Locking down 35

By Devon Downey, Idaho Reports

A proposed constitutional amendment would ensure that the number of legislative districts in Idaho stays at 35.

House Speaker Scott Bedke (R-Oakley) introduced a resolution in the House State Affairs Committee that would amend the Idaho Constitution to remove language that allows for between 30 and 35 districts. Bedke explained that the “proposed change would set the floor and the ceiling at 35 legislative districts.” 

In his testimony, Bedke referenced that the previous two redistricting plans had to be settled in court and intends for this bill to prevent a plan that uses fewer districts. He acknowledged that some of the districts in Idaho are geographically large, and that if they had to add even more population to some districts they would become unwieldy.

The bill was printed on a unanimous voice vote, but Rep. Brooke Green (D-Boise) released a statement through the Idaho Joint Democratic Caucus email expressing concerns with the change after the committee adjourned. “If we are going to change the constitution, we need to tread lightly,” Green said. “This legislation is especially concerning because it ties the hands of future legislators. We should use serious caution when attempting to legislate the future.”

Green’s concern over the legislation is not centered on the bill itself, rather on the necessity of it. “The bill before us will require us to open up our state constitution and this deserves a lot of dialogue.” 

If history is any guide, there will be plenty of dialogue. Legislation last year intending to add an additional member to the redistricting commission was heavily criticized by Democrats. At the hearing last year, the three Democrats on the committee walked out in protest of the speed in which the bill was proposed and debated.

Currently, the Speaker’s bill is only sponsored by the Republican leadership of the House; however, Bedke noted that “the co-sponsor page is wide open.” 

The public hearing for this amendment will be set at a later date, and we will continue to follow the story on Idaho Reports.

 

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Idaho Senator James Risch on Baghdad airstrike

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

Risch-061609-18443- 0004On Friday, Idaho Reports interviewed US Senator James Risch, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on whether he was briefed on the Iraq airstrike that killed General Qasem Soleimani, how he felt about President Donald Trump’s order, and whether he was concerned about what might happen next. Here is the full conversation.

 

 

 

For more, including coverage of today’s AP legislative preview, watch Idaho Reports tonight at 8:30 pm on Idaho Public Television, or stream the show on idahoptv.org.

 

 

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Sen. Risch responds to Baghdad airstrike

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

Idaho Reports reached out to Sen. Jim Risch on Thursday to ask if he had been briefed on the Baghdad airstrike that killed General Qassem Suleimani. Here was his response. We’ll have more on Friday’s Idaho Reports.

“Congratulations to President Trump on his decisive action and the successful outcome. Qassem Suleimani was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans and his death presents an opportunity for Iraq to determine its own future free from Iranian control. As I have previously warned the Iranian government, they should not mistake our reasonable restraint in response to their previous attacks as weakness. The U.S. will always vigorously defend our interests and allies in the face of terrorist conduct and provocations.

“On behalf of every American serviceman and servicewoman who has either been killed or injured due to an Iranian-provided IED or rocket in Iraq over the years, today justice was done. Suleimani was responsible for the weapons program that caused those casualties and injuries with the use of those treacherous and cowardly devices.”

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A few changes at Idaho Reports

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

The new season of Idaho Reports begins on Friday with a 2020 legislative preview. When you tune in, you’ll notice some changes.

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The 2020 Idaho Reports on-air team, clockwise from top: Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News, Gemma Gaudette of Boise State Public Radio, Betsy Russell of the Idaho Press, and Melissa Davlin of Idaho Reports.

First, I’m going to be on maternity leave for most of this season, starting next week (or sooner, if this baby has other plans). Gemma Gaudette, host of Idaho Matters on Boise State Public Radio, will fill in for me on the anchor desk until I come back in mid-March. Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News and Betsy Russell of the Idaho Press will do one-on-one interviews with the policymakers and stakeholders at the statehouse. While I’m gone, the show will be half an hour, but will still feature the interviews and analysis you’ve come to expect from Idaho Reports.

Behind the scenes, associate producer Devon Downey will take over producing the show. University of Idaho student Logan Finney is interning for us for the session.

And for the first couple of Friday night shows, Idaho Reports will air at 8:30 pm before moving back to our regular 8 pm airtime in mid-January. As always, you can catch us online at your convenience at idahoptv.org.

 

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Erpelding resigns to join Boise Metro Chamber

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House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding (Source: Idaho Legislature)

By Devon Downey, Idaho Reports

House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding of Boise has resigned from the legislature to join the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce, one month before the Legislature convenes for the 2020 session. In his resignation letter, Erpelding cited his family’s future and the need to advance his professional career as reasons why he is leaving.

Following Erpelding’s resignation, Rep. Ilana Rubel of Boise will be the interim minority leader.

Erpelding was first elected to the House in 2012 and became minority leader in 2017. In his statement, Erpelding lamented the polarization in Idaho, writing “I encourage my legislative colleagues to increase bipartisan efforts rather than kowtow to the extreme views being advocated on both ends of the spectrum.”

When asked on Wednesday morning what policy areas could see bipartisan legislation, Erpelding cited education, transportation, and Medicaid. “The culture of the legislature is being pulled apart by what I think is dysfunctional parties. Compromise is not incentivized.”

This isn’t to say that Erpelding disliked serving in the Legislature. “I’m going to miss the people and the opportunity to directly impact policy,” Erpelding said. “I’m going to miss it, but I’m excited to advocate my beliefs with the Chamber.”

