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Eye On Boise

Archive for July 2014

Off on vacation…

I’m headed off for vacation now, to join family to celebrate my mom’s 80th birthday. I’ll be back in the office on Monday Aug. 11, but I will post a few items between now and then – including the outcome of Saturday’s Idaho GOP leadership contest. For the most part, though, I’ll be off the grid; will catch up when I return.

Grandma thanks Idaho trooper for traffic stop

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A woman who got a speeding ticket while on a recent vacation to Idaho wrote a note to the Idaho State Police thanking the trooper for the kindness he showed her grandchildren during the stop. KBOI-TV reports (http://bit.ly/1xARlC8) the Idaho State Police shared the note on Wednesday. The woman wrote that Officer Mike Nielsen made the stop a good experience for her grandchildren by talking with them calmly and giving them stickers. She says she wasn't left out and got her “very own sticker shock.” The letter did not say how much she was fined.

State considers changes to grazing fees

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: TWIN FALLS, Idaho (AP) — Idaho lands officials are considering increasing how much ranchers pay to graze on state lands for the first time in more than 20 years. The Times-News (http://bit.ly/WMZDMm) reports that Idaho's grazing fees are lower than its neighboring states but the state hasn't updated its fee formula since 1993. Idaho Department of Lands spokeswoman Emily Callihan says the state could change the rate depending on the quality of forage in an area a rancher wants to graze in. However, Idaho Cattle Association president Jared Brackett says ranchers could opt to graze on federal lands, where fees are significantly lower than those charged by the state. Callihan says the department will collect public input on how to change its grazing rates over the next year.

Balukoff hits airwaves with first campaign ad of Idaho guv’s race

The first campaign commercial of Idaho’s governor’s race is out, and it’s from GOP Gov. Butch Otter’s Democratic challenger, millionaire businessman A.J. Balukoff. “Tired of business as usual in Boise? Then take a look at A.J. Balukoff, a successful businessman who’s created jobs by bringing people together to get things done,” the ad begins.

“It’s a good positive ad introducing himself to the people of Idaho, in terms of his background and that he’ll run on a change platform,” said Jim Weatherby, Boise State University emeritus professor and longtime observer of Idaho politics. “We don’t know exactly what he will do, but he needs to introduce himself. He’s not well-known outside the Boise valley.” You can read my full ad-watch story here at spokesman.com, and watch the commercial here.

Otter names Clezie, Fischer to Idaho Fish & Game Commission

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has appointed two new members to the state Fish & Game Commission: Lane Clezie of Pocatello, to succeed Randy Budge, and Blake Fischer of Meridian, to succeed Bob Barowsky of Fruitland. Otter said the two are “experienced, passionate sportsmen.” Click below for his full announcement.

 

Risch: Cut off all U.S. funds to Iran until Abedini is released

Idaho Sen. Jim Risch today told the U.S. State Department’s Undersecretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman that the United States should cut off all funds to Iran until Idaho Pastor Saeed Abedini and two other Americans who are imprisoned in Iran are released. Abedini, of Boise, has been imprisoned in Iran since 2012 on charges related to Christian evangelizing. Risch said he’s sure the move would work.

At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing today on the topic “Iran: Status of the P-5+1,” Risch told Sherman, “I have urged that you do something about getting Pastor Abedini and the other two Americans released. As you know, I was incredibly critical of you guys because you cut billions loose without demanding this tiny, tiny little thing as far as Iran is concerned. I wanna ratchet that up again – you did it again.”

“You’ve cut billions loose without getting those guys released,” Risch said. “Do me a favor, do America a favor, do the Abedini family a favor, and tell ‘em next time you’re not going to give ‘em any more money unless they cut these three people loose. I can almost guarantee you they’re gonna do that. You’re talking about billions of dollars and you’re talking about three people that we really, really need out of prisons in Iran. Try it, just try it and see what happens. I’m willing to betcha they’re going to cut those three loose in return for the money that you have available to give ‘em.”

P-5+1 is a group of six world powers, consisting of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, that have been negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program since 2006. Risch has posted the exchange on YouTube here.

Nels Mitchell, Risch’s Democratic challenger, had this response to Risch’s comments:

“We all care deeply about securing the freedom of our loved ones who are being unjustly held prison by the Iranian government.  My sympathies are with Pastor Saeed Abedini and his family.  I sincerely hope that the United States is doing everything possible to obtain the release of Pastor Abedini and the others who are wrongly imprisoned.  That said, I am concerned to see Sen. Risch using his position on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to berate a State Department officer.  I doubt that kind of grandstanding advances the mission.  I am also concerned that Sen. Risch may not have all of his facts right.  I am not aware that the United States is giving away billions of dollars to Iran, which is what Risch seems to be saying in his remarks.”

Reaction to GOP ruling: ‘He changed the locks, discarded documents, and fired staff’

In more of the reaction to yesterday’s court ruling on leadership of the Idaho Republican Party, the two party officials whom Barry Peterson unsuccessfully sued, Mike Mathews and Cindy Siddoway, have issued a statement on the results. “I am happy that the August 2nd meeting called by the grassroots of the party will go forward.  I look forward to holding elections to end any confusion in party leadership,” Mathews said. He was the party’s first vice-chairman, but according to the judge’s ruling, there are now no state officers, though the locally chosen central committee members remain in place.

Siddoway, the party’s national committeewoman, serves a four-year term rather than a two-year one like the officers, so she’s still in office as a state party official. She, national committeeman Damond Watkins, and whomever is elected chairman at the Aug. 2 meeting will attend an upcoming Republican National Committee meeting as Idaho’s representatives. “I am pleased to see that Idaho will have full representation at the upcoming RNC meeting in Chicago,” Siddoway said. “It is now critically important that all the loyal party members come to Boise to cast their vote for officers.”

Mathews and Siddoway said in their statement: “Since the GOP convention adjourned in June, Peterson has attempted to hold on to the chairmanship.  He changed locks on the office, discarded documents, and fired staff.  Even when the National Republican Committee said that it would not recognize Peterson as Idaho’s chairman, he persisted.” Click below for their full statement. 

Jason Risch, counsel to the Idaho Republican Party, shown above leaving the Twin Falls county courthouse with attorney Timothy Hopkins, who represented Mathews and Siddoway in court yesterday, said, “I appreciate the judge’s thoughtful consideration of this issue. It was very clear that he had done his homework and read the rules and come to an appropriate decision.”

Dan Popkey to become Rep. Labrador’s new press secretary

Dan Popkey, longtime political reporter and columnist for the Idaho Statesman, is leaving journalism to become the Meridian-based press secretary for 1st District Congressman Raul Labrador, Labrador announced today. “I’ve learned that one has to have an exceptional communications strategy to effectively represent Idaho in Congress,” Labrador said in a statement. “I know that Dan will help me better communicate my message to constituents and the media.”

Click below for Labrador's full announcement. The Statesman announced today that Popkey's resignation, after nearly three decades with the newspaper, is effective immediately; he starts his new job Monday.

Troupis: Party needs to unify

Christ Troupis, attorney for Barry Peterson in his unsuccessful lawsuit to remain Idaho Republican Party chairman, said Peterson pursued it in order to address concerns from some in the party that party rules weren’t being followed.  “We don’t want to preserve a conflict,” he said, noting that no appeals were contemplated. Troupis, who unsuccessfully challenged GOP Attorney General Lawrence Wasden in the primary this year, said the party needs to unify.

Peterson accepts ruling, says he won’t run again on Aug. 2

Barry Peterson had this to say after 5th District Judge Randy Stoker ruled he’s no longer chairman of the Idaho Republican Party: “The judge made a ruling, and I’m comfortable with what the judge did.” As for what the party does next, he said, “I’m not the chairman, so it’s not up to me.” Peterson said he won’t appeal and never intended to.

He also said he won’t run for state party chairman on Aug. 2, when the state party Central Committee chooses the new leaders. He said he’s heard of three candidates: Steve Yates, Doug Pickett and Mike Duff. “I’m happy for all of them,” he said.

Christ Troupis, Peterson’s attorney, said Peterson met with Gov. Butch Otter yesterday and offered to resign as party chairman, “And the governor said you can’t resign because you’re no longer chairman,” Troupis said. “Barry wanted the process for the integrity of the party.”

Peterson declined to discuss his meeting with Otter. “We visited on Saturday, on Sunday, and on Monday,” he said. “On each day, I got a different reflection of the governor. … It was clear to me that the lobbyists and his staff had significant influence on his position.”

Judge: Peterson is no longer Idaho GOP chairman

Fifth District Judge Randy Stoker today rejected a bid from embattled former Idaho GOP Chairman Barry Peterson to hold onto the chairmanship by blocking a scheduled Aug. 2 state central committee meeting to choose new leaders. “His term has expired,” Stoker told the court.

The judge’s ruling came after extensive arguments that lasted for more than two hours in court this morning in Twin Falls. “This is not a question of this court taking any position with regard to what the Republican Party should do in this state,” Stoker said. “I have no dog in this fight, so to speak.”

The Aug. 2 party central committee to choose new leaders will go forward, the judge ruled. “It is your business what you do there,” he told the party members from both sides. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Some of the back-and-forth in court: ‘The party is in trouble’

Christ Troupis, attorney for embattled GOP Chairman Barry Peterson and six supporters, told the court this morning, “We believe the chairman was re-elected at the convention by the delegates.” Judge Randy Stoker asked him, “Let’s go back to what happened at the convention. You agree, it’s undisputed, that the parliamentarian of the Republican Party has publicly said, ‘I made a mistake.’” Parliamentarian Cornel Rasor said after the convention that he erred in advising that adjourning the convention would have the effect of extending current officers’ terms for another two years. “Why is that not the end of this dispute?” the judge asked Troupis. “Isn’t that a political determination?”

“I agree,” Troupis said. “All of those were political actions. The delegates acted in reliance upon the statement, if you adjourn like this, these officers remain in place. The subsequent statement ‘I made a mistake’? Well, there’s a lot of politicians who make those kinds of statements. … Maybe he didn’t make a mistake. … I happen to disagree with him.” Troupis said, “What he said that was relied upon by the convention delegates at the convention, he can’t recant after the convention and say, ‘Oops, my foul.’ The point is the vote was taken based upon what he said.” He added, “I wish the parliamentarian had been more careful at the time, but the fact that he wasn’t doesn’t un-ring the bell.”

That prompted this question from the judge: “I know what your clients think they voted on. … What did the other 521 people think? How am I supposed to know?” Troupis responded, “You can’t.” When the judge suggested the only way to know was to call in all 521 to testify, Troupis said he didn’t think that was necessary. “They were told this is the effect of your vote, and they voted in accord with that,” he said.

Troupis said, “There’s an entire side of the party that is very disgruntled and upset right now and the party is in trouble.” To that, the judge said, “That may be, but that’s not something that I can fix, is it.”

Judge denies motion to dismiss, will hear full Idaho GOP case this morning on merits…

Fifth District Judge Randy Stoker has denied the motion to dismiss Barry Peterson’s lawsuit over chairman of the Idaho Republican Party, saying he’ll instead move to hear the full merits of the case this morning, after a 10-minute break. The judge said he believes state statute cites party rules, so they can be enforced by the court. “I think that this case involves both political questions and questions of whether there has been a statutory and therefore a rule violation,” Stoker said. “It’s a mixed issue.” A 1908 Idaho Supreme Court case involving a fight between competing delegations in the Idaho Democratic Party set the precedent on that, he said.

“The court has no stake in who is elected chairman or vice chairman or secretary or treasurer of this party or any other party,” Stoker said. “The issue that I have is are you following the rules, it’s just that simple.” He said his decision to deny the motion to dismiss shouldn’t be taken as a sign he’s leaning either way on the case as a whole. Peterson is seeking an injunction to block the Idaho Republican Party from holding an Aug. 2 state central committee meeting to select new leaders.

Role of First Amendment in Idaho Republican Party case…

Christ Troupis, attorney for Barry Peterson, argued that the First Amendment’s free speech guarantees are implicated in the Idaho Republican Party lawsuit Peterson’s brought in an attempt to keep the chairmanship. “All political activity is First Amendment protected,” Troupis told the court. “Any loss of First Amendment rights is an irreparable injury.”

Tim Hopkins, attorney for the two party officials Peterson sued, told the court, “My God, nobody’s short on freedom of speech in these instances. … I don’t think there’s been any limitation or restriction on anybody’s freedom to speak.” Hopkins said, “The efforts here to create  legal question out of what is clearly a political feud, if you will … It has no sound basis in law for the court’s consideration.”

Judge tells court he’ll decide Idaho GOP case today

Fifth District Judge Randy Stoker told the court his morning that he will rule today in the Idaho Republican Party lawsuit, in which two wings of the party are fighting over the chairmanship. “‘This is a very unique proceeding,” Stoker said. “I’m going to give you a ruling at the end of the day.”

More than two dozen people are in the audience. The judge told the court he’s studied all the briefing and affidavits, pored over Idaho Republican Party rules and watched video of the state GOP convention and a rules committee meeting.

Among the arguments: Timothy Hopkins, attorney for party Vice Chairman Mike Mathews and National Committeewoman Cindy Siddoway, told the court: “There are winners and losers inevitably in a political setting like this one, but there is not irreparable injury.” Therefore, he argued, no injunction is warranted.

Christ Troupis, attorney for embattled Chairman Barry Peterson, cited Bush vs. Gore and the Idaho closed GOP primary case. “The courts involve themselves in the affairs of political parties every day,” he said.

The audience is quiet and attentive. A sign in the corridor outside warns that a ringing cell phone in court can bring a $100 fine.

Embattled GOP chairman contends he’s facing ‘hostile takeover’ by ‘rogue members’

Lots of interesting stuff in the court filings in the Idaho Republican Party case, including a link to a YouTube video of the final four minutes of the Idaho GOP convention; you can watch it here. In it, convention Chairman Raul Labrador calls for adjourning the convention, and a motion is made to suspend the rules to allow the convention to continue past its scheduled ending point. Asked by Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, what happens if the convention adjourns without any votes on leadership, Labrador confers with parliamentarian Cornel Rasor and then says, “Platform stays the same, the officers stay the same.” A voice vote is taken, with the “no” votes much louder, and Labrador says, “The nays have it and we are adjourned.”

However, Rasor later told the Lewiston Tribune he “inadvertently misread the rules.” “It was my fault, not Raul’s,” Rasor told Tribune reporter Bill Spence in a June 25 article that’s among the documents filed in court. State party rules specifically say there “shall be no automatic succession to the office of state chairman.”

Christ Troupis, attorney for embattled Chairman Barry Peterson and six of his supporters, contends it doesn’t matter – the 527 delegates at the convention thought that was the result of adjourning. Any other interpretation, he wrote in court documents, “threaten(s) to nullify the votes of 527 convention delegates.”

Timothy Hopkins, attorney for party Vice Chairman Mike Mathews and National Committeewoman Cindy Siddoway, whom Peterson has sued in an attempt to halt an Aug. 2 party central committee meeting to choose new leaders, wrote, “No vote for chairman was held. No vote for any officer was held.”

“The entirety of plaintiff’s claim for relief is based on a significant mistake and misreading of the rules at the end of the convention,” Hopkins wrote. “No constitution or statute permits a group of individuals to conjure a right to use mistaken information in order to lay claim to party leadership positions.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

State: Prison takeover had ‘challenges’

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho prison officials say they had to have thousands of dollars' worth of medications shipped overnight to the state's largest prison after the former operator, Corrections Corporation of America, left the facility without a promised 8-day supply of inmate medications. IDOC officials also say they discovered that some chronically ill inmates went without needed medical care and that some records were missing when they assumed control of the prison last month. But CCA officials say those claims are without merit and don't match the condition of the facility CCA handed over to the state. CCA spokesman Steve Owens also says no one from the Idaho Department of Correction has contacted the Nashville, Tennessee-based company to communicate any concerns. The IDOC Board will discuss the issue during a meeting on Wednesday.

UPDATE: On July 30, the state revised its estimates downward. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Balukoff knocks Otter for destroying public records, also incorrectly says records law is in Constitution

A.J. Balukoff, Democratic candidate for governor, is criticizing GOP Gov. Butch Otter for destroying 22 of the 37 applications for two recent openings on the state Board of Education, saying Otter isn’t following through with his pledge to emphasize openness in government, made when he appointed a state public records ombudsman in his office this spring. However, in his statement, he mixes up the Idaho Public Records Law and the state Constitution. “That was my error,” said Mike Lanza, communications director for Balukoff’s campaign; he said a corrected statement is in the works. “We’re talking about the law here,” Lanza said. (Update: A corrected statement was posted within an hour.)

Balukoff said, “Gov. Otter made a great show of this appointment, which followed a request from newspaper publishers for better government compliance with the freedom of information and public-records laws. The Otter administration’s handling of this episode raises two questions: How committed is the governor to obeying state open-records law? And why would his administration conceal from us some applicants for a high-profile state board?”

