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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This year’s accomplishments, through the eyes of Senate leaders

Over the last week, we interviewed several key players in the Idaho Senate. When the interviews were over, we asked them two simple questions: What was the greatest achievement of this year’s legislative session, and what was the biggest failure?

Here is what Democratic Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, Assistant Minority Leader Cherie Buckner-Webb and Minority Caucus Chair Maryanne Jordan said.


And here is what the Senate Republican leader President Pro TemporeBrent Hill said.

For the full interviews, watch the Friday, March 24 episode of Idaho Reports, available at idahoptv.org.

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A peculiar procurement by INL

By Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Reports

The Idaho National Laboratory is accepting new projects at the advanced test reactor complex in part because of an item purchased on Amazon.com.

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The INL ordered a cable that’s a critical part of a neutron level meter. The meter is essential for judging reactor power. Neutrons are a key parameter, because the neutrons and the power are directly proportional.

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It is the B channel in the log meter, meaning it is the fail-safe for the A channel that performs the same function. It’s necessary to comply with regulations placed on this nuclear reactor. There is also an additional meter on top of the A and B channels. That additional meter displays the current power but it does not record the trend, and knowing if the reactor is trending up or down is important for the operation.

The example Sean O’Kelly Associate Laboratory Director for the INL Advanced Test Reactor used was of a car’s speedometer. “Seatbelts are safety functions you can’t operate your car without them,” he said. “You can get by without a speedometer but if the law requires you to have one you must have one.”

And the car analogy also works for why they went on Amazon to find the part. “It’s like an old car, and finding parts just isn’t as easy as it used to be,” O’Kelly said. The part is no longer manufactured, and building one internally would be expensive, so they went online.

“It’s not typical. It’s a non-traditional supply source,” he said. “But in this case, I’ll give the engineer credit for being very resourceful and innovative in finding a product that saved us money and saved the taxpayer money and got us back into operation very quickly.”

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There are two reactors in the ATR complex: One is small, one is large. This part comes from the small reactor, a place they use to test measurements and parameters before placing experiments in the big reactor. “Before we put anything into the big reactor (ATR) we put it into ATRC and verify their performance is as expected,” O’Kelly said.

Without the ATRC, some work could still be done. Experiments that have already taken place in the past or are almost identical could continue, but it would curtail new experiments or significant modifications to old experiments.

And those new experiments are vital. In a recent report by the National Energy Advisory Committee INL Director Mark Peters highlighted the need.

“INL clearly needs to be an engineering laboratory in the modern sense, one that values the synergies between science and engineering,” he wrote. “The danger is that INL be pigeon-holed as a place where work is done rather than a true innovator. It is critically important that INL build up its scientific credentials without sacrificing its unique identity.”

The report pointed to collaboration with private and public institutions on research as critical for the INL’s future — research that has a good chance of going through the ATRC.

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Presentations dating back more than a decade have highlighted the ATRC control console, and this log count rate meter specifically, for replacement and modernization. “I think in the next couple of years we will replace the whole system that the cable fits into, that paper chart recorder is 1960 1957 technology,” O’Kelly said. “We’re going to be replacing that technology with something modern and brand new.”

But in the meantime, the engineers are doing what they can to keep the 50-year-old complex up and running, and they’re doing it up to code and as cost effectively as possible. O’Kelly added parts have to be “evaluated and physically examined and verified that it would meet its performance requirements before it was installed.”

And $12.75 sounds like an incredibly efficient use of funds to keep a nuclear reactor up and running, but Idaho Reports, being the fiscal watchdogs that we are, would like to point out they could have saved an additional $7.48 on shipping if they were Amazon Prime members… something to think about for the future.

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How to overturn an election.

 

By Nishant Mohan

The Senate State Affairs Committee voted unanimously to recommend the senate confirm the election of Sen. Mark Nye, D-Pocatello, after reviewing a contest of election by Nye’s opponent, Tom Katsilometes, Monday.

Katsilometes alleged Nye received illegal campaign contributions, violated “The Sunshine Law,” and was given an advantage in the election by faulty ballot machines.

“I just don’t think any of these issues are sufficient enough, if they even exist, are they sufficient enough to lead us to a new election or any other conclusion,” said Sen. Pro Tem Brent Hill. “If a possible violation of title 67 chapter 66 would create grounds for a contest of election, how many of us would be in trouble? Just go onto the Secretary of State’s website and look at how many amendment campaign disclosure reports are filed.”

Some senators on the committee said they felt rushed in the time allowed for them to understand the material.

“It was rather daunting when the secretary of state brought the apple box full of documents to us and said ‘good luck,’” said Sen. Siddoway, chair of the committee.

Idaho Code 34-2106 allows any elector to contest an election. The code defines an elector as anyone registered to vote in the election. The contestant need only contest within 20 days of the election. The statute has no other restrictions, and the body is required to review the contest.

