full story here at spokesman.com on today's state board action on Students Come First.
  

State Ed Board repeals online graduation requirement on 7-1 vote

It was Idaho Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna himself who made the motion at the state Board of Education this morning to repeal the rule requiring that every Idaho high school student take at least two online classes to graduate from high school. “Proposition 3 was overturned by the voters,” Luna said. “Overturning Proposition 3 in and of itself did not remove the two.” But, he said, “Because of the actions of the voters on Nov. 6th … the perception in the public definitely was that the language on the ballot itself made a reference to the online graduation requirement, and so I think it's proper that we remove that as part of the pending rule.”

His motion to repeal the rule passed on a 7-1 vote, with just board member Emma Atchley objecting.

“My biggest concern is that if we do not go forward with the online requirement, and we spend a year deciding whether we're going to have it or how we're going to have it, and we all end up wanting it in the end anyway, we've just lost another year,” she said. “I understand the political reality, but I think it's very important that we do not in the end say that we shouldn't have at least some online learning.”

Board member Rod Lewis said, “I hope that we do have the opportunity to talk further about this issue. If you really look at what's happening in post-secondary institutions and the change that is occurring there, I think it is going to be increasingly important that we have students at the end of the day know how to take classes online effectively. That will be an increasing component of their post-secondary education and our goal is to prepare students for that time.”

Board member Richard Westerberg said, “All that being said, and I agree with all of that, the vote was not equivocal. It was a pretty strong vote from the populace, and it was very specific the way it was listed on the ballot. … I think … we need to reaffirm what the voters told us.”

Board member Don Soltman agreed; he chaired the board's subcommittee that set the two-courses rule. “The committee of the board that looked at this looked solely at coming up with a number of online requirements,” he said. “Without exception, every hearing that we had across the state, the issue always came up of … opposition to the law itself. And as we addressed those publics when we met, we explained to them that the law was in place, that the charge of the committee was only to identify the number of courses required under the law. But I can say without hesitation, at every hearing there was opposition to the law expressed.”

Luna said a “different process” is needed on the issue. “I do believe we made the right decision today,” he said.


  

Listen live to state board meeting…

Only state Board of Education member Milford Terrell is attending today's special board meeting in person; all other board members, including state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna, are participating by phone. Members of the public who would like to listen in by phone can call (888) 285-4585, and enter public participant code 352813.
  

State Board approves UI acquisition of McCall campus through land swap, bond

Idaho's State Board of Education has unanimously approved the University of Idaho's purchase of its McCall campus, which is along the shore of Payette Lake adjacent to Ponderosa State Park. It's currently endowment land managed by the state Land Board, and the UI has leased it for 65 years. The site includes the university's forestry camp and other education programs through its College of Natural Resources.

The Land Board raised the lease rate this year from about $50,000 a year to about $250,000, prompting the university decide to buy the land. Developed over the last several years, the complex transaction includes a land exchange. A private party, IW4 LLC, plans to acquire the property from the Department of Lands through a land swap for commercial property, and then sell it to the UI at its current appraised value, $6.1 million.

The UI plans to draw on its internal reserves to cover acquisition costs, and then reimburse the reserves from a future bond issue; it also is fundraising, and hoping to reduce the size of the future bond issue with major gifts. It's forecasting that the university will end up saving money on the deal, because its debt service on the bond should be less than the $250,000 annual lease payments.

The board is gathered for a special meeting this morning; among items on its agenda are possible repeal of the requirement that Idaho high school students take two online classes to graduate from high school, now that voters have rejected the “Students Come First” school reform laws that proposed the online grad requirement.

Air Force radioactive waste that drew protests in California finds home in Idaho

Radioactive waste that the U.S. Air Force couldn't get permission to dump at a Bakersfield, Calif. dump has been brought to Idaho, to U.S. Ecology's hazardous waste site at Grand View, according to California Watch. The non-profit investigative reporting site, which was founded by the Center for Investigative Reporting, reports that the Air Force told California regulators the waste was “naturally occurring,” but they balked - it comes from radium dust left over from glow-in-the-dark aircraft instruments. U.S. Ecology's permit allows it to accept “naturally occurring” waste without notifying state regulators; when Idaho DEQ officials learned of the dumping from California Watch, they inspected the site and determined it didn't matter, because the radium concentrations fell below threshold levels in Idaho's regulations.

You can read California Watch's full report here; the issue has set off a firestorm of criticism in California, where health officials and environmental activists accused the Air Force of bending the truth to get its way. “Illuminated instrument dials do not naturally occur,” Daniel Hirsch, a lecturer on nuclear policy at UC Santa Cruz who leads the environmental group Committee to Bridge the Gap, told California Watch. “I can’t dig into the soil and discover naturally occurring radium instrument dials.”
  

Hartgen: Wills challenging Moyle for majority leader, 3-way contests for 2 other House GOP posts

Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, offers this summary of House GOP leadership races on his Facebook page: “For speaker, Scott Bedke is running against Lawerence Denney. For majority leader, Rich Wills is running against Mike Moyle. For assistant majority leader, there are three candidates: Brent Crane, Lynn Luker and Jeff Thompson, and for House majority caucus chair, three candidates, myself, Christy Perry and John Vander Woude.”

Writes Hartgen, “As a veteran legislator now into my third term, I'm honored to represent District 24, Twin Falls. I hope to bring some Southern Idaho perspectives and concerns to our leadership group and to other legislators.”

Leadership contests in both parties and both houses will be decided in closed-door caucuses on Dec. 5, the evening before the Legislature's Dec. 6 organizational session.

Otter delays insurance exchange decision

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has decided to delay a decision on how to proceed on a health insurance exchange in Idaho, now that HHS chief Kathleen Sibelius has agreed to give governors more time; a decision had been due today, but now the deadline has been pushed back to December. Click below for Otter's full announcement.

“I have my working group’s recommendation, and I have been listening carefully to stakeholders and citizens about this important choice,” Otter said. “This extension gives us more time to get answers from HHS about what the federal requirements will be.” Otter noted that he consulted with other GOP governors at a Republican Governors Association meeting in Las Vegas this week from which he just returned today. “I don’t want us buying a pig in a poke,” he said, “so with this extension I’m hoping we’ll get answers to the questions and concerns we’re hearing from legislators and the public.”

State board prez: Online grad requirement was ‘one size fits all approach’

Ken Edmunds of Twin Falls, president of the Idaho State Board of Education, said what the voters said last week “matters a great deal.” He said, “If people aren't satisfied with what we're doing, they're not going to support further change.”

The board will hold a special meeting Monday to vote on a series of rule changes, including possibly repealing the requirement that Idaho high school students take two online courses to graduate from high school; doing away with a funding scheme that automatically diverts school districts funds to online course providers if students opt to take courses online, with or without their school district's permission; and considering whether to reconsider rules regarding teacher and principal evaluations. Those follow voters' overwhelming rejection last week of Propositions 1, 2, and 3, repealing the “Students Come First” school reform laws that lawmakers enacted in 2011.

During the campaign, state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna, the author of the “Students Come First” laws, said repeatedly that the online graduation requirement wouldn't go away even if voters rejected Proposition 3, because it was in a state board rule.

Edmunds said, “I still believe that online education is part of the future. I am not certain that the two credits is necessarily the answer. It creates a one size fits all approach.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

‘Fractional ADA’ funding scheme diverting school funds to online providers also up for repeal Monday

There also are two other rule changes on the State Board of Education's agenda for Monday's special meeting that are a result of the rejection of the “Students Come First” laws by voters: One regarding “fractional ADA,” and another regarding teacher and principal evaluations. The agenda calls for fractional ADA to be repealed, while the evaluation issue may wait for input from stakeholders.

“Fractional ADA” refers to Average Daily Attendance, which is the basis on which school districts receive their state funding, as it's tied through a complex formula to the number of students. Under “fractional ADA,” which was repealed in Proposition 3 by voters last week, a portion of Idaho school districts' state funding is automatically diverted to an online course provider, if students or parents choose to take some of their courses online. The “Students Come First” laws allowed students to make that choice for up to half their high school course load, with or without the permission of their school district.

State Board spokeswoman Marilyn Whitney said that rule is legally required to be repealed, now that the state law authorizing the payments scheme has been repealed by voters. State Board Chairman Ken Edmunds of Twin Falls said, “That actually was the subject of discussion many times with superintendents and administrators and even with teachers, trying to understand what impact that had on them. It has a much deeper impact that I originally thought.” Said Edmunds, “The funding issues are very significant.”

The original “Students Come First” laws passed in 2011 allowed students to choose to take their entire high school course load online at state expenses under the fractional ADA formula; a 2012 revision cut that back to half their course load.

State Board sets special meeting for Monday, could repeal online graduation requirement

The Idaho State Board of Education has set a special meeting for Monday, at which it could decide to repeal a rule requiring all Idaho students to take at least two online courses to graduate from high school, now that the “Students Come First” law that directed the board to make the rule has been repealed by voters.

“There isn't a legal requirement, because the board has the authority to set administrative rules and to set graduation requirements,” said board spokeswoman Marilyn Whitney. “That having been said, the board is well aware of the outcome of the election and this board has been very in tune with public input.”

The board's agenda includes a pending rule to modify the graduation requirement, removing controversial requirements that at least one of the courses be “asynchronous,” meaning the course is delivered entirely online and teachers and students participate on their own schedules. That requirement drew opposition from school boards, school administrators and Idaho school districts; state lawmakers voted in in their last legislative session to do away with it.

The board has two options on Monday, Whitney said: Approve the pending change to the rule, or reconsider the whole rule and do away with the online graduation requirement. The board's agenda packet for Monday's meeting includes this note: “The part of the question posed to the voters in Proposition 3 clearly included the repeal of online learning as a graduation requirement. While the Board has the authority to promulgate rules setting minimum high school graduation requirements, the failure of proposition three removed the statutory requirement that they include online learning for the class of 2016.”

Idaho jobless rate falls to 7 percent

Idaho's unemployment rate continued to fall in October, dropping another tenth of a percentage point to 7 percent, the lowest level in 3-1/2 years, the Idaho Department of Labor reports. That was nearly a full percentage point below the national unemployment rate, which rose a tenth to 7.9 percent in October. You can read the full report here from Idaho DOL, and a breakdown here by county, city and labor market areas within the state.
  

