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After meeting with Wasden, Otter orders criminal investigation of CCA for understaffing Idaho prison

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter has ordered the state police to conduct a criminal investigation of understaffing and falsified documents at a private prison operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). The governor made the decision Tuesday after meeting with Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. Otter wrote in a letter to Idaho State Police Col. Ralph Powell that after reviewing the available information, including an audit completed by the forensic auditing firm KPMG, he now believed the public would benefit from a formal criminal investigation. Otter had previously supported Powell's decision not to investigate the company. CCA has operated Idaho's largest prison for more than a decade. The company acknowledged last year that CCA employees falsified documents to hide understaffing at the prison in violation of a $29 million state contract.

Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Otter: Judge Isn’t One Of Us

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter says U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill is out of touch with Idaho values, including freedom and the marketplace. Otter called out Winmill during his Feb. 7 “Capitol for a Day” in Craigmont, according to the Lewiston Tribune. Otter “urged people to understand their votes matter in coming elections because public officials are responsible for appointing judges like Idaho U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill, who he said might not share Idaho’s values,” wrote the Tribune’s Dylan Brown in a story a available online to Tribune subscribers. “It’s usually one that doesn’t share all of the enthusiasm for the marketplace and freedom that we do in Idaho,” Otter said of errant judges like Winmill/Dan Popkey, Idaho Statesman. More here.

Question: So would Gov. Butch Otter consider you “one of us”?

Read more here: http://blogs.idahostatesman.com/otters-blast-at-judge-winmill-hes-not-one-of-us/#storylink=cpy

Otter Unruffled By Gay Rights Furor

Public policy in Idaho isn't likely to be swayed by negative media coverage of the state's gay rights disputes, Gov. C.L. (Butch) Otter said Tuesday. Speaking to reporters at an Idaho Press Club event, Otter rejected the notion that the Legislature's refusal to explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation could have a negative effect on efforts to attract new businesses.“I can't point to one company I've visited with that has suggested that was a problem,” he said. “I don't know that companies look to the political activity - they don't say, 'You're a red state, and that's why I've come here.' They look to public policy and tax policy, and they look at predictability.”Otter's comments came a week after 44 gay rights activists were arrested for blocking access to the Senate chambers/William Spence, Lewiston Tribune. More here.


Otter Supports Guns On Campus Bill

On guns on campus: Otter said he supports the pending bill to allow guns on Idaho public college campuses under certain circumstances. “I am an advocate and always have been for the 2nd Amendment, and I don’t think people lose their rights under the 2nd Amendment, or the 1st Amendment, when they walk on a college campus”/Betsy Russell, Eye on Boise. More here.


Otter Told Luna To Hold Off Decision

Hours before Tom Luna made his surprise announcement that he would not seek re-election, Gov. Butch Otter placed a pre-dawn phone call asking the schools chief to hold off. State Superintendent Tom Luna, left, announces his decision not to run for re-election on Jan. 27. Luna is joined by (left, to right) his wife Cindy, Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill and Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde. “He wanted to know if I had really thought it through,” Luna said. “The governor didn’t say, ‘I want to talk you out of this.’ What he said is, ‘Can we take more time to discuss this?’” The night before, on Sunday, Luna called Otter and key lawmakers to tell them he would step down when his term ends. After staying up most of the night thinking about it, Otter wasn’t sure if Luna was making the right move/Clark Corbin, IdahoED News. More here. (AP file photo: Luna announces decision not to seek re-election)

Question: Butch was ready to back Luna, despite all the controversy, the wifi snafu, and the rejection of Students Come First laws? Really?

Otter urges lawmakers to ‘prevent disruption of services to Idaho schools’ with more IEN funding

Gov. Butch Otter has sent out a press release urging lawmakers to allocate $14.45 million to keep the Idaho Education Network functioning in the face of withheld federal funds. “The Governor’s request to the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee would maintain funding for the IEN and prevent disruption of services to Idaho schools and districts on the network,” Otter's release says. “Despite an inquiry for clarification, the IEN has received no word from the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) – the entity that oversees federal E-rate funding – about when reimbursement can be expected.” Click below for Otter's full release.

Otter collects big donations from casino moguls who back online gaming

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s latest campaign finance report shows that three billionaire Nevada casino operators who have been leaders in a push for online gaming in Nevada and New Jersey gave $60,000 to Otter’s re-election campaign, Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey reports; his full Sunday story is online here. Popkey reports that the contributions came after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie joined Otter for a campaign fundraiser at the Sun Valley home of one of the casino moguls, Steve Wynn, on Dec. 6; after that lunch fundraiser, Otter and Christie flew to Coeur d’Alene for a larger rally and fundraiser.

