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Amara Sumah, owner of Sumah's West African Restaurant, poses Jan. 24 outside the restaurant in the Shaw neighborhood of Washington. Twenty-five years ago, Sumah and his wife, Isata, immigrated from Sierra Leone.

Recycling costs are going up, and the Twin Falls City Council wants your input

TWIN FALLS — Would you be willing to pay more for the city to take your recycling?

Twin Falls contracts with PSI Environmental Services for waste and recycling collection. In years past, recycling has diverted waste from the landfill while saving money. But that hasn’t been the case lately. In 2017, it cost about $40,000 more to recycle 1,846 tons than it would have cost to dump it.

The city’s contractor no longer wants to absorb those costs and is asking Twin Falls to at least share in paying them. But the city runs a tight budget with waste collection, and it would have to pass that cost on to ratepayers.

The City Council on Monday mulled over some options, but members indicated they would like to hear from the public before they vote on a solution. Twin Falls ratepayers can expect to see a few solid options presented at the meeting next week.

The Council recognized that some residents, like the Council members themselves, may have strong opinions on either side of the issue.

“It is so much within our country’s DNA now that I would fight by whatever means — most of them legal — to keep the recycling program going,” Councilman Chris Talkington said. “… I’d just as soon stop breathing as stop recycling.”

But City Councilwoman Suzanne Hawkins said she could not justify a cost increase to constituents at this time. Still, some Council members indicated they might favor allowing PSI to dump recycling collections in the landfill when market conditions warrant it.

This month, PSI has paid $136 per ton for recycling. It pays only $36 per ton to dump at the regional landfill.

The market for recycling is volatile, and a lot of that has a lot to do with contamination, PSI Manager Jeff Brewster said. China, which once accepted 50 percent of the world’s recyclables, this year cut back its contamination levels to 0.5 percent. Contamination, he defines, is basically anything that shouldn’t be going into the recycling carts — from grime in soup cans to the wrong kinds of plastic.

Some people put recyclable things in their bins which the city can’t take, like plastics No. 3-7. He calls this “wishful recycling.” But in reality, it ends up costing PSI, and potentially ratepayers, more — and it still gets dumped in a landfill.

“There are certain parts of town where our trucks probably have 10 or 15 percent contamination — and that’s not that uncommon,” Brewster said.

With China no longer accepting U.S. recycling, only a few Asian countries are taking it, and at a significantly lower price. Some recycling companies on the West coast have considered putting their excess in a landfill.

Raising rates would be one option to keep Twin Falls’ recycling program going, at least until the market became less volatile. But rate increases over 5 percent have to go to a public hearing process.

Last year, PSI paid nearly $110,000 for recycling. If the ratepayers absorbed that cost, their monthly bills would go up about 62 cents — that’s more than $7 annually. But costs today are much higher than a year ago, so a proposed rate increase could be, too.

The city could also vote to have an opt-in, opt-out program for recycling, but that could put the burden of recycling costs on only a few ratepayers. The city could also abandon recycling altogether, but “There’s no place to store 14,000 or 15,000 recycle carts,” said Bill Baxter, utility billing supervisor.

Wade Allred, a resident of Twin Falls, suggested PSI Environmental look at other potential partners to see if it could get a better deal on recycling.

Monday, the City Council hopes to see a breakdown of several options to consider — with associated costs. The public will have an opportunity to comment.

“We want your input,” Mayor Shawn Barigar said.

City staff may already begin the process of noticing a public hearing for a rate increase. They could propose the highest possible rate, and that figure could go down later.

In the meantime, Brewster reminds the public that “the cleaner our product is, it’s going to drive down our costs.” PSI accepts clean plastics Nos. 1 and 2, paper, cardboard, tin cans and aluminum cans.

Also at the meeting, the City Council:

  • Approved the appointments of Craig Kelley, Jonathon Austin, David Detweiler and Carolyn Bolton to the Planning and Zoning Commission.
  • Rejected all bids for the on-site sodium hypochlorite generator project.
  • Directed the Traffic Safety Commission to draft proposed amendments to city code regarding the group’s responsibilities.
  • Approved a request to purchase a new HP Designjet T1530 with one set of ink cartridges and with a warranty.

Idaho rethinks rights for crime victims — Proponents of Marsy’s law say it gives victims a voice

BOISE — Savahna Egbert doesn’t know where her stalker is today — and she doesn’t want to know.

Egbert, a former Twin Falls resident, has opted not to receive updates on the legal status and whereabouts of the man who followed her and sent threatening messages several years ago. But she believes that other crime victims should have the right to know those things if they choose.

