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OTTER-THIRD TERM

Governor to seek 3rd term

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Republican Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter is officially running for a third term.

Otter filed his declaration of candidacy Monday with the Secretary of State's Office.

In a statement, Otter says he wants to continue to make Idaho the best place in America to live, work and raise a family.

The former congressman has been widely expected to seek re-election.

He faces a primary challenge from state Sen. Russ Fulcher, a conservative lawmaker from Meridian who says he disagrees with Otter's decision to establish a state-run health insurance exchange under the federal Affordable Care Act.

Running as a Democrat is Anthony Joseph "A.J." Balukoff.

EDUCATION BUDGET

Idaho budget writers pass education budget boost

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho's legislative budget writers have approved a 5 percent increase in state education spending, including a 1 percent boost for teacher salaries.

The Joint Finance-Appropriation Committee approved the $1.7 billion education budget Monday morning. It represents a spending increase of $66 million, or about 5.1 percent.

That's well over the 2.9 percent increase recommended by Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, but a little less than State Schools Superintendent Tom Luna's requested 5.4 percent increase.

The committee's budget includes nearly $16 million for leadership bonuses for teachers, $8 million for classroom technology, plus $35 million to restore operational funds that were cut during the recession.

PUBLIC DEFENSE BILL

ACLU: Bid to fix Idaho defense system falls short

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho says lawmaker attempts to fix Idaho's public defender system don't go far enough.

The House Judiciary and Rules Committee on Monday passed a bill to create a public defense commission.

Rep. Darrell Bolz, a Caldwell Republican, says the commission's duties will include making rules and implementing training for public defenders.

Legal experts have warned that Idaho's public defense system is likely unconstitutional, citing high case loads and low funding for contract public defenders.

Bolz says his bill isn't the final solution, but is a good start in getting Idaho's public defense system back on track.

But Monica Hopkins, the executive director of the ACLU, says the bill isn't enough to protect Idaho from a lawsuit.

The bill now goes to the full House.

INCOME TAX HOUSE

Plan to slash Idaho's income tax passes House

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A plan to snip Idaho income tax by $126 million over the next six years passed the House over objections that the state can't afford to lose that much revenue for the general fund.

The bill seeks to drop rates in all brackets from the current 7.4 percent to 6.8 percent, starting with a .1 percent cut in January.

Republican Rep. Mike Moyle, from Star, says that could make the state more attractive to businesses and put Idaho more in line with neighboring states.

Montana has an income tax rate of 6.9 percent and no sales tax.

But opponents say Idaho shouldn't cut that much money out of its budget when issues like education are still underfunded.

The bill will now travel to the Senate.

XGR-LAWMAKER-ETHICS INVESTIGATION

Idaho lawmaker asks to have own ethics examined

(Information in the following story is from: The Spokesman-Review, http://www.spokesman.com)

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — An Idaho lawmaker is asking the House to convene an ethics committee after she failed to disclose a conflict of interest when she voted against legislation that could have hurt her financially.

Republican Rep. Shannon McMillan, from Silverton, apologized in the Idaho House Monday and asked that an ethics committee be convened to examine her actions when she voted against a bill that would allow legislators to have their state paychecks garnished for state court judgments.

The Spokesman-Review reports McMillan has multiple civil judgments against her, and one attempt to garnish her state paycheck was denied because, as a lawmaker, she is exempt from state garnishments.

McMillan was one of only two House votes against the bill on Wednesday. It is now in the Senate.

UNIVERSITIES-ADMINISTRATIVE FLEXIBILITY

Lawmakers pass college admin flexibility bill

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho House of Representatives has approved a bill that would allow public universities and colleges to opt out of some state services if they show they can provide the service cheaper or more efficiently.

Idaho Falls Republican Rep. Wendy Horman says the legislation will give Idaho's higher education institutions the flexibility to manage their own administrative infrastructures in ways that could reduce costs for students. For instance, schools could opt out of the state's risk management insurance program or the Idaho Technology Authority if they can obtain those services more cheaply or efficiently through a competitive bidding process.

The schools would have to give 18 months' notice before making a change.

The bill now goes to the Senate.

KINDERGARTEN PREPAREDNESS

Idaho bill would create preschool pilot program

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A bill to launch a preschool pilot program in Idaho has won the support of the House Education Committee.

The pilot would provide half-day educational programs in five Idaho schools, with potential to expand if data shows it gets kids ready for kindergarten.

It carries a $1.4 million price tag for all three years, but Boise Democrat Rep. Hy Kloc stressed Monday less than half of that will come from the state's coffers.

The rest will likely come from grants.

Despite Idaho ranking near-last in education funding, some lawmakers argued the expense was unnecessary, proposing the state get data from existing preschool programs.

Proponents say that's not good enough: They want uniform numbers to see if the pilot is worth expanding.

The bill now heads to a full committee vote.

GAY MARRIAGE

Conservatives support Idaho marriage law

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The federal government cannot force Idaho to change its definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman. That's according to the conservative Cornerstone Family Council of Idaho in a recent court filing.

The council rejected the idea that a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act required Idaho to permit same-sex marriage or recognize same-sex marriages from other states.

The council contends in a brief filed last week that the Supreme Court case narrowly involved the issuance of federal benefits to same-sex couples.

CHESS ON ICE

Curling is popular in Boise

NAMPA, Idaho (AP) — You probably saw it during the recent Winter Olympics. It was nothing if not intriguing.

Colorfully dressed men and women standing on a long, narrow sheet of ice. Someone sliding across the ice with some sort of fat stone. Two people vigorously sweeping the ice in front of said stone. And someone at the end behind a target painted on the ice yelling seemingly nonsensical things like "Hurry hard."

Curling has been around since the 16th century, when it was first played in Scotland. Scottish immigrants brought the game to North America, specifically Canada, in the 19th century, and it's been hugely popular with our northern neighbors ever since.

But the sport wasn't an official Olympic event until 1998, and when the winter games are held every four years, there's a resurgence in interest among Americans.

MONTANA WEATHER

Avalanche threat closes portion of I-90 in Montana

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — Montana officials have closed Interstate 90 from St. Regis to the Idaho state line because of the threat of avalanches.

Ed Toavs of the Montana Department of Transportation tells the Missoulian six small avalanches covered portions of I-90 on Monday. Crews cleared those slides, but Toavs says there are more cracks in the snow on the mountainsides above the roadway.

Transportation officials closed that stretch of the interstate in both directions Monday afternoon.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari says the railroad is busing passengers in Spokane, Wash., Whitefish and Shelby to avoid an avalanche that blocked the BNSF Railway tracks near Glacier National Park Sunday.

BNSF spokesman Matt Jones says a maintenance crew spotted around 7 feet of debris on the tracks 10 miles east of Essex at about 11:30 p.m.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

The Associated Press

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