Associated Press

TheJesse / Flickr Creative Commons

Forty-four staffers who worked for U.S. Sen. Frank Church have sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to designate a national monument in central Idaho.

The letter dated Tuesday notes that the Idaho Democrat worked to preserve much of the state's wild areas during his 24 years in the Senate and that the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness is named in his honor.

A plan by Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho to designate a wilderness in the area has failed for years, though Simpson is working another effort.

Nearly one year after lawmakers and small business owners cast a critical eye at the contractor managing mental health and substance treatment for Idaho's poor, company officials say approval ratings remain high and problems are few.

Executives from Optum, a unit of UnitedHealth Group, told the House Health and Welfare Committee Wednesday that they had a 95 percent satisfaction rating among providers that deliver behavioral-health services to Medicaid patients.

That's according to the most recent sample survey the company sent out to their provider members.

Clark Gilbert
Courtesy BYU-Idaho

Deseret News CEO Clark Gilbert has been named the new president of Brigham Young University-Idaho.

The selection of Gilbert was announced Tuesday during a devotional at BYU-Idaho's campus in Rexburg, Idaho. Gilbert becomes the 16th president of the Mormon-owned school, and will take over for Kim B. Clark in April.

Mormon church, temple square, salt lake city
Doug Kerr / Flickr Creative Commons

Mormon church leaders are making a national appeal for a "balanced approach" in the clash between gay rights and religious freedom.

The church is promising to support some housing and job protections for gays and lesbians in exchange for legal protections for believers who object to the behavior of others.

It's not clear how much common ground the Mormons will find with this new campaign. The church insists it is making no changes in doctrine, and still believes it's against the law of God to have sex outside marriage between a man and a woman.

University of Idaho

The president of the University of Idaho says the school will freeze undergraduate resident tuition rates next year if lawmakers fully fund a 3 percent salary increase for faculty and staff.

President Chuck Staben made the suggestion Monday to lawmakers on the Legislature's budget committee.

Officials say the cost would be $1.6 million.

Staben says reducing tuition will increase access to education.

Frankie Barnhill / Boise State Public Radio

Thousands of Idahoans have flocked to the Statehouse to testify in front of lawmakers concerning a bill that would include sexual orientation and gender identity protections to the state's Human Rights Act.

The legislation, commonly called the "Add the Words" bill, had been denied a public hearing for nine consecutive years.

Rick Gerrard / Idaho Public Television

Republican U.S. Sen. Jim Risch derailed a 2010 wilderness bill but says he's working now with U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson on a scaled-down version as others attempt to persuade President Barack Obama to designate a central Idaho area a national monument.

Risch, a Republican, tells the Idaho Statesman in a story on Sunday that he's looking forward to carrying a bill that he says is a collaborative product.

Idaho lawmakers have introduced a bill that would formally expand the secrecy surrounding executions.

The Senate Judiciary and Rules committee agreed Wednesday to move forward the legislation from the Idaho Department of Correction. The bill would incorporate existing department policy on confidential execution records into state law, and broaden that language to include records involving the source of lethal medications used for executions. It would also make it illegal for the department to turn over the records in response to subpoenas or other preliminary legal inquiries.

Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

President Barack Obama spoke for just over 30 minutes Wednesday at Boise State University, touting the proposals from his Tuesday State of the Union address aimed at helping the middle class.

The Idaho National Laboratory is no longer accepting Idaho driver's licenses for identification because they don't meet federal security requirements.

INL spokeswoman Misty Benjamin tells KIFI-TV that those doing business with or visiting the eastern Idaho nuclear facility will have to bring a U.S. passport or one of about five other accepted identifiers.

The policy started Monday.

Idaho driver's licenses won't work because Idaho lawmakers prohibited the state from implementing the Real ID Act of 2005, passed in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

aposematic herpetologist / Flickr Creative Commons

Idaho lawmakers concerned that special recognition of the Idaho giant salamander could lead to federal protections have rejected a grade school student's request it be named the state amphibian.

