Probably the most immediate and necessary task for the Oregon Legislature this year, aside from the regular work on budget and finance, has been developing state law to fill in gaps from last year’s passage of the initiative legalizing marijuana (under state law). Opinions varied widely about how to deal with it – some wanted the voters’ decision overturned as much as possible, others would have wanted it loosened further – but now the legislature seems to have settled on its approach. (It is not all the way through the legislature, but it has passed the key committee designing the measure, and seems to broad support.)

And it seems to be, overall, a mid-level proposal, broadly in concert with what the 2014 initiative contemplated. Some sections were changed not at all, such as the provision allowing people to grow up to four plants at their residences. It sets some commercial limits on grows, and some other limitations. Recognizing the differences in attitude toward pot around the state, it varied the rules on allowing commercial pot activity different for places that supported or opposed (by more than 55% negative vote) legalization. It seems designed, really, to minimize very strong opposition to the new regime.

There are glitches. Senator Floyd Prozanski, an attorney from Eugene, cautioned that “We’re setting up a system where we’ll have a three-month period … with illegal sales to people who can legally posses recreational” marijuana. More glitches probably will be found, and have to be fixed.

Still, probably not a bad place to start.

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First Take

A guest opinion from Tami Thatcher, who has written frequently in recent years about the Idaho National Laboratory and related nuclear industry issues. She said that she “was a nuclear safety analyst at INL for several years. . ..and then “graduated” in 2005. It’s a long story. Since 2005, I have provided contractor work for the INL, Keep Yellowstone Nuclear Free, and Environmental Defense Institute of tiny Troy Idaho where many of my articles are posted.”

I have been trying to piece together the history of radionuclide and chemical contamination of drinking water at the Idaho National Laboratory. US Geological Survey reports and data fill in much of the history of what was monitored since 1949.

State regulation of drinking water laws began to permeate INL in the late 1980s. INL contractors now perform the INL drinking water monitoring.

I visited the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality to see the data. What I discovered was that IDEQ does not collect or post online the radionuclide data for INL drinking water, only the chemical data.

In 1995, the IDEQ granted the DOE’s request to no longer provide radionuclide drinking water results.

Few people know that the radionuclide results for INL drinking water are not available at IDEQ or the site annual environmental monitoring reports.

The DOE’s own lax limits were 100 times more permissive than current federal drinking water limits. DOE and USGS reports that did disclose highlights of the contamination often emphasized that more permissive federal limits would soon be enacted. But they weren’t.

IDEQ ceased oversight of radionuclides in INL drinking water at a time when radionuclide levels remained at or near the federal limit. A legal loophole for non-community wells means the radionuclide contaminants are not regulated by the state.

A comprehensive review of chronically contaminated historical INL drinking water does not exist. The contamination has yet to be acknowledged in National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health’s (NIOSH) energy worker compensation dose reconstruction or epidemiology studies. The energy worker compensation law enacted in 2000 has paid out about $200 million in INL claims, but NIOSH does not disclose when or which facilities exposed the workers.

Brain tumors, leukemia and lymphatic cancers were found to be elevated in INL workers regardless of their recorded dose and whether or not they were radiation workers.

In the past, workers at INL’s Central Facilities Area were drinking up to five times the federal drinking water limit for tritium, 70 percent of the limit for iodine-129, and a host of other contaminants for decades. Drinking water wells at other INL facilities were also contaminated.

The full extent of Snake River Plain aquifer contamination from reactor operation, fuel tests, nuclear fuel reprocessing and waste burial remains obscured behind overly simplistic presentations that promote the idea that as long as current contamination levels don’t exceed federal limits, there’s no reason for concern.

There are serious radioactive omissions when it comes to describing current and historical drinking water contaminants at the Idaho National Laboratory.

Piecing together the full picture of all historical INL drinking water contaminants would require filling in those not monitored but later discovered to have been present.

Former workers (and their children) may wonder what they were exposed to. When weighing the benefits of future operations at INL, the public needs access to the full story of INL’s past and current contaminated drinking water.

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Reading

And that’s that. The practical legal questions around same-gender marriage are now pretty much done; the Supreme Court has ruled flatly that the terms of the Constitution simply provide that, under the law, sexual orientation isn’t a bar to marriage.

