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Snow doesn’t slow U.S. hotel industry

Severe winter weather hasn’t put a crimp in hotel performance around the country, according to the latest analytics from STR, which tracks lodging statistics worldwide.Instead, the U.S. hotel industry recorded increases in all three key operating metrics during the first week of February, when the East Coast was repeatedly blanketed with heavy snow.

Looking at year-over-year numbers, occupancy among U.S. hotels climbed 0.3 percent to 56.2 percent the week of Feb. 3.

The average daily room rate rose 2.9 percent over last year, reaching $110.40 and RevPAR (revenue per available room) increased 3.2 percent from a year ago reaching $62.06.

Nationally, hotels in the Philadelphia area reported the largest occupancy and RevPAR increases for last week, with occupancy up 15.2 percent to 67.1 percent while RevPAR grew 15.8 percent to $77.09.

Three markets achieved double-digit average daily room rate increases last week: New York was up 12 percent to $222.70; Nashville, Tenn., was up 11.5 percent to $109.56; and San Francisco/San Mateo was up 11.3 percent to $179.60.

Dolan Media Newswires

Construction safety coalition slams OSHA’s proposed silica rule

The Construction Industry Safety Coalition has sternly denounced a rule proposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration aimed at reducing silica exposure.According to the OSHA website, the proposed crystalline silica rule would affect as many as 1.85 million construction workers. Of those workers, OSHA estimates that 640,000 are exposed to dangerous amounts of silica at their jobs.

OSHA’s permissible exposure limits haven’t been updated since 1971, according to the organization. The proposal aims to protect workers from crystalline silica exposures above 50 micrograms per cubic foot of air, averaged over an eight-hour day.

But the CISC said after studying the rule, the organization feels it would do little to actually help the problem of silica in the workplace.

“The proposed rule sets a silica exposure standard that cannot be accurately measured or protected against with existing equipment and includes a series of data errors that undermine many of the rule’s basic assumptions,” the CISC said in a statement.

Construction workers are exposed to crystalline silica during routine jobs such as operating masonry saws; using hand-operated grinders, jackhammers, rotary hammers, drills, and vehicle-mounted drilling rigs; or milling, rock crushing, drywall finishing, and earth moving, OSHA said.

Dolan Media Newswires

Coll. of Western Idaho closes building over virus

The College of Western Idaho has closed its building in Boise over a norovirus case.CWI officials announced the closure Feb. 15 and said no one will be allowed to enter the college’s Ada County Center until an “all clear” is issued. School officials say they expect the building to be ready when classes resume on Feb. 18.

Norovirus is a contagious virus that can be transmitted through infected people, food or water or by touching contaminated surfaces. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the virus causes inflammation in the stomach and intestines, causing stomach pain, nausea and diarrhea.

The Associated Press

Maryland-based Jos. A. Bank to buy Eddie Bauer for $825 million

Jos. A. Bank Clothiers Inc. is acquiring the parent company to Eddie Bauer.

Hampstead, Md.-based Bank entered into an agreement with Everest Topco LLC to acquire Everest Holdings LLC, the parent company of Eddie Bauer, with a combination of $564 million in cash and about 4.7 million new shares of Bank stock, issued to Everest Topco at $56 per share.

The purchase price is based on an enterprise value of $825 million. When the acquisition is complete, Everest Topco will own about 16.6 percent of Bank’s shares and will be able to designate two directors on the company’s board.

Under the terms of the agreement, Jos. A. Bank has the right to terminate the agreement if another company makes a more attractive offer to acquire Bank.

The companies will benefit from about $25 million in synergies, particularly in the areas of sourcing, marketing, real estate, infrastructure and corporate costs, according to a presentation from Jos. A. Bank about the deal. It will also allow Bank to break into sportswear, outerwear and women’s apparel.

“We have long admired the Eddie Bauer brand and its widespread appeal among those with active lifestyles and excitement about the outdoors, a large and growing customer base that overlaps significantly with ours,” said Bank Chairman Robert N. Wildrick, in a statement.

The company is planning to close the deal within its first quarter of fiscal year 2014. Bank’s fiscal 2013 ended Feb. 1.

Dolan Media Newswires

ID rep resurrects religious school tax credit bill

A Republican resurrected last year’s failed measure seeking to grant tax credits to people who donate to scholarships meant to defray tuition at private or religious schools.

Rep. John VanderWoude, of Meridian, told the House Revenue and Tax Committee Feb. 13 he’s made a few changes to the bill.

