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Posts published in March 2009

Inability to testify = no crime

gelser

Sara Gelser

How about this for a perverse structuring of the law: Commit an awful crime against someone who - maybe because of very young or old age or physical disability - cannot testify, and you can't be touched by law enforcement even if you confess.

Call it a loophole in the law, currently on the books in Oregon. The House has, though, just unanimously passed House Bill 2441, which aims to fix it.

It stems from a normally-reasonable standard, that a person cannot be convicted solely on the basis of confession. In the case of most offenses, that's not ordinarily a big issue. But it can be the cases of assault, especially sexual assaults, against some disabled people. Representative Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, has cited a pair of recent state Supreme Court cases where the problem emerged:

In 2007, the Supreme Court overturned Michael Simons' convictions of rape, sodomy, unlawful sexual penetration, and sexual abuse against three elderly patients in a memory care facility despite the Simons' confession to the crimes. (Oregon v. Simons)

In 2008, the Supreme Court overturned a conviction for first-degree sodomy and first degree sexual abuse against a toddler, despite the defendant’s confession (Oregon v. Delp). In the Delp case, the Supreme Court opinion read, in part: “This issue requires us to confront. . . the difficult problem that arises ... when the victim of a confessed crime is incapable of recounting—or perhaps even perceiving—the injury or harm to himself or herself, and the record does not contain physical evidence of such an injury or harm.”

Care has to be taken in these kind of cases that the confessions be cleanly obtained, and the bill looks cautiously drawn, as it should. (It requires, for example, that a court "Whether there is evidence demonstrating the truthfulness of portions of the confession; Whether the defendant had the opportunity to commit the crime; The method of interrogation used to solicit the confession.") But these kind of offenses need to be prosecuted, which you can only do meaningfully if there's a realistic way to convict.

The IPCo grid, and the blowback

Also on the recommended reading list: A powerful blog called Stop Idaho Power, raising questions about the mass power transmission line proposed to run roughly between Hermiston, Oregon, and Murphy (in Owyhee County), Idaho.

This may seem like a narrow issue, but the B2H Grassroots Coalition has used its web site to fashion a remarkably comprehensive argument, drawing in everything form the "pre-approved ratemaking" legislation at the Idaho statehouse, to the seeming decision to avoid running the power lines (where possible) on public lands and focus on placing them on private lands instead.

There's some solid reporting and some intriguing analysis. Fascinating material.

An Areva overview

The Idaho Falls area would find some interesting reading in a new Alternet article about the French nuclear power industry and the company Areva, the largest nuclear power business - albeit mostly owned by the French government - in the world, which is starting to undertake major investments in the Idaho Falls area.

From the article: "France's monopolistic dependency on splitting the atom to turn on the lights has come with a huge price - not only financially but in environmental and health costs. In reality, France is a radioactive mess, additionally burdened with an overwhelming amount of radioactive waste, much of which is simply dispersed into the surrounding environment. The situation is complicated by the fact that Areva, the French nuclear corporation and biggest atomic operator in the world, is almost wholly owned by the French government. Consequently, France's President Nicolas Sarkozy has gone into high marketing gear -- the Washington Post anointed him 'the world's most aggressive nuclear salesman' - pushing nuclear power to any country willing to pay, most notably in the Middle East."

Reading of some significance, even in a time of economic trouble.

CONTEXT FOR THE CRITIQUE A reader points out that the writer of the AlterNet piece is an anti-nuclear activist, which should be noted in context.

The reader, from Idaho Falls, adds, "I find the article a mishmash of facts, some logical inferences, and far more disingenuous propaganda. I find overall that it lacks integrity and credibility, though that's obviously just my opinion. I suspect our area of the state - very familiar and technically savvy in ways nuclear - wouldn't be particularly surprised, much less swayed, though they might be agitated."

Busy day

statehouse

The Idaho Legislature is back up to speed. With parameters set in the budget and tax discussion, lawmakers are rolling again. Today was an excellent day to get a sense of what's going on at the session.

And there's a good place to look for the rundown. Betsy Russell, who blogs (and, uh, writes news stories as well) from the Idaho Legislature for the Spokane Spokesman-Review, has 13 separate posts on mostly separate topics at the legislature today.

So what happened? Among the highlights:

The budget committee (the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee) [context] set the budget for the state Department of Education, approving money for a state data system.

It cut matching money for Idaho Public Television for translator stations.

It zeroed-out the Idaho Rural Partnership.

It zeroed-out the Idaho Women's Commission.

It turned down a proposal to study historic barns around the state.

The House Education Committee voted to permanently end state funding of school field trips.

A committee moved ahead with major changes to the state liquor license system.

The House passed, 51-17, a request that the federal government "cease and desist" invading the state's sovereignty. Specifics were not spelled out, which doesn't matter since the measure is a declaration only and has no practical effect.

A busy day at the Idaho Legislature. Best guess at present is another three to four weeks to go until adjournment.

Economy getting you down?

Well, the Olympian has a remedy, more or less.

Try this video from Olympian reporter Adam Wilson. Maybe the funniest take we've seen lately on the local state of the economy. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll cringe . . .

