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Eye On Boise

Archive for October 2013

Time to gear up for winter: It’s the 63rd annual Ski Swap…

As the seasons change in Boise, there are a few sure signs each year that winter is on its way. First, the leaves turn, which they did in spectacular, fiery fashion this year. Then, there’s the Ski Swap – and it’s arrived. This year is the 63rd annual Boise Ski Swap, a benefit for the Bogus Basin Ski Education Foundation; equipment check-in at Expo Idaho started at 3 p.m. on Halloween, and the swap opens to buyers at 5 p.m. on Friday. Hours are 5-10 p.m. Friday, 10-8 Saturday and 10-3 on Sunday; it’s a place to find deals on ski or snowboard equipment for the family, outfit the kids, sell off outgrown gear and get ready for the season, with exhibits from everyone from the resorts to the volunteer ski patrol. Admission is $5 on Friday, $3 on Saturday, and either $3 or a can of food on Sunday; kids under 12 are admitted for free. There’s more info here.

The next sign of winter is on the way: The annual Warren Miller ski film, which is coming to Boise’s Egyptian Theater Nov. 21-23. This year’s flick is entitled “Ticket to Ride.”

It’s trick-or-treat time…

It's trick-or-treat time, and among those handing out the treats are Gov. Butch Otter and First Lady Lori Otter, who, dressed in real firefighter outfits, are dispensing candy, books and toothbrushes to costumed kids on the Statehouse steps. Otter recalled visiting Idaho firefighters on the fire lines during this year's tough wildfire season. “Those guys did such a great job, they worked so hard, spent a lot of time away from their families,” he said. “We thought, 'Let's honor them.'” Then, looking around, he added, “I hope they think this is honoring them, and not just, 'Who's that idiot with the Pulaski?'”

The Statehouse trick-or-treat runs until 6:30 p.m.; meanwhile, things are gearing up on Boise's Harrison Boulevard, which is Halloween Central in this town, from the elaborate decorations to the throngs of young trick-or-treaters. There are lots and lots and lots of jack-o-lanterns…

Parole absconder nabbed while doing laundry in long, black wig, armed with knife

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Department of Correction says a convicted forger who absconded from parole in north-central Idaho was arrested while doing laundry at a Moscow-area laundromat. Corrections officials say 25-year-old Stephen Andrew Edgeman of Moscow was wearing a long, black wig and carrying a knife when he was arrested by Moscow police on Wednesday evening. Edgeman's criminal record includes grand theft and forgery convictions in Latah and Kootenai counties. He was released from prison under supervision and declared a fugitive on Sept. 18 after failing to check in with his parole officer. The agency made the search for him a priority after he reportedly made credible threats to kill law enforcement officers. He now faces revocation of his release on parole.

PERSI change drops Luna’s proposed school budget hike from 5.9% to 5.4%

State Schools Supt. Tom Luna’s proposed 5.9 percent budget increase for public schools next year has dropped to 5.4 percent, Clark Corbin of Idaho EdNews reports, but not because Luna’s changed what he’s asking for. Instead, a recent decision by the PERSI board to hold off on a scheduled rate increase, due to strong earnings in the pension fund, changed the overall numbers. The Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho covers state and local government employees, school district employees and more; PERSI is among benefit costs built into calculations for all state agency budgets.

Tim Hill, deputy superintendent for public school finance, told Corbin the PERSI change made a $7.2 million difference in the public school budget calculations. Now, Luna’s proposed increase for next year comes in at $69.9 million, down from the previous $77 million; you can read Corbin’s full report here.

Idaho exchange board approves new rules to keep insiders from profiting

Idaho's insurance exchange board backed new rules Wednesday meant to keep insiders from profiting inappropriately from ties to the Internet health care marketplace, the AP reports, in the wake of a now-canceled no-bid contract with a former board member. The board decided that members who leave the volunteer panel appointed by Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter must wait at least 12 months before securing paid work with the exchange unless two-thirds of the panel votes to waive that restriction. “I think it's appropriate,” said state Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell and an exchange board member; click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Otter wants delay in individual mandate to let Idaho build its own exchange tech platform

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter says he wants a delay in the individual mandate to purchase health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, to allow Idaho's insurance exchange to get its own technology platform up and running, rather than piggybacking on the troubled federal tech site. “Of all the challenges we’re facing with Idaho’s state-based health insurance exchange, none have been more disappointing than the chorus of those who attribute each setback to cronyism or conspiracy, and those whose most constructive criticism is 'I told you so,'” Otter wrote in a statement distributed to Idaho news media today. “When we run into a problem, Idahoans fix it. When we encounter difficulties, Idahoans overcome them. We always have, and we’re working hard to do the same in this case.”

Click below for Otter's full statement. He writes, “The technology consulting contract awarded to a former Exchange board member was expeditiously and correctly voided last week. Yes, it should never have happened to begin with, but when it did the process worked.” Then he says he wrote to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius, requesting the delay. “They say the first step to getting out of a hole is to stop digging. Folks, we can stay mired in the would have/could have/should have of this situation and let our partisan or philosophical petulance overtake us, or we can focus instead on climbing out of this hole and asserting our Idaho independence and sovereignty by finishing the job we started last winter,” Otter writes. “I choose to climb.”

Gov: Swelling prisons, dropping crime rates, high recidivism put Idaho at ‘crossroads’

Here’s a link to my full story at on study results released today showing that more than 40 percent of Idaho's prison beds are being taken up by returned probationers and parolees – helping explain why the state’s prison population has jumped by 10 percent in the past five years even as its crime rate, one of the lowest in the nation, has dropped. “Our state is at a crossroads,” Gov. Butch Otter declared, “and we need to choose a path that best protects the public and enables us to be better stewards of tax dollars.”

The study findings, from the Council of State Government’s Justice Center and the Pew Charitable Trusts, were presented to state lawmakers today as part of the criminal justice reinvestment project launched in June by all three branches of Idaho’s state government. A legislative interim committee also heard a presentation from South Dakota officials on their state’s justice reinvestment project; there, state leaders discovered, to their surprise, that 81 percent of their prison inmates were non-violent offenders, incarcerated at great cost. Major reforms followed.

Review of canceled insurance exchange contract could take a week

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A lawyer hired to review how Idaho insurance exchange leaders awarded a no-bid, $375,000 contract to a board member says he'll be finished within a week. Fred Mack, a corporate governance specialist at a Boise law firm, said Wednesday the bill for his investigation of the contract between Your Health Idaho director Amy Dowd and former board member Frank Chan won't exceed $15,000. Last week, Chan canceled his contract to manage a big exchange technology project. Concerns arose that it went to an insider — without any competition for the lucrative work priced at $180 per hour. Even with Chan's contract ended, however, board members enlisted Mack to review what led to the pact, partly to help them establish better rules to prevent such issues from arising in the future.

The ‘revolving door’ boosting Idaho’s prison population even as crime rate declines…

After seven months of intensive study of Idaho’s criminal justice system, researchers from the Center for Justice and the Pew Charitable Trusts have found some surprising trends underlying Idaho’s high incarceration rate, though the state has one of the nation’s lowest crime rates: Fully 84 percent of Idaho’s felony offenders are initially sentenced to probation or a short-term prison program followed by release on probation. But within three years, nearly a third of those end up in prison serving full terms instead.

Now, 41 percent of Idaho’s prison beds are taken up by offenders who were released on probation or parole, but sent back to prison for various reasons – far above the rate in other states. In North Carolina, for example, that figure is 21 percent; in Kansas, it’s 33 percent.

The offenders who were sent back to Idaho prisons from either probation or parole in 2012 alone will stay in prison for an average of nearly two more years, and will cost the state $41 million, the researchers found. “There’s a real financial stake,” Mark Pelka, program director at the Justice Center, which is operated by the Council of State Governments, told Idaho lawmakers today.

Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, Idaho’s House Judiciary Committee chairman and a longtime Idaho State Police officer, said, “I had no idea it was that high. … That’s absolutely staggering when you think about it.”

The answer may include major reforms to Idaho’s supervision systems, so fewer offenders fail those programs and head back to prison, along with more targeted consequences for probationers or parolees who violate rules. “You could spend less on prisons and corrections if you received better outcomes from supervision,” Pelka told the Idaho Legislature’s Justice Reinvestment Interim Committee. “If you can do that right … you will see less cost, you will see less people coming to prison, and you will see less crime.” Still, such changes may require spending up-front, to “kick-start” new, more effective supervision programs, he said.

The researchers also are examining Idaho’s criminal sentencing laws and other factors. The state’s specialty courts, for groups from veterans to substance abusers, drew praise, as did its widespread use of assessment tools to identify offenders’ risk factors and needs.

Lawmakers on the bipartisan legislative committee were struck by the data, which is part of a project launched by all three branches of Idaho’s state government in June; tomorrow, the researchers will meet with a working group including state corrections, judicial and law enforcement officials.

“Given some of our budgeting challenges, it should be of great concern to all of us to find out that it is clear we could be more efficient and save a lot of money,” said Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow. “I’ve always thought that moving toward more community treatment is more cost-effective and more humane. I think this is something we’ve needed to do for a long time.”

Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, a former deputy Kootenai County prosecutor, said the “bleak” recidivism figures weren’t surprising to him. If policy changes can “make probation more successful, I’m extremely intrigued,” Malek said. He noted that the project thus far has been devoid of partisanship or “grandstanding,” and said everyone involved shares the same goals. “I’m very hopeful,” he said.

Pelka said, “The very good news is you have a declining crime rate. … Between 2007 and 2011, as your resident population grew, your crime rate decreased. … You’re enjoying one of the lowest crime rates in the country.” Yet, Idaho’s prison population grew 10 percent from 2008 to 2012, and it’s projected to grow another 7.5 percent in the next three years. “When you look at the reason why, you see a revolving door,” Pelka said. “You can begin to bend that curve down if you can improve outcomes for people on supervision.”

Expert: ‘We can change offender behavior, we just need to go about it the right way’

A joint legislative committee today is hearing detailed presentations on the right and wrong ways to prevent recidivism, or reoffending by criminals; Ed Latessa, a professor in the School of Criminal Justice at the University of Cincinnati, shared the latest studies on what works and what doesn’t. Punishment alone doesn’t prevent reoffending, he said; if it did, there wouldn’t be so many people in prison who’d been there before. But treatment also doesn’t work unless it’s effective treatment, appropriately targeted and effectively delivered. “Now this doesn’t mean we can’t punish and treat,” Latessa told the Criminal Justice Reinvestment Interim Committee. “That’s what we do in the criminal justice system. But we can also change their behavior through that process.”

Effective programs are behavioral, he said. “They focus on current risk factors, not the past. … Offenders are actively learning new ways to behave, new skills.” He showed a video clip of a trained probation officer and a probationer, talking about how the offender could avoid a friend who was luring him back to the same criminal behavior that landed him behind bars. “We can change offender behavior, we just need to go about it the right way,” Latessa said.

The joint committee, which includes 11 senators and representatives and is co-chaired by House Judiciary Chairman Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, and Senate Judiciary Chairwoman Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, also is scheduled today to hear a detailed analysis of Idaho’s criminal justice system from the Council of State Governments criminal justice reinvestment program; and a presentation from South Dakota officials on what happened in that state’s justice reinvestment project.

Former utilities regulator Conley Ward dies at 66

Here's a news item from the AP and the Idaho Statesman: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Conley Ward, a former member of the Idaho Public Utilities Commission and chairman of the state Democratic Party, has died. He was 66. Family members say Ward died Monday at his home in Kuna. Former Democratic Gov. Cecil Andrus called Ward a leading and influential voice on state and regional energy issues for more than 40 years. Andrus also praised Ward's concern for the common man, a trait Andrus said made Ward an effective regulator. The Idaho Statesman reports ( ) that Ward advised Idaho's rural telephone companies in the creation of Syringa Networks in 2002, the company that provides broadband services to rural Idaho. Ward served on the PUC from 1977-86. A lawyer and partner at Givens Pursley in Boise, Ward led the Democratic Party from 1987-2000.

Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey has a full report here.

Billboards target Idaho lawmakers in their districts

Billboards bashing Idaho legislators for their votes on a state insurance exchange have begun popping up in their legislative districts. Idaho Freedom Foundation chief Wayne Hoffman says the signs are part of his group’s lobbying campaign to get Idaho’s exchange repealed in the legislative session that starts in January, but others say the effort appears aimed at Idaho’s upcoming 2014 elections, in which every seat in the Idaho Legislature will be on the ballot.

“That looks a lot more like campaigning than lobbying to me,” said Jim Weatherby, Boise State University professor emeritus and a longtime observer of Idaho politics. “It’s not a traditional way of lobbying the Legislature to use billboards – in fact, I’m hard-pressed to give an example of that.” Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, who is among those targeted by name on the signs, said he views his local billboard – which is right near the hospital where he practices medicine – as an “effort to try to gin up a political opponent” for him in May’s GOP primary. “I think that’s what it’s designed to do, to be very blunt about it,” he said. “It’s political advertising.”

Hoffman, whose organization, a tax-exempt charity, is prohibited by law from engaging in campaigning, said, “We don’t get involved in elections – this has nothing to do with elections. It has to do with public policy.” He added, “They are a vehicle for lobbying lawmakers as well as the general public on an issue that will be before the Legislature in the 2014 legislative session.” Wood countered, “They push that envelope all the time.”

Two of the billboards have gone up so far; Hoffman said more are in the works. The first, in Burley, targets Wood, House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley; and Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert. The second, in Mountain Home, names Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, and Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson; you can read my full story here at

Idaho court official honored for encouraging alternative dispute resolution

An Idaho federal court official has been honored by the Judicial Council of the 9th Circuit for encouraging alternative ways of settling legal disputes, short of full-blown court trials. Susie Boring-Headlee, Alternative Dispute Resolution coordinator for the U.S. District Court in Idaho, has been awarded the Robert F. Peckham Award for ADR Excellence by the 9th Circuit, for her work promoting ADR in both the state and federal courts. She's served as a presenter and panelist at ADR workshops for judges; arranged for training of mediators in conjunction with the University of Idaho College of Law; organized “settlement week” programs at the district court; and worked with IT staff to ease the handling of ADR procedures in the court's electronic case filing system. The 9th Circuit also recognized McGeorge Law School in this year's awards; you can see their full announcement here.

No fed charges against ICC guards, after three-year investigation

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — After a three-year investigation into allegations of possible criminal civil rights violations at Idaho's largest private prison, the U.S. Department of Justice is declining to prosecute any current or former guards with Corrections Corporation of America. U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson made the announcement Monday, saying the FBI's investigation into inmate-on-inmate assaults at the CCA-run Idaho Correctional Center south of Boise was detailed and covered multiple incidences. Olson says that while the assaults at the prison have been problematic, prosecutors didn't believe they would be able to prove elements of a federal crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Under federal criminal civil rights law, prison guards commit a crime if they willfully fail to stop an assault or are deliberately indifferent to an inmate who is in need of medical care.

