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Eye On Boise

Archive for July 2013

Otter forgives campaign loan from self, plus raises $85K over past six months

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has reported raising $215,369 in campaign funds since Jan. 1, spending $163,088, and ending the reporting period with $129,209 in cash on hand. But both the contribution and spending figures are pushed up by the forgiveness of a $131,000 loan Otter earlier made to his campaign; that’s shown as both a contribution from Otter, forgiving the loan, and an expense for the campaign, paying it off. Without that, Otter reported raising $84,369 in campaign contributions in the first six months of the year, with the largest donations $5,000 each from Monsanto Corp., Riley & Associates of Hayden, and rancher Harry Bettis. The spending figure, without the loan repayment, is just $32,088.

The upshot: Otter, who’s said he’ll run for a third term as governor in 2014, raised almost $85,000 in campaign money over the past six months and forgave his own campaign loan, leaving his campaign debt-free with $129,209 in the bank. You can see the full report here.

Meanwhile, while state schools Superintendent Tom Luna says he’s planning to run for a third term, he reported raising only $4,750 in the last six months, with all the donations coming in the final week of the filing period. His biggest donations were $1,000 each from CenturyLink PAC, from Raul Labrador for Idaho, and from Allen Noble. Luna carried over $16,077 from earlier to make an ending cash balance July 1 of $20,827, but also reported $24,500 in outstanding debt, putting his campaign fund in the red. Oddly, that debt amount is reported in Luna’s summary, but not listed in the detail as either new or carried-over debt; his campaign treasurer didn’t immediately return a reporter’s call to explain. Luna reported no campaign spending in the past six months; you can see his full report here.

Senate bill would give Idaho another U.S. District judgeship

Idaho would get a new U.S. District Court judgeship, under legislation introduced yesterday in the U.S. Senate. The Federal Judgeship Act of 2013, introduced by Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, and Sen. Christopher Coons, D-Delaware, chairman of the judiciary subcommittee on bankruptcy and the courts, is based on recommendations from the Judicial Conference of the United States, the national governing body for the federal courts, and would create 91 new federal judgeships across 21 states to ease caseloads.

Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals welcomed the bill, saying many of the nation’s most overburdened federal courts are in western states. In addition to the new district judgeship in Idaho, the bill would add two in Seattle, one in Nevada plus a temporary position, one temporary judgeship in Oregon, and more than two dozen in California. There's more info here.

Would-be Tamarack Resort buyer gets 17+ years in prison for fraud

The Idaho man who once tried to take control of the cash-strapped Tamarack Resort has been ordered to spend more than 17 years in prison for raiding other people's pension funds to help finance the deal, the AP reports. The sentence was handed down today in federal court for Matthew Hutcheson, who starting in 2010 went public with his intentions to buy the struggling ski resort outside Donnelly, but the deal never materialized. In April, the Eagle man was convicted of 17 counts of wire fraud as part of a scheme to steal $5 million from pension funds he was trusted to oversee. He also was ordered to pay more than $5 million in restitution.

Federal prosecutors say he used some of the money to enrich himself and another portion to buy a stake in Tamarack's golf course. The judge ordered Hutcheson to begin serving his prison term immediately. You can read the U.S. Attorney's full announcement here about the case.

Wendy Olson, U.S. Attorney for Idaho, said, “Mr. Hutcheson placed his own personal interests and greed above the clients’ whose retirement interests he pledged to safeguard. This office will continue to take pension fraud very seriously and hold accountable those who seek personal gain from others’ hard work through fraud and deceit.  I commend the federal law enforcement officers who conducted the thorough investigation and Assistant United States Attorney Ray Patricco for his outstanding prosecution of this case.”

Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employee Benefits Security Phyllis C. Borzi said, “He funded a life of luxury at the expense of hundreds of people who were just trying to save for retirement.  This case is indicative of our close and continued partnership with fellow federal agencies to vigorously pursue those who abuse their positions of trust and commit crimes against employee benefit plan participants.” Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller, who reports that at the close of the sentencing hearing, Hutcheson was stripped of his necktie and tan suit jacket and led away in handcuffs.

Speeding driver fleeing cops says he wanted to get to Idaho, out of Washington

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — A Spokane County, Wash., sheriff's spokesman says a parked deputy was watching traffic in the Spokane Valley when a vehicle zoomed by at what the deputy estimated was nearly 90 mph in a 35 mph zone. Two deputies gave chase with emergency lights flashing but the speeding driver kept heading east on Monday. Liberty Lake officers set out spike strips but the driver avoided them. The vehicle finally stopped at a gas station once it reached Idaho. Deputy Craig Chamberlin says once the driver was in custody, he acknowledged he knew he was being chased by law enforcement officers. Asked why he didn't stop, Chamberlin says the man replied: “because I wanted to come to Idaho and get out of Washington”. The spokesman says 23-year-old Kevin Berry was booked as a fugitive and will likely face a charge of eluding.

Intruders set 4,800 mink free at farm near Burley, most recaptured

A mink farm near Burley was hit by an animal rights group last weekend and 4,800 mink were released, the Twin Falls Times-News reports; the group “Direct Action”  claimed responsibility for the incident, writing in its online magazine, “Bite Back,” that it acted “with love in our hearts” and saying it targeted the farm because it is owned by Fur Commission USA board member Cindy Moyle. Undersheriff George Warrell said the intruders cut chicken-wire fencing in eight areas to enter the property, and opened cages to release the mink, most of which have been recaptured. Click below for a full report from the Times-News via the Associated Press.

Derr to be remembered at celebration memorial tonight

Allen Derr, the Boise attorney who won a landmark case in the U.S. Supreme Court to halt systemic discrimination against women and who left a legacy for Idaho journalists of standing up for openness in government, will be remembered tonight at a celebration memorial at the Barber Park Event Center, from 7-9:30 p.m. Allen died June 10 at the age of 85; you can read his obituary here

The longtime Idaho Press Club director, who earned both journalism and law degrees from the University of Idaho, asked that donations in his memory go to his favorite program at the University Of Idaho College Of Law, the Pro Bono Program, P.O. Box 442321, Moscow, ID 83844-2321. From his obituary: “He believed with all of his heart that more young people studying law needed to understand that it isn’t always about making money; sometimes you just have to do the right thing for the sake of justice and your client.”

CdA schools opt for local provider on wireless, won’t opt in to state contract

The Coeur d’Alene Press reports today that the Coeur d’Alene School District, one of the largest in the state, has decided against opting in to the statewide WiFi contract signed last week by state schools Superintendent Tom Luna and Education Networks of America. Wendell Wardell, the district’s chief operating officer, told the Press the district's board next week will instead be considering awarding a $278,000 wireless bid to a local company, Ednetics of Post Falls. “It’s more robust than what the state’s got,” Wardell told the newspaper. “It’s got bigger antennas, more capacity.” Plus, he said, “We want our service to be based locally.” Also, Wardell said the district prefers to own its wireless network and equipment; under the state contract, all equipment will be owned by the vendor, and will be removed if the contract ends. You can read the paper’s full report here from reporter Maureen Dolan.

I've since followed up on this and written my own story; you can read it here. Coeur d'Alene's deal with Ednetics, which is up for final school board approval on Monday, will provide wireless service district-wide, to all 17 schools including the three high schools, plus the district office, maintenance center and more. The cost will be one-time, and Ednetics will support the products. That local support was key for the district, Wardell said.

School districts have until midnight Thursday to decide whether to opt in to the statewide contract. “We’ve got a better system,” Wardell said. “We’ve got a better mousetrap, and we’re pretty excited about it.”

Grasshopper infestation hits Valley County

There's a big grasshopper infestation in Valley County, the AP reports, with the state Department of Agriculture reporting crop damage and an explosion in the insect's numbers since July 4. State standards say a grasshopper outbreak reaches damaging levels when there are eight grasshoppers per square yard; there are now more than 200 grasshoppers per square yard in parts of Valley County. Click below for a full report from the Associated Press and KTVB-TV.

Idaho Drug Policy office gets five-year grant for prevention programs

Idaho's Office of Drug Policy has received a five-year, $1.5 million a year federal grant for to boost substance abuse prevention efforts statewide. Elisha Figueroa, head of the office, said, “We are very excited about this award, as it will provide much-needed resources to the state and local communities working to keep their neighborhoods free from the devastating effects of substance abuse. We know that the most effective and lasting prevention work is done at the local level, and this award will nearly double the prevention funds going out to Idaho communities.”

The grant funding starts Aug. 1, and will pay for a statewide needs assessment, and then will target 85 percent of the funds to community-level efforts. “It will really be based on the community's needs,” Figueroa said. “So they'll be required to look at their specific community and determine what the needs are in that community, and then they'll write the grant application for these funds. We'll fund evidence-based programming as well as those strategies that are … population-level based, meaning that they will affect the entire community.”

The grant also will cover training and technical assistance from the state to local efforts, Figureoa said, “to build the sustainability, so that when these grant funds are gone, the programs will continue to go on.” The grant program's purpose is “to prevent the onset and reduce the progression of substance abuse, including childhood and underage drinking; reduce substance abuse-related problems; and build prevention capacity and infrastructure at the state and community levels.” Click below for the full announcement.

Former Minidoka sheriff pleads guilty to felony misuse of public funds

Former Minidoka County Sheriff Kevin Halverson has pleaded guilty to misuse of public funds, the Idaho Attorney General reports, and will be sentenced on the felony charge Sept. 13. As part of a plea agreement, Halverson resigned as sheriff and the court may disqualify him from holding public office in the future. Also, in a related case, Minidoka sheriff's office employee Alicia Daniel was charged with a felony count of forgery for knowingly submitting false time cards. Click below for Attorney General Lawrence Wasden's full announcement; his office's special prosecutions unit was asked to investigate the case by the local county prosecutor.

Of politics, an all-in challenger, and ‘rhetorical sloppiness’

Idaho Statesman political columnist Dan Popkey reports today that 2nd District Congressman Mike Simpson’s GOP challenger, Bryan Smith, is going “all in” on his challenge against the eight-term congressman, taking a sabbatical from his Idaho Falls law practice from this month through next May and donating, not loaning, $50,000 to kick-start his campaign; you can read Popkey’s full report here. Popkey also notes some “rhetorical sloppiness” on Smith’s part, however, including Smith’s much-repeated claim that Simpson was “one of only three Republicans who voted in favor of funding ACORN with your tax dollars.”

Actually, Popkey notes, the group that went out of business in 2010 after a YouTube video in 2009 showed employees advising clients how to hide prostitution and not pay taxes was the target of a de-funding bill of which Simpson was an original co-sponsor in September 2009, after which Simpson authored his own ban on funding for ACORN in his appropriations subcommittee; in all, Simpson voted 28 times against funding the group.

“Smith, however, has cherry-picked a symbolic House vote on a June 2011 amendment brought by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, to bar spending on more than 100 groups,” Popkey writes. “King said during floor debate he could not provide information on why some groups were on his list, prompting Simpson to join 165 Democrats in voting no. Simpson’s aim was not to fund the already-defunct ACORN, but to protest King’s lack of preparation. An hour later, Simpson voted for the Homeland Security spending bill on final passage, including the successful amendment.“

Popkey reports that Smith wouldn’t talk to him about this, but his campaign manager, Carrie Brown, sent this statement: “No amount of spinning by Congressman Simpson or his allies in the liberal press can change that Simpson was one of only three Republicans to oppose defunding ACORN and similar groups.” Wrote Popkey, “Idahoans know Mike Simpson too well to buy such distortion. For Smith to give Simpson a real fight, he may wish to take more time vetting his talking points before most primary voters start paying close attention.”

ITD, feds at odds over Highway 12 megaloads

The Lewiston Tribune reports today that the U.S. Forest Service is revising one of its interim criteria on megaloads at the request of the Idaho Transportation Department, but the two agencies remain at odds over the prospect of giant truck shipments across U.S. Highway 12 through designated Wild and Scenic River corridors and the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest, despite a federal court ruling saying the Forest Service has jurisdiction. The paper also reports that shipping company Omega Morgan wants to move as many as 10 megaloads from the Port of Wilma to oil fields in Alberta, Canada, over the route, and to press its point has already shipped two to the port, where they sit awaiting permits.

ITD Chief Deputy Scott Stokes asked the Forest Service last week to reconsider its position that loads that stop all traffic on the road require review. Forest Supervisor Rick Brazell, in a July 26 letter, answered back that he’d consider revising it to match the state’s standard for when a load requires a traffic plan, which would mean more reviews than the previous interim standard; click below for the full AP version of the story.

Brazell wrote in his letter that federally protected values that could be impacted in the corridor include recreation, fisheries, wildlife, water quality, scenery, historical and cultural sites, and tribal religious and cultural sites. “The State’s current position that permits will be issued regardless of the potential for such impacts seems to be in direct conflict with the recent Federal Court Ruling,” Brazell wrote. “The Federal Court Ruling made that clear by confirming the Forest Service’s role in reviewing permits in light of all laws governing National Forest Lands and the physical and intrinsic values associated with these lands. Idaho Code 49-1004 gives the State the discretion to issue permits but does not mandate permits to be issued.”

Yesterday, the Idaho Transportation Board held a special meeting in executive session reportedly to address personnel and legal matters, meeting behind closed doors. The board took no action and declined to say whether it addressed the megaloads issue.

One-time WiFi money was part of plan to fund stakeholders proposals next year

Here’s a link to my full story at on Gov. Butch Otter expressing concerns today about state schools chief Tom Luna signing a multi-year contract for high school WiFi networks based on a one-time appropriation. The $2.25 million appropriation for the wireless networks was part of $34.4 million that the Legislature specifically designated as “one-time” only within the school budget for the coming year, in an effort to accommodate request both from Otter and Luna to set aside $33.9 million to cover recommendations that might arise from a 31-member education stakeholders task force.

But the task force hasn’t made any recommendations yet, and isn’t scheduled to until late summer at the earliest. Its proposals will go to Otter in the fall for consideration for next year’s budget.  So the state Legislature specifically designated that amount within the school budget for the coming year for one-time only projects. That way, it’s zeroed out at the end of the fiscal year, and the governor and lawmakers will have the opportunity to propose different uses for it the following year when the stakeholders task force recommendations are in.

In addition to the $2.25 million for high school wireless networks, the designated one-time funds in the public school budget include $21 million for one-time teacher performance-pay bonuses; $3 million for technology pilot projects; $8 million for school district classroom technology needs; and $150,000 for a web portal of online classes available to Idaho students. The total: $34.4 million. It is the only money in the $1.3 billion school budget that’s designated as one-time only.

Otter on WiFi contract: ‘Not necessarily how I would have done it’

Gov. Butch Otter issued a statement today on the controversial, 5- to 15-year high school WiFi contract signed last week by state schools Superintendent Tom Luna, saying, “It’s not necessarily how I would have done it.” If the contract were to run its full 15 years, it will cost the state $33.3 million. Here is Otter’s full statement:

“I have been and will continue to be supportive of technology in the classroom. I understand and I agree with the concerns people have expressed over the contract, particularly the character of the money being utilized (one-time funds relative to the on-going obligation). The contract is signed and issues specific to it should be taken up with the Superintendent and the State Department of Education.  It’s not necessarily how I would have done it.  Going forward I intend to work with Superintendent Luna and the Legislature as we continue to look at ways to improve education in Idaho.”

Breakdowns show how strongly Idahoans went for Romney over Obama

For people who love election stats, Daily Kos, the national Democratic political blog and activist hub, today posted a breakdown of the 2012 presidential election results in Idaho by legislative district, reporting that President Obama won just four of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts, all of which are represented in the state Legislature solely by Democrats, and that one Pocatello district, District 29, elected all Democrats to the Legislature but went for Republican Mitt Romney. The four that went for Obama were districts 16, 17, 18 and 19, all in Ada County.

The website also called Idaho’s District 34, at Rexburg, “the most Republican legislative district we’ve seen so far,” going 92 percent for Romney. You can see their report here; it’s one in a series on election breakdowns by legislative district in the 50 states. Idahoans already have access to breakdowns by county and by precinct at the Idaho Secretary of State’s website, including downloadable files. Those breakdowns show that Obama won just two of Idaho's 44 counties, Blaine and Latah.

Stage I fire restrictions imposed in Treasure Valley, west-central mountains

Stage I fire restrictions have been issued for the Treasure Valley and the West Central Mountains starting this Thursday, according to the BLM’s Idaho Interagency Fire Restrictions website. That means, for those two zones, both campfires and smoking are banned outside of enclosed buildings, vehicles or developed recreation sites. Violations are punishable by fines of up to $1,000 and/or up to a year in prison.

