Lawmakers respond to McGeachin Facebook post

By Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Reports 

Idaho Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin appeared in a photo on social media that has shocked several members of the Senate and prompted accusations of racism from Idahoans across the state. 

In the photo, McGeachin is making a heart symbol with her hand as two men make an OK hand gesture.

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Source: Facebook.

“I don’t feel safe,” said Sen. Maryanne Jordan in a Friday morning interview with Idaho Reports. “It’s a white power sign.”

In a statement released Friday McGeachin said: “I wholeheartedly reject bigotry and discrimination in all of it’s forms.”

Governor Brad Little released a statement on Monday saying “I discussed the issue with the Lt. Governor. All of us must be accountable for our actions and their implications, and I trust her to do the same.”

The two men flanking McGeachin are Anthony Dephue and James Ward, members of the Political Prisoners Foundation. The foundation is an active non-profit in good standing with the Secretary of State’s office. The group advocates for Todd Engel, who was sentenced to serve 14 years in prison after his involvement in the Nevada standoff at Cliven Bundy’s ranch.

According to the Southern Policy Law Center, the OK hand gesture is sometimes used as a symbol of “white power,” when used by alt-right.

“The problem, of course, is that there are white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and Klansmen who have increasingly begun using the use of the symbol both to signal their presence to the like-minded, as well as to identify potentially sympathetic recruits among young trolling artists flashing it. To them, the configuration means WP, for “white power.”’

The hand gesture can also signal support for the Three Percent movement.

For the antigovernment Three Percenter movement this same hand gesture symbolizes their belief in the disputed claim that only three percent of American colonists fought against the British in the American Revolution,” says a 2017 SPL post. “The three extended fingers represent this three percent.”

McGeachin says in her statement that viewing this in terms of race “is part of a larger narrative to paint conservative leaders as embracing identity politics.”

“It had been our hope that this incident, whatever the intentions, would provoke a deeper dialogue. Clearly the dismissal of these concerns as ridiculous tells us all we need to know,” said Sen. Jordan after reading McGeachin’s statement.

Idaho Reports communicated with Dephue on Facebook. We are being characterized as White Supremacists for our hand gesture,” Dephue wrote. “We would like to engage in a civil dialog that will help your audience make an informed decision.”

Dephue did not address the possible racism in the hand gesture.

McGeachin explained why she deleted the picture from her Facebook Page. “Once I discovered that a few people had begun erroneously assigning sinister motives which are contrary to my character, I immediately deleted the post,” said McGeachin. “The photo was intended to show support for Engel and nothing more.”

Regardless of the intent behind the hand sign, some Idaho politicians have spoken out strongly over the photo.

“This image and the message that it sends is appalling,” former Republican legislator and Congressional candidate Luke Malek told Idaho Reports. “The Capitol of our great State… our people’s house… should never be used as a platform for hate.”

This photo is not the first time McGeachin has been connected to alleged racism on the internet. Idaho Reports reported on Facebook comments made during last years campaign.

“I’ve seen one, now I’ve seen two,” Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb told Idaho Reports.

“I’m surprised,” said Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett. “The lieutenant governor should be more judicious with who she meets.”

In a joint statement from Senate Minority leadership, the senators stated constituents are upset.

“We have heard numerous grave concerns overnight and today from constituents who are now fearful of coming to the statehouse,” said the statement, released Friday morning. “Some have said they will not allow their children to visit. The openness of the statehouse is foundational to our service. Whatever the intention of the post, the impact has resonated negatively across the state.”

In the statement, Democratic leadership did not publicly call for disciplinary action or an apology from McGeachin.

The Lieutenant Governor of Idaho presides over the Idaho Senate, meaning regardless of how they feel, the senators will have to continue working with McGeachin.

Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill told Idaho Reports on Friday morning that he had just seen the post. “She is not part of the legislative branch of government. I have no authority to discipline her or have an ethics committee. That’s going to have to be worked out with the executive branch of government.”

Hill said he didn’t know until this morning that the hand gesture was affiliated with either Three Percenters or white supremacy.

“I just can’t react to that yet. I’m sorry, I haven’t seen it. I haven’t talked to her about it,” he said, adding that the dignity of the Senate does need to be protected.

Gov. Brad Little’s office said he will wait to release a statement until meeting with McGeachin.