Today, Egbert is the Twin Falls coordinator for Marsy’s Law, a proposed constitutional amendment that would expand the rights of crime victims in Idaho.

Egbert says she wouldn’t change anything about her experience with the Twin Falls justice system. But she says victims in other counties may not have received the same attention and opportunities that she did.

“I can’t imagine having gone through what I did without that type of care,” Egbert said. “I think Marsy’s Law presents an opportunity for that to become the standard rather than just the exceptional care of Twin Falls County.”

This is the second year that Marsy’s Law has been introduced in the Idaho state legislature. It passed in the Senate last year, but was ultimately shot down in the House State Affairs committee. Versions of the measure, which originated in California, have passed in four other states: Illinois, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Ohio.

Proposed changes in Idaho include giving victims the right to “confer” with the prosecution — they currently have the right to “communicate” — and requiring that victims be notified at all steps of court proceedings and “heard” prior to acceptance of sentencing, parole, guilty pleas, and other matters. A victim is defined as "an individual who suffers direct or threatened physical, financial or emotional harm as the result of a commission of a crime or juvenile offense." 

Egbert noted the right to “confer” as particularly significant. “Communicate” could be interpreted as loosely as sending a single email to the victim, she said, while “confer is a much more intimate way of addressing victim’s needs.”

Marsy’s Law likely wouldn’t change any current practices in Twin Falls, according to Twin Falls County Prosecuting Attorney Grant Loebs.

“There isn’t anything in there that we’re not doing already,” Loebs said.

Where the effects of Marsy’s Law are more likely to be felt: smaller counties with fewer resources.

There’s been some question as to how the amendment could impact these counties on a fiscal, as well as procedural, level.

“For smaller counties that don’t have the mechanisms in place already, this is going to create more of a requirement for them to have to provide these notification provisions,” said Kathy Griesmeyer, policy director of the ACLU of Idaho. “We’re providing rights for crime victims but not putting any funding toward how those rights might be protected.”

An economic analysis published by backers of Marsy’s Law in December estimated that the amendment could cost as much as $553,000 annually. However, the definition of "victim" in the legislation was broader at the time that the analysis was published; with the bill's current definition of "victim," it's expected to cost less. 

The cost may also go down if smaller counties “find ways to collaborate and share resources” for notifications, a news release announcing the analysis noted.

The ACLU is opposed to the proposal, Griesmeyer said, largely because of its potential to exacerbate problems within the Idaho criminal justice system such as overcrowded prisons and high public defender caseloads.

The ACLU believes Marsy’s Law could lead to delayed court proceedings at the pretrial and appeals stages and the delay of offenders being released from prison, resulting in “folks staying incarcerated for longer periods of time,” Griesmeyer said.

For the constitutional amendment to be enacted, Marsy’s Law must be passed by two-thirds of the House and Senate. After that, it must be approved by a majority of Idaho voters.

In the meantime, an alternative measure that would address victims’ rights through statute — rather than a change to the constitution — has also been introduced in the legislature.

Idaho’s Victim Protection Act, sponsored by Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, and Rep. Christy Zito, R-Hammett, is an “conservative option” in response to the Marsy’s Law bill, Zito said.

Griesmeyer said that while the ACLU would prefer any reforms to be in the form of legislative changes rather than constitutional amendments, the ACLU is not supporting either measure.

Neither bill has yet had a full committee hearing.

Editor's note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the definition of "victim" under Marsy's Law is "any person or entity directly and proximately harmed." It has been updated to reflect the most recent version of the bill. 

If you do one thing

If you do one thing: The Family of Woman Film Festival will feature the Bonni Curran Memorial Lecture for the Health and Dignity of Women at 6:30 p.m. at St. Thomas Episcopal Church, 201 Sun Valley Road, Ketchum. Free admission.

"Stand your ground" bill heads to Idaho Senate floor; Twin Falls prosecutor and police sergeant testify

BOISE — A bill to codify existing “stand your ground” case law is headed to the Senate floor after supporting testimony from Twin Falls public servants.

SB 1313, one of two Castle Doctrine bills this session, would put self-defense principles that already exist in Idaho case law and jury instruction into state code, Sen. Todd Lakey told the Senate State Affairs committee Monday morning. This includes expanding the definition of justifiable homicide to include not only defending one’s home against an intruder, but also defending one’s place of employment or an occupied vehicle.

“The best place to establish and maintain these principles is in Idaho code,” said Lakey, a Republican from Nampa. “The protection of and control over these concepts should be the result of legislative intent and action, not the judiciary.”

Putting the concepts into law would clarify the existing legal standard for everyday citizens who may not be familiar with caselaw or jury instruction, Lakey and supporters of the bill said.

