For weeks, I’ve been suggesting that the legislature would never achieve their target adjournment date of March 24. I didn’t want to jinx it, knowing that if I suggested they were on target, they’d never succeed.
It still doesn’t look like they’ll be 100% wrapped up by Friday, but they are definitely hustling, and should be home by April the 1st… (write your own April Fools’ Day joke here).
Notably, no one seems to be standing in front of them as they rush for the doors.
All eyes were on the budget committee last week to see how they’d respond to Governor Little’s budget requests. Rumor was they were holding some of the Gov’s priorities hostage. In the end, they released the hostages. (See Budget Update below.)
Another rumor has it that they’ll shut down all committees on Wednesday (meaning they’ll focus on final passage of budgets and remaining priority bills). We’ve already seen budgets rejected by the House, including the Attorney General, Higher Ed, and Liquor Division. Time will tell if they’ll start sending more back to the budget committee for more “haircuts.” That would keep them in session longer than anyone seems to want, including legislators themselves!
Promoting energy inefficiency
House Bill 287 would eliminate a part of existing Idaho law, related to building codes that was negotiated and agreed upon by stakeholders back in 2018 and reinforced in 2022. Now Rep. Joe Palmer (R-Meridian) wants to pull the rug out from under that agreement. It allowed cities to keep updated efficiency standards in place, if they predated a 2018 law change.
But wait, the bill would go beyond just the Building Codes by preventing any “energy-related…ordinance, process, or regulation.” This could eliminate the ability to implement incentive programs or to adopt energy saving practices in city-owned buildings.
Building codes are important because they ensure that homes are built to last and are affordable to operate. Consumers rely on building codes because once the home is built, it’s difficult to replace windows, insulation, heating ducts, or wiring.
The bill is awaiting a hearing in the Senate Commerce Committee, and we hope that Chairman Sen. Kevin Cook (R-Idaho Falls) lets this one die in his drawer.
Bear of a day in House & Senate Resources – Bad wildlife bills all advance
Last Wednesday, the House Resources Committee considered Senate Bill 1084 – the Yellowstone Bear World Bill, HJM 5 – related to grizzly bears, and Senate Bill 1112 – related to Bear Lake.
ICL opposes the Bear World Bill that seeks to strip virtually all state oversight from the private zoo facility in Rexburg. Bear World’s representative suggested that the facility should be exempt from worker safety requirements from the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, an agency that reportedly fined Bear World ~$7,000 for recent violations. Bear World and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game also indicated that current USDA oversight appears “adequate.” This despite the fact that recent correspondence suggests that the number of animals in the facility doesn’t appear to be tracked, is “known by heart,” and could be off by +/- 10 bears. Remember Ligertown?
HJM 5, the grizzly bear memorial demands that the feds remove grizzly bears from the Endangered Species List and turn over management to the state despite the fact that bears have not recovered in the Selkirks, Cabinet-Yaak, or Bitterroot Recovery Areas. Plus, isn’t it odd that the legislature wants the feds to control Bear World’s captive bears, and the state to control wild bears. The only thing they appear consistent on making up the rules to fit their agenda…
Across the rotunda, at the same exact moment in fact, the Senate Resources Committee considered the anti-rattlesnake HB 156, presented by Sen. Cindy Carlson (R-Riggins). She reiterated the fallacies from House sponsor Rep. Judy Boyle (R-Middleton) that it’s illegal to kill a rattlesnake if it’s threatening you or your property. It’s not. If a snake is threatening you or your property, you are allowed to kill it.
During the hearing, Sen. Carlson was unable to answer many of the questions and instead offered only anecdotal evidence.
In contrast, Dr. Chuck Peterson, Emeritus Professor from Idaho State University and former IDFG Conservation Officer Charlie Justus offered compelling testimony in opposition, and both answered all questions articulately and convincingly.
Nonetheless, the committee approved the bill on a razor-thin (4-3) vote, with Sens. Geoff Schroeder (R-Mtn. Home), Jim Guthrie (R-Inkom), and Ron Taylor (D-Ketchum) voting no. We thank them for their votes and urge them to oppose this misguided bill on the floor.
Sunshine is a cornerstone at ICL
In 1974, during ICL’s first session represented by a lobbyist in the Idaho Legislature, we advocated for passage of the Land Use Planning Act. Well-heeled development forces killed the bill, prompting Marcia Pursley (ICL’s first staff member) to work with her husband Ken (a respected Boise attorney) to draft a citizen’s initiative entitled the Sunshine Act. The measure requires disclosure of political contributions and lobbying activities, and 78% of Idaho voters agreed to its passage in the 1974 election.
