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The views expressed in letters to the editor and guest opinions are not necessarily those of this publication.


Investing in Idaho's Forestry Workforce

Guest opinion by the companies, organizations listed below

It's no secret that forestry is an important part of Idaho's economy. A 2023 University of Idaho study found that the forest products business sector contributed $2.5 billion to Idaho's gross state product in 2022. The vast majority of the $61 million in state endowment lands money that went to public schools in 2023 came from timber harvesting proceeds. That means close to 30,000 of our friends, families and neighbors work in Idaho forests. They're the loggers, truck drivers, mill workers, foresters, sales and accounting professionals who sustainably manage our forests to produce lumber, paper products, furniture and other wood products.

But those numbers only tell part of the story. While vital to Idaho's economy, the forest products sector faces uncertainty due to workforce challenges. Twenty-four percent of the log truck drivers are over the age of 60 and the logging contractor owner/operators have on average 29 years of business experience. Like many Idaho businesses, without a stable workforce, forestry's tremendous impact on our state's economy is at risk.

But there's reason for optimism. Recent investments through Idaho's new Career Ready Students program represent an infusion of both energy and capital in cultivating new pipelines of young talent into Idaho's forest products sector. In March 2023, Superintendent of Public Instruction Debbie Critchfield, with the help of the Idaho Legislature, secured $45 million to create a new program that would invest in career technical education and career training around our state.

Now, just 12 months later, Critchfield and the 11-member Career Ready Students Council have awarded grants totaling more than $43 million to Idaho schools. Grants will be used to teach students new skills that prepare them for successful careers here in Idaho. The program will help address workforce demands in sectors like agriculture, forest products, mechanics, animal science, food production and more.

The investments in the forest products sector are especially significant. The council has awarded just over $5 million that will upgrade existing logging and forestry training programs or create new ones altogether. These investments - which represent more than 10 percent of awarded funds - are being made at schools in places like St. Maries, Kamiah, Kooskia, Orofino, Grangeville, Weippe, Potlatch, Priest River, and Council. In other words, in rural Idaho and in the heart of Idaho's forest products business sector.

Students trained in these programs will be positioned to enter the workforce immediately after high school or continue their pursuit of a forestry-related career at post-secondary institutions. Their training will provide them meaningful career opportunities close to home. Stable and reliable talent pipelines also allow the forest products sector to continue investing in Idaho's robust economy.

Idaho's Career Ready Students program represents a strategic investment in our young people, rural Idaho and business sectors that are essential to our state's success. As Idaho's forest products businesses, we're grateful for Supt. Critchfield's leadership and the state's recognition of the importance of workforce investments, and we stand ready to continue our work. After all, as Idaho's forests are responsibly managed and our forest business sector thrives, so too does our state.

Companies and Organizations who support this letter include:

Associated Logging Contractors - Idaho
Idaho Forest Group
Inland Empire Paper Company
Molpus Woodlands Group
Clearwater Paper
Bennett Lumber Products, Inc.
Manulife Forest Management
Stimson Lumber Company


Vandal destroys Christmas decoration in Orofino City Park

Dear Editor,

I am saddened to report that a vandal destroyed a Christmas decoration in the Orofino City Park.

This item was donated by a valued member of our community who also volunteers time to help bring joy to the community for the Orofino Christmas Festival. It has been rumored that some think the Christmas lights are provided and paid for by the City of Orofino. This is simply not true.

The Clearwater County Chamber of Commerce raises funds and recruits volunteers to assist in purchasing and setting up all the lights and decorations. We appreciate these partners and the many hours spent to make this happen each year. I hear from a lot of our public that appreciate the cheer these lights bring to the dark of our winter days. For these reasons the lights remain up from the first Friday in December until a time in February when they can be removed safely depending on weather conditions and available volunteers.

The Chamber has unplugged the lights, usually at the end of January. However, sometimes there has been a mysterious occurrence of the lights being plugged back in. This we have suspected to be the mission of a resident who enjoys the lights being on and saw no reason for them to be unplugged.

The Chamber operates as a nonprofit organization with a part-time director and a volunteer board of residents representing local businesses. Please be respectful of others, whether you agree or have a different opinion. Thank you for your time and attention to this message.

If you would like to volunteer to assist the Chamber toward community efforts please contact me at 208-476-4335 or by email at

Erica Holland, Director
Clearwater County Chamber of Commerce


HB 415: Mis-prioritization misses the mark

Guest opinion by Morgan Ballis, M.S. EM, President, Idaho Association of School Resource Officers

Idaho House Bill 415 would remove local control from elected school boards to determine which, if any, staff would be allowed to carry firearms on campus.

The legislation would allow school staff members who have an enhanced concealed weapons permit to legally carry on school grounds. There is no doubt in my mind Representative Hill, and those who support this bill, care deeply about the safety of our students and staff. However, this legislation is a drastic mis-prioritization of statewide school safety initiatives with a focus on response over prevention.

Using the F.B.I.'s definition of an active shooter and their data on K-12 active shooter events, we know nearly 95% of K-12 active shooters are current or former students of the targeted school. This means we have the potential to prevent 95% of these attacks by proactively identifying students on the pathway to violence and providing early interventions. This is further supported by reports from the Secret Service indicating juvenile offenders who target a school leak their ideations and plans at a higher rate than other offenders.

Idaho has no mandate for publicly funded schools to establish behavioral threat assessment teams; nor does it require standards for how those teams conduct threat assessments. Utah recently passed legislation mandating school threat assessment teams and requiring schools use the Comprehensive School Threat Assessment Guide (CSTAG). CSTAG is an evidence-based threat assessment model that is used by more K-12 schools in the U.S. than any other system. HB 415 prioritizes responding to an event once students have already been murdered over proactively establishing protocols to prevent an attack from taking place. This bill misses the mark by 95%.

In 2013, the U.S. Department of Education stated lockdown only response protocols were not enough recommending options-based protocols as best-practice. According to recent data from the Idaho School Safety & Security Program, the majority of Idaho K-12 schools are still using a lockdown only approach. The state should mandate schools adopt an options-based response protocol and prohibit them from using the word lockdown in emergency announcements. The state should create standards for trauma-informed drills and drill documentation. This bill misses the mark by demonstrating a deliberate indifference in aligning our state to emergent research and best-practice recommendations in active shooter response.

While having a School Resource Officer (SRO) in every school may not be financially feasible, establishing a standard for SROs is. Idaho has yet to define an SRO. Without defining an SRO, we cannot establish training standards for those whose number one responsibility is student safety. Legislators who care so deeply about our children should demand nothing but the highest standards for officers and deputies assigned to these roles. This bill misses the mark by lowering the standard to protect our students to an enhanced CCW class rather than raising the bar for sworn peace officers.

Representative Hill, and those who support this legislation, have demonstrated their resolve to protect our students and educators. I thank you for that commitment. However, these efforts are focused in the wrong areas. Equip schools with the resources to identify and support at risk students. Empower stakeholders to be prepared by having multiple response options. Invest in School Resource Officers who have dedicated themselves to protecting our educational facilities.

On behalf of the Board of the Idaho Association of School Resource Officers and its' 200 Idaho SRO members, we oppose House Bill 415. We ask our elected representatives to represent our voice, and the voices of our communities, by voting against HB 415 and to prioritize evidence-based school safety measures.


YES!!! The City of Orofino has Parking Ordinances

Dear Editor:

This is a friendly reminder that all the city parking ordinances are in effect.

We have been getting calls and there have been complaints at the city council meeting of people not obeying these ordinances.

The winter parking ordinance is in effect in the downtown area.

The ordinances are available on the Orofino city web site under City Code in the Traffic section.

Violations that are being brought up are:

  • Storing your RV, boats, trailers and other recreation vehicles on the city streets. It is ok to have them there for a short period of time but to store them is not.
  • Parking RV, Boats, and vehicles in the grass areas in some neighborhoods where there is grass between the curb and sidewalk. This area is not for parking of any vehicles.
  • Vehicles parked facing against the flow of traffic.
  • Parking with wheels on the curb.
  • Parking close to fire hydrants, corners of intersections and blocking driveway entrances.
  • Parking commercial vehicles in residential areas not on an approved truck route.

Officers will be addressing these complaints.

Thank You
Chief Frazier
Orofino City Police


Idaho's college going rates may be showing signs of improvement

by Dr. Linda Clark, President, Idaho State Board of Education

Early figures this fall from Idaho's colleges and universities show an uptick in the number of resident students enrolling this year, which may indicate that a long downward trend in college going on rates may finally be reversing. While it is way too early to declare victory, this is certainly positive news.

The college going rate is a measure of high school students who enroll in college academic or career-technical programs immediately after graduating from high school, and high school graduates who wait a few years before resuming their education.

Three years ago, the pandemic exacerbated an enrollment decline in Idaho that actually started before anyone had heard of COVID-19.

State Board of Education researchers have been looking closely at this trend, particularly the gap we see in college going rates between females and males - a gap that exists for all students including those most likely to succeed in college.

Fall immediate college going rate

Overall, Idaho's immediate college going rate (students who enrolled and attend college in the fall immediately after graduating from high school) for 2022 was just 42 percent - down nine percentage points from 51 percent for 2017 graduates.

Three-year college going rate

The college going rate dramatically improves when applied to students who enroll within three years of graduating from high school, but there is still a decline when compared to past years. In 2017, 64 percent of graduates enrolled in a postsecondary program within 3-years of graduating high school. In the 2019 academic year, the last year in which 3-year college going rates are available, the rate was down five percentage points to 59 percent.

The gender gap

More females than males have been enrolling in college for many years. In 2021, 52 percent of female high school graduates enrolled and attended college in the fall after graduating compared to 36 percent of males, a 16-percentage point difference.

The gender gap narrows within three years. The fall immediate college going gender gap for 2019 graduates was 18 percentage points while the three-year gender gap for the same students was 13 percent - still a sizable gap.

Gender gap persists with high-achieving students

The gender gap also exists for high-achieving students.

For the 2021 graduating class, more than two-thirds of females who scored proficient on the Idaho Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) enrolled in college that fall (68 percent) while barely half (51 percent) of their male counterparts who also scored proficient went immediately to college; a 17-percentage point difference.

History shows that the gap also narrows within three years for these students. For the 2019 graduating class, the gender gap in college going between those proficient was 21 percentage points for students who immediately enrolled but only 12 percentage points for students who enrolled within three years.

My fellow State Board members and I are particularly concerned about the gender gap overall and how it affects higher-achieving students.

Potential causes for the college going rate drop

Prior to COVID, Idaho had one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, and that low unemployment rate returned after the pandemic. Many students, particularly males, may have chosen to go to work in high-paying jobs such as construction or attend a trade school, which is not captured in the college going rate.

We do know that many young Idahoans join the military or serve religious missions after high school although specific data are not available. Some of these high school graduates and others who enter college after a gap are included in the three-year college going rate, which accounts for the increase between the fall immediate and the three-year college going rates. Even with these additional students, the college going rate is still too low.


Beginning this year, Idaho LAUNCH grants will be available to 2024 graduating high school seniors. It pays for 80 percent of the cost of an education or training program that leads to an in-demand career up to $8,000,

High school seniors must apply for Idaho LAUNCH grants during their senior year. If they meet certain criteria, they can request an extension to use their LAUNCH grant, but they need to apply no later than April 15, 2024. LAUNCH recipients can request an extension for one of five reasons; religious service, military service, structured volunteer service (specific to AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps), medical, or program availability (the student would be placed on a wait list for a program placement spot to become available). We also hope LAUNCH will help us better track additional educational pathways of students who choose to attend trade schools and serve in apprenticeships.

For students attending or planning to attend one of Idaho's four-year institutions, the Idaho Opportunity Scholarship makes $3,500 per year available and is renewable for up to four years.

Idaho needs higher numbers of well-trained individuals to meet current and future workforce needs in high-demand fields in the trades, in career-technical and academic professions. Governor Little and the Legislature have made an enhanced commitment to ensure students can "go on" for additional learning and training opportunities and not be hampered by a lack of resources. GO ON, Idaho students!


Critchfield highlights the value of training in open meeting, open records law

Guest opinion by Superintendent of Public Instruction Debbie Critchfield

BOISE- When I became a school trustee in Cassia County in 2001, I knew I wanted to serve my community by being part of important educational decisions. I knew I wanted to help provide an environment for our students to gain the skills and knowledge they would need to be productive citizens. I had worked as a substitute teacher for six years prior to running for my local board and I felt as though I had a pretty decent working knowledge of our school system. Looking back, there was so much more for me to understand.

The transition from willing community member to effective school leader doesn't happen overnight. Chances are good that most new trustees are not well versed in the complexities of school budgets, student achievement goals and open meeting laws. In fact, many trustees running for a second term often share that it took them the first term to know what they were doing!

Thankfully, trustees grow into these roles. The same goes for superintendents, principals, educators and district staff. We learn on the job, but exposure to training can flatten the learning curve and shorten the timeline it takes to become effective. In education, I would argue that training is critical for success. Fortunately, the Idaho education community is blessed with great organizations that support school administrators, trustees, teachers and others. Their workshops and seminars help us become the leaders we all want to be.

With that in mind, I want to highlight two upcoming trainings hosted by Idahoans for Openness in Government (IDOG). On Oct. 25, IDOG will hold a training on the Idaho Open Meeting Law. A similar session on Idaho's Public Records Act is scheduled for Nov. 28. Both begin at 10 a.m. Mountain Time. They are free and will be streamed statewide through Idaho Public Television's Idaho in Session service. The trainings will originate from the Capitol's Lincoln Auditorium and in-person seating will be available. Recordings of the events will be archived at the IDOG website. More details are available at

Attendees will learn - or re-learn - the ins and outs of these two important Idaho laws to ensure future adherence and, ultimately, increase transparency. And in our work in the public sector, transparency is essential. It provides accountability to the public and fosters trust amongst the people we serve.

When opportunities like these present themselves, it's important that we as an education community take advantage. If your schedule allows, I encourage you to attend or tune in online. If it doesn't, I hope you can find time later to watch the recordings.

Open meetings and public records requests are part of our day-to-day in public education, so it's crucial that we're following the law. Your engagement with these trainings will help promote quality leadership for Idaho's districts, schools and communities.


Grants to support education, training after high school now open for applications

Guest opinion by Governor Brad Little

High school seniors looking ahead to life after graduation are thinking, "What's next?" So are their parents!

We know they want fulfilling careers and higher incomes.

We know their loving parents want the same for them, too.

And we know the strength of our state and our nation depends on these kids. Our national security and sovereignty require a skilled workforce so we can compete with China and other aggressors who want to do America harm. We cannot stay a global leader in the economy if we fall behind in educating and training the next generation to meet the demands of an ever-evolving, dynamic economy.

Our young Idahoans hold so much promise and potential, and we want to do all we can to get them to stay in Idaho and thrive in Idaho.

Yet, the jobs of today demand specialized skill sets that require education and training after high school.

Simply put, for the vast majority of Idahoans, high school isn't enough.

But the cost and accessibility of those programs after high school stand in the way for too many young Idahoans.

LAUNCH will help.

Our new LAUNCH grants will cover 80 percent of the cost of an in-state program that leads to an in-demand career, up to $8,000.

There are hundreds of career paths and programs to choose from, and if they are still weighing their options, they can update their choices later.

LAUNCH is live and open for applications now at

If you're a high school senior or the parent of a high school senior, do not delay in applying for a LAUNCH grant. There is only enough money to offer grants to half of Idaho's high school seniors, and some of the most popular programs will fill up quickly.

Idaho has always supported scholarships for high school graduates to pursue traditional four-year university programs, even those out of state.

That's important, but we recognized the need to support all paths - from nursing to welding to computer science to plumbing to teaching to animal science to trucking and everything in between. LAUNCH can be used for apprenticeships, job training, and community college as well as university programs.

The hundreds of LAUNCH career paths available are market-driven - these are "real world" jobs our employers desperately need to fill.

So, what is the answer to high school seniors and their parents asking the question, "What's next?"



Critchfield: New school year brings opportunities for many

Guest opinion by Superintendent of Public Instruction Debbie Critchfield

The start of the school year shouldn't mean the end to fun things. The prospect of new teachers, new experiences, and a new year of learning can feel overwhelming, but also exciting. In some ways, the return to the predictable schedule of the school year brings the comfort of routine. We're gearing up to dive back into a world of classes, homework, sports and other activities. I hope you'll find some excitement as we jump into the coming school year!

The start of the school year is about more than lesson plans and school bells. It's truly about the community. After all, our school calendars are often major drivers in what the next nine months will look like for families and towns. Our schools bring life to our communities.

As we reactivate our schools as central hubs throughout Idaho, I'd like us all to think about the many ways they add value to the places we live. Whether it's an art show, student theater production, or parent night, our schools are the hearts of our towns and have an essential role in creating strong connections.

As we look to another year of learning and growth for Idaho's students, I'd like to speak for a moment about the things each of us can do to work towards this goal. Whether you are an educator, a parent or a community member, we each have a role to play in investing in Idaho's future through our children.

For our teachers: You have an opportunity to lean into this year's academic growth with your experience and commitment to students. I can't speak highly enough about the talented, dedicated professionals that we have in our classrooms. Delivering this product - high quality education - takes training and talent. Teaching is an art. I'm grateful for the work that takes place in the classroom and for your focus on seeing your students succeed.

For our parents: we need your help and expertise. Teachers are the experts in the classroom and parents are the experts on their kids. No one knows our students better than parents, and the potential for constructive collaboration between you and your student's teacher can't be measured. Please take advantage of the year's opportunities to make your school a partner in your student's success. We benefit from your presence in your child's education.

For our students: I'm not too old to remember that it's hard ending the summer break! But as you look towards the school year, I hope you'll be positive and be active in your own success. This year can be the one where you join that club you've been thinking about, try out for the school play or take on a team sport. Add an interest or new friend to your routine. These connections can make a difference in many ways, including academically!

And for our communities and to Idaho as a whole: This year, I invite you to look to our schools and our amazing students to see what's good in our communities. We've got the momentum we need to create important opportunities for our students and for our state.

I'm excited to get to work with all of you on making the 2023-2024 school year a meaningful one.


Idaho supports the vital economic, environmental importance of the Snake River dams

by Jason Mercier is Vice President and Director of Research for the Mountain States Policy Center with U.S. Senator Jim Risch (Idaho)

Hydropower is an important source of reliable and clean energy for everyone in the Northwest, especially Idahoans. However, with the recent debate surrounding the Snake River dams concentrated on the benefits for and support in Washington State, we want to emphasize just how significant an effect these dams have on Idaho and why we must continue to protect them.

As a U.S. Senator and the leader of an independent free-market research organization, we are unified in our effort to protect the Snake River dams and maintain their economic and environmental benefits for our region. Beyond us, there is strong, widespread support for the dams, including from Idaho officials and trade groups.

The Idaho Farm Bureau Federation is on record, having written that the dams "produce a significant amount of affordable and environmentally friendly hydroelectric power to the region" while allowing farmers to "export their product to the world." Additionally, the Idaho Legislature passed a resolution in 2021, stating it "supports the international competitiveness, multi-modal transportation, and economic development benefits provided by the Port of Lewiston and the Columbia-Snake River System." But Scott Corbitt, General Manager of the Port of Lewiston, perhaps demonstrates the importance of the dams to Idahoans best. "The culture, business, and lifestyle of Lewiston revolve around the Clearwater and Snake rivers and the slack water, or pool created by the Lower Snake River Dams (LSRD)," Corbitt testified. "That Pool has developed opportunities for the Lewis Clark Valley that now serve as the lifeblood and supports an economy for around 65,000 people."

During a congressional field hearing last month, the Environmental Director for the Washington Policy Center, Todd Myers, summarized the severe damage that would result from eliminating the dams: "Spending $35 billion - or more - to destroy the four Lower Snake River dams would be counterproductive, not just for the climate, energy reliability, and the economy, but for salmon by misallocating resources that could do so much good across the region."

We could not agree more.

But don't just take our word for it. Look at the result of the only comprehensive, scientific, and public process: the Columbia River System Operations Record of Decision. This multi-year process, which was undertaken by both a Democrat and Republican administration, made one thing abundantly clear: dam breaching on the lower Snake River is completely unnecessary and unwarranted.

Moreover, there is one salient point that is often overlooked in the debate about the Snake River dams: Congress authorized these dams, and only Congress has the power to remove them. Thankfully, many of the congressional members elected to the areas surrounding the Snake River dams are working to protect the economic and environmental benefits they provide.

The Northwest Energy Security Act, which I, Senator Risch, introduced with Senator Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), and U.S. Reps. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), and Russ Fulcher (R-Idaho) is a key part of this effort. While the lower Snake River dams are congressionally protected, our bill goes one step further by explicitly securing the energy, transportation, agriculture, and irrigation benefits the dams provide.

Protecting the Snake River dams and other federal water infrastructure is pivotal to both Washington and Idaho. Together we'll remain dam strong for the benefit of our region.

U.S. Senator Jim Risch is currently serving his third term as Idaho's 28th Senator and previously served as Idaho's 31st Governor. Risch represents Idaho's interests on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Jason Mercier is Vice President and Director of Research for the Mountain States Policy Center, an independent free-market research organization based in Idaho.


Family working to raise funds for integrative cancer treatment

Dear Editor:

Thank you in advance for taking the time to read this letter, I'll try to be brief. My mother, Danell Niemeyer, of Lewiston, Idaho, was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic bone cancer on May 24th, 2023. She had experienced pain in her left leg for months and sought chiropractic care, acupuncture, and ligament adjustments, assuming the pain was from a misalignment. X-rays on May 24th revealed a broken femur and stage 4 metastatic bone cancer. This means that her cancer started somewhere else in the body (likely breast) and has migrated to her bones. After a swarm of tests her current diagnosis is bone cancer in her femur, pelvis, and a small area in her neck. We are very thankful to God that this condition has not migrated into her internal organs at this point.

Reading this so far, you'd assume that she's lying in bed, wondering if life is over. Quite the contrary, she is using a cane to walk around and keep up with her housing duties as she will not relinquish them to anybody, regardless of her broken femur. She has also attended multiple grandchildren's sporting events and made their birthday cakes. She continues to baffle us in her toughness and resolve.

However, that resolve has been tested with the weight of looming medical bills and very modest retirement income. She has hopes of using an alternative to the cancer industry's go-to of chemo and radiation therapy which has helped millions, but at a potential quality of life cost that Danell would rather not endure.

Mitch and Joy Reggear with their children Carl, Roy and Elly (on the end) and David and Danell Niemeyer in the center. (Photo courtesy of Joy Reggear)

She has been evaluated and screened as an excellent candidate for treatment by Brio Medical in Scottsdale, Arizona. Brio's integrative regimen is unique to each patient with 4 on-staff doctors that are constantly evaluating your progress and tailoring your therapy to your needs. Therapy can include immunotherapy, hormonal therapy, hyperthermia, vitamin C iv therapy, IPT therapy, and ozone therapy alongside traditional anti-cancer medicines such as chemotherapy and radiation if other treatments are ineffective.

The treatment regime will require her to be in Arizona for 7 weeks. As time is of the essence, we are trying to raise $75,000 in the month of July 2023. All proceeds will go directly to an account set up in her name specifically for these expenses.

A donations account has been set up in her name at LCCU (Lewis-Clark Credit Union). Just ask for "Danell Niemeyer's Cancer Donation Account," or contact Joy Reggear at (208) 553-1253 or Mitch Reggear at (208) 816-8719.

Nothing could change this faithful woman's life more. As a Pastor's wife for over 30 years, she has seen her share of miracles and is trusting God to move however He sees fit. Danell is a wife, Mother to 3, grandmother to 7 and does not believe that her time here is at an end. And neither do we. Her 93-year-old mother, sister, and 3 children along with their spouses and families are all pledging support to get her through this trial. We have high hopes that treatment will be effective and God will not take back one of his faithful just yet, as she still has more work to do in spreading the word of Jesus. I hope to update you soon with a report that she's recovered. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and help by praying for healing and supporting monetarily if you can.

Thank you.
Joy Reggear

ROMANS 12:12
"Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer."

A firewood raffle (2 cord) is being held from July 1st-July 30th (unless sold out prior) in Danell's name. Tickets can be found at Augie's, Caliber Coffee, Clearwater Tribune, LCCU, and Ronatta's Cakery.


Critchfield: Helping schools select quality, effective curriculum is on the agenda

Guest Opinion by Superintendent of Public Instruction Debbie Critchfield

BOISE - What our students learn and how it is presented is important to parents, communities and Idahoans.

The materials used in classrooms - referred to as curriculum - are selected by locally elected school trustees in a process laid out in state law. These statutes require that the process is open to the community and that chosen materials align with state learning standards. As an example, standards require students to learn about the Civil War in 11th grade. A local board then selects the materials used to teach the lessons.

Those decisions can be challenging as there are many national publishers who have their own ways of explaining our history. Trustees are responsible for choosing a curriculum which represents community values while ensuring students master Idaho standards. As a former local board member and district employee, I've been part of this process. In a perfect world, the district has curricular experts, an engaged community and an experienced board.

As superintendent, some frequent requests I get from districts are for more help in choosing curriculum tied to Idaho standards, help in paying for expensive curriculum and help in navigating the politics of these decisions. Historically, the State Department of Education (SDE) has provided a list of curriculums and rated how well the materials align with Idaho standards. However, there's been no consideration for proven effectiveness with Idaho students. That is about to change.

Going forward, districts will continue to select their curriculums, but the SDE will begin a process for identifying materials proven to be effective in Idaho schools. Instead of just providing districts a list of what's available, we will instead provide more detailed information so districts know whether or not the material has been successful in Idaho. We will begin this process with reading curriculum, but will expand this process to other subjects in the future. This is a service we can provide our districts to help with these very important decisions.

Idaho education standards are reviewed and approved by the state legislature every five years. We are currently in the process of reviewing our social studies standards. This gives us an opportunity to do an analysis first and then prioritize curriculums that align with the standards. Recently, Governor Little and I provided an opportunity for districts to supplement their classroom curriculum at no cost to them. We used expiring federal COVID dollars to add more interactive content. Many teachers already supplement their core lessons with outside resources, and the new "Story of America" gives them one more. Details on how schools can access this will be available in the coming weeks.

The bottom line is that Idahoans care deeply about what our students learn in the classroom and want them to be prepared for life and the opportunities in a growing state. We want them to be strong citizens, who are self-reliant and independent critical thinkers. Providing our teachers with the right tools supports us in this important pursuit.


You can drastically alter our wildfire risk

by Dustin Miller, Director of the Idaho Department of Lands

We know the Smokey Bear saying by heart: Only you can prevent forest fires. But every year, nationally, around 80% of wildfires are caused by humans. That jumps to more than 90% of fires when you look at what the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) has responded to this year. It could be a thrown cigarette, a debris burning pile not carefully watched, a campfire left burning, dragging chains, or parking on dry grass. The list goes on.

There is no room for mistakes when looking to protect our communities and our natural resources from wildfire. The significant precipitation that we received this winter and spring has resulted in a lot of fine fuel growth, and as temperatures rise those fuels dry which increases the risk of wildfire.

The reminders to prevent wildfires are hard to miss, be it from IDL or our partner agencies. Among them: Make sure your fire is dead out. Don't drag chains or drive vehicles on dry grass. Be careful when target shooting. Don't use illegal fireworks. There are too many reminders to include here.

However, despite the abundance of these messages, and the ever-ready online resources, brochures, news reports, social media posts, and pleas to prevent wildfires, human-caused fires still occur in alarming numbers. They outpace lightning-caused fires nearly every year.

So, given all of this, who can reverse this trend? Like Smokey wisely says…Only you can prevent wildfire!

The Idaho Department of Lands is ready for this wildfire season. We have increased our staff and our wildfire resources. We are stationed strategically to aggressively fight fires when they are first reported. We are beginning to use state of the art mountain-top camera technology to help us detect fires even more quickly so that we can decrease our response time. Controlling fires quickly, before they grow, saves valuable natural resources and tax dollars. Last fire season we stopped 92% of fires at 10 acres or less.

We are doing our part to protect Idaho from wildfire. But we need your commitment to help prevent accidental fires. Only you can do your part to prevent wildfire.


Liebich: UI's affiliation with the University of Phoenix is a good business decision

by Kurt Liebich, Board Member, Idaho State Board of Education

My term as president of the Idaho State Board of Education ended last month (though he remains on the board). The final months of my term were spent immersing myself in the details involved in negotiations between the University of Idaho and the University of Phoenix, which ultimately resulted in a groundbreaking transaction approved Thursday by unanimous vote of the Idaho State Board of Education, sitting as the Board of Regents of the University of Idaho.

I said at the conclusion of last Thursday's Board meeting that I think this is a huge homerun for our state. I'd like to take this opportunity to explain why this is a good and innovative business decision.

I have been involved in the forest products industry for nearly 30 years, serving as President and CEO for several companies. I currently sit on the Board of Directors for six for-profit entities. Over time, I've learned that the key to success is being able to forecast future trends and position a company or an institution either weather hard times or take advantage of an emerging opportunity.

I think the U of I's affiliation with one of the nation's largest providers of online higher education accomplishes both. And the people of Idaho, particularly adults interested in going back to college to earn a degree or receive additional training, are going be the benefactors of this.

Demographic trends indicate that traditional college-age student numbers are about to drop dramatically. Why? Because the Great Recession from 2007-2009 impacted the economic security of our society so significantly that many people decided not to have children, causing birthrates to drop considerably. We are just a year or two away from that smaller cohort of young adults reaching the age when they will go to college. Another factor to consider is the sharp decrease in the high school graduate going-on rate. This fall, we expect only 37 percent of Idaho high school graduates will go on to some form of traditional postsecondary education. That's a roughly a 13-percent drop since before the COVID-19 pandemic. This demographic enrollment cliff will impact every higher education institution in the country, and undoubtably many will become insolvent.

In 2017, Governor C.L. Butch Otter's Higher Education Task Force recommended expanding online college delivery in our state. All Idaho institutions have responded to this recommendation and have significantly expanded their online offerings. The University of Phoenix's online platform is one of the best in the country and Idaho students, no matter their age, will be able to take advantage of that along with many other online course offerings already available across the state.

