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Posts published in “Idaho”

Details, details, and the weight of cost

Got a call from a Boise housing construction contractor who's concerned a new piece of legislation might drive him out of business. He might even be right. And its intended purpose doesn't require such an extreme result.

The measure in question is House Bill 677, which would allow school districts to impose impact fees on new residential construction within the district. The fees could amount to $2.50 per square foot, or, for example, $2,500 for a 1,000-square foot house. The measure is sponsored by leaders of the property tax renovation effort, Senators Shawn Keough and Representatives Dennis Lake, Mike Moyle and Jim Clark, all Republicans.

The idea behind it is generally unassailable: New growth should help pay for the growing budgets needed by school districts, most notably those like Boise and Meridian where the growth has caused serious pressures. Those new kids moving in - and generally, the new people moving in - create costs and so should have to help underwrite.

Under 677 they ultimately do, but the serious pressure instead is placed on the builders of the houses. The fee is imposed on "construction," not on sale or occupancy. Ultimately, presumably, the builder would pass the cost along to the developer and buyer, but in the meantime, for months, that's a high cost he alone would have to bear. In some cases, especially considering the size of houses so often built these days, that could be enough to put some builders out of business. If it were imposed instead at the time of sale, it could be incorporated into house financing relatively easily. And the arrival of the people into the house is more closely tied to the cost to the district than is construction of the building.

The bill is up for amendment on the House floor. Will be interesting to see how, or if, it is amended, as the session nears its frenetic final (well, presumably final) weeks.

Newcomb’s out

Bruce Newcomb, who has been speaker of the Idaho House longer than anyone in the state's history, is headed out: He has announced his retirement.

Bruce Newcomb"Announce" is one of those portentious verbs used a lot in press releases and regularly deleted from mention here at Ridenbaugh Press; but in this case the Newcomb announcement carries the weight. He has been an important figure in Idaho government for nearly all of the 20 years he has been in the Idaho House; he has been in leadership most of that time. Position doesn't account for it all, though.

A usually affable guy, well-liked personally by many in the statehouse, he has managed to keep the tone in the House lighter, on many occasions, than it might otherwise have been. He seems to have capped, early on, any ambition for higher office than he has had, and to an uncommon degree has been willing to put the interests of others first. (Exhibit one would be his good friend Mike Simpson, who probably would not have been a sucessful speaker and later a member of Congress but for the unglamorous work Newcomb did, as Simpson's majority leader, for so many years.) If he merits some long-run criticism for making decisions that have blocked useful progress on taxes and some other subject, he also has been extremely useful in other areas, notably water law.

The departure of all that is half of what makes this announcement an announcement. The other half has to do with what's next. (more…)

Stability in mental health

They may be a little rough on the states overall: The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill is saying (in its just-released report) that almost all states deserve a C, D or an F grade in their efforts in that area, and not one deserves an A, just five (none in the west) meriting a B. You suspect a message at work.

That said, there's provocative material in this year's Grading the States report. Upshot in the Northwest: Oregon rates a C, Washington a D, and Idaho an F.

There's some high irony - to put it mildly - in parts of this. Oregon, for example, gets an A for "infrastructure." NAMI must have an artful meaning of the word, because Oregon's very weakest point may be its infrastructure, especially the decaying 9even dangerous) parts of its state hospital at Salem. (It does note Oregon State Hospital remediation as an urgent need.) It points out that the state does have mental/physical health parity, that its recovery sytems are solid and handles services decently, all while falling below the national average for per capital spending. Not a bad report, really.

Washington spends more - in most ways above the national average - but ranks lower in most respects in delivery of service and actual health care.

Idaho was one of eight states graded F, weak on almost everything but its suicide rate, which was well above average. It ranked dead last, 51st, in the area of total mental health spending. Legislation in this area still is making its way around the Statehouse, however, so sme judgement might best be deferred.

A bogus run

Among the advantages of the Oregon system of voting by mail is the disadvantage that system places on one of the least welcome invaders of modern elections: The last-minute ad.

