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Eye On Boise

Archive for December 2013

Patterson’s House seat to be vacant when legislative session opens next week

Rep. Mark Patterson’s House seat will be vacant when Idaho’s legislative session opens next week, Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey reports, because of Patterson’s decision to make his resignation effective at midnight on Jan. 5. Patterson, R-Boise, was urged to resign by his GOP legislative district committee, after the revelation last month that he pleaded guilty in a 1974 rape case; that news surfaced after the Ada County sheriff revoked Patterson’s concealed weapon permit for not revealing the case in his application. The first-term lawmaker claimed the sheriff was after him because of legislation he proposed.

Popkey reports that the District 15 GOP committee set a Dec. 27 meeting to consider nominees to replace Patterson, hoping to get the required three names to Gov. Butch Otter in time to have the seat filled by Jan. 6. But Otter’s office reviewed state law and concluded that the committee would have to wait until after Patterson’s resignation took effect, so the meeting was canceled. “Our interpretation of the statute is the vacancy must occur before the process can begin,” said Jon Hanian, Otter’s press secretary. “We’re prepared to fill that seat as quickly as they can make the nominations, but we’re going to do it by the book.”

Popkey reported that the committee is now targeting Jan. 9 or 10 for its meeting, after which Otter must make the appointment. He also reported that Patterson will continue drawing his legislative pay until his resignation takes effect; he’ll receive his last full biweekly paycheck for a gross of $632.23 on Jan. 3, followed by a pro-rated check on Jan. 17 for his final days in office. Popkey’s full report is online here.

Idaho reports first flu death of the season

Idaho has reported its first flu death of the season, an elderly south-central Idaho resident. “Our condolences go out to the family of the person who died from complications of the flu,” said Dr. Leslie Tengelsen, deputy state epidemiologist with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. “This underscores how important it is for all of us to take precautions to avoid influenza infections. Now is the time to call your health care provider or local public health district and schedule an appointment to get vaccinated as soon as possible.”

Health & Welfare is urging everyone over six months old to get a flu shot; last year, 35 Idahoans died of flu-related illnesses. Click below for the full H&W announcement.

Ski patrollers rescue 8-year-old in chairlift fall, then he goes back to skiing

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: KETCHUM, Idaho (AP) — An 8-year-old boy survived a 38-foot fall from an Idaho chairlift with no visible injuries after ski patrollers moved a lift-tower pad beneath him to break the force of the impact. KTVB-TV (http://tinyurl.com/mjhxrla ) reports the youngster likely slipped out of his jacket and dangled from the lift for about five minutes before plunging to a flat cat track below. Ski patrollers had time to unhook a 5-foot by 5-foot safety pad from a nearby lift tower. They held it under the boy, to break his fall. Patrol supervisor Bryant Dunn says the patrollers used the pad for a “fireman's catch.” Sun Valley ski guide Kent Kreitler says he witnessed the fall and credits fast thinking by patrollers from saving the boy from injury. The youngster, meanwhile, resumed skiing on Monday.

Click below for the full AP report.

Six drone test-site states named, Idaho not among them

The FAA has announced the six states it’s chosen to be test sites for drone technology, and Idaho’s not among them, nor is Washington. Instead, the six states are Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia. Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, who sponsored legislation last year seeking the test-site designation, said he’s disappointed, but still sees a future for drone technology in Idaho. “It means we have to develop another tack,” Winder said. “I think there’s still a lot of assets in Idaho that relate to unmanned aircraft systems,” including the Idaho National Laboratory, forestry, agricultural and fish and wildlife operations and more. “There’s a real need to develop curriculum and people that understand the programming and the potential for the use of these unmanned systems.”

Winder said Idaho can still pursue designation as a “Center of Excellence” for drone technology, including both public and private efforts and university programs. “A lot of times with military bases and siting, a lot of politics play into it,” said Winder, a former Navy pilot. “We’re a pretty small state, we don’t have a lot of political clout, and we may have just lost out on that basis alone.”

Becoming one of the six test sites “would’ve generated a significant number of jobs and expansion of our curriculum in our universities and colleges,” Winder said, “so I think it would’ve been really good for the state. But I think through this Center of Excellence, we can pursue a lot of those same goals, probably without as much participation by the FAA.”

Rep. Hixon on home foreclosure: ‘We’re taking care of it’

Freshman Idaho Rep. Brandon Hixon, R-Caldwell, has defaulted on his home mortgage and hasn’t paid a house payment since June of 2012, four months before he was elected to the Legislature. The news, first reported by the Caldwell Guardian and detailed in a Sunday article in the Idaho Press-Tribune, surfaced in a legal notice printed Friday in the newspaper, which said Hixon’s Caldwell home is set for auction in March. Hixon, however, says he’s been negotiating a home mortgage modification with his lender, Wells Fargo, and expects that to be completed by late January, averting any foreclosure auction.

“We’ve got a plan drafted and I think it will work out just fine,” Hixon told Eye on Boise. “This doesn’t have any kind of impact on my ability to be an effective legislator. Obviously it’s a trying time, when it comes right down to it, but I think we’ve worked through it diligently. We’re going to come out leaner and stronger as a family from this thing.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Hixon, who at 32 is currently the youngest member of the Idaho Legislature, narrowly defeated Democrat Travis Manning in 2012, though the district is heavily Republican. During the campaign, the Press-Tribune, Hixon’s hometown newspaper, reported that Hixon had five misdemeanors by age 21 for such offenses as urinating in public and minor in possession of alcohol, and 15 infractions, mostly for traffic violations, between 1998 and 2009, along with small-claims court orders to pay past-due rent in 2003 and 2005. Hixon told the newspaper then, “Obviously I’ve changed. … It’s not a reflection on what’s going to happen in the future. You basically grow up. You understand what true responsibility is.”

Hixon said his financial problems aren’t a sign of a return to his youthful mistakes. “I haven’t had so much as a speeding ticket in the last four and a half years,” he said. “I think what’s important to remember here is the fact that I gave up a very high-paying job to come to my service to the people of Legislative District 10. This is personal, and we’ll work it out.”

Hixon, who is married with four children ranging in age from 2 to 13, said he resigned from his job as an insurance agent for Liberty Mutual in May of 2012, after the firm belatedly informed him it viewed legislative service as a conflict of interest with his employment. Since then, he’s been an independent agent, but said his business has suffered due to his legislative service. “It’s taken time away from my business as an insurance agent,” he said. “The time demands on a legislator are pretty significant.”

Hixon said his constituents have been supportive. “I’m not a multimillionaire retired legislator, I’m a working guy,” he said. “I think I’m very in touch with the people. … People say, ‘This guy’s a regular guy, an average guy who’s having troubles like hundreds of thousands of Idahoans, and obviously he’s getting it taken care of.’”

He added, “I’m up-front about everything from Day 1. That’s what everybody needs to understand. I don’t think it’s been any big secret that it has been a financial crunch for me. But at the end of the day, we’re not on state assistance, we’re not out there begging for a handout, we’re taking care of it.” Click below for his full statement.

Catching up on a holiday week’s news…

There’s not usually a lot of news over the holidays, but there was some last week while I was gone. Here’s a quick roundup:

Wolf derby: A federal judge on Friday declined to block a “Predator Derby” scheduled over the weekend in Salmon targeting wolves and coyotes, ruling organizers weren’t required to get a special permit from the U.S. Forest Service. Idaho For Wildlife, the sponsoring group, reported that by the end of the derby yesterday, no wolves had been shot but 21 coyotes were.

Idaho airman killed: Sandpoint Air Force Capt. David Lyon died Friday in Kabul, Afghanistan, after his vehicle was hit by an explosion. Lyon, 28, was about a month away from completing his year-long deployment to Afghanistan; he was an Air Force Academy graduate, a five-year Air Force veteran, and a renowned track star at Sandpoint High School. There’s a full report here at spokesman.com.

Gay marriage: Four couples challenging Idaho’s same-sex marriage ban asked a federal judge on Thursday to block the state from intervening in their lawsuit, which was filed against Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and Ada County Clerk Chris Rich. Attorney General Lawrence Wasden responded, “I have an obligation to defend the Constitution and the statutes of Idaho, and that's what we intend to do.” The Idaho case is developing as judges in New Mexico, Ohio and Utah have ruled in favor of same-sex marriage.

Megaload rolls: A giant shipment of oil field equipment bound for the Canadian oil sands drew spectators and a handful of protesters as it moved into Idaho, spending a week in the Marsing area due to weather delays. It traveled nearly 100 miles over the weekend, moving only at night, but will take a break over the New Year’s holiday.

Bowl loss: Oregon State beat Boise State 38-23 in the Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve, snapping a five-game losing streak for OSU. BSU played without starting quarterback Joe Southwick, who was sent home for a team rules violation, but then went public, saying he was wrongly accused of urinating off a hotel balcony and had taken a lie detector test to prove his innocence. It was an odd end to a tumultuous season for the Broncos, who just lost prized coach Chris Petersen to the University of Washington; new coach Bryan Harsin takes over after the bowl loss.

Duck politics: The A&E Network ended its suspension of Duck Dynasty reality show star Phil Robertson for his controversial remarks about homosexuality and race in a magazine interview, after the rest of the cast refused to go forward without him. Former Idaho House Speaker Lawerence Denney, who is running for Idaho Secretary of State, announced that his March fundraiser with Robertson will proceed as planned, saying, “Our family proudly stands in support of the Robertson family in its modeling and expression of our Christian family values and heritage.”

Malek decides against run for Secretary of State

Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d'Alene, who had been considering running for Idaho Secretary of State - in part because there's currently no one from North Idaho among the state's top elected officials - has decided against a run. Here's his statement:

After careful consideration over the holidays with my wife and family, I have decided against seeking the office of Secretary of State next year. My passion for serving the State of Idaho is put to best use right now through focusing on my home district and on the issues important to my home, North Idaho. I am honored by the many people who urged me to run, and those who have reached out over the last few weeks with their advice and support. Tara and I want to thank you all.  We hope you had a Merry Christmas and wish you a happy holiday season.

Bogus Basin opens Pine Creek, Bitterroot, night skiing…

Skis whispering through untouched snow, fog drifting in and out, snow falling lightly but persistently, the delighted whoop of a happy skier – that was me, actually. Bogus Basin did something today that granted a holiday wish for lots of area skiers and snowboarders: It opened up the backside of the mountain. The Pine Creek (Chair 6) and Bitterroot chairs both opened for the first time this season today, nearly doubling the available skiing terrain at Boise’s nonprofit ski resort. The tubing hill also opened today, and night skiing began; that means lift tickets are up to regular-season rates of $49.

The No. 3 Superior chair isn’t open yet, nor is the Paradise area off Pine Creek, as more snow is awaited, and there are still early-season conditions, especially off-trail. But things are up and running in time for the holidays, and plenty of people are having plenty of fun up there. Take it easy on the often-slick road up, and enjoy! I’m off for the next week, and will do the same.

Bethine Church dies at age 90

Bethine Church, Idaho Democratic icon and widow of the late Idaho Sen. Frank Church, died Saturday at age 90; this campaign photo shows Frank and Bethine Church in 1962. Her son, Chase, posted this announcement on Facebook:

My mother Jean Bethine Church 2-19-1923 to 12-21-2013 passed away at 6:15 PM tonight from old age. She had been on home hospice for the last two weeks. Myself and my wife Pam were by her side. She passed peacefully listening to Christmas music and looking at a Poinsettia and candle. She wasn't in any pain and she always wanted to pass at home and not at a hospital or care center.

Born Jean Bethine Clark in Mackay, Idaho in 1923, Bethine Church was the daughter of an Idaho governor and federal district judge, Chase Clark; the niece of Idaho Gov. Barzilla Clark; and the cousin of U.S. Sen. D. Worth Clark. A graduate of Boise High School, where she met Frank, she held a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan. The two were married at Robinson Bar Ranch, the Clark family ranch in the Sawtooth Mountains, in 1947. They had two children, Frank Forrester Church IV, a minister, theologian and author who died in 2009, and Chase Church.

Frank was an Idaho senator from 1957 to 1981 and a candidate for president in 1976, when he lost the Democratic nomination to Jimmy Carter. He chaired the Church Committee in the 1970s, which held ground-breaking hearings on CIA and FBI abuses in intelligence-gathering and covert operations; Bethine was his partner in all things, earning the nickname “Idaho's third senator.”

After Frank died of cancer in 1984, Bethine moved back to Boise in 1989, where she was active in local and national politics, was founder and chair of the Frank Church Institute at Boise State University, and was founder and first president of the Sawtooth Society. She served on the governing board of the National Wilderness Society and helped establish the Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial in Boise. The Idaho Statesman has a remembrance here; there’s more on Bethine at the Bethine Church Collection at Boise State University’s Albertson Library, including an array of historical photos. Click below for a report from the Associated Press. Bethine Church’s memoir, published in 2003, is entitled, “A Lifelong Affair: My Passion for People and Politics.”
  

Patterson submits resignation letter, says he’ll quit as of Jan. 5

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Rep. Mark Patterson said he'd resign by the end of this week in the wake of revelations that he'd pleaded guilty to a sexual assault charge in 1974. But when Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter got the resignation letter Friday evening, it was clear that wasn't quite the case — Patterson made his resignation effective at midnight, Jan. 5. Now Otter's office is trying to figure out if that leaves enough time to seat a replacement before the legislative session with Otter's State of the State address on Jan. 6. Patterson has faced growing pressure to quit since the 39-year-old Florida criminal case came to light. Patterson pleaded guilty to assault with intent to commit rape, but didn't disclose the case on his application for an Idaho concealed weapons permit.

Otter appoints Ward-Engelking to Senate

Gov. Butch Otter has appointed Rep. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, to the Idaho Senate, to replace former Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise, who resigned to move to the Seattle area; Ward-Engelking was the top choice of the Democratic Party committee for the legislative district. “Rep. Ward-Engelking was part of an exemplary freshman class in the Idaho House,” Otter said, “Now she has the opportunity to continue her work in the Idaho Senate, where I’m confident she will continue to serve the people of District 18 well.

The district committee now must submit three nominees to Otter to fill Ward-Engelking's House seat.

 

Giant glowing potato to be lowered from US Bank Building to highlight Boise’s New Year’s Eve festivities

An outfit called the Idaho New Years Commission has announced plans to lower a 16-foot-long glowing potato from the US Bank Building in downtown Boise to commemorate New Year’s Eve and Idaho’s sesquicentennial. The event will include live music in the Grove and along 8th Street, magic shows, street performers and local food vendors; a portion of the proceeds will benefit the Boise Rock School. Headliners will include Hollow Wood, Audio Moonshine, Matt Hopper and the Roman Candles, Carolina Morning and more; the event has an array of sponsors including KTVB and Mix 106.

The party will begin at 8 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, and 8th Street from Idaho to Main and Main Street from 9th to Capitol Boulevard will be closed to traffic; there’s more info here. Among the luminaries behind this event are founder Dylan Cline, David Bowar of ESI, Michael Nelson of Rocky Mountain Audio/Visual, musician Steve Fulton and more.

Endorsement wars: ‘Pete liked and trusted Mitch’

It’s become something of an endorsement war this week among the GOP candidates for Idaho Secretary of State, with Mitch Toryanski introducing Freda Cenarrusa, widow of longtime Secretary of State Pete Cenarrusa, as his campaign chair; Evan Frasure touting endorsements from an array of lawmakers topped by Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis; and Lawerence Denney naming three honorary campaign chairmen: 1st District Rep. Raul Labrador for the Treasure Valley; former Sen. Don Burtenshaw, R-Terreton, for eastern Idaho; and GOP icon Ruthie Johnson for North Idaho.

Freda Cenarrusa joined Toryanski for his formal campaign kickoff in the state Capitol on Thursday. “Pete liked and trusted Mitch. And I like and trust Mitch Toryanski,” she said. “Mitch is what Pete and I like in a leader.” Mrs. Cenarrusa cited Toryanski’s commitment to family, his distinguished military career, and his government and business experience. “I respect Mitch Toryanski’s stellar record as a leader, a commander of troops, a father and a husband,” she said.

