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Eye on Boise: Rep. Barbieri is only ‘no’ vote on funding of rape kits

Idaho’s state Capitol in Boise was surrounded by a blanket of snow on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. (Betsy Z. Russell / The Spokesman-Review)

The Idaho House has voted 67-1 in favor of legislation by Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, to make sure rape victims’ own health insurance isn’t charged for the cost of preparing sexual assault evidence kits, as has been happening under current law – with just North Idaho Rep. Vito Barbieri dissenting.

“We don’t ask home invasion victims to pay the cost of fingerprint dusting,” Wintrow told the House. She said sexual assault is the only crime in Idaho where the victim’s insurance is billed for forensic evidence collection. Under the bill, she said, “We pay the cost of the criminal justice process.”

Instead of the victim’s insurance, the state would turn first to the Crime Victims Compensation Fund to cover the cost of forensic exams of rape victims; that fund comes from fines and restitution paid by criminal offenders.

Rape kits contain samples of semen, saliva or blood taken from a victim, usually a woman, during an invasive and intimate examination that can last up to six hours.

The bill has 11 co-sponsors from both parties and both houses; it now moves to the Senate.

Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, said he had an unanswered question. “If there was a deductible, then it would make sense that the victim shouldn’t have to pay,” he said. “But if the victim is insured, why put it off on the public?”

Rep. Paul Amador, R-Coeur d’Alene, spoke in favor of the bill. “This bill essentially closes a loophole and fixes some unintended consequences of earlier legislation. It ultimately helps crime victims,” he told the House, “so I hope that you will give it your green light.”

ISP budget adds 7 troopers

With no debate or discussion, legislative budget writers on Thursday adopted the governor’s recommendation for the Idaho State Police budget for next year, including adding seven more state troopers, an additional executive protection officer to ensure that the governor and first lady are “properly accompanied to all state events that they attend, pursuant to secret service training standards,” three forensic scientists, a fleet installation technician and a Bureau of Criminal Investigations supervisor. In all, the budget adds 12 positions at ISP next year; the agency had originally requested 32.

The motions for the various divisions within ISP passed on a series of unanimous votes. When Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee Co-Chair Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, asked Rep. Van Burtenshaw, R-Terreton, if he wanted to discuss his motion for the biggest slice of the budget – the $75.4 million budget in total funds for the state police division – he said “No.” When she asked Sen. Fred Martin, R-Boise, if he wanted to discuss his motion for one of the smallest slices of the budget, for the Racing Commission, he said, “It is what it is.”

The Racing Commission reported to lawmakers at an earlier budget hearing that it’s down to a single state employee and has few resources left, now that the state’s largest racetrack, Les Bois Park near Boise, has closed.

In all, the budget set for ISP next year reflects a 12.4 percent increase in state funding. Not included were requests that Otter also passed over in his budget for 17 more officers.

When the joint committee turned to the ISP budget Thursday morning – as snow blanketed the Treasure Valley and multiple accidents were being reported on the roads – Keough commented, “I imagine our state troopers are very busy this morning – we appreciate your help.”

New bankruptcy judge

Longtime Boise bankruptcy attorney Joseph M. Meier has been appointed as a judge of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Idaho, to succeed U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Jim Pappas, who is completing his 28th year on the court. Bankruptcy judges serve 14-year, renewable terms, and are appointed through a merit selection process.

“Joe Meier is well-respected by both the bench and bar in Idaho and beyond,” said 9th Circuit Chief Judge Sidney Thomas, who announced the appointment. “We are extremely pleased to welcome such an experienced bankruptcy practitioner to the federal bench.”

Meier, 59, has been a partner with the Boise law firm of Cosho Humphrey LLP since 1985. In 2017, he was awarded the Idaho State Bar’s professionalism award; in 2005, he was named a fellow of the American College of Bankruptcy. A graduate of the University of Oregon, he holds a law degree from Willamette University School of Law, in Salem.

Meier will begin his judgeship on March 23.

The federal bankruptcy court in Idaho had 3,771 bankruptcy filings in federal fiscal year 2017. It has two judge positions.

Boosting scholarships

After days of deliberations, the Senate Education Committee has backed Gov. Butch Otter’s Opportunity Scholarship expansion bill, which would both boost the state scholarship fund by $5 million to $15 million, and allow up to 20 percent, or $3 million, of the scholarship fund to be used for “adult completers” who are returning to finish their degrees. There was just one “No” vote against the bill, from Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian, who said she didn’t think the state should be offering any college scholarships at all.

“I don’t think it’s the role of the state to be providing scholarships,” Den Hartog said. “I think we are better served by setting policy and affecting tuition rates for all students.”

Other senators on the committee said they were convinced the move would help the state meet its goal of having 60 percent of Idahoans have some kind of degree or certificate beyond high school – a goal that originally was targeted to the year 2020, but now has been pushed back to 2025.

The bill still needs passage in the full Senate and House and the governor’s signature to become law.

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