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Capitol Reflections: 2024 Session, Issue 7

By: Idaho Farm Bureau Governmental Affairs



“The (purpose) of the law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom.”  John Locke





Ag Land Protection Bill


The House Local Government Committee will soon hold a full hearing for H608 regarding the protection of agricultural land. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Andrus (R-Lava Hot Springs) is a top legislative priority for Farm Bureau this year. It provides an additional voluntary option for landowners to consider when thinking of protecting their ag/forestry land.

H608 mandates that all counties establish a process by which interested and willing landowners can make an application requesting the creation of an Agricultural Protection Area (APA) over their specified parcel of land. If approved, such a designation would be for a term of 20 years. The county board of commissioners will establish an APA Commission made up of individuals directly connected to production agriculture to consider the applications and provide recommendations to the commissioners to either approve or reject. The final decision will be made by the county commissioners.

It is important to note that with the establishment of an APA there is no selling or trading of development rights. An APA designation would simply put the development opportunities on hold for the 20-year term.

There are several benefits of an APA designation for both landowners and counties. Specifically, landowners would receive the following nonmonetary benefits:

  1. No changes to applicable local ordinances or regulations that would unreasonably restrict a farm structure or farm practice.
  2. No changes to zoning classification without written approval by the landowner within the IAPA affected by the change.
  3. Local governing ordinances and regulations must ensure a prohibition of public nuisance claims.
  4. Limit the exercise of eminent domain powers to condemn land within an APA (an exception for the constitutionally authorized uses of eminent domain is called out in the legislation).

For local governments, the following is a list of benefits from APAs:

  1. Clear communication from landowners of their intention to keep land in production agriculture.
  2. Aids local governments in their long-term planning processes to plan for production agriculture.
  3. Maintains working lands, open spaces, and local food production for communities.

H608 is scheduled for a hearing next Wednesday afternoon in the House Local Government Committee. We encourage supporters of the bill to contact their legislators and encourage them to vote in favor of the legislation. For those interested in coming and testifying in committee, please contact a member of the IFBF Governmental Affairs team.

IFBF Policy #146 supports legislation to protect agriculture land through voluntary agreements and programs based on incentives. IFBF supports H608.





Reduce the Supermajority?


Rep Rod Furniss (R-Rigby) recently introduced House Joint Resolution 2 (HJR2) which proposes to amend the Idaho Constitution to reduce the supermajority requirement to pass bonds.

The proposed amendment would reduce the voter approval for bonds from 66 2/3% to 55% in years when there are statewide elections, or the even numbered years. During the odd years, when no statewide elections occur, the constitutionally required voter approval threshold would continue to be two thirds, or 66 2/3%. This would apply to both primary and general elections during those years.

Idaho Farm Bureau policy #108 states: “We support retaining the 66 2/3% majority vote as required in the Idaho State Constitution for bond levies. We oppose circumventing the required two-thirds majority by creative financing options.”

At statehood, our founders wisely determined that a strong majority of citizens should be required to approve a bond measure as it obligates taxpayers to increased taxes for 30 years to pay off the bond. 

The timing of this proposal is curious as it came right on the heels of approval of the largest amount of money dedicated to school facilities in the history of the state. H521 provides $2 billion worth of funding to school districts over 10 years for school facilities. It was approved in the House Revenue and Taxation Committee the day before the introduction of HJR2. H521 appears to be headed for relatively swift passage in both the House and Senate as there is a long list of co-sponsors, along with support from the Governor’s office.

The purpose of H521 is to significantly reduce the need for schools to ask taxpayers for support to bond for facilities. With all of this new money flowing to school districts, why would there be a need to reduce the supermajority vote for bonds?

The proponents of HJR2 state that it is “nearly impossible” to pass a bond with a supermajority vote. That is simply false. According to a recent report by the state office of performance evaluation, nearly half of all bond measures have passed over the past ten years.  Yes, it is a high hurdle, but it clearly is not impossible.

Based upon past observations, what typically happens is a school board decides to push an extravagant bond measure without any discussion or input from the local community. So naturally it fails as voters feel they have been ignored. Then, the school board may make token adjustments and try again, seeking to maximize the bond measure. The bond may or may not pass the second time.  Finally, the school board will capitulate and engage the citizens in the process. Then, after the taxpayers feel like they have been heard, and the bond measure is scaled back to an appropriate size that meets the needs of the community, and is not excessive, the bond will usually pass. 

If school boards would engage the community early in the process, actively listen to all sides of the discussion, and ensure the proposal is not beyond the needs and ability of the community to pay, they would typically be far more successful, even with the existing 2/3 majority requirement. HJR2 would actually work to disincentivize school boards from engaging with the community and ensuring the proposed bond is in line with the needs and desires of the citizens as they would need to convince fewer voters.