Frasure, who held his formal campaign kickoff the same day in Pocatello, named backers including Sens. Fred Martin, R-Boise; John Tippets, R-Montpelier; McCammon Republicans Sen. Jim Guthrie and Rep. Kelly Packer; and three Bannock County commissioners, and the mayors of Pocatello and Chubbuck. He’s a former longtime state senator who is making his second run for Secretary of State after losing to Ben Ysursa in 2002; he also served on the Idaho Citizens Redistricting Commission. Now a high school government teacher, Frasure was a real estate broker for 30 years.

Denney, launched his campaign Oct. 24 – well before current Secretary of State Ben Ysursa announced he wouldn’t seek another term – said of his new honorary campaign chairs, “These close friends are well-respected politically, have great connections and are tremendous, hard-working people that anyone would be proud to have on their campaigns.”

Chief Deputy Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane, who launched his campaign Dec. 10 with the backing of an array of county clerks from across the state, also is in the race. Still considering it are Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, and Rep. Holli High Woodings, D-Boise.

Malloy says he’ll seek appointment to Patterson’s House seat, just to serve out term

Chuck Malloy, a former editorial writer at the Idaho Statesman and former aide to the House Republican Caucus from 2007 to 2010, has announced he's seeking the appointment to serve out the remainder of the House term of Rep. Mark Patterson, R-Boise, the embattled freshman representative who said this week he's resigning; Malloy said he would not run for a full term in the post. “My aim is not to launch a political career, or walk away with a sweepstakes prize. My sole interest is to provide a service to the people of my district and the state I love,” he said. Malloy said he's one of seven people laid off from the Idaho Statesman just after Thanksgiving, and said the state of Idaho's economy is a big concern for him. Click below for his full announcement. When a legislator resigns, the party committee for that district, from the party of the former legislator, submits three nominees to the governor for appointment, and the governor chooses from among the three.

Idaho unemployment falls to 6.1%

Unemployment in Idaho dropped to 6.1 percent in November, posting the largest one-month decline on record; it was 6.7 percent in October. The Idaho Department of Labor reports that the drop in jobless numbers in Idaho was twice the national drop; the national seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped from 7.3 percent to 7 percent. And all 44 of Idaho’s counties saw unemployment drop in November.

Kootenai County’s unemployment rate fell from 7.4 percent to 6.6 percent; Bonner County dropped from 8.8 to 7.6 percent; Boundary County, 9.3 to 8.3 percent; Benewah County, 10.9 to 9.6 percent; and Shoshone County, 12.3 to 10.8 percent. Latah County’s jobless rate declined from 5.9 percent in October to 5.2 percent in November. You can read the Department of Labor’s full announcement here, and see the county-by-county rates here.

 

Montana-bound megaloads would use part of interchange ITD abandoned after ‘90s disaster

At the east end of Coeur d’Alene, bald eagles swoop and dive over the lake as excited onlookers snap pictures or watch with spotting scopes, and others stroll by on the Centennial Trail with their dogs, enjoying the winter wildlife show. This is where a temporary onramp will be constructed to allow three giant, Montana-bound megaloads of oil refinery equipment to complete their roundabout journey through the area in January and February and trundle back onto Interstate 90 on the far side of the tall stretch of Veterans Memorial Bridge.

On Thursday night, more than 50 people turned out for a public meeting about the hauls, with questions about everything from fisheries to safety; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com. The area around the onramp site, at Higgens Point, is both an environmental treasure for the community and the site of an infamous environmental failure for ITD. In the early 1990s, ITD was attempting to build an interchange there when a huge landslide sent two pieces of heavy earth-moving equipment and tons of gravel into the lake, right where kokanee spawn. As part of its penalties, to mitigate the damage, ITD expanded spawning beds all along the area and built the popular Centennial Trail. It's the spawning kokanee that draw the eagles each year.

Federal authorities nixed the interchange the agency had been attempting to build, to connect the former freeway at Lake Coeur d’Alene Drive with the new one on the far side of the then-new high bridge, the Veterans Memorial Bridge. That’s why it’s now a popular recreation and wildlife viewing area with no through traffic; it's that bridge that the megaloads are skirting by following the roundabout route. The partly completed remains of the abandoned interchange are what would serve as the temporary on-ramp.

Mathias chosen as state board’s new chief academic officer

Chris Mathias has been hired as the new chief academic officer for the Idaho State Board of Education, replacing Selena Grace, who left in September for a post at Idaho State University. Mathias was policy manager in the office of the president at Boise State University; he’s also a former law professor and Coast Guard veteran. He holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from BSU, a law degree from Vermont Law School, and a Ph.D in law and public policy from Northeastern University.

Don Soltman, state board president, said, “Chris will be a great addition to the team. We are looking forward to working with him to advance the initiatives underway to improve education in Idaho.” The position pays $92,000 a year.

 

State board approves ‘material terms’ for employing new BSU coach Harsin

Idaho’s State Board of Education has approved the “material terms” of employment for Bryan Harsin, the new head football coach at Boise State University; further details will be brought before the board in February for final approval. The terms approved by the board today include a fixed contract term of five years, with compensation of $1 million in each of the first two years, $1.3 million in year 3, $1.55 million in year 4, and $1.65 million in year 5, with additional pay for performance to be determined.

There’s also a buy-out provision: If Harsin leaves early without cause, he’d owe the university $2 million in year 1; $2 million in year 2; $1.75 million in year 3; or $500,000 in year 4. The terms also include covering the cost of Harsin’s buy-out from Arkansas State University of $1.75 million. “No state funds are used and these amounts are paid only from program revenues, media, donations and other non-state funds,” according to state board documents from today’s meeting. You can see the full document here; scroll down to Tab 4.

Special assistance approved for laid-off Simplot workers

More than 1,000 laid-off workers at Simplot Corp. potato processing operations in Nampa, Caldwell, Aberdeen and Heyburn are now eligible for special assistance in finding new jobs, under a union petition approved by the federal government under the Trade Adjustment Assistance program. The benefits, similar to those recently announced for laid-off Micron Technology workers, are for those laid off from Aug. 14, 2012 through late 2015, the Idaho Department of Labor announced today.

The union petition, from the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, came after the company announced it would close facilities in those cities in favor of a new, higher-tech plant in Canyon County that will need only a quarter of the workers and will open next spring. The assistance includes no-cost retraining, job-search and relocation aid and more; click below for the full announcement.

Settlement will bring Idaho borrowers mortgage principal reductions, cash payments

Idaho borrowers will get mortgage principal reductions or, for some, cash payments under a legal settlement announced today by Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. Ocwen Financial Corporation of Atlanta, Georgia, and its subsidiary, Ocwen Loan Servicing, agreed to the $2.1 billion settlement with Idaho, 48 other states, the District of Columbia, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, for violations including premature and unauthorized foreclosures, use of false and deceptive documents, “robo-signing” and more.

“The improper practices found in the Ocwen case were similar to those we saw in our other mortgage servicer enforcement cases,” Wasden said.  “The Ocwen settlement is a continuation of our civil law enforcement effort to hold servicers accountable and ensure that they comply with applicable law in their treatment of borrowers.” Click below for his full announcement.

Idaho ranks 3rd in nation for volunteerism

Idaho ranks third in the nation for volunteerism, according to the latest research by the Corporation for National and Community Service and the National Conference on Citizenship, while Washington ranks ninth. Only Utah and Minnesota beat Idaho, where more than one in three residents volunteered their time to improve their communities or help others, the organizations reported.

“While organizations across the country struggle to provide more services with fewer resources, volunteers help fill the gap,” said Wendy Spencer, chief executive of the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Idaho’s volunteerism rate, based on a three-year average, was pegged at 36.5 percent in 2012; Washington’s was 34.5 percent. Rates for states varied from 20.4 percent for the low – Louisiana – to a high of 43.8 percent in Utah. There’s more info here.

Idaho senators both oppose budget deal, which clears Senate, 64-36

Idaho's two senators both were in the minority today, as the Senate voted 64-36 in favor of a bipartisan budget deal that President Barack Obama is expected to sign into law. The deal, brokered by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., sets federal spending on domestic and defense programs and averts the threat of a government shutdown for the next two years; it makes modest changes in spending levels, replaces about $63 billion in automatic sequester budget cuts, and adds new fees on airline passengers and increases federal workers’ pension contributions.

Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo called the deal “the wrong direction for our fiscal policy and our economy,” and Idaho Sen. Jim Risch called it “a step backward.” The deal leaves in place the bulk of the $1 trillion in sequester cuts through 2021, but eases an especially harsh set of cuts scheduled to hit in 2014 and 2015 on the Pentagon, domestic agencies and Medicare providers. All 53 Democrats in the Senate voted yes, along with two independents and nine Republicans; all 36 “no” votes came from Republicans. The pact earlier cleared the House overwhelmingly, with majorities from both parties supporting it. Here are Crapo and Risch’s full statements on their votes:

Crapo:

“This deal unfortunately falls into the same promises of future budget cuts that never materialize, and then raising new revenue to offset increasing spending.  The bottom line is that Americans end up paying more to justify bigger spending by Congress.  It is the wrong direction for fiscal policy and our economy; that is why I could not support the agreement.”

 

Risch:

“This deal raises federal spending at a time when we should be cutting spending. Under present law, with the sequester, the federal government is actually cutting its spending for the first time in decades. This deal reverses that with a promise it will cut spending later. The deal also provides for having to borrow about one-third of every dollar spent. This is all simply irresponsible. In addition, along with many other problems, this deal cuts retirement benefits previously promised to veterans. This is just wrong. The bill that passed the Senate today is a step backward and I could not support it.”

Click below for a look at the deal's likely impact on the U.S. economy, from AP economics writer Josh Boak in Washington, D.C.

Megaload en route from Oregon could reach southern Idaho on Thursday

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A 450-ton shipment of oilfield equipment that's been rumbling toward Idaho for days should enter the state sometime Thursday night or Friday morning. The “megaload,” bound for the Canadian tar sands oil development, has been delayed by protests and bad weather in Eastern Oregon. It got permission from officials there for a daylight run Tuesday, traveling 50 miles on a stretch at elevations above 4,000 feet where the state said ice was feared after dark. A spokeswoman for the moving company, Holly Zander, said the transport could reach Vale Thursday. That's just over the border from Idaho, where the Transportation Department plans to issue a permit Thursday. On Monday, 16 people were arrested near John Day. Environmentalists tried to block the rig, contending tar-sands development will contribute to global warming.

Idaho mulls fate of furnishings from never-occupied governor’s mansion

There likely won’t be a governor’s yard sale, but Idaho is quietly moving to liquidate the furnishings that filled its never-occupied governor’s mansion before the hilltop home was handed back to the Simplot family on July 1. “The basic supposition really is that there’s no interest in a governor’s home owned by the state shown by any past or current governors,” said Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, who chairs the Idaho Legislature’s governor’s housing committee. “So we thought it’d be best to develop a plan to dispose of the furnishings.”

The furnishings, which include two bedroom sets, dining furniture, wall art, kitchen supplies and more, were carted out of the home before the July 1 deadline and moved into two “pods” at a Boise storage facility, where they’re now being kept at a rental cost of $318 a month. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Brundage opens for skiing on Friday

Brundage Mountain Resort has announced that it will open for skiing on Friday, with three of its five chairs running and lift tickets discounted to $36. The McCall ski resort said, “Favorable temperatures have allowed us to pack our snow base and open three of our five chairlifts. … Encouraging signs in the forecast lead us to believe we may be able to open more terrain very soon.” You can read the resort’s full announcement here.

In a rarity this year, Bogus Basin Ski Resort at Boise opened Dec. 8, two weeks earlier than the usually-snowier Brundage. Bogus continues to operate its front-side lifts. Tamarack Ski Resort opened Dec. 13; Sun Valley Resort, with its plentiful snow-making, opened for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Secretary of State race heats up, with both Toryanski and Frasure to announce Thursday

Both Mitch Toryanski and Evan Frasure announced today that they’ll formally announce their candidacies for Idaho Secretary of State on Thursday, Toryanski at 11:45 a.m. in 2nd floor rotunda of the state Capitol, and Frasure at 11:15 a.m. on the steps of the Bannock County Courthouse in Pocatello. Toryanski is a an attorney and former GOP state senator from Boise; Frasure is a former GOP state senator from Pocatello who also ran unsuccessfully for Secretary of State in 2002. Frasure is listing endorsements from Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, several other GOP lawmakers, three Bannock County commissioners and the mayors of Pocatello and Chubbuck in his news release; Toryanski says Freda Cenarrusa, widow of the late longtime Idaho Secretary of State Pete Cenarrusa, will be his honorary campaign chairman.

Secretary of State Ben Ysursa’s decision to retire rather than seek a fourth term in the post has kicked up interest in the race; former House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, announced his candidacy even before Ysursa bowed out. Chief deputy Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane launched his campaign last week; still considering the race are Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, and Rep. Holli High Woodings, D-Boise.

Rep. Patterson says he’ll resign from Idaho House

Embattled Rep. Mark Patterson, R-Boise, now says he'll resign from the Idaho Legislature, a day after party colleagues from his district in Boise urged him to quit. The AP reports that Patterson said today he'll submit his resignation to Gov. Butch Otter this week. The move comes after a three-hour meeting Tuesday night in which members of the GOP District 15 precinct committee voted unanimously to ask Patterson to quit; that followed revelations in early November that he pleaded guilty in a 1974 rape case in Florida.

They came to light after the local sheriff revoked Patterson's concealed weapons permit — on grounds he didn't disclose the criminal case on his application. Patterson believes he's being retaliated against. Still, in a brief statement, Patterson agreed with the District 15 committee, saying that in the current climate, his ability to serve had been called into question.

House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, told the Associated Press today, “This is the best course forward, not only for Rep. Patterson and his family, but also for his constituents in District 15, the House of Representatives and the state of Idaho.” Bedke said he hadn't spoken with Patterson on Wednesday before the announcement. “I know that he'd been seriously considering this for some time, and regardless of the atmosphere, it's a hard thing to do, resigning your seat,” Bedke said.

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

Wildlife advocate pleads guilty to poaching

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: POCATELLO, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho director for the wildlife advocacy group Greater Yellowstone Coalition has pleaded guilty to poaching two elk. The Idaho State Journal (http://bit.ly/SxHTxs ) reports Marv Hoyt is currently on vacation and will retire from his post at the end of the year. Hoyt pleaded guilty last month to misdemeanor charges of unlawful taking of game and wasteful destruction of wildlife. Prosecutors said Hoyt only had one elk tag but that he killed three cow elk during a November hunting trip in Caribou County. Fish and Game officer Blake Phillips found the three elk carcasses. The first elk had been gutted and the meat taken, but the other two had not been harvested.

Feds confiscate sea turtle from Idaho Aquarium

Federal fish and wildlife officers confiscated the green sea turtle that had been on display at the Idaho Aquarium in Boise on Tuesday, the AP reports, because two aquarium founders who had a permit to keep the turtle - a federally protected species - are now convicted felons. A special permit is required for sea turtles held in captivity; revocation of the permit came in the wake of convictions of Ammon Covino and Chris Conk, who pleaded guilty to conspiring to bring illegally harvested spotted rays and lemon sharks to Boise. Under court order, Covino and Conk can no longer be involved with the aquarium and they have been removed from its board.

GOP officials call on Rep. Patterson to resign, say they have no confidence in him

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Republican officials from Boise want Rep. Mark Patterson to resign, saying they have “no confidence” in his ability to serve his district or the state of Idaho after disclosure of his guilty plea in a 1974 rape case. District 15 precinct committee members Tuesday voted unanimously to urge Patterson to quit at the conclusion of a three-hour meeting, most of which was behind closed doors at a Boise retirement home. Two policemen from Boise were posted outside after some members of the committee expressed concerns for their safety. There were no incidents, and Patterson didn't attend the meeting, despite an invitation. In a telephone interview Tuesday before the vote, Patterson said he “knew it was going to be a circus” so he opted not to accept the panel's invitation for him to come and explain his actions. He didn't respond to a request for comment after the no-confidence vote. The committee's vote is only a request; it can't remove him.