Declo 4th graders who missed reading goal got faces scribbled on with permanent marker

Fourth-graders who failed to achieve reading goals had their faces scribbled on with permanent marker by other students last week at Declo Elementary School under the supervision of their teacher, the Times-News reports today. Some parents are concerned about the effect on the targeted students, some of whom have learning problems. You can read the Times-News' full report here from reporter Laurie Welch. The teacher reportedly allowed the children to choose their own incentive to meet the reading goal of reading a certain number of books; students who fell short either would stay in at recess or have their faces written on. Six students chose to have their faces marked on and three missed recess.

HHS gives states more time on health insurance exchanges, not clear if Otter will decide tomorrow or delay…

In response to a request from the Republican Governors Association, U.S. Secretary of Health & Human Services Kathleen Sibelius has sent out a letter giving governors extra time to make their decisions on how to proceed on health insurance exchanges - a decision for which the deadline was looming tomorrow. Last week, Sibelius gave governors until December to file the “blueprint” that will flesh out the details of the decision, but didn't move the Nov. 16 deadline for a “letter of intent” declaring the state's decision. If states don't opt to set up their own, state-based exchanges or enter partnerships with the federal government, the feds will take over and operate the exchange for those states.

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has been considering the decision, and convened a working group that studied the issue for months, then recommended overwhelmingly that the state go with a state-based exchange operated by a private non-profit. Otter is at the RGA meeting in Las Vegas today, where the issue was among the discussion topics, and his office just received Sibelius' letter late this afternoon. Otter's press secretary, Jon Hanian, said, “I think over the next 24 hours you should know whether or not we're going to make some decision tomorrow or take additional time.” You can read Sibelius' letter here.

Bonner County sues over caribou protections

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho (AP) ― A northern Idaho county and a snowmobile group have sued the U.S. Department of Interior in federal court, the latest step in their bid to have Endangered Species Act protections lifted from rare woodland caribou that roam the U.S-Canadian border region. Bonner County and the Idaho State Snowmobile Association filed their complaint Thursday in U.S. District Court. They're being represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation, a conservative legal group. Their complaint contends U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has failed to act on their petition lodged earlier this year contending the caribou were improperly given ESA protections starting in 1983. They want Salazar to make a decision on the petition ― and to pay for their lawsuit. Four caribou were counted south of the Canadian border during an aerial census last winter.

Idaho Supreme Court orders Farragut shooting range reopened, overrules lower court

In a victory for sport shooters, the Idaho Supreme Court today lifted an injunction that has kept the Farragut State Park shooting range closed for almost six years; you can read our full report here from S-R reporter Scott Maben. The decision will permit the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to reopen the Farragut range to as many as 500 shooters a year, and possibly more than that if a district court judge determines noise and safety concerns have been addressed.

You can read the court's unanimous decision here, which was written by Justice Jim Jones. It also reversed a district judge's finding that a 2008 law, the Idaho Outdoor Sport Shooting Range Act, was unconstitutional; the law was passed in part to protect the Farragut range from the ongoing lawsuit from neighbors challenging it on safety and nuisance grounds. The state Department of Fish & Game appealed the lower court's ruling; the court sided with the department, and against the neighbors.
  

Report: Delays, data problems in Idaho parole process costing state millions

An inability to manage data by administrators at the Commission of Pardons and Parole is creating inefficiency and delays in paroling Idaho inmates that have cost the state more than $7.2 million since 2009, the Associated Press reports. A performance audit report released Wednesday by the state Legislature's Office of Performance Evaluation shows the commission and its staff continue to have problems managing inmate-tracking data and avoiding inefficiencies that have plagued the agency for more than a decade; click below for a full report from AP reporter Todd Dvorak.

Demystified: Among the election’s winners, the Mormon church

Associated Press religion writer Rachel Zoll has an interesting story out suggesting that one of the winners of last week's election was the Mormon church, as, despite Mitt Romney's loss, the campaign prompted a new era of both learning about and acceptance of the LDS Church among many who'd previously been critical, including evangelical Christians. Click below for her full report.

Flu season has arrived in SW Idaho, vaccinations urged before Thanksgiving

Flu season has arrived in southwestern Idaho, the state Department of Health & Welfare reports, with cases already being reported in schools and long-term care facilities. Dr. Leslie Tengelsen, deputy state epidemiologist, said it's shown up earlier than usual. “With the approaching holidays and planned family gatherings, we strongly urge people to get vaccinated now to protect themselves and their loved ones,” Tengelsen said. Click below for the full announcement from Health & Welfare.

$1.2M tort claim filed over sexual assault at Idaho juvey lockup

Here's a news item from the AP and the Idaho Press-Tribune: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― A 15-year-old boy is seeking $1.2 million from Idaho and its correctional system, claiming the state failed to protect him from a prison staffer who sexually assaulted him. The Idaho Press-Tribune (http://tinyurl.com/c8hdahw) reported Thursday a tort claim was filed against Idaho Department of Juvenile Correction director Sharon Harrigfeld as well as other state officials and agencies. A 31-year-old former safety and security supervisor, Julie McCormick, was charged criminally earlier this month. Now, the alleged victim is seeking civil reparations, arguing that he suffered emotional and personal distress as a result of “statutory rape, lewd and lascivious conduct, sexual battery, neglect” and other harm. In the tort claim, his lawyers allege McCormick took him to places in the juvenile facility in Nampa where no cameras could record their activities.

ICAN calls for Medicaid expansion, says it’ll save money and save lives

The Idaho Community Action Network, a statewide non-profit advocacy group with more than 2,000 members, issued a report today calling strongly for Idaho to expand its Medicaid program to cover the working poor. That also was the unanimous recommendation of a 14-member working group appointed by Gov. Butch Otter, which studied the issue for months.

“It's the right choice for Idaho - it's going to save us money, and it's going to save lives,” said Terri Sterling, the group's organizing director. “When you think about the families this is impacting right now, it's very sad across the state. … I have interviewed lots of these families, and it's so heartbreaking and heart-wrenching to hear some of these stories.”

ICAN's report, “Invest in a Healthy Idaho,” calls a Medicaid expansion “a prescription for ending the drain on state and county resources and creating financial stability for Idaho's patients.” It highlights the stories of several Idahoans who lack health insurance, including Aaron Howington, who works, but much of his income goes to child support payments; he lives in a camper in the back of his pickup truck, can't afford health insurance and makes too much to qualify for Medicaid. “Without good health, I may not be able to continue working,” he said. “I don't know what I would do then. The Medicaid expansion would allow me to get the care that I need to stay healthy and keep my job.”

States have the option of expanding Medicaid, the state-federal program that provides health insurance to the poor and disabled, to cover the working poor under the national health care reform law, largely at federal expense; a decision from Otter and state lawmakers on which way to go is pending.  In Idaho, an expansion would save the state hundreds of millions over the coming years, because the state currently covers the catastrophic medical bills of indigent residents entirely with county property taxes and state general funds.

Kelly Anderson of Boise said she hopes the state chooses expansion. “Right now I have several bills that are in collection due to not having insurance and needing medical care,” she said. “Once they expand the Medicaid and cover people that aren't covered, I think you'll see a whole lot less emergency room visits that don't get paid for because people can't afford them, and I think you'll see a healthier country.” Said Alecia Clements, an ICAN state board member, “I have good insurance, thanks to God, but a lot of Idahoans don't.” If Idaho doesn't expand the program, she said, “It's going to cost us anyway, even more - I hope that our legislators understand that.”

ICAN was formed in 1999 through a merger of the Idaho Citizens Network, a citizens' advocacy group focusing on the concerns of low-income residents, and the Idaho Hunger Action Council.

Glaxo to pay Idaho $1.33M in drug settlement

Pharmaceutical manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline LLC will pay Idaho $1.33 million as part of a 38-state settlement over its promotion of its diabetes drug, Avandia. Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and 38 other state attorneys general contended that the firm claimed the drug had cardiovascular benefits, when it actually may increase cardiovascular risks. The firm admitted no wrongdoing, but it agreed to change its marketing practices for the drug and to pay $90 million to the states to resolve the lawsuit. Click below for Wasden's full announcement. The money will go to Idaho's consumer protection account, where it's subject to legislative appropriation.

Idaho Dept. of Labor warns employers about fraudulent email requests

The Idaho Department of Labor is warning that emails being sent to employers seeking information on former employees who may have filed unemployment insurance claims are fraudulent, and employers should ignore them. The emails, purporting to be from the state “Division of Unemployment Assistance” and coming from the email address claim@detma.org have been reported so far in the eastern United States and most recently in Montana. They appear to be an attempt at identity theft, the department said. In Idaho, the agency responsible for unemployment insurance claims is the Unemployment Insurance/Benefits Division of the Idaho Department of Labor, and it doesn't request confidential employee information by email; the department instead would make such requests by telephone, mail, or its secure employer electronic system, ECORE.

Labrador tells GOP to reform immigration or give up on ever winning presidency

Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador says the Republican Party will never win the presidency again unless it can attract Hispanic votes, and he said that requires action on immigration reform. Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey reports that Labrador made the comments at a Capitol Hill news conference Wednesday sponsored by a group he co-chairs, Conversations with Conservatives. “One of the main reasons that we lost is because Romney got 27 percent of the Hispanic vote,” Labrador said. “If we continue to get 27 percent of the vote for the rest of our lives, we will continue to lose every single presidential election that’s out there.” You can read Popkey's full report here.
  

Ada County asks for $2 million back from Dynamis in troubled trash-to-energy project

Ada County commissioners are seeking the return of $2 million from Dynamis, a company the county hired to design a waste-to-energy plant that's now the subject of a lawsuit, an investigation by a former FBI agent and opposition from residents. Click below for a full report from the Associated Press and the Idaho Statesman; the three-member county commission voted unanimously Wednesday to ask for the money back. Dynamis Energy LLC is planning a garbage-to-energy plant at the Ada County. Last week, however, a citizens group sued the county, claiming the $2 million the county paid to Dynamis amounts to a loan and the county is forbidden to loan money to businesses. What's more, a retired FBI agent, Verna Kessler, is investigating a complaint over alleged irregularities in a contract between local government officials and Dynamis.