The restrictions apply on all private, state, and BLM-protected lands outside incorporated city limits within Ada, Boise, Canyon, Elmore, Gem, Owyhee, Payette, Washington counties, and portions of Idaho, Adams, Valley, Custer, Elmore, Camas and Blaine counties; all Boise National Forest lands within Boise, Elmore, Gem and Ada counties, and a portion of Valley County; all Payette National Forest lands (excluding the Frank Church Wilderness) within Adams, Washington and portions of Idaho and Valley Counties;  and all Sawtooth National Forest lands within Elmore and Camas counties, and portions of Blaine and Custer counties.

Superintendents to Luna: ‘We are starving to death in our districts’

Idaho state schools chief Tom Luna met with school district superintendents from around the state this morning, reports Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News; he was asked about everything from the budget to Common Core to the state’s controversial new high school WiFi contract. Richert reports that American Falls Superintendent Tom Bollinger put Luna on the spot about the state’s decision to park $85 million of surplus money in its rainy-day fund, the Budget Stabilization Fund. “We are starving to death in our districts,” Bollinger said. Luna responded that there’s some “wisdom” in replenishing the savings. But he did say public schools are headed into a pivotal budget year in 2014, because of better-than-expected state revenues, and because an education reform task force is expected to make its recommendation to Gov. Butch Otter later this summer.

Richert reports that the only question about the WiFi contract was from Cottonwood Superintendent Rene Forsmann, who wondered when she could expect to see her district hooked up. You can read Richert’s full report here.

Luna hires Quarles as chief deputy superintendent

Idaho state schools Superintedent Tom Luna has announced that he's hired Roger Quarles, currently a BSU professor and co-director of the Idaho Leads project at Boise State University, as his chief deputy superintendent; Quarles will start Aug. 19. He is also the former superintendent of Caldwell schools. “Through his work in the Caldwell School District and at Boise State, Roger Quarles has demonstrated he is a leader of reform and innovation in Idaho with a proven track record of success,” Luna said. “I know Roger will be a valuable asset to our team as we work to make sure every child, no matter where they live, graduates from high school and goes on to postsecondary education without the need for remediation.” Click below for Luna's full announcement.

Highway 12 megaloads controversy takes another turn…

The controversy over shipping oversize loads to Alberta’s oil patch through an Idaho river corridor took another turn last week, reports Spokesman-Review reporter Becky Kramer. Two giant water-purification units arrived at the Port of Wilma in Clarkston, but it remains unclear when, or if, the equipment will get clearance to travel through Idaho on U.S. Highway 12.

The units would take up both sides of the two-lane highway, creatinga rolling roadblock. A subcontractor for Omega Morgan, a heavy equipment hauler, has submitted a plan to the Idaho Transportation Department for moving the units through Idaho at night. However, the U.S. Forest Service is still in negotiations with ITD over the agency’s oversight role in the permitting process, pursuant to a federal court decision.

About 100 miles of the U.S. 12 route pass through the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests, encompassing a number of protected areas. The route is part of a Wild and Scenic River corridor, lies adjacent to the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area and crosses the Lolo Trail National Historic Monument. In response to a lawsuit brought by Idaho Rivers United, a federal judge ruled earlier this year that the Forest Service has the authority to review the state’s permitting process. You can read Kramer’s full story here at

What the contract posted online does and doesn’t show…

The State Department of Education has posted the contract it signed with Education Networks of America online here; it’s 410 pages. The first two pages are the notice and acceptance of bid. The next 101 pages are the RFP, which already had been posted online earlier. The rest is ENA’s proposal, which includes lots and lots of information about the work it did on the Idaho Education Network, its staffers, and this work schedule: Deployment planning, Aug. 5-9; site surveys, Aug. 12-24; pilot test, Sept. 23-Oct. 7; and site implemention, Oct. 18-March 14, with completion March 14, 2014. That’s one day before the deadline set in the RFP.

The final two pages are a July 12 letter listing clarifications to the proposal, with three items: One about the content filtering proposal, a second about statewide roaming and local authentication, and a third about installing cabling and infrastructure for access points for the new high school WiFi networks throughout the state.

Not included in the 410 pages: ENA’s cost proposal. I am still awaiting response from SDE to my requests under the Idaho Public Records Law for costs proposed by each of the three finalists for this contract; the scoring awarded to the three finalists, including breakdowns; and the complete proposals as submitted from the three.

Meanwhile, my Sunday column explores the rare clash between two branches of Idaho's state government that state Superintendent Tom Luna's decision to sign the multi-year contract has prompted; you can read it here.

ENA touted Idaho political ties in its successful bid for WiFi contract

In its successful bid for a multi-year, multimillion dollar Idaho WiFi contract, Education Networks of America repeatedly touted its work on the Idaho Education Network broadband project, reports Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News, who also reports that the bid makes several less-than-subtle references to the Nashville, Tenn.-based company’s connections in Idaho political circles. You can read Richert’s full report here.

Idaho concealed weapon law gets mixed reviews from other states

Fifteen states have agreed since July 1 to honor Idaho concealed weapons permits when Idahoans visit, and two more have agreed to recognize only the new “enhanced” Idaho permit enacted this year that requires more training. Just eight states have said no; Idaho's waiting to hear from the rest.

However, these are mixed results. Idaho lawmakers passed the enhanced permit law to persuade more states to grant reciprocity to visiting, gun-carrying Idahoans. Before, there were 30. Now, two that previously said no are saying yes, one that previously said yes is saying no, and two that previously recognized Idaho permits are only going to recognize the enhanced version. “We sent out a letter to every other state and we sent them our laws,” said Stephanie Altig, deputy Idaho attorney general for the Idaho Department of Law Enforcement. “We’ve gotten 25 or 26 responses back.” You can read my full story here at

Idaho insurance exchange inks $1.4 million contract for startup

The Idaho health insurance exchange board has selected Boston-based Public Consulting Group for its biggest contract, for professional services including information technology. The $1.4 million pact runs from July 1, 2013 to Dec. 31, 2014, though either party can cancel with 30 days notice. The firm is charged with handling eligibility and enrollment, consumer assistance, plan management, Medicaid integration and more for the exchange, for both Track 1, in which the exchange will start signing people up Oct. 1 with some assistance from federal systems, and Track 2, in which the full function of Idaho’s exchange will be Idaho-based, including the technology platform.

Paul Buckley, director of government affairs for the firm, said its Idaho exchange work will be managed out of its Denver office. Public Consulting Group is a provider of management consulting services to state, county and municipal governments across the nation, with a growing presence in Canada and Europe as well. It mainly focuses on health care, but has expanded into education, human services, and government information technology as well. You can read the full 22-page contract here; the exchange board announced it at their public meeting Thursday afternoon.

Idaho sees first human case of West Nile Virus, Payette County man hospitalized

Right on the heels of news this morning that two horses, one near Parma and one near Meridian, have tested positive for West Nile Virus, the state now has its first human case of West Nile for the season: A Payette County man in his 40s has been hospitalized with a confirmed diagnosis of West Nile encephalitis. “About one in 150 people infected with WNV develop severe illness, such as encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), as in this first positive case, or meningitis (inflammation of the linings of the brain and spinal cord),” said Jennifer Tripp, program manager for Southwest District Health.

West Nile Virus is spread by mosquitoes, and Idahoans are being urged to take precautions, particularly between dusk and dawn, including wearing long sleeves and long pants and using insect repellent. You can read the Southwest District Health full announcement here about the human case, and the state Department of Agriculture’s full announcement here about the infected horses.

Twin Falls firm says its bid for WiFi contract was 24% lower than ENA’s

The Idaho Statesman reports today that Tek-Hut Inc., the Twin Falls school wireless networking company that was one of three finalists for the 5- to 15-year WiFi contract for Idaho high schools awarded yesterday to a Nashville firm, undercut the winning bid from Education Networks of America by 24 percent. Part-owner Nate Bondelid told the Statesman his company bid $1.6 million a year; ENA’s winning bid was $2.1 million a year.

“ENA has a very strong relationship with the state of Idaho,” Bondelid said. It’s difficult, he said, to “play ball with people who are connected politically.” You can read the Statesman’s full report here from reporter Bill Roberts.

Meanwhile, the president and CEO of the Post Falls company that was the third finalist, Ednetics chief Shawn Swanby, told Eye on Boise, “We’re disappointed by the decision that the state Department of Education made to award it to an out-of-state company.” His firm provides technology services to schools across the Northwest; headquartered in Post Falls, it also has locations in Bellevue, Wash., Corvallis, Ore. and Boise. “We feel that we provided a very strong option, a very strong Idaho option,” Swanby said. “We’re good at what we do.”

Officials: Don’t judge wireless pact on price

Idaho officials concede the five-year, $2.1 million annual contract the state Department of Education signed Wednesday with a Tennessee company to install Wi-Fi service in public high schools may cost more per-school than deals districts negotiate on their own, the AP reports, but they insist that simple numbers don't tell the whole story. For instance, the Coeur d'Alene School District was planning to spend $18,000 annually from local tax collections to hire a company to install and manage three high schools' wireless service, or about $5,666 per school, a spokeswoman said Thursday.

Under Idaho's pact with Nashville-based Education Networks of America, by comparison, the per-school cost could run nearly four times that amount, or nearly $23,000, on average, based on 93 high schools state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna said have so far signed up. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Idaho gets third $1 million Powerball winner in 3 weeks

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Lottery officials say a ticket sold in Bonneville County in southeastern Idaho has won $1 million in Wednesday's Powerball drawing. It is the third time in five drawings that a ticket sold in Idaho has won $1 million. Idaho Lottery Director Jeff Anderson says the winning ticket matched the first five numbers, but not the Powerball. On July 10, Audrey and David Eckert of Boise won $1 million while a Salt Lake City-area man, Mike Middlemiss, and his son, Chris, won a $1 million prize in the July 13 drawing.

Idaho Aquarium case leaves 20-year-old Eagle man facing up to 20 years in prison for two phone calls

A 20-year-old Eagle man is facing up to 20 years in federal prison after being convicted of obstruction of justice in Florida in connection with wildlife from the Florida Keys illegally purchased for display at the Idaho Aquarium in Boise. Federal authorities say Peter Covino had no involvement in the illegal purchases, but he made two phone calls in February to a Florida wholesale marine life dealer, asking the dealer to delete all text messages, emails and other evidence linked to purchases by his uncle, Ammon Covino. Unbeknownst to Peter Covino, the dealer was cooperating with federal authorities and the phone calls were recorded; Ammon Covino was arrested Feb. 21 on charges of conspiracy and violations of the federal Lacey Act by purchasing and transporting wildlife from the Florida Keys to Idaho, including spotted eagle rays and lemon sharks. Peter Covino, who admitted in court he made the two calls at his uncle's direction, is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 24 and also faces fines of up to $250,000. Click below for the full news release from the U.S. Attorney's office, and a report from the Associated Press.

Luna picks Nashville firm for WiFi contract, passes over two Idaho finalists

Idaho state schools chief Tom Luna on today defiantly issued a 5- to 15-year contract to a Nashville, Tenn. firm to run WiFi networks in Idaho high schools, dismissing criticism from lawmakers that they never authorized the multi-year contract, and passing over two home-grown Idaho companies seeking the contract. “As a state, it is our goal and our responsibility to ensure every child has equal access to the best educational opportunities, no matter where they live,” Luna declared. “To accomplish this, we have to equip every public high school with the advanced technology and tools necessary to create these opportunities.”

Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said he’s asked the legislative budget staff to explore with the Idaho Attorney General whether Luna had legal authority to issue a multi-year contract, when the Legislature authorized only one year of funds – a one-time appropriation for the next year of $2.25 million. Luna characterized that as “standard practice,” noting that the contract, like most state contracts, will include an exit clause that cancels it if the state doesn’t appropriate sufficient funds. Because the contract also calls for ENA to own all the equipment it installs in the schools, if the contract is canceled, the company would pull back out the wireless networks it had installed.

However, Idaho’s Purchasing Division administrator, Bill Burns, said his division won’t begin the process of issuing a multi-year contract until the agency in question certifies that it has the funding to cover the full cost of the contract over time. “They have to say they have funding for the value of the contract over the contract life,” Burns said. “If we don’t get that, we don’t even start the process for writing an RFP or whatever it is, an invitation to bid or whatever. That’s our absolute starting point right there.”

McGrath wouldn’t say if ENA had the lowest bid; she did say it received the highest score from an interview committee. The scoring was divided into three equal parts, for cost, technology, and company qualifications/interviews, with each counting for a third.

ENA is the only one of the three finalists with ties to Luna. The company donated $6,000 to Luna’s campaign between the 2009 and 2012, and its top Idaho employee, Garry Lough, worked for Luna at the Idaho State Department of Education before joining ENA in 2012. Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, said Wednesday that he wished the Purchasing Division had overseen the contracting process. “It would have been cleaner,” he said. You can read my full story here at

SDE addresses vendor-ownership question in WiFi contract

Idaho State Department of Education spokeswoman Melissa McGrath said today that there are several reasons the department decided to set up its long-term WiFi contract for Idaho high schools with the vendors keeping ownership of all the equipment they install, meaning if the contract ends, they pull it out of the schools. “It’s a managed service,” she said. “We want more than just the equipment. We would like a service provided to school districts so that there is maintenance, filtering. Second is cost – when you begin to buy infrastructure, the cost is going to go up into the tens of millions.” Third, she said, if the state or the schools owned their own wireless infrastructure, “We would be responsible for updating that infrastructure. Because technology changes so quickly, it’s much more practical to put the onus on the vendor to update that technology.”

The RFP for the wireless contract requires the vendor to update the equipment on a rotating basis, at least once every five years.

Multi-year contract ‘standard practice’? Not if agency doesn’t have the funds…

The big wireless contract awarded to Education Networks of America this afternoon – to provide WiFi in every Idaho high school at a cost to the state of up to $35.5 million over the next 15 years – is a “standard practice” approach, the State Department of Education said in its news release announcing the award. But the head of the state’s Division of Purchasing says otherwise.

Melissa McGrath, SDE spokeswoman, said the multi-year contract idea is “something that we began under Students Come First. The idea was to connect every high school to wireless, and we had a contract for it.” That was cancelled after voters rejected the Students Come First reform laws last November. But now, she said, “The Legislature decided … to move forward with it. So we have been directed to move forward with wireless technology for every public high school. The only way to do that for $2.25 million is through a statewide contract. But there is a non-appropriation clause, so we can discuss this every year going forward.”

The Legislature actually only authorized $2.25 million for wireless infrastructure in the next year; it didn’t authorize a multi-year contract. But McGrath said a “non-appropriation clause” saying the contract would be canceled if the Legislature didn’t appropriate funds in future years takes care of that. “That’s pretty standard,” she said. “State agencies sign multi-year contracts with non-appropriation clauses all the time.”

Bill Burns, administrator of the state Division of Purchasing in the Department of Administration, said his division won’t begin the process of issuing a multi-year contract until the agency in question certifies that it has the funding to cover the full cost of the contract over time. “They have to say they have funding for the value of the contract over the contract life,” Burns said. “If we don’t get that, we don’t even start the process for writing an RFP or whatever it is, an invitation to bid or whatever. That’s our absolute starting point right there.”

All contracts issued through the Division of Purchasing do include a standard exit clause for if the state does not appropriate sufficient funds. If that happens, Burns said, “The contract’s null and void, because we’re a balanced budget state.”

He noted that all state elected officials – including state Schools Superintendent Tom Luna and his department – are exempt from Division of Purchasing contracting rules and the division’s review process, though they can request help. The only reason the division handled the giant Students Come First laptop computer contract was because the “Students Come First” laws specifically required it to do so. 

Luna awards wireless contract to Education Networks of America

Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna has awarded a multimillion-dollar wireless contract to Education Networks of America, choosing the Nashville, Tenn. firm to provide WiFi in every Idaho high school for up to the next 15 years; the contract could cost the state up to $33.3 million over that time. “Wireless internet access is a critical component of the 21st century classroom so teachers can integrate the technology they need in the classroom,” Luna said in a statement; you can read his full statement here.

Luna said ENA's bid “came in under budget at $2,111,655 per year.” The initial term of the contract is five years; the state would pay $10.56 million over that time. If both five-year extensions are given, and both price increases of up to 5 percent for the second and third five-year periods, the state's total cost over the 15 years would be $33,284,962.

