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Archive for February 20, 2014

25 ‘Add the Words’ protesters arrested, taken to jail on bus

Twenty-five “Add the Words” protesters were arrested tonight on the third and fourth floors of the state Capitol, outside the Senate chamber and the Senate gallery, where they were blocking the doors; all were brought to a Statehouse basement visitor room for processing, searched, and then led out to board a large white bus in front of the state Capitol, under a light rain, and taken to jail.

“They’re going to be booked into the jail,” said Idaho State Police spokeswoman Teresa Baker. “We had several people that we cited and released today, and they just kept coming back in and doing the same thing. So we had to take a different stance.” She added, “They’ve been peaceful and cooperative.”

The protesters, all in matching “Add the 4 Words Idaho” shirts, were led out of the Capitol with their hands behind their backs, holding plastic grocery bags containing their possessions; they were searched and the possessions placed in the bags in anticipation of arrival at the jail. Once at the jail, Baker said, the 25 protesters, all charged with trespassing, can arrange for release. “They’ll have to pay a bond,” she said.

The 25 arrests came on top of the seven that occurred mid-day today, also for blocking the entrances to the Senate chamber and gallery, except for one that was for misdemeanor battery. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller, including comments from Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill.

House panel votes 13-1 in favor of SB 1337, so-called ‘ag gag’ bill

After a three-and-a-half-hour hearing, the House Agriculture Committee has voted 13-1 in favor of SB 1337, the bill to criminalize taking surreptitious video or photos of an agricultural operation without the owner’s permission. The only committee member to vote against the bill was Rep. Mat Erpelding, D-Boise; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

“We’ve heard a lot of testimony today and I appreciate that,” said Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, “and I appreciate everyone’s patience and their politeness for the most part. I believe this is a good piece of legislation to protect agriculture and agri-business, and I hope you will support it.” Rep. Gayle Batt, R-Wilder, said, “I think this was well-vetted.”

By my rough tally, 38 people testified during the hearing, 19 for the bill and 19 against the bill. Plus, six more people who were called to testify just said from their seats that they supported the bill.

The bill now moves to the full House. House Agriculture Chairman Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, said, “I would like to congratulate you people in the audience for your courtesy and your decorum today. This is the process that we employ in the state to try and accomplish what we say and feel and hope is the people’s will.”

Afterward, Andrus said he believes Idaho needs to do more to prevent and bring to light incidents of animal abuse; he’s pushed for legislation to make animal torture a felony, but to no avail. “I’ve gotten nowhere with animal torture, and it’s come from the other side,” he said, referring to the Senate. “We’ve got to do more. This is not an end-all, catch-all basket for our problems, and if this legislation were a cover-up for animal cruelty, I could not support it. … We have got to protect private property from spying.”

Tally of ‘Add the Words’ protesters arrested in Capitol today now up to 30

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — More gay rights activists were arrested by Idaho State Police after refusing to lift their peaceful blockade of the Idaho Senate. In all, 30 people were arrested Thursday. That included 23 people who posted themselves outside the Senate chambers for more than six hours but declined to leave when asked by law enforcement about 4 p.m. All 23 were cited for misdemeanor trespassing. Earlier in the day, seven others were arrested, six for trespassing and another person for misdemeanor battery after a Senate official said the demonstrator had pushed through her arms as she sought to block him from descending a staircase. The demonstrators are demanding lawmakers add discrimination protections for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender individuals to the Idaho Human Rights Act. So far, Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill and other GOP lawmakers have declined to hold a hearing.

Testimony: ‘They know how to spin a story,’ ‘What do they have to hide?’

Among those testifying on SB 1337, the agriculture security or so-called “ag-gag” bill, this afternoon:

Elham Marder, a corporate attorney representing herself, said, “Businesses should be focused on training and prevention, not passing legislation to keep consumers in the dark.”

