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Eye On Boise

Archive for June 2013

Former Rep. Hart may face federal criminal charges

Federal authorities may be laying the groundwork for criminal charges against tax-protesting former Idaho state Rep. Phil Hart. In bankruptcy court documents, federal officials are charging that Hart lied under oath, concealed or destroyed records and attempted to “hinder, delay or defraud his creditors, including the Internal Revenue Service.” The filings by the U.S. Bankruptcy Trustee and the U.S. Department of Justice are aimed at preventing Hart from being relieved of any of his tax debts through his latest bankruptcy case, but the implications could go well beyond that.

By law, federal bankruptcy trustees are required to refer suspected crimes to the U.S. Attorney for prosecution. In 2012, they referred 2,120 cases, with false statements and concealment of assets among the top five crimes charged; the No. 1 most-charged crime was bankruptcy fraud.

“We don’t comment on cases beyond what’s in the public record,” said Shannon May, spokeswoman for the U.S. Trustee Program in Washington, D.C. But she provided copies of the program’s annual report, including the legal requirements and figures about criminal enforcement.

The federal bankruptcy court filings, which have the effect of creating a lawsuit within Hart’s Chapter 7 bankruptcy case, turning it into an “adversary proceeding,” say Hart “retained a secret interest” in his log home in Athol for years after transferring it to a sham trust set up in his daughter’s name. He then denied owning any real estate in his bankruptcy filing, including statements under oath. And that’s just one of the many allegations in the filings. The Justice Department’s filing says Hart claimed to have paid $600 a month in rent to the trust in exchange for living in the home. But he said he “makes the purported rent payments to the Sarah Elizabeth Hart Trust by placing $600 in cash in a desk drawer in his home.” Then, the filing said, he spends the money, including for utility bills on the house. You can read my full story here from Sunday’s Spokesman-Review.

Senators decry sequestration-forced cuts in fire prevention as fire season hits

A bipartisan group of Western U.S. senators, including Idaho Sen. Jim Risch, on Friday urged the Obama administration to focus more on preventing wildfires rather than taking money from programs that clear potentially hazardous dead trees and brush to fund efforts to fight the increasingly destructive blazes, the AP reports. The administration is proposing a 31 percent cut in funding for the government's central fire prevention program one year after record blazes burned 9.3 million acres. The federal government routinely spends so much money fighting wildfires that it uses money meant to be spent on clearing potential fuels like dead trees and underbrush in national forests.

In a letter to Obama's budget director and the secretaries of agriculture and the Interior, four senators contended that approach is “nonsensical and further increases wildfire costs.” Both those secretaries, Tom Vilsack and Sally Jewell, warned of the impact of the cuts as they toured the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise last month; Risch accompanied them. The cuts are being forced by sequestration, the congressionally mandated across-the-board budget cuts.”It’s actually a less efficient use of government money,” Jewell warned then. “It’ll cost us more in the end.” Click below for a full report on the senators' letter from the Associated Press.

Idaho Fish & Game salvage order lifts all fishing limits on a stretch of Big Wood River, starting Mon.

It’s happening again – a salvage order lifting all bag, possession and size limits on a specified water to allow people to catch all the fish there before they die, due to drought and poor runoff. This time, it’s for the Big Wood River below the Richfield Canal headgate, and the Richfield Canal itself. Starting July 1 – Monday – anyone with a valid Idaho fishing license will be allowed to catch as many fish as they want there. Idaho Fish & Game says, “Fish may be taken by any method except firearms, explosives, chemicals or electric current.”

The salvage order covers the Big Wood River downstream from the Richfield Canal Diversion, the Richfield Canal downstream to the Gooding County line and the Richfield and Lincoln Canal systems. The Magic Reservoir Dam was shut off June 27, Fish & Game reports, as demand for irrigation water exceeded the reservoir capacity, leading to the falling water levels in the river and canals.

Sad news on one of four peregrine falcon chicks downtown

There’s some sad news on the peregrine falcon front downtown: One of the four fledglings, all of whom had successfully fledged and were trying their wings and learning hunting skills in downtown Boise, has died after crashing into a window. Idaho Fish & Game reported today that the juvenile female died this morning; three males remain. “Our Fish and Game Department has been doing an incredible job following up on the falcons this year,” the Peregrine Fund reported. “After rescuing all four of the fledglings and banding them, it is unfortunate that they also had to report on the first mortality.”

Young peregrine falcons face steep odds, the fund said, with more than 50 percent of young peregrines, and raptors in general, not surviving their first season in the wild. After that first season, the mortality rate drops to about 12 percent.

A pair of peregrines laid four eggs in a nesting box atop One Capitol Center in downtown Boise this spring; the first three eggs hatched May 12, and the fourth the next day. Between June 17 and June 20, three of the chicks were rescued by Idaho Fish & Game after being blown off the building ledge by strong winds; another, one of the males, was rescued on Wednesday after it became stuck behind a structure on the roof of the Banner Bank building, two blocks north of its nest. All the chicks were banded for identification.

The Peregrine Fund and Idaho Fish & Game maintain a “Falcon Cam” where people can watch the peregrine family in its nest; on June 24, after all four chicks had moved out of camera range, it replaced the live feed with a photo gallery.

Business profits, farm earnings up, but total personal income slightly down for quarter

Idaho’s total personal income for the first quarter of 2013 was down from the previous quarter, even though business profits and farm income both were up. The Idaho Department of Labor says the 0.9 percent drop from the fourth quarter of 2012 came because of a decline in investment earnings, which were down 4.2 percent. Meanwhile, wage and salary disbursements were up 0.3 percent from the previous quarter, business profits were up 1.7 percent, and farm income was up 0.8 percent.

Idaho Department of Labor spokesman Bob Fick said even though Idaho saw a decline in personal income for the quarter, it fared better than most states. National personal income fell 1.2 percent for the quarter. Idaho’s small decrease was the sixth-best performance in the nation; 27 states saw total wages decline. You can read more here, including breakdowns by economic sector.

Average price for policy under Idaho’s new health insurance exchange: $240 a month

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Health coverage policies sold via Idaho's insurance exchange will cost an average of $240 per month, a figure based on the price tag of proposed policies submitted to the state Department of Insurance by insurers aiming to participate. The figure, announced Thursday in Boise by the exchange board, is merely an average. It doesn't reflect rates policy holders will actually pay, depending on their financial circumstances, eligibility for federal subsidies or their benefits package. But it offers a first glimpse of how President Barack Obama's plan to provide health insurance coverage to more Americans may impact thousands of Idaho residents' pocketbooks. State insurance regulators are now reviewing insurers' proposed policies. The exchange aims to begin enrolling participants Oct. 1, with coverage starting Jan. 1, as required by the 2010 law.

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

Idaho’s dairy industry lauds Senate immigration bill passage

Idaho's dairy industry is applauding the Senate passage of bipartisan immigration reform legislation - and scolding Idaho's two senators for voting against it. “This legislation, should it become law, will greatly assist the largest industry in Idaho with the ability to grow and increase productivity,” said Brent Olmstead, director of Milk Producers of Idaho. “We are disappointed that Idaho’s two senators chose to not join in the bipartisan effort to fix the current immigration system. We have been and will continue to work with the Idaho delegation in the House to keep the current momentum on immigration reform going.”

Tena Petter, the group's chair, said, “There is no issue more important to the Idaho dairy industry than this legislation.” Click below for the Milk Producers' full statement. 

Senate passes immigration reform, 68-32, Risch, Crapo both oppose

The U.S. Senate has voted 68-32 in favor of the bipartisan immigration reform bill, sending the measure to the House. Both Idaho Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo were among the 32 Republicans who voted no; Risch tweeted, “Our country needs immigration reform. But, this bill overreaches and I did not support it.”

Fourteen Senate Republicans voted in favor of the bill, along with every Senate Democrat. The Hill reported, “Senators took the rare step of voting from their desks to mark the occasion while Vice President Biden (D-Del.) presided from the dais. The Senate used the same formal procedure to pass ObamaCare three years ago. The bill’s authors fell just short of their goal to win 70 votes for the legislation but said the robust bipartisan vote creates a strong mandate for the House to act next month on the issue.” Read The Hill’s full report here.

Crapo issued a statement, saying in part, “It is clear that reforms are past due.  However, S. 744, the Border Security, Stabilization and Modernization Act, would not provide the types of reform to stop illegal immigration at the border while ensuring fairness for both current Americans and immigrants alike.  Unfortunately, the current Senate bill bears striking resemblance to laws passed in 1965, 1968 and 1986.  Americans need and deserve better, and we cannot afford to repeat the same mistakes of the past.” You can read his full statement here.
  

New interior secretary reaches out to tribes

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: RENO, Nev. (AP) — Sally Jewell made an emotional pledge in her first address to Indian Country as the 51st U.S. Interior secretary, saying she'll help right past wrongs against Native Americans and work with tribes “nation-to-nation” to protect their sovereignty. Jewell fought back tears and paused to compose herself during remarks Thursday in Reno, Nev., to about 300 delegates of the National Congress of American Indians. The casino-ballroom audience gave her a standing ovation. The ex-outdoor retail executive from Seattle became secretary in April. She told delegates the U.S. government doesn't have a proud legacy when it comes to upholding promises to native people. She said she cannot “reverse all of that” in four years, but she is determined to make important progress and help tribes become more economically independent.

Click below for a full report from AP reporter Scott Sonner.

Cleanup of buried waste in unlined pits at INL to resume in coming months

Gov. Butch Otter announced today that cleanup of radioactive and hazardous waste buried in unlined pits and trenches at the Idaho National Laboratory will restart in the coming months, after federal officials informed the state last fall that budget restrictions would force a halt to the work. The waste was generated during Cold War weapons production in the 1950s and 1960s; it was a key issue in the agreement former Gov. Phil Batt negotiated with the U.S. Department of Energy requiring removal of all the waste by 2035.

Since last fall's announcement, Otter and his LINE Commission, which stands for Leadership in Nuclear Energy, have been working to get the feds to restart the cleanup. In late May, the Department of Energy directed its cleanup contractor to use cost savings to restart it; as many as 50 employees will be hired to start work by late summer or early fall. Otter, who traveled to eastern Idaho for today's announcement, said, “While we still have some outstanding cleanup issues, this process demonstrates that our relationship with the Department of Energy is improving and we can be more confident that – with continued vigilance – promises will be kept and our concerns will be addressed.” Click below for his full news release.

Simpson takes on Obama over moves against greenhouse gas emissions

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The head of a House panel that helps set the Environmental Protection Agency's budget plans to do everything in his power to thwart President Barack Obama's proposed new regulations on greenhouse gas emissions. U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, an Idaho Republican, is chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and the Environment. He said Thursday Obama's plan to reduce pollution from industrial installations including coal-fired power plants that supply his home state with about half its electricity show the president has little concern for the economic impact of such regulations. Simpson says he believes Congress, not the president via an executive order, should be in charge of any new greenhouse gas regulations. He pledged that his fiscal year 2014 budget bill “will be part of the battleground” over Obama's intentions.

