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Local government legislative update: Handheld phones, annexation, and record requests

Local government legislative update: Handheld phones, annexation, and record requests

Lindsay Atkinson
March 6, 2019

Senate Bill 1064: Handheld cellphone use in a vehicle

Throughout the past couple years, several cities across Idaho (Hailey, Ketchum, Pocatello, Idaho Falls) have passed ordinances prohibiting the use of a handheld device while driving. These municipalities have all passed ordinances that are worded differently, and offer different exceptions to the ban. This has lead to a patchwork of regulation across the state.

In response, this legislative session, bills were introduced in the Senate and House to stop this patchwork regulation. On the Senate side, Sen. Jim Rice introduced a bill which would have implemented a statewide ban on handheld cellphone use.

On February 19, that bill failed to pass the Senate.

One of the factors that killed Rice’s bill was the consideration of rural roads and older vehicles, that may not be equipped with Bluetooth functions. A concern that arose was someone who may have lost their sense of direction in the middle of the night on a rural road, or someone running low on gas, and calling for help. In such a situation, someone on their phone calling for help could get pulled over by police, not to get the assistance they are looking for, but instead to be issued a citation.

Another factor brought up in the committee hearing, was how it would affect certain businesses. Under this bill, businesses like Uber and Lyft would not be able to function, because drivers could not hold or extensively touch their phone to pick up riders or shift between applications, which is needed for drivers who work for both services.

In the other chamber, Representative Chad Christensen introduced House Bill 77, which would prevent patchwork regulations throughout the state by preventing local authorities from implementing handheld bans. Because these local bans affect transportation and produce cross-state irregularity, the ability to implement a handheld ban would be best left to the state. However, House Bill 77 did not make it past the committee hearing. So, no action has yet been taken to fix this irregular patchwork of regulation across the state.

House Bills 25, 92, 128, 130: Annexation of lands

Four bills have been introduced this session to change how cities can annex land. All of the bills aim to, in some way, prevent forced annexation of land into city boundaries.

The first of those bills, House Bill 25, became law on February 14. Now, cities cannot annex a property larger than five acres—that is actively devoted to agriculture—without the express written consent of the landowner. This is the only city annexation bill that has passed so far.

Another bill, House Bill 92, would require a landowner’s written consent before a city could annex a parcel of private property over five acres—if that land is actively devoted to forestry. This bill has yet to have a hearing in committee.

If passed into law, a third bill—House Bill 128—would completely repeal current annexation law and rewrite it in simpler terms, that increase public notice and consent requirements. This bill also has yet to have a hearing in committee.

The fourth of these annexation bills, House Bill 130, is similar to House Bill 128, except it would amend existing law instead of repealing and rewriting it. The way HB 130 is written, it would also give special consent requirements to landowners of agricultural and forestry lands over five acres—as does House Bills 25 and 92. This bill is currently in General Orders, which gives the House members the opportunity to amend the bill as a whole body.

It is common for similar legislation to pass through the Legislature in the same session when it deals with a popular issue. Forced annexation is a popular issue on the local level.

House Bill 15: No sales tax on public record requests

House Bill 15  became law on February 8. This bill clarifies that an Idahoan who requests records from a government agency and pays associated fees cannot have a sales tax applied on top of those fees. Currently, certain public record requests that require more than two hours of staff time to process, or more than 100 pages to copy, are subject to fees—such as a fee based on the hourly compensation of the employee who worked on the request.

The ability of the public to receive information from government entities, without it being claimed as a sale, is now protected with the passage of this bill.

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