So far, today’s Senate State Affairs Committee hearing on the Nez Perce water rights agreement is a little more low-key than the earlier House committee hearings. Only about 100 people are in the audience at Boise City Hall, while two or three times that many packed the earlier hearings at Boise State University. And many of those scheduled to testify this morning also testified at the House hearings.
But senators are asking different kinds of questions than their House counterparts, including legal questions about the ins and outs of the complicated agreement, court decisions, precedents and so forth.
“We’re still going to get all of the benefit of Judge Wood’s decision – it will stand,” Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, said while questioning Roger Ling of the Federal Claims Coalition.
He and other senators noted that Idaho Judge Barry Wood’s earlier decision to reject the Nez Perce Tribe’s off-reservation instream flow water claims addressed just a small part of what’s covered by the far-reaching water rights agreement.
But Dan Johnson, executive director of the North Idaho Jurisdictional Alliance, who testified next, told the panel that the earlier decision “should be the end of the discussion – the state should stand by their guns.”
This afternoon, public testimony will be taken. Among those waiting to testify are representatives of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, which held a press conference on the state Capitol steps yesterday and threatened to sue the state, the federal government and the Nez Perce if the agreement is enacted.
The Sho-Bans claimed that the agreement wrongly includes water that’s within their aboriginal land boundaries. But state officials have dismissed those claims, saying The Sho-Bans voluntarily withdrew their water rights claims in the Snake River Basin Adjudication in court proceedings several years ago.
The agreement already has been approved by Congress and the president. To take effect, it needs approval from the state and the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee by March 31.