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Idaho journalists launch nonprofit to promote government transparency – East Idaho News

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Idaho journalists launch nonprofit to promote government transparency – East Idaho News


BOISE (Idaho Capital Sun) – A new nonprofit is focused on helping Idaho journalists fight for government transparency.

The Idaho First Amendment Alliance, established this year, aims to provide funding for trainings, workshops and court fees for Idaho journalists challenging a public agency’s lack of transparency.

Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports lead producer and Idaho Press Club president, launched the nonprofit. She told the Idaho Capital Sun the organization will show Idaho journalists are “serious about government transparency,” particularly when a public agency does not comply with Idaho law.

In the last five years, the Idaho Press Club has twice successfully sued government agencies for refusing to provide public records, she said, and both lawsuits took a lot of resources and time.

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“Unfortunately, we don’t always have the ability to do that,” Davlin said. “We’ve had to leave some denials unchallenged simply because we don’t always have the funds, the time or the resources to take somebody to court.”

Davlin said her goal is not to take agencies to court, but to help journalists bring transparency to the public.

“As an industry where we are facing so many challenges to the fiscal health of corporate newsrooms and small newsrooms, and trying to figure out what our industry is going to look like over the next 20 or 30 years, I think it’s important that we as a statewide organization are able to provide these tools for reporters,” Davlin said.

Idaho public records denials can only be challenged in court

The only way to challenge a public records denial, an overcharging of fees, or an over-redaction of a record, is to take that public agency to court.

In recent years, Idaho journalists have done so at least three times.

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In 2019, an Idaho judge sided in favor of the Idaho Press Club, a statewide association of Idaho journalists, which said Ada County did not properly comply with Idaho public record law. The judge ordered the county to release the withheld information and pay the press club’s court costs, saying that officials “frivolously” and “improperly” denied the requests, the Idaho Statesman reported.

Last summer, the Coeur d’Alene Press successfully sued North Idaho College for denying access to employment contracts. The college denied the newsroom’s public records requests, saying the contracts were “personnel records,” and therefore exempt from disclosure, the Coeur d’Alene Press reported. A Kootenai County judge rejected that reasoning, ruling that the college must provide the records to the Press.

And in 2021, in what resulted in a high-profile lawsuit, the Idaho Press Club successfully sued former Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin after her office repeatedly refused to fill local reporters’ public records requests, the Idaho Statesman reported.

Longtime Idaho journalist Audrey Dutton told the Sun she has requested hundreds of public records in her career, but said the incident with McGeachin’s office was “so egregious.”

Dutton, as a former Idaho Capital Sun senior reporter, was one of the journalists who requested records from McGeachin’s office. Dutton received significantly redacted versions of the records she requested more than a month later.

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“There was no reason to not give us the records we were asking for,” she said. “It was a shockingly poor application of the law.”

Inconsistent understandings of Idaho laws

In addition to her own experience, Dutton said she regularly sees inconsistent understandings from public agencies of Idaho’s public record law.

Dutton is a reporter at ProPublica and a journalism adjunct faculty at Boise State University, where she teaches college students how to request public records.

“Every year I have students file public record requests, and they get back very little,” Dutton said. “They get back denials. They have some agencies that completely ignore them, and some of them get back an incredible wealth of information. It’s just so hard to predict what’s going to happen — which is not how it should be.”

Dutton said she believes there is so much inconsistency when it comes to receiving public records because there is a lack of knowledge about the law across local and state agencies.

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However, the Idaho First Amendment Alliance can help bridge that gap and give local journalists the tools they need to do the best at their jobs, she said.

“One of the very frequent reasons that people leave the profession is because they feel like they don’t have the support and the resources that they need,” Dutton said. “It would be great if every newsroom could fully fund court fees, but if we have a third party that can help, then that’s great.”

Retired Idaho journalist and former Idaho Press Club president Betsy Russell said that in addition to a lack of knowledge about Idaho’s freedom of information laws, she believes public agencies may not comply with the laws because they face a lack of staffing or simply forget about the public record request.

