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‘It’s here, and we’ll have to deal with it’

The Senate was creeping toward HB 249a on its calendar this afternoon – the highly controversial bill to impose the state’s gas tax on Indian reservation fuel sales if tribes don’t reach agreements with Gov. Butch Otter by Dec. 1. At the same time, leaders of all five of Idaho’s Indian tribes were gathered in the rotunda just outside the Senate chambers for today’s meeting of the Idaho Indian Affairs Council, which includes legislators, tribal representatives, and a representative from the governor’s office. It was starting to look like the Senate was going to launch into debating the legislation just 15 minutes before the council meeting was scheduled to start – which would’ve meant the tribal leaders would’ve been stuck outside, waiting to get into the designated room for the council meeting while the Senate debated legislation they strongly oppose. But Sen. Lee Heinrich, R-Cascade, the floor sponsor, asked the Senate to hold off for a day, “in order for me to receive some additional information that I intend to use.”

Just a few minutes later, the council meeting started in the caucus room behind the Senate chambers, and the fuel tax bill was a hot topic. “We will be debating it tomorrow,” council Chairman Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, told the group. Bob Wells, the governor’s office liaison to the council, said, “We did not initiate the legislation. We would not have brought that legislation this year, but it’s here, and we’ll have to deal with it.”

Lee Juan Tyler of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes urged a veto if the bill passes. “Hopefully the governor will veto this thing on behalf of all our tribes,” he told the council. “There’s other issues out there – we’ve got to get together as Idahoans, as Americans.”

Jorgenson told the tribal leaders, “Tomorrow will be, I think, a very good debate. Certainly your interests will be made a matter of record, and there are a number of people who support you strongly.”


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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