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Eye on Boise: Bill would eliminate regulation of farm product sales

BOISE - Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, is proposing an “Idaho Farm Freedom Act” that would exempt from any licensing, certification or inspection requirement the sale of farm products at farmers markets, at roadside stands, or directly to consumers, including for a “traditional community social event” like weddings, church socials, school events or potlucks.

The bill, HB 431, “seeks to encourage local farm and agriculture economies by allowing an unregulated and uninhibited relationship between the farmer and/or the farmer’s agent and the end consumer of the farm product,” according to its statement of purpose.

There were several people ready to testify and a letter from the Food Producers of Idaho expressing concerns about the bill when the House Agriculture Committee met last week for a hearing on the measure, but Hart asked them to hold off on the hearing. The North Idaho lawmaker, who had introduced the measure as a personal bill, said he didn’t realize until the night before that it would be up for a hearing and wasn’t ready.

The Food Producers asked in their letter, “Why would we want to risk consumer health and potentially cause harm to the reputation of farmers markets in Idaho?” The group urged lawmakers to oppose the bill “for the good of Idaho agriculture and protection of the buy local movement impacting our state.”

Sali may run for Idaho House

Former Idaho U.S. Rep. Bill Sali, who popped up at the Statehouse last week proposing a specialty license plate bill to raise funds for his new nonprofit organization, the American Heritage Foundation, said he’s considering running for the state Legislature again. “I am looking at this open seat out here,” Sali said. “We have not made a final decision yet, but I’m looking at it.” Sali served 16 years in the Idaho House before serving one term in Congress; he lost to Democrat Walt Minnick in 2008.

Raw milk bill dumped

Dalton Gardens Rep. Vito Barbieri proposed legislation to ease Idaho’s rules on sales of raw milk, and he ran into opposition in the House Agriculture Committee, whose members noted that extensive work was done just last year to revise Idaho’s rules for raw milk.

“We did compromise a lot,” said Rep. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls. “This kind of takes a lot of that away.” Said Rep. Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, “I think this is opening the door that we tried to close last year.” Rep. Roy Lacey, D-Pocatello, said, “I’m concerned about this, because it pretty much opens it up to everybody. Pretty much anybody can produce raw milk and sell it.” Barbieri responded, “I believe you’re correct.”

Under questioning from the committee, Barbieri said he didn’t work with either of the groups that worked on the issue all last session. “Essentially it’s just eliminating a layer of regulation,” Barbieri said. Patrick said, “Milk is very dangerous if it’s not handled properly,” and moved to reject Barbieri’s proposal; the motion passed, and the bill won’t be introduced.

Counties want vote-by-mail

At the Idaho Association of Counties Midwinter Conference, the assembled county officials sent a remarkably strong message: They want vote-by-mail to improve how Idaho’s elections work. It’s an issue that’s been roundly and repeatedly rejected in the Legislature in recent years. A crowd of about 250 county officials – elected county commissioners, clerks, assessors and sheriffs from around the state – was asked how many want vote-by-mail; nearly every hand in the room went up.

Anti-EPA bill killed

Legislation from Rep. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, attempting to ban the EPA from the state of Idaho by repealing 10 state laws that recognize the federal agency’s role in environmental regulation in the state, was rejected by House committee on a 9-5 vote, as lawmakers declined even to introduce it.

“Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like EPA,” said Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa. Rep. Marc Gibbs, R-Grace, noted that Harwood himself told the House Environment Committee the bill was flawed.

Harwood defended his proposal, saying he wanted to get it printed and introduced to start a conversation among states. “This is the right piece of legislation because this has to do with environmental quality, and what we’re doing is removing 10 pieces of legislation that we’ve given permission for the EPA to be here and it’s in this chunk of deal,” he said. “That’s the main thing for this piece of legislation.”

Rep. Dell Raybould, R-Rexburg, the committee’s chairman, said the measure’s fiscal note was inaccurate because it said there would be no impact to the state general fund. “I believe there is,” he said, noting that the state Department of Environmental Quality would lose millions in federal funds and would have to pick up the EPA’s regulatory programs to comply with federal laws.

Reporter Betsy Z. Russell can be reached at betsyr@spokesman. com or (208) 336-2854.