Thursday, February 2, 2012

Transportation Panel Puts Brakes on Bill for Higher Trucker Speed Limits

Posted By on Thu, Feb 2, 2012 at 3:23 PM

The Senate Transportation Committee today voted to hold a bill that would eliminate the difference in speed limits between commercial trucks and civilian vehicles. The measure's sponsor, Coeur d'Alene Sen. James Hammond, attempted to convince his colleagues that the bill was an attempt at making highways safer.

"We’ve always believed that lower speed limits will enhance safety," Hammond told the committee, which he also chairs. "But that’s not the case. They actually create a frustration that contributes to unsafety."

Deborah Johnson, general manager of Scott Fulcher Trucking, a 30-rig outfit in Caldwell, didn't support the bill, which would let truckers travel at 75 mph, instead of the usual 65.

"One-third of my income goes to fuel," said Johnson, who insisted that the economics didn't make sense. "I can't have my trucks going faster than they're made to do. We can’t go up King Hill faster than 35. I don’t care what the sign says, we can’t go faster."

Supporters pointed out that the requirement wouldn't require trucking companies to go faster—just give them the option to do so.

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Former Occupier Pleads Guilty to Defacing Federal Building

Posted By on Thu, Feb 2, 2012 at 3:16 PM

Charles Stark, the former member of the Occupy Boise movement, who defaced the Federal Building on Jan. 2 and posted his crime on YouTube, has agreed to plead guilty to willful injury of federal property.

Stark, who was facing up to a year behind bars for the original charge of defacing federal property, agreed to plead to the lesser charge, which indicated that the damage was less than $1,000. Under a plea agreement, Stark would pay $743.56 in restitution, perform 100 hours of community service, and serve five years of probation.

Stark was videotaped on Jan. 2 while defacing the Federal Building. He painted "F.U. 1867," referencing the National Defense Authorization Act, on the north, east and west windows of the Fort Street building, and "I'm not a terrorist" on the south windows.

Stark had been homeless up until his arrest, spending time at the River of Life mission for men and the Occupy Boise encampment outside of the Old Ada County Courthouse. Occupiers since have insisted that Stark is no longer a part of their encampment. According to attorney Dick Rubin, Stark was employed at the Bogus Basin ski resort in 2011.

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Luna Allies Accused of Stretching Truth on Virtual Learning Achievement

Posted By on Thu, Feb 2, 2012 at 3:10 PM

The Idaho Statesman's Dan Popkey reports that top executives of K12, which operates the Idaho Virtual Academy, have been slapped with a class-action lawsuit, alleging the company used deceptive recruiting practices and stretched the truth when boasting about student performance.

Popkey refers to a Washington Post report that said K12 CEO Ron Packard and CFO Harry Hawks were named in the suit, filed in federal court on Monday by a shareholder, raising questions about the effectiveness of virtual schools.

Idaho Virtual Academy boasts 2,930 Gem State students, receiving $12.8 million in state funds in FY 2010. Additionally, Packard, Hawks and K12 employees made campaign donations to Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna's 2010 election campaign.

A New York Times investigation, published Dec. 12, revealed inconsistencies when reconciling K12 student achievement and statements made by Packard.

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Obama Backs Plan to Subsidize Mortgage Refinancing

Posted By on Thu, Feb 2, 2012 at 1:02 PM

President Barack Obama says he has a plan to help homeowners refinance their mortgages, in an effort to jump-start the nation's troubled housing market. Obama's proposal would subsidize borrowers who can't refinance because they owe more than their home is worth. The program would target homeowners who have been "responsible," saving them an average of $3,000 per year in mortgage payments. The program would be paid for with a tax on large home lenders, called a Financial Crisis Responsibility Fee.

Obama's plan was a direct rebuttal to GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who said of the housing market, "Let it run its course and hit bottom," in an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Idaho has had great success with federal programs geared to help people stay in their homes. Idaho was one of only six states in the nation to use all of its alloted funding for the Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program.

Gerald Hunter, the president and executive director of the Idaho Housing and Finance Association, manages such programs in Idaho and also oversees a $3 billion portfolio of home loans. In this week's edition of BW, we talk to Hunter about his portfolio, federal programs to assist homeowners, and his forecast for the Idaho real estate industry.

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Meridian Set to Hold Its Own Supplemental Levy Vote on March 13

Posted By on Thu, Feb 2, 2012 at 10:17 AM

The Meridian School District, largest in Idaho, has decided to run a supplemental levy election on Tuesday, March 13, the same day as a levy election in the Boise district.

Meridian's proposed tax hike would raise $14 million a year over two years. District officials say they need $10 million in extra funding to add back nine instructional school days that were cut from their calendar last year. Meridian school officials said they need an additional $4 million for their operating budget.

You can read about the Boise's supplemental levy election in the current edition of BW.

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Otter Creates Commission to Boost INL 'Leadership'

Posted By on Thu, Feb 2, 2012 at 9:22 AM

Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, visiting Eastern Idaho today, signed an executive order creating the Idaho Leadership in Nuclear Energy Commission. LINE will primarily focus on "how the Idaho National Laboratory can continue to play an important role in economic growth and energy security." The commission is also expected to to provide guidance to other Idaho industries, regulators and education institutions.

LINE was to be chaired by Jeff Sayer, Idaho's new Department of Commerce director. Membership will include representatives from state agencies, universities, members of the idaho Legislature and the INL.

"There are a number of issues external to INL - like the federal budget or national energy policy - that we simply can't control," said Otter. "I have asked the LINE commission to identify those areas where the State of Idaho does have a significant influence in strengthening the INL's leadership in the critical work of solving our state's and nation's most pressing energy, security and environmental challenges and report their recommendations back to me."

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Disability Advocacy to Fill Capitol Friday

Posted By on Thu, Feb 2, 2012 at 9:19 AM

In the wake of what they called "dramatic" reductions or elimination of services to Idaho's most-vulnerable citizens, the Consortium for Idahoans with Disabilities plans to have a very tangible impact on the 2012 Idaho Legislature this Friday with its Disability Advocacy Day.

“It's about getting out there and letting legislators hear our stories,” said Medicaid Matters in Idaho representative Richelle Tierney. “We're looking to restore, rebuild and renew some of the budget cuts that were made in House Bill 260.”

The 2011 Legislature passed H.B. 260, cutting $35 million from the Medicaid budget, resulting in the loss of almost double that amount when matching federal funds evaporated.

“H.B. 260 came from recommendations that different organizations had made as temporary fixes in the state budget as a result of the bad economy.” Tierney explained. “These cuts were never meant to be permanent; however, there is a possibility of that happening.”

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