Concern has been raised about how quickly the Board moved to approve the transaction just 24 hours after it was made public. The acquisition involved a private entity, which required the U of I negotiation team to sign highly restrictive nondisclosure agreements (NDA). U of I President Scott Green and his team were allowed to brief the State Board during three executive session meetings throughout the process. Board members were well versed in the details before the vote. Frankly we all wish we had had a longer timeline but the NDAs, which are standard in transactions involving private business, prohibited that.

Here are details about how the purchase will be financed:

The Regents will be the sole member of a new not-for-profit corporation called NewU, Incorporated. It will buy assets and acquire some operating liabilities of the University of Phoenix converting it from a for-profit institution to a not-for-profit institution. NewU, Inc. will operate the University of Phoenix separately from the University of Idaho.

Public tax dollars will not be used in the transaction. The purchase will be financed through the issuance of bonds. NewU, Inc. will finance the $550 million purchase price along with closing costs, working capital and reserve funds for a total bond issuance of $685 million.

The seller will leave $200 million in cash on the balance sheet on the closing date, which effectively decreases the purchase price to $350 million. This is a highly attractive purchase price, given that the University of Phoenix is expected to generate nearly $100 million in free cash flow profits net of the scheduled debt repayments.

It's estimated it will take NewU, Inc. over 20 years to repay the loan. If NewU, Inc. were to miss payments, the University of Idaho will be responsible for covering up to $10 million annually. The State of Idaho and Idaho taxpayers will not be on the hook to make bond payments.

Finally, President Green and his staff went to great lengths to ensure proper due diligence of this proposed transaction. They hired Hawley Troxell, a renowned Boise law firm and Ernst & Young, a leader in the world of finance, to review the deal before it was brought to the Board for consideration. A Vandal alum, President Green also holds an MBA from Harvard, and he made his living executing complex business transactions before returning to lead his alma mater.

In private business, we strive daily to position ourselves for the future. The University of Idaho is now better positioned to deliver training and education to students throughout Idaho, no matter where they live. Idaho residents will have increased opportunities to pursue the degrees and certificates that will be required to meet Idaho's in demand career opportunities.

From my perspective, the online platform will pay dividends during changing times and that makes good business sense for Idaho. Is there risk in this bold and innovative transaction? Yes, there is. But, from my perspective there is a greater risk if we continue to educate students the way we have for the last 140 years. The world is rapidly evolving, and higher education must keep up with the trends. With the successful completion of this transaction, the University of Idaho, our state educational landscape, students and adult learners will be better positioned for the future.


Chamber needs help taking down Christmas lights


I just wanted to let you all know how much I appreciate my husband. Dave has helped me with every volunteer activity and always has my back! He and I appreciate the community we live in and love the spirit of the seasons we celebrate.

That being said, we cannot do it on our own. I love my work as your Chamber Director. I love this community and all we have here in Clearwater County. One person cannot do all the activity preparations that we have enjoyed over the years. The Christmas lighting has grown and I would love to see it continue, but we need help. I have had many say they enjoy the lights, but few have stepped up to help hang them or take them down.

This Community Clean Up Day is coming April 29th and there are still lights to put away. Please let me know if you can help. I don't want to see them go away, but the same helpers all the time are tired and dwindling. It takes a short amount of time with a lot of help, but many long hours for just a few. If you want to see the Christmas Lighting continue in Orofino let me know.

Thank you,
Erica Holland, Director Clearwater County Chamber of Commerce
208-476-4335 or


Wasden: A safe holiday season means preventing teens from accessing alcohol

Guest opinion by Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden

To My Fellow Idahoans:

As we prepare for the holiday season, there is so much to be thankful for. As Idaho's attorney general, I'm thankful for this great state and all it has to offer. I'm proud of the work we all do to keep one another safe. The holidays are a time for coming together and celebrating. They are also a time of responsibility. As a nation, we have worked together-with community partners, businesses, and families-to bring underage drinking to historic lows. This responsibility starts with each of us, and we must remain vigilant.

I'm happy to support the We Don't Serve Teens campaign, an initiative that invites us all to work together to stop teen access to alcohol. The message is simple: serving, supplying, or selling alcohol to anyone under the legal drinking age is unsafe, illegal, and irresponsible. In 1991, 80% of American teens had consumed alcohol at least once. Today, more than three out of five teens (64%) have never consumed alcohol. We should all take pride in this progress. However, the availability of alcohol to those under the legal drinking age remains high with 8 out of 10 high school seniors reporting it is easy for them to access alcohol.

I encourage business owners to reiterate their laws and standards to their employees when it comes to age verification and sales of any alcoholic beverages. I also encourage parents and families to engage in conversations about values and expectations when it comes to alcohol. Underage drinking is illegal, and it's not good for developing brains and bodies.

Let's voice our commitment together to keep teens alcohol-free. I invite you to visit to learn more about this campaign.

I wish all of you a joyous and safe holiday season.


Zehner seeking donations to purchase books for children

Dear Editor:

Hello! I am the Usborne Books & More Educational Services Representative in Orofino.

I am raising money to purchase high quality, beautiful picture books, fun interactive books, educational books, and emotional support books to donate to children in need for the holidays. The books are great for kids of all ages, from babies to high school.

My company, Usborne Books & More, is going to match 50% of all funds raised with additional free books for the kids. My goal is to raise $1,000. With UBAM matching funds, the kids will receive $1,500 in books.

I am not making any money from any of this. Every single penny, and every single book is going straight to the children. The books will be beautifully wrapped, labeled, and distributed to the counseling center, churches, the food bank, and the school so they can give to the children, they know of, that need them the most. Donations can be made via mail, over the phone, or dropped off at Main Street Tire at 330 Main Street in Orofino. There is a box on the front counter.

Thanks again!
Tabitha Zehner


'Do the Rot Thing' for fall tree care

by Matthew Perkins, Urban & Community Forestry Manager, Idaho Department of Lands

While Idahoans love trees and landscaped yards, manicured lawns typically generate large volumes of yard waste.

In fact, most municipalities have too much of it. Because many Idaho cities and counties do not have collection programs for green waste, it forms a high percentage of trash disposed of in landfills. Reducing the amount of solid waste entering landfills is just one important reason for recycling yard waste at home. Your efforts benefit the entire community, and they ultimately benefit your landscape.

This autumn, plan to recycle leaves instead of raking and bagging them and putting them by the curb to be removed with the trash. Where there is only a light layer of leaves, you can shred the leaves with your lawnmower and leave them on the lawn to decompose.

Like lawn clippings, decomposed leaves form water holding humus and add nutrients to the lawn, reducing fertilizer and water needs. When grass clippings or leaves become heavy enough to warrant removal from the lawn, compost or use them directly in your gardens and flower beds instead of sending them to the landfill. Do the "Rot Thing," and improve your garden soils for better root growth.

When pruning this fall, rent a chipper and turn waste wood into valuable mulch that will help to retain water around your trees, reduce weed growth, and make your garden more attractive. If you don't have a large amount of limbs and branches to chip, organize a neighborhood project and share expenses and labor with your neighbors.

Larger diameter branches can be used as firewood to reduce heating costs this winter, or turned into valuable lumber for furniture, fencing, or other wood products. If you have no fireplace, consider giving the wood to a friend or family in need, or selling it and using the money to buy a new tree to plant!

Don't forget to deeply water your trees before winter sets in. A good soaking before frost enters the ground will help the keep the growth the tree put on this year from drying out. It also helps support an actively growing root system. Most root expansion happens after the leaves fall from the tree. Since the roots aren't busy supporting leaves and tree growth in the fall, growth underground occurs quickly when the top of the tree is dormant. If we have a dry, warm winter, water once a month throughout the season.

For more information about tree care, pest identification, landscaping pro tips and more, visit

Matthew Perkins serves as the Urban & Community Forestry Program Manager for the Idaho Department of Lands. Matthew and his team provide technical and educational assistance to help citizens and professionals with a wide range of actions, from tree ordinance creation to urban forestry program development, helping our communities use trees and forest canopies strategically.

Photo: Matthew Perkins


Goffinet supporting Stroschein for Legislative District 2B race

Dear Editor:

Vote for Tom Stroschein for Representative for Legislative District 2B.

This new district includes Clearwater, Shoshone, Benewah, eastern and northern Kootenai County, and the 3 southern precincts in Bonner County.

Heads up: District 2 residents inherited Heather Scott in position 2A. She runs unopposed.

Stroschein's opponent appears to support the American Redoubt Movement.

A vote for Tom Stroschein as a positive counterbalance to far-right extremism.

Stroschein was born and raised in Idaho, farming and ranching sheep. He has significant experience representing the people of Idaho, he's an honorable person, and he respects others.

Both Tom's father and his sister served in the legislature, one, a Democrat and, one, a Republican. He knows how to work with others to get things done.

Stroschein served on the Idaho Health and Welfare Board, the Idaho Farm Service Agency Board, and the Idaho Wheat Commission.

Stroschein was instrumental in the development of Recovery Idaho, a behavioral health and addiction program he initiated when he was a county commissioner in Latah County, his elected position for 12 years. Recovery Idaho now has programs throughout the state.

Stroschein now lives in Clearwater County.

Stroschein has clear intentions and his head on straight. He's a Democrat, and he's the best candidate.

If needed, vote a split ticket to bring common sense and respect back to the Idaho legislature. Elect the best person for the job.

Vote toward a thoughtful, balanced, and more productive state legislature.

Let's keep Idaho, Idaho.

Vote for Tom Stroschein, Representative, District 2B.

Sandra Goffinet


Boyer thanks community for 9 1 1 commemoration response

Dear Editor:

What a wonderful community we live in! For those of you who were unable to attend the Patriot Day ceremony, this past Sunday on September 11, at the Orofino City Park, be sure not to miss it next year. With our country currently so divided, what a great way to help bring us all together and honor the heroes of 9/11 at the same time. Thank you to the many community members who came out to help honor and remember them.

I thank the many first responders from the Orofino Fire Department, Pierce Fire Department, Sunnyside Rural Fire District, Evergreen Rural Fire District, Grangemont Rural Fire District, Twin Ridge Rural Fire District, Big Canyon Rural Fire District, Upper Fords Creek Rural Fire District, Orofino Police Department, Clearwater County Sheriff's Office, Clearwater-Potlatch Timber Protective Association, Clearwater County Ambulance District, Clearwater County office of Emergency Management, and also Harold Kinne VFW Post 3296 and Auxiliary, the Sgt. Major Linehan Detachment of the Marine Corps League as well as the members of the Clearwater Valley Fire Districts Auxiliary who helped make this event possible.

A special thanks to our local media, KLER radio, the Clearwater Tribune and Window on the Clearwater for their assistance in promoting this ceremony.

Doug Boyer
Clearwater Valley Fire Districts Auxiliary
PR and Events Chair


Idaho has a tool in place to prevent school tragedies

Guest opinion by Kurt Liebich, President, Idaho State Board of Education

With the school year upon us and in light of recent events in Texas and elsewhere, I want to raise awareness of parents and school leaders about a tool to help keep our students safe.

Offered by the Idaho State Board of Education's School Safety and Security Program, See Tell Now! is a confidential reporting system that can connect people who have information, with people who can intervene and prevent a tragedy like what happened three months ago in Uvalde.

"We have seen a lot of studies that show that prior to committing an act of mass violence, most perpetrators exhibited behavior that was worrying to those around them," said Mike Munger, the school safety and security program manager. "The failure seems to be very common that people who observe that behavior don't have the means to communicate that to people who have the ability to change the situation."

People can send an email, text via a dedicated app, or they can call 888-593-2835. See Tell Now! is staffed 24 hours a day.

"They will always answer the phone, they will answer the text, they will answer an email and get that information routed from the person who has the concern to the right parties at the local level," Munger said. "That could be a local school official, a school resource officer or local law enforcement depending on the nature of the information."

Many Idaho schools are actively promoting the See Tell Now! program. Information about the See Tell Now! is posted in prominent places in schools, where students and parents can see it and learn about the program. Munger encourages parents to reach out to administrators at their students' school to see if they are involved.

"If your school is not participating, you can visit our website or call our office at 208-615-6768 and we would be more than happy to talk you through how the process works," Munger said.

School Administrators interested in enrolling in the See Tell Now! tip line can contact the Idaho School Safety and Security Program via email at See Tell Now! is paid for by the state, so there is no cost to schools to enroll and make this resource available to their campus community.

And there are safeguards in place to keep the confidential tipline from being misused. "The key safeguard is this information is given to local school officials and authorities who have the context. They know the difference between whether this is bullying, an interpersonal conflict between students, and if someone is trying to use See Tell Now! inappropriately," Munger said.

We've seen way too many times how these tragedies play out. A troubled student signals intentions but no one takes them seriously, or perhaps their friends just don't know where to go to with concerns.

"That's really what the goal of See Tell Now! is," Munger said. "To be able to collect and connect the dots so that we can intervene in situations before they go critical rather than waiting to see it on the evening news." So when you see something, tell someone now!


An unexpected leader, my friend and mentor, Donna M. Jones passes

Guest opinion by Idaho State Controller Brandon Woolf

In every generation, an unexpected leader arises. The Silent Generation, comprised of Americans born pre-World War II in the aftermath of the Great Depression, came of age in the 1950s. They ushered in the Civil Rights Movement, invented rock and roll, and both believed and lived the American Dream that with hard work and perseverance anything is possible.

For Idaho, Donna M. Jones is the Silent Generation's unexpected leader. She lived the American Dream to its fullest.

Donna was born on the plains of Colorado and grew up dirt poor. At 12 years old her family moved to Idaho so her older brother could attend college. Donna married young, had three children and alongside her husband Don, who passed away in 2000, worked hard.

By 1959, she rose to management for the Party Plan Jewelry Company. In 1967 Donna and Don purchased Payette's NAPA Auto Parts franchise and opened another store in New Plymouth by 1976. Donna, a scant five feet tall, worked behind the parts counter at both stores - an unexpected place to find a woman in the 1960s and '70s.

Donna also sold real estate in Idaho and Oregon throughout the 1980s and '90s, successfully, having brokerage licenses in both states. At the turn of the century, she served as Executive Director of the Idaho Real Estate Commission for six years. At a time when women had limited opportunities, she had a family, a career, was an entrepreneur, and was a pioneer for women in politics.

Iconic Democratic Governor Cecil Andrus appointed Donna, a lifelong Republican, to serve in the Idaho Legislature in 1987.

In 1997, then-Speaker of the Idaho House of Representatives and now Congressman Mike Simpson tapped Donna to chair the powerful House Revenue and Taxation Committee, a first for an Idaho woman. She became Idaho's 20th State Controller and the first woman to hold this statewide constitutional elected office in 2006.

Donna looked beyond glass ceilings, shattering through them.

She was also my mentor.

Donna was fearless. During the economic downturn of 2008, she was pressured by powerful Republicans to refund a significant deposit to a well-connected individual who had defaulted on a contract through her role on the Land Board. Despite being pressured to do otherwise, Donna would cast a politically unpopular vote because it was the right thing to do for the beneficiaries, even if it may cost her the next election.

Honest. Steady. Loyal. True to principles. That's Donna Jones.

After Donna's severe car crash in 2012, and my subsequent appointment to fulfill the remainder of her term by her good friend and then-Governor Butch Otter, Donna would follow the path of her idol, the man who inspired her political life, President Ronald Reagan.

Concluding his life of public service Reagan said, "I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead." Although Alzheimer's erased Donna's own memories of her life, our memories of her shine, and she will never be forgotten.

Donna made a difference in my life not only as a friend but as a mentor. Since taking office, I have tried to embody her spirit, fearlessness, and passion for doing what is right - even when it was not easy - every single day.

Donna passed away peacefully in her sleep on July 8, 2022. Her family invites her friends to join them at a celebration of life at the Elks Lodge in Ontario, Ore., at 3 p.m. on Aug. 13.


Breaching dams: not a silver bullet for salmon recovery

Guest opinion by Governor Brad Little

I have been clear in my opposition to dam breaching because it is not a silver bullet for salmon recovery.

Idaho has shown leadership and commitment to bringing together diverse interests to ensure abundant, sustainable populations of salmon and steelhead for present and future generations.

It is disappointing the Biden administration would release any report on dam breaching that does not take into account Idaho's considerations in the Columbia Basin.

If Biden is truly interested in identifying broadly supported solutions, I would encourage his administration to look at the 20 months of work our diverse Idaho Salmon Workgroup put into identifying 29 solutions that support salmon, our economy, and thriving communities.

Instead of evaluating the removal of clean, renewable carbon-free hydropower from our energy portfolio, Biden should focus on helping American families grappling with crushing gas prices and inflation.


Idaho poised to buck demographic trends affecting college enrollment

Guest opinion by Kurt Liebich, President, Idaho State Board of Education

The Great Recession's impact still reverberates and is expected to cause steep drops in college enrollment over the coming years across the country.

Why? When the economy tanked starting in 2008, birth rates trended downward in Idaho and across the United States. Within one year, Idaho birth rates dropped 7 percent. From 2008 through 2020, Idaho birth rates dropped nearly 30 percent. Babies born during the Great Recession are nearing college age. Colleges and universities in the coming years will face a demographic cliff in terms of student applications and enrollment numbers, but will that trend hold true for Idaho?

"We must do our best to anticipate the impact of this reduction on Idaho so that we can position our institutions appropriately," said State Board Secretary Dr. David Hill.

Our state has something many others do not; inward migration. People are moving here at such a pace that Idaho is one of the fastest growing states in the country.

The Idaho Department of Labor forecasts a 7 percent increase in the Idaho population age 15 to 19 by 2029, despite lower birth rates. And the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) predicts that population growth will result in a 14 percent increase in high school graduates in Idaho by 2036.

"While we are projected to have more high school graduates, we don't know if they will go to college and even if they do, whether they will attend an Idaho public institution or go elsewhere," said the Board's Chief Research Officer, Dr. Cathleen McHugh. "Students that have moved into Idaho may simply not have the strong ties to Idaho institutions that resident students have traditionally had."

Right now, Idaho is an attractive alternative for many nonresident students due to comparatively low tuition rates, and our institutions have benefitted. But the drop in birthrates will affect the number of nonresident students coming to Idaho from states like California, Oregon and Washington where high school graduate numbers are projected to decline or remain stagnant.

Due to inward migration, Idaho is in enviable position compared to other states. But it is imperative that as a System we ensure all students, whether new to our state or multi-generational Idahoans, understand the excellent higher education opportunities available to them. Dual Credit and State Board initiatives such as Direct Admissions, Apply Idaho and Next Steps play a big role in introducing these and other students to Idaho institutions.

Because our institutions are governed by one State Board of Education, we can continue to work to ensure the programs are delivered strategically, that they offer value to students and that they are available across the system.

The Board study on student demographic projections for Idaho's postsecondary institutions is posted on the Idaho State Board of Education website:


Brandt supporting Bedke for Lt. Governor

Dear Editor,

Why am I supporting Scott Bedke for Lt. Governor? Well, it's pretty simple.

I served with Scott in the Legislature. This allowed me to get to know him firsthand. Scott Bedke is a solid Republican, who has proven his ability to work with and lead his colleagues.

Here are just a few other reasons:

*Scott Bedke is an adamant supporter of the Second Amendment. He has defended your gun rights and is endorsed by the NRA (National Rifle Association).

*Scott Bedke is pro-life. He has and will protect the life of the unborn and is endorsed by Idaho Chooses Life.

*Scott Bedke supports law enforcement and is endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police.

*Scott Bedke has a track record of supporting the Constitution of the United States, the Constitution of the State of Idaho, the rules and laws of our state, AND the Republican platform.

If you are pro-gun, pro-life and pro-law enforcement you will vote with me for Scott Bedke.

Only Democrats and the real RINOs will be voting for others.

Skip Brandt
Kooskia Idaho


Don't believe every Facebook post or campaign ad

Dear Editor,

The parental adage "If your friend jumped off a bridge would you do it too?" needs to be updated for the current election cycle- "If your friend believes every negative political ad or Facebook post, must you believe it too?" The wholesale buy-in and spreading of false campaign rhetoric has reached a fever pitch and we are still a month away from the primary election.

Voters, your commitment to election integrity begins with you. If you really want fair elections, it means that you are going to have to do some research and fact checking before you forward that email or share the latest social media ad or post. It means that you must be willing to honestly evaluate candidates on their own merits and ability to do the job and not on their ability to assassinate an opponent's character. If all you see is a smear campaign, please take a step back and ask yourself why someone who is capable of being the kind of leader Idaho needs can't successfully win an election without demonizing their opponent. Do your own homework people!

There is a huge difference between the 'far-right' and 'conservative Republicans', although many want you to believe they are the same. Don't be fooled by those who have hijacked the word 'conservative' in an effort to discredit proven leaders with the personal integrity needed to govern this great state.

If you want Idaho to continue to be the freest and least regulated State in the Union, please do your research and join me in supporting:

Brad Little for Governor
Scott Bedke for Lt. Governor
Phil McGrane for Secretary of State
Raul Labrador for Attorney General
Debbie Critchfield for Superintendent of Public Instruction
Carl Crabtree for Idaho State Senate

Idaho is better than this negative political garbage. Let's elect leaders with the demonstrated values we need.

Skip Brandt


This year is 150th anniversary of Arbor Day

Guest opinion by Craig Foss, Idaho State Forester

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the tree planter's holiday, Arbor Day. Did you know that 40% of Idaho is covered in trees? Forests cover more than 21 million acres, that's larger than the states of Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island combined.

One million acres of trees are on Idaho Endowment Forestlands which is managed by Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) for the benefit of endowment beneficiaries, primarily public schools. Another 20 million acres of forestland is divided between federal ownership (17 million acres) and private ownership (3 million acres). In addition, Idaho's communities provide urban forests, benefiting the people who live there.

Forests provide clean air, remove and store carbon dioxide, send fresh oxygen into the air, provide habitat for wildlife, clean water through our watersheds, and opportunities for recreation. 63% of Idaho's water comes from the forests.

Idaho forests also provide more than $2.4 billion in state economic contributions through the timber industry, with a goal of sustainability and stewardship. Idaho code requires harvests adhere to strict environmental rules and reforestation requirements. The process is manage, harvest, plant and repeat.

Harvested forests are required by state code to be replanted. Last year IDL planted nearly 2 million seedlings after harvests and fires. For every tree harvested, seven seedlings are planted in its place. This year efforts are underway to plan 2.4 million seedings on endowment forests.

It is vital that IDL manage its forests in a sustainable, fire resilient way, as the timber is an investment for the endowments now and for many generations to come. The revenue helps support Idaho's public schools and other important beneficiaries.

Proper management is imperative for all ownerships, as unmanaged forests are more at risk for catastrophic wildfires that can threaten communities. This is especially true as we see more people move into the wildland urban interface. A catastrophic fire damages the soil, removes vegetation leading to increased soil delivery into streams, decreases the value of the timber and impacts recreational opportunities for many years.

Removing infested and dying trees, thinning healthy stands so trees to grow larger and stronger, and removing ladder fuels allows wildfire to move through the forest floor quickly resulting in a resilient forest instead of a devastated forest.

Through our No Boundaries Forestry Initiative, IDL works with many federal, local and private partners to manage forestland on federal, state, and private land. By working together, entire landscapes, watersheds and communities are being made more fire resilient.

With the increasing frequency of drought, limited fire resources and severe fire seasons, we all need to take steps to prevent human caused wildfire, increase property resilience to fire, and protect Idaho's forests. For more information visit and


The far right and far left are holding hands

Dear Editor:

It appears that some of the far right have gone so far right they have met up with the radical far left!

For example, just look at the number of Idaho Freedom Foundation board members and followers who are donating to a former Democratic Senator campaign for Idaho Superintendent of Public Education. How can anyone who considers themselves right leaning support candidates running for public office who has supported the Democratic platform?

Additionally, just look at those 'self-proclaimed conservatives' who are blindly suggesting that our Legislators are slacking in their Constitutional duty by not "fully funding" education. What does a "fully funded" education system look like or cost? I have never (including during my three terms in the Idaho Senate) heard what that amount would be.

Where do these radical left and radical right folks think the money will come from? They seem to think that your front left pocket is deeper/better than your right rear pocket. Oh, and they want the State to just extract it from you without your vote.

As a responsible Conservative, I can never justify an open check book for anything. I want to know what specifically needs to be funded. I want to know what our tax dollars are being used for.

Every year, the Legislature has meetings and hearings with regards to funding. That is the opportunity for administrators from the education system to come in and make their pitch for increased funding. The responsible conservatives we have voted into our Legislature are wise to resist the calls to 'just give us more".

Skip Brandt


What kind of elected officials do we need?

Dear Editor:

As we are now into a nasty campaign season I would like to ask; What makes one a 'true' conservative?

What is the difference between a 'self-proclaimed' conservative and a 'recognized' conservative?

Can the difference be distinguished by the actions of a 'self-proclaimed conservative leader' who sends around 'conservative' YouTube video links/ blather and a 'recognized conservative leader' who actually leads?

Is Idaho going to be better off electing folks who have little to no leadership ability, but have the 'conservative' talking points down? Or, are we better off by electing folks who are proven conservative leaders, who have actually worked to make Idaho the most conservative, most free, least regulated state in the union?

Skip Brandt


Baker expresses support for Giddings plan

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

I generally do not send this kind of stuff forward. However the time for this opportunity has come and Representative Giddings who is running for Lieutenant Governor is bringing forth this plan with very sound reasoning.

The time is now, when there is such a surplus in the treasury. Property tax was never intended by our founding fathers in the first place. When we won our independence we individually assumed all the rights from King George to be Kings and Queens of our castles. Property tax later came along as an ill conceived plan adopted from the communist manifesto (abolition of private ownership of property) as a subtle way to eliminate private ownership of property. We were meant to own our land, not rent it!

When government has the right to tax your property, you no longer own it; you are merely renting it from the government. It is a very unfair tax which is born unfairly by property ownership, making it a burden. With inflation now pushing the value of property much higher than income, many will even be taxed out of their homes.

In my estimation Priscilla Giddings would make an excellent Lt Governor, as she has a proven track record as our representative. I have also contributed to her campaign as many of you may have. She needs all the help and support she can get, so if you can help her with either, I believe it would be very much worthwhile. Please forward to your friends if you feel so inclined.

Your thoughts, opinions and feedback would be much appreciated.

Art Baker


Giddings presents petition to end property tax in Idaho

Guest opinion by Rep. Priscilla Giddings, Candidate for Lt. Governor of Idaho

Dear Fellow Idahoan,

In a short amount of time, the Biden Administration has managed to wreak havoc on our economy.

With increasing inflation, a supply chain crisis, job loss, and business closures, our economy is in a state of disarray. I believe that a clear duty rests on the shoulders of each legislator to protect you from such arbitrary rule.

Instead, Idahoans are being robbed of their money each year.

In Idaho, county property tax is figured by using a levy formula. Local tax assessors are given the freedom to decide the assessed value of property in their area. As more property is built, the overall value increases. Therefore, growth in a county can lead to an increased rate in property tax. Although there are many other factors involved, the county property tax in Idaho is determined by using a levy formula. With this formula, each county tax assessor determines the total assessed value of property within the county.

But why should homeowners in Idaho be punished for growing our economy?

As California decays into a totalitarian state, we have seen an influx in Idaho of people who are searching for freedom and a new beginning. While we welcome everyone with open arms, we must also work to ensure that the livelihoods of Idahoans remain secure.

At the end of the fiscal year in 2021, the state of Idaho had a record surplus of $890 million dollars. In 2022, our surplus is expected to reach $1.9 billion.

With such a substantial surplus, leaders and legislators throughout the state should be working together to cut taxes and put this money back into the pockets of the people.

Recently, House Speaker Scott Bedke decided that Governor Little's tax proposal was good enough for Idaho. In reality, this legislation represents only a fraction of what should be done.

For example, Idaho's top marginal tax rate is only set to drop from 6.5% to 6%. That still leaves us paying higher taxes!

Idahoans deserve to see more significant changes in our tax code. Taxes have been much lower in the past, and although the Governor's proposal does allot for a decrease in income taxes, there is so much more that could be accomplished.

Rather than exploring these options and listening to proposals from lawmakers, like myself, who are in favor of cutting not only income tax but also our property and grocery tax, Little's tax plan has already found its way into the legislative budget documents - though not a single vote had been cast.

Speaker Bedke is taking a page from the Biden Administration's playbook by foregoing the legislative process in favor of something that allows them to spend tax-payer money into oblivion.

Idahoans cannot continue to be robbed.

We must hold our leaders accountable and allow the legislators to do their jobs!

This kind of leadership is not good enough for Idaho. Tyranny does not occur overnight; it chips away at our freedoms little by little.

Will you help me hold our leaders accountable?

Please sign the Petition to End Property Tax in Idaho, and let your representatives know that you support cutting unjust taxes and restoring true ownership of property.

Let's keep California policies out of Idaho.

P.S. As your Lieutenant Governor, I will not allow the people of Idaho to be robbed of their hard-earned money by the same people who should be safeguarding it. Elected officials should work for the people!


Higher education helps drive Idaho's booming economy

Guest opinion by Kurt Liebich, President, Idaho State Board of Education

As a longtime Idaho businessman, I interact with a lot of people from throughout our state who work at, or even lead companies that are fueling Idaho's dynamic economy. Often, these Idahoans, attended Idaho public schools and many of them graduated from our higher education institutions as well.

Idaho's economy is a testament to the high quality education Idahoans receive from our public system at all levels. A new independent study reinforces that.

"The Economic Value of Idaho Public Colleges and Universities," commissioned by the Idaho State Board of Education, was conducted by Moscow, Idaho-based Emsi Burning Glass, and analyzed data from State Fiscal Year 2019/20.

