The Boise Police Department has been ranked fourth-highest in the country among mid-sized police agencies for its number of Twitter followers, with more than 6,300. The only other city in the region to make the ranking was Salt Lake City, which ranked 10th at 3,712 followers.
“Twitter connections mean a lot to us, and it’s good to know that, judging by the number of followers, that connection means a lot to citizens as well,” said Boise Police Chief Mike Masterson. The chief said his department uses Twitter to “share urgent and important public safety information” along with safety-related community events, and citizens use it to interact with the department. On Twitter, the BPD is @BoisePD.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police released the rankings today; you can see their full announcement here. The No. 1 overall? The Boston Police Department, with 314,232 followers. Of course, the numbers were taken on April 30 – two weeks after the Boston Marathon bombings. NYPD came in second at 61,633.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: MOSCOW, Idaho (AP) — Police in northern Idaho say a person waving what turned out to be a toy gun from a car window resulted in officers with weapons drawn stopping the vehicle at a fast food drive-thru and handcuffing the three males and one female inside. Police Lt. James Fry tells the Moscow-Pullman Daily News (http://bit.ly/147bGT7) that a report Wednesday afternoon of a person waving a gun resulted in the felony-style takedown of the vehicle's occupants. Fry says officers typically take emergency precautions when a gun is reported as part of an incident. Fry says a 20-year-old male passenger was taken into custody on an arrest warrant in Latah County for failing to appear in court on charges of minor in possession of alcohol and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Two North Idaho conservation groups, Friends of the Clearwater and the Kootenai Environmental Alliance, are questioning the U.S. Coast Guard's turnabout on permits for the upcoming “Race the Joe” jet boat race on the St. Joe River near St. Maries, allowing the race to go forward as scheduled May 17-19. “We’d like to know how the Coast Guard went from needing 130-something days to complete the environmental assessment to being able to complete it in a week,” said Brett Haverstick of Friends of the Clearwater. “With that kind of speed, the Coast Guard should consider entering the race.” Click below for the two groups' full statement.
Both Gov. Butch Otter and three members of Idaho's congressional delegation appealed to the Coast Guard to issue the permit in time to allow the event to take place as scheduled; Otter also sent a memo from Idaho Fish & Game saying the event wouldn't harm bull trout or bald eagles if organizers agreed to keep people and vehicles out of buffer zones around eagle nesting sites.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: EMMETT, Idaho (AP) — The Gem County Prosecutor has filed criminal charges against two men accused of intentionally setting fire to a pair of Emmett churches last month. One of the suspects charged Wednesday was convicted of killing his adoptive parents in 1989. Prosecutor Richard Linville charged 41-year-old Bradley Thomasson and 45-year-old William Dorahush Jr., with two counts of first-degree arson. Both were also charged with burglary and theft. Investigators say the men are responsible for the April 27 blazes that damaged Community Bible Church and First Baptist Church. Records show Thomasson spent 22 years in prison for killing his adoptive parents in Nez Perce County in 1989. Dorahush has a criminal record that includes four convictions for arson. Both churches are blocks from downtown Emmett and suffered extensive fire, smoke and water damage.
Canyon County commissioners now say they won't help enforce new on-water regulations that might be enacted by federal authorities on Lake Lowell at the Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge and won't abide by federal rules until federal agencies prove the federal government has jurisdiction over the irrigation water that fills the lake. Click below for a full report from the Idaho Statesman and the Associated Press.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in March released a new draft plan for proposed changes at the refuge that includes significant alterations to a 2011 draft plan, as the agency attempts to balance its responsibility of managing a wildlife refuge with the recreational desires of local residents. The new plan eliminates many proposed no-wake zones by attempting to preserve bird populations by closing small portions of the lake where the birds gather for part of the year. Those closures would be based on identifying areas where eagle, osprey, heron and grebe gather.
The county posted on its website a petition that area residents can sign as the federal agency takes comments heading toward a final decision.
