Latest from The Spokesman-Review
Gov. Butch Otter has vetoed SB 1146a, the bill that would have allowed parents of Idaho children with an intractable form of epilepsy to treat their kids with cannabidiol, a non-psychotropic oil that's an extract of cannabis and can halt the children's repeated, extended and life-threatening seizures. The bill passed after lengthy and emotional hearings during this year's legislative session. "Of course I sympathize with the heartbreaking dilemma facing some families trying to cope with the debilitating impacts of disease," Otter wrote in his veto message; you can read it here. But he said there were too many questions about the bill, including from law enforcement and his administration's Office of Drug Policy, which raised concerns that the bill would open the door to legalizing medical marijuana.
"It ignores ongoing scientific testing on alternative treatments," Otter wrote. "It asks us to trust but not to verify. It asks us to legalize the limited use of cannabidiol oil, contrary to federal law. And it asks us to look past the potential for misuse and abuse with criminal intent."
"As an alternative to this legislation, I soon will issue an Executive Order authorizing the Department of Health & Welfare to study, and implement as it deems appropriate, an expanded access program for treatment-resistant epilepsy in children," Otter wrote. "That program has been approved by the Food & Drug Administration."
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter this morning declared Idaho’s legislative session “incomplete,” and indicated he’s laying the groundwork to call lawmakers back for a special session before mid-June to address a crisis they created in Idaho’s child-support enforcement system; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com. “I’m not prepared to stand up here today and tell you I’m going to call a special session, because I think there’s a lot of homework to do, in that if we were to have a special session, that we have a successful one,” Otter said. “It’s going to be a very deliberative … process through the stakeholders.”
The first step is sending out 155,000 letters to the 155,000 Idaho families now receiving child support payments from a non-custodial parent, warning them that within 60 days, all non-voluntary payments could end. That’s $174 million of the $205 million in child support payments Idaho Health and Welfare processes each year. “They could stop getting their payments,” said Idaho Health and Welfare spokesman Tom Shanahan. “We’ll still be able to do receipting,” for those parents who are making child-support payments voluntarily. “We’re not going to be able to do enforcement. That’s where the real angst is.”
Health and Welfare Director Dick Armstrong said, “To me, we have a human tragedy that we’re faced with.”
Asked if he’ll call a special session to fix Idaho’s child support enforcement crisis, Gov. Butch Otter called on Health & Welfare Director Dick Armstrong to give some background. First, though, Otter said, “I think it's important that we understand the consequences of doing nothing.”
Armstrong said, “We have 60 days to cure the situation.” He said, “We are greatly concerned at the unintended consequences of this action, and certainly look to the governor and the legislature to help us find an answer, find a cure, so we can then go back to doing the business of supporting families in Idaho.”
Otter said under the timetable laid out by federal officials, “It’s either June 12 or June 14 that we’re going to have to have a solution, otherwise we’re going to suffer the unintended consequences.” He said he met with the House speaker and Senate president pro-tem this morning “to work out a path forward.” He’s directed Armstrong to send a letter out to all 155,000 Idaho households who receive child support payments to let them know what’s happening and how it could affect them.
Asked if he’s willing to do nothing and see if the federal government follows through on its threats to remove Idaho’s child support enforcement funding and access to federal enforcement tools, Otter said no. “That’s not even entered the discussion,” he said. “We are going to be engaged and we are going to do something.”
“I’m not prepared to stand up here today and tell you I’m going to call a special session, because I think there’s a lot of homework to do, in that if we were to have a special session, that we have a successful one,” Otter said. He said that will include “engaging the legislative leadership, the legislative committees, Health & Welfare on the issue, so that as we do go forward, it’s not another issue that we short-stroke. That was one of the complaints that we had. …. It’s going to be a very deliberative … process through the stakeholders.”
Gov. Butch Otter said when assigning a grade to this year’s legislative session, he has to return to school days in giving grades by course. “Breaking it down, I would say education got an absolute A, excellent,” he said. “There’s a lot of incompletes. I would say there’s probably a B-minus, C-plus on transportation. But it wouldn’t be hard to give that an incomplete, but it’s a good start. … I think the Legislature finished up the work on transportation for this year as a beginning toward the fulfilling of the eventual needs.”
