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Capitol Reflections: 2021 Session Issue 10

“In liberal logic, if life is unfair then the answer is to turn more tax money over to politicians, to spend in ways that will increase their chances of getting reelected.” Thomas Sowell

Legislature Unexpectedly Recesses Today

BOISE - Today, under mounting pressure from the media and others due to several members testing positive for COVID-19 within the body, the Legislature has recessed for 18 days.

This is a very unusual move. The last time the Legislature paused its work and took a recess was in 2000 when Senate President Pro Tem Jerry Twiggs unexpectedly passed away during the session. The Legislature paused their work for 10 days to allow for time for the funeral and everyone to collect themselves before finishing up their work.

This year, at the beginning of the session, there were great concerns expressed by many within and without the Legislature that COVID-19 would cause havoc amongst the members and the public. Fortunately, that has not been the case. The legislature has implemented a number of safety precautions and there have been few reported cases during the session until just recently.

Back in February, Senators Bair (R-Blackfoot) and Burtenshaw (R-Terreton) both contracted pretty severe cases of COVID-19 and both were absent for a couple of weeks. Each of them had sent a substitute to serve for them during their absence. There have been a few support staff on both the House and Senate side that had tested positive at various times during the session, but not in any large numbers.

However, during the past week or so about six House members have tested positive including Reps Lance Clow (R-Twin Falls), Ryan Kerby (R-New Plymouth), Bruce Skaug (R-Nampa), Julie Yamamoto (R-Caldwell), James Ruchti (D-Pocatello), Greg Chaney (R-Caldwell) and Codi Galloway (R-Boise). None of them have yet exhibited severe symptoms, but there was concern that there could be a wider spread.

Out of an abundance of caution, the Legislature has recessed today and will reconvene on Tuesday, April 6 at Noon. All bills that are currently pending will hold their places and will be taken up as soon as the legislature returns. IFBF wishes all legislators well, especially those who have tested positive and look forward to working with our Legislative friends once they are back in town.

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Dairy Bills Cross Finish Line

BOISE - This week both H51 and H167 were approved in the Senate and now await Governor Little’s signature before becoming law.  H51 would provide Idaho dairymen the opportunity to continue to choose which method of nutrient management they would like to use.  Currently, dairymen can use either the phosphorus threshold method or the phosphorus indexing method, both of which are equally protective of the environment according to ISDA. 

 Some dairymen liked the ease and simplicity of the threshold method, but others preferred the flexibility afforded by the indexing method, despite its added complexity and additional costs.  However, ISDA had arbitrarily decided that they would no longer allow dairymen to use the threshold method past June 30, 2023.   IFBF, along with Milk Producers of Idaho and the Idaho Dairymen’s Association sponsored H51 to ensure that the threshold method would still be allowed in the future.  H51 passed the Senate on a vote of 31-4 after passing the House on a vote of 61-9. 

 H167 ensures that economic feasibility is considered along with the best, peer-reviewed science when ISDA proposes new rules regarding nutrient management for dairies and beef cattle feedlots.  Currently, Idaho law requires ISDA to utilize the best available, peer-reviewed science when proposing new rules. 

Nobody wants ISDA to use bad science. However, sometimes science shows us what is technically possible, but not yet economically feasible or commercially available.  Is that the “best available” science?  If so, how do these Idaho operations stay in business if they are required to implement that science despite it not being commercially viable yet?  It is important for rules to consider the best science, but balance that against the economic realities. 

H167 also requires ISDA to give preference to data that is local or regional in scope, when available, so the science utilized is most applicable to the geology, climate, and other conditions of Idaho.  H167 passed the Senate on a vote of 27-7 after the House had approved it on a vote of 57-10.  Both bills now await Governor Little’s signature. IFBF supports H51 and H167.


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Senate Committee Kills Election Integrity Bill 

BOISE - This week the Senate State Affairs Committee killed H106, an election integrity bill brought forward by the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office.  H106 proposed to eliminate the August election date while keeping the March, May, and November election dates as usual.  The intent of this is to allow County Clerks and the Secretary of State’s office to have a five-week window during the year where there are not election-related activities either preparing for or finishing up tasks from the latest election.

The Secretary of State’s office chose the August election date since it is only used by school districts and only 8 – 12 districts have used the August date over the past five years.  There are no city, county, state, or federal candidates elected in August.

This five-week window would allow for standardized election training across the state, to ensure voter registration rolls are fully validated and up-to-date, and to make sure all voter registration and voting software are fully updated and functional prior to the general election.  All of this is important to maintain our election integrity in Idaho.

Despite H106 passing the House on a vote of 45-24, the Senate State Affairs Committee seemed to defer to the school district's argument that the August date is important to them, even though only 8-12 districts used the August date over the past five years out of 117 school districts.  Schools have also testified in the past that the March date is the critical date for them when March was proposed to be eliminated.   There is nothing preventing a school district from planning ahead and using the March or May dates rather than waiting for the August date.  Chris Yamamoto, the Canyon County Clerk testified in favor of H106 since there was only a 5% voter turnout for the elections they had to run in August at the school districts’ request.   Five percent is a very small number to obligate the remaining 95% of taxpayers to ongoing property taxes.  H106 is now dead for this session.  IFBF supports H106.


