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Simpson’s Boulder-White Clouds bill passes U.S. House without objection

Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson’s Boulder-White Clouds wilderness bill passed the House without objection today. “Today’s action by the U.S. House of Representatives is a great accomplishment for the thousands of Idahoans working to solve the Boulder White Clouds land management issue,” Simpson in a statement. “I am extremely optimistic that we will continue to move this legislation forward to become law.”

The bill, H.R. 1138, is dubbed the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act. Sen. Jim Risch is sponsoring identical legislation in the Senate, S. 538; it had a committee hearing in May and is scheduled for mark-up in the Senate Energy and Resources Committee this week.

The bill, backed by a wide array of groups, from conservationists to motorized recreation advocates to ranchers and rural county commissioners, has been in the works for more than a decade. If it doesn’t pass, President Obama has indicated he’ll declare a national monument in the area.

Craig Gehrke, Idaho director for the Wilderness Society, said, “Congressman Simpson’s leadership on protecting the Boulder-White Clouds is something sorely needed in Washington right now, and we commend his ability to move this bill cleanly through the process. It’s now up to the U.S. Senate to demonstrate that it can finally resolve this decades-long debate.”

Simpson’s office offered this summary of the provisions of the bill:

Sawtooth National Recreation Area:  The Sawtooth National Forest would remain as the principle administrative body and the current management would remain intact under the existing SNRA law (PL 92-400) and the existing SNRA management and travel plans.  The Challis BLM would remain the managers of the East Fork BLM and Salmon-Challis National Forest areas.

Wilderness:  Three new wilderness areas would be created totaling 295,960 acres. They are the Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness (88,079 acres), the White Clouds Wilderness (90,841 acres) and the Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness (117,040).  The total wilderness acreage would be reduced by 36,968 acres from the original CIEDRA bill that would have created 332,928 acres.

Multiple Use:  Four wilderness study areas would be released back to multiple use: the Jerry Peak Wilderness Study Area, the Jerry Peak West Wilderness Study Area, the Corral-Horse Basin Wilderness Study Area, the Boulder Creek Wilderness Study Area and any USFS recommended wilderness not made wilderness totaling 155,003 acres. This is up 23,333 acres released from the original CIEDRA bill which totaled 131,670.

Motorized Use:  No roads that are currently open to vehicles, or trails that are currently open to two wheeled motorized use would be closed.  The Grand Prize and Germania trails (including the ridge in between) and the Frog Lake Loop would be excluded from wilderness and remain open to two wheeled motorized use under the existing SNRA travel plan.  The following higher elevation snowmobiling areas would remain open as allowed under the existing SNRA travel plan: 4th of July Basin, Washington Basin, Phyllis Lake Basin, Champion Lakes and Warm Springs Meadows.

Mountain Bikes:  All areas currently open to mountain bikes outside of the proposed wilderness will remain open.  Under CIEDRA, the 4th of July trail would have been closed to mountain bikes and will now remain open.  This allows the Pole Creek/Washington Basin/4th of July loops to remain open.  The Germania/Grand Prize Corridor trails and all trails outside of the wilderness would remain open to mountain bikes subject to the SNRA travel plan.

Grazing:  Grazing plays an important role in the heritage and economies of rural Idaho and Custer County.  Along the East Fork of the Salmon River, generational ranching families provide significant benefits in maintaining the historic character and nature of East Fork while providing significant conservation benefits to the land, including sustaining the wide, open spaces and un-fragmented landscapes of the East Fork valley. In order to provide another tool for these families to maintain their livelihoods, a provision has been included to provide permittees within and adjacent to the proposed wilderness areas with a way to help them remain viable with as little disruption as possible.  Permittees with allotments within the boundaries of the “Boulder White Clouds Grazing Area Map” would be allowed to voluntarily retire their grazing permits and be eligible for compensation from a third party conservation group.  With this compensation, it is hoped that the ranching families will be able to create more secure and certain opportunities for future generations.

Support to Counties:  Over $5 million in grants have been provided to Custer County and the surrounding Boulder-White Clouds communities for a community center, a county health clinic and EMT support, and improvements to Trail Creek Highway.  Individual parcels of land will be conveyed to Custer and Blaine counties, and rural communities for public purposes the per latest CIEDRA bill.

Recreation Support:  Over $1.5 million in grants have been provided to the SNRA for trail maintenance and improvements, including maintenance and improvements to existing motorized trails and two existing trails to provide primitive wheelchair access, and for acquiring the land to build a mechanized bike/snowmobile access trail between Redfish Lake and Stanley.

Ex-Idaho Rep. Phil Hart settles federal tax dispute, home to be auctioned

Tax-protesting former Idaho state Rep. Phil Hart has settled his long-running delinquent taxes case with the IRS, agreeing to let the feds auction off his Athol home for back taxes - the same home he built partly with logs he illegally cut from state school endowment land, arguing he had a right to them as a citizen.

As part of the settlement, Hart dropped claims that an array of others actually owned his home, and a string of bankruptcy filings in which he attempted to avoid losing it. He also agreed to make both monthly and annual payments to the IRS for the next nine years toward his more than $500,000 federal tax debt. If he misses a payment, the full amount would be due immediately: $586,304.70.

Hart was defeated in his bid for a fifth term in the state House in the 2012 GOP primary, but he’s remained active in state GOP politics. He currently is the Idaho Republican Party’s Legislative District 2 chairman, and is vice-chair of the Republican Liberty Caucus, an affiliated group.

Hart stopped filing both federal and state income tax returns in 1996 while he unsuccessfully pressed a federal lawsuit challenging the federal income tax as unconstitutional; after the case was rejected, he began filing returns again, but authorities said he never fully paid up. He’s also been fighting an order to pay more than $53,000 in back state income taxes, interest and penalties; he’s lost numerous appeals in that case, including one to the Idaho Supreme Court. The federal settlement doesn’t cover the state taxes.

