Council on Indian Affairs: Dental legislation, government shutdowns, and grim history lessons

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

In the early morning hours of Jan. 29, 1863, US soldiers massacred more than 400 Shoshone men, women and children in what is now southeast Idaho.

If you didn’t know that piece of Idaho history, you’re not alone, Chairman Darren Parry of the Northwest Band of the Shoshone Nation told the Idaho Council on Indian Affairs on Thursday. The Bear River Massacre is often glossed over in US history.

But Parry hopes to change that with the Boa Ogoi Cultural and Interpretive Center, for which he’s currently fundraising. His goal: $5 million. He currently has $2 million of that, plus another potential $1 million from the Utah Legislature. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has also donated $1 million, he said.

Parry isn’t asking for money from the Idaho Legislature, he said, but he did want to share the story of his people with the committee, which is made up of representatives from Idaho’s five tribal nations and representatives from the Idaho Legislature.

Though the Northwest Band of the Shoshone Nation is recognized as a Utah tribe, the people were historically indigenous to what is now southern Idaho and northern Utah.

“When the Mormons discovered Cache Valley in 1855, that was pretty much the death knell for our tribe,” Parry said. After years of simmering tensions and fights between the tribe and Mormon settlers, soldiers from Fort Douglas attacked the village near Bear River.

The Boa Ogoi Cultural and Interpretive Center will be located in Idaho, Parry said, where the tribe purchased 700 acres near Preston last year.

Parry said the interpretive center will be “much more than a visitor center, but a place of learning.”

Also at the meeting, Gov. Brad Little made an unannounced appearance, spending most of his time in front of the committee answering questions from tribal chairmen on the state’s position on Indian Child Welfare Act, natural resources, transportation and education.

littlecia

Gov. Brad Little addresses the Idaho Council on Indian Affairs on Thursday. Melissa Davlin/Idaho Reports

While Little offered few specifics, he said he hoped to continue working with tribal leaders on these issues, pointing out common concerns regarding clean water, foster care, schools and road safety.  

Nez Perce Chairman Shannon Wheeler took the opportunity to remind Little of the Nez Perce Treaty of 1855, which guaranteed the tribe access to renewable resources. “We (want to) protect those things and a way of life that we’ve had for thousands of years, and we would like definitely the state perspective on that,” Wheeler said.

The committee heard a presentation on proposed legislation on dental health aide therapists, which would allow a new category of dental practitioners to practice on reservations. The idea, said Tyrel Stevenson, legislative director for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, is to provide culturally respectful care in underserved communities on reservations.

“The whole idea is to provide better care,” Stevenson said. “Not lesser care. Better care.”

A few members of the committee also brought up the federal government shutdown, which has furloughed employees of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. After the meeting, Fort Hall Business Council Vice-Chairman Ladd Edmo of the Shoshone Bannock Tribe told Idaho Reports that the shutdown is affecting not just BIA employees, but basic transactions like land purchases, for which tribal members rely on the BIA.

Wheeler also addressed the federal government shutdown. “We’re having some tough times with the shutdown,” he told the committee. “We’re looking forward to the government getting going and start working at the behest of all of us.”

 

Watch Idaho Reports in coming weeks for more information on the dental health aide therapy proposal.

Standard

New filing in Medicaid lawsuit doubles down on constitutionality question

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

There is a new filing from Bryan Smith in the lawsuit on the constitutionality of Proposition 2. Read the reply brief to the state’s response here.

Smith, who represents plaintiff Brent Regan, says as written, the new statute that expands Medicaid gives authority to the federal government to change Idaho Code without the legislature’s input.

The gist of the argument: If the federal government changes the parameters of Medicaid, Idaho law could automatically — and, Smith argues, unconstitutionally — change without input from the legislature.

“The issue is not whether states may voluntarily choose to comply or not comply with
changes made by the federal government in Medicaid law,” Smith writes. “The issue is whether Idaho gets to voluntarily choose before or after the federal law already has become Idaho law.”

The Idaho Attorney General’s Office has called Regan’s lawsuit frivolous and without merit, saying it’s based purely on hypotheticals. The Idaho Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Jan. 29th.

In the new filing, Smith doubles down on the argument that Medicaid expansion opens the door to allowing the federal government to change Idaho law, which he says is unconstitutional.

