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Eye On Boise

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.

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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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