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Eye on Boise: Crapo to again head Senate’s ‘Committee on Committees’

Betsy Russell (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Betsy Russell (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo has again been selected by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to chair the Senate’s Committee on Committees, meaning he’ll lead negotiations about which senators get which committee assignments. This is the seventh consecutive two-year congressional term that Crapo’s been tapped for this role.

“Mike is a trusted advisor and has the respect of his colleagues,” McConnell said in a statement. “He has a proven track record and the entire Republican conference is honored to have him once again leading our negotiations on committee assignments.”

Though it’s called a committee, the panel only had one member until the last session of Congress, when Crapo was assigned an assistant, Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C. Scott has again been tapped as Crapo’s assistant this year.

Crapo said, “I look forward to working to ensure my colleagues have the best possible opportunities to make a mark on the important agenda of the 115th Congress.”

Atencio first Hispanic named Idaho corrections chief

Henry Atencio, deputy director, has been named the new director of Idaho’s state prison system. He succeeds Kevin Kempf, who will depart Friday to head the Association of State Correctional Administrators.

Atencio, a 26-year veteran of the department, will be the first Hispanic to lead Idaho’s prison system; the state’s prison population is nearly 16 percent Hispanic.

“As a board, we were lucky because the department’s leadership team is packed with outstanding leaders,” said Debbie Field, chair of the Idaho Board of Correction. “Ultimately, we decided Henry is the best choice because of his thorough knowledge of the department and his vision for the future.”

Atencio said, “Over the past two years, the Idaho Department of Correction has emerged as a national leader in the field of corrections. I’m eager to build on that momentum by focusing on public safety while giving offenders meaningful opportunities to turn their lives around.”

As deputy director, Atencio already has been overseeing day-to-day operations of the Idaho Department of Correction and led the department’s efforts to implement the Justice Reinvestment initiative, which focuses on increasing supervision of the most dangerous offenders while diverting nonviolent offenders to community treatment programs. The Idaho Legislature launched the initiative in 2014; it’s a joint effort of all three branches of Idaho’s state government.

Atencio started with the department as a probation and parole officer. He rose to positions including district manager of probation and parole, and deputy warden at the Idaho State Correctional Institution, the state’s second-largest prison, before becoming deputy director in December 2014.

“Henry and I came up through the ranks together, and I know he’s more than ready for this challenge,” Kempf said in a statement. “I can say with confidence that Idaho’s correctional department will be in good hands.”

Atencio’s salary will be $145,000; Kempf, who started at $139,984 a year when he first became director in 2014, currently makes $150,000.

Two panels plan for same $$

Here’s a bit of an oddity: The Idaho Legislature’s Joint Millennium Fund Committee held a full day and a half of hearings last week to hear from 23 groups seeking funding for next year. But the Legislature’s interim working group on the alternatives for Idaho’s health coverage gap already has recommended tapping those Millennium Fund dollars for health care for the state’s gap population. The fund comes from an endowment set up with Idaho’s share of a national tobacco settlement.

Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, and Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, co-chair the Joint Millennium Fund Committee, and both also served on the interim health care alternatives panel.

Wood has this explanation: “We’re going down two parallel paths, and then JFAC will decide.” JFAC is the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, which writes the state budget.

Wood said it’s possible there would be money left over from Millennium Fund earnings next year after pitches from groups ranging from the Idaho Health and Welfare Department’s Project Filter to public health districts’ tobacco cessation programs to the Idaho Meth Project are considered. Or the Millennium Fund panel may not grant the funding requests.

“I don’t know whether we’re going to fund, or how many of the requests we’re going to fund or not,” he said. “The gap interim committee did make recommendation to take that money and do something else with it. And everyone’s been notified that just because you seek funding doesn’t mean you’re going to get it.”

Or both panels could simultaneously end up proposing different uses for the same money, which this year amounted to $12.5 million, of which $9.6 million was allocated to the various health-related and tobacco-related programs.

“The Millennium Fund Committee only recommends,” Wood said. “We have no authority to do anything other than make a recommendation to JFAC.”

First lady Lori Otter was among those making pitches to the Millennium Fund panel, one as board president and interim executive director of the Idaho Meth Project, and the other as the head of Truth 208, a related project that seeks to prevent abuse of prescription drugs. The Meth Project is seeking a $649,900 grant from the Millennium Fund; Truth 208 is seeking $495,300.

“Idaho has remained below the national average for meth use, except for the year 2007, which is the year we started,” Otter told the lawmakers. “So we’re making progress. … We have trended downward every year since the project started.”

The Truth 208 program was added in 2015. Last year, the two programs together received $495,600 from the Millennium Fund.

State building up a surplus

The latest General Fund Budget Monitor from Idaho’s legislative budget office, which tracks budget implications of monthly changes in state tax revenues, puts Idaho’s forecasted year-end balance at the end of the current fiscal year at $139 million – $92 million more than the Legislature anticipated when it adjourned in March. That’s after all of last year’s budget decisions are taken into account.