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Capitol Reflections: 2023 Session, Issue 2

Water Users Convention

This week, the Idaho Water Users Association (IWUA) held its 86th Annual Convention in Boise to discuss the pressing water issues of the state and to establish the organization’s legislative priorities. The event is attended by many water system managers, canal/irrigation companies and district board members, policymakers, state and federal agencies, water engineer firms, and other parties of interest. 

water

Topics discussed during the multi-day event included new and emerging technologies to improve water efficiency in delivery systems, government funding for water storage projects, the water supply outlook for the coming irrigation season, and the impacts of population growth on water systems. The convention also provides the opportunity to hear from the Director of the Idaho Department of Water Resources and the Chairman of the Idaho Water Resource Board.

This year, Director Gary Spackman focused a good portion of his comments on the need for the stakeholders of the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer to stay at the negotiating table and work out the difficult issues of the water dispute in that basin. He stressed that the outcome of a negotiated settlement between the parties would lead to a better outcome than that of a curtailment order issued by the department. 

Among IWUA’s priorities are topics of interest for the Idaho Farm Bureau. Most notable are our mutual areas of support for water infrastructure funding for storage and conservation projects and investment in water quality projects including for CAFOs. Additionally, there is legislation to further emphasize the need to use surface water first prior to utilizing groundwater. There would be a number of practical exceptions to the requirement, but the idea is to limit additional pressures on the state’s groundwater resources.

Farm Bureau policy supports investment in the state’s water infrastructure, funding for water quality projects, and protecting water right holders from any change in the historical use of water that would injure their water right. IFBF looks forward to working with legislators as they prioritize funding for water projects and consider water policy proposals.

Restricted Driver’s License

Conversations continue to happen around the need for a Restricted Driver’s License (RDL) in Idaho. This has been a discussion for a couple of years now, with different versions of a bill being introduced to receive stakeholders’ and legislators’ feedback. This year is no different.

A new draft was worked on during the interim to address concerns brought up in the Senate Transportation Committee last year. Here are some of the big takeaways in the newest version of this legislation:

  • Restricted Driver’s Licenses would be issued directly by ITD, or an entity authorized by it. Meaning county Sheriffs and DMVs would only participate if they actively opted in.
  • Costs of implementation will be offset by program revenue or be revenue positive through a $50 biannual fee.
  • This license is not an endorsement of lawful entry to the U.S. and cannot be used to exercise rights of citizenship (which will also be printed directly onto the card itself).
  • The license cannot be used to register to vote or to vote, to buy alcohol, to buy firearms or be used to exercise any right or privileges reserved for U.S. citizens.
  • To receive an RDL, the individual will be required to go through the same training and testing as required by any other Class D license holder in the state.

Idaho Farm Bureau policy number 133 states “we support legislation granting driving privileges to all persons residing in Idaho who pass the required traffic and driving testing, pay the required licensing fees, and provide proof of automobile insurance. We support this type of legislation only if driving privilege cards cannot be used as a form of identification.”

It is understood that there is need for immigration reform and more secure borders, which is also in Farm Bureau policy. However, those issues must be addressed on the federal level by Congress and the past few years little has been accomplished to move the needle on these fronts. The most recent was the Farm Workforce Modernization Act that, while many hours were put into negotiations, ended with nothing moving forward at this time.

At this point, it is recognized that there are undocumented workers already in Idaho that are driving on Idaho roads. Without federal reform, there is little that can be done to address this on a state level. It still poses the issue of safety on Idaho roads for all Idahoans and there is something that we can do on the state level about that. The RDL would ensure trained drivers are on the roads as well as provide the necessary driving history and tracking to be able to purchase insurance. In general, an Office of Performance Evaluation study found that accidents with unlicensed drivers are 3x deadlier than accidents with licensed drivers and unlicensed drivers are 9.5x more likely to flee the scene of an accident. Restricted Driver’s Licenses will hold them to the same standard as citizens, permanent residents, and lawful visitors by ensuring the safety training and insurance are in place that are currently required. Having an RDL program means a higher rate of licensed, insured and trained drivers on Idaho roads, which means overall safer roads for all Idahoans.

When discussing an RDL program, it comes down to a safety issue for the state, not an immigration issue that can only be solved by the Federal government. This type of program is good for Idaho as it provides employees with the training and insurance they need to contribute to the workforce (through multiple industries), it provides employers with employees who have had training and the assurance that they can be covered by the company’s insurance, and it provides safer roads to all Idahoans with fewer unlicensed and uninsured drivers. 

Idaho Farm Bureau will continue to work with stakeholders and legislators to further the discussion on a Restricted Driver’s License program in Idaho and see what can be accomplished here at our Statehouse. We will also continue our diligent work in cooperation with American Farm Bureau to push for much needed immigration reform from our federal government.

Click here for an informational handout and a growing list of supportive groups.

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