Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts tagged as “Idaho”

Bets are off

frazierlogo1

After operating without a required live racing permit since January 1, Treasure Valley Racing is cutting the cord on the simulcast gambling at Les Bois Park.

Idaho Code says: “No license authorizing simulcasting and/or televised races shall be issued to or renewed for persons that are not also licensed to conduct live race meets in the state of Idaho.”

While the operators had a 2015 permit and conducted live racing, simulcasts, and slot machines disguised as “historic racing,” things got held up at the gate when the Idaho legislature repealed the law that previously allowed the slot machines. They did not have a 2016 live racing permit, hence the activities since January 1 appear to be outside the law. Slots are illegal under the Idaho Constitution and legislators said the machines they approved were not the same as the machines in use. They didn’t meet the “parimutuel” exemption.

Gov. Butch Otter sided up with the race horse crowd, but screwed up on his timing with a veto to override the legislative repeal. The Idaho Supreme Court ultimately ruled the repeal stands, thus outlawing the slots. Treasure Valley Racing claimed they couldn’t afford to do live racing without subsidy from the (illegal) slot machines. The issue of whether or not the slot machines qualified as permissible parimutuel betting, was never decided. The GUARDIAN visited Les Bois and determined the machines were indeed slots. Some legislators and opponents came to the same conclusion, prompting the repeal which was approved by two-thirds of that body.

Hoping for a political solution to their business problem, the operators bet on a bill to create a gaming commission that would have allowed both simulcasts and the electronic devices (slots). With the legislature in the home stretch odds this session are against political support–remember it is an election year–so the TV screens, the track, and slots are all without the sound of hoofbeats.

Now, here’s the big incestuous issue. The Idaho State Police would be a logical agency to investigate the apparently illegal gambling since Jan. 1. If there was no Racing Commission permit for live racing, then simulcasts from other tracks were illegal. However, the Racing Commission operates under the oversight of ISP. If the live race permit has expired, simulcasts are like driving on an expired driver’s license. The system is flawed when the regulator and proponent of horse racing falls under the supervision of the enforcer, ISP.

It gets worse. The Ada County Prosecutor is the legal enforcer of the Idaho Code in Ada County, hence the logical agency to file charges for illegal operation of simulcast without a live racing permit. But that same prosecutor’s office wrote the lease contract on behalf of the Ada County Commissioners. The commishes also endorsed the political efforts of Treasure Valley Racing, signing on to an ad in the Statesman and offering testimony before the legislature in an effort to NOT repeal the slot machine bill last session. After all, it means JOBS and REVENUE!

And that folks, explains at a local level why there is so much support for the likes of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

First take/SOS

State of the State speeches in Idaho or elsewhere usually are broad-based, washing over a lot of topics and never burrowing very deeply on any one. Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter's SOS Monday was an exception.

He spent the bulk of the speech on education, and sometimes on unfamiliar aspects of it. He talked at some length about reading proficiency, and said "My budget includes $10.7 million to pay for intervention support for students in kindergarten through third grade who are not yet proficient on the state reading indicator. That will improve the chances for more Idaho students to succeed through high school and beyond."

He talked about other education initiatives as well and, more to the point, backed it up with a substantial increase for public schools, 7.9 percent overall. That won't fully fill back the losses from the recession years, or make up for the absence of progress since, but it's a start.

There was also this: "I had the chance last month to experience a little of what innovative, mastery-focused learning looks like in our classrooms. I participated in an “Hour of Code” exercise with fifth-graders at Boise’s Garfield Elementary. Immersing myself in that environment and watching students do the same, I saw firsthand the difference that individualized learning can make in comprehension, application and ultimately mastery."

Individualized learning likely a way of the future in education, and its mention here was noteworthy. - rs

Coming attractions

stapiluslogo1

2016 should be one heck of a national election year, if the evidence of 2015 is any indicator.

But what sort of year is it likely to be in Idaho?

