Archive for November 2013
Concerned about where Idaho’s education system is headed, dozens of Idaho CEOs have banded together to push for reforms and improvements, from boosting reading instruction in early grades to finding ways to get more Idaho kids to continue their education after high school. “Education is the engine that pulls the economy,” says Rod Gramer, the new president and CEO of Idaho Business for Education. “Without a good education, my life would have been totally different.”
Gramer is a longtime Idaho journalist who headed news operations at TV stations around the country before returning to his home state this year to take the reins of the IBE. Raised by a mom who worked as a cashier for 31 years after his dad died in a car accident shortly before he was born, Gramer, 60, was the first in his immediate family to graduate from college.
Business leaders first formed Idaho Business for Education in 2005, but they’ve stepped it up this year, hiring on full-time staff – Gramer came on in April – and mobilizing around three projects: Improving early reading among Idaho kids; supporting the controversial Common Core standards for math and English in Idaho schools; and implementing the 20 recommendations of Gov. Butch Otter’s education stakeholders’ task force, which include everything from a new, more generous teacher pay system to advancing students to the next grade based on mastery, rather than age.
Gramer says the 85 current and retired CEOs and top executives who make up the group see the task force recommendations as a “strategic plan” for education in Idaho. “Public education is like a $1.4 billion business in Idaho – we spend that much money,” he said. “There’s probably not a $1.4 billion enterprise in the country that doesn’t have a strategic plan.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Former longtime state Rep. Mary Lou Shepherd, D-Prichard, has passed away at age 80. She represented North Idaho’s Silver Valley, and during her final years in office was the only Democrat among North Idaho’s increasingly GOP-dominated legislative delegation. Shepherd served in the House from 2000 to 2010, before she was defeated by GOP Rep. Shannon McMillan. A retired restaurant/tavern owner, Shepherd was known for departing from her fellow party members in the House to cast votes she said reflected the views of her district – often polling and keeping track of her constituents’ input via their calls and emails.
“Mary Lou invented constituent service,” said former House Minority Leader Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum. “I remember her as always on the phone with some agency working on a solution for a constituent. She was hard-working, cared deeply about Idaho and her district. … She had a large number of legislators on both sides of the aisle who were very fond of her.”
When Shepherd lost her bid for a seventh term in 2010, she said she’d “enjoyed just about every moment” of her legislative service, and offered her successor this advice: “To listen well, don’t make assumptions … and at all times remember who you’re representing and how they want to be represented.” She and her husband Jim raised seven children.
Idaho’s workforce training program is shifting gears, with the announcement today that it’s awarding grants to Boise State University, North Idaho College and Idaho State University for new programs, backed by local employers, to train graduates for high-paying jobs. BSU will train more computer science graduates; NIC will train students in wood products manufacturing; and ISU will train more physician’s assistants.
Previously, the state workforce training fund, which is funded by a portion of unemployment taxes that businesses pay, doled out training grants to businesses to reimburse them for training workers for new jobs that would pay at least $12 an hour and provide benefits. It’s drawn criticism when big grants were paid out to businesses that then failed. Among the notable failures: The shuttered Hoku plant in Pocatello, and the Micron/Transform Solar project, which received $1.5 million in training grants before closing.
That type of grant is still being awarded; Chobani was promised $3.3 million in training grants for its new Greek yogurt plant in Twin Falls, and Frulac has been awarded a $1.2 million training grant for a new fruit processing center in Rupert.
The grants to the colleges, however, are a departure – the first for the fund since it was established in 1996. They’re part of the fund’s new Industry Sector Grant Initiative, under which grants will go to educational institutions that partner with at least three Idaho businesses to train workers in a target occupation critical to those businesses; the businesses must put up matching funds equal to at least 25 percent of the grant. So at BSU, Clearwater Analytics, Cradlepoint, Focus IP, Hewlett-Packard, Impact Sales, Keynetics, MetaGeek and WhiteCloud Analytics are providing the $310,768 in matching funds for a $1 million grant that will allow the school to double its number of computer science graduates from 30 to 60 a year. Those grads will be trained for jobs that typically pay more than $30 an hour.
At NIC, Idaho Forest Group, Potlatch Corp. and Stimson Lumber are providing the $93,679 in matching funds for a $281,036 grant; at ISU, St. Luke’s, St. Al’s, and Blue Cross of Idaho are putting up the $141,709 match for a $532,180 grant.
You can read the Idaho Department of Labor’s full announcement here about the new initiative and the three grants. More than 200 companies have received grants of more than $45 million from the workforce training fund since it started.
AAA Idaho expects some 195,000 Idahoans to hit the roads for Thanksgiving holiday travel this year, and the motorists group says there’s good news for travelers: Idaho’s gas prices have dropped below the national average for the first time since the third week in May. AAA reported that the average Idaho gas price is now $3.22 per gallon, while the national average is $3.28. Idaho’s prices have fallen by 7 cents a gallon in the past week, while the national average rose by 7 cents.
Air travelers could have more trouble, however, as nearly 1,000 flights were canceled at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport on Sunday and Monday, and the winter storm causing the trouble is expected to reach the East Coast on Wednesday, one of the busiest travel days of the year. You can read AAA’s full Thanksgiving travel update here.
The Idaho State Police is launching its third “All Hands on Deck” operation of the year tomorrow, sending all its commissioned officers, including the top brass and those who normally work behind a desk, out to patrol the state’s highways. Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, is one of the busiest travel days of the year.
“We want to give families added safety on the roads to start out the holiday season,” said Col. Ralph Powell, ISP chief. “Thanksgiving weekend is a busy time for friends and families, but it is also a busy time for crashes and fatalities. ISP wants to do all we can to prevent these tragedies.” The additional patrols will be watching for traffic violations that are known to be factors in crashes and fatalities, including speed, aggressive and distracted driving, driving while impaired, and failing to use seatbelts and child safety seats.
The start of a megaload shipment of oil refinery equipment through Eastern Oregon has been put off until Sunday, the AP reports, and objections have been raised in Eastern Oregon that the state didn't do enough to notify tribal and local government officials. The shipment has also drawn protests from environmentalists gathered Sunday and Monday at the Port of Umatilla; they want to call attention to the global warming repercussions that could come from development of oil from the tar sands in western Canada. The shipment weighing 901,000 pounds remained at the Port of Umatilla on Tuesday, two days after it was scheduled to move. Click below for a full report from the AP and the Argus Observer in Ontario.
Gov. Butch Otter is asking anyone interested in the opening on the state Board of Education to apply by Dec. 9, a week from next Monday. The opening comes after Otter appointed board member Ken Edmunds to head the state Department of Labor; the appointee will serve out Edmunds' term, which runs through March 1, 2018. Otter noted that state law says the best applicant must be chosen for the position, without regard to “locality, occupation, party affiliation or religion.”
“The goal in all my appointments to the Board is to find members who can view Idaho’s education system holistically, putting aside parochial connections to any single institution and instead focusing on our statewide needs and opportunities for improvement,” Otter said in a statement. “Our colleges and universities have the responsibility to help prepare Idaho’s workforce for the future. The Board of Education is charged with ensuring those institutions have the tools and the oversight they need to work collaboratively toward our statewide goals.”
Otter's choice to fill the vacancy would be subject to confirmation by the state Senate. To apply for the vacancy, send a resume and a letter of interest to the governor's office, to the attention of Anne Beebe.
Phillip Thompson, son of Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, says, “I’ll always be a dedicated fan of the iPhone,” after a FaceTime session with his mom allowed him to spot signs of a stroke and rush her to the hospital; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com. Thompson, 37, said it happened last Sunday, when it had been getting late and Buckner-Webb hadn’t yet had her daily visit with almost-3-year-old Zaida, Thompson’s daughter and Buckner-Webb’s only granddaughter. “Those two are joined at the hip,” Thompson said. “Her and I had been playing phone tag all day. … We FaceTime so they can see each other and talk when I don’t have time to run over there.”
But, he said, “While we were talking, first she looked like she was very tired. But then she messed up my daughter’s name twice, and that’s never going to happen.” He immediately grew concerned. “I said, ‘Mom, are you all right?’” he said. “She couldn’t quite enunciate or pronounce things properly. … Some of her responses weren’t on point. You could see the right side of her face looking not as it should. So I flew over to her house and took her to the hospital. So you’ve gotta love the iPhone.”
Buckner-Webb was admitted and treated right away. “She’s doing quite well,” her son said. “We had her to the hospital in no time flat. They kept her a few days. … She’s speaking much better now. Her strength’s pretty good. She’s just working through it now. Everybody expects a full recovery.”
Thompson said Buckner-Webb is going through physical therapy now. “She got seen in no time flat. Her cat scans were good. .. So if you have adults who live away, you need an iPhone for ‘em. I’m serious – that’s huge. … When you can see someone’s face, you can see those symptoms. … You can actually see if something’s amiss.”
State Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, the Senate minority caucus chair, is recovering after a mild stroke, and expects to be back in action in time for the start of the legislative session in January. “I will be standing tall as the legislative session begins,” Buckner-Webb said in a statement today.
She said she is making a quick recovery, and attributes that in part to quick recognition of her condition by family members – and to communication technology. She was talking with her son, Phillip, and her granddaughter, using the FaceTime application on her iPhone, when her symptoms started. “During that conversation, her son noticed that her face looked unusual and her speech was slurred,” according to a Senate news release. “Quick action results in the best outcome.”
Buckner-Webb said as a result, she received immediate treatment; she said she is “fortunate to be surrounded by family and friends and to have received excellent professional care.” You can read the full news release here, in which Buckner-Webb encourages people to familiarize themselves with the signs of a stroke, via a checklist developed by the American Stroke Association. Buckner-Webb is a first-term senator who previously served one term in the House; she is the owner of Sojourner Coaching and a noted jazz singer.
Here’s something to ponder as Thanksgiving approaches: Wild turkeys are found across Idaho, and there’s even an open hunting season on them right now up in the North Idaho Panhandle. But they’re not native to the state. Turkeys actually were introduced by Idaho Fish & Game in 1961, a move that once was a common part of wildlife management in the state. The Fish & Game photo above shows the first turkey release in '61.
“Turkeys have adapted so well in northern Idaho, they have become a nuisance in some locations,” Idaho Fish & Game reports. “Yet few turkeys are found in the Salmon Region, because little habitat is suitable there. Wild turkey populations in Idaho are largely found in the Panhandle, Clearwater and Southwest regions and parts of the Southeast Region.”
Other species Fish & Game has introduced over its 75-year history include chukar, Gambel’s quail, California quail, walleye, crappie, bluegill and tiger muskie. But there have been some that haven’t gone so well, too, including the introduction of mysis shrimp in North Idaho lakes, which shifted the lakes’ ecosystem in ways that hurt native bull trout and kokanee; and the introduction long ago of brook trout, which then competed with native fish species.
Reports Fish & Game, “As the science of managing fish and wildlife has evolved, the practice of introducing new species to Idaho, without extensive analysis, is largely seen as a naïve and outdated practice.” But the turkeys are still here.
Thinking about working for the Forest Service next summer, in anything from firefighting to recreation, wildlife, fisheries tech or range management? Plan ahead, is the advice from the Idaho Department of Labor, which reports that the Forest Service has scheduled job fairs for Dec. 2 at all 25 state employment offices around the state, each running from 12:30 to 4 p.m. local time. The job fairs are informational, said Robin Hollis, a workforce consultant with the Department of Labor, offering a chance to talk with the Forest Service about what’s available and where and when to apply. “When is really key,” she said, “Because in January is when they do their first fire hire, for the 2014 fire season. A lot of people don’t realize that they should be building their profile now in usajobs.gov.”
The actual job postings likely will be out in late December or January, depending on the type of summer seasonal job, Hollis said. Click below for the Department of Labor’s full announcement.