“(The state) does not dispute Petitioner’s claims that the federal government does
possess unilateral power to change federal law that will flow into the provisions of Section 56-267… Specifically, (the state) admits that the hypotheticals ‘may or may not happen’ and ‘may never come to pass.'” Smith writes. “The fact that they can happen and could come to pass establishes the federal government has unilateral power to change federal law that affects Idaho and Section 56-267 in particular.”

There are a handful of potential ways Congress could tweak laws surrounding Medicaid, such as the cost-sharing mechanisms between the federal government and the states, as well as eligibility.

But Medicaid expansion isn’t the only law on Idaho’s books that could be affected by potential federal government changes. Tax, commerce, foster care, and child support issues are just some of the laws on Idaho’s books that interface with federal code.

Smith didn’t return a request for comment on Wednesday, but in his filing, he focused solely on Medicaid expansion, not other areas of Idaho Code.

“Requiring the legislature to revisit Section 56-267 (Medicaid expansion) and adopt changes, if necessary, preserves Idaho lawmaking power,” Smith continues. “Moreover, it requires the legislature to exercise its lawmaking power proactively and deliberately, rather than reactively, and prevents turning our lawmakers into “zombie legislators” whose failure to act results in new Idaho law.”

On Wednesday, Rep. Bryan Zollinger told Idaho Reports said the potential exists for a ruling in Regan’s favor to open up “Pandora’s box” for other laws that require federal conformity.

Still, “it’s an easy fix,” said Zollinger, who practices law with Smith in Idaho Falls. The Legislature would merely have to adopt changes every year.

In the filing, Smith also addresses the timing of the lawsuit, saying Regan couldn’t have sued before the initiative was signed into law because of a previous ruling, Noh v. Cenarrusa, that says the court can’t rule on the constitutionality of propositions until after voters pass them.  Smith also says Regan has standing to sue as a “qualified elector” — which means anyone who is legally qualified to vote.

The Idaho statute on initiatives specifically allows for this, saying “Any qualified elector of the state of Idaho may, at any time after the attorney general has issued a certificate of review, bring an action in the supreme court to determine the constitutionality of any initiative.” 

“Waiting until the voters passed the initiative allowed the lawmaking process to proceed without unconstitutional judicial interference, while at the same time honoring the legislature’s intent to allow (a) qualified elector to challenge the constitutionality of the initiative, but only after its passage,” Smith wrote.

 

 

 

Standard

This week: New leaders, same challenges

irdec14.jpg

Sen. Todd Lakey and Rep. Tom Dayley, chairmen of the judiciary committees in the Senate and House, join Melissa Davlin on the December 14th episode of Idaho Reports. Photo by Troy Shreve.

 

Idaho’s judiciary has faced challenges for years — overburdened public defenders, lawsuits over public defense, overcrowding in prisons and county jails, the opioid crisis, and a recidivism rate that the state is struggling to reduce, to name a few.

In 2019, new leaders will face those challenges. The Idaho Legislature has two new judiciary committee chairmen: Rep. Tom Dayley in the House, and Sen. Todd Lakey in the Senate. Josh Tewalt is replacing Henry Atencio as Idaho Department of Correction director, and, of course, Governor-elect Brad Little takes office in January.

So is this a time to be innovative and assertive with new policies to reduce incarceration trends, or a time to be cautious while these new leaders figure out their roles? This week, I sat down with Lakey and Dayley, as well as Kathy Grismyer of ACLU-Idaho and Cindy Wilson of the IDOC Board of Correction to discuss those challenges.

Tune in to Idaho Reports at 8 pm Friday on Idaho Public Television, or watch online at idahoptv.org/idreports after it airs.

Also, I’ve put together a newsletter with Idaho political and legislative news, with links to reporting from across the state. New issues come out at noon — most days, anyway. Subscribe here: nzzl.us/i92ej36

 

Standard

Much ado about… nothing?

img_2920.jpegBy Devon Downey, Idaho Reports

A group of Ada County election officials and volunteers were ready to scrutinize the nearly 18,000 ballots cast this November, looking for 7 votes that would kick Sen. Martin out of office and replace him with Jim Bratnober.

Six votes stood between a complete flip of District 15 from Republicans to Democrats with Reps. Luker and McDonald already losing their races. With such a small margin, it was clear that a recount would be requested.

The recount process for this race is dictated by Idaho law. A sample of 5% of the votes cast is to be counted by hand, compared to the results from election night, and then counted by machine. If the difference is 1% or more, then a hand recount will be required. If not, machines will recount the votes.

