Archive for the 'Reading' Category

Aug 27 2014

How to save the sage grouse?

Published by under Reading

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A conservation staffer examines sage grouse policy and writes that “Following science is the way to maintain greater sage-grouse.” The writer is Steve Holmer, senior policy advisor for American Bird Conservancy and works to conserve endangered species and wildlife habitat on western federal lands.

The Obama administration’s largest proposed land and species conservation initiative – protecting the Greater Sage Grouse – appears to be falling short of promises based on early returns. And while these current federal approaches could do an about face that could ultimately prove successful, that seems unlikely given the analysis just released by conservation groups that is based on the government’s own scientific expert’s recommendations.

The Scorecard for Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation is a checklist of standards to conserve the Greater Sage-Grouse and its habitat that can be used to determine if proposed management plans are effective and based on the best available science. It is available online.

The Scorecard’s standards are the government’s recommendations contained in the National Technical Team report. If followed, the Scorecard is a recipe for conserving grouse habitat, and providing the “adequate regulatory mechanisms” federal agencies need to implement in order to avoid an Endangered Species Act listing of Greater Sage-Grouse as a threatened species next year.

The Scorecard was used to evaluate the Bureau of Land Management’s Lander Resource Management Plan. This is the first completed management plan that addresses the conservation of the Greater Sage-Grouse in a critically important sagebrush habitat in Wyoming.

The review finds that the Lander plan fails to meet most of the conservation measures recommended in the NTT report, and based on the best available science is not likely to ensure that conservation measures will be effective in conserving the sage grouse. Because the Lander plan does not pass muster, if the other fourteen management plans follow this Wyoming model, the sage-grouse will likely continue to decline, warranting the species’ protection under the Endangered Species Act. Continue Reading »

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Aug 22 2014

The other kind of military equipment

Published by under Idaho,Reading

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ridenbaugh Northwest
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Last week we listed the county breakdown of recipients of surplus equipment from the Department of Defense – much of which, in widespread complaint, has contributed to a militarization of police forces around the country.

Not all of that equipment, however, has such daunting or military-style uses, and a good deal of what’s included in various categories – such as armored vehicles – is more everyday than the category name might suggest. Chris Goetz, sheriff at Clearwater County in Idaho, wrote in to describe how the DOD equipment his small county has received is being used there.

After reading this week’s Idaho Weekly Briefing I wanted to share some of my thoughts on the article about the militarization of local law enforcement.

The recent events in Ferguson Missouri has put a spotlight on only one part of the program that allows local law enforcement to receive equipment from the federal government. I would like to start with the items specifically list on the NY Times map.

For Clearwater County, Idaho it shows that we received two armored vehicles and four assault rifles. So the first question would be why would Clearwater County need two armored vehicles?

The answer is that the two vehicles that they are talking about are not armored at all. They are two humvees (picture attached) with vinyl doors and a vinyl top which has a hard time keeping a hard rain out let alone bullets. We requested and received these vehicles for use during search and rescue operations. Flooding, landslides and wildfires are thing that we have to deal with at some level every year and these vehicles are a great asset during these events due to the ability to cross small land slides and cross flooded areas that normal vehicles can not handle.

The next question would be, why not use the National Guard during these emergencies? We have tried to use them in the past and it is extremely difficult and expensive to use the National Guard and usually not the best use of resources. Obviously when there is an event like Katrina in New Orleans the event is to large for any local agency to handle and outside resources are needed but when the event is small enough to be handled by local and neighboring agencies why not allow us to have the resources to take care of the event. Because these humvees are not armored the military decided that they no longer had a use for them but they have been a great benefit to us. Continue Reading »

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Jul 20 2014

Oregon’s timber harvest is, um, up

Published by under Reading

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In 2013, Oregon’s timber harvest rose to 4.2 billion board feet, marking four consecutive years of increase from the recession low of 2.72 billion board feet in 2009. “This was the first harvest above four billion board feet in seven years,” said ODF principal economist Brandon Kaetzel, “and represents a 12 percent increase over the 2012 harvest of 3.75 billion board feet.”

Approximately 49 percent, or 30.2 million acres, of Oregon is forested. Federal forestlands account for 60 percent of these forestlands, industrial forestlands for 19 percent, family forestland owners own 15 percent, state-owned forests comprise three percent, and all other forestland owners (counties, Tribal, etc.), three percent.