Popkey reports that after Christie spoke at the Sun Valley event, Otter said he “had the opportunity to make my pitch,” talking about his policies on state spending, the economy and unemployment. “And the first thing out of some of their mouths was ‘What’s your donation law?’ ” Otter told the Statesman. “I said, ‘$5,000 max, it can come from an individual or a corporation.’ ”

Wynn petitioned New Jersey regulators on Jan. 10 for a license to operate online gaming in New Jersey, Popkey reports. Brothers Frank and Lorenzo Fertittas’ Station Casinos began offering legal online gaming at UltimatePoker.com in April, when Nevada became the first state to sanction the business; the site has since expanded to New Jersey as well.

Otter reports more than $700K in bank for run against Fulcher

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter said he has more than $700,000 in cash to wage a campaign against his Republican primary challenger, state Sen. Russ Fulcher. Otter filed his latest campaign report Tuesday, outlining his 2013 fundraising when he brought in $901,000, largely from business groups. Fulcher hasn't filed his report. Meanwhile, Otter hasn't formally announced he's running for a third term. Among Otter's biggest supporters were trucking lobbyists, cigarette-maker Altria, retailer Wal-Mart and wealthy Emmett rancher Harry Bettis, who gave $7,500. The J.R. Simplot Co., owned by family of Otter's ex-wife, Gay, gave $10,000. Direct-marketing company Melaleuca and its owner, GOP booster Frank VanderSloot, also gave $10,000. Among Otter's biggest expenditures was more than $16,000 to Arena Communications, a Utah company that helps do mailing and other services for Republican politicians.

Otter endorses justice reinvestment plan, calls it a ‘no-brainer’

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter today applauded the proposals of the state's justice reinvestment project, calling the plan a “no-brainer.” “While our crime rate is among the lowest in the nation, our recidivism rate is increasing,” Otter said. “This framework outlines a variety of sensible changes we can make as a state that will greatly impact both public safety and the amount of taxpayer dollars that go towards corrections. This is simply a no-brainer for me, and I hope the Legislature sees a similar value and acts accordingly.”

The recommendations, already endorsed unanimously by an interim legislative committee, include an array of improvements to treatment, supervision, parole and probation procedures, restitution and data systems over the next five years, along with limiting stays behind bars for non-violent offenders to 100 to 150 percent of their fixed terms; they’re now serving more than 200 percent of their fixed terms on average, and staying behind bars twice as long in Idaho as they do in the rest of the country. Under the plan, they’d get out earlier, but be supervised on parole. The plan estimates that an investment of $33 million in reforms over the next five years will save the state more than $255 million on prison costs.

Click below for Otter’s full statement.

Otter names working group to study improvements to Tax Commission operations

Gov. Butch Otter has named an eight-member working group headed by former House Tax Chairman Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, to study ways to improve operations at the Idaho State Tax Commission, including how the commission's rule-making process could be improved and whether restructuring is in order. Tax Commission Chairman Rich Jackson will be among the group. “I have a lot of confidence in our four Tax Commission members, but there’s always room for improvement, especially where public confidence is involved,” Otter said; click below for his full announcement. The commission came in for criticism from state senators last year for being difficult to work with, though no specifics were cited; several years ago, a whistle-blower's report raised questions about how the commission handled secret settlements with big taxpayers.

Fulcher decries Otter’s proposed $2M wolf control fund as unneeded ‘bureaucracy’

Sen. Russ Fulcher is ripping Gov. Butch Otter’s proposal for a new $2 million wolf control fund. “I don’t know what we need to spend $2 million for,” Fulcher said on the Nate Shelman radio show on KBOI radio this afternoon. Fulcher, who is challenging Otter in the GOP primary, said Otter’s plan would “create another bureaucracy in order to manage this.”

Otter announced the new fund in his State of the State message this week, telling a joint session of the Legislature, “One form of growth we don’t want to encourage is in the wolf population that was imposed on Idaho almost 20 years ago. With your unflinching support, we were able to fight through the opposition of those who would make Idaho into a restricted-use wildlife refuge and take back control of these predators from our federal landlords.”

He said, “We’re hunting them now, and they’re a trophy hunting species. But the population is still growing, and our resources remain at risk.” Otter’s proposed state budget for next year calls for spending $2 million in state general funds, on a one-time basis, to start up the new fund, and then adding contributions each year of $110,000 apiece from hunting licenses and the livestock industry to sustain the fund. “This three-pronged approach will provide the revenue needed to more effectively control Idaho’s burgeoning wolf population and ease the impact on our livestock and wildlife,” Otter said to applause.