Brent Olmstead, executive director of Milk Producers of Idaho, said his members support SB 1337. “You’ve got a room that’s half full of dairymen that came down here,” he told lawmakers. “They came down here for a very simple reason: They’re afraid. … The timber products industry, the mining industry, have been decimated over the years, and part of that reason is activities from well-organized activist organizations. … They know how to take a story, they know how to spin a story, and they use that story against dairymen. … There is an economic attack here.” He said, “The insinuation from these ads … that these actions are common treatment on a dairy is ludicrous – it is not.”

Sara Baugh said, “This bill is narrowly crafted to benefit just agricultural producers, and erodes the public’s trust in industry, including Idaho’s farmers and ranchers, and causes consumers to think, what do they have to hide?” She said, “I’m in favor of protecting consumers’ rights to know how their food is produced.”

Jim Lowe of Food Producers of Idaho, decried “this business of sneaking footage that can be edited and used in a media campaign.” He said, “Idaho agriculture has nothing to hide. … This bill is not about hiding anything. This bill is about honesty, it’s about truth, it’s about due process, and it’s about the right of an individual to control their private property.”

Scott Beckstead, a Humane Society of the United States official who said he was born and raised on a Twin Falls farm, said, “I would submit that this bill poses a greater threat to Idaho agriculture than all the video camera-wielding vegans in the world, because what this bill says is that Idaho agriculture does have something to hide. And when people are trying to make informed choices about their diet, about their food, about where their food comes from, they’re going to look at Idaho and say, ‘Idaho has something to hide.’”

Testimony: ‘Provides the evidence,’ ‘Radical groups engaged in terrorism’

As testimony continues at the hearing this afternoon on SB 1337, the ag security bill regarding surreptitious videotaping, six people who were called to testify just said from their seats that they support the bill. Among those who have testified so far:

Dr. Lance Cheney, a veterinarian from Caldwell, said, “These guys would not be in business if they didn’t take care of their cows, pure and simple. … These guys do a fantastic job, and that’s why they’re profitable, and that’s why they’re generating huge revenue for the state.”

Steve Ballard of Ballard Cheese said, “I do not know any dairymen that would abuse the cattle like what we’ve seen on these tapes, it is just absolutely beyond my comprehension. Believe me, if you treat cows like what you see on TV … they would not produce any milk.”

Russ Hendricks of the Idaho Farm Bureau said, “This is a private property rights issue for our members.” He said those who would take covert video of ag operations are “focused more on generating headlines … than on actually addressing any real or imagined problem.” He said, “In their world, solving problems does not pay. Creating the illusions of problems is what generates their salary.”

Kelly Hogan of Boise spoke against the bill. Audio or video evidence, whether taken openly or covertly, “provides the evidence that it doesn’t continue to happen,” he said, “and it’s a public service to both the industry and to people that have a care and concern for the animals that are involved in the situation. I think that the bill goes beyond just security and privacy. … We remove potentially an added resource to be sure that these things are disclosed.” Rep. Paul Romrell asked Hogan, “So you’re all right with trespass?” Hogan responded, “No, I’m not. I don’t see it as trespass. Let’s say that a person is employed by an agricultural facility under normal pretenses. Over time they see … things that are a violation of law, and they record it with their iPhone. … Then if they disclose that, this bill would make them in violation of law.” Asked what should happen if the person isn’t an employee, Hogan said, “If the person is not an employee and they trespass … I think they should be fined for trespassing laws.”

Tony VanderHulst of Westpoint Farms, current chairman of the Idaho Dairymen’s Association, said, “This is not about hiding anything. This is about exposing the real agenda of these radical groups that are engaged in terrorism.”

Testimony: ‘A happy cow produces more milk’

House Ag Chairman Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, said he has nine signup sheets with 17 lines on each, meaning more than 100 people may want to testify on SB 1337, the agriculture security bill, at this afternoon’s hearing. Andrus said he’ll call people in the order they signed up, and limit testimony to three minutes.