Timber harvest increases can be attributed to a strong export market for Oregon logs in 2013, coupled with a domestic market recovery, particularly in housing. Whether this trend will continue for the 2014 harvest is uncertain due to housing forecasts being revised to lower numbers and a sudden cool-down in the export market that occurred during the second quarter of 2014.

The largest increase in harvest came from non-industrial private forestlands where harvests increased 61 percent to 511 million board feet from the 2012 total of 318 million board feet. “This is most likely due to small forestland owners taking advantage of higher prices as a result of a still strong export market in 2013,” Kaetzel said. The harvest on industrial forestlands rose from 2.56 billion board feet in 2012 to 2.75 billion board feet in 2013, for an eight percent increase in harvest.

Harvests on Native American forestlands increased five percent from 2012 to 2013, rising from 63 million board feet in 2012 to a total of 66 million board feet in 2013.

On Oregon’s west site, federal forestland posted modest increases in harvests; an 11.5 percent increase on Bureau of Land Management lands (for a 2013 total of 165 million board feet) and a six percent increase in harvests on U.S. Forest Service lands (totaling 392 million board feet in 2013). State public lands, which include Common School Fund and Board of Forestry forestlands, posted a slight increase from 251 to 252 million board feet.

Klamath County continued to lead in eastern Oregon with a 2013 harvest of 124 million board feet. Even with a diminished infrastructure, harvests on the east side rose approximately four percent due to increases on tribal, private, and other public (e.g. county) forestland. There was a marked decrease in federal timber harvest on the east side for 2013. In western Oregon, Lane County continued to lead with a 2013 harvest of 620 million board feet.

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Jun 20 2014

Quote of the day

Published by under Reading

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Grant Loebs, chair of the Twin Falls County Republicans, speaking of his state party leadership in the wake of a rule committee meeting at which incumbent Barry Peterson was deemed to have been re-elected as chair (which Loebs said he was not):

“It’s kind of a tin-horn dictator type coup. And the question is what do you do when somebody stages a coup and has the office and changes the locks and has their hands on the bank account and the computer systems, how do you get them out of there? In this country, we don’t do it through violence, so we have to work through all the processes that are available to us.”

UPDATE Here’s a response (not to the above quote, but to also-critical comments from former Idaho Republican Chair Trent Clark, who said that Peterson has lost his chairmanship and should surrender keys and related materials. The reply comes from Maria Nate of Madison County, a rules committee member:

“I am sickened by this discussion of ‘absolute power corrupting absolutely’ being attributed to the liberty wing of the party which is fighting the ABSOLUTE CORRUPTION of the establishment. Governor Otter is upset that he didn’t get his choice of chair in 2008 and goes on a tirade to win at all costs, even if that means burning down the party. Otter has instructed his people to choke the party by not contributing to it, he meddled in precinct committee elections and attempted to manipulate the delegates of Ada County. Mr. Clark, the corruption lies at the feet of the governor. I am proud to belong to a group of individuals that have decided to take a stand against such corruption. We will be silent no longer.”

She should be careful about suggesting that because words like “liberty” are sprinkled through its rhetoric, that her side and its advocates are any less susceptible to power grabbing. (One might revisit the history of Russian Bolsheviks in 1917 to reinforce the point.)

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May 08 2014

The lobbyists

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From a press release by Idaho gubernatorial candidate Russ Fulcher, about the number of registered lobbyists working on the campaign of his opponent, Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter.

Senator Russ Fulcher today said the hiring of yet another lobbyist to work on Gov. Butch Otter’s re-election campaign raises troubling questions about the influence of special interests on Idaho politics.

“The governor now has staffers from the state’s largest lobbying firms working on his re-election campaign. These relationships give people reason to suspect their government of wrongdoing, even when nothing illicit is taking place,” said Fulcher. “It makes people wonder whether the governor’s re-election is about advancing and empowering Idahoans, or advancing and empowering people with cash and connections.”

Lobbyists on the campaign staff represent companies that have contractual relationships with the state or have an interest in legislation expected to be considered in the 2015 legislative session.

“Is it legal? Probably. Does it look really, really bad? I sure think so,” said Fulcher.

Elli Brown, Otter’s latest lobbyist campaign staffer, most recently worked at Veritas Advisors, whose clients include the Idaho Chamber Alliance, which lobbied for an Obamacare insurance exchange and still wants Otter and the Legislature to pass a local option sales tax.