Here are some of the key findings:

  • Idaho's eight public higher education institutions generate $4.5 billion in Gross State Product (GSP) annually, a value of approximately equal to 5.3% of our state's total GSP.
  • 10,750 full and part-time faculty and staff work at our institutions and there are over 74,400 additional jobs supported by those institutions throughout our state (one out of every 14 jobs in Idaho).
  • The net impact of former students currently employed in the Idaho workforce totaled $3.1 million in GSP.
  • For every dollar of public money invested in Idaho public colleges and universities, taxpayers will receive $1.80 in return, over the course of students' working lives, an average rate of return for taxpayers of 4.6%.
  • For every dollar students invest in their education, they will receive $4.20 in return in higher earnings over the course of their working lives students' annual rate of return is 16.6%.

I touted many of the figures from the study during my presentation this week to the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee, kicking off Education Week at the Idaho Legislature.

I also told lawmakers that I don't understand a vocal minority within our state that continuously promotes a narrative that our education system is fundamentally broken and we need to defund it. While there is always room to improve this system, imagine where our state and where our economy would be without a strong, diverse public education system that for decades has been educating and training leaders, entrepreneurs and creative, hardworking employees?

Governor Brad Little certainly understands the value of public education and I applaud him for his 11% increase in the K-12 budget, his 7.1% budget increase for our 4-year higher education institutions and 4.8% increase for our community colleges.

Higher education is the lifeblood of our state's economy. It gives our citizens the knowledge and skills they need to live healthy, successful lives. It trains the workforce our businesses need to be successful and thrive. And it is one of the first things potential employers look at before deciding whether to relocate to Idaho from outside our state.

That is the real narrative of higher education in Idaho.

The Economic Value of Idaho Colleges and Universities report is posted on the State Board of Education website, and I encourage you to look at it and judge for yourself the value higher education brings to our state.

Here's the link:

In my view, public education is worth every penny and we need to keep investing in that system so that our economy, 10 or 20 years from now, is even stronger, more diverse and resilient than it is today.


Respect public school teachers

Dear Editor:

Please respect public schools and certified teachers.

Certified teachers are professional educators with specialized training in their subject areas to teach their grade levels.

Most teachers have a bachelor's degree. This degree has included four years of purposeful university course work, supervised internships in the schools, and ongoing evaluations of their skill development and suitability for the teaching profession.

Practicing teachers continue to take courses for re-certification and professional development. Many have advanced degrees.

The preparation to teach for the nine-month school year is phenomenal. Each fall brings dozens of new students with varying backgrounds, needs, and skill levels. Teachers are trained and expected to teach to 100% of their students. A high ideal.

Most teachers prepare materials in multiple subject areas, in addition to evaluations of student learning.

Every single day.

For the vast majority of teachers, school life is a tremendous emotional commitment. Teachers do not just show up in class, put in a few hours, and walk away at the end of the day.

It takes a lot of feeling and thinking and "sleeping on it" to figure out how to help each student succeed in school. And teachers have dozens of students who need solutions.

I respect and admire professional educators in public schools.

I want my state and federal tax dollars to go to public schools with university educated certified teachers.

I want the young people in Idaho to be educated to think, to respect one another, and to respect their teachers.

Sandra Goffinet


Investment in firefighting capacity crucial for stopping wildfires

Guest opinion by: Dustin Miller, Idaho Department of Lands Director

Fire season is ever-present on Idaho's seasonal calendar. Last summer's fires arrived with clockwork precision.

In July, a dry thunderstorm, akin to the storm that helped ignite 1910's Big Burn, rolled across Idaho, sparking wildfires. Some fires that may have been extinguished quickly burned unchecked because not enough firefighting resources were available.

Most experts agree extreme fire seasons are likely the new norm. Alongside this increased fire risk, Idaho is growing with more people living near and recreating on forests and rangelands. Unfortunately, with growth comes even more unwanted human-caused wildfires.

Responding quickly and extinguishing wildfires before they spread is more important than ever before.

In 2018 the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) commissioned an analysis to better understand the investment needed to modernize Idaho's fire preparedness program. The goals: becoming more self-reliant, resilient, and able to respond to severe fire seasons more effectively. The Star Fire analysis, completed in 2020, recommended Idaho invest $2.8 million more in preparedness resources. These findings led IDL to propose additional ground resources, including additional fireline leadership, engine bosses, seasonal firefighters, and equipment.

Governor Little is leading Idaho in the right direction by recommending a 21% general fund increase for modernizing IDL's firefighting capabilities. Coupled with recent cross-boundary initiatives to tackle much needed forest thinning on federal and private lands, investments in IDL's firefighting program will help ensure a safer Idaho.

Consider what's at risk if we do not increase and modernize our wildland firefighting capacity. IDL's ability to respond quickly to wildfire on the 6.3 million acres we protect will lose ground. Significant investment in reforestation efforts could go up in smoke, and recreational access to endowment lands could be limited.

By grace and hard work by IDL's employees, Idaho's timber protective associations, local fire districts, our federal partners, the forest products industry and many more, we stopped 2021 from becoming the next 1910. Governor Little's FY2023 budget recommendation for modernizing and building firefighting capacity will help us better protect Idahoans and our valuable natural resources from devastating wildfires.


New Year, old pandemic and priorities for a bright future outlined

Guest opinion by Sherri Ybarra, Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction

BOISE - Happy New Year! As we enter our third Idaho legislative session under the COVID pandemic, it's hard not to wish this year felt a little more "new."

But we have much to look forward to. My goals for this legislative session and the next school year are all geared toward addressing the learning gap from the pandemic, supporting our educators and regaining Idaho's momentum as we move forward.

These past two years have impacted Idaho children, families and educators in ways we don't yet fully understand, and we need to be vigilant in safeguarding the mental and emotional wellness of both students and school staff.

One positive sign for both personal and academic success is that students and teachers are back in classrooms. Ensuring that students have the option for in-person instruction was my top legislative priority last year.

This month, as the Idaho Legislature convenes again, my priorities are about people - students, families and our essential educators and staff. I will be advocating for more in-person class time for our youngest students and for continued progress on an essential objective - ensuring that all Idaho students learn to read by Grade 3 so they can read to learn for the rest of their lives. I am also committed to making sure all students have extended academic opportunities to address any learning gaps or obstacles they face in learning and achieving.

Full-day K: My Fiscal 2023 budget request includes $39 million to provide free, full-day kindergarten - at parents' option - in all Idaho school districts for the students who need it most. That's about two-thirds of all incoming kindergartners, based on a three-year average of fall Idaho Reading Indicator scores and economic status. Parental involvement must be an integral part of the program.

Early literacy: We are intensifying our emphasis on the science of reading so that our skilled, committed K-3 teachers have a more expansive understanding and toolkit to identify and address the Supporting Schools and Students to Achieve specific needs of students before they fall behind. Our new, yearlong SMART (Striving to Meet Achievement in Reading Together) professional development program is getting overwhelmingly positive response from its first group of participants - more than 190 Idaho K-3 teachers from 56 schools and 40 districts. My 2023 budget request includes ongoing funding of $26 million to continue Idaho's focus and support for early literacy.

Dyslexia: The need for early detection and intervention is particularly critical for students with learning disabilities, including dyslexia. Students often aren't diagnosed with dyslexia until later grades, when a bright student's difficulty with deciphering written language becomes more apparent. But by then, teaching them to read for comprehension and even for enjoyment is an uphill battle.

I am working with legislators and stakeholders to pass a bill this session to strengthen our focus on dyslexia. This includes continued efforts to develop a dyslexia handbook for teachers and parents, focused teacher training, and early screening.

Civics: Our social studies standards are up for review this year, and it is essential that we put statewide emphasis on studies that expand students' understanding of our government and society, preparing them for a productive life beyond school. That is why I am proposing a resolution to develop standalone civics standards. I will advocate to include a focus on what high school students need to know in order to participate in our democratic form of government as they become voters.

Retaining teachers and staff: This long pandemic has made Idaho's teacher shortage even more urgent, and we must continue to improve salaries to attract and retain skilled educators. My 2023 budget request includes nearly $49 million for the Career Ladder compensation model.

I also seek $10.3 million for a 6 percent increase in base salary funding for school support staff, who also are essential to our students' success and wellbeing. There are shortages across the board in school staffing, from bus drivers to paraprofessionals and substitute teachers, and we must provide competitive wages.

I wrote to Gov. Little in early November to advocate that Idaho use some of the state's federal COVID relief funds to give a $1,000 bonus to each Idaho teacher. Our teachers are absolutely essential workers, and I am committed to securing funds for teacher bonuses. I've also encouraged districts to use the staffing shortage funds they have already received to award bonuses to paraprofessionals and other classified staff who are going above and beyond.

I want to end on a very positive note: When the national publication Education Week published its annual Quality Counts student achievement report this fall, Idaho ranked 17th for student achievement among all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Idaho ranked above all of our neighboring states except Utah in this apples-to-apples comparison with other states. That's wonderful progress since our 2016 ranking, released in December 2015, put our student achievement at 31st in the nation.

As Idaho's educators, parents and students strive to achieve our shared goals, I feel confident we can soon be among the top 10 in the nation for student achievement!


Beckert: It is the perfect gift for everyone on the holiday shopping list

Guest opinion by Norm Beckert

My wife, Patricia, and I have nine grandkids sprinkled across the country from Houston to Pittsburgh to Chicago and to Portland. Four of them are college graduates, including a granddaughter with a graduate degree, and three others are currently enrolled in college thanks to a gift they received from us initiated more than twenty years ago.

Every year, we give each of our grandkids a contribution toward a financially stable future with the help of IDeal. Idaho began the IDeal 529 College Savings Program more than twenty years ago, and we wasted no time in starting seven accounts to help fund our grandkids' future education. When the two youngest grandchildren joined the family, we opened accounts for them, too. In our eyes, there's no better gift that we could give to our grandkids than an investment in their education and career dreams.

Patricia and I like that the IDeal Program has always been straightforward and easy to understand; we can invest as much money as we feel comfortable with and it's invested to help meet our grandkids' future education expenses. We also recognized that the IDeal program was a smart investment strategy thanks to the tax benefits tied to our contributions.

Our first four grandchildren have already graduated college and started their careers. They minimized the amount of student loans in that they used the savings in their IDeal accounts to augment their college expenses. All four have already paid off their student loan debt. Kaitlyn, our oldest grandchild, was also able to go on to graduate school and recently paid off her remaining student loan debt using the remaining funds in her IDeal account.

Our kids and their spouses bore the major financial responsibility for their children's educational expenses. The decision to open and invest in the 529 accounts also contributed to improving the household financial stability of our kids and their spouses. Simply stated the 529 accounts eased the financial burden of the parents and the grandkids. We frequently encourage our grandkids to make responsible financial decisions, and when the time is right, we will urge each of them to open 529s for their own kids one day.

Being smart with money, saving and investing is an important lesson in our family. In fact, one Christmas, we bought "Smart Money" books for each of our grandchildren to help them absorb the risks and pitfalls of borrowing money. We really wanted them to understand the need to consider various alternatives for saving for the future.

My wife and I figured all the grandkids were going to go to college and IDeal was a way that we could contribute to that end and help offset some of the costs. We don't worry that our grandchildren will be hindered from chasing their dreams due to mountains of debt and unpaid bills. IDeal was the best gift we could have ever given our grandchildren and it shows them that their grandparents believe in their future.

If you need one more reason to invest with IDeal, our grandkids must have appreciated our contributions to their accounts because they do call to check-in and visit when they can!

You can check some gifts off your list by starting an account now at

Individuals have not received compensation for their testimonial. Testimonials may not be representative of the experience of other customers and there is no guarantee of future performance or success.


Crapo: IRS needs reform, not more power

Guest opinion submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

The reckless tax-and-spend legislation under consideration in the Senate is riddled with bad policy, from job-killing tax hikes to overspending that will continue to fuel inflation. Among the most frustrating of the irresponsible spending is a proposal to increase funding for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) by $80 billion, pitched as a provision that will help generate revenue through increased audits and improved tax compliance. This is concerning for many reasons, especially when considering the tax return backlogs, IRS call center wait times and other unacceptable problems Idahoans and other taxpayers have faced.

Supersized IRS funding is marketed as necessary to close the "tax gap," or the difference between taxes the government feels it is owed versus what is collected. The proposed $80 billion of new IRS funds would mean more audits, investigations and tax enforcement, heavily prioritizing enforcement over taxpayer services. More than half of the funding would go to enforcement, while less than 2.5 percent of the $80 billion is devoted to taxpayer services such as taxpayer advocacy, pre-filing assistance and education, and filing and account services. Idahoans deserve improved customer support at the IRS, not increased burden.

With such a heavy emphasis on increased enforcement, it is hard to claim audits on average Americans will not increase. An analysis by the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) recently shed light on the taxpayers who contribute to government calculations of its tax gap that increased enforcement aims to close. JCT data suggest that more than 90 percent of the tax gap is associated with taxpayers with incomes below $200,000 per year, not millionaires, billionaires or the so-called rich. This means small business owners, cash-heavy businesses, and those who cannot afford legal teams and accountants would be easy targets for new IRS agents.

The Administration makes grand claims about how much revenue it anticipates from its new army of auditors. Yet, those speculations do not count in budget accounting. To assume increased funding spurs agencies to do more of what they should already be doing would only invite more big government. So, for good reason, the IRS funding proposal shows up as a cost to taxpayers of $80 billion.

The IRS has repeatedly proven it cannot spend responsibly or complete the most basic of tasks--including protecting Americans' confidential taxpayer return information. Six months ago, the progressive group ProPublica announced it had the tax returns of thousands of taxpayers stretching back 15 years. This sensitive taxpayer data was either obtained through an unauthorized leak by an IRS employee or a data breach. Either way, the IRS failed to safeguard taxpayer information. The IRS has also previously been caught in politically-motivated discrimination against organizations and taxpayers. The agency needs reform, not more money and more power.

As the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, I introduced legislation with House Ways and Means Ranking Member Kevin Brady (R-Texas) to make any proposed increase in IRS funding contingent on important reforms and protections for taxpayers. Without changes and guardrails to protect against enforcement abuses, Congress should not consider giving the IRS one penny of additional funding, much less a whopping $80 billion.

Under the Democrats' tax-and-spend bill, small businesses and middle class Americans will feel the pain of business tax hikes in the form of lower wages, and reduced retirement and pension values. We will be less competitive against countries like China, thanks to billions of dollars in international taxes that would disproportionately hit U.S.-based businesses. And now, all Americans--especially those making less than $400,000--will be subjected to a massive new army of IRS auditors.


Little: Apprenticeships help solve Idaho's labor challenges

Guest opinion by Governor Brad Little

The "Now Hiring" and "Help Wanted" job postings are everywhere.

Idaho's economy is booming, and jobs are readily available, but some employers still cannot fill jobs with the skilled workers they need.

The labor market challenges are multifaceted, but employers across the state have one thing in common - they need a pipeline of workers with industry-specific training and hands-on experience.

The good news is that through apprenticeships - a proven career pathway Idaho is strongly pursuing to build our pool of skilled workers - employers can create a sustainable talent pipeline with employees that receive extensive education and training in one of more than 1,200 occupations in Idaho.

Next week is National Apprenticeship Week. Apprenticeships offer a win-win for employees and employers.

Employees get on-the-job training and classroom instruction specifically designed for the career they choose, along with opportunities to advance. Apprentices learn while they earn a certification, gain practical experience, start working immediately, and receive built-in mentoring and support.

Employers get an immediate employee more likely to stay in the job, reducing turnover costs and improving employee retention and productivity. It is an excellent return on investment.

Idaho jumped on new resources that connect employers to apprentices.

One new program will align apprenticeship with degree programs at Idaho's postsecondary and workforce training institutions, benefitting up to 2,000 new workers.

Another new program will connect employers with 400 Idaho youth between ages 16 and 24 in high school and career technical education programs.

Through another effort, we are expanding the number of employers enrolling in registered apprenticeships throughout the state in the health care, information technology, advanced manufacturing, and energy sectors.

We have nearly tripled the number of Idaho businesses sponsoring apprenticeships in the span of three years. Hundreds of Idaho employers have almost doubled the number of apprenticeship opportunities since just last year.

In short, all our efforts have created a pool of Idahoans who want to hone their skills to meet Idaho employers' needs.

It's a tight labor market right now. We will continue to do all we can to get more skilled workers into the satisfying, rewarding careers and help employers who, like all of us, want to see Idaho's economic trajectory continue to strengthen.


Respect Clearwater County

Dear Editor:

Bullying has gone out of fashion in Clearwater County.

That style never fit the people of this place.

Genuine Idahoans are people of composure and respect. They have a moral compass. They are honest. They don't have to bully anyone to accomplish their goals.

Bullies have lost their way.

I hope they find their compass.

Maybe then they can live in this place and be respected.

Sandra Goffinet


Online Idaho will make college available to everyone

Guest opinion by Kurt Liebich, President, Idaho State Board of Education

College of Eastern Idaho President Rick Aman is making a bold prediction about the trajectory of higher education in Idaho over the next decade: "I would say that half of the student population will be getting their training and education off of an online platform 10 years from now," he said.

In Idaho, that platform will be Online Idaho, a collaboration between state agencies and all eight public higher education institutions to build a digital campus of fully online learning opportunities and support.

"We already have a robust set of career technical and academic courses available online from our institutions. As we work together across institutions, this portfolio grows - yielding more potential," said Dr. Jonathan Lashley, Associate Chief Academic Office at the Idaho State Board of Education. "A common platform lets our institutions focus on what students 'want to learn' first because they share capacity in delivering course and degree options that can reach every Idahoan. This is what 'systemness' looks like and it presents great access and affordability to our education community."

Funded last year by Governor Brad Little's Coronavirus Financial Advisory Committee via federal coronavirus relief funds, a course sharing portal is already in place for Online Idaho and will be improved through implementation and improvements over the academic year.

"Right now, students can visit the Online Idaho website, review courses that are open for registration and pass through to an institution's existing registration process," Lashley said. "Once implementation is finished however, students will have one place to go to search, register and pay for online learning experiences available from Idaho's colleges and universities."

These features are available at and are targeted at the following audiences:

  • Currently enrolled college students who need more flexible class schedules
  • Residents who want to pursue college coursework but can't easily access in-person classes because they live in rural or remote areas
  • Adult learners with some college or career technical experience who want to finish earning a certificate or degree

Dr. TJ Bliss, the Board's Chief Academic Officer says Online Idaho will enable students to progress through and earn a certificate or degree no matter where they live, and they will be able to do so in ways that better fit on their own unique schedules.

"Currently, students can only take courses when they are offered at their own institution, even if that occurs later than when the student really needs a course, and sometimes it happens out of sequence," Bliss said. "With eight institutions involved, students will be able take common online courses from institutions when they need them, not just when the courses are available at their own institutions."

Last week, the State Board of Education approved two online Bachelor of Science cyber security-related programs; one at Boise State University, the other at Lewis-Clark State College, that will be available in collaboration with other Idaho institutions on Online Idaho.

The goal is to start rolling out Online Idaho's course sharing system later this fall and that students will increasingly find it to be a resource for maintaining momentum in their studies while also saving some money along the way.

"It's all about access and affordability," said Board Vice President Dr. David Hill, who has spent considerable time working on and advocating for the program. "Online Idaho is one of the initiatives the Board has taken to help Idahoans meet their educational and career goals. I think it will make a real difference because it will provide students an affordable option to move forward with their plans without forcing major disruptions to their lives."

After spending so much time taking online classes over the last 18 months, Bliss says, many students view online education differently than they did prior to the pandemic. "Students now value online instruction more than they did before. Many don't want to do it fulltime, but now they know that they can learn and succeed in an online learning environment."

Bliss and Lashley expect to have Online Idaho's digital campus completely built out by 2023, with new cross-institution degree or certificate programs being added regularly. They also envision scenarios where programs are created in partnership with employers and institutions both within and beyond Idaho.

CEI President Aman, who co-chairs the Online Idaho Steering Committee, says the platform opens up affordable possibilities for Idaho residents from all walks of life.

"We will be able to work with people who are working fulltime or have family commitments," Aman said. "This is for everybody, not just those students who can afford to spend four or five years on a physical campus."


Goffinet supporting Robinson, Norland for School Board

Dear Editor:

I support the re-election of Charity Robinson for Zone 5 which is Riverside, Chases Flats, upper Gilbert Grade, and Canada Hill.

I support Russell Norland for Zone 4 which is above Orofino, across the Reservoir, to Teakean, Cavendish, Ahsahka, and Peck.

These two candidates are not "running together". They are simply the best qualified in my eyes.

I want school trustees who support public education and bring skills to the board.

I've seen Robinson serving this community as a doctor and as a board member. I saw Norland at the Candidate's Forum last week. Robinson was out of town at medical training last week.

Charity Robinson has shown nothing but professionalism in her medical work here. She has skillfully attended to thousands of patients in this county. This is relevant. As a board member, she respects the rules and has worked hard to protect students and staff during this pandemic.

I asked her what motivated her to serve on the board and heard the warmth and sincerity in her voice as she said, "Children are our priority. The students come first."

In Russell Norland, I saw integrity and humility. At the forum, Norland had more to say with fewer words. His sign was terrific.

Norland was the only candidate at the forum who used humor effectively and naturally. He relaxed the circumstances.

I learned that Russell is Ronald and Rhonda Norland's son. He grew up with a teacher whose students were "her kids". He respects teachers and others.

Norland will bring "continuous improvement" ideals of accountability, fairness, and safety to his work on the board. He will listen to the parents of Zone 4 in a friendly manner.

Norland spoke quietly and humbly of the need for respect as we work together. He said, "We are all equal in the eyes of God". It was the real thing.

Please, vote for Robinson Zone 5 and Norland Zone 4.

Thank you,
Sandra Goffinet


Idaho-style alternative to Biden 30 by 30 Initiative

Guest opinion by U.S. Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch

As Idahoans, we have a stronger incentive than anyone to preserve, maintain and enhance the land we call home-like reducing wildfire threats, improving soil health, restoring waterways and enhancing wildlife habitat. A far more productive path than President Biden's vague call to put 30 percent of our land and water in conservation status by 2030 (known as the 30 by 30 initiative) is to focus on improving the health of our existing public lands and waters. We recently joined congressional colleagues representing Western states in advancing the Senate and Congressional Western Caucuses' outcome-based conservation proposal, titled "Western Conservation Principles," stressing this approach.

In January, President Biden signed an executive order, which included "the goal of conserving at least 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030." The ambiguity of what constitutes conservation status or through what process land management decisions will be made has understandably worried many Idahoans and others with agriculture and natural resource-based economies. We expressed concern with this lack of clarity in our proposal, emphasizing, "the ambiguous 'conservation status' has yet to be defined, and even if it were to be defined, it is clear the Administration does not know what percentage of lands and waters are currently meeting this status."

For example, this uncertainty has led to discussions about whether public lands leased for livestock grazing should be counted toward the President's 30 percent goal, despite grazing being a critical component of federal land management and conservation efforts. It is similarly unclear how private agricultural land will be treated, despite hosts of farmers and ranchers participating in voluntary conservation efforts. This lack of clarity reinforces the need to step back and focus on successfully managing lands already in the public trust rather than nebulous and polarizing percentages.

The Farm Bill remains one of our greatest tools to address environmental issues, because it authorizes conservation programs providing incentive-based tools for landowners to implement conservation practices that improve air and water quality, enhance and protect wildlife habitat, and restore our soil. Farm Bill conservation programs provide assistance for conservation on private lands resulting in public benefits. Additionally, these programs broaden collaborative work between federal agencies and local stakeholders to advance environmental and collaborative sustainability. We need to focus on furthering this kind of incentive-based, locally-driven conservation progress.

We should not be focusing on unclear goals that create confusion and do not lead to greater conservation outcomes. The "Western Conservation Principles" urge the Biden Administration to focus efforts on issues plaguing our public lands, including:

  • Forest Health;
  • Invasive species;
  • Wild Horses and Burros;
  • Superfund Sites;
  • Park Visitation;
  • Abandoned Mine and Orphan Well Reclamation;
  • Checkerboard and Landlocked Management;
  • Biodiversity and Species Recovery; and
  • Promoting and Protecting Water Infrastructure.

We stressed, "We must maximize the conservation benefits provided by activities like grazing, hunting, logging, and mineral development. We also must leverage the expertise of our local partners including through the use of existing shared stewardship authorities and seek policies that further enhance these tools." We called for a collaborative approach that includes:

  • Full Use of Our Tools;
  • Shared Stewardship:
  • Public-Private Partnerships;
  • Reporting and Monitoring;
  • Streamlined Processes;
  • Litigation Reform; and
  • Audit of Existing Programs.

Those who live and work on the land are most invested in conserving it. The best way to ensure we continue to have healthy and resilient landscapes is by working cooperatively with property owners to promote conservation. Conservation can work in tandem with-not in opposition to-our agricultural and natural resources industries. The "Western Conservation Principles" provide a commonsense outline of how we can conserve our natural environment and our Idaho way of life.


Orofino needs a swimming pool

Dear Editor:

Next month the Orofino Pool Committee will start meetings to replace the swimming pool that was shut down. The almost two-year interruption from COVID-19 didn't stop the need for recreation, school sports and safety training for the people who live in our community especially the little people who frequent our rivers and lakes.

All of the funds are safe and sound at LCCU (Lewis-Clark Credit Union) and making money under the trust and supervision of Mr. Steve Clack, committee treasurer. The reason we are "treading water" we need a public entity's power and strength to support grants and liability insurance. So, we will be looking to city, county and recreation districts to help us get this done.

We need your support and understanding and ask that you look for future announcements about the project and the committee.

For more information or if you would like to be a part of this valuable effort contact Linda Burgess 208-400-0994.

Linda Burgess


Vaccine mandate is not the solution in divided county; but situation in hospitals not for debate

Guest opinion by Governor Brad Little

Americans are deeply divided on COVID-19 and the response to it. Public health has turned political, there's no doubt about it.

But the situation playing out in hospitals across the country isn't up for debate.

There are more patients in need of critical care in Idaho than ever before in our state's history. As a result, medical care is now limited for anyone who needs it, whether they have COVID-19 or not.

We've taken many steps to alleviate pressure on the system. Just in the past few months:

  • Idaho expanded access to monoclonal antibody treatment, which is one more tool that's helped hundreds of Idahoans with COVID-19 avoid a trip to the hospital.
  • Between mobilizing the National Guard, deploying a military medical response team to North Idaho, contracting with the federal government, and other steps, we added hundreds of medical and administrative personnel in our hospitals.
  • We directed millions of dollars to primary care and urgent care facilities, skilled nursing facilities, and hospitals to relieve staffing shortages and free up hospital beds due to the surge in patients.
  • We cut red tape to get retired and inactive nurses back in the workforce more easily.
  • We made COVID-19 testing more accessible in schools to minimize virus transmission.

All these actions have helped, but the end of the pandemic can only come if more people choose to receive the vaccine.

However, President Joe Biden's plan to punish America's businesses with his vaccine mandate is not the answer. It is an unlawful act of unprecedented government overreach. Businesses should be left to make decisions about the management of their employees.

Idahoans do not like being bullied into submission by the federal government. Biden threatening Americans into compliance damages a country already divided. He is breeding a level of resentment and distrust of government that will take generations to heal. His actions simply are not good for our country, now or in the long term.

I have resisted putting in place statewide mask mandates and vaccine mandates all along because COVID-19 mandates from high levels of government do not work to change behavior in places where people hold fiercely independent values. Idaho has leaned on a more localized approach with these decisions, consistent with the law.

Consider the State of Washington. Governor Jay Inslee is quick to blame Idaho for stresses in Washington's health system yet Spokane County and the surrounding area on his side of the border continue to be hot spots for virus activity with relatively low vaccination rates, despite Governor Inslee issuing vaccine mandates and mask mandates.

Here in Idaho, we have been working to build confidence in the vaccine by sharing the message about its safety and effectiveness.

The most compelling evidence is this fact - since May when the vaccine was made widely available, 90-percent of new COVID-19 cases, COVID-19 hospitalizations, and COVID-19 deaths in Idaho are unvaccinated.

The disease is not afflicting just the elderly and health compromised. Those falling ill with COVID-19 are younger than ever before.

Unfortunately, we have reached a point in the pandemic where we all know someone who has died or become seriously ill from this aggressive disease. Please consider your risk in not receiving the vaccine. Your loved ones want you to be safe and healthy.

In the meantime, we will continue to do what we can to expand capacity in our hospitals and support our healthcare professionals. These friends and neighbors on the frontlines of our war with a disease will be forever remembered for their sacrifices and getting us through this troubling time.


Remembering 9/11, America's response to tragedy

Guest opinion by Governor Brad Little

There are moments that define a generation.

If you're over the age of about 25, you remember exactly where you were and what you were doing during the unthinkable attacks on our country on September 11, 2001.

When I heard that the second plane hit the Twin Towers, I was headed back to Emmett from the ranch. I drove past Freezeout Hill, where one year later we would dedicate a 9/11 memorial. Like many other Americans, when I heard what happened I spent much of the day watching the coverage on a small TV at our office in Emmett, wondering what to expect.

Like the first moon landing or President Kennedy's assassination, there are historic events that escape no one's memory.

Now, two decades later, we reflect on 9/11 - both our memory of the events and what we learned from them.

We remember watching the footage in horror, jaws dropped in disbelief as the second plane hit the Twin Towers and we, as Americans, started to realize we were a country under attack.

We remember seeing terrified faces of Americans watching on as black smoke billowed out of two buildings so massive that they made Manhattan's other skyscrapers look like toothpicks.

We remember hearing the blaring sound of sirens and seeing heroic firefighters, police officers, and other first responders charging into the burning buildings as others fled.

We remember watching the Twin Towers crumble, ash and debris filling the streets in a way a bomb couldn't, and the deafening, eerie silence that followed. An unbelievable amount of smoldering rubble was piled high at Ground Zero.

We witnessed an enormous hole in the side of the Pentagon - a building that symbolizes the strength of our U.S. military and where Idahoan and Rexburg native Brady Howell died that morning working - and the image of soldiers and firefighters hanging a large American flag on the side of the building following the attack, signifying our country's strength and resolve.

