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Eye On Boise

Archive for April 2014

GOP state committee woman: ‘Stop hiding behind the Republican banner’

Ann Wheeler, a longtime GOP activist and Republican Party state committee woman from Power County, has sent out an op-ed piece to Idaho newspapers decrying the tactics of the tea party wing of the Idaho Republican Party, saying longtime GOP stalwarts like herself are wrongly being branded as “RINOs,” or Republicans in Name Only.

In addition to her current service on the Idaho Republican Party Central Committee, Wheeler has volunteered on numerous GOP campaigns over the years, including serving as the Power County chairman for President George W. Bush’s campaign in 2000. Her husband, former Sen. Ralph “Moon” Wheeler, R-American Falls, served four terms in the Idaho Senate and two in the House. “I challenge the ultraconservatives to gather their hardy band of true believers, stand up, step out, and form their own party,” Ann Wheeler writes. “If they are so sure that their way is the right way, convince the voters to elect them. Stop hiding behind the Republican banner!” Click below for her full article.

Superintendent candidates differ on boosting endowment payouts to schools

Idaho Education News surveyed the four GOP candidates for state Superintendent of Public Instruction on whether they favor boosting annual payments to schools from the state’s permanent endowment fund; two of the four said yes. “Recent history shows that the reserve fund has been adequate and that some boost could be made to K-12,” said John Eynon, a music and drama teacher from Grangeville. Andy Grover, superintendent of schools in Melba, said, “While I do not support shrinking reserve funds to levels that would put distributions in jeopardy, I believe that we can both increase the distribution to public schools while protecting our reserve fund and future generations of beneficiaries.”

American Falls middle school principal Randy Jensen warned against a big boost followed by a big drop: “A steady source is better than a rapid increase in one year with a decrease in the following years,” he told Idaho EdNews. And Mountain Home school administrator Sherri Ybarra said, “With the fund balance, the board is required to maintain a focus on future students, as well as current students to provide equity in funding as well as to minimize the unpredictability in payments.” You can read the full report here from reporter Kevin Richert; he also surveyed candidates for other offices that include service on the Land Board about land transfers and commercial property investments.

At least three of the four GOP rivals will face off in a debate tonight on KIVI Channel 6 at 6 p.m., which also will be streamed live at idahoonyourside.com. The superintendent candidates also will meet in a statewide debate May 8 on Idaho Public Television; the winner of the GOP primary will face Democrat Jana Jones in November.

Former gubernatorial candidate gets plea deal for growing pot for ‘preventive medicine’

Peter Rickards, a Twin Falls podiatrist and anti-nuclear activist who received 3.2 percent of the vote running as an independent for governor in 1998, has reached an agreement to plead guilty to one charge of manufacturing marijuana, the Twin Falls Times-News reports. The deal includes a recommended penalty of five years of supervised probation and 30 days in jail with credit for time served, along with $2,000 in fines and 200 hours of community service. Rickards had faced two counts of trafficking marijuana after sheriff’s deputies raided his home last May, and found more than 4 pounds of dried marijuana and 32 live plants.

Rickards told the Times-News, “I am grateful that after talking to the prosecutors directly for an hour, they agreed I was not trafficking but simply growing cannabis for myself.” Rickards said he smokes marijuana as “preventive medicine.” You can read the Times-News’ full report here from reporter Alison Gene Smith.

State delays water curtailment order

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: TWIN FALLS, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Department of Water Resources has delayed an order to shut off water to south-central Idaho groundwater pumpers. The Times-News reports (http://bit.ly/1iCYc5w) that the curtailment set for Monday is now delayed so officials can review a second mitigation plan submitted by the Idaho Groundwater Appropriators. Idaho Department of Water Resources' director Gary Spackman signed an order in January telling 2,300 water-rights holders they will have to shut down irrigation if they can't reach a compromise with Rangen Inc., a Hagerman-based fish farm and feed producer. The company says its flow of spring water has dropped significantly. Courts have ruled that removing groundwater reduces the flows from springs, violating the water rights of those with earlier claims. State officials plan to schedule a hearing to consider the latest mitigation plan.

Fulcher first to hit airwaves in Idaho gov’s race, as primary election looms…

With just three weeks left before Idaho’s primary election, GOP gubernatorial challenger Russ Fulcher has launched his first statewide campaign commercial and posted billboards around the state – but incumbent Gov. Butch Otter hasn’t. “We have not put any TV up yet, no,” said Jayson Ronk, Otter’s campaign manager. Asked if the Otter campaign will hit the airwaves between now and the primary, Ronk said, “Oh yes.”

But Otter’s been running a low-key race as he seeks a third term as governor, leaving Fulcher, the Idaho Senate’s GOP majority caucus chairman, to face off with fringe candidates Harley Brown and Walter Bayes at candidate forums around the state. Otter has agreed to just one debate with Fulcher and the other two candidates, which will air statewide on Idaho Public Television on May 14. The primary election is May 20.

China Gum, Fulcher’s campaign manager, said, “If Russ Fulcher’s legacy was the legacy that the governor has, then he probably wouldn’t want to get out in front of the people and answer questions too.” Ronk said, “We’ve got a full campaign plan that we intend to execute.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com, including an AdWatch analysis of Fulcher’s new TV spot.

School bus driver charged in December crash that killed sixth-grader

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: MERIDIAN, Idaho (AP) — A southwest Idaho school bus driver has been charged with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter following a crash that killed an 11-year-old boy in December. The Canyon County Prosecutor's Office filed the charges Tuesday against 56-year-old Debra Boatwright of Nampa. Idaho State Police say Boatwright was at fault for a Dec. 5 collision with a dump truck that killed sixth-grader Daniel Cook and inured four other children. Investigators concluded that Boatwright failed to yield the right of way when she pulled away from a stop sign west of Kuna. Boatwright was transporting 12 students to Crimson Point Elementary in Kuna when the crash happened. Canyon County prosecutors say Boatwright will have to appear in court before June 5.

‘Add the Words’ protesters return to Capitol, on behalf of 74-year-old vet who wants to be buried with her wife

“Add the Words” protesters returned to the Idaho state Capitol today, where roughly 180 were arrested during the course of this year’s legislative session pressing unsuccessfully for a hearing on legislation to add the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the Idaho Human Rights Act, to ban discrimination on those grounds. Today, the peaceful protesters carried a personal message: That of Madelynn Lee Taylor, a 74-year-old U.S. Navy veteran who’s been denied her request to be buried with her same-sex spouse at the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery.

The protesters, most wearing “Add the 4 Words”-emblazoned shirts, carried signs with such messages as, “Gov. Otter, choose compassion over politics” and “Gov. Otter, let Lee and Jean rest together.” They held small cutout hearts in front of their mouths during the silent protest, in which they marched from the Lincoln statue on Capitol Boulevard to the hallway outside the governor’s office. Some carried photocopied pictures of the two women.

Ty Carson, an Idaho Army National Guard veteran who served from 1990 to 1999, brought along her late father’s American flag; he was a veteran who served in Vietnam. “He was a gay man,” Carson said. “My father had to live in the closet.” Carson said, “I think the governor needs to take a compassionate stand. … Lee should be allowed to be buried next to her partner.”

Taylor wasn’t at the demonstration, as she was en route to a V.A. hospital in Seattle for a serious operation. Judy Cross, a friend and fellow deacon with Taylor at Liberating Spirit Metropolitan Community Church, said, “She’s got a good prognosis, but they can’t do it here.” Cross is also president of the Idaho Interfaith Alliance.

Taylor’s wife, Jean Mixner, died about a year and a half ago; the two were married in California in 2008. Taylor has kept her ashes in her closet while she fights with the state over burial. She recently told the Associated Press, “I don’t see where the ashes of a couple old lesbians is going to hurt anyone.”

Cross said, “They’re just a magnificent couple who loved each other absolutely dearly and were soul mates.” Taylor served in the Navy from 1958 to 1964, when she was discharged for being gay; she later petitioned and had her discharge revised to an honorable one.

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter said in a statement, “The veteran’s cemetery rules require a valid marriage certificate in order for a spouse to be buried with a veteran. Idaho’s Constitution does not recognize same-sex marriage. The voters spoke in 2006 by passing an amendment to our Constitution defining marriage as between a man and a woman. I am defending their decision and the Idaho Constitution in federal court, so I’m not going to comment any further.”

Idaho is currently being sued in federal court by four same-sex couples, challenging that ban on same-sex marriage as a violation of their constitutional rights. Idaho’s ban also forbids any form of civil union or domestic partnership for same-sex partners.

More than 76,000 Idahoans sign up for insurance through state exchange

The numbers are in from the YourHealthIdaho insurance exchange open enrollment period, and it turns out that 76,061 Idahoans signed up for health insurance plans through the exchange. The federal government’s expectation for Idaho was 40,000 during the six-month open enrollment period. “We have significantly exceeded those estimated targets,” said Amy Dowd, executive director of the exchange. “It’s very exciting, very, very encouraging that we are on the right path. Idahoans are interested in getting insurance for themselves and their families.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

The YourHealthIdaho board has voted to keep fees at 1.5 percent of plan costs through the end of calendar year 2015; that’s compared to the fee on federally operated insurance exchanges of 3.5 percent. Exchange officials are estimating that Idahoans are saving $4.4 million on their health insurance due to the lower fee for the state exchange. That’s based on the average monthly premium rate of $242. “We are committed to keeping our assessment fees low,” Dowd said.

Idaho launched YourHealthIdaho.org at the urging of Gov. Butch Otter, after two years of extensive debate in the state Legislature. Opponents of starting a state exchange include Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, who is now challenging Otter in the GOP primary. Opponents have maintained Idaho should take no part in health care reform, even though failing to start a state insurance exchange would have meant Idaho would have gotten a federally run exchange instead.

Idaho’s exchange currently is operating on millions in federal grant funding, but starting in 2016, it must become self-supporting, relying entirely on fees. By law, no state funds can be spent on it. Dowd said it’s not yet clear just how many Idahoans must enroll to make the exchange self-supporting, but said the latest numbers are “very, very encouraging that we are on the right trajectory and on the right path to have a financially sustainable exchange.”

Telemedicine practice draws sharp sanctions in Idaho

The Idaho Legislature this year overwhelmingly passed HCR 46, calling for the state to develop a new set of standards for telemedicine and “tele-health,” which it defines as using technology “to enable the diagnosis, consultation, treatment, education, care management and self-management of patients at a distance from health providers.” Telemedicine, the measure says, “can result in significant savings to patients and payors by avoiding travel costs, duplication of tests and loss of work time,” and “will play an increasingly important role” in Idaho, with its rural nature.

Yet, just as the resolution passed, the Idaho Board of Medicine was imposing career-threatening sanctions against a young doctor for prescribing a commonly used antibiotic to one Idaho patient through a telemedicine company without an in-person physical exam. “You want to have an established patient relationship – you want somebody that’s evaluated you, looked at you,” said Nancy Kerr, executive director of the Idaho Board of Medicine. Now the nation’s largest provider of telemedicine consultations has pulled out of the state.

For 38-year-old doctor Ann DeJong, who is licensed to practice medicine in nine states including Idaho, the board’s sanction has triggered reviews of her licensing in all those other states, and now threatens her board certification. “When you’re not board certified and you have restrictions on your license, your credibility burns out and nobody wants to hire you,” DeJong said. “I was the guinea pig, I guess, the precedent,” she said. “I’m like a mouse in some sort of horrible maze.”

Kerr said Idaho has long had telemedicine, in the form of doctors consulting with other doctors through electronic means. But the treatment of patients from a distance has drawn a no-go. In March, the chief of medicine for Teladoc, Dr. Henry DePhillips, requested to appear before the Idaho Board of Medicine. That’s the telemedicine provider that bought out DeJong’s former part-time employer. The board unanimously declined to give him that opportunity, according to its minutes, “due to existing Idaho Code prohibition on the model of practice described.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

 

The week that was…

On tonight’s “Idaho Reports” program on Idaho Public Television, I join Jim Weatherby and co-hosts Melissa Davlin and Aaron Kunz for a discussion of current events and election politics. Also, the show features a report on the GOP primary race in District 30 between 3rd-term Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls, and Republican newcomer Steve Yates; it’s the latest in a series of looks at legislative races around the state. The show airs at 8 p.m. tonight; it re-airs Sunday at 10:30 a.m. Mountain time, 9:30 Pacific; and plays on Boise State Public Radio on Sunday at 7 p.m. After it airs, you can watch it here online any time.