The Tax Commission has a message for all those holiday shoppers making their purchases online: You still owe Idaho tax. If the online retailer doesn't charge the tax, Idahoans are required by law to pay the 6 percent tax, in this case called “use tax” rather than sales tax, when they filed their next income tax return. More than 9,600 Idahoans paid the tax on their 2012 state income tax returns, the Tax Commission reports, paying more than $544,000. “But that number is estimated to be a fraction of what is owed,” the commission said today in a news release.
As the holiday shopping season gears up, Randy Tilley, audit division administrator, said, “We encourage folks to keep track of their untaxed purchases, total them up at the end of the year, and make a payment when they file their income taxes next year.” He noted that the tax has been around since 1965; it applies to purchases that Idahoans make, whether they're on the Internet, by telephone or from a mail-order catalog, “if the goods are used, given away, stored or consumed in Idaho.” Click below for the Tax Commission's full news release.
In his Johnson Post blog, Marc Johnson offers an interesting take today on the historical parallels between this year, when two-term Gov. Butch Otter faces a primary challenge from a member of an insurgent wing of the Idaho Republican Party, state Sen. Russ Fulcher, to 1966, when popular three-term GOP Gov. Robert E. Smylie faced a similar challenge – and unexpectedly lost to Don Samuelson. “The politics of Idaho just became a lot more interesting,” Johnson writes, “and, while it should be said emphatically that Butch Otter has many, many significant advantages as he goes for a third term as governor – a solid conservative record, a winning personality, a polished retail approach to politics, lots of money, and the advantages of incumbency – once in a while history does rhyme.”
Johnson also notes that the eventual outcome of the 1966 political upheaval in Idaho was a 1970 election that began 24 straight years of Democratic control of the Idaho governorship, with the election of Cecil Andrus, “a political phenomenon that seemed unimaginable four decades ago, but that happened in no small part because of the turmoil fostered by the primary defeat of an Idaho governor who seemed unbeatable until he wasn’t.” You can read Johnson’s full piece here.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho (AP) — A family friend says Republican State Sen. Bob Nonini of Coeur d'Alene has been hospitalized. Lorna Finman tells the Coeur d'Alene Press (http://bit.ly/1iHUyLm) that Nonini was admitted last week to Kootenai Health in Coeur d'Alene due to complications from the flu. Finman says Nonini is getting better and plans to be in Boise to take part in the 2014 session in January. A hospital spokeswoman on Sunday cited federal privacy laws in declining to release any information to The Associated Press, including whether Nonini is at the hospital. Finman says the family is requesting privacy so that Nonini can rest and get better.
State Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, launched his campaign for governor today, flying from Meridian to Coeur d'Alene to Idaho Falls to announce that he'll run against GOP Gov. Butch Otter in Idaho's May primary. Otter is a second-term governor who's seeking a third term and earlier served three terms in Congress and 14 years as the state's lieutenant governor; Fulcher is a fifth-term state senator who's taken exception to Otter's move to establish a state-based health insurance exchange, rather than letting the federal government run Idaho's exchange. Fulcher, shown here greeting supporters in Idaho Falls, said his first priority would be “reversing Gov. Otter's efforts to implement Obamacare here in Idaho,” and added, “I also believe our state is going down the wrong path in areas of education and the adoption of other federal programs.”
Otter, who is finishing up a state trade mission to Russia, had no immediate comment, nor did his campaign manager, Jayson Ronk, who told the Associated Press, “The governor has a campaign plan in place that we intend to execute.” Click below for a full report from the AP.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell slightly to 6.7 percent in October, ending an upward trend in which the rate increased by seven-tenths of a point between April and August. The Idaho Labor Department says the number of Idaho workers without jobs rose slightly in September before falling by more than 1,000 to 54,400 in October, marking the fourth straight month that the number of unemployed has been above 50,000. Idaho's October unemployment benefit payments were down 37 percent from October 2012, with nearly $9 million in state and federal benefits being paid to a weekly average of 8,800 claimants. In October 2012, an average of 14,500 claimants were paid $14.2 million. Nationally, the unemployment rate was 7.2 percent in September and 7.3 percent in October, reflecting the temporary layoff of federal employees.
Idaho's state Department of Insurance says no decision will come before December on whether Idaho will allow residents to keep existing insurance policies had initially been due for cancellation under President Obama's health care overhaul, the AP reports. Details on how health insurance companies would calculate rates for extended plans still aren't clear, the department said. Last Thursday, Obama said he'd allow insurance companies to keep selling these existing plans for another year, even if they do not meet certain Affordable Care Act criteria for coverage; the move followed criticism that he'd promised nobody would be forced out of their existing policy under the 2010 overhaul. But the decision requires state approval. Idaho is among numerous states still considering whether to follow Obama's lead.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Power Co. Chief Executive Officer LaMont Keen is retiring at year's end, to be replaced by the company's chief financial officer. Darrel Anderson will step in for Keen Dec. 31. The state's largest utility made the announcement on Thursday. Keen has been employed at Idaho Power for nearly four decades and led the company since 2006. He'll remain on the company's board of directors after he leaves. Anderson began working for Idaho Power in 1996, serving as vice president, chief financial officer and treasurer, vice president of finance and as a controller. He has a degree from Oregon State University in accounting and finance. Idaho Power serves 504,040 customers in a service area that includes southern Idaho and eastern Oregon. It gets electricity from dams, coal, gas and solar.
Eleven Idaho schools are only a few months into their technology pilot projects, funded by a $3 million appropriation from the Legislature this year, but lawmakers will soon have to decide whether to put more money into such projects. Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert writes today that lawmakers will have some anecdotal evidence from the field when they arrive for their session in January, but test results may be scarce. Nevertheless, state Superintendent of Schools is requesting another $3 million. You can read Richert’s full report here, which includes an update on the projects around the state.
Idaho non-profits are being targeted in an overpayment scam, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden warns. Typically, the scammer makes a very large donation to the non-profit online, like $5,000, then contacts the organization to say the large donation was a mistake - intended, for example, to have been $500 - and asks for a refund of the difference. Non-profits taken in by the scam end up without either the “refund” or the original donation. “My office has warned individual Idahoans for a number of years to be wary of offers to overpay for advertised goods or services,” Wasden said. “More recently, we have received reports of a variation on that theme targeting non-profits that receive donations online.” Wasden today issued a “consumer alert” warning Idaho non-profits about the scam; click below for his full announcement.
Total personal income in Idaho in 2012 was up 3.9 percent from 2011, a third of a percentage point below the national average, according to new estimates out today. Rising business profits were a major driver of the growth in personal income, with business profits up 6.6 percent statewide; wages rose only 2.5 percent, compared to 4.3 percent nationally.
One surprise in the numbers was that rural Idaho saw more of a boost than the state’s urban counties, the Idaho Department of Labor reports. Total personal income in Idaho’s 33 rural counties was up 4.4 percent from 2011, two-tenths of a percentage point higher than the national increase. In the state’s 11 urban counties, it was up 3.7 percent, which, was half a percentage point below the national increase.
The difference is even more pronounced for per-capita personal income, which rose 4.6 percent in rural Idaho to $33,649, compared to 2.5 percent in the urban counties to $34,654. But most of the state’s population is concentrated in the urban counties, and they’re gaining residents. Bob Fick of the Idaho Department of Labor reports that just one Idaho county, Custer County, showed a decrease from 2011 to 2012; molybdenum mining there has been soft. You can see Fick’s full report here, including a breakdown by county. (Note: The department issued a corrected report on Friday, slightly modifying the urban vs. rural figures; this link is to the corrected version.)
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A company hired by a subsidiary of General Electric to ship massive oil refinery equipment to the tar sands project in Canada is now seeking to haul the oversized loads across eastern Oregon and southern Idaho. The first of three megaloads could begin making its way through Oregon this weekend before crossing into Idaho's southwestern corner next week. The Oregon Department of Transportation has already issued permits for the first shipment, while Idaho highway officials are still studying the travel plan submitted by shipper Omega Morgan. The new proposed route comes months after a federal judge in Idaho blocked the company from traveling along U.S. Highway 12 and a protected wild and scenic river corridor in northern Idaho. The megaloads would leave Idaho and enter Montana along U.S. Highway 93.
Click below for a full report from AP reporter Todd Dvorak.
Idaho GOP Sen. Mike Crapo and Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet today filed legislation to launch a five-year, up to $30 million wildfire mitigation pilot project, to be carried out by FEMA in consultation with the Forest Service, as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, which is currently under consideration in the Senate. The two senators introduced the bill in August; it’s considered deficit-neutral, as it taps FEMA’s Pre-Disaster Mitigation Fund for competitive grants to state and local officials for wildfire preparedness and mitigation projects. Those state and local agencies would have to provide matching funds; the projects could occur on federal, state or private land.
“Instead of waiting until more towns are evacuated, homes threatened and our firefighters lives put at risk, the U.S. Senate has an opportunity to pass the PREPARE Act amendment to help states like Idaho reduce and prevent catastrophic fires,” Crapo said in a statement. Bennet said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. By directing more resources toward fire mitigation on the front end, we can not only help prevent and reduce
GOP Sen. Russ Fulcher of Meridian has scheduled announcements in Meridian, Coeur d’Alene and Idaho Falls on Saturday to announce his “decision about a potential gubernatorial bid,” after several weeks of traveling the state to gauge support. Fulcher said he’s reached his decision “after much prayerful consideration;” you can see his full announcement schedule here.
As Idaho Statesman political columnist Dan Popkey noted this morning, “Fulcher, who isn’t made of money, surely wouldn’t be flying around the state to say he’s decided not to run. Despite Otter’s likely financial advantage and incumbency, Fulcher’s in.”
Fulcher, currently the Senate GOP caucus chair, is a fifth-term senator and a commercial real estate agent who worked in high tech for 24 years, including 15 years at Micron Technology and nine years as vice president of sales and marketing for Preco Electronics; he grew up on a Meridian dairy farm, and holds a bachelor’s degree and an MBA from Boise State University.
Fulcher’s announcement comes as Otter, the second-term Republican governor, is gone on a nine-day trade mission to Russia.
In the resignation letter that Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise, delivered to the office of Gov. Butch Otter, Durst says he decided to resign from the Senate “after a period of deep reflection and prayer.” He says he concluded that his constituents would be better served if some else were given the opportunity to represent them in the state Senate. “I have been incredibly honored and thankful to be given the tremendous opportunity to serve,” Durst wrote. “However, I am choosing to put my family first and doing so will prevent me from completing the term to which I was elected.”
You can read Durst’s full letter here.
Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey reports this afternoon that Rep. Janie Ward Engleking, D-Boise, plans to apply to fill Durst’s Senate seat, while the other state representative in the district, Rep. Phyllis King, D-Boise, said she’s happy staying in the House. Popkey’s report is online here.
The Democratic Central Committee for Legislative District 18 has 15 days to submit a list of three candidates to replace Durst, starting Dec. 1, the date his resignation is effective. Then, the governor will have 15 days after receiving the list to select the new senator. That means the replacement will be on board in time for the opening of the upcoming legislative session on Jan. 6. If it's Ward-Engleking, a similar process then would be followed to fill her House seat.
Durst’s status has been the subject of speculation recently; after his wife got a job in the Seattle area and the family moved there, KTVB-TV reported Sept. 6 that neighbors hadn’t seen anyone at Durst’s home in his Boise district, and it appeared devoid of furniture. The station caught Durst in his yard and interviewed him through a wood fence when he refused to come out; he was clearly visible. He said then that he was still living at least 50 percent of the time in Boise. “I still have a bed and clothes all here. All my stuff's still here. Everything else is gone,” Durst told the KTVB reporter Jamie Grey; you can see her full report here.