That was probably going to happen regardless; the trendline was moving steadily in that direction. A clear majority of the population of the United States is now in favor, as is a very strong majority of younger voters. many of the states that now have same-sex marriage owing to court decisions – Oregon is one of them – would without doubt have changed its still-on-books ban provisions quickly in the even the Supreme Court had ruled otherwise. And the pressure on the remaining states soon might have looked a lot like the pressure related to official entities flying the Confederate flag.

As it is, the only legal recourse to opponents would be a constitutional amendment. That may materialize in some places – might we see that in the next session of the Idaho Legislature – but it wouldn’t go far. The real question now is how rapidly reconciliation goes.

Meantime, the core of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s decision express quite well what advocates for extending marriage rights have been saying, and it will be hard to counter: “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. … They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

(photo/Joshua Hoover)

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First Take

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Dozens of people, tribal leaders, public officials (including Yukon’s premier and the area’s Member of Parliament) gathered around a fire in a prayer circle. It’s the solstice, the longest day of the year, and National Aboriginal Day. For nearly two decades, Canadians have celebrated June 21 as a national holiday to honor the Inuit, First Nations and Metis people.

“For me, National Aboriginal Day is a day of celebration, acknowledgment, and remembrance,” said Jessie Dawson, a councilor with the Kwanlin Dun First Nation Government.

Especially this year. The recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission report chronicled what it termed as Canada’s physical, biological, and cultural genocide against Aboriginal people. Yet the report said: “Despite the coercive measures that the government adopted, it failed to achieve its policy goals. Although Aboriginal peoples and cultures have been badly damaged, they continue to exist. Aboriginal people have refused to surrender their identity.”

Dawson said that “report represents a break through in time and a new day for our people. It calls on our citizens to make peace. It gives us hope and a restored faith that appropriate measures will be taken.”

It’s that very debate, about what is “an appropriate measure” that Canada has yet to conclude. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission proposes one standard: “Reconciliation is about establishing and maintaining a mutually respectful relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in this country.”

On Friday, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police updated its report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, saying that while Aboriginal women make up 4.3 percent of the population, they account for 16 percent of all female homicide victims. The federal policy agency once again said the overwhelming majority of those murders stemmed from family violence.

However First Nations advocates say the report is not broad enough because it does not include statistics from municipal governments.
“All jurisdictions need to look at what they can do to ensure that Indigenous women and girls are safe and secure,” Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Cameron Alexis said in a news release. “We need a national inquiry to get to the root causes and find long-term solutions, and we need immediate action to ensure they’re safe now. All municipal and accredited police services in this country including the military police need to work together on Aboriginal policing issues such as missing and murdered Aboriginal women.”

That again begs the question about appropriate measures as Canada’s Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper has dismissed calls for any national inquiry. But federal elections are coming in October. The leader of the New Democratic Party, Tom Mulcair, tweeted:”On #NationalAboriginalDay, the #NDP stands w/ Canada’s Indigenous peoples to celebrate & work towards a better future.” The Liberal Party, too, has demanded action. Its leader, Justin Trudeau, said “Harper is on the wrong side of history. This issue requires national leadership and action to put an end to this violence.”

A three-party election will be an interesting one to watch — as well as how and where Aboriginal voters participate. In a recent provincial election, Alberta voters tossed out the Conservatives after a 44-year run. According to the Aboriginal People’s Television Network, a high number of Aboriginal voters turned out for the New Democratic Party. The new premier, Rachel Motley, is promising a stronger partnership with Aboriginal people. (The big question in any three-way election is can any party win a majority? In nations around the world, multi-party elections mean that governing coalitions must be formed, something that’s rare in Canada.)

Back to Aboriginal Day and why it matters. It’s true that holidays are often dismissed as merely days off. It’s too easy to forget why there’s a Veterans’ Day or especially a Labor Day. It’s true that Canadians are no different — as is this holiday.

But National Aboriginal Day does have the potential to change the conversation. On Saturday, for example, a Aboriginal Day Live broadcast from Winnipeg and Edmonton showcased the incredible wealth of native talent. Thousands of people attended the concerts and shows and more than a million people watched on television (and tweeted their reactions).

