Thursday, January 20, 2011

Labrador, Simpson Say No to Affordable Care Act

Posted By on Thu, Jan 20, 2011 at 8:40 AM

As planned, Idaho Congressmen Raul Labrador and Mike Simpson joined 243 of their U.S. House colleagues to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Equally expected is a solid wall of defense when the measure comes to the U.S. Senate, still controlled by Democrats. In fact, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is expected to prevent such repeal legislation from getting to the Senate floor.

But this is only the opening salvo of a Republican attack against what they dub Obamacare. Wasting no time, the House is expected to vote today on new measure directing four committees—Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, Education and Workforce, and Judiciary—to craft a Republican version for health-care reform.

Opponents of the Republican effort and supporters of the Affordable Care Act warn that if the new law is dismantled, 6,620 young adults would lose their insurance coverage, 857,000 Idahoans would find themselves vulnerable again to lifetime limits on coverage and 212,000 Idaho seniors who have Medicare would be forced to pay co-pays to receive services like mammograms and colonoscopies.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Exclusive Interview with Boise Co-op Board Chair

Posted By on Wed, Jan 19, 2011 at 6:07 PM

"It was unanimous," said Pat Haas, acting board chair of Boise Co-op.

In an exclusive interview with BW, Haas spoke of the board's decision to oust co-op manager Ken Kavanagh, the future of the Boise landmark and a much-anticipated meeting with members, slated for Monday, Jan. 24.

"I'd be surprised if Ken wasn't at the meeting," said Haas.

Kavanagh was the one who initially called for the meeting, but Haas said a technicality will change the format.

"Our bylaws state that the meeting must be published in a newspaper, which it was," said Haas. "But it also says that you must post the announcement in a prominent place at the registered office (Boise Co-op), which it wasn't. But we on the board asked each other, 'What should we do?' It's not a real meeting but we still want to communicate with the members. We decided to go ahead and meet at the same time and place, and then open things up to questions so we can tell the members what we're doing."

The meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday at Boise's St. John's Parish, comes in the wake of Kavanagh's firing on Jan. 13.

The following day, in an exclusive interview with BW, Kavanagh said, "I haven't done anything wrong to deserve this and now, of course, the store is in an uproar."

Haas would dispute that.

"I can tell you that we've gotten very positive feedback on the change," said Haas. "The people at the store are very enthused."

Gary Lyons is their new boss. He's stepped down as board chair to take over as interim store manager.

"Interim. That's the only way to describe it," said Haas. "He has no desire to be a permanent manager. People should also know that Gary made it very clear that he wanted no compensation. We're not paying him, even though we should be."

BW asked Haas repeatedly for the reason or reasons for Kavanagh's departure.

"We're just not going to talk publicly about personnel matters," said Haas. "We did what we needed to do. I'm not sure if there's an ideal way to terminate any employee."

Haas confirmed that the board recently hired Gallatin Public Affairs, in addition to the co-op's legal team, to help manage the controversy.

"We simply don't want to say things that are illegal or inappropriate," said Haas.

Haas said members should notice a tangible difference in the wake of the management shake-up.

"I really think customers will detect a more positive feel, more enthusiasm and a greater level of customer service," said Haas.

As for the immediate future, Haas acknowledged that Monday's meeting could go well into the night.

"I'm prepared for a long meeting," said Haas. "But for those confused or upset, I'd say come to the meeting and we'll talk about it."

[UPDATE: This article has been amended to correct a name misspelling.]

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80-plus Animals Rescued, Cruelty Charges Pending In Payette County

Posted By on Wed, Jan 19, 2011 at 5:42 PM

Charges are pending against three Idahoans in the wake of a large animal rescue in New Plymouth.

"I fully expect to lodge cruelty to animal charges against three separate owners before this week is out," Captain Toby Hauntz of the Payette County Sheriff Department told Citydesk.

Approximately 80 animals are barely alive in the wake of the raid at a New Plymouth farm. Payette County Sheriff’s deputies joined the Idaho Humane Society Tuesday to discover “deplorable” conditions at a livestock ranch.

“The thin body conditions of the animals were compounded by the fact that the animals were also dehydrated from lack of access to drinking water,” said Hannah Parpart, spokesperson for the humane society.

A field inspector and veterinarian were on scene throughout the day, assessing more than 30 horses, 20 goats, 18 sheep, 10 pigs, eight llamas and one dog.

The humane society asked for public donations at idahohumanesociety.org to help purchase food and vaccinations for the rescued animals.

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Should We Stop or Should We Slow?