Idaho veterans’ cemetery won’t bury gay spouse

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A 74-year-old Boise woman wants to overturn a constitutional amendment that says Idaho doesn't recognize same-sex marriage after learning the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery won't allow her to be buried with her partner's ashes. Madelynn Taylor served in the U.S. Navy for six years. She says after her spouse Jean Mixner died in 2012 she went to the veteran's cemetery to make arrangements for them to be buried together, but cemetery rules require a valid marriage certificate. The state of Idaho does not recognize their 2008 marriage in California. Taylor keeps Mixner's ashes in her closet. She says if she dies without both being accepted into the state veteran's cemetery, someone will keep their ashes together until they are allowed to be buried in that cemetery. Click below for a full report.

Fight to control Idaho GOP’s grass roots escalates as election nears

This year’s high-profile rift in Idaho’s dominant political party, the Idaho GOP, extends down to the party’s grass roots, Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey writes today, with battles in the May 20 primary election for precinct committee seats around the state – including the one now held by state party Chairman Barry Peterson. Peterson is being challenged for his precinct committee seat in Mountain Home by former Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, Popkey reports; it’s part of a move by establishment Republicans across the state to take the party’s machinery back from a coalition of tea party, Libertarian Party and Constitution Party activists who’ve shifted the party to the right, resulting in party platform planks backing doing away with direct election of U.S. senators, returning to the gold standard, nullifying federal laws and more. That wing of the party triumphed in 2008, when it elected Norm Semanko as party chairman, ousting Gov. Butch Otter’s choice, Kirk Sullivan.

“People statewide are simply tired of the direction the party’s been going and they’re finally doing something about it,” Corder told Popkey. Popkey also talked with longtime GOP stalwart Ruthie Johnson of Hayden, who told him, “When Republicans fight among themselves, it gets very foolish.” She worries that the GOP’s divisions could open doors for minority Democrats. Kootenai County’s Republican Party is among the state’s most divided, Popkey notes, with factions including the Reagan Republicans, Rally Right/United Conservatives, Liberty Caucus, Republican Women and Pachyderms all vying for power.

Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, told Popkey, “It’s an awakening. People are realizing it actually does make a difference who is in charge of the party structure.” Malek’s part of the mainstream wing; Rep. Ron Mendive, R-Coeur d’Alene, who comes from the tea party wing, told Popkey, “You have a struggle to see who’s going to run the Republican Party. I am convinced the people in Idaho are extremely conservative. So, hopefully, at the end of the day, the Republican Party will reflect that.” Popkey’s full report is online here.

 

Idaho inmate found hanging in cell

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — State corrections officials say an inmate was found dead in his cell at the Idaho Maximum Security Institution south of Boise. Idaho Department of Correction spokesman Jeff Ray says the death of 38-year-old Richard Damon Dominguez appeared to be a suicide. Ray says Dominguez was found hanging in his cell at 6:15 p.m. Wednesday. Prison staff called paramedics and tried to resuscitate Dominguez, but he was pronounced dead about 45 minutes later. IDOC officials and the Ada County sheriff's office are investigating the death. Dominguez had been convicted of aggravated battery, assault and battery on a correctional officer; his original convictions were in Kootenai County.

State: Sovereign immunity should protect ISP from license-plate profiling lawsuit

The Idaho State Police can’t be sued for detaining and fruitlessly searching a motorist with Colorado plates for marijuana in a case of alleged “license-plate profiling,” the state of Idaho argues, because it’s protected by the state’s sovereign immunity. In the state’s initial response to a lawsuit filed by 69-year-old Darien Roseen, Idaho is asking that the ISP and Trooper Justin Klitch be dismissed as defendants in the lawsuit, at least as far as Klitch is accused of acting in his official capacity as a state trooper.

The 11th Amendment grants states sovereign immunity from being sued for money damages. “It’s a very strange area of law with lots of bizarre rules,” said University of Idaho law professor and associate dean Rich Seamon. “It’s really a restriction on lawsuits that try to tap into the state treasury. It extends to not only the state of Idaho, but to state entities like the ISP.” Nevertheless, lawsuits that charge constitutional violations by police and agencies generally do go forward, Seamon said. “Even with all these immunity laws or rules, the courts for the most part want to be able to identify and remedy constitutional violations. … Those lawsuits ordinarily do get decided.”

Roseen was pulled over just as he crossed into Idaho on I-84 in January of 2013, and pressed by Klitch to allow a search of his vehicle for drugs, which he refused. Roseen was detained and his vehicle searched for hours before he was allowed to go; nothing illegal was found. His lawsuit charges numerous violations of his constitutional rights, along with discriminatory and selective treatment by profiling. He had Colorado plates and a Washington driver’s license; both states have legalized marijuana, while Idaho has not. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Big riders mean bigger horses - draft horses - on western trails

Wranglers in the West who have for decades cashed in on the allure of getting on a horse and setting out on an open trail say they have had to add bigger horses to their stables to help carry larger tourists over the rugged terrain, AP reporter Keith Ridler reports today. The ranches say they are using draft horses, the diesels of the horse world, in ever greater numbers to make sure they don't lose out on income from potential customers of any size who come out to get closer to the West of yesteryear. “Even though a person might be overweight, or, you know, heavier than the average American, it's kind of nice we can provide a situation where they can ride with their family,” said wrangler T. James “Doc” Humphrey; click below for Ridler's full report.

GOP candidate with domestic violence record says he’ll drop out of race, but it’s too late to remove name from ballot

Canyon County GOP legislative candidate Greg Chaney announced Wednesday that he’ll suspend his campaign, after news surfaced that the candidate, unopposed in the primary, hadn’t revealed his past domestic violence and multiple-bankruptcy record. An initially defensive Chaney said he’d reformed, found God, and he and his third wife now live frugally. The Idaho Press-Tribune reports today that Chaney issued a press release yesterday making the announcement, but it’s already too late to remove his name from the ballot; that deadline was 45 days before the election, and Chaney’s announcement came just 27 days before Idaho’s May 20 primary.

Brian Bishop, a Harvard-educated Caldwell attorney, is running as a write-in and told the Press-Tribune he plans to actively campaign; early and absentee voting already has started. You can read the Press-Trib’s full report here from reporters Bobby Atkinson and John Funk.

A public records request about a public records order…

Gov. Butch Otter seemed a bit surprised this morning that he’d already received a public records request for documents related to his move to create a public records ombudsman position in his office. “Did you hear about that?” he asked reporters before his press conference, referring to the request from AP reporter Rebecca Boone. “She asked for a public records on the executive order I’m signing about public records today!” When a reporter – OK, it was me – responded, “What a great idea!” a laughing Otter said, “You guys – get outta here.”

Boone’s request seeks “all documents, correspondence, notes, phone messages, emails, text messages and other records regarding the creation of a public records ombudsman position by the Governor’s office,” along with policy or procedure documents on how to respond to public records requests both before and after the creation of the office, and all drafts and previous versions of the executive order creating the ombudsman position.

That final item may be of special note, considering that Otter spokesman Jon Hanian told the Idaho Statesman, in an article printed today, that the new ombudsman would take requests from those who've had a public records request denied, in whole or in part, within 90 days of the denial, and issue an opinion within 10 business days. “We think it will add another check and balance in the process of transparency,” Hanian told Statesman reporter Cynthia Sewell. But the order Otter signed today doesn’t include that process.

The governor said that’s his vision for what his new ombudsman would do, but first the attorney, Cally Younger, will gather information about how agencies handle requests now and help formulate proposals for improvements, some of which might require legislation. Hanian said today that the 90-day time frame “was in the earlier working draft; it was not in the executive order he signed today.” He said Otter left that out of today’s order because “he wants all of the particulars that deal with the process … as well as the time frame … to be part of the dialogue that he spoke about this morning. So it may end up being 90 days, it may be shorter than that or longer than that. … This will get the ball rolling on it and we can start fine-tuning it.”

Otter signs executive order to create public records ombudsman

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter today signed an executive order creating an Idaho public records ombudsman’s office under his office, charged with collecting information and compiling concerns and complaints about state agencies’ compliance with Idaho laws requiring disclosure of public records, and working with the governor, stakeholders and the public to come up with improvements to Idaho’s system.

“What we’re announcing today is the beginning of a process for the establishment of a consistent program for either denying or accepting public records requests,” Otter said. “Before now, the only remedy for somebody being denied a public records request was going to court.”

Otter’s executive order doesn’t change that – that’s still the law. But the governor said his new ombudsman’s office, which he can create on his own by executive order, will lay the groundwork for making a case to the Legislature next year – with all stakeholders involved – on how to make the process better.

“In the next six or seven months, we’re going to amass this information,” Otter said. “I’m going to have to go to the Legislature and say we’ve got stuff in the statute that we can take out, or we’ve got additional stuff that we should put into the statute.”

Otter named Cally Younger, associate counsel in his office, as the new public records ombudsman. “What I envision is Cally saying to an agency, ‘You are without statutory or legal grounds to deny this.’ That’s what I envision,” he said.

Establishing such an office under the Idaho Attorney General’s office, which already advises state agencies on public records law issues, has been discussed for years, but hasn’t happened due to lack of funding. Otter said he’s not seeking any additional funding at this point. “Cally’s already on staff and she’s a very industrious employee, works very hard,” he said.

Mark Warbis, Otter’s communications director, said the attorney general’s office doesn’t have the power to create such an office by executive order, and the governor’s office does. Otter thanked the Newspaper Association of Idaho, an association of Idaho newspaper publishers, and the group’s lobbyist, Jeremy Pisca, for spurring the move. “I want to build a process that gives some relief ahead of going to court,” Otter said. “That’s what this is all about.”

Suction dredge miners plan July 4 protest on Salmon River

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) — Idaho County commissioners have sent a letter to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management asking for guidance concerning a protest planned by suction dredgers upset with federal regulations. “The parties involved wish to respectfully exercise their right to peaceably assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievances,” the letter reads. “They have informed us they will be respectful and orderly in this event and are seeking guidance from the BLM for a successful event.”

Robin Boyce, acting manager for the Cottonwood Field Office, said the BLM is working on a response to the event planned on the Salmon River in central Idaho near Riggins around the Fourth of July, the Lewiston Tribune (http://bit.ly/QCPIVP) reported Tuesday. “We are still trying to figure out how this would work and when and if it is possible on BLM property,” Boyce said. John Crossman of the Southwest Idaho Mining Association of Boise said the dredgers plan to run their equipment in the Salmon River. He said the goal of the protest is to remove the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from the state.

Otter: Merrill’s management at Parks will be ‘sorely missed’

Gov. Butch Otter issued this statement on the impending retirement of state Parks Director Nancy Merrill:

“Besides being a great friend, Nancy has been a skilled and energetic director at Parks and Recreation. She brought enthusiasm, experience and a hard-nosed business approach to managing the agency that was badly needed and will be sorely missed.”

Merrill, 66, said she’s proud of her record at the department, and with her husband retiring in May, it seemed like the right time. “We’ve accomplished a lot, and I feel good about it,” she said. “We had some tough years.” She said of Idaho's state parks, “We have learned to kind of stand on our own, and that includes looking at our fees and the way that we do business, and that includes bringing in additional revenues to help sustain ourselves.” That focus will need to continue in the future, she said, including tapping corporate sponsorships and other sources of funding to help the park system stay solid. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

State parks chief Nancy Merrill to retire, national search launched for replacement

Nancy Merrill, director of Idaho’s Department of Parks and Recreation, will retire in mid-July, and the state is launching a national search for her replacement. “We’re reaching out to every resource available,” said parks spokeswoman Jennifer Okerlund. Merrill has been the head of Idaho’s state park system since 2009.