Melissa Davlin contributed to this report. Idaho Reports will have more throughout the day, and on this week’s episode. Idaho Reports airs Friday at 8 pm.

This story was updated to include a statement by Governor Brad Little at 4:38 on Monday.

 

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US Supreme Court overturns ISC decision on right to appeal

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By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports 

The United States Supreme Court reversed an Idaho Supreme Court decision on Wednesday, siding with an Idaho inmate who claimed his public defender was ineffective. The broad ruling has nationwide implications, giving more clarity on the standard for waiving certain rights in court.

The case, Garza v Idaho, centered on the right to appeal. In 2017, the Idaho Supreme Court rejected petitioner Gilberto Garza Jr’s claim that his trial attorney was ineffective after the attorney ignored Garza’s requests to file an appeal after Garza had agreed to plea agreements. Wednesday’s 6-3 ruling reverses that decision, with Justice Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch dissenting. 

In 2015, Garza signed two plea agreements that waived his right to appeal. Shortly after sentencing, Garza informed his court-appointed public defender that he wished to appeal anyway. The attorney declined, citing those plea agreements, and ignored repeated phone calls and letters from Garza asking to file the appeal.

The 2017 Idaho Supreme Court opinion said it was unclear at the time what the standard for ineffective counsel was once a defendant knowingly signed a plea agreement that waived certain rights.

“Generally, when trial counsel fails to file an appeal at a criminal defendant’s request, such performance is professionally unreasonable and therefore deficient,” Chief Justice Roger Burdick wrote. “To show that counsel’s deficient performance was prejudicial, the defendant must show there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s deficiencies, the result of the proceeding would have been different. This test applies to claims that counsel was ineffective for failing to file a notice of appeal.”

“However, whether counsel was ineffective becomes unclear when the reason the attorney did not file the appeal is because the client waived the right to appeal as part of a plea agreement,” Burdick wrote. As of 2017, other courts had ruled on the issue and had split their opinions, but neither the Idaho Supreme Court nor the US Supreme Court had weighed in.

That changed this week. Justice Sonia Sotomayor penned Wednesday’s majority opinion, saying that language in plea agreements varies, and the possibility exists for waivers of appeal forfeitures.

“Garza’s attorney rendered deficient performance by not filing a notice of appeal in light of Garza’s clear requests,” Sotomayor wrote. “Given the possibility that a defendant will end up raising claims beyond an appeal waiver’s scope, simply filing a notice of appeal does not necessarily breach a plea agreement. Thus, counsel’s choice to override Garza’s instructions was not a strategic one. In any event, the bare decision whether to appeal is ultimately the defendant’s to make.”

Sotomayor wrote the ruling doesn’t mean Garza’s plea agreement is meaningless.

“Contrary to the argument by Idaho and the U. S. Government, as amicus, that Garza never ‘had a right’ to his appeal and thus that any deficient performance by counsel could not have caused the loss of any such appeal, Garza did retain a right to his appeal; he simply had fewer possible claims than some other appellants,” she wrote.

Sara Thomas, administrative director for the Idaho Supreme Court, said Wednesday’s ruling has broad implications for court proceedings nationwide.

“I think the biggest thing here is there is clarity for defense attorneys to understand what their responsibilities are,” Thomas said, adding this applies to public defenders and private attorneys alike. “Clarity is good.”

The opinion sets a more clear standard for waivers on two fronts, Thomas said: The language of the waiver needs to be specific as to which rights a defendant is waiving, and attorneys need to know that defendants are knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waiving those rights.

“There will be, I think, a big shift in procedure and how cases flow through the system,” Thomas said.

Idaho Reports will have more on this ruling. Meanwhile, you can listen to the October 2018 oral arguments here, and read Wednesday’s opinion here. 

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Overworked and underpaid

prison2By Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Reports

Last year the Idaho Department of Correction paid out approximately $5 million for almost 300,000 hours of overtime. The department averaged a worker shortage of 87 people throughout the year, with spikes in the summer when construction jobs have a tendency of luring away correction workers.

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“There’s certainly an element of exhaustion and being tired and added stress,” said Josh Tewalt, Director of the Idaho Department of Correction. “The secondary piece is just how tough it can be on families. They’re the ones that also have to bear that burden when they don’t know when Mom or Dad is gonna be able to come home.”