Under Idaho law, a vacancy in office occurs by “the incumbent ceasing to be a resident of the state, district or county in which the duties of his office are to be exercised, or for which he may have been elected.” In the months following the KTVB report, Durst's absence at a legislative interim committee meeting raised eyebrows.
A legislative interim committee has agreed on the concept of state Public Defense Commission to help oversee improvements in the state’s spotty and problem-plagued system of criminal defense for indigent defendants. But the senators and representatives also agreed that the new commission should make recommendations to the Legislature on new requirements for qualifications, experience, and performance standards for public defenders, rather than promulgate rules on those items itself. “I don’t know that we can do it all at once,” said Rep. Darrell Bolz, R-Caldwell, co-chair of the interim committee. “It may be a two- or three-year process.”
The panel also is discussing how best to get full-time public defenders in Idaho’s counties, rather than lawyers who also have other cases – which may be higher-paying and draw more of their attention. The problem comes for Idaho’s remote and sparsely populated counties, where, even if they shared a full-time public defender with other counties, travel time could stretch into many hours. Lawmakers on the panel agreed to get more input from counties before their next meeting in January.
The committee’s work opened in August with a stern warning from Idaho Supreme Court Justice Roger Burdick that the state’s criminal defense system for indigent defendants is “broken,” plagued by soaring caseloads, short funding, and lack of qualified, experienced and suitably trained attorneys. Idaho law and the state Constitution require public defenders; Burdick warned that the state is falling short of its own constitutional standard.
Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, the interim committee’s Senate co-chairman, said, “We’ve made significant progress.” He said the panel will finalize its commission legislation at its Jan. 8 meeting, and decide whether to propose it during this year’s legislative session. The panel also voted today to recommend the appointment of an additional legislative study group to examine whether cities should help fund the public defender system, in addition to counties and the state. Mortimer said funding issues will be the main focus of the Jan. 8 meeting, including “long-range planning for stable and ongoing funding.” Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOSTON (AP) — A former mob associate who spent over a decade posing as a cattle rancher in Idaho has been convicted of federal charges including the attempted murder of a man who became the boss of the New England Mafia. Enrico Ponzo was convicted Wednesday after a monthlong racketeering trial. Prosecutors said Ponzo teamed up with a faction of mobsters that wanted to stop Francis “Cadillac Frank” Salemme from becoming the boss of the Patriarca crime family. Ponzo was convicted of being one of the triggermen who shot at Salemme in 1989 as he walked into a restaurant north of Boston. He was acquitted of several other charges. Ponzo fled in 1994 and wasn't captured until 2011, when authorities found him in Marsing, Idaho. Ponzo's lawyer said he will appeal. Sentencing is set for March 6.
Idaho Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise, is resigning from the state Senate, effective Dec. 1. Durst said he's resigning to focus on his family's needs; earlier this year, his wife and family moved to the Seattle area, where she now is employed as a teacher, and he's since spent much time over there. The Idaho Democratic Party announced that it is inviting Democrats from District 18 who are interested in the position to fill out a questionnaire; the party's District 18 central committee will recommend three candidates to Gov. Butch Otter for appointment. “Although we will miss him, we are confident we will find a worthy person to take his place,” said John Goettsche, the party's District 18 chairman. Click below for the Democratic Party's full announcement.
Durst is in his first term in the Senate, after serving three terms in the House.
First the weather turned colder and the mountains turned white. Now, the annual Warren Miller ski film is coming to town this week – sure signs that the ski season is on the way. “Ticket to Ride” is the 64th annual Warren Miller ski film to kick off the season and get skiers and snowboarders in the proper frame of mind for the slopes; it plays at the Egyptian Theatre in Boise this Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, plus a Saturday afternoon matinee. There’s more info here from the Bogus Basin Ski Club, sponsors of the annual Boise showing, including a link to watch the trailer for the film; click here for theater info and to buy tickets.
Only 30 of the more than 200 Idaho high schools and junior highs set to get state-funded WiFi service under a statewide contract are up and running with the service, Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News reports, but the contractor, Education Networks of America, says the project is on schedule to reach completion by March. Lawmakers this year will have to decide whether to continue to fund the project, for which state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna signed a five- to 15-year contract based only on this year’s funding. You can read Richert’s full report here.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson has introduced a bill designed to add a third federal judge in Idaho to help offset an expanding and cumbersome caseload. The Republican says it's past time for Idaho to get a third federal judge. The federal court system in Idaho is now overseen by two federal district judges — B. Lynn Winmill and Edward J. Lodge. As Idaho's population has ballooned in the last decade, so too has the pressure on the federal courts. For example, Simpson says total filings increased 26 percent between 2007 and 2013, and pending caseloads have increased during the same span by 30 percent. Simpson also says Idaho now has a heavier caseload than other rural states with three judges — including Alaska, Montana, South Dakota and Wyoming.
Idahoans for Openness in Government filed a complaint against the city of Twin Falls Tuesday, asking county Prosecutor Grant Loebs to look into the City Council’s practice of delegating city business to subcommittees that meet secretly, flouting the Idaho Open Meeting Law. The council voted 4-2 on Nov. 12 to continue the practice, after the mayor said the city would have to hire another city employee to take minutes for the 14 subcommittees.
The Twin Falls Times-News has an article here on the complaint and dispute; Loebs told the newspaper he’ll investigate. “I’ll take it seriously,” he said. Full disclosure here: I filed the complaint as the president of IDOG, which last month held a seminar on Idaho's open meeting and public records law in Twin Falls that was attended by more than 100 people. The Idaho Open Meeting Law applies to subagencies of governing bodies if they have “the authority to make decisions or recommendations to a public agency regarding any matter.”
Mayor Greg Lanting said in an email Tuesday that the city now plans to open many, though not all, of its subcommittees; Loebs said he hopes to have more information about what the city’s been doing by the first week of December.
An email from the Idaho Freedom Foundation arrived in the inbox of nearly every Idaho legislator last week touting a controversial and unsuccessful bill to criminalize Idaho police officers who enforce federal gun laws that might pass in the future as a paragon of “constitutional principles.” Last Tuesday’s mass email came just as the bill’s sponsor, embattled state Rep. Mark Patterson, R-Boise, hit the national news with his claims that a local sheriff’s move to revoke his concealed weapons permit over an undisclosed past assault with intent to commit rape case really was retaliation for his bill, and his criticism of the Idaho Sheriff’s Association for not backing it.
Idaho Freedom Foundation President Wayne Hoffman says the timing of the email was coincidental, and had nothing to do with Patterson’s case. “We just thought it was an interesting little tidbit to share,” he said.
The email, which went to a list of close to 5,000 addresses, including more than 150 Idaho legislative addresses, noted that the Freedom Foundation scores bills and tracks lawmakers’ voting records on them. After praising HB 219 as an example of legislation advancing “constitutional principles,” the email lists the foundation’s top 10 highest rated Idaho House members in the category of constitutional principles. Patterson is tied for 7th on the list. Senate members aren’t mentioned.
Hoffman said the Freedom Foundation isn’t involving itself in Patterson’s case. “It’s not our deal. We don’t have a dog in that fight,” he said. “That’s about politics, not public policy. That’s not an issue in which we engage.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on how the state Tax Commission today refused to extend a big property tax break to operators of railroad tracks, pipelines, cell towers and underground tanks, despite the urging of a roomful of officials from those firms. Had the commission acceded to the request from the companies, all other taxpayers in the counties where their property is located would have had to pay more to make up for the break. “Realize, as we play with those pieces, we start moving who pays what,” said Tax Commissioner Rich Jackson.
Idaho lawmakers this year passed a $20 million partial exemption of business personal property from local property taxes, by exempting the first $100,000 of each taxpayer’s personal property in each Idaho county from the tax. But the Legislature didn’t specify where the line fell dividing personal from real property. So the Tax Commission, working through a committee that met all summer, drafted two rules to draw that line – and the railroads, pipelines and cell towers were classified as real property, ineligible for the new break.
The Legislature authorized state funds to reimburse counties and other local governments for the lost revenue from the new tax break, but only at 2013 levels. If the new rules, which take effect in 2014, had exempted the additional classes of property, that wouldn’t have generated any additional state reimbursement. Instead, it would have forced a tax shift, requiring all other local taxpayers in the county to pay more to make up the difference.
The Tax Commission has voted unanimously in favor of its two proposed rules to define real and personal property for purposes of property tax, despite objections from railroads, utilities and similar interests. Commissioner Ken Roberts said, “There’s a lot of water under the bridge over the last several years in this. I used to wear a different hat (as a legislator), and was involved in those discussions as well. What’s interesting is until the $100,000 exemption took place, it really didn’t matter – and now all of a sudden it matters what’s real and what’s personal.”
Legislation passed this year exempts from taxation the first $100,000 worth of personal property for each taxpayer, in each county.
Roberts said the question of where the line lies between the two should have been answered by the Legislature, but it wasn’t. “Void of that direction … somebody has to make a decision about what and where that line is,” he said. “I’m sad to say that this decision has kind of found its way to the Tax Commission. … If we get it wrong, the Legislature, who are the policy setters in the state of Idaho when it comes to tax policy, can change it.”
Commissioner Rich Jackson noted that the definition affects an overall tax system, and who pays more and who pays less. “I think sometimes we have to back up and say, what should this structure do, and what should be assessed to the different players?” he said. “But realize, as we play with those pieces, we start moving who pays what.”
Commissioner David Langhorst, who like Roberts is a former state legislator, said, “I think they made good arguments, the taxpayers today.” But he said the rule takes a conservative approach. “And if the Legislature really did intend for this to be more liberally applied or a broader exemption created, then they can affirm that.”
Idaho’s state Tax Commission has a full house today at a hearing on two proposed rules setting definitions for personal property, now that the Legislature has enacted a new partial property tax exemption for personal property. Canyon County Assessor Gene Kuehn was the only person to testify in favor of the proposed rules; the room is packed with representatives of railroads, utilities and other interests opposing the rules. The big sticking point: The new rules define things like railroad tracks and pipelines as real property, not personal propertly. That means they wouldn’t be eligible for the new break.
Kuehn told the state’s four tax commissioners, “It will provide consistency. Assessors are always accused of being 44 different ways of valuations. This will keep us in line, as far as valuing personal and real property.” He said county assessors back the rule as-is. “To tell you the truth, I think we all think there needs to be some legislative direction on this, of what’s personal and what’s real,” he said. “As it stands right now, we stand by it.”
Rick Smith, an attorney with Hawley troxell representing Northwest Pipeline, Century Link, and AT&T, gesturing to the crowded room, said, “Maybe … we can take a count of how many are against it.” But a few minutes later, Commissioner Tom Katsilometes noted, “When Gene made his comment, he was representing 44 assessors.” Amid laughter, Smith said he’d withdraw his suggestion of a count.
Smith told the commission he disagrees with treating railroad tracks and pipelines as real property. “Some states take a very restrictive view,” Smith said. “New York, for example, considers all this type of property as real property. But I would submit that Idaho is not New York.” He said, “Real property includes improvements, structures and fixtures. I just don’t believe that railroad tracks is an improvement to real property. And it’s not a structure.” That would make it a fixture, he said, but it’s not a fixture that’s integral to the main purpose of the real estate, like an irrigation system for a farm.
Tax Commissioner Rich Jackson countered, “The railroad has a railroad system to function as a railroad. The telephone company has a series of assets to function as a telephone company. Cell towers are the same thing. … So I can’t quite make the distinction that you are.”
Jackson said, “Frankly, we got charged with looking at this, and we’re taking our best shot. But we aren’t the decision makers – that’s the Legislature.” Over the past 10 years, Jackson said, “Industry, the assessors and our staff tried to come to some common ground. I don’t think that will be without controversy, ever. I think controversy will continue. But I have a basic concept – here’s what’s within the boundary of a county, and how do you tax ‘em?” Smith responded, “I know everybody’s trying to do the right thing here. I appreciate all that.”
