2015 Session Preview: Shifting misdemeanors to infractions

In the 2014 session, public defense reform united the Idaho Freedom Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho, and in the wake of this year’s Public Defense Reform Interim Committee, you should expect to hear more about it in the upcoming session.

 

The suggestions for changing Idaho’s public defense system — which the IFF and ACLU say violates the Sixth Amendment for its supposed inadequate representation for indigent defendants — are wide-ranging and aren’t all centered on adding more money into the system or hiring more public defenders. One idea from stakeholders focuses on reducing caseloads for public defenders by changing some misdemeanors to infractions. (Offenders charged with misdemeanors are entitled to a public defender if they can’t afford their own attorney; infractions often require nothing more than paying a fine.)

 

Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, has put together six pieces of draft legislation that do just that. The sections of code deal with Fish and Game, driver’s licenses, alcohol and tobacco, littering, and curfew violations.

Luker also suggests repealing two sections of code altogether. Those two sections deal with tampering with vehicles and failing to provide assistance to police officers.

 

The interim committee praised Luker for his efforts, but we’ll have to wait and see how the Legislature as a whole reacts. (Debates concerning alcohol are often touchy, in my experience.) And not all of the stakeholders are on the same page. One public defender Idaho Reports spoke to in October didn’t like the idea of changing some misdemeanors to infractions, saying accused people should have the right to be represented in court if they choose.

 

Regardless, Luker’s proposed legislation lines up with sentencing reform efforts that have been building momentum across the country, both on a national level and within state legislatures. Earlier this fall, Congressman Raul Labrador co-sponsored a bipartisan effort to give courts more discretion in sentencing for nonviolent drug cases.

 

For more, make sure to watch Idaho Reports. We’ll have much more on this when our season starts in January. And check out this brief from the Associated Press for more from Monday’s Public Defense Reform Interim Committee meeting.

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The latest in leadership races…

Rep. Rick Youngblood, R-Nampa, confirmed to Idaho Reports that he is going to run for House Assistant Majority Leader.

 

Current Assistant Majority Leader Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, announced this summer that he was considering running for House Speaker, as he was unhappy with how Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, conducted business. After that announcement, Youngblood said he was contacted by someone who encouraged him to run for Assistant Majority Leader, the position Crane currently holds.

 

Crane has since changed his mind, as he told Idaho Reports in October, and intends to run for Assistant Majority Leader again, but Youngblood is still running for the spot as well.
As of right now, that’s the only challenge in majority leadership in the House. We’ll update you with how other races are shaking out.

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Now comes the fun part

With the ballots counted, we’re now looking ahead to the December organization session, where caucuses choose leadership and lawmakers receive their committee assignments for the next two years.

However it shakes out, it has as much affect on policy as the elections. Between retirements and incumbents losing in the primary and general, there are four chairman positions up for grabs in the House and two chairman positions in the Senate.

Each chamber also has committees with huge shake-ups: House Appropriations is losing four of its ten members (including vice chair Darrell Bolz), and House Resources and Conservation is losing six of its 18 members, including chairman Lawerence Denney.

On the Senate side, the Education Committee is down three of its nine members, including chairman John Goedde.

Remember, according to legislative custom, a lawmaker can be on either JFAC, be a chairman, or be in leadership, but can’t be more than one of those things. So depending on who gets moved where, other chairman or JFAC positions could open up.

Considering the new superintendent position and the pending proposals on tiered licensure, whoever ends up in JFAC and Senate Ed has a busy session ahead of them.

We’ll have more on Friday’s Idaho Reports. Tune in, 7 pm on Idaho Public Television.

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Knee-jerk takeaways

1. This could — and maybe should — change the way Democrats and Republicans approach statewide races. Democrats spent $3 million (much of it from Balukoff himself) in the governor race alone. He still didn’t break 40 percent of the vote statewide.

It’s a different race, but let’s look at the other extreme. Ybarra raised about $35,000, but focused on community forums and debates. Though Jana Jones had experience working with education on the state level, Ybarra still won with about 5,000 votes. Did voters like her, or was it the R by her name?

This isn’t a Why-Should-Democrats-Bother post. But it’s been said before: Idaho liberals need to do some serious soul searching about their approach to campaigning on a statewide level. (And Republicans might start spending less on statewide seats after the primaries. Is all that money really needed?)

That said, Democrats had a net gain of one seat in the legislature, and came very close in other races. In the next several years, we might see a much bigger focus (and bigger investment) on those seats.