Atkinson’s travelogue

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Tour guide Jason Atkinson at the Supreme Court library

A video recommend: An Oregon state capitol mall, done in a nicely personal fashion by state Senator Jason Atkinson, R-Central Point, on occasion of the state's 150th birthday. (You can see it on a page of Atkinson's campaign web site, but scroll down the page a bit until you get to "Happy 150th Birthday Oregon! (Historical documentary of the Oregon Legislature)." You'll learn a bit about Oregon and the building, and that's just a part of it.

Atkinson's affection for the Capitol and the mall area runs clear, and he makes for a good tour guide. That's true even though the job of walking around some of the vertical areas was a little tougher in this season than in most previous years, since he's using a cane, aftermath of an accidental gun shooting last year, which he briefly remarks on. At one point he mentions of a climb to the top of the statehouse, "It's 120 stairs, which is easy if you haven't been shot."

He talks a bit too about the refurbishing of the statehouse, still underway, and some cleanup projects he has worked on. Some of that got an impetus, he recalled, when he first came to the legislature and brought his two grandmothers (of opposing political persuasions) to the building. Both quickly pointed out things that were varyingly unkempt, and remarked to him, "We're so proud of you but you are going to get this cleaned up, aren't you?"

Atkinson's enthusiasm bespeaks the worthiness of the goal.

The biggest shifts

The presidential elections of 2004 and 2008 obviously had different partisan results, but they also registered distinctly different partisan numbers - a shift from Republicans to Democrats, nationwide, of about 10%. The only significant Republican percentage increases in the presidential were in Alaska (the biggest by far, at 26%), Arkansas, Louisiana and Tenneesee, plus sliver improvements in Oklahoma and West Virginia. The other 45 states, including those which voted Republican both times (such as Idaho), all moved in the Democratic direction.

The Center for American Progress has put together a map on this, showing in the Northwest that Democrats made the largest presidential-level gains in Idaho (13%), closely followed by Oregon (12%) and Washington (10%).

In Washington state, 18 counties (of 39) registered a Democratic shift of more than 10%. The largest shift was in one of the most Republican counties in the state, Chelan County just east of the Cascades, at 15%.

In Oregon, 24 counties of the 36 shifted 10% or more. The highest shift there was in Washington County, at 16% - seemingly a continuation of a general trend in that county.

In Idaho, 21 counties (of 44) shifted 10% or more. As in the other states, most were just above the 10% mark, but one of them - Teton County - registered the largest shift in the whole region, at 23%, as well as the second highest, Power County at 18%. Those are both small counties, but also of interest were the shifts in the two largest counties in the state - Ada (17%) and Canyon (16%).

None of the 119 counties in the Northwest shifted Republican in that pair of presidentials.

Felony protection

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Phil Hart

Idaho House Bill 139 may not be going anywhere; since it was introduced on February 16 it has stayed in the House Resources & Conservation Committee. But you have to wonder how thoroughly Representative Phil Hart, R-Athol, thought this throught before he had it introduced:

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, at such time as the Canadiangray wolf population exceeds one hundred fifty percent (150%) of the population objectives identified in the wolf conservation and management plan for the state of Idaho, according to statistics maintained by the Idaho department of fish and game, and a Canadian gray wolf causes the death of a person within the state of Idaho, any person who protects Canadian gray wolves shall be guilty of a felony, punishable by imprisonment in the state prison not exceeding five (5) years, or by fine not exceeding fifty thousand dollars ($50,000), or by both such fine and imprisonment.

That's the full substantive text. The official purpose is noted as, "The purpose of this legislation is to identify which individual or individuals are to be held responsible for criminal prosecution should a Canadian gray wolf kill a person."

So . . . it would be a felony to protect a wolf that has killed a person . . . or to protect wolves as a group? Would that include making felons of environmental activists who debate the law or regulation on the subject? The bill doesn't include any definitions.

Explaining (to some extent) in Res & Con, Hart said that "this
proposed legislation deals with wolves and will hold people accountable for wolf attacks under the wolf management plan. He reported that people who live in rural areas have been denied these rights. . . . In the discussion on the motion, Rep. Hart responded to a question regarding records of wolf attacks on people in Idaho. He explained that studies have been done in other areas and the criteria is rigid and an eye witness is required to report a killing."

Obviously a major problem. According to WikiAnswers.com: "Actually, there have been NO documented killings by wolves. Like any large carnivore, they deffinately have the means to kill a human... they can bring down moose. Usually, though, they like to stay away from humans as much as possible except for occasionally killing livestock." If anyone does know of a documented instance, let us know . . .

“Still at a funding crisis in transportation”

Probably shouldn't have been a big surprise, but the reports indicate that the core transportation strategic planners - mainly out of the office of Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter - really were thrown by the House rejection today of his proposed gas tax increase. Evidently, a number of House members were surprised too.

The debate was fairly closely split between the two sides but the vote wasn't close, at 27-43, with Democrats making some of the strongest anti-tax arguments. (Ponder that a moment: small-l libertarian Otter pushing a tax increase that the Democrats said was unaffordable.) Republican leadership couldn't push it through.

Representative Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, was quoted as saying, “I’ll continue to work with the governor’s office to see if there’s another proposal that would be acceptable, because the problem is not going to go away." It isn't. But keep watch and see if, in the days ahead, there are attempts to re-frame it - maybe as indicating that road spending, apart from what's already being paid for, is something that might be shifted toward the back burner.