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Eye On Boise

Catching up on the news

Here’s some of the news that happened while I was off:

IDAHO IS FASTEST-GROWING STATE: New data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows Idaho is the nation’s fastest-growing state, with a 2.2 percent population increase over the year that ended in July of 2017, up to 1.7 million. Domestic migration – people moving from other states – was the primary driver of Idaho’s population growth. Nevada was 2nd at 2 percent growth; Boise State Public Radio has more here.

LANDS CHIEF DEPARTING: Idaho Department of Lands Director Tom Schultz announced that he’ll step down in mid-January to become vice president of government affairs and community outreach for Idaho Forest Group, a family-owned wood products company. Schultz has been Idaho’s state lands director since 2011; you can read more here.

PRISON HEALTH LAWSUIT: A man whose leg got so infected that it required amputation is suing Idaho’s prison health care contractor, Corizon Health, for alleged failure to provide medical care, the Idaho Statesman reports. Gary L. Merchant, 65, says in a lawsuit filed last week that it wasn’t until he swallowed a razor blade that the prison’s medical staff took him to the hospital, where he was treated for a flesh-eating infection in his leg. “It is egregious,” said Merchant’s attorney, Jason Monteleone, of the Boise law firm Johnson & Monteleone. You can read the full report here from Statesman reporter Audrey Dutton.

GOP WINTER MEETING: Idaho Republican leaders will meet in Boise for the party’s winter meeting, starting Friday, to vote on possible rule changes and discuss which resolutions the state party will urge GOP lawmakers to support. The two-day Idaho GOP winter meeting comes just several days before the Republican-dominant Legislature kicks off its 2018 session on Monday. The agenda again includes a proposal asking Republican candidates to disclose their support of the Idaho party platform; you can read a full report here from the Associated Press.

NEW LEGISLATOR NAMED: Gov. Butch Otter has appointed an eastern Idaho city councilwoman to the state House despite concerns raised by local Republicans that the selection process may have contained serious flaws, the AP reports. Otter announced Wednesday he selected Idaho Falls Councilwoman Barbara Ehardt to replace outgoing GOP Rep. Janet Trujillo. Trujillo, a three-term representative from Idaho Falls, is leaving her District 33 legislative seat to serve on the Idaho State Tax Commission. According to emails provided by Otter's office, the Republican governor received multiple letters from residents claiming the process used to select the three possible replacement candidates may have violated state law and Idaho Republican Party rules; you can read a full report here, and more on the appointment here from the Idaho Falls Post Register.

HIXON ARRESTED AGAIN FOR DUI: Former state legislator Brandon Hixon was arrested for the second time this month for driving under the influence. The AP reports that 36-year-old Hixon, a Caldwell Republican, was arrested Saturday night by Caldwell Police and placed in the Canyon County jail; you can read a full report here.

DELEGATION’S RECORD FOR 2017: Lewiston Tribune reporter Bill Spence examined the accomplishments of Idaho’s congressional delegation in 2017, a year when Congress was beset by distractions and partisan disputes; he reports that there were some wins, including the entire Idaho delegation coming together to support the nomination and subsequent confirmation of Judge David Nye to the U.S. District Court in Idaho. Here is Spence’s report:


By William L. Spence, Lewiston Tribune ~ Jan. 1, 2018

Although Congress was beset by distractions and partisan disputes for much of the year, the Idaho and Washington delegations were still able to notch a handful of victories in 2017.

The entire Idaho delegation, for example, came together to support the nomination - and subsequent confirmation - of Judge David Nye to the U.S. District Court in Idaho.

The Idaho District had been down to a single judge for about two years, since Judge Edward Lodge retired. The lengthy vacancy prompted the federal court system to declare a judicial emergency.

In addition to supporting Nye's nomination, Reps. Mike Simpson and Raul Labrador both introduced bills assigning a third judge to the Idaho district. Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch co-sponsored similar legislation, but none of the bills advanced.

Other activities for the Idaho lawmakers include:


He sponsored 12 bills in 2017, including a measure to provide more stable funding for wildfires and legislation renaming the White Cloud Wilderness in honor of Cecil Andrus, who fought to preserve the area as governor.

On the judicial front, Simpson also proposed splitting the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals into a Ninth and new 12th Circuit, to better distribute the workload.

In December, the Department of Interior announced it would make no modifications to Craters of the Moon National Monument, following input from Simpson, Crapo and Risch.

"I applaud the department for honoring the local consensus," Simpson said in a news release. "I worked with a diverse group of stakeholders over 10 years ago to ensure that Craters of the Moon reflects Idaho values and can be enjoyed by outdoor enthusiasts. I'm grateful that this review reflects our local solution."

