During the last few years, there has been some frustration by different grazing and mining interests in the State that has involved a perceived conflict of interest between the Idaho Attorney General (AG) and the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL). The AG is one of five members of the State Land Board. IDL is the administrative arm of the State Land Board that has on its staff three deputy attorney generals employed by the AG. Lately, there has been a failure by IDL to enact some of the statutes that the Legislature has passed. The most recent example is House Bill 547 (H 547). It passed in 2020 and was signed into law by the Governor. H 547 deals with land leases involving mines in Idaho and the length of those leases. As a result of this frustration and perceived conflict of interest, I introduced S 1090 this week that removes the AG’s responsibility to provide legal representation to IDL and allows IDL to hire or contract its own legal counsel. I do not know how far the bill will go in the legislative process, but it has already started a conversation and hopefully we will be able to resolve the issue.
Taxes and transportation bills are being introduced this week. The Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee Chairman is getting ready to introduce his bill this week that deals with property taxes and a new taxing formula that he is proposing. Rising property tax is an issue that is affecting the whole State. With the high growth in revenue, this is a good year for possible changes. There is also talk of lowering the sales tax rate and the income tax. We will learn more details in the coming weeks as draft proposals of the bills are printed and distributed.
Transportation is also a topic of discussion as there has been a proposal of a 4-cents per gallon fuel tax increase to help pay for roads. There is no desire in the Legislature to raise taxes on fuel, especially as we expect an increase in fuel prices nationally with the new administration in Washington, D.C. One alternative is a plan to use a percentage of the existing sales tax to raise around $24 million for road construction. There is also a proposal to raise fees on new registrations. The dollars raised by this increase would be allocated to cities, counties, and road districts for local projects. It is important to note that these proposals are currently in the discussion phase and are just ideas right now.
Water is always an important issue in Idaho. I have been working with Representative Laurie Lickley on legislation that would require the Director of the Idaho Department of Water Resources (IDWR) to accept the initial date for a federal grazing permit as the priority date for stockwater claims. This bill will help those filing on stockwater and IDWR by giving them the ability to efficiently clear up stockwater dates.
Work continues in the Senate on our legislation to protect the rights of people to peacefully assemble and exercise religion during times of extreme emergencies. We are also working to make sure everyone that works, provides for their families, and contributes to the economy of Idaho is deemed “essential” during a declaration of extreme emergency. The bill will also
prohibit the altering or suspending of Idaho Code during extreme emergency declarations in order to protect the rights of Idaho citizens. We are working with the House Leadership on this legislation as well as their legislation that deals with emergency declarations. We are taking great care and consideration with these bills to make sure we get them right; and that takes time.
It is a busy time of the Session, and there is a lot going on. I appreciate your calls and emails and I encourage you to keep reaching out and I will do my best to respond.