Legislative Update - Week 4, January 30 - February 3
Thank you all so much for the outstanding attendance at this past weekend’s round of Town Hall Meetings! Representative Jaquet, Representative Pence and I were beyond pleased with your intelligent questions and engaging dialog. I noted a common trend of concern revolving around oil and gas rights and also mental health funding, so I will take time to address those items in this week’s newsletter.
Although I do not serve on the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee (JFAC), its committee members took testimony today from concerned citizens about the lack of funding allocated to mental health services and programs. This is a grave concern. Our developmentally disabled and mentally ill citizens rely on funding from the Department of Health and Welfare to function in society. Since 2006, Idaho’s Courts have already seen a dramatic increase of 151% in mental health commitment proceedings which is a rise that began shortly after the economic decline. Without the money to make treatment readily available and affordable, that number is likely to continue rising, which will further stress county agencies, state correctional facilities, and taxpayers.
This week Senator James Hammond (R-5) presented House Bill 404 (HO404) to the State Affairs Committee. The bill prohibits camping on state property, specifically Capitol Mall property, and contains an emergency clause forcing it to become effective immediately upon its passage rather than July 1, as is customary. I sat in committee and heard eloquent testimony from members of the Occupy Boise Movement, some of whom were veterans firmly reminding us to remember they fought for our first amendment rights. Valid concerns regarding language that would trample due process protections guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution were raised during testimony and echoed by Majority Leader Bart Davis, an attorney by profession. Senate Pro Tem Brent Hill was clearly moved by the testimony of this group of impassioned yet impeccably civil citizens and wondered at the need for an emergency clause. With such concerns looming, the bill was sent to the floor for amendments. I firmly believe that when we silence what we don’t want to hear, we open a space for being silenced when we want to be heard. I voted no on this bill.
On to a topic that many of us are deeply concerned about: oil and gas hydraulic fracturing, aka “fracking.” We have been debating fracking regulations for two weeks in Resources and Environment Committee and it is clear that fracking will be coming to Idaho. Our role is to try to hold the oil and gas industry to the safest methods possible. Food grade compounds are preferred whenever feasible and Idaho’s fresh water definitions are held at a stricter standard than many other states. There are many sections of these pending rules that are the best that the industry has to offer. Unfortunately companies will still be able to use chemicals containing carcinogens, but they will be forced to disclose in the application process which chemicals will be used. As time passes and we learn more about what works best for our state, the regulations will likely be amended. We are working hard in committee to vet this extensive document to protect our clean water and resources. Our hope is to avoid the destructive depth of contaminations experienced by citizens in other states. A comprehensive breakdown of the pros and cons of the document can be found here: Oil and Gas Fracking in Idaho