The views expressed in letters to the editor and guest opinions are not necessarily those of this publication.
Goffinet: Giddings not representing District 7 people
Representative Priscilla Giddings, District 7, has spent the legislative session blocking the budgets of Idaho Public Television, k-12 public schools, Idaho public universities, and a $6,000,000 grant for early childhood education.
Her grounds: any programming that recognizes diversity or suggests curriculum addressing racial or gender equity.
Giddings represents the far-right Idaho Freedom Foundation, not the people of District 7.
The IFF produced reports on "Social justice ideology in Idaho higher education" and recommended blocking funding for universities with curricula or services that address social justice, an inclusive student body, or contemporary thoughts on equity.
The subjects of racial and gender equity have been concerns in public education from the first public school. Think of Brown vs. the Board of Education and Title IX.
Public education in the United States is for all students, regardless of race, color, ethnicity, religious stance, gender, or sexual preference.
Fairness is expected in public education curriculum, in teacher preparation programs, in student support services for public k-12 schools and universities, and in educational television.
I taught in Idaho public schools and universities. My Idaho students were White, along with Mexican American, Shoshone, Bannock, Hopi, Laotian, Cambodian, Serbian, Nez Perce, Asian American, Filipino, African American, Vietnamese, Russian, Bolivian, and people of mixed race.
Diversity enriched the classroom.
ALL Idaho students are important and to be treated with respect. We need curriculum and school services that support fairness.
We need District 7 representatives who understand and care about public education, fairness, and the diverse population of Idaho.
Little: More foolish logic in Democrats' COVID-19 relief plan penalizes responsible states like Idaho
Guest opinion by Governor Brad Little
Democrats in Washington, DC, are actively working to saddle your grandchildren with unprecedented levels of debt to bail out states that have not operated responsibly before or during the pandemic.
The latest round of foolish logic in the Democrats' COVID-19 relief plans would punish responsible states like Idaho for pursuing tax cuts for our citizens!
First, their plan gives disproportionately more direct aid to states that have kept people out of work and entered the pandemic with poorly performing economies and botched state budgets. The move comes at the expense of Idaho, which has low unemployment, few restrictions, a strong economy, and a solvent state budget. The plan siphons a quarter of a billion dollars away from Idaho and gives it to states on lockdown, such as California, New York, Illinois, and others.
Then, their package includes a multibillion-dollar bailout for private pension funds that have been mismanaged for decades. The move comes at the expense of Idaho, which has one of the strongest state pension funds in the nation, thanks to prudent management.
Now, under the bill, Idaho would potentially subsidize poorly managed states simply because we are using our record budget surplus to pursue historic tax relief for our citizens. Language in the federal bill is unclear, and one interpretation could prohibit states from pursuing tax relief through 2024. We achieved our record budget surplus after years of responsible, conservative governing and quick action during the pandemic, and our surplus should be returned to Idahoans as I proposed.
What incentive do states have to do the right thing when they get bailed out for doing the wrong thing?
Unlike these states, Idaho is in a position to cut taxes in a middle of a pandemic. We have limited spending. We have cut red tape and earned our status as the least regulated state in the nation. We rank among the most financially solvent states because of our rainy-day fund levels, solvent state pension, and strong Unemployment Insurance Fund balance.
Idaho has taken a balanced, measured approach in our pandemic response. We have managed to prevent a crisis in our hospitals while keeping businesses, schools, and churches open longer than almost every other state. We directed most of our federal relief funds in direct support of Idaho citizens and businesses. We are a leading state for our share of vaccine doses administered.
Other states chose to lockdown, hurting workers, students, and families. Meanwhile, their failed policies are not reducing COVID-19 spread. Idaho, on the other hand, continues to see declining COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations, while staying open.
Simply put, any future federal relief funds directed to states should be allocated fairly. We know the debt is mortgaged from our grandkids, and I will push to use those funds to directly support them through long-range investments in education, broadband, and water infrastructure.
Idaho's congressional delegation and I will continue to keep the pressure on Congress and the Biden Administration to do what's right for future generations, and not use our grandkids' futures for political payback to irresponsible states.
As in the past, COVID relief should be bipartisan, targeted
Guest opinion by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo
Prior to the recent passage of the American Rescue Plan, Congress came together five times to pass bipartisan bills totaling roughly $4 trillion to help Americans weather the pandemic.
Recent economic projections from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) provide proof of their effectiveness, predicting a robust economic recovery. We should be encouraged by this, as well as vaccine distribution underway, and look to fill any gaps in the response instead of just piling more taxpayer dollars on yet to be depleted programs. Unfortunately, a bipartisan process is not what occurred in the recent passage of the American Rescue Plan I voted against when the Senate passed it by a vote of 50-49.
The new Senate Majority's decision to move forward with a budget resolution to quickly pass proposals lacking broad bipartisan support, rather than focusing on policies that will boost vaccine distribution and help get people back to work and our kids safely back to school, was disappointing. The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan comes just a few short months after a $900 billion package was signed into law, and ignores estimates that roughly $1 trillion in enacted stimulus funding remains unspent. It directed the Senate Finance Committee to increase the deficit by a staggering $1.3 trillion, without deliberating what polices would best grow our economy. The Finance Committee did not debate amendments. Rather, it was asked to rubber stamp partisan legislation passed in the House of Representatives.
The nearly $2 trillion package includes sweeping policy changes that deserved thorough, bipartisan scrutiny at the committee level. According to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB), "Only about 1 percent of the entire package goes toward COVID vaccines, and 5 percent is truly focused on public health needs surrounding the pandemic. More than 15 percent of the package - about $300 billion - is spent on long-standing policy priorities that are not directly related to the current crisis."
Many of these longstanding wish-list items are in the Finance Committee's jurisdiction. Take the $350 billion bailout for states, many of which are running surpluses for fiscal years 2020 and 2021, including Idaho. Taxpayers across the country should not have to bail out failed policies and poor fiscal management of certain states. Consider the $86 billion bailout for the multiemployer pension system, which has been in crisis for several years. Bipartisan proposals to address the problem were ignored in favor of using the reconciliation process to avoid reforms, leading to future bailouts. Other longstanding policy priorities, such as expanding the child tax credit and earned income tax credit, and increasing Affordable Care Act subsidies, made it into the package, although neither is directly related to coronavirus relief.
Our economy is recovering. Vaccine distribution and administration is well underway and accelerating. The fight against COVID-19 is not over, and some further relief may have been appropriate following the enactment of the first five phases of relief. However, there have been and continue to be strong disagreements on the scope and content of the current relief package, which should have been deliberated and debated through regular committee order. Idahoans deserved a serious, bipartisan process focused on their most urgent needs: getting or keeping their kids in school, getting workers safely back on the job, keeping small businesses' doors open and helping to reclaim a semblance of pre-pandemic life. This partisan process resulted in a spending spree that grossly misses its mark, and places an undue burden on future generations. I will continue to support bipartisan, targeted COVID relief for families affected by the pandemic and pro-growth policies that will allow employers to reopen and rehire.
Little: Biden, Democrat-led Congress seek to punish responsible states like Idaho
Guest opinion by Governor Brad Little
Our new president and the Democrat-led Congress are seeking to bail out big, poorly-managed states and punish states that have operated responsibly during the pandemic - a step that would saddle Idaho children with even greater debt and suppress economic prosperity for generations to come.
Idaho won't stand for it.
I joined 21 other governors last week in pushing back on a proposal that would reward big states on lockdown and punish states like Idaho for staying open during the pandemic.
President Joe Biden's COVID-19 relief bill is rooted in a biased formula based on unemployment figures, not overall population. The plan rewards states experiencing "negative economic impacts." States with the most people out of work and the most poorly performing economies receive more taxpayer dollars.