You can read the Justice Department's full announcement here. It says the investigation included an assault, captured on videotape, of inmate Hanni Elabed on January 18, 2010, in which Elabed was severely beaten by another inmate while guards watched but didn't intervene. U.S. Attorney for Idaho Wendy Olson said in the statement that various civil lawsuits brought by inmates against the CCA are “a more appropriate vehicle for addressing the assaults that the investigation examined.” Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

BSU claims records of professor’s work on Amanda Knox case are trade secrets

Andrea Vogt, a former Idaho reporter now based in Italy, reports on a public records battle with Boise State University over the work of Professor Greg Hampikian, the head of the Idaho Innocence Project and a DNA expert who has played a key role in the Amanda Knox case. Vogt has been looking into public resources, both state and federal, that have gone into Knox’s defense in the murder case in Italy, but ran into a surprising roadblock: Boise State denied her requests under the Idaho Public Records Law for Hampikian’s correspondence about the case, claiming they’re trade secrets.

Writes Vogt, a former Spokesman-Review reporter, “It raises the following questions: Do U.S. citizens have the right to know if public university resources, labs and funds were used (and how) to aid the defense of a private citizen accused abroad of murder, justly or unjustly?  What are the parameters for this kind of advocacy?  When should public universities be allowed to come to the aid of those imprisoned at home or abroad, who decides who gets help and who doesn’t, and how transparent should those university efforts be?”

You can read her full report here at her website, “The Freelance Desk.” Her work in three languages has been published by The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Week, BBC, Discovery Channel and A & E's Crime and Investigation Network, among others. For more on the Idaho Innocence Project and its funding, click here.

Tribes’ tale sends quiet chill over public-lands transfer hearing

The hearing room at the state Capitol went silent this morning as the first scheduled speaker, Chairman Nathan Small of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, addressed the Federal Lands Interim Committee about the prospect of Idaho trying to take title to federal public lands within the state. “The tribes unequivocally oppose this notion,” Small said. “The wealth of public lands within Idaho’s borders is intended to protect the way of life … from generation to generation,” he said. It’s not, he said, to be sold off to private entities, or used for corporate interests - those who would “come out, rip, rape and run - because that's what they do when they get done with a place, a piece of property, is they run.” He noted that 17 phosphate mines in eastern Idaho are Superfund sites. “Are you proud of that legacy?” he asked. “Everybody made a few dollars at the time.”

The United States, he told the lawmakers, “entered into a solemn treaty with the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and peoples,” guaranteeing them the “off-reservation fishing, hunting and gathering rights which we continue to exercise on unoccupied lands of the United States.” Idaho doesn’t have the resources to manage all those lands, Small said, even in normal years, let alone in extreme fire seasons. They don’t have the “massive reserves of oil or natural gas” that could fund such management. “This is not sound legislation, and it is not a good path for our state and those of us who have lived here since time immemorial,” Small told the committee. “It’s essential that we have that opportunity to leave the reservation to hunt, to fish, to gather and to protect our cultural sites out there. Our treaty says you shall have those rights so long as you make the reservation your permanent home. We didn’t give up nothing out there other than to live on the reservation. We retain all of those rights.”

Small noted that his tribes’ off-reservation cultural sites “are anywhere from hundreds to 12,000 to 14,000 years old. We have been here. Prior to the state becoming a territory, prior to the state becoming a state, we lived here, through all of those times.”

He told of how the Sho-Ban people were scattered, and once lived in what’s now the Boise valley. They ended up at the Fort Hall Reservation, the Duck Valley Reservation, and other reservations in Oregon. “They came under the present locations that they were moved to, or where they ran to,” he said. “You’ve got to understand that when we made that treaty … it means that we would have that opportunity to continue to come out into these areas, as long as these lands were under some type of federal control or unoccupied lands of the United States. We feel that this notion to transfer it all to the state is going to diminish that right that we have made with the United States.”

Officials of the Coeur d’Alene and Nez Perce tribes sounded similar concerns about their treaty rights and future management of public lands in Idaho. Helo Hancock of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe noted that only the federal government can transfer the lands. “If the federal government is going to transfer title to any lands, they should be transferred back to their rightful owner, which would be Indian tribes,” he said. The legislation calling for a transfer to the state, he said, is “very troubling, particularly to the tribes.”

The interim committee is also scheduled to hear today from a panel of sportsmen and wildlife interests; from a panel representing grazing interests; and from a panel representing environmental interests. Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, noted that the panel is scheduled to continue meeting for the next year and a half before making any decision. “I’d just remind the people that are here that this is an ongoing process,” he said. “We’re going to be here for over another year from now going over this. … Whatever our outcome is, hopefully it will be very deliberative.”

ITD’s eminent domain battles with North Idaho landowners run up big tab, land in court…

Alan Johnson’s company lost 16.3 acres of prime property along U.S. 95 in North Idaho when the state seized it for a new interchange under eminent domain law.  Now the shopping center developer stands to lose another $1.1 million, which is how much the state paid an outside law firm to wrangle over reimbursement for the property – because the state wants Johnson’s company to pay the legal fees the Idaho Transportation Department incurred in trying to seize the land. Johnson calls the tactic “completely unconstitutional,” a sentiment echoed by his lawyer, who said the episode is a “perversion” of law.

The case, now pending before the Idaho Supreme Court, is raising questions about Idaho’s use of eminent domain; a local legislator, Rep. Ed Morse, R-Hayden, says Idaho needs to change its laws. Meanwhile, the shopping center site – slated for the Athol area’s first major grocery store – stands vacant as the multi-year court fight continues.  “I’ve never encountered anything like this,” said Johnson. “All we’re trying to do is get the fair market value for what the property was, to get the access to the site after it’s done, and to make sure that our utility issues were taken care of,” he said, adding, “For every dollar we spend in attorney fees, the state spends about $3 or $4. … There’s got to be an easier way to do this.”

ITD has spent $2.1 million and counting on legal fees to an outside firm to battle over prices for seized property along the Garwood-to-Sagle project on Highway 95. Another property owner, Dee Jameson, had his own year-plus legal fight with the state, after which the state’s legal bills added up to nearly as much as it agreed to pay Jameson. “I don’t think they gained any ground by their strategy,” said Jameson, a past president of the Idaho Association of Realtors. He said the long fight over the price was “a total waste of the state’s time and money, in my opinion.” You can read my full story here from Sunday’s Spokesman-Review.

Denney killed bill to end retirement boosts, now could benefit…

Former Idaho House Speaker Lawerence Denney, whose pension benefits would soar by more than seven times if he wins his bid for Secretary of State, personally killed legislation last year designed to end the costly special treatment for longtime legislators who land high-paying government posts at the end of their careers. “He’s the one that made sure the bill died,” said former state Rep. Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, the bill’s sponsor.

Idaho legislators, who are currently paid $16,438 a year, qualify for only modest pension benefits under the Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho, or PERSI, because of their low salaries; based on his nine terms in the House, Denney, 65, would get about $500 a month per life. But a quirk in the law means that if Denney were to serve one four-year term as Secretary of State after his years of legislative service, his benefit would rise to more than $3,600 per month. That’s because PERSI sets retirement pensions based on the highest-paid 42 months of state employment. The current salary for the Idaho Secretary of State, by law, is $99,450 a year.

Denney acknowledged that he directed a committee chairman to scuttle Lake’s bill in 2012. “We have a citizens commission that sets legislative compensation,” he said. “And they are the ones that should be dealing with all of that, in my opinion. … That was passed to take the politics out of it, and if we get involved, we’re putting the politics back into it.” However, the chair of that citizens commission, Boise attorney Debora Kristensen, said the commission never was asked to look at the issue – and she doesn’t think it’s within their purview.

Lake, who retired from the Legislature after the 2012 session, said he still thinks Idaho should eliminate the pension perk for former lawmakers. “It’s absolutely wrong for a legislator to be able to accumulate time as a legislator, and then collect their pension as a high-paid executive,” he said. “That’s wrong.” You can read my full story here at

Guv, first lady set 4th annual ‘Trick or Treat at the Capitol’

Gov. Butch Otter and First Lady Lori Otter plan to host their fourth annual “Trick or Treat at the Capitol” next Thursday, when the costumed governor and first lady hand out treats along with toothbrushes, floss and children's books to costumed kids who come to the Capitol steps; this year's event will run from 4 to 6:30 p.m. Pictured above are the governor and first lady's costumes from 2011, when she dressed as a referee, and he dressed as a BSU football player. Other past get-ups have included Lori Otter as Snow White and the governor as a cowboy in 2010; and both in academic caps and gowns festooned with the “Go On” slogan last year, to urge kids to go on to higher education after college. Click below for the details on this year's event.

This year, the two reportedly will be dressed as firefighters.

GE subsidiary drops megaload appeal

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) — A General Electric Co. subsidiary has given up its legal fight to haul the second of two huge loads of water purification equipment through the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest and will find another way to get the equipment to the Canadian oil fields. The Lewiston Tribune reports ( Resources Conservation Company International filed documents Thursday saying it was dropping its emergency motion to stay an injunction that prevented it from using the U.S. Highway 12 route. GE issued a statement saying the equipment is important to its customers and it will focus on finding alternative shipment options. Last month, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill issued an injunction that effectively blocked the GE unit from hauling large loads along the winding, two-lane road that passes through tribal lands and a federally designated Wild and Scenic River corridor.

If Denney wins Secty of State race, his state pension would increase by more than 700%

If former House Speaker Lawerence Denney were to serve one four-year term as Secretary of State after his many years of legislative service, his state retirement pension, for life, would rise from roughly $500 a month to more than $3,600 a month. That’s because the Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho sets retirement pensions based on the highest-paid 42 months of state employment – and state legislators, who now make a little over $16,000 a year, who move up to higher-paid, year-round jobs at the end of their careers can count all those lower-paid years of legislative service for retirement. The current salary for the Idaho Secretary of State, by law, is $99,450 a year.

Then-Rep. Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, proposed legislation in 2012 to end that pension-boosting perk for state legislators, saying legislative service should be counted only as part-time employment in retirement calculations, but it was blocked by then-Speaker Denney. Lake retired from the Legislature after that year’s session.

Denney, 65, wouldn’t be the first to take advantage of the perk, which has boosted the retirement of every longtime state lawmaker who ended his or her career in a higher-paid, full-time state job. Denney’s announcement today, however, brings new attention to the perk; you can read my full story here at


Report: Fulcher’s legislative record on education matches Otter’s

After Idaho Sen. Russ Fulcher told Eye on Boise this week that he’s not “on the same page” as Gov. Butch Otter on education, Idaho EdNews reporter Kevin Richert analyzed Fulcher’s legislative record on the issue – and found that it mirrored Otter’s position nearly exactly. “Fulcher’s voting record shows that he was in line with Otter on every major education issue of 2013,” Richert reported; you can read his full report here. Fulcher is considering challenging Otter in the GOP primary in May.

9th Circuit rejects Edgar Steele’s appeal

A federal appeals court has rejected an appeal from Edgar Steele, the self-proclaimed “attorney for the damned” from North Idaho, who was sentenced to 50 years in prison for the attempted murder-for-hire of his wife. Steele claimed improper jury instructions and other errors in his conviction, but a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected those claims in a decision issued today. “There was no error in the instruction, plain or otherwise,” the court found. It also ruled that the U.S. District Court in Idaho didn’t err when it didn’t take up Steele’s claim of improper assistance of counsel before conviction; that can be considered in post-conviction proceedings, the court ruled.

A federal jury convicted Steele of four felonies for paying a handyman in silver to kill his wife and mother-in-law with a car bomb. Steele maintained the whole thing was a government conspiracy, and that audiotapes of him discussing the plot with the handyman were fabricated; you can read my full story here at

Of website updates and campaign announcements…

Former House Speaker Lawerence Denney, now a GOP state representative from Midvale, is flying around the state today in a neighbor’s Cessna 182, making stops to announce his run for Idaho Secretary of State in Idaho Falls, Boise and Coeur d’Alene. But he sent no advance notice to the press of the announcement tour, nor did he post notice of it on his campaign website or the Idaho Republican Party’s online events calendar. In fact, Denney’s campaign website still says he’s Speaker of the House, a position from which he was ousted by his own caucus in 2012, and the most recent news item posted on the site as of this afternoon, from October of 2012, urges a yes vote on Propositions 1, 2 and 3 in the November 2012 election – the election in which voters overwhelmingly rejected all three propositions, repealing state schools Superintendent Tom Luna’s “Students Come First” reform laws.

The Secretary of State is responsible for some of the most closely watched websites in Idaho – the sites on which candidacies and election results are announced, campaign finance reports are posted amid firm deadlines, and more. Asked about his qualifications for that aspect of the job, Denney said, “I can tell you that I don’t think the current secretary of state does that either. I think he has a staff that does, and certainly I’m not going to make wholesale changes in the staff.” He said the staff does a good job.

Denney said updates to his campaign website will be up “shortly.” He said he planned today’s announcement tour now because of the good weather. “We picked this day 10 days out, and we are very, very fortunate,” he said. “It’s a beautiful day.”

Moyle backing Denney’s statewide run, but not Fulcher’s…

House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, who was among those attending former House Speaker Lawerence Denney’s statehouse campaign kickoff today for his bid for Idaho secretary of state, said he’s backing Denney in his run. “It’s my understanding that (current GOP Secretary of State Ben) Ysursa wasn’t going to run before we started,” Moyle said. “I’m with Denney.”

“I think that Ben got sideways with the party on some issues,” he said, but added, “I like the fact that Ben speaks his mind and he does what’s right.”

Asked about another recently announced statewide candidate – Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, who’s exploring a primary challenge to Gov. Butch Otter – Moyle said he’s not on board with that one. “I wouldn’t support Fulcher, no,” he said. “Gov. Otter has said he’s running again. Gov. Otter has done a good job. Ben has said he’s not running again, or implied that. I’m with Butch.”

Craig gets more time to fight FEC fines in bathroom arrest case

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Ex-U.S. Sen. Larry Craig won more time to file court paperwork as he fights federal election regulators who contend he misused campaign funds to defend himself following his 2007 arrest in an airport bathroom sex sting. A judge in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., Thursday gave Craig until Nov. 13 to file documents opposing the Federal Election Commission's proposal he be forced to pay $140,000 in fines and return $217,000 to his campaign accounts. Previously, Craig's documents were due by Wednesday. Craig contends it was legal to divert hundreds of thousands of dollars from his campaign supporters to support his legal defense in the 2007 case. He claims it was part of official business when he was arrested while traveling from Idaho to his Senate job in Washington, D.C.