First up to testify was Lou Murgoitio, a lifelong dairyman. “I believe every farm family has a right to reasonable privacy when they’re in their homes or in their operations,” he told lawmakers. “We’ve invested our lives in these operations. … Our industry needs this legislation. And probably most importantly, Idaho farm families have been and still are the single most asset to Idaho’s economy, keep that in mind, just keep that in mind. For all the Microns and the Hewlett-Packards, agriculture has always been at the top. Dairy is the No. 1 commodity now.”

Murgoitio said, “A happy cow produces more milk. … It’s in the best interest of the producers of any animal to take care of ‘em. They’re the economic drivers to make your operation successful.”

Steenson: ‘Extremist groups implement vigilante tactics’

Dan Steenson, attorney for the Idaho Dairymen’s Association and the drafter of SB 1337, told the House Ag Committee this afternoon that “extremist groups implement vigilante tactics” to go after farmers. Steenson said “so-called investigators who masquerade as employees to infiltrate farms” do so in hopes of getting evidence of “what they believe to be animal abuse,” and “publishing edited recordings and advocating that the producer’s customers go elsewhere.”

Said Steenson, “Facing this type of assault in the court of public opinion, farmers have no opportunity to defend themselves.” That’s why farm groups proposed SB 1337, he said.

Sponsor: So-called ‘ag-gag’ bill wouldn’t stop whistleblowing

Rep. Cindy Agidius, R-Moscow, told Rep. Gayle Batt, R-Wilder, sponsor of SB 1337, that she’s received lots of emails questioning whether the so-called “ag-gag” bill will block whistleblowers from reporting abuses at agricultural operations. “Nowhere in this legislation does it address whistle-blowing at all,” Batt responded.

She then deferred to Brian Oakey, deputy director of the state Department of Agriculture. “In your view, does this legislation have anything to do with prohibiting a person from reporting animal abuse?” House Ag Chairman Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, asked Oakey. “No,” he responded. “Our role and our job would basically remain the same.” Oakey said the department has a hotline for complaints of animal abuse, and tries to respond to complaints within 24 hours. He said in 2013, the department received 63 complaints, and so far in 2014, it has received 42.

At least seven arrests in today’s ‘Add the Words’ protest…

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: Idaho State Police Thursday arrested at least six people for trespassing and another for misdemeanor battery after about three dozen gay rights protesters blocked multiple entrances to the Idaho Senate in a renewed effort to convince majority Republican lawmakers to consider an anti-discrimination bill. The demonstration comes after 44 protesters were arrested Feb. 3 in a similar action and charged with misdemeanor trespassing. Teresa Baker, of the Idaho State Police, confirmed the arrests Thursday, saying the battery charges stemmed from a complaint filed by Senate Sergeant at Arms Sarah Jane McDonald. McDonald was not injured; McDonald didn't immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

Senators entered the chamber Thursday and voted on bills, but at least some visitors were barred from leaving the front entrances on the Capitol's third and fourth floors. Some were ushered to a back exit by lawmakers. “I went down the elevator,” said Sen. Roy Lacey, D-Pocatello, following the Senate session. “They told me the stairs were blocked.” The trespassing arrests, including of former state Sen. Nicole LeFavour, a Boise Democrat who was Idaho's first openly gay lawmaker until retiring in 2012, occurred when demonstrators blocked a rear stairwell, briefly preventing some lawmakers and others from leaving.

LeFavour, who helped organize the demonstration, said activists seek to highlight what she called “the Senate's silence” on updating Idaho's Human Rights Act with workplace and housing protections for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender individuals. Following her arrest, LeFavour was ushered to the Capitol's main south exit but returned to help coordinate remaining protesters on the third and fourth floors. “I would imagine so,” LeFavour told The Associated Press, when asked if she anticipated additional demonstrators would be detained. “They are committed to stay until there is a hearing on a bill.”