That’s not bad. Perhaps every year more people will be inspired by the native artists who are raising issues that celebrate, acknowledge, and remember, the Aboriginal place in modern Canada.

It’s also an idea worth emulating in the United States. It would be fantastic if for a moment, even for a single day, we were defined by our remarkable talent, and not our challenges.

Mark Trahant is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. For up-to-the-minute posts, download the free Trahant Reports app for your smart phone or tablet.

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Trahant

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There was a period in my earlier years when one would have thought my name was ‘knucklehead.” Everything I did, I did incorrectly, or in an inefficient manner. This would prompt my uncle, Rolla (pronounced Rol-li) Briggs, to look up to heaven with a wry smile and say, “You knucklehead.”

Then, he explained how it should be done correctly. He had a knack for teaching, for imparting the lesson without making one feel stupid. Because of that wry smile one knew he was saying listen up and smarten up. He never berated in a manner that humiliated.

The summers I was 12, 13 and 14 years of age I worked for Uncle Rolla and his wife, Ardis, in Salmon at the family-owned National Laundry. The “home” plant, in Pocatello, was owned and operated by my grandfather, Fergus Briggs, Sr. (Troy Parisian bought them out a few years back).

There were four Briggs boys (Fergus P. Briggs, Jr.; Robert L. Briggs, Rolla and then Jack Briggs) plus my mother, Margaret, and a much younger sister, Mona. All spent many hours working in the laundry, folding towels, shaking sheets or driving delivery routes. The Depression as well as slim profit margins forced some consolidations, but business was good enough that three of the four boys were able to join the family enterprise.

“Junior” took over in Pocatello and Rolla started running the Salmon facility. Neither Rolla nor Jack went to college but both were blessed with a ton of common sense, country smarts and embodied an ideal work ethic. Additionally, they read assiduously.

They also married sisters; Rolla married Ardis Lowers of Pocatello on December 31st, 1946. Jack married Lois Lowers shortly thereafter. When Rolla passed away recently at the age of 87, he and Ardis had been together 68 years. Neither thought that as exceptional—-they had taken vows, kept those vows and grew closer together as they gracefully aged. Rarely did one hear them referred to separately—it was almost always, Rolla and Ardis.

Among their shared passions, besides their four children (Larry, Debra, Pamela and Freida) and their grandchildren, was a love for Idaho’s out-of-doors, especially the Salmon River back country; and, a love of flying. Both were pilots.

For 20 years they were stalwarts in the Salmon community—both were JayCee’s and Rolla belonged to the Elks, Rotary, Masons and the Knights of Columbus. He was voted the Distinguished Citizen of the Year and he was a volunteer fireman.

I will always remember the summer night the fire siren began to wail. Being close to the fire station, half-dressed Uncle Rolla went rushing over to the station only to discover it was the station itself that was on fire. Despite the fire already being well along he and several others were able to rescue the all important fire pump truck before the building collapsed to the sound of one long lasting final siren wail.

This knucklehead learned what hard work was, working mornings as the town dry cleaner, and in the afternoon feeding sheets into a large barrel press in heat that reached 130 degrees in August—-all for the princely sum of .75 cents per hour.

I rapidly concluded that hard labor was not the way to make a living. Nor were we done after work. Rolla would send us off to Williams Lake to assist in the construction of some A-frame summer cabins he and several friends were building. I learned just enough about carpentry to be dangerous.

Uncle Rolla also taught me how to drive before I was 14—-a young boy’s dream—-but somehow it was building materials I was carrying around, not hot young girls.

In the mid-60s he and Ardis bought into the fly-in only Selway Lodge deep in the heart of the Selway/Bitteroot Wilderness. Several Septembers, before returning to New York City and my undergraduate school, Columbia, Uncle Rolla or Syd Hinkle would fly me into the Lodge for a few days. Rolla knew my “mountain batteries” needed recharging.

Rolla was the first to recite to me a wise saying: “There are old pilots and there are bold pilots. There are no old, bold pilots.” This may explain why he was able to walk away unscathed from the one mountain crash he ever had.

His eternal Co-Pilot called him home to the Backcountry airstrip in the Sky on April 23rd in Boise.

