I’m not going to lie to you. Last week was rough.
ICL testified on a number of bills that we have been tracking, and we came up short. We made strong arguments and delivered professional testimony, but it wasn’t enough to sway a majority of committee members to kill the bills.
For years, we’ve been defending science standards to ensure that our children learn the facts about climate change and are prepared to inherit a world that will look much different from the world we live in today. Despite objections from science educators, students and ICL, the Legislature will now establish a precedent that they can simply tell the State Board of Education what to approve and what to deny. The House Bill passed unanimously out of the Senate Education Committee, and it will likely be approved by the full Senate this week.
We’ve also been battling efforts from the ranching and mining industries who are seeking to sever the ties between the Attorney General and the Land Board. Despite the constitutional requirement that Idaho maximize returns from state lands, ranchers and miners want special deals. They claim to be concerned about a “conflict of interest” between the Attorney General and the Land Board. But it’s clear they’re really interested in protecting their own special interests, like below-market rates for grazing and mandatory continuation of mining leases for as little as $5 per acre/year.
Last year, Sen. Lee Heider (R-Twin Falls) noted “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” when he voted against the bill. This year, he seconded the motion to send it to the Senate Floor with a “do pass” recommendation. The motion was approved by the Senate State Affairs Committee on a party-line vote on Friday and is expected to come up for a vote this week on the Senate Floor.
The House also shot down a resolution celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. The reasons: hidden agendas and the threat that somehow this non-binding resolution would result in additional protections for public lands.
Nine weeks into the session…I think I might be ready for a vacation!
But we’ve still got work to do, so let’s get on with it…
Let’s celebrate 50 years of the Sawtooth NRA, or not…
Last week, the House of Representatives voted 55-18 to oppose Senate Concurrent Resolution 117. Rep. Judy Boyle (R-Midvale) suggested that language in the resolution referring to potential future designations would invite additional protections. What she failed to recognize was that the language intended to allay concerns from those who oppose land protections. Specifically, the language said that if any designations are considered in the future, that they be developed “only through a transparent process that includes input from Idahoans, including those most impacted by new designations.” Rep. Heather Scott (R-Blanchard) also raised concern with “hidden agendas,” but offered no insight into what those hidden agendas might be.
Regardless, these concerns were enough to attract opposition from 55 members of the House, killing the resolution.
Science Standards bills advance to Senate Floor
We’ve reported on the House Education Committee’s efforts to water down or strip climate change references from Idaho’s K-12 Science Education Standards for most of the past decade. This week, Rep. Lance Clow (R-Twin Falls) finally convinced the Senate Education Committee to go along with his plan.
Despite the fact that the State Board of Education has never approved the standards, that these standards were not developed pursuant to the requirements of the Administrative Procedures Act, and that the actual cost of updating the standards could be 144 times as costly as the bill suggests…the Senate Education Committee unanimously approved the bill.
The bigger issue for those concerned about education should be that the legislature is undermining the constitutionally-established role of the State Board of Education. By directing the State Board to approve these standards, the legislature has opened a Pandora’s Box and has set a new precedent for controlling what is supposed to be an independent board.
The discussion in committee centered around many of the issues that ICL raised, but in the end the vote was unanimous to support HB716 and HCR 39. We expect the bills to be considered on the Senate Floor this week.
It wasn’t all bad
The McCall Star-News reported last week that two troubling land bills are officially dead for the year. Rep. Terry Gestrin (R-Donnelly) introduced HB 547 to punish the Idaho Department of Lands on behalf of the proponent of a failed land exchange around McCall, and HB 643 on behalf of the Wilks Brothers, who are seeking to subdivide thousands of acres of private lands without any local review or zoning limitations. Most of those lands are located in Valley, Adams, Boise and Idaho Counties and the bill would have led to unchecked development across many rural areas without any formal review.
ICL was also encouraged to see HB 588 advance. The bill would allow the Idaho Department of Lands to compensate firefighters with hazard pay, something their federal counterparts have benefited from for years. Firefighting is hazardous work, and climate change is challenging firefighters. In 2021, 23 firefighters died on the job across the U.S.
“Hazard pay” will allow the state to better compete with the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and other states in hiring qualified firefighters. The bill has already passed the House and now awaits a final vote on the Senate Floor before it is sent to the Governor, who’s expected to sign the bill.
In other news, the filing period closed for the upcoming May primaries. Eight candidates are competing for the Republican nomination for Governor (including both Brad Little and Janice McGeachin). On the Democratic side, a snafu may prevent presumed front-runner Shelby Rognstad from appearing on the ballot. Ammon Bundy, who’s now running as an independent candidate for Governor, was arrested (again) over the weekend. And finally, the House rejected the Department of Commerce budget over concerns related to ARPA funding. If the trend continues, it could make for another long session.
Tie of the week!
Idaho is blessed with 32 million acres of public lands. From the Idaho Panhandle National Forest to the Bureau of Land Management’s Owyhee Canyonlands to the sliver of Yellowstone National Park that creeps over the state’s border with Wyoming (and lots in between!)…public lands are our common ground.
These lands provide something for all who call Idaho home: access for hunters, anglers and hikers, habitat for culturally important fruits, berries and herbs so Native American Tribes can continue their traditions, homes for 9,877 different species of animals, fish, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fungi and plants. And they nurture the headwaters of our beloved rivers and streams that provide clean water that sustains our economy and our bodies.
While the House of Representatives may not be joining in on the celebration, the rest of us can. Here’s to Idaho’s public lands!
Until next week…Esto Perpetua,