The views expressed in letters to the editor and guest opinions are not necessarily those of this publication.
My fellow 6Cers:
My sisters and I, along with my father who just celebrated his 56th wedding anniversary with my mom, are spending our third day here in Coeur d'Alene looking at her hospital window from the parking lot.
She fights for her life, alone, because she is COVID positive and we aren't allowed through the front door. I can't help but think, wear a mask.
I get it that many of you demand preservation of your Constitutional rights. I'm not here telling you that you are wrong, or that you have to do this because the "government" demands it. I get it that masks aren't perfect, but then again nothing in life is perfect and masks do help. The affected are our neighbors and friends, and in my case, my mother.
My fellow 6Cers, you donate hours of your time to help your neighbors every month. You volunteer, indeed there are several of you whose homes burned to the ground while you were next door rescuing your neighbors. You are the best people on the planet. WE are the best people on the planet!
Set politics aside, and recognize how great we are in the 6C. We are today what this nation used to be. I am daily floored at the sense of community and humanity you have for each other. We have, and always will, take care of our own! We don't need, indeed have never responded well to a "government" mandate. However, I'm asking you to please consider expanding your hearts, and consider COVID like we would a wildland fire, a microburst, or a flood. (All of which you have attacked in the last three years like an invading army.)
Please consider volunteering to at least try to protect your neighbors from COVID...not because any government tells you to...but because it is the right thing to do. Put on a mask. Don't put anyone else's husband in the parking lot of the hospital looking up at a window wondering what is happening. We are better than this! We are the 6C!
Setting the record straight on the United States Postal Service
Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo
Most of the inaccurate, partisan narrative regarding allegedly new changes at the United States Postal Service (USPS) are part of long-term efforts from multiple administrations to improve its solvency.
The Postal Service is not being disassembled and no efforts are underway to hinder the efficient handling of election mail. The Postal Service can effectively handle the increased volume of ballots facilitated via mail expected from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Administration's actions, most of which are continuations from previous administrations, are intended to ensure the Postal Service's long-term viability and efficiency.
Even with increased voting methods via mail, millions of Americans are expected to exercise their right to vote in-person at local polling locations. Participation in the electoral process is one of the most fundamental rights enjoyed by Americans and I support protecting U.S. elections and our democratic system. The Postal Service began outreach to states in February, before Louis DeJoy became Postmaster General, to collaborate on realistic expectations for ballot delivery timeframes and deadlines as states prepare for the 2020 general election. While general elections for federal office are set by federal law, state and local laws dictate the dates for primary elections and means for casting ballots for federal, state and local offices. Eligible voters who wish to vote via absentee ballot can minimize strain on the USPS by requesting a ballot and returning it to an appropriate elections drop box or mailbox as soon as possible.
Furthermore, the USPS has stated it has the capacity to handle the 2020 election. Even if 100 million votes were cast via mail in 2020 (about 33 million were cast in 2016), it would represent a small fraction of the mail volume handled by USPS. For example, the USPS estimated in 2019 it processed and delivered nearly 2.5 billion pieces of First-Class Mail the week before Christmas-its busiest time of the year. Moreover, in the CARES Act, Congress and President Trump provided an additional $10 billion in loan authority to the Postal Service to assure its efficient operation.
I am the son of a former postmaster in Idaho and I have great respect for Postal employees. Postal employees in Idaho connect Idahoans to family, friends and markets across the U.S. and around the world, especially as Americans do their best to social distance. The USPS can only do so much under its own authorities to cut costs and improve efficiency to uphold this important service, and reform legislation is likely needed. Any USPS reforms need to be thoroughly and transparently debated before Congress to ensure they do not negatively affect the needs of the American people, especially during this unprecedented time. The overarching bipartisan goal is to ensure a reliable, efficient and viable Postal Service that serves all Americans in perpetuity.
Times of crisis: Working Together for safe, secure elections
Guest opinion, see the signatories below
America has seen times of civil and world war, economic turbulence and pandemic. Through these difficult and disruptive times, elections have always been preserved. Today we face very real difficulties conducting elections in the midst of this global pandemic. As in the past, we must meet these challenging times with smart solutions that build on our existing election laws. With the support of our community, we are fully committed to making sure the November election is carried out safely, with integrity and public confidence in the results.
Even without the complexities of the coronavirus, the presidential election is going to be challenging, due to high interest and turnout. The seismic shift in voting behavior in such a short time, along with the constraints placed on voting by the pandemic, means this will be an election unlike any that we have ever encountered.
Typically, in Idaho, only 10 percent of voters cast a ballot by absentee during a presidential election. Given the current pandemic, we anticipate that as many as 75 in advance of Election Day. This simple change would significantly aid us in our efforts to count ballots and provide timely results.
At the same time, we are also committed to those Idahoans who want to cast their ballots at the polls, while ensuring the process is safe for the voters and poll workers. Some counties have already encountered difficulty finding polling places that allow adequate space for social distancing. Poll worker recruitment is also challenging, as many of our poll workers worry for their own health and for the health of the public gathering at polling places.
We have a unique opportunity to both provide greater convenience to voters and address some of the polling place concerns with the concept of vote centers, however legislation is needed to make vote centers possible. The anticipated shift from in-person voting to absentee in November will result in fewer voters at polling locations. Should a county decide to utilize vote centers, it would allow any voter to go to any voting location in their county to cast their vote. Imagine the ease of being able to pop in to the nearest vote center at your convenience on Election Day to cast your vote and avoid lines. Voting centers in large venues would allow voters to maintain social distancing and would require fewer staff.
As we work to conduct a challenging and complex election in November, we are asking for the support, patience, and understanding of our community, our Governor, and our legislature. As your local elected Clerks, neighbors, and fellow Idahoans, we are dedicated to safeguarding elections in Idaho. Small changes to existing Idaho Election laws will make a big difference in helping us provide a smooth and safe voting experience for every eligible Idahoan in November, whether someone votes early, via absentee, or on Election Day. percent of voters will take advantage of the absentee ballot process this November. As we experienced during the May Primary, shifting to a large absentee election presents its own challenges. We do not have the ongoing infrastructure to simultaneously run an absentee election of that scale, along with an in-person election.
Yet absentee voting provides a safe and secure way for Idahoans to vote, and has long been used by overseas citizens and military personnel and their families. To vote absentee in Idaho, a voter must request a ballot, unlike a universal vote by mail system, wherein ballots are mailed to all registered voters automatically. Many security measures are in place with absentee voting, including (but not limited to) reviewing ballot signatures on each returned ballot.
To handle the unprecedented volume of absentee ballots that we are anticipating, we are calling for a simple legislative change to allow county clerks to open and scan ballots.
Clearwater County Clerk/Auditor/Recorder continues, "We do expect that approximately 60 to 75 percent of voters to vote absentee this November--almost the exact opposite of the 2016 election where around 10 percent voted absentee. The county clerk's feel that Legislation is needed to aid us in getting vote results reported and canvassed in a timely manner because of this huge influx of absentee voters.
We also need to address polling place concerns even if there will be fewer voters at the polling locations. We do have some polling places that we will not be able to use for the November 2020 Election.
In many counties, vote centers would significantly aid in solving this problem, but legislation is needed to make this possible. Even though these may not be utilized in my county, I support the concept and understand that in other parts of the state these will be invaluable.
We are also concerned for the health and safety of poll workers and voters as additional reason for the need for vote centers."
Many educators, parents have angst over back to school plans
Guest opinion by Rod Gramer, president of Idaho Business for Education
The angst many educators and parents have surrounding whether students should return to the classroom or learn on-line is not surprising given the news we receive every day about the coronavirus' spread in our state. In fact, the same debate is raging across the country.
