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Bill to ban public-funded lobbyists passes committee

"...need to get the focus back to is the legislative branch" -- Rep. Giddings

Idaho Capitol Building

Credit: Contributed photo
Idaho Capitol Building

— (UPDATE) -- An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported Rep. Christy Zito voted against the bill. The article was changed to correct this inaccuracy.

A bill that would ban state agencies, universities and public schools from lobbying was approved for a public hearing with three dissenters by the House State Affairs committee last Thursday, Jan 25.

Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, proposed the legislation to restrict publicly funded institutions from influencing legislative and executive actions.


Priscilla Giddings

Giddings relationship with the press

BOISE -- Rep. Priscilla Giddings declined to do an interview in-person Thursday, Jan. 25, due to time constraints, directing questions to be e-mailed to her.

The Lewiston-Tribune reported Jan. 26 Giddings did not respond to in-person and e-mail requests related to the Ada County Assessor’s Office’s “notice of intent” related to a $1,200 tax break she received in 2016 based on a homeowner exemption for her residence in Garden City. The office said she has not responded to the notice issued in November.

On Jan. 20 Giddings posted a YouTube video calling for submissions for the “Idaho Fake News Awards,” inspired by President Donald Trump’s “2017 Fake News Awards.”

In the video, she said “When reporting on middle of the road conservatives, newspapers here are 95 percent of the time negative. They target us with skewed language, misleading language and biased attacks instead of focusing on important issues that Idahoans care about.”

The bill would restrict any publicly funded agency, excluding political sub-divisions such as counties, from contracting lobbyists. Some worried whether this would prevent agency employees from offering opinions on proposed legislation’s impacts.

It restricts agency employees from communicating in official capacity with legislators to influence “the passage, defeat amendment or postponement of a legislative or an executive action,” providing exceptions of speaking before committees and for answering questions about legislation.

Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane, R-Nampa, worried expert opinions on legislation’s implementation could be compromised.

“Fish and game is a pretty important agency that oversees the national wildlife in your district,” Crane said. “If legislation were to come forward that would be harmful to the management of those species inside your district, I think you would want at least someone from that agency to be able to come forward to tell you why that is not a good idea.”

Giddings responded she proposed the bill to encourage lawmakers to get more information from constituents.

“I have some incredibly smart people in my district who know more about fish than I ever will and, for me, where we need to get the focus back to is the legislative branch to get and receive information from our constituents to influence our state government and not only get a perspective from the executive branch that’s paid for by the citizens of Idaho,” she said.

Giddings said her legislation is aimed at only allowing state-agencies to provide “objective” information. It sets no penalties for employees who provide “subjective” information, which she described as “more opinionated, as opposed to facts or research related information.” No language related to the validity of statements is included in the bill, but Giddings said she used “generic terms to answer the committee’s questions,” in an e-mail.

Reps. Elaine Smith, D-Pocatello and Melanie Wolf, D-Moscow, asked to be recorded as no votes.

“The money that the state of Idaho spends on lobbying is so little compared to the money spent by private entities and corporations for lobbying,” Wolf said in an interview.

Wolf, who is filling in for Rep. Paulette Jordan while Jordan campaigns for governor, said the bill would disadvantage state agencies. She said the University of Idaho’s government affairs official is critical for representing U of I’s needs.

“This is putting further restrictions of agencies arguing in the favor of the state’s interest, ultimately. I think that’s where we lose track a little bit of who’s interest is at play here,” Wolf said.

– Kyle Pfannenstiel covers the 2018 Idaho Legislature for the University of Idaho McClure Center for Public Policy Research.


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