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Eye On Boise

Archive for April 2013

Five state cabin sites draw conflict bids

Four cabin owners on state-owned leased land at Priest Lake, and one at Payette Lake, have drawn conflict bidders who want to bid against them in the fall for the right to continue leasing the ground under their cabins. It’s the first time in decades that Idaho has faced that situation on its state-owned cabin sites on scenic Priest and Payette lakes; for years, a state law has protected the lessees from conflicting bids at lease renewal time, but the Idaho Supreme Court overturned that law in July as unconstitutional.

“The high bidder, if it’s not the current lessee, would have to pay the value of the improvements before they left the auction,” said Tom Schultz, director of the Idaho Department of Lands. “The current lessee could be the high bidder, or the conflictor could be the high bidder.”

After years of struggle over whether the rents charged for the lake cabin sites met the state’s constitutional requirement to manage its land endowment for the maximum long-term return to the endowment’s beneficiaries – the largest of which is Idaho’s public schools – the state’s moving toward getting out of the cabin-site business. But it still has 354 at Priest Lake and at least 150 at Payette Lake, and every one of those has its lease expiring Dec. 31.

As of Tuesday’s deadline – 5 p.m. Boise time – 343 of the 354 lessees at Priest Lake had applied to renew their leases, or 97 percent; and 134 of the 150 at Payette Lake had done the same, at 89 percent. The fate of the 11 other lots at Priest Lake and the 16 at Payette Lake is uncertain, but Schultz said some of those involve lessees who already were behind on their rent or otherwise in default on their leases.

Over the coming years – and even as soon as this summer - the state will look at land exchanges, auctions and other moves to protect endowment income and get the state out of the business of being a landlord for people’s longtime lake houses. That could allow some of the existing lessees to buy the land under their cabins. But for now, a small number of them could face competitors to keep the plots. “If you’re a lessee, you probably don’t look at it as a good thing,” Schultz said. “If you’re the state, it says at least on those sites, at that value, someone is willing to want to acquire that for that value. To me that’s a positive.”

The five cabin owners who are the targets of the conflict bids haven’t yet been identified; the state will begin notifying them Wednesday. If they successfully complete land exchanges or voluntary auctions to remove the lots from state ownership by October, they could avoid the conflict auctions. Otherwise, the conflict auctions for the right to lease those lots will be scheduled in the fall. Bids start at $1,000 for the right to take over the lease at the existing lease rate; the high bidder wins. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Court rejects worker’s comp claim for psych damage from man who fell into fryer

A restaurant worker who fell into a deep fat fryer and was severely burned can't claim worker's compensation benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder, for which he sought treatment two years after the accident, the Idaho Supreme Court has ruled. Justice Warren Jones, writing for a unanimous court, wrote that the worker didn't prove that his psychological trauma was caused predominantly by the accident with the fryer, and noted that he'd had other stresses in his life as well. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Idaho nonprofits gear up for first statewide ‘Idaho Gives’ day on Thurs.

Hundreds of Idaho nonprofits are gearing up for the first “Idaho Gives” day on Thursday, a statewide fundraising blitz for charity spearheaded by the Idaho Nonprofit Center and sponsored by St. Luke’s Idaho Health System and Idaho Central Credit Union. The effort is modeled after giving days in other states, and centers around the idahogives.org website, where donors all day will be able to select from among more than 500 causes as they make their donations.

The event also includes an array of activities around the state, including open houses, community celebrations, block parties and more; there’s a full listing here. Lynn Hoffman, executive director of the Idaho Nonprofit Center, said, “Our goal really is to make this a very fun and interactive day.” An awards pool will match donors’ contributions and the charities that draw the most donors will be able to win “bonus grants” by size category.

Boise events will include a nonprofit showcase at the Sesquicentennial Shop, a downtown block party at 4thand Grove streets, a celebration in the Grove, and a flash mob in front of the Egyptian Theater, cat adoption specials, children’s activities and more.

Payday loan complaints rise

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho financial regulators are logging more complaints from consumers about the practices of payday lenders. The Idaho Department of Finance received 56 complaints about payday loans last year, up from 38 in 2011. The Idaho Statesman reports (http://bit.ly/13INm9e ) the agency also recently issued nine cease and desist orders against online payday lenders, with most targeting out-of-state websites. Payday loans are often considered a predatory form of lending because of their high fees and interest rates. Consumer Finance Bureau Chief Michael Larsen says most of the complaints from consumers are about illegally garnished wages or lenders pushing through unfinished loan applications. Lawmakers have tried but failed in recent years to impose limits on the industry. Idaho caps payday loan amounts at $1,000 but doesn't regulate interest rates.

Idaho Dept. of Labor schedules job fair for 700 call center jobs

Up to 700 call center jobs for customer service agents at six companies are up for grabs at a job fair the Idaho Department of Labor is holding on May 7 in Boise. The call center jobs are with CenturyLink, Citi, DirecTV, T-Mobile, WDS-Xerox and Wells Fargo, and pay between $9 and $13.46 an hour plus bonuses; they also offer benefits including medical and dental. The job fair is scheduled from 3-7 p.m. at the department’s Boise office, 219 W. Main St. in Boise; there’s more info here.

Idaho medical marijuana activists’ children removed from home, placed in foster care

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Three medical marijuana advocates from southwest Idaho say their children were placed into state foster care after law enforcement searched their home and found marijuana. KTVB-TV reports (http://bit.ly/14J4AHT ) when Lindsey and Josh Rinehart came home from a trip last week, their babysitter was home but their two sons were gone. The Rineharts and Sarah Caldwell — who also had two sons placed into foster care — are members of Compassionate Idaho, a group focused on legalizing marijuana for medical uses. No charges have been filed, but authorities say all three are being investigated for drug trafficking and possession. Lindsey Rinehart denied the claims, adding said she has multiple sclerosis and uses cannabis to treat her illness. But she says she intends to quit in hopes of getting her sons back.

The Idaho Statesman has a full report today; you can read it here. In it, reporter Sven Berg reports that the Boise Police said officers removed Rinehart’s 5- and 10-year-old sons from her custody because they considered them to be in danger. “It's a decision that's not made lightly. It's not made very often,” Boise Police spokeswoman Lynn Hightower said. “But it is the detectives' call.” The police said officers went to Rinehart's home after an 11-year-old at a local school reported being sick; the child had eaten marijuana, reportedly from Rinehart's home. Police said the baby sitter allowed the officers to enter the house, where they “found drug paraphernalia, items commonly used to smoke marijuana and a quantity of a substance that appeared to be marijuana” within reach of the children, Hightower told the Statesman.

The Boise Weekly also has a full report today; you can read it here. The Weekly's Andrew Crisp reports that Rinehart and her husband, Josh, went public over the case, speaking out on the Statehouse steps yesterday and questioning why police declared their sons in “imminent danger” and placed them in foster care. “We're taking issue with the 'imminent danger' charge,” Lindsey Rinehart said. “I am a multiple sclerosis patient. The reason I had cannabis in my household is I'm a multiple sclerosis patient.”

Rinehart has been prominent in the debate over medical marijuana in Idaho, testifying repeatedly and passionately to legislative committees in favor of legalizing the drug for medical use. Rather than take that step, state lawmakers this year passed a resolution declaring that Idaho will never legalize marijuana for any use.

Flurry of fatal crashes a sad kickoff to motorcycle safety month

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on how three motorcycle fatalities over the weekend added a grim underscore to the safety awareness message officials are promoting at a series of Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month events kicking off this week. Washington lost one motorcyclist over the same weekend, the first sunny, warm one of the spring.

“Three in one weekend – it’s attention-grabbing, it’s tragic, it’s terrible for those riders and their families,” said Stacey “Ax” Axmaker, director of the Idaho STAR Motorcycle Safety Program. “But that kind of thing does happen.” Idaho saw 22 fatal motorcycle accidents in 2012; Washington had 83. In both states, the main cause of fatal motorcycle accidents is now rider error, as opposed to motorists in cars or trucks who fail to notice the cyclists. So safety messages are stressing not only awareness for motorists, who may find motorcycles hard to see, but preparation and safety for motorcycle riders themselves.

Will Stoy, an Idaho STAR instructor and motorcycle officer for the Meridian Police Department, said in Idaho in 2012, 75 percent of motorcycle fatalities were attributable to rider error. Other numbers that might surprise people: 68 percent were riders over 40 years old, and 72 percent were on cruisers or large touring motorcycles. A third – 33 percent – involved impaired riders.

Stoy will join local law enforcement officials in Coeur d’Alene tomorrow night for a free public session on “How to avoid a ticket and survive a crash, taught by your local motor officers.” The session, at Coeur d’Alene’s Fire Station No. 3, 1500 N. 15thSt., will run from 6-8 p.m. Stoy has led similar sessions in the Treasure Valley, and promises, “We’ll be doing more of these.”

Three die over weekend in motorcycle crashes, safety rallies planned around state Saturday

This past weekend saw three fatal motorcycle accidents on Idaho roads, making the message being promoted this Saturday at four motorcycle safety awareness rallies across the state all the more pressing. Idaho STAR, the state’s motorcycle safety program, is encouraging motorists to “look twice for motorcycles” as they hit the roads with the advent of spring weather, and also encouraging motorcyclists to wear protective gear, be prepared for the unexpected, make themselves visible to other motorists on the roads, and sharpen up their riding skills with training courses.

“Most drivers have had the experience of not seeing a motorcycle while driving, until it’s really close to our car or it has passed us,” said Stacey “Ax” Axmaker, Idaho STAR director. “Motorcycles are sometimes difficult to see in traffic, so we encourage all drivers to look twice before turning, pulling out or changing lanes.”

Idaho STAR also offers skills training courses to motorcyclists of all ability levels at 12 training locations around the state; the program’s review of Idaho crash data from 1996-2010 showed that riders who took the training courses were 79 percent less likely to crash and 89 percent less likely to be killed in a crash. There’s more info here, or you can call (888) 280-7827.

Saturday’s rallies include a ride to the Capitol, sponsored by the Idaho Coalition for Motorcycle Safety and starting with a gathering at 11 a.m. at Sandy Point Park east of Boise; a ride down Sherman Avenue in Coeur d’Alene, with riders meeting at 9:30 a.m. at the Kootenai County Courthouse; a ride to Freeman Park in Idaho Falls, with riders meeting at Rocky Mountain Middle School at 11 a.m.; and a ride to the Clearwater County Courthouse in Orofino, with riders meeting at the IGA parking lot at 11 a.m.

May is Motorcycle Awareness Month, prompting the rallies. The fatal crashes in Idaho over the weekend included one Friday on State Highway 21; one Friday near Worley in North Idaho; and one Saturday near the Warm Springs Golf Course in Boise.

Boise ranks among top 10 cities in the nation - for yoga

In what top-10 ranking does Boise join nine other much-larger cities from across the nation, from the San Francisco metro area (No. 1) to Seattle-Tacoma (2),  Philadelphia (3), New York City and Washington D.C. (tied for 4), Baltimore (6), Boston (7), Portland (8) and San Diego (tied for 9th)? The answer: Yoga.

Forbes Magazine reported Friday on the “Top 10 Cities for Yoga in the U.S.,” and while the S.F. Bay Area was tops with its population 59 percent more likely to practice yoga than the general U.S. population, Boise made the list, tied for ninth place with San Diego, with the residents of both rated as 21 percent more likely.

“Idaho may seem like an unlikely hotspot for yoga,” the magazine wrote. It also reported, “The most yoga-mad metro area in the nation: San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, Calif., where residents are 59% more likely to practice yoga than the general U.S. population. The Bay Area has long been at the forefront of the American yoga scene — San Francisco was, after all, the first city to set up a yoga room at its airport.” You can read Forbes’ full report here.

Net in-migration to Idaho drops to lowest level in a decade

Idaho in 2012 experienced its largest out-migration from the state in more than a decade, according to state driver’s license figures from the Idaho Transportation Department analyzed in recent weeks by StateImpact Idaho and by KTVB reporter Jamie Grey. According to the state figures, in 2012, 36,933 people moved to Idaho and got new driver’s licenses, while 28,424 Idahoans moved away and surrendered their Idaho licenses in other states or countries. That’s a net in-migration of just 8,509; last year’s net gain was 18,704, and the figure hasn’t dropped below 10,000 since 2002.

Grey reported that a deeper look at who’s moving in and out of the state raises questions about Idaho’s labor market. “We have an influx greater than it has been in the past of older people,” Bob Fick of the Idaho Department of Labor told KTVB, “people who are at the end of their working lives or retired. Compounding that, which is something we haven't had in the past, is this exodus of younger workers.” Fick said the change is so marked that decision-makers “probably should start considering what the ramifications are of a shift like the one we're seeing.” You can see KTVB’s full report here, and see StateImpact Idaho’s full report here. Both reports include interesting maps showing where Idahoans are moving and where new Idahoans are moving from.

Former Sen. Craig slated as commencement speaker

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) — Former U.S. Sen. Larry Craig is scheduled to speak Thursday at commencement ceremonies for graduates at a University of Idaho satellite campus in Idaho Falls in southeastern Idaho. The Post Register reports (http://bit.ly/17pp3iP) that 73 degrees will be awarded from the University Place campus Thursday, and that nine will be doctoral degrees. Craig is scheduled to speak about his political career that ended in 2009 when he left office following a sex scandal. The Idaho Republican and UI graduate was arrested by an undercover police officer conducting a sting operation against men cruising for sex at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Craig pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and paid a fine. After his arrest later became public, he tried unsuccessfully to reverse his conviction.

Both Idaho senators back concept behind states collecting online sales tax, if not details

As the U.S. Senate moves toward a vote on allowing states to collect sales tax on Internet sales to their residents, Idaho’s two senators have lined up strongly behind the concept – though not necessarily the details. Both GOP Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo voted with the majority in the Senate’s 74-20 decision this past Monday to take up the bill, S. 743, but both voted against a Thursday motion to end debate and proceed. That passed anyway, on 63-30 vote, and the Senate is likely to take up the bill in early May after a one-week recess. The two Idaho senators said their concern in Thursday’s vote was that the Senate’s Democratic leadership didn’t plan to allow for amendments, and there are several both feel the bill needs.

“We just can’t support it in the form that it’s in,” Risch told Eye on Boise today. In particular, Risch said he’d like to see the small business exemption in the bill rise from the current $1 million in annual receipts, possibly to around $3 million; and he’d like language clarified that some fear could authorize states to tax financial transactions like the sale of a share of stock. “That really needs to be cleared up,” Risch said. “Those two things were deal-breakers for us.”

Crapo said, “It is not, as some have believed, a tax on Internet sales, which I would strongly oppose, but is instead, as I see it, a states’ rights bill. It allows states to develop their own policy with regard to sales tax on Internet sales, and has the federal government stay out of the way.”

Idaho law actually already deals with the issue, and has since long before there was an Internet. Ever since Idaho’s 1965 sales tax law, Idahoans who buy items from remote sellers – like catalog or Internet retailers – and don’t pay the state’s sales tax, are supposed to report those purchases and pay the tax each year on their state income tax returns. However, few do.

Last year, in tax year 2011, 9,555 Idaho tax returns reported “use tax” on such purchases, averaging $56 per return. But there were about 700,000 returns in all, putting compliance at a measly 1.4 percent. And that’s up from previous years; in tax year 2010, 8,900 returns reported use tax averaging $53, and in tax year 2009, there were 8,200 averaging $48. “We do have people complying, but it is a relatively low number at this point,” said Doreen Warren, administrator for the Revenue Operations Division of the Idaho State Tax Commission.

That’s the case in most states; it’s difficult to get taxpayers to self-report and pay the tax on their online purchases. That’s why a consortium of states has been working for years to come up with a mechanism to allow companies to easily calculate and remit the tax to the states where their customers made the purchase. S. 743 would authorize any state that’s a member of that Streamlined Sales and Use Tax project to require companies to collect and remit the tax.

The Idaho Legislature has been debating the issue for years, pushed in part by Idaho retailers who complain that customers come in and browse their goods, then make their purchases online to avoid the state sales tax – sending those dollars out of state. This year, the House Revenue & Taxation Committee voted 10-5 against introducing a bill designed to set the state up to collect the tax if Congress gives the OK, becoming a part of the multistate consortium. Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, the bill’s sponsor, said the latest estimates are that Idaho citizens are spending $1.08 billion on Internet purchases a year – all of which is supposed to be subject to the state’s 6 percent tax. That would mean the state is missing out on nearly $65 million a year in taxes that legally are due and payable. Plus, he said e-commerce is growing at two to three times the rate of traditional retail sales, so the tax gap will continue to grow. His bill was backed by the Idaho Association of Counties, the Association of Idaho Cities, the Idaho Association of Commerce & Industry, the Idaho Chamber Alliance, and the Idaho Retailers Association.

Risch said, “The law in Idaho is such that everybody has to pay sales tax on everything they buy, whether they buy it in Idaho or whether they order it and it’s shipped in. This is not a tax increase.” But it’s also not “self-executing,” Risch said, meaning even if the congressional bill became law, Idaho wouldn’t have to start requiring companies to collect the tax. “The Idaho Legislature would have to say, ‘Yes, we’re going to use this collection method,’” he said.

Risch said he’s confident the bill will pass the Senate, but prospects are less certain in the House. “This is bipartisan,” he noted. The bill’s lead sponsor is Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyoming; its title is the “Marketplace Fairness Act.” 

Idaho, prison medical firm at odds over contract

Idaho's prison system will increase payments to its medical provider by hundreds of thousands of dollars after the company demanded a raise, the AP reports, but will only extend its $27 million annual contract with Corizon Correctional Healthcare until January, not another 12 months as previously announced. The state Board of Correction voted Thursday to seek competitive bids for a new contract; click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Latah GOP committee censures chair for backing non-discrimination ordinance

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: MOSCOW, Idaho (AP) — The Latah County Republican Party has voted to censure its chairman for his vote as a Moscow city councilor supporting an ordinance outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation. The Moscow-Pullman Daily News reports (http://bit.ly/Y1MnQJ) that a small assembly of county Republican precinct committee members voted 7-6 earlier this month to censure Walter Steed for his city council vote. Committee member Gresham Bouma says the ordinance will penalize business owners for their personal beliefs when it comes to hiring. The censure follows a no confidence vote by committee members two months ago after Steed supported a council letter to the Idaho Legislature suggesting ways to prevent gun violence, which committee members viewed as an attack on gun ownership rights. Steed, on vacation in Europe, has the chairman post through May 2014.

More than three dozen testify on ed needs

Lots and lots of people spoke at the education stakeholders task force forum in Boise this evening; by my count, 37 had testified by the time the meeting ended around 9:20 p.m. Among those, 15 spoke out against the new Common Core standards. The next-most common theme was the need for increased funding for Idaho’s schools, followed by a call for more focus on early-childhood education, special education needs, increased flexibility for Idaho school districts, increased teacher pay and skepticism over merit-pay plans.