That means a quarter of a billion dollars of Idahoans' federal taxes would subsidize states that have kept people out of work! States such as California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and others would get more than their fair share under Biden's plan.
As the other governors and I put it, the proposal "punishes states that took a measured approach to the pandemic and entered the crisis with healthy state budgets and strong economies. A state's ability to keep businesses open and people employed should not be a penalizing factor when distributing funds."
Idaho has the strongest economy of all 50 states. We have the most financially solvent state budget. With a historic record budget surplus, we are poised to provide tax relief and make strategic investments in transportation, education, water, broadband, and other critical areas. We have low unemployment. We had the biggest increase in personal income compared to other states. We saw the largest increase in business formation over the past year compared to other states. And we are the least regulated state in the nation.
Idaho is a leading state for our share of vaccine doses administered. We are among only a handful of states with the fewest COVID-19 restrictions because our businesses, schools, and churches have remained open longer than almost every other state while we have managed to prevent a crisis in our hospitals. We distributed most of our federal coronavirus relief funds in direct support of Idaho citizens and businesses through tax relief and grants.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been nothing short of a tragedy. The disease has already taken the lives of close to 2,000 of our fellow Idahoans and landed many more in the hospital. We have sacrificed together and endured hardship together.
So why is Idaho being asked to subsidize irresponsible states that are experiencing increased virus spread despite keeping business, schools, and churches shut down? Why should Idaho be penalized for making hard decisions to keep our economy open and kids in school? The states that did neither are being rewarded.
Why are we asked to subsidize states with unfunded pension funds, underfunded unemployment funds, and poorly managed budgets? Why should Idaho be penalized for the strength of our economy, when our citizens and communities worked hard to adapt to new challenges? Very unfair.
Any future federal relief funds should be allocated fairly to states, and I will push for those funds to directly invest in our children and grandchildren, since the burden of paying off the federal debt will be on their shoulders.
Idaho is showing the rest of the country how to responsibly get through this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic - by prioritizing the protection of both lives AND livelihoods. Idaho's congressional delegation and I will continue to fight for what's fair and right for Idaho.
Higher education is critical to Idaho
Guest opinion by Debbie Critchfield, President, Idaho State Board of Education
Starting this week, our elected senators and representatives serving in the Legislature will begin debating the budget for higher education in Idaho.
Governor Little is calling for a 2.6 percent budget increase for our four-year institutions next fiscal year.
As president of the State Board of Education, I call attention to the importance of the budget decisions as an overall investment in Idaho.
There are 111,000 living graduates from the University of Idaho; nearly 47,500 Vandals live in Idaho.
Boise State University has 98,000 living graduates; over 65,300 Broncos live in Idaho.
Idaho State University has nearly 79,000 living graduates; more than 47,600 Bengals live in Idaho.
Lewis-Clark State College has nearly 19,000 living graduates on file; over 11,400 Warriors reside in Idaho.
Our four public community colleges are training and educating thousands of people who are earning career technical certificates and academic degrees and like their counterparts graduating from our public four-year institutions, they are making a difference in Idaho every single day.
These are the engineers, the nurses and doctors, the welders, the teachers the accountants, small business owners, farmers, ranchers, technical workers and elected officials - who are involved and driving every aspect of Idaho's economy.
Highly trained graduates are using science to help Idaho farmers grow the world's best potatoes. They are also the skilled workforce spearheading innovation at our high-tech firms, and they build and maintain heavy equipment for industries like mining, forestry and farming.
A 2015 study found that our college and university alumni contribute more than $3 billion annually in gross state product, a figure that has undoubtedly grown over the six subsequent years.
As the regents and trustees of our four-year college and universities, the State Board of Education is raising awareness about how important these institutions and community colleges are to our people, our state, and our collective future.
Citizens from all corners of Idaho and social-economic backgrounds have brighter futures because they are continuing their education beyond high school.
Like any business, our colleges and universities are eyeing the future, eliminating undersubscribed programs while partnering with business and industry to offer new opportunities and career pathways benefiting students and employers.
Idaho's statewide cybersecurity initiative is a good example of this. All eight public institutions are involved, expanding program capacity and training for students throughout our state to meet a growing demand for cybersecurity expertise from Idaho employers.
These are the jobs of the future. Idaho is competing with other states for employers who will provide these jobs. A vibrant system of public higher education is essential to provide the needed skills and education so that our people can succeed, and our state can prosper.
Tens of thousands of our fellow citizens have improved their lives and the lives of their families because of the education and training they received at one of our colleges or universities.
Our institutions are investments that have proven their worth to our state and to generations of Idahoans throughout our history, even before statehood. The numbers bear that out and the investments must continue.
Sustainable transportation funding needed to build Idaho's future
Guest opinion by Governor Brad Little
There's only one thing we all want more of but cannot replenish - time.
You will spend almost as much time in traffic in some parts of Idaho as you would in Seattle, San Francisco, or Los Angeles.
That time would be better spent at home with family, earning a living, or off doing something fun.
Imagine if you spent 20 fewer minutes per day getting to work or school. The value to citizens and businesses would be enormous.
Idaho is in the enviable position of having a historic record budget surplus. We are leading the country in economic momentum - a trajectory fueled by years of fiscal conservatism and regulatory restraint and by quick action during the pandemic.
Before and during the pandemic, we are the fastest growing state in the nation. Idaho simply will not keep up with that growth if we, as elected leaders, do not invest strategically and sustainably in our roads and take steps to preserve your precious time and make our transportation system safer.
My proposal to direct $126 million of Idaho's record budget surplus toward much needed shovel-ready transportation projects is making its way through the Legislature right now. I appreciate my legislative partners for making it a priority. I'm also seeking tax relief and other strategic investments in education, water, broadband, and other critical areas as part of my "Building Idaho's Future" plan.
Beyond making good use of our one-time record surplus on one-time needs, we also have an obligation as elected leaders to confront the growing list of unfunded transportation projects across Idaho with a sustainable funding plan moving forward. I am actively working with my legislative partners on a plan right now.
A sustainable transportation funding plan would address a number of unfunded and greatly needed projects in Idaho.
For Treasure Valley commuters, that could mean boosting safety and cutting down traffic on I-84 in Nampa and Caldwell.
For those in the Coeur d'Alene area, it could mean finally widening and enhancing the congested stretch of I-90 between the Washington state line and Coeur d'Alene.
For residents of Idaho Falls - another region exploding with growth - it could mean the US-20/I-15 Connector will be able to handle increased use for the next 20 years and beyond.
For Magic Valley travelers, it could mean tackling the safety and traffic improvements needed to cross the beautiful Snake River canyon.
The list of unfunded or underfunded transportation projects in Idaho goes on and on.
We're proud of the incredible economic prosperity Idaho is experiencing, and we have a strong track record of governing responsibly.
Now, we must continue that trajectory by planning ahead and moving forward with a reasonable, sustainable transportation investment plan to facilitate commerce, keep Idahoans safe on our roads, and preserve your most valuable commodity - your time.
Idaho Association of Counties writes to Congressman Simpson in opposition to dam breaching
Dear Congressman Simpson:
As county officials, the Idaho Association of Counties appreciates your efforts to highlight the need to invest federal funds into two issues important to Idaho: salmon recovery and utilization of carbon free renewable energy to meet growing demand for electricity.
Reasonable salmon recovery and development of renewable energy resources are important cultural, recreational, and economic priorities for Idahoans. However, we are concerned about the economic and societal impacts your proposal for salmon recovery will have on the state of Idaho. Breaching the lower Snake River dams jeopardizes the Port of Lewiston. Idaho relies on the Port of Lewiston as an economic engine.