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Cloud Seeding Bill

BOISE - A bill dealing with the topic of cloud seeding is making its way through the legislature. H266, sponsored by Representative Marc Gibbs (R-Grace), would authorize the Idaho Water Resource Board to oversee cloud seeding activities in the state of Idaho. The bill further clarifies that water generated through cloud seeding will be administered in accordance with the prior appropriation doctrine and limits liability for participation in certain cloud seeding projects. H266 does not require permits to cloud seed in the state.

Under current law, the only requirement to cloud seed in the state is to register with the Idaho State Department of Agriculture; although, it was reported that this is currently not happening for whatever reason. It is appropriate for the state water board to oversee water-related matters within the state and ensure that the resource is appropriated accurately. Again, this legislation specifies that any water generated by cloud seeding activities be administered according to priority rights.   

The bill has already passed the House on a 54-14 vote, and on Wednesday, the Senate Resource Committee unanimously approved the legislation, sending it on to the Senate floor for a final vote. We anticipate the Senate approving the bill early next week and then sending it on to the Governor for his signature.

Cloud seeding has been done in various areas of Idaho for several years. Idaho Power Company has had an extensive program in different areas of the state with the purpose of augmenting flow for their hydropower facilities. Farm Bureau’s Water Committee has received presentations and updates from Idaho Power regarding their program in the recent past, and the power company has also reported to the legislature and state water board over the past couple of months.

Idaho Farm Bureau Policy #14 expresses our support for cloud seeding and encourages continued investment in its application and research. The policy goes on to state that we support the legislature and the Idaho Water Resource Board continuing to study and fund cloud seeding efforts. Our policy also supports the state’s first in time, first in right doctrine, and state control of water issues within appropriate Idaho agencies. IFBF supports H266.


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Property Tax Bill Died an Ugly Death

BOISE - Both Cities and Counties have recently publicly recognized that our current property tax budget formula has had a flaw for the past 25 years which caused local property tax budgets to grow faster than they should have when new growth occurs.  This has allowed budgets to grow more than twice as fast as population plus inflation.  This is one major reason that property taxes have been rising so rapidly in high-growth areas across the state. 

Despite public recognition of the problem, many City officials have vehemently opposed a bill that would correct this flaw.  Fortunately, counties have been much more reasonable and are for the most part not opposed to the fix.  They recognize that opposition to a bill correcting a flaw in the system is not the way to work cooperatively to resolve escalating property tax issues.

S1108aa corrects the new construction factor so that growth doesn’t cause the taxes of existing residents to unfairly increase and moves closer to growth paying for itself.  S1108aa also provides some very reasonable sideboards on local taxing district budget growth.  This means that growth in property taxes will not rise as rapidly in the future, but it will be slightly restrained.  This slight decrease in the increased spending has caused cities to claim that they will have to “reduce their firefighters by 60%” and other wild claims designed to scare legislators into opposing this common-sense bill.

Unfortunately, the exaggerations and theatrics of the cities have worked.  This week, the Senate killed S1108aa on a vote of 17-18, with many Senators who should understand how property taxes work, and who should know better than to cave into scaremongering by the cities voting against it.

This means that the constant drumbeat by the cities to increase the homeowner’s exemption will continue.  It is very disingenuous for cities to push for an increase in the Homeowner’s exemption as they know full well that for every dollar that a homeowner doesn’t pay in property taxes, it forces another property taxpayer to unfairly pay that dollar.  Under our current property tax system, the local taxing districts continue to get every dollar of property taxes when the exemption increases, it just shifts those dollars to another property taxpayer who isn’t a homeowner such as a business, a rental property owner, or a farmer.  These property owners don’t receive any additional services for the extra taxes they are paying to subsidize the homeowners who pay less in taxes under an increased homeowner’s exemption.

For the cities, increasing the homeowner’s exemption is like waving a magic wand.  The cities and other taxing districts continue to get all the tax money they want, while the homeowners (their voters) get a reduction in taxes.  They totally ignore the serious negative consequences on the other property owners who are being forced to pay those additional taxes, many of which have no vote in local elections.  Apparently, many city officials live in a fantasy land where they can continue to increase their spending, cut taxes to the residents and the money just magically appears from nowhere.  This is not responsible governing, nor is it “conservative” to keep spending when they know their citizens are upset about their taxes being too high.    IFBF supports S1108aa.


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Trapping Bait Bill Headed to the Governor

BOISE -  H91 passed unanimously on the Senate floor this week and is now headed to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law. 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. Under the current conditions, if a trapper were to do everything correctly, use natural kill without disturbing the carcass to set a wolf trap, and a coyote stepped into that wolf trap, the trapper is now outside of the law, despite doing everything in his power to follow the rules.