Denney: ‘I think Secretary of State is a fit for me’

About 25 backers, including a half-dozen GOP state lawmakers, joined former House Speaker Lawerence Denney in the Statehouse rotunda today to launch his campaign for Idaho Secretary of State. Flanked by family members including wife Donna, Denney said, “Donna and I have been prayerfully considering this move for quite some time … and we have decided that now is the time.” Denney said if elected, he’d work to stop the state Land Board from acquiring commercial property as part of the state endowment; address unspecified problems in Idaho elections that he said he’s heard about from people around the state; and oppose any move to a vote-by-mail system in Idaho. “Sure vote by mail is easier and it’s cheaper, but we cannot protect the integrity of the ballot,” he said.

Backers muttered “that’s right” and “Amen” as Denney spoke; they included a black-clad Tony Snesko of Idaho Open Carry, who wore a gun on his hip in a tooled leather holster; former state Rep. Bob Forrey; and current state lawmakers Judy Boyle, Russ Fulcher, Mike Moyle, Joe Palmer, Jason Monks, Mark Patterson and Paul Shepherd.

Fulcher said, “Lawerence is a personal friend. We always served together pretty close when he was speaker; I just think the world of him.” Fulcher is currently exploring a primary challenge to GOP Gov. Butch Otter.

Denney said before he began exploring a run, he met with current GOP Secretary of State Ben Ysursa and asked him “whether or not he was running, because I had heard that he was not, and his answer was that he was undecided, and I think he’s still undecided.”

Asked why he picked this position to run for, Denney, a farmer and ninth-term state lawmaker, said, “I think Secretary of State is a fit for me, and certainly, the rumor that was out there that the current secretary was not running weighed in our decision, so we started traveling and checking out the possibilities there, and that’s why we decided to do it.” Denney said for now, Boyle is the head of his campaign.

Denney apparently on stealth announcement tour of candidacy for Secty of State

In one of the weirdest launches of a statewide political campaign recently, former Idaho House Speaker Lawerence Denney apparently is going around the state announcing his candidacy for Secretary of State today - but he hasn't announced his appearances, informed the press or even posted anything on his campaign website, on which the info as of last night was so out of date it still said he's speaker of the House, a post he lost a year ago when he was ousted by current Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley. Former state Rep. Janice McGeachin posted on her Facebook page yesterday that Denney would be announcing in Idaho Falls this morning, and now there are photos floating around on Twitter showing that he did so. Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, called the AP yesterday and said Denney would announce at the Capitol today at 12:30. He didn't return calls from Eye on Boise yesterday inquiring about the announcement schedule.

Denney has been mulling a challenge of GOP Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, who hasn't yet decided if he'll seek another term; the AP reports that several other GOP candidates also are considering the race. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Study finds Idaho’s tax burden per person is 49th lowest in nation

Idaho’s tax burden per capita is 49th lowest in the nation, according to the latest results from an annual study by the Idaho State Tax Commission, and it’s the lowest among 11 western states. The study found that Idaho’s per-capita tax burden is $2,975, compared to $4,296 for the national average and a $3,648 median among western states. It compared individual and corporate income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, and motor vehicle taxes, including fuel taxes and license and registration fees. Click below for the full announcement from the Tax Commission; you can see the full 50-page study here.

The study focuses on fiscal year 2011, the latest year for which census figures are available. It found that Idaho’s overall tax burden was 30.7 percent below the national average. The state’s property taxes ranked 41st, at 39.3 percent below the national average; sales taxes were 38th, at 22.5 percent below average; individual income taxes, 33rd, 19.3 percent below average; and corporate income taxes 29th, 31 percent below average.

State prison agency knew for years about CCA staffing deficiencies

Administrators and staff at Idaho's state Department of Corrections have known since at least 2010 about staffing deficiencies by private prison contractor Corrections Corporation of America at an Idaho state prison, according to documents obtained by the Associated Press - and that the deficiencies violated CCA's contract with the state. The new details about the state's oversight of CCA come as Idaho State Police investigators are looking into allegations that the nation's largest private prison company defrauded taxpayers by filing reports that showed vacant positions were fully staffed. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Body of missing hiker found at Craters of the Moon after four-week search

The Associated Press has this report on the recovery of the body of a missing hiker at Craters of the Moon: POCATELLO, Idaho (AP) — Searchers have found the body of a Boise woman after a four-week effort at Craters of the Moon National Monument in south-central Idaho. Park Superintendent Dan Buckley says the body of Dr. Jodean “Jo” Elliott-Blakeslee was spotted Tuesday evening by park rangers in a helicopter. Her body was about a mile from where the body of her friend Amy Linkert, was found on Sept. 26. Butte County officials said it appeared the 69-year-old Linkert died of exposure. The women were last seen on Sept. 19 at a campground in Arco and were reported missing several days later after Elliott-Blakeslee didn't report for work at the Oregon Department of Corrections in Ontario, Ore. Officials believe the two had intended to go on a short hike. Their phones, purses and dogs were found in a pickup.

Craig wants more time to fight FEC fines

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Former U.S. Sen. Larry Craig says he needs more time in his bid to fight off demands by federal election regulators he pay $140,000 in fines and return $217,000 to his campaign that he'd used for his legal defense after his 2007 arrest in an airport bathroom sex sting. Craig filed the documents late Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. Ordinarily, the Idaho Republican would have until just the end of this month to formally oppose the Federal Election Commission's proposed penalties against him for allegedly misusing campaign cash. Now, however, Craig is asking U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson for another two weeks to file paperwork he hopes will help him avoid stiff financial penalties. In Tuesday's filing, Craig says the FEC doesn't object to the delay.

Idaho exchange: After ‘5 months of crisis mode,’ time to ‘stop and take a breath’

Here’s a link to my full story at on today’s Idaho insurance exchange board action, immediately ending a no-bid contract that was awarded to a former board member last week, forbidding issuance of any contract for more than $15,000 without board approval, and commissioning an independent review of what happened. Said board member Jim Rice, “I think we’ve made some progress on getting to where we need to be.” Board Chairman Stephen Weeg said, “We’ve operated under a crisis mode for five months, and it’s time to stop and take a breath.”

Last week, former board member Frank Chan, head of the exchange board’s technology committee, was awarded a $375,000 no-bid contract with the exchange to oversee tech vendors, and resigned from the board the same day. The choice of a replacement for Chan on the board is up to Gov. Butch Otter.

Exchange board commissions independent review of no-bid contract snafu

Idaho’s health insurance exchange board, after an hour and a half closed-door executive session to discuss personnel matters, returned to open session and voted unanimously this afternoon to commission an independent review of what happened when a no-bid contract was awarded to a board member who then resigned. “We will be working to find an attorney to do that review for us,” Board Chairman Stephen Weeg said after the meeting, “to look at what happened, and how that might have happened, and what recommendations they would make for us as an organization.”

The motion was made by board member Jim Rice and seconded by board member Hyatt Erstad. Weeg said the board wants to do better. “We’ve operated under a crisis mode for five months, and it’s time to stop and take a breath,” he said.

The exchange’s executive director, Amy Dowd, awarded the $375,000 contract last week to board member Frank Chan, who then resigned from the board. Yesterday, Chan agreed to cancel the contract and offered to work with the board on IT issues over the next month, but at its meeting today, the board declined that offer, ending all work under the contract immediately. It also voted to require that in the future, any contract for more than $15,000 be brought to the board for approval.

“It was a long, deliberate, informed, civil discussion,” Weeg said. The board is scheduled to meet again Oct. 30. Weeg said it hopes to receive the review from the attorney in executive session. Asked if the results then will be made public, Weeg said, “I think I will have to see what those findings say before I can give you a definitive answer.”

Exchange votes to require board approval for all contracts over $15,000

Idaho’s health insurance exchange board has voted to forbid issuance of any contract for more than $15,000 without board approval, filling in blanks in the exchange’s interim procurement policy that set no limit – and allowed board Executive Director Amy Dowd to issue a now-cancelled no-bid $375,000 contract to a board member last week. “If an expenditure is to exceed that, that will be brought before the board to make a decision,” said board member Hyatt Erstad, who made the motion. “It’s not designed to hamstring. It’s designed to allow us additional accountability,” he said. “That could be adjusted on a going-forward basis.”

Rep. Kelly Packer, R-McCammon, said, “I think we’re moving in the right direction. I like the idea of having an interim dollar amount to put in those blanks,” while the exchange finalizes its overall procurement policies. Erstad’s motion also required that the final procurement policy – addressing a series of other details about contracting, sole-source contracts and required reviews – be presented to the board for approval by its next meeting. The board approved the motion unanimously.

Exchange board: ‘There should have been some alarms going off’

Idaho health insurance exchange board member Kevin Settles lauded former board member Frank Chan for the time, effort and expertise he offered to the board before his resignation last week, as he was awarded a now-canceled, $375,000 no-bid contract. “I thought that he was a tremendous benefit for the board and really appreciate him,” Settles said. He expressed hope in “the possibility of extending a contract with him in a better fashion,” and added, “I just feel bad for Frank, and for all of us. But we shouldn’t dogpile on it.”

Board member Jim Rice, a Caldwell state senator, countered, “Negotiation of the contract prior to the resignation – Idahoans don’t see that as appropriate, we just don’t. … It’s part of being a fiduciary.” He said, “I think that from here, we can’t contract with him. … We have to deal with reality, and reality is that I don’t think we can do further business with Frank, in spite of the fact that he did volunteer a lot of his personal time while he was on the board and went above and beyond. It was something that was very commendable. … I don’t think it is something where we can just say we’re going to ignore that going forward. We can’t. There’s a lot of realities that come with this particular entity that don’t exist with other entities.”

Board member Tom Shores said the process was flawed. “There should have been some alarms going off,” he said. “All those things should have occurred and didn’t occur.”

Board Chairman Stephen Weeg said, “My hindsight says that in some ways our desire for expediency overcame … our desire for good governance. … So we made a decision, a decision was made regarding hiring one of our board members … and it created a major mess for us, there’s no way to ignore that fact. So we need to look at that as a board.”

“We’re all in this together,” Weeg said. “We could spend time trying to figure out who did what wrong, and I’ll take some of the blame for that. The governor appointed me to chair this board and the governor can decide if I still have his full faith and confidence, and I’ll need to talk to him about that. But I think the goal today is to say we have a huge challenge, we have a significant issue that we need to address and do better together. … We’ve been pressed by time from the get-go. We’ve probably taken some shortcuts that have caused us to stumble.”

No-bid contract with exchange board member has been canceled

Former Idaho health insurance exchange board member Frank Chan, who last week was awarded a no-bid, $375,000 IT contract with the exchange and then resigned from the board, has now “exercised his right to cancel the contract,” exchange board Chairman Stephen Weeg announced this morning, at the opening of the exchange board meeting. “There’s a 30-day cancellation clause in that,” Weeg said.

Amy Dowd, exchange executive director, said, “I made the decision to contract with Applied Computing because they have the background and experience needed for this challenge. The questions that have been raised indicate this decision should have been made in a different way. … I understand the scrutiny we are under. I appreciate the concerns that have been expressed this week. … I have learned from this process.”

Two lawmakers on exchange board want no-bid contract with board member voided

Two state lawmakers who serve on the Idaho health insurance exchange board are calling for voiding the no-bid contract awarded last week to board member Frank Chan, who then resigned from the board, the AP reports. The contract called for Chan to be paid $180 an hour, up to $375,000, to oversee the exchange's technology vendors; he formerly headed the board's technology committee. Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, told the AP, “When somebody is going behind everyone's back, negotiating a contract for themselves at $180 an hour when they've got current contracts with the state at $95, I don't think that's even ethical. It's not in the interest of the citizens of Idaho and it's a violation of the fiduciary obligation of a member of the board.” Rep. Kelly Packer, R-McCammon, said, “Things have been out of control because we were in a hurry. It's time to have a longer thought process, to get things back in line.” The board meets this morning at 11.

Southwick undergoing surgery, out for at least five weeks

Joe Southwick, the BSU Broncos' starting quarterback who broke his ankle on the first offensive play of Saturday's game against Nevada, was undergoing surgery today and is expected to be out for at least five weeks, the AP reports, leaving backup quarterback Grant Hedrick in charge of BSU's offense heading into Friday's game against BYU. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Todd Dvorak.

Fulcher says it’ll be ‘several weeks’ before he decides whether to challenge Otter

Asked by Eye on Boise why he’s looking at a possible run for governor – against a popular two-term sitting governor from his own party – Idaho Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, said, “I just feel like we’re going down the wrong path.” Fulcher, who filed  paperwork over the weekend allowing him to begin raising funds for a possible challenge to Gov. Butch Otter in the GOP primary, said, “It is not a firm decision at this point, but what it does allow us to do is take the exploratory steps over the next few weeks. … We’ll be talking to people across the state and evaluating whether or not it’s a good idea, and whether or not there appears to be some broad-based support.”

Fulcher said the state health insurance exchange isn’t the only issue on which he differs from Otter. “I don’t think we’re on the same page with the lands issue,” he said. “I don’t think we’re on the same page, at least in terms of approach, with education.” But, he said, “Not all issues are created equal, OK? And this health care issue is a big, big deal. Here we’ve got Idaho voluntarily engaging with a program that Americans don’t want, Idahoans don’t want, and just as predicted, you’ve got the program failing out of the gate.”

Fulcher said it’ll take him “several weeks” to determine whether or not to make the run. “To do it right, you have to interact with people all over the state, so we’ll be embarking on that here in short order,” he said. “My intent is not to try to throw Butch Otter personally in the crosshairs all the time. … I’m much more focused on trying to share an alternate vision and see if there’s receptiveness to it.”

Fulcher, a commercial real estate agent, spent 24 years in high tech, working at Micron Technology for 15 years, followed by nine years as vice president of sales and marketing for Preco Electronics; he grew up on a Meridian dairy farm. He was appointed to the Idaho Senate in 2005 by then-Gov. Dirk Kempthorne after the resignation under pressure of then-Sen. Jack Noble amid an ethics scandal. Fulcher said, “I’m more interested in doing what I believe is right than what’s popular. The day that I can’t look myself in the mirror and say that, look, regardless of the circumstances, I stood up for what I believe, then that’s the day I need to be gone.”

In the Senate, where Fulcher is seen as a rising leader of the GOP’s most conservative wing, he’s been an opponent of granting anti-discrimination protections to gays; sponsored successful legislation to make assisted suicide a felony; opposed legislation strengthening state day-care licensing as “government intrusion;” backed highway bonding plans that upgraded I-84 in his district; and sponsored a 2007 law requiring parental consent for minors’ abortions.

