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Richard Simpson For the Times-News 

Winchester's latest incarnation of the efficient, underappreciated 6.5 round. 

Proactive probation
Proactive probation
Magic Valley probation officers try new approach

TWIN FALLS — How do you stop a person who has committed a crime from doing the same thing again?

It could be as simple as talking with them.

Local probation and parole officers have shifted their focus in recent years from the traditionally reactive approach taken by officers to a more proactive, personal approach that’s heavy on conversations and self-reflection.

“For the most part, the history of community corrections supervision... has been around a surveillance model. You watch somebody until they screw up, and then you respond to that,” said Dawn Anderson, district manager for District 5, which includes Blaine, Camas, Cassia, Gooding, Jerome, Lincoln, Minidoka and Twin Falls counties.

“You know, it seems simple to tell somebody what they need to do, so that they don’t find themselves in the situation of breaking the law,” Anderson said. “But what happens when we’re not there to tell them what to do anymore?”

The new focus on intrinsic motivation through conversation is part of a broader statewide effort by the Department of Correction to change the culture in probation and parole offices.

“We trained our P.O.s for years to be referees, always throwing out the red flag,” IDOC director Henry Atencio told the state legislature’s Criminal Justice Reinvestment Oversight Committee last month. “Today, we’re training our P.O.s to be life coaches.”

Atencio compared the strategy to parenting: “The more praise you’re giving, and positive direction, the better outcome you’re going to get.”

The shift in District 5 is largely rooted in a growing emphasis on motivational interviewing (MI), a communications method that focuses on building intrinsic motivation through self-reflection, rather than external pressures.

Motivational interviewing first began attracting attention for its effectiveness in alcohol counseling situations in the 1980s, and has since become common in the criminal justice system.

Lead probation and parole officer Gayle Johnson describes it as a “more conversational” style of interacting with clients that’s geared toward changing long-term behavior, rather than responding to infractions.

Changing long-term behavior isn’t a new goal for probation and parole officers by any means. Nor is the concept behind motivation interviewing — bringing about that change in behavior through intrinsic motivation, rather than external pressures — a new goal for District 5.

But the 2014 Justice Reinvestment Act, passed with the intent of reducing recidivism in the state, provided the district with additional funding to focus on training efforts. Before that, officers were given some basic MI instruction at the start of their careers; today, that training process is continual and personalized for each officer.

As an MI instructor, Johnson trains her fellow officers in the method and helps them evaluate ways they can improve. She is the only instructor in District 5 at the moment, but that is expected to change soon: three more people are going through instructor training.

It can be difficult at times to convince her fellow officers that the method is appropriate for a probation or parole setting.

“There are some probation officers that feel like, ‘I wasn’t hired on to be a counselor, I don’t have counseling skills, I wasn’t trained,’” Johnson said. “So I think sometimes there’s maybe a block in how this fits into their role.”

Another challenge: finding the time to sit down and have a lengthy conversation with every probationer and parolee. There are 28 officers in District 5; there were 1,687 offenders in the district at the end of January.

“Conversations take more than five minutes,” Anderson said. “If somebody is trying to spend quality time with somebody going through that process, having 50 offenders on your caseload and they all need some of your time, it really doesn’t work very well.”

Anderson, echoing a common lament across Idaho, says she would like to see her district’s officers have their caseloads reduced. The Department of Correction has requested 12 additional officers throughout the state for FY 2019.

It’s difficult to measure how effective the recent emphasis on motivational interviewing has been, as the state’s prison population continues to grow. Idaho’s recidivism rate sits at 32 percent today; in 2013, prior to the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, that rate was 35 percent.

“You don’t move those numbers overnight,” Anderson said. “We hope that another three years down the road, our recidivism rate drops a few percentage points.”

State bill seeks to limit when school districts can try again with failed levy or bond

TWIN FALLS — A bill introduced Monday in the state Legislature would make school districts and government agencies wait at least a year after a failed bond or levy before trying again.

Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, brought the proposal to the House State Affairs Committee. If approved, agencies must wait to bring a measure back to voters if it’s “the same type or subject,” according to the bill.

Proponents say it would protect voters and force public agencies to ask for only money that’s really needed. But local and state education officials say the proposal would be devastating to local school districts, and could result in delaying projects and having less money for crucial needs.

The proposal would be a disaster for school districts, said Cassia County School District Superintendent Gaylen Smyer. “Sometimes, (ballot measures) are defeated, but the need doesn’t go away. By the time you push it a year… sometimes that’s compounding the problem to push it out that far.”

After a ballot measure fails, “sometimes you get some momentum built up you want to capitalize on,” he said. “On the flip side, there’s an issue of voter fatigue.”

Karen Echeverria, executive director of the Idaho School Boards Association, remembers when Idaho’s election consolidation happened in 2009 — a change that established four possible election dates for school districts each year: in March, May, August and November.

“These dates were specifically chosen so school districts would have the ability to run a levy, if it fails, a second time,” she said.

Echeverria plans to watch the bill closely. If it gets a hearing, she’ll gather data about how many school districts have tried multiple times to pass a bond or levy.

She said she’s particularly concerned because the vast majority of Idaho’s school districts — 93 of 115 — have a voter-approved supplemental levy to help pay for basic operating expenses.

Without being able to try again for a year after a failure, Echeverria said, it could possibility devastate a school district.

Scott told the House State Affairs Committee last week, “the purpose of this bill is to protect voters from aggressive taxing districts that repeatedly run bonds or levies until they finally pass as a repackaged proposal that’s more palatable, or when availability of voters is at its lowest,” according to a Feb. 1 story by Idaho Education News.

If signed into law, it could impact some communities more than others. In Twin Falls, for example, the school district hasn’t seen a ballot measure fail since the mid-1990s.

Other towns have struggled to get funding. In Shoshone, the school district is trying during the March 13 election for a third time to pass a $6 million bond.

In August and November 2017, voters rejected measure. The majority of voters said “yes” each time, but not enough to clear the required two-thirds supermajority — a common hurdle for school districts.

The bond is slated to pay for remodeling the existing school, constructing a new multipurpose building — including a stage and gymnasium — and a new vocational building and small building with a couple of alternative-school classrooms.

Shoshone School District Superintendent Rob Waite said in an email that school building projects are one of the “most pure decisions” a local community makes.

“I am not sure why we would want to restrict or deny local voters the chance to decide what is best for their own community.” he wrote.

Some have asked why Shoshone district keeps trying to pass a bond, Waite wrote, but it has an obligation to listen to the community and about 60 percent support the proposal.

In Wendell, there’s also a history of bond election struggles. About a decade ago, a $1.5 million measure for a new agriculture building failed by just two votes. And for two years starting in March 2014, there were four failed bond attempts. It meant facility projects, such as replacing a leaky roof at the Wendell High School gymnasium, were delayed. Others weren’t tackled at all.

School officials decided on a different approach. It brought a supplemental levy renewal with a request for additional money to voters in May 2016 with a paired down list of facility projects. It required only a simple majority vote, and it passed.

Wendell School District Superintendent Greg Lowe said he doesn’t want to see the proposed bill in the state legislature become law. When the school district was pursuing a bond for facility projects, it received a large percentage of support each time, he said, and school officials got feedback from the community.

“While it was fresh on everyone’s minds, we got it back out there and the additional information we missed giving them,” Lowe said. “I think that’s a nice thing.”

It’s unknown when — or if — a hearing will happen to move the bill forward in the legislative session. But many Magic Valley school districts will be watching closely.

If you do one thing

If you do one thing: Magic Valley Arts Council hosts an open house for the “Retrospective” art exhibit from 5 to 7 p.m. in the Full Moon Gallery of Fine Art and Contemporary Craft at Twin Falls Center for the Arts, 195 River Vista Place. Free.


Damage to the Wendell High School roof is visible as students walk past the main building in March 2014.