“The state of Idaho still has a claim against Phil Hart,” said Phil Skinner, lead deputy Idaho attorney general for the Idaho State Tax Commission. “However, the reality is the IRS has such a large claim against him and they’re first in line in priority, that we’ll probably never see anything.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

As part of the settlement, Hart agreed to preserve the Athol home in its current condition and maintain insurance on it; and vacate it within seven days of the sale if he’s not the high bidder. He agreed to allow an open house within the two weeks prior to the sale, and not to “deter or discourage potential bidders from participating in the public auction, nor … cause or permit anyone else to do so.”

Court documents say Hart will be allowed to bid on the Athol home like any other bidder, if he’s able to obtain financing; but if he’s the high bidder, he’d have to pay all the back property taxes on top of the sale price. Since 2012, Hart’s racked up $8,777 in unpaid property taxes on the home, according to Kootenai County records. If someone else has the high bid, the back property taxes would come out of the sale proceeds.

Hart tried to get a federal bankruptcy court to seal the settlement, arguing that it would expose “scandalous” information about him, but Chief Bankruptcy Judge Terry Myers refused. “Sealing is … inconsistent with the general proposition that the judicial records and processes of the federal courts are open and public,” the judge ruled. Hart “did not suggest a good reason, much less a compelling reason, for this court to depart from its view on the public and open nature of its records.”

Sen. Hill working on compromise bill on discrimination protections for gays

Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, is working on a compromise bill regarding discrimination protections for gay and lesbian Idahoans, NPR reporter Jessica Robinson reports today. Hill said he is drawing on a newly passed Utah law, but not copying it.

"I don’t think that a business should deny services to a person because of their sexual orientation," Hill told NPR. "However, I think that businesses should have a right not to participate in events that promote something that’s contrary to their religious beliefs.” While saying he’s not ready to talk specifics, Hill said he wants to make sure photographers, bakers and other businesses in the wedding industry are not obligated to participate in same-sex weddings.

Hill said his bill wouldn’t change the existing Idaho Human Rights Act, and instead would create a new section in another portion of Idaho law; you can see Robinson’s full report online here.

Top recipient of Idahoans’ presidential campaign contributions so far: Rand Paul, followed by Ben Carson

How engaged are Idahoans so far in the 2016 presidential race? Measured at least by Idahoans who are reaching into their wallets, according to the latest campaign finance reports the answer is $113,160 worth. That’s how much Idahoans have contributed to all presidential candidates through June 30. Republican Rand Paul had the highest total from Idahoans, at $24,011, but he was closely followed by Republican Ben Carson, at $23,806.

Next in line: Democrat Hillary Clinton, $16,825; followed by Republicans Ted Cruz, $14,686; Marco Rubio, $11,895; and Jeb Bush, $8,100; and Democrat Bernie Sanders, $6,163. Trailing were Republicans Carly Fiorina, $3,225; Rick Perry, $2,700; and Mike Huckabee, $1,000.

Idahoans had given more to presidential candidates as of the first report than donors in Montana, who’d given $98,736, or Wyoming, $86,111; but less than those in Utah, who gave $169,960; Oregon, $406,869; or Washington, at $1,325,004. Clinton was the biggest beneficiary of those Washington contributions, at $738,490.

Carson was the top recipient of contributions from Wyoming; Cruz from Montana; Clinton from Oregon; and in Utah, Clinton was on top with $30,301, but closely followed by Jeb Bush at $28,350. Carson is a retired Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon and author who first drew national attention for his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2013; a conservative, he joined the Republican Party in 2014 and said he planned to run for president.

Risch calls Iran deal ‘horribly flawed’ as Idaho delegation weighs in

Members of Idaho’s congressional delegation have sent out statements today sharply critical of the newly reached nuclear arms deal with Iran, with Sen. Jim Risch saying, “The West will have to live with a nuclear Iran and will abandon our closest ally, Israel, under this horribly flawed agreement.”

He, Sen. Mike Crapo, and Reps. Raul Labrador and Mike Simpson all expressed concern that the deal didn’t include release of Idaho Pastor Saeed Abedini, who has been imprisoned in Iran since 2012 and received an eight-year sentence for attempting to build a Christian church network in private homes in the Muslim nation. Sen. Mike Crapo said he was “deeply disappointed” that Abedini’s release wasn’t part of the agreement, and called it a “bad deal.” Reps. Raul Labrador and Mike Simpson said they will closely review the details of the agreement; Simpson pronounced himself “skeptical,” and Labrador said the continued holding of Abedini and other Americans “raises foundational questions of trust that should have been addressed before striking any deal with Iran.” Here are their full statements:

Sen. Mike Crapo:

 “I am deeply disappointed by the failure of the Administration to secure the release of Boise Pastor Saeed Abedini and other Americans being held prisoner in Iran. Their release should have been a prerequisite to beginning any negotiations in the first place, let alone a final agreement.  When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that no deal was better than a bad deal before a joint session of Congress, he was right.   Though I will fully scrutinize the deal in further detail as Congress begins the review process, initial reports indicate that the agreement is just that—a bad deal.  The Administration has repeatedly provided concessions to Iran and weakened our bargaining position with little, if any, assurances they will abandon their nuclear ambitions. The consequences of an agreement that leaves Iran’s nuclear program intact and allows the country to continue its aggression in the Middle East are monumental and pose a very real threat to the United States and the world.” 

Rep. Mike Simpson:

“I have serious concerns with the Iran nuclear deal.  So far, I am skeptical that this will really promote global security and reduce the threat of nuclear proliferation. I also have a hard time trusting a country to stick to its word after they have held Pastor Saeed Abedini hostage for over three years.  However, Congress has 60 days to review the fine print, and I intend to do so. ” 

Rep. Raul Labrador:

“I will carefully review the proposed agreement and decide whether it is a prudent replacement for the long-established sanctions aimed at blocking Iran’s attempt to build nuclear weapons. The Iranian government claims to want constructive engagement with the world. Yet, Iran refuses to free Boise Pastor Saeed Abedini, imprisoned since 2012. Last month the House unanimously called for the release of the U.S. citizens held in Iran, as well as information on any Americans who have disappeared. That these men remain captive is deeply disturbing and raises foundational questions of trust that should have been addressed before striking any deal with Iran.”

