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$200M Idaho tax cut plan headed to governor's desk

BOISE — What is billed as one of the largest tax reduction bills in Idaho’s history is expected to be signed by Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter.

Senate members on Thursday approved the measure on a 26-9 vote, with just three Republican lawmakers voting with the Senate’s six Democrats in opposition.

“We have to believe it’s good for our families, we have to believe it’s good for Idaho,” said Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, a Republican from Rexburg.

The plan is two pronged.

The first part aligns Idaho’s income tax code to recent federal changes in the tax overhaul signed by President Donald Trump. State officials have estimated that the federal tax changes will result in Idaho taxpayers paying roughly $100 million more next year. While Idaho has the option to not conform, lawmakers typically conform to the federal tax code to prevent citizens from extra bookkeeping.

That’s when the second part of the proposal becomes crucial. To offset the $100 million conformity price tag, HB 463 calls for reducing all seven of Idaho’s brackets for personal income tax rates and corporate tax rates by 0.475 percent. It also creates an Idaho child tax credit.

Changing the state’s tax brackets would lower Idaho’s $3.5 billion general fund by $159.6 million while implementing the child tax credit would slash the fund by an additional $42.3 million — totaling nearly $200 million.

Democratic lawmakers and a handful of Republicans have criticized the proposal because larger families are expected to have a higher tax burden if the bill is enacted.

The federal government removed the personal exemption for dependents by doubling the federal child tax credit from $1,000 to $2,000. However, Idaho’s code doesn’t have an Idaho child tax credit.

The measure passed Thursday adds a $130 child tax credit — an amount that many say isn’t enough.

“If you want to call this bill a tax cut, you can, but that’s not what’s really happening,” said Sen. Grant Burgoyne, a Democrat from Boise. “Put another way, if your 3-year-old takes scissors to her bangs, you don’t call it a haircut.”

A recent analysis by the nonpartisan Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy reported that families who have three or more children earning between $39,000 and $63,000 a year would pay on average roughly $3,000 in taxes.

“I speak for the children, I speak for Idaho families and I speak for the businesses who understand the need for highly skilled workers, we still have work to do,” said Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, a Democrat from Boise. “We’re still recovering from the recession. This is simply too much too soon.”

After all 59 Republicans in House approved HB 463 earlier this year, the Senate passed the measure with just GOP Sens. Jeff Siddoway, Shawn Keough and Dan Johnson voting with the Senate’s six Democrats in opposition.

Siddoway, former chairman of the Senate’s tax committee, Keough, co-chair of the state’s powerful budget setting committee, are not running for re-election.

State lawmakers are feeling pressure to pass a tax cut bill not only because of the pending May primary election, but also because a substantive tax cut plan hasn’t been enacted in Idaho since 2013.


From left to right, Burley senior Quinten Morgan, junior Alex Ramos, junior Brayden Bowen and senior Kalvn Hodge celebrate as Burley defeats Vallivue 69-50 on Thursday, March 1, 2018, during the 4A boys state basketball tournament at Borah High School in Boise. 

GOP cautious, Dems elated, by Trump's stance on guns

WASHINGTON — Republicans reacted cautiously Thursday to President Donald Trump’s call for quick and substantial changes to the nation’s gun laws, while elated Democrats said they will try to hold Trump to his promises.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Democrats were “stunned and surprised — many of us pleasantly — by what we saw” from Trump at a televised meeting Wednesday at the White House.

Schumer said he was especially pleased that Trump seemed to endorse universal background checks for gun purchases and even seemed open to a politically controversial ban on assault weapons such as the AR-15 rifle used in last month’s shooting at a Florida high school.

“The president started on the right foot, but we must work together to get it done,” Schumer said Thursday at a news conference where he outlined new Democratic proposals for gun control. “Words alone will not prevent the next mass shooting. One public meeting will not close background check loopholes. One hour of television won’t get assault weapons off our streets.”

Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, said Trump hosted “an amazing meeting” about how to respond to the deadly Florida shooting, but his legislation to strengthen the federal background check system was “our best and only option to act in response.”

Cornyn and other Republicans have resisted a comprehensive approach to gun legislation, even as Trump and Democrats say more must be done.

Trump held a freewheeling, televised meeting with lawmakers at the White House that stretched for an hour Wednesday, and he rejected both his party’s incremental approach and its strategy that has stalled action on gun legislation.

Giving hope to Democrats, he said he favored a “comprehensive” approach to addressing gun violence.

