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Eye on Boise: Public comments from throughout Idaho favor climate change standards that lawmakers rejected

More than 650 people overflowed the Idaho Capitol’s largest hearing room for an informational hearing on climate change on March 15, 2017, so four overflow rooms were opened; it was the largest crowd for any hearing during this year’s legislative session. (Betsy Z. Russell)
More than 650 people overflowed the Idaho Capitol’s largest hearing room for an informational hearing on climate change on March 15, 2017, so four overflow rooms were opened; it was the largest crowd for any hearing during this year’s legislative session. (Betsy Z. Russell)

In Boise, Lewiston and Coeur d’Alene last week – just like at earlier public meetings in Twin Falls, Idaho Falls and Fort Hall – Idahoans turned out in force to tell the state Department of Education that they want their schools to teach students about climate change.

The issue arises as Idaho updates its school science standards for the first time since 2001. State lawmakers, during their session this year, removed five sections about climate change, saying they weren’t sufficiently balanced, from the 375 sections that were proposed. Now, the state is gathering public input before reconvening a 19-member panel of the state’s top science teachers, scientists and education officials who developed the standards. The standards were vetted in six public hearings last year and supported in 400 written public comments before being approved by the state Board of Education.

After the initial round of public input, the panel will consider possible changes. Then, the standards will again go through public comment and be considered by the state board.

In Boise, more than 80 people turned out to comment, and all were vehemently in support of the standards as proposed – including the five pieces that lawmakers jettisoned. The 35 who turned out in Lewiston, about half of whom spoke, all supported the five sections. So did much of the crowd of roughly the same size that came to a Thursday meeting at the Coeur d’Alene Resort.

The lawmakers’ queasiness with the climate change standards raised eyebrows around the state this year. After the five sections were rejected, an informational hearing about climate change organized by Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, drew the largest crowd of any hearing of the legislative session this year, with 650 people spilling out of the Capitol’s largest hearing room and into four overflow rooms.

Sandpoint mayor decries racist fliers

Sandpoint Mayor Shelby Rognstad is targeted in a series of racist flyers that have been distributed by mail and stuffed into some local newspapers in Sandpoint in recent weeks, suggesting that he’s such a big supporter of “how to be multi-cultural” that he’d tolerate “rape of young boys.” The bizarre flyer, topped by a darkened photo of Rognstad and the headline, “I’m Shelby. And I’m the mayor here,” has the slogan printed at the bottom, “Sandpoint. Must. Change!”

The flyer is similar in tone to robocalls that bombarded Sandpoint residents when Rognstad was running for mayor, darkly suggesting that Rognstad wanted to turn Sandpoint into Ferguson, Missouri, which it described as a “violent jungle of looters and primitive destroyers.” The robocall, dripping with contempt, also ridiculed Rognstad for his first name, calling him “feminized.”

Rognstad reported the flyers to the Sandpoint Police Department, which confirmed that it has an active investigation into the matter.

“It’s hard to understand what’s going through somebody’s head when they’re doing things like this,” said Rognstad, 43, who was elected mayor in 2015. “I know that certainly there’s criticism that comes with the job, some of it enlightened and some of it not. … It’s unfortunate, for sure. This is a great community with great people who really value and cherish human rights and equality. … It certainly isn’t representative of the community.”

In 2011, well before Rognstad took office, Sandpoint was the first city in Idaho to pass a citywide ordinance barring discrimination in employment, housing or public accommodations based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Eight other Idaho cities have since followed suit, from Coeur d’Alene, Moscow and Lewiston to Boise, Pocatello, Ketchum, Idaho Falls and Victor.

“I think Sandpoint does a lot to promote equal opportunity and to support human rights,” Rognstad said. “Clearly there’s a lot of volunteerism in the community that focuses on just those kinds of issues. I’m hoping that that is how we’re defined, and not by the antics of a few out there that are trying to not just harm my image, but really harm the image of the community. Because it certainly isn’t representative.”

Idaho unemployment drops to 3.5 percent

Unemployment in Idaho dropped to 3.5 percent in March, down from 3.6 percent in February, the Idaho Department of Labor reports. The state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was boosted this time by gains outside of the Boise area, where jobs actually declined by 700 from February to March. That was more than offset by increases in jobs in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho Falls and Lewiston.

Twenty-two of Idaho’s 44 counties had unemployment rates above the state rate, with six counties exceeding 6 percent unemployment: Clearwater, at 9 percent; Adams, 7.1 percent; Shoshone and Lewis, 7 percent; Benewah, 6.9 percent; and Lemhi, 6 percent.

Ada County remained below the state average at just 3 percent unemployment. Canyon County was at 3.9 percent; Bonneville County, 2.9 percent; Kootenai County, 4.3 percent; Valley County, 5.1 percent; and Twin Falls County, 3.2 percent.

Lawmakers sign onto lawsuit over veto

By the time a group of Idaho lawmakers had filed a petition to the Idaho Supreme Court last week challenging Gov. Butch Otter’s veto of legislation to repeal the 6 percent sales tax on groceries, on grounds that the governor didn’t meet the 10-day deadline for the veto, the number of lawmakers signing on to the case had swelled to 30.

Among North Idaho lawmakers who have signed onto the lawsuit are Reps. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard; Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay; Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens; Eric Redman, R-Athol; Ron Mendive, R-Coeur d’Alene; Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird; and Sens. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens; Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene; and Dan Foreman, R-Moscow.

The 30 lawmakers – all, like Otter, Republicans – contend that the 10-day veto clock started ticking immediately when legislators adjourned, rather than when the governor received the bill two days later. A 1978 Idaho Supreme Court decision says the clock starts ticking when the governor receives the bill, but the lawmakers hope the current court will overturn that ruling with a strict constructionist reading of the state Constitution. “The central issue in this case strikes at the core of whether the Idaho Constitution means what it says,” the lawmakers’ attorney, former unsuccessful congressional candidate Bryan Smith, wrote in a brief submitted to the court.

The court hasn’t yet set a deadline for the state’s response to the petition.

Betsy Russell covers Idaho news from the state capitol in Boise and writes the Eye on Boise blog. She can be reached at or (208) 336-2854.