 Sen. Jim Risch:

"From the start, Congress was told by President Obama and Secretary Kerry there would be clear red lines for any deal with Iran. This deal violates every priority the administration initially laid out and crosses every red line that was initially drawn, from complete access to Iran's facilities and scientists to a robust inspection and verification regime. This deal allows Iran to accelerate its nuclear weapons development program and will provide international legitimacy to their program within a limited number of years. It also provides Iran with billions of dollars it will certainly use to fuel terrorism and instability in the world, just as it has done with the limited funds it had under the current sanctions regime.

"In addition, the deal shreds the legacy of arms control and nonproliferation that the United States has championed for decades - it will spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that will be impossible to contain. This deal falls disastrously short of what the Obama Administration originally promised and gives the Iranian government what it desires. The West will have to live with a nuclear Iran and will abandon our closest ally, Israel, under this horribly flawed agreement. In addition, the failure of the administration to secure the release of Pastor Saeed Abedini, which should have been a simple task, even at the outset of negotiations, has been ignored despite the chorus of pleas to achieve this goal."

State Bar seeks to disbar Bujak

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho State Bar is seeking the disbarment of former Canyon County prosecutor and gubernatorial candidate John Bujak. Bar counsel for the Idaho State Bar, Bradley Andrews, filed a complaint Thursday alleging Bujak violated rules regarding professional conduct. The complaint addresses many of the allegations made in Bujak's criminal trials. Bujak resigned in 2010 after being accused of embezzlement from Canyon County and was eventually found not guilty of the charges. He was acquitted again in 2014 of other charges including bankruptcy fraud and money laundering. Bujak has been practicing law in Eagle since his license was restored in August. Bujak didn't immediately return a call for comment Monday. He has 21 days to respond to the complaint or longer if he seeks an extension.

Idaho Press-Tribune reporter Kelcie Moseley has a full report here, and Idaho Statesman reporter Kristin Rodine has a full report here.

Simpson’s wilderness bill clears unanimous House committee

Idaho 2nd District Congressman Mike Simpson’s wilderness bill for the Boulder White Clouds clared the U.S. House Resources Committee today by unanimous consent, and now heads for a vote in the full House. The bill, which Simpson and an array of stakeholders have worked on for years, would designate new wilderness areas, while also authorizing various land conveyances and striking other compromises with communities within the area, ranchers, snowmobilers and more. “To say I am pleased about the BWC bill moving forward would be an understatement,” Simpson said. “For more than a decade, Idahoans of all walks of life have worked tirelessly on this legislation. It is because of their dedication that we are one step closer to achieving our goal – creating an Idaho solution for managing the Boulder White Clouds.”

A Senate version of the bill, sponsored by Idaho Sen. Jim Risch, is awaiting action in the Senate Resources Committee. Idaho Statesman reporter Rocky Barker has a full report here; he notes that 1st District Rep. Raul Labrador, who earlier expressed reservations about the bill, could have objected to it in the committee today but didn’t.

The Obama Administration reportedly has given Simpson six months as a last chance to get his bill passed, before it unilaterally declares a national monument in the area, which could be much larger.

Idaho falls from 1st to 9th in nation for % of workers earning minimum wage or less

Idaho, which not long ago ranked first in the nation for the percentage of its workers earning minimum wage or less, has dropped to 9th. “It’s a pretty good bump,” said Bob Uhlenkott, chief of research for the Idaho Department of Labor. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics today released 2014 data showing that the percentage of Idaho workers making the minimum wage or less dropped to 5.1 percent, down from 7.1 percent the year before and 7.7 percent in 2012.

In 2013, Idaho ranked second in the nation for its percentage of minimum-wage workers, behind only Tennessee; in 2012, Idaho was No. 1. For 2014, Tennessee again holds the No. 1 rank at 6.8 percent, followed by Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Indiana. At the other end of the spectrum, Oregon and Washington tied for the lowest percentage of workers earning the federal minimum wage or less, both at 1 percent; both have state minimum wages that exceed the federal level, while Idaho matches the federal minimum wage.

Of the 412,000 workers paid hourly wages in Idaho in 2014, 12,000 earned exactly the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, and 9,000 earned less. Nationally, just 3.9 percent of all workers earn minimum wage or less.

In 2003, just 3 percent of Idaho’s workers earned the minimum wage or less.

Of the 21,000 Idaho workers earning the minimum wage or less in 2014, 57 percent were women.

Catching up on the week’s news…

There’s plenty of news to catch up on from the past week that I’ve been gone, starting with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states the Friday before last. Gay marriage already became legal in Idaho last October, but Gov. Butch Otter had been continuing to attempt to appeal the decision, both filing an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and filing a brief supporting the states involved in the 6th Circuit case the Supreme Court agreed to rule on; he lost on both counts, with the Supreme Court’s ruling settling the question nationwide. A June 30 letter from the U.S. Supreme Court's clerk formally announced Idaho's appeal had been denied.

Otter called the decision “truly disappointing for states, including Idaho, where the people chose to define marriage for themselves as between one man and one woman.” Meanwhile, hundreds of gay rights supporters celebrated on the Idaho Capitol steps, and Rep. John McCrostie, D-Boise, currently Idaho’s only openly gay state lawmaker, said, “This is a great and historic time for the LGBT community both in Idaho and in America, but our joy is tempered knowing that, while we can be married on Saturday we can still be fired and evicted on Monday, until Idaho adds the words to our Human Rights Act. We celebrate this victory, and we continue to fight for equality with housing, employment and public accommodations.” Today, AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi reports that Idaho’s unenforceable ban on same-sex marriage remains in the Idaho Constitution, and prospects are uncertain on whether lawmakers will remove the now-moot wording, which would require both two-thirds support of the Legislature and a majority vote in a general election; you can read her full report here.

