The #IdLeg put the pedal to the metal last week, when the budget committee approved $12 billion in spending, most of the state’s budget, in one morning alone. This could have implications throughout the entire legislative session. 

Aside from the budget, more bills have been introduced this session compared to the past five years, with twice as many as the 2022 session. With state primaries coming up on May 21, legislators seem to want to get home to campaign.

There was one good wildlife-related proposal introduced this week in the House Natural Resources Committee from Rep. James Petzke (R-Meridian). Under existing public records laws, hunters can access telemetry data that shows the location and habits of bighorn sheep and other prized game species. Using this data falls outside the bounds of “fair chase” hunting, and the bill sensibly seeks to close this loophole. Not too many other conservation-related bills have surfaced, but we know it’s only a matter of time. Administrative Rules are moving through the committees, and more bills are sure to surface in advance of the Feb. 12 bill introduction deadline.

On the national front, New Hampshire is gearing up for its first-in-the-nation primary on Tuesday, and the President signed a stop-gap funding bill to avoid a shutdown. Speaking of the federal budget, it was a hot topic during the legislature’s budget-setting Joint Finance & Appropriations Committee (JFAC) hearing on the Office of Energy & Mineral Resources. Sen. Scott Herndon (R-Sagle) pressed the director on whether Idaho is required to accept federal energy investments, which make up 91% of the agency’s budget. These funds help create Idaho jobs, save consumers money, and clear the air. The director clarified that if Idaho doesn’t spend these funds, neighboring states will.

JFAC approves majority of state budget in one fell swoop

For decades the Idaho Legislature’s budget setting committee has plodded slowly through the session, considering each state agency budget in turn, including any new items. This year, a change was made and in the second week of the session it generated some heated discussion.

Last Tuesday, the Joint Finance & Appropriations Committee (JFAC) approved $12.1 billion in “maintenance” spending, which includes $5.1 billion in state General Funds. That represents a whopping 88% of the state’s budget, and funds 87 different divisions and agencies, including all the natural resource agencies. 

It includes base funding that was approved last year. What it doesn’t include are any of the Governor’s new proposals, including funding for quagga mussels, new education spending, or dozens of other initiatives. What it means is that it will take a ⅔ majority vote in the committee to “reopen” budgets to consider these new items, and depending on the politics of the moment, it may be difficult to reach this threshold.

That raised the ire of the 3 Democrats on the committee who opposed passage of the spending bills, and likely raised eyebrows in the Governor’s office as well. 

The new procedure is intended to expedite the work of the budget committee, but it raises some questions about whether programs, or the public, will be cut out in the weeks and months to come.

Lower Granite Dam on the lower Snake River. EcoFlight photo.

Water Users gather to talk salmon and dams

The Idaho Water Users Association (IWUA), a powerful interest group in Idaho that represents water districts, irrigators, canal companies, and others, gathered in Boise to discuss everyone’s favorite liquid substance. Representatives from the Oregon and Idaho Governor’s offices both spoke on the recent recent Columbia Basin Restoration Initiative agreed to by conservation interests (including ICL), the Federal Government, Oregon, Washington, and the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs, and Yakama Tribes (known collectively as the 6 sovereigns). 

The agreement paves the way to breach the four lower Snake River dams, and while Idaho and the IWUA are officially opposed to the agreement, there seems to be a growing recognition that it’s not a question of if the dams will be breached, but when. As a result, the questions are how to replace the services the dams provide, and how we can reach true abundance for salmon. From ICL’s perspective, both questions deserve an answer.

New York Times reporter Chris Flavelle also spoke on groundwater issues that he, and a team of reporters, have been covering for months. The issue of rapidly declining groundwater is an issue that spans the nation, with some states turning an alarmingly blind eye to the issue. The good news is that Idaho is more proactive than many other states in addressing some of the challenges. The bad news is that Idaho ranks #1 in the nation, in terms of the % of groundwater wells showing a decline since 1980, and the % of monitoring wells that are at their lowest-ever recorded levels. 

As the session moves forward, we expect both salmon and water issues to spring forth and will continue to support efforts to restore and promote clean water and abundant salmon alike!

NACs, we hardly knew ya

Last week I reported on new battle lines being drawn in the debate over climate-related investment. Natural Asset Companies were proposed as a sustainable investment mechanism to provide restoration funds and conservation leases for both private and public lands. In response to criticism, including from Idaho’s Attorney General, Rep. Fulcher, and Senators Risch and Crapo, the New York Stock Exchange pulled their proposal from consideration by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). So for now, it looks like they’re off the table.

We still expect attacks on Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) investing. Limitations forced upon private banks by the Idaho Legislature could have implications for your pocketbooks, pensions, retirement accounts, municipal bonds, and more. I heard this week from Idaho Treasurer Julie Ellsworth that it’s likely we’ll see a proposal similar to House Bill 189 that stalled in the Senate last year. A similar bill that passed in Oklahoma is the subject of litigation there, where a state pensioner has raised concerns that it violates the fiduciary duty that he is owed. In Texas, the impact of an ESG-investment boycott bill even raised the ire of the conservation National Taxpayers Union

ICL’s 2024 Legislative Reception will be on January 30, 2024 in downtown Boise.

Events on deck and other news

Each year, we gather with legislators, state agency leaders, other elected officials, and partners to raise a toast to our public lands, clean water, and abundant wildlife. This year, we’ll be co-hosting the event alongside our friends at Conservation Voters for Idaho. If you’re in the neighborhood, join us!

Since we know it’s not easy for everyone to make it to Boise for our reception, we’ll be hosting an ICL Legislative Update Webinar on Wednesday, February 7 at 12:30 (MST). Learn about some of the issues that we’re working on this year, and how you can get involved.

Finally, in other news, Boise State University released their 9th annual Public Policy Poll. Check it out to learn more about some of the issues that your fellow Idahoans are concerned about.

Tie of the week!

While we haven’t seen a lot of anti-environmental bills crawl out of the woodwork just yet, we know that they’re likely to arrive soon. The bill introduction deadline, which is more of a guideline than a hard-and-fast rule, is approaching on February 12. So knowing that sharks or crocodiles that can lurk just under the surface, ICL will be carefully monitoring the legislature, just like we have for the past 50 years, to protect the air you breathe, the water you drink, and the lands and wildlife you love!


Until next week…Esto Perpetua,