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SB 1292: Separating the AG & IDL – 2024

Summary: HB 1292 would strip the Attorney General of his role as chief legal advisor to the Land Board and Department of Lands.

ICL's position: Oppose

Current Bill Status: Law

Issue Areas: Attorney General, Grazing, Idaho Department of Lands, Phosphate Mining, Public Lands

Official Legislative Site

Senate Majority Caucus Chair Mark Harris (R-Soda Springs) and Rep. Megan Blanksma (R-Hammett) introduced Senate Bill 1292, which seeks to strip the Idaho Attorney General (AG) of his role as legal advisor to the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL). The AG would retain their seat on the Land Board, but Deputy Attorney Generals (DAGs) would be dismissed and in-house counsel would be hired instead.

The bill is virtually identical to measures that failed to advance during the 2021 and 2022 sessions.

In a legal opinion on the 2021 bills, the former-AG Lawrence Wasden found that “a court would likely determine that [the] bills violate the Idaho Constitution.”

DAGs currently serve as counsel to most state agencies, including IDL, and the AG reviews qualifications and brings in outside counsel if needed. The hourly rate for these deputies is ~$58/hour. It’s an efficient system to provide legal advice and, while ICL does not always agree with the State of Idaho’s legal interpretations, many attorneys have served their agencies well for decades.

In contrast, the Idaho Legislature regularly contracts with private lawyers, oftentimes in cases related to natural resources. Based on a 2023 ICL review, the Legislature had spent over $1.1 million on legal fees to just one lawyer, who charged $470/hour, a far cry from the estimated costs provided in the SB1292 Fiscal Note.

Some of the concerns from the mining and ranching interests that are pushing the bill include concerns over HB 547, a bill that passed in 2020. It allowed for preferential rights for mining leases and automatic extensions that sell Idaho Endowment Land beneficiaries short. In a letter from IDL to the Idaho Mining Association, Director Miller lays out many of these constitutional concerns.

Separately, the cattlemen and ranching interests are concerned that they could lose access to below-market grazing rates, which many argue do not meet Idaho’s constitutional requirement to maximize financial returns over the long term. The current $7.28 rate per animal unit month has resulted in a $600,000+ reduction in revenue to the endowment, and it doesn’t appear to satisfy the constitution. The prior Attorney General and State Controller supported efforts to increase that rate in October 2021, but other Land Board members refused to go along.