Capitol Reflections: 2023 Session, Issue 6
By: Idaho Farm Bureau Governmental Affairs
“Man is not free unless government is limited. There’s a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: As government expands, liberty contracts.” President Ronald Reagan
Restricted Driver’s License Bill
Draft legislation to create a Restricted Driver’s License (RDL) in Idaho was printed and given a bill number last Friday. S1081 establishes a Restricted Driver's License in the state of Idaho that would operate the same as a Class D driver’s license but cannot be used to prove citizenship in any way. This means the license would be good for driving privileges only and could not be used to vote, buy firearms, board a plane, purchase alcohol or apply for a passport. The card is also designed to be a vertical orientation, not horizontal as normal Class D licenses. This further distinguishes the difference from an unrestricted Class D license. RDLs would be issued directly by ITD, or an entity authorized by it. This means county Sheriffs and DMVs would only participate if they actively opted in.
Any individual applying for a RDL would need to pass all the same safety and competency testing requirements that apply to a regular Class D. The individual would also need to verify their identity and residence in Idaho. Once the license is received, it would have to be renewed every two years with a $50 cost to the individual. Once an individual obtains a RDL, it would provide driving history and records of the individual for law enforcement and insurance companies’ use.
At this point, it is recognized that there are undocumented workers already in Idaho that are driving on Idaho roads. Without federal reform, there is little that can be done to address this on a state level. It still poses the issue of safety on Idaho roads for all Idahoans and a Restricted Driver’s License is something that Idaho can do on a state level to address this issue. The RDL would ensure trained drivers are on the roads as well as provide the necessary driving history and tracking to be able to purchase insurance.
In general, an Office of Performance Evaluation study found that accidents with unlicensed drivers are 3x deadlier than accidents with licensed drivers and unlicensed drivers are 9.5x more likely to flee the scene of an accident. Restricted Driver’s Licenses will hold individuals to the same standards as citizens, permanent residents, and lawful visitors by ensuring the safety training and insurance are in place that are currently required. Having an RDL program means a higher rate of licensed, insured and trained drivers on Idaho roads, which means overall safer roads for all Idahoans.
When discussing an RDL program, it comes down to a safety issue for the state, not an immigration issue that can only be solved by the Federal government. This type of program is good for Idaho as it provides employees with the training and insurance they need to contribute to the workforce (through multiple industries), it provides employers with employees who have had training and the assurance that they can be covered by the company’s insurance, and it provides safer roads to all Idahoans with fewer unlicensed and uninsured drivers.
Idaho Farm Bureau policy number 133 states “we support legislation granting driving privileges to all persons residing in Idaho who pass the required traffic and driving testing, pay the required licensing fees, and provide proof of automobile insurance. We support this type of legislation only if driving privilege cards cannot be used as a form of identification.”
Currently S1081 has been assigned to Senate Transportation Committee and is awaiting a committee hearing date. IFBF supports S1081.
Critical Infrastructure Bills Introduced
This week two bills were introduced in an attempt to deter trespass and damage to facilities that are deemed critical infrastructure. Rep Britt Raybould (R-Rexburg) introduced both bills in the House Judiciary and Rules Committee chaired by Rep Bruce Skaug (R-Nampa).
The first bill, H147 defines critical infrastructure as “any facility so vital to the state of Idaho that the incapacity or destruction of such system or asset would have a debilitating impact on state or national economic security, state or national public health or safety, or any combination of those matters.” It goes on to state that the term includes, but is not limited to facilities in the following sectors, as listed by the federal cybersecurity and infrastructure security agency: Chemical manufacturing, storage, use and transportation; communications; critical manufacturing; dams; defense industrial bases; emergency services; energy; financial services; food and agriculture; government facilities; healthcare and public health; information technology; mineral exploration, mining operations and mineral processing; nuclear reactors, materials and waste; transportation systems; and water and wastewater systems.
If a person “knowingly and willfully enters a critical infrastructure facility” without permission or remains when notified to depart, they would be guilty of critical infrastructure trespass and would be subject to enhanced penalties over and above the normal trespass statutes. A first-time offense would be a misdemeanor with up to a six month jail sentence, or a fine of up to $1,000 or both. A second offense within five years would be a felony punishable up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Perhaps most importantly, an organization that “aids, abets, solicits, compensates, hires, conspires with, commands, or procures a person to commit the crime of critical infrastructure trespass” with the intent that the crime of critical infrastructure trespass be completed would be subject to a fine not to exceed $100,000. All too often there are organizations that recruit people to commit these crimes knowing that the punishment will not be too severe if they are caught, and the organizations are usually willing to pay any fines that are imposed on the guilty individual. This large penalty on the sponsoring organization will be a deterrent in any organized efforts to recruit people to enter these facilities for nefarious purposes.