A poll released last week by NPR/Ipos showed that 82 percent of K-12 teachers are concerned about the safety of returning to the classroom. Two thirds of the teachers said they favored on-line learning only. That survey mirrored another NPR/Ipos survey in which 66 percent of adults favored students learning remotely.
The reason for nervousness among Idaho educators and parents may be gleaned from data released this week by the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems and Engineering.
At the time of the report, the Johns Hopkins data showed that Idaho had 24,675 cases of COVID-19, with an infection rate of 1,380 per 100,000 people. Idaho had 237 deaths as of August 10, with a death rate of 13.3 per 100,000 people. The total deaths are higher now.
Those infection and death rates per 100,000 people were higher than any of our surrounding states except Nevada. Washington had a higher death rate, but its infection rate per 100,000 people was substantially lower than Idaho's.
In Oregon, which has more than twice Idaho's population of 1.7 million, there were 3,403 total fewer infections than in our state, according to Johns Hopkins. And Oregon's death rate per 100,000 people stood at 8.4 compared to Idaho's 13.3.
Utah also had both fewer infections and deaths per 100,000 people than Idaho. In fact, Utah had only 99 more total deaths than Idaho, despite having nearly twice our population.
One can only speculate on why Idaho's infection and death rates are higher than most of our surrounding states. But it is hard not to conclude that mandated precautions from the officials of those states and/or more voluntary support for masks and social distancing from their citizens or a combination of the two are keeping their infection and death rates lower than ours.
Since June Governor Brad Little has urged Idahoans to voluntarily comply with CDC recommendations by wearing masks and social distancing so that we can safely open our schools and businesses. But voluntary efforts only work if people are willing to listen. The Johns Hopkins data would indicate that too many of us are ignoring our leaders and health experts.
So, the debate in Idaho rages on over masks, or no masks, over the virus being the deadliest in a century, or a hoax and over whether taking simple precautions are prudent, or an infringement on our freedoms. Meanwhile, more Idahoans fall ill every day per capita than in most of our surrounding states, and even whole countries which have figured out how to contain the virus and open their schools safely.
School leaders do not have the luxury of ideological debates. They must make hard and difficult decisions on how to reopen their schools. They must balance the safety of students and teachers against the strong desire for in-classroom learning. Their decision is made only harder when people ignore the science and the health experts, leading to the surge we see now.
It will require leadership, wisdom and science from our public officials, health care providers and medical researchers to control this virus. But none of these people can help us contain the virus without the people of Idaho doing our part. That means you and me.
If we can contain this virus, the fear, anxiety and division will at least be eased. And best of all we can safely open our schools and businesses and get closer to normal lives. That would be a nice thing for all of us - regardless of our differences.
For some, more is never enough
Guest opinion by Lt. Governor Janice McGeachin
Recently, some organizations in Idaho have been agitating for additional federal spending to finance direct subsidies to individuals. Some have even resorted to publicly displaying banners on a busy street in downtown Boise calling on elected officials to further increase spending.
Idaho has already received more than $2.5 billion in supplemental federal funding over the last several months, yet for some people, even this massive influx of debt-financed spending falls short of their ambitions. For those who advocate socialized medicine, unearned income, and other handouts, there really is no amount of spending that would satisfy them.
I recently spoke to the Manager of the Budget & Policy Analysis Division of the Legislative Services Office (LSO), about the federal money flowing into Idaho. Even many elected officials are struggling to grasp the full scope of these federal funds and associated spending.
An updated summary of this spending was recently prepared for Idaho's federal senators and legislative leadership. I strongly support this level of transparency being made available to the general public as well, so that everyone can have a greater understanding of what is taking place.
I have always considered it my responsibility to advocate for Idaho taxpayers and to facilitate openness and transparency regarding government spending. I believe that the people have a right to know what their elected officials are saying and doing, and this is one reason why I have always strongly supported Idaho's open meeting laws.
I serve on the Coronavirus Financial Advisory Committee (CFAC), where I am one of just 4 members who are elected officials. The other 12 committee members represent various departments, agencies, and special interests. I consider it my duty to represent the taxpayers of Idaho-the ones ultimately paying the bills-and to be a voice for fiscal restraint and responsibility, even when profligacy may be in vogue.
The solution to difficult times is not to increase the size, scope, and spending of government, but to decrease these things and to put our resources in the hands of the private sector where they can grow and prosper. Reducing the taxes, regulations, and mandates that stand in the way of people earning money through hard work and entrepreneurial endeavors is always a superior alternative to increasing subsidies and handouts.
As I have traveled across our beautiful state, meeting with Idaho business owners and discussing their challenges and successes, I have frequently heard them express a desire for more consistent, conservative, and transparent government. They are very concerned about rising debt and deficits and the inflation and tax increases these practices precipitate.
Together, we can get Idaho back to work and move away from debt-financed spending and other programs that foster dependency. I invite all Idahoans to participate in these noble endeavors.
Democrats propose slate of solutions for Idaho
BOISE - On Monday, the Idaho Democratic leadership held a press conference to propose a slate of Democratic solutions that would address the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic and set the state on the path to a better future.
Senate Democratic Leader Michelle Stennett/(D-Ketchum) and House Democratic Leader Representative Ilana Rubel/(D-Boise) outlined actions that should be taken at the state level to improve the lives of everyday Idahoans.
The press conference was held during the lunch break of the State Affairs Working Group. The Democratic leaders delivered their thoughts on the importance of making tangible changes that will positively impact Idaho communities.
"The pandemic has caused financial, educational, health, and mental distress on Idaho families," said Stennett. "No one was prepared for this, but it is up to all of us to do our piece towards recovery. The Legislature has a duty to find solutions to protect public health and safety and provide economic security. There is no excuse for inaction or political posturing."
"The legislature's foremost responsibility is to keep Idahoans safe." Rubel stated. "The Democratic caucus has put together a slate of solutions that should be implemented as soon as possible. The coronavirus pandemic has had dire financial, health, and educational impacts on Idaho families, and there are numerous steps that can and should be taken to meaningfully alleviate the risk and suffering facing our people. We hope our Republican colleagues will join us in pressing forward with these plans."
The Democratic caucus compiled a list of solutions that can be accomplished through state action, as follows:
A $100 million cut to our education budget, as has been imposed by the Governor, is not acceptable.
Kids are being sent back to schools in a month. The state is asking already underpaid teachers to take on unprecedented new risks and responsibilities. Teachers and other school personnel are expected to enter into substantial personal danger, to ensure social distancing for students, to enforce masking in many places and to ensure other precautions are maintained. Teachers are being forced to innovate and learn new methods of instruction for remote learners, and in return for all of this they are getting a pay cut, and losing salary increases they fought for years to obtain.
Idaho already faced a teacher recruitment and retention crisis heading into this pandemic, and this cut is a recipe for disaster. The Democratic caucus believes the following is necessary:
Health & Welfare.
We were surprised and disappointed that no Health and Welfare working group was established during this health crisis. Addressing health concerns should be the principal goal of the state government during the coronavirus pandemic. We have two priorities in the health and welfare area:
Idaho's economic rebound hinges on the safety, confidence of consumers, employees
Guest opinion by Governor Brad Little
As more and more businesses are opening their doors, many Idahoans have been eager to get out of the house and get back to work.
I'm grateful to see my friends and neighbors feeling confident about returning to work and visiting businesses again.
But there remain many other Idahoans with earnest concern about the effect coronavirus could have on them and their families.