“This is not the end of the information-gathering,” task force chairman Richard Westerberg, a state Board of Education member, told the crowd at the close of the hearing. Comments still are being accepted via email, at taskforce@osbe.idaho.gov. Plus, Westerberg said comments from all seven public forums around the state will be transcribed and given to all members of the 31-member Task Force for Improving Education; more than a dozen of those members attended tonight’s forum.

Said Westerberg, “This has been a good evening.  I appreciate your passion, appreciate your attendance.”

Big, passionate crowd focuses on funding, concerns about Common Core

At tonight’s education forum at the state Capitol, there’s a big and passionate crowd, and several common themes have emerged among the first 20 to speak: Backing for more funding for Idaho’s schools; opposition to the new Common Core standards for what children should learn each year; and support for special education, improved teacher pay, more flexibility for local school districts and more focus on early-childhood education.  “If Idaho today was making the same effort at funding public schools that it did in the ‘80s and the ‘90s, Idaho public schools would have $550 million more in funding than they have today,” former longtime state chief economics Mike Ferguson told the crowd. “This magnitude in funding reduction has not been without consequences.”

Former four-term state lawmaker and longtime teacher Steve Smylie said, “I think it’s pretty simple what we need to do, four things. One, understand that the problem is really infrastructure. Two, we need to get on the same team, we all want the same thing. Three, it’s going to cost money. So far, we don’t seem to be willing to pay for it. A survey from 2012 by Gallup … indicates that 65 percent of Americans would be willing to increase their tax payments to support struggling schools. We don’t seem to feel the same way here. No. 4: This isn’t some hidden mystery, we already know what will improve schools – it’s just simply a matter of doing it.”

Phoebe Smith, whose daughter joined her along with her service dog, told the session, “The first solution to education funding: Return tax levels to where they were in the ‘90s, then use that money to fund education and restore Idaho’s social safety net. … I want Idaho to stop playing games with education.”

Opponents of Common Core standards were particularly outspoken, and greeted with big cheers and applause. Richard Twight called the standards a “perverse, un-American system,” and said, “With Common Core our children are to be transformed into creatures of the central state.” Susan Frickey called Common Core “the new miracle drug,” and said, “Look hard at the intended and unintended consequences of this path, particularly the very large, very permanent federal footprint evidenced in compliance with these standards and what they would mean to our local education and state sovereignty in Idaho.”

Meanwhile, the State Department of Education has posted a list of “myths and facts” about the Common Core standards; you can read it here. Testimony is continuing.

Ed task force holds Boise hearing…

The seventh and final public forum by the governor's education stakeholders task force is tonight in Boise, starting at 6:30 p.m. MT. You can watch live here.

Three Idaho stream gauges to shut down May 1, but Riggins gauge spared from cut…

It now looks like three stream flow gauges will be shut off May 1 in Idaho, according to the USGS Idaho Water Science Center, down from the five originally expected to be shut down due to sequestration budget cuts. “It’s still something of a fluid issue in terms of exactly how much the cut was going to be,” said Michael Lewis, the center’s director. He’d been anticipating a 7 to 8 percent cut in a federally funded program that supports 31 stream gauges statewide, but just learned last night “we’re probably looking at a 5.2 percent cut.”

That means two gauges that had been targeted for closure won’t be, on the Little Salmon River at Riggins and on the Little Lost River near Howe. The Riggins gauge is a popular and heavily watched one. “It’s certainly critical for the recreational industry of whitewater rafting, kayaking, fishing,” Lewis said. Since the USGS posted a notice that the gauge could be shut down, “I’ve heard quite a bit from the public,” he said. The gauge near Howe is the only gauge on that river; it’s considered critical for water rights administration and agricultural irrigation.

Still on the hit list: One in southeastern Idaho in the Snake River drainage at the Gray’s Lake Outlet; one on Lapwai Creek near Lapwai in north-central Idaho on the Nez Perce Reservation; and one on the South Fork of the Clearwater River near Elk City.

All play important roles in scientific monitoring and are used by various agencies for fisheries management, flood forecasting and more. Lewis said seven of the 31 gauges in the program have 100 years or more of continuous data. “From a scientific perspective, that is absolutely invaluable,” he said, reflecting stream flows through a wide array of climate and hydrologic conditions. The three targeted for shutdown have a “shorter period of record” of between 26 and 41 years.

By shutting down the three stream gauges, the USGS will save about $23,000 between May 1 and the end of the federal fiscal year Sept. 30. Each gauge requires eight to 10 site visits a year by technicians for maintenance and calibration; they also transmit data to the USGS that gets posted on the agency’s website for public use.

Lewis said he’s “cautiously optimistic” that the stream gauge shutdowns won’t be permanent. The program long has had strong bipartisan support in Congress, he noted. “I think once we get through the sequester, hopefully we’ll see the budget come back for those gauges.”

The USGS operates a total of 236 stream gauges in Idaho, with a variety of funding sources; the one that’s getting cut is the National Stream Flow Information Program, which is fully federally funded and supports 31 stream gauges statewide. 

Sequestration cuts to shut down some stream gauges that monitor water levels, including in Idaho

More than 100 crucial gauges that warn of imminent flooding or lack of needed water will be shut down starting next month as part of the federal government's “sequestration” automatic budget cuts, the Associated Press reports; gauges in Idaho and Maine are up for the first shutdowns in May. The Idaho stream gauges are used by whitewater rafters and fishermen to monitor stream levels, as well as for flood control efforts; some of the gauges targeted for shutdown are in the nine states threatened with spring flooding, U.S. Geological Survey officials said in interviews with The Associated Press. Click below for a full report from AP science writer Seth Borenstein.

Coeur d’Alene latest Idaho city to consider non-discrimination ordinance for sexual orientation

Coeur d’Alene soon may join a growing number of Idaho cities to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation – a reaction to the Legislature’s steadfast refusal to add such protections to state law, reports Spokesman-Review reporter Scott Maben. City Councilman Mike Kennedy is drafting an ordinance modeled after Boise’s; it would protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations. “I think it’s needed, I think it’s overdue, and it’s simple equal rights,” Kennedy said; you can read Maben’s full report here at spokesman.com.

The Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations asked the Coeur d’Alene Council to add the language to the city code, Kennedy said. In a Feb. 4 letter to the mayor and City Council, the Task Force wrote, “The City of Coeur d’Alene has the opportunity to move forward in advancing the principles we have all promoted for decades. We urge you to stand on the broad shoulders of those who have gone before you in confirming once again the dignity and rights of all our residents and share in this noble legacy.”

The Legislature has spurned attempts each of the past seven years to add the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the state’s Human Rights Act, which now bans discrimination on the basis of race, sex, color, national origin, religion, age or disability. Most years lawmakers refused to even allow the bill to be introduced. “The Legislature didn’t act again this year on it, and so it makes sense to do it now and help push the momentum toward a statewide law,” Kennedy said. He plans to bring the ordinance before the City Council in May. Sandpoint, Boise, Moscow and Ketchum already have enacted such ordinances; Pocatello rejected one last week, but plans to consider a modified version.

Idaho prison bursting with quilt batting; says thanks but please don’t donate more

Overwhelming response to a call for donations to an inmate quilting project has left the Idaho Department of Correction out of storage space and unable to accept new donations of quilting material. “Idaho’s quilters are generous and eager to share their passion for quilting,” says Idaho Department of Correction Director Brent Reinke. “We never imagined we’d get buried like this.” The prisons have received more than four pickup truck loads of quilting material. “We are truly grateful for all the help, but we just don’t have a place to store more material,” Reinke said. Click below for the department's full announcement.

View from 17th story proves it: The infamous ‘Boise Hole’ finally has been filled

It was an icy late-January night in 1987 when my phone rang after 2 a.m.; it was my editor. The long-vacant historic sandstone building downtown that was poised for a big redevelopment project – and about which I’d been writing, as a city hall reporter covering downtown redevelopment - had been “torched,” he said. I needed to get down there.

It was an eerie scene. The Eastman Building was leveled in the spectacular blaze; the distinctive six-story structure on one of downtown Boise’s most prominent corners would not find new life after all. Squatters who set a campfire inside the long-vacant building were blamed for the blaze. What followed seemed typical of the redevelopment wars that had led to that point; the site of the Eastman Building stood vacant for more than two decades, as first one, then another grandiose plan to build there was proposed and abandoned.  For many years, all that was left was a deep hole marked by abandoned spines of rebar.

 The past year marked a dramatic turnaround for the site that long was known as the “Boise Hole.” First, in September of 2011, Zions Bank announced it was planning its new Idaho headquarters in an office tower that would be built at the site. Last July, more than 300 people gathered in the hole for a groundbreaking – complete with a blessing from a representative of the Native American community to ease whatever curses might be plaguing the site. Now, today, less than a year later, the new 8th and Main Tower has risen to its full 18 stories -  making it, just barely, the tallest building in Idaho. (The nearby U.S. Bank building is 19 stories, but the parapet of the new tower rises a few feet higher.)

Today, in a “topping off” ceremony, a signed steel girder was ceremonially placed atop the new tower; it’ll be visible in the future from the tower’s penthouse. Again, several hundred people gathered – this time high above the hole where they gathered back in July, enjoying the 17th-story, 360-degree view above the state Capitol  and the rest of downtown. Kem Gardner, chairman of the Gardner Company, developer of the tower, said, “We all knew that that hole in Boise was holding back the development of the community and that it needed to be filled.”

The new tower is scheduled to open in January of 2014, and so far it’s not only on schedule, on budget and free of serious mishaps, it’s already 81 percent leased, with all of its retail space now taken. “I blew it – I really should’ve done 25 floors on this building,” Gardner told the crowd. “I was scared to death of 18. … Now that I see where we are on this, I say let’s take this off and build another couple floors!”

His son Christian, president and CEO of the firm, said, “The feedback we always had is, ‘Boise is not a pre-leasing market – nobody’s going to sign until the last nail is in the building.’” The project proved that wrong, he said. “It just shows you that Boise is not skeptical – that it is growing, and it is vibrant, and there is an active downtown.” Michael Morris, executive vice president of real estate for Zions Bank, noted that the project was conceived and born in the midst of the worst recession since the Depression. “The recovery is well under way, as evidenced by the leasing and the development of this great project,” he said.

Zions Bank will occupy all or portions of five floors in the new tower. Holland & Hart LLP law firm will take up much of the 15th through 17th floors. A new Ruth’s Chris Steak House will be on the first floor; other tenants include restaurants, a fitness facility, lawyers, consultants, architects, engineers, financiers and the Gardner Company, which will have offices on the 9thfloor. The tower also will include three levels of parking; its total cost is estimated at $76 million and its square footage at 391,930.

Said Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, “It’s such a pleasure for all of us to be here. … Since this project began, we have been a city on the rise.” He added that city officials long had to answer the question of “what we’re going to do about the hole in the ground – we’ll never have to answer that question again. The hole is gone forever.”

100+ turn out for ed stakeholders forum in Pocatello; Boise forum set for Thurs.

An energetic crowd of 101 turned out at Tuesday’s education stakeholders task force meeting in Pocatello, reports Clark Corbin of Idaho Education News, and their concerns focused on supporting teachers, criticism of the new Idaho Common Core standards and more; you can read Corbin’s full report here. Larry Gebhardt, an adjunct faculty member at Idaho State University, called on task force members to foster a renewed culture of learning, and said teachers have not been shown the respect they deserve. “The overall tone of legislation in education policy indicates a great disrespect toward teachers and teachers in Idaho on K-12,” Gebhardt said. “There is no epidemic of bad teachers and bad faculty. Students are getting the best result from the limited resources available.”

Two members of the 31-member task force attended; it was the sixth community forum the group has held around the state in the past two weeks. The final forum is set for this Thursday at 6:30 in the Lincoln Auditorium in the state Capitol; the public is invited to offer its input on how best to improve education in Idaho. There's more info here.

ITD agrees to drop requirement for transgender drivers to show proof of surgery to get driver’s license

The Idaho Transportation Department this week agreed to new regulations allowing transgender drivers to change the sex designation on their driver's licenses without a note from a surgeon, the Associated Press reports, after two people complained that previous policy violated their civil rights. In April 2011, the state highway agency began requiring a signed surgeon's note signifying the individual “had undergone a complete surgical change of gender.” Early this year, two people said they were blocked from getting their driver's licenses, based on this policy.

Only a fraction of people undergoing a gender transformation do so through a surgical intervention, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group; others utilize hormone treatments. The agency will now require a court order or affidavit from a doctor attesting to a gender change, rather than requiring proof of surgery, according to a policy signed by director Brian Ness on Monday. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Idaho Supreme Court upholds judge’s ‘vexatious litigator’ decision

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Supreme Court is standing by a state judge who two years ago deemed a Malad City woman a vexatious litigant for filing too many frivolous lawsuits. The justices agreed Tuesday that the judge acted appropriately in finding that Holli Lundahl Telford meets the legal criteria for taking action against people who clog the courts with nuisance cases. Telford was declared a vexatious litigant in 2011 by 6th District Judge David Nye. Telford has also earned that designation in federal appeals courts, Utah, Montana and California. In its ruling, the high court ruled Nye did not abuse his discretion in imposing vexatious litigant status on Telford. Telford is the first person in Idaho to challenge Idaho's law. She did not immediately return messages left Tuesday by The Associated Press.

Dowd accepts exchange job, board is ready for her to ‘hit the ground running’

Amy Dowd has accepted the job offer, and will be the executive director of Idaho’s new state-based health insurance exchange. “She’s accepted, she’s very excited, she’s eager and ready to go,” reported Stephen Weeg, interim exchange board president. “She’s happy to be back in Idaho, and she’s told her husband it’s time to find a place to live.”

Dowd, currently a health care consultant with Ernst & Young in Portland, was one of three key consultants who helped develop Idaho’s initial blueprint for a state-based exchange in 2010-11, working as a contractor for the state Department of Insurance. She also formerly worked as a health care consultant and for Blue Cross Blue Shield in New York, and early in her career, from 1993 to 2000, was an IT project manager and lead analyst for information systems and Web development projects for Idaho Power.

The 19-member exchange board interviewed Dowd for an hour today in executive session before deciding to offer her the job; she previously was one of five candidates interviewed by state officials who selected her as the finalist. “She’s one of the people that can hit the ground running,” said board member Margaret Henbest. “She has a strong project management background, a strong insurance background. She has state relationships in Idaho.”

Board member Zelda Geyer-Sylvia noted that the Department of Insurance “gave her very high marks for the work she had done before.” Board member Kevin Settles said, “She’s got a great skill set for our needs right now.” Said board member Frank Chan, “I believe she was very well qualified, and I’m looking forward to working with her. I can’t wait ‘til she gets on board and just hits the ground running.”

Executive director selected, insurance exchange gears up for work ahead

Amy Dowd, a health care consultant with Ernst & Young LLP in Portland, Ore., has been selected as executive director of Idaho’s new state-based health insurance exchange. The exchange board this morning voted unanimously to offer Dowd the job, which will pay in the range of $175,000 a year.

Dick Armstrong, Idaho Department of Health & Welfare director, said in anticipation that the state-based exchange would be established, “We began to do some searching of individuals that would be qualified as executive director. I used standard procedures that I use with Health & Welfare’s HR department.” Five individuals were interviewed, he said, “in preparation for this moment.”

As for the salary level, Armstrong said, “I felt comfortable that the market is going to demand the $175,000 level. There is a high risk involved here … it does come with risk for the individual. So that’s where I came to make the recommendation to the governor’s office, based on those processes.”

After the board’s unanimous vote to make Dowd the job offer, Stephen Weeg, interim chairman of the exchange board, said, “I will proceed now and get hold of Amy today and start the negotiation, and hopefully we have someone on board and starting to help us out tomorrow.”

More than 200 turn out for ed stakeholders forum in Idaho Falls; Pocatello, Boise up next

More than 200 people turned out for last night’s education stakeholders task force public forum in Idaho Falls; tonight, the task force heads to Pocatello. Reporter Clark Corbin of Idaho Education News reports that the new Common Core state standards were a big topic at the Idaho Falls session, as were funding issues. Four of the 31 task force members attended the session, including state schools Superintendent Tom Luna. You can read Corbin’s full report here; tonight’s forum starts at 6:30 at Century High School in Pocatello; and Thursday, the task force will hold its final public forum of the series in Boise, starting at 6:30 p.m. at the Lincoln Auditorium on the lower level of the Idaho State Capitol.

Crapo, Risch back move to shift budget cuts away from Idaho airport towers

Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch are co-sponsoring legislation ordering the FAA not to close small-city airport towers - like those in Idaho Falls, Lewiston, Hailey and Pocatello - under the sequestration budget cuts. The two GOP senators, who both supported the sequester legislation, say the FAA can make the cuts elsewhere.  “There are ways to keep FAA towers open using unobligated research and capital funds from prior appropriations bills, but the FAA has not endorsed these alternatives,” Crapo said. “This legislation, which is growing in support, will change the situation.” The two join a bipartisan group comprising nearly a third of the Senate in co-sponsoring S. 687. Sequestration requires $85 billion in across-the-board spending reductions in an array of federal government programs; click below for the two senators' full news release.

Ed stakeholders forums in Idaho Falls tonight, Pocatello tomorrow, Boise on Thurs.

The governor’s education stakeholders task force, dubbed the Task Force for Improving Education, is continuing its community forums around the state this week, with a forum in Idaho Falls scheduled this evening, Pocatello on Tuesday, and Boise on Thursday. Tonight’s Idaho Falls forum will be at 6:30 at Tingey Auditorium at University Place; Tuesday’s at 6:30 at Century High School in Pocatello; and Thursday’s at 6:30 at the Lincoln Auditorium on the lower level of the Idaho State Capitol. The public is invited to offer comments; there’s more info here.

Exchange board members’ welcome: Each got an anonymous call threatening a lawsuit

The 19 board members of Idaho’s new state-based health insurance exchange got a surprising welcome soon after they were appointed – anonymous calls to each of them, threatening that they’ll each individually be targets in a lawsuit. “I got a call from a guy who did not want to identify what firm he worked for,” said Stephen Weeg, the board’s interim chairman. “He just wanted to give us all a notice that within three months’ time we would all be sued for being on this board – I think he called everybody on this board, just to let us know that we were already in trouble.”

Weeg said his first reaction was, “Wait a minute – we’re just doing what the law requires.”

Rep. Kelley Packer, R-McCammon, a board member, said, “I actually chuckled, because I thought, you know, we’re here trying to provide a service.” She said she was disappointed that opponents of the exchange would “stoop to these tactics,” and said, “I did call the speaker and let him know. He said, ‘Don’t worry – the state will have anybody on the board covered and indemnified.”

