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US appeals court: Idaho's spying ban at farms unconstitutional

BOISE — Idaho’s ban on spying at farms, dairies and slaughterhouses violated free speech rights, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday.

“The panel held that the subsection criminalized innocent behavior, was staggeringly overbroad, and that the purpose of the statute was, in large part, targeted at speech and investigative journalists,” wrote U.S. Circuit Judge M. Margaret McKeown in a 56-page ruling.

Idaho lawmakers in 2014 passed the law making it a crime to surreptitiously videotape agriculture operations after the state’s $2.5 billion dairy industry complained that videos of cows being abused at a dairy two years earlier unfairly hurt their businesses.

The measure passed easily in Idaho, where agriculture is not only one of the leading businesses but also the occupation of many state lawmakers.

Animal rights activists, civil rights groups and media organizations quickly sued once the bill received the governor’s signature, arguing the law criminalized a long tradition of undercover journalism and would require people who expose wrongdoing to pay restitution to the businesses they target.

In Thursday’s decision, the appeals panel upheld a prior federal judge’s ruling that the ban was an unconstitutional infringement of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution safeguarding free speech.

The panel also ruled the law correctly criminalized those who made false statements to either obtain records at an agricultural facility or to obtain employment with the intent to inflict harm.

“We are sensitive to journalists’ constitutional right to investigate and publish exposes on the agricultural industry. Matters related to food safety and animal cruelty are of significant public importance,” McKeown wrote. “However, the First Amendment right to gather news within legal bounds does not exempt journalists from laws of general applicability.”

The panel then reiterated a federal judge’s point that there are already state and federal laws on the books that protect private property.

The Idaho attorney general’s office was reviewing the decision and planned on discussing it with state officials, said spokesman Scott Graff.

According to the opinion, the panel particularly took exception to the law’s ban on audiovisual recordings but not photography, rejecting the state’s argument that the act of making a video or audio recording is not protected by the First Amendment.

“Without some legitimate explanation, we are left to conclude that Idaho is singling out for suppression one mode of speech — audio and video recordings of agricultural operations — to keep controversy and suspect practices out of the public eye,” the opinion stated.

The Idaho Dairymen’s Association — a trade organization that represents Idaho’s dairy industry — wrote the measure after the Los Angeles-based animal rights group Mercy For Animals released videos that showed workers at Bettencourt Dairy beating and stomping cows in 2012.

At the time, one legislator supportive of the bill dubbed animal rights groups as terrorists while another described videos depicting animal abuse were used to publicly crucify a company and as a blackmail tool.

A separate lawmaker noted that if the Mercy For Animals video had never been published, the bill wouldn’t have surfaced.

Seven states have similar measures — Kansas, North Dakota, Montana, Iowa, Utah, Missouri and North Carolina. Legal challenges are pending in Utah and North Carolina.

13 family-friendly ways to fight cabin fever this Saturday

TWIN FALLS — The winter holidays are over. Are you feeling bored, lazy, irritable or restless?

Twin Falls’ Parks and Recreation Department wants you to fight back cabin fever by taking part in a community-wide event on Saturday. The 18th annual Cabin Fever Day kicks off with activities beginning as early as 9 a.m.

This year, 13 organizations are offering free or discounted ways to put the winter blues at bay.

“Cabin Fever Day is a day for the community to get out,” Twin Falls Recreation Supervisor Stacy McClintock said. “They get depressed and they get withdrawn because they’re inside the whole time. I encourage people to get out and explore and do things.”

The event includes activities such as bowling, golfing, scuba diving and swimming. Not sure where to start? Each participating location — and the Parks and Recreation Department — will have maps available before and during the event.

“If you want to do something, get there early,” McClintock said.

Here are 13 things you can do this Saturday, either by yourself or with your family:

1. Swim at the YMCA pool

The YMCA will host a free swim day from noon to 4 p.m. at 1751 Elizabeth Blvd. The family can also participate in crafts and games.

2. Feed your child for free

Each child 11 years and younger will get a free meal with the purchase of one regular adult buffet at Pizza Pie Café, 1826 Canyon Crest Drive. The offer will be available from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Children can also participate in a coloring contest, and the winners will receive a free pizza party.

3. Jump on a trampoline

JumpTime, 302B Third St. S., is offering a discount at its indoor trampoline park. Between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when you buy one hour, you get a second hour for free.