Here, as we transition from one to the other, let’s pause to consider what sorts of subjects may be defining the four seasons ahead of us, in the Gem State.

Idaho’s Republican choice. Who will Idaho support out of the large field of candidates seeking the Republican nomination for president? Polls have offered various answers (Ben Carson, Donald Trump, and Ted Cruz have at various points done well.) Idaho’s elected officials, unusually, aren’t united on the question. The primary is set for March 8, which could come at a pivotal period in the selection process. Idaho could become a serious stomping ground a couple of months from now.

Few Idaho choices. Things could change, but Idaho’s Republicans seem not to be gearing up for the kind of party-rending internal battle they had in 2014, when competing slates of candidates went to war over almost every significant office. How will Idaho’s many Republican insurgents react to that situation this year – and what sort of inspiration might they get from the presidential contest?

More fires? 2015 was a rough wildfire year for Idaho, though in truth many recent years have been. (Wildfires have been around the top of end-of-year news story lists for some time now.) This winter so far has been encouraging for keeping those fires down in 2016, somewhat at least. Will Idaho get a reprieve next year, and maybe use the opening for more extensive rehabilitation in places like the massive Soda Fire burnout? Or will 2016 be yet another hot spell?

JUMP and urban renewal. 2015 could be an important year for Idaho cities, at and near the legislature. Nearby, the opening of the massive JUMP (Jack’s Urban Meeting Place) center, which held an opening in December, will start to kick in, amid a batch of other downtown development projects. At the statehouse, meanwhile, legislators will be considering major overhauls – and maybe major limitations – in Idaho’s urban renewal laws, a situation that has city officials far from Boise highly concerned. City issues may be front and center this year.

Central wilderness. 2016 will be the year when the development of the Central Idaho wilderness really hits the road too. The idea of wilderness may be of an area that people don’t change, but in fact they do and so do their uses over time. A lot of how the wilderness in Idaho’s center develops will become more settled in this coming year.

Medicaid expansion. The expansion of Medicaid that was contemplated in the Affordable Care Act started mostly with some blue states, but has been expanding apace to include many of the reds as well. In Idaho, that would mean bringing coverage to about 78,000 people.

Boise minister Jon Brown noted in a newspaper guest opinion, “In a nutshell, we are leaving $178 million of federal money on the table, and pay out state money for inadequate health care for the distressed. And who pays for this? You and me in poorly directed tax money, and part of our federal taxes. But the low-income, poorly educated, and especially the 6,700 white Idaho citizens, pay with their lives.” The legislature has been resistant so far; whether they hold out again in 2016 may be one of the big fights of the session.

One more quick note. A year ago I highlighted a half-dozen topics as prospective important stories for 2015. Most of them were – Boulder-White Clouds, health care consolidation, developments in Boise’s downtown core, changes in education policy and battles over storage of nuclear waste. (The sixth I highlighted as “new adjudications,” which weren’t a big story, though water and water rights certainly were.)

Note here how many of those stories will still bleed into 2016. How many of those 2016 stories will carry over into the year after that?

“Go on”, or not

A guest opinion from Caldwell educator Levi Cavener on current ballot initiatives that would lower Idaho's tuition and increase the general fund.

There is some irony in the precarious position the Gem State has found itself in. Despite setting a goal in 2010 for 60% of Idaho’s young people under age 34 to attend postsecondary education, the Idaho legislature then decided the way to encourage young people to attend college is to significantly inflate the tuition costs for those would-be students in the subsequent years that followed.

This objective was coupled with a comedic “Go-On” and “Don’t Fail Idaho” campaign courtesy of Idaho’s Albertson Foundation designed to prod would-be students into higher education despite the increasing costs to attend tethered together with lackluster job prospects in the Gem State to find employment.