Jayson Ronk, Otter for Idaho Campaign Manager, took a leave of absence as Vice President of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, which supported the insurance exchange and is pushing for more government healthcare via Obamacare Medicaid expansion.

Lobbyist Lincoln Smyser was added to the re-election campaign after the 2014 legislative session. He recently lobbied for Corrections Corporation of America, which had a scandal-ridden contract to run Idaho’s private prison, and the Idaho Trucking Association, which pitched a plan to raise gas taxes last session.

Martin Bilbao, a former lobbyist for Education Networks of America, serves as the Finance Director for the Otter for Idaho campaign. ENA was awarded a contract after Governor Otter’s business partner and best friend bent procurement rules to guarantee a contract over rival bidder Syringa Networks.

“A governor should leave a clear separation between elections and the formation of public policy. The people who lobby state government shouldn’t be on a governor’s campaign staff,” said Fulcher.

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Apr 29 2014

More on McCleary

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The Joint Select Committee on Article IX Litigation today released its plan to meet McCleary v. Washington, the 2012 state Supreme Court decision holding that the state isn’t adequately funding basic education. Below is Washington State Superintendent Randy Dorn’s response to the plan.

In January, the Supreme Court bluntly wrote that the state “cannot realistically claim to have made significant progress” in addressing basic education funding. It ordered the Legislature to produce a complete plan by April 30.

The 58-page document released today says very little, and is far from complete. It isn’t even a plan. It reads like a small history lesson. It includes a list of bills that “are meaningful because they show significant work is occurring.”

The problem is that “none of these bills passed the Legislature.”

The document concludes with the plea that the Court “recognize that 2015 is the next and most critical year for the Legislature to reach the grand agreement needed to meet the state’s Article IX duty by the statutorily scheduled full implementation date of 2018.”

In other words, Wait until tomorrow.

But I have to ask: Will tomorrow ever come?

The Legislature isn’t going to take its responsibility seriously unless the Court forces it to do so.

The 2018 deadline was created and passed by the Legislature. The required education funding levels were adopted by the Legislature.

I urge the Court to do what it can to keep the Legislature’s feet to the fire, and keep the promises they’ve made to our students.

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Apr 03 2014

Talmadge on the nuances of McClary

Published by under Reading,Washington

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The conservative Washington Policy Center asked the former state Supreme Court Justice (and a former gubernatorial candidate) Phil Talmadge to offer his legal analysis of the state Supreme Court’s decision and subsequent actions in the school funding case McCleary v. Washington. The full piece is available through a web site; his conclusion follows.

To a large extent, the issue presented here is not one of whether the Court has the power to take steps to order compliance with its McCleary opinion. It does. The more basic and nuanced question is whether it is wise to exercise that power.

When I was on the Court, I wrote a law review article entitled Understanding the Limits of Power: Judicial Restraint in General Jurisdiction Court Systems. 22 Seattle U. Law Rev. 695 (1999). In that article I discussed the school funding cases in Washington and recounted the problems experienced by other state courts who became a part of the political process.

In reviewing the Court’s post-McCleary orders, the Court has progressively articulated an ever more assertive role in defining basic education and its funding without defining the specific constitutional requirements for either. Chief Justice Madsen’s concurrence/dissent is apt on that point. The Court has not articulated what basic education is, against which to measure legislative compliance and funding. This lack of precision means that the Court may not be making so much a constitutional decision, as a political, or normative, decision on how schools should be organized and how much K-12 funding is “adequate.”

If the Legislature fails to meet the Court’s rather amorphous mandate, what is the Court’s “end game?” Will the Court find the Legislature or a distinct group of legislators in contempt? Justice Johnson’s dissent on the January 9, 2014 Court order is quite pointed on this question. Dissent at 6.

Will the Court order the expenditure of funds for K-12 without legislative appropriation or go so far as to direct the raising of taxes to meet the expenditure level it deems adequate? Plainly, this would be a profoundly political act in an era when general tax increases are greeted with little enthusiasm and often face roll back initiatives. In the absence of new revenues, if the Court simply redirected expenditures to K-12 schools, such a redirection must come at the expense of the two other significant components of the State budget–higher education or human services. Report of Joint Select Committee on Article IX Litigation at 22. The Court would hardly relish being the cause of distress to people in need or students in our universities and colleges.