Wolf control is a touchy subject; Idaho currently is being sued over its move to hire a professional hunter to exterminate two wolf packs in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, and federal wildlife agencies have lost a chunk of their funding for such efforts to federal budget cuts in recent years.

Fulcher said wolves are “not a trophy species,” they’re a “predator.” He said, “Why wouldn’t we just increase the number of (wolf hunting) tags and let one predator take care of another? … This is an emotional issue in this state. I don’t know why we need another bureaucracy.”

Otter names attorney Ilana Rubel to Ward-Engelking’s former House seat

Gov. Butch Otter has appointed Boise attorney Ilana Rubel to the Idaho House, to fill the District 18 vacancy created when he appointed then-Rep. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, to the Idaho Senate; Ward-Engelking replaced former Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise, who left the state. Rubel, 41, is a litigation partner at the law firm Fenwick & West in Boise. She was one of three nominees presented to Otter by the district’s Democratic Party legislative committee. Click below for Otter’s full announcement.

Balukoff issues polite but pointed response to Otter’s State of State message

A.J. Balukoff, Democratic candidate for governor and chairman of the Boise School Board, has issued a response to GOP Gov. Butch Otter’s State of the State message, focusing on education needs, health care and the economy. “While Gov. Otter’s State of the State Address offers a lot of rhetoric about where Idaho needs to go, what he has actually shown us is the limit of his ability to take us there,” Balukoff says. “To give our kids, our economy and our state the future they deserve we need new leadership and to restore funding and make education a top priority.”

He closes his statement with this comment: “Governor Otter is a good person and a likable man, but it is clear that it is time for a new governor to lead our state.” The full statement is online here.

Otter pushes for a new era of dam-building

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter aims to build billions of dollars in new or expanded Idaho dams, to capture more water in his state's drought-stricken southern desert for crops, cities and flushing endangered salmon to the sea. He's asking lawmakers to give him $15 million down payment for, among other things, studying whether a new era of dam building make sense, given somebody will have to pay for it. One project he's pushing, a new Weiser River dam, could be used for everything from flood control to electricity. But activist groups are skeptical, saying the project would have been built during Idaho's dam-building heyday — had it made financial sense. Idaho Power, the state's biggest utility, said Tuesday it's monitoring whether new dams fit its hydroelectric system on the Snake River.

Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Otter: Schools top priority, even before tax cuts

Education is the top priority for Idaho for the coming year, Gov. Butch Otter declared Monday, coming even ahead of tax cuts for businesses and top earners. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller; the full detail of Otter’s budget proposal is online here at the state Division of Financial Management’s website.

Fulcher decries Otter’s ‘tepid leadership’

Senate GOP Caucus Chairman Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, who's running against fellow Republican Gov. Butch Otter in the primary, released a statement on both video and audio this afternoon, reacting to the governor's State of the State message. Fulcher said the governor's speech to a joint session of the Legislature today “offers more evidence that he is out of touch with Idaho’s problems,” and decried Otter's “tepid leadership.” Said Fulcher, “He’s offering more of the same mediocre policies that won’t advance our friends and neighbors on a path toward prosperity and opportunity.” Click below for Fulcher's full statement.

Prospects dim for broadening Medicaid eligibility in Idaho

AP reporter John Miller reports that Republicans today dampened expectations about broadening Medicaid health care eligibility this year for poor Idaho residents on the same grounds they balked in 2013: Before taking extra federal money, the existing system should be overhauled to encourage beneficiaries to take personal responsibility for their health. Meanwhile, the state worked last year to get “verbal approval” from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to deviate from existing Medicaid programs for newly covered residents, to help meet Otter's goals, Idaho Health & Welfare Department spokesman Tom Shanahan told the AP, but the state would have to actually agree to expand Medicaid before seeking a formal waiver. That's unlikely to happen soon, Shanahan said, since expansion discussions have largely ended. “Unless the state says it's going to do it, we really can't apply,” he said. Click below for Miller's full report.

Shift away from private prison a dramatic turnaround for Otter, state

Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone on Gov. Butch Otter's announcement today that he's ordering the state Department of Correction to take over the troubled Idaho Correctional Center, the privately run state prison south of Boise; it's a dramatic turnaround both for Otter and for the state. Taxpayers currently pay CCA $29 million per year to operate the 2,080-bed prison south of Boise, which has been the subject of multiple lawsuits alleging rampant violence, understaffing, gang activity and contract fraud. CCA acknowledged last year that falsified staffing reports were given to the state showing thousands of hours were staffed by CCA workers when the positions were actually vacant.

