Associated Press

Ilah Hickman
Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

A Boise seventh-grader's push to get recognition for her favorite amphibian slithered to victory in the Senate State Affairs committee.

Ilah Hickman has been prodding the Legislature to adopt the Idaho Giant Salamander as the official state amphibian for three years now.

Hickman thinks the creature would be a great fit: Not only does the Idaho Giant Salamander have Idaho in the name, but it also resides almost exclusively in the Gem State.

A poll of her classmates at Les Bois Middle School revealed that most students favor the salamander taking the crown.

wolf, wildlife, yellowstone
Jim Peaco / Yellowstone National Park

Lawmakers voted 49-16 to direct $2 million to help kill problem wolves, over objections from Democrats who say it's a poor use of the money.

Friday's vote sends the measure, backed by Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and livestock producers, to the Senate.

Idaho has 118 packs and 680 wolves, according to 2012 figures.

This wolf control fund's proponents argue existing measures by federal trappers and hunters aren't enough to tackle wolves that prey on sheep, cattle and elk herds coveted by hunters.

This fund will help pick up the slack.

Idaho's insurance exchange voted to give two companies publicly funded contracts worth $40.8 million to build and operate a state enrollment system due to replace the federal software in place now.

Your Health Idaho's board Friday voted to give the work to GetInsured and Accenture, the two companies that also built California's state insurance exchange.

Idaho has used the federal government's exchange for the past five months because it didn't have enough time to build its own system before the Oct. 1, 2013 deadline.

Idaho's lackluster quiver of tax incentives make it flyover country for many companies looking to relocate or expand.

That's the verdict of Department of Commerce Director Jeff Sayer, who pitched a plan Friday he says would change that.

Sayer's proposition: What if Idaho allows companies that hire new, well-paid employees to recoup up to 30 percent of their income, sales and payroll taxes after they've proven to have met their expansion promises?

That way, he says, the state would protect itself from companies that don't follow through.

Cows
Mouldfish / Flickr Creative Commons

Lawmakers voted to send a bill blocking activists from secretly filming agricultural operations in hopes of capturing abuse on camera forward to full House debate.

The 13-1 vote came Thursday after the House Agricultural Affairs Committee heard testimony from dozens of farmers and animal rights supporters.

The Senate has already backed the measure, 23-10.

The bill, backed by Idaho's dairy industry, would slap those who sneak onto farms or get access under false pretenses to film animal abuse with fines and up to a year in jail.

Samantha Wright / Boise State Public Radio

UPDATE: 5:50 p.m.:

More gay rights activists were arrested by Idaho State Police after refusing to lift their peaceful blockade of the Idaho Senate.

In all, 30 people were arrested Thursday.

That included 23 people who posted themselves outside the Senate chambers for more than six hours but declined to leave when asked by law enforcement about 4 p.m.

All 23 were cited for misdemeanor trespassing.

gay marriage
Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

Four couples suing over Idaho's ban on same-sex marriage are asking a federal judge to rule in their favor without a trial, contending the facts of the case and recent federal court rulings elsewhere make it clear that Idaho's marriage laws violate the Constitution.

The defendant in the case, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, also is asking the judge for an immediate ruling, contending that states and not the federal government have the right to define marriage and that same-sex marriages would harm Idaho's children.

Lynn Luker
Idaho Legislature

A lawmaker promoting disputed legislation to protect religious people who refuse to serve gays, lesbians and others to whom they object from lawsuits says he'll withdraw the bill, for now.

Republican Rep. Lynn Luker of Boise says his measure was intended to protect the free exercise of religion, but was misinterpreted to be a "sword for discrimination."

A previous hearing on his measure lasted nearly four hours and drew hundreds to the Capitol.

Blaine County commissioners in central Idaho plan to finalize a resolution supporting a central Idaho national monument by Tuesday.

The Idaho Mountain Express reports that commissioners set that date so Commission Chair Larry Schoen can hand deliver the resolution backing a Boulder-White Clouds National Monument in person when he visits Washington, D.C., for a conference in early March.

KIDK via Facebook

The Idaho Attorney General's office has notified an eastern Idaho teacher that the state Department of Education is not going to pursue disciplinary action against her teaching certificate.

The Idaho State Journal in a story on Wednesday reports that Deputy Attorney General Andrew J. Snook notified Laraine Cook the office reviewed her case and found insufficient basis to go forward.

Cook was dismissed as a substitute teacher in Pocatello Chubbuck School District 25 in October over a photograph posted on her Facebook page showing her fiance touching her bikini-clad chest.

senate, legislature, capitol
Emilie Ritter Saunders / Boise State Public Radio

The Senate voted 25-10 for a bill to allow students, faculty and others to tote guns on college campuses.

Sponsor Sen. Curt McKenzie said Tuesday it's wrong to strip students and faculty of their Second Amendment rights.

The House will now consider the measure, where it's likely to pass.

Sen. Michelle Stennett opposed the bill, arguing it will burden schools with additional security costs and could escalate arguments.

A similar bill failed in 2011 in the Senate.

Idaho Capitol Dome
Emilie Ritter Saunders / Boise State Public Radio

A House panel ended the state's bid to appeal a federal judge's decision that rules governing protests at the Capitol are unconstitutional.

The House State Affairs Committee on Tuesday voted to reject rules that, among other things, had sought to limit protest duration and give special treatment to state events.

They were crafted in the wake of the "Occupy Boise" protests of 2011 and 2012.

But U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill decided the rules violated constitutional free speech protections last year.

protest, capitol
Courtesy Idaho Statesman

More than 200 gay rights demonstrators descended on the Idaho Capitol, with placard-holding, flag-bearing activists filling multiple rotunda floors as they sought again to convince Republican lawmakers to hold a hearing on a bill to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination.

Monday's showing was the largest this year at the Idaho Legislature.

But the group mixed without incident with other visitors to the Capitol, including representatives of Idaho's livestock industry and children promoting school choice.

There were no arrests or incidents.

Idaho taxpayers have paid private attorneys more than $30 million in the past three years to do the state's legal work, in part because the Idaho Attorney General's office doesn't have the staff to handle caseloads.

The Associated Press obtained the payment information from the State Controller's Office through a public records request. The private attorneys charge the state anywhere from $125 to well over $300 an hour, compared to the $54 per hour it costs to have a state staff attorney do the job.

Cow
Mingerspice / Flickr Creative Commons

Dairy farmers enraged by spying animal-rights activists got a boost when senators agreed to intensify punishments for those who film their operations without permission.

Idaho's Senate voted 23-10 Friday to put people caught surreptitiously recording agricultural operations in jail and fine them $5,000.

The bill now goes to the House.

This measure stems from a 2012 incident at an Idaho dairy where activists captured images of workers caning, beating and stomping on cows.

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