Idaho View: Kudos to Rep. Doug Ricks

Idaho View: Kudos to Rep. Doug Ricks

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Christopher Tapp

Christopher Tapp hugs Carol Dodge at the conclusion of a May 16 press conference where the Idaho Falls Police announced that Brian Leigh Dripps had been arrested for the murder of Carol’s daughter Angie in 1996. Tapp who had been charged, tried and convicted of the crime more than 20 years ago was released two years ago due in large part to Carol’s belief that he was not the murderer. Carol’s son Brent is pictured left. “I want to thank all those who fought with me for the truth, especially the Dodge family,” Tapp said in a statement May 17. “I hope the DNA match and confession brings them some closure, and that Angie Dodge may finally rest in peace.”

Kudos are due to Rep. Doug Ricks, R-Rexburg, who has outlined a bill he is drafting that would remove Idaho from the shameful list of states that provide no compensation for the wrongfully convicted.

Ricks is a good man whose conscience was shaken by the revelation that Christopher Tapp spent 20 years behind bars for the murder of Angie Dodge, a crime that he did not commit.

Ricks contemplates offering programs to help the wrongfully convicted transition successfully from the prison environment back into the community in which they belong through job training, education and other assistance, as well as providing automatic compensation for the wrongfully convicted.

It is certainly the case that Ricks’ bill, as he has roughly outlined it, does not go far enough. It is, nonetheless, progress in the right direction.

The amounts contemplated in Ricks’ bill, about $50,000 per year for someone wrongfully imprisoned, doubling that for those wrongfully placed on death row, are quite clearly too small. That’s not even enough, in many cases, to make up for the income an Idahoan would have made over those lost years, when counting in benefits such as employer health insurance and retirement contributions.

It certainly does not compensate for years of lost freedom.

But the first task is to at least do something, to impose some penalty on the state when it commits an act which, had anyone else done it, would be kidnapping — a grave felony carrying a maximum sentence of life in prison. Ricks’ bill has a good chance of being that first step.

Ricks’ contemplated figures are close to those employed by other states with wrongful conviction compensation laws, which gives the bill a much better chance of advancing in the Legislature where a powerful prosecutors’ lobby could marshall a substantial number of votes in opposition. At this point, it is more important to take a first step in the right direction than to push for a perfect bill with little chance of passage.

But lawmakers should keep an eye toward substantially raising the compensation levels in the future so that the wrongfully convicted receive something that at least resembles true compensation.

In addition to substantially raising the level of payment, further improvements would connect the penalty more closely to the individuals responsible for a wrongful conviction by placing their personal assets and estates in jeopardy in order to pay part of the compensation when there is evidence of negligence, rather than simply pulling the money from the overall state budget.

Prosecutors and police must know that this is the proper way to design the law. Every day, when they argue for a sentence higher as a defense attorney asks for a lower one, and they invoke the idea of deterrence. Imposing a harsh penalty for burglary will mean that future individuals contemplating breaking into a home will be more reluctant to commit a crime, they argue.

How is it any different in the case of causing a person to be wrongfully imprisoned? The higher the penalty for a wrongful conviction, and the more narrowly it can be targeted at those who caused it, the more it will deter prosecutors from seeking a conviction based on poor evidence, a conviction that may prove to be a grave injustice. Several such cases have occurred in Idaho, with no detectable penalty for those who caused them to happen. By a prosecutor’s logic, that means it’s more likely future wrongful convictions can occur.

In short, lawmakers should back Ricks’ bill as a good start. But, if they pass it, they should not believe that the problem is solved. Much more work will be required for many, many years. Tapp spent 20 years in a tiny cell fighting his way toward justice. Lawmakers with justice in their hearts should be prepared to fight at least as long.

The Post Register’s editorial board consists of Publisher Travis Quast, Managing Editor Monte LaOrange and editorial writer Bryan Clark. Clark can be reached at 208-542-6751.



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Small news organizations in rural states aren’t often on the front line of broad public service journalism, but times are changing and one-or-two person shops can make a lot of difference in public awareness of issues if things come together.

A small outbreak of coronavirus at a Fry Foods plant in Weiser gives a prime example of the importance of testing for COVID-19. More than that, it represents a warning shot across the bow of potential pitfalls if we don’t reopen our economy the right way.

As we tiptoe through Stage 2 of Gov. Brad Little’s phased reopening plan and approach a more robust Stage 3, it’s going to become even more important that we take the necessary steps to prevent future outbreaks.

