As the Idaho Republican Party’s state central committee meets in McCall tomorrow to take up proposed rule changes and resolutions, there are a slew of things on the agenda beyond Rod Beck’s controversial proposal to require all GOP primary candidates to be approved by party officials, or be excluded from the ballot. That’s one of 10 proposed rule changes; there are also 30 proposed resolutions, on everything from asking the state Legislature to invalidate all city non-discrimination ordinances that go beyond state law, like those six Idaho cities have enacted to ban discrimination over sexual orientation or gender identity; to abolishing daylight saving time; to calling for repeal of the state health insurance exchange.
The proposed rule changes range from opening back up the closed GOP primary election to requiring the state central committee to withdraw financial or in-kind support from any GOP office-holder who casts any vote that the committee feels violates any of the party’s resolutions. You can read the eight pages of proposed rule changes here, and the 27 pages of proposed resolutions here.
There's apparently something of a potato price war on, the Associated Press reports, as a battle between grocers and potato growers has a U.S. wholesaler accusing America's spud farmers of driving up prices while spying on farmers with satellites and aircraft fly-overs to enforce strict limits on how many tubers they can grow. The spud skirmish has been silently hitting shoppers' pocketbooks, the Associated Wholesale Grocers charge in a lawsuit against potato growers in U.S. District Court in Idaho, while the growers say they're just doing smart marketing through agricultural cooperatives as authorized by a 1922 federal law. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.
A new statewide poll shows Idaho voters strongly in support of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” immigration bill now being debated in the U.S. Senate, with 67 percent saying they support the bill, 75 percent saying they back a path to citizenship that includes tough requirements, and 89 percent saying the United States should fix its immigration system this year.
Damond Watkins, Idaho Republican national committeeman, said, “The results of this statewide poll should be yet another indication to our elected officials in Washington that their constituents want, and are ready for, a real and lasting solution to mend our broken immigration system. Comprehensive immigration reform is one of the rare issues that is both good politics and good policy.”
In the first two procedural votes in the Senate on the measure thus far, both Idaho senators, Jim Risch and Mike Crapo, were among the 15 opponents of the bill.
The poll was conducted in 29 states; in Idaho, it had a sample size of 590, a margin of error of 4.03 percent, and was conducted by phone using interactive voice response June 2-3. Harper Polling, a GOP firm, and Public Policy Polling, a Democratic pollster, collaborated on the poll, which was commissioned by three groups, Alliance for Citizenship, Partnership for new American Economy, and Republicans for Immigration Reform.
The pollsters said they found “overwhelming, bipartisan support for the bill” in all 29 states in which they conducted polling. “The bill that’s been constructed has broad support with every segment of the electorate in every part of the country,” the pollsters wrote. You can read the full Idaho results and poll questions here.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, former Gov. Phil Batt, and an array of other top GOP officials have come out against a proposed new Idaho Repubican Party rule that would require party officials' blessing before any candidate could appear on a GOP primary ballot, the AP reports. The rule is up for consideration at a state GOP central committee meeting this Friday and Saturday in McCall.
“This is not the party of Phil Batt, this is not the party of Ronald Reagan,” Otter said, of proponents of the plan's loyalties. “It seems to me they want to limit freedom of choice, rather than expanding it.” Batt told AP reporter John Miller. “It's a very poor idea. We need to broaden participation in our elections. I think that would narrow it.” Click below for Miller's full report. Also, Idaho political reporter Melissa Davlin has a report here on opposition to the proposed new rule that's cropping up among Republicans on social media.
Second District Congressman Mike Simpson's amendment to include fresh potatoes in the federal WIC nutrition program has cleared a House committee. “Fresh potatoes have been excluded from the WIC program despite their widely known nutritional value,” the potato-state lawmaker said. “This amendment corrects the exclusion of fresh potatoes and allows participants to make wholesome food choices for their young families.”
The amendment to the 2014 Agriculture Appropriations bill was approved on a voice vote in the House Appropriations Committee, on which Simpson serves; click below for his full news release.
A federal judge has cleared the way for the Internal Revenue Service to foreclose on former state Rep. Phil Hart's Athol, Idaho log home over years of unpaid taxes, the AP reports. U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge ruled last week that Hart, a Republican, was still the true owner of the log home and that his attempt to transfer the property to a trust was ineffective. The judge also said Hart couldn't claim a “head of household” tax exemption because he had no dependents at the time.
