Lobbyists say they want to protect past wins, not seek new programs in session
By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
Idaho agriculture will be on the defensive this legislative session, trying to protect the resources it has and not asking for much more, said Rick Waitley, executive director of Food Producers of Idaho.
"We're not bringing things to the table like we would have done in the past," he said. "We've been carefully advised that we need to be aware of what the current economic situation is."
That said, the organization -- with a diverse membership of producer groups, government, bankers and the University of Idaho -- will weigh in on pertinent issues, but it is only offering a couple of new proposals.
One proposal is to modify the state's Seed Indemnity Fund to bring it in line with changes made last year to the Commodity Indemnity Fund. The bill would reduce financial risk to the Seed Indemnity Fund by requiring first-time license applicants to submit audited or reviewed financial statements. It would also exempt the fund from liability for uninsurable perils.
Another proposal would add teeth to the state's Invasive Species Act, Waitley said. It would beef up inspection of vehicles and watercraft at inspection stations by clarifying inspection requirements. It would also give officers the authority to enforce the law, require inspections, issue hold orders and require decontamination.
Food Producers of Idaho will be watching other legislation and funding cuts.
Animal cruelty legislation by Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, is of high interest, Waitley said. The legislation aims to distinguish companion animals from production livestock. It would make animal cruelty a felony, clarify the role of law enforcement in regard to companion animals and Idaho State Department of Agriculture's role in production livestock welfare. It would also designate Idaho as a horse slaughter state.
Food Producers of Idaho is also continuing to watch the uncertain fate of the Idaho Soil Conservation Commission. In Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's $40 million cut to the state's budget, the commission is one that could be eliminated, Waitley said. That would bode ill for the state's 51 districts.
"Right now, they have money in ISDA, but it's just placement money; it doesn't solidify anything," Waitley said.
If Otter does away with the state commission, the grant writers who help secure federal money for state projects will be gone, and so will the money and projects, he said.
The group is also closely monitoring funding for University of Idaho research and experiment stations. The university has lost $20 million in state funding, and both the Parma and Tetonia stations were destined for the chopping block. Private funding seems to have bought the facilities some time, but the broader issue is not off the table.
A budget cut of $10 million for the Idaho Center for Livestock and Environmental Studies is also something the group is not willing to give up without debate, Waitley said.
In all these issues, Food Producers' job as advisers and lobbyists is to explain the ramifications to legislators, he said.
"We're going to be there to say 'this is vitally important to us,'" he said.
Another bill being watched could make changes to truck inspections and covered loads, Waitley said.
Another proposed bill seeks to lessen the financial load to commodity commissions, quasi-government agencies required to do annual audits. For years, the audits were done by the State Auditor's office but then were thrown back into the private sector, which increases the cost. A two-year audit that used to cost about $2,500 now costs about $6,000, he said. The proposal seeks the change the requirement of a full-blown audit to a less-costly financial review.
Food Producers of Idaho: www.foodproducersofidaho.org
Idaho Legislature: www.legislature.idaho.gov