You can read Simpson's full news release here.

Crapo, Risch on why they’re opposing bipartisan immigration reform bill

Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch both voted against ending debate and moving to a final vote on the immigration reform legislation in the Senate today. “The triggers in this bill with regard to border security are not strong enough,” Crapo said. Risch said immigration reform is needed, but called the bipartisan reform bill “just a political Band-Aid” that he said “commits U.S. taxpayers to turn over their hard-earned money to someone who is not a citizen.” You can read the two senators’ full statement here.

The vote to invoke cloture, ending debate, passed 68-32, and a vote on final passage is expected later today.

Simpson challenger says he’s ‘a real conservative’

Idaho Falls attorney Bryan Smith is shooting high in his first run for public office: He’s running against 2nd District Congressman Mike Simpson. “Our country has gotten off on the wrong track,” Smith declared at an announcement in Boise this morning, the first of four stops throughout the southern Idaho district as he announces his candidacy today. He decried federal debt, unemployment, and “too many hard-working people struggling to live their American dream,” and said some of the wealthiest counties in the nation are in Washington, D.C., a place he dubbed “recession-proof.” “Washington, D.C. is living off our tax dollars,” Smith said. “Sadly, Congressman Simpson, while a nice guy, has become part of the problem after 30 long years in government.”

Smith’s platform includes no tax increases, “no more pork spending,” and “repeal Obamacare entirely,” and he describes himself as “pro-jobs, pro-life and pro-2nd Amendment.” His campaign signs proclaim, “A Real Conservative for Congress.”

GOP activist Rod Beck, who attended Smith’s Boise announcement along with a dozen supporters, said, “He’s the first credible opponent to Mike Simpson since 1998. He’s raising money, he’s doing all the things that a credible candidate should be doing.”

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, where today he pledged to turn the fiscal year 2014 environment appropriations bill into a battleground over President Obama’s plans for new rules and regulations on greenhouse gas emissions. Simpson was re-elected last year with 65.1 percent of the vote; in the GOP primary, he garnered 69.6 percent. 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.

“I don’t take lightly challenging a sitting U.S. Congressman for a Republican primary,” Smith said. He’s a Boise native, a Nampa High School graduate, and holds an English degree from BYU and a law degree with honors from McGeorge School of Law; the son of a baker and a homemaker, he was the first in his family to go to college. His and his wife Sharon have five children and live in Idaho Falls. “I am not a politician,” Smith said. “I am a true conservative who will fight for us.”

Idaho GOP changing executive directors

After just a year in the post, Idaho Republican Party Executive Director Joshua Whitworth is moving on to take a job working for state Controller Brandon Woolf. Trevor Thorpe, who has served as the party’s political director for the past year and a half and was its state victory director for the 2010 elections, will be the new executive director, starting in July. Thorpe is a Virginia native and BYU graduate; before coming to work for the Idaho GOP in 2010, he interned at the U.S. Department of State.

Idaho gets grant for worker retraining

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho is getting more than $675,000 to help retrain workers who have been out of work for more than 27 weeks. The U.S. Department of Labor announced the grant this week — part of a $58 million package dispersed to 30 states. The grants will support unemployed workers seeking to get training or industry certifications, enroll in apprentice programs or other training that can lead to jobs. The federal agency awarded the money on each state's ability to meet certain guidelines. Idaho got the second smallest amount, while Texas won the biggest amount at $4.4 million.

How the rulings impact Idaho…

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on the impact in Idaho of this morning’s landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions on same-sex marriage; Idaho’s sweeping ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions won’t change. However, same-sex couples living in Idaho who were married in other states may qualify for some recognition in federal programs or benefits, depending on how the Obama Administration and Congress react to the rulings.

Meanwhile, supporters of this morning’s rulings have scheduled a rally on the state Capitol steps at 4:30.

Obama Administration could play key role in how decision affects Idaho same-sex couples married elsewhere

Here’s the latest from the ACLU on how this morning’s U.S. Supreme Court rulings could affect same-sex couples living in Idaho who were legally married in other states: It depends. For some federal programs, the ACLU, which brought the case that resulted in the federal Defense of Marriage Act being overturned, says the Obama Administration could decide through regulation to extend recognition. For others, including Social Security benefits, any changes would require an act of Congress.

 “Under current law, the federal government typically defers to the states in designating whether a couple’s marriage is valid,” said Monica Hopkins, Idaho ACLU director. “There’s no one rule across all federal programs, as to whether the validity of a marriage is determined by where a couple is living, which is the place of domicile, or where the couple got married, which is the place of celebration. So that’s the question there. … . So right now, I would say same-sex couples that reside in Idaho that were legally married in one of the 13 states or D.C. are in a sort of limbo, while they wait for the administration to implement this decision, hopefully swiftly and smoothly, and apply all relevant statutes.” Said Hopkins, “Much of the uncertainty can be completely corrected by saying it’s the place of celebration.”

She added, “We concur with the Attorney General – this doesn’t change anything about Idaho’s marriage laws. However, DOMA is a different question. … Now the question is up to the Obama Administration.” President Obama issued a statement today saying he’s directed top officials to review all the relevant statutes and implement the decision “swiftly and smoothly.”

Kim Beswick, a high-tech worker from Boise who has two young children with her same-sex partner and has lived in the state for two decades, welcomed the rulings. “Idaho unfortunately isn’t leading the way on this issue,” she said. “We have the constitutional amendment in place that absolutely forbids not only marriage but any of the individual rights of marriage. … I think these rulings show that’s certainly going to be at some point on the wrong side of history.” But she said the DOMA ruling could affect her family on everything from end-of-life decisions to federal taxes. “That has a big impact on us in a pretty far-reaching way.”

One way some Idahoans could be impacted…

Idaho ACLU Executive Director Monica Hopkins says the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision today on the federal Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, leaves open one question that could affect Idaho: What about same-sex couples who legally married in another state, but now reside in Idaho? Would they be eligible for federal benefits like family medical leave and Social Security survivor benefits?

“There are 1,100 places in federal laws and programs where being married makes a difference,” said Hopkins, whose organization brought the DOMA case on behalf of Edie Windsor, an elderly New York resident who was required to pay $363,000 in estate taxes after her same-sex spouse passed away, though the two had been legally married in Canada and the state of New York recognized the Canadian marriage.  Windsor wouldn’t have owed any estate tax if she’d been married to a man.

“Now what we have to do is kind of untangle what this DOMA decision means,” Hopkins said, “because it has federal applications, but what does it mean for Idahoans who were legally married in a state that legally recognizes those marriages, but reside in Idaho?” Hopkins said she’ll be participating in a conference call mid-day today with the ACLU’s national attorneys to address that and other questions about the decisions.

David Adler, director of the Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University and a constitutional scholar, said, “I think the opinion is unclear on the issue of whether same-sex couples married in another state who move to Idaho are going to be entitled to some federal benefits. I think there’s room in the opinion to draw the conclusion that they will be entitled to some benefits, including (federal) tax filings, but it’s not immediately clear.”

Adler said, “The reasoning in the opinion employed by Justice Kennedy is going to have national implications for the discussion and debate on gay rights and same-sex marriage as it goes forward in this country.” He added, “While the immediate opinion does uphold the right of states to determine the status of marriage, the reasoning and the language of that opinion will be used to promote same-sex marriage across the country.”

Wasden: Idaho’s laws haven’t changed

Here’s what Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden had to say this morning on the U.S. Supreme Court decisions on same-sex marriage: “There really isn’t a direct impact on Idaho law. It’s still in effect. … so there really isn’t a lot of change there.”

He noted that his office is still analyzing the decisions. “We’re trying to react to what we’ve been able to review and read very rapidly,” Wasden said. But overall, he said, “My job is to defend the Constitution and the statutes of the state, and those haven’t changed.”

Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage rulings don’t alter Idaho’s ban

I am still awaiting word from the experts, but it appears that today’s landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions on same-sex marriage won’t change anything in Idaho. That’s because the decisions defer to states to regulate marriage, even while striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA. The result is that couples legally married in the 12 states where same-sex marriage is permitted are eligible for federal benefits; a second decision declined to take up an appeal of a California appellate court ruling over that state’s Proposition 8. But Idaho has a sweeping constitutional provision banning not only same-sex marriage, but also civil unions.

In 2006, Idaho voters approved HJR 2, an amendment to the state Constitution, with 63.35 percent of voters in favor and 36.65 percent against. The ballot measure asked, “Shall Article III, of the Constitution of the State of Idaho be amended by the addition of a new Section 28, to provide that a marriage between a man and a woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state?” Once it passed, this section was added to Idaho’s Constitution:

“Section 28. Marriage. A marriage between a man and a woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state.”

The official statement of effect of adoption of the ballot measure said this: “If adopted, the proposed amendment would add language to the Constitution of the State of Idaho to provide that a marriage is only between a man and a woman. The language prohibits recognition by the state of Idaho and its political subdivisions of civil unions, domestic partnerships, or any other relationship that attempts to approximate marriage. The language further prohibits the state and its political subdivisions from granting any or all of the legal benefits of marriage to civil unions, domestic partnerships, or any other relationship that attempts to approximate marriage.”

Delay sought in Boise terror trial

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Federal prosecutors are seeking to delay the trial for an Uzbek national arrested in May on terrorism-related charges, calling the case too complex to argue it in court on the scheduled date early next month. Fazliddin Kurbanov, a refugee living in Boise, has pleaded not guilty to allegations he helped teach people to build bombs to target public transportation. The 30-year-old's case had been due to go to trial on July 2. U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson filed documents Tuesday asking Judge Mikel Williams to continue the case, however, calling the evidence voluminous, potentially classified and requiring services of a translator. Charles Peterson, Kurbanov's lawyer in Boise, indicated he has no objection to pushing back the trial date. Kurbanov has been held in a county jail in Boise since his arrest.

Kootenai GOP drops bid to censure GOP lawmakers over health exchange vote

The Kootenai County Republican Party central committee dropped its effort last night to censure four local GOP legislators for voting in favor of a state-based health insurance exchange, after discovering it actually can’t do that, the Coeur d’Alene Press reports. Plus, central committee members said a censure attempt against half their GOP legislative delegation would make the committee look “foolish.”

Three of the four lawmakers – Reps. Frank Henderson, Luke Malek, and Ed Morse – were hoping to address the committee to defend their votes, but weren’t given the opportunity. “I wish we would have had our day in court,” Henderson told the Press after the meeting. “But they would not allow it, so we have to respect that.” Sen. John Goedde didn’t attend the meeting.

Malek issued a statement defending his vote, saying in part, “I think the resolution from this body asking Republican legislators to adopt a federal exchange betrayed every value voters who have entrusted Republicans with the power here in Kootenai County hold dear. That action wounded this party’s credibility in the eyes of those who value smaller government.”

You can read the Press’ full report here from reporter Jeff Selle.