Several notable appointments happened in the past week, including Otter naming a new Idaho Court of Appeals judge and naming a replacement for longtime Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, now head of the state Department of Insurance. Third District Judge Molly Huskey was Otter’s pick for the Court of Appeals seat, where she’ll replace Judge Karen Lansing, who is retiring after 22 years. Huskey is the former state appellate public defender and holds a law degree from the University of Idaho. The appointment keeps a single female among the judges of Idaho’s Court of Appeals and Supreme Court; Lansing had been the only one. For Cameron’s Senate seat, Otter gave the nod to Rupert city administrator Kelly Anthon, a 7th generation Idahoan who lives on a family farm near Declo.

On July 3, U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge, Idaho’s longest serving judge, took senior status; there’s been no word as yet on a possible replacement, as Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch have been conducting an extended, secret screening process to suggest possible replacements to President Barack Obama.

Idaho’s gas tax went up 7 cents per gallon on July 1 with the start of the new fiscal year, as part of the transportation funding deal state lawmakers approved this year. Interestingly, when we drove back into Idaho from Oregon at the end of our vacation on the Fourth of July, gas at the first stop was still priced identically to its level over a week earlier.

Idaho Public Utilities Commissioner Mack Redford died last week; he’d served on the PUC since 2007. An attorney, Redford was the former general counsel for Morrison Knudsen International, served as legal counsel for the Channel Tunnel project connecting England and France, and was general counsel for Micron Construction.

Statewide student test scores aligned to the new Idaho Core Standards were released last week, and Idaho students did better than expected, Idaho Education News reported. EdNews reporter Kevin Richert has a full report here.

The annual Crime in Idaho statistical report came out and showed that Idaho’s crime rate dropped 2 percent from 2013 to 2014, while violent crimes dropped 1.6 percent. Idaho is ranked 43rd in the nation for its violent crime rate. Crimes against property were down 4.6 percent.

Idaho’s Hispanic population grew at its fastest rate in four years, according to a report from the Idaho Department of Labor, and made up 12 percent of the state’s population in mid-2014, up from 11.2 percent in 2010. The state’s Hispanic population grew 2.9 percent from mid-2013 to mid-2014, while the non-Hispanic white population grew 1.2 percent.

Boise brand marketing firm Oliver Russell amended its articles of incorporation to become the state’s first “benefit corporation,” a new class of corporation lawmakers created during this year’s legislative session. Benefit corporations, while still for-profit corporations, are required to consider not only their shareholders, but also benefits to the public, including workers, community and the environment.

Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney sent out a press release warning of a scam targeting Idaho businesses, who are being told they need to purchase a “certificate of goodstanding” to be in compliance with state law. State law has no such requirement, Denney said; an organization calling itself “Division of Corporate Services, Business Compliance Division” has been perpetrating the scam.

And Idaho Sen. Jim Risch has quietly introduced legislation to define work slowdowns as an unfair labor practice, in response to the backlog of ships and containers along the West Coast during months-long contract negotiations between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and port operators. The Oregonian reports that Risch’s bill has no co-sponsors and no Oregon lawmakers are publicly supporting it; you can read their full report here.

Labrador ‘stunned,’ Crapo ‘disappointed’ by today’s Obamacare ruling

All four members of Idaho’s all-GOP congressional delegation have now issued statements on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in King v. Burwell, which upheld the tax credit subsidies for consumers who buy their health insurance on the federal insurance exchange in states that didn’t set up state exchanges; Idaho has a state exchange, so wasn’t affected by the case. Here are their statements:

1st District Rep. Raul Labrador:   

“I am stunned that the Supreme Court expanded the power of the executive branch to rewrite law it doesn’t like. Not only does this decision prop up a failed policy, it enshrines the principle that the president can trump Congress. One of my first votes as your congressman was to repeal this massive government takeover of our nation’s health care. The challenge now before Congress is to unequivocally repeal Obamacare and replace it with patient-centered, market-based care. The president’s misguided policy has limited access and increased health care costs.  It’s our job to expand access to quality care and restore incentives for innovations that improve and save lives.”

Sen. Mike Crapo:

“Today’s ruling is disappointing and in no way validates the President’s health care law as some are claiming. The court did not rule on the merits of Obamacare, but, rather, on a one-sentence provision in a 2,700-page ill-advised law.  Obamacare is broken—plain and simple.  Millions of Americans, including thousands of Idahoans, have been pushed from their preferred health plans and doctors and continue to see their premiums rise.  In some cases, by as much as fifty percent in just two years—contrary to the President’s many oft-repeated promises.  Though this particular window of what many have viewed as an opportunity to swiftly replace the law with reforms may be closed, I will continue to work with my colleagues to push for nothing short of a full repeal of Obamacare.  Only when we address the real drivers of the cost of health care in this country and put in place market-oriented solutions, such as allowing states flexibility to regulate the insurance market and prioritizing the doctor-patient relationship over federal mandates, will Americans have access to the truly affordable, quality health care they want and deserve.”

2nd District Rep. Mike Simpson:

“While the Supreme Court made their ruling, it doesn’t change the fact that Obamacare is severely flawed. The House acted earlier this week to roll back two of the most onerous provisions of the Act. My colleagues and I will continue to look for ways to protect Americans from the harmful consequences and focus on finding patient driven solutions to healthcare.”

Sen. Jim Risch:

“I am disappointed but not particularly surprised by the Supreme Court’s ruling. Because of the disaster that Obamacare has visited on most Americans, we have worked to try to repeal it and replace it with a system that is patient- and provider-driven, provides substantially more patient choice and is substantially less expensive than Obamacare. Since it is obvious that Obamacare is going to need at least substantial change, and more appropriately, full replacement, we will continue to pursue that over the next 574 days.”


