Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts tagged as “Idaho”

Pocatello council pulls the plug

mendiola

I was saddened, but not entirely surprised to learn that the Pocatello City Council indeed has decided to completely cut funding for the city's public access cable television programming, effectively pulling the plug on it and blacking it out after the pioneering channel has been on the air for many decades. For years, it was known as Pocatello Vision 12.

If it is not the longest continuously running cable access station in the nation, it definitely is one of the oldest. In fact, Hank Gonzalez' bilingual “La Voz Latina” holds the distinction as the longest airing cable access television program in the United States!

It obviously was a foregone conclusion or fait accompli for some council members to terminate the channel, but go through the motions to make it appear they were still open to resuscitating it.

The prospect that an entire city department could be arbitrarily eliminated in one fell swoop despite its historic reputation was not well-publicized. Some council members apparently hoped they could obliterate the cable access channel with minimal flak or adverse public reaction by conducting their fatal strike under the radar like stealth bombers.

Pocatello private citizens of all backgrounds have been allowed for more than 40 years to produce and host their own television programs, giving them a voice and allowing them to exercise their freedom of speech unlike most anywhere else in the country. “Transparency” was a refreshing byword exercised in the Gate City for many years.

While some council members have decided to ax community access programming by Sept. 28 or the end of the fiscal year, they have opted to continue government access programming that features meetings prominently attended by elected officials and politicians. Hmmmm … Could priorities be askew? If expenses were an issue, why not cut it, too?

Vision 12 has touched the lives of hundreds if not thousands of people in Bannock County over the years, binding the community together. It's too bad such a priceless treasure can be flippantly tossed onto the ash heap with little regard to its legacy.

I've had the privilege and pleasure of producing and hosting a program called “Business Dynamics” since December 2000, interviewing top government, business, agriculture and education leaders, covering economic development, energy, transportation, manufacturing and a host of other issues pertaining to business.

When I ran into Rick Eike at Fred Meyer some 18 years ago, he broached the idea that I do my own cable access program like he did. At first, I dismissed his suggestion, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. In-depth local news coverage of economic issues of interest to me and no doubt others was sorely lacking, and this could fill a void.

I would like to thank the scores of guests who gave of their time to appear on “Business Dynamics” and share their expertise, observations and opinions. I learned a great deal from each of them and hope viewers also found their appearances enlightening and informative.

I also would be remiss to not thank Kathy Oborn, Ken Wilson, John Hahn and other studio employees for their professionalism and assistance over the years. Their hard work behind the scenes ensured that Pocatello's cable access station ranked at the very top of its class and gave outsiders a positive view of the community's many amenities – a window into the Gate City from a distinct vantage point.

It's been a great run, a great ride, a great experience for me to be part of such a truly unique operation like Pocatello's cable access television service. Unlike Tom Bodett of Motel 6, some Pocatello City Council members have decided to not leave the light on for us. Signing off …

(Photo: Former U.S. Interior Secretary and Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne appears a few years ago on 'Business Dynamic,' a longtime Pocatello cable access television program in Pocatello. Host Mark Mendiola is on the left.)

Idaho Weekly Briefing – August 6

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for August 6. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

With the arrival of August, preliminaries begin in the fall general election campaign season. An early activity was a debate between the candidates for superintendents of public instruction; more faceoffs are expected soon. Menwhile, smoke gathered over the skies of southern Idaho as one wildfire after another popped up.

New projections from the Idaho Department of Labor forecast that the state will add just over 105,000 jobs by 2026, bringing total statewide employment to approximately 841,000. In 2016, statewide employment was 735,000. This new projection indicates expected growth of 14.4 percent for the 10-year period from 2016 to 2026, for an annual growth rate of 1.4 percent.

Senator Jim Risch, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, the lead senate committee investigating Russia’s attempted interference in our 2016 elections, on August 1 participated in a hearing on foreign influence in our election process through social media.

The U.S. Department of Energy has announced 22 new Energy Frontier Research Centers, including one that will be led by Idaho National Laboratory. This is the second time INL has won the opportunity to lead an EFRC.

The Idaho Department of Insurance has posted on its website, proposed health insurance premium rates and the requested increases for plans sold starting January 2019.

The state superintendent’s race kicked off Thursday as Republican incumbent Sherri Ybarra and Democratic challenger Cindy Wilson squared off in front of hundreds of educators in Boise.

Attorney General Lawrence Wasden has released the latest annual report from his office’s Consumer Protection Division. The summary represents a detailed look at the division’s work between July 1, 2017, and June 30, 2018.

Close the Gap Idaho, a health care network of over 300 organizations and individuals statewide, has released a health care questionnaire for candidates for elected office in Idaho. The questionnaire covers a multitude of subjects, ranging from Medicaid, the benefits of health care coverage and gaps in Idaho’s behavioral health care system. The questionnaire is being distributed to the media, organizations hosting candidate forums and the public.