The resignation of Erpelding follows high profile turnover within the Idaho Democratic Party, which recently lost its political director and abruptly fired their executive director before their hiring was even announced. It also comes one day after Idaho’s highest-profile Democrat, Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, lost the runoff for his reelection in a contentious race that divided Treasure Valley Democrats.

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Want to avoid long lines in Caldwell? Vote early.

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

Planning to vote in the Caldwell city council runoff? Be prepared for the potential of a long line.

While Ada County is opening up all its 88 regular polling places for the Boise mayoral runoff, Caldwell voters have just one option on Dec. 3: the Canyon County Elections Office in Caldwell.

For the Nov. 5 election, Caldwell had 18 precincts, and 3,290 people voted in the now-contested race for City Council Seat 6.

Canyon County wasn’t prepared for a runoff, and announced it would hold one only after a challenge from city council candidate Evangeline Beechler to Caldwell’s interpretation of the word “majority” in city code. Boise, which spells out a provision for runoffs in city code, had been anticipating the possibility since before the regular election.

In its Wednesday press release, Canyon County acknowledged that election day will be busy. “The Elections Office encourages as many voters as possible to take advantage of early voting to help reduce potential lines and wait times for the runoff election on December 3,” the press release says. Early voting starts on Monday, Nov. 18 and ends Nov. 29. The office will be closed on Thanksgiving.

Like Ada, Canyon County will automatically send absentee ballots to those who had requested one during the regular election. Caldwell voters will also receive a postcard in the mail informing them of the single location for the runoff.

Canyon County public information officer Joe Decker said the decision to have just one polling location is partly to keep costs down, but also because of the compressed timeline to organize the unanticipated runoff. Decker pointed to the logistical difficulties of securing the normal polling places, as well as enough volunteers, with only a few weeks to go.

Instead, the single polling place will be staffed by county employees. The elections office, which has just 10 parking spaces, plus one handicap spot, is also looking at reserving additional street parking and parking across the street for voters, Decker said.

There is just one item on the Caldwell ballot: the runoff between Beechler and John McGee. Still, even if only a fifth of those who turned up on Nov. 5 show up in three weeks — 658 — that will still be almost twice as many voters than showed up to Caldwell’s busiest precinct on election day.

To avoid long lines, Decker stressed early voting.

“As many people as we can get in to vote early, the less likely it will be that Dec. 3 is just a madhouse at the elections office,” Decker said.

 

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Birth certificate testimony previews upcoming legislative tensions

By Devon Downey, Idaho Reports

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Members of the public testify at a public hearing on a proposed rule change affecting minors who wish to change the gender markers on their birth certificates. Melissa Davlin/Idaho Reports

On Monday, the Department of Health and Welfare held a public hearing in Boise on birth certificate changes for transgender youth, with testimony that highlighted tensions likely to come up during the 2020 legislative session.

The proposed rule would require anyone under the age of 18 to get a signed form by a medical professional stating that the change requested on their birth certificate matches their gender identity.

Out of the 29 people who testified in the crowded room, 20 of them spoke against changing birth certificates at all. Many argued that birth certificates are historical documents that are a snapshot of the person at the time of their birth and therefore should not be altered. A few also argued that there is a difference between sex and gender identity, and birth certificates only state sex.

A 2018 court decision mandates that Idaho must have a process for individuals to change the gender on their birth certificate. That process has been in place since April 2018. The requirement that minors must have doctor sign-off for that change went into effect in July.

Between April 2018 and May 2019, there were 101 applications for birth certificate gender changes, according to the Bureau of Vital Statistics. Of those, 15 were for minors.

While the testimony was over two-to-one against birth certificate changes, this hearing was specific to the requirement that minors get a medical attestation prior to changing their birth certificate. IDHW held six public hearings throughout the state in August on their full rule docket on temporary rules, including the process that is already in place to change a birth certificate. Those hearings drew a handful of comments on that process.

Five people who testified specifically mentioned the proposed rule, and all of them were opposed — though they supported allowing people to change their birth certificates. 

“All my identity documents are now congruent with my name and gender identity,” said Emilie Jackson-Edney, one of the women who spoke in opposition to the medical form required for minors. “All of these allow me to navigate smoothly through society.”

“It is necessary for youth to be able to have records that accurately reflect their gender identity,” said Annie Hightower of the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence.  Hightower does not “think there should be additional burdens on youth being able to do that.”

The hearing drew a handful of lawmakers, including Reps. Steve Harris, Dorothy Moon, Tammy Nichols, and Melissa Wintrow, as well as Sen. Regina Bayer, though only Nichols and Wintrow testified.

Public hearings will continue on this proposed rule on September 24th in Twin Falls and September 25th in Idaho Falls.

Social issues like this are likely to be front and center this session due to the ongoing Adree Edmo case, concerning an Idaho inmate who has asked for, and has been denied, gender confirmation surgery. After the Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of Edmo, Governor Brad Little has appealed to the United States Supreme Court, and the legislature may act to prevent future cases like Edmo’s. 

Lawmakers have also discussed reexamining higher education funding because of the cost of some diversity and inclusion programs, like Black Graduation, Rainbow Graduation, and proposed gender-inclusive restrooms at Boise State University. “The taxpayers are paying for to help fund these universities, and basically, we’re paying for our kids to be indoctrinated,” Rep. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton, told Breitbart News Saturday in a September 21st interview.

Idaho Reports will continue to report on these issues and more leading up to the upcoming legislative session.

Melissa Davlin contributed to this report.

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