Otter: ‘Our continued focus has got to be on education’

Gov. Butch Otter, in his annual address to the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce today that’s billed as the “Governor’s Address to the Business Community,” had this message: “Our continued focus has got to be on education, because that’s our future, because that’s our economy.”

Otter said the reason that this year’s Legislature approved a 7.4 percent funding increase for public schools and a five-year career ladder teacher pay plan was because “we knew that there was a direct correlation between an educated workforce and the health of the economy.” He told the crowd of several hundred, “We know as business people that the next generation of your products, of your services, of your ability to manage your business, is sitting around in a classroom someplace today.”

Otter also praised the state’s new STEM Action Center, which will open July 1 as a division of his office, to coordinate STEM education and workforce needs. “That was the brainchild of Reed DeMordaunt, the House education chairman, and Sen. Bob Nonini from Coeur d’Alene,” Otter said. “They put that idea together with the help of many of you here including the Idaho technology center.” Science, technology, engineering and math are “what you are demanding,” Otter told the audience of business people. “That’s what the future workforce has got to be proficient in.” He said the new center will be “up and running by the first of July.”

He touted favorable economic news about Idaho from national magazines, and noted that state tax revenues have come in well above projects this year, meaning this year’s surplus-eliminator bill will put more money than expected into transportation projects and state savings accounts.

“We’re growing, and why shouldn’t we be?” Otter asked. “Those are pretty impressive figures, and they didn’t happen by accident.” He said Idaho’s created an attractive environment for business in part by lowering taxes over the last few years. 

Documents suggest ISP misled officials about CCA investigation

There’s more on the Idaho State Police’s non-existent investigation into Corrections Corp. of America, with the Idaho Statesman reporting that records it obtained under the Idaho Public Records Law show the Idaho Board of Correction believed ISP had conducted a criminal investigation and found no violations, a belief that fed into its decision to sign a $1 million settlement with CCA over understaffing at Idaho’s largest prison, which at the time had earned the nickname "gladiator school" for its rampant violence. But a year after the investigation supposedly had been under way, ISP said it never launched a criminal investigation.

Statesman reporter Cynthia Sewell reports on numerous references to the supposed investigation over the year, including a letter from a deputy attorney general assigned to the Idaho Department of Correction urging ISP to turn over its investigation results to the county prosecutor. Then-state prisons chief Brent Reinke formally requested a criminal investigation by ISP in February of 2013. As IDOC officials believed the ISP investigation was under way, they held off on their own probe, and turned over documents to the ISP. Sewell’s full report is online here.

After ISP announced it had done no investigation in February of 2014 and Gov. Butch Otter defended the agency, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden urged Otter to order one, and after initial delay, he agreed. ISP then determined it had a conflict of interest and the investigation was taken over by the FBI. On May 20, U.S. Attorney for Idaho Wendy Olson announced that the year-long federal investigation resulted in no federal criminal charges, but did uncover "miscommunications" and "uncorrected assumptions." "While these miscommunications ultimately gave rise to suspicion of an effort to delay, hinder or influence a state criminal investigation, such miscommunications, unsupported by any other evidence, do not rise to the level of criminal misconduct," Olson said. "There were a number of other actions or inactions that may be of concern to the state agencies, to the voters, to whatever."

State-paid lobbyists no longer report, Denney wants law changed so they’ll start again

State employees who lobby the Legislature or government officials as part of their jobs – like, for example, the lobbyists for the state’s universities – always used to register as lobbyists and disclose their spending. But Idaho Statesman reporter Bill Dentzer writes that after an Attorney General’s opinion found they didn’t need to, the university lobbyists and other state workers whose jobs entail lobbying stopped filing. BSU, ISU and the U of I all had registered lobbyists in 2011; none have had any since.

Now, Dentzer reports, new Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney wants to propose legislation to make them register and disclose again, along with all state employees whose jobs entail lobbying lawmakers or the executive branch. He also obtained a new Attorney General’s opinion stating that gifts to lawmakers or executive branch officials must be disclosed, even if they come from state employees in the course of doing their jobs.

Denney told the Statesman, “Any agency or any entity that actually spends money lobbying or entertaining legislators or executive officials, I think they should report the money that they spend. … The people have a right to know if a state agency is doing lobbying.”

Bruce Newcomb, director of government relations for BSU since 2007 and, like Denney, a former speaker of the House, said he doesn’t object to registering. “I did it for five years,” he told Dentzer. “What I object to is having all this inconsistency, of having one system and then changing it. If you’re going to be consistent, then all state agencies ought to report, and I agree with Lawerence in that regard.” Dentzer’s full report is online here.

Labrador raises doubts about support for Simpson’s bill

Simpson, testifying before Labrador arrived at the hearing, offered a long list of groups supporting his bill including the Sawtooth Society, the Custer County Commission, East Fork Ranchers, the Idaho Farm Bureau, the Idaho Cattle Association, Idaho Outfitters and Guides, the Idaho Conservation League and the Wilderness Society. Republican Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo both support Simpson’s bill. Barker’s full report is online here. Betsy Russell, EOB

Labrador raises doubts about support for Simpson’s Boulder-White Clouds bill

1st District Congressman Raul Labrador raised doubts Tuesday about the support for a wilderness bill 2nd District Congressman Mike Simpson has pushed for 15 years, reports Rocky Barker of the Idaho Statesman. The bill would designate 275,665 acres in the Boulder and White Cloud mountains and the Jerry Peak area of central Idaho as wilderness.

Labrador, questioning a Forest Service official Tuesday who was addressing the House Resources Committee’s public lands subcommittee, said motorized recreation users support the bill because they fear the alternative — a national monument designation by President Barack Obama. “The truth is, the public will is against this bill,” Labrador said.

Simpson, testifying before Labrador arrived at the hearing, offered a long list of groups supporting his bill including the Sawtooth Society, the Custer County Commission, East Fork Ranchers, the Idaho Farm Bureau, the Idaho Cattle Association, Idaho Outfitters and Guides, the Idaho Conservation League and the Wilderness Society. Republican Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo both support Simpson’s bill. Barker’s full report is online here.