ACLU says CCA violating 2010 settlement requiring staffing, safety improvements at ICC

The ACLU of Idaho is charging that the Corrections Corp. of America is violating the terms of a settlement agreement it reached with the group in a 2010 lawsuit over prison violence at the CCA-run Idaho Correctional Center south of Boise, the AP reports, a settlement that required staffing and safety changes at the prison. The charge comes as a new lawsuit from inmates charges that CCA has turned over control of the lockup to prison gangs to save on staffing; click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Nampa School District targeted in $1 million tort claim

Here's a news item from the Associated Press and the Idaho Press-Tribune: NAMPA, Idaho (AP) ― A nutrition services worker who was fired from the Nampa School District has taken the first step toward suing the district, filing a $1 million tort claim over his dismissal. The Idaho Press-Tribune (http://bit.ly/RCEdKh) reports that Todd Young filed the tort claim last month, contending he was harassed and then fired in May after he talked about waste in his department in a local television news report. In the report, Young said the school district wasn't saving money as planned because workers were discarding Styrofoam trays meant to be recycled. District officials released a statement saying that Young was fired for making racial remarks about a minority. Young is asking for no less than $1 million and his reinstatement in the job.

Boiseans pack five-hour hearing to support anti-discrimination ordinance

Hundreds of Boiseans turned out for a five-hour public hearing last night, with nearly all in favor of a proposed city ordinance to ban discrimination in housing and public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Citizens shared emotional stories of living in fear of losing their jobs if employers found out they were gay; business leaders said the ordinance will help the city attract employers. You can read the Boise Weekly's account here, and the Idaho Statesman's report here; and see KTVB-TV's report here and KBOI2 News' report here.

For some background, here's a link to my Aug. 5 story on how Idaho's cities are moving to ban such discrimination, after the the state Legislature repeatedly refused to consider legislation for a statewide ban. Boise's City Council is expected to vote on the ordinance Dec. 4.

BPD plans crackdown on underage drinking around Sat.’s BSU football game

The Boise Police are planning to crack down on underage drinking around this Saturday's BSU home football game against Colorado State, including both underage consumption and adults who provide alcohol to people under age 21. In addition, the police will be patrolling for open-container violations on public streets and sidewalks, in city parks and within 250 feet of the river; parking violations; driving under the influence; and littering. “Officers want citizens to celebrate responsibly,” the BPD announced in a news release; you can read it here. “For public safety, Boise Police will be checking for illegal alcohol use in the campus area. Increases in people on neighborhood streets, parks and parking lots in the Broadway area on game days has resulted in increased complaints and concerns about illegal alcohol use and related problems like disorderly conduct, underage drinking, drunk driving, assaults, urinating in public, loud parties and littering.”
  

Powder struggle: Snowmobilers, back-country skiers battle in court

A backcountry skier advocacy group, the Winter Wildlands Alliance, has filed suit in federal court, asking a judge to order the U.S. Forest Service to create plans for snowmobiles limiting their travel on public land, the Associated Press reports. “One snowmobile can track up an area in an hour that a dozen skiers could use for two weeks,” said Alliance Director Mark Menlove. “It is a competition for a limited resource. Beyond untracked powder, we also think that quiet is a forest resource that should be managed.”

Snowmobile groups have lined up with the Forest Service opposing the move, saying there's enough forest to go around for everyone. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Teachers at 499 Idaho schools getting bonuses, those at 155 schools aren’t

Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna has announced that under the now-repealed “Students Come First” laws, teachers in 499 schools across the state will receive bonuses for their work last school year, while those in 155 schools will not. Data for 12 schools still is in the works. The bonuses are going out on the basis of student achievement by school, measured partly by test scores. In the Boise School District, for example, teachers at North Junior High will get $234,955 in bonuses, while teachers at South Junior High will get nothing. Teachers at Highlands Elementary School will split $78,000 in bonuses, while those at Garfield, Whitney and Hawthorne elementaries will get nothing. Every high school in the district qualified for bonuses for its teachers, except for Frank Church High School, the district's alternative school.

Luna said about eight in 10 Idaho teachers will get bonuses under the program, with the average around $2,000. You can see the complete list here, by school.
  

Otter reaches out to ‘Students Come First’ opponents, sets meeting with IEA leaders

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter is reaching out to the opponents of the failed “Students Come First” school reform laws, including the leaders of the Idaho Education Association; they've been invited to an initial meeting with the governor's staff tomorrow. “I can confirm there is going to be a meeting,” said Jon Hanian, Otter's press secretary. Otter won't be there himself, as he's attending a Republican Governors Association meeting in Las Vegas today through Thursday at which governors are discussing their options on health care reform in the wake of last week's election, but Otter will be represented at tomorrow's meeting by his senior special assistant on education, Roger Brown.

“This isn't about a specific bill or piece of legislation - it's about a conversation and developing a road map on how we can continue improving our education system,” Hanian said. “This will be the first formal meeting since the election. We started reaching out to them last week.” Hanian said the governor plans to reach out to all stakeholders on school improvement, after the overwhelming voter rejection last week of Propositions 1, 2 and 3. “The people spoke,” Hanian said, as far as those measures. “We need to continue discussion about improving our education system in the state.”

Lawsuit: CCA let gangs take over Idaho prison to save money on staffing

A gang war that appears to have taken over parts of an Idaho private prison is spilling into the federal courts, reports Associated Press reporter Rebecca Boone, with some inmates contending prison officials are ceding control to gang leaders in an effort to save money. Eight inmates at the Idaho Correctional Center are suing the Corrections Corporation of America, Boone reports, contending the company is working with a few powerful prison gangs to control the facility south of Boise and spend less on staffing.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in Boise's U.S. District Court, paints the prison as a place where correctional officers work in fear of angering inmate gang members and where housing supervisors ask permission from gang leaders before moving anyone new into an empty cell; click below for Boone's full report, and click here for a link to video and documents filed in the case.

Luna pledges collaboration, opponents skeptical

Mike Lanza, chairman of the campaign that successfully overturned controversial “Students Come First” school reform laws, reacted with suspicion today to state schools Superintendent Tom Luna's call for collaboration on new reform laws. “His entire track record is not one of collaboration, and we believe his credibility is what it is because of that,” Lanza said, noting that as the referendum campaign was gathering signatures, Luna and lawmakers added “clearly unnecessary” emergency clauses to the controversial laws. “He's not the person to lead this time. He should endorse a process that is run from outside of his department.”

Lanza said, “I would urge the Legislature and Superintendent Luna to refrain from trying to pass anything quickly this year, because if they do, I think they will again raise the ire of the public.” He said Idaho must “de-politicize this process and have it driven from the ground up. I'm talking about parents, teachers, administrators, members of school boards, business leaders, the very coalition of people that we've already begun to build. We believe that that's the way to really give credibility to this process and get buy-in from the public, not by having it driven by the superintendent whose plan has been discredited by the voters.”

Meanwhile, Luna, the first non-educator to head Idaho's public schools, said, “There's many good things that have come from these laws even though they were overturned - in the way we're looking at technology, the way we're looking at teacher evaluations, the way we're looking at parental input, the way we're looking at advanced opportunities for students. Those are all good things that came from this law, and those don't go away.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com. Also, click below for a report from AP reporter John Miller on Luna's determination to push for merit pay in 2013.

Luna pledges to work with all sides on ‘less comprehensive’ school reform

A somewhat subdued Tom Luna, Idaho state superintendent of schools, pledged today to work with stakeholders to bring back only the pieces of his voter-rejected “Students Come First” school reform laws on which all sides can agree. “I think it's critical that we work together,” Luna said in his first public comments since last Tuesday's election. Asked about the role of the Idaho Education Association, the state's teachers union, Luna said, “We'll sit down and meet with them.”

Asked what he regrets, Luna said, “I regret that I ever used the phrase 'union thuggery.'” He also said he regretted that the laws that went to the voters in three referenda measures were so complex and far-reaching, and promised simpler, less-comprehensive proposals in the future. Luna said he accepts the voters' verdict on his reform plan. “The same people that voted down those laws elected me to this position twice,” he said. “I have full confidence in Idahoans in educating themselves and making a decision based on the information gathered. … They had specific issues with specific parts of the law.”

He offered a couple of examples of pieces of the laws that he thought all sides might support: Funding for high school seniors who have completed graduation requirements to take dual-credit college courses; funding for more math and science teachers; and “some sort of pay for performance.” But he said overall, he doesn't know what parts of the reform plan will win support from all stakeholders. “We'll hear from the stakeholders, and we'll identify what we all agree on,” Luna said. “I think the governor will continue to play a lead role.”

Luna said he stayed out of the public eye in the days following the election because he was exhausted and emotionally drained. “I just took a couple of days, just spent time with my grandkids and my family,” he said. “I was just mentally and physically done.”

AG’s opinion: Teachers to get bonuses for last year as scheduled

Idaho school teachers who earned $38.8 million in merit-pay bonuses last year under the now-repealed “Students Come First” school reform laws still must be paid those bonuses for their work last school year, according to an Idaho Attorney General's opinion released today by state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna. “This is very good news,” Luna said. “I've been trying to do pay for performance since I was elected in '06.”

But Luna had raised questions about whether the repeal of the laws on Nov. 6 might stop the state's ability to make the payments for last year, which were scheduled to go out to school districts on Nov. 15. The legal opinion, signed by Deputy Attorney General Andrew J. Snook, found that the effective date of the repeal of the law is Nov. 21, when Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa will convene the board of canvassers to certify the election results, after which Gov. Butch Otter will issue a formal proclamation.   “Furthermore, the operative events that gave rise to teachers or administrators qualifying for Pay for Performance bonuses all occurred during the 2011-2012 school year,” the opinion said. Therefore, the law's provision that school districts can make the payments to teachers up to Dec. 15, 2012, still stands, as it's “merely  ministerial” acts that occur between last school year and that date to get the payments made.

Voters overwhelmingly rejected all three referenda on the Nov. 6 ballot regarding the “Students Come First” laws, repealing all three laws. Proposition 2 was the merit-pay bonus plan.

Hospital turf war escalates with lawsuit

A southwestern Idaho hospital turf war is escalating, with medical groups suing a rival in federal court to block its latest expansion plan, the AP reports. Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center is the main plaintiff behind an antitrust lawsuit filed today that's meant to halt Boise-based St. Luke's Health System from buying physician-owned Saltzer Medical Group, which has many of its offices in Nampa. “St. Luke's will gain a near monopoly share in the Nampa, Idaho market for adult primary care physician services market,” Saint Alphonsus lawyers wrote in their 42-page complaint asking a judge to halt St. Luke's purchase; click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Spent nuclear fuel from USS Enterprise is Idaho-bound

Spent nuclear fuel from the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise will be sent to eastern Idaho for study and storage, the Idaho Falls Post Register reports. The Enterprise, the world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, is being decommissioned after participating in every major conflict with the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Its spent nuclear fuel is expected to arrive in Idaho in 2015; click below for a full report from the Post Register and the Associated Press.