Norquist on One Percent Initiative: ‘We basically whited out ‘California’ and typed in ‘Idaho’

After Grover Norquist’s immigration reform talk to the City Club of Boise today, I asked him if he’d been to Idaho before. His answer: Many times. He recalled the first, back in 1978 when he was about 21 years old, when he came to help craft the state’s property tax-limiting One Percent Initiative, shortly after California had passed its controversial Proposition 13. “We basically whited out ‘California’ and typed in ‘Idaho,’” he said with a chuckle.

The initiative, which sought to limit property taxes to 1 percent of value, passed, but proved incompatible with Idaho’s tax system. State lawmakers followed up by instead imposing a 3 percent cap on annual  increases in local government property tax budgets that still largely stands today.

Norquist: Conservatives should back immigration reform

Grover Norquist is best known as an anti-tax activist – he wrote the no-tax-hikes pledge that’s now been signed by nearly every Republican member of Congress – but he’s also a big backer of reforming the nation’s immigration laws, a cause he’s been pushing for the past 30 years. Norquist came to Boise today (shown in Joe Jaszewski photo above) to tell Idahoans why he thinks conservatives should support immigration reform, and drew a big crowd to the talk sponsored by the City Club of Boise; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

“Those people who tell me, ‘You know, I’m for this rule of law thing,’ I wonder where they were when we had a 55 mph speed limit,” Norquist told the crowd. “We had that into the ‘80s. … As a result, there was a great deal of illegal driving going on. And I don’t remember anyone saying, ‘First thing we do is arrest everybody who’s been illegally driving, and then we’ll have a conversation about what a normal, reasonable speed limit is.”

The Harvard MBA and president of Americans for Tax Reform spoke in support of the bipartisan bill now being debate in the U.S. Senate – which thus far, both Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch have opposed – and lauded Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador for being “front and center” in the debate in the House.  Norquist’s talk was underwritten by the Idaho Business Coalition for Immigration Reform and the Idaho Dairymen’s Association, but he asked for no speaking fee and was compensated only for expenses. “It’s important,” he said. “I went to Austin, Texas and did the same thing, I went to Kansas.”

Norquist said he came to Idaho because “you had a business community that was interested … and also to be supportive of Labrador’s efforts,” and to encourage Idaho’s two senators to get on board. He spoke with Idaho Sen. Jim Risch on Monday, but “we just talked general Idaho politics,” he said. “We didn’t talk very much about immigration. … I knew he was a no vote at that point. I sent him my stuff.”

Idaho Falls attorney files to run against 2nd District Rep. Mike Simpson

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson has a Republican primary challenger for Idaho's 2nd Congressional District seat with still 11 months to go until the election. Idaho Falls attorney Bryan Smith filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to be Simpson's opponent in May 2014, running as a Republican. Simpson has been in office since 1998 and has easily beaten primary and general election opponents, including tea party-backed candidate Chick Heileson during the last two contests. Meanwhile, Smith has taken a prominent role in Idaho Falls affairs, including criticizing former city attorney Dale Storer who quit last September after acknowledging he overbilled the city for his legal work. The 51-year-old Smith plans to make a formal announcement later on his challenge to Simpson to represent the congressional district that covers eastern Idaho, including some parts of Boise.

Incidentally, reporter Melissa Davlin reports on her blog here that a Facebook event page for Smith's announcement was created by GOP activist Rod Beck.

KidsCount survey shows Idaho kids slipping in economic measures

The annual Idaho KidsCount survey, released today, shows more Idaho kids live in two-parent families than kids across the nation, but Idaho kids are faring worse in economic measures. The survey showed 20 percent of Idaho children lived in poverty in 2011, up from 18 percent in 2005. The number of children whose parents lacked secure employment in 2011 is also up to 31 percent, up from 26 percent in 2005. The survey also showed Idaho ranks 46th nationally in preschool enrollment, with 65 percent of 3 to 4-year-olds not attending. Click below for an AP report on the survey.

Boy Scouts respond: ‘Any abuse is intolerable’

Deron Smith, director of public relations for the Boy Scouts of America, issued this statement today in response to the new federal lawsuit in Idaho:

“Any instance of child victimization or abuse is intolerable and unacceptable. While we can’t comment on the lawsuit, we deeply regret that there have been times when Scouts were abused, and for that we are very sorry and extend our deepest sympathies to victims. The BSA was one of the first youth programs to develop youth protection policies and education, and has continuously enhanced its multi-tiered policies and procedures, which now include background checks, comprehensive training programs, and safety policies, like requiring all members to report even suspicions of abuse directly to local law enforcement.”

Lawsuit charges Idaho scouts were abused in ‘70s, ‘80s, says BSA and LDS Church covered up

Four former Idaho Boy Scouts, including a Spokane man, filed a federal lawsuit in Boise today charging that they were sexually abused by scout leaders during camping trips and other scouting events in the 1970s and 1980s. The lawsuit, which asks for at least $75,000 in damages for each of the four men, charges that the Boy Scouts of America and the LDS Church, which sponsored three of the four scouts’ troops, failed to prevent the abuse and allowed pedophiles to continue in scouting roles.

Secret files kept by the Boy Scouts, but made public as part of an earlier lawsuit in Oregon, documented cases of abuse, and directed, in some cases, that the offenders be excluded from scouting. “It is difficult to comprehend why the defendants did not warn the boys and their parents of this danger,” said Boise attorney Andrew Chasan, one of the three attorneys from two law firms who filed the lawsuit.

A similar lawsuit in Idaho was settled last November for an undisclosed sum; it also involved a former Idaho scout and targeted both the BSA and the LDS church. The abuse described in the new lawsuit took place in Boise, Lewiston and McCall, Idaho, and involved three former scout leaders, James Schmidt, Dennis Empey and Lawrence Libey, all of whom later were arrested and convicted of similar offenses. The victims were all 12 to 14 years old when the abuse began; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Three members of Idaho delegation laud Velma Morrison’s work, mourn her passing

Three members of Idaho’s four-member congressional delegation – Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch and 2nd District Rep. Mike Simpson – have issued statements on the passing of Velma Morrison, lauding her support for the arts in Idaho and mourning her passing. Here are their statements:

Crapo: “One cannot travel in Idaho, especially in Boise, without noting the numerous additions Velma Morrison brought to our great state.  I join with many Idahoans today in mourning her passing while celebrating the gifts of art, philanthropy, education and leadership she bestowed on us during her long and wonderful life. I appreciate the opportunities over the years I had to meet with her, get to know her and work with her on various projects.  She was an interested, outstanding individual who contributed greatly to our state.”

Risch: “Idaho has lost a gracious and iconic lady with the passing of Velma Morrison.  She was the driving force behind many signature projects that supported the arts.  Velma leaves behind a great legacy of philanthropic support and Vicki and I salute her many years of incredible contributions that benefited the lives of so many in our state.” 

Simpson: “Velma Morrison was a pillar for Idaho and will be sorely missed. Her activism and love for theater, music and dance are abundantly apparent around the Treasure Valley and our communities are better because of her. Kathy and I send our condolences to the family and feel extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to have known such an amazing woman.”

Meanwhile, Gov. Butch Otter sent this tweet: “Velma Morrison's life and good works are a reflection of her love for Idaho. She was a great friend and our prayers go out to her family.”

A full day later, at noon on Tuesday, 1st District Rep. Raul Labrador issued this statement: “An example to all, Velma Morrison’s rich love of the arts and philanthropic spirit will be missed.  Our thoughts and prayers are with her family.”

U.S. Forest Service says no to Highway 12 megaloads, following federal court ruling

The U.S Forest Service has turned thumbs down on the first of nine megaloads of mining equipment bound for the Alberta tar sands proposed to travel across the winding, wild and scenic Highway 12 river corridor from the Port of Lewiston to Montana. “The authorization of oversized loads needs to consider the continued enjoyment of this area by people traveling, living, working and recreating in the corridor, particularly during the season of heavy visitor use,” Clearwater-Nez Perce National Forest Supervisor Rick Brazell wrote in a letter to the Idaho Transportation Department; you can read it here. “The experience people expect to find is a narrow, winding road with beautiful views of the Lochsa and Clearwater Rivers and surrounding wild lands, with road-side turnouts available for them to take it all in This is the experience marketed by the ITD website and Scenic Byways brochures and is found in Forest Service information as well.”

U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill ruled in February that the Forest Service has a duty to regulate such loads in the wild and scenic river corridor, whereas previously it had ceded that authority to ITD. Now, Brazell wrote, the Forest Service is reviewing any loads that will require traffic on the highway to be fully stopped, require longer than 12 hours to travel through the corridor, or require physical modification of the roadway or adjacent vegetation. The Omega Morgan proposal for the first of nine gigantic loads, this one a water purification vessel weighing 644,000 pounds, 255 feet long and 21 feet wide, triggered all three of those criteria, Brazell wrote. Plus, he noted that formal consultation with the Nez Perce Tribe would be required to approve any loads meeting those criteria, “which may take substantial time.”

Wrote Brazell to ITD, “I appreciate your authority and expertise in matters relating to highway travel and safety and have committed my staff to continue to work with you as they have in the past to facilitate your management, operations and maintenance of Highway 12. However, the U.S. District Court has ruled that my agency has full authority to protect the Wild and Scenic River corridor and its values notwithstanding the State's easement for U.S. 12. I hope you will work with us as we seek to redeem our respective duties.” Click below for a full report from the Lewiston Tribune via the AP.

Velma Morrison dies at age 92

Philanthropist and patron of the arts Velma Morrison has died at the age of 92; the AP reports that she died of a heart attack. Morrison's daughter, Judyth Roberts, said Morrison was at her home in Rancho Mirage, Calif., when she died Thursday. Several buildings around Boise — including the Velma V. Morrison Center for the Performing Arts on the Boise State University campus — bear evidence of her work supporting the arts. Morrison was born in Tipton, Calif. in 1920, and she moved to Boise after marrying Morrison Knudsen Co. co-founder Harry Morrison in 1959. She remained in Boise after Harry Morrison's death and worked extensively with the Harry W. Morrison Foundation to donate millions of dollars to groups across the state, including the World Center for Birds of Prey.

Idaho news outlets ask judge to unseal documents about CCA, private prison

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A coalition of news organizations across Idaho is asking a federal judge to deny a proposed order that would give private prison company Corrections Corporations of America the power to seal whatever it wants in a lawsuit brought by inmates. The Associated Press, Idaho Statesman, The Spokesman-Review, The Times-News, KBOI-TV, Idaho Press-Tribune, Post Register, Lewiston Tribune, Coeur d'Alene Press, Bonner County Daily Bee and others filed the motion Friday in Boise's U.S. District Court. The news organizations contend CCA's proposed protective order is too broad and would severely hamper the ability of journalists to report on the lawsuit. CCA says it needs to be able to hide certain information from the public for security reasons. In the lawsuit, the inmates contend CCA understaffs the Idaho prison. CCA denies the allegations.