EPA reverses course, rejects Idaho water pollution rule

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho water quality regulators must go back to the drawing board after the federal Environmental Protection Agency rejected a rule that allowed some pollution to be discharged into state waterways without a review. In 2011, the EPA actually approved an Idaho Department of Environmental Quality rule exempting activities such as mining from review in some instances, provided their accompanying water pollution fell below a certain threshold. The Greater Yellowstone Coalition sued, saying that was too lenient, especially in instances where cumulative pollution could eventually so significant harm to aquatic ecosystems. In April, the EPA agreed in federal court in Pocatello to reconsider Idaho's rule. And Tuesday, the agency concluded DEQ's rule went too far in exempting polluting activities from scrutiny and gave the agency several options to remedy the situation.

Ties between Luna, bidders on wireless contract?

I’ve had lots of readers asking me if there are any ties between Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna and the companies bidding on the multimillion-dollar WiFi contract for Idaho high schools, which could run up to 15 years and cost the state up to $35.5 million.

Among the three finalists – Tek-Hut Inc., Education Networks of America, and Ednetics Inc., all of which were brought in for interviews - only ENA has ties to Luna that I could find. The company, based in Nashville, Tenn., donated  $6,000 to Luna’s campaign between the 2009 and 2012, and its top Idaho employee, Garry Lough, worked for Luna at the Idaho State Department of Education before joining ENA in 2012. Lough’s final position with the state was communications director for the Idaho Education Network, the service that’s providing broadband connections to every Idaho high school. Lough, a former Idaho Republican Party executive director, also personally contributed to Luna’s campaigns, but only small amounts, $200 in 2006 and a $115 in-kind donation in 2010.

ENA has an ongoing contract with the state to operate the IEN, to the tune of $8 million a year.The new WiFi contractor would work closely with the IEN to take its broadband feed and translate it into campus-wide WiFi and ethernet connections reaching into all instructional and administrative areas in Idaho high schools.  

Among the other two finalist firms, Tek-Hut Inc. is a Twin Falls-based company founded in 2001 by Dallas Gray and Nate Bondelid; it employs more than 20 people and provides services across the nation, primarily to K-12 school districts. Ednetics is a Post Falls-based company founded by Shawn Swanby in his living room in 1997 when he was a University of Idaho student; it now has 60 employees in three locations and develops and installs networks and other infrastructure in school districts and universities throughout the Northwest.

I could find no record of Tek-Hut Inc. or Ednetics, or the principals of either firm, contributing to any of Luna’s campaigns.

Luna still plans to award wireless contract today, price to be fixed regardless of how many schools

Idaho schools Superintendent Tom Luna still plans to go ahead with awarding a multi-year, multimillion-dollar contract for high school WiFi today, according to his spokeswoman, Melissa McGrath. “I hope it’s today – we’re just finalizing it, but hopefully within the next couple of hours,” McGrath said just before 2 p.m. Boise time.

She said the contract, with an initial term of five years and two options to extend up to 15 years, will be at a fixed price per year, regardless of how many Idaho high schools participate. “As of yesterday, 44 districts have opted in,” McGrath said. “We don’t know, to be honest, how many are going to opt in the first year. … They ultimately have the choice at the local level.” The pricing won’t change based on the number of schools, she said. “It will be per year. We have to be prepared to fund 340 high schools or 50 high schools.”

If only 50 schools sign on, for the first year, the state would be paying $45,000 per school for WiFi, if the contract comes in at the budgeted amount for next year of $2.25 million. If 340 participated, the state would pay $6,429 per school. If the contract runs for the full 15 years, and if the contractor is allowed the two 5 percent price increases at five and 10 years specified in the RFP, the contract would cost the state $35.5 million over the 15 years.

Keough: Idaho needs to take stock of current school tech, to plan for additions

Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, says Idaho needs to be taking stock of what it already has as far as technology in its schools, in order to sensibly plan for additions. “A majority of legislators agree that we need our public K-12 schools and all of our schools to keep up with technology,” said Keough, a 9th term senator and vice-chair of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.  “I think that we need to be prudent in properly planning that buildout, however.” Her comments came after she learned yesterday that the State Department of Education is planning to award a 15-year contract for WiFi service in Idaho’s high schools – but the state doesn’t know how many schools already have it.

“I have advocated in the past two years that we need to be mapping what it is we have and making sure that we have a systematic plan for our buildout,” Keough said, “and I thought we were headed down that path, but it doesn’t sound as though we’re there yet.”

She added, “I’m concerned about going ahead with something that isn’t authorized by the Legislature budget-wise. There’s no money past next year. And it might be disruptive if we do not fund it, and the equipment may get pulled out, and that’s disruptive to the district.”

Health insurance exchange board plans extended closed meeting

The board overseeing Idaho's health insurance exchange plans a 3-hour, 40-minute meeting behind a downtown Boise law office's closed doors where citizens will be barred Thursday — nearly twice as long as a public meeting scheduled later that day, AP reporter John Miller reports. Click below for his full report.

Pisaneschi named general manager of Idaho Public Television

Ron Pisaneschi, a 28-year veteran of Idaho Public Television, has been named its new general manager by the State Board of Education, to succeed Peter Morrill, who is retiring; Pisaneschi will start Aug. 5. “Idaho PTV is fortunate to have someone with Ron’s passion for public television and expertise in programming and operations ready to step up and lead the organization,” said Don Soltman, state board president. “We are confident that Ron will provide the vision and leadership needed to ensure that Idaho PTV continues to provide people with excellent programs and high-quality learning opportunities.”

Pisaneschi’s current title at IPTV is director of content; over the years, he’s served as director of programming, director of marketing, director of public information and more. He was named 2005 Programmer of the Year by his colleagues in the PBS system. He holds a fine arts degree in film and photography from the University of San Francisco, and has also worked in educational filmmaking, radio programming, public relations and marketing.

“I am privileged to work with an amazing group of people who are dedicated to serving the public by providing engaging, educational programs and resources,” Pisaneschi said. “This is an exciting opportunity, and I look forward to building on the successes and strengths of Idaho Public Television.” Click below for the state board’s full announcement.

JFAC co-chairs question why statewide high school WiFi contract even needed

Some lawmakers are questioning why a statewide contract would even be needed to install WiFi at Idaho high schools, rather than just giving the money to local school districts and letting them hire local providers to put in their wireless systems, which the districts then would own. “It puts the state in the position of competing with local service providers,” said Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert. “Maybe that’s just my philosophical difference, but I’m not sure that’s the role the state should play. What’s good for Castleford may not be what’s best for Blaine school district, or vice versa.”

House Appropriations Chairwoman Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, said, “That could mean that Filer goes out and gets Project Mutual, that could mean that Rupert goes out and gets somebody.That money could have been put out. I am just really surprised, and it troubles me, because that $2.25 million is not enough money to make this type of an assumption on. It’s not a fortune.” She added, “If one of these people wants to contract with the state, it would appear to me that somewhere or other the state would own the equipment – after all, you don’t jerk equipment out of school districts, No. 1, and No. 2, they would certainly have to go year-by-year on funding. Everything else runs with the yearly budget.”

State Department of Education spokeswoman Melissa McGrath said, “This is the most cost-efficient way to pursue these types of contracts. There is always a clause in the contract to ensure future years are subject to funding from the Legislature.”

Cameron said there were several messages from Idaho voters’ rejection of the “Students Come First” school reform laws, which included a giant statewide contract to provide laptop computers to every Idaho high school student. “I think one of them was that they didn’t want this top-down, all-inclusive approach from the state department, who appears to know best or think they know best,” he said. “The Legislature agreed this session that it should be locally driven decisions on technology, who the vendors are, etc.”

More from the RFP for the 15-year wireless contract: $35.5M total cost, work to start Monday…

Here are a few more tidbits about the 15-year wireless contract that state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna is scheduled to award today:

The RFP calls for a fixed price for the first five years, then allows for up to a 5 percent increase for the next five years, and another 5 percent increase for the final five years. If all the increases are taken and the first five years stay fixed at the $2.25 million amount, the cost to the state over the full 15 years would be $35.47 million.

The Scope of Work for the project includes providing Idaho’s high schools with “a complete and fully managed wireless service,” including content filtering, help desk support, training, project management and “customer relations management.” It would use existing broadband connections to the schools from the Idaho Education Network, and would involve any Idaho high school, junior high or middle school that serves students in grades 9-12, if the school opts in to the project.

The RFP calls for the work to begin next Monday – July 29. The WiFi service would be fully deployed in all Idaho schools by March 15, 2014. Periodic upgrades to the most current standards would be required on a rotational basis, once every 60 months or sooner.

The RFP contains some lofty aspirations for the results of the contract. Among them:  “The Project will support educating more students at a higher level by providing electronic network connectivity throughout the entire school building rather than only in a wired classroom. No matter where a child lives in Idaho, they will have access to the best educational opportunities, including the highest quality instruction and highly effective teachers. Every student will learn in a 21st Century classroom not limited by walls, bell schedules, school calendars, or geography. When they graduate from high school, they will be prepared to go on to post-secondary education or the workforce, without the need for remediation.”

Luna plans 15-year wireless contract, lawmakers aghast

Idaho state schools chief Tom Luna is about to sign a 15-year, multimillion-dollar sole-source contract for a private firm to set up WiFi networks in every high school in the state – even though the Legislature never approved the move, and legislative leaders who learned of it from a reporter Tuesday were shocked. Luna is scheduled to award the contract Wednesday; the three finalists include Education Networks of America, a firm that was awarded a contract, later canceled, under the voter-rejected Students Come First laws last year to do the very same thing. ENA was a subcontractor to Hewlett-Packard, which would have provided laptop computers to every Idaho high school student.

“It was part of a Senate bill that we should do a statewide contract,” said Melissa McGrath, Luna’s spokeswoman. But the only bill she cited was SB 1200, the public school budget. It allocated $2.25 million to set up wireless infrastructure in Idaho high schools next year, and said nothing about a long-term contract. “We did not agree and probably would not have agreed to a multi-year contract during last session, particularly given the financial straits that we believed we were under,” said Idaho Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert. “This shows in my opinion a little bit of a lack of judgment.”

He called the suggestion that SB 1200 authorized the contract “certainly a stretch, and perhaps borderline on a lack of honesty, because there was no provision in SB 1200 that addressed it. … There’s no germane committee legislation that addressed it.” Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, the House Appropriations chairwoman, said, “My word – how can they? That doesn’t sound like the budget I set every year, which dies, positively dies out of money on the 30th of June.” They and other legislative leaders and JFAC members said they thought the appropriation was just for “seed money” to help some districts get WiFi up and running in their high schools next year.

To make matters worse, the State Department of Education’s request for proposals for the big contract specifies that the successful vendor will own all the equipment it installs in roughly 340 Idaho high schools. And if the contract is canceled for any reason – including because the Legislature doesn’t ante up in future years – it’d be required to “de-install” all that equipment, ripping the wireless networks back out of the schools.  Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, said, “If the contract says the vendor owns the equipment, then where are what we spent our $2.25 million dollars for?” You can read my full story here at 

Nearly 160 Idaho schools appeal their new ‘star ratings’

Idaho’s new “star ratings” for schools are the crucial report card that determines whether a school is meeting standards or not, and Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert reports that nearly 160 Idaho schools are appealing their ratings this year. About 650 schools receive star ratings; in past years, the state has generally received appeals from 75 to 100 schools, Richert writes; you can read his full report here.

Boise looks to ratchet up parking rates, enforcement hours at downtown meters

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The city of Boise is getting about 200 new parking meters designed to prevent people from parking on someone else's dime. The Idaho Statesman ( reports the city is installing about 200 new meters designed to prevent people from refilling meters or using up paid time left by a previous parker. The meters have sensors that can tell when a car enters or exits the space, and zero out the time when a car pulls away. City officials say the change isn't about increasing revenue, but rather about increasing the turnover of prime downtown parking spaces and encouraging long-term parkers to use garages.

Boise installed its first downtown parking meters in 1940, which pulled in more than $22,000 by the end of the year. Today, more than 1,200 meters collecting $1 an hour bring in about $620,000 annually. IPS Group Materials, the manufacturer of the new meters, says that resetting the meter when a car leaves general results in increased revenue of 20 to 40 percent. The first batch of new meters will be installed around the State Capitol, City Hall and other popular downtown spots. The city plans to replace 811 meters over the next four years. A fee increase may also be in the works: The City Council will hold a public hearing this week on whether the parking fee should increase to $1.50 for the first hour and $3 for the second hour, with a two-hour maximum.

Meanwhile, KBOI2 News reports that the city also is looking at enforcing metered parking downtown on Saturdays, which is now free, and extending hours for meter enforcement from the current 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., both weekdays and Saturdays. You can read their report here.

Read the City Council memo here on the proposals; it calls for a pilot project for the new evening and weekend enforcement hours to run for six months or a year in the area bounded by Myrtle, Jefferson, 10th and 5th streets, basically the heart of downtown Boise. 

Simpson moves to slash EPA budget by 35% to pre-1978 levels

Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson put forth an appropriations bill today that would slash the EPA’s budget by $2.9 billion next year, a 35 percent cut that would drop the agency to a funding level below what it had in 1978 and block the Obama Administration’s climate change agenda. The Interior and Environment Appropriations bill includes a total of more than $5 billion in cuts, including major cuts to the Forest Service, BLM, national parks and more, but EPA would bear the biggest brunt.

“This Administration’s appetite for new regulations and disregard for the will of Congress have left us with little choice but to block his climate change agenda in this bill,” said Simpson, who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Environment. “The actions we’ve taken to address the EPA’s overreach and reduce its budget not only help us meet the tight spending constraints under which we’re operating, they help our struggling economy and encourage job creators to invest and expand.”

Simpson brought his bill to his subcommittee for mark up today, no amendments were offered, and it was approved on a 7-5 party-line vote. It now moves to the full House Appropriations Committee, where it is expected to be taken up next week. Simpson warned that until Congress gets serious about making big changes in the larger, mandatory spending portion of the federal budget – including entitlements – big cuts like these in the discretionary portion of the budget will be required.

“One thing I didn’t hear in all of the comments that were made [from the other side of the aisle] is the fact that we are $17 trillion in debt.  $17 trillion,” Simpson said during the subcommittee meeting. “Now, if you want to talk about leaving a legacy for future generations, let that continue to grow and grow and grow and not have the courage to do anything about it. … We are not doing anything different [in this bill] than state legislatures have been doing for about the last four or five years in trying to address their budget problems.  They’ve made tough and ugly decisions all across the board, but we act here like because we’ve got a printing press we are exempt from making those tough decisions.  We’re not exempt; we’re $17 trillion in debt.” You can read his full news release here on the appropriations bill and what's in it.

Crapo, Bennet insert clause in FEMA budget designed to prompt more focus on wildfires

Idaho GOP Sen. Mike Crapo and Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet have gotten a provision added to the Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill designed to prompt FEMA to prioritize wildfire prevention. The bill directs FEMA to develop a report identifying any funding obstacles and detailing its wildfire mitigation efforts over the past five years; the two termed the move a “first step” toward getting FEMA to put more priority on wildfire and its prevention. You can read the two senators’ full announcement here.

Labrador tells Huffington Post he’s still undecided on run for guv

The Huffington Post has a story on Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador today, centering on speculation that he could run for governor of Idaho, challenging GOP Gov. Butch Otter. Labrador didn't comment, telling the HuffPost reporter, “You know, I don't talk about that. It's going to be in the next couple months I will make a decision. It's a private conversation that I'm having with my wife and some close associates.” See the full article here.

H&W preps for Medicaid expansion, just in case state goes that route

Idaho has so far balked at expanding Medicaid coverage for more low-income residents, part of President Barack Obama's insurance overhaul left optional for states by the U.S. Supreme Court, but the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare doesn't want to get caught flat-footed, just in case lawmakers and Gov. Butch Otter decide otherwise, Associated Press reporter John Miller reports. So for just over a month, Health and Welfare has been quietly asking private insurance companies for details about how they'd go about providing expanded Medicaid coverage for roughly 104,000 adults who earn less than 138 percent of the federal poverty line.

Companies have until Wednesday to submit their feedback. “Basically, we want to be ready, if and when Idaho decides to expand,” said Denise Chuckovich, Health and Welfare's deputy director in charge of Medicaid. Click below for Miller's full report.

