Allen Derr, an Idaho lawyer who won a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling to bolster anti-discrimination protections for women, died today in Boise; he was 85.
On Nov. 22, 1971, the Supreme Court justices issued their Reed vs. Reed decision, holding states cannot discriminate against people because of their gender. It marked a departure from the era when courts often excluded women from full participation in important civil affairs. His client, Sally Reed, a woman challenging her estranged husband over which of them should be appointed to oversee their son's estate following his suicide, was fighting to overturn an Idaho courts' decision based on an 1864 Idaho law: If more than one person claimed to be equally entitled to be trustee, “males must be preferred to females.” The decision in Reed vs. Reed has been celebrated in the 2001 book by historians Alan Brinkley and James McPherson, “Days of Destiny,” as among a handful of uncelebrated events that nonetheless changed the course of history.
Derr was a founding member of the Idaho Press Club and longtime member of its board of directors; click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.
First District Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador pledged today to keep working on immigration reform, despite having walked away last week from a bipartisan group of eight members working to craft a House bill. “I promise you, this does not delay the process,” he told a dozen members of the Coalition for Immigrant Rights of Idaho, who stood chanting in the foyer of his office for nearly 40 minutes before Labrador emerged from a conference call. Labrador then talked with the group, answering questions in both Spanish and English, for the next 45 minutes, in a conversation that was sometimes friendly, but occasionally heated. “Just this morning, John Boehner announced that he wants immigration reform done by the Fourth of July,” Labrador said. “My goal is to have immigration reform done by the end of this year.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Labrador said his differences with the bipartisan “Group of Eight” went beyond the health care issue he pointed to last week – that he believes immigrants should cover their own catastrophic health care costs, rather than qualify for coverage under Obamacare. He said he’d earlier “agreed to disagree” with the group over guest worker programs, and he saw what had been overall agreement on a broad array of issues disintegrating as the lawmakers got into the details of crafting a bill, with the health care issue as the second big disagreement. “My goal is to make sure that something good passes,” he said, adding that he didn’t believe the bill the bipartisan group was working toward would end up passing the GOP-dominated House.
“I decided that there’s a better way,” Labrador said. He said he’s working with members of the House Judiciary Committee, on which he serves, and he expects an array of reform bills to come to that panel. “What we’re probably going to do is a more step by step approach,” he said. But once the House has passed something, it’ll have to go to conference with the Senate. “In the conference, it’s going to have to be a bipartisan solution, whatever happens,” he said. “When it gets to the conference, it will be comprehensive.”
Ruby Mendez, a 21-year-old intern organizer for the Idaho Community Action Network from Star, said, “We have supported you when you were practicing law, and we have even voted for you so you can fix our immigration system.” But she said she and others in Idaho’s Latino community were surprised and disappointed by Labrador’s move last week. “I think as a Latina in Idaho, I’ve seen many of my family and friends be affected by a broken immigration system,” she said. “To see the injustice, it’s been a tough task. … We represent here in Idaho 11 percent – we’re a growing community.”
The Idaho group stresses keeping families together; Labrador said he shares that goal. “This is the main reason that I have not walked away from immigration reform – we have to do the right thing for America,” he said. “We have a broken system, and I worked in the system for 15 years. I saw families broken up. … We can’t allow the immigration system to stay this way.”
Labrador said he doesn’t fully support the current Senate bill as written, but might in the future depending on how it’s amended. “I’m doing everything I can,” he told the group. After they left his office, Labrador said he’s gotten differing reactions from other groups since quitting the bipartisan reform talks last week. “Actually, most people are happy,” he said. “A lot of people in Idaho don’t want me to do any immigration reform.” But, he said, “I’m trying.”
Religious, education and community activists gathered over the weekend in Coeur d’Alene to kick off a voter initiative drive to raise Idaho’s minimum wage from the current $7.25 an hour; a Catholic priest told the group the issue transcends politics. The initiative was filed in time to fall under Idaho’s current initiative laws – not the new law passed by lawmakers this year that makes it tougher to qualify an initiative measure for the ballot. That law takes effect July 1. You can read the full story here from S-R reporter Kip Hill.