The Port of Lewiston provides a cost effective shipping route for wheat and other goods manufactured in north central Idaho. The global competitiveness of Idaho commodities like wheat is influenced by these transportation costs. Barge transportation is the most cost effective way to get our goods to a growing global market. Loss of the Port of Lewiston will increase shipping costs, reduce Idaho's competitiveness, and starve Idaho families of essential jobs.
The pandemic has made us acutely aware of the importance of stable jobs. Industries that rely on the Port of Lewiston require access to the port. Any salmon recovery plan that fails to consider the support the Port of Lewiston provides to Idaho farmers, manufacturers, and families will have a devastating impact on Idaho. A check from the federal government cannot make up for the emotional and societal effects of losing a job. Any effort to recover salmon must ensure Idahoans can continue to make a living in the industries that make Idaho such a great state.
IAC promotes county interests, encourages ethical behavior, advocates good public policy on behalf of Idaho counties, supports best practices, and provides education and training to assist Idaho county officials in performance of public service.
Funding salmon recovery and enhancing renewable energy should not be tied to dam breaching. We invite you to work with county commissioners to find cost effective and proven ways to promote renewable energy resources and fund salmon passage facilities in the region to/from spawning habitat upriver without breaching the lower Snake River dams.
Respectfully, Seth Grigg Executive Director
Cc: Governor Brad Little, Senator Mike Crapo, Senator Jim Risch, Congressman Russ Fulcher, Representative Scott Bedke, Senator Chuck Winder
Broadband is foundation to economic growth, better way of life
Guest opinion by Christine Frei, Executive Director, Clearwater Economic Development Association
When it comes to the topic of broadband, most of us recognize that broadband connectivity is a foundation for economic growth, job creation, global competitiveness, and a better way of life. However, what many don't recognize, is that internet connectivity in Idaho is fairly spread out, with many rural areas having inadequate to non-existent internet connection. If we don't address Idaho's digital divide now, the risk becomes that there will be a generation of children and adults in underserved, rural communities who will be left behind in the digital age of innovation.
Rural communities are already under tremendous economic pressure and broadband infrastructure is imperative now and even more in the immediate future. A number of these underserved communities recognize there are broadband issues but don't have a complete understanding of its root cause or have the resources to create and maneuver through a plan of action. They receive conflicting messages between what the internet service provider in their area is telling them versus what their experience is with little or no connectivity. In the northern region and many other rural areas, one of the top challenges for attracting broadband investment is the lack of infrastructure planning and the supports to build a plan. For many of these smaller communities, the various aspects of broadband planning, the cost of broadband infrastructure, and applying for federal grants are overwhelming.
If we want to see broadband initiatives move forward, we need strong leaders that become the voice and support for rural communities or regions to participate in broadband planning. Since the initiation of the Governor's Broadband Taskforce, the Clearwater Economic Development Association and its other economic regional counterparts have been working on long-range planning, engineering design, capacity building, and grant proposals for rural Idaho communities to build and modernize their broadband infrastructure. This is not a project that can be done centrally at the state level - it requires community leadership and local input coupled with engineering expertise. This is how we have supported dozens of plans that are underway in our region. Our goal is to help as many communities as possible with capacity building and supports.
Up until this point, there has not been sufficient collective voice in all sectors to back the need for connecting communities, removing barriers to building infrastructure, and making a strong case that we can't wait any longer for the broadband fix. Understanding these underlying issues, a group of leading Idaho community and civic leaders joined together in an effort called Imagine Idaho. These leaders recognize Idaho's broadband challenges and are committed to serving Idaho communities and citizens by helping promote policies that help their ability to deploy broadband-communications infrastructure in a pro-competitive way and provide the necessary support for capacity building by networking regional experts to locals who need help.
Imagine Idaho recognizes that every community needs a comprehensive plan to improve broadband access. They have coalesced into a voice for broadband and are working closely with the Governor, the state legislature, the federal delegation, city staff, business and community organizations, nonprofits, education leaders, and universities. Through the Imagine Idaho coalition of leaders, we are all dedicated to ensuring that every Idahoan has access to reliable broadband that will increase economic benefits, educational benefits, telemedicine benefits, stimulate innovation and unlock limitless possibilities for all Idaho communities and citizens.
To learn more about Imagine Idaho please visit: imagineidaho.org.
Idaho's funding for colleges, universities in jeopardy
Guest opinion by Rod Gramer
Idaho's colleges and universities are consistently rated among the best public postsecondary schools in the nation. Unfortunately, there is now an effort to weaken our higher education institutions by cutting their funding.
If this effort succeeds it will be more difficult for our institutions to fulfill their mission of educating our state's next generation of workers, entrepreneurs, farmers, and business leaders. If successful, their effort could put Idaho on a downward economic path for years to come.
The stakes are very high for all Idahoans.
Today human talent is the most important driver of economic vitality. That was underscored by a 2019 report Idaho Business for Education and HP, Inc. issued in which business leaders said the lack of skilled workers was their number one problem.
Research shows that we need at least 60 percent of our 25-34-year-old workers to hold a postsecondary credential. Trouble is right now only 44 percent do. If we don't get to a more educated Idaho, our existing businesses will not have the talent to grow, it will be more difficult to attract good companies to Idaho, and some of our existing companies may need to relocate to find the workers they need.
Clearly, education is the best investment we can make because of the dividends it pays to the individual who gets it and for society at large.
The average annual earnings for someone with a high school diploma is $38,792 compared to $77,844 for a college graduate. Also, those with a postsecondary credential are less likely to be unemployed and more likely to save society money by relying less on expensive health care and government safety-net programs.
Furthermore, our higher education institutions are an economic engine for our state. Even using 2014 numbers our colleges and universities generated $4.1 billion - equal to 7 percent of the state's total gross state product at the time.
The research and development our universities conduct provides priceless benefits to our ranchers, farmers, wood products companies, food producers, scientists, business leaders and even governors and legislators. The patents that are created through this research often turn into spin-off for-profit companies that employee many Idahoans.
Ironically, the attack on higher education comes when Idaho's college and university presidents are cooperating more than ever before and looking to become more efficient and effective. Each reduced their budgets and staff last year. They have worked to consolidate non-academic programs to save money and invest in academics. Last year they froze tuition for the first time in 40 years and will again if the Legislature funds them adequately. In 2020, Idaho's colleges and universities had the sixth lowest tuition and fees among the 15 western states.
It's amazing that these high-quality institutions have done all this even as state general fund support has dropped for decades. In 1980 the state picked up nearly 90 percent of the cost of higher education, while now it barely picks up 50 percent and families pick up 47 percent. Forty years ago, higher education made up 17 percent of the state general fund budget - now it is less than 8 percent.
This lack of state support has hit the parents and students of Idaho very hard in the pocketbook which makes the current talk of reducing state funding even more troublesome.
Instead of trying to weaken our colleges and universities we should be investing even more in them. After all, they are fulfilling the essential mission of creating a brighter economic future for our students, businesses and for all Idahoans.
(This guest opinion is supported by Idaho Business for Education, the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, the Idaho Chamber Alliance and Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce)
Wasden to Idahoans: proposed changes to gas gouging law deserve attention
To my fellow Idahoans:
I'm writing to make you aware of a piece of legislation currently working its way through the state Legislature. The bill is being pushed by Idaho's gas retailers and, if approved, would make it easier for these businesses to price gouge during declared emergencies.
As you are likely aware, Idaho suffers from some of the highest gas prices in the nation. And by law, I have only two tools to fight unreasonably high gas prices. One prohibits businesses from colluding to set prices. The other prohibits sellers of fuel, food, water and medicine from charging "excessive or exorbitant" prices during an emergency. Senate Bill 1041 was proposed by the Idaho Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association to undercut my ability to protect you from price gouging during an emergency.