Six items in the new Tax Commission rules regarding real and personal property are drawing the brunt of the objections at today’s hearing: Cell towers, underground storage tanks, poles and towers, signposts, pipelines and conduit, and railroad track. All six are declared to be real property, not personal property, and therefore not eligible for a new partial tax break for personal property enacted by state lawmakers this year.
Gerry White of Union Pacific Railroad called the proposed new rules “discriminatory” toward railroads like Union Pacific. An Idaho Power representative called on the commission to reject the rule, prompting commissioners to note that some rule must be enacted to implement the new law.
Embattled Idaho state Rep. Mark Patterson, R-Boise, is now threatening to sue Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney for revealing Patterson’s 1974 guilty plea and withheld judgment for assault with intent to commit rape, the Idaho Statesman reports today. The freshman lawmaker told KIDO radio that the sheriff wants to “write me off as some kind of criminal and a nut job,” the newspaper reported. Raney revoked Patterson’s concealed weapon permit after determining that he twice lied on his application by failing to disclose the 1974 case. Raney told Statesman reporter Dan Popkey, “We had a duty and followed it. Any suggestion otherwise is false.”
Popkey reported that Patterson also said during the radio interview that he may not seek re-election in 2014, and didn't rule out resigning from office; the Statesman article is online here.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson's bid for a ninth term got an assist Monday when former presidential candidate Mitt Romney released an endorsement letter. Simpson faces challenger Bryan Smith in next May's Republican primary election. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, lauded Simpson as a “stalwart conservative leader,” accusing what he called “outside” groups of interfering in the race by backing Smith. Smith has won the conservative group Club for Growth's support in his bid to unseat Simpson. Like Romney, Smith and Simpson come from Mormon backgrounds. One flashpoint in this internal GOP duel has centered on which candidate likes President Obama's health care overhaul the least. Smith accuses Simpson of not trying hard enough to repeal it, while Romney described Simpson as a lawmaker who has “fought to repeal Obamacare.”
Idaho’s biggest business lobby, the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, has come out in favor of Medicaid expansion, a move that could save the state budget more than $600 million in the next decade and save county property taxpayers $478 million. In a letter to Gov. Butch Otter dated Friday, IACI President Alex LaBeau called for re-convening Otter’s task force on Medicaid redesign – which last year recommended the expansion, along with various changes to the Medicaid program – to look at how best to accomplish it.
“IACI supports Medicaid redesign in a manner that is fair to taxpayers, beneficial to employers, adds provider accountability, addresses the inherent inefficiencies in the county indigent program and the state’s catastrophic program, and minimizes the cost shift to business,” LaBeau wrote, reporting the group’s official position, adopted by its board in September; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
LaBeau is among the speakers at a forum tonight at the Boise Public Library entitled, “Opportunities & Obstacles of Medicaid Expansion;” also speaking are Jim Baugh, executive director of Disability Rights Idaho; Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, the conservative eastern Idaho lawmaker who last year introduced legislation to expand Medicaid; and Corey Surber, executive director of community health and public policy for the St. Alphonsus Health System. The free forum starts at 7 p.m.
The expansion in question would cover under Medicaid adults who make up to 138 percent of the poverty level, roughly $31,000 a year for a family of four; that originally was a mandatory part of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, but the U.S. Supreme Court made it optional for states. Idaho Medicaid now covers non-disabled adults only if they have children and have income of less than 20 percent of the poverty level, or $4,584 for a family of four.
When Idahoans who fall into that uncovered category and have no health insurance run up catastrophic medical bills, whether it’s from accidents or cancer, a county-state program steps in to help with the bills, with county and state taxpayers paying 100 percent of the tab. Liens are placed on everything the patient owns, though little is generally recovered. If Idaho opted to expand Medicaid to cover that same population, the federal government would pay 100 percent of the costs for the first three years, then phase down to 90 percent.
LaBeau said his organization is intrigued by a program that’s been approved as a demonstration project in Arkansas, where the state will take the federal Medicaid expansion funds and use them instead to purchase private insurance for those individuals. “It’s more of a private-sector solution,” he said, adding that Iowa has a similar program awaiting approval. “We certainly think it’s worth taking a look at,” he said.
Last year, Idaho lawmakers declined to take any action on the issue.
Chuck Staben, provost and vice president for academic affairs at the University of South Dakota, has been named the new president of the University of Idaho; the state Board of Education voted unanimously today in favor of the choice. Staben’s salary will be $350,000 a year, and he was appointed for a term of three years, starting March 1. Asked how long he plans to stay in the position – at a university that’s seen considerable turnover in its top position in recent years – Staben said, “Longer than three years,” to loud applause from a crowd gathered for the announcement in an auditorium on the U of I campus in Moscow.
Staben, 55, said, “What I was really looking for as I looked at this opportunity, was the opportunity to have what I call … one last good job for me. I can work 10 or 15 years more. … My wife hates to move. It turns out she’s enthusiastic about this move, but she may not have any more in her, and that’s OK.”
You can read my full story here at spokesman.com. Staben cited increasing the number of students who both enroll and graduate, and strategic expansions in university research as among his priorities. He is a biochemist with a Ph.D from the University of California at Berkeley and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois. He's been at South Dakota since 2008, and previously served as a vice president and professor at the University of Kentucky, from 1989 to 2008. His wife, Mary Beth, is a physician; they have three grown children, all in college or graduate school. Among Staben’s successes at South Dakota has been managing through a series of state budget cuts.
Here’s a link to my Sunday column on the crowd forming to run in the GOP primary for Secretary of State, now that longtime Secretary of State Ben Ysursa has announced he’ll retire rather than seek another term in 2014.
Those expressing interest so far include former House Speaker Lawerence Denney, who announced even before Ysursa bowed out; Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, an attorney and freshman representative who notes there’s currently no one from North Idaho among Idaho’s top state elected officials; former Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise, an attorney, West Point grad and retired Army colonel who’s traveling the state this week to gauge support; chief deputy Ada County clerk Phil McGrane, an attorney and elections specialist who touts his work for transparency; and Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, a three-term state representative and first-term senator who’s a retired Navy man and an advocate for wounded veterans.
With snow in the forecast, Bogus Basin has launched a surprise, this-weekend-only $299 season pass sale – a price skiers otherwise would have had to buy by Sept. 30 to get; until today, the passes were being sold for $389. At $299 for a season pass and $49 for a single lift ticket, it only takes six days of skiing to break even.
“Snow is on the way, the forecast looks great,” said the non-profit ski resort’s general manager, Alan Moore. “We wanted to give people another chance to secure their season pass. The mountain is ready for snow.” He noted improvements over the summer from new lighting on the terrain park to extensive brush-cutting, thanks to community support that raised the needed funds. The pass sale is good until midnight Sunday, but at the moment, online sales are down, so the best bet is to go visit the Bogus Basin office in person at 2600 Bogus Basin Road; it’s open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The National Weather Service forecast for Bogus, which is just 16.5 miles north of Boise, calls for snow tonight, with 5 to 9 inches accumulation possible, followed by snow showers on Saturday with another possible 2 to 4 inches.
With longtime Idaho Department of Labor Director Roger Madsen's planned retirement taking effect today, Gov. Butch Otter has announced his pick for the new director: Ken Edmunds, a Twin Falls business consultant and current member of the state Board of Education. Madsen, an attorney and former state senator, was first appointed to the post by Gov. Phil Batt in 1995; the next three governors, Dirk Kempthorne, Jim Risch and Otter, all retained him in the post.
“The Department of Labor has had extraordinary leadership under Roger for 18 years,” Otter said in his announcement. “I’m confident that Ken will continue that tradition of excellence while bringing valuable perspective to the job of helping prepare Idaho’s workforce for the future.” He added, “Ken’s years on the Board of Education and his private-sector experience will be critically important in positioning the Department of Labor to advance its collaborative efforts with the education and economic development communities and Idaho employers.”
Edmunds has served on the Board of Education since 2008. He holds a master’s degree in accounting from BYU, and has had his own business, financial and real estate consulting business, Edmunds Group, for the past 25 years. His current state board term runs through 2018, so Otter will need to appoint a replacement to the board. Click below for Otter's full announcement.
Edmunds, 58, said he became interested in the job through his interest and work on workforce development and improving Idaho's economy through various state board projects. “It turns out if anything I probably have greater opportunities for workforce development and growing the economy through the Idaho Department of Labor than I would have in any other venue,” he said. “It's an exciting opportunity and really just gives me a chance to pursue some of the things that I've become very focused on through the Board of Education.”
Edmunds will start on Nov. 25; his salary has not been set yet. “We'll work it out - it's a detail,” he said. “It's going to be hard to fill Roger's shoes.” Said Edmunds, “He's done a wonderful job. The department is probably as well respected an entity as you're going to find.”
Caldwell attorney Christopher Nye has been appointed by Gov. Butch Otter to be a district judge, filling a new judgeship in the 3rd Judicial District that was created by the Idaho Legislature this year. In addition to Nye, finalists for the post were Kenneth Jorgensen, a deputy Idaho attorney general, and Christopher Topmiller, chief criminal deputy prosecuting attorney for Canyon County. Seven attorneys, all men, applied for the position. Click below for Otter’s full announcement.
Add another name to the list of those pondering a possible run for Idaho Secretary of State now that longtime Secretary of State Ben Ysursa has announced he’ll retire after his current term: Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene. “It’s definitely intriguing,” said Malek, a first-term state representative and former deputy Kootenai County prosecutor. He said supporters have been urging him to run, and part of the appeal is the chance to get someone from North Idaho into the ranks of Idaho’s top state elected officials – currently there are none. “It’s an extremely important position, and I do think I would bring a qualified skill set to it as well,” Malek said.
He listed his law degree; his legislative and electoral experience; his work running an urban renewal agency in Post Falls before he went to law school; and his work with corporations as an attorney; Malek also served as North Idaho regional director for then-Gov. Jim Risch. But the 32-year-old also admitted he’s torn. “I do love where I’m at,” he said. “I have the best constituents in the world, and a job I love back in my home district. … I’m watching to see how the candidates shake out.” Malek is currently director of legal affairs for Heritage Health/Dirne Community Health Center in Coeur d’Alene. A newlywed, he holds degrees from the College of Idaho and the University of Idaho College of Law.
Others who already have expressed interest in the 2014 race from the GOP side are former House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, who announced his candidacy even before Ysursa bowed out; former state Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise; current chief deputy Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane; and current Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian. I’ll have a full rundown in my Sunday column this week.
“I expected some folks to enter into it, and it should be a lively primary,” Ysursa said. “Once the whole field is settled, we’ll see. I’m sure the Democrats will try to run some folks too.” Ysursa, the state’s chief elections offer, said with a grin, “I’ll put ‘em all on the ballot.”
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A group of Idaho Department of Juvenile Correction employees who filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the state say the agency is violating a judge's order to meet and decide which documents should be made public. Attorney Andrew Schoppe filed court documents Wednesday alleging that the state agency has been stalling for months in an effort to keep the public from learning the details of allegations that some staffers sexually abused juveniles at a Nampa detention center. U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill recently gave agency officials two weeks to discuss with the plaintiffs which records should be kept secret, but Schoppe says that deadline has passed. The plaintiffs are asking Winmill to limit the types of documents that are sealed and to order the department to turn over the records.
Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.
The Idaho Republican Party has decided to stick with plans to hold its 2014 state party convention in Moscow, the AP reports, after a tiff between Chairman Barry Peterson and a local party official there prompted threats to move the event. “We're excited about going to Moscow, we're excited about this new (community team) and I'm personally excited that (Kentucky U.S. Sen.) Rand Paul will be there,” said Leeann Callear, a member of the party's executive committee, which voted unanimously Wednesday to stick with Moscow. “I think he can articulate the message of the Idaho Republican Party better than anyone, and I think he'll help attract a lot of people, including a lot of young people. I believe we can make this the biggest convention we've ever had.”
