Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Lawmaker Wants to Eliminate Specialty Plates Through Attrition

Posted By on Tue, Jan 31, 2012 at 4:10 PM

The Idaho Legislature is again considering a bill to limit the abundance of specialty license plates in the Gem State.

“My wife and I both have vanity plates,” Coeur d'Alene Sen. James Hammond, the bill's sponsor, told Citydesk. "This bill doesn’t propose restricting citizens from supporting a cause through license plate purchases, it just limits the choices to state and other public agencies."

Yes, that means even the Famous Potato plate, one of 39 specialty plates available through the Department of Motor Vehicles, could be eliminated.

Hammond is looking for "specialty cause" plates to sell a minimum of 1,000 plates in three years.

“It’s a process of elimination,” Hammond said. "If there are no longer WWII veterans renewing their license plates, the plate is no longer in demand."

Ordering a military plate requires a document proving service, but most plates, such as those for Freemasons, don't require verification.

“State police have come to a consensus that identifying license plates is more difficult,” said Hammond

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Hammond Wants Texting While Driving to be 'Primary Offense'

Posted By on Tue, Jan 31, 2012 at 4:04 PM

Coeur d'Alene Sen. James Hammond's bill to bar texting while driving moved into the passing lane today. The Republican lawmaker presented his measure to the Senate Transportation Committee, which he also chairs.

“This bill would make it a primary offense,” said Hammond, “And would include a $100 fine.”

Sen. James Hammond: Even a tweet would be considered texting.
  • Andrew Crisp
  • Sen. James Hammond: "Even a tweet would be considered texting."

The legislation could also serve as a statewide ban against using a cellphone to send text messages while operating a vehicle—currently portions of the state have their own restrictions. Past attempts at crafting a bill languished because of language on precisely what constituted “texting.”

“With this bill, even sending a tweet would be considered ‘texting,’” said Hammond. “If you were swerving or something and you were pulled over, you would get this ticket on top of any other infraction.”

Boise Sens. Les Bock and Eliot Werk have crafted an alternate bill that would impose a $50 fine for first offenses, and $100 for subsequent offenses.

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Colbert's Super PAC Raises $1 Million

Posted By on Tue, Jan 31, 2012 at 12:49 PM

Super PACs have been a large focus of this election season, largely because of the ungodly amounts of money they are legally allowed to raise from individual donors—who don't have to be reported in a timely manner. That money can then be used in any way the group wants, from supporting its candidate of choice to attacking others.

Understandably, Super PACs have been the center of controversy, with many saying that it's the equivalent of buying a candidate. While Mitt Romney is well known to have Super PACs with the deepest pockets, Newt Gingrich now has a clear, and very wealthy benefactor, himself.

But today's the day when they all have to come clean. All Super PACs have until the end of the day to file their first annual report disclosing all donors.

Leading the pack of disclosures is comedian/TV host Stephen Colbert, who started his own Super PAC—Making a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow—and announced he was running for president (for however brief a time) and handed control of the Super PAC over to fellow comedian Jon Stewart.

According to the disclosure filed with the Federal Elections Commission, Colbert's Super PAC raised more than $1 million. It was also accompanied with a letter that read, "I'm rolling seven digits deep! I got 99 problems but a non-connected independent-expenditure only committee ain't one!''

Colbert has been one of the leaders of the movement against Super PACs, using his celebrity and following the rules laid out by the FEC to make a point. He summed up his position in an interview with Ted Koppel on NBC's Rock Center with Brian Williams.

On his show, The Colbert Report, he told viewers: "We raised it on my show, and used it to materially influence the elections—in full accordance with the law. It's the way our founding fathers would have wanted it, if they had founded corporations instead of just a country."

[ Video is no longer available. ]

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Megaupload Data Gets Two-Week Reprieve

Posted By on Tue, Jan 31, 2012 at 12:40 PM

Megaupload users will have at least two more weeks before their data is wiped clean. The Washington Post reports that Megaupload worked with its hosting companies to preserve data for another two weeks.

"Carpathia and Cogent agreed to preserve consumer data for additional time of at least two weeks so Megaupoload can work with U.S. on proposal," tweeted Ira Rothken, Megaupload's attorney.

It had already been reported that hosting companies were going to wipe Megaupload's files from their servers by Thursday, Feb. 2, but Carpathia, a hosting site, quickly denied the wipeout date.

The FBI shut down Megaupload on Jan. 19 for violating piracy laws. Its founder, Kim Schmitz was placed in a New Zealand jail and the company's assets were frozen, making it unable to pay bills to hosting sites. Megaupload claimed to have 50 million users per day, who stored their own data, including photos and personal documents. Users haven't been able to view their data since the site was shut down.

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Public Set To Weigh In On State Budget Friday

Posted By on Tue, Jan 31, 2012 at 12:30 PM

It's time for your two cents. And given Idaho's budget constraints, that could be generous.

The Idaho Legislature's budget writing committee is poised to take public testimony on the pending Fiscal Year 2013 Budget this Friday, Feb. 3. The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee will listen to the public from 8-10:30 a.m. in the Capitol Auditorium at the Statehouse.

If you want to testify, get to the Capitol building early. Sign-ups begin as early as 7 a.m., and it's expected to be a full house. You will be given three minutes and the Legislative Service Office offers a few tips as its "keys to successful testimony:"

-Be specific. Tell lawmakers what programs or services you want kept and which ones you want cut.
-Write down your testimony. It helps a great deal if you're nervous. Plus, you can always turn in your written testimony.
-Get there early. Testimony is on a first-come, first-serve basis.
-Be polite. Lawmakers aren't shy about dealing with testimony that goes off the boil.