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

Popular North Idaho charter school to expand, despite district funding concerns

A popular charter school in Rathdrum, Idaho has been approved to expand from its current K-8 focus into high school grades – over the objections of the local school district, which says the move will funnel away money that now provides more course choices for students in its regular high schools. Lakeland School District officials have high praise for the North Idaho STEM Charter Academy, which focuses on science and math and uses an innovative project-based learning approach. But they say under Idaho’s school funding system, expanding the charter means cutting funding for Lakeland and Timberlake high schools.

“There’s very little recognition of the impact it has on districts when they lose students,” said Tom Taggart, director of business and operations for the Lakeland district. “We actually took that hit last year when they opened and we lost about 130 students to the school. That’s a big hit financially.” Under Idaho law for charter schools, the funding follows the student – so if a family chooses to move a child from a regular school to a charter school, the per-student funding is subtracted from the former and added to the latter. “In other parts of the country, they have some ways to ease the pain as you go through this, to help the district taking the impact,” Taggart said.

At North Idaho STEM, students, parents and staff are excited about the expansion, which will take the two-year-old school’s total enrollment from 315 to 724 over the next nine years; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com. Idaho has 48 charter schools, including seven “virtual” schools that offer their instruction online; the charters enroll 17,201 students, 5.8 percent of the state’s public school student population. According to the State Department of Education, more than 11,500 Idaho students are on waiting lists for Idaho charter schools; the North Idaho STEM Charter Academy alone has 200 on its waiting list.

 

ITD correction: Coeur d’Alene megaloads are bound for Montana, not Canada

The Idaho Transportation Department today is correcting some information it gave out yesterday regarding three giant megaloads that are proposed to travel through Coeur d’Alene on I-90 within the next month: The loads are headed for a refinery in Great Falls, Mont., as part of an upgrade, not for the Canadian oil sands, where so many other big loads passing through the state in recent years have been bound. “I apologize for that,” said Adam Rush, ITD spokesman. “We’ve had different shipments going in different areas. They’re going to Great Falls and not Canada.”

The three loads, proposed by hauler Mammoet USA South, Inc., are equipment that’s being delivered as part of a refinery upgrade at the Calumet Refinery in Great Falls, Rush said.

Idaho has nation’s second-highest rate of uninsured veterans

Idaho has the second-highest rate of uninsured veterans in the nation, Idaho KidsCount announced today, with an estimated 10,000 military veterans in the state – 15 percent – currently lacking health insurance. If Idaho opted to expand its Medicaid program at federal expense, the group estimates that 3,800 of those vets would be covered. “Many of us assume, like I did, that the men and women who serve our country are honored with the supports they need to adjust to civilian life,” said Lauren Necochea, director of Idaho KidsCount. But veterans only automatically qualify for TRICARE coverage if they retire after 20 years of service. Those returning from deployment get Veterans Affairs coverage for five years; only those with documented service-connected disabilities may receive care beyond that.

The group issued a report today highlighting the gap for Idaho veterans. “This concerns us at Idaho KidsCount because we care about veterans and because we know that many veterans are also parents,” Necochea said. “We know that kids need healthy, strong parents to care for them and families need economic security to thrive. Idaho faces an untapped opportunity that could help approximately 3,800 veterans and 1,200 veteran spouses get health coverage.”

KidsCount held a news conference at the state Capitol today to release its report and push for the change. Paul Kalb said, “As a veteran, I made sacrifices and put myself in harm’s way on every deployment; there were 4 of them.” Lyle Gessford, a retired major in the U.S. Army, called the high rate of uninsured vets in Idaho “a serious and growing deficiency.” He said, “Idaho must come to the table and deal with the issues of affordable medical insurance and care for our citizens, and it is a shame that we have not already done that for our veterans.”

Land Board votes unanimously to set auctions for up to 95 Priest, Payette lake lots

On unanimous votes, the state Land Board has agreed to offer the 74 cabin site renters at Priest Lake and the 21 at Payette Lake who had been signed up for now-cancelled land exchanges an opportunity to go to public auction on their lots; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com. The Payette Lake auction likely will be held in late February in Eagle; the Priest Lake lots will be auctioned at the Coeur d'Alene Resort on two dates to be set before the end of the summer, and will be subject to new 2014 land appraisals that are now in progress.

“We have ready, willing and able buyers,” said Kathy Opp, deputy director of the state Department of Lands. “We believe the endowments could benefit from another voluntary auction cycle that captures current buyer interest while motivation is high.”

The state would be guaranteed to get at least the appraised value for the lots, which would be the minimum bid. If someone other than the current lessee for the land was the successful bidder at the auction, they would have to pay the current lessee appraised or assessed value for the improvements, including the buildings on the property. When the state held a similar auction for 13 Payette Lake cabin sites in October, all 10 that had current lessees went to those current lessees; the other three were vacant, unleased lots.

Otter offers mussel-encrusted license plate to Interior secretary

At the recent Western Governors Association meeting in Las Vegas, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter brandished a license plate that had been soaked for a year in Lake Mead and was encrusted with invasive quagga mussels, asking Interior Secretary Sally Jewell when the Obama Administration would get inspection and contamination stations up and running at the infested lake to help halt the spread of the invasive species. BSU political science professor Justin Vaughn was in the audience, and reported that Jewell made it clear she’s aware of the issue and said she’d look into it; his full report in the Blue Review is online here. Vaughn reported that Otter offered Jewell the mussel-encrusted license plate to take back to Washington, D.C., but she declined – it’s illegal to transport invasive species.

Idaho Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, soaked 500 of the license plates in the infested lake for displays to help make the point about the threat from the mussels, which haven't yet invaded Idaho. “We'll lose so much if these get into our region,” he said, adding that he was “thrilled” to see the issue take center stage so dramatically at the WGA conference.

Idaho mulls public auctions for lakefront lots at Priest, Payette lakes

A real estate auction firm that ran a successful auction of 13 state-owned cabin sites at Payette Lake in October is recommending that the state consider another big auction for cabin sites at both Priest and Payette lakes, with the Priest Lake cabin-site auction to be held at the Coeur d’Alene Resort. “It’s a nationally recognized venue,” Brian Rallens of Bottles Corbett Real Estate told the state Land Board this morning, and would draw attention to Priest Lake, “really a gem that’s not that well-known.”

Owners of dozens of cabins on state ground at the two lakes had been signed up for land exchanges, designed to swap the state-owned sites for higher-yielding commercial property while letting the cabin owners buy the ground under their cabins, but the exchanges were canceled amid legal questions. Those cabin sites would be good candidates for another auction, Rallens said. “Really the best time to sell is when you’ve got buyers,” he told the board – buyers who have already lined up financing and had been ready to move. “At the end of the day we really feel that there’s an opportunity for a fiduciary benefit for the endowment.”

With the turmoil and uncertainty revolving around the state lots at Priest Lake, as many as 30 percent of the current lessees may default, as they face steep increases in their rental rates for the ground under their cabins, Rallens said. That would force land values there down and saturate the market with vacant properties, he said.

At Payette Lake, 10 of the lots that were placed on the auction block already had lessees who had built their cabins on the lots and were leasing the ground from the state; all 10 of them were the successful bidders, with all but one purchasing the lots at their appraised value. The 10th one sold for $11,000 over its appraised value. At the same time, three vacant, unleased lots were auctioned, and they went for well over the appraised values: $1 million for a lot that was appraised at $662,400; $620,000 for one appraised at $585,000; and $1.1 million for one appraised at $1.066 million.

“It will drive prices up over time,” Rallens said. “Especially at Priest Lake we feel it’s an opportunity to preserve values.” He said, “From an expectation standpoint, I would say most will probably sell for appraised value.”

The Land Board is scheduled to vote later today on proposals to hold voluntary auctions in the coming months on 74 lots at Priest Lake that had been scheduled for land exchanges, and 21 at Payette Lake. Anyone could bid; if someone other than the current renter won an auction, the winning bidder would have to pay the current renter appraised value for the improvements.

Luna: Do endowment investment strategies short-change current students?

State schools Superintendent Tom Luna says he believes the state’s distribution and investment strategy for endowment funds is short-changing current public school students by focusing too much on future students. “Every year … we have 3,000 to 4,000 more students that we’re serving with that distribution,” he said. But the distribution has remained frozen at $31 million a year for five years, but for a one-time, extra $22 million distribution in 2010. “I think we need to take a hard look at if we’re sacrificing the benefit of the current beneficiary in the need to protect the future beneficiary,” Luna told the Land Board this morning. “We’ve accumulated a lot of cash and then our fund balances have increased … but the policies we have in place still haven’t resulted in the current beneficiaries seeing an increase. So I think they’re a bit out of whack.”

Luna noted that the state’s permanent endowment fund is invested 70 percent into volatile equities, and 30 percent into more secure bond funds. He said that’s appropriate for long-term funds, but said the earnings reserve funds, from which distributions are made, shouldn’t have the same split – they should be more secure, to guarantee distributions to schools and other endowment beneficiaries. Larry Johnson, endowment fund investment manager, responded, “I don’t think it would make much difference, because we’ve looked at this before. … We’ll certainly have an opportunity to look at it again.” He added, “We’re permanently intending to have reserves and a significant amount of reserves.”

The state is in the midst of an analysis of its investment strategies; Johnson said he’ll have results from that for the board in February.

Idaho endowment revenues strong for first half of year

Idaho’s state endowment lands, which make much of their money through timber sales, have had “a phenomenal year” for timber harvesting so far, state Lands Director Tom Schultz told the state Land Board this morning, “both harvest to date as well as revenue to date for timber sales.” Schultz said dry, cold conditions along with lots of salvage sales have meant “we’ve had a lot of wood that has moved in the last month,” Schultz said. “We’re already at about $43 million for cumulative receipts for the year. We’re at 152 percent of our five-year average in harvest volume at 200 million board feet, so we’re far eclipsing historical averages … for the first half of this year.”

Gov. Butch Otter, who chairs the Land Board, said the figures “tell a pretty good story.”

The state’s endowment fund reported earnings of 1.7 percent in November, for an 11.1 percent gain fiscal year to date at the end of the month, but investment manager Larry Johnson told the board, “Month to date in December, the market hasn’t been as kind to us,” with the fund losing about 1 percent. So fiscal year to date, since July 1, it’s up about 10 percent.

Freeway closures, onramp work planned for I-90 in Coeur d’Alene for megaloads

The Idaho Transportation Department is inviting the public to a meeting Thursday in Coeur d’Alene to discuss on-ramp widening and brief, temporary closures of I-90 at Sherman Avenue that are planned to allow three megaloads of oil field equipment bound for Canada to pass through. The three giant loads – which each will measure 472 feet long, 27 feet wide, about 16 feet tall and weigh 1.6 million pounds – could travel within the next month, said ITD spokesman Mel Coulter. “The public meeting is designed to explain it to the public and get some feedback,” he said “It’s not imminent.”

The megaloads, being hauled by Mammoet USA South, Inc., would arrive at I-90 from the Lewiston area via U.S. Highway 95, exit I-90 at the Sherman Avenue interchange, travel 5.5 miles along East Coeur d’Alene Lake Drive, pass under the I-90 overpass west of Higgens Point, and re-enter I-90 at a temporary on-ramp that ITD said is “mostly completed” on the north side of I-90. “The on-ramp, which is on public right of way, will have widening work done to allow the shipments to use it,” ITD said in a news release. Coulter said the freeway likely would close for only about 10 minutes at a time.

Other megaload transports in the region have drawn protests and lawsuits; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Commission approves expansions that could add 990 charter school seats in coming years

The Idaho Public Charter School Commission has approved up to 990 new charter school seats in the state in the coming years, under proposals from three charter school groups, Idaho Education News reports. Idaho currently has 11,400 students on waiting lists to attend an Idaho charter school. The expansions include more than doubling the size of the North Idaho Stem Academy in Rathdrum, which plans to expand its K-8 program into high school grades; nearly doubling enrollment at Sage International School in Boise; and raising the enrollment cap on Syringa Mountain School, a new K-5 charter school scheduled to open next year in Blaine County. You can read Idaho EdNews’ full report here.

Embattled Rep. Patterson won’t seek re-election, hasn’t decided on resignation

Embattled Rep. Mark Patterson, R-Boise, told the Associated Press today that he won't seek a second term in the Idaho House, but said he hasn't decided whether to resign. Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney revoked Patterson's concealed weapons permit in October, contending he twice lied on his application by failing to mention his guilty plea and withheld judgment for assault with intent to commit rape in Florida in 1974. Idaho GOP officials are planning to meet with Patterson on Tuesday night and  are urging him to resign.

Patterson told the AP today that he never planned to run for re-election. “I knew I was going in one time, and one time only,” he said. He said amid this last month's furor, he initially considered resigning from the House but is currently mulling his options. “Nobody can give me a reason to resign,” Patterson said. “What I have I ever done wrong as a legislator?” Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Newspaper sues Jefferson County commissioners over open meeting violation

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) — The Post Co. has filed a lawsuit against the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners contending the board is in violation of Idaho's open meeting law. The Post Register reports (http://bit.ly/JoFGnG) the lawsuit filed Friday in 7th District Court says commissioners broke the law on Nov. 14 when they reached an agreement with Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Robin Dunn in executive session. The Post Co. contends the meeting was illegal because of the posting of an improper agenda, a final decision was made in executive session, and commissioners didn't keep accurate minutes of the executive session. The Post Co. is requesting that actions taken by the commission on Nov. 14 be made “null and void.” The company is also wants the commission to pay legal fees of at least $3,000.

Megaload inches closer to Idaho

A 450-ton shipment of equipment bound for the Canadian oil sands is slowly making its way across eastern Oregon, and is expected to be near the Idaho border on Wednesday, the Ontario Argus Observer reports. The shipment, so large that it creates a rolling roadblock on the two-lane roads it's traveling, is moving only at night; it's been delayed both by wintry weather and protests. The item, a giant piece of water purification equipment being hauled by Omega Morgan for a division of General Electric, is the first of three; it's expected to arrive in Vale, Ore. on Wednesday morning. Click below for a full report the Argus Observer and the Associated Press.

Judge: Priest Lake cabin owners have no right to continue their state leases

A North Idaho judge has ruled against a family that challenged the auction of its state-owned leased cabin site at Priest Lake, saying cabin owners who rent their ground from the state have no right to continue their leases or to appeal their appraisals prior to a conflict auction. The opinion issued by 1st District Judge Barbara Buchanan doesn’t mention the oddest part of the case – that the remains of five of the family’s ancestors, dating back nearly a century, are interred on the cabin site, and permanent memorials to the five are located there.

Spokane attorney J. Scott Miller said that turned out to be more of emotional issue than a legal issue in the case. “I’m surprised it wasn’t an issue for the individual who bid against the family,” he said. “But … really there’s no legal grounds that I’m aware of.”

Buchanan found that cabin owners have no right to continue their leases once they expire. “The plain terms of the 2012-2013 lease provided that any renewal of the lease was entirely at the discretion of the Land Board,” she wrote. Plus, she found, “Even if the lease could be construed to provide a right of continuation past the expiration of the lease, such right is unenforceable as a matter of law given the Idaho Supreme Court’s recent determination that the Idaho Constitution prohibits the Board from offering a lease renewal to a cottage site lessee without first making the lease available for public auction.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Idaho courts report big jump in mental commitment cases over past five years

Idaho state courts are reporting an 82 percent increase in the number of involuntary mental commitment cases filed vs. five years ago, and the startling statistic has some judges wondering if budget cuts to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare and the poor economy are partly to blame. “It's a tough question with a complex set of factors,” Ada County Deputy Prosecutor Michael Anderson, who handles many mental commitment cases, told the Associated Press. “There's been, with the economy, some people who have lost their jobs and that are depressed, so we've seen a few of those. But overall, the pie just seems to be bigger — the numbers of people just seem to have increased.” Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Some poinsettias, some greenery, and Capitol is decked in its holiday finery…

The interior of the state Capitol is decked in its holiday finery, a tradition that goes back many years. The decorations are simple – $2,500 worth of poinsettias, some greenery and a large wreath – and the total cost comes to about $2,600 each year. The result: The soaring rotunda is transformed with holiday elegance. “We have an amazing facilities services staff that puts up those decorations every year,” said state Department of Administration spokeswoman Jennifer Pike. “They know what works, and they know what looks elegant in the building.”