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

Hailey’s hope: Awaiting Bowe Bergdahl’s return…

The yellow ribbons, some tattered, some faded, can be seen long before state Highway 75 spills into Hailey, Idaho — home to America's only prisoner of war in its conflict with Afghanistan, writes AP reporter John Miller. They hang from roadside utility poles and in front of homes near the one where Bowe Bergdahl grew up. They adorn virtually every tree and light post on Main Street, where signs in shop windows issue pleas to “Bring Bowe Home.”

The ribbons may be the most visible sign that the people of Hailey haven't forgotten the Army sergeant who, four years ago June 30, disappeared from his base in southeastern Afghanistan and was taken captive by the Taliban. But there are other reminders, too: The Norway maple trees— one for each year Bergdahl has been held — planted in the local park. Even Bergdahl's father, once the town's clean-shaven UPS deliveryman, has grown a long beard, a personal monument to his son's plight, not likely to be shorn until he is freed. Click below for Miller's full report

Feedlot agrees to pay $42K in fines for polluting Boise River

An Idaho cattle feedlot has reached a settlement with the EPA requiring it to pay $42,000 in fines for discharging pollutants into the Boise River, the AP reports The EPA said in 2011, W/T Land & Cattle, located on the banks of the river near Notus, allowed animal waste to flow into the river during and after flood events without a permit.

EPA Compliance and Enforcement Director Edward Kowalski said in a prepared statement that in high water, animal waste can take several paths to nearby waterways, and feedlot operators located near rivers and streams need to be extra diligent to protect waterways.

Idaho unemployment rate edges up in May

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho's unemployment rate edged up in May, in part because more people are looking for work. The Idaho Department of Labor says the labor force increased by 1,100 workers in May, pushing the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate from 6.1 percent in April to 6.2 percent in May. It was the first monthly increase since June 2011. Total employment across Idaho in May was 7,300 jobs higher than May 2012, when the unemployment rate was 7.3 percent and nearly 29,000 workers received $28.6 million in unemployment benefits. Last month, nearly 13,900 idled workers received $13.3 million in jobless benefits.

Rural Idaho officials talk of the challenges of living amid large swaths of public land

Local officials from rural communities throughout Idaho said today that federal public lands have major and direct impacts on their everyday operations and challenges.  

During a panel at the McClure Center’s symposium at the Capitol Auditorium this morning, Owyhee County Treasurer Brenda Richards said, “There isn’t a decision that we make that doesn’t bring federal lands into the aspect, in some of the issues that we’re facing.” When moderator Marty Peterson asked her about the impact of the numerous recreationists who visit the county, Richards noted that it has few gas stations or convenience stores. “Most of the time, if you’re coming to visit Owyhee County you’re going to fuel up, you’re going to bring your provisions in from another county.” The county, though, bears costs for search and rescue, she said. “That’s hit us very hard.”

She said, “We do enjoy having people come out to Owyhee County and share in that … but there is an impact. Counties are required to provide services, and it doesn’t matter who’s visiting your county, you have to provide for that.”

Soda Springs Mayor Kirk Hansen drew a laugh when he said, “I always thought Soda Springs was quite cosmopolitan.” Explaining, he noted that mining operations on public lands in the region surrounding the eastern Idaho town draw hundreds of residents there. “We’re not the so-called always have mud on our boots type miners,” he said. “We have electrical engineers, geologists, environmental engineers, civil engineers, mechanical engineers - we have highly educated people who move into these areas to live and to work. … They enhance the betterment of the community in which we live.”

Hansen said the mining operations are “providing the standard of living that exists, and using the resources that in my mind are God-given. … We need to be very wise in the stewardship of what’s there.” Describing a situation in which a mine leached selenium into the environment and killed several horses, he said the mines now follow strict federal regulations to avoid polluting the water and land. “We need to collaborate very well with the federal agencies, and the land of many uses is very critical,” Hansen said. “We have thousands of people who are dependent upon the uses of public lands – the proper usage, that we take care of the resources that have been given to us, that they’re available and for the betterment of everyone.”

Woody Woodford, superintendent of the Kellogg School District, said, “Eighty percent of Shoshone County is state and federal lands. … They are the largest landowner in Shoshone County. As a direct result, we have 20 percent of our property owners pay 100 percent of our taxes, that burden is huge. … We believe in responsible management of federal lands, but there has to be some kind of a balance.” Shoshone County, which long was a prosperous mining area, now has a big car dealership as its major business. “Our county needs the kind of industry where we can afford to buy those cars at Dave Smith’s, and it simply doesn’t exist,” Woodford said. He said the small tax base is increasingly pinched trying to cover the costs for required services.

Valley County Commissioner Gordon Cruickshank discussed the community forest trust, in which a collaborative trust is seeking to manage 200,000 acres of federal forest land to both improve its health and make money for public services. The community has to provide for schools and roads, he said, and needs a way to generate money now that historic logging on public lands has dropped. The project is “a model, a way to show it can be done,” he said.

Symposium looks at federal fiscal issues, impact on local government

The University of Idaho’s McClure Center for Public Policy Research is holding a symposium on fiscal issues this morning, featuring Congressman Mike Simpson and Sen. Mike Crapo. The symposium is examining federal fiscal issues and their impact on local government; it’s taking place at the Capitol Auditorium from 9-11:30 a.m.; you can listen live here, and see the full agenda here.

Marty Peterson, McClure Center director, is the moderator today; two panels of local officials are addressing public lands, and infrastructure and regulations. This morning's introduction came from Don Burnett, University of Idaho interim president.

State board extends contracts for three university presidents, grants them 3% raises

Idaho’s State Board of Education, meeting today in Twin Falls, approved 3 percent salary increases for the presidents of Boise State University, Idaho State University and Lewis-Clark State College; the board also extended the current contract term for each of them by an additional year. The new salaries: BSU, President Bob Kustra: $353,432; ISU, President Arthur Vailas, $340,027; LCSC, President Tony Fernandez, $170,884.

Idaho gets clearance to start new tests next year, replace ISAT

Idaho’s gotten clearance from the country’s top education official to start field-testing its new high-stakes tests for students next year, and stop administering the Idaho Standards Achievement Test to avoid double-testing kids, except in cases where a student needs to take the ISAT to meet a graduate requirement, Idaho Education News reports. State schools Superintendent Tom Luna told Idaho EdNews, “This is just one more step as we transition to higher standards and new assessments. Under current law, it appears we have to give two tests to every student next year, and we’ve made it clear we’re not giving two – we’re giving one – because of student fatigue a number of other factors.”

The new tests developed through the Smarter Balanced Assessments Consortium, are aimed at moving beyond multiple-choice questions to focus on fluency in a subject and critical thinking skills. This year, about 120 Idaho schools piloted the new tests. You can read Idaho EdNews’ full report here.

State board approves new contracts for head basketball coaches at BSU, UI

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The men's basketball coaches at Boise State and the University of Idaho have new contracts. The Idaho Board of Education on Thursday approved contracts for BSU coach Leon Rice and UI coach Don Verlin. Rice's five-year deal pays him a base salary of $482,110 next season, with 3 percent raises each year. It also includes bonuses for the team's success both on the court and in the classroom, including a $15,000 bonus if the Broncos win the Mountain West Conference tournament championship. Verlin's three-year deal has his base pay starting at $156,832 and increasing to $169,629 by the final year. He will receive $60,000 in media payments each season and is eligible for bonuses based on his team's success.

Taliban offers to trade Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five prisoners at Guantanamo

The Afghan Taliban is offering to free Idaho Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl of Hailey, held captive since 2009, in exchange for five of their senior operatives imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, the AP reports. The offer comes as efforts are under way to jumpstart peace talks in Qatar; the prisoner exchange is the first item on the Taliban's agenda before even opening peace talks, a top Taliban official told the AP. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Kathy Gannon in Kabul.

EPA fines cement plant operator $2.5 million over air pollution, requires major upgrades

The EPA is imposing a $2.5 million fine on a company that operates cement plants in nine states - including one along I-84 in eastern Oregon whose emissions blow into Idaho with the prevailing winds - for air pollution, and requiring the firm to invest $30 million in pollution controls at its plants. Ash Grove Cement Co.'s penalty was announced Wednesday by the EPA and U.S. Department of Justice, the AP reports, as part of a deal in which the Kansas-based company also will spend $750,000 to mitigate effects of past excess emissions. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller. The EPA said the moves will reduce thousands of tons of harmful pollutants at plants in Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Texas.

Labrador: No snub from Boehner

1st District Rep. Raul Labrador says it’s not true that he’s being snubbed by Speaker John Boehner on a fundraising trip to North Idaho, an event scheduled for Friday in Coeur d’Alene; the Coeur d’Alene Press ran an article today suggesting Labrador may not have been invited, though the event is in his district. “I was invited four weeks ago,” Labrador said. “They keep inviting me, they keep wanting me to go, but just, for me it was a bad weekend.” He said he did make a plane reservation in case he was able to make it to the event, which Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers is holding for Boehner to raise funds for GOP candidates; the fundraiser originally had been planned for Pullman, Wash. but was moved to Coeur d’Alene.

Both Labrador and McMorris’ office said the speaker has asked their offices not to comment on the speaker’s travels; that’s what led to the misunderstanding about Labrador’s role, when his office declined to provide any information to the Press. Said Labrador, “Absolutely, yes, I was invited. I’m not sure if I’m going to able to make it, but I’m excited that the speaker’s coming to my district.”

Judge: Idaho terror case evidence is ‘classified’

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A federal court judge in Idaho has appointed a security specialist in the case of an Uzbek national accused of terrorism-related crimes in Idaho and Utah, to vet potentially classified information in the evidence. In his order released late Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge appointed Winfield S. “Scooter” Slade as a classified information security officer in the case against Fazliddin Kurbanov. Kurbanov, a 30-year-old refugee from central Asia, has pleaded not guilty in federal court in Boise to charges including helping teach people to build bombs to target public transportation. Lodge wrote in Tuesday's order he's been made aware of the potential existence of classified information in Kurbanov's case. In appointing Slade, Lodge cited a federal law requiring courts to have procedures in place for handling such sensitive material.

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

Idaho to look for new company to run private prison, but won’t look at running it itself…

Idaho prison leaders are looking for a new company to run the state's largest prison, the AP reports, after Corrections Corporation of America admitted to understaffing and overbilling for its work operating the Idaho Correctional Center. But the Idaho Department of Correction won't be allowed to submit its own bid or take over operations at the prison south of Boise, because Board of Correction Chairwoman Robin Sandy said that would amount to expanding state government.