In many respects he was your typical, common sense, hard-working Idahoan. He thoroughly enjoyed Idaho’s bounteous beauties and was always grateful for his blessings. He had that wonderful wry smile and sometimes a witty comment to go with it when calling me knucklehead.

I knew though he saw some potential and was proud of my accomplishments in later years. I hope he knew how proud of him I was for no matter how you say it, he was also a rarity in this old world—a real man’s man. As Will Rogers once said of mother earth, they just ain’t makin’ ‘em anymore. Rest in Peace, my uncle. Your old knuckleheaded nephew, Chris.

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Carlson

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In the wake of the bloody church massacre in South Carolina, this nation – with the electronic aid of a frantic national media – is entering into an asinine debate: the end of Confederate flag displays. The mindless media is busy taking quotes from people who haven’t thought the issue through or don’t see the racism of it’s own such action represents. Breast beaters and vote chasers. Or both. Mindless because banning the Confederate flag from flying in the so-called Confederate states is not likely.

Commonly accepted use of the words “Confederate states” says it all. Yes, the North won the war. At least on the battlefield. But, to millions of Americans in the South, their former flag is still the most powerful visible reminder of their true history. Offensive to most of us? You bet! But, to many of them, it’s history and tradition. Racist representation? To some, I’m sure. But not to many. Not as is to the rest of us.

Then there’s this. Can you say “First Amendment?”

Freedom of speech is not “freedom of good, likeable speech.” Freedom of speech is all speech no matter how distasteful – no matter how wrong – no matter how hateful. Whether our founding fathers intended it to be that way, I don’t know. But for 239 years, the nation’s courts have pretty much interpreted the issue to include nearly every utterance. It exists to protect the speech you don’t like – not the speech you do.

Yes, the U.S. Supreme Court recently let stand a lower court order to remove the C-flag from license plates in Texas. Keep an eye on that because I doubt those plates will disappear. Just the Texas way of ignoring laws Texans don’t like. Germany outlawed use/display of the Nazi flag many moons ago. But, surf the I-net for a few minutes and you’ll find Nazi flags all over the Fatherland. The rest of the world, too.

There’ll be thousands of hours of time and millions of dollars wasted in various legislatures and Congress as bills are introduced to sweep the Confederate flag into history’s trash can. You can already hear the chest-pounding. Some may become law. For a time. Then will come the challenges in many courtrooms. Taking passion out of the issue, it doesn’t seem reasonable to expect banning the C-flag will be achieved. And, even if it does become the “law of the land,” it’s equally reasonable to expect thousands and thousands of southerners – and racists – will ignore it.

We have a lot of that going on within our borders now. People ignoring law, regulations, rules, human rights, tradition. Even common courtesy. All of us do it. Some by speeding. Some by throwing trash out the window. Shooting off illegal fireworks. Smoking in non-smoking areas. Sneaking liquor into sports activities. Not shoveling snow off our sidewalks after a storm. Drinking underage. Ignoring curfews. And on and on and on. We do it without thinking because we do it so often it’s a matter of course.

Someone once told me a law can be enforced only so long as a majority of people abide by it. One example: a stretch of highway posted at 60 mph. But authorities have found most people drive 70-75. Sooner or later, the speed limit is usually raised. Oregon’s legislators play with that constantly on I-5 and I-84 because state cops have found drivers routinely drive 10-15 mph faster than law allows. We’ll get it raised one of these days. By continuing to break existing law.

There are many instances when most of us who call ourselves “law abiding” actually violate law, ordinances, rules – thinking or not. Sometimes laws are changed to accommodate what has become fact. Sometimes laws stay on the books but enforcement stops. Look at public lands welfare queen Clive Bundy in Nevada. He owes the BLM over a million dollars in unpaid grazing fees but now the feds are talking about writing the whole thing off – much less not enforcing existing contract law.

With police officers being killed at record rates, murders of school children by the dozens, massacred church worshipers in a Bible class, thousands of illegal and unchecked gun sales, hundreds of unpunished Wall Street crooks damned near wrecking this nation’s economy still enjoying their freedom, illegal protests in our streets, racists ignoring our first Black president’s good works while spreading unbridled trash at will in social/public media, a Congress ignoring laws requiring voting decisions on declaration of war for more than a decade, a government operating on a federal budget that hasn’t been changed, updated or even thoroughly reviewed for years. Wanna keep going? With the exception of the poor and most minorities, too many of us break laws with impunity.