So why have Idaho's gas retailers made this a priority now? Well, there's a backstory here. Last March, COVID-19 prompted an emergency declaration that triggered the state's price gouging law. In the weeks that followed, oil prices fell dramatically. Gas prices at the pump, though, did not drop as quickly.
I wanted to know why. So I contacted Idaho's three largest gas retailers - Maverik, Jacksons and Stinker Stores - and asked them to explain their pricing and remind them that Idaho's price gouging law was in effect. They rejected my concerns and did not satisfactorily explain the pricing we were observing. My office soon initiated a formal investigation that focused on the retailers' margins. I did so because Idaho's current price gouging law directs that examination as a way to determine whether prices are excessive or exorbitant.
We found that during the first few weeks of the pandemic, these retailers' margins increased dramatically. Our independently-sourced data from the last 14 years showed Idaho retailers usually make about $.10 per gallon of gas. (The gas companies contend their historical margins are closer to $.20 per gallon.) Three weeks into the pandemic, Idaho gas retailers - including the three my office investigated - were making a record margin of $.63 per gallon. This was well above the previous high of $.42 per gallon set in 2008.
While retailers could buy their gas at a steep discount, those savings, by and large, weren't passed on to you. In fact, despite some increased costs connected to the pandemic and a reduction in their sales volumes, these inflated margins allowed the retailers' gas profits to swell.
After presenting our findings to the retailers, my office negotiated a settlement that includes $1.5 million in credits that will go back to Idaho consumers this year. That settlement was announced on November 30. Less than two months later, the gas retailers were in front of the Idaho Legislature urging major changes to the very law that allowed my office to investigate them in the first place.
If the gas companies' proposed changes become law, a future investigation and settlement similar to the one initiated by my office last year would no longer be possible. So far, the gas retailers' bill has been welcomed by lawmakers. It passed unanimously in the Senate and is now headed to the House. If successful there, it could be signed into law by the governor.
It's extremely rare that I speak publicly on the merits of a particular piece of legislation. But you deserve to know about this bill. If you believe that gas prices shouldn't be excessive or exorbitant during an emergency, you need to contact your legislators now and let them know.
Lawrence Wasden, Idaho Attorney General
Idaho prioritizes clean, plentiful water to build Idaho's future
Guest opinion by Governor Brad Little
There is nothing more essential to our health and way of life - or Idaho's future - than clean, plentiful water.
The availability of water has transformed much of our state from a desert into an abundant agricultural landscape that supports tens of thousands of Idahoans and their livelihoods. Across Idaho, water is the building block for careers and prosperity.
How we manage - or mismanage - our water resources determines our success or failure as a state.
Unlike the State of California, which continues to a face a water crisis due to mismanagement of its resources, Idaho can say with pride that our executive and legislative branches in Idaho are in lockstep in our commitment to ensuring a sustainable water supply remains at the forefront of our priorities as a state moving forward. We are equally committed to maintaining and improving water quality in Idaho's rivers, lakes, and communities.
The Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee moved today (Friday) to advance a critical piece of my "Building Idaho's Future" investment package - $50 million in strategic investments in long-term water projects and safe water systems for our communities.
This investment provides for cleaner, more efficient water systems for rural communities and the agriculture industry across Idaho. It is one of the most significant investments for sustainable water infrastructure in our state's history.
Unlike many other states, Idaho is in a position to invest in - rather than cut - financial resources that support a safe, plentiful water supply for current and future generations of Idahoans.
Our plan will increase the sustainability of the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer. The aquifer was declining at an unsustainable rate until recent investments by water users and the state. Now we have an opportunity to further improve aquifer levels for the benefit of farmers, ranchers, and communities across southern Idaho.
In addition, Idaho is one of the few states with a U.S. Air Force base that has the ability to significantly expand, and a stable water supply is critical to the base - an operation that contributes $1 billion annually to Idaho's economy and ensures our security as a nation. Additional funding enables the State of Idaho to partner with the Mountain Home Air Force Base to secure a stable water supply for current and expanded missions at the base. This investment demonstrates Idaho's proud support of a strong U.S. military and the women and men in our armed forces.
Idaho has the strongest economy in the nation, the largest budget surplus in state history, and the most financially solvent state budget because the people of Idaho did their part to propel our state forward and keep their loved ones safe during the pandemic. Once again, thank you, Idaho.
Our historic investments in agriculture and water today mean rural Idaho will remain a strong part of our heritage and economy for generations to come.
The push to bridge Idaho's digital divide acccelerated by pandemic
Guest opinion by Debbie Critchfield, President, Idaho State Board of Education
The COVID-19 pandemic prompted educators to suddenly face challenges that quite honestly, seemed insurmountable.
"Last spring, we had every student in the state in a virtual environment and it became painfully clear that the school districts and the state weren't prepared to deliver education in that environment," Board member Kurt Liebich recently recalled. "We have a little over 300,000 kids attending public schools and an informal survey we sent out to districts and charters last spring suggested we were short about 180,000 devices between students and teachers."
Liebich took the lead on behalf of the Board, working with Greg Wilson, Governor Brad Little's education policy advisor, to pull together a committee of educators, district technology officers and private sector partners to develop strategies to close the "digital divide" - between students who have access to devices and internet connectivity, and those who do not.
Tapping $30 million in federal coronavirus reliefs funds, the Board established a grant program administered by the State Department of Education to provide money to districts and charters to purchase laptops and tablets. Idaho Business for Education also organized a "Close the Divide" campaign collecting thousands of donated devices across the state and provided them to schools. And Governor Little's Strong Families, Strong Students program is distributing $50 million in federal funds to families throughout Idaho to purchase devices, connectivity and other services benefitting over 24,500 students.
Liebich estimates the digital divide has narrowed from 180,000 needed devices last spring, to about 30,000 at the start of the new year. Closing the connectivity gap is proving to be more difficult.
"Kids need to have connectivity in order to learn remotely and each situation is unique depending on where you live, how many kids are in the house and whether their parents are working remotely too," he said. "Early data estimated between 28,000 and 45,000 students didn't have adequate internet connectivity. We don't know how accurate that is, but I believe it's a safe bet to say we still have a lot of work to do - especially in our rural areas." There is also work to do to better prepare our teachers to conduct online instruction.
"One of the things we learned about remote learning is that maintaining student engagement becomes really difficult and part of that is tied to professional development," Liebich said. "We need to work with our teachers to give them the tools and skills they need to support students in this type of instructional delivery."
Thanks to the efforts of the Governor's Office, Board member Liebich and the digital divide committee, Idaho's public education system is far better positioned coming out of the pandemic from a technology standpoint than we were a year ago.
Liebich says the challenge now is to effectively utilize these new resources in the classroom.
"Now that we have this technology platform, how can we support teachers in leveraging this once we get back to something resembling normal? The pandemic has reminded us that there is no substitute for a caring qualified teacher in the classroom."
Idaho Legislature's actions on emergency declarations endanger Idahoans
Guest opinion by Congressman Mike Simpson and Bruce Newcomb, Former Speakers of the Idaho House of Representatives
BOISE - The Idaho Legislature's attempts to strip not just our current Governor but any future Governor of their ability to lead during an emergency is wrong for Idaho and endangers the lives of Idahoans.
We both held the position of Speaker of the Idaho House of Representatives. We understand the constant disagreement that occurs between members of the Legislature and especially between members of the same political party. We understand the disagreement that occurs between the legislative and executive branches.
However, a crisis is not the time to dismantle the Governor's ability to respond quickly during an emergency. A crisis is the time to lead.
The Idaho Legislature's reckless and careless attempts to end the COVID-19 emergency declaration and weaken Idaho's response in future emergencies puts this generation and future generations of Idahoans at risk.