To put this in perspective, 1% of a sample this small could mean that there is a large number of votes changed throughout the district. 5% of the total votes in District 15 would be 895. To trigger a hand recount, 9 votes would need to change. If only 8 votes change, a machine recount would still be used.

Extrapolating that to the entire District means that there could be 160 votes that were miscalculated by the machines, but will still be recounted by machines because that wasn’t enough of an error to require a recount by hand. That total is over 26 times larger than the margin between Martin and Bratnober.

CWI could be even larger. Over 175,000 ballots were cast, meaning that there could be a change of 1,740 votes throughout the county that could change and not be recounted by hand. That is over 12 times what CWI needs for the levy to pass.

Even without a hand recount, the election results could be changed.

The recount process started on December 3rd when Ada County officials and volunteers did a hand recount of roughly 5% of the total vote in the district. 926 ballots were counted from the second precinct in the district, all of which were cast on election day.

The ballots were split between 9 teams of 4 volunteers who would check and record each vote.

Around 9:50, Ada County Chief Deputy Clerk (and Ada County Clerk-elect) Phil McGrane explained that the hand recount matched the results from election night. 

Well, they did after a minor math issue that terrified the vote counters.

McGrane explained that when calculating the votes, some of the columns were misleading, causing everyone to count ten more votes than there really were. This lead to a preliminary count that added an extra 180 votes.

After finding that mistake, everything went smoothly. Officials started using the machines to count the sample. If the machine recount were off by 1% or more, then a hand recount would have been triggered.

But just like the hand recount, the machine recount had the same totals that were found on election night.

These recounts should “make people feel more confident,” McGrane said. The most important thing was to get the count right.

When asked about his preferences for recounts, McGrane expressed reservations about recounting all of the ballots by hand, explaining that human error usually makes problems more likely. Machines don’t have the same errors that humans do and therefore are better equipped to handle recounts.

Volunteers started working on the sample for the CWI levy after they finished the Senate recount. McGrane stated that they are counting 9,615 ballots for that sample from 10 to 12 precincts.

IMG_2921Like District 15’s recount, the numbers will be tallied at the end and compared to the election night results. When that is done, they will do a machine recount. If the results match, there will be a machine recount for all of Ada County’s ballots. A hand recount will be done if those results vary by more than 1%.

While the sample ballots were counted by the machines quickly, it is going to take a few days for the machines to do all of District 15’s ballots. McGrane expects to know more either by Wednesday or Thursday.

The CWI results will take much longer. Over 190,000 ballots were cast in Ada County on election night, which means we may not know the results for a few weeks.

As contentious as some of the elections in Idaho were, the recount for one of the closest races this year was anything but that. A quiet room of volunteers continues to work on counting ballots, but unlike what we have seen in elections across the country, Ada County’s recounts look to be going very well.

Standard

Alarms in the House Speaker race

Crane (1 of 1)By Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Reports

A large repository of marijuana and THC infused products is protected by Crane Alarms Services. The Republican Assistant Majority Leader Rep. Brent Crane is a vice president at Crane Alarms Services. Ron Crane, Idaho’s Treasurer, is the owner.

The Crane family business provides security to Hotbox Farms a marijuana dispensary in Huntington Oregon. The shop carries a wide variety of edibles, concentrates, vapes and cannabis products. The website says it is “proud to be your one-stop shop” for cannabis.

Rep. Crane has repeatedly come out against recreational marijuana in Idaho, pointing to the problems faced by law enforcement in other states, like Oregon, are having in communities with legal marijuana.

“I am unwavering in my opposition to the legalization of recreational marijuana,” Crane told Idaho Reports. Idaho Reports could not find any Crane vote in favor of CBD oil, medicinal marijuana or any other pro-marijuana legislation in his time at the Idaho Statehouse.

Rep. Crane is against selling marijuana in Idaho but “Yes,” Crane said in his email statement, “I can confirm that Crane Alarm does provide security services at Hotbox Farms in Huntington, Ore.” Rep. Crane is also aware of the money his company is receiving from Hotbox Farms. “I am aware of it because I oversee the invoicing for our customers.”

Crane (2 of 1)The Crane Alarm Services website says Rep. Crane and his brother, Jaron Crane, oversee the day-to-day operations of the business but Idaho Treasurer Ron Crane is still very involved.