The three-member Board of Correction made the decision during a meeting Tuesday evening, opting not to let an automatic two-year extension of CCA's $29.9 million contract kick in when the current contract expires on June 30, 2014. The board also decided that it would consolidate medical services at all the prisons under one statewide medical contract, rather than keeping the medical care services at the Idaho Correctional Center separate. Currently, Corizon provides medical care at every prison in the state except for Idaho Correctional Center, where it is handled by CCA. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Kurbanov gets new attorney: Chuck Peterson

An Uzbek refugee accused of terrorism-related crimes in Idaho and Utah has a new lawyer whose resume includes successfully defending a man accused of murdering a federal agent and helping free a Saudi college student charged with working for a group funneling money to terrorists, the AP reports. A federal judge has appointed Charles Peterson to take over Fazliddin Kurbanov's defense; click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Idaho launches criminal justice reform push

Idaho has some of the nation’s lowest crime rates, but its prison population is growing quickly at a time when most states are seeing declines.  So now all three branches of state government in Idaho – from the governor to the Supreme Court to the Legislature – are coming together to launch an intensive new effort to find out what’s going wrong and fix it, with the help of grant funding and aid from the Pew Charitable Trusts, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, and the Council of State Governments’ Justice Center; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

The state qualified for more than a quarter-million dollars in grant funding for the effort, which Gov. Butch Otter unveiled at a news conference in his office today, joined by Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Burdick, legislative leaders, top officials from an array of state agencies and representatives of Pew and CSG.     “Criminal justice is taking a larger and larger share of our state budget every year,” Otter said. And despite Idaho’s low crime rates, one of every 34 males is involved in the criminal justice system and one of every 156 females, he said. Plus, 51 percent of those in Idaho’s prisons are repeat offenders. “So what are we not doing while we have them, to prepare them for a life outside of the correctional environment that they end up in?” Otter asked. “What more can we do?”

Other states including Texas, Kansas, South Carolina and more have worked with the same partners on the “justice reinvestment” approach, which involves intensive analysis of data, developing policy options, putting new strategies in place and measuring results. Some states have seen impressive results. Texas estimated that it averted $340 million in operational costs and $1.5 billion in prison construction costs. South Carolina was expecting an increase of 3,000 prison inmates in 2010 and $300 million in increased costs; instead, its prison population dropped.

“We’re going to use every tool we possibly can,” Otter said. That could include changes in sentencing, treatment, education, rehabilitation and more. A broad, multi-agency working group started meeting on the project today, and a legislative interim committee is holding its first meeting this afternoon, chaired by the House and Senate judiciary chairmen, Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, and Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry. The aim is to develop solutions as soon as possible, including some that could be considered in the legislative session that starts in January of 2014.

Wills, a retired state trooper, said, “It’s going to be a great opportunity for us to bite the bullet, to save money, and to prepare our citizens that need it, that are housed behind those walls, to get out and do something constructive rather than destructive as we’ve seen in the past.”

Idaho to auction off three bare cabin-site lots on Priest Lake

Idaho will auction off three new undeveloped cabin sites on Priest Lake this year, partly to get a sense of the true bare-land values as the state moves toward divesting itself of the numerous state-owned lots there on which renters have built and owned cabins for years. The state Land Board approved the auction plan this morning; the auction will take place in late August or early September. The three lots, all contiguous and lakefront, will be marketed nationwide.

“Although historically there have been 354 cottage sites associated with Priest Lake, an additional 17 have been platted and are unleased and undeveloped at this time,” Thomas Felter, the state Lands Department’s manager of commercial and residential real estate, told the board, which consists of the state’s top elected officials. “We believe a sale auction would help determine the market value for vacant and unimproved lots.”

The state had planned to allow some voluntary auctions of existing cabin sites this year where the lessees wanted to go that route – and perhaps bid against competitors to keep their cabin sites, or get paid for their improvements if a competitor won the bidding - but the need to reappraise all the existing sites has slowed that process down. Felter said none of the existing Priest Lake cabin sites will be ready for voluntary auctions before 2014; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Suction dredge mining rejected on Clearwater’s North Fork

A federal administrative law judge has rejected plans for suction dredge mining along a prized cutthroat trout stream in northern Idaho, the Lewiston Tribune reports. Judge Robert Holt, with the U.S. Department of Interior, concluded that recreation opportunities like fishing and camping and the archaeological history along the North Fork of the Clearwater River trump the miners' quest to pull gold from streambed. In the last several years, at least 30 placer claims have been filed along a 30-mile stretch of the river that runs through the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest. Click below for a full report from the Lewiston Tribune via the AP.

State braces for ‘above normal’ fire season

Idaho’s gearing up for an above-normal fire season on state land, state forester David Groeschl told the state Land Board this morning, after Secretary of State Ben Ysursa inquired. “We’ve got some awful dry conditions,” Ysursa said. “What’s your crystal ball on the fire season coming up?” Groeschl said long-range predictions call for warmer than average temperatures and below-normal precipitation over much of the state. “And right now, the fuel moistures are lower than we normally see this time of year,” he said. “So if weather conditions do not change, I would expect a very active fire season.”

He added, “We are preparing for an above-normal fire season.”

Otter on GOP resolution: Honor local control

Asked about the Idaho GOP Central Committee’s new resolution calling on the Legislature to overturn local anti-discrimination ordinances, like those six Idaho cities have passed to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, Gov. Butch Otter said today that the resolution runs counter to his views on local control. “I think, even though the cities and counties are creatures of the state, the state has always recognized the value of local control, local decision-making, and these folks having a responsibility to establish for themselves the character of their community,” Otter said. “Although I understand some of the reasoning behind that effort, I really think that the overriding value of local folks making local decisions about local policies is much more valuable than us directing folks from Boise.”

Idaho GOP wants city non-discrimination ordinances voided

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on how Idaho Republican Party leaders are calling on the state Legislature to invalidate local city ordinances that ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation - like the one Coeur d’Alene passed after an emotional community debate just two weeks ago.  Six Idaho cities have passed such non-discrimination ordinances in the past year and a half, and a seventh, Idaho Falls, is looking into one now.

The party central committee's resolution isn't binding on the Legislature, which is 81 percent Republican. “It’s a way for the people to make their expressions known to the Legislature,” said Idaho Republican Chairman Barry Peterson. “We let ‘em know that this is the way that the majority of the party feels.” Coeur d’Alene Mayor Sandi Bloem countered, “The Republican Party itself appears to be somewhat fractured, so I’m not assuming that it would get full Republican support. … I would assume that there would certainly be some that would recognize the local rights.” Coeur d’Alene’s city council passed the ordinance on a 5-1 vote.

Cornel Rasor, a former Bonner County commissioner and chairman of the Idaho GOP’s resolutions committee, said, “I’d hire a gay guy if I thought he was a good worker. But if he comes into work in a tutu … he’s not producing what I want in my office.” Rasor presented the resolution on behalf of a constituent in Bonner County;  another similar one was proposed by Idaho County’s GOP central committee, and the two were combined into one. It was approved with little debate at the central committee’s summer meeting over the weekend in McCall.

81 schools in running for $3M in tech grants

There are 81 Idaho schools in the running for $3 million in new technology pilot program grants, Idaho Education News reported. All the applications put together total nearly $19.5 million. The State Department of Education plans to announce the winners by July 1; you can read a full report here from Idaho EdNews reporter Clark Corbin.

Lawsuit faults Idaho water quality protection efforts

An environmental group is suing federal water and wildlife agencies, contending that the agencies have long delayed taking the steps needed to protect Idaho's water quality, the Associated Press reports. Northwest Environmental Advocates, based in Portland, Ore., filed the lawsuit in Boise's U.S. District Court against the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Friday. The environmental group claims that the federal agencies have dragged their feet for 17 years when it comes to requiring Idaho to protect its waters and aquatic species. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Portable electronics insurance now regulated by state in Idaho

Anyone selling you insurance on your smartphone in Idaho will need to be licensed with the state Department of Insurance, starting July 1; that’s under legislation that passed in 2012 and is just now taking effect. More than 40 states now regulate sales of portable electronics insurance; Idaho’s new regulations, like those in many other states, require the sellers to disclose to customers that the policies may duplicate their existing coverage under their homeowner’s, renter’s or other insurance. They also allow the portable electronics insurance policies to be canceled at any time.

Idaho Department of Insurance Director Bill Deal said, “This type of insurance has been available without regulation for some time. By requiring vendors to be licensed, the department has the ability to monitor the product and protect consumers.”

Washington’s similar law took effect in 2008; other states with such laws in effect include Oregon, Utah, Nevada, Montana and Wyoming.

Idaho Republican Party urges state to stop local anti-discrimination ordinances

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: MCCALL, Idaho (AP) - Republican Party leaders are urging the Idaho Legislature to put a stop to local communities' efforts to provide discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. The approval of the non-binding resolution came Saturday at the GOP's annual Central Committee summer meeting in McCall. The GOP-dominated Idaho Legislature has refused to add housing and workplace protections for gays and lesbians to the Idaho Human Rights Act. As a consequence, numerous municipalities including Coeur d'Alene, Sandpoint, Ketchum, Moscow and Boise are passing their own local protections. That didn't sit well with the majority of Republicans in McCall, who say that Idaho lawmakers should put a stop to it. According to the resolution, the Legislature should pass a law making local discrimination protections unenforceable if they go beyond the state's protections.

Longtime Idaho family feed company eyes Taiwan pigeon racing for new line

An Idaho family business that produces specialty animal feeds is eyeing Taiwan's multimillion-dollar pigeon racing business as a target for a new export line. The AP reports that  Zamzow's Dynamite Marketing is looking to transform Idaho-grown safflower and corn, and a top-secret, blood-boosting brew of mushroom powder and yeast cell wall extract it makes in its 102-year-old feed mill, into an annual export business worth up to $15 million. Click below for the full story from AP reporter John Miller.

Groups offer reward for info on grizzly death near sheep station

Two conservation groups are offering $6,500 in rewards for information leading to the arrest and a conviction in the case of a grizzly bear killed near the Idaho-Montana border last fall. The bear's radio collar was found, cut off, in a stream; it had been fitted with the collar just 18 days earlier. The Western Watersheds Project and Cottonwood Environmental Law Center sued in federal court last month, contending that the U.S. Sheep Experimentation Station, near where the grizzly disappeared, has been involved with multiple grizzly deaths, though the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has ruled that it hasn't.

The station is operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and grazes about 2,000 sheep on 16,000 acres of land high in the mountains — an area biologists contend is also a prime travel corridor connecting Idaho and Yellowstone National Park for threatened grizzly bears. Click below for a full report from the Associated Press.

Idaho GOP rejects rule to limit ballot access in GOP primaries

Republican leaders in Idaho on Saturday dumped a plan calling for party officials to vet GOP primary election candidates, the AP reports. The rejection came at the Republican Party Central Committee's summer meeting in McCall, where the state's dominant political group was setting its policy direction for the year to come. The proposal was from former Senate Majority Leader Rod Beck, as a way to pressure GOP candidates into adhering more to the wishes of their local party leaders, but it came under fire from an array of top Idaho Republicans, who said it would put decision-making in the hands of just a few people and disenfranchise broader GOP voters. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

When governors speed…

When former Idaho Gov. Phil Batt was honored yesterday with the naming of the Idaho Transportation Department headquarters after him, he shared some transportation-related stories from back when. One was about changing a flat tire on the old White Bird Hill segment of Highway 95 in North Idaho in the sleet and rain with a pregnant wife and two big dogs in the car. Others touched on other “hair raising” stretches of road in the state before they were upgraded. “They really raised your eyebrows,” he said.

