Friday, March 4, 2011

Cattle over kids?

Cattle droppings may get more protection from the Idaho Legislature this year than education funding.

Why? Because Boise knows best.

The misnamed expansion of Idaho's Right to Farm law would gut the ability of county elected officials to control siting and expansion of feedlots and other industrial farms that produce noxious odors and sometimes pollute groundwater.

The bill would also make it so onerous for opponents to challenge industrial farming in court that few in their right minds would attempt to do so.

The bill got out of committee and will be taken up soon by the full House.

Anyone who drives to Twin Falls along state Highway 75 or has had the pleasure of visiting small communities along the Snake River knows that the stench that emanates from industrial farming operations brings tears to the eyes.

It's a stench that has manifested itself in the last decade as industrial agriculture displaced small family farms, fouled the air, threatened the purity of groundwater and dropped values of nearby properties.

The legislators who brought this bill, including House Speaker Lawerence Denney, want to override the power of elected officials in communities whose residents breathe the same air and drink the same water into which the industrial ag operators release cattle and crop wastes.

What's next? A "Right to Bury Nuclear Waste Anywhere" bill?

While legislators are solicitous of cattle, kids aren't getting the same respect.

With a vote of 16-3, the Idaho Revenue and Taxation Committee weighed in against trusting elected school board officials in Blaine and three other counties to manage school funding.

The committee voted to overturn a law that allows the counties to maintain a permanent school tax override levy, which, in the Blaine County School District, accounts for 60 percent, or $29.5 million, of the operating budget.

The new law would require that the levy go to the voters once every two years, destructively destabilizing programs and the district's ability to attract and retain good teachers.

The committee rejected three hours of testimony opposing the bill and agreed with an Idaho Farm Bureau representative who said voter control was more important than certainty in school funding.

If both the agriculture and education bills pass, Idaho could become known for protecting industrial-sized piles of polluting cow manure while endangering good education.

The state hates federal intrusions on its power, but thinks nothing of handcuffing cities, counties and schools.

It just stinks.

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