Bill to create Committee on Federalism heads to Senate

March 20, 2019

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A Senate committee on Wednesday sent to the Senate legislation to create a panel to monitor how federal laws affect Idaho’s sovereignty and possibly to be combined with another bill aimed at creating a council on federal lands.

The Senate State Affairs Committee voted 7-2 to send the legislation to create the Committee on Federalism to the Senate for amending. The bill has already passed the House.

Another separate piece of legislation creating a Council on Federal Lands is already in the Senate awaiting amendments. That bill put forward by Republican Rep. Judy Boyle has also already passed the House.

Republican Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Winder said the bills could be combined in some way to result in one committee involving elements of both bills.

Republican Rep. Jason Monks, sponsor of the federalism committee bill, said he would be open to such a move as well as possibly increasing the number of committee members to more than eight lawmakers. The power of the committee would be limited to advising lawmakers of its findings, Monks said.

Those opposed to the federalism commission said it duplicates existing government entities and the $10,000 to $15,000 estimated annual cost low-balls the actual cost because the committee can hire consultants and attorneys.

Those opposed are also concerned that the committee would be a repeat of a previous committee from several years ago seeking to force the U.S. government to turn over federal public lands to the state.

In general, those in favor of the federalism committee say it could help inform lawmakers on federal issues. Winder also said the committee wouldn’t be a repeat of Idaho trying to take control of federal lands, partly as recognition of the way Idaho became a state and agreements with the federal government that precluded such a possibility.

“People love our access to our public lands,” he said during the meeting. “I think we learned that lesson. I don’t think this is an effort to stir that up or to try to take that over.”

But he said a committee could help lawmakers in the House and Senate better understand the state’s interaction with the federal government.

“We’re expected to come and listen to the public to try and make good public policy, and I think that these types of committees help educate legislators,” he said. “They help them know what’s going on and gives them a chance to interact with the agencies.”

Republican Senate President Pro Tempore Brent Hill also spoke in favor of the bill and suggested sideboards involving the hiring of attorneys and consultants to make the estimated annual cost of $10,000 to $15,000 more realistic.

The previous Idaho committee involving federal lands had a similar estimate but cost about $50,000 annually with the hiring of attorneys.

Jonathan Oppenheimer of the Idaho Conservation League testified in opposition to the bill, saying the committee duplicated other aspects of the executive branch as well as state agencies with full-time workers involved in federal issues. He also said numerous other entities were involved in federal-state issues.

“We have dozens of organizations and interests and entities that pursue questions of constitutionality,” he said. “This is not a role for the state to wade into to have an unlimited blank check, especially when we already have existing authorities to do just what this council is proposing.”

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