Posts tagged: Butch Otter
Idaho has some of the nation’s lowest crime rates, but its prison population is growing quickly at a time when most states are seeing declines. So now all three branches of state government in Idaho – from the governor to the Supreme Court to the Legislature – are coming together to launch an intensive new effort to find out what’s going wrong and fix it, with the help of grant funding and aid from the Pew Charitable Trusts, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, and the Council of State Governments’ Justice Center; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
The state qualified for more than a quarter-million dollars in grant funding for the effort, which Gov. Butch Otter unveiled at a news conference in his office today, joined by Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Burdick, legislative leaders, top officials from an array of state agencies and representatives of Pew and CSG. “Criminal justice is taking a larger and larger share of our state budget every year,” Otter said. And despite Idaho’s low crime rates, one of every 34 males is involved in the criminal justice system and one of every 156 females, he said. Plus, 51 percent of those in Idaho’s prisons are repeat offenders. “So what are we not doing while we have them, to prepare them for a life outside of the correctional environment that they end up in?” Otter asked. “What more can we do?”
Other states including Texas, Kansas, South Carolina and more have worked with the same partners on the “justice reinvestment” approach, which involves intensive analysis of data, developing policy options, putting new strategies in place and measuring results. Some states have seen impressive results. Texas estimated that it averted $340 million in operational costs and $1.5 billion in prison construction costs. South Carolina was expecting an increase of 3,000 prison inmates in 2010 and $300 million in increased costs; instead, its prison population dropped.
“We’re going to use every tool we possibly can,” Otter said. That could include changes in sentencing, treatment, education, rehabilitation and more. A broad, multi-agency working group started meeting on the project today, and a legislative interim committee is holding its first meeting this afternoon, chaired by the House and Senate judiciary chairmen, Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, and Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry. The aim is to develop solutions as soon as possible, including some that could be considered in the legislative session that starts in January of 2014.
Wills, a retired state trooper, said, “It’s going to be a great opportunity for us to bite the bullet, to save money, and to prepare our citizens that need it, that are housed behind those walls, to get out and do something constructive rather than destructive as we’ve seen in the past.”
Asked about the Idaho GOP Central Committee’s new resolution calling on the Legislature to overturn local anti-discrimination ordinances, like those six Idaho cities have passed to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, Gov. Butch Otter said today that the resolution runs counter to his views on local control. “I think, even though the cities and counties are creatures of the state, the state has always recognized the value of local control, local decision-making, and these folks having a responsibility to establish for themselves the character of their community,” Otter said. “Although I understand some of the reasoning behind that effort, I really think that the overriding value of local folks making local decisions about local policies is much more valuable than us directing folks from Boise.”
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.
Gov. Butch Otter and Idaho Health Insurance Exchange Board Chairman Stephen Weeg are defending Idaho's work toward a state-based insurance exchange, after a Wall Street Journal article today pointed to decisions by Idaho and New Mexico to make use the federal government's computer platform for the exchange's initial launch as a sign that the two states are no longer committed to state, rather than federal, exchanges.
At its May 9 meeting, the Idaho exchange board voted to move on “parallel tracks” toward setting up its own IT platform for its health insurance exchange, and exploring the benefits of using the federal government's platform temporarily, until Idaho's is ready to go. Today, the board voted to take the same step for the “SHOP” portion of the exchange, which stands for Small Business Health Options Program, and is the portion of the exchange that will serve small businesses, while the rest is for individuals purchasing insurance plans.
Asked by other board members to clarify the step, Weeg said, “We’ve made a decision to use the federal government’s contractor that operates the platform to be our contractor for our platform for a short period of time, while we can get our platform fully developed.” He and other board members stressed that only Idaho insurance products would be sold under Idaho rules on the state exchange, regardless of whether it uses the federal IT platform.
Otter and Weeg distributed a guest opinion to Idaho newspapers today entitled, “Implementing state insurance exchange requires moving quickly, creatively,” in which they stressed that Idaho's still looking at a state - not federal - exchange. “Once again - and despite misleading headlines and the drumbeat of those who oppose anything short of nullifying a federal law that's already been found constitutional - our efforts will not result in a partnership or a federal exchange,” the two wrote. “Idaho is building and will have a consumer-friendly state-based exchange run by Idahoans for Idahoans.” Click below to read the full opinion piece.
Gov. Butch Otter will accept the $4,500 a month boost in his pay that’s coming June 1 when his housing stipend resumes, Otter’s press secretary, Jon Hanian, confirmed Friday. The state paid the housing stipend to governors until the 2009 when the hilltop mansion donated by the late J.R. Simplot to the state for a governor’s mansion opened for use after renovations, but Otter never lived there; he’s Simplot’s ex-son-in-law. Instead, he continued to live at his ranch in Star, just west of Boise. Now, the mansion’s being handed back over to the Simplot family.