Idaho’s historic Capitol is open to the public; guided tours are available by arrangement for groups of five or more (332-1012), there's an interactive online tour here, and a self-guided tour brochure is online here or available in the Capitol for anyone. There’s also a gift shop on the bottom-floor garden level for souvenirs.

Special assistance approved for laid-off Micron workers

Special assistance has been approved for more than 350 Micron Technology workers laid off in Idaho since August of 2012 because of foreign competition; the Idaho Department of Labor announced today that the workers are eligible for special job assistance under the Trade Adjustment Program. That includes no-cost retraining, expenses related to job-hunting, relocation expenses and some additional benefits after regular state unemployment benefits are exhausted. The aid also will be available to any additional workers laid off from Micron through 2015; click below for the full Department of Labor announcement.

Dems forward 3 names to Otter to replace Sen. Durst, Ward-Engelking tops list

Three names have been forwarded to the governor to replace Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise, who resigned from the Senate to move to Seattle. Atop the list, submitted by the legislative District 18 Democratic central committee: Rep. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, who now represents the same district in the House. Listed second was Lawrence Crowley, president and director of the Energy Strategies Group, and third, Elizabeth “Beth” Oppenheimer, executive director of the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children.

If Otter selects Ward-Engelking, a similar process would then be followed to fill her House seat.

Western Governors unveil high-tech wildlife mapping project

Governors in 16 states unveiled a high-tech wildlife habitat mapping project Thursday that they hope will encourage economic development across the West while protecting the region's environmental treasures, the AP reports. The Western Governors' Association wants to make it easier to chart paths across large landscapes where developers can expect the least regulatory resistance and threat of litigation as they draft plans to build highways, dig gold mines and erect power lines, pipelines or wind farms. Five years in the making, the database will connect 16 western states from California and Alaska to Idaho and Oklahoma with a first-of-its-kind online system of colorful GIS maps displaying wildlife habitat, wetlands and other valuable natural resources, much of it detailed down to square-mile increments; click below for a full report from AP reporter Scott Sonner.

Former GOP Rep. Evan Frasure to run for Secretary of State

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: POCATELLO, Idaho (AP) — A former Idaho legislator from Pocatello, Evan Frasure, is running as a Republican in the ever-more-crowded 2014 secretary of state primary. The Idaho State Journal (http://tinyurl.com/nvz2phw) reports Friday Frasure plans to make a formal announcement next week. Frasure says he believes it's the right time for somebody from eastern Idaho to fill the post. Already, two southwestern Idaho people have joined the GOP primary race: Rep. Lawerence Denney of Midvale, and deputy Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane. Frasure served 12 years in the Legislature until departing in 2002 to run for secretary of state against the eventual winner, Ben Ysursa. Ysursa is retiring after three terms. Frasure is a teacher and was a member of the redistricting committee in 2011 that failed to draw up new election boundaries for Idaho.

Labrador, Simpson split in budget vote

Idaho's two congressmen split in last night's 332-94 House vote on a bipartisan budget deal, with 2nd District Rep. Mike Simpson voting in favor, and 1st District Rep. Raul Labrador voting against. The deal, brokered by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., sets federal spending on domestic and defense programs and averts the threat of a government shutdown for the next two years; it makes modest changes in spending levels, replaces about $63 billion in automatic sequester budget cuts, adds new fees on airline passengers and increases federal workers’ pension contributions; it’s expected to pass the Senate next week. The deal leaves in place the bulk of the $1 trillion in sequester cuts through 2021, but eases an especially harsh set of cuts scheduled to hit in 2014 and 2015 on the Pentagon, domestic agencies and Medicare providers.

Labrador called it “a bad deal, plain and simple,” while Simpson said it “preserves dozens, perhaps hundreds of jobs at Idaho National Laboratory, lays the groundwork for extending PILT payments, achieves greater savings for taxpayers than those contained in sequestration, and does all of it without raising taxes.”

Here’s Labrador’s statement, and more online here:

“This is a bad deal, plain and simple.  Once again, Congress is making promises of future spending decreases in exchange for actual spending increases today.  Republicans should keep the promise they made to the American people that they would use the sequester to address the true drivers of our debt and fight for real entitlement reform.  We had a historic opportunity to find common ground in order to save Medicare and Social Security.  Once again, we kicked the can down the road while making empty promises to the American people.”

From Simpson, whose full statement is online here:

“My Republican colleagues and I have been seeking reforms to sequestration that lessen the pain on the military, allow Congress to budget in a more orderly process, and maintain or enhance the long-term savings achieved by the Budget Control Act. The bill we passed today accomplishes all three of those goals and is a positive step in the right direction. I am especially relieved that the agreement short circuits some of the devastating sequester-based cuts to Idaho National Laboratory – including cuts to its core nuclear energy research programs, the guard force that secures the facility against terrorism or sabotage, and ongoing cleanup activities that are so important to the protection of the environment and human health.  The agreement also provides room in the budget to continue funding for PILT.”

Edgar Steele files malpractice lawsuit against his lawyers

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A north Idaho attorney convicted in an unsuccessful murder-for-hire scheme has filed a malpractice lawsuit aimed at the lawyers who represented him in his federal trial. Sixty-eight-year-old Edgar Steele was convicted in 2011 for hiring a handyman to plant a car bomb to kill Steele's wife and her mother. Steele is the former attorney for the founder of the Aryan Nations and is serving a 50-year term in prison. In a lawsuit filed in Ada County, the Idaho Statesman reports (http://bit.ly/1bByhb4 ) that Steele complains his trial defense was impaired specifically by the malpractice of Robert McAllister of Denver. One month after Steele's conviction, McAllister was disbarred and convicted on fraud charges. Steele argues McAllister was too clouded and distracted by his own legal problems to be an effective lawyer.

Non-violent offenders serve twice the time in Idaho, vs. rest of nation

Nonviolent offenders are staying behind bars in Idaho twice as long as they do in the rest of the nation. That’s among the major findings of a nine-month study into how Idaho could spend its money better and get better outcomes from its criminal justice system. Researchers for the Council of State Governments and the Pew Charitable Trusts found that the state has one of the nation’s highest and fastest-growing incarceration rates, despite its low rates of crime. Idaho House Judiciary Chairman Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, a retired state trooper, called the data a “wake-up call.”

The study also showed that Idaho suffers from a “revolving door of recidivism,” driven in part by a system that sends probationers and parolees back to prison – filling 41 percent of the state’s prison beds - without tailoring the penalties to their violations, and pointed to other problems, including delays in parole releases. If the state were to enact a package of reforms, the researchers estimated it could save $255 million on prison costs in five years, while investing just $33 million into better supervision and tracking programs.

“It just doesn’t even make sense that we would not want to go that direction if we possibly can,” Wills said today, urging a joint legislative committee to come together around legislation to be crafted by January to kick off the reforms. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Henderson breaks hip on Hawaii vacation, but expects to start legislative session on time

Idaho Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, broke a hip while vacationing in Hawaii this week, but he says he’ll be up and going in time for the start of the legislative session on Jan. 6. “Oh, absolutely – I won’t miss it,” Henderson said from the hospital on the island of Kauai, where he’s awaiting surgery. “What I’ve got is a minor fracture of my right hip. … The surgeon this morning said about five days after the surgery, you’ll be able to walk.”

Henderson, who celebrated his 91st birthday last Friday, said, “I was in a condo I wasn’t familiar with, walking around in the middle of the night. I tripped on a chair leg and fell.” He added, “I should’ve turned the lights on.”

Henderson and his wife, Betty Ann, were vacationing on Kauai for a week and had planned to return Sunday, but now they’ve extended their stay until the middle of next week. “We’re here with friends, and they’ve got a car,” Henderson said. “This is a great place, really picturesque.” So far during the vacation, he said, the friends have enjoyed a cruise halfway around the island on which they saw whales and dolphins, and visits to several state parks; he said he’s particularly appreciated the tropical flowers and jungle greenery. “Yesterday it was 82 degrees,” he said.

Henderson is a fifth-term state representative, and is also a former Kootenai County commissioner and mayor of Post Falls.

 

Idaho insurance exchange to begin ad campaign after delay

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho's insurance exchange will begin its paid marketing campaign after Dec. 20, a delay of more than a month. Still, don't expect to see Your Health Idaho television advertising over Christmas. Consultants told the exchange's board Thursday that holiday TV spots were too expensive, so marketing will concentrate instead on radio, Internet and newspapers. The exchange's $3 million-plus ad campaign has been pushed back due to massive problems signing people up for coverage since Oct. 1. Since uninsured people remain largely unaware that Idaho even has an exchange, exchange spokeswoman Jody Olson told board members it's important to begin as soon as possible. Marketing will be aimed at building brand awareness and encouraging people to enroll in coverage that's a key part of President Barack Obama's 2010 health care law.

Alter: Gov’t knows more about us, we need to know more about government

Award-winning NBC journalist and author Jonathan Alter offered this thought in his keynote speech last night at the annual Frank Church Conference on Public Affairs at BSU, which had a theme this year of “Watching the Watchers: Security vs. Liberty”: “The government knows a lot more about us than ever before. We need to know a lot more about the government, and what the government is doing in our name.”

This year’s conference was the 30th held by the Frank Church Institute at Boise State; Church was an Idaho senator from 1957 to 1981 and a candidate for president in 1976, when he lost the Democratic nomination to Jimmy Carter. He chaired the Church Committee in the 1970s, which held ground-breaking hearings on CIA and FBI abuses in intelligence-gathering and covert operations. The conference explored issues ranging from how the findings of the Church Committee are relevant to current intelligence revelations, to how an open society in the post-9/11 world can reconcile the clash of freedom with government’s desire for secrecy. There’s more info here.

GOP sets meeting to urge Rep. Patterson to resign

Boise Republicans Wednesday invited Rep. Mark Patterson to a meeting next week where he could be asked to resign, the AP reports. The session, at an as-yet undisclosed Boise location, is meant as a forum for party officials to discuss the furor surrounding the revocation of Patterson's concealed weapons permit after he failed to disclose his guilty plea in a 1974 rape case. Dan Luker, the District 15 precinct committee secretary, confirmed the meeting on Wednesday in an interview with The Associated Press. Another member of the 15-person GOP committee, state Sen. Fred Martin of Boise, has said he wants party officials to urge Patterson to resign on grounds his behavior is inappropriate. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Otter tamps down expectations for election-year legislative session

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on how Gov. Butch Otter today continued to tamp down expectations for the election-year legislative session that will convene on Jan. 6, just months before Idaho’s May 20 primary election. Addressing the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho, Otter promised “more of the same” from him, with a lean, cautious approach to new spending or programs, despite the state’s recovering economy. The governor’s already drawn a primary challenge from Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Russ Fulcher, and a Democratic challenger, A.J. Balukoff; every seat in the Legislature also will be on the ballot.

Idaho Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said she expected caution from the governor in an election year, but was “disappointed” by what she heard. “It’s our job to do good policy for the people we represent,” she said. “I hope we actually get something accomplished.”

 

Bedke: ‘No clear consensus’ on road funding, ‘hard choices’ on spending

House Speaker Scott Bedke predicts that the upcoming legislative session won’t address a big backlog in maintenance funding for the state’s roads and bridges, in part because he said people in his region don’t seem concerned about the roads. “We don’t have clear consensus on that issue,” Bedke told the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho today.

He also urged caution on state spending, saying, “There’s been modest growth in the economy, there’ll be modest growth in the money available as we set budgets, but there’s no runaways there. There’s not a lot of extra new money.” Bedke suggested that business interests pushing for further tax relief on business personal property consider whether they think the state should give up a different tax break to fund that, like the grocery tax credit. “In this time of allocating scarce resources, I think maybe it’s incumbent upon us to talk about this,” he said. “We can get rid of personal property tax. … We can buy down the income tax rates, if that’s what we want to do. But it comes with hard choices.”

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, warned that Idaho’s not investing for its future, from low state employee pay that prompts costly turnover to underfunding for schools, infrastructure and more. “I think we’re going to hear a lot about what’s important in the primary elections,” he said. “So I’m not very optimistic we’re going to be addressing any of these issues.”

Alec: Your dad says ‘hi’

To Alec Williams, an Idahoan who is deployed overseas but follows Idaho politics from afar through this blog: Thanks for reading! And your dad says Hi.

Wrestling over rules for state’s new partial personal property tax exemption…

Three panelists at the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho conference today are addressing the state’s new partial personal property tax exemption for business property, which exempts up to $100,000 in value per taxpayer, per county. “A lot of people thought, $100,000 per taxpayer per county, how simple could that be?” said Steve Fiscus, property tax division manager for the Idaho State Tax Commission. But, he said, “It’s not as simple as it could be.”

However, it’s pretty simple for 90 percent of Idaho businesses that previously had to pay personal property taxes – they no longer have to pay at all, because their value was below the $100,000 mark. “About 90 percent of the accounts in the state of Idaho were eliminated, which is pretty close to the estimate we had when we initially did the research on this project,” Fiscus said. That means those businesses no longer have to file annual reports and pay taxes on their desks, chairs and other equipment.

Where it gets complicated: The Tax Commission has adopted new rules drawing the line between real and personal property, and those who landed on the real side – meaning they won’t qualify for the break – are plenty upset. They include operators of cell phone towers, railroad tracks, pipelines, underground storage tanks and more.

Rick Smith, an attorney with Hawley Troxell who represents Northwest Pipeline, Century Link, and AT&T, said, “I think it would be necessary as a matter of tax policy, in order to make this personal property exemption truly reasonable, to expand it to all property.”

When the panelists were asked if they’d change the new exemption or its rules – if they were “king for a day” – Fiscus said, “If I was king for a day, I’d say give it a rest for at least a year, so that we can get caught up and maybe do a little better job administering it.”

Sen. Crapo ‘healing OK’ after furniture-moving mishap causes facial injury

Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo is drawing some second looks this week, but not necessarily because of his comments in the Senate. Instead, it’s the rather dramatic facial injury he’s sporting. “He took a fall while moving furniture at his Idaho Falls home the day after Thanksgiving,” reports Crapo’s press secretary, Lindsay Nothern. “Took some stitches to close – left a bruise, but he’s healing OK.”

This shot on C-SPAN was posted by the Daily Caller, which ran an item headlined, “What is the cut on Sen. Crapo’s face?” The online outlet reported that C-SPAN junkies noticed the facial injury when Crapo was speaking yesterday against confirming Rep. Mel Watt to lead the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Their post drew an array of responses, including one commenting, “Looks like someone knocked the Crapo out of him.”

Little: Idahoans are angry over debt, gridlock, partisan bickering

Idaho Lt. Gov. Brad Little says he’s hearing a lot of anger from Idahoans across the state. “For the last five or six months, I’ve been all over Idaho, I’ve been to nearly every county, and I’ll tell you, they’re mad – they’re mad about the federal government,” he told the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho conference today. “Particularly in the rural areas, there’s quite a bit of hostility out there.” Issues making Idahoans mad include the federal debt, gridlock and partisan bickering, he said.

Of the new budget deal in Congress, he said, “It’s a little bit of a relief to hear that we’re not going to go off one more fiscal cliff. … At least they got something done, right, wrong or indifferent.”

Idahoans are a little more amenable to their state and local governments, Little said, but, “We have to work a little bit harder because of that animosity that exists out there.”