In their efforts to become our next president, Rick Perry calls the Charleston murders “an accident,” Rick Santorum blames those killings on the current president, Ted Cruz is on the campaign trail cracking jokes about guns and gun control, Mike Huckabee refers to a case of well-publicized incest as just “kids experimenting” and they’ll “outgrow it.” Anyone there you want to install as a new president of a nation already having problems of civic order?

If all the money and all the time and all the talent sure to be wasted on futile efforts to outlaw display of the Confederate flag could be directed to some more useful civic purpose, we might get a handle on some of the other, vastly more important issues going unchecked in our nation. I’m sure even ol’ Bobby E. Lee would agree.

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Rainey

The political response on the Confederate battle flag Monday was remarkable – a collapse of support among Republican political leaders for flying that flag, a recognition that it had become socially toxic. But what of the reaction down below?

The key event was the statement by South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley that she would back a removal of the flag from state grounds, where it long has flown. Almost immediately, a bunch of other Republican officials around the country, from Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to the speaker of the House in Mississippi (where the Confederate flag is woven into the state flag’s design) called for removal.

It’s a sudden sea change in attitude, as the debate began to be focused on the idea that the flag represents racism, not heritage – the flip of a recent bumper sticker popular in some places. The Washington Post blog suggested, “It was as if some kind of interrogation room spotlight was turned on Monday and Republican officials all over the country suddenly, all at once, saw the flag in a new and different way. Of course, opinions do change. Circumstances can make even the most complicated issues clear and new constituencies matter. But it is also possible that what we witnessed Monday was a great flight to a new position now that it constitutes relatively safe political ground.”

As always, though, the question that really arises here is, what’s going on below?

What about all those southerners who continue to plant some variation of the battle flag on their trucks, windows, or elsewhere? Did their attitudes change so quickly? Probably not, almost certainly not, and if not, what will they think about the wave of officials who they have viewed as in their corner, abruptly decamping? Will they feel betrayal? If so, how do they react?

Only part of this has so far played out. – rs

(photo/Gerry Dincher)

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First Take

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HB 3500 – is the symbol of the fight independent voters have been waging for respect. We’ve written about its real and symbolic importance to election reform before. The most current plot twist involves Sen. Betsy Johnson and Sen. Richard Devlin.

HB 3500 had it’s genesis pre session when Rep. Val Hoyle drafted the original version which was erroneously labelled “Hoyle’s open primary bill.” Though what it really did was allow “same day” primary election mail in voter registration bill for the Democratic and Republican Parties. It would have required that every major party primary Ballot be sent to all non affiliated primary voters, along with a party registration card. So if an NAV wanted to vote in May’s partisan primary election, they were forced to vote for and join either the Democratic or Republican Parties. It should have been called “Val Hoyles Democratic and Republican Voter Registration Drive” bill.

But Oops! Developments throw a monkey wrench into the plan.

In February the Independent Party achieved major party status. So sending all major party ballots no longer seemed like a good idea to Democrats and Republicans. Democratic insiders gutted HB 3500 and stuffed it with a provision to create a task force of 17 members who would study how to increase NAV voter participation in elections. So far so good. But That task force amendment never had a public hearing, no public testimony was given. No written testimony was allowed. It was rushed through the House Rules by Rep. Hoyle, then mysteriously rather than going to the Senate Rules where it normally would have gone and where Sen. Diane Rosenbaum could have fixed the bill by amendment, it went to the Joint Ways and Means Subcommittee on General Government.

That’s where the fireworks occurred this week.

But some on the Joint Committee were unhappy that of the 17 task force members, 12 would be appointed by Democrats and only 4 by Republicans. (The 17th, being the Secretary of State). But it was Betsy Johnson who pointed out it’s other big flaw. Even though there are slots on the task force for Republican and Democratic electeds (4) and for “representatives of major parties to be appointed by Democratic and Republican leaders (4 more), and for minor parties an non affiliate voters, and the League of Women Voters, and “an organization that does voter registration drives” (Bus project anyone), and even for a “Oregon Elector” (Mark Frohnmayer?) there is no slot for the third major party, the Independent Party of Oregon which has been at the forefront of election reforms and has over 100,000 members. The Libertarian (16,000 members) or Working Families Parties (9,000 members) and even the Progressive Green Party (about 2,500 members) – may be represented, but a major party making up 110,000 Oregonians is not included.