An AP analysis of the costs to run the prison in 2012 found that any savings compared to state-run prisons were more than offset by other factors, including contract oversight costs and the fact that inmates with chronic medical or mental health needs are barred from the facility. That allows it to have a higher staff-to-inmate ratio than state lockups that take all prisoners.

Otter long has been an advocate of privatization. In 2008, he floated legislation to change state laws to allow private companies to build and operate prisons in Idaho and import out-of-state inmates. Later, he suggested privatizing the 500-bed state-run Idaho Correctional Institution-Orofino.

Otter, Bedke, Hill all pledge to defend constitutional ban on same-sex marriage

House Speaker Scott Bedke and Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill both agreed with earlier comments from Gov. Butch Otter this morning about defending Idaho’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage from a legal challenge. Otter said Idaho voters enacted the measure into the Constitution, and the state has a duty to defend that enactment. “My responsibility is to enforce the law and to obey the Constitution,” Otter said; four same-sex couples are now challenging the ban as unconstitutional in federal court.

Said Hill, “Is it a wise use of funds? It’s always a wise use of funds to defend our Constitution.” He said both the governor and the Attorney General have that duty.

Otter: State can operate ICC for ‘very, very close’ to same amount CCA charged

Click below for Gov. Butch Otter's full announcement that he's ordering the state to take over operation of the Idaho Correctional Center, the troubled privately operated state prison south of Boise that's been the target of numerous lawsuits and scandals. Otter said he's been advised that it looks like the state can operate the prison for “very, very close to the $25 million” a year that the state has been paying the Corrections Corp. of America to operate the lockup.

Otter: Criminal justice reform ‘the right thing to do’

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter closed out his talk to reporters at the AP Legislative Preview this morning by inviting up Senate Judiciary Chairwoman Patti Anne Lodge and House Judiciary Chairman Rich Wills to talk about the state’s criminal justice reinvestment project. The project, in which Idaho is working with the Council of State Governments and the Pew Trusts, already has turned up the news that nonviolent offenders are staying behind bars in Idaho twice as long as they do in the rest of the nation, and that Idaho suffers from a “revolving door” of recidivism, in which offenders go back behind bars again and again.

Otter said he’ll stand behind the reforms necessary to change that. “Certainly I’m going to support those, and I hope everybody supports those,” the governor said. “It’s the right thing to do.” He said, “One of the changes we are trying to make is to prepare those people for citizen life.” He said some go to prison because of a “small mistake,” and then, after an extended stay, “they turn out to be a criminal as a result of the behavior that they’ve learned in the prison. … We want to avoid that.”

There's also a push on to improve the state's public defender system; Otter said he'll address that in his State of the State message on Monday.

Otter says he’ll still welcome primary challenger to leadership meetings

Even though he’s challenging him in the GOP primary, Gov. Butch Otter said today that he’ll still welcome Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, to legislative leadership meetings in his office during this year’s session. Otter said both he and Fulcher have the interests of the people of the state at heart. “I think we will work in that direction,” he said. “I have reason to believe that the Senate and all their leadership team will work to that direction as well.”

Otter said it’s “entirely up to Sen. Fulcher” whether he continues to attend leadership meetings in Otter’s office. “I have no reason to change the membership,” he said. “The Senate has decided who that leadership team is, and I’m going to welcome that team into my office.”

Otter wants reforms before Idaho expands Medicaid, says he’ll address on Monday

Gov. Butch Otter says he’s very interested in what states like Arkansas, Indiana and Iowa are exploring, in taking the federal Medicaid expansion funds and instead using them to purchase private health insurance for the new recipients. But he said he wants changes in Idaho’s system to promote more personal responsibility before Idaho expands coverage. “It doesn’t do any good if you’re just paying for every time a patient crosses that threshold, and that’s your primary billable occasion,” he said. “I want to see better health care outcomes. So I think combine those two ideas.”

Asked if Idaho can take that step this year – when the federal money is available to fund the move – the governor said, “I would like to say that that’s in the State of the State, and it is.” He gives his State of the State message to a joint session of the Legislature on Monday, and is being careful not to tip his hand about all his proposals.

Otter on core standards: ‘I’m supporting it’

Gov. Butch Otter reiterated his support for the Idaho Core Standards today, saying, “There was a very healthy vote in favor of the standards when the Legislature addressed the issue.” He said, “I believe it was the right thing to do.” Idaho needs to be able to compare its students progress “so that we can compete in the economy and the real world,” he said. “The answer is I’m supporting it.”