Emergency declarations are very common. At its core, an emergency declaration allows states and local communities to access federal assistance - our taxpayer dollars - in the event of a crisis. Sometimes those crises and their aftermath last a few weeks and sometimes they last months or years, as in the event of a devastating flood, earthquake, landslide - or a pandemic.
The COVID-19 emergency declarations are wholly separate from the public health orders that limited certain activities to protect lives and prevent our hospitals from being overrun with patients all at once.
In the immediate days and weeks ahead, ending the COVID-19 emergency declaration would slow down the vaccine rollout. Hospitals would lose access to critical equipment and staffing resources. It would jeopardize the state's ability to tap the Idaho National Guard to assist with vaccine administration, testing, and support for food banks and medical facilities. Financial support for small businesses would end. It would burden local communities - the entities that requested the emergency declaration to begin with. It would limit the state's ability to remove regulatory barriers that stand in the way of better healthcare access for our citizens.
But Idahoans also need to know that the Legislature's actions today would limit the state's ability to quickly and decisively respond during potential future emergencies in their backyards, such as a flood, landslide, earthquake, or other natural disaster. Take for example the extraordinary flooding caused by rapid snowmelt and heavy rains in 2017. Residents of 33 counties will remember both the perilous conditions that endangered lives and property and also the swift action taken by Governor Otter to activate state and federal resources to come to their aid. The flooding occurred over a period of months, and the emergency declarations, resulting from these major natural disasters remain in effect today because of their longstanding impacts.
The Governor needs to make decisions quickly during an emergency. That is one of the proper roles of the executive. The emergency declaration is the Governor's main tool to act quickly and save lives during a crisis. Days and even hours make the difference in a life and death situation. Fires, floods, and earthquakes wait for no one. Only executive-speed decision-making can get families the immediate help they need in an emergency.
Idaho has the strongest economy of any state in the nation. We are leading states in the financial solvency of our state budget. That didn't happen by accident. Quick action during the pandemic, combined with years of fiscal conservatism demonstrated by the Legislature and Governor, have positioned Idaho for continued strength.
We urge the Idaho Legislature to end the political jockeying and untruths about emergency declarations and do what is right for the people of Idaho and our state's economy. Take a step back and think this through. The safety and prosperity of this generation and future generations of Idahoans depend on you.
Increasing retirement savings opportunities
Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo
Saving for retirement is important but often difficult, especially when faced with the increased uncertainty of the pandemic.
When paychecks have to cover mortgages, rent, car payments, food, utilities, gas, college and other important obligations, steady retirement savings is often challenging, if not nearly impossible. Unexpected medical expenses or car repairs can upset even the best retirement plans. Recognizing the challenges, Congress has taken steps to increase retirement savings opportunities for American workers and families.
Last December, Congress passed and the President signed into law the bipartisan Setting Every Community up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act of 2019. The SECURE Act would better enable Americans to save for retirement:
Additional changes made through the law can be reviewed in the summary and text available here: https://waysandmeans.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/ways-means-committee-passes-landmark-retirement-legislation. This law builds on the enactment of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that is helping to improve the conditions for retirement by providing enhanced investment benefits allowing retirement portfolios to increase in value, as market conditions continue to improve.
In a pamphlet providing 10 tips on saving for retirement, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) reports:
It is important to remember that no matter how hard now it seems to save for retirement, as the DOL points out, "Remember, it's never too early or too late to start saving." I am hopeful this federal statute helps make it easier for Idahoans to save for retirement. Bipartisan work remains ongoing and productive, as bipartisan leaders in both houses of Congress have developed additional promising ideas that should see action in the next Congress.
Nez Perce-Clearwater Forests example of collaboration bringing results
Guest opinion submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo
I recently had the opportunity to speak on the Senate floor about important progress underway on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests to improve the health of the Forests that is a great example of the benefits of collaborative efforts.
I have been a longtime champion of collaboration to address public lands management disputes, as collaborative processes are good for the environment and good for natural-resource based economies. Collaborative problem-solving is a key way to ensure all voices are heard and long-term solutions are crafted.
The work on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests is a great example of the benefits of collaborative efforts. The Clearwater Basin Collaborative (CBC), which was officially launched 12 years ago, has had an important role in furthering discussions about the management of the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests.
A total of 536 miles of streams have been restored on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests, resulting in the forests being ranked fourth nationwide in miles of streams restored. The forests have a strong partnership with the Nez Perce Tribe, which contributes greatly to its watershed accomplishments. At the same time, priorities of much needed restoration of landscapes, including water quality improvements, are also providing a supply of raw materials to our local mills.
More work is underway to address significant challenges, but this is the direction we need to continue to go in delivering long-term results. I commend all those involved in this effort for their hard and exemplary work improving our treasured landscapes.
Other collaborative efforts have laid strong groundwork, or follow in the footsteps of, cooperative work such as this. In Idaho, we have succeeded with public lands projects, such as the Owyhee Initiative, and are hard at work on others, such as the Kootenai Valley Resource Initiative, the Payette Forest Coalition, the Boise Forest Coalition and others, including the Governor's Shared Stewardship Task Force. I also look forward to the soon to be completed recommendations of the Governor's Salmon Workgroup.
We must continuously work to ensure federal statute and policy empowers collaborative efforts and forest health projects. Bipartisan legislation pending in this Senate would increase active management of federal forests, cut red tape, reduce frivolous litigation and advance fire risk reduction. Senators Steve Daines of Montana and Dianne Feinstein of California worked across party lines for months to negotiate the details of the bipartisan S. 4431, the Emergency Wildfire and Public Safety Act.
Enactment of sensible, bipartisan legislation such as this, which is also co-sponsored by my fellow Senator from Idaho, Jim Risch, can better enable land managers to reduce wildfire risk and respond effectively to an increasingly virulent, wildfire reality. This will build on the successful enactment of bipartisan legislation to enable federal agencies to respond to wildfires as they would other natural disasters and end fire borrowing.
Forests make up 39 percent of the land in Idaho. They are key to air and water quality and sustain wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities. They support communities through wood and paper product jobs and recreation dollars. They are the backdrop and means for an unparalleled quality of life. Their vitality hinges on their effective management.
I am encouraged by the achievements on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests, and I urge continued collaborative efforts to address often contentions, natural resources challenges and the enactment of federal statute that bolsters these collaborative efforts for the betterment of all our communities.
The enemy is the virus, not each other
Guest opinion by Governor Brad Little
The pandemic has presented great challenges for everyone across our state, country, and the world.
One of the greatest challenges perhaps is this - choosing to show compassion and support when the instinct is to fight and attack others who think, feel, and act differently than we do.
Communities, public officials, and even families are at odds in their views on COVID-19 and the response to it. Never have we seen this level of divisiveness. And there certainly is a lot of blame being thrown around.
Everyone questions who is responsible for protecting ourselves, our loved ones, the economy, healthcare access, and our kids' ability to learn in their classrooms.
The answer is all of us. We are all responsible, each in our own way, for doing our part to get us through this dark and difficult time.
The public health district boards, who are the default decision makers for public health under Idaho law, have made tough decisions to protect their communities. Mayors, county officials, and school board members, too, have stepped up. These courageous leaders have always had and will continue to have my support.
At the state level, we have equipped our hospitals with the resources they need to handle the impacts of COVID-19. We've also improved access to testing statewide and will continue to make therapeutics and a vaccine broadly available. We've taken numerous statewide actions over the past 10 months to communicate the need to reduce transmission in our communities while protecting jobs and education.
And in our individual lives, we must do all we can to stay vigilant and consistently practice simple measures, including wearing a mask, avoiding gatherings and crowds, and keeping physical distance from others. Government alone is not going to prevent a crisis in our healthcare system. It is up to each of us as individuals to make the right choices.
