The second Regular Session of the 63rd Idaho Legislature adjourned “Sine Die” Friday morning March 25th for the House and Thursday evening March 24th for the Senate after 75 days of deliberation (14 days shorter than last year). Over that period of time the Legislature considered 557 bills passing 385 (69%) – and for those keeping track, there were also 61 Resolutions (36 passed) and 5 memorials (3 passed) considered.
The Governor and Legislative leaders identified Education, Health Care and Taxes as the major issues to be addressed during the session. Holding to that course over 40% of the bills introduced dealt with the three subjects (Education leading the way with 105 bills).
Of these three areas of concentration, the Legislature was successful in addressing Education while falling short on the earlier stated goals in Health Care and Taxation. The major points on each were:
- Education: The budget that was set put the state back to the pre-recession funding level and included continued funding for the career ladder in teacher compensation and a program for elementary school literacy in reading. The budget also included a substantial increase in higher education funding and a 10% increase in funding for career-technical education programs.
- Health Care: The major focus in the Health Care arena was addressing the “gap” population in health care coverage. That is the population whose income is too high for Medicaid but too low for tax subsidies. Several last minute bills to address this population failed after the House did not concur with Senate amendments to an earlier House bill. There will be an interim study group on the issue.
- Taxation: Following an interim study group most expected an effort to redesign Idaho’s tax system. The only real efforts involved a .1% across the board decrease in the state income tax that was killed in the Senate and another effort to charge the state’s sales and use tax on internet sales when the company has a nexus in Idaho. This bill was held up in the House. Eventually both bills were combined but that happened too late in the session for it to go anywhere.
Details on some of the legislation of interest that passed follows:
Agriculture: While there were no real major pieces of legislation (other than water, but that is in its own section) involving agriculture, there were enough small issues that when pulled together made this a very positive session for Idaho’s agricultural community.
- In animal care a compromise piece that provided for a felony penalty under certain conditions for torture of a companion animal. The legislation did make clear that it applies to companion and not production animals.
- How a notice of claim on an agricultural lien is made and what it must include was clarified.
- After years of trying a “dig bill” was passed to define a process for protecting underground facilities (pipelines, electrical lines etc) by developing a “Damage Prevention Board” that will create a process to prevent damage to underground facilities.
- The federal Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) was addressed allowing for the Department of Agriculture to take a lead role in how those rules will be enforced in Idaho.
- Changes were made to both the Dairy and Beef Environmental Control acts to more readily comply with Idaho taking primacy of the Pollution Discharge permitting system. This bill also allows for the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Environmental Quality to negotiate a memorandum of understanding on the inspection (Ag) and enforcement (DEQ) of these permits.
- To assure that Idaho has primacy over regulation of underground fuel tanks legislation was passed to assess a $100 fee on underground storage tanks larger then 1,100 gallons.
Environment: After four years of negotiated rulemaking, the Human Health Water Quality Criteria standards (Fish Consumption) rules were approved by the Legislature. The rules were supported by industry and municipalities while opposed by the Tribes and the Idaho Conservation League. During the course of testimony on the rules the EPA did state that while Idaho has provided more science than any other state and more than the EPA has available, they still do not like the rule and will likely reject the final product. That action will result in a lawsuit either by the state or by Idaho industry groups.
There were three bills dealing with Idaho taking primacy of the pollution discharge elimination permitting system. All three were necessary for Idaho to meet the September 2016 deadline for submitting the application for primacy to the EPA. All three bills passed with little opposition, so Idaho is on schedule for taking over that program.
Transportation: While transportation issues were not at the forefront this year, there were still several important pieces to the overall picture that were acted upon. The legislature did implement the section of federal code which allows for 129,000 lb trucks to operate on the interstate highway system in Idaho.
Other transportation issues include:
- After years of not participating, Idaho will now be a part of the national “Real ID” program. This means certain federally mandated security measures for state driver’s licenses will be met and the Idaho driver’s license will meet the TSA requirements for interstate travel.
- Efforts to eliminate the front license plate were defeated due to safety concerns expressed by law enforcement.
- There were two attempts to move funding for the State Police to the General Fund. Both were defeated but will likely resurface next year.
- A bill from last year to make road building materials tax exempt resurfaced and did not go anywhere. Expect to see similar legislation next year.