Then there was this story from his time as governor: Batt once was headed out to a funeral for some wildland firefighters south of Kuna when a Russian diplomat stopped by his office. “I told him I’d give him 10 minutes. I knew I had to get going. A half-hour later, I finally booted him out of there and we got in the car.”

Batt told an aide to “step on it,” and put in a call to the state police, saying, “Cut us a little slack, we’re running late. We need to get over to this funeral.” Laughter started up among the audience.  “Course, the radios picked that up and it was in the newspapers and all over the place,” Batt said. “I had to apologize and write a poem for the paper and all that. But that was one of my easier duties, it was all right.”

Idaho Falls looking at anti-discrimination ordinance, could be 7th city to enact…

Idaho Falls is considering enacting an anti-discrimination ordinance to cover sexual orientation and gender identity; if it does, it'd be the seventh Idaho city to enact protections from discrimination that state lawmakers have repeatedly refused to add to the Idaho Human Rights Act. The Idaho Falls Post Register reports the city council is working on a draft ordinance and collecting public comment on the issue. Meanwhile, the Idaho Republican Party's central committee will consider two proposed resolutions this weekend calling for the state to invalidate all such local ordinances. Click below for a full report from the Associated Press.

Idaho GOP ponders halting anti-discrimination ordinances, ending daylight savings, more…

As the Idaho Republican Party’s state central committee meets in McCall tomorrow to take up proposed rule changes and resolutions, there are a slew of things on the agenda beyond Rod Beck’s controversial proposal to require all GOP primary candidates to be approved by party officials, or be excluded from the ballot. That’s one of 10 proposed rule changes; there are also 30 proposed resolutions, on everything from asking the state Legislature to invalidate all city non-discrimination ordinances that go beyond state law, like those six Idaho cities have enacted to ban discrimination over sexual orientation or gender identity; to abolishing daylight saving time; to calling for repeal of the state health insurance exchange.

The proposed rule changes range from opening back up the closed GOP primary election to requiring the state central committee to withdraw financial or in-kind support from any GOP office-holder who casts any vote that the committee feels violates any of the party’s resolutions. You can read the eight pages of proposed rule changes here, and the 27 pages of proposed resolutions here.

Spud skirmish lands in federal court

There's apparently something of a potato price war on, the Associated Press reports, as a battle between grocers and potato growers has a U.S. wholesaler accusing America's spud farmers of driving up prices while spying on farmers with satellites and aircraft fly-overs to enforce strict limits on how many tubers they can grow. The spud skirmish has been silently hitting shoppers' pocketbooks, the Associated Wholesale Grocers charge in a lawsuit against potato growers in U.S. District Court in Idaho, while the growers say they're just doing smart marketing through agricultural cooperatives as authorized by a 1922 federal law. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Poll shows Idahoans back ‘Gang of Eight’ immigration reform bill

A new statewide poll shows Idaho voters strongly in support of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” immigration bill now being debated in the U.S. Senate, with 67 percent saying they support the bill, 75 percent saying they back a path to citizenship that includes tough requirements, and 89 percent saying the United States should fix its immigration system this year.

Damond Watkins, Idaho Republican national committeeman, said, “The results of this statewide poll should be yet another indication to our elected officials in Washington that their constituents want, and are ready for, a real and lasting solution to mend our broken immigration system. Comprehensive immigration reform is one of the rare issues that is both good politics and good policy.”

In the first two procedural votes in the Senate on the measure thus far, both Idaho senators, Jim Risch and Mike Crapo, were among the 15 opponents of the bill.

The poll was conducted in 29 states; in Idaho, it had a sample size of 590, a margin of error of 4.03 percent, and was conducted by phone using interactive voice response June 2-3. Harper Polling, a GOP firm, and Public Policy Polling, a Democratic pollster, collaborated on the poll, which was commissioned by three groups, Alliance for Citizenship, Partnership for  new American Economy, and Republicans for Immigration Reform.

The pollsters said they found “overwhelming, bipartisan support for the bill” in all 29 states in which they conducted polling. “The bill that’s been constructed has broad support with every segment of the electorate in every part of the country,” the pollsters wrote. You can read the full Idaho results and poll questions here.

Otter, Batt, other top GOP leaders speak out against rule to limit ballot access for GOP primaries

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, former Gov. Phil Batt, and an array of other top GOP officials have come out against a proposed new Idaho Repubican Party rule that would require party officials' blessing before any candidate could appear on a GOP primary ballot, the AP reports. The rule is up for consideration at a state GOP central committee meeting this Friday and Saturday in McCall.

“This is not the party of Phil Batt, this is not the party of Ronald Reagan,” Otter said, of proponents of the plan's loyalties. “It seems to me they want to limit freedom of choice, rather than expanding it.” Batt told AP reporter John Miller. “It's a very poor idea. We need to broaden participation in our elections. I think that would narrow it.” Click below for Miller's full report. Also, Idaho political reporter Melissa Davlin has a report here on opposition to the proposed new rule that's cropping up among Republicans on social media.

Simpson amendment to add potatoes to WIC program clears House committee

Second District Congressman Mike Simpson's amendment to include fresh potatoes in the federal WIC nutrition program has cleared a House committee. “Fresh potatoes have been excluded from the WIC program despite their widely known nutritional value,” the potato-state lawmaker said. “This amendment corrects the exclusion of fresh potatoes and allows participants to make wholesome food choices for their young families.”

The amendment to the 2014 Agriculture Appropriations bill was approved on a voice vote in the House Appropriations Committee, on which Simpson serves; click below for his full news release.

Federal judge clears way for foreclosure on former Rep. Hart’s log home

A federal judge has cleared the way for the Internal Revenue Service to foreclose on former state Rep. Phil Hart's Athol, Idaho log home over years of unpaid taxes, the AP reports. U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge ruled last week that Hart, a Republican, was still the true owner of the log home and that his attempt to transfer the property to a trust was ineffective. The judge also said Hart couldn't claim a “head of household” tax exemption because he had no dependents at the time.

Hart, who lost his bid for a fifth term in the Idaho House last year, stopped filing income tax returns in 1996 while he pursued a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the federal income tax. He lost the lawsuit and the IRS is seeking to collect more than half a million dollars in back taxes, penalties and interest. His home was built partly with logs taken from state school endowment land; Hart never fully satisfied a court judgment over the timber theft. He claimed as a citizen he was entitled to take the logs. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

By the way, the reason that the foreclosure can proceed even though Hart's filed a third bankruptcy case is that a federal bankruptcy judge ruled in late February that Hart's third bankruptcy filing in one year is not entitled to an automatic stay on the foreclosure case, like the last two prompted. “The bankruptcy, when viewed in light of Debtor's previous two filings, appears intended to halt the progress of the federal litigation,” wrote U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Terry Myers, adding that Hart's petitions were “filed without regard to eligibility but with an eye toward delay and potential forum shopping.”

Batt calls on Idahoans to step up, increase funding for roads

Idaho named its state Transportation Department headquarters after former Gov. Phil Batt today, and at the ceremony unveiling the new name, Batt sent a stern message to the current Legislature and political leaders: Idaho needs to step up to fund its transportation needs, as it did for many years under many governors, but hasn’t for the past 17 years; read my full story here at spokesman.com. Batt, who served as a senator, senate leader, transportation board member and lieutenant governor before being elected governor in 1994, pushed through the state’s last gas tax increase in 1996, and it hasn’t been raised since. That’s the main way Idaho funds its roads, and the per-gallon tax not only isn’t indexed for inflation, it’s seen declines as vehicles have become more efficient.

Batt recalled major upgrades Idaho’s roads have seen over the years, including treacherous sections of U.S. Highway 95 in North Idaho and down south, Horseshoe Bend hill, which “used to regularly develop mysterious sinking sections.” Now, he said, they’re safer, more useful highways. “These projects and others like them throughout the state cost a pile of money, but Idahoans in early days were willing to tax themselves to pay the bill,” Batt told the crowd gathered for the building renaming ceremony. But that’s now changed, he said. When the state decided to upgrade the freeway between Boise and Canyon County, it borrowed money from the federal government through GARVEE bonds. But Batt warned that federal funding can’t be relied on, and will be decreasing in the future. “We need to get together and raise the finances to take care of all our state's transportation needs, not just the Treasure Valley, and not by borrowing money – that honeymoon is over.”

Amid laughter, Batt said, “I ran as a skinflint for governor and I served as a tightwad.” But, he said, “What could be more equitable than charging users fees for our roads, gas tax and registration fees? … We’re broke – our credit card is maxed out.”

Then, abruptly, he said, “But enough of my lecture. I just wanted to thank you all for the honor, this is a great honor for me.”

Numerous speakers lauded Batt, whose accomplishments over his career included major transportation upgrades for the state, the Idaho Human Rights Act, securing long-sought workers’ compensation for agricultural workers, signing a nuclear waste agreement with the federal government requiring waste to be removed from the state, and much more. Said Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, “Gov. Batt will always be remembered for doing the right thing, even if it’s not popular at the time.” Idaho’s congressional delegation, in a letter read at the ceremony, called Batt “a true innovator in fiscal matters, infrastructure and overall leadership.” Gov. Butch Otter said to laughter, “I couldn’t say enough about Phil, and I’d spend a lot more time than the few minutes that he ever allowed me as his lieutenant governor.”

The ITD headquarters on State Street is now officially emblazoned, “State of Idaho, Transportation Department, Philip E. Batt Building.”  The ceremony included music, including Batt's compsition “Freedom Idaho,” performed by West Junior High School students; Batt, a noted jazz clarinetist, accompanied them on clarinet. Transportation Board member Jim Kempton told Batt, “I look forward to walking into this building every time I come here with your name on it.”

Several lawmakers in attendance said they took Batt’s message about transportation funding to heart. “I think he’s absolutely correct,” said Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise. House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said, “This generation cannot duck our responsibility to maintain the investment that previous generations have put into our roads, so when the time’s right, I’m optimistic that we’ll step up.”

Batt said if the gas tax set in 1996 – “two bits” a gallon, or 25 cents – were the same percentage of what people were then paying for gas, it’d be 76 cents today. “Butch has tried his best to get some funding,” Batt said after the ceremony. “It’s the legislators that wouldn’t cooperate. There’s some talk that they won’t do it again this year because it’s an election year. I never believed in that philosophy, but I understand it.”

Otter called Batt’s warning “a great message,” adding, “And I think it’s a message that you’re going to hear more about.”

Idaho lawsuit challenges government’s tracking of cell phone calls

First-term state Rep. Luke Malek of Coeur d’Alene filed a federal lawsuit against President Obama and top national security officials late yesterday on behalf of Coeur d’Alene resident Anna Smith, contending that collection of information about her Verizon cell phone use violates the law and the Constitution. “Plaintiff Anna Smith is a mom and a neonatal intensive care nurse,” the lawsuit states, whose “primary means of communication is with her cell phone.”