Lots of Magic Valley Republicans vying for appointment to Cameron’s seat…

Longtime Sen. Dean Cameron’s departure from the Idaho Senate to become the new state insurance chief has prompted an array of Magic Valley Republicans to express interest in being appointed to Cameron’s seat, reports Nathan Brown of the Twin Falls Times-News. Among those expressing interest: Rupert City Administrator Kelly Anthon; Clay Handy, a former Cassia County commissioner and owner of a trucking company; John Stokes, who co-owns several grocery stores; Wayne Hurst, a farmer from Burley and former president of the National Association of Wheat Growers; Wayne Schenk, a farmer from Rupert; Bruce Burtenshaw, the former owner of Kodiak America; Harold Mohlman, of Rupert, who unsuccessfully challenged Cameron in 2010 in the primary; and Charlie Creason of Rupert, who was president and CEO of Project Mutual Telephone for 23 years.

Brown reports that Doug Pickett, a rancher and Cassia County GOP chairman who ran for the seat in 2012 and for the state Republican chairmanship last year, also is weighing whether to apply. The GOP committee for the legislative district is scheduled to meet Friday night to recommend three nominees for the post to Gov. Butch Otter; Brown’s full report is online here.

Sunday column: Sunshine law, falling marble, Idaho politics…

From proposed Sunshine Law changes from the Idaho GOP to falling marble in the Capitol and Idaho politics, here’s a link to my full Sunday column at spokesman.com. The Idaho GOP central committee’s newly passed resolution calling for loosening campaign finance reporting requirements under the state’s Sunshine Law was a dud with GOP Secretary of State Lawerence Denney, who said, “If they ask my advice, I would say leave it alone. I’d like to see more transparency. I’d like to know where all the money comes from.” Idaho’s Sunshine Law was enacted by a voter initiative in 1974; it passed with 77.6 percent of the vote.

Dems delay vote on new state party chair to Aug. 1

The Idaho Democratic Party has postponed the election of a new state party chair until Aug. 1; Vice Chair Jeanne Buell will remain acting chair in the meantime. Former Chairman Larry Kenck stepped down due to health reasons; thus far, three hopefuls, Dean Ferguson, Randy Humberto Johnson and John Looze, have put in their names to run. The party said the delay came for technical reasons, as while reviewing party rules, it discovered that it must set a series of in-person meetings to take the vote rather than hold the vote electronically; the schedule for those in-person meetings hasn’t yet been set.

Fulcher endorses Crapo for re-election

Former state Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, who ran unsuccessfully against Gov. Butch Otter in the GOP primary last year as Otter sought his third term as governor, has endorsed GOP U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo for re-election. Fulcher said in a statement, “For America to survive and prosper, there must be leadership in Washington, D.C. to eliminate debt, thwart terrorism, advance the free market, protect the traditional American family, and establish energy independence through wise localized resource management. I support Sen. Mike Crapo because he is one leader that agrees, and he acts accordingly.”

Crapo, in a campaign news release, said, “I’m truly grateful for Russ’s support. Russ knows how critical it is that our national government recognize and follow the sound, time-tested conservative principles by which the people of Idaho expect to be governed.”

Fulcher mounted his challenge against Otter from the right, reaching out to tea party factions within the Idaho GOP. He drew 43.6 percent of the primary vote to Otter’s 51.4 percent, with two fringe candidates, Harley Brown and Walter Bayes, trailing with 3.3 and 1.8 percent respectively. Otter went on to win with 53.5 percent of the vote in the general election.

Denney on GOP resolution to relax Sunshine Law: ‘I’d say leave it alone’

Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney is less than enthusiastic about the resolution passed by the Idaho Republican Party central committee at its meeting last weekend calling for relaxing financial disclosure requirements for political committees or PACs by exempting them from reporting or itemizing the sources of contributions of less than $200; the current reporting threshold is $50. Denney, who didn’t attend the meeting and first saw a copy of the resolution on Monday morning, said, “If they ask my advice, I would say leave it alone.” He said, “I’d like to see more transparency. I’d like to know where all the money comes from.”

The party’s resolution was a bit unclear, in making its case that Idaho’s Sunshine Law is out of date and the $50 threshold should be raised because the 1974 law is based on “figures generated over 30 years ago.” It refers to the Sunshine Law’s entire definitions section, which covers all entities required to report under the law; the $50 reporting threshold, which under the current law applies to donations to “a candidate or political committee;” and the “contents of reports” section of the law, which applies to candidates or political committees. The same $50 threshold applies to candidates’ campaigns and political committees or PACs, which may be groups backing candidates or measures, or political party committees engaged in campaigning. If the sections of state law the resolution cites were changed, it would affect not only party committees, but all PACs and all candidates' campaigns.

But the wording of the resolution appears to be expressing concerns about burdens being too great on “volunteer treasurers,” and makes reference to “counties, districts and regional committees,” suggesting it may be motivated by concern over political party committees. In addition to raising the reporting threshold for donations from $50 to $200, the resolution calls for raising the reporting threshold for expenditures from $25 to $100; and exempting party committees from falling under the reporting law at all if they raise less than $20,000 in a year; that figure currently is $5,000.

Denney said volunteer treasurers already have to keep track of all donations, no matter their size, in case, for example, someone gives $40 and then later gives the same amount several more times within the same year – thus exceeding reporting thresholds. So eliminating the reporting requirement wouldn’t save those treasurers any work, he said.

“As far as transparency, I don’t think it needs to be raised – I think $50 is OK,” Denney said. “I don’t think it’s that big a deal for people to report.”