Going where the wind blows…

Faced with the hot, dry and smoky weekend forecast for Boise, I fled to the west, trading that for warm, dry, and very, very windy in the Columbia River Gorge. It’s such a delicious reprieve that I’m extending my weekend for a day so I can sail on Monday, too; I’ll be back a-blogging on Tuesday. That’s me on the left; that’s Mt. Hood in the background…

Idaho’s insurance exchange to start up with simple, no-frills model

A tight deadline to get Idaho's health insurance exchange running means its designers are aiming for a streamlined, straightforward web site to greet consumers when they log in for the first time come Oct. 1, the date enrollment begins as part of President Barack Obama's plan to make sure most Americans have insurance coverage, the Associated Press reports. Amy Dowd, the exchange's director, said the emphasis will be on creating a functional web site to allow individuals and small businesses to shop for insurance policies online with a minimum of confusion.

In a recent editorial, Bloomberg View  lauded Idaho Gov. Butch Otter for the state's approach, writing, “In Idaho, Butch Otter is one of just a handful of Republican governors to set up insurance exchanges on their own or in partnership with Washington. Its design will reflect Idaho’s small-government philosophy — providing a minimalist, streamlined approach, potentially offering a stark contrast with the bells-and-whistles exchanges envisioned by neighboring Oregon and nearby California. The state expects two benefits. Its exchange is more likely to be up and running on time, and its low overhead costs will be passed on to insurers in the form of lower assessment fees. That, in turn, may lead to lower premiums for people buying insurance.Governors of both parties should thank Otter and his state’s Republican legislators. If Idaho’s no-frills exchange succeeds in producing lower costs and fewer glitches, it could offer a new model for other states to follow.”

AP reporter John Miller reports that Idaho's exchange doesn't aspire to a “Cadillac-style” offering, instead shooting for a dependable, utilitarian vehicle that's clean, clear and concise for users from the day it goes live in just 2 ½ months. Click below for Miller's full report.

“We view the site as an ever-evolving destination where we can add additional information as needed,” Dowd said.

DC-10 bomber jets up from southern Calif. to attack two Idaho wildfires

A DC-10 jet fire retardant bomber flew into Idaho as part of an aggressive early attack on a pair of wildfires that have forced evacuations at two campgrounds and a Boy Scout camp, the AP reports. Paul Sever of the Central Idaho Fire Center said the jumbo tanker flew in from Southern California on Saturday afternoon and made effective drops on the 50-acre Bradley fire, 15 miles northwest of Stanley, and 600-acre Lodgepole fire 15 miles west of Challis. He said on Sunday that firefighters are optimistic about containing the fires, especially the Bradley fire. “Right now it's looking pretty good,” he said. “We had air tankers hitting it hard last night. We got a lot of things there in a hurry. The chance of catching it at its current size is pretty good.”

Chief Deputy Mike Talbot of the Custer County Sheriff's office said the Bradley fire, which was discovered about 4 p.m. Saturday, forced the evacuation of about 25 people from the Bradley Boy Scout Camp and 75 from Beaver Creek Campground. The Lodgepole fire forced evacuations from the Mosquito Flat Campground. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Keith Ridler.

Happenings in the 1st CD…

Here’s a link to my Sunday column on the week’s developments in the 1st District congressional race, from Rep. Raul Labrador’s campaign finance report sending signals that he’ll seek a third term – rather than run for governor – to the latest on former Democratic challenger Jimmy Farris and the emergence of a longshot GOP opponent, a BSU political science student.

National wildfire prevention, restoration initiative to include Boise River Basin

The U.S. secretaries of Agriculture and Interior were in Colorado today to launch the first of six pilot projects designed to protect the nation’s water supply from increased wildfire risk, and one of the projects is targeted for the Boise River drainage upstream of Boise. That’s where the destructive Trinity Ridge Fire in the Boise National Forest charred 220 square miles last summer; federal officials say increased erosion and sedimentation from the giant wildfire could affect Arrowrock Reservoir, Anderson Ranch Reservoir and more.

The Colorado project, announced at Horsetooth Reservoir outside Ft. Collins, is in the area affected by the destructive High Park Fire in June of 2012; plans there include forest thinning, prescribed fire and other forest health treatments to reduce wildfire risk; projects to reduce post-fire erosion and sedimentation; and restoration efforts on burned land including tree planting and other habitat improvement. Overall, the project, dubbed the Western Watershed Enhancement Partnership, also will include pilot projects in Arizona, California, Washington (Yakima Basin) and Montana (Horsethief Reservoir/Flathead River).

“In the West, more than 40 Reclamation dams and facilities are on or downstream from Forest Service lands where drier, hotter weather has exacerbated the risk of wildfire,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a statement. “This partnership can serve as a model for the West when it comes to collaborative and targeted fire threat reduction and restoration efforts to protect our critical water supplies.” Jewell and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the initiative is part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan; click below for a report on the announcement from the AP in Denver.

By the way, the photo above, taken by Chris Lee, shows windsurfer Jim Tighe sailing across Lucky Peak reservoir on the Boise River on Tuesday morning, as wildfire smoke rolled in from fires in the hills above.

Condemned killer sues state over lack of baloney sandwich lunches on weekends

Condemned double murderer Timonthy Dunlap is suing Idaho state prison officials, contending that the elimination of baloney sandwich lunches on weekends in 2011 constitutes “cruel and unusual” treatment, and that he's lost weight and suffered a heart attack due to low sodium since the change, the Idaho State Journal reports. In documents filed in court, Dunlap offered a solution: “Return to when lunches were served with bologna sandwiches on Saturday and Sunday,” the newspaper reported.

Idaho inmates get three meals a day except weekends, when they get a larger breakfast and dinner and a piece of fruit at lunch time. State officials said both the weekday and weekend menus meet the daily caloric requirements for inmates. You can read the State Journal's full report here, or click below for an AP version of the story.

Taking an Idaho political education to the national stage

Growing up a Democratic activist in conservative Idaho shaped Bruce Reed’s life in national politics, much of it spent in the White House and on the campaign trail, reports S-R reporter Scott Maben. “Out here I learned that you can’t take anybody’s vote for granted. You have to earn it,” Reed told a roomful of Idaho lawyers and judges Thursday in Coeur d’Alene.

Addressing the Idaho State Bar’s annual meeting, the 53-year-old Lake City native and chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden reflected on his childhood, early days in politics and nearly three decades of working in Washington, D.C. “The truth is, almost everything that I know about the way I see the world comes from what I learned growing up here,” he said; you can read Maben’s full report here at

Historical odds against Smith beating Simpson in primary: 23-1

The odds are against 2nd District Congressman Mike Simpson being defeated by GOP primary challenger Bryan Smith – by 23 to 1, reports Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey. That’s based on a review of Idaho election history by a University of Minnesota political scientist, who found that in the 61 congressional elections since Idaho became a state, 96 percent of incumbent congressmen have won their party’s nomination. Only one Idaho incumbent has lost his party’s nomination in the modern era, with three of the four upsets coming between 1908 and 1918. Since 1918, the incumbent renomination success rate is almost 99 percent, 81 out of 82, and the one exception was when well-known Idaho politician George Hansen made his comeback run. You can read Popkey’s full post here.

June unemployment rate edges up

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Department of Labor says the state's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for June edged up slightly to 6.4 percent — marking the second straight month the state's jobless rate has crept upward. Last month, the agency pegged Idaho's unemployment rate at 6.2 percent, ending a string of 21 straight months of steady declines in the number of Idahoans without work. The increase also comes amid a period of strong growth in the economy of nonfarm jobs. Overall, the number of workers off the job increased by nearly 1,900 in June, putting the total number of unemployed at more than 49,000. The higher jobless rate was recorded across the state. All but six of the 44 counties had higher June rates than the previous month.

Farris says he’ll run again in ‘14, either for Congress or another office

Jimmy Farris, the former NFL football player and Idaho native who took 30.8 percent of the vote against 1st District Rep. Raul Labrador last year, says he hasn’t decided yet whether he’ll challenge the GOP congressman again next year. But Farris, a Democrat, said he has decided one thing: He will run for office. “I will be running in 2014,” Farris said today. “I’m just not positive for what office or what seat.”

Farris filed a termination with the Federal Election Commission of his campaign finances from the last election, closing out the books, but said he made that move largely because his campaign treasurer, a CPA, was retiring from her practice. If he decides to run for Congress again, he noted, he can refile. This photo, from August of 2012, shows him campaigning in Meridian.

For now, Farris is busy with an upcoming annual family reunion and several business ventures, including one a former teammate is launching to design a safer football helmet, and another he’s working on to develop a type of custom insole. He also became fascinated by the recent George Zimmerman trial in Florida, frequently tweeting on developments there.

“I came into it, honestly, with a bias, kind of a preconceived idea that Zimmerman was just what they were saying he was, this over-zealous, racist wanna-be cop that tracked down this innocent kid and just shot him in cold blood, and it wasn’t like that,” Farris said. “NBC had edited one of the 911 tapes. … It was terrible, man. So not that I think George Zimmerman was innocent, he did kill the kid, but the way the law reads is the way it reads. In my opinion, if you just wanted to base it off of the instructions to the jury, there was no way they could convict him.” He added, “I just got really, really caught up in that trial.”

As for politics, he said, “I’m not actively out raising money or campaigning, but I’ve been meeting with a lot of people, having a lot of lunch and coffee meetings and kind of laying the groundwork for some things.” He added, “I’m kind of considering all the options now. … My desire to be in public service in Idaho and do what I can to make a difference in Idaho is as strong as it’s ever been.”

Student says he’ll challenge Labrador in 1st District GOP primary

No one has filed with the FEC yet to run against 1st District Congressman Raul Labrador in 2014, but a 23-year-old BSU political science student, Michael Greenway, announced today that he’ll challenge Labrador in the GOP primary. “I’m getting my campaign team together right now,” said Greenway, who will turn 25 between the primary and general elections in 2014, just hitting the minimum age threshold to serve in Congress.

Greenway, who is going into his senior year, isn’t a first-time political candidate; he ran for the state Legislature last year, challenging Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, in the Republican primary and collecting 27.5 percent of the vote. Greenway, whose mom served as his campaign treasurer for that race, said, “I enjoyed it, it was an interesting experience.” He campaigned on his opposition to the controversial “Students Come First” school reform laws, of which DeMordaunt, chairman of the House Education Committee, was a big supporter; voters rejected those laws last November.

Greenway said his interest in politics was sparked after the 9/11 attacks when, as a young teen, he was impressed with how then-President George W. Bush responded to the war on terror. “I liked the way the Republicans responded better than the Democrats,” Greenway said. “I believe in a strong national defense, a strong military.” He started thinking about making a run against Labrador after the second-term congressman abstained from voting to re-elect House Speaker John Boehner in January; Labrador’s close ally, Rep. Justin Amash, R-Michigan, cast his vote for Labrador for speaker. The two were among just 12 House Republicans who didn’t vote to re-elect Boehner as speaker.

Greenway called Labrador’s abstention “an act of betrayal, not only to the party but also to the constituents he claims to represent.” He called the Idaho congressman divisive, and said if elected, he’d work with all sides. “No one gets 100 percent of what they want in a government like ours,” the young candidate said. “We need someone in Washington that understands that, and I do.” You can read his full announcement here.

Asked how he’ll campaign, the full-time student said, “Well, I’ll try to raise as much money as I can, and then just campaign and talk to people, you know, go up and down the district.”

Idaho closes fiscal year with surplus, puts $85M more into rainy-day fund

Idaho’s state tax revenue came in 6.5 percent ahead of forecast in June, closing out the fiscal year with a $92.5 million surplus over the $2.658 billion the state had expected to take in for the year. That’s 3.5 percent; it’s a 6.3 percent increase from the previous fiscal year.

The higher-than-predicted tax revenues also triggered legislation sought by Gov. Butch Otter this year to transfer $85.4 million of the year-end balance into the state’s main savings account, the Budget Stabilization Fund. That boosts the total in the account to more than $135 million, a move Otter lauded today.

“Don’t get the idea that we’re flush just because we ended the budget year with a few extra bucks,” Otter declared. “We have plenty of needs and plenty of priorities. But the best way to ensure economic stability and continued growth is to remain prudent, cautious and responsible in how we allocate every one of those taxpayer dollars.”

The state’s surplus comes as agencies continue to struggle with years of budget cuts that haven’t been restored, and school districts across the state have increasingly sought local property tax hikes to make up shortfalls in state funding.

Otter’s office said in a statement that the year-end results “show the wisdom of his shared commitment with the Legislature to ensuring government does not grow as fast as Idaho’s economy and to continue refilling the state’s various rainy day funds,” adding, “That’s especially true in light of continuing uncertainty about the federal budget, federal fiscal policies and their impact on economic recovery.” You can read the General Fund Revenue Report here.  Click below for a report from AP reporter John MIller, who notes that this makes the third straight year state tax revenues have exceeded forecasts, and that every category of collections, from sales taxes on retail goods to personal and corporate income taxes, came in at levels higher than originally estimated last year.

DOJ seeks prison for would-be Tamarack Resort buyer

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A man who once sought to take control of an Idaho ski resort using millions stolen from retirees should go to prison for 210 months, federal prosecutors wrote this week in their sentencing recommendation. Matthew Hutcheson was convicted in April of 17 counts of wire fraud after prosecutors charged him with raiding pension funds to buy cars, remodel his Eagle home and acquire Tamarack Resort. He's due to be sentenced July 31. Assistant U.S. Attorney Ray Patricco wrote Wednesday in his recommendation that Hutcheson is an unrepentant schemer who would go to any lengths to deceive and take advantage of others to help himself. The sentence is necessary, Patricco added, to promote respect for the law and convince Hutcheson that he, not the government, is responsible for his legal predicament.

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

Higher teacher pay through ‘career ladder’ being eyed by ed stakeholders task force

Plans being developed by the education stakeholders task force include a sweeping new “career ladder” proposal for Idaho public school teachers that would raise Idaho’s minimum teacher pay from the current $31,000 to $40,000, and that would boost the top of the state’s teacher salary schedule from the current $46,537 to $60,000, reports Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News. The proposal is being worked up by a subcommittee of the task force, Richert reports; you can read his full post here. Teachers also would be eligible for “leadership awards” that would further boost pay. The cost: $35 million to $43 million a year for the first five years.

The full 31-member task force has its next meeting Aug. 23; it hopes to pass on recommendations to Gov. Butch Otter before the end of the year.

Job fairs to recruit for 1,800 jobs at big new call center just west of Boise

The Idaho Department of Labor has scheduled eight job fairs at its offices around southwestern Idaho over the next week to help MAXIMUS Inc. hire up to 1,800 permanent and seasonal customer service representatives and operations support staff for a large call center it plans to open in Garden City, on the Hewlett-Packard campus. Click below for Labor's full announcement, including the times, dates and locations for all the job fairs. The call center is expected to open sometime in the fall, though the Department of Labor has no specific date.

Moderate GOP group pledges to match Club for Growth spending ‘dollar for dollar’ to defend Simpson

A national moderate Republican group is pledging to match the Club for Growth’s anti-Mike Simpson spending “dollar for dollar” in the upcoming GOP primary race, Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey reports, promising to make the 2nd District  Idaho GOP congressional contest in 2014 a target of big national money on both sides. Simpson’s GOP challenger, Idaho Falls attorney Bryan Smith, already has been endorsed by the Club for Growth, which funneled $1.1 million into one-term Idaho GOP Rep. Bill Sali’s victory in a six-way GOP primary in 2006, and has promised to immediately begin “bundling” contributions to Smith from its members across the country. The group also said it recruited Smith to take on Simpson, a move the group said showed “how the Club for Growth PAC, for the first time in history, used the internet to solicit a viable primary challenger to an incumbent member of Congress.”

Now, Popkey reports, the group Main Street Advocacy, headed by former GOP Rep. Steve LaTourette, is working to raise $8 million to counter the Club for Growth’s efforts in GOP primary races, and has made Simpson its first pick for support. “The days of the Club for Growth using their special interest money to bigfoot Republican primaries and bully members of Congress is over,” LaTourette in a news release. “We at Main Street Advocacy will fight them dollar for dollar in districts across this country.” You can read Popkey’s full post here.

Historic EMS agreement unites all emergency medical services providers in county

A historic agreement 25 years in the making was signed today between all the various entities that provide emergency medical services in Ada County, bringing them into a joint powers agreement designed to provide a unified response system, anywhere in the county and regardless of agency or jurisdiction lines, with consistent standards of care. “Through this agreement, elected officials have put aside political boundaries for the betterment of the entire Ada County community,” said Ada County Commission Chairman Dave Case. “This allows our first responders to meet the unique emergency medical needs throughout the county.”