We remember seeing a hole in the ground outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where brave Americans onboard took control of a hijacked plane with an unknown target - saving countless American lives.

We heard stories of tragedy and of heroism.

Just as we can recall specific details about what we saw and heard on that tragic day, we also remember our individual and collective reaction to the events of 9/11.

We can remember a country coming together in a way rarely seen before.

We all tempered our personal political opinions to come together and demonstrate strength and patriotism. We inspired the rest of the world. American flags could be seen everywhere.

Our younger generation didn't experience it, but those of us who did can share with them what we learned - that in the middle of a crisis we have an opportunity to come together and build up each other and our country.

One year after 9/11, with both military and first responders, Governor Dirk Kempthorne and I dedicated an American flag and memorial on Freezeout Hill to commemorate the men and women who lost their lives and the heroes who acted in bravery.

We will never forget 9/11, and we must never relent in helping future generations understand the lesson of patriotism that grew out of 9/11 - that all of us, despite our individual and varied political opinions - can live out a love for our country during a tragedy, and every day.

God bless America!


Brandt asking for answers about COVID-19

Dear Editor,

Stories this past weekend in both the Idaho Statesman and the Lewiston Tribune cut to the chase. While some want to keep pushing the idea that vaccine hesitancy is fueled by selfishness and lack of trust in our government, these stories tell another side. Maybe people just don't have the information they need to make an informed decision. What if we could get hospitals to start reporting some of the data that folks want? What if hospitals reported to Public Health the answers to these basic questions?

  1. How many of those new COVID cases had been vaccinated (and with which brand) and how many had been diagnosed with COVID before?
  2. How many of new COVID patients who were hospitalized were vaccinated (and with which brand) and how many were diagnosed with COVID before?
  3. In new COVID diagnoses and hospitalizations, are there underlying health issues present?

We know something for sure. The current strategy of trying to scare or guilt people into getting the vaccine is NOT working. Misinformation comes from a lack of information. Let's switch it up and start giving real numbers folks can use to take a reasoned approach to determining whether the vaccine is the best choice for their health.

Skip Brandt
Idaho County Commissioner


What to do with a $1.4 billion windfall

Guest opinion by Rod Gramer, president and CEO of Idaho Business for Education

What would Idaho's companies do if they had a $1.4 billion windfall? Many would invest it to make their company more profitable for years to come.

Well, Idaho is sitting on a $1.4 billion-surplus and it has a historic opportunity to invest that money to create greater prosperity for this and future generations of Idahoans.

There are several ways lawmakers could put this surplus to work for our students.

They could start by supporting early learning programs to get 4-year-olds ready for kindergarten. Currently, nearly 6 out of 10 incoming kindergarten students are not ready to learn how to read.

They could make full-day kindergarten available. Now full-day kindergarten is only available where patrons tax themselves, parents can afford tuition or where philanthropy helps.

Money is the biggest obstacle for students to attend college. Let's use the surplus to create an Opportunity Scholarship Endowment to help thousands of students attend college or technical school. The state benefits because workers with a postsecondary credential earn $1 million more over a lifetime than only high school graduates.

The digital divide that creates an academic disadvantage for thousands of students could be closed if we created an endowed Student Technology Fund.

Our students face a mental health crisis. We could use surplus dollars to hire more mental health professionals and get the students the help they need.

We should use surplus dollars to help students recover academically from the COVID crisis. This won't be cheap or take just one year.

McKinsey and Company reports: "The fallout from the pandemic threatens to depress this generation's prospects and constrict their opportunities far into adulthood."

McKinsey says the hit on the U.S. economy could range from $128 billion to $188 billion every year as the current cohort of students enter the workforce. Clearly, Idaho must invest in a recovery plan, or our economy will suffer the consequences.

Idaho has a chronic shortage of skilled workers, a problem that accelerated during the pandemic with many women leaving the workforce. Even before COVID, Idaho and its businesses were losing millions of dollars because of the lack of childcare, a report from the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry and Idaho Association of Young Children shows.

We could use the surplus to create a Child Care Tax Credit that helps working families afford quality childcare. Or incentivize companies to help provide childcare for their employees.

I hear the argument: we can't use surplus money for ongoing programs. Some investments only require one-time money. Besides, Idaho has run regular budget surpluses and policymakers have not shied away from using surplus dollars for favorite projects.

These investments would save millions of dollars on student remediation, incarceration, and social programs. A more educated citizenry would also pay substantially more in taxes, making these investments pay for themselves.

The question is do policymakers have the vision to see how these investments can transform Idaho and will they grab this historic opportunity?


Back to school during uncertain times presents challenges

Guest opinion by Kurt Liebich, President, Idaho State Board of Education

The new school year began with more uncertainty than we expected because of the rapid spread of the COVID-19 delta variant strain. However, based on our overall performance and experience last year, I am confident that our local school boards, administrators, teachers and parents are ready to meet the challenge, help students recover from the pandemic-caused disruption, and do what it takes to keep them on track, learning and in school.

The 2020/21 school year was the most difficult year in the history of public education in Idaho. As a result of the pandemic, many schools had to pivot between in-person, remote and blended learning over the course of the school year. In order to deliver these flexible education models, the public and private sectors worked together to provide tens of thousands of computers and other electronic devices into classrooms and homes throughout the state. Our teachers did an amazing job of continuing to educate Idaho students during this extraordinary time.

Schools also put protocols in place designed to keep students and staff safe. As a result, most Idaho schools re-opened and stayed open last year, while schools in many other parts of the country were forced to provide online instruction for the entire school year. For that we should all be proud.

Even though the majority of our schools were able to provide in-person instruction or use hybrid models (combination of in-person and online), we can't sugarcoat the fact that many of our students were negatively affected by the pandemic. Unfinished learning is of particular concern to the State Board of Education. As we begin this school year, the State Board is focused on a few critical priorities to address the achievement gaps that were magnified by the pandemic. Kindergarten through fourth grade literacy proficiency, fifth through ninth grade math proficiency, and credit recovery for our high school students are the Board's focus areas.

2021 results for the Idaho Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) show a slight decline overall in students' proficiency in English Language Arts and math since 2019 (the 2020 ISAT was cancelled as a result of the pandemic). Overall results show students' proficiency dropped about one percent in English language arts and nearly five percent in math, however some groups of students saw greater declines. All public school students in grades 3 thru 8 and 10th grade take the ISAT.

We have seen similar results when looking at student achievement in other areas. The Board will be directing state level education funding for COVID relief for school districts and charters to use to target these areas and help our students catch up and get back on track.

I'd also like to note that despite the disruption, school districts throughout the state made gains this past year. For instance, in the Bruneau-Grand View Joint School District, K-3 students started the last school year with only 40 percent of their students being proficient in literacy. By the end of the year, 82 percent were proficient, doubling the percentage during one school year.

That is but one example of success and there are many more from throughout our state due to the dedicated professional educators we have in Idaho.

I'd like to take a moment to thank our volunteer school board members, administrators, teachers and staff. I'd also like to thank parents too for stepping in and serving essentially as teachers at home during the times when the pandemic forced school shutdowns last year.

We find ourselves in the midst of another COVID surge and it is impossible for us to know what this year will ultimately look like. More than 300,000 students attend public schools in Idaho and a handful of those schools have already been forced to close temporarily. The State Board of Education and local school boards throughout the state are committed to doing everything in our power to keep our schools open and kids learning in classrooms. Let's all hope we can keep disruptions in check and have safe and productive school year.


IACI opposes legislature regulating businesses in regard to vaccine mandates

Dear President Pro Tem Winder and Speaker Bedke:

Regarding private businesses requiring employees to be vaccinated, Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin recently called on Legislative Leadership to call themselves back into Session, stating, "I don't know that they recognize what a big deal this is, what a serious concern it is for the people of Idaho."

As usual, Lt. Governor McGeachin is the one out of touch with Idaho voters, pandering to a vocal minority to score political points in her race for governor. The facts are that Idaho voters (across all spectrums) do not want the Legislature telling private businesses how to run their companies.

IACI (Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry) commissioned a poll from July 27-29, 2021 of 400 likely Idaho voters (margin of error 4.9%) to ask their opinions on whether the Legislature should regulate businesses that require their employees to be vaccinated. The overwhelming response from Idahoans was that they do not want the Legislature regulating these businesses.

When given the choice, 66 percent of Idaho voters say, "The Idaho Legislature should not make laws that attempt to tell private businesses what they can do." With only 23 percent agreeing that, "the Idaho Legislature should make it illegal for private businesses, including hospitals, to require COVID vaccinations." Among GOP voters only, those numbers are 63 percent to 29 percent.

Further, IACI asked what the role of politicians should be in regulating private businesses, and 78 percent agreed with the statement, "Idaho politicians should not tell private businesses what to do." With GOP voters, that number increased to 86 percent.

While some Idahoans may not support employers requiring employees to get a COVID vaccine, the last thing they want is for the Legislature to engage in the issue.

We support Speaker Bedke's stance to keep government out of the business of regulating employee policies for private businesses. This poll clearly indicates that this response by Legislative Leadership is in alignment with representing Idahoans on this issue.

Some have attempted to say that, because some companies receive state or federal funds, they are not private businesses. Nothing could be further from the truth. This way of thinking is a slippery slope towards government overreach and excessive regulation.

Idaho's economy is booming because we are the least regulated state in the nation. Idaho employers need to be able to keep producing to keep the economy moving, and they cannot do that with a repeat of last year's lost productivity due to employees becoming sick with COVID-19.

The vaccine, developed under a Republican administration, has been proven safe and effective by every metric and is the path to making sure our economy survives in the near term.

We continue to support your position that a return of the Legislature on this issue would be an improper role of government. Thank you for standing strong against the misguided political pressure.

Alex LaBeau
President, Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry


Idaho especially vulnerable to wildfires this hot, dry weekend

Guest opinion by Dustin Miller, Director of the Idaho Department of Lands

You can drastically alter our wildfire risk.

We know the Smokey Bear saying by heart: Only you can prevent forest fires. But every year, nationally, around 80 percent of wildfires are caused by humans. That jumps to more than 90 percent of fires when you look at what the Idaho Department of Lands has responded to this year. It could be a thrown cigarette, a campfire left burning, dragging chains, parking on dry grass. Or as we go into the holiday weekend, sparks from fireworks. The list goes on.

They say accidents happen. But this year there is no room for mistakes. The public is moving in greater numbers to Idaho's outdoors. Temperatures are soaring, and 80 percent of Idaho is currently in drought, with that percentage and drought intensity expected to grow. Our beautiful state is at risk of burning up.

The reminders to prevent wildfires are hard to miss, be it from the Idaho Department of Lands or our partner agencies. Among them: Make sure your fire is dead out. Don't drag chains or drive vehicles on dry grass. Be careful when target shooting. Don't use illegal fireworks. There are too many reminders to include here.

However, despite the abundance of these messages, and the ever-ready online resources, brochures, news reports, social media posts, and pleas to prevent wildfires, human-caused fires still occur in alarming numbers. They outpace lightning-caused fires nearly every year.

So given all of this, who can reverse this trend? Only you.

Only you can prevent a fire that burns through your favorite camping area by making sure your campfire is out before you leave.

Only you can prevent cabins and homes from going up in flames by properly using fireworks in clear areas and following local fireworks restrictions.

Only you can prevent the thick smoke of raging wildfires from filling the skies by not throwing a cigarette out a car window.

Only you can prevent a wildland firefighter from suffering heatstroke while battling a blaze in 100-degree heat by not parking on dry grass and sparking a blaze.

Only you can keep our wildland fire crews home safe and reserve them for the wildfires that start beyond our control.

Only you can save the life of a wildland firefighter who may be among those to respond to a human-caused wildfire.

The Idaho Department of Lands is ready for this wildfire season. We have increased our staff and our wildfire resources. We are stationed strategically to aggressively fight fires when they are first reported. Controlling fires quickly, before they grow, saves valuable natural resources and tax dollars. We have stopped 90 percent of fires at 10 acres or less.

We are doing our part to protect Idaho from wildfire. But we need your commitment to help prevent accidental fires. We need you. Only you.


Cybersecurity: The existential threat facing the nation

Guest opinion by Congressman Mike Simpson

WASHINGTON, DC - The recent ransomware attacks on Colonial Pipeline and JBS are just the latest salvos in an ongoing digital war that is putting innocent citizens in its crossfire.

Just as the U.S. Intelligence Community once warned about al-Qaeda, they are now publicly sounding the alarm over the cyber capabilities of China, Russia, Iran and North Korea. Our adversaries see cyber vulnerabilities and sabotage as the best opportunity to gain a strategic advantage against us. It's time we take these threats seriously and address cybersecurity as the most pressing national security issue of our time.

The energy sector, including the power grid, oil and natural gas pipelines and renewable energy systems, is among the most vulnerable to a cyberattack. Our adversaries are making rapid daily advances in hacking and ransomware capabilities, and we must dedicate the time and resources necessary to stay ahead of this threat. That is why I recently urged Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm to keep cybersecurity as a top focus of the Department of Energy.

The Department of Energy's best resource against a crippling cyberattack is one of its own national laboratories. The Idaho National Laboratory (INL) is a world leader in securing industrial computer technology from the kinds of cyberattacks that took down Ukraine's power grid in 2015 and 2016. They work with industry to assess and improve technology against threats like those that turned off the safety systems at petrochemical plants in Saudi Arabia in 2017. And, they have the expertise to advice and train organizations how to avoid the conditions that Europe experienced when malware locked up their banks, ports and manufacturing facilities.

Idaho has long been a leader in cybersecurity development. In 2002, Senator Larry Craig and I secured funding to establish INL's Critical Infrastructure Test Range Complex. This location allows lab researchers to test the digital security of power and water systems at full-scale. In 2004 and 2005, we also secured funding to build a control systems test facility that paved the way for INL's energy-cyber missions. And since 2014, I've worked to ensure the laboratory's electric grid test bed received the necessary funding to create a demonstration environment for government and private industry.

I'm proud to represent INL and the thousands of workers dedicated to protecting America's energy and national security. But no organization can tackle these challenges alone. Solving the threats we face requires a new vision, leadership and accountability at the highest levels. It requires greater transparency and reporting when cyberattacks are detected. And it requires more knowledge and education for today's workers and tomorrow's students.

Thankfully, cybersecurity is a bipartisan issue and many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle have raised concerns. Now, it's time we act. America is a strong, innovative country. But when it comes to cybersecurity, we've been lucky to avoid an even worse attack. President Biden will meet with Vladimir Putin later this month. I urge the President to hold Putin to account for the growing global threat emanating from within Russia. I also encourage my colleagues to become familiar with the important work the national laboratories are doing to secure our nation's critical infrastructure. Together with industry, we can strengthen our defenses against cyber criminals and protect citizens from this ongoing, and increasingly dangerous, threat.


Clearwater Memorial Public Library expansion, renovation will soon be complete

Dear Editor:

Our seemingly long renovation and construction program will soon be completed and a thank you to Jo Moore and her hard-working Foundation members and the Community.

On September 01, 2015, Jo was requested by the CMPL (Clearwater Memorial Public Library) Board to form an independent Foundation, given the project and the rest is now part of the Library's history. Jo and the Foundation members took the Library project and sold the project to individuals by first raising seed money and making a DVD describing the communities' expectations and the description of the library's needs. Then they started soliciting funds. The Community responded!

CMPLF has received donations from pennies to thousands from individual donors to corporations. Community-based fundraisings have included dinners, raffles and numerous activities like vintage teas and the popular pie auctions. Through Jo's effort the project has come in under budget; she has used the overage funds to refurbish the old section of the Library with new flooring and lighting so we truly have an all new facility.

Contractor Rick Burnham has shepherded the project and donated his time and many other companies have donated materials and labor. We marvel at the time table on February 16, 2016 CMPL received the nonprofit corporation status and by April 2020 the Phase 1-4 fund raising had been raised.

Great Job CMPLF and in such a short time!

Cleo Castellanos
Director, Clearwater Memorial Public Library


It's more important than ever to tell teachers we value them

Guest opinion by Governor Brad Little

It is Teacher Appreciation Week across the country, and while one week is hardly enough time to show our teachers how much we value them, it is a good opportunity to tell the teachers in your life that you notice all they do for our students and communities.

Teachers get to work early so they are prepared for a productive day of learning when their students walk through the classroom doors.

Teachers are adapting all day long, tailoring lesson content to a variety of learning styles so each and every student can walk away with a better foundation of knowledge and skills.

Teachers are meeting the daily challenges of helping one or two, perhaps more, students with behavioral problems that disrupt the class.

Teachers step up to fill needed roles in coaching, leading student clubs, and other extracurricular activities.

Teachers spend their evenings and weekends grading schoolwork and replying to texts, phone calls, and e-mails from parents and students with special requests when they could spend that time with their own families.

Teachers are passionate about preparing students for eventual careers and creating an environment where students feel safe and supported.

Thankfully, in Idaho, our schools have been open longer than any other state during the pandemic. Keeping schools open and students in their classrooms for valuable in-person learning has been and continues to be the priority, which is why I decided to make the COVID-19 vaccine available to teachers before many others. That said, it still has been difficult to adjust to all the sudden changes in learning and instructing throughout the pandemic. Students, parents, families, teachers, and school administrators have met the challenges by coming together to support one another.

We all should signal to our educators that we value them and we want to keep them in the profession. We should be laser focused on equipping teachers, parents, and schools with the tools they need to prepare our students to become eventual participants in our state's workforce and lifelong learners.

To all the Idaho teachers, I thank you on behalf of the people of Idaho for your dedication to our students. Together with families, volunteer school board members across the state, and our school administrators, you are the backbone of strong communities in Idaho.

Thank you, teachers!


Crapo: Water Rights Protection Act will help protect private property rights

Guest opinion submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

Effective management of water resources affects the vitality of communities and their ability to grow and develop. Respecting water rights is a central factor in the management of water resources. I have been a longtime opponent of federal agencies eroding states' water rights practices. I have authored and introduced legislation in multiple congresses to prevent federal encroachment on the management of water resources, best controlled at the state and local levels. I am again backing legislation in this Congress to protect the private property rights of farmers, ranchers, states, cities and local conservation efforts from being trampled on by the federal government.

The federal government has a long history of attempting to seize control of private water rights, undermining state water laws throughout the West, including Idaho. Forcing multiple use permit holders to turn over privately owned water rights to the federal government as a condition of permit renewal is one of the means employed to exert federal control over water resources. The Clean Water Act, the Federal Land Policy Management Act and wilderness designations have also been vehicles used to attempt to erode state sovereignty over water.

Another of the more recent examples of federal overreach jeopardizing this critical resource is the Obama-era Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule that was nothing short of a federal government power grab and seizure of states' rights and private property rights. Under the WOTUS rule, even dry creek beds and ponds on private property could fall under federal control, under rules that utilized the spread of rainwater. The Trump Administration did away with that rule and replaced it with the Navigable Waters Protection Rule. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled "navigable waters" can be regulated, but "navigable waters" do not include irrigation ditches and small streams on private property. I co-sponsored a resolution in this Congress backing the Navigable Waters Protection Rule finalized by the Trump Administration that regulates "navigable" waters within federal confines, and I will continue to oppose any attempts in the current Administration and Congress to undermine state water sovereignty.

To also further this effort, in March, I joined fellow U.S. Senators Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) in introducing S. 855, the Water Rights Protection Act, to protect privately-owned waters from being seized by the federal government. The Water Rights Protection Act would:

  • Forbid the U.S. Departments of Interior and Agriculture from mandating water users transfer water rights to the United States or purchase water rights in the name of the United States as a condition of any permit, lease or other use agreement;
  • Prevent unlawful seizures of groundwater; and
  • Recognize state water law and require coordination with states.

The Water Rights Protection Act has been referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Senator Barrasso serves as the Committee's Ranking Member, and Senator Risch serves as a senior member of the Committee.

We, unfortunately, must be ever watchful for attempts by federal agencies and some in Congress to ignore long-established statutory provisions concerning state water rights and state water contracts. The Water Rights Protection Act will help protect private property rights, uphold state water law and prohibit federal takings. I look forward to working toward its enactment that will protect this critical Idaho resource and defend the fundamental western value of state water sovereignty.


Little: After a challenging year, Idaho education needs our support

Guest opinion by Governor Brad Little

The past 13 months have presented enormous challenges for students, parents, teachers, and school administrators. The sudden changes in work life, home life, and social life, along with new ways of learning and instructing, have firmly placed the COVID-19 pandemic as one of our most difficult life experiences.

We don't want the pandemic to set us back in preparing students to succeed.

We want to emerge from the experience stronger and more committed than ever to public education in Idaho.

Idaho's public education system is locally driven. If parents or teachers spot something that concerns them, they should bring it to the attention of the teacher, principal, superintendent, or school board trustees and root out the problem at the local level, which is the closest and most responsive to our students and parents. Curriculum in Idaho is always the responsibility of your local school board.

A skilled workforce demands investing in education at every level.

We should be demonstrating to parents that their children's education is our priority.

We should be signaling to teachers that we value them, and we want to keep them in the profession.

We should be laser focused on equipping teachers, parents, and schools with the tools they need to help students overcome learning challenges.

We should be focusing our efforts on improving literacy, especially among the most challenged segments of our population so they have a strong bedrock for future learning.

We should be getting our kids college- and career-ready by pairing students with job prospects and teaching them nuts-and-bolts skills they can use in jobs every day.

We should be preparing our students to join our workforce and become lifelong learners.

Idaho is on an incredible trajectory. We have the strongest economy in the nation. There is absolutely no reason not to continue that momentum by returning to our real priorities - students, families, teachers, and businesses.

We should all be working collectively toward the same thing - to prepare today's young people to be fulfilled and productive into the future.

There is a lot of work ahead coming out of this pandemic, addressing the challenges associated with learning loss across elementary and secondary education and preparing our students to be college- and career-ready.

It's time to get back on track. That is what parents and employers expect and deserve.


Crapo: Bills an attack on state's rights, minority opinions

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

Over the last few weeks, I have heard from many Idahoans expressing their concerns with H.R. 1 and S. 1, the "For the People Act." I share these concerns.

This patently unconstitutional legislation looks a lot more like a "For the Bureaucrats" bill. It would circumvent our entire elections process and stifle freedom of speech. H.R. 1 would federalize our election process and strip states of election authorities guaranteed to them by the U.S. Constitution. Participation in the electoral process is one of the most fundamental rights enjoyed by Americans. Elections are scheduled in accordance with the needs of a community and laws governing how and when those votes can take place. Under our Constitution, states have jurisdiction over their own elections, not the federal government.

This bill would mandate a one-size-fits-all process that removes that constitutional authority from states and hands it over to Washington bureaucrats. If passed, this bill would:

  • Keep people who have died or moved on local voter registration files, undermining election accuracy;
  • Insert further potential for fraud into the elections process by allowing trafficking by permitting paid political operatives to go door-to-door collecting thousands of ballots and delivering them--unsupervised--to a county clerk;
  • Force states like Idaho to abandon any form of voter identification;
  • Infringe on freedom of speech by requiring private citizens' political donations to be published, pressuring voters supporting minority causes to stay silent; and
  • Allow ballots to be counted up to 10 days after election day, eroding confidence in the electoral system across the country immediately after an election cycle in which more than one-third of Americans already did not trust their vote counted.

Moreover, the legislation includes a number of other partisan power grabs that have absolutely nothing to do with voting rights, including:

  • Politicizing the bipartisan Federal Elections Commission by reducing its membership from six to five commissioners;
  • Using taxpayer funds to match private campaign donations at a 6-to-1 taxpayer-to-donor ratio for donations under $200, injecting greater federal government influence into election outcomes; and
  • A provision to grant Statehood to the District of Columbia, which violates Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution that provides for a 'federal district' distinct from the states to ensure the nation's capital is not subject to political pressure from state or local government.

Idaho has already implemented efforts to increase voter turnout:

  • Same-day voter registration with proof of residence; and
  • No-excuse absentee and early voting.

Mandating that other states do the same is a violation of state sovereignty. States are best equipped to implement and enforce election policies that protect the integrity of all future elections and restore Americans' faith in our electoral system.

The Democrats' proposal is hardly a voting-rights bill. Free and fair elections are the cornerstone of our republic. Further loss of confidence in our electoral system would be catastrophic for our country, and this bill would compound confusion in the election process. I support the establishment of a commission to study the last election and recommend meaningful reforms to protect the integrity of our elections. But, I will not support this bill and a federal government power-grab of state election laws.


Goffinet: Giddings not representing District 7 people

Dear Editor:

Representative Priscilla Giddings, District 7, has spent the legislative session blocking the budgets of Idaho Public Television, k-12 public schools, Idaho public universities, and a $6,000,000 grant for early childhood education.

Her grounds: any programming that recognizes diversity or suggests curriculum addressing racial or gender equity.

Giddings represents the far-right Idaho Freedom Foundation, not the people of District 7.

The IFF produced reports on "Social justice ideology in Idaho higher education" and recommended blocking funding for universities with curricula or services that address social justice, an inclusive student body, or contemporary thoughts on equity.

The subjects of racial and gender equity have been concerns in public education from the first public school. Think of Brown vs. the Board of Education and Title IX.

Public education in the United States is for all students, regardless of race, color, ethnicity, religious stance, gender, or sexual preference.

Fairness is expected in public education curriculum, in teacher preparation programs, in student support services for public k-12 schools and universities, and in educational television.

I taught in Idaho public schools and universities. My Idaho students were White, along with Mexican American, Shoshone, Bannock, Hopi, Laotian, Cambodian, Serbian, Nez Perce, Asian American, Filipino, African American, Vietnamese, Russian, Bolivian, and people of mixed race.

Diversity enriched the classroom.

ALL Idaho students are important and to be treated with respect. We need curriculum and school services that support fairness.

We need District 7 representatives who understand and care about public education, fairness, and the diverse population of Idaho.

Sandra Goffinet


Little: More foolish logic in Democrats' COVID-19 relief plan penalizes responsible states like Idaho

Guest opinion by Governor Brad Little

Democrats in Washington, DC, are actively working to saddle your grandchildren with unprecedented levels of debt to bail out states that have not operated responsibly before or during the pandemic.

The latest round of foolish logic in the Democrats' COVID-19 relief plans would punish responsible states like Idaho for pursuing tax cuts for our citizens!

First, their plan gives disproportionately more direct aid to states that have kept people out of work and entered the pandemic with poorly performing economies and botched state budgets. The move comes at the expense of Idaho, which has low unemployment, few restrictions, a strong economy, and a solvent state budget. The plan siphons a quarter of a billion dollars away from Idaho and gives it to states on lockdown, such as California, New York, Illinois, and others.

Then, their package includes a multibillion-dollar bailout for private pension funds that have been mismanaged for decades. The move comes at the expense of Idaho, which has one of the strongest state pension funds in the nation, thanks to prudent management.

Now, under the bill, Idaho would potentially subsidize poorly managed states simply because we are using our record budget surplus to pursue historic tax relief for our citizens. Language in the federal bill is unclear, and one interpretation could prohibit states from pursuing tax relief through 2024. We achieved our record budget surplus after years of responsible, conservative governing and quick action during the pandemic, and our surplus should be returned to Idahoans as I proposed.

What incentive do states have to do the right thing when they get bailed out for doing the wrong thing?

Unlike these states, Idaho is in a position to cut taxes in a middle of a pandemic. We have limited spending. We have cut red tape and earned our status as the least regulated state in the nation. We rank among the most financially solvent states because of our rainy-day fund levels, solvent state pension, and strong Unemployment Insurance Fund balance.

Idaho has taken a balanced, measured approach in our pandemic response. We have managed to prevent a crisis in our hospitals while keeping businesses, schools, and churches open longer than almost every other state. We directed most of our federal relief funds in direct support of Idaho citizens and businesses. We are a leading state for our share of vaccine doses administered.

Other states chose to lockdown, hurting workers, students, and families. Meanwhile, their failed policies are not reducing COVID-19 spread. Idaho, on the other hand, continues to see declining COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations, while staying open.

Simply put, any future federal relief funds directed to states should be allocated fairly. We know the debt is mortgaged from our grandkids, and I will push to use those funds to directly support them through long-range investments in education, broadband, and water infrastructure.

Idaho's congressional delegation and I will continue to keep the pressure on Congress and the Biden Administration to do what's right for future generations, and not use our grandkids' futures for political payback to irresponsible states.


As in the past, COVID relief should be bipartisan, targeted

Guest opinion by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

Prior to the recent passage of the American Rescue Plan, Congress came together five times to pass bipartisan bills totaling roughly $4 trillion to help Americans weather the pandemic.

Recent economic projections from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) provide proof of their effectiveness, predicting a robust economic recovery. We should be encouraged by this, as well as vaccine distribution underway, and look to fill any gaps in the response instead of just piling more taxpayer dollars on yet to be depleted programs. Unfortunately, a bipartisan process is not what occurred in the recent passage of the American Rescue Plan I voted against when the Senate passed it by a vote of 50-49.

The new Senate Majority's decision to move forward with a budget resolution to quickly pass proposals lacking broad bipartisan support, rather than focusing on policies that will boost vaccine distribution and help get people back to work and our kids safely back to school, was disappointing. The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan comes just a few short months after a $900 billion package was signed into law, and ignores estimates that roughly $1 trillion in enacted stimulus funding remains unspent. It directed the Senate Finance Committee to increase the deficit by a staggering $1.3 trillion, without deliberating what polices would best grow our economy. The Finance Committee did not debate amendments. Rather, it was asked to rubber stamp partisan legislation passed in the House of Representatives.

The nearly $2 trillion package includes sweeping policy changes that deserved thorough, bipartisan scrutiny at the committee level. According to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB), "Only about 1 percent of the entire package goes toward COVID vaccines, and 5 percent is truly focused on public health needs surrounding the pandemic. More than 15 percent of the package - about $300 billion - is spent on long-standing policy priorities that are not directly related to the current crisis."