Posted By on Wed, Jan 19, 2011 at 2:45 PM

"Be careful at Timmerman Junction."

People in Blaine County say this all the time. The intersection of U.S. Highway 20 and Idaho Highway 75, colloquially known as Timmerman Junction, is locally regarded as an asphalt Bermuda Triangle, a spot on the map defied by the rules of physics and a place to be extra careful, because people crash there.

How many people? Between 2000 and 2009, the Idaho Transportation Department recorded 26 accidents at Timmerman Junction. In the last six months alone, there were three serious accidents that injured 11. After a decade or so of this kind of thing, the authorities decided to do something about it.

Last November, local Blaine County officials sent ITD a request to please, like seriously, do something. Engineers at ITD, in that big shiny glass building on State Street in Boise, started doing what they do best, engineering a solution. They determined that the intersection needed an eventual overhaul, possibly in the form of a roundabout, that revolving-door-concept popular all over the world ("Look kids, Big Ben, Parliament!"). But that could take years, so ITD recommended a temporary remedy—a four-way stop. If all traffic is forced to stop, there will be fewer high-speed crashes. Sounds logical, right?

Not according to local residents.

After the local paper reported on the planned changes, the Blaine County public (at least those who comment on the Idaho Mountain Express website) went into a characteristic fury.

A commenter writing under the name "Idaho Native" had this to say:
"IDIOTS!!! Put a bandaid over a gushing wound! We can now expect an increase in accidents at that intersection! I think we should hold the damn pencil pushers responsible for the injuries or even deaths they are about to cause!"

"Erik" added his own unique logic: "Traffic lights, signs and many other methods of traffic control may seem logical when they actually create a false sense of security, possibly even confusion and distraction. People may be spending so much time trying to read and comprehend signage they forget who stops and who doesn't."

My favorite commenter was "Old School," who groused: "Back in the day when I grew up around here we payed attention to the traffic on the road."

At ITD they are used to this kind of reaction. Devin Rigby has been a District Engineer with ITD for 13 years and has worked with the agency for 25 years. He oversees about 1,000 miles of roads and about 167 employees. Does it bother him that people have such little faith in what his agency does?

"It's an interesting process that we go through," Rigby said with admirable understatement. While the Timmerman project did receive a healthy number of skeptical comments, so do many of ITD's projects, he said. What made this case unique was that Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling voiced his shared opposition to ITD’s plan.

Rigby and the sheriff's department, unruffled by the online kerfuffle, met in December and found new common ground. They agreed on a new temporary solution: flashing lights and lower speed limits (from 55 mph to 45 mph) for north-south traffic on Highway 75, along with an "extremely aggressive law enforcement presence."

"Our experience is that just posting a speed limit does not change the way that people drive," Rigby said. But the sheriff's commitment to patrolling the area was enough to convince him to try. Rigby is optimistic but said all options remain open.

"If reducing the speed solves the problem, then everyone is going to be happy. If it doesn't, we will need to take a serious look at a four-way stop."

The new signs and lower speed limit will be enforced in February. As for the eventual roundabout, that could be six or seven years in the future. Public discontent is almost guaranteed, but in Blaine County's boisterous political forum, colorful comments are part of the process.

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Micron Expanding, Adding Jobs

Posted By on Wed, Jan 19, 2011 at 10:00 AM

On Jan. 7, when Mike Reynoldson, Micron's government affairs manager was quizzed by Idaho lawmakers, he painted a positive economic forecast but wouldn't commit to any specifics.

"I can't answer that," said Reynoldson, when asked about possible new hires.

That changed today when Micron announced new construction of a 50,000-square-foot addition to its Boise campus, which is expected to house at least 165 employees—Micron's website lists 173 open positions in engineering and accounting. Micron also announced that it will remodel its 300mm research-and-development center.

The new construction is slated to begin in February. Micron employs about 5,000 people in the Treasure Valley. Following a few fiscally bumpy years, Micron rebounded in 2010 with profits of $1.9 billion as demand and prices for its memory products recovered.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Mega-loads Expected to Roll Tuesday, Feb. 1

Posted By on Tue, Jan 18, 2011 at 5:20 PM

It's official. Idaho Transportation Dept. Director Brian Ness has issued permits for four mega-loads of oil equipment to roll across central Idaho beginning Monday, January 24 Tuesday, Feb. 1. The ruling concludes five months of court and administrative hearings, including stops in Idaho District Court and the Idaho State Supreme Court.

"I am convinced the record showed the loads can be moved safely, without damage to the roads and bridges and with minimal disruption to traffic and emergency services," said Ness. "Every argument has been heard and considered. We can no longer delay this process."

