Capitol Reflections: 2023 Session, Issue 4
By: Idaho Farm Bureau Governmental Affairs
“Ours was the first revolution in the history of mankind that truly reversed the course of government, and with three little words: 'We the People.' 'We the People' tell the government what to do; it doesn't tell us. 'We the People' are the driver; the government is the car. And we decide where it should go, and by what route, and how fast. Almost all the world's constitutions are documents in which governments tell the people what their privileges are. Our Constitution is a document in which 'We the People' tell the government what it is allowed to do. 'We the People' are free.” President Ronald Reagan
Water Bills Introduced
On Monday, the Senate Resource & Environment Committee voted to introduce three water bills. Among those is S1033 regarding the authority of the Director of the Department of Water Resources (IDWR) in conditioning new irrigation groundwater rights.
Years ago, in Idaho’s Local Land Use Planning Act, the legislature established a policy that encourages the continued use of surface water when there is a land use change. Notwithstanding this statute, a recent court decision held that the Director of IDWR exceeded his authority by relying on this policy for the purpose of conditioning new groundwater applications. S1033 would provide clear authority to the Director of IDWR to condition new irrigation groundwater rights consistent with the policy in the Local Land Use Planning Act.
The primary purpose of this legislation is to conserve groundwater resources and secure the maximum use and benefit from surface water resources in Idaho. It would require all new applications to appropriate groundwater for irrigation purposes on land with surface water rights for irrigation to be conditioned to require the use of available surface water as the primary irrigation supply and use of groundwater as a supplemental water supply when surface water is not available. The bill does specify exemptions that IDWR can take into account if surface water can no longer be delivered to the property and the use of that surface water is not necessary for the protection of the resource, or if the application is submitted in connection with an approved mitigation plan.
IFBF Policy #43 states that we oppose changing the historical beneficial use of water rights when that change will have a negative impact on other water right holders. S1033 would better enforce the historic use of water on a given parcel of land before allowing any new or additional pressure being put on the state’s groundwater resources. IFBF supports S1033.
For additional information on S1033, click here.
Ensuring Accountability to Taxpayers
Rep Bruce Skaug (R-Nampa) is sponsoring H30 which ensures that cities secure approval by the voters prior to obligating them to long-term debt. Some of you might think that the Idaho Constitution already does that, and you would be correct. The Idaho Constitution states in Article VIII, Section 3 “No county, city, school district, or other subdivision of the state shall incur any indebtedness, or liability, in any manner, or for any purpose, exceeding in that year, the income and revenue provided for it for such year, without the assent of two-thirds of the qualified electors thereof voting at an election to be held for that purpose.” (Emphasis added)
There are those that argue that this restriction does not apply to bonds since they are using current tax dollars to pay off the current year’s lease payment, so there is no long-term debt. Using that same logic, then why would a bond require a vote since you pay off this year’s payment using this year’s revenues. You cannot just walk away from a long-term lease, it is a long-term obligation. It is a debt.
Others claim there is no way a modern city can function without accruing debt, and that the requirement to secure the approval of the voters would hand-cuff their ability to operate. That may or may not be true. However, the constitution is quite clear and explicit – no debt for any purpose shall be incurred without a vote. If the cities don’t like that constraint, they need to change the constitution, not ignore it.
Unfortunately, for years local governments have been finding all sorts of creative ways to circumvent the constitutional requirement to secure the approval of the voters. Recently, to avoid having to bond and get approval from the voters, cities have been using long-term lease agreements where an entity will build the building the government wants, and then they lease it to the city for 30 years, while making a tidy profit. This has resulted in long-term debt with no vote of the people. Surprisingly, even the Idaho Supreme Court has found that this creative financing does not run afoul of the constitution.
Therefore, H30 gets us back to the spirit and intent of the constitution by requiring a city to receive approval by the voters prior to entering into a lease of five years or longer. It does not require a 2/3 vote, but at least it requires a vote. H30 is almost identical to a bill that was approved by the legislature last year, which required counties to get approval from the voters before entering into long-term leases for jails or courthouses. That bill, H575, passed overwhelmingly in both Houses, and Governor Little, in his transmittal letter along with his signature on the bill noted that it only subjected counties to the requirement and that cities were not included. That is the purpose of H30, to ensure that cities can no longer escape securing the approval of the taxpayers.
This week H30 failed to pass the House Local Government Committee on an 8 to 9 vote. IFBF policy #108 opposes circumventing the constitutionally required vote through creative financing options. IFBF supports H30. Farm Bureau was disappointed with the outcome the committee vote but will continue to work with legislators to address outstanding concerns.
Slow Moving Vehicles
S1010 amends current code regarding slow moving vehicles. The bill strikes language “wherever sufficient area for a safe turnout exists, and replaces it with the language “at the next available location where it is safe and reasonable for the vehicle to be pulled over.” This addresses the requirement in law that if a vehicle is traveling slower than the normal speed and three vehicles have formed a line behind it, the slow moving vehicle is expected to turn out at the nearest designated spot or next available location.
By striking the language of “next available location” and adding the words “where it is safe and reasonable” allows for the judgment call of the driver of the vehicle where they can or cannot pull off safely. An example given by the sponsor of the bill to the committee is the location a commuter vehicle may find safe and reasonable to pull over may not be safe and reasonable for a large logging truck to safely pull over. This new language is designed to give the discretion to the driver of the vehicle as to where they can pull off safely when slowing down traffic behind them.
S1010 also adds new language to clarify that the driver cannot be deemed to violate this section as long as the driver has not passed a designated turnout or a safe and reasonable place to pull over while having three or more vehicles behind them.
S1010 passed the Senate floor Thursday on a 35-0 vote. IFBF is neutral on S1010.
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