There is an ugliness out there that we can overcome only by uniting around the true enemy - the virus, not each other.
Let us not be trapped into thinking the problem is someone else. The solution is all of us. We all have a role to play in fighting the enemy virus.
I know at times it can be hard to have compassion. But this Christmas season is a time to reflect on family, faith, and unity. Choose to support others while seeking to understand those who do not view things the way you do. We should not let the pandemic divide us, but make us stronger.
Idaho is at a croosroads, with human lives at stake
Dear Governor Little,
Idaho is at a crossroads and human lives are at stake. As Nurse Connelly said during your press conference, 3,000 people died in the U.S. from COVID-19 today alone That is more than the number of lives lost in the 9/11 terrorist attack. The people who have died are not just numbers on a spreadsheet. They had families. They were grandmas, grandpas, mothers, fathers, daughters and sons. They were valuable people who deserved leaders with the courage to make compassionate choices to protect their communities.
We implore you to enact and require the best practices that medical experts have approved to reduce the spread of COVID-19. These practices include wearing a facial covering, physical distancing, encouraging employers to support employees working at home, and restricting indoor gatherings. Your own Idaho Economic Rebound Advisory Committee has recommended a statewide mask order because the only way to build back our economy is to stop the pandemic.
You have made it clear you want citizens to do the right thing. You were practically begging Idahoans during your press conference to make "good choices." Unfortunately, many people are making dangerous choices that endanger the entire state. You also acknowledged the crisis that we face: hospitals are turning people away and making unprecedented plans to ration care. Our own health district couldn't fulfill the local control that you support due to the unruly and threatening crowd outside their meeting. Your current approach is not working.
You cannot continue to rely on hope that everyone will make "good choices." You must hold people accountable with the use of the law and order strategies we rely on to protect us from other dangers. Idahoans recognize the difficulty of your political situation, but there is no more patience or space for the decisions that willfully contribute to increasing the coronavirus death rate.
Critical moments require critical action. You are the only person with the authority to immediately require safety measures statewide that will prevent the spread of this deadly contagious virus.
We appreciate you acknowledging the serious time we are in, but you need to take the next steps to address the problem. We have heard from an overwhelming majority of constituents who want to see you be the leader they chose and know you aspire to be.
We have known you to be a compassionate and knowledgeable leader who genuinely cares for Idaho families. Idahoans are here to support you when you make the difficult decision that is necessary to keep people alive and healthy. We have been following your guidance since the beginning of the pandemic, and we're willing to help you keep Idahoans safe with required safety measures.
Too many Idahoans have already lost their lives. We implore you to do everything in your power to prevent more tragedies.
Senator Melissa Wintrow
McGeachin offers message of strength, encouragement
Guest opinion by Idaho Lt. Governor Janice McGeachin
Idahoans have endured a lot over the last year. On both an economic and personal level, we have collectively been through more hardships in 2020 than in any other year in recent memory. In spite of these many adversities, I have seen great courage and resilience among Idaho's people. It has been my great honor to serve as a leader in this state and to witness the determination of the individuals who call our state home.
I believe that Idahoans have suffered enough. There are many ways in which the state of Idaho could take action to ameliorate the unfortunate conditions that have been forced upon us as a result of the coronavirus and-to a much greater degree-as a result of government lockdowns and ongoing restrictions of businesses and individuals.
One important solution involves expanding our state's healthcare capacity, something we hear is in increasingly short supply. First, though, we need some clarity regarding what specifically is lacking. Do we need more space and more beds or more doctors and nurses? Are we using the most state-of-the-art equipment for personal protection and for facility sanitization? Once we understand the specific needs, we can work on fulfilling them.
For example, if it is primarily a personnel issue, perhaps we could bring in retired nurses to handle non-COVID injuries or expedite the training and certification of trainees who are in school right now. We could increase pay for our existing nurses who are suffering burnout or bring in healthcare workers from other areas. We could hire more instructors to train additional Certified Nursing Assistants and Certified Medical Assistants.
Instead of using fear about capacity as an excuse for more mandates, we should identify where we have shortages and work to remedy them.
The state could also take direct action to help individuals and businesses who have suffered financial hardships as a result of government lockdowns, social distancing orders, capacity limitations, and other policies. Idaho has received almost $2 billion in federal CARES Act money, and we have wide latitude to use this money to alleviate the harm that has been suffered by Idahoans.
Some of that money could be used to provide income tax credits to working families who have been forced to spend additional money to pay for childcare due to school closures.
There are a number of other options as well. Instead of localities threatening to pull business licenses, they could offer the elimination of business license fees for one year in order to incentivize a desired outcome. We could suspend business payroll taxes, income taxes, or even property taxes for a year. In addition to the CARES Act money, Idaho is positioned to have a General Fund budget surplus of over $500m in the current fiscal year. Surely, the legislature could find some room to help offer much needed relief to Idaho citizens. We should direct this money to the people and businesses who have been harmed by injurious government policies. These policies have inflicted significant financial, physical, and emotional harm on Idahoans across the state. Over the last few weeks, we have seen more mandates being proposed or imposed on Idahoans by elected and appointed officials at various levels of government. These policies are multiplying the harm many times over. We don't need excessive government interventions. We need to trust each other to do what is best to protect ourselves and our loved ones. We need to use our God-given gifts to help each other through these times.
I know that many Idahoans are chafing under the heavy hand of government right now. I feel it too. We rightly resent unjustified infringements on our fundamental freedoms and the unwarranted suspension of our natural rights. I am optimistic that the state legislature will take steps to right some of these wrongs when they convene in January. Until such corrections are made, I encourage you all to continue standing up for your beliefs and defending your rights.
The more we learn, the less we have to fear. As a member of CFAC (Coronavirus Financial Advisory Committee), your Lieutenant Governor, and a former legislator, I am committed to working with stakeholders and finding effective solutions that do not infringe on your rights. Have courage. Main Street Idaho needs your support right now. Your community needs your help. We all have talents and gifts that we can share as we work to rebuild our economy and restore our state.
Thanksgiving is our opportunity to celebrate freedom by showing love to others
Guest opinion by Governor Brad Little
Thanksgiving is one of the most patriotic holidays we celebrate as Americans.
Four hundred years ago this month, a group of passengers landed the Mayflower after a months-long journey across the sea to start a new life. The Pilgrims stepped foot onto what would become the greatest country in the world - the ultimate reward for their efforts to escape religious oppression in England.
The "first Thanksgiving" would follow a year later, after months of battling brutal weather and disease in a new land.
The religious and Christian significance of Thanksgiving in the history of our country has grown into other traditions, such as gathering to feast on turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie.
Americans have celebrated Thanksgiving for centuries past, and we will celebrate it for centuries more. This Thanksgiving is a day of gratitude for the blessing of being an American and a day of reflection on how we choose to enjoy our freedom.
This Thanksgiving we are called as Americans and Christians to exercise our freedom in a new way - by choosing to protect our loved ones and neighbors from a dangerous disease spreading in our communities.
It is a disease that has put thousands of our fellow Idahoans in the hospital and has left hundreds of Idahoans dead.
It is a disease that threatens lives, our economy, access to healthcare, and our children's ability to learn in the classroom with their teachers and classmates.
It is a disease we all have the freedom and power to control, through simple personal actions. We can be thankful for our individual ability to slow the spread of this disease and protect our loved ones and neighbors from it.
Just like those early Pilgrims, Americans have been through trying times before. We have always pulled through when we choose to unite and sacrifice to protect one another and our nation.
This Thanksgiving choose to love your neighbor and unite around our commitment in seeing our country thrive for future generations of Idahoans and rejoice in the blessing of being an American.
Idaho Education Leaders make statement regarding pandemic
The pandemic has impacted almost every aspect of how we live, work, recreate and celebrate.