Trump again voiced support for expanded background checks. He endorsed increased school security and more mental health resources, and he reaffirmed his support for raising the age to 21 for purchasing some firearms. Trump mentioned arming teachers, and said his administration, not Congress, would ban “bump-stock” devices that enable guns to fire like automatic weapons with an executive order.

“We can’t wait and play games and nothing gets done,” Trump told the session with 17 House and Senate lawmakers.

Trump raised eyebrows by suggesting that law enforcement officials should be able to confiscate people’s firearms without a court order to prevent potential tragedies.

“Take the guns first, go through due process second,” he suggested.

Trump arose Thursday with the gun issue on his mind, tweeting that “Many ideas, some good & some not so good,” emerged from the meeting.

He said “Background Checks a big part of conversation” and “Gun free zones are proven targets of killers.”

“After many years, a Bill should emerge,” Trump went on. “Respect 2nd Amendment!”

Trump’s suggestion to take guns away drew immediate criticism from Republicans.

“Is anyone ok with this, because I’m sure as hell not,” Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., tweeted on Thursday. “I swore an oath to support and defend the constitution. Speak up.” Massie is a conservative who is backed by tea party groups.

The president has previously supported ideas popular with Democrats, only to back away when faced with opposition from his conservative supporters and his GOP allies in Congress. It was not clear whether he would continue to push for swift and significant changes to gun laws, when confronted with the inevitable resistance from his party.

Still, the televised discussion allowed Trump to present himself as a potential dealmaker. Democratic lawmakers appealed to the president to use his political power to persuade his party to take action.

“It is going to have to be you,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., told Trump.

Trump’s call for stronger background checks, which are popular among Americans, has been resisted by Republicans and the NRA. Republicans are leaning toward modest legislation designed to improve the background check system. Trump made clear he was looking for more and accused lawmakers of being “petrified” of the gun lobby.

Democrats said they were concerned Trump’s interest may fade quickly. After the meeting, Murphy told reporters: “I’m worried that this was the beginning and the end of the president’s advocacy on this issue. The White House has to put some meat on the bones. The White House has to send a proposal to Congress.”

NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said that while the White House meeting “made for great TV, the gun-control proposals discussed would make for bad policy that would not keep our children safe.”

Trump rejected the way Republican leaders in Congress have framed the debate, saying the House-backed bill linking a background check measure with a bill to expand gun rights by allowing gun owners to carry concealed weapons across state lines was not the right approach.

The concealed carry measure is the gun lobby’s top legislative priority. But “you’ll never get it passed,” Trump told lawmakers.

He suggested Republicans should focus on the background check bill, then load it up with other gun control and safety measures.

Among those at the meeting were Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who are pushing their bill to broaden background checks to include firearm purchases online and at gun shows. The bill failed in 2013 after the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

Trump asked Toomey if the bill would raise the minimum age for young people to buy an assault weapon. Toomey told the president it did not.

“You know why,” Trump scoffed. “Because you’re afraid of the NRA.”

In fact, Toomey’s bill was opposed by the NRA. The group downgraded its rating of Toomey as he ran for re-election in 2016.

Toomey said Thursday that Trump called him to express support for the background checks bill “as the core legislative vehicle” for what Congress does on guns.

Putin's nuke boasts are unlikely to change balance of power

WASHINGTON — Russia’s claim to have developed new strategic weapons impervious to Western defenses seems unlikely to change the balance of global power.

Russian nuclear missiles already have the ability to annihilate the U.S., and U.S. defense strategy is based mainly on the deterrent threat of massive nuclear retaliation, not on an impenetrable shield against Russian missiles.

Some analysts said President Vladimir Putin’s statements about the new weapons may speed up what they see as an emerging arms race with the United States. Just last month the United States cast Russia as the main reason it needs to develop two new nuclear weapons: a lower-yield warhead for a submarine-launched ballistic missile and a sea-launched nuclear cruise missile.

The Trump administration has vowed to expand U.S. nuclear strength, while criticizing Russia’s buildup. Putin’s remarks seem unlikely to change that equation or divert the Trump administration from its path toward modernizing the full U.S. nuclear arsenal at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars while also expanding missile defenses.

Putin, in a state-of-the-nation speech Thursday in Moscow just days before he is expected to win another six-year presidential term, said his new weapons include a nuclear-powered cruise missile, a nuclear-powered underwater drone that could be armed with a nuclear warhead, and a hypersonic missile that has no equivalent in the world.

Putin said Thursday that Russia has these new strategic weapons and many more, declaring: “No one has listened to us. You listen to us now.”

The United States should now revise its Russia policy and engage in a serious dialogue on global security, Putin said.