His biggest headlines, though, came from his vocal criticism of the Trump administration.

"I don't even pay any attention to what's going on with the administration, because I don't care," Simpson said in July. "They're a distraction. The family is a distraction, the president is a distraction. At first it was, 'well, yeah, this is the guy we elected. He'll learn, he'll learn.' And you just don't see that happening."


Sponsored nine bills and resolutions in 2017, in addition to announcing a run for governor.

One of the first measures Labrador introduced was a constitutional amendment calling for term limits in Congress. The resolution would cap the Senate at two terms and the House at six terms, for a maximum of 12 years in either body.

He also sponsored legislation allowing veterans' education benefits assigned to one child to be reassigned to a second child in the event the original beneficiary dies. Sen. Crapo sponsored a companion bill in the Senate.

The measure was signed into law in August.

Labrador's Future Logging Careers Act passed the House in November and awaits action in the Senate. The bill lets 16- and 17-year-olds work for their parents in family-owned mechanized logging operations, similar to an existing provision for farm and ranch kids. Sen. Risch sponsored a companion bill in the Senate.

Labrador's Davis-Oliver Act includes three provisions, initially authored by others, that subsequently passed the House and await action in the Senate.

One, called Kate's Law, requires mandatory prison sentences for anyone convicted of illegally entering the country after they've been deported. A second provision would withhold federal grant funding from so-called sanctuary cities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

The third provision makes it easier to deport illegal aliens suspected of gang activity, and prohibits them from receiving immigration benefits, such as asylum or temporary protected status.

The American Civil Liberties Union opposes the latter measure, but President Trump has voiced his support for it. As chairman of the House Judiciary Committee's Immigration and Border Security Subcommittee, Labrador managed the floor debate when the bill passed the House in September.


Became chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship in January. He's in line to take over the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2019, following the retirement of Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.

Risch sponsored 15 bills and resolutions in 2017, including a measure prohibiting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from amending its greater sage grouse management plan in Idaho or listing the bird as a threatened or endangered species for at least a decade.

The Main Street Cybersecurity Act, co-sponsored by Risch and Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, passed the Senate unanimously in September. The measure provides resources to help small businesses protect themselves from online threats.

"The recent Equifax hack is the latest example of the many vulnerabilities that exist, and why we must take urgent, proactive steps to prevent cybersecurity attacks on small businesses," Risch said.

Other sponsored bills include a proposal to strengthen the Small Business Administration's Office of Advocacy - which evaluates the impact of federal regulations on small businesses - as well as legislation seeking to limit Columbia River salmon predation by sea lions and sanctioning maritime labor union workers from engaging in slowdowns.

Risch's office notes he also worked with Gov. Otter and foreign officials to end China's ban on U.S. beef and the Japanese ban on U.S. potatoes.


Became chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs in January.

Crapo sponsored 24 bills and resolutions during the year. Besides authoring tougher sanctions on Russia, he led the effort to ease financial restrictions on credit unions, community banks and smaller regional banks, making it easier for consumers to get mortgages and obtain credit.

The latter measure passed his committee and will be taken up by the full Senate this coming year. The Wall Street Journal described it as "the most significant, bipartisan rollback of financial regulations" since the Dodd-Frank reform act was enacted in 2010. The Northwest Credit Union Association said the legislation could help nearly a million Idaho credit union members "grow their businesses on Main Street and have access to affordable home loans."

Crapo also proposed easing federal switchblade regulations that affect Buck Knives in Post Falls, as well as other manufacturers, and listened to hearing safety advocates when he sponsored a bill to eliminate a $200 tax on firearm silencers.

Other bills and resolutions would authorize a national day of remembrance for Americans who were affected by above-ground nuclear weapons testing during the Cold War, and extend the Radiation Exposure Compensation Trust Fund for another 19 years.

Constituent services

Labrador's office reported that it closed 1,025 cases in 2017. More than half concerned veterans and their benefits; it also worked on cases involving Medicare and Medicaid, Social Security and federal retirement benefits, as well as immigration and other issues.

The office recovered $2,343,090 for Idahoans during the year, including $1,662,359 for veterans.

Crapo's staff handled more than 800 inquiries on behalf of Idaho constituents over the past year. Besides a number of outcomes that can't be measured in monetary terms - such as expediting a passport application or helping a

veteran get the paperwork he needs to enroll for health care benefits - the cases resulted in nearly $3.2 million in lump sum benefits being returned to Idahoans, including $2.23 million related to Veterans Administration or military retirement and combat pay issues.

Simpson's and Risch's offices did not provide specific constituent service numbers.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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