The Spokesman-Review reports that the House State Affairs Committee voted 10-6 on Monday against 14-year-old Ilah Hickman's plan.

An Idaho attorney general's opinion advised lawmakers that approving the salamander as a state symbol wouldn't do anything in the way of encouraging federal protections.

South-central Idaho groundwater pumpers might have to start shutting off water pumps this week.

Idaho Department of Water Resources Director Gary Spackman on Saturday denied a request by groundwater pumpers to delay a water curtailment order.

The Times-News reports that the order includes 14 cities and about 157,000 acres of land.

Idaho Capitol Dome
Emilie Ritter Saunders / Boise State Public Radio

For a second year, a joint legislative committee has unanimously supported increasing wages for Idaho's 17,000 state workers in fiscal year 2016.

The bipartisan Change in Employee Compensation Committee proposed awarding a 3 percent pay boost on a merit basis. This means, however, not everyone is guaranteed a raise.

The recommendation —estimated to cost nearly $30 million— now needs full legislative approval but is already expected to be supported by the governor.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management plans to remove Western juniper from a 1.5 million-acre area of public land in southwest Idaho to conserve sage grouse habitat.

BLM Boise District Manager Jim Fincher in a statement Friday says conserving habitat for sage grouse is a key method for improving an entire rangeland ecosystem.

The agency is hosting two public meetings to provide information about the plan in Owyhee County. The first is in Boise on Feb. 4 and the second in Murphy on Feb. 5.

Comments can also be sent to the agency by Feb. 20.

Butch Otter
Idaho Statesman

Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter will have surgery next week to have his left hip resurfaced — a procedure he underwent on his right hip several years ago.

Otter made the announcement Thursday, telling reporters he would have the surgery on Tuesday and then work the next two or three weeks from home while he recovers.

Lt. Gov. Brad Little will serve as acting governor on Tuesday, while Otter is incapacitated.

Frankie Barnhill / Boise State Public Radio

Former Idaho Govs. Phil Batt and Cecil Andrus say current Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter is turning the state into nuclear waste repository.

The former governors at a Thursday news conference blasted Otter's recently revealed deal with the U.S. Department of Energy to allow 50 spent nuclear fuel rods into the Idaho National Laboratory for research.

Keyboard, computer, tech
newfilm.dk / Flickr Creative Commons

A new audit shows slightly more than half of the schools surveyed aren't using the equipment purchased through Idaho's pricey broadband contract and nearly 6 percent of the videoconferencing equipment can't be located.

Legislative auditors told budget writers Thursday that use of the Idaho Education Network, a program that provides broadband access to Idaho public schools, has declined since it first began in 2012.

State Sen. Dean Cameron says the report raises concerns for the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee as it considers funding the program for another year.

Butch Otter
Idaho Statesman

Idaho's Constitutional Defense Fund committee has approved the latest round of legal bills in Idaho's court fight over gay marriage.

The panel — made up of the governor, attorney general, House Speaker and President Pro Tem — unanimously voted to pay roughly $401,000 to the winning side's attorney fees and printing costs. Members then voted 3-1 to pay $55,000 for outside counsel to appeal Idaho's gay marriage case to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and U.S. Supreme Court.

protest, capitol
Courtesy Idaho Statesman

A gay rights proposal known as the “Add the Words” bill will be heard for the first time in the Idaho legislature.

A committee of the Idaho House voted 6-1 Wednesday to introduce a bill that would ban discrimination against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people. The measure would add the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the list of protected classes in Idaho’s Human Rights Act.

Add The Words
Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

Update 5:46 p.m. 

Idaho Republican leaders announced a change of course Wednesday and approved the introduction of a bill that would include sexual orientation and gender identity protections in the state's Human Rights Act.

The House Ways and Means Committee, made up of Republican legislative leadership, voted 6-1 to bring the proposed legislation to a full hearing.

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