While efforts have been made to reduce regulation in the state of Idaho, Senator Abby Lee, R-Fruitland, says more needs to be done to protect the rights of Idahoans and encourage healthy growth in local industries. Lee, a District 9 lawmaker, took time on Jan. 13 to explain what she has on her to-do list in the 2020 Legislative Session.
Independent-Enterprise: What are your top priorities for the 2020 legislative Session?
Abby Lee: I have a number of efforts I’m working toward but as a member of the Joint Finance Appropriation Committee, my top priority is insuring we pass a balanced budget that funds essential state services for our citizens.
IE: You previously worked to help legalize hemp in Idaho, but had to pull back on it. Where do your efforts to restart that discussion stand today?
Lee: Despite a concerted effort, the 2019 Legislature didn’t resolve a way for Idaho farmers and entrepreneurs to grow and process hemp. This year’s effort will focus on allowing growers to apply for federal approval until our state plan is implemented, as well as providing for intrastate and interstate transport of hemp.
The 2018 Farm Bill mainstreams hemp, making it possible for farmers and businesses to secure commercial loans, and to manage risk through federally-supported crop insurance. It removes the authority of the Drug Enforcement Agency to regulate the interstate transportation while keeping in place the Food and Drug Administration’s authority over products for human consumption or cosmetic use; 48 states have made it legal. It’s time for Idaho to allow farmers to grow this legal commodity if they choose to do so. And it’s past time we recognize the difference between hemp and marijuana in our state statutes.
As states begin to require certified hemp seed in compliance with the state plans, Idaho’s seed production industry could meet this demand nationwide and add another economic opportunity for our growers.
We can and should do this the Idaho way and not delegate this plan to the federal government.
IE: With the oil and gas industry ramping up in Idaho, where do you see the effort to lay down ground rules for that industry going in 2020?
Lee: We still have significant work ahead to insure transparency in this industry. Now that the former company has sold most of its interests in Idaho, I’m hopeful that the new owners will be more interested in following the rules and the structure we have set forth in Idaho. And to the extent they aren’t interested in responsibly developing these resources, I will work to continue empowering the Oil and Gas Commission to use its authority to enforce our laws. Next steps include ensuring mineral rights owners have a strong enough voice within the State’s regulation structure and surface owners have adequate protections and rights.
IE: You previously co-sponsored legislation to improve testing of sexual assault kits in Idaho; What is the state of that legislation?
Lee: That legislation is now seen as a model for other states and we can be proud that we continue to make sure all our law enforcement agencies are held to the same standards statewide to insure accurate and timely testing of sexual assault kits. Already, we’ve heard from prosecutors, law enforcement officers, and hospitals that our efforts are making a difference for crime victims. Making sure all kits are tested up front could help identify serial offenders and provides a safety net for victims who choose not to engage in a criminal investigation at first but may change their minds down the road.
IE: How have your efforts to address human trafficking in Idaho shaped the landscape as of yet?
Lee: Efforts to prevent human trafficking in Idaho has been some of the most important work we’ve done. Until last legislative session, human trafficking itself was not a standalone crime. That changed with passage of Senate Bill 1005 which took effect last July 1. We also passed the “Safe Haven Law” which allows a person to use being a victim of human trafficking as a defense if their crime was “committed as a direct and immediate result of being a victim of human trafficking.”
IE: As Idaho works to curb drunk driving, where do you see that effort going in 2020?
Lee: After our successful efforts last year, I don’t see any additional legislation coming forward this year.
IE: What is your view on Idaho’s current spending priorities?
Lee: While revenues are still coming in higher than anticipated, I think it’s a prudent time to take a look at how state agencies can become even more efficient in preparation for any economic downturns and shore up some of the state’s rainy day funds rather than spend one-time dollars this year.
IE: What do you think about the current state of education spending in Idaho?
Lee: I fully support Governor Little’s recommendation to increase funding for teacher pay and other efforts to raise our education standards. Putting education as the highest priority will pay dividends for generations to come.