Many of these longstanding wish-list items are in the Finance Committee's jurisdiction. Take the $350 billion bailout for states, many of which are running surpluses for fiscal years 2020 and 2021, including Idaho. Taxpayers across the country should not have to bail out failed policies and poor fiscal management of certain states. Consider the $86 billion bailout for the multiemployer pension system, which has been in crisis for several years. Bipartisan proposals to address the problem were ignored in favor of using the reconciliation process to avoid reforms, leading to future bailouts. Other longstanding policy priorities, such as expanding the child tax credit and earned income tax credit, and increasing Affordable Care Act subsidies, made it into the package, although neither is directly related to coronavirus relief.

Our economy is recovering. Vaccine distribution and administration is well underway and accelerating. The fight against COVID-19 is not over, and some further relief may have been appropriate following the enactment of the first five phases of relief. However, there have been and continue to be strong disagreements on the scope and content of the current relief package, which should have been deliberated and debated through regular committee order. Idahoans deserved a serious, bipartisan process focused on their most urgent needs: getting or keeping their kids in school, getting workers safely back on the job, keeping small businesses' doors open and helping to reclaim a semblance of pre-pandemic life. This partisan process resulted in a spending spree that grossly misses its mark, and places an undue burden on future generations. I will continue to support bipartisan, targeted COVID relief for families affected by the pandemic and pro-growth policies that will allow employers to reopen and rehire.


Little: Biden, Democrat-led Congress seek to punish responsible states like Idaho

Guest opinion by Governor Brad Little

Our new president and the Democrat-led Congress are seeking to bail out big, poorly-managed states and punish states that have operated responsibly during the pandemic - a step that would saddle Idaho children with even greater debt and suppress economic prosperity for generations to come.

Idaho won't stand for it.

I joined 21 other governors last week in pushing back on a proposal that would reward big states on lockdown and punish states like Idaho for staying open during the pandemic.

President Joe Biden's COVID-19 relief bill is rooted in a biased formula based on unemployment figures, not overall population. The plan rewards states experiencing "negative economic impacts." States with the most people out of work and the most poorly performing economies receive more taxpayer dollars.

That means a quarter of a billion dollars of Idahoans' federal taxes would subsidize states that have kept people out of work! States such as California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and others would get more than their fair share under Biden's plan.

As the other governors and I put it, the proposal "punishes states that took a measured approach to the pandemic and entered the crisis with healthy state budgets and strong economies. A state's ability to keep businesses open and people employed should not be a penalizing factor when distributing funds."

Idaho has the strongest economy of all 50 states. We have the most financially solvent state budget. With a historic record budget surplus, we are poised to provide tax relief and make strategic investments in transportation, education, water, broadband, and other critical areas. We have low unemployment. We had the biggest increase in personal income compared to other states. We saw the largest increase in business formation over the past year compared to other states. And we are the least regulated state in the nation.

Idaho is a leading state for our share of vaccine doses administered. We are among only a handful of states with the fewest COVID-19 restrictions because our businesses, schools, and churches have remained open longer than almost every other state while we have managed to prevent a crisis in our hospitals. We distributed most of our federal coronavirus relief funds in direct support of Idaho citizens and businesses through tax relief and grants.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been nothing short of a tragedy. The disease has already taken the lives of close to 2,000 of our fellow Idahoans and landed many more in the hospital. We have sacrificed together and endured hardship together.

So why is Idaho being asked to subsidize irresponsible states that are experiencing increased virus spread despite keeping business, schools, and churches shut down? Why should Idaho be penalized for making hard decisions to keep our economy open and kids in school? The states that did neither are being rewarded.

Why are we asked to subsidize states with unfunded pension funds, underfunded unemployment funds, and poorly managed budgets? Why should Idaho be penalized for the strength of our economy, when our citizens and communities worked hard to adapt to new challenges? Very unfair.

Any future federal relief funds should be allocated fairly to states, and I will push for those funds to directly invest in our children and grandchildren, since the burden of paying off the federal debt will be on their shoulders.

Idaho is showing the rest of the country how to responsibly get through this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic - by prioritizing the protection of both lives AND livelihoods. Idaho's congressional delegation and I will continue to fight for what's fair and right for Idaho.


Higher education is critical to Idaho

Guest opinion by Debbie Critchfield, President, Idaho State Board of Education

Starting this week, our elected senators and representatives serving in the Legislature will begin debating the budget for higher education in Idaho.

Governor Little is calling for a 2.6 percent budget increase for our four-year institutions next fiscal year.

As president of the State Board of Education, I call attention to the importance of the budget decisions as an overall investment in Idaho.

There are 111,000 living graduates from the University of Idaho; nearly 47,500 Vandals live in Idaho.

Boise State University has 98,000 living graduates; over 65,300 Broncos live in Idaho.

Idaho State University has nearly 79,000 living graduates; more than 47,600 Bengals live in Idaho.

Lewis-Clark State College has nearly 19,000 living graduates on file; over 11,400 Warriors reside in Idaho.

Our four public community colleges are training and educating thousands of people who are earning career technical certificates and academic degrees and like their counterparts graduating from our public four-year institutions, they are making a difference in Idaho every single day.

These are the engineers, the nurses and doctors, the welders, the teachers the accountants, small business owners, farmers, ranchers, technical workers and elected officials - who are involved and driving every aspect of Idaho's economy.

Highly trained graduates are using science to help Idaho farmers grow the world's best potatoes. They are also the skilled workforce spearheading innovation at our high-tech firms, and they build and maintain heavy equipment for industries like mining, forestry and farming.

A 2015 study found that our college and university alumni contribute more than $3 billion annually in gross state product, a figure that has undoubtedly grown over the six subsequent years.

As the regents and trustees of our four-year college and universities, the State Board of Education is raising awareness about how important these institutions and community colleges are to our people, our state, and our collective future.

Citizens from all corners of Idaho and social-economic backgrounds have brighter futures because they are continuing their education beyond high school.

Like any business, our colleges and universities are eyeing the future, eliminating undersubscribed programs while partnering with business and industry to offer new opportunities and career pathways benefiting students and employers.

Idaho's statewide cybersecurity initiative is a good example of this. All eight public institutions are involved, expanding program capacity and training for students throughout our state to meet a growing demand for cybersecurity expertise from Idaho employers.

These are the jobs of the future. Idaho is competing with other states for employers who will provide these jobs. A vibrant system of public higher education is essential to provide the needed skills and education so that our people can succeed, and our state can prosper.

Tens of thousands of our fellow citizens have improved their lives and the lives of their families because of the education and training they received at one of our colleges or universities.

Our institutions are investments that have proven their worth to our state and to generations of Idahoans throughout our history, even before statehood. The numbers bear that out and the investments must continue.


Sustainable transportation funding needed to build Idaho's future

Guest opinion by Governor Brad Little

There's only one thing we all want more of but cannot replenish - time.

You will spend almost as much time in traffic in some parts of Idaho as you would in Seattle, San Francisco, or Los Angeles.

That time would be better spent at home with family, earning a living, or off doing something fun.

Imagine if you spent 20 fewer minutes per day getting to work or school. The value to citizens and businesses would be enormous.

Idaho is in the enviable position of having a historic record budget surplus. We are leading the country in economic momentum - a trajectory fueled by years of fiscal conservatism and regulatory restraint and by quick action during the pandemic.

Before and during the pandemic, we are the fastest growing state in the nation. Idaho simply will not keep up with that growth if we, as elected leaders, do not invest strategically and sustainably in our roads and take steps to preserve your precious time and make our transportation system safer.

My proposal to direct $126 million of Idaho's record budget surplus toward much needed shovel-ready transportation projects is making its way through the Legislature right now. I appreciate my legislative partners for making it a priority. I'm also seeking tax relief and other strategic investments in education, water, broadband, and other critical areas as part of my "Building Idaho's Future" plan.

Beyond making good use of our one-time record surplus on one-time needs, we also have an obligation as elected leaders to confront the growing list of unfunded transportation projects across Idaho with a sustainable funding plan moving forward. I am actively working with my legislative partners on a plan right now.

A sustainable transportation funding plan would address a number of unfunded and greatly needed projects in Idaho.

For Treasure Valley commuters, that could mean boosting safety and cutting down traffic on I-84 in Nampa and Caldwell.

For those in the Coeur d'Alene area, it could mean finally widening and enhancing the congested stretch of I-90 between the Washington state line and Coeur d'Alene.

For residents of Idaho Falls - another region exploding with growth - it could mean the US-20/I-15 Connector will be able to handle increased use for the next 20 years and beyond.

For Magic Valley travelers, it could mean tackling the safety and traffic improvements needed to cross the beautiful Snake River canyon.

The list of unfunded or underfunded transportation projects in Idaho goes on and on.

We're proud of the incredible economic prosperity Idaho is experiencing, and we have a strong track record of governing responsibly.

Now, we must continue that trajectory by planning ahead and moving forward with a reasonable, sustainable transportation investment plan to facilitate commerce, keep Idahoans safe on our roads, and preserve your most valuable commodity - your time.


Idaho Association of Counties writes to Congressman Simpson in opposition to dam breaching

Dear Congressman Simpson:

As county officials, the Idaho Association of Counties appreciates your efforts to highlight the need to invest federal funds into two issues important to Idaho: salmon recovery and utilization of carbon free renewable energy to meet growing demand for electricity.

Reasonable salmon recovery and development of renewable energy resources are important cultural, recreational, and economic priorities for Idahoans. However, we are concerned about the economic and societal impacts your proposal for salmon recovery will have on the state of Idaho. Breaching the lower Snake River dams jeopardizes the Port of Lewiston. Idaho relies on the Port of Lewiston as an economic engine.

The Port of Lewiston provides a cost effective shipping route for wheat and other goods manufactured in north central Idaho. The global competitiveness of Idaho commodities like wheat is influenced by these transportation costs. Barge transportation is the most cost effective way to get our goods to a growing global market. Loss of the Port of Lewiston will increase shipping costs, reduce Idaho's competitiveness, and starve Idaho families of essential jobs.

The pandemic has made us acutely aware of the importance of stable jobs. Industries that rely on the Port of Lewiston require access to the port. Any salmon recovery plan that fails to consider the support the Port of Lewiston provides to Idaho farmers, manufacturers, and families will have a devastating impact on Idaho. A check from the federal government cannot make up for the emotional and societal effects of losing a job. Any effort to recover salmon must ensure Idahoans can continue to make a living in the industries that make Idaho such a great state.

IAC promotes county interests, encourages ethical behavior, advocates good public policy on behalf of Idaho counties, supports best practices, and provides education and training to assist Idaho county officials in performance of public service.

Funding salmon recovery and enhancing renewable energy should not be tied to dam breaching. We invite you to work with county commissioners to find cost effective and proven ways to promote renewable energy resources and fund salmon passage facilities in the region to/from spawning habitat upriver without breaching the lower Snake River dams.

Respectfully, Seth Grigg Executive Director

Cc: Governor Brad Little, Senator Mike Crapo, Senator Jim Risch, Congressman Russ Fulcher, Representative Scott Bedke, Senator Chuck Winder


Broadband is foundation to economic growth, better way of life

Guest opinion by Christine Frei, Executive Director, Clearwater Economic Development Association

When it comes to the topic of broadband, most of us recognize that broadband connectivity is a foundation for economic growth, job creation, global competitiveness, and a better way of life. However, what many don't recognize, is that internet connectivity in Idaho is fairly spread out, with many rural areas having inadequate to non-existent internet connection. If we don't address Idaho's digital divide now, the risk becomes that there will be a generation of children and adults in underserved, rural communities who will be left behind in the digital age of innovation.

Rural communities are already under tremendous economic pressure and broadband infrastructure is imperative now and even more in the immediate future. A number of these underserved communities recognize there are broadband issues but don't have a complete understanding of its root cause or have the resources to create and maneuver through a plan of action. They receive conflicting messages between what the internet service provider in their area is telling them versus what their experience is with little or no connectivity. In the northern region and many other rural areas, one of the top challenges for attracting broadband investment is the lack of infrastructure planning and the supports to build a plan. For many of these smaller communities, the various aspects of broadband planning, the cost of broadband infrastructure, and applying for federal grants are overwhelming.

If we want to see broadband initiatives move forward, we need strong leaders that become the voice and support for rural communities or regions to participate in broadband planning. Since the initiation of the Governor's Broadband Taskforce, the Clearwater Economic Development Association and its other economic regional counterparts have been working on long-range planning, engineering design, capacity building, and grant proposals for rural Idaho communities to build and modernize their broadband infrastructure. This is not a project that can be done centrally at the state level - it requires community leadership and local input coupled with engineering expertise. This is how we have supported dozens of plans that are underway in our region. Our goal is to help as many communities as possible with capacity building and supports.

Up until this point, there has not been sufficient collective voice in all sectors to back the need for connecting communities, removing barriers to building infrastructure, and making a strong case that we can't wait any longer for the broadband fix. Understanding these underlying issues, a group of leading Idaho community and civic leaders joined together in an effort called Imagine Idaho. These leaders recognize Idaho's broadband challenges and are committed to serving Idaho communities and citizens by helping promote policies that help their ability to deploy broadband-communications infrastructure in a pro-competitive way and provide the necessary support for capacity building by networking regional experts to locals who need help.

Imagine Idaho recognizes that every community needs a comprehensive plan to improve broadband access. They have coalesced into a voice for broadband and are working closely with the Governor, the state legislature, the federal delegation, city staff, business and community organizations, nonprofits, education leaders, and universities. Through the Imagine Idaho coalition of leaders, we are all dedicated to ensuring that every Idahoan has access to reliable broadband that will increase economic benefits, educational benefits, telemedicine benefits, stimulate innovation and unlock limitless possibilities for all Idaho communities and citizens.

To learn more about Imagine Idaho please visit:


Idaho's funding for colleges, universities in jeopardy

Guest opinion by Rod Gramer

Idaho's colleges and universities are consistently rated among the best public postsecondary schools in the nation. Unfortunately, there is now an effort to weaken our higher education institutions by cutting their funding.

If this effort succeeds it will be more difficult for our institutions to fulfill their mission of educating our state's next generation of workers, entrepreneurs, farmers, and business leaders. If successful, their effort could put Idaho on a downward economic path for years to come.

The stakes are very high for all Idahoans.

Today human talent is the most important driver of economic vitality. That was underscored by a 2019 report Idaho Business for Education and HP, Inc. issued in which business leaders said the lack of skilled workers was their number one problem.

Research shows that we need at least 60 percent of our 25-34-year-old workers to hold a postsecondary credential. Trouble is right now only 44 percent do. If we don't get to a more educated Idaho, our existing businesses will not have the talent to grow, it will be more difficult to attract good companies to Idaho, and some of our existing companies may need to relocate to find the workers they need.

Clearly, education is the best investment we can make because of the dividends it pays to the individual who gets it and for society at large.

The average annual earnings for someone with a high school diploma is $38,792 compared to $77,844 for a college graduate. Also, those with a postsecondary credential are less likely to be unemployed and more likely to save society money by relying less on expensive health care and government safety-net programs.

Furthermore, our higher education institutions are an economic engine for our state. Even using 2014 numbers our colleges and universities generated $4.1 billion - equal to 7 percent of the state's total gross state product at the time.

The research and development our universities conduct provides priceless benefits to our ranchers, farmers, wood products companies, food producers, scientists, business leaders and even governors and legislators. The patents that are created through this research often turn into spin-off for-profit companies that employee many Idahoans.

Ironically, the attack on higher education comes when Idaho's college and university presidents are cooperating more than ever before and looking to become more efficient and effective. Each reduced their budgets and staff last year. They have worked to consolidate non-academic programs to save money and invest in academics. Last year they froze tuition for the first time in 40 years and will again if the Legislature funds them adequately. In 2020, Idaho's colleges and universities had the sixth lowest tuition and fees among the 15 western states.

It's amazing that these high-quality institutions have done all this even as state general fund support has dropped for decades. In 1980 the state picked up nearly 90 percent of the cost of higher education, while now it barely picks up 50 percent and families pick up 47 percent. Forty years ago, higher education made up 17 percent of the state general fund budget - now it is less than 8 percent.

This lack of state support has hit the parents and students of Idaho very hard in the pocketbook which makes the current talk of reducing state funding even more troublesome.

Instead of trying to weaken our colleges and universities we should be investing even more in them. After all, they are fulfilling the essential mission of creating a brighter economic future for our students, businesses and for all Idahoans.

(This guest opinion is supported by Idaho Business for Education, the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, the Idaho Chamber Alliance and Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce)


Wasden to Idahoans: proposed changes to gas gouging law deserve attention

To my fellow Idahoans:

I'm writing to make you aware of a piece of legislation currently working its way through the state Legislature. The bill is being pushed by Idaho's gas retailers and, if approved, would make it easier for these businesses to price gouge during declared emergencies.

As you are likely aware, Idaho suffers from some of the highest gas prices in the nation. And by law, I have only two tools to fight unreasonably high gas prices. One prohibits businesses from colluding to set prices. The other prohibits sellers of fuel, food, water and medicine from charging "excessive or exorbitant" prices during an emergency. Senate Bill 1041 was proposed by the Idaho Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association to undercut my ability to protect you from price gouging during an emergency.

So why have Idaho's gas retailers made this a priority now? Well, there's a backstory here. Last March, COVID-19 prompted an emergency declaration that triggered the state's price gouging law. In the weeks that followed, oil prices fell dramatically. Gas prices at the pump, though, did not drop as quickly.

I wanted to know why. So I contacted Idaho's three largest gas retailers - Maverik, Jacksons and Stinker Stores - and asked them to explain their pricing and remind them that Idaho's price gouging law was in effect. They rejected my concerns and did not satisfactorily explain the pricing we were observing. My office soon initiated a formal investigation that focused on the retailers' margins. I did so because Idaho's current price gouging law directs that examination as a way to determine whether prices are excessive or exorbitant.

We found that during the first few weeks of the pandemic, these retailers' margins increased dramatically. Our independently-sourced data from the last 14 years showed Idaho retailers usually make about $.10 per gallon of gas. (The gas companies contend their historical margins are closer to $.20 per gallon.) Three weeks into the pandemic, Idaho gas retailers - including the three my office investigated - were making a record margin of $.63 per gallon. This was well above the previous high of $.42 per gallon set in 2008.

While retailers could buy their gas at a steep discount, those savings, by and large, weren't passed on to you. In fact, despite some increased costs connected to the pandemic and a reduction in their sales volumes, these inflated margins allowed the retailers' gas profits to swell.

After presenting our findings to the retailers, my office negotiated a settlement that includes $1.5 million in credits that will go back to Idaho consumers this year. That settlement was announced on November 30. Less than two months later, the gas retailers were in front of the Idaho Legislature urging major changes to the very law that allowed my office to investigate them in the first place.

If the gas companies' proposed changes become law, a future investigation and settlement similar to the one initiated by my office last year would no longer be possible. So far, the gas retailers' bill has been welcomed by lawmakers. It passed unanimously in the Senate and is now headed to the House. If successful there, it could be signed into law by the governor.

It's extremely rare that I speak publicly on the merits of a particular piece of legislation. But you deserve to know about this bill. If you believe that gas prices shouldn't be excessive or exorbitant during an emergency, you need to contact your legislators now and let them know.


Lawrence Wasden, Idaho Attorney General


Idaho prioritizes clean, plentiful water to build Idaho's future

Guest opinion by Governor Brad Little

There is nothing more essential to our health and way of life - or Idaho's future - than clean, plentiful water.

The availability of water has transformed much of our state from a desert into an abundant agricultural landscape that supports tens of thousands of Idahoans and their livelihoods. Across Idaho, water is the building block for careers and prosperity.

How we manage - or mismanage - our water resources determines our success or failure as a state.

Unlike the State of California, which continues to a face a water crisis due to mismanagement of its resources, Idaho can say with pride that our executive and legislative branches in Idaho are in lockstep in our commitment to ensuring a sustainable water supply remains at the forefront of our priorities as a state moving forward. We are equally committed to maintaining and improving water quality in Idaho's rivers, lakes, and communities.

The Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee moved today (Friday) to advance a critical piece of my "Building Idaho's Future" investment package - $50 million in strategic investments in long-term water projects and safe water systems for our communities.

This investment provides for cleaner, more efficient water systems for rural communities and the agriculture industry across Idaho. It is one of the most significant investments for sustainable water infrastructure in our state's history.

Unlike many other states, Idaho is in a position to invest in - rather than cut - financial resources that support a safe, plentiful water supply for current and future generations of Idahoans.

Our plan will increase the sustainability of the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer. The aquifer was declining at an unsustainable rate until recent investments by water users and the state. Now we have an opportunity to further improve aquifer levels for the benefit of farmers, ranchers, and communities across southern Idaho.

In addition, Idaho is one of the few states with a U.S. Air Force base that has the ability to significantly expand, and a stable water supply is critical to the base - an operation that contributes $1 billion annually to Idaho's economy and ensures our security as a nation. Additional funding enables the State of Idaho to partner with the Mountain Home Air Force Base to secure a stable water supply for current and expanded missions at the base. This investment demonstrates Idaho's proud support of a strong U.S. military and the women and men in our armed forces.

Idaho has the strongest economy in the nation, the largest budget surplus in state history, and the most financially solvent state budget because the people of Idaho did their part to propel our state forward and keep their loved ones safe during the pandemic. Once again, thank you, Idaho.

Our historic investments in agriculture and water today mean rural Idaho will remain a strong part of our heritage and economy for generations to come.


The push to bridge Idaho's digital divide acccelerated by pandemic

Guest opinion by Debbie Critchfield, President, Idaho State Board of Education

The COVID-19 pandemic prompted educators to suddenly face challenges that quite honestly, seemed insurmountable.

"Last spring, we had every student in the state in a virtual environment and it became painfully clear that the school districts and the state weren't prepared to deliver education in that environment," Board member Kurt Liebich recently recalled. "We have a little over 300,000 kids attending public schools and an informal survey we sent out to districts and charters last spring suggested we were short about 180,000 devices between students and teachers."

Liebich took the lead on behalf of the Board, working with Greg Wilson, Governor Brad Little's education policy advisor, to pull together a committee of educators, district technology officers and private sector partners to develop strategies to close the "digital divide" - between students who have access to devices and internet connectivity, and those who do not.

Tapping $30 million in federal coronavirus reliefs funds, the Board established a grant program administered by the State Department of Education to provide money to districts and charters to purchase laptops and tablets. Idaho Business for Education also organized a "Close the Divide" campaign collecting thousands of donated devices across the state and provided them to schools. And Governor Little's Strong Families, Strong Students program is distributing $50 million in federal funds to families throughout Idaho to purchase devices, connectivity and other services benefitting over 24,500 students.

Liebich estimates the digital divide has narrowed from 180,000 needed devices last spring, to about 30,000 at the start of the new year. Closing the connectivity gap is proving to be more difficult.

"Kids need to have connectivity in order to learn remotely and each situation is unique depending on where you live, how many kids are in the house and whether their parents are working remotely too," he said. "Early data estimated between 28,000 and 45,000 students didn't have adequate internet connectivity. We don't know how accurate that is, but I believe it's a safe bet to say we still have a lot of work to do - especially in our rural areas." There is also work to do to better prepare our teachers to conduct online instruction.

"One of the things we learned about remote learning is that maintaining student engagement becomes really difficult and part of that is tied to professional development," Liebich said. "We need to work with our teachers to give them the tools and skills they need to support students in this type of instructional delivery."

Thanks to the efforts of the Governor's Office, Board member Liebich and the digital divide committee, Idaho's public education system is far better positioned coming out of the pandemic from a technology standpoint than we were a year ago.

Liebich says the challenge now is to effectively utilize these new resources in the classroom.

"Now that we have this technology platform, how can we support teachers in leveraging this once we get back to something resembling normal? The pandemic has reminded us that there is no substitute for a caring qualified teacher in the classroom."


Idaho Legislature's actions on emergency declarations endanger Idahoans

Guest opinion by Congressman Mike Simpson and Bruce Newcomb, Former Speakers of the Idaho House of Representatives

BOISE - The Idaho Legislature's attempts to strip not just our current Governor but any future Governor of their ability to lead during an emergency is wrong for Idaho and endangers the lives of Idahoans.

We both held the position of Speaker of the Idaho House of Representatives. We understand the constant disagreement that occurs between members of the Legislature and especially between members of the same political party. We understand the disagreement that occurs between the legislative and executive branches.

However, a crisis is not the time to dismantle the Governor's ability to respond quickly during an emergency. A crisis is the time to lead.

The Idaho Legislature's reckless and careless attempts to end the COVID-19 emergency declaration and weaken Idaho's response in future emergencies puts this generation and future generations of Idahoans at risk.

Emergency declarations are very common. At its core, an emergency declaration allows states and local communities to access federal assistance - our taxpayer dollars - in the event of a crisis. Sometimes those crises and their aftermath last a few weeks and sometimes they last months or years, as in the event of a devastating flood, earthquake, landslide - or a pandemic.

The COVID-19 emergency declarations are wholly separate from the public health orders that limited certain activities to protect lives and prevent our hospitals from being overrun with patients all at once.

In the immediate days and weeks ahead, ending the COVID-19 emergency declaration would slow down the vaccine rollout. Hospitals would lose access to critical equipment and staffing resources. It would jeopardize the state's ability to tap the Idaho National Guard to assist with vaccine administration, testing, and support for food banks and medical facilities. Financial support for small businesses would end. It would burden local communities - the entities that requested the emergency declaration to begin with. It would limit the state's ability to remove regulatory barriers that stand in the way of better healthcare access for our citizens.

But Idahoans also need to know that the Legislature's actions today would limit the state's ability to quickly and decisively respond during potential future emergencies in their backyards, such as a flood, landslide, earthquake, or other natural disaster. Take for example the extraordinary flooding caused by rapid snowmelt and heavy rains in 2017. Residents of 33 counties will remember both the perilous conditions that endangered lives and property and also the swift action taken by Governor Otter to activate state and federal resources to come to their aid. The flooding occurred over a period of months, and the emergency declarations, resulting from these major natural disasters remain in effect today because of their longstanding impacts.

The Governor needs to make decisions quickly during an emergency. That is one of the proper roles of the executive. The emergency declaration is the Governor's main tool to act quickly and save lives during a crisis. Days and even hours make the difference in a life and death situation. Fires, floods, and earthquakes wait for no one. Only executive-speed decision-making can get families the immediate help they need in an emergency.

Idaho has the strongest economy of any state in the nation. We are leading states in the financial solvency of our state budget. That didn't happen by accident. Quick action during the pandemic, combined with years of fiscal conservatism demonstrated by the Legislature and Governor, have positioned Idaho for continued strength.

We urge the Idaho Legislature to end the political jockeying and untruths about emergency declarations and do what is right for the people of Idaho and our state's economy. Take a step back and think this through. The safety and prosperity of this generation and future generations of Idahoans depend on you.


Increasing retirement savings opportunities

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

Saving for retirement is important but often difficult, especially when faced with the increased uncertainty of the pandemic.

When paychecks have to cover mortgages, rent, car payments, food, utilities, gas, college and other important obligations, steady retirement savings is often challenging, if not nearly impossible. Unexpected medical expenses or car repairs can upset even the best retirement plans. Recognizing the challenges, Congress has taken steps to increase retirement savings opportunities for American workers and families.

Last December, Congress passed and the President signed into law the bipartisan Setting Every Community up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act of 2019. The SECURE Act would better enable Americans to save for retirement:

  • The law would make it easier for workers at small companies to have retirement plans by improving access to and the appeal of multiple employer plans (MEPs). MEPs enable small employers to work together to obtain more favorable and less expensive pension investment options.
  • The law recognizes the value of automatic enrollment in retirement plans in increasing employee participation and higher savings. It provides for the creation of a tax credit of up to $500 per year to employers to help with startup costs for new retirement plans that include automatic enrollment. This credit compliments an existing plan start-up credit and can also be used by employers that convert an existing plan to a plan that includes automatic enrollment.
  • The law better enables long-term, part-time workers to participate in 401(k) plans. The House Ways & Means Committee explained in a summary of the legislation that under previous existing law enabling the exclusion of part-time employees from defined contribution plans, women, who have been more likely than men to work part-time, could especially have difficulty preparing for retirement.
  • The law permits penalty-free withdrawals from retirement plans for qualified births and adoptions.
  • Tax law treatment of taxable income is addressed to enable home health care workers to save for retirement in a defined contribution plan or IRA.
  • The law better protects the benefits of older, longer-term employees as they near retirement.
  • Further, the allowable use of 529 education savings is expanded to include costs associated with registered apprenticeships; homeschooling; up to $10,000 of qualified student loan repayments (including those for siblings); and private elementary, secondary or religious schools.

Additional changes made through the law can be reviewed in the summary and text available here: This law builds on the enactment of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that is helping to improve the conditions for retirement by providing enhanced investment benefits allowing retirement portfolios to increase in value, as market conditions continue to improve.

In a pamphlet providing 10 tips on saving for retirement, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) reports:

  • "Only 40 percent of Americans have calculated how much they need to save for retirement.
  • In 2018, almost 30 percent of private industry workers with access to a defined contribution plan (such as a 401(k) plan) did not participate.
  • The average American spends roughly 20 years in retirement."

It is important to remember that no matter how hard now it seems to save for retirement, as the DOL points out, "Remember, it's never too early or too late to start saving." I am hopeful this federal statute helps make it easier for Idahoans to save for retirement. Bipartisan work remains ongoing and productive, as bipartisan leaders in both houses of Congress have developed additional promising ideas that should see action in the next Congress.


Nez Perce-Clearwater Forests example of collaboration bringing results

Guest opinion submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

I recently had the opportunity to speak on the Senate floor about important progress underway on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests to improve the health of the Forests that is a great example of the benefits of collaborative efforts.

The following contains parts of the speech and a video of the full speech can be accessed through my website at:

I have been a longtime champion of collaboration to address public lands management disputes, as collaborative processes are good for the environment and good for natural-resource based economies. Collaborative problem-solving is a key way to ensure all voices are heard and long-term solutions are crafted.

The work on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests is a great example of the benefits of collaborative efforts. The Clearwater Basin Collaborative (CBC), which was officially launched 12 years ago, has had an important role in furthering discussions about the management of the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests.