The second bill, H148 is essentially identical to H147, except that the crime that is prohibited in this bill is “impeding” a critical infrastructure facility. Impeding is defined as “blocking the operation of, or preventing legal access to a critical infrastructure facility, or the construction of a permitted critical infrastructure facility.” It also includes efforts to “damage, destroy, deface, or tamper with the equipment of a critical infrastructure facility.”
The penalties are essentially the same as in H147, including the large fines for any organization who recruits people to impede a critical infrastructure facility. However, if damages occur, the fines shall be no less than the amount of economic damages to the facility, and they can also go after the perpetrators and organizations for damages in civil court as well. Although no examples of these sorts of activities have been raised so far in Idaho, there are many examples around the nation of instances that would fall under both of these bills. It is far better to have something in place pro-actively than to wait until there is a serious incident in Idaho.
AFBF policy #175 – Biosecurity states in part: “We support state and federal legislation to strengthen civil and criminal penalties for persons or organizations that engage in acts of bio-terrorism. Foreign or domestic terrorist organizations who commit such acts and those who willfully finance these acts should be held financially responsible for damages.” IFBF supports both H147 and H148.
Noxious Weed Notification Bill
This week, the House Agriculture Affairs Committee passed a bill regarding noxious weed notice and when it is considered served/satisfied.
The purpose of H94 is to amend Idaho Code 22-2405 to clarify when personal notice from county noxious weed superintendents to landowners is deemed satisfied. Such notice is considered served eight days after the notice’s postmark date or the date of receipt of the certified registered mail. From that time, the statute already specifies that a landowner has five working days to address the issue and control the noxious weeds on the property. If the property owner fails to take action to control the spread of noxious weeds on the property, the law authorizes county weed control agents to enter the property for the purposes of controlling the noxious weeds at the expense of the property owner.
H94 does not change the responsibility of the landowner to control noxious weeds on their property. Idaho Code 22-2407 clearly states that it is the duty and responsibility of all landowners to control noxious weeds on their land and property. Regardless of whether the property owner resides in the county or is absentee, the responsibility of noxious weed control is that of the property owner. IFBF Policy #59.1 states our organization’s strong support of the enforcement of Idaho’s noxious weed law by the state and counties. H94 will advance better enforcement of the state’s noxious weed laws by specifying when notice is deemed served and allowing the issue to be addressed in a timelier manner.
During the committee discussion, Farm Bureau was asked how it justifies support of the bill when we also have strong policy supporting private property rights. It was explained that, particularly with respect to weeds and their indifference for property lines, the actions or non-actions of landowners can greatly impact the private property of others. Farm Bureau sees the topic of noxious weed control and the enforcement of state law as the best way to protect the rights of all property owners.
Farm Bureau appreciates the Idaho Noxious Weed Control Association and Rep. Doug Pickett (R-Oakley) for bringing the bill forward. IFBF supports H94.
Property Tax Relief
So far, there have been three bills introduced with the intent of providing property tax relief to Idaho taxpayers. All three of the bills were introduced on February 2 in the House Revenue and Taxation Committee chaired by Rep Jason Monks (R-Meridian). The idea was to get the conversation started on the best ways to provide property tax relief, and the goal has been accomplished. In the two weeks since these bills were introduced, nothing has happened publicly, but a tremendous amount of discussion and negotiation has been taking place behind the scenes.
Here is a brief description of the three bills, each of which represents a significantly different approach to providing property tax relief. H78 is sponsored by Rep Bruce Skaug (R-Nampa). This bill immediately increases the Homeowner’s Exemption from $125,000 to $224,360, and then re-establishes indexing of the Homeowner’s Exemption so it would increase automatically in the future as Idaho home prices rise. H78 would also increase the percentage of a home’s value that can be exempted from 50% to 55%, up to the maximum dollar limit. Unfortunately, the primary purpose of H78 as articulated in the statement of purpose for the bill is to shift taxes from one class of property to other classes of property. This is poor tax policy and subsidizes homes on the backs of rentals, businesses and farms. IFBF policy #102 specifically opposes shifting property taxes from homes to businesses, rental property and farmland by increasing the Homeowner’s Exemption. Therefore, IFBF opposes H78.