When Sen. Johnson raised some questions about why the bill didn’t include an IPO representative, The Chair of the Committee took a break and indicated they’d ask Val Hoyle or one of her staff to come down and explain the bill more and answer questions. But when the committee reconvened, there was no one from Hoyle’s office in the committee room.

Someone else had appeared though, and if you watch the video of the committee hearing below, you can see him sitting at a committee chair, staring at Sen. Johnson, then ambling over to take her seat. That’s Sen. Richard Devlin, using his prerogative as the Senate Leader to remove Betsy Johnson from the committee and taking her vote himself.

There would be no discussion, or explanation in public of why the IPO was not included on this commitee. Just like there would be no public hearings, or allowing any public testimony on the gut and stuff in House Rules. And when someone even asked to have an explanation of the bill from Hoyle, the order was out to Devline office. Go down to the hearing and roll her over.

But before she leaves, Sen. Johnson makes a powerful statement, indicting the drafters and backers of this bill as being anti democratic and unfair and she promised to vote against the bill when it reaches the floor. Sen. Johnson then storms out of the committee room and Sen. Devlin fills her seat.

The final vote was to pass the bill to the Senate floor by a vote of 5-2.

Voting against HB 3500 along with Sen. Johnson were; Democratic Representative Betty Komp and Republican Senator Doug Whitsett. Independent voters thank you and respect your fairness.

Voting for the bill that disenfranchises 110, 000 Oregon voters from having a representative on the election reform task force were:

Democratic Sen. Richard Devlin
Democratic Senator Elizabeth Steiner Hayward
Democratic Rep. Nancy Nathanson
Democratic Representative Kathleen Taylor
Republican Rep. Greg Smith

Here’s another odd thing. They didn’t have to roll Sen. Johnson, the vote was 5-2 to move the bill. If Sen. Johnson had been allowed to vote, it still would have moved by 4-3.

So, why is it so important for the Democratic leadership to make sure the IPO not only isn’t represented on this task force, but that no public hearings are held. No written testimony is allowed, no discussion be allowed, and that if anyone wants to debate it and open it to public scrutiny, that they take swift, decisive and overwhelming tactics to quash it?

There is one possibility. An informed source stated that some high ranking public employee union political operatives have been heard to say that the growth of the IPO represents one of their biggest challenges. If so, then the obvious response from Democratic political operatives would be to crush any toehold the IPO had. Even if it meant disrespecting a senior member of your own caucus.

To watch Sen. Devline Roll Over Sen. Johnson, and listen to her statement, go to the link below. The events are near the end of the video. Hover over the last dot on the timeline and HB 3500 will appear. That’s the start of the sequence. Get some popcorn.

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Harris

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Five years after the GUARDIAN first broke the story of the Idaho Land Board going into the business of running businesses, the Board has voted to divest itself of more than 20 commercial real estate parcels, most of them in downtown Boise. The big story back then was a STORAGE business.

The poster child property which was vigorously defended by land board members is Ten Barrel Brewing. The state spent millions in “tenant improvements,” even hiring a construction manager. The place is owned today by Budweiser.

For five years state officials claimed they had a “constitutional mandate” to get the best return on the education endowment funds and in their collective mind that meant owning tax-exempt property in Boise. Now, based on the advice of a consultant they will divest themselves of an estimated $25 million worth of commercial property and put cash into what sounds like Real Estate Investment Trusts (REIT). We applaud the vote of the board which is long overdue.

The board is comprised of state elected officers (guv, controller, sec/state, atty/gen, sup/intstruc).

The only worry for citizens of Boise is the location of the various parcels. While the state owns them, there is no revenue generated from the tax-exempt property. However, if any of the real estate is within an urban renewal district the taxes on improvements and appreciation will go to CCDC, not the city of Boise.

