Greetings from the Idaho Statehouse where we are concluding our second week of the 2013 session and new issues are beginning to percolate up after the focus in week one on the "big three" legislative topics discussed in my previous newsletter. While on the subject of last week's newsletter, I want to correct a statement that suggested the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee approved Governor Otter's budget recommendation of a 3.1% increase for FY2014. More accurately, the Governor's Division of Financial Management presented the Governor's budget recommendation to JFAC which is now in the process of hearing testimony from state agencies. Upon completion of this phase of the process, budget setting will begin and then JFAC will bring appropriation bills before both chambers for final consideration.
In Idaho, the legislature devotes the first weeks of every session to reviewing administrative rules drafted by executive branch agencies over the interim in response to laws passed in the prior legislative session. Idaho is among the minority of states where the legislature can veto agency rules in whole or in part (click here for more information on this process).
On this subject, there was much to concern the Senate's State Affairs committee on Wednesday during our review of the rules crafted by the Department of Administration with respect to public use of Capitol grounds. These rules were hastily written to comply with legislation hastily passed in 2012 in direct response to the lawful and peaceable activities of one group: Occupy Boise. We have had extremely hostile groups testify in State Affairs without it precipitating any rush to promulgate rules so this has become an issue of fairness in my mind where one group is discriminated against on ideological grounds. And because these rules could have a chilling effect on constitutionally-protected speech and assembly, Senator Elliot Werk and I moved to reject them in their entirety. Instead, the majority voted to accept the rules by-and-large while rejecting just those sections that limited event/exhibit hours/locations or placed excessively strict limits on amplified speech. Now the House State Affairs will weigh in and must approve the Senate's actions for these rules to take effect and a legal challenge of the 2012 law is proceeding with a court hearing scheduled for February so this matter is far from resolved.
Things were also somewhat fraught with respect to rules review in my other committee, Resources & Environment, where three rules governing the taking of big game and game birds were rejected. Today, there was a bi-partisan admonishment of the Idaho Fish & Game Commission over their tendency to avoid negotiated rulemaking when confronted with contentious issues and they were urged to reconsider this practice. After all, what issues are more in need of a democratically negotiated process than those that are controversial?
On a more positive note, it was revealed today that F&G will partner with the Idaho Transportation Department to identify six areas with high animal mortality rates or where there is a threat to public safety due to animal encounters and create up to 12 wildlife corridors. Highway 75 has a very high incidence of game collisions at dawn and dusk (also peak traffic times) and that puts the Wood River Valley high on the list of areas under consideration for a wildlife corridor. I am very pleased with this initiative and plan to remain an engaged and active supporter of this effort.
As always, I welcome your input and continue to believe that government works best when the citizens are engaged. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call my office at 208-332-1353 with any questions or concerns.