Brandon Hixon Arrested

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By Seth Ogilvie and Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

Former state Rep. Brandon Hixon has been charged with driving under the influence and obstructing or resisting officers. Both charges are misdemeanors.

Hixon was arrested Saturday night around 7 pm by Meridian police and was booked into Ada County Jail Saturday at 9:10 pm. He has since bonded out, according to the Ada County Sheriff’s Office website.

 According to a press release from the Meridian Police Department, a witness said Hixon was swerving and almost drove off the roadway.

Meridian Police attempted to pull Hixon over, but according to the press release, Hixon “refused to stop and continued driving before yielding.” 

 Once pulled over, Hixon refused to exit the vehicle. After he eventually was taken into custody Hixon was given a standard sobriety test. The test showed a blood-alcohol level nearly twice the legal limit. 

 Hixon is currently under investigation for alleged sexual abuse.  These charges are independent of that inquiry, and no charges have been brought as a result of that investigation.

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They Have Rules for That

Note: This story was updated at 2:50 on Nov. 1 to reflect new information about the October commission meeting. 

 

By Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Reports 

 

In August, one of the most influential lobbyists in Idaho and the mayor’s pick for Boise City Council walked into the Salmon River Room for an airport commission meeting at the Boise airport. At the meeting, they discussed Frank Walker’s run for city council.

They did not break the law, and they did not violate any election rules. That is primarily because of geography. If either Russell Westerberg, the current airport commission chairman, or city council candidate Walker, who is also a Boise airport council member, worked 55 miles west in Oregon, they would have violated state election rules. If they worked for the federal government, they would have broken the Hatch Act. However, they work for the city of Boise, and the city and the state of Idaho have few regulations on what is acceptable electioneering in this state.

The official minutes from the meeting read like this: “Mr. Walker announce(d) he would be running for City Council. Mr. Westerberg backed Mr. Walker for council.”

In an October e-mail to Idaho Reports, Walker said he didn’t ask for the endorsement. “I did state that I was a candidate for office at the meeting. It was informational, and I was not seeking anything more,” he said.

The Oregon law instructs public employees to “not engage in political advocacy themselves while on the job or acting in their official capacity.” Similarly, the federal Hatch Act states “an employee may not engage in political activity—while the employee is on duty; in any room or building occupied in the discharge of official duties by an individual employed or holding office in the Government of the United States or any agency or instrumentality thereof.”

Neither Idaho nor Boise city code address the issue.

The event didn’t end with Walker’s proclamation. Commissioner Westerberg announced his support for Walker and then handed him a campaign check in the public meeting. “I had no idea that Russ Westerberg was going to announce his support, give me a check or ask others to do the same,” Walker said. “It took me by surprise and I was not comfortable with the matter.”

Westerberg saw it differently, telling Idaho Reports there was “nothing untoward whatsoever.”

“Walker announced he was running for city council, which was totally appropriate,” Westerberg said. “I used the occasion to take a check out of my pocket that I’d already prepared…. I wanted to be the first to support Frank.”

Under Idaho law, Westerberg is correct. The closest I could find to a prohibition on actions like this is the Idaho BRIBERY AND CORRUPTION code:

“No public servant shall:

(a) Without the specific authorization of the governmental entity for which he serves, use public funds or property to obtain a pecuniary benefit for himself.

(b)  Solicit, accept or receive a pecuniary benefit as payment for services, advice, assistance or conduct customarily exercised in the course of his official duties.”

The code doesn’t deal directly with donations and endorsements within a public meeting while representing the city in an official capacity, nor does any other piece of the city or Idaho code.

“This is a good reminder of why work of the legislative working group on campaign finance and ethics reform is so important,” said Ada County Chief Deputy Clerk Phil McGrane. “Situations arise where people engage in activities that the legislature and our laws haven’t anticipated.”

The Campaign Finance Reform Legislative Work Group has worked over the summer to modify the current campaign finance laws. The group, however, has focused on campaign contributions and disclosures, not electioneering.

The rules on electioneering for public employees and officials in Idaho are murky, or nonexistent. No piece of Idaho code prevents what happened at the airport commission meeting. No section of Idaho code expressly forbids council members, commissioners or even lawmakers from receiving contributions in committee meetings, or on the floor of the Idaho House or Senate. The line where campaigning stops and the public work begins is not clearly defined by law.

Lauren McLean, Boise City Council President Pro Tem, was also at the meeting. “I immediately contacted the commission’s attorney and asked that a briefing on electioneering be presented at the next meeting,” McLean said in an interview with Idaho Reports.

In the October commission meeting, the issue of ethics did come up. The minutes haven’t yet been posted, but Sean Briggs, the marketing manager for the Boise Airport, says commissioners received a presentation about the roles and responsibilities of the commission. “This included a slide at the end that talked about ethics, focused on conflict of interest,” Briggs said.