Weeg said the board will make sure it has good legal counsel and board member indemnification. “But it was somewhat of a surprise welcome to the board. It was quite a reminder for me of how much attention is being paid to what we do and how we do it.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

State insurance exchange board opens first meeting…

The board of Idaho’s new state-based health insurance exchange board opened its first meeting this morning in the Lincoln Auditorium in the state Capitol; it is being video streamed live online here. “We have a challenge ahead of us,” said interim exchange board chairman Stephen Weeg, the retired head of a community health center, Health West, in eastern Idaho. “There was a huge amount of work on the part of a lot of people … to see Idaho create its own health insurance exchange. And the little task that we have before us is between now and October, get a business started and make an exchange operational and make it work for the citizens of Idaho.”

The 19-member board is scheduled to meet from 8:30 to 4 today, and tomorrow until noon. Today’s agenda includes overviews of the law that set up the exchange and Idaho Open Meeting Law requirements; a review of the exchange’s scope and requirements and the roles of the state departments of insurance and health and welfare; and setting of key tasks and time frames. Tomorrow morning at 9, the board is scheduled to go into executive session for a telephone interview with a candidate for executive director of the exchange.

The exchange will provide a voluntary marketplace for Idahoans to compare and buy health insurance plans online and access new government subsidies. David Hensley, Gov. Butch Otter’s chief of staff, told the board, “We’re going to be counting on each and every one of you to make this successful. … One of the most critical things to the governor is the openness, accountability and transparency of this board. He believes that we are directly responsible to the people of Idaho.”

Weeg encouraged all the board members to be active participants, saying, “My sense on this is that we'll need the collective intelligence of all of us and best work from all of us in order to make this work.”

Five months after voters rejected them, teacher contract curbs from Prop 1 are back on the books

Five months after Idaho voters strongly rejected them, a series of laws limiting school teacher contract rights in the state is back on the books.   Gov. Butch Otter has signed five controversial bills into law to revive parts of voter-rejected Proposition 1, on everything from limiting negotiated teacher contract terms to just one year to allowing school districts to cut teacher pay from one year to the next without declaring financial emergencies. Four of the five bills have emergency clauses making them effective immediately – one, the bill limiting contract terms to one year, is retroactive to Nov. 21, 2012, the day the voters’ Nov. 7 decision took effect.

“Maybe there was some partisanship in those, I fully understand that,” Otter said. “I don’t think I could’ve asked, nor did I ask the Legislature to only address those things that they were going to get total, unanimous support for. I said where you can find consensus, come forward with ‘em, and we’ll work on ‘em, and we’ll work on ‘em together.” He said, “I think we picked the low-hanging fruit, and the low-hanging fruit was those things that seemed reasonable, those things that reached a consensus and those things the Legislature passed. And I’m proud.”

Otter pointed to other measures that won broad support, some of which passed without a dissenting vote in either house. One of those revived a little-remarked provision from Proposition 1 to require all teacher negotiations to take place in public; another revived a requirement for master labor agreements to be posted on school districts’ websites. A third, HB 261, forbids teacher layoffs from being done solely by seniority; that’s a change from Proposition 1’s provision that seniority not be considered at all, and the bill passed unanimously.

But the five bills, like the 2011 “Students Come First” school reform laws that Idaho voters repealed through three historic referenda in November, all passed with little or no Democratic support and with bipartisan opposition in both houses. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Three lawsuits filed over Priest Lake state cabin-site valuation hikes

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: SANDPOINT, Idaho (AP) — Three lawsuits on behalf of 353 lease holders of cabin sites on Priest Lake in northern Idaho have been filed to prevent Idaho officials from increasing annual rent payments. The Bonner County Daily Bee reports (http://bit.ly/17Qkb7i) the lawsuits were filed Thursday and Friday in 1st District Court. A lawsuit filed Friday by the Priest Lake State Lessees Association represents 320 lease holders, and another lawsuit on Friday includes 17 more. A lawsuit filed Thursday includes 16 lease holders and names the Idaho Department of Lands, the Land Board and its five members, including Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter. That lawsuit contends the appraisals by the Idaho Department of Lands are flawed and inaccurate. Rates are set to skyrocket as the state seeks to maximize its profit from state endowment land as it is required to do by law.

Divided Pocatello City Council rejects non-discrimination ordinance, but new version is in the works

A divided Pocatello City Council has defeated a proposed anti-discrimination ordinance to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, with Mayor Brian Blad casting the tie-breaking vote at a tense, packed meeting last night, the Idaho State Journal reports. The council had split 3-3 on the ordinance to ban such discrimination in employment, housing or public accommodations.

However, the issue’s not dead; the Journal reports that Blad, before he cast his “no” vote, said, “I believe this has divided this community in half. I believe we can draft an ordinance that most people can accept.” Blad ordered a council work session for May 9 to work on a modified ordinance to be introduced at the June 6 council meeting. “My main goal is to bring the community together and it's split right now,” Blad said; see the Journal’s full report here.

The Pocatello ordinance was modeled after measures already adopted in the past year in Sandpoint, Boise and Moscow, after the Idaho Legislature repeatedly refused to consider amending the Idaho Human Rights Act to outlaw such discrimination statewide.

Otter, delegation poised for trade trip to Asia

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter and a delegation of business leaders are getting ready to head to Asia to peddle and promote some Idaho's top-ticket products. The Republican governor and crew leave Friday with stops planned in South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam. Taiwan is the state's third largest trade partner and South Korea is a top five export destination for Idaho businesses. As for Vietnam, state commerce officials view the country as an emerging trade partner. Some of the governor's travel partners include the Idaho Wheat Commission and The Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee, which represents about 300 growers and 35 shippers. Food and agriculture products account for nearly $950 million in annual export sales, second only to the semiconductor and industrial equipment sector. The delegation is expected to return April 27.

Labrador to the Atlantic: Conservatives understand need for immigration reform

The Atlantic has an interesting profile of Idaho 1stDistrict Rep. Raul Labrador this week, headlined, “Does the Fate of Immigration Reform Depend on This Idaho Congressman? Puerto Rican-born, Tea Party-purist, GOP-leadership-defying immigration attorney Raul Labrador has confounded expectations throughout his political career.” In the piece, Labrador talks about immigration reform, saying, “Most hardcore conservatives in the House come from rural agricultural districts, so we understand the need for reform.”

Labrador also tells the Atlantic, “The old guard believes that if we fix the immigration we will all of a sudden get 43 percent of the Hispanic vote. We won't. In fact, I don't think we will get much credit for fixing the immigration problem.” But he does see broader political advantages. “If we fix this problem, [Hispanics and minority voters] will listen to us on other issues.” You can read the full article here.

Pocatello council to vote tonight on non-discrimination ordinance, latest Idaho city to take up issue

The Pocatello City Council is scheduled to vote tonight on an ordinance to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, reports Boise State Public Radio, and the vote is expected to be close. Other Idaho cities, including Sandpoint, Boise and Moscow, already have adopted such ordinances, after the Idaho Legislature refused for more than half the past decade to consider amending the Idaho Human Rights Act to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the types of discrimination that are illegal. BSPR reports that the Pocatello council heard emotional testimony on the proposed ordinance on April 4, with more than 50 people speaking out in favor of it, in advance of tonight's vote; you can read their full report here.

State Board OKs tuition hikes, but trims those for BSU, U of I

Idaho's state Board of Education today approved tuition increases for the state's colleges and universities, but trimmed the requests from both the University of Idaho and Boise State University. The U of I was approved for a 5 percent increase, short of the 5.9 percent it requested; and BSU for 6.9 percent, short of the 8.6 percent requested. “The board recognizes the need to balance access and affordability with the ability to maintain quality programs and facilities at our public institutions,” said Board President Ken Edmunds.ISU got its requested 4.5 percent increase; LCSC got its requested 4 percent; and Eastern Idaho Technical College got its requested 4.9 percent. Click below for the state board's full announcement; you can read a full report here from AP reporter Hannah Furfaro. BSU issued a news release about how the increase fits into its plans to shift toward charging tuition on a per-credit basis; you can read it here.

Otter names St. Maries attorney to 1st District court bench

Gov. Butch Otter has appointed St. Maries attorney Richard S. Christensen to be a 1st District judge, filling a vacancy that will open May 1 when current 1st District Judge John Luster retires. Christensen, 57, is a former prosecutor and former deputy Idaho attorney general; most recently he's been in private practice in St. Maries. Click below for Otter's full announcement.

Otter lets organ donor bill become law without his signature, signs teacher pay-cut bill

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has allowed a twice-amended bill to promote organ donation to become law without his signature. The bill, SB 1072aa, allows Idahoans to make a voluntary $2 contribution to an organ donation fund when they apply for or renew their driver’s licenses; the money would go to maintaining a statewide organ donation registry.

Otter, in a transmittal letter, said that while he supports organ donation as “a simple and effective way for citizens to save or dramatically improve a life,” he has concerns about how the program would work at the Idaho Transportation Department and how it would impact ITD’s vehicle registration systems. He directed ITD, the Legislature and others involved with the bill to make sure the department’s costs for collecting the donations and administering the new fund would be covered by the donations.

SB 1072aa was one of just two bills that remained for Otter to act on yesterday from this year’s legislative session; the other was SB 1040, a controversial bill to allow school districts to cut teacher pay or contract days from one year to the next without declaring a financial emergency. That measure was the last bill to pass in this year’s session, after a bitter hour-long debate in the House. Otter quietly signed it yesterday, and so far hasn’t said why he decided to make it law. It’s among a group of bills pushed by the Idaho School Boards Association this year to revive voter-rejected curbs on teacher collective bargaining rights that were voted down in Proposition 1 in November.

Ketchum passes far-reaching smoking ban

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: KETCHUM, Idaho (AP) — Ketchum officials have banned smoking in a long list of areas that include all city-owned facilities, parks, and indoor public places and places of employment, including hotel and motel rooms. The Idaho Mountain Express reports (http://bit.ly/XRichp) that city councilors passed the ordinance Monday that comes with a yearlong education campaign before enforcement begins. After that penalties start with a warning and rise to a $52 fine for a third violation. Employers in the resort area who are found to discriminate against employees making complaints concerning the ordinance face fines of $1,000 to $5,000.

You can read the Idaho Mountain Express' full report here from reporter Brennan Rego.

Labrador renews push to require congressional approval for national monument designations

U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador has reintroduced a bill that would require congressional approval any time a president wanted to carve out new national monuments across the country, the Idaho Statesman reports today; click below for a full report from the Statesman and the Associated Press. Presidents have sole authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act to protect land under national monument status, and presidents from both parties have used the law to designate monument status on places such as the Grand Canyon and Idaho's own Craters of the Moon. But Labrador argues Congress should have greater oversight on such decisions.

State Board of Ed meeting in Moscow today, considering higher ed tuition increases

The State Board of Education is meeting in Moscow on the University of Idaho campus today, and considering tuition and fee increase proposals for state colleges and universities. The U of I is requesting a 5.9 percent increase in tuition and fees next year; BSU, 8.6 percent; ISU, 4.5 percent; Eastern Idaho Technical College, 4.9 percent; and Lewis-Clark State College, 4 percent.

Since fiscal year 2009, state funding for the four-year institutions, UI, BSU, ISU and LCSC, has dropped by $41.1 million, while total tuition and fee revenue has increased by $74.7 million. So far this morning, U of I officials and student leaders have spoken out in support of the proposed increase; you can watch live here. State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna said, “I don’t think we talk much about what a bargain it is to go to our universities here in Idaho, when you look at even the surrounding states, what they charge.”

With the proposed increases, full-time resident tuition and fees for a year at the U of I next year would be $6,580; at BSU, $6,392; at ISU, $6,344; at EITC, $2,122; and at LCSC, $5,784.

Corder blasts Goedde for revival of Prop 1 pieces, calls on him to ‘return the flag’

Former Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, is blasting Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, saying he displayed “wanton disregard for the public will” in helping reenact some of the anti-union measures in the voter-rejected “Students Come First,” the Idaho Statesman’s Dan Popkey reports. Corder, in an op-ed piece, even calls on Goedde to return the state flag given to him by the Senate in recognition for his service in the 2011 session, when “Students Come First” was enacted. You can read Popkey’s full post here.

Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News also has a post on Corder’s piece, which Richert reports is on Facebook; you can read Richert’s full post here.

Ada County Domestic Violence Court selected as national model

Ada County’s specialized domestic violence court has been selected by the U.S. Department of Justice as one of three “mentor” courts in the nation to serve as a model for other courts to follow; the other two courts are in Brooklyn, N.Y. and Dallas, Texas. The Ada County court, established seven years ago, follows a “one family-one judge” practice that involves the judge in daily, weekly or monthly review hearings of the offender; brings in a team including a prosecutor, victim witness coordinator, public defender, probation officers, court coordinator and treatment providers; and focuses on defendant accountability and victim safety. It also averages 58 days from arrest to sentencing, compared to about 131 days in a traditional criminal court.

“After over 20 years of working in the criminal justice system, the Ada County Domestic Violence Court is one of the greatest engines for change I have ever seen,” said Judge James Cawthon, who with Judge Carolyn Minder presides over the court. “The court enforces offender accountability and promotes changes in their behavior. The court provides victims safety, resources and a voice, and it guards the welfare of the children involved and strengthens families.”

As a selected mentor, the Ada County court will host site visits and help courts around the nation follow its successful model. The Justice Department designation comes complete with $66,000 to fund the mentoring efforts over the next two years. 

Packed house, anger, gratitude at ed stakeholders task force forum in Coeur d’Alene

Twenty-four people testified to the Task Force for Improving Education tonight in Coeur d’Alene, as the governor’s education stakeholder task force held its fourth public forum and its best-attended one yet. “It’s good to see a packed house,” said Richard Westerberg, task force chairman and state Board of Education member. Seven of the 31 task force members attended.

By my count, among the 24 who testified over the course of the two-hour forum at North Idaho College, there were some overriding themes: Seven pleaded for more state funding and less reliance on local property tax override levies; six called for less emphasis on test scores and standardized testing in Idaho’s schools (said one grandmother of four, “We’re driving our kids crazy”); and five called for increased teacher pay.

Other popular ideas: Checking into the quality of online course offerings to Idaho students; including the arts and humanities along with the STEM topics, science, technology, engineering and math; and support and enthusiasm for the new Idaho Common Core standards for what student should learn at each grade level (one person spoke specifically against those, saying he didn’t want to see “national education”).

There was some anger, particularly over the voter-rejected “Students Come First” laws and concerns that they were enacted without input from parents and teachers. There was also lots of gratitude – to the task force for listening this time. “This doesn’t have to be the end of the dialogue,” Westerberg said at the close of the forum. He noted that online comments can be submitted to the task force at taskforce@osbe.idaho.gov. “Thank you very much for a great showing and some really good input,” Westerberg told the crowd of close to 100.

The task force’s next public forums are set for April 22 in Idaho Falls, April 23 in Pocatello, and April 25 in Boise; there’s more info here.

Clock ticking for state-owned cabin site lessees at Priest, Payette lakes…

The clock is ticking for state-owned cabin sites at Priest and Payette lakes; current lessees must apply by April 30 if they want to continue to lease the land under their cabins from the state of Idaho next year. That’s also the deadline for conflict bidders who want to bid against the current lessees, whose leases all expire Dec. 31. Meanwhile, the state Land Board will let cabin owners on the Priest Lake sites flag factual errors in their new, much higher appraisals if they do so before the 30th.

 “We’ve got a Supreme Court decision that we have to go with,” said Gov. Butch Otter. “That’s where we are.”

A court decision last summer removed protections the state had granted lake cabin-site renters from competitive auctions when their leases come up. At the same time, the state is in the process of moving to get out of the cabin-site rental business, either through land exchanges, auctions or other moves that will keep income flowing to the state’s endowment. In the midst of all that, new state appraisals on the 354 Priest Lake cabin sites came in an average of 84 percent higher for next year, with some more than doubling.

The Idaho State Land Board is required by the state Constitution to manage state endowment lands for the maximum long-term return to the endowment’s beneficiaries, the largest of which is the state’s public schools. Much of the state’s endowment is timber land on which logging brings in annual income; the cabin sites bring in far less.

“Obviously these people have enjoyed these cottage sites for generations, in some cases, and I certainly can see that,” Otter said. “I understand the anxiety that it’s caused, but it doesn’t lessen our obligation.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Risch: Terrorist groups typically claim credit for their attacks, no one has done so in Boston case

Idaho Sen. Jim Risch, who serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee, was interviewed on Fox News today about the Boston Marathon bombings; Risch said he was in “a number of classified briefings today,” but instead of receiving classified information, the briefings were mostly “what we call open source,” meaning information he could share. His main point: When terrorist groups carry out attacks, they usually quickly claim credit; while when a “lone wolf” or “some deranged American person” is responsible, they typically don’t. No one has claimed responsibility for the Boston bombings. Risch told Fox’s Neil Cavuto the case appears reminiscent of the 1996 Olympics bombing in Atlanta, which was the first of four bombings carried out by Eric Rudolph, who was apprehended in 2003; the Atlanta bombing killed two people and injured 111.

Cavuto asked Risch whether the use of pressure cookers in the devices detonated in Boston suggested a foreign origin, since those are commonly used in IEDs in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Risch said no. “The pressure cooker device is commonly used in Afghanistan and Pakistan and India, but that’s because it is a cooking utensil that’s readily available in those countries,” he said. However, it’s also featured in numerous online bomb-making tutorials and the like. “I don’t think you can say that just because it was a pressure cooker,” it’s related to those countries, Risch said. “It’s just too common on the Internet.”

Land Board sets higher timber sale target for 2013 as prices improve

Idaho’s state Land Board approved a timber sale plan for 2014 today that calls for harvesting 249 million board feet from state endowment lands, the highest logging level in more than a decade. The state endowment land timber cut has been fixed at 247 million board feet for the last several years, but next year’s includes a one-time adjustment, due to various factors in certain regions, that bumps it up by 2 million. In 2002, the state's timber sale plan volume was less than 175 million board feet.

The board, which consists of the state’s top elected officials and is chaired by Gov. Butch Otter, unanimously adopted the plan; the state received only positive public comments on it, including enthusiastic support from Bennett Lumber Products, Idaho Forest Group and Stimson Lumber Co. in North Idaho.

“Last year almost one-third of all sawlog volume brought into our facility originated from Idaho Department of Lands timber sales,” wrote Tom Biltonen, resource manager for Bennett Lumber in Princeton. “The IDL timber sale program is a critical component of Bennett Lumber’s supply base and long term viability. We appreciate the efforts of the Idaho Department of Lands in supplying raw materials to the timber industry and the resulting support of our schools and other endowments.”

Last year’s state timber harvest, despite the high level of cut, actually brought in reduced receipts due to lower prices. This year, state Department of Lands Director Tom Schultz pointed to some good news on that score – two timber sales in March brought an average stumpage price of $400 per thousand board feet, up from recent years’ averages of $200 or less; the state is now averaging around $250. State forester David Groeschl said the economic downturn brought significant drops in prices starting in 2008; now, there’s a surge in demand and a shortage of timber on the market from private sources.  “Over the next couple of years we will see improved demand and improved stumpage prices,” Groeschl said. “I think overall, it’s going to continue to slowly improve.”