Hart, who lost his bid for a fifth term in the Idaho House last year, stopped filing income tax returns in 1996 while he pursued a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the federal income tax. He lost the lawsuit and the IRS is seeking to collect more than half a million dollars in back taxes, penalties and interest. His home was built partly with logs taken from state school endowment land; Hart never fully satisfied a court judgment over the timber theft. He claimed as a citizen he was entitled to take the logs. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.
By the way, the reason that the foreclosure can proceed even though Hart's filed a third bankruptcy case is that a federal bankruptcy judge ruled in late February that Hart's third bankruptcy filing in one year is not entitled to an automatic stay on the foreclosure case, like the last two prompted. “The bankruptcy, when viewed in light of Debtor's previous two filings, appears intended to halt the progress of the federal litigation,” wrote U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Terry Myers, adding that Hart's petitions were “filed without regard to eligibility but with an eye toward delay and potential forum shopping.”
Idaho named its state Transportation Department headquarters after former Gov. Phil Batt today, and at the ceremony unveiling the new name, Batt sent a stern message to the current Legislature and political leaders: Idaho needs to step up to fund its transportation needs, as it did for many years under many governors, but hasn’t for the past 17 years; read my full story here at spokesman.com. Batt, who served as a senator, senate leader, transportation board member and lieutenant governor before being elected governor in 1994, pushed through the state’s last gas tax increase in 1996, and it hasn’t been raised since. That’s the main way Idaho funds its roads, and the per-gallon tax not only isn’t indexed for inflation, it’s seen declines as vehicles have become more efficient.
Batt recalled major upgrades Idaho’s roads have seen over the years, including treacherous sections of U.S. Highway 95 in North Idaho and down south, Horseshoe Bend hill, which “used to regularly develop mysterious sinking sections.” Now, he said, they’re safer, more useful highways. “These projects and others like them throughout the state cost a pile of money, but Idahoans in early days were willing to tax themselves to pay the bill,” Batt told the crowd gathered for the building renaming ceremony. But that’s now changed, he said. When the state decided to upgrade the freeway between Boise and Canyon County, it borrowed money from the federal government through GARVEE bonds. But Batt warned that federal funding can’t be relied on, and will be decreasing in the future. “We need to get together and raise the finances to take care of all our state's transportation needs, not just the Treasure Valley, and not by borrowing money – that honeymoon is over.”
Amid laughter, Batt said, “I ran as a skinflint for governor and I served as a tightwad.” But, he said, “What could be more equitable than charging users fees for our roads, gas tax and registration fees? … We’re broke – our credit card is maxed out.”
Then, abruptly, he said, “But enough of my lecture. I just wanted to thank you all for the honor, this is a great honor for me.”
Numerous speakers lauded Batt, whose accomplishments over his career included major transportation upgrades for the state, the Idaho Human Rights Act, securing long-sought workers’ compensation for agricultural workers, signing a nuclear waste agreement with the federal government requiring waste to be removed from the state, and much more. Said Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, “Gov. Batt will always be remembered for doing the right thing, even if it’s not popular at the time.” Idaho’s congressional delegation, in a letter read at the ceremony, called Batt “a true innovator in fiscal matters, infrastructure and overall leadership.” Gov. Butch Otter said to laughter, “I couldn’t say enough about Phil, and I’d spend a lot more time than the few minutes that he ever allowed me as his lieutenant governor.”
The ITD headquarters on State Street is now officially emblazoned, “State of Idaho, Transportation Department, Philip E. Batt Building.” The ceremony included music, including Batt's compsition “Freedom Idaho,” performed by West Junior High School students; Batt, a noted jazz clarinetist, accompanied them on clarinet. Transportation Board member Jim Kempton told Batt, “I look forward to walking into this building every time I come here with your name on it.”
Several lawmakers in attendance said they took Batt’s message about transportation funding to heart. “I think he’s absolutely correct,” said Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise. House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said, “This generation cannot duck our responsibility to maintain the investment that previous generations have put into our roads, so when the time’s right, I’m optimistic that we’ll step up.”