Louise McClure on Simpson vote: ‘Jim would be proud’

Louise McClure, widow of the late Idaho Sen. Jim McClure, has penned an op-ed piece about the recent government shutdown and “flirtation with default on our debts.” In it, she  bemoans the breakdown in civility and constructive problem-solving in the House and Senate from the days when McClure served, from 1967 to 1991, and lauds 2nd District Congressman Mike Simpson – the only member of Idaho’s all-GOP four-member congressional delegation who voted for the deal to end the shutdown and avoid default.

“It’s rare in Washington today to find someone willing to consider another’s point of view,” Mrs. McClure writes. “As Jim used to say, compromise is not a dirty word. Our leaders must have the courage to cast a tough vote when the nation’s greater good demands it. Thankfully for Idaho, Mike Simpson has demonstrated the courage to do that.”

She writes, “We have huge problems as a nation and partisan bickering and one-upmanship can’t solve them. We desperately need leaders who will do the hard thing when it is the right thing. Sinking the ship of state for the sake of principle is still sinking the ship of state, after all.”

Of Simpson’s stand, she writes, “Jim would be proud.” You can read her full opinion piece here. Jim McClure, a Republican who chaired the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and made his name as a western conservative, died in 2011.

Exchange board to meet Tuesday to discuss procurement, after flap over no-bid contract with board member

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho's insurance exchange board meets Tuesday to discuss how it buys services after state lawmakers criticized a $375,000 no-bid contract awarded to one of its members. The Your Health Idaho exchange board meets at 11 a.m. to discuss its procurement process. On Friday, House Speaker Scott Bedke called it “indefensible” for exchange director Amy Dowd to give board member Frank Chan a big technology contract without advertising it publicly or letting others bid. Chan quit the board Wednesday after getting the contract. Though Dowd insists she has the authority to award contracts like the one with Chan, the exchange is operating under only a “draft” procurement policy that doesn't specify when bidding must be competitive. The board said in May it would finalize that policy. That's so far not happened.

Idaho Human Rights Commission sets public forum, awards presentations next week in Caldwell

The Idaho Human Rights Commission has scheduled a public forum for a week from tomorrow in Canyon County, to hear public comments about human rights work and issues in the county, followed by a reception honoring the recipients of two top awards: Former Gov. Phil Batt, who will receive the Human Rights Lifetime Achievement Award, and Idaho Department of Labor Director Roger Madsen, who will receive the Humanitarian Award.

The commission will meet Oct. 29 from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Caldwell at the College of Idaho, Simplot Dining Commons, south dining room; its open forum will run from 1-3 p.m., with the reception from 3-4. Among those scheduled to speak at the open forum are the heads of the Nampa Housing Authority and the Idaho Office on Aging and Mexican Consul Guillermo Ordorica.

Fulcher looking at challenging Gov. Otter in GOP primary

Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, says he filed preliminary paperwork Saturday for a primary challenge to GOP Gov. Butch Otter; the Idaho Statesman reported that Fulcher said he was motivated in part by his opposition to Otter's push for a state health insurance exchange. Click below for a full report from the AP and the Statesman.

Fulcher, 51, is a fifth-term state senator who is currently Senate majority caucus chairman; in December of 2010, he lost a race for the top GOP Senate leadership post, Senate president pro-tem. A former Micron executive who is now in the commercial real estate business, Fulcher holds a bachelor’s degree and an MBA from Boise State University; he is married with three children.

“Today, I am submitting the appropriate paperwork to begin the exploratory process,” he said in a statement. “I will treat this process with the utmost seriousness and humility it requires. From listening to citizens from across the state to meeting with key community activists, I plan to take this time to seek wise counsel and determine if I am the right person to help Idaho grow while preserving its rich heritage and traditions.”

House speaker calls no-bid contract with exchange board member ‘indefensible’

Idaho House Speaker Scott Bedke said Friday that it was “indefensible” for the state's health insurance exchange to award a no-bid contract worth up to $375,000 to one of its own board members, the AP reports, who then resigned from the board. Bedke, R-Oakley, told the Associated Press, “It was wrong. … I'm very troubled by what has happened. I understand the board is going to revisit this issue, and I'm willing at this point to let the board do its job. The public has a right to have confidence in all governmental processes, including this one.”

Board member Frank Chan resigned from the board Wednesday, when the deal to give him a $180 per hour contract to oversee a technology project was announced; click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Full moon heralds wild night on the blue for Boise State

Quite a night at BSU's Bronco Stadium tonight, where the Nevada WolfPack howled for the first half - which started with the shocking injury of BSU starting quarterback Joe Southwick, later announced to be a broken ankle - and was ahead of BSU 17-7 at the half. Then a full moon rose over the stadium, and everything changed. Backup quarterback Grant Hedrick led BSU to a 34-17 win over Nevada; it was BSU's homecoming game. Among the highlights: A 71-yard touchdown run from Jay Ajayi, and Hedrick throwing for 150 yards and running for another 115. This view from the west end of the stadium shows the full moon, at left, just as the second half opened. 

Otter appoints Hippler as 4th District judge, passes over Bock

Gov. Butch Otter today appointed Boise attorney Steven Hippler to a new district judge position in the 4th Judicial District. Hippler, 47, has been a partner with Givens Pursley since 2002; click below for the governor's full announcement. In addition to Hippler, the finalists for the judgeship included state Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise; Roger Cockerille; and Jason D. Scott.

Health care reform opponent has 10 kids on Medicaid

A tea party legislative candidate from Canyon County has become the target of national online derision, the Idaho Statesman’s Dan Popkey reports, after news surfaced that while he opposes Obamacare and will pay a penalty rather than participate, he has 10 kids on Medicaid, the government-funded health care program for the poor and disabled. “I attracted all the attention of all the people who hate Republicans and the tea party,” Greg Collett, a 41-year-old freelance software developer and University of Idaho alum, told Popkey. “I've also attracted the attention of a lot of people in the liberty movement that don't want to see anybody on welfare.” Things got so bad, Collett said, he had to clean up his Facebook account and remove contact information from his campaign website.


The two-time GOP legislative candidate, who’s planning to run again, made the news because he was one of 1,503 people who answered a Kaiser/NBC poll in September about attitudes about the Affordable Care Act, and he told the pollsters he'd be willing to talk to a reporter. He ended up as the first person quoted in an Oct. 4 NBC story, “Health care holdouts: uninsured but resisting.” It went viral.


“I'm OK taking whatever I can from the government that's available to me,” Collett told Popkey. “I'm not going to lie and scam the system, but I'm OK with redirecting that money away from morally reprehensible things and direct it towards me.” Popkey’s full report is online here, along with links to some of the national stories and Collett's online response.

Some state Board of Ed members worry that boosting public school funding will hurt higher ed

Some members of Idaho’s State Board of Education, meeting today in Lewiston, were sharply critical of state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna’s proposal for a 5.9 percent funding increase for public schools next year, Clark Corbin of Idaho EdNews reports, with board member Bill Goesling terming it “unacceptable” and saying it would come at the expense of the state’s colleges and universities. “I think at some point the board is going to have stand up and say, ‘This is not going to work for higher education,’ ” Goesling said.

The public school budget proposal is aimed at phasing in the recommendations of a 31-member education reform task force that included four state board members. It doesn’t address higher ed funding.

State Board member Milford Terrell said, “The fact is these numbers are staggering when you look at where we are going and what we are doing and who is going to be robbed in this whole spectrum of moneys.” But member Richard Westerberg, who headed the task force, responded, “I don’t think anyone on the board or in the room would argue that we have adequately funded K-12 education.” You can read Corbin’s full report here.

Clif Bar announces plans for new plant in Twin Falls

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: TWIN FALLS, Idaho (AP) — A California-based energy food bar company is planning to break ground on a new baking facility in Twin Falls early in 2015. Clif Bar company officials joined Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter and Twin Falls leaders Thursday in announcing the plans. The company anticipates creating 250 jobs when the facility is up and running in late 2016. Company officials say they intend to invest $160 million into the new facility, with $90 million slotted for the first phase. The privately held company produces a variety of nutritional products targeting active and athletic consumers, and its flagship product is the Clif Bar, developed by company founder and outdoors enthusiast Gary Erickson. Shortly after the company announced its plans, the Twin Falls City Council approved a development deal.

Crapo to be in on budget conference talks

Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo reports that he has been appointed to the budget conference committee that will work to reconcile the differences between House and Senate budget proposals; he’s one of 21 senators on the 29-member panel, which is headed by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. “While I could not support the budget that was passed by the Senate earlier this year, I believe there are ideas and policies in both versions that we can mutually agree on and start the process of putting us on a sustainable fiscal path,” Crapo said in a news release.

The budget conference was agreed to as part of the deal to end the government shutdown and stave off default on the nation’s debt; Crapo voted against the deal, but called the budget conference “an enormous opportunity for Republicans and Democrats to find common ground on a more sustainable budget path for our country.” The panel includes the entire Senate Budget Committee, on which Crapo serves, along with four House Republicans and three House Democrats. You can read Crapo's full news release here.

Idaho exchange board member quits, gets big no-bid contract

A board member of the Idaho health insurance exchange quit Wednesday, the same day the exchange awarded his company a no-bid contract worth up to $375,000, the Associated Press reports. Frank Chan resigned from the Your Health Idaho board to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest, board members said. Chan's company, Boise-based Applied Computing, will serve as the exchange's information technology consultant; click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Earlier this year, Miller reports, Chan was appointed by Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter to help oversee the Internet marketplace created under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. It allows people to shop for insurance and learn if they qualify for federal subsidies. He had been technology chairman of the 19-member volunteer board. Chan will now earn $180 an hour to oversee the exchange's technology vendors as it works to replace a glitch-filled federal software system with one that's state-based by next year. The exchange is seeking a $50 million, taxpayer-funded grant from the federal government to pay for that project.

Simpson announces he got wildfire suppression funding restored in shutdown-ending bill

Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson announced today that he successfully got “critical wildfire suppression funding” included in the legislation that ended the government shutdown and avoided default on the nation’s debts; Simpson, who chairs the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, has been pushing for the funding since last summer to restore wildfire suppression accounts that were empted during this year’s destructive fire season. The bill, H.R. 2775, includes $600 million for the Forest Service and $36 million for the Department of the Interior to restore the firefighting funds.

“Funding to restore budgets that have been drained through fire borrowing is a critical piece of this legislation,” Simpson said in a news release.  “Not only does this bill reopen all operations at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise and ensure that land managers can contain catastrophic fires that would otherwise put lives and property in peril, but it means that they can do the restoration work and hazardous fuels removal needed to reduce the risk of catastrophic fires next year.”

Simpson was the only member of Idaho’s congressional delegation to vote in favor of the shutdown-ending deal, which passed both houses with large majorities and was signed into law by the president last night, clearing the way for the government to reopen this morning, from NIFC to the national parks.

Search for missing hiker may turn to drones, crowdsourcing

NPR reporter Jessica Robinson reports this morning that the search for missing hiker Jo Elliott-Blakeslee at Craters of the Moon – which was initially hampered by the federal government shutdown and now has stretched on unsuccessfully for more than three weeks – is turning to new tactics. The National Park Service is looking into getting an unmanned aerial drone to fly over the park and take photographs, then posting the photos online to “crowdsource” the hunt, by getting people to pore over the photos for clues to the woman’s whereabouts. “If they happen to see something, that might be that clue that we're looking for,” Craters Superintendent Dan Buckley told Robinson.

After weeks of effort, searchers on the ground are nearing the limits of what they can do in the jagged lava fields, Buckley said; the 63-year-old Elliott-Blakesless’s hiking partner, Amy Linkert, was found dead a few days after the two went missing on what apparently was intended to be just a day hike. You can read Robinson’s full report here on the NWNewsNetwork.

Shutdown ends, default averted, but three of four in Idaho delegation oppose deal

Now comes the news that after 16 days of partial government shutdown, both houses of Congress have approved a deal to end the shutdown and avoid a default on the nation’s debts, and President Barack Obama has signed it into law. Among Idaho’s four-member all-GOP congressional delegation, one voted with the majority to approve the deal – 2nd District Rep. Mike Simpson – while all three others were with the minority opposing it. Here are their full statements:

SIMPSON:  “The easiest, most politically expedient thing for me to do would have been to vote NO and protect my political right flank. Doing so, however, would have been the wrong thing to do for my constituents and our economy. My vote today was about the thousands of people facing layoffs at INL, the multitude of businesses across Idaho that have told me their livelihoods are at stake, and the millions of folks across the country who can’t afford the devastating impacts of default on their investments and retirements. There has to be a way to address our nation’s fiscal problems without making them worse in the process. That is the result I will continue working toward during the time we’ve afforded ourselves with today’s agreement.”

“The fight over Obamacare may now move to another venue, but the fight is far from over. While I strongly believe we should continue working to delay the entire law for one year, I also tend to believe that Obamacare may collapse of its own weight. I don’t think it will work. I don’t believe it will contain costs. I don’t believe it will improve access. And I certainly don’t believe that it can survive the scrutiny it is sure to receive once it is fully implemented and its impacts are fully realized. At that point, Republicans may have a much stronger hand.”

 “This bill, while far from perfect, preserves the progress Republicans have made in reducing spending and moving toward a balanced budget. This bill, while far from perfect, ensures thousands of people in eastern Idaho won’t lose their jobs at INL. This bill, while far from perfect, ends the uncertainty for Idaho businesses that have been impacted by the shutdown and are terrified of default. This bill, while far from perfect, gives Congress the time to approach our budget challenges in an honest, collaborative, comprehensive, and enduring way over the next few months. I am deeply hopeful that we will now look toward a grand bargain, or ‘big’ solution that includes spending cuts, tax reform, and entitlement reform. The American people understand that doing so will require tough decisions, difficult sacrifices, and political courage. I am ready to face those tough decisions and I hope a majority of my colleagues in the House and Senate are ready to do so as well.”

1st DISTRICT REP. RAUL LABRADOR: “Like nearly all of my colleagues, I promised my constituents in 2010 and 2012 that I would fight ObamaCare - not just cast symbolic, meaningless votes – but work hard to roll it back whenever and wherever possible.  I also promised that I would oppose raising the debt ceiling without meaningful cuts to government spending. During the past month, Republicans in Congress have been united on the issue of ‘fairness’ for the American people on health care.  We also stood strong on the debt ceiling, insisting we would not raise it without reducing the debt.  Unfortunately, what Congress is passing today gets us out of the immediate political mess engulfing Washington D.C. without making any substantial changes for the American people.”