The second bill, H77 is sponsored by Senator Scott Grow (R-Eagle). H77 would dedicate 4.5% of ongoing sales tax revenues to reduce property taxes only on owner-occupied homes. The money would be distributed to counties based upon the number and value of owner-occupied homes within the county and would appear as a credit on the property tax bill. At current numbers, this would provide property tax relief of just over 13% for homeowners only. While farmers would see some tax relief on their homes under H77, they would receive no relief on their farmland, and may even see future increases in taxes if citizens begin feeling more willing to support future school bonds/levies now that their taxes are lower. Farm Bureau isn’t outright opposed to H77, but believes there are better options on the table.
The third bill, H79 is sponsored by Rep Jason Monks (R-Meridian) and Speaker of the House Mike Moyle (R-Star). H79 addresses three issues of concern through one unique way to relieve property taxes for ALL property taxpayers. H79 provides $300 million to school districts based upon average daily attendance. This money must be used for the following purposes in the following order: 1st – to pay for any outstanding school bonds; 2nd – to pay for any current school levies; 3rd – to pay for any deferred maintenance necessary to provide safe school facilities; and 4th – to save for future school maintenance or construction needs. H79 uses some one-time money initially, but would provide over $200 million in ongoing property tax relief. Many observers believe there is still capacity in the budget for a larger amount of ongoing funding for property tax relief.
Depending on how much tax you are paying currently for school bonds or levies you could see anywhere from zero to 25% or more property tax relief on all your property, including home and farmland. Even those who currently have no school bonds or levies on their taxes would still see a benefit from H79 as there would be significantly less pressure to run school bonds or levies in the future since there would be a reliable stream of income from the state specifically for building and maintaining schools. This significantly reduces the risk of a future lawsuit against the state alleging that they are shirking their constitutional duty to fund school facilities.
H79 also removes the odd March and August election dates schools use to pass bonds/levies which implements longstanding Farm Bureau policy. Finally, H79 seeks to increase the Homeowner’s Exemption from $125,000 to $150,000. While not the significant jump that is proposed in H78, it is still an increase that will cause a shift in taxes from homes to other types of property. Farm Bureau is strongly opposed to this aspect of H79 and will continue to work to have this portion of the bill removed. However, the other major portions of the bill are supported by Farm Bureau policy.
At this point, H79 is the preferred alternative in the three options that are on the table. Most legislators also agree that the concept of the state taking on a greater responsibility for school facility construction and maintenance is a good move. It provides significant property tax relief across all types of property classes in almost every area of the state while simultaneously addressing the needs of school facilities and protecting against future lawsuits. It is assumed by most familiar with the ongoing discussions that there will be some tweaking of H79 and potentially some additional funding added. Governor Little had all but spent the entire $1.6 billion surplus in his proposed budget, but the legislature is not fully onboard with several of his proposals, so there is still money on the table to address the number one concern of the citizens across the state.
New Fish and Game Director
The Idaho Fish and Game Commission has appointed Jim Fredericks to serve as the new Director of Idaho Fish and Game Department. Fredericks is taking over the position following current Director Ed Schriever announcing his retirement after a 39-year career at Fish and Game. Director Schriever served as the director since January 2019, but started in the department as a fish culturist and moved up through the ranks becoming Fisheries Bureau Chief in 2008, prior to his directorship.
Fredericks has also had a long-standing career with the Idaho Fish and Game joining the department as a fisheries research biologist after graduating from the University of Idaho. He has worked his way up the ranks serving as a regional fisheries biologist, regional fisheries manager and fisheries bureau chief before serving in his current position as Deputy Director.
His new role as Director will officially begin February 19th. “I would say this is a dream come true, but this is beyond my dreams,” Fredericks said. “My dream was to work for Fish and Game, and I am humbled to be named Director.”
Farm Bureau has appreciated working with Fredericks in his role as Deputy Director and his willingness to work with us on issues important to our members. We look forward to working with him in his new capacity as Director going forward.
