Friday, March 13, 2015

Cannabis Oil Bill Passes Out of Idaho Senate Committee

Posted By on Fri, Mar 13, 2015 at 5:09 PM

A Idaho Senate committee narrowly approved a revamped medical cannabis oil bill that could open the door for seizure patients to try a treatment that for some stands as their last hope.

“They’ve got some big hearts and compassion. It takes some courage to support this kind of bill,” Clare Carey said of lawmakers who approved the measure.

“I’m so grateful to the senators that supported this and did not get distracted,” said the Boise mother of three, who has lobbied lawmakers for two years to pass a cannabidiol oil bill on behalf of her 10-year old daughter Alexis, who suffers from life-threatening seizures.

“[Cannabidiol oil] is a safe product that will help so many people,” she said.

The Senate State Affairs committee passed Senate Bill 1146 on March 13 with a 5-4 vote after considering another version of the legislation that lawmakers sent back to its sponsor when law enforcement and prosecutors called it too broad.

“It was very close in committee. I’m going to have to make some changes to get a vote on the floor,” the bill's sponsor, Boise Republican Sen. Curt McKenzie, told Boise Weekly.

McKenzie’s original bill, SB 1106, outlined exemptions to the state’s Controlled Substances Act that would have given patients and caregivers the OK to use and possess low-THC, non-psychoactive CBD oil to treat epilepsy. No lawmakers challenged the intent of the law but police and prosecutors said the measure would muddle enforcement efforts and render drug sniffing dogs, which can’t distinguish between cannabis and marijuana, useless.

McKenzie came back with SB 1146, an entirely new bill that gives patients and caregivers a defense rather than a legal exemption.

“It does it in a way that doesn't open the door to abuse of other drugs and doesn't change the way current laws are enforced,” McKenzie said.

The latest measure would give patients and their caregivers a definitive defense if prosecuted for using or possessing CBD oil that has a THC content of less than 0.3 percent. It would not add any additional bureaucracy and require that a patient has a doctor’s recommendation.

Some lawmakers thought the bill’s definition of who could use CBD oil was too broad so McKenzie said he’ll bring an amended version before the Senate that narrows the conditions of use to those suffering from intractable seizures.

Carey told BW that she wants to give Alexis the chance to try a treatment that has been shown effective in controlling seizures without risking jail time. She notes that products containing less than 0.3 percent THC are already legal and on market shelves, but she and other caregivers want their children to have the option of accessing clean, organic, laboratory tested and verified CBD oil grown specifically to treat their children’s disorders.

McKenzie, meanwhile, wants to see doctors and patients make medical decisions without government interference.

“The government shouldn’t stand in the way of these parents having a treatment option that has been shown to have life changing effects,” McKenzie said.
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Saturday, February 7, 2015

Tonight's Powerball Jackpot Continues to Climb, But Idaho Lottery Officials Decry Lousy Overall Sales

Posted By on Sat, Feb 7, 2015 at 8:47 AM

The day before one of the largest Powerball jackpots in history, lottery officials told Idaho lawmakers Feb. 6 that they may see a $10 million shortfall in ticket sales during the current fiscal year.

Idaho State Lottery Director Jeff Anderson stood before the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee on Friday in his annual presentation to the Legislature's budget-writing committee. According to the Associated Press, Anderson said all indications are that his department would not be able to hit this year's target of $220 million in ticket sales. 

But a succession of major jackpots could change some of that. In 2013, Anderson told Boise Weekly, "In the lottery business, we have a saying: drivers drive golf ball; drivers drive buses; jackpots drive lottery sales."

Meanwhile, Saturday's Powerball jackpot has climbed to $380 million-plus, already the sixth largest jackpot in that game's history. The $2 Powerball is played in 43 states, including Idaho; the District of Columbia; Puerto Rico; and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Faith Groups Buy Billboards Supporting HB 002 "Add the Words"

Posted By on Sun, Jan 25, 2015 at 10:29 AM

A raw image of billboards across Idaho urging support of HB 002, the "Add the Words" bill.  - INTERFAITH ALLIANCE OF IDAHO
  • Interfaith Alliance of Idaho
  • A raw image of billboards across Idaho urging support of HB 002, the "Add the Words" bill.

HB 002, the "Add the Words" bill, is already one of the most visible currently being considered by the 2015 Idaho Legislature. Now it's even more prominent after a coalition of Idaho faith organizations purchased billboards across the state urging lawmakers "to protect our gay and transgender family members."

Interfaith Alliance of Idaho, Interfaith Equality Coalition and Liberating Spirit-Metropolitan Community Church, have purchased billboards at three locations in the Treasure Valley—eastbound on the I-84 connector at the River Street exit, on the corner of Fairview and Maple Grove roads and on Caldwell Boulevard west of Karcher Road in Nampa—as well as in Lewiston and Pocatello.