From mundane tasks to once-in-a-lifetime events to medical emergencies, our engagement has been drastically changed.
Our students and educators are no exception. Their lives were turned upside down last spring when they were sent home to finish out their education in virtual environments. The spring high school and intercollegiate sports season was cut short, which was devastating for student athletes. High school graduations and college commencement ceremonies were cancelled en masse. The list of missed opportunities goes on.
While the summer provided our schools, colleges and universities with some time to prepare for dramatically different instructional delivery and learning environments, educators and policymakers alike are deeply concerned about learning loss due to the disruptive paradigm shift<./span>
Our top priority is to provide students the opportunity to be in school as much as is safely possible. For most students and families, in-person learning is preferred, and we know that extracurricular activities are vitally important to students and play an important role in developing the whole person. We can't fulfill this critical responsibility for our youth unless we can keep our students and educators healthy and safe.
We are advised and consistently reminded that schools are not the problem. Dr. Deborah Birx, United States Coronavirus Response Coordinator and Ambassador-at-Large, recently paid a visit to Idaho. In a meeting with state and local leaders she stated that public schools are not ground zero for virus transmission. In other words, schools are not "super spreaders."
Dr. Birx explained that the highest concentration of viral spread is happening in our communities. Gatherings where people are not maintaining adequate physical distancing and not wearing masks are the super spreaders.
The quickest and most effective way to mitigate this virulent spread is simply to follow the science-based public health protocols of washing hands, maintaining six feet apart and wearing a face mask. Adult behaviors do impact our ability to operate schools.
Idaho's confirmed cases are on a perilous trajectory. As education policy leaders, we urge and plead with communities large and small across Idaho to do their part to help our students be able to stay in school. The pandemic is not partisan. Enabling our students to go to school, with all the developmental and extracurricular opportunities it has to offer, is not partisan either. It is a moral and economic imperative.
We understand that we are living in a highly politically charged and polarized environment. We don't always get policy decisions right the first time, but we continually seek appropriate solutions and decisions. Even with the benefit of hindsight, there are no easy solutions to managing our way through this public health crisis. We want readers to remember and understand that every decision the State Board of Education and local school boards make are done in public meetings, with the best information available at the time. Members of these local boards are volunteers, your neighbors, who signed up to help make a difference for schools in their community, not to manage a pandemic. It's challenging to work through issues without the space our private businesses have to explore ideas and solutions without immediate, visceral public scrutiny. They are doing their best under incredibly challenging circumstances.
Finally, like you, we all have COVID fatigue. And like you, we have all experienced disappointment, grief, loss or fear to some degree as a result of this awful virus. We ask for your patience, kindness and spirit of cooperation as we work toward our mutual goals. We are doing our best to limit the spread of COVID-19 for public health and to preserve children's access to the full schooling experience. Please join us in doing everything you can to stop this pandemic.
Rep. Wintrow reacts to Governor Little Idaho COVID-19 management
Guest opinion by Representative Melissa Wintrow /(D-Boise), a member of the Governor's Coronavirus Financial Advisory Committee
On Friday, Governor Brad Little announced that the Idaho National Guard would be mobilized through executive order to assist in the response to the coronavirus pandemic.
He also rolled Idaho back to Stage 2 of the Idaho Rebounds plan with modifications to the previously outlined guidelines. Under the new Stage 2 plan, gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited (government and churches are exempt), at-risk Idahoans are encouraged to self-isolate, telework is recommended, and bars, restaurants, and nightclubs will still continue to operate.
I am deeply concern with the ongoing coronavirus response.Idaho is bleeding from a gaping wound and the Governor's announcement is another Band-Aid. The Governor acknowledged in his press conference that our hospitals are weeks away from having to ration care because many people are not wearing masks and practicing physical distancing, and many state and local leaders are not taking the threat seriously or encouraging responsibility in their communities.
We implore Governor Little and other GOP leaders to find the compassion to prioritize the lives of Idahoans over political fights. As one of the medical professionals said during the Governor's press conference, opinions are not facts and we need facts to guide our decisions to fight a deadly, contagious virus.
Our healthcare workers are already giving 110 percent and the pandemic is worsening on a daily basis in Idaho. It's painfully clear that the personal responsibility strategy is not working. We've been trying to encourage people to care about the lives of fellow Idahoans enough to wear a mask for months and our coronavirus cases have continued to increase.
The Idaho National Guard will be incredibly helpful to hospitals, but we are not ultimately solving the root cause of our problem. State leaders need to take stronger, decisive action immediately to prevent thousands of people from dying in the coming months. The extremist fight for personal freedom, despite overwhelming evidence about the dangers of not wearing a mask, should not infringe on Idahoans' right to stay safe and healthy.
Little: 'It's our turn to protect veterans from a new enemy - COVID-19'
Guest opinion by Governor Brad Little
America's veterans have gone to war for centuries to protect us from enemies overseas.
They have endured loss of friends, loss of limbs, and loss of mental and emotional security to protect us.
Now our veterans need us.
They need us to protect them from a new enemy stealing lives right here in our state - the COVID-19 virus.
At least half of Idaho's veterans are at-risk of serious health complications or death if they contract COVID-19.
Last week, we directed $2 million in federal relief dollars to help the Idaho State Veterans Home in Boise battle a COVID-19 outbreak that is taking veterans' lives and leaving them in isolation.
The Veterans Hospital in Boise, too, is overrun with COVID-19 patients and too many VA healthcare workers are out sick, unable to care for these veterans.
Similar stories are playing out in hospitals and long-term care facilities statewide.
Our veterans bravely encountered bullets and bombs so that you can have the freedom to control your own actions.
And your personal actions are the one and only thing that will defend our veterans from succumbing to the enemy virus.
We won't celebrate and honor the brave men and women of the armed forces on Veterans Day this year like we usually do. I am hopeful we will be able to pick up those meaningful events next year.
This year, in addition to offering prayers and kind words to our veterans on Veterans Day, make this minor sacrifice: help slow the spread of this dangerous virus by keeping your distance from others, wearing a mask, and washing your hands frequently.
Our veterans need us to get tough and put up with these minor inconveniences for a relatively short period of time so they can have a fighting chance against the COVID-19 enemy that is rapidly advancing on them.
Our veterans have more life to live. We need to keep them alive so we can continue to honor them and learn from their sacrifices.
Let's use the freedom our veterans earned for us and choose to do the right thing to protect them from COVID-19.
New research reveals flawed approach to Salmon recovery programs
Guest opinion by Kurt Miller, Executive Director, Northwest RiverPartners
Newly published research has unveiled remarkable insight into the survival rates of Chinook salmon populations along the North American West Coast, highlighting a dramatic omission in the way such data has been interpreted for over two decades.
The peer-reviewed research entitled, "A Synthesis of the Coast-wide Decline in Survival of West Coast Chinook Salmon" has been published by the leading science journal, Fish and Fisheries.
The research was carried out by a team from Kintama Research, led by the award-winning Dr. David Welch, who has been involved in marine research on salmon for 40 years and recognized globally for his work.
Importantly, this pivotal research comes at a time when many interest groups continue to press for the removal of productive, cost-effective hydroelectric dams, despite the region's aggressive carbon reduction goals. Many believe that the federally-operated dams are preventing the recovery of threatened and endangered salmon populations - specifically in the Snake River, the largest tributary of the Columbia in the Pacific Northwest.
However, Dr. Welch's research questions that conclusion. The study reveals that Chinook salmon survival has fallen by two-thirds, on average, for almost all regions along the western coast of North America - in both dammed and undammed areas - and not just in the Columbia River Basin.
The study is supported by deep technical and scientific analyses of the extensive survival data collected by government agencies over many decades. The research also reveals that survival is indistinguishable for Puget Sound and Snake River spring Chinook populations, despite the absence of major dams in the Puget Sound region.