Otter, a multimillionaire, accepted the payments earlier, saying if other governors got the payments, he’d take them as well; Hanian said the governor’s reasoning hasn’t changed. You can read my full Sunday column here at spokesman.com.
The $54,000 a year in housing stipends will be on top of the governor’s $117,000 a year salary; by law, that salary will rise another 1.7 percent on Jan. 1, 2014 to $119,000.
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.
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.
Both Gov. Butch Otter and Idaho’s congressional delegation fired off letters to the Coast Guard yesterday pushing for approval of the jet boat race on the St. Joe River in North Idaho that had been scheduled for May 17-19 – until the Coast Guard launched an environmental assessment process that will take until long after the race date has passed. “We ask that you use your authority to issue the permit to allow the races to proceed as planned,” Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo and 1stDistrict Rep. Raul Labrador wrote to Coast Guard Rear Admiral Keith A. Taylor. Wrote the governor, “Since the race is in less than two weeks, I am requesting the USCG use its discretion to assess the merits of the complaint and exercise its authority to issue a permit by May 10, 2013, to ensure that the race can take place.”
Both said the event had all its needed permits from the state and Benewah and Shoshone counties, but after a protest was received, the need for a Coast Guard permit was triggered – and the Coast Guard said it would take a 135-day environmental assessment before that could be issued. “This series of events has placed the race organizers in a no-win situation,” the senators and congressman wrote. “They did not need a permit from the USCB until a complaint was filed, and the complaint was not filed in time for the USCG to complete an environmental assessment so that a permit could be issued before the dates of the races.”
Otter attached a memo to his letter from Idaho Fish & Game Director Virgil Moore saying the proposed races wouldn’t have significant impact on bull trout; and potential impacts on bald eagle nests could be mitigated by setting up a zone around each nest site a quarter-mile in radius, on both sides of the river, where no spectators could gather or park to watch the race, and monitoring the nest sites both before and after the race.
Wrote Otter, “As you can see from the biological science, the jet boat race should be permitted if proper steps are taken by race organizers.” He argued, “The Race the Joe! Jet boat race has an important positive economic impact to the surrounding communities.”
The congressional delegation encouraged the Coast Guard to complete the environmental assessment for future events, but let this year’s race go forward. You can read the governor’s letter here, and the delegation’s letter here.
When Idaho Gov. Butch Otter decided to go after gun and ammo manufacturers elsewhere in a bid to convince them to move their businesses to Idaho, he didn’t do it in a small way. The governor penned a two-page letter that went out to 79 gun and ammunition manufacturers in 28 states. “Here in Idaho, gun ownership is more than a constitutional right; it’s a way of life,” Otter said in the letter. “That’s why I’m personally extending an invitation for you to grow your bottom line here in Idaho and joint the business momentum we are experiencing in Idaho.”
He added, “In Idaho, we know what ‘business friendly’ means. We cherish and defend freedom, and we protect the Second Amendment. Those principles are in the very fiber of who we are, and we welcome the opportunity to show you our great state and be a partner in your future success.” You can read the April 25 letter here.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has pardoned two first-time offenders who were convicted of selling drugs to undercover officers, years after they served their time, paid all restitution and fines, met and exceeded the terms of their parole and lived for years in society as employed, productive citizens. They are the only pardons Otter’s signed since he first was elected governor in 2006. “I do not condone the sale or manufacture of illegal drugs,” Otter wrote in his orders approving the pardons of each of the two men, Eric Robert Hinckley, 37, and Robert Frank Thornton, 57. “Notwithstanding these concerns, there are several mitigating factors that weigh in favor of clemency.”
Hinckley was convicted of delivery of a controlled substance in 2002 in Bonneville County, for selling methamphetamine. Since completing his sentence and his parole, he’s obtained a college degree, married and held the same job for nine years. Thornton was convicted of two counts of delivery of a controlled substance, cocaine, in an undercover police operation in Ada County in 1992. Like Hinckley, he pled guilty, completed his sentence and parole; since then, he’s been a law-abiding citizen for 17 years; he is employed as a construction supervisor. Both men are married with children and own homes. “This is the way it’s supposed to work,” Otter said in a statement. “We send people to prison to protect the public, for punishment and as a deterrent. But we also send them to prison to be rehabilitated and, we hope, to be redeemed as citizens, neighbors, fathers, husbands and taxpayers. Too often it doesn’t work out that way. But for Robert Thornton and Eric Hinckley, it did. I’m proud of them. I’m confident they’ll stay on track.”