Chris Carlson can say pretty much anything he wants, and he does, in his new memoir on Idaho politics, “Medimont Reflections.” After a 40-year career as a reporter, press secretary, political operative and public relations man, Carlson was told eight years ago that he had just six months to live, due to his cancer diagnosis; he already suffered from Parkinson’s disease. Instead, he’s defied the odds, and continues to share his curmudgeonly observations of Idaho from his perch in Medimont, in southern Kootenai County. In Carlson’s second book – his first was “Cecil Andrus, Idaho’s Greatest Governor” – he tells stories, profiles Idaho characters, and airs his views in no uncertain terms on everything from Idaho elections to dam-breaching to religion.
Some of Carlson’s observations will offend, some will entertain, and some will challenge; the book contains 13 essays. You can read my review here, from Sunday’s Spokesman-Review.
After a week away, it’s time to catch up. Here’s some of the news from the past week while I was gone:
* Both Coeur d’Alene and Pocatello passed city ordinances to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in housing, employment and public accommodations. The Coeur d’Alene City Council’s 5-1 vote came late Tuesday night; the Pocatello City Council’s 4-2 vote came early Friday morning. That marks the fifth and sixth Idaho cities, including Boise, to pass such ordinances, after the state Legislature refused for seven straight years to enact such protections statewide.
* First District Congressman Raul Labrador dropped out of an eight-member bipartisan group working toward compromise immigration reform legislation in the House, and said he’ll oppose the group’s legislation, due to differences over how to pay for immigrants’ health care. “We just have a different philosophy,” Labrador told reporters. “The Democratic Party believes that health insurance is a social responsibility of the nation. I believe that health insurance is an individual responsibility. And that’s a really hard philosophy to mesh.” You can read more here. Today, the Coalition for Immigrant Rights of Idaho plans a rally at Meridian City Hall to protest Labrador’s move.
* The family of Bowe Bergdahl, the American soldier from Hailey captured four years ago in Afghanistan and still held as a prisoner of war, received a letter from their son after working with the International Committee of the Red Cross. The family said it was “greatly relieved and encouraged by this letter;” read the full story here from the Associated Press.
* Idaho’s latest tax revenue figures, for the month of May, came in 2.4 percent below forecast, but that followed a big surplus in April, the state’s biggest month for tax revenue, bringing the state to 3 percent above forecast for the fiscal year to date; Idaho’s fiscal year ends June 30. You can see the general fund revenue report here.
I am on vacation this week, the first week I’ve taken off since the legislative session. It feels pretty blissful, I have to say; I started it off with windsurfing on Lucky Peak on Saturday, then dinner downtown with my hubby; a mountain bike ride in the foothills Sunday, where the wildflowers are blooming, the grasses are lush and the air is scented with sage; and now off to the Columbia River Gorge for a few days, followed by another Boise summer weekend. I’ll be back at work next Monday; click below for more vacation photos.
While I’m gone, check out the links below to my two-part series on one of the most inventive crimes Idaho’s seen in a while – a big-bucks financial fraud allegedly pulled off from behind bars in an Idaho prison cell.
It’s clear that Mark Brown is a smart guy, maybe even borderline brilliant. But what’s astounding is the way he apparently pulled off a major, years-long financial fraud, taking in big corporations, courts and attorneys across the nation, all from behind bars in an Idaho prison cell.
Brown had no access to the Internet and appears to have had no accomplices or outside help. Instead, investigators believe he used a cherished electric typewriter that he was allowed to keep in his small, spare cell, and legal ads found in national newspapers including the Wall Street Journal and USA Today, to make fraudulent claims in big class-action lawsuits and bankruptcies. The story is detailed in my two-part series in The Spokesman-Review’s Sunday and Monday editions; you can read Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.
Brown is alleged to have typed up professional-looking legal documents, false letters from law firms and more, and made skillful use of the “legal mail” exception for inmates that allows for correspondence with attorneys and judges without review from prison staff. Big checks poured in – Brown’s take in multiparty lawsuits including a $70 million GlaxoSmithKline drug-pricing settlement and a $20 million IBM shareholders’ settlement. Authorities say Brown collected close to $64,000 through those settlements and deposited the money in his prison trust account, which inmates can use for things like commissary purchases. He then transferred much of it out to an investment account that authorities have targeted for potential forfeiture.
