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Capitol Reflections: 2021 Session Issue 4

“Evil preaches tolerance until it is dominant, then it tries to silence good.”  Archbishop Charles J. Chaput

Hemp Presentation to Freshman Legislators 

BOISE- On Thursday, the Farm Bureau and Food Producers of Idaho hosted a lunch meeting to provide a presentation and overview of the topic of industrial hemp to the new, freshman class of legislators. The topic of industrial hemp can certainly be complicated and somewhat technical, and the Idaho Legislature has wrestled with this issue over the past several sessions. The purpose of the meeting and presentation was to provide these in-coming legislators with a baseline level of information prior to voting on any future bill that comes before the legislature.

Industrial hemp is now legal in at least some form in 49 states, two territories, and more than 40 tribal areas. Idaho is the only state that has not taken any action on the topic. This crop is highly regulated, and producers interested in growing industrial hemp must comply with the regulatory framework provided in the 2018 Farm Bill and subsequent USDA regulation.

Farm Bureau has worked during the interim to better educate ourselves and other stakeholders on the many elements and factors that play into the issue of legalizing industrial hemp in Idaho while still being able to reasonably enforce our state’s drug policy. A meeting was held last fall in Buhl by the Farm Bureau and interested farmers in the Magic Valley to show the potential of the crop in the state and to better understand the federal framework overseen by the USDA. Farm Bureau is working on legislation to present for consideration by the legislature this session.

Idaho Farm Bureau supports the state legalizing industrial hemp and allowing Idaho farmers to make the decision for themselves if they want to grow it, or not. We also support a strong state drug policy that is enforceable. 

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Property Tax Transparency 

BOISE - This week the House Revenue and Taxation Committee introduced a bill that will assist taxpayers to get better information about taxing district budgets and expenditures.  HB73, Sponsored by Reps Jim Addis (R-Coeur d’Alene), Wendy Horman (R-Idaho Falls), Mike Moyle (R-Star) and Senator Jim Rice (R-Caldwell) would provide for “uniform accounting, budgeting, and financial reporting procedures for counties, cities, urban renewal agencies, and all other local districts” including schools.

This financial data will then be reported to the State Controller’s office who will post it onto the Transparent Idaho website.  This will make the data readily searchable and will provide for comparisons between similar taxing districts to see which ones are more frugal, while it will also provide historical data so taxpayers can see how quickly the taxing district budgets and expenditures are growing.

This was one of the bills that was endorsed by the legislative property tax working group, and the Governor has already included the cost of implementing the transparency reporting into his budget.  Although some taxing entities may grumble that it will mean they need to adjust some of their accounting practices, it will provide taxpayers with a great new way to access information that previously would have been very difficult for them to obtain.  We appreciate the sponsors bringing HB73 forward and believe this will be a benefit to all taxpayers.  IFBF supports HB73.


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Hands-Free Driving Legislation in Full Effect

BOISE - Last year H614 passed and was enacted into Idaho Code. This bill dealt with the issue of distracted driving while using electronic devices and aimed to pass a uniform law across the state. Many cities had begun passing their own ordinances requiring hands-free use of devices while driving, which was causing a patchwork in the state where you could drive with a phone in hand and where you couldn’t drive with a phone in hand. Under this new Idaho Code, you can only use a mobile electronic device if it is in a “hands-free” or voice-operated capacity while you are operating a vehicle. It also allows you a one-touch activation and deactivation of a mobile device. Simply put, you can only touch your phone to answer it and must communicate on speakerphone and not have it in your hands at any point while driving.

There is an agricultural exemption that was added to this bill that allows “the use of a mobile electronic device in a farming or ranching operation to assist in the movement of farm tractors, farm equipment, and implements of husbandry from one farm operation to another.”

This law is in full effect across the state and a violation of having a phone in your hands while driving is now considered a moving violation and has a fine of $75 for the first offense and $150 for the second offense in a three-year period.

You can read the law in its entirety in Idaho Code 49-1401A.

This year H5 adds the words “hands-free” to the section discussing the use of GPS while driving. After the law took effect, law enforcement found that people would use the excuse of using GPS on their phone for why it was in their hand. The original purpose of last year’s bill was to ensure people were not driving with phones in their hands. H5 makes this clarification. As with talking on the phone, you may use GPS while driving but it must be out of your hand and you are only allowed a one-touch or voice-activated function for it.

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Another Dairy Bill Introduced

BOISE - This week the House Agricultural Affairs Committee introduced another bill that is jointly sponsored by the Idaho Dairymen’s Association, Milk Producers of Idaho and the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation. This bill seeks to amend current Idaho law which requires the Idaho State Department of Agriculture (ISDA) to “utilize the best available peer-reviewed science” whenever they propose to regulate certain aspects of dairy farms and beef cattle feedlots.

While that initially sounds appropriate since nobody wants ISDA to use “bad science,” upon further reflection utilizing the best available science by itself isn’t always the best approach. All sorts of wonderful discoveries have been proven possible through science, but many are not yet readily available or currently affordable for everyday use. Unless the science is commercially available and economically feasible to implement, the best available science can be a very onerous burden to impose on otherwise viable operations. 

Therefore, H100 seeks to slightly modify current law so that ISDA must consider the best available peer-reviewed science, but it also must “make reasonable efforts to ensure that any requirements imposed upon agricultural operations are cost-effective and economically feasible.”  This is a common-sense approach to ensure that dairy farms in Idaho are regulated in an appropriate manner yet will not be forced out of business through unachievable standards that may technically be possible, but are not yet economically practical.  IFBF supports H100.

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Further Clarifying Recreational Trespass/ Liability Protections

BOISE - A bill that would further clarify state law regarding the limitation of liability of land and infrastructure owners towards individuals entering land for recreational purposes will soon be before the Senate Resources and Environment Committee for consideration. S1020, sponsored by Sen. Mark Harris (R-Soda Springs) and the Idaho Water Users Association, would amend current code to further clarify that owners of facilities and water infrastructure are also afforded the same liability protections as landowners from persons who trespass for recreational purposes. It also clarifies that recreational activities include the act of traveling across the land owned by others for the purpose of recreating. 

During the bill’s drafting, the Water Users worked closely with Farm Bureau and other allied organizations to ensure that these amendments and clarifications would not conflict with any changes that were made with Idaho trespass law a few years ago. There are no apparent conflicts, and the amendments are reasonable and fair. 

Farm Bureau will continue to monitor S1020 as it works its way through the process.

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