Gov. Butch Otter has distributed a statement, moments before his press conference starts this morning, saying, “While some unanticipated challenges left it with a grade of ‘Incomplete,’ … the 2015 session of the Idaho Legislature should be remembered for achieving historic improvements for Idaho schools and starting to address Idaho’s transportation needs.”
“We continued making sustainable, responsible investments in our public schools and in the educators on whom our children rely,” Otter said. “We broke through years of inertia and created a framework for meeting our long-term transportation revenue requirements. And we passed a balanced budget that reflects our commitment to keeping government’s growth below the growth of our economy. Yes, there’s some unfinished business and a little disappointment, but mostly what I see is a lot of real, tangible and lasting progress for the citizens of Idaho.”
All eyes are on Gov. Butch Otter today, who holds his post-legislative session press conference at 10 a.m. Mountain time. Otter is expected to announce whether or not he’ll call lawmakers back to Boise for a special session; there’s background info here from my story in today’s Spokesman-Review. I’ll have updates here.
Asked why Gov. Butch Otter signed SB 1066, the bill to create a new $2 million presidential primary the second Tuesday of March, Otter’s spokesman, Jon Hanian, said today, “There were some concerns previously about absentee and military folks not being able to be represented” in party presidential nominating caucuses. “That’s primarily the reason,” Hanian said. “The concerns about absentees and military was, I think, a central concern. … He believes that you can’t put a price on that.”
The new presidential primary would be in addition to Idaho’s existing May primary during presidential election years, which come once every four years. The bill passed the Senate on a 23-11 vote, and the House, 50-19.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has issued this statement about the Legislature’s killing of SB 1067, the child support enforcement bill, on the final day of this year’s legislative session:
“I am concerned that some members of the House Judiciary and Rules Committee put Idaho’s child support system at serious risk by killing Senate Bill 1067 in the waning hours of the 2015 legislative session. We are analyzing the impacts of the committee’s actions and what they mean for the 400,000 people who depend on Idaho’s system.”
Otter announces deal with feds to keep North Idaho’s Lake Pend Oreille full thru late summer, into Sept.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter says he’s reached an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bonneville Power Administration to keep North Idaho’s scenic Lake Pend Oreille full through the late summer and longer into September. “Working with our state, federal and tribal partners, as well as the many local citizens who commented on proposed lake operations, I am pleased to say that we have achieved a new process going forward that I think will maintain and enhance the scenic and recreational value of Lake Pend Oreille,” Otter said in a statement.
He added, “This will give the public greater certainty about summer lake levels and the timing of any necessary drawdowns for flood control or other purposes; in addition, meeting the objectives will ensure that kokanee spawning nests or ‘redds’ near the shoreline are not left high and dry, and habitat for bull trout downstream is protected.” The agreement covers operations of Albeni Falls Dam, located on the Pend Oreille River between Oldtown and Priest River. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Idaho has signed on to a brief with 14 other states urging the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold bans on gay marriage and leave the matter to voters and lawmakers, the AP reports. The brief, filed today, argues that the court will do "incalculable damage to our civic life" if it decides that same-sex couples must be allowed to marry everywhere in the United States.
Plaintiffs from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee are asking the court to declare that the Constitution forbids states from denying same-sex couples the right to marry. The justices are scheduled to hear arguments on April 28; you can read a full report here from the Associated Press in Washington, D.C.
Gov. Butch Otter, speaking with reporters in his office this morning after the teacher pay bill-signing, laid out his “parameters” on transportation funding for this year’s legislative session. “We’ve got a couple of issues hanging fire, and the big one of course is transportation,” Otter said, adding, “I would even say maybe the going-home bill.”
Otter said he has these “parameters” in mind:
- 1 - “We need to stay out of the general fund.”
- 2 – It must include a “significant step toward revenue needs;” and
- 3 – “I’d like to keep it user-pay,” which Otter defined as “registration and gas tax.”
