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Capitol Reflections: 2021 Session Issue 8

By: Idaho Farm Bureau Governmental Affairs
Published in Legislative on  March 05, 2021

“Where the people themselves are the government, it needs no argument to demonstrate that what the people cannot do their government cannot do.” President Calvin Coolidge




Initiative Bill Approved by Senate

BOISE - This week S1110 was approved by the Senate on a vote of 26-9. S1110 would make our current initiative process more fair and inclusive by requiring signatures to be gathered from across the state rather than in just the most populous areas when qualifying for the ballot.

Although an initiative can create law just like the legislature, there is one major difference. The legislative process has many steps to ensure citizens’ rights are protected prior to finally creating law. It is a long difficult process that ensures that all voices are heard before the final votes are taken. On the other hand, an initiative only has two steps. It qualifies for the ballot, then the people vote. Therefore, qualifying for the ballot is a very important part of the vetting process to ensure citizens are protected and that all voices are heard. 

Our current process requires gathering the signatures of 6% of the total number of registered voters statewide, and of those signatures, there must be 6% of the registered voters in at least 18 of our 35 legislative districts. Originally, that requirement was meant to ensure there was broad support from across the state. However, demographics have been shifting over the past number of years, and urban areas are growing much more rapidly than rural areas. 

Therefore, under our current law, an initiative could potentially qualify after gathering signatures in only four Idaho Counties, Ada, Canyon, Kootenai and Bonneville. After redistricting, signatures from 18 legislative districts could likely be gathered in just three counties, potentially ignoring the rest of the state.

S1110 does one simple thing. It requires the exact same number of signatures, it just ensures that they are spread across the entire state.  S1110 would require that signatures of 6% of the registered voters be gathered in each of the 35 legislative districts.  That way every part of the state is included and has the opportunity to be involved in the important vetting process before an initiative qualifies for the ballot. 

Opponents have tried to claim that S1110 would give “veto” power to one district, essentially overturning the will of the rest of the citizens in the state.  That simply is not true.  Only 6% of the registered voters are required to sign an initiative in any one district, or about 1,850 signatures. It would be an extremely difficult feat to organize more than 94% of the registered voters to withhold their signature from a petition. If an idea cannot secure the buy-in of 6% of the voters, it is much more plausible that it simply is not a good idea and therefore, should not appear on the ballot.

Senator Steve Vick (R-Dalton Gardens) was the Senate sponsor of S1110 and has done a great job of explaining it and shepherding it through the process. In the House, Representatives Jim Addis (R-Coeur d’Alene) and Sage Dixon (R-Ponderay) are the sponsors. There are also another 10 House co-sponsors that have signed-on so far.  S1110 will be heard in the House State Affairs Committee on Monday, March 8.  IFBF supports S1110.

 

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Clarifying Ag Lands for Property Taxation 

BOISE - H252 addresses an issue a few of our members have called to complain about from time-to-time. They report that their county assessor has misclassified the land where they have haystacks, or where they are parking their tractors and other equipment as commercial property. Although it is usually a small amount of land, it is valued at a much higher value than the surrounding agricultural land, causing the taxes to be higher than they should be if it was classified correctly.

The assessors in these situations have typically looked at Idaho Code 63-604, which defines lands that are actively devoted to agriculture. Under the definition, the lands must be used for growing crops or used for the grazing of livestock. Since these lands used for storage do neither of these things, the assessors feel justified to assess this land as commercial. Thankfully, most assessors use common sense and recognize that they are still agricultural lands.

H252 specifies that pivot corners and other lands that are used primarily for storage of agricultural commodities or equipment, when used in tandem with agricultural lands, are to be considered agricultural lands. This week, H252 was approved by the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, chaired by Rep Steven Harris (R-Meridian).   Rep Aaron von Ehlinger (R-Lewiston) is the sponsor of the bill. H252 will now be considered by the full House before moving to the Senate.  IFBF supports H252.

 

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Sage Grouse Preservation Program

BOISE - Idaho Farm Bureau has been working with Representatives Julianne Young (R- Blackfoot) and Judy Boyle (R-Midvale) the last couple of years to draft legislation that would allow for the raising of sage grouse in captivity and the release of the captive raised birds as a tool to augment the wild populations. H237 is the current draft that is still being worked on and was printed to allow for public sharing, where an RS is private property that cannot and should not be shared since it is still not an official bill. H237 is the result of multiple years of research and collaboration with involved parties including the University of Idaho, Office of Species Conservation, Idaho Fish and Game, The Idaho Gamebird Foundation, The Idaho Cattlemen’s Association, and Idaho Farm Bureau Federation along with constituents and an individual who was involved in the creation of Wyoming’s program that recently was implemented. The goal is to continue with a working group of stakeholders during the interim to finalize the language of the bill and address any remaining concerns so that a bill is ready to run at the beginning of next session.

Idaho Farm Bureau is grateful for the work and diligence that Representative Young has put into this draft. IFBF policy #75 states, “We support private sector rearing and releasing of sage grouse.” Early in the process, Representative Young and Representative Boyle listened to what IFBF hoped to get out of the program and even spoke to members of IFBF who raise game birds themselves to ensure we were not impacting their operations negatively.  The concerns that were raised during these discussions have been addressed in this draft.

Now is a perfect time to open the door on this opportunity. Wyoming is just starting a similar program and there has been success captively raising Greater Sage Grouse at the Calgary Zoo in Canada. Many other Western states have an interest in Greater Sage Grouse that we believe will follow suit. There is the potential to work in collaboration with these other states to help conduct research as a possible means to bolster the wild grouse populations. In the least, this program allows Idaho to have another tool in our toolbox when it comes to the management of this species.