Nye and Katsilometes’ counsels faced about an hour of questioning each from Republican senators, mostly from Majority Leader Sen. Bart Davis. Democratic senators asked no questions of either side. Nye, though present, did not speak during the proceeding and no questions were asked of him.

Contest of an election is rare, and last occurred in 1981. Minutes of the State Affairs Committee from the time state that then-Lt. Governor Phil Batt presented to the committee “the ‘box’ which he had received from the Secretary of State and which contained material pertaining to the election challenge of Senator Peavy.”

By contesting the election, Katsilometes was granted power of subpoena by Idaho Code 34-2108, a power only limited by the incumbent’s ability to challenge the subpoenas. This power is granted to anyone contesting an election. The legislature is given the authority to hear challenges and Hill deferred one of the only two challenges to Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis and reviewed the other himself.

In the 1981 case, lawmakers on the committee expressed concern over ease of contesting an election.

“Anyone can sue you if the have the money to file,” said then-Sen. Jim Risch at the time. “This may be something that needs looking at in the future in our laws.”

Article 3 Section 9 of the Idaho Constitution states that “Each house, when assembled shall…judge of the election, qualifications and returns of its own members…”

“The senate has absolute discretion here,” said Brian Kane, assistant chief deputy to the attorney general. “There is no appeal.”

Lt. Governor Brad Little said last week that state code requires the Secretary of State’s office collect and deliver evidence in the case of a contested election, regardless of whether the evidence is substantial. He said the code was originally intended to require the presentation of the actual ballots, but that a modern contest looks different.

The minutes from the 1981 contest state that several committee members raised questions about improving the election laws on challenges, voter registration, and roving registrars.

Sen. Jeff Siddoway, who chaired the committee, said the senate is looking at ways to improve this process and will be exploring legislation throughout the year.

Nye, formerly a member of the Idaho House of Representatives, was elected last year to the Idaho Senate.

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Democrats agree with the Governor’s vision but doubt likelihood.

By Nishant Mohan

With no action taken last year to provide healthcare to the Medicaid gap, expand the Idaho Human Rights Act to LGBT citizens, or increase public education spending well above pre-recession levels, Democrats objected to parts of Governor C. L. “Butch” Otter’s State of the State Address.

The speech and minority party’s response echoed last year’s.

“We agree that the governor has set a strategic vision by shooting for 60 percent post-high school educational attainment, but we doubt the governor can influence the majority party to accomplish his vision,” said House Minority Leader Matt Erpelding.

Idaho Democrats share Governor Otter’s priority on education, but have their own emphasis on early childhood education. Erpelding said his party supports a proposal he called a “gateway to early childhood education” put forth by Idaho Business for Education to prepare 4-year-olds for kindergarten.

Though in the overwhelming minority, Erpelding said he thinks the party will secure hearings for some of the bills it will propose.

“In invasive species and cybersecurity, there seems to be a real will,” said Michelle Stennett, Senate Minority Leader.

Democrats also responded to Otter’s denouncement of the Affordable Care Act and leaving out any mention of Add the Words legislation despite asking the legislature last year for a solution.

“Our plan is to update the human rights act,” said Erpelding. “Our plan is to introduce them, have the conversations, and if the majority party doesn’t want to do that, to ask them for their solutions.”

This year, Democrats are working with two fewer seats than last year’s legislature and a new Republican president and Congress at the national level.

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Doyle Beck-related companies main donors to Heileson

By Melissa Davlin

 

Doyle Beck not only gave  $20,000 to the Idaho Freedom Action Fund; He gave House candidate Chick Heileson $1,000 through his company, BRP Gem Lake Harbor Inc. 

And $1,000 through his other company, Bingham Development Company LLC, listed under the same address as BRP Gem Lake Harbor, Inc.

And $1,000 through his other company, Lincoln Land Co, LLC., also under the same address.

And another $1,000 through his other company, BECO Construction.

And another $1,000 through his other company, Phenix of Idaho, which has the same address as BECO Construction.

And there’s a $1,000 through another company, JBC Construction, INC. The report lists JB Construction, though the address given on the document lines up with JBC Construction, which Doyle Beck lists as one of the companies he’s founded on his LinkedIn page.

And another $1,000 from his wife, Elizabeth Beck. (The address given for Elizabeth Beck is the same one given for Doyle Beck on the Idaho Freedom Action electioneering communication declaration from May 5.)

Why not just give that $7,000 in one donation? It’s illegal. An individual’s donations to an Idaho legislative candidate can’t exceed$1,000 per election cycle.

Both Beck and Heileson are scheduled to appear in court on May 18, the day after the primary election, for misdemeanor charges of campaign finance violations. Those accusations stem from a May 2014 contribution to the Integrity in Government PAC in which Heileson borrowed about half of a $12,000 contribution from Beck, according to the Post Register. 

 

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