Farm Bureau official says most ag issues caused by government
By MATTHEW WEAVER
COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho -- The federal government will create most of the issues facing Idaho farmers in 2012, a Farm Bureau official says.
"Most of our troubles are clearly on the federal level because of this administration," Idaho Farm Bureau Director of Governmental Affairs Kent Lauer said. "It seems like every other week there's a new one, whether it's dust regulation or child (labor) regulations."
Lauer made the comment during a legislative update panel Nov. 29 at the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation's 72nd annual meeting in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.
During his luncheon address Nov. 29, Idaho Farm Bureau Federation President Frank Priestley said the organization had grown by 1,622 members from the previous year and now totals 66,290 members, an all-time high.
Priestley said the federation would set its priorities on issues affecting agriculture during its house of delegates sessions. The organization works to supply information to members on key bills and ways to be involved and communicate with elected officials.
"Those are the things that we need to stand up and not be the silent majority," Priestley said. "We need to go ahead and express ourselves and let them know how these things are affecting us down on the farm."
He also announced new office buildings in Latah and Jerome counties and land purchased in Fremont County, with building expected in the spring.
On the state legislative level, Lauer said he doesn't foresee significant water legislation emerging in the next session. He does expect to see more on eminent domain, after a bill that would have stopped the government from taking private property for bike trails failed earlier this year.
New natural gas development rules will go before the legislature to protect ground and surface water. Lauer recommended farmers ensure they still own the mineral rights to their property. Gas companies have to negotiate agreements with mineral right owners to compensate them for development activity.
Dennis Tanikuni, assistant director of governmental affairs, said a bill to remove the tax exemption for off-road or farm diesel may also be resurrected.
Brent Olmstead, president of the Milk Producers of Idaho, expects more congressional attempts to mandate the E-Verify system to check the immigration status of employees. A better guestworker program would be preferred, Olmstead said.
He also advised farmers to keep their I-9 files separate from personnel files. If U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials perform an audit of the farm, they only have a right to look at the I-9 form, Olmstead said, but they could go through all the paperwork "on a fishing expedition" if it's included in the personnel files.
I-9 forms must be filled out after a worker is hired. Even a farmer's son or daughter must fill one out. If not, it's a violation of federal law, Olmstead said. Fines can range from $150 to $1,500.
"We have problems finding labor now; if your kids can't work for you, what are you going to do?" he said, pointing to other possible changes in child labor.
Olmstead also advised farmers to make note of any training sessions for employees on equipment in case of an injury or including any rules or regulations in their employee handbook.
Doing so may help protect employers from lawsuits if a worker is terminated for failing to adhere to those rules, Olmstead said.