And while it appears Idaho’s leaders would rather not acknowledge that the economics courses actually being taught in the Gem State’s universities could have precisely predicted the result of pulling the rug on funding higher education at exactly the same time Idaho’s families were struggling--never mind tuition costs--to simply put food on the table, Idaho’s young citizens do seem to understand those basic behavioral economics.

Dangling red herrings such as 21st century content standards, more school choice, and greater STEM focus as the solutions to Idaho’s lackluster college enrollment misses the crux of the issue in entirety. While these topics are worthwhile discussions in the their own right, they miss the fundamental problem young people are facing.

This discussion need not be that complicated: if Idaho continues to ignore rising tuition costs, textbook costs, lab fees, and student housing then the Gem State should also be equally prepared to expect stagnated postsecondary enrollment and a continued brain drain of our most talented young people for greener pastures outside the state.

The Albertson strategy of admonishing young people into postsecondary attendance is as equally cruel as it is ineffective. Young people living in a state dead last in the nation for wages, a state with exploding tuition costs, and a state with negligible public scholarship opportunities are making a rational economic decision for their future when they decline to enroll in higher education upon graduation.

While our state’s leaders may continue to ballyhoo other reasons for this outcome, Idahoans are becoming increasingly inpatient in addressing the fundamental problem facing high school graduates. As the price of public postsecondary enrollment continues to rise, the value of attendance in our higher education programs continues to decline in the eyes of Idaho’s young people.

The two ballot initiatives currently circulating in our state are evidence that citizens have become disillusioned that their elected leaders actually plan on making any tangible changes to this status quo. The first petition circulated by the group Stop Tuition Hikes has proposed a modest increase on tobacco tax to use the generated revenue in lowering Idaho’s tuition by 22%. The second initiative sponsored by Idaho’s League of Women Voters, similarly, seeks to end tax exemptions coupled with reducing the sales tax to generate additional funds for our state’s budget.

And there is a very real chance that one or both of these initiatives will generate the signatures required to get on the ballot; there is an equally real chance Idaho’s voters will happily vote to reduce their sales tax and decrease the cost of sending their children to college if they are given the opportunity to vote on such a measure.

If Idaho’s leaders and the Albertson Foundation are truly interested in improving the rate of postsecondary enrollment, I wholeheartedly expect to see them give us the gift of gushing endorsements on both ballot initiatives. I wouldn’t hold my breath.

First take/defense fund

The name always sounded vainglorious - the Idaho "constitutional defense fund" - and its purpose a little iffy, since the state does already have an attorney general's office. (A pretty good one, too.) Still, you could sort of see the point of wanting to have some money set aside if state legislators wanted to defend what they do.

But the wisdom of having such a fund surely is linked to the wisdom used in tapping it. A new article by the Associated Press (disclosure: I'm quoted in it) looks into just that. And, it notes, since the first case in which the fund was used (over a nuclear waste agreement in 1996) "The next nine cases have all been losers for the state, including three cases defending abortion laws, two lawsuits involving gay rights and two lawsuits over the steps required to get initiatives on the ballot."

And by and large, the legislature was warned amply well in advance that these cases were not likely to succeed.

Legislators looking to cut budgets in the 2017 session might start with this one, unless they can figure out how to more wisely spend the money in the years to come. - rs

Closure unavailing

stapiluslogo1

“But they’re closed on Saturday!”

And not there on Friday either.

The Idaho Supreme Court decision last week throwing out Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter’s veto of the bill to ban instant horse racing at Les Bois Park, an action which has split pieces of the state executive and legislative branches down the middle, reads like a complex and abstract piece in most news reports. Attorney David Leroy called it a “sweeping and significant precedent.” Otter said he was certain the the veto he signed was valid.

What the court decision mostly was, was a recital of the law.

Let’s break it down.