None of 90 Idaho runners injured in Boston blasts

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho residents who competed in the Boston Marathon say there is no way to compare the shock and horror caused by the bomb blasts that killed three people and left another 150 injured.Fifty-four-year-old Cindy Fazzio of Kuna was one of 90 Idaho residents who competed in the storied race Monday. Fazzio says she finished the race 15 minutes before the blasts and was standing about 200 yards away. She says the first explosion caused surprise; but the second left no doubt something profound was happening. Fifty-two-year-old Michael Ehredt of Hope had finished his race and was one block away when the first bomb went off. He describes the blast like a big “firework” going off. So far, federal investigators say no one has claimed responsibility for the explosions.

Ed task force gets earful in Lewiston

The governor's education stakeholders task force heard concerns about funding, teacher salaries and standardized testing at its public forum in Lewiston last night, the Lewiston Tribune reports; click below for a full report. The newspaper reports that three of the 31 task force members attended the forum, though another report from Idaho EdNews says four task force members attended; tonight, the task force has a forum in Coeur d'Alene, at 6:30 p.m. in the North Idaho College student union building, Lake Coeur d'Alene Room.

Jury convicts would-be Tamarack buyer on all 17 fraud counts

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A federal jury has convicted a former Idaho retirement trustee on 17 counts of wire fraud for raiding those accounts in a scheme to buy Tamarack Resort. The jury deliberated for several hours Monday before finding Matthew Hutcheson of Eagle guilty on all counts. Hutcheson was working as an independent fiduciary when federal prosecutors say he took $5 million from two retirement funds he oversaw. Prosecutors argued that Hutcheson used some of that money to buy expensive vehicles and remodel his home and another portion to buy the mortgage on the resort's golf course. In closing statements, defense lawyers argued Hutcheson never meant to deceive and had investors' interests at heart. He faces up to 20 years in prison on each count. Sentencing is set for July 23.

Click below for a full report from AP reporter Hannah Furfaro.

Funding spat leads to veto…

Changes in Idaho law designed to make sure public corruption and open meeting law violations by county officials are adequately investigated have been vetoed by a governor who actually supports the changes, amid a spat between House members and the Idaho Attorney General’s office over funding. Gov. Butch Otter last week vetoed SB 1080, because a companion measure to provide funding for the new program died without a vote in the House. “I agree with this legislation’s intent,” Otter wrote in his veto message. “Unfortunately, the decision by the House of Representatives not to take up the … appropriation in SB 1195 makes my veto necessary.”

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden requested the veto, writing to the governor that he asked for the move “with deepest regret.” Without the funding, Wasden wrote, SB 1080 was “an unfunded mandate.”

Six Canyon County lawmakers banded together to sponsor the bill, in the wake of that county’s experience with disgraced former county Prosecutor John Bujak, whose case has included embezzlement charges and multiple lawsuits, but no convictions.  It would have made the Attorney General’s office responsible for the preliminary investigations in cases in which county elected officials are accused of criminal or civil offenses or open meeting law violations, rather than the local county prosecutor – who also serves as those officials’ lawyer in their day-to-day work, and thereby has a conflict of interest.

Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, the bill’s lead sponsor, said, “It will help citizens have greater confidence that things are done right and that problems are resolved appropriately.”

The follow-up appropriation bill, SB 1195, gave the Attorney General’s office $212,000 a year to hire an additional attorney and investigator to investigate such crimes or violations. It passed the Senate with only one “no” vote – from Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, who voted against all appropriation bills – but was pulled from the House floor. House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, said House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, asked her and her vice chairman, Rep. Darrell Bolz, R-Caldwell, to pull the bill back to their committee. “He said they didn’t need it,” Bell said. “We were perfectly willing to fund what they needed. What he said was they can do it out of their budget.”

Moyle said he worked with several House members to amend SB 1080 in the House to ensure that only the preliminary investigation would be up to the Attorney General’s office; after that, the case would be referred back to the county, which would be required to appoint a special prosecutor. “Once the amendments were made to the bill, it was my understanding that the funding was not necessary,” Moyle said.

Rice said, “This kind of got caught up in a disagreement with the Attorney General’s office and some in the House about that budget.” He said he’s planning to bring a version of the bill back next year; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Boise State sues former Big East conference, contesting threat of $5 million penalty

The former Big East conference is threatening to sue Boise State University for $5 million, and BSU is now suing back, filing a lawsuit in district court in Boise “asking the court to declare that no such penalty is due.” In a news release, BSU President Bob Kustra said, “Boise State entered into that agreement in good faith and with a great degree of optimism, but the conference we agreed to join simply no longer exists.” Added Boise State Athletic Director Mark Coyle, “Boise State worked diligently to try to salvage the Big East Conference and help lead it into the future, but in the end the changes and losses proved too great to overcome.” Click below for the university's full release.

Nonini wins two newspapers’ ‘jeers’ for reticence to Idaho reporters

Two Idaho newspapers, the Lewiston Tribune and the Idaho Falls Post Register, offered “jeers” on their editorial pages on Friday to Coeur d’Alene Sen. Bob Nonini, both picking up on not only points on which they disagree with Nonini’s legislative agenda, but his reluctance to talk to Idaho reporters.

Personally, I attempted to ask Nonini about his debate and vote against a fellow Coeur d’Alene lawmaker’s bill in the Senate this year immediately after that day’s session concluded, only to have him run off the Senate floor. That was followed by a comical sequence in which he jumped into a crowded Senate elevator, I joined him, he jumped out as the other senators gaped, and headed down the stairs, and I followed, only to receive “no comment.” I gave up after a flight and a half. Click below for the two newspaper’s “jeers.”

After I reported extensively last spring on Nonini's campaign finance activity during the primary election, he told me at the beginning of this year's legislative session that he doesn't like my reporting and wouldn't be speaking to me. Other than an occasional social comment, he kept that up all session. The editorial jeers weren't referring to his interactions with me, however, but to an item reported by Idaho Education News, the online Idaho news outlet that focuses on education.

Gun laws make Idaho a haven for firearms supporters

As the nation is locked in debate over expanding background checks and other measures aimed at stemming gun violence, Idaho lawmakers this year debated nine gun bills and passed four – every one of them aimed at increasing protections for Idahoans’ gun rights. The bills that passed were mostly minor tweaks to Idaho’s existing gun laws; the most significant creates a new enhanced concealed weapons permit, allowing Idahoans to choose to go through more training and get a special concealed gun permit that will be recognized in more states than Idaho’s existing permit.

“There’s little doubt that Idahoans are very supportive of the 2ndAmendment,” said House Speaker Scott Bedke. “I think we made significant progress on that front.”

Some lawmakers expressed disappointment that the state didn’t go further; the House passed a bill, HB 219, to make it a misdemeanor for Idaho police officers to enforce any new federal gun laws, but the bill died without a hearing in the Senate amid constitutional questions. Idaho’s existing gun laws already are among the least restrictive in the nation. The NRA calls Idaho a “gun-friendly” state, and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence rates it as tied for next to last among states in its gun-control laws, scoring only 2 out of 100 possible points.

“Since I’ve been in the Legislature, every year we work on gun laws, tightening up our gun laws and making sure we’re protecting people’s rights to own,” said Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, a retired Navy officer who’s sponsored lots of gun-rights legislation and is in his seventh year in the Legislature. “It’s getting hard for us - there’s no easy fixes any more.” That hasn’t stopped Idaho lawmakers from trying. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Possible national monument designations in Idaho resurface

When he was secretary of the Interior under then-President George W. Bush, former Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne worked on plans to declare two new national monuments in Idaho - the Boulder-White Clouds Mountains in central Idaho and Mesa Falls in eastern Idaho, reports the Idaho Statesman's Rocky Barker, and looked at others as well. Now there's new interest possible monument designations in Idaho, Barker reports, though Congressman Mike Simpson, who long has worked on wilderness legislation for the Boulder-White Clouds, prefers his bill to a presidential designation. Click below for a full report from Barker and the AP.

Accidental shooting at Boise gun show injures two

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Officials say a 23-year-old Mountain Home man who suffered a serious eye injury during a gun show Saturday is expected to regain his vision. The Ada County Sheriff's Office is investigating the discharge of a gun at the Fort Boise Gun Show. Police say a man picked up a gun that was part of a vendor's booth and it discharged into a display case. The bullet then struck two other guns, sending shrapnel into the air and injuring two people. Police have not identified the man with the eye injury, but authorities say they have not yet found any criminal violations and charges are not expected.

Just two members of ed stakeholders task force attended last week’s public forum in Twin Falls

Only two of the 31 education stakeholders task force members attended the Thursday night public forum in Twin Falls, reports Idaho Education News. A crowd of just under 50 turned out, but only a handful testified; the meeting, scheduled to run for more than two hours, broke up after barely an hour. You can read a full report here from Idaho EdNews’ Kevin Richert; it was a smaller turnout than the first forum in Nampa the night before, where nine task force members attended and 19 people testified.

The sessions were the first of seven scheduled statewide this month; tonight, there’s one in Lewiston, and tomorrow night, Coeur d’Alene. Also scheduled are forums in Idaho Falls, Pocatello and Boise. The governor and the state Board of Education organized the task force to identify a path forward after voters in November soundly rejected the “Students Come First” school reform laws enacted in 2011.

Mike Lanza, co-founder of the parents and teachers group that campaigned against the rejected laws, offers this commentary here on the forums and encourages people to attend and have their say.

Involving more women in leadership: ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’

More than 100 women gathered at Boise State University over the weekend for the third annual “Go Lead Idaho” conference, aimed at getting more women involved in leadership and civic participation in Idaho. “It’s amazing how easy it is to get elected,” longtime state Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, told the group to laughter. “I just knew that I was tired of working for someone that said he wasn’t going to work.” Bell advised the women, “Don’t say something you don’t mean. Plan on working.” And, she added, “Honor can always be with you.”

Reps. Kelley Packer, R-McCammon, and Holli High Woodings, D-Boise, joined Bell on that panel; other speakers included female corporate CEOs and law firm partners, a women’s leadership expert, and keynote speaker former Oregon Gov. Barbara Roberts, who pointed to the conference’s slogan, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” Growing up in a rural Oregon town, she said, she saw no examples of women leaders around her; no women held elective office in her community, none were on the news, none held influential jobs. It was as a Girl Scout working on a merit badge in women’s history that she went to her local library and read about women like Susan B. Anthony and Eleanor Roosevelt. “This knowledge can literally change our self-expectations,” Roberts said.

She shared the story of how she went from low-income, divorced mother of two, including an autistic son, to governor of the state – she started by advocating for education for her son at a time when there were no educational rights for children with disabilities like autism. Roberts bemoaned the fact that 14 states – including Idaho – still have all-male congressional delegations, and noted that while Idaho this year jumped up to 27 percent women in its state House, there are only five women serving in its state Senate and none in statewide office. “Keep doing what you did in the last legislative session in the House – you’re on your way,” she told the crowd.

Go Lead Idaho is a nonpartisan, volunteer organization working to “heighten the role of women in leadership and policy-making roles in public office, boards and commissions, private industry and non-profits;” there’s more info here. According to research by BSU's College of Social Sciences and Public Affairs, women are particularly underrepresented on private boards in Idaho.

Spring in the Boise foothills…

I felt very fortunate to have the day off today, and to get in my first mountain bike ride of the season in the foothills. Blue sky, grass as green as it gets, a huge hawk soaring languidly overhead, birds calling quietly, water running in the streams - this is the Boise foothills in the spring. What an amazing thing we have right in our back yard. Hardly any wildflowers yet, just a tiny spot of color here and there, but there'll be lots more of that to look forward to in the weeks to come…

Otter vetoes wolf management fund shift bill, Bujak bill

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter has vetoed a pair of bills, including legislation that called for diverting money from Idaho Fish and Game to a program aimed at managing problem wolves. That bill sponsored by Midvale Republican Rep. Judy Boyle would have moved $100,000 currently used for hunter access to a separate program focused on eliminating wolves that prey on livestock and prized game like elk and deer. Otter vetoed the bill Thursday, saying it could create a rift between sportsman and livestock producers — two groups he says are vital to controlling predatory wolves. He also says stakeholders weren't consulted or given the chance to review the proposal. Otter also killed a second bill Thursday that would shift power to the attorney general to investigate misconduct by elected county officials.

Here are links to the governor’s veto messages on HB 278, the wolf funds bill, and SB 1080, the Bujak bill.

CCA admits falsifying prison guard staff hours at ICC Idaho lockup

The Corrections Corp. of America, the for-profit private prison firm that operates the Idaho Correctional Center state prison south of Boise, has acknowledged falsifying prison staffing records last year, violating its contract with the state and overcharging the state for nearly 4,800 staff hours during a seven-month period, telling the state correctional officers were staffing security positions at ICC during those hours, when in fact those posts were vacant. Click below for the Idaho Department of Correction's full news release. CCA also issued its own news release; you can read it here.

DBSI chief, 3 executives indicted

A federal grand jury in Idaho has indicted the former president and three top executives of a failed Boise-area real estate company on charges that they misled investors and conspired to dupe them out of millions of dollars during the economic downturn, the Associated Press reports. Assistant U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson announced the indictment Wednesday against Douglas L. Swenson, who was the founder and president of DBSI Inc. and a group of other related companies; click below for a full report from AP reporter Todd Dvorak.

Otter names members of new insurance exchange board

Gov. Butch Otter today announced the members of the 19-member board of Idaho's new state-based health insurance exchange, including 14 he appointed; two non-voting ex-officio members, the directors of the state departments of Insurance and Health & Welfare; and three lawmakers appointed by legislative leaders. The legislators named to the board were Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell; Rep. Kelley Packer, R-McCammon; and Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston.

The governor's appointees include a doctor, a nurse, employers, health insurers, and three consumer representatives. “I’m grateful that people with the talent, experience and ability to serve effectively on this board accepted the challenge,” Otter said in a statement. “We have decided to build and operate a voluntary, state-based health insurance exchange rather than defaulting to total federal control. The folks who have agreed to serve on the board will be our eyes, ears and most importantly the voices of Idaho in this process.” Click below for the governor's full announcement.

Caldwell family sues Forest Service after falling tree at remote campsite injured their young son

A Caldwell family is suing the U.S. Forest Service for more than $1 million, the AP reports, after a large dead tree at a remote campsite fell and injured their then-6-year-old son during a camping trip in 2010. A wind gust blew down the dead tree in the Boise National Forest; the family contends the Forest Service was negligent because it didn’t remove the dead tree and it posed a hazard at the campsite. You can read the AP’s full report here.

When Morrill was behind the camera…

Marc Johnson’s “Johnson Post” has a wonderful article today about retiring Idaho Public TV general manager Peter Morrill, complete with stories from back in the old days – when Johnson was in front of the camera, and Morrill was running it.  “Peter had become through sheer design and love for the box with wires and lights a complete television talent who understood the business from the perspective of the kid carrying the tripod in the field to the state legislator wrestling over the public TV budget in the Statehouse,” Johnson writes. “It was a natural progression for him to become General Manager of Idaho’s system and the guy who would lead Idaho’s only true statewide media organization to great accomplishments while serving an ever larger audience.”

Among the stories: “We once put the late, great environmental writer Edward Abbey on the air in Moscow (Idaho) for a half hour interview even after the author of The Monkey Wrench Gang insisted that he be allowed to continue smoking his big cigar during the broadcast. That was, of course, in violation of any number of rules, but the show must go on,” Johnson writers. “Peter walked into a Russian Orthodox church service in Moscow (Russia) with a 16 mm film camera on his shoulder after assuring our KGB-like minder that of course we wouldn’t film anything inside the church. He did, mostly without having to look through the view finder.” You can read Johnson’s full article here.

Nonini says he’ll be back next year with private school tax credits bill

Coeur d’Alene Sen. Bob Nonini says he’ll be back next year with his legislation to grant $10 million a year in tax credits for donations to scholarships to private schools, which Nonini pitched unsuccessfully this year as a way to save the state millions by getting thousands of Idaho students to switch from public to private schools. Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News reports that Nonini made that announcement  in a discussion with the Heritage Foundation; you can read Richert’s full post here.

“I plan to continue the push for tax credits for donations to organizations that grant scholarships to qualifying families,” Nonini the foundation, in a Heritage Foundation article published by the Chicago-based Heartland Institute. “The legislation made substantial progress this year. I will in the interim now be visiting with senators from the tax committee that did not support the legislation to attempt to address their concerns.”

Otter signs 49 bills into law, including public school budget

Gov. Butch Otter signed 49 bills into law yesterday, including SB 1200, the public school budget bill that delayed the end of the session by a week. Otter had no comment as he signed the bills; the school budget gives Idaho schools a 2.2 percent increase in state funds next year, slightly above the 2 percent Otter recommended but below the 3 percent state schools Superintendent Tom Luna requested. The school budget set for next year, at $1.3 billion, still lags $138.7 million below the school budget Idaho lawmakers set for fiscal year 2009.

Other bills signed into law by the governor yesterday included a half-dozen appropriation bills, including the budgets for higher education and community colleges; a measure authorizing any year-end surplus beyond $20 million to be transferred to the budget stabilization fund; a bill authorizing hospitalization of mentally ill minors; another giving school districts relief from two-thirds of their maintenance match requirement for next year; and one authorizing funding for the new Veterans Recognition Fund, which would route surpluses that had been building up at the Division of Veterans Services into a fund for veterans that could, in the future, fund a new state veterans home.

Also signed into law was HB 241, a measure sponsored by Avista Corp. and Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, to crack down on metal theft in Idaho. Among its provisions: Scrap dealers will be required to photograph those who sell them metal, along with their vehicles and license plates and the metal they sell; and it will become a felony to steal metal from an electrical substation that causes damage or service interruption.

Judge: State senator’s wife overstepped role as legal assistant in murderer’s lawsuit against state

A federal judge has ruled that a state senator's wife overstepped her role as a legal assistant and had an “inappropriate” relationship with a convicted murderer who is suing the Idaho Department of Correction for sexual harassment. In November, Renee McKenzie, wife of Republican Sen. Curt McKenzie of Nampa, was appointed by a federal court to help Lance Wood, who was imprisoned for life for his role in the 1988 kidnapping and torture slaying of a gay man in Utah. She was an adviser, not an attorney, and prison officials decided in February she was overstepping the bounds of that relationship. They had intercepted a letter the inmate wrote to McKenzie, which they determined was “clearly of a personal nature.” Investigators then discovered the two had unmonitored phone conversations lasting 91 hours between December and February. On Feb. 7, they barred McKenzie from visiting Wood; click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Risch on background checks: ‘It’s just ineffective’

Idaho Sen. Jim Risch defended a planned filibuster against allowing a vote on the president's gun legislation to Anderson Cooper tonight, but also said it won't work. “It is a procedural method by which if you're successful you can stop passage of a bill,” Risch told Cooper. But, he said, “I think there's clearly 60 votes to override a filibuster. There's going to be debate on this.”