New Idaho poll shows surprisingly strong support - 70% - for raising minimum wage to $10 an hour

The latest Idaho poll by Idaho Politics Weekly, conducted by Dan Jones & Associates, shows a surprising 70 percent of Idahoans favor boosting the state’s minimum wage to $10 an hour. The reason this is surprising: Idaho’s elected state Legislature has never been enthusiastic about raising the minimum wage, and only grudgingly has agreed over the years to keep it at the same level as the federal minimum, which currently is $7.25 an hour. Idaho employees who receive tips can be paid less and make up part of their minimum through tips, as long as they’re paid at least $3.35 per hour in base wages and receive at least $30 a month in tips; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

The poll, which queried 601 Idaho adults from May 20-28, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.98 percent. It found that overall, 70 percent of respondents favored raising the minimum to $10 an hour; 29 percent opposed such a move; and 1 percent didn’t know.

Among Republican respondents, 56 percent favored the increase, 43 percent opposed it, and 3 percent didn’t know. Among Democratic respondents, 90 percent were in favor, 3 percent against, and 1 percent undecided. Among those who said they’re independents, 74 percent were in favor, 26 percent against, and 1 percent undecided. Respondents who described themselves as “very conservative” were the only group opposing the hike, with 53 percent opposed, 45 percent in favor, and 2 percent undecided. You can read Idaho Politics Weekly’s full report here; the weekly newsletter is published under the auspices of Zions Bank, and includes regular Idaho polling by the Utah-based polling firm.

Idaho GOP backs contribution law changes, Bible in schools, investigating Forest Service

The Idaho GOP Central Committee, at its summer meeting today in Idaho Falls, approved three resolutions: One calling for relaxing the financial disclosure requirements for political committees or PACs by exempting them from reporting contributions of less than $200; one calling for use of the Bible in public schools in Idaho; and one calling for an investigation of the U.S. Forest Service for not giving more deference to local county commissioners in revising a management plan for the Panhandle National Forests in North Idaho.

Idaho Public TV reporter Melissa Davlin reports no other proposed resolutions passed. You can read the all the proposed resolutions here.  

Davlin reports that the tone of the gathering was considerably less contentious than last year’s Idaho GOP state convention, a debacle that ended with no decisions on a party platform, resolutions, rules or leaders. “Every Republican I spoke to noticed the change in tone,” she reports.

You can read more at Davlin’s Idaho Reports blog here. Plus, she and producer Seth Ogilvie report from the gathering and feature Brad Little, Jim Risch, Marco Rubio and Bryan Clark on their side project, the Point of Personal Privilege Podcast, also known as the ppppod, in this week's installment. You can listen here; it's entitled, “The Big Tent."

Davlin also reports that the nod for hosting the 2016 Idaho GOP convention went to Caldwell. And the Associated Press and Idaho Falls Post Register have a report here on Rubio's keynote speech to the GOP gathering on Friday night.

Idaho GOP to vote on resolution calling for relaxing PAC contribution reporting rules

The Idaho Republican Party’s central committee will vote Saturday on a resolution calling for relaxing Idaho’s requirements for disclosing contributions to political committees or PACs. Under current law, political committees with expenditures that exceed $5,000 must report individual annual contributions exceeding $50, and all individual expenditures exceeding $25, writes Melissa Davlin of Idaho Public TV. The GOP resolution calls for disclosure of only those contributions that exceed $200, making all contributions between $50 and $200 secret. It also would raise the level for reporting of expenditures to those of $100 or more.

Davlin reports that the proposed resolution cleared the GOP’s resolutions committee this afternoon with just one “no” vote; it’ll go to the full central committee tomorrow. The resolutions panel also defeated a call to open back up the GOP primary election on a 5-8 vote, though supporters cited low participation in closed Republican primaries. The committee also approved a resolution backing use of the Bible in schools as an instructional and reference text. You can read Davlin’s full post here.

Three vying for Idaho Dems state party chair

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Three candidates are tossing their hat in to be the new chair of Idaho's Democratic Party. The list of candidates who have declared as of Friday include party spokesman Dean Ferguson, retired Pocatello attorney John Looze and political consultant Randy Humberto Johnson. The position became open after Larry Kenck announced his resignation earlier this year because of health issues. Kenck had served as the state's party lead since 2013. Vice Chair Jeanne Buell will continue to serve as acting chair until the state central committee votes on a new leader on June 13. According to national Democratic Party rules, if the state party has a male chair, it must then have a female vice chair. The same would apply for a female chair, which would require a male vice chair.

The party reports that people can continue to declare candidacy up to the day of the vote, which will take place June 13, by a teleconference of the state central committee. Here’s some more info about the three candidates who have stepped forward thus far:

Ferguson, 46, is the communications director for the party, and a former political reporter from the Lewiston Tribune. He grew up on a northern Idaho horse ranch and is an avid outdoorsman.

Looze, 72, is a retired lawyer, an educator, and a Vietnam veteran from Pocatello. He has held leadership positions in civic organizations including the Rotary Club, Pocatello Chamber of Commerce, and youth soccer leagues.

Johnson, 36, is a veteran of the Idaho Army National Guard who served a tour of duty during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He owns a political consulting business with a focus on Latino get-out-the-vote campaigns both inside and outside Idaho. An outdoor enthusiast, he enjoys camping, hiking and hunting in Idaho's backcountry.

At Idaho GOP confab: ‘Say Nice Things About Mike Crapo Day’

This seems to be “Say Nice Things About Mike Crapo day” at the Idaho GOP summer meeting in Idaho Falls, reports Melissa Davlin of Idaho Public TV. Davlin reports from Idaho Falls that Crapo, the luncheon speaker today, received a friendly welcome from the party faithful, a warm introduction from fellow Sen. Jim Risch and an all-out endorsement from 1st District Congressman Raul Labrador.

Labrador took the stage before Crapo, Davlin reports, and moved to shut down rumors that apparently have been rampant in D.C. that he’d challenge Crapo in the 2015 GOP primary. “There’s no way I would treat a gentleman like that in that way,” Labrador declared. “He’s a good, decent man.”

