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Unfinished business for one legislator: wind moratorium and guns on campus

Unfinished business for one legislator: wind moratorium and guns on campus

Mitch Coffman
April 23, 2012
April 23, 2012

Rep. Erik Simpson, R-Idaho Falls, has been the voice behind two of the bigger issues during the last two legislative sessions—the right for Idahoans to carry concealed weapons on college campuses, as well as a two-year wind moratorium so that the state can step back and take a good look at the wind energy business.

These issues garnered hours of testimony and public debate, but never quite got over the hump as far as becoming part of Idaho Code. With Simpson leaving the Legislature and not running again in November, will the issues leave with him?

The issues are important enough that he hopes someone will continue what he began with the wind moratorium and the right to carry a concealed weapon on campus.

The lawmaker took a second run in 2012 at a wind moratorium—something he also tried in 2011. The bill made it to the third reading calendar, but never was presented on the floor. Why?

Simpson said the bill, even though it never was heard on the floor, was useful, but he admits that the bill likely would not have passed both houses of the Legislature. “I saw value in holding that bill on the third reading calendar because it affected some either proposed or drafted legislation that was moving both through the House and the Senate. So, I held that bill with the support of the speaker and the majority leader as long as I could. … I think it would have been a close vote on the House floor. I think it probably wouldn’t have made it through the Senate.”

Within Simpson’s bill was a provision to form an eight-person task force, four House members and four Senate members, to look at the wind energy industry. Simpson believes that portion of the bill was the most important part of it, more than the moratorium itself. “The real value was the task force and not necessarily the two-year timeout. I personally think that if there is enough time committed by this task force to look at all these issues, that there will be some policy that comes out of this.”

Simpson feels something must be done to halt wind energy projects, thus his support for a moratorium to study the issue. “I don’t as a state want to continue to allow the developers to avoid paying property tax, because now they don’t pay property tax, they pay a production tax, which is a fraction of what they would pay in property tax. I think there needs to be something regarding bonding where, when the American public realizes that wind energy is a scam and is not a good use of tax dollars, nor is it good energy policy, that we can pull these turbines down, there will be the dollars to pull the turbines down.”

Simpson says the wind energy issue demands a full explanation. “I really think it’s important that we have the discussion with the public, be it the taxpayers, the ratepayers and the land owners. And certainly we have to involve the investor-owned utilities, which are choking on expensive, unreliable wind energy due to a federal statute.”

Simpson’s view of the questionable economic merits of wind energy seems to be echoed by Idaho Power, which is asking the Idaho Public Utilities Commission for a 5.1 percent rate hike, or about $43 million. The reason? The company says it needs the money to buy power from an increasing number of renewable energy projects, primarily wind. The company, under the federal Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act, is required to purchase such power.

While Simpson is very passionate about the wind energy industry issue, his legislation in 2011 to allow concealed weapons permit holders to carry on public college campuses is no less a priority for him. His bill made it to a Senate committee hearing where it was voted down.

Simpson decided not to bring that bill back this year. “I didn’t feel like there would be a different result in the Senate, so I didn’t see the need to invoke the debate,” said Simpson. “I did talk to some people who had drafts of a similar bill who were considering bringing that draft legislation but they chose not to.”

Looking back on the debate from 2011, Simpson said the best way to argue in favor of the bill is by using the Idaho Constitution. “My argument would solely be on the fact that the universities are violating Article 1, Section 11 of our state constitution and why do we as a state allow them to violate our constitution.” That section of code gives Idahoans the right to keep and bear arms though universities have adopted provisions restricting concealed weapons on campus property.

Simpson believes it is “foregone conclusion” that someone will pick up the guns on campus issue in the next legislative session or two. “It’s an issue that will come back, I’m sure, given what you see in other states, Oregon, Utah and Colorado. Which, you know, the higher courts have all ruled in favor of their constitutions that the right to keep and bear arms trumps any sort of a recklessly drafted university policy. “

There has been a recent guns on campus case involving the University of Idaho and student Aaron Tribble. Tribble sued the university, claiming the school’s ban infringed on his constitutional rights. A district judge ruled in favor of the university policy.

However, Simpson points out that Tribble had signed an agreement to the school’s gun policy, which allows students to store and check their guns at a police substation. Simpson said that he is confident that if the student hadn’t signed the agreement and sued the university, the courts, based on the state constitution, would have ruled in favor of the student.

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