Bedke goes public, announces he’s running for House speaker

The Twin Falls Times-News reports today that House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, has publicly announced his run for Speaker of the House, taking on current Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale. “It's time for a change,” Bedke told the newspaper. Leadership elections will take place at closed-door party caucuses Dec. 5, on the even of the 2013 Legislature's organizational session Dec. 6. Last week, Denney told the Idaho Statesman that he planned to “aggressively” campaign to keep his leadership post. You can read the Times-News' full report here from reporter Melissa Davlin.
  

15 of nation’s top cartoonists headed to Boise for wounded warriors benefit

Fifteen of the nation's top cartoonists, including Tom Richmond of MAD Magazine, Jeff Keane of the Family Circus, Mike Peters of Mother Goose and Grimm, Rick Kirkman of Baby Blues, Todd Clark of Lola, Mason Mastroianni of B.C. and more, will be in Boise on Dec. 1 for the “Guardian Ball,” a benefit for the Wyakin Warrior Foundation. The Treasure Valley foundation provides intensive services to severely wounded and injured veterans, including education, mentoring, professional development, networking and job placement; the wounded vets get full scholarships to Boise State University and the College of Western Idaho as part of the program. The scholarships run for 51 months - that's four years plus three months the summer before enrolling, when the severely wounded vets are helped out with housing, medical issues and orientation to prepare for college.

The benefit will be a black-tie gala with dinner, music and a live auction, at which the cartoonists will provide original art, caricatures and more; the event will be at the Boise Centre. Click here for more information, including ticket sales.

Interestingly, the connection between cartoonists and the Wyakin Warrior Foundation is an integral one: The foundation's founder, retired Navy Capt. Jeff Bacon, is a cartoonist himself, who's drawn cartoons for the Navy Times, Marine Corps Times and Military Times. “I organized USO trips to take the cartoonists around to visit the wounded troops and such,” Bacon said, “so all these guys are my friends, and I just asked them to come.”

Cartoonists have been visiting the troops since World War II, when they “bonded so much they formed the National Cartoonists Society, the largest professional organization for cartoonists in the country,” Bacon said. They went on USO trips during the Korea and Vietnam wars, and in 2005 started again for today's conflicts. Bacon and other cartoonists have visited wounded troops at military hospitals stateside, and cheered up troops in combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. “So we've all gotten pretty close, just like the guys did in World War II really,” Bacon said, “so all I had to do was ask, and everybody said yes.”

As part of the benefit, a silent auction will begin online this Friday at the foundation's website, www.wyakin.org, for items ranging from cartoon art to trips.

Working group is unanimous: Expand Medicaid in Idaho

Corey Surber, chair of the governor's Medicaid expansion working group, said, “At this point I'm sensing consensus, but I'd like to do one more check.” She asked working group members, if they didn't agree with Option 3 - expand Medicaid - with the identified caveats about benefit design, personal accountability and the like - to turn on their microphone lights. None did. That means it's unanimous - the group is backing Medicaid expansion for Idaho.

Still to be finalized is the group's formal report to Gov. Butch Otter, which will be word-smithed and completed over the next few days. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Working group: ‘An opportunity to shape a new health care system’

Here are some of the working group members' comments as they debate options for Medicaid expansion in Idaho:

Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, said, “This would be good for our people in Idaho. But we also …  don't know what the future's going to hold, and we don't know what the federal government is going to  do with its $16 trillion deficit and the fact that they're going to be putting bigger burdens on the states.” She said, “I'm not quite there totally. I know it's good for Idaho, but I'm very concerned about what this burden is going to place upon our people.”

Dr. Ted Epperly said he's “strongly in favor” of expanding Medicaid in Idaho. “Really what we have an opportunity to do here is shape a new health care system and a new insurance program. … I love a benefit redesign that really puts a lot of personal accountability and incentivization onto patients for their health.” He added, “I think we need to focus on what we can control, and what we can control is what we do here in Idaho with this program. … It's a real opportunity for us.”

Dan Chadwick of the Idaho Association of Counties said, “The CAT program, the county indigent program, has run its course. It's time for it to end in this state because it has not done its work. It's becoming financially and administratively unsustainable.”

Tom Faulkner said Idaho's now paying 100 percent of the costs for health care for the working poor from its state general fund and from county property taxpayers. “If we could have 90 percent to 100 percent of that paid by the federal government, why wouldn't we do it?”

Beth Gray said, “The data that's been presented today seems to me to be overwhelmingly compelling.”


  

Working group debates Medicaid expansion options…

Gov. Butch Otter's Medicaid expansion working group is now considering what recommendation to make to Otter. Member Mike Baker spoke out in favor of expansion. “There's financial benefits, there's the opportunity to do something right here,” he said. “From the state perspective, you look at the numbers, you look at the things we've learned through these discussions, and I think it's great - a great opportunity for us to put together a different model.” He said he hoped Idaho could develop an appropriate benefit plan that would fit the state and the targeted population, and provide the appropriate incentives.

Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, said he's concerned about “how to control costs and how to bring the best medical care at the cheapest cost to patients in that population. And that we do get away from the perverse incentives in the American health care industry that are going on today, we get away from fee for service medicine, we get away from the old traditional managed-care concept.  We actually have to get a system whereby the consumers and the providers … actually own the system, as opposed to feeding off the system. If we're going to go down that road, then I can wholeheartedly endorse the concept.” But, he said, “If we're going to just have another entitlement program … then no, you don't have my support, nor do I think you'll have the Legislature's support.” Said Wood, “We aren't just signing a blank check. That's not what we're about. We're about doing it right or we're not going to do it.”

Risch: 9th Circuit considering Idaho’s roadless plan

A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals held a hearing today in Portland on Idaho's state roadless plan; Idaho Sen. Jim Risch, who attended the hearing, said a decision will follow in the coming months. Risch wrote the Idaho plan in 2006 when he was the state's governor; it was the only state-created roadless plan, with the rest of the nation falling under a national rule. The plan, developed through a collaborative process involving various interests, lays out differing management plans for specific tracts within the 9.3 million acres of inventoried roadless areas in Idaho.

The plan was upheld by a federal district judge in 2011, but that decision was appealed to the 9th Circuit. Click below for Risch's full news release.

State budget outlook not as sunny when looking another year out…

With current state tax revenues, Idaho's state budget is on track for a substantial ending balance July 1 of as much as $37 million, according to figures presented to lawmakers today by legislative budget chief Cathy Holland-Smith. That doesn't count $18.3 million in supplemental budget requests that lawmakers will consider in January, but Holland-Smith said those requests are likely to fall substantially, based on slower than expected Medicaid caseload growth and differences in prison inmate forecasting. If all $18.3 million were needed for the supplemental requests, the state would end this budget year July 1 with an $18.7 million ending balance, Holland-Smith said.

She then presented an estimate for the fiscal year 2014 budget, the year that starts July 1, including various assumptions about budget requests. If all requests were funded, state workers were given 1 percent raises, and state revenue were to grow by 4 percent, the hypothetical bottom line would be negative, to the tune of $169.5 million. That's in part because one-time money from reserve funds has been built into the state budget to help it balance each year in recent years. Idaho still would have some reserve funds available; as of June 30, 2013, the state's two main reserve funds, the Budget Stabilization Fund and the Public Education Stabilization Fund, would hold a projected total of $98.6 million.

Holland-Smith cautioned, however, that the assumptions include Idaho continuing its Catastrophic Health Care Fund program, which could go away if the state opted to expand its Medicaid program largely at federal expense. Other assumptions also could change.

Budget figures changing, between school reform laws’ failure and H&W updates…

Legislative Budget Director Cathy Holland-Smith prefaced her presentation to the Legislative Council with a caveat: Many of the numbers will change from what she's prepared. That's because voters rejected the “Students Come First” school reform laws, meaning state Superintendent Tom Luna's budget request for next year, which was based on those laws, will need a re-do. Plus, just last night, the state Department of Health & Welfare submitted a substantial budget revision, Holland-Smith said, one that likely will be positive. “We know caseloads are down somewhat,” she said.

Between those two factors - affecting the largest portions of Idaho's state budget - “A substantial amount of the budget request will have to change,” Holland-Smith said.

State tax revenue down for Oct., surplus for year on track to hit $30.1M

Idaho state tax revenues came in $10 million below projections in October, for a year-to-date $6.9 million below forecast, a 0.8 percent lag. After accounting for amounts the Legislature must reimburse deficiency accounts for fires, pests and hazardous material incidents, the state now looks on track to end the fiscal year with a $30.1 million balance, $25.7 million more than was anticipated when the legislative session adjourned last spring. You can read the DFM's general fund revenue report for October here, and the Legislature's General Fund Budget Monitor here; both look at the impact of the October numbers. In a few minutes, the Legislative Council will hear a state budget update from Cathy Holland-Smith, manager of budget and policy analysis.
  

Hammond: Let school districts decide how to distribute merit-pay bonus money

Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d'Alene, says he doesn't want teachers to lose the $38.8 million in performance-pay bonuses that the state is scheduled to send out to school districts on Nov. 15th - he just wants it distributed differently than the voter-rejected “Students Come First” laws required. “I would like to see it go to the base, and let the teachers negotiate with their local school boards for it,” Hammond said. “Because I think it's disingenuous … giving merit pay to people that don't deserve it. I don't want to do that to teachers.”

The law's initial bonuses, awarded to teachers based on last school year, are tied to student achievement increases for entire schools or for groups. As those receiving bonuses - and those not - were announced over the past week, there have been concerns raised around the state about schools not qualifying that in some cases have been recognized as outstanding but have high numbers of low-income and disadvantaged students; teachers in those schools won't get bonuses. In both Boise and Coeur d'Alene, that concern has prompted teachers to ponder pooling their bonus money to share some with teachers at those schools.

Hammond, a former school principal, said, “It's not that I'm against merit pay. But this isn't working, and we shouldn't do it. Let the local school districts work that out.” It's not clear whether the state has that option at this point; a legal opinion from the state Attorney General's office is due to the State Department of Education shortly.

Consultant: Long-term analysis shows big savings if Idaho expands Medicaid

Gov. Butch Otter's Medicaid expansion working group is receiving a report from consulting group  Milliman this morning on the potential impacts to the state. “On a purely financial basis, it would make sense to expand,” Justin Birrell of Milliman told the working group. “You save $6.5 million if you expand. It would cost you $284 million if you don't.” That's over a 10-1/2 year period starting in the second half of state fiscal year 2014. Added the firm's Ben Diederich, “The state and local offsets are what's very unique to Idaho.”