Little was the luncheon keynote speaker at the conference today. He praised the governor’s education stakeholders task force recommendations as “a laudable road map,” and said it speaks well “that there is bipartisan support for it, and it is very broad-based.” Little said in his view, if Idaho focuses on a strong workforce, robust infrastructure, a regulatory environment conducive to growth and a “fair and competitive tax system with a strong balance sheet,” the state will succeed. “We’ll be the preferred place for prosperity for this generation and generations to come.”

Guv’s budget chief: ‘Not much money to do anything new’

Jani Revier, Gov. Butch Otter’s budget chief, told the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho today, “We expect a conservative budget that doesn’t over-commit.” She said, “The good news is that general fund revenues are recovering from the recession. … The general fund is forecasted to return to the fiscal year 2008 levels by next fiscal year.” Idaho transferred an additional $85 million in unexpected revenue to its budget stabilization fund on July 1, she noted, but said, “Our state economist has warned that much of this revenue is one-time.” The budget stabilization fund, the state’s main rainy-day savings account, now has $135 million in it – nearly reaching its statutory cap.

“As the state’s economy began to recover, the governor set forth the following principles” for the state budget, Revier said. They are: Not to grow at the same rate as the economy; maintaining structural balance; and replenishing rainy-day accounts.  “We are not going to simply restore lost general fund from the agencies that we cut,” she said. “The governor wants to focus on making strategic reinvestments,” focusing on core areas of government and not losing efficiencies gained during the years of downturn.

Revier said Otter has made clear that certain items will be included in his budget proposal for fiscal year 2015: Recommendations of his education task force; health and human safety needs; addressing a maintenance backlog; and covering increased employer healthcare costs. The state is expecting a substantial increase in those costs, to the tune of $1,400 per employee, she said, and covering that will be “a significant investment in our state’s workforce.” She said once basic needs are covered for state government, “There just isn’t much money to do anything new.”

CEO on the five factors that drew Zions Bank to Idaho…

Scott Anderson, president and CEO of Zions Bank, said there were five reasons his company decided to expand in Idaho, the reasons “we decided to make significant investment in this new building just up the street,” the nearly finished office tower at 8th and Main streets in downtown Boise that’s the bank’s new Idaho headquarters. The five? Low energy costs (32% below the national average); low construction costs (4th most cost-effective place to build in the western U.S.); educated workforce, in that the state ranks in the top third nationally for the number of adults with a high school diploma; easy transport of goods, including access to the Columbia River system; and high quality of life, from a serious crime rate 21 percent below average to abundant recreation.

“Each of these five encouraging factors makes the state a very desirous place to live,” Anderson told the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho conference this morning. He also noted that Idaho has the lowest per-capita tax burden in the nation and the nation’s second-lowest property taxes – but didn’t include those factors in his top five. “At Zions, we are very bullish on the future of Idaho,” he said. “We believe in Idaho and so we are investing in Idaho.”

It’s now official: BSU has hired Harsin

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Boise State has hired Bryan Harsin as the Broncos head football coach. Boise State athletic director Mark Coyle made the announcement official Wednesday, calling Harsin one of the top young coaches in the country. The 37-year-old moves from Arkansas State to take over for Chris Petersen, who left last week for Washington. The former Broncos assistant says he's thrilled to be returning to Boise, where he grew up and played as a walk-on for the Broncos. Harsin worked at Boise State from 2001-2010, serving as offensive coordinator under Petersen for five years. He left in 2010 to become offensive coordinator at Texas before moving to Arkansas State last season. In his only season as head coach, the Red Hawks finished 7-5 and will play in the GoDaddy.com Bowl this month.

There's more here on Harsin and the announcement. Coyle said, “Bryan played a key role in the development of the football program as an assistant for 10 years at Boise State and we look forward to his leadership as we continue the ascension of Bronco football.”

Harsin said, “We're coming home. … One of the hardest decisions we ever made was leaving Boise. We did that so I could become a better coach, so I could one day have the opportunity to return as head coach - that day has arrived.” Click below for a full report from AP reporter Todd Dvorak.

Speaker: Federal online sales tax bill wouldn’t mean tax hike

Wayne Harper, a Utah state senator and president of the Streamlined Sales Tax project’s governing board, told the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho conference this morning that the move in Congress to enable states to collect sales tax on online sales doesn’t mean a tax increase. “It’s being labeled as a tax increase, a new tax. It’s not,” he said. “It’s just a collection method for the states.” He noted that various states are planning for corresponding tax cuts if they get the opportunity to directly collect sales tax on online purchases; in Idaho, those taxes already are due and payable by law, but people are supposed to self-report them and pay them on their state income tax returns, which few do.

Harper said he sponsored a bill in Utah saying if that state gets to collect the taxes directly, it’ll put them all in a restricted account, and use them to reduce the state’s general sales tax, “so it’ll be revenue neutral.” Other states are planning income tax cuts; others are planning to use the increased revenue. Virginia already has put it into law that it’ll void an approved sales and fuel tax increase if it can begin collecting the tax on online sales. “It’s an issue and it’s an opportunity for each one of the states, to do what you want to do,” Harper said.

“I think there’s an equity situation there,” he said. “Right now, you’re requiring your local businesses to collect those sales taxes, but you’re not doing them on remote.” Harper said states that join the Streamlined Sales Tax project, which Idaho has thus far resisted doing, would be able to start collecting the taxes six months after the congressional bill becomes law. Without that step, he said, “I think that’s going to be much more challenging and onerous for you.”

Reports: Bryan Harsin picked as next head football coach for Boise State

Here's a news item from the Associated Prss: A person familiar with the decision tells The Associated Press that Boise State has hired Arkansas State's Bryan Harsin as its next coach. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the move had not become official. Harsin will replace Chris Petersen, who left Boise State for Washington last week. Harsin worked at Boise State from 2001-2010 and was offensive coordinator for the Broncos from 2006-2010. He was offensive coordinator at Texas for two seasons before taking over at Arkansas State, where he went 7-5 this year. The Red Wolves have had three straight one-and-done coaches: Hughes Freeze, Gus Malzahn and Harsin.

Otter promises ‘more of the same’ in upcoming legislative session

Gov. Butch Otter told more than 400 local officials, legislators, lobbyists and others gathered for the 67th Associated Taxpayers of Idaho conference today that the headline for his agenda for the upcoming legislative session should be “More of the Same.” “I would rather be a little short on the front end, and perhaps under-promise and over-deliver,” Otter said. “And that’s what I think we’ve done in the last seven years with the help of the Legislature, and that’s what I’m planning on doing with the rest of my time on office.”

Otter said the state budget that’s set for the coming year likely will represent an increase of between 3 and 3.5 percent. “I would tell you, in my meetings with the JFAC chairs and leadership, we’re going to focus on replenishing some of those institutions that the Constitution tells us is our responsibility – we’ll focus on those first,” he said. “Then, next, other proper roles of government that we can agree need to be replenished. And finally, well maybe not finally, replenish our savings.”

Said the governor, “I don’t know what we would’ve done in 2008 if we hadn’t had $400 million in savings. … I can tell you there’s nothing tougher to do or more dysfunctional in government than a holdback.”

Numbers quadruple for YourHealthIdaho enrollment, up to 1,730

The latest numbers are out for enrollment in health care plans through the YourHealthIdaho.org exchange, and 1,730 Idahoans have now enrolled in plans, up from 338 at the last report Nov. 13. Another 1,854 applicants were determined to be eligible for Medicaid. Applications have been completed for 15,048 Idahoans, and 7,133 of those have been deemed eligible for subsidies.

“We are hearing success stories from all around the state of people getting online and getting coverage, some for the first time,” said Amy Dowd, executive director of the Idaho exchange. You can read the full announcement here.

Idaho sees nation’s biggest 30-day decline in gas prices

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho motorists are finally getting a break at the gas pump. AAA Idaho reports that gasoline prices have dipped below the national average. The state's 26-cent drop in prices in the last 30 days is also the nation's biggest price decline. The state's average price on Tuesday as $3.15 per gallon, down from $3.41 a month ago and $3.43 the same time a year ago. AAA Idaho spokesman Dave Carlson says the last time Idaho's average price dipped this low was in late January. The national average price is $3.20, and three states have average prices below the $3 mark — Missouri, Oklahoma and Kansas. Pump prices vary across the state, from $3.19 in Boise to $2.93 in Coeur d'Alene and $3.23 in Lewiston.

County clerks laud McGrane candidacy: ‘Phil knows what we need’

More than 85 supporters gathered to cheer chief deputy Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane this evening as he announced his candidacy for Idaho Secretary of State – and to sample free BBQ provided by a candidate who’s also a national BBQ champion. Among GOP notables in the crowd: Several elected county clerks from around the state; Ada County elected officials; former state Sen. Mary Hartung; state Sen. Fred Martin, R-Boise; and longtime Idaho GOP activist Phil Reberger, who said he sees “a lot of potential” in the 32-year-old candidate. McGrane is entering a potentially crowded race, with former state House Speaker Lawerence Denney already in the race and several others considering it.

Canyon County Clerk Chris Yamamoto, who’s also a GOP precinct chairman in his county, told the crowd, “Phil McGrane knows what we do, he knows how we do it, and Phil knows what we need.” Yamamoto said McGrane helped his neighboring county when it looked like it couldn’t get new precincts in place in time for a May primary after a late-stretching redistricting process, and he’s helped other counties in the state as well with sterling results. Twin Falls County Clerk Kristina Glascock gave McGrane similar kudos.

McGrane, an attorney and elections specialist, said, “Having worked for so many years to ensure that people have the right to vote, I have a deeply profound respect for institutions that are built upon this right. … I believe our party, or any party, is strongest when our success is based upon its principles and not when a select few try to bend the rules in their favor.” He pledged to “ensure the transparency and integrity of Idaho's government.”

Other candidates considering the race include former state Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise; current state Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene; and current state Rep. Holli High Woodings, D-Boise.

Teacher on teaching to new standards: ‘They’re eating it up’

Kendra Wisenbaker, a 5th grade teacher in the Meridian School District, says she taught the American revolution differently to her class this year, in line with the new Idaho Core Standards. “My kids have never been so excited about the American revolution, because we’re tying it in to reading and writing,” she said. “They’re eating it up.” The difference: The subject matter extends outside their Social Studies textbook and into their reading and writing assignments, and the students are getting engaged, including through reading a book entitled, “George vs. George,” about George Washington and King George III. “With these new standards has come this idea that you have to integrate,” Wisenbaker said.

Wisenbaker, pictured at right, joined a panel sponsored by Idaho Business for Education this afternoon to discuss the new Idaho Core Standards and how they’re working in Idaho’s schools, which began teaching to the new standards this year, after lawmakers approved them in 2011. Don Coberly, Boise School District superintendent, said, “It’s going very well, and I feel like kids are getting a new depth of understanding in math and language arts.” In math, he said students still need to get the right answer, but they must learn to explain how they got there, so they understand what it means, rather than just memorize.

Though the standards have some vocal opponents, Anne Ritter, chair of the Meridian School Board and immediate past president of the Idaho School Boards Association, said there are only small pockets of opposition around the state and in her district; the ISBA gave the standards “resounding approval” at its recent meeting in Coeur d’Alene, she said. “I think the trustees reflect their communities,” she said. “I have found if I send the parents to the standards themselves, it alleviates a lot of fear.” For more on the Idaho Core Standards, click here.

Inmate gets 33 months for prison financial fraud

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — An Idaho inmate has been ordered to serve 33 months in prison and repay more than $59,000 collected by purporting to be a claimant in class-action lawsuits and bankruptcy settlements across the country. U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill also ordered three years of supervised release for 53-year-old Mark Anthony Brown, now serving time in the state prison in Orofino on grand theft and burglary. Brown pleaded guilty in August to two counts of mail fraud. Prosecutors say between 2007 and 2013 he took part in a scheme to fraudulently collect money by getting involved in at least 22 class action and bankruptcy cases. Prosecutors say Brown submitted claim forms to those overseeing case settlements and received part of the proceeds, which were then deposited into his prison account.

State, school districts at odds over lengthy year-end test set for spring

The state and several of its largest school districts are at odds about using a new, eight-hour exam on Idaho’s third-through 11th-grade students this spring, Idaho Education News reports; the districts want to rely on other year-end tests, including the SAT – which all Idaho 11th graders already are taking at state expense – rather than go with the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test in a year when it essentially will be just a test of the test, and won’t provide useful student data. You can read reporter Kevin Richert’s full report here.

He notes that the disagreement has nothing to do with the Idaho Core Standards themselves, new math and English language arts standards that are designed to encourage critical thinking and emphasize writing skills. Idaho schools have begun teaching to the standards this year.

GOP leaders mull asking for Rep. Patterson’s resignation

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Some Republican leaders in Boise have drafted a resolution calling for Rep. Mark Patterson's resignation and may meet on the matter next Tuesday. Officials in District 15, which Patterson represents, say they're still mulling plans to discuss Patterson's future. Dan Luker, District 15's secretary, said the situation remains “fluid” and that no meeting agenda has been finalized. But other District 15 leaders including Sen. Fred Martin are pushing to meet to resolve uncertainty over Patterson's political future one month before the 2014 Legislature. Martin hopes Patterson resigns voluntarily. Patterson has been the focus of attention since his concealed weapons permit was revoked in October by Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney for not disclosing his 1974 guilty plea in a Florida rape case on his application. Patterson couldn't be reached Tuesday.

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

Idaho, Clearwater counties file suit over forest travel plan

Idaho and Clearwater counties have filed a federal lawsuit over a Clearwater National Forest travel plan that closed off 200 miles of national forest trails to motorized vehicles, contending the Forest Service didn't adequately consult with local officials when they enacted the plan last year. “We thought we better take a stand,” Clearwater County Commissioner Don Ebert told The Lewiston Tribune (http://bit.ly/1bA6PyL). “We get ran over all the time by the Forest Service. We picked a battle where we think we are on solid ground and hope we will prevail.” Click below for a full report from the Lewiston Tribune via the Associated Press.

Dem candidate for governor has vast personal wealth

The personal wealth of Democratic candidate for governor A.J. Balukoff is vast, Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey reports this morning, and Balukoff has been very open about it, including his ability to at least partially self-fund his campaign; he has that in common with current Gov. Butch Otter, a multi-millionaire who in August forgave a $131,000 loan to his own campaign. Popkey reports that Balukoff’s net worth is between $40 million and $50 million; plus, his wife, Susie, one of four heirs to the Skagg’s drugstore fortune, has an inheritance worth $20 million. Popkey’s full report is online here.

Salant named interim director of UI’s McClure Center

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: MOSCOW, Idaho (AP) — There's a new interim director of the University of Idaho's marquee public-policy research center that's been beset by leadership turnover. The UI on Monday named Priscilla Salant interim director of the James A. and Louise McClure Center for Public Policy Research. Salant takes over from Marty Peterson, who is retiring for a second time after serving for 20 years as a special assistant to UI's president. Peterson stepped in during 2012 when the former McClure Center director, political science professor David Adler, bolted after two years for a similar post at Boise State University. Before taking this assignment, Salant had led UI's university's outreach and engagement efforts since 2006 at the school's Office of Community Partnerships. The university didn't provide details of its search for a permanent McClure Center leader.

Petersen on move to UW: ‘It was just time’

Chris Petersen was introduced as the University of Washington's new head football coach at a press conference today in Seattle; click below for the full AP report. On his departure from Boise State after incredible success - and after years of spurning offers from other schools - Petersen said, “It was just time. We've done some really good things there and I think for me to take the next step as a coach, as a teacher and a person to grow, I needed to take that next step.”

Washington athletic director Scott Woodward said Petersen was the only one offered the job; he'll make $18 million in guaranteed compensation as part of his five-year agreement with available bonuses that could add another $1 million per season. Petersen will make $3.2 million in 2014 with a $200,000 increase each season, topping out at $4 million in 2018. “I think we paid coach Petersen market rate and we're going to be competitive in the market,” Woodward said.