Close to half a million Idaho adults are considered at-risk of developing severe complications from coronavirus. That's more than one-third of our adult population.
Health and the economy are not mutually exclusive - they are interconnected.
We cannot rebound if a huge segment of our population is afraid to engage in the economy again.
They will engage, however, if they feel safe going outside their homes to visit businesses and return to work.
We all have a role to play in keeping them safe.
Our personal actions are the most effective way to manage the virus and get our economy roaring again. Wear a face covering in public, keep at least six feet of physical distance from others, keep hands and surfaces clean, and stay home if you're sick.
Many businesses and employers are protecting their workers and customers by practicing these measures.
Even if contracting COVID-19 is low on your list of personal concerns, I urge you to still do these things. Prosperity and safety are linked. Protecting other citizens is the right thing to do, and our economic rebound depends on it.
Folks also need to know they should go to their health care provider for other medical issues. Please, don't put off care because of concerns about COVID-19. In many cases, longer delays in care will worsen outcomes for patients. Hospitals, healthcare facilities, clinics, and doctors have the protections in place to treat you safely and appropriately.
Idaho was one of the last states in the country with a confirmed coronavirus case. We were one of the first states to create a safe, responsible plan to reopen the economy in stages. President Trump, Vice President Pence, and White House officials repeatedly have praised Idaho's staged approach and our handling of federal relief funds in prioritizing support for small businesses.
The one and only reason we're able progress through the stages of reopening is because the people of Idaho - individually and collectively - have taken personal responsibility in slowing the spread of this new disease.
We are better off in Idaho than elsewhere not because the problem doesn't exist, but because we're doing a good job protecting our family, neighbors, and friends.
We cannot let up. We control the outcome. We control our ability to make consumers and employees confident about going back to work and visiting places of business. Our personal choices matter.
Thank you to the people of Idaho for your determination during these tough times and the care you have shown others.
It's up to Idahoans to ameliorate government's heavy hand
Guest opinion by Lt. Governor Janice McGeachin
As Lieutenant Governor, I am one heartbeat away from the governor's chair. I am also a small business owner. My family and I own four small businesses in the restaurant and automotive industries, employing hundreds of Idahoans. As a former member of the Idaho House of Representatives, I represented a district in eastern Idaho for many years and was viewed as a champion of small businesses and entrepreneurs.
My reputation and current position has many constituents asking me why small businesses and entrepreneurs--who make up the backbone of Idaho's economy---are largely underrepresented in the Governor's coronavirus advisory committees, task forces, and economic reopening committees.
I lose sleep at night because the heavy hand of our government is hurting so many Idahoans. Idahoans were sidelined and left to watch silently as the government closed Main Street by unilaterally deciding which businesses were "essential" and which ones were not. By deciding that certain goods can only be purchased in certain places, or not at all, our government has been selecting economic winners and losers throughout this pandemic.
The effects of the executive branch's unilateral decisions will impact us for years. Now we are being told that if we attempt to salvage our livelihood, if we attempt to open our businesses to put food on the table for our families, if we have the courage to "defy" the reopening plan our government imposed upon us our business licenses will be at stake.
Now more than ever before, we are in a moment where political courage is mandated. We must not be afraid to stand up for all businesses large and small--including those thousands of businesses, without a voice or a paid lobbyist. You can find those businesses on Main Street in every town in Idaho. We must stand up for the livelihoods of hardworking Idahoans. We must have the courage to tell it straight. Realistically, there is a segment of our populations that will remain at risk during this pandemic and there may be a spike in COVID-19 cases as we reopen. I agree that we should do all that we can to protect our vulnerable citizens, as well as our frontline workers. But there are other facts to consider: This shutdown is taking a financial toll on Idahoans. Thousands of Idahoans still haven't received unemployment or were denied SBA and PPP loans and grants. For some businesses which did receive a PPP loan, the government policy places the forgivable portion of those loans at risk. When these businesses are not permitted to open until mid-June at the earliest, it will be beyond the time limit required to tap into some of those funds, according to the US Treasury. With bills quickly mounting, and no income coming in, there has been a spike in bankruptcies, suicides, depression and businesses that will never open again. We must begin to examine these facts--as well as the health care-related data the Governor is focused on--to properly evaluate how to move forward. I hope the Governor's business task force will take all these facts into consideration, not just the medical facts provided by cabinet members.
While most Idahoans support the public safety aspect of the Governor's Stay-At-Home Order, the one thing that is missing in all of this is the confidence that Idahoans are smart enough to put in place public health protocols so they can reopen their business, welcome customers, and take care of their employees. The Governor campaigned on a promise of imposing the "lightest hand of government" on Idahoans. To me, this means getting out of the way and letting Idahoans get back to work.
Ybarra: Teacher Appreciation Week has special importance in these trying times
Guest opinion by Sherri Ybarra, Superintendent of Public Instruction
Teacher Appreciation Week is something we celebrate every year in Idaho, and for very good reason. But this year, May 4-8 has particular resonance because Idaho teachers are stretching their imagination and energy to meet students' needs during a state and national crisis that has closed our schools and impacted education in ways we never expected.
Like all of us, Idaho's teachers are dealing with the challenges of social isolation, working from home and coping with the effects of this pandemic on those they know and love. On top of that, they've been plunged into uncharted territory to find innovative, creative ways to keep communicating and connecting with students when classrooms are closed and not all children have equal access to online programs and devices. Most crucially, they've had to instruct and encourage their students without their greatest tool: the warmth and energy of personal contact.
From using the internet and social media to interact with students individually and in groups, to standing outside a student's home to help with homework from a safe distance, our teachers are finding ways to connect. They're even taking to the airwaves to reach students without online access by teaching via Idaho Public Television's "Classroom Idaho" program, a collaboration of Idaho Public Television, the State Department of Education and Idaho Business for Education.
I know firsthand how rewarding it is to be a teacher. It can also be physically, mentally and emotionally challenging, especially when you can't be in the classroom interacting with and helping your students. It has been truly inspiring to see the imaginative social media posts and hear stories from across the state about how teachers and students are connecting to keep that personal touch we know is so important. And, it is why I have made it a priority to share as many of those stories as possible on the Department's Facebook page.
If this current pandemic and the closure of schools has shown us anything, it is how very important our teachers and schools are to the daily life and learning of Idaho's children. At the State Department of Education, teachers are at the heart of our mission: supporting schools and students to achieve.
Just one indicator that Idahoans have great appreciation for the teachers in their lives this year is that we've received an unprecedented number of nominations for the 2021 Teacher of the Year from parents, community members and educators throughout our state. We'll be accepting nominations until Monday, May 11. The process is easy: Just fill out the online nomination form/.
Please take the time to reach out to the teachers you value - not just with words but also with actions. Check out the Teacher Appreciation Toolkit on my office's web page if you need ideas.
Let's make sure Idaho teachers know how much they are appreciated and valued, this week and every week.
Greatness of educators clear amid Covid-19 response
Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo
As schools closed nationwide to help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, millions of school-aged children suddenly started being homeschooled.
Many parents are reeling trying to juggle at home work schedules while trying to keep on top of schooling needs. For most, this abrupt shift has not been easy, and the tremendous importance of our educators is even more acutely clear. All the while, teachers and administrators have been working hard to overcome the difficult circumstances, quickly disseminating learning materials and ensuring access to online education tools. I commend our nation's great educators for once again rising to the challenge to reach their students and the parents trying hard to fill these enormous shoes so the future of our great nation gets the educations they so greatly deserve.