As Idaho works through the early stages of organizing its new state-based health insurance exchange, neighboring Washington is much farther down the road, and now has released the rate proposals from health insurance companies that plan to sell coverage on its state exchange. The big surprise: Expected large price increases didn’t materialize. Instead, most consumers who purchase insurance through the Washington exchange would pay less than they do now, and get more coverage. Only those under age 30 would face higher costs, and they’d have options for lower-priced catastrophic coverage. In addition, those who qualify for subsidies based on their income would pay less than the newly announced rates.
“We’re pleasantly surprised with the individual rates we’ve seen so far,” said Washington state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler. “In many cases, people will get better benefits and pay less – especially if they qualify for subsidies.” Meanwhile, Idaho’s exchange is just getting organized. So far, the 19-member exchange board has met twice, elected officers, hired an executive director and established six subcommittees on everything from information technology to operations. It will function as an independent, quasi-governmental agency; it is working on plans to issue requests for proposals to establish its online portal and make the exchange operational by Oct. 1. You can read our full report here at spokesman.com.
The Coeur d’Alene School District is proposing to drop all health coverage for the spouses and dependents of teachers, while raising deductibles from $200 to $2000, doubling premiums and setting up health-savings accounts. District officials, who are in the midst of contract negotiations with the local teachers union, said they need to make up a $3 million-plus budget shortfall. “We really can’t think of any other things to cut,” said school board member Tom Hamilton.
Under the proposal, a teacher who had a baby would pay $15,000 out of pocket, and no prescription drug coverage would be offered. “This is unconscionable,” said teacher Michael Emory, who was among more than 350 union members who attended the public negotiation session between the district and the Coeur d’Alene Education Association last night. You can read a full report here at spokesman.com from S-R reporter Jody Lawrence-Turner.
Idaho plans to resume paying a $4,500 monthly governor's housing stipend to Gov. Butch Otter starting June 1, the AP reports, as it clears out furniture from the vacant governor's mansion in Boise where he never lived in preparation for returning the home to J.R. Simplot's family. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller. The state decided earlier this year to give the hilltop mansion back to the descendants of Simplot, the billionaire potato mogul who donated the 7,400-square-foot home to be used as a residence for Idaho's chief executive in 2004, four years before he died at age 99. Otter, Simplot's former son-in-law, declined to live in it, however, and escalating costs of about $180,000 annually to water the expansive lawn and maintain the 33-year-old home threatened to quickly drain what had once been a $1.5 million fund to cover housing expenses for the state's chief executive. It's dwindled to just $775,000, as maintenance, electricity and repair costs added up.
The decision to restore the housing stipend to 2009 levels — it was discontinued after the house was ready to live in following renovations — was unanimous among the Republican and Democratic members of the Governor's Housing Committee. The panel concluded the $54,000 annual cost was a relative bargain, compared to keeping the home. “It's a lot cheaper than $179,000,” said Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, who said future governors may not be from the Boise area and could require support beyond their salary to maintain a second residence and entertain official guests, as Otter does now at his ranch west of Boise.
Former longtime chief state economist Mike Ferguson analyzed the latest state tax revenue news – which showed revenues surging 13.2 percent over forecasts for April, the biggest tax revenue month of the year – and concluded that lawmakers likely will have $162 million more on hand when they convene their 2014 legislative session than they thought they would two months ago, at the close of this year’s session. “While the numbers will change (for example, we don’t yet know actual May and June revenue numbers, and we don’t know what revised forecast growth rate will be used for FY 2014), it is clear there will be substantially more revenue available than policymakers thought less than two months ago,” Ferguson writers. “How this additional revenue is utilized will depend on Idaho’s public policy priorities.”
The tax revenue jump is big news for the state, Ferguson writes. “This is a significant departure from the revenue forecasts the FY 2013 and FY 2014 budgets are based on, and it has significant implications for the fiscal condition Idaho’s state budget faces in those two years (and beyond).” You can read his full analysis here. Ferguson is now the director of the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy.