The Idaho Democratic Party also plans to hold its state convention on Moscow this year; it starts June 20, a week after the GOP convention. Click below for the full AP report.
Idaho Public Television’s “Idaho Reports” program has a new episode up online looking at education issues as the legislative session approaches; you can watch it here. On the program, co-host Aaron Kunz interviews state schools Superintendent Tom Luna; there’s a segment on early childhood education including comments from Lauren Necochea of KidsCount, state Sen. Fred Martin, R-Boise, Treasure Valley YMCA CEO Jim Everett; and Rep. Hy Kloc, D-Boise, who is working on legislation to pilot a public preschool program in Idaho; and I join Jim Weatherby and Kevin Richert for a discussion of education issues facing the upcoming Legislature with Kunz and co-host Melissa Davlin. The program opens with a bit of an introduction to the two new co-hosts and where they're heading with the show.
Former Idaho Sen. Larry Craig is protesting the FEC's proposed $360,000 in fines and restitution for tapping campaign accounts for his legal defense following his 2007 arrest in an airport bathroom sex sting, calling the penalties “harsh” and “unjustified,” the AP reports. Craig also argues that he doesn't have the financial resources to pay, and that he and his lawyers acted in good faith, having genuinely thought using the campaign money was appropriate because they concluded other lawmakers had done it in the past. Craig also disputed that the hefty fine would deter other lawmakers from acting as he did. “Any deterrent effect has already been achieved,” wrote his lawyer, Andrew Herman. “The professional and personal consequences of Senator Craig's guilty plea have been severe … To argue that without a harsh penalty a party might want to duplicate this experience ignores these costs.” Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.
Nearly 120,000 Washington residents have completed applications for health insurance through the state’s insurance exchange, a federal report revealed today, and more than 10,500 Idahoans have completed applications through their state’s exchange. Those numbers are far higher than the numbers who have selected the plan they want to enroll in through the exchanges – 7,091 in Washington and 338 in Idaho. But they do show that thousands in both states have made their way through the application process, despite initial glitches, particularly with the federal computer system that Idaho’s relied on. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Nationally, just 106,185 individuals have selected and enrolled in plans through exchanges, but more than 1.5 million have completed applications, 1.08 million of those were deemed eligible for exchange plans, and 326,130 qualified for new federal subsidies.
Three members of the governor’s education stakeholders’ task force, which delivered a near-unanimous package of 20 recommendations to improve Idaho’s schools to Gov. Butch Otter this year, told the City Club of Boise today that it’s a mistake to focus on the potential price tag, which could eventually stretch to hundreds of millions of dollars.
“I’ve heard a lot of pushback about the cost - sticker shock’s got everybody,” said Richard Westerberg, a state Board of Education member who chaired the task force. “But I’ve yet to hear the first real criticism of the recommendations in the plan on its function. They’re good recommendations. Can it all be funded in one year? Of course not.” Westerberg said the recommendations are a framework, and the state needs to come up with a plan to accomplish it over time, while also filling in the details. “There’s a whole lot of heavy lifting that needs to be done here,” he said. “You’ve got a really good plan from a bunch of smart, dedicated folks saying, ‘Here’s what we think could help.’ I think the Legislature really wants to do right this year. I’m hopeful.”
Linda Clark, superintendent of the Meridian School District, the state’s largest district, said across the nation, states spend an average of roughly $10,000 per student to educate youngsters, while Idaho spends less than half that. “Can you fund a ‘world class’ school system at 50 percent of the average?” she asked. Years of budget cuts have cost her school district $10 million a year in state funding for basic operations, she said, and left it 117 teachers and 19 administrators below the state allocation. “That results in very high class sizes and very large work portfolios for folks. I’m concerned that as we track that over time, it will have an impact on achievement.”
Mike Lanza, a Boise parent who played a key role in the campaign to overturn the “Students Come First” school reform laws, said, “We’re not attempting to take a small step. … Because we’ve been disinvesting in education, we’ve put ourselves at a disadvantage.” He said, “It’s not hyperbolic to suggest that Idaho is on its way to becoming the Mississippi of the 21st century if we don’t start to do something about this. … We’ve basically created an inexpensive school system, which is not necessarily compatible with a great school system.”
Westerberg said the latest estimates show that by 2020, 60 to 66 percent of jobs in Idaho will require some education beyond high school, whether that’s college or a one-year certification. But now, he said, just over a third of the population gets that. “This state just is not ready for the future of employment,” he said. Meanwhile, the task force members noted that as Idaho has crimped its education funding, it’s fallen in relation to other states in personal income, and risen to first in the nation for the proportion of minimum-wage jobs. All three said a better education system is key to Idaho’s economic future, and noted that, surprisingly, the 31 diverse members of the task force virtually all agreed on what’s needed.
“While this level of collaboration and collegiality is not unprecedented in Idaho, it has been a very long time,” Clark said. Said Lanza, “There’s not a lot of disagreement … on what it takes to deliver education effectively. … We need the political will to do what many people understand needs to be done.”
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson is shifting Appropriations Committee assignments, taking on new chairmanship that puts him a key position to help determine funding for facilities including the Department of Energy's Idaho National Laboratory. Simpson's move Wednesday to become chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development was precipitated by the death of Rep. Bill Young of Florida. Young's passing caused a reshuffling of leadership assignments among majority House Republicans. Previously, Simpson headed the Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee. In addition to helping set funding for the Department of Energy, Simpson's new committee also helps control the purse strings for the National Nuclear Security Administration and dam managers at the Army Corps of Engineers. Next May, Simpson faces a challenge from GOP rival Bryan Smith in Idaho's Republican primary.
In the latest twist in the tale of Rep. Mark Patterson, the Boise GOP lawmaker whose concealed weapon permit was revoked by the county sheriff because Patterson failed to reveal his guilty plea and withheld judgment in a decades-old Florida rape case, the Idaho Statesman reports today that Ada Sheriff Gary Raney has filed an ethics complaint against Patterson and Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, charging that they used their public office for personal gain - by requesting legal advice from the Idaho Attorney General's office, but using it not for the duties of their office, but for Patterson's own case. “Because Rep. Patterson procured and used this advice for his personal benefit, this is a violation of the Ethics in Government Act,” Raney wrote House Speaker Scott Bedke on Oct. 31. The ethics law provides for civil penalties of up to $500 for using public office for personal gain.
Raney goes further, saying if Boyle knowingly obtained legal advice for Patterson's personal benefit, she also committed a crime of theft through diversion. The Attorney General's office told Statesman reporter Dan Popkey that it is required by law to respond to requests from legislators, and it doesn't inquire as to the lawmakers' motivation in asking the questions. Popkey's full report is online here; click below for a shorter version of the story from the Associated Press. Patterson maintains Raney and the Idaho Sheriff's Association are out to get him because he sponsored HB 219, unsuccessful legislation to criminalize police officers who enforce new federal gun restrictions that might be passed, and then scrutinized the sheriff's association's activities and spending after it raised concerns about his bill.
Board members of the Idaho health insurance exchange said Tuesday that they will keep secret the findings of a $15,000 taxpayer-funded investigation into how one of its own members won a lucrative no-bid contract, the Associated Press reports. Your Health Idaho board chairman Stephen Weeg said the two-week-long review by a private lawyer uncovered “lapses in judgment,” though nothing illegal. Exchange executive director Amy Dowd last month awarded a technology contract worth up to $375,000 to board member Frank Chan, who quit the same day the contract was announced.
Dowd gave Chan the contract without advertising it or allowing others to compete. It was later canceled after House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, joined critics who called Dowd's deal with an exchange insider “indefensible.” Boise lawyer Frederick Mack was hired to scrutinize the deal. He presented his report Tuesday during a three-hour, closed-door exchange board meeting at the Idaho Capitol.
“The key finding was: We violated no law, that lapses of judgment were made around the procurement policy and conflict-of-interest policy,” Weeg said following the meeting. “He had recommendations for us to move forward as an organization.” However, Weeg said the public will never be able to see Mack's recommendations or findings. “It deals with personnel, and it's done under attorney-client privilege,” said Weeg, a retired Pocatello health care industry executive who heads up the volunteer board. He declined to detail the judgment lapses Mack found or who committed them; click below for the full report from AP reporter John Miller.
Idaho House and Senate education chairman Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, and Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, have penned a joint “Open Letter to Idaho Legislators” they distributed to Idaho newspapers, among others, this afternoon, urging that the state stick with its new Idaho Core Standards for student achievement in math and English. “We urge you to stay the course,” the two write. “We have raised our academic standards in Idaho and increased expectations for every student to make sure they graduate from high school prepared to be successful. Now is not the time to go backwards.”
The two take on recent criticisms of the standards, including:
They also note that the standards have widespread support, “not just from us, but from every education, child advocacy and business group in the state.” You can read the two lawmakers’ full article here.
Land exchanges designed to let a fifth of the lake cabin owners at Priest Lake get ownership of the land under their cabins – while trading the state higher-yielding commercial property – are likely dead, mired in legal and political problems; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com. “We share the angst and frustration of the lessees, the board does,” Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said after the state Land Board held an hour-plus closed-door session on the situation Tuesday, but took no action. Last month, the board abruptly rejected two major land exchanges involving lots at Priest and Payette lakes, after a handful of legislators and local officials raised legal and political questions about the moves.
A subdued Tom Schultz, director of the state Department of Lands, said, “The board did not take any action to reconsider the ones that weren’t approved. My understanding is that legally, auctions are the most defensible route forward.” Legal issues raised about exchanges, he said, likely require some clarification from the Legislature.
The state’s been working to get itself out of the business of renting lakefront lots on which the renters build their own cabins; the nearly century-old practice has led to years of lawsuits and protests over what constitutes fair rent in that situation. Proceeds go to the state’s endowment, which largely benefits Idaho’s public schools.
There’s a substantial crowd of folks gathered in the garden-level hallway of the state Capitol this morning, as two state boards – the Idaho Land Board, and the state health insurance exchange board – hold closed-door executive sessions at the same time, in meeting rooms directly across from each other. The Land Board is discussing potential litigation relating to state-owned lakefront cabin sites, while the exchange board is discussing a newly completed independent review of the now-canceled contract awarded to a former exchange board member, Frank Chan. The exchange board plans to reconvene in public session to discuss the probe after the closed-door talk of personnel matters related to it. It’s unclear whether the Land Board will have further public business after its closed-door session.
There was a full house for this morning’s special Land Board meeting, with just two items on the agenda: A one-year extension of current cabin site leases, at current rates, to allow time for reappraisals; and the executive session. The extension comes in the wake of the board’s sudden rejection last month of two major land exchanges, designed to swap cabin sites for higher-yielding commercial property in southern Idaho.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter is getting ready for a nine-day trade mission in Russia.The Republican governor, his staff and Idaho business leaders will leave Boise Friday. The trip caps a busy year of international travel for Otter, who has already made official visits to Vietnam, Taiwan and Korea. The Idaho Statesman reports that (http://bit.ly/1aBdWSD ) Otter will be accompanied by 17 Commerce and Agriculture companies from a variety of industries. The trip to a country that boasts the world's 11th largest economy includes stops in Moscow and St. Petersburg. In his two terms in office, Otter has made a focus of increasing Idaho's exports. Last year was a record-breaking year as global sales of Idaho products totaled more than $6.1 billion.