Will the Legislature sit idly by and not engage in aggressive fiscal or constitutional steps in response to the Court’s actions? Many of its members are restive and have offered what seem to be retributive measures. Other, troubling actions are possible, limited only by legislative imaginations.
Apart from reducing the size of the Supreme Court, the Legislature could choose not to fund certain judicial services. It could also consider a constitutional amendment to give the Legislature the exclusive authority to define the courts’ jurisdiction or remedial authority.

None of this is pretty. The prospect of a major constitutional crisis between the legislative and judicial branch is something no one relishes.
While the Legislature certainly must heed the Court’s construction of article IX, § 1 and clearly define basic education and fund it, the Court should respect the Legislature’s exclusive constitutional role to organize K-12 education (article IX, § 2) and to tax appropriate funds (articles II § , VII, § 4).

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Mar 18 2014

A national view on the Stallings entry

Published by under Idaho,Reading

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From a political update today on the left-leaning Daily Kos site, which each day reviews political developments around the country.

Idaho’s filing period closed last Friday, revealing a welcome blast from the past who had previously flown under the radar: Democratic ex-Rep. Richard Stallings is running to get his old seat back. You might put the stress on “old,” though: Stallings is 73 and served from 1984 to 1992. He gave up the seat to run for Senate, lost to Dirk Kempthorne in the general election, and tried again to get it back when it was open in 1998, but lost to current occupant Mike Simpson (by a not-awful 53-45 margin).

This isn’t quite so crazy as it sounds: Stallings seems to be taking a page from Joe Donnelly, in that he probably senses an opening here thanks to the GOP primary battle. If the establishment-flavored Simpson loses to tea partier Bryan Smith, and Smith subsequently goes on to insert his foot in his mouth repeatedly, he might have a bank-shot opportunity here, despite the district’s dark red leanings. On the other hand, though, Donnelly made the leap straight from House to Senate, while Stallings has been out of the congressional picture for decades.

However, while you might imagine that this district has shifted dramatically over the decades, it was actually almost as red back when Stallings represented it. In fact, Stallings was also one of the most conservative Dems in the House at the time. The question, though, is whether he can re-find a niche in a decidedly more polarized national landscape. (David Jarman)

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Mar 14 2014

Trying again

Published by under Idaho,Reading

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From a guest opinion by Idaho state Representative Hy Kloc, D-Boise, on his push for pre-kindergarten education.

It was almost a year ago that I first began exploring options for an education bill. Meeting with teachers and parents between legislative sessions, I quickly realized that the advantages of quality pre-kindergarten education made it the obvious choice. Most other states were already funding pre-K programs. Nationally, it was the one of the few educational initiatives that appeared to have champions in every quarter from science and industry to government. To my mind, there was every reason for optimism.

The Idaho Legislature had seen bills for pre-K education before. All of them had failed–not because they were bad bills, but because many Idaho legislators didn’t see pre-K as an essential investment for the future success of our youth or our economy.

To counter past concerns, especially around funding, I crafted a pre-K bill for a three-year pilot program that would be paid for by a public-private partnership. This pilot would involve five schools from across the state selected by the State Department of Education. Student participation would be voluntary, class size would be small, and parents would play an active role. Results from the pilot would determine if pre-K was right for Idaho.

I knew public support would shape the bill’s reception in the Idaho Legislature. So early drafts circulated among educators, parents, and educational advocates to collect their input and build a base of support. While I was hopeful the initiative would be well received, I wasn’t prepared for the flood of support that followed.

There were the early supporters such as Jim Everett, Treasure Valley YMCA; Nora Carpenter, United Way; Beth Oppenheimer and Kattalina Berriochoa, Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children; LeAnn Simmons, Idaho Voices for Children; as well as teachers and school administrators who had participated in pre-K programs, Idaho City School District’s John McFarlane being one. And there were some surprises, too.

Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney said investment in the pre-K bill offered a better return for Idaho than spending on prison beds. Admiral Archie Clemins, retired Commander in Chief, United States Pacific Fleet, tied our national defense to quality early education. And business leaders, including Tommy Ahlquist, COO of The Gardner Group, and Ray Stark and Bill Connors of the Boise Chamber of Commerce, made the case that an educated workforce was essential for Idaho’s economy to expand and thrive. Proving that pre-K is truly a nonpartisan issue, Rep. Doug Hancey, (R) Rexburg, and Rep. Christy Perry, (R) Nampa, joined me as co-sponsors of the bill.

