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Capitol Reflections: 2020 Session Issue 6

“So great, moreover, is the regard of the law for private property, that it will not authorize the least violation of it; no, not even for the general good of the whole community.”

William Blackstone

Ag Land Valuation Bill Introduced

BOISE - This week Rep Megan Blansksma (R-Hammett) Introduced H495 into the House Revenue and Taxation Committee chaired by Rep Gary Collins (R-Nampa).  H495 does two things.  First, it removes the perception that agricultural land somehow receives an exemption from paying property taxes by clarifying in a statute that ag land is valued at its actual use-value as ag land while using exactly the same methodology that has been used to set values for decades.  Secondly, it ensures that county assessors will use local data to calculate ag land values rather than using state or national data.  This has been an issue at times over the years as the old rules have allowed assessors to use statewide data even if local data is available.  Usually, this would result in ag land values being artificially inflated, meaning local farmers were paying higher taxes than they should have been paying.  Rep Blanksma has done a good job of making the statute very clear without changing the underlying methodology that has been historically used.  IFBF supports H495

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Consent Required for Forestland Annexation

BOISE - On the heels of last year’s successful bill to require cities to receive written consent from a landowner before annexing parcels of agricultural land of five acres or more, Rep Tony Wisniewski (R-Post Falls) has introduced H451.  This bill would simply apply the same standard to forestland.  No city would be allowed to annex forestland parcels of five acres or more without the written consent of the landowner.  The entire premise is that land doesn’t use city services, only people do.  Forcing a landowner to be annexed into a city and then requiring them to pay the higher city taxes on lands that do not utilize the provided services is blatantly unfair.  H451 would ensure that landowners are not forced to be annexed, but rather would do so when it is a good deal for both the city and the landowner.  Voluntary commercial transactions always provide a win-win, otherwise, they will not be completed.  Unfortunately, too many governmental transactions are a win-loose proposition; they are only good for one party – the one forcibly collecting the taxes.  H451 helps to restore the balance of power and assures that the landowner believes they will receive value for the extra taxes they will be paying when they are annexed into the city limits.  IFBF policy #118 opposes forced annexation.  IFBF supports H451.


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Idaho Farm Bureau 2020 Legislative Conference

BOISE - Idaho Farm Bureau Federation hosted it’s 2020 Legislative Conference this week February 11th - February 12th. More than 120 members attended this year’s conference allowing a great opportunity for our members to be engaged with their legislators and the legislative operations.

The conference began Tuesday with a luncheon where members were informed about current issues and bills that our Governmental Affairs Team is working on currently. The purpose was to give members some background so they were able to think about the issues and how it may be affecting their lives and operations.  That evening, they were able to bring those issues up with their Legislators at the Annual Legislative Dinner. Each member of the Governmental Affairs Team took the time to address the topics and let our members know that they are always available for questions.

Following the luncheon, we loaded onto buses and headed to our State Capitol Building.  At the Statehouse, the group got to decide whether they wanted to attend a House Committee hearing or a Senate Committee hearing. We split into groups and members were able to sit in on hearings that interested them.  This allowed our members to visualize how these hearings operate.  Following the committee hearings, everyone headed to the Lincoln Auditorium where our members had a unique opportunity to hear from both Senators and Representatives. The speakers included Senator Kelly Anthon and Representative Megan Blanksman Majority Caucus Chairs; Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett; Senator Patti Anne Lodge and Representative Steven Harris, Senate, and House State Affairs Chairmen; and Senator Jim Guthrie and Representative Judy Boyle, Senate and House Agriculture Affairs Chairmen.

After each Legislator finished speaking to the group on prepared topics, members were engaged and got to stand up and ask questions and receive direct feedback. It was amazing to see our members fill up the Statehouse and have a presence there. Asking questions and having a voice for more than 80,000 families that live and operate in Idaho was truly a memorable experience.

That evening we held our Annual Legislative Dinner. We had a great turn out including over 60 Legislators. This dinner is where the real connections are made. Our members can share a conversation and a meal with their district’s lawmakers. While making friendly conversation they are also able to bring up topics they feel directly affect not only them but most Idaho families. Also in attendance was Governor Brad Little who stayed for the dinner, had one on one conversations and was also spotted partaking in “selfies” with some of our members. Not everyone can say they have had dinner with the Governor but those in attendance now can!