He said, “Frankly, there is a bill.” It may not have a bill number yet, Otter said, but it’s “Rep. Anderson’s bill out of the House. … It’s a multiple-year solution.” Otter compared the issue to the teacher-pay issue, on which he today signed into law legislation for a five-year plan to significantly boost state funding for teacher salaries. “If I would look back on this session and say, ‘What’s different,’ I would have to say it’s been the forward looking of the Legislature,” Otter said.
Asked about tax reform, he said, “Tax reform is going to be a little tougher this year. I think most everybody recognizes that we have made a commitment” to increased education funding. He added, “If you look at some of the bills that I have turned down or not signed, it’s because I don’t want to see them shrink the general fund.”
Gov. Butch Otter issued a letter today reappointing Col. Ralph Powell as director of the Idaho State Police for the next four years; you can read the letter here. That's the last of Otter's cabinet appointees to receive a reappointment for Otter's third term; the lack of one had drawn some attention this seek, as Powell was at the center of the dispute with Corrections Corp. of America over under-staffing and over-billing when CCA was running Idaho's largest prison; the state agreed to a $1 million settlement from CCA over the matter.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter today issued this statement in response to a federal lawsuit threat from former Govs. Phil Batt and Cecil Andrus over nuclear waste shipments:
“The allegation that I am doing anything less than protecting Idaho under the terms of the 1995 Settlement Agreement is simply wrong. No governor has shipped more waste out of the state than me. It seems as if the former governors would be satisfied with cleaning up the INL and shutting it down. Their approach ignores the asset the INL has become to eastern Idaho, the state and nation. Clean up under the terms of the agreement, including removal of ALL materials by 2035, remains our first priority, but it is not our only priority. Continuing the valuable research at the Lab with its world-class facilities and people is the future and one we should all work towards. It is clear the former governors see the Lab as a liability, while I see its possibilities.”
Former Idaho Govs. Cecil Andrus and Phil Batt fired off a letter to the U.S. Secretary of Energy this morning threatening a federal lawsuit over a deal between the Otter Administration and the Department of Energy to allow a shipment of commercial spent nuclear fuel into Idaho under a waiver of the 1995 Batt Agreement on nuclear waste. Otter has maintained it’s a small amount that’s to be used in research, but the two former governors said regardless of the amount, the move violates the public notice requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
“The Department of Energy should follow the law,” Andrus declared. Batt said he’s not soothed by Gov. Butch Otter’s comment that it’d only be 50 spent fuel rods. “I almost got recalled over bringing in eight,” Batt said. He noted that under his administration, he put the issue on the ballot. “The people made it very clear … they didn’t want additional nuclear waste stored above the aquifer, the Snake River Aquifer.” That aquifer flows below the Idaho National Laboratory in eastern Idaho, where the spent fuel would go.
Batt said if Otter’s administration wants to bring more waste in – in any amount – “They should take it to the people. They’re the ones that said they didn’t want any more.” The two former governors said they’re not persuaded that just a single shipment is at stake; they said documents they’ve seen show the waiver is for a 10-year program of shipments on which the federal government will spend up to $200 million.
“We’ve had almost 50 years, since I’ve been involved, of being lied to,” Andrus said. “They didn’t meet any of the timelines they set out to meet. I wouldn’t trust ‘em.”
Laird Lucas of Advocates for the West, an environmental lawyer who specializes in federal court litigation, said the proposed shipment is commercial spent fuel – not the Navy waste the INL has taken in the past. He said NEPA requires the DOE to disclose to the public what it’s doing, including why it’s proposing to bring the waste into Idaho and what will happen to it here, and take public input - and it hasn’t. “They are waiving the ban on shipments with this agreement,” Lucas said. “They’ve done it with no public notice. … The citizens of Idaho do not know what the DOE proposes to do with regard to spent nuclear commercial fuel above the aquifer.”