After Risch’s equally positive introduction, Crapo quipped, “I didn’t realize this was going to be Say Nice Things About Mike Crapo Day.”

Crapo’s remarks focused on criticisms of federal regulations and their effect on the economy, and concerns about data collection by the NSA. You can read Davlin’s full post here at her Idaho Reports blog.

Idaho GOP holds summer gathering in Idaho Falls; Marco Rubio to speak tonight

The Idaho Republican Party is holding its summer meeting today and tomorrow in Idaho Falls, with GOP presidential hopeful Marco Rubio the keynote speaker tonight. I’ll be posting updates here from Idaho Public TV reporter Melissa Davlin, who, along with producer Seth Ogilvie, is in Idaho Falls covering the meeting. The gathering, at the Shilo Inn in Idaho Falls, is an official meeting of the state central committee, so in addition to Rubio’s keynote address tonight, there will be a business meeting tomorrow from 9:30 a.m. to noon. Sen. Mike Crapo will welcome the delegates at luncheon today from 11-1; you can see the full agenda here.

Cameron: ‘It was time to have Sen. Keough serve as chairman, and time for me to move on’

Longtime Sen. Dean Cameron, asked how he decided to make the move from serving in the Idaho Senate and co-chairing the budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee to heading the state Department of Insurance, said, “This whole thing’s been rumored for some time, but honestly, nobody had really talked to me about it, other than people coming up and saying, ‘Are you taking the job?’ Nobody of any official capacity was talking to me. So I didn’t know if it would ever take place.”

Cameron has long owned an insurance business in Rupert; he’s midway through his 13th two-year term in the Idaho Senate.

“I was asked to submit an application and submit to an interview,” Cameron said. On the day after Idaho’s May 18 special legislative session, he was interviewed by Gov. Butch Otter. “We had a very candid, very good conversation, about my style and his style and expectations. And I just came to the conclusion that perhaps it was time to have Sen. Keough serve as (Senate Finance) chairman and time for me to move on and allow somebody else to serve in my district, and this was an opportunity that I shouldn’t overlook.”

“But it’s a hard decision, because I love the Senate, I love serving in the Senate, and I love representing my constituents and helping them,” Cameron said. “But after the conversation with the governor, and he was interviewing a couple others that day as well, so he didn’t offer it to me then; it was the following day that I got the call that he would like me to serve. Then I swallowed hard and talked with my wife, and decided to accept it.”

Otter said in a statement, “While the loss to the Legislature in experienced and skilled leadership will be significant, the Department of Insurance and the individuals and businesses it serves will benefit. I know the next person in line will step up admirably in the Senate, just as I know that Dean will do a great job leading the Department of Insurance as Bill Deal did before him. I also want to publicly thank Tom Donovan for his exceptional work since Bill’s retirement and throughout his career.” Donovan, the department’s deputy director, has served as acting director since Deal’s retirement at the end of 2014.

North Idaho Sen. Keough in line for JFAC co-chairmanship

North Idaho Sen. Shawn Keough is in line to become the first-ever female Senate co-chair of the Idaho Legislature’s powerful joint budget committee, and if she gets the post, it would mark another historic first: Both co-chairs of the powerful joint committee that writes the state budget next year would be women. House Appropriations Chair Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, has served as the House co-chair since 2001.

On Friday, Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, was appointed to be the next director of the state Department of Insurance by Gov. Butch Otter; he’ll step down from the Senate when he takes on his new job in mid-June. Already, he’s strongly and enthusiastically recommended Keough as his successor; she’s served as his vice-chair since 2005.

“I could not have asked for a better vice chairman,” Cameron said Monday. “We’ve been through a lot of tough times. She and I think a lot alike – we both support education, we both feel very strongly on trying to make sure that our teachers are paid for and that there are appropriate programs that have to be funded.” He added, “She hasn’t sough the limelight or been out in front much, but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t doing the work – she certainly was.”

Cameron welcomed the prospect of two women heading the Legislature’s most powerful committee. “I think it’s great – I think we stand back and watch,” he said. “I think they will both do a great job. They’re outstanding individuals.”

Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, on Friday asked Keough to step in as acting chairman as soon as Cameron departs. “That’s the only commitment I’ve made at this point,” he said Monday. “We’ll wait until closer to the legislative session to actually appoint a replacement for Dean.” Keough has more seniority on the joint budget committee than any other senator; Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, is seven years her junior in seniority and currently chairs the Senate Resources Committee. Third in line by seniority is Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, the Senate Education Committee chair. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Labrador says he jumped in early to endorse Rand Paul, because he waited too long to back Romney in ‘12

Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador says he waited too long before endorsing Mitt Romney for president in the last presidential election, limiting his influence; that’s why he’s decided to get in early this time, endorsing Rand Paul for the GOP nomination and joining his campaign team, reports Bill Dentzer of the Idaho Statesman. Meanwhile, the other three members of Idaho’s all-GOP congressional delegation, Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch and Congressman Mike Simpson, all told Dentzer they’re not committing yet to any of the array of candidates jostling for the GOP presidential nomination. “At this point there are a number of them that I really like,” Crapo said. Dentzer’s full report is online here.

The week that was… and the season ahead…

On tonight’s “Idaho Reports,” I discuss ADA updates to the state Capitol and upcoming interim committees; co-hosts Melissa Davlin and Aaron Kunz are joined by commentator Jim Weatherby, Dean Ferguson of the Idaho Democratic Party and lobbyist Ken Burgess of Veritas Advisors to discuss the run-up to the 2016 election; and Kunz reports on the implications of the Idaho National Laboratory missing deadlines for its nuclear waste cleanup project. (I missed the pundits discussion today because I'm on my way to my son's college graduation; I taped my part yesterday.)

The show airs at 8 tonight; after it airs, you can watch it here online any time. It also re-airs Sunday at 10:30 a.m. Mountain time, 9:30 Pacific. Tonight’s show is the final one for this season; Idaho Reports will return in the fall.