Excessive overtime has an emotional price tag. “There are enough stressors inherent to working in a correctional facility,” said Tewalt. “You don’t need to add to it.”

1 (4 of 4)That emotional price tag can lead to attrition. “You have to think of it in the terms of tolerance threshold,” said Tewalt. “People will put up with only so much crap for this much money. When you get out there and you actually feel the impact it has on staff, it’s like, man, this isn’t something that can wait. We’ve got to get to work on this right now.”

Overtime creates a cycle that leads to more overtime. People get sick from working the extended hours. “They’re tired they’re exhausted and guess what happens,” said Tewalt. “You’re sick calls go up.”

People quit or find other employment because they don’t want to work 16-hour shifts in a dangerous environment. They can find a similar wage at Costco with less stress and more dependable hours.

“It’s not reasonable to expect that we’re ever going to have zero percent turnover because we are competing against other law enforcement and other entry-level jobs,” said Tewalt. “It is a very unique line of work and it takes a very unique person to see how rewarding that can be.”

The overtime also has a financial cost. Idaho Reports analyzed the average wages and benefits required to fill the 87 positions and compared it to the overtime costs accrued last year and found that the overtime cost was over $1.5 million more than filling all the vacant positions.

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The chart shows a spike in November. That is partially because of an extra pay period in June and November. All other months have two pay periods, November and June have three.

The staffing problems also dictate how the Department of Correction deals with issues like out of state prisons. Entering this year’s legislative session a proposal was discussed to build another Idaho detention facility. The proposed facility would allow Idaho prisoners currently housed in two private prisons in Texas to come home. If those prisoners came home, they would be able to more easily meet with family members during visitor hours, creating a link to the community they will eventually reenter. Strong family and positive relationships within the community are a strong indicator of recidivism and successful outcomes after incarceration.

With the staffing crisis currently happening in Idaho, the possibility of finding hundreds of more workers to staff a new prison seems unlikely, leaving the two Texas prisons as seemingly the only short-term option.

Tewalt and Gov. Brad Little have some ideas about how to solve the problem. Filling those positions will take some changes. One of those changes is money. “It’s really hard here in the valley with what the prison over in Ontario Oregon pays,” said Little.

1 (5 of 4)“We’ll never be able to afford to pay them what I think they’re worth,” said Tewalt. “But we’ve got to be able to give them enough that they can afford to stay doing something that they love.”

The other portion is creating a scheduling and work environment that works for the correction employees. Arranging schedules to fit the needs of the institutions, the workers and the incarcerated could not only effect worker retention, but could have a positive effect on outcomes.

“We talk about needing improved outcomes in the community,” said Tewalt. “We talk about needing to have people coming out of prison in a better position to be successful in the community. We won’t do any of that unless we shore up our workforce.”

Providing education and training for inmates to help them be successful when they reenter communities is impossible without people to teach them and facilitate the programs they need.

The director’s solution is two-fold: Better wages and better personnel management. “If we hit both of them hard, if we’re able to affect the amount of money that’s going in their pockets, and we’re able to affect their satisfaction with the work they do, then these numbers will improve,” said Tewalt.

This isn’t just about correction workers and inmates. The vast majority of people incarcerated in Idaho will eventually become your neighbor, your coworker or possibly just a stranger walking down your street. The time spent in a correctional facility has a huge impact on how the incarcerated act when they receive their liberty back and rejoin the Idaho community.

“Our number one obligation is to keep Idahoans safe and that includes our employees,” said Little. “There is a problem and I think that Director Tewalt is doing a good job.”

The job, however, will not be completed overnight, and if this two-part plan doesn’t work or isn’t supported, the next options could be even more costly and more difficult.

 

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Talking about talking

By Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Reports

1 (5 of 4)It took zero emails between the Governor and the Superintendent of Public Instruction to pass a $1.9 billion public schools budget through the Joint Finance and Appropriation Committee with zero dissenting votes.

“The emails, maybe they give the impression that there’s no communication,” said Greg Wilson, the Governor’s senior policy adviser on education. “I feel like the lines of communication between our offices are very very open.”

The critical bridge between the two offices appears to be deputy superintendent Marilyn Whitney.