Just this morning, the state Department of Environmental Quality sent out a news release announcing the state has reached an agreement with the DOE over its violation of several deadlines related to mixed waste stored at the INL. And last Friday, Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden sent a letter to the federal government rescinding his support, given in a Jan. 8 letter, for plans for the shipment waiver, saying another deadline is being missed; you can read the letter here. (Note: Wasden maintains his position hasn’t changed, because his support always was conditional on DOE meeting cleanup deadlines.)
Batt said if the federal government maneuvers Idaho into becoming the new destination for commercial spent nuclear fuel that's stacking up at commercial nuclear plants around the nation, the state will suffer. “You get the least hint of it, publicity all over the world, and that’s the end of the Idaho potato industry,” he warned.
Andrus said Lucas will be the two former governors’ lawyer if they sue. “The intent of this is to tell them either comply with the policies set forth in NEPA," he said, "or the governor and I will be forced to file litigation in the federal court, which we intend to do if it’s necessary – and we hope it isn’t.” Lucas said the shipment is currently scheduled for June.
Gov. Butch Otter, who returned to the Statehouse late last week after recovering from hip replacement surgery on Jan. 20, sent out a newsletter today saying he’s “fully recuperated.” “After a successful surgery to replace my left hip, I'm feeling better than ever and ready to get back to work,” the governor said, under the heading, “Getting Back in the Saddle.”
“My recovery has been successful and I consider myself fully recuperated. Miss Lori and the doctors have taken great care of me and I'm ready to start catching up with the legislators who have been working hard for six weeks now! Your thoughts and prayers are appreciated and I look forward to seeing you all real soon.”
Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The legal team that successfully fought to overturn Idaho's ban on gay marriage has filed paperwork seeking an additional $300,000 in court costs. Boise attorney and lead counsel Deborah Ferguson filed the three-page motion Thursday in federal court to cover legal expenses since late May. A federal judge late last year awarded Ferguson and her team $400,000 for work through May. Gay marriage became legal in Idaho on Oct. 15 after the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upheld a federal judge's ruling made in May declaring Idaho's ban on same-sex marriage violated the U.S. Constitution. Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden's in December filed separate petitions to the U.S. Supreme Court to continue fighting against gay marriage.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter was supposed to have a surgical procedure called hip resurfacing today, but his office reports that his surgeon determined that a total hip replacement was necessary instead, to repair deterioration discovered in the governor’s left hip. The hip replacement surgery was successful, and the governor is reported to be “resting comfortably and doing fine.” He is expected to remain hospitalized for the next few days as he recovers.
Otter had planned to resume his duties as governor tomorrow from Lt. Gov. Brad Little, who is serving as acting governor today, and work from home for the next two to three weeks while he recovers. Asked if that will change because of the change in surgical procedure, Jon Hanian, Otter’s press secretary, said, “It’s too early to tell. We don’t think so, but these things depend on the patient and each different circumstance, so there’s no pat rule.”
He added, “We’re still sticking with the two to three week time frame. If that changes, one way or the other, we’ll let you know. He’s going to have to take it easy for a little while.” Little is scheduled to be the state’s official representative to welcome President Barack Obama at his appearance in Boise tomorrow, Hanian said.
As to when Little will hand the official reins back over to Otter, Hanian said, “We’re taking that on a day-by-day basis, and that is entirely dependent on the governor’s recovery. As of today, Lt. Gov. Little was acting governor. We’ll re-evaluate tomorrow.”
While Idaho’s case waits in line, U.S. Supreme Court agrees to take up 6th Circuit gay marriage case
The U.S. Supreme Court today agreed to take up the same-sex marriage issue in a series of cases from the 6th Circuit, opening the door to possible settlement of the issue for all 50 states. You can read the high court’s order here. Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden are appealing Idaho’s gay marriage case to the U.S. Supreme Court as well, but they just filed their petitions two weeks ago; that means the Idaho case isn’t yet up for consideration by the high court, which still needs additional briefing before it could consider Idaho’s petition.