The “Race the St. Joe” jet boat race near St. Maries on May 17-19 is back on, after the U.S. Coast Guard today issued a permit for the event. Gov. Butch Otter and Idaho's congressional delegation had pleaded with the Coast Guard to permit this year's race, rather than first require a lengthy environmental assessment that would have taken until far past the race date. The permit was issued today.
Commander Eric Belleque, chief of external affairs for Coast Guard District 13, said Friday that environmental concerns were being addressed “by requirements imposed by federal, state and local agencies on the event sponsors,” and that he was confident the permit would be issued in time. Otter's letter to the Coast Guard included a memo from Idaho Fish & Game addressing concerns over eagle nests and bull trout, and recommending that zones be established around eagle nests for the event and spectators and vehicles kept out of those zones. With those steps, Fish & Game Director Virgil Moore said the event wouldn't impact sensitive wildlife in the area.
Belleque said, “As environmental stewards, the Coast Guard is responsible for ensuring that our marine event permit process complies with the letter and spirit of the law.” Click below for Otter's full announcement.
The Obama Administration today decided to drop its appeal in the 9th Circuit of a federal judge's rejection of its move to list slickspot peppergrass as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act; Gov. Butch Otter applauded the administration's decision. “It took a while, but the feds apparently have figured out that collaborating and finding common ground is more effective than forcing a wrongheaded listing down our throats,” Otter declared. He said if the plant had been listed as threatened, critical habitat designations that would follow would have been “devastating for farmers, ranchers and recreational land users in southwestern Idaho.”
Click below for Otter's full statement. The Obama Administration first listed slickspot peppergrass as threatened in 2009, but the move was overturned in court when federal Magistrate Judge Candy Dale ruled that the process the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service used for listing the plant was flawed. Idaho Statesman reporter Rocky Barker has more info on this here.
The season’s first rabid bat has been reported in Idaho, after it flew into a northern Kootenai County home and the residents found it lying on their staircase. “It was still alive, and they just kind of used a towel to pick it up and put it outside,” said Cynthia Taggart, spokeswoman for the Panhandle Health District. “They thought it would fly away, but it didn’t, it died – and that’s not a good sign. They wisely sent it off to us for testing and it was rabid.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Everyone in the house is now being treated for rabies, Taggart said, as there’s no way to know whether anyone was bitten by the bat. “There’s no signs of bites,” she said, “But bats have such sharp teeth that they can bite and you don’t know.” Current rabies treatment involves a series of five shots administered over a couple of weeks; two of the shots are given on the first day of treatment, which must commence within 10 days of exposure. “No one’s ever developed rabies who started within that 10-day window, and these people did,” Taggart said.
Rabies is considered endemic in Idaho’s bat population, and rabid bats have been found statewide. Usually, they don’t turn up until July, but Taggart said, “This last week of hot weather was really out of the ordinary for us, so I guess a lot of bats woke up. They hibernate over the winter.”
State health officials are warning Idahoans to stay away from bats. “People should call their health care providers immediately if they have been bitten or scratched by a bat. Medical therapy administered to people after an animal bite is extremely effective in preventing rabies,” a viral illness that is fatal in humans and animals, said Dr. Leslie Tengelsen, deputy state epidemiologist. “It is extremely important for people to avoid bats or other wild animals that appear sick or are acting aggressively or abnormally.”
Said Taggart, “It’s important to let people know that if they do have a bat in their house, that they’re considered exposed. … They don’t know that it hasn’t bitten anybody, so they should right away get a hold of us.”
The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare has these tips:
·Do not touch a bat with your bare hands.
·If you have had contact with a bat or wake up to find a bat in your room, seek medical advice immediately.
·If you come in contact with a bat, save it in a non-breakable container if it is alive, or sealed and double-bagged in clear plastic bags without touching it if it’s dead. Call your public health district to determine whether testing the bat for rabies is indicated. If it is determined that you or your pet may be at risk of exposure to rabies, testing of the bat is a free service.
·Always vaccinate your dogs, cats, ferrets, and horses — even indoor pets could be exposed to rabies if a bat gets into a home.