State funding for parks in Idaho has dropped from $17.7 million in general funds in 2008 – the year before Merrill took over – to just $1.3 million this year, forcing the parks to tap other revenue sources, from RV licensing funds to new ventures including low-priced season park passports, selling firewood, renting paddleboards, canoes and sand-boards, marketing parks as venues for weddings and special events, adding partnerships and concessions, and adding camper cabins and other revenue-generating improvements.

“We’ve worked hard over the past few years to reinvent ourselves and change the way we do business to keep each of these special places open,” Merrill told the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee in January. “Our greatest need is to keep and take care of what we now have. We have done so much with so little.” Lawmakers this year approved a $3.5 million budget for parks next year – a 160 percent increase – but that’s largely due to a one-time allocation for $1.6 million in specific replacement items and repairs at state parks. The total cost of running Idaho’s parks is more than $33 million; Gov. Butch Otter has led a move to wean the parks system from state general funds.

Merrill launched the sales of $10 season passes to all Idaho’s parks with state vehicle registrations, bringing in more than $1 million for parks in the first year of sales and also bringing more visibility and visitors. But at the same time, costs for basics like personnel, utilities and fuel at the parks rose enough to swallow up the extra money.

In a 2013 interview with “Outdoor Idaho” host Bruce Reichert, Merrill reflected on the future of Idaho's state parks, saying she hopes the state will have the foresight to acquire more park land for future generations; you can see that interview here.

Merrill is the former mayor of Eagle and the former president of the Association of Idaho Cities. She and her husband Galan have four children and 15 grandchildren. Jon Hanian, spokesman for Gov. Otter, said, “Nancy’s been one of our stars.”

Idaho judge orders Google to identify sender of threatening email

A district court judge in Twin Falls is ordering Google to identify the sender of an email that threatened College of Southern Idaho Vice President Edit Szanto, from a Gmail account created to falsely appear that the sender was former CSI President Jerry Beck, the Times-News reports. Szanto, a 17-year employee of CSI who is involved in an employment dispute with the college, was put on involuntary paid leave Jan. 2; she’s also filed a complaint with the Idaho Human Rights Commission and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. You can read the Times-News’ full report here from reporter Julie Wooten.

Sen. Hill lauds Idaho insurance exchange

Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, has a guest opinion in the Idaho Falls Post Register today lauding Idaho’s decision to establish a state health insurance exchange. Under the headline “Going our own way,” Hill writes, “The choice last year was never between a state-run exchange and no exchange at all. That option had been denied by the courts. It was a choice between state involvement and total federal control. Those states that ignored the law relinquished control to the federal government. Idaho refused to surrender its decision-making authority over health care issues.”

Hill writes, “While the residents of other states have been strapped by a 3.5 percent premium tax to fund the federal exchange, Idaho has kept fees at only 1.5 percent. Idaho's health insurance rates continue to be among the lowest in the country. While the federal exchange requires detailed personal information in order to access its exchange, Idaho allows persons to browse plans and check rates anonymously.” Click below for his full article.

Idaho payday loan interest rates tops in nation, new reform law won’t change that

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on Idaho having the highest interest rates in the nation for payday loans, at 582 percent, and how payday loan reform legislation passed by this year’s Legislature won’t change that. Washington’s average percentage rate for payday loans is 192 percent, because of additional restrictions that state places on payday lending businesses. Idaho is one of just seven states with no limits on interest charges or fees.

This year’s legislation was highly controversial, with numerous groups opposing it for not going far enough to reform the business in Idaho, and major payday lenders backing it as a “progressive” move to protect consumers. But many of the lawmakers who voted against the bill thought it went too far. Said Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa, “I don’t think it’s government’s role to protect people from themselves.”

Nampa man gets 9 months in prison for stealing rocks - lots of them - from public land

A Nampa man has been sentenced to nine months in prison for stealing rocks from BLM land, and not just any rocks. Brian Kirkpatrick, 46, pleaded guilty to stealing more than 9,800 pounds of sandstone from federal BLM property to sell commercially for use in landscaping projects. He had a similar federal offense in 2009, and is currently in state prison on related state charges. “Protecting Idaho’s public lands is a priority for my office,” said U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson. “Public lands are just that: They are there for the public to enjoy. This prosecution hopefully sends a strong message that my office will prosecute those who illegally exploit public lands for their own gain.” Kirkpatrick's conviction is for theft of government property.

Bedke joins Utah public lands summit

Idaho House Speaker Scott Bedke was among 50 politicians from nine states who gathered at the Utah state Capitol on Friday to discuss ways states can take over management of federal lands, reporter Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News reports.  “It’s time the states in the West come of age,” Bedke said. “We’re every bit as capable of managing the lands in our boundaries as the states east of Colorado.”

The Idaho Legislature has an interim committee studying the issue; it also passed a resolution in 2013 demanding that federal lands in Idaho be transferred to the state. You can read Richert’s report here; the Salt Lake Tribune has a full report here.

Prosecutors want Bujak filings kept sealed

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Prosecutors are seeking to keep the public from viewing some of their legal filings in a bankruptcy fraud case against a former Idaho prosecutor and current candidate for governor. The U.S. attorney has filed five sealed motions in the past week in the case against John Bujak. Bujak opposes sealing the motions. U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge has not ruled on whether the filings can be kept from the public. U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson tells The Idaho Statesman (http://bit.ly/1kPC0dG ) she can't discuss the reasoning behind sealing the filings. She says in general, it prevents evidence from being made public before being introduced at trial and protects individuals' privacy. Bujak has denied charges of bankruptcy fraud, concealment of assets, making a false statement under oath, money laundering and obstruction of justice.

Idaho payday loan interest rates highest in the nation

Idaho's payday lenders charge the highest interest rate in the nation - an average 582 percent, according to a study from the Pew Charitable Trusts. The trusts found that Idaho, Nevada and Utah had the nation's highest interest rates for payday loans; the three states are among seven that put no limits on those rates. Click below for a full report from the Salt Lake Tribune via the Associated Press; the Tribune reported that 15 states either ban payday loans or cap interest rates at 36 percent. The news comes after a payday loan reform bill that contains no caps on interest rates passed the Idaho Legislature this year amid much controversy; opponents said the bill, backed by major payday lenders, didn't go far enough to reform the business in Idaho. SB 1314, which passed the House by just one vote, was signed into law by Gov. Butch Otter on March 26.

The new law, which takes effect July 1, limits borrowers taking out payday loans to an amount not to exceed 25 percent of their gross income, with the borrower to provide the proof of that; and requires lenders to offer borrowers who can't repay their loans on time a once-a-year option for an extended payment plan without additional fees.

The week that was…

On tonight’s “Idaho Reports” program on Idaho Public Television, I join Jim Weatherby and co-hosts Melissa Davlin and Aaron Kunz for a discussion of current events and election politics. Also, Davlin and Kunz discuss Idaho college tuition hikes and the state Republican Party’s platform survey for candidates, and Davlin and Seth Ogilvie interview two legislative candidates facing off in the primary – both Democrats from District 19, Troy Rohn and Melissa Wintrow. It’s the latest in a series of looks at legislative races around the state. The show airs at 8 p.m. tonight; it re-airs Sunday at 10:30 a.m. Mountain time, 9:30 Pacific; and plays on Boise State Public Radio on Sunday at 7 p.m. After it airs, you can watch it here online any time.

 

Poachers killing more Idaho game animals than wolves are, officials say

Poachers are likely killing far more game animals than wolves are, state wildlife officials in northern Idaho say. Officials tell the Lewiston Tribune (http://bit.ly/1jdj31p) in a story on Friday that last year in northern Idaho they confirmed poaching of 30 elk, four moose, 13 mule deer and 57 whitetail deer, according to an AP report from the Tribune. Officials say a realistic detection rate is 5 percent, meaning poachers are likely killing about 600 elk, 80 moose, 260 mule deer and 1,000 whitetail annually.

“It's real easy for people to blow a gasket about wolf predation,” said Idaho Fish and Game District Conservation Officer George Fischer. “They are very passionate about it, they are very irate about it and they are livid about it. Yet there is a two-legged wolf out there that is probably killing as many or more than wolves. Wolves are causing an impact, there is no doubt about it; I don't want to downplay that at all, but two-legged wolves are probably killing more or stealing more game than wolves. That is the shock-and-awe message.”

Idaho Fish and Game spokesman Mike Keckler says poachers strike throughout Idaho. “Poaching is an issue throughout the state,” he said. Click below for the full AP/Lewiston Trib report.

Idaho’s jobless rate falls to 5.2%, a five-year low

Unemployment in Idaho fell to 5.2 percent in March, the lowest rate in five and a half years, the Idaho Department of Labor reports. That seasonally adjusted rate was the eighth straight month to show a decline; nationally, the rate was 6.7 percent in March, the same as it was in February. You can read Labor’s full announcement here.

County breakdowns showed Kootenai County’s jobless rate was 6.3 percent in March, down from 6.5 percent in February and 7.7 percent in March of 2013. Bonner County was at 7.6 percent, unchanged from February but well below the 9.3 percent from a year earlier. Shoshone County saw a small rise in unemployment from February to March, from 10.5 percent to 10.7 percent, though it, too, had improved from its March 2013 level of 11.3 percent. The city of Coeur d’Alene showed a 5.8 percent unemployment rate in March, down from 7.3 percent a year earlier.

Otter lauds expanded ‘cloud’ software tax exemption at mock signing ceremony

Gov. Butch Otter has been holding a series of mock signing ceremonies for bills he signed into law this year earlier and quietly. This morning, as he celebrated with backers of HB 598, this year’s “cloud services” sales tax exemption bill, Otter was asked why he didn’t just go public when he took the action.

“It was all the timing,” he said. “Quite frankly, every one of the bills, it’s been timing. When we have a mock session, it’s a result of the folks wanting to get together one more time, saying, ‘Job well done,’ and making sure those that worked the hardest on it got the credit for it, and that’s not always possible during the waning days of the session, or the 10 days after.” Otter said if he’d waited to sign HB 598 until all its backers were available, “Then it would’ve become law without my signature, and I was so supportive of this, that wasn’t going to happen.”

The bill expands a law that passed last year to exempt software services delivered through the “cloud” from sales tax, under the argument that those are services, not tangible personal property. This year’s bill is much more broad; the state Tax Commission objected that its fiscal note wasn’t accurate, and its wording could lead to exempting numerous other software sales that could cost the state as much as $40 million a year in lost sales taxes. That would include not only services delivered through the “cloud,” but also downloaded software and so-called “load and leave” software that companies have installed on their systems.

Asked about those concerns, Otter said, “Well, just like with any legislation, it’s going to be a work in progress. And if we’ve got unintended consequences … then we’ll have to make those changes.” He said, “I heard what the Tax Commission was saying. They told me what they were going to say when they went up to talk about it, and I said, ‘Well, then it’s going to be up to you guys to come back and say, ‘Here’s how we achieve what we intended here, but at the same time clean up the unintended consequences that we cause.’”

Joining Otter at today’s ceremony were House Majority Leader Mike Moyle; Idaho Technology Council President Jay Larsen; Kount.com Vice President Rich Stuppy, the council’s chairman; Hawley Troxell attorney Rick Smith, whom Larsen describe as “our tax guru here,” Micron lobbyist Mike Reynoldson; and more. “We had so many industry folks really support this legislation, and we’re so thrilled about this passing and the support we’re getting from our state government,” Larsen said. He said tech folks across the country are “starting to say, 'What's happening in Idaho?'” 

Otter signed the bill into law April 4; it takes effect July 1. Its fiscal note says “the fiscal impact is not expected to be significant and is estimated here at $2 million to $5 million annually.”

Former Idaho boxing champ Kenny Keene wins $1K a week for a year from state lottery

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A former professional boxer from Idaho who made a name for himself as the “Emmett Eliminator” by smashing his way through the cruiserweight division can add another title: lottery winner. Idaho Lottery officials announced Thursday that Kenny Keene is the Weekly Grand winner and will receive $1,000 a week for 52 weeks. The 45-year-old Keene retired from boxing in 2006 with a 51-4 record. Before retiring, he thrilled fans with a straight ahead brawler style, winning cruiserweight titles from the International Boxing Association, International Boxing Council, and World Boxing Federation. He now runs Kenny Keene's Bail Bonds in Emmett.

