Idaho Legislative Update - Summer 2015
Since the Idaho Legislature’s adjournment in April, much of Idaho’s political community has been focused on Idaho’s executive branch of government, primarily the state agencies and departments that are currently involved in the negotiated rulemaking process. Additionally, the Idaho Legislature established a handful of interim committees that have been meeting throughout the summer, many of which will likely have legislative implications for the 2016 session. Here is a run-down on some of the more high-profile issues affecting the public and private sectors in Idaho:
Idaho State Budget: The State of Idaho closed the fiscal year with an 8.6 percent growth in general fund revenue, exceeding initial revenue forecasts by an astounding $92.3 million. Due to House Bill 312, the transportation funding bill that was approved by the legislature in the waning hours of the 2015 Idaho Legislative session, half of the $92.3 million surplus will go to the state’s rainy-day fund, and the other half will go towards transportation funding. These funds, combined with those from state agencies that didn’t spend all of their allocations, bring the state’s year-end surplus to just over $108 million.
New Agency Directors Appointed: Governor Otter tapped two (and now former) State Senators to lead the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality and the State Department of Insurance, as well as appointed former Senate President Pro-Tem Bob Geddes as the new state Administration Department director. John Tippets, a former State Senator from Montpelier, was named the director of the state Department of Environmental Quality, and Dean Cameron, a former State Senator from Rupert, was appointed as the new director of the state Department of Insurance. On a personal note, I have had the chance to work very closely with these three gentlemen from my time running the Idaho Republican Party, and I believe that they will all do a fine job running their respective agencies. I look forward to working with them on matters affecting our clients.
Negotiated Rulemaking Meetings: Idaho’s agencies and departments have been holding public hearings on administrative rules throughout the summer and will continue through early fall. Once completed, the proposed rules must be reviewed and approved by the Idaho Legislature in order to become law. Traditionally, I follow the rulemaking process closely. I have paid particular attention to the Idaho Tax Commission’s hearings related to the sales tax rules committee meetings that deal with computer equipment, software, and data services, safeguarding our lobbying efforts to ensure computer software that is delivered electronically and remotely is not subject to Idaho sales tax.
Legislative Interim Committees: The Idaho Legislature approved the creation of a handful of interim committees that will meet throughout the year. The interim committees receiving the most attention in the press and in the political community include: the Purchasing Laws Interim Committee, which is scheduled to meet on August 5; the Broadband Access Study Committee, which already met on July 21 and will meet again in late August; and the Urban Renewal Interim Committee, which is scheduled to meet on August 10 and again on August 24. A full listing of all of the interim committees, along with scheduled meetings, agendas, legislator information, and much more can be found on the Idaho Legislature’s website at www.legislature.idaho.gov.
Potential Compromise Bill on Idaho Human Rights Act: National Public Radio is reporting that Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill is currently working on a compromise bill he hopes will strike a balance between gay rights and religious freedom in Idaho. This issue has received significant attention over the past few years. Most recently it arose in the 2015 legislative session, where the Legislature rejected a bill commonly referred to in the media as the “add the words bill,” which would have barred discrimination in Idaho based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Senator Hill is quoted in the article as saying, “I don’t think that a business should deny services to a person because of their sexual orientation; however, I think that businesses should have the right not to participate in events that promote something that is contrary to their religious beliefs.” Either way, I am positive that we will see something surface at the 2016 Idaho Legislature addressing this hot topic.
Idaho Supreme Court - Historical Horse Racing: Governor Otter vetoed a bill passed by the Idaho Legislature that would have repealed authorization for slot machine-like “instant racing” machines, just two years after they had been authorized. However, the Governor didn’t deliver his veto to the Senate until two days after the constitutionally required five-day deadline. Despite acknowledging that that veto was delivered after the deadline, the Idaho Senate took a veto override vote anyway, and it failed by not reaching the two-thirds requirement. In response, the leaders lobbying for the bill, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, sued the State, arguing that the Governor didn’t veto the bill in time for it to become law without his signature. The case will be heard by the Idaho Supreme Court on August 11.
Boulder White Clouds Wilderness Bill: Earlier this month, Idaho 2nd District Congressman Mike Simpson’s Boulder White Clouds wilderness bill passed the House Resources Committee by unanimous consent. The bill has been more than 10 years in the making, and it would designate new wilderness areas while also authorizing various land conveyances. The bill has been worked on by a host of stakeholders over the years, including ranchers, snowmobilers, public access supporters, and more, with the goal of creating an Idaho solution for managing the Boulder White Clouds. The bill now goes to a vote in the full House. Additionally, Idaho Senator Jim Risch is introducing a Senate version of the bill that is awaiting a hearing in the Senate Resources Committee.
My next report will preview issues that are likely to surface at the 2016 Idaho legislative session.