Teachers across Idaho have stepped up to make sure COVID-19 does not completely disrupt children's education. Schools have quickly adjusted to ensure ongoing education opportunities for students. Educators have creatively adapted curriculum. Teachers have sent personal videos reading to their students from afar and providing online lessons. They continue to encourage, shape and resourcefully reach their students regardless of the circumstances. Many schools also continue to offer pick-up lunches to students to ensure they have the nutrition they need to fuel their growing brains.
My Mother was an English teacher, and one of my sisters also taught for many years. I have seen firsthand, not only through their examples, but also through the many teachers I have had, known and met with over the years, how deeply they care for their students. The devoted focus on students and excellence apparent in teachers radiates through our communities.
Congress and the Administration have supported schools impacted by COVID-19 through enactment of multiple phases of legislation providing federal resources to back the continuity of educational efforts amid the COVID-19 crisis. Among this assistance, in March, the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed, and President Trump signed into law, Phase 3 of the emergency coronavirus response legislation, the bipartisan Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that establishes a more than $30 billion Education Stabilization Fund. The fund includes a Governor's Emergency Relief Fund, an Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund and a Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund.
The resources support flexible learning options, including remote education efforts, to address the needs of students and educators. The law also provides flexibility in the application of education accountability laws to assist with the emergency shift in how students are educated. Further, the law includes childcare, child nutrition and other education-related assistance. Information about the implementation of the education provisions in the CARES Act is accessible on the U.S. Department of Education website, at www.ed.gov.
As implementation of the support already enacted into law continues and Congress and the Administration considers the need for additional resources, I will keep the needs of Idaho students at the forefront of discussions. Thank you greatly to Idaho teachers and administrators for the outstanding work you continue to do to ensure sound educations for Idaho students no matter the circumstances. You are truly making a difference.
President's plan to responsibly reopen the economy in phases is underway in Idaho
Guest opinion by Governor Brad Little
President Donald Trump laid out new guidelines https://www.whitehouse.gov/openingamerica/ last night (April 16) that align with Idaho's approach to responsibly reopen our economy in stages.
Like all our previous actions where we followed CDC and Presidential guidance, the new plan is in lockstep with the approach we have been pursuing in Idaho.
On Wednesday, I announced initial steps toward safely reopening Idaho's economy in phases based on Idaho-specific data. Our goal is to avoid a spike in severe cases, which will set back our economic recovery.
My amended order, which is in place until April 30, allows any business, facility or service to open for curbside and delivery service. Further, businesses can now prepare to open their doors after April 30 as long as they make preparations to meet certain criteria for social distancing, sanitation, and others. For now, this excludes certain businesses where people simply cannot safely social distance.
Our approach allows us to further assess the trajectory of cases in Idaho and continue to strengthen our healthcare and testing capacity - just as the President's guidelines recommend.
I've heard from neighbors, parents of school children, and small business owners. I share their concerns and frustration. It breaks my heart to see years and sometimes generations of hard work be plundered by the pandemic. No one wants to get our economy back up and running as much as I do, but we simply cannot open everything all at once and reverse the good work we have done collectively over the past month to slow the spread of coronavirus.
Today, there is no vaccine. There is no therapeutic to relieve symptoms, and we are far from achieving herd immunity to the virus.
But the President's guidelines confirm Idaho is focused on the right areas for improvement, including expansion of testing access and contact tracing, increased healthcare system capacity, protecting the health of critical workers and vulnerable citizens, and reinforcing personal actions to prevent spread.
Our shared efforts to "flatten the curve" are working, but we have not yet seen a prolonged downward trend of severe cases - as recommended by the President - to justify opening up everything at once.
Until we do, we must continue to stay the course and proceed in an objective, organized manner toward opening the economy.
We all must ramp up our actions to slow the spread of coronavirus so that we can minimize the potential for future waves of infections and ensure a strong economic comeback as quickly as possible.
As advised by the President, we are taking this a few weeks at a time. Before the end of the month, I will lay out our next steps for the May.
I have spent the past couple of weeks with business leaders across the state, and next week I will announce the formation of an economic recovery group made up of private sector folks who will help guide us.
Just like Idaho rebounded from the last recession, prudent action today will allow Idaho to catapult forward with broad economic prosperity. What we are doing now is difficult, but I have no doubt Idaho will be one of the leaders in recovering from coronavirus.
Thank you to the people of Idaho for doing an incredible job protecting your loved ones, your neighbors, and yourselves during this unprecedented time.
Harper her choice for Idaho House of Representatives
Dennis Harper is my choice for the Idaho House of Representatives District 7A position.
Dennis will work hard for the interests of Clearwater County and Orofino while in Boise. He has lived in Orofino for over 40 years and been involved in the community in youth projects, Kiwanis, the Chamber of Commerce, PLAY and more.
We need a strong voice in Boise to represent our "North Idaho" interests and Dennis will do that. He will be accessible to each of us and will listen to our concerns. I encourage you to vote Dennis Harper on May 19th. Go to Idahovotes.gov to request your absentee ballot today.
Heather Leach Orofino
Rubel, Lent: Idahoans deserve a second chance
Guest opinion by Representative Ilana Rubel/(D-Boise) and Senator Dave Lent/(R-Idaho Falls)
Our criminal justice system is intended to ensure there is an appropriate penalty associated with crime. We refer to this as paying one's debt to society. However, under some of Idaho's current laws, the payment never seems to stop. Our courts assign formal penalties, like prison time, probation and fines, but these can often be the least of a former offender's difficulties. The bigger problem is the long list of "collateral consequences" that are not part of the sentence but follow individuals far beyond the end of any time served. It is not hard to link these collateral consequences with the unacceptably high rate of people returning to the correctional system.
Often those affected are friends or family members who committed relatively minor offenses, learned their lesson, and are ready to move on with their lives. Unfortunately, these records will follow them forever, and can severely affect their ability to find housing or a job. Inquiries into their criminal record will follow them to every job and housing application, and can be the first and last question that companies ask before turning them away. The resulting higher rates of unemployment, underemployment and homelessness for these individuals actually increases the risk that they will reoffend. With no money and no roof over their head, it's no surprise that Idaho's recidivism rate is 35 percent for felony offenders.
In Idaho, if you were 18 or over at the time of the offense, everything on your record, even misdemeanors, stays in public view to your dying day. The majority of states don't operate this way. In fact, 41 states and the District of Columbia offer some mechanism for record-sealing for adults, and it has proven successful. The most comprehensive study we could find showed that for those with relatively minor offenses who had gone several years without reoffending and then had their record sealed, they were 22 percent more likely to be employed, and if previously employed their wages were 25 percent higher after sealing. Most importantly, this was accomplished with no threat to public safety; in fact there was substantial benefit. The recidivism rates for these former offenders were extremely low, and arrest rates for those with sealed records were actually 29 percent lower than those of the public at large. Remember Idaho's 35 percent felony recidivism rate? This study showed a 1 percent felony recidivism rate for those who had successfully had their records sealed. It turns out that, having been given a chance to get their lives back on track, they did not want to blow their opportunity by reoffending.
Only infractions, misdemeanors, and nonviolent felonies that fall below a defined threshold would be sealed. This means those with a need to know, like law enforcement and judges, would still have access to ensure repeat offenders are accounted for. The point is to better define when justice has been served and allow individuals to move on with their lives.
We think it's time for Idaho to seriously start addressing reform of our criminal justice system. Many of these folks deserve a real second chance, but we continue to hand out these collateral life sentences. We are proposing legislation referred to as a "Clean Slate" bill that would allow those who have committed non-violent, non-sexual offenses, who have completed their sentence (including probation and parole) and who have gone at least three years without reoffending to petition a court to have their public record sealed. If they can make their case to the judge that they are no longer a threat to society, they can earn a real shot at getting their lives back on track.
