The rumor mill is running at full speed in the Idaho Statehouse, as the House and Senate move into what could be the final month of the session. Monday, March 7 is the Bill Transmittal Deadline, meaning that all bills are supposed to be sent across the rotunda from the House to the Senate, or vice versa by then. We’ll see how closely they adhere to their timeline

One active rumor is that we will see an attempted attack from some House members on ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) criteria that many leading corporations have adopted as a means to account for the overall impacts of their businesses. As I mentioned in my last update, a former Fox News commentator was recently in Boise to discuss the purported evils of ESG, and all indicators point toward at least one bill being introduced on this issue in the coming days.

The Heartland Institute, a conservative free-market “think tank” based in Illinois, is encouraging efforts at statehouses across the country, and similar measures have been introduced in Wyoming (pending) and Arizona (failed).  While one would think that prohibiting financial institutions from using whatever criteria they want would be contrary to “free market” ideology, apparently the Heartland Institute has a different understanding

Another rumor was that we would see further attacks on the Attorney General and his role on the Land Board. That rumor proved true when a new bill surfaced on Friday, requiring the Idaho Department of Lands to hire private counsel instead of relying on the significantly lower-cost services of the Attorney General, see below.

On the election side, rumors are also keeping reporters busy, trying to figure out who is running for what. With significant shifts in many districts as a result of a new electoral map, we should be able to put those rumors to rest once the candidate filing period opens Monday, Feb. 28.

Local control? Not so much… 

Many members of the legislature tout their support for local control. They invoke the Jeffersonian maxim, which the Idaho Republican Party even includes in their platform, “government closest to the people, governs best.” Alas, actions speak louder than words….

Several bills illustrate the hypocrisy this year. The Idaho House of Representatives is advancing bills that seek to strip authority from local governments adopting updates or amendments to electrical, plumbing, mechanical and other building codes. They’re also seeking to preempt the ability of counties to manage growth and development within their borders. 

The first bill (HB 660), sponsored by Rep. Sage Dixon (R-Ponderay), advanced out of the House Business Committee on Wednesday and will likely be up for a vote in the House this week. It will make it harder to update the Idaho Energy Efficiency Building Codes, which help to ensure that our homes are safe, comfortable and affordable. A companion bill (HB 614), sponsored by Rep. Brent Crane (R-Nampa), is expected to be heard on Tuesday in the same committee. It would hinder efforts to update the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing codes, and is designed to block local cities from adopting codes that will facilitate Electric Vehicles and other technological advancements that benefit both consumers and the environment. 

The third bill is House Bill 643, introduced by Rep. Terry Gestrin (R-Donnelly). His bill would prohibit counties from enacting ordinances that block certain subdivisions of land, facilitating unmanaged growth. The bill appears to be driven by the interests of the Wilks Brothers and other large landowners who have sought to sell off 20-acre parcels of “your own private Idaho” even if those lots re unbuildable, have no access, and would cost other taxpayers dearly to provide emergency, sewer, trash, fire protection and other services.

Zombie bill lunges at Attorney General 

A zombie rose from the graveyard of failed 2021 legislation when Rep. Megan Blanksma (R-Hammett) and Sen. Mark Harris (R-Soda Springs) unearthed a bill seeking to block the Attorney General from representing the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL). 

Ranchers and miners have been upset at the Attorney General for advocating that we should follow the state constitution, which mandates that state lands be managed to ensure maximum returns. Despite this clear constitutional requirement and the fact that numerous studies have found Idaho’s grazing fees to be well below those for adjacent and similar private lands, the Idaho Land Board has consistently refused to increase grazing fees. After years of work on the topic, in October 2021, the Land Board refused to follow IDL’s advice and instead voted to keep the rates the same. Only Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and Controller Brandon Woolf voted for the modest rate increase, while State Schools Superintendent Sherri Ybarra and Sec. of State Lawerence Denney voted in opposition (the Governor recused himself, because he holds state grazing leases). 

Similarly, the Idaho Mining Association has been arguing with the Land Board and the Attorney General over an interpretation of another law that violates the state’s constitutional mandate, which the Land Board has refused to implement. 

Because this same bill failed last year in the Senate Resources Committee, we hope it will meet a similar fate now.

Some good news!

Three bills introduced this year sought to change the way state land exchanges are considered. ICL opposed all three, and they appear to be dead for the year.

Senator Mark Harris (R-Soda Springs) introduced two (SB 1251 and 1252) bills that would have allowed certain leaseholders to block land exchanges, even when they were in the best interest of the state. In the House, Rep. Terry Gestrin (R-Donnelly) introduced a third bill from Trident Holdings, the proponent of a failed land exchange that would have privatized thousands of acres surrounding Payette Lake. His bill would have mandated that any land exchanges greater than 10,000 acres would automatically qualify for a full appraisal, even if it’s clear they are not in the state’s interest. 

From what we’ve heard, none of these bills will advance. 

What will advance is a resolution from Sen. Michelle Stennett (D-Ketchum), and Reps. Sally Toone (D-Gooding) and Ned Burns (D-Bellevue) that Passed the Senate unanimously last Thursday. Senate Concurrent Resolution 117 recognizes the efforts of Idahoans who came together 50 years ago to designate the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. We expect a hearing on this measure in the coming weeks.

Tie of the week!

I struggled this week to find a Tie of the Week, but with so many fishy things happening in the statehouse this year, I thought this would have a hook. 

If and when they consider other fish-related measures, I have other fish-inspired ties at the ready, so don’t worry…

So, from the minnows and sculpins to the Bonneville cutthroat trout to the mighty Spring chinook salmon – this week’s tie is dedicated to all our fine finned friends found in Idaho rivers, lakes and streams.

Until next week…Esto Perpetua,