Farm Bureau is strongly opposed to reducing the supermajority vote requirement in the Idaho Constitution, especially now that the state is on the verge of earmarking an enormous amount of additional funding specifically for school facility construction. 

The only way Farm Bureau members would consider reducing the supermajority is if all agricultural land is constitutionally exempted from the tax for bond repayment.  Farmers and Ranchers are willing to pay their fair share of taxes to repay bonds on their homes, just like all other citizens.  However, they are not willing to reduce the voting threshold for bonds since they are required to pay double or more than other citizens on bonds currently. Farmers and Ranchers pay on their homes like everyone else, and then they pay for the same bond again on their farm/ranch lands, yet receive no additional benefits or services for those double payments.  

Farm Bureau members are encouraged to contact their legislators and ask them to vote NO on HJR2.  IFBF opposes HJR2.





Bill to Enhance Idaho Rangeland Advances


This week the House approved H468, the Rangeland Improvement Act, on a vote of 58 – 9. It will now move to the Senate Resources & Environment Committee for consideration.

More than 55% of the land within our state is classified as rangeland. This means that these lands are primarily useful for grazing livestock as well as providing habitat for wildlife and for other recreational purposes. The vast majority of that rangeland is managed by either the state or agencies of the federal government including the BLM and US Forest Service. 

H468 seeks to promote projects that will improve rangelands across Idaho. Improving the productivity of Idaho rangeland will not only enhance our natural resources, but it will improve wildlife habitat and will increase the amount of feed available for livestock; thus, allowing Idaho ranchers to contribute even more to Idaho’s economy.

Under H468, the Idaho Department of Agriculture is authorized to seek funds for these rangeland improvement projects from “contributions, gifts, and grants” to be used along with money already provided by the BLM from federal grazing fees to grazing districts in Idaho. H468 utilizes the currently existing grazing board central committee, with the addition of two new members appointed by the Governor and nominated by the livestock industry.

Utah has a similar program that has been in place for a number of years, and it has proven to be an effective way to accomplish rangeland improvement projects within the state. There is a great deal of opportunity in Idaho to enhance government managed rangelands. H468 will provide a means to coordinate and prioritize implementation of these projects.

Rep Jerold Raymond (R-Menan) is the sponsor of H468.  Both AFBF and IFBF policy supports enhancing government managed grazing lands. IFBF supports H468.





Area of Common Ground Water Supply


Last week, the Senate Resources and Environment Committee passed S1341 – a bill dealing with what is more commonly known as the Rule 50 – out of the committee with a “do-pass” recommendation. This bill would add a new section in Idaho water law to require that the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer (ESPA) Area of Common Ground Water Supply match the Idaho Department of Water Resources’(IDWR) ESPA Model Boundary.

Currently the IDWR Director is limited to administering water rights in the ESPA basin to a boundary that reflects the Department’s understanding back many years ago. S1341 would allow IDWR to administer water rights in the basin to the current model boundary, which represents our best understanding of the aquifer.

S1341 would also allow the IDWR Director to include tributary basins to ESPA administration following a process that includes notice and a public hearing. However, the bill specifies that the Director cannot expand the area of common ground water supply to include areas that have been designated as Critical Ground Water Management Areas or a Ground Water Management Areas with approved ground water management plans as long as they are sufficient to mitigate water withdrawals from the aquifer.

This topic has been discussed and debated for a long time amongst water users in the basin, and this legislation is the product of many hours of debate and consultation with water officials and attorneys. The underlying premise of the bill is to bring more fairness and equity to water administration and mitigation efforts across the entire basin and all of its water users. As always, change can be difficult. This policy change will certainly bring with it both challenges and perhaps pain. Nonetheless, the policy is sound and allows for a very deliberate process to expand the area of common ground water supply, and better manage the state’s water resources in a more equitable way.

Idaho Farm Bureau policy #31 regarding ground water users of a common ground water source being included in the efforts to address water supply challenges speaks to the underlying issue at hand in S1341. Farm Bureau members have been wrestling with this issue for a long time now. Our State Water Committee and State Board of Directors have reviewed this legislation and support its passage. IFBF supports S1341.





Domestic Well Bill Introduced


On Wednesday, the Senate State Affairs Committee introduced a bill that would amend Idaho’s domestic water exemption. S1370, sponsored by Sen. Kelly Anthon (R-Burley), would address the use of exempt domestic wells in subdivisions. In particular, the legislation does three things:

  • Requires the use of shared or public water systems in subdivisions with 10 or more lots (where each lot is 5 acres or smaller);
  • Requires that surface water being used for irrigation on land must continue to be used for irrigation when that land is developed; and
  • Authorizes a county to consider water supply conditions in the comprehensive planning process.