The behind-bars operation caught authorities by surprise. “We screen our mail pretty well, but he also was running a pretty good scam here,” said Cpl. Wesley Heckathorn, a guard at the Idaho Correctional Institution in Orofino and former longtime U.S. Navy investigator who helped uncover Brown’s alleged fraud. Brown is now facing a 12-count federal indictment for mail fraud and awaiting a September trial, while authorities at both Idaho’s state prison system and the nation’s largest private prison operator, Corrections Corp. of America, scratch their heads over how he allegedly pulled it off.
Some who know Brown, however, aren’t surprised. “Mark is just so bright,” said Terry Rich, who hired Brown in 1994, when Brown was briefly out on parole, to work at his Boise high-tech firm. “He is so slippery, and he’s so believable, one of the most charming people you’ll meet. … If you let Mark sit around and think too much, this is what happens.” Brown was a promising 23-year-old computer science student at the University of Idaho when he first went to prison with a 20-year sentence for theft; now, he’s 53, still in prison, and never likely to get out.
As University of Idaho President Duane Nellis leaves Idaho this week to become president of Texas Tech, his parting advice to the state was to invest in its workers by funding raises for state employees. That’s something Idaho Gov. Butch Otter declared a priority early in his first term, noting the gap between state worker pay and market rates. But since the downturn hit, Idaho hasn't funded state employee raises in four of the last five years. Now the state is relying on agencies to find budget savings in order to give some workers pay boosts.
Agencies have been directed to use any savings they can identify in their budgets for either one-time bonuses, if the savings are one-time, or for ongoing raises, if they’re efficiencies that will continue. “They’re going through that process,” Otter said. “In fact, I’ve OK’d quite a few of those agency directors’ programs.” Under plans approved by the governor’s Division of Financial Management, $5 million in raises and $4 million in one-time bonuses are going out either this year or in the coming fiscal year, which starts July 1; a few agencies still are working on their plans. But workers in agencies that don’t have savings are out of luck.
Just 23 percent of state workers have gotten raises averaging $1,500 under the plans, and 30 percent have gotten bonuses averaging $900. “Every agency is different,” said Jani Revier, Otter’s budget director. “It was done on the amount each agency could afford.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
By the way, Nellis earned $335,000 as president of the University of Idaho. At Texas Tech, his base salary will be $427,000, plus a $12,000-a-year car allowance, a $60,000-a-year housing allowance and a deferred compensation package.
Idaho is at risk of lawsuits over its flawed public defender system, according to a 2010 report, but after several years of study, the state still hasn't agreed on how to fix the system, the AP reports. Now, an interim committee of lawmakers is being tasked with finding a solution. At the heart of the dispute is whether counties should be free to give public defender contracts to private attorneys, with standards, or whether counties should be required to hire a full-time public defender, a big and costly change for the state, but one that would address a fundamental difficulty in the system when lawyers juggle low-paid public defense contracts with other, higher-paying cases.
“Both of those proposals were brought up before the commission,” said State Appellate Public Defender Sara Thomas, who is a commission member. “Ultimately the decision was made that they would go to the governor on equal footing, and now the interim committee will get a chance to review them.” Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — An industry group that promotes burning brown coal to make energy poached U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador's top staffer, marking the latest employee to exit the second-term lawmaker's office. The Lignite Energy Council named Jason Bohrer, Labrador's chief of staff, as president and chief executive officer. The Bismarck, N.D.-based group says Bohrer replaces John Dwyer, who is retiring after 30-plus years. In addition to his role in Labrador's office, Bohrer also worked for Idaho Sen. James Risch. Bohrer is slated to start in July. He's a North Dakota State University graduate. Other recent, high-profile departures from Labrador's office include spokesman Phil Hardy, fired in February after sending an errant Twitter message in the congressman's name. District director Jake Ball quit this month, while campaign manager China Gum left in January.
Click below for a full report from the AP; Labrador's now lost eight staffers in a year.
