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Field burning alternative is newly defined

Compiled from staff reports The Spokesman-Review


Gov. Dirk Kempthorne has signed into law a bill creating a controversial new definition of “economically viable alternative” to field burning – days after the Senate narrowly approved the measure.

“It’s important that we define exactly what ‘viable economic alternative’ is,” said Mike Journee, the governor’s spokesman. “There’s been some question about that.”

The definition says the only economically viable alternative to field burning would be something that achieves the same agricultural objectives and doesn’t cost farmers a cent more, either in the short term or long term. The state agriculture director currently has to make a determination every year that no economically viable alternative is available in order to allow field burning.

Opponents of HB 33 have argued it will make it harder to find alternatives to field burning, which is profitable for grass-seed farmers because it brings on another crop without reseeding.

Concerns center around burning on the Rathdrum Prairie, where wind patterns push thick smoke into the Sandpoint area. The smoke often settles there, leading to potentially serious health problems for people exposed to it.

The state has been sued over the director’s determination the last two years by clean air advocates, arguing that the reasoning has been “arbitrary and capricious.” But recent rulings by two district judges have gone in the state’s favor on each case.

The law takes effect July 1.

State Senate passes legislation on medical bills


Legislation making it harder for poor people to qualify as indigent and get their medical bills paid by the county and state won final approval in the state Senate on Thursday and now heads to the governor’s desk.

Under current law, people aren’t considered indigent if they can pay off the medical bill within three years. HB 282 ups that to five years.

“Simply put, senators, taxpayers should not foot the bill when an applicant can pay over a reasonable period of time,” Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, told the Senate.

The bill, which earlier passed the House, was opposed by Idaho hospitals, which said it would essentially treat them as lending institutions and protested that it was developed without their input.

“This particular piece of legislation does shift costs – it shifts costs from the counties to the hospitals,” said Sen. Kate Kelly, D-Boise.

Sen. Denton Darrington, R-Declo, said, “This bill really is a double-edged sword. … Hospital costs … will increase for the rest of us with the passage of this bill a little bit. There just isn’t a good vote to cast – you can hurt the counties, you can hurt the hospitals.”

Backers of the bill estimated it would save $2 million a year between the state and county, which jointly fund indigent medical care.

Darrington voted no, but then changed his vote to yes. The bill passed on a 28-5 vote.

Bipartisan resolution for civic education killed


A bipartisan resolution supporting civic education was killed by one vote in the House on Thursday, after heated debate in which lawmakers argued it promoted the wrong form of government and could lead the country toward socialism.

Championed by a Democrat and three Republicans, including Rep. Tom Trail, R-Moscow, the measure called for a summit for civic learning to be convened by the Secretary of State’s office.

Backers of the measure said it would promote the importance of students being informed on government issues. But a host of lawmakers took offense to wording in the resolution that said the United States is a representative democracy – they said it’s actually a republic.

“As a practical matter, why would we want to send the wrong message … ?” said Rep. Bill Sali, R-Kuna. “A democracy is majority rule, which means there are no minority rights.”

The resolution failed in the House on a 34-35 vote. Every North Idaho representative voted against it, except for Trail and Democratic Reps. Shirley Ringo of Moscow, George Sayler of Coeur d’Alene and Mary Lou Shepherd of Prichard.

“We are splitting hairs,” Sayler told the lawmakers. “In my 30 years of teaching high school government classes, I taught that they were the same thing.”

But Rep. Lenore Barrett, R-Challis, said, “Yes, we are splitting hairs, and this hair needs to be split.”

If the resolution is passed, “We’ll keep on a-going down the road of creeping socialism,” said Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home. “The solution is to go back to the pure, pure, pure form of government – individual responsibility for everyone.”

Sales tax exemption passes a House committee


A bill that would give a new sales tax exemption to Lignetics Inc., a North Idaho wood pellet and fire log manufacturer, and three similar companies across the state cleared a House committee Thursday.

Republican Reps. George Eskridge of Dover and Eric Anderson of Priest Lake championed the measure, arguing most wood product companies in neighboring states have a competitive advantage. Because Idaho doesn’t charge sales tax on consumer purchases of heating materials, Lignetics doesn’t get the state’s production exemption on supplies, equipment, maintenance or repairs.

If the legislation passed, “this would put the industry on a level playing field,” Eskridge told members of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee.

Brian Stone, the chief financial officer for Lignetics, said that the Sandpoint-based company, which employs 40 to 50 people, gets only a very small exemption now. The new exemption would cost the state an estimated $150,000 a year.

“We’re a steady, growing industry,” Stone said to the lawmakers. “We buy large volumes of sawdust from sawmills. … But we’re placed at a competitive disadvantage.”

The committee sent HB 369 to the amending order to fix a technical glitch. With the legislative session coming to a close, it may or may not have time to make it all the way through both houses.

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