Our policy supports having the private sector rear and release sage grouse as a viable option to help bolster population numbers, just like we do with other species, including salmon. Creating a Sage Grouse Preservation Program that allows research to be done for best practices when it comes to raising and augmenting sage grouse populations through captive breeding is an added tool for conservation management of this species in Idaho.

Augmentation through captive breeding has been used in the state for other game birds such as pheasants. Currently, there is no legal way to raise for release sage grouse in Idaho. This program allows the door to be opened to have a conversation among stakeholders on how best to implement this practice, so we can see success. It is important to note that this bill only lays down the groundwork for Idaho to have a program, the specific workings of the program will be determined through Commission rulemaking, where all stakeholders will have a chance to voice their input further, along with best practices that will be dictated through University of Idaho research in conjunction with other partnering research facilities. It will be continually evaluated based on the research conducted by the University of Idaho and their findings when it comes to raising Greater Sage Grouse and will be reported annually to both House and Senate Resource Committees.

If you have any questions on the specifics of this program, please contact Chyla Wilson in our Boise office at 208-342-2688. IFBF Policy supports what H237 aims to accomplish and will continue to work on it through the interim with other stakeholders.

 

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Hemp Bill Advances Out of Committee

BOISE - On Tuesday, the House Agricultural Affairs Committee unanimously passed H126 regarding hemp out of committee to advance the bill to the House floor for consideration. Several committee members stated that they would vote to pass the bill out of committee; however, they would reserve the right to change their vote on the floor.

Much of the concern that we hear regarding H126 and any hemp bill that we have seen in the past deals with the amount of law enforcement involvement. For some, the role of law enforcement should be thorough and complete to ensure strict adherence to the law if the state were to legalize hemp to be grown. Others would argue that law enforcement should have little to no involvement. Having drafted and negotiated the content of H126, Farm Bureau believes the bill strikes an appropriate balance of the needs and expectations of industry (i.e. agriculture, processing, trucking) while also ensuring law enforcement is able to carry out and enforce the state drug policy.

H126 would legalize the production, processing, transportation, and research of industrial hemp in Idaho pursuant to a license, while still ensuring adequate state agency and law enforcement involvement to ensure compliance with a state developed industrial hemp policy. The bill directs our state department of agriculture to develop a state hemp plan. By developing a state plan and assuming primary regulatory authority, Idaho can establish a hemp policy that would allow licensed Idaho farmers to grow the crop while ensuring it will not conflict with our state’s strong drug policy.

H126 is solely a farmer/grower bill. As stated previously, the scope of the bill is to legalize industrial hemp for licensed farmers, processors, and researchers, and authorizing the transportation of the crop on behalf of those licensed individuals. H126 would not legalize industrial hemp for everyone in the state. The bill would not legalize low THC CBD (CBD with THC above 0% but not exceeding 0.3%). The bill does not change the fact that CBD and other hemp derived products that contain no amount of THC can still be legally sold and possessed in the state.  

Idaho Farm Bureau has specific policy that supports legalizing the production of industrial hemp with 0.3% THC or less. It also speaks in favor of seeing the University of Idaho and the Idaho Department of Agriculture conducting research and pilot programs to determine suitable varieties for the state. To be clear, our policy is specifically in support of industrial grade hemp as an alternative crop for Idaho farmers and we are opposed to the legalization of marijuana. 

H126 will be up for a vote by the full House on Monday. We encourage our members to contact their legislators and encourage their support of the bill. IFBF supports H126.

 

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Coronavirus Liability Protection Extension

BOISE - This week Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee sent H149 to the Senate floor with a do pass recommendation. H149 extends the sunset date on the employer COVID-19 liability protection bill that was passed by the legislature during the special session. At the start of the pandemic, agriculture and food production was rightfully deemed essential and it was necessary for employees to continue to come to work. A concern was that despite employers doing everything that they could to protect their employees from Coronavirus and provide a safe work environment, there were mixed messages received regarding their potential liability for disease transmission when it came to Coronavirus. During the special session the Governor and Legislature determined it would be best to pass legislation to protect employers from this legal uncertainty, rather than waiting for lawsuits to start.

H6 was the remedy bill that provided protection from liability for all claims of exposure and transmission of coronavirus except those involving intentional, willful or reckless misconduct. It did not require the employer to implement any particular preventative measures. This legislation did have a sunset date where these protections would only last until 7/1/21.

H149 extends this sunset day for another year, to continue to protect employers as we are still in the thick of dealing with the pandemic. IFBF supports H149.

 

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Trapping Bait Bill Advances

BOISE - H91 is headed to the Senate floor for a vote after the bill passed out of Senate Resources & Environment Committee unanimously on Wednesday. This bill simplifies code to make the use of bait for trapping fur-bearing and predatory animals uniform. Currently, the use of naturally killed big game as bait is allowed for trapping, but only for wolves. It only makes sense to simplify the rules to include predatory and fur-bearing animals as well. This way there are no disparities between the different classifications of animals.

 

Trappers are a key component when it comes to wolf control in Idaho. This clarification in code allows them to concern themselves more with what they do best, which is trapping, instead of constantly being concerned if they are in compliance with an inconsistent law. This law is for use of wildlife as bait and does not include any natural kill of livestock on the range. The trapper must also be in compliance with salvage laws, as referenced in H91. IFBF policy #78 supports H91.


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