When the votes are being cast over a spread of more than two weeks, you can't easily manipulate the results through engineering a last-minute panic attack over (most commonly these days) the radio. Since the voting is spread out, you're only likely to influence a small sliver of people; and even that sliver is reduced by the number of voters who, having heard a serious allegation, actually have the time and ability to check it out before voting. Instead, getting serious information out there tends to work better.

Like most states, Idaho isn't in that position, and so attack ads like the one aimed at a new Boise schools bond issue could have some effect. In this case, maybe not as much as its backers hoped, since the election is a couple of weeks off and the ad already has been airing - meaning that by the time most people vote, many of its charges may already be adequately refuted.

This isn't an endorsement of either side of the bond campaign. The Boise School District is asking for $94 million, which is a lot of money, and the voters ought to have a full and careful accounting from a district that has some history of obfuscation.

But the proposal is no new topic, and voters would be well advised to beware of most anything they hear in the final days before the election. Goes for other kinds of electi0ns, too, as the people of Boise have ample reason to know.

Ports in a storm

How is the national controversy over port security playing in places like Idaho? We may get a clue in the latest from 1st District House candidate Norm Semanko, who may have been the first put out this statement (but likely not the last to say something similar):

Semanko said “these ports are a direct link to the rest of the nation and we need to make sure security is handled correctly”. Semanko also stated “that in the post 911 world we have to do whatever is needed to make sure we are secure and we don’t need to apologize to anyone for that”.

NRA state, er, plate

Hadn't seen note of this Idaho state legislation anywhere else, so be it noted here that House Bill 608 would establish a National Rifle Association motor vehicle license plate. (The bill describes the plates as national rifle association plates - lower case - apparently suggesting that the association is of such sweeping magnitude that the specific designation suggested by caps is unnecessary.)

Trucks over 26,000 pounds could not use them, but other vehicle licensees could. The bill doesn't specifically give a rationale for the plates. The money raised would cover administrative costs and be deposited into the state highway fund.

The sponsor is state Senator Skip Brandt, R-Kooskia, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, through which the bill has already passed to the Senate floor. (A floor vote probably will happen Monday or Tuesday.)

So far, the National Rifle Association apparently hasn't endorsed in the 1st District congressional race.

And, FYI, Brandt's two large organizational contributions thus far have come from Qwest Communications ($1,000) and Union Pacific Railroad ($3,000), which periodically appears before the transportation committee.

There's no specific available indication of whetber the NRA is in favor of HB 608. It is, however, on record as in support of Senate Bill 1402, which would, in its most significant provision, allow people in the state to carry guns concealed from view in more places, such as in their cars. The key exemption provision it seeks to add to law is "on property in which the person has any ownership or leasehold interest, or while the person is in any motor vehicle." (It does add a requirement that if you're carrying a concealed weapon for which you don't have a concealed weapons permit, you have to - upon being approached by a law officer - say that you're carrying. On the other hand: "provided however, the provisions of this section shall not apply to an ordinary pocket knife nor any lawfully possessed shotgun or rifle" (emphasis added).

Law enforcement, as one might expect, is opposed to the measure; Nick Albers, a former sheriff now speaking for the Idaho Sheriff's Association, was quoted as saying "There's nothing in there that says if you have a criminal record you can't be carrying it concealed."

That measure currently is in the Senate Judiciary Committee; given its makeup, we'll speculate it stays there. But SB 1402 does have this distinction: Among its four sponsors, two senators and two representatives, is Representative Bill Sali, R-Kuna - like Brandt, a candidate for the U.S. House.

The spectrum

Before we get back into that nonsensical mess of figuring out who's more "liberal" or "conservative" than who, among the candidates for office, let's pause and reflect on how little those standards mean.

Today's lesson comes from the National Journal, one of the best political publications in the country, rigorously nonpartisan and usually about as fair as any you'll find. Annually, it publishes a set of rankings of members of Congress, from one end of the spectrum to the other, and the new one is just out. (It does two lists, actually, one noting most and least liberal, the other most and least conservative. In the interest of efficiency, we'll just use the "most liberal" one here - the measures are easy enough to follow from either end).