Late in the afternoon of March 30, a Monday, Senate Bill 1011 (the racing bill) was physically carried to Otter’s office. He then could sign it into law, if he chose, or do nothing, in which case the bill would become law automatically. (Governors sometimes but not usually do this.) Or, he could veto it, but if he wanted to do that, he had to act promptly. The Idaho Constitution says: “Any bill which shall not be returned by the governor to the legislature within five days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, shall become a law in like manner as if he had signed it,” unless the legislature has already adjourned for the year. Which it hadn’t.

Otter’s choice was a veto, and he may have signed his veto message on April 3, a Friday. That’s within the five-day period. But the Constitution says the vetoed bill had to be returned to the legislature, specifically to the Senate, within those five days - that is, by Saturday afternoon. There was a complication: That was Easter weekend, and the legislature had adjourned on Thursday to take three days off.

Whether because of sloppiness or over-confidence or some other motivation, Otter or his staff must have thought it would be all right if the vetoed bill went back to the Senate the next Monday morning - which was more than five days (with Sunday not counted) after the bill was presented to him. What’s a few hours among friends?

And besides, what choice did he have? The legislature wasn’t there on Friday, right? The office doors were closed. How could he return the bill?

But the Idaho code actually covers a case like this. It says (in Section 67-504), “If, on the day the governor desires to return a bill without his approval and with his objections thereto to the house in which it originated, that house has adjourned for the day (but not for the session), he may deliver the bill with his message to the presiding officer, clerk, or any member of such house, and such delivery is as effectual as though returned in open session, if the governor, on the first day the house is again in session, by message notifies it of such delivery, and of the time when, and the person to whom, such delivery was made.”

In other words, the veto could have stuck if the governor’s office had on Friday or Saturday tracked down any state senator and handed him or her the vetoed bill - and then formally notified the Senate on Monday.

It helps if you know how things work. And what the law says.

The Idaho Supreme Court did make an interesting and possibly new point about “standing” when it held the Coeur d’Alene Tribe had standing to bring the case. But when it came to deciding this convoluted question of whether the veto was valid or not, it simply recited the law.

Uncomfortable options

stapiluslogo1

Idaho Republicans just can’t get comfortable with their primary situation.

And probably never will unless the national primary picture changes.

This month, the Idaho Republican Party said it will change once again its method of participating in the presidential nomination contest by holding a primary election on March 8. Last time, in 2012, the party held caucuses, which is what the Democrats have done for many years. While the Democrats have stuck with the caucuses for a while, largely because that’s a method for safely ensuring the state’s delegates will be accepted at the national convention, Republicans have wrestled with their system like Houdini trying to escape a straitjacket.

But there is no perfect escape available.

A caucus would get the job done, but Dave Johnston, the GOP executive director, reasonably noted that many people cannot participate because of the very specific time and place, and cited his own 2012 example, when he was unable to join in because he was on active duty in the Marine Corps. And he said three to five percent of voters may go to caucuses, but about a quarter will vote in primary elections (the percentages sound generally correct), which unlike caucuses are secret-ballot processes.

Okay, so what’s the problem with a March primary?

Mainly, the cost of holding more than one of them. Idaho traditionally has held its party primaries for state, congressional and local offices (covering both parties, and many other candidates) somewhere around summer, to keep the general election campaign season running into fall down to a reasonable length. For a while some decades ago they were held in August, but mostly in May, which seems to be a satisfactory time for most Idahoans.

The problem is, the presidential nomination contests are effectively all over by then. In 2012, Mitt Romney had become a prohibitive favorite for the nomination by the end of March, and in 2008 John McCain was widely called the “presumptive nominee” by the end of February. And the Republican Party has been trying to “front load” the system to compress the period of serious contests, to give the nominee more time to settle into general election mode. If Idaho Republicans vote for a nominee in the May primary, they’re playing in a game that’s long since over.

Hence the idea of a March primary, which might put the Gem State into the action. But who will pay for it? That’s been a sticking point at the Idaho Legislature for years, especially when the Democrats say they’re not interested. A taxpayer-funded election for the benefit of one party, for presidential but no other candidates, would have an uncomfortable tinge to it.

