Whether we and our politicians know it or not, Nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do. ~ Wendell Berry
Thank you to everyone who took the time to show up for the Town Hall meetings held throughout District 26 last weekend. The turnout was great, especially for a holiday weekend, and the questions and comments were thoughtful and showed a great commitment to keeping the public in public policy. It confirms my belief that government works best when everyone is paying attention and doing their part.
There has been much to consider this week and I am impressed by the outpouring of emails from residents across the state weighing in on these important issues. Public opinion matters and I'm glad to see BSU resurrect their annual public policy survey which is useful in determining the will of Idahoans on the topics being debated in the legislative arena.
While SB1339 was only debated in my Resources & Environment Committee Friday afternoon, I've received a slew of emails in opposition to a new process for oil and gas drilling applications which was also negatively received by all who came to testify. The bill, sponsored by Alta Mesa, would shift authority from the Oil & Gas Commission to the Director of the Idaho Department of Lands. By eliminating the rules review process for contested cases, this bill puts an undue legal burden on landowners, assumes the IDL has the expertise and staff to accommodate applications (work would need to be contracted out) and lacks the transparency required in other states. While I voted no, the measure passed on to the full Senate with a do-pass recommendation.
I mentioned work being done to solve Idaho's water crisis in last week's newsletter and am happy to report that SCR 136, 137 and 138 unanimously passed the Senate. I was the floor sponsor of SCR136 which sets a goal to recharge the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer (ESPA) on or before December 31, 2024. ESPA supplies ground water to nearly 1 million irrigated acres as well as municipalities, businesses and residential areas and has been declining dramatically since 1952 due to ground water diversions. SCR138 provides legislative support to the agreement reached, after extensive negotiations, between surface and ground water users in the Upper Snake River Basin. The ground water users will reduce consumption in order to bring aquifer levels back to 1990's averages by April 2026. SCR137 asks the Idaho Water Resource Board to seek out projects to reverse and stabilize ground water levels across Idaho with an emphasis on the Treasure Valley, Mountain Home, and the Palouse and Big and Little Wood River basins.
Senate bill 1305 generated concern over the wisdom of requiring the Idaho Department of Fish & Game to hire a private contractor to oversee the drawing of tags for controlled hunts. There is an estimated cost of $102,500 and no evidence of improper tag drawings as currently executed by IDFG. SB1236, also opposed by everyone who took the time to email me, would require the IDFG to issue Governor's Wildlife Partnership Tags to be auctioned off for big game. I am not a proponent of elite tags and am comfortable with the existing language which allows, but doesn't mandate, IDFG to issue tags based on specific, regional hunt conditions.
SJR101, which unanimously passed the Senate Friday, would change the process for gubernatorial vetoes. This legislation would ask voters to amend the Idaho Constitution and allow the legislature to reconvene a special session to consider overriding bills vetoed by the Governor after the legislature has adjourned. SJR101 must pass with at least two thirds majority in the House and a yes vote by the people in November.
Having already passed in the House (55-15), HB431 also passed out of the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee despite my no vote. This bill replaces the indexing currently used to value homeowner's exemptions with a fixed exemption of $100,000 or 50% of assessed value, whichever is less. Given that the average home price in Idaho is just under $200,000, this bill will raise property taxes for many citizens as opposed to the index which helps stabilize tax shifts between different categories of property. This change is opposed by the Idaho Associations of Counties, the Idaho Association of County Assessors as well as the assessors I heard from in Lincoln and Gooding counties.