Balukoff also charged that Otter’s move violated the state Constitution, incorrectly attributing a passage from the Public Records Act to the Idaho Constitution. “The public has the constitutional right to know who’s seeking positions in government, and there was no legitimate reason to have destroyed those records,” he said.

Otter’s public records ombudsman, Cally Younger, told Idaho Education News that the applications were destroyed because they contained personal information; the news outlet had requested all the applications. But those that weren’t destroyed, and were released, also contained personal information such as driver’s license numbers; it was redacted, or blacked out, in the released versions.

Lanza said, “The language is pretty darn clear in that statute – it seems to be clear to us, anyway, as to what the government should be doing.” Balukoff’s full statement is online here.

Senator suggests secret review by lawmakers before releasing OPE reports

Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, has been pushing to let lawmakers review reports from the Legislature’s Office of Performance Evaluations in closed meetings and suggest changes before they’re released publicly, the AP reports. The OPE conducts detailed and often controversial investigations into how state agencies operate and points to savings, efficiencies or improvements; its director, Rakesh Mohan, staunchly opposes any such change in the rules because it would alter the office’s  independence and credibility.

“What happens in executive session is not public,” Mohan told the AP. “How easy would it be for me to say no if they want something changed? They are my bosses. I am willing to say no, but does the public know that?”

Mortimer is the co-chairman of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee, which oversees OPE; it’s a bipartisan panel. Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, the other co-chair, told AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi that she doubts its rules will be amended. “We don't want to do anything that steps on the independence of the reports,” Ringo said. Click below for the full AP report.

‘Selfie’ seekers spook bull elk in Garden City, force F&G to relocate it

Folks snapping “selfies” with a bull elk that was foraging for food in a vacant lot in Garden City last night caused the antlered animal to become spooked and take off gallivanting through Garden City. “Spectators … were getting too close to the elk,” according to an Idaho Fish & Game news release. “This interaction caused the stress which led to the young bull running through the Garden City neighborhood, including Veterans Parkway,” which is a big, busy thoroughfare with heavy traffic.

F&G Conservation Office Bill London said, “When people get this close to a wild animal, the stress not only creates potential harm to the animal and to the public, the increased adrenaline can also make it difficult to tranquilize an animal.” Garden City Police and Fish & Game officials responded to the 9:15 p.m. call, and the elk eventually was tranquilized and loaded into a horse trailer, and driven to a more placid location north of Horseshoe Bend. There, it was released unharmed.

Idaho state treasurer defends record, calls critical state audits ‘politically motivated’

In his 16 years as Idaho’s state treasurer, Ron Crane has built up the state’s credit rating, launched a popular college savings program and a free annual control-your-finances conference for women, and helped create a bond bank that lets local school bonds and other local-government debt take advantage of the state’s favorable interest rates, potentially saving property taxpayers millions. But he’s best known for a series of critical state audit findings over the past five years, the most recent suggesting that Crane made an inappropriate transfer between two funds that cost the state’s taxpayers more than $10 million.

Crane vigorously disputes the audit finding, contending his office did nothing wrong and made reasonable decisions based on what it knew at the time. “As to the charges of the audit, I maintain and will maintain that they were politically motivated,” Crane said in an interview. “We think there’s an excellent explanation for each one. When voters understand what the real explanation is, they will agree with our position.”

The audit findings have prompted a longtime Twin Falls CPA, Deborah Silver, to challenge Crane in this year’s general election. “I would absolutely follow the auditors’ suggestions, no argument, no excuses,” said Silver, a Democrat who taught accounting at the College of Southern Idaho for five years and has operated a CPA firm with her husband in Twin Falls for nearly three decades. “This is a job that I can do.”

The Spokesman-Review asked David Burgstahler, the Julius A. Roller Professor of Accounting at the University of Washington, to review the audit finding about the fund transfer and Crane’s detailed response. “I found the auditor’s conclusions pretty convincing,” Burgstahler said. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Eight migrant kids from border surge have come to sponsors in Idaho; Otter not happy

Eight migrant children from Central America apprehended at the Mexican border already have been sent to Idaho, according to a U.S. Health & Human Services report quoted late yesterday by the Associated Press, though they’ve gone to sponsors, not to state custody; that means they’ve been taken in by relatives, family friends or foster parents.

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, who yesterday sent a letter to top federal officials declaring that the Gem State won’t take any of the unaccompanied minors who arrived illegally at the southern border as part of a surge of tens of thousands, wasn’t happy about the report. “Assuming this report is true, HHS has not provided any information  about this nor did it go through any of the established channels  to inform the Governor’s Office that this was happening,” Otter’s press secretary, Jon Hanian, said in an email.

“We are working now to determine the veracity of this report. Should it prove to be true, it underscores the importance of the letter the governor released yesterday putting the federal government on notice, that Idaho will not be used as a staging area or a destination for the crisis the federal government has created. Just as troubling is the fact that they are ignoring states and the impacts associated with placing these undocumented migrants without the knowledge or consent of state governments.”

The report cited by the AP said 269 children from the border surge have come to Northwest states between Jan. 1 and July 7 of this year – 211 to sponsors in Washington, 50 to sponsors in Oregon and eight to sponsors in Idaho. The U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement has the data posted here. Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber released a statement saying his state welcomes the children and that the border surge was a reminder of Congress’ failure to enact immigration reform. “These children are fleeing their homelands because of overwhelming violence and economic hardship, and they do not deserve to become political fodder,” Kitzhaber said.

Jaime Smith, spokeswoman for Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, said today, “There are more than 200 children who have been placed with sponsors in Washington state. These are children who have seen and experienced traumatic violence and disruption in their communities. The federal government has identified care givers, some of whom are family members, who have agreed to take these children in. This is clearly an improvement over holding children in detention facilities. Our state will provide the support and services they need as they await their court proceedings.”

Two new Idaho GOP chair hopefuls emerge in two days

Two new candidates for Idaho Republican Party chairman have emerged in the past two days: Cassia County Republican Chairman Douglas Pickett, and former Dick Cheney aide and three-year Idaho Falls resident Steve Yates. This comes as the party is headed to court in a lawsuit filed by its last elected chairman, Barry Peterson, who maintains he’s still in charge despite the failure of the June state party convention to elect anyone as state party chair; while other party leaders have scheduled a state Central Committee meeting for Aug. 2 to choose new leaders, Peterson’s called a competing meeting for Aug. 9.

He’s asking a judge to declare his meeting the legitimate one, though those endorsing the Aug. 2 meeting date so far have included Gov. Butch Otter, Sen. Jim Risch, Congressman Mike Simpson, and the legal counsel for the Republican National Committee, who advised the RNC that the Aug. 2 meeting’s choice would be the legitimate chairman.

Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey reports today that Pickett has been a party activist for 14 years, serving as a precinct committeeman, youth committeeman and state committeeman. In 2012, he ran unsuccessfully against Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, in the primary, garnering 44 percent of the vote; Popkey’s full report is online here.

Yates said he’s spent 24 years working public policy issues at the federal level and moved his family and business, D.C. International Advisory, to Idaho Falls in 2011; he’s a regular analyst on Fox News. Yates ran unsuccessfully against Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls, in the May primary, losing narrowly with 48.9 percent of the vote.

Labrador bill to ease ‘80s-era federal drug sentencing laws gaining support in D.C.

Bipartisan legislation introduced last year by Idaho 1st District Rep. Raul Labrador and a bipartisan group of senators and representatives aimed at relaxing harsh 1980s-era federal drug sentencing laws is gaining support in Washington, D.C. The Washington Post editorialized strongly in favor of the measure today, and Labrador reported today that Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., chairman of the House Budget Committee, endorsed the bill today in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute.

The measure already is backed by a diverse array of groups ranging from Heritage Action to the ACLU to the American Correctional Association and the NAACP. It would give federal judges more discretion on how they sentence drug offenders who otherwise would be subject to mandatory minimum sentences; and allow inmates already serving the harsh sentences to petition for reductions.

Today’s Washington Post editorial said under current laws, a defendant convicted of possessing just 10 grams of certain drugs who has one prior felony drug offense must receive at least 20 years in prison.  “The drug war’s foremost legacy is a skyrocketing prison population,” the Post wrote. It touted both Labrador’s bill, the Smarter Sentencing Act, and a second measure on prisoner reintegration and recidivism reduction; sponsors of the two are considering combining them. Either way, “both bills should pass,” the Post wrote.

Labrador and Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., introduced the sentencing bill last October; it is companion legislation to a Senate measure sponsored by a bipartisan group including Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. “We must be strict, but also smart, when it comes to federal criminal sentencing,” Labrador said then. “The ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach Congress put on the books has tied the hands of judges without improving public safety. Nearly half of the inmates filling our federal prisons are incarcerated for drug offenses. Many of them do not need overly harsh penalties. And yet judges are forced to impose these penalties, even if they don’t want to.”

The bill, HR 3382, has 47 cosponsors; the Senate version, which already has cleared the Judiciary Committee, has 28 cosponsors.

Guv’s office destroyed Board of Ed applications due to ‘sensitive personal information’

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s office destroyed 22 of the 37 applications it received for two recent State Board of Education openings, reports Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News, because it said they contained “sensitive personal information.” Richert filed a public records request under the Idaho Public Records Act for the applications, but only got 15 of them.

Richert noted that in the applications the governor’s office did release, personal information such as driver’s license numbers was blacked out; you can read his full report here.

Feds never asked Idaho to take captured immigrant kids; Otter was acting ‘pre-emptively’

Asked if Idaho has been contacted by federal officials about housing or staging unaccompanied minor immigrants captured at the southern border up north here in the Gem State, Gov. Butch Otter’s press secretary, Jon Hanian, responded, “The short answer is no.”

“We have not received any information to suggest that undocumented UAM immigrants are headed this way nor have we heard that Idaho will be a destination,” Hanian said in an email. “However, the governor felt it was important to act preemptively on this issue in an effort to avoid the kind of chaos that the federal government has forced on a multitude of other states where illegal immigrants have been brought in without the knowledge or consent of those states.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com

Sho-Ban Hotel, at Exit 80, to mark new 80 mph speeds with $80 room special

The plush Shoshone-Bannock Hotel & Event Center in eastern Idaho has come up with a creative way to capitalize on the state’s move to up speed limits on rural southern Idaho interstates to 80 mph tomorrow: It’s offering a special $80-per-room rate, noting that the Fort Hall hotel is at Exit 80 (on I-15) and the rate is in honor of the 80 mph speeds that motorists now can legally drive to get there. Tomorrow from 8 a.m. to midnight, the hotel will offer the special rate, good for a single night’s stay between July 24 and 31. “We want to help our guests take advantage of our location,” said Echo Marshall, director of sales and marketing; you can read the full announcement here.

Occupy Boise: Idaho should pay $175K in legal fees

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Members of Occupy Boise are asking a federal judge to order the state of Idaho to pay more than $175,000 in attorney costs and legal fees after the group won a lawsuit over rules designed to curb protests and rallies around the Capitol. Under federal law, the winner of a lawsuit can generally seek to recover attorney's fees and costs from the losing side. The amount must be approved by a judge and can be appealed, just like the verdict itself. The lawsuit was filed in 2012 after the state tried to evict Occupy Boise protesters from a tent city set up near Idaho's Statehouse in 2011. Winmill found that the state's efforts to quell or limit the protest violated Occupy Boise members' free speech rights.

Click below for a full report.

Otter fires off letter to feds saying Idaho won’t take any immigrant kids captured at southern border

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter today fired off a letter to three top federal officials declaring that he wants “to immediately eliminate the chance of the federal government using Idaho as a destination or a staging area for the influx of unaccompanied and illegal immigrants entering the United States through our southern border.” There was no indication that Idaho – which borders Canada, not Mexico – had been targeted for any such use; the governor’s office didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry about that.

Otter, in a letter he also copied to the four members of the state’s congressional delegation, wrote, “It should be understood that the State of Idaho and its subdivisions will not be actively involved in addressing the humanitarian crisis the federal government has created. Idaho will not open itself to the unwelcome challenges with which other states have struggled at the federal government’s hands.” You can read Otter’s full letter here.

Otter’s letter was addressed to U.S. Health & Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director Leon Rodriguez. 

Taxpayers Union releases poll on online taxes, Idaho retailers, lawmaker dispute results

The National Taxpayers Union says it’s conducted a poll in Idaho that shows Idahoans oppose taxes on online sales, with questions such as, “Please tell me if you agree or disagree with the following statement. Out-of-state tax collectors, such as those from the state of New York, should not gain new power to audit and take into New York courts, online retailers who operate from Idaho. Do you strongly agree/disagree with it, or just somewhat agree/disagree with it?” Fifty-seven percent of respondents said they agreed.

But the debate in Idaho has been about national and out-of-state retailers selling their products in Idaho without collecting Idaho’s sales tax – putting local retailers at a price disadvantage. “Currently, a legal loophole, created before the Internet even existed, is encouraging customers to make purchases from online out-of-state retailers so they can avoid paying sales tax,” said Pat Nagel, owner of Idaho Camera and a member of the Idaho Retailers Association. “Our government has put Idaho stores at a six percent price disadvantage. We want to continue serving the customers in our community for years to come but in order for that to happen something has to change – Congress has to pass e-Fairness legislation.”

That’s the legislation the National Taxpayers Union opposes. In announcing its poll today, which the group said was conducted June 3-4, included 400 likely Idaho voters and has a margin of error of 4.9 percent, the group said, “When it comes to a federal law allowing out-of-state tax collectors to reach into the pockets of Idaho’s online merchants, by a 52-32 percent margin Gem State voters have a resounding and simple answer: Just, no!” The poll results were announced today by the NTU and the R Street Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based “free-market think tank” that’s in the midst of a 20-state tour to announce similar poll results.

The group strongly opposes the bill pending in Congress that’s dubbed the “Marketplace Fairness Act” and would allow states that participate in the multi-state streamlined sales tax project to require online retailers who make sales to their states to collect and remit sales taxes. Idaho initially was part of the project, but then dropped out, and lawmakers have been resisting legislation to rejoin, though Idaho retailers have been pushing for the move, saying they’re losing more and more of their business to untaxed online retailers. Idaho law already requires Idahoans who make online purchases from out of state to pay the taxes; they're supposed to report and pay them on their state income tax returns, though few do.

Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, who has sponsored legislation on the issue, issued a statement today noting that Idaho passed a new law this year creating a savings account for any future online sales taxes it collects, to be put toward tax relief. “The National Taxpayers Union wants to continue incentivizing Idahoans to shop outside of our state by keeping an outdated tax loophole intact,” Clow said.

You can read Clow’s statement here; and the R Street/NTU press release here. Pam Eaton, head of the Idaho Retailers Association, said, “There are two sides to every story. If Idahoans are going to have an accurate discussion on e-Fairness, all the information has to be laid out on the table.” Her press release was headed, “Don’t let poll fool you – eFairness is good for Idaho.”

 

Morrison Center makes international ranking, thanks to Idahoans flocking to see ‘Wicked’

The Morrison Center on the BSU campus has made the list of the top 50 theatre venues in the world for ticket sales in the first half of 2014, thanks in part to an extended 24-performance run of “Wicked” that drew Idahoans in droves. The 10-story, 2,037-seat performing arts center was listed 44th in the rankings for ticket sales to qualifying national presentations by Pollstar, an international trade publication. “The 2014 season was extremely successful,” said James Patrick, the center’s executive director, who called the “Wicked” run “unprecedented.”

The non-profit Morrison Center opened in 1984; it was a dream of the late Harry Morrison, whose late widow, Velma, championed it; the center’s full name is the Velma V. Morrison Center for the Performing Arts.

No changes likely for Idaho insurance exchange customers from conflicting court rulings

After two conflicting appellate court rulings yesterday - in Washington, D.C. and in Richmond, Va. - about whether federal subsidies apply to those purchasing health insurance in states that haven’t set up their own insurance exchanges, Idaho’s exchange, YourHealthIdaho.org, announced that Idahoans should see no change in their subsidies, the Idaho Statesman reports. Amy Dowd, YourHealthIdaho executive director, said in a statement, “As a state-based marketplace, Your Health Idaho has requested official guidance to confirm that this ruling does not impact Idahoans. … As we have known for some time, the benefits of being a state-based health insurance exchange far outweigh Idaho being on the federal exchange. As Idaho transitions to our own technology, we are even more confident in Idaho’s decision to maintain control of the exchange in Idaho.”

Meanwhile, Gov. Butch Otter issued a statement, the Statesman reported, saying, “While it has no immediate impact on Idaho, I hope the decision in the D.C. case eventually carries the day before the U.S. Supreme Court and leads to the end of Obamacare. But for now, it doesn’t reduce or eliminate federal control over healthcare matters in states with federal exchanges. If anything, the uncertainty from today’s conflicting decisions could make things worse for them.”

Statesman reporter Audrey Dutton reports that almost 70,000 of the 76,000 people in Idaho who bought insurance through Idaho’s exchange are getting subsidies; her full report is online here.