Coverage in the media, especially the commitment shown by Michelle Edmonds of Channel 6 News, helped get the initiative printed as HB 586 and voted on by the Education Committee in the final weeks of the 2014 legislative session. While that’s a long way from being passed into law, still, it’s greater progress than any of the previous attempts.

Thomas Edison said, “The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” I’d like to express my heartfelt gratitude to all those individuals and organizations statewide that showed support for HB 586. While this bill may be dead, I want to assure you the campaign in support of pre-K education is still alive and well. In fact, the next phase kicks off the moment the gavel drops ending the 2014 legislative session.

We will be back in 2015. And the reason is simple: None of us can afford to give up on Idaho’s future.

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Mar 13 2014

Rusche on priorities

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An opinion piece from Idaho State Representative John Rusche, D-Lewiston, the House minority leader, reflecting on this year’s legislative session.

No Idaho parent asked me to come to this Legislature and underfund Idaho’s public education system. That, however, is the action endorsed last week by the House of Representatives when the majority party passed a $126 million tax cut for businesses and the wealthy.

Bills like this one make it hard for me to go home to my constituents and tell them that my peers in the majority party share their values of opportunity and educational success. It is hard for me to offer Idaho
families hope that Idaho’s elected leaders are prepared to bridge the gap between promises and actions.

After 20 years of this kind of flawed policy, Idaho ranks 50Eh in family wages, first in percentage of minimum wage jobs and near-last in per student investment.

These poor outcomes are interrelated. These outcomes result from a generation of generous tax cuts to the rich while cutting investment in our children’s future. Even businesses that might desire such a tax reduction would be loathe to seek it at the expense of a sound public education system.

Two problems I see with this bill (H 548). First, it does not reflect the wishes of ldahoans. Second, it ignores the evidence of the Majority’s past tax policy.

As of now, 94 out of the state’s 115 school districts must pass supplement levies simply to keep the lights on. Just 15 years ago, only 41 districts need such levies. In the intervening time, Idaho slashed its ability to raise money for education by cutting taxes for the rich. What happens if there is another $126 million removed and unavailable?

Local taxpayers took on ever increasing tax burdens. Why? Idaho families never said they wanted to see the opportunities for their children diminish. Twenty years of failed policy has led to many school
districts with 4-day school weeks, reduction in extracurriculars and more crowded classrooms.

So, if the Legislature continues to short public schools, the local school districts ask to raise property taxes to keep operating. Are parents and communities going to choose to limit their children’s potential? If they have a choice, none will do it. So in elections, the incumbent legislators brag that they are “cutting taxes”. And are “fiscal conservatives”. They have been playing and, it appears, continue to want to play, “hide the ball” and shift financial responsibility to local property taxes. Is that making education
a priority? Continue Reading »

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Mar 06 2014

Overreliance

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From a March 6 post on the Boise Guardian.

At the risk of posting another typical “growthophobe” story, we offer up a major caution in the rush to embrace the Gardner folks’ latest plan for downtown Boise.

As wise businessmen, they are gathering as much public funding as possible to build on some pretty small plots adjacent to the Grove Hotel and the U.S. Bank building.
Plans for their “City Center Plaza” call for buy-ins from Valley Transit for an underground transit hub as well as the Greater Boise Auditorium District which has money burning a hole in its pocket collected from the hotel tax.

There will be assorted easements and complex deals regarding above and below ground ownership as well. The Urban renewal agency, Capital City Development Corp (CCDC) will also give taxpayer funds to Gardner.

It wasn’t long ago that Mark Rivers was the heart throb of city development politicos. He went with the Lt. Guv to Europe, was featured speaker at the City Club and offered all sorts of plans to supplement his BoDo project. Well, BoDo was built, tenants have come and gone, a third of the parking spaces in the public parking garage are not available to the public and the rest of the spaces are so cramped they keep body shops in business fixing dents. It’s a success.

For more hints on why Rivers has faded from prominence, just do a Google search for MARK RIVERS DEVELOPER.
Gardner has filled the hole in the ground with the Zion’s Bank building and is looking for more. The problem we see is the urban renewal district expires in 2017. We expect some manipulation of the law and funds in order to extend the CCDC jurisdiction beyond 2017. The best we can learn from sources is “its unclear” who owns what and who pays after 2017.