A total of 536 miles of streams have been restored on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests, resulting in the forests being ranked fourth nationwide in miles of streams restored. The forests have a strong partnership with the Nez Perce Tribe, which contributes greatly to its watershed accomplishments. At the same time, priorities of much needed restoration of landscapes, including water quality improvements, are also providing a supply of raw materials to our local mills.

More work is underway to address significant challenges, but this is the direction we need to continue to go in delivering long-term results. I commend all those involved in this effort for their hard and exemplary work improving our treasured landscapes.

Other collaborative efforts have laid strong groundwork, or follow in the footsteps of, cooperative work such as this. In Idaho, we have succeeded with public lands projects, such as the Owyhee Initiative, and are hard at work on others, such as the Kootenai Valley Resource Initiative, the Payette Forest Coalition, the Boise Forest Coalition and others, including the Governor's Shared Stewardship Task Force. I also look forward to the soon to be completed recommendations of the Governor's Salmon Workgroup.

We must continuously work to ensure federal statute and policy empowers collaborative efforts and forest health projects. Bipartisan legislation pending in this Senate would increase active management of federal forests, cut red tape, reduce frivolous litigation and advance fire risk reduction. Senators Steve Daines of Montana and Dianne Feinstein of California worked across party lines for months to negotiate the details of the bipartisan S. 4431, the Emergency Wildfire and Public Safety Act.

Enactment of sensible, bipartisan legislation such as this, which is also co-sponsored by my fellow Senator from Idaho, Jim Risch, can better enable land managers to reduce wildfire risk and respond effectively to an increasingly virulent, wildfire reality. This will build on the successful enactment of bipartisan legislation to enable federal agencies to respond to wildfires as they would other natural disasters and end fire borrowing.

Forests make up 39 percent of the land in Idaho. They are key to air and water quality and sustain wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities. They support communities through wood and paper product jobs and recreation dollars. They are the backdrop and means for an unparalleled quality of life. Their vitality hinges on their effective management.

I am encouraged by the achievements on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests, and I urge continued collaborative efforts to address often contentions, natural resources challenges and the enactment of federal statute that bolsters these collaborative efforts for the betterment of all our communities.


The enemy is the virus, not each other

Guest opinion by Governor Brad Little

The pandemic has presented great challenges for everyone across our state, country, and the world.

One of the greatest challenges perhaps is this - choosing to show compassion and support when the instinct is to fight and attack others who think, feel, and act differently than we do.

Communities, public officials, and even families are at odds in their views on COVID-19 and the response to it. Never have we seen this level of divisiveness. And there certainly is a lot of blame being thrown around.

Everyone questions who is responsible for protecting ourselves, our loved ones, the economy, healthcare access, and our kids' ability to learn in their classrooms.

The answer is all of us. We are all responsible, each in our own way, for doing our part to get us through this dark and difficult time.

The public health district boards, who are the default decision makers for public health under Idaho law, have made tough decisions to protect their communities. Mayors, county officials, and school board members, too, have stepped up. These courageous leaders have always had and will continue to have my support.

At the state level, we have equipped our hospitals with the resources they need to handle the impacts of COVID-19. We've also improved access to testing statewide and will continue to make therapeutics and a vaccine broadly available. We've taken numerous statewide actions over the past 10 months to communicate the need to reduce transmission in our communities while protecting jobs and education.

And in our individual lives, we must do all we can to stay vigilant and consistently practice simple measures, including wearing a mask, avoiding gatherings and crowds, and keeping physical distance from others. Government alone is not going to prevent a crisis in our healthcare system. It is up to each of us as individuals to make the right choices.

There is an ugliness out there that we can overcome only by uniting around the true enemy - the virus, not each other.

Let us not be trapped into thinking the problem is someone else. The solution is all of us. We all have a role to play in fighting the enemy virus.

I know at times it can be hard to have compassion. But this Christmas season is a time to reflect on family, faith, and unity. Choose to support others while seeking to understand those who do not view things the way you do. We should not let the pandemic divide us, but make us stronger.


Idaho is at a croosroads, with human lives at stake

Dear Governor Little,

Idaho is at a crossroads and human lives are at stake. As Nurse Connelly said during your press conference, 3,000 people died in the U.S. from COVID-19 today alone That is more than the number of lives lost in the 9/11 terrorist attack. The people who have died are not just numbers on a spreadsheet. They had families. They were grandmas, grandpas, mothers, fathers, daughters and sons. They were valuable people who deserved leaders with the courage to make compassionate choices to protect their communities.

We implore you to enact and require the best practices that medical experts have approved to reduce the spread of COVID-19. These practices include wearing a facial covering, physical distancing, encouraging employers to support employees working at home, and restricting indoor gatherings. Your own Idaho Economic Rebound Advisory Committee has recommended a statewide mask order because the only way to build back our economy is to stop the pandemic.

You have made it clear you want citizens to do the right thing. You were practically begging Idahoans during your press conference to make "good choices." Unfortunately, many people are making dangerous choices that endanger the entire state. You also acknowledged the crisis that we face: hospitals are turning people away and making unprecedented plans to ration care. Our own health district couldn't fulfill the local control that you support due to the unruly and threatening crowd outside their meeting. Your current approach is not working.

You cannot continue to rely on hope that everyone will make "good choices." You must hold people accountable with the use of the law and order strategies we rely on to protect us from other dangers. Idahoans recognize the difficulty of your political situation, but there is no more patience or space for the decisions that willfully contribute to increasing the coronavirus death rate.

Critical moments require critical action. You are the only person with the authority to immediately require safety measures statewide that will prevent the spread of this deadly contagious virus.

We appreciate you acknowledging the serious time we are in, but you need to take the next steps to address the problem. We have heard from an overwhelming majority of constituents who want to see you be the leader they chose and know you aspire to be.

We have known you to be a compassionate and knowledgeable leader who genuinely cares for Idaho families. Idahoans are here to support you when you make the difficult decision that is necessary to keep people alive and healthy. We have been following your guidance since the beginning of the pandemic, and we're willing to help you keep Idahoans safe with required safety measures.

Too many Idahoans have already lost their lives. We implore you to do everything in your power to prevent more tragedies.


Senator Melissa Wintrow
Representative Lauren Necochea
Representative Chris Mathias


McGeachin offers message of strength, encouragement

Guest opinion by Idaho Lt. Governor Janice McGeachin

Idahoans have endured a lot over the last year. On both an economic and personal level, we have collectively been through more hardships in 2020 than in any other year in recent memory. In spite of these many adversities, I have seen great courage and resilience among Idaho's people. It has been my great honor to serve as a leader in this state and to witness the determination of the individuals who call our state home.

I believe that Idahoans have suffered enough. There are many ways in which the state of Idaho could take action to ameliorate the unfortunate conditions that have been forced upon us as a result of the coronavirus and-to a much greater degree-as a result of government lockdowns and ongoing restrictions of businesses and individuals.

One important solution involves expanding our state's healthcare capacity, something we hear is in increasingly short supply. First, though, we need some clarity regarding what specifically is lacking. Do we need more space and more beds or more doctors and nurses? Are we using the most state-of-the-art equipment for personal protection and for facility sanitization? Once we understand the specific needs, we can work on fulfilling them.

For example, if it is primarily a personnel issue, perhaps we could bring in retired nurses to handle non-COVID injuries or expedite the training and certification of trainees who are in school right now. We could increase pay for our existing nurses who are suffering burnout or bring in healthcare workers from other areas. We could hire more instructors to train additional Certified Nursing Assistants and Certified Medical Assistants.

Instead of using fear about capacity as an excuse for more mandates, we should identify where we have shortages and work to remedy them.

The state could also take direct action to help individuals and businesses who have suffered financial hardships as a result of government lockdowns, social distancing orders, capacity limitations, and other policies. Idaho has received almost $2 billion in federal CARES Act money, and we have wide latitude to use this money to alleviate the harm that has been suffered by Idahoans.

Some of that money could be used to provide income tax credits to working families who have been forced to spend additional money to pay for childcare due to school closures.

There are a number of other options as well. Instead of localities threatening to pull business licenses, they could offer the elimination of business license fees for one year in order to incentivize a desired outcome. We could suspend business payroll taxes, income taxes, or even property taxes for a year. In addition to the CARES Act money, Idaho is positioned to have a General Fund budget surplus of over $500m in the current fiscal year. Surely, the legislature could find some room to help offer much needed relief to Idaho citizens. We should direct this money to the people and businesses who have been harmed by injurious government policies. These policies have inflicted significant financial, physical, and emotional harm on Idahoans across the state. Over the last few weeks, we have seen more mandates being proposed or imposed on Idahoans by elected and appointed officials at various levels of government. These policies are multiplying the harm many times over. We don't need excessive government interventions. We need to trust each other to do what is best to protect ourselves and our loved ones. We need to use our God-given gifts to help each other through these times.

I know that many Idahoans are chafing under the heavy hand of government right now. I feel it too. We rightly resent unjustified infringements on our fundamental freedoms and the unwarranted suspension of our natural rights. I am optimistic that the state legislature will take steps to right some of these wrongs when they convene in January. Until such corrections are made, I encourage you all to continue standing up for your beliefs and defending your rights.

The more we learn, the less we have to fear. As a member of CFAC (Coronavirus Financial Advisory Committee), your Lieutenant Governor, and a former legislator, I am committed to working with stakeholders and finding effective solutions that do not infringe on your rights. Have courage. Main Street Idaho needs your support right now. Your community needs your help. We all have talents and gifts that we can share as we work to rebuild our economy and restore our state.


Thanksgiving is our opportunity to celebrate freedom by showing love to others

Guest opinion by Governor Brad Little

Thanksgiving is one of the most patriotic holidays we celebrate as Americans.

Four hundred years ago this month, a group of passengers landed the Mayflower after a months-long journey across the sea to start a new life. The Pilgrims stepped foot onto what would become the greatest country in the world - the ultimate reward for their efforts to escape religious oppression in England.

The "first Thanksgiving" would follow a year later, after months of battling brutal weather and disease in a new land.

The religious and Christian significance of Thanksgiving in the history of our country has grown into other traditions, such as gathering to feast on turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie.

Americans have celebrated Thanksgiving for centuries past, and we will celebrate it for centuries more. This Thanksgiving is a day of gratitude for the blessing of being an American and a day of reflection on how we choose to enjoy our freedom.

This Thanksgiving we are called as Americans and Christians to exercise our freedom in a new way - by choosing to protect our loved ones and neighbors from a dangerous disease spreading in our communities.

It is a disease that has put thousands of our fellow Idahoans in the hospital and has left hundreds of Idahoans dead.

It is a disease that threatens lives, our economy, access to healthcare, and our children's ability to learn in the classroom with their teachers and classmates.

It is a disease we all have the freedom and power to control, through simple personal actions. We can be thankful for our individual ability to slow the spread of this disease and protect our loved ones and neighbors from it.

Just like those early Pilgrims, Americans have been through trying times before. We have always pulled through when we choose to unite and sacrifice to protect one another and our nation.

This Thanksgiving choose to love your neighbor and unite around our commitment in seeing our country thrive for future generations of Idahoans and rejoice in the blessing of being an American.


Idaho Education Leaders make statement regarding pandemic

The pandemic has impacted almost every aspect of how we live, work, recreate and celebrate.

From mundane tasks to once-in-a-lifetime events to medical emergencies, our engagement has been drastically changed.

Our students and educators are no exception. Their lives were turned upside down last spring when they were sent home to finish out their education in virtual environments. The spring high school and intercollegiate sports season was cut short, which was devastating for student athletes. High school graduations and college commencement ceremonies were cancelled en masse. The list of missed opportunities goes on.

While the summer provided our schools, colleges and universities with some time to prepare for dramatically different instructional delivery and learning environments, educators and policymakers alike are deeply concerned about learning loss due to the disruptive paradigm shift<./span>

Our top priority is to provide students the opportunity to be in school as much as is safely possible. For most students and families, in-person learning is preferred, and we know that extracurricular activities are vitally important to students and play an important role in developing the whole person. We can't fulfill this critical responsibility for our youth unless we can keep our students and educators healthy and safe.

We are advised and consistently reminded that schools are not the problem. Dr. Deborah Birx, United States Coronavirus Response Coordinator and Ambassador-at-Large, recently paid a visit to Idaho. In a meeting with state and local leaders she stated that public schools are not ground zero for virus transmission. In other words, schools are not "super spreaders."

Dr. Birx explained that the highest concentration of viral spread is happening in our communities. Gatherings where people are not maintaining adequate physical distancing and not wearing masks are the super spreaders.

The quickest and most effective way to mitigate this virulent spread is simply to follow the science-based public health protocols of washing hands, maintaining six feet apart and wearing a face mask. Adult behaviors do impact our ability to operate schools.

Idaho's confirmed cases are on a perilous trajectory. As education policy leaders, we urge and plead with communities large and small across Idaho to do their part to help our students be able to stay in school. The pandemic is not partisan. Enabling our students to go to school, with all the developmental and extracurricular opportunities it has to offer, is not partisan either. It is a moral and economic imperative.

We understand that we are living in a highly politically charged and polarized environment. We don't always get policy decisions right the first time, but we continually seek appropriate solutions and decisions. Even with the benefit of hindsight, there are no easy solutions to managing our way through this public health crisis. We want readers to remember and understand that every decision the State Board of Education and local school boards make are done in public meetings, with the best information available at the time. Members of these local boards are volunteers, your neighbors, who signed up to help make a difference for schools in their community, not to manage a pandemic. It's challenging to work through issues without the space our private businesses have to explore ideas and solutions without immediate, visceral public scrutiny. They are doing their best under incredibly challenging circumstances.

Finally, like you, we all have COVID fatigue. And like you, we have all experienced disappointment, grief, loss or fear to some degree as a result of this awful virus. We ask for your patience, kindness and spirit of cooperation as we work toward our mutual goals. We are doing our best to limit the spread of COVID-19 for public health and to preserve children's access to the full schooling experience. Please join us in doing everything you can to stop this pandemic.

  • Debbie Critchfield, President, Idaho State Board of Education
  • Sherri Ybarra, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Idaho State Department of Education
  • Alan Reed, Chairman, Idaho Public Charter School Commission
  • Andy Grover, Executive Director, Idaho Association of School Administrators
  • Karen Echeverria, Executive Director, Idaho School Boards Association


Rep. Wintrow reacts to Governor Little Idaho COVID-19 management

Guest opinion by Representative Melissa Wintrow /(D-Boise), a member of the Governor's Coronavirus Financial Advisory Committee

On Friday, Governor Brad Little announced that the Idaho National Guard would be mobilized through executive order to assist in the response to the coronavirus pandemic.

He also rolled Idaho back to Stage 2 of the Idaho Rebounds plan with modifications to the previously outlined guidelines. Under the new Stage 2 plan, gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited (government and churches are exempt), at-risk Idahoans are encouraged to self-isolate, telework is recommended, and bars, restaurants, and nightclubs will still continue to operate.

I am deeply concern with the ongoing coronavirus response.

Idaho is bleeding from a gaping wound and the Governor's announcement is another Band-Aid. The Governor acknowledged in his press conference that our hospitals are weeks away from having to ration care because many people are not wearing masks and practicing physical distancing, and many state and local leaders are not taking the threat seriously or encouraging responsibility in their communities.

We implore Governor Little and other GOP leaders to find the compassion to prioritize the lives of Idahoans over political fights. As one of the medical professionals said during the Governor's press conference, opinions are not facts and we need facts to guide our decisions to fight a deadly, contagious virus.

Our healthcare workers are already giving 110 percent and the pandemic is worsening on a daily basis in Idaho. It's painfully clear that the personal responsibility strategy is not working. We've been trying to encourage people to care about the lives of fellow Idahoans enough to wear a mask for months and our coronavirus cases have continued to increase.

The Idaho National Guard will be incredibly helpful to hospitals, but we are not ultimately solving the root cause of our problem. State leaders need to take stronger, decisive action immediately to prevent thousands of people from dying in the coming months. The extremist fight for personal freedom, despite overwhelming evidence about the dangers of not wearing a mask, should not infringe on Idahoans' right to stay safe and healthy.


Little: 'It's our turn to protect veterans from a new enemy - COVID-19'

Guest opinion by Governor Brad Little

America's veterans have gone to war for centuries to protect us from enemies overseas.

They have endured loss of friends, loss of limbs, and loss of mental and emotional security to protect us.

Now our veterans need us.

They need us to protect them from a new enemy stealing lives right here in our state - the COVID-19 virus.

At least half of Idaho's veterans are at-risk of serious health complications or death if they contract COVID-19.

Last week, we directed $2 million in federal relief dollars to help the Idaho State Veterans Home in Boise battle a COVID-19 outbreak that is taking veterans' lives and leaving them in isolation.

The Veterans Hospital in Boise, too, is overrun with COVID-19 patients and too many VA healthcare workers are out sick, unable to care for these veterans.

Similar stories are playing out in hospitals and long-term care facilities statewide.

Our veterans bravely encountered bullets and bombs so that you can have the freedom to control your own actions.

And your personal actions are the one and only thing that will defend our veterans from succumbing to the enemy virus.

We won't celebrate and honor the brave men and women of the armed forces on Veterans Day this year like we usually do. I am hopeful we will be able to pick up those meaningful events next year.

This year, in addition to offering prayers and kind words to our veterans on Veterans Day, make this minor sacrifice: help slow the spread of this dangerous virus by keeping your distance from others, wearing a mask, and washing your hands frequently.

Our veterans need us to get tough and put up with these minor inconveniences for a relatively short period of time so they can have a fighting chance against the COVID-19 enemy that is rapidly advancing on them.

Our veterans have more life to live. We need to keep them alive so we can continue to honor them and learn from their sacrifices.

Let's use the freedom our veterans earned for us and choose to do the right thing to protect them from COVID-19.


New research reveals flawed approach to Salmon recovery programs

Guest opinion by Kurt Miller, Executive Director, Northwest RiverPartners

Newly published research has unveiled remarkable insight into the survival rates of Chinook salmon populations along the North American West Coast, highlighting a dramatic omission in the way such data has been interpreted for over two decades.

The peer-reviewed research entitled, "A Synthesis of the Coast-wide Decline in Survival of West Coast Chinook Salmon" has been published by the leading science journal, Fish and Fisheries.

The research was carried out by a team from Kintama Research, led by the award-winning Dr. David Welch, who has been involved in marine research on salmon for 40 years and recognized globally for his work.

Importantly, this pivotal research comes at a time when many interest groups continue to press for the removal of productive, cost-effective hydroelectric dams, despite the region's aggressive carbon reduction goals. Many believe that the federally-operated dams are preventing the recovery of threatened and endangered salmon populations - specifically in the Snake River, the largest tributary of the Columbia in the Pacific Northwest.

However, Dr. Welch's research questions that conclusion. The study reveals that Chinook salmon survival has fallen by two-thirds, on average, for almost all regions along the western coast of North America - in both dammed and undammed areas - and not just in the Columbia River Basin.

The study is supported by deep technical and scientific analyses of the extensive survival data collected by government agencies over many decades. The research also reveals that survival is indistinguishable for Puget Sound and Snake River spring Chinook populations, despite the absence of major dams in the Puget Sound region.

The implication of the research is that the shared ecosystem of all Pacific salmon, the Pacific Ocean, is likely the source of the coastal-wide decline in Chinook salmon populations. Dams, while having some effect on salmon survival, do not appear to be a key limiting factor for recovery.

Harvest omitted

Dr. Welch's scientific analysis also found a significant flaw in the models used to produce adult survival estimates for the Columbia River Basin salmon. The two predominant models used to formulate regional salmon policy both rely on PIT tag data--small RFID tags implanted in some fish, which only track salmon when they swim past in-river receivers.

Adult salmon caught in fisheries in the ocean or river are not counted by these monitoring systems, meaning that harvest is ignored in the models. The assumption by the modelers is that harvest is insignificant and stable from year to year, so excluding it isn't a problem.

In contrast, Dr. Welch's research found that harvest of Columbia River Chinook stocks can be large--as much as 75 percent of the total salmon run for some Columbia River populations--and highly variable over time.

This finding means that the predominant models fail to recognize that the reason for good and bad salmon returns may have been strongly influenced by how a range of US federal, state, and Canadian agencies were regulating the adult salmon catch.

As a result, the model outcomes are unintentionally providing erroneous information.

This new research clearly shows a need to revise the models and, ultimately, salmon policies themselves.

No evidence for delayed mortality

Those who opposed hydroelectric dams with advanced fish passage systems often refer to the theory of delayed mortality. This assumption is rooted in the unproven idea that juvenile salmon are injured by successive dam powerhouses and fish bypass systems, reducing their survival in the ocean.

However, Dr. Welch makes a convincing case that there is no real evidence for delayed mortality in the data. He provides solid reasoning, using data from both the Fish Passage Center and other independent datasets, that greater dam passage does not usually cause lower survival rates.

This finding is critical, because policies based on the delayed mortality theory have cost the region billions of dollars and increased our carbon footprint without addressing the real issues leading to lower salmon survival--climate change and warming oceans.

The governors of Oregon and Washington both recently pointed to the region's devastating and deadly wildfires as signs that climate change will continue to have a very negative effect on Pacific Northwest communities. Dr. Welch's study shows that they should be similarly concerned about the oceanic impacts of climate change and their effects on salmon survival.

This conclusion means that our carbon-free hydropower resources are more important than ever.

About Northwest RiverPartners

Northwest RiverPartners (NWRP) is a not-for-profit, member-driven organization. We represent not-for-profit, community-owned utilities across Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and Nevada. We also proudly represent farmers, ports, and businesses across the region that support clean energy and low-carbon transportation.

NWRP is focused on raising awareness about how the Northwest's hydropower system betters communities and the natural environment, and we encourage science-based solutions that help hydropower and salmon coexist and thrive.


Bedke, Rubel: HJR 4 Just makes sense

by Idaho House Speaker Scott Bedke and House Minority Leader Representative Ilana Rubel

The ballots submitted by the Republican Speaker of the House and the Democratic Leader of the House will probably look very different this year, but there is one spot where they will look the same. We are both voting "yes" on HJR 4, and we encourage you to do the same.

The constitutional amendment HJR 4 might seem complicated but it's really a very simple change. Idaho has had 35 legislative districts since the 1990s, but our constitution currently allows that number to be set as low as 30 districts. This is a census year, which means that next year a redistricting commission will meet to draw new lines for our congressional and legislative seats, and those lines will be in effect for the coming decade. HJR 4 simply fixes the number of districts at 35, eliminating the possibility that the number of districts will be reduced. Why is this a good idea? Because more legislative districts mean smaller districts, and that means Idaho's people will have closer contact and easier access to their legislators.

We'd like to put to rest some of the fears and counter-arguments we've heard:

#1: "HJR4 will lead to gerrymandering!" No. Idaho's district lines will still be drawn by a balanced commission that must reach bipartisan agreement on any new map, as required by our constitution.

#2: "HJR4 will lead to unfair over-representation of some parts of Idaho." No. The commission will still be required to draw districts that are equivalent in population, with minimal variance between districts. Nothing in HJR4 would allow for unfair over-representation of urban versus rural areas, or north versus south versus east.

#3: "HJR4 is a scheme by the Republicans / Democrats to disadvantage the Democrats / Republicans." No. There is nothing partisan about HJR4, and during the 2020 session it passed with overwhelming support from legislators of both parties. It just keeps districts smaller so it's easier for legislators to stay in touch with constituents.

#4: "There's no urgency to act on this right now." We disagree. District lines will be drawn in 2021. This 2020 election is our last bite at the apple before districts are set for 10 years. At 35 districts, there would be about 51,000 people per district. Without HJR4, we could end up with 30 districts, with 60,000 people per district, a substantial increase that reduces access to representation. If that were to happen, we couldn't fix it for a decade. The only way to ensure that doesn't happen is to pass HJR4 now.

#5: "We don't need to pass this because the commission would never choose to reduce the number of districts." We're not so sure of that. Moreover, It's not necessarily up to the commission. Many maps are thrown out by courts, which could decide that the number of districts must be reduced to accommodate various criteria set in case law (e.g. you're supposed to keep counties intact, keep communities of interest together, etc.). HJR4 is the only real assurance that we won't end up with reduced representation.

In short, there's no Trojan horse that will be sprung on Idahoans if HJR 4 is approved by the voters. Idaho is the one of the fastest-growing state in the nation, adding 230,000 people since the last redistricting in 2011. We'd hate to see this larger population get fewer representatives than they have now. Our goal is simply to ensure that Idahoans are represented in the legislature by elected representatives they can readily access - people who share their streets, neighborhoods, and businesses. Setting the number of legislative districts at 35 will advance this goal. We hope you'll join us in voting "yes" on HJR 4.


More support of women veterans needed

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

I am grateful to Idahoans who share their views with me about issues or legislation needing congressional attention. Bob and Carmelita Jones with the Idaho Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and its Auxiliary recently asked that I consider co-sponsoring S. 514, the Deborah Sampson Act. This legislation, which is also supported by other veterans' service organizations, would improve support for women veterans. Following up on this request, I looked into the issue and the legislative remedy and co-sponsored S. 514.

  • According to the Idaho Division of Veterans Services (IDVS), of the more than 118,000 veterans in Idaho, an estimated 10,000. are women.
  • The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reports women are the fastest-growing veterans group. They are approximately 9 percent of the veteran population and projected to rise to 15 percent by 2035.
  • The VA found that the 2017 rate of suicide among women veterans was 2.2 times the rate among non-veteran women.
  • According to the VA's "Profile of Women Veterans: 2015," a lower percent of women veterans than men veterans use VA health care.

When introducing S. 514, the bill's bipartisan sponsors Senators Jon Tester (D-Montana) and John Boozman (R-Arkansas) explained the concern, "Women are the fastest growing group of veterans, but many VA facilities don't have the ability to provide equitable care or services to women veterans. The Deborah Sampson Act would eliminate barriers to care and services that many women veterans face and would help ensure the VA can address the needs of women veterans who are more likely to face homelessness, unemployment, and go without needed health care."

We must do all we can to help the VA meet the needs of this growing population of our country's veterans. A bipartisan group of 55 senators, including fellow Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and I, co-sponsored S. 514 that would increase the number of gender-specific providers in VA facilities, enhance privacy for women veterans within VA facilities, establish an Office of Women's Health at the VA and improve the quality of care for infant children of women veterans. The legislation would also improve the collection and analysis of data regarding women veterans that can better enable ensuring VA services adequately support their service.

The legislation is named for Deborah Sampson. National Women's History Museum historians write, "Deborah Sampson became a hero of the American Revolution when she disguised herself as a man and joined the Patriot forces. She was the only woman to earn a full military pension for participation in the Revolutionary army."

In September, the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs amended S. 514 and reported it out of committee. The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed similar legislation, H.R. 3224. I look forward to enactment of this important legislation that will better support the Idaho women veterans who are among our state's enduring strengths, and I encourage Idaho veterans and all Idahoans to continue to contact me to share your views on issues of importance to you. I am grateful for your input.


My fellow 6Cers:

My sisters and I, along with my father who just celebrated his 56th wedding anniversary with my mom, are spending our third day here in Coeur d'Alene looking at her hospital window from the parking lot.

She fights for her life, alone, because she is COVID positive and we aren't allowed through the front door. I can't help but think, wear a mask.

I get it that many of you demand preservation of your Constitutional rights. I'm not here telling you that you are wrong, or that you have to do this because the "government" demands it. I get it that masks aren't perfect, but then again nothing in life is perfect and masks do help. The affected are our neighbors and friends, and in my case, my mother.

My fellow 6Cers, you donate hours of your time to help your neighbors every month. You volunteer, indeed there are several of you whose homes burned to the ground while you were next door rescuing your neighbors. You are the best people on the planet. WE are the best people on the planet!

Set politics aside, and recognize how great we are in the 6C. We are today what this nation used to be. I am daily floored at the sense of community and humanity you have for each other. We have, and always will, take care of our own! We don't need, indeed have never responded well to a "government" mandate. However, I'm asking you to please consider expanding your hearts, and consider COVID like we would a wildland fire, a microburst, or a flood. (All of which you have attacked in the last three years like an invading army.)

Please consider volunteering to at least try to protect your neighbors from COVID...not because any government tells you to...but because it is the right thing to do. Put on a mask. Don't put anyone else's husband in the parking lot of the hospital looking up at a window wondering what is happening. We are better than this! We are the 6C!

Clayne Tyler


Setting the record straight on the United States Postal Service

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

Most of the inaccurate, partisan narrative regarding allegedly new changes at the United States Postal Service (USPS) are part of long-term efforts from multiple administrations to improve its solvency.

The Postal Service is not being disassembled and no efforts are underway to hinder the efficient handling of election mail. The Postal Service can effectively handle the increased volume of ballots facilitated via mail expected from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Administration's actions, most of which are continuations from previous administrations, are intended to ensure the Postal Service's long-term viability and efficiency.

  • The Postal Service has faced more than $78 billion in losses since 2007.
  • To streamline the USPS's operational footprint, the USPS has reportedly removed more than 30,000 collection boxes from around the country over the past 10 years--approximately 3,500 per year. To compare, 1,463 have been removed this year, roughly the same as the 1,467 removed in 2016.
  • The Government Accountability Office's 2012 report noted since 2006, the USPS has consolidated mail processing operations to reduce excess costs. According to the USPS, it uses letter sorting equipment roughly one-third of the time, meaning it has ample letter sorting capacity to handle election mail today.
  • According to Postmaster General DeJoy's testimony, he has only implemented two changes since he started in June: requiring trucks to run on schedule and realigning the Postal Service's reporting structure.

Even with increased voting methods via mail, millions of Americans are expected to exercise their right to vote in-person at local polling locations. Participation in the electoral process is one of the most fundamental rights enjoyed by Americans and I support protecting U.S. elections and our democratic system. The Postal Service began outreach to states in February, before Louis DeJoy became Postmaster General, to collaborate on realistic expectations for ballot delivery timeframes and deadlines as states prepare for the 2020 general election. While general elections for federal office are set by federal law, state and local laws dictate the dates for primary elections and means for casting ballots for federal, state and local offices. Eligible voters who wish to vote via absentee ballot can minimize strain on the USPS by requesting a ballot and returning it to an appropriate elections drop box or mailbox as soon as possible.