Water: There was a considerable amount of activity this session around water and water rights issues, with the majority of it centered on the settlement agreement between the Surface Water Coalition and the Ground Water Appropriators Association. The agreement that was brokered by Speaker Bedke and Senate Resources & Environment Committee Chair Steve Bair set up a plan to hopefully avoid future water calls in the Magic Valley. The legislature approved the agreement and lauded all parties for their willingness to negotiate on a very contentious issue. Other bills dealing with water were related to the settlement agreement and included bills that changed the process for petitioning for annexation into a ground water district; allowing for participation for non-district members to participate in a mitigation plan; and allow for districts to access dues through alternative methods (by acres instead of cfs).
Federal Lands: The two Resources committees held a joint hearing mid-session to listen to a presentation by a couple of Utah lawmakers who are in the middle of a process (read: lawsuits) to take state control of federal lands in their state. The committees had a lively discussion with good points on both sides of the issue. While there was no legislation to join in with Utah in suing the federal government on the issue there were several bills introduced that were related to the subject.
- A bill to set the parameters on how Idaho will manage any lands received by the federal government. The bill passed the House but did not receive a hearing in the Senate.
- Another bill would have required legislative approval for any additional land in Idaho that is purchased by the federal government or land acquired through a land exchange, gift or land bequeathed to the federal government. The bill was introduced late in the session and did not receive a hearing.
Related to federal land issues the legislature approved funding for the Clagstone Meadows conservation easement in Northern Idaho. This project is the culmination of years of work to set up the easement assuring there will be no development of the 13,000 acres; there will be guaranteed sportsmen access to the property and that the owners can continue to harvest the timber on the property.
The project includes $5.5 million in federal funds for a forest legacy project through the Idaho Department of Lands, $2 million in federal hunter access funds from the Idaho Fish and Game budget, $2 million from a public lands trust, and a $3.1 million contribution from Stimson; all told, it’s a $12.6 million project.
Other Issues: The previous categories in no way covers all that was done during the session. Some of the other issues that were addressed include:
- A redesign of the public defender system was funded and passed unanimously.
- The “Constitutional Carry” legislation that allows anyone over 21 to carry a concealed weapon without a license or weapons training passed the legislature.
- After an Interim Committee study the legislature made changes to the Urban Renewal laws to make those in charge more accountable for their actions.
- Local governments are now prohibited from banning the use of plastic bags.
- Local governments are now prohibited from setting a local minimum wage.
While not all issues were fully addressed by the legislature this year there were some areas where considerable progress was made. The funding for all levels of education was much needed as was approval of the water rights settlement agreement. Issues that were not addressed will be back next year and hopefully solutions will be found.
Now we move on to the primary election in May. Some generalities on that front are:
- 31 Republican House primary races
- 6 Republican Senate primary races
- 4 Democratic House primary races
- 1 Democratic Senate primary races.
- 19 contested races in the Senate General election
- 43 contested races in the House General election
House Republican leaders: No opponents: Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley; Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane, R-Nampa; Majority Caucus Chair John Vander Woude, R-Nampa. Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, faces Republican and Democratic challengers.
House Democratic leaders: Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, faces a rematch of his 2014 race against Republican Mike Kingsley, Lewiston. Assistant Minority Leader Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, faces a Republican challenge.
Senate Republican leaders: No opponents: Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg; Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls; Assistant Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Boise. Majority Caucus Chairman Todd Lakey, R-Nampa, has a Democratic challenger.
Senate Democratic leaders: Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, faces a Republican challenger. Assistant Minority Leader Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, has no opponent. Minority Caucus Chairman Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, faces two Republicans.
Senate Committee Chairs: Senators Bair, Brackett, Mortimer and Siddoway have no opponents in either primary or general; Heider, Patrick and Rice have general election opponents and Keough and Lodge and both primary and general opponents. One Chair (McKenzie) is not running for re-election.
House Committee Chairs: Representatives Loertscher and Wood have no opponents in either primary or general; Bell, Collins, Palmer and Raybould have primary opponents only; Barbieri, Hartgen Perry and Wills have both primary and general opponents; Luker, Palmer and Thompson have general opponents only. Andrus and DeMordaunt are not running for re-election.