The suit says Smith “communicates with her family, friends, employer, her children’s teachers, her doctor, her legal counsel, and nearly everyone else by way of her cell phone. None of these communications relate in any way to international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities. Rather, these communications are being monitored simply because they are occurring.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court asks the court to declare the government’s collection of the data in violation of federal law and the 1st and 4th amendments to the U.S. Constitution; permanently bar it; and order the government to purge all its call records relating to Smith’s communications. Malek’s co-counsel in the case is Peter J. Smith IV of Lukins and Annis, who is married to the plaintiff; you can read the complaint here. Malek is a Republican representative and a former deputy Kootenai County prosecutor.

Peter Smith said of his wife, “It’s kind of an interesting situation; she has access to resources that a normal person may not, that is legal counsel and knowing that this case probably won’t be dealt with quickly or easily and probably will wind its way through.” Smith said he approached Malek to serve as co-counsel on the case.

Idaho high school to drop ‘Redskins’ mascot

Teton High School in Driggs is looking for a new nickname, logo and mascot, now that it's decided to drop its longtime one: “Redskins.” That decision came to show respect for Native Americans, the school principal said; the school board approved the move Monday night, the AP reports. “Students need to be taught to see people beyond the color of their skin,” said Monte Woolstenhulm, the school principal and a former student at the school. “They need to get to know who people are without using nicknames or assumptions based on outward appearances.” The school newspaper, “The War Cry,” also will be renamed. Click below for a full report from the Associated Press.

Idaho farmers sue Monsanto over GMO wheat

Farmers in Idaho have filed a federal lawsuit against seed giant Monsanto after genetically engineered wheat was found in an eastern Oregon field, the Associated Press reports. The farmers, represented by a Boise law firm, filed the federal lawsuit Friday contending that Monsanto's development of Roundup Ready wheat resulted in increased production costs and lowered prices because the genetically engineered wheat is likely to infiltrate the non-genetically engineered wheat supply; the discovery of the Roundup Ready wheat growing in Oregon in May prompted Japan to suspend some wheat imports. A handful of lawsuits have been filed in other courts around the country over the same issue; click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Lawmakers bemoan shortage of school counselors

Idaho lawmakers are unhappy that the state’s schools superintendent has resisted moves to add more school counselors to help boost the number of students going on to higher education. In 2010-2011, Idaho had 489 students for every counselor, above the national average of 471 and nearly twice the recommended national standard of 250 – which only three states meet. Washington’s student-to-counselor ratio is even higher, at 510. The recommendations to trim Idaho’s student-to-counselor ratio and add a statewide coordinator for all K-12 school counselors were made in a report from the Legislature’s Office of Performance Evaluations in 2012 as part of an array of moves aimed at encouraging more Idaho kids to go on to further education after high school. But state schools Superintendent Tom Luna rejected both school-counselor recommendations.

“The responsibility for a college-going culture should be all educators in a school, not focused on one person,” Luna wrote in a response to the report, delivered to lawmakers along with a follow-up report Wednesday. “While counselors provide excellent service, it would be difficult to add enough employees to make this recommendation meaningful at this time.”

He cited an Idaho school district where every Friday, “the teachers and staff members proudly sport a T-shirt or sweatshirt from their alma mater,” saying, “This is more than just a T-shirt. It is the beginning of a conversation throughout the day, where every teacher and staff member engages students in a discussion about the importance of post-secondary education. … This is just one example I have seen that could easily be duplicated across the state and that ensures every staff member is involved in the success of students after high school – not just the school counselor.”

Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, took issue with Luna’s response, as did Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow. “I’m concerned,” Mortimer said. “I think we have to look at our counselors and their roles – I believe they may be doing too much administrative issues, and not enough counseling. … It’s a critical portion of getting our students to go on.” The state Board of Education has set increasing Idaho’s dismally low number of students who go on to any type of higher education after high school as its top goal. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

New online tool helps lawmakers examine impacts of proposed tax changes

The Legislature’s Office of Performance Evaluations has released a “Guide to Comparing Business Tax Policies” for use by lawmakers, including an online tool to allow lawmakers or the public to punch in proposed tax policy changes and see at least some of the possible results, depending on their assumptions.

“This report highlights the importance of looking at that total picture,” said Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, co-chair of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee, which released the report today. “We’ll hope policy makers take that seriously.” Both the report and the online tool are on the OPE’s website here.

OPE evaluators found that existing comparisons of tax rates across states have widely varying results, and often look at different aspects of a state’s tax structure – none tell the complete story. In a presentation to JLOC, evaluators highlighted four existing multistate tax comparison studies and their varying results; in them, Idaho ranked anywhere from 18th to 38th among the states.

Idaho’s best rank was in the Total State and Local Business Taxes report, which looks at total state and local business taxes paid as a percentage of gross state product. “Idaho scored fairly well, at 18th on that study,” evaluator Lance McCleve told JLOC. The other studies focused on certain industry sectors, looked only at statutes rather than payments, or looked only at businesses planning to expand or relocate. “Each of these studies will tell you something a little bit different about a state’s tax structure,” McCleve said. When OPE evaluators combined all the raw data from all four studies for an aggregate ranking, Idaho ranked 31st among the states, roughly in the middle.

The evaluators also found that the comparisons don’t tell the whole story. The relationship between tax policy changes and economic development is “not as strong as we thought it was,” McCleve said. “There is a relationship, it does matter, but … they’re certainly not the end-all and be-all, and in many cases they can’t overcome the other non-tax related factors.”

As an “extreme example,” he said if a state reduced its taxes on oil drilling to zero but had no oil, “No one is going to come drill for oil. There are just other factors that matter.” He said, “Every change to tax policy doesn’t have an equal effect on the economy. … Rate and policy changes really shouldn’t be considered without consideration of non-tax factors.”

That said, the evaluators developed an online tool for lawmakers to let them plug in proposals for tax policy changes along with anticipated impacts on state revenues, and see how much the state’s individual earnings or sales would need to rise to offset those changes, if offsets like more jobs are anticipated. McCleve said the new online tool can continue to evolve as more information becomes available.

“It’s simply adding more information for policy makers,” he said. “We’re not aware of a lot of tools the Legislature has like this.” The tool would also allow lawmakers to compare the impacts of adjusting specific tax rates to match those of other states they select.

Ringo said she’d like to see the state’s most recent tax cuts plugged in to the online tool to see if results match changes in state revenue. McCleve cautioned, “This tool looks at isolating your change, like nothing else will change revenue. In reality, it’s a lot more messy.”

State Tax Commission Chairman Rich Jackson called the online tool “a simple and elegant tool to begin the discussion.” Gov. Butch Otter also praised the new tool, saying, “I am committed to using sound, useful data to drive policy decisions.” 

Second Senate vote advances immigration reform bill; Risch, Crapo again vote no

The second procedural vote to clear the way for debate in the U.S. Senate on a bipartisan immigration reform bill passed just like the first earlier today, and the debate can now start. The vote was 84-15, little different from the earlier 82-15 vote; again, both Idaho senators, Jim Risch and Mike Crapo, were in the minority. Crapo said in a tweet, “#Senate is officially on the #immigration bill. We need an open amendment process & significant changes before I can support the bill.” Click below for a full report from AP reporter David Espo in Washington, D.C.

Kurbanov’s appointed lawyers want out of terrorism case due to budget cuts

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Lawyers for an Uzbek national facing federal terrorism-related charges in Idaho and Utah want a judge to let them withdraw from the case, saying federal budget cuts have left their office with too few resources. Fazliddin Kurbanov, 30, of Boise, has pleaded not guilty to charges involving teaching people to build bombs. Court-appointed attorneys Richard Rubin and Thomas Monaghan, of Federal Defenders Services of Idaho, are seeking appointment of new counsel. Rubin told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Congress' across-the-board budget cuts known as “sequestration” have reduced his budget by 10 percent this fiscal year, and as much as an 14 percent next year. Rubin says Kurbanov would be better off getting another lawyer now, while the case is still in its initial phase. Kurbanov was arrested May 17.

Click below for a full report from the Associated Press.

New report shows BSU Broncos rank high for academic progress

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A new report shows Boise State's football team is one of the best in the nation when it comes to how players perform in the classroom. The NCAA announced Tuesday that Boise State posted a team-best Academic Progress Rate of 993 during a four-year period ending in 2011-2012. That score ranks the Broncos second in the Football Bowl Subdivision, one spot behind Northwestern from the Big Ten Conference. The University of Idaho's football team scored at 919, while Idaho State came in with 914. APR measures eligibility, retention and graduation of all scholarship athletes. Schools that fail to meet certain APR standards can face penalties. At Idaho, the women's golf team earned the top APR score with 991. At Idaho State, the women's golf team also posted the highest score with 992.

As a department, all Boise State teams combined for an overall score of 977 and four other teams joined the football squad with top honors in the Mountain West Conference, including men's cross country, men's indoor track and field, men's outdoor track and field and swimming and diving teams.

Schools have ‘til Friday to apply for tech grants, 10 have so far

Idaho’s state Department of Education has received 10 applications so far for the $3 million in technology pilot project grants it’ll be handing out in the coming year; schools have until Friday to submit applications. “I know there’s been a lot of interest,” said Luci Willits, chief of staff to state schools Superintendent Tom Luna. “We’ve done several webinars, and it was one of the main topics on the post-legislative tour.”

Willits had no information on what’s proposed in the applications received so far; they won’t be evaluated until after the deadline, she said. Decisions on the grant awards are expected to be made soon after the start of the fiscal year July 1, and prior to the start of the next school year.

Jerry Beck to step down as CSI president

Jerry Beck will resign July 1 as president of the College of Southern Idaho, the Twin Falls Times-News reports, citing health problems; Beck has been with the college for 38 years and became president in 2005. The CSI board named Curtis Eaton, former executive director of the CSI Foundation, as interim president, but Eaton won’t be a candidate for the permanent position. The board is planning a national search for a new president. Beck will take a six-month sabbatical and then formally retire Dec. 31, the Times-News reported; you can read their full report here.

Senate advances immigration reform bill on 82-15 vote; Risch, Crapo both oppose

The U.S. Senate voted 82-15 today to clear the way for debate on a comprehensive immigration reform bill, turning back an attempted filibuster. The 15 “no” votes all came from Republicans, including both of Idaho’s senators, Jim Risch and Mike Crapo. A second procedural vote also is scheduled today; if that goes like the first, several weeks of debate are then expected before the Senate takes final votes on the bill, proposed by a bipartisan “Gang of Eight,” but likely to see various amendments. Click below for a full report from the AP in Washington, D.C.

The “Gang of Eight” includes Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Marco Rubio of Florida, and John McCain and Jeff Flake, both of Arizona; and Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York, Dick Durban of Illinois, Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado.

Alleged burglar picks wrong target - squad car with officers just feet away…

Of all the targets for a burglary, a Nyssa, Ore. man picked one of the worst early Sunday morning. He was in downtown Boise at 6th and Main streets at 2:15 a.m. – a busy time, just after the bars close – and police officers in marked cars were on the scene, responding to a report of a hit-and-run collision with a bicyclist, who turned out not to be badly hurt. The officers were just feet away from their car, interviewing people including numerous witnesses, when Juan Jose Vasquez, 25, allegedly opened the front passenger door of the squad car, leaned in and started rummaging through the officers’ stuff. The officers saw him, shouted at him and grabbed him, and he was holding a metal box containing paperwork and supplies for writing police reports that he’d picked up from the passenger seat.