Shining sunshine on government activity is one of the important roles that ICL plays. Whether it’s helping expose some of the seemingly-grim realities of Yellowstone Bear World or shining a light on the Idaho Legislature’s legal expenditures, after passing questionable laws, ICL will always lean toward greater transparency and disclosure for how the government is spending your tax dollars, and how it’s impacting our precious lands, water, air, wildlife, and quality of life.
Some good news on budgets!
The budget writing Joint Finance & Appropriations Committee gave most of the state agencies and the Governor’s funding priorities a “haircut,” meaning they all saw some small percentage decreases. ICL and partners were pleased to see JFAC support funding last week for outdoor recreation and parks ($95 million), sewer and drinking water upgrades ($115 million), water quality funding for agriculture ($12 million), fire preparedness funding ($5.6 million), and more. The spending bills still need to pass the House and Senate, but prospects are good.
We do have some questions about a proposed $750,000 to spray roadsides with Phosphorus-based fire retardant before fire season starts. The funding wasn’t requested by the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) or the Governor, and instead was dropped into the budget by Sen. Van Burtenshaw (R-Terreton) and Rep. Britt Raybould (R-Rexburg). The “pilot” program would spray Phosphorus-based fire retardant before fire season starts roadsides with ground-based equipment to apply. In targeted areas, maybe it could work, but questions remain.
Like what happens when it rains? Does it harm fish? Or groundwater? Or sensitive plants? Will it add to existing phosphorus pollution issues? We look forward to working with the legislature and IDL our questions addressed prior to signing contracts.
In other news
As I mentioned last week, ICL presented the only opposition to House Bill 191 in Senate State Affairs. The bill seeks to prohibit Environmental, Social, and Governance (what is ESG?) considerations or any “subjective ethical” criteria in the award of any state contract valued >$100,000. If you’re confused about what “subjective ethical” means, you’re not the only one. I guess we’ll let judges and lawyers sort it out. And sorry to say, you’ll be paying the legal fees.
The bill passed the Senate this morning on a party line vote despite the fact that the Fiscal Note didn’t consider the impact on any city, county, or other local unit of government. Sen. Chuck Winder (R-Boise) noted that it’s meant to address concern over a state construction contract. Maybe there should be some sunshine on that issue? Can’t the legislature perform an audit?
Rep. Judy Boyle’s (R-Midvale) House Joint Memorial 4 was up for a hearing this afternoon. ICL testified again in opposition, along with representatives of Idaho’s Native American Tribes. We shared our concern that the memorial questions the validity of “Indian treaties approved in the 19th century.” Not only is this offensive to sovereign Tribes, it ignores the US Constitution (See the Supremacy Clause), which is also written on a really old piece of paper. And one that legislators are sworn to uphold. The memorial passed on a party-line vote.
Looking forward to spring and lots more
Today is the first day of spring, and with it, hopefully some sunshine. Brighter days are ahead with your support and once the legislature heads home. Thank you for tuning in this session to ICL’s legislative updates, with any luck maybe next Monday’s update could be the last of the year!
It’s been a long and challenging 10 weeks. The legislature doesn’t take time off for Martin Luther King, Jr. nor for President’s Day and neither does ICL. Weekends are full of writing, analysis, research, and continued conversations with legislators. To say it’s grueling doesn’t quite capture it.
But this work is well worth it for what awaits me in wild Idaho.
I’m looking forward to packing away my ties and wingtips and dusting off my hiking boots to spend some time in Idaho’s outstanding public lands, enjoying abundant wildlife, clean water, and accessible public lands. The rivers, hot springs, and mountain vistas recharge my batteries, and I can’t wait!
While I’m out and about, I’ll also be looking forward to celebrating ICL’s 50 years of success with staff, members, and new supporters.. Keep an eye out for upcoming ICL 50th Anniversary Events at Redfish Lake, Ketchum, McCall, Sandpoint, Boise, Idaho Falls, Pocatello, Driggs and more!
I’m also excited about the start of the 2024 Idaho Legislative Session, where ICL will continue to represent the values we all hold dear…protecting the air you breathe, the water you drink, and the lands and wildlife you love. We’ve done it for 50 years. And we intend to do it for 50 more.
Here’s to ICL’s 51st legislative session, where ICL will once again serve as Your Voice for Conservation, it’s only 294 days away! Will you join us?
…and to answer your question: No, I don’t know how I do it? But I do know why!
Tie of the Week: For the bears
Bears are emerging from hibernation across the state. This session, ICL responded to legislative threats to these amazing animals in captivity and in the wilds of Idaho. With no breeding populations in Central Idaho, and teetering populations in North Idaho’s Panhandle, we’ll continue to advocate for grizzly bears, and all the other species that make Idaho unique.
Until next week, (hopefully) for one last time…Esto Perpetua,