That's because of how Idaho currently funds health care for the indigent; through the state's medical indigency/Catastrophic Health Care program, the money comes entirely from the state general fund and from local property tax money. This afternoon, the working group is scheduled to decide on its recommendation to Otter on what the state should do; under the national health care reform law, states have the option of expanding their Medicaid programs largely at federal expense.

How does repeal of school measures affect $38.8M in bonuses? Answer still in works…

Legislative analyst Eric Milstead briefed lawmakers on how the repeal of the Students Come First law will work. “As of today, the Students Come First legislation is still in effect,” Milstead told the Legislative Council. “The Board of Canvassers will meet on Nov. 21 to certify the results of the election. Once they certify that, then the governor forthwith will issue a proclamation declaring the results of the election. Now, at that point, the Students Come First legislation is repealed.”

At that point he explained, “Each code provision that was amended two sessions ago will simply be replaced now by the version of those code sections that existed the day before Students Come First was enacted.” He distributed a list of 40 code sections that were amended by the laws, and now will revert to their former wording, or, for those sections that were created by the laws, will be repealed.

Lawmakers immediately asked: If the laws are in effect on Nov. 15th, the date that $38.8 million in performance-pay bonus money will be distributed to school districts, but not on Nov. 21st, can districts pay out those bonuses to the teachers who qualified for them based on measures their schools met last year? The answer wasn't clear, though Milstead noted that the law gives districts until December to pay the bonuses.

“The legal issue that you've posed is with regard to pay for performance, and I will tell you that our office is working with the superintendent,” said Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane. “We anticipate an answer to be forthcoming. We aren't prepared at this point to go on the record with our answer, but we are … working on it. That will be coming out shortly.”

One issue, Milstead noted, may be that teachers who earned the bonuses under the previous law that prompts the money to be sent to school districts may have a property right to those bonuses, even after the underlying law is repealed.

Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d'Alene, said, “I have a concern about the distribution moving forward as it is, because at least in Kootenai County, I'm running across instance after instance where the pay for performance is doing exactly the opposite of what it's intended to do, and that is, it's providing pay to undeserving staff, and limiting that additional pay to some of the best staff. And I've got precise examples of this. The problem is you can't say Miss Jones over here was the crappy teacher that is getting the raise that shouldn't. You can't publicly do that. But I know that that's the kind of thing that is occurring. So I was hoping to hear an answer that maybe the Legislature would actually kind of pull that back and deal with that in the new session.”

Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, strenuously objected to that idea. He said, “That was my  intent, to say where are we and what do we have to do to get the money in the hands of those who earned it.”

Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, asked whether the referenda made the laws “void ab initio,” or void from the beginning, as if they'd never been passed. Kane said no. “The law was in effect for a certain set amount of time, and then it's been subsequently repealed.” He said, “The best way to think of it is to think of the interim legislation as an overlay that we are now peeling off and taking back to 2010.”

Legislative leaders gather to review election result, look ahead to session…

The Legislative Council, the Legislature's leadership group that meets outside the legislative session, is gathered in the House Majority Caucus Room this morning; so far, it's heard reports on interim committees and task forces and discussed training sessions planned for new legislators this year - there are 33 out of 105. Plans include extensive new ethics training. Next up: A report from the Idaho Attorney General's office and legislative staff on the impact of voters' rejection of Propositions 1, 2 and 3, the school reform referenda.
  

Idaho Supreme Court pondering case that could limit death penalty appeals

The Idaho Supreme Court is deciding just how much of each death penalty case they must consider under Idaho's mandatory review law, and the ruling could dramatically change the landscape of capital punishment in Idaho, reports AP reporter Rebecca Boone. The issue came up in an eastern Idaho murder case; click below for Boone's full report.

No charges against ISU coach Kramer, player he shoved remains suspended

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: POCATELLO, Idaho (AP) ― Idaho prosecutors in Pocatello have decided not to file criminal charges against Idaho State football coach Mike Kramer after a player complained that the coach shoved him to the turf during practice. City Attorney Dean Tranmer called it a difficult decision but said investigators didn't believe Kramer had any intention of harming wide receiver Derek Graves or committing a criminal act. Tranmer says another factor was the 11 days that elapsed between when Graves was pushed on Oct. 3 and when he filed the police complaint. Another concern was that he released videotape of the altercation to ESPN. Graves hasn't played since late September and was suspended indefinitely last week for an unspecified violation of team rules. Click below for a full report from the AP.

Jury deadlocks in Bujak case

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  CALDWELL, Idaho (AP) ― Members of a southwestern Idaho jury decided they couldn't come to a unanimous decision on whether former Canyon County prosecutor John Bujak misused public funds. Jurors on Thursday told 3rd District Court Judge G.D. Carey that they were sharply divided over a verdict. Prosecutors say Bujak mishandled money from a contract to prosecute misdemeanors in Nampa. Bujak, who acted as his own attorney, countered during his trial that money exceeding the amount necessary to pay his county staff to cover Nampa cases belonged to him. With this deadlock, prosecutors must decide whether to abandon the case ― or try for a new trial. Bujak faces 14 years in prison, if convicted. He's facing other felony charges including grand theft at separate trials set for later this year.

Chewing over the election results…

I'll be on Idaho Public TV's “Dialogue” program tomorrow night, along with Greg Hahn, Gary Moncrief, and host Marcia Franklin, to discuss the election results. Among them: I've been looking at how we ended up with the exact same party split in the Legislature as before the election, 28 Republicans and 7 Democrats in the Senate, and 57 Republicans and 13 Democrats in the House.

Here's how: The Democrats picked up one seat in the House when Janie Ward-Engelking beat Julie Ellsworth. But that was offset by the Republicans' pickup of retiring Rep. Wendy Jaquet's seat in District 26, which was narrowly won by Steve Miller.

In the Senate, the Dems had a pickup when Branden Durst beat Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise. But the election of Rep. Jim Guthrie, R-McCammon, to the seat formerly held by Sen. Diane Bilyeu, D-Pocatello, was a pickup for the Republicans, offsetting the other one.

Dialogue airs Friday at 8 p.m.; there's more info here.
  

Idaho school reform combatants on both sides call for new start

Here's a link to my full day-after-the-election story at spokesman.com, on how after Idaho voters decisively rejected the “Students Come First” school reform laws on Tuesday, leaders on both sides were calling today for a new start on education reforms in Idaho, with all the stakeholders at the table.

Denney says he’ll ‘aggressively’ campaign for speaker despite Bedke challenge

House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, told Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey today that he's planning to “aggressively” campaign for another term as speaker - though popular Assistant majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, also is seeking the post. “The game is on,” Denney said. “We know the players.” The campaigning starts Sunday at the Legislature's North Idaho tour, which runs through Tuesday in Lewiston and Moscow and which nearly all lawmakers are expected to attend; you can read Popkey's full post here.

Labrador promises ‘bold actions and strong leadership’ in 2nd term

Idaho 1st District Congressman Raul Labrador has released a statement thanking supporters for his “resounding victory” in yesterday's election. “After the results of the national election, I know we are all wondering what to expect for America’s future,” he writes. “Well, you and I both know that the big problems we face will require bold actions and strong leadership. You can count on me to provide that leadership and to continue to fight for you and fight your family.”

Otter: ‘We’re prepared to sit down and find a path forward with all the stakeholders’

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter spoke with reporters this afternoon about the election results, and he said the call from “Students Come First” opponents to begin new talks with all stakeholders about school reform is “exactly what I want to do.”

“I think the interest that was shown on both sides, and what we heard on both sides, gives us a good opportunity to start developing, with everybody, a concurrent plan that we can go forward with,” Otter said. “I think everybody does realize, whether they voted for or against the propositions, that our old education system is simply not working. We're not graduating students in many cases that are ready for college, not ready for the wonderful world of work or careers. … I talked to some of the leadership this morning and we're prepared to sit down and find a path forward with all of the stakeholders.”

Otter said he'd be opposed to trying to just re-pass the same laws the voters have rejected. “That isn't a course that I think is positive, that isn't a course that I think would be productive,” he said. “I do think what we need to do is take each prop, each idea of reform, and sit down and say, 'What did you like about it? What didn't you like about it? If you had a chance to change it, how would you change it?' And those things that we can agree on, and each and every one of those … is what we ought to go forward with.”

Unlike Otter, Luna didn't talk to the press today. Asked about Luna's sentiments, Otter said, “I sense that he believes this is a new beginning on education reform, and that we're going to have to go forward.”

The governor said, “There is something we ought to be celebrating today, and that is the big turnout that we had in Idaho. … But we also need to celebrate the independence of the Idaho voter. The Idaho voter isn't going to be led anyplace without some rational thought on their own, without some investigation on their own. I have been the benefactor of that, and in some cases I haven't benefited so much from it. But I still love the independence, and I celebrate their independence today.”

He added, “I want to concentrate right now on the path forward. I want to vet that through the (legislative) leadership, say what can we accomplish, and how quick  can we accomplish that, and who do we have to have in the room to accomplish it.”

Goedde ponders whether to continue as Senate Ed chair or not…

Coeur d'Alene Sen. John Goedde, who's just won re-election to a seventh term in the Senate, says he may or may not continue as the Senate Education Committee chairman. “I would be in line to take the Commerce & Human Resources chairmanship, and that's something that I spent … years being involved with as a small businessman,” said Goedde, an insurance agent. “And I would not have the hassle of dealing with the leadership of the IEA there.”

Clearly stung by the defeat of Propositions 1, 2 and 3, the “Students Come First” school reform measures - of which Goedde was the lead legislative sponsor and which the Idaho Education Association opposed - he said he'll “withhold judgment on how serious the IEA is on looking at education reform” until he sees what vision the teachers union proposes for future reform. “If the union is sincere in looking at reform, I think they need to be included,” Goedde said. “But if it's going to be 'not only no but hell no,' which has kind of been their prior approach to this, then it's a futile effort to include them.”

Goedde said by seniority, if he were to leave the education chairmanship, the next person eligible would be Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, who now chairs the Resources Committee. And if he didn't want to, the next would be Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, who now serves in leadership as caucus chairman.

Goedde said, “But with that said, I also made a commitment that I'd see this reform through the end, and I don't know that I can jump ship mid-term.” Goedde said, “I spoke with the pro-tem this morning, and I'll speak with him again at the legislative tour.” Lawmakers will gather for their North Idaho Legislative Tour starting on Sunday; it's in Moscow and Lewiston this year. The three-day event will be the first chance for jockeying to begin for leadership races; it'll also be the first chance for lawmakers to chew over the election result together. “We need to sit down as a majority caucus and talk about where we go from here,” Goedde said.