On the same program, Cooper interviewed former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the mother of a slain 6-year-old Sandy Hook Elementary School student; both spoke out in favor of the proposal for universal background checks for gun purchasers. Pressed by Cooper, Risch said, “No. 1, it doesn't work, and No. 2, it's placing a burden on a law-abiding citizen.” He said, “It isn't that it goes too far - it's just ineffective.”

Risch said, “We need to enforce the laws we have. … We ought to focus on keeping the guns out of the hands of convicted felons and people who have mental illness.”

Cooper said Risch was the only one of the 14 senators who have threatened to filibuster who agreed to appear on the program.

Risch, Crapo both threaten to filibuster Obama gun legislation; Risch to discuss on national TV tonight

Idaho Sen. Jim Risch will appear on two national news shows tonight, CBS News with Scott Pelley at 6:30 eastern time (4:30 MT) and Anderson Cooper 360 at 8 eastern (6 p.m. MT), to discuss his threat to filibuster against gun legislation in the Senate. Risch is one of 13 senators, who also include Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo, who have signed on to a letter led by Sen. Rand Paul threatening to filibuster any gun control legislation, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid prepares to bring up President Barack Obama’s gun control legislative package. Yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell joined the group, bringing it up to 14 GOP senators.

The letter, which Risch signed onto on March 22, says, “We the undersigned intend to oppose any legislation that would infringe on the American people’s constitutional right to bear arms, or on their ability to exercise this right without being subjected to government surveillance. … We will oppose the motion to proceed to any legislation that will serve as a vehicle for any additional gun restrictions.”

The president’s package includes universal background checks for gun purchasers and new laws against gun trafficking; amendments could address assault weapons or high-capacity magazines.

Idaho marks 32nd official state Holocaust commemoration with crowd of 200+

More than 200 people gathered in the Lincoln Auditorium in the state Capitol today for Idaho’s 32nd consecutive annual observance of and memorial for the Holocaust. Gov. Butch Otter, shown standing at right here at the ceremony’s closing while Rabbi Dan Fink, left, leads the audience in prayer, read a proclamation declaring this week to be “Days of Remembrance Week” and inviting “all citizens to remember the victims, the survivors and their liberators.”

“The Holocaust is one of the most terrible episodes in the history of the world,” the governor said. “We the people of the state of Idaho should always remember the terrible events of the Holocaust, and should remain vigilant against bigotry and tyranny.”

Also participating in the ceremony were Lt. Gov. Brad Little, Holocaust survivors and their families, World War II veterans, religious leaders from various faiths, Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, the Boise Philharmonic Master Chorale and more. Eleven electric candles – actual flames are prohibited in the Capitol – were lit in memory of the victims and events. Michael Shaw, center, provided sign language interpretation of the ceremony for the hearing impaired. Little shared the history of the annual official state commemoration, which started under then-Gov. John Evans.

PNS: Wage gap costs Idaho women $10,000 a year

Today is “Equal Pay Day,” reports Deb Courson Smith of Public News Service (PNS), the point at which the average pay for a woman in the U.S. catches up to the average of what a man made last year. Courson Smith reports that a new analysis of U.S. Census data by the National Partnership for Women & Families shows the average full-time female worker in Idaho makes more than $10,000 a year less than the average male worker.

Sarah Crawford, director of workplace fairness for the national partnership, told Courson Smith that not much has changed since last year's Equal Pay Day. “The interesting point,” she said, “is that there is no state where women are earning more than men. The wage gap persists in every corner of our country.” You can read her full report here. The analysis shows Idaho women earn 75 cents per hour for every dollar earned by their male counterparts; the national rate is 77 cents.

Ed stakeholders task force public forums start tomorrow in Nampa, public comments sought

The governor’s education stakeholders task force is launching its seven-city tour of the state this week, with the first public forum tomorrow night in Nampa. Boise State Public Radio reports that attendees at the Nampa forum, set for 6:30 p.m. at the Nampa High School Little Theater, will see five to 10 of the task force’s 31 members, hear a short speech by the chairman, and then the floor will be turned over to the attendees. “These sessions are to get public feedback and input, and so the bulk of these forums will be to hear from the public who attends,” she says.

Here are the questions the State Board of Education wants people to consider before speaking at the meetings:

* What is the basic amount of funding needed to adequately educate a student in Idaho?

* Given the finite amount of funding, how would you like it spent in your school?

* How should/could we balance a decentralized model with the Constitutional requirement for a uniform, thorough, common system of education?

* Is funding based on attendance an appropriate model?

* What should be the measure(s) to hold schools and districts accountable?

* What should we be measuring with respect to student achievement?

* What should be done about schools/districts that continually underperform?

* What professional technical education skills would you like to see taught in high school?

The hearings continue on Thursday night in Twin Falls, next Monday in Lewiston, April 16 in Coeur d’Alene, April 22 in Idaho Falls, April 23 in Pocatello and April 25 in Boise; you can see Boise State Public Radio’s full report here.

Would-be Tamarack buyer’s trial includes testimony about fraud, forgery

Fraud and forgery are being detailed in the federal court trial of a would-be buyer of troubled Tamarack Resort who faces 17 counts of wire fraud, the Associated Press reports; click below for a report on the trial, now four days in, from AP reporter John Miller.

Priest Lake cabin owners face costly choice

For the first time ever, the state of Idaho is opening up every state-owned cabin site on Priest Lake to conflict bidding – meaning others could bid against the current cabin owners when the 354 leases come up Dec. 31; the same is true for the 165 cabins at Payette Lake. At the same time, new state-commissioned appraisals have come in a whopping 84 percent higher for next year for the land values on the Priest Lake state lots, which are used to calculate annual rents; the Payette Lake lots actually declined slightly in value in the news appraisals.  Some Priest Lake cabin owners who were in the midst of negotiating for land exchanges to get ownership of the land under their cabins now are finding out they can’t afford it.

“It will have an effect,” said state Lands Director Tom Schultz. He’s guessing that anywhere from 8 percent to 30 percent of the 354 Priest Lake cabin owners may default on their leases, walking away from cabins that in some cases have been in their families for generations.  “I’m not going to make false promises and say that it’s going to be OK, because for some of those folks, it may not be OK,” said Schultz, who will travel north to the Spokane Valley for a meeting with cabin owners on Wednesday night. “What I’ve found is that people would rather hear the truth and be given options for dealing with the truth.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Idaho Court of Appeals overturns marijuana DUI conviction

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Court of Appeals has reversed a lower court's decision upholding a Boise man's conviction for driving under the influence of marijuana. The court ruled last week in the case of Geirrod Stark, who was found guilty in 2010 of driving while impaired. In its ruling, Judge Pro Tem Jesse Walters overturned the conviction, arguing Stark's blood test results only prove he'd used marijuana recently — not the day he was stopped. There's no question Stark was impaired that day Walters said, but there's no proof that drugs — and not some other condition — caused his erratic driving. During his original trial, Stark said he was disoriented because he was dehydrated and hungry. He said he also suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

You can read the court's full decision here. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Hannah Furfaro.

Lawmakers offer differing views on accompishments during session…

At the close of the legislative session this year, I asked a slew of North Idaho legislators what they felt like they accomplished this year. The answers varied pretty widely. Rep. Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton, said, “I just go and do my work. I don’t know what I accomplished.” Others were in the thick of the session’s biggest debates. Some met defeat with their own proposals; others carved our small but significant victories. You can read my full Sunday story here.

Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, who cited an economic development bill and building relationships for future work as his top accomplishments, said, “I’m just totally pleased with the quality of the new legislators. They’re very high-quality people. They brought legitimate business experience and a high level of integrity and understanding that impressed me.” Added Henderson, 90, “I didn’t have to babysit anybody.”

Idaho’s Girl Scout cookie tax fight makes the front page of the Wall Street Journal

Idaho's Girl Scout cookie tax fight made the front page of the Wall Street Journal today, in a story headlined, “No Brownie Points for Idaho Senate as It Keeps Tax on Girl Scout Cookies; Top Lawmakers Wouldn't Hold a Hearing Because 'Nobody Could Say No' to Cute Kids.” It's a great read. “Who can resist a Girl Scout selling something, except perhaps the state of Idaho?” the Journal asks, reporting, “Girl Scout troops for decades have lifted millions of dollars from adult wallets selling cookies to raise money for their programs. They've also been some of the nation's best lobbyists, deploying their youthful charm to fight off so many tax writers that, today, just two states―Idaho and Hawaii―try to take a bite out of their cookie sales.” You can read the full story here.
  

The week that was…

On tonight’s “Idaho Reports” program on Idaho Public Television – the final program of the year - I join Jim Weatherby, Melissa Davlin, Aaron Kunz and host Greg Hahn to discuss the week’s developments in the Legislature. Plus, Jim, Greg and I interview House Speaker Scott Bedke; Melissa interviews freshman Rep. James Holtzclaw; Emilie Ritter Saunders offers a view of some end-of-session frivolity; and I offer my “Eye on Boise” rundown of some of the week’s happenings. The show airs at 8 p.m. tonight; it re-airs Sunday at 10:30 a.m. Mountain time, 9:30 Pacific; and plays on Boise State Public Radio on Sunday at 7 p.m. After it airs, you can watch it here online any time.

Idaho tax revenue for March beats forecast by 4.4 percent

State tax figures are in for the month of March, and they beat the forecast by 4.4 percent or $5.8 million. That’s the third consecutive month that tax revenues came in ahead of expectations, and it pushes the fiscal year-to-date surplus to $22.6 million, which is 1.2 percent ahead of the projection. Still ahead is April, the biggest revenue month of the year. You can read the DFM’s monthly Idaho General Fund Revenue Report here.

Report: This year’s Legislature drafted fewer bills, but more of them became law…

The annual Sine Die Report, or Key Actions Summary, of this year’s legislative session is out now from the Legislative Services Office and posted on the Legislature’s website here. Among the interesting things it points out about the 2013 session: Fewer bills were drafted this year than any year in the past 40 years, at 777, “but curiously, the number of these RS’s that became law was the highest percentage ever recorded at close to 50 percent. Normally only about one-third of RS’s make it through the committee and floor gantlet to become law.” The stats, the report says, “seem to suggest that the legislature had a focused and limited agenda by design, and bill proposals were better thought-out to begin with and well designed to address the issue at hand.”

The report also notes that this year’s Legislature had a record number of new members, with 41 of the 105 legislators newly elected to either the House or the Senate.

Schmidt: ‘Legislature adjourns with unfinished business’

Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, a physician and an outspoken advocate of expanding Idaho's Medicaid program to replace the current county-state medical indigency and catastrophic care program, has sent an op-ed piece to Idaho newspapers saying, “The Idaho legislature adjourns with unfinished business. As health care reform moves forward, Idaho will have 100,000 people, many working poor without health coverage unless they have a catastrophic illness or injury. Then county taxpayers will pick up the bill, after the injured is found indigent, liens are filed and bankruptcy ensured.”

Schmidt writes, “We currently pay for health care for this population in an inefficient way,” and says, “We have work to do.” Click below for his full article.

EPA issues new suction dredge mining rules, includes closure of Salmon River main stem

The Environmental Protection Agency has issued a new permit and rules for recreational miners who use small-scale suction dredging equipment to explore for gold in rivers and creeks across Idaho, the AP reports.The new rules include an outright closure on the Salmon River, main stems of the state's biggest rivers and waters passing through all tribal lands. The federal permit — the first of its kind for Idaho — was designed to ensure miners adhered to the Clean Water Act and protect water quality and spawning habitat for salmon, steelhead, bull trout and other species yet still provide opportunities for the hundreds of recreational miners that set up on Idaho's rivers and streams each summer and fall; click below for a full report from AP reporter Todd Dvorak.

Session wraps up after 88 days…

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on how Idaho lawmakers adjourned their legislative session today after 88 days, running nearly a week longer than planned amid a deadlock in the Senate over the budget for public schools. In the end, the budget that passed both houses Thursday morning – with a 29-5 vote in the Senate and 57-11 in the House – was identical to the original one, giving schools a 2.2 percent boost in state funding next year to $1.3 billion. But rancor remained over the direction of education policy in Idaho; in November, voters repealed the “Students Come First” school reform laws that lawmakers had enacted in 2011 with a historic referendum vote.

An interim committee of legislators and a panel of education stakeholders organized by Gov. Butch Otter both will examine education issues and hold hearings around the state this summer. Meanwhile, the final bill to come up in this year’s legislative session was one of a slew of proposals from the Idaho School Boards Association to revive various pieces of Proposition 1, the voter-rejected measure that sought to roll back teachers’ collective bargaining rights. The bill, SB 1040a, lets school districts reduce teacher salaries from one year to the next, something Idaho law now prohibits; the House debate lasted nearly an hour. Finally, it passed on a 47-21 vote and headed to the governor’s desk.

Limit on garnishing of delinquent taxpayer’s pay becomes law without Otter’s signature

Gov. Butch Otter has allowed a bill to become law without his signature, saying he’s concerned that it’ll reduce collections by the state Tax Commission by as much as $5 million in the first year it’s in effect. The bill, SB 1047a, limits the Tax Commission when it garnishes a delinquent taxpayer’s pay to taking only up to 25 percent of the taxpayer’s wages. And if the IRS is also going after that same taxpayer’s pay for back taxes, the state would be limited to 10 percent.

“Currently, garnishments for back taxes can go up to 100 percent,” Rep. Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, told the House when it passed the bill on March 25. “While there may be some value in the collection process to be able to garnish at 100 percent, there are also many problems that would be created by taking 100 percent of somebody’s paycheck. … I believe that this is a reasonable compromise.”

The governor, in a letter to lawmakers, said he encourages the Legislature “to carefully review the impact of this legislation and make adjustments where they are needed.” You can read Otter’s letter here.

The subject may be familiar to lawmakers because a former House member, four-term Rep. Phil Hart, revealed that the IRS was garnishing 100 percent of his legislative pay for back taxes, penalties and interest. In that case, however, the federal agency left nothing for the state to grab. Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, proposed SB 1047a, saying limiting the garnishing should result in more collections in the long run, as people wouldn’t quit their jobs.

Ed stakeholders task force sets seven community forums around the state in April

The governor's education stakeholders task force has scheduled a series of seven community meetings across the state this month, including sessions in Nampa, Twin Falls, Lewiston, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho Falls, Pocatello and Boise; click below for the full list, including times and locations.

“This is an opportunity for all stakeholders to learn about what the Task Force has been working on and to offer feedback and ideas about education in our state,” said Richard Westerberg, task force chairman and state Board of Education member. “We hope to get the input of a broad cross section of the public including parents, students, educators and civic leaders.” The Coeur d'Alene, Idaho Falls and Boise sessions will be streamed live on the Internet by Idaho Public Television.

Otter, legislative leaders announce they’ll work on gun-rights legislation over the interim

Gov. Butch Otter and GOP legislative leaders announced today that they'll work together over the interim on gun-rights legislation, after several bills were proposed this session but didn't pass both houses. “Some ideas percolated in the Legislature this year but never got fully vetted,” Otter said. “We’ll look at those as well as model legislation and what’s been tried in other states. And we’ll do it in the context of the ongoing assessment of security needs at our public schools.” Otter already has appointed a task force, headed by just-retired former Idaho State Police Col. Jerry Russell, to look into school safety issues in the state.

House Speaker Scott Bedke and Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill said they'll work with the governor. “The extent and nature of federal attempts to restrict our access to arms and ammunition are still coming into focus, so we will join the governor in watching that process carefully while charting our own course forward,” Bedke said. Click below for Otter's full announcement.

Risch says he’ll run for re-election to U.S. Senate in 2014

It's more than a year before the primary election, but Idaho Sen. Jim Risch announced today that he'll seek re-election in 2014. “When I ran for this office just over four years ago, I said our country was facing many challenges,” Risch said in a statement. “Those challenges not only remain, they have gotten worse.” Click below for Risch's full announcement.

Second egg in peregrine nesting box…

There's now a second egg in the nesting box high atop a downtown Boise building where a family of peregrine falcons makes its home; you can see it live here. Experts with the Peregrine Fund expect a third egg to follow on Saturday…

Otter gives session high marks, says work remains for next year…

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter today gave this year's legislative session high marks, saying, “What they produced was impressive and consistent with my priorities and our shared commitment to responsible, accountable and limited government. We also have a path forward on several key issues and a firm foundation for more improvements in 2014 and beyond.”

Otter gathered GOP legislative leaders plus House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, in his office for a news conference on the completion of the legislative session. “I think we all worked very well together,” the governor said. He called the personal property tax relief bill for business equipment “one of the outstanding achievements of the Legislature,” saying, “We started out very aggressively. we looked at resources available, so that we did no harm to local governments. And through constant vetting and massage of what our idea was, I think that what we came up with was affordable and it gives us a path forward.”

Otter said that's a model for an issue the Legislature didn't take up this year: Medicaid expansion. “When we do do it, I want it to go through the same process that we did with personal property tax,” he said. “I want to have all the eyes on it that we can possibly get.”

He also suggested next year's Legislature will need to look at transportation funding improvements, an issue he pushed unsuccessfully in 2008 and 2009. “There's a need there,” the governor said.

“I believe it was an excellent session, especially considering some of the tough courses that we had to take,” Otter said. He said the education stakeholders task force he's convened should give the state good direction on education policy for next year. “I am praying, and I think we have all the players and stakeholders in position to come up with a reform of our public education system,” he said. He quipped, “We left some things undone so we could have a reason to come back.” Click below for the governor's full news release.

Dems sound positive note in look back on session, with some exceptions…

House and Senate Democrats sounded a positive note in their post-session press conference this afternoon, saying their majority Republican colleagues were more willing to work with them this year. “We hold it as a sacred duty to listen to all of our constituents regardless of party affiliation,” said House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston. He praised Republicans for being willing to “tone down the rancorous voices of some of their more vocal activists” and work together “for reasonable and moderate solutions to our challenges.”

Among those, he cited the state health insurance exchange legislation, Gov. Butch Otter’s big legislative victory and one the Democrats supported while Republicans were more divided; and the personal property tax relief for business equipment, which was scaled back to a level that wouldn’t endanger local government services. “Lawmakers agreed to stop spending tax dollars on an empty governor’s mansion,” Rusche said. “We made a step toward gaining an understanding of why human rights protections must be extended to all members of society.” He also lauded the addition of five WWAMI medical school seats, and “a respite in the erosion of teachers’ salaries.”