In an e-mail to Idaho Reports, Walker said “an attorney from the City spoke to me about the matter, and I assured her that I understood the impropriety of such a display and that it was certainly not my intent to have that happen.”

That leaves Boise voters with “impropriety,” as Walker put it, but nothing illegal.

As for the state, a more substantial issue is at hand: Should Idaho have rules about electioneering for public employees and elected officials? McGrane thinks so. “Clearer guidance on what is and isn’t appropriate would benefit everyone,” he said.

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Veyo ends its contract with state of Idaho

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare has announced Veyo is terminating its contract with the state of Idaho to provide non-emergency medical transportation services for Medicaid patients.

Idaho Reports broke the story of issues with Veyo in January. Complaints included unattended children with special needs, an alleged sexual assault, inadequate safety measures, and more. Read that story here. 

In January, the Department of Health and Welfare said it was working with Veyo to address those issues. Monday’s press release did not give a reason why the contract was ended early.

The state of Idaho provides transportation to medical appointments and therapy for qualifying Medicaid patients. In 2016, Veyo won the $71 million contract to act as a broker for those rides, beating out long-term provider AMR. AMR had also received complaints over its services.

Veyo provided an average of 100,000 rides per month throughout the state.

Calls to IDHW have not yet been returned.

Read the press release below:

 

 

 

Veyo contract for Non-Emergency Medical Transportation services to end on March 5

 

Veyo, LLC, has provided notice to the Idaho Division of Purchasing exercising its early termination rights under the contract for Medicaid Non-Emergency Transportation Services (NEMT) managed by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

 

Both the Division of Purchasing and the Department of Health and Welfare are working to transition these services to a new provider without disruption to Medicaid participants. The expected date of transition is March 5, 2018.

 

“We will continue to work with Veyo to ensure that Medicaid participants receive safe and reliable transportation services that meet their health needs. We are confident we will have a new NEMT broker in place by the time this contract ends.” said Matt Wimmer, administrator for the Division of Medicaid. “We will ask our new NEMT broker to work closely with the Idaho NEMT provider network in a collaborative and open manner as we work through this transition.”

 

Approximately 100,000 NEMT trips are needed each month for Medicaid participants who need transportation to access their Medicaid covered services.

 

 

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What we did over summer vacation

By Melissa Davlin

We’ve been pretty quiet over here on the Idaho Reports blog this summer, but don’t think we’re idle. With the exception of some analysis and our Sept. 1 Cecil Andrus special, we’ve kept busy with other projects.

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Aaron Kunz on a shoot for “Wild Horses,” an upcoming Outdoor Idaho show. Photo courtesy Aaron Kunz. 

As some of you may know, Aaron Kunz isn’t just co-host of Idaho Reports — he’s the production manager for all of Idaho Public Television, and also shoots footage for various IdahoPTV productions. He’s spent most of his summer laying the groundwork for “Idaho Experience,” a new history series debuting in 2018. We’re excited to share more about this project when it’s ready to be released into the wild. In the meantime, Kunz is taking a hiatus from Idaho Reports to focus on the new show with director Bill Krumm.

Producer Seth Ogilvie is working on upcoming Outdoor Idaho specials, including the tentatively named “Hops and Barley,” featuring Idaho’s beer scene and related support industries. The production has taken him across the state, touring breweries and sitting in combines during the barley harvest. He’s also working on ongoing investigations for Idaho Reports. In addition, Ogilvie and director Troy Shreve are hammering out a new look for Idaho Reports, which we hope to unveil when the new season starts in December.

Shreve has also worked on Outdoor Idaho productions, including “Hops and Barley” and “Into The Pioneers.” In July, Shreve joined the OI crew on a four-day backpacking trip to the base of Standhope Peak. He also shot footage of a 100 mile mountain bike race for the Pioneers show.

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Seth Ogilvie shooting a sunset for his upcoming Outdoor Idaho show on Idaho’s beer industry. Photo by Melissa Davlin

In August, I produced a segment for “Into The Pioneers,” an upcoming Outdoor Idaho show scheduled to air in early December. I climbed Old Hyndman in the Pioneer range — the hardest peak I’ve ever summited — with Bill Manny of the Idaho Statesman, Manny’s daughter Helen, and House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding. (This way, I can claim it’s sort of related to political journalism.) I’ve also started production for an episode of “Idaho Experience,” focusing on how Chinese immigrants have quietly shaped Idaho since the 1860s. I’ve spent the last several weeks reading newspaper articles from the 1870s and 80s and tracking down stories of this little-discussed community that helped build Idaho’s infrastructure.

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Melissa Davlin and Mat Erpelding climbing Old Hyndman for an Outdoor Idaho shoot on August 16. Photo by Bill Manny

In June, Ogilvie and I attended the Investigative Reporters and Editors conference in Phoenix, Arizona, to hone our reporting and storytelling skills. We spent five days getting great story ideas, learning database and PDF skills that will assist our investigations, and discussing underreported issues in the western United States.