Farris says he’ll run against Labrador again in 2014

1st Congressional District Democratic candidate Jimmy Farris, who polled 30.8 percent to GOP Rep. Raul Labrador's 63 percent in the final, unofficial results, has released this statement:

“I want to thank the many people who put their faith in me and honored me with their vote. Their support was invaluable and I look forward to adding to their numbers in the next campaign. Running a campaign is not an easy task, but this was just the beginning. We learned a great deal and made major inroads this time around, and we are ready to continue building on what we started. Next time we have to work harder and smarter – it’s going to be a challenge, but we will not turn back now.

“We still need to end the gridlock and division that has crippled Congress. We brought a lot of issues to the forefront in this campaign, and when Congressman Labrador returns to Washington, we will be watching to make sure he is doing his job. “I am committed to devoting myself to public service and to giving the First District the representation it deserves. Our next journey starts today. We are headed full steam ahead towards a victory in 2014.”

Contract: No cost to state now that Prop 3 voted down

I've had several inquiries from readers concerned that now that voters have rejected Proposition 3, that the state would face costs related to the now-canceled $182 million laptop contract with Hewlett-Packard. I can verify that according to H-P's Business and Scope of Work Proposal, which is included in the contract as Exhibit D, the state is not required to make any payments.

Bidders were asked to outline early termination costs if Prop 3 didn't pass. H-P said the cost would be zero, as its period of performance for the contract wouldn't begin until the day after the election. It's in Exhibit D on page 102-3; you can read those two pages here. It says, “With a projected start date after November 6, HP anticipates that there will be no lease funding necessary as no notebook units would have shipped or have been accepted prior to the Proposition 3 ballot in November 2012. Hewlett-Packard will not fund any Lease Schedule under the Master Agreement until and unless Proposition 3 has been approved by Idaho voters in November, 2012.”

Johnson’s takeaways: Historic election ‘will be hashed over for years’

Marc Johnson's “The Johnson Post” offers five takeaways from yesterday's election, including  a dose of Idaho historical perspective, some demographics, impacts for the two senior members of the state's congressional delegation, and how the election leaves Idaho balanced on its own “cliff,” this one involving health insurance. You can read it here. Johnson calls yesterday “a truly historic day,” saying, “This one will be hashed over for years.”
  

Otter on school reform: ‘The public conversation isn’t over, it’s only begun’

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter issued this statement today on the voters' rejection of Propositions 1, 2, and 3, the “Students Come First” school reform measures:

“The people have spoken, so I’m not discouraged. That’s how our system works. But it’s important to remember that the public conversation that began almost two years ago isn’t over – it’s only begun. Our workforce, our communities and most of all our students still deserve better, and our resources are still limited. We offered these reforms not because we sought change for change’s sake, but because change is needed to afford our young people the opportunities they deserve now and for decades to come. That’s as true today as it was yesterday, so our work for a brighter and better future continues.”

‘We want to sit down with our elected leaders, and that includes Supt. Luna’

Mike Lanza, a Boise father of two who chaired the “No on Props 1,2,3” campaign, said today, “I first got involved in this effort because I have a couple of elementary kids and that was my entire motivation for getting involved. … This election was not a vote against better schools, quite to the contrary. This outcome was a statement by voters that we care very deeply about Idaho's public schools.” He said, “Let's be clear about the mandate from voters,” listing five points:

* “Idaho's voters believe in local control of public schools and reject any top-down, one-size-fits-all mandates from the state.”
* “We believe that every student deserves to have an excellent teacher, and reject the notion of cutting teachers and increasing class sizes in order to pay for unproven technological education fixes.”
* “We believe in the fundamental fairness of a collaborative benefit for everyone of giving our teachers a full voice in how our schools are managed, through the local negotiations process, including on matters beyond pay and benefits.”
* “We believe we should invest in the classroom and reject the idea than an unfunded and unproven merit pay plan can improve student achievement.”
* “And we believe that all stakeholders in education should be brought to the table to engage in a real and an honest process of figuring out how to improve Idaho's public schools.”

Said Lanza, “Most of all in this election, voters said overwhelmingly our elected leaders must be held accountable to the public.” At that point, he was interrupted by applause. “We want to sit down with our elected leaders, and that includes Supt. Luna,” Lanza said, “and begin the hard work that is required to forge real education reform.”

Maria Greeley, a Boise mom and co-founder of the campaign with Lanza, said, “The Luna laws were divisive and destructive, but there is a positive outcome. We have learned how important it is for all citizens to remain engaged in education. We know what we don't want, and by contrast, we have learned what we do want. We want transparency. We want collaboration. We want politics kept out of education. We want the input from our educators. We want our locally elected school boards to determine what is best for each district. And we want to know that our teachers are valued. It is now time to start healing and moving forward.”
  

IEA chief: ‘Together we can be a model of reform for the nation’

Leaders of the successful campaign to overturn state schools Superintendent Tom Luna's “Students Come First” school reform laws gathered in front of Boise High School today to talk about what's next. “This debate has never been about union control of schools,” said Penni Cyr, president of the Idaho Education Association, and also a mother of four and 28-year teacher in the Moscow School District. “This debate has been about what's best for the students, educators and Idaho's public schools.” She added, “Now that the voters have spoken, it's up to us, the adults, to model … for our students how grownups with diverse views can come together and put their differences aside and go forward. … I urge lawmakers and other elected leaders and policy makers to meet us at the table, to begin the conversation about what is best for Idaho's students and Idaho's schools. We believe that together we can be a model of reform for the nation.”

Luna: ‘I do not believe any Idahoan wants to go back to system we had 2 years ago’

After all three of his “Students Come First” school reform measures were soundly defeated by Idaho voters yesterday, state schools Superintendent Tom Luna issued this statement this morning:

“I still believe that Idahoans want better schools through education reform. I still believe that empowering local school boards, phasing out tenure, giving parents input on evaluations, helping students take dual credit, paying teachers for more than just years of experience and amount of education, and making sure every classroom is a 21st  Century Classroom are critical if we want an education system that meets the needs of every child. We have now had a 22-month discussion about what this should look like. I understand Idahoans have expressed concerns, yet I do not believe any Idahoan wants to go back to the status quo system we had two years ago. I am as committed as anyone to finding a way to make this happen. We must find a way because our children’s future is at stake.”
  

More election results…

Other results from last night, with 99% of the vote counted:

SJR 102, county probation services amendment: 74.4% yes, 25.6% no
HJR2aa, right to fish, hunt and trap: 73.4% yes, 26.6% no

Every incumbent state legislator in districts 1-5 who faced a challenge was re-elected. That includes Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens; Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene; Rep. Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d'Alene; Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow; and Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow. Republican Ed Morse defeated Democratic opponent Dan English to hold Phil Hart's old House seat in District 2; newcomer Luke Malek, a Republican, won the seat formerly held by Rep. Marge Chadderdon, R-Coeur d'Alene; and in a close contest, Republican Cindy Agidius defeated Democrat Paulette Jordan, 50.3% to 49.7%, for an open House seat in District 5.

In District 6, appointed Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, turned back a challenge from former District Judge John Bradbury, 44.6% to 55.4%. And in the new District 7, Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, defeated independent Jon Cantamessa, 63.8% to 36.2%.

There were few legislative upsets statewide, but among them were two in District 18: Democratic former Rep. Branden Durst defeated Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise; and Democrat Janie Ward-Engelking defeated Rep. Julie Ellsworth, R-Boise. Republicans held the District 15 Senate seat, as former U.S. Attorney Betty Richardson was edged by Republican Fred Martin, 52.1% to 47.9%; the GOP held all three seats in that district. Democrats held all three seats in Districts 16 and 17. Dems also held all three seats in District 29 in Pocatello.

Overall, the party split in the Legislature remained the same, with 7 Democrats and 28 Republicans in the Senate, and 13 Democrats and 57 Republicans in the House. That means the R's stil hold 81 percent of the seats in the Idaho Legislature.

All three school reform measures fail

With 93 percent of the vote counted, all three “Students Come First” school reform measures are being soundly defeated. That means the laws passed amid much controversy in 2011 are repealed. Here's where they stand:

Proposition 1: 42.8% yes, 57.2% no
Proposition 2: 42.1 percent yes, 57.9 percent no
Proposition 3: 33.4 percent yes, 66.6 percent no

Voters appear to be rejecting school reform referendum measures

Idaho's dominant Republican establishment appeared headed for a rare rebuke from voters Tuesday, as  school-reform measures pushed hard by state schools Superintendent Tom Luna and GOP Gov. Butch Otter trailed at the polls at press time. The three measures, Propositions 1, 2 and 3, became the hottest election issue in Idaho this year, eclipsing even the presidential race - which was a foregone conclusion for Idaho's four electoral votes in the heavily GOP state that strongly favored Mitt Romney.

Luna called the measures “by far the most important choice on education that many of us will make in our lifetime,” and Otter called them “very important.” On election night, Otter told The Spokesman-Review, “We'll go back, get our heads together in the Legislature, and see where we go from there.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Labrador holds big lead in bid for 2nd term; Simpson has 68%

Freshman GOP Congressman Raul Labrador appears headed toward a second term, with a big lead over Democratic challenger Jimmy Farris and two other candidates. With 34 percent of the vote in the 1st Congressional District counted, Labrador had 64 percent to Farris' 31 percent. Libertarian Rob Oates had 3 percent, and “Pro-Life,” formerly known as Marvin Richardson, had 2 percent.

Labrador, a former state lawmaker and attorney, has made a name for himself in his first term as a tea party favorite and hard-line conservative. “Washington has not changed me,” he declared during his campaign.

Farris, a former NFL football player and Lewiston native who was making his first run for office, said, “I'm pleased with the campaign we ran. I feel like I was able to … give people a choice.”

Farris said he's likely to run for office again in two years.

Meanwhile, in the 2nd Congressional District race, with 47 percent of the vote counted, GOP Rep. Mike Simpson had 68 percent to Democratic challenger Nicole LeFavour's 32 percent.