However, Democrats decried other moves made this year, particularly the series of bills to revive various pieces of the voter-rejected “Students Come First” school reform laws. Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said, “It would have been much wiser to let the governor’s schools task force find consensus and seek input from parents, teachers and students.” She also decried the bill to make it tougher to qualify initiative or referendum measures for the ballot, saying, “there was no reason to pass this legislation,” and the Legislature’s refusal to consider Medicaid expansion this year. “GOP leaders couldn’t find the courage to do the right thing,” she said. Click below for the Dems' full statement.

Otter expresses concerns to lawmakers about two bills, but still signs them…

Gov. Butch Otter today sent two transmittal letters to lawmakers, noting bills that he had signed into law, but with caveats. They included HB 315, the personal property tax relief bill, which exempts the first $100,000 in business equipment from the tax in each county, for each taxpayer. “This legislation is a good and important start toward the goal of eliminating the personal property tax in Idaho,” Otter wrote. “However, it is only a start. … For now, please accept my thanks for working through a complex and potentially divisive issue and for delivering this legislation to my desk. It is welcome relief for most Idaho businesses.”

The other letter was about HB 192, a bill that passed both houses unanimously to create a new, optional enhanced concealed weapons permit that requires more training than a regular permit, but would be recognized in more states. “The intent of this bill is laudable,” Otter wrote. “However, it is important to note as I sign this legislation that its fiscal note was inadequate to address the actual costs that the Idaho Transportation Department and the Idaho State Police will face in its implementation. The agencies estimate they will be required to shoulder unfunded one-time costs totaling more than $80,000 – a particular burden when our budgets already are so close to the bone – plus ongoing annual costs of more than $1,500 to integrate this new permit into existing computer systems.”

He wrote, “I encourage the Legislature to be more forthcoming and thorough in its assessment of the fiscal impact of legislative actions on our state agencies and, ultimately, on our taxpayers.”

Lawmakers celebrate end of 88-day session

Once the House had adjourned, Speaker Scott Bedke invited everyone – including Gov. Butch Otter, the press, staffers and others – to a cake reception in the speakers’ office, and representatives, family members and others filled the hallways, talking and enjoying their cake. Bedke told the House amid laughter, “You’re all welcome to come to the speaker’s office and eat in the majority leader’s office.”

House adjourns sine die

The House has adjourned sine die, ending this year's legislative session. The official time was 11:31 a.m. “We look forward to meeting with you again next year,” said Majority Leader Mike Moyle.

House passes bill allowing teacher pay cuts on 47-21 vote, prepares to adjourn

The House has voted 47-21 in favor of SB 1040a, the bill to let school districts reduce teachers’ salaries from one year to the next and make other changes in teacher contract laws; all 12 House Democrats present joined nine House Republicans in opposing the bill. The Republicans voting no were Reps. Agidius, Anderson(01) Bolz, Eskridge, Hancey, Moyle, Perry, Stevenson and Wills. “Teachers have good jobs compared to those who have no jobs,” Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, the bill’s House sponsor, told the House.  “And in many places in Idaho we have folks with no jobs who are still struggling to keep their homes and their businesses and pay their property tax to support their local schools.”

That was the last bill the House had before it; the final debate lasted nearly an hour. Now, the House is preparing to adjourn for the session.

House debate: ‘The voters said no, so I’m saying no,’ ‘You just can’t get the job done’

The House is continuing to debate SB 1040a, the bill to let school districts cut teacher pay from one year to the next and make other changes to teacher contract law. “This bill comes substantially out of Proposition 1,” Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, told the House. “When is this Legislature going to start listening to the people who elected us? I know, I hear it said, well, the people didn’t know what they were doing, they didn’t know what they were voting on. If that’s the case, then the people who voted for me didn’t know who they were voting for. … If we believe in democracy on some level, we have to accept the word of the people.”

Rep. Sue Chew, D-Boise, said, “The voters of the state of Idaho said no – so I’m saying no.”

Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, told the House, “How do we attract good teachers? I don’t think through bills like this one.” She said, “We send them a message that they’re really not at the top of our priority list at all. … I think we’re going to have a dickens of a time recruiting them with bills like this.”

Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, spoke in favor of the bill. “School boards have been given the responsibility to manage their districts, but they are unable to appropriately manage 80 to 90 percent of the state general funds that come because there is law restricting reduction of salaries,” she said. “To me that is like playing the piano and having 10 fingers available, but only being able to use one or two. You just can't get the job done.”

The Senate has adjourned sine die

The Senate has now adjourned sine die, ending its session. The House is still going, debating SB 1040a, a teacher contracts bill.

Senate preparing to adjourn, House locked in debate over teacher contract bill

The Senate is sending committees to notify the House and the governor that it’s prepared to adjourn sine die. Meanwhile, the House is locked in debate on SB 1040a, a bill that lets school districts cut teacher pay from one year to the next and makes other changes to teacher contracts, including changing dates. Rep. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, urged the House to reject the bill. “This bill guts teachers’ contracts,” she said. She said SB 1146, which already passed both houses, lets school districts lower teachers’ salaries if they declare a financial emergency.

“If we continue to erode teachers’ rights in contracts, I’m worried they’re going to become little more than indentured servants,” she said, “and this is a road we don’t want to go down. We want our best and brightest to enter the teaching profession. We want them to say in Idaho.”

House passes public schools budget bill, 57-11

The House has voted 57-11 in favor of SB 1200, the public school budget bill; most of the opponents were Republicans. Now, the House is moving on to SB 1040a, on which there's been an objection on procedural grounds from House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, as the House moved to suspend rules and allow the bill to be considered immediately.

Senate passes final bill, prepares to adjourn

The Senate has passed its final bill, HB 345 regarding year-end transfers, on a unanimous, 34-0 vote, and is now preparing to adjourn for the session.

House takes up ‘going-home bill,’ the school budget

Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls, told the House he’s presenting the “going-home bill.” It’s SB 1200, the budget for public schools. The school budget earlier passed the House easily, but it was defeated by one vote in the Senate; the new version followed a different process, but has the same numbers, giving schools a 2.2 percent increase in state general funds next year. It passed the Senate earlier this morning on a 29-5 vote.

Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, debated against the bill, saying it’s not “a happy going-home bill” for school kids or property taxpayers – because he said the appropriation amount is too low. He noted the growing numbers of school districts around the state seeking, and passing, tax override levies.  “The public schools need more money,” Gannon said.

House is back in session, public schools up next…

The House is also back in session; it has just two bills left, the public school budget, SB 1200, and SB 1040a, an Idaho School Boards Association bill that lets school districts lower teacher pay from one year to the next.

Senate back in session, just one bill left…

The Senate is back in session; it has just one bill left, the year-end transfer bill that JFAC approved yesterday and the House already passed earlier this morning. It transfers any surplus beyond $20 million into the budget stabilization fund; it was requested by the governor.

House members filter back in…

House members are filtering back in to the chamber after their caucus; next up will be SB 1200, the public schools budget. The House has only one other bill left, SB 1040a.

Senate passes school maintenance flexibility bill, goes at ease…

The Senate has passed SB 319 on a unanimous, 34-0 vote. That bill allows school districts coping with limited budgets to shift up to two-thirds of their required school building maintenance match to other purposes, under certain circumstances. That bill also now moves to the Senate. After passing that bill, the Senate went at ease; both parties in the House are still behind closed doors in caucus.

Senate passes school budget, 29-5

The Senate has voted 29-5 in favor of SB 1200, the new version of the public school budget. There was little debate. “It’s not a perfect budget, but it is a collaborative budget … to do what’s best for our schools, our teachers, and our children,” Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, told the House.

Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, explaining his vote, said, “I’ve voted no on every appropriation bill as my way, I guess, of trying to make my little point of the increased cost of benefits. I believe they’re unsustainable. We’ve kicked that can down the road. … I think our priorities aren’t in order, I think we need to address this in the near future. This senator will be voting no.”

Sen. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, said, “I will be voting aye, however I still have an issue with the discretionary funds, and hopefully in the future we can stop the epidemic of the overrides or the supplementals in our schools by increasing supplemental funds.”

Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, also explaining his vote, said, “I intend to vote aye on this bill. I think we have problems with one-time money, but that will be the decision of the gentleman on the 2nd  floor. I also would like to see more money in discretionary and really addressing the operations expenses that districts have, but that’s a topic for discussion on another day in another year.”

The bill now moves to the House.

House passes HB 345, surplus eliminator sending $ to reserve fund

House Appropriations Chair Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, told the House that HB 345 would transfer any year-end surplus beyond $20 million to the budget stabilization fund. “This is a year-end surplus eliminator,” Bell said. “It is going to take a lot of faith on our part, because at this point, there is no surplus to eliminate.” The bill passed unanimously, on a 67-0 vote.

The House then recessed for short caucuses for both parties. Meanwhile, the Senate is debating SB 1200, the public schools budget.

Both houses convene for final day…

Both the House and the Senate are in session this morning for their final day of this year’s legislative session, the 88thday. First up in the Senate is suspension of rules to consider SB 1200, the new version of the public school budget. The House is debating SCR 103, encouraging Idaho colleges and universities to compete to become test sites for drone technology. The House also will soon be suspending its rules to consider SB 1200, Majority Leader Mike Moyle told the House, along with HB 345, on year-end transfers.

A week and much angst later, new school budget matches old one

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on how Idaho lawmakers wrote a new public schools budget today, one that’s virtually identical to the $1.3 billion spending plan that was rejected by one vote in the Senate last week, but this budget was the result of a different process – including a public hearing early Wednesday morning before the joint House and Senate Education committees – and Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, who led the move to kill the budget in the Senate last week, said it was a better one. “From what I know at this point, I plan on voting for the budget,” Goedde said late Wednesday. “I don’t have any huge arguments with what’s been moving forward.”

Goedde said he liked tweaks the education committees made to the wording in SB 1199, the bill they passed and that lawmakers sent to the governor today; he also appreciated clarification that the $21 million for teacher merit bonuses and professional development and the $3 million for technology pilot project grants were one-time money. Though there’s no change in how those funds are handled in the new version of the budget, it more specifically calls out the one-time nature of those two appropriations.

Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, supported the original school budget this year, HB 323, and also supported the new version in JFAC today. “I don’t think there’s really much of substance that’s different,” she said. “I think it was kind of an expensive exercise.”

The emergence of the new school budget from the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee puts the Legislature on track to adjourn on Thursday. Predicted Goedde, “We’re out by noon.”

Kootenai County rescinds firing of public defender

Kootenai County public defender John Adams won’t be fired after all, county commissioners decided this week, saying two of the three commissioners had been unaware of Adams’ recent cancer diagnosis during their previous vote. The decision to reinstate Adams was made by the board “as a whole,” the county announced; you can read more here at spokesman.com.

Would-be Tamarack buyer’s trial opens in federal court

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Jury selection is complete in a case where a retirement fund trustee is fighting federal prosecutors' claims he stole money from clients to help finance his failed bid to buy an Idaho ski resort. Matthew Hutcheson's trial in U.S. District Court in Boise began Wednesday and may last until April 19. He is accused of stealing $5 million to help buy Tamarack Resort, where President George W. Bush vacationed and where tennis great Andre Agassi tried building a luxury hotel. Hutcheson was indicted in 2012, on 31 federal counts. Prosecutors aim to convince a jury Hutcheson took retirees' money, to enrich himself and to buy financially-crippled Tamarack in Donnelly. Hutcheson, an independent fiduciary from Eagle, argues he acted in a “legal manner” in discharging duties as a retirement account trustee.

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

House passes ed policy bill, SB 1199, adjourns for day

House Education Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, told the House that his committee heard supportive testimony on SB 1199 today from the Idaho School Boards Association, the Idaho Association of School Administrators, and the Idaho Education Association. “There was no opposition to this whatsoever,” DeMordaunt said. “In addition, we had a number of teachers there on their own accord who were strongly in favor of this. So it clearly is an idea that has strong support.” The bill then passed the House on a 51-12 vote, with all 12 opponents coming from the GOP side; it now goes to the governor’s desk.

This is the bill that broke the impasse over the Senate-defeated public school budget; it separates two programs that had been included in the budget, for $21 million in a combination of locally-directed teacher merit bonuses and professional development, and $3 million in technology pilot program grants, into a bill that went through the education committees, rather than just being in the budget bill.

Those voting “no” were Reps. Barbieri, Barrett, Boyle, Gestrin, Crane, Palmer, Harris, McMillan, Monks, Sims, Wood(35), and Holtzclaw.

With that bill passed, the House adjourned until 9 a.m. tomorrow.

House suspends rules, takes up SB 1199

The House is suspending its rules and taking up SB 1199, the new education policy bill on locally-directed teacher merit bonuses and state grants for technology pilot projects in school districts. It will be the last bill the House handles today; tomorrow morning, Majority Leader Mike Moyle said, the House will have three bills left, some back-and-forth with the Senate, and then it'll be done for the session.

Why they voted no, and why one switched…

Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, said the reason he joined the four-person minority in 20-member JFAC today voting against half the motions in the new public school budget was because he voted only for the divisions that didn’t include salary and benefit funding or discretionary funding to school districts. He said he remains concerned that the state should allocate more to discretionary funding. “This budget is very lopsided into salaries and benefits,” he said. “Teachers and administrators are hard-working … they haven’t received the money that I would like them to get, but there has to be a balance.” He said he hopes next year, the Legislature will pay more heed to restoring recent years’ cuts in discretionary funding.

Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, said he voted no on those motions because there were “no changes from the previous budget,” which he also opposed; HB 323 earlier cleared JFAC on 15-5 vote and easily passed the House, but died by one vote in the Senate.

Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, who was part of the 5-vote minority in the first go-round in JFAC but voted with the majority today in favor of all the public school budget motions said, “Well, that’s going to be the budget. We had our discussion, we lost, and I still think there could have been some adjustments to it to get a little bit more discretionary, but I didn’t see that voting against it was going to do any good. It was not a bad budget to begin with.”

House passes Senate-amended charter facilities funding bill, 40-27

HB 206aa, the charter school facilities funding bill, has passed the House as amended in the Senate, sending the measure to the governor's desk. There was bipartisan opposition; the bill passed on a 40-27 vote, with those dissenting including Majority Leader Mike Moyle R-Star. The measure grants charter schools a per-student allocation from the state budget to cover a portion of their building costs each year; unlike regular school districts, they can't ask voters to raise their own property taxes to fund school buildings, which is the major way that Idaho funds schoolhouses. Under the bill, the per-student allocation would go only to brick-and-mortar, as opposed to “virtual” or online charter schools; but the virtual charters could get state reimbursement for 50 percent of their documented building expenses, for expenses like offices or testing center. The cost of the bill next year is estimated at $1.4 million; it would rise through a formula in future years.

The House also voted 45-22 in favor of the Senate-amended version of HB 221aa, the charter school governance overhaul bill. The Senate amended the bill to remove a clause that would have let 501c3 nonprofit corporations set up state-funded charter schools; the bill now adds only private and public colleges or universities as charter school authorizers. That measure, too, now goes to the governor's desk.

Final budget motion: Any surplus at year-end beyond $20M goes to budget stabilization fund

The final action considered by the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee this afternoon is a new bill to transfer any unanticipated surplus in the state budget in excess of $20 million at the end of fiscal year 2013 into the budget stabilization fund, the state’s main savings account. The fund would otherwise have a balance of $49.7 million on that date, June 30, 2013. It was approved on a unanimous vote.

There was little discussion on the bill, which was requested by Gov. Butch Otter. “We didn't see anything wrong with doing it,” said Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert. “We think it's optimistic.”

Intent language adopted unanimously, public school budget set at same level as before

There was no objection to the intent language attached to the public school budget in the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee this afternoon, so it was adopted by unanimous consent. That leaves the new public school budget pretty much the same as the Senate-defeated one, with the difference being that it leaves out items that have been incorporated into SB 1199, and instead references that legislation. Overall, schools would get a 2.2 percent increase next year in state general funds.

Some 16-4 votes, some unanimous…

The motion for the children’s programs division in the school budget passed unanimously in JFAC this afternoon, on a 20-0 vote. Then, the motion for the division of facilities passed on a 16-4 vote, the same as earlier motions, with Sens. Mortimer, Nuxoll, Vick and Bayer objecting. The final motion, from Rep. Steve Miller for the Division of Educational Services for the Deaf & Blind, passed unanimously.

That wraps up the public school budget-setting, resulting in a new budget that's identical to the previously approved, Senate-rejected one, but for two differences: The two items of intent language that were removed and instead refer to SB 1199, and breaking the technology funds from a single $13.4 million line item into two items, at $3 million and $10.4 million. The joint committee is now looking at the intent language that is tied to the various motions.

There's an unaccustomed, bright light shining down into the JFAC chamber from the skylights above; that's because the committee usually meets in the early morning, but today it's the afternoon sun that's filtering in.

Same 16-4 votes repeated; numbers match earlier, defeated school budget

The second and third motions on the public school budget, for the divisions of teachers and operations, have passed by identical 16-4 votes, the same as the first motion, with just Sens. Mortimer, Nuxoll, Vick and Bayer objecting.

The budget motions appear to be building toward a total budget for public schools next year of $1.308 billion in state general funds, $1.6 billion in total funds, identical to the earlier defeated school budget, HB 323. That’s a 2.2 percent increase in general funds, and 2 percent overall.

At the start of the meeting, budget analyst Paul Headlee explained that the joint committee is exempt from Joint Rule 9 of the Senate and House preventing the exact same numbers from appearing in the new budget bill. There is a change from before, however: Two sections of intent language are missing, instead referring to SB 1199, the new bill that passed the Senate and won backing from the House Education Committee earlier today, regarding teacher merit bonuses and technology pilot project grants.

First motion of six in public school budget clears JFAC, 16-4

The first motion of the six in the public school budget, for administration, has passed JFAC on a 16-4 vote, with just Sens. Dean Mortimer, Sheryl Nuxoll, Steve Vick and Cliff Bayer objecting. That’s one more vote than the original school budget, HB 323, got in the joint committee earlier before being defeated by one vote in the Senate; this time around, Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, voted in favor. “The motion is straightforward, and pretty close to the original motion,” said Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls, who made the successful motion; it was seconded by Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert.

House Ed to meet on adjournment - now

The House Education Committee has just announced it'll meet on adjournment of the House - now. On its agenda is SB 1199, the new Senate-passed bill that both the House and Senate education committee held a hearing on this morning; it deals with two pieces of the public school budget, merit bonuses for teachers and technology pilot project grants.

House passes drone privacy bill, 66-2

The House has passed the drone privacy bill, SB 1134aa, on a 66-2 vote, with just Reps. Christy Perry, R-Nampa, and Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, dissenting. Now, Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, said the House plans to recess until 2:30 p.m. to allow the House Education Committee and JFAC to meet.