Otter urges Air Force to keep both Gowen and Mt. Home bases, not ‘dither away’

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has sent an op-ed piece out to Idaho news media urging the Air Force to keep both Idaho bases, Gowen Field and Mountain Home Air Force Base. Otter says he'll make that pitch to Air Force Chief of Staff Mark A. Welsh III when he visits Idaho in May, based on “the tremendous value that both facilities represent.” With expansive flight areas over lightly populated terrain, “extraordinary flying weather,” and strong community support, Otter said, the two bases should be “the darlings of Pentagon planners.”

Otter, who is currently facing challenges in both the primary and general elections in his bid for a third term as governor, writes, “Please support our members of Congress and me in fighting to secure the mission and future of Gowen Field and Mountain Home. If we roll over while Idaho's sentinels of freedom are dithered away, the shame and the loss will be our own.” Click below for his full article.

State Ed Board elects new officers, Atchley to take over as president

Emma Atchley of eastern Idaho has been elected president of the State Board of Education, taking over from Don Soltman, who finished up his term as president today; he was elected secretary for the coming year. The board also elected Rod Lewis of Boise as its vice president. “Don has done an outstanding job, and we appreciate all he has accomplished,” Atchley said. “The students of our state are fortunate to have such diligent, thoughtful leaders working on their behalf.”

Former Rep. Trail named new AARP state president

Former longtime state Rep. Tom Trail, R-Moscow, has been named the new state president of the Idaho AARP. Trail, who served 16 years in the House and is the former chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, has been an AARP member for 24 years, the seniors group said. He’ll now take on the group’s highest volunteer position, replacing Peggy Munson, who will continue on the organization’s executive council. Munson is a retired geriatric nurse; Trail is a retired college educator with a doctorate in psychology and degrees in education and animal science.

“During my entire career, I served in positions committed to social concerns, education and public service,” Trail said. “This appointment represents a culmination of that work. … I look forward to engaging and energizing volunteers to carry out AARP’s vision, mission and strategic priorities in the state.”

Terrell to resign from state Ed Board in June

Idaho State Board of Education member Milford Terrell has announced that he’ll step down from the board on June 30, three years before the expiration of his current five-year term. “I’ve served as a volunteer for 30 years for six governors on numerous boards and committees,” said Terrell, who is in his third term on the board. “My wife and I have decided it’s time to scale back on some of these activities.”

Board President Don Soltman praised Terrell, saying, “His wise counsel and tireless efforts will be greatly missed.” It’ll be up to Gov. Butch Otter to appoint a new member to serve out the remainder of Terrell’s term.

Tribal casino’s plan to offer poker draws legal objections from state

The Coeur d’Alene Casino in Worley, operated by the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, is advertising a May 2 opening date for its new poker room, saying Idaho’s constitutional ban on poker games doesn’t apply to the tribal-owned casino. The tribe plans to offer Texas Hold ‘Em and Omaha games; poker is widely offered at commercial card rooms across the North Idaho state line in Washington and at tribal casinos in that state. But the Idaho Lottery Commission is objecting, and has requested a review from the National Indian Gaming Commission. “Poker is specifically prohibited in Idaho,” said Jeff Anderson, lottery commission director. You can read our full story here by S-R reporter Becky Kramer.

State ed board approves college tuition and fee hikes, with trims

Idaho’s State Board of Education has approved tuition increases for next year of 4 percent at BSU and the University of Idaho, 2 percent at Lewis-Clark State College and 3.5 percent at Idaho State University. The board trimmed back the requested increases for both BSU and UI, which had sought a 4.7 percent tuition and fee increase; board members said they wanted to hold the hikes to no more than 4 percent. “The board recognizes how difficult it is for our students to bear the cost of their public higher education,” said board President Don Soltman.

The state board is meeting today and tomorrow in Moscow; you can see their full tuition and fee announcement here. Oddly, not addressed in the announcement – but covered in the chart at the end – is Eastern Idaho Technical College’s request for a 6.3 percent increase in tuition and fees, which the board approved. That jumps annual tuition and fees at the school from $2,122 to $2,256. The board’s announcement is headed “Tuition and fees held at low levels,” and notes that full-time tuition and fees in Idaho are low compared to peer institutions both in the west and nationwide.

BSU requested a 6.1 percent increase for full-time students and 1.5 percent for part-time; the board approved 5.5 percent for full-time and 1.5 percent for part-time, for an average across the student body of 4 percent. Tuition and fees to attend BSU full-time will rise from $6,292 this year to $6,640 next year; at the U of I, it’ll go from $6,524 this year to $6,784 next year.

Check of GOP supt candidates’ voting records from 2012 yields some interesting results…

Two of the four Republican candidates for state superintendent of schools didn’t cast votes in the state’s first closed GOP primary two years ago, Idaho Education News reports, and one of the four – Sherri Ybarra – didn’t vote in the 2012 general election in which Idaho voters resoundingly rejected the controversial “Students Come First” school reform laws.

Idaho EdNews reports that Ybarra voted only on the unaffiliated ballot in the 2012 primary, and Jensen didn’t vote at all in that primary, despite a long voting history; he told the news outlet he sat that one out because he didn’t support the idea of closing the primary. “I just think everyone should have an opportunity to vote in the primary election,” Jensen told Idaho Education News today. While he describes himself as politically conservative, Jensen says he avoided aligning with a party for years, in part because his wife has served for 23 years on the American Falls City Council, a nonpartisan post. “We have just always remained nonpartisan in our political endeavors.”

Ybarra offered no explanation for her failure to vote in the 2012 general election, telling Idaho EdNews in an emailed statement, “I am a Republican, with Republican values, since my childhood.  The state superintendent of public Instruction serves all students, all parents, and all stakeholders, regardless of when a box is ‘checked.’  Ronald Reagan explained it best:  ‘Government’s first duty is to protect the people, not run their lives.’” You can read the full report here, from reporters Jennifer Swindell, Kevin Richert and Clark Corbin.

Brooklyn man running for Senate in Idaho, Oregon and Alaska, all at once…

A Brooklyn, N.Y. attorney who's never been to Idaho is not only running again for a U.S. Senate seat from the state, after doing the same four years ago – he's also running for Senate seats in Alaska and Oregon this year. “I’m just making myself available to the people of more than one state,” said William Bryk. “The voters have not yet taken advantage of the opportunity to retain my services, but one lives in hope.”

Bryk, 59, is one of two Democrats facing off for the chance to challenge Idaho GOP Sen. Jim Risch; the other, Nels Mitchell, is an Idaho attorney who announced early and is running a spirited campaign targeting one of Idaho’s longest-serving GOP politicians. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

House hopeful with domestic violence, bankruptcy record to stay in race, campaign on family values

Greg Chaney, who is unopposed on the GOP ballot for a House seat in Canyon County but whose domestic violence and multiple-bankruptcy record caused an uproar in Canyon County GOP politics, announced at a county central committee meeting last night that he’ll stay in the race. The Idaho Press-Tribune reports that Chaney said, “I just want to reassure that it was never my intention to misstate or misrepresent anything that’s happened in the past. I also feel very strongly that I have a unique position to carry the conservative voice forward for Canyon County.”

Chaney said he has found God and changed his ways, and he and his third wife now live frugally; he plans to campaign on a platform of family values and fiscal responsibility. Meanwhile, Brian Bishop, a Harvard-educated attorney in Caldwell, has launched a write-in campaign against Chaney in the GOP primary in legislative District 10. The seat is question is now held by retiring longtime Rep. Darrell Bolz, R-Caldwell.

Idaho sues timber company over firefighter death in North Idaho wildfire

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) — Idaho officials have filed a lawsuit against a timber company and its contractor contending they're responsible for a wildfire that killed a 20-year-old Forest Service firefighter and burned more than 300 acres in northern Idaho. The Lewiston Tribune reports (http://bit.ly/1gGpWtJ) the state filed the lawsuit Monday in 2nd District Court seeking an unspecified amount in monetary damages for costs in fighting the fire. Anne Veseth of Moscow died Aug. 12, 2012, after being struck and killed by a falling tree while fighting the Steep Corner Fire near Orofino. The lawsuit names Potlatch Land and Lumber, Potlatch Forest Holdings, Clearwater Paper Corp., Potlatch Corp., and DABCO Inc., a Kamiah-based logging contractor. Idaho officials contend a logging crew started the fire using equipment that didn't meet Forest Service standards required by law.

Denney accuses Ysursa of conflict of interest for endorsing one of Denney’s rivals

After a Statehouse press conference yesterday in which 1st District Congressman Raul Labrador and state Treasurer Ron Crane formally endorsed Lawerence Denney in the four-way GOP contest for Idaho Secretary of State, Denney sent out a news release questioning the ethics of current Secretary of State Ben Ysursa for endorsing one of his rivals, Phil McGrane. “I was surprised to see our current Secretary of State endorse somebody in this race,” Denney said. “Because of the appearance of conflict of interest, as Secretary of State, I will not serve as anyone’s campaign chairman for any campaign over which I serve as the chief election judge. Doing otherwise sends the wrong message for the chief elections officer.”

Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey reports today that Ysursa said he doesn’t count ballots and isn’t playing favorites. “Within these walls, it’s all by the books,” he said. “I think I’ve proven that over 40 years. People who know me know that the fact that I think Mr. McGrane is the best candidate and should be nominated will have nothing to do with the duties of my office.”

Popkey also reported that when Ysursa ran for the post in 2002 after years as chief deputy to then-Secretary of State Pete Cenarrusa, Cenarrusa endorsed Ysursa in the primary, in which he defeated GOP rival Evan Frasure. Frasure is running again this year, as is former Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise; the winner of the four-way GOP primary will face Rep. Holli Woodings, D-Boise, in November.

Idaho Debates set in nine primary races

The Idaho Debates will feature a series of nine debates in Idaho races in advance of the May 20 primary election, the Idaho Press Club, the League of Women Voters of Idaho and Idaho Public Television announced today. The Idaho Debates have featured face-offs between Idaho election candidates for more than 30 years; this year’s primary debates, broadcast statewide, continue that tradition.

Here are the debate dates and times:

GOP GOVERNOR’s RACE:  May 14, 8 p.m. Gov. Butch Otter is seeking a third term; in the Republican primary, he faces opponents including Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian; Harley Brown and Walt Bayes.

SECRETARY OF STATE, GOP: May 13, 7 p.m. Four candidates are facing off in the Republican primary for Secretary of State; the victor will face Democratic Rep. Holli Woodings in November.  

2nd CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT, GOP: May 11, 7 p.m. This GOP primary race features longtime Congressman Mike Simpson and challenger Bryan Smith.

IDAHO SUPREME COURT: May 9, 8 p.m. Justice Joel Horton faces a challenge from Boise attorney Breck Seiniger; the primary election is the final contest in this non-partisan race.

LT. GOVERNOR, GOP: May 9, 8:30 p.m. Idaho Lt. Gov. Brad Little will debate challenger Jim Chmelik.

SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION, GOP: May 8, 8 p.m. Candidates vying in the four-way GOP race for state superintendent of schools will face off; the winner of that primary will face Democrat Jana Jones in the November general election.

STATE CONTROLLER, GOP: May 2, 8 p.m. State Controller Brandon Woolf debates GOP challenger Todd Hatfield.

STATE TREASURER, DEMOCRATS: May 2, 8:30 p.m. Two Democratic candidates for state treasurer, Deborah Silver of Twin Falls and W. Lane Startin of Boise, will face off; the victor in that primary race will face incumbent GOP Treasurer Ron Crane in November.   

ATTORNEY GENERAL, GOP: May 1, 8 p.m. Third-term Attorney General Lawrence Wasden faces Boise attorney C.T. “Chris” Troupis in the GOP primary contest.