With 20% of vote counted, all three school reform measures still trail

With 20 percent of the vote counted, all three school reform referendum measures continue to trail, with Proposition 3, the technology measure, faring the worst, losing 64.1 to 35.9 percent. Here's the current tally:

Proposition 1: 45.3 percent yes, 54.7 percent no
Proposition 2: 44.5 percent yes, 55.5 percent no
Proposition 3: 35.9 percent yes, 64.1 percent no

South Dakota voters overwhelmingly reject school reform referendum measure

South Dakota, like Idaho, also had a referendum measure on its ballot regarding teacher contracts; that state's measure asked voters whether they wanted to keep a law their Legislature passed phasing out tenure and imposing a merit-pay bonus system along with a scholarship program. With more than 85 percent of the vote counted there, South Dakota voters are overwhelmingly rejecting the propositions; just 32 percent voted yes, 68 percent no.

School reform opponents: ‘An affirmation’

Opponents of the “Students Come First” school reform measures are celebrating at their own election-night party at the Red Lion Downtowner hotel. The early numbers show a win for the opponents.

“If we pull this off, it's going to be an affirmation of what we've believed since the 2011 session,” said Mike Lanza, chairman of the “Vote No on Props 1,2,3” campaign, shown here discussing the latest results with Boise City Councilwoman Lauren McLean. “The public didn't buy any of the case that Superintendent Luna made for these laws,” Lanza said, “and didn't trust that they were best for our schools.”

A Boise father who hadn't been active in politics before the referendum campaign, Lanza said, “We'll be ready to bring everybody together and have a real and honest conversation about what our schools need and how we can make them better. It has to be based on hard data and things that really work, and not just ideology and things that sound good to some people.”

Idaho Dems celebrate, pool beckons…

At the Idaho Democrats' election-night watch party, the festivities spill into several rooms, including the pool deck at the Boise Hotel & Conference Center, formerly the Holiday Inn. The Dems are celebrating the re-election of President Barack Obama, who's defeated GOP challenger Mitt Romney.

A jubilant Branden Durst, who held the lead in early returns in his own challenge to Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise, said, “I've already committed that if my CD1 precincts come out over 40 percent in my favor, I will jump in the pool in my full suit.”

He sheepishly admitted, however, that “they're awful for me.” Durst is trying again to beat Toryanski, who narrowly beat him two years ago in Boise's District 18, which has some precincts in the 1st Congressional District and some in the 2nd CD.

School reform measures trailing in early results

The very first smattering of election results has come in, and with just 9 of 967 precincts reporting, all three “Students Come First” school reform propositions are trailing. The early tally:

Proposition 1:   46.1% yes, 53.9% no

Proposition 2: 44% yes, 56% no

Proposition 3: 35.1% yes, 64.4% no

Party faithful gather, await results…

It's early yet, but folks are gathering at both the Idaho Democratic Party election-night watch party at the Boise Hotel and Conference Center, and at the Riverside Hotel, where the Idaho Republican Party is holding its election-night watch party. Gov. Butch Otter welcomed the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd at the Riverside, saying, “What a great crowd - enthusiasm, lot of energy. I wish I was running for something.” Amid laughter, turning to his wife, Lori, he said, “Oh, we are, that's right - the first lady just reminded me.”

Otter isn't up for election this year, but has been saying he'll seek a third term as governor in 2014. Otter told the GOP faithful, “The Republican Party will continue to be strong. We don't know all the results yet tonight, but I can tell you one thing, there isn't a party that tried harder, there isn't a party that worked harder, and there isn't a party that's gonna win bigger than we are tonight here in Idaho.”

The GOP crowd is shoulder-to-shoulder, and the room's plenty loud; on top of all the conversation, young musicians from the Idaho Arts Charter School's electric orchestra are entertaining with an upbeat selection for electric violin, viola, cello and more.

Idahoans turn out at the polls…

Love this AP photo by Adam Eschbach of the Idaho Press-Tribune, showing Dora Winter of Nampa after an “I Voted” sticker was placed on her forehead at her polling place, Karcher Church of the Nazarene, today. Idahoans are voting in great numbers today, in addition to those who already voted early. Tallying up all the votes statewide could take all night, maybe even into tomorrow…

Time to vote…

There was a half-hour wait to vote at my polling place this morning; one guy ahead of me in line gave up and left. A young mom with first-grader in tow waited all the way through the line, only to find out she wasn't in the book, though this was where she'd always voted; after much scrutinizing of maps, she was sent to a different polling place. There's high interest in today's election; many people's polling places have changed due to redistricting (mine had). You can confirm your polling place online before you go by going to www.idahovotes.gov and entering your address.

Lines are likely today if you go during the busiest times - before work, during the noon hour, or after 5, so allow time. (Oddly, at my polling place, the line was much longer for those whose names begin with A though L - I was one of the lucky M-through-Z'ers). And the ballot itself is quite long - two full legal-sized pages, front and back.

Gary Moncrief, a Boise State University political scientist who studies elections, said, “Turnout is going to be huge.” Asked his advice to voters, Moncrief said, “Bring a lunch - bring a snack. You may be in line a long time.”
  

Election could make history, as more states turn to voter referendum measures

This is apparently the year of the referendum across the nation - the National Conference of State Legislatures reports that there are more popular referenda on the ballot this year than any year since 1920. (There are also 42 initiatives, which are laws proposed by citizens and are much more common; referenda are laws passed by the Legislature that the citizens challenge at the ballot box.) Nationwide, 12 referenda are on state ballots, including the three in Idaho, Propositions 1, 2 and 3 regarding the “Students Come First” school reform laws.

The referenda in other states include two testing laws that legalize gay marriage (Washington and Maryland); two challenging redistricting plans (California and Maryland); one (Montana) challenging legislative limits on a voter-passed medical marijuana initiative; and one (South Dakota) that, like Idaho's, tests a new law changing teacher contract laws and imposing merit pay. The 12 referenda on the ballot this year compare to just one two years ago; two in 2008; four in 2006 and two in 2004. “This year's number stands out,” writes NCSL analyst Jennie Drage Bowser.

The measures also are extremely rare in Idaho. Idaho has had just four previous referendum measures on its ballot since statehood. They included one challenging the Legislature's repeal of a term limits initiative in 2002; one testing the right-to-work law in 1986; one testing the new 3 percent sales tax in 1966; and one challenging a new 2 percent sales tax in 1935. Only the 1935 measure succeeded in overturning the legislatively passed law. If some or all of this year's Idaho referendum measures succeed in overturning the school reform laws, it'd make history in a big way.

Bowser writes that this year's big spate of referenda across the country is related to the current political polarization in American government and its electorate - and that if this year's measures are successful, more could follow. “Whatever the future holds for this often-neglected process,” she writes, “its heavy use this year certainly provides an engaging case study of direct democracy in action.”

In statewide mock election, Idaho students pick Romney, reject school reform measures

In the fourth Idaho Student Mock Election, high school seniors across the state cast online ballots last week, and today the results are out: The students narrowly picked Mitt Romney for president and backed two state constitutional amendments, but overwhelmingly turned thumbs down on the three school reform measures, Propositions 1, 2 and 3, rejecting Proposition 3 by 81 percent.

Students at 36 schools cast ballots, from Grangeville to Homedale, from Sandpoint to Wendell. Among the schools where seniors cast ballots in their high school government classes were Bishop Kelly High School in Boise, Cambridge Junior/Senior High School, Eagle Academy and Coeur d'Alene High; a total of 1,745 ballots were cast.

“It's a practical exercise in participation,” said Jim Mairs, Help America Vote Act coordinator for the Idaho Secretary of State's office. “That's the whole purpose of it.” The Idaho Student Mock Election is conducted by the Secretary of State's office in coordination with the State Department of Education; information is sent out to all the senior high school government and social studies teachers in the state, who have the option of registering their students to participate. Students vote in class on school computers. “We try and make it a really good teaching moment, as they call it in the Department of Education,” Mairs said. “We put in everything about the propositions, all the links. If they want to read the law, they can read it.”

The whole thing becomes “a very practical civics lesson,” Mairs said. “This is what happens when you vote, and here's where you can find some information about some of these things. Hopefully that rubs off on some of these younger voters.”

Four years ago, Idaho students backed Barack Obama for president in the mock election, but this time, he garnered just 42.9 percent support from the students, while Republican challenger Mitt Romney won with 49.9 percent. Libertarian Gary Johnson got 4.4 percent; and Green Party candidate Jill Stein got 1.3 percent;  while independent Rocky Anderson had 1 percent and Constitution Party candidate Virgil Goode trailed with 0.5 percent.

On the school reform propositions, students rejected Proposition 1, curbing teachers' collective bargaining rights, 72 percent to 28 percent; rejected Proposition 2, a teacher merit-pay bonus plan, 75-25; and said no to Proposition 3, regarding school technology, laptop computers and online learning, 81-19 percent.

The students backed both SJR 102, a one-word change to the state Constitution regarding county management of misdemeanor probation services, and HJR2aa, adding a right to hunt, fish and trap to the Idaho Constitution, by 69 percent each. They also cast ballots on congressional races, picking Republican Rep. Mike Simpson in the 2nd District race over Democratic challenger  Nicole LeFavour, 59-41; and choosing GOP Rep. Raul Labrador, 49.7 percent, over challengers Jimmy Farris, Democrat, 31.2; Pro-Life, independent, 9.6; and Rob Oates, Libertarian, 9.5.

Idahoans riled up and ready to vote, big turnout expected

Idaho voters are riled up and ready to vote, with a contentious school-reform debate reverberating in the state's airwaves and decisions looming on every seat in the Legislature, key local races, two constitutional amendments, Congress and more. Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa is predicting that 78 percent of the state's registered voters will cast ballots, and forecasting a long night of ballot-counting before final results are tallied. Some large counties have advised election-night workers their shifts could run to 5 a.m. the next day.

“Early voting has been heavy,” Ysursa said. “Certainly we think the presidential year obviously drives turnout - Gov. (Mitt) Romney's very strong in this state. And it's obvious Propositions 1, 2 and 3, with the campaign spending getting these messages out, is going to be a catalyst for turnout.” You can read my full story here, advancing Tuesday's election, from Sunday's Spokesman-Review; and here's a link to my Sunday column on laptop-funding math.
  

Idaho’s school-reform hot potato…

I was contacted in April by State Legislatures Magazine, which is published by the National Conference of State Legislatures, about writing a piece about Idaho's school-reform fight for their fall issue, a big-picture piece looking at how the reforms came to be introduced, what they do, the players supporting and opposed to the changes, and how the politics played out in Boise that led to the measures passing the Legislature. I don't often do freelance work (no time), but this seemed worthwhile, my newspaper approved, and I agreed. I took a week's vacation to do the interviews, and filed the story in June. It's now out, and at this point, from the thick of the campaign, it's interesting to step back and look at this whole thing from a big-picture perspective.