Otter’s press secretary, Jon Hanian, said although the orders were dated April 8, Otter just signed them last week. “So we just put it out,” he said. “He was doing is own due diligence; that’s what took so long.” The two cases had “unique circumstances,” Hanian said, including unanimous recommendations from the state Commission on Pardons and Parole to grant pardons. “These are the first two pardons that the governor has ever signed,” Hanian said. “It’s unusual that one reaches the governor’s office.”
May is a multi-purpose month in Idaho, according to seven official proclamations (so far) signed by Gov. Butch Otter. May 2013 in Idaho has now been officially proclaimed as 2nd Amendment Protection Month, Building Safety Month, Community Action Month, Electrical Safety Month, Lupus Awareness Month, Mental Health Month, and Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month.
“This time of year is our peak for proclamations,” said Jon Hanian, Otter’s press secretary; May and June are the busiest months. The governor signs lots of proclamations declaring official days, weeks or months, usually at the request of various organizations. But no organization requested today’s “2nd Amendment Protection Month” proclamation, Hanian said. “In this case, he initiated this. … This was something he wanted to do.”
“He wants gun manufacturers to know that while there are some states going after the 2nd Amendment, in Idaho we plan to uphold it,” Hanian said. “We want them to know that here in Idaho, the welcome mat is out.”
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter today proclaimed May to be “2nd Amendment Protection Month” and is inviting arms and ammunition manufacturers to consider relocating to the Gem State. “The National Rifle Association ranks Idaho as a gun-friendly state whose laws are among the least restrictive in the nation,” Otter said in his official proclamation. “The state of Idaho openly embraces companies in the arms and ammunition manufacturing sector to expand or relocate to the state.”
The governor also sent letters to industry leaders to press his invitation, writing, “In Idaho, we know what ‘business friendly’ means.”
His proclamation and efforts were touted in a press release from the state’s Department of Commerce, which quoted Fred Newcome, vice president of sales for PNW Arms, which recently relocated to Potlatch, Idaho, saying, “Idaho offered us an opportunity to relocate somewhere where we could be in a more comfortable environment.”
The department said in its release, “Idaho already is home to a robust, thriving arms and ammunition industry with over 180 companies that manufacture custom arms, aftermarket parts and specialized ammunition. The state embraces this industry sector and has a number of statutes in place restricting lawsuits against firearms or ammunition manufactures and limiting product liability.” Click here for a link to the governor's full proclamation; click below for the full Commerce announcement. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has returned from a six-day trade mission to Asia, and reports that he views the mission to South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam as a success. During the trip, the Idaho Department of Commerce signed a memorandum of understanding with the Taiwan Industrial Development Bureau on cooperation in research and development of geothermal energy. Two fresh produce importers in Taipei singed up to import onions from the Idaho-Eastern Oregon region this fall; the Idaho Potato Commission identified market segments it can tap in Korea and Vietnam; and Idaho food products, wine and vodka were featured at a promotion in Taipei that included a chef demonstration by Rod Jessick, executive chef at the Coeur d’Alene Resort.
Click below for the governor’s full announcement.
The board of Idaho’s new state-based health insurance exchange board opened its first meeting this morning in the Lincoln Auditorium in the state Capitol; it is being video streamed live online here. “We have a challenge ahead of us,” said interim exchange board chairman Stephen Weeg, the retired head of a community health center, Health West, in eastern Idaho. “There was a huge amount of work on the part of a lot of people … to see Idaho create its own health insurance exchange. And the little task that we have before us is between now and October, get a business started and make an exchange operational and make it work for the citizens of Idaho.”
The 19-member board is scheduled to meet from 8:30 to 4 today, and tomorrow until noon. Today’s agenda includes overviews of the law that set up the exchange and Idaho Open Meeting Law requirements; a review of the exchange’s scope and requirements and the roles of the state departments of insurance and health and welfare; and setting of key tasks and time frames. Tomorrow morning at 9, the board is scheduled to go into executive session for a telephone interview with a candidate for executive director of the exchange.
The exchange will provide a voluntary marketplace for Idahoans to compare and buy health insurance plans online and access new government subsidies. David Hensley, Gov. Butch Otter’s chief of staff, told the board, “We’re going to be counting on each and every one of you to make this successful. … One of the most critical things to the governor is the openness, accountability and transparency of this board. He believes that we are directly responsible to the people of Idaho.”
Weeg encouraged all the board members to be active participants, saying, “My sense on this is that we'll need the collective intelligence of all of us and best work from all of us in order to make this work.”
Five months after Idaho voters strongly rejected them, a series of laws limiting school teacher contract rights in the state is back on the books. Gov. Butch Otter has signed five controversial bills into law to revive parts of voter-rejected Proposition 1, on everything from limiting negotiated teacher contract terms to just one year to allowing school districts to cut teacher pay from one year to the next without declaring financial emergencies. Four of the five bills have emergency clauses making them effective immediately – one, the bill limiting contract terms to one year, is retroactive to Nov. 21, 2012, the day the voters’ Nov. 7 decision took effect.