“Marilyn used to do education policy for the Governor (Butch Otter),” said Governor Brad Little. “She knows instinctively where I am on a lot of these issues, so the relationship is good.”

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“I think we’re working really well together,” said Wilson. “Marilyn Whitney is over there now, she’s my predecessor, and she and I talk on a daily basis.”

At the Idaho Press Club’s annual breakfast with the governor on Wednesday, Little said that he and the superintendent meet regularly. “There’s no electronic record of she and I sitting down in my office, or in the conference room and talking,” said Little.

Superintendent Sherri Ybarra posts her schedule weekly. The record goes back to November 26th, twenty days after the election. Her schedule shows only one meeting listed with Little before the inauguration, a 60-minute conversation on December 18th. After Little and Ybarra were sworn into office, they have had one 30-minute meeting on February 8th, according to Ybarra’s schedule.

1 (3 of 4)Ybarra was one of the first people Little met with when developing his education priorities. Even before the election was decided, according to Wilson, Ybarra and Little sat down in an attempt to set the K-12 budget.

That meeting was not in the time frame covered by Ybarra’s publicly available schedule. Other forms of communication, like telephone calls or chats in the hall, would not be a public record either. According to Wilson, these conversations are their preferred method of communication. “They either communicate in person or on the phone,” he said.

Marissa Morrison, the Governor’s Press Secretary, said that the office is not having in-person conversations to bypass public records laws. “It’s never been like an edict or something that we’ve talked about not to do business over email,” said Morrison. Furthermore, there is no law that says all state discussions must have an electronic record.

Despite the lack of public documentation, the governor’s office seems very happy with its relationship with the Superintendent. “The e-mails don’t reflect the fact that we’re working in the same direction on a lot of issues,” said Wilson.

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Senate committee approves new mid-level dental provider category for reservation clinics

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

On Wednesday, the Senate Health and Welfare Committee passed legislation from the Coeur d’Alene Tribe that seeks to address gaps in dental care for American Indian tribal members, despite opposition from some dental professionals.

The bill would legalize a new type of mid-level dental provider in Idaho. Dental health aide therapists, or DHATs, are trained in a limited number of procedures like fillings and extractions.

The legislation now goes to the Senate for a vote.

Gaps in care

Nationwide, American Indian and Alaska Native children experience four times the amount of untreated dental disease compared to white children, with nearly half of American Indian five-year-olds experiencing tooth decay, according to a 2015 Indian Health Services policy brief.

American Indian adults also experience the highest rates of dental disease among any demographic, with two-thirds of adults between the ages of 34 and 49s experiencing decay and other ailments.

There are multiple reasons for that. Though 90 percent of Idahoans live within a 15-minute drive of a dentist, many of those dentists don’t accept Medicaid. In short, it doesn’t matter if you live by a dentist if that dentist won’t see you.

Generational trauma and cultural sensitivity play into the lack of care as well.

Matthew Stensgar, chairman of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe’s Marimn Health Board of Directors, told Idaho Reports in January about the terror he felt as a child when visiting the dentist.

In the past, dental providers from outside the Coeur d’Alene Reservation would treat children in mobile clinics, with the line snaking out the door, Stensgar said. Because those dentists had to treat everyone at once, they hurried patients through, sometimes drilling or pulling teeth before painkilling shots had taken effect.

“They didn’t really care about if we were in pain while we were receiving our dental care,” he said. “A lot of times the numbing shots didn’t take effect, and you could really feel them drilling.”

Dental procedures have changed, but Stensgar is still afraid of going to the dentist.

Having tribal members train to be DHATs could relieve those concerns among his fellow community members, Stensgar said.

The United States DHAT program started in Alaska to address far-flung native communities with no dental care. In other states that have adopted the program, DHATs are trained in a limited number of procedures that they can perform, unlike dental hygienists, who are limited to cleaning and preventative treatments. Dentists learn how to do about 500 procedures in four years of dental school, while DHATs learn 46 over the course of two years, plus 500 hours of supervised training after graduation.

Unlike dentists, who are required to have a four-year degree before applying for dental school, or dental hygienists, who require an associate’s degree, students can apply for the DHAT program right out of high school.