To understand the importance of this legislation, one must understand a few important facts. With few exceptions, Idaho water law requires an “Application for Permit” for new water uses. Once new applications for the use of water are approved, they are administered by the Idaho Department of Water Resources (IDWR) based on the priority of the water right – including being subject to curtailment if there is not sufficient water supply. One exception to the requirement for an Application for Permit is the Domestic Use Exemption provided in Idaho code 42-227.

Domestic use in Idaho water law is defined in section 42-111 to include the use of water for one home, 1/2 acre for irrigation, and up to 13,000 gallons per day.  The ½ acre of irrigation is generally used for lawns, gardens, trees, shrubs and/or small pastures. Also, exempt domestic wells are not subject to oversight or administration by IDWR, and they are not required to curtail in times of shortage.

As the state continues to grow with a rapidly increasing population, more often domestic wells are used for the water supply in subdivisions. For each of the last 10-years, 3,000-3,500 new exempt domestic wells have been drilled in Idaho. Given that each exempt well can irrigate up to ½ acre, that equates to over 1,500 acres of irrigation per year (and over 15,000 acres over the last 10 years) being drilled without any administration and little oversight by IDWR. This raises several concerns listed here:

  • Fairness: Ground water rights are subject to potential curtailment due to declining supplies, even while exempt domestic wells can continue pumping without any risk of curtailment.
  • Water Supply: Exempt domestic wells can significantly impact ground water supplies and potentially injure other water users in the area.
  • Water Quality: Exempt domestic wells do not require any review to ensure they do not impact the quality of Idaho’s ground water resources. More wells drilled provides more opportunities for contaminants to enter ground water.

Each year, the legislature and water users spend tens of millions of dollars to address the challenges of declining ground water supplies. It is time that the legislature also addresses this important policy matter to ensure that we can better sustain our water resources in the state.

IFBF Policy #29 outlines our support for reform to the state's domestic exemption. More will need to be done on this topic in the future; nonetheless, S1370 is a good step forward in better managing Idaho’s water resources. IFBF supports S1370.





Updated Grizzly Bear/Wolf Depredation Bill Heads to House Floor



H592, the reprinted version of grizzly bear and wolf depredation bill H485, was voted out of the House Committee on Resources & Conservation on Wednesday with a do-pass recommendation. This reprint had minor technical corrections that addressed some of the concerns House leadership had with the original bill. Those changes are:

  • The money and authority relating to this proposed statute will be under the Idaho State Department of Agriculture (ISDA) and they will consult with Idaho Fish and Game and the Office of Species Conservation (OSC). Originally the money and authority were solely in OSC. However, the bill sponsors were given notice that since OSC is technically not a state agency, they cannot develop rules/policies. Claims will still be made to OSC since they oversee the federal funding for wolf depredation payouts as well as endangered species in general. Having the rules and policies in ISDA also guarantees public comment.
  • The part about the $75,000 being used in part for community education was replaced with using the funding for deterrents that are proven effective as determined by ISDA, in addition to conflict prevention. Effective deterrents will be determined in the rule that ISDA writes that they will get public input on.
  • Lastly, OSC was removed from creating any policy that would determine how claims are validated. That will again be the responsibility of ISDA. ISDA will also be the lone determinant of fair market value, not ISDA and “other reliable sources”.

Basically, all the authority is given to ISDA, and claims are just submitted to OSC, which is a practice currently observed with federal wolf depredation funding. The bill now heads to the House floor where it will hopefully be taken up next week. We appreciate the testimony given and written as well as participation from Farm Bureau members in the Action Alert to pass H485. In further communications with legislators about this important piece of legislation, please make sure you are referencing H592, since it is the current bill number.   IFBF supports H592.





New Wolf Depredation Bill Heads to Committee



An additional wolf depredation bill is heading to the House Committee on Resources & Conservation. H612, introduced by Rep. Judy Boyle (R-Midvale) opens the statute relating to the Wolf Depredation Control Board to allow that board to pay for losses. Currently, there is no fund or mechanism for producers to be compensated when they bring their cattle in from grazing and have a high percentage loss that’s more than likely due to wolf presence because they are in a high wolf depredation area. To determine compensation, the bill states the board will use historic livestock loss data prior to 1995 when wolves were reintroduced into the state.

Notably, this does not create any new funding. So, you may be wondering if there is no new funding, will control money be used for reimbursement? The short answer is yes. It will be the responsibility of the board, should this bill pass, to determine how to expend money for the purpose of paying out for high numbers of missing livestock, how they validate, and if they wait until the end of year after all possible money has been spent for lethal control or do it throughout the year. The common phrase is an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It is becoming increasingly necessary to reduce wolves in the state. Current population estimates report around 1,500 wolves whereas the Idaho Fish and Game would like to see that number reduced to 500.