“Maybe there was some partisanship in those, I fully understand that,” Otter said. “I don’t think I could’ve asked, nor did I ask the Legislature to only address those things that they were going to get total, unanimous support for. I said where you can find consensus, come forward with ‘em, and we’ll work on ‘em, and we’ll work on ‘em together.” He said, “I think we picked the low-hanging fruit, and the low-hanging fruit was those things that seemed reasonable, those things that reached a consensus and those things the Legislature passed. And I’m proud.”
Otter pointed to other measures that won broad support, some of which passed without a dissenting vote in either house. One of those revived a little-remarked provision from Proposition 1 to require all teacher negotiations to take place in public; another revived a requirement for master labor agreements to be posted on school districts’ websites. A third, HB 261, forbids teacher layoffs from being done solely by seniority; that’s a change from Proposition 1’s provision that seniority not be considered at all, and the bill passed unanimously.
But the five bills, like the 2011 “Students Come First” school reform laws that Idaho voters repealed through three historic referenda in November, all passed with little or no Democratic support and with bipartisan opposition in both houses. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter and a delegation of business leaders are getting ready to head to Asia to peddle and promote some Idaho's top-ticket products. The Republican governor and crew leave Friday with stops planned in South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam. Taiwan is the state's third largest trade partner and South Korea is a top five export destination for Idaho businesses. As for Vietnam, state commerce officials view the country as an emerging trade partner. Some of the governor's travel partners include the Idaho Wheat Commission and The Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee, which represents about 300 growers and 35 shippers. Food and agriculture products account for nearly $950 million in annual export sales, second only to the semiconductor and industrial equipment sector. The delegation is expected to return April 27.
Gov. Butch Otter has appointed St. Maries attorney Richard S. Christensen to be a 1st District judge, filling a vacancy that will open May 1 when current 1st District Judge John Luster retires. Christensen, 57, is a former prosecutor and former deputy Idaho attorney general; most recently he's been in private practice in St. Maries. Click below for Otter's full announcement.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has allowed a twice-amended bill to promote organ donation to become law without his signature. The bill, SB 1072aa, allows Idahoans to make a voluntary $2 contribution to an organ donation fund when they apply for or renew their driver’s licenses; the money would go to maintaining a statewide organ donation registry.
Otter, in a transmittal letter, said that while he supports organ donation as “a simple and effective way for citizens to save or dramatically improve a life,” he has concerns about how the program would work at the Idaho Transportation Department and how it would impact ITD’s vehicle registration systems. He directed ITD, the Legislature and others involved with the bill to make sure the department’s costs for collecting the donations and administering the new fund would be covered by the donations.
SB 1072aa was one of just two bills that remained for Otter to act on yesterday from this year’s legislative session; the other was SB 1040, a controversial bill to allow school districts to cut teacher pay or contract days from one year to the next without declaring a financial emergency. That measure was the last bill to pass in this year’s session, after a bitter hour-long debate in the House. Otter quietly signed it yesterday, and so far hasn’t said why he decided to make it law. It’s among a group of bills pushed by the Idaho School Boards Association this year to revive voter-rejected curbs on teacher collective bargaining rights that were voted down in Proposition 1 in November.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter has vetoed a pair of bills, including legislation that called for diverting money from Idaho Fish and Game to a program aimed at managing problem wolves. That bill sponsored by Midvale Republican Rep. Judy Boyle would have moved $100,000 currently used for hunter access to a separate program focused on eliminating wolves that prey on livestock and prized game like elk and deer. Otter vetoed the bill Thursday, saying it could create a rift between sportsman and livestock producers — two groups he says are vital to controlling predatory wolves. He also says stakeholders weren't consulted or given the chance to review the proposal. Otter also killed a second bill Thursday that would shift power to the attorney general to investigate misconduct by elected county officials.
Gov. Butch Otter today announced the members of the 19-member board of Idaho's new state-based health insurance exchange, including 14 he appointed; two non-voting ex-officio members, the directors of the state departments of Insurance and Health & Welfare; and three lawmakers appointed by legislative leaders. The legislators named to the board were Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell; Rep. Kelley Packer, R-McCammon; and Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston.
The governor's appointees include a doctor, a nurse, employers, health insurers, and three consumer representatives. “I’m grateful that people with the talent, experience and ability to serve effectively on this board accepted the challenge,” Otter said in a statement. “We have decided to build and operate a voluntary, state-based health insurance exchange rather than defaulting to total federal control. The folks who have agreed to serve on the board will be our eyes, ears and most importantly the voices of Idaho in this process.” Click below for the governor's full announcement.