·Bat-proof your home or cabin by plugging all holes in the siding and maintaining tight-fitting screens on windows.
·Parents should teach their children to avoid bats and to let an adult know if they find one.
Federal officials are now calling for states to lower their blood-alcohol thresholds for drunken driving to .05 percent, down from the current .08, saying the move would help reduce alcohol-related traffic deaths, the AP reports. That .05 standard would be reached by a 120-pound woman after just one drink; or by a 160-pound man after two drinks. “Our goal is to get to zero deaths because each alcohol-impaired death is preventable,” said Deborah Hersman, chair of the National Transportation Safety Board. “Alcohol-impaired deaths are not accidents, they are crimes. They can and should be prevented. The tools exist. What is needed is the will.” You can read the full AP story here.
Idaho lowered its threshold for DUI from .10 to .08 in 1997, the 14th state to make that change. Now, all 50 states have the lower .08 level. Idaho’s standard for drivers of commercial vehicles is .04.
The $250,000 bad loan of campaign cash from Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo's campaign went to a Las Vegas company that offered a quick profit in two months, according to documents obtained by the Associated Press. Then-Crapo campaign manager Jake Ball, who resigned last week as Idaho 1st District Rep. Raul Labrador's district director, said in a sworn affidavit that he trusted a longtime friend who “invested the money in a less than professional manner and, without knowing it, in fraudulent enterprises with persons who absconded with the funds.” Ball said as a father of four, he didn't have the means himself to repay the funds to the campaign. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller. The now-defunct Las Vegas company was called Pyramid Global Resources.
Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on today’s visit by the secretaries of the departments of Interior and Agriculture to NIFC, the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, where the two said sequestration and other federal budget cuts will hit hard just as a “difficult” fire season looms for the nation.
New Interior Secretary Sally Jewell called on citizens and communities to be “fire-wise” and take steps to protect their homes, particularly those in or near the woods or wildlands, from burning in a wildfire. “We as private citizens … play an important role,” she said, “especially in these areas where we want to live, have our cabins up in the mountains, and they are oftentimes in harm’s way.” Jewell said people need to create defensible space around homes or cabins, clear brush, trees and flammable materials, and help their neighbors do the same. “I really encourage you to do that,” she said.
This year’s fire season already has seen 13,000 fires start, but that’s actually a low number – the lowest in the last 10 years. That’s mainly because there’s been ample rain and snow across the eastern United States, limiting the fires that otherwise would normally have ignited by now in the Southeast.
But this year is expected to see above-normal risk in parts of the west, particularly the southwest, due to precipitation that’s run far below normal. Southern California has gotten only a quarter of its normal precipitation so far this year. NIFC officials said the wildfire season in West Coast states is expected to start a month earlier than normal this year as a result; fires already have been burning in southern California and even in southern Idaho.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: JEROME, Idaho (AP) — Officials in Jerome say a fire that destroyed an apartment building and damaged two nearby buildings last month started when a woman accidentally left a hot glue gun on a plastic chair. Fire Chief Jack Krill says a woman who lived in the apartments was using the hot glue gun to make piñatas on April 30. She set the glue gun down to help a customer and then left to pick up her children from school, forgetting she left it plugged in. The fire spread from the apartment building to an adjacent restaurant and an office building. Krill says the estimated damage to the buildings is more than $1 million. Krill says the woman will not be cited for starting the fire because it was accidental. He did not release her name.
Here’s the latest update from the Peregrine Fund on all the activity over a busy Mother’s Day in the peregrine falcon nest that sits high atop a downtown Boise building:
“It was a busy Mother’s Day for the female Peregrine Falcon! She had three new chicks in the nest on Sunday and gained another one on Monday. Both the male and female will brood the four chicks for about 10 days, depending on the weather. The young birds are not yet capable of regulating their own body temperatures, so they need to sit under the adults for warmth. The young ones also can huddle together to keep warm. The empty shells visible in the nest today will be blown out of the nest or removed by the adults along with feathers, bones, and other litter.”