The article is headed, “A Bold Approach to School Reform: Sweeping changes to Idaho’s education policy turned into a hot potato issue that’s landed in the voters’ laps.” You can read it here.
  

Ad Watch: Latest school reform commercial echoes earlier one

The latest TV commercial in favor of Propositions 1, 2 and 3 comes from “Yes for Idaho Education,” and features a message strikingly similar to that in a September statewide ad from “Parents for Education Reform.” The look is different, with video of teachers and kids in class, and there's different music, but the message is the same; it pulls out a feel-good item from each of the three complex measures and touts it as what the propositions will do. It does add in a jab at the “national teachers union” that was missing from the earlier ad. “It is essentially the same general positive message we’ve had in initial TV, in radio ads, and on our direct mail absentee chase,” said Ken Burgess, spokesman for the “Yes” campaign.

Click below to compare the wording of the new “Yes” ad and the previous ad from PFER, which was the group that placed the ads funded by secret contributions to Education Voters of Idaho; you can read my fact-check story here from Sept. 28, which was headed, “Ad touting school reforms tells just part of story.”

The  new “Yes” ad is running only in the Boise, Twin Falls, and Idaho Falls/Pocatello markets, Burgess said, adding, “We've left the Gov. Otter ad in place for our full run in Spokane.”

‘Buyout’ clause in laptop contract is not just a contingency, it’s a required cost

It turns out that the “buyout” clause in the $182 million laptop contract is not what the State Department of Education originally described - a  cost that “is only paid if the contract is severed for some reason” and “may or may not be paid.” In response to my repeated inquiries, after I found no reference to such an early-cancellation buyout fee in the contract, SDE spokeswoman Melissa McGrath told me this afternoon, “That would be my error.” Instead, the “buyout” clause is the amount the state would have to pay at the end of the contract term - after it's run its full eight years - to buy out the remaining years in the four-year leases on the laptops, for those with years remaining. That means it's definitely a cost that will remain part of the total.

I'm still awaiting answers as to why the amount estimated by the department, $14.2 million, doesn't match up to the amount of remaining lease payments times the number of units, which comes to $21.9 million. If that's the required buyout at the end of the term, the total contract cost is nearly $190 million - $189,687,228 - not the $181,935,125 the department estimates.

McGrath said the difference in amount comes because the state is scheduled to pay the laptop leases in two semi-annual installments each year, with the two payments together totaling $292.77 per unit per year. “The $14.2 million figure was an estimate HP provided for us,” McGrath said in an email. “The $21 million calculation would have been based on the full cost of the buyout, yet since the state is doing semi-annual payments with HP, it will only pay half of these costs at the end of 8 years.”

Here's my problem with that logic: Whether you pay in two installments or a single piece, you still pay the same amount. The state's estimates show no additional payment in Year 8 for the first half of the buyouts; costs for Year 8 are estimated at $26,459,382, the exact same amount as for years 4, 5, 6 and 7 of the contract, an amount that's exactly equal to the estimated 90,376 laptops times $292.77.

McGrath, who is checking back once again with the SDE's accounting department and will get back to me, said, “I believe either it's already factored in or it's not getting paid. This is the full amount of the contract.”

Incidentally, the contract also allows for up to a 4 percent increase in the $292.77 rate after the first four years, if HP can provide “full justification as to why the adjustment is necessary.” If that full 4 percent increase were approved at that point, it would add another $4.2 million to cost of the eight-year contract.

ISU coach Kramer suspends player he shoved

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: POCATELLO, Idaho (AP) ― Idaho State coach Mike Kramer has suspended a player who complained Kramer pushed him to the ground during practice on Oct. 3. Idaho State officials confirmed Thursday that Kramer suspended wide receiver Derek Graves for violating team rules. Graves told ESPN he was suspended indefinitely for being late for practice. His attorney, Donald Jackson, said he considers the suspension to be retaliation by Kramer for Graves' pursuit of criminal charges. He also said his client hasn't been medically cleared to practice after suffering a neck injury when he was pushed. Idaho State suspended Kramer for last weekend's game at Montana for violating the university's conduct policy. The Idaho State Journal reports school officials say it will be up to Kramer whether Graves is allowed back on the team.

‘Idaho Reports’ looks at ballot measures tonight

Idaho Public TV's “Idaho Reports” program will air an election special tonight focusing on the ballot measures before Idaho voters on Tuesday. Greg Hahn is the host, and he'll interview state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna and Centennial High School teacher Cindy Wilson on the school reform referenda. Also, I'll join Greg and a pundits panel that also includes Michelle Edmonds from Today's 6/Fox9 and Kevin Richert from the Idaho Statesman to discuss the ballot measures. The show starts at 8:30 p.m.; there's more info here.

School reform campaign spending sets a record - or does it?

Idaho's fight over three school-reform ballot measures has set a record for campaign spending on ballot measures in straight dollars, reports Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey, eclipsing the 1986 battle in which voters affirmed the Legislature's passage of the Right to Work law. Between all the different groups involved in the school reform campaign, including independent expenditures, Popkey calculates that the opponents have raised $3.6 million and backers $2.6 million, a total of $6.2 million.

In 1986, unions opposed to the Right to Work law spent $2.8 million on the campaign to overturn it, while backers of the law spent $1.167 million to defend it, a total of just under $4 million; 54 percent of voters backed the law. You can read  Popkey's full post here.

If inflation since 1986 is taken into account, however, the 1986 battle still ranks as Idaho's biggest. Using the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator, which is based on the Consumer Price Index, the $3.967 million spent that year would equal $8.376 million in today's 2012 dollars.

So who did all this giving this time around? The biggest giver among proponents is eastern Idaho millionaire Frank VanderSloot. Between VanderSloot's independent expenditures and his donations to various groups campaigning in favor of Propositions 1, 2 and 3, the Melaleuca owner so far has spent $1.4 million, and he told Popkey, “I'm not done yet.”

On the “no” side, the biggest giver has been the National Education Association, which has donated $2.8 million so far. Second-biggest is the Idaho Education Association, which has kicked in $601,068, including $495,971 to the “No” campaign and another $105,097 to the group “Idaho Republicans for our Schools,” which is running radio ads against the measures. The “No” campaign also has received $36,500 from the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center in Washington, D.C.; $10,000 from Anthony Balukoff; $5,000 from the Pacific Northwest Regional Carpenters Union; and a slew of much smaller donations from individuals in Idaho. The campaign filed 44 pages listing hundreds of small donations from individuals, some as small as $3 apiece; the law requires disclosure only of donations of more than $50.

On the “Yes” side, the money has flowed through the official “Yes for Idaho Education” campaign, which reported raising $950,974, with VanderSloot's Melaleuca as its biggest giver at $604,500; and three other groups: the Idaho Federation of Republican Women, which got all its $428,000 from VanderSloot; Education Voters of Idaho, which revealed yesterday that the biggest givers in its $641,160 in fundraising were Albertson's heir Joe Scott, $250,000, and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, $200,000; and Parents for Education Reform, a group related to EVI that raised $150,000, including $100,000 from Students First, a Sacramento, Calif.-based group headed by former Washington, D.C. public schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, and $50,000 from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which also gave $50,000 to the official “Yes” campaign.

You can see all the campaign finance reports on the Secretary of State's website here. They're listed variously under Party Committees, Measure and Miscellaneous Committees, and Independent Expenditures and Electioneering Communications. The final pre-general election reporting period ended Oct. 21, but large amounts donated after that must be reported within 48 hours in separate 48-hour reports that show up on the same website.
  

Hagadone gave openly to school overhaul campaign, then took it back and gave secretly

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― Amid a campaign secrecy dustup, millionaire Idaho businessman Duane Hagadone took back money from a group that was reporting it publicly and gave it to another that fought to keep its donors hidden. On Aug. 6, Hagadone gave $15,000 to Yes for Education, a political action committee campaigning to preserve public schools chief Tom Luna's education overhaul at the ballot box Nov. 6. On Aug. 14, the PAC returned Hagadone's $15,000, according to records filed with the Idaho secretary of state's office. Weeks later, on Sept. 24, he gave $15,000 to Education Voters of Idaho, a group that sought to keep its contributors secret but was forced by a judge Wednesday to reveal financiers, including Hagadone. Hagadone didn't immediately return an e-mail on Thursday seeking comment on his campaign spending.

Ad Watch: Otter steps forward in latest school reform ad

The latest campaign ad in Idaho's school reform fight features Gov. Butch Otter endorsing Propositions 1, 2 and 3 in a positive, feel-good message. “Education in Idaho is at a crossroads,” the casually dressed governor says in the commercial, which is running statewide, including in the Spokane-Coeur d'Alene market. “This election year we're being asked whether we will keep meaningful education reforms on the books or go back to the old way of doing things.”

The “old way of doing things” refers to Idaho's laws prior to 2011, when lawmakers enacted the reforms that restricted teachers' collective bargaining rights, imposed a new merit-pay bonus system, and required big technology boosts including laptop computers for high school students and a new focus on online learning. “It paints the opposition as being reactionaries, going back to the old ways, which is kind of funny,” said Jim Weatherby, emeritus professor of public policy at Boise State University. “It's a pretty positive message.”

The ad is sponsored by “Yes for Idaho Education,” the official campaign group backing the three measures. Opponents of the laws collected thousands of signatures to force a voter referendum on the laws; a yes vote would keep them, while a no vote would repeal them. Ken Burgess, spokesman for the Yes campaign, said the idea behind the ad was partly to defuse ire aimed against state Superintendent Tom Luna, the author of the laws. “All this issue about these things being called the 'Luna laws' - we just want to remind everybody from a leadership, statesman standpoint that the governor was as much responsible for this stuff certainly as Tom Luna,” Burgess said.  You can read my full story here at spokesman.com, examining the claims in the ad.

Documents describe McGee’s conduct in sexual harassment case

Documents obtained by the Associated Press reveal the most detail to date about the conduct of former state Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, in the sexual harassment case that led to his resignation from the Senate. They include descriptions of McGee engaging in sexually inappropriate behavior in his Capitol office and pressing a young female staffer for sex. Click below for the full report from AP reporter John Miller. McGee resigned from office rather than face a full ethics inquiry; the case also was referred to law enforcement, and he served jail time after a conviction for disturbing the peace of a person, a misdemeanor. McGee apologized in court at his sentencing hearing on Aug. 21.

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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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