The agreement includes  Ada County, the Ada County Emergency Medical Services District, the City of Boise, the City of Meridian, the Eagle and Kuna fire districts and North Ada County Fire and Rescue District. Two medical directors, one from St. Luke's and one from St. Al's, will oversee and coordinate training and procedures used by all the agencies. 

“All of these first responders provide first rate emergency care, but until now they have largely been working separately,” said Boise Mayor David Bieter. “When your life is on the line you want to receive the highest quality care as quickly as possible. This agreement will ensure that happens by making sure all first responders are working from the same playbook.” 

The agreement also is designed to avoid duplication and save money; click below for the full announcement from the Boise Fire Department, whose chief, Dennis Doan, helped spearhead the talks over the last three years. “One deployment model that looks at the entire county beyond political boundaries makes sense,” Doan said. “We can work together to make sure we get the best care to patients quickly within a system that’s coordinated, efficient and makes the most of every tax dollar.”

Idaho man sues Portland cop over Post Falls road rage incident

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — An Idaho man who reported a road-rage encounter with a Portland police captain is suing the officer and city. In August 2011, Todd Wyatt waved his gun and badge in the window of his truck after he and Nicholas Cox took an Interstate 90 on-ramp near Post Falls. Wyatt says Cox cut him off. Cox says Wyatt was tailgating. The Oregonian reports ( ) the suit filed Tuesday seeks $255,000. It says the police bureau's failure to discipline Wyatt for earlier acts likely led him to think he was above the law. Wyatt has been demoted to lieutenant, partly due to the off-duty confrontation. He was acquitted of a weapons charge in Idaho. Wyatt's attorney said his client looks forward to an airing of the facts.

Mountain Home fighter jets grounded 3 months by sequestration now back flying again

A squadron of U.S. Air Force F-15 fighters at Mountain Home Air Force Base that's been grounded for three months due to the federal sequestration budget cuts is now flying again, after Congress agreed to shift funds from overseas operations, the AP reports. Col. Chris Short, 366th Fighter Wing commander, called the move a “first step” toward regaining his squadron's combat capability after pilots for the past three months were confined to the base's four flight simulators. They can gain valuable practice there, but it hardly mimics the experience of actually flying above the desert faster than the speed of sound, he said. “The stand down had an immediate impact on our operational readiness, and it takes time to retrain aircrews to mission-ready status,” Short said. “I'm happy to be flying again.” Click below for a full report from Associated Press reporter John Miller.

Labrador’s hefty re-election warchest suggests he won’t leave House to run for guv

Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador is sitting on the second-biggest wad of campaign cash he’s stockpiled since he’s been in office, with more than $277,000 in the bank. That suggests that Labrador is gearing up for a re-election bid for a third term, not for a long-shot primary challenge against two-term GOP Gov. Butch Otter in 2014.

Labrador’s being coy; neither he nor his staffers have returned calls from reporters today, and he’s been hinting for months that he might run for governor or might not and hadn’t yet decided. “Politicians enjoy the attention of people speculating about what office they’re going to run for next,” said BSU professor emeritus and longtime Idaho political observer Jim Weatherby. “He’s certainly benefited from a lot of that kind of speculation, and why wouldn’t he want to continue it for as long as he could?”

Labrador’s latest campaign finance report, filed late last night, shows he ended the year’s second quarter with $277,271 cash on hand. That’s nearly triple the amount he had at this time two years ago, and an amount he’s exceeded only once before, in October of 2012, at the height of the campaign season just weeks before he was re-elected. He raised $65,680 this quarter, an unremarkable amount but for the fact that two-thirds of it came from PACs, a departure for Labrador, who typically has raised more of his campaign funds from individuals than from PACs.

According to FEC records, in 2009-10, Labrador raised more than three times as much for his campaign from individuals as from PACs. In 2011-12, the split was 60 percent from individuals, 40 percent from PACs.

Among the PACs handing over the money now: Microsoft, Google, eBay, Northrup Grumman Employees, Alliant Techsystems, Darigold, Arizona Dairymen, Michigan Milk Producers, the National Roofing Contractors, the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC and more. Those groups, Weatherby noted, certainly don’t “have a big stake in who’s the next governor of Idaho.”

The only way to transfer federal campaign funds to a state campaign is to do what Secretary of State Ben Ysursa terms “reattributing” them – getting a written statement from each original donor, saying they want their money transferred from the congressional campaign to the state gubernatorial campaign. “That’s the only way,” Ysursa said. “There’s not just a direct transfer of money. There has to be reattribution of the individual amounts.” Then, the amounts count against the state’s contribution limits for each donor.

“It’s convoluted, but it can be done,” Ysursa said, most notably by Dirk Kempthorne when he decided to run for governor in 1998 rather than seek another term in the Senate. Kempthorne’s 1998 federal campaign finance report shows he refunded nearly $50,000 in contributions that year, including $38,000 to PACs and $11,600 to individuals; that’s what a candidate would have to do to reattribute the funds and redirect them to a state campaign. A Federal Election Commission spokeswoman said federal laws don’t restrict transfers, but they’re governed by state law and state limits.

Labrador’s July quarterly campaign finance report also shows he received $10,000 in contributions from Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo’s Freedom Fund PAC, with two $5,000 checks, one tabbed for the primary and one for the general election, both coming in June 3.

Said Weatherby, “It certainly looks like he’s not going to take a run at governor.”

State gets record-low interest rate on its annual short-term borrowing

Idaho got the lowest interest rate on its annual sale of $500 million in Tax Anticipation Notes this year since it started issuing the one-year notes in 1983, state Treasurer Ron Crane announced today. The state’s yield, or net expense, on the notes came in at 0.19 percent. Last year’s sale earned a 0.23 percent yield, “so .19 is very cheap,” said Shawn Nydegger, an investment officer in the treasurer’s office. The lower interest rate means the state will save $380,000 in interest costs for the year.

Though interest rates have been trending up, municipal bond rates have stayed low, and Idaho’s sterling credit ratings allowed it to get even more favorable rates. This year’s TAN issue actually had a coupon rate of 0.20, but bond buyers paid a premium up-front to get the notes, taking the net expense for the state down to 0.19.

“Idaho paper is extremely valuable in the marketplace because investors know they will get paid back,” Crane said. “This is because we have a track record of managing our finances well.” Idaho’s current credit ratings from the three major rating services is the top one available; click below for Crane’s full statement.

Otter welcomes 10th straight record dividend from state lottery

The Idaho Lottery presented its 10th straight record dividend to the state today, handing over $48.2 million from lottery proceeds for the state’s schools and state buildings for the year. “The weather isn’t the only thing that’s hot – your Idaho Lottery is sizzling, too,” said Lottery Director Jeff Anderson. “We just completed our best year in our 24-year history.” Plus, he said, the Lottery’s record “remains unblemished.” Gov. Butch Otter recalled 1989 and 1990, when Idaho voters first approved the lottery amid much controversy. “The biggest concern … was whether or not it would be able to maintain the honesty, the integrity and the value that was suggested in our efforts,” he said. “The citizens gave their trust. … How  proud I am… that integrity has never fallen into question.” He added, “I continue to hear great reports from other states about how well our lottery is operated.”

Checks presented at a ceremony in the governor’s office included $18.075 million each to the state Department of Education and state Permanent Building Fund, and $12.05 million to the bond levy equalization fund, which matches a portion of school districts’ bond repayment costs and marks the largest allocation yet to that fund, which last year got about $7 million. Otter credited current House Speaker Scott Bedke, who proposed the split for the bond fund as a lawmaker in 2009 before he was elected speaker. Said Otter, “I can tell you the folks at the local level utilize this in their financial planning.”

The Idaho Lottery recently saw two million-dollar winning Powerball tickets sold in the state in a week – a highly unusual series of back-to-back big winners. Said Anderson, “You’ve got to be in it to win it, and these folks were.” Otter noted that not only did the state sell tickets to two lucky winners, it also gets income tax on those winnings. That’s true for both the Idaho couple and the Utah resident who won the prizes; the Utahn must pay Idaho income tax on the income that comes from Idaho.

The Idaho Lottery still has 47 employees – the same number it had when it started in 1989. This year’s dividend to the state is 16.1 percent over last year’s, at nearly $7 million more. Otter told lottery officials and their staff, “From a grateful Idaho, thank you.”

CCA asks judge to bar media from joining lawsuit, says they only want to cover scandals

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Private prison company Corrections Corporation of America is asking a federal judge to deny a request from Idaho news organizations to keep documents open in a lawsuit over conditions at a CCA-run prison. A coalition of 17 news organizations including The Associated Press, KBOI-TV, and the Idaho Statesman asked to intervene in the lawsuit to oppose CCA's request to seal a variety of documents in the case. The coalition contends the protective order sought by Nashville, Tenn.-based CCA would hamper the ability of journalists to report on the lawsuit; CCA maintains the secrecy is needed for security and privacy reasons. In a document filed Tuesday, CCA contends that news organizations have no First Amendment right to civil proceedings and that the news groups only want to cover something scandalous.

Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Palouse town, farmers working to destroy old dam to restore steelhead runs

The latest project to remove a longstanding dam to restore fish runs is in north-central Idaho, reports John Miller of the Associated Press, where the town of Troy and area farmers are working to remove an unused, 93-year-old dam that blocks steelhead from reaching prime spawning grounds in the headwaters of Little Bear Creek's west fork. Until 1919, when the Dutch Flat Dam was built as a source of city drinking water, the fish had laid their eggs at the headwaters for thousands of years, Miller reports; the dam that now blocks their passage hasn't even been used since 1926.

“What's really amazing is that those fish were so tough to make it, without being able to go by the dam for so many years,” said Troy Mayor Ken Whitney said. “Hopefully, we're going to help them out a bit.” Little Bear Creek's steelhead have been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act since 1997; click below for Miller's full report. .

Idaho cancels 3-lot cabin site auction planned for Priest Lake next month

Idaho has dropped plans to auction off three undeveloped lakefront cabin sites on Priest Lake this summer, and instead will look at possibly auctioning up to three other lots on the lake next year. “Those three were not the ideal locations, after on-site review,” Thomas Felter, the state Lands Department’s manager of commercial and residential real estate, told the state Land Board this morning. Plus, he said, the department’s appraiser said it would take six to 12 months to properly market lakefront lots for auction.

The auction, initially planned for August or September, was designed to give the state a better sense of the true market value of bare lots on the lake, as it moves toward trading away or auctioning off existing cabin sites on the lake. You can read my full story here at

Labor seeks workforce training proposals for new $1 million grants

The Idaho Department of Labor is seeking proposals for new workforce training initiatives that bring industry and educational institutions together in a partnership to enhance Idaho workers' skills. The new Industry Sector Grant program will start out by offering three two-year grants of up to $1 million each to educational institutions that partner with at least three Idaho businesses to train workers in a target occupation critical to those businesses. The business partners must provide a 25 percent cash match to the department grant, which will come from the industry-financed Workforce Development Training Fund.

“These grants are designed to increase employment and wages by providing the kind of training that creates a pool of Idaho workers capable of meeting the demands of high-wage industries,” said Roger Madsen, department director; click below for the department's full announcement.

Tree project aims to protect aquifer

A five-year project to use trees to promote the health of the Spokane-Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer has wrapped up, with new trees planted, a blueprint for where to plant more, a boost for a Hayden program that uses poplar trees to drink up treated wastewater, and various efforts to promote forest health throughout the North Idaho-Spokane region. “Knowing how trees could benefit the aquifer, we had a really unique opportunity,” said Mary Fritz, program planning specialist for the Idaho Department of Lands in Coeur d’Alene.

The department secured a $300,000 federal grant, which was matched with local funds from an array of agencies including the Idaho department and the Washington Department of Natural Resources; cities, utilities, private landowners, the Washington State University Extension, Spokane County Conservation District and more. You can read my full story here at

Crapo, Colo. senator issue bipartisan call for FEMA to fund wildfire prevention

Idaho GOP Sen. Mike Crapo and Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet are calling for FEMA to shift priorities and dramatically step up its funding for wildfire prevention. In the last decade, just 0.5 percent of FEMA’s hazard mitigation assistance spending went to wildfire-related work. “These infrequently funded fire mitigation projects have one of the highest returns on investment out of all the different FEMA mitigation categories,” the two senators wrote to the Senate appropriations subcommittee chair and ranking member for homeland security, Sen. Mary Landrieu and Sen. Dan Coats.

“We ask you to work with FEMA to ensure that a greater share of its pre-disaster mitigation resources go to wildfire mitigation efforts.  Requiring FEMA to report on its efforts to date to support wildfire mitigation projects, and its plans to support fire mitigation activities going forward, would be an important first step,” they wrote. “And we hope to explore additional fire mitigation and preparedness options with the subcommittee, in order to prevent taxpayer dollars from being needlessly consumed in expensive fire suppression operations down the road.” You can read the full letter here.

Six-year-old’s hanging death ruled a suicide

This story is so incredibly sad; it's hard to imagine how something like this could happen. But nevertheless, investigators say the death of a 6-year-old boy in Payette - by hanging - has been ruled a suicide. Payette Police Chief Mark Clark told the Argus Observer newspaper there were no signs of foul play; the little boy was watching TV with his 7-year-old sister while an older sibling napped and his mother and stepfather showered; the boy went into the kitchen and used a belt to hang himself from the freezer handle. The boy's sister found him and screamed for the parents, who called 911 and administered CPR until paramedics arrived. Clark said it's not clear if suicide was the boy's intent or if he didn't understand the consequences of his actions. Click below for a full report from the Argus Observer and the AP, and if you can, give your kids or grandkids a hug.

Ranchers spring into action to fight wildfires, as part of new protective associations

Groups of ranchers are springing into action when wildfires hit, the Times-News reports, as part of Gov. Butch Otter's initiative this year to invest $400,000 from the state to help form and train additional rangeland fire protection associations across the state. Members who volunteer take online and hands-on training with the BLM and are given radios and permission to respond to wildfires on public lands. The Times-News reports that last Friday, members of the Saylor Creek Rangeland Fire Protection Association were on the watch when lightning struck grazing land an hour away from the nearest fire engine, and they successfully dug a fire line using a tractor and disc and stopped the blaze from growing. Click below for a full report from the Times-News via the AP.

The state funding came along with new requirements for the groups, including state review of their structures, training and liability insurance. Idaho has long had timber protective associations; it got its first rangeland one in 2012 at Mountain Home. The Saylor Creek, Owyhee and Three Creek rangeland fire protection associations formed in early 2013, and the state's anticipating another three or four may be formed by next year, in areas including Owyhee County, Twin Falls/Cassia County, Lincoln County, Custer/Lemhi County and Washington/Adams County.

Idaho insurance exchange awards first contract, for outreach, communications

After a competitive RFP process, Idaho's new state-based health insurance exchange has awarded its first contract, a $200,000 contract with a communications team led by Gallatin Public Affairs to conduct statewide market research, create an initial Exchange website, develop the communication strategy, create educational materials for use around the state, manage media relations and develop the Exchange’s new branding. The contract will run through August 16, 2013, with the option to extend for additional scopes of work as needed. Other members of the team are Boise-based GS Strategy Group, a firm with local and national expertise in public opinion and consumer behavior research, and Burson-Marsteller, a full-service, integrated public relations firm with experience in large scale public education campaigns.

Click below for the exchange's announcement, which also includes announcements of staff members Jody Olson, director of communications and marketing; and Alberto Gonzalez, operations project manager; he's a former bureau chief at the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare. The exchange is currently in the process of selecting a contractor for professional services,  including procuring additional federal grants and helping oversee development of the system enrollees will use to select coverage and determine their eligibility for federal, income-dependent subsidies.

A-10 Thunderbolt jets to train over Boise for the next week and a half

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) Idaho Air National Guard A-10 Thunderbolt II jets will be flying over Boise starting Tuesday while U.S. Air Force ground personnel are in the city calling in simulated airstrikes in an urban environment. Idaho National Guard spokesman Col. Tim Marsano says the 190th Fighter Squadron will be training through July 25 at altitudes between 10,000 and 15,000 feet. He says the aircraft don't have high-performance, afterburning engines and produce about as much noise as a small commercial jetliner. Marsano says there will be no live ammunition aboard the Thunderbolts. Residents might see “Tactical Air Command and Control Specialists'' and their equipment on Boise streets as part of the “Urban Close Air Support'' training. Marsano says the training is important for pilots flying the specialized combat aircraft.