A legislator whose concealed weapons permit was revoked for lying about a long-ago rape case can still legally carry hidden guns – because Idaho is the only state that exempts elected officials from the permit law. The case of state Rep. Mark Patterson, R-Boise, is bringing new attention to the 1990 Idaho law providing the exemptions, and some Idaho lawmakers say it’s time for a change. “I have a philosophy that those of us in public office should be under the same laws as the general public,” said state Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
The story that has Idaho political circles buzzing this morning is about a state lawmaker from Boise whose concealed weapon permit has been revoked, after he lied twice on his application – failing to mention a withheld judgment and guilty plea to a change of assault with intent to commit rape in Florida in 1974, a felony. Rep. Mark Patterson, R-Boise, a first-term lawmaker, told Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey, “I was a young kid.” He was 21 at the time.
Patterson was charged in 1974 with forcible rape, after the victim said he forced her to have sex twice and threatened to have his Doberman pinscher attack her if she refused, according to police reports. He served time in jail before agreeing to plead guilty and receive a withheld judgment and probation; he also was ordered to leave Florida on the day of his sentencing.
The Idaho permit application asks, “Have you ever had an entry of a withheld judgment for a criminal offense which would disqualify you from obtaining a concealed weapons license?” Patterson twice answered no.
Court records show Patterson was charged in a separate rape case three years later in Cincinnati for rape “by means of forcibly choking and threatening” a woman, the Statesman reported. “I was acquitted — then obviously I didn't do it,” Patterson said.
Patterson, who unsuccessfully pushed legislation to criminalize cops who enforce new federal gun-restriction laws that might be enacted, claims Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney is targeting him because of his legislation and because he scrutinized the Idaho Sheriffs Association’s spending and policies. “This whole thing is to silence me,” Patterson told Popkey.
Raney dismissed the idea. “The questions that Mr. Patterson raises and the allegations he makes are irrelevant to the fact that he lied on his initial application and his renewal application,” the sheriff said. “That and only that is the reason for our actions.” Popkey’s full report is online here, including excerpts from the police reports and news of a primary challenger for Patterson; click below for a shorter version of the story from the Associated Press. Patterson had earlier come under fire for misrepresenting his education and background during his campaign, with his campaign website falsely claiming he was a petroleum engineer and had attended the University of Southern California; and for falsely claiming to have been a professional road-racing cyclist. He operates a lubricant manufacturing plant called Rock 'N' Roll Lubricants.
When the U.S. Senate voted 64-32 last week in favor of legislation to ban workplace discrimination against gays and lesbians, 10 Republicans joined 52 Democrats and two independents to support the bill, but Idaho’s two senators both voted against it. “Number one, this is a state’s rights issue,” Idaho Sen. Jim Risch said. “Number two, this bill made insufficient provisions for employers who have First Amendment constitutional protections to exercise their religious beliefs.”
The bill, which would ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, included an exemption for religious organizations. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., proposed an amendment to sharply expand that exemption to include a wide array of entities with some religious affiliation, but it was voted down, 55-43. Toomey still voted in favor of the bill, however.
Sen. Mike Crapo’s spokesman, Lindsay Nothern, said, “Sen. Crapo voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, on the basis that he has long been opposed to the expansion of the federal government’s power to handle such matters when states have a better handle on how to rightfully handle these issues, just as several local municipalities in Idaho have begun to do.”
Earlier in the week, Crapo said he supports allowing local ordinances to ban such discrimination, which conflicts with a resolution passed by the Idaho Republican Party Central Committee over the summer urging the state Legislature to overturn local anti-discrimination ordinances in seven Idaho cities.
“Moreover, a sweeping federal statute would not offer proper protections for religious liberties,” Nothern said. “Sen. Crapo believes all Americans should be treated with respect and dignity. … Workers should be hired and their employment maintained on the basis of their skills, abilities and how they accomplish their appointed tasks.”
The bill may not get a vote in the House, where Speaker John Boehner opposes it; you can read my full column here from Sunday’s Spokesman-Review.
School trustees from across the state, gathered in Coeur d’Alene Friday for the Idaho School Boards Association convention, voted overwhelmingly to endorse the new Idaho Core Standards, which the state adopted in 2011 to set higher goals for student achievement at each grade level, Idaho Education News reports; you can read their full report here. The standards have been drawing increasing political opposition - some opponents are labeling them a communist plot - even as they’ve been implemented in schools across the state; ISBA members voted 2,910 to 492 in favor of them. The trustees also voted down a resolution calling for the state to train personnel to use guns on campuses; other resolutions they backed included one calling for restoration of school operational funding removed through state budget cuts. The resolutions will become the core of ISBA’s legislative agenda.
Idaho Reports, the Idaho Public Television program, is gearing up for the upcoming legislative session, and new co-hosts Melissa Davlin and Aaron Kunz are starting off with some online-only episodes; on the first one, now up on the Web, the show examines the results of the recent municipal elections across the state. Here, I join Jim Weatherby, Sadie Babits, Davlin and Kunz for part of the discussion; also featured is Cynthia Sewell of the Idaho Statesman breaking down Treasure Valley election results, and more. You can watch the show here.
For the third straight year, Idaho’s Teacher of the Year is from Coeur d’Alene. At a surprise assembly at Lake City High School on Friday, science teacher Jamie Esler was named the state’s 2014 Teacher of the Year, as students chanted, “We love Esler!” The award brings with it a $1,000 prize from the Idaho state Department of Education, and an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., to represent Idaho as the nominee for National Teacher of the Year. Idaho’s Teacher of the Year also gets a chance to address state lawmakers on how education in Idaho should work; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa announced this afternoon that he’s decided not to seek a fourth term as Idaho Secretary of State, choosing instead to retire; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com. Here is Ysursa’s full statement:
“After careful thought and deliberation, I have decided not to seek reelection as Secretary of State, and will retire from public office at the completion of my third term in January 2015. It has been a distinct honor and privilege to serve the great people of the State of Idaho as Secretary of State and as Deputy Secretary of State for the last four decades but it is time to step down. I would note that my term does not end until 2015 and there are many important issues to face in 2014 pertaining to elections and Land Board issues which will be the focus of my attention. My office has a tradition of fairness, efficiency, and service which will continue throughout the rest of my term. I again thank the people of Idaho for having afforded me the privilege and opportunity to serve them as Secretary of State.”
Four same-sex couples from Boise filed a federal lawsuit today challenging Idaho’s ban on gay marriage and its laws that refuse to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. The four couples, three of whom are raising children, include Sheila Robertson and Andrea Altmayer, who applied for a marriage license at the Ada County Recorder’s Office on Wednesday, but were rejected because they are a same-sex couple. They have a four-year-old son. Another couple named in the lawsuit had the same experience, the same day.
The lawsuit, in which the four couples are suing Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and Ada County Recorder Chris Rich, both in their official capacities, charges that Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage violates both the due process and the equal protection guarantees in the U.S. Constitution. Idaho’s ban also forbids recognition of civil unions; the sweeping ban was approved by Idaho voters in 2006 with 63 percent voting in favor. It states that “a marriage between a man and a woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state.”
Altmayer said in a news release, “Because Sheila is not recognized as a legal parent of our son, I fear what would happen to our family if I became ill and unable to make decisions for him. If we could marry, we would be legally recognized as a family and would have all the same legal protections as others.”
The four couples are represented by Boise attorneys Deborah A. Ferguson and Craig Durham and the National Center for Lesbian Rights. They include university instructors, a teacher of deaf children, and a military veteran who served with the Idaho National Guard in Iraq; all are women. The lawsuit asks that Idaho’s constitutional ban and all laws forbidding recognition of same-sex marriages be voided, and that the state permit marriage licenses to be issued to same-sex couples. You can read the complaint here.
Legislative leaders are hoping for a 75-day Idaho legislative session in 2014, setting the target date for adjournment sine die at March 21. “I know there’s some of the audience that are probably laughing inside that we really think we can get done by the 21st, but we’re serious,” said Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg. “We’d really like to make that the target and shoot for that.”
House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said he hopes that since a joint interim committee met during the interim on education, the education budget could be taken up “earlier in the budgeting process … so there is not that last-minute scramble to do the education budget.” He said he was sending a message to all sides: “I would urge them to get their differences ironed out earlier in the session, earlier in the budget process, rather than later.”
Last year, the House-passed public school budget was rejected by the Senate on March 27, extending the legislative session, which ended up running 88 days, wrapping up on April 4. The 2012 session ran 81 days; the 2011 session, 88 days.
When the Idaho Legislature convenes its next session in 2014, there’ll be two large committee rooms with live video-streaming instead of one (the rest of the committee meeting rooms have only audio streaming, while the chambers of the House and Senate have video streaming). The Legislative Council, the leadership committee that oversees legislative business between sessions, heard this morning that the project to add video streaming to room EW42 of the Capitol, the largest committee meeting room on the House side and the home of the House Revenue & Taxation Committee along with the agriculture and judiciary committees, is on track to be completed by mid-December. “This is one of the things that we really felt was needed in the Capitol … so we’d have two areas that could be used for streaming to the public,” said Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, who serves as co-chair of the Capitol Services Committee.
There’s already video streaming from the 350-seat Lincoln Auditorium on the Senate side of the lower level of the Capitol; now there’ll be streaming from a room on the House side as well. Jeff Youtz, Idaho legislative services director, said he expects the service to be used a lot; room EW42 seats close to 200 people.
The $55,700 cost of the upgrade will be paid for by the Capitol Commission, with funds from the endowment for operating the capitol.
Other Statehouse upgrades in the works for the upcoming session include some reconfiguring of the seating on the dais in the auditorium for easier access; upgrades to WiFi access for the public, press and lobbyists; better sound in the Senate’s public gallery; and extending the dais in two House committee rooms to accommodate more committee members. Another project that’s in the works won’t be ready for the upcoming session: The new 600-space parking garage that’s under construction north of the capitol won’t be available until the following year’s session.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The two biggest private prison companies in the nation say they don't want the contract to run a troubled Idaho prison, and that could shrink the pool of potential bidders to just two smaller companies. GEO Group sent a letter to Idaho Department of Correction officials last month to say thanks but no thanks to the chance to bid on a contract to run the Idaho Correctional Center. Corrections Corporation of America, which currently operates the facility, has also said it won't seek a new contract when its current $29-million-a-year deal with the state expires next summer. That leaves two smaller companies in the pool of likely bidders: The Centerville, Utah-based Management and Training Corp., and Community Education Centers, which is based in West Caldwell, New Jersey.
Idaho’s state tax revenue fell 5.6 percent below forecasts in October, a month after it swelled 6.4 percent ahead of forecasts in September. The result: Tax revenues are coming in just about as forecasted. The October revenues were down $12.8 million from the forecast; September’s were up nearly $16 million over the forecast. Year to date, Idaho has now collected just 0.2 percent less than was forecast for this point in the fiscal year.
Last month, Gov. Butch Otter hailed the strong September revenues as news that “validates our belief … that lowering taxes encourages more economic activity.” This month’s General Fund Revenue Report came out today just after 5 p.m.; Otter hasn’t yet commented on it. You can see the full report here.
When Paul Norton was 10, 11 and 12 years old, he didn’t mind the duties he and his brothers were assigned for the family business: Go on family trips to amusement parks around the country and ride the rides, all in the name of research. Their dad, Gary Norton, was in the process of designing and developing Silverwood Theme Park in North Idaho, where Paul is now general manager. “He liked to watch us, see how we reacted to the ride,” the younger Norton recalled, including rides at places like Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm. “It was awesome – I know it was the best gig.”
Norton, now 38, feels similarly about his current job running the North Idaho amusement park, a family-run venture filled with roller coasters, a water park and thrill rides that attracts 650,000 visitors each year. Now, he’s been named chairman of the Idaho Travel Council, the governor-appointed council that helps oversee Idaho’s state tourism promotion efforts. “I’m looking out my window right now, and even though the park’s closed, I’m looking at roller coasters and stuff – it’s just so much fun,” Norton said. “I couldn’t imagine myself in a different industry.”
