We go to the Senate floor every day usually about 11:30. We work through the order of business in about a half an hour with no real debate or conflict at this point in the session. Most of the work this week has been in committee meetings. We are reviewing rules.
I am told this rule review by the legislature makes Idaho unique. Where other states leave the implementation of legislation up to the executive agencies, the Idaho legislature is given the prerogative to set administrative rules to ensure the intent of the legislation is carried out effectively and efficiently. Sometimes they update rules to fit changes in procedures that have evolved. Sometimes they just try to make them work better.
When these rules are changed they need to be reviewed by the legislature.
It can be mundane. On the Health and Welfare Committee we reviewed 4 rules for 4 different programs that needed the new words to allow an electronic signature. It didn’t take long.
We also considered a new rule in the Health and Welfare Committee to raise the asset limit for people applying for Food Stamps. The rule used to set the limit at $2000. So it didn’t count your house and one car, but your ATV and fishing boat and tools could have kept you from getting food stamps. Idaho has led the nation this last two years in new people applying for food stamps. We are in tough times. So last year the asset rule was suspended. No questions about assets were asked of those that applied. This didn’t sit well with last year’s legislature so the department drafted a rule that set the exclusion limit higher at $5000. We heard testimony and passed that rule this week. You can keep your tools and trailer when you are laid off and still qualify for food stamps.
Among the rule that were Okayed in the Senate Commerce Committee were rules for mortician training and barber testing.
The Senate Agriculture committee reviewed the change in standards for milk. And we learned what a rancher will be allowed to feed cattle and still qualify them for the designation “Organic.”
About the only drama came this morning when we were reviewing a rule about domestic elk. There’s a long history of disagreement between the guides and hunting associations and the domestic elk ranchers. There is a big worry that the domestic herds will harbor disease that will get out and infect the wild elk. And domestic elk have and do escape. But there has never been a reported case of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD, the elk equivalent of Mad Cow disease) in domestic Idaho elk. Colorado, Nebraska, Utah, Montana, Canada, New Mexico, and places east have had the disease. But not Idaho, not yet.
So we had a proposed rule change with two parts. First the Ag Department wanted increase what domestic elk ranchers pay so the costs of the program were covered. And the Department of Agriculture wanted each ranch to have a management plan. But the process failed. Over the last year and a half the Idaho Dept of Ag had tried to get the elk ranchers to sit down and negotiate what the rules should be. They wouldn’t meet. So there was testimony today for and against the new rules. These hearings are open and public comment is taken. We had the Director of the Ag Department ask us to approve the rules. Two folks asked us not to approve the rules. We got to ask them questions. Nobody took an oath and the questioning was pretty mild.
It seemed pretty clear to me. Elk ranchers don’t want to have more rules placed on them. They want to do what they want to do on their own property. “Private Property Rights” was a recurrent phrase. They see the regulations as excessive intrusions. I thought it seemed pretty reasonable, given the importance of elk hunting and the risks to the native herds from disease.
But we could not agree. A motion to postpone the vote was made and then a substitute motion was made to approve the rule. It failed and now we will vote again on the rule Feb 10th. So much for making the hard decisions our governor asked us to do. I thought with all those people there, showing up and expecting us to decide, we ought to do our job. I voted to approve the rules. I lost. Maybe I’ll get another chance. Our schedule for Feb 10th has the Senate Agriculture Committee on a bus to visit a dairy. Maybe the decision will be made out of the view of the public.
I asked a colleague on the committee why she voted against approving the rule change. “Dan, there’s just too many regulations.”