The next morning, we were able to attend our National Affairs breakfast. This was yet another outlet for our members to hear from Senators and also Congressmen. First, we had Casey Attebery, staff for Senator Mike Crapo, speak with us about issues Senator Crapo is currently working on. There were also three incoming calls during this breakfast from Senator Jim Risch, Congressman Russ Fulcher, and Congressman Mike Simpson. You could tell their excitement over the phone to be able to address this group of farmers and families.

Farm Bureau is very pleased with the outcome of the Legislative Conference. Providing a hands-on and visual experience for our members this year so they were able to see firsthand how the legislative process operates. We appreciate our members taking the time to attend and for being so engaged and open to the process. The Statehouse was able to witness our great grass-roots organization and we are proud of what we represent.


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Right to Repair

BOISE - As was noted last week, two bills have been introduced in the Legislature regarding the Right to Repair. The Idaho Farm Bureau Federation is formally supporting H452 as it clearly aligns with numerous provisions in American Farm Bureau Policy.

There are ten separate points of AFBF policy that are all achieved in this bill. Not only does the bill advance these member concerns, but it also does so without any compromises. As was stated last week, an important balance must be struck so that property rights are wholly protected without infringing on intellectual property rights. This bill achieves that goal masterfully. For some specifics, on page 3, lines 20-31 of the bill, AFBF Policies 151 2.2, 2.3, 2.4, and 2.5 are all accomplished in this bill. These policies ensure that those who purchase equipment have access to the purchase of diagnostic equipment, codes, manuals, and other necessary parts and information for the repair of their equipment with electronic components. An important note here is that the term “embedded software” is used, thus ensuring that this legislation only allows for restoration to an original status, rather than modification or alteration. Additionally, the bill specifically protects trade secrets. Thus, this addresses concerns sometimes expressed by dealers.

As mentioned above, the steps this legislation takes to ensure the protection of trade secrets and intellectual property ensures that AFBF policy 151 3.4 is codified. This legislation is enforceable under the Idaho Consumer Protection Act, thus achieving policy 151 3.1. Throughout the bill, numerous provisions achieve AFBF Policy 151 3.2 which states, “3. We support the implementation of comprehensive right-to-repair legislation or a negotiated written agreement between ag producers and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). This legislation or agreement must: (3.2) Guarantee farmer/owner and independent repair technician access to the information, parts, and tools that are available to dealerships, including, but not limited to, the ability to reset the operating system, acknowledging pricing structures may be different for farmers/owners vs. independent repair technicians.” Additionally, AFBF policy 151 3.3 seeks to ensure that any policy will include all equipment, not just equipment produced after the effective date. This occurs through the legislation by default as there is not a provision exempting applicability to electronic equipment produced before the effective date. Alternatively, there is also not language limiting applicability only to products produced after the effective date. Thus, it is our interpretation that this policy goal is attained via H 452.

AFBF Policy 151, 3.6 is also achieved, which states, “We would support an agreement which grants farmers/owners and independent repair technicians access, similar to the agreement reached in the automobile and light truck owner’s industries. Absent progress on an agreement, we would consider supporting legislation achieving the same.” Future agreements are allowed under the bill, thus, if a dealer wishes to develop their own memorandum of understanding on this issue with the stakeholders, they are completely free to do so.

Another area of consideration is AFBF Policy 151, 4.3 which addresses the importance of ensuring that general maintenance does not violate a warranty. This is addressed on page 4 lines 27 through 31.

All in all, again, that is ten separate policy objectives this bill achieves without any compromises. Thus, we are strongly in support of H 452. Please contact your Representatives, specifically those in the House Environment, Energy, and Technology Committee regarding the importance of this legislation moving forward to protect the property rights of our farmers and ranchers.   IFBF supports H452.


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Grocery Tax Repeal Bills Died this Week 

BOISE - This week the House Revenue and Taxation Committee heard three ideas to repeal the sales tax on groceries.  Each sponsor had a unique idea of how to do so, but in the end, all three ideas either did not receive enough votes for introduction as a bill or were withdrawn.  The first RS was sponsored by Rep Pricilla Giddings (R-White Bird).  Rep Giddings had the most traditional approach which would have removed the sales tax on all grocery items that are SNAP eligible, while still taxing prepared foods.  Her plan would also adjust the sales tax distribution formula to give local governments a higher percentage of state sales tax to compensate for the reduced sales tax revenues.  This proposal would have reduced the general fund by $64.4 million, which would have been offset by transfers from the internet sales tax collection fund.  After extensive discussion and questioning, this idea died on a tie vote of 9-9. 