Crane Alarm services are split between a fire and a security division. Rep. Crane is the Fire Division Manager. Rep. Crane says the decision to provide security services to Hotbox Farms was something he had no control over. The decision was made by his brother, adding that “It was solely (Jaron’s) decision to provide security services to Hotbox Farms.”

Residents in Ontario, Ore. voted to legalize the sale of marijuana just feet over the Idaho border earlier this month.  Rep. Crane said, “I can assure you that the Fire Alarm Division has not and will not be providing fire alarm service to marijuana dispensaries in Ontario,” what the security division may do is unknown.

Knowledge of the Crane Family business’ involvement with marijuana dispensaries in Oregon has been rumored for a while. It wasn’t until recently pictures of the Crane Alarm Services stickers in Hotbox Farm’s windows began to circulate.

IMG_4594“I successfully went through a Republican leadership campaign for assistant majority leader. Not a single comment was raised regarding this issue,” Crane said, of his 2016 leadership election, the year after Oregon legalized marijuana. “But when I announced my campaign for speaker, a mysterious someone surfaces to call into question my character in an attempt to paint me as a hypocrite.”

Idaho Reports reached out to Speaker of the House Scott Bedke, he said he knew of the pictures but had no involvement with distributing the photos nor did he want anything to do with them what so ever.

“These are the same tactics that the Clintons and the Democrats have used for years in an attempt to silence or destroy their political opponents,” Crane said.

 

Whether it is hypocrisy or a Clintonesque smear campaign, marijuana has taken a surprisingly prominent position in the Republican leadership elections. How it all plays out will be deiced at the legislative organizational session on December 6th. Tune into Idaho Reports for the verdict.

 

Standard

Madison County precinct that posted signs sees lowest turnout in county

By Melissa Davlin, Devon Downey, Idaho Reports

In a year that broke midterm election voter turnout records, eastern Idaho’s Madison County saw the lowest turnout in the state, with just 44.5 percent of registered voters showing up. One area of Rexburg in particular had remarkably low turnout: University Precinct, which encompasses the BYU-Idaho campus, had just 13.4 percent turnout — one of the lowest turnouts in the state.

students

Copy of signs posted in Madison County precincts near BYU-Idaho. 

Madison County made the news on election day with signs at precincts near Brigham Young University-Idaho discouraging students from registering to vote in Idaho. The sign prompted a letter from the ACLU-Idaho and cries of voter suppression on social media.

Secretary of State Lawerence Denney told Idaho Reports he was concerned about the signs and asked that they be taken down. Though there can be consequences to out-of-state students registering to vote in Idaho, such as losing in-state tuition for graduate or medical school in their home states, that education should take place well before election day, Denney said.

There is no way to accurately measure who might have seen the signs and decided not to vote, nor what turnout would have been had the signs not been up for half the day.

But is the low turnout among university students that abnormal? Yes and no. In the last midterm general election, in 2014, University precinct had 17.6 percent turnout, while Madison County as a whole had a 42.3 percent turnout. In other words, the precinct had a slightly better showing, while the county had a lower percentage.

Precinct boundaries were redrawn and renamed after 2010, but in that year’s election, precincts near the BYU-Idaho campus also had low turnout, with one precinct seeing just 7 percent of its registered voters show up on election day.

College students are tricky voting demographic to reach, but other university towns across the state had higher turnouts. This year, in Moscow, home of the University of Idaho, no single precinct dipped below 34 percent. Idaho State University’s Pocatello didn’t have a precinct below 36 percent, and in Ada County’s Bronco County, precinct 1710, which includes Boise State University, still had 49 percent turnout.

Madison County Clerk Kim Muir told Idaho Reports on Monday that she wasn’t aware of Madison’s relatively low turnout compared to the rest of the state.

“I really don’t know what the factors were for that,” Muir said. “We don’t have a lot of college students show up except for presidential elections.”

She did note that the signs directed at students have been up in multiple elections, and that the county has split precincts since the 2016 presidential election.

Blaine County had the highest turnout at 76.3 percent. Statewide, the turnout was 66.7 percent.

Standard

An uprising lying in wait

By Seth Ogilvie

There could be an active insurrection against the new way a group of legislators wants to pay schools.

