Newsletter: Jan. 25, 2014

January 26, 2014

Water, Rules, and the Budget

This week in the Senate Agricultural Affairs Committee, the Idaho Department of Water Resources (IDWR) director Gary Spackman and the Idaho Water Board presented an overview of important and emergent water issues. Water Board Chairman Roger Chase spoke about a water recharge bill that will facilitate increased aquifer recharge in Idaho. In years of heavy mountain snow pack, flood waters are released and flow down the river unused. Those flood waters must be diverted into recharge sites. The IDWR director has requested additional funding to develop necessary recharge sites. An accompanying recharge bill will further codify IDWR’s authority to recharge using excess water. Regretfully, this spring there likely won’t be recharge because of extremely low snow pack. We must be better prepared to capture runoff water in future good water years to bank against drought. We are in dire trouble for this growing season and need to pray for moisture.

The legislative rules review process is nearly complete. The ability of the legislature to review rules is one of the best oversight tools in Idaho. After laws are passed, state agencies draft rules which describe how the agency will regulate according to the pertinent law. On the federal level, the regulations are posted in the Federal Registry, and after a brief comment period, have the effect of law. Congress does not have the ability to review the rules and regulations to ensure the intent of the law is being followed. Not so in Idaho. Each rule proposed by an agency is carefully reviewed by the legislature to ensure the agency regulation is consistent with the intent of the statute.

Here’s an example. Last week the Guides and Outfitters Board (G&O) proposed a rule that would have expanded their authority to regulate some businesses. Historically, the G&O have primarily required licensure and regulated hunting and fishing guides. The proposed expansion would have possibly extended to a rancher who took a group of folks for a horse ride on his private property. The rancher could have been required to buy a G&O license. In the opinion of the Resource Committees, that would have been an infringement on personal property rights, so the rule was rejected.

Over the years, several attempts have been made to weaken or remove Idaho’s legislative rules review process. We cannot let that happen. There would be virtually no oversight of agency regulations. The legislature is proposing a Constitutional Amendment to protect the legislative rules review process forever. Should the amendment pass both the Senate and House with a 2/3 majority, the amendment will appear on the November ballot for approval.

The topic receiving the most discussion is how to equitably divide the budget dollars between Education and the myriad of other agency needs. On years like this, when there is a modest improvement in tax revenue, the agency budget requests are great. I favor a balanced approach with priority given to education, public safety and savings. When appropriating our sacred tax dollars, transparency and accountability are essential.

As always, your input is welcome. Many of the best ideas for problem solving come from the good citizens of Bingham County. You may easily contact me at sbair@senate.idaho.gov.

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