In conclusion, we urge caution in putting too much faith–and public money–in one developer. We joke that “downtown Boise is so crowded no one goes there.” Jamming more buildings into our once “quaint” downtown creates shadows on existing structures, high winds with the venturi effect, and blocks the scenic views from many angles.

Washington, D.C. doesn’t allow tall buildings and that isn’t all bad. Our message is to reassess the need and desire to fill all the surfaces with megastructures. Do we really want to hide the capitol from view and create a big city feel?

Some would say building downtown condos, megastructures, etc. creates a demand for more traffic which can then be managed with a transit system which needs a transit center, which makes the foundation for another tall building…we see another Fairview and Eagle, but with no sunshine.

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Feb 27 2014

‘Who is going to be harmed’?

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After commenting a couple of weeks ago that the Idaho legislature was mistaken not to pass legislation to “add the words” to provide employment, housing and other other protections on the basis of sexual orientation or identity, Republican former Governor (1995-99) Phil Batt followed up with this opinion article widely reprinted in Idaho newspapers.

The Idaho Legislature has once again decided to take no action to include sexual orientation under our anti-discrimination statutes. Instead, lawmakers seriously considered state approval of anti-gay incidents if they are done because of religious convictions.

These procedures and the protests generated by them have attracted the attention of major news outlets in large cities and even that of London newspapers.

Idaho leaders have said this is of no interest to present or prospective business opportunities in our state. In my career as a legislative leader and as a governor, I found otherwise. Large Idaho corporations, and particularly Hewlett-Packard and Boise Cascade, were very much concerned about Idaho’s reputation regarding tolerance.

The long presence of practicing Nazis in North Idaho caused negative press coverage of our beloved state worldwide. HP executives and other Idaho businesspeople helped force these scumbags out. However, the main credit goes to North Idaho citizens, who detested their abominable presence.

When an Idaho congresswoman said people of color would not live in North Idaho because it was too cold for them, we got another wave of bad publicity. She recanted her views and our good name was again restored.

Our Idaho executives told me that the state’s reputation is important to their businesses. If it is damaged, sales are hurt. Perhaps more important, it becomes much more difficult to attract outstanding, well-qualified and forward-thinking people to apply for Idaho employment.

Such is the case for a couple of my grandchildren. Max is gay. He attended Boise schools. He felt marginalized and troubled by some of the treatment he received from students and teachers. Ultimately, he dropped out, obtained his GED and moved to San Francisco. Continue Reading »

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Feb 21 2014

Why no defense

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Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said on February 20 she would not try to defend in court the state’s constitutional provision barring same-sex marriage. Here’s her explanation.

Good morning. As many Oregonians are aware, four couples have brought suit against the state, asking a federal court to find that Oregon’s ban on marriage by couples of the same sex violates the right of equality enshrined in the United States Constitution. I am named as a defendant in the lawsuits, along with the Governor, and it falls on my office to appear on behalf of the state before the court and answer the couples’ claims.

Usually — though not always — my office defends the state in litigation. As Attorney General, I have sworn an oath to uphold our state’s constitution. The lawyers in my office have sworn the same oath. The oath we took also requires us to uphold the Constitution of the United States – which is the supreme law of our land. Of course, we all take these oaths very seriously.

So it is after much careful study and consideration that I stand before you today to announce that the Oregon Department of Justice will not defend the prohibition in our state’s constitution against marriages between people of the same sex. A document called an “answer” filed with the court earlier this morning informed Judge McShane of our decision. Copies are available for you.

Because our office also represents the people of Oregon, a brief explanation is in order.

The Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution gives people the right to be treated equally by their government, unless there is a good reason for unequal treatment. That is, any time the government establishes different sets of rules or laws for different sets of people, there must at least be what the law calls a “rational basis” for those differences.

The law in this area is developing and it is now clear that there is no rational basis for Oregon to refuse to honor the commitments made by same-sex couples in the same way it honors the commitments of opposite-sex couples. Marriage is the way that loving couples become family to each other and to their extended families, and there is no good reason to exclude same-sex couples from marriage in Oregon, or from having their marriages recognized here.

Because we cannot identify a valid reason for the state to prevent the couples who have filed these lawsuits from marrying in Oregon, we find ourselves unable to stand before federal Judge McShane to defend the state’s prohibition against marriages between two men or two women.

We will be explaining our legal reasoning to Judge McShane as this case proceeds. Those of you who are interested will be more than welcome to review our pleadings as they are filed. Legal papers that are due by April will fully address our analysis and that of the other parties in the two cases that are now consolidated.