Petersen said he's been overwhelmed by the reaction from those in Boise, comparing it to being eulogized, rather than the bitterness that has accompanied other coaching changes. “It's kind of strange when you read all this stuff. It's almost like you died. It's kind of weird. What I think is my heart and soul has been in Boise so long and they appreciate that and I wasn't going to run out of there for just anything, money or a bigger stadium or anything like that. That's never what I've been about and I think people realize that. I think they realize the timing was right, the fit was right and I think they're good with it because it was truly those things.”

Cheering for education in the cold…

About 75 well-bundled teachers and their supporters gathered on the Statehouse steps this afternoon to rally for improving Idaho schools and press for state lawmakers to enact the 20 recommendations of the governor’s education stakeholders task force, which range from a new teacher career ladder system to restoring funds cut from schools since 2009. “During the recent recession, there were only a handful of states who suffered more severe cuts than Idaho did,” Idaho Education Association President Penni Cyr told the crowd. “This cannot continue. … Legislators need to step up and fund our public schools.” She was greeted with cheers from the surprisingly cheerful crowd, which stood amid small clumps of ice and snow, mostly huddled together on one side of the giant Statehouse Christmas tree.

Cyr called the task force plan “a solid step forward for improving education in Idaho.” Rep. Hy Kloc, D-Boise, also got cheers from the crowd when he said, “I’m one of those rare animals that you’ll see around the Statehouse – I’m a Democrat.” He said minority Democrats have “a small voice,” but said, “It’s like going to bed with a mosquito in your bed – you never know how irritating a small person can be.”

Aaron White, of White Electric and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said he wants his two young sons to get a good education and grow up to find good jobs, all without leaving the state.

McGrane schedules announcement, and will be handing out free BBQ…

Phil McGrane, chief deputy Ada County clerk, has scheduled his announcement for 5 p.m. tomorrow in the first-floor public hearing room at the Ada County Courthouse, 200 W. Front St., as he mulls a race for Idaho Secretary of State. What makes McGrane stand out in what’s shaping up to be a crowded GOP primary for the seat that will open when longtime Secretary of State Ben Ysursa retires: His campaign co-chairs are the county clerks of four Idaho counties, and his campaign committee includes five more county clerks from counties all around the state. Plus, he says the list is growing.

McGrane said county clerks and their deputies – like him – are very interested in seeing Idaho’s elections well-run, as they’re the ones who do the work on the ground in the counties. “When you look at the responsibilities of the Secretary of State’s office, elections are a major component, and a component I think the public cares the most about in the process,” McGrane said. He added, “Many of them reached out to me. We kind of have a united interest in this race.”

He doesn’t think it’s his campaign committee that differentiates him from the group of prospective candidates, however. “I think my experience running elections is what makes my candidacy stand out,” he said. “As far as the people that I’m aware of, I’m the only non-legislator among the group, but I’m also the only person who actually has had time actually running and administering Idaho’s election law.”

One more oddity: McGrane is a national award-winning competitive barbecuer, and a fellow competitor and caterer who runs Spuds BBQ will be providing free BBQ to those who attend McGrane’s announcement.

Others in the race: Former House Speaker Lawerence Denney announced his candidacy even before Ysursa withdrew his. Former state Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise, and current Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, are considering a run. And Rep. Holli High Woodings, D-Boise, told Eye on Boise on Friday that she, too, is considering the race. “It’s something I’ve been thinking about for years,” she said; Woodings said she’ll decide in “the next couple of weeks or so.” Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, considered the race earlier, but decided to seek another Senate term instead.

Idaho schools now can’t stock Epi-Pens for kids without prescriptions, bill seeks to let them

More than half of states now have legislation permitting schools to keep epinephrine auto-injectors on hand to treat students or staff who have unexpected severe allergic reactions, and the Treasure Valley Food Allergy Network is working on proposed legislation for Idaho. Under current law, Idaho schools can’t keep Epi-Pens or other injectors on hand unless they’ve been prescribed for a specific person. Starla Higdon, a pharmacist and head of the allergy network, presented the proposed legislation to the Idaho Legislature’s Health Care Task Force today, but the senators and representatives on the panel took no action. The bill still could be brought forward when lawmakers convene in January.

Rep. Brandon Hixon, R-Caldwell, expressed concern about a clause removing liability for school personnel who administer the injections in good faith even if parents haven’t given advance consent. “I have a little bit of concern with that,” he said. Others questioned the cost to schools. Higdon said the manufacturer of the Epi-Pen has a program that will provide four injectors to each school for free, and discounts on additional ones. A new federal law just signed last month also offers states incentives for passing such legislation.

There’s been a flurry of states passing legislation since a Virginia first-grader died of an allergic reaction in 2012 when an epinephrine injection could have saved her life. Closer to home, a Spokane third-grader with severe peanut allergies died after eating a peanut butter cookie on a school field trip in 2001. “I understand the difficulty,” said Task Force Co-Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, who said he has a granddaughter with severe food allergies. He said of the bill, “It may be a start, but it may need some work as well.”

Otter to contractors: Re-election looms before Medicaid, road challenges…

When Gov. Butch Otter addressed the Associated General Contractors winter meeting on Friday, Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey reports, he was clear about his biggest challenge in the coming year, and why it’s not increasing transportation funding or expanding Medicaid to 100,000 uninsured Idahoans. “Greatest challenge? Gettin’ me re-elected,” Otter told the group, joining in a big laugh. And, Popkey reports, that’s why Otter’s predicting a quick, relatively controversy-free legislative session, putting off the Medicaid debate for another year and launching a poll to see where Idahoans stand on road and bridge improvements, in advance of more debate later on, should he win a third term. Popkey’s full post is online here; click below for an AP version of Popkey's Sunday story on the planned poll.

For Labrador, tea party means ‘not beholden to special interest groups’

Musing about what his “tea party” identification means, Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador said today, “I always used to joke around that I was tea party before tea party was cool.” But he noted that he never joined the Tea Party Caucus in the U.S. House. “I think any time you try to formalize a movement like that, you actually take away some of its legitimacy,” he told reporters. “The tea party is kind of an amorphous group that has a bunch of different definitions.”

He said in his view, “It’s about being somebody who’s not necessarily beholden to the special interest groups. That’s why I sometimes identify with the tea party, sometimes identify with the libertarian side, I sometimes identify with the so-called conservatives. … What you have is a bunch of people … that are frustrated with business as usual.” He defined that business-as-usual as, “In order to talk to a politician, have a politician pay attention to you, you actually have to just donate money to their campaign.”

Longtime Idaho political observer Jim Weatherby called Labrador’s definition “pretty broad and amorphous – it would apply to a lot of populist groups.” But he noted, “There certainly is a lot of populism within the tea party movement.”

Idaho ranks 26th for anti-smoking efforts

Idaho ranks 26th in the nation for funding programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit, according to a new report from a coalition of public health organizations. The report, “A Broken Promise to Our Children: The 1998 State Tobacco Settlement 15 Years Later,” says Idaho spends $2.2 million a year on tobacco prevention and cessation programs, just 2.8 percent of the $77.3 million it’s collecting this year from the nationwide tobacco settlement and from cigarette taxes. However, other states fared worse; nationally, states are spending just 1.9 percent of their tobacco settlement proceeds and taxes on prevention and cessation.

The report also noted that Idaho’s 57 cents-per-pack cigarette tax ranks 42nd in the nation; the current average among states is $1.53 per pack. Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said, “To protect kids from tobacco, Idaho should significantly raise its tobacco tax and increase funding for tobacco prevention.   States are being truly penny-wise and pound-foolish when they shortchange these programs.”

The report estimated that tobacco companies spend $42.9 million a year to market their products in Idaho, 20 times what the state spends on tobacco prevention. The report says 14.3 percent of Idaho high school students smoke; nationally, that figure is 18.1 percent. Tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable death in the U.S.; you can see the full report here.

 

Woman sues Post Falls police, city over warrantless search of home

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A woman is suing the city of Post Falls and police officials after her northern Idaho home was searched without a warrant. In a lawsuit filed in Coeur d'Alene's U.S. District Court last week, Melissa A. Miller contends she sustained physical injuries, emotional pain and other damages because of the search. According to the lawsuit, Miller and several others were at the home two years ago when police entered and said they were searching for a runaway juvenile. Miller objected to the search and was handcuffed. Police didn't find the juvenile, but did find marijuana in rooms that were rented to someone else. Miller was charged with possession but the charge was dropped after a judge said the search was illegal. The city has not yet responded to the lawsuit.

Livestock producers vote to raise assessments to pay for wolf control

Idaho Farm Bureau Federation members have voted to raise the state brand renewal fee by $25 to increase funding for wolf-control efforts by Idaho Wildlife Services, the Capital Press reports. The agency has lost substantial federal funding since 2010 due to federal budget cuts; the brand fee increase would raise about $100,000 a year. Sheep growers also have increased their wool assessment fee by 2 cents per pound to raise about $25,000.

The newspaper reported that a sportsmen group has offered to match the increase from livestock producers and that Gov. Butch Otter is expected to seek up to $250,000 from the state's general fund. “We need $400,000; I think we'll be closer to $500,000 when all is said and done,” said Blackfoot rancher Chris Dalley; click below for a full report from the AP.

Labrador to fast food workers: Get into management

During a conference call with reporters today, Idaho GOP Rep. Raul Labrador was asked about minimum wage protests across the country among fast food workers. “I’m against raising the minimum wage,” Labrador said. He said minimum-wage jobs allow entry-level workers to “acquire the skills that are necessary, so they can move up … the job ladders. If you make it more difficult for people to hire them at minimum wage, it’s impossible for them … to gain the experience that they need so they can make more money in the future.”

He added, “I lived with this in my own life. … My mom worked at McDonalds at one point in her life. She decided she wanted to make more money, so she got into the management program at McDonalds. That’s how you move up the chain. … Every time she had a job she would start at the bottom, and she would work her way up into management. She was still not making a ton of money, but that’s how people get ahead in life.”

He predicted “an explosion of unemployment if we start raising the minimum wage.” Idaho has the highest percentage of minimum-wage workers in the nation, at 7.7 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The national rate is 4.7 percent.

The state’s minimum wage matches the federal rate at $7.25 per hour; its minimum for tipped employees is $3.35 per hour. An initiative currently is circulating to raise Idaho’s minimum wage to $9.80 in phases over the next four years; last week, initiative backer Anne Nesse said about a tenth of the required signatures have been gathered to place the measure on the ballot, with about four months to go.

Bogus opens for the season, skiers delight

What a fabulous surprise for Treasure Valley skiers, when Bogus Basin opened yesterday on just one day’s notice. I certainly didn’t expect to be laying down tracks through untouched powder at my home ski resort over the weekend, but there we were! The non-profit resort sprang into action Saturday after receiving close to 5 inches of snow, opening Sunday with three front-side lifts and welcoming nearly 2,000 skiers and snowboarders. Considering the thin base of just 17 inches, the conditions were surprisingly good, and the first tracks were sweet.

I forgot my phone and don’t have a picture to post, but it was particularly beautiful first thing in the morning, with blue skies and sunshine across the cold sparkle. And cold it was; below zero, even. Fortunately, the remedy for cold toes was easily at hand – a hot chocolate break in the lodge. Bogus will be open 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. through the week, 9 a.m. on weekends, and will open more of the mountain when conditions allow; lift tickets are now discounted to $25.

November state tax revenues come in $8M ahead of forecast

Idaho’s state tax revenues for November came in $8 million higher than forecast, thanks largely to stronger than expected individual and corporate income tax collections, which were high enough to offset a slightly lower than anticipated sales tax month. The month’s revenue figures were 4.2 percent over forecast. For the fiscal year to date, tax revenues are now almost exactly on forecast, running ahead by $6.5 million, or 0.6 percent. You can see the full monthly General Fund Revenue Report here.

Lodge rules Duncan was competent, his death sentence appeal was waived

A federal judge has cleared the way for Joseph Duncan’s execution for the 2005 kidnapping, torture and murder of a 9-year-old North Idaho boy, ruling that Duncan was mentally competent when he gave up the right to appeal his death sentence. U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge issued the ruling today, following a six-week competency hearing Lodge presided over in January and February of this year.

There still could be further appeals, but Lodge’s 66-page ruling was a key step toward Duncan’s execution. The Idaho judge ruled that Duncan is “deemed competent to waive his right to appeal in this matter.”

U.S. Attorney for Idaho Wendy Olson said, “The United States is pleased with this careful, considered decision.” Duncan’s murderous attack on a North Idaho family at their home in 2005 left three other family members dead; only 9-year-old Dylan’s then-8-year-old sister, Shasta, survived the ordeal. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Dem candidate for guv was listed as a ‘Republican for Minnick’ in 2008

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Democrats' choice to run for governor was listed as a Republican five years ago. In 2008, Anthony Joseph “A.J.” Balukoff was named as a Republican backer of then-U.S. House candidate Walt Minnick. Balukoff was among 60 “Republicans for Minnick” during the Democrat's successful run against Bill Sali. In an August 2008 e-mail from Minnick's campaign, Balukoff topped a group that had “supported the Republican Party with time, with money and with votes. And we will continue to do so in this election and in elections to come,” according to the message. Balukoff didn't return a call Friday. Larry Kenck, Idaho Democratic chairman, said he's discussed Balukoff's allegiances and is convinced he's a Democrat with an independent streak. Balukoff didn't choose a party in 2012's primary; he didn't vote.

Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller, which also notes Balukoff's contributions to both Democratic and Republican candidates and causes over the years.

Boise State launches national search for new head football coach

It's official: Boise State is thanking head football coach Chris Petersen for his leadership of the Broncos, and launching a national search for a new head coach. “I know Bronco Nation joins me in thanking Chris Petersen for all he did to advance Boise State’s football program over the past 13 years,” BSU President Bob Kustra said in a statement. “He is not only a great coach but a great person and an asset to the community. We were lucky to have him at Boise State and Washington is lucky to get him. We wish Chris and Barbara the very best.” Click below for the full statement from Kustra and BSU director of athletics Mark Coyle.

Idaho campaigns feature stars: Christie for Otter, ‘Duck Dynasty’ for Denney

Sure, Butch Otter is bringing in big GOP political star Chris Christie for a fundraiser tonight at the Coeur d'Alene Resort, but former House Speaker Lawerence Denney has stars of his own headed to Idaho for a fundraiser for his campaign for Secretary of State: The main characters from the popular “Duck Dynasty” reality show on A&E, who'll talk family values in a stadium show in March and visit with Denney supporters at a VIP reception. “They’re good family-values people and we’re happy to have ‘em coming,” Denney said.

Pulling in out-of-state star power to boost a campaign isn’t uncommon, notes Boise State University emeritus professor Jim Weatherby, especially for a top office like governor. He pointed to presidential candidate Mike Huckabee’s campaigning with movie star Chuck Norris, and declaring that he was “Chuck Norris approved.” Christie “certainly has star power,” Weatherby said. “He’s an excellent speaker and I suspect will draw a big crowd.”

As for Denney’s race, Weatherby said, “It’s a little hard sometimes to get a lot of excitement for some of the elected positions like Secretary of State.”

Denney said he put in an offer to get the famously bearded TV stars to come out, and was surprised when they accepted. He’ll pay them a flat fee, and they’ll present “Happy, Happy, Happy: An Evening with A&E’s Duck Dynasty” at the Idaho Center in Nampa on March 29, 2014. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Coach Pete leaving Boise State, headed to UW Huskies

Boise State head football coach Chris Petersen is leaving for the University of Washington, the AP reports this morning. Petersen will replace Steve Sarkisian, who's headed to USC. Click below for the full AP report. The Idaho Statesman has a full report here, which notes that Petersen is scheduled to make $2,348,000 in 2014, has five years left on his contract, which extends each time he wins eight games, and has a $750,000 buyout. The Statesman also reports that he is contractually obligated to coach the Broncos in their bowl game even if he takes another job “to minimize the impact on the program.”