Furthermore, the USPS has stated it has the capacity to handle the 2020 election. Even if 100 million votes were cast via mail in 2020 (about 33 million were cast in 2016), it would represent a small fraction of the mail volume handled by USPS. For example, the USPS estimated in 2019 it processed and delivered nearly 2.5 billion pieces of First-Class Mail the week before Christmas-its busiest time of the year. Moreover, in the CARES Act, Congress and President Trump provided an additional $10 billion in loan authority to the Postal Service to assure its efficient operation.

I am the son of a former postmaster in Idaho and I have great respect for Postal employees. Postal employees in Idaho connect Idahoans to family, friends and markets across the U.S. and around the world, especially as Americans do their best to social distance. The USPS can only do so much under its own authorities to cut costs and improve efficiency to uphold this important service, and reform legislation is likely needed. Any USPS reforms need to be thoroughly and transparently debated before Congress to ensure they do not negatively affect the needs of the American people, especially during this unprecedented time. The overarching bipartisan goal is to ensure a reliable, efficient and viable Postal Service that serves all Americans in perpetuity.


Times of crisis: Working Together for safe, secure elections

Guest opinion, see the signatories below

America has seen times of civil and world war, economic turbulence and pandemic. Through these difficult and disruptive times, elections have always been preserved. Today we face very real difficulties conducting elections in the midst of this global pandemic. As in the past, we must meet these challenging times with smart solutions that build on our existing election laws. With the support of our community, we are fully committed to making sure the November election is carried out safely, with integrity and public confidence in the results.

Even without the complexities of the coronavirus, the presidential election is going to be challenging, due to high interest and turnout. The seismic shift in voting behavior in such a short time, along with the constraints placed on voting by the pandemic, means this will be an election unlike any that we have ever encountered.

Typically, in Idaho, only 10 percent of voters cast a ballot by absentee during a presidential election. Given the current pandemic, we anticipate that as many as 75 in advance of Election Day. This simple change would significantly aid us in our efforts to count ballots and provide timely results.

At the same time, we are also committed to those Idahoans who want to cast their ballots at the polls, while ensuring the process is safe for the voters and poll workers. Some counties have already encountered difficulty finding polling places that allow adequate space for social distancing. Poll worker recruitment is also challenging, as many of our poll workers worry for their own health and for the health of the public gathering at polling places.

We have a unique opportunity to both provide greater convenience to voters and address some of the polling place concerns with the concept of vote centers, however legislation is needed to make vote centers possible. The anticipated shift from in-person voting to absentee in November will result in fewer voters at polling locations. Should a county decide to utilize vote centers, it would allow any voter to go to any voting location in their county to cast their vote. Imagine the ease of being able to pop in to the nearest vote center at your convenience on Election Day to cast your vote and avoid lines. Voting centers in large venues would allow voters to maintain social distancing and would require fewer staff.

As we work to conduct a challenging and complex election in November, we are asking for the support, patience, and understanding of our community, our Governor, and our legislature. As your local elected Clerks, neighbors, and fellow Idahoans, we are dedicated to safeguarding elections in Idaho. Small changes to existing Idaho Election laws will make a big difference in helping us provide a smooth and safe voting experience for every eligible Idahoan in November, whether someone votes early, via absentee, or on Election Day. percent of voters will take advantage of the absentee ballot process this November. As we experienced during the May Primary, shifting to a large absentee election presents its own challenges. We do not have the ongoing infrastructure to simultaneously run an absentee election of that scale, along with an in-person election.

Yet absentee voting provides a safe and secure way for Idahoans to vote, and has long been used by overseas citizens and military personnel and their families. To vote absentee in Idaho, a voter must request a ballot, unlike a universal vote by mail system, wherein ballots are mailed to all registered voters automatically. Many security measures are in place with absentee voting, including (but not limited to) reviewing ballot signatures on each returned ballot.

To handle the unprecedented volume of absentee ballots that we are anticipating, we are calling for a simple legislative change to allow county clerks to open and scan ballots.

Op/Ed signatories

Clearwater County Clerk/Auditor/Recorder continues, "We do expect that approximately 60 to 75 percent of voters to vote absentee this November--almost the exact opposite of the 2016 election where around 10 percent voted absentee. The county clerk's feel that Legislation is needed to aid us in getting vote results reported and canvassed in a timely manner because of this huge influx of absentee voters.

We also need to address polling place concerns even if there will be fewer voters at the polling locations. We do have some polling places that we will not be able to use for the November 2020 Election.

In many counties, vote centers would significantly aid in solving this problem, but legislation is needed to make this possible. Even though these may not be utilized in my county, I support the concept and understand that in other parts of the state these will be invaluable.

We are also concerned for the health and safety of poll workers and voters as additional reason for the need for vote centers."


Many educators, parents have angst over back to school plans

Guest opinion by Rod Gramer, president of Idaho Business for Education

The angst many educators and parents have surrounding whether students should return to the classroom or learn on-line is not surprising given the news we receive every day about the coronavirus' spread in our state. In fact, the same debate is raging across the country.

A poll released last week by NPR/Ipos showed that 82 percent of K-12 teachers are concerned about the safety of returning to the classroom. Two thirds of the teachers said they favored on-line learning only. That survey mirrored another NPR/Ipos survey in which 66 percent of adults favored students learning remotely.

The reason for nervousness among Idaho educators and parents may be gleaned from data released this week by the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems and Engineering.

At the time of the report, the Johns Hopkins data showed that Idaho had 24,675 cases of COVID-19, with an infection rate of 1,380 per 100,000 people. Idaho had 237 deaths as of August 10, with a death rate of 13.3 per 100,000 people. The total deaths are higher now.

Those infection and death rates per 100,000 people were higher than any of our surrounding states except Nevada. Washington had a higher death rate, but its infection rate per 100,000 people was substantially lower than Idaho's.

In Oregon, which has more than twice Idaho's population of 1.7 million, there were 3,403 total fewer infections than in our state, according to Johns Hopkins. And Oregon's death rate per 100,000 people stood at 8.4 compared to Idaho's 13.3.

Utah also had both fewer infections and deaths per 100,000 people than Idaho. In fact, Utah had only 99 more total deaths than Idaho, despite having nearly twice our population.

One can only speculate on why Idaho's infection and death rates are higher than most of our surrounding states. But it is hard not to conclude that mandated precautions from the officials of those states and/or more voluntary support for masks and social distancing from their citizens or a combination of the two are keeping their infection and death rates lower than ours.

Since June Governor Brad Little has urged Idahoans to voluntarily comply with CDC recommendations by wearing masks and social distancing so that we can safely open our schools and businesses. But voluntary efforts only work if people are willing to listen. The Johns Hopkins data would indicate that too many of us are ignoring our leaders and health experts.

So, the debate in Idaho rages on over masks, or no masks, over the virus being the deadliest in a century, or a hoax and over whether taking simple precautions are prudent, or an infringement on our freedoms. Meanwhile, more Idahoans fall ill every day per capita than in most of our surrounding states, and even whole countries which have figured out how to contain the virus and open their schools safely.

School leaders do not have the luxury of ideological debates. They must make hard and difficult decisions on how to reopen their schools. They must balance the safety of students and teachers against the strong desire for in-classroom learning. Their decision is made only harder when people ignore the science and the health experts, leading to the surge we see now.

It will require leadership, wisdom and science from our public officials, health care providers and medical researchers to control this virus. But none of these people can help us contain the virus without the people of Idaho doing our part. That means you and me.

If we can contain this virus, the fear, anxiety and division will at least be eased. And best of all we can safely open our schools and businesses and get closer to normal lives. That would be a nice thing for all of us - regardless of our differences.


For some, more is never enough

Guest opinion by Lt. Governor Janice McGeachin

Recently, some organizations in Idaho have been agitating for additional federal spending to finance direct subsidies to individuals. Some have even resorted to publicly displaying banners on a busy street in downtown Boise calling on elected officials to further increase spending.

Idaho has already received more than $2.5 billion in supplemental federal funding over the last several months, yet for some people, even this massive influx of debt-financed spending falls short of their ambitions. For those who advocate socialized medicine, unearned income, and other handouts, there really is no amount of spending that would satisfy them.

I recently spoke to the Manager of the Budget & Policy Analysis Division of the Legislative Services Office (LSO), about the federal money flowing into Idaho. Even many elected officials are struggling to grasp the full scope of these federal funds and associated spending.

An updated summary of this spending was recently prepared for Idaho's federal senators and legislative leadership. I strongly support this level of transparency being made available to the general public as well, so that everyone can have a greater understanding of what is taking place.

I have always considered it my responsibility to advocate for Idaho taxpayers and to facilitate openness and transparency regarding government spending. I believe that the people have a right to know what their elected officials are saying and doing, and this is one reason why I have always strongly supported Idaho's open meeting laws.

I serve on the Coronavirus Financial Advisory Committee (CFAC), where I am one of just 4 members who are elected officials. The other 12 committee members represent various departments, agencies, and special interests. I consider it my duty to represent the taxpayers of Idaho-the ones ultimately paying the bills-and to be a voice for fiscal restraint and responsibility, even when profligacy may be in vogue.

The solution to difficult times is not to increase the size, scope, and spending of government, but to decrease these things and to put our resources in the hands of the private sector where they can grow and prosper. Reducing the taxes, regulations, and mandates that stand in the way of people earning money through hard work and entrepreneurial endeavors is always a superior alternative to increasing subsidies and handouts.

As I have traveled across our beautiful state, meeting with Idaho business owners and discussing their challenges and successes, I have frequently heard them express a desire for more consistent, conservative, and transparent government. They are very concerned about rising debt and deficits and the inflation and tax increases these practices precipitate.

Together, we can get Idaho back to work and move away from debt-financed spending and other programs that foster dependency. I invite all Idahoans to participate in these noble endeavors.


Democrats propose slate of solutions for Idaho

BOISE - On Monday, the Idaho Democratic leadership held a press conference to propose a slate of Democratic solutions that would address the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic and set the state on the path to a better future.

Senate Democratic Leader Michelle Stennett/(D-Ketchum) and House Democratic Leader Representative Ilana Rubel/(D-Boise) outlined actions that should be taken at the state level to improve the lives of everyday Idahoans.

The press conference was held during the lunch break of the State Affairs Working Group. The Democratic leaders delivered their thoughts on the importance of making tangible changes that will positively impact Idaho communities.

"The pandemic has caused financial, educational, health, and mental distress on Idaho families," said Stennett. "No one was prepared for this, but it is up to all of us to do our piece towards recovery. The Legislature has a duty to find solutions to protect public health and safety and provide economic security. There is no excuse for inaction or political posturing."

"The legislature's foremost responsibility is to keep Idahoans safe." Rubel stated. "The Democratic caucus has put together a slate of solutions that should be implemented as soon as possible. The coronavirus pandemic has had dire financial, health, and educational impacts on Idaho families, and there are numerous steps that can and should be taken to meaningfully alleviate the risk and suffering facing our people. We hope our Republican colleagues will join us in pressing forward with these plans."

The Democratic caucus compiled a list of solutions that can be accomplished through state action, as follows:


A $100 million cut to our education budget, as has been imposed by the Governor, is not acceptable.

Kids are being sent back to schools in a month. The state is asking already underpaid teachers to take on unprecedented new risks and responsibilities. Teachers and other school personnel are expected to enter into substantial personal danger, to ensure social distancing for students, to enforce masking in many places and to ensure other precautions are maintained. Teachers are being forced to innovate and learn new methods of instruction for remote learners, and in return for all of this they are getting a pay cut, and losing salary increases they fought for years to obtain.

Idaho already faced a teacher recruitment and retention crisis heading into this pandemic, and this cut is a recipe for disaster. The Democratic caucus believes the following is necessary:

  • Ensure that all safety measures, such as personal protective equipment, hand sanitizer, plexiglass as appropriate, and increased cleaning costs are in place and funded;
  • Ensure that distance learning options are in place and are funded for families that do not feel safe sending children to schools for in-person instruction. This includes ensuring adequate broadband access and device access for students who need them.
  • Restore teacher salaries and pay all leadership premiums to which teachers are entitled. We cannot expect teachers to do more work in more dangerous conditions for less pay. In fact, hazard pay should be strongly considered for teachers and other school personnel. State revenues are actually above projections, we have hundreds of millions of dollars in the rainy day fund, and there are untapped internet sales tax revenues. This is the rainy day we've been saving for; a cut of this magnitude to school funding and teacher pay at a time like this is unnecessary and unacceptable.

Tax policy

  • The Idaho Legislature has never allowed internet sales tax to be used to fund education as other sales tax is. Even before this pandemic, this was creating a problem as consumer purchases have for years been shifting from brick and mortar stores (where the tax is used to fund schools) to online purchases (where the sales tax is withheld from the state General Fund). This shift accelerated dramatically during COVID, and we can no longer afford to have this growing pool of revenue held back from our schools - certainly not when our government is cutting $100M from the education budget. Should there be a special session, the Democratic caucus asks that legislation be passed to allow usage of internet sales tax revenue to reverse the draconian cuts to education.
  • We further call for an update to the circuit breaker to assist seniors and our most vulnerable citizens in paying property taxes. This was introduced in the Senate last session and had strong support with the public at large, but was blocked by the House Committee Chair. Seniors have seen their retirement funds drop significantly in value and need help in dealing with property taxes.

Voting access

  • Whether or not in-person voting is available this fall, Idahoans must have easy, safe access to voting by mail. We appreciate that the Secretary of State enabled ballot requests to be made online for the May primary election, a step that led to record turnout. The Democratic caucus believes that access should be made permanent.
  • The Secretary of State has broad emergency powers to alter voting procedures that can either make voting more accessible or suppress voter participation. As these powers are used more and expanded during the pandemic, we question whether it is appropriate for an officer who is beholden to one political party to make material changes to electoral machinery that could significantly favor one party. Accordingly, we propose a Constitutional amendment to make the Secretary of State's office non-partisan.

Health & Welfare.

We were surprised and disappointed that no Health and Welfare working group was established during this health crisis. Addressing health concerns should be the principal goal of the state government during the coronavirus pandemic. We have two priorities in the health and welfare area:

  • Testing - Idahoans need more available testing with faster results. Idaho has been identified by the White House as one of America's hot spots and has skyrocketing infection numbers. Yet Idahoans must wait days both to get tested and to get their results. The only way we are going to beat this virus and get our economy back up to speed is by knowing who is infected and preventing further spread. The state should be making much more meaningful investments in testing and contact tracing.
  • Child care - Child care options in Idaho were already extremely limited, and coronavirus has closed many facilities. If action is not taken soon, the majority of Idaho childcare providers will be out of business and parents will not have safe, reliable childcare options. This would have grave consequences for the health and safety of our children and for the future of our business community as a whole. Idahoans need safe, reliable childcare in order to return to work. The CARES Act has earmarked funds for childcare in Idaho, but the bulk of it has not been released by the Department of Health and Welfare. We call for the release of CARES money to childcare facilities so they can remain safe and operational.


Idaho's economic rebound hinges on the safety, confidence of consumers, employees

Guest opinion by Governor Brad Little

As more and more businesses are opening their doors, many Idahoans have been eager to get out of the house and get back to work.

I'm grateful to see my friends and neighbors feeling confident about returning to work and visiting businesses again.

But there remain many other Idahoans with earnest concern about the effect coronavirus could have on them and their families.

Close to half a million Idaho adults are considered at-risk of developing severe complications from coronavirus. That's more than one-third of our adult population.

Health and the economy are not mutually exclusive - they are interconnected.

We cannot rebound if a huge segment of our population is afraid to engage in the economy again.

They will engage, however, if they feel safe going outside their homes to visit businesses and return to work.

We all have a role to play in keeping them safe.

Our personal actions are the most effective way to manage the virus and get our economy roaring again. Wear a face covering in public, keep at least six feet of physical distance from others, keep hands and surfaces clean, and stay home if you're sick.

Many businesses and employers are protecting their workers and customers by practicing these measures.

Even if contracting COVID-19 is low on your list of personal concerns, I urge you to still do these things. Prosperity and safety are linked. Protecting other citizens is the right thing to do, and our economic rebound depends on it.

Folks also need to know they should go to their health care provider for other medical issues. Please, don't put off care because of concerns about COVID-19. In many cases, longer delays in care will worsen outcomes for patients. Hospitals, healthcare facilities, clinics, and doctors have the protections in place to treat you safely and appropriately.

Idaho was one of the last states in the country with a confirmed coronavirus case. We were one of the first states to create a safe, responsible plan to reopen the economy in stages. President Trump, Vice President Pence, and White House officials repeatedly have praised Idaho's staged approach and our handling of federal relief funds in prioritizing support for small businesses.

The one and only reason we're able progress through the stages of reopening is because the people of Idaho - individually and collectively - have taken personal responsibility in slowing the spread of this new disease.

We are better off in Idaho than elsewhere not because the problem doesn't exist, but because we're doing a good job protecting our family, neighbors, and friends.

We cannot let up. We control the outcome. We control our ability to make consumers and employees confident about going back to work and visiting places of business. Our personal choices matter.

Thank you to the people of Idaho for your determination during these tough times and the care you have shown others.


It's up to Idahoans to ameliorate government's heavy hand

Guest opinion by Lt. Governor Janice McGeachin

As Lieutenant Governor, I am one heartbeat away from the governor's chair. I am also a small business owner. My family and I own four small businesses in the restaurant and automotive industries, employing hundreds of Idahoans. As a former member of the Idaho House of Representatives, I represented a district in eastern Idaho for many years and was viewed as a champion of small businesses and entrepreneurs.

My reputation and current position has many constituents asking me why small businesses and entrepreneurs--who make up the backbone of Idaho's economy---are largely underrepresented in the Governor's coronavirus advisory committees, task forces, and economic reopening committees.

I lose sleep at night because the heavy hand of our government is hurting so many Idahoans. Idahoans were sidelined and left to watch silently as the government closed Main Street by unilaterally deciding which businesses were "essential" and which ones were not. By deciding that certain goods can only be purchased in certain places, or not at all, our government has been selecting economic winners and losers throughout this pandemic.

The effects of the executive branch's unilateral decisions will impact us for years. Now we are being told that if we attempt to salvage our livelihood, if we attempt to open our businesses to put food on the table for our families, if we have the courage to "defy" the reopening plan our government imposed upon us our business licenses will be at stake.

Now more than ever before, we are in a moment where political courage is mandated. We must not be afraid to stand up for all businesses large and small--including those thousands of businesses, without a voice or a paid lobbyist. You can find those businesses on Main Street in every town in Idaho. We must stand up for the livelihoods of hardworking Idahoans. We must have the courage to tell it straight. Realistically, there is a segment of our populations that will remain at risk during this pandemic and there may be a spike in COVID-19 cases as we reopen. I agree that we should do all that we can to protect our vulnerable citizens, as well as our frontline workers. But there are other facts to consider: This shutdown is taking a financial toll on Idahoans. Thousands of Idahoans still haven't received unemployment or were denied SBA and PPP loans and grants. For some businesses which did receive a PPP loan, the government policy places the forgivable portion of those loans at risk. When these businesses are not permitted to open until mid-June at the earliest, it will be beyond the time limit required to tap into some of those funds, according to the US Treasury. With bills quickly mounting, and no income coming in, there has been a spike in bankruptcies, suicides, depression and businesses that will never open again. We must begin to examine these facts--as well as the health care-related data the Governor is focused on--to properly evaluate how to move forward. I hope the Governor's business task force will take all these facts into consideration, not just the medical facts provided by cabinet members.

While most Idahoans support the public safety aspect of the Governor's Stay-At-Home Order, the one thing that is missing in all of this is the confidence that Idahoans are smart enough to put in place public health protocols so they can reopen their business, welcome customers, and take care of their employees. The Governor campaigned on a promise of imposing the "lightest hand of government" on Idahoans. To me, this means getting out of the way and letting Idahoans get back to work.


Ybarra: Teacher Appreciation Week has special importance in these trying times

Guest opinion by Sherri Ybarra, Superintendent of Public Instruction

Teacher Appreciation Week is something we celebrate every year in Idaho, and for very good reason. But this year, May 4-8 has particular resonance because Idaho teachers are stretching their imagination and energy to meet students' needs during a state and national crisis that has closed our schools and impacted education in ways we never expected.

Like all of us, Idaho's teachers are dealing with the challenges of social isolation, working from home and coping with the effects of this pandemic on those they know and love. On top of that, they've been plunged into uncharted territory to find innovative, creative ways to keep communicating and connecting with students when classrooms are closed and not all children have equal access to online programs and devices. Most crucially, they've had to instruct and encourage their students without their greatest tool: the warmth and energy of personal contact.

From using the internet and social media to interact with students individually and in groups, to standing outside a student's home to help with homework from a safe distance, our teachers are finding ways to connect. They're even taking to the airwaves to reach students without online access by teaching via Idaho Public Television's "Classroom Idaho" program, a collaboration of Idaho Public Television, the State Department of Education and Idaho Business for Education.

I know firsthand how rewarding it is to be a teacher. It can also be physically, mentally and emotionally challenging, especially when you can't be in the classroom interacting with and helping your students. It has been truly inspiring to see the imaginative social media posts and hear stories from across the state about how teachers and students are connecting to keep that personal touch we know is so important. And, it is why I have made it a priority to share as many of those stories as possible on the Department's Facebook page.

If this current pandemic and the closure of schools has shown us anything, it is how very important our teachers and schools are to the daily life and learning of Idaho's children. At the State Department of Education, teachers are at the heart of our mission: supporting schools and students to achieve.

Just one indicator that Idahoans have great appreciation for the teachers in their lives this year is that we've received an unprecedented number of nominations for the 2021 Teacher of the Year from parents, community members and educators throughout our state. We'll be accepting nominations until Monday, May 11. The process is easy: Just fill out the online nomination form/.

Please take the time to reach out to the teachers you value - not just with words but also with actions. Check out the Teacher Appreciation Toolkit on my office's web page if you need ideas.

Let's make sure Idaho teachers know how much they are appreciated and valued, this week and every week.


Greatness of educators clear amid Covid-19 response

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

As schools closed nationwide to help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, millions of school-aged children suddenly started being homeschooled.

Many parents are reeling trying to juggle at home work schedules while trying to keep on top of schooling needs. For most, this abrupt shift has not been easy, and the tremendous importance of our educators is even more acutely clear. All the while, teachers and administrators have been working hard to overcome the difficult circumstances, quickly disseminating learning materials and ensuring access to online education tools. I commend our nation's great educators for once again rising to the challenge to reach their students and the parents trying hard to fill these enormous shoes so the future of our great nation gets the educations they so greatly deserve.

Teachers across Idaho have stepped up to make sure COVID-19 does not completely disrupt children's education. Schools have quickly adjusted to ensure ongoing education opportunities for students. Educators have creatively adapted curriculum. Teachers have sent personal videos reading to their students from afar and providing online lessons. They continue to encourage, shape and resourcefully reach their students regardless of the circumstances. Many schools also continue to offer pick-up lunches to students to ensure they have the nutrition they need to fuel their growing brains.

My Mother was an English teacher, and one of my sisters also taught for many years. I have seen firsthand, not only through their examples, but also through the many teachers I have had, known and met with over the years, how deeply they care for their students. The devoted focus on students and excellence apparent in teachers radiates through our communities.

Congress and the Administration have supported schools impacted by COVID-19 through enactment of multiple phases of legislation providing federal resources to back the continuity of educational efforts amid the COVID-19 crisis. Among this assistance, in March, the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed, and President Trump signed into law, Phase 3 of the emergency coronavirus response legislation, the bipartisan Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that establishes a more than $30 billion Education Stabilization Fund. The fund includes a Governor's Emergency Relief Fund, an Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund and a Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund.

The resources support flexible learning options, including remote education efforts, to address the needs of students and educators. The law also provides flexibility in the application of education accountability laws to assist with the emergency shift in how students are educated. Further, the law includes childcare, child nutrition and other education-related assistance. Information about the implementation of the education provisions in the CARES Act is accessible on the U.S. Department of Education website, at

As implementation of the support already enacted into law continues and Congress and the Administration considers the need for additional resources, I will keep the needs of Idaho students at the forefront of discussions. Thank you greatly to Idaho teachers and administrators for the outstanding work you continue to do to ensure sound educations for Idaho students no matter the circumstances. You are truly making a difference.


President's plan to responsibly reopen the economy in phases is underway in Idaho

Guest opinion by Governor Brad Little

President Donald Trump laid out new guidelines last night (April 16) that align with Idaho's approach to responsibly reopen our economy in stages.

Like all our previous actions where we followed CDC and Presidential guidance, the new plan is in lockstep with the approach we have been pursuing in Idaho.

On Wednesday, I announced initial steps toward safely reopening Idaho's economy in phases based on Idaho-specific data. Our goal is to avoid a spike in severe cases, which will set back our economic recovery.

My amended order, which is in place until April 30, allows any business, facility or service to open for curbside and delivery service. Further, businesses can now prepare to open their doors after April 30 as long as they make preparations to meet certain criteria for social distancing, sanitation, and others. For now, this excludes certain businesses where people simply cannot safely social distance.

Our approach allows us to further assess the trajectory of cases in Idaho and continue to strengthen our healthcare and testing capacity - just as the President's guidelines recommend.

I've heard from neighbors, parents of school children, and small business owners. I share their concerns and frustration. It breaks my heart to see years and sometimes generations of hard work be plundered by the pandemic. No one wants to get our economy back up and running as much as I do, but we simply cannot open everything all at once and reverse the good work we have done collectively over the past month to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Today, there is no vaccine. There is no therapeutic to relieve symptoms, and we are far from achieving herd immunity to the virus.

But the President's guidelines confirm Idaho is focused on the right areas for improvement, including expansion of testing access and contact tracing, increased healthcare system capacity, protecting the health of critical workers and vulnerable citizens, and reinforcing personal actions to prevent spread.

Our shared efforts to "flatten the curve" are working, but we have not yet seen a prolonged downward trend of severe cases - as recommended by the President - to justify opening up everything at once.

Until we do, we must continue to stay the course and proceed in an objective, organized manner toward opening the economy.

We all must ramp up our actions to slow the spread of coronavirus so that we can minimize the potential for future waves of infections and ensure a strong economic comeback as quickly as possible.

As advised by the President, we are taking this a few weeks at a time. Before the end of the month, I will lay out our next steps for the May.

I have spent the past couple of weeks with business leaders across the state, and next week I will announce the formation of an economic recovery group made up of private sector folks who will help guide us.

Just like Idaho rebounded from the last recession, prudent action today will allow Idaho to catapult forward with broad economic prosperity. What we are doing now is difficult, but I have no doubt Idaho will be one of the leaders in recovering from coronavirus.

Thank you to the people of Idaho for doing an incredible job protecting your loved ones, your neighbors, and yourselves during this unprecedented time.


Harper her choice for Idaho House of Representatives

Dear Editor:

Dennis Harper is my choice for the Idaho House of Representatives District 7A position.

Dennis will work hard for the interests of Clearwater County and Orofino while in Boise. He has lived in Orofino for over 40 years and been involved in the community in youth projects, Kiwanis, the Chamber of Commerce, PLAY and more.

We need a strong voice in Boise to represent our "North Idaho" interests and Dennis will do that. He will be accessible to each of us and will listen to our concerns. I encourage you to vote Dennis Harper on May 19th. Go to to request your absentee ballot today.

Heather Leach Orofino


Rubel, Lent: Idahoans deserve a second chance

Guest opinion by Representative Ilana Rubel/(D-Boise) and Senator Dave Lent/(R-Idaho Falls)

Our criminal justice system is intended to ensure there is an appropriate penalty associated with crime. We refer to this as paying one's debt to society. However, under some of Idaho's current laws, the payment never seems to stop. Our courts assign formal penalties, like prison time, probation and fines, but these can often be the least of a former offender's difficulties. The bigger problem is the long list of "collateral consequences" that are not part of the sentence but follow individuals far beyond the end of any time served. It is not hard to link these collateral consequences with the unacceptably high rate of people returning to the correctional system.

Often those affected are friends or family members who committed relatively minor offenses, learned their lesson, and are ready to move on with their lives. Unfortunately, these records will follow them forever, and can severely affect their ability to find housing or a job. Inquiries into their criminal record will follow them to every job and housing application, and can be the first and last question that companies ask before turning them away. The resulting higher rates of unemployment, underemployment and homelessness for these individuals actually increases the risk that they will reoffend. With no money and no roof over their head, it's no surprise that Idaho's recidivism rate is 35 percent for felony offenders.

In Idaho, if you were 18 or over at the time of the offense, everything on your record, even misdemeanors, stays in public view to your dying day. The majority of states don't operate this way. In fact, 41 states and the District of Columbia offer some mechanism for record-sealing for adults, and it has proven successful. The most comprehensive study we could find showed that for those with relatively minor offenses who had gone several years without reoffending and then had their record sealed, they were 22 percent more likely to be employed, and if previously employed their wages were 25 percent higher after sealing. Most importantly, this was accomplished with no threat to public safety; in fact there was substantial benefit. The recidivism rates for these former offenders were extremely low, and arrest rates for those with sealed records were actually 29 percent lower than those of the public at large. Remember Idaho's 35 percent felony recidivism rate? This study showed a 1 percent felony recidivism rate for those who had successfully had their records sealed. It turns out that, having been given a chance to get their lives back on track, they did not want to blow their opportunity by reoffending.

Only infractions, misdemeanors, and nonviolent felonies that fall below a defined threshold would be sealed. This means those with a need to know, like law enforcement and judges, would still have access to ensure repeat offenders are accounted for. The point is to better define when justice has been served and allow individuals to move on with their lives.

