GMO, wolves, water, on tap for Idaho Legislature

Published online: Jan 07, 2015

BOISE—It’s possible that legislation designed to protect farmers’ right to use genetically modified crops and prevent a mandatory GMO labeling law could surface during the 2015 Idaho Legislature, which convenes Jan. 12.

Idaho legislators and agricultural industry leaders are aware of the efforts in other states to require mandatory labeling of GMO products at the retail level or ban the planting of genetically modified crops, said Sen. Bert Brackett, a Republican rancher from Rogerson.

“It’s safe to say there is concern over these initiatives and there will be an effort to get ahead of them,” he said. “There is some interest in addressing the GMO issue but it remains to be seen how it will play out.”

Sen. Jim Patrick, a Republican farmer from Twin Falls, said the GMO issue is an attack on modern, large farming.

“I believe strongly we need to stay on top of (the issue),” he said. “The GMO thing will be an issue (during the 2015 Idaho Legislature). I’m just not sure how far we’re going to go with it.”

Increasing transportation funding to ensure Idaho’s roads and bridges are maintained will be another big issue, said Brackett, who has discussed the topic with several farm groups.

A governor’s transportation task force determined that an additional $260 million is needed to maintain the state’s transportation infrastructure.

Brackett and Rep. Clark Kauffman, a Republican farmer from Filer, introduced four bills near the end of the 2013 legislative session that offered numerous proposals to increase transportation funding.

They included increasing the state gas tax, raising registration fees for passenger and commercial vehicles and temporarily increasing the state sales tax by a penny.

Brackett has encouraged Idaho’s ag industry to lead the discussion on this issue.

“Most of our inputs come in through our highways and when our commodities are marketed, a lot of (them go) out over the highway system,” he said. “It’s very important that agriculture has a good transportation system.”

Idaho Water Users Association Executive Director Norm Semanko said it’s possible the session could see a few major bills dealing with water.

That could include legislation meant to ensure water released from Boise area reservoirs to prevent flooding isn’t counted against reservoir storage water rights. A bill that would have addressed that issue was put on hold in 2014.

Idaho Irrigation Pumpers Association Executive Director Lynn Tominaga said there’s a good chance the session could see legislation designed to provide recharge credits for people or entities that put water back into the aquifer.

These credits could be bought and sold like any other commodity.

During the session, lawmakers will ask for another $400,000 for a wolf control board that was created last year.

Milk Producers of Idaho Executive Director Brent Olmstead said the state’s dairy industry will support University of Idaho’s request for an additional $1.5 million for its agricultural research and extension budget. That budget was slashed by $5.7 million during the recession.