Meanwhile, opponents argued that the bill would encourage people to “shoot first and ask questions later.” Several pointed to data showing increases in justifiable homicides in states that have enacted “Stand Your Ground” legislation and statistics suggesting racial minorities are disproportionately affected when such laws are put into place. Speakers testifying in favor of the bill included Twin Falls Prosecuting Attorney Grant Loebs and Twin Falls Police Staff Sergeant Brent Wright.

Loebs, who spoke on behalf of himself and the Idaho Prosecuting Attorneys Association, described current self-defense statute in Idaho as “very open-ended.”

“The point of this bill clarify what the law is so that citizens of this state understand it and don’t have to hire a lawyer to do research to find out what their rights are,” Loebs said. “A lot of people think that they have to prove that they are defending themselves in court, and that isn’t the case.”

Sen. Michelle Stennett, a Democrat from Ketchum, expressed concern that the law could lead to impulsive and unnecessary shootings.

“I would hope that if somebody is going to kill somebody...they would take a second to wonder whether it’s a good idea or not,” Stennett said. “This is just codifying the ability to not have to think and just act.”

Wright, who testified on behalf of the Idaho Fraternal Order of Police, said he and the Fraternal Order supported the legislation as a way to clear up some of the “massive amount of confusion” surrounding self-defense laws in the state.

The committee voted to send SB 1313 to the Senate floor, with two “no” votes coming from Stennett and Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, a Democrat from Boise.

Trump says he's willing to buck NRA; Congress not so sure (copy)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump declared Monday he's willing to take on the National Rifle Association over gun legislation, but Republicans who control Congress aren't so sure. They prefer to consider only modest changes to firearms limits in response to the mass shooting at a Florida high school.

Congress returned to work Monday without following Trump's lead on any of the major initiatives he has tossed into the debate since the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Despite public calls for stricter gun laws, Republican leaders have largely kept quiet after the shooting which left 17 dead and ushered in another phase in the gun debate, prompted in large part by the activism of the young survivors.

Over the weekend, Trump spent time talking to Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, and the White House is inviting lawmakers from both parties for meetings this week. But Trump's ideas to arm many teachers, lift the minimum age for buying assault rifles to 21 and impose stricter background checks were falling flat.

"You guys, half of you are so afraid of the NRA," the president said Monday at a meeting with the nation's governors. "There's nothing to be afraid of. And you know what? If they're not with you, we have to fight them every once in a while. That's OK."

Instead, Senate Republicans are hoping to consider more modest legislation from Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., to strengthen the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The "Fix NICS" bill, similar to one approved last year in the House, would penalize federal agencies that don't properly report required records used to determine whether someone can legally buy a gun.

While speaking to a roomful of governors at the White House on Monday, Trump, who's been highly critical of the law enforcement response to the Florida school shootings, said he would have rushed in, unarmed, if he'd been there.

"You don't know until you're tested, but I think I really believe I'd run in there even if I didn't have a weapon, and I think most of the people in this room would have done that, too," he said.

His session with the governors, in Washington for their annual winter meeting, was heavily focused on finding ways to address the massacre of 17 students and teachers in the school shooting.

Trump said anew that he was disappointed in officers who didn't stop the gunman, calling their performance "frankly disgusting."

Scot Peterson has been called a coward and worse for failing to act during the massacre. The criticism intensified Monday as Trump blasted the deputy and other officers who were there, saying they "weren't exactly Medal of Honor winners."

Peterson's attorney, issuing his first public statement about the attack, said it was "patently untrue" that the deputy failed to meet sheriff's department standards or acted with cowardice at the scene of the Feb. 14 assault. He resigned after Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said he felt sick to his stomach over his deputy's failure to intervene.

"Let there be no mistake, Mr. Peterson wishes that he could have prevented the untimely passing of the 17 victims on that day, and his heart goes out to the families of the victims in their time of need," attorney Joseph DiRuzzo said in the statement.

The sheriff's account of Peterson's actions that day was a "gross oversimplification," the attorney said.

The sheriff's office declined comment, explaining that Peterson's conduct is being investigated by its internal affairs division.

Peterson's statement said he and a security specialist ran to the scene at first word of the shooting, a report that mistakenly said firecrackers were being set off near one building. He then heard gunshots "but believed that those gunshots were originating from outside of the buildings."

Earlier Monday, gun control supporters on the steps of the Florida's Capitol kept up their protests. Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, now a Democratic candidate for governor, led more than 1,000 people rallying for a ban on assault rifles and criticizing the National Rifle Association for its proposal to arm teachers.