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Monday, December 21 

First Lady Lori Otter participates in a tour of the Capitol for residents of the Hays Shelter Home, 11 a.m., Capitol, Boise.

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Coeur d'Alene Gets New Behavioral Health Crisis Center

Last year Idaho opened our first behavioral health crisis center in Idaho Falls. It was part of our effort to provide an alternative to emergency rooms or jail cells for those caught in the grip of substance abuse or a mental health challenge. It's been a huge success, not only saving taxpayer dollars but saving lives as well. In its first year, the Idaho Falls crisis center has helped over 1,100 Idahoans and freed up first responders to the tune of 860 man hours. So now we're taking that model and replicating it in other parts of the state. Just last week I went to Coeur d'Alene to cut the ribbon on a new behavioral health crisis center for northern Idaho. The Department of Health and Welfare has done a great job managing this model, and our local partners in Idaho Falls and Coeur d'Alene deserve a lot of credit for partnering with the state in this endeavor. The bottom line is that our efforts are working, and it is my intention to see more of these crisis centers opened throughout Idaho - so stay tuned!
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Western Governors' Association Winter Meeting
Earlier this month I met with my colleagues from throughout the region in Las Vegas at the Western Governors' Association's annual winter meeting. I'm a former chairman of the WGA, which reflects the values and concerns shared by citizens here in the Intermountain West. We discussed a variety of issues - from wildfire, endangered species and transportation infrastructure to power generation and transmission. I was especially pleased that Interior Secretary Sally Jewell was on hand to talk with us about wildfire prevention and management of our public lands. I also got the chance to meet with her individually and discuss Idaho's concerns with the draconian measures her agency unilaterally adopted to protect sage-grouse habitat. I'm taking the Obama administration to court to stop this ill-conceived plan. Our WGA meeting provided a good opportunity to bring some commonsense western values to that process.
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Underscoring the Federal Government's Land Management Problems
Right after Secretary Jewell addressed WGA members, I was able to play a ten-minute video that puts an exclamation point on the problems that citizens in Idaho and other states in the West are having with federal bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., managing our public lands. The video was shot last summer on my most recent annual trail ride. It succinctly explains the growing problems on our federal forests and rangelands as a result of government overreach and neglect.

Click here to learn more about how Idaho is moving quickly to salvage timber from thousands of fire-ravaged acres on state endowment land, benefiting Idaho's school children.

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Honoring Heroic Action by Two State Employees

I am constantly amazed and humbled by the professionalism and dedication of our terrific State employees. They quietly go about doing the business of State government, and they often go above and beyond without anyone noticing their tremendous work. Such was the case this summer when two Idaho Department of Environmental Quality employees who were conducting water quality sampling on the Pend Oreille River noticed two elderly fishermen in trouble. A 90-year-old man had fallen out of his boat and was entangled in three fishing lines. His 70-year-old son had jumped in to help him and both men were in trouble. Without hesitation, Bob Steed and Kristin Larson sprang into action, racing over to the men and pulling them out of the water to safety. Great job Bob and Kristin! I was proud to visit them in person at their Coeur d'Alene office and present them with a proclamation honoring their quick thinking and lifesaving action!
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Hour of Code

On Wednesday December 9th I visited Garfield Elementary School in Boise to participate in the "Hour of Code" computer science introduction event. Hour of Code is a program designed to introduce students as young as fifth-grade to computer science. Its goal is to help students learn the programing principles that become more important as our workforce focuses on the digital world. Tens of millions of students across the United States participated in an Hour of Code during the week of December 7-13 in celebration of Computer Science Education Week. Dozens of schools and thousands of students participated in Idaho. The Hour of Code is a global movement involving more than 100 million students in 180 countries. It was great to visit the bright young students at Garfield Elementary and learn to code right alongside them. Thank you to the Garfield Elementary staff, students from BSU's Computer Science Program, and the folks at the Idaho Digital Learning Academy for organizing and hosting the event. And I also want to thank Boise School Superintendent Don Coberly for joining me and the students in learning how to code.
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Wreaths Across America National Remembrance Ceremony
On Monday, December 7th, the Eagle Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Idaho State Veterans Cemetery volunteers , a World War II veteran and a Vietnam War veteran came to the Capitol in Boise to take part in the Wreaths Across America Wreath-Laying Ceremony. The ceremony was the first planned activity in a weeklong effort to encourage remembrance of our fallen heroes, to honor those who serve, and to teach children about the sacrifices made by veterans and their families to preserve our freedoms. Similar statehouse wreath-laying ceremonies were held in all 50 state capitols.