JUMP project to display 52 antique tractors from J.R. Simplot’s collection

The Simplot Corp.’s JUMP building project now under construction in downtown Boise – JUMP stands for “Jack’s Urban Meeting Place” – will house a display of 52 antique tractors that the late J.R. Simplot collected and long wanted to put on display, the Capital Press reports today. Simplot, the Idaho potato and microchip magnate who died in 2008, purchased 110 antique tractors in 1998 at an auction in Billings, Mont., reporter Sean Ellis reports; they include rare tractors from around the world. The JUMP project also will include Simplot’s new corporate headquarters; public art; studios and gathering spaces; an outdoor amphitheater and urban park; you can read Ellis’ full report here.

Mama beaver, kit fail in bid to make Eagle grocery store their new home

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: EAGLE, Idaho (AP) — A beaver and her baby have been captured after trying to get into a southwest Idaho grocery store and will be released into the wild. An Ada County sheriff's deputy responded Monday morning about 6 a.m. to an Eagle grocery store where the adult beaver and her kit repeatedly tried to enter. The Idaho Humane Society arrived and captured the pair near a bin filled with willow bundles and turned them over to another group. Animals in Distress spokesman Tony Hicks says the beaver and her kit will be released north of Idaho City in an area with plentiful willow and aspen bark. Hicks says it's not clear why the two left several ponds near the grocery store.

Land Board members laud record earnings from both lands, endowment fund

The state Land Board, which consists of the state's top five elected officials and is chaired by the governor, has sent out an opinion piece to Idaho news media hailing the endowment's record earnings in the past year, from the record 18.8 percent return on investments in the endowment fund to a 14-year high of $102 million from state endowment lands. That included the take from a record 347 million board feet of timber that was logged from the endowment lands, part of it consisting of trees that had been damaged by wildfire or insects, and from a hotly bid-for $1 million lease to use state lands to recreate Evel Knievel’s 1974 attempt to jump the Snake River Canyon near Twin Falls. “Together with our state land managers and the fund managers who invest the revenues they work hard to generate, we’re showing Idahoans that active management of State endowment trust lands and prudent investment of financial assets benefit us all,” the board said in the piece; you can read it in full below.

Idaho's endowment chiefly benefits the state's public schools, which are the beneficiary for 85 percent of the state's endowment land. The other beneficiaries, which like the schools were designated at statehood, are the agricultural college (U of I); charitable institutions (a catch-all that includes Idaho State University, industrial training school, State Hospital North, Idaho veterans homes, and the School for the Deaf and Blind); normal school (covers ISU Department of Education and Lewis-Clark State College); penitentiary; school of science (U of I); mental hospital (State Hospital South); University of Idaho; and the Capitol endowment. 

New 80 mph speed limits to take effect Thursday, but only once signs are up…

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Transportation Department says speed limits on rural sections of interstates in the southern part of the state will go up to 80 mph starting Thursday. That's an increase from 75 mph on rural sections of Interstates 15, 84 and 86. Speed limits for trucks will increase to 70 mph. The agency says speed limits on interstates in urban areas will remain unchanged at 65 mph. Speeds will also not increase in northern Idaho. Agency officials say the speed limits won't increase until signs are put in place. Lawmakers approved the increases earlier this year.

Sen. John Goedde, former Sen. Melinda Smyser among those passed over for Board of Ed

Among those Gov. Butch Otter passed over for the two recent state Board of Education openings, to whom he appointed David Hill and Debbie Critchfield: Outgoing Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene; former Sen. Melinda Smyser, R-Parma; Trudy Anderson, a retired associate vice president from the University of Idaho; and more. Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert writes today about the selection process, including what both Hill, a former top official at the Idaho National Laboratory, and Critchfield, a board member and current public information officer for the Cassia County School District, said in their applications. You can read his full report here.

Judge: ‘I respect your courage in doing what you did’

The “Add the 4 Words” sentencing hearing has finally wrapped up at nearly 5:45 p.m. Boise time. Judge Michael Oths thanked all those involved – the lawyers, the defendants, the clerks, the marshals, “everybody.” He said, “Everybody’s been respectful of one another today,” adding to titters, “which really is all you’re asking for in the first place. And so I appreciate that.”

He thanked the defendants for sharing their stories. “I respect your courage in doing what you did,” the judge said. “It does take some guts to stand up in civil disobedience and take the penalty, and I respect that.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Protesters’ fines, service hours pegged to number of arrests

Many more people have been sentenced this afternoon, all receiving community service and court costs and some small fines for misdemeanor charges stemming from their arrests at protests at the state Capitol this year in favor of amending the Idaho Human Rights Act to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Under agreements previously reached, they’re getting 10 hours of community service for each time they were arrested, so someone with two arrests gets 20 hours of community service plus court costs, and the second charge is dropped. Those arrested only once had their charges dropped. Those with higher numbers of arrests - four or more - also are receiving fines at $10 per arrest, like James Tidmarsh, who was arrested five times, pled guilty to two counts, and received a $50 fine, 50 hours of community service and court costs.

Rebecca Lampman of Bruneau, who described herself as a dairy farmer, a mother and a Girl Scout leader, was arrested twice and received 20 hours of public service plus court costs. “I was told by a neighbor at my home that I should be ashamed for publicly supporting ‘those people,’ but I want you to know that I am not,” she told the court. “Silence solves nothing. In fact, with my three children watching, I’m afraid that they might get the message that this response … is in fact appropriate.” She said, “I am ready to accept the consequences of my actions.”

Roughly two dozen people are being sentenced in this hearing this afternoon, but dozens more already have been sentenced, all receiving their penalties under the same formula. In total, 109 individuals have been sentenced for 192 misdemeanor violations incurred at the protests.

Dan Skinner, the Boise lawyer who organized 20 pro-bono attorneys to represent the arrested protesters, said, “I honestly feel like it's a duty for attorneys to work for civil rights. In my mind this is just a continuation of what happened 50 years ago from a legal perspective.”

Protesters tell their stories, receive fines, community service

Among the many people coming before the court for sentencing this afternoon for the “Add the 4 Words” protests at the state Capitol this year:

Judy Cross, who was arrested five times in Add the Words protests, said her first arrest was in 1969, two days after Martin Luther King Jr. was killed, after she marched hand in hand with other protesters. “Our crime was holding hands with a black person,” she said. Cross said her husband is a gay Episcopal priest who lost his position because he was gay. “It affected our whole family,” she said. “We lost half our income, we lost our house, our four kids were bullied and harassed at school.” She said, “This has got to change, this has absolutely got to change.” Cross received a $50 fine, 50 hours of community service and court costs.

Keith Blazor, 20, told the court he stood silent after he and his roommate were attacked outside their apartment complex. “She ended up having to have facial reconstructive surgery,” he said. “We were put into a position where we had to either defend ourselves publicly and risk losing our jobs and possibly our apartment, and I refused to do any of the interviews. … She was brave and she did that.” He said members of the transgender and gay community in Idaho sometimes “decide to stay silent and that shouldn’t be the case,” and that’s what brought him here today. He received 20 hours community service and court costs.

Emily Jackson Edney said, “I take full responsibility for the actions that brought me before this court today.” Edney told the court, “I am the T in LGBTQ,” as a transgender person. “But I am so much more than that. I am a son and a daughter of this magnificent city and wonderful state. I am a parent, a grandparent, and soon to be a great-grandparent.” She said, “I have experienced discrimination in this state because of my gender identity and expression. The most egregious was by medical practitioners. … I have no avenue of recourse and neither do my brothers and sisters.” Gay and transgender people should not be “fair game for discrimination and bigotry,” she said. She was sentenced to 30 hours community service and court costs for trespassing in the protests.

Caleb Hansen, the only person today to choose to represent himself rather than have an attorney represent him, said he’s a small business owner in Meridian. “I had no idea that it was legal to discriminate in Idaho based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” he said. “Most people I’ve talked to since I’ve become involved in the issue had the same reaction as I did, first disbelief, is that real? Second, a little bit of embarrassment. … This is 2014.” He said most people “remain silent,” assuming the government will do the right thing. “Our state Legislature has known about it for nine years now and refused to even hear it,” he said. “So for that reason I went to the state Capitol.” Hansen received 20 hours of community service, with credit for eight hours served in jail based on an earlier agreement, along with court costs.

Ty Carson, who received a $60 fine and 60 hours of community service for two charges, told the court, “No Idahoan, not one of us, should have to live in fear.”

Sentencing hearing: ‘These are moral individuals’

After the break this afternoon, attorney Phillip Gordon – one of 20 lawyers who volunteered to represent the “Add the 4 Words” protesters for free after their arrests – told the court on behalf of his three clients, Salem Djembe, Deborah Graham and Dan Fink, that it’s the first time in his career he’d rather be in court as a defendant than as defense counsel. He said he was “proud, privileged, and very humble” to stand in their presence. “Two of my clients are clerics, and they are acting from the depths of their spiritual traditions,” Gordon said. “These are moral individuals, these are people committed to justice.”

Djembe told the court he was a foster child, and was diagnosed with severe PTSD and depression resulting from his experiences being a transgender person. Now, he’s a foster parent himself, and works to help children at risk including LGBT youth. “There was no one to step up for me at the age of 16 and 17, so it’s my job to do this now,” Djembe said. “I’ve done my part, and I am not ashamed one little bit. … I did that for those kids that are coming.” He received 20 hours of community service and court costs as his sentence.

Graham, an Episcopal priest, received 30 hours of public service and court costs. “It is my duty not just as a Christian but also as a citizen to work peacefully to change laws that harm others,” she told the court. “With my whole heart, mind and soul, I do not want to see more Idahoans suffer discrimination because of who they fall in love with, or suffer severe depression, as I have, because they gave up hope that they could live openly as the person they were created to be, without fear of discrimination.”

Dan Fink, rabbi of Boise’s Congregation Ahavath Beth Israel, pleaded guilty to a single charge of trespassing; he’d been arrested three times in the protests. He received 30 hours of community service and court costs. “Quite a few of the members of my congregational family have indeed suffered harm,” Fink told the court. “My work with ‘Add the 4 Words’ was the least that I could do.”

Protester at sentencing: ‘Simply our duty to work for justice’

After completing the first three sentencings, the court has now gone to a short recess. After former Sen. Nicole LeFavour, those sentenced so far were:

Joseph Kibbe, a 35-year-old gay man who shared how he found his best friend after the friend’s suicide, and who got a $60 fine and 60 hours community service after pleading guilty to two charges and having four others dismissed. Kibbe said afterward that he felt “relieved” to finally be able to share his story, “after not even being afforded that opportunity for the last nine years. It’s just obviously the beginning of a very robust public dialogue,” he said, “but I feel relieved at this point.”

Terry McKay, 66, a retired school bus driver who has cancer, who got 20 hours of public service for a single charge. “If the Idaho Legislature had just given us a hearing, all we were asking for at this point was a hearing, all of this could have been avoided,” McKay told the court. McKay heaped praise on the law enforcement officers involved with the arrests of the protesters, whom he called “exemplary.” He said, “In our Jewish tradition we have a concept of tikkun olam, simpy translated to repair the world. That makes it our duty, simply our duty, to work for justice.”

LeFavour: ‘What we did this year … was all that was left’

Former state Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, told the court this afternoon that she had tried everything else to get the Legislature to hear legislation banning discrimination against gays before planning this year’s protests that led to arrests. “At one point we even had Republican co-sponsors for the bill, and then politics came in,” she said. “Year after year after year, they would just tell us no. They won’t even hear the story. At that point, what do you do? You have people coming to you and telling you that their kids are taking their lives. I tried everything.”

She said, “What we did this year is all we could think of to do. It was all that was left.”

‘Not a fiscal issue, a civil rights issue’

Jeffrey Brownson, attorney for Nicole LeFavour at the “Add the 4 Words” sentencing hearing this afternoon, said this about the protests this year: “These people throughout the legislative session were willing to put their liberty at stake, to face prosecution having no idea what the consequences could be. And they did this in order to stand up for what they believe in. And what they believe in is simply fair and equal rights for everybody. What they want is to stop the cruelty and the discrimination that goes on in this state. These protests were done silently, respectfully, and in a peaceful manner, your honor. It was the state’s decision to not continue to cite and release them, it could have. Those costs could have been deferred. But this isn’t a fiscal issue your honor, this is a civil rights issue. We don’t look back at the 1960s, at the great protests, and think, gee that cost a lot of money. We’re grateful.”

Penalty for LeFavour: $70 fine, 70 hours of community service, court costs

Judge Michael Oths has imposed a $70 fine, 70 hours of community service and court costs on former state Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, for two misdemeanor counts of trespassing at the Idaho state Capitol during this year’s legislative session in favor of protecting gays from discrimination in Idaho. That matches a plea agreement reached in April.

“What I appreciate about the approach you all took is the American tradition of civil disobedience is we all disobey and then we take our consequences,” the judge said. “We understand there’s a price tag involved in it, rather than as we may do in other parts of the world, blowing things up or that kind of tactics. .. I think the great tradition is you put your name on the line, and it’s not easy to do that, I understand that. But you accept the consequences for that, and I think you’ve done both.” The judge added, “I think people have been respectful in their approach, and I want to make that comment.”

Testimony: ‘Give them hope,’ ‘How do you put a price on your child’s life?’

Madelynn Lee Taylor, a 74-year-old Navy veteran and one of the arrested protesters, was called next. She recounted how she and her wife have been denied permission to be buried together at the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery because Idaho doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages. She said she decided to participate in the protests. “They had already put stickers up in the Capitol, and then they got a law that said you can’t put stickers up in the Capitol,” she said, drawing a laugh. “All of you in grade school used to take the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. How does it end? Liberty and justice for all. And we don’t have justice for our gay and lesbian people. The kids are dying out there. We need to give them hope.”

Gretchen Bates, 67, pictured above at center, who described herself to the court as “straight, white, a mom, and most importantly a grandma,” and also an educator and Idaho resident for 28 years, said she protested because “it’s the right thing to do, and I know so many of my friends have been discriminated against and don’t feel safe.” She said her best friend’s son Matt and his partner jumped to their death from the Perrine Bridge as a result of discrimination. “We’re 9 years too late for some children - it should have been done nine years ago,” she said. “I’m so afraid that … more children will die. … Adding four words, how simple is that? We talk about the cost of things, but how do you put a price on your child’s life? You can’t.” 

Tears flow in courtroom, as witnesses share teens’ stories

Julie Zicha, whose gay son, Ryan, committed suicide, was the first witness called by the defense at the “Add the 4 Words” sentencing trial this afternoon for state Capitol protesters. Zicha said she believes it’s critical that Idaho amend its Human Rights Act to ban discrimination against gays. “I think every moment we wait we risk losing more and more kids,” she said. Occasionally breaking down in tears, she told the court, “I lost my son Ryan in January of 2011. My son was gay and he took his life at the age of 19 after three years in Pocatello, just the climate of intolerance, hatred. He was discriminated against when it came to jobs and housing.”

When he first arrived in Pocatello from Spokane as a 15-year-old 10th grader, Zicha said Ryan was a straight-A student and a life scout in the Boy Scouts. “He was very strong and capable and self-confident,” she said. “Within just a very, very short time in school he started being first verbally harassed and then it moved to violence.” At one point, 15-year-old Ryan was pulled out of a party by three young men “who literally dragged him out in the snow and they beat him,” Zicha said. “By the time the semester was over, the first semester, my son was failing, for the first time ever – he was failing in school and just desperate to get out of Pocatello.”

ZIcha said she and her husband arranged to have Ryan return to grandparents in Spokane to finish school, but when he was 18, he had health problems and she brought him home so his parents could help him, figuring he was done with high school and the bullying would be over. Instead, Ryan was turned away from jobs and rental apartments for being gay, she said. In January of 2011, he drove up into the snow at the Pebble Creek ski area and shot himself to death.

Zicha was followed by Carmen Stanger, whose gay daughter, Matty, a Pocatello high school student, committed suicide on Feb. 18, 2014. “And on Feb. 20 is when one of the protests took place. And had I not been planning my daughter’s memorial, I would have been beside Nicole LeFavour on behalf of my daughter. But instead there were many people there beside Nicole that were carrying her picture.” Sounds of sniffling filled the courtroom as Stanger spoke. “One life lost is too many, and you can’t put a price on that, absolutely cannot,” Stanger said. “My daughter wanted so much to live and stay in Idaho.”

As she stepped down from the witness stand, defense attorney Dan Skinner passed boxes of tissues to the audience. LeFavour, a former Idaho state senator, is the first protester up for sentencing this afternoon.

ISP says costs for ‘Add the 4 Words’ protests ran close to $24,000

The state has now called Maj. Steve Richardson of the Idaho State Police, who oversees executive protection and capitol security for the ISP, to address the “Add the 4 Words” protests at the Capitol this year. He read a statement including these stats from this year’s legislative session: “109 individuals were charged with 192 separate misdemeanor violations during the protests on Feb. 3, 20, and 27, and March 4, 6, 7, 12, 14 and 18, 2014.” Richardson said the protesters violated fire codes dealing with egress and ingress, depleted limited law enforcement resources, impacted the Ada County Jail, and limited access to “state facilities and public proceedings by state employees and other members of the public.”

