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Local
Rural fire district constructs building in Filer to meet space needs

FILER — They share the same building. They use the same volunteers. They even have the same part-time fire chief.

Despite the similarities between the Filer Fire Department and Filer Rural Fire District, the two departments operate as separate agencies. And they’re running out of space on Filer’s Main Street.

“We’re just so crowded we can’t even put all our trucks in one building,” District President Dennis Lutz said.

After years of planning, the district saved more than $1 million and began constructing a new building last summer on U.S. 30. The building should have at least the exterior completed by August.

“At this point, we’ve only got enough money to put the building up,” Lutz said. “We just pulled the trigger.”

The plan is to complete the 23,000 square-foot building without raising taxes, District Chief Bud Compher said. The district has been saving for about 15 years. Still, Lutz estimates the district could be about $1 million short of building out the $2.3 million structure this year.

“We’re applying for grants and trying to find money where we can,” Compher said.

The Filer district and Filer department currently operate out of an original city office in downtown Filer. The space includes a small meeting room big enough for about 30 people, and an office for the chief. The departments share about 30 volunteers and are responsible for emergency medical services and fire protection within their respective boundaries.

While the city department operates just within Filer city limits, the rural fire district encompasses an area extending both east and west of the city, from the Snake River Canyon to about 6 miles south of Filer. The rural district has about 14 vehicles to fight structure fires and brush fires alike, Compher said.

There’s been talk of eventually combining the city and rural fire departments, Lutz said. The Filer Rural Fire District was created in the 1990s after Twin Falls County Mutual Fire Insurance was no longer able to provide fire protection, he said.

Lutz was one of the original fire commissioners appointed by Gov. Cecil B. Andrus to represent his sub-district in 1992. The district now operates using property taxes. Prior to then, individual property owners had to pay for fire protection through their own insurance companies, Lutz said.

So far, no formal plans have been made to combine the city and rural agencies, but Lutz believes it will happen. In the meantime, the rural fire district struggles to find room for all its trucks within the city buildings. Some vehicles have to remain parked outside.

The new rural fire district building is situated along U.S. 30 adjacent to the U.S. Bank and the Twin Falls County Fairgrounds. It’s within city limits, where many of the volunteer firefighters live, Lutz said.

The structure is being constructed to support future needs, with areas designated for sleeping rooms, community spaces, fire truck bays and offices.

“You have to keep up with the building in your community,” Compher said.

In making sure the new base meets those future needs, the chief refers to a saying passed on to him by his father: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”


Crime-and-courts
breaking
Burley man killed in Monday morning house fire

BURLEY — A Burley man was killed Monday morning in a house fire.

State officials are now investigating.

Burley Fire Chief Shannon Tolman said the man was found dead at the home at 1843 Miller Ave., which was fully-engulfed in when firefighters arrived.

The fire department received the call at 7:39 a.m.

“There was only one person in the house,” Tolman said. “He lived alone from what I understand.”

Cassia County Coroner Craig Rinehart said he will take the man’s body to Boise on Thursday for an autopsy.

Craig said the autopsy was scheduled for Thursday to allow a woman he believes to be the man’s daughter to travel from Oregon for a DNA swab prior to the autopsy in Boise.

“I haven’t been able to make a positive identification yet,” he said.

DNA swabs will be taken and sent to the state lab and results could take up to a couple of months to receive back, Rinehart said.

“I’m pretty sure his cause of death was the fire and not a medical issue based on reports from witnesses,” Rinehart said.

The state fire marshal was called to investigate the fire because there was a fatality, Tolman said.

The house sustained “heavy fire damage,” he said.

“The fire was reported by some kids who were walking to school and they went and got their mom,” Burley Firefighter Justin Jensen said.

When firefighters arrived they found the fire had spread to trees surrounding the home, he said.

Cassia County Sheriff deputies responded and tried to make entry into the home, but the fire was too heavy, Jensen said.

Four fire engines and about 20 firefighters responded to the blaze. The crew had the blaze under control within 45 minutes.


National
AP
House Democrats launch aggressive new Trump probe

WASHINGTON — Democrats launched a sweeping new probe of President Donald Trump on Monday, an aggressive investigation that threatens to shadow the president through the 2020 election season with potentially damaging inquiries into his White House, campaign and family businesses.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said his panel was beginning the probe into possible obstruction of justice, corruption and abuse of power and is sending document requests to 81 people linked to the president and his associates.

The broad investigation could be setting the stage for an impeachment effort, though Democratic leaders pledged to investigate all avenues and review special counsel Robert Mueller’s upcoming report before trying any drastic action. Nadler said the document requests, with responses to most due by March 18, are a way to “begin building the public record.”