The Idaho State Police reported 31 DUI arrests statewide over the Memorial Day holiday weekend, from Friday night through early Tuesday morning. ISP also reported 23 crashes, including one fatality and five causing injuries. There were also 35 drug-related arrests, 28 of those misdemeanors and seven felonies. The stats are for ISP only, and don’t include incidents handled by local law enforcement agencies.
So how does that compare to last year? Last year saw 39 DUI arrests, so that’s down, and 22 crashes including one fatality and five causing injuries, so that’s largely unchanged. The number of drug-related arrests, though, was up significantly - more than doubling. During last year’s Memorial Day holiday weekend, ISP reported only 14, including nine misdemeanors and five felonies.
Kootenai County Sheriff Ben Wolfinger told the Spokesman-Review’s Scott Maben in an interview yesterday that he hasn’t yet decided whether to keep or drop the Boy Scout troop chartered by the sheriff’s office, but he said his Christian faith and what the Bible says about homosexuality are weighing heavily on him as he struggles with the recent decision by the Boy Scouts of America to end the organization’s membership ban on gay youth. “I don’t think I can make any decision in my life without bringing my faith into it,” said Wolfinger, an elder in the large, evangelical Real Life Ministries church. “My faith influences what I do every day.” You can read Maben’s full report here.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: MCCALL, Idaho (AP) — An orphaned black bear cub that suffered second-degree burns on its paws during an August 2012 forest fire in eastern Idaho has been returned to the wild, healthy and 70 pounds heavier. Officials with the Snowdon Wildlife Sanctuary in McCall say the bear, dubbed “Boo Boo,” was released into the forests of central Idaho on Wednesday. Firefighters rescued the then-25-pound cub from a tree during the Mustang Fire near Salmon. The bear was initially treated at the Idaho Humane Society before being transferred to Snowdon. Boo Boo was among 10 orphaned cubs being cared for at Snowdon. Boo Boo was released with a GPS collar that will record his location over the next year, when it will fall off.
Sen. Mike Crapo held a press conference at a Boise gun shop today, where he blasted Congress' and President Barack Obama's bid to tighten gun laws while promoting reauthorization of a 2004 law that, among other things, directs federal taxpayer money for mental health courts. The AP reports that Crapo is using the latest congressional recess to emphasize his reputation as a serious policy maker, not a man on his heels after his December drunken driving arrest and this month's disclosure that his campaign lost $250,000 on a loan-gone-sour.
Despite the turbulence, Crapo said he hasn't thought of retiring or considered consequences for his 2016 re-election. “No, the answer is definitely not,” Crapo told the AP. “I think serving in the U.S. Senate is an incredible honor. I've been very engaged in the 'Gang of Six' and the other efforts to deal with our national debt crisis. I'm still fully engaged in that and all of the other aspects of my responsibilities in Washington, D.C.” Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.
The University of Idaho has named Michael Satz, associate dean in the College of Law, to serve as interim dean of the college, effective June 1. Satz succeeds Don Burnett, who was named interim president of the University of Idaho. When Burnett accepted the interim university presidency, he said he would neither return to the dean's position nor apply for the permanent presidency; he will retain his faculty status after his interim presidency. Satz joined the U of I as an associate professor in the College of Law in 2006; he was appointed associated dean for faculty affairs in 2012. The university said it will begin a national search to identify candidates for permanent College of Law dean; click below for the UI's full announcement.
Here’s a surprising turn of events: With April’s strong state tax revenues, if current trends hold, statutorily required transfers to Idaho’s Budget Stabilization Fund, the state’s main rainy-day savings account, will fill that fund to its statutory cap by the end of the current fiscal year. The stabilization fund, by law, is capped at 5 percent of the state’s general-fund budget. Beyond that point, surpluses would just stay in the state’s general fund.
Legislative Budget Director Cathy Holland-Smith noted that HB 345, the year-end bill sought by the governor this year, directs all year-end surpluses beyond $20 million to the stabilization fund. That now looks like it’ll mean a $58.9 million transfer to the fund at the close of the fiscal year June 30.
The fund had a beginning balance at the start of this fiscal year of $23.8 million. It also will get a statutory transfer, by formula based on state revenue growth, of $25.9 million. And then, at the start of the new fiscal year, the higher-than-expected revenues dictate another statutory transfer into the fund of $27.4 million. Add those up, and the fund will have $136 million in it. It only has $28 million more to go after that before hitting the cap, and more surpluses could materialize in May and June. “We’re looking at almost filling up the budget stabilization fund at the end of 2013,” Holland-Smith said.