Simplification of the rule would make it easier for everyone to understand and comply across the board. There should be no issue of using natural kill for bait with a coyote or other animal when it is allowed under code for a wolf. Trappers are a key component when it comes to wolf control in Idaho. 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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Transportation Funding Update

BOISE - H314 was the transportation funding bill that would increase the percentage of sales tax that is distributed to the Transportation Expansion and Congestion Mitigation Program (TECM) from 1% to 4.5%. This money is normally used to bond for larger projects within ITD. The bill also proposes to allow these funds to be available for use by local units of government. Specifically, 30% of the net proceeds of all bonds issued pursuant to this fund shall be made available to local units of governments, based on allocation percentages already described in the Idaho Code.

Due to concerns about the cost of the bill, a new bill was introduced that replaces H314, which is now dead. This new bill, H342, still deals with the percentage of sales tax that is distributed to TECM by increasing it from 1% to 3%. Of that increase, 1.5% will be appropriated to local units of government for transportation funding. The rest is to go to ITD to be used to bond for road or bridge projects as they already do under TECM. H342 passed out of the House on a 63-4 vote and is now headed to the Senate to be heard in committee. 

This transportation funding bill helps to better fund infrastructure projects throughout the state, without needing to raise fuel tax or any vehicle fees. IFBF has no stance on H342.

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Julia Dondero - University of Idaho Intern

BOISE - My name is Julia Dondero and over the last week of March fifteenth, I have been grateful to have the opportunity to shadow Idaho Farm Bureau Federation lobbyists on behalf of the Young Farmers and Ranchers Program. I am currently a freshman at the University of Idaho, where I am studying Agricultural Sciences Communication and Leadership, with a minor in Public Relations.

I am originally from Reno, Nevada, and have grown up surrounded by agriculture and the western way of life. I have always been passionate about protecting and promoting the agricultural industry and this experience has been a great way to learn about it from a legislative perspective. Going into this week, I had very minimal knowledge of how the legislative process worked and how much work and detail goes into every Routing Slip idea, committee meeting, floor vote, bill, and ultimately law. By shadowing Chyla Wilson, Braden Jensen, and Russ Hendricks, I have learned so much about the lobbying process. I not only learned the basics of how bills are created into laws, but how Representatives, Senators, and Lobbyists interact with each other to work towards their goals. It was most fascinating to see the planning and work that goes into every piece and interaction within committees, with lobbyists, and on the senate and house floors.

It was also very interesting to see how the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation Lobbyist team works hard daily to represent the federation’s members and beliefs in law.I particularly enjoyed witnessing the planning and strategy that goes into every interaction. I also enjoyed learning about the importance of research and relationship building. Becoming knowledgeable about the bill one is proposing is extremely important as a lobbyist, as one cannot inform another if they are not knowledgeable themselves. I also was able to witness the importance of quality relationship building and professionalism; which, are skills and lessons I can carry with me into any career path. This past week has truly been an educational and fun experience and has opened my eyes to so many different aspects of politics. As I continue my educational career, I will certainly be learning more about the political and legal side of representing Idaho agriculture. Being a voice for Idaho agriculture and the members of the Idaho Farm Bureau is so important, and I am so grateful for this opportunity. Thank you to the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, the Latah County district of the Young Farmers and Ranchers Program, Chyla, Braden, and Russ for making this such a great experience!

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Annalise DeVries - University of Idaho Intern

BOISE - My name is Annalise DeVries, and I am currently a freshman at the University of Idaho. I am working towards a degree in Agricultural Economics but have recently found myself considering the possible opportunities regarding governmental affairs, specifically ag policy.

As a member of YF&R, I was given the opportunity to do a short internship with the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation lobbyist team. This legislative internship was extremely eye-opening for me, broadening my understanding of the legislative process and the political reality of our government system. I have realized just how crucial it is to elect legislators who will truly have agriculture’s best interest in mind. I am extremely grateful for politicians who advocate for the right causes and fight for them when the need arises. I have also seen the pivotal role our lobbyists play in influencing the decisions of our legislators.

This week I spent much of my time in committee meetings where I watched many lobbyists and civilians testify for issues including ballot initiatives, industrial hemp, property tax, wolf populations, and more. I am leaving this experience with a much better understanding of the complexity of these issues and a recognition that the solution is usually not cut and dry. Watching our lobbyists, Chyla Wilson, Braden Jensen, and Russ Hendricks work to support or oppose bills based solely on the wishes of the Farm Bureau’s membership was very encouraging. As an FFA member, I competed in the parliamentary procedure competition. It was very beneficial to watch the parliamentary procedure used in this setting. I learned Robert’s Rules of Order and the Idaho legislature uses Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedure, so it was really fun to be able to listen and notice the similarities and differences between the two styles. I feel much more confident in my knowledge of what the Farm Bureau Federation does, as well as how the legislation process is conducted. This experience has given me so much insight and will definitely help guide me in making decisions about my future career. I would like to express my immense gratitude towards the Idaho Farm Bureau and its incredible staff for allowing me to have this opportunity.

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