Simpson challenger’s fundraising so far a family affair

First-time candidate Bryan Smith, who’s challenging 2nd District Rep. Mike Simpson in the GOP primary, has filed his first campaign finance report, and Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey reports that it shows fundraising for Smith so far has been a family affair – with $77,400 of his $149,400 raised for the quarter coming from 18 couples, along with one other relative in the same household. A dozen pairs gave $2,600 each. Another $50,000 came from Smith’s own pocket in a loan to his campaign committee, Popkey reports; you can read his full post here.

Simpson, meanwhile, raised $305,735 in the same period, according to his July quarterly report, with $214,500 from PACs and $91,235 from individuals.

In the cool before the heat…

Here's what it looked like up at Lucky Peak Lake this morning shortly after sunrise, as Boise-area windsurfers and kiteboarders took advantage of the early-morning breezes to kick off a all-week run of 100-degree days. By 7:15 a.m., there was a flock of us up there, close to 20, with the big kites dipping and soaring like exotic birds and the colorful sails whizzing across the water like intensely motivated butterflies. Early mornings like this make the heat bearable - that and afternoon air conditioning. Too bad we can't all handle the afternoon heat like my cats; they just curl up and snooze the day away until it's cooler… 

Duncan on federal Death Row, but fate still rests in an Idaho courtroom

Child-killer Joseph Duncan is sitting on federal Death Row in Terre Haute, Ind., but his fate still rests in an Idaho courtroom. Eight years after Duncan kidnapped, tortured and murdered a 9-year-old North Idaho boy after a murderous attack on his family, the long process that could lead to Duncan’s execution inched forward this past week, when federal prosecutors filed arguments summing up a six-week mental competency hearing that brought Duncan back to Idaho from Jan. 8 to Feb. 15. “He had the capacity to appreciate his position and to make a rational decision to abandon further litigation,” they wrote.

Duncan’s already been sentenced to death three times over for the 2005 murder of Dylan Groene. He also received nine life sentences for his bloody attack on the boy’s family at their Wolf Lodge Bay home, which left Dylan’s mother, older brother and mother’s fiancé dead; only Dylan’s then-8-year-old sister, Shasta, survived the ordeal. Duncan pleaded guilty to all charges and waived his right to appeal his death sentence. But his former defense attorneys filed an appeal for him, contending he wasn’t mentally competent when he waived his right to appeal – or when he dismissed them and chose to represent himself in his capital sentencing trial.

The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ordered a full hearing on that issue in U.S. District Court in Idaho, where U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge had ruled Duncan competent after two extensive psychological evaluations in 2008, but hadn’t held a hearing on the matter in open court. Now he has, and both sides are filing their post-hearing arguments; you can read my full story here at

Tamarack auction postponed

A planned public auction of building materials, furnishings and unfinished construction projects at the failed Tamarack ski and golf resort in central Idaho has been put on hold for at least another two months, the AP reports; materials and furnishings had been scheduled to be auctioned off Monday, from electrical wiring to an elevator car, bathtubs, restaurant equipment and more. Then, the resort's unfinished plaza and a portion of the Lodge at Osprey Meadows were to go on the block on Tuesday. Now, the auctions have been postponed until at least early September; click below for a full report from the Associated Press.

The divide over wolves…

Nearly 20 years after gray wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho, deep fault lines remain in public opinion over wolves’ presence and the appropriate limits of their range, reports S-R reporter Becky Kramer. The divide was spotlighted last month, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it was ready to get out of the wolf business. Agency officials have proposed ending federal protections for the 6,100 wolves in the Lower 48 states by the end of the year, with the exception of the Southwest’s Mexican gray wolves. Read Kramer's stories herehere, here, and here from Sunday's Spokesman-Review.

Idaho agrees to keep court records related to prison medical care secret

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Department of Correction and attorneys representing inmates at the Idaho State Correctional Institution have quietly reached an agreement that could permanently hide from public view records connected to the medical care provided at the prison. The protective order was approved by a federal judge Friday in a 32-year-old lawsuit over substandard care and other problems at ISCI. The order allows the state to designate any record confidential if officials think the designation is needed to protect trade secrets, medical privacy, the security of the prison or if the release would be “unduly detrimental” to the interests of third parties. IDOC attorney Mark Kubinski says the intent is to protect records that would already be protected under Idaho's public records law, not to shield the documents from public view.

Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

New film will chronicle how Idaho’s ‘Bluebird Man’ helped recover the state bird

Idaho’s “Bluebird Man,” Al Larson, is now 91 years old, and he’s the topic of a new documentary about how he helped recover the population of Idaho’s state bird, the Mountain Bluebird. Larson, a World War II vet who grew up in the Owyhee mountains, saw his first Mountain Bluebird in 1936 while riding fence on a ridge near Jordan Valley; in 1978, while looking for a hobby after retiring from his sawmill job, Larson read a National Geographic article about the decline of bluebird populations across North America. That year, he set up 25 nest boxes and began monitoring the birds. Eventually he had 350 nest boxes in five southwest Idaho counties, and over the years he has banded more than 27,000 bluebird nestlings.

“Al has been joined by many other citizen scientists across the continent who have set up bluebird trails in an attempt to boost bluebird populations by providing additional nesting habitat,” says Matthew Podolsky, producer of “Bluebird Man,” the film, who is with Boise-based non-profit production company Wild Lens. “These efforts have been hugely successful, resulting in the dramatic recovery of this enigmatic species.”

The half-hour movie began filming in April and will finish production at the end of the year; Idaho Public Television plans to air it when it’s completed. Now, Wild Lens is in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign to raise the final $15,000 needed for production and distribution costs; it’s raised nearly half that amount already, and is offering those who contribute DVDs, original artwork, a vote on the movie poster design, birding trips and more. The Golden Eagle Audubon Society and the North American Bluebird Society also are partners in the film; there’s more info here.

Might Boise School Board member A.J. Balukoff run for governor?

Might A.J. Balukoff, longtime Boise School Board member, run for governor of Idaho as a Democrat in 2014? Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News explores the possibility on his blog today; you can read his full post here. Balukoff told Richert he’s being urged to run, and is considering it, but hasn’t decided. “I will continue to talk with people I trust and respect as I consider whether to run for governor,” Balukoff told Idaho EdNews. “I will decide whether I can devote the time and energy to a statewide campaign, and if I can mount a financially viable campaign. I will make a decision by the end of the year.”

Balukoff, a retired CPA and community volunteer, 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 GOP Gov. Butch Otter. Balukoff said he’s considering the run “because education is so important to me.”

Balukoff holds an accounting degree from BYU. He’s lived in Boise since 1982, where he’s operated a large CPA firm and a chain of athletic clubs. He’s now part of the ownership groups of the Grove Hotel, the Idaho Steelheads hockey team, Century Link Arena, downtown office buildings and more. A former Eagle Scout and scout leader and official, he 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 and his wife Susie have eight children and 26 grandchildren.

Idaho prisons see jump in inmate suicide attempts

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Department of Correction officials say they're seeing an increase in attempted suicides and other mental health problems within the state's prisons and jails. Department Director Brent Reinke told Board of Correction members Thursday that in the last month guards found four inmates “hanging from sheets” at facilities around the state. One of those inmates — a man housed at the Nez Perce County Jail who was about to return to prison — died before guards found him. The remaining three were found and rescued. Reinke says the number of inmates showing signs of suicidal behavior or other mental health problems has also risen. He says that in June, the department tallied 78 reports of inmate problems or unusual behavior, compared to 56 in June of 2012.

Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

UI looks at building new mansion for its next president

The University of Idaho is asking the state Board of Education for approval to demolish its current president's mansion and build a new $2 million one, as part of its efforts to attract a new UI president, the Moscow-Pullman Daily News reports. It would work with the UI Foundation to fund the project, after determining that renovating the existing 1967 structure wouldn't be feasible or cost-effective. Click below for a full report from the Daily News via the AP.

Court of Appeals upholds Coeur d’Alene hate-crime conviction

A unanimous Idaho Court of Appeals has upheld the conviction of Frank Tankovich for malicious harassment and conspiracy after a 2009 incident in which he and his two brothers, in a truck festooned with a swastika, harassed a man of Puerto Rican descent outside his Coeur d’Alene home. “We find ample evidence to support the jury’s finding that Tankovich was motivated by racial animus,” Appeals Court Judge Karen Lansing wrote in the decision, issued today; you can read our full story here at

Frasier Fire was started by discarded cigarette

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BANKS, Idaho (AP) — Investigators say a discarded cigarette is the likely cause behind a wildfire that ultimately burned more than 260 acres and threatened a subdivision in central Idaho. Boise National Forest Spokesman Dave Olson says the forest is seeking public help in finding the person responsible for tossing a burning cigarette that ignited the so-called Frasier Fire. The wildfire started Sunday near county Highway 17 about five miles east of the small town of Banks. As it grew, more than 150 firefighters were deployed to put it out and prevent it from moving into a subdivision near the Payette River. Olson says anyone traveling the roadway on July 7 and has information is asked to contact investigators. The fire was contained Wednesday.

Otter films ads promoting fire safety, forest thinning

In a new public service TV ad sponsored by the state Department of Lands and the U.S. Forest Service, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter is shown on a ladder raking pine needles off the roof of his Pine, Idaho cabin, standing on a porch roof pruning low-hanging branches, and more as he urges Idahoans who live in the wildland-urban interface to “get defensive” and reduce wildfire risk to their homes. “Join me in being firewise,” the governor says in the ad. “Learn more at” That website, sponsored by an array of agencies and organizations, is aimed at educating Idahoans about wildfire and promoting “firewise communities.”

The ad was filmed at Otter’s cabin, in an area that was threatened by last summer’s massive Trinity Ridge Fire. Jon Hanian, Otter's press secretary, who was at the filming, said the 71-year-old governor seemed at-ease with the feats he performed, “although he did admit he doesn't like heights.” Hanian said, “He was comfortable - I wasn't. It made me nervous.”

A second ad, which shows a cowboy-hatted, shiny-belt-buckled Otter standing in the forest, advocates more thinning projects in national forests, saying, “From a distance, national forests may look beautiful, but 15 million acres of federal forests in Idaho are overgrown, unhealthy and prone to catastrophic fire. Widfires threaten lives, destroy property and cost taxpayers billions of dollars. They pollute the air we breathe and the water we drink, and they harm wildlife habitat. Reducing fuels is the ONLY thing we can do to change all that. It’s time to thin the threat. Show your support. Learn more at”

That’s the website of the Idaho Forest Products Commission, which sponsored the second spot. Both ads are being offered to Idaho TV and radio stations to run during the fire season, to promote wildfire safety and prevention. “Idaho’s fire seasons are getting worse,” Otter said in a statement.  “The PSAs remind Idahoans this is the time to reduce the threat of wildfire by getting defensive about their properties and supporting thinning in dense, overcrowded national forests.” You can see both ads here, under the heading, “For the Media and the Public.”

Smith says he’s ‘honored’ to have Club for Growth backing

Bryan Smith, the Idaho Falls attorney running against 2nd District Congressman Mike Simpson, today welcomed the Club for Growth’s announcement that it’s endorsing him – an announcement that came along with the news that the Washington, D.C. group had actually specifically recruited him to run against Simpson, a move the group said showed “how the Club for Growth PAC, for the first time in history, used the internet to solicit a viable primary challenger to an incumbent member of Congress.”

“I am honored to have the endorsement and support of the Club for Growth,” Smith said in a news release. “It is a group that shares the same conservative principles and values as I do and values I wish to bring to Washington.” Smith’s release also quoted extensively from today’s Club for Growth news release, repeating quotes from Club for Growth president Chris Chocola decrying Simpson. Click below for Smith’s full release.

Community outcry prompts E. Idaho school district to slow move away from ‘Redskins’ mascot

After a community outcry, an eastern Idaho school district is delaying its transition away from its “Redskins” school mascot, the AP reports. In the wake of a Monday public hearing on the plan, Driggs school Superintendent Monte Woolstenhulme says he needs more time to work with school administrators and patrons on the transition; that means the mascot will remain for the upcoming school year. On Monday, nearly 170 residents attended a three-hour public hearing. Of the 67 people who testified, only three supported the mascot change and two more were neutral, with the majority urging to keep the name in a nod to school tradition and school pride. A “Save the Redskins” Facebook page has attracted 1,279 followers and an online petition to save the mascot on had collected 628 signatures by Tuesday. Meanwhile, Shoshone-Bannock tribal leaders called the name disrespectful and offensive. Click below for a full report from the AP.

Otter announces appointees to new state Oil & Gas Commission

A mayor from North Idaho, a farmer from eastern Idaho, a retired CPA and a petroleum engineer from Boise and a rancher from Weiser are Gov. Butch Otter's picks for the state's new Oil & Gas Conservation Commission, which will oversee Idaho's small but fast-growing oil and gas industry; previously, the commission providing that oversight consisted of members of the state Land Board, the five top state elected officials. Legislation passed this year provided for the new commission. The five appointees are subject to confirmation by the Idaho Senate; click below for Otter's full announcement. 

Simpson touts record fundraising quarter, says it’s response to his ‘conservative message’

2nd District Congressman Mike Simpson says he's had “one of his most successful fundraising quarters ever,” raising more than $300,000 for his re-election campaign, the largest amount raised since his first election to Congress in 1998. The latest campaign finance reports, for the most recent quarter, aren't due until Monday, and as of yet, neither Simpson's nor that of his GOP challenger, Bryan Smith, has arrived at the Federal Election Commission and been posted on their website to show the numbers or details.

Simpson's campaign said he's “received a tremendous response to his conservative message of limited government and fiscal discipline in recording one of his most successful fundraising quarters ever.” The campaign's statement also notes his A-plus rating from the NRA, his 100 percent rating from National Right to LIfe, and other conservative credentials as he faces a primary challenge from the right, with a challenger that the anti-tax Club for Growth announced today it recruited specifically to run against Simpson. “I am confident that the totality of my career, and the conservative record I have established, are consistent with the values and expectations of the people of Idaho,” Simpson said. Click below for his campaign's full statement.

Club for Growth says it recruited Smith to run against Simpson

The Club for Growth, the national group that funneled money to bankroll one-term 1st District Idaho Rep. Bill Sali’s run for Congress in 2006, announced today that it not only is endorsing 2nd District Rep. Mike Simpson’s GOP primary challenger, Bryan Smith of Idaho Falls – it actually recruited him and got him to run for the seat.

The Washington, D.C.-based group sent out a timeline “showing how the Club for Growth PAC, for the first time in history, used the Internet to solicit a viable primary challenger to an incumbent member of Congress,” saying it launched a website, www.PrimaryMyCongressman, in late February; tallied up submissions over the next month and a half and noticed “dozens of recommendations” for Smith as a challenger for Simpson; contacted Smith on April 12 at his law office to ask if he was interested in running; interviewed him May 6 at the Club for Growth offices in Washington, D.C.; and Smith announced his candidacy June 27.

“We’re confident that he’ll be a strong conservative alternative to RINO incumbent Mike Simpson,” said Club for Growth President Chris Chocola. “The Club for Growth PAC is proud to endorse his candidacy.” Smith, an attorney and first-time candidate, says he’s already raised $147,000 for his run, but his campaign finance report hasn’t yet been filed, showing the numbers or sources of the funds.The “primary my congressman” website lists 10 incumbents for whom the group was seeking challengers; only Simpson is shown as having drawn one as a result.

In 2006, with Club for Growth’s generous support, Sali won a six-way GOP primary for an open seat with just 25.8 percent of the vote, then went on to defeat Democrat Larry Grant in the general election, 49.94 percent to 44.8 percent. Two years later, Sali lost to Democrat Walt Minnick, who beat him with 50.6 percent of the vote to Sali’s 49.4 percent. Minnick served one term; that seat is now held by second-term GOP Rep. Raul Labrador.

Simpson, the former speaker of the Idaho House, is a dentist from Blackfoot who served 14 years in the state Legislature before being elected to Congress in 1998, where he’s served since; he now chairs a key appropriations subcommittee. Since he beat Democrat Richard Stallings in 1998 with 52.5 percent of the vote to win the seat, Simpson’s never fallen below 62 percent in the general election; in three elections, in 2000, 2004 and 2008, he got more than 70 percent of the vote.