He has some clear priorities for the Travel Council, based directly on his experiences in the tourism business in North Idaho. “I think we could get a better return on our investment dollars for marketing the state of Idaho if we spend more attention over in the west coast, Seattle, Portland markets, and as well up into Canada,” he said. Especially compared to marketing the state’s attractions internationally, Norton said, money spent in those closer markets will pay off with “more heads in beds in Idaho.” “That’s the direction I’d like to see us move forward this year,” he said. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
An Illinois man who ignited a 440-acre wildfire in central Idaho in 2012 while shooting at an exploding target will pay $168,500 toward fire suppression costs, under a settlement announced today by the U.S. Attorney's Office for Idaho. State law prohibits exploding targets on public lands from May 10 to Oct.10, but Jeffrey Kerner was target shooting on private land on July 18, 2012, near Salmon in Lemhi County, when his target blew apart and ignited the blaze that later spread to adjacent federal land. It was 95 degrees at the time. The AP reports that no lawsuit was filed, but federal officials negotiated with an insurance company representing Kerner to reach the settlement; click below for the full AP report.
Idaho 4th graders scored very slightly below average in reading and math, but the state's 8th graders scored slightly above average in both, according to results from the Nation's Report Card, an every-other-year assessment that compares student achievement between states. Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna hailed the results, saying they show the impact of the state's efforts to focus on those areas. “I applaud Idaho’s eighth grade students for continuing to outpace their peers across the nation in reading and mathematics,” Luna said. “It is clear our investments in the Idaho Reading and Math Initiatives and the hard work of Idaho’s teachers are paying dividends to help in better preparing Idaho students for higher levels of reading and mathematics, especially when compared to their peers across the country.”
Luna said the report card also provides a preview of how Idaho students are faring compared to the more rigorous Idaho Core Standards, which the state adopted in 2011 but won't test students on until 2015. The results suggest that just 30 to 40 percent of Idaho students will be performing on grade level in reading and math, as measured under the higher standards. “It is not because our students woke up one day and were not as smart as they were the day before,” Luna said in a statement. “It is because our students are working to meet a higher bar, learning at a higher level, and that is a good thing for every child and for their future.”
Luna has been defending Idaho's new standards against a growing chorus of political dissent; he said the higher standards will ensure that Idaho high school grads are prepared for college or the workplace. “We have had standards in place since 2002,” he said. “Each time we raise academic standards, Idaho teachers make sure students meet the goals we have set for them, and we know we will see the same success as we implement the new Idaho Core Standards.” Click below for Luna's full announcement.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The investigation of a domestic dispute led Boise police to discover more than 100 pounds of bomb-making material in the crawl space of the suspect's house. Police say 32-year-old Joshua J. Finch was arrested Wednesday morning on suspicion of two counts of felony kidnapping. During the kidnapping investigation, police learned Finch might have explosive materials. A search of a residence found bomb-making materials that officials say were in various bomb-making stages. Several roads in the area of Finch's house were closed and police asked the residents of 21 homes to voluntarily evacuate. Residents were able to return to their homes at around midnight. Officials say charges related to the explosives are expected to be filed Thursday.
The University of Idaho is among a group of research partners, led by Colorado State University, who have been awarded nearly $10 million in USDA grant funds to study how to convert insect-killed trees into an advanced liquid biofuel, right on-site in the forests. The project would explore “recent advances in scalable thermochemical conversion technologies,” the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in an announcement today. The hope is that this kind of processing of beetle-killed trees could generate highly usable biofuel, while avoiding the harvest and transportation costs otherwise present in salvaging the logs.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said, “Infestations of pine and spruce bark beetles have impacted over 42 million acres of U.S. forests since 1996, and a changing climate threatens to expand the threat from bark beetles on our forest lands. As we take steps to fight the bark beetle, this innovative research will help take the biomass that results from bark beetle infestation and create clean, renewable energy that holds potential for job creation and promises a cleaner future for America.”
He also took the opportunity to note that the research effort, made possible by a provision of the 2008 Farm Bill, points up the “critical need” for passage of a new farm bill this year, something that’s been stalled in Congress. “I urge Congress to achieve passage of a new, long term Food, Farm and Jobs Bill as soon as possible,” Vilsack said.
The research project also includes the University of Montana, Montana State University and the University of Wyoming; it’s led by Colorado State’s Bioenergy Alliance Network of the Rockies. The grant, which covers five years of research, comes under a program for research that contributes to reducing dependence on foreign oil, has net positive social, environmental and rural economic impacts, and is compatible with existing agricultural and forest production systems.
The Idaho Legislature’s K-12 Educational System Interim Committee adjourned its meeting yesterday without any votes and announced it wouldn’t meet again – leaving hanging the question of what, if anything, the panel was recommending back to the Legislature after its three meetings this fall. Now, Idaho Education News reporter Clark Corbin reports that the panel’s two co-chairs, Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, left, and House Education Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, right (Idaho EdNews photo) say the panel’s work isn’t done. Instead, they’re having a report compiled by the Legislative Services Office on the committee’s work, including recommendations from stakeholder groups who testified to the committee during its meetings, and plan to share the report with the rest of the committee. Then, members can use it to draft bills or proposals for next year’s legislative session.
“This was not an attempt to replicate the Legislature,” DeMordaunt told Corbin. “This was an opportunity for us in a smaller subset to review what happened and share learning with our colleagues in the greater body.” You can read Corbin’s full report here.
The Idaho Potato Commission has sworn in three new commissioners, which wouldn’t normally be very big news, except that one of them, Peggy Grover, is the first female ever named to the commission. Grover recently finished a term as chair of the Idaho Grower Shippers Association, and is assistant manager of Benchmark Potato in Rexburg, the Capital Press reports; read their full report here.
IPC President and CEO Frank Muir called Grover “very well qualified,” and said she’ll bring a valuable perspective to the commission – especially since the potato commission’s target advertising market is women age 25-55 with children at home. Commissioners are appointed by Gov. Butch Otter from nominees submitted by their peers in the industry; they serve staggered three-year terms. The other two new commissioners are Ritchey Toevs, an Aberdeen farmer, and Tommy Brown, who works for Lamb Weston in Pocatello and is chairman of IACI’s raw products committee.
The Idaho Potato Commission, which has nine members, was established by state law and is best known for defending the good name of the state’s famous tuber and the “Grown in Idaho” seal, including in court; the Potato Commission owns the registered trademarks for “Idaho potato” and “Grown in Idaho.” It also operates the idahopotato.com website, which is headed, “The official home of the Idaho Potato” and includes everything from industry information to creative recipes featuring, of course, the Idaho potato.
A contractor based in Longview, Wash. has submitted the highest bid for a failed polysilicon plant in Pocatello, the AP and the Idaho State Journal report today; click below for their full report. JH Kelly Inc. offered $5.27 million for the defunct Hoku plant at auction; it’s also suing Hoku’s Chinese parent company in federal court, alleging that it’s still owed $25 million for work done at the site. The plant, which never opened, promised high-tech jobs producing materials for solar panels; the city bought the $1.4 million property and leased it almost for free for the plant, and Hoku also got $2.2 million in federal grants plus a promise of job training money from the state.
Meanwhile, the New York Times wrote about the mess today, in a story headlined, “Idaho Town Struggles After Pinning Hopes on a Failed Factory;” you can read it here. Writer Kirk Johnson paints a grim picture of the situation facing Pocatello, Idaho’s 5th-largest city. “Pocatello’s road was tough before Hoku ever came to call,” he writes. “It lost many of its good railroad jobs when Union Pacific consolidated operations in Utah. A potato processing factory in a neighboring town — about 10 percent of the work force commutes there from Pocatello — has said it will close next year. And like Idaho as a whole, it has suffered from a downward spiral in wages.”
Writes Johnson, “From 37th place in per capita income in the mid-1990s, the state is now 49th, kept from the bottom only by Mississippi, according to federal figures. Part-time jobs have been among the fastest-growing employment categories in recent years, with almost one in four jobs statewide offering less than full-time hours — the fifth-highest rate in the nation. Many downtown businesses are vacant and up for lease, and the struggling local shopping mall is scheduled to go up for auction this month.”
Here's a news item from the Associated Press and KBOI-TV: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Innocence Project has lost its primary source of funding and won't take on any new cases. Director Greg Hampikian told Boise television station KBOI (http://bit.ly/1hMG78r ) that the U.S. Department of Justice declined to renew the organization's two-year $220,000 grant. Hampikian says he's now scrambling to raise money, and though the group has enough cash to finish working on two current cases it won't take on any new work. The Idaho Innocence Project attempts to use DNA evidence to help free people that the group deems wrongfully convicted.
Idaho's state Land Board has rescheduled its special meeting, originally set for yesterday, to Nov. 12 - next Tuesday - at 10:30 a.m. in room WW53 of the state Capitol. The agenda is identical to the one posted for yesterday's cancelled meeting: Extending cottage site leases on Priest and Payette lakes for one year at current rates, and an executive session on potential litigation related to the cottage sites.
Voters in Ketchum and Hailey have approved a local-option tax on lodging and rental cars to subsidize commercial airline service, with the projected $2 million a year proceeds to help entice airlines to serve the Wood River Valley, either through subsidies or advertising support. The Idaho Mountain Express reports that turnout was heavy, with mayor and council races also being decided; voters in both Ketchum and Hailey backed the air service tax measure by close to a 2-1 margin. It needed 60 percent to pass; it got 66 percent in Hailey and 64 percent in Ketchum. Boise State Public Radio has more here.
In yesterday’s city elections across the state, some longtime mayors were defeated – including Nancy Chaney of Moscow and Tom Dale of Nampa – while others, including Brian Blad of Pocatello and Garret Nancolas of Caldwell, were easily re-elected. Boise voters narrowly rejected two bond measures for parks and fire, exceeding 60 percent in favor but falling short of the two-thirds mark, while re-electing three incumbents to the City Council. Coeur d’Alene voters rejected a slate of hard-line conservatives, instead electing candidates for mayor and council who were backed by Balance North Idaho, a PAC credited with helping moderates retake the Coeur d’Alene School Board last May; local business owner Steve Widmyer easily beat longtime City Hall critic Mary Souza for mayor.
In Post Falls, in a race between two city councilors for mayor, Ron Jacobson defeated Kerri Thoreson 60-40; meanwhile, incumbent councilwoman Betty Ann Henderson, who is married to Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, won re-election over two challengers.
The race for an open mayor’s seat in Idaho Falls was won by Rebecca Casper, the Post Register reports, who defeated three other candidates, including second-place finisher Sharon Parry, who will retain her seat on the City Council. Blackfoot is headed to a runoff Dec. 3 after Paul Loomis and Dan Cravens led a six-way race for mayor, but none had a majority.
The Lewiston Tribune reports that Lewiston Mayor Kevin Poole and Councilman Dennis Ohrtman were defeated, as four new council members were elected in a race with a 26.6 percent turnout. Among them: An 18-year-old LCSC student. Bill Lambert, a Safeway manager, defeated longtime Moscow Mayor Nancy Chaney.
The Twin Falls Times-News reports that Filer Mayor Robert Templeman was defeated by City Councilman Richard Dunn; Jerome Mayor John Shine was defeated by David Davis; and Burley Mayor Terry Greenman appeared headed toward a defeat by challenger Merlin Smedley.
In Pocatello, the Idaho State Journal reports, a rematch between Mayor Brian Blad and former Mayor Roger Chase had a lopsided result, with Blad winning 66.4 percent to Chase’s 27.7 percent, four years after Blad first defeated Chase in a close race. Other close races around the state included Dale’s loss to Henry in Nampa; final, unofficial results showed just 113 votes separating the two, leaving Henry with 44.89 percent to Dale’s 43.45 percent.