Batt said if the gas tax set in 1996 – “two bits” a gallon, or 25 cents – were the same percentage of what people were then paying for gas, it’d be 76 cents today. “Butch has tried his best to get some funding,” Batt said after the ceremony. “It’s the legislators that wouldn’t cooperate. There’s some talk that they won’t do it again this year because it’s an election year. I never believed in that philosophy, but I understand it.”
Otter called Batt’s warning “a great message,” adding, “And I think it’s a message that you’re going to hear more about.”
First-term state Rep. Luke Malek of Coeur d’Alene filed a federal lawsuit against President Obama and top national security officials late yesterday on behalf of Coeur d’Alene resident Anna Smith, contending that collection of information about her Verizon cell phone use violates the law and the Constitution. “Plaintiff Anna Smith is a mom and a neonatal intensive care nurse,” the lawsuit states, whose “primary means of communication is with her cell phone.”
The suit says Smith “communicates with her family, friends, employer, her children’s teachers, her doctor, her legal counsel, and nearly everyone else by way of her cell phone. None of these communications relate in any way to international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities. Rather, these communications are being monitored simply because they are occurring.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court asks the court to declare the government’s collection of the data in violation of federal law and the 1st and 4th amendments to the U.S. Constitution; permanently bar it; and order the government to purge all its call records relating to Smith’s communications. Malek’s co-counsel in the case is Peter J. Smith IV of Lukins and Annis, who is married to the plaintiff; you can read the complaint here. Malek is a Republican representative and a former deputy Kootenai County prosecutor.
Peter Smith said of his wife, “It’s kind of an interesting situation; she has access to resources that a normal person may not, that is legal counsel and knowing that this case probably won’t be dealt with quickly or easily and probably will wind its way through.” Smith said he approached Malek to serve as co-counsel on the case.
Teton High School in Driggs is looking for a new nickname, logo and mascot, now that it's decided to drop its longtime one: “Redskins.” That decision came to show respect for Native Americans, the school principal said; the school board approved the move Monday night, the AP reports. “Students need to be taught to see people beyond the color of their skin,” said Monte Woolstenhulm, the school principal and a former student at the school. “They need to get to know who people are without using nicknames or assumptions based on outward appearances.” The school newspaper, “The War Cry,” also will be renamed. Click below for a full report from the Associated Press.
Farmers in Idaho have filed a federal lawsuit against seed giant Monsanto after genetically engineered wheat was found in an eastern Oregon field, the Associated Press reports. The farmers, represented by a Boise law firm, filed the federal lawsuit Friday contending that Monsanto's development of Roundup Ready wheat resulted in increased production costs and lowered prices because the genetically engineered wheat is likely to infiltrate the non-genetically engineered wheat supply; the discovery of the Roundup Ready wheat growing in Oregon in May prompted Japan to suspend some wheat imports. A handful of lawsuits have been filed in other courts around the country over the same issue; click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.
Idaho lawmakers are unhappy that the state’s schools superintendent has resisted moves to add more school counselors to help boost the number of students going on to higher education. In 2010-2011, Idaho had 489 students for every counselor, above the national average of 471 and nearly twice the recommended national standard of 250 – which only three states meet. Washington’s student-to-counselor ratio is even higher, at 510. The recommendations to trim Idaho’s student-to-counselor ratio and add a statewide coordinator for all K-12 school counselors were made in a report from the Legislature’s Office of Performance Evaluations in 2012 as part of an array of moves aimed at encouraging more Idaho kids to go on to further education after high school. But state schools Superintendent Tom Luna rejected both school-counselor recommendations.
“The responsibility for a college-going culture should be all educators in a school, not focused on one person,” Luna wrote in a response to the report, delivered to lawmakers along with a follow-up report Wednesday. “While counselors provide excellent service, it would be difficult to add enough employees to make this recommendation meaningful at this time.”
He cited an Idaho school district where every Friday, “the teachers and staff members proudly sport a T-shirt or sweatshirt from their alma mater,” saying, “This is more than just a T-shirt. It is the beginning of a conversation throughout the day, where every teacher and staff member engages students in a discussion about the importance of post-secondary education. … This is just one example I have seen that could easily be duplicated across the state and that ensures every staff member is involved in the success of students after high school – not just the school counselor.”
Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, took issue with Luna’s response, as did Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow. “I’m concerned,” Mortimer said. “I think we have to look at our counselors and their roles – I believe they may be doing too much administrative issues, and not enough counseling. … It’s a critical portion of getting our students to go on.” The state Board of Education has set increasing Idaho’s dismally low number of students who go on to any type of higher education after high school as its top goal. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
The Legislature’s Office of Performance Evaluations has released a “Guide to Comparing Business Tax Policies” for use by lawmakers, including an online tool to allow lawmakers or the public to punch in proposed tax policy changes and see at least some of the possible results, depending on their assumptions.
“This report highlights the importance of looking at that total picture,” said Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, co-chair of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee, which released the report today. “We’ll hope policy makers take that seriously.” Both the report and the online tool are on the OPE’s website here.
OPE evaluators found that existing comparisons of tax rates across states have widely varying results, and often look at different aspects of a state’s tax structure – none tell the complete story. In a presentation to JLOC, evaluators highlighted four existing multistate tax comparison studies and their varying results; in them, Idaho ranked anywhere from 18th to 38th among the states.
Idaho’s best rank was in the Total State and Local Business Taxes report, which looks at total state and local business taxes paid as a percentage of gross state product. “Idaho scored fairly well, at 18th on that study,” evaluator Lance McCleve told JLOC. The other studies focused on certain industry sectors, looked only at statutes rather than payments, or looked only at businesses planning to expand or relocate. “Each of these studies will tell you something a little bit different about a state’s tax structure,” McCleve said. When OPE evaluators combined all the raw data from all four studies for an aggregate ranking, Idaho ranked 31st among the states, roughly in the middle.
The evaluators also found that the comparisons don’t tell the whole story. The relationship between tax policy changes and economic development is “not as strong as we thought it was,” McCleve said. “There is a relationship, it does matter, but … they’re certainly not the end-all and be-all, and in many cases they can’t overcome the other non-tax related factors.”
As an “extreme example,” he said if a state reduced its taxes on oil drilling to zero but had no oil, “No one is going to come drill for oil. There are just other factors that matter.” He said, “Every change to tax policy doesn’t have an equal effect on the economy. … Rate and policy changes really shouldn’t be considered without consideration of non-tax factors.”
That said, the evaluators developed an online tool for lawmakers to let them plug in proposals for tax policy changes along with anticipated impacts on state revenues, and see how much the state’s individual earnings or sales would need to rise to offset those changes, if offsets like more jobs are anticipated. McCleve said the new online tool can continue to evolve as more information becomes available.
“It’s simply adding more information for policy makers,” he said. “We’re not aware of a lot of tools the Legislature has like this.” The tool would also allow lawmakers to compare the impacts of adjusting specific tax rates to match those of other states they select.
Ringo said she’d like to see the state’s most recent tax cuts plugged in to the online tool to see if results match changes in state revenue. McCleve cautioned, “This tool looks at isolating your change, like nothing else will change revenue. In reality, it’s a lot more messy.”
State Tax Commission Chairman Rich Jackson called the online tool “a simple and elegant tool to begin the discussion.” Gov. Butch Otter also praised the new tool, saying, “I am committed to using sound, useful data to drive policy decisions.”
The second procedural vote to clear the way for debate in the U.S. Senate on a bipartisan immigration reform bill passed just like the first earlier today, and the debate can now start. The vote was 84-15, little different from the earlier 82-15 vote; again, both Idaho senators, Jim Risch and Mike Crapo, were in the minority. Crapo said in a tweet, “#Senate is officially on the #immigration bill. We need an open amendment process & significant changes before I can support the bill.” Click below for a full report from AP reporter David Espo in Washington, D.C.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Lawyers for an Uzbek national facing federal terrorism-related charges in Idaho and Utah want a judge to let them withdraw from the case, saying federal budget cuts have left their office with too few resources. Fazliddin Kurbanov, 30, of Boise, has pleaded not guilty to charges involving teaching people to build bombs. Court-appointed attorneys Richard Rubin and Thomas Monaghan, of Federal Defenders Services of Idaho, are seeking appointment of new counsel. Rubin told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Congress' across-the-board budget cuts known as “sequestration” have reduced his budget by 10 percent this fiscal year, and as much as an 14 percent next year. Rubin says Kurbanov would be better off getting another lawyer now, while the case is still in its initial phase. Kurbanov was arrested May 17.
