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House Bill 587 — Department of lands

House Bill 587 — Department of lands

Parrish Miller
February 16, 2022

Bill Description: House Bill 587 would change the qualifications expected of division administrators within the Idaho Department of Lands and direct the governor to appoint an ombudsman who would be granted significant power.

Rating: -1

Does it in any way restrict public access to information related to government activity or otherwise compromise government transparency or accountability? Conversely, does it increase public access to information related to government activity or increase government transparency or accountability?

Idaho's State Land Board includes Idaho's governor, secretary of state, attorney general, superintendent of public instruction, and state controller. These statewide elected officials are directly accountable to Idaho's voters. 

Under the board is a director, and under the director are three division administrators. One is "to handle matters concerning lands, minerals and grazing;" one is "to handle matters concerning forestry and fire;" and the third is "to handle matters of oil and gas conservation."

State law already lists the qualifications required for each of these administrators, but House Bill 587 would amend Section 58-104A, Idaho Code, to add more. 

Specifically, it says, "The qualifications of the division administrators of the timber, real estate, minerals, and grazing divisions, along with any employees involved with endowment portfolio management or investment decisions within those divisions, shall be significant preexisting industry experience in those respective fields."

It would further add that "the qualifications of the division administrator for real estate shall be possession of a current real estate appraiser's certification."

These requirements could lead to increased cronyism from industry insiders, which is concerning. But the more significant change proposed in House Bill 587 would appear in a new part of Idaho Code, Section 58-156, which would create the position of ombudsman, who would "be appointed by, and serve at the pleasure of, the governor."

Among the ombudsman's duties would be to "ensure new department hires have significant industry experience and make recommendations to the director"; "provide all instructions to appraisers for leases, sales, and land exchanges"; "select, hire, oversee, and terminate private counsel to advise the department when necessary"; and "select, hire, oversee, and terminate independent outside experts that evaluate leases, sales, and land exchanges."

All of these duties would be handled by one person, appointed by the governor, rather than be subject to the majority of the five constitutional officers who sit on the land board. 

An additional provision of House Bill 587 would require that "all land exchange applications shall be evaluated by the ombudsman and, where any application for exchange exceeds ten thousand (10,000) acres, an appraisal shall be mandatory, with the appraiser or other outside evaluation experts selected and overseen by the ombudsman. The ombudsman shall compile such appraisals, along with any relevant outside evaluations deemed necessary, and submit them to the land board."

Again, this process seems designed to allow one appointed bureaucrat to oversee a process that should be left to the elected members of the land board. 

At present, the land board is directly accountable to Idaho's voters. House Bill 587 would reduce this accountability considerably. 


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