You could argue forever what criteria should determine "conservative" and "liberal" rankings, but the Journal's are considered roughly mainstream. So: Here are how the six senators from the northwest rank among the 100, in terms of liberal standing: (more…)

Not having to say you’re sorry

It may help to know that the chief lobbyist working on the new Idaho doctor-apology legislation is also one of the key figures, stretching back some years, behind the state's "tort reform" legislation - attorney Ken McClure.

But that may mean more than one thing.

Here's the skeptical take. When you get legislation in hand which blocks prospectively important evidence in cases of medical malpractice, as is the case with House Bill 634, now on the House floor, careful consideration is called for. And bear in mind that "tort reform" means limiting the scope of what can be sued about, and for. Is this simply a device to allow malpracticing physicians to slip out of legitimate lawsuits?

That would be the dark view; a reasonable counter view (which McClure clearly notes) is that fear of lawsuits has chilled a great deal of honest discussion between physicians and patients. It has led to all manner of unfortunate results, from dispensing drugs which probably aren't needed but will serve to cover a doctor's behind, to an inability to say the simple but highly important words, "I'm sorry." A great deal of civilization has been lost to our lawsuit-happy ways - a fact no less real than the malpractices that do occur and should be litigated.

When we attended journalism conferences in years past, we often heard a piece of advice from gurus on media litigation. It was this: If you did something wrong, apologize. Very often, that simple response is all someone is looking for, and often it will end the prospect of lawsuits before it begins.

No less could be true in medicine. And that could be helpful all around.

Post Script - Note the medical/legal deal just announced at the Washington statehouse, a component of which is a similar version of the "no-fault apology" provision.

Not having to say you’re sorry

It may help to know that the chief lobbyist working on the new Idaho doctor-apology legislation is also one of the key figures, stretching back some years, behind the state's "tort reform" legislation - attorney Ken McClure.

But that may mean different things.

When you get legislation in hand which blocks prospectively important evidence in cases of medical malpractice, as is the case with House Bill 634, now on the House floor, careful consideration is called for. And bear in mind that "tort reform" means limiting the scope of what can be sued about, and for. Is this simply a device to allow malpracticing physicians to slip of legitimate lawsuits?

That would be the dark view; a reasonable counter view (which McClure clearly notes) is that fear of lawsuits has chilled a great deal of honest discussion between physicians and patients. It has led to all manner of unfortunate results, from dispensing drugs which probably aren't needed but will serve to cover a doctor's behind, to an inability to say the simple but highly important words, "I'm sorry." A great deal of civilization has been lost to our lawsuit-happy ways - a fact no less real than the malpractices that do occur and should be litigated.

When we attended journalism conferences in years past, we often heard a piece of advice from gurus on media litigation. It was this: If you did something wrong, apologize. Very often, that simple response is all someone is looking for, and often it will end the prospect of lawsuits before it begins.

No less could be true in medicine. And that could be helpful all around.

A departure

Steve Ahrens has been a fixture at the Idaho Statehouse for 31 years, and we've known him nearly that long. That makes the idea of his retirement, which he has announced will happen this fall, the more startling: Hardly anyone now around the Statehouse knew it pre-Ahrens.

Steve AhrensIn just about all of his time there as a (first) reporter and (later) lobbyist and (for 16 years) president of the Idaho Association of Commerce & Industry, he has also been more than a fixture: He's been a major presence. That's accounted for in some part by his employers, the Idaho Statesman newspaper, Boise Cascade and IACI, which represents most of Idaho big business along with a chunk of medium-to-smaller business. But that's not all. Ahrens is courteous and has a sense of humor and a sometimes surprising informality, and an interest in helping out the newbies who regularly show up, and all that helps over the long haul. (In our Ridenbaugh Press lists of influential Idahoans, Ahrens has almost always ranked high, and a lot of people would have been shocked if he hadn't.) But that's not all either.

There is another thing about Ahrens that non-professionals might not get: He's a hardcore legislature addict. The minutiae of the legislature, the personalities, the political campaigns, the vote counts, the structure of the committees, the rules and the process - Ahrens has immersed himself into it all deeply, for a very long time, and he can talk about it with the kind of attention to intricate detail that a really good mechanic could use in describing how his favorite make of car works. He is evidence that, apart from all else, information is power.

No small thing, as 31 years will attest.