The business has 18,000 square feet of trampolines, foam pits, slam dunk basketball, inflatables and video games for the entire family.

4. Golf for free

If weather permits, the Twin Falls Golf Course will have its driving range open free of charge from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 554 Grandview Drive. The putting green will also be open.

5. Walk through the park

The Twin Falls Public Library, 201 Fourth Ave. E., is encouraging people to come take a walk through the City Park. A winter story and family activity will also take place, followed by hot chocolate and cider in the program room. The activities happen between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., with a movie matinee to follow.

6. Learn to play an instrument

Teachers at the Wakefield Music Academy will offer free music lessons from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at 684 Blue Lakes Blvd. N., behind Arctic Circle. You’ll be able to get a 15- to 30- minute introduction to an instrument — such as piano, violin, guitar, ukulele, viola or cello — owner Alissa Wakefield said. You may bring your own or use one of theirs.

The Wakefield Music Academy offers group and individual music lessons for ages 16 months and older. The business started in Mountain Home about seven years ago and opened in Twin Falls in August, she said. Saturday is also its grand opening, with giveaways.

7. Get crafty

The Idaho Department of Health And Welfare, Division of Behavioral Health will be helping you learn creative coping techniques through crafts. From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., staff will be at the College of Southern Idaho’s Herrett Center, 315 Falls Ave., to facilitate rock painting, coloring and mask painting. You can also learn how to build a “calming bottle.”

8. Bowl for free

The Bowladrome, 220 Eastland Drive, will treat visitors to one free game of bowling and shoe rental from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

9. Go cross-country skiing

Magic Mountain Ski Resort will offer free cross-country skiing with free snow shoe rentals from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. off of Rock Creek Road in Kimberly. The whole family can ski and snowboard for $50.

10. Go scuba diving

AWOL Dive and Kayak will teach scuba diving classes from noon to 4 p.m. at the city pool, 756 Locust St. N. Adults and children 10 years and older can take part — just bring a bathing suit. Children ages 17 and younger will have to have an adult signature.

“We start you out on the shallow end,” AWOL Dive and Kayak owner Paul Melni said.

Each class takes about a half-hour and is limited to eight participants. You can pre-register at the Parks and Recreation Department, 136 Maxwell Ave.

AWOL offers scuba diving classes year-round.

“We teach twice as many scuba diving classes in the winter as in the summer,” Melni said.

11. Meet reptiles

The Herrett Center, 315 Falls Ave., will have a reptile meet-and-greet from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

At 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., the planetarium will offer live “sky tours” and a sneak-peek of some of the full-dome video shows. The observatory will be open for viewing through the telescope from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

12. Learn self defense

Success Martial Arts, 1300 Kimberly Road, will have two sessions where you can learn self defense and build focus, self-control, courage and confidence. A “Noodle Samurai” activity will help you develop quickness and teamwork.

All ages can come to either session, from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. or 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.

13. Play some pool or ping pong

Mardi Katz of Twin Falls, 677 Filer Ave., will offer discounted activities from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Play “Glow-Mini-Golf,” pool, video games, ping pong, basketball, darts and more.

There will be snacks, and free candy will be given to anyone who gets a hole-in-one on the last hole of mini golf.

UPDATE: Twin Falls Sears will close, auto center shutting down first in late February

TWIN FALLS — Sears Holdings has announced that it will close its store at the Magic Valley Mall.

On Thursday, the company informed associates at 64 Kmart stores and 39 Sears stores that it would be closing them in March and April. Liquidation sales at the affected locations would start Jan. 12.

The Twin Falls Sears at 1543 Pole Line Road E., will close its auto center first, in late February. A manager at the store confirmed the entire store would close — and a company statement shows it closing in early April.

Sears Holdings said in the statement that it would continue assessing the productivity of Kmart and Sears stores and will “right size our store footprint in number and size. … We will continue to close some unprofitable stores as we transform our business model so that our physical store footprint and our digital capabilities match the needs and preferences of our members.”

Macy’s, meanwhile, had also announced its Twin Falls store would close in late March as part of an August 2016 plan to close 100 stores.

“While closing a store is always a difficult decision because of the impact on our customers, our associates and the community, Macy’s is delighted to have served this community over the years,” a company spokesperson said Thursday in a statement.