Otter: Education will be top issue for upcoming legislative session

Education will be the top issue in this year’s legislative session, Gov. Butch Otter told reporters at the AP Legislative Preview this morning, and he’ll be proposing a five-year plan to implement the 20 recommendations of the education stakeholders task force he convened. “My budget will reflect exactly those guarantees, those promises, those trusted ideas that throughout the economic downturn that both myself and the Legislature indicated: That as the economy turned around, and as we had the resources available, we would obviously replenish, to the extent that we could each and every year, those funds that were reduced to education,” Otter said.

The task force did “a tremendous job,” Otter said. “And the job that they did is actually going to be a blueprint for us going forward.”

Otter orders state to take over operation of troubled private prison

Gov. Butch Otter just announced that he’s ordering the state Board of Correction to halt its ongoing effort to get new bids from private firms to run the privately operated state prison, the Idaho Correctional Center, south of Boise, and instead move to have the state take over operating the scandal-plagued lockup. “It’s disappointing, and it’s disappointing because I am a champion of privatization,” Otter told reporters at the AP Legislative Preview. “It’s disappointing, but I think it also recognizes what has been happening, what has happened - it’s necessary. I think it’s the right thing to do. Is it the desirable thing to do for me? Not necessarily, because we had better hopes for outcomes in privatization.”

Otter said the state will move to take over operations at the ICC by June 30.

The Corrections Corp. of America, the nation’s largest private prison operator, already had announced that it would leave Idaho and not bid on another contract to run the ICC; the second-largest firm, GEO Group, also said it wasn’t interested. The ICC has had multiple lawsuits over inmate violence and was nicknamed the “Gladiator School;” CCA also was found to be understaffing the prison.

Otter, legislative leaders to discuss upcoming session; watch live here

Gov. Butch Otter and legislative leaders will address reporters at this morning’s AP Legislative Preview at the state Capitol; for the first time, the event will be streamed live via Idaho Public Television’s “In Session” service, which this year includes expanded video streaming from an additional hearing room, EW 42, where the House Revenue & Taxation regularly meets, along with the House Judiciary and Ag committees. The governor speaks at 9:30 a.m. MT; you can watch live here.


State human resources chief retires

Vicki Tokita has retired as Idaho's director of human resources, Gov. Butch Otter announced; her retirement was effective Jan. 1. Tokita had worked for the state for 37 years, including 19 in human resources; she was named head of the Division of Human Resources in February of 2011. David Fulkerson has been named as interim administrator until a successor is appointed.

Otter praised Tokita's service. “Vicki has done a great job keeping our agencies informed and aligned with our statewide human resources objectives,” he said. “Her experience and collaborative style of working through these often difficult issues has set a standard of excellence. I’m confident she has prepared the Division of Human Resources well for the challenges ahead, but Vicki will be sorely missed.”

Tokita said, “I was proud to serve the citizens of Idaho in many capacities, and now I’m off to serve my family.”

Otter offers mussel-encrusted license plate to Interior secretary

At the recent Western Governors Association meeting in Las Vegas, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter brandished a license plate that had been soaked for a year in Lake Mead and was encrusted with invasive quagga mussels, asking Interior Secretary Sally Jewell when the Obama Administration would get inspection and contamination stations up and running at the infested lake to help halt the spread of the invasive species. BSU political science professor Justin Vaughn was in the audience, and reported that Jewell made it clear she’s aware of the issue and said she’d look into it; his full report in the Blue Review is online here. Vaughn reported that Otter offered Jewell the mussel-encrusted license plate to take back to Washington, D.C., but she declined – it’s illegal to transport invasive species.

Idaho Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, soaked 500 of the license plates in the infested lake for displays to help make the point about the threat from the mussels, which haven't yet invaded Idaho. “We'll lose so much if these get into our region,” he said, adding that he was “thrilled” to see the issue take center stage so dramatically at the WGA conference.

Otter tamps down expectations for election-year legislative session

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on how Gov. Butch Otter today continued to tamp down expectations for the election-year legislative session that will convene on Jan. 6, just months before Idaho’s May 20 primary election. Addressing the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho, Otter promised “more of the same” from him, with a lean, cautious approach to new spending or programs, despite the state’s recovering economy. The governor’s already drawn a primary challenge from Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Russ Fulcher, and a Democratic challenger, A.J. Balukoff; every seat in the Legislature also will be on the ballot.

Idaho Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said she expected caution from the governor in an election year, but was “disappointed” by what she heard. “It’s our job to do good policy for the people we represent,” she said. “I hope we actually get something accomplished.”