SB 1372: Attacking the AG V2.0 – 2022
ICL's position: Oppose
Current Bill Status: Dead
Issue Areas: Attorney General, Grazing, Idaho Department of Lands, Phosphate Mining, Public Lands
Sen. Mark Harris (R-Soda Springs) introduced Senate Bill 1372, which seeks to require the Idaho Land Board and the Department of Lands to hire additional legal counsel. Currently, Deputy Attorney Generals (DAGs) serve as counsel to most state agencies, including IDL, and the AG reviews qualifications and brings in outside counsel only 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.
The bill is virtually identical to two measures that failed to advance during the 2021 session (HB 118 and SB 1090) and HB 696, which was introduced earlier this session by Rep. Megan Blanksma (R-Hammett). Unfortunately for the sponsors, SB 1090 died after a hearing in the Senate Resources Committee, HB 118 was never considered by the Senate, and HB 696 has apparently stalled in committee.
In a legal opinion on the 2021 bills, the AG found that “a court would likely determine that [the] bills violate the Idaho Constitution.”
In contrast, the Idaho Legislature regularly contracts with private lawyers, oftentimes in cases related to natural resources. In the past year, the Legislature has spent over $1.1 million on legal fees to just one lawyer, who charges $470/hour. Sen. Harris estimates that his bill could cost taxpayers up to $601,800.
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 $6.86 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 Attorney General supported efforts to increase that rate in October 2021, and this bill appears to be seeking retribution for that vote.
The bill passed the Senate, but was never considered by the House State Affairs Committee.