Thank you.

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Jan 24 2014

Unwinding anti-competition

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Federal District Judge Lynn Winmill ruled today that a buyout by St. Luke’s Health System of the Saltzer Medical Group at Nampa violated anti-trust law.
The case had been brought by St. Alphonus Medical Center-Nampa. The decision followed a trial in October.

Winmill’s decision was led with a plain-language summary of analysis that runs through recent views of the economics of health care.

From that analysis:

For years, health care costs have exceeded the inflation rate. Americans spend more on health care than the next 10 biggest spenders combined – a list that includes Japan, Germany, France and the U.K. – yet we lag behind many of them on quality and patient outcomes. In Idaho, the quality of our health care is outstanding, but we pay
substantially more than the national average for that quality.

Among the experts, there is a rough consensus on a solution to the cost and quality concerns nationwide. They advocate moving away from our present fee-for-service health insurance reimbursement system that rewards providers, not for keeping their patients healthy, but for billing high volumes of expensive medical procedures. A far better system would focus on maintaining a patient’s health and quality of life, rewarding successful patient outcomes and innovation, and encouraging less expensive means of providing critical medical care. Such a system would move the focus of health care back to the patient, where it belongs.

In fact, there is a broad if slow movement to such a system. It will require a major shift away from our fragmented delivery system and toward a more integrated system where primary care physicians supervise the work of a team of specialists, all committed to a common goal of improving a patient’s health.

St. Luke’s saw this major shift coming some time ago. And they are to be complimented on their foresight and vision. They started purchasing independent physician groups to assemble a team committed to practicing integrated medicine in a system where compensation depended on patient outcomes.

In Nampa, they acquired the Saltzer Medical Group. The
combined entity now includes 80% of the primary care physicians in Nampa. Its size, and the sterling reputations of Saltzer and St. Luke’s, make it the dominant provider in the Nampa area for primary care, and give it significant bargaining leverage over health insurance plans.

These circumstances prompted the Federal Trade Commission, and a group of other health care providers including St. Alphonsus and Treasure Valley Hospital, to file this lawsuit claiming that the Acquisition violated the antitrust laws. They ask the Court to unwind the deal.

The antitrust laws essentially require the Court to predict whether the deal under scrutiny will have anticompetitive effects. The Court predicts that it will. Although possibly not the intended goal of the Acquisition, it appears highly likely that health care costs will rise as the combined entity obtains a dominant market position that will enable it to (1) negotiate higher reimbursement rates from health insurance plans that will be passed on to the consumer, and (2) raise rates for ancillary services (like x-rays) to the higher hospital-billing rates.

The Acquisition was intended by St. Luke’s and Saltzer primarily to improve patient outcomes. The Court is convinced that it would have that effect if left intact, and St. Luke’s is to be applauded for its efforts to improve the delivery of health care in the Treasure Valley. But there are other ways to achieve the same effect that do not run afoul of the antitrust laws and do not run such a risk of increased costs. For all of these reasons, the Acquisition must be unwound.

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Jan 23 2014

Coziness

Published by under Idaho,Reading

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An opinion piece written by Idaho Democratic Chair Larry Kenck.

We the People of Idaho do not control what happens in our Statehouse. Lobbyists and special interests are calling the shots there. The outcome: more cash for the wealthy and higher taxes for the rest of us.

If Idaho’s rank as 50th in family wages is not enough proof of that, then look at the cozy relationship between high-powered lobbyists and GOP politicians.

On January 10th, GOP politicians skipped work to attend a free campaign school organized by Idaho’s most powerful lobbyists—for more than two hours during a time of day that our legislators to be working for all of us.

Over 50 GOP politicians attended the “Republican Incumbents Campaign School.”

School attendee, Sen. Dean Mortimer, said this: “Skip and the others are saying, ‘Anything we can do to help get you re-elected, we’re here.’”

Idahoans should note—the lobbyists said they’ll do “anything” to keep GOP politicians in power. (“Skip” is former Sen. Skip Smyser, longtime lobbying powerhouse who is partnered with a former chief of staff for … Governor Otter.)

Why does this matter? What does this lobbyist-GOP politician partnership mean?

It is the reason that Idaho families are suffering through an economic catastrophe. After 20 years of handouts to the wealthy and well-connected, our families are paying for it. Continue Reading »

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