Idaho Legislature’s interim committee begins process of appraising federal lands

The subcommittee shifted gears after initially scrutinizing President Biden’s new COVID-19 rules

By: - September 28, 2021 5:35 pm
Legislative interim committee meets at the Idaho Capitol

Idaho Deputy Attorney General Julie Weaver speaks to the Committee on Federalism on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021, at the Idaho Capitol. (Clark Corbin/Idaho Capital Sun)

The Idaho Legislature’s Committee on Federalism shifted gears Tuesday and hardly mentioned President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine and testing rules for employers.

Instead, the committee talked about federal lands, Biden’s America the Beautiful conservation plan, unemployment benefits and refugee settlement in Idaho. 

The 10-member committee, which includes eight Republicans and two Democrats, convened Sept. 22 after Speaker of the Idaho House Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, called for the committee to “vigorously defend the Idaho values we hold dear against this administration’s unrelenting acts of federal overreach.”

The first meeting was completely devoted to Biden’s COVID-19 rules for employers. Those rules include requiring federal employees to be vaccinated and requiring employees of federal contractors to be vaccinated. Biden also asked the Department of Labor to issue a temporary standard under OSHA to require employers with more than 100 employees to require their employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19 or be tested weekly. 

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At the outset of Tuesday’s meeting, Sen. Steve Vick, a Dalton Gardens Republican who serves as co-chairman of the committee, said the committee’s members originally wanted to keep discussing Biden’s vaccine and testing rules, but had to shift gears when a guest speaker couldn’t make the meeting. 

“We were unable to get the speaker here that we wanted to,” Vick told committee members.

Biden’s new plan for vaccine, testing requirements hasn’t yet been published

Last week, Idaho Chief Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane told the committee the state would likely be “cordoned off” from having authority over elements of Biden’s plan that involve federal rules for federal employees. Kane also advised legislators on the committee to wait until they see what is in Biden’s temporary standard for employers with more than 100 employees. That standard hasn’t been published or taken effect. Kane estimated that could happen anytime between October and December. 

Some of the more conservative members of the Legislature have been pushing in recent weeks for legislative leaders to reconvene the Legislature to fight back against federal and local vaccine and testing requirements. 

But that issue was on the back burner Tuesday.

Lawmakers want to study taxable value of federal land in Idaho

Instead, the committee devoted the morning portion of Tuesday’s meeting to federal lands in Idaho. The committee voted to authorize a request for more information on technology to appraise and evaluate the “fair taxable value” of federal lands in Idaho.

The evaluation and appraisal date back to the 2021 session, when the Legislature adopted House Concurrent Resolution 8, which called for the appraisal. 

The resolution also provided $250,000 in state funding to pilot technology for the appraisal. The resolution also called on the Committee on Federalism to study the impact of the U.S. government’s payment in lieu of taxes (or PILT) program, which provides payments to local governments such as counties and school districts that have a high percentage of federal land and less taxable private land.

House Concurrent Resolution 8 states that 63.7% of all land in Idaho is controlled by the federal government and is not subject to state and local taxes.

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“Without regard to the long-standing debate over whether the federal government should ever relinquish control of Idaho lands, as long as the federal government does withhold lands from being subject to tax, the federal government should pay the full amount in lieu of tax revenue denied our taxing entities,” the resolution states. 

Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, said she hopes the appraisal data is available for legislators to review during the 2022 session, which begins in January. 

The committee did not take any public testimony Tuesday. The committee did not take any other votes than authorizing the request for information as a precursor to the bidding process for appraising federal lands in Idaho. 

The Committee on Federalism has announced one additional meeting planned for Oct. 4 at the Idaho Statehouse. Committee meetings are streamed live online, for free, using Idaho Public Television’s Idaho in Session Service.

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Clark Corbin
Clark Corbin

Clark Corbin has more than a decade of experience covering Idaho government and politics. He has covered every Idaho legislative session since 2011 gavel-to-gavel. Prior to joining the Idaho Capital Sun he reported for the Idaho Falls Post Register and Idaho Education News. His reporting in Idaho has helped uncover a multimillion-dollar investment scam and exposed inaccurate data that school districts submitted to the state.

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