Click below to read the Club for Growth’s full announcement.

As pay cuts loom, growing number of Nampa teachers quit

As teacher contract negotiations continue in the Nampa School District, Idaho Education News reports that nearly 100 teachers and community members participated in an hour-long tailgate party before last night’s school board meeting, designed to welcome new board members and urge the district to focus on retaining good teachers, at a time when as many as 20 percent of Nampa’s teachers have quit their jobs ahead of the upcoming school year.

 “We continue to have people come in and tender their resignations, and that is ongoing,” said Interim Superintendent Pete Koehler, Idaho EdNews reports. “I expect that to continue all the way up through the month of July until we hit the point where the law says we must now take action.” You can read the full report here from reporter Clark Corbin.

Former teacher Bonnie Richardson said six of Nampa High School’s eight English teachers left their jobs this year – herself included. Each teacher has at least five years experience, but left for financial reasons. “There is a train crash on the horizon,” Richardson said. “With the proposed salary cuts, they can’t afford to have a family.”

The Idaho Statesman has a report here on the situation from reporter Bill Roberts.

BPD: Three injured in squad car wrong-way crash in downtown Boise

The Boise Police have sent out a news release about this morning’s crash of a patrol car into an SUV in downtown Boise, while the squad car was traveling to an emergency call going the wrong way on 13th Street, smashing into the SUV as it crossed 13th on Idaho Street. Both the officer and the two occupants of the SUV were taken to a nearby hospital for evaluation of injuries, the BPD reports, and all three were treated and released.

“The officer was traveling south on a north-bound one-way street, which is something normally reserved for emergency responses,” said Boise Deputy Chief William Bones. “Investigators do believe the officer was responding with his lights and siren to an urgent call for help from another officer. However, the officer's response and all the circumstances surrounding this crash will be part of the investigation being led by Garden City. Our first focus is for the safety of our community and officers.”

The call came from another officer at 13th and Myrtle streets, who radioed that he was involved in an “altercation with other individuals and was in need of officer assistance,” the BPD news release says. “A call from an officer for urgent help usually is ‘Code 3’ response, meaning officers respond with lights and siren in an emergency fashion.” You can read the Police Department’s full release here; it says the Garden City Police Department is investigating the crash, and Boise Police crash reconstruction experts are conducting a parallel investigation. The BPD Office of Internal Affairs also is investigating “to determine if policies, training and procedure were followed by the involved officer.”

Otter wants to see new Russian firefighting jet in action in Idaho

A California firm has been pitching a Russian ambhibious firefighting jet to to U.S. and Idaho officials for fighting wildfires, and Idaho Gov. Butch Otter says he wants to see the plane up-close in a Boise trial run, the AP reports. The Russian Be-200 can fly 400 mph and suck 3,500 gallons of water from a lake within seconds, potentially allowing it to respond more quickly to fires than planes that drop water or retardant but then must land and be re-filled. “This sounds like a special aircraft, and I would welcome your visit to Idaho,” Otter wrote to David Baskett, president of California-based International Emergency Services on June 10. “Firefighting in Idaho is a significant and ongoing priority, and we need to examine all options for addressing this challenge.” Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

More than 800 Idaho National Guard employees hit with furloughs from sequestration

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — More than 800 Idaho National Guard employees will start taking furlough days mandated by federal budget cuts. Idaho National Guard spokesman Col. Tim Marsano says about 860 full-time employees will have one unpaid day off each week between now and the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. Marsano says the federal budget cuts affect 860 military technicians and civilian workers. The federal budget cuts took effect when Congress failed to reach an agreement on a deficit reduction plan. For military families, the furloughs mean living with a 20 percent reduction in pay over the next several months. Marsano said it's also too soon to tell what kind of impact the furloughs will have on response to any disasters.

Idaho one of 4 states selected for Greek yogurt pilot program in school lunches

Idaho will join three other states in a pilot program to serve Greek yogurt as part of school lunch programs. Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo hailed the decision, saying in a statement, “Greek yogurt is one of the country’s fastest growing industries, and I hope USDA will continue the important process of making this healthy food option increasingly available to young Americans. Idaho, already a leading producer of milk and other yogurt-related ingredients, recently became home to the world’s largest Greek yogurt manufacturing plant in Twin Falls. … Our state is ideal to serve as a part of this pilot project.”

The other three states are New York, Tennessee and Arizona; the USDA opened a solicitation to vendors this week for the four states, with bids due July 22. If the pilot program is successful in the four states, it could expand nationwide. You can read Crapo’s full statement here; the Twin Falls Times-News has a full report here. Lindsay Nothern, spokesman for Crapo, said schools already were serving other types of yogurt, but Greek yogurt, which is higher-protein, wasn’t on the USDA’s list until it was approved in January as a protein. “I don’t think the schools are planning to take meat off the menu and replace it with yogurt,” Nothern said. “None of this makes the schools do anything. It just offers up yogurt as part of the protein offerings they can make in schools.”

Report: Police car going wrong way crashes into SUV in downtown Boise

KTVB-TV is reporting that a Boise Police squad car going the wrong way on 13th Street downtown crashed into an SUV this morning, knocking the vehicle into a parking lot; the police car had its lights flashing at the time, a witness told the TV station, but no siren. The SUV was westbound on Idaho Street and reportedly had a green light when the police car crashed into it; you can see KTVB’s full report here, including photos.

Idaho gas prices now 7th highest in the nation

Idahoans are now paying the seventh-highest gas prices in the country, AAA reports today, at an average $3.75 a gallon, down about 5 cents from a month ago, but well above the $3.48 national average. Washington is even higher, ranking fourth in the nation at $3.79; Utah is 10th at $3.71. AAA Idaho says gas prices mostly have been dropping around the nation, but western states haven’t seen the big drop. Now, with the uncertainty in Egypt, the motorist group expects gas prices to rise again.

“We’re constantly reminded that oil is an international commodity, priced in ways that may make no sense here in Idaho,” said Dave Carlson, AAA Idaho spokesman. “Motorists are also influenced by regional supply fluctuations that they have no potential to influence.”

AAA’s daily fuel gage report from around the state showed these pump prices in Idaho today: Idaho Falls, $3.63; Pocatello, $3.70; Coeur d’Alene, $3.62; Lewiston, $3.65; Boise, $3.80; Nampa, $3.82; and Twin Falls, $3.76.

Nationwide, the most expensive gas was in Hawaii at $4.30 a gallon, followed by Alaska, $4.04; and California, $3.98. 

BLM announces travel restrictions to protect rare plant in Payette County

The only place in the world where the rare Packard’s milkvetch plant is found is in a 10-square-mile area in Payette County in the Big Willow area, the BLM says, so it’s proposing new off-road travel restrictions in the area to protect the plant. The restrictions will include three designations: Areas open for motorized travel both on- and off-trail; areas closed to all motor vehicle use; and areas where motorized vehicles are limited to designated trails.

A 127-acre area would be designated as open, to allow “hill-climbing” and other off-roading. A 5,620-acre area would be closed; and 1,620 areas would be limited; the restrictions are scheduled to start in the fall.

“This decision is necessary because the habitat for Packard’s milkvetch is at risk from damage by motorized vehicle traffic,” said Terry Humphrey, field manager for the BLM Four Rivers Field Office. “These travel designations would allow motorized vehicle use to continue on designated trails and provide for hill climbing opportunities in certain areas, while insuring the protection of the plant and its habitat for further damage.

The Packard’s milkvetch is currently listed as a candidate species for protection from extinction under the Endangered Species Act; click below for the BLM’s full announcement. The agency developed the designations after two years of study, public meetings and outreach to area recreationists.

Hart says it’s fed lawyers who are lying to court, not him

Tax-protesting former state Rep. Phil Hart has filed his response to the U.S. Attorney and U.S. Bankruptcy Trustee's allegations that Hart lied under oath, concealed assets and income and more in his bankruptcy filings, insisting that he's done nothing of the sort and the IRS is just after him for “trumped up” and “exaggerated” tax liabilities. Targeting U.S. Justice Dept. attorney Adam Strait, Hart wrote in a declaration filed with the bankruptcy court, “It is Mr. Strait who is making false statements to the court, not me.” Hart says he thought the trust he put his house in was OK because he hired experts, and the unreported payments Strait identified were things like expense reimbursements and a $200 birthday gift from his mother. You can read my full story here at

Idaho shares in national settlement over inferior generic drugs made in India

Idaho will recover nearly $420,000 from an Indian generic drug manufacturer who admitted selling drugs of inferior strength, purity or quality in the United States, including through Idaho's Medicaid program. It's part of a $350 million national settlement between the federal government, the states and the company, which also pleaded guilty to seven felony counts and will pay $150 million in criminal fines and forfeitures. “Taxpayers expect their tax dollars to be used to pay for a legitimate service,” Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said.  “This settlement reflects our resolve to address losses to the Idaho Medicaid program caused by individuals and companies.” Click below for Wasden's full announcement; Idaho's share includes just under $210,000 to reimburse its Medicaid program, and just over $218,000 for the state's general fund.

KidsCount says Idaho families face coverage gap without Medicaid expansion

KidsCount, the organization that tracks various measures of children’s well-being, is highlighting a concern about the impact of a failure to expand Medicaid on Idaho families: A coverage gap that would develop when middle-income families qualify for tax credits to help them get insurance coverage in 2014, but low-income families wouldn’t. That’s because the national health-care reform law anticipated that lower-income families would be covered through Medicaid expansion, which the law originally made mandatory for all states; the U.S. Supreme Court overturned that, saying states can decide whether to expand Medicaid or not. The AP reports that 23 states and the District of Columbia have announced they’ll expand Medicaid; 18 have declined and nine are undecided. Idaho is among the undecided, for now.

Idaho KidsCount put together an infographic to demonstrate the gap; you can see a full-sized version here. It shows two fictional Idaho families of four, one with a household income of $31,680, the other, $23,155. The higher-income family would qualify for a $10,206 tax credit toward the $11,209 annual premium to cover both the family’s adults. The lower-income family would get nothing to help with that cost, in the absence of Medicaid expansion, though the kids in both families would be covered.

“Idaho’s families want to have the security of knowing they can get the health care they need without facing devastating medical bills,” said Lauren Necochea, Idaho KidsCount director. “We also want our state to have laws that are fair to everyone and don’t play favorites. Accepting the Medicaid dollars would bring Idaho closer to those goals.” You can see KidsCount’s full statement here.

IACI: Failure to expand Medicaid would cost Idaho industry millions

Large Idaho employers would face millions in costs if the state declines to expand its Medicaid program, according to a new report from the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry. “For us, it's a business-numbers issue,” IACI President Alex LaBeau told Idaho Statesman reporter Audrey Dutton. “It's pretty clear from the information and the numbers that Medicaid expansion would save industry a lot of money.”

Dutton reported on IACI's findings over the weekend; click below for a full report from the Statesman and The Associated Press. Idaho Gov. Butch Otter convened a working group a year ago that studied the issue and recommended expanding Medicaid, but only if the move is accompanied by reforms in the program; Idaho took no action this year, but still could. The working group found that the state, counties and Idaho property taxpayers would save hundreds of millions if Medicaid were expanded; the move, initially 100 percent federally funded then scaling back to 90 percent, would replace the state's current medical indigency program, which is 100 percent funded by county property taxes and the state general fund.

Judge Lodge marks 50 years on the bench

From the Ruby Ridge standoff to tribal ownership of Lake Coeur d’Alene, from Claude Dallas to Sami al-Hussayen, from mining damage in the Coeur d’Alene Basin to the death penalty trial of child-killer Joseph Duncan, one judge presided. That judge, U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge, is now the longest-serving judge in Idaho history, marking 50 years on the bench, a milestone few judges achieve. “He has been so involved in the judicial fabric of the state of Idaho, both on the federal court and the state court,” said Idaho Supreme Court Justice Jim Jones. “He sets a high standard for all the rest of us.”

Lodge, 79, was the Idaho’s youngest state district judge when he was appointed in 1965; he’d already served two years as a probate court judge, but was just four years out of law school at the University of Idaho. He became a federal bankruptcy judge in 1988, and a U.S. district judge in 1989. Over his career, he’s said to have presided over more murder trials than any other judge in Idaho. He’s the only judge in the state to preside over two of those at once – in a 1983 case in which Lodge juggled two juries in the courtroom at once, as he tried two co-defendants for raping and murdering a 13-year-old girl. And his landmark ruling that the Coeur d’Alene Tribe owned the southern third of Lake Coeur d’Alene was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“It has been a great learning experience and an opportunity to deal with issues and problems that you would never be confronted with in any other occupation,” Lodge said. “There is a lot of satisfaction in working out problems and deciding issues that others have not been able to solve.” The U.S. District Court and the Bar will host a celebration marking Lodge’s 50 years on the bench on July 31 at 3 p.m.; you can read my full story here from Sunday's Spokesman-Review.

Cost of rabies vaccine a shocker, Idahoans learn…

When Nicholle Joyce learned she'd been exposed to a rabid bat at a Spirit Lake home in May and she was nine days into the 10-day window for a lifesaving vaccine for the fatal disease, she did what her doctor's office suggested - she went to the emergency room.  The result: A $5,000 bill for her, and another matching one for her friend who was in the same bind. Joyce had insurance, but it had a $3,000 deductible, and is only paying about $830. Her friend had none; Medicaid covered the shots for the friend’s 15-month-old son, but not the single mom. “It’s absolutely impossible for everyone to get a due-on-receipt of $5,000 and just go with it,” said Joyce, a veterinary technician from Athol.

Health officials said they, too, were shocked by the high price of the rabies vaccine, which consists of five shots on four specific days over several weeks; so far this year, three bats have been found in North Idaho that tested positive for rabies. But it’s something that’s so rarely needed that few doctor’s offices would stock it.

“That sounds absolutely, egregiously horrible,” Bob Marsalli, CEO of the Montana Primary Care Association, which oversees community health clinics in that state, said of the cost, “unless it was a hospital administering the vaccine. Here’s what we know: The worst place to get primary care is in the hospital emergency room, and the charge schedule for hospitals is one of the reasons why health care has reached the place it is.”

Now, the Dirne Community Clinic in Coeur d’Alene, which hasn’t offered the rabies vaccine in the past, is looking into it because of Joyce’s case. “It certainly would be a lot less,” said Dirne CEO Mike Baker; his community health center charges patients on a sliding scale based on their income, and works with both insured and uninsured patients; you can read my full story here from Saturday’s Spokesman-Review.

State appeals dismissal of Medicaid provider fraud case

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: POCATELLO, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is appealing a decision by an administrative judge to dismiss fraud charges and restore the Medicaid provider status of a southern Idaho mental health provider. Agency officials announced an appeal this week in the case involving Seasons of Hope. Last month, a hearing judge cleared the clinic of fraud alleged by the agency after an 18-month investigation. State lawyers accused the Chubbuck-based provider of inappropriate billing and also sought to recoup more than $439,000 in overpayments. The judge, however, did order Seasons of Hope to repay more than $94,000 in payments and fines, saying there was evidence of billing mistakes, but not fraud. But agency spokesman Tom Shanahan says agency attorneys believe the clinic owes taxpayers more than that amount.

Click below for a full report from the AP.

Holiday fire toll in Boise: 12 fires, down from 15 last year…

So many years, I remember the end of the public fireworks display in Boise being followed immediately by a loud and extended chorus of fire truck sirens, responding to fireworks-sparked fires. It didn’t seem quite as bad or dramatic this year, despite the extremely dry conditions. The Boise Fire Department reports that it responded to 12 reports of fires yesterday on the Fourth of July, down slightly from 15 last year. Only one of this year’s blazes was not related to fireworks, though a number are still under investigation as to cause. “The vast majority of calls resulted in a quick response and little or no property damage,” the BFD reports.

There was a structure fire at a duplex on South Security Lane that resulted in serious damage; it was reported at 10 p.m., and crews found the roof partially ablaze; no one was injured. Though the cause remains under investigation, fireworks had been spotted in the area just before the fire ignited. Most of the other fires involved grass or brush.

With enhanced holiday patrols, ISP chief writes first ticket in 11 years

The Idaho State Police is running an “all hands on deck” operation for enhanced patrols on this holiday weekend, with all commissioned officers, even those who usually work behind a desk, hitting the road as the holiday weekend opened July 3. David Frazier of the Boise Guardian reports that the operation led to something unusual: Col. Ralph Powell, ISP director, wrote his first citation in 11 years. He cited a young driver for inattentive driving, after he zoomed by the state’s top cop doing 70 mph in a 35 mph chip-seal construction zone.