Richardson estimated that the cost to the ISP was close to $24,000, including $6,000 to add an additional trooper for the final weeks of the session in response to the protests. The protesters, he said, were “courteous and cooperative.”

Riggers on protests: ‘We couldn’t go where we normally would’

Prosecutor John S. Dinger began the “Add the 4 Words” sentencing hearing this afternoon by reading a statement from Idaho Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Sarah Jane McDonald. She said visitors to the Capitol are expected to “behave in a civil manner. … So what happens when visitors do not behave in a civil manner, when they selfishly think that their cause is special and justifies disruptive measures?” She recounted in her statement how she said she was pushed while blocking “Add the 4 Words” protesters from a restricted staircase in the Senate. “People were prevented from doing their jobs,” she said. “Unless we convince them in some way that their disrupting the legislative process is unacceptable, Idaho will be forced to go the way of other states” and restrict public access, she said in the statement.

The state then called Fred Riggers, 72, who is legally blind and recounted how he’s frequented the state Capitol during legislative sessions for the past 14 years. “It’s the best comedy club in town,” Riggers said, in response to a question from prosecutor Whitney Welsh as to why he goes. “I participate in our state government.” Riggers said “Add the 4 Words” protesters blocked him and others one day in the foyer of the Senate and would not allow him to leave, and another time blocked him and others from entering the ground-floor wing of the Senate where committee meetings had been scheduled to take place. “I was almost ashamed of what was going on,” Riggers told the court. “This was Idaho with an open Capitol. All of a sudden it was a lockdown situation, because we couldn’t go where we normally would.”

Full house for ‘Add the 4 Words’ sentencing this afternoon

There’s a full house this afternoon for the sentencing of two dozen “Add the 4 Words” protesters at the Ada County Courthouse for offenses relating to protests at the state Capitol during this year’s legislative session in favor of adding the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the Idaho Human Rights Act. Between those up for sentencing, their supporters, volunteer attorneys and members of the press, the room has filled; extra chairs were added to seat the crowd of more than 70, but finally the last few people who arrived late were turned away.

A dozen Idaho attorneys, organized by Boise Attorney Dan Skinner, are representing the protesters pro bono.

Irony: Labrador’s biggest donation in past reporting period came from Eric Cantor’s PAC

A look through 1st District GOP Congressman Raul Labrador’s latest campaign finance report turns up an a bit of irony: Labrador’s biggest donation - $5,000 for the reporting period and $10,000 for the election cycle to date – came from the Every Republican is Crucial PAC – ERIC-PAC, the PAC operated by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Cantor was defeated in the Virginia Republican primary last month; Labrador mounted an unsuccessful challenge to his successor in his leadership post, losing to House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy.

Overall, Labrador raised a surprisingly paltry $48,145 for his re-election campaign during the two-month reporting period that ended June 30, while his Democratic challenger, state Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, wasn’t far behind at $42,838. Labrador’s total seems small for a second-term congressional incumbent seeking a third term – his campaign expenses for the period were $53,147, more than he raised – but he carried over big sums from earlier, allowing him to close out the quarter with $416,522 in cash in his campaign warchest.

Based on his spending, Labrador also clearly didn’t feel financially pinched in his campaign during the quarter: He continued to pay wife Rebecca a $2,022 monthly salary for working on the campaign, and he made $1,000 donations to three other congressional hopefuls’ campaigns, two from Alabama and one from Georgia: Dr. Chad Mathis, a conservative Christian and surgeon who lost a GOP primary in Alabama; Gary Palmer, longtime head of the Alabama Policy Institute who is running for Congress there; and Dr. Bob Johnson, another physician and Christian conservative seeking a GOP nomination in Georgia. Labrador reported no debt.

Ringo’s campaign finance report filed with the Federal Election Commission shows some contrasts with Labrador’s. While $19,000 of the congressman’s donations during the period came from PACs, including the Comcast Corp. PAC at $2,000 and New York Life Insurance PAC at $2,600, Ringo got just one PAC donation, $2,000 from the NEA Fund for Children and Public Education.

Labrador’s individual contributions of $29,045 included donations of $1,000 or more from 13 individuals in Idaho; nine in-state donors who gave less than $1,000; and five out-of-state individuals, all of whom gave less than $1,000.

Ringo received more than 80 donations of less than $1,000 from individuals in Idaho; two for $1,000 or more from Idaho individuals; and nearly 70 donations of less than $1,000 either from out-of-state individuals or from individuals who donated through the Democratic Party’s “Act Blue” online fundraising site. Ringo ran up $19,500 in debt, all in loans to her own campaign; and reported $13,877 in the bank at the end of the reporting period.

New Miss Idaho proudly wears insulin pump

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Sierra Sandison has become a role model for many ever since she took the Miss Idaho crown after learning to embrace her diabetes diagnosis with pride. Sandison, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2012, wore her insulin pump clipped to her clothing at last week's Miss Idaho pageant, including during the swimsuit competition. The Times-News (http://bit.ly/1qwM8gP) reports Sandison beat 19 women vying for the title and will now compete in the Miss America Pageant in September. Sandison's story has since gone viral as photos of her wearing the pump —which automatically administers insulin without shots— have shown up on Good Morning America and other national media outlets. The last Miss America contestant to wear an insulin pump on stage was Nicole Johnson in 1999, who won the crown. Click below for a full report.

Many Idahoans likely to qualify for payments under DRAM settlement, deadline approaching…

Many Idahoans who bought products containing DRAM, or dynamic random access memory chips, between 1998 and 2002 are due a refund thanks to a price-fixing settlement, according to Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, but the Aug. 1 deadline for filing claims is past approaching. DRAM typically is either sold separately or pre-installed in electronic devices such as computers, servers, graphics cards, video game consoles, MP3 players, printers, PDAs, DVD players, and digital video recorders. The minimum refund for people who submit qualifying claims is $10; click below for more information.

Idaho presses 9th Circuit to reverse court ruling overturning state’s ‘fetal pain’ abortion law

Idaho argued its appeal in the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals today of a federal judge's ruling overturning the state's “fetal pain” abortion law that sought to ban all abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy. Idaho was one of seven states to enact such laws in 2011; it was voided by a federal judge in March of 2013 as unconstitutional. Jennie Linn McCormack, an eastern Idaho woman, and Richard Hearn, an attorney and medical doctor, sued the state after she was charged with felony illegal abortion because prosecutors said she took an abortion-causing drug obtained over the Internet to terminate a pregnancy that was past the 20-week mark. In its appeal, the state contended McCormick couldn't argue the law put an undue burden on women because charges against her had been dropped and the case was moot. But that argument drew sharp questions Friday from the appeals court judges to Deputy Idaho Attorney General Clay Smith immediately drew sharp questions Friday, especially after it was determined the 5-year statute of limitations on the charge initially faced by McCormick hasn't expired. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Keith Ridler.

Idaho gets record-low interest rate on annual sale of tax anticipation notes

Idaho got its best interest rate ever this year on its annual sale of tax anticipation notes, which the state uses to manage its cash flow throughout the year. This year’s sale of $475 million in notes, completed last month, brought an interest rate of just .11 basis points, or 11/100ths of a percentage point. “That’s virtually free money,” said state Treasurer Ron Crane. Last year’s rate, which set the previous record low, was .19 basis points. Crane said the state drew orders from buyers who wanted $3.1 billion in Idaho’s notes when it only had $475 million to sell. “So we bumped the interest rate down to 11, and the buyers all held.”

He estimated the savings to the state’s taxpayers compared to last year’s costs at nearly $400,000; each basis point in interest costs $47,500. “Idaho paper is extremely valuable in the marketplace, because investors know they will get paid back,” Crane said. “This is because we have a track record of managing our finances well.”

Crane’s annual trip to the financial markets in New York for the sale, which typically includes a bevy of state officials, made headlines in 2011 amid reports that the Idaho group traveled in 10-person stretch limos in the Big Apple. Crane defended the practice, saying it was the most efficient way of transporting the group in the city and it was also what his predecessors had done, but he’s discontinued it; Idaho’s delegation to the New York financial markets now travels in SUV’s from a car service.  

BSU says it will rescind security fee charged for gun-rights event

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Boise State University officials say they will rescind the security fees they charged a student group for bringing a guns right advocate earlier this year to speak at the campus. However, university attorney Kevin Satterlee says BSU will not change its event policies as requested by the Idaho Freedom Foundation and American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho. Satterlee says the university charged Young Americans for Liberty $465 for the May event after seeing a community member encourage attendees to bring weapons on campus. Not providing extra security, Satterlee says, would be considered negligence. The ACLU and Freedom Foundation has described the university's event policies unconstitutional and threatened to sue unless they were amended.

License-plate profiling case can proceed to trial

A motorist with Colorado license plates who contends the Idaho State Police profiled him because of his plates and fruitlessly detained and searched his car for marijuana can proceed with his federal lawsuit. Lawyers for Darien Roseen amended the lawsuit complaint after the state of Idaho contended the ISP was protected by the state’s sovereign immunity and couldn’t be sued. All sides have now agreed to proceed under the amended complaint, which drops the ISP as a target but includes ISP Trooper Justin Klitch, along with Payette County, the city of Fruitland, and several of their officers who participated in the traffic stop.

Roseen, 69, 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. He then 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. A trial in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Boise likely will be set for early 2015, according to court documents.

100 homes burn in north-central Washington wildfire near Leavenworth

As wildfires continue to burn in Idaho, sending smoke everywhere from Boise to the North Idaho Panhandle – where burning has been banned in all five northernmost counties due to wildfire smoke - an estimated 100 homes have burned in the Carlton Complex Fire in north-central Washington. That blaze is burning in the scenic Methow Valley near Leavenworth; it had blackened 260 square miles by this morning, up dramatically from the last estimate of 28 square miles. You can read a full report here at spokesman.com. 

Peterson says he’s filed lawsuit against GOP officials

Embattled state GOP Chairman Barry Peterson announced today that he and six backers have filed a lawsuit in state district court in Twin Falls County, challenging the state GOP central committee meeting that's been set for Aug. 2 by petition of several counties' delegations to pick new state party leaders. The lawsuit targets Mike Mathews and Cindy Siddoway, whom Peterson termed “the two party members who illegally issued a call for a special meeting of the State Central Committee while unilaterally declaring that all state party offices were vacant.”

“It is with great regret that we have had to take this legal action to enforce state party rules,” Peterson said in a statement. “Since June 12, 2014, much effort has been put forth to sit down with Gov. Otter to resolve this issue. With no response from the governor, this action is necessary to uphold the integrity of the party and the party Rules.” Click below for his full statement. Peterson called for a meeting of the same body on Aug. 9. While he maintains he's still the state party chairman, others say his term ended after two years when this year's state party convention ended in disarray, without any votes on leaders, resolutions or a party platform. Instead, factions within the party spent the entire convention fighting over whether or not to allow several counties' delegations to participate. The Idaho Statesman has posted Peterson's complaint here.

Craven to retire, Otter names new Pardons & Parole chief

Olivia Craven, executive director of the state Commission of Pardons and Parole since 1984, is retiring in mid-August, and today Gov. Butch Otter named her replacement: Sandy Jones, who now heads up jail re-entry programs and alternative sentencing for the Ada County Sheriff's Office. “Sandy’s impressive work establishing processes and managing the startup of a misdemeanor probation program for Idaho’s most populous county, as well as her enthusiasm for and understanding of what’s at stake in implementing Idaho’s Justice Reinvestment efforts to reduce the number of offenders returning to prison after their release, make her an excellent choice for executive director,” Otter said in a statement; click below for his full announcement.

Pardons & Parole is in the midst of a “significant transition,” Otter said, with the start of Idaho's new justice reinvestment program, which will try to better monitor offenders on probation and parole while reserving prison cells for the most dangerous criminals; the hope is to save millions in costs to build new prisons. “Almost everyone in our prisons eventually gets out,” Jones said. “Whether they succeed in society is up to them, but our job is to carefully assess when they are ready and help commissioners make good decisions about maximizing the chances of success while minimizing the risk to the public.”

She added, “I am a reentry person, so I’m looking forward to being a part of making the Justice Reinvestment reforms and our supervision system work.”

Langhorst named state parks chief

Current Idaho state tax commissioner and former state Sen. David Langhorst, D-Boise, has been named the new director of the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation. Charles Correll, state parks board chairman, said, “The Board selected David Langhorst based on his experience, management skills, and proven ability to lead through times of change.  He also has a strong desire to ensure access to Idaho’s many outdoor parks and recreational opportunities for future generations.” Langhorst will start Aug. 4, replacing Nancy Merrill, who has served as director since 2009. Idaho has 30 state parks, in addition to numerous recreational programs and trails.

Langhorst, a former commercial real estate appraiser, served in the state House from 2002 to 2004 and in the Senate from 2004 to 2008, rising to minority leader; he was appointed to the state Tax Commission in July of 2009. He's been a high school teacher, a hunter safety instructor, and an active member of sportsmen's and wildlife groups. Click below for the department's full announcement.

Balukoff offers 3-1 match for donors to his campaign against Otter

A.J. Balukoff, the Democratic candidate for governor of Idaho, is matching contributions to his campaign by putting in $3 for every $1 donated this month, Idaho Statesman political columnist Dan Popkey reports today. Balukoff’s pledge is credible because the multimillionaire businessman can afford it – and he said when he announced his candidacy against two-term GOP Gov. Butch Otter that he was willing to dip into his own funds to help finance his campaign.

“I know that pay-to-pay politics will put my opponent at a financial advantage, but I was surprised to find out how slanted it is,” Popkey reported Balukoff said in a fundraising pitch sent out to supporters this week, headed, “Jump in July: TRIPLE MATCH!” Balukoff told Popkey, “I think it’s important that this race be competitive and that we talk about issues. People pay attention when they realize there’s a viable alternative to Gov. Otter.” Popkey’s full report is online here.

Otter taps Hill and Critchfield for state Board of Education openings

Gov. Butch Otter announced his choices for two openings of the state Board of Education today: David Hill of Boise, retired executive vice president of the Battelle Energy Alliance and deputy director for science and technology at the Idaho National Laboratory; and Debbie Critchfield of Oakley, a former member and chairman of the Cassia County School Board, current member of the Cassia County Republican Central Committee and an active education volunteer who served on the state technology task force. Hill will replace longtime board member Milford Terrell, who stepped down this month; Critchfield will replace Ken Edmunds, who left the board to become Otter's director of the Idaho Department of Labor in November. Otter called the field of applicants for the two posts “stellar,” saying in a statement, “Frankly, I couldn’t have made a bad choice. I’m very grateful for the willingness of all the candidates to serve and to help advance my vision for education in Idaho.” Click below for Otter's full announcement.

Idaho’s year-end budget surplus: $44.4M

Year-end state tax revenue figures announced yesterday showed that Idaho ended up with $7.2 million more than expected at the end of the fiscal year June 30, but the state actually has a significantly larger budget surplus than that. Here’s why: This year’s state budget didn’t call for spending all the tax revenue the state expected to collect. Instead, $36 million was transferred to various budget stabilization funds, and another $44.4 million was left unspent, creating a year-end balance or surplus.

The monthly Budget and Revenue Monitor from the Legislature’s budget staff lays out the figures; you can see it here. It shows the ending balance, or surplus, at the end of fiscal year 2014 at $44.4 million, $17.6 million higher than was anticipated at the close of this year’s legislative session.

Factors pushing the number higher, aside from the increased revenue collections, are year-end reversions of unspent money from various state agencies, including $6.4 million from the Catastrophic Health Care Program due to lower than anticipated costs; $5.9 million from other agencies; and $1.6 million in other year-end adjustments, all adding to the surplus. (If you’re doing the math, the Legislature’s budget figures already counted part of the $7.2 million based on revenue reports that came in before the Legislature adjourned; so by its calculation, the additional year-end boost from revenues was $3.6 million beyond expectations rather than $7.2 million.)

When lawmakers return to town in January, they’ll need to act on a series of deficiency warrants largely consisting of $17.5 million for firefighting costs; that would still leave more than $26 million from the surplus. An additional reversion from Medicaid also is expected to boost the total in August or September.

CdA had highest score for crisis center, but lost out due to local lawmakers’ opposition

Coeur d’Alene actually had the highest score in the competition for a state mental health crisis center by a slim margin, Coeur d’Alene Press reporter Taryn Thompson reports today, but lost out to Idaho Falls because North Idaho lawmakers didn’t support the project. North Idaho Reps. Kathy Sims, Vito Barbieri, and Ron Mendive and Sen. Bob Nonini all voted against SB 1352, which passed the House 28-6 and the Senate 53-14 and sought to establish three of the centers. JFAC approved funding for just one in the first year, putting three locations – Coeur d’Alene, Idaho Falls and Boise – in competition for it.

Thompson reported that the Department of Health & Welfare scored the competing proposals, then worked with the governor’s office to make the final choice. “The fact that a majority of legislators in eastern Idaho wanted the project helped in the final decision,” Otter’s press secretary, Jon Hanian, told the Press; he cited a “proven level of legislative support in eastern Idaho.”

