- Associated Press - Thursday, January 25, 2018

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - An Idaho House panel on Thursday introduced legislation banning state agencies, universities and school districts from hiring lobbyists to influence state lawmakers.

Rep. Priscilla Giddings, a Republican from White Bird, says taxpayer dollars should not be used to advocate for a bill’s passage or defeat.

“These current practices are eating away at the very core of our constitutional republic,” Giddings said.

Multiple taxing districts across the state hire lobbyists using public funds to represent their interests while lawmakers meet in Boise during the legislative session. For example, Blaine County School District faced scrutiny in late 2016 after deciding to hire a lobbyist. At the time, it was the only school district in the state to do so.

Giddings‘ bill does not include political subdivisions - meaning cities, counties, water district and highway commissions would still be allowed to hire lobbyists. When asked why those entities were excluded, Giddings asked for the definition of political subdivisions and later said she would be open to expanding the ban.

According to the Secretary of State’s office, almost 20 taxing districts - ranging from irrigation, public health and urban renewal - hired lobbyists this year. The majority of these districts are located in or around Boise, the state’s most populated city.

“If legislation were to come forward that would be harmful to the species in your legislative district, I think you would want at least someone to come forward from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and tell you why that is not a good idea,” said House Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane, R-Nampa. “Would this legislation restrict them from doing that?”

Giddings responded that she had “incredibly smart” citizens in her district and would rather depend on them for information than experts paid with taxpayer money.

The only two lawmakers to vote against introducing the bill were Democratic Reps. Elaine Smith of Pocatello and Melanie Wolf of Moscow.

“I see the University of Idaho and the way the University of Idaho is represented here with a lobbyist as a way to make sure my constituents are very fairly represented and have an opportunity of benefiting from (a lobbyist),” said Wolf, who is substituting for Rep. Paulette Jordan, D-Plummer, this week.

The House State Affairs Committee introduced Giddings‘ bill on Thursday. It must now clear a hearing.

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