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Elections and Loopholes 

Don't videotape animal abuse in Idaho — or else; plus, a "teaching moment" at Spokane Public Schools

CLOSING THE LOOPHOLE?

On an ordinance Spokane City Councilman Jon Snyder says he's "ready to vote on tomorrow," some others are asking for more time. Snyder has introduced an ordinance that would prohibit the city from providing water or sewer service to areas the county commission adds to the urban growth area until challenges to any UGA expansion have been ruled on or the period to file challenges is over. A vote on the ordinance has now been postponed for more discussion at City Hall.

Because the city agrees to provide water and sewer service outside of city limits — including to about 75 percent of the area added to the Urban Growth Area and then overturned last year — some question whether it can legally refuse to provide services.

"Both Jon and I are going to have to defer to our legal advice in terms of what we can and can't do," says Utilities Director Rick Romero, who plans to meet with Snyder next week to "iron out" the legal question.

The ordinance is an attempt to address a loophole in the system: Once the county expands the UGA, developers who submit valid predevelopment applications for new projects are "vested," meaning projects can move forward despite legal challenges to the expansion. Supporters of those rules say it gives developers predictability. Opponents, like Snyder, say it allows unfettered development that could later be ruled illegal.

"I'm sick of our citizens having to support out-of-control county growth at the cost of their services," Snyder says.

— HEIDI GROOVER

PETA BEWARE!

On Friday, with the backing of the state's $2.5 billion dairy industry, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter signed into law a controversial "Ag Gag" bill banning unauthorized audio and video recordings in agricultural operations.

Now, anyone who enters an animal production facility in Idaho and surreptitiously records operations will face up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. The bill was introduced after Los Angeles-based advocacy group Mercy for Animals filmed a video of dairy workers abusing cows two years ago at a milk barn in Hansen, Idaho.

Otter says the law ensures agricultural producers will be "secure in their property and their livelihood."

Earlier on Friday, Chobani yogurt founder Hamdi Ulukaya parted with the dairy industry and asked Otter to veto the bill, citing concerns over transparency. Chobani currently operates the world's largest greek yogurt production facility in Twin Falls, Idaho.

"This could cause the general public concern and conflicts with our views and values," Ulukaya wrote in a statement. "As someone who grew up on a farm, I believe deeply that the humane treatment of animals is an ethical and moral imperative."

— DEANNA PAN

Revealed by Public Record

It took nearly three years, but the election complaint by Spokane schools critic Laurie Rogers has been validated: Members of the school district have in fact violated election law.

Rogers did much of the grunt-work finding the violations, submitting heaps of records — over 1,300 pages in just the first batch. In the end, the Public Disclosure Commission identified over 33 different violators who used district computers, time, facilities or resources to inappropriately campaign for school board and levy elections.

The penalties levied were minimal — a fine of less than $2,000 spread across 16 employees. That's one reason why despite the commission finding validity to Rogers' complaint, she wrote a 6,800-word blog post Saturday taking issue with the PDC's decision, and their dismissal of other accusations.

"These findings and penalties provide little or no deterrence for leaders of other districts and agencies who wish to campaign in the same way," Rogers wrote.

"[Superintendent Shelley] Redinger takes it all in, and is being very proactive by using it as a teaching moment with all staff," says Kevin Morrison, director of community relations, who was also fined in the complaint. "It's going to up the amount of training we give."

— DANIEL WALTERS

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