Otter filed a "friend of the court" brief in the 6th Circuit case asking the court wait to take that case up until it can consider Idaho’s case along with it. On Thursday, his office attorney, Tom Perry, said if the high court just takes up the 6th Circuit case, Idaho likely will be filing friend-of-the-court arguments in that case. And the high court could decide the matter for all circuits after hearing the 6th Circuit case.
Todd Dvorak, spokesman for Wasden, said, “They haven’t taken up our case yet, and there’s no guarantee that they will.” But Wasden said today’s high court ruling is the beginning of the court making a final decision on the marriage question.
Deborah Ferguson, attorney for the four Idaho couples who successfully sued to overturn Idaho’s ban on gay marriage, said her side “will urge the court to decline review” and let their win become final. The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals already has rejected the state’s appeal. “Our case will go forward and will be considered by the Court at a later conference, probably in February,” Ferguson said.
The high court, when it considers Idaho’s petition, will have the option of taking the case and hearing arguments; declining the case and letting the 9th Circuit’s decision stand; or holding the case until the other cases are decided. You can read a full report here at spokesman.com.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter will have surgery Monday, a hip-resurfacing procedure on his left hip that’s similar to a fairly extensive procedure he had on his right hip in 2008. “So I will be out of the office for a period of time,” he told reporters this afternoon.
Otter is scheduled to leave Monday to prepare for the surgery, which will take place on Tuesday. That day, Lt. Gov. Brad Little will be acting governor, which occurs when the governor is either out of state or incapacitated. Otter will resume his duties on Wednesday, according to his office, but will work from home through his recovery period of two to three weeks.
In a statement, Otter said, “I feel it is important for the public to know why their governor will be away from the statehouse and working from home over the next two to three weeks. I have talked to members of legislative leadership about my surgery and plan to stay in touch with them, legislators and directors throughout my recovery.”
Gov. Butch Otter told reporters today that he meant for former Govs. Phil Batt and Cecil Andrus to be informed before he sent a letter to the Department of Energy regarding nuclear waste on Jan. 9. “If we didn’t reach out to them and let them know before we wrote the letter, then guilty, I am guilty,” he said. “I felt that we had. … If not, then I sincerely apologize.”
Otter said he believes he is still in compliance with Batt’s 1995 nuclear waste agreement with the feds. “They didn’t meet a deadline. They got a substantial fine,” he said. “They’re now on a schedule and there’s some motivation lines in there for that.” The AP has a full report here. Otter said his 2011 memorandum of understanding with the feds, which amended the 1995 agreement, is still in force; the 1995 agreement didn’t allow any commercial waste to come into and stay in Idaho, and he said the INL “wanted to keep for reference a small quantity of library samples of the testing and the researching that they’ve done.”
Andrus opposed the 2011 memorandum of understanding, but Batt supported it at the time. Otter said, “The 1995 agreement is still, as far as I’m concerned, I still respect that and I am still abiding by that agreement, with the … one addendum that has been agreed to, and that is the shipment of these small quantities of commercial fuel into the state.” He said, “The shipment that they’re talking about would be about 50 kilos. … That was agreed to three years ago in a memorandum of understanding.”
He added, “I don’t want to get into a fight with Gov. Batt and Gov. Andrus through the news media.” He said he’d rather talk with them on the phone or face to face.
Wasden issued this statement:
“While I am fully supportive of the INL research mission, the Governor and I have advised the DOE that it cannot ship any commercial spent fuel into Idaho until an enforcement commitment is made to address compliance. So until DOE enters into an enforceable plan for treating the waste, I will not consent to the receipt of any spent commercial nuclear fuel for research at the site. My position on this is clear and firm. I will demand compliance with all terms and conditions on the 1995 Settlement Agreement as a condition for any spent nuclear fuel coming into Idaho for research purposes.”
Two former Idaho governors – Republican Phil Batt and Democrat Cecil Andrus – called a press conference today to object sitting Gov. Butch Otter and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s agreement to accept more nuclear waste at the Idaho National Laboratory, saying it violates Batt’s 1995 agreement with the feds.