You can read Thompson’s full report here; she obtained the scoring data through a public records request under the Idaho Public Records Act. Over the weekend, Thompson reported on the magnitude of the mental health crisis in North Idaho that had local officials hoping for funding for a 24-hour crisis center; see that report here. Letters in support of the Coeur d’Alene crisis center were signed by the county commissions and sheriffs of all five North Idaho Panhandle counties.

Barbieri told Thompson that law enforcement and others don’t need to “panic or specifically worry.” He said, “If it turns out that there's as dire a need here as opposed to somewhere else in the state, they'll get it. … Of course, with a bureaucrat, they all need it right away.”

Wildfire smoke arrives in Boise, likely to stick around for ‘a couple of weeks’

The familiar scent of wildfire smoke began wafting into town yesterday, and today it’s noticeably smoky in Boise. Smoke from the Whiskey Complex of fires in the Garden Valley area, along with some from fires in Oregon, filtered into the Treasure Valley overnight, and higher-level air flows are bringing in smoke from fires in Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Canada. “We seem to be getting a significant amount more smoke in the valley than we anticipated,” said Mike Toole, regional airshed coordinator for the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality.

And here’s the bad news: Tomorrow likely will be worse, and it’ll stick around. “We’re definitely going to have these smoke impacts lingering for the foreseeable future,” Toole said. “It could be a couple of weeks. … Just with the sheer amount of fires and where they’re located, we could be seeing smoke impacts for quite a while.”

Idaho City and Garden Valley hit red alert levels for air quality due to wildfire smoke today; that’s defined as unhealthy for everyone. Boise’s air quality was registering in the good-to-moderate range at mid-day; Idaho City was in the red zone. See real-time air monitoring online here from the Idaho DEQ; and smoke forecasts here. Tomorrow is predicted to be in the moderate range in Boise; the forecast warns that high-level smoke likely will settle in the Treasure Valley this evening after the sun sets. “We’re going to kind of see the same thing for a while,” Toole said.

Aggressive callers target Idahoans in ‘IRS agent’ scam

Idahoans increasingly are being targeted by a scam in which aggressive callers claim to be IRS agents and threaten arrest, liens, and even “bodily harm” if the victims don’t pay up immediately, Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden reported today. “We’ve seen steady reporting of the IRS scam in the last few months,” Wasden said, as he released the annual report of his Consumer Protection Division – which received more than 800 complaints over the past year and recovered $1.9 million in restitution for wronged consumers. “The best response is to simply hang up on these crooks.”

Jennifer Pedregon of Boise, shown here, said she heard her parents’ answering machine receive a call from what sounded like a real IRS agent – including badge number and phone number to call back – saying her dad owed taxes and needed to get back to the “agent,” “otherwise further legal action would be taken within eight to 10 days.” She was concerned, but then her cell phone rang, and she received an identical call, this time threatening her rather than her father. “I realized that that was probably not a legitimate IRS agent,” Pedregon said.

Deana DuVall of Meridian got a message on her answering machine from a heavily accented caller claiming to be an IRS agent and demanding a call back on her husband’s case. When she returned the call, the man demanded her phone number; she declined. “He started yelling at me,” she said. “He said, “We will have your husband arrested in 45 minutes – we’re coming.” The man called back later that afternoon, DuVall said. “We knew it had to be fraud. But it was scary, because they knew personal things about my husband and me – we don’t know how.” Both women filed complaints with the Attorney General’s office.  

Some of the scammers have managed to mask their phone numbers so it looks like the calls come from toll-free IRS numbers; some have correctly given the last four digits of the intended victim’s Social Security number. Brett DeLange, head of the office’s Consumer Protection Division, said, “The IRS is not going to call you and say you owe money. … That’s just not how they do business. You’re going to get a notice in the mail.” He said, “The most important message is hang up, and the sooner the better – don’t talk to these people. They’re criminals.”

Idaho has been receiving steady reports of the scam statewide in recent months, though it’s been around for several years, DeLange said. It’s among an array of consumer-protection issues the office addresses. Among the highlights of the past year for the office was the successful federal antitrust lawsuit rejecting the purchase of Saltzer Medical Group by St. Luke’s Health System; that ruling is now on appeal. The division also has recovered millions for Idahoans in cases involving everything from e-books to pharmaceutical pricing to discount clubs.

Wasden said the nearly $2 million in recoveries for Idaho consumers amounts to $2.72 for each taxpayer dollar appropriated for consumer operations in 2014. The full Consumer Protection Division annual report, released today, is online here.

Retired Justice Walters filling in as Idaho SupCourt Justice Warren Jones remains in hospital treatment in Utah

Idaho Supreme Court Justice Warren Jones is still being treated at a Utah hospital after taking ill June 6, just before the court was to hear oral arguments in Twin Falls, Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey reports this morning; Jones, 70, plans to return to Boise July 25, but his return to duty on the court has not been set. In his absence, retired Justice Jesse Walters has been filling in for Jones. That’s meant Walters had to listen to audio recordings of arguments in five cases heard in Twin Falls just after Jones became ill, to catch up and help decide them.

Popkey reports that former Justice Wayne Kidwell also is filling in, sitting on a sixth case argued in Twin Falls last month on which he’s been assigned to write the opinion, and handling two cases scheduled for argument in August.

Walters, who is now assigned a total of 20 cases, including two scheduled for argument July 29 and a dozen to be heard in August, told Popkey he’s been working mostly from home and going to the court about six hours a day, three days a week. “It wasn’t what we were planning to do this summer, but I’m available to help out,” he said. If necessary, he said, “I’m prepared to fill in for the rest of the year.” The nature of Jones’ illness hasn’t been disclosed. Court administrator Patti Tobias told Popkey, “We all expect a full recovery and we expect him back on the court.”

Jones, a native of Montpelier, was appointed to the court by Gov. Butch Otter in 2007 and won election to a full six-year term in 2008. Popkey’s full report is online here.

June tax revenues beat projections

Idaho state tax revenues came in strong in June, topping forecasts by 2.9 percent or $8.4 million. That put the state at $2.8154 billion in general fund tax collections for the fiscal year, which ended July 1; that’s 0.3 percent above the January 2014 forecast, or $7.2 million higher for the year.

Idaho’s general fund grew 2.4 percent from fiscal year 2013 to fiscal 2014, slightly faster than the predicted 2.1 percent. Individual income taxes were the strongest growth area, beating projections by $9.5 million, while sales taxes were slightly below forecasted growth, but still up 3.2 percent from the previous year. In 2013, sales tax collections grew 8 percent; the state Division of Financial Management noted that part of the reason for the slower growth in fiscal 2014 is that it’s the first year $18.9 million a year was diverted from sales tax collections to cover the cost of personal property tax relief legislation. Without that diversion, sales taxes would have shown 4.9 percent growth.

Gov. Butch Otter hailed the year-end figures, saying, “I’m proud that Idaho is committed to living within the taxpayers’ means, and I’m proud of the Legislature and our state employees for ensuring that commitment is met.” You can see the monthly General Fund Revenue Report here

Idaho, Washington lauded in new Pew report for rainy-day savings

A new study out today from the Pew Charitable Trusts identifies both Idaho and Washington as among just 12 states that do things right when it comes to saving for a rainy day – accounting for the volatility of their revenue streams in how they decide when and how much to save. “The practices followed by the 12 states that tie deposits to volatility stand out as examples of how revenue and economic fluctuations can be harnessed to smooth over changes in the business cycle,” the report found. But the other 38 states face just as much volatility in their revenues, it noted, and have suffered when downturns hit and they weren’t adequately prepared.

Idaho’s Budget Stabilization Fund law triggers a transfer from the general fund to the savings account whenever state general fund revenue grow by more than 4 percent from the previous year, with transfers up to a maximum of 1 percent of revenue. Washington made almost no contributions to its budget stabilization account through the 2000s, but voters passed a constitutional amendment in 2007 and another in 2011 requiring deposit to the rainy-day fund during windfalls years. “It’s there to capture whatever the next bubble is,” Jason Mercier of the Washington Policy Center said in the report.

“The choice to save is not always an easy one,” the report noted. “Setting aside revenue often means forgoing tax cuts or additional spending on programs. Over the long run, however, the tough choices states make in good times can prevent them from having to make even tougher ones during bad times, when residents may be least able to absorb the impact of tax increases or cutbacks in spending. Linking savings to actual fluctuations can harness growth without requiring contributions during lean years.”

The report did find some fault with Idaho’s process – the deposits to the Budget Stabilization Fund are “all or nothing” depending on the revenue growth level; even in boom years, no more than 1 percent is set aside, and when growth is below 4 percent, nothing is required to be added to the fund.

“No state is doing everything it should,” the report concluded. “With continued growth forecast for most states, the next several years offer a critical opportunity to make strategic adjustments to budget stabilization funds that will prepare states for the effects of volatility for years to come.” The full report is online here.

Idaho Lottery celebrates 25th year with record dividend to state of $49M

The Idaho Lottery celebrated its 25th year today by presenting a record dividend to the state of Idaho – the 11th straight year it’s set a record. This time, $49 million went to the state, to be divided between schools and the state’s Permanent Building Fund, which builds and maintains state buildings. That’s up $800,000 from last year’s profit. “The Idaho Lottery’s reputation for security and responsible play continues to remain unblemished,” said Jeff Anderson, state lottery director.

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter said the lottery’s success is a tribute to “the faith that the people in Idaho had in our ability to operate something as sensitive as a gaming operation – a lottery. What makes the lottery is the integrity. When they buy a ticket, there’s no monkey business with that. … They’ve got as good a chance (of winning) as anybody.” Otter noted that Idahoans were skeptical about the idea of a state lottery. “We had to go back twice to the people of Idaho,” he said, “and quite frankly, we won the lottery, and have won the lottery each and every year.”

Implementation of Idaho’s state lottery also opened the door to tribal gaming on the state’s Indian reservations, under federal law, and Otter said that’s overall been a win for the state as well, though he and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden recently filed an unsuccessful lawsuit attempting to block the Coeur d’Alene Tribe from opening a poker room at its North Idaho casino, and that dispute is ongoing.

Otter recalled when he chaired a gaming task force for then-Gov. Phil Batt and traveled the state, visiting all types of gaming operations, from tribal casinos to local race tracks. “We saw the proceeds from the tribal gaming actually being put to very good use, just like the use we put our lottery to,” Otter said, including investments in education, roads, water treatment and more. “Overall, I would say it has turned out to be a positive for the tribes,” he said, as well as “for those communities around the reservations.”

Mel Fisher, chairman of the state Lottery Commission, said the lottery’s sales have grown 50 percent in the past five years, and the dividend to the state’s schools and building fund has doubled in the past 10 years. On average over the past 25 years, the lottery has brought in more than $71,000 a day for the state, he noted.

The Idaho Lottery sold its first ticket in July of 1989; it was purchased by the late billionaire J.R. Simplot. This year’s dividend provides $30.625 million to schools, including $12.25 million for the bond levy equalization fund and $18.375 million for the state Department of Education’s building fund account. The Permanent Building Fund this year gets $18.375 million. Overall, dividends returned to the state from the lottery since its inception now total $649.5 million.

Contest canceled after 3,000 prize-bearing pingpong balls land - oops - on freeway

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BLACKFOOT, Idaho (AP) — Organizers of a southeastern Idaho aerial drop of 3,000 pingpong balls worth prizes immediately called off the event when the pilot missed the crowd and hit instead a nearby interstate highway. Aaron Moon and helpers on Saturday told revelers at Blackfoot Pride Days not to risk retrieving the pingpong balls amid high-speed traffic because organizes still planned to pass out prizes. Most of the pingpong balls can be exchanged for candy, but some are worth gift certificates up to $100. Moon says a new pilot attempted the drop this year but apparently didn't understand that pingpong balls lose speed quickly and drop straight down. Blackfoot Police Chief Kurt Asmus tells the Idaho State Journal (http://bit.ly/SxHTxs) that no charges are planned, but police plan to work with organizers next year.

Land Board sets auction for 36 more state-owned cabin sites on Payette Lake

Idaho auctioned off 13 state-owned cabin sites at Payette Lake in 2013, 10 of them previously leased and three vacant. Now, with the first such voluntary auction – cabin owners who rent the lots under their cabins can decide whether they want to participate – coming up at Priest Lake on Aug. 28, the state has approved a second round of auctions at Payette Lake for later this year.

The state Department of Lands has received applications from 30 Payette Lake cabin site renters who want to go to auction; it’s proposing putting those 30 plus six vacant sites up for auction. The state Land Board voted unanimously this morning to go ahead with the auction of the 36 lots, to be held in November or December.

At the first Payette auction, all 13 sites sold, with a total selling price of $5.88 million. The 10 previously leased lots all were purchased by the owners of the cabins on them; only one saw competitive bidding, pushing the price up to $11,000 above the appraised value, which is set as the minimum bid. The three vacant lots all saw competitive bidding. All three sold for more than their appraised values, with one appraised at $662,400 selling for $1 million.

North Idaho has highest crime rates in the state, eclipsing Boise area

North Idaho has the highest crime rate in the state, eclipsing the more-urbanized Boise area, according to the state’s latest crime statistics. It’s a trend that’s been growing in recent years. The Boise area had a much higher crime rate than the Panhandle as recently as 2008, but since then, North Idaho’s rate has surged comparatively, even as the state’s overall crime rates have dropped.

“Our guys are working hard and they’re doing a good job, but it’s just trying to keep up is the hard part,” said Kootenai County Sheriff Ben Wolfinger, pictured above out on patrol. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Andrus recovering after lung cancer surgery

Former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus is recovering after lung cancer surgery, Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey reports; that’s why Andrus missed former Gov. John Evans’ funeral on Friday. Andrus told Popkey it “troubled me a great deal” to miss the funeral, but he told Evans’ family and current Gov. Butch Otter, “Hey, I’m flat on my back – I can’t move.” Andrus, 82, said a cancerous tumor was successfully removed from his lung and the doctors tell him he won’t require further treatment. He was hospitalized for five days, and expecting to be able to return to regular activities in six to eight weeks. “I had – past tense – lung cancer,” Andrus told Popkey. “They couldn’t find evidence of malignancy anyplace else in my beautifully shaped, youthful body. Well, I guess that was my phrase.” Popkey’s full report is online here.

Buoyed by strong earnings, state endowment fund hits record $1.7B

Idaho’s state endowment fund earned 18.8 percent on its investments in the past year, investment manager Larry Johnson told the state Land Board this morning. He said that’s the second-highest earnings year in its history; the fund is now worth $1.736 billion, a new record. The endowment fund’s earnings mainly benefit the state’s public schools, along with other institutions. The Endowment Fund Investment Board will meet in mid-August to finalize its recommendations on distributions to the schools and other beneficiaries in fiscal year 2016; that recommendation will come to the Land Board in September. Distributions to schools are likely to rise slightly, from $31.3 million a year to $31.5 million, now that reserves have reached the target level.

“Likely the fund will earn between 6 and 7 percent over the next 10 years,” Johnson said, saying he can’t promise a continuation of the recent very strong earnings. Over the past five years, the fund’s returns were 14.6 percent; over the past 10 years, 8.5 percent.

Idaho Fish & Game agrees to consider trapping restrictions after dogs killed

After two dogs were killed in traps while out on walks with their owners in North Idaho this winter – and amid increasing incidents of dogs being caught in traps statewide – Idaho’s Fish and Game Commission has agreed to look at new rules to restrict certain trapping practices. “The tragedy of those two dogs is just that, an absolute tragedy,” said Brad Corkill, the Panhandle representative on the Fish and Game Commission.

Idaho won’t ban trapping – it’s enshrined in the state Constitution, thanks to a hunting rights amendment overwhelmingly approved by the state’s voters in 2012 – but it’s working to find reasonable restrictions on certain types of traps to allow trapping to continue while protecting pets. The Fish & Game Commission voted unanimously last week to enter negotiated rule-making with stakeholders for new restrictions on “conibear” or body-gripping traps placed on the ground; both North Idaho dogs were killed within a minute by baited conibear traps set out to catch bobcats. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com, and watch an 8-minute video here from Idaho Fish & Game on how to release your dog from a trap.

Stung by IEN mess, lawmakers hail stricter rules for state contract oversight

Idaho’s state Division of Purchasing is making progress toward better monitoring of multimillion-dollar state contracts, according to a new state report to lawmakers. Incensed over big problems with big contracts, lawmakers have passed four pieces of legislation in the past two years calling for better oversight; as a result, the division has developed enhanced monitoring requirements for service contracts that are worth $5 million or more over the life of the contract, along with other measures. Though that figure accounts for just 45 current contracts, it covers $2.6 billion in state funding commitments.

“That’s big bucks – billions,” said Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, co-chair of the Legislature’s joint budget committee and a member of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee, which today received the new report from the Legislature’s Office of Performance Evaluations. She said lawmakers were spurred by problems with the multimillion-dollar contract the state Department of Administration signed with Education Networks of America for a broadband network to connect state high schools; this year, that contract for the Idaho Education Network ended up costing the state millions more than expected due to questions over the original contract award holding up federal “e-rate” payments that were supposed to cover three-quarters of the cost.