We haven’t entirely abandoned politics. Idaho Reports will return Dec. 1, running half-hour shows every Friday until the start of the 2018 legislative session in January. We’ll switch to hour-long shows during the session. We’re also gearing up for the Idaho Debates.

So stick around. You know us — We can never stay away from politics for too long.

 

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Troy Shreve shoots footage for “Hops and Barley,” an Outdoor Idaho episode airing in 2018. Photo by Seth Ogilvie

 

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Idaho Reports web extra: “Butch, we don’t have room.”

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By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

 

Like nearly everyone in Idaho, we’ve heard amazing stories — some poignant, many hilarious — about Gov. Cecil D. Andrus, who passed away Aug. 24.

We put together a half-hour special to remember the former Interior Secretary and Idaho’s longest serving governor, but thirty minutes isn’t enough to cover any man’s life, much less one as storied as Andrus’. We had to leave some of the funniest stories on the cutting room floor.

Here’s my favorite. During the 1986 campaign, Butch Otter, who was running for lieutenant governor at the time, called his parents in Weiser to ask if he could stay with them the night before a campaign event. He got a surprising answer, as you’ll see in the video below.

We’ll post more of these stories over the next week. For our full special, watch “Idaho Reports: Remembering Cecil Andrus” at 8 pm September 1st on Idaho Public Television, or watch at idahoptv.org/idreports after it airs.

 

 

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Takeaways from Nate v Denney ruling: A nerdy exploration of legislative implications

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Lawmakers challenging Gov. Otter’s grocery tax repeal veto pose for a photo in front of the Idaho Supreme Court on June 15. Photo by Melissa Davlin/Idaho Reports

By Melissa Davlin and Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Reports

The Idaho Legislature has been violating the Constitution for 50 years, and as a result, will have to stay after school until it turns its homework in.

Oh, and you’ll still have to pay that 6 percent sales tax on your groceries.

All that and more, according to a 4-1 opinion released by the Idaho Supreme Court on Tuesday afternoon.

As Idaho Reports producer Seth Ogilvie wrote last week, the implications of the lawsuit were bigger than whether Idahoans would continue paying a 6 percent tax for their groceries. You can read his legal primer here. 

And the implications of this ruling are bigger than your grocery bill, too. Here are our takeaways:

1. The House and Senate must present all legislation to the governor before adjourning sine die for the session. This breaks with the tradition of the legislature, which (as we saw in this court challenge) regularly delivered bills to the governor up to a few days after adjournment.

“In summary, Article IV, section 10, of the Constitution clearly and necessarily prohibits the legislature from presenting bills to the governor after the legislature has adjourned sine die,” the opinion says. “It requires that bills must be presented to the governor while the legislature is still in session. That is the only logical interpretation of the section.”

There’s another note: If the court had applied this ruling retroactively, it could have taken out every single other piece of legislation delivered after sine die, either this year or from previous years — this year’s transportation bill, for example.

“A bill cannot become law unless it is presented to the governor (according to) Idaho Const. art. IV, § 10, and, as explained above, that presentment must occur while the legislature is in session,” the opinion reads. “If we declared the Governor’s veto untimely, we would also have to declare the law he vetoed void because it had not been presented to him before the legislature adjourned sine die. Both the presentment by the legislature and the veto by the Governor violated the Constitution.”

2. Individual lawmakers have standing to challenge vetoes, as opposed to the legislative bodies as a whole. This, again, breaks from tradition. Previously, the US Supreme Court held that the US House of Representatives, as a body, had standing to sue the Obama administration over the Affordable Care Act. The precedent this sets could be interesting.

3. The Idaho Legislature has been violating the Idaho Constitution for 50 years. “It appears that the first time in our State’s history that bills were presented to the governor after adjournment sine die was in 1967, when the house presented bills to Governor Samuelson nine days after adjournment sine die… Since then, the legislature has routinely presented bills to governors after adjournment, with no apparent objection by those governors,” the opinion says. “Of course, their failure to object cannot change the requirements of the Constitution.”

If anything, this opinion scolds the Idaho Legislature far more than it does the governor.

4. It wasn’t a unanimous decision. Justice Warren Jones dissented, saying the ruling amounts to a change of the Idaho Constitution — not an interpretation, as the majority maintains.

That doesn’t mean he’s a fan of Cenarrusa. “Which “interpretation” is correct?” he writes in his dissent. “Neither; I am bothered by both results because both demonstrate a disregard for the integrity of the Constitution. Again, the bottom line is that both “interpretations” amount to unauthorized amendments to the Constitution.”

5. The one thing the court didn’t bring up: Whether this challenge creates a shortcut to the bench by bypassing lower courts, where lawsuits normally start.

“The hazard here is if the court immediately takes up the constitutionality, the court has created a shortcut to its bench,” argued Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane in his June 15 oral arguments in front of the Supreme Court.

Keep an eye on whether this, like the standing decision, sets a precedent moving forward.

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