‘The drones are coming’

The Senate is now at ease, and members are milling around, awaiting SB 1134aa, the drone bill, from the House. The House has just begun debate on the much-amended measure, which seeks to restrict the use of unmanned drones without a warrant, to protect privacy. “You need a warrant for targeting specific individuals or specific private property,” Luker told the House, explaining the amendments. “This is our best effort at this time, given the amount of time we have in the session, to deal with … expectations of privacy vs. new technology,” he said.

His opening comment: “The drones are coming.”

House passes P&Z exemption bill for garage on 42-26 vote

The House has voted 42-26 in favor of SB 1192a, the bill to exempt a state parking garage project near the Capitol from local Boise city planning and zoning requirements. The bill, which earlier passed the Senate, now goes to the governor's desk.

Rules suspended, bills moving quickly in both houses…

The House is working through a suspension calendar; it has already suspended rules and approved HCR 36, on reauthorizing the LINE Commission, and HB 343, the so-called “drop-dead bill” that extends all administrative rules, which otherwise would expire July 1. Now, the Senate has reconvened and is taking up HB 343, also suspending rules to allow it to come up right away.

House debating bill to override Boise city planning and zoning for state garage…

The House is debating SB 1192a, the Senate-passed bill to exempt a state parking garage project near the Capitol from Boise city planning and zoning requirements. “We sold the bonds on the parking garage last year, and we are on a very strict timetable,” Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, told the House. “We would like to have SB 1192 in our back pocket.”

Rep. Ed Morse, R-Hayden, said, “This is special-interest legislation, and while I see the equity, I also see the hypocrisy in the state exempting themselves from local government control.” He said he’d prefer to amend the bill to exempt everyone in the state from planning and zoning requirements. “This is a perfect example, an excellent opportunity to change the law for every private property owner in the state,” Morse told the House. “They’re all suffering under this system.”

Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, noted that the parking garage is six stories high. “Two stories is the height of most of the buildings that surround it,” he said. “Nobody is asking the state not to build the garage or saying, ‘Oh, well, you can’t build six stories.’ What they’re just saying, as I understand it, is can we influence the design a little bit so it fits esthetically with the neighbors. And I think that’s a reasonable discussion to have.”

Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, spoke against the bill. “I just contend that the issue is whether or not the state should comply with the rules and regulations that we’re requiring every private party to comply with, whenever they’re doing any building at all, and I urge you to vote no.”

Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, said, “This is just gaming the system. This is just saying when this Legislature decides we don’t want to play by the rules, we won’t.”

JFAC to meet at 1:30

Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, has announced to the Senate that the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee will meet at 1:30 p.m. today.

Senate passes SB 1199, 31-3

There was no debate, and the Senate has voted 31-3 in favor of SB 1199, the new education bill regarding teacher merit bonuses and technology pilot project grants. Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise, who asked for 60 seconds to explain his vote, noted the pending education stakeholders task force and interim legislative committee on education issues. “I’d rather sit back and see what the fruit of those processes are,” he said. The other two “no” votes came from Sens. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, and Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens. The bill now moves to the House side.

Goedde tells Senate that SB 1199 ‘may look familiar’

Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, is presenting SB 1199 to the Senate, after a unanimous vote to suspend rules to allow the bill to come up right away. “The language … may look familiar,” he told the Senate. “It was found in another bill … but with some changes.”

Choreographing a complex legislative dance…

The Senate is at ease, while Senate leaders from both parties huddle with Senate Secretary Jennifer Novak on the complex dance that’s ahead of them, as they suspend rules, move between various orders, and pick up late bills due to arrive from the House, including HB 343, the so-called “drop-dead bill” affirming administrative rules for the session, and HCR 36, the measure reauthorizing the LINE Commission. Both of those will require the Senate State Affairs Committee to go through the “buck slip” process, in which every committee member signs off to allow the bill to proceed directly to the floor, rather than first go through a committee hearing.

Davis warned senators from the outset this morning that this was coming. “We’re at that stage of the session where we need to start and stop a few times,” he said.

He also advised the Senate that once it’s dealt with SB 1199, the education bill, and also suspended rules to consider HB 343, HCR 36, and SB 1134a, all coming from the House, “It’s our intent to adjourn for the day and allow the joint committee to go to work.” That would be the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, which still needs to approve a new public school budget bill.

Senate convenes, plans to suspend rules, take up SB 1199…

The Senate has convened this morning; it’s planning to suspend its rules and take up SB 1199, the bill just approved this morning in the Senate Education Committee regarding two sections of the public school budget, on teacher merit bonuses and technology pilot grants.

Peterson: A rightward repeat?

Longtime Idaho political watcher - and player – Marty Peterson offers some historical perspective on this year’s defeat of the public school budget in the Senate and its larger implications, in a column today at Ridenbaugh.com; you can read it here. Peterson points to the events of 1963, when Idaho’s Republican Party lurched to the right, setting in motion a process that led to conservative Don Samuelson being elected governor for a single term, after which the Democrats and Cecil Andrus captured the governorship in 1970, for the first time in a quarter-century.

“If history repeats itself, there just may be some Democrats who are quietly celebrating the shift in the philosophical control of the Senate,” Peterson writes. “The question now is, what Republican is going to play the role of Don Samuelson in 2014? And what Democrat will play the role of Cecil Andrus in 2018? In 2018 it will have been 24 years since the Democrats last occupied the governor’s office. Just like it was in 1970 when Andrus defeated Samuelson.”

Senate Ed endorses SB 1199 with just one dissenting vote

The Senate Education Committee has approved SB 1199 with just one dissenting vote, from Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise. Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, moved to send the bill to the full Senate with a  recommendation that it pass. “It’s not exactly what I would have scripted, but it does reflect some ongoing objectives that we’ve been trying to get to for some time,” he said.

Durst spoke against the motion. “I simply can’t endorse, from my standpoint, policy that hasn’t been really well thought-out and isn’t strategic in nature,” he said, noting that both the governor’s education stakeholder task force and  legislative interim committee will be addressing education issues over the coming months. “If we want to have differential pay, let’s have a discussion about what that looks like,” Durst said. “Don’t just make it a one-year thing. Make it a permanent thing if we want to do it. We tried that before, the outcome was rejection by the voters. I think at this point we’re sending a mixed message to our constituents … put it right back in their face and tell them they’re going to like it.”

Sen. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, said, “I feel much better about voting positively in this case, since we did have a public hearing, we had good testimony, and we didn’t have any opposition.” The bill now moves to the full Senate.

Testimony: ‘Stakeholder groups are closer together’

In testimony this morning on SB 1199:

Ryan Kerby, superintendent of the New Plymouth school district, said, “We believe that the bill is a little stronger now. … The expectations are a little bit clearer, and we think we’re going to probably be better off at the end. … We’re very pleased … that the stakeholder groups are closer together, have a better working relationship on these concepts than we’ve had in many, many years. That’s a very big deal when we’re out there in the middle trying to improve things.”

Lisa Boyd, principal at Desert Springs Elementary School in the Vallivue School District, between Caldwell and Nampa, said her school is a pilot school for her district in providing iPads to kids. “This last yer we’ve been lucky enough to get a classroom set per grade level as well as some of the infrastructure we need,” she said. She said her school includes high numbers of low-income students and students who are just learning English. “I think we could pull the fire alarm and they don’t move,” she said. “They’re glued to that iPad. … They’re super, super excited.”

Robin Nettinga, executive director of the Idaho Education Association, said, “We realize that while the public school funding bill is yet to be written and vetted, and that SB 1199 simply codifies certain areas that were of concern to members of the committee … the language before you, at least in terms of differentiated pay, is almost identical.” She said the IEA supported HB 323. “Changing the way school employees are paid is complex,” she said. If done well, it can drive achievement, she said, while “if done poorly, it can create dissension. … SB 1199 allows for that local decision-making.”

Testimony: ‘Could find ways to use that money,’ ‘Excitement for learning’

In public testimony so far this morning on SB 1199:

Rob Winslow of the Idaho Association of School Administrators spoke in support of the bill. “Two key points that we greatly appreciate, certainly, are in the differential pay, it gives flexibility to districts in how they handle that differential pay, and … the other part for technology with a grant process, we support that. We have worked on grants before, and districts look fwd to that option as well.” Sen. Branden Durst asked Winslow if district superintendents have expressed any “consternation” about the bill. Winslow said, “At least the prior bill that has similar language, and things that we had time to discuss with them … they felt they could work through this. … They felt that all of them could find ways to use that money to take care of their needs.”

Colleen Johnson, principal at Paul Elementary, spoke in support of technology grants, describing her school’s experience with a grant from iSchool that supplied iPads for every student. “With the full school deployment, the entire staff had the opportunity to learn technology together,” she said. “Since we deployed the iPads in November, we’ve also seen an increase in academic achievement. … The most apparent benefit is higher student engagement and excitement for learning.” She noted that her school’s copy count went down by 20,000 copies after one month. “We will not need to buy consumables or workbooks for next year,” she said.

Ashley Johnson, a 5thgrade teacher at Paul Elementary, said, “They each have their own device, actively engaged in learning.” She said last year, she had six iPads in her class for 25 students to share; this year each student has his or her own. “I’ve seen increased excitement for learning,” she said. “This is a learning device, this isn’t to play games.”

Luna presents SB 1199 to House, Senate ed committees

State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna presented SB 1199 to the joint hearing this morning of the House and Senate Education committees. He summarized the bill, noting that it sets policy for the public schools budget in two areas, both on just a one-time basis: Authorizing district-directed merit bonuses, and allowing for technology pilot project grants to districts for one to two years.

House and Senate committee members are now asking Luna questions about the bill. Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise, questioned whether the bonuses would impact other legislation setting triggers regarding when districts can cut teacher pay from one year to the next. Luna responded, “This $21 million is not an increase to the amount we are spending on teacher compensation.” He noted that in this year’s budget, there was $38 million for teacher merit bonuses, under the now-repealed “Students Come First” laws.

The $21 million for one-time bonuses next year would go out based on individual school districts plans, which could include using up to 40 percent of the money for professional development. Incidentally, the $21 million figure doesn’t appear in SB 1199, which contains no dollar figures; those are left up to JFAC to set, but Luna indicated they’re expected to remain largely the same as those specified in the earlier, Senate-rejected public school budget. That was $21 million for the bonuses and professional development, and $3 million for tech pilot project grants.

‘A little different procedure’ for this morning’s joint education hearing

There’s quite a crowd of lawmakers on the dais in the Lincoln Auditorium this morning for the joint House-Senate Education committees hearing on SB 1199; here, they’re gathering for the 8 a.m. hearing. “Committees, this is a little different procedure,” Senate Education Chairman John Goedde said. “We’re operating individually at the same time in this proceeding. So at the end … when it’s necessary to take up the bill, we can dismiss the House, they will adjourn, and we can do the business before us.”

House Education Chairman Reed DeMordaunt said, “So this is our public hearing on SB 1199. However, we will not and cannot vote on this piece of legislation; it will need to make its way through the process. And when we see it at the House, at that point in time, we will convene our committee and take the necessary action at that point in time.”

Limerick No. 3: The House freshmen

Although it was just their first year

They turned the whole place on its ear

House freshmen avowed

They would not be cowed

Though purists might threaten and jeer.

Otter signs bill making it tougher to qualify measures for Idaho ballot

Gov. Butch Otter has signed SB 1108 into law, the measure making it tougher to qualify an initiative or referendum measure for the Idaho ballot. “I thought it was the right thing to do,” said Otter, who signed the bill yesterday. “I agreed with the arguments that it’s an issue for all of Idaho – why shouldn’t all of Idaho be included in it?”

Under current law in Idaho, it takes signatures from 6 percent of registered voters to qualify a measure for the ballot; SB 1108 adds a requirement for 6 percent of the registered voters in each of 18 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts. The Idaho Farm Bureau Federation pushed the bill, saying it would preserve the voice of rural areas if animal-rights activists decided to run ballot-measure campaigns.

The bill followed November’s historic voter rejection of the “Students Come First” school reform laws in three referendum measures, the first time since 1936 that Idaho voters had overturned laws passed by the Legislature through a referendum vote. Initiatives have proven only slightly more popular in Idaho; 14 have passed since statehood.

Otter said he didn’t want ballot measures to be driven by “the great state of Ada,” referring to Ada County, home of Boise and the state Capitol and the state’s largest population center. “We’re a government for all of Idaho,” he said. “I think if the initiative has enough support from all over the state, you could get signatures from all over the state.” Meanwhile, a follow-up bill from Secretary of State Ben Ysursa would ease the burden the new law would otherwise place on initiative signature-gatherers by not requiring them to juggle three separate clipboards and petitions in Kootenai County – where there are three legislative districts - nine in Ada, etc., and not requiring voters to know their legislative district to sign, under penalty of law. Instead, county clerks would look up and verify that information; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Interim committees set on fed lands, public defenders, K-12 ed, criminal justice system

Legislative leaders have decided on the interim study committees that will be funded between now and next session; they include four new ones, along with several existing and continuing ones. Here are the new study committees and their authorizing legislation:

HCR 21: Studying how Idaho can acquire title to and take over management of federal lands within the state.

HCR 26: Studying how to reform the state’s public defender system.

HCR 33: Studying how to improve and strengthen Idaho’s K-12 public school system.

SCR 128: Launching a complete study of the Idaho criminal justice system.

Continuing interim committees include the Natural Resources Issues study committee; the Health Care Task Force; and the Energy, Environment & Technology Issues study committee.

One measure that was proposed, but not included for funding due to the number of interim committees proposed: HCR 28, proposing a complete study of Idaho’s alcoholic beverage laws.

Rural Idaho schools face demand from feds to pay back timber payments

Schools in Idaho’s timber-dependent rural communities could be facing a bill from the federal government for $400,000, Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News reports, as the feds demand a refund of payments already sent out under the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, as part of sequestration cuts. Thirty-one U.S. House members sent a letter to the Obama Administration last week objecting to the demand for repayment; they included Idaho’s 2nd District Rep. Mike Simpson, but not 1st District Rep. Raul Labrador, Richert reports. You can read his full post here.

New school budget may have only ‘minor tweaks,’ but Goedde says it’s a better process

Click below for a full report from AP reporters Hannah Furfaro and John Miller on the session-ending deal on the education budget, which includes the introduction of SB 1199 today, to let the House and Senate Education committees vet proposals on locally-directed teacher merit bonuses and technology pilot project grants. Even if the new school budget that gets set later this week ends up very similar to the Senate-rejected one, Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, said it'll come about through a better process. “Those 'no' votes weren't about where the money was going,” he said. “It was about allowing the process of changing our Idaho code to remain in germane committees, where the public gets involved and where the role of policy setting is supposed to start.”

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee actually held unprecedented public hearings the last two years, which drew hundreds of people from across the state to have their say on state spending issues. This year, the joint committee scheduled two such hearings, but then canceled them at the direction of legislative leaders. Goedde noted that the House and Senate Education committees then held their own “listening sessions,” “and people came with all kinds of issues and addressed the committee, and that's great.”

New bill gets number - SB 1199 - and Senate, House adjourn ‘til tomorrow…

The Senate reconvened, and introduced the new education bill – which got the bill number of SB 1199. Then it adjourned until 10 a.m. tomorrow. The House already has adjourned until 11 a.m. tomorrow.

Senate panel introduces new ed bill, with thanks all around…

The Senate State Affairs Committee convened just briefly – it only took a few minutes – and introduced new legislation sponsored by Sen. John Goedde, Rep. Reed DeMordaunt and state schools Superintendent Tom Luna aimed at resolving the impasse over the defeated public school budget. The new bill provides for two new programs, with a sunset, or expiration clause, one year out. The two are a differential pay, or merit bonus, program, with the bonuses to be distributed under local school district criteria, and with up to 40 percent of the money to go to professional development; and a technology pilot project grant program.

There are no dollar figures in the bill; instead, it says the funding is “dependent on budget decisions.” The description of the two programs appears similar to what was described in the intent language in the defeated budget bill.

Senators on the committee thanked all those who worked on the measure, including representatives of education stakeholder groups who were in the room, Luna, and lawmakers involved in the talks that led to the bill. “I’m grateful that we’re in this position,” said Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis.

Goedde asked the committee to introduce the bill to help resolve the education budget impasse, saying it’s a “recodification of that in an effort to send it through the germane committee, where it will be properly disposed of.” Davis responded, “’Properly disposed of’ has got me worried.” Goedde said, “My view of 'properly disposed of' at this point is sending it to the floor with a do-pass recommendation.”

Senate honors retiring IPTV head Morrill, Mortimer says ‘he’s made me a convert’

The Senate is honoring Peter Morrill, the retiring longtime general manager of Idaho Public Television. An array of senators have offered praise to Morrill. Among them was Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, who said, “He’s made me a convert.” Mortimer said, “Many years ago when I came to the Legislature, there was always a little bit of hesitancy … to fund and support our public television.” Mortimer said he never received so many emails as when public TV’s funding was threatened. He said he’s also been impressed with the service over the years, including the way Idaho PTV has opened up legislative proceedings to statewide viewing through live streaming. “To me, that is worth every dollar that we pay,” he said.

Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, said, “Idaho Public Television is one of the gems of the Gem State.” After the resolution, HP1, was unanimously approved, Morrill, who was in the gallery with his daughter Sadie, was honored by the Senate with a standing ovation.

Senate passes fed lands transfer demand on 21-13 vote

The Senate has voted 21-13 in favor of HCR 22, the resolution demanding that the federal government cede title to all federal land within Idaho to the state. Several senators argued that they don’t believe the resolution will be effective – the feds won’t just hand over the deed – but said they want to make a protest. The resolution is not a non-binding memorial, however; it’s a concurrent resolution, like HCR 21, which sets up an interim legislative committee and has the force of law, requiring the expenditure of state funds for operations of the panel. Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, said to him, the measure answers the question: “How do we kick back” against the federal government? Concurrent resolutions don’t go to the governor, so that was final passage for the measure.

Moscow passes non-discrimination ordinance

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: MOSCOW, Idaho (AP) — The Moscow City Council has passed an anti-discrimination ordinance that makes it illegal to make housing and employment decisions based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The council passed the ordinance Monday amid protests by Mayor Nancy Chaney and some residents who say they were not given a chance to comment on the proposal. Councilman Dan Cascallen says the panel had received volumes of emails and felt it had taken enough public opinion. Chaney says she believes the ordinance warranted discussion from all sides. She says she believes the council's action will put a blight on the city. The Moscow-Pullman Daily News reports (http://bit.ly/12apLRM ) the ordinance passed unanimously. Other Idaho cities that already have passed such non-discrimination ordinances include Sandpoint, Boise, and Hailey; the state Legislature has refused to consider a statewide non-discrimination ban for the past six years.

