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Eye on Boise: Idaho State Police understaffing causing safety concerns

BOISE – The Idaho State Police is so understaffed that Col. Ralph Powell, ISP director, says it’s causing safety concerns for both officers and the public.

A state study that examined the number of miles of state and federal highways the ISP patrols concluded that it needs 94 additional troopers; it also concluded that ISP needs 14 more detective positions just to maintain current caseloads.

“If you are stopped by one of our troopers, you are, indeed, very fortunate,” Powell said. Five of the state’s six districts lack 24-hour coverage.

ISP requested 33 new positions next year, including 15 patrol officers and six detectives; it lost six detectives two years ago to budget cuts. Gov. Butch Otter has recommended 15 new positions, including six patrol officers and four detectives.

The governor’s budget reflects an 11.7 percent increase in state funding for ISP, but just 4.4 percent in total funds. The governor’s recommendation also includes $3.9 million for replacement items, from ballistic vests to motorcycles, police cars and a new Suburban for the executive protection division, costing $48,200 including equipment and installation. That’s the division that protects the governor and first lady.

Dental coverage

The House has voted 62-6 in favor of House Bill 395, to restore nonemergency adult dental coverage to people on Medicaid, which was eliminated in 2011. Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, a physician, said, “We were trying (in 2011) to respond to a sharp drop in revenue, and House Bill 260 cut or eliminated many medical services. But some of those services were important in overall health, and eliminating them has proven to have an overall cost.”

Emergency room costs for dental-related conditions more than doubled after the coverage was cut; at an earlier committee hearing, Medicaid recipients testified about lost teeth, painful abscesses and infections, and more, all because they couldn’t afford routine dental work.

Rep. Cindy Agidius, R-Moscow, told the House, “I believe that restoring dental benefits will make a significant difference in the lives of the people in my district as well as across the state, as well as being more cost-effective.”

Rep. Paul Shepherd, R-Riggins, said, “I think it’s a wonderful idea, and in normal times, I probably could vote for it, but I think the more serious problem … is the future of our country when the debt has reached the limit it’s reached. So I think we should vote no.”

Rusche said, “I would submit that the action on this bill will not change the federal debt, nor will it change anybody’s taxes in Idaho. What we do have the opportunity to do, though, is to improve the health of Idahoans and lower our costs by providing appropriate medical services for the disabled in Idaho who currently qualify for Medicaid.”

Opponents of the bill, which now moves to the Senate, also included North Idaho Reps. Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d’Alene, and Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton.

2 percent raises

Legislative budget writers have unanimously endorsed the recommendation of another legislative panel to allow for average 2 percent raises for state workers as they set each agency budget for next year, with 1 percent of that permanent and 1 percent in one-time bonuses. Budget writers also endorsed the governor’s revenue forecast for purposes of budgeting, though a minority wanted a lower figure.

Guns on campus

Boise police Chief Mike Masterson, who waited through the nearly three-hour hearing on the guns-on-campus bill last week expecting to testify, released a strongly worded statement afterward objecting to how the hearing was handled. Masterson said he arrived early to sign up to testify, but committee Chairman Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, gave nearly 40 minutes of the hearing to NRA lobbyist Dakota Moore.

Police chiefs and law enforcement leaders traveled from as far away as Moscow to testify against the bill, Masterson said, but, “None of the police leaders were called.” Masterson asked, “Where is our democracy today when police leaders directly responsible for developing policy and training for your safety are effectively silenced by the chair of a committee who introduced the bill himself?”

McKenzie, the lead sponsor of the bill, said, “Within the time that we had, I tried to prioritize those who were from the universities.” Also not called to testify: University students who signed up.

The measure passed on a straight party-line vote, 7-2, with only the panel’s two Democrats objecting; it now moves to the full Senate.

Staff writer Betsy Z. Russell can be reached at or (208) 336-2854. Follow her on Twitter @BetsyZRussell.

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