With the cost of our correctional system being second only to education in our state, it is time to consider different approaches to enable those who have paid their price to society move forward. We need those with criminal records to succeed, not reoffend. Taxpayers are footing the bill every time a person is reincarcerated in our already overburdened prisons, and it's better for all of us when more of our citizens are employed. Instead of setting former offenders up for a life of frustration and desperation that may push them to commit another crime, let's work to remove barriers to employment and empower them to learn from their mistakes.
Orofino Police Department sponsoring Christmas 911
To whom it may concern:
Once again, the Orofino Police Department will be sponsoring and participating in the Christmas 911 program.
The last 10 years, the Police Department has been providing full Christmas dinners and gifts to families in our area who were experiencing hardship and most likely would not have had much for Christmas. Each year we accept donations from businesses and community members to fund the program. We have been able to provide meals and nice gifts for up to approximately 30 families and 70 children a year. The meals included turkeys, hams, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, rolls, vegetables, milk and desserts. The gifts were age appropriate for all the children in the family who are of school age or younger and were of extremely nice quality. The needs of each child are identified to us early on, so most of the gifts accommodate their needs.
Although it may seem like a small impact for the community, the program has had a large and long-lasting effect on the families we served, as well as all the people who volunteered time and/or donated money toward the program. Seeing children as gifts were placed under their tree and seeing parents cry with relief and joy knowing they would be able to have a wonderful family Christmas was moving for the officers, city staff, school officials, and other community members who made deliveries over the past years.
We look forward to providing meals and gifts to additional families again this year. We are once again soliciting donations from businesses and private individuals to make this year an even bigger success. If you are willing to donate, please make checks payable to Christmas 911. Donations can also be made at the Lewis-Clark Credit Union or mailed to the Orofino Police Department (attn: Christmas 911) at P.O. Box 2603, Orofino, ID 83544.
Thank you in advance for any assistance you are able to provide. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact the Police Department at (208) 476-5551 or email Lahni Ireland at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Little: Idaho will need 'agile' workers
Guest opinion by Governor Brad Little
Today's students are tomorrow's workforce, and they will have to adapt to change in their careers more than any other generation before them. In a word, they will have to be agile.
Technological advances and the anticipated automation of more jobs down the road mean families, schools, and colleges must push students toward a lifetime of embracing technological changes, problem solving, and continual training.
During lunch one day this week, I spoke to leaders in Idaho education and business at my summit on workforce development about how we can prepare today's students for jobs of the future.
Four hours later, I moderated a panel of four university presidents at Boise Startup Week on ways to create an environment where innovation and entrepreneurs can thrive.
Two common themes emerged at both events: students need us to connect their education to the needs of employers, and employers need workers who have the capacity to grow and adapt to change.
Families, parents, schools, and colleges must work together to introduce not just skills in critical thinking and how to collaborate in diverse groups, but life skills as well. Together, we must teach kids to make good choices, show up, be curious, be disciplined, and roll with the punches.
Working together, we can point and incentivize students onto the right path.
And we have a strong foundation on which to work.
We are focusing our efforts on improving literacy, especially among the most challenged segments of our population, so they have a strong bedrock for future learning.
We are getting our kids college- and career-ready. More and more, our education system is focusing on soft skills and total wellbeing - physical, mental, and social - while at the same time pairing students with job prospects and teaching them nuts-and-bolts skills they can use in jobs every day.
The "talent pipeline" is already working, and there are numerous examples across the state in which business is proactively working with community colleges and universities to train students in programs that meet their specific industry needs. Business organizations are taking on a bigger role in shaping the discussion and priorities around education that leads to employment. State programs are bridging the gap between business and student by facilitating internships and apprenticeships because, after all, the best way to learn a job is by doing it.
Additionally, there is a greater focus on STEM skills now than any other time in Idaho's history.
And the outstanding research taking place at our universities gives entrepreneurs and innovators an outlet to come up with new products, services, and ideas. In fact, the $20,000 winners at Boise Startup Week were the founders of self-cleaning toilet seat Washie, a product that originated from a grant awarded to Idaho State University from the Idaho Department of Commerce's Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission program. It is the perfect example of the program having the desired effect.
In America, we do not take our children at an early age and assign them a profession. The magic of American free enterprise is that we all have the freedom to choose and, yes, freedom to fail.
I choose to join many partners in working together in Idaho to keep the momentum going in the direction of success. Families, business, educators, and government in Idaho are all committed to working toward the same thing: to prepare today's young people to be happy, productive, and of course, agile, into the future.
Food Service Staff ready to welcome students back to school
Welcome back to a new school year! The Joint School District # 171 food service staff is looking forward to serving your children nutritious, great-tasting meals that support their achievements in school and promote healthy lifestyles.
We strive to provide outstanding service and high quality "kid friendly" meals that meet the latest federal and state requirements. Among the goals I have for this year is adding more options for junior/senior high school level. Please encourage your children to participate in tasting these new items. They just might become a new favorite!
We will also be offering the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable program at Timberline Elementary School, Orofino Elementary School and Peck Elementary School. This is a great opportunity to introduce new and exciting items while offering a nutritious afternoon snack for K-6 students.
I am always available for comments, questions or concerns and we look forward to seeing the students on the first day of school!
Editor's note: This is the beginning of a newsletter from the Food Service at Joint School District #171. We will be sharing other topics over the next few issues.
How Idaho ushered in the largest regulatory cuts in state history
Guest opinion by Governor Brad Little
When I took office as Idaho's 33rd Governor in January, I was determined to follow through on my promise to reduce regulatory burdens on Idaho citizens and businesses.
Six months later, we have cut or simplified 40 percent of Idaho regulations! Idaho's work is setting an example for other states and the federal government to follow.
How did we do it? Through a combination of efforts, some planned and one unexpected.
Within my first few weeks in office, I issued two executive orders aimed at scaling back Idaho's Administrative Code - the Red Tape Reduction Act and Licensing Freedom Act of 2019. Those executive orders are on my web site here: https://gov.idaho.gov/executive-orders/
The agencies within my administration already had begun their examination of rules to cut back when the Idaho Legislature in April chose not to pass routine legislation reauthorizing Idaho's administrative code. The Legislature's decision put the onus on me to choose which rules should stay and which rules should go by July 1.
In response to the situation, I used my executive authority to direct agencies in my administration to expedite the regulatory reduction efforts already set in motion by my earlier executive orders.
The agencies collectively held more than 40 public meetings, and I opened a public comment period welcoming feedback from Idahoans on rules identified for expiration or reauthorization.
All told, our work resulted in the elimination of 20 percent of all rule chapters. Another 20 percent of all rule chapters were significantly simplified.
For example, the Idaho Department of Insurance eliminated 17 chapters of rules and renumbered all remaining chapters to better group the health insurance, title insurance, and life insurance rules together. The Idaho Division of Building Safety had 16 separate rule chapters on logging safety. They were consolidated into a one-stop shop rule, simplifying compliance and eliminating 7,000 words in the process.
There was a good deal of silliness that made its way into our laws over time. We eliminated a rule from 1961 establishing the state's deputy veterinarian "must be attired in neat, clean and correct clothing" and "at all times have proper behavior, be alert, animated, agreeable and have pleasant manners." I am sure our state deputy veterinarian will be glad to know he won't be breaking the law from now on if he comes to work with an untucked shirt!
The Legislature's unexpected decision was not something I asked for and didn't necessarily want at first.