IMAGE Giant propellers stand above a farm field west of Burley, generating increasingly substantial amounts of electric power in the region. (photo/Randy Stapilus)
 

Summer legislating

stapiluslogo1

You may think of state lawmaking - the work most visibly done by legislators in their formal sessions, which in Idaho mostly run in January through March - as a winter time activity.

But that’s not all, by a long shot. Lawmaking is going on now, even without factoring in initiatives like the Medicaid expansion measure just approved for the ballot.

There is also state administrative rulemaking, which goes on around the year, mostly when legislators aren’t in session. Summer is a relatively busy time.

State Representative Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, mentioned this in a recent constituent email. She wrote, “Remember that administrative rules are developed by bureaucrats and lobbyists on a monthly basis throughout the year and are required by law to take into consideration all public input and comments received. Citizens can even request public hearings in their communities to get additional information.”

She went on to sound a bit alarmist about some of it, noting that the state rules often incorporate language from federal or other sources outside Idaho. (That’s done so that Idaho can coordinate and cooperate with other states in commerce and other ways.) But she’s correct that rulemaking is substantial in scale, and in urging citizens to get more involved. Most are neither aware nor active enough about it.

Generally, state law (which legislators mostly work on) is intended to state a policy and general guidelines, but administrative rules fill in the gaps, provide the details the legislators didn’t address. Often new state laws specifically instruct state agencies to develop rules to carry out the law. The agency rules can become extremely detailed; the state administrative code, covering rules for most agencies, is many thousands of pages long.

Fortunately, it is available online (at adminrules.idaho.gov), and updates appear in a regular place, the Idaho Administrative Bulletin, which is published toward the beginning of each month. The updates can be significant all by themselves; July’s is more than 200 pages long, which is not unusual for this time of year. (It goes relatively quiet while the legislature is meeting.)

Scott listed in her email some of the items covered in the most recent one, from the rules covering accountants, electrical inspections, pharmacist licensing, school math test requirements, examinations for professional engineers, small employer health reinsurance programs, sales tax provisions covering out of state sellers, sales tax refunds, permit fee prices at the Department of Parks and Recreation . . .

. . . temporary vehicle permits, government license plates, changing the funding rules for career technical schools, water quality standards in certain areas, property tax exemptions during construction, exemptions involving research and development at the Idaho National Laboratory, library grant requirements, commercial filming in state parks . . .

And a good deal more.

All of this is wide open to public comment and participation. Few people from the public actually do get involved. Scott is correct in noting that state agencies and interest groups (often represented by lobbyists) are most active and tend to determine how the rules are written. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

This may seem like dry stuff. But look through the rules and bulletin sometime. You may find some that affect you, and then it’ll seem dry no longer.
 

Idaho Weekly Briefing – July 23

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for July 9. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

Wildfires have started to gain traction in the summer heat, as smoke from central Washington began to drift over parts of northern Idaho. Elsewhere, reports on Medicaid and schools may have potential to affect debates on those subjects; this was the week the Medicaid expansion proposal formally qualified (at the secretary of state’s office) for the November ballot.

During a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on minerals in the United States that are critical to our economy and national security, Senator Jim Risch spoke about Idaho’s significant contributions to mining and the faults in our current permitting process that need reform. President and CEO of Midas Gold Idaho, Laurel Sayer, was a witness at the hearing and answered questions from the Senate panel on her experience with the Stibnite Gold Project in Valley County.

The office of Secretary of State Lawrence Denney on July 17 officially certified the petition signatures submitted by Idahoans for Healthcare to qualify Medicaid expansion as a ballot measure this November. If passed, expanding Medicaid will provide healthcare for the 62,000 Idahoans who fall into the state’s healthcare coverage gap.

Idaho’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate remained at 2.9 percent in June, continuing at or below 3 percent for the 10th consecutive month. The state’s labor force – the total number of people 16 years of age and older working or looking for work – continued to increase, gaining 971 people from May to June for a total of 851,599.

A federal grand jury indicted thirteen members and associates of the Aryan Knights and Severely Violent Criminals gangs for crimes including drug distribution, conspiracy, and unlawful possession of firearms, U.S. Attorney Bart M. Davis announced. The charges stem from an investigation by the Treasure Valley Metro Violent Crimes Task Force.

The Idaho Department of Lands will be offering most of its remaining residential lake lots for auction in the next six years, along with some new unleased lots on Cougar Island and Pilgrim Cove at Payette Lake.

A technical hearing regarding the proposed merger of Avista and Hydro One has been postponed.

The U.S. Senate has passed a bill introduced by Senators Jim Risch and Gary Peters (D-MI) to help small businesses protect their intellectual property by improving education on obtaining and protecting patents.