On Saturday, December 12th, the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery staff and volunteers in Boise honored veterans interred there by participating in their own Wreaths Across America ceremony. The Civil Air Patrol and other organizations and volunteers worked tirelessly all year to raise funds to sponsor over 3,400 memorial wreaths needed for the cemetery's gravesites. Wreaths Across America also continued an annual tradition at Arlington National Cemetery by laying over 900,000 Christmas memorial wreaths on gravesites there.
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Spotlight Agency: Idaho Public Utilities Commission
For nearly 103 years, the Idaho Public Utilities Commission has been regulating investor-owned electric, natural gas and water utilities. The commission regulates only for-profit utilities that provide monopoly service within assigned territories. Because these utilities are investor-owned and because they are the only choice for electric, natural gas or water service within their territories, the Public Utilities Commission sets the rates that customers pay as well as enforcing customer service rules.

Utilities regulated by the commission range in size from Idaho Power Company with more than 500,000 customers to Kootenai Heights Water with just 11 customers.  The PUC's statutory mandate is to ensure reliable service at rates that are just and reasonable.  In exchange for utilities' commitment to providing adequate and reliable service to every customer, the Commission ensures that the utility can recover prudent expenses plus a reasonable rate of return.

While considering requests for higher rates, the PUC's job is to review all the utility's expenditures to determine if they were necessary and, if so, were they prudently incurred. The Commission decides how much if any of the utility's requested amount may be recovered from customers. In addition to determining expense recovery, the Commission also must determine how much return the utility may earn on its investment.

Commissioners walk a fine line in establishing a return that's reasonable for customers while also being high enough to ensure financially sound utilities that can attract investment and keep borrowing costs low for utilities and customers.

The Commission just completed a busy year that included major electric and natural gas cases for Avista Utilities and a water case for SUEZ Water Idaho - formerly United Water Idaho.  The commission also responded to a petition filed by Idaho Power, Avista and Rocky Mountain Power seeking adjustments to the length of contracts that utilities must sign with developers of larger solar and wind projects.

The Idaho PUC no longer price-regulates telecommunications companies - with the exception of some small rural companies. However, it does retain jurisdiction over customers' telecommunications service issues. The Commission recently opened a case that will establish a second area code in Idaho - 986. It will be conducting workshops in 2016 to educate customers about the transition from a statewide 208 prefix to a second area code.

Finally, the PUC welcomes a new commissioner later this month when former State Representative Eric Anderson comes aboard. Governor Otter recently appointed Anderson to the seat left open by the death of Commissioner Mack Redford.

To read more about the role of the Commission and the cases handled during 2015, see the 2015 Annual Report at 
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Geneal Thompson - Ketchum

Driving Businesses Licensure
Jason Jerome - Athol
Sally Phillips - Boise

Early Childhood Coordinating Council
Shannon Dunstan - Boise
Emily Petersen   Kimberly

Economic Advisory Council
John Craner - Burley

Health Ins. Exchange Board
Janice Fulkerson - Meridian

Idaho Rural Partnership               
Barry Daniels - Pocatello

Independent Living Council
Eric Bjork - Boise 
Elizabeth Kriete - Caldwell

Public Utilities Commission
Eric Anderson - Priest Lake

Workforce Development
Jay Larsen - Boise