Sen. Mike Crapo: “Americans are justifiably angry with Congress for its failure to come together to provide real solutions to our growing debt crisis. While this measure does some good by preventing a default on the debt, ending the government shutdown, preserving the spending restraints put in place by the Budget Control Act and requiring both houses of Congress to move forward with the long-overdue budget process, it does almost nothing to address our long-term mandatory spending and debt problems or correct the still-unfolding problems with the president’s health care law. Congress established debt ceilings to provide the opportunity to debate the government’s spending habits. Unfortunately, continuing resolutions perpetuate the problem of keeping almost half the spending for the government on autopilot. We cannot continue this unrestrained spending. It is time to make the hard decisions regarding our dire fiscal situation, and I am going to keep the pressure on to get it done.”

Sen. Jim Risch: “The United States faces serious long-term debt and spending challenges that we must confront now. Sadly this deal kicks the can down the road for three months and I could not support it. The federal government continues to borrow too much, spend too much, and intrude into the lives of Americans too much. I hope the President and my Democrat colleagues will offer serious proposals to find a solution instead of turning this situation into another crisis in January.”

The Senate passed the bill on an 81-18 vote, with 27 Republicans voting yes, and the House passed it on a 285-144 vote, with 87 Republicans voting in favor.

Otter: ‘Federal dysfunction and mismanagement hurting Idahoans’

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter says Idahoans are being hurt by “federal dysfunction and mismanagement,” and he’s plenty mad about it.“Many thousands of Idahoans woke up today desperately uncertain about the future, much less their next paycheck,” Otter said in a statement. “Congress and the President are so focused on the political battle inside the Beltway that they’re ignoring the very real problems they’re creating on Main Street.”

Otter said states like Idaho are trying to do “what we can to backfill such programs as highway construction and repairs, but for the most part we aren’t even allowed to step into the breach.” Said Otter, “Our pleas are falling on deaf ears, and our patience is spent.” He announced he’ll head to Washington, D.C. next week to “speak directly with Cabinet members about Idaho’s biggest on-the-ground challenges,” but said he’s “less than optimistic about the response.” Click below for Otter’s full statement.

Idaho food stamp recipients to see benefit decrease Nov. 1

More than 220,000 low-income Idahoans will see less money for food at the end of this month, Boise State Public Radio reports, as stimulus funds added to the national food stamp program in 2009 expire. Come Nov. 1, Idahoans who receive aid from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will see about a 5 percent reduction in benefits, according to the state Department of Health & Welfare. The maximum benefit for a single person will fall from $200 a month to about $189; click here for BSPR’s full report.

Four Omega Morgan mini-megaloads head up Highway 95 from Lewiston, but big one still at port

Late yesterday afternoon, the Idaho Transportation Department announced four oversized loads from Omega Morgan would travel up Highway 95 from Lewiston to Coeur d’Alene, starting last night at 9:30, en route to I-90 to Montana. “Each shipment is 20.1 feet wide, 15.6 feet tall, 75 feet long and weighs under 80,000 pounds,” ITD spokesman Adam Rush reported. “They will enter Idaho from the Port of Wilma in Clarkston, Wash., using Idaho 128. Once the shipments reach Coeur d'Alene, they will travel eastbound to Montana on Interstate 90.”

Remember that Omega Morgan has had a giant water evaporator bound for the Canadian oil sands sitting at the Port of Wilma, stalled by a federal court order, since it sent a similar one across Highway 12 in north-central Idaho in August for a division of General Electric. The company argued that the megaloads couldn’t be reduced in size, and thus had to travel over the scenic river corridor, which unlike the I-90 freeway, has no overpasses that limit heights. The Nez Perce Tribe and Idaho Rivers United sued the U.S. Forest Service, which has jurisdiction over designated Wild and Scenic Rivers corridor, and a federal judge halted the shipments until the Forest Service has completed a corridor study and consulted with the tribe. On Friday, the company filed a notice of appeal to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

So has the evaporator has now been cut up into four loads? ITD says no. “The equipment shipped last night is different than the equipment proposed to travel U.S. 12,” said ITD spokesman Jeff Stratten. “That equipment is still at the port of Wilma.”

ITD reports that three flagging teams, two pilot vehicles and portable signs are traveling with each pair of shipments as they move up Highway 95 and along I-90, and delays for other traffic on 95 are required to not exceed 15 minutes. “Locations have been identified along U.S. 95 where the shipments can safely pull over to let traffic pass,” Rush said. Click below for his full news release.

Corrections board renews prison medical contract with Corizon

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Board of Correction has awarded Corizon another contract to provide medical care to the state's prison inmates. The Department of Correction and Corizon have had a rocky relationship in the past. The state has been under pressure from a decades-old lawsuit to improve medical care for prisoners, and a court-appointed expert concluded more than a year ago that Corizon's medical care at one prison was exceedingly poor. Corizon countered that it was meeting national prison standards. Four companies submitted bids, and the proposals were scored based on technical details and overall cost. Corizon had the highest overall score, though it was also the most expensive proposal at nearly $41 million a year. The other companies — Centurion, CHC, Corizon and Naphcare — have about a week to appeal.

Sixteen Dem lawmakers urge prisons board to let state run ICC, guv’s aide delivers message

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Democratic lawmakers are urging the Board of Correction to put Idaho's largest prison back under state control instead of contracting with another private prison operator. The letter signed by 16 of the Legislature's 20 Democrats was delivered Tuesday by an unexpected messenger: Republican Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter's spokesman, Mark Warbis. Warbis said there was no “hidden message” to Otter's decision to deliver the Democrats' message to the board. Instead, he said Democratic leaders approached the governor last week after they learned Otter was open to all options for running the Idaho Correctional Center. Corrections Corporation of America operates the prison for $29 million a year. The Idaho State Police is investigating CCA for possible contract fraud, and CCA has admitted understaffing ICC in violation of a federal court order.

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

ITD board votes to tap state funds to keep fed road projects in Idaho going in shutdown

The Idaho Transportation Board voted today to use state funds to pay contractors working on federal highway projects in Idaho if the federal government shutdown continues beyond Thursday. The alternative would be to shut down $30 million a month in federal highway projects under way in Idaho, along with another $875,000 in transit services; ITD will seek reimbursement from the feds after the shutdown ends. “We want to honor the contracts that have already been awarded and keep people working,” said Idaho Transportation Board Chairman Jerry Whitehead; click below for ITD’s full announcement.

Homeowner’s exemption to rise in ‘14 after four years of decreases

Idaho’s homeowner’s exemption from property tax is going up, after dropping for the last four straight years, the Idaho State Tax Commission announced today. The maximum exemption for an owner-occupied Idaho home in 2014 will increase to $83,920, from the 2013 level of $81,000. It’s a sign of recovery in Idaho’s housing market, as the exemption is tied to the Idaho House Price Index, reflecting sales. “The current index shows a 3.6 percent increase in house prices for Idaho,” said Alan Dornfest, property tax policy bureau chief for the Tax Commission. “This is the first increase following four years of decreases.” Click below for the commission’s full announcement.

Land Board rejects all three exchanges, at least for now

Idaho’s state Land Board has voted to reject all three proposed land exchanges, at least for now. The swaps sought to exchange state-owned cabin sites on Priest and Payette lakes for commercial property in Idaho Falls and Nampa. Attorney General Lawrence Wasden first moved to delay consideration of the exchanges, based on concerns raised today by state legislators and local officials, to allow more review, and also to allow the cabin site lessees involved a chance to get their appraisal values reviewed, something they waived to get into the exchanges. But then state schools Supt. Tom Luna said he wanted to split the questions, because he favored moving forward with the Idaho Falls exchanges, but not the Nampa one.

“I have concerns about the predicament that we have put any number of individuals in that have been, at least in my opinion, following this board’s lead as we’ve moved toward this exchange today,” Luna said. “I understand that people have given up their right to appeal their appraisals, we’re going to address that. But I think at best that’s a Band-Aid to the predicament that we’ve put them in. … Although I have strong issues with acquiring commercial properties and I’ve expressed those before so I won’t say it again … this board has already decided that this is a path we would go down and people followed us down that path,” he said.

But he was the only one to vote in favor of a motion to proceed with the two Idaho Falls exchanges; it died on a 4-1 vote. The Nampa exchange then was rejected by a unanimous vote, and a motion to allow involved cabin-site lessees to get their appraisals reviewed passed unanimously.

Click below for a report from AP reporter John Miller.

Land Board weighs exchanges

The state Land Board is locked in debate today about three major land exchanges, which would swap state-owned cottage sites at Priest and Payette lakes for commercial property, including buildings in Idaho Falls that house operations related to the Idaho National Laboratory, and in Canyon County. If the swaps were to go through, nearly 15 percent of the state-owned lake cabin sites on state endowment lands would transition to private property; state Lands Department officials estimate that the long-term income to the state endowment would sharply increase as a result of the deals.

Not everyone is convinced. State Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, complimented the Land Board for its recent hotly contested auction for the landing site for a re-attempt at Evel Knievel’s unsuccessful jump across the Snake River Canyon in 1974; that auction drew five bidders and in the end will gain more than a million dollars for the school endowment. But he objected to the land swaps.

“I understand the process of what we’re trying to do to get rid of the lakefront properties,” Vander Woude told the Land Board. “My problem is I don’t think we’re getting value. I think we can do better. … I would urge the Land Board to table this ‘til we can get some better answers.”

Gov. Butch Otter responded, “Who’s gonna give us the better answers, John? We’ve gone to the experts and poked and prodded. … We have gone through this and gone through this, and now you say delay this just a little bit longer and study it more.”

Kathy Alder, Canyon County commissioner, told the board her commission opposes the Canyon County exchange. “This is so important for our tax base,” she said. “Even though it’s only $33,000, that’s a lot of money to Canyon County.” The board meeting is continuing, and may include some discussion in a closed executive session prior to the vote.

State controller launching campaign for another term

Idaho state Controller Brandon Woolf is launching his election campaign for a full term in the post today, with the state’s last two GOP state controllers – Donna Jones and Keith Johnson – joining all six of Idaho’s current GOP constitutional officers helping head up his campaign. that includes Gov. Butch Otter, Lt. Gov. Brad Little, Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, Treasurer Ron Crane, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, and Superintendent of Public instruction Tom Luna.

“It’s one thing for me to tell you I’m trustworthy,” Woolf said in a statement. “However, you can verify this for yourself by looking at the many people who support my candidacy.” More than 90 people crowded into the Capitol rotunda for his campaign launch today, pictured above.

At 41, Woolf is among the youngest to hold the post; he was the chief deputy controller when he was appointed to the top job by otter in 2012, after Jones suffered serious injuries in an auto accident. Woolf, who holds an MBA from Boise State and a political science degree from Utah State, started in the controller’s office as an intern in 1997, and worked his way up through a variety of positions including leading the agency’s division that processes payroll for more than 24,000 state employees. In January, as state controller, he launched, a state transparency website making large amounts of automatically updated state data, including salaries and work force data, freely available to the public.

Woolf was joined by Otter, Jones, Little and more at his Statehouse announcement today.

Woolf already faces an opponent in the May GOP primary: Todd Hatfield, owner of a McCall log home company, who unsuccessfully challenged Jones in 2010, garnering 43.6 percent of the vote to Jones’ 56.4 percent. Hatfield ran on a platform of getting the state lands department to offer smaller timber sales, to give smaller logging companies a shot at the business; this time around, he lists 36 “industry supporters” on his website, all small logging or trucking companies or wood products manufacturers.

Idaho’s primary election is May 20.

Reputed mobster who hid out as novice cattle rancher in Idaho goes to trial in Boston

With his East Coast accent and tales of living in New York, Jay Shaw stood out when he moved to the tiny farm town of Marsing, Idaho, writes AP legal affairs writer Denise Lavoie in Boston, where Enrico Ponzo, known as Shaw when he lived in Marsing, is now on trial. His Idaho neighbors never suspected him of having a dark secret, she writes, until after about a decade of living the quiet life of a would-be cattle rancher, his past closed in on him one day in 2011 as he was negotiating a purchase of hay near his 12-acre ranch. Massachusetts authorities had caught up with him, more than 16 years after he disappeared. He was wanted on numerous federal charges in a racketeering indictment, including the 1989 attempted murder of Francis “Cadillac Frank” Salemme, who went on to become the boss of the Patriarca crime family; click below for Lavoie’s full report.

IDVA confirms it outsourced Idaho students’ essays to India for grading in past

Idaho’s largest charter school, the online Idaho Virtual Academy, has confirmed that it sent student essays to India for grading in 2007, Boise State Public Radio reports this morning. The 3,000-student public virtual school contracts with K12 Inc., a for-profit company, for its curriculum and management; K12 Inc. spokesman Jeff Kwitkowski told the public radio station, “It was a pilot program designed to help teachers provide more assistance on reviewing papers. It was six years ago, it was a short pilot program and it ended soon thereafter.”

Other reports suggest more than 3,000 IDVA students’ essays were sent to India, BSPR reports. Though it’s several years old, the matter has gained new attention in Idaho since Travis Manning, a Caldwell teacher, penned an op-ed piece about it published in several Idaho newspapers and online news outlets this fall. Manning told BSPR that after running across references to the 2007 incident, “I thought to myself, huh, I don’t remember this story ever breaking in Idaho about any Idaho online schools outsourcing student essays overseas.”

The public radio station reported that while the matter remained low-profile, Idaho’s Public Charter School Commission wrote to IDVA inquiring about it in 2008, raising concerns about possible violations of student privacy laws. You can read BSPR’s full report here, and Manning’s op-ed here at Idaho EdNews.

Under lawsuit threat from N.D. guv, feds agree to reopen certain wildlife refuges to hunting despite shutdown

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: WASHINGTON (AP) — The Fish and Wildlife Service says it is reopening 3 million acres in wildlife refuges to allow hunting of pheasants and waterfowl. The sites, in 10 states, have been closed since Oct. 1 because of the partial government shutdown. The agency said Friday that despite limited staffing, allowing public access to Waterfowl Production Areas on wildlife refuges will not cost any money or jeopardize public safety. North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple had threatened to sue unless lands in his state were opened. Dalrymple says pheasant hunting should begin as scheduled this month. He says a government shutdown is not legal justification to close unstaffed, public lands. The decision opens hunting areas in 10 states: North and South Dakota, Montana, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Nebraska, Idaho and Maine.

Looking at what’s a public record, what’s open, what’s not under Idaho law…

I’ll be hitting the road next week for four IDOG open government seminars in the Wood River Valley, the Magic Valley and Eastern Idaho, designed to educate local government officials, reporters and the public on what is covered – and what is not – by Idaho’s two key open government laws, the Idaho Open Meeting Law and the Idaho Public Records Law. These workshops, led by Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and coordinated by IDOG, Idahoans for Openness in Government (of which I’m president and a co-founder), have been held in locations across the state since 2004; most recently, three were held last winter in the Treasure Valley, and next year, more are planned for North Idaho.