Senate debate: ‘Put people back to work,’ ‘Only the lawyers are making money’

The Senate is debating HCR 22, the resolution demanding that the federal government transfer title to all federal lands in Idaho to the state. Among the comments:

Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, said, “Growing up in North Idaho in a small timber community, you either dry-land farmed or you worked in a mill or you worked in the woods. That’s what we did.” He said his father worked in the Potlatch mill for more than 17 years, and he worked there himself – before deciding to join the Navy after seeing lots of fellow workers with missing fingers and the like. Hagedorn said that business has fallen off now that less timber is being cut from federal lands. With a transfer of those lands to the state, he said, “We could actually create a ton of jobs … a heck of an economic revitalization for those that are struggling now and no longer have the mills.” He said he believed the measure would allow families in which generations grew up logging “to get back and do that again.” He said, “There’s some good reasons why we should do this. To put people back to work is a great reason for me.”

Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, the measure’s Senate sponsor, said, “There’s certain provisions of this bill that I don’t agree with at all. But the overall intent of the bill, to allow Idahoans to manage Idahoans’ lands, sets very well with me.”

Sen. John Tippets, R-Montpelier, noted that he voted in favor of HCR 21, the measure for a study of a federal lands transfer, but said he can’t support HCR 22. “Senators, I’m cautious by nature and I know that,” he said. “I think it’s entirely appropriate for us to study the issue of title to federal lands being given to the state, but I’m nervous about some of the words in this resolution.”

Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, quoted from a decades-old Idaho attorney general’s opinion that found “legal impediments remain in adopting this approach – most notably it’s against our Idaho Constitution.” Stennett said collaborative management efforts on public lands around Idaho have “achieved on-the-ground success,” both creating jobs and protecting lands. On the other hand, she said, “Legal debate … has never amounted to a single tree being cut or a single job being created, and probably only the lawyers are making money at that point.”

Wheels grind into motion toward possible Thursday adjournment of session

As the Senate began its business this morning, Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, announced that the Senate will go at ease later this morning to allow the State Affairs Committee to meet and introduce the new bill regarding issues in the public school budget – the measure aimed at ending an impasse that’s delayed the end of this year’s legislative session. Then, the Senate will reconvene to read the bill over the desk and set the stage for a hearing in the Senate and House education committees on Wednesday morning.

If the bill wins committee approval, the Senate would suspend its rules and consider it on the spot, with an eye to getting it over to the House. Also, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee would convene tomorrow afternoon to consider a revised public school budget.

If all proceeds smoothly, Davis said, the Senate should be in a position to adjourn sine die on Thursday.

Senate passes fed lands transfer study measure, takes up HCR 22, demanding title to the lands

The Senate has voted 26-6 in favor of HCR 21, the resolution setting up an interim legislative study committee to examine how the state can take over management of federal lands. Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, said the idea’s been studied before. “The ideas don’t work, this isn’t valid, and I don’t think we should be spending taxpayer money,” he told the Senate. There was no other debate and that measure passed; now the Senate is taking up HCR 22, the farther-reaching public lands bill, demanding that the federal government turn over title to all federal lands in Idaho to the state.

House State Affairs passes state parking garage P&Z exemption bill, 11-5

The House State Affairs Committee has voted 11-5 in favor of SB 1192a, the bill to exempt a state parking garage project near the Capitol from Boise city planning & zoning requirements. Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, spoke out against the bill. “I do think it’s bad form for the state to require everyone else to comply with this process and somehow the imperial government doesn’t need to,” he said. “The process is there and everybody’s got to go through it. … It just seems to me that somehow we might be overreaching here, and I’m not sure that it’s appropriate simply because of some bond timing.”

Rep. Kelly Packer, R-McCammon, said, “Just because we can doesn’t mean that we should. … We have an obligation to uphold the laws … abide by them. … I think we need to follow the same processes that we ask everybody else to.”

The five opponents of the bill in the committee were Reps. Barbieri, Packer, Smith, Gannon and Woodings. Those voting in favor were Reps. Loertscher, Batt, Anderson(1), Andrus, Luker, Crane, Palmer, Sims, Holtzclaw, McMillan and Monks. You can read my Sunday column here about the debate in the Senate over this bill.

State parking garage P&Z exemption bill up for hearing in House State Affairs

Jeff Youtz, director of legislative services, is presenting SB 1192a, exempting a state parking garage project near the Capitol from Boise city planning and zoning requirements, to the House State Affairs Comnmittee. Youtz said the bill was requested by legislative leadership, and might never be invoked, as talks with the city have been going well on a pending design-review issue. Legislative leaders, Youtz said, decided “we need a what-if fallback here in case this goes south.”

Rep. Kelly Packer, R-McCammon, asked, Youtz, “There’s no other option than this to address some of the questions or concerns or time delays? … This seems, I don’t know, a little aggressive in my opinion. … I’m just wondering if there’s no other way for us to be able to address this ongoing dynamic with the city.”

Youtz responded, “I think we’ve got a lot of flexibility to still respond to the city’s request to improve the design up to a point, but we’ve got a budget we’ve got to live within too.” Bonds already have been sold for the $8.9 million project; the state last year took advantage of a low 2.98 percent interest rate.

Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, asked, “From a public policy standpoint, why should the government, except in a time of war or national emergency, ever be exempt from the local public involvement process?” Youtz responded, “I don’t set public policy. I guess I’d say that’s a question for you to answer. … Our intent is not to circumvent the local planning process, we intend to go through it. This is just a fallback.”

Youtz said Senate amendments to the bill, limiting it to the block where the garage project is planned rather than the entire Capitol Mall area, and adding a sunset clause making the bill expire in 2014, prompted the mayor of Boise to drop his opposition to the bill and take a neutral stance.

Ross Borden, an aide to Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, told the committee, “I think this situation is going to work out just fine.” Boise City Councilor Elaine Clegg told the panel the state might want to change its procedures in the future to sell bonds for construction projects only after design approvals are secured; that’s a process the city already follows, she said. She also suggested the state might want to look into encouraging car-pooling and alternate means of transportation for state employees rather than just focusing on providing parking.

House, Senate Education committees set joint hearing for 8 a.m. on Wednesday

Here’s a sign that adjournment could still happen this week: The Senate and House education committees have scheduled a joint hearing for Wednesday morning at 8, on legislation – sponsored by Senate Chairman John Goedde and House Chairman Reed DeMordaunt – regarding the education budget, “Sections 25 and 26 pertaining to differential pay and technology pilot projects.” The hearing will be in the Lincoln Auditorium.

For now, there’s no bill number, just an RS number; Goedde said the panel can’t hear the bill until it’s printed, which likely would happen today; the agenda will be amended to add the bill number once that happens.

Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News reports that the Senate State Affairs Committee is likely to introduce and print the bill today; you can read his full post here.

Progress reported in school budget talks; new bill likely to be printed in morning to address some of the concerns

House-Senate talks over the defeated public school budget broke up around 6:30 tonight, and leaders emerged cautiously optimistic that a bill will be printed tomorrow to address some of the concerns. “We have more than modest confidence in the language,” said Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis. “We need to vet it with some additional stakeholders, and it is hoped that we will have that RS (preliminary bill) available to print tomorrow morning. If we can resolve all of the various concerns on language, and I think we have some confidence on the concepts, we just need to see how that RS will look in final form, and then get the stakeholders buy-in, then we’ll print it out of State Affairs on the Senate side and refer it to the Education Committee and have them have a public hearing.”

Davis said it’s his hope to get the draft bill to the Education Committee as soon tomorrow morning as possible, so that panel can give notice and hold a public hearing the next morning. “But right now, we’re hopeful that we are where we need to be,” he said. State schools Superintendent Tom Luna, who joined the lawmakers at the closed-door negotiations, “did a pretty darn good job in helping us all understand what’s at stake, how important this budget is to our school districts,” Davis said. “He helped us find a path forward, and we’re fortunate to have had a mostly successful meeting, and we’re quite hopeful.”

Senate Education Committee Vice Chairman Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, said as he was leaving the Capitol, “I think there will be a bill printed in the morning. I believe we’re making progress.” 

Judge takes issues under advisement in school fees lawsuit

As the grandfather of a Meridian High School student, Russell Joki submitted $85 in student fees at the start of the school year, reports Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News. Does that give Joki, a former Nampa school superintendent, standing to file a class-action lawsuit against 64 school districts? This was one of the issues debated — but not decided — in a Boise courtroom Monday afternoon, Richert reports; you can read his full report here. Judge Richard Greenwood took the issues under advisement, and gave no indication of when he would rule; among the other pending issues is whether to reconsider dismissing the state as a defendant.

No deal yet, but talks on school budget impasse ‘constructive,’ will continue…

After more than an hour behind closed doors, senators and representatives emerged from a meeting on the impasse over the defeated public school budget  in House Speaker Scott Bedke’s office, only to say they’re going to continue to meet, this time over on the Senate side and with state schools Superintendent Tom Luna joining them. “We do not have a deal, let’s just put it that way,” Bedke said. “But there are some makings of some concepts we want to explore.”

He said of the move across the rotunda, “We’re just changing one conference room for another.”

Said Bedke, “We’re obviously having some negotiations and talking things over. … As long as they’re being productive, I want them to continue.” He said the “good news” is that the “different factions” are having “constructive dialogue.” “Nobody has to give up their sacred cows to address the problem,” he said. “I’m confident … that we’ll come to some type of agreement.”

Otter signs heavy trucks bill but adds caveats in signing letter

Gov. Butch Otter has signed SB 1117, the statewide heavy-trucks bill, into law, but says he wants the Idaho Transportation Department to hold public hearings and take other steps before designating any new routes – including Highway 95 in North Idaho - for the big, 129,000-pound trucks. “Safety must be the highest priority,” Otter wrote in a signing letter sent to lawmakers today.  “The process of considering nominated routes also must include timely, well-noticed public hearings and notification of adjacent property owners.”

SB 1117 lets any non-freeway route in the state be designated for the extra-heavy trucks weighing up to 129,000 pounds, which currently are allowed only on 35 designated routes in southern Idaho, where they were the subject of a 10-year study and pilot project before the routes were made permanent this year.  A follow-up bill, HB 322, which passed the Senate today, adds guarantees that local road jurisdictions, such as cities and highway districts, have the say over their local roads and must hold public hearings, but that doesn’t cover state routes or ITD.

Idaho’s current truck weight limit, outside the 35 designated southern Idaho routes, is 105,500 pounds; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Senate adjourns ‘til tomorrow morning, key senators head for meeting with Speaker

The Senate has adjourned until 9:30 a.m. tomorrow – without any announcement of a committee meeting today to print a new bill aimed at resolving the impasse over the Senate-rejected public school budget.  But immediately after adjournment, Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, said, “We’re going to see the speaker.” He, Education Vice Chairman Dean Mortimer, Senate GOP Caucus Chair Russ Fulcher, Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron and Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill all headed across the rotunda.

Goedde said he thinks there’s a possible agreement, which would involve introducing a new bill and having it come up for a hearing in his committee “no later than Wednesday morning.” The new measure could be printed tomorrow morning, Goedde said. He said “maybe a dozen or so” senators have been involved in talks aimed at ending the impasse.

Hill said, “I’ve got to give ‘em credit – People did not relax as much as they could have this weekend.” He said, “They were talking, they were thinking, they were communicating and trying to come up with some solutions.”

Idaho contracts under scrutiny amid ruling, report

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — In a ruling issued last week, the Idaho Supreme Court got right to the point: The Department of Administration's former head appears to have helped the state's biggest phone company win a contract. Supreme Court Justice Jim Jones wrote former Administration Director Mike Gwartney likely used his influence to steer business to Qwest Communications Inc. — and cut Syringa Networks out of the $60 million deal. The ruling allows Syringa to pursue its claim against the agency. But it also comes as state lawmakers pursue ways to improve the agency's contract monitoring. A measure has already cleared House and Senate. Idaho contracting has long been a subject of scrutiny, including a botched 2010 Medicaid management deal. A state auditor's report determined the process is plagued by inconsistencies and inadequate training.

Click below for Miller's full report.

House backs archiving of video streams of legislative proceedings, 65-1

The House has passed SCR 131, the rule change resolution to allow archiving of the video and audio streams of legislative proceedings, on a 65-1 vote, with just Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, dissenting. “We’re trying to find that sweet spot where we’re allowing these proceedings to be archived in the future, and at the same time protecting the legislative process,” House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, told the House. “It’s a necessary new rule, and I think it’s a good new rule and a good start.”

Under the rule, streaming could be suspended on a two-thirds vote of the body, which would be the House, the Senate, or the committee involved. The House also approved two Senate-passed measures that direct the courts that legislative intent should be gleaned from the actual words of legislation and from the journal, not from statements by individual legislators on the floor of either house or in committee. That was a concern of some legislative leaders who had blocked archiving until this year.

House adjourns ‘til tomorrow, motion to adjourn sine die was an April Fools joke

The House has now adjourned until 11 a.m. on Tuesday; the House Ways & Means Committee announced that it would meet immediately on adjournment in the JFAC room, where it will consider a new bill from Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls, on the Line Commission 2.0; and the House Education Committee announced it will meet at 10 a.m. tomorrow. No agenda has yet been posted for that  meeting.

Before the House adjourned, Rep. Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, offered a motion for the House to adjourn sine die – without  a day, or for the session. House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, seconded the motion – but then Denney said, “April Fool!” Moyle then made the real motion – to adjourn until 11 a.m. on April 2.

Talks under way among key senators…

For the past few votes in the Senate, key senators involved in talks on the public schools budget – including Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, Education Committee Chairman John Goedde and Vice Chairman Dean Mortimer, Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, and others, have been out of the chamber, but have returned just in time to vote, then leave again. They’re now off the floor again…

House passes Medicaid budget on 38-29 vote

The House has voted 38-29 in favor of SB 1190, the budget for Medicaid for next year. There was little debate, but some members expressed disdain for “Obamacare,” and elements within the budget that are required because of the passage of the national law; many more voted no. The budget bill, which earlier passed the Senate on a 24-10 vote, now goes to the governor’s desk. Had this measure failed, it could have been as big an obstacle to ending the legislative session as last week’s rejection of the public schools budget.

Moyle: ‘That would be a cruel April Fools Day joke’

Next up on the House calendar was SB 1133a, the twice-amended bill that originally was a Senate bill about school safety, and now has morphed into a combination of two House-passed but Senate-neglected guns rights bills. House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, said he thought the House would hear the amended bill today, “but I think that would be a cruel April Fools Day joke.” So instead, he asked that the bill hold its place on the calendar until Thursday.

The bill was “radiator-capped,” removing its entire original content; as such, it stands no chance of passage in the Senate, which saw its bill excised out, leaving only the bill number intact.

House passes felony bill for 2nd offense of torture of a pet

The House has voted 54-14 in favor of HB 111a, the bill to make a second offense of torture of a companion animal a felony. Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, noted that the original bill had a felony penalty for a third offense. Andrus called the amended bill the “perfect balance,” and said, “I don’t think we’re responsible if we allow torture to go on without addressing it.”

The definition of torture in the bill is “the knowing and willful infliction of unjustifiable and extreme or prolonged pain with the intent to cause suffering.” It doesn’t apply to livestock or farm animals, or to unintentional acts or accidents.

Andrus said, “I think we have a lot more chance of avoiding a ballot initiative if there is a felony on a second offense. And No. 2, I thought of torture to animals, and how much should we tolerate.” He said, “Now, if we have people in our society who are doing that to animals, what do you think we should do with them? I think we should warn them, say OK, you cannot do this to animals. So we warn them with a misdemeanor. And after that what should we do? Ignore it again? I don’t think we’re responsible … if we do that.”

Rep. Lenore Barrett, R-Challis, speaking against the bill, said, “I say if somebody wants to bring an initiative, let ‘em bring it, and we’ll deal with it at the time.” The bill now moves to the Senate.

  

Rep: ‘Indulge me - we got a lot of time’

Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, is telling several stories as part of his opening debate on HB 111a, the animal torture bill. As he got well into the second tale, he told the House, “Indulge me, we got a lot of time – we got all week.” Amid laughter, he said, “Well, hopefully not. We’ve got some time.”

‘Been a lot of conversation going on…’

The Senate and House have both convened this afternoon; the Senate won’t be taking up HCR 21 and 22, the public lands transfer resolutions, until tomorrow. The path forward on the defeated public schools budget isn’t yet clear.

“There’s been a lot of conversation going on over the weekend, and today as well,” said Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis. He said he’s hoping “at some point today that we could print an RS … that would deal with a part of what would be essential in order for the joint committee to go back to work.”

That would require convening a privileged committee in the Senate to introduce the RS, which stands for routing slip, the preliminary version of a proposed bill. “Things are fluid,” Davis said, “and they change from hour to hour. … But before we send any committee to go to work to print, we have to get an RS that we think is doable, and currently, that’s where the rub is.”

The Senate has passed HCR 33, to set up an interim committee to examine “how to improve and strengthen Idaho’s K-12 educational system.” Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, said unlike the governor’s education stakeholders task force, “This interim committee would not be restricted to not taking a look at collective bargaining and my guess is that would be one of the focuses on the interim committee.”

The House, meanwhile, is taking up HB 111a, the bill from House Agriculture Chairman Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, to make a second offense of animal torture a felony.

Limerick No. 2: Back in session, Day 85

Alas for the budget for schools

For some can be stubborn as mules

When politics play

At $30,000 a day

We may be the April fools.

School lawsuit heads to court today

A lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of student fees charged by public schools in Idaho heads back to a Boise courtroom this afternoon, reports Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News. District Judge Richard Greenwood dismissed the state as a defendant in the case last month, but the lawsuit continues against Idaho school districts. Lead plaintiff Russ Joki offered to put the case on hold if the parties agreed to mediation, but there was no agreement. Now, arguments on several points in the case, including bring the state back into the lawsuit and class-action status, will be heard in Greenwood’s courtroom this afternoon; you can read Richert’s full post here.

End-of-session fight: Grand bargain turns to debacle for lawmakers

What was supposed to have been a grand bargain for Idaho public schools has become a grand debacle, extending the 2013 legislative session indefinitely as opposing sides try to patch together the $1.3 billion education budget, reports AP reporter John Miller. The Senate last week rejected the appropriations bill 18-17, a narrow defeat for a measure viewed as a compromise that had the backing of Idaho's public schools chief, school boards and the Idaho teachers union. But it fell apart after Senate opponents charged the Joint Finance-Appropriations budget committee with not properly consulting with the Senate Education Committee about how key slices of the money were to be spent.

Now, Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, says the House and Senate education committees should be given the chance to formally weigh in on provisions guiding how the education budget will be rewritten — but without radical departure from the existing plan. “If you start pulling pieces out of it,” Cameron said, “you're going to unravel the grand bargain.” Click below for Miller's full report.

This session, Democrats ‘in play’

The Idaho Legislature’s minority Democrats, though outnumbered 4 to 1, were “in play” this year, reports Idaho Statesman Reporter Dan Popkey, providing the key margin on the health exchange vote in the House and playing significant roles in other issues, from budgets to business issues. Marveled lobbyist Pat Sullivan, “On the health care exchange, the Democrats were on the side of business.” You can read Popkey’s full report here.

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

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

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