Click below for a full report from the Associated Press.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A new report shows Boise State's football team is one of the best in the nation when it comes to how players perform in the classroom. The NCAA announced Tuesday that Boise State posted a team-best Academic Progress Rate of 993 during a four-year period ending in 2011-2012. That score ranks the Broncos second in the Football Bowl Subdivision, one spot behind Northwestern from the Big Ten Conference. The University of Idaho's football team scored at 919, while Idaho State came in with 914. APR measures eligibility, retention and graduation of all scholarship athletes. Schools that fail to meet certain APR standards can face penalties. At Idaho, the women's golf team earned the top APR score with 991. At Idaho State, the women's golf team also posted the highest score with 992.
As a department, all Boise State teams combined for an overall score of 977 and four other teams joined the football squad with top honors in the Mountain West Conference, including men's cross country, men's indoor track and field, men's outdoor track and field and swimming and diving teams.
Idaho’s state Department of Education has received 10 applications so far for the $3 million in technology pilot project grants it’ll be handing out in the coming year; schools have until Friday to submit applications. “I know there’s been a lot of interest,” said Luci Willits, chief of staff to state schools Superintendent Tom Luna. “We’ve done several webinars, and it was one of the main topics on the post-legislative tour.”
Willits had no information on what’s proposed in the applications received so far; they won’t be evaluated until after the deadline, she said. Decisions on the grant awards are expected to be made soon after the start of the fiscal year July 1, and prior to the start of the next school year.
Jerry Beck will resign July 1 as president of the College of Southern Idaho, the Twin Falls Times-News reports, citing health problems; Beck has been with the college for 38 years and became president in 2005. The CSI board named Curtis Eaton, former executive director of the CSI Foundation, as interim president, but Eaton won’t be a candidate for the permanent position. The board is planning a national search for a new president. Beck will take a six-month sabbatical and then formally retire Dec. 31, the Times-News reported; you can read their full report here.
The U.S. Senate voted 82-15 today to clear the way for debate on a comprehensive immigration reform bill, turning back an attempted filibuster. The 15 “no” votes all came from Republicans, including both of Idaho’s senators, Jim Risch and Mike Crapo. A second procedural vote also is scheduled today; if that goes like the first, several weeks of debate are then expected before the Senate takes final votes on the bill, proposed by a bipartisan “Gang of Eight,” but likely to see various amendments. Click below for a full report from the AP in Washington, D.C.
The “Gang of Eight” includes Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Marco Rubio of Florida, and John McCain and Jeff Flake, both of Arizona; and Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York, Dick Durban of Illinois, Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado.
Of all the targets for a burglary, a Nyssa, Ore. man picked one of the worst early Sunday morning. He was in downtown Boise at 6th and Main streets at 2:15 a.m. – a busy time, just after the bars close – and police officers in marked cars were on the scene, responding to a report of a hit-and-run collision with a bicyclist, who turned out not to be badly hurt. The officers were just feet away from their car, interviewing people including numerous witnesses, when Juan Jose Vasquez, 25, allegedly opened the front passenger door of the squad car, leaned in and started rummaging through the officers’ stuff. The officers saw him, shouted at him and grabbed him, and he was holding a metal box containing paperwork and supplies for writing police reports that he’d picked up from the passenger seat.
Now Vasquez is in the Ada County Jail facing a felony burglary charge; he was appointed a public defender and has a preliminary hearing set for June 24. “Usually officers are not very far away from their vehicles,” said Boise Police spokeswoman Lynn Hightower, making burglarizing a squad car on-scene “not a good idea.”
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Republicans aiming to run for governor, the Legislature or even coroner may first have to win approval from GOP leaders. That's according to a proposal slated for consideration Friday and Saturday at the Republican Party Central Committee's meeting in Donnelly. Idaho's secretary of state would put only candidate names on the GOP primary ballot with their party leaders' blessing. The proposal comes from Region 4 Republican Chairman Rod Beck. He's among those who believe elected GOP officials are ignoring party leaders, such as when some Republican lawmakers and Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter backed a state-based insurance exchange. The Central Committee opposed the exchange. Forces are mustering against Beck's proposal. In a letter, lawmakers including House Speaker Scott Bedke say they worry it will disenfranchise the overwhelming majority of Republicans.
Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.