Idaho’s state Land Board had been scheduled for a special meeting this afternoon, but now it’s been canceled. The reason: Attorney General Lawrence Wasden raised concerns about inadequate notice of the meeting; it likely will be rescheduled soon. There were only two items on the agenda: Extending all state-owned lake cabin site leases now scheduled to expire on Dec. 31 for one more year at current rates, allowing time for re-appraisals of land values; and an executive session on potential litigation related to cabin sites.
Last month, the Land Board unexpectedly rejected two major land exchanges intended to swap cabin sites at Priest and Payette lakes for commercial property in southern Idaho, potentially doubling the proceeds to the state endowment. The state’s been working to get itself out of the business of renting lakefront lots on which the renters build their own cabins; the nearly century-old practice has led to years of lawsuits and protests over what constitutes fair rent in that situation.
But the two big swaps were questioned by a handful of state lawmakers and local officials, who noted among their concerns that their counties would lose property taxes on the commercial land when it switched to state ownership, and ideological opposition to the idea of the state owning commercial property, on grounds that the state shouldn’t compete with private business.
However, the state endowment, which operates as a trust, long has owned commercial timber and grazing lands on which it’s issued leases, and in recent years has increasingly expanded into other types of property investments, including office and commercial buildings; its constitutional mandate is to bring in the maximum long-term financial return for the trust’s beneficiaries. The state still could bring back up the land exchanges, but at this point, the prospects are unclear.
Today is Election Day for cities across the state, with many voting on city council seats, many electing mayors, and some voting on local ballot measures like Boise’s parks and public safety bond issue measures. Some local taxing districts also have elections today, but no partisan races are up in this year’s voting. There are, however, hot mayor and council races in cities from Coeur d’Alene to Nampa, and the streets of small towns across the state are dotted with yard signs backing candidates. Statewide, the polls are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; don’t forget to vote! To check on your polling place, click here.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: TWIN FALLS, Idaho (AP) — Evel Knievel's 1974 Snake River jump site and 425 acres along the Snake River Canyon are now part of the Twin Falls city limits. The city council on Monday unanimously approved annexing the land, which includes the Centennial Trail and the city gun range. The city obtained the property in a 2012 land swap. With daredevils seeking to use the Knievel site to launch a rocket across the canyon, city officials want to make sure they have full jurisdiction over the site. Texas motorcycle stuntman Big Ed Beckley has paid $943,000 to the state for use of the landing site on the other side of the river. He still must obtain a permit from the city before he can try to complete the jump that Knievel didn't.
A federal judge has rejected some rules governing protests on Idaho property surrounding the Capitol in Boise, concluding that neither a seven-day limit on rallies nor allowing state officials discretion to waive restrictions for some groups but not others meets constitutional free-speech muster, the AP reports; the case was prompted by “Occupy Boise” protests the year before last. In a 39-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill ruled that a seven-day limit on protests, enacted by the state in response to the Occupy encampment across from the state Capitol, ran afoul of free-speech protections. Click below for the full AP report.
Idaho ranks near the bottom nationally for preschool enrollment, particularly in low-income households, Idaho Education News reports today. A study released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that only five states ranked lower than Idaho on that measure; forty states offer public preschool, but Idaho is not among them. You can read Idaho EdNews reporter Kevin Richert’s full report here, which notes that public preschool may get some attention in the upcoming legislative session, with Boise Democratic Rep. Hy Kloc working on legislation.
Boise's new ordinance against aggressive panhandling doesn't take effect until January, but today it was challenged in federal court on grounds it violates the First Amendment rights to free speech and expression and that it places an unfair burden on people struggling to make ends meet, AP reporter Todd Dvorak reports. The lawsuit was filed today in U.S. District Court by the Idaho ACLU and two Boise homeless men, a 58-year-old street musician who suffers from psoriatic arthritis, and a 38-year-old who said he lives in a truck and seeks handouts to buy gasoline so he can commute from one temporary job to another; click below for Dvorak's full report. The City Council approved the ordinance in September with support of downtown merchants.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Big pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson is paying $1.3 million to Idaho as part of a multi-billion-dollar national settlement over allegations it illegally promoted an antipsychotics drug. The Idaho attorney general's office announced the deal with the company's Janssen Pharmaceuticals unit on Monday. It resolves allegations that Janssen unlawfully induced doctors and pharmacists to promote and prescribe Risperdal, a drug approved by the federal government for adults with mental illnesses starting in 1993. In total, Johnson & Johnson is paying over $2.2 billion to resolve criminal and civil allegations the company promoted powerful psychiatric drugs for unapproved uses in children, seniors and disabled patients. The agreement is the third-largest U.S. settlement with a drug maker and the latest in several actions against drug companies allegedly putting profits ahead of patients.
Yourhealthidaho.org, Idaho’s state health insurance exchange, is not planning to raise its fee per health plan from the current 1.5 percent level, executive director Amy Dowd told lawmakers this morning. “There has been some confusion on this issue based on work that my staff engaged in to fulfill some reporting requirements recently,” Dowd told the Idaho Legislature’s Health Care Task Force. “We are required to evaluate a full range of possibilities and what-if scenarios. Some of those projections contemplated a far higher rate. In no way was that evaluation a proposal for the future. In Idaho, we can, and are expected, to run a system more efficiently than the federal government. I understand that the expectation is that we run the exchange at a 1.5 percent fee.”
Idaho’s health insurance exchange executive director, Amy Dowd, told lawmakers this morning that the state won’t get any numbers from the feds on how many Idahoans have enrolled in health insurance through the exchange until the end of November; she had earlier said she expected to have figures by this week. “We do know that there are Idahoans enrolling,” she told the Legislature’s Health Care Task Force.
Dowd told the lawmakers, “Your Health Idaho is doing two things right now: One, we are preventing federal intervention in Idaho, and two, we are providing a much-needed resource for thousands of Idahoans looking for insurance.” She said Idaho’s exchange is relying on the federal technology platform for its first year. “At the federal level, we all know it is not working,” she said. “We were not notified in advance… Your Health Idaho has had to quickly respond to the federal failure.”
Though she’s received no specifics, Dowd said she’d heard that last-minute changes prior to the rollout cased the failures. Idaho is in the middle of a request for proposals process for its own technology platform, which Dowd said should be up by fall of 2014. In the meantime, the Your Health Idaho board has directed Dowd to develop a tool where Idahoans can shop anonymously on the yourhealthidaho.org website and compare plans, without first setting up an account and submitting all their information. Dowd said the exchange is looking into developing such a tool, but it likely will take four to six weeks; in the meantime, it’s posted an online booklet with all plan information. That booklet is lengthy, but it’s a useful tool for brokers and agents to be able to access, she said. An Idaho-specific calculator will be posted on the site later this week, she said, to help Idahoans determine how much they might qualify for in subsidies.
Until all the technology works, Dowd said, Idahoans who go to yourhealthidaho.org can complete paper applications and get help over the phone.
Ronald Lee Macik is inmate 12680, the lowest number among 8,700 felons in Idaho prisons, reports AP reporter John Miller. Nobody else locked up in 1969 when guards first escorted a 21-year-old Macik through the State Penitentiary's sally port remains behind bars. Now 65, he's still trying to get out. And last week, the Idaho Court of Appeals, at least temporarily, breathed new life into Macik's bid to undo his guilty plea in the murder of another inmate during a 1971 prison riot.
Regardless of whether Macik's longshot appeal succeeds, Miller writes, it dredges up a dark piece of Idaho prison history. The 1971 riot — and Macik's role in inmate William Henry Butler's slaying — was a turning point in galvanizing public opinion behind shuttering the Idaho Territory-era penitentiary in east Boise. The bloody melee also changed attitudes about running a modern prison system and motivated officials to speed work on a new prison complex in the desert south of Boise; click below for Miller's full report..
Idaho GOP Rep. Raul Labrador, who has been at the center of talks in Congress on immigration reform, now says he now believes reform likely won’t happen this year after all, and he’s advised House GOP leaders that “it’s not the time” to negotiate with the Obama Administration on the issue. Labrador’s comments come as reform proponents, including prominent Idaho business and agriculture leaders and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, stepped up a lobbying effort this week to push for reforms now.
“I don’t think it’s going to happen this session unless we start seeing some more good-faith efforts on the part of the president to negotiate,” Labrador told reporters Friday. The recent fight over the government shutdown and fiscal crisis “just exacerbated the lack of trust between the two sides,” the second-term congressman said. “There’s no need to negotiate, if the issue that they have is that it has to be their bill or the highway.”
Labrador said, “My goal is to fix the system, if it takes one year, or three years, or five years, whatever it is. Hopefully it’s not five years.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
1st District Rep. Raul Labrador is headed into what could be hostile territory next week – Idaho Falls and the Idaho National Laboratory, a huge employer in Idaho’s 2nd Congressional District. Labrador twice voted to gut the national nuclear research funding that operates the facility, potentially threatening thousands of jobs at the INL. He’s scheduled to tour the place next week and to address the Rotary Club in nearby Idaho Falls.
“We’ve been trying to do it for months,” Labrador said, but scheduling conflicts put the visit off until now. “They know they’re going to get a frank discussion with me, that I don’t mince my words and I don’t beat around the bush,” he said. “I understand the importance of INL to Idaho, but they also need to understand we have a $17 trillion debt, so we’re going to have a very interesting conversation.”
Advocates of extending civil rights protections to gays and lesbians are getting a big boost from the author of the Idaho Human Rights Act, former Republican Gov. Phil Batt, reports Dan Popkey of the Idaho Statesman. Popkey writes that on Tuesday, as Batt, 86, became the first recipient of the Idaho Human Rights Lifetime Achievement Award in Caldwell, the popular former governor endorsed the “Add the Words ” campaign to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the Act’s prohibition of discrimination based on race, gender, color, religion, national origin and disability.
“A homosexual who can’t rent a room or get a job because of his orientation doesn’t make any sense to anybody,” Batt said. “Why some of the politicians are not more sensitive than that — more sensible, I should say than that — beats me.” The former governor also said Idaho lawmakers’ refusal to amend the Human Rights Act in the 2013 session “accomplished absolutely nothing…except to be made to look like fools.” Popkey’s full report is online here; he notes that Batt’s comments were first reported in Friday’s Lewiston Tribune by editorial page editor Marty Trillhaase. Popkey writes that he checked in with Batt today, who told him, “It’s just something that needs to be said.”
Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, who’s on a “listening tour” around Idaho as part of exploring whether to challenge GOP Gov. Butch Otter in the May primary election, said during a recent stop in Pocatello that the Legislature has not yet addressed the state’s new Common Core standards for public school student achievement; his comment was reported in the Idaho State Journal. But reporter Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News notes this morning that the record shows otherwise: The Education committees in the House and Senate approved the standards in January of 2011. Fulcher served on the Senate Education Committee at the time, and still does; you can read Richert’s full report here.
A look back at the Senate Ed minutes from 2011 shows that when the Common Core standards were brought to the panel on Jan. 19, 2011, there was a lengthy presentation, first from state schools Superintendent Tom Luna, who told the senators that 41 states helped develop the standards with the idea that it had to be a state-led effort, not a federal mandate; followed by aide Luci Willits, who described the standards and their development in detail, even giving an example of a standard for sixth-graders.
“Ms. Willits said the State Department of Education does not have rulemaking authority in Idaho,” the minutes state. “Although in other states the Superintendent can dictate standards changes, in Idaho they have to go through the Legislature.” The standards were presented as administrative rules, for legislative approval.
Fulcher was among the senators on the committee who asked questions about the standards during the presentation; he then asked that the vote on them be put off until a future meeting. Five days later, on Jan. 24, 2011, the Senate committee, including Fulcher, approved the rules unanimously.