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Frazier

The Idaho State Police probably were right in their conclusion that the issues surrounding the Corrections Corporation of America private prison in Idaho were not properly a subject for investigation by that agency. It was, Colonel Ralph Powell said, “This appeared to be a breach of contract dispute, and therefore a civil, not a criminal matter.” Two other issues come up from this, however. One is the reasons why so many people in state government were under the impression, for a year, that ISP was in fact investigating. An Idaho Statesman report out today says that “A state police major introduced himself to IDOC Deputy Warden Timothy Higgins as the investigator in the case, did an interview with Higgins and took IDOC’s documents about the CCA allegations.” Huh? And were there other such instances? The Statesman story adds some useful information to the background, but raises some more questions. One, just slightly farther afield but something state legislators should consider, is this: If the Idaho State Police are not the proper agency to investigate something like the CCA situation, then who is? Someone kin state government should be.

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First Take

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This summer in Idaho is featuring some unfortunate health headlines ranging from the plague among rodents to e. coli on the beach (at Lucky Peak park near Boise).

But the really messy story is neither of these: It concerns the Saltzer Medical Group and its relationship with St. Luke’s hospitals, and the slippery state of how modern medicine deals with big money.

The story goes back a few years and iterations. Saltzer is a consortium of physicians at Nampa – the state’s second-largest city, remember – which had a large base of customers who regularly needed hospital facilities. St. Luke’s Health System, the largest hospital organization in Idaho and based at Boise – with major facilities scattered around the metro area – bought Saltzer in 2012, in a friendly takeover. Part of the justification was that if the organizations worked more tightly together, they might be able to hold down costs.

Attorney General Lawrence Wasden warned that the deal might be illegal, violating federal anti-competitiveness laws. St. Luke’s and Saltzer said the merger could be readily “unwound” if need be. That’s now being put to the test. Two levels of federal courts ordered the merger reversed, agreeing with the state (and several St. Luke’s competitors) that the mashup was anti-competitive. Now, in speaking of the un-wind, St. Luke’s attorneys were quoted as saying that what “seemed like a simple, straightforward process … has proven not to be so.”

Is everyone properly shocked . . . ?

For one thing, Saltzer isn’t now what it was: A group of what was 50 or so doctors is down in number by about a quarter, some of those departing evidently wary of getting snared in legal issues. Several specialties important to the overall group now have no practitioners. The group reached an agreement with St. Luke’s to provide those services, which has made things even more complex.

And there have been efforts afoot to sell off part or all of Saltzer to some other party.

How does all of that comport with the court’s order to, more or less, return St. Luke’s and Saltzer to where they were before their merger?

No one really knows.

There’s some talk about a court-appointed master who would have some direct authority over the situation. This might work, in theory, somewhat comparably to a trustee in a bankruptcy case. But this may be a lot more difficult for such an official to handle than would be a bankrupcty; in this case, the businesses are alive and fully functioning. Part of what has happened involved physicians quitting one employer and moving to another, or setting up independent shop. How could a master force someone to, say, continue working at Saltzer if they didn’t want to? (Not that such an effort would likely be made anyway.) Both Saltzer and St. Luke’s are active – in St. Luke’s case, you might almost say hyperactive – businesses, doing many things and making many decisions every day. Planting a special master in the middle of that could be nightmarish for everyone involved, prospectively including patients.

The legal-financial complex U.S. medicine is in may be headed for a series of smashups. Look at St Luke’s and Saltzer as a harbinger of things to come.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus

We’re big fans over here of direct democracy – the ability of citizens to take control of legislating, whether for ideas good or bad (and in our view, they seem to balance out). But is it ever subject to abuse. . . You can structure legislation in all sorts of ways, ways that make an ideological point without acknowledging the consequences (like cutting taxes without saying what services will be sliced, or reducing classroom sizes without saying where the money will come from). Money speaks in initiatives too: In Washington, Tim Eyman is or isn’t a factor in state politics in a given year depending on whether he has a rich guy in his back pocket. But the Tacoma News Tribune points out today another problem too: People who solicit petition signatures for initiatives or other ballot items can, and sometimes do, misrepresent or outright lie – and there seems to be nothing the state can do about it. The specific trigger for the story is a new ballot issue that would change the Tacoma city charter, though it’s being billed mainly as a term limits proposal.

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First Take