JFAC still needs to hear from a few more state agencies and departments, but the committee is scheduled to begin setting the FY 2013 budget on Monday, Feb. 20 and should have some numbers ready by Friday, March 9.

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Crapo Supports Payroll Tax Holiday, But Only If It's Deficit Neutral

Posted By on Tue, Jan 31, 2012 at 12:24 PM

Idaho U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo is part of a congressional conference committee looking to iron out details on how to extend the nation's payroll tax holiday. The tax break, which would allow most Americans to see an $800 to $1,000 benefit, expired at the end of 2011, and Congress is working against a Wednesday, Feb. 29, deadline, following a short-term two-month extension. Without a deal, the 2 percentage-point payroll tax break would lapse, as would emergency unemployment benefits.

"I do support the holiday," Crapo told Citydesk. "But it's a cost to the federal treasury and we need to offset that cost in spending reductions."

Crapo said in an effort to make the tax break budget neutral, he advocates for an across-the-board reduction in spending, including entitlements, though he didn't think enough of his U.S. Senate colleagues agreed with uniform cuts.

"They're going to look at some specific items," said Crapo. "But I believe one way or another, we'll get to the point of finding a necessary offset to make it deficit neutral."

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Idaho Motel Refunds Fee It Charged Disabled Customer for Having Service Dog in Room

Posted By on Tue, Jan 31, 2012 at 12:11 PM

A North Idaho motel has agreed to change its ways in the wake of a discrimination complaint involving a disabled customer.

United State Attorney Wendy Olson told the Associated Press that the Budget Saver Motel in Coeur d'Alene has refunded a fee which it had charged a disabled customer for having a service dog in the room. Additionally, the motel paid the customer $500 for her distress and issued a written apology. For all future customers, the motel also posted a service dog policy that complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act and trained its employees to be in full compliance of the policy.

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McLean Selected as NewDEAL 'Rising Leader'

Posted By on Tue, Jan 31, 2012 at 12:08 PM

There was the 20th century New Deal, President Franklin Roosevelt's federal response to the economic downturn of the 1930s, and now the 21st century New Deal, a nonprofit network looking for local solutions to our current economic downturn. The NewDEAL (Developing Exceptional American Leaders) regularly singles out regional leaders for what it calls "pro-growth progressive ideas, which range from streamlining government to making clean energy more affordable to connecting small businesses to university research."

Today, NewDEAL selected Boise City Council Member Lauren McLean as one of its 10 "rising leaders." In the announcement, honorary chairs of NewDEAL Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and Alaska U.S. Sen. Mark Begich said McLean was among the few American leaders who "are proving that you can be both pro-growth and progressive."

Specificially, Begich and O'Malley said McLean was chosen "for her efforts to grow Boise's economy by promoting sustainable development."

Among other leaders chosen for today's honors were Columbia, S.C., Mayor Steve Benjamin; Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton; Providence, R.I., Mayor Angel Taveras and Flint, Mich., Mayor Dayne Walling.

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Consumer Confidence Drops Along With Home Prices

Posted By on Tue, Jan 31, 2012 at 12:00 PM

The adage is that as the housing market goes, so goes the economy (and vice versa). So, economists woke up to some bad news this morning when the S&P/Case-Shiller report indicated that home prices fell more steeply than expected in November, showing that there are many more hurdles to clear before an economic recovery.

Additionally, a report from The Conference Board said its consumer confidence index fell to 61.1 in January from a revised 64.8 the month before.

As a result, Wall Street erased its Monday gains, leaving stocks trading flat at mid-morning.

Gerald Hunter keeps a very close eye on the housing industry. As president and executive director of the Idaho Housing and Finance Association, he oversees a $3 billion portfolio of home loans, while partnering with dozens of non-profits to assist Idaho's homeless. Hunter said the "great recession" has put a glut of foreclosed homes on the market.

"That's an unfortunate outcome of our unemployment rate," said Hunter, "It savaged a lot of Idaho families in terms of their ability to have decent, safe affordable housing."

But Hunter has reason for optimism. In tomorrow's Boise Weekly, we talk with Hunter about a new uptick in Idaho home sales and how his agency helps thousands of Idahoans stay in their homes, in spite of the economic downturn.

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Charter Advocates Look For Higher Caps to Accommodate 8,000 More Students

Posted By on Tue, Jan 31, 2012 at 7:34 AM

Facing what they say is an unprecedented growth in charter schools and with approximately 8,000 students on charter-school waiting lists, parents and administrators will be taking their pro-charter advocacy to the steps of the Idaho Capitol today.

Quite simply, they say, they need the cap on new charter schools lifted.

"The caps have varied over the years,” Leslie Mauldin, president of the Coalition of Idaho Charter School Families, told Citydesk. “We started with 12 schools, and then in 2004, the legislation was changed, which brought it down to six schools.”

But Mauldin confirmed that the growing number of Idaho charter schools has also brought misunderstandings.

“As the schools have aged, many of the misconceptions have aged,” Mauldin stated. “Twelve years of research shows us the population doesn’t always reflect the school districts.”

Supporters argue charter schools are a tuition-free source that provides excellent results, allows for different teaching methods, and creates an innovative learning environment.

“There are 8,000 kids currently on waiting lists to get into these schools,” Mauldin explained. “Kids are chosen to attend through a random lottery, required by the government."

Today's rally attendees will have some heavy-hitter advocates, including Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna and Lt. Gov. Brad Little.

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