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Lawmakers consider shifting resources from audits to budgets

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A panel of lawmakers is looking at making changes to Idaho's only independent performance evaluations agency, possibly by having staffers focus more on legislative budgets and less on whether state programs are working properly.

The Office of Performance Evaluations does deep-dive research and auditing of state agencies and programs, looking for ways the state can fix any problems and become more efficient. Often the reports have uncovered big issues, such as increasing delays in the parole process, rapidly growing caseloads for child welfare workers and problems with the monitoring of state contracts worth millions of dollars.

Rep. Wendy Horman, the House vice-chair of the legislative budget-writing committee, said her committee needs more staffers available to quickly research and answer questions about the impact of state budgeting decisions. But House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding said the right solution would be to add more resources to the budget-writing committee, not to cannibalize another office.


Kelt program aims to rehabilitate repeat steelhead spawners

(Information from: Lewiston Tribune,

ILLIA, Washington (AP) — The Nez Perce Tribe and Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission released 37 wild steelhead into the Snake River below Lower Granite Dam this week in hopes of boosting the number of spawning steelhead.

The Lewiston Tribune reports the fish, known as kelts, were previously captured at the dam as they tried to return to the ocean after spawning in their natal streams. They were held for one or two years at the Dworshak National Fish Hatchery to allow them to regain strength, and they were released Tuesday, ready to spawn once again.

Steelhead are unique among anadromous fish — fish that migrate from the sea to reproduce — in that they don't necessarily die after spawning. Still, it's rare for female steelhead to make it as far as the Lower Granite Dam to spawn an second time.



Idaho governor orders health review of Lake Coeur d'Alene

(Information from: The Spokesman-Review,

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — The governor of Idaho has ordered a third-party data review of Lake Coeur d'Alene as its health continues to deteriorate.

The Spokesman-Review reported Thursday that Republican Gov. Brad Little announced the request Wednesday at an annual water quality conference.

Coeur d'Alene Tribe and state officials say a decade of collected data has shown the lake contains an increased volume of phosphorus and sediment polluted with lead and other heavy metals caused in part by human development.

Coeur d'Alene Tribe officials withdrew from the lake management plan in September in response to increased toxin levels and perceived lack of action.

Officials say the request indicates support and concern from the governor's office.

Little says the report must detail the sufficiency of current data and offer recommendations to address any identified concerns.



Judge orders competency test for suspect in fatal beating

(Information from: Idaho Statesman,

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A judge has ordered a competency evaluation for a homeless man accused of fatally beating someone in a park last month.

The Idaho Statesman reported Wednesday that 27-year-old Andrew Garcia was charged on suspicion of murder and other charges in the death of 43-year-old Roque Arellano.

Ada County Magistrate Judge Daniel Steckel says the evaluation is meant to test if a defendant is mentally fit for trial.

Prosecutors say Garcia is accused of hitting and stomping on Arellano at Ann Morrison Park causing fatal injuries in October.

Prosecutors say it is unclear how or whether Garcia and Arellano knew each other. Garcia's defense attorney Amy Wilson declined to comment on the case.

Garcia remains in custody at Ada County Jail and is scheduled to appear in court Nov. 27.



Idaho governor asks agencies to cut budgets

(Information from: Idaho Press,

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Gov. Brad Little has asked most state agencies to trim their current budgets by 1% and prepare for more cuts in the coming year.

The Idaho Press reports Little didn't make the request of K-12 public schools. He sent a memo to other state agencies late last month last month asking them to identify another 2% base reduction in their budgets for the coming year.

Little's chief of staff Zach Hauge wrote in the memo that the governor's top priority is education. He called the request a "spending reset."

State tax revenues are running substantially lower than anticipated, but the state budget still has a big cushion, in part because this year's spending was budgeted to total about $174 million less than the predicted tax revenues.



Idaho, Energy Department sign deal on spent nuclear fuel

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho has granted a conditional waiver to the U.S. Department of Energy that could allow research quantities of spent nuclear fuel into the state after years of blocking such shipments.

The agreement announced Thursday by Gov. Brad Little and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, both Republicans, means the Idaho National Laboratory could get spent fuel for experiments as part of a U.S. strategy to expand nuclear power.

The waiver to a 1995 agreement requires the Energy Department to first prove it can process and remove radioactive liquid waste stored above an Idaho aquifer that supplies water to farms and cities.

The Energy Department has spent some $600 million trying to do that, reporting progress earlier this year.

Idaho benefits because the deal requires earlier removal of other nuclear waste at the 890-square-mile (2,305-square kilometer) site west of Idaho Falls.

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