If you’re anywhere near Hailey (Monday evening), Twin Falls (Tuesday evening), Fort Hall (Wednesday evening) or Rexburg (Thursday evening) next week, please consider attending! All the sessions will start at 6 p.m. These sessions are recommended by the Office of the Attorney General, the Association of Idaho Cities, the Idaho Association of Counties and the Idaho Press Club. They are free and include refreshments; because space is limited, attendees are asked to RSVP; you can see all the details here.

Hoaglun to be new communications, PR chief for St. Alphonsus Health System

Brad Hoaglun, longtime communications director Idaho Sen. Jim Risch (including when Risch was governor), former top aide to then-state Controller Donna Jones and then-Boise Mayor Dirk Kempthorne, longtime local Idaho GOP official and current Meridian city councilman, has been named the new director of communications and public relations for St. Alphonsus Health System. Hoaglun is a longtime Meridian resident and College of Idaho graduate; he's also been a small business owner and director of government relations for the American Cancer Society. He starts his new post with St. Alphonsus on Monday. Click below for the full announcement from St. Al's.

Idahoans targeted for bogus club memberships get refunds under settlement

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden says a Connecticut company has agreed to pay more than 7,000 Idahoans restitution as part of a settlement over bogus club memberships. The settlement announced Thursday comes in a case brought by Idaho and 46 other states against Affinion and its subsidiary companies. The refunds are part of a $32 million settlement with the company, which was accused of tricking consumers into signing up and paying for discount clubs and memberships. Wasden estimates there are 7,600 members of such clubs in Idaho. Wasden estimates that Idahoans affiliated with the clubs and memberships will be eligible to receive an estimated $500,000. Affinion and its subsidiaries operated multiple discount clubs and membership programs, with names such as Buyer Assurance, Complete Savings, HealthSaver and PrivacyGuard. The clubs offered services like credit monitoring, roadside assistance and discounted travel. Consumers eligible for a refund will be notified by Affinion, Trilegiant and Webloyalty. Those who believe they are eligible but receive no notice from those companies can file a complaint with the Attorney General.

Idaho insurance exchange could raise its per-policy fee by 2016

Idaho's state health insurance exchange,, has been touting the big savings it offers Idahoans over a federal exchange, since its fee on policies has been set at just 1.5 percent, compared to 3.5 percent for federally run exchanges. But the Associated Press reports that emails obtained under the Idaho Public Records Law show exchange officials have been discussing a possible hike in that fee to 2.6 percent by 2016, to meet requirements that the exchange be self-sustaining by then. That would still offer savings compared to a federal exchange, but would be significantly higher than the current fee, cutting into the amount of savings for Idahoans.

Exchange finance chief Pat Kelly planned a presentation to the exchange's finance committee in early September on the possible fee hike, but executive director Amy Dowd canceled it, saying the numbers were too preliminary to be ready for public consumption. “The reason we weren't comfortable publishing 2.6 percent is, we have no clue what the number is going to be,” Dowd told the AP. “We've done some modeling, we've got some data, but as far as our comfort level, putting a number out today is not a wise decision.” Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Federal judge refuses to lift ban on Highway 12 megaloads

A federal judge has denied motions from both a division of General Electric and the U.S. Forest Service to lift a ban on megaload shipments across a scenic stretch of U.S. Highway 12 in north-central Idaho. U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill rejected arguments from the firm and the Forest Service that he should either reconsider the injunction he issued, banning the loads until the Forest Service has conducted a corridor study and consulted with the Nez Perce Tribe; or stay the injunction while the company appeals it.

The judge said he couldn’t issue such a stay unless the company, Resources Conservation Company International, made a “strong showing” it was likely to succeed on the merits in the case, and that it would be “irreparably injured” without a stay. “The court cannot find that RCCI has made a strong showing that it will prevail on appeal,” Winmill wrote. “Moreover, any likely damages are monetary in nature and not irreparable.”

The law also requires consideration of whether a stay would “substantially injure” the other parties in the proceeding, and of the public interest, the judge wrote. “Staying the injunction will cause the very harm plaintiffs complain about in this lawsuit, harm the Court has found would be irreparable,” Winmill wrote; you can read my full story here at The Nez Perce Tribe and Idaho Rivers United sued after RCCI sent a 322-ton load, big enough to block both lanes of the winding two-lane road and create a rolling roadblock, across the route in August en route from Lewiston to the Canadian oil sands, and announced plans for another to follow. They contended allowing the loads without first studying impacts and consulting with the tribe would violate federal law, and could threaten environmental, historical and cultural values in the area, which includes the Nez Perce Reservation.

Proposed new heavy-truck rules spur comments at hearings around state

More than 30 people turned out for a public comment session on heavy-truck rules in Lewiston yesterday, with several local officials raising concerns about the Idaho Transportation Department’s proposed process for approving new routes for extra-heavy trucks; a similar session also was held yesterday in Coeur d’Alene, and Monday in Idaho Falls and Pocatello. Additional hearings are still to come in Twin Falls next Wednesday and Boise next Thursday; the Idaho Legislature this year passed new laws making permanent a 10-year pilot project allowing trucks up to 129,000 pounds on 35 specific southern Idaho routes, plus another law allowing additional heavy-truck routes to be designated statewide.

Four new rules to implement those new laws are the subject of the rule-making hearings; ITD also is taking public comment on the rules through Oct. 24. The Lewiston Tribune reported that ITD Motor Vehicle Division Administrator Alan Frew said on state routes, a hauler would apply for a new route to be designated for loads of up to 129,000 pounds, submitting information about their plans; and then ITD would do an engineering analysis to determine if the route could handle such loads. The results would go to an ITD subcommittee, which then would make a recommendation to the full ITD board. If the board approved, ITD’s chief engineer then would schedule a hearing in the local community to take public comment, and then issue a preliminary order. If the order isn’t appealed within 30 days, it would become final.

Lewiston city officials questioned why the public testimony would come after the ITD board’s already made its decision. Lewiston City Councilman Dennis Ohrtman said, “You have the chief engineer taking public testimony and including that in his recommendation, but if he says do it, the ITD Board has no more say,” the Tribune reported. In Coeur d'Alene, 18 people attended the public comment session, with most favorable on the new rules, though Shoshone County and the Worley Highway District raised some concerns.

On local routes, haulers would have to apply to the local road jurisdiction. Frew told the Lewiston crowd that local officials could require applicants to help fund needed studies to determine if the routes can handle the loads. The current limit on truck weights in Idaho, outside the specific designated routes, is 105,500 pounds. There’s more info here on the proposed rule changes; to submit comments or ask questions about the new rules, email comments@itd.idaho.govor write to Adam Rush, ITD Communications, P.O. Box 7129, Boise 83707-1129.

Otter now says he’s open to considering possible state takeover of troubled private prison

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter now says he’s open to ideas from legislative leaders and others on whether the state should take over running its troubled private prison, or whether a new private operator should be sought.             “I’m going to listen to other people,” Otter said. “I’m not foreclosing that discussion.”

Corrections Corp. of America, the nation’s largest private prison operator, announced last week that it will leave Idaho, and won’t submit a new bid to operate the Idaho Correctional Center south of Boise when its contract ends next summer. The state Department of Correction is developing a request for proposals for a new private operator.

“I am confident that I am not the source of all great wisdom,” Otter said. He said he wants to “hear all the ideas from JFAC and all the ideas from leadership, as to what we ought to do.” JFAC is the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, which sets the state budget; you can read my full story here at

Otter on liquor privatization: ‘Not as long as I’m governor’

It seemed fitting that when Gov. Butch Otter spoke to the annual convention of the Idaho Licensed Beverage Association yesterday, the meeting was in the “Characters” lounge at the Red Lion Downtowner hotel. The first question the group had for the governor: Whether he’d support privatizing liquor sales in Idaho, as Washington did – the first state with state-controlled liquor sales to move to a privatized system. Otter talked about how Idaho liquor stores have profited from cross-border sales since Washington’s move, because of price differences as that state saw liquor prices rise. “Some of these other states … are dealing themselves a bad hand because they try hard to be progressive,” Otter said. “Not as long as I’m governor – that ain’t gonna change.” His comment drew a quick burst of applause and laughter from the group, which represents bar operators.

The association opposes privatization; its official stance, from its website: “ILBA opposes privatization.  We believe that the quota system is a system that works for Idaho and we find it unnecessary to have liquor on shelves in grocery stores where it would be easily accessible to children.”

There was less agreement on some of the other issues on which the group queried the guv. When one member asked why the state didn’t order counties to charge uniform property taxes, Otter responded, “That’s not going to work.” He noted that Idaho counties have widely varying property values, and thus raise different amounts from their property tax levies. “I’m not one that’s going to tell every county, all 44 counties, you oughta charge the same amount,” he said. “That’s up to the county commissioners.”

He also rejected a suggestion that Idaho should follow Oregon and Montana in allowing video poker in its bars; and had no answer on how to help holders of highly valued state liquor licenses retain their value. Otter noted that he proposed reforms to the liquor license system several years ago, but they were rejected. “You didn’t like the answer I had then, so you guys figure it out,” he said. “Somebody’s got to come up with an idea.”

Judge rules against media groups in hospital case

A federal judge presiding over an antitrust lawsuit between two major Idaho health care providers has declared that trial testimony and documents can remain hidden from public view, providing attorneys make a compelling case for secrecy. U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill's Tuesday ruling came in response to a challenge from a coalition of Idaho news organizations to a broad protective order that sealed documents and closed testimony in the trial to protect trade secrets. The lawsuit focuses on allegations brought by the Idaho Attorney General, the Federal Trade Commission and Saint Alphonsus Health System against St. Luke's Health System; it emerged in the wake of St. Luke's bid to buy Nampa-based Saltzer Medical Group. Click below for a full report from the Associated Press and Idaho Statesman.

Report: Feds spent $392M on land management in Idaho in 2012

Here's a news item from the AP and Idaho Statesman: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Three federal agencies spent $392 million in 2012 to manage 32 million acres of Idaho public land, according to a report illustrating costs Idaho would face by assuming oversight of a substantial swath of the territory. The Idaho Statesman ( ) reports the report was requested by U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson from the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. State lawmakers are discussing a proposal to take over 16.4 million acres of federal land. Among them, Rep. Lawerence Denney says Idaho can manage it better than the federal government. After seeing Simpson's report, Denney concedes such a move could initially be difficult, but contends Idaho would eventually profit from increased logging and grazing. Environmental groups say Denney's revenue-boosting expectations are wildly exaggerated.

Tax revenues surge in September, putting state ahead for fiscal year

Idaho’s state tax revenue surged nearly $16 million ahead of forecasts in September, beating the forecasted level by 6.4 percent. The extra revenue was enough to more than offset shortfalls compared to forecasts for the past two months, putting the state 1.6 percent ahead of forecasted revenue for the fiscal year to date.

Nearly every revenue category beat its projection in September. Individual income tax receipts were 11.3 percent ahead; corporate taxes were 5.5 percent over forecasts; and sales taxes beat forecasts by 3.2 percent. You can see the state’s full general fund revenue report here for the month.

Gov. Butch Otter touted the news when he addressed the Idaho Licensed Beverage Association annual convention today, drawing some appreciative whistles after he said, “We were off about $16 million – we brought in $16 million more than we thought we would.” He noted that income taxes were a big driver of that, even though Idaho lowered its top rates for both individual and corporate income taxes two years ago. Otter said the news “validates our belief … that lowering taxes encourages more economic activity.”

He told the liquor purveyors that just as “you’ve seen people try to drink themselves sober,” he doesn’t buy economic theories that say “the government can spend themselves rich,” and defended tax cuts Idaho’s granted the past two straight years, cutting into state revenues despite tough economic times and forcing “some tough decisions.” Said Otter, “In the long run, it paid off because we really created a climate for growth.”

Lawmaker questions Idaho tax rule changes re same-sex couples

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A state lawmaker contends Idaho's tax collectors risk violating the U.S. Constitution by requiring same-sex couples who are legally married elsewhere to do extra work when filing state income taxes. Boise Democratic Rep. John Gannon, a lawyer, says litigation in Ohio suggests Idaho's new rules requiring married gay couples to recalculate state taxes as singles after filing joint federal returns could be vulnerable. Recently, an Ohio federal judge ordered the state to recognize a gay couple's marriage in New York despite Ohio's constitutional ban. The judge's rationale was Ohio recognizes opposite-sex marriages contracted elsewhere but otherwise illegal in Ohio. Idaho follows a similar policy, Gannon says, making it potentially discriminatory now to single out gay couples on their taxes returns. The Idaho Tax Commission contends its new rules are legal.

Idaho commerce chief shakes up agency, lays off tourism, trade chiefs

Idaho’s longtime tourism chief and its head of international trade were both laid off Monday, as state Commerce Director Jeff Sayer launched a reorganization of his 53-person agency. Karen Ballard, the state’s tourism division chief for the past six years and a tourism staffer for the state for more than 20 years, is out of a job, as is Damien Bard, chief of the department’s Division of International Business. “Our reorganization is really us trimming back at the top levels of management, and streamlining our team so that we can be more responsive to the businesses of the state and changes that are occurring in economic development,” Sayer said.

Commerce will now have just three divisions: Administration, headed by Megan Ronk, former government relations, marketing and public relations officer; Business Expansion, including the international division, community development and more, headed by current team leader Gynii Gilliam; and Business Creation, including tourism along with sales and marketing, business attraction and national sales. The department is recruiting a leader for that division; you can read my full story here at

Reorganization eliminates job of Idaho’s tourism chief, Karen Ballard

Longtime Idaho tourism chief Karen Ballard is out of a job as part of a reorganization at the state Department of Commerce. Ballard, who’s served as administrator of the state Division of Tourism for the past six years, has been with the department working on tourism for more than 20 years; both her position and that of Damien Bard, administrator of international tourism, are being eliminated in the reorganization. “We are eligible to reapply for some other positions that are going to be here,” Ballard said. “It’s a streamlining of Commerce that’s going to have a few less people, but actually redistribute some of the salaries to be more equitable. … So they’ll be creating a new position for manager of tourism, and we’re hoping that one of my staff will be able to fill that position.”

Ballard said she won’t be reapplying for the manager post. “That is a reclassify and a downgrade of what my current position is,” she said. With a chuckle, she said, “Basically, they’re splitting my job up into two different directions, which makes me feel better for the amount of work my job was, with it needing to be split.”

Asked about her plans, Ballard said, “Well, I’m open to opportunities that might come my way.”