“Attorney General Wasden tells me that the reason for this offer of accepting waste for research contingent on compliance is to give them more incentive to comply with the high-level abatement plan,” Batt said. “I think they’ve got plenty of incentive already, and I think it’s a mistake, because the main part of the agreement is violated. You take an ounce of the waste from the federal government, they want to give you 10,000 pounds. And they always say they’ll move it out, but they won’t.”
Andrus called the move a “travesty,” and said, “It’s pretty obvious that they were putting this together for many weeks,” but held off until after the election, announcing the move only on the busy weekend of the inauguration. “There was really not any opportunity in their mind for Gov. Batt and myself to take issue with them. … Neither one of us have any intention of letting this decision by two of the elected officials of the state of Idaho come to pass.” Andrus added, “I can tell him what his legacy is going to be … it’s going to be that they have created a Yucca Mountain in Idaho.”
Idaho Statesman reporter Rocky Barker has a full report here, including video from the press conference. AP reporter Keith Ridler has a report here. Gov. Otter will speak to reporters about it shortly.
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 last week.
“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 in a statement.
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 Attorney General Lawrence Wasden has issued this statement on his vote against paying $55,000 of Gov. Butch Otter's legal fees for private attorneys he brought in to help with same-sex marriage appeals:
"My view on the use of outside counsel is no secret. I've maintained a long, consistent and principled position that hiring outside attorneys and paying the high price for that work is unnecessary. I took an oath to defend the Idaho Constitution. That's my job and exactly what I've been doing on this case from the beginning. My office is equipped to handle these cases, and even now I have two staff attorneys in Washington, D.C., preparing to argue an important Department of Health and Welfare case before the U.S. Supreme Court next week."
The Constitutional Defense Council has voted unanimously to pay the court-ordered $401,663 in attorney fees and costs to the winning side in Idaho’s same-sex marriage case, and 3-1 to pay $55,000 for costs for outside counsel hired by Gov. Butch Otter in his appeals of that case to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court. Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, who joined in the appeals, voted no, but hired no outside counsel, using state attorneys. Asked why he voted against paying the governor’s outside legal bills, Wasden said, “I didn’t think it was appropriate.”
Otter had said earlier that those costs were being covered from within his office; today’s vote means $55,000 of those costs, for fees to outside attorneys and for court-required printing fees, will come from the state’s Constitutional Defense Fund instead. Otter’s in-office counsel, Tom Perry, said total costs for the governor’s office are now up to around $150,000.
After the meeting, Otter said, “My understanding is the attorney general didn’t think we needed outside counsel, but we need outside counsel all the time. If it’s needed, it’s needed.”
House Speaker Scott Bedke, who voted in favor of both motions, said, “I think it’s appropriate at times.”
Perry said more costs are anticipated as the case continues; Otter is pressing an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, and also has filed an “amicus” or friend-of-the-court brief, in the 6th Circuit’s U.S. Supreme Court same-sex marriage appeal.
Gov. Butch Otter has named Grangeville attorney Gregory FitzMaurice a 2nd District judge, 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.
Idaho’s Constitutional Defense Council, which consists of the governor, the attorney general, the speaker of the House and the president pro-tem of the Senate, will hold a special meeting Thursday at 8:30 a.m. in the Borah Post Office building’s 2nd floor courtroom, to consider payment of a $401,663 court order to cover attorney fees and costs for the winning side in Idaho’s same-sex marriage case, which the state lost in U.S. District Court last May. Idaho has since appealed unsuccessfully to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, and is currently pressing an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Same-sex marriage became legal in Idaho on Oct. 15.
The council oversees the Constitutional Defense Fund, which currently has a balance of nearly $1.7 million after lawmakers agreed to transfer another $1 million into it last year from the state’s general fund. The defense fund, by law, can be spent “to examine and challenge, by legal action or legislation, federal mandates, court rulings, and authority of the federal government, or any activity that threatens the sovereignty and authority of the state and the well-being of its citizens.” The fund has “historically been used to pay legal settlements, primarily attorney fees, that have been awarded through the courts,” according to state budget documents.