In a press release, the faith groups expressed a belief that the bill includes "adequate religious exemptions," referring to some critics' concerns that adding "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to the state's human rights law (effectively banning discrimination based on these criteria in the areas of housing, employment and public accommodations) would infringe on their religious beliefs. 

"No one's rights, including those provided for in our state's constitution regarding religious faith, liberty, and worship, should ever inflict harm upon or jeopardize the safety or well-being of another individual," according to the release.

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Saturday, January 24, 2015

Ohio Gov. John Kasich Stops in Boise for National Balanced Budget Amendment

Posted By on Sat, Jan 24, 2015 at 11:02 AM

Ohio Gov. John Kasich made a stop at the Idaho Statehouse Jan. 23, but it wasn't to talk about how "Ohio" and "Idaho" sound alike.

The Republican governor and possible 2016 presidential contender came to Boise to discuss a national balanced budget amendment that would address the United States' growing federal debt, which is currently just shy of $13 trillion. A balanced budget amendment would force the federal government to balance its budget and put a halt to deficit spending.

Kasich has been on the road speaking before state legislatures in favor of a possible Constitutional Convention on the subject, highlighting the potential consequences of unrestrained spending on future generations of Americans, the Twin Falls Times-News reports

"If this continues, we're going to see our children forced to do things that are just not right," Kasich told Idaho legislators. 

His goal is to convince 34 state legislatures to call for such an amendment, which would trigger a Constitutional Convention. So far, 24 states have done so. 

According to the Times News, reaction to Kasich's visit to the Gem State was positive, though it remains to be seen if any action on the issue will be taken by the Idaho State Legislature this year. 

Also on Kasich's agenda was to push for Medicaid expansion. His home state is one of the few Republican-led states that has accepted Federal dollars to expand the social health care program for low-income individuals and families. Idaho has rejected growing the program despite numerous studies touting its far-ranging benefits to the state's economy.
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Making SkyMall's Boise Connection

Posted By on Sat, Jan 24, 2015 at 10:26 AM

On Jan. 23, SkyMall, which for years was the only in-flight magazine on most major U.S. airlines, turned a page in its 25-year-long career in the magazine-and-sick-bag storage seat pocket when its parent company, Xhibit Corporations, filed for bankruptcy.

"We are extremely disappointed in this result and are hopeful that SkyMall and the iconic 'SkyMall' brand find a home to continue to operate as SkyMall has for the last 25 years," said Xhibit CFO and Acting CEO Scott Wiley.

Xhibit is filing for approval of a bankruptcy court-supervised sale of its companies and assets, so the dissolution of the parent company doesn't necessarily signal the ultimate downfall of the purveyor of FitPedal laptop pedal workout desks and In God's Hands cat memorial statues.

Lest we forget, SkyMall has a Boise connection via its founder and former Idaho State Sen. Bob Worsley:
In March 2014, made the pages of Boise Weekly for his former role as Executive of the Board of Directors of the Institute for American Values, a nonpartisan interest group that focused on the "renewal of of marriage and family life" and had ties to State Rep. Lynn Luker's "religious freedom" bill during the 2014 legislative session. 
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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Washington State Mulling Its Own Ag-Gag Bill

Posted By on Wed, Jan 21, 2015 at 10:31 AM

  • George Prentice
Idaho's neighbor to the west is set to consider a bill that would criminalize unauthorized recordings of agricultural operations, though Republicans at the State Legislature in Olympia, Wash., have said that the bill is unlikely to make it to the floor for a full vote, the Spokesman-Review reports

The bill, sponsored by Washington State Rep. Joe Schmick (R-Colfax), would create the new crime of "interference with agricultural production." Proponents of the bill, including Rep. Dan Griffey (R-Alynn), who sits on the House Public Safety Committee, called it a "no-brainer."

But the bill has little support from Democrats in the legislature, who said the criminal activity addressed the bill is already illegal under trespass and vandalism statutes. House Republican leaders told the Spokesman-Review that they haven't polled members on the bill because they worry Democrats, who are in the majority in the House, are unlikely to send the bill to the floor for a full vote. 

In 2014, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter signed a similar bill into law. The so-called "Ag-Gag Bill" quickly drew legal challenges that are ongoing based on what critics described as its conflicts with the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
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Monday, January 19, 2015

Video: MLK / Idaho Human Rights Day Draws Hundreds to Two Statehouse Celebrations

Posted By on Mon, Jan 19, 2015 at 2:40 PM

  • Farzan Faramarzi

The Idaho Statehouse played host to not one, but two Martin Luther King Jr. / Idaho Human Rights Day celebrations Jan. 19.