However, producers cannot always be where the wolves are, and it can be very difficult to track down livestock carcasses in high depredation areas. So, when producers see they have an abnormally high number of livestock missing, these producers are left high and dry. A remedy to aid in this problem for producers has become necessary. Additionally, the board has about a million dollars that it has not expended in years past. IFBF Policy # 72.2 states, “we support establishing a new state depredation fund that compensates large carnivore (wolf and grizzly) depredations.” IFBF feels that both H592 and H612 help accomplish this policy. IFBF supports H612.





Unemployment Bill Fails in Committee



H558 failed in committee this week. Introduced by Representatives Bruce Skaug (R-Nampa) and Julianne Young (R-Blackfoot), this bill would shorten the amount of time a person is eligible to collect unemployment benefits and simplify the robust benefit duration formula. Currently, a person can receive benefits for up to 26 weeks. This bill established a maximum of 10 weeks for part-time employees and 14 weeks for full-time employees. If the full-time employee was job attached and seasonally employed, they were eligible for an additional 2 weeks. It is a common practice for seasonal industries, such as construction, to discharge workers but keep them on unemployment benefits, so they don’t go get other jobs. The fear in the committee was these employees would then go get other jobs outside the state if they couldn’t stay on unemployment. American Farm Bureau Policy # states, “we support efforts to reform the unemployment compensation laws so as to reduce fraud and bring the cost of this program under control.”

Idaho Farm Bureau believes this bill helps accomplish this policy. Idaho needs workers as demonstrated by 2023 labor reporting which shows only a 62% participation rate in the Idaho workforce. The agriculture sector is critically in need of labor. There are many farms and ranches across the state that would appreciate and welcome the help of those searching for jobs rather than have them exhaust benefits, regardless of duration. The sponsors mentioned what could have been a significant cost saving to Idaho in years past. Looking forward, it is imperative to address the cost of a labor shortage. Reducing eligibility length is a significant step in addressing this persisting problem. We thank the sponsors for bringing this bill before the committee and will continue to work with all legislators to address the Idaho labor shortage.





IFBF Legislative Intern



My name is Trew Lammers, I had the great privilege of interning for the IFBF Governmental Affairs team this week. I am from Bonners Ferry, Idaho where I grew up on a small hay and grain farm. I have been going to county Farm Bureau meetings with my dad for as long as I can remember, and throughout high school I was involved in IFBF discussion meets and even sat on the board as the county YF&R co-chair for a year. Idaho Farm Bureau has been an extremely beneficial and important organization in my life, so when I heard about this internship program from my dad, I knew it was going to be great just like everything else I have encountered in this organization, and I signed up as soon as I had the chance.

Burn your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic. But destroy our farms and grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country. - William Jennings Bryan

I first heard this quote during my time in the capital this week. It was said on the Senate floor during the debate of a chemical labeling bill I was watching because Farm Bureau was supporting it. While that bill might not have been successful, I took one very important lesson away from that debate: Idaho needs agriculture , and it needs people willing to fight to the bitter end for it. That is exactly what I got to witness this week here in Boise. The IFBF Governmental Affairs team is an extremely influential group of people here in the Capitol. As I followed the members of this team throughout the week, I got to see exactly how they fight for our livelihoods, through meetings with representatives and other special interest groups. Farm Bureau starts conversations that lead to better legislation and a better state to be a farmer in. During committee meetings they stand up and are a reigning voice for what is right and what is wrong for Idaho Agriculture.

Before this internship I had been involved in the Capitol as a page for the House of Representatives. This was a completely different experience. I could barely keep track of all the meetings and people they had to talk to each day. Seeing the whole process from this perspective was eye-opening, and it made me appreciate even more the time and effort that goes into each and every bill. I learned how to talk to representatives, how to testify in front of a committee, and attend meetings with other interest groups so we all stand on common ground. I also saw how much this team cares about the members of Idaho Farm Bureau. They understand that they are here representing the farmers of Idaho not just an organization.

If you care about agriculture at all I would strongly recommend participating in the legislative internship program whether you are versed in politics or not. Russ, Braden, and Dexton are great teachers, and they will help you every step of the way. I for one am more than grateful I got the chance to see what they do for a week. I cannot stress enough how great this program is! Thank you to everyone who helped through this week.




Resources Available to Follow During Session:

Legislative Website Homepage: HERE

2024 Legislative Session Bill Center: HERE

List of Senate Committee Assignments: HERE

List of House Committee Assignments: HERE

Current Senate Committee Agendas: HERE

Current House Committee Agendas: HERE

Watch Committee Meetings and Floor Sessions Live: HERE

Governor’s Bill Action and Legislative Communications: HERE