Read more here: http://www.idahostatesman.com/2013/12/06/2911966/report-boise-states-chris-petersen.html#storylink=cpy

Longtime Press-Tribune editor Holbrook leaving the newspaper business

Idaho Press-Tribune Managing Editor Vickie Holbrook is leaving the newspaper business after more than 34 years at the newspaper, and will become public information officer for the city of Nampa under incoming Mayor Bob Henry on Jan. 6, the Press-Tribune reports today. Holbrook’s career at the Press-Tribune spanned the ranks from cub reporter to top editor. Press-Tribune Publisher Matt Davison called Holbrook an “exceptional editor” and said the staff will miss her greatly.

“One of Vickie’s greatest strengths has been her unique ability to teach others how to be a successful journalist,” Davison said. “There are dozens of reporters spread across the entire country who will always remember the lessons Vickie taught them.” The Press-Tribune’s full report is online here.

Idaho auctions off cabin site that contains remains of five ancestors of cabin owners

Two Priest Lake cabin owners were outbid for their leases on the state land under their Idaho cabins on Thursday - including one who has at least five ancestors' remains buried on the site. The family is hoping to overturn the results of the auction through its pending lawsuit, and their Spokane attorney said he was surprised the state went ahead with the auction; state lands officials said there was nothing legally to stop it.

“Because there was no injunction filed, there was nothing that would preclude it moving forward,” said Idaho Department of Lands spokeswoman Emily Callihan. “We have a legal obligation to put expiring cottage site leases up for advertisement. If somebody other than the current lessee emerges who’s interested in acquiring that, we have to hold the auction.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Farris to seek state House seat, as Bock retires and Burgoyne runs for Senate

Former Democratic 1st District congressional candidate Jimmy Farris announced today that he's running for a seat in the Idaho Legislature, seeking to fill House seat that will open when Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, shifts to a run for the Senate as Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, retires. “This district has had incredible representation over the years, and it’s important that we maintain that strong leadership with a representative who will continue to focus on the needs and interests of not only District 16, but the entire state of Idaho,” Farris said in a statement. Farris, a Lewiston native and former NFL football player, took 30.8 percent of the vote in his run against GOP Rep. Raul Labrador in 2012; it was his first run for office. Click below for his full announcement.

Burgoyne said he's planning a formal announcement of his Senate run early next week, but said, “It's not a secret.”

Two Priest Lake cabin owners are outbid for their state leases

Two Priest Lake cabin owners have been outbid for the right to keep their leases on the state land under their lake cabins, meaning they’ll lose them, and the successful bidders will have to pay them for the appraised value of the improvements. Denver resident Peter Mounsey was the successful bidder for a cabin site that had been held by Jan Nunemaker in the Powerline subdivision; he bid $2,000, while she bid only the minimum $1,000 to keep the lease. Mounsey will have to pay Nunemaker the $38,500 appraised value of her cabin. He also had to pay the first year’s rent for the ground, $22,880, to the state in advance.

In the other auction, James Hollingsworth outbid relative Graham Sharman in a bidding war over a cabin site in the Pinto Point subdivision; Hollingsworth’s winning premium bid was $30,000 to secure the lease. Hollingsworth will have to pay Sharman the $132,000 appraised value of the cabin; the annual rent for the ground underneath it is $21,720, which Hollingsworth was required to pay the state in advance.

A third conflict auction also was held this week for a cabin site at Payette Lake in McCall; there, too, the current lessee was outbid. Brady Peterson of Eagle won that auction with a premium bid of $6,000, after current lessee and Oregon resident Michele Cahill stopped at $5,000. In that case, the improvements were found to have zero value, so Peterson won’t have to pay Cahill. He paid the first year’s rent of $920 to the state in advance; the lot, in the Agate subdivision, isn’t on the lakefront like the Priest Lake sites.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce launches pro-Simpson ads in Idaho

Idaho's 2nd District congressional race is back in the national news this morning, as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce launches ads backing Congressman Mike Simpson and two West Virginia Republicans; the AP reports that business groups are increasingly stepping up to back pro-business Republicans against tea party backed challengers. Simpson faces a challenge from Idaho Falls attorney Bryan Smith, who's being backed by the Club for Growth, the same national group that promoted former GOP Idaho Congressman Bill Sali when he won a multi-way primary before serving a single term in Idaho's 1st District congressional seat.

In response to the news of the Chamber's pro-Simpson ad, the Club For Growth sent out a press release this morning headed, “Mike Simpson's Pro-Bailout, Pro-Obama Stimulus Pro-Debt Allies Try to Save His Flailing Candidacy,” sharply criticizing the Chamber. Simpson is an eighth-term Republican congressman, a dentist, and the former speaker of the Idaho House; click below for the national AP story about the U.S Chamber's move.

Child killed, four injured in Kuna school bus crash this morning

Tragic news from the roads this morning, as one child has been killed and four injured when a dump truck crashed into a school bus in Canyon County this morning headed for a Kuna elementary school. The AP reports that 12 children in the sixth grade or younger were on the bus bound for Crimson Point Elementary School; an 11-year-old boy died. Idaho State Police Sgt. John Burke said it's too early to determine what went wrong. “It's a horrible … it's a terrible thing,” Burke told the AP. “The family (of the deceased child) is devastated. They need our prayers and all we can do is hope they can get through it.” Click below for the full report from the AP.

FDA report says state knew about Chobani yogurt mold problem months before recall

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: TWIN FALLS, Idaho (AP) — A report from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says the Idaho Department of Agriculture spotted moldy yogurt during a routine inspection at a Chobani facility in Twin Falls two months before the company issued a voluntary recall. The Times-News (http://bit.ly/IFRbGB ) obtained the report under a Freedom of Information Act request. More than 300 people reportedly got sick after consuming the moldy Greek yogurt. The state denies the FDA's claim. ISDA spokeswoman Pamela Juker says state regulators never took note of mold during the July inspection. The FDA report says a lab technician spotted visible defects and found a yeast-like growth after testing the samples taken by the state. Chobani officials say the company's goal is to ensure the Idaho facility is a leader in size, cleanliness, quality and safety.

A rare moment of bipartisanship on school reform in Idaho…

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on the rare moment of bipartisanship on school reform in Idaho that occurred today, as Democratic state lawmakers unveiled four far-reaching bills Wednesday, and GOP state schools Superintendent Tom Luna endorsed them. Within hours, GOP Gov. Butch Otter and House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, also had encouraging words about the Democrats’ bills, which would enact into law the 20 recommendations from a task force that Otter appointed to chart the future of education reform in Idaho. Those items range from restoring $82 million a year in operational funds cut from the schools in recent years’ budget cuts, to new ways to determine when students should advance to the next grade; here’s a link to the full task force recommendations.

 

Idaho juror pay becoming a patchwork after lawmakers lift cap

Some of Idaho's 44 counties are sweetening their jury-duty pot after the Legislature quintupled a 45-year-old cap on what panelists may be paid for deciding an accused's innocence or guilt, the AP reports today. But in the process, jury per diem payments across Idaho are becoming a patchwork, with some county officials sticking to the existing $10 rate, set back in 1968, while others have hiked it to the new limit, $50. Click below for the full article from AP reporter John Miller.

Idahoans get more time to buy exchange plans

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The troubled rollout of insurance exchanges in Idaho and elsewhere has prompted the federal government to delay another deadline, this time giving prospective enrollees more time to get coverage before it goes into effect Jan. 1. Your Health Idaho enrollees will have until Dec. 23, back from Dec. 15, to select a plan in order to be insured by the New Year. Amy Dowd, Idaho's exchange director, says this new deadline gives people more time to make a choice about their coverage, required under President Obama's 2010 health care overhaul. Dowd also said in a statement the federal online application form Idaho is using has been improved and is functioning better. Even so, additional improvements are still in the works to remedy the problem-plagued launch of exchanges since Oct. 1.

Otter on school reform: ‘Right now we’ve all got a chance to make it a bipartisan issue’

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter says he’s working on a five-year plan to implement the recommendations of his education stakeholders task force. But asked about legislation unveiled by Democratic lawmakers today to adopt all the recommendations into law as a framework for the state, Otter said, “I think it’s great. Basically, I’m taking their (the task force's) framework and I’m putting it into a road map.”

Otter, speaking to the Idaho Tribes Summit this morning, said, “I’m going to be as aggressive as I can, but it’s going to take five years, I believe, in order to put another $270 million into education.” That’s the total price tag for the recommendations less the $82 million that’s just restoring past cuts – so it’s the “new money,” he said. “Getting that money back is going to take a couple years, but it’s high on our agenda. It’s a total bill of $350 million bucks. I think it’s doable, but I think it’s only doable over five years.”

Otter said in his plan, “I feel confident in being able to write that first year … in ink, but the next four years I’ll probably write that in pencil.” He said he’ll want schools to preserve efficiencies they’ve developed during the years of cutbacks, including a $3.8 million annual savings from energy-efficiency improvements ranging from upgraded lightbulbs to new windows and improvements to boilers. “I don’t want to lose those efficiencies,” he said.

Asked if education reform can be a bipartisan issue in Idaho – after the tumult and rancor over the voter-rejected GOP “Students Come First” school reform laws – Otter said “I think it’s got to. I think it could and I think it should.” With the economy turning around, he said, “Right now we’ve all got a chance to make it a bipartisan issue.”

Bedke ‘encouraged’ by bipartisan support for ed reform bills

House Speaker Scott Bedke, asked about today’s unveiling of four bills to implement the 20 recommendations of the governor’s school reform task force by Democratic lawmakers – with support from GOP state schools chief Tom Luna – said, “I’m encouraged by that.” Bedke said, “Over time, I think we can do that. And I think everybody’s pretty committed to that.”

Dems unveil ed reform bills to back task force, Luna signs on

Idaho House and Senate Democrats were joined by GOP state schools Superintendent Tom Luna today as they unveiled four bills designed to implement the 20 recommendations of Gov. Butch Otter’s education stakeholders task force. Both the Dems and Luna said it’s time for improving Idaho’s schools to become a bipartisan issue in the state. “What resulted from this group’s efforts was a bipartisan set of recommendations,” said Rep. Janie Ward-Engleking, D-Boise, who served on the task force. “I know what kind of research, compromise and collaboration went into the recommendations.”

She said, “Our bills provide a framework to implement these recommendations. We certainly know we can’t do everything totally in one year, but we can put that framework in place and begin.” The four bills address the 20 recommendations with one exception, the Idaho Core Standards, the state’s version of Common Core standards for student achievement, because the Legislature already approved that in 2011.

Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, said, “This isn’t a partisan issue. We all know that we need to work together. The public expects us to work together.” Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, said, “We’re open to all suggestions. We’re open to anybody else that’s got bills. We’d like to talk with them. When this process is finished, we’d like to have a consensus piece of legislation that is going to pass the House and the Senate and be signed by the governor.”

Luna said he met with the Democratic legislators several times and made suggestions that were included as the bills were drafted. “I think what we have here is something we’ve been looking and searching for for some time, for years, and that is bipartisan support and recognition that we have to do more for our children as we prepare them for the world,” Luna said. “This is a huge step forward, as it creates the bipartisan support for education reform that we’ve wanted, but it’s been elusive.”

Luna’s “Students Come First” school reform laws, which included rolling back teachers’ collective bargaining rights and a new focus on online learning, passed the Legislature without a single Democratic vote; voters resoundingly rejected the laws in the 2012 election.

Gov. Butch Otter, who had backed the rejected laws, then appointed a 31-member task force drawing from all sides in the education reform debate, and it proposed the 20 recommendations. They range from restoring $82 million a year in operational funds cut from the schools in recent years’ budget cuts, to new ways to determine when students should advance to the next grade. A teacher career ladder would bring big pay increases along with a new tiered licensing program, and the state would step up classroom technology, teacher mentoring and training, advanced opportunities for students and more.

Burgoyne said, “This legislation does not set timetables. It says these are the goals that the state of Idaho seeks to achieve. It gives specific authorization for rule-making. It directs, in some cases, that the germane people return to us for proposed legislation for specific implementation.” Said Luna, “I think it’s a very positive day.”

Public lands transfer proposal draws testimony, opposition

The Idaho Legislature's Federal Lands Interim Committee is taking public testimony this morning on proposals to have the state take over title to federal public lands. So far, most has been solidly against the idea. Opponents expressed concerns over Idaho’s vast public land being sold off to private owners; an economist said the state of Idaho would incur billions in costs that it can’t afford; and a foresters association expressed concern over road management costs the state would take on.

An exception was Russ Smerz, an unpaid lobbyist for Tea Party Boise who said he was speaking for “23 different liberty groups around the state of Idaho,” including 14 tea party groups, the John Birch Society, the Idaho Freedom Foundation, Idaho Open Carry and more.  “We do support the transfer of federal lands to the state,” he told the committee. “Basically it’s increased school funding, better managed by the state than the feds, and the historical precedent that has been set by the eastern states.” Jeff Wright of Boise County spoke in favor of transfer; he said his county is 90 percent federally owned. “We can’t develop an economy because we’re not allowed to,” he said. “I think it’s time that Idaho took control of their own destiny.”

Buster Gibson, vice chair of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes, spoke against the move. “I come from a long line of leaders and we do not have a settlement or a treaty with the federal government,” he told the committee. “Land title for southwestern Idaho has never been transferred to the United States. … That is our land, my people’s land. It has not been patented and we do not want the state of Idaho to manage it for us. We want the federal government to continue the management or to give it back to us and compensate us for it. We still hold Indian title to this land and that’s where our relationship to the federal government stands; it’s not to the state of Idaho government. … You have no right to take this land or to manage it. You’ll leave us with two options: We can fight you in federal court, or we’ll fight you in the nation’s capitol.”

Jack Trueblood told the lawmakers, “I fear the ultimate result would be the sale of much of those lands, and there’s nothing that restricts access like a no-trespassing sign.” The committee has another public comment period set for 1:30 to 2:40 p.m. today, as part of its all-day meeting in the Lincoln Auditorium in the state Capitol, which also includes a series of presentations. You can listen live here.

Otter campaign responds to Balukoff announcement in guv’s race

Gov. Butch Otter's re-election campaign released this statement today in response to the announcement from A.J. Balukoff that he'll run for Idaho governor as a Democrat:

“While others campaign and consider their options, Governor Otter is busy governing and continuing to position Idaho at the forefront of growth, job creation and freedom. He’s staying focused on the proper role of government while defending Idaho’s independence, addressing our workforce needs and creating economic opportunity for all Idahoans. That said, the Governor looks forward to discussing with voters the implications of a Democrat working to advance the Obama administration’s big-government priorities here in Idaho.”

You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Idaho allows carriers to reinstate insurance plans

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho will let insurance carriers reinstate coverage for thousands of people who were due to have policies canceled under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter said Tuesday he's asked insurance carriers to consider reinstating coverage for individuals and small businesses. But Otter said he won't require it because he's “not going to tell them how to run their business.” Amid criticism last month over canceled policies, President Obama said he'd allow insurance companies to keep selling old plans to people for another year — even if the coverage didn't meet requirements of his 2010 health law. Across the nation, states are coming to different conclusions about whether to follow Obama's lead. For instance, in Washington, regulators declined to allow policies to be renewed for another year.

Click below for Otter's full announcement, in which he says, “If they can see their way clear, I hope they’ll consider reinstating those policies.” Blue Cross of Idaho immediately announced that it will allow its individual and small-group customers that option.

Andrus: Idaho Dems to have strong top of ticket this year…

Former longtime Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus, as enthusiastic as he was about Democratic gubernatorial candidate A.J. Balukoff’s run at his announcement today, cautioned that he isn’t endorsing until after the primary. “We might have another Democrat come out – who knows?” he said. “I did that once before and got burned, as you know.” Andrus was a prominent backer of longtime friend Wally Hedrick when he announced his Democratic candidacy for state superintendent of schools in 1998, but Hedrick ended up losing the primary to Marilyn Howard – who went on to serve two terms in the statewide post.