“You will have to assess that new reality and become convinced that what I said today isn’t a bluff,” he said. “It’s not a bluff, trust me.”

The Pentagon recently mentioned Russia’s work on two of the weapons Putin mentioned: the underwater drone with intercontinental range and a hypersonic “glide vehicle,” which is a weapon that Washington and Beijing also are working on. The Pentagon has not publicly talked about the nuclear-powered cruise missile mentioned by Putin. It is reminiscent of U.S. work in the 1960s on a similar weapon, dubbed “The Big Stick,” but ultimately scrapped.

The White House dismissed Putin’s comments.

“President Putin has confirmed what the United States government has known all along, which Russia has denied: Russia has been developing destabilizing weapons systems for over a decade in direct violations of its treaty obligations,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House spokeswoman, said in response to Putin’s announcement.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert noted that Putin was speaking ahead of the March 18 election.

“We think he was playing to the audience,” she said, adding that Putin’s boasts were irresponsible. She said it was “unfortunate” to watch a Russian video animation Putin showed during his address that she said depicted “a nuclear attack on the United States.” She called the animation “cheesy.”

Although Putin said his announcement was intended to get America’s attention, he also said he was open to talks with the U.S.

“We aren’t threatening anyone, we aren’t going to attack anyone, we aren’t going to take anything from anyone,” he said.

Putin claimed his new weapons will render U.S. and European defenses useless, suggesting an escalation of the stakes in a long-running struggle for stability in the post-Cold War world. Moscow has long threatened to find technological ways around Western missile defenses that it sees as threatening and that the West denies are aimed at Russia.

Thomas Karako, a missile defense expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Putin’s statements are consistent with a larger pattern of Russian thinking about nuclear weapons and Russia’s role in the world. The Trump administration interprets Russian statements and actions over the past several years, including its annexation of the Crimea and military incursions into eastern Ukraine, as requiring a stronger U.S. nuclear deterrent.

Pentagon spokeswoman Dana W. White said the U.S. will stick to its insistence that U.S. missile defenses are not a threat to Russia.

“This is not about defense; it’s about deterrence,” she said, adding that the Defense Department was not surprised by Putin’s weapons claims.

Michaela Dodge, a Heritage Foundation missile defense expert, said Putin’s statements confirm that the Trump administration was right to build its recent review of nuclear weapons policy around concerns about Russia.

The administration’s view is that Russian policies and actions are fraught with potential for miscalculation leading to an uncontrolled escalation of conflict in Europe. It specifically points to a Russian doctrine known as “escalate to de-escalate,” in which Moscow would use or threaten to use lower-yield nuclear weapons in a limited, conventional conflict in Europe in the belief that doing so would compel the United States and NATO to back down.

Evan Vucci 

President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with steel and aluminum executives in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Thursday, March 1, 2018, in Washington. From left, Roger Newport of AK Steel, John Ferriola of Nucor, Trump, Dave Burritt of U.S. Steel Corporation, and Tim Timkin of Timken Steel. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Former Chobani employee sues company citing discrimination over disability

TWIN FALLS — A former Chobani employee is suing the company, claiming she was discriminated against because of a physical disability.

In the suit filed Feb. 22 in U.S. District Court, Griselda Coronado of Twin Falls County has requested a jury trial in her claim that Chobani wrongfully terminated her in 2017. The plaintiff said that Chobani refused to accommodate her with regards to her physical disability.

Coronado’s attorney, Jacob Wessel, said it was too early to comment on the case. Chobani also declined a request for comment.

Court documents state Coronado began working for Chobani in 2013 and has a “physical impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities.” She was a case pack operator and took a medical leave of absence in late 2016 after Chobani refused to accommodate her. When Coronado asked to return to work with “reasonable accommodation” in September 2017, the company fired her.

Coronado has filed a charge of unlawful employment practices with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and was authorized to sue the company.

“Chobani’s acts were done intentionally with an improper, abusive, discriminatory motive, and with reckless indifference to Plaintiff’s federally protected rights,” the suit says.

Coronado is requesting back pay and benefits from her date of firing up to trial, plus front pay, and benefits, attorney’s fees and punitive damages.

This is at least the third discrimination lawsuit that has been filed against Chobani in eight months. In the summer of 2017, Jerry Ash filed a suit in federal court claiming the company discriminated against him because of his age. He worked for the company between July 2012 and June 2015.

Later that summer, Virginia Tucker also filed an age discrimination lawsuit. Tucker worked as a maintenance technician at the Twin Falls yogurt plant from January 2013 until she was fired in June 2015. She was fired the same day as Ash.