Tess Burch, 5, jumps with her mother Hailey Burch on Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018, at JumpTime Idaho in Twin Falls.

Curtis Compton, Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP 

FILE - In this photo taken Feb. 5, 2017, file photo, , Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan reacts after losing Super Bowl 51 as the screen flashes New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and confetti flies in Houston. Seven of the 12 teams that are in the NFL playoffs have never won the big game, matching the largest group of playoff-bound squads with not-so-Super pedigrees since the 1999 season.

Sessions terminates US policy that let legal pot flourish (copy)

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration threw the burgeoning movement to legalize marijuana into uncertainty Thursday as it lifted an Obama-era policy that kept federal authorities from cracking down on the pot trade in states where the drug is legal. Attorney General Jeff Sessions will now leave it up to federal prosecutors to decide what to do when state rules collide with federal drug law.

Sessions’ action, just three days after a legalization law went into effect in California, threatened the future of the young industry, created confusion in states where the drug is legal and outraged both marijuana advocates and some members of Congress, including Sessions’ fellow Republicans. Many conservatives are wary of what they see as federal intrusion in areas they believe must be left to the states.

Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, who represents Colorado, one of eight states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use, said the change contradicts a pledge Sessions made to him before being confirmed as attorney general. Gardner promised to push legislation to protect marijuana sales, saying he was prepared “to take all steps necessary” to fight the change, including holding up the confirmation of Justice Department nominees. Another Republican senator, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, called the announcement “disruptive” and “regrettable.”

Colorado’s U.S. attorney, Bob Troyer, said his office won’t change its approach to prosecution, despite Sessions’ guidance. Prosecutors there always have focused on marijuana crimes that “create the greatest safety threats” and will continue to be guided by that, Troyer said.

The largely hands-off approach to marijuana enforcement set forth by Barack Obama’s

Justice Department allowed the pot business to flourish into a sophisticated, multimillion-dollar industry that helps fund some state government programs. What happens now is in doubt.

“In deciding which marijuana activities to prosecute under these laws with the Department’s finite resources, prosecutors should follow the well-established principles that govern all federal prosecutions,” considering the seriousness of a crime and its impact on the community, Sessions told prosecutors in a one-page memo.

While Sessions, a longtime marijuana foe, has been carrying out a Justice Department agenda that follows Trump’s top priorities on such issues as immigration and opioids, this change reflects his own concerns. He railed against marijuana as an Alabama senator and has assailed it as comparable to heroin.

Trump, as a candidate, said pot should be left up to the states, but his personal views on marijuana remain largely unknown.

It is not clear how the change might affect states where marijuana is legal for medical purposes. A congressional amendment blocks the Justice Department from interfering with medical marijuana programs in states where it is allowed. Justice officials said they would follow the law, but would not preclude the possibility of medical-marijuana related prosecutions.

Officials wouldn’t say whether federal prosecutors would target marijuana shops and legal growers, nor would they speculate on whether pot prosecutions would increase.

They denied the timing was connected to the opening of California sales, which are projected to bring in $1 billion annually in tax revenue within several years. And, the officials said, Thursday’s action might not be the only step toward greater marijuana enforcement. The department has the authority to sue states on the grounds that state laws regulating pot are unconstitutional, pre-empted by federal law.

Asked about the change, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said only that Trump’s top priority is enforcing federal law “and that is regardless of what the topic is, whether it’s marijuana or whether it’s immigration.”

The Obama administration in 2013 announced it would not stand in the way of states that legalize marijuana, so long as officials acted to keep it from migrating to places where it remained outlawed and keep it out of the hands of criminal gangs and children. That memo, written by then-Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole, had cleared up some of the uncertainty about how the federal government would respond as states began allowing sales for recreational and medical purposes.

But the Sessions Justice Department believed the Cole memo created a “safe harbor” for marijuana by allowing states to flout federal law, Justice Department officials said. Sessions, in his memo, called the Obama guidance “unnecessary.”

He and some law enforcement officials in states such as Colorado blame legalization for a number of problems, including drug traffickers who have taken advantage to illegally grow and ship the drug across state lines, where it can sell for much more.

Marijuana advocates argue those concerns are overblown and contend legalizing the drug reduces crime by eliminating the need for a black market. They quickly condemned Sessions’ move as a return to outdated drug-war policies that unduly affected minorities.