Like the previous Feb. 3 protest, Thursday's demonstrators also wore black-and-white “Add the 4 Words Idaho” T-shirts and covered their mouths with their hands. It is a symbolic gesture intended to call attention their concerns they've been silenced in their bid to add four words _ sexual orientation and gender identity _ to Idaho law that currently bans discrimination based on race, gender or religion.  They've sought unsuccessfully to update the Idaho Human Rights Act for eight years. Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said she's not surprised the Idaho Capitol has become the scene of serial protests. “All of this conversation has been percolating for quite a while,” said Stennett, who favors updating the Idaho Human Rights Act. “It's everybody's opportunity to promote their agenda. It's the people's house.” Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill didn't immediately return a phone call seeking comment. Hill, R-Rexburg, and other GOP lawmakers have declined to give the anti-discrimination bill a hearing.
  

Crowd turns out for ‘ag-gag’ bill hearing

A big crowd has assembled in the Lincoln Auditorium this afternoon for the hearing on SB 1337, the Senate-passed bill to make it a crime to surreptitiously videotape or photograph an agricultural operation. Rep. Gayle Batt, R-Wilder, said the bill “protects our farm families and agricultural operations from extremists who use tactics of threat, force, misrepresentation and trespass to gain access to facilities and gain information.”

The bill was proposed after an animal rights group, Mercy for Animals, made covert video of severe abuse of cows at a southern Idaho dairy that led to criminal charges against the employees involved. It creates a new crime of “interference with agricultural production,” with a penalty of up to one year in jail and up to $5,000 in fines. Violators also would have to pay double damages in restitution. The new crime would cover recording anything at an ag production operation without permission; intentionally damaging an ag operation, including crops, animals or equipment; misrepresenting oneself in seeking employment at an ag operation; and obtaining records of an ag operation by  “force, threat, misrepresentation or trespass.” The bill passed the Senate last week on a 23-10 vote.

No resolution yet on broadband budget mess

Key legislators and Otter administration officials met late Wednesday afternoon to try to sort out the state’s broadband budget mess, reports Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert, but nothing was resolved. Jon Hanian, press secretary for Gov. Butch Otter, said the negotiations are “still in process.” Otter is seeking $14.45 million from lawmakers to keep the Idaho Education Network high school broadband system online, after federal e-rate funds for the network were placed on hold last March. The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee has not yet set a date for a hearing on the request; you can read Richert’s full report here.

 

Half of protesters move upstairs after two arrests

Half of the 'Add the Words' protesters blocking the main entrance to the Idaho Senate chamber on the 3rd floor of the state capitol have moved upstairs, and are now blocking the 4th floor gallery entrance, after two protesters were arrested on the fourth floor for blocking that entrance. Meanwhile, the formal Idaho State Police ceremony on the 2nd floor to mark the ISP's 75th anniversary has begun, and is resounding through the rotunda.

House passes $15.8M teacher leadership bonuses bill, 62-6

HB 504, legislation co-sponsored by Reps. Lance Clow and Julie VanOrden and a bipartisan group of 13 other lawmakers to grant $15.8 million in leadership bonuses to Idaho teachers next year, has passed the House on a 62-6 vote. “We feel that this addition to our education program will reward teachers and help our students improve,” VanOrden told the House. The bonuses are a piece of a recommendation from the governor’s education improvement task force to create a new career leader that would sharply increase Idaho teacher pay. The career ladder is still in the works. VanOrden said, “We would add the career ladder later. Basically, it’s to keep the momentum going.” She said she didn’t want to “lose the momentum that we have from the task force.”

Local school boards would decide who gets how much, under the bill. The awards would be for such factors as teaching advanced courses and mentoring other teachers. “It would be up to the local trustees to make that decision,” VanOrden said. The bonuses would range from a minimum of $850 to a maximum of 25 percent of the teacher’s base pay, and would be just one-year, one-time awards. School districts would receive the money on a formula based on $850 for each full-time teacher in the district.