That’s nine debates on seven days, all in the month of May, all broadcast statewide on Idaho Public Television. As always, the Idaho Press Club will provide the Idaho reporters who will serve as panelists questioning the candidates; the League of Women Voters will handle time-keeping duties; and Idaho Public TV will provide the moderators and produce and broadcast the debates.

Two women sue Boise State over sex assault response

Two former Boise State University students are suing the school because they say athletic officials ignored their reports of sexual assault and harassment by a star athlete, the AP reports; the women are represented by nationally known attorney Gloria Allred, who has handled similar lawsuits in several other states. They contend that multiple Boise State University athletic officials knew the athlete who abused them had a record of serially harassing and assaulting fellow students, and that the school's failure to take action spurred the athlete to continue the behavior.

The lawsuit says a “men's star track and field athlete” openly sexually harassed female athletes at practices and coaches didn't intervene. BSU relieved its head track and field coach, J.W. Hardy, from his coaching duties in April 2013. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Idaho ACLU chief to leave for Washington, D.C. post

Monica Hopkins, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho since 2008, will leave in May for a similar position with the organization in Washington, D.C., the group announced today. Hopkins' last day will be May 16; in her new job, she’ll be executive director of the ACLU in the Nation’s Capital. The Idaho ACLU said it plans “a very deliberate and thoughtful process” to select Hopkins’ replacement; you can read their full announcement here.

Candidate with domestic violence record may withdraw, Canyon County GOP politics in an uproar

Canyon County GOP politics are in an uproar after the GOP candidate, unopposed in the primary, for longtime Rep. Darrell Bolz’ seat turned out to have a criminal record for domestic violence; Idaho Statesman reporters Dan Popkey and Cynthia Sewell report today that the candidate, Greg Chaney, also has two bankruptcies on his record. He told the Statesman he’s now found God and he and his third wife are living frugally; Chaney’s record was first disclosed last week by the Idaho Press-Tribune.

But here’s the political fallout: Bolz told the Statesman he’s having second thoughts about supporting Chaney – whom he escorted around the Capitol at the close of the session. “It’s very disconcerting, OK?” Bolz told Popkey. A new write-in GOP candidate has emerged for the seat, Brian Bishop, a Harvard-educated attorney in Caldwell and BYU graduate who says he’s very serious about his run. And Chaney now says he might withdraw, after meeting with Bishop tonight at a Canyon County Republican Central Committee meeting. Canyon County GOP Chairwoman Melinda Smyser told the Statesman that all candidates, including Chaney and Bishop, will have a chance to speak at the 7 p.m. meeting at the Canyon County Courthouse, which will be open to the public.

 Legislative District 10 is the same one where then-Sen. John McGee resigned in disgrace in 2012 after a sexual harassment scandal involving a female Senate aide, a year after he’d kept his Senate GOP leadership post despite a DUI conviction. The other current District 10 representative, Brandon Hixon, 32, was elected two years ago despite revelations that he’d had five misdemeanors by age 21. Said Bolz, “People are just beginning to wonder what the devil’s going on in District 10.” Popkey and Sewell’s full report is online here.

Candidate: Instead of campaign donations, give to local schools

Randy Jensen, a middle school principal from American Falls and one of the four Republicans vying for the GOP nomination for state schools superintendent, has a rather unusual campaign message for folks on this day-before-tax-day: Don’t donate to my campaign, donate to your local schools instead. “Hopefully people will look at this and say, ‘This is the kind of superintendent we’d like, one that wants to put money toward kids and not spend money on campaign stuff,” Jensen said.

He’s not turning away all campaign donations. “If somebody sends me a check, I’m not going to rip it up,” he said. But he’s decided he doesn’t need a lot of campaign funding, and will be reaching out to voters personally and electronically, while encouraging potential donors to take into account Idaho’s generous tax credit for donations to schools.

“In Idaho, if you donate $500, you immediately get a $250 tax credit,” Jensen said. “So that means the most you can pay is $250. But then if you itemize, you save about $160, depending on your tax bracket. So it costs you just about $90.” Jensen said schools can end up with more than five times as much money if people donate to them instead of candidates. “If I wanted to send a mailer out to the 100,000 people that voted in the last three Republican primaries, that mailer would cost $30,000,” he said. “I would rather have $150,000 go to schools.”

Jensen said he’s meeting this afternoon with four major corporations in his area, and he’s hoping to talk each of them into, instead of donating $1,000 to his campaign, donating $5,000 to schools. “I could generate $4,000 for my election – hopefully instead I can generate $20,000 for a program at a school,” he said. Jensen said even if he doesn’t win his race, his purpose is to help schools. “What most people don’t realize is they can donate $500 to a school and their out-of-pocket expense is typically going to be less than $100.”

He faces John Eynon, Andy Grover, and Sherri Ybarra in the May GOP primary; the victor will face Democrat Jana Jones in November.

Four Republicans who want to head Idaho’s schools…

None are particularly well-known; all are educators; and all are seeking a key statewide office that’s become a lightning rod for controversy under the current superintendent. Twin Falls Times-News reporter Kimberlee Kruesi runs down the four GOP candidates vying for a chance to run for state superintendent of schools, with two-term Superintendent Tom Luna retiring. The winner will face Democrat Jana Jones in November, who is unopposed in the primary. Kruesi’s report is online here, talking with Andy Grover, Randy Jensen, John Eynon and Sherri Ybarra.

Congressional candidate built career in part on going after people for unpaid medical bills

As the 2nd District congressional race heats up, with money pouring in from outside groups and name-calling ads from both sides on TV in southern Idaho, Idaho Statesman reporter Sven Berg took a look Sunday at GOP challenger Bryan Smith and his career as an attorney in Idaho Falls. Smith, whom incumbent Congressman Mike Simpson is criticizing in TV ads as a “personal injury lawyer,” actually has made his career as something of a debt collector, Berg reports, founding or co-owning two firms that buy unpaid medical debt from doctors and other creditors, and working closely with Smith’s law firm, sue the debtors who don’t pay, forcing wage garnishments and bankruptcies.  

An Idaho Falls bankruptcy attorney estimated that one of the firms has triggered a third to half of Bonneville County’s bankruptcies in recent years. Berg’s full report is online here.

The week that was…

On tonight’s “Idaho Reports” program on Idaho Public Television, I join Jim Weatherby and co-hosts Melissa Davlin and Aaron Kunz for a discussion of current events, from election politics to agency rule-making. Also, Davlin and Seth Ogilvie discuss rifts in the Idaho Republican Party and report on a District 34 race, in which freshman GOP Rep. Douglas Hancey is being challenged in the primary by Ron Nate; it’s the first in a series focusing on some of the legislative races around the state.  The show airs at 8 p.m. tonight; it re-airs Sunday at 10:30 a.m. Mountain time, 9:30 Pacific; and plays on Boise State Public Radio on Sunday at 7 p.m. After it airs, you can watch it here online any time.

Wasden: ‘Fight for heart and soul of the Republican Party’

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden says this year’s primary election in Idaho has brought “a bigger fight,” saying, “I think it’s a fight for the heart and soul of the Republican Party.” “There are people like me who read the Constitution and believe we should do what the Constitution says; there are other folks who kind of think that they should follow a certain set of philosophical viewpoints,” Wasden told The Spokesman-Review’s editorial board on Friday.

“The rational Republicans want to sit down and read the Constitution and do what it says,” Wasden declared. Wasden is Idaho’s longest-serving state attorney general; he’s seeking a fourth term, and faces a challenge in the primary from Boise attorney C.T. “Chris” Troupis, the lawyer who represented the Idaho Republican Party in its successful lawsuit against the state to close the GOP primary to anyone other than registered Republicans; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Denney touts backing from Labrador, Ron Crane

Lawerence Denney, candidate for Idaho Secretary of State, has scheduled a press conference for Tuesday to announce endorsements from 1st District GOP Congressman Raul Labrador and state Treasurer Ron Crane. Labrador is one of Denney’s three campaign co-chairs, he announced when he filed to run for the office on March 12. Denney also has posted endorsements on his website from 11 other state lawmakers, including House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star.

Denney is one of four candidates vying for the GOP nomination for Secretary of State; the others are chief deputy Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane, former Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise, and former Sen. Evan Frasure, R-Pocatello.

Otter declines to fill out Idaho GOP platform survey, submits letter instead

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has declined to fill out a form certifying that he agrees with each and every tenet of the Idaho Republican Party platform, including repealing the 17th amendment – direct election of U.S. senators – and returning to the gold standard. Instead, Otter submitted a letter to the party saying, “I have chosen not to fill out the specific policy sections of the disclosure statement. A brief statement cannot fully encompass my positions on these issues.”

He included some statements of his overall philosophy, and wrote, “I believe that repealing the 17th Amendment is unnecessary if the 10th Amendment is fully and properly applied, but discussion and debate on that alternative is healthy for our republic. I oppose adopting the gold standard for our currency because of the critical leadership position the United States must take in the global market, but I support auditing the Federal Reserve in the interest of transparency and accountability.”

He added, “There are other policy statements in the platform with which I generally agree, but I do not believe those statements adequately serve the purpose of completely informing voters on key issues.” You can read Otter’s full letter here. Among the other gubernatorial candidates in the GOP primary, Russ Fulcher and Walt Bayes both filled out the party’s form and checked that they agree with every item in the platform, without comment; candidate Harley Brown hasn’t submitted a form.

Toryanski adds senators to campaign team

Former state Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise, has announced the addition of three current state senators to his campaign team as he vies in a four-way GOP primary for Idaho Secretary of State: Sens. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, Jim Rice, R-Caldwell; and Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston. Toryanski counts 11 and two former ones among his campaign committee; you can see his full list here.

Toryanski faces fellow Republicans Phil McGrane, Lawerence Denney and Evan Frasure in the GOP primary; the winner will face Rep. Holli Woodings, D-Boise, in November.

Former state Controller Donna Jones endorses McGrane for Secty of State

Former state Controller Donna Jones has endorsed Phil McGrane in the four-way GOP race for Idaho secretary of state. McGrane, chief deputy Ada County clerk, faces former House Speaker Lawerence Denney, former Sen. Evan Frasure of Pocatello, and former Sen. Mitch Toryanski of Boise in the May 20 primary; the winner will face Democratic Rep. Holli Woodings of Boise in November, who’s unopposed on the Democratic ticket.

Jones was elected state controller in both 2006 and 2010, the first woman to serve in that position; she resigned in 2012 to recover from severe injuries suffered in a car accident, and was replaced by her then-chief deputy, current Controller Brandon Woolf. She’s also a longtime GOP activist and former executive director of the Idaho Real Estate Commission who served 12 years in the Idaho House, including serving with Denney. She called McGrane “the only qualified candidate in this race that can get the job done.” You can read McGrane’s full announcement here.

ISP highway drug seizures add up

In the past year, the Idaho State Police has seized more than 720 pounds of marijuana during traffic stops, more than 58 pounds of meth, and more than 30 pounds of cocaine. That’s for the calendar year 2013, and it’s only counting major seizures – those that were above reporting thresholds, which are 1 pound for marijuana, 2 ounces for meth or cocaine, and 1 ounce for heroin.

California was the most common state of origin for the seized drugs, accounting for 23 of the 80 seizures in 2013. Oregon was second at 17, Idaho third at 11, and Washington fourth at 10.

“This is just our numbers from our highway interdiction and our highway enforcement,” said Teresa Baker, ISP spokeswoman. “This isn’t the drugs that we seized from our investigations.”

In 2012, ISP reported 78 seizures on the highways, including 645 pounds of marijuana, 5.57 pounds of heroin, and 2 pounds of methamphetamine. “There are a lot of drugs coming into the state from other states,” Baker said. “There’s a lot of interstate drug trafficking.”

Spokane man says ISP profiled him for Washington plates, suggested he had drugs

A Spokane man says he was pulled over by the Idaho State Police on I-84 just inside the Idaho state line last summer, and accused of having marijuana solely because he had Washington license plates and had his car windows open. “At that point, my jaw just dropped,” said Paul Dungan, 58. “I said ‘No.’ I told him, ‘This is the way I cruise in the summer time … so I don’t fall asleep.’ … He said, ‘I want to search your car,’ and I said, ‘No, you have no right to search my car.’”

