The pace is break-neck in Week Eight. Perhaps in an effort to meet the majority leadership's goal of conducting a short session, bills are coming before us at a speed that makes thoughtful consideration challenging.
Among the many measures are a slew of water-related bills which often arise at this point in the session and several of which directly impact residents in District 26. I can only detail a couple but would point you to House bills 390, 392, 410, 412 and 479 for further review.
SB1345 is a complex and divisive issue over senior versus junior water rights with strong support on each side of the debate. The Attorney General's office has issued two opinions and the Idaho Supreme Court is reviewing the question of how much water various rights holders are entitled to claim from reservoirs. I've heard from the Idaho Ground Water Appropriators (IGWA) and the American Falls Reservoir District 2 who oppose the measure contending it will stunt commercial development. I hope to hear from others prior to casting my vote so that I can weigh the positions of all stakeholders in my district.
Here is a Times-News article that provides tremendous detail on a water-rights debate that could severely impact over 2,300 rights holders including 14 cities, five school districts and irrigators and businesses across an eight-county area that includes portions of District 26. After the Hagerman-based fish farm Rangen filed a complaint with the Idaho Department of Water Resources (IDWR) asserting they were not getting the water allotted to them, IDWR issued a curtailment of all ground water rights with priority dates junior to July 13, 1962. At the request of several parties including IGWA, IDWR stayed their curtailment. However, the stay only impacts IGWA members and non-member participants which means other junior rights holders could still have their water cut off on March 14th. The IDWR website offers information on participation status and how to contact the Ground Water District closest to you to request non-member participation status. The IDWR will hold a hearing on March 17th in their Boise office and the Director will rule on mitigation plans.
Early in the session, the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry (IACI) introduced HB406 calling on the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to take over regulation of water pollution from the federal government by 2021. The cost includes $300,000 to study the transfer and $2.5 million to implement (roughly 1/3 from fees, 1/3 from the state and 1/3 from the federal government). This proposal includes wastewater discharge permits (and who issues them) for industry, farms, cities and any entity that discharges pollution into U.S. waters. It would require continued compliance with the Clean Water Act and other federal standards.
HB406 unanimously passed the House and Senate with my support although I do have lingering concerns over a reliable funding stream. Whoever uses the NPDES program should cover the cost of operation in the form of fees, not taxpayer dollars, and HB406 does not incorporate language that would guarantee the assessment of adequate user fees. There is tremendous uncertainty that Idaho will receive federal funding so the burden could fall squarely on the shoulders of taxpayers. Once the state invests $300,000 for the study, there may be an obligation to implement the program despite the hefty price tag and lingering questions over who should pay.
A very important piece of legislation that unanimously passed the Senate yesterday is SB1357, a "justice-reinvestment" measure. Despite having one of the lowest crime rates in the nation, Idaho has longer-than-average sentences, higher-than-average recidivism and an incarceration rate that is 8th highest in the nation. Our prison population is projected to grow 16% by 2019 at a cost of $288 million. SB1357 came about after an interim working group, working in conjunction with the Council of State Governments Justice Center, spent months studying best-practices to arrive at a data-driven solution that will be the model for other states.
Last week, Department of Commerce Director Jeff Sayer introduced HB546 which provides a tax incentive of up to 30% for up to 15 years on new taxes (corporate income, sales and payroll) for companies that create new jobs. He outlined his proposal with the AP and pledged that the credit will only be applied after a company makes an up-front tax payment and creates a certain number of jobs (20 rural or 50 urban) that pay over the county average. Idaho has granted 47 tax cuts since 1995 that have done nothing to spur our lackluster economy. This incentive, which looks good on paper, has to promise more than call-center employment. In addition to closely-monitored incentives, Idaho needs to invest in education, living wages and non-discrimination policies if we expect to compete in a 21st century global economy.
It remains my honor to serve District 26 and I welcome your input on issues of importance to you by phone (208-332-1353) or email (email@example.com).