Tewalt’s Appointment Clears Senate Committee
The Senate Agriculture Affairs Committee considered Governor Little’s appointment of Chanel Tewalt to the Idaho State Department of Agriculture (ISDA or Department). The Committee heard from Ms. Tewalt to learn about her background and experience with the agriculture industry and the Department.
The Farm Bureau works closely with ISDA on many different levels to support and aid the state’s agricultural industry. IFBF has seen firsthand Ms. Tewalt’s dedication to her work in her previous roles in the Department. She understands clearly the Department’s dual mission to promote and regulate the industry and its task of implementing the policy positions set by the legislature. She has always maintained an open line of communication with industry representatives and does not shy away from challenging issues.
The Farm Bureau approves of Chanel Tewalt’s appointment to lead ISDA, and we look forward to working with her in the capacity of Director. IFBF encourages the approval of Ms. Tewalt’s appointment by the whole Senate.
Farm Bureau Members Meet with Legislators, Discuss Issues
Idaho Farm Bureau Federation’s annual Legislative and Commodity Conference is one of the organization’s signature events and an important way for IFBF’s grassroots members to connect with lawmakers face to face.
More than 70 of Idaho’s 105 legislators and 175 Farm Bureau members attended this year’s event, which was held Feb. 7-8.
The highlight of the conference is a strolling buffet that allows farmers and ranchers to sit down with lawmakers over dinner and discuss important issues.
“Building relationships with our legislators is one of the most important things we can do,” said IFBF President Bryan Searle. “They are right in the middle of Idaho’s legislative session during this event, so it’s an opportunity to come and remind them of our policies and where we stand on some of the legislation that’s being proposed.”
There is no program for the strolling buffet. It’s simply an opportunity for agricultural producers to engage in face-to-face discussions with legislators.
“We purposely don’t have a program at the dinner so that they can just talk about whatever’s on their mind,” said Russ Hendricks, director of IFBF’s governmental affairs division. “Our members do a great job of talking about the issues that are of concern to them.”
Weston rancher Jason Fellows, a member of IFBF’s board of directors, said the highlight of the two-day conference “is getting together and meeting with our legislators.”
The low-key nature of the strolling buffet allows both parties to engage in frank discussions about important topics, he said.
“It’s pretty hard not to be able to listen to somebody when you’re breaking bread,” Fellows said.
During the conference, Farm Bureau members also visit the Capitol building and attend legislative committee meetings.
“For the legislative side of the conference, the main emphasis is on helping our members better understand the legislative process that affects their farms and ranches and how they can meaningfully engage in it to make sure that the outcome is positive for them and their fellow farmers,” Hendricks said.
While attending the House State Affairs Committee Feb. 8, five Farm Bureau members who were there for the conference ended up testifying on a school elections bill with provisions that IFBF policy supports.
The bill passed out of committee by an 11-2 vote.
“As I spoke to the chairman and some of the committee members afterward, they just thanked me again and again for having real members come and share their thoughts with the committee; they loved it,” Hendricks said.
During the IFBF conference, members of the organization’s various commodity committees also meet to discuss the latest issues affecting their commodities.
Members of Idaho Farm Bureau Federation’s wheat and feed grain, hay and forage, beef, water, potato, dairy, forestry and farmland preservation committees met during this year’s event.
“This allows grassroots members who are experts in the potato area or beef area or wheat area or whatever it is, to really dial in on those issues affecting that commodity so we can have relevant policy that meets the needs of agriculture,” Searle said.
The commodity side of the conference is held in conjunction with the legislative part “so that there is cross-pollination,” Hendricks said. “We found there’s a lot of synergy in terms of bringing them together and getting the commodity committee folks to engage on the legislative side and vice versa.”
The new director of the Idaho State Department of Agriculture, Chanel Tewalt, also addressed Farm Bureau members during the conference.
She said ISDA’s relationship with Farm Bureau is strong and important to the department and assured agricultural producers that ISDA understands it “is there to serve agriculture, not the other way around.”
She also encouraged people to make sure the department is kept up on important new issues.
“I have a very open-door approach to things; please tell me when you have issues,” Tewalt said. “If I don’t know about it … I can’t fix it.”
All four members of the state’s congressional delegation addressed IFBF members by video during the conference.
Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, said he understands how critical the new farm bill is for agriculture.
“This is an important piece of legislation, for agriculture, for Idaho,” he said. “We have to make sure this is a decent bill ….”
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