“We are attempting very much here to get those task force recommendations moving forward,” Clow said. “We’re trying to take this a piece at a time.” The bill now moves to the Senate side.

House rejects new inattentive driving offense for untreated medical conditions

The House has rejected legislation from Rep. Janet Trujillo, R-Idaho Falls, to create a new inattentive driving offense for those who knowingly drive with an untreated medical condition. HB 466 failed in the House on a 19-49 vote. In an earlier committee hearing, a constituent of Trujillo's shared the story of how her young daughter was killed in a car crash in Montana, and the driver, whose untreated diabetic condition caused him to crash, wasn't cited.

Senate unanimously backs stocking Epi-Pens in schools for unexpected allergic reactions

The Idaho Senate has voted 35-0 in favor of SB 1327, legislation from Rep. Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls, to allow schools to stock Epi-Pens or similar items to use in case of unexpected allergic reactions among students or staff, without a specific prescription for the person involved. That's allowed in numerous states now, but Idaho law blocked it; the companies that manufacture Epi-Pen and other epinephrine auto-injectors are making the items available to schools for free. “I don't know why we shouldn't pass this legislation,” Heider told the Senate. “It's free, it saves lives, it's beneficial to students in Idaho and there's no liability.” The bill now moves to the House side.

Protesters allowed to continue to block entrance, Senate in session…

Thus far, the protesters blocking the main entrance to the Senate chamber and the 4th floor gallery entrance haven't been arrested, and the Senate is going on with its session. “We're just standing by,” said ISP Major Steve Richardson, who's down on the 2nd floor, where the state police are preparing for their 75th anniversary celebration at noon. He confirmed that one individual has been cited; that came after allegations of pushing between protesters and Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Sarah Jane McDonald, when the protesters entered the outer chamber via a restricted-access internal staircase from the fourth floor, prior to taking up their position outside the third-floor doors.

Earlier, eight pep band members from Sandpoint High School who are in town for a basketball tournament and were visiting the Capitol briefly joined the protest, standing off to the side in the same stance as the protesters, with their hands over their mouths; they're pictured above. “I joined because I agree with it,” said sophomore clarinetist Eric Heil. “It's a good cause, and it's something that should be stated.”

House panel introduces bill to do away with CAT fund, medical indigency program in 2016

The House Health & Welfare Committee has voted unanimously this morning to introduce legislation from Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, to repeal the county medical indigency program and the state catastrophic health care program in 2016. “That’s basically all that it does,” Loertscher told the committee. He said the delay “would give them a chance to get everything wound up before that happens, and also to give the Legislature a chance to come up with a plan to replace it, if that is the desire of the Legislature.”

Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said if the programs are repealed, “The hospitals then would have no recourse other than to pass this along to other insured or paying clients.” Loertscher said, “That’s the reason for the delay in the implementation. That gives us another year to consider how to handle this. I think it’s very important that we do consider this and keep this on the forefront of our discussions for the next year.”

Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa, said, “I think it’s a discussion that we should certainly look at,” so she moved to introduce the bill. Rusche said, “I’m going to support the emotion. I think, though, that this is only half of the question, and to the extent that it focuses our attention on a real issue and a real opportunity for Idaho, it’s certainly well worth the discussion.” Committee Chairman Fred Wood, R-Burley, said he “certainly” agreed.

The committee also agreed, after several questions, to introduce a bill from Rep. Janet Trujillo, R-Idaho Falls, to turn away all those who come to the indigency/CAT fund program but would qualify for subsidies on the state health insurance exchange, and instead direct those patients to the exchange. She estimated the change could save the state general fund $12 million and county property taxpayers $6 million.

‘Add the Words’ protesters block Senate

Twenty-four “Add the Words” protesters are blocking the main entrance to the Idaho Senate chamber on the 3rd floor of the state Capitol this morning. Former state Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, said the protesters are willing to be arrested rather than leave. It's the fourth protest this session by those who want consideration of legislation to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the Idaho Human Rights Act to ban discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations; the bill, proposed for each of the past eight years, hasn't been introduced this year. In the first such protest, earlier this month, 44 people were arrested. Like the earlier protesters, today's are wearing matching shirts saying “Add the 4 Words, Idaho” and holding their hands over their mouths.