According to state law, any one of the four members of the council can call a meeting, and its decisions are by majority vote. Interest on the $401,663 judgment started accruing on Dec. 19, so the longer the state waits, the more it’ll cost. Yesterday, the state Board of Examiners approved the claim and referred it to the council for consideration of payment.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has called for a statewide moment of silence tomorrow at 1 p.m. Mountain time, noon Pacific, to remember the victims of this week's shooting in Moscow, in which three people died. Here is Otter's statement:
“It is important that everyone in Idaho take time in the wake of this horrendous act to remember those who have lost their lives and offer our support to the families, friends, and Moscow community as they mourn this tragedy. I ask that all Idahoans observe a moment of silence on Wednesday, January 14, at 1 p.m. Mountain Time (noon Pacific) to let our friends and families in Moscow know they are in our thoughts and prayers, and that they are not alone in their grief.”
Idaho’s state Board of Examiners, which consists of the governor, the secretary of state, the attorney general and the state controller, has voted unanimously to approve the claim for $401,663 in attorney fees and costs in the state’s same-sex marriage litigation that a federal judge has order the state to pay the winning side in the case. Four Idaho couples sued, challenging Idaho’s ban on gay marriage as unconstitutional; they won their case in federal court last May. The state appealed unsuccessfully to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals and is now pressing an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court; same-sex marriage became legal in Idaho on Oct. 15.
The order for attorney fees and costs is just for the portion of the case in U.S. District Court in Idaho, not for the appeals. Board of Examiners members asked no questions about the matter at their meeting this morning, and approved the payment without comment. A memo from the state Division of Financial Management asked the board to approve the claim and refer it to the Constitutional Defense Council for consideration of payment. That council consists of the governor, the attorney general, the speaker of the House and the president pro-tem of the Senate.
The council can convene on the call of any member and can make payments from the state’s Constitutional Defense Fund by majority vote. That fund currently has a balance of nearly $1.7 million, after lawmakers agreed to transfer another $1 million into it last year from the state’s general fund. Gov. Butch Otter, asked by reporters yesterday whether he thought more money needed to be deposited into the fund as he continues his court fight against same-sex marriage, said no. “I believe … that there is plenty of money in the constitutional defense fund,” Otter said.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter called for boosts to school funding and tax cuts for businesses and top earners in his State of the State message to a joint session of the Legislature on Monday, drawing enthusiastic applause from lawmakers. But the chairman of the Senate tax committee, Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, wasn’t convinced. “Quite frankly, we saw those same proposals last year as far as tax cuts,” Siddoway said after Otter’s talk. “But I’m dead serious about fixing education. … Then we’ll be able to see if there’s going to be enough revenue left over to do any tax reductions. I’m pretty skeptical.”
Siddoway said if the House passes Otter’s proposed cuts in the top personal and corporate income tax rates, “It would probably end up the same place the last one did.” That’s in Siddoway’s desk drawer, where it died without ever being scheduled for a Senate hearing. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Speaking with reporters at a news conference after his State of the State address today, Gov. Butch Otter said he wants Idaho lawmakers to agree to join the streamlined sales tax project – something lawmakers have been debating but have resisted in recent years – to clear the way for sales taxes to be charged on online sales once Congress authorizes that. “It comes down to fairness,” Otter declared, for the “local business here on Main Street” that pays its taxes. “It’s simply fair,” he said.
Otter said Idaho’s already supposed to be collecting tax on Idahoans’ online purchases, under current law. “That’s’ about $82 million bucks,” he said. People are supposed to be reporting and paying it on their income tax returns as use tax, but many don’t. Otter mused, “I don’t know that I’ve ever ordered anything online,” except perhaps “one of those squirt cans that can fix your rain gutters.” But he said each year at tax time, “I always say to Lori, ‘How much have you bought online?’ I usually add a little buffer. This year I paid $600.”
Asked if he thinks lawmakers will support the move when they’ve resisted it in past years, Otter said, “It didn’t do us any good” earlier, because Congress wasn’t ready to act. “I’ve been told by a couple of folks in the Idaho delegation that there’s a real opportunity for it,” Otter said.