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Eye on Boise: New state broadband network ruled out

After months of study and hours of discussion and debate, an Idaho legislative committee has agreed with a unanimous vote: It doesn’t want a repeat of the defunct Idaho Education Network.

The IEN went dark after a court ruled that the state’s $60 million contract for the broadband Internet service was issued illegally.

Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, proposed a formal motion to “move away from a statewide system that mirrors the previous system.” His motion passed unanimously on Nov. 20.

Rather than try to build a single broadband network linking all the state’s high schools, like the IEN, the lawmakers voted to support school districts in their own contracting for broadband, including providing resources to help them with procurement. Districts will be allowed to collaborate and to include libraries, the Idaho Digital Learning Academy, and the state school for the deaf and blind in the services. They also agreed that participation in the programs would be voluntary for school districts, but if they participate, they would need to apply for federal e-rate funds, which can offset a large portion of the cost.

For the coming year, the panel backed Sen. Shawn Keough’s motion to continue providing state funds to school districts for their own high school broadband contracts.

Separately, lawmakers next year will consider a budget proposal to expand state-supported broadband services to grades K-12. State Superintendent of Schools Sherri Ybarra included a $3.4 million request in her proposed budget for the state Department of Education to continue the local contracting program another year plus expand it to grades K-12; lawmakers originally budgeted $7 million for the program this year, but found that it cost less than half that amount.

The panel also voted unanimously to recommend repealing existing laws about the Idaho Education Network, now that it’s defunct.

Cruz taps Crane

GOP presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz has named Idaho state Treasurer Ron Crane as his Idaho state campaign chairman, and former state GOP Chairman Norm Semanko as his state campaign director.

“Idaho is an important state for us, and with Ron serving as our chairman and Norm as our state director, we gain two of the most respected conservatives in the state,” Cruz said in a news release.

Cruz is an outspoken U.S. senator from Texas. He’s just the latest GOP presidential candidate to name an Idaho campaign team. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has state Controller Brandon Woolf as his Idaho campaign chairman, and also recently announced the endorsement of Idaho GOP Sen. Jim Risch. Ohio Gov. John Kasich has named Idaho state Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, as his Idaho campaign co-chairman.

Idaho 1st District GOP congressman Raul Labrador is the Western states co-chairman for the presidential campaign of Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.

More legal fees

Idaho’s state Board of Examiners, which consists of the governor, the attorney general and the secretary of state, has approved an additional payment of $34,502.70 to the attorneys who successfully represented four same-sex couples in their lawsuit challenging Idaho’s ban on gay marriage. That’s on top of the $628,554 the state already has paid in the case. The new payment reflects the costs of the state’s unsuccessful appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The board approved the payment with no discussion; its unanimous vote refers the bill to the state Constitutional Defense Fund for payment.

This brings the state’s total bill for the winning side’s legal costs and fees in the case to more than $663,000.

Betsy Z. Russell can be reached at betsyr@spokesman.com, (208) 336-2854.