However, the work over the past six months has undeniably transformed Idaho's administrative code into a set of rules that are easier for Idahoans to understand and navigate.
When I took office, Idaho had 736 chapters and 8,200 pages of rules. Our efforts in a few short months cut 900 pages of regulations.
We took advantage of an opportunity to turn government on its head: working with citizens in an open, transparent process, we envisioned the entire administrative code gone and decided what should stay.
I am very proud of the agencies within my administration for sharing my enthusiasm to clean up and simplify our laws. I hope other states and the federal government look to Idaho for what can be accomplished with some boldness and creativity.
Partnering is a way to build pathways to careers
Guest opinion by Debbie Critchfield, President, Idaho State Board of Education
As the spouse of a fourth generation Idaho farmer, I know that finding a meaningful occupation is essential to well-being and happiness. Our state is growing fast, providing many opportunities in various career fields. The Idaho State Board of Education is partnering with Governor Brad Little's Workforce Development Council to create smoother career pathways through education.
It starts by encouraging Idahoans to continually strive for new knowledge and skills. "We need to generate a large body of life-long learners," said Trent Clark, Chairman of the Workforce Development Council. "Life-long learners are looking beyond tomorrow and continually preparing themselves for the next opportunity no matter where they are in their career."
"Employers want even their entry-level employees to have aspirations," said Jeff McCray, Council Member and Plant Manager at McCain Foods in Burley. "Employers aren't interested in employees who aren't on a career pathway." Employees with future plans tend to be more reliable and work harder and better, mastering duties and making a difference before moving up within the company or moving on to employment elsewhere.
Launching a career pathway starts by helping a student match their aptitudes and interests with a career and course study. In late July, the State Board will launch Idaho Career Information, a new program replacing the Career Information System. Idaho Career Information will be a dynamic online tool enabling students and adults to explore opportunities and start planning their career pathway. Idaho Career Information will be available on the Next Steps Idaho website, meaning students can use it in the classroom or at home with their parents.
"Like the old system, Idaho Career Information will start with a personal skills assessment and interest exploration. It will then show students and adults how to take those skills and interests and apply them to related occupations," Program Coordinator Inessa Palnikov said.
In response to the Governor's Workforce Development Task Force recommendations to implement a single platform for career exploration and postsecondary planning the Board and the Workforce Development Council are developing ways to expand the reach and the audience of the Next Steps Idaho website.
Last year, we teamed up to create a social media campaign to raise awareness about Idaho's Adult Opportunity Scholarship intended to help working adults return to college or to a career technical program in order to earn a degree or a professional certificate. This scholarship is a tremendous resource available to both part-time and full-time adult students, who are working to improve their skills and job prospects, which is really what life-long learning is all about.
The Council and the Board are also exploring ways to grant college-level credit for various kinds of experience learned in the work place. This could include skills and experience gained while serving in the military, or through apprenticeships.
These are a few priorities where the State Board of Education and the Workforce Development Council are collaboratively focusing efforts. We will keep you posted as we work to connect current and future workers to state resources and worthwhile career pathways that benefit our citizens, our employers and our state.
Crapo: Honor fallen heroes by ensuring wellbeing of their families
Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo
One of the ways we can honor fallen heroes beyond Memorial Day is by making certain that the benefits they more than paid for to ensure the wellbeing of their families after their death are fulfilled.
I co-led the introduction of the Military Widow's Tax Elimination Act that will correct an unfair application of federal regulations that strips surviving family members of annuities they already purchased. A bipartisan majority of 58 senators have co-sponsored this legislation. It is past time to do what is right for military families and enact this common sense fix.
Military spouses serve, in a way, along with the servicemembers they support. When their spouse is deployed, they carry on getting children to school, appointments and activities without their spouse close by to help. They manage daily life while shouldering the stress of the threats their loved ones face while deployed. They move their lives to where their spouses are stationed, which may be far away from family and friends. This is not easy. Military families are an integral part of the defense community and their needs increase when a servicemember passes away.
I have heard from Idaho military families who planned for their futures by purchasing supplemental insurance plans, but have faced bureaucratic barriers to fully accessing the benefits they purchased. The families of veterans and service personnel who die as a result of their military service are eligible for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Separately, many military retirees make financial planning decisions to participate in the U.S. Department of Defense's Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP). The SBP is an annuity available for purchase as income protection for surviving family members. Military retirees need not have a service-connected death or disability for their survivors to receive SBP. Retirees participating in the SBP program pay a monthly premium based on the amount of coverage elected.
However, despite the retiree paying for the SBP through reduced retirement pay, under current law, survivors who receive DIC benefits have their SBP annuity payments reduced dollar-for-dollar by the DIC amount they receive. According to data provided by the Military Officers Association of America, more than 65,000 military families nationwide are affected by what is known as the SBP-DIC offset. We must fix this in a fiscally-responsible manner.
In February, Senators Doug Jones (D-Alabama), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Jon Tester (D-Montana) and I introduced S. 622, the Military Widow's Tax Elimination Act of 2019. This legislation, which is also co-sponsored by fellow Idaho Senator Jim Risch, would repeal the SBP-DIC offset and prohibit the U.S. Department of Defense from recouping past payments to SBP recipients.
I have been a longtime proponent of this legislation because surviving spouses should receive their purchased insurance benefits. The servicemen and women who bought this insurance have worked to ensure that their loved ones are provided for after their death. These plans must be honored. I also co-sponsored and voted in favor of legislative attempts to eliminate the unjust SBP-DIC offset in previous years.
Thank you to veterans and military families for your service to our nation. Thank you to all those who gather to honor this service and our fallen heroes at Memorial Day events throughout Idaho. I will continue to work to ensure that the service of military families is respected and eliminate obstacles restricting military families from rightfully receiving the benefits they purchased. Denying veterans the benefits they have more than paid for must end.
People can work together
Some times we feel like people are pulling away from each other, but last week showed us how when needed people can work well together.
There was a lot of high-water last week, overflowing banks and clogged up culverts. Riverside of Orofino had its share of flooding. Like our neighbors, we had run-off coming down the street and on both sides of our house. After a few phone calls and some visits from the Mayor, Riverside Water District, city employees; people went into action to secure banks, clear the culvert and place sand bags when and where needed.
Our thanks go out to Mayor Ryan Smathers for his quick action, E. J. Bonner and other Riverside Water District employees, Shane Miller and other city employees, and a Red Shirt work crew from the state prison. We also want to thank Commissioner Ryan for taking the time to call and check on the situation.
Mike and Linda Chamberlin
Idaho's forests need us as much as we need them
Guest opinion by the State Board of Land Commissioners
With 40 percent of Idaho covered in trees, the management of our forests affects us all.
All Idahoans benefit from the clean water, abundant wildlife habitat, recreation, and wood and paper products that healthy forests provide, along with many positive economic impacts.
Arbor Day is April 26, a time to celebrate the benefits forests provide us, but also a time to reflect on how forests depend on humans for their continued health through active forest management - the sustainable cycle of harvesting followed by replanting of trees and using fire as a management tool to reduce overgrown vegetation.
There are 21.4 million acres of forests in Idaho. About 10 million acres of federal forests in Idaho are overgrown, unhealthy, and prone to devastating fires.
Impaired forest health conditions and wildfire know no boundaries. As Land Board members, we oversee the management of one million acres of forested state endowment lands. The lands are a gift to Idaho in all they offer. Timber sales on endowment lands generate millions of dollars in revenue for Idaho's public schools annually. Sustainable forest management practices ensure these lands will continue to benefit public schools and Idaho citizens for years to come.