The first event began mid-morning with Boise State University students and community members marching north on Capitol Boulevard to the Idaho Statehouse, where they gathered on the Capitol steps at 11:30 a.m. to celebrate Dr. King's legacy, and show how the standards he set for human rights across the United States were very much alive today.

Jasmine Herrick, community organizer and Boise State student, told the crowd that civil rights change faces new roadblocks in the 21st century, but stressed that creating change on a community level is no less important in 2015 than it was in the 1950s and '60s. 

Jasmine Herrick speaking on the Capitol steps. - FARZAN FARAMARZI
  • Farzan Faramarzi
  • Jasmine Herrick speaking on the Capitol steps.

"If [Martin Luther King, Jr.] were alive now, his act would be considered an act of domestic terrorism because it blocked traffic," she told the crowd of mostly students.

For her, however, silence on the issue of establishing equal protections for all under the law only encourages those who would marginalize and abridge the rights of others.

"When we are silent, we send the message that we can be brutalized with no consequence," she said. 

Much has changed in the half century since the civil rights movement began to make headway in the United States: Though the Civil Rights Act was signed into law in 1965, speakers said there remains much work to be done. Associated Students of Boise State University President Brian Vlok told the crowd that "social justice isn't extinct, and that he looks forward to the challenges and victories the movement faces in the future.

  • Farzan Faramarzi

"What will we do in the next 50 years?" he asked the crowd.

A few speakers who took to the podium said that one of the current horizons of the civil rights movement in Idaho is the Add the Words campaign, which seeks to add "gender identity" and "sexual orientation" to the state's 1960s-era human rights law. 

"This year there will be a hearing for [a bill currently in committee in the Idaho legislature to add the words], and you have a role," said Francisco Salinas, Boise State Director of Diversity and Inclusion, calling on the community to write letters to members of the legislature encouraging them to support the passage of the bill. 

Meanwhile, inside the Statehouse was a more formal commemoration - the noontime Martin Luther King Jr. / Human Rights Day celebration. There, emcee and Idaho Sen. Cherie Buckner Webb introduced several speakers, including Lieutenant Governor Brad Little, who filled in for Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter during the ceremony, and read a gubernatorial proclamation of MLK Human Rights Day.

Rabbi Dan Fink delivered the keynote address. - FARZAN FARAMARZI
  • Farzan Faramarzi
  • Rabbi Dan Fink delivered the keynote address.

Following a performance by the Common Ground Community Chorus, Rabbi Dan Fink delivered the keynote address, "The Pursuit of Justice Begins with Truth."

"Thanks to civil rights laws passed in the last 50 years, you live in a more just nation," he told hundreds who watched him from three floors of the Capitol Building. 

Fink said, however, that the fight for equal rights for all is far from won, echoing Salinas' call for the Idaho State Legislature to "add the words." He said that there are three ways that the truth—and consequently justice—is impeded when it comes to providing justice for Idaho's LGBT citizens: "averting our gaze" and not seeing that there's a problem; failing to recognize the injustices LGBT people face in Idaho; and rationalizing our collective failure to provide legal protections. 

"The laws provide just recourse unless you are lesbian, transsexual or gay," he said. "Justice is a rising tide."

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Add the Words Bill Surfaces at Idaho House Ways and Means Committee Tonight

Posted By on Wed, Jan 14, 2015 at 2:17 PM

For the better part of a decade, the Add the Words movement has struggled to get Idaho legislators to consider adding "gender identity" and "sexual orientation" to the state's 1960s-era human rights law. But tonight, that movement will score an unprecedented victory when the House Ways and Means Committee introduces a bill that will do just that.

The hearing was announced this afternoon by House Speaker Scott Bedke, who said that the committee will hear the bill at 5 p.m. It will be presented by House Minority Leader John Rusche. Bedke also said that a full hearing will be scheduled for the week of Monday, Jan. 26.
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Monday, January 12, 2015

State of the State: Otter Calls for More Community Colleges, Tax Cuts, Defense of 'Traditional Marriage'

Posted By on Mon, Jan 12, 2015 at 2:00 PM

Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter was escorted into the chambers of the Idaho Legislature at 1 p.m. Monday, nearly one hour after the legislature gaveled its 2015 session into order.

It only took six minutes for Otter to fire his first salvo at a federal government which he said had "neither rhyme nor reason in how the government does or does not do its job."

As for state government, Otter said he looked forward to a session of compromise. "Our process is not designed to satisfy everyone. Nothing ever can," he said.

