CHEERS ... to Ryan Isbelle of Lewiston.
Isbelle is stepping in where others have not.
He has launched a lawsuit in U.S. District Court challenging the Idaho Legislature’s attempt to stymie ballot initiatives.
Isbelle is going after the 2013 Legislature’s retaliation against voters who used the referendum process to repeal then-state schools Superintendent Tom Luna’s anti-teacher package.
Until that point, getting something on the ballot required collecting 6 percent of the registered voters during an 18-month period. Lawmakers made it considerably more difficult by forcing initiative organizers to collect 6 percent of the registered voters in 18 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts.
But nobody thought to challenge it until lawmakers expanded the gauntlet to 10 percent of registered voters in 32 of 35 legislative districts to be collected in 180 days.
When Gov. Brad Little vetoed that measure, he pointed out the “Revenge on Voters Act” not only would get thrown out of court, it also exposed the current law to legal jeopardy.
“Our certainty was 90-something percent that it would be struck down,” Little said. “And it would risk the existing (law) and that’s what got my attention.”
Putting the current law at risk is the “one person, one vote” standard. Idaho’s legislative districts are uneven. The population within western Ada County’s 14th Legislative District is twice that of the 27th Legislative District in Cassia and Minidoka counties. So if you live in Idaho’s urban centers, you have less influence about what gets on the Idaho ballot.
All of which portends a ripe legal opportunity to revive Idaho’s once robust initiative process. ACLU of Idaho legal director Ritchie Eppink said as much during a legislative hearing. But Eppink said he’s too busy fighting all the unconstitutional stuff lawmakers have passed to get to it.
That hasn’t stopped Isbelle.
What might, however, is a legal argument from Secretary of State Lawerence Denney’s lawyers. They claim Isbelle does not have legal standing to bring the lawsuit because he has not filed an initiative petition or provided evidence that he signed one.
Standing is a legal term of art. Sometimes judges look past it.
But Isbelle’s problem can be easily remedied. All he needs are allies from ongoing initiative campaigns, who do have a legal dog in this fight, and more legal help.
Why not join him?
JEERS ... to Idaho Department of Correction Director Josh Tewalt
At his behest, the Board of Correction is making it more difficult for you to learn what occurs behind Idaho’s prison walls.
This week, the board adopted rules to restrict access to records involving the location of security cameras, who sees and talks to inmates and inmate trust accounts.
Tewalt wanted to seal off access to security camera footage but board members Dodds Hayden and David McClusky stopped short of going that far.
Consider the context: Tewalt’s shop just got nailed in state court for stonewalling University of Idaho law professor Aliza Cover’s public records request to learn what chemicals were used in the 2012 execution of Richard Albert Leavitt. The case is on appeal to the state supreme court.
And the kind of camera footage Tewalt wanted to conceal was instrumental in exposing Corrections Corporation of America’s mismanagement of the Idaho Correctional Center near Boise.
Footage obtained by the Associated Press documented a 2010 incident where inmate James Haver of Coeur d’Alene severly beat Hanni Elabed while prison guards looked on. Elabed suffered permanent brain damage.
It had the effect of kicking off a series of investigations, lawsuits and court citations involving a prison contractor that made more profits by understaffing a prison so rife with violence that it was dubbed the “gladiator school.” Eventually, Idaho sent CCA packing and it now manages the since-renamed Idaho State Correctional Center.
What in that history could possibly justify closing the blinds?
CHEERS ... to state Reps. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley, Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton, and Ilana Rubel, D-Boise.
Talk about political opposites. Yet they’ve joined forces to right an injustice.
Three truck drivers — 28-year-old Andrew D’Addario of Colorado, 26-year-old Erich Eisenhart of Oregon and 36-year-old Denis Palamarchuk of Portland, Ore., are facing felony convictions and prison time because they hauled hemp across the state line into Idaho.
Idaho makes no allowance for the non-intoxicating cousin of marijuana, even though the federal government now recognizes it as a legal crop.
Besides that, Idaho’s rigid mandatory minimum sentencing laws — based solely on volume — expose these truckers to harsh sentences unless they cop a plea. D’Addario and Eisenhart took the deal and will face a judge next month. So far, Palamarchuk is taking his chances with a jury.
Moon, Nichols and Rubel this week submitted the signatures of more than 13,000 people who signed an online petition urging Ada County Prosecutor Jan Bennetts to back down.
“These guys were not lawyers,” Moon said. “They were truckers. I don’t know if it would’ve been one person in 1,000 that happens to go online and do the research (on Idaho’s hemp laws).”
CHEERS ... to Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert and the Utah Legislature.
Whatever they’re doing, it’s making Idaho look better in comparison.
After digging themselves into a deep financial hole during the Great Recession, Idaho lawmakers began repairing the damage to school budgets and teacher salaries. But it went only so far because the GOP-led Legislature insisted on doling out income tax breaks to corporations and wealthy families.
As a result, Idaho’s teacher salaries — while somewhat improved — continue to lag behind what is offered in 40 other states, including all of its neighbors.
According to the National Education Association, Idaho’s average wage of $50,757 finally surpassed Utah’s $50,342.
Likewise, Idaho lawmakers haven’t spent nearly enough to lift the state’s per pupil spending rate out of the national basement. But by spending $7,486 per student, Idaho at least beat dead last Utah, which allocates $7,179 per pupil.
Thank God for Utah. — M.T.