However, 94 percent of forested state endowment lands border federal national forests in Idaho. Wildfire, insects, and disease move freely between federal, state, and private lands.
To address the forest health crisis in Idaho and maintain healthy state endowment forests for public schools, we directed the Idaho Department of Lands to work with the U.S. Forest Service, forest industry, conservation groups, and others to help improve forest conditions on a scale that matters.
The recently inked "Shared Stewardship" agreement recognizes that different land owners - federal, state, and private - need to work together to reduce the risk of fire and infestations of insects and disease in our forests.
The state and federal government are using spatial planning tools to identify, coordinate, and treat priority landscapes across ownerships. The result will be reduced fuels to protect Idaho communities from wildfire, improved forest health, and job creation in the private sector.
We are just getting going with Shared Stewardship in Idaho, but we are anchoring to our success with the Good Neighbor Authority, a related program that encourages collaboration, resource sharing, and a "get it done" approach to land management.
We all love forests. But most of Idaho's forests need to be conserved, not preserved. Active, sustainable forest management is part of conservation. The steps we are taking with your support will ensure our forests are healthy for future generations.
Congress must approve Trump's trade agreement with Canada and Mexico
Guest opinion by Governor Brad Little
Our neighbors to the north and south play an integral part in Idaho's economy.
A trade agreement being considered for approval by Congress would enable Idaho businesses to continue competing in a global market and enhance their customer base in North America.
Congress must ratify President Trump's United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) for the benefit of Idaho businesses and rural communities across the state.
Canada and Mexico combined make up more than 25 percent of Idaho's total exports and nearly 50 percent of Idaho's total food and agriculture exports. More than 1,700 companies in Idaho export goods and services to more than 150 countries around the globe, and the two most accessible and important markets are right next door.
Canada alone, as Idaho's number one export market, purchased $926 million worth of goods ranging from fertilizer and locomotives to precious metals and cattle. Mexico was Idaho's fifth largest market with sales topping $230 million led by malt, milk powder, frozen potatoes, cheese and electronic integrated circuits. Clearly, the products exported to these two markets reflect a vast range of sectors and businesses from every corner of the state.
The USMCA is important to Idaho because it preserves and enhances critical gains made in previous trade agreements for Idaho products' market access. It would also create additional market access in Canada for Idaho dairy products. It would eliminate the Class 7 milk pricing system that created tremendous disadvantages to dairy processors in global markets. It also makes progress in the areas of labor, intellectual property, and digital trade.
In addition, the federal government needs to find a solution to tariffs that have caused significant increases in the price of steel and aluminum. The impact is felt by Idaho companies and has been detrimental to their bottom line. The retaliatory tariffs placed on a broad swath of U.S. and Idaho exports to both Canada and Mexico also have created significant headwinds for our exports. While tariffs may have a place in dealing with China, I urge the Trump Administration to consider an exemption for Canada and Mexico.
The longer these tariffs remain in place the more difficult it will be for our companies to re-establish business with lost customers.
Last week I wrote to all four members of Idaho's congressional delegation to express my strong support of the USMCA, encouraging them to vote for the agreement and find a solution on tariffs. We need to do all we can to ensure Idaho's long-term economic prosperity.
On National Ag Day and every day, celebrate farmers
To the Editor:
Farmers and ranchers are the backbone of America. They grow food to feed us, fiber to clothe us, and fuel to run our homes and cars. Their hard work and dedication provide economic stability across the nation - stability that supports rural economies and creates much-needed jobs in local communities. No matter who we are, where we live, or what we do, we all have a reason every day to celebrate and thank #ourfarmers.
March 14 is designated as National Ag Day. Today and every day, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Idaho join fellow agencies, non-profits, private industries, and consumers in thanking our agricultural producers for their contributions to our nation and beyond.
This year's National Ag Day theme, 'Agriculture: Food for Life', spotlights the hard work of American farmers and ranchers who diligently work to provide food and fiber for the United States and countries around the world. At USDA, our driving commitment is to support them as they put food on America's tables.
USDA works with millions of rural producers through a network of local service centers that serve every county. Our farmers face challenges each day, and we're proud to offer a variety of programs to help them fund their operations, manage risk, conserve natural resources, and recover from natural disasters.
On behalf of USDA, we would like to thank #ourfarmers for feeding our nation and the world. To our farmers and ranchers: We are here to support you every step of the way. Visit your local service center for one-on-one support with USDA programs and services, or learn more at farmers.gov. On National Ag Day, and every other day of the year, we celebrate you.
by: Brian Dansel, Acting State Executive Director, Idaho Farm Service Agency and Curtis Elke, State Conservationist, Natural Resources Conservation Service
Strizich: Idahoans knew exactly what they voted for with Medicaid Expansion
Guest opinion by Emily Strizich, Reclaim Idaho Co-Founder
Medicaid Expansion in Idaho is officially under attack. Just this week Treasure Valley Representative John Vander Woude proposed a laundry list of restrictions - including very unpopular forced work restrictions - designed to deny thousands of working Idahoans healthcare coverage. His bill, essentially, would repeal what nearly two-thirds of Idahoans voted for.
The reasoning behind Vander Woude's anti-healthcare bill is novel: he doesn't think Idahoans knew what they were voting for. In his view, Idahoans didn't have the wherewithal to research Medicaid Expansion and its benefits, it's positive economic impact on the states that have implemented it, and the lifeline it would provide to Idaho's rural hospitals. In John Vander Woude's eyes, we're all too dumb to weigh in on an issue that will affect tens of thousands of our friends, family members and neighbors.
I beg to differ.
Over the last year, I personally knocked on more than a thousand doors throughout Idaho. I talked face-to-face with people from all walks of life about Medicaid Expansion. My fellow volunteers at Reclaim Idaho knocked on over 100,000 doors statewide. Collectively, we spoke directly to Idahoans about the benefits of expanding healthcare coverage to people in the healthcare "gap," bringing home $400 million in tax dollars to our state, and providing security for Idaho's rural hospitals. The vast majority of people we spoke to agreed that Medicaid Expansion was a great opportunity for Idaho.
However, some Idahoans disagreed. I know, because I talked to them. No matter how compelling the argument in favor of Medicaid Expansion was, some people still were not convinced. But, that's what happens in a Democracy. While I respectfully disagree with their position, Idahoans all over the state heard the argument in favor of Medicaid Expansion and voted "no" anyway.
Did they not understand what they were voting against?
Having met with so many Idahoans across the state on this issue, I can tell you our electorate is much more informed than one Treasure Valley legislator thinks. Idahoans voted for stronger communities, fiscal responsibility and security for Idaho families when they voted to approve Medicaid Expansion. My fellow volunteers and I stand ready and willing to introduce Vander Woude and his anti-healthcare colleagues to these voters throughout the state. Once they've actually met their voters, perhaps they will have a change of heart.
More than 57-percent of Vander Woude's legislative district voted to approve Proposition Two. Canyon County (where he lives) also approved the initiative with 57-percent of the vote. These are the same people who voted Vander Woude into office. That presents an interesting conundrum given that he thinks Idahoans don't know what they're voting for.
Idaho's ballot initiative process is a constitutionally protected right. If you meet the requirements under state law to put an issue to the voters, they have a chance to decide. The "will of the voters" is not just a catch-phrase - it's a concept embedded in our state constitution for more than a century.
Idahoans knew exactly what they were voting for when they approved Medicaid Expansion. If our elected lawmakers actually met with their voters, they would know that.
Investment in public education benefits everyone
Guest opinion by Governor Brad Little
The education of young Idahoans affects all of us. A well-educated and well-trained population improves our overall prosperity as a state.