“Public records are the evidence of what the government does” Russell told the Sun. “In a free society, citizens have a right to know what their government does, and it’s the job of the journalists to report accurately and fairly to the public.”

Throughout her career on behalf of the Idaho Press Club, Russell has been involved in numerous lawsuits against public agencies that do not comply with Idaho’s open meeting and public records laws.

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This includes in 2006 when the Idaho Press Club sued the legislature for closing seven committee meetings in 2003 and 2004. The press club was unsuccessful, the Spokesman-Review reported, but the lawsuit led the legislature to adopt new rules mimicking the requirements of the Idaho Open Meeting Law.

Russell said that in the end, the outcome was good.

“Local news reporters are the watchdogs of local government, and as the ranks of local news reporters have declined all over our country, there is more impunity and less accountability on the part of some local governments,” Russell said. “We want our country to continue to be what we’ve always treasured. And so with fewer eyes and ears watching local governments, it makes sense for journalism groups and openness advocates to come together on a statewide basis to try to spearhead this.”

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Analysis: Convention illustrates the deepening divide within Idaho GOP – East Idaho News

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Analysis: Convention illustrates the deepening divide within Idaho GOP – East Idaho News


COEUR D’ALENE (IdahoEdNews.org) — While Republican delegates debated a seismic shift in education policy on June 15, Idaho’s Republican state schools superintendent was a spectator.

A nonvoting attendee at the GOP convention, Debbie Critchfield could only watch as delegates called for defunding Idaho’s higher education system. Not that Critchfield — who doubles as a member of the State Board of Education — was exactly a disinterested observer.

“I was above the area where the delegates were seated and people, during it, (were) looking at me … kind of like, ‘What is this? Does this mean what I think it means?’” Critchfield said in an interview Tuesday.

There is no better metaphor for the yawning gorge between Idaho GOP’s mainstream political leaders and the hardline party activists who called the shots at last weekend’s Republican convention in Coeur d’Alene.

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From outside the convention’s metaphorically smoke-filled rooms, it’s impossible to know exactly what GOP delegates thought they were voting for. That’s because most convention events were closed to the news media. Party chair Dorothy Moon, re-elected to a second two-year term Saturday, told Clark Corbin of the Idaho Capital Sun that she considers the Idaho GOP a “private association.”

That may be so, but this “private association” exerts considerable weight in the public policy debate. As it did on higher education.

The new language amends a section of the platform that reads, “We strongly support professional technical and continuing education programs that provide career readiness and college preparation.” The amendment adds that Republicans “do not support using taxpayer funding for programs beyond high school.” (Republicans inserted similar wording to a platform plank supporting education “to develop a well-trained workforce.”)

Is this language a broadside pointed at Idaho Launch — Gov. Brad Little’s new and popular $70.8 million postsecondary scholarship program, which has divided Statehouse Republicans? Or is the language directed at higher education more broadly?

The author of the platform amendment explained his objectives to Idaho Education News Wednesday.

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“Launch is only the most egregious example of taxpayers being forced to fund postsecondary schooling,” said Scott Tilmant of Caldwell, responding to a series of emailed questions from EdNews. “I believe the government should not be involved in ‘higher education’ at all. I do believe that continuing education is important, but not with taxpayer money. The individual should be making that decision.”

Tilmant made an argument that has surfaced before in the Launch debate: The state’s Constitution mandates that Idaho fund K-12 schools, but is silent on postsecondary education. Federal and state subsidies “obscure the true cost” of postsecondary education, Tilmant said, and the publicly funded schools drive up tuition costs.

“There are many private organizations, charities, and foundations that commit millions of dollars in scholarships,” Tilmant wrote. “Why do we need to take money from hard-working taxpayers on top of that?”

From the gallery, Critchfield said she was witness to a debate that ran the gamut of higher education topics. Delegates brought up diversity, equity and inclusion programs, a reliable hot-button topic within GOP circles. Launch also was a talking point — although an attempt to narrow the platform language to Launch failed. A host of higher education issues all came to a head, she said.

“I didn’t walk away from that discussion and that vote throwing my hands up in the air, and saying Republicans don’t care about education,” Critchfield said.