Last week I was discussing some of this endless circle on a radio program, and the host mentioned a former neighbor of his who had the proposal of setting up several regional primaries around the country. It might rotate from one presidential cycle to the next, and maybe get started later in the year so that all of the presidential year isn’t hard-core campaign season. I’ve heard the idea for years (with ideas of anywhere from four to eight regional primaries in the proposal), and I like it - it would give people outside of Iowa and New Hampshire a shot at playing that crucial early role in the selection. It might solve Idaho’s problem too, by moving the presidential contests to a later point so they could be combined with the regular state primaries.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem likely for the near future. So Idaho Republicans are probably going to be stuck with their discomfort for a while yet.

Fire lingo

From a report by the Idaho Department of Lands, written by information officer Sharla Arledge, explaining some of the terminology used in wildfire reports.

As a new PIO to the fire world I know there is a lot of terminology the average person isn’t familiar with. With this severe fire season we are talking a lot about Incident Management Teams. The question has come up, what is the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 fire teams.

I thought it might be helpful to have an explanation of Incident Management Teams.

What is an Incident Management Team?

An incident management team is a small group of people fire management professionals specially trained and experienced in managing complex emergency fire situations. It is a tool to help fire protection agency manage fire situations that exceed their resources.

An incident management team is supervised by an Incident Commander that oversees specialists with expertise in operations, logistics, plans and finance and administration. Type 1 or 2 teams are commonly comprised of qualified individuals from various state and federal agencies. Type 3 teams are usually composed of individuals from other units within the protection agencies and from units of other agencies in the local area.

Teams are classified as Type 1, 2 or 3 based on the complexity of fires they are qualified to manage. A couple of differences between a Type 1 and Type 2 team is the complexity of the fire and the number of personnel. Type 1 teams handle the most complex fires and operation personnel often exceed 500 people and total people on the incident usually exceed 1,000.

When is a team needed?

An incident management team is assigned to relieve a wildfire agency that no longer has the resources to effectively manage the local fire situation. Examples would be:

· When a single large fire reaches a level of complexity that exceeds the experience or resources of the unit(s) fighting the fire.

· When a large number of fires start in a short period of time causing an excessive initial attack workload.

The protection agency requests the assignment of a team. The requests are driven not only by the fire situation and resource availability, but also what weather and burning conditions are expected in the future.

When a team is activated and assembles on scene it is fully briefed on the fire situation and the risks and suppression objectives by the protection agency. After the briefing the team assumes management responsibility for the fire(s). This allows the local protection agency to replenish its resources and focus them on the initial attack responsibilities elsewhere.

The team operates under the direction of an employee of the agency on whose protection the fire occurs. This employee is called the Line Officer. The Line Officer ensures the team manages the fire in an economical manner with safety for the public and fire personnel always being the first priority.

The cost of suppression increases substantially anytime a team is assigned, especially a Type 1 or 2 team. This is because of the large amount of equipment and supplies needed to support the personnel and resources assigned to a large fire.

I hope you find this helpful. As always, let me know if you have any questions.

First take

Here's a sentence from the Associated Press article on the fire: "The fire blew across U.S. Highway 95 and moved a mile and a half in 8 minutes, said fire spokeswoman Carrie Bilbao of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management." A mile and a half in eight minutes . . . that's moving. And the fire, called the Soda Fire, is big, approaching 200 square miles (it's passed 200,000 acres) out in in the desert region of southwest Idaho and (the smaller part) in southeast Oregon. Evacuations have been ordered. This is the first really big wildfire so far this year in Idaho or Oregon, but it arrives on schedule at the time of year when the big ones normally hit. Little wonder senators from Idaho and Oregon are pushing hard for more federal effort in fighting wildfires. Get ready for more. - rs

A win that’s a loss

carlsonlogo1

Those singing the praises of the recently passed and signed legislation creating a modest new wilderness area in the high mountain regions of the Boulder/White Clouds are trying to sell a “Pig in the Poke.” They want to put a “Happy Face” on a bad bill that only rewards one side of the multiple use/special use lobby: the motorized crowd , the ATV’ers, dirt bikers and snowmobilers led by Lewiston’s Sandra Mithell.