Now Vasquez is in the Ada County Jail facing a felony burglary charge; he was appointed a public defender and has a preliminary hearing set for June 24. “Usually officers are not very far away from their vehicles,” said Boise Police spokeswoman Lynn Hightower, making burglarizing a squad car on-scene “not a good idea.”

Beck wants party leaders’ blessing before GOP candidates could appear on primary ballot

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Republicans aiming to run for governor, the Legislature or even coroner may first have to win approval from GOP leaders. That's according to a proposal slated for consideration Friday and Saturday at the Republican Party Central Committee's meeting in Donnelly. Idaho's secretary of state would put only candidate names on the GOP primary ballot with their party leaders' blessing. The proposal comes from Region 4 Republican Chairman Rod Beck. He's among those who believe elected GOP officials are ignoring party leaders, such as when some Republican lawmakers and Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter backed a state-based insurance exchange. The Central Committee opposed the exchange. Forces are mustering against Beck's proposal. In a letter, lawmakers including House Speaker Scott Bedke say they worry it will disenfranchise the overwhelming majority of Republicans.

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

Allen Derr dies at 85

Allen Derr, an Idaho lawyer who won a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling to bolster anti-discrimination protections for women, died today in Boise; he was 85.

On Nov. 22, 1971, the Supreme Court justices issued their Reed vs. Reed decision, holding states cannot discriminate against people because of their gender. It marked a departure from the era when courts often excluded women from full participation in important civil affairs. His client, Sally Reed, a woman challenging her estranged husband over which of them should be appointed to oversee their son's estate following his suicide, was fighting to overturn an Idaho courts' decision based on an 1864 Idaho law: If more than one person claimed to be equally entitled to be trustee, “males must be preferred to females.” The decision in Reed vs. Reed has been celebrated in the 2001 book by historians Alan Brinkley and James McPherson, “Days of Destiny,” as among a handful of uncelebrated events that nonetheless changed the course of history.

Derr was a founding member of the Idaho Press Club and longtime member of its board of directors; click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Labrador pledges to continue working on immigration reform

First District Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador pledged today to keep working on immigration reform, despite having walked away last week from a bipartisan group of eight members working to craft a House bill. “I promise you, this does not delay the process,” he told a dozen members of the Coalition for Immigrant Rights of Idaho, who stood chanting in the foyer of his office for nearly 40 minutes before Labrador emerged from a conference call. Labrador then talked with the group, answering questions in both Spanish and English, for the next 45 minutes, in a conversation that was sometimes friendly, but occasionally heated. “Just this morning, John Boehner announced that he wants immigration reform done by the Fourth of July,” Labrador said. “My goal is to have immigration reform done by the end of this year.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Labrador said his differences with the bipartisan “Group of Eight” went beyond the health care issue he pointed to last week – that he believes immigrants should cover their own catastrophic health care costs, rather than qualify for coverage under Obamacare. He said he’d earlier “agreed to disagree” with the group over guest worker programs, and he saw what had been overall agreement on a broad array of issues disintegrating as the lawmakers got into the details of crafting a bill, with the health care issue as the second big disagreement. “My goal is to make sure that something good passes,” he said, adding that he didn’t believe the bill the bipartisan group was working toward would end up passing the GOP-dominated House.

“I decided that there’s a better way,” Labrador said. He said he’s working with members of the House Judiciary Committee, on which he serves, and he expects an array of reform bills to come to that panel. “What we’re probably going to do is a more step by step approach,” he said. But once the House has passed something, it’ll have to go to conference with the Senate. “In the conference, it’s going to have to be a bipartisan solution, whatever happens,” he said. “When it gets to the conference, it will be comprehensive.”

 Ruby Mendez, a 21-year-old intern organizer for the Idaho Community Action Network from Star, said, “We have supported you when you were practicing law, and we have even voted for you so you can fix our immigration system.” But she said she and others in Idaho’s Latino community were surprised and disappointed by Labrador’s move last week. “I think as a Latina in Idaho, I’ve seen many of my family and friends be affected by a broken immigration system,” she said. “To see the injustice, it’s been a tough task. … We represent here in Idaho 11 percent – we’re a growing community.”

The Idaho group stresses keeping families together; Labrador said he shares that goal. “This is the main reason that I have not walked away from immigration reform – we have to do the right thing for America,” he said. “We have a broken system, and I worked in the system for 15 years. I saw families broken up. … We can’t allow the immigration system to stay this way.”

Labrador said he doesn’t fully support the current Senate bill as written, but might in the future depending on how it’s amended. “I’m doing everything I can,” he told the group. After they left his office, Labrador said he’s gotten differing reactions from other groups since quitting the bipartisan reform talks last week. “Actually, most people are happy,” he said. “A lot of people in Idaho don’t want me to do any immigration reform.” But, he said, “I’m trying.”

Initiative drive launched to raised Idaho’s minimum wage

Religious, education and community activists gathered over the weekend in Coeur d’Alene to kick off a voter initiative drive to raise Idaho’s minimum wage from the current $7.25 an hour; a Catholic priest told the group the issue transcends politics. The initiative was filed in time to fall under Idaho’s current initiative laws – not the new law passed by lawmakers this year that makes it tougher to qualify an initiative measure for the ballot. That law takes effect July 1. You can read the full story here from S-R reporter Kip Hill.

Medimont curmudgeon tells it how he sees it

Chris Carlson can say pretty much anything he wants, and he does, in his new memoir on Idaho politics, “Medimont Reflections.” After a 40-year career as a reporter, press secretary, political operative and public relations man, Carlson was told eight years ago that he had just six months to live, due to his cancer diagnosis; he already suffered from Parkinson’s disease. Instead, he’s defied the odds, and continues to share his curmudgeonly observations of Idaho from his perch in Medimont, in southern Kootenai County. In Carlson’s second book – his first was “Cecil Andrus, Idaho’s Greatest Governor” – he tells stories, profiles Idaho characters, and airs his views in no uncertain terms on everything from Idaho elections to dam-breaching to religion.

Some of Carlson’s observations will offend, some will entertain, and some will challenge; the book contains 13 essays. You can read my review here, from Sunday’s Spokesman-Review.

Catching up…

After a week away, it’s time to catch up. Here’s some of the news from the past week while I was gone:

* Both Coeur d’Alene and Pocatello passed city ordinances to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in housing, employment and public accommodations. The Coeur d’Alene City Council’s 5-1 vote came late Tuesday night; the Pocatello City Council’s 4-2 vote came early Friday morning. That marks the fifth and sixth Idaho cities, including Boise, to pass such ordinances, after the state Legislature refused for seven straight years to enact such protections statewide.

* First District Congressman Raul Labrador dropped out of an eight-member bipartisan group working toward compromise immigration reform legislation in the House, and said he’ll oppose the group’s legislation, due to differences over how to pay for immigrants’ health care. “We just have a different philosophy,” Labrador told reporters. “The Democratic Party believes that health insurance is a social responsibility of the nation. I believe that health insurance is an individual responsibility. And that’s a really hard philosophy to mesh.” You can read more here. Today, the Coalition for Immigrant Rights of Idaho plans a rally at Meridian City Hall to protest Labrador’s move.

* The family of Bowe Bergdahl, the American soldier from Hailey captured four years ago in Afghanistan and still held as a prisoner of war, received a letter from their son after working with the International Committee of the Red Cross. The family said it was “greatly relieved and encouraged by this letter;” read the full story here from the Associated Press.

* Idaho’s latest tax revenue figures, for the month of May, came in 2.4 percent below forecast, but that followed a big surplus in April, the state’s biggest month for tax revenue, bringing the state to 3 percent above forecast for the fiscal year to date; Idaho’s fiscal year ends June 30. You can see the general fund revenue report here.

Time for vacation…

I am on vacation this week, the first week I’ve taken off since the legislative session. It feels pretty blissful, I have to say; I started it off with windsurfing on Lucky Peak on Saturday, then dinner downtown with my hubby; a mountain bike ride in the foothills Sunday, where the wildflowers are blooming, the grasses are lush and the air is scented with sage; and now off to the Columbia River Gorge for a few days, followed by another Boise summer weekend. I’ll be back at work next Monday; click below for more vacation photos.

While I’m gone, check out the links below to my two-part series on one of the most inventive crimes Idaho’s seen in a while – a big-bucks financial fraud allegedly pulled off from behind bars in an Idaho prison cell. 

How he did it: Idaho inmate pulls off major financial fraud from behind bars

It’s clear that Mark Brown is a smart guy, maybe even borderline brilliant. But what’s astounding is the way he apparently pulled off a major, years-long financial fraud, taking in big corporations, courts and attorneys across the nation, all from behind bars in an Idaho prison cell.

Brown had no access to the Internet and appears to have had no accomplices or outside help. Instead, investigators believe he used a cherished electric typewriter that he was allowed to keep in his small, spare cell, and legal ads found in national newspapers including the Wall Street Journal and USA Today, to make fraudulent claims in big class-action lawsuits and bankruptcies. The story is detailed in my two-part series in The Spokesman-Review’s Sunday and Monday editions; you can read Part 1 here, and Part 2 here

Brown is alleged to have typed up professional-looking legal documents, false letters from law firms and more, and made skillful use of the “legal mail” exception for inmates that allows for correspondence with attorneys and judges without review from prison staff. Big checks poured in – Brown’s take in multiparty lawsuits including a $70 million GlaxoSmithKline drug-pricing settlement and a $20 million IBM shareholders’ settlement. Authorities say Brown collected close to $64,000 through those settlements and deposited the money in his prison trust account, which inmates can use for things like commissary purchases. He then transferred much of it out to an investment account that authorities have targeted for potential forfeiture.

The behind-bars operation caught authorities by surprise. “We screen our mail pretty well, but he also was running a pretty good scam here,” said Cpl. Wesley Heckathorn, a guard at the Idaho Correctional Institution in Orofino and former longtime U.S. Navy investigator who helped uncover Brown’s alleged fraud. Brown is now facing a 12-count federal indictment for mail fraud and awaiting a September trial, while authorities at both Idaho’s state prison system and the nation’s largest private prison operator, Corrections Corp. of America, scratch their heads over how he allegedly pulled it off.

Some who know Brown, however, aren’t surprised. “Mark is just so bright,” said Terry Rich, who hired Brown in 1994, when Brown was briefly out on parole, to work at his Boise high-tech firm. “He is so slippery, and he’s so believable, one of the most charming people you’ll meet. … If you let Mark sit around and think too much, this is what happens.” Brown was a promising 23-year-old computer science student at the University of Idaho when he first went to prison with a 20-year sentence for theft; now, he’s 53, still in prison, and never likely to get out.

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

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

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