Some salaried workers to get overtime
A sweeping change set to take effect Dec. 1 — raising the threshold for overtime pay to about $47,500 per year from the current $24,000 — would require employers to either give certain salaried employees raises or pay them overtime when they exceed 40 hours a week.
Idaho employees and worker advocates told the Statesman and the federal government that the change is overdue. They say employers have taken advantage of overtime exemptions to avoid compensating employees for long days.
Some Idaho businesses say the rule may lead to cuts in jobs or services and may harm employee job satisfaction and flexibility to work outside normal hours.
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Device, drug firms pay $3.8M to local docs
Treasure Valley physicians and hospitals received $3.8 million from medical device and pharmaceutical companies, and $2.8 million for clinical research funded by those companies, in 2014. Several local doctors received more than $100,000 in cash, in-kind payment or other compensation during the year. Two dozen Treasure Valley doctors had 100 or more meals or drinks paid for by the companies.
Boise neurologist and epileptologist Robert Wechsler was among the top five doctors for total payments from the companies. He says the assumption that drug-company compensation makes doctors more likely to push brand-name drugs is backward. He says the companies pay him to share the expertise he gains as a clinical researcher who runs a busy epilepsy practice.
Some smokers lie to evade high premiums
In Idaho, 17 percent of adults smoke regularly, according to federal data reported by Kaiser Health News. But fewer than 3 percent of Idahoans who bought health insurance plans for 2016 on the state insurance exchange, Your Health Idaho, paid the tobacco surcharge.
Idaho’s demographics could account for a portion of the discrepancy. Smokers are more often below than above the poverty level. They also tend not to have private health insurance.
Insurance regulators to set rules on charity
The Idaho Department of Insurance is poised to tell health insurance companies when they can allow Idahoans to rely on charities for help with their premiums, copayments or other out-of-pocket costs. The guidance would require insurers to accept “third party payments” — which are made by a person or entity other than the insured person or his/her family member — but not from charities tied to businesses that stand to gain financially.
The state already bans Idaho hospitals, doctors and other medical providers from waiving or paying a patient’s out-of-pocket costs, but the department has received “several complaints from consumers and questions from (insurers)” as other groups move in to cover those costs, Director Dean Cameron says.
Assessed values rise again in Ada County
Average home values in Ada County jumped 7.7 percent last year, according to the Ada County Assessor’s Office. The increase follows a 6.8 percent rise the previous year. Values have surged in the past four years as the Treasure Valley regained its economic footing.
Assessed values rose in all regions in the county. The highest average increase was southwest Meridian: 33.6 percent. The lowest was in South Boise: 5 percent.
New CEO takes over growing Power Engineers
Bret Moffett succeeded Jack Hand as CEO of Power Engineers, a Hailey company that designs large projects all over the globe. Moffett, only the third CEO at the 40-year-old company, will oversee 2,100 employees in 38 U.S. cities, including 200 in Hailey and 400 in Meridian. The company reported nearly $400 million in sales in 2015, a 10 percent increase.
Power Engineers specializes in designing power plants and distribution systems, and manufacturing and food-processing plants, including J.R. Simplot Co.’s $100 million plant being built near Kuna.
Ownership is split among 300 employees, including about 200 in Idaho.
Affordable housing set near Whitewater Park
The Boise/Ada Housing Authority wants to build 50 apartments on the 3100 block of Moore Street, near the northern end of Whitewater Park Boulevard. The project is in the early planning stage.
The housing authority is partnering with Northwest Real Estate Capital Corp. on the Sandhill Crane Apartments. The tax-credit development would be financed through Idaho Housing and Finance Association. Rent would range from $290 to $750 a month for one-bedroom to four-bedroom apartments. Tenants would be low-income working individuals and families.
Contempt ruling upheld against prison operator
Corrections Corporation of America faces higher-than-normal attorney fees after a contempt ruling stemming from its practices at Idaho’s largest prison.
The ACLU sued CCA on behalf of prisoners in 2011, contending that understaffing led to rampant violance and other problems at Idaho Correctional Center south of Boise. CCA falsified documents to hide understaffing to state officials. The understaffing put the company in violation of its $29 million annual contract to run the 2,080-bed prison. Gov. Butch Otter later ordered the state to take over prison operations.
A judge ordered CCA to pay $350,000 in attorney fees.
Which Price is right? Brothers at odds
Dan and Lucas Price, the Nampa natives who started Gravity Payments in Seattle, squared off in court in June. Lucas Price, who owns about a third of the company, sued Dan Price, saying his brother paid himself excessively.
Dan Price made national news last year when he increased the minimum annual wage for the company’s 120 employees to $70,000 and dropped his own pay to the same figure. Lucas Price says his brother used a company credit card for personal expenses and that he once asked for compensation that totaled more than half the company’s revenue.
Airbnb bias incident has happy ending
Rohan Gilkes, an entrepreneur from Florida, wrote a post on medium.com that ended up going viral. A black man, Gilkes wrote about trying to book a Garden Valley cabin on Airbnb and having his reservations denied by the California host, who later approved a reservation by Gilkes’s white friend.
But after word spread about what happened, Gilkes says, “Every other person from Idaho I’ve talked to ... has been nothing but amazing.” The experience did not sour his plans to visit Idaho in early July. Instead, he says, Idahoans reached out to offer lodging, a trip out on a lake and other hospitality.
Idaho ordered to pay for ag-gag suit
A federal judge ordered the state to pay nearly $250,000 in legal fees to the coalition of nonprofit groups that sued the state, contending its “ag-gag” law criminalizes whistle blowing and violates free speech.
The 2014 law passed the Legislature in response to a video released online by animal=rights groups showing workers at a Hansen dairy stomping, beating and dragging cows. A federal judge deemed the law unconstitutional.
Business openings, closings: Highlights
▪ Three Jordan’s Hallmark Gold Crown stores in Boise have closed. The Nampa and Eagle stores were slated to close as of early June.
▪ Kind Cuisine Cafe, a vegan and vegetarian restaurant at 4628 W. State Street in Boise, has closed after two years.
▪ Leaf Greenhouse at 2128 S. Longmont Ave. in Boise has closed after five seasons.
▪ Furniture and home-goods store West Elm opened in early June at 9th and Idaho streets in Downtown Boise.
▪ Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers opened a new Boise location in mid-May at 2143 Broadway Ave.
Idaho farm exports wilt
After years of growth, agricultural exports dropped 22 percent to $827.5 million in 2015, the Idaho Department of Agriculture says. The highest-dollar export category, dairy, plunged 43 percent to $196.6 million as prices fell.
Experts blame the strong U.S. dollar and a glut of products.
Potatoes were one of few bright spots as Idaho spuds gained a foothold in Vietnam.
Boise company offers pet bereavement leave
Pets Best Insurance Services, a pet health insurance agency, is now offering pet bereavement leave to more than 60 employees at its Boise headquarters.
The benefit will offer each employee one day of paid bereavement leave each year “if they lose a member of their furry family,” the company says.