Guest Opinions

Perhaps Idaho’s ‘People’ need their own lobbyists

I recently attended an Idaho Senate committee hearing. This was very eye-opening, along with several other experiences with our government related to me by others since. I now more thoroughly understand how much power lobbyists have with our legislators and how little attention is actually paid by lawmakers to members of the public — and it’s quite disturbing.

Agendas go out very last-minute. I traveled, as many others, to speak on a bill written and introduced by gas industry lobbyists, paid to spend many hours at the Capitol cultivating and pressing their cases to lawmakers both elected and appointed. It was Friday afternoon, when committee members were concerned with getting away for the weekend.

First, time was taken to publicly honor a page. Other matters were unhurriedly dealt with. The bill in question had been moved from first to last on the agenda. Industry proponents were needlessly heard repetitively, but only a handful of public opposing voices were allowed speaking time. Three committee members harried and challenged an attorney who spoke, as though it were an intimidation game they enjoyed playing. The chairman refused to continue to another day so all testimony could be heard, didn’t ask whether anyone had anything new to add to the “discussion.” The vote was called for — and then, two senators spent 15 minutes telling us about themselves and what they thought about the bill just passed. (At three minutes a person, five more citizens could have spoken.) The orchestration was unmistakable — and, to me, disgraceful.

It came as no surprise after this that a friend was told by a committee chairman that they usually don’t even vote on legislation they aren’t sure is going to pass. All is up to the chairman — who is likely lobbied the hardest, and who wheels and deals with other legislators, who must request favors of him ... and give favors in exchange.

Few legislators cared that SB1339 strips basic property and civil rights of the populace in order to expedite the plans of gas and oil special interests. Convinced that hurrying things along was a good thing, the vast majority of our lawmakers were OK with passing law that makes it virtually impossible for homeowners to challenge what is now a totally rubber-stamp process in the hands of one unelected bureaucrat at the Idaho Department of Lands ... who cannot himself deny any application, even if it isn’t complete. They completely ignored the outrageous abrogation of surface property rights of force-pooled landowners, while so many mouthed platitudes about property rights being terribly important to them.

It sickens me that industry special interests take precedence over the people’s private rights, and troubles me greatly that a single company should have so much influence over laws that affect thousands of citizens. Deals should not be cut nor laws written for individual companies!

What chance do citizens have for input in these circumstances?

Sherry Gordon is retired and lives just outside of Emmett.