Otter's to-do list begins with education, he said, which was met by polite applause. In particular, said he was proposing a 7.4 percent bump in public education funding, versus his proposed budget's overall 5.2 percent increase. Otter said he also was calling for a $20 million bump in what he called "discretionary operating funds" for local school districts throughout the state.

In regards to the much-embattled Idaho Education Network, which was crippled by a 4th District Court judge's ruling which found that the state had broken the law when it altered a contract to manage the $60 million program. Federal funds dried up, and makeshift funding to keep IEN going at least a few months into 2015 has left the network in a state of flux. But Otter said Monday afternoon that IEN was "an asset that must be maintained."   

"I'm confident and committed, starting with rebidding the contracts, to have full funding for the operations of IEN for Fiscal Year 2016 (which begins July1)," said Otter.

The governor also had particular praise for the College of Western Idaho. "It's hard to even imagine (the Treasure Valley) without CWI," he said. But now, Otter said he wants to see more Idaho communities explore the possibility of creating their own two-year colleges, and he said it would be a prime topic of discussion as he continues to visit each corner of the Gem State in his "Capital for a Day" tour which will return in 2015.

Also of high priority, Otter said, was what he called "the elephant in the room."

"We already have over 175 bridges across Idaho that are over 50 years old and are structurally insufficient," said the governor. "It's a real problem."

But Otter was short on solutions, referring to "all that I have learned and we have learned in recent years," alluding to his past failures of convincing the legislature to approve funding for Idaho roads and bridges.

"However, I will not entertain proposals that compete for general fund tax dollars for such things as education," said Otter, thus landing the multi-billion dollar problem squarely in the laps of the Idaho House and Senate transportation committees.

On the topic of taxes, Otter said he was proposing a drop of Idaho's top income tax rate of 7.4 percent down to 6.9 percent over the next five years, promising a tax cut for up to 51 percent of Idaho taxpayers by 2018.

He also called for a more robust collection of Idaho sales tax on Internet sales.

"I appreciate your help in continuing to reduce the tax burden on Idaho citizens," Otter added. "Because of your efforts, we've kept $157 million in the hands of Idahoans during the current fiscal year and that number grows to $169 in Fiscal Year 2016."

Otter said he was also calling for an additional $3 million for the Idaho Opportunity Fund at the Idaho Department of Commerce, specifically earmarked for water, power, wastewater treatment and road upgrades in order to expand local businesses.

Otter added that he was also advocating for the creation of an additional behavioral health center for Idaho after already opening one facility in eastern Idaho in 2014. General consensus is that a second mental health center could go in northern Idaho.

Otter also took the opportunity to tell a statewide broadcast audience during the speech that he would continue to defend what he called "traditional marriage" which "represent the intentions and values of the citizens of Idaho." Otter said he would continue to defend Article 3, Section 28 of the Idaho Constitution which was ruled in 2014 to be unconstitutional. Otter's comments were met by silence from Democratic legislators while the majority of the GOP lawmakers applauded.

But as Otter wrapped his 2015 State of the State address, he made no reference to Add the Words, nor Medicaid expansion, nor Idaho's minimum wage.

And so it begins.

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Friday, August 1, 2014

New Legislative Parking Garage a 'No Brainer'

Posted By on Fri, Aug 1, 2014 at 12:41 PM

Sen. Chuck Winder (center) and Idaho Legislative Services Director Jeff Youtz (right, clapping) oversee the ribbon-cutting ceremony at Capitol Mall Garage No. 2. - HARRISON BERRY
  • Harrison Berry
  • Sen. Chuck Winder (center) and Idaho Legislative Services Director Jeff Youtz (right, clapping) oversee the ribbon-cutting ceremony at Capitol Mall Garage No. 2.

A new garage for legislative services, staff and the public officially opened today. Readers first learned about Capitol Garage No. 2 in April 2013, when the Idaho House voted to bypass city of Boise construction rules to build a 500-space, $8,394,012 parking garage. 

The 78,000-square-foot garage was built on the former location of the Knudsen House and another historic building. The Knudsen House was relocated, and the second structure was demolished.

During the ribbon cutting ceremony, outgoing Director of Legislative Services Jeff Youtz said that the capitol complex had needed a new parking structure for years and just months ahead of his retirement, the conditions were ripe for the project.

"It's all a matter of timing and the planets aligning to get something done," Youtz said. "We couldn't think of a reason not to do it."

The votes in the legislature to build the structure, against the wishes of the city of Boise and Preservation Idaho, were nearly unanimous: no dissenting votes in the Senate, three dissenting votes in the House. According to State Sen. Chuck Winder, who attended the ribbon cutting, the garage will provide parking for legislative staff as well as the public.

"People wanted to participate in the public process, but there was no parking," he said. "This was a no-brainer."
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