Andrus was looking pleased today, despite the chilly weather. “We’ve got a Senate race that’s going to be interesting, too,” he said. “There are some discussions going on.” The senator whose term is up next year in 2014?  GOP Sen. Jim Risch.  Said Andrus, “The top of our ticket will look a lot better than it has for some period of time.”

How to say the name…

So, how do you say Balukoff? A.J. Balukoff, newly announced Democratic candidate for governor, says it’s like the Baloo, the bear in the Jungle Book – the accent is on the LU. (Baloo was the “sleepy brown bear” in the Kipling classic; in the Disney version, he’s the popular character who sings about “The Bare Necessities.”) The name is Bulgarian; that’s where Balukoff’s grandparents emigrated from when they came to this country 100 years ago this month.

Also, the A.J. stands for Anthony Joseph, but he’s always gone by A.J. The reason: Anthony is his father’s name, and Josephine is his mother’s, so the family already had a Tony and a Jo.

Balukoff launches campaign for governor

Boise School Board Chairman A.J. Balukoff launched his Democratic campaign for governor of Idaho today, saying two decades of one-party GOP rule in Idaho have hurt the state’s education system and economy and created a “pay-to-play culture that leaves regular Idahoans on the outside looking in.” The 67-year-old businessman said, “I’m running for governor because I believe Idaho can do better.”

About 80 supporters gathered for Balukoff’s announcement outside Boise’s Hillcrest Elementary School in the sharp chill of an early-winter morning; a group of Balukoff’s grandkids – he has 30 – held signs including, “Grandpa for Governor.” Former four-term Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus was among those in the crowd. “He’s extremely well-qualified and would be an excellent candidate,” Andrus said of Balukoff. “He’s a successful businessman in his own right.”

Asked if he thought Balukoff – who’s never run for an office higher than school board – could beat two-term GOP Gov. Butch Otter, Andrus said, “Yes, he can beat Butch Otter,” but he added, “Butch may not be the candidate,” noting that Otter faces a challenge in the GOP primary from state Sen. Russ Fulcher. “We’ve had surprises before,” said Andrus with a chuckle, “I was elected.”

Said Balukoff, “We’ve had 20 years of one-party rule in this state, but I have a sense that the people of Idaho are ready for a change.” A businessman and retired CPA, Balukoff, who holds an accounting degree from Brigham Young University, is a major figure in the ownership groups of the Grove Hotel, the Idaho Steelheads hockey team, Century Link Arena, downtown office buildings and more. He also serves on the boards of the Boise Public Library, St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center, the Esther Simplot Performing Arts Academy, and Ballet Idaho, and is the former bishop of his LDS church ward.

He said education is a top issue for him; he’s served on the Boise School Board since 1997. That board took a high-profile position against the “Students Come First” school reform laws, which voters rejected last year. Balukoff said he backs the 20 recommendations of Otter’s education stakeholders task force, but said that approach should have been tried much earlier – instead of Students Come First. Plus, he said, “I don’t think it goes far enough. … It didn’t address early childhood education, and it didn’t address higher education needs in our state.”

Mike Lanza, a Boise parent who helped organize the successful campaign to overturn the school reform measures, said, “I’m certainly glad to see a candidate with a strong emphasis on education.” Others at the announcement included Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, who introduced Balukoff; and former state schools Superintendent Marilyn Howard, whom Bieter noted, saying, “We miss you, Marilyn.”

Balukoff said he’s making plans to travel around the state and meet with Idahoans, but hasn’t yet set a schedule. He said initial reaction to his run has been supportive from both Democrats and Republicans, “people I know in my neighborhood, at church, things like that.” He said, “I am independent-minded and have a track record of solving problems and building success.”

Megaload leaves eastern Oregon after protests

A transport rig carrying a 450-ton piece of equipment bound for the Canadian oil sands left a northeast Oregon port on Monday night, the AP reports, a day after protesters halted its earlier planned departure on Sunday, resulting in two arrests. The water purification equipment is destined for Alberta; from eastern Oregon it will travel through Idaho and Montana, traveling only at night because it's so large it'll take up both lanes of the two-lane sections of roads it travels. The megaload, being transported for a division of General Electric, is 22 feet wide and 380 feet long; the company had earlier planned to send the loads over north-central Idaho's scenic U.S. Highway 12, but was halted by a lawsuit and protests from the Nez Perce Tribe. The East Oregonian newspaper reported that the load left the Port of Umatilla shortly before 8 p.m. Monday, infuriating protesters who felt the early evening departure violated an Oregon Transportation Department permit. Click below for the full AP report.

 

Balukoff schedules Tuesday announcement regarding possible run for governor

Longtime Boise School Board member A.J. Balukoff, a businessman, retired CPA and community volunteer, has scheduled an announcement for tomorrow morning on his decision regarding a possible run for governor as a Democrat. Balukoff, who first announced in July that he was looking at possibly challenging GOP Gov. Butch Otter and said he’d decide by the end of the year, will hold a public announcement at 11 a.m. at Boise’s Hillcrest Elementary School.

Balukoff has served on the Boise School Board since 1997; the board came out strongly against the voter-rejected “Students Come First” school reform laws pushed by state schools Superintendent Tom Luna and backed by Otter. He holds an accounting degree from BYU, and has lived in Boise since 1982, where he’s operated a large CPA firm and a chain of athletic clubs, and is now part of the ownership groups of the Grove Hotel, the Idaho Steelheads hockey team, Century Link Arena, downtown office buildings and more. He and his wife Susie have eight children and 26 grandchildren.

Idaho aquarium chief gets year and a day in prison for wildlife violations

Ammon Covino, president of Idaho Aquarium in Boise and co-founder of Portland Aquarium in Oregon, has been sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison for illegally shipping protected rays and sharks from Florida; Covino’s prison term will be followed by two years of probation, during which he’ll be barred from working in a wildlife exhibit and selling or purchasing animals, the AP reports. The 40-year-old admitted involvement in illegally obtaining and shipping three spotted eagle rays and two lemon sharks for the Idaho Aquarium; he could have faced up to five years in prison.

Also sentenced today was Christopher Conk, 40, who received four months in prison for his role in the illegal shipments, and also will be barred from working in the wildlife business during two years of probation. Conk already was serving six years probation for a 2011 conviction for selling live coral to buyers around the world.

U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez said at the sentencing in Key West, Fla., that the crime “strikes to the very heart of this area and the economy of this area,” the AP reported. Additional penalties could be imposed on the Idaho Aquarium during proceedings tomorrow; the aquarium already has agreed to pay a $10,000 fine and donate $50,000 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Boise Police make 18 DUI arrests over the four-day holiday weekend

Boise Police made 18 DUI arrests over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, as part of a statewide campaign that funded additional patrols. Among those arrested in Boise between Thursday and Sunday: One driver who hit a parked van Friday evening, then took off, leaving a trail of fluid, and crashed into some bushes; witnesses to the collision with the van called police, who followed the trail of fluid to the extremely intoxicated driver. Another driver was arrested for felony DUI after getting on the freeway without his lights on early Saturday morning; he had two previous offenses, making this one a felony. The 18 arrests were up from 13 during the same holiday period last year and 15 the year before, but Boise Police spokeswoman Lynn Hightower said overall, DUI arrests have been trending downward in Boise in recent years. “Hopefully it’s an anomaly,” she said. “The officers are going to be out there.”

The arrests came as part of a statewide crackdown on impaired driving, funded by grant funds from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; 62 local police and sheriff’s departments participated in the Thanksgiving holiday mobilization, which is one of five held each year, and received $75,000 in grants for additional officer overtime to allow more patrols on the roads. Kevin Bechen, impaired driving program manager for ITD’s Office of Highway Safety, said, “It was a busy weekend.” He doesn’t have statewide stats in yet, but said the holidays tend to bring out impaired drivers. The next statewide mobilization, for the Christmas/New Year’s holiday period, starts Dec. 20.

Federal prosecutors in Florida seek prison time for Idaho Aquarium chief

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: KEY WEST, Fla. (AP) — Federal prosecutors are seeking prison time for the president of an Idaho aquarium convicted in the illegal shipping of protected sharks and rays from Florida. A federal judge in Key West is scheduled Monday to sentence Ammon Covino, president of Idaho Aquarium in Boise and co-founder of Portland Aquarium in Oregon. Prosecutors are seeking a nearly two-year prison sentence for Covino, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy in September. Court documents show Covino admitted involvement in illegally obtaining and shipping three spotted eagle rays and two lemon sharks for the Idaho Aquarium. Authorities intercepted communications in which Covino told Florida suppliers to ignore the law and make the shipments. The aquarium itself also pleaded guilty, agreeing to pay a $10,000 fine and donate $50,000 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Winder wants review of ‘Connecting Idaho’ road bonding program

Idaho Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, wants the state's Office of Performance Evaluations to scrutinize whether the $840 million “Connecting Idaho” highway building program accomplished what it promised, or whether the state would have been better off forgoing the bonding program and sticking to its traditional, pay-as-you-go system of highway funding. To cover bonds, Idaho is paying about $50 million annually over the next two decades, some 20 percent of its federal highway funding allotment. Winder, a former Idaho Transportation Board chairman and third-term senator who supported the bonding plan, told the AP it's a good time for the review, with Idaho lawmakers unlikely to tackle significant transportation funding in 2014. Though the state faces a huge backlog in needed transportation improvements, lawmakers say fixes are unlikely to come in an election year. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Hagedorn decides against run for Secretary of State

State Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, has decided against making a run for Idaho Secretary of State, and instead will seek another term in his District 14 Senate seat. Hagedorn, 57, made the announcement this morning on Twitter, Facebook, and “all my social media,” he said. “For me, social media is a critical connection.” He noted, “My 83-year-old dad is also on social media. … Everyone is becoming connected.”

Hagedorn, a retired Navy man who served three terms in the House before moving to the Senate in 2012, said he decided to stay in the Senate because of the challenging array of issues he’s able to address there. “I started thinking about all of the different things that we do in the Legislature, from potholes, the prisons, to health and welfare,” he said. “To try and live and work in that environment and solve the issues that we face is something that challenges me mentally and something that I enjoy.”

There’s already a crowded field in the GOP race for Secretary of State, now that longtime Secretary of State Ben Ysursa has announced he won’t seek another term. Former House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, entered the race even before Ysursa withdrew. Also looking at possible runs are former state Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise; chief deputy Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane; and Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene. And that’s just on the GOP side. Idaho’s primary election is in May. Click below to read Hagedorn's full statement.

Rep. Patterson allows campaign website domain name to expire

Embattled Idaho Rep. Mark Patterson, R-Boise, has let his campaign website domain name expire, the Idaho Statesman reports, in a sign that he may not seek re-election. Patterson is the freshman lawmaker who recently had his concealed weapons permit revoked for not revealing a 1974 guilty plea and withheld judgment for assault with intent to commit rape; he’s lashed back at Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney, contending the revocation was retaliation for his sponsorship of a controversial gun bill and his scrutiny of the Idaho Sheriffs Association. Even after his concealed weapon permit was revoked, Patterson continues to fall under the exception in Idaho law that lets elected officials carry concealed weapons without a permit.

You can read Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey’s full post here; Popkey notes that Patterson already has drawn a primary election challenger, longtime Idaho State Police officer and former U.S. Marshal Patrick McDonald, who filed in August to run for the seat in the May GOP primary.

Protesters delay Idaho-bound megaload’s departure from Oregon

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: UMATILLA, Ore. (AP) — Protesters blocked the departure of an oil refinery megaload Sunday night at the Port of Umatilla. The East Oregonian reports (http://bit.ly/IAGuWa) two protesters were arrested after they locked themselves to the truck. It took police two hours to remove the men, and by the time they finished it was 11:30 p.m. A planned departure last Tuesday also was protested. The company handling the move said it was delayed because it took more time than expected to load and secure the equipment. The megaload is oil refinery equipment destined for Alberta, Canada. It's 380 feet long and weighs 450 tons. From eastern Oregon it will travel through Idaho and Montana. Environmentalists are fighting the shipment to draw attention to concerns about climate change from developing tar sand oil in western Canada.

Click below for a full report from the AP and the East Oregonian in Pendleton.

Tax on online sales already required, but few Idahoans pay up…

Idaho may be missing out nearly $65 million a year in taxes that legally are due and payable. That’s the estimate of use tax due on Idaho residents’ Internet purchases, which are subject to the state’s 6 percent “use tax” if the online sellers don’t charge sales tax. People are supposed to report and pay those taxes on their next income tax return, but few do. The law’s been on the books for years, since long before there was an Internet.

More than 9,600 Idahoans paid the tax on their 2012 state income tax returns, paying more than $544,000. But that number is estimated to be a fraction of what is owed. 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.

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 past year, the House Revenue and Taxation Committee voted 10-5 against introducing a bill designed to set the state up to collect the tax directly from retailers if Congress gives the OK. The bill was backed by the Idaho Association of Counties, the Association of Idaho Cities, the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, the Idaho Chamber Alliance, and the Idaho Retailers Association.

For now, the state Tax Commission is reminding holiday shoppers to keep track of their untaxed online purchases and report them when they file their next Idaho income tax return; you can read my full Sunday column here.

Idaho Innocence Project scrambles for funding

Sarah Pearce, a young Idaho woman convicted of murder in 2003 in what may be a case of mistaken identity, has a key hearing coming up in February that could win her a new trial. Christopher Tapp, convicted in 1996 of an Idaho Falls murder in which DNA points to a different perpetrator, has the victim’s mother among his advocates, seeking to free him and find the real killer.

But the Idaho Innocence Project, which has worked on both cases for at least five years, learned this month that its federal grant funding won’t be renewed. The project, housed at Boise State University, will continue to work on both those cases, but won’t take any more. “We haven’t left anybody high and dry, but there are other prisoners writing us, and I’m sending out form letters saying our intake is on hold,” said project Director Greg Hampikian, a Boise State University professor of biology and criminal justice and a DNA expert. “Every week, I get calls from the mothers.”

The Idaho Innocence Project was awarded two multi-year grants from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Wrongful Conviction Review Program, in 2009 and 2011, for work to represent people who potentially have been wrongfully convicted. Those grants, totaling nearly $450,000, allowed the hiring of a staff attorney and legal assistants; law students and others also participate. But this year, when the project applied for the next round of grants, 38 groups applied and just eight were accepted, and BSU wasn’t among them.

“I’m busy trying to find out where I can get funding,” Hampikian said. The project receives some foundation donations and does some fundraising. It gets no state funds; a portion of its fundraising goes to BSU to cover indirect costs such as use of university office space. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Inland Northwest’s custom ski-makers carve a niche market

TJ Sneva wanted skis that would accommodate the kinds of tricks he and his friends liked to pull on the slopes, and major manufacturers weren’t making them – so he started building them himself. David Marx wanted skis that would work in the “side-country” terrain around Schweitzer Mountain – skis that could handle low-angle back-country touring and uphills, but still float through powder turns on the downhills and inside the resort. Now his 7B Skis has a full line of models for both inside and outside his home ski resort, with demos available on the slopes at Schweitzer.

Caleb Baukol of Big Wood Ski wanted to build elegant, fully customized skis out of hardwoods that could stay stable on the steep, fast slopes of Sun Valley. “This mountain is so steep and so fast and so demanding,” he said. “We have real skiers here that just rip.” All are small ski manufacturers that are part of the craft ski movement, a segment of the ski industry that’s gained such allure that for the first time this year, a portion of the ski industry’s annual trade show in Denver will be set aside for the small ski- and snowboard-makers.

“We’re not trying to take over the ski industry or anything like that,” said Matt Neuman, owner of Ullr Skis, which recently relocated from McCall, Idaho to Sandpoint. “We can’t compete. But more people are becoming conscious of who they’re buying stuff from and where it’s coming from.” You can read my full story here from Sunday’s Spokesman-Review.

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About this blog

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

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

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