Government Transparency

Idaho relies on private contractors to carry out government functions ranging from running prisons to keeping schools connected online.

The state's public records law clearly states no matter who holds the documents — government vendor or public agency — public records are always public. But a test of the law by The Associated Press shows the reality is murkier.

The Idaho House has endorsed increasing fines for violating the state's open meeting law.

Republican Rep. Linden Bateman told House members Monday that the fees hadn't been raised since the original law passed four decades ago.

The plan is slated to increase the fine fivefold — from $50 to $250 — in order to cover the cost of inflation. More severe violations could cost up to $2,500.

The bill passed 58-11. It now goes to the Senate for approval.

A group of University of Idaho law school students is backing legislation that would remove Idaho's copyright on its state laws and make them part of the public domain.

The House Health and Welfare committee unanimously voted to introduce the bill Friday.

Rep. Luke Malek from Coeur d'Alene says the public should have easy access to law ignorance if ignorance is no excuse for breaking state statutes.

The students argue that the only way to get a copy of law is to pay for it. The state's free online version is not official.

A House committee has voted unanimously to introduce a bill closing a loophole that allows political action committees to receive money without having to reveal the source until after Election Day.

Republican Rep. Greg Chaney of Caldwell told the House State Affairs Committee on Wednesday that current Idaho law allows for roughly two weeks in which political action committees can receive and spend large campaign contributions without revealing who gave them until a month after the election.

An eastern Idaho family has launched an online fundraising effort to help cover the estimated $1,200 cost to access public records about the Idaho State University president's residence.

Rhonda and Eric D'Amico and their son Sam D'Amico filed a public record request for receipts and other documents showing how much the university spends to renovate and maintain the Servel House. The house is used as a residence for ISU's president, Arthur Vailas.

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.


City officials in Sandpoint are defending banning the public from a meeting about oil and coal train traffic attended by three area mayors, a state senator, county commissioner and officials from the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality.

Sandpoint Mayor Carrie Logan tells the Bonner County Daily Bee that the meeting Thursday was for information only and no actions were taken.

Idaho Capitol Dome
Emilie Ritter Saunders / Boise State Public Radio

Public records from Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's office show that an executive order creating a new public records ombudsman had to be scaled back at the last minute over concerns it could step on existing law.

Otter issued the executive order late last month, naming Cally Younger the new ombudsman and calling on her to create an annual report detailing public record requests and denials. The move was in response to a request from the Newspaper Association of Idaho, which wanted an option to appeal denied requests without going to court.

Idaho Capitol Dome
Emilie Ritter Saunders / Boise State Public Radio

Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter has appointed a public records ombudsman to review how state agencies handle records requests and to look at ways to improve Idaho's public records laws.

Cally Younger, the associate attorney for the governor's office, is filling the post, Otter announced Wednesday.

Idaho Gets A Failing Grade For Government Transparency

Apr 8, 2014
government transparency, map

Idaho is one of three states with a failing grade when it comes to government transparency, as ranked by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a consumer interest group.

Why It's Tough To Track What Lobbyists Give To Idaho Lawmakers

Jan 30, 2014
Tim Hurst, lobbying
Emilie Ritter Saunders / Boise State Public Radio

Late last year, St. Louis Public Radio and NPR launched an interactive data project that lets Missouri voters see just how much money their state representative has accepted from lobbyists. It's an easy-to-navigate visual that gives people a sense of the kinds of relationships that have developed under their Capitol dome. A similar one-stop-shop of lobbying disclosure info wouldn't be possible in Idaho.

The issue of tax transparency in Washington is getting fresh attention on the heels of a major tax deal for Boeing.

A group of Idaho Department of Juvenile Correction employees who filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the state say the agency is violating a judge's order to meet and decide which documents should be made public.

Board members of the Idaho health insurance exchange said Tuesday that they will keep secret the findings of a $15,000 taxpayer-funded investigation into how one of its own members won a lucrative no-bid contract.

Your Health Idaho board chairman Stephen Weeg said the two-week-long review by a private lawyer uncovered "lapses in judgment," though nothing illegal. Exchange executive director Amy Dowd last month awarded a technology contract worth up to $375,000 to board member Frank Chan, who quit the same day the contract was announced.

Idaho insurance exchange leaders trimmed the Internet marketplace director's power to sign lucrative deals with vendors after criticizing her move to award a former board member a no-bid contract worth up to $375,000.

Your Health Idaho executive director Amy Dowd now must get the board's permission for any transaction over $15,000.

Beyond this strict new limit, exchange board members voted Tuesday to sever ties with Frank Chan, the former board member who got the contract.

A federal judge presiding over an antitrust lawsuit between two major health care providers in Idaho has declared that testimony and documents can remain hidden from public view.

U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled Tuesday after the Idaho Statesman and other news organizations challenged the broad shroud of secrecy approved for documents and trial testimony.

Idaho news organizations are seeking to open court proceedings to the public by intervening in a lawsuit between two big health care providers.

On Wednesday, The Idaho Statesman in Boise, The Times-News in Twin Falls, The Associated Press, the Idaho Press-Tribune in Nampa and the Idaho Press Club asked U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill reverse a pretrial order closing the courtroom to some testimony.

Emilie Ritter Saunders / Boise State Public Radio

A federal judge has sided with a coalition of 17 Idaho news organizations in denying a request by the state's only private prison contractor to seal whatever it wants in a lawsuit brought by a group of inmates at the prison. 

U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge issued an order Tuesday that significantly scales back a broad protection order sought by the Corrections Corporation of America, which operates the Idaho Correctional Center south of Boise.

Private prison company Corrections Corporation of America is asking a federal judge to deny a request from Idaho news organizations to keep documents open in a lawsuit over conditions at a CCA-run prison.

Three Idaho school districts and a county have been honored for their websites. The non-profit government transparency organization Sunshine Review gave its annual Sunny Awards to the 247 government websites it deemed most transparent.  

The Boise, Blaine County and Caldwell School Districts made the list. Canyon was the only Idaho county to show up.