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Eye on Boise: Otter favors local control in anti-discrimination fight

BOISE – Idaho Gov. Butch Otter didn’t hesitate when asked about the Idaho GOP Central Committee’s new resolution calling on the Legislature to overturn local anti-discrimination ordinances, like those six Idaho cities – including Coeur d’Alene – have passed to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The resolution, Otter said, runs counter to his views on local control.

“I think, even though the cities and counties are creatures of the state, the state has always recognized the value of local control, local decision-making and these folks having a responsibility to establish for themselves the character of their community,” the GOP governor said. “Although I understand some of the reasoning behind that effort, I really think that the overriding value of local folks making local decisions about local policies is much more valuable than us directing folks from Boise.”

Grim fire outlook

Idaho’s gearing up for an above-normal fire season on state land, state forester David Groeschl told the state Land Board last week. Groeschl said long-range predictions call for warmer-than-average temperatures and below-normal precipitation over much of the state. “And right now, the fuel moistures are lower than we normally see this time of year,” he said. “So if weather conditions do not change, I would expect a very active fire season.”

The Land Board, which consists of the state’s top elected officials, oversees management of state lands, including wildfire programs.

Groeschl told the board, “We are preparing for an above-normal fire season.”

Smartphone insurance

Anyone selling you insurance on your smartphone in Idaho will need to be licensed with the state Department of Insurance starting July 1; that’s under legislation that passed in 2012.

More than 40 states now regulate sales of portable electronics insurance; Idaho’s new regulations, like those in many other states, require the sellers to disclose to customers that the policies may duplicate their existing coverage under their homeowner’s, renter’s or other insurance. They also allow the portable electronics insurance policies to be canceled at any time.

Idaho Department of Insurance Director Bill Deal said, “This type of insurance has been available without regulation for some time. By requiring vendors to be licensed, the department has the ability to monitor the product and protect consumers.”

Washington’s similar law took effect in 2008; other states with such laws include Oregon, Utah, Nevada, Montana and Wyoming.

When governors speed

When former Idaho Gov. Phil Batt was honored recently with the naming of the Idaho Transportation Department headquarters after him, he shared some transportation-related stories from back when. Among them: When Batt was governor, he was heading out to a funeral for some wildland firefighters south of Kuna when a Russian diplomat stopped by his office. “I told him I’d give him 10 minutes. I knew I had to get going. A half-hour later, I finally booted him out of there and we got in the car.”

Batt told an aide to “step on it” and put in a call to the state police, saying, “Cut us a little slack, we’re running late. We need to get over to this funeral.”

Laughter started up among the audience.

“Course, the radios picked that up and it was in the newspapers and all over the place,” Batt said. “I had to apologize and write a poem for the paper and all that. But that was one of my easier duties, it was all right.”

Crime, prison numbers telling

Here are some of the numbers that prompted Idaho to launch a big push last week from all three branches of state government to look into reforming its criminal justice system:

From 2007 to 2011, crime dropped sharply in Idaho, with violent crime down 15 percent, sex crimes down 24 percent, property crimes down 9 percent and DUI arrests down 16 percent. Idaho’s total crime rate in 2011 was third-lowest in the country.

Yet, Idaho’s prison population percentage increase from 2010 to 2011 was among the nation’s largest. In 2011, it had second-highest percentage of people on probation among all states and the 11th highest incarceration rate. Sixty-three percent of all Idaho prison admissions in 2012 were offenders who violated their probation or parole.

Said Otter, “One of the very core reasons that we’re doing this is to look how we can do things better, without just throwing more and more money at it.”