Next, Rep Randy Armstrong (R-Inkom) introduced his plan to remove the grocery sales tax which was very similar to Rep Giddings.  The main difference was the definition of food that would be exempt.  He had a list of staple food items that would be exempted from sales tax, while anything not on the list would still be fully taxable.  There also seemed to be confusion as to the cost to the general fund.  After a discussion about the possibility that Idahoans would pay more in sales tax under this proposal since many food items would continue to be taxed, the committee rejected this idea on a vote of 8-10. 

Finally, Rep Mike Moyle (R-Star) explained his proposal which would remove sales tax on food items under the SNAP definition.  It would not adjust the sales tax distribution formula but would ensure local governments did not receive less in sales tax revenues than they currently do.  The biggest difference in Rep Moyle’s idea is he also reduced personal income tax from a top rate of 6.95% down to 6.4% to make up for the difference that people will see on their taxes when they no longer receive the $100 per person grocery tax credit.  Since the other two ideas were rejected by the committee, Rep Moyle withdrew his RS from consideration. 

This action now seems to pave the way for H494 which would simply increase the current grocery tax credit from $100 to $135 per person.  This proposal would more than offset the sales tax most Idahoans pay on groceries every year while not needing to get into bureaucratic definitions of which food is taxed and which is not.  Furthermore, H494 would continue to capture the sales tax on any out of state purchasers of groceries.  H494 seems to be the simplest, yet most effective way to provide grocery tax relief to Idaho Citizens.  IFBF supports H494.


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Board of Correction Training Programs Pass the House 

BOISE - H373, dealing with expanding the inmate trainee program to more agricultural operations, passed on the House floor this week, carried by Representative Doug Ricks (R-Rexburg). The bill received 70 aye votes, passing the House unanimously. This comes after several years of work from Kevin Mickelson, General Manager of Idaho Correctional Industries (ICI) and Senator Patti Anne Lodge (R-Huston) trying to pass some form of a bill that would remove the words “perishable” and “food” that are currently in statue dealing with agricultural training in the ICI program. Now under H373, inmates can work “in production, harvesting, and processing of agricultural products.” This allows trainees to participate in training through a wider variety of agricultural operations.

There is continuous concern around the shortage of available labor for farmers in Idaho. In recent years it has become even more difficult to find workers with extremely low unemployment rates throughout the state. While H373 will not be a solve-all to the labor issue Idaho agriculture is facing, it does provide an opportunity to bring more workers to the industry that are wanting to participate. Senator Lodge spoke of this when addressing IFBF members during the Legislative Conference this week.  She mentioned the necessity of the program for both the inmates who are needing to receive real-world skills to prepare them for the workforce upon their release back to society and the agriculture industry that has a shortage of labor that could utilize the trainees on their operations.

H373 will now head to the Senate side for consideration. IFBF supports H373.


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River System Presentation

BOISE - Both the Senate and House Agricultural Affairs Committees heard presentations regarding the Columbia-Snake River system this week. Presenters included representatives from the Idaho Grain Producer Association, Idaho Water Users Association, Idaho Consumer Owned Utilities, and the Port of Lewiston.

The river system provides multiple benefits to the region from hydropower, flood management, navigation, and even irrigation to a certain extent. The critical infrastructure that makes up the river system allows Idaho agriculture to remain competitive and productive by allowing producers affordable means to get their commodities to distant markets. The hydropower systems serve as a large battery-like base for the region's electricity supply; allowing for other forms of renewable energy to be further expanded. The dams also serve for water supply and flood control for downriver communities and cities. 

Presentations like this are beneficial as the issue of breaching the four lower Snake River dams is raised again. Farm Bureau’s Publications Editor, Sean Ellis, wrote in our most recent publication about the findings of a recent report that estimates the economic and environmental impacts of removing dams on the Snake River.

Article:  Idaho Farm Bureau supports the Columbia-Snake River system and opposes any effort to destroy or breach dams.


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