The implication of the research is that the shared ecosystem of all Pacific salmon, the Pacific Ocean, is likely the source of the coastal-wide decline in Chinook salmon populations. Dams, while having some effect on salmon survival, do not appear to be a key limiting factor for recovery.
Dr. Welch's scientific analysis also found a significant flaw in the models used to produce adult survival estimates for the Columbia River Basin salmon. The two predominant models used to formulate regional salmon policy both rely on PIT tag data--small RFID tags implanted in some fish, which only track salmon when they swim past in-river receivers.
Adult salmon caught in fisheries in the ocean or river are not counted by these monitoring systems, meaning that harvest is ignored in the models. The assumption by the modelers is that harvest is insignificant and stable from year to year, so excluding it isn't a problem.
In contrast, Dr. Welch's research found that harvest of Columbia River Chinook stocks can be large--as much as 75 percent of the total salmon run for some Columbia River populations--and highly variable over time.
This finding means that the predominant models fail to recognize that the reason for good and bad salmon returns may have been strongly influenced by how a range of US federal, state, and Canadian agencies were regulating the adult salmon catch.
As a result, the model outcomes are unintentionally providing erroneous information.
This new research clearly shows a need to revise the models and, ultimately, salmon policies themselves.
No evidence for delayed mortality
Those who opposed hydroelectric dams with advanced fish passage systems often refer to the theory of delayed mortality. This assumption is rooted in the unproven idea that juvenile salmon are injured by successive dam powerhouses and fish bypass systems, reducing their survival in the ocean.
However, Dr. Welch makes a convincing case that there is no real evidence for delayed mortality in the data. He provides solid reasoning, using data from both the Fish Passage Center and other independent datasets, that greater dam passage does not usually cause lower survival rates.
This finding is critical, because policies based on the delayed mortality theory have cost the region billions of dollars and increased our carbon footprint without addressing the real issues leading to lower salmon survival--climate change and warming oceans.
The governors of Oregon and Washington both recently pointed to the region's devastating and deadly wildfires as signs that climate change will continue to have a very negative effect on Pacific Northwest communities. Dr. Welch's study shows that they should be similarly concerned about the oceanic impacts of climate change and their effects on salmon survival.
This conclusion means that our carbon-free hydropower resources are more important than ever.
About Northwest RiverPartners
Northwest RiverPartners (NWRP) is a not-for-profit, member-driven organization. We represent not-for-profit, community-owned utilities across Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and Nevada. We also proudly represent farmers, ports, and businesses across the region that support clean energy and low-carbon transportation.
NWRP is focused on raising awareness about how the Northwest's hydropower system betters communities and the natural environment, and we encourage science-based solutions that help hydropower and salmon coexist and thrive. http://nwriverpartners.org.
Bedke, Rubel: HJR 4 Just makes sense
by Idaho House Speaker Scott Bedke and House Minority Leader Representative Ilana Rubel
The ballots submitted by the Republican Speaker of the House and the Democratic Leader of the House will probably look very different this year, but there is one spot where they will look the same. We are both voting "yes" on HJR 4, and we encourage you to do the same.
The constitutional amendment HJR 4 might seem complicated but it's really a very simple change. Idaho has had 35 legislative districts since the 1990s, but our constitution currently allows that number to be set as low as 30 districts. This is a census year, which means that next year a redistricting commission will meet to draw new lines for our congressional and legislative seats, and those lines will be in effect for the coming decade. HJR 4 simply fixes the number of districts at 35, eliminating the possibility that the number of districts will be reduced. Why is this a good idea? Because more legislative districts mean smaller districts, and that means Idaho's people will have closer contact and easier access to their legislators.
We'd like to put to rest some of the fears and counter-arguments we've heard:
#1: "HJR4 will lead to gerrymandering!" No. Idaho's district lines will still be drawn by a balanced commission that must reach bipartisan agreement on any new map, as required by our constitution.
#2: "HJR4 will lead to unfair over-representation of some parts of Idaho." No. The commission will still be required to draw districts that are equivalent in population, with minimal variance between districts. Nothing in HJR4 would allow for unfair over-representation of urban versus rural areas, or north versus south versus east.
#3: "HJR4 is a scheme by the Republicans / Democrats to disadvantage the Democrats / Republicans." No. There is nothing partisan about HJR4, and during the 2020 session it passed with overwhelming support from legislators of both parties. It just keeps districts smaller so it's easier for legislators to stay in touch with constituents.
#4: "There's no urgency to act on this right now." We disagree. District lines will be drawn in 2021. This 2020 election is our last bite at the apple before districts are set for 10 years. At 35 districts, there would be about 51,000 people per district. Without HJR4, we could end up with 30 districts, with 60,000 people per district, a substantial increase that reduces access to representation. If that were to happen, we couldn't fix it for a decade. The only way to ensure that doesn't happen is to pass HJR4 now.
#5: "We don't need to pass this because the commission would never choose to reduce the number of districts." We're not so sure of that. Moreover, It's not necessarily up to the commission. Many maps are thrown out by courts, which could decide that the number of districts must be reduced to accommodate various criteria set in case law (e.g. you're supposed to keep counties intact, keep communities of interest together, etc.). HJR4 is the only real assurance that we won't end up with reduced representation.
In short, there's no Trojan horse that will be sprung on Idahoans if HJR 4 is approved by the voters. Idaho is the one of the fastest-growing state in the nation, adding 230,000 people since the last redistricting in 2011. We'd hate to see this larger population get fewer representatives than they have now. Our goal is simply to ensure that Idahoans are represented in the legislature by elected representatives they can readily access - people who share their streets, neighborhoods, and businesses. Setting the number of legislative districts at 35 will advance this goal. We hope you'll join us in voting "yes" on HJR 4.
More support of women veterans needed
Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo
I am grateful to Idahoans who share their views with me about issues or legislation needing congressional attention. Bob and Carmelita Jones with the Idaho Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and its Auxiliary recently asked that I consider co-sponsoring S. 514, the Deborah Sampson Act. This legislation, which is also supported by other veterans' service organizations, would improve support for women veterans. Following up on this request, I looked into the issue and the legislative remedy and co-sponsored S. 514.
When introducing S. 514, the bill's bipartisan sponsors Senators Jon Tester (D-Montana) and John Boozman (R-Arkansas) explained the concern, "Women are the fastest growing group of veterans, but many VA facilities don't have the ability to provide equitable care or services to women veterans. The Deborah Sampson Act would eliminate barriers to care and services that many women veterans face and would help ensure the VA can address the needs of women veterans who are more likely to face homelessness, unemployment, and go without needed health care."
We must do all we can to help the VA meet the needs of this growing population of our country's veterans. A bipartisan group of 55 senators, including fellow Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and I, co-sponsored S. 514 that would increase the number of gender-specific providers in VA facilities, enhance privacy for women veterans within VA facilities, establish an Office of Women's Health at the VA and improve the quality of care for infant children of women veterans. The legislation would also improve the collection and analysis of data regarding women veterans that can better enable ensuring VA services adequately support their service.
The legislation is named for Deborah Sampson. National Women's History Museum historians write, "Deborah Sampson became a hero of the American Revolution when she disguised herself as a man and joined the Patriot forces. She was the only woman to earn a full military pension for participation in the Revolutionary army."
In September, the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs amended S. 514 and reported it out of committee. The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed similar legislation, H.R. 3224. I look forward to enactment of this important legislation that will better support the Idaho women veterans who are among our state's enduring strengths, and I encourage Idaho veterans and all Idahoans to continue to contact me to share your views on issues of importance to you. I am grateful for your input.
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.
|Window on the Clearwater
P.O. Box 2444
Orofino, ID 83544