“Over the last several years, President Trump has evaded accountability for his near-daily attacks on our basic legal, ethical, and constitutional rules and norms,” Nadler said. “Investigating these threats to the rule of law is an obligation of Congress and a core function of the House Judiciary Committee.”

Also on Monday, the Justice Department said Attorney General William Barr will not recuse himself from overseeing the special counsel’s Russia probe.

Trump dismissed the Nadler probe and others as futile efforts “in search of a crime.”

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders called the House probe “a disgraceful and abusive investigation into tired, false allegations.”

In a statement Monday night, Sanders said: “Chairman Nadler and his fellow Democrats have embarked on this fishing expedition because they are terrified that their two-year false narrative of ‘Russia collusion’ is crumbling. Their intimidation and abuse of American citizens is shameful.”

Separate congressional probes already are swirling around the president, including an effort announced Monday by three other House Democratic chairmen to obtain information about private conversations between him and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In a letter to the White House and State Department, the House intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight and Reform panels sent broad requests for details about Trump and Putin’s private meetings by phone and in person. In addition to document requests, the committees are asking to interview interpreters who sat in on meetings, including a one-on-one session in Helsinki last summer.

The State Department pledged to “work cooperatively with the committees.”

The new probes signal that now that Democrats hold a majority in the House, Trump’s legal and political peril is nowhere near over, even as the special counsel’s Russia investigation winds down.

They also are an indication of the Democrats’ strategy — to flood the administration with oversight requests, keeping Trump and his associates on trial publicly while also playing a long game when it comes to possible impeachment. While some more liberal members of the Democratic caucus would like to see Trump impeached now, Democratic leaders are more cautious.

Trump told reporters after Nadler’s probe was announced that “I cooperate all the time with everybody.”

Mueller is investigating Russian intervention in the 2016 election and whether Trump’s campaign conspired with Russia. But the House probes go far beyond collusion. The House intelligence panel announced a separate probe not only into the Russian interference but also Trump’s foreign financial interests. The Oversight and Reform Committee launched multiple investigations into all facets of the administration.

The 81 names and entities on the Judiciary Committee’s list touch all parts of Trump’s life — the White House, his businesses, his campaign and the committee that oversaw the transition from campaign to presidency. There are also people connected to Russian interference in the 2016 campaign, including participants in a meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer before the election.

The committee is also asking the FBI, the Justice Department and others for documents related to possible pardons for Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. All three have been charged in special counsel Mueller’s investigation.

In a request sent to the White House, the committee asks for information surrounding former FBI Director James Comey’s termination, communications with Justice Department officials, the Trump Tower meeting and other matters.


If you do one thing

If you do one thing: A community dance will feature music by the Shadows Band from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Snake River Elks Lodge, 412 E. 200 S., Jerome. Admission is $5.


DREW NASH, TIMES-NEWS FILE PHOTO 

Minico's Taylia Stimpson subs in during the final moments of their game against Century at the state championships Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018, at Mountain View High School in Meridian.


David Goldman, Associated Press 

Carol Dean, right, cries Monday while embraced by Megan Anderson and her 18-month-old daughter Madilyn as Dean sifts through the debris of the home she shared with her husband, David Wayne Dean, who died when a tornado destroyed the house in Beauregard, Ala.


Govt-and-politics
Medicaid work requirement bill introduced on party line vote

BOISE — A bill to attach a work requirement and other conditions to Medicaid expansion in Idaho will receive a formal hearing, the House Health and Welfare Committee decided on a vote along party lines Monday.

The bill from Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, would direct the state to seek several waivers from the federal government, including one to put a 20-hour-a-week work or job training requirement on those enrolled in Medicaid. The Department of Health and Welfare would also seek a waiver to let Idahoans on the state exchange who fall between 100 and 138 percent of the poverty line choose to stay on the state exchange.

A ballot initiative to expand Medicaid in Idaho passed with 61 percent of the vote in November; now, the Legislature is determining exactly what that will look like. The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee voted unanimously last week to set a Medicaid budget that includes funding for expansion.

Republicans on the Health and Welfare Committee, including Chairman Rep. Fred Wood of Burley, Rep. Laurie Lickley of Jerome, and Rep. Megan Blanksma of Hammett, voted in favor of introducing Vander Woude’s bill Monday. The committee’s three Democrats, including Rep. Muffy Davis of Ketchum, voted against.

“I’m really frustrated because this is not the will of the people,” Davis told the Times-News after the vote. “I firmly believe the people who elected me are who I need to listen to.”

Davis added that she would be in favor of implementing a voluntary job training program, similar to the program Montana has in place.