But its rough outlines remain: Idaho would grant up to $10 million in tax credits to help kids go to private school.

Last year, a similar bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Bob Nonini, of Coeur d’Alene, cleared the House but failed in the Senate on concerns donors to such scholarships would profit on the backs of public-school funding.

At the time, Senate leader Brent Hill said “that’s just not fair.”

VanderWoude’s bill was introduced, so it may get another round of scrutiny.

The Associated Press

Rep seek to hit wind energy companies in wallet

A Republican legislator who has long fought Idaho’s wind energy sector now wants to hit the industry in its pocketbook.

Rep. Tom Loertscher, of Ione, introduced a measure Feb. 13 to trim a tax break that alternative energy companies claiming on their property.

Loertscher worries companies whose towering turbines dot Idaho’s windy horizons are inappropriately claiming a tax break for property not used directly to produce electricity.

In a House tax committee hearing, he charged some companies with claiming breaks on equipment including snow cats they use to access turbines during the snowy winter months.

Loertscher called it “a matter of fairness.”

The panel agreed to debate his bill, which forbids wind and geothermal energy companies from claiming a break on their business equipment or on structures that don’t produce energy.

The Associated Press

Another plan to shift sales taxes to Idaho’s roads

Rep. Clark Kauffman wants to take 2 percent of Idaho’s total sales tax receipts — $22 million now — and direct it toward Idaho’s estimated $262 million annual road and bridge funding shortfall.

The Filer Republican told the House Revenue and Taxation Committee Feb. 13 the amount represents what’s now generated from sales taxes on tires and automobile-related items.

Typically, Idaho doesn’t dish out sales tax receipts toward roads, relying instead on registrations and fuel taxes.

But as lawmakers seek to raise roads cash without raising taxes, the sales tax has become a popular target.

Already this session, Rep. Joe Palmer of Meridian proposed a separate sales tax diversion.

Neither bill’s prospects is clear, however.

That’s because Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter aims to delay highway-funding debate until after an ongoing study.

The Associated Press

Idaho man dies in farm equipment accident

A south-central Idaho man has died in farm equipment accident in Heyburn.

Police say 54-year-old Antonio Ponce, of Burley, slipped and got caught in a piece of equipment used to mix cattle feed at about noon on Feb. 11.

Police Chief Dan Bristol said Feb. 12 that Ponce died at the scene of massive trauma. His death has been ruled an accident.

The Associated Press

Budget panel votes to give Idaho workers 2 percent hike

About 17,000 Idaho government employees are a step closer to getting a 2 percent raise in fiscal year 2015.

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee voted Feb. 12 to build $11 million more into state worker pay starting next July.

Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter didn’t recommend the raises.

But Republican Sen. Dean Cameron of Rupert said the timing was right to direct more money to government salaries for the first time since 2012.

Cameron says the budget panel is simply following recommendations of an employee pay committee.

It met earlier this year and concluded the recovering economy was kicking off enough state revenue for some long-overdue raises.

The money will be paid out on merit, so it’s possible not everybody will get a bump.

Additionally, only half the pay raise will be ongoing.

The Associated Press

Eastern Idaho electrical worker killed when gear falls

An employee of an eastern Idaho electrical contractor working at an elementary school died after a piece of electrical gear fell on him.

Officials in Bonneville County say 40-year-old Jeffrey Jaggar of Idaho Falls died Feb. 10 of injuries sustained while working at Longfellow Elementary School.

Bonneville County Coroner Rick Taylor says a piece of electrical gear fell on Jaggar.

A company spokesman at Wheeler Electric Inc. says Jaggar worked for the company for 13 years and was a valued member of the team.

Officials with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are investigating.

Jaggar is survived by his wife and son.

The Associated Press

Dentistry or deficits? House clears Medicaid bill

Lawmakers voted 62-6 to restore adult Medicaid dental benefits, arguing cuts three years ago that left 27,000 people without coverage cost Idaho more in dental-related emergency room services than it saved.

The House vote over the $1.4 million measure Feb. 11 pitted arguments for good preventative dentistry against fiscal hawks who say federal deficits trump good oral hygiene for low-income, elderly and disabled people.

Minority Leader John Rusche of Lewiston argued it not only made sense from a health perspective, but also from a fiscal perspective.

After the coverage was eliminated in 2011, monthly emergency-room costs rose to $65,000 now, from just $30,000 two years ago.

Republican Rep. Paul Shepherd of Riggins countered the federal government should address the nation’s looming $16 trillion debt before helping poor people maintain their smiles.

The Associated Press

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