That is why I declared education my number one priority during my first State of the State and Budget Address earlier this month. A strong K-12 public education system is the foundation for making Idaho the place where all of us, our children and our grandchildren want to live, raise families, and retire.
This is Education Week at the Idaho Statehouse. Parents, students, teachers, and education leaders come to the Capitol to address policy and budget issues with a shared goal of making our public education system in Idaho stronger and more accountable.
The best education of our youngest Idahoans starts with families and later depends on teachers. Teachers enter their profession with hearts for making a difference. They become teachers because they love learning and helping others learn.
But a good heart isn't enough to keep some of our best teachers teaching. According to a State Board of Education Teacher Pipeline Report from 2017, about 15 percent of Idaho's teachers leave the workforce after just one year on the job. More than 30 percent of teachers who become certified in Idaho do not teach in an Idaho school. Teacher shortages continue in communities across the state.
We must recruit and retain new educators, particularly in rural, underserved, and border communities. To do that, starting teachers need to be compensated fairly and competitively. I am working to raise starting teacher pay to $40,000 a year.
Just like any other job, teachers need the right tools to deliver results.
Reading is the bedrock of every student's success. By the third grade, our students must have already learned to read so they can read to learn. Even the best prepared students will not be able to learn efficiently throughout their education if their classmates have difficulty reading.
I am working to double the funding available to advance literacy in Idaho. Your local school districts will decide the best ways to use the funds to raise reading scores among students.
Additionally, my budget adds investment in the popular Advanced Opportunity program. The program saves Idaho families in tuition costs and it aligns with our efforts to persuade more kids to "go on" to more education or technical training after they graduate.
Successful education policy requires long-term planning and buy-in from stakeholders. Stability is important.
The diverse education task force Governor Otter assembled in 2013 worked steadfastly to create a five-year blueprint for responsible investment and reform of Idaho's education system. The success of the task force has been the envy of other states. Once again, Idaho is showing the rest of the country how different perspectives can converge to move us forward.
Building on this successful approach, I announced I will be creating a new planning coalition called Our Kids, Idaho's Future. It will be broad-based so that a variety of perspectives can be considered as we provide the next five-year blueprint for education investment and modernization. The group will look at Idaho's education system holistically, addressing teacher pay, the go-on rate, the metrics for assessing our education system, and other topics.
Continued investment in public education isn't just the right thing to do. Our bottom line depends on it. I've traveled extensively throughout Idaho working on economic development during my 10 years as Lieutenant Governor. I can tell you, unequivocally, a strong public education system attracts investment in new and existing businesses of all sizes. We all benefit from a strong economy.
My five grandchildren are seventh generation Idahoans enrolled in Idaho's public schools. Nothing would make Teresa and I happier than to see them 15 to 20 years from now, working in Idaho and starting their own families.
I promise them and all young Idahoans I will be a champion for education excellence and student achievement so they have the best chance to stay right here where we want them.
Avista Utilities - Hydro One merger efforts terminated
Dear Community Partner,
I wanted to share that today, Jan. 23, Avista and Hydro One announced that we have mutually agreed to terminate our proposed merger agreement after the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission and the Idaho Public Utilities Commission denied approval of the transaction.
After careful consideration and analysis of the likelihood of achieving a timely reversal of those orders, the Boards of Directors of both companies determined that terminating the merger is the appropriate course of action.
Over the past 18 months, even as we worked hard to receive regulatory approval to complete the combination, we stayed focused on ensuring we were providing you the same great, high quality service you have come to expect from Avista. Going forward, we are the same strong and vibrant utility you know, with the same outstanding and dedicated team.
So, for all of Avista's stakeholders, it remains business as usual. Our mission and focus remains, as it always has been and will continue to be, to ensure that we take great care of you, our customers, and provide you with safe and reliable energy throughout the five states we proudly serve: Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Montana, and Alaska. As we pivot from the planned transaction, we look forward to continuing to build on our nearly 130-year history as an independent regional utility serving the Pacific Northwest.
On behalf of the 1,766 employees of Avista, we thank you for your continued support. We are honored to serve you.
Letters of support needed for Skate-BMX Bike Park
As you've all heard I'm sure, the City of Orofino is working on a Skate/BMX Bike Park on Dunlap.
The school district recently deeded the property to the City (of Orofino) and we are applying for a grant to help fund part of the construction.
The city has set aside some funds, and local contractors are donating labor and knowledge to the project as well. The City Council and myself are behind the project 100 percent and think it will prove to be a popular new venue for Orofino's youth (and some daring adults).
Chris St. Germaine is working on the grant and needs letters of support from the community, so please take the time and show your support for this project. We've heard for years Orofino does nothing for its young people. Here is your chance to help change that!
Please email your letter to her at email@example.com or mail a hard copy to her before 01/24/2019 at Clearwater County Economic Development, P.O. Box 1826 Orofino, ID 83544.
Idaho's dual credit program keeps growing
by Dr. Linda Clark, president, Idaho State Board of Education
Five years ago, Idaho launched its dual credit program for high school students and it has been a resounding success. The idea behind the program is to give students a jump-start on their college education by enabling them to take college-level courses while still in high school, meaning they can earn college credit before they step on a college campus.
Nearly half of the 2017 graduating class earned dual credits compared to just under a third of the 2014 graduating class. In fact, 121 graduates in the 2017 class earned enough credits to collect an associate's degree along with their high school diploma.
To understand the rapid growth of the dual credits earned, it helps to look at how the program has changed over the years and how it is benefitting students throughout our state.
The first iteration was available only to high school students; however, it was up to students and their parents to pay the initial credit costs and receive reimbursement from the state after the course was completed.
Idaho legislators and the governor enacted the Advanced Opportunities program and appropriated funds for the 2014-15 school year to provide for payment for a three-credit course for juniors and two three-credit courses for seniors. Idaho families took advantage of these options and as a result, 42 percent of the 2016 graduating class earned dual credits.
State leaders modified the Advanced Opportunities program in time for the 2016-17 school year, authorizing up to $4,125 for each student to use to pay for dual credit courses and postsecondary credit-earning exams taken in middle through high school. In the class of 2017, 48 percent of graduating seniors earned a total of 93,551 dual credits, an increase of 158 percent compared to the 2013 graduating class. The increase is fairly consistent across our state, whether the graduates live in cities or in rural areas of Idaho.
Underserved populations are also taking more dual credit courses. For instance, just under 43 percent of Hispanic students enrolled in dual credit courses in 2016-17 school year compared to nearly 26 percent in 2013-14.
Research shows the dual credit program has a positive effect on college go-on rates. "The more dual credits accumulated in high school, the more likely a student is to immediately go on and attend college after they graduate," State Board Principal Research Analyst Bill Laude said.
There is also a correlation between dual credits earned and first-year college retention rates. Laude found that dual credit earners who attended a four-year institution immediately after high school were three percent more likely to return for their sophomore fall term compared to students who did not earn dual credit. Students who enrolled in a community college and who earned dual credits while in high school were 15 percent more likely to return for their sophomore year compared to students who did not earn dual credits.
Idaho's Advanced Opportunities, Direct Admissions and Apply Idaho programs are innovative approaches that provide access to affordable college opportunities beginning in the seventh grade. These programs, coupled with increased college/career advising at both the high school and at the postsecondary institutions are important tools in Idaho's efforts to increase both "go-on" and college completion rates.
The $3 million in additional funding included in Governor Brad Little's budget for the Advanced Opportunities program will add important resources for Idaho students and families. The State Board appreciates the continued support of our elected leaders in this forward-thinking program.
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