She said she was advised of the reorganization on Wednesday. “Now, we did know that (Commerce Director) Jeff (Sayer) was working on a reorganization,” Ballard said, “and we actually helped him with some of these ideas that he came up with. I had not anticipated that it would be the elimination of my job, but I understand what he’s trying to do, and it could be very productive for him.”

Prior to joining Commerce, Ballard worked in the hospitality industry in the Sun Valley area, including work for Elkhorn Resort.

Idaho insurance exchange reports progress, despite slowdowns…

Idaho’s new health insurance exchange still is seeing frustrating computer system delays, but it’s accomplishing its other goals, state lawmakers heard this morning: In-state people are taking the calls from consumers, the state’s Department of Insurance is regulating the plans offered, and buyers are being referred to Idaho insurance agents and brokers. Plus, Idahoans should save millions over the coming year, compared to the cost of letting the federal government run its exchange. That’s because buyers of plans on federally run exchanges pay a 3.5 percent fee to cover the cost of the exchange; Idaho’s fee is just 1.5 percent. The Legislature’s joint Health Care Task Force heard a report on the exchange’s progress at its meeting today; you can read my full story here at

Lawmaker’s family goes from grief to forgiveness

State Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis and his wife, Marion, know grief, having buried their 23-year-old son a decade ago, reports AP reporter John Miller; they've come to know forgiveness, too. Davis and his family have decided not to oppose parole for their son's killer, a fellow BSU student who shot Davis' son to death at a party in 2003 after an argument. Now, 32-year-old Vincent Craig Olsen could leave the South Idaho Correctional Institution by next week. Click below for Miller's full report.

Idaho exchange premiums come in below average of states

Idaho’s premiums through its new state health insurance exchange so far are coming in below the average, Joy Wilson, director of health and human services policy for the National Conference of State Legislatures, told Idaho lawmakers this morning. “The rates vary tremendously from state to state,” Wilson told the Legislature’s joint Health Care Task Force. She offered some figures for a 27-year-old, before any tax credits: For the lowest “bronze” level benefit plan, the average was $163 a month; Idaho’s rate is $150. For the lowest silver plan, average was $203, Idaho’s is $182; and for the lowest gold-level plan, average is $240 and Idaho’s rate is $211. For catastrophic plans, Idaho was slightly above the average for a 27-year-old, at $134, compared to $129.

Alaska and Wyoming have the highest rates, Wilson said, because “they’re people-challenged – they don’t have a lot of people, so there’s not a lot of competition. And their rates reflect that.” She said, “We’ll have to see where rates go over time. … Insurers are being cautious. Most of them are staying in markets that they’re familiar with, they’re not branching out.”

Wilson told lawmakers the initial comparisons show “you come out pretty well, actually, in terms of your rates. And this will make a difference, of course, in terms of your take-up. Rates are going to be very important, particularly to the young people.”

Most furloughed Idaho National Guard employees to return to work this week

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Most Idaho National Guard members furloughed due to the government shutdown will return to work this week. Col. Tim Marsano in a statement on Sunday says some members will return to work Monday, and most will return on Tuesday. The move comes after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered nearly all 350,000 furloughed Defense Department civilian employees back on the job. Hagel says he based his decision on a Pentagon interpretation of a law called the Pay Our Military Act, which was passed shortly before the partial government shutdown began. About 850 Idaho National Guard employees were placed on furlough.

Why Idaho changed its tax-filing rules this week…

Idaho state Tax Commission David Langhorst says the commission wasn’t taking any policy stand when it adopted new rules this week that will have the effect of forcing Idaho same-sex couples legally married elsewhere to recalculate their federal income taxes from joint returns, in order to file separately in Idaho. That’s because Idaho’s state income tax returns, like those in many states, are based on the taxpayer’s federal returns. Idaho’s previous rules required taxpayers to use the same filing status on their Idaho returns that they used on their federal returns. But now that the IRS has ruled that same-sex couples who were legally married in states that permit such marriages can file jointly, there was a conflict between that rule and Idaho’s constitutional provision banning state recognition of same-sex marriage.

According to the Tax Foundation, 24 states both ban same-sex marriage and have state income tax systems that are tied to the taxpayer’s federal returns. “Every one of them is struggling with this,” Langhorst said. “The CPAs were really the ones calling us and saying, ‘You guys have to do something about this.’”

Gale Garriott, executive director of the Federation of Tax Administrators, said, “For those that recognize same-sex marriage, I don’t think it’s going to be much of an issue at all. For those that don’t, and have to tell each of the taxpayers how to identify their share of the joint income and how that affects their forms, that could be a little bit of a challenge.”

However, that same challenge previously was in place for states that recognized same-sex marriage when the IRS didn’t, like Massachusetts and Connecticut. In those states, if their state income tax was tied to the federal system, same-sex couples had to re-calculate between their state and federal returns in order to file jointly with the state, but separately with the IRS.

It’s not an issue in Washington state for two reasons: Washington recognizes same-sex marriage, and it doesn’t have a state income tax.

The Idaho Tax Commission’s new rules say the only taxpayers who can file joint state income tax returns are those whose marriages are recognized under Idaho law. New tax form instructions for 2013 direct those who file federal joint returns as a same-sex couple to file their state returns as single or head of household. They can either re-do their federal tax forms to figure out the differences, or submit the calculations on a worksheet.

“It is a lot of work,” Langhorst said. But, he said, “It is the only way that we could avoid the real headache of rejecting their returns. That would be the alternative. Then they would not have legally filed.”

Garriott praised Idaho officials for establishing their new rules early. “If people are given good instructions and plenty of notice, and even some examples, then it shouldn’t be that big of a problem,” he said.

FEC calls for former Sen. Craig to pay ‘significant’ penalty for misuse of campaign funds

Former Idaho Sen. Larry Craig should personally have to pay a “significant” civil penalty of $70,000 for his “serious violations” of campaign finance laws, the Federal Election Commission argues in a recent court filing, in proceedings stemming from Craig’s use of campaign funds to pay legal fees after his 2007 Minnesota airport men’s room arrest. McClatchy News Service reports that FEC attorneys are calling for Craig’s campaign committee also to pay $70,000 in penalties, saying total penalties of $140,000 would have a “real deterrent impact” to keep other politicians from improperly tapping campaign funds for personal purposes.

Craig’s attorneys have argued that the then-senator was “engaged in official, Senate-sponsored travel” at the time of his arrest, when he was returning to Washington, D.C. from Idaho, so the use of the campaign funds wasn’t improper. An undercover officer said Craig solicited him for sex in a restroom that was being patrolled after reports of such encounters; Craig quietly pleaded guilty to a charge of misdemeanor disorderly conduct, but after news of the arrest and plea surfaced, began an unsuccessful legal fight to withdraw his plea, denied any sexual intentions in the incident and proclaimed that he’s not gay.

Amid extensive national publicity, Craig announced his intent to resign from the Senate, then changed his mind and served out his term, retiring in 2008 after a congressional career that began in 1980; he is now a political and regulatory consultant in Idaho and Washington, D.C. You can read McClatchy’s full report here.

‘Big Ed’ Beckley sends big payment in to state, right on schedule

Idaho’s state Department of Lands received a payment of $943,000 today, right on schedule, from Beckley Media LLC, pursuant to a hotly contested auction last week for the rights to a two-year lease on state endowment lands that include the landing site of Evel Knievel’s unsuccessful 1974 motorcycle jump across the Snake River Canyon in Twin Falls – to allow for a re-try of the stunt as its 40th anniversary approaches. The payment came in by electronic fund transfer; Beckley already had paid the $25,000 first-year rent. All the money goes to the state’s public school endowment.

“The Idaho Department of Lands looks forward to working with winning bidder ‘Big Ed’ Beckley on his lease for use of state endowment trust lands for the purpose of re-creating Evel Knievel’s 1974 jump in September 2014,” said department spokeswoman Emily Callihan. In addition to the $968,000 Beckley now has paid to the state, there’ll be a second-year rent payment of $25,000 due, plus a percentage of proceeds including TV rights and sponsorships.

Hundreds gather to remember Cenarrusa

St. John’s Cathedral in downtown Boise was filled this morning with hundreds of friends, relatives, colleagues and admirers of former longtime Idaho Secretary of State Pete Cenarrusa, who died Sunday at the age of 95; the funeral service drew an array of Idaho’s top leadership, including current and former governors and top elected officials. Current Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, who was Cenarrusa’s longtime chief deputy before succeeding him in office in 2003, told the crowd, “I worked for Pete for 28 years, and personally witnessed how he dealt with people and various problems. He set the bar pretty high. … He treated people how he wanted to be treated.”

Said Ysursa, “I will always consider him as my most valued mentor.” Phil Reberger, a longtime friend of Cenarrusa’s and a fellow pilot, read the poem, “High Flight.”

Ysursa drew a strong burst of laughter when he told the cathedral full of dignitaries, “Pete was not a great public speaker, but unlike a lot of us here today, he knew it.” He said he’s still, to this day, sometimes referred to or introduced mistakenly as Cenarrusa. That, he said, is “the highest compliment you can give me.” He ended his eulogy, “Adios, my friend.”

Gov. Butch Otter, who also was in attendance along with former Govs. Phil Batt and Cecil Andrus, has ordered all state flags to be flown at half-staff through tomorrow in honor of Cenarrusa, Idaho’s longest-serving state elected official ever. In addition to his long service as the state’s secretary of state, Cenarrusa is a former speaker of the Idaho House and served nine terms there; he’s also a Basque-American leader known around the world; and a prominent Idaho sheep rancher. His friends are gathering after the funeral for a reception at the Basque Center, and he’ll be interred tomorrow at Bellevue, Idaho.

Twitter tussle tossed out of court

An Idaho judge has dumped a complaint by an Internet entrepreneur and former Wall Street analyst accusing the Sun Valley resort and Twitter Inc. of stealing his handle, the AP reports. Leonard Barshack contended that he wasn't trying to impersonate the resort by long tweeting under the name “Sun Valley,” but the judge disagreed; at the resort's behest, Twitter deemed Barshack's account to be forbidden “non-parody impersonation.” Barshack now tweets under the Twitter handle “iwassunvalley,” the AP reports; click below for the full report from reporter John Miller. 

Gary Michael named to Lottery Commission

Gary Michael, former chairman and CEO of the Albertson's grocery chain, was appointed to the Idaho Lottery Commission today by Gov. Butch Otter; the commission had a vacancy due to the death of longtime commission Chairman Roger Jones of Glenns Ferry in August. Michael, 73, retired from the grocery chain in 2001.  Otter also elevated lottery Commissioner Mel Fisher to the commission's chairmanship; click below for Otter's full announcement.

Idaho Falls attorney named to bench

Alan Stephens, a longtime attorney in Idaho Falls, has been named to a new post as a 7th District judge by Gov. Butch Otter. “I was impressed once again by the quality and diversity of candidates put forward by the Judicial Council, including a prosecutor and a magistrate,” Otter said. “Alan has a long and distinguished career as a civil litigator, and I believe his experience and skill set make him an excellent match for the caseload in the Seventh District.” Click below for Otter's full announcement.

The other two finalists for the judgeship were Stephen J. Clark, a magistrate judge in Salmon, and Bruce L. Pickett, a prosecuting attorney for Bonneville County in Idaho Falls. Amy Wallace Potter also was a candidate for the judgeship but wasn’t selected by the state Judicial Council as a finalist; she’s a lawyer in private practice in Jackson, Wyo. who resides in Victor, Idaho.

Idaho changes state income tax forms to require same-sex couples to recalculate after federal filings

Idaho has changed its 2013 state income tax forms to require same-sex married couples who now will be filing joint returns at the federal level to recalculate their taxes and file separately for their state returns, the AP reports. “Your Idaho filing status must be the same as the filing status used on your federal return,” according to draft instructions posted on the Idaho Tax Commission's website. “This requirement does not apply to same sex couples who file a joint federal return; the State of Idaho does not recognize same sex marriages.” Click below for a report from AP reporter John Miller.

Lying in state…

Idaho’s longest-serving elected official, Pete Cenarrusa, is lying in state in the rotunda of the Capitol this afternoon, after his death at the age of 95. At the head of his casket, on a small table, is the straw hat that Cenarrusa liked to wear. White-gloved military guards stand at attention. Wreaths at either side bear ribbons from the State of Idaho and the Basque government; another of several flower arrangements nearby says Idaho House of Representatives, where Cenarrusa served nine terms, including three as speaker. Ander Collobarro, delegate of the Basque government, was among those speaking at a short ceremony as the casket was brought into the Capitol just before noon today; Gov. Butch Otter and First Lady Lori Otter presented the wreath on behalf of the state.

People have been stopping by in ones, twos and small groups this afternoon, to pay respects and sign one of two guest books, which stand nearby, next to a drawing of Cenarrusa. Tonight at 7:30, a vigil will be held at St. John’s Cathedral; tomorrow at 10 a.m., a funeral service will follow, also at St. John’s. Cenarrusa is scheduled to be interred Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Bellevue, Idaho cemetery, in a ceremony that will include an Army National Guard honor guard, a 21-gun salute, taps, and the presentation of the U.S. flag to Cenarrusa’s widow, Freda.

Private prison firm CCA leaving Idaho

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Private prison giant Corrections Corp. of America says it will leave Idaho after more than a decade. The decision comes after the company wrestled with scandal and lawsuits surrounding its operation of the state's largest prison. CCA Vice President Brad Regens notified state officials on Wednesday that the Nashville, Tenn.-based company won't bid on the next contract to run the Idaho Correctional Center south of Boise. The Idaho State Police, aided by a forensic auditing firm, is currently investigating the company's operations in Idaho over allegations of possible contract fraud and falsified staffing reports. CCA spokesman Steven Owen says the company is taking appropriate steps to remedy staffing problems, and the company is committed to making up for any unverified work hours.

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

Examining the costs of ed task force recommendations…

Legislative budget writers are hearing a presentation this morning on the education stakeholders task force recommendations, which have been endorsed by Gov. Butch Otter and state schools Superintendent Tom Luna. “If the recommendations were implemented today, it’s a range of $346 million to $406 million dollars” in fiscal impact to the state, legislative budget analyst Paul Headlee told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. That estimate is for the minimum costs. Some of the 20 recommendations from the task force wouldn’t require more state spending, such as moving to a “mastery-based” system for advancing students from one grade to the next; enhancing pre-service teaching opportunities; and adopting new teacher preparation recommendations.

The priciest items on the list: $82 million to restore operational funds cut from the schools during the state’s economic downturn, and $252 million for a new career ladder system for paying teachers, which would include substantially boosting pay and shifting to a three-tiered professional licensing system. Luna this week unveiled his budget request for next year, which seeks to phase in the proposals over the next five to six years.

