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An aerial applicator takes flight at the Gooding, Idaho, Municipal Airport. A bill in the Idaho Legislature would require the state Department of Agriculture to rewrite its rules on how penalties for applicators are decided.

The Idaho House Agricultural Affairs Committee on Feb. 24 endorsed legislation clarifying the potential penalties aerial applicators would face for rule violations.

House Bill 487, for which the House Agricultural Affairs Committee approved a do-pass recommendation after two hours of debate, would add rules clarifying the potential penalties for environmental or safety violations.

David Lehman of the approximately 50-member Idaho Agricultural Aviation Association said people accused of violating aerial application rules now go into an Idaho State Department of Agriculture hearing knowing only the maximum penalties. Typically, those maximums serve as a starting point for a negotiation.

“There is no structure now,” he told House Ag Affairs.

HB 487 would increase clarity and fairness, and, for the first time in about 20 years, update the relevant statute to fit today’s industry, Lehman said.

The bill would eliminate ambiguous language in the statute and require ISDA, through negotiated rule-making, to write rules related to penalties and restrictions.

HB 487’s text says in part that rules related to restrictions and penalties must be reviewed and reissued through negotiated rule-making at least every five years, and “include penalty-assessment guidelines and a penalty-assessment matrix that clearly defines the penalty based on the level of the violation, the effects of the violation, and whether the violation was made knowingly or unknowingly.”

John Cooper, an aerial applicator based in Burley, said the current system can produce excessive fines as well as long suspensions that are significant given the airplanes can cost well over $1 million.

The Idaho Conservation League opposes HB 487 as weakening ISDA’s statutory authority to protect workers and communities from aerial pesticide spraying. External Relations Director Jonathan Oppenheimer said the need for the bill needs to be further established.

Rep. Gary Marshall, R-Idaho Falls, questioned the idea to add rules instead of passing a law that changes or replaces the statute. Additional rules, he said, would reduce flexibility and possibly recourse opportunity. He proposed holding the bill so more information could be gathered.

Lehman said if HB 437 proves insufficient or ineffective, the industry could return in a future legislative session to propose a statutory change.

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