An uneasy compromise

The Idaho State Dental Association opposed a previous proposal from the tribe, citing patient safety concerns. In short, DHATs receive fewer hours of training than a dental hygienist, but have the ability to do more procedures without the direct supervision of an on-site dentist.

But in recent weeks, the ISDA worked out a compromise with the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, and is now neutral on the legislation.

“As in any good compromise, no one got everything they wanted,” said Coeur d’Alene Tribe legislative director Tyrel Stevenson.

Under the new proposal, DHATs are limited to working on federally qualified health clinics on reservations, and can do limited preventative care in facilities that are adjacent to reservations. Additionally, dentists may supervise only three DHATs at a time.

Though both the ISDA and the State Board of Dentistry are neutral on the legislation, the Idaho Dental Hygienists Association voiced its opposition, as did individual dentists who broke with the ISDA.

Ultimately, the Senate committee voted in favor of sending the bill to the Senate floor.

“I think it’s fitting to point out that not one of us (on the committee) will be affected by this bill, and that’s because we don’t live on a reservation,” said Sen. Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls. “We’re not privy to the care, or the lack thereof, that reservations receive.”

 

Watch our January 29 story on the DHAT proposal and dental care on tribal reservations at this link.

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Idaho GOP chairman Parker resigns

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Jonathan Parker. Source: idgop.org

By Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Reports

Idaho Republican Party Chairman Jonathan Parker is stepping down.

Frank Terraferma, executive director of the party, confirmed Parker’s resignation to Idaho Reports on Monday.

“Jonathan notified the state central committee that he was stepping down,” said Terraferma.

According to the GOP State Rules, current First Vice-Chairwoman Jennifer Locke now assumes all duties and responsibilities of chairman until the next GOP state meeting.

Locke was a Trump elector at the 2016 convention. She currently works as a Deputy County Clerk in Kootenai County.

According to the Coeur d’Alene Press, Locke has a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Southern Maine and has lived in north Idaho for almost a decade.

Locke did not respond to requests for comment immediately.

In a statement sent out Tuesday morning, Parker cited family as his reason for stepping down.

“(M)aintaining a full-time job and being a fully engaged Father has been harder than I imagined, so much so that I have reluctantly decided that I should no longer continue to serve as Chairman of the Idaho Republican Party so that I can focus on the priorities I place above all others,” Parker wrote.

According to the party rules, the Idaho Republican Party will likely vote on a new Chairman at the party’s June summer meeting.

 

 

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Less than a week left for Medicaid expansion

By Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Reports

Idaho has five days to submit its plan on Medicaid expansion to the federal government. Monday, February 18th is 90 days after Proposition 2 was certified, and the clock started ticking.

“Work is in progress and continuing,” said Niki Forbing-Orr, Public Information Manager for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. “It may change between now and when it is submitted.”

Looming in the background of this due date is another possible government shutdown and an Idaho bill that would put time restrictions on Medicaid eligibility for people in the gap population as well as an optional training element.

Draft Eligibility_Page_1IDHW doesn’t believe the government shutdown will impact their deadline. “The shutdown does not impact HHS,” said Forbing-Orr. “We will submit prior to the 90 day requirement in Idaho code.”

Adding a training element or a time restriction, however, could be more complicated. Health and Welfare may need to apply for an additional waiver from the federal government. “It would depend on the specific legislation,” said Forbing-Orr.

That could add uncertainty into the system. Over the next week, Idaho will submit a plan to the federal government that, in its current draft, looks like a “clean” Medicaid expansion with no sideboards. That plan will take effect on Jan 1, 2020, if approved by the federal government. That plan would then be the policy “unless the legislature modifies this section of Idaho Code,” said Forbing-Orr.DRAFT_Page_1

The current bill, proposed Sen. Mary Souza, would change Idaho code, but it doesn’t change the deadline, and that bill will likely not be signed by the governor before next Monday.

That could put Health and Welfare in an awkward position. If Souza’s bill, or something like it, passes after the department submits its plan, the department would likely have to ask for a waiver if its current plan is approved. It’s also possible the department will have to resubmit its plan entirely to comply with the new section of Idaho Code.

That theoretically could leave the state of Idaho with an approved Medicaid expansion plan that does not comply with Idaho code, if a federal waiver is not granted for new legislation passed after the department submits a clean program. In other words, it could be a mess.

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