Gov. Butch Otter has named Debbie Field, former chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee, former state drug czar and former chairman of Otter’s re-election campaign, as the new chair of the state Board of Correction. That’s the board that oversees Idaho’s prison system; former chair Robin Sandy retired from the post a week ago.
“Debbie has had a distinguished career as a first-rate lawmaker and member of my Cabinet. I am pleased she is joining the board and I have no doubt she will make a meaningful contribution in her new role,” Otter said.
Field served in the Idaho House for 18 years. She also served 10 years on the state board of juvenile corrections, and chaired the state’s Interagency Committee on Substance Abuse, Prevention and Treatment.
Idaho’s prison system currently is embroiled in an FBI investigation into alleged understaffing and overbilling by a private prison company, Corrections Corporation of America, at the state’s largest prison. The state took back operation of the lockup July 1.
Agreement on tax revenue
The Legislature’s joint revenue committee has adopted the governor’s revenue forecast for next year, after learning that the median of estimates from committee members after two days of hearings and public testimony from economists, business representatives and more came in just $4.3 million below Otter’s number.
The only dissenting votes came from Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, who moved to adopt the committee median instead, and two backers. Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, moved to adopt the governor’s figure; his motion passed, 13-3. “I’m comfortable with it because the governor, in his budget, is not spending the full amount,” Hill said afterward. While forecasting 5.5 percent growth in revenues, Otter’s proposing a 5.2 percent increase in spending.
Schmidt said, “I was very impressed with the narrow range of the economic outlook committee’s projections. We had a tight grouping, and I thought that was a reflection of good listening, good work.”
UI alum named district judge
Grangeville attorney Gregory FitzMaurice has been appointed a 2nd District judge by Otter, to succeed Judge Michael Griffin, who retired at the beginning of this year. The new district judge will take office immediately. FitzMaurice has practiced law at his own firm in Grangeville since 1980; he’s a University of Idaho law school graduate and former clerk for Idaho Supreme Court Justice Charles Donaldson.
Ybarra seeks funding increase
Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra has released her budget proposal, calling for a 6.4 percent increase in public school funding next year, which is less than the 7.4 percent boost sought by Otter. There are some other differences between the two proposals; for example, Ybarra wants more operational funds for school districts, while Otter wants more for teacher professional development.
Ybarra will make her budget pitch to lawmakers on Jan. 29.
Judge Lansing to retire
Idaho Court of Appeals Judge Karen Lansing plans to retire June 30 after 22 years on the bench. “The opportunity to serve Idahoans as a Court of Appeals judge has been one of the greatest honors of my life,” she said. “It has been a privilege and joy to serve with colleagues, past and present, who have brought such skill and dedication to their work serving this state. I look forward to continuing to contribute to the judiciary on a part-time basis as a senior judge.”
The Idaho Judicial Council will accept applications for the position, and Otter will announce Lansing’s replacement later this year.
New ethics manual
Legislative leaders have distributed a new ethics manual to all lawmakers, as part of last week’s mandatory ethics training. “Please write in the margins, please take notes,” House Speaker Scott Bedke told the group. “This is so important that I want this to be a work in progress.”
That’s why the new manual is in a three-ring binder, rather than bound. Bedke said it can be added to as needed.
Among the items in the handbook: a checklist for legislative newsletters sent out with public resources. “This is where we inevitably cross the line inadvertently,” Bedke said. “Spending public money in your campaign is an absolute no-no, period. … Be careful there.”
There’s a section on the ethics commission process in both houses; all applicable state laws and rules; a set of questions and answers; and more. “We don’t do this from a vacuum,” Bedke said. “These are questions that come up … all the time.”
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