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But if the platform language means what it explicitly says, then it calls for defunding higher education. Idaho’s four-year schools will receive $365 million in state tax dollars next year. The community colleges will receive nearly $64 million. The State Board will put more than $25 million of state tax dollars into the Opportunity Scholarship and other college financial aid. Then there’s $70.8 million for Launch.

That’s north of half a billion dollars, for starters.

But if Idaho were to defund higher education, career-technical training and workforce development programs would almost certainly fall to the K-12 system, Critchfield said. And that, in turn, would force a rewrite of the K-12 budget.

In written statements Wednesday, Little and Lt. Gov. Scott Bedke took identical issue with their party’s convention delegates. The higher ed platform language, they both said, does not reflect the opinion of the “vast majority” of Idaho Republicans.

Both doubled down on higher ed.

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“My commitment to strengthening the economy by training the next generation does not end at high school graduation,” Little said. “The state has helped generations of Idahoans receive their post-high school college education, including my children and me.”

Lt. Gov. Scott Bedke touts Idaho Launch at an event at Middleton High School in March. | Darren Svan, Idaho EdNews

“Our state colleges, universities, and technical education programs are more than schools – they are investments in the future prosperity of the Gem State,” said Bedke, who sat in on Saturday’s convention events as a nonvoting attendee. “And if we want our kids to choose to stay in Idaho, we cannot take away the state’s support for these educational opportunities; otherwise, they will leave and look for them elsewhere.”

A party platform only has the power importance that candidates and voters attach to it. Do candidates follow the platform with unfailing fealty? Do voters expect strict adherence to the platform — and punish candidates who stray from the party line?

And on the other side of the coin, if the platform strays too far from popular opinion, do candidates feel like they have a license to ignore it?

“You’re going to see a real differentiation between the party and elected legislators,” Rep. Stephanie Mickelsen, R-Idaho Falls, told Logan Finney of “Idaho Reports” during the convention.

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Mickelsen knows a thing or two about a platform fight. In March, Republicans in Mickelsen’s legislative district censured her for failing to support the GOP platform. Last month, Mickelsen easily secured a second term in office, winning a three-person primary with 60% of the vote.

The battle over what passes for mainstream GOP thinking didn’t start in Coeur d’Alene last weekend, and it won’t end any time soon. In a guest opinion Thursday, Moon put a stake in the ground, on behalf of her convention’s rank and file.

“It is not extremists who are in charge. It is the people,” she wrote. “What is so extreme about saying that the government should only spend tax dollars where constitutionally required?”

It’s not nearly so simple, of course. Republican delegates endorsed a monumental change in the education Idaho pays for — and doesn’t pay for. That only amplifies the disharmony within the GOP.

More about the platform from Laura Guido of the Idaho Press.

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Kevin Richert writes a weekly analysis on education policy and education politics. Look for his stories each Thursday.

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The ISDA gives update on quagga mussel situation

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The ISDA gives update on quagga mussel situation


TWIN FALLS, Idaho — The Idaho State Department of Agriculture has updated the state of the quagga mussel situation in the Snake River.  

The samples collected as of Thursday have tested negative, the ISDA said. 

The ISDA cautions that this is just the first round of samples collected. The department plans to continue sampling the river. The department will double sampling efforts across Idaho this season. 

While there are no signs of the mussels, the closures remain unchanged, and the ISDA continues to monitor the situation. 

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The quagga remains a significant and ongoing threat to Idaho’s agriculture and waterways. The department continues to monitor the situation.  

The ISDA reiterates the importance of personal responsibility in preventing the spread of the quagga mussel. Showers are mandatory before entering and exiting Centennial Waterfront Park.

The ISDA will be doubling sampling efforts across Idaho this season.  



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If only Idaho’s congressmen had the courage of those who fought in World War II

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If only Idaho’s congressmen had the courage of those who fought in World War II


“I simply could not erase from my mind the incongruity of so many lives lost to preserve freedom and democracy and a gang of United States senators cooing over a draft dodger who has no respect for those who died for the freedoms we enjoy today.” | Opinion



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