Gooding senior Ruger Jennings shows his letter of intent for Idaho State University on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018, during National Signing Day at Gooding High School in Gooding. Jennings and senior teammate Sam Funkhouser (seated, clapping) both signed with the Bengals in Decemeber.

Jerome man found dead in the middle of a rural road; sheriff's office investigating it as a homicide

JEROME — The Jerome County Sheriff’s Office is investigating a possible homicide after a body of a Jerome man was discovered in the middle of a rural road early Monday.

The body of Jesus Alejandro Perez Cervantes, 21, was found near 200 East 400 North, northeast of Jerome. The sheriff’s office said in a statement that there were obvious signs of foul play.

Law enforcement do not believe the public is in any danger.

“Right now that’s all we’re releasing,” Capt. George Oppedyk told the Times-News on Wednesday. “We are pretty confident it’s an isolated incident.”

Police ask anyone with information to call Sgt. Chad Kingsland at 208-595-3310 or SIRCOMM at 208-324-1911.

House passes $200M tax cut plan after exchanging fireworks

BOISE — A sweeping $200 million tax cut plan is headed to the Idaho Senate after House lawmakers spent several hours Wednesday exchanging accusations and heated remarks while debating the merits of the proposal.

"This bill tries to make Idaho more competitive, it helps everyone who pays taxes," said House Majority Mike Moyle, a Republican from Star and sponsor of Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's large tax proposal.

In total, the proposal passed on a party-line vote on Wednesday with only the House's 11 Democrats voted against the bill. If approved, the plan would reduce personal income and corporate tax rates and create a $130 Idaho child tax credit.

However, the lengthy debate involved multiple efforts by Republicans and Democrats to circumvent legislative leadership and kill the proposal by using legislative rules and procedures. The House's most combative Republicans — who have pushed for different tax cuts currently not introduced in the Statehouse — teamed up with the chamber's 11 Democrats. Together they called for motions typically ignored by members unwilling to go against the House speaker and his methods of getting legislation heard.

Republican Rep. Heather Scott of Blanchard made the first motion to amend the bill, causing Moyle to say it was a "hostile move" and accused Scott of trying to raise taxes for Idaho's families. Meanwhile, several GOP members expressed frustration that House Speaker Scott Bedke banned them from discussing other tax cut proposals — such as repealing the current sales tax on groceries — while Democrats were freely able to mention other policy initiatives to argue against the bill.

"The child tax credit should be taken out and something else should be put in its place," said Rep. Ryan Kerby, a Republican from New Plymouth, after being admonished by Bedke for mentioning the grocery sales tax repeal.

Yet in the end, the disruptions failed to get enough support and all 59 Republicans who are up for re-election later this year voted in favor of the bill.

"This is a $200 million trainwreck," said House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding, a Democrat from Boise.

The bill seeks to reduce all seven of Idaho's brackets for personal income tax rates and corporate tax rates by 0.475 percent. Doing so would lower the state's general fund by $159.6 million. The $130 child tax credit would slash the fund by $42.3 million.

The plan would also align Idaho's income tax code for fiscal year 2019-2020 to recent federal changes in the tax overhaul signed by President Donald Trump.

The Idaho Legislature typically syncs the state's tax code with the federal version each year to make it easier for residents and businesses to do their taxes, as well as avoid having to keep separate accounting books to track the different rules. The typically mundane request has recently faced opposition from several GOP House members over the years, who argue the state should not comply with the federal government because the IRS requires the state to recognize same-sex marriages.

Idaho's constitutional same-sex marriage ban was invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2014, but the state constitution still includes language banning gay marriage.

Just several weeks ago, Scott, Rep. Ron Nate of Rexburg and three other Republicans refused to vote for a bill conforming state tax code to new federal changes in fiscal year 2018-2019 — citing that they could not vote for a bill that violated the Idaho Constitution. Yet all five of those same lawmakers voted in favor of the tax cut bill on Wednesday without explaining how the bill addressed their previous constitutional concerns.

HB 463 must now clear the Senate.