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House committee votes unanimously to send IGEM bill to floor

House committee votes unanimously to send IGEM bill to floor

Mitch Coffman
February 22, 2012
Mitch Coffman
February 22, 2012

House Bill 546—Gov. Butch Otter’s Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission (IGEM)—Tuesday passed the House Commerce and Human Resources Committee with all but one person who testified supporting the bill.

This legislation would create IGEM and an accompanying grant fund. The bill provides for an IGEM council to administer the fund and advise state agencies and the governor on matters related to technology transfer and the commercialization of research with the goal of developing “high-quality jobs and new industries in the private sector in Idaho.” The IGEM council would also “establish economic development objectives” for IGEM projects.

The program is modeled after a similar one from Utahcalled the Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative (USTAR). According to its website, since its inception in 2006, USTAR has produced 121 invention disclosures with 46 patents filed, along with the creation of four companies.

Jeff Sayer, director of the Idaho Department of Commerce, said that the bill may not produce results immediately, but for the long-term outlook it should perform well. Sayer noted that the funding of the program has not been determined. “As I understand it,” he said, “those (funding issues) will be addressed by the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee once this bill is approved. Those will include $2 million in funding for our universities, ongoing permanent funding for CASE (Center for Advanced Energy Studies) of $2 million, and a million dollars for a fund to be housed at the Department of Commerce.”

Rep. Steve Thayn, R-Emmett, voted in favor of the bill, but questioned the details, or lack thereof, in the bill. “You know, it’s a lot easier to allocate funds for research, and that’s important, don’t get me wrong here … but it’s harder to get outcomes.” Thayn then pointed to several generic lines in the bill involving processes and steps in the program, but noted specifics were lacking.

“So, right now this is the beginning of the process, but I don’t see too many outcomes. … There’s not too many outcome-based measures here that we can come back in a year and see if we’re really making progress or not,” said Thayn.

Other than Thayn’s remarks, questions were few with those testifying praising the governor for proposing this program and pushed legislators to pass the bill to the floor with a do-pass recommendation.

Jason Ronk, vice president of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry (IACI), praised the bill and said his organization is in full support of the plan.

“We feel the IGEM legislation is a positive long-term vision for Idaho’s future. We think the tech transfer and commercialization of this legislation will help create a potential catalyst for growth,” testified Ronk.

Testimony from a number of organizations in favor of IGEM echoed IACI’s stance on the bill, including statements from Boise State University, Idaho State University, University of Idaho, the State Board of Education and the Idaho Technology Council.

The only organization to testify against the bill was the Idaho Freedom Foundation, represented by policy analyst Briana LeClaire. LeClaire said, “The odds of the purpose of this legislation being accomplished are better if as many decisions as possible are left up to the private sector, and we don’t increase public spending and Idahoans’ tax burden in the process.”

She said that decisions in technology must sometimes come quickly, and letting the private sector adjust to these changes is best because it can act faster than government. “The Idaho Freedom Foundation thinks that the $5 million that will get spent on this program would be better utilized as a start toward tax relief for the private sector, so that private entities can spend their money as they best see fit,” she said.

The bill now heads to the House floor for consideration.

Note: IdahoReporter.com is published by the Idaho Freedom Foundation.

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