IMAGE A string of fires erupted in south-central Idaho last week, much of it on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Here BLM workers are shutting down of the after effects of one of the burns in the Magic Valley. (photo/Bureau of Land Management)
 

Where the numbers went

stapiluslogo1

Not so many weeks ago, more than a few Idaho Democrats and democratic sympathizers, observing the developing contested primary for governor within their party, were heard to wonder: How many Democrats will be left to vote in it?

The logic went like this: The race for governor likely would be settled in the Republican primary, and among Democrats there was a clear preference among the major GOP candidates: Lieutenant Governor Brad Little was considered much the most acceptable, and Representative Raul Labrador the worst option. (The third major candidate, Tommy Ahlquist, got less visceral reactions.) So quite a few Idaho Democrats, at least anecdotally, said they would cross over and vote for Little. Presumably that would leave, among other things, a smaller Democratic contingent to decide their own party’s race between second-time candidate A.J. Balukoff and former legislator Paulette Jordan.

Not a few Republicans also thought the scenario might play out that way.

So how did it work out?

The shift of Democratic voters across the aisle to the Republican side is hard to measure. We can’t know for sure how many there were. The number of voters (that is, ballots cast) in the Republican contest for governor was up compared to 2014 by about 25 percent; if you factor in population growth and the greater interest in a race with three major candidates, that’s not a tremendous difference. Were there enough Democratic crossovers to give Little his 9,000-or-so vote win over Labrador? Best guess is that those voters didn’t account for all of it, maybe only half or less. The presence of Ahlquist in the race may have been a larger factor.

Bear in mind that Little received 72,518 votes, which is less than his close ally and current Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter received in 2014 (79,779 votes). His vote could be accounted for if just most of the Otter voters stuck with him (as they most logically would have), allowing for some falloff.

One reason for thinking so is in looking at the vote in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. Only about a third as many people voted on the Democratic side as on the Republican, but four years ago the difference was six to one, not three to one. Turnout in the Democratic primary increased by about 150 percent, a massive increase especially when bearing in mind the much higher-visibility Republican campaign.

Across the board, Democratic primary votes increased far more from 2014 than did the Republican (though theirs grew too). Scan down through the other major office races and though the state legislative primaries, and the same holds true. Of course, most people once stuck with one or the other party’s ballot will continue to vote for a number of offices

But the Democratic ballot increase really is remarkable. The number of votes cast in the Democratic primary for governor is the largest ever cast in that party for that office. What was about 25,000 Democratic primary voters (for governor) in 2014 grew by about 40,000 this year.

Was it a coincidence that the recently-completed petitions for the Medicaid initiative activated similar numbers of voters? Might that have helped generate some of the participation?

On Tuesday, voters in Georgia held their primary election, and Democrats there chose (in a hot contest) a nominee for governor who among other things has based the strategy of her campaign not on the goal of reaching out to Republican and centrist voters, but of activating what she maintains is a large corps of non-voters who (she figures) would vote mostly Democratic if they participate.

How many of them actually are out there, or whether they can with certainty be brought into the voting base, no one yet knows for sure.

But the numbers in the week-old Idaho primary election suggest that significant numbers of them actually are out there. Maybe not enough to win general elections. But significant nonetheless.
 

Idaho Briefing – January 1

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for January 1. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

The U.S. Air Force has selected the Idaho Air National Guard’s Gowen Field in Boise as one of three “reasonable alternative” sites for the future basing of F-35A Lightning II fighter aircraft. Truax Field in Wisconsin and Dannelly Field in Alabama were selected as preferred alternatives. Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, Boise Mayor David Bieter and Brigadier General Michael J. Garshak – Idaho’s adjutant general – said they were pleased that Gowen Field would remain under consideration to receive an F-35 mission. However, Gowen Field is not among the top two contenders.

All four of Idaho’s members of Congress voted in favor of the Republican-backed tax overhaul legislation, signed into law shortly before the end of the year by President Trump.

Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter announced the appointment today of Idaho Falls City Council member Barbara Ehardt to complete Janet Trujillo’s unexpired term in the Idaho House of Representatives.

Idaho's standard unemployment insurance tax rate for 2018 - will drop 1.5 percent to 1.374 percent for 2018.

The Boise City Council on December 19 approved a number of changes to the city’s downtown parking regulations in an effort to increase availability of on-street parking for short-term visits and to encourage use of garages and perimeter parking for longer stays.

It must be ice fishing season, because Lake Cascade is again kicking out record fish. Meridian angler Dave Gassel recently landed a 9.04-pound largescale sucker to take home the title.

PHOTO A hunter hunting water fowl in the southwest region. (Image: Roger Phillips, Idaho Fish & Game)
 

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?