“I think the eyes opened,” Bell said. “There were details that were troublesome.” Big contracts like that are happening at “all levels of government, and no one was paying attention,” she said.

Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, JLOC co-chair, said, “Clearly we’ve had some difficulties, and I’m very happy that people are paying attention. We’re going to have to very carefully monitor our progress on this and make sure that we’re getting results. I would say we’re part-way there … but I wouldn’t say we’re at the finish line yet.”

The new report, a follow-up to one issued in January of 2013 on how the state could strengthen its contract management, notes that an array of contracts still are exempt from state purchasing rules – those issued by the Legislature, the judiciary, and under the offices of statewide elected officials like the state schools superintendent. The 2013 report called for lawmakers to consider setting minimum standards for all state contracting, including those areas, but no legislation was introduced. Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, said today that he’s working with a group of lawmakers to address that and is hoping for bipartisan backing.

As a result of the legislation already passed, Bill Burns, head of the state Division of Purchasing, said administrative rule changes are in the works and will be presented to lawmakers in January to follow an array of recommendations from the 2013 report, from developing best practices for all agencies in contracting; to adding more oversight of big contracts, including from the division, the agency, and outside subject-matter experts; to notifying the Legislature prior to contract extensions and renewals. Burns said the division will ask lawmakers next year for a new training position to ensure the new requirements can be carried out; if the Legislature expands the division’s oversight to now-exempt agencies, it may need another position as well, he said.

Ringo said, “This is a direction we need to go, and I think that we’re making progress.”

When a past Idaho governor wanted his own state party chairman, he got him…

Idaho Statesman political columnist Dan Popkey cornered a half-dozen people for video remembrances at former Idaho Gov. John V. Evans’ funeral last week, and came up with this interesting anecdote: When Evans, a Democrat, became governor in 1977, he wanted – and got – his own man as state party chairman. It’s a relevant tale as current Gov. Butch Otter has been bedeviled by the fight over the chairmanship of his party, the Republicans.

Popkey reports that Evans simply asked then-Democratic Party Chairman John Greenfield for his resignation. Greenfield told Popkey he replied, “Why should I do that?” The governor looked him in the eye and said, “Because I’m governor and you’re not.” Popkey reports that Greenfield mulled it over and consulted with his dad, also a former state party chairman, who advised him, “You’d better do that, kid. If you don’t do that and he loses the election, they’re never going to forgive you.” Popkey’s report is online here, along with six video remembrances. “It was just common sense,” Greenfield told Popkey. “That's what he wanted and he was governor and that was it.”

Otter has been feuding with a faction of his own party since it dislodged his choice for chairman, Kirk Sullivan, in 2008; now, depending on which side you believe, the party either has no chairman, or former Chairman Barry Peterson continues to hold the office because the party’s disastrous state convention failed to even hold votes on leaders, resolutions or a party platform. Party leaders aligned with Otter have called a state central committee meeting for Aug. 2 to fill the vacancy; Peterson has called a state central committee meeting for Aug. 9 for the same purpose. The Republican National Committee has blessed the Aug. 2 meeting and said its selection will be the officially recognized leader.

Bowe Bergdahl returns to active duty with the Army as of today, posted at Texas base

Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who spent five years as a Taliban captive in Afghanistan, returned to regular duty today, the AP reports, with a desk job at a Texas base that makes him available to Army investigators for questioning about his disappearance in 2009. It's the same base, Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston in Texas, where he has been decompressing and recuperating from the effects of his lengthy captivity. His exact administrative duties were not immediately disclosed, but a Pentagon spokesman, Army Col. Steve Warren, told the AP that Bergdahl is not restricted in any way. “He is a normal soldier now,” Warren said. Click below for a full report from AP national security writer Robert Burns in Washington, D.C.

Tax-protesting Idaho GOP delegate says we’re seeing ‘growing pains of a revitalized party’

Hari Heath, a Benewah County delegate to the tumultuous Idaho State Republican Party convention in Moscow last month, opines in an op-ed piece today about the convention, which ended in disarray with no votes on leadership, resolution or a party platform: “These are the growing pains of a revitalized party worthy of the public’s participation.” Adds Heath, “The Otters, Clarks, Rischs and Loebs of the elite have lost the heart and soul of the Republican Party because corruption and cronyism is no longer assembled. The assembled body of the Republican people has spoken.” The full op-ed piece, published in the Idaho Statesman today, is online here.

Heath and his wife, owners of logging and archery businesses in Santa, filed an unsuccessful lawsuit in 1998 against the Idaho State Tax Commission after the Heaths failed to file or pay state income taxes in 1995 and 1996; they contended they lived in the “Republic of Idaho” and the Tax Commission had no authority over them. They lost; the state Court of Appeals rejected their appeal in 2000. Heath also went to court to mount a lengthy fight against charges of failure to purchase a driver’s license or register his car; a jury found him guilty and his appeals were unsuccessful. Heath's piece in the Statesman ran under the headline, “Integrity matters to Idaho Republicans, who stand firm.”

Fish & Game Commission comes out against Boulder-White Clouds monument

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: SALMON, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Fish and Game Commission is opposing the proposed Boulder-White Clouds National Monument for fear of losing control of wildlife management in the 592,000-acre area. The decision this past week during a meeting in Salmon was unanimous. The Times-News reports (http://bit.ly/1sPIpYB) that the commission approved a letter opposing the monument to Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter and the Idaho Congressional Delegation. It was supported by several area hunters but drew immediate criticism from sportsmen's groups who long have promoted the monument as a way to enhance habitat for hunting and fishing opportunities under Fish and Game control. Commission Chairman Fred Trevey, of Lewiston, said without state sovereignty there won't be any meaningful hunting, fishing and trapping in the proposed monument area.

Idaho health insurance exchange losing two of its top four staffers

Idaho’s state health insurance exchange, YourHealthIdaho.org, is losing two of its top three staffers – Executive Director Amy Dowd is leaving to become CEO of the New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange, and Alberto Gonzalez, operations project manager and a former bureau chief for the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare, is leaving for a consulting firm.

Steven Weeg, chairman of the board of the Idaho exchange, said the board will work with Dowd, Gonzalez and the rest of the staff on a transition plan; Dowd was hired in 2013, and hired Gonzalez shortly afterward, along with marketing and communications director Jody Olson. The staff also includes finance director Patrick Kelly.

“We are thankful for all Amy has done for us,” Weeg said in a statement. “When she first started, Idaho’s exchange was just an idea. With her leadership we built an exchange from the ground up and beat everyone’s expectations for the first open enrollment period. Amy has put us on the right path and we are confident YourHealthIdaho will continue to succeed in the 2015 open enrollment period and beyond.”

ITD board approves 80 mph speed limits for three southern Idaho freeway routes

The Idaho Transportation Board has voted unanimously to approve 80 mph speed limits for southern Idaho freeway stretches on I-84, I-86 and I-15 that now are 75 mph, but only after a long discussion of questions about the changes and with the condition that the new limits be reviewed in one year. The board’s resolution, approved this afternoon during its meeting in Coeur d’Alene, takes note of comments received from the Idaho Trucking Association and AAA of Idaho, and also notes that the new state law allowing the higher speeds requires the board’s concurrence for them to be imposed. The ITD's staff had recommended the changes, after traffic studies showed motorists already are traveling that fast on those routes.

Former governor lies in state in rotunda

The body of former Idaho Gov. John V. Evans is now lying in state in the rotunda of the state Capitol, and will be until 4 p.m. Here, friends, well-wishers, acquaintance and fans line up to pay respects to Evans’ family, including his wife, Lola.

The casket was carried in by a military honor guard, and three living Idaho governors, former Govs. Phil Batt and Dirk Kempthorne and current Gov. Butch Otter, presented a wreath and saluted the two-plus term Democrat who was Idaho’s 27th governor, serving from 1977 to 1987. “Gov. Evans firmly led our state through challenging times and was able to do so by working across partisan divides,” Kempthorne said in a statement. There were no speeches at the Capitol ceremony today.

Evans’ funeral is at 5 p.m. today at the Cathedral of the Rockies in Boise; a memorial service and burial will follow tomorrow in Malad.

Could Bujak’s Libertarian bid draw enough votes to tip gov’s race from Otter to Balukoff?

Former Canyon County prosecutor John Bujak says he thinks he can win his Libertarian bid for governor of Idaho, and told Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey today, “I represented myself through five criminal trials in the last three years. The establishment didn’t expect me to win, but I did thanks to the voice of the people who served on my juries. The establishment doesn’t expect me to win the governor’s race either. Come November, I guess we will see what the people of Idaho have to say about that.”

Bujak, formerly a Republican, was charged with fraud and theft, but was acquitted three times and juries were unable to reach a verdict two other times. Popkey suggested if Bujak runs strong as a third-party candidate, his run could tip a close race to Democratic challenger A.J. Balukoff over two-term incumbent GOP Gov. Butch Otter.

Bujak responded that he’s not in it as a “spoiler,” but listed factors he said will help him draw votes, including that nearly 60 percent of Idaho voters aren’t affiliated with either party; the “large number of disenfranchised Millennials and Gen X’ers who have not traditionally registered to vote because they have no hope that their vote will make a difference based upon the choices at the polls;” and “the fact that the Republican party in Idaho is currently imploding. How can the Republicans lead Idaho if they cannot even organize and lead their own political party?” You can read Popkey’s full post here.

FCC approves e-rate changes that could fund WiFi in Idaho schools, libraries

Changes to federal e-rate funding that could make money available to fund WiFi in Idaho schools and libraries was approved by the FCC today, Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News reports today; you can read his full report here.

Former Gov. Evans to lie in state at the Capitol today

Former Idaho Gov. John V. Evans will lie in state at the Capitol today from 1-4 p.m.; his funeral will follow at 5 p.m. at the Cathedral of the Rockies. A memorial service and burial will follow tomorrow in Malad, where Evans, who was 89, was born and where he served as mayor and was a leading citizen.

Former Idaho Govs. Phil Batt and Dirk Kempthorne will join current Gov. Butch Otter, escorted by Idaho National Guard Adjutant General Gary Sayler, to walk from the governor’s office to the ground floor of the Capitol and lay a wreath at 1 p.m.; the public is invited to pay their respects from 1-4. Evans, a Democrat who served as Idaho’s 27th governor from 1977 to 1987, held public office for more than 35 years; he also was the president of his family-owned bank, D.L. Evans Bank, presiding over the bank’s significant expansion in the state. You can read his full obituary here. He is survived by his wife, Lola; brother Don; five children, 15 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that memorial contributions be made to any Idaho public school, college or university, or charity.

Dog shot by CdA police was actually black lab named ‘Arfee,’ not pit bull…

The owner of a dog fatally shot by a Coeur d’Alene Police officer on Wednesday says the dog wasn’t a “vicious pit bull,” as initially reported by the police department in a news release Wednesday, but a 2-year-old black Labrador named “Arfee.”

Coeur d’Alene Police Chief Ron Clark, in a statement today, said the department is reviewing the shooting incident. “The Police Department had a veterinarian examine the dog and it has been identified as a lab mix,” Clark said. “We understand the grief the family is dealing with due to the loss of their pet. We also understand the distress this has caused for citizens,” Clark said. “The officer who shot the dog is also distraught over this incident.”

Police reported that they were responding to a report of a suspicious van, possibly containing someone watching young children nearby. When an officer approached the van on the driver’s side, he reported that a dog he thought was a pit bull lunged out the window toward his face, prompting him to fire his service weapon, striking the dog in the chest and killing it; no one was in the van. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Auditors: State Treasurer Crane hasn’t documented reviews after inappropriate transfer

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Auditors with the Idaho Legislature say State Treasurer Ron Crane has not provided enough evidence that a full review was conducted following an inappropriate money transfer. The auditors found earlier this year Crane's office overrode internal controls meant to contain financial risk and the transfer resulted in a loss of at least $10.2 million loss of taxpayer money. The 90-day follow-up audit says Crane's office asserts it has reviewed its securities lending transactions but has only provided state officials with documentation for two specific transactions. Crane, a four-term treasurer, has disagreed with the report's findings. He did not immediately return calls from The Associated Press. The report also says state auditors will assess the effectiveness of Crane's office reorganization in a later review.

Click below for a full report from AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi.

New law requires ITD board to review 80 mph speeds, but board delegated that to its staff

Idaho's new 80 mph speed limit law specifically requires that the state Transportation Board approve any speed limit boosts under the new law – the bill repeated that requirement four times – but the board delegated the matter to its staff and hadn't planned to review the changes. Then, after the department announced that an array of southern Idaho freeway routes would go to 80 mph on July 1 and changes to North Idaho routes were being studied, it heard concerns from the public and changed course. Now, the board will review the proposed higher speeds in southern Idaho at its regular meeting Friday in Coeur d’Alene.

Board members and department officials say they don't think they violated the new law.“I guess it might be kind of a gray area,” said Idaho Transportation Department Director Brian Ness. ITD Board Chairman Jerry Whitehead said, “The board delegates a lot of things. However, we’re going to have a review of that whole thing” at the board meeting.

Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, author of the new law, SB 1284, said he intended the board's review to allow for public input. But Whitehead says he sees little need for public input, as the department's speed studies provide that by documenting the speeds drivers are going on the routes now. “If the traffic is already going 80 mph … then it’s probably a no-brainer,” Whitehead said. “I don’t know as we need public input.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Murder trial date set for grandson of state prisons chief

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: TWIN FALLS, Idaho (AP) — The first-degree murder trial for the grandson of the chief of the Idaho Department of Correction is scheduled to begin July 21 in south-central Idaho. The Times-News reports (http://bit.ly/1oKp3mO) that attorneys met Wednesday to discuss pretrial matters involving 23-year-old Bradly Frank James of Twin Falls. He has pleaded not guilty to the Dec. 12 fatal shooting and stabbing of 58-year-old Larry Ray Miller in Filer. James is being held in the Twin Falls County Jail without bond. Brent Reinke has been the director of the Idaho Department of Correction since 2007. He took a two-week leave of absence in mid-March to address his grandson's prosecution. An agency spokeswoman says he returned to work on March 27.

Federal e-rate changes could benefit Idaho school WiFi, but offer no help for IEN mess

Changes to the federal e-rate system could make money available to Idaho’s public schools to offset the costs of providing WiFi services for Idaho schools and libraries in the future, reports Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News. The federal money could help Idaho expand WiFi services to middle and elementary schools, he writes; you can read his full report here.

However, the e-rate changes in the works at the federal level offer no solution to Idaho’s continuing e-rate problem with the Idaho Education Network, Richert reports. The federal funds, which come from a surcharge on phone service, were supposed to pay for three-quarters of that broadband network that connects every Idaho high school. But the feds cut off payments in March of 2013 out of concern over whether Idaho illegally awarded the IEN contract, which is involved in litigation.

State Ed Board hires Dwight Johnson as new head of professional-technical ed

The Idaho State Board of Education today hired Dwight Johnson, most recently a senior administrator at the Idaho Department of Labor, as its new state head of professional-technical education. Johnson recently also was a finalist for the job of state director of legislative services, a position that ended up going to longtime legislative aide Eric Milstead instead.

“Dwight’s experience in education and workforce development will be tremendously beneficial to the division,” said Mike Rush, the state board’s executive director. “With his 20 years of experience in senior administrative positions and his relationships with industry, legislators, educators and students, Dwight is ideally suited to lead PTE in Idaho.”

Johnson holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Brigham Young University; a master’s in public administration from BSU; and is a candidate for a Ph.D in organizational learning and leadership from the University of Idaho. “I understand and am passionate about the value and benefit of professional-technical education for individuals, for businesses and for our state economy,” Johnson said in a statement. “I'm looking forward to working with PTE educators, our technical colleges and the business community to provide education and workforce development opportunities for Idahoans.”

Johnson, 56, will earn an annual salary of $104,998.

Liam, Sophia top Idaho baby names; 27.3% of Idaho births now out of wedlock

If you’re a baby boy in Idaho, chances are your name may be Liam. A girl? Sophia. Those were the most popular names given to babies born in Idaho in 2012, according to the state’s latest annual vital statistics report, out this week from the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare. For boys, the top 10 baby names, after Liam, were William, Mason, Jacob, Michael, Samuel, Wyatt, Logan, Ethan and Carter. For girls, after Sophia: Olivia, Emma, Ava, Abigail, Elizabeth, Chloe, Emily, Zoey, and Brooklyn. Among the unusual names given Idaho babies that year: Britannica, Versailles, Awesome and Truce.

The report also shows that Idaho births increased 2.8 percent in 2012, after three years of decreases; and out-of-wedlock births grew to a new high of 27.3 percent of births. The number of marriages dropped to the lowest rate recorded in Idaho in the past 60 years, 8.2 per 1,000 population, down from 8.6 a year earlier; the historical high since 1950 was 24.6. The number of divorces also dropped slightly, down 2.3 percent to 4.8 percent per 1,000 population, down from 4.9 a year earlier. Idaho’s highest divorce rate was recorded at 7.2 per 1,000 in 1978.