According to Vander Woude’s bill, the mandatory work requirement for able-bodied adults would have the same standards as the SNAP food assistance program, with the exception that an able-bodied adult would be exempt if he or she had a child under the age of 18.

“I believe there’s always a benefit if we can help people move off of a government program and be self-sustaining,” Vander Woude told the committee.

The bill would also let the Legislature nullify expansion if Idaho is required to pay a larger share of the cost than its current 10 percent.

Vander Woude estimated a cost of about $1.8 million to administer the bill’s requirements, about $1.5 million of which would be covered by the state. That number does not include the potential cost to counties in indigent care for those who do not qualify for Medicaid under the work requirements.


Govt-and-politics
Legislators debate secret funding formula draft bill

Originally posted on IdahoEdNews.org on March 4.BOISE — House Education Committee members spent nearly 90 minutes Monday debating a secret version of a draft bill to overhaul Idaho’s public school funding formula.

Committee members participating in an open, public meeting wrestled over individual word choice and referred to specific page numbers and lines from the draft, despite the fact the draft is not available to the general public or media.

Chairman Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, referred to the legislation as the 2:33 p.m. March 1 draft, suggesting the bill is in a constant state of flux from day to day and hour to hour.

At issue is a proposal to rewrite Idaho’s 25-year-old public school funding formula. A legislative interim committee spent three years developing the framework of a proposal to abandon Idaho’s attendance-based formula and replace it with an enrollment-based model where funding follows the student.

Because public school funding is the state’s largest expense, the proposal to change the formula has become one of the year’s top education issues. Because of the amount of money involved, taxpayers, the news media and educators are closely scrutinizing the proposal.

It’s unclear where the proposal goes from here. Through 57 days under the Statehouse rotunda, lawmakers have yet to introduce a bill to rewrite the formula. Monday was the Legislature’s self-imposed deadline to transmit bills between the two legislative chambers. That means for a proposal to go anywhere, legislators would need to bend or break the rules to give it a chance.

Because legislators only shared the 2:33 p.m. March 1 draft with select education groups in the audience Monday, it was impossible to follow the committee’s debate or report on the key aspects of the new draft.

At one point, legislators keyed up a lively discussion about details found on page 14 of the bill. There is no way for the public to know what lawmakers were debating or concerned about, although they mentioned the career ladder salary law at several points.

This isn’t the first time transparency concerns have clouded the funding formula proposal. Last June, the legislative interim committee allowed taxpayer-funded consultants to meet behind closed doors and brainstorm ideas with select education officials — without allowing legislators or Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra’s staff in the room. During the same month, consultants and lawmakers also conducted a series of public meetings throughout the state.

Then, the interim committee and its paid Education Commission of the States consultants declined for weeks to release a spreadsheet designed to illustrate how their proposal would impact school funding and affect individual school districts.

On Friday, the interim committee posted a new funding spreadsheet on its website. But nobody explained whether the spreadsheet corresponds exactly to the 2:33 p.m. March 1 secret draft discussed Monday, a previously undisclosed Feb. 6 draft bill, the draft bill publicly posted online Jan. 31 or some other draft.

Although it is impossible to report on the substance of the latest draft, Monday’s discussion made it clear the proposal does not enjoy universal support.

Rep. Bill Goesling, R-Moscow, expressed frustration that the state is not seeing a return on investment for funding increases approved in recent years. He made a strong push to insert accountability provisions, while questioning why some basic definitions were not included in the draft.

“It’s time to take a step back,” Goesling said.

Rep. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley, pushed for removing proposed additional funding weights to pay for gifted and talented students, but ran into opposition from Goesling and Rep. John McCrostie, D-Garden City.

And Rep. Gary Marshall, R-Idaho Falls, continued to express concerns that several rank-and-file House Education members have not been included in the behind-the-scenes negotiations over the bill.

“I’m a little confused as to how we proceed,” Marshall said. “I’ve done my due diligence on this thing for two months now, and there are a lot of concerns I have now.”

Last week, Marshall evoked the image of a sports stadium and he said he didn’t even feel like he was in the upper deck of stadium as negotiations played out.

Clow suggested bill drafters would gather feedback from Monday’s discussion and incorporate it into a new draft that could soon be put forward for an official introductory hearing. After that, he suggested any bill could still be rewritten two of three more times before he calls a full hearing on an actual bill.

Clow outlined that timeline during the opening of Monday’s meeting. But he had to adjourn Monday’s meeting in order to attend Idaho Day celebrations on the House floor, even though legislators still had numerous unanswered questions about the funding formula proposal.

“We’re quickly running out of time here and we haven’t made much progress,” Clow said about 10 minutes before adjourning Monday’s meeting.

At adjournment, Clow suggested the discussion would continue Tuesday.