The Legislature's Natural Resources Interim Committee is taking a course in “Trust Law 101,” starting with a presentation from University of Idaho professor and author Jay O'Laughlin. Idaho's state endowment is a trust for which the Land Board holds a fiduciary duty, O'Laughlin told lawmakers. That means they must manage the trust's assets for the sole benefit of the trust beneficiaries - mainly public schools, but also the University of Idaho and other state institutions - not for the general public. “It is a fact that trust businesses have always competed with the private sector,” O'Laughlin said. “The underlying issue here is determining the appropriate business enterprises from which to maximize income from the endowment assets.”
The panel also is hearing today from University of Idaho constitutional law professor Dennis Colson; current and former state Land Board members; representatives of the trust beneficiaries; and more. Tomorrow, the joint committee will hear about the management of the trust's current assets, from the state's permanent endowment fund to timber and grazing land to cottage sites. The committee is meeting in room EW 42 of the state Capitol; live audio from its meetings is being streamed live here.
The discussion follows the introduction of HB 188 in this year's Legislature by Rep. Bob Schaefer, R-Nampa, which sought to place limits on the state Land Board's management of endowment lands, including requiring that “all business operations located on or using said land, shall be sold to private persons.” The measure, which didn't pass either house, was co-sponsored by five other state lawmakers.
The Natural Resources Interim Committee includes 10 state lawmakers from both houses, plus eight more lawmakers from both houses who serve as ad hoc members. Colson, an expert on Idaho's state constitution, shared the history of the endowment and constitutional requirements with the lawmakers. “The idea was that the endowment was directly related to keeping taxes low for public schools,” he said.