Dungan said after nearly an hour of “haranguing me … he finally backed off.” Dungan wasn’t cited for anything; he hadn’t been accused of any traffic offenses. “I was definitely profiled,” he said. “I’m a 58-year-old white guy, and I haven’t ever been profiled, even when I was a young teenager in southern California raising hell-type stuff. What a horrible feeling.”

The Idaho State Police could find no record of Dungan’s stop. “I’m not saying that he’s lying at all – we just can’t find it,” said Teresa Baker, ISP spokeswoman. She said the agency conducts numerous traffic stops that in the past year have yielded big drug seizures – 720 pounds of marijuana, 59 pounds of methamphetamine and 30 pounds of cocaine, just in 2013. “There are a lot of drugs coming into the state from other states, whether it’s Oregon, Washington, Nevada, up through Utah, Montana,” she said. “We are constantly patrolling the highways looking for criminal activity. … If someone breaks a traffic law, no matter how minor someone might think the traffic law is, they can be stopped.”

Dungan’s story follows the release this week of ISP’s video of a traffic stop in January of 2013 in which a Colorado man charges he was targeted because of his Colorado license plates, detained at the same rest area, and his vehicle taken to a nearby jail and searched before he was let go after nothing illegal was found. Both Washington and Colorado have legalized marijuana; Idaho hasn’t. In addition, Idaho is nearly surrounded by states that permit the use of medical marijuana, which Idaho strictly forbids. Darien Roseen of Pagosa Springs, Colo. has filed a federal lawsuit against the Idaho State Police over his stop, saying his constitutional rights were violated and he was profiled on the basis of his license plate.

“I’m sure we’re not the only two guys that are in the states now that have legalized marijuana that those guys are harassing down there,” Dungan said. “I find it really annoying. I’ll never drive through that area again. If I’m going down to the Boise area, I’m going down through McCall and Banks and take the scenic route and through.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

GOP House candidate, unopposed in primary, has domestic violence record

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Republican contender in the race for a western Idaho legislative district has had run-ins with the law. The Idaho Press-Tribune reports (http://bit.ly/1iy2Li3 ) Greg Chaney was charged with domestic battery in the presence of a child in 2009. Prosecutors said in court documents that Chaney pushed his then-wife, snatched her cell phone when she tried to call police and threatened to kill himself with a steak knife. The charge was later amended to disturbing the peace; Chaney was convicted of that charge and of misdemeanor malicious destruction of property. The representative hopeful acknowledged the incident, but said he has changed his ways. Chaney is running unopposed in the primary for the seat being vacated by Caldwell Republican Rep. Darrell Bolz. He will face Democrat Leif Skyving in the general election.

Balukoff: NRA candidate questionnaire ‘biased and loaded’

A.J. Balukoff, Democratic candidate for governor, is refusing to fill out a National Rifle Association candidate questionnaire, saying it’s “biased and loaded with leading questions that do not allow me to accurately state my position on gun laws.” In a letter back to the NRA, he wrote, “The leading questions and multiple-choice answers in your questionnaire allow for only polarizing and extreme positions.” He noted in particular a question about Idaho’s guns on campus bill, SB 1254, that passed this year. “I believe this bill was not necessary and creates more problems than it solves,” Balukoff wrote. “University presidents, faculty and students should have the ability to determine the culture of their college campus. That culture should not be dictated from the Statehouse.”

You can read both Balukoff’s letter and the NRA questionnaire online here. Balukoff faces Terry Kerr of Idaho Falls in the Democratic primary in May; GOP Gov. Butch Otter, who backed SB 1254 and signed it into law, faces Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, who also supported the bill, along with two other GOP primary challengers, Harley Brown and Walt Bayes.

Groups negotiating to end megaloads lawsuit

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Rivers United and the Nez Perce Tribe are in mediation with the U.S. Forest Service to end a lawsuit concerning megaloads on U.S. Highway 12 in northern Idaho. Kevin Lewis of Idaho Rivers United said Wednesday the groups are seeking to have the federal agency come up with specific rules concerning gigantic loads traveling on the northern Idaho route that includes a federally designated Wild and Scenic River corridor as well as tribal land. The groups sued the Forest Service last year, and U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill in September granted a preliminary injunction halting shipments. His ruling required the Forest Service to conduct a corridor review, and the agency on Monday released a document attempting to assess impacts the giant loads have passing through the rugged area.

Click below for a full report from AP reporter Keith Ridler.

Video shows traffic stop in license-plate profiling case

Video of an Idaho State Police traffic stop obtained by The Spokesman-Review under the Idaho Public Records Law shows an ISP trooper pulling behind a pickup truck with Colorado plates as soon as he sees it, following it into the “Welcome to Idaho” rest stop, then badgering the 69-year-old driver to allow a search for drugs. The hard-rock radio station that the trooper was listening to provides a soundtrack, interspersed with commercials; when the trooper first sees Darien Roseen’s truck, the radio is blaring the Scorpions’ “No One Like You.”

“Why’d you pull in here so rapidly?” trooper Justin Klitch asks Roseen in the January 25, 2013 dash-cam video. “Uh, I had to go to the bathroom,” Roseen responds. “You didn’t have to go to the bathroom before you saw me,” the officer says, to which Roseen responds, “That’s true - No, I did have to.” “I’m telling you, you pulled in here to avoid me, that’s exactly what you did,” the trooper says. “I mean, you almost hit the curb, you almost ran off the road. You definitely didn’t want me around you for some reason. … Why are your eyes glassy today?”

The traffic stop led to hours of detainment and a fruitless search of the truck that yielded nothing illegal; Roseen has filed a federal lawsuit over it, alleging he was profiled and illegally searched because of his license plate – which was from Colorado. He also has a Washington state driver’s license. Both Washington and Colorado have legalized marijuana; Idaho hasn’t.

The ISP said in a statement last week that it is conducting an internal investigation into the allegations in the lawsuit. “We would like to assure the citizens of Idaho and the visitors to our state that the Idaho State Police holds all of its employees to a high standard which includes following the Constitution of the United States and the laws and constitution of the State of Idaho,” the agency said. You can watch the video and see our full story here.

Grover announces endorsements from 18 school district superintendents

Andy Grover, one of four Republican candidates vying for the nomination for state superintendent of schools, has announced the endorsements of 18 other Idaho school district superintendents for his run; Grover is the superintendent of the Melba School District. “I am the only candidate that’s been a superintendent, and has that experience to continue to move education forward,” said Grover, 42, who’s helmed the Melba district for the past four years after previously serving as a high school principal, teacher and coach; he’s also a former Marine. You can see Grover’s list here, which includes superintendents from Preston and Bonneville to Genesee and McCall-Donnelly.

The other candidates in the GOP primary race also are educators; they include Randy Jensen, a longtime middle school principal from American Falls; John Eynon, a teacher and Idaho core standards opponent from Cottonwood; and Sherri Ybarra, a school administrator and former teacher and principal from Mountain Home. The winner of the GOP primary will face Democrat Jana Jones, former chief deputy state superintendent and a longtime educator, in November; she’s unopposed in the Democratic primary. Jones narrowly lost to two-term GOP incumbent Tom Luna in 2006.

It’s so officially official…

Of the 400 pieces of legislation enacted by the Idaho Legislature this year – 357 bills and 43 resolutions or memorials – just one required specifically among its provisions that copies of it be furnished to the Idaho Capitol Correspondents, who are the reporters credentialed to cover the legislative session. I know, because, having toiled as chairman of the correspondents association for some years, I have never before been called upon to assist the Chief Clerk of the House of Representatives in performing this solemn duty.

The measure in question? It’s HCR 38, a concurrent resolution by freshman Rep. James Holtzclaw, R-Meridian, commemorating 2014 as the 60th anniversary of the addition of the phrase “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. Holtzclaw said in the measure’s Statement of Purpose that the resolution is intended to “highlight its legacy to American citizens.”

Thus, shortly after the session ended, I was contacted by the chief clerk’s office about distributing the copies to the more than 55 credentialed Idaho capitol correspondents. I emailed the electronic copy of HCR 38 to all correspondents. I received a couple of responses, including one tongue-in-cheek request for a notarized copy, and another from a reporter who claimed he’d been “wondering when we would get our personal copy.” Now, today’s mail has brought the official copy, dutifully mailed out by Chief Clerk Bonnie Alexander. 

Former lawmaker plans lawsuit against sheriff

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Former Republican Rep. Mark Patterson of Boise has taken the initial step in filing a lawsuit against Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney after Raney stripped Patterson of his concealed weapons license last year. The Idaho Statesman reports (http://bit.ly/1hXoZxr) in a story on Monday that Patterson last month filed a tort claim, a precursor to a lawsuit against a public entity. Raney revoked Patterson's concealed weapons permit in late October for not revealing an attempted rape conviction from 1974. However, as long as he remained a legislator, Patterson was able to continue carrying a concealed gun without a permit. But he quit the Legislature in January. Patterson declined to comment. Sheriff spokesman Patrick Orr says Raney doesn't consider the county vulnerable to Patterson's claim.

What a difference 60 days makes: From ‘poor’ irrigation season to ‘normal’

In just 60 days, southwestern Idaho has gone from what looked to be a “poor” irrigation season, with much lower levels of water available than normal, to a “normal” water season with full irrigation allotments and flows. “It is amazing how quick things can turn around,” said Tim Page, project manager for the Boise Project Board of Control, which oversees five area irrigation districts. That was thanks to the big late-season snowfall in the high country that extended the season and built snowpacks up from subpar levels to healthy ones; click below for the Boise Project Board of Control's full irrigation season announcement. It includes this news: Starting April 9, the project will begin filling more than 460 canals and laterals in Ada and Canyon counties, meaning it's time to caution kids not to play in dangerous canals. 

March precipitation amounts ranged from 103% to 190% of normal, according to the Idaho Natural Resources Conservation Service. “The water year started with four dry months from October to January,” said Ron Abramovich, water supply specialist with the Idaho NRCS. “The water supply made an amazing recovery due to the February and March precipitation.” However, he noted that some areas of the state still face water shortages, including the Big Wood, Big Lost, Little Lost, Oakley, Owyhee, and Salmon Falls basins.

State auctions off 21 Payette Lake cottage sites; all but one sell to current renters

More than 150 people attended an auction over the weekend at which the state Department of Lands auctioned off 21 cabin sites at Payette Lake on which renters have built cabins or homes; 20 of the 21 sold to the current renters. The other lot sold for $42,000, or $5,000 above the appraised value of the land; the purchaser also will be required to pay the appraised price for the improvements to the former renter.

The auctions were for the land only; they took in a total of $6.07 million for the state endowment fund, which benefits state institutions including schools. All but three of the lots sold for appraised value to the current renter with no competitors bidding; the competitive bidding on the other three brought in an additional $33,200 over the appraised values. You can read a full announcement here from the state Department of Lands. The renters of the 21 lots voluntarily joined the auction in hopes of getting title to the property under their cabins, though they also risked being outbid; the state is trying to get out of the cabin-site renting business and into more profitable investments for the endowment. The lots auctioned included six on the lakefront.

Ed task force goes back to work in two new committees…

The governor’s education improvement task force met today in the form of two new committees working on teacher compensation and school structure and governance, Idaho Education News reports, and the groups hope to report to members of the State Board of Education and Gov. Butch Otter by August or September on detailed strategies for implementing the original task force’s 20 recommendations. During the 2014 legislative session that concluded March 20, lawmakers partially implemented 13 of the 20 task force recommendations. Accomplishing the full program is “clearly an effort that will require a lot of work,” said Richard Westerberg, task force head.

Idaho Education News reporter Clark Corbin reports that after Mike Lanza of Idaho Parents and Teachers Together complained last week that he was booted off the task force for joining Democrat A.J. Balukoff’s gubernatorial campaign,  George Harad represented the group at today’s meeting, though Lanza also attended and took notes. You can read Corbin’s full report here.