We think it's time for Idaho to seriously start addressing reform of our criminal justice system. Many of these folks deserve a real second chance, but we continue to hand out these collateral life sentences. We are proposing legislation referred to as a "Clean Slate" bill that would allow those who have committed non-violent, non-sexual offenses, who have completed their sentence (including probation and parole) and who have gone at least three years without reoffending to petition a court to have their public record sealed. If they can make their case to the judge that they are no longer a threat to society, they can earn a real shot at getting their lives back on track.

With the cost of our correctional system being second only to education in our state, it is time to consider different approaches to enable those who have paid their price to society move forward. We need those with criminal records to succeed, not reoffend. Taxpayers are footing the bill every time a person is reincarcerated in our already overburdened prisons, and it's better for all of us when more of our citizens are employed. Instead of setting former offenders up for a life of frustration and desperation that may push them to commit another crime, let's work to remove barriers to employment and empower them to learn from their mistakes.


Orofino Police Department sponsoring Christmas 911

To whom it may concern:

Once again, the Orofino Police Department will be sponsoring and participating in the Christmas 911 program.

The last 10 years, the Police Department has been providing full Christmas dinners and gifts to families in our area who were experiencing hardship and most likely would not have had much for Christmas. Each year we accept donations from businesses and community members to fund the program. We have been able to provide meals and nice gifts for up to approximately 30 families and 70 children a year. The meals included turkeys, hams, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, rolls, vegetables, milk and desserts. The gifts were age appropriate for all the children in the family who are of school age or younger and were of extremely nice quality. The needs of each child are identified to us early on, so most of the gifts accommodate their needs.

Although it may seem like a small impact for the community, the program has had a large and long-lasting effect on the families we served, as well as all the people who volunteered time and/or donated money toward the program. Seeing children as gifts were placed under their tree and seeing parents cry with relief and joy knowing they would be able to have a wonderful family Christmas was moving for the officers, city staff, school officials, and other community members who made deliveries over the past years.

We look forward to providing meals and gifts to additional families again this year. We are once again soliciting donations from businesses and private individuals to make this year an even bigger success. If you are willing to donate, please make checks payable to Christmas 911. Donations can also be made at the Lewis-Clark Credit Union or mailed to the Orofino Police Department (attn: Christmas 911) at P.O. Box 2603, Orofino, ID 83544.

Thank you in advance for any assistance you are able to provide. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact the Police Department at (208) 476-5551 or email Lahni Ireland at

Chief Jeffrey Wilson


Little: Idaho will need 'agile' workers

Guest opinion by Governor Brad Little

Today's students are tomorrow's workforce, and they will have to adapt to change in their careers more than any other generation before them. In a word, they will have to be agile.

Technological advances and the anticipated automation of more jobs down the road mean families, schools, and colleges must push students toward a lifetime of embracing technological changes, problem solving, and continual training.

During lunch one day this week, I spoke to leaders in Idaho education and business at my summit on workforce development about how we can prepare today's students for jobs of the future.

Four hours later, I moderated a panel of four university presidents at Boise Startup Week on ways to create an environment where innovation and entrepreneurs can thrive.

Two common themes emerged at both events: students need us to connect their education to the needs of employers, and employers need workers who have the capacity to grow and adapt to change.

Families, parents, schools, and colleges must work together to introduce not just skills in critical thinking and how to collaborate in diverse groups, but life skills as well. Together, we must teach kids to make good choices, show up, be curious, be disciplined, and roll with the punches.

Working together, we can point and incentivize students onto the right path.

And we have a strong foundation on which to work.

We are focusing our efforts on improving literacy, especially among the most challenged segments of our population, so they have a strong bedrock for future learning.

We are getting our kids college- and career-ready. More and more, our education system is focusing on soft skills and total wellbeing - physical, mental, and social - while at the same time pairing students with job prospects and teaching them nuts-and-bolts skills they can use in jobs every day.

The "talent pipeline" is already working, and there are numerous examples across the state in which business is proactively working with community colleges and universities to train students in programs that meet their specific industry needs. Business organizations are taking on a bigger role in shaping the discussion and priorities around education that leads to employment. State programs are bridging the gap between business and student by facilitating internships and apprenticeships because, after all, the best way to learn a job is by doing it.

Additionally, there is a greater focus on STEM skills now than any other time in Idaho's history.

And the outstanding research taking place at our universities gives entrepreneurs and innovators an outlet to come up with new products, services, and ideas. In fact, the $20,000 winners at Boise Startup Week were the founders of self-cleaning toilet seat Washie, a product that originated from a grant awarded to Idaho State University from the Idaho Department of Commerce's Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission program. It is the perfect example of the program having the desired effect.

In America, we do not take our children at an early age and assign them a profession. The magic of American free enterprise is that we all have the freedom to choose and, yes, freedom to fail.

I choose to join many partners in working together in Idaho to keep the momentum going in the direction of success. Families, business, educators, and government in Idaho are all committed to working toward the same thing: to prepare today's young people to be happy, productive, and of course, agile, into the future.


Food Service Staff ready to welcome students back to school

Dear Parents/Guardians:

Welcome back to a new school year! The Joint School District # 171 food service staff is looking forward to serving your children nutritious, great-tasting meals that support their achievements in school and promote healthy lifestyles.

We strive to provide outstanding service and high quality "kid friendly" meals that meet the latest federal and state requirements. Among the goals I have for this year is adding more options for junior/senior high school level. Please encourage your children to participate in tasting these new items. They just might become a new favorite!

We will also be offering the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable program at Timberline Elementary School, Orofino Elementary School and Peck Elementary School. This is a great opportunity to introduce new and exciting items while offering a nutritious afternoon snack for K-6 students.

I am always available for comments, questions or concerns and we look forward to seeing the students on the first day of school!

Carmen Griffith
Director of Food Services

Editor's note: This is the beginning of a newsletter from the Food Service at Joint School District #171. We will be sharing other topics over the next few issues.


How Idaho ushered in the largest regulatory cuts in state history

Guest opinion by Governor Brad Little

When I took office as Idaho's 33rd Governor in January, I was determined to follow through on my promise to reduce regulatory burdens on Idaho citizens and businesses.

Six months later, we have cut or simplified 40 percent of Idaho regulations! Idaho's work is setting an example for other states and the federal government to follow.

How did we do it? Through a combination of efforts, some planned and one unexpected.

Within my first few weeks in office, I issued two executive orders aimed at scaling back Idaho's Administrative Code - the Red Tape Reduction Act and Licensing Freedom Act of 2019. Those executive orders are on my web site here:

The agencies within my administration already had begun their examination of rules to cut back when the Idaho Legislature in April chose not to pass routine legislation reauthorizing Idaho's administrative code. The Legislature's decision put the onus on me to choose which rules should stay and which rules should go by July 1.

In response to the situation, I used my executive authority to direct agencies in my administration to expedite the regulatory reduction efforts already set in motion by my earlier executive orders.

The agencies collectively held more than 40 public meetings, and I opened a public comment period welcoming feedback from Idahoans on rules identified for expiration or reauthorization.

All told, our work resulted in the elimination of 20 percent of all rule chapters. Another 20 percent of all rule chapters were significantly simplified.

For example, the Idaho Department of Insurance eliminated 17 chapters of rules and renumbered all remaining chapters to better group the health insurance, title insurance, and life insurance rules together. The Idaho Division of Building Safety had 16 separate rule chapters on logging safety. They were consolidated into a one-stop shop rule, simplifying compliance and eliminating 7,000 words in the process.

There was a good deal of silliness that made its way into our laws over time. We eliminated a rule from 1961 establishing the state's deputy veterinarian "must be attired in neat, clean and correct clothing" and "at all times have proper behavior, be alert, animated, agreeable and have pleasant manners." I am sure our state deputy veterinarian will be glad to know he won't be breaking the law from now on if he comes to work with an untucked shirt!

The Legislature's unexpected decision was not something I asked for and didn't necessarily want at first.

However, the work over the past six months has undeniably transformed Idaho's administrative code into a set of rules that are easier for Idahoans to understand and navigate.

When I took office, Idaho had 736 chapters and 8,200 pages of rules. Our efforts in a few short months cut 900 pages of regulations.

We took advantage of an opportunity to turn government on its head: working with citizens in an open, transparent process, we envisioned the entire administrative code gone and decided what should stay.

I am very proud of the agencies within my administration for sharing my enthusiasm to clean up and simplify our laws. I hope other states and the federal government look to Idaho for what can be accomplished with some boldness and creativity.


Partnering is a way to build pathways to careers

Guest opinion by Debbie Critchfield, President, Idaho State Board of Education

As the spouse of a fourth generation Idaho farmer, I know that finding a meaningful occupation is essential to well-being and happiness. Our state is growing fast, providing many opportunities in various career fields. The Idaho State Board of Education is partnering with Governor Brad Little's Workforce Development Council to create smoother career pathways through education.

It starts by encouraging Idahoans to continually strive for new knowledge and skills. "We need to generate a large body of life-long learners," said Trent Clark, Chairman of the Workforce Development Council. "Life-long learners are looking beyond tomorrow and continually preparing themselves for the next opportunity no matter where they are in their career."

"Employers want even their entry-level employees to have aspirations," said Jeff McCray, Council Member and Plant Manager at McCain Foods in Burley. "Employers aren't interested in employees who aren't on a career pathway." Employees with future plans tend to be more reliable and work harder and better, mastering duties and making a difference before moving up within the company or moving on to employment elsewhere.

Launching a career pathway starts by helping a student match their aptitudes and interests with a career and course study. In late July, the State Board will launch Idaho Career Information, a new program replacing the Career Information System. Idaho Career Information will be a dynamic online tool enabling students and adults to explore opportunities and start planning their career pathway. Idaho Career Information will be available on the Next Steps Idaho website, meaning students can use it in the classroom or at home with their parents.

"Like the old system, Idaho Career Information will start with a personal skills assessment and interest exploration. It will then show students and adults how to take those skills and interests and apply them to related occupations," Program Coordinator Inessa Palnikov said.

In response to the Governor's Workforce Development Task Force recommendations to implement a single platform for career exploration and postsecondary planning the Board and the Workforce Development Council are developing ways to expand the reach and the audience of the Next Steps Idaho website.

Last year, we teamed up to create a social media campaign to raise awareness about Idaho's Adult Opportunity Scholarship intended to help working adults return to college or to a career technical program in order to earn a degree or a professional certificate. This scholarship is a tremendous resource available to both part-time and full-time adult students, who are working to improve their skills and job prospects, which is really what life-long learning is all about.

The Council and the Board are also exploring ways to grant college-level credit for various kinds of experience learned in the work place. This could include skills and experience gained while serving in the military, or through apprenticeships.

These are a few priorities where the State Board of Education and the Workforce Development Council are collaboratively focusing efforts. We will keep you posted as we work to connect current and future workers to state resources and worthwhile career pathways that benefit our citizens, our employers and our state.


Crapo: Honor fallen heroes by ensuring wellbeing of their families

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

One of the ways we can honor fallen heroes beyond Memorial Day is by making certain that the benefits they more than paid for to ensure the wellbeing of their families after their death are fulfilled.

I co-led the introduction of the Military Widow's Tax Elimination Act that will correct an unfair application of federal regulations that strips surviving family members of annuities they already purchased. A bipartisan majority of 58 senators have co-sponsored this legislation. It is past time to do what is right for military families and enact this common sense fix.

Military spouses serve, in a way, along with the servicemembers they support. When their spouse is deployed, they carry on getting children to school, appointments and activities without their spouse close by to help. They manage daily life while shouldering the stress of the threats their loved ones face while deployed. They move their lives to where their spouses are stationed, which may be far away from family and friends. This is not easy. Military families are an integral part of the defense community and their needs increase when a servicemember passes away.

I have heard from Idaho military families who planned for their futures by purchasing supplemental insurance plans, but have faced bureaucratic barriers to fully accessing the benefits they purchased. The families of veterans and service personnel who die as a result of their military service are eligible for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Separately, many military retirees make financial planning decisions to participate in the U.S. Department of Defense's Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP). The SBP is an annuity available for purchase as income protection for surviving family members. Military retirees need not have a service-connected death or disability for their survivors to receive SBP. Retirees participating in the SBP program pay a monthly premium based on the amount of coverage elected.

However, despite the retiree paying for the SBP through reduced retirement pay, under current law, survivors who receive DIC benefits have their SBP annuity payments reduced dollar-for-dollar by the DIC amount they receive. According to data provided by the Military Officers Association of America, more than 65,000 military families nationwide are affected by what is known as the SBP-DIC offset. We must fix this in a fiscally-responsible manner.

In February, Senators Doug Jones (D-Alabama), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Jon Tester (D-Montana) and I introduced S. 622, the Military Widow's Tax Elimination Act of 2019. This legislation, which is also co-sponsored by fellow Idaho Senator Jim Risch, would repeal the SBP-DIC offset and prohibit the U.S. Department of Defense from recouping past payments to SBP recipients.

I have been a longtime proponent of this legislation because surviving spouses should receive their purchased insurance benefits. The servicemen and women who bought this insurance have worked to ensure that their loved ones are provided for after their death. These plans must be honored. I also co-sponsored and voted in favor of legislative attempts to eliminate the unjust SBP-DIC offset in previous years.

Thank you to veterans and military families for your service to our nation. Thank you to all those who gather to honor this service and our fallen heroes at Memorial Day events throughout Idaho. I will continue to work to ensure that the service of military families is respected and eliminate obstacles restricting military families from rightfully receiving the benefits they purchased. Denying veterans the benefits they have more than paid for must end.


People can work together

Dear Editor:

Some times we feel like people are pulling away from each other, but last week showed us how when needed people can work well together.

There was a lot of high-water last week, overflowing banks and clogged up culverts. Riverside of Orofino had its share of flooding. Like our neighbors, we had run-off coming down the street and on both sides of our house. After a few phone calls and some visits from the Mayor, Riverside Water District, city employees; people went into action to secure banks, clear the culvert and place sand bags when and where needed.

Our thanks go out to Mayor Ryan Smathers for his quick action, E. J. Bonner and other Riverside Water District employees, Shane Miller and other city employees, and a Red Shirt work crew from the state prison. We also want to thank Commissioner Ryan for taking the time to call and check on the situation.

Mike and Linda Chamberlin


Idaho's forests need us as much as we need them

Guest opinion by the State Board of Land Commissioners

With 40 percent of Idaho covered in trees, the management of our forests affects us all.

All Idahoans benefit from the clean water, abundant wildlife habitat, recreation, and wood and paper products that healthy forests provide, along with many positive economic impacts.

Arbor Day is April 26, a time to celebrate the benefits forests provide us, but also a time to reflect on how forests depend on humans for their continued health through active forest management - the sustainable cycle of harvesting followed by replanting of trees and using fire as a management tool to reduce overgrown vegetation.

There are 21.4 million acres of forests in Idaho. About 10 million acres of federal forests in Idaho are overgrown, unhealthy, and prone to devastating fires.

Impaired forest health conditions and wildfire know no boundaries. As Land Board members, we oversee the management of one million acres of forested state endowment lands. The lands are a gift to Idaho in all they offer. Timber sales on endowment lands generate millions of dollars in revenue for Idaho's public schools annually. Sustainable forest management practices ensure these lands will continue to benefit public schools and Idaho citizens for years to come.

However, 94 percent of forested state endowment lands border federal national forests in Idaho. Wildfire, insects, and disease move freely between federal, state, and private lands.

To address the forest health crisis in Idaho and maintain healthy state endowment forests for public schools, we directed the Idaho Department of Lands to work with the U.S. Forest Service, forest industry, conservation groups, and others to help improve forest conditions on a scale that matters.

The recently inked "Shared Stewardship" agreement recognizes that different land owners - federal, state, and private - need to work together to reduce the risk of fire and infestations of insects and disease in our forests.

The state and federal government are using spatial planning tools to identify, coordinate, and treat priority landscapes across ownerships. The result will be reduced fuels to protect Idaho communities from wildfire, improved forest health, and job creation in the private sector.

We are just getting going with Shared Stewardship in Idaho, but we are anchoring to our success with the Good Neighbor Authority, a related program that encourages collaboration, resource sharing, and a "get it done" approach to land management.

We all love forests. But most of Idaho's forests need to be conserved, not preserved. Active, sustainable forest management is part of conservation. The steps we are taking with your support will ensure our forests are healthy for future generations.


Congress must approve Trump's trade agreement with Canada and Mexico

Guest opinion by Governor Brad Little

Our neighbors to the north and south play an integral part in Idaho's economy.

A trade agreement being considered for approval by Congress would enable Idaho businesses to continue competing in a global market and enhance their customer base in North America.

Congress must ratify President Trump's United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) for the benefit of Idaho businesses and rural communities across the state.

Canada and Mexico combined make up more than 25 percent of Idaho's total exports and nearly 50 percent of Idaho's total food and agriculture exports. More than 1,700 companies in Idaho export goods and services to more than 150 countries around the globe, and the two most accessible and important markets are right next door.

Canada alone, as Idaho's number one export market, purchased $926 million worth of goods ranging from fertilizer and locomotives to precious metals and cattle. Mexico was Idaho's fifth largest market with sales topping $230 million led by malt, milk powder, frozen potatoes, cheese and electronic integrated circuits. Clearly, the products exported to these two markets reflect a vast range of sectors and businesses from every corner of the state.

The USMCA is important to Idaho because it preserves and enhances critical gains made in previous trade agreements for Idaho products' market access. It would also create additional market access in Canada for Idaho dairy products. It would eliminate the Class 7 milk pricing system that created tremendous disadvantages to dairy processors in global markets. It also makes progress in the areas of labor, intellectual property, and digital trade.

In addition, the federal government needs to find a solution to tariffs that have caused significant increases in the price of steel and aluminum. The impact is felt by Idaho companies and has been detrimental to their bottom line. The retaliatory tariffs placed on a broad swath of U.S. and Idaho exports to both Canada and Mexico also have created significant headwinds for our exports. While tariffs may have a place in dealing with China, I urge the Trump Administration to consider an exemption for Canada and Mexico.

The longer these tariffs remain in place the more difficult it will be for our companies to re-establish business with lost customers.

Last week I wrote to all four members of Idaho's congressional delegation to express my strong support of the USMCA, encouraging them to vote for the agreement and find a solution on tariffs. We need to do all we can to ensure Idaho's long-term economic prosperity.


On National Ag Day and every day, celebrate farmers

To the Editor:

Farmers and ranchers are the backbone of America. They grow food to feed us, fiber to clothe us, and fuel to run our homes and cars. Their hard work and dedication provide economic stability across the nation - stability that supports rural economies and creates much-needed jobs in local communities. No matter who we are, where we live, or what we do, we all have a reason every day to celebrate and thank #ourfarmers.

March 14 is designated as National Ag Day. Today and every day, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Idaho join fellow agencies, non-profits, private industries, and consumers in thanking our agricultural producers for their contributions to our nation and beyond.

This year's National Ag Day theme, 'Agriculture: Food for Life', spotlights the hard work of American farmers and ranchers who diligently work to provide food and fiber for the United States and countries around the world. At USDA, our driving commitment is to support them as they put food on America's tables.

USDA works with millions of rural producers through a network of local service centers that serve every county. Our farmers face challenges each day, and we're proud to offer a variety of programs to help them fund their operations, manage risk, conserve natural resources, and recover from natural disasters.

On behalf of USDA, we would like to thank #ourfarmers for feeding our nation and the world. To our farmers and ranchers: We are here to support you every step of the way. Visit your local service center for one-on-one support with USDA programs and services, or learn more at On National Ag Day, and every other day of the year, we celebrate you.

by: Brian Dansel, Acting State Executive Director, Idaho Farm Service Agency and Curtis Elke, State Conservationist, Natural Resources Conservation Service


Strizich: Idahoans knew exactly what they voted for with Medicaid Expansion

Guest opinion by Emily Strizich, Reclaim Idaho Co-Founder

Medicaid Expansion in Idaho is officially under attack. Just this week Treasure Valley Representative John Vander Woude proposed a laundry list of restrictions - including very unpopular forced work restrictions - designed to deny thousands of working Idahoans healthcare coverage. His bill, essentially, would repeal what nearly two-thirds of Idahoans voted for.

The reasoning behind Vander Woude's anti-healthcare bill is novel: he doesn't think Idahoans knew what they were voting for. In his view, Idahoans didn't have the wherewithal to research Medicaid Expansion and its benefits, it's positive economic impact on the states that have implemented it, and the lifeline it would provide to Idaho's rural hospitals. In John Vander Woude's eyes, we're all too dumb to weigh in on an issue that will affect tens of thousands of our friends, family members and neighbors.

I beg to differ.

Over the last year, I personally knocked on more than a thousand doors throughout Idaho. I talked face-to-face with people from all walks of life about Medicaid Expansion. My fellow volunteers at Reclaim Idaho knocked on over 100,000 doors statewide. Collectively, we spoke directly to Idahoans about the benefits of expanding healthcare coverage to people in the healthcare "gap," bringing home $400 million in tax dollars to our state, and providing security for Idaho's rural hospitals. The vast majority of people we spoke to agreed that Medicaid Expansion was a great opportunity for Idaho.

However, some Idahoans disagreed. I know, because I talked to them. No matter how compelling the argument in favor of Medicaid Expansion was, some people still were not convinced. But, that's what happens in a Democracy. While I respectfully disagree with their position, Idahoans all over the state heard the argument in favor of Medicaid Expansion and voted "no" anyway.

Did they not understand what they were voting against?

Having met with so many Idahoans across the state on this issue, I can tell you our electorate is much more informed than one Treasure Valley legislator thinks. Idahoans voted for stronger communities, fiscal responsibility and security for Idaho families when they voted to approve Medicaid Expansion. My fellow volunteers and I stand ready and willing to introduce Vander Woude and his anti-healthcare colleagues to these voters throughout the state. Once they've actually met their voters, perhaps they will have a change of heart.

More than 57-percent of Vander Woude's legislative district voted to approve Proposition Two. Canyon County (where he lives) also approved the initiative with 57-percent of the vote. These are the same people who voted Vander Woude into office. That presents an interesting conundrum given that he thinks Idahoans don't know what they're voting for.

Idaho's ballot initiative process is a constitutionally protected right. If you meet the requirements under state law to put an issue to the voters, they have a chance to decide. The "will of the voters" is not just a catch-phrase - it's a concept embedded in our state constitution for more than a century.

Idahoans knew exactly what they were voting for when they approved Medicaid Expansion. If our elected lawmakers actually met with their voters, they would know that.


Investment in public education benefits everyone

Guest opinion by Governor Brad Little

The education of young Idahoans affects all of us. A well-educated and well-trained population improves our overall prosperity as a state.

That is why I declared education my number one priority during my first State of the State and Budget Address earlier this month. A strong K-12 public education system is the foundation for making Idaho the place where all of us, our children and our grandchildren want to live, raise families, and retire.

This is Education Week at the Idaho Statehouse. Parents, students, teachers, and education leaders come to the Capitol to address policy and budget issues with a shared goal of making our public education system in Idaho stronger and more accountable.

The best education of our youngest Idahoans starts with families and later depends on teachers. Teachers enter their profession with hearts for making a difference. They become teachers because they love learning and helping others learn.

But a good heart isn't enough to keep some of our best teachers teaching. According to a State Board of Education Teacher Pipeline Report from 2017, about 15 percent of Idaho's teachers leave the workforce after just one year on the job. More than 30 percent of teachers who become certified in Idaho do not teach in an Idaho school. Teacher shortages continue in communities across the state.

We must recruit and retain new educators, particularly in rural, underserved, and border communities. To do that, starting teachers need to be compensated fairly and competitively. I am working to raise starting teacher pay to $40,000 a year.

Just like any other job, teachers need the right tools to deliver results.

Reading is the bedrock of every student's success. By the third grade, our students must have already learned to read so they can read to learn. Even the best prepared students will not be able to learn efficiently throughout their education if their classmates have difficulty reading.

I am working to double the funding available to advance literacy in Idaho. Your local school districts will decide the best ways to use the funds to raise reading scores among students.

Additionally, my budget adds investment in the popular Advanced Opportunity program. The program saves Idaho families in tuition costs and it aligns with our efforts to persuade more kids to "go on" to more education or technical training after they graduate.

Successful education policy requires long-term planning and buy-in from stakeholders. Stability is important.

The diverse education task force Governor Otter assembled in 2013 worked steadfastly to create a five-year blueprint for responsible investment and reform of Idaho's education system. The success of the task force has been the envy of other states. Once again, Idaho is showing the rest of the country how different perspectives can converge to move us forward.

Building on this successful approach, I announced I will be creating a new planning coalition called Our Kids, Idaho's Future. It will be broad-based so that a variety of perspectives can be considered as we provide the next five-year blueprint for education investment and modernization. The group will look at Idaho's education system holistically, addressing teacher pay, the go-on rate, the metrics for assessing our education system, and other topics.

Continued investment in public education isn't just the right thing to do. Our bottom line depends on it. I've traveled extensively throughout Idaho working on economic development during my 10 years as Lieutenant Governor. I can tell you, unequivocally, a strong public education system attracts investment in new and existing businesses of all sizes. We all benefit from a strong economy.

My five grandchildren are seventh generation Idahoans enrolled in Idaho's public schools. Nothing would make Teresa and I happier than to see them 15 to 20 years from now, working in Idaho and starting their own families.

I promise them and all young Idahoans I will be a champion for education excellence and student achievement so they have the best chance to stay right here where we want them.


Avista Utilities - Hydro One merger efforts terminated

Dear Community Partner,

I wanted to share that today, Jan. 23, Avista and Hydro One announced that we have mutually agreed to terminate our proposed merger agreement after the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission and the Idaho Public Utilities Commission denied approval of the transaction.

After careful consideration and analysis of the likelihood of achieving a timely reversal of those orders, the Boards of Directors of both companies determined that terminating the merger is the appropriate course of action.

Over the past 18 months, even as we worked hard to receive regulatory approval to complete the combination, we stayed focused on ensuring we were providing you the same great, high quality service you have come to expect from Avista. Going forward, we are the same strong and vibrant utility you know, with the same outstanding and dedicated team.

So, for all of Avista's stakeholders, it remains business as usual. Our mission and focus remains, as it always has been and will continue to be, to ensure that we take great care of you, our customers, and provide you with safe and reliable energy throughout the five states we proudly serve: Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Montana, and Alaska. As we pivot from the planned transaction, we look forward to continuing to build on our nearly 130-year history as an independent regional utility serving the Pacific Northwest.

On behalf of the 1,766 employees of Avista, we thank you for your continued support. We are honored to serve you.

Mike Tatko
Avista Utilities


Letters of support needed for Skate-BMX Bike Park


As you've all heard I'm sure, the City of Orofino is working on a Skate/BMX Bike Park on Dunlap.

The school district recently deeded the property to the City (of Orofino) and we are applying for a grant to help fund part of the construction.

The city has set aside some funds, and local contractors are donating labor and knowledge to the project as well. The City Council and myself are behind the project 100 percent and think it will prove to be a popular new venue for Orofino's youth (and some daring adults).

Chris St. Germaine is working on the grant and needs letters of support from the community, so please take the time and show your support for this project. We've heard for years Orofino does nothing for its young people. Here is your chance to help change that!

Please email your letter to her at or mail a hard copy to her before 01/24/2019 at Clearwater County Economic Development, P.O. Box 1826 Orofino, ID 83544.

Thank you,
Mayor Ryan Smathers


Idaho's dual credit program keeps growing

by Dr. Linda Clark, president, Idaho State Board of Education

Five years ago, Idaho launched its dual credit program for high school students and it has been a resounding success. The idea behind the program is to give students a jump-start on their college education by enabling them to take college-level courses while still in high school, meaning they can earn college credit before they step on a college campus.

Nearly half of the 2017 graduating class earned dual credits compared to just under a third of the 2014 graduating class. In fact, 121 graduates in the 2017 class earned enough credits to collect an associate's degree along with their high school diploma.

To understand the rapid growth of the dual credits earned, it helps to look at how the program has changed over the years and how it is benefitting students throughout our state.

The first iteration was available only to high school students; however, it was up to students and their parents to pay the initial credit costs and receive reimbursement from the state after the course was completed.

Idaho legislators and the governor enacted the Advanced Opportunities program and appropriated funds for the 2014-15 school year to provide for payment for a three-credit course for juniors and two three-credit courses for seniors. Idaho families took advantage of these options and as a result, 42 percent of the 2016 graduating class earned dual credits.

State leaders modified the Advanced Opportunities program in time for the 2016-17 school year, authorizing up to $4,125 for each student to use to pay for dual credit courses and postsecondary credit-earning exams taken in middle through high school. In the class of 2017, 48 percent of graduating seniors earned a total of 93,551 dual credits, an increase of 158 percent compared to the 2013 graduating class. The increase is fairly consistent across our state, whether the graduates live in cities or in rural areas of Idaho.

Underserved populations are also taking more dual credit courses. For instance, just under 43 percent of Hispanic students enrolled in dual credit courses in 2016-17 school year compared to nearly 26 percent in 2013-14.

Research shows the dual credit program has a positive effect on college go-on rates. "The more dual credits accumulated in high school, the more likely a student is to immediately go on and attend college after they graduate," State Board Principal Research Analyst Bill Laude said.

There is also a correlation between dual credits earned and first-year college retention rates. Laude found that dual credit earners who attended a four-year institution immediately after high school were three percent more likely to return for their sophomore fall term compared to students who did not earn dual credit. Students who enrolled in a community college and who earned dual credits while in high school were 15 percent more likely to return for their sophomore year compared to students who did not earn dual credits.

Idaho's Advanced Opportunities, Direct Admissions and Apply Idaho programs are innovative approaches that provide access to affordable college opportunities beginning in the seventh grade. These programs, coupled with increased college/career advising at both the high school and at the postsecondary institutions are important tools in Idaho's efforts to increase both "go-on" and college completion rates.

The $3 million in additional funding included in Governor Brad Little's budget for the Advanced Opportunities program will add important resources for Idaho students and families. The State Board appreciates the continued support of our elected leaders in this forward-thinking program.

Window on the Clearwater
P.O. Box 2444
Orofino, ID 83544

Orofino 476-0733
>Fax: 476-4140