For the last two years, a legislative interim committee has been meeting and trying to figure out the best way to give Idaho schools the money they need to teach kids. Currently, schools get their money based on average daily attendance or the number of kids in the classrooms, and several other line items, like the career ladder. The committee is looking to fundamentally change the way the state spends its money on education, and stakeholders are nervously awaiting the final proposal.

Already, there are signs of dissent.

A slide presented in the November 12th  Boise Board of Trustees meeting reads “Southern Idaho Conference Superintendents are opposed to a formula which creates winners and losers and promotes divisiveness.”

“It is unfortunate that they essentially want to do away with the career ladder,” Dr. Troy Rohn, a Boise School District Trustee, added in an email.

“The Idaho Association of School Administrators, the Idaho School Boards Association, the Idaho Education Association, and the Southern Idaho Conference Superintendents all support keeping the Career Ladder in place,” Boise Schools superintendent Dr. Don Coberly told Idaho Reports Friday.

A letter signed by Executive Director of the Idaho School Boards Association Karen Echeverria , Executive Director of the Idaho Association of School Administrators Rob Winslow, and President of the Idaho Education Association Kari Overall states “We currently have the ability to determine the gap between what the legislature is funding for salaries and benefits and what school districts and charter schools are actually paying. If these dollars are placed into the new formula, we will never be able to capture that data again.”

Changing the way money is allocated in schools has the potential to create huge political problems, because it will affect every legislative and school district differently.

The big problem is math. “They built this model and it has a lot of levers on it,” Winslow told Idaho Reports. If the same amount of money is in the system and that money is dispersed differently, some will benefit and some will suffer. Without adding more money into the system, there is no way of making sure there are no winners and losers without simply retaining the old system or reverse engineering a new system to hit the same goals.

If, after two years of work, the committee were to simply reverse engineer a system to recreate the old numbers, citizens would also be within their rights to wonder why they spent two years working to get a result we already had.

The new system has many variables, and the committee has been constantly tweaking them. “If you raise the base, it kind of lifts everybody,” and you can change the formula without hurting districts, Winslow said, but that would mean more money.

The Boise School District Board of Trustees recently evaluated a recent incarnation from the committee, another version will be released November 26th. These won’t be the final numbers but they are symbolic of the problem; It’s hard not to create winners and losers.

One of the biggest winners, according to the Board of trustees analysis, is Caldwell School District, which would gain $3.4 million. Two of the biggest losers are Boise, which would lose $5 million the equivalent of 100 teachers and Fremont County who will lose, $1.6 million or 32 teachers.

“What the legislators are trying to do now is make a model that is as acceptable as possible to other legislators,” Winslow said. “They came up with a model that will irritate all these legislators because they’ll go back home and realize ‘Wow, you’re messing up my district,’” Winslow said. “That’s a hard sell.” Winslow added it’s a poor idea to give a bunch of legislators a reason to hate it.

A large portion of the money in the recent model would end up in the Treasure Valley: Vallivue would increase $3.1 million, Nampa by $4.3 million, Kuna by $1.3 million, and Mountain Home and Middleton would see just under a million dollar increase.

New funding formula _Page_3

“This will be devastating to some small districts,” Rohn wrote. “Northern Idaho schools will be hit hard along with our district.”

Rohn points to the “wealth factor” as a huge problem that is executed regardless of a districts ability to pass a supplemental levy. “It’s completely unfair and is targeting districts that right now have high property values,” Rohn said.
The formula will affect about half of the state of Idaho’s general fund spending, and stakeholders are understandably anxious. This formula could require more money to keep every district from cuts. Winslow said “If you don’t put enough money in it, it just doesn’t work well.”

But there are competing demands for that money. Idaho voters passed Medicaid expansion this year, and the 2018 legislature passed a large tax cut. The money hasn’t been rolling into Idaho coffers like people expected, Idaho is down $47.3 million from expectations this fiscal year.

This isn’t the type of policy, however, that the Idaho Legislature will easily admit defeat on. Speaker of the House Scott Bedke placed himself on the committee a move that sends a signal he is behind this idea. Students, teachers and all of Idaho will be drastically affected by how the legislature disperses the money, and everyone wants something.
“We were promised something less complicated and transparent based on the committee work that was previously done,” Rohn said. “This version is nothing like that.”

“There shouldn’t be winners and losers,” Winslow said. “You can adjust it and play with it and make yourself a winner and somebody else a loser but that’s not right.”

Standard