North Idaho lawmaker wants halt in water quality enforcement
BOISE – A second-term state representative from the Silver Valley proposed a bill Monday that would halt all water-quality enforcement in Idaho while every waterway in the state is tested.
Rep. Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton, said she had no idea what that testing would cost, but said she thought the federal Environmental Protection Agency had enough money to pay for it.
Her bill was rejected, and lawmakers had lots of questions about it that McMillan couldn’t answer. This followed an incident in the House earlier in the day, when she was unable to answer questions from other members about a controversial elk disease testing bill she was carrying. McMillan suffered a stroke in 2012.
“I feel so bad for her – twice in one day,” said Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake.
House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said, “She’s been so quiet and so much in the background. This is one of the first days we’ve gotten to see her present a bill since the stroke.”
McMillan represents North Idaho’s Silver Valley, along with a swath of the state that stretches down to Riggins.
House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, asked Agriculture Committee Chairman Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, to field the questions about the elk bill when McMillan couldn’t.
“She got bogged down, and that’s too bad for her,” Andrus said afterward. He said McMillan requested a chance to carry the bill in the full House. “I totally anticipated it would get to the point that I would need to say something. Unfortunately I didn’t get it done before that happened,” Andrus said. “I assume that it’s because of her stroke that she has difficulty.”
Andrus added that he had confidence in McMillan. “She’s really quite a bright lady,” he said.
After the House Environment Committee rejected her water quality bill, McMillan struggled to answer questions about why she wanted to suspend all water quality enforcement in the state until the testing she called for was completed.
Said Rusche, “It was very difficult to understand what she was trying to accomplish.”
McMillan said a constituent brought the issue to her and wrote up the bill for her. Asked who it was, she said she didn’t have his name. “It’s been on our minds for a long time,” she said.
Reading from “talking points,” McMillan told the panel, “Requiring that discharge is more pure than a natural background level is an undue burden upon businesses and local governments and is beyond the scope and intent of water quality laws.”
Committee members were taken aback. Among their questions: Why the bill also forbade the state Department of Environmental Quality from imposing any water temperature requirements in the state.
“It talked about all water regulations – that’d be drinking water regulations, swimming water regulations,” Rusche said.
Rep. Ed Morse, R-Hayden, said he’s sympathetic to McMillan’s concerns about “a localized condition that relates to mineralization and water.” But, he asked, “Why is this bill drafted in a manner that suspends all water quality enforcement statewide?” McMillan replied, “Because I took it up to the legislative services, and this is what they gave me.”
Bedke said, “I know that Rep. McMillan has had some health issues. But there are other members of the House who have health issues.”
He said he directed House members’ questions to Andrus because “she was struggling to answer the question, and I thought that the … House needed some broader sense of the discussion that happened in the committee.”
After much debate, the elk-testing bill passed the House on a 42-27 vote and now heads to the Senate; it decreases disease-testing requirements for farmed elk.
McMillan said she’ll make another run at her water quality bill. “I will talk to my constituent about it and we will fix it and go on from there,” she said.
Rep. Elaine Smith, D-Pocatello, said, “What she wanted was not in the bill. … You could tell she was having some difficulties, and I think the committee was pretty easy on her, considering.”