Some of us are cursed with long memories. In particular, I can recall that time in the late 80’s when Senator James A. McClure, and Governor Cecil D. Andrus, worked long and hard to come up with a once and for all time Idaho wilderness bill that included protection in the Boulder/White Clouds for more than 300,000 acres.

The late Mary Kelly was then head of the relatively new Idaho Conservation League. She, along with Craig Gehrke of the Wilderness Society, and other Idaho conservation leaders, denounced the Andrus/McClure proposal for among other reasons not protecting enough acreage in the Boulder/White Clouds. How ironic.

This current bill, put together with Mitchell’s help by the crafty Senator James Risch, and identical to the bill passed by the House, reduced the acreage in the original CIEDRA bill from author/sponsor Second District Congressman Mike Simpson----from just over 300,000 acres to 275,000 acres to be protected by the wilderness designation. In 2010 the number actually was up to 332,000 acres.

Such a deal. That this bill is now being praised as better than nothing and the right culmination of a forty year endeavor by folks such as ICL’s current executive director, Rick Johnson, and my old boss, Governor Andrus, does not warm my heart.

It’s pretty clear that the gang of three, the Risch-Crapo-Otter alliance of “not one more acre in wilderness,” knew they had won the chess match by calling the ICL/Andrus/Obama bluff of creating a larger National Monument using the Antiquities Act. First, they had Rick Johnson’s testimony in which Johnson pledged not to pursue the National Monument designation if Rep. Simpson had a bill before the President within six months.

Secondly, despite an on the record pledge by a top White House aide, John Podesta, that the president would invoke the Antiquities Act if there was no bill to sign within six months, it didn’t take much digging in the Interior Department to recognize that the folks responsible for producing the backup paperwork necessary for an Antiquities Act designation were working on other “candidates” and no one had been directed to work on a monument declaration for the White Clouds.

Rick Johnson, guessing that Senator Risch had figured out the probability was high that the Obama Administration could leave the ICL and Andrus “high and dry and hornswoggled,” could argue that the lemonade out of the lemon was any bill that gave he and the ICL some face-saving wilderness.

It is telling to look at who is and who is not standing behind the president for the traditional bill signing ceremony. Rick Johnson is there, Rep. Simpson is there, Gary O’Malley, the former Weyerhaeuser executive who is retired and represents the Sawtooth Society, was there, as was the former mayor of Stanley.

Neither U.S. Senator, Mike Crapo or Jim Risch, nor First District Congressman Raul Labrador, nor Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, was present. The White House also invited Governor Andrus to attend, but, citing other earlier commitments, even Andrus declined to be there.

One disappointed observer who hoped for more said “It’s not like the Administration moved the goal posts on proponents. They never ever even set up the goal posts.”

Supposedly the Administration felt there was not enough local support for the Monument option, and many folks wihin Idaho were uneasy about uncertainty surrounding the regulations governing a monument which would only become known AFTER a designation. The fact of the matter though is the Administration never gave the ICL and wilderness proponents the opportunity to show their support by way of turnout at public hearings.

When folks like Interior Secretary Sally Jewel, Under Secretary Robert Bonnie and White House aide John Podesta started saying Simpson had six months to get a bill one could guess Simpson would come up with something less than his original proposal but would allow him to declare victory and move on. In this writer’s book the Second District Congressman is the only player coming out of this charade relatively unscathed.

Bottom line is a national monument declaration would have been far and away the best for the resource and the best for Idaho’s future. Some will say this view is a classic case of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good, and maybe they are correct. However, many know in their hearts the current bill is nothing to celebrate.