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Eye On Boise

Archive for May 30, 2013

BooBoo the bear now back in the wild…

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: MCCALL, Idaho (AP) — An orphaned black bear cub that suffered second-degree burns on its paws during an August 2012 forest fire in eastern Idaho has been returned to the wild, healthy and 70 pounds heavier. Officials with the Snowdon Wildlife Sanctuary in McCall say the bear, dubbed “Boo Boo,” was released into the forests of central Idaho on Wednesday. Firefighters rescued the then-25-pound cub from a tree during the Mustang Fire near Salmon. The bear was initially treated at the Idaho Humane Society before being transferred to Snowdon. Boo Boo was among 10 orphaned cubs being cared for at Snowdon. Boo Boo was released with a GPS collar that will record his location over the next year, when it will fall off.

Crapo blasts Congress, administration over gun-control proposals

Sen. Mike Crapo held a press conference at a Boise gun shop today, where he blasted Congress' and President Barack Obama's bid to tighten gun laws while promoting reauthorization of a 2004 law that, among other things, directs federal taxpayer money for mental health courts. The AP reports that Crapo is using the latest congressional recess to emphasize his reputation as a serious policy maker, not a man on his heels after his December drunken driving arrest and this month's disclosure that his campaign lost $250,000 on a loan-gone-sour.

Despite the turbulence, Crapo said he hasn't thought of retiring or considered consequences for his 2016 re-election. “No, the answer is definitely not,” Crapo told the AP. “I think serving in the U.S. Senate is an incredible honor. I've been very engaged in the 'Gang of Six' and the other efforts to deal with our national debt crisis. I'm still fully engaged in that and all of the other aspects of my responsibilities in Washington, D.C.” Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

U of I names interim law dean

The University of Idaho has named Michael Satz, associate dean in the College of Law, to serve as interim dean of the college, effective June 1. Satz succeeds Don Burnett, who was named interim president of the University of Idaho. When Burnett accepted the interim university presidency, he said he would neither return to the dean's position nor apply for the permanent presidency; he will retain his faculty status after his interim presidency. Satz joined the U of I as an associate professor in the College of Law in 2006; he was appointed associated dean for faculty affairs in 2012. The university said it will begin a national search to identify candidates for permanent College of Law dean; click below for the UI's full announcement.

State’s budget reserve fund filling fast

Here’s a surprising turn of events: With April’s strong state tax revenues, if current trends hold, statutorily required transfers to Idaho’s Budget Stabilization Fund, the state’s main rainy-day savings account, will fill that fund to its statutory cap by the end of the current fiscal year. The stabilization fund, by law, is capped at 5 percent of the state’s general-fund budget. Beyond that point, surpluses would just stay in the state’s general fund.

Legislative Budget Director Cathy Holland-Smith noted that HB 345, the year-end bill sought by the governor this year, directs all year-end surpluses beyond $20 million to the stabilization fund. That now looks like it’ll mean a $58.9 million transfer to the fund at the close of the fiscal year June 30.

The fund had a beginning balance at the start of this fiscal year of $23.8 million. It also will get a statutory transfer, by formula based on state revenue growth, of $25.9 million. And then, at the start of the new fiscal year, the higher-than-expected revenues dictate another statutory transfer into the fund of $27.4 million. Add those up, and the fund will have $136 million in it. It only has $28 million more to go after that before hitting the cap, and more surpluses could materialize in May and June. “We’re looking at almost filling up the budget stabilization fund at the end of 2013,” Holland-Smith said.

Meanwhile, the Public Education Stabilization Fund will have a projected $48.9 million at the close of the fiscal year. “So if things continue the way they are, we’ll have $184.9 million in those two reserve funds,” she told the Legislative Council.

During the recession, Idaho drained nearly $400 million from its various reserve funds and the state Millennium Fund, dropping its reserves to near-zero by 2011. Now, they’re building back up.

Archived audio, video of legislative proceedings could be posted same-day in 2014

Now that the Legislature has approved archiving the video and audio streams of its proceedings during its sessions, Peter Morrill, general manager of Idaho Public Television, told the Legislative Council today that IPTV’s goal for the upcoming 2014 session is to have that day’s audio and video files from committee meetings and House and Senate floor sessions up and posted on the Internet for public access within 24 hours. House Speaker Scott Bedke applauded the news. “I think we’re conducting the people’s business, and they have a right to view those proceedings that directly affect them at their leisure,” Bedke said. “Archiving allows them to not have to be here. We’ve got all this technology – we should use it.”

Legislative interim committees named

The Legislative Council has voted unanimously to approve the appointments for its legislative interim committees; you can see the list here. The new committee on the K-12 education system will be co-chaired by Senate Education Chairman John Goedde and House Education Chairman Reed DeMordaunt; other members are Sens. Thayn, Patrick, Martin and Durst, and Reps. Horman, Boyle, VanOrden and Woodings.

Of lawmakers and technology…

As the Legislature’s IT division manager, Glenn Harris, opened his presentation to the Legislative Council on technology changes during the 2013 session, he referred to the “hand-holding” sometimes needed when new technologies are introduced. House Speaker Scott Bedke asked if most of that “hand-holding” was needed for older members of the Legislature. “It’s not necessarily the age of the member or the legislative service, it just depends on who the people are,” Harris responded. Amid laughter, Bedke said, “Well said.”

After improvements, the wireless network used by lawmakers worked very well this year, Harris said, and brought no complaints. The public Wi-Fi network, however, was a different story; upgrades are in the works.

A new venture this year was automated updates on House and Senate floor votes on Facebook and Twitter. “This was used by a fair amount of people,” Harris said. “We didn’t advertise this heavily; there was a link on our website.” When surveyed, 59 percent of legislators “actually said they didn’t even know it was happening, but they plan on using it next year.”

The Legislature has run into increasing problems with lawmakers’ mass emails to constituents being labeled as spam. “We’re proposing actually acquiring a mass email newsletter type service that you guys can use to email out,” Harris said.

Another issue for the Legislature in the tech arena: Lawmakers still are doing lots of printing, and the Legislature is going through $8,000 worth of toner each year. “We want to cut those costs,” Harris said. He encouraged lawmakers to print in color only sparingly, and when they need to make multiple color printouts, to take them to the state copy center and use copiers there, which cuts the cost in half.

Legislative Council opens meeting, reviews processes for legislative session

The Legislative Council is meeting this morning, with an agenda that includes appointments to interim legislative committees, including panels on federal lands transfer, the state’s public defender system, natural resources issues, the K-12 education system, Energy, Environment & Technology; and the criminal justice system. There’s also a health care task force and a wind energy task force.

So far this morning, the council has been reviewing the legislative session with legislative services staff, including how the technical end of the session worked; Legislative Services Director Jeff Youtz said the research and legislation division hit the 100 percent performance mark for having all bills turned around in five work days; and the bill-drafting process was almost entirely error-free. “We had an excellent session,” Youtz told the lawmakers.

He’s also named new deputy division managers, a new position, for several of the divisions within the Legislative Services Office; they include Paul Headlee in Budget & Policy Analysis; Eric Milstead in Research & Legislation; and Norma Clark in Information Technology. They’ll assist the existing division managers, Cathy Holland-Smith, Mike Nugent and Glenn Harris.

The meeting runs all day; later items on the agenda include a general fund budget update; a Tax Commission presentation on HB 315, the new business personal property tax exemption bill; and discussion of processes for fiscal notes, public records requests, video archiving of legislative proceedings; improvements to wireless service in the Capitol; and more. 

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About this blog

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

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

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