You can watch live here. Early this morning, I found it very hard to stop watching the adult feed the fuzzy white chicks, a couple of whom were stretching their mouths up expectantly, while the others alternately snoozed, bobbed their heads, or were stepped on by their siblings as they cuddled together in a rough pile of fuzz.
The Idaho Department of Correction reports that a 34-year-old inmate apparently committed suicide by hanging himself in his cell at the Idaho State Correctional Institution over the weekend. Brandon Munk was found hanging in his cell Saturday at 6:12 p.m.; emergency responders were able to restore his pulse, and he was taken to St. Alphonsus Medical Center, but he died there early Sunday afternoon. Munk was serving a two- to five-year sentence for forgery in Bannock County; he was scheduled to be released in July of 2014. The department has asked the Ada County Sheriff’s Office for assistance in investigating the death.
It was the first suicide reported at an Idaho state prison this year; last year, there were two, one at ISCI and one at the Pocatello Women’s Correctional Center, and both also by hanging.
Idaho judges are raising concerns that the state Department of Correction is pressing to inappropriately release some offenders on probation to ease a swelling prison population, the Idaho Statesman newspaper reported Sunday in a front-page article by reporter Dan Popkey. At issue is the state's “rider” program, in which judges can retain jurisdiction over offenders while they undergo an intensive program for 90 to 180 days, after which the judge can decide whether to release them on probation, or release jurisdiction and send them to prison for their full sentences, based on how they fare in the program. Fourth District Judge Mike Wetherell is raising the alarm, as is 4th District Judge Cheri Copsey. In a letter to the heads of the House and Senate judiciary committees and IDOC chief Brent Reinke, Wetherell wrote, “I believe the problem could in the future, if it has not already, create serious public sfety concerns.”
Wetherell noted a case in which an IDOC employee recommended probation for a sex offender, telling the court, “We're out of space in the prison and they want us to be very judicious in who we recommend,” Popkey reported. Two weeks after Wetherell sent that offender back to prison, Copsey rejected a probation recommendation from another offender and attached the 82-page transcript of Wetherell's earlier sentencing hearing. Wetherell said in the hearing that he objected to “a system in which pressure is placed upon employees,” and said, “It is their obligation to say we would like to recommend incarceration in this case, but budgetary constraints prohibit us from doing so. That's called honesty.”
You can read Popkey's full report here; click below for a shorter version of the story via the Associated Press. IDOC denies that it's pressuring employees to release offenders on probation who shouldn't be released, and said the employees must have misunderstood. In a sidebar, Popkey reports that another Idaho judge is raising concerns that IDOC's medical services contractor is skimping on prescription medications for inmates in the rider program, causing them psychological and medical problems that then lead to them failing the rider and being sent to prison for their full terms.
With a “difficult” fire season looming, firefighters are facing budget cuts that will result in 500 fewer firefighters for the Forest Service alone and 50 fewer engines available, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said this morning in a visit to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise. “We’re going to be faced obviously with a difficult fire season, make no mistake about that,” he said. “The resources are limited. Our budgets have obviously been constrained.”
Other agencies also are facing cuts. New Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, who toured NIFC yesterday and today, said, “We will fight the fires and we will do them safely, but the resources will go to suppression, which is not ideal. … What you’re not doing is putting the resources in place to thoughtfully manage the landscapes for the future.” That means things like replanting and efforts to reduce hazardous fuels will suffer. “If we have a really tough season, we … may bring in more contract resources,” Jewell said. “We’ll have to take it out of other parts of our budget which are also struggling. We may be making decisions in the short run to take care of fires but in the long run not setting ourselves up for success.”
Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, said if catastrophic fires are burning in August and sufficient resources aren’t available, he believes Congress would come through with emergency funding. Vilsack responded with a chuckle, “You get that down? Can you send that to me?
Vilsack said in addition to the 5 percent sequestration cut that the Forest Service and the Department of Agriculture took, “Congress added on that another 2 percent.” Making those cuts this far into the fiscal year, he said, means they cut “in essence 15 percent of your remaining money.”