Two permits are being issued today to transport two loads beginning Monday, Jan. 24Tuesday, Feb.1, if weather conditions allow. The permits can be extended if weather does not allow the transport.

"I will not comment further because litigation is possible," said Ness.

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UPDATE: This story has been updated as the Idaho Transportation Dept. has learned additional time will be needed to prepare and mobilize the shipments.

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Idaho's Main Street Alliance Rallies to Support Obamacare

Posted By on Tue, Jan 18, 2011 at 4:54 PM

The stage is set in the nation's capital for the U.S. House to vote on repealing the health care overhaul.

President Barack Obama said he is willing to work with both parties to improve the Affordable Care Act but warned lawmakers shouldn't "go backward" and repeal the measure.

Meanwhile, a small group gathered in front of Boise's downtown post office Tuesday afternoon to show their support for the law and to ask Idaho's Congressional delegation not to support any repeal.

"We believe there are huge benefits to the health care bill," said Nancy Snodgrass, Director of the Main Street Alliance. "Not only to Idaho's small businesses but to all citizens."

Snodgrass was joined by Joe Alcala, the owner of J.B. Steel and Construction, who said that a requirement to buy health care makes for a fairer bidding process as contractors that don't provide health care for their employees can underbid those that do.

[ Video is no longer available. ]

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Mega-loads Reaction: Opponents "Saddened," Proponents "Pleased"

Posted By on Tue, Jan 18, 2011 at 4:09 PM

As expected, the two sides that have faced-off through five months of legal proceedings are reacting quite differently to Tuesday's news that the Idaho Transportation Dept. has agreed to let four mega-loads roll through north central Idaho.

"We are saddened by the fact that the thousands of Idahoans who oppose the mega-loads are having to work so hard to have one of their own state agencies hear them," said Laird Lucas, attorney for opponents of ConocoPhillips' request to move the equipment from Lewiston to Billings, Mont.

"Conoco will proceed with our plans in accordance with the permits," said John Roper, director of business communications for the oil giant. "We will provide updates on the status of the shipments as they proceed."

The ruling from ITD Director Brian Ness allows two permits to transport two loads beginning Monday, Jan. 24Tuesday, Feb. 1, if weather conditions allow. The permits can be extended if weather does not allow the transport.

UPDATE: This story has been updated as the Idaho Transportation Dept. has learned additional time will be needed to prepare and mobilize the shipments.

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Nine-Term Senator Geddes Picked to Chair Tax Commission

Posted By on Tue, Jan 18, 2011 at 3:18 PM

Idaho State Senator Robert Geddes (D-Soda Springs) has been tapped to chair the Idaho State Tax Commission.

What are Geddes' credentials to oversee the embattled tax commission? He has a degree in geology and is a nine-term State Senator. He's also a CPA.

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The commission has been under fire of late in the wake of the resignation of Chairman Royce Chigbrow, accused of intervening on behalf of a friend and for clients of his son's accounting firm. Current and former tax commission workers accused Chigbrow and other commissioners of confidential settlements to resolve tax disputes at the public's expense.

Geddes' appointment comes with a significant bump in pay, moving from his $16,000 as a part-time Senator to $95,000 plus benefits for a full-time position on the tax commission.

"I'm pleased to accept this appointment and feel that my background and experience can benefit to ensure that the taxpayers and Tax Commission employees alike will be treated fairly and equitably," said Geddes.

As for who will replace Geddes in the senate, the Republican Legislative Committee for District 31, including Bear Lake, Caribou, Franklin, Teton and Bonneville counties, will nominate three possible successors. Otter will chose Geddes' replacement from among the nominees.

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Battle Lines Drawn on Effort to Repeal Affordable Care Act

Posted By on Tue, Jan 18, 2011 at 1:42 PM

Though White House spokesman Robert Gibbs dismissed a vote by House Republicans to repeal the new health-care law as "not serious," the Obama administration is prepared to mount a full scale defense.

This afternoon, Gibb told reporters that the effort to repeal "is not going anywhere."

Concurrently, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius today released a new analysis showing that without the Affordable Care Act, up to 662,000 non-elderly Idaho residents who have some type of pre-existing health condition, like heart disease, arthritis or cancer, would be at risk of losing health insurance or denied coverage altogether.

"The Affordable Care Act is stopping insurance companies from discriminating against Americans with pre-existing conditions and is giving us all more freedom and control over our health care decisions," said Sebelius.

As part of their repeal effort, Republicans warn that 650,000 jobs will be lost if the law is allowed to stand.

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