Meanwhile, the Public Education Stabilization Fund will have a projected $48.9 million at the close of the fiscal year. “So if things continue the way they are, we’ll have $184.9 million in those two reserve funds,” she told the Legislative Council.
During the recession, Idaho drained nearly $400 million from its various reserve funds and the state Millennium Fund, dropping its reserves to near-zero by 2011. Now, they’re building back up.
Now that the Legislature has approved archiving the video and audio streams of its proceedings during its sessions, Peter Morrill, general manager of Idaho Public Television, told the Legislative Council today that IPTV’s goal for the upcoming 2014 session is to have that day’s audio and video files from committee meetings and House and Senate floor sessions up and posted on the Internet for public access within 24 hours. House Speaker Scott Bedke applauded the news. “I think we’re conducting the people’s business, and they have a right to view those proceedings that directly affect them at their leisure,” Bedke said. “Archiving allows them to not have to be here. We’ve got all this technology – we should use it.”
The Legislative Council has voted unanimously to approve the appointments for its legislative interim committees; you can see the list here. The new committee on the K-12 education system will be co-chaired by Senate Education Chairman John Goedde and House Education Chairman Reed DeMordaunt; other members are Sens. Thayn, Patrick, Martin and Durst, and Reps. Horman, Boyle, VanOrden and Woodings.
As the Legislature’s IT division manager, Glenn Harris, opened his presentation to the Legislative Council on technology changes during the 2013 session, he referred to the “hand-holding” sometimes needed when new technologies are introduced. House Speaker Scott Bedke asked if most of that “hand-holding” was needed for older members of the Legislature. “It’s not necessarily the age of the member or the legislative service, it just depends on who the people are,” Harris responded. Amid laughter, Bedke said, “Well said.”
After improvements, the wireless network used by lawmakers worked very well this year, Harris said, and brought no complaints. The public Wi-Fi network, however, was a different story; upgrades are in the works.
A new venture this year was automated updates on House and Senate floor votes on Facebook and Twitter. “This was used by a fair amount of people,” Harris said. “We didn’t advertise this heavily; there was a link on our website.” When surveyed, 59 percent of legislators “actually said they didn’t even know it was happening, but they plan on using it next year.”
The Legislature has run into increasing problems with lawmakers’ mass emails to constituents being labeled as spam. “We’re proposing actually acquiring a mass email newsletter type service that you guys can use to email out,” Harris said.
Another issue for the Legislature in the tech arena: Lawmakers still are doing lots of printing, and the Legislature is going through $8,000 worth of toner each year. “We want to cut those costs,” Harris said. He encouraged lawmakers to print in color only sparingly, and when they need to make multiple color printouts, to take them to the state copy center and use copiers there, which cuts the cost in half.
The Legislative Council is meeting this morning, with an agenda that includes appointments to interim legislative committees, including panels on federal lands transfer, the state’s public defender system, natural resources issues, the K-12 education system, Energy, Environment & Technology; and the criminal justice system. There’s also a health care task force and a wind energy task force.
So far this morning, the council has been reviewing the legislative session with legislative services staff, including how the technical end of the session worked; Legislative Services Director Jeff Youtz said the research and legislation division hit the 100 percent performance mark for having all bills turned around in five work days; and the bill-drafting process was almost entirely error-free. “We had an excellent session,” Youtz told the lawmakers.
He’s also named new deputy division managers, a new position, for several of the divisions within the Legislative Services Office; they include Paul Headlee in Budget & Policy Analysis; Eric Milstead in Research & Legislation; and Norma Clark in Information Technology. They’ll assist the existing division managers, Cathy Holland-Smith, Mike Nugent and Glenn Harris.
The meeting runs all day; later items on the agenda include a general fund budget update; a Tax Commission presentation on HB 315, the new business personal property tax exemption bill; and discussion of processes for fiscal notes, public records requests, video archiving of legislative proceedings; improvements to wireless service in the Capitol; and more.