“I hadn’t really planned to make any contacts,” Powell told Frazier. “I was just doing motorist assists and checking on abandoned vehicles so the troops could concentrate on the freeway.” He said the driver was “a really nice kid, but he sure wasn’t paying attention!” You can read Frazier’s full post here; he reports that Powell’s been a top official for so long his ticket book looks like a historical artifact, and he had to dig around in the trunk of his unmarked car to find it. 

The enhanced holiday patrols are running statewide; ISP is advising patience for drivers, who they warn will face congestion in areas including Idaho 55 on Sunday afternoon, Highway 95 between Moscow and Lewiston, Highway 12 between Lewiston and Orofino, and Highway 93 and Idaho 75 between the Stanley Basin and the Wood River area. “We want to give our citizens added safety on the roads to start out the 4th of July holiday weekend,” says Powell.  “Already this year ISP has investigated 35 fatalities on Idaho’s highways.  We want to make sure everybody is able to celebrate our nation’s independence safely.”

ITD maintenance workers complete second duckling rescue in a month

The Idaho Transportation Department’s Incident Response team responded to an unusual emergency on Friday: Ten ducklings that had fallen into a drain at the Exit 50 A-B ramp of I-84, next to the soundwall of the Flying Wye bridge.

A passing motorist reported the ducklings had fallen into the drain; ITD workers arrived on the scene eight minutes later. They used a hoist mounted on the back of their maintenance truck to pull off the drain cover, and two workers then rigged up a bucket and rope and dipped out nine of the ducklings.

The 10th remained trapped; worker James Cherry dropped down into the drain, which was 7 feet deep, to try to rescue it, but it went too far up the pipe and was unreachable.  The nine rescued ducklings were then returned to a stormwater retention pond at the Flying Wye, where they swam safely out with their mother.

It was ITD’s second duckling rescue in a month; the first came when a mother duck and her brood fell into a storm drain on the grounds of ITD’s headquarters in Boise.

Labrador now says he’ll take ‘next couple of months’ to decide on guv’s race

1st District Congressman Raul Labrador has missed his self-imposed deadline to decide whether to run for governor or seek a third term in Congress, Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey reports, and now says he’ll decide “within the next couple of months.” Gov. Butch Otter has already said he plans to see a third term. You can read Popkey’s post here, including the full statement from Labrador, in which he says in part, “I’m still considering all of the options that are available to me, but my focus right now is being the most effective representative that I can be for my constituents.” Both Labrador and Otter are Republicans.

Read more here:


Group eyes INL for new nuke reactor

A consortium of utilities and a nuclear reactor designer have submitted a proposal to the U.S. Department of Energy to build a small nuclear reactor to meet future demand for carbon-free power, with a preferred location identified as the Idaho National Laboratory in eastern Idaho. The proposal, which includes utilities from Washington and Utah and a reactor designer from Oregon, seeks grant funds to start the permitting process for the reactor; the earliest it could be built is 2023. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Shannon Dininny.

New laws target metal theft in Idaho, Washington

It’s now a felony in Idaho to steal copper or other metals from an electrical substation or other utility installation and interrupt service in the process, and utilities are immune from liability if thieves are injured in the act of their pilfering. Plus, Idaho scrap dealers must photograph each of their customers who sells them metal, along with the metal and their vehicle and license plate. Avista Corp. sought the new law, saying it’s seen more than 100 thefts in the past three years and losses of about $400,000; you can read my full story here at

Idaho’s new law took effect this week; Washington also beefed up its existing anti-metal theft laws this year, setting up a new system requiring scrap dealers to be licensed, and requiring dealers to keep sales transaction records for five years instead of one. “It’s happening everywhere,” said Avista spokeswoman Debbie Simock. “It’s a nationwide issue that utilities across the country are experiencing.”

They’re not alone – farms, construction sites and railroads also are reporting big losses from metal theft. That includes everyone from farmers on the Rathdrum Prairie whose sprinkler equipment has been targeted, to Kootenai Electric Cooperative, which last September had to spend $10,000 to replace grounding wires on 60 of its power poles, for which the thieves likely earned only about $200 from the metal. Ratepayers foot the bill.

“It causes damage to the electric system, which impacts reliability,” said Idaho Power spokesman Kevin Winslow. “The costs impact our customers, and it’s also a safety issue.”

New F&G commissioner: ‘Make sure generations that come after have access to same experiences’

“I tie my own flies, load my own ammunition, I shoot a long bow, I shoot a muzzle loader, I’ve got a bass boat,” new North Idaho Fish & Game Commissioner Brad Corkill said today. “I’ve carried a firearm in the fall every year since I was 8 years old. … I just want to make sure that all the generations that come after me have access to the same experiences I’ve had.”

Corkill, 62, is a former longtime school board member in Kellogg and St. Maries, served as Kootenai County Republican Central Committee chairman from 2006 to 2010, and is the incoming president of CASA, the court-appointed special advocate program that advocates for children who end up in protective custody. He served six years on the state’s charter school commission, a position he had to resign to join the Fish and Game Commission.

“I’m pleased that I got chosen,” Corkill said. “It’s been a long time goal of mine to do this just because I’m so passionate about the issues. I hope I can do a good job.” You can read my full story here at

Otter names two new Idaho Fish & Game commissioners

Gov. Butch Otter has named two new Idaho Fish & Game commissioners: Brad Corkill, owner of Whiteman Lumber Co. in Cataldo, and Mark Doerr of Kimberly, owner of Precision Aviation Inc. in Twin Falls. “Both men are avid sportsmen,” the governor's announcement says.

Corkill replaces Panhandle Commissioner Tony McDermott of Sagle, whose term expired June 30; Doerr replaces Magic Valley Commissioner Joan Hurlock of Buhl, whose appointment to the commission - where she was the second-ever woman to serve - was rejected by the Idaho Senate this year, where critics complained she wasn't a sufficiently avid hunter and angler.

Both new appointees will be up for Senate confirmation when the Legislature convenes in January. Corkill served as Kootenai County Republican Central Committee chairman from 2006 to 2010. Click below for Otter's full announcement.

Otter pans Obama’s moves against coal-plant emissions, says wildfires cause more pollution

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — At a Utah meeting this week, Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter blasted President Barack Obama for seeking to limit coal-fired power plant emissions while not allowing sufficient timber cutting to tame big Western wildfires, another greenhouse gas source. Otter told reporters Idaho wildfires send more carbon dioxide skyward than is released to produce coal-generated electricity used by the state's 1.5 million residents.The governor's numbers may be technically correct. But according to authors of a 2007 study of U.S. wildfire emissions, Otter's link between forest blazes and coal is misleading. That's because it focuses on a sparsely populated state with vast range and timberland that burns annually and it equates carbon captured in trees with carbon locked underground since dinosaur days. Now burned for energy, that's what's boosting atmospheric concentrations. Otter's comments came at a Western Governors Association meeting in Park City.

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

Overall crime in Idaho fell in 2012, but violent crimes were up

Idaho’s crime rate dropped 1.5 percent in 2012, according to the new “Crime in Idaho” report, continuing a five-year decline, but the number of violent crimes – murder, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault - increased 5.2 percent. That was partly due to a 3.2 percent increase in aggravated assaults, which made up 77.4 percent of violent crimes. Idaho’s population increased 0.8 percent in 2012, according to U.S. Census figures.

The annual state report shows the North Idaho Panhandle had the highest crime rate in the state in 2012. That’s in District 1, which consists of the five northernmost counties. Second-highest for crime rate was District 5, the far southeastern corner of the state, which also has the second-lowest population, while the Boise area, District 3, ranked third among the state’s six regions. That’s for the number of serious crimes per 100,000 population, from murder to motor vehicle theft to drug crimes.

While overall serious crime in the state has been mostly declining for the past five years, it increased in 2011, then declined in 2012 to a point between the 2009 and 2010 levels. Total violent crime, a small subset of crimes against persons, has bounced around, jumping to a high in 2009, falling for the next two years, and then rising in 2012 to just below the 2010 level.

Among the tidbits in the report: The top five locations where violent crimes occurred in Idaho in 2012 were at residences, on roads, in bars, in parking lots, and at a school or college. Just 23.3 percent of those crimes were committed by strangers to the victims. When the state broke down the results of the crime stats into a “crime clock,” it found that Idaho saw one murder every 13.5 days, one aggravated assault every 3.5 hours, one drug offense every 1.1 hours, and one burglary every 1.3 hours. The least common crime on the clock: Bribery, with one offense every 182.5 days, followed by gambling, at one every 121.7 days. Most common: Destruction of property, happening every 49.3 minutes.

You can see the full report here, with breakdowns by specific offense, location and more. The state crime reports go into a national Crime in the U.S. report, which is compiled later; its latest figures show that in 2011, Idaho’s violent crime rate was the 6th lowest in the nation, at 200.9 per 100,000 residents. The only states with lower rates were, in order, Virginia (196.7), Utah (195), New Hampshire (188), Vermont (135.2), and ranking lowest of all, Maine, at 122.1.

ISP hiring for 20 state trooper jobs

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Normal attrition rates in the ranks of Idaho's state police have the agency putting out a “Help Wanted” call. The Idaho State Police said Monday it's taking applications for 20 troopers positions through July 22, with training to begin in January. ISP Colonel Ralph Powell says only those with the highest moral standards need apply. Applicants must be U.S. citizens, have a high school diploma or GED and pass an online examination, before a battery of additional tests including physical fitness. There are also background checks, work history verification and psychological and medical scrutiny. Training takes about nine months to complete, but the starting pay is relatively robust, at $17.67 per hour and possibly higher if the candidate is a current police officer with at least three years of experience.

Judge upholds no-camping law for Occupy Boise site

A federal judge has upheld Idaho’s state law banning camping on state property near the Capitol, ruling against Occupy Boise members who sued to challenge the law. “The state here has the right to ban camping, cooking, making fires, and storing personal belongings related to camping,” U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill found. “Occupy Boise may maintain its symbolic tent city on the Capitol Mall grounds so long as it complies with all constitutional rules and regulations.”

The judge, in his 20-page ruling, noted that initially, Gov. Butch Otter ordered Occupy Boise evicted from the site immediately after he signed the legislation into law, and the Idaho State Police prepared an eviction plan they dubbed “De-Occupy Boise.” The judge then issued an injunction blocking the move. “The stated intention of Governor Otter’s edict and the State Police’s ‘De-Occupy Boise’ operation plan was to remove Occupy Boise entirely,” Winmill wrote. He found that violated the First Amendment.

“Since the Court issued its injunction barring the State from removing Occupy Boise’s tent city, it seems the State Police have scrapped their initial enforcement plan,” Winmill wrote. “If the State does not use the no-camping statutes to target Occupy Boise’s political speech, it stands on much better footing.” He also found constitutional the portion of the law requiring the state to hold personal property left on the site for 90 days and then dispose of it.

Still pending in the case is a challenge of the state’s administrative rules for enforcing the new law. You can read the judge’s ruling here; click below for a full report from AP reporter Todd Dvorak.

Minidoka sheriff steps down, agrees never to hold office again

Here'sa news item from the AP and the Twin Falls Times-News: RUPERT, Idaho (AP) — The sheriff of a southern Idaho county has agreed to step down amid allegations of criminal wrongdoing. Minidoka County Sheriff Kevin Halverson turned in his resignation Monday after being arraigned in a 5th District Court on a felony for misuse of public money. Halverson is accused in an investigation by the Idaho Attorney General of using a county fuel card to charge more than $241 in gasoline for personal use. The Times-News reports that ( ) Halverson will plead guilty to the charge based on a plea deal reached with prosecutors. In return, other charges uncovered during the state's investigation will not be filed with the court. The agreement also includes a stipulation that Halverson never again hold public office and will resign. His resignation is effective Monday at 5 p.m.

Meridian declares impasse in teacher talks, imposes contract terms

The Meridian School District – the state’s largest – declared an impasse today in its negotiations with its local teachers union, reports Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News, ending negotiations for the upcoming school year and issuing contracts based on the district’s last best offer; you can read Richert’s full report here.

Though legislation requiring school districts to unilaterally impose contract terms if agreement isn’t reached by a June deadline was defeated in this year’s legislative session, other legislation set a July 1 deadline for issuing contracts, and Richert reports that an Idaho attorney general’s opinion says if school districts reach that deadline and declare an impasse, they can impose terms. They weren’t required to, however; they could issue contracts today without a master agreement in place, and continue negotiating.

Meanwhile, Idaho Statesman reporter Bill Roberts reports that Meridian is the only district in the state to impose terms in this manner; other districts that have continued negotiating say the law's not clear that they can do that. You can read his full report here.

Andrus Center conference to draw array of women leaders to Boise

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, novelist Alexandra Fuller, former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, PBS News Hour commentator and reporter Anne Taylor Fleming, Amazon Vice President Teresa Carlson, New York Times sports reporter Karen Crouse, Longaberger Co. CEO Tami Longaberger, former ambassador to Finland Bonnie McElveen-Hunter and more are headed to Boise in September for an Andrus Center conference Sept. 4-6 entitled “Transforming America: Women and Leadership in the 21st Century.”

The conference will take place at Boise State University, where the Andrus Center for Public Policy put tickets on sale today. “This conference will focus on accomplishments of women leaders from business, government, science, the media and other fields and gain their unique perspectives on women in leadership positions,” the center announced. It also will explore “what Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has called the opportunity for all women ‘to earn respect, responsibility, advancement and remuneration based on ability.'” O’Connor will be the keynote speaker. David Adler, Andrus Center director, said tickets are expected to sell out quickly.

Eleven schools to get state tech grants; Paul not on list

Eleven schools around the state, including one charter school, one virtual charter school, five middle schools, three high schools and one elementary school, have been selected for the $3 million in pilot project grants for school technology that state lawmakers approved this year. State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna announced the picks – from among 81 schools that applied – in a news conference this morning at Discovery Elementary School in Meridian, one of the chosen schools.

“The demand for technology in our schools continues to grow,” Luna said. “Through these grants, we will be able to meet the needs of just some. In the future, we will take what we learn from these pilots and expand our efforts so all students – not just those who are fortunate enough to attend these schools – but every student in Idaho has equal access to the best educational opportunities.”

Voters in November rejected Luna’s “Students Come First” school reform legislation, which would have paid for a laptop computer for every high school student in the state, while shifting priorities within Idaho’s public school budget to include a new focus on online learning.

At the Meridian elementary school, a $370,501 grant will pay for a “classroom rotational model of shared devices to individualize instruction and create innovative, self-directed learners.” Kuna Middle School, with an $891,200 grant, will provide Chromebooks to each student in math class, as part of an effort to address struggles in math and writing. McCall-Donnelly High School will give every student “access to iPad technology,” in a $150,000 project designed in part by a student there, Brooke Thomas.

Sugar-Salem High School in eastern Idaho will give every student an HP 4440S notebook computer and access to a wireless network, with its $454,783 grant. Moscow Middle School will pilot interactive whiteboards, clickers, formative assessments and cloud technology as part of a $180,000 project to transform the classroom approach. Compass Public Charter School will set up three computer labs and provide three classroom sets of iPads; the Idaho Distance Education Academy will pilot digital textbooks and expand its instructional management system; Buetler Middle School in Dayton will provide every student an iPad with its $138,719 grant, along with training on “digital citizenship.”

You can read the full list of grants here. Not on the list: Funds to continue a grant-funded iPad program at Paul Elementary that was initially funded by Park City, Utah-based iSchool Campus. 

Otter appoints Kathy Simpson to Idaho Judicial Council

Kathy Simpson, wife of 2nd District Congressman Mike Simpson, has been appointed to the Idaho Judicial Council, the board that vets candidates for judge and oversees Idaho's judiciary, by Gov. Butch Otter. “Having served with Mike in Congress, I know how busy life can be for people like the Simpsons who are so committed to public service at both the local and national levels,” Otter said. “I appreciate Kathy’s willingness to take on this new responsibility. She’s a great addition to the Judicial Council.”

Simpson, of Idaho Falls, succeeds Ronald Nate of Rexburg, whose term expired June 30. She is retired from more than 20 years of work at the Idaho National Laboratory and previously worked in banking after earning a bachelor’s degree at Utah State University; she also serves on the State Board of Veterinary Medicine and is an advisory board member for the McClure Center at the University of Idaho. Click below for Otter's full announcement.

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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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