WEEK FIVE, February 9-13, 2015
In the previous newsletter, I indicated that the Price Lock proposal from F&G had died in a House committee. I'm happy to report that F&G is working to re-craft the bill based on feedback from the committee and they remain optimistic that citizens will still have an opportunity to weigh in on this measure during the 2015 session.
Last week, Idaho Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Burdick addressed the Senate on the State of the Judiciary. Major issues confronting the judicial branch include the need to recruit highly qualified candidates to replace the large number of district and appellate judges nearing retirement and the importance of reforming the state's public defender system. Chief Justice Burdick also outlined the transformative changes being brought about through new technologies and the sweeping Justice Reinvestment Initiative.
JRI was the topic in JFAC on Wednesday and the reforms are projected to reduce recidivism by 15%, the prison population by 1% (62 beds) and avoid $288 million in costs over five years. The recommendation is to reinvest $33 million of those cost savings into three areas; offender treatment, community supervision and probation/parole officer training. This is an extraordinary initiative that puts Idaho at the vanguard of correction reforms across the country. Also on Wednesday, newly appointed Department of Corrections Director Kevin Kempf came before JFAC requesting a pay increase totaling approximately $2.7 million. Director Kempf contends that better salaries improve retention of experienced staff which in turns reduces prison unrest and the state's exposure to risk.
I serve on the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee (JLOC) which directs the nonpartisan Office of Performance Evaluations (OPE) in conducting independent reviews on the effectiveness of state agencies and their programs and functions. On Monday, JLOC met to hear OPE's report on the state's use of legal services which concluded the state could save money by transferring to the Office of the Attorney General legal work that is currently being outsourced at an average annual cost of $10 million. Among the troubling expenditures is the $1.7 million the state has paid out in the past decade to cover fees for legal challenges to legislation passed by this body. We learned last week that taxpayers are likely on the hook for at least $700,000 in court costs (not including defense fees or in-house expenses) as a result of the state's on-going opposition to court rulings overturning the ban on same sex marriage.
On Tuesday, the Attorney General's office presented their budget before JFAC and they are requesting additional FY16 funding to add eight new positions, including two attorneys and two investigators. Attorney General Lawrence Wasden also reported receiving 60 complaints of local-level corruption since legislation passed last year which expanded the oversight of the AG's office. S1369 authorizes the Attorney General to conduct "a preliminary investigation of any allegation of a violation of state law, criminal or civil, against a county officer occupying an elective office for violation of state law in his official capacity." Of the 60 complaints filed, about half are pending or under investigation and the other half didn't meet prosecutorial criteria.
The Idaho Department of Water Resources (IDWR) requested the repeal of Rule 50 which governs the conjunctive management of surface and ground water resources in the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer (ESPA). Repeal would have eliminated the existing conjunctive management boundary without defining the new boundary which would have been expanded to incorporate huge tracts of new watersheds and tributary basins. The new ESPA boundary would include the Big and Little Wood Rivers, Big and Little Lost Rivers, Rattle-Pine and Henry's Fork, Teton River, Palisades, Blackfoot and Portneuf Rivers, Raft River and all the creeks in between. The argument is that the current boundary does not reflect the actual aquifer size and that there has not been enough of an improvement in the Hagerman Valley (Rangen water call) to fully mitigate, requiring additional water delivery.
The repeal was rejected by both House and Senate Resources committees this week because the definition of future needs and adjustments was too premature, undefined, and created a greater level of uncertainly. "It is an imperfect approximation of an undefined system," quipped one of those who testified. The Big and Little Wood Rivers have very little ability to store water and the watershed is currently reassessing potential water calls. Incorporating the Big Wood River into the ESPA would be exacerbated by water calls downstream.
On an up note, I commend the efforts of all the water users who succeeded in negotiating and completing new agreements in the Upper Snake River in Eastern Idaho and the distribution system for the Hagerman Valley. During these difficult water decisions, these collaborations can guide our path forward.
Please be advised that The Idaho Rural Partnership is accepting applications from cities and counties wishing to obtain a Community Review for FY 2016. IRP combines public and private collaborations to innovate for rural communities. Additional information and the Community Review application can be found on IRP's website (the deadline is March 31).
Thanks to everyone who showed up at the District 26 Town Hall meetings last week. We have another one scheduled tonight at the Camas Senior Center at 6:00 p.m.
As always, feel free to contact me by phone (208-332-1353) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org).