Headlee noted that the career ladder recommendation, if phased in over six years as recommended, would cost $42 million next year, split into $26 million for the first year of the new ladder, and $15.9 million for leadership awards. That’s roughly equivalent to a 3.7 percent increase in teacher pay overall next year for the career ladder changes, and another 2.2 percent from the leadership awards. You can see Headlee’s full presentation here.

“Within this model, an instructor could conceivably move backwards, if their evaluation shows they’re not achieving,” Headlee said, or if they move backwards on the licensure tiers. “So the ladder possibly could move both ways. There’s more detail that needs to be worked out on this.”

As far as the operational funding, Headlee noted that the cost to restore the funds – which are apportioned out to school districts through a per-classroom formula – will rise each year. Those funds have dropped from nearly $25,700 per classroom unit before the recession to just $20,000 this year. The $82 million figure is how much the restoration would cost this year. Next year, projections show there will be about 82 more classrooms, pushing the cost up to about $84 million. If the restoration is phased over five years, the cost would be about $115 million.

Overall, funding all the task force recommendations would require an increase in Idaho’s public school budget of between 26.5 and 31.1 percent, Headlee calculated.

PERSI recovered from downturn, reached all-time high asset value in fy 2013

PERSI, the Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho, has seen its fortunes improve dramatically since the economic downturn, lawmakers learned this morning, and during fiscal year 2013, which ended June 30, PERSI reached an all-time high asset value in excess of $13 billion. Gains have continued since then, legislative budget analyst Robyn Lockett told JFAC this morning during the joint budget committee’s interim meeting in Pocatello. By the end of the fiscal year, PERSI’s funding ratio had climbed to 87 percent; systems with funding levels above 80 percent are considered top performers by the Pew Center on the States. “PERSI is solidly in that elite group,” Lockett said.

State law requires contribution increases, for both employees and employers, when the amortization period for unfunded actuarial accrued liability exceeds 25 years; when that happened, a three-year phased increase was approved by the PERSI board in 2008, but postponed because the state couldn’t  afford it in 2009. The increase kicked in this year, fiscal year 2014; it was the first increase since 2004.  Now, however, the amortization period has dropped to 12.1 years. So the next phase of the rate increase scheduled for next year, fiscal year 2015, could be postponed; the PERSI board will vote on that issue at its meeting Oct. 15. “There is some speculation that they might postpone that increase,” Lockett told JFAC.

Exchange officials offer advice to those who experience online delays

After two days of operation of Idaho's health insurance exchange, Executive Director Amy Dowd is offering this advice to those who are experiencing delays once they hit the federal application website, to which they're routed from Idaho's site: “For those who may be having difficulty, when you get to the application, you may see a 'holding page' for a few minutes before you enter the application process. If you're at the holding page, do not refresh your browser or leave the page. If you do, you will lose your place in the virtual line to get into the application.”

Dowd said Idaho's site had 18,000 unique visitors its first day alone. In the first two days, Idaho's call center took more than 800 calls and answered more than 100 emails.

“Due to the high volume of interest, our application through has been experiencing longer than expected processing times,” she said. “We know that this is frustrating, but we really appreciate everyone’s patience. We have heard that Idahoans are getting through and that applications are processing.” Click below for Dowd's full statement.

WIC gets contingency funds to keep going through end of month, despite shutdown

The Idaho Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, or WIC, has received contingency and reallocation funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture so it can continue to honor vouchers and offer clinical services through the end of October. The program, which serves about 43,000 pregnant women, infants and young children in Idaho with supplemental nutrition including milk, had been poised to run out of money by Monday due to the government shutdown. If the shutdown were to last beyond this month, service again would be disrupted; click below for the full announcement from Idaho Health & Welfare.

News groups file to open up court proceedings in big hospital lawsuit

A coalition of Idaho news organizations, including the Idaho Statesman, the Times-News, the Associated Press, the Idaho Press-Tribune and the Idaho Press Club, has filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit between two major hospitals in Idaho in an effort to open court proceedings to the public and the press. The news groups filed a motion asking U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill to reverse a pretrial order he issued allowing the closure of the courtroom for some testimony, and to keep the proceedings open to the public.

The case pits the Idaho attorney general's office, the Federal Trade Commission and Saint Alphonsus Health System against St. Luke's Health System and its quest to purchase the Nampa-based Saltzer Medical Group. The trial began last week, and much of the testimony and proceedings have been closed to the public, purportedly to protect the trade secrets of the parties involved.

The attorney for the news organizations, Charles Brown, said in court documents that the public has a right to know what is going on behind closed courtroom doors in part because Idaho residents will be impacted by the outcome of the case. “Drawing a curtain of secrecy behind which the parties in this matter can operate simply does not comport with the requirements of the First Amendment nor Ninth Circuit case law as to the openness required of our judicial system but also the openness required of our government,” Brown wrote. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Temporary teacher contract laws get mixed reviews…

The Idaho Legislature’s K-12 Educational System Interim Committee heard sharply differing views this afternoon on how three controversial teacher contract bills have been working since lawmakers passed them on a temporary, one-year basis this year, and what should be done about them next year. The Idaho Education Association requested that two of the three, SB 1040a, allowing teachers’ pay and contract days to be reduced from one year to the next at a school district’s option, and SB 1147a, limiting all terms in master agreements (contracts between school districts and teachers' unions) to one year only, be allowed to expire. They asked for some modifications to the third bill, HB 261, which governs teacher layoffs.

By contrast, the Idaho School Boards Association and the Idaho School Administrators Association requested that the “sunset,” or expiration clause, be removed from all three bills, making them permanent. All re-enact some provisions from the voter-repealed “Students Come First” reform laws, which rolled back teacher contract rights.

Paul Stark, general counsel for the IEA, said SB 1040a has been “abused,” and a dozen Pocatello teachers have seen their contract days cut without the requirements of the law even being followed. “We don’t believe that that’s how we should treat teachers,” he told the lawmakers. “Frankly, with this law, the pendulum has swung way too far the other way. … We have proven through the governor’s task force and we have proven to the citizens of Idaho that the stakeholders can work together. … So our request is please, let us work on this, and we can find a better solution that fits everybody’s needs.”

But Anne Ritter, president of the Meridian School Board, asked the lawmakers to drop the sunsets from all three bills – and also re-enact another controversial Students Come First provision allowing school districts to unilaterally impose contract terms if they haven’t reached contract agreements with teachers by a mid-June deadline. She said her district, the state’s largest, still hasn’t reached an agreement with its teachers, and is facing a financial crunch that’s forced teacher layoffs and large cuts in the number of school days. “Districts have all made difficult decisions during these challenging financial times,” she told the interim committee. “We need the Legislature to revisit the contract laws to make it possible for school boards to plan appropriately and balance their budgets. … The financial condition of school districts around the state is really at risk.”

Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, said he’s concerned that Idaho school districts’ financial situation, and an increasing reliance on short-term supplemental tax override levies, has made it difficult to evaluate data on how well the three temporary laws are working. “I don’t think that that’s a good environment to use to set policy,” he said. Goedde suggested considering another one-year extension to allow more examination of the three laws’ effects.

Karen Echeverria, executive director of the School Boards Association, said she didn’t know how her group would view such a prospect; Penni Cyr, IEA president, said hers would be open to the idea. The joint legislative committee meets again in November, and may meet in December as well; it’s due to report back to lawmakers, who convene their session in January.

Special exception lets Craters of Moon rangers restart search for missing hiker

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: ARCO, Idaho (AP) — Employees at Craters of the Moon National Monument in south-central Idaho have received an exemption from federal furlough requirements so rangers can continue to search for a Boise woman who has been missing for nearly two weeks. Sixteen of the monument's 19 employees were to be furloughed during the federal government shutdown that started Tuesday, but the park received permission Wednesday to keep 10 additional workers under “excepted” status during the search for 63-year-old Jo Elliott-Blakeslee. Elliott-Blakeslee's hiking partner, 69-year-old Amy Linkert, was found dead on Sept. 25. The women were last seen near Arco on Sept. 19. On Monday, Elliott-Blakeslee's family members asked for experienced hikers to help with the search. Park spokesman Ted Stout says the 10 rangers working the search are in top physical condition.

Shutdown’s hit magnified for tribes

American Indian tribes have more than access to national parks on the line with the government shutdown, the AP reports, as federal funding has been cut off for crucial services including foster care payments, nutrition programs and financial assistance for the needy. Some tribes intend to fill the gap themselves, risking deficits of their own to cushion communities with chronic high unemployment and poverty against the effects of the budget battle in Washington, D.C. But for others, basic services heavily subsidized by federal payments stand to take a direct hit. Click below for the full report from AP reporter Matthew Brown.

Yellowstone, Grand Teton close to visitors due to government shutdown

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) — Thousands of visitors to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national park are grumbling and making alternate plans after being told to leave or denied entry because of the budget impasse in Washington. The neighboring parks attract visitors from around the world, but both parks were forced to furlough hundreds of employees and close. Zach Gertsch, of Las Vegas, says he has decided to cut his trip to northwest Wyoming short and return home. At the Irma Hotel in Cody, host Steve Franklin says travelers are livid over being forced out of the parks or denied access. Gateway communities are seeing rooms fill with displaced tourists on the one hand and cancellations on the other. They expect to lose money if the impasse goes on much longer.

K-12 interim committee opens all-day meeting…

The Legislature’s joint interim committee on the K-12 educational system has convened at the state Capitol this morning, with public school facilities and security the first item on today’s agenda. Later this morning, the current state of assessments and testing is up for discussion. This afternoon, the committee will hear presentations on the “sunset” legislation passed this year – bills with a one-year “sunset,” or expiration date, targeting teacher contract rights. You can see the full agenda here; and listen live here; the committee is meeting in room EW42 of the Capitol.

Dave Teater, a consultant and former longtime school administrator, is up first. Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, said, “You remember that the Supreme Court once upon a time suggested that the Legislature had not fulfilled its constitutional requirement in providing facility funding. We have taken steps to correct that, and so far the Supreme Court has not gone any farther.”

Teater outlined a “renewal-replacement model” for school buildings, to address needed upgrades on an ongoing basis for all school buildings; along with a combination of funding sources, including property taxes, lottery funds and state general fund dollars, and accountability safeguards. “I don’t pretend to come here today with a solution to all the problems,” he said. “This is, we hope, the beginning of a discussion.”

Teater estimated the needed funding for an ongoing school building renewal and replacement program statewide in Idaho at about $60 million a year. Plus, he noted, “There's a lot of buildings out there that are in tough shape, and there appears to be a lot of pent-up demand.”

Fed shutdown hits Idaho campgrounds, courts, National Guard, WIC program…

Federal campgrounds and picnic areas have shut down across Idaho, the AP reports, due to the government shutdown forced by Congress' inability to pass a spending bill by a midnight deadline to keep the government functioning. Court cases are slowing down, 850 Idaho National Guard employees are being furloughed and banned from reporting for duty until the shutdown is lifted, and 16 of the 19 workers at Craters of the Moon National Monument - where a search is under way for a missing hiker - were put on furlough today. Meanwhile, 42,500 pregnant women, infants and children stand to lose supplemental nutrition benefits as the WIC program runs out of money; it has enough carry-over fund to last only about a week. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Luna wants 5.9% increase for schools next year, to start phasing in task force reforms

State school Superintendent Tom Luna told the Meridian Chamber of Commerce today that he endorses “every one” of the 20 recommendations of an education stakeholders task force appointed by Gov. Butch Otter, and has built his budget request for public schools for next year to match them – including a request for a 5.9 percent, $77 million increase in state general funds. “Taken together they will fundamentally transform our education system in Idaho for the better,” Luna said. “They’re all important.”

Luna said he agrees with Otter that the reforms will cost between $350 million and $400 million a year in new money, and that they must be phased in over several years. “While this budget only addresses one fiscal year, I believe it sets us up for a fiscally sound structure for funding the task force recommendations over multiple years,” he said.

Luna’s budget proposal calls for spending $42 million next year for the first phase of a new teacher career ladder, a proposal that will cost $250 million over six years and eventually boost Idaho’s starting teacher pay to $40,000, a third higher than it is now. The plan also would establish a new three-tiered professional licensing system for teachers, with the second tier eventually starting at $50,000 a year, and the top tier at $60,000. The proposal for next year, he said, is “a major step in transforming the way we pay Idaho’s teachers so as a state we can attract great teachers and retain the ones that we already have.”

Luna’s proposal also includes $13.4 million for school technology next year; $5.64 million for new opportunities for high school juniors and seniors to take advanced courses; and $16.5 million for the first installment of restoring $82.5 million in operating funds that have been cut from Idaho’s schools during the state’s economic downturn. The task force suggested phasing in the restoration over five years.

Luna’s budget request totals $1.3779 billion in state general funds, up from this year’s $1.3008 billion figure.  He told the crowd of 80-plus at the Meridian Chamber luncheon that he wants input on the proposal, from everyone – parents, teachers, business people, and more, and is open to making changes. He noted that the Legislature won’t convene for three months, and then it’ll debate for another three. He called his proposal “the beginning of a conversation.”

After his talk, Luna said he’s had “a very positive reception” from legislators, education stakeholders and others to his plan, which anticipates a substantial funding increase for schools not only next year, but likely each year for the next six. Luna said that's what it would take to accomplish the task force's plan. “I think that people are really focused on finding a way to make these recommendations a reality.”

Idaho insurance exchange up and running…

Things are busy at Idaho’s health insurance exchange today as enrollment opens, but the system hasn’t crashed as several other state exchanges around the country have reported. Instead, there are slowdowns, but everything’s functioning, and the state’s in-person assistants and insurance agents and brokers have been able to access the system. “It really is a higher volume than I think a lot of people may have thought, but it’s a positive response at this point,” said Alberto Gonzalez, operations manager for the Idaho exchange,

Ten workers at a temporary Boise call center have been taking calls non-stop all morning; Gonzalez said the average wait time has been only a minute and a half, with the longest wait at 5 minutes. “I think we’re handling the calls pretty well,” he said. Across the state, 120 in-person assisters have been trained to help people navigate the exchange, including figuring out what kind of help they may be eligible for, and how to compare and choose health insurance plans. Callers or visitors to the website can be referred to in-person assisters, agents or brokers in their area.

Idaho’s exchange website, for now, routes applicants to the federal exchange website for signups, but the state is developing its own. “We could not get the technology in place in just a few months,” Gonzalez said. But he said by a year from now, in October of 2014, “We’ll be on a full state-based exchange technology.”

Exchange officials stressed that whether people sign up today or any time between now and Dec. 15, coverage will start Jan. 1.

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

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

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