In a statement, the protesters said just one of those participating today was among the 44 arrested earlier. “We feel we have tried every avenue to get the legislature to hear our stories and see the harm being done to good people’s lives,” the protesters said in the statement. “We feel this demonstration is our only remaining avenue to ensure they hear us and finally, after 8 years, stand up and say that cruelty to gay and transgender people is wrong.”

 

Legislative budget writers target doctor shortage with five new WWAMI seats

With Idaho ranking 49th in the nation for its number of physicians per 100,000 residents – and many of the state’s primary-care physicians nearing retirement – legislative budget writers this morning identified funding for five more WWAMI seats to train future Idaho doctors. The $113,400 request, which Gov. Butch Otter didn’t include in his budget proposal, won unanimous support; the budget bill that includes the money was crafted by six members of the joint committee from both houses and both parties.

Though Idaho has no medical school, it does have several programs that cooperate with schools in other states to train new physicians, including the WWAMI program, which stands for Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, Idaho, and serves a five-state region. In 2009, the Idaho Board of Education recommended upping Idaho's WWAMI seats from 20 to 40 students per year, but it hasn't gotten there yet.

Five new WWAMI students started last year on a special track for rural and underserved communities; funding is now being requested for the second year of that expansion, at $252,400 in state general funds. Otter recommended that funding but didn't recommend a second request for $113,400 for five more WWAMI seats to bring the program up to 30 first-year students; that’s what JFAC targeted funding to this morning, in addition to the items Otter recommended covering. Also included in the budget bill is $200,000 toward the start of a new family practice residency program in Kootenai County.

“Having a third family practice residency is going to greatly improve primary care in Idaho,” said Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, a physician.

Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, questioned how many WWAMI students return to practice medicine in Idaho, saying his quick math suggested Idaho would spend $15 million to educate 20 WWAMI students over four years. It turned out he was using figures covering five students, rather than a single student; the actual figure is just under $3 million. The answer: 50 percent of the Idaho WWAMI students return, and Idaho gets 73 percent of all the graduates of the five-state program. Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, noted that her daughter graduated from WWAMI and initially started her practice in the Seattle area, but eventually did return to practice in Idaho. Vick said he’d support the bill, but said, “I know there’s been some legislation to provide stronger incentives for those students to come back to Idaho, and I do think that’s something we should continue to investigate.”

The budget bill covers eight health education programs and reflects a 7.5 percent increase in state general funds to a total of $11.4 million. In addition to WWAMI, the programs are the Washington-Idaho Veterinary Education Program, a cooperative agreement between the University of Idaho and Washington State University; the Idaho Dental Education Program, a cooperative agreement between Idaho State University and Creighton University; the University of Utah Medical Education Program; the family medicine residency programs, which currently are located in Boise and Pocatello and provide the final three years of family physician residency training; the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE), which offers a professional student exchange program so Idaho students can access programs not available in the state; the Boise Internal Medicine residency program, which focuses on training at rural and underserved sites in Idaho; and the Idaho Psychiatry Residency Program, in which students spend two years at the UW followed by two years in Boise, and then clinical rotations in Idaho.

Both sides seek immediate ruling in challenge to Idaho’s same-sex marriage ban

Four couples suing the state over Idaho's ban on same-sex marriage are asking a federal judge to rule in their favor without a trial, the AP reports, contending the facts of the case and recent federal court rulings elsewhere make it clear that Idaho's marriage laws violate the Constitution. The defendant in the case, Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, also is asking the judge for an immediate ruling, contending that states and not the federal government have the right to define marriage and that same-sex marriages would harm Idaho's children. Both sides made their arguments Wednesday in legal briefs filed in Boise's U.S. District Court; click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

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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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