Idaho’s mortality rate – the number of deaths per 1,000 population – decreased slightly, and remained well below the national average. The top two causes of death in Idaho were heart disease and cancer, the same as the top two nationally; rates of suicide, Idaho’s eighth-leading cause of death, remained above the national average, at 18.7 per 100,000 population, compared the 12.3 nationally. Suicide was the 10th most common cause of death nationwide.

Ada County had the most births and deaths, by far; but it was edged by Kootenai County for the number of marriages occurring: 2,759 in Kootenai, compared to 2,664 in Ada. The full state report is online here.

Idaho Death Row inmate, 41, dies after long illness

An inmate on Idaho’s Death Row died today after an extended illness, the state Department of Correction announced; Michael Allen Jauhola had been on Death Row at the Idaho Maximum Security Institution (The Max) since 2001, and had been transferred to the prison’s medical unit in May. Jauhola, 41, received his death sentence for beating another inmate to death with a baseball bat in a racially motivated attack in the exercise yard of the Max; at the time, Jauhola was serving time for voluntary manslaughter and escape. Click below for a full report from the Associated Press.

Corrections official Teresa Jones said an autopsy will be performed to verify the cause of death, following “standard procedure.”

Chmelik on BLM: ‘They want to help us’

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador introducing legislation today to transfer 31 acres of U.S. Bureau of Land Management land in Idaho County to the county for a gun range – a move the BLM supports. Idaho County Commissioner Jim Chmelik said the county has been pushing for the range for at least six years, since before he took office. “I think it’s a good thing for the county,” he said. “I don’t always see eye-to-eye with the BLM on a lot of issues, but when we do see eye-to-eye, I’m going to try to work together with them and work things out. They want to help us.”

BLM is ‘supportive’ of Labrador move to transfer land to Idaho County for gun range

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is backing Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador’s move to transfer 31 acres of its land in Idaho County to the county for a gun range. “We’re supportive of the effort,” said Suzanne Endsley, public affairs officer for the BLM’s Coeur d’Alene and Spokane districts. “There is no designated range in that area, and people are using this location anyway. From an environmental standpoint, it would be nice if it was managed a little bit better. We just don’t have the resources to go there on a weekly basis and pick up all the shells, and there is interest in the county to do a really bang-up management job.”

Endsley said the BLM has been working with the county since 2010 on the issue, initially trying to arrange a low-cost “recreation and public purpose lease” from the BLM to the county for the land. But that’s been complicated by the site’s former use for a long-ago trash dump and the detritus of its longtime use for shooting, which moved the property out of the category of lands BLM can lease.

The site, about 10 miles north of the Time Zone Bridge at Riggins off Highway 95 on a hillside with a bench, is ideal for shooting, Endsley said. “It’s away from the beaten path … it’s not endangering anyone.” Asked if any stray bullets could reach Highway 95, she said, “Because of the topography and location, the chances of that would be probably slim to none.”

Labrador began working with the county and the agency on the issue in 2011, Endsley said. “The bureau is not in the business of developing gun ranges, and that’s the use that is kind of happening there. That’s why the county said, ‘Hey, if we can basically lease this parcel of land from you, we will put up a gun range and we will manage it.’”

 She said, “Sometimes it just takes us a long time to work through things, and I think some of the patience expired with the county. And I know that they approached the congressman and he has kind of spearheaded this.”

Labrador introduces bill to transfer 31 acres of BLM land to Idaho County for gun range

Idaho 1st District GOP Congressman Raul Labrador announced today that he's introduced legislation that would transfer 31 acres of federal Bureau of Land Management property in Idaho County to the county for use as a gun range.  “For years, the Idaho County Commission has been ready to install a gun range in the Riggins Area, but they’ve been prevented from building it because of cumbersome BLM regulations,” Labrador said in a statement.

He said under federal law, the BLM can't sell or give the parcel to Idaho County; and under agency policies, it can't lease it to the county. “Therefore, a legislative solution is necessary,” Labrador said in a press release; click below for his full release.

UI McClure Center survey shows Idahoans want roads, bridges fixed

Idaho's long-awaited survey on transportation improvements is out from the University of Idaho, and it turns out an overwhelming majority of Idahoans think Idaho's roads and bridges need big fixes or they'll fail in the next 10 years. However, the options to pay for that work that drew support in the survey clearly wouldn't raise enough money, while bigger-ticket answers, including gas tax increases, drew less support.

 “The conclusion I drew is that our elected leaders are going to have to figure out how to raise revenue for something Idaho voters clearly see as important,” said Priscilla Salant, a University of Idaho professor and interim director of the McClure Center for Public Policy, which released the survey results today. “They have their work cut out for them.”

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter had been waiting for the results of the survey before proposing big road fixes, an issue he made a top priority during his first term in office, but abandoned for the past few years after legislative defeats; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

ITD fined for exposing inmate workers to asbestos

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Environmental Protection Agency says Idaho inmates were exposed to asbestos when they were sent to work at an Idaho Transportation Department maintenance shop without proper training or equipment. The federal agency announced Tuesday that the Idaho Transportation Department has paid nearly $56,000 to settle the allegations. The state agency didn't admit or deny the allegations. The EPA says the transportation department hired inmates from the St. Anthony Work Camp last year to remove old flooring from a building in Rigby. But the EPA says the department didn't test for asbestos first, and instead relied on a 25-year-old test of a single sample from the maintenance shop that showed no asbestos. Tests done after an inmate complained showed the flooring contained asbestos. Asbestos can cause cancer and other health problems.

Openness a hallmark of former Gov. Evans: ‘If you wanted to go see the governor, you could’

Former Idaho Gov. John Evans, who died today, steered the state “during some really tough times,” recalled Boise State University professor emeritus Jim Weatherby. “I think he was a good governor,” but was “lost to history to a degree,” Weatherby said. “He served as governor for 10 years through some tumultuous times, but serving in between the administrations of Gov. Andrus, I think unfortunately he’s been overlooked and I think that’s a mistake.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Evans’ hallmark was his openness, Weatherby said. “If you wanted to go see the governor, you could go see the governor. He had pretty much an open-door policy.” He also began the “Capital for a Day” tradition that current Gov. Butch Otter has pursued so assiduously, traveling with state officials to a series of remote towns in the state, to bring state government services right to them and address their needs and concerns. “It certainly helped his campaign as well, as it has helped Otter,” Weatherby said.

Evans’ administration also was notable for its clashes with the largely GOP-controlled Legislature. “They had many battles over his tenure, and he was the one who bought the big red ‘VETO’ stamp,” Weatherby said. “And he vetoed a lot of legislation until the 1985 session, when the Republicans gained veto-proof majorities.” That was when the GOP-dominated Legislature passed the right-to-work law over Evans’ veto, seriously undercutting the clout of Idaho’s labor unions.

Evans also presided during a major recession, a bad drought, and passage of the 1 Percent Initiative, which limited property taxes. “The state employees were cut to four days a week for while,” Weatherby said. Evans succeeded in persuading the Legislature to pass three significant tax increases, a temporary sales tax hike in 1983, a permanent one in 1984, and a temporary one in 1986 to keep the state solvent through the downturn of the early ‘80s.

During the consecutive administrations of Andrus, Evans and Andrus again, Idaho’s governor’s office was in Democratic hands for 24 years; no Democrat has been elected governor since.

Andrus on Evans: ‘A strong and capable governor’

Former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus, who both preceded and succeeded the late Gov. John V. Evans in office, issued this statement today:

“Carol and I are deeply saddened by the news of the passing of Gov. John Evans. John was a good friend, a loyal and talented lieutenant governor to me, a fine and dedicated public official at both the local and the state level and, above all, a genuinely fine man. He'll be remembered as a strong and capable governor who fought hard to maintain a strong economy and first class educational opportunities for Idahoans. We join all Idahoans in extending our deep condolences to our dear friend, Lola Evans, the Evans family and his many, many friends in Idaho and across the nation.“

Former Idaho Gov. John Evans dies at 89

Former Idaho Gov. John V. Evans has died at age 89. Evans, a Democrat, served as Idaho’s governor from 1977 to 1987, first moving up from lieutenant governor to succeed Cecil Andrus when he was named U.S. Secretary of the Interior, and then winning election twice in his own right in 1978 and 1982. He was the first, and thus far only, LDS church member to be elected governor of Idaho.

Evans was the grandson of the founder of Idaho-based D.L. Evans Bank and served as the bank’s president, still attending board meetings until his death, the Twin Falls Times-News reported. The newspaper reported that Evans died peacefully, surrounded by family, early this morning in Boise. His son, John Evans Jr., told the Times-News, “He was a great leader in the state and a great leader at our bank.”

Evans held public office for more than 35 years, serving as a state senator, mayor of Malad, lieutenant governor and governor. He was a World War II veteran, serving as an infantryman in the U.S. Army, and a graduate of Stanford University. As a Democratic state senator in the 1950s, he served as Senate majority leader when the Democrats controlled the Senate; later, in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, he served as Senate minority leader when the Republicans held sway, until his election as lieutenant governor in 1974.

Evans won his first full term as governor with a resounding 59 percent to 40 percent over Republican Allen Larsen in 1978. Four years later, Evans narrowly defeated then-Lt. Gov. Phil Batt to win his second full term as governor; Evans’ vetoes of several proposed right-to-work laws were big issues in the race.  In 1986, with right-to-work on the ballot as a successful referendum measure, Evans lost his only election ever, running for the U.S. Senate against then-GOP Sen. Steve Symms.

Chris Carlson, in his book “Medimont Reflections,” tells this story about Evans’ return to the family bank after his election defeat and his service as Idaho’s governor: “When Governor Evans returned to the family-owned bank and attended his first board meeting, he was asked what title he would like to have. With a twinkle in his eyes he responded, ‘Well, I’ve had the title of governor, of senator, of chairman, but never president. I think I’d like ‘Mr. President’ as my next title.’” He served as the bank’s president from then on.

Current Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, a former longtime lieutenant governor, issued this statement on Evans’ death: “Having had the good fortune to serve under Governor Evans, I got to know him as a sincere professional who understood the cost of success and took seriously his responsibilities as Idaho’s chief executive.  He always had the best of intentions and was earnest in his love of Idaho.  I admired John’s willingness to compete in the marketplace of ideas and his ability to keep himself and his office above the day-to-day political fray.  The First Lady and I offer our sympathy and condolences to the entire Evans family.”

RNC counsel: Whoever is elected Idaho GOP chairman at Aug. 2 meeting will be ‘full voting member’ of RNC

John R. Phillippe Jr., chief counsel for the Republican National Committee, has sent a memo headed “Update on Idaho GOP Chairmanship Vacancy” to RNC Chairman Rance Priebus, saying the Idaho Republican Party’s central committee meeting on Aug. 2 will fill the vacancy for state party chairman, and will comply with party rules. Embattled state Chairman Barry Peterson has called a competing meeting for Aug. 9. “Mr. Peterson has no authority to call such a meeting since, as I advised earlier, he is no longer the state party chairman,” Phillippe wrote. “In any case, the meeting in Boise on August 2nd is the properly called meeting. If someone is elected chairman at the meeting, he or she will be eligible to attend the RNC Summer Meeting as a full voting member of the RNC.”

A week ago, Peterson sent out a press release calling on Idaho Gov. Butch Otter to select a single date and bring the party together, saying “one phone call” from the governor would straighten things out. Otter subsequently announced support for the Aug. 2 date, and Sen. Jim Risch and Congressman Mike Simpson chimed in with their support.

Click below for Phillippe’s full memo. The question over the party's leadership arose after the state party convention in Moscow last month ended in disarray, without any elections on leaders, resolutions or a party platform; instead, delegates spent the two days squabbling over whether to seat various counties' delegations, before giving up in disgust. Peterson maintained afterward that he was still chairman, but his opponents said his term ended after two years and the party was left with no chairman.

Vet, 74, on burial lawsuit: ‘I don’t have time to wait around’

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on today’s federal lawsuit against the state of Idaho from Madelynn Lee Taylor, a 74-year-old Navy veteran who’s been refused permission to be buried with the cremated remains of her wife at the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery because of the state’s ban on same-sex marriage - which a federal court has ruled unconstitutional, but the state’s appealing. Taylor said she headed to court now because of concerns about her health. “I don’t have time to wait around,” Taylor said. “If it goes to the Supreme Court, the earliest they can hear it is 2015.”

With a laugh, she asked, “What harm can the ashes of two old lesbians do – do they expect us to be recruiting in there?” She said if she could talk directly to Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, she’d say, “Tell the guy over there at the V.A. to let me put my ashes in there with Jean’s – it’s not taking up any more space.”

Otter names wolf control board members

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter today announced the five members of the state's new wolf control board, for which the Legislature this year appropriated $400,000 to kill problem wolves. Otter named Richard Savage, a former Idaho Cattle Association president and a rancher from Hamer, as the livestock industry representative; Tony McDermott of Sagle, a former Fish & Game commissioner, to represent sportsmen; and Carl Rey of Meridian to represent the general public. The board is co-chaired by Idaho Fish & Game Director Virgil Moore and Idaho Department of Agriculture Director Celia Gould.

“Managing wolves is expensive, and federal funds to sustain the Idaho management plan approved by the Legislature in 2002 are drying up,” Otter said in a statement. “This solution was developed collaboratively by wildlife managers, sportsmen and ranchers to provide a reliable funding source from stakeholders for this important work.” In addition to the state funds, lawmakers approved fees of $110,000 from sportsmen and $110,000 from the livestock industry to support the board; click below for Otter's full announcement.

Navy vet sues state for right to be buried with same-sex spouse at vets’ cemetery

Madelyn Lee Taylor filed a lawsuit against the state Division of Veterans Services today asking a federal judge to order the division to allow her to be buried together with the remains of her same-sex partner at the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery. Taylor, 74, is a U.S. Navy veteran with serious health problems; her wife, Jean Mixner, died in 2012 of emphysema, and Taylor has kept her cremated remains unburied in Boise because the two desire to have their remains commingled and interred together after Taylor’s death.

Taylor went to the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery in December of 2013 to arrange for the interment in a single stone columbarium; the cemetery routinely allows veterans to be buried with their spouses. Taylor presented her valid honorable discharge and valid marriage certificate – the two were legally married in 2008 in California – but the state refused to allow the burial arrangements, citing the Idaho Constitution’s ban on recognition of same-sex marriages.

That ban was declared unconstitutional by a federal magistrate judge in May, though the ruling was stayed as the state appeals to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals; a hearing on the appeal has been set for Sept. 8.

In her lawsuit, Taylor’s attorney, Deborah Ferguson, wrote, “Idaho law goes so far as to deny her as a military veteran the basic dignity and respect of being interred alongside her lawful spouse in the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery.” She is seeking both a permanent injunction to approve her pre-registration application for interment with Mixner, and unspecified monetary damages for her injuries and expenses.  You can read Taylor’s full complaint here.

In April, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter issued this statement on the issue: “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’s new 80 mph speed limit scrutinized

When Idaho lawmakers this year voted to boost the state’s top speed limit to 80 mph, all the focus was on southern Idaho, where the road to Utah connects up to a similarly wide, smooth freeway that already has an 80 mph limit. But the Idaho Transportation Department has announced that in the wake of the new law, it’s studying all rural stretches of interstate freeway in the state - including I-90 in North Idaho - to see where the new higher limit may be warranted. That’s raising some eyebrows in North Idaho.

“The roads are not as straight and flat as down there, and it just doesn’t work,” said former state Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, who chaired the Senate Transportation Committee until 2012. “In fact, I’m surprised that there would be any recommendations for higher speed limits up here.”

Damon Allen, ITD’s district engineer for North Idaho, said, “We didn’t have necessarily any 80 mph candidates, but we did have a couple of segments of I-90 that might bump up 5 mph, maybe to 75. So we’re going to do those studies this summer.” Allen said the stretch of I-90 from Stateline to Coeur d’Alene could rise from 70 mph to 75, and the stretch roughly from Kellogg to Wallace could go up from 65 to 70 mph.

Locals haven’t been requesting speed limit boosts, Allen said. “Nah, it’s been really quiet about the speeds up here.” But the new law prompted ITD to take a look at it. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Suction dredging protest contrasts with Boise River agreement in Idaho’s ‘EPA divide’

Idaho Statesman reporter Rocky Barker has a report today on why the Fourth of July holiday protest at which hobby miners ran their suction dredges illegally in the Salmon River east of Riggins to decry EPA regulations didn’t turn into anything like the Cliven Bundy standoff in Nevada. Part of the reason: Idaho County Commissioner Jim Chmelik and other officials worked to make sure there was no confrontation, and the event drew no uniformed federal agents, armed militia members or national news media.