And there will be future outbreaks.

The fact remains that the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is still out there. It’s ready to strike again, and without a vaccine, it remains a potentially destructive and fatal disease.

Aggressive and quick testing remains one of the key elements — perhaps the most important element — of controlling outbreaks at this point.

Fry Foods offers an early case study.

The Weiser food processing plant employs 260 people to make onion rings and other food products. It shut down earlier this month when at least seven employees tested positive for the coronavirus.

Fry Foods initially didn’t test all 260 employees at the Weiser facility — only the 50 or 60 who likely came in contact with the employees who tested positive. Other employees were able to get tested on their own.

The Idaho Bureau of Laboratories (state run-laboratories) tested all that they had the capacity to do in one day, according to Kelly Petroff, director of communications for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. The state lab can do about has a testing capacity of approximately 200 tests per day.

“We are not prepared to handle this,” Doug Wold, human resources manager for Fry Foods, told the Idaho Statesman, referring to the lack of coordinated response. “If you don’t have an employer who’s willing to be proactive, we’re just going to fail.”

Fortunately, Crush the Curve Idaho, a private, business-led initiative established during the outbreak to increase testing, stepped in and tested every employee at Fry Foods.

By Tuesday of this week, 20 employees — about 8% of the plant’s workforce — had tested positive for the coronavirus, along with at least two of their family members. Nearly all were asymptomatic.


That’s what needs to happen: rapid-response testing. If you have an outbreak at your workplace, get everyone tested. For those who test positive, keep them home and isolated. For those who test negative, they can keep on working and you’re back in business.

When the outbreak hit Fry Foods, company officials made the decision to shut the plant down.

Without adequate testing, that’s unfortunately the right thing to do. Without testing, you have no idea whether you have seven infected employees, 70 or 270.

We applaud Fry Foods company officials for making the tough call to shut down, even though they were given the green light by the Southwest District Health Department to resume operations.

Coronavirus is stealthy. A person can carry coronavirus longer without symptoms, potentially spreading to others unwittingly. Some people who carry coronavirus have no symptoms at all.

We are encouraged that Crush the Curve Idaho stepped up and stepped in here.

But Idaho needs a more concerted and organized plan to do rapid-response testing.

We are a fragmented health system. Health providers include Saint Alphonsus, St. Luke’s, Primary Health, Saltzer, among others. Then think about all the entities who pay for health care: Blue Cross of Idaho, Regence BlueShield, PacificSource, SelectHealth, etc. Throw in Medicare, Medicaid and those who are uninsured.

Even our own government health management system is fragmented, with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare and seven independent health districts not operated by the state.

And, in the case of Fry Foods, situated in a city bordering Oregon, workers were from two states.


No wonder Fry Foods officials were at a loss for where to turn for help. Without some sort of coordinated effort to test all employees and somehow pay for those tests, shutting down the plant was the best option.

It’s worth noting that the Fry Foods employee who initially had coronavirus was at a family gathering of a larger number than outlined in the governor’s reopening plan and was with visitors from out of state, two violations of the governor’s guidelines. That’s why we have the guidelines, and that’s why it’s important to follow the guidelines. Otherwise, this is what you get: an outbreak that shuts down an entire food manufacturing plant.

Unfortunately, shutting down operations every time there’s an outbreak is not going to get the job done.

And there will be more outbreaks as we reopen our economy, reopen factories and workplaces.

Idaho has a lot to be optimistic about, and we have a golden opportunity to lead the nation in reopening our economy in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. We have had relatively few cases (around 2,300) and few deaths (77). Our early efforts to shut down parts of our social interactions and Little’s quick call to issue a statewide stay-home order clearly have paid off. Idahoans’ adherence to the stay-home order has helped to flatten the curve and control the number of new cases. Residents and businesses, alike, have done their part to make this happen.

Our hope is that Idaho can chug along through the stages of reopening. Our fear is that if we don’t do this the right way, we’ll have a surge and we’ll be back to a statewide stay-home order. Nobody wants that.

If Joe Biden is counting on African American votes to win the White House in November, he may want to reboot his outreach strategy. During a radio interview Friday morning with Charlamagne tha God on the nationally syndicated, "The Breakfast Club," Biden said that "if you have a problem figuring out whether you're for me or Trump, then you ain't black." It took a handful of nanoseconds for the ...

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