SUNDAY, DEC. 13, 2009

Speaker touts short session as capitol cost-saving plan

BOISE – Idaho House Speaker Lawerence Denney has sent out a memo to all House committee chairs and vice chairs asking them to take steps to wrap up the upcoming legislative session by April 1 to help the state save money.

Denney said he’s “trying to encourage people to keep this session as short as possible, because with the holdbacks, we’re going to be, I think, fairly tight as well.”

It costs an estimated $30,000 for every day the Legislature is in session; last year’s session went 117 days, the second-longest session in state history, and wrapped up on May 8. If this year’s session, which begins Jan. 11, ended March 31, it’d be an 80-day session.

In late September, Gov. Butch Otter ordered $99 million in midyear budget holdbacks, including a “suggested” 5 percent holdback on expenses for the House and Senate. In his memo, Denney said the House “will participate in that.”

Semanko gets post

Idaho GOP Chairman Norm Semanko has been tabbed for a seat on the Republican National Committee’s budget committee, which, state party executive director Jonathan Parker said, “other than the executive committee, is the most influential committee on the RNC.” The budget seat had been held by Blake Hall as Idaho’s national committeeman for the party; Hall resigned the national committeeman post after his conviction last month on stalking charges in Idaho Falls.

The state party has three positions on the RNC, for its chairman, national committeeman and national committeewoman, a post that’s long been held by Cindy Moyle. The state GOP central committee will vote on how to fill the vacant national committeeman seat, which Hall had held since 1990, at its Jan. 9 meeting.

Stennett names sub

Sen. Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum, has named his wife, Michelle, to sub for him for the first part of this year’s legislative session. Stennett missed last year’s session while undergoing treatment for brain cancer; former Sun Valley Mayor Jon Thorson filled in for him.

Stennett said in a statement that his tumors are gone and he recently completed his final chemotherapy treatment, but his recovery is delaying his return. “I am so grateful to be looking forward on this journey and must keep my health and wellness as my focus,” he said. “In the meantime, I am confident that Michelle will do a great job representing District 25. She travels the area with me and has a clear understanding of the issues affecting our communities.”

Postal inspector misused mail

A retired senior postal inspector who held a high position with the Postal Service in San Francisco was sentenced in federal court in Boise for mailing, without paying postage, 64 separate parcels – containing everything from golf clubs to a microwave oven – to Boise, where he had purchased a home last summer and was retiring.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the inspector, Gregory Staisiunas, 50, sent the parcels via registered mail using “penalty cover” labels that showed postage and fees had been paid; those labels were supposed to be only for official government mail. He also admitted sending liquor and ammunition through the mail, which is illegal.

Convicted of two misdemeanors and five petty infractions, Staisiunas was sentenced to $2,504 in restitution for the unpaid postage, $13,944.57 in fines and 200 hours of community service.

Risch: An Afghan Rubik’s cube

Idaho Sen. Jim Risch described the situation in Afghanistan as “a Rubik’s cube on steroids” while participating in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in which committee members questioned Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen about the Obama administration’s new Afghanistan strategy. “As polarized as this country is … this is an issue that we all really, really need to pull together on,” Risch said. “There are no good choices. There are only choices to be made that are in the best interest of the American people.”

Risch also questioned whether the July 2011 date the administration has set for beginning to pull troops back out of Afghanistan, after a buildup of 30,000 additional troops, is a “hard date” rather than a target. Gates responded that it’s a “firm date that the president has established” for beginning troop withdrawals, but, he said, “The pace of that withdrawal … will be conditions-based.”

Mullen noted, “This date has also been described as arbitrary – it’s not arbitrary at all.” The date marks the third summer that Marines will be in the Helmand province, he said. At that point, “We will have a clear indication which way this is going.”

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