But Barker reports that event was in great contrast to another in Boise at which longtime EPA critic Rep. Mike Simpson praised the federal agency for “looking outside their rulebook” in developing the Dixie Drain Phosphorous Offset Project, a program to clean phosphorus pollution from the Boise River while also saving money for Boise residents and farmers. You can read his full report here, which is headed, “Idaho’s EPA Divide.”

Lawmakers wary of marijuana-derived treatment for seriously ill child

The parents of a terribly ill 9-year-old Idaho girl worked with state lawmakers from both parties this past session, Boise State Public Radio’s Adam Cotterell reports, to get an exception to Idaho’s strict anti-marijuana laws for a treatment that could help reduce the child’s frequent, lengthy seizures – but, while lacking in the ingredients that cause users to become high, is extracted from the marijuana plant. However, Cotterell reports, though lawmakers initially kept telling the Idaho couple there was a chance, no legislation was drafted or introduced.

Senate Health & Welfare Chairman Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls, told Cotterell, “This would not be an easy sell, I don’t think, in Idaho, given the nature of our conservative Legislature.” Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, however, said the issue is separate from medical marijuana, and he’s confident lawmakers can address it next year. “If we can find a way that doesn’t legalize marijuana but helps these kids, I believe Idahoans and Idaho legislators are compassionate and will want to work on this,” he said. Utah already has passed an exception for the specific treatment oil to help patients with the rare condition. Idaho lawmakers last year passed a resolution opposing any future legalization of marijuana in the state for any purpose; it passed the Senate 29-5 and the House 63-7. You can see and hear Cotterell’s full story here.

Former Sen. Ralph “Moon” Wheeler dies at age 81 in American Falls

Former Idaho State Sen. Ralph “Moon” Wheeler died Wednesday, July 2, 2014, at his home; he was 81. Wheeler, a pharmacist and farmer, served nearly four decades in elected office, as an American Falls city councilman and mayor; state representative; Power County commissioner; and state senator. A polio survivor, he overcame the lingering symptoms of the disease to enjoy rafting, camping, fly-fishing, gardening and more, aside from his professional and political endeavors. He is survived by his wife of 49 years, Ann; four children, three grandchildren, and one great-grandson. Services include visitation Wednesday from 6-7 p.m. and Thursday 10-11 a.m.; a vigil service Wednesday at 7 p.m.; and funeral mass Thursday at 11 a.m., all at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in American Falls. You can see his full obituary here.

Lawsuit filed by teen abused at state juvenile corrections facility

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A recently filed lawsuit seeks compensation for a juvenile boy who was sexually abused by a security supervisor at the Idaho Department of Juvenile Corrections facility in Nampa. The Idaho Statesman (http://bit.ly/1mo9dzs) reports that the suit accuses Julie McCormick of having sex with a then-15-year-old boy several times in 2012. The suit, filed Tuesday, says the activity took place in McCormick's office and other areas in the detention facility out of range of surveillance cameras. The lawsuit also accuses several correctional employees of knowing of McCormick's inappropriate relationship with the boy but not doing anything about it. According to the lawsuit, attorneys are asking for damages to be determined at trial. Department spokesman Jeff Ray declined to comment on the lawsuit. McCormick pleaded guilty to lewd conduct with a minor under 16 last year.

Post-primary donation makes Sen. Hill biggest donor to opponent’s campaign

A week after this year’s primary election, Idaho Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, did something rather unusual: He made a $300 donation to his GOP primary opponent’s campaign. That made Hill the biggest donor to challenger Scott Smith’s campaign other than Smith himself.

Hill, a seventh-term senator and retired CPA, defeated Smith 77.1 percent to 22.9 percent in the primary. Smith raised $1,484 for his campaign, including more than $600 of his own money. Hill raised $45,283 in campaign funds since Jan. 1, spent $24,630, and has $35,531 in his campaign fund; his expenditures included multiple contributions to other GOP campaigns.

“It’s no big deal – I felt like he ran a good campaign,” Hill said of his donation to Smith. “He stayed on the issues. We disagreed on some issues, but he stayed away from attacking characters and integrity.” Hill said after the election, he noticed that Smith had some campaign debt. “I said, well, I can’t take care of all your debt but I’d just like to help if that’s OK, and he said that was great,” Hill said. “He’s just a good guy, he’s a very nice guy.”

He added, “I probably wouldn’t have felt that way if he’d run a mean-spirited campaign, but he didn’t. We went to candidate forums. We definitely had differing opinions on things like the health insurance exchange. … I just thought he did a good campaign, and I believe in the political process. I think competition is good in this regard. It brings the issues to a higher level. People listen to them more than if they’re only hearing one side.”

NIFC firefighter in Boise commended for saving life during Beaver Creek Fire last August

A wildland firefighter and medical unit leader trainee on last year’s Beaver Creek Fire near Hailey has been awarded a Citation for Exemplary Action for saving the life of a crew member. “He joins a small and select group within the fire community ever to receive this award,” said John Segar, left, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Fire Management Branch chief.

Larry “Kaili” McCray, right, who works at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise as wildland fire medical standards program manager, was assigned to the fire last August when a fire camp crew member suffered a cardiac arrest. He administered chest compressions, applied an automated external defibrillator or AED, and ordered oxygen, coordinating his efforts with two other staffers at the scene from other agencies. Doctors who later cared for the victim said the moves saved the crew member’s life.

Since 1990, cardiac arrest has been the third-leading cause of wildland firefighter deaths, behind aircraft and vehicle accidents. In 2013, there were nine cardiac cases reported on wildland fires, six of them fatal. The three saves were attributed to the speedy and proper use of AED’s.

Wasden appeals Medicaid reimbursement case to the U.S. Supreme Court

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to consider a lawsuit the state lost over Medicaid provider reimbursement rates for services to the developmentally disabled, contending both the U.S. District Court in Idaho and the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals erred when they ruled against the state. 

The lawsuit, first filed in 2009 by five service providers, contended that Idaho's Department of Health & Welfare was wrong to keep reimbursement rates at 2006 levels when studies showed the cost of providing services was going up. The courts agreed and ordered increases in reimbursement rates that last year cost the state $12 million. “We’re asking the Supreme Court to take up this case because the 9th Circuit’s decision incorrectly permits private parties to interfere with the administration of the state’s Medicaid program and the Legislature’s choices regarding that program,” Wasden said in a news release. “As it stands now, the 9th Circuit’s decision creates enormous administrative and financial consequences for Idaho and every other state in the circuit.”

The U.S. Supreme Court takes up only a tiny portion of the appeals it receives; click below for Wasden's full announcement.

State takeover of troubled Idaho private prison now under way

As of this week, Idaho's largest prison is now under state control, as Idaho takes it over from the private prison firm Corrections Corp. of America, which built and operated the lockup south of Boise for the state throughout its troubled 14-year history. “To reflect the change in status from private to state operations, the name of the facility becomes the Idaho State Correctional Center (ISCC),” the state Department of Corrections announced. Click below for a report from AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi, who notes that the takeover marks the end of a big experiment with privatizing Idaho's public prisons despite multiple attempts from Gov. Butch Otter to push for more privatization. In 2008, Otter unsuccessfully pitched legislation that would allow private companies to build and operate prisons in Idaho and import out-of-state inmates. Then in 2009, Otter suggested privatizing the 500-bed, state-run Idaho Correctional Institution-Orofino while also requesting to cut the state correctional department's budget by more than $11 million, or 12 percent.

The Department of Corrections announced that visitation at the ISCC will be canceled this week from Monday through Thursday, and will resume on Friday, “to facilitate a smooth transition.” 

Risch, Simpson chime in with Otter’s call for Aug. 2 Idaho GOP meeting on leadership

Idaho GOP Sen. Jim Risch and 2nd District GOP Congressman Mike Simpson have now chimed in with Gov. Butch Otter’s call for a state Republican Party central committee meeting on Aug. 2, one of two dueling dates that have been set for the party to figure out who’s in charge and what comes next.

Both Risch and Simpson said the party needs unity; in a joint statement from their re-election campaigns issued late Tuesday, Risch said party officials should “respect the date the Members have chosen and the selection of officers they make on that date,” and Simpson said, “Aug. 2nd has been selected and I encourage all members of the Republican State Central Committee to convene in Boise to scrutinize each candidate’s qualifications and duly elect state party leaders.” You can read their joint statement here.

On Monday, embattled GOP Chairman Barry Peterson called on Otter to lead the party to unity by selecting a single date; Peterson had set a central committee meeting for Aug. 9, while his opponents, including several party delegations who petitioned for the meeting, set it for Aug. 2. Peterson said he'd chosen the Aug. 9 date because the Aug. 2 date interfered with a 40-year tradition in his family, but that another mutually agreeable date could be set. Peterson had maintained he was still the party chairman after the state GOP convention last month ended in disarray with no elections on leaders, resolutions or a party platform, but others said his term ended in June and the party was without a state chairman.

Otter calls Peterson statement ‘a welcome sign, because they were all calling on me to stay out of it earlier’

Asked today about embattled GOP Chairman Barry Peterson’s announcement yesterday that “one phone call from Gov. Otter is all it would take to end the current division” in the party, calling on Otter to set a new date to replace two dueling dates now set for party central committee meetings to figure out who’s in charge and what comes next, Otter said, “Well, I’ve gotta get a hold of Barry and find out to whom I have to make that call.”

The GOP governor said, “I’ve made some promises to some folks that depending upon the outcome of the phone call, that I’m going to have to at least go back to those folks and make sure that they’ll release me of those agreements. And one is that I’d stay out of it, that I would not choose a candidate. They wanted a grass-roots candidate, I said that’s fine by me.”

Idaho’s state GOP convention ended in disarray last month without any votes on a new chairman, platform, or resolutions, as attendees battled over whether several counties’ delegations should be allowed to participate. Peterson maintains he’s still chairman, but others say his term has ended and the party has no chairman now.

Party rules say the state Central Committee can fill a vacancy, but two competing dates have been set for such a meeting - Aug. 2, set by opponents of Peterson, and Aug. 9, set by Peterson. “I’ll be more than happy to pick a date,” Otter said today, “but I want to know what the chances are of success. You know, if we can come together on the 2nd or the 9th or the 5th or whenever, I’m more than happy to do that. But like I said, I’ve gotta know who to call.” UPDATE: Later on Tuesday, Otter posted a statement on his campaign website saying, “I support the proposal for an August 2 meeting of the Central Committee to choose an Idaho Republican Chairman and put the confusion and uncertainty behind us.”

Asked about Peterson’s call yesterday for Otter to “use his leadership position to insist that one meeting be held for the purposes of reuniting the party,” the governor said, “Well, that’s a welcome sign, and I appreciate that, because they were all calling on me to stay out of it earlier.”

Ahlquist, Jaquet among finalists for two seats on state Board of Ed

Five finalists are being interviewed today for an opening on the Idaho State Board of Education, and one of them is Tommy Ahlquist, chief operating officer of Gardner Company, an emergency room physician, Idaho State University Foundation board member, founder of a Boise-based defibrillator company and more. Ahlquist is the head of Gardner Co.’s Idaho operations, which include the newly constructed, 18-story 8th & Main Building in downtown Boise, and the City Center Plaza project, for which ground was broken today. The five being interviewed today are finalists for the board seat being vacated this month by longtime board member Milford Terrell.

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter already has interviewed four finalists for an earlier board opening, created when then-board member Ken Edmunds became Otter’s new state Department of Labor director. Otter confirmed that one of those four is former state Rep. Wendy Jaquet, but declined to name the other finalists for either of the two positions.

Otter rips Balukoff over Hobby Lobby ruling, Balukoff responds

In addition to the official statement Gov. Butch Otter sent out yesterday lauding the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, Otter also sent out another rather different statement from his campaign – sharply attacking his Democratic opponent, A.J. Balukoff, and suggesting Balukoff “would happily go along with Obama’s attempts to repress religious freedom and individual rights.”

Today, Balukoff responded, saying, “By misrepresenting my views, Otter makes one point very clear: He knows he will lose if he tries to run on his own, terrible record.” Click below to read both the Otter campaign statement and Balukoff’s response.

Ground broken for project that includes two long-sought downtown Boise goals, plus new office tower…

The ambitious City Center Plaza project, which includes a new tech-focused nine-story office building, a new underground multi-modal transit center, and a major convention center expansion all in the heart of downtown Boise kicked off with a groundbreaking today, where business and government leaders hailed the public-private partnership. “It’s certainly something that the capital city needs,” declared Gov. Butch Otter, who also joked that he was grateful for “you guys getting me off the hook, because the transit center was going to go right at the corner of 8th and Jefferson at one time.” That’s kitty-corner across from the state Capitol. “The Land Board was against it, the Legislature was against it,” he noted.

Boise Mayor Dave Bieter said, “Folks, this is a day of gratitude. … I want to express my gratitude to the Legislature, the Land Board and the governor, for turning down a really good project – so we could get to an even better project.”

The new Clearwater Building will be a technology-focused office tower that will include the Boise State University computer science department, which will take up the second and third floors; headquarters for Clearwater Analytics, a software firm that will occupy five floors; and restaurant and retail space. The Boise Center convention center will see its current meeting and event space nearly double. The transit center below will be a hub for ValleyRide buses, park-and-ride, vanpools, carpools, shuttles, taxis and more. The whole project, put together by Gardner Company, which recently completed the 8th & Main building just across Main Street, will cost $45 million and is scheduled to open in mid-2016. “We love Boise – we love the state of Idaho,” Christian Gardner, Gardner Co. president and CEO.

The 8th & Main Building filled a gaping hole in Boise’s downtown core that had stood vacant since the historic Eastman Building burned in 1986, despite repeated, failed attempts to develop the site. Now, the City Center Plaza project is taking on two more long-planned but long-unrealized downtown goals: Convention center expansion, to allow Boise to host larger conventions for which is currently doesn’t have large enough facilities, and a transit center. David Zaremba, a board member with Valley Regional Transit, said, “We’ve looked forward to a day like this for a long time.”

Tommy Ahlquist, Gardner Co. chief operating officer and head of the firm’s Idaho operations, invited the big crowd at the groundbreaking to stay on this afternoon for the USA vs. Belgium World Cup soccer game, for which the company is hosting a public viewing party in the Grove plaza complete with a giant TV screen and beer garden. “We are pleased to bring together so many great organizations with a common vision for our downtown,” Ahlquist said. “City Center Plaza will anchor and transform the heart of the city for decades to come.”

North Idaho judge upholds Priest Lake cabin-site appraisals

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: SANDPOINT, Idaho (AP) — An Idaho judge says the state can use its most recent appraisals to set lease payments and minimum bids for the sale of cabin sites around Priest Lake. A group of more than 70 lessees sued the state in April seeking to bar it from using the higher appraisal amounts. The lessees argued they had a constitutionally protected property right to renew their cottage site leases. The Bonner County Daily Bee reports (http://bit.ly/V7IkUY) District Judge Barbara Buchanan ruled Friday that the Supreme Court has made it clear the Idaho Constitution prohibits recognition of any property right in a lease of state endowment land. The court also ruled the state is obligated to manage the property for maximum long-term returns to the endowment's beneficiaries, including public schools.

You can read Buchanan’s full ruling here. Idaho Department of Lands spokeswoman Emily Callihan said the ruling leaves the department free to continue with its plans to sell a group of the cabin sites at public auction in late August, with the disputed appraisals serving as the minimum bid price.

Idaho gets $3.5M fed grant for job training

Idaho's state Department of Labor has been awarded a $3.5 million federal grant for job training aimed at moving the long-term unemployed into high-demand jobs, through on-the-job training, apprenticeships, career counseling and more. Idaho is one of 32 states receiving grants under the U.S. Department of Labor's Job-Driven National Emergency Grant program; among those targeted for help are immigrants and refugees in southwestern Idaho. The grant also will benefit dislocated and laid-off workers; you can read the department's full announcement here

Student group fears costs of guns-on-campus law will fall on them, for law they opposed

As Idaho’s controversial new guns-on-campus law takes effect today – allowing people with enhanced concealed carry permits to carry concealed firearms in most areas on public college campuses in the state – a student group that organized against and strenuously protested the new law has issued a statement saying it fears students themselves will bear the costs. Here’s the statement from the Idaho Coalition to Keep Guns Off Campus:

“Our opinions on this law were not taken into account when legislators voted to allow guns in our classrooms and to remove from our institutions the local control that served students best. Our colleges and universities have complied with the law, but Idaho’s students will pay the cost. Idaho politicians have cut higher education funding by 39% in six years. Meanwhile tuition has skyrocketed. This unfunded mandate will be borne on the backs of students who protested it in the first place. The governor called on the legislature to ‘appropriately and carefully monitor, oversee and manage those difficulties and costs’ but considering legislators' track record supporting higher education, it’s hard to believe that will happen. We do hope that in the future Idaho’s politicians will take into account the will of the people who are most affected by a law.”

During this year’s legislative session, the student group delivered hundreds of letters to the governor and Legislature from students and faculty members opposed to the new law, presented petitions with nearly 3,000 signatures opposing it,m and organized a rally on the Capitol steps.

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About this blog

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

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

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