2. One factor in Ybarra’s win might be the people who were so fed up or unimpressed, they voted for neither candidate. Look at the vote totals. Ten thousand more votes were cast in the US Senate race. I chatted up Republican and independent politicos over the last two weeks. Many voted for Jana Jones or left the race blank altogether.

3. Should Idaho media change the way we cover these races? That’s something to explore when we’ve all had some sleep.

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What we’re watching tonight

You’ll see plenty of analysis and up-to-the-minute results about the statewide races tonight, but don’t forget about the legislature.

As we’re gearing up for our upcoming season, Idaho Reports has traveled the state over the last month and a half,and we’ve compiled a list of interesting races. That doesn’t mean other challengers don’t have a chance or other races won’t be close, but these are the ones that especially caught out attention based on our conversations with voters and politicos, news coverage, and analysis of past election results.
Remember, we’ll have post-election analysis, especially on the legislative races, during a special Idaho Reports, 7 p.m. Nov. 7.  Here are the races we’re keeping a close eye on:

District 5:

Agidius vs. Jordan

Nilsson Troy vs. Osborn

District 6:

Stevenson vs. Rudolph

Rusche vs. Kingsley

District 10:

Hixon vs. Manning

Chaney vs. Skyving

District 15:

Luker vs. Berch

District 18:

Dindinger vs. Ward-Engelking

Gelsomino vs. King

District 26:

Fosbury vs. Miller

District 29:

Lacey vs. Howard

Bloxham vs. Nye

Smith vs. Tovey

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Getting some clarification on a Stallings statement on undocumented workers

Sometimes, the things you hear in debates need a bit more context.

During both the City Club of Idaho Falls debate and the KTVB debate between Rep. Mike Simpson and former Rep. Richard Stallings, Stallings mentioned a personal tie to undocumented workers.

“I’ve got a young man working for me from Burley whose folks came when he was six months old,” Stallings said in the Oct. 15 KTVB debate. “They’ve looked over their shoulder every day. They did not get a head start in the system. They paid tax in Burley. Now this young man can’t go to school because he has to pay out of state tuition… because he’s undocumented.”

I put in a call to Stallings campaign manager Seth Lounsbury to get clarification on the remark, as it’s against federal law to knowingly employ undocumented workers.

It turns out that isn’t the whole story. The intern, whom Lounsbury declined to name, is currently a student at Idaho State University.

“He’s a DREAMer,” Lounsbury said, referring to the proposed DREAM act aimed at undocumented young people whose parents brought them to the United States when they were children.

According to Lounsbury, the intern applied for, and received, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — a product of the Obama administration that allows undocumented young people defer removal proceedings while they study, work or serve in the military. The student also has the proper documentation to allow him to intern for the campaign, Lounsbury added. After he completes his studies at ISU, he hopes to study to become an immigration lawyer.

DACA does not provide a path to citizenship. It does provide a card for legal residency. “Up until these last few years, he’s spent his entire life undocumented up until that point,” Lounsbury said.

Stallings hasn’t employed undocumented workers on his campaign, Lounsbury said.

The background helps explain Stallings’ passion for the issue. Stallings and Simpson sparred on immigration issues, including the proposed DREAM act, during both debates.

Voters have one more chance to hear from Simpson and Stallings during the Idaho Public Television debate at 7 pm Sunday. We hope you tune in.

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Steelheads for Balukoff?

It takes a lot for a political ad to catch the eye of this cynical journalist, but this one featuring AJ Balukoff playing goalie in a Steelheads jersey is a bit unusual. (Impressive skills, by the way!)

So is this an endorsement from the Idaho Steelheads? Not quite; Balukoff is part owner of the Steelheads.

“(Endorsements) never came up in conversation,” said Mike Lanza of the Balukoff campaign, adding Balukoff didn’t ask individual management or athletes for support. “I would say, though, that it’s a safe assumption that the Steelheads are big fans of AJ Balukoff… He’s a big fan of the Steelheads and I believe that the feeling is shared.”

Nationwide, athletes offer up political endorsements, especially in high-profile races. (In 2012, Michael Jordan and LeBron James supported Barack Obama, while Alex Rodriguez endorsed Mitt Romney.)

Here’s the real question: Now that the Steelheads are featured so prominently in a Balukoff ad, will Gov. Butch Otter be invited back to drop the puck?

3-21,Steelheads

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