Feds: Idaho H&W spent welfare funds correctly

An official with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says an Idaho agency spent $2.5 million in leftover welfare funding correctly, contrary to the findings of a state audit, the AP reports. Idaho's Legislative Services Office released an audit last week that examined how state agencies spent federal money. In the report, the auditors concluded that the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare wrongly used the money left over from the 2008 budget for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to cover salaries instead of using it to help pay for food, housing and other assistance.

But department officials contested the auditors' finding, saying that federal rules changed at the start of fiscal year 2009 to allow states to spend leftover funds on all services that help keep needy families together — including the costs of providing those services, like salaries. The department used the money to cover part of the salaries of social workers who focused on keeping the state's poorest children out of foster care by placing them with extended family members when their parents could not care for them. After the audit was released, state welfare officials sought guidance from the federal agency to see if they'd done the right thing.Yes, said Karen Code in an email sent to the state; click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

State seeks dismissal of lawsuit challenging new ‘ag-gag’ law

Attorneys for the state of Idaho are asking a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit challenging a new law that makes it illegal to secretly film animal abuse at agricultural facilities, the AP reports.  Otter signed the law in February after Idaho's $2.5 billion dairy industry complained that videos showing cows being abused at a southern Idaho dairy unfairly hurt business. The Los Angeles-based animal rights group Mercy For Animals released the videos, which showed workers at Bettencourt Dairy beating cows in 2012. Attorneys for Otter and Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden filed the motion to dismiss last week, saying the law violates neither free speech nor equal protection, and the opponents don't have legal standing to challenge it; click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone. The plaintiffs say the law was designed to criminalize whistle-blowers.

March state tax revenues beat projections by 7.7%

Idaho’s state tax revenues in March came in $11.1 million over projections – 7.7 percent – and 12 percent higher than March of 2013. That puts year-to-date tax revenue at $1.9217 billion, which is 0.8 percent ahead of forecasts and 4.7 percent higher than at this point last year. You can see the full General Fund Revenue Report here for March from the governor’s Division of Financial Management.

Boise hazardous waste firm U.S. Ecology makes big acquisition

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — U.S. Ecology is buying environmental services and waste management company The Environmental Quality Co. in a stock deal valued at $465 million that will help expand its environmental services offerings and broaden its geographic reach. Boise-based U.S. Ecology, through its subsidiaries, provides radioactive, hazardous, PCB and non-hazardous industrial waste management and recycling services to commercial and government entities, such as refineries and chemical production facilities, manufacturers, electric utilities, steel mills, medical and academic institutions and waste brokers. Privately held Environmental Quality, based in Wayne, Mich., has facilities in the Eastern U.S., including one hazardous waste permitted landfill located outside of Detroit, 13 waste treatment and recycling facilities and 21 dedicated service centers. The company is owned by an affiliate of New York private equity fund Kinderhook Industries LLC. The acquisition is expected to close in the second or third quarter.

BSU lands commitment from 4-star quarterback Brett Rypien

Boise State has landed a commitment from four-star quarterback Brett Rypien, a junior at Shadle Park High School in Spokane and the nephew of former Super Bowl MVP quarterback Mark Rypien. The younger Rypien wore a number 11 BSU jersey at Boise State’s scrimmage over the weekend, the number worn by former star BSU quarterback Kellen Moore. Spokesman-Review sports writer Greg Lee writes that Rypien is “arguably the best quarterback in Greater Spokane League history,” where he’s broken record after record; he broke his uncle’s Greater Spokane League career passing record of 4,965 yards last September. Rypien passed up offers from WSU, his uncle’s alma mater, Washington, Arizona State, Oregon State, Colorado State, Mississippi State and Idaho.

“I wanted a good coaching staff, good facilities and an atmosphere I could see myself being successful in for four years,” Rypien told Lee. “Boise State definitely has all of that for me.” You can read Lee’s full report here, and a full report from Idaho Statesman sports writer Chadd Cripe here. Rypien would join the Broncos in 2015.

Ads target Crapo over mortgage reform bill

A negative-ad campaign is targeting Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo and six other members of the Senate Banking Committee because of a bipartisan bill that Crapo co-sponsored to reform the mortgage finance industry, Idaho Statesman reporter Zach Kyle reports. The $1.6 million ad blitz from the “60 Plus Association” is aimed at protecting the interests of shareholders in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two government-created mortgage finance companies; the bill would phase them out of existence.

“First, it was Obamacare,” says the narrator of the TV ad. “Millions of Americans had health care plans canceled. Now, Mike Crapo is teaming up with Obama to take over the mortgage industry.” Crapo said the ad misrepresents the bill as big-government and him as liberal. “The people of Idaho know me better than that,” Crapo told the Statesman. Kyle’s full report is online here.

The week that was…

On tonight’s “Idaho Reports” program on Idaho Public Television, I join Jim Weatherby and co-hosts Melissa Davlin and Aaron Kunz for a discussion of the political developments of the week, from the Supreme Court decision on campaign finances to endorsements in the Secretary of State’s race. Also, Davlin talks with House Speaker Scott Bedke about federal land transfer proposals and examines that issue; and Kunz and Rocky Barker report on the Boulder-White Clouds national monument issue. The show airs at 8 p.m. tonight; it re-airs Sunday at 10:30 a.m. Mountain time, 9:30 Pacific; and plays on Boise State Public Radio on Sunday at 7 p.m. After it airs, you can watch it here online any time.

Otter’s statement on personal property tax bill, HB 441a

Here’s Gov. Butch Otter’s statement on why he allowed HB 441a, the personal property tax bill, to become law without his signature:

“I am a strong supporter of eliminating the inherently unfair personal property tax, and I remain committed to working with stakeholders to eliminate this arbitrary assessment. But despite some positive, meaningful and necessary provisions in the original language of HB 441, amendments crafted late in the process have created potential ambiguity for some taxpayers who remain subject to the personal property tax.

I expect Idaho tax policy to reflect the values of predictability, simplicity and fairness. In implementing this law, and the inevitable future legislative efforts to address the tax and paperwork burden on Idaho businesses, I expect that we can and will do better.”

Otter issues first veto, line-item vetoes out gov’s pay increase for next year

Gov. Butch Otter has issued his first veto of this year’s legislative session – on the very last bill. He invoked his line-item veto power to nix an $1,800 appropriation for next year for a 1.5 percent raise for the governor. “While I appreciate the Legislature’s intentions in approving a pay increase for the governor, it is not my desire to accept this increase in the context of having not recommended a similar change in compensation for our valued state employees,” Otter wrote in his veto message.

Otter recommended zero raises for state employees next year; the Legislature instead approved merit raises to average 2 percent, with half of that permanent, and half as a one-time bonus. Separately, lawmakers passed legislation to grant raises to all top state elected officials, mostly 1.5 percent per year, for the next four years; the state Constitution prohibits giving those officials raises during their terms, so that issue can only be considered once every four years, prior to the election.

Otter’s veto message assumes his re-election – that he’ll be the one receiving the governor’s salary next year. The line-item veto was applied to SB 1430, the appropriation bill that followed SB 1395a, the raises bill. He allowed SB 1395a to become law without his signature. In his line-item veto message, he said he intends to donate $1,800 of the governor’s compensation in fiscal year 2015 to Bishop Kelly High School, and wrote, “I also encourage my fellow constitutional officers – who likewise did not seek pay increases – to make similar donations … to the educational institutions of their choice.”

Last year, Otter vetoed two bills; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Governor signs 18 bills into law, lets personal property tax bill become law without his signature

As a 4:40 p.m. deadline ticks near, Gov. Butch Otter has signed 18 bills today and allowed one to become law without his signature, and now has just two left on his desk from this year’s legislative session: SB 1395a, and SB 1430. Those are the bill to grant raises to top state elected officials for the next four years, and the appropriation bill tapping the funds for those raises in next year’s budget.

I’m awaiting a copy of the governor’s statement on why he allowed HB 441a, the personal property tax bill that was amended in the Senate, to become law without his signature. The bill was part of a session-ending compromise between the House and the Senate, in which both houses agreed to reject a rule the state Tax Commission adopted in November to draw the line between real and personal property for purposes of the new $100,000 per-taxpayer, per-county personal property exemption.

In place of the rule, which specified that a group of types of property like railroad tracks, pipelines and cell phone towers are real property – not personal property – and thus not eligible for the exemption, HB 441 as amended in the Senate rewrote the definitions in law, rather than rule. The outcome moves Idaho back to a more clear “three-factor” test to define the two categories, and has essentially the same result. HB 441 is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2014.

Among the 18 bills signed so far: SB 1410, which sets standards for wireless networks in Idaho high schools to receive state funding; SB 1396, setting up a 30-member committee to review student test questions and suggest which ones to revise or eliminate; HB 633, the budget for the state Department of Agriculture; HB 593, to set up a tax relief fund and deposit into it any sales taxes remitted to Idaho by remote retailers who aren’t now required to do so; and SB 1370aaa, the bill regarding legislative substitutes that was amended three times in the Senate, and in the end does little to change the current system beyond asking lawmakers to verify that their subs are eligible to serve.

59% of Idaho voters still unaffiliated as primary election approaches

As Idaho’s May 20 primary election approaches, 59 percent of Idaho’s registered voters remain unaffiliated, Secretary of State Ben Ysursa told a gathering of Idaho Republican Party members this morning at the party’s state headquarters. That means when those voters arrive at the polls, they’ll be free to affiliate with the GOP and vote in the closed Republican primary, or to choose other options, including voting in the Democratic primary or voting the non-partisan ballot only, which includes judicial races. Those who already are affiliated with another party – Democrat, Constitution Party or Libertarian – won’t be able to vote in the GOP primary races.

Anyone who already was registered to vote when Idaho changed its law to allow a closed primary was automatically considered unaffiliated until that voter declares otherwise. Those who didn’t vote in the 2012 primary, which drew only 24 percent turnout of registered voters, remained as unaffiliated. Ysursa said he’d like to see higher turnout. The 2012 primary turnout, he said, was dragged down by Ada County, the state’s most populated county, where only 16 percent of registered voters cast ballots. Currently, in Ada County, 65 percent of voters are unaffiliated. In Kootenai County, it’s 61 percent; Canyon County, 57 percent.

As for turnout this time around, Ysursa said, “We’re thinking it’s going to be in the 27, 28 (percent) range.” He said, “I call it the ‘acid test’ of the closed primary, because we have what I consider some very competitive races going on in the primary.” He said in Idaho, “Getting people registered is not the problem – it’s getting those people who are registered to vote.”

More than a dozen people turned out for Ysursa’s talk, one of a monthly series the party’s been holding, including two of the GOP candidates vying in a four-way primary for Ysursa’s seat – chief deputy Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane, and former state Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise.

Rand Paul to address Idaho GOP state convention in June

Sen. Rand Paul, who topped the latest CNN poll about GOP presidential contenders for 2016, will speak at the Idaho Republican Party’s state convention in Moscow on June 13, Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey reports. Idaho GOP Chairman Barry Peterson told Popkey that Paul was invited by Idaho 1st District Congressman Raul Labrador. “It’s a big deal,” Peterson said. You can read Popkey’s full post here.

Arizona girl drives off in Idaho police car

Here's a news item from today's Spokesman-Review: A girl in the back of a Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office patrol car slipped off her handcuffs, crawled into the front seat and drove away in the car Thursday evening at the Huetter rest area on eastbound I-90 in North Idaho. Kootenai County sheriff’s deputies and Idaho State Police troopers gave chase as the girl drove through Coeur d’Alene and then south on Highway 95. She was stopped on a dead-end road near milepost 421, according to a Sheriff’s Office press release. The girl was one of two juveniles in the car who had been reported as missing/runaways in Chandler, Ariz. The license plate reader on I-90 had identified the 1982 blue Chevrolet El Camino they were riding in as being associated with their disappearance.

Bogus Basin to stay open yet another week, ‘til April 13

It’s happened again – Bogus Basin is extending its closing date for another week, with daily operations now scheduled to run through April 13 due to good snow conditions, including 23 inches of new snow in the past week. “Spring skiing conditions couldn’t be better,” the resort announced today. The non-profit community ski resort will begin discounting daily lift tickets to $25 this Friday. Weekday operations will be 10 a.m. to 4:30, and weekends 9 a.m. to 4:30. The Nordic center and trails also remain open.

This Sunday, Bogus will celebrate with a “retro” costume theme day and live music from “Bread and Circus” inside the Simplot Lodge at 1 p.m.; on Sunday April 13, there’ll be live music outside the lodge, also at 1. There’s more info here.

Otter signs new jobs tax-reimbursement incentive bill into law

A plan to use big tax breaks to lure businesses to expand in Idaho won the governor's stamp of approval, the AP reports. Under the new law, HB 546a, which Gov. Butch Otter signed today, Idaho would refund up to 30 percent of state corporate income taxes, payroll taxes and sales taxes to businesses that create 50 new jobs in urban areas and 20 in rural areas. Proponents hope that will be enough to sweeten the deal for big employers mulling a move to the Gem State. The incentive will also apply to Idaho-based businesses that expand or take on a new project, if they create the required numbers of new jobs paying at least the county average wage; click below for a full report from AP reporter Katie Terhune.

Former Gov. Phil Batt backs McGrane for Secty of State, makes rare primary endorsement

Former Idaho Gov. Phil Batt has endorsed Phil McGrane in the four-way GOP primary for Idaho Secretary of State – a notable endorsement not just because Batt is a respected former governor of the state, but also because he’s a former highly successful chairman of the Idaho Republican Party. Asked how often he’s made an endorsement in the primary, Batt said, “Oh, not very often, I don’t think.”

In this case, though, he said, “One candidate has demonstrated the ability as well as the character and integrity necessary to fulfill the obligations of this office and that is Phil McGrane.” Batt, shown here in a 2013 photo, said, “Over the years, I’ve had the utmost respect and confidence in the Secretary of State’s office being led by Pete Cenarrusa and Ben Ysursa to be run with sound judgment, common sense and fiscal responsibility. Phil McGrane is the right Republican to continue this tradition. I encourage others to join Ben and me in voting for Phil McGrane for Secretary of State.”

Ysursa endorsed McGrane for the post he’s retiring from this year on Tuesday.

There are four candidates vying in the GOP primary; in addition to McGrane, they include former House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale; former Sen. Evan Frasure, R-Pocatello; and former Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise. The victor will face Democratic Rep. Holli Woodings of Boise in November; she’s unopposed in the Democratic primary.

Batt said the Secretary of State’s office is unique. “I think a person has to be studiously objective in that office,” he said. “Certainly there’s no room for any partisan maneuvering at all, favoritism. It’s an objective-type position. I think it’s extremely important, because there’s always people trying to maneuver election possibilities. I think it’s necessary to have an objective person in that office.”

State auditors question use of federal welfare funds

State auditors say the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare misspent $2.5 million in federal welfare funding on salaries instead of using it to help pay for food, housing and other benefits provided to Idaho's poorest residents, the AP reports. But department officials say the money was used properly to help keep extremely low-income children out of foster care. The finding by the Legislative Services Office's Audits Division was part of the state's annual audit of how federal cash is used by Idaho agencies; click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Fewer Idaho workers having to settle for just part-time work…

The proportion of Idaho workers who are working just part-time because they can’t find full-time jobs dropped below the national average in 2013 for the first time in six years, the Idaho Department of Labor reports. The figures, from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, show that Idaho had about 39,100 workers in that category in 2013, 5.4 percent of its workers. The national average in 2013 was 5.5 percent. Idaho’s rate has dropped from 6.2 percent in 2012 and a high of 7.6 percent in 2009; the state now ranks 16th on that measure, down from fifth in 2009. There’s more info here.

Lanza booted from Otter’s ed task force after he joins Democratic challenger’s campaign

Mike Lanza, the parent-turned-education activist who chaired the campaign that successfully overturned the “Students Come First” school reform laws, says he’s been booted from Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s education improvement task force because he’s signed on with Otter’s Democratic opponent’s campaign. The 31-member task force brought all sides in the education reform debate together and made 20 recommendations, all of which Otter endorsed; the Legislature started work on some of those this year.

Lanza, who is now communications director and education adviser to Democrat A.J. Balukoff’s gubernatorial campaign, also still heads Idaho Parents and Teachers Together, the group that grew out of the successful referendum campaign in 2012. “There are politicians and candidates now serving on the task force, and no one questions whether they should be, and I don’t question whether they should be,” Lanza said. “They all have an appropriate role. No one has ever suggested that any of the dealings of the task force have been politicized.”

Marilyn Whitney, spokeswoman for the State Board of Education, which oversees the task force, said task force head Richard Westerberg, a board member, made the call, in consultation with board Chairman Don Soltman and board Executive Director Mike Rush, none of whom were immediately available for comment. “What I do know is that if IPAT wishes to have someone they can, but that it’s problematic and could be counter-productive for that person to be Mike, given that he now represents another entity,” Whitney said. “I think the board worked very hard to keep the previous task force process from being political and politicized.” The original 31-member task force is now reforming into two new committees; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Idaho drops to 47th for average hourly wages in all occupations

Idaho’s average hourly wage slipped as a percentage of the national average in 2013, the Idaho Department of Labor reports, but the decline was less than the state saw in 2011 and 2012. According to estimates from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Idaho’s average hourly wage for all occupations in 2013 was $18.67, 83.6 percent of the national average wage. That’s up slightly from $18.48 in 2012, but it’s down four-tenths of a percent as a percentage of the national average wage – meaning Idaho’s wages aren’t growing as fast as other states as the economy recovers. Idaho’s median wage was $14.68 an hour, which was 87 percent of the national average, a decline of three-tenths of a percentage point from 2012. That was up 10 cents from the $14.58 rate in 2012.

Overall, Idaho’s average wage ranked 47th among the states, down from 46th in 2012, and its median wage ranked 45th, down from 43rd a year earlier. There’s more info here, including a breakdown by occupations.

Otter kicks off re-election campaign with four-stop tour of the state

Gov. Butch Otter is formally launching his re-election campaign today with a four-stop tour of the state. As campaign announcements go, it’s a bit anti-climactic; Otter filed for a third term on March 3, and first announced to supporters that he’d run for one at a North Idaho governor’s ball in December of 2011.

Otter’s tour today includes an 8 a.m. stop at Western States Equipment Company in Meridian; a 10:30 a.m. visit to Glanbia Foods in Twin Falls; a 12:30 visit to Snake River Landing in Idaho Falls; and a 4 p.m. stop at AGC AeroComposites in Hayden. Campaign manager Jayson Ronk said the locations were picked to emphasize economic development.

“It has been my honor to serve the people of Idaho as governor,” Otter said in a news release. “We have accomplished great things over the past seven years, but my work is not yet complete. We need to continue to make sure we are preparing Idaho’s workforce for a more competitive future, and that there are career opportunities available here so our citizens and communities can prosper.”

Otter also released a list of 18 GOP senators and 35 GOP House members who are backing his re-election bid. He faces a primary challenge from Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian. The victor from the GOP primary faces Democrat A.J. Balukoff in November. Also on the ballot are an array of other candidates: Two independents, Jill Humble of Boise and “Pro-Life”; Libertarian John Bujak; Constitution Party candidate Steve Pankey; perennial candidates Walt Bayes and Harley Brown in the GOP primary; and former local GOP candidate Terry Kerr of Idaho Falls in the Democratic primary.

As of January, Otter had raised $708,000 for his re-election campaign, dwarfing the campaign warchests of all the other candidates.

Fulcher criticized Otter’s tour, saying, “The Otter administration will be remembered as eight years of missed opportunities.  An announcement tour to a select group of businesses that are friendly to him cannot hide his lack of leadership on the issues that are most important to Idaho. Everything is not 'awesome' as Otter would like us to believe.  Idaho can do better.”

Boise’s downtown Peregrine falcons now up to three eggs…

There are now three eggs in the Peregrine falcon nest high stop the One Capitol Center building in downtown Boise; you can watch on the Falconcam here. There could still be one or even two more to come. The Peregrine Fund says both parents will be sitting on the eggs at times over the next few days; occasionally, the eggs will appear to be left alone for short periods of time, “But even when the adults are out of camera range, you can rest assured that at least one is always nearby to protect the nest.”

 

Ysursa endorses McGrane for Idaho secretary of state

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa today threw his support to Phil McGrane in the four-way GOP race for the office Ysursa will be retiring from at the end of the year. “After 40 years in this office – three terms as secretary and 28 years as a deputy to Pete Cenarrusa – I kinda have an attachment to that place,” Ysursa told a boisterous crowd of more than 60 McGrane supporters gathered in the Statehouse rotunda. “So I’m very concerned and very interested in who my successor is going to be.”

Ysursa said he’s had lots of inquiries from people, “just out on the street, at the golf course, wherever,” as to which of the candidates is best. “In my opinion, the individual who has best demonstrated to me the requisite skills to be secretary of state … without a doubt is Phil McGrane,” Ysursa said to cheers. Ysursa pointed to McGrane’s years of election experience, as chief deputy Ada County clerk, and his legal background as an attorney (Ysursa, too, is an attorney). McGrane, he said, “possesses the competence, the integrity and the character to lead the secretary of state’s office in the future, and that is why I’m endorsing Phil McGrane for secretary of state.”

The other three GOP candidates are former House Speaker Lawerence Denney of Midvale, former Sen. Mitch Toryanski of Boise and former Sen. Evan Frasure of Pocatello. The winner of the GOP contest in May will face Democratic Rep. Holli Woodings of Boise in November; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

McGrane called the endorsement “very significant,” saying, “We’ve had so much trust in that office. … Ben has been the cornerstone of that for many years. You look at secretary of state offices around the country – they don’t have the same reputation that our secretary of state has. So I think it means a lot to the citizens of Idaho. There’s a reason Ben’s the top vote-getter in the state. I look forward to following in his footsteps.”

ISP statement: Will review allegations in ‘license-plate profiling’ case

The Idaho State Police has issued the following statement on the 'license-plate profiling' lawsuit filed against it by Darien Roseen:

Idaho State Police to Review Allegation​s in Lawsuit Stemming From Traffic Stop in January 2013

MERIDIAN -  The Idaho State Police has learned that the department and one of its Troopers were named in a lawsuit filed by Darien Roseen for an alleged incident that occurred during a traffic stop on January 25, 2013.   ISP did not receive a complaint from Mr. Roseen prior to the filing of this lawsuit.

We would like to assure the citizens of Idaho and the visitors to our state that the Idaho State Police holds all of its employees to a high standard which includes following the Constitution of the United States and the laws and constitution of the State of Idaho.

The allegations made by Mr. Roseen are now a pending legal matter, as well as, the subject of an internal investigation.  Therefore, ISP will not be able to comment on the allegations or the facts of this specific incident until the matter is resolved.
  

Just 30 bills left on governor’s desk; session yielded same number as last year

There are still about 30 bills left that lawmakers passed this year but Gov. Butch Otter has not yet taken action on; he has until Friday. Among them: SB 1395, the bill to raise top state elected officials’ salaries each year for the next four years. So far, Otter hasn’t vetoed a single one of the 357 bills that passed both houses this year; the legislature also adopted 43 resolutions or memorials. Otter has been gone to a Republican Governors Association meeting; he’ll be returning later today.

The final figures have just come out, and this year’s legislative session, in the end, yielded exactly the same number of passed bills as last year’s – both 357 – and a similar number introduced, at 542 this year and 545 last year. Last year's session was longer, at 88 days, while this year's ended after 74.

Idaho man gets 25 years for shooting at the White House

An Idaho man who pleaded guilty to firing an assault rifle at the White House in 2011, striking the executive mansion more than half a dozen times, was sentenced Monday to 25 years in prison, the AP reports. Prosecutors initially charged Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez of Idaho Falls with attempting to assassinate President Barack Obama but agreed to drop the charge as part of a plea deal last year. Ortega-Hernandez instead pleaded guilty to two charges including damaging the home. Ortega-Hernandez told the judge he “never meant to hurt anybody.” His lawyers said he was suffering from extreme depression and mental stress at the time of the shooting and was under the misguided belief that the end of the world was coming; click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessica Gresko in Washington, D.C.

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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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