By Eliza Walton, Legislative Assistant
The 2020 legislative session differed in many ways from previous sessions. The combination of a complete administrative rule review process and legislators preparing for the upcoming May primary election was particularly unprecedented but as the coronavirus pandemic quickly became more serious in Idaho, this session became unchartered territory.
Unfortunately, there were far too many familiar challenges we’ve faced before, such as the attacks on science standards, Idaho’s energy conservation code, regulations that protect public health, and Idaho’s public lands. But, as a looming national public health crisis began to take hold, some Idaho politicians exploited this “opportunity” to undermine conservation while they thought no one was looking.
We’ve provided a 2020 wrap-up below.
The session started with the House Resources and Conservation Committee inviting James Taylor from the Heartland Institute to present a policy brief on “Climate Variability in Idaho”. The Heartland Institute is an American conservative and libertarian think tank that specializes in climate change denialism and Taylor’s presentation argued that climate change would actually “benefit” Idaho. While answering questions after the presentation, James Taylor admitted that The Heartland Institute had not worked with any Idaho scientists on the paper, and his presentation failed to address the impact of wildfires, pollution, and heatwaves on Idahoans. He even called Idaho Iowa multiple times. However inaccurate, misleading and downright embarrassing the Heartland Institute’s presentation was; in the end, it is all just a distraction from Idaho scientists conducting incredible research right here in Idaho.
Attacks on climate change science continued in this year’s session with the resurgence of the effort to remove science standards, including any reference to human-caused climate change, from the administrative rules. As you might remember, all of Idaho’s administrative rules expired last year, which meant that this year’s Legislature needed to review each of these rules and either approve or remove them from code.
Idaho’s science standards have been under attack for several years now, despite an outpouring of support by Idahoans from across the state including educators and parents. One legitimate concern by all parties is the education of Idaho’s rural students. With over 7,000 unfilled STEM jobs in the state of Idaho, it’s essential that rural students have access to the same tools to succeed and be placed into good, high-paying jobs. The most up-to-date science education is a big part of this need.
“Standards really create an equity platform for students in the state of Idaho, by opening up opportunities for those rural students to receive access to the same types of resources as students in our more populated parts of the state.” -Melyssa Ferro
With the help of everyone who reached out to their legislators, we were able to protect science standards this session. However, the legislature did not extend the administrative rules again this year so the fight to protect science standards in schools will likely continue next session.
The next attack we saw was an effort to remove the energy conservation standards from Idaho’s building codes, regardless of the broad support from home developers and businesses to families and homeowners of keeping them intact. Senator Lackey and Senator Patrick attempted to remove these standards by not approving the administrative rule docket that they were in.
The energy conservation standards are about more than just lightbulbs and insulation. Idaho’s homes consume 21% of the energy we use in our state. By making sure that our homes don’t waste energy, we meaningfully protect our air quality while also reducing our reliance on out-of-state fossil fuels. Conservation Voters for Idaho worked with a diverse group of stakeholders to ensure that we have energy conservation standards in our code.
After successfully protecting energy standards, we supported a bill sponsored by Rep. Ilana Rubel and Sen. Stennett that would have improved electric vehicle charging infrastructure in new buildings here in Idaho. The resolution aimed to encourage the Idaho Building Codes Board to study how electric vehicle charging stations in multi-unit housing would improve our transportation sector. The study would have made Idaho’s inevitable transition to electric vehicle usage easier and less expensive for everyday Idahoans. Unfortunately, the resolution failed on the Senate floor.
Conservation Voters for Idaho also worked to defeat an effort to remove sections from the Pesticide and Chemigation administrative rule docket with our partners at the Idaho Organization of Resource Councils and the Idaho Conservation League. Removing the sections of rules would have made it harder for the Idaho State Department of Agriculture to enforce safe pesticide application standards. By working together, we were able to protect these rules and defeat HB 487, which would have narrowed pesticide application restrictions in Idaho. We successfully lobbied for the bill to be amended so that it did not remove important restrictions that ensure the safe application of pesticides in Idaho. However, the Governor ended up vetoing this bill because it mandated negotiated rulemaking, which is the Governor’s prerogative.
Last year, Conservation Voters for Idaho worked diligently to protect Idahoans’ right to the ballot initiative processes and the integrity of the independent redistricting commission. We were prepared to fight just as hard this year so we were not surprised when similar bills were introduced. At the beginning of the session, Speaker Bedke promised that there would not be an attack on the independent redistricting commission, but that did not stop them from attacking the ballot initiative process. The two bills that were brought to the legislature this year would narrow the scope of voter initiatives to a single subject, classify paid signature gathering as campaign finance information that must be reported to the Secretary of State, and require a fiscal note to any initiative brought to the ballot.
Although we believe bills that were brought to the floor undermined our ballot initiative process, the bills were far and away not the type of fight we fought last year, due to YOU making your voice heard! Of course, we’ll have to remain hyper vigilant in future sessions.
The attacks on Idaho’s public lands started at the beginning of the session when the Committee on Federalism invited Ken Ivory, former Utah legislator and a known opponent of public lands, to speak at their first meeting of the session. The last time Ivory came to town, he convinced the legislature to spend $100k in taxpayer money to look into the state takeover of public lands, and this time was no different.
At the committee meeting, Ivory pitched his firm’s expensive land analysis tool to the committee, insinuating that the state could use this data to compel the federal government to send more cash to Idaho’s rural communities – but not before Idaho taxpayers sent him a fat check. Conservation Voters for Idaho is grateful the legislature is discussing ways to solve the lack of funding to rural communities, but what we don’t support is using Idaho taxpayer funds to support an out-of-state proposal, especially one coming from such an outspoken proponent of seizing control of public lands. We need to continue these important discussions by focusing on Idaho-based solutions.
“We can make data say pretty much anything we want.” – Ken Ivory to the Idaho Legislature.
Unfortunately, some in the legislature believed differently and introduced HCR 38, a bill that would mandate the State of Idaho to give Ken Ivory $250k to undergo a process to put a price on our public lands. Furthermore, this bill was introduced amidst a global pandemic, so naturally Idahoans’ attention was focused on more important matters. We are heartily disappointed that legislators took advantage of a national crisis to push forward unpopular bills, knowing that everyday Idahoans were all but mandated to stay at home, far from the crowded hearing rooms of the statehouse. Thankfully, HCR 38 did not make it to the Governor’s desk, but Conservation Voters for Idaho will work to hold legislators accountable for their blatant disregard for public safety by exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic.
If that wasn’t enough, there was an effort this session to undermine Idaho’s thoughtful and balanced wildlife decision-making process. HB 514, sponsored by Rep. Shepherd, would have removed the bipartisan membership requirements of the Idaho Fish and Game Commission. The bill would have dismantled the checks-and-balance system currently instituted for the Commission by stripping away language that ensures no one party can have a majority seat on the Commission. This system is actually in place for many Idaho Commissions. When asked at the committee meeting, Rep. Shepherd admitted that he did not include any input from sportsmen and women, hunting and fishing organizations, or even the Idaho Fish and Game Commissioners themselves. Conservation Voters for Idaho swiftly worked with our partners and defeated this bill.
Public Land Access and Recognizing the Value of Public Lands
Conservation Voters for Idaho also supported two pro-public land bills that were unfortunately blocked by anti-public land legislators. The first bill, the Public Access Protection Act, sought to create a civil remedy for the illegal obstruction of public lands and steer conflicts surrounding public land access to the Idaho legal system. This bill was first shot down in the House and then the Senate took up the fight but soon forgot about it. It was held in the Senate Resources and Conservation Committee until the legislature adjourned due to COVID-19.
The second bill sought to recognize the contribution of designated public lands and waters to Idaho and its people through a concurrent resolution. By celebrating the economic benefits, ecological value, and importance of public lands to Idaho’s outdoor way of life, the bill recognized the diverse and varied traditions that surround public lands in Idaho, including the principles of healthy wildlife populations, multiple-use management, and collaborative decision-making. However, the House Resources Committee prevented the resolution from even being heard on the House floor.
This year’s 2020 legislative session was without a doubt challenging.
With attacks on Idaho’s public lands and waters, wildlife, and democracy coming left and right, coupled with the new administrative rule process, we certainly kept busy this session to ensure we monitor how bills would impact our policy priorities moving forward, while making sure your voices were heard in the process.
In fact, thousands of you spoke up in defense of our shared conservation values. We contacted over 15,000 Idahoans to discuss what’s happening in the legislature, and we thank each and every one of you for making your voice heard.
As the national coronavirus crisis mounted, many lawmakers expressed frustration that the legislative session didn’t conclude earlier. But others saw a different opportunity in the crisis — a chance to push forward unpopular bills, knowing that everyday Idahoans were mandated to stay at home, far from the crowded hearing rooms of the Statehouse.
The fact that some politicians prioritized politics over the health and safety of Idahoans emphasizes the fact that elections have consequences. Now more than ever have we seen just how important elections are. Conservation Voters for Idaho is committed to ensuring we keep those who refused to act when it was needed most remain accountable for their lack of leadership during a national crisis.
As noted earlier, the Legislature refused to approve all of the administrative rules, which means we will go through this whole process of protecting science standards and energy conservation standards next session. We are as committed as ever to protecting public lands, clean water, and democracy in Idaho. In light of the recent pandemic, we’ve seen